30 July 2007

Do you top-post or bottom-post?

From The Jargon File:

top-post: v. To put the newly-added portion of an email or Usenet response before the quoted part, as opposed to the more logical sequence of quoted portion first with original following. The problem with this practice is neatly summed up by the following FAQ entry:
A: No.
Q: Should I include quotations after my reply?

bottom-post: v. In a news or mail reply, to put the response to a news or email message after the quoted content from the parent message. This is correct form, and until around 2000 was so universal on the Internet that neither the term ‘bottom-post’ nor its antonym top-post existed. Hackers consider that the best practice is actually to excerpt only the relevent portions of the parent message, then intersperse the poster's response in such a way that each section of response appears directly after the excerpt it applies to. This reduces message bulk, keeps thread content in a logical order, and facilitates reading.

26 July 2007

I was going to stay up last night (whoops... night-before-last now) to attend a Bible Study in the Second Life virtual world. (I didn't make it because their system went down for a while.) A Bible Study I could go along with. I still unsure about a worship service. And yet I have real trouble articulating why. Many of the initial objections are illusory. This may be a virtual community, but it's not an imaginary one -- the people are real, with gifts and with problems. The fact that it's a virtual computer-based thing may colour our view unnecessarily. It's difficult to see how it is different to a club in any RL hobby -- a chess club meeting or quilting group. Imagine you were in one of those activities rather than a virtual environment, and imagine the meeting was made up of thousands of people in a big warehouse. Wouldn't it be nice to sometimes have the Christians in the group get together and pray and hang out?

But can the virtuality really be left out of the equation? To celebrate the Incarnation in a land made of patterns which only imitate bodily form? That doesn't really add up. -- More thinking needed.

24 July 2007

I spent a significant part of the weekend exploring the virtual reality environment "Second Life." I'd visited before, back when the first Macintosh client software came out, but I found it excruciatingly slow and buggy and didn't stay.

Some of you will know that years ago I did a lot of work on three text-based virtual educational environments, designing Museums on the University of Pheonix's MariMuse and MIT's MicroMuse, and designing the main classroom objects and programming for an ill-fated Virtual University project. I also taught a class on the Gospels via the virtual environment in MariMuse. It was with an eye to the educational possibilities that I went exploring.

It's a fascinating place to visit. I don't find the system particularly friendly -- with all virtual environments I've been in there is a very steep initial learning curve. But once you're well and truly in, there is a wealth of stuff — the good and the despicable —  to see.

23 July 2007

The lectionary Gospel reading last week was the Mary & Martha story from Luke 10:38-42. I'm pretty sure that I've written about it elsewhere, but it doesn't show up in a quick search of my offline blog storage. It's such a lovely story. And it's so typical of the New Testament that the most radical teaching about the equality of the role of women is not about rights but about access and humility: Mary sitting at Jesus' feet. That, of course, is the appropriate place for a student in those days. Except that as a woman she wasn't really an appropriate person to be there (there were some exceptions, but as a rule it was the role of women to feed the men who were engaged in the study).

Verse 42 struck me this time through. Jesus says that Martha is troubled by many things, but only a few things are necessary and really only one. That so reminds me of the saying of Jesus in Mark 10:21, one of my favourite passages. Jesus says the rich young ruler lacks one thing, then lists a few things (that boil down to one, really).

19 July 2007

Apparently, Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote:

'Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you sit down quietly, may alight upon you.'

Sounds like good quality greeting-card sentiment.

But is it barbed?

The American Declaration of Independence says that 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' are God-given rights. Is part of the problem with the West that we take that phrase literally and out of the context of our relationship with God (and even with each other). We seem to want those rights to be fundamental to our relationships -- the rules that they obey -- rather than the other way round.

17 July 2007

There are quite a few New Testament questions that still baffle me. One of them came up in House Group the other night: the ending of Mark. Your Bible probably gives you 20 verses of chapter 16. But in most versions, verses 9-20 are printed in a different style or with a disclaimer before verse 9. My old King James Bible is one version that doesn't. That's because when the old King was doing his stuff, most of the ancient texts that were available included 9-20. We've found a lot more texts since then and learned a lot more about how to read even the ones that we had. These days, most everyone agrees that 9-20 is not by the author of Mark's gospel on the basis of vocabulary and style, that it doesn't really fit into the narrative flow and that the content has probably been pieced together from other parts of the New Testament.

16 July 2007

I started blogging because some of my former students blogged first. I read their stuff and enjoyed being able to keep up with them and what they were thinking about even though they'd left college. The natural thing to do seemed not only to comment on theirs but to start my own.

12 July 2007

WARNING: Nothing but spoilers coming. Watch the trailer first. It's filmed on a handheld camera, so let it load first, so you don't confuse the jitteryness of download with the intended jitteryness of the genre. Trailer is available in high quality on Apple's site.

[whoops. it's gone now. sorry.]

