Thursday, January 31, 2008
"Hansel and Gretel," by the way, is quite a lovely opera. D is German, so we both knew that many of the melodies are children's folksongs (not sure very many of the rest of the audience knew this), which made us that much more appreciative of the shimmering Wagnerian things he adds to them and draws out of them. And the story - well, Grimm's fairy tales are too cruel for today's child-rearing! This production dazzled also through the wonderfully true children's movements and play of the sopranos singing the title parts, clearly the work of someone who loves children and knows their rhythms and lightning-speed changes of mood...
We had a recording of "Hansel and Gretel" at home which I know well (I think this is the first production I have seen, but I have a very vivid image of how the last act should look - perhaps from a picture on the record cover?), and so it was my own childhood I was transported to for the first half of the opera - half-way into the magical second act. But once the children lost their way, after the sinister cuckoo song, it was my nephews I was seeing.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
I decided a suitable first text was Luke 10:25-37, the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It's a story most people know, accessible and relatively straightforward, not to mention a part of common speech. At least one student didn't know this was the source of the phrase "good Samaritan"; in fact, many folks probably think the phrase redundant since the only Samaritans they've ever heard of are good ones! There were a few other points I was hoping to make, such as what a parable is (and isn't), and that the summary of the law which precedes this one ("'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'") consists of quotations not from Jesus but from the Hebrew Bible. I was also going to mention - though it has nothing to do with the evangelical religious cultures this course explores - figurative/allegorical readings, like this one from Origen (which is in background of the famous Good Samaritan window at Chartres below - my pic from July 2003: notice the Samaritan story coming up the center to undo the story of the Fall narrated around it): The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord’s body, the [inn], which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. … The manager of the [inn] is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been entrusted. And the fact that the Samaritan promises he will return represents the Savior’s second coming.
But in the heat of the moment, my contrarian pedagogy (or pedagogical contrariness) led me to suggest that it was an anti-religious story. The religious specialists in the parable, not to mention the legal scholar to whom Jesus addresses the parable, love their neighbors less than the outlaw Samaritan. Wouldn't we all be better off paying less attention to religion and more to our neighbors?
And yet, the claim that piety makes people self-righteous rather than righteous may seem intuitively true to us in part because of the place of this parable in our sacred tradition! Go figure.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Monday, January 28, 2008
The sounds are in stereo but really three-dimensional; they are positioned in different places deep within the earth. At the top of this post is the "score" of the second of the three tracks, with sounds recorded at Kodiak Island, Alaska; Piñon Flat, California; Obninsk, Russia; and Talaya, also in Russia, which together give you the sound you might hear if you were "1000 miles directly below the North Pole facing the eastern coast of Australia." It takes about 20 minutes to cover 140 days in mid-2006; the time is accelerated 10,000 times and the sounds are transposed upwards 13 octaves!
Quite different the explosive sounds from the time of the great tsunami, 3 days starting December 26, 2004 and accelerated only 245 times, the sounds shifted up by about 8 octaves. Here's Bullitt's "score": Troubling to listen to, but I can see how it might aid one's meditation, becoming aware of the vast cosmos of which human suffering is just a part, and yet not insignificant but true to the depths of cosmic experience.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Ramadan was commissioned to write an essay for a recent issue of the New York Times Book Review devoted to Islam. I liked the essay, "Reading the Koran," enough to include it in the readings for my course this semester (to help get beyond the sterile contrast of Bible vs. secularism). I want my students who don't know how to think of the Bible as anything but a book (if a special one for various vague reasons) to understand what might follow were a text revealed, and how to respond to other claims of revelation. Can one just substitute "Bible" for "Koran" in the below, and if no why? Can one substitute "Plato" or "Shakespeare,"and if so why?
Between the universe and the Koran, between these two realities, between these two texts, human intelligence must learn to distinguish fundamental and universal laws from circumstantial and historical models. This intelligence must display humility in the presence of the order, beauty and harmony of creation and of revelation. At the same time it must responsibly and creatively manage its own accomplishments or interpretations, which are sources of extraordinary success, but also of injustice, war and disorder. Between Text and context, the intelligence of the heart and that of the analytical faculty lay down norms, recognize an ethical structure, produce knowledge, nourish consciousness, and develop enterprise and creativity in all spheres of human activity.
