Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Prayer of Augustine

Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new;
late have I loved Thee. For behold Thou wert within me,
and I outside,
and I sought Thee outside and in my unloveliness
fell upon those lovely things that Thou hast made.

Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee.
I was kept from Thee by those things, Yet if they
had not been in Thee, they would not have been at all.

Thou didst call and cry to me to break open
my deafness: and Thou didst send forth thy beams and
shine upon me and chase away my blindness

Thou didst breathe fragrance upon me,
and I drew in my breath and now pant for Thee.
I tasted Thee, and now hunger and thirst for Thee.
Thou didst touch me
and I have burned for Thy peace.

Oxford book of prayers, Ed. George Appleton

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tagged! 10-20-30

I have been tagged by Doug at Metacatholic 10-20-30. What was I doing 10-20-30 years ago? My wife and I are just considering how to deal with 40 years of photographs - so the tag is timely.

1997 - Geçmis(h) olsun - may it be in your past - as the Turks say. 1997 was the year of our longest holiday - 6 weeks in Turkey. An enlarged photo of the market at Turgutreis where we shopped every Saturday still hangs just to the right of my desk.

1987 - still in Victoria, acting choirmaster for St John's church, the youngest was 10 years old. Three children learning strings - two fiddles and a cello. I may have even played an open string myself occasionally.

1977 - my newsletters only go back to 1978 - our first trip overseas for 3 weeks in England. In 77 we had just moved to Calgary from Toronto. I worked for IBM ('68-80). I sang in the cathedral choir. We did lots of walking in the high country in those days. One of my teachers at this time - only too briefly, was Peter Craigie.

Now can I tag anyone before someone else gets them: John Hobbins, Philip Harland, and Kathy Hanson

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Eucharist

Sarah Coakley, recently appointed as the Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge, gave the annual John Albert Hall lectures at the University of Victoria October 10-16. I have had a few weeks to mull over her finely reasoned theses. Since she is going to publish four volumes on her systematic theology of which these lectures will be a part of the first volume, I can hardly summarize them in a post. But the theses suggest ways of considering the role of the priest and the meaning of the Eucharist that may be helpful.

Here is her introduction: These lectures set out to cast current debates on ritual bodies in a new light: that demanded by a thoroughgoing analysis of the category of 'desire', and of its implications for the equally-contested topic of 'gender'. At the heart of the lectures lies a defense of the view (puzzling to many Protestant Christians) that issues of erotic meaning lie - rightly - with the 'nuptial' metaphor of the giving of Christ's body in the eucharist; but very different conclusions are drawn from those proposed by the Roman magisterium. At a time when both the Roman Catholic and the Anglican church are politically torn asunder by debates over sex and gender, these lectures seek to recast theological thinking on the eucharist to bring it explicitly into line with reflection on sexual ethics and on the baleful political and economic effects of the contemporary mismanagement of the 'economy of desire'.

I have had a chance to discuss reactions with others also, one a female priest another a layperson like myself, and my wife who attended 3 of the 4 lectures with me. To put it bluntly, I don't think Dr. Coakley was well understood. A few of us will have learned something about ancient and modern writing on these subjects and a few will have followed her reasoning, but most will find themselves unable to express the aspects of desire that were a part of it.

The overall title of the lecture series was: Flesh and Blood: The Eucharist, Desire and Gender. The four lectures - each a review of Eucharistic doctrine from Augustine to the modern period - have the following titles:

  1. 'In Persona Christi' Who, or where is Christ?
  2. Sacrifice Revisited: Blood and Gender
  3. Gift Retold: Spirals of Grace
  4. Real Presence, Real Absence: The Body Broken
These will be highly suggestive to anyone familiar with the history of thought on the Eucharist. But what did I learn? (I really can answer only that question.)

Lecture 1 - 'In Persona Christi' Who, or where is Christ?

