Wednesday, January 31, 2007

And now for something completely different ...

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a complete sports know-nothing. Oh, I like to watch football and dear friend Bjoern continues to try to encourage a love of European handball and I've been known to take part in a game of beach volleyball, but beyond that, I'm pathetic. But I have a great love of watching horse racing. Again, no knowledge, just "know what I like."

So I was very saddened by the news that Barbaro had been put down. He's the 1-year-old who won the Kentucky Derby and then broke his leg right afterward. He's been battling for 8 months to return to integrity, but the struggle was finally too much for him and for his owners. And the world lost a creature of God who (I suppose I should say that or which) demonstrated class, beauty, fortitude, and (by all accounts) courage and good spirits all through his short life.

I remember a seminar during seminary years, led by Robert Jenson (who might like to disown the who project, for all I know) in which we spent a lot of time arguing about whether animals would be in heaven. It was one party's view that there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that there will anything other than human animals. But the other party argued from the structure of creation and millenia of experience that if heaven was to be in any sense continuous with life on earth (thus fulfilling the creation, not cancelling it out), then animals -- pets, penguins, and (I'd now add) race horses -- must be a part of the scheme.

Well, regardless of the outcome of that argument, I think it appropriate to thank God for "fashioning" (in the word from Genesis) such a magnificent creature and for the brief chance that most of us had to see him in play.

This all arises because of a comment to one of my posts from David over at American Legends, a blog he maintains with other presumably sports nuts. He blogged an obituary there, which I appreciated finding among all the commentaries on the Super Bowl and the like by people who take their sports seriously. (Me, I'm just rooting for Chicago because it's Da Bears and I lived and continue to love the City of Chicago -- even though Tony Dungy used to coach here in Minnesota!)

Well, David suggested a cross-listing of our blogs and I'm pleased to be asked. So, you;ll find a new reference in my list of blogs. Especially if you're a sports fan or an afficionado of sports sociology and culture, I invite you to check it out:

David, if you're reading, I hope I get to know you and your cohorts better.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Update, with Bibliography (with later correction)

I haven't been able to raise much controversy here lately, because I've been working on gunning up the adults in my congregation: In February, I'm going to do a four-week adult forum on Genesis 1-3 (which I'm calling "Reading Genesis Together") in which I hope to lead a discussion, chapter by chapter, of this marvelous section of that marvelous book. I hope not to lecture TOO MUCH (that is very difficult for me, despite by Great Books background), but rather to work with whoever shows up to uncover new appreciation for the language, the drama, the whatever. I don't want to just jump into a discussion of such dogmatic issues as "The Doctrine of Creation" or "Creatio ex nihilo" (which is not very well supported by these chapters, anyway, incidentally). But I'm confident that with some due seriousness about the text, we will grow in reverence, awe, and gratitude to the God who created, redeemed, and sustains all that is.

I'm using a variety of what are for me nontraditional sources. My reading and thinking are being guided by references that are new to me. (A few years ago, I read von Rad's commentary on Genesis and fell in love with reading commentaries as books, in their entirety. I am, however, refraining from reading commentaries-as-commentaries this round, so I won't be quoting the dear Doktor Professor.)

First on my list is Leon Kass' The Beginning of Wisdom. Kass is not a theologian; he's not even a religous Jew. Rather, he's trained as a physician and a philosopher who now teaches at the University of Chicago. (Some may remember that he headed up the President's commission on biomedical ethis a few years ago. That gives you some indication of where he sits.) But he had been required to teach the book as a part of a core-curriculum program at the UofC, and it finally got in his craw and he began a diligent study of the book. (He's also something of an expert on evolution, so there was a connection there, too.)

Kass tries to think about Genesis a priori -- that is, philosophically, not theologically, to see what opens with a close reading. In the process, he lays out some of the linguistic fun of the book. But he spends most of his time positing a kind of "what if the book leads us to think this" rhapsody. It's a brilliant boo, I think. And it's giving me a new perspective on a book that I thought I rather knew.

From the other end of the spectrum, I am spending a lot of time with Robert Alter's The Five Books of Moses. Here's anaother non-religious treatment of the book, this time a translation by one of the country's finest experts in comparative literature. He doesn't intend his book to be a commentary or reflection, but he so amply footnotes his translation, providing lucid explanations for why he translated something the way he did, that it's almost like reading a commentary.

As for commentaries, as I said, I'm pretty much avoiding them -- except for the Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures volume on Genesis. For those who don't know it, this is a compilation of comments on the Scripture by the early Christian fathers -- that is, the Christian preachers, teachers, and mystics from the Church's early years. It's a successor to Thomas' catena auria (or gold chain), which was a listing of pearls of wisdom that the early Christians offered on the lectionary readings. Here, under the editorship of an evangelical scholar (!), Thomas Oden of Drew University, the effort is to collect such wisdom for each book of the Bible.

The upshot for my class is that I'll have tidbits of wisdom to bring in from readings in the Scriptures from earliest times. Thus, my title "Reading Genesis Together" will be an attempt to read as a community in Minneapolis that is informed and in communion with the community of the Church's history. It doesn't look like I'll have time to read Luther (woe is me!), but I'll put that up the group, too.

Finally, friend Susan Palo Cherwien (the poet and hymntext writer) recommended Everett Fox's translation of the Torah for the Schocken Bible. Also called The Five Books of Moses, this is an effort to translate the Bible (obviously understood as what Christians call the "Old[er] Testament") in such a way as to preserve its Hebraic quality -- and thus, a kind of foreignness to the text. The translation is meant to sound (when read aloud) more like the Hebrew would have sounded -- and, yes, I understand the problem with such a statement. And it's given me some interesting insights, too. (If I recall correctly, Jaroslav Pelikan -- may his memory endure -- used the Schocken translation in all his reflection during the last years of his life.)

Here I try to make two points: First I explain my lack of postings: I have been immersed in Scripture study, and have not sought to put thoughts to paper that do not relate to that endeavor. I have not grown humble and, thus, shut up about matters theological. I intend to continue blogging -- even though a significant number of my blog-models have quit doing so. I'm wrestling with a couple of books as bedtime reading, and I hope to comment on them soon. Second, the books I cite here are all worthy resources for your attention, and I commend them to you.

On an entirely different track, I am also involved in trying to make sense of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. We're reading it for my Saturday book group, and since I have never read this work by Faulkner, I'm giving it the old college try. (Joan Buckley, this one is for you.) I can't imagine the response to the book when it was published. I can only reflect on comments that fellow-readers are having -- e.g., "I read that first chapter and I'm thinking, 'What the hell is this?'" I don't think it's as incomprehensible as one review suggested, but we'll see! I've always been a Faulkner fan (God knows why -- maybe because I got a really good grade and comments on my paper on Light in August -- more Joan Buckley.)

So, read you Bible -- especially Genesis. And if you have thoughts about it, the comments section is open.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Lutheran? Find Out

OK, we get a little parochial here. Give this a try and you may surprise yourself. (Unfortunately, I can't find a way to figure out where I screwed up on my 1%.)

You are 99% Lutheran! This is most certainly true.

Nicely done! Martin would be proud of you! You may or may not have room for growth in understanding Lutheran terminology and culture. Good thing Salvation is by Grace and not by merit. We can add nothing to what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. But it never hurts to learn a little more about the church on earth. Thanks for taking the quiz!

How Lutheran Are You?
Create a Quiz

After you've finished that quiz, switch over to big-time Lutheran discussion at Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, here, with its open discussion of the Book of Concord.