(Belated) State of the Projects: March 2016.

The last two months have been productive in my scholarly life. At least that’s my excuse for not blogging!

First, I’ve been seeing some very nice rewards for the work I have done. The print copies of my first two academic articles came in. It’s very satisfying to see my name in print (yay!). Also, I’ve gotten some good (I think) writing out on other blogs: a post about Star Wars on Sacred Matters, and a post on Christian-Muslim dialogue and apologetics at Christian Apologetics Alliance.

One of the benefits of blogging for me is learning to make points clearly and concisely. Let me tell you: some academics couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag. I’m talking five-clause sentences with parenthetical asides. One-clause sentences are nice. It also teaches me to not expect written perfection. Save that for a book. A blog post is meant to be ephemeral.

Second, speaking of books, my effort to get the writings of my Jesuit friend, the late George Kennard, is coming to an end. George always told me he wanted me to finish his book. Always nice when a friend gives you an impossible task. The book being published is not the magnum opus of cognitive science, linguistics, epistemology, and Vatican II that he wanted to write, but a selection of sermons, speeches, articles, and biographical writings. I’m awaiting the printers’ proof now.

Third, last month, I went to a conference in Michigan to discuss my pet project, The Saint John’s Bible. I looked at some of the Gospels illuminations in the light of Jewish-Christian dialogue. I wrote about my experience at the conference for the blog of the Center for Arts, Religion, and Education (CARE) at my home school, the GTU. It was everything one could want in a conference: great company, great talks, left feeling energized.

I gave my talk again for CARE on Friday. Eight people came, including three of my friends. With the feedback from Michigan fresh in my mind, I did a lot of work to revise my paper. I think it went well.

This conference convinced me of one major thing. I had thought of my work with The Saint John’s Bible as a side project to my real interest in scripture and interreligious dialogue. This conference knocked me out of that mindset. At several of the talks, I noticed things that the speaker didn’t notice—mainly because none of the other speakers had the opportunity to show this Bible to hundreds of people. Showing this Bible has helped me see how the symbols and motifs repeat, how this Bible creates a fresh visual lexicon in biblical art.

Fourthclasses at the Graduate Theological Union are going well. I am taking Race and Ethnicity in the New Testament, a seminar on Jeremiah, Christian Iconography, a reading course on Surat al-Baqara (Surah 2), the longest surah in the Qur’an, and a seminar on papyrology (how to read, work with ancient papyri) at Cal.

All the madness of conferencing out of the way, I can now focus on class again. And most of all, of course, focus on my wife. We just celebrated six months. 🙂

Recommended Reading, 1.26.16.

Because of my intensive intersession course — which I will blog about soon! — and getting the flu, I fell way behind on my blog reading. Here are some of the posts that captivated my attention the most from the last few weeks.

Not to be too self-promotional, but you should totally check out a post I wrote for a friend’s apologetics site on the connection between apologetics and interfaith dialogue:

Nabeel Qureshi, Christian Apologist – and Bridge Between Christians and Muslims?

Because both religions emphasize sharing their faith, a true bridge between Christians and Muslims would also be a bridge between dialogue and apologetics. This bridge would have to be built on the twin pillars of shared similarities and respectfully acknowledged differences. In my experience, interfaith dialogue emphasizes similarities, and often lacks the courage to discuss differences.  Similarities are important, for love can emerge from an understanding of our common humanity. But at its worst, the result of exploring only commonalities is a bland Kumbaya feeling. On the other hand, too often I have read works of apologetics that only discuss differences. These apologists fail to recognize the common ground of love and compassion across religions and cultures, and that do not seem to be written from places of love and friendship for their religious rivals.

(Thanks to CAA for publishing my post!)

“There is No Rejoicing Without Wine”: Jesus’ First Miracle at Words on the Word

And did you catch this nice touch from John: these jars, where the chemical miracle happened, were ones “used… for ceremonial washing.” There’s nothing wrong with religious ritual, per se—I quite like it myself. But these jars for ritual cleansing—Jesus turned them into party favors. That’s kind of like co-opting the baptismal font for a punch bowl.

