Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Web Log, not a Book Review Site

Two students in one of my classes have recently engaged me with various bits of content from my blog.

Additionally they asked, “Dr. Michelson, Why don’t you post about all the books you talk about in class, the ones you share with us here in lecture and class work?”

I answered:  “Great Question!”

And then I offered a reply close to this.

First, a “blog” you may not know derives from a “web log” – an online journal, really. ‘Back in the day’ this was the way that persons gave information to family members or others about their daily events.  When I started this blog, it was very intentionally just for me to “log” books I’ve read.  I had (and have) no academic agenda on this web log.

Two, a main reason for logging the books I read is because fully 80% of them are library books.  Unlike books I buy within the field of Biblical Studies – the books I blog about (1) do not get annotated (as that would be vandalism!) and (2) I don’t maintain these books on my bookshelves (or, piled neatly around my reading chairs at the home and office!)  The books that make the blog are books I simply want to remember from what I have borrowed.  [And, it serves as a good “jog” to my memory when I think to myself, “I know I recently read about XYZ . . . what book was that in again?”]

Third, within the academic community, there has been a long standing accepted form of Book Review - published, peer-reviewed, in many reputable journals.  I intentionally do not want this blog to be that – as that form is precise, clear, and has a sustained intention and critique for scholars within the scholarly community.  While I benefit from and read books within Biblical Studies every month, I have no intention to mirror anything like the formal Book Review that on my blog.  In fact, I have in many cases avoided writing about books within Biblical studies on purpose, to avoid appearance of credentialed Book Review.

Finally, this web log also intends to capture personal bits and pieces, anecdotes, ideas and other detritus of my random thinking.  On some occasions I intentionally want to capture aspects of my life for our children into their future and perhaps for our grandchildren, one day.

Having noted these issues.  In the past couple of months I read two great books within Biblical Studies – that are not “within my area” as they are they cover New Testament books.  I’ve been shaped by and have been recommending to colleagues both:  Jonathan T. Pennington’s The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary and Beverly Gaventa’s When in Romans:  An Invitationto Linger with the Gospel according to Paul.  Delightful.  Each has impacted the way I think about the Gospel and our living today.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Students earn C's and B's in my class.

I do not "give" grades.

I assign grades based on the quality of work that is submitted.

And, not only do I have high standards for good work - when I teach for another University (online, as I do for our denominational Nazarene Bible College NBC) assignments are preset with preset rubrics - and I honor these.

In the most recent Biblical Interpretation course I taught for NBC - as with any course- some learners got C's and B's and a few earned A's.

I'm most delighted - and a bit surprised - that I got another (nearly) all 5's in review of me as instructor for this course.

Honestly, my experience is that you really can NOT please all the people all the time!

And, even when I try to share evaluations in a kind and generous way - no student likes seeing their work "marked down" . . . so I'm accustomed to some students "marking me down" for how I offer instruction or feedback.

That's fine. I get it.

And, in this class - they have a lot of work to accomplish.  They turn in a full exegetical paper.  So, many "do not like the class" or "do not like me" as they have had to "work too hard."

I'm not perfect! For sure! I am not perfect!

Still . . . I like being able to archive and save a nearly perfect set of course reviews from students who did not all earn A's and yet who recognized the value of my instruction/work with and for them.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Travel to Palestine & Israel - June 4-15, 2018

Travel to Israel and Palestine with Drs. Stephoni Case & Marty Michelson

What kind of trip is this?

This is offered most intentionally for Christian persons who are interested in an learning about Palestine and Israel from the time of the Bible to the present.  Educational in focus, some daily Christian reflection will be offered at Holy Sites in Israel and Palestine.  This trip will be educational for all participants - regardless of familiarity with the Bible, though History and Bible knowledge will inform one's appreciation of each day's learning. Additionally we will explore political, archeological, social and cross-cultural components as part of our daily travel. 

Is it safe? 

Given the contemporary world, no one can ever assure anyone’s complete safety anywhere in the world. The Holy Land is no exception to this sad reality. However, travel to and within Jordan, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories does not place one at significantly greater risk of being a victim of violence than does travel to and within any major American city. In my own travel to the area no one with my group has felt threatened by violence.

What sites will the trip visit? Some locations will include:

Sea of Galilee Dead Sea Jordan River Bethlehem
Jerusalem Mount of Olives Golan Heights Nazareth
Masada Jerash Caesarea Maratima Sepphoris
Madaba Mount of Olives
Mount of Beatitudes Church of Nativity Church of the Holy Sepulchre

What are the dates for the trip?

