Archive for April, 2008

Christus resurrexit! Vere resurrexit!

 In Old English: “Crist aras! Crist sodhlice aras!”

In Modern English: “Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!”

In Modern South Central Indiana English: “Christ done riz! Sho’ ’nuff!”

I have a fairly long blog post or two in me, as well as notes for Lesson 3 of Hansen & Quinn, but it’s still going to have to wait until after this week. Last week being Holy Week and this week being Finals Week… yeah. Next week.

Brief updates, however (with explanations to come):

  • Lazarus Saturday saw the reception of six into the Orthodox Christian faith at All Saints; four by Baptism, two by Chrismation. Two of those baptized were my wife’s and my new godchildren, Matthew and Erin. Theirs is a good story, and the morning (not to mention the subsequent Holy Week) was a beautiful welcoming home (as it were) for them. I have pictures and I’ll post some eventually.
  • I started a new job on Monday of Holy Week. The new job is a Very, Very, Very Good Thing; truly, a major blessing. That said, I don’t ever recommend starting a new job during Holy Week. I also don’t recommend Finals Week being Bright Week, and I particularly don’t recommend having a Latin final at 10:15am on Bright Monday, but sometimes there’s little we can do about these things in a fallen world.
  • My mother was with us for most of Holy Week (starting with Unction on Wednesday evening) and Pascha. She survived, and would like to come back and do it again… someday.
  • I’ve decided to take the Reading French for Graduate Students course this summer. I’d like to refresh my French, particularly now that I’ve had a couple of years of Latin and Greek and actually understand some of the grammatical concepts and could actually explain to somebody what a subjunctive is.

Okay. More later.


A parable

Once upon a time there was a young man who was eating slices of of a particular baker’s bread, and had eaten perhaps half of a loaf, but the baker would not allow him to eat any more buying by the slice. “Any more and you have to buy the loaf,” he told the young man.

The thing was, this was a baker who was choosy about with whom he did business, and while anybody could buy slices, he wouldn’t sell an entire loaf to just anybody. He would only sell a loaf to somebody who had demonstrated that they understood how the bread was made, where the flour came from, what role the yeast played in the rising of the dough, and so on. Not only that, but he would only bake so many loaves per day.

The young man had done his homework about baking, and had gotten to know the baker by spending time in the shop. The baker seemed receptive to the idea of selling him the half of the loaf he hadn’t yet eaten. But then, suddenly, seeing how many customers were trying to buy loaves that day, the baker decided that the young man would need to come back another day for his loaf. “But what about the remainder half of the loaf I’ve already eaten in slices?” the young man asked. The baker didn’t answer him, and focused on getting to know the crowd of people in his shop to figure out who was worthy to buy his loaves of bread. The young man went away hungry and somewhat dejected.

Towards the end of the day, the young man, still hungry, dropped by the baker’s shop again, which was now empty except for the baker. The young man saw that all of the day’s loaves were sitting on the counter, including his uneaten half. “What happened?” he asked, incredulous. The baker replied, “By the time I figured out to whom I was willing to sell for the day, everybody had changed their mind and decided to go buy bread elsewhere.”

“That’s terrible!” the young man exclaimed. “Well, I’m still more than willing to buy my uneaten half!”

“No,” the baker said, gathering up all of the loaves into a trash sack, “everything has to be thrown away for the day. Bakers’ rules. Of course, since I didn’t sell anything I don’t know that I’ll have the money to buy ingredients for tomorrow’s loaves, but I guess that’s how it goes.”

“Wait a minute,” the young man said. “You know me, I had done my research on baking and bread, I was here early to talk to you, I had already eaten half a loaf paying by the slice, was willing to pay full price for a loaf for the remaining half, you still decided not to sell to me, and now you have nothing to show for the day?”

“That’s right,” the baker said, shrugging his shoulders.

The young man turned on his heel to go find a bake shop run by somebody with more sense, feeling fortunate, in a way, that his money ultimately hadn’t gone to a person so short-sighted and foolish.

Draw your own conclusions.

I should start calculating trends

My blog is worth $3,951.78.
How much is your blog worth?

If you agree with this at all — you know what I’m going to say, don’t you? — tip jar, baby, tip jar.

Also, I’d like to welcome my buddy Gavin back to the blogosphere! We’ve missed you!

THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’ve much more to say in a later post (that, frankly, may well have to wait until after Pascha given that every minute of this week is entirely accounted for), but I would like to sincerely thank the first contributor (or contributors?) to the tip jar, whoever he/she/they are.

Lots going on — much good, some not so much. I hope to be able to get to it soon. A blessed Holy Week to all.

I like New York in June…

Three Hierarchs Chapel, St. Vladimir\'s Seminary, Crestwood, NY…how about you?

I am registered and have booked a flight for the Fellowship of Ss. Alban & Sergius conference. Signed, sealed, delivered, money has exchanged hands. I will have my laptop with me, of course, so I will be there reporting on the events as a blogger, I will also be there as a prospective student, and I will also be there as someone with a genuine interest in the subject matter (euphemism for “wide-eyed tourist”). If you can be there, I think you should go too. If you can’t be there, the tip jar still awaits its first contribution — I’d rattle it, but there’s nothing in it to rattle.

Who else is going? I frankly have heard of nobody else who is. I guess I’m not totally surprised, since the Fellowship really is, for all intents and purposes, a group of people with the most specialized of special interests, but I would think that the roster of speakers would have at least generated a bit more attention. Maybe it’s too soon for that. Well, regardless — I’m very much looking forward to the experience. (It is also, not terribly coincidentally, the only trip I’ll really be able to take this summer.)

I’ll note that since registering, I received an e-mail announcing that they would be making available the opportunity to students and seminarians to work at the conference in exchange for the registration fee, and would I be interested? I e-mailed back and said yes, but we’ll see how all of that works out.

Moving on to different matters… I really appreciate what Alden Swan had to say regarding a post from Michael Spencer:

I think it’s telling that the two most prolific evangelism programs in evangelicalism both approach their audience with questions that Jesus never used.

“Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?”

“If you were to die tonight, and God were to asked you, why should I let you into my heaven, what would be your answer?”

[Spencer] points out that Jesus merely proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven, which had very different connotations than our dangling Heaven on a stick (my terminology).

The comments on Spencer’s post are themselves fascinating — give them a read. I’m also considering printing up a t-shirt that says, “The Orthodox Church: Refraining From Dangling Heaven On A Stick Since 33 A.D.”

Okay, maybe not. But that’s still a great phrase which I’d love to figure out how to use sometime.

Moving on.

Rod Dreher’s “Conservatism is dead. Long live conservatism!” examines at the Tory Anarchist’s “look at the future of the right,” who says the following:

Orlet asks whether a movement with as much young talent as conservatism has can really be doomed. Of course it can. Young journalists are one thing, but there’s no young Willmoore Kendall or young James Burnham or young Frank Meyer on the scene. No, I wouldn’t expect a 20-year-old or a 30-year-old to have the gravity of any of those thinkers — but even looking at our 40-year-olds and 50-year-olds, I can’t think of too many who are of much significance as theorists or academics. […]

Part of the problem on the theoretical side is that too many of the best young minds in conservatism have followed Buckley’s example by shunning grad school and embracing journalism or the movement instead.

With that in mind, consider my liberal friend Emily Hindrichs’ opinion:

I have long maintained that the nation in which I live will not have an academic as a president for one simple reason: people fear the educated. They fear the big words and the complex sentence structure and the literary references. Instead, they elevate the mediocre with descriptors such as “down to earth” and “plain-spoken.”

Now take this incident into account. Mostly what I wish to focus on is a response in the comments:

Universities, especially humanities and social science departments, have long since ceased channeling received wisdom and have turned into liberal advocacy organizations. A good deal of what they do either subtly or overtly pushes liberal ideology. […]

One should hold one’s head low and get a technically oriented degree at a university.

If we accept that premise that conservatives have largely ceded academia, the question then becomes, “Why?” (I accept this premise in part, by the way, but not entirely.) Does Emily’s assertion and the comment about the Delaware problem answer the question satisfactorily? Is it that conservatives are anti-intellectual? (Perhaps.) Or afraid of their ideological purity being tainted? (Probably, at least in part.) Is it a utilitarian view of education? (Largely, I think.) Or maybe it’s a marketing issue — getting back to Emily’s point, they’d rather play in Peoria than compete on the academic front. It’s a way of catering to the masses, which ensures their continued ability to eat with the classes.

What is the best way to synthesize this? I don’t know. What I do know is that conservatism only has itself to blame for its intellectual bankruptcy if the only acceptable response is retreat. The alternative is not easy — that being, conservatives have to be superior in their scholarship and not hope that correct ideology will do their work for them — but it’s what needs to be done.

