“That’s Jesus!” A Counter-point to Megan Hill’s “Why Jesus Doesn’t Belong in Christmas Decor”

The church that we attend has a lot of stained glass. Wrapping around the sanctuary are beautiful stained glassed panes. If you start in the corner at the front of the sanctuary and walk around counter-clock-wise, you can follow the life of Christ, one pane at a time. Where we sit every Sunday (yes we are those people who sit in the same pew every week), the stained glass pane directly behind us is of Jesus hanging on the cross. Every week we sit under the same pane, with Jesus hanging over our shoulder. When my two year old gets antsy as two year-olds are wont to do, she likes to turn around and fold herself over the back of the pew. One day, as she was trying to pull herself back up after folding too far over, she stopped.

“What’s that?” She asked, pointing at the stained glass.

“That’s a picture made of glass,” I replied.

“No, who’s that?” She pointed directly at Jesus.

“That’s Jesus.”

“Why?” Ah yes, the inevitable why. In as simple a way possible, I tried to explain that that was a picture of Jesus saving the world. The two year-old stopped, for a minute, tipped her head to one side, and then matter-of-factly said, “Jesus is a superhero!”

Now, every Sunday she points to the stained glass  behind our pew. “That’s Jesus!” She tells everyone. And of course, my four year-old, not wanting to be left out, makes a point of telling her sister that Jesus is not just in the stained-glass windows, but more importantly, he’s in the Bible.

In our church service there is intentionality in how we worship. The entire liturgy is designed to draw upon all our human senses. We watch a cross being carried in during the processional. We hear the Word proclaimed. We respond to the Gospel reading by singing “Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” In unison we affirm the life and work of Christ as we recite the Apostles’ Creed. When the pastor preaches on an aspect of the life of Christ, he draws our attention to the stained-glass panel, so that we not only listen, but also visually contemplate the significance of Jesus’ actions.

In a recent article at Hermeneutics, Megan Hill argues that physical images, be it drawings or figurines, of Jesus does not belong in our Christmas décor. She appeals to the commandment “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…You shall not bow down to them or serve them….”

Yes, physical images can lead to idolatry, especially if we cast Jesus in our own image and then proclaim that he must only look that way. But guess what?  Verbal constructs can lead to idolatry as well, especially if we translate the words of Jesus and then proclaim that Jesus must have used King James’ English! The creation of physical images does not have to necessarily lead to the worship of said images, just as the translation of the Scriptures does not necessarily lead to the worship of said Bible.

Hill suggests that it because Jesus is fully divine, that we should not and cannot create images of him: “Though fully human, his humanity cannot be separated from his divine person, which means visual images of Jesus are, in fact, attempting to picture God.”

I want to suggest that the opposite is also true: Jesus’ humanity cannot be separated from his divine person (hence, not only his bodily resurrection, but also his bodily ascension into heaven), which means that visual images are, in fact, attempting to understand the reality of Jesus’ humanity.

If Jesus is just a vague, unphysical concept in our head, he becomes an abstraction. When his humanity takes a back seat to his divinity, he becomes more like a demi-god rather than the second Person of the Trinity who took on the flesh and blood reality of the human experience. In becoming an abstraction, we forget or water down the significance of the event of revelation, namely, that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” And the Word taking on flesh was not a temporary thing. After his death and resurrection Jesus did not abandon his flesh, but in the ascension he bodily returned to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father.

What well-done images and portraits of Jesus do is what the Bible does just in a different medium: they tell the story of the life and ministry of Jesus, who was, in the words of Karl Barth, “the object and theatre of the acts of God.” The images of Jesus, be they stained glass  windows in a church, a figurine of baby Jesus in a nativity scene, or an actor portraying Jesus in film, tell us the story visually. When paired with the oral tradition of hearing and telling, physical images of Jesus help us to not only tell the story, but also to respond to the story.

When we go to church each Sunday, my four year-old can “read” the Bible in the pew (recognizing letters but not understanding how the letters go together to tell the story of this Jesus who saved and is saving the world) and confess her belief in Jesus as she recites the Apostles’ Creed. My two year-old may not be able to read and may not be able to say the Creed, but she can point to the stained glass panel of Jesus hanging on the cross and confess her belief in Jesus: “That’s Jesus!”

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Lots and Lots of Christology

For the past eight weeks I have been reading piles and piles of books on Christology. No, not for my thesis (though, technically my thesis is on Karl Barth’s Christology, specifically his exegesis and use of John 1:14), but for my job.