June 4 to 15, 2017.  We will depart into and out of Dallas-Fort Worth airport though persons *may* construct other alternative travel dates to/from Israel to “meet the group” - and/or - persons may arrive early or later.  [Supplements for travel in other gateway cities - will have separate support travel necessary, and obviously persons staying extra days will have additional costs.  If persons need to fly to/from DFW, their flights to/from DFW will be an additional cost.  The trip is designed for all to “arrive and depart” as a group for all days though some flexibility can be framed, but it is not ideal and can not be complex.]

Who will lead the tour?

Dr. Marty Alan Michelson will guide for Education on each day.  Two days for some participants will have special University Travel with Dr. Stephoni Case - including Bar Elan University and Hebrew University. 
( See more here: and )

Why do you lead trips to the Holy Land?

I lead trips to the Holy Land because I love the experience. I love introducing people to the traditional holy sites and to the lands of the Bible. Also, I love helping Americans to learn about the contemporary culture and struggles of the people who populate the lands of the Bible today. My trips actively engage questions of peace-making in the Middle East. I make no profit from the trips.

How much does it cost?

$3872 which will cover all airfare, every night of lodging, all busses/vans, all entry fees, breakfast and dinner while in Palestine/Israel (not in airport meals), entrance fees, border fees, guide fees, taxes, tips.  [Hotels are 2 persons per room or supplemental fee.]

When is the money due?

Full payment with the registration will be due ten weeks before the departure date. Participants are encouraged to pay in monthly increments up until all fees are due in Spring 2018.  Payments can be made directly to SBS once registered with them - and/or through Dr. Stephoni Case.  Persons can sign up NOW!

Aren’t many similar trips to the Holy Land cheaper?

No. Many travel companies practice a “bait-and-switch” method of sales. They either advertise a price that is eventually either is unavailable or is later inflated with additional “fees” (like taxes, tips, entry fees, domestic air, oversea ground transportation, visa fees, meals, etc.). Our pricing policy is realistic and does not inflate after you have committed to travel. I have, in the past, had the US Department of Travel add last minute fees for security excise fees, however.

What all is covered by the cost of the trip?

The price of the trip includes all transportation, lodging, taxes and governmental fees, all morning and evening meals (lunch is not included), admission to all sites, and tips. The price does not include the price of lunch each day or the price of keepsakes and a few personally chosen tips.

Is this trip sponsored by the university where you teach? And can I get college credit?

Yes, SNU, where we each, is associated with this trip. Yes, college credit is available though with University level work required in addition to the trip itself.  Contact Dr. Marty Michelson.

Who may go on this trip?

Any person ready to adventure in education in Palestine and Israel. The main ingredient is a gracious attitude, willing heart, studious mind, and ability to walk/hike or willingness to sit behind while others do their walking/hiking to/from locations.

Can I be baptized in the Jordan River?

It is likely this will be available, though not guaranteed. Dr. Michelson will baptize anyone who has not been baptized before and who professes Christ as Lord. For those who have been baptized before, they may renew their baptismal vows at the Jordan River.

Will we celebrate the Lord’s Supper at any point?

Yes. For those who wish to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we will offer the sacrament while on the Mount of the Beatitudes (overlooking the Sea of Galilee).

Are there a limited number of places available on this trip?

Yes. The trip is limited to the number of people who can comfortably travel in a single bus on location.

Do I need a passport?

Yes. You will need a passport at least six months before we travel. You start the passport process at Do this early, NOW!

What kind of meals will be available?

Some meals will be served as buffets with traditional Arabic, Jewish, American dishes from which to choose. Other meals will be served in sit down style with service to your table. Lunch will be purchased at local restaurants (at the traveler’s expense). Meal portions will not be “all you can eat” but will be a full portion meal, often served in several “courses.”

How much cash should I take?

The answer to this question largely depends upon each individual’s personal spending habits. The only direct expenses that travelers will incur are lunch time meals and beverages (other than water) at meal times. (In the Middle East, hotels traditionally serve only water and charge a nominal fee [about $1] for any additional beverage.) I have traveled with people who spent less $100 on a fifteen day trip and with people who have spent more than $500 in the same length of time. (Most outlets take credit cards and ATMs are widely available, but I do NOT recommend traveler’s checks—many places will not accept traveler’s checks and many others add a surcharge to traveler’s checks). As a general guideline, I would recommend about $300 in cash for most travelers.

Will the trip offer time for personal prayer and spiritual reflection?

Yes. Most days will include a few hours in the evening when travelers can engage in unstructured activities ranging from personal prayer and meditation to walks along the Sea of Galilee.

What are the hotel accommodations like?

Our accommodations are generally in three and four hotels, comparable to moderately priced American hotels. All are clean, safe and professionally staffed.  Standards of room size, bathroom size and full amenities are not equivalent to the same class of hotels in America and akin to European experiences with better hospitality.  All have private bathrooms and comfortable beds.  Each two person in any room will share one private bathroom.

Will we meet with any local people?

