Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Heart of Anglican Bible Study

Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, gave a talk at the Lambeth Conference that went relatively uncommented-on over the last few months. Fulcrum has finally put the text up here. I want to highlight a tiny portion - though certainly his talk was much farther ranging and insightful than this small bit - that really struck me.

All this is of course nurtured by the straightforward but deeply powerful tradition of the daily offices, with the great narratives of scripture read through day by day, preferably on a lectio continua basis, so that ‘living prayerfully within the story’ is the most formative thing, next to the Eucharist itself, which Anglicans do. Classic mattins and evensong, in fact, are basically showcases for scripture, and the point of reading Old and New Testaments like that is not so much to ‘remind ourselves of that bit of the Bible’, as to use that small selection as a window through which we can see, with the eyes of mind and heart, the entire sweep of the whole Bible, so that our ‘telling of the story’ is not actually aimed primarily at informing or reminding one another but rather at praising God for his mighty acts, and acquiring the habit of living within the story of them as we do so. That, I suggest, is the heart of Anglican Bible study.

I've always read the Bible to "learn that bit"... It didn't really occur to me to take it in a broader context of the whole Story (and, yes, I will capitalize Story here!) I've been disappointed with our Sunday School classes at church recently because we've been reading books about the Bible, or about Christianity. And I think this is why I've been disappointed, but I didn't really know or understand why until I finished reading this article. I want to go to Sunday School (and every night in between) and READ the Bible - not to memorize specific vignettes, but to read and worship God in awe of his might and power. I want to talk about the Scriptures with other Christians, and see what they think, and see how they may fit the passages we read into the larger fabric of the Story. As we see the Story come to life, and as we see how we fit into the story, we also revel in the Glory of God.

Of course, I'm reminded of Tolkien here (I should've used an obscure Tolkien reference in my blog name, shouldn't I?) where Sam and Frodo are talking about the story, and how they are taking their place in it. Sam says, "Why, to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on. Don't the great tales never end?" (From Two Towers, "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol") But I think Bishop Wright is making the same case - we ARE part of that great Biblical Story, and it's still going on. And it's up to us to see our part through as best we can, with God's help.

(Tip o' the Tinfoil Hat to Stand Firm)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fame Junkies?

I am currently reading a book called Fame Junkies by Jake Halpern. It looks closely at the obsession (yes, that is the word he uses) that Americans have with celebrity. It's a depressing book, but an excellent look into what he calls the three subcultures of fame: the wanna-be-famous, the celebrity assistants (and hangers on) and the die-hard fans.

I was telling a friend about it, and we digressed into a discussion of "news". The book points out that more people watch "American Idol" than the nightly news. Why is that? Even worse was this: on January 7, 2005, there were five important stories. A breakthrough in AIDS research, a Bush pension insurance rescue plan, an opposition plan to thwart a social security proposal, an investigation report into the UN's oil-for-food scandal, and a mistress of an FBI agent arrested for stealing national secrets. On the tv headlines were "Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt have split up." A later word-count analysis of CNN's transcripts revealed that they gave this last story more coverage than ALL FIVE of the other news stories put together. Or how about the fact that the three major news networks devoted 26 minutes of airtime to the Darfur tragedy and 130 minutes to the Martha Stewart scandal? (p. 193-194) Ouch. What in the world does this say about our priorities?

So what is "news" supposed to be these days? Is it any information on recent events - the more lurid the better? Is it whatever fad is whizzing around the internet? Or does it have a more vaporous, yet deeper, meaning? Something like, "unbiased facts that deal with serious topics and events"? I favor the latter, but that's just me. Here's my beef, though: Why is it that I can only watch the first three minutes of CNN Headline News - after that it becomes a mishmash of ambulance chasing, scare tactics and stupid celebrity tricks? But I can then go on BBC News online and discover that India has launched a moon mission! A MOON mission! (On the CNN homepage? "Chimp takes Segway for a ride." India's moon mission is buried as a third level entry under "tech".) Now, I understand the need for "feel-good" stories. But I don't understand replacing stories of actual consequence with the lady who built a shed to live in because she's allergic to everything. (BTW, How many Americans knew that Venezuela persona non grata'd our Ambassador in early September?)

I could also go on a rant about the media bias today, but because Orson Scott Card does it so much better I will let him speak for himself. Go here to read his article Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On The Lights? If you're a sci-fi/fantasy fan, he's the author of Ender's Game and the Alvin Maker series. (He also wrote a fabulous novelization of the movie Abyss!) Regardless of what his faith is (He's LDS) and regardless of his political leanings (he's a Democrat) he is not afraid to point out that the emperor has no clothes. And that is amazingly refreshing these days.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Can an antelope be a document?

This is a nerdy, librarian-type post. Consider yourself warned. ::grin::

Suzanne Briet, one of the founding presences behind modern day imformation studies programs, once posed the question, "Can an antelope be a document?" in her article/pamphlet called What is Documentation?. I won't go into all the gory details, but that argument has stayed with me since I read it at FSU. She is essentially stating that a document is evidence in support of a fact. Paul Otlet, writing slightly before Briet, said that you can have information (documentation) about objects, but the objects themselves become documents if you are informed by observing them. So... if you have a map, can it be a document? (Yes.) If you have a photograph can it be a document? (Definitely.) If you have a dinosaur bone, is that a document... does that inform us? (Yes, ask any museum curator!) Well, if a dinosaur bone is a document, can an animal in a zoo, say... an antelope.. be one? (If the zoo = the museum, then doesn't the antelope = the dinosaur bone?) If you're really interested in this, I recommend Michael Buckland's treatment of the argument here which he calls "information-as-thing."

I find this incredibly intriguing, and for 1951, it was amazingly farsighted. We catalog things now that don't even exist in the real "brick and mortar" world - electronic resources and video and all kinds of stuff. And we do that because we are informed by these bits and bytes that flash across our computer screen. So I was deeply reminded of Otlet and Briet's arguments when I saw this story on Wired's website: Browse the Artifacts of Geek History. There are books, of course, but they're covered in precious gems. And there's a Sputnik rocket. Dinosaur skeletons. An Enigma machine. Escher-like woodwork. A hand-painted book on dwarves, embellished with gold and silver. I could spend weeks in this library and never be bored!

But it got me thinking. In the library field, they're known as "realia." Which is quite a dry and dusty term for all these amazing objects that you can see and touch and manipulate. For Briet and Otlet, these items speak for themselves. We can have - and should have - books and papers telling us about each one (and many in this collection have just that!) I can read all about the Soviet Sputnik program, and how the Germans used the Enigma machine to send coded messages to their submarines in World War II. I can look at books of anatomy and physiology about dinosaurs and human brains. I can even read a book about rare books (doesn't that seem like a contradiction?), hand painted and studded with jewels. But all of those resources - however valuable - simply pales in comparison to being in a place where you can touch a skeleton. And hold a meteorite. And tap a code into a machine. And feel the rubies and brush strokes of a 16th century book on jousting.

What does that say about me? I'm not really sure, but I think I'd prefer antelopes to electrons any day!