As I’ve been reading, there have been some books that have been hugely helpful, and others that though they came recommended ended up being highly over-rated, boring, or both.

Today, I want to highlight a few of the books that I really like. My research emphasis has been on exploring the theological significance of the major events of Christ’s life (e.g., Baptism, Transfiguration, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, etc.,) rather than on the historical development of Christology.

The Suffering and Victorious Christ is a new book (October 2013) that I had the privilege of getting a sneak peek at thanks to Baker Academic and Net Galley. This book has provided me with an introduction to the broader Christological tradition, through the exploration of the Christus dolor, the suffering of Christ. The authors contrast Western, North American, portrayals of Christ, what the authors refer to as the “masculine triumphalism” to Christ, to Asian (specifically Japanese) portrayals, particularly the suffering and sorrow of the Lord. Of special interest, was the chapter that examines the Christology of 19th century African Americans, for example Sojourner Truth. This book has been helpful as I tackle the question, “Why did Christ die?”

 

One of the things I have observed in evangelical circles is that the ascension gets overlooked. Either it gets collapsed into the resurrection, or it gets rushed through as a quirky prologue to Pentecost. While I have chosen a chapter from T.F. Torrance’s Space, Time and Resurrection as a primary source reading on this topic, Peter Atkins’ Ascension Now is a fantastic pastoral resource. In it, Atkins not only considers the biblical evidence, and theological implications of the ascension, he also devotes significant time to considering the implications of the doctrine of the ascension for liturgy, prayer, and preaching.

 

While Gustaf Aulen’s Christus Victor is the classic choice for an overview of the Christus Victor theory of the atonement, it suffers from being dull and boring. In contrast, Greg Boyd’s chapter on “The Warfare Significance of Christ’s Death and Resurrection” in his book, God at War, is an accessible, and non-boring presentation of Christus Victor.

 

 

 

 

And of course, I can’t not include Barth, so a primary source reading of Barth’s exegesis on the parable of the Prodigal Son in CD IV.2 is a must!

 

 

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Reading Barth, Not Reading Barth, and Reactions to the Barthian Industry

Karl Barth

There has been a fascinating discussion going on in the blogosphere this month about reading Barth.  It started with Janice Rees talking about her own personal resistance movement where she was deliberately choosing to not read Karl Barth:

“…my commitment to not reading Barth arose because of my concerns regarding the institution of Barthian scholarship and my understanding of identity for theologians on the margins. By not reading Barth I was, and have been, engaging in what I believe is a form of resistance; a small gesture that I could manage as I tried to find a voice and place beyond tokenism.  There are several ways in which I have understood this to be resistance.”

Peter Kline wrote about his choice to no longer read Karl Barth and his personal therapy of choosing to not go to Princeton for a PhD program:

“The previous summer I had been invited to contribute to an online blog conference on Barth that would take place in October. The conversation that unfolded in response to my essay was painful for me. People I thought were my friends at Princeton treated me with a callousness and condescension that I found disgusting. But I realized that this was nothing new really, that I had been around this toxicity for years but hadn’t had the distance to see it. This is what talking about Barth sounded and felt like, a pious pissing contest. These are the kinds of conversations Barth’s discourse generates, and I decided that I didn’t want to be a part of them, even if I was good at them. After that essay, I decided not to write on Barth anymore, beyond what was required of me as a grad student. What I decided to walk away from was a whole Princeton-Barth culture that bred arrogance, pseudo-friendships, and a very limited set of theological possibilities.”

 Kait Dugan wrote about her reasons for reading Barth:

“I wish there was space within the theological academy for women to critically engage and appropriate Barth in ways that brought him into desperately needed conversation with other critical theologies. And I’m not talking about the token engagement that can pass in certain projects. I’m interested in profound and rigorous bilateral dialogue between Barth and other critical theologians in order to create something new. [4] The most ironic part of all of this is when I realize just how “radical” Barth is on certain issues and the lines of continuity that can be drawn between him and other theologians who most within confessional boundaries might typically render “not serious” or “unorthodox.” [5] To my surprise, when I read Barth, I see him as an incredible support and ally for many basic theological concerns within theologies of race, gender, and sexuality.”