The official abstract: After an introduction which proposes the idea of the eucharist as an ascetical training of 'desire', this first lecture takes as a starting point Thomas Aquinas's account of the priest acting in the eucharist 'in Persona Christi'. Dr. Coakley showed how this theme has been newly woven into the official Roman rejection of the ordination of women as 'gender disordered', given that - purportedly - only a man can represent Christ in the nuptial act of the eucharist. The lecturer argued for a position considered by neither conservatives nor liberals in the Catholic debate: in representing both laity (as 'Marian') and Christ, the priest moves symbolically back and forth across the threshold of the divine and the human, summoning, and de-stabilizing, the world's gender binary and submitting it to the judgment of the flow of divine desire.
My Response: I learned from this lecture that Aquinas's use of Aristotelian arguments on the inferiority of women is now regarded as insufficient support for restricting the ordination of women. I don't think I was surprised at this or at the Scriptural arguments usually put forward to support the exclusion of women - or the exclusion of anyone else for that matter. What Dr. Coakley did suggest to me is that the priest, in representing during the liturgy both Christ and the Church, is actually playing both male and female roles, combining as does the image of God, both male and female. Dr. Coakley was not gentle with the current Roman Catholic thinking - my note says: 'she tears it apart' - and she indicated that there are errors in their inferential moves to shore up the missing Aristotelian justification of a male only priesthood that deny the very thing they want to prove.

Lecture 2 - Sacrifice Revisited: Blood and Gender

This lecture briefly revisits the classic Reformation and counter-Reformation debate on sacrifice (Luther [mass as gift or testament] vs. Trent [mass as sacrifice]) in order to highlight anew a latent gender/power theme in 'sacrifice' that modern anthropological, psychoanalytic and feminist accounts have made the more explicit: it is traditionally men who sacrifice, and so establish a patriarchal order of authority that rivals - and trumps - the female power of childbirth. If so, the conservative Catholic and feminist critics agree that women should dissociate themselves from 'sacrifice'. Following on from the insights of the first lecture, however, it is argued that 'sacrifice' must not only be rescued as indispensable for a theology of the eucharist, but thought through precisely as 'representable' by a woman priest. The symbolic dislocations of such a move again signal a judgment on the 'world's' ordering, and so rightly 'represent' Christ as bringing the order of repeated blood sacrifice to an end.
My Response: Dr. Coakley began by refuting the violence in the Girardian use of scapegoat as the model for all sacrifice. I noted in my random association mind as she spoke that Zippora as Mohel had to save Moses, thus undermining the usual male-to-male birthing of the covenant of circumcision. I also noted the instruction: read Chilton. She ranged widely, my notes include Eucharist as replacement for animal sacrifice, Acts focusing on breaking of the bread, Paul's theology of the body and its integrity, fruits of the earth, Mary and Sarah vs Christ and Isaac, Jesus as the fruit of the earth. (I think this last comes from my recent drafting of harvest related psalms.)

Lecture 3 - Gift Retold: Spirals of Grace

The third lecture notes how the current debates about divine 'gift' (when seen as a disjunct alternative to 'sacrifice') ironically replicate the Protestant/Catholic divides of the early Reformation, but equally demand a false choice. It is argued that the reception of divine 'gift' necessarily involves moral sacrifice in the circumstances of a fallen world. If divine 'gift' is to find its proper human response, the demand to 'do this in remembrance of me' may have radical implications for economic life and for an understanding of the 'gift' of Christ's presence proffered by 'the poor'. In this sense participation in Christ's eucharistic body will have to involve 'spirals of grace' more surprising and complex that those envisaged by either John Milbank's or Kathryn Tanner's recent work: John of the Cross's analysis of the effects of divine 'gift' in union here becomes the test of how human desire is broken and remade in Christ.
My Response: I hope you get this far, because there were some interesting things in this lecture. Where she said: it is not the job of the priest/sacrificer to change God's mind, I thought - It is never said of God in the NT that he sighs or repents, instead the NXM becomes the Paracletos, or builder of the new temple.

But then she says - it is her (the priest's) job to mediate the laity's change of mind in a transformation of the workings of 'desire' (and so too of gender and economic relations). I thought - wait a minute, this really does separate the body into two and I cannot agree - there is one mediator between God and the human, individual or collective, and it is not the 'priest' whether male or female.

