10-20-30 Meme

Tim Buckley has tagged me and while I’m quite happy to say where I was 10, 20 and 30 years ago, working out who to tag next is challenging.

Ten years ago I was in Melbourne, Australia just beginning what turned out to be the placement from hell – Outreach Ministries Coordinator for the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria. The upside was that we were living in the lovely bayside suburb of Edithvale, 10 minutes’ walk from Port Philip Bay. It also turned out to be anything up to a two hour commute to the office, so it was a downside as well. Got introduced to prison chaplaincy, which I found fascinating. Married, with two primary (grade) school aged children.

Twenty years ago I was in Melbourne for the first time, getting ready to be ordained as a minister of the Uniting Church in Australia (the anniversary of my ordination is 12th December, for those who want to send greetings). Living in a “surplus to requirements” manse in the northern suburb of Reservoir. Married, with a small baby who didn’t sleep much. Although my denomination has always ordained women (since it was formed in 1977) I was the first – or was it the second? – candidate in Victorian Synod who actually gave birth whilst training, but only by a matter of two weeks.

Thirty years ago I was still living at home with my parents, newly graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture majoring in Animal Husbandry, and working as an aide in the dietary department of Ryde Hospital. I was actually marking time until I could enrol in a graduate diploma in human nutrition course because I wanted to work with people, not animals. My game plan had been to work in Agricultural Extension, helping farmers to apply research to their farming, but they didn’t employ women because farmers weren’t even all that keen on listening to male AE officers at that stage. It was nearly a decade later that they employed the first women in this field.

So, are there rules to this meme/tagging thing? Am I supposed to keep to bibliobloggers or can I go elsewhere? Since no-one’s told me, I’m going to tag:

April DeConick whose Forbidden Gospels blog gives me food for thought on a regular basis.

Craig Mitchell who teaches and directs lay education for the Uniting Church in South Australia, does lots of alt.worship stuff using multimedia, comes from Australia and likes cooking.

Mark Alterman, or specifically his Theological German/Theologisches Deutsch site, because it encourages me when I can read things he posts without having to resort to the vocabulary lists too often, as well as encouraging me to keep up with my German.

I hope these people don’t put me on there “never speak to her again” lists. :-)

Handy hint for Endnote (and RefWorks) users

Well, I think it’s handy, anyway. :-)

If your favourite library catalogue doesn’t export references directly to Endnote and you find the whole “email to yourself as text and fiddle” technique tedious and painful, you can use WorldCat to import it into Endnote for you. Just find the book or article you want, click on the link that provides the details and then click on the “Export to Endnote” link and there you are. There is also an “Export to RefWorks” link, for those who use that.

Simple, as long as you’re familiar with WordCat.

For the benefit of anyone who’s asking “What is WorldCat?”, here are a few details. The WorldCat website informs me that it is “the world’s largest network of library content and services. WorldCat libraries are dedicated to providing access to their resources on the Web, where most people start their search for information.” You can enter a title, subject or person and WorldCat searches over 1 billion items in more than 10,000 libraries worldwide to find it for you. Once you’ve found the item you want, as well as being able to download the reference into your bibliography software, you can also find out whether it is in stock in a library near you, or one for which you have borrowing rights, or whether you’re going to get a bit more practice at filling in interlibrary loan forms. Or maybe giving up all hope of getting hold of a copy, since the only three copies in the world are in places where even interlibrary loan librarians will not venture without large amounts of money and it doesn’t look that good.

One way of getting to WorldCat is to click on the link above, which takes you direct to the search window. It is, however, highly likely that you can set your browser so that World Cat is one of the search engines you can choose to use whenever you do a search. You can certainly do it on Firefox and Internet Explorer. If you want to add it to Firefox or to your Google or Yahoo toolbar, go here and follow the prompts. [Please note that I am not recommending Google or Yahoo toolbars, just passing on the info.] To add it to Internet Explorer, click on the little arrow beside the magnifying glass icon in the top right-hand corner, click on “Find more providers” and the follow the instructions in “Create your own”. Note that I use IE 7 and these instructions may not work in earlier versions. WorldCat assures me that their instructions work on all versions of Firefox.

Making theology available to congregations

Over on Pisteuomen, Michael Halcomb has published a conversation with Chris Tilling of Chrisendom fame. In between discussing significantly less biblical issues, they touch on ways that we can begin to bridge the gap that exists between the academy and the Church. Chris suggests that we don’t try to suggest that everyone needs to read academic tomes to sort out their faith. I agree, but I also think that we ought to make sure that congregant/parishioners are aware that it is both OK and possible for them to read academic tomes if they’re interested.

I’m reminded of a Computer Science doctoral candidate who used to come and talk to me on a very regular basis. He had grown up in an atheist family where he had been told that only a fool believes in God. His previous contact with Christians had reinforced this notion but he was fascinated by the fact that I was clearly intelligent and also clearly believed in God and wanted to know more. (I know this because he told me so.)

One day he wandered in and I needed to finish something before I could talk to him, so he browsed my bookshelves. He found a copy of Jürgen Moltmann’s Creating a Just Future and asked if he could borrow it. I somewhat hesitatingly said yes, because I thought it might be rather complex for someone with no church background. The next morning he was in my office, blazingly angry. Why, he wanted to know, had no-one ever told him that you could be a Christian without putting your brain into neutral? Why hadn’t anyone told him that Christians were interested in more than just converting you? It had taken him over an hour to work out how to look up the Bible readings in the Gideons’ New Testament that he had at home and he hadn’t understood some of the finer points of Moltmann’s argument, but he was fascinated.