 

Today, David Congdon has weighed in on the conversation:

“But it is has become fashionable to stop reading Barth for other, far less compelling, reasons. In the first of two recent statements on the matter, we discover that “not reading Barth” is not really a rejection of Barth himself so much as a rejection of “the institution of Barthian scholarship,” “a means to resist the production and control of ‘serious scholarship’” in favor of contextual theology, a rejection of “the way in which ‘Barth’ is invoked as the magic word for ‘orthodoxy,’” a way of resisting “institutional powers,” since “Barthian scholarship seems a power unto itself.” These are all different ways of saying the same thing: “not reading Barth” = resisting the oppressive institutional powers of church and academy. We hear more of the same in the second, more personal, statement, in which “not reading Barth” = the rejection of “a pious pissing contest” and “a whole Princeton-Barth culture that bred arrogance, pseudo-friendships, and a very limited set of theological possibilities.” Of course, by the end, we learn that the author has exchanged one culture for another, that of critical theory, which “is every bit as much an industry as the former with unspoken but obvious clubs and entrance requirements.””

And my thesis supervisor made this observation on Facebook this afternoon:

“Telling people why we may have stopped reading Barth (which is, of course, perfectly a legitimate choice) is one thing, but telling others why we may have stopped reading Barth with the strong implication that their readers should ALSO stop reading Barth sounds a little bit too much like a form of censorship for my comfort.”

As an MA student doing my thesis on Karl Barth, I have been reading the ongoing conversation carefully and prayerfully. I don’t have anything profound to add to the conversation, but what follows are a few of the ideas that are floating around my Barth-addled brain.

  1. I have been edified and challenged by Barth.  It was an invitation to a Barth reading group in Caronport when we had just newly moved here, that allowed me to meet people and be intellectually challenged. I would later take a seminar class on Barth that, though it was one of the most challenging classes of my seminary career, was the most rewarding. I have learned that Barth is best read in the context of the church. He was writing to edify the church, not to edify the academy. If a person reads Barth merely as an academic exercise, then they are doing a grave injustice to the writing and spirit of Barth’s scholarship.
  2. While Barth is a profoundly important voice for Christian theology, he is not the only voice, nor the final voice.
  3. You don’t need to like Barth to appreciate Barth’s contribution to theology. Confession: I really, really dislike reading Augustine. If I have a choice between reading Augustine and anything else, I will choose anything else (including the dreadful Twilight series). But, I also know that it is important for me to read Augustine as he has (for good or for evil or both) profoundly influenced western Christian thought.
  4. Peter’s observation of Barthian scholarship being a “pious pissing contest” is spot on. As I read for my thesis I have begun to be able to tell just from the introduction of a book which Barthian “camp” the author identifies with. Too often I have found otherwise intelligent scholars failing to understand, listen to, or fairly represent the arguments from a scholar from the opposite camp simply because they are from the “wrong side.”
  5. Given the way that Barthian academy works, I am learning (very quickly) that I am not smart enough to be a Barth scholar. As I read “provocative” and “creative” interpretations and interactions with Barth, I find myself asking: “are we reading the same text?!” “is all this academic twisting and interpreting being fair to the spirit and purpose of Barth’s writings?” and “are the “innovative” readings of Barth merely a means for the scholar to get name recognition?”
  6. Criticizing Barth for not anticipating the conversations or the postmodern assumptions in Christian theology that developed after his time is at best a cheap-shot, and at worst, unethical and sloppy scholarship.
  7. While it is true that in classes and at conferences, I am usually the only or one of only a few women in attendance I have not experienced any problems being a woman who studies Barth. This is probably due in large part to the fact that I am just a mere student and not a scholar trying to contribute to the academy.

I may never end up in the hallowed halls of the Barthian academy (very probable). I may get to the end of my thesis and not want to read Barth for a very long time (highly probable). I may discover that Barth is not the best dialogue partner for my theological journey (very possible). Or I may discover that Barth is the coolest of all the cool theologians and that my life’s dream is to become a Barthian scholar (unlikely, but who knows?)

Whatever the case, Barth offers all of us, whether we are student or teacher, pastor or teacher, some very wise counsel: the work and call of the theologian is a gift of grace. “To become and be a theologian is not a natural process but an incomparably concrete fact of grace.”  While some may say that this idea lends itself to a sort of arrogance, as if the theologian has been endowed, Barth is quick to point out that this gift of grace is a mystery, for “if anyone supposed he could understand himself as such a receiver of grace, he would do better to bid theology farewell.”  With this comes the need for humility. All of our theological presuppositions are grounded, not in the logical consistency of a theologian’s argument, but in the “reality of God’s self-communication to us in Jesus Christ.”  As such, theological statements, be they from Barth or any other theologian past or present, “are true only in so far as they direct us away from themselves to the one Truth in God” and that Truth is Jesus. 