Religion Snapshots: Methodological Atheism vs. Methodological Agnosticism at Religion Bulletin

This short debate about methodology in the study of religion intrigued me. I come upon this issue in my studies, i.e., when people ask why early Christianity took off. One answer: because Jesus resurrected. Another question: is there such a thing as genuine prophecy, in the sense of seeing into the future? Both cannot be ruled out, but they are outside the bounds of what methodological atheism and agnosticism would allow. The question of how human we are willing to make our sacred texts is an ongoing one for me.

The Problems with Post-Modern Interpretation of the Bible at Bible and Culture

A Biblical text without its original historical, rhetorical, social, literary, archaeological texts becomes a pretext for whatever you want it to mean, and this is not a good thing, it’s a bad thing. Nor is the meaning of a text merely ‘a matter of my opinion’ vs. yours. Why not? Because there is an actual meaning in those Biblical texts which can only be discerned with a combination of careful exegesis attending to the various original contexts and prayerful reflection with the guidance of God’s Spirit.

THE REBEL VIRGINS AND DESERT MOTHERS WHO HAVE BEEN WRITTEN OUT OF CHRISTIANITY’S EARLY HISTORY at Altas Obscura

Really interesting article, reminds me of some of the stuff we read in my Gender in Early Christianity course. One thing — she misses the fact that some of these early female saints were “transgender saints,” i.e. their asceticism was so harsh that they lost all physical traces of femininity, an apt symbol for their psychological denial of femininity. Not sure we can call these women feminist Christian icons.

Levine and Meier on the Parables of Jesus: Two Very Important (and Very Different) New Books at The Jesus Blog

“REMEMBRANCE OF DEATH” CAN OVERCOME “DEATH OBSESSION” at First Things

My friend, author and preeminent American Orthodox apologist Frederica Matthewes-Green, considers the remembrance of death as one of the most helpful disciplines in living a healthy Christian life. She told me, “If you spend your life seeking entertainment and food, trying to keep your mind occupied and amused, you find yourself weary and depressed. Life can come to seem meaningless.” There is a better way than these desperate efforts to delay, deflect, and control our mortal fate. It is to accept it, to ponder and embrace it, and witness a paradoxical result: “Keeping in the back of your mind an awareness of the fact that you will die one day leads to a life lived deliberately, with forethought and gratitude, a life that is worthy and complete.”

Think the Muslim world needs to “reform?” Think again by Connor Wood

Fundamentalism – the inflexible adherence to literal, text-based religious teachings, whether Biblical creationism or Shariah law – often results from reform movements, rather than being banished by them. One reason for this is that religious reformations, by stripping away supposedly outdated or extraneous traditions and rituals in favor of a “return to basics,” can end up pushing their host religions towards a rigid, text-based literalism. Sounds like just what the world needs, right?

The secular front in the US by John Fea

Not sure I agree with him, but thought-provoking.

Yet, despite the demographic power of evangelicals, they are largely marginalised from the media and education. The writer Jay Nordlinger might be correct when he says that ‘all conservatives are bilingual – we have to be. (We speak liberal and conservative.) But liberals tend to be monolingual – they don’t need to speak our languages, or to know much about us at all.’ Indeed, if you are a secular progressive or liberal secularist, it is possible to live in a society that comports to your world view. If you are an evangelical Christian, it is not that easy.

Jesus for Muslims – A Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rebecca Irelan at Patheos

I really enjoyed reading this homily — preached in my own city, no less! Irelan went in really deep and definitely did her homework when it came to Islam and thinking through how Christians can relate to Muslims.

What I’ve been up to lately: The Saint John’s Bible and Jewish-Christian Dialogue.

The GTU’s academic calendar does intersession, which means that apart from one week of crazy intersession madness, I have been off of school. I’ve been taking this time to prepare my conference paper for next month’s “Illuminating Words, Transforming Beauty” conference at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. Although my “guild” is biblical studies, I’m attending this Conference on Christianity and Literature conference because it has a special focus on the Saint John’s Bible. If you haven’t heard about the Saint John’s Bible, well, let me tell you – it’s a treat. And I get to show it as part of my work at SCU Archives and Special Collections.

