Thursday, April 30, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
In fact, students had read the gospel of Loukas, in the Hebraizing translation of Willis Barnstone. A student gave a presentation about Yohanan, the dipper, preparing the way for Yeshua from Natzeret in the Galil. When she reminded us that Yohanan said he was dipping people only in the water of the river Yarden while Yeshua would dip them in fire, I couldn't resist asking: "can we call them the Little Dipper and Big Dipper?"
Barnstone's translation was an interesting attempt to rid the New Testament of ecclesiastical clichés and hellenisms (like "testament" for "covenant") and so restore Christianity to its semitic roots. (A review.) I can't judge it as a translation, except to say that it succeeds admirably as "defamiliarizing translation," and could be very useful for someone who still hasn't heard that Jesus was a Jew.
But what's it doing in a course designed to familiarize students with the sources of literary traditions? Does it help students see the aftereffects of the Bible in western literature or won't it rather conceal them? Forget the Yarden, and the unpronounceable word (starting with Shom-) which Barnstone puts in the place of the good "Samaritan." What happens to all the poetry in which bread has eucharistic overtones if all you know is that at Pesach in Yerushalayim the rabbi Yeshua broke matzoh with his students - even though it's surely what happened (if anything happened at all)? It is important for all sorts of reasons to know how classic texts, especially perhaps religious ones, have been mistranslated. But in this setting, the students need to learn the mistranslations if they are even to recognize the allusions and influences. By all means tell them there are problems of translation, but don't render the whole history of New Testament-inspired western literature invisible!
Analogously (and not in the new covenant) wouldn't it be a disservice to students to give them a translation of Genesis which has Eve giving Adam a piece of fruit - without identifying it as an apple (as all later tradition does, but the original doesn't)? Apples in literature is in large part the aftereffects of the Genesis story, but a Barnstone-like translation would pull the rug out from understanding it at all. Unless some balance of historical accuracy and fidelity to the texts the creators of literary tradition knew and used is found, the use - without comment - of a translation like Barnstone's defamiliarizes sources to the point of denying their role in history and culture.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
Over the last two decades, colleges and universities doubled their full-time support staff while enrollment increased only 40 percent, according to a new analysis of government data by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a nonprofit research center.
During the same period, the staff of full-time instructors, or equivalent personnel, rose about 50 percent, while the number of managers increased slightly more than 50 percent.
The data, based on United States Department of Education filings from more than 2,782 colleges, come from 1987 to 2007, before the current recession prompted many colleges to freeze their hiring.
Neither the report nor outside experts on college affordability went so far as to argue that the increase in support staff was directly responsible for spiraling tuition. Most experts say that the largest driver of tuition increases has been the decline in state financing for higher education.
Still, the findings raise concerns about administrative bloat, and the increasing focus on the social and residential nature of college life, as opposed to academics.
The growth in support staff included some jobs that did not exist 20 years ago, like environmental sustainability officers and a broad array of information technology workers. The support staff category includes many different jobs, like residential-life staff, admissions and recruitment officers, fund-raisers, loan counselors and all the back-office staff positions responsible for complying with the new regulations and reporting requirements college face.
“A lot of it is definitely trying to keep up with the Joneses,” said Daniel Bennett, a labor economist and the author of the center’s report. “Universities and colleges are catering more to students, trying to make college a lifestyle, not just people getting an education. There’s more social programs, more athletics, more trainers, more sustainable environmental programs.”
In the 20-year period, the report found, the greatest number of jobs added, more than 630,000, were instructors — but three-quarters of those were part-time. Converted to full-time equivalents, those resulted in a total of 939,00 teaching jobs, up from 614,000 in 1987.
The largest number of full-time jobs added, more than 278,000, were for support staffs, and grew to more than half a million positions in 2007, from 292,000 in 1987. Colleges also added some 65,000 management positions, almost all of them full time; all told, they had 185,000 managers in 2007, up from about 120,000 managers 20 years earlier.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I've seen a Bach Passion performed in a sort of circle before - I heard the Johannespassion in Vienna a few years back, performed by assorted Leipzigers and directed from the center by Peter Schreier, who also sang the part of the Evanglist - amazing, and amazingly unified. But the Miller production (perhaps also because it was sung in English, new for me) seemed closer to what a congregation does on Palm (or Passion) Sunday...