Yes. We will connect with people who represent the diversity of political and religious opinions in the Middle East. The programs allows the travelers to meet local Christians, Jews and Muslims from both Israel and Palestine. Travelers will be able to dialogue with a wide spectrum of opinion.

How do I register for the trip?

Contact Dr. Stephoni Case ( or Dr. Marty Michelson ( for paperwork on how to register.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Novels, The Bible, Judaism, Eucharist & Holden Caulfield

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.  It had been many years since I’d re-read Catcher.  It was time for me to reacquaint myself with Holden Caulfield.  I was glad I did. Too close to realities I had lived through in the depressed perspective for life evident in a close family member.

Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You.  Nothing profound, though enjoyable.  I enjoy observing what people own and how/who they interact with - and the mimetic functions that certainly shape their acquisition.  This book is an exploration of the same variety.  

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.  This was not in my “best reads” ever, though I loved this book.  I loved the “tales” of Hope on her Ph.D. journey - and in her details of trees, her “exploits” with her lab partner, her pregnancy, her fears, and simply digging in dirt.  I’ll recommend this book to anyone interested in science and human realities of research.

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper by Brant Pitre.  The next words are taken from the book itself and accurately describe precisely what the book does.  A few key new insights for me, though many ideas previously discerned in other scholarship from many years ago - this is still a solid read.  “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist shines fresh light on the Last Supper by looking at it through Jewish eyes. Using his in-depth knowledge of the Bible and ancient Judaism, Dr. Brant Pitre answers questions such as: What was the Passover like at the time of Jesus? What were the Jewish hopes for the Messiah? What was Jesus’ purpose in instituting the Eucharist during the feast of Passover? And, most important of all, what did Jesus mean when he said, “This is my body… This is my blood”? To answer these questions, Pitre explores ancient Jewish beliefs about the Passover of the Messiah, the miraculous Manna from heaven, and the mysterious Bread of the Presence. As he shows, these three keys—the Passover, the Manna, and the Bread of the Presence—have the power to unlock the original meaning of the Eucharistic words of Jesus. Along the way, Pitre also explains how Jesus united the Last Supper to his death on Good Friday and his Resurrection on Easter Sunday.”

A Truck Full of Money by Tracy Kidder.  I think I kept after this book as it was written by a Pulitzer Prize winning author . . . and I kept thinking something “must yet emerge” that will turn this novel around for me.  It never did.  The main character gets involved in technology, makes money, buys and sells business.  I think I followed along as the main character, Paul English, clearly was dealing with Bipolar disorder - and with recent events with a member of our family - this story intrigued me insofar as English was a “success” in many ways.

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns.  I like Peter Enns a lot, personally.  He’s a good scholar and a great person.  His writing style (akin to his persona and presentation in public venues) include bits of humor and “asides” that try to draw the reader in.  This is certainly invitational to many.  I’m thankful for his work and his publication - and for what he is helping Christians discern about the Bible.

A Jew Among Romans: The Life and Legacy of Flavius Josephus by Frederic Raphael.  I needed to know more about Josephus - and this book helped me.  A review from Booklist appropriately says of this book: “Raphael, a novelist and classicist, provides a more nuanced portrayal of the first-century-CE soldier, politician, and historian. When the cataclysmic Jewish War began in 66, Josephus, a governor of Galilee, tried to mediate between his fellow Jews and their Roman overlords. When that effort failed, Josephus joined the rebellion. Apparently sensing the futility of the revolt, he switched sides, became a translator for the Roman general Vespasian, and later became a friend and court favorite of the Emperor Titus. Yet, as Raphael demonstrates, it would be unfair and wrong to see Josephus as simply an opportunistic turncoat and Roman lackey. In his later writings, he proudly defended the culture of the Jews. Like countless other Jews from antiquity to the present, Josephus tried to navigate between commitment to Judaism and the broader, often hostile gentile world. This is a well-done account of his life and works.”

The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon's Greatest Army by Stephan Talty.  In the same vein with other books I’ve read this past year on the history and spread of disease, this title captured my attention.  It turned out to be *less* about Typhus and more about Napoleon Bonapart, the Grande Armee and the conquest and then defeat to and from Moscow (Russia). I had to plow through some of the lengthy battle scenes, to get to the salient parts more intriguing to my interest.  Though, reading the accounts of war and the pillage, rape, terror, cannibalism and loss of life on the battle-fields does make me ponder yet more - why men fight wars of conquest instead of finding ways to share the resources that Creation provides, if only we lived in peace and harmony one with another.

The Warsaw Anagrams by Richard Zimler.  In many ways “just another” history-like account of the Holocaust (of many hundreds/thousands published). That is not to undercut it’s value, only to note that this is one of many within the specific sub-genre.  This story was intriguing with the anagrams used by smugglers/traders to bypass detection.  I will say, a few narrative descriptions of how persons dealt with the grief of the loss of their children included *the* most compelling portions of this book.  The way in which the grief was characterized and narrated by Zimler, I found to be particularly profound.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Malcolm, MLK, Ziglar, RBG, Prince, and more.