 

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Random Barth Related Stuff

barth study

Fun Barth Fact:

It took Barth three lecture periods to get through his material on John 1:14 when he taught through the Gospel of John in 1925. (No wonder he didn’t make it all the way through the Gospel, given that pace!)

A Real Barth Related Conversation:

2 year old — “Help Momma!”

Me — “You want to help Momma do research?”

2 year old — nods.

Me — “Can you speak German?”

2 year old — “…fitzzzzzzzzzzz.”

Me– “Perfect! You’re hired!”

Barth quote that I’m examining in light of the McCormack’s argument that Barth moves from being Pneumocentric to Christocentric in his Christology:

Inasmuch as the Incarnation fulfills the time, it is also limited by time. Insasmuch as it is epoch-making, it is also an epsiode which points beyond itself to the Holy Ghost who proclaims the Incarnate Word in other ages as well, and to the Resurrection of the body which includes all ages. ~”The Word Made Flesh” sermon 1926.

 

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When God Spoke Greek — Book Blog Tour

When I was approached about participating in the Book Blog Tour for Timothy Michael Law’s new book, When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible, I was beyond excited. I have, in the past, lamented how in all my years of theological training I have never once had a class on the Septuagint. I can count on one hand the number of times the Septuagint was mentioned in New Testament classes (usually in relation to how the NT author quoted the Old Testament), and I don’t think the Septuagint was ever brought up in an Old Testament class. Given this gap, I was hoping that this new book would help fill the gap. I can say with confidence, that this book definitely begins to fill said gap. Timothy Michael Law notes in his introduction that he was wanting to make the Septuagint more accessible. And he does.

 

Now, it’s important to note that I’m coming at this book as a seminary student, an aspiring theologian, and a person involved in church ministry. As such, the questions that I bring to this book include:

 

  • Would this book work as a textbook for college students? Would this book work as a textbook for seminary students?
  • Would this book have helped my studies as a student?
  • What are the theological implications of the NT authors quoting the Septuagint, especially when it differs from the Hebrew text?
  • Would this book be helpful for teaching lay people in the church about the history of Scripture?

Now onto my look at chapters 11 and 12!

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In chapter eleven, TML begins by talking about the Septuagint influenced the transmission of Scripture into other languages. For example, the Latin Scripture were produced, not from the Hebrew text, but from the Greek. It is also from the Septuagint that the earliest Coptic, Armenian, Gothic and Arabic translations were produced. TML goes so far as to say, “Had there been no Septuagint, and had early Jewish converts remained in a Semitic world, the church may never have moved outside of its Palestinian birthplace.” (129)

He then looks at Philo and Josephus’ use and explanations of the origins of the Septuagint. For Philo, it was important to justify the text and he set out to demonstrate how it was divinely inspired. Josephus, on the other hand, is not so interested in justifying the divine inspiration of the Septuagint, so much as just reporting how the Hebrew Scriptures came to be translated into Greek.

By the 4th century, we find Eusebius arguing that “God providentially guided a translation into Greek so that when the Savior of the world did appear the nations would recognize him. This was the time when God spoke Greek.” (131) TML writes that by the 4th century, “the idea that the Septuagint was the inspired word of God was already so deeply rooted in the church that it allowed these writers to speak of it as the preparation for the gospel and as the superior, indeed, the only, word of God for the church.” (132)

TML then asks one of the questions that I myself was bringing to the text: “In what ways did [the Septuagint] contribute to the theological and exegetical formation of the early centuries of Christianity?” (132) He notes that the Latin and Greek Fathers were not concerned with how accurately the Greek translated the Hebrew, and that “presumably most Christians would have viewed the Hebrew Bible as strictly Jewish scripture, but the Septuagint was the treasure of the church.” (133) He explores examples of typological exegesis that were common because the Septuagint’s translations of key words like “Lord,” and “Anointed” made it easy for readers to see foreshadowing references to Christ.

As well, the Septuagint became extremely important theologically as the early church struggled against heresies. Over and over, it was the Septuagint and not the Hebrew texts that the Church Fathers would return to over and over again to craft a coherent defense of the faith.

