On summer’s end

Summer is over.  Or is it?

This will be a meandering piece about summer, with connections to reading, baseball, the calendar, kids, and the rhythms of life.

Books and baseball
People still have summer reading lists, right?  Maybe not so much anymore.  I spied the quip below on a ne’er-do-well’s Facebook page recently, in the spot where one’s favorite book title is supposed to be:

who reads

I thought, Well, I’m guessing you don’t read much, because you didn’t capitalize that or put a question mark after the question.  (This same person had proudly posted a video of herself drunk while playing video games, so I guess I wasn’t all that surprised.)

My summer reading list, if it really existed at all, was phantom-like.  Recent book grabs include one that presents three views on God’s will and decision making, a Duck Dynasty biography (couldn’t stand much!), and a Stephen Colbert book (I wish he weren’t so caustically one-sided, because he’s genuinely funny).  On my active shelf are a book on the history of words in religion, a history of the Silk Road, and two volumes on the kingship of God.  This summer, I have read some poetry, a little on baseball, and a few pages each from Richard Hughes and Frederick Buechner, plus a few other things.  Oh, and I’ve spent some time reading and studying an ancient, mid-length letter from Paul, including reading two paragraphs in Greek.  Sounds like a lot of reading time, you say?  Nah.  I’m talking about a total of less than 10 hours there.  Pitiful, I know.  And the progress in writing my own next book has been precisely nil this summer.

Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer, a book about the Brooklyn Dodgers, is legendary.  My dad’s copy of that one remains where he would have seen it, high on a shelf in his/Mom’s study.  On a lower bookshelf in our home sits Dad’s coffee-table-sized book that chronicles baseball’s summers of ’47-’57 in the lives of the three New York teams—the Dodgers, the Giants, and those dratted Yankees.  The Dodgers and Giants moved to the West Coast in 1957, rendering summer fun permanently shut down for many.

Our family enjoyed seeing the KC Royals with a friend in Kauffman Stadium last Saturday.  It was a sticky, muggy, summer night, but it was not overly hot, especially after the sun was hidden behind the stadium on the third-base side.  This summer is not a good one for the Royals, to say the least.  It was a great game, though:  the last-place Royals, the 2nd-worst team in baseball, beat the even worse Orioles in the 9th.

Usually two or three times a summer, when I was a boy, my dad and I would go to the Vet to see Phillies games.  There was one memorable, July 4th double header, at which a friend sat with Dad and me in the lowest seats, in straightaway center field, just above the outfield wall with the “408” painted on it in yellow.  I’m not sure I’m creating memories like that for our son, but he has been to three Royals games, a Pirates game with cousins, and a Reds game before he could remember.  He has also played baseball three summers in a row.  According to his 2018 baseball season, summer lasted only about 6 weeks (May-June).

For me, despite one serendipitous baseball game I saw on a nice Minnesota afternoon while traveling, this summer has been the worst on record.  It is not over yet?

Summer, school, and children
For children, summer is almost always something to which to look forward.  They often have summer camp experiences.  Manatawny, a Christian camp in Southeastern PA, was the thing that we kids looked forward to most.  My sisters’ kids all go to similar camps now, too, and they seem to feel the same heart-tugs, while experiencing similar growth of all kinds.  Then there is marching band camp, and several of my sisters’ kids are now doing that annually, too.  Summer is certainly not all bad for kids.

For many, summer is over in the middle of August when school starts way too early.  Two private colleges at which I’ve taught hold classes on Labor Day, having started a week or two previously.  School always started the day after Labor Day when I grew up.  According to just about every U.S. school calendar, summer is by now over for everyone.

Jedd has had some great times this summer (for example, a children’s play, baseball, some travel, a lake, cousins, and swimming).  Speaking of swimming … they drained the town pool weeks ago here, which seems pretty ridiculous since summer persists.  The heat and humidity (or just heat, or just humidity, but rarely any relief) have been oppressive and unrelenting for so long, it seems.  We had a cold winter with little snow for playing, an almost nonexistent spring, and then this beastly summer.  We’ve had, what, six or seven nice days since June?

Summer’s entertainment
Remember the TV show “In the Heat of the Night?”  I never watched it, but I think it was based somewhat on the premise that crime heats up when the weather does the same.  (When is it not hot in a Mississippi town?)  I also recall an episode of M*A*S*H in which everyone’s nerves were frayed because of heat.

Last Sunday night, in the summertime cool of a Lutheran church building, I heard the Midwest Chamber Ensemble, and their opening selection was a rare performance of a work by Arthur Honegger titled Pastoral d’Ete (Summer Pastorale).  This piece shimmered and sang, and it led me to think of other summer-oriented art music. . . .

  • I have a CD of summer wind quintet music that includes Barber’s Summer Music, Op. 31, a provocative piece written well for the medium.  I return to this disc often, including a couple times this summer.
  • Barber’s Knoxville:  Summer of 1915 is not a favorite of mine.  (Few and far between are the sopranos I would listen to on purpose.)  Berlioz’s Nuits d’Ete (Summer Nights) is more pleasing, but still, it’s a soprano.  So, no thanks.
  • As Summer Was Just Beginning, a simple, tuneful, elegiac tribute to the late James Dean, enjoyed at least a decade’s worth of appreciation in the wind band world, but the piece’s fame is now approaching its winter.
  • Vivaldi’s “Spring” from The Four Seasons is well-known, but “Summer,” the second in the set, strikes me as more interesting.  Actually, this Vivaldi string concerto hints more at fall for me, but maybe that’s because I like the still, sometimes melancholy beauty of fall.  Then there is the tempest of the presto 3rd movement.  (May there be no tempests in life this fall.)
  • Frank Bridge’s tone poem Summer is simply wonderful.  What glorious sounds!  If I could rig some great speakers in a park, and if I could order a 70-degree, mosquito-less, summer night, I would sit out under a tree and listen to it again.

I remember a few summer evenings on the grounds of the Mann Music Center, north of Philadelphia, hearing the Philadelphia Orchestra free or at greatly reduced cost, with good friends.  And all these thoughts of music evoke pleasant, breezy, relaxed feelings.  Was this what Jim Seals & Dash Crofts were singing about?  “Summer Breeze makes me feel fine….”?  My summer of ’18 has not been blessed by many of those feelings.

So goodbye, summer of ’18.  I’m done wid’ ya.  I wish I could be assured that I’ll forget you, but I won’t be surprised if you haunt me.  I wish I had seen and hiked in the Rockies this summer, but, failing that, come on, cooler weather and breezier, more chilled thoughts.  Come on, fall concerts and crisp mornings with coffee on the deck.  Maybe I’ll soon be able to walk 20 yards sans sweat or anxiety.  Come on, Major League Baseball’s “Fall Classic.”  Just come on, fall.