11 July 2007

My name is Theo Jansen. I'm a kinetic sculptor.

10 July 2007


Upload your photo and voila.

09 July 2007

Someone wrote to me:
Another theological question: If the greatest commandments
are to love God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as
yourself, and bearing in mind that Jesus gives an example of this (Luke)
in the good Samaritan, immediately after making this statement - does
this mean that non-jews and non-Christians who love God with all their
hearts and their neighbour as themselves are obeying all the
commandments and will therefore also get eternal life?

You don't earn it by following the greatest or the least commandments. He's not waiting at the gate with a commandments checklist. It's not about that.

You get there by loving him and being loved by him. And that implies not rejecting him. John 3:16-18. Yes, of course, non-Jews who and non-Christians who are willing to love God and not refuse the gift he offers are welcomed in. That's the revolution that Christ brought to Judaism: relationship isn't limited to blood/family/tribal ties. They're welcomed in not because they have followed commandments but because they have loved and said yes to God and his way, Jesus. But in doing so, they are no longer non-Christians.

The question is a little like asking "how many keys does there need to be on a computer keyboard for it to be connected to the internet?" "It says to 'mouse-click here'; does that mean a trackpad won't do it, only a mouse?" No. The internet isn't really about that. It's about being able to send and receive signals and, once you can receive them, not turning signals away.

Jesus is being typically playfully paradoxical with the guy. Jesus says If you love me you'll keep my commandments. And what are his commandments? Essentially, that you love him.

Some of the guys that ask Jesus similar questions have a problem: they are trying to justify themselves. They are examining the wording to find out whether they can fit into the definition without changing. "Ah, but who IS my neighbour?" Jesus told the Good Samaritan parable not in order that the guy might jack up his commandment-compliance an extra notch, but so that he would change his attitude. Such people are in trouble not because there are commandments that they are violating, but because their attitude is not one of loving God, but of asking "how little can I get away with and still have it be called 'love'?" That, of course, is not a question love asks. Love asks, "What can I do to show you I love you?" not "How little can I do and still have you think I love you?"

06 July 2007

A friend of mine asked about the Dead Sea Scrolls the other day. She'd studied theology years ago, when the text of the Scrolls had been published but not many folks knew what to do with them yet. She asked me for an update: how have these ancient documents informed our understanding of the New Testament and Christian origins?

I wasn't prepared, of course. I had to say that I thought Vermes's volume was still the standard entry point. As for how our knowledge of the Scrolls has influenced NT studies, I thought of some of the discussions of Christology, particularly divine mediators, but other than Hurtado's stuff, not much of this has any trickle down value to the folks facing the pews.

But then something occurred to me that hadn't before. It's still a half-baked notion, but.... here goes. Part of the reason for the imbalances and errors in Tom Wright's reconstruction of Jesus and Judaism might lie precisely in his great awareness/knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

05 July 2007

Behold; the FlapFlap lamp from Büro für Form. When I was a kid, touristy shops at the seaside would sell empty dog collars with stiff leashes/leads... you'd walk with them as if you had an invisible dog. This is almost as fun.

It'd be even more fun if they sold it paired with an identical lamp with an ordinary cord. Then you could change one for the other while your house guests were in the other room.

04 July 2007

I noted a wickedly clever quotation from Richard Bauckham's wonderful Eyewitnesses book. He's talking about the many versions of Jesus on offer at present - "...the Jesus of Dominic Crossan, the Jesus of Marcus Borg, the Jesus of NT (Tom) Wright... and many others." Of these, he writes: "...in all cases the result is a Jesus reconstructed by the historian... in effect, to provide an alternative to the Gospels' constructions of Jesus." (p. 3)

This is clever. All of us will want to use this quotation about our enemies' interpretation of Jesus. But it's naughty of him not to make crystal-clear that we must also say this about our favourite book about Jesus. Even worse, it's true of any of us, not just professional historians. No earthling has access to the "Gospels' constructions of Jesus" untainted by our own interpretations and presuppositions. It isn't, thus, a choice between Wright's Jesus and the Jesus of the Gospels, but a choice between Wright's Jesus and your own Jesus. What you're hoping is that your favourite historians portray a Jesus who is closer to the Gospels' own rendition than your own is.

Bauckham is again naughty on the next page, where he writes: "Historical work, by its very nature, is always putting two and two together and making five -- or twelve or seventeen."

Wrongety-wrong-wrong. Not 'always.' Rather, historical work at its best is putting two and two together and not only making four, but deducing the existence and nature of one and three.

In fact, in thinking about how I would use the metaphor, it is the applied theologians, not the historians, who are interested in what two and two "make," arriving at five, twelve or seventeen. And the hermeneuts? They don't care about the numbers all that much; they want to explore what we mean by "and" and "make."

(ps A better, funnier, challenge would be that conservative Evangelical NT guys like me tend to put two and two together and get twenty-two.)
This blog is closed now. I've moved to http://gempf.com