TML concludes the chapter by noting that it wasn’t just theology that was profoundly influenced by the Greek text. Indeed, the Septuagint played a role in also developing preaching, liturgy and Christian piety (aka spiritual formation). Ultimately, “Most Christians would have heard the Septuagint taught and would have been shaped by it without knowing anything about its relationship to the Hebrew.” (139)

In chapter twelve, TML looks at Origen and his influence on biblical scholarship in the early church. He argues that Origen’s “textual scholarship inadvertently hastened the end of the Septuagint’s prominence in the church.” (141) Origen’s study of Scripture was extensive. He was continually learning about exegetical methods, not only from Christian scholars in Alexandria, but also from Jewish and Greek (secular) scholars. It was this deep passion for exegesis that led Origen to compile the Hexapla: “a six-columned Bible in which he placed six different biblical texts in parallel columns.” (143) This project made the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts stand how. But how would Origen explain the differences? “When the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint were at odds with one another, there were two possible explanations: copyists introduced genuine errors in the transmission of the manuscripts, or Providence introduced the divergences for the church’s edification.” (144) TML is quick to note that Origen had great respect for the Septuagint and that “Origen’s aim was never to dislodge the Septuagint from the lecterns of the churches in favor of the Hebrew Bible.” (145)

So how did this massive exegetical work by Origen hasten the demise of the Septuagint’s prominence in the church? By accident!

“If Origen included the Hebrew Bible in the first column of his Hexapla, didn’t that imply it was worth studying? The fifth column, in which he had created a hybrid text composed of the church’s Septuagint with additional readings from other Greek Jewish versions, may have begun as a scholarly tool for exegesis, apologetics, and textual analysis. But the new fifth column text was soon copied with the signs [that noted divergences from the Hebrew] removed and was dispersed widely. It moved out from a scholarly and professional realm, where caveats could have helped to prevent its misuse, and into the church. Unintentionally, Origen’s work contaminated the stream of biblical transmission: from the fourth century almost all Septuagint manuscripts had been influenced by the so-called Origenic, or Hexaplaric, version.” (145)

And this contamination was not gradual. Instead “it exploded on to the map and changed the course of the Septuagint’s history thereafter.” TML concludes the chapter by noting: “A new spirit was unleashed, and if scholars had not noticed before the divergent nature of the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible they would soon find it impossible to ignore. The final days of the Septuagint in the West had begun.” (150)

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So would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Reading this book has begun to fill in some of the gaps of my theological education. If I was teaching a course, how would I use this book? If I was teaching a class on the Patristic Fathers, either at the college or seminary level, this would definitely be on the syllabus as a required reading. If I was teaching a survey NT or OT class, I wouldn’t necessarily assign this book, but would instead create a lecture or two on the Septuagint based on the material in this book. At a church level, I think it would be fantastic to do a small group study on the history of Scripture and use this book as one of the materials to be read over the course of a season (with 13 chapters plus a postscript, this book is ideally laid out for a fall (Sept-Dec) or spring (Jan-Apr) weekly study group).

My only real complaint is that once again a publisher has decided that a book aimed at a general audience needs endnotes. Publishers, please stop doing this! A general audience will not be put off by a few footnotes, and footnotes actually make the book easier to read.

 

You can follow the rest of the Book Blog Tour on When God Spoke Greek here.

 

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Ariel, Merida and “the alienation of a young generation of Christians”

In light of the explosion of discussion and responses to Rachel Held Evans’ article at CNN on why millennials are leaving the church, I thought I would re-post my discussion from last year on millennials and their relationship to the church. Enjoy!

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I have a love/hate relationship with the Disney princesses. On the one hand, Belle was my absolute favourite princess when I was young, and she still is. On the other, as I have gotten older and now have daughters of my own, I struggle with the message that the Disney princesses give, especially how they are marketed (it irks me to no end that the Mulan princess doll is done up in froof when that was the part that she hated the most and was one of the reasons she ran off to fight in her father’s stead).

And yet, I wonder if comparing and contrasting two Disney princesses would help me to make sense of a trend in north American Evangelicalism. MSNBC has a story about how the gay marriage issue is driving away an entire generation of Christians. And while the story does cite Matthew Anderson as an example of one young Christian who doesn’t think so, the majority of the article seems to lean towards Rachel Held Evans’ thesis. Denny Burk has weighed in on his, and it has of course made the rounds on the Twitter feed.