Advertisements

To explain and clarify

Caveat lector:  I seem to be in a phase of some comparatively intense, historical pondering, so please consider this difficult-to-categorize post accordingly.  (The thinking here began with the first two installments in a sort-of infinitival series:  “To Serve and Contribute” and, before that, “To Lead and Serve.”  I’ve actually delayed posting this one for quite a while, interposing others that were similarly titled, and having difficulty coming to terms with what to say and how to say it.  If all this is too cryptic, well, just skip this post, wonder what purposes might be served through it, and come back for an unrelated post in a few days on Bible reading and study!)

~ ~ ~

Several years ago, I had a very good telephone interview for a faculty position and had air travel arrangements set for a follow-up, on-site interview.  (I think I was one of two candidates at that point.)  About two days before I was to leave, I received another phone call in which the department chair questioned me about a thing or two, beginning to back off from considering me.  I instantly thought I knew what had happened and have never doubted that I was right:  someone at that college had gotten herself a half-story about a situation, through someone who knew half of it himself (second hand—he wasn’t around anymore, anyway).¹  The first someone had known the second someone in the past, so the connection was easy.  The world of patently Christian colleges is small—and its sense of its own perceptive abilities, sometimes myopic and aggrandized.  The long & short is that I was un-invited for the on-site interview.

A couple years later, the same school was again hiring for the same position.  I did not exactly apply that time, but I did send a personal letter to the chair, revisiting the previous conversation in order to explain and clarify.  That conversation had not ended comfortably.  Inasmuch as it depended on me,² I hoped later to shed light and smooth things over more than anything else.  I’m pasting in some slightly adapted versions of things I wrote in this follow-up letter, with most of the identifying marks removed.

Things back then were, to say the least, in a state of flux.  Personally speaking, I almost never felt secure, and my entire time [there] was marked by instability: the departure under negative circumstances of my predecessor; pervasive angst about administration and turnover; major initiatives that led to more than one openly heated debate….  

The new [ … ] had come in with a flash, spending money [unwisely] and making promises.³  He seemed to be gone from campus as much as he was present that semester.  Relatively soon, he found a new position and left.

Going back to our last telephone conversation . . . I recall reacting with a rather strong voice to questions that I believe were based on misinformed suspicion (perhaps “misleading ‘spin’” would be a better way to put it).  [I]t seems that my candidacy was essentially torpedoed by someone who was poorly informed of certain realities and who acted antagonistically.  

[To explain and clarify: This person] and I had had good times and bad times.  He affirmed some of my efforts and gifts, and he ignored or detracted from others.  He laughed with me and caused me more tension than I have experienced with any other boss. . . .  He spoke on isolated occasions with language I consider unbecoming, and he also tried sincerely to inject God. . . .   Some colleagues—who had not had opportunity to see his deep generosity and hard work first-hand—seemed to carry a rather one-sidedly negative opinion of him (as opposed to a mixed one, like mine).  I was as frequently embarrassed by (and intimidated by) his overbearing demeanor and persona as I was impressed by his work ethic and his intent to serve.  A study in contrasts, he.

[At any rate,] … had I been directing, conducting, and teaching for [ …] since the last time you posted this position, we might or might not have enjoyed perfect chemistry, but you would know the real me—someone who cares deeply and works with conviction for his students, his program, his colleagues, and his institution . . . and someone who sometimes comes across defensively or with too much intensity. . . .

——————

All this reminiscence and re-traversing brings fresh emotional pain (to which I am no stranger in general).  I am of the general, unstudied opinion that such reflection is to be engaged in, not avoided.  (I suppose it is usually better under the guidance of a trained therapist!)  Personal growth can occur when we go through the muck and the deep waters.  I’m not so sure I’m growing, and I intermittently smell of muck, but my head is above water.


¹  To describe the situation would be to say too much here.  I had tried to handle it as well as possible.  In hindsight, I suspect the “new” person referred to as “new [ …]” in the second inset paragraph above ignored a red carpet I laid out in order to have the scenario appear a certain way.  I was a scapegoat and later a lame duck, to some extent.

² The particular religious/philosophical alignment of the hiring college turns out to be ironic:  it is affiliated with one of the so-called “peace churches,” but it had unwittingly been a part of a very un-peaceful chain of events.  Here, I do not present myself as a peace-bringer in the first instance, but that was actually a large part of my goal in the follow-up letter quoted above, from a couple years later.  I received no reply.

³ The particular promises seemed to be based more on Christianese fluff than on reality or even faith.  This is beside the point, yes, but I would say it is also another, related, important point.

The benefits you get with H/R

The paragraph below, I assume, was written by an H/R “professional.”  I am pasting this in, so the original remains intact.

Our new colleague will teach in our comprehensive music education program, which includes BME, MME, and Ph.D. students. They will provide leardership in curriculum and program development. They will provide leadership and oversight of the recruitment of undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. music education students. The successful candidate will be a creative, flexible musician, scholar and pedagogue who is an experienced master teacher with substantial K-12 experience as well as college-level teaching experience. They will be responsible for teaching in our comprehensive music education program which includes BME, MME, and Ph.D. students. Our new colleague will provide leadership in curriculum and program development, and will be expected to have a well-developed, active research agenda. They will teach other courses in the music education curriculum as necessary.

Now my observations and reactions.  (You knew there would be some, didn’t you?)

  1. My ambition is to be a learder.  However, I don’t have other learders around to mentor me and showr me what a learder can be.  I even lookerd online for a graduate leardership program.  I can’t finrd a single one.  Maybe if I use fuzzy logic, the search would be more successful?  Can someone out there leard me to the info I neerd?  I will follow if you leard.
  2. In seriousness now … I would like a role in which I could train the world to match plurals with plurals and singulars with singulars.  (Creating a plural of the word “singular” makes me smile . . . and note that it does not have an apostrophe before the “s”! . . . it’s a plural, not a possessive or a contraction.”)  The next-to-last sentence is just fine.  Why not include the last sentence and remove the plural mismatch, like so:  “Our new colleague will provide leadership in curriculum and program development; will be expected to have a well-developed, active research agenda; and will teach other courses in the music education curriculum as necessary.”
  3. I’ll leave the lack of the Oxford comma alone in this phrase:  “will be a creative, flexible musician, scholar and pedagogue.”  Wait.  I didn’t.
  4. On a deeper level:  I find this ad to be a bit ambitious at its core.  Rare would be the person who (1) could legitimately be classed as a “master teacher,” (2) has “substantial” K-12 experience, and (3) also has college-level teaching experience.
  5. I would also think that some “H/R professional” would have read through the posting well enough to know that s/he had repeated almost one-quarter of the material.  If the music department had simply written its own job description, it would have been better.

