Three excuses and a fine old story

I know, I know, I have not been posting as often, or as deeply, as I used to. Let me offer three excuses and a fine old story.

Excuse the first: I am retired and no longer think about teaching the Bible all the time (it is now a hobby, and looking after steers, sheep, pigs, ducks, chooks, fruit trees and vegetable patches are now my “work”). In this connection I have been learning to make proscuitto, salami etc. and experimenting to produce the world’s healthiest chocolate treat.

Excuse the second: the blogsphere has changed and gone “mainstream”, by and large people now only comment on and discuss “celebrity” blogs, it was the discussion and argument I enjoyed, not merely publishing ideas into the wild blue yonder.

Excuse the third: I have been writing and publishing in more academic formats than I used to, witness my CV and my Academia.edu page.

And the fine old story? Well I saved the best to last. Because those of you unfortunate enough to live in places with indecently long copyright terms (the United States of Disney or the Kingdom of Sony spring to mind) must listen illegally if you are to listen to it at all. I have been recording A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and have currently completed six chapters.

The Coffee Club, Taupo

Before the long weekend (spent with family and a great time) I had the worst cup of coffee I can remember (thank goodness for small mercies). We went to Taupo where Barbara had appointments. The Coffee Club is convenient and prominent on the main road opposite the lake. Location, location, location.

We stopped at The Coffee Club, it was a beautiful spring morning with the remains of last night’s wind driven waves making the lake look more like a sheltered seaside bay. Barbara’s soy cappuccino was horribly expensive, though she said it was “fine, quite OK”. My “long black” came in a huge mug, filled almost to the brim with scalding hot water used to dilute the bitter taste of some coffee made from second hand grounds, or possibly they just let the hot water run through the single shot head until the giant mug was full. I have had better instant coffee, when occasionally I have made the mistake of thinking a church was serving proper french-press coffee, but they had really used instant.

I can not recommend strongly enough that (if you actually like coffee) you stay away from The Coffee Club, Taupo. Though I guess if you don’t like coffee the food and tea might be wonderful ;)

CS Lewis on Christian Morality

Richard Beck pulled out this (timely?) quote from Mere Christianity

Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.

–C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Digital commentary for the 21st C

At the conference I attended in Sydney recently one of the stimulating conversations I enjoyed was around ways to present Bible commentary in a digital medium for non-specialist readers in the 21st C. The Amos – Hypertext Bible Commentary was already beginning to show its age even when it was first published in a stable peer-reviewed edition.

[The pictures and other design elements were planned for a 800×600 screen, and mobile phones were not considered as a delivery system.]

Move forward a decade and responsive design (that will work on both hires screens and on portable devices) seems basic, and indeed one must envisage mobile devices as most likely the hardware of choice for accessing such a work.

This leads to the interesting possibility of packaging the commentaries as apps, and thus potentially breaks the funding barrier. Few people in the developed world or even middle class people elsewhere would balk at spending a couple of dollars for a Bible commentary.

The other interesting idea came from a presentation on visualising biblical studies ideas, and the thought that it would be nice to have a drill down menu that worked a bit like Prezi.

I like the idea, but am having trouble “seeing” how it might work. The Prezi below is my attempt to play with this concept… What advantages, disadvantages, alternatives, possibilities etc. do you see?

Oxymoron or game-changer? Academic self-publishing

The indefatigable Jim West pointed to this fascinating announcement from De Gruyter. Publoris like “ordinary” self-publishing services like Lulu offers a basic service with choices for the level of editorial involvement. Thus far nothing new. Except that in some sense this venture carries the imprimatur of De Gruyter, though not their editorial or peer review. Will such works offer their authors academic credit?

At first sight the answer is clear. They will not. And yet, if the involvement of De Gruyter is sufficient to attract some good work, and if these works get reviewed in serious journals, they will gain academic credit for their authors. (At least in the NZ Performance Based Research Funding assessments, the academic evaluation of research outputs I am most familiar with, reviews and such measures “count” for more in the long term than publishing with a prestigious house.)

Hence my title. Is academic self-publishing really a contradiction in terms, or a return to an earlier (purer?) form of academic publishing. Already we have “patrons” paying for the publication of works (if only authors’ institutions) why not a return to the “good old days” of self-publishing?

How does this look from where you work? Do you think the De Gruyter name has sufficient “clout” to get the library sales and reviews self-published works will need? Or has De G merely opened a vanity press more obviously and explicitly than others have yet done?

Gay Christians and Scripture

In the circles I move in it often seems to be assumed that Gay Christians (at least the ones who do not agree to “settle” for celebacy, nor “recognise” that God “must” be calling them to celebacy – and who consequently support gay marriage) “must” be soft on Scripture.

I have recently been following Allan Hooker’s blog while I never agree with everything anyone says (not even myself) I find much that he writes makes sense, and he seems to care deeply about reading Scripture in faith and not merely “against the grain”. In this he reminds me of some of the Feminist biblical scholars who influenced my Bible reading most a few decades ago.