I don’t really want to talk about the gay-marriage debate, but rather, I want to speak to the larger issue behind it: the post-modern 21st century generation of evangelical Christians who are disenfranchised with the older generations of the Church in general.

My question is this: what kind of princess is this young evangelical generation? Is it Ariel or Merida?

'Little Mermaid projections at Disney Animation' photo (c) 2009, Loren Javier - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/The message of The Little Mermaid is disobey your parents because at the end there will be a rainbow and a handsome prince, and a father who will apologize because you were right and he was wrong. Reckless and head-strong is okay because it’s all about you and no one else and your parents will see that in the end and you will live happily ever after.

The message of Brave, on the other hand, is there are consequences to your head-strong opinions, and in the end your mom was actually right and knew what she was talking about. She may not have expressed it in the best of ways, but it’s not entirely her fault that you didn’t get it. Reconciliation is needed: Merida needed to repair the tear in the family that she had created; and the Queen needed to see that Merida had gifts and strengths and that she didn’t need to be “managed” and nagged at 24/7.

'BraveMerida' photo (c) 2012, Michelle Wright - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The Evangelical church in North America is young, very young, in the grand scheme of 2,000 years of Christianity. And yet on many issues the 21st-century Evangelical Church think that she knows what is best and that is okay to turn her back on the “old fogeys” of both the Evangelical tradition and the larger Church because they are absolutely wrong and she is absolutely right.

I don’t know what the cause of this is. Maybe it’s the rugged individualistic worldview of the North American culture. Maybe it’s what happens with each generation of Christians but in the age of social media it has become amplified and expanded. Maybe it’s because North America is quickly becoming a post-Christian nation and it is encouraging the Church to become post-Christian as well. I don’t know.

I guess what it comes down to is this: I wish there was a little more humility; a little more listening. I get the disenfranchisement of the young people in the church today, I really do. I am of that generation. I think the difference is that I didn’t grow up in the Church, so I didn’t have my rebel moment. I came into the Church at the age of 16 with my eyes somewhat open to what I was choosing. It was (through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit) my choice to respond to the gracious gift of Jesus; it wasn’t forced on me (“you have to be a Christian because that is what this family does”). Add to that, I have spent a lot of time reading Church history, listening to the elders who have gone before, and sitting under their wisdom. It has changed me. It has softened me. It has made me (somewhat) more patient with the foibles and frustrations of a Church that is made up of imperfect humans.

I am listening to the stories and concerns of this generation of evangelicals, but I can’t help but wonder, “Are you listening just as equally to the stories of your elders and of those who disagree with you? Are you willing to do your part in reconciliation or are you expecting the older generation to unilaterally cave to your way of thinking? What happens in 50 years, when the new younger generation of Evangelicals become disenfranchised and alienated from your ideas, experiences and politics?”

Adventures in Thesis Writing

phd100802s

 

I’m halfway through a two-week intensive thesis writing spree. Here are some of the things that I have observed about the thesis-writing process:

The EBSCO e-book reader sucks. I’ll say it again: The EBSCO e-book reader sucks. Sure it’s okay if you only need to pull a plum quote or two, but if you want to read an entire chapter, or, heaven forbid, the entire book, the EBSCO reader is clunky, ugly and very user unfriendly. Yes, it does have a function where you can export sections to a PDF for convenient reading, but this usually only covers 15-25 pages. So you’re stuck reading the book on your laptop and the interface is so ugly that you usually get a headache from reading the book on the computer screen. And when you’re in the e-book reading and the system decides that you’re taking too long to read, if another person decides to read the e-book, you get booted from the system. It would be like if you had taken a book from the shelf and started to read it, and someone comes along and takes it right from your hands. What makes it worse, most libraries will not allow a patron to fill out an inter-library loan request to get a physical copy of the book if it is available as an EBSCO e-book.  After a day of complete frustration, I finally caved and ordered a copy of the book I was needing on Amazon. It should arrive in a week or so.

 

I’ve come up with the next episode of Castle: death by library stacks. The BR-BT section of the McMaster library (basically the Bible-Biblical Studies-Theology section) is on these moveable library shelves that all squish together when not in use. So what you do is you find the row that you need, press a button, and the shelves move so that you can walk down the row to find your book. Each time I walked down the row, I kept thinking that at any minute the system was going to reset itself, and I’d get squished between Christology and Hermeneutics. Death by stacks. Yup, definitely a good opening for an episode of Castle.