Layering H/R process on top of process may satisfy regulations and policy without serving the real need.  On the other hand, if there is no process at all, someone or some department will likely need to oversee employment matters, given the litigiousness of our society.  If there is a separate benefits department, there are benefits to be reaped there, although the health insurance benefit is more than it’s cracked up to be.  As I wrote in this post,

Currently, [my wife and I] pay approximately 1/3 of the total cost of our own insurance, and my employer covers the rest of the group-rate premium.  The rates for adding an additional family member [our son] increase dramatically, though—to the point that the deduction from my paycheck to insure three people would be equivalent to half of my take-home (net) pay. 

A very perceptive man once remarked that the “Graduate School” in his institution didn’t add value to the process of getting a graduate degree.  This post from 2016 mentions that right after complaining about the lack of benefit in three food additives, moving to question the value of additions in Christian churches.

And here is a post that briefly mentions three items that I find pretty much without benefit in churches.

Sticklerism

We have sticklers in our family.  I wouldn’t have called my dad a stickler, although he had the highest-level language credential in my extended family and could have carried it off without much trouble.  Dad had the personable habit of deliberately Image result for grammar sticklerspeaking incorrectly on occasion—such as when he would oh-so-politely request, “Pass I the butter.”  Perhaps it is Dad’s tradition that leads my small family now to make up verb forms for entertainment purposes:  “Where be my Bible?”  “Oh, I tooked it and putted it over there.”  Jedd participates in this and knows what he’s doing with it.  We are careful, however, to correct him anytime he lapses into regional patterns (that I hear or read almost every day) with respect to past participles:  “I seen him.  He had ran right past me before I knew it.”

Since drafting this post, I received this e-mail message at work:  “I know it got picked up, but havnt saw the _____ yet.”  If noticing these things makes me a stickler or even a vigilante, so be it.  Real sticklers know it’s not about thinking one is right all the time.  We/I make a lot of mistakes, too.  Here’s an indication of the difference between sticklers and normal people:  when I find a typo in an old blogpost that no one will probably ever see again, I actually take the time to correct it.  (I can’t insert “obsessively” before “correct it,” because that would be splitting an infinitive, you know.)

My maternal grandmother, spotlighted with my grandfather here, was something of a stickler, I’d say, and it would have been difficult to catch her in a mistake.  She is known to have corrected the grammar of more than one gracious preacher, including Mike Cope and presumably also the late Jim Woodroof,¹ a giant who moved into the “land of the eternally living”² a few weeks ago.  Grandmother’s known penchant for correcting folks might be what keeps me from doing it as much.  (When I knew her, she would naturally have had the respect that comes with being a senior citizen, and I’m not there yet.)  Even though I keep my vocal corrections to a minimum (and sometimes mutter them so that no one can hear), I often read with pen or pencil in hand.

Has the time for "they" as a singular pronoun come? This grammar stickler says yes.I’ve noticed that a certain parenting e-resource almost always uses the singular “she” in its examples—presumably in an extended fit of over-correction for the years when “he” meant either.  It’s usually easy to avoid the issue by pluralizing everything:  “Every student should do his own work” can become “All students should do their own work” if you don’t like “Every student should do his/her own work.”  I disagree with the “singular ‘they'” image shown here, but no one asked me.  It’s actually serendipitous that I came across that:  a younger friend mentioned on Monday that he knows people who want to be referred to as “they” and not “she” or “he.”  So let us take note that this might not be merely a grammar thing; it’s a gender identity thing.³  Although I would always try to be kind to a person who struggles with identity, I don’t support the related social movement in the slightest, finding it overblown and ironically (perhaps Nazi-istically) intolerant at times.

Since I have a very active “inner stickler,” I am eager (not “anxious,” mind you; the two mean different things) to share some stickler-ish Lynne Truss quotes.  It was with a deep, resounding “Yeah!” that I reread those that appear below.  Does anyone else feel partly like Tarzan, chest-pounding and bellowing, and part-sheepish?  In other words, do you say inside yourself, “Yess!  I feel that way!” immediately before tucking your head as though nothing just happened in there?

In the quotes below, British distinctives such as commas outside quotation marks are the author’s.  All this material was lifted from the web, then later scanned and converted to text.  No errors should be attributed to Lynne Truss.  Enjoy.

~ ~ ~

“…[P]unctuation marks are the traffic signals of language:  they tell us to slow down, notice this, take a detour, and stop.”

“I apologise if you all know this, but the point is many, many people do not.  Why else would they open a large play area for children, hang up a sign saying “Giant Kid’s Playground”, and then wonder why everyone says away from it? (Answer: everyone is scared of the Giant Kid.)”

“Part of one’s despair, of course, is that the world cares nothing for the little shocks endured by the sensitive stickler.  While we look in horror at a badly punctuated sign, the world carries on around us, blind to our plight.  We are like the little boy in The Sixth Sense who can see dead people, except that we can see dead punctuation.  Whisper it in petrified little-boy tones:  dead punctuation is invisible to everyone else — yet we see it all the time.  No one understands us seventh-sense people.  They regard us as freaks.  When we point out illiterate mistakes we are often aggressively instructed to “get a life” by people who, interestingly, display no evidence of having lives themselves.  Naturally we become timid about making our insights known, in such inhospitable conditions.  Being burned as a witch is not safely enough off the agenda.”

“As with other paired bracketing devices (such as parentheses, dashes and quotation marks), there is actual mental cruelty involved , incidentally, in opening up a pair of commas and then neglecting to deliver the closing one.  The reader hears the first shoe drop and then strains in agony to hear the second.  In dramatic terms, it’s like putting a gun on the mantelpiece in Act I and then having the heroine drown herself quietly offstage in the bath during the interval.  It’s just not cricket.  Take the example, ‘The Highland Terrier is the cutest, and perhaps the best of all dog species.’  Sensitive people trained to listen for the second comma (after ‘best’) find themselves quite stranded by that kind of thing.  They feel cheated and giddy.  In very bad cases, they fall over.”

“For any true stickler, you see, the sight of the plural word “Book’s” with an apostrophe in it will trigger a ghastly private emotional process similar to the stages of bereavement, though greatly accelerated.  First there is shock.  Within seconds, shock gives way to disbelief, disbelief to pain, and pain to anger.  Finally (and this is where the analogy breaks down), anger gives way to a righteous urge to perpetrate an act of criminal damage with the aid of a permanent marker.”

Image result for grammar "we need hyphens"“Yet there will always be a problem about getting rid of the hyphen:  if it’s not extra-marital sex (with a hyphen), it is perhaps extra marital sex, which is quite a different bunch of coconuts.  Phrases abound that cry out for hyphens.  Those much-invoked examples of the little used car, the superfluous hair remover, the pickled herring merchant, the slow moving traffic and the two hundred odd members of the Conservative Party would all be lost without it.”