Although there is much publicity on the project, there is very little analysis or critique of it. I basically read all of it – a few journal articles here and there. There are two books that go through each illumination and give some background, explain visual allusions, and meditate on them. These two books, one by Susan Sink and the other by Michael Patella, are very good. They focus on the intentions behind the art, what the artists and theologians creating this Bible meant. I use them all the time in figuring out what illuminations to show people.

What has not taken place yet is a thorough evaluation of this Bible and what it means as a milestone in contemporary biblical interpretation. We have the statements from the artists of what they think their art means – which is amazing considering we don’t have such documentation from all the famous medieval illuminated Bibles like the Book of Kells or the Winchester Bible. And while all biblical art – heck, every physical copy of Bible – is to some extent a theological interpretation, this Bible is especially so. The artists working on it were advised by a team of theologians and biblical scholars who sent them lengthy packets covering which passages to illuminate, current scholarship and prayerful reflection on those passages, and ideas on how to illuminate them.

But as of now, we have a lot of “wow!” and not much critique or analysis. As a graduate student in biblical studies and someone intimately familiar with this Bible from showing it to over 150 people in classes, churches, and community groups, I felt called to contribute to this analysis.

Frontispiece to Matthew: Matthew's Genealogy of Jesus. When I show the Saint John's Bible this is one of the "show-stopper" illuminations.

Frontispiece to Matthew: Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus. When I show the Saint John’s Bible this is one of the “show-stopper” illuminations.

Specifically, I am writing about New Testament illuminations in the light of Jewish-Christian dialogue. This Bible was created by Catholics – specifically Benedictines – and we have a boatload of ecclesial statements since Nostra Aetate laying out right relationship with Jews, theologians engaged in Jewish-Christian dialogue, and parish-level work cultivating bonds between church and synagogue. (When I was Catholic, my church was right next door to a synagogue!) This has seeped into New Testament scholarship emphasizing the Jewish elements of Jesus, Paul, and the early Christian movement. (Think of the “New Perspective on Paul” and The Jewish Annotated New Testament).

So does the Saint John’s Bible reflect this new approach to Judaism? Is it an effective tool for dialogue between Jews and Christians? Do any of its illuminations still unwittingly reproduce Christian polemic against Jews?

Yes, yes, and yes. And that’s my paper in a nutshell.

This is my first major writing project since my two senior theses, and I’m refining how I’m working on it. Mainly (1) I’m trying to be more rooted in primary sources before I dive into the murky waters of scholarly commentary; (2) I am using Zotero which saves a LOT of time; and (3) I am writing much earlier in the project. Writing helps me think. After reading the primary sources and deciding which illuminations I want to use, I wrote a “draft 0” that just lays out the very broad outline. I’ve found it works better for me to write crap and revise it like crazy than to store thoughts in my head forever and write something perfect.

This project works well with how I think – very interdisciplinary. I’m bringing together New Testament scholarship, Jewish-Christian dialogue, particularly on liturgy and scripture, and work on art as biblical interpretation, or what Martin O’Kane calls “visual exegesis.”

Through it all, I’m trying to ask: How would a Jew steeped in scripture see these illuminations? Once I get this good enough to show to another human being, I will ask a few of my Jewish mentors. But until then I’m trying to imagine how it would feel for someone to tell me that their religion perfects and completes mine, and that I am, so to speak, only the beta test. Then I remembered, um, every conversation I’ve had with a Muslim friend about Jesus. That might be a bit similar.

My Silk Road paper is now online.

Well, good news!  You can read it for free at The Silk Road. (Scroll down the page a bit for a link to the PDF.)

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=292232

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=292232

I enjoyed working with Greek themes in Buddhist art for my senior thesis. I still have no idea how it might be relevant to my studies in New Testament and early Christianity, other than maybe the most general and broad theme of the Hellenization of non-Greeks and non-Greek religions in antiquity.