Whatever your attitude to the questions around Scripture and sexuality I recommend his blog. (His most recent post, as I write this, is on Genesis 11 )

  1. Public Health Warning: Those who prefer to let their knees jerk instead of their minds better avoid it, because it includes phrases like “Queerly Divine”… []

God as mother: five new publications

Being invited to give the 22nd Annual William Menzies Lectureship (five lectures) and Asia Pacific Theological Seminary’s agreement that I could tackle the title “God as Mother?” was an honour and also a privilege (that they agreed despite some hesitations over the topic. Spending time in Baguio, in the Philippines, was great fun. It is a beautiful place, but even more conversations with staff and students over meals and during breaks, as well as listening to the other papers, was stimulating and encouraging.

Now the lectures have been published as:

God as Mother? Ideas to clarify before we start,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, 17,2, 2014,107-118.

Biblical Talk of the Motherly God,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, 17,2, 2014, 119-137.

Jesus and the Father,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, 17,2, 2014, 139-150.

Speaking the Unspeakable: nearly 1,500 years of Christian Theology and Worship,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, 17,2, 2014, 151-161.

Experiencing God as Motherly,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, 17,2, 2014, 168-170.

Getting students to read your comments in a Jetsons world

"Jetsons" by http://www.hogwild.net/images/Misc/jetsons.jpg. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of List of Characters in The Jetsons via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jetsons.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Jetsons.jpg

“Jetsons” by http://www.hogwild.net/ via Wikipedia

The Sydney College of Divinity 2014 Teaching and Learning Conference “Teaching Theology in a Technological Age“is an interesting experience. Listening to so many teachers who are as a matter of course teaching distant students using a variety of computer mediated tools is in some ways like seeing a Jetsons “future world”, from only five or six years ago, come to life.

Yet the progress seems mainly to represent the greater importance of flexible teaching which has been driven by student demand, and so economic forces, rather than pedagogy. Pedagogy for an electronically mediated age seems still too much for most teachers and administrators. (More on this when I am less tired, a long day’s travel and two very short nights mean I can’t write clearly enough at the moment.)

There have been the usual “aha moments” not least (the only peripherally technological) suggestion of giving students their assignment with comments but no mark and asking them to assess the grade. One then, of course, may need to discuss and adjust the grade with the student, but the process forces the student to read the remarks, and to think about their performance in useful ways.

It’s been great to meet ACOM colleagues that I have only previously had email contact with, I feel much more part of a team now.

Write tight (repeating myself)

Photo by Dick Rochester

I have been doing a lot of writing in the last few months (one reason for less posts here) much of it to tight word counts, I was delighted to find my own advice still (despite Mike’s comments) rings true – at least to me ;)

In our intro class, students write a summary of the message a biblical text had for its intended audience. This should be one or two sentences and less than 50 words.

Writing a summary is like packing for a journey, some people want to take everything! Then it is an exercise in writing tight. Most students write much as they speak. In speaking we include padding – unneeded words and phrases that allow us time to think. Writing tight involves removing the padding.

Googling “tight writing” produced lots of advice, but many writers could not practise what they preached. (Several high ranked hits were written on contract, to raise the word count for the writer ;)

So, here’s Tim’s guide to writing tighter

Don’t repeat yourself

If a word occurs several times in a paragraph some of them may be unneeded. Using two words where one will do (tautology) is wasteful: “tightly stretched” only says the same as “stretched”.

Focus

Writers should have something to say. They should say it. Often, though, we also want to say other things. Tight writing omits such diversions. It keeps focused. The asides that often pepper this blog in brackets or as footnotes are examples that should be cut. (Except I like the effect, and am not trying to save words and do help the reader by using parentheses to mark the digressions off from the body text ;)

Don’t be passive

Good Grammar checkers (like MS Word used to have) hate passives. They are correct. Passive sentences are longer, and usually less clear: “The ball was kicked by John” vs. “John kicked the ball”

Cut conjunctions

Long sentences usually waste words, needing extra coordination. Several short sentences work better.

Very that

“That” is often unnecessary. It can often be pruned, it sometimes signals other words that1 can be pruned. Extra adjectives are also an easy target “very” for example usually adds little. Karen Luna Ray offers this sentence: “See how many unnecessary words that you can remove from this very lengthy sentence that I am writing..” Which becomes: “See how many unnecessary words you can remove from this sentence.”

To be or not to be

The verb “to be” often encourages wasted words. Compare: “She is a powerful writer” with “She writes powerfully.”

Avoid adverbs

Often we employ adverbs when a stronger verb does the job better. Suzanne Lieurance compares:

Flabby: She smiled slightly at the photographer.
Fit: She grinned at the photographer.

Above all, rewrite right

Paragraphs, and even sentences, are seldom  written right first time. Edit cutting flab. Read your text aloud. Read it silently. Each reading will show fat to prune.

Have a sit down and a nice cup of tea

After a break (better a good night’s sleep, but a cup of tea will do), edit again. Cut again!

  1. Though notice sometimes it IS needed ;) []