“We have a language that is full of ambiguities; we have a way of expressing ourselves that is often complex and elusive, poetic and modulated; all our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we bother to put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places.  Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking.  If it goes, the degree of intellectual impoverishment we face is unimaginable.”

Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

~ ~ ~

Now, from a review of a review of Truss’s book:

The New Yorker does not encourage letters of rejoinder, but Andrew Franklin, Truss’s editor at her publishers, Profile Books, is happy to answer back.  He is not to be outdone in witheringness by Louis Menand.  The problem is mostly the critic’s humourlessness. “If you have no sense of humour”, Franklin thinks, the success of Truss’s book will be a mystery to you.  Misunderstanding the purpose of her book, which is not a style guide but an entertaining “call to arms”, Menand has pedantically reached for a non-existent rule book. “I think he’s a tosser.  You’re welcome to use that,” Franklin remarked when I quizzed him for his views on Truss’s antagonist. “I’d never want to spend an evening in his company.” Rules in English “are more complicated and sophisticated” than he can dream of, he adds. Good writers can break the rules, provided they have learned them before they break them.

Why should it have so provoked one of the New Yorker’s leading writers?  “A twisted colon” is one of Franklin’s explanations, but he also has a weightier cultural analysis.  The attack is “deeply xenophobic”.  An American critic who is used to his readers having their eyes only on American culture has seen them reach for an idiosyncratic English book for a discussion of grammar.  So far the book has sold 800,00o copies in the US, about as many as it has sold in Britain.  For the arbiter of matters literary and linguistic in the New Yorker chair, it is, Franklin guesses, just too much.

– https://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/jul/02/referenceandlanguages.johnmullan


¹ Jim Woodroof’s inspiration is the subject of more than one post on this blog, including this one and this one.  For a generation of Harding students (before my time), at least, he was a legend.  You know how it gets annoying when someone just won’t let an opportunity pass without mentioning his favorite issue?  I decided at some point after having heard a couple of special lectures and having read a couple of his books, that he was the most perfect ample of a single-issue guy I had ever come across.  Here’s the thing:  the “issue,” for Jim Woodroof, was always Jesus.  He always focused attention on Jesus.

² “Land of the eternally living” was the late Cecil Hook’s description of his wife’s soul’s abode after her passing.  For more on Hook and his influence, see this post.

³ I am currently reading God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew T. Walker.  So far, I judge it to be fair-minded and helpful for Christians.

Three theological tidbits

One  I’ve come up short in terms of knowledge so often that it’s hardly worth mentioning.  It’s happened again, in the last couple of weeks, with respect to a theological teaching known as PSA.  Here, PSA is neither an oncologist’s measurement nor a mediaperson’s “public service announcement.”  Theologically, apparently PSA is Penal Substitutionary Atonement.  I didn’t even know anything had been labeled as such, and I’ve never before considered PSA’s pros and cons.  Essentially, I think most people who would call themselves Christians assume some degree of PSA, whereas discriminating, studied theologians have nuanced it and decided on at least a partial yea or nay.

I have only barely started thinking about this, and even a cursory search and scan immediately sends me spiraling suspiciously down a staircase of suppositions.  In other words, I get dizzy with the labels and can’t find my way to the elevator.

Did you know that the root word “atone” is not found in the entire New Testament in the RSV or NASB or NJB translations?  It does appears 4x in the NT in the NRSV, and there are dozens of instances in some English Bibles in the Old Testament (but only 4x in the OT in the Roman-Catholic NJB).  The words “propitiation” and “expiation” come into play here, too . . . but the exegete’s questions must be focused on original-language words such as “ἱλάσκομαι” | hilaskomai and what they mean in context in such passages as Hebrews 2:17.  How intriguing that the only other place hilaskomai is used is in Luke 18:13, and the aorist middle/passive form is not translated “atone” there in any of my English Bibles.  Related, cognate words such as ἱλαστήριον | hilasterion ought also to be considered (and this word is also rendered with multiple English words), but cognates won’t all necessarily refer to the same theological notion.  The questions keep coming. . . .  In pursuits like this one, we deal in concepts, not merely words, and we cannot blindly focus only on the concepts present in the receptor language (in my case, English).  Still, the absence and presence of “atone” or “atoning” in certain English Bibles intrigues me, perhaps betraying theological alignments or biases.  Another interesting “find” is that atonement appears ten times in three apocryphal books (Sirach and 2nd and 4th Maccabees) literature.  Could it be that the literature from inter-testamental period, as appropriated after Christ, influenced a new-covenant theology of atonement?  I really have to stop here for now.

Eventually, I ought to ponder and study more about atonement and PSA.  This notion is potentially highly significant, and its long legs extend into such areas as soteriology, eschatology, and congregational worship.  Theological matters do have ways of extending themselves.  They also have ways of making some of us yawn, recoil, or shrivel.  A friend once relayed to me the following quotes or near-quotes:

“Happy is the Christian who has never met a theologian.” – Vance Havner, an influential Southern Baptist evangelist

I was wandering around lost in a dark forest with only one little candle to light my way when a theologian came along and blew out my candle.  – French Renaissance essayist Francois Rabelais

I can laugh at those, but, in my mind, theology has a forbidding presence—one that I’m only sporadically interested in acknowledging.

Two  In the current Lexham Press catalog, I found a few titles I was interested in:

  1. Honoring the Son: Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice (Larry Hurtado’s forthcoming work on the worship of Christ in the early church)
  2. The Universal Story (Dru Johnson’s treatment of Genesis 1-11)
  3. The Bible Unfiltered (Michael Heiser’s angle on the supernatural worldview inherent in scripture)

So many titles, however, seem like mere theological meanderings:

  • The Apostles’ Creed:  A Guide to the Ancient Catechism 
  • 1) Christian Essentials and 2) Theological Institutes (two different titles, surely with two different lists/presentations)
  • Studies in Historical & Systematic Theology (series)
  • Introduction to Dogmatic Theology (most of it is, I’d say!)
  • The Theological Correspondence of John Frame
  • No Quick Fix (an exposé of Keswickian “higher life” theology)
  • An Exegetical Theology of 1-3 John

Even the last one’s blurb shows the book to be more connected to “systematic theology” than to 1-2-3 John.  When I do take time for theology, it’s with trepidation.  In a recent “church” visit, I was unwittingly put on notice that I could never belong there, because anyone who does not support X theological construct is clearly viewed as heretical.

Three  I do appreciate the following wise words on the theological bent, so I’ll leave you with them for today.  Don’t miss the final clause about the likely mingling of motivations.

Theology is a bit like a spider’s web, in the sense that cutting a single strand of a theological framework can drastically alter the shape of the whole.

A good theologian understands the web from many angles. They can identify the fundamental tenets of an intricate system. They can foresee the potential effects of disregarding those tenets in advance. They can perceive when an apparently obscure issue is being used as a proxy for the underlying disagreement — and when it is not actually an obscure issue at all. They can spot patterns, echoes, allusions, and possibilities.

