Thursday, April 28, 2005

I've also been toying with the idea of adding Darth to the blogroll. What do you think?
I don't know how many times people have written asking me to post some links to videos of amazing Russian jugglers, but I've finally decided to give in. Just click on "videos", of course.
I agreed to send off my copy of Theology Without Foundations to Tim Enloe, since a. he badly wanted it, b. it seems to be out of print and copies are in short supply, and c. I really need to get some books out of the house. I told him I'd reread it and then send it off to him. I'm enjoying it even more the second time around, probably due to some small shifts in my thinking bringing a bit closer to the some of the writers in the volume.

Only one of the essays was less than useful to me, and even that one had a very poignant story in it. I'm on the last section now, an article by Jewish scholar Michael Goldberg called "Discipleship: Basing One Life on Another--It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know". In the first part he talks about traditional rabbinic methods of teaching in which the disciple serves his teacher/master uncritically, observing everything about the teacher's way of life and performing mundane tasks for him. He contrasts this with his experience at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in the 70's. He starts the section with a quote: "When I was at the [Jewish Theological] Seminary, the least frequently mentioned word was God." --Art Green

Goldberg continues a bit later:

I remember a Bible teacher who had spent some lengthy period of time translating a difficult text in Isaiah on the basis of certain parallel cuneiform texts. Barely able to contain himself, he proudly informed us of the text's proper translation. But when we asked him what that meant, i.e., what religious meaning that prophetic text might have for us, he waved his arm as if shooing flies, and said, "That's not my department."

The Bible teacher's answer may well be acceptable within the modern academy. For despite foundationalist quests to decontextualize and depersonalize knowledge, that quest itself provides a context within which a certain type of personality is produced with a certain set of virtues particular to it:"clarity but not necessarily charity, honesty but not necessarily friendliness, devotion to the [academic] calling but not necessarily loyalty to particular and local communities of learning."[footnote refernce to Schwehn, "The Academic Vocation"--pb] But even though the Bible teacher's answer would likely gain acceptance within the academy, it would be, it must be, unacceptable in any institution that would lay claim to being heir to what Israel's sages taught. In fact, it remained unclear to me how what the Seminary's teachers taught or what we students learned might be called Torah--God's instruction to and for his people. But if talmud torah was not what we did, then into what practice were we being schooled? And what kind of practitioners were we expected to become? Seminary faculty such as the Bible professor--like many academics everywhere--generally taught their clases and then disappeared. Few shared with students anything at all about thier lives, and far fewer shared anything with us at all about life itself. The sages believed their distinctive life-embracing practices critical to making God present to their disciples. It can hardly be surprising that at the Seminay, where there were so few rabbinic masters, God's presence was so largely absent.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What a coincidence. My birthday is coming up, and I've now seen the perfect gift for any guy.

Thanks to Jim Hart for the link.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Finished watching the film Dogville today. With 3 hour films and babies crying and so forth I find it easier to break these things up. Also gives me a chance to reflect on things a bit. This film is almost universally condemned as a piece of anti-american propaganda by an ameriphobic Danish writer/director (Lars von Trier). Just look up Ebert's review, or most of the comments on imdb. I'm not linking them because I think they all missed the mark really badly. While the setting is a tiny rocky mountain town, and there is a 4th of July celebration in the middle of the film, it is really a Christ story, though arguably one with some seriously flawed theology, depending on how one interprets things. SPOILERS AHEAD

The sequence of events shows a young woman named Grace (Nicole Kidman), appernetly recently escaped from some involvement with gangsters and seeking refuge in Dogville. She offers to work for the residents in exchange for their goodwill and hospitality and some meager wages. They are eventually convinced by Tom (Paul Bettany) to accept this. Before long, though, she is the object of sexual advances by all the males in town, and the object of scorn of all the females. After a failed attempt to escape, she is chained to a heavy iron wheel and still made to work without any wages. Through all of this, while recognizing the evils being done, she is always ready to forgive and move forward. However, her one "friend", Tom, betrays her to the gangsters out of anger that he is the only one denied her sexual favors (being the town moralist, he is unwilling to rape her, like the others).

