Saturday, March 13, 2010

Garden 2010

Spent several hours in the past few days getting the seeds in the earth for Spring 2010. We have had an unusually long number of freezing cold days in Oklahoma this year - so could not even get our onions in the ground back in February. It was enjoyable to have the kids help me prepare the soil and plant the seeds.

As of a few days ago - we have potatoes, spinach, carrots, lettuce in the ground.

Now the waiting and trusting.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Insightful interview here. I will be with Duke's Faith and Leadership Program later this year!

March 2, 2010 | To hear more from the interview with Nicholas Wolterstorff, click the play button on the audio player at the right of this screen.

You can also download this free on iTunes U.

Nicholas Wolterstorff is an eminent American philosophical theologian, writing on such topics as art, Scripture, philosophy of religion and suffering. In 2007, he published %u201CJustice: Rights and Wrongs,%u201D the first volume of a planned two-volume work on justice.

He is Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale Divinity School and taught previously at the Free University in the Netherlands and at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. A member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, he currently serves as a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.

Wolterstorff spoke with Faith & Leadership about vibrant institutions, the necessity for Christian institutions to hear the voices and see the faces of those who suffer, and what he learned from his craftsman grandfather and father about how to do philosophy.

The audio clip is an excerpt from the following edited interview.

Q: You%u2019ve written about Christian colleges as institutions that ought to educate for shalom. Why is it important that schools aren%u2019t merely academic but that they contribute to the flourishing of communities around them?

As a young professor at Calvin, I was involved in curricular studies. About two years after I got there, I proposed that the entire curriculum should be revised. I%u2019m astonished to this day that the senior people didn%u2019t just silence this brash newcomer. Instead I became head of a curricular revision committee. It became important for me to figure out what holds a curriculum together. You%u2019ve got sciences and arts and my own passion, justice. What holds it all together? It eventually became clear to me that there is a biblical category of flourishing, of shalom. [It is] %u201Cpeace%u201D in the New Testament, but eirene in Greek is a pretty weak translation of what the Old Testament means by shalom. It means flourishing.

That%u2019s what a Christian college should be about. Not just planting thoughts in people%u2019s heads and getting them into professional positions but flourishing, in all its dimensions.

Q: Is that a model that churches and other Christian institutions besides colleges can also aim for?

Absolutely. When the Scriptures talk about love, commanding %u201Clove your neighbor as yourself,%u201D you may ask, %u201CWell, what%u2019s the goal of this? What%u2019s it after?%u201D It seems to me it seeks the flourishing of your fellow human beings in all dimensions. I had various personal interests: art, justice and so forth. I had to ask how I was going to integrate them. It seemed to me that the category that unites these instead of splitting them apart is the category of shalom. That%u2019s what the gospel is about: how humankind can flourish.

Q: Why is it important that leaders of institutions, who can live pretty sheltered lives, ought to go out of their way to be in touch with humans who suffer?

So, a crucial part of shalom, then, is -- and of seeking shalom -- is justice. You can%u2019t have shalom without justice. I mean, you may con people into thinking that they%u2019re doing okay and so forth but whether they%u2019re conned or not, if they%u2019re suffering from injustice, if they%u2019re being wronged, this is not true shalom. So a crucial part of what Christian institutions should care about in teaching their students and parishioners and so forth to seek shalom is to be alert to the ways in which their neighbors and humankind in general are being wronged, and that%u2019s justice.

So, given that I was sort of plunged into two important issues of justice, being sent to South Africa well before the revolution occurred and getting involved with the Palestinians, and these were eye openers. They were in a classic Protestant sense. They came to me as a call from God. So I had to reflect, then, on why I had been relatively unconcerned with this before, these two situations and others, and why other human beings were, and then it became clear to me that what had happened in my case is that I had read about South Africa and I had read about the Middle East but it was being confronted with the faces and the voices of the suffering. That%u2019s what I found profoundly altering.

And I think that%u2019s true for all of us. It remains an abstraction by and large. Television can help. The pictures of Haiti and so forth are far more effective than just the print in the newspapers. So if a Christian institution, then, is really to seek justice, it has to somehow find a way to have those voices and see those faces, either by going there or having them come to you or whatever.