 

“Just one more source” becomes a great way to procrastinate from writing. Oh, I should look up just one more source before I start writing. Okay, now I should look up just one more source. Six hours and twelve “just one more sources” later means that not a single sentence was written. Are those “just one more sources” helpful? Sometimes. But those six hours could have been spent writing a page or two with the material already collected.

 

The writing chopping block looms over my shoulder constantly. My greatest fear is that when I submit this chapter to my supervisor he’ll say that I’ll have to reduce all that beautiful hard work, that took hours and hours, to one single footnote and then start again.

 

The more highlighters you have the better. I think I now own every single colour of highlighter ever created. They can turn the most boring source into a beautiful rainbow of whimsy. Trust me, this is important, because, oh my, some (most?) of these academic tomes are so dull they make normal dull look sharp and sparkly.

 

For all the hard work and stress that it is, I’m actually really enjoying the thesis writing process. Oh no! I’m doomed!

 

 

 

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Canada: The “Meh” Factor

Wikipedia defines the word “meh” as “an interjection, often an expression of apathy, indifference or boredom.” It is commonly used to express an extreme lack of enthusiasm or positive emotion. This can be a reaction to something you experience. For example, if someone asks, “What did you think of the latest Harry Potter film?” replying “meh” would mean something like, “I didn’t hate it enough to walk out, but that’s about the best I can say.” “Meh” can also be your response to a proposed course of action. If someone asks, “How about pizza for dinner tonight?” and you answer “meh,” it means, “I won’t bash your head in with a crowbar for suggesting it, but I am in no way on board with this plan.”

As I read up on Canadian history, two things strike me. First: pirates. Specifically, Newfoundland pirates like Peter Easton (who captured the Sheriff that England sent to arrest him) and the Kirke brothers (who captured Quebec). The first Governor of Newfoundland was a pirate (David Kirke). That’s just awesome. And the awesomeness continues among the Saskatchewan pirates.

The second thing that stands out is the number of times that Canadian history has been shaped by the power of “meh.” On many occasions, Canadians have been asked (or commanded) to take certain actions (sometimes by other countries, and sometimes by other Canadians), and they have responded with “meh.” Not really responding with outright rebellion or gunfire or massive protests, just an extreme lack of enthusiasm. And that “meh” has created the Canada we now know.

This is a partial listing of some of the prominent history-shaping Canadian “meh”s:

** In February of 1763, France signed away its North American holdings (except for St. Pierre and Miquelon and some of Louisiana). A few months later, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 established the “Province of Quebec” with James Murray as Governor. The Proclamation was a very good deal for “Canadians,” but a very bad deal for “Canadiens,” and Murray also faced considerable pressure from English Protestant merchants to put the boot down on those Frenchies, lest they start getting ideas.
Murray’s reply: “Meh.”

** In 1775, the Americans were taking a very “non-meh” approach to gaining independence from Britain. During the build-up to the Revolution, the American colonists invited Canada to send delegates to the Continental Congress, and sent the following:

“By His Excellency, George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Army of the United Colonies of North America. To the inhabitants of Canada: Friends and Brethren, the unnatural Contest between the English Colonies and Great-Britain has now risen to such a height that Arms alone must decide it… Come then, my Brethren, unite with us in an indissoluble Union, let us run together to the same Goal.”

The Canadian reply: “Meh.”

** As American and British troops fought it out, and American forces pushed toward Quebec City, Quebec Governor Guy Carleton believed that the French Canadians (grateful that the Quebec Act of 1774 permitted them to be kinda sorta half French in their laws and practices) would rise up and happily defend their British overlords from the rampaging Americans.
The Quebec reply: “Meh.”

** During the War of 1812, General Hull marched into Upper Canada, expecting Canadians to happily throw off the yoke of British rule and join the Union (which makes sense, since Americans are composed of 50% Cool, 45% Awesome, and 5% Chuck Norris Jokes, so who WOULDN’T want to be American?).
The Canadian reply: “Meh.”

** Last on our list: when it came to relations with the British Empire, Wilfrid Laurier was the “Meh” Heard Round the World. Joseph Chamberlain proposed a Council of the Empire in 1897, so that military and economic power could be consolidated. Laurier said “meh.” And he kept saying “meh.” Military unification? “Meh.” An imperial common market? “Meh.” Boer War? “Meh.” His critics started calling him “Sir Won’tfrid.”

There we have it. The Canadian “meh” is a powerful thing, not to be taken lightly.