Thanks to Daniel Waugh for doing the laborious work of editing this journal, and for providing some images from his personal travels for my article!

My top 10 (or so) Books of 2015, and Goals for 2016.

 

Following Jacob Prahlow and Brian LePort‘s Top 10 lists, I figured I would post my own.  2015 was a good year for reading: 84 books total! Not bad, especially considering I got married, finished my BA, and started graduate school. An eventful year to say the least.

I like to divide my year’s top books into two categories: innovative books that opened new questions for me on topics I know little about, and influential books that are part of my scholarly interests and contribute to my development as a thinker.

 

Most Influential

  1. Religions of Rome: Volume 1: A History by Mary Beard
    Beard’s book is a dense, magisterial survey, accompanied by a second volume that collects primary sources on Roman religions.  I particularly like how Beard reviews the sources on different aspects and time periods of Roman religion, to give an idea of where our evidence comes from and each source’s strengths and weaknesses.  She also gives a convincing argument that Roman religion prior in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE was not waning and falling away to make room for Christianity
  2. Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor by S. R. F. Price
    Price’s book is old (late 1970s), but he makes a convincing case that the imperial cult in Rome was not mere top-down political propaganda, but often an intimate part of peoples’ personal devotion.  His focus is on the Hellenistic era, making this particularly relevant for understanding early Christian language of kingship.
  3. Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective by Amina Wadud
    Wadud, a prominent American Muslim scholar and advocate for womens’ expanded role in Islamic leadership, argues that the Qur’an is not patriarchal, but has been interpreted so by centuries of male interpreters.  I ultimately disagree with her conclusion, but her prophetic tone really began a conversation over 20 years ago in this book, and she gave me a lot to think about.
  4. Jesus in the Talmud by Peter Schäfer
    Schafer’s book looks at Jesus’ depiction in the Talmud through the lens of anti-Christian polemic.  Before I took a course in rabbinic literature this fall, I had never studied Talmud, so this book was a fascinating entry-point into that world of scholarship.
  5. The Im-possibility of Interreligious Dialogue by Catherine Cornille
    After staring at this book on my shelf for a couple of years, I finally read it for a class in Christian-Muslim Dialogue.  Cornille examines the role of virtue in interreligious dialogue and clarifies what aspects make up an ideal dialogue.
  6. The Bible and the Third World: Precolonial, Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters by R. S. Sugirtharajah
    This is my third book by “Sugi,” who always writes witty and intelligently.  Sugi is prominent in the field of postcolonial biblical interpretation, and gives me a lot of ideas on how to read scripture in an interreligious context.
  7. Understanding Other Religious Worlds: A Guide for Interreligious Education by Judith Berling
    Berling’s book describes how to guide people in to understanding other religions, as a balance between incorporating the students’ perspectives and engaging other religions on their own terms.  This pedagogical book is useful for anyone studying religion, whether in an interfaith context or a comparative religion context.
  8. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi
    Qureshi is a Muslim who converted to Christianity, and his book was a very interesting portrait of his (de)conversion and Christian arguments against Islam.  I really appreciated his tone of charity and kindness toward Muslims even though he disagrees with the central doctrines of their religion.
  9. The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew– Three Women Search for Understanding by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner
    This book, co-authored by three women (Muslim, Christian, and Jew), is an excellent model for what interfaith can look like on a local, personal, non-scholarly level.  Really enjoyed.
  10. Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Jon D. Levenson
    Levenson, a Hebrew Bible scholar, elucidates traditions about Abraham in all three Abrahamic faiths, then argues against the use of the word “Abrahamic” and contemporary efforts to make Abraham a symbol of commonality.  I like how he intelligent brings out major differences between the religions, and how Abraham is construed quite differently in all three.