In this lecture she traced the debate about 'gift' through Derrida and Marion, to Milbank and Tanner. She argued that the debate has occluded a disturbing subtext on gender which either subordinates the Spirit/gift as stereotypically 'feminine' (Milbank) or effectively sanitizes divine 'gift' of any association with gender or the 'erotic' (Tanner). And I think - finally, she is on to two somethings, both of which miss the mark - i.e. her argument is apophatic. What she has done here though is to slip from grace to Spirit without warning, just when we needed the rest of Romans 6-8 or John's fountains of living water connected to the prayer of the psalmist to give us the pointer to the reality our desire must seek. Yet I think one might find the ladder of angels within this structure.

Lecture 4 - Real Presence, Real Absense: The Body Broken

The last lecture explicates a new rendition of Christic 'presence' at the eucharist. Returning once more to Aquinas, Dr. Coakley surveyed a number of intriguing re-readings of his theory of transubstantiation, arguing that the close connection in Thomas's account with the metaphysics of incarnation (and the associated theme of Marian impregnation) is worthy of greater attention, as is the strongly apophatic dimension of Thomas's argument. If eucharistic presence involves forms of 'cosmological disturbance', the we need to clarify further what bodily and political transformations that might involve. The question of Christ's 'presence' this cannot be properly formulated without attention to the issue of sacramental efficacy, itself inseparable from economic and political tests of paschal transformation.
My Response: I can't make head nor tail of my notes here except an instruction that I must read Aquinas volume 3 and Duns Scotus - relational not substantial. O well! Some day - when my psalms project is much more fully developed.

My questions remained:
1. Why the restriction of the priestly roles to the ordained? I remain concerned that the priesthood as perceived by the laity separates the body into two parts, and runs the risk of the ordained not being of the people of God.
2. Why remain on the threshold of the Holy of Holies when one is invited in through the veil, that is to say, his flesh?
3. And let us not forget that it is by the Spirit that we are conformed to the death of Christ, including all our desires - sex, money, and getting the right answer. I continue to wonder how the priestly-lay hierarchy, the two-tiered church that I grew up with and that will likely outlast me, will become more capable of expressing the mystery of the Gospel.

There are aspects of our traditional words and processes that shroud in darkness rather than reveal the beauty of holiness.

Opening a drawer

This is how my grand-dog learned to open a drawer! hmpg

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

SBL Plan

Here is my preliminary list for attendance in San Diego - anyone who wishes, please remind me of what I have missed that you think is very important....

Is this a holiday or not? My wife is accompanying me for tennis in moments of spare time, and a possible visit to Mexico.

I arrive sort of early mid day so pre-conference morning sessions are not possible for me.

16th Friday - S16-55 The Faith of Jesus Christ - maybe
more likely S16-60 Mysticism with April DeConick and Alan Segal
or - too many choices - the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars - all day

17th S17-18 - got to bypass all the other neat choices and do Psalm 109 (my current draft psalm) - Saturday morning is so full I could be in 10 places at once.
Saturday afternoon S17-64 Horsley or Romans S17-73? or Gospels S17-79?
May play tennis on Saturday afternoon
Evening begins early with Daniel Driver on the Psalms - Psalm 102
Or Christopher Heard on Prophetic Literature S 17-114 same time different station!

Sunday morning - Breuggemann and Ben Zvi probably S18-21
Sunday afternoon - Marc Goodacre - computers - I better do this in prep for January
That means I have to skip the Hebrew verb - too difficult for me anyway.
I really should hear NT Wright. S18-117 and later S18-147 or 150?

Monday is devoted to the psalms: S19-7 and S19-83 and S19-103 with John Hobbins
That means I have to miss S19-116 with Boyarin and Nanos - just got invited to that but they want me to buy the book. Maybe with my big Canadian buck I will be able to afford it then. Also means missing Goodacre and Aune.
Do the movie ? The mystery of Paul ? S19-136.

There's no time for tennis or Mexico!

Knowledge is the beginning ...

This film was on the BC Knowledge Network this past week. It is worth watching. Some of the background is here and here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Breathing, canon, and authority

Over at ETC (that's Evangelical Textual Criticism) Michael Bird writes: "an original text is significant historically for reconstructing first century Christianity and it is significant theologically if we are to ask what it actually was that God-breathed out."

