New Media, digital and networked

Among the reading for my MIT MediaLab MOOC, Learning Creative Learning, is the huge report: Mimi Ito et al. (2009): Learning and Living with New MediaMacArthur Foundation.  The executive summary includes this sentence, which reminded me why the term “new media” is so much better than the older “digital” to describe the current cultural shift:

We use the term new media to describe a media ecology where more traditional media such as books, television, and radio are intersecting with digital media, specifically interactive media, online networks, and media for social communication.

Old media like TV and radio (but increasingly also books) are (or at least are at some stages of their production and transmission) digital. But even the most digital TV is not “new media” because it is not networked.1

New media is both:

  • digital:
    • infinitely copiable
    • almost free to transmit or copy
    • malleable (digital media can be changed/edited as well as copied)
  • networked:
    • open to talk back
    • open to reuse
    • open to conversation
    • open to extension


To the extent that something embodies most of these characteristics it is new media, if it mainly or exclusively embodies the first group it is merely digital. The Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary was digital, my 5 minute Bible podcasts are digital moving towards new media. The hard bit, for a media dinosaur2 Is getting the last step. Not Only a Father as a discussable book attempts to be new media, but so far has not generated a community of discussion… I wonder what I can do to encourage that last step…

 

  1. NB I am not here using the term “network” in the sense that the name CNN uses it. But rather of a media environment where communication can and does move in multiple directions. Not just from me to you – a monologue like most traditional TV and radio; or from me to you and you to me – a dialogue – like talkback radio; but between you, me, him and her… severally and sometimes together. []
  2. I grew up with radio, but TV came to our place only when I was almost a teenager. []

More on my online book launch


Recently I posted a request to readers to help me “launch” the online discussable version of my book Not Only a Father.

The online version is at http://bigbible.org/mothergod/ it uses a WordPress plugin to let people add comments, questions or to object to or correct things I’ve written.

Recently more people have helped by mentioning it on their blogs:

In order to encourage visitors who find the site (either by buying the paperback or through Google or those blog posts) what I really need is for some of you to post comments, questions etc. on parts of the book, so less tech-savvy people can see how it works :)

Online book launch


Do please participate in helping me to make my latest experiment in online publication work better. I want to explore how authors and readers can engage more and at greater depth through using online communications. My book Not Only a Father is not only available as a paperback on Amazon, but also the full text is online at http://bigbible.org/mothergod/ using a WordPress plugin that allows commenting and discussion at paragraph rather than post level.

However, my publisher (the NZ Baptist Research Society) has no funds for promotion, and as yet few people have responded to my efforts on Facebook or here so the discussion is still sparse. I would like to do an Online Book Launch to (roughly) coincide with the physical one. So I am asking a number of bloggers to agree to mention the book (especially the free online version) in a post in the first two weeks of October (the physical launch is 10th October). I am also trying to find people willing to read a few paragraphs and post a comment (naturally if you want to read more I’d be delighted ;)

I wonder if you’d be willing to share in this in some way? I’ll mention everyone who does in posts (and leaves a URL) here, which since I am hosting the September BS Carnival tomorrow so this should give you extra Google mojo as a bonus ;)

Those who have already begun include:1

 

  1. If your name/URL is missing please let me know, I’ll try to keep this up to date, but am fallible :( []

Now to organise sending review copies…

At last the paperback copies of Not Only a Father, and not only the online edition, are available. Now the hard work of getting it reviewed and even harder work of getting people to discuss the online discussable edition remain :)

The book traces the biblical and theological reasons why we need to talk of God in motherly alongside fatherly terms, and begins to suggest some ways this could enrich our spirituality. I know that such talk has become less rare (even occasional in less conservative circles) but it is still not a commonplace. A gendered  god is not the God of Scripture, and it’s time we acted on this truth!

Sexist theologian worships Christ as mother

The great theologian, Anselm, was sexist. As  carefully  points out in a post at BLT not just a sandwich. The passage he refers to from the Monologion is indeed really interesting, and indeed sexist.1 Yet there is more to it than this simple account.

Here is chapter 42 of the Monologion:2

I should certainly be glad, and perhaps able, now to reach the conclusion, that he is most truly the Father , while this Word is most truly his Son. But I think that even this question should not be neglected: whether it is more fitting to call them Father and Son, than mother and daughter, since in them there is no distinction of sex.

For, if it is consistent with the nature of the one to be the Father, and of his offspring to be the Son, because both are Spirit (Spiritus, masculine); why is it not, with equal reason, consistent with the nature of the one to be the mother, and the other the daughter, since both are truth and wisdom (veritas et sapientia, feminine)?

Or, is it because in these natures that have a difference of sex, it belongs to the superior sex to be father or son, and to the inferior to be mother or daughter? And this is certainly a natural fact in most instances, but in some the contrary is true, as among certain kinds of birds, among which the female is always larger and stronger, while the male is smaller and weaker.