Q: I%u2019m struck by the Reformed tradition%u2019s particular gift of being articulate about institutions: why they should be founded and tended and what good they bear in the world.

I think that is true. I%u2019m not exactly sure why it%u2019s true, but the Reformed tradition certainly has always had a more institutional character to it than just individuals. I was reared to think of the church and not just a bunch of Christian people getting together. The health of institutions -- educational institutions, ecclesiastical institutions, institutions of all sorts -- has been a crucial part of the tradition.

Posted via web from Recent Reading & Reflections: Collecting Random Thoughts In No Particular Order

Monday, March 01, 2010

God, Fear, Archeology and Agragianism

A youth pastor friend I trust handed me the following: That Deity Formerly Known As God by Jarrett Stevens. It was a quick read, but a good one for me to see and perceive (yet again) how other authors are framing and constructing their texts. This book as far as the argument and thesis was really quite simple - though it was also filled with the modern "vibe" that comes with many "youth" centered texts that I have read. The text was filled with several images, poems, artistic renditions, quirky polls etc. In a nutshell, the author Jarrett Stevens has done a very simple thing. He read J.B. Phillips Your God is Too Small and attempted in this text to rewrite it for a modern generation. I, personally, appreciated J.B. Phillips text over this one. This one, it seems to me should have been titled something like That Deity Formerly Known As God - with lots of images and things to keep you busy on pages in between. The text was simply "too busy" - in the final several chapters, the author offers sermons over a handful of texts. Not a bad text, but not one I would normally read. Yet more perspective for me on what books are "selling" these days and how they are constructed for their audience.

Read Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World by Harold Kushner. Kushner is of course famous for his text: When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Sadly, the only thing I have to say about this text is that I have nothing to say about this text. Kushner tells many stories. He talks about peoples fear. Ultimately, he spends the entire text explaining that it is his belief that God does not want us to be afraid but to have hope and courage. He ends with a quote from the philosopher and psychologist William James, "These, then, are my last words to you: Be not afraid of life area believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact." Kushner spends 171 pages of 172 pages tellings stories to support this phrase. That is all.

I picked and and viewed each of the segments of the DVD teaching tool for the text, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts - the DVD was entitled: The Bible Unearthed: The Making of A Religion. I often tease my students in class before I show a video that they have to be prepared for the fact that this video I'm about to show. "Every Bible video," I say, "contains boring Bible-man." I say this with some tongue-in-cheek with the students - because they know I do not want to be a boring Bible man as I teach - and I try not to do this. But, I am aware of the fact that we who are Ph.D's in some "dead" texts are not exactly cool! That being the case, I was delighted to watch this DVD set because it seemed to have a very good balance of scholars sitting in their offices waxing eloquent about biblical texts, while also showing good images of real archealogical sites that were under investigation - let by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman. The images and camera angles that were used did not look antiquated (and they were not) and the presenters did not seem terribly scripted such that they came across as boring Bible men! (and, they were mostly men.) A teaching tool I will come back to review in more detail so that I can use for future teaching.

What a delight to have read Ellen F. Davis's text Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. While Davis journey is more mature than my own - both in terms of her ability and work as a scholar - and in her aged wisdom - this book felt "right at home with me" or I felt right at home with it - because in it David documents her own coming to awareness of agrarian issues that dominate the background culture of the Old Testament. Further, she cites directly and explicitly in several places the fact that her reading of the Bible has been shaped or configured afresh in the past decade (or slightly more) by the consistent and clear call of Wendell Berry. - While I do not think I have read everything that Berry has written - I am certain I have read much (and most) of what he has published. I fell in love with his essays and articles, and his poetry and fiction many years ago and soaked up his words. For reasons of personal stewardship and materialistic acquisition - I read many, many more library books than books that I have purchased for my own library. After having reading this text from the library, though, I am excited to know that my personal copy will be arriving in the mail soon (since I have ordered it) At some future date I will have opportunity to read again this excellent text - and I will no doubt duly "mark up" the copy that I will own and use it as a regular resource in teaching the ethics of stewardship - and Agrarianism - that Davis highlights as a central concern of the fundamental principles and social basis of life in the Old Testament. A great text.