Does God only breathe once?

I have to agree with the first half of Mike's statement - historical understanding connects us to the communion of saints - whether it be a NT redactor or an ancient Hebrew poet.

Who wrote those amazing psalms at the beginning of Luke? Is this God breathing? Does God also breathe when we read them (in any form or language)? Or does God hold his breath as we stumble over the spondee - And thou child?

- "Who was that he is talking about?" asks the ignorant choir boy.

- "Do a little homework," God says, "and I will show you what prophecy is and what it costs - and you will know my breath because you are one of my autographs."

I suppose I am in danger of a hopeless subjectivism. But my faith is not in a text or a tradition. The text and tradition have informed my faith but they are not its real origin or its means of continuance.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Canon in Images

I am considering a new diagram at the top level of the multi-story building that represents Judeo-Christian thought over the last 3500 years. I found a resource here that has tons of info from lists, order, dates, who mentioned the book or not, etc. What I imagine and want to present is a high level view with the kind of clarity that exhibits structure and points to other resources. Anything you would like to include or exclude? Something will emerge over the next few weeks as I experiment with release 2 of our wonderful diagramming tool.

What I hope to see is something we know and something that is new - imagined but never imaged before. I will of course review and build from the discussions we held earlier this year stimulated by John Hobbins.

Update: I am having some trouble thinking about how canon could be modeled. This is a hard and potentially boring problem and I don't enjoy boring others or being bored by lists and stuff. To be interesting, a list should reveal something we haven't seen before. Somehow, the data that are spread out need to be found and focussed. This includes but goes beyond sequences, variations, and disputes. I expect I will have to design some data before images will take any useful shape.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Forethought/afterthought about translation

It was reported to me yesterday that a week ago at a thanksgiving pot-luck held at our church, there were several street-people who were seriously drunk or stoned and who were very impolite at the lunch, playing out the role of spoilers at a love-feast. This morning I have just listened to a beautiful performance of Ave Verum Corpus by Imant Raminsh, performed by the Cantilon Children's chorus of Edmonton under Heather Johnson ( will have that online but I can't find the click).

I try to imagine translating Psalm 51 for these two groups of people: the vagabonds of the street or intelligent children who sing meaningfully in Latin. One thing I would say is - don't talk down to us. Certainly the children will understand penitence. As for the mentally ill, and the self-abusers, perhaps it would be good for them to have their consciences touched by covenant - if indeed such is still possible for them. Let them all be considered capabable of understanding the inscrutable imprecisions of language.

How then do we translate this psalm of a sinner (David) touched so deeply (via Nathan). Not by philosophy. It is God's word and covenant that we are dealing with - translation is not loss but reaching out to known and unknown friends and enemies. We are not conveying words as so much baggage. We are not engaging in spoon-feeding.

It is God who completes the work he has begun in us and we do not know in advance what our end is. Did those sinners who translated the KJV know that their translations would have such a long life? I am only stating the obvious - the very things that cannot be stated. The work of translation is completed by the reader not by the translator. I.e. Give us work to do - don't dumb it down.

Update: I find myself in agreement with John on this issue.
Update2: see Iyov's series beginning here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Checking in

I am still here. Still though. Not writing but translating, waiting... I hope to get to the birth of Jesus in the story by Christmas. These stories are so familiar, it is hard to read them with second century eyes. But Secundus in spite of his disability, has already carried some of my bias in favour of doorkeepers and musicians (children of Korah). Music is closer to touch than words.

Today's themes are music and church. See the shared items.

Friday, October 5, 2007


Do I know what I am doing?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Jewish Theological Seminary - Torah from JTS

The Jewish Theological Seminary - Torah from JTS With this new year, JTS includes a portion of Barachot and a section of Rashi each week. I am posting this here so I can print the worksheet later at the link and try it out.

Here is a link on Tivka Frymer-Kensky - a conference in her honour on October 21 at JTS in New York - Maybe someone will blog on this conference - sounds good.