Last year, a question came up in a class about Nestorius — what did he actually teach? I offered what I understood to be the basic summary of the Orthodox understanding, and the liberal skeptic in the class was able to quote Nestorius’ writings chapter and verse, offering a snarky comment to the effect of, “You Orthodox types have cooked up a lot of your own issues with him.”

By contrast, I heard a lecture the same year by a scholar who is Orthodox who teaches at an Ivy League school. This. Person. Knows. Her. Stuff. Top to bottom, in and out, she’s got it cold. Somebody from here who falls under the category of a liberal debunker went up to her afterward and said, in a manner more or less suggesting a rivalry that was friendly and professional but a rivalry nonetheless, said, “There are major problems with your thesis.” At that point it becomes about which bias informs the scholarship — and make no mistake, atheism is a bias, it is not a guarantee of objectivity by any means — but there was no denying that she was right on in terms of the sources, the languages, and everything else.

That’s what we have to do. If conservatives aren’t willing to put in the time and the work, they shouldn’t be surprised when their lunch gets eaten by people who may be on Mars ideologically but have the facts and the sources straight.

Dorushe 2008

So, I arrived in South Bend Friday evening with The David and The Daniel in tow, and headed to the dinner for conference participants. It was at the home of a faculty member, and the first thing my hostess said to me as I entered the house was, “I know it’s Lent, but you are bound by manners to eat what I put in front of you.” I’m not even sure how she knew I was Orthodox, but she clearly was Catholic, and pretty much everybody there was either Catholic or Orthodox (save a couple a self-described disgruntled Evangelical and an “ex-low-church Pentecostal who’s trying to figure out what to believe”), and everybody was aware of that and comfortable with it. It also became clear that I was in a room of people who had the same interests I did, and had them from more or less the same point of view — that is, there wasn’t anybody trying to tease out sadomasochistic imagery from martyrdom accounts, for example. If somebody wants to make the argument that faith informs the scholarship of people like this, well, sure — faith informs all scholarship. It would be impossible for this not to be the case, even with atheists. What you don’t believe is as much an article of faith as what you do. It is merely a question of how much one acknowledges this, and whether or not one pretends that the bias, whatever it is, is objective.

The dinner was extremely informative on other points, as well. There were a couple of people who were St. Vlad’s alumni, and it was very useful to be able to hear their perspective on some matters. One somewhat stark reality which was driven home is that all of these folks are basically, shall we say, older teenagers in the field, but still not fully formed one way or the other, and I’ve got at least five years to go (by current reckoning) before I’ll be anywhere close to where they are. Nonetheless, the conversations I had with them lead me to believe I can get there.

The Main Building at Notre Dame on a particularly gorgeous dayConference day itself was a fascinating experience. The papers were all very interesting, ranging from linguistics to textual traditions to St. Ephrem the Syrian and so on. The intellectual dynamic, largely because of reasons mentioned above but also because of other factors — it was on an openly Christian campus, there was a crucifix on the wall of the room in which we presented, a faculty member said a blessing before lunch, one of the Notre Dame faculty present as well as the keynote speaker were priests themselves, etc. My paper, which deals with liturgical imagery in martyrdom accounts, includes some supporting detail such as specific attestation to the baptismal practice of threefold immersion in sources such as the Didache, Apostolic Constitutions, etc. and it’s there because the professor for whom I wrote it was extremely skeptical of the legitimacy of assertions about exactly that kind of liturgical practice. When I was reading that part of the paper to this group, however, I felt sort of silly, because it was clear that these weren’t people who needed to be convinced on those kinds of points.

I felt generally good about my presentation; the odd part was that once the moderator called for questions, there was this awkward silence that filled the room, and nobody had anything (even the cheering section of The David and The Daniel — but then again, it would have been obvious that their questions would have been plants). I got direct comments during the break, and they were all positive, but during the actual question-and-answer period nobody had anything to say. A few different people offered me their takes on this; one person suggested that the after-lunch slot is always problematic when it comes to questions, and it was just luck of the draw. Another thought that part of the problem was that everybody else was talking about manuscript and textual issues, and I was talking about theology and theory. Another person said, “Well, everybody in there knows each other but you, and it’s clearly their playground. They meet, toss around ideas, read each other unfinished chapters of their dissertation, and have a good time. You’re here as an unknown quantity with a pretty polished piece of research, and you’re presenting it authoritatively. I think nobody quite knew what to do with you on that basis.” Could be — I really don’t know.

