snubnosed in alpha

Christian reflections on the way the world is and ways the world might be

Friday, November 09, 2007

overcoming writer's block

I'm slogging away at a paper at the moment and getting nowhere. Oy vey! Writers block! What can cure it. I think I have just the thing...

Monday, October 22, 2007

i find myself again engaged in the most pointless activity ever foisted upon a seminarian

I have, to say the least, better things I could be doing with my time.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

as a matter of equality

This coming Sunday, Lord willing, I will preach on 2 Corinthians 8:1-15. In this text Paul urges the Corinthian Christians to finally make good their offer of aid to their famine stricken brethren in Jerusalem. Like many of us, the Corinthians appear to have been the first to sign up and the last to pay up in this relief efforts. Paul goads the Corinthians to give by setting out the poor-as-dirt-yet-astonishingly-generous Macedonians as exemplars of Christ-likeness (thereby shaming the overproud, self-centered, penny-pinching Corinthians).

Perhaps, the most shocking thing Paul says in this passage concerns his conception of the overarching goal of this relief effort:

13 I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality (isotetos) 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be equality (isotes).

Now, of course, several English translations render isotetos and isotes as "fairness" rather than "equality" (e.g., ESV, NRSV). But, let's face it, this lexical group is pretty consistently translated as "equality" and the like in verses that are less likely to impinge upon our wallets (e.g., Revelation 21:16; John 5:18; 2 Peter 1:1; 2 Maccabees 9:15; Matthew 20:12, etc.). I suspect that this is one of those places where a self-directed hermeneutic of suspicion (or better "a hermeneutic of contrition") is in order. Why did Jerome (a monk who had taken a vow of poverty) find it so easy to translate these words into the Latin "aequalitate" and "aequalitas," and why do we find an equivalent translation so difficult?

And why should we not expect Paul's goal to be equality of resources amongst the churches? Does not Acts tell us that those of the Jerusalem church "had all things in common and they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need" (2:44-45)? Did not John the Baptist tell the crowds, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise" (Luke 3:10-11)?

Indeed, does it not seem to follow inevitably from the indicative-imperative structure of Paul's ethics that equality would be his goal? Become what you are! You are dead to sin, so reckon yourself dead to sin (Romans 6). You are one in Christ Jesus, so be as one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). You are one body in Christ Jesus, so eat as one body and let there not be degrading divisions between haves and have-nots within the fellowship (1 Corinthians 11:17-33).

Beloved, what if we were to think this way with respect to the global Church? We ought not to forget that Paul's collection in 2 Corinthians and elsewhere was, in a sense, an international one. Macedonians and Corinthians helping far away, starving brethren in Jerusalem.

I think it's safe to say that our reluctance as American evangelicals to think along these lines owes a great deal to the fact that we are aware, deep-down of the disparity between our wealth and standard of living and that of our brethren in the 2/3 World (and poverty at home is not to be forgotten either). We know that it would cost us dearly to adopt Paul's goal and try to close that gap. I suspect that this is why Paul does not just prod the wealthy Corinthians with the good example of the Macedonians but reminds them of "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). Jesus' poverty cannot be relativized, for he emptied himself unto death. He bids us also to come and die that others might live. What remains to be seen is what remained to be seen for the Corinthians, whether our "love also is genuine" (8:8).

Monday, May 28, 2007

the locus of textual meaning

I'm trying to get a bead on what constitutes the locus of textual meaning. What determines what a text means or doesn't mean? E.D. Hirsch wants to say that a text means whatever an author intended it to mean, plain and simple. Stanley Fish, if I remember correctly, thinks that the meaning of a text is whatever it does to a careful and competent reader. There are, of course, various and sundry other views of which I have only a sketchy, second-hand knowledge.
Now, I've never inclined much towards views that want to do away with what the author intended to communicate when speaking about meanings of texts. That the author's intention for her text is a (if not the) determiner of text's meaning has always struck me as just common sense.
But it's more complicated than Hirsch thinks. Whatever Alanis Morisette may have intended for the lyrics of "Ironic," none of them were instances of irony (at least not for the reasons Morisette thought).
Perhaps a better example would be a radio operator frantically trying to signal 'SOS' but repeatedly typing "...----..". Whatever he intends, the radio operator is saying to the world "SOD" over and over again. His intention does not seem sufficient to make "...----.." mean 'SOS' and certainly not sufficient to get him rescued.
But why? The reason "...----.." doesn't mean 'SOS' even though that's what the radio operator intends to communicate is not because of some sort of autonomy of the signal. It is, rather, because the signal is constrained by the rules or conventions of morse code. Given the rules of morse code, "...----.." can only mean 'SOD'. So it would seem that the meaning of the signal depends not just on the intention of the operator but on the operator's successfully encoding his intention into the signal.
If we think of a language as basically being a very complex (and transient!) code (a model which Umberto Eco seems to think is helpful), then may we say that the meaning of a bit of writing or speech depends upon the speaker or writer successfully encoding her intended message into the writing or speech, with success being determined by the (sometimes flexible, unspoken, and/or informal) rules of that language's grammar, literary conventions, idioms, etc. (i.e., the rules of that language's "code")?
Thoughts? Feelings? Snide remarks, anyone?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Spinal Tap reunites for LiveEarth '07

Watch Marty DiBergi as he brings David St. Hubbins, Derek Smalls, and Nigel Tufnel together again to fight global warming. This is Spinal Tap.

Many thanks to the Foolish-Sage for directing me to this video.

Friday, May 04, 2007

on digesting and Hades

The trouble with undertaking a Sisyphusian task like digesting when you're a Neo-Calvinist is that the whole time you are digesting, you are acutely aware that there is work of eternal value and redeeming benefit to be done in the world. Some tasks are more meaningful than others in a universe that has the potential for and promise of one day being bathed in the sacred incandescence of God's glory. But the flip side is that there are tasks that are less meaningful as well; tasks that have no discernible redeeming (or pedagogical value), like rolling a boulder repeatedly up a hill...or digesting. At times like these, the belief of atheistic existentialists that all tasks are alike pointless and the universe is ultimately absurd might begin to sound somewhat appealing. But since it would probably be unwise to abandon my belief in God just to make digesting more palatable, I, unlike Camus' Sisyphus, can hardly smile about my present task.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007