This obviously requires clarity of thought — but it also demands empathy and a wide-ranging understanding of context, since personal motivations are so often mingled with doctrinal ones.

– Academic scholar Maddy Ward

Story and narrative

It’s an age-old problem—distinguishing between stories on the one hand and stories on the other.  (Yes, that’s what I meant to say.)  The problem is precisely that the word “story” can be used in more than one way!

“Let me tell you a story about the storied history of a three-story house.”

Do you think a story that begins that way would be just a story, or will it be history?  The plot might thicken, or it might not.

Children’s bedtime stories might include “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Curious George Goes to the Fair” and “Peter Rabbit” and “Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” and Bible stories and something about pigs and pancakes.  How will a child learn to distinguish and interpret all this?  (Then there is the comparison between stories about Santa Claus and stories about Jesus, but that’s another story.  I worry about this off and on, but I don’t recall having trouble separating fact from fiction as I moved into preteen years, so I guess my son will be okay, too.)

As skeptics are quick to point out, not every element in a biblical story may be “true” as a 21st-century western mind conceives of “true.”  To be sure, some discrepancies and inconsistencies appear.  I think some of the difficulties may be traced to textual provenance and editing concerns—i.e., we don’t have the original text or even a 2nd-generation copy of it, so we can’t pinpoint how a new word or different spelling crept in.  Other incongruities indicate that ancient writers weren’t concerned with the accurate reporting of “fact” in the same way we are.  Yet the narratives in our Bibles were written to convey important truths, and they are largely structured around historical realities such as the Herodian dynasty, the 2nd/rebuilt temple, the Philistines, or ancient Egypt.

In interpreting narrative, it is both important and helpful to pay attention to the tools of the storytelling trade, such as . . .

  • the presentation and development of characters 
  • the pacing of a story—where it slows down and spends time, and where its gaps occur
  • the setting 

In the area of “setting,” I recommend this short video produced by The Bible Project

So in a flood, which would you read?

So.

Increasingly, the conjunction “so” seems to be used to launch a comment rather than to connect it to something that went before.  News reporters and interviewees seem often to start commentary with “So . . ,” and it sometimes strikes me as though the interviewer is little more than a necessary prelude, interrupting the interviewee’s presumably superior, ongoing observations.

Q:  “Kristi, what are you seeing there at Comdex?”
A:  “So it’s quite the melée this year.  People everywhere.”
Q:  “What is the best new technology you’ve seen?”
A:  “So this great new app by BlitZGen Creations filters out interviewers’ questions, allowing us more knowledgeable commentators to be heard uninterrupted during the livestream experience.  It’s, like, the coolest thing since the mute button.”

Yeah, yeah.  Whatever, Kristi.

So in the livestream of my life, I am unable to keep up with much.  I always seem to get plenty to eat, to my detriment, but parenting items and household tasks and Bible studies and music projects and other things seem to stay in piles in my head—and also in puddles in the corners of life.  Just when I’d completed a couple tasks, so that things looked better this week (life has a way of balancing out like this), a pipe burst, and we got water in our basement.  Since there is no drain, it took hours to mop and sop up an estimated 25-30 gallons, and we’re grateful for the help of a friend yesterday evening.  We will lose a few items like area rugs and maybe a laptop, but many people have had it much worse.  The actual costs involved will doubtless amount to less than our insurance deductible.  In other words, our monetary losses will not be absorbed (ha) by the insurance company.  The impact on us is probably more to time, morale, and strained backs and hands.  Ah, well.

So as thoughts flood into my mind, in an effort to think about something other than the mess and the work ahead, I read a bulletin about a conference on Linguistics and NT Greek.  Then I clicked on a link about a Discourse Analysis lecture and found it took me to a festschrift in honor of one of the lecturers.  So here are the contents of the book (which is lovingly and beneficently marketed by the Logos folks here):

  • “Discourse Analysis as an Aid to Bible Translation”
  • “Why Hasn’t Literary Stylistics Caught on in New Testament Studies?”
  • “Let Me Direct Your Attention: Attention Management and Translation”
  • “How Orality Affects the Use of Pragmatic Particles, and How It Is Relevant for Translation”
  • “Organization and Allusion in Ezekiel 20”
  • “Breaking Perfect Rules: The Traditional Understanding of the Greek Perfect”
  • “Greek Presents, Imperfects, and Aorists in the Synoptic Gospels: Their Contribution to Narrative Structuring”
  • “The Verbal Aspect of the Historical Present Indicative in Narrative”
  • “Particles and Participles: A Helpful Partnership”
  • “The Semantic Effect of Floating Quantifiers in New Testament Greek”
  • “The Discourse Function of ἀλλά in Non-Negative Contexts”
  • “Information Structure Issues in Copular εἶναι Clauses”
  • “Evaluating Luke’s Unnatural Greek: A Look at His Connectives”
  • “The Use of the Article Before Names of Places: Patterns of Use in the Book of Acts”

So which chapters catch your eye?  Which would you read, and why?  I don’t yet know enough about some of those things to satisfy myself . . .

For there is much to learn . . .

Yet I do not tend to learn what I want to learn. . . .

So I will put my own five choices in the comments, hoping a few readers will do the same.


This has been a blogpost brought to you by the alternative/nonstandard use of coordinating conjunctions (and maybe a couple of adverbs).

Gaps

In reading a new John Grisham novel (about my 10th, but the first in several years), I notice a technique used skillfully by the author.  Grisham likes to leave things to the imagination by leaving gaps in the narrative between chapters.  One chapter will end on a dramatic note or with some sense of “what in the world is going to happen with that situation?”  The next chapter start will somewhere entirely different, and the reader understands, within the first couple sentences, that other things have transpired in the meantime.  The gaps are eventually filled in . . . or they might not be materially filled in at all.

Image result for four gospelsThis technique reminds me of the writers or compilers¹ of the gospels—in the unique genre of literature we find in the historic-theological narrative of the four gospels.  The gospels, of course, aren’t legal suspense novels, nor are they intended as historical in terms of news incident reports or history texts today.  The gospels do relate real events that occurred in history, but there are gaps.  I might wish I knew what, if anything, transpired between Matthew 21 and 22.  Part of me longs to know what happened between John 9 and John 10.  I must be content, though, with not knowing whether it was the same crowd of Pharisees.  These “gaps” do not occur only at the ends of “chapters.”  There were no chapters or verses for quite some time, and the ones we have today can be problematic in some instances.  Are we sure that no time transpired between Matthew 4:23 and Matthew 5?  If none did, it affects the interpretation of the so-called “sermon on the mount.”  What about between Mark 8:21 and 8:22, as the reader enters the literary core of that gospel?  There are literary markers that give clues, but in most cases, I’ll have to be content in the un-knowing.