Most Innovative

  1. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
    Like most prophets, Malcolm X sounds like someone who would have been very hard to get along with. But his autobiography was amazing, and really helped me understand a dimension of the Civil Rights movement that we didn’t learn as much about in school.
  2. The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy Seal by Eric Greitens
    After a top-notch Ivy League education and job offers from top aid organizations, Greitens joined the Navy Seals out of a conviction that protecting the vulnerable of the world through force was the best way to help others. I really admired this intelligent man’s reflections on how the heart and the fist must work together.
  3. Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Gail Steketee and Randy O. Frost
    Coming from a family of hoarders, the mental illness has always fascinated me. This book, co-authored by a social worker and a psychologist, really dives into the mindset of hoarding, and what works to fix the problem (hint: city clean-ups don’t do it).
  4. How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe by Thomas Cahill
    My wife loves this book, and I read it on our honeymoon. Cahill writes really well about Irish monks’ role in preserving classical texts at a time when classical civilization had fallen apart and the rest of Europe was in the “dark ages.”

Other Achievements in 2015:

  1. I got married!  This is surely the top item of the year.  I can’t even begin to describe how much my wife enhances and supports me in every area of my life.
  2. I got into graduate school and got the funding I needed to attend.
  3. I (re-)started my job at Santa Clara University Archives & Special Collections, and showed our edition of The Saint John’s Bible to several classes and community groups, growing my skills in teaching and deepening my appreciation of scripture.
  4. I finished my first research assistant job, helping my professor publish a critical edition of a scroll of the Book of the Twelve from Qumran.  I also began working as a proof-reader for Theological Studies.  This January I start another job, helping a professor put together a guidebook for students of Biblical Hebrew.
  5. I finished several diverse writing projects, including my first peer-reviewed article on Buddhist-Christian dual belonging, an article coming out soon derived from my senior thesis on Herakles in Buddhist art, an opinion piece at Religion Dispatches, and a book note forthcoming in Theological Studies.

Some thoughts:

  1. Life changes really took a bite out of my reading productivity for the year. I got married at the end of August, and for the weeks leading up to the big day, I got very little reading done!
  2. Graduate school actually lowered my reading productivity. Professors like to assign articles and book chapters, neither of which count toward book reading.
  3. Similarly, language classes also don’t count. For example, in the spring I took a Greek reading course in the Iliad. Obviously, we didn’t finish it in Greek in 10 weeks, and by mere quantity of text we actually moved very slowly compared to if we had read the epic in English.

Goals for 2016:

  1. Rather than aim for another 100-book quota that I know I won’t meet without reading lots of fluff, my goal for 2016 is to read one major work in my academic field each month — and give it a long, thoughtful review.
  2. I would like to join Jennifer Guo in reading the entire Greek New Testament in 2016, following Wallace’s reading plan.
  3. I would like to finish my Biblical Studies Reading Challenge.
  4. As for blogging, I would like to submit a substantive post to the Biblical Studies Carnival every month.

In Praise of Failure: Is Defining Religion Such a Good Idea?

Recently, the New York Times’ religion writer appeared to throw up his hands in despair at trying to fix on a definition of religion—since the word seemed to cover everything from Pope Francis’ latest encyclical to CrossFit. As Mark Oppenheimer exasperatedly wrote, “If everything is rel

Source: In Praise of Failure: Is Defining Religion Such a Good Idea?

Book Review: Has Anti-Semitism Roots in Christianity?, Jules Isaac.

41nI8BT9kCL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_In 1947, Jules Isaac delivered his “Eighteen Points,” bullet points for the removal of anti-Judaism* from Christian doctrine. A French schoolteacher who had lost his wife and children in the Holocaust, Isaac would spend the rest of his life tracing the Christian tradition of anti-Judaism throughout history, a project that culminated in his magnum opus Jesus and Israel and his meeting with Pope John XXIII that influenced the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate so heavily.  This short book, a transcript of a lecture Isaac gave, is a short introduction to his ideas. Isaac traces Christian anti-Judaism back to the second and third centuries at least, to the “deplorable divorce” between the two religions. He argues that while the pagan Romans were anti-Jewish, Christian anti-Judaism was even worse, more systematic, and rooted more directly in religious teachings. So developed the ideas that Jews were degenerate, sensual, rejecters of Christ and committers of deicide. Isaac calls on Christians to repudiate these teachings, which he says are not part of the essence of Christianity.