I’ll say this — it was not lost on me that the vast majority of participants were people from places like Notre Dame and Catholic University of America. Besides that majority group, there were two from Princeton, two from University of Chicago, one from Brown, and then lil’ ol’ me from IU (I suppose I might count as half a student from there). When I said where I was from, more often than not I got a very curious reaction — “Really? IU? Who are you working with down there?” An awkward question, to say the least, since the answer is, well, nobody. I would tell people the name of the professor for whom I wrote my paper, which would usually generate a furrowed brow, and then the name of my Syriac teacher, which would then garner recognition — but usually accompanied by some surprise that he would have students at an event like this. “Well, I’m not really his student, per se,” I’d tell them, and explain my situation a little more. (“Oh,” said one faculty member. “I guess that leaves you a bit at loose ends then, doesn’t it?” Um, yes, it does, thanks, very kind of you.) Anyway, the point is that I’m understanding a little better why over the last month, post-rejection, what I’ve been hearing is “People with your interests aren’t trained at places like IU, and they don’t work at places IU either.”

Not that these things are necessarily bad; as I said, the reactions as expressed afterward were positive. The keynote speaker told me, “Very good, Richard, and the way you lay it out, it’s obvious.” I explained to him the skepticism I had encountered with the professor in question when I had proposed the paper topic, and was told in reply, “Well, I don’t know why he would have told you that.” One of the faculty members in attendance asked if I would send him a clean copy of the paper, which I did. It seemed like a good start in getting to know the other people in this field, and one way or the other, that will have been worth something. (It also cements my resolve to go to New York in June. Tip jar, baby, tip jar.)

On a less academic and more tourist-y note, I’ll just say the Notre Dame campus struck me just the right way on just the right day. The Basilica is something else, inside and out — although, people, I don’t care what you think about Catholicism, don’t go into Catholic churches if all you’re going to do is go in to leave Jack Chick tracts. That happened while I was in the Basilica, and it was simply embarrassing. I’m not going to go in and start leaving Archbishop Chrysostomos publications in the pews — it’s just bad manners, and shows an utter lack of class. Going into somebody else’s house for the express purpose of insulting them is poor Christianity indeed.

The Daniel is about to be elected the first British popeSo, one thing we found at the Notre Dame bookstore that I volunteered to buy as soon as I saw they had it: Vatican, the Board Game. I had heard of this for the first time about a year ago, but had gone beyond looking at the website. I played it with The David and The Daniel that evening, and The Daniel was elected the first English pope. I will say, it does a great job of never slipping into satire or wearing biases on its sleeve; it seems to genuinely attempt to be educational. Whether or not it truly succeeds, I have no way of knowing — I just know that there was nothing that leapt out at me as a fundamental disrespect of the Catholic faith. If there are people with differing opinions, I’d be glad to hear them. Anyway — consider it recommended.

Matins and Divine Liturgy were at St. Andrew’s, the Greek parish in South Bend — it would have been very nice except that I had to run out of the church four times during the Liturgy because I was sick. Quite embarrassing, and I’m not entirely sure what brought it on. The last time was right before Holy Communion, and I limped back in after it was over. Oh well; I guess it solved the dilemma of what to do if I should throw up after receiving.

In my Syriac class this morning, I recounted my experience. As a point of background — we’re reading the Life of St. Ephrem the Syrian in class, and one of the things it depicts is St. Ephrem meeting St. Basil of Caesarea. Whether or not this actually happened has been discussed in class as being a point of contention, and a voice or two in class have been very specific about believing that it’s pure fantasy. After describing the weekend, I jokingly mentioned that I didn’t ask any of the hardcore Ephrem scholars there whether or not they thought he met Basil; somebody replied, “Sounds like they were probably the kind of people who do.” Ouch. As I said earlier, I think I’m beginning to understand why I’ve been told what I have about IU ultimately being a bad fit for somebody like me.

Anyway — I’m really glad I was able to participate. I hope I’m able to play with some of the older kids again at some point. One way or the other, there was a bit more of this crazy world which I was able to see, and it’s a lot to process. I think it may take some time.

I leave you with my favorite of the pictures I took inside the Basilica:

eunt anni, more fluentis aquae

From Alcuin of York (c.730-804 A.D.). Given that (per Keith Sidwell in Reading Medieval Latin) he apparently didn’t start teaching until he was around 38, I wonder if perhaps he felt like he got a late start, too.