What do you think? Does “meh” still resonate in the Canadian heart? Is this the hidden answer to why Canada did not join the US and Britain and Australia in the 2003 invasion of Iraq? Is this the hidden answer to why the 1995 Quebec referendum was defeated? Is this the hidden answer to why so many of my students get to the end of the semester and STILL haven’t picked a paper topic?

Written by Dr. Charles Hackney. Associate Professor of Psychology at Briercrest College and Seminary.

(This Flashback Friday article was originally posted August 2, 2010.)

 

Upcoming Barth Project

Jessica DeCou is working on a book on Karl Barth’s trip to the United States in 1962. She has launched a Kickstarter project to help fund her travel expenses to several library archives.

“A Fantastic Affair”: Karl Barth in America, 1962 (a.k.a. “KBUSA” – under advance contract with Fortress Press, ISBN: 978-1-4514-6553-2) provides the first detailed chronicle of Barth’s sole visit to the U.S. in 1962. Barth arrived at a tumultuous moment in American history and found himself embroiled in some of the nation’s fiercest conflicts: touring prisons and inner city neighborhoods and meeting with communist groups, State and Defense Department staff, civil rights activists, business leaders, and White House officials – just to name a few. The book, therefore, will not only shed light on Barth’s later life and work, but also provide a snapshot of American culture in the early ‘60s – from the highest levels of government to the tourist cultures built along with and alongside the developing Interstate Highway System; from Seminary campuses to high security prisons; from Napa Valley to East Harlem.

Of course, completing this project requires extensive travel to various institutions around the country where relevant archives are housed. Research funding in the humanities can be difficult to come by these days, but I will not let that stop me!!  I’m turning to Kickstarter in the hope that, with your help, my research can continue unabated in order to meet my publication deadline (Summer 2014).

There are gifts for those who contribute to the project (yay for gifts!). You can pledge your support for this project here.

 

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On Writing a Thesis

thesis prayer

Your thesis proposal has been approved. You are now officially writing a thesis. You sit at your desk and the worries and doubts begin to overwhelm. All of the emotions and frustrations that you laughed at when reading PhD comics are suddenly no longer funny. How are you going to survive the next year of thesis writing?

1. Find some accountability. Maybe it’s about setting specific due dates and deadlines for yourself. But more useful is finding someone to sit down with once every couple of weeks, who will ask you straight out “what you have done this week?” This person will most likely not be your supervisor. It could be another student who is also in thesis mode, or someone who has previously written a thesis.

2. Just write something. The most paralyzing thing is a blank computer screen. The idea does not have to be fully developed before you put it on the screen. Even if it’s a half-formed thought, putting it on the screen (or on paper) will help get you started. Remember there is plenty of time to edit, re-write and rearrange (especially when your supervisor takes a red pen to your submitted chapter and slashes it to smithereens).

3. Stop researching. Sometimes research stops being useful and instead becomes a procrastination tool. Do you really need to track down one more book? Probably. But not right now. Get out of the stacks and start working with what you’ve already researched. You can, and will, get back to that “one more source” and you’ll have no problem incorporating it into what you’ve already written.

4. Print off and read what you’ve written. This is especially helpful if, like many people, you only have a few days a week devoted to thesis writing. By printing off what you wrote the session before, it is easier to pick up your train of thought and start jotting down notes of where you want to take your argument. It also can serve as an encouragement, “hey, what I wrote last week isn’t half bad.” And, there is something about reading your work on the printed page rather than off the computer screen that changes how you understand and respond to your writing.

5. Go for a walk. Sitting down with your thesis for eight hours at a time isn’t as productive as it sounds. Your body will need a break from sitting at the desk, and your brain will need a distraction. Break up your day by going for a mid-morning walk or by spending an hour at the gym. The exercise will clear your head allowing your afternoon writing session to be more productive.

6. Keep a notebook. It will be inevitable that on the days that you’re not working on your thesis, your brain will spin out the most brilliant argument that you just have to include in your chapter, usually at the most inopportune time like in the middle of family dinner, in the middle of a good night’s sleep, or while you’re at work. By keeping a notebook handy, you can jot down the idea so your brain doesn’t have to try to desperately remember the idea until your next writing day. Trust me, the brilliant thought you had on Monday will most definitely be forgotten by the time you sit down to write on Wednesday unless you write it down.

7. Turn off the Internet. A quick “I’ll just take two minutes to check my email, Twitter, news feed” inevitably becomes an hour…or two…or three.