a few words

Month: November, 2009

watching my language

I’ve recently found a manageable practice for maintaining my language skills. Presently, I’m mostly concerned with German and Greek, because my knowledge of French has never been anything but superficial (meaning that it can likely be recovered with little effort) and my Spanish is well-sedimented in the crypts of 5th period adolescent angst (accompanying so much emotional baggage seems to aid the memory); unfortunately I’ve more or less abandoned the year of Hebrew I took at Regent, though I imagine that too might be recoverable.

At the beginning of the day I’ll sit down with a passage of Scripture in both German and Greek and read through them together without the aid of a dictionary or English translation. I spend about 15 or 20 minutes reading between the two texts. When the syntax or vocabulary is obscure in one language, I’m usually able to parse it out using the other (and my own familiarity with the text as well). The main benefit here is that I’m not clarifying every confusion by mediating it through English—when I’m stuck in Greek, I’m improving my German in the process of getting unmired.

This is only a strategy for bare-bones maintenance of the facility that I’ve gained with these languages; I don’t think that I’m actually gaining in vocabulary or translation skill. But, I haven’t previously found a strategy that would allow me to maintain several languages at once without devoting an inordinate amount of time or alternating between languages (which translates into an unrealistic “habit” dropped before it’s ever formed). This is also far more effective and enjoyable than the periodic cram sessions where I try to regain what I’ve lost over the last six months through a few intense weeks of remorseful rededication.

Anyone else have practices of language maintenance?

Ph.D. programs in theology

A post I assembled a few years ago while applying to Ph.D. programs myself continues to draw more interest than just about anything else I’ve written in this space. That said, John has recently finished the most thorough, categorically exhaustive, and genuinely helpful (at least as much help as one ought to expect from the internet) series on the ordeal that I’ve ever come across.

worth your time

An article from Pretty Good Lutherans on the continuing troubles surrounding this summer’s Churchwide Assembly, including a contribution from a Bronx pastor I’ve gotten to know.

2009 AAR :: the good, the bad, the unsurpassably entertaining

I woke up in Montreal this morning, and still made it back to NYC for class at 2:30 (even if a bit road-weary and goggle-eyed from the drive). While I certainly cannot say that I enjoy the AAR—at least not without adding some serious qualifications—I am glad to have gone, mainly for the opportunity to (re)connect with folks in the theological world whom I don’t often see. Here are the highlights of the conference from my perspective:

The good:

My gold medal goes to Sarah Coakley’s excellent paper on Aquinas, Christology, and the proper uses of apophaticism. Her paper said twice as much any other presentation that I listened to in about a third of the words. I wish that Denys Turner had taken up her provocations a bit more seriously.

The bad:

I have a lot of respect for Miroslav Volf, and I’ve heard him speak with eloquence and profundity. But in the session responding to David Kelsey’s massive new book on theological anthropology, Volf’s presentation was quite a disappointment. He began by admitting that he hadn’t read the book in its entirety (to be fair, it wasn’t clear that all the other panelists had either) and continued by telling us that for that reason he would not be able to offer any substantial critique. He then analyzed the title for about ten minutes, and finished with a provocative assertion of tension between the goodness of creation and the theological implications of accepting an evolutionary narrative.

The unsurpassably entertaining:

Of course, the session starring Zizek and Altizer turned out to be just as entertaining as anyone might have hoped. Altizer was unfortunately married to his written presentation; after his over-the-top delivery he refused to answer questions or make additional comments. Zizek, on the other hand, was hard to peel off the microphone. He spoke at greater length and in greater detail (with greater clarity) about his theological interest than I’ve heard or read elsewhere. In addition to being positively hilarious, his exhortations about prayer and personal commitment to the struggle of a particular tradition (without ironic/cynical/intellectual distance) were the closest thing to a preaching of the gospel that I heard in the two days that I attended. I imagine that mine weren’t the only cheeks shifting nervously in the chair at that point in the talk.

Despite his protests, his theological turn is far from orthodox (for a start, his trinitarianism is modalist), but I can’t help but feeling that Zizek must be counted as a theological ally in the face of the collusion between late-capitalism and liberal humanist optimism. Including Zizek only makes the theological conversation richer.