These days it is pretty commonplace to admit the fact of anti-Jewish bigotry through history. Now scholars see it not just in patristic writings, but even in the New Testament itself. But much of that conversation was sparking by the Holocaust and its immense psychological impact on both victim and aggressor. This book was a good entryway into the work of Isaac, a real visionary, who I imagine must have been despised by many for his efforts to trace the Holocaust not simply to 19th-century racial ideologies, but theologies dating back to the first centuries of Christianity.

*Throughout his work Isaac uses the phrase “anti-Semitic,” as that was the lingo of his day. However, the more accurate term is anti-Jewish, to emphasize the religion rather than the race, and the fact that there many Semitic groups who are not Jewish.

New writings!

Hope everyone’s Christmas was full of merriment and good cheer.

My Christmas present was seeing my first peer-reviewed article published: “Spiritually Bilingual: Buddhist Christians and the Process of Dual Religious Belonging.” This article dates back to my community college days when I first did interviews of self-proclaimed “dual belongers” to better understand their conversion processes. Ultimately I compare the process of conversion to a second religious tradition to being bilingual. Buddhist-Christians are like Spanglish speakers. The article is on MUSE, but I’ve also put up a freely accessible version on my academic.edu page.

Also, in the midst of the madness of school I neglected to note this. But I wrote a brief editorial in November on my experience attending the only public high school district in the country requiring a world religions course to graduate. It is published at Religion Dispatches: If Modesto’s Public Schools Can Teach World Religions, It Can Happen Anywhere.

I also just yesterday got the proofs for the article I’m publishing based on my senior thesis, on Heraklean iconography in Buddhist art.

I have several writing projects to juggle over break, including some book reviews for journals and preparation for a paper I am giving in February (and again in March). There’s nothing like the pressure of a deadline to get creative juices flowing!

Potatoes, Dessert, and Grad School.

One of the greatest things about studying at the Graduate Theological Union is how many different types of students there are with different goals, different perspectives, different interests. In my epigraphy class, for example, there is a Catholic priest, a Franciscan nun doing a doctorate in Hebrew Bible, an Ancient Near East scholar who works in several Semitic languages, and a retired community college professor who studies biblical languages as a hobby. Oh, and me, a biblical studies MA student passionate about interreligious dialogue.

After class a few weeks ago, a group of us were talking about the direction of the field, the divide between scholars working in the technical aspects of biblical studies (paleography, philology, text criticism, etc.) and those concerned with how we read the scriptures today. Of course, any decent scholar should be concerned with and competent in both. Any scholar doing the “what does it mean for us today?” work should know the text criticism, the language, etc. (Larry Hurtado has argued this better than I can, so I’ll link to him.) As one of my fellow student’s adviser put it, “You can’t have your dessert until you’ve eaten your potatoes.”

But I’m really not sure where I fall on this spectrum. When I applied to my graduate program, my application essay described my goal as being a bridge between antiquarians and activists. At the end of my first semester, I am still that bridge, but I am feeling more vividly the difficulty and the possibility inherent in being that bridge. I have one foot in each camp, but am not rooted fully in either camp.

For example, I really enjoy my “potatoes” courses. This semester it was Hebrew epigraphy, which I jokingly told my friends and family was the most arcane thing I have ever studied. I genuinely enjoy linguistics, text-criticism, etc.  I’m good at it too.  But I can’t see it being my specialty for life at this point in time.

Looking at what I have researched in the past, and what I get really enthused about for presenting and writing, I see mostly “dessert” topics. Right now, for example, I am preparing a paper for a conference in February on the Saint John’s Bible and Jewish-Christian dialogue. I’m applied to present on the relation between dialogue and apologetics for a graduate symposium next May. This is not typical biblical studies stuff.

But when I’m in a group of dialogue people, I tend to be the one frustrated with banal generalities about scriptures. I want to know: which manuscripts? What’s the verb form there?  So I go back and forth.

