12 December 2007

Another One Bites the Dust

I'm reading the book, Life of Pi, with my freshman honors students. It's a fascinating book--one that has burst onto many high school readying lists. I like it because it gives me two things: a chance to discuss faith/religion with my students.

We review the 20th Century. We talk about Einstein and how his Theory of Relativity opened the door to breaking all the rules. After all, if space and time is relative, isn't good and evil relative, too? If the speed of light was the only constant, I guess God/god was relative, too.

I had a great time today preparing my final lecture for this amazing group of students--a Top Three class of all the kids I've taught over ten years. We will study art, music, and architecture, following it from the Romantic Era (early 19th Century) to today. I'm grading their papers--topic: how I formed a belief I have today.

I'm still learning more. That's the cool thing. In her column in Salon.com, Camile Paglia made a profound statement. Paglia is a liberal, a feminist, and an outspoken lesbian (not that that matters much, I guess). She is one of the most outspoken people in Letters today.

In talking about Mitt Romney and the religious expectations Americans have for their politicians, she wrote:

Atheism alone is a rotting corpse. I substitute art and nature for God -- the grandeur of man and the vast mystery of the universe.... Secularism evidently cannot stimulate creativity as profoundly as religion does -- whether in the artist's soaring affirmation or angry resistance.
Paglia discusses Europe--a thoroughly secularized society. About the only thing she sees Europeans passionate about is soccer. Their art stinks, there is no moral authority in their actions. An emphasis on the environment or an open approach to sexuality only underscore the spiritual wasteland that it has become. Paglia calls it "a museum" where people from around the world can go to witness the grandeur of a society that once revered God and honored its kings.

What a fascinating thought. I don't think Paglia has been reborn as a Christian, nor do I expect her to become evangelical overnight. But here you have a confirmed atheist basically saying: "I don't believe in God, but I sure do want to live in a society where enough people believe in him to embrace life, to seek to create great works of art, who embrace the mystery of God through science and exploration.

08 December 2007

Advent Music

Every year I try to buy one new Christmas album. It's fun to get a fresh take on the familiar Christmas songs. Last year I bought an album Christmas songs featuring obscure medieval instruments--"A Christmas Collection, featuring The Miner Museum of Vintage, Exotic and Just Plain Unusual Musical Instruments" by Gregg Miner.

Far and away, though, my favorite Christmas album is Andrew Peterson's "Behold the Lamb of God" (you can either stream it on your computer or just take my word and buy it for yourself). It is comprehensive, weaving the prophecies of the Old Testament into the joyful story of the Advent Season.

He now has a number of videos of his yearly concerts online. I'll post "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" below. For those of you who can't make it to Nashville this time of year, this is a chance to hear that Nashville Sound on an ancient Christmas Classic.

Baker Jo

For Thanksgiving Jonah baked a pumpkin pie in his pre-kindergarten class. They set him up with a baking hat and an apron. He was so proud.

My dad snapped this photo of Jonah and Owen in his piano studio at the school later that day. The pie (which tasted great, I can assure you) is covered by aluminum foil.

I just love the photo because it shoes two silly boys--my two silly boys. They really have a close brotherly bond, don't they?

Advent Reading

This morning for devotions I was reading out of The Message Bible paraphrase. Mary's visit with Elizabeth was vividly brought to life. I wanted to share verses 42b to 45 with you:
"Why am I so blessed that
the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
believed every word would come true!"
I just loved the line that the fetal John "skipped like a lamb" at the approach of Mary and the new-formed Jesus. It's a great foreshadowing of John's reaction when Jesus comes to be baptized.

This idea of sensing the incarnate God and 'skipping like a lamb' before him is echoed by St. Augustine, who wrote in The Confessions,
"...It is my belief in you that calls out to you--the faith that is your gift to me, which you breathed into me by the humanity your Son assumed, taking up his mission of proclaiming you."
It is also a reminder of the excitement of the Advent season, the enthusiasm with which we should welcome the Christ child into our lives this season. This time of year is a time to recapture the joy of Christ coming into my life--not only to celebrate Christ's birth but to be born again myself.

And those last lines: "blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!" That's the key to gaining this new birth--to receiving this Christmas gift that the Christian calendar provides for us year in and year out.

02 December 2007


This comes courtesy of my very pregnant friend, Amanda's Shilling in the Serpentine.

I'm not a big fan of mimes or of elaborately rendered sign-language songs at church, but comic Johan Lippowicz just cracks me up every time I watch his "duet" with Natalie Imbruglia on her one-hit-wonder, "Torn." His facial expressions are hilarious, as are his motions (the one for 'man' gets me every time).

Don't worry, I have some awesome Christmas videos to send along, but I'll wait a little longer.

I hope you're all enjoying your first week of Advent!

01 December 2007

Oh By the Way: The Gospel of Judas

Do you remember last Easter? The popular "discovery" about the Christian faith at the time was the newly discovered Gospel of Judas, featured in a National Geographic television special and numerous magazine articles.

At least I think it was last April. I get the whole Gospel of Judas hulabaloo mixed up with the "just discovered tomb of Jesus, James and Mary Magdalene" melee and all the new discoveries that tend to make the covers of TIME magazine and the schedules of Discovery Channel during Christianity's most precious holidays, Christmas and Easter.

The New York Times ran an Op-Ed piece today by Rice University's April D. Deconick which provides a vital 'second opinion' to the claims of Judas promoters.

After examining the evidence herself (which was a difficult task, considering that NGC slapped nondisclosure requirements on the scholars it quoted in the show, and it refused to share life-sized facsimiles of the documents to non-contracted Bible scholars.

Anyway, these are some of the mistakes Deconick finds in the NGC translation:
  • NGC had implied that the Judas of the 3rd-centruy Gnostic gospel that bore his name was a hero. In fact this character is a demon.
  • NGC had claimed that the documents called Judas a 'spirit.' In fact, the documents use the word daimon for Judas (which we translate as 'demon;' the Greek word usually for 'spirit' is pneuma.
  • I know as a teacher of German that pronouns are hard to translate, but the key NGC claims had related Judas to a "holy generation," of which he was a part because he had a predestined role to lead Jesus to his own, messianic destiny. But the NGC had claimed that Judas was set apart for this generation, when the accepted translation shows that the demonic Judas was separated from it.
  • NGC has already, since the airing of the documentary, admitted that the gospel in no way associated Judas with a holy generation; but the only explanation Deconick can find for such a mistranslation is that "the [NGC] scholars altered the Coptic original."
So will we see a TIME magazine cover this Christmas (or next Easter) that will admit all the chicanery that masquerades as New Testament scholarship these days? In recent years we have unearthed the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gospel of Thomas, the hypothetical "Q" Gospel, and many other works of more-questionable origin. These have led us no closer to the real Christ than we could find in the Gospels; no closer to the true, orthodox Christian church than the writings of its founders, Paul and James.

For all the archaeology and pseudo-science that goes into a study of Christianity, we still have no better sources for the life of Jesus than the Gospels. These sources received plenty of vetting and scrutiny by scholars in the 200-odd years prior to the establishment of the Christian canon. If you want to learn about Jesus, turn off Discovery or National Geographic, and get into the Bible.