It is important to realize that the Jesus-narratives retained in our four canonical gospels amount to selective literary portraits, not exhaustive documentaries in a meticulous, 21st-century sense.  As such, the gospels tell selected things, putting them in certain orders for their own purposes.   There are gaps in, and re-orderings of, the respective storylines.  The reader should know that time might pass between two events, or the second might have occurred before the first.  Did the “cleansing of the temple” occur late in Jesus’ life, or early in his ministry, as the “contra-optic” John has it?  Did the Nicodemus conversation occur soon after that, or was there a gap of weeks, months, or even years between the two?

I wish I could fill in more of the gaps in the life and teaching of Jesus, but I think I have my hands full with what I already have in my head and heart.


¹ Not one of our four gospels retains a definite authorship attribution, and the names we have associated with each one are based on tradition—strong tradition in some cases, but tradition nonetheless.  I tend to think that each of them was tied in some way to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Perhaps most of the inscribing and compiling of selections of written fragments (and oral traditions) was ultimately the busywork of groups of believers that surrounded each of those men.

Manuscripts, data validity, and textual criticism

More and more, I ponder the nature and provenance of scripture.  Until a few days ago, for instance, I had never stopped to consider that there might have been abbreviations in the original manuscripts of Paul’s letters.  After all, it is clear that he used an amanuensis, and such a methodological setup could easily have involved abbreviations that were later expanded into full forms of words.  This possibility does not threaten my notion(s) of scripture, but it does expand my thinking a little.  If any such thoughts make you uncomfortable, I’m sorry, but please read on.  I think you’ll find that the bits below¹ serve more to shore up than to wear away any moorings.

We have multiple copies of scripture documents from the same period of history, and when we use these copies to check one another, the bottom line is that we have extraordinarily stable and reliable scripture texts.  (The scenario is quite different with most classical, secular works of which perhaps one to three medieval copies survive.)

Agnostic scholar Bart Ehrmann has sensationalized the reality that tens of thousands of manuscript variants exist.  It might well be difficult to put that fact in perspective, if one is ignorant of the fact that 10,000 or more fragmentary manuscripts exist, and that all of them were copied by hand.  And after all, it must be expected that minor variants would exist, especially given that the copies were made over a period of more than 1200 years.  We exist these days in a photocopier world in which minor variants occur only in terms of toner density or pieces of lint that fall onto the glass platen, but the ethos fostered by our duplication scenario was simply inconceivable to the ancients.  Although textual variants were a part of ancient reality, again, according to Hurtado, the percentage of insignificant variants is high—higher than 95%.  These variants do not deserve much individual attention, relatively speaking.  Of the remaining ones, many are very intriguing, but none alter the reality of the Christian faith.

Here is an exceedingly interesting point that makes a good deal of common sense:  when fragments make up the documentary evidence for our sacred texts, the aggregate weight is more convincing if they are randomized than if the selections had been neatly and intentionally chosen.  In other words, if I am a scribe in the 5th century and I want to make a point, I might choose, say, John chapter 6 and part of chapter 7 with a neat beginning and ending.  I might copy that text and disseminate it, wanting my selection to serve a particular purpose and giving it a designated beginning and ending.  On the other hand, if two surviving fragments begin in the middle of different paragraphs and end at different points—one of them, say, ending in the middle of a word, the very fact that the fragmentation has occurred without forethought can help in the process of validation.

Speaking now of more complete copies, as opposed to fragments . . . according to Larry Hurtado, John’s gospel boasts more early, surviving manuscript copies than any other New Testament “book.”²  Hurtado, a recognized expert in the field of Christian origins, also

  • states that there were early Christian “copy centers”—for instance, in Antioch, where master versions were held for the express purpose of making copies for dissemination
  • frequently asserts the generally “bookish” nature of early Christians, even going so far as to say that some early Christians were textual maniacs

I infer from such insights as Hurtado’s that early Christian devotees—either consciously or by providence (or both) were in their writings and disseminations setting forth solid evidence for generations to come.

For a related post on Hurtado’s blog, try here for starters.


¹ Many of these thoughts come from notes I took while listening to a podcast featuring Dr. Larry Hurtado.

² However, Matthew’s gospel seems to have been quoted the most frequently by “church fathers” in the succeeding centuries.

Faith qua allegiance (part 2)

For me, allegiance is a central Christian concept, and it has been throughout my adult life.  In this first post on the word-concept allegiance, I traveled through a bit of personal historyreferring to the relationship of allegiance to human government, songs by Ray Boltz and Rich Mullins, and the influence of Lee Camp.  In the last two years—and especially in the last few months—the place of allegiance has been bolstered considerably in this believer’s thinking.  Allegiance has been inextricably connected to faith itself.

Life can bring great serendipities, synergies, and dovetailings.¹  I note the following that have come in the same phase of my life:

  • a heightened awareness of theological positioning around the word “faith” (and also sovereignty and free will), due in part to a men’s discussion group
  • persistent thoughts about allegiance to God’s Kingdom in a group study of Matthew
  • our home group’s study of Galatians
  • an academic blog’s feature of Dr. Matthew Bates’s 3rd book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Amazon catalog reference here).

Product DetailsWhile I have been mentally and hermeneutically challenged in all of the above, the connections are nevertheless satisfying.  Prior to applying this to my present study of Galatians, I’d like to highlight key portions of the lengthy interview with Matthew Bates (see here for part 1).  Here are the lead paragraphs:

Not since the Reformation has there been a challenge to the five solas as persistent and potentially persuasive as Matthew W. Bates’ third book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017).  This book has generated a groundswell of controversy that continues to build as more theologians, pastors, and laypeople are exposed to Bates’ nuanced proposal.

Bates’ thesis, at once radical and obvious, is this:  in the New Testament writings, the Greek word pistis, or “faith,” is better translated as “allegiance.”  He does not intend for every instance of pistis in our Bibles to be retranslated, but for him, there are specific contexts, especially in Paul and the Gospels, in which the only reasonable rendering is “allegiance,” as in the kind of fidelity or loyalty that one would give to a king.

Note that Bates is especially focused on the gospels and Pauline letters, and also note that allegiance is connected to divine sovereignty, something to which most Christians would give assent, to one level or another.  Next, here is a crystallization of what I take as the crux of the issue, from part 2 of the interview:

Interviewer:  Of the Reformation solas, only yours seems completely dependent upon human agency.  All the rest are due to God’s agency, whether that be scriptura, gratia, doxa, fides (as a gift from God, Eph 2:8), or Christos. How would you respond to the criticism that your sixth sola fails to meet the standard of the others due to misplaced agency?