Far from being a prison, or a constraint, revelation is an invitation to mankind to reconcile itself with its deepest essence, and to find there both the recognition of its limitations and the extraordinary potential of its intelligence and its imagination. To submit ourselves to the order of the Just One and of his eternity is to understand that we are free and fully authorized to reform the injustices that lie at the heart of the order or disorder of all that is temporally human.I also sent the essay to the members of a subcommittee of our Literature and Writing programs who have been fashioning an innovative first-year curriculum of readings - which includes some religious texts (Genesis, The Gospel of Mark, and the story of Joseph as told in the Q'uran). I'd asked what they were trying to achieve, and suggested that we might get together to consider how their selection of readings might help students understand religion as well as literature - or at least not get an unnecessarily misleading view. Since everyone seems to think she knows as much as she needs to about the Bible, I sent on the Ramadan essay, ostensibly to help them think about how to select a reading from the Q'uran.
Well, we met yesterday, and they all hated the Ramadan essay. So far as I could tell, they hated it for the reason I'd recommended it - it insists that the Q'uran be read as a religious text. Someone who believed the Jewish or Christian scriptures to be divinely inspired would make a similar sort of argument: you can't read it as just another book! And even if you could, you would misrepresent a scripture's place in the literary history of a culture if you didn't attend to the way religious people read that text. But my colleagues were unmoved. We didn't have time to really discuss it, but their displeasure seemed to come down to the fact that the essay should have appeared in the Times Book Review at all. Not because it's an essay and claims that a particular book can only be read the way the essayist reads it, presumably, but because it's theological...
Would a secularist's account of reading the Q'uran be okay? And why don't we see that the same questions can arise about Jewish and Christian scriptures? The episode has made me more skeptical about "Bible as lit," and that much gladder to have assigned Ramadan's essay in my class!
Friday, January 25, 2008
[His] most recent experience is as the Executive Vice President Operations and Enrollment Management of Cardean Learning Group. He managed call centers in Florida, Illinois, and Connecticut, and restructured the recruiting team while maintaining productivity. He reduced student “melt” by 50%. He has most recently been leading business development efforts for new acquisitions and alliances. [He] entered the education space in 1999 as Vice President of Admissions with UMUC OnLine, a partnership with University of Maryland University College (UMUC). Under his leadership UMUC OnLine reversed a decline in out-of-state enrollments, one of the university’s most profitable segments.
Notice the upfront business orientation! Welcome to "the education space," forget universities let alone academe. We exist to meet and answer student demand, where- and whatever it might be! It's not our job to supply anything in particular. The university of the future would be pleased to offer you a degree in (fill in the blank). I'll book my passage to Bangalore!
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
"Forty two?!" yelled Loonquawl. "Is that all you've got to show for seven and a half million years' work?"
"I checked it very thoroughly," said the computer, "and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is."From trusty Wikipedia (which sounds like a character from Adams but isn't) I learn that Adams created a puzzle for his cover picture of forty two colored balls (above), which, however, nobody noticed was a puzzle. "Everybody was looking for hidden meanings and puzzles and significances in what I had written (like 'is it significant that 6 * 9 is 42 in base 13?'. As if.) So I thought that just for a change I would actually construct a puzzle and see how many people solved it. Of course, nobody paid it any attention. I think that's terribly significant."
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Monday, January 21, 2008
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Friday, January 18, 2008
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Saturday, January 12, 2008
*In fact, what J was telling me was more mind-boggling still, and more disturbing. With ten candidates and a group of voters with fixed preferences, different ways of tabulating the votes could produce upwards of three million different outcomes: "everyone votes one way and yet depending on how you tally it up, you can get almost any ranking (not quite all 10! but a large chunk of them)."
Friday, January 11, 2008
Gloria Steinem hit a whole bunch of nails on the head in an Op-Ed piece in the Times:
Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy.
That’s why the Iowa primary was following our historical pattern of making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women ...
Brava! Whoever ends up the Democratic candidate, we'll be a better nation for a longer and more soul-searching discussion of the merits of these candidates and all they bring and represent.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Monday, January 07, 2008
Smith sums MTD up as a creed:
1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Smith finds MTD among religious teenagers of all faiths, and predicts that this will be the religion of the land - if indeed it is not already. The teenagers Smith and his team interviewed are by and large good and kind and decent people, but he's not altogether happy at this result. As a Christian, indeed an Evangelical, he is troubled by MTD, which dispenses with Jesus and even the need for Jesus. No savior from sin required if there is no sin!