At any rate, it is more consistent to call the supreme Spirit father than mother, for this reason, that the first and principal cause of offspring is always in the father. For, if the maternal cause is ever in some way preceded by the paternal, it is exceedingly inconsistent that the name mother should be attached to that parent with which, for the generation of offspring, no other cause is associated, and which no other precedes. It is, therefore, most true that the supreme Spirit is Father of his offspring. But, if the son is always more like the father than is the daughter, while nothing is more like the supreme Father than his offspring; then it is most true that this offspring is not a daughter, but a Son.

Hence, just as it is the property of the one most truly to beget, and of the other to be begotten, so it is the property of the one to be most truly progenitor, and of the other to be most truly begotten. And as the one is most truly the parent, and the other his offspring, so the one is most truly Father, and the other most truly Son.3

So, what do we make of this sexist medieval theologian? I made brief reference to this passage in my recent book Not Only a Father. Some things seem to me striking, indeed perhaps more so than his sexism, which was surely not unusual for his time (around the turn of the first millennium CE). Anselm is clear that sexual categories do not apply to the Godhead. In this he is thoroughly orthodox, and he was also capable of drawing highly orthodox but unusual pastoral consequences from his orthodoxy.
In his “Prayer to St Paul”, Anselm develops a warm and tender meditation on Christ as mother. (See my Christ as Mother in the Middle Ages. For example he compares Christ with Paul and other apostles thus:

You have died more than they,
that they may labour to bear.
It is by your death that they have been born,
for if you had not been in labour,
you could not have borne death;
and if you had not died,
you would not have brought forth.
For, longing to bear sons into life,
You tasted of death,
and by dying you begot them.
You did this in your own self,
your servants, by your commands and help.
You as the author, they as the ministers.
So you, Lord God, are the great mother.[6]

In truth Anselm’s sexism, like ours, is a product of his time, and his willingness to consider the full richness of theological and devotional opportunities orthodox thinking allows was perhaps bolder than ours!

  1. Finally concluding that God is more fittingly called Father and Son than Mother and Daughter because father is the first cause of offspring and a son better corresponds to a father than a daughter does. []
  2. From: Anselm, St. Proslogium; Monologium; An Appendix in Behalf of the Fool by Gaunilon; and Cur Deus Homo. CCEL, 1958. []
  3. Bold emphasis added. []

Review copies

If you would like a review copy of the print version of my new book:

Tim Bulkeley, Not Only a Father: Talk of God as Mother in the Bible & Christian Tradition (Signs) Auckland: Archer Press, 2011 ISBN: 978-1468091373

Please contact me, please say both where you expect to publish the review (blogs are quite acceptable though a full review rather than a short note would be good) and when you are expect to write it. There are no conditions and you should be as critical as you normally would.

Psalm for a new year

Psalm 90 makes a fine reading for a new year. Through the psalm, time (and especially the haunting disparity between short brutish human time and the timeless divine reality) is a strong theme. The psalm is peppered with time words:

  • dor generation in v.1 (x2)
  • b’terem before in v.2
  • shanah year in vv.4, 5, 9, 10 (x3), 15
  • yom day in vv.4, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15
  • ashmorah night watch in v.4
  • boqer morning in v.5, 6, 14
  • ereb evening in v.6
  • chish quickly in v.10

The psalm opens in the distant past with a heading associating it with Moses the great leader from Israel’s pre-monarchic origins.1

The rest of the first verse forefronts the two key ideas of the psalm, time and our relationship with God. The wording of the opening stresses the persons involved. Very literally it would read: “Lord, a dwelling, you, you have been for us from generation to generation.

This attention to time carries on through the psalm, and is straightaway extended in the next verse from a human timescale from “generation to generation” to extend from before the birth of the world into the “age”2  to come:

Before the mountains were born
or ever you had given birth to the earth and the world,
from age to age you are God.

From verse 3 to 11 the focus on time stresses time and again that the human and the divine timescales are incommensurable, and that humans suffer the divine wrath. This is not a psalm for the faint hearted, or for people living the comfortable smooth lives our TVs and magazines tell us should be ours. This psalm is not compatible with the Western dream.

But it “works” in a world full of natural disaster: earthquakes (still going on in Christchurch after over a year), floods (and even the minor ones in the Bay of Plenty yesterday cause pain and disruption), and all of man’s inhumanity to man (although 2011 was a year with more glimpses of hope for Burma that anyone expected as 2012 begins the Army is still attacking ethnic villages and destroying their crops, the political prisoners kept in inhuman conditions in the jails can still be counted as over a thousand).

Ps 90:10 is often quoted in something approximating to the fairly literal KJV: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years” this with its mention of strength suggests (or in the last few generations reminds us) that we might even live longer. However, in the psalm the effect is quite different, to quote the whole verse:

The days of our years are threescore years and ten;
and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years,
yet is their strength labour and sorrow;
for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

The whole point of the verse is that even if our life is long it is marked (sooner or later) by toil and trouble, and in any case (by any measure but our own pitifully brief one) are so short. Anyone who has reached “a certain age”3 will recognise how the years begin to fly away faster and faster.

