Visiting Tom Wright—A Good Start in Scotland

I drove from Rochester to Toronto on Wednesday and took the overnight flight to Glasgow to begin my two weeks of talks in the UK. I arrived at the Glasgow airport on Thursday morning (9:00 am), with almost no sleep, and was picked up by Tom Wright.

From Glasgow we drove to the Wrights’ home (named the “Hilton Cottage”) just outside of the small town of St. Andrews. It was a bright sunny day and the scenery on the drive was glorious.

Great Conversations with Tom and Maggie

The conversation on the drive was pretty good too!

In fact, one of the highlights of the trip so far (besides my interaction with students and faculty at the University of St. Andrews) was getting to know Tom and Maggie.

Although Tom and I have had lots of sporadic contact over the years (we first met in the mid nineteen-eighties), and we each have found the other’s writings helpful for our own scholarship, this was the first time I was able to have extended conversations with Tom, both about theology and biblical interpretation and about our lives and families.

It was also a delight getting to know Maggie, who is a brilliant amateur photographer—and who, in an amazing coincidence, uses the exact same make and model of camera that I do (a Panasonic Lumix).

Talks at the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology

I gave two talks at the University of St. Andrews (one on biblical eschatology, the other on the theology of lament psalms). Both were well attended by faculty and students, many of whom were in the doctoral program of the Logos Institute. This is an innovative institute with an interdisciplinary doctoral program that tries to integrate analytic theology/philosophy with in-depth biblical studies.

The problem (as many in academia know) is that theologians and biblical scholars often speak what seem to be totally different languages (or discourses), with very little overlap. They often talk past each other.

Biblical scholars often focus on the minutiae of textual and linguistic (or historical) issues to the detriment of thinking about the big theological and ethical claims of Scripture. Theologians, likewise, often engage in the analysis of ideas that are at a far remove from biblical exegesis.

This was a problem I highlighted in the introductory chapter of my book The Liberating Image in relation to the interpretation of the imago Dei. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

Pretty much all my publications over the years have tried to address this problem by modeling an approach to Scripture that is both exegetically detailed and concerned for theological coherence.

The Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology was founded to tackle this problem head on. It is a bold enterprise that seeks to help theological students, especially those trained in the analytic tradition of philosophy, to indwell the particularity of biblical texts and learn to ground their theological analysis in serious, in-depth biblical exegesis.

Although it hadn’t been planned this way, I was perfectly suited to addressing this audience. My training in philosophy at the graduate level (with an MA thesis on the nature of religious language), followed by my subsequent move to Old Testament studies, allowed me to interact with many of the Logos students, taking their concerns seriously.

Although my talks were on what I would describe as biblical theology, I managed in my second talk (having taken the pulse of the audience) to weave in some philosophical analysis (concerning the problem of evil) in relationship to the topic I was speaking on (the lament psalms).

The question time (along with the reception afterward) was very valuable, as I was able to engage students philosophically where they were, while showing the fruitfulness of grounding theology in the careful study of Scripture.

Of Eggs and Chicken Pie

To top it off, I was fed very well by Maggie and Tom, both in local eateries and by their own cooking.

Maggie baked an amazing chicken and leek pie for our supper on Thursday (she nicknamed it her “resurrection pie,” since she hadn’t made it in so long, and also because we had been discussing the meaning of the resurrection); the pie was so amazing that I asked for the recipe.

And Tom cooked us bacon and eggs for a late night snack on Friday—he quipped that not many people could produce a photograph like the one below.

All in all, I am grateful to God for the experience so far (including the fact that I managed to get three solid nights’ sleep after the overnight trans-Atlantic flight).

And I am looking forward to heading to the University of Aberdeen with Grant Macaskill tomorrow morning for my lecture there. While there, Grant and I will begin informal talks about a possible doctoral program in theology co-sponsored by Aberdeen and two Jamaican graduate schools that I am affiliated with.

You can read about my trip to Aberdeen here.

Advertisements

A Wonderful First Week in Australia

About a month ago I posted about my upcoming sabbatical visit to Australia.

I’ve now completed two weeks Down Under, in Adelaide (South Australia). I’ve just arrived in Canberra (the national capital), where I’ll spend another two weeks.

In this post I’ll report on the activities of my first week in Adelaide; in my next post I’ll cover the second  week.

I left the USA on Thursday, September 15 and arrived in Adelaide (via Sydney) nearly forty hours later on Saturday, September 17 (Friday just disappeared in the time zone change).

It took me a good three or four days before I felt recovered from travel. I guess you could say I was jet lagged; but I think it was simply the lack of sleep (four hours sleep in a day and a half just wasn’t enough).

Travel on Qantas Airlines

And yet the trip itself (apart from the lack of sleep) was quite wonderful. I had never traveled on Qantas before (Australia’s national airline), but this is now my favorite airline.

Not only is Qantas the largest airline in the world (in terms of number of planes, flights, and destinations), but they had the best service I’ve encountered in years (especially in comparison to the American airline companies I’m used to).

There was a hot meal on every flight, not only on the long haul (fifteen hours) between the US and Australia (there were actually two meals on that flight); there was a hot meal offered even on the flights within the US and within Australia (when’s the last time a US airline served a hot meal on a domestic flight, included in the price of the ticket?). In fact, the meal on both the US leg and the trans-Pacific leg came with a free serving of wine or beer.

We even had a printed menu with our choices.

qantas-menu-2

I was picked up at the Adelaide airport by the Rev’d Canon Dr Matthew Anstey, the principal of St Barnabas College, who was my host for the two weeks. Not only was he a wonderful person, and smart to boot (with a PhD in Hebrew linguistics), it turns out that we both did our PhDs at the Free University of Amsterdam; in fact we defended our dissertations just a year apart. It’s a small world!