This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, etc. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people. One fifteen-year-old Hispanic conservative Protestant girl from Florida expressed the therapeutic benefits of her faith in these terms: “God is like someone who is always there for you; I don’t know, it’s like God is God. He’s just like somebody that’ll always help you go through whatever you’re going through. When I became a Christian I was just praying, and it always made me feel better.” Making a similar point, though drawing it out from a different religious tradition, this fourteen-year-old white Jewish girl from Washington describes what her faith is all about in this way: “I guess for me Judaism is more about how you live your life. Part of the guidelines are like how to live and I guess be happy with who you are, cause if you’re out there helping someone, you’re gonna feel good about yourself, you know?” Thus, service to others can be one means to feeling good about oneself. Other personal religious practices can also serve that therapeutic end, as this fifteen-year-old Asian Buddhist girl from Alabama observed, “When I pray, it makes me feel good afterward.” Similarly, one fifteen-year-old white conservative Protestant girl from Illinois explained: “Religion is very important, because when you have no one else to talk to about stuff, you can just get it off your chest, you just talk [to God]. It’s good.” And this fourteen-year-old East Indian Hindu girl from California said of her religious practices, “I don’t know, they just really help me feel good.” It is thus no wonder that so many religious and nonreligious teenagers are so positive about religion. For the faith many of them have in mind effectively helps to achieve a primary life goal: to feel good and happy about oneself and one’s life. It is also no wonder that most teens are so religiously inarticulate. As long as one is happy, why bother with being able to talk about the belief content of one’s faith?
... This God is not demanding. He actually can’t be, since his job is to solve our problems and make people feel good. In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist—he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.
(This is from a lecture Smith gave a Princeton Seminary entitled On “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” as U.S. Teenagers’ Actual, Tacit, De Facto Religious Faith which you can easily find with a quick internet search.)
Sunday, January 06, 2008
I found this picture in a beautiful book I got my parents for Christmas, Phaidon's 30,000 Years of Art: The story of human creativity across time and space. The book weighs a ton (good thing I ordered it delivered!), but that's because it has 1000 beautiful photos of art from everywhere. Their editors have a good eye, and, while there are obvious gaps, they get it right often enough. The conceit of the book is to present the history of art as if it were a single history, and so you're likely to find objects from Peru and China, or Iraq and Sweden, or Greece and Tanzania on facing pages (even as each object comes with a lengthy and generally helpful description). The juxtapositions are often stimulating. (The only thing that rings false is that each work is identified first by the present country: USA, Czech Republic, Yemen, etc.) I'd say it's a great coffee table book but with the caveat that your coffee table had better be pretty sturdy! The photos are gorgeous, and the book is full of wonders.
Saturday, January 05, 2008
I can't say I was an Obama supporter before, nor that I am one now. But I suspect I may be well on my way to being one. (It's not that I was for anyone else - my friends and I have tried in vain to like Hillary, and Edwards talks the talk, but I've been pretty disengaged.) I wasn't for Obama before because Paul Krugman's been hammering away at his proposals for health care, etc., which seem too centrist - but mainly because I didn't take his candidacy seriously. I guess I wasn't audacious enough to hope. A black man president of the United States of America? I still can't quite believe he's real - that voice, strangely deep for someone so young; that intonation, too unself- consciously oratorical for this century; those words, more moving than they have any right to be, resonating with hopes one had forgotten one had ever dared to entertain... as if we could live in history, a history of growing justice and moral progress, and were not condemned to wander its disillusioned aftermath. (What he would or could accomplish is another question. "Change" and "hope" are pretty vague, and the next president has to pick up the pieces after eight years of the Bushies' squander, desecration and pillage.)
Just imagine if his were America's face to the world, and to itself! It's like something out of science fiction or something. He's like something out of science fiction. But I could live in a country which elected this man, and proudly... Not just with pride, but (as he mentions) with love. It is something like love! It's scary, it's exhilarating, it feels partly irrational. Is it him or the idea of him? Is it him or the country which has made him possible, the country he makes possible? As promised, I'm babbling so I'll stop. For now.
("Barrack" is an Australian sports verb, used as in the American "root" of "I'm rooting for X to win." "Root" has a different meaning in Australia.)
Friday, January 04, 2008
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
I'm not the only photographer in the family. My sister just sent me these photos... guess who's about to go nephews' shoes-shopping!
Have I mentioned that I'm heading down under soon - next week, in fact? I can't wait. Half a year's a looong time in the life of people with feet this size!
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
I own two or three Biblezines (students are fascinated by them) but have long wanted to be able to compare the whoel range without buying them all. The nice folks at Christianbook.com have some sample pages from each on their website, including, for purposes of contrast, the opening page of the Gospel of Matthew. Here they are - can you guess which is which? (In each the text is as interestingly different as the layout. And if you click to see the larger view, you'll also get the source 'Zine.)