He took to systematic theology like a duck to water and read everything that Moltmann had ever written that was available in English translation, and then went on to Pannenburg, Bultmann and Elisabeth Moltmann Wendell (the last on the basis that anyone sensible enough to marry Jürgen must have something worthwhile to offer). I found this very challenging, having been much more interested in biblical studies, ethics and pastoral care when I was studying, but I think he found an on-line community that was more able to enter into the discussion with enthusiasm than I was.

I left the university at that point and lost contact with him, so I don’t know whether his enthusiasm for Moltmann resulted in a conversion experience, but it did suggest to me that churchgoers might find academic writing difficult to understand because they expect it to be difficult. The student had no idea that Moltmann was supposed to be difficult, so he didn’t find him difficult.

Of course, some theology/biblical studies is difficult. Some of the people in academe use such arcane language and such tortuous sentences structure that they’re almost impossible to follow. I suspect they think that they are showing how clever they are, but I tend to think that it simply shows what poor communicators they are, and I don’t bother reading them. I am often prepared to make exceptions for people who have published in a language other than English and who I am reading in English, on the basis that they may be suffering from poor translation. Ernst Käsemann is a case in point – some of the English versions of his books are much more readable than others and the more readable ones are translated by different people to the less readable ones.

More on eyewitness accounts

In the comments on my rant on making biblical scholarship available to congregational members, Michael Bird writes:

Also, I think you’ll find that Bauckham is not interested in purely “proving” the history of the Synoptics. His main interest seems to be in turning over the Form-Critical consensus that the eyewitnesses vanished and did not influence or affect the shape of the oral tradition. I think he overstates his case at points, e.g. his version of the ancient witness protection program, but the Form Critics have long been due their coup de grace. For what it’s worth, many conservatives have big problems with his views on the authorship of John’s Gospel and 2 Peter, so I don’t think Bauckham is writing apologetics for the masses.

I am still in the process of re-reading Bauckham (rotten head cold plus people thinking I ought to do other things as well is making this a slow process) so I may change my mind, but at the moment I think Michael’s right – ‘proving’ the gospel is not Bauckham’s main aim. I think, however, that he certainly sees the fact that eyewitnesses affected the oral tradition as a good thing. I guess I have always conceptualised the oral tradition as having been based on eyewitness account and assumed that eyewitnesses would have had some role in preserving it as long as they were available, so I am in sympathy with Bauckham at one level. I was, however, interested in the reaction of the psychologists here at UNE when I asked them about current research on eyewitness testimony and explained why I was interested.

Their reaction was that eyewitness accounts introduce a range of inaccuracies that have to be taken into account in evaluating what they say. They were puzzled about why anyone might want to do that, but it now occurs to me that maybe they have a fairly literal view of the Bible as inspired by God (not because I think they’re fundamentalists, just because I don’t think it’s an area they think about much at all). Coming from this kind of perspective, of course it would be puzzling that you would want to substitute human-produced inaccuracy for divinely-inspired accuracy!

However, looking at some of the contemporary psychological writings on eyewitness accounts, it seems to me that what happens when you shift from the form-critical perspective to Bauckham’s perspective is that you substitute one set of problems for another. For example, if you say that text X came from a community that didn’t like the group A, then you need to look for signs of bias in its accounts of group A.  The problem with this is that if one text is negative about group A and another is not, how do we know whether this is because group A were nasty or whether the community out of which the negative text arose was biased? If you say that text X arose from a particular eyewitness, you need to look for the particular sorts of bias that eyewitnesses introduce. According to psychological research, there is an impressive range of things that can affect accuracy, including how traumatic the event is that a person is witnessing (negative moods result in more accurate remembering), the sorts of retrieval cues that are used (particular sorts of questioning can cause the remembering and forgetting of particular kinds of information) and whether or not the eyewitnesses attention was divided during the witnessing of an event. Many of these things are unknowns for early Christian texts.

I am very interested in looking at the sorts of complications that conceptualising texts as controlled by eyewitnesses will introduce. It might even become a paper at our forthcoming postgraduate conference.

Coptic in 20 Lessons – update

April DeConick (Forbidden Gospels blog) is teaching Coptic at Rice University this semester using Bentley Layton’s Coptic in 20 Lessons and is posting comments on how she and her students are finding it. She has so far dealt with chapters 1 – 3 and chapters 4 & 5 and I’m looking forward to her reflections on the rest of the book.

Update – 6 Nov

The latest update is now up on April’s site – it provides comments more comments on chapter 8 and then goes up to chapter 10. I notice that I haven’t linked to the comments on chapters 6-8, which can be found here.

Biblical Studies Carnival XXII

Tim Bulkeley at SansBlogue is the presenter of Biblical Studies Carnival XXII – well worth visiting, and not just because it’s by a fellow antipodean. :-) Tim provides links to some non-English-language blogs including the two new theological language blogs – Theological German/Theologisches Deutsch and Theological French/Français théologique, which provide opportunities for people to brush up on their theological vocabulary and expression in these two important languages.

So many biblioblogs, so little time. It’s such a pity there aren’t more hours in the day!