When I apply to Ph.D. programs in two years, I will be applying to biblical studies programs, God willing. There are great programs like Boston or Georgetown that focus on comparative theology, religious pluralism, and interreligious dialogue. But I don’t want to be a dialogue person who dabbles in Bible. I want to be a biblical scholar who engages in dialogue. I want to be seen as intentional and interdisciplinary, not eclectic and unfocused. By focusing coursework on meat and potatoes but writing (here and elsewhere) about dialogue, I hope I can pull it off. I hope that those two – the potatoes and dessert, the antiquarian and activist – can go together.

That attempt will probably be the greater focus of this blog in the future. I originally started this blog as a way to talk about ancient languages. But as a grad student doing Bible and Qur’an, my language requirements are enough that I don’t have time to do them as a hobby as well. I’m keeping the blog’s name but will reorganize the menu to reflect this new direction.

Engaging the Word, Part Two.

Like most Christians and people of faith, I have several stories of failed attempts to make prayer a regular part of my day. I remember one resolution, when I was 19, to get up at 5 am every day and read my Bible. What was I thinking? Now, at 25, I feel too old for such a rigorous schedule.

But I find that often if I just aim myself in the right direction, a structure for my life will emerge, and I will organically become the person I want to be rather. This tend to work better than trying to force some structure onto my life.

So now, 6-7 years after my conversion, I find I am starting to do some daily scripture reading, and to really internalize it rather than just studying it for class. Now I find that if I don’t do it, I feel like something is missing. It’s a good I pursue rather than something I do out of obligation.

So what helps me connect with scripture?

I highly recommend investing in a Journaling Bible. This Bible has large, lined margins for personal spiritual writing and reflection. Once I got past my initial hesitation at writing in a Bible, I really started to benefit from this tool. Now I bring it to church and take notes on the homily!

One thing I like about the Crossway Journaling Bible is that it has very, very minimal scholarly notes. My New Oxford Annotated is full of them, and for my classes, that is great. But I don’t want those things distracting me when I am just trying to pray the Word.

One thing I really admire about my Muslim friends is the emphasis on the orality of scripture in their tradition. I don’t know of any Christian equivalent to the Islamic tradition of memorizing the entire Qur’an. I have heard of Christians who have memorized the entire New Testament, or monks who know the Psalter by heart, but it’s just not promoted as much for us. So taking a cue from my Muslim brothers and sisters, I am trying to find ways to engage in the orality of the Bible.

One great way to do that is Faith Comes by Hearing, an organization that produces free audio Bibles in hundreds of different languages. They have an iOS app where you can download the entire Bible in several English translations. I am using the ESV, and this recording of it uses multiple cast members, reading dramatically, with light background sound effects. I do a lot of walking every day and this gives my mind something to contemplate, even if it (inevitably) wanders astray.

Another method I’ve been using is Scripture Typer, a website and app for memorizing Bible passages. I have played with memorizing scripture before, but this really makes me do it in a systematic way. I’m starting small: Philemon, 2 John, 3 John, Psalm 23, and some other popular passages from the Bible. It’s pretty fun to see my progress and accumulate points. I admit, my competitive side likes racking up points and seeing where I stand in the website’s rankings. Sometimes God uses the less holy parts of ourselves to do good.

One mode of teaching that I discovered at the Parliament is bibliodrama, a method of biblical study used by Christians and Jews that can only be described as group theater. In it, the leader calls on the group to take the part of biblical characters, to try to go through the feelings and motives of each character in a biblical story. At Parliament, we did this for the Garden of Eden narrative: what made Eve eat from the tree? How did God feel about it? I liked this method because it brought home the humanity of biblical characters and helped us bring our own life into the story, to make it our own. Armed with inventor Peter Pitzele’s book on the method, and the many web resources offered on it, I hope to try this out at my own church.

In short, I am trying to engage with scripture in as many ways as possible. Zabriskie hit the nail on the head when he said that seminary courses are no substitute for daily spiritual reading.