So far, if I have presented it as I think it should be read, Psalm 90 is as far from contemporary cheery upbeat “worship songs” as it is possible to be ;)

Yet, it was my grandmother’s favourite psalm. Perhaps because the hymn based on it “Our God, our help in ages past…” used to be sung every “Remembrance Sunday”, and she had cause to remember. Her groom, my father’s father, was killed in the first world war leaving his new wife and toddler. Psalm 90 is a good new year reading in such circumstances. For as well as human mortality it reminds us of the divine author and finisher of our lives. “…our hope for years to come!

There are two more reasons why this psalm is a favourite of mine. It is one of the few passages in Scripture to deal seriously and in any depth with human aging. And it contains one of the Bible’s few descriptions of creation as birthing:

Before the mountains were born
or ever you had given birth to the earth and the world,
from age to age you are God. (Ps 90:2)

As a result it gets a brief appearance in my new book Not Only a Father,4 and will deserve much fuller treatment in the one on human aging, if I ever write it ;)

  1. Although there is considerable evidence that the headings may have been added to psalms after they were first written and used, there is no textual evidence for them being absent from the psalms that have them in most modern translations. Rather the reverse the early Greek  translation and the Qumran psalms scrolls seem to have more of these headings, suggesting that they were later additions. []
  2. Whatever exactly ‘olam means. []
  3. 50, 40, 30…? []
  4. I will add a link to the print version soon, for now the text is already available online in discussable format. []

Jesus and talk of God as father (part two)

Photo by sean dreilinger

See also: Jesus and talk of God as father (part one)

When thinking about Jesus’ talk of God as father it is useful to examine how, in fact, he pictured God the Father. What did he mean by calling God ‘father’? To set this question in context it is helpful to consider the cultural stereotypes of father that were common in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean and the Roman Empire. Authority and discipline (especially the disciplining of male children) were strong and frequent overtones of father-language in the ancient world. Pilch explained the cultural stereotypes of parents in the biblical world like this:

Clearly, the father is viewed as severe, stern and authoritarian; the mother is viewed as loving and compassionate. Children respect and fear the father but love the mother affectionately even after they are married.1

Such an understanding of the stern authoritarianism is almost absent2 from father-talk in the Gospels. Rather, in Jesus’ speech, fathers feed and clothe their children (Matt 6:26-32; Luke 11:1-2, 13; 12:30; John 6:32 cf. Luke 24:49; John 6:27); give gifts to both good and bad children (Matt 5:45); are forgiving rather than punishing (Matt 6:14-15; 18:35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:36 though the father does judge, in John 5:45; 8:16 but cf. 5:22); God as father deals with “infants” and “little ones” (Matt 11:25; 18:14; Luke 10:21). This divine “father” acts in ways which often fit the ancient world’s cultural stereotype of the mother more closely than they do the expectations of fatherly behaviour.

 

1 John J. Pilch, ‘Parenting,’ in John J. Pilch and Bruce J. Malina (eds.) Handbook of Biblical Social Values (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998), 147.

2 Mat 21:30f.; John 14:28 may be exceptions.

E/egalitarian and/or C/complementarian?

Herd of goats (photo by AlMare)

On Facebook yesterday I was prompted to reflect on the oddities that our herd mentality imposes on humans. We often signal words that name these “herds” linguistically (rightly or wrongly)1 by giving nouns that name human herds capital letters. Thus I am catholic but not Catholic in my tastes.2

Capitalisation to indicate herd membership is a handy tool. But it can make life complex.

Am I egalitarian or am I complementarian? Surely the answer has to be yes. As a Congolese student replied when my American colleague (who liked things to be precise) asked if he spelled his name with or without a hyphen – he did, he spelled it either way! I am egalitarian, I believe that God created men and women equally and of equal worth and with equal “inalienable rights”. I am also a complementarian, I am delighted that God made men and women different, to return to teaching classes comprised (as they were 20 years ago) almost entirely of men would be horrible!

But rewrite the question: Am I a Complementarian? and I have to answer “no”. For to answer “yes” to that question would imply agreeing with the lunatic posturings of those insecure human males who seem to think that if women are allowed to be really equal they will outperform them. On the other hand, I am not too keen to label myself as Egalitarian. For then I’d be tarred with the brush of those stupid enough to pretend that there are no consistent gender differences, and while Barbara can and did bear and birth babies I cannot, and I like to respect such brute facts.

So, on this issue am I a E/egalitarian and/or C/complementarian? Yes I am if you wish to label me and my views on issues of gender please refer to me as an E/egalitarian and/or C/complementarian !

  1. All you orthographic pedants can have a field-day discussing which ;) []
  2. Though actually this statement, made by way of example, may not be true, I suspect in many things I’d be both, though I am not at all a member of the Catholic “herd”. []

The Nature of Christ as a Man: and the gendering of God

A search for "Christ as a man" brought up this photo by mararie

I have just posted another short section to my online discussable book on motherly talk of God Not Only a Father which addresses the question of how The Nature of Christ as a Man interacts with my ideas of the (non)gendering of God.

Not Only a Father  is an attempt at a new way of writing a book, discussing it with people as it is written. So the text currently on the site is subject to change, but I need your comments and questions or objections to help make this work. So please visit, comment/argue with me, and/or get your friends involved :)