My First Few Days in Adelaide

Having arrived in Adelaide on a Saturday afternoon, I got a decent night’s sleep and then went to church (Holy Innocents Anglican Church) with Matthew and his family the next morning. There I heard a thoughtful message by the Rev’d Steve Daughtry about the use of money in the kingdom of God, based on the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13).

That evening I was interviewed on 1079 Life FM by the Rev’d Dr Lynn Arnold about my upcoming activities in Adelaide and my various bookshe had certainly done his homework. But then Lynn Arnold has been the Premier of South Australia (1992-93) and headed up World Vision Australia from 1997 to 2007; he is currently an Anglican priest stationed at St. Peter’s Cathedral and teaches Public Theology and Church History at St Barnabas College.

The next day (Monday) I got a tour of St. Barnabas College, including an office I could use, and I got set up with internet access, a printer, and so forth. That afternoon there was a reception with staff and friends of St. Barnabas, followed by dinner in a nearby restaurant (I had kangaroo for the first time).

St. Barnabas College (founded in 1880) is a member of the School of Theology of Charles Sturt University. The College recently relocated its physical campus to the same building as the Anglican Diocese of Adelaide, as a re-affirmation of its commitment to the church.

The very week I arrived St Barnabas College had just unveiled a new logo, new signage, and a brand new website, as part of a process of re-branding. So folks were pretty busy the first few days I was there.

Lament in Scripture and Life

The highlight of my first week in Adelaide was the two-day Workshop (September 22-23) on “Lament in Scripture and Life” held at St. Barnabas, which was attended by eleven biblical scholars (nine in Old Testament and two in New Testament); apart from me, everyone was from Australia or environs (one traveled from New Zealand).

All eleven of us wrote and submitted papers in advance on some aspect of lament. My paper was on Genesis 22, part of my research for the book on Abraham and Job that I’m working on during my sabbatical.

These papers weren’t actually presented at the workshop; instead we all read each others’ papers in advance. Each person had an opportunity to summarize their paper (5 minutes), followed by a 10-15 minute response that had been prepared by someone else, followed by feedback and discussion by everyone else for another 40-45 minutes.

The authors and topics of the papers were as follows:

  • Elizabeth Boase, “Engaging Westermann and the Assumptive World”
  • Jione Havea, “By the waters of Pasifika: Wailing at Noah’s altar (Genesis 8)”
  • Michael Trainor, “‘Did you know that little girls could be nailed to the cross?’: The Lament of the Gospel”
  • Timothy J. Harris, “Appropriation and Juxtaposition: Experiential Readings of the Lord’s Prayer in Contexts of Lament”
  • Mark G. Brett, “Psalm 94 and the Hermeneutics of Protest”
  • Matthew Anstey, “The Narratological Necessity of Lament”
  • Peter Lockwood, “Jephthah’s Enemies and His Daughter: Narcissism, Violence and Lament (Judges 11)”
  • J. Richard Middleton, “Unbinding the Aqedah from the Straightjacket of Tradition: An Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Abraham’s Test in Genesis 22″
  • Jeanette Mathews, “Prayers of Lament as Performance”
  • Monica Melanthon, “Slumdog Despair: Taking Dalit Laments to Church”
  • David Cohen, “At the Edge of the Precipice: Psalm 89 as Liturgical Memory”

We had two wonderful days of intense and serious discussion, and the feedback we each received will greatly improve our papers as we revise them for publication. We are planning for a volume of essays possibly called Lament Rekindled.

Then, after our (serious) scholarly endeavors, we had fun posing for photos (I don’t remember what the joke was, but it must have been good).

A Trip to the Barossa

Although most of the participants in the Lament seminar had to leave soon after to catch flights home, four of us were around the next day for a trip to the Barossa, a beautiful wine region of South Australia near Adelaide. The only trouble was that it began to rain that morning, so it cut down on the sightseeing component. Nevertheless, I saw kangaroos in the wild, as we were driving by. And the wine tasting proceeded as planned.

All week I had been learning distinctive Aussie lingo, including:

  • no worries, mate [= you’re welcome; in Jamaica we would say “no problem, mon”]
  • footy [= football]
  • uni [= university]
  • breaky [= breakfast]
  • a flat white [= coffee with milk]

I learned one more on the Barossa trip: “cellar door,” which is a reference to the wine tasting room associated with a winery (the term has a sort of Hobbit feel, though some of the cellar doors we visited were quite spacious).

We visited four cellar doors in all on the trip, two before lunch and two after. It stopped raining briefly when we came out of Peter Lehman Wines (the third stop), which allowed us to have a group photo taken outside.

And the sun actually shone brightly (though briefly) just before we headed for home. But it was pouring when we got back to Adelaide.

This weather was a portent of what was to come.

I’ll soon post a report of Week Two in Australia.

A Sabbatical Visit to Australia

I haven’t had a chance to write much for this blog in quite a while, since I am hard at work on papers and talks that I will present in Australia during my sabbatical, this Fall.

I will be in Australia for a month, as Visiting Theologian-in-Residence first at St. Barnabas College, Adelaide (Sept. 18-Oct. 1, 2016) and then at St. Mark’s National Theological Centre, Canberra (Oct. 2-15, 2016), both member schools of Charles Sturt University.

My activities in Adelaide include:

My activities in Canberra:

***

When I return from Australia, I will give the J. J. Theissen Lectures (on Lament), at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, MB, October 25-26, 2016.

***

These presentations are all related to research for my book, tentatively called The Silence of Abraham, The Passion of Job: Explorations in the Theology of Lament (to be published by Baker Academic).