Matthew Bates:  First, I am not arguing for a sixth sola, but primarily seeking to advocate for a truer understanding of sola fide (by faith alone).  My exploration seeks to uphold the solas while seeking greater precision with respect to their true biblical boundaries.  I do conclude that sola gratia (by grace alone) and soli Deo gloria (for the glory of God alone) need to be nuanced in particular ways in order to stay faithful to the biblical vision.  This is because grace and boasting have both been misunderstood with regard to works (of Law).  As far as I am aware, I am not seeking to add distinctive shades of meaning with regard to Christ alone or Scripture alone.

Second, in Salvation by Allegiance Alone I never state that pistis is solely dependent on human agency rather than God’s agency.  In fact, quite the opposite:

Grace in the sense of God’s prior activity precedes ‘faith,’ for God first had to bring about the good news before it could be proclaimed and before allegiance to Jesus as Lord could be confessed (Rom. 10:9–14).  Moreover, God is the creator, and every good gift comes from God (James 1:17), so we must affirm God as the ultimate source of ‘faith’ and all else. (p. 105)

What is being claimed is that faith, enabled by grace, is the only contribution that we make to our salvation. (p. 122)

So I do assert that in some sense the ability to render allegiance to Jesus the king is either due to God’s agency, or is at least a gift bequeathed to our libertarian agency in the wake of the Christ-event.  Yet since Scripture puts far more emphasis on our agency with regard to pistis than God’s agency, throughout the book I frequently speak about our own human agency in giving pistis to Jesus the king (emphasis mine  -bc).  In so doing I am trying to give the same weight of emphasis that we find in Scripture.  Yet I deliberately leave the nature of God’s agency with respect to our own underdetermined.

This matter of agency is key for systematic theologians whose formulaic approaches almost make it a spiritual crime to acknowledge a human response to God—or, dare I suggest it, a human initiative in some sense.  Yes, “while we were yet sinners,” God took action.  But that notion does not negate the fact that we now owe God allegiance.  If allegiance is something God enables, fine, but as far as I know, I choose to give it, and I am glad to give it, in my human weakness, when I am at my best.

Matthew W. BatesWith respect to the word “gospel” (ευαγγέλιον | euangélion), Bates makes the statement, “We can’t make decisions about what ‘good news’ means on the basis of our feelings about what sort of ‘news’ would be better for us.”  Bates then points as an example to a popular author who “is allowing systematic concerns about what would be better for us to override first-century meanings.”  Taking what I believe would be classified a synchronic (within a time period) linguistic approach, Bates says, “The meaning of first-century words must be determined by first-century usages.”  He would say the same about the word “faith” (pistis | πίστις ).  In other words, it doesn’t really matter what what a 21st-century regurgitation of a Lutheran “faith alone” theology conveys to the modern Protestant ear.  Recovering as much of a first-century sense of “faith” (pistis) as possible is key to understanding what Paul and others meant when they wrote of “faith.”

Whatever one makes of Bates’s book,² there can be no doubt that coming to grips with a fuller range of meaning of “pistis” is key to a more adequate understanding of New Covenant “faith.”  And so, when I come to Galatians and struggle hermeneutically with whether in 2:16 or “pistis” means faith (RSV, ESV, NIV, etc.) or faithfulness (NET Bible and some more recent commentators), I now have another viable option:  allegiance or loyalty.

I might now paraphrastically expand some Galatians phrases to include the allegiance idea.  Consider a few more traditional English renderings, followed by the “new possibility” in each case.

2:16

ESV:  we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, …

NET:  we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, …

New possibility:  we know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through the Jesus Christ’s faithful allegiance, and we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by Christ’s allegiance, and not by works of the law, . . .

2:20

New possibility:  I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by loyal trust in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

3:2

ESV:  And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, . . .

New possibility:  And the scripture, foreseeing that God would later justify the Gentiles by their faith-filled allegiance to Him, . . .

3:22

ESV:  But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

New possibility:  But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise that emanates from Jesus Christ’s faithful allegiance might be given to those who also believe loyally.

3:26

CSB:  for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus . . .

New possibility:  for through faithful allegiance you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus . . .

New possibility (expanded):  for through faithful allegiance —first, that of Jesus, and now, your own—you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus . . .

Whether this season is more filled with Santa and snowmen or shepherds and angels for you, consider allegiance to the King.  Perhaps the thoughtless use of phrases such as “newborn king” or “little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay” bothers you a little, as it bothers me.  Still, I affirm that Jesus did become Lord and Christ.  He became King.  And having faith in Jesus implies allegiance to Him as King.


¹ One such dovetailing was when we first engaged in the serious study of Paul’s letter to Philemon—a letter written to a “house church”—with a home fellowship that met in our living and dining room.  What serendipity, right?  (Or providence, if you prefer.)  I’ve written about that more than once.  Try these two:

Community in Philemon
A mini-odyssey with small groups (3 of 6)

² I myself pored over the serial blogposts and am about to order the book but but have not read it yet.

Historical insights, “position players,” and “Judaism”

I can attribute my relatively newfound affinity for history to three sets of people/experiences:

Two musicology professors second to none:  Jonathan Bellman and Deborah Kauffman of the University of Northern Colorado

Publication CoverAs an undergraduate, I had no appreciation for music history at all, and one of my two music history courses was the only music class for which I ever earned a B.  On the master’s level, I wasn’t taught much in this area.  At UNC, though, during my doctoral studies, Bellman and Kauffman led me down paths of historical connection and insight, bringing alive for me so much more than the progression from one “style period” to another.  Presently, Kauffman is Editor-in-Chief of the journal shown here, and Bellman is on its editorial board as well.  Both of them honed my writing skills.  I seized on several opportunities in their content areas, going beyond my curricular requirements and almost earning enough credits for a minor in music history.

Historical fiction

The Blue Orchard: A NovelHistorical fiction is about the only kind of fiction to which I gravitate.  Even in my video entertainment choices, I like things that are, or at least could be, real.  In recent months I’ve read Blue Star and The Blue Orchard.  In case you wondered, neither has anything to do with the color blue (or much to do with stars or orchards, either).  These books were engaging and instructive—the former, about persons in an Appalachian town during the build-up to WWII; the latter, about an abortion doctor and his nurse in Central Pennsylvania during the same time period (expanded a bit).  Both were authored by individuals with academic credentials, and their abilities with language and with storytelling kept me reading.  Read my brief reviews of these books here.  I think my wife started me down this path; we enjoy certain historical documentaries together, and she reads historical fiction, too.

The pursuit of early Christianity’s history

Although I’d say I’ve always been interested in first-century Christianity, I began to pursue it with more energy after reading Paul R. Barnett’s The Birth of Christianity:  The First Twenty Years.  The two decades that began in approximately 33 CE constitute a period exceedingly worthy of our reach to comprehend—from both intellectual and pragmatic standpoints.  Barnett’s book laid groundwork for me in clearly presenting, e.g., these facts:  (1) Saul was blinded and converted on the Damascus Road within months of Jesus’ crucifixion, and (2) not more than two decades transpired between those events and when the first extant Christian writings were penned.