When the gangsters arrive, we learn that the boss is in fact her father. He offers to kill everyone for her. She resists this idea, saying that the people are only acting according to their nature. After further discussion with her father and one last conversation with Tom, she agrees to have the town burnt down and the people killed.

For those accustomed to more realist films, Dogville seems by turns evil and finally vindictive. However, there is nothing realist about this film. The whole film is performed on a stage with only chalk outlines for buildings, thus allowing us to see the activities of the people inside their homes, etc. Even the town dog, Moses, is a chalk outline.

The only comment I've seen so far that seemed anywhere near the mark was one on imdb which compared it to the story of Lot, which seemed at least partially appropriate. There was like Sodom, not one soul found righteous. When confronted with Grace, they all rejected her, and thus were subjected to the wrath of God and his angels (most of the killing and burning was done by the thugs).

Anyone else seen this yet and have a comment?

Friday, April 15, 2005

Overheard at Harvard:

student 1: my econ prof is SOOOoooo full of BS.

student 2: oh yeah? I guess mine felt he wasn't full enough.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

I think the only thing missing from this document is a mention of the chapstick industry, which apparently is based in some lesser state.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Our small group from church tonight watched a fascinating film called Mountain of Fire. It followed a couple of guys who decided to search for Mt Sinai, and seem to have found it in Saudi Arabia. The stuff they found was just unbelievable. If you can get a hold of this movie, it would make good viewing for any church group.

Monday, April 04, 2005

I've noticed that one of the "favorites" for the next pope is Francis Arinze of Nigeria. Makes me wonder if I'll start getting emails like this:

Dear Sir or madamm,

You have probably heard of the recent seccession of my cousin's brother-in-law, Francis Arinze, to the ofice of Pope in Italy, Europe. Our accounting ofice has noticed that there is the amount of SEVENTY FIVE MILLION DOLLARS ($75,000,000) which we need to remove from Rome ASAP.

Your aid in this matter is greatly appreciated and we simply need you to send us a prepaid envelope to mail you the money. COntact me directly for further details.

Lagos, Nigeria
From all I've heard, Pope John Paul II was a fine and upstanding fellow, but I sure hope they choose a new pope soon. I've been seeing a lot of Jesuits wandering aimlessly in the streets. Bit of a road hazard.

Friday, April 01, 2005

I was noticing that the last three Netflix films we saw were in some way about violence, although with the first one I'm cautious af making many judgements.

Andrei Rublev is a period piece about the famous Russian icon painter of the 15th century. It's a strange film in many ways, especially as it never once, in three and a half hours, shows the title character painting anything. It does feature some of the most extraordinary violence I've ever seen in a film in a sequence where the site of a cathedral under construction is attacked by Mongols. First time I've ever seen a cow on fire.

While I appreciated the artistry and skill of Tarkovsky, I was a bit baffled all the way through. The second film was much more accessible to americans: Changing Lanes. The story follows the path of two men who collide on a busy road in NYC. The wealthy, rising lawyer, played by Ben Affleck, claims he doesn't have time to take care of things properly (he's late for a court appointment), and just writes a blank check. The middle class insurance worker (Samuel L Jackson (I still don't know what the "L" is for)) is also late for his own court appointment in family court where he was hoping to do som reconciliation with his estranged wife and kids. This starts a cycle of revenge, all of which was occasioned by the accident, but all of which is clearly perpetuated by each party being unwilling or unable to forgive the other. I suppose you could call it a study in why forgiveness is so difficult.

The third was City of God, which for some reason I expected to be a vaguely religious film (probably the title). For those who haven't seen it, this is one of the most colorful, personal, authentic well directed gangster movies ever made. The center of the film is a war between two drug gangs in a favala, or slum, in Rio de Janeiro. What marks it as unusual, is that as each character appears, a flashback tells his story. There are perhaps a dozen of these, and it makes for a remarkably human look at how gang violence develops and is perpetuated.

All three of these were top notch, though the first one is not for folks who are short on patience.