I have to mention another recent Passion I've heard about. The tech-loving folks at Trinity Wall Street twittered the passion on Good Friday, a whole new spin on "Were you there when they crucified my lord?" Neither here nor there, if you ask me (but I admit that I remain a twitter unbeliever). Here are some of the tweets they sent out - from their website, in the jumbled order in which they appear there:
twspassionplayvia @_Peter_of_: is waiting in the courtyard of the High Priest Caiaphas. I ran scared when the officers came but I need to see how this ends.
twspassionplay via @Pontius_Pilate: They want this done by nightfall. I sent my soldiers to break the dead men's legs. Are my hands clean of this?
twspassionplayvia @ServingGirl: is so tired. Caiaphas and the priests have been up all night questioning a man who claims to be the Messiah. And I wait on them.
The only tweet I can imagine working - catching the listener out as s/he goes on with whatever she was doing - they don't seem to have:
"The cock crew."
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
The points I was making were two. First, that statistics are hard to read - and in the case of religion also very hard to generate: "self-identification" turns out not to correlate with religious membership, and neither of those lines up as you might wish it did with attendance at houses of worship, reported belief in God (!), plans for a religious funeral, etc. Religious demography is a minefield. ARIS is as good as they get, asking about far more than beliefs and identifications and allowing interesting cross-referencing, but even it has no categories for those between religious traditions, those committed to more than one, and the "spiritual but not religious," etc. Most of my students (this class confirmed) fall into at least one of those categories, so it hit home.
My second point had to do with two important themes from earlier in the course, and let the densely-printed tables stand in for The City: (1) Robert Orsi's insistence that urban religion is particularly interesting because the new arrival in a city can't simply build a new religious center, and probably can't continue her practices from before unaltered - the landscape is already built up, and with other people's religions - so is forced to innovate. (2) The view summarized by Anna Karpathakis: Soon after they arrive, immigrants learn that Americans are more tolerant of religious diversity than they are of ethnic diversity. Accordingly, immigrants use religion as a socially tolerated mans through which they can construct their own culture and identity.... In this sense, then, religious institutions serve different functions for immigrants than they do for white middle-class American Catholics and Protestants.” (“Conclusion: New York City’s Religions,” New York Glory: Religions in the City [NYU 2001], 390)
Imagine you're an immigrant, recently arrived in the city, I said. Someone from ARIS contacts you - you're in! you get to be part of America! But where do you fit? You do want to fit, to find a place for you! We'd been reading about non-religious Jews from the ex-USSR, who have started to construct their identity in pseudo-religious terms here. If you were one of them you could choose "No Religion/None" from the many many options. But - especially as you think of the legions of Christians in America (the interviewer's form has 47 varieties) - wouldn't you more likely pick "Jewish" out of solidarity with your religious confrères? A fit or a fiddle?
I could see all sorts of things falling into place. Who knew you could learn so much from a wall of numbers!
Sunday, April 19, 2009
When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. 'Wherever the spirit would go, they went and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. (1:19-20)
Can that obscure passage (an inspiration, come to think of it, for Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials) have been waiting for this day?
Nan ni tatoen
Hashifuru tsuyu ni
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
The sword is generally associated with killing, and most of us wonder how it can come into connection with Zen, which is a school of Buddhism teaching the gospel of love and mercy. The fact is that the art of swordsmanship distinguishes between the sword that kills and the sword that gives life. The one that is used only by a [mere] technician cannot go any further than killing. The case is altogether different with the one who is compelled to lift the sword. For it is not he but the sword itself that does the killing. He has no desire to do harm to anybody, but the enemy appears and makes himself a victim. It is as though the sword performs automatically its function of justice, which is the function of mercy. This is the kind of sword Christ is said to have brought among us. (145, qtd. 186)
A man who has thoroughly mastered art does not use the sword, and the opponent kills himself; when a man uses the sword he makes it serve to give life to others. (166, qtd. 185)
King can hardly contain his indignation at this, which seems to him a sort of lobotomization of conscience. As you can imagine, we had quite a time discussing these passages, too! I didn't tell students about the ways in which Suzuki, the most important writer for the understanding of Zen in America for decades, is now seen by scholars. (I was lucky enough to be at the panel in 1991 - at my first AAR! - where Robert H. Sharf fired the first salvo in the Suzuki/Kyoto School wars.) Instead I pointed out ways in which Suzuki's account of Zen - even in passages like these - is continuous with things we've discussed from other Buddhist traditions (like dana in Theravada), and insisted we need to face the difficult question: is samurai Zen a bastardization and travesty of Buddhism or the elaboration of a potential there all along?