It must not go without mention that engagement with the years leading up to the time of Jesus and the apostles is also important.  I have barely begun to scratch the surface of understanding the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, the Davidic and later-divided kingdoms, and the impact on the “culture” of the people of God that resulted from the captivities in Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon.  Neither may the influence of Greek culture or the Roman Empire be rightly discounted when seeking to understand Jesus’ message, the early disciples, and the teachings of Matthew, Paul, and other other writers.

Some feel that their denominations’ takes on things are as important as what happened at the beginning.  The logic tends to go something like this:  God and truth are pursued within the faith-community, so ecclesiological structures such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the Missouri Synod, or the Vatican are repositories of authoritative truth today.  I demur.  Although I support the notion of “faith community,” in the later years far removed from the first century, I find more reason for scrutiny, suspicion, and distance than for support of church conclusions and directions.  If we understood the cultural-historical setting at the time of Jesus of Nazareth, we would understand and apply the period texts better in our faith communities and personal lives.

The backdrop unfurled above quickly became too lengthy.  Rather than making this a serial blogposting, I think I will just make a couple of relatively brief observations with historical implications and then invite comments.

Observation #1:  the term “position player”

Baseball commentators these days are fond of delineating between pitchers and “position players.”  Maybe I only paid selective attention to news media and commentators in my youth, but I don’t remember ever hearing the term “position player” back then.  (For the uninitiated, “position player” refers categorically to a group of field positions including shortstop, center field, and every position other than pitcher [which is also a position, I would point out].)  The professional game of baseball is these days much more focused on pitchers:  witness all the talk about pitch count and the speeds of their fastballs.  My historical hunch is that the category “position player” has developed along with the professional game of baseball.

Whether or not I missed the sporadic use of this term in my early years, I would probably stake my (lack of!) historian’s reputation on the assertion that the usage of the term has increased exponentially since the 1990s.

Observation #2:  the term “Judaism”

Notably, Paul used the term “Judaism” twice in the first chapter of Galatians.¹  These days, depending on who is using the word, and in what setting, “Judaism” might have multiple referents.  I pick up that scholars primarily use the word to refer to the faith-system of the people of the Tanakh (Old Testament) as it developed from the 2nd-Temple Period onward, i.e., after the return from Babylon.²  “Judaism” might be further delineated with respect to the downfall of Jerusalem in 66-74 CE, and/or the rabbinic period which saw the rise of the Talmud, or other developments.  My historical hunch is that “Judaism,” as the term is used by Paul, has more to do with the faith-system and rituals of the 2nd Temple period than with faith in the God of (all) the scriptures.  I find that the term “Judaism” is best thought of as referring to the Hebrew/Jewish faith-system that (has) existed during one or more time periods after 586 BCE.

It seems to me that the usage patterns of the terms “position player” and “Judaism” may be seen as historically based signs of the times.  These terms are aptly seen as speaking within, or to, historical periods.  Specifically in Galatians, Paul appears to call attention to the system of Judaism in which he had been “advancing . . . beyond many of [his] contemporaries” (NET Bible).  With a developing (but not by any means well defined) sense of the first century, I would suggest two things about Paul as revealed in this text.  In writing to the Galatians,

  1. Paul did not denigrate genuine faith in the God of the Old Testament.
  2. Paul employed a unique or at least patently uncommon noun:  Judaism.  He appears to refer, at best neutrally, to a system of faith-related rituals and practices; in doing so, he distinguishes 2nd-Temple Judaistic practice from genuine, post-resurrection faith in God and in Jesus Christ.

The specification of positions on the baseball diamond is obviously not a big deal, but in the case of “Judaism,” it well serves serious students of Christianity to think about historical development and the implications of Paul’s term Ἰουδαϊσμῷ | ioudaismo, opposite how the term “Judaism” is used today.

Please share comments, questions, and observations.


¹ There are no other instances of this exact word in all the NT (or the Greek OT, for that matter).

² There are ethnic and political implications of such terms as “Judaism,” and “Jewish,” but I’m intentionally confining my observation here.

Meet the mascot

Meet the Mascot at Walls of Books – Atchison . . .

Betty (Bibli)Ophilia¹ Walls

a/k/a Betty the Bookstore Bunny

Betty the Bookstore Bunny has become a store fixture at Walls of Books – Atchison, the store my wife manages, since the Great “Books with Bunnies” Adoption event.²  At night, Betty sleeps in her cage in the back, and she stays behind the counter most of the time the store is open.  She eats pellet food, hay, and the occasional celery top or strawberry leaf.  She is “trained” and has only had one minor accident-statement—as though to say “this area is now mine.”  She enjoys ripping newspaper shreds and nibbling on cardboard, an activity that’s good for her teeth.

Development and Training

Betty has grown comfortable in her area.  She lazes, she sits and munches, or she watches and checks things out.  She perks up when cars pass by and when customers come in the door but is not skittish.  She shows curiosity about Mama Manager’s activities and often approaches to sniff and to learn about the cash register.  Betty may turn out to be a natural retailer, but she is a hare short to be of much direct assistance.  BOSHA² has recommended the installation of an ergonomically sound rabbit pedestal.  Betty doesn’t appear to be the litigious type and is unlikely to sue, being rather content with standing on her hind legs, jumping a little in the morning, and flopping down at breaktime.

Product Knowledge and Local Sales Implications

Betty’s IQ has not been tested, but she manifests a love of learning.  She shows a particular taste for what is termed “inspectional reading” in Mortimer Adler’s classic guide (but has not actually tasted any books).

A shop three doors down often has a black lab mix sitting near the door, but he seems to ward off undesirables and divert attention more than actually contributing to sales.  A couple of notable establishments in town have the requisite store cat, but no feline-revenue correlation has been published.  On the other hand, a couple of special customers have gotten to spend time with Betty the Bookstore Bunny, forming a bond.  It is thought that Betty will eventually be able to greet customers—and perhaps to help direct them to certain authors/items, e.g., the Beatrix Potter and Alice in Wonderland books, the pet section, and fidget toys (but not the hunting section).

~ ~ ~

Previous posts on books:

Books! (1 of 2)

Books! (2 of 2)

Store Link:

Walls of Books in Atchison, Kansas:  http://wallsofbooks.net/atchison


¹ “Bibliophilia,” from Gk. biblio and philos, means “love of books.”

² The adoption program on 4/15/17 was jointly sanctioned by Walls of Books franchise headquarters and BPS.  [BPS, of course, is Bunny Protective Services.  I assume readers can deduce what BOSHA in the Development and Training section is.]  No large snakes were benefited by the bunny placements.