O vos, est aetas, iuvenes, quibus apta legendo
discite: eunt anni, more fluentis aquae.

Atque dies dociles vacuis ne perdite rebus:
nec redit unda fluens, nec redit hora ruens.

floreat in studiis virtutum prima juventus,
fulgeat ut magno laudis honore senex,

utere, quisque legas librum, felicibus annis
auctorisque memor dic: “miserere deus.”

si nostram, lector, festucam tollere quaeris,
robora de proprio lumine tolle prius.

disce tuas, iuvenis, ut agat facundia causas,
ut sis defensor, cura, salusque tuis.

disce, precor, iuvenis, motus moresque venustos.
laudetur toto ut nomen in orbe tuum.

The first two couplets take enough blood out of me for now.

You who have life, young men, who are suited to reading,
learn! The years go like flowing waters.

And do not lose your peaceful days with empty things:
The flowing waves do not return, nor do the rushing hours.


“How blessed we would be if theologians styled themselves as pastor-theologians”

With a tip of the hat to Dr. Rod Decker, here is a great post from one Owen Strachan:

Just as we need “theologian-pastors” (by which I’m referring to theologically astute pastors), so also are we in great need of “pastor-theologians” (by which I’m referring to academic scholars who bring pastoral concerns to bear on their work). There is a gigantic need for exegetes, historians, theologians, systematicians, and philosophers who see their work as done, generally speaking, in service of the church. Perhaps you’ve encountered scholars who don’t seem to practice such a philosophy of scholarship, but who do theology in such a way that they talk in abstracted terminology, chase rabbits (for multiple books or classes) that have little relevance to an actual person, and generally show evidence of forgetting that their ministry is accountable to their local church and responsible for equipping pastors and laypeople. Such a class of thinker, it is hoped, is on the wane in Christian circles, even as the ecclesiastically attuned class of theologian is on the rise.

[…I]t is my personal conviction that we should encourage our gifted scholars and teachers to reach us with their teaching–and not only this, but to aim at us. How blessed we would be if theologians styled themselves as pastor-theologians, and aimed to instruct the local church not incidentally, but primarily.

Read the rest. I find this very convicting and highly applicable to my own circumstances, and while not as succinctly as Mr. Strachan does here, I’ve suggested something similar before.

Q2 2008: a hopeful beginning, so far…

2007, for many reasons, was a really difficult year. 2006 was also largely problematic. 2005 and 2004 were all mixed bags. Really, in general, Bloomington has been a difficult place for me to, well, “grok,” I suppose.

At the new year, somebody who knew what a hard year 2007 was and why came up to me and said, “2006 was one of the worst years of my life. 2007 turned out to be one of the best years of my life. Maybe that’ll happen for you in 2008.”

Well, the first three months of 2008 have, bluntly, sucked. Bad news right and left with the bits of good news here and there not enough to overcome the bad, certain situations deteriorating rapidly with me absolutely helpless to do anything about them, and being left overall with a sense of being just stuck until further notice. Some of the issues I have discussed here; some of them I have not, for good reason, and most of those will remain undiscussed in this setting.

March ended with a couple of things going well but with another set of circumstances absolutely exploding in my face; April has begun with that set of circumstances having unexpectedly and quickly resolved itself, and my hope is that this bodes well. What I can say is that starting 21 April, I will be moving into a different position that, while still in the support staff hierarchy, is much closer to my areas of interest, and could very possibly be a place where I might actually accomplish something of value. It is also not lost on me that the end of this month is Pascha. So, the second three months of 2008 are revving up with a fresh start on the docket; even if it wasn’t quite the move I was hoping for (i.e., grad school), I’ll take it, and hope I can make the most of it.

What I will also say is that this move came about so lightning quick, all the doors having opened simultaneously and instantaneously, that it can only be the hand of God throwing them wide. Sometime God opens the door He wants you to go through; sometimes He closes every door He doesn’t want you to go through; sometimes he does both.

I head up to Notre Dame this weekend for Dorushe; I hopefully will get some worthwhile pictures, and I look forward to the experience.

Today’s sign that the end is near

Watch the skies, that’s all I can say.

“The spread of coffee bars? Germs outpacing antibiotics? And boy bands?! Come on! Who would gain from all this?”

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