It's not that I think (as King worries) that Zen is a moral void, compatible with almost any form of life - indeed I had students read Zen Action/Zen Person, Thomas Kasulis' sympathetic account of Zen ethics, before we read King. And it's not that Christianity's getting a free ride in my class - it's divine command ethics next. But this week's texts reminded me of Ch'an master Lin Chi's advice:
In that case at least, the victim would be killing himself, and gladly.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
“I think that enough harm has been done in the name of religion,” said Julia [her daughter], who had not long before studied the conquest of the Incas and had moved on to the colonization of Africa. “I don’t want to be a part of it.”
I don’t care what they say.
Writing this – while my mother shops and cooks, polishes silver, sets the table, decants the wine – I am thrilled at the prospect of later celebrating Passover with our motley Jewish-Catholic-Episcopalian crew, commemorating events we don’t believe in, confirming an identity that doesn’t quite fit, united in the love of one another.
The column's worth reading, and so are the responses, some of which are predictable but most of which are thoughtful; some are downright surprising, like this one from an Alecia Stevens :
I am so grateful for the ritual of my Episcopal service. It transports me to a world between Heaven and Earth (I use Heaven metaphorically.) Life is so very hard and so very beautiful at the same time; I do not know where that is more perfectly expressed than at my church service where beauty, death, forgiveness and rebirth are celebrated weekly.And this one from a Danielle Saunders:
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
nor are there yet three [teachings],
Save where the Buddha,
preaching by resort to expedients,
And by merely borrowing
provisional names and words,
Draws the beings to him.
It came to me that all was contained in those four words: names, words, provisional and borrowing, considered in that order. Names suggest things have essences when in fact they're empty, and words make it seem things can be named; in fact, all language use - skimming the surfaces of conventional truth - can only be provisional, though few realize this; the Buddha skilfully borrows the words suffering beings are using - the only ones they (we) can understand at that point - in order to lead them to enlightenment and ultimate reality beyond the snares of these and all words.
I'm not sure whether I drew the students to me; I certainly felt things make sense to me in a new way. But I also felt a little like Dogen, drawing an entire philosophy (indeed an antiphilosophy) out of four words in a sutra taken out of sequence - is my Mahayana a bit too generic?
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Monday, April 06, 2009
I started by playing Ella Fitzgerald singing "Get thee behind me, Satan," noting its modern sense that temptation is probably something it's human to give in to, and that I'd return to it. After a quick introduction about how Christians never just read a gospel through, I focused on two passages, which between them let me raise several important points. The first, the reference to the "sign of Jonah" (12:39), was chosen to stop sneering about superstitious credulity at miracles - none of the healings and exorcisms count as signs here, so don't get hung up on them - and to underline that the NT builds on and may require the OT.
The second, "Get thee behind me, Satan" (16:23), I picked to show that even Peter, who's just "got" who Jesus is, still doesn't really get it. He's still thinking in human rather than divine terms in thinking Jesus needn't go to Jerusalem to be crucified. And yet, just five verses before, Jesus - who'd warned against building a house on sand (7:24-27) - had announced that Peter was the rock on which he would build his church (16:18)! As in other passages (like the explanation of parables), the author of Matthew here veritably insists that human interpretation will not get what's going on in the story of Jesus.
But something even more interesting is going on, I suggested. Does Jesus perhaps snap at Peter like this because he's tempted, too? This is the turning point in the story, after all, where preaching in the hinterland turns toward trial and death in the city. Think back to Jonah - the "sign of Jonah" is explained in terms of three days and preaching to outsiders, but Jonah's also the Bible's most reluctant prophet. My point wasn't that of the gospel according to Jonathan Bach or José Saramago. It was, rather, that the humanity of Jesus must have taken affront at various points at his superhuman destiny (most famously in the Garden of Gethsemane) - and that our readings often do, too. The writer of Matthew wants us to be tempted to read the story as a human story - even as a tragedy.
He also wants us to know we're so tempted. Get thee behind us, Satan?