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik.  I loved this book.  I was inspired by the person that RBG has been - her relationship to her husband, her work through schooling and navigating religious and family commitments alongside her husband.  I was impressed with who she “is” as a person and what ideas and issues of her life have shaped her identity. I’d read this one again.  

Having recently read a good book on Native American tribal leaders, I picked up Warpath by Stanley Vestal.  This was an account of the life of White Bull (Sioux) left behind as an autobiography though retold by Vestal, et al.  This story was more an account of the actual battles that White Bull engaged, than a reflection on the history of ideas/issues between indigenous persons and the White Man extending their reach to land across the continent. This was, as much as anything, a collection of stories that describe the actual battles of White Bull, more than any evaluative/moral/political review.

April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Death and How It Changed America by Michael Eric Dyson. I’m not sure if I gave this book the focused attention I should have given to it, frankly.  That is perhaps more a reflection on my personal state of mind in the days I read this book.  I note this as I perhaps should re-read the book for my own learning.  What stood out to me is the many ways that MLK, like so many leaders who died/were assassinated - was used by others for their agenda as much as they used MLK for the agendas MLK was working to achieve.  How MLK has been “used” by the likes of Jesse Jackson to Bill Clinton is not what I was looking for, though, still intriguing.

The Friends of Jesus (Life-Changing Bible Story Series) by Karen Kingsbury.  I knew when I picked this book off the shelf it would be “below the academic level” of what I read.  No problem.  Years ago I read a “historical fiction” on Jeremiah that reshaped the way I saw and see Jeremiah as a human.  As a result, I still pick up historical-fiction narratives on the Bible as, on occasion, they’ll help open up a new perspective on who these humans were and what *might have* happened with them.  This book, like others, certainly is fiction - and is not informed by grounded study in the period of the 1st Century Judaism/Roman World . . . and yet, as an exploration of persons and bringing some “life” to the Bible, it was not wasted time.

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable.  As with so many books I read in History and/or Biography, I am amazed at how much I have to learn about so many persons and periods in history.  This book was intriguing to me in many ways - and, honestly, akin to the title.  While I’ve known about the popular picture of Malcolm’s life - and his “contrast” to the Christian and more pacifist leanings of MLK, I knew nothing of how Malcolm’s family history shaped his young life.  And, how out of sync he was with Islamic traditions and even disjointed from them and other sectarian perspectives (with his being most sectarian). The Nation of Islam was more akin to a cult of Islam, it seems, than a sectarian form of Islamic tradition. I was most surprised at how many radical shifts in thinking and perspectives Malcolm had over his adult life.  In truth, I was startled to read that he rarely stuck with any set of ideas for more than a few years and as such, I wondered *how* he was influential at all, to be frank.  

Defying Hitler: A Memoir by Sebastian Haffner.  I’ve read so many books on the Holocaust over the years, that it becomes harder to distinguish narratives/accounts/studies that offer something distinctly new *for me.*  This book was good.  It offers the early perceptions of Haffner on what happened that he experienced.  It was written in 1939, but only published in 2000.  As a book written close to the historical events - with critical assessment of what took place from the Nazi Youth and rise of the Nazi party - it’s insidious and rapid growth, an important addition to our study and percepton(s) of the politics of a nation and what came to pass in the Shoah.

Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks by Ronin Ro.  I’m not a fan of Prince - and perhaps that is why I read this book.  (A good audio read will traversing miles across several states in America in the Summer of 2017!).  As with any biography, I obviously learned about Prince - his childhood, his family, his emerging work as an artist and his unique influences.  Even while I was a child of the 1980s, I wasn’t terribly “into” pop culture or music.  I enjoyed what I learned about the music industry and Prince, himself, though I’m not sure I have any particular “take-aways” from this book.

Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave by Peter Heller.  I like surfing.  I love being in the ocean - or really, any body of water.  This book was light reading, indeed, but fun.  The story narrates Hellers personal introduction to and experience with learning how to surf, and the various sub-culture(s) of persons who engage with surfers - from other surfers to persons who rob them in places like Baja Mexico.  Surfing is a way of life for those who do it - as much about waiting  . . . and relationships as anything else.  

Better Than Good: Creating a Life You Can't Wait to Live Paperback by Zig Ziglar.  I love Zig.  I started listening to him back in the 1990s and have been shaped by his influence.  He’s inspirational and always forces me to think more positively about life in general, my life and taking ownership for who I am and how I work.  I recommend anything in audio format “led” by Ziglar.  His unique voice is curious - though his ability to narrate his own tales and lessons is powerful.  All of Zig is great!