The Liebster Award (Or, Who’s Honoring Me Now?)

liebster-award

I was startled to learn a couple of weeks ago that our good friend Jennifer Guo had nominated me for something called “The Liebster Award.” Truth be told, my first thought was simply to ignore her undoubtedly well-meaning gesture, for the award name is in German and my aversion to that awful language (and to its wretched kissing cousin, French) is, I trust, amply documented. Moreover, in her post, she originally misspelled my last name and got the name of this blog wrong. Now please understand that I have solemnly anathematized people for far lesser offenses, but I find that I am willing to give Jen the benefit of the doubt, so I note her quick corrections and grant that her proposed excuses are at the least plausible. In the end, as she herself noted, my happy acquaintance with Jen long postdates the more active periods of this blog, so I think it fitting that, being summoned in her blog, I should respond here.

Jen blogs at… well, her blog doesn’t really have a name, but it may be found at jeniferguo.wordpress.com. (Incidentally, Jen once solicited blog name suggestions that somehow incorporated her own name, so I at once proposed “GVO VADIS?”—which is, I think, a lovely and rather evocative name [cf. St John 13:36 (Vg.) and the apocryphal Acts of Peter]. I am still uncertain why the matter remains unresolved. But I digress.) Jen is a voracious and intelligent reader, a competent and prolific book reviewer, and above all else, a zealous and committed Christian young woman. Although Jen already holds a master’s degree in accountancy, she shows great promise as a budding biblical scholar—and indeed, she is set to begin graduate studies in the field this coming fall at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. I am honored by her friendship, and eagerly look forward to her future contributions to biblical studies. I invite you to follow her blog if you do not already do so.

Now on to the meme award itself: at least according to the version of the rules which I have received, in addition to thanking and linking back to the blogger who nominated me, I am to write 5 random facts about myself; answer the 5 questions that Jen asked of her nominees; nominate another 5 bloggers; and then formulate 5 questions for them. So, without further ado, here is my contribution:

Five Random Facts About Myself

  1. I only type with about four or five fingers in all, but after nearly 20 years of relentless hunting and pecking, I can do it quite fast.
  2. I almost never use the caps lock key; even when I type ALL IN CAPS, I hold down the shift key.
  3. Whenever I order a milkshake, I invariably find it too thick for my taste: I wish to drink it, not eat it.
  4. I put an obscene amount of milk and sugar in my coffee, but this is now moot as I no longer can drink coffee.
  5. I was born and raised on a Caribbean island, but I hate sand, sea water, and all seafood.

Five Questions Answered

  1. If you could have any super power, what would it be, and who would your archnemesis be?
    My super power would be a correct theological understanding of the Sacred Liturgy, as opposed to the various historicist (mis)contructions thereof that have long proliferated in some circles. My archnemeses are at least a couple of living, breathing human beings who are active and publishing.
  2. Middle Earth or Narnia and why?
    I’m sorry, but I don’t understand this question! I’m afraid I know neither middle earths nor narnias. Yes, it is true: I have read neither Lewis nor Tolkien, and I don’t particularly care to do so. Nor have I watched the film versions of their books, with the exception of a short section of one of the Lord of the Rings movies (I don’t know which one). Given Tolkien’s distaste for Lewis’ allegorism, which I share, I suspect I might be better inclined to like the Lord of the Rings books than the Chronicles of Narnia. This suits me just fine, since I am no fan of C. S. Lewis in any case, and strenuously object to the Lewis cult prevalent in many Anglophone Christian circles.
  3. What’s your favorite biblical/theological topic/area?
    For most of my life, I have wanted nothing more than to be a Neutestamentler. The tools of the trade are my first love: the Greek language, exegetical method and translation studies, textual criticism, hermeneutics, and the various critical methodologies. As my reading increased and (hopefully) became more sophisticated over the years, I discovered lively interests in biblical theology and the history of exegesis, which happen to overlap quite nicely at the crux of intracanonical exegesis (with special reference to the LXX as translation of its Vorlage and the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament). From there I have occupied myself with the reception and interpretation of Scripture in the Christian Church across the ages, starting with the Apostles: this is what I have called elsewhere the spectrum of apostolic-patristic-liturgical exegesis, which I still hope to see through one day as a major research project. In the meantime, I have found myself working towards a master’s degree in theology with a concentration in liturgical and sacramental theology, which I am now close to completing. Liturgy is my other great love, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to study the theology of liturgy thoroughly and in systematic context. These days I am awfully concerned about how to integrate all of these areas, so I have been exploring the literature on theological interpretation, and thinking a fair bit about themes in theological anthropology, as promising pathways to that end.
  4. Favorite scholars?
    It should come as no surprise to the readers of this blog that I should name Our Infallible Hero, the great Moisés Silva, as my favorite scholar of all time. Beyond him and J. Gresham Machen, to whom I have also dedicated a recurring feature on this blog, I must mention the late great Jaroslav Pelikan, my debt to whom is not quantifiable. These three scholars had an early and deeply formative influence on me. In the exegesis and biblical theology department, I must mention Richard Gaffin, Thomas Schreiner, and G. K. Beale: all in the school of Vos and Ridderbos. Fr Eugen Pentiuc has been doing some really exciting work in my areas of immediate interest, and I’m quite enthusiastic about his publications. My admiration for the Pope of Rome Emeritus Dr Benedict XVI knows no bounds, and I read him almost continuously. What a great theological mind is his! I have found much to admire in the works of Fr Aidan Nichols, O.P., and Matthew Levering, both of whom write prolifically and widely across the theological disciplines. I want to read more of them and learn from their example, which I have also attempted to do with the important and wide-ranging work of Henri Cardinal de Lubac, S.J. In Patristics, I thoroughly enjoy reading Khaled Anatolios, Fr John McGuckin, and Bishop Alexander (Golitzin) of Toledo, who now happens to be my own Bishop. Finally, I should mention Fr Dumitru Staniloae, the English translation of whose magisterial Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (in six volumes) was happily completed just in time for me to use throughout my current course of study. I am profoundly grateful for this.
  5. If you’ve been to SBL, describe a favorite memory. If not, describe what you’d be most excited about if you were going next year.
    No, I have not been to SBL in recent memory. Moreover, all other academic conferences in which I am interested seem to be routinely scheduled at personally, ecclesiastically, professionally, and even academically inconvenient times for me. I have therefore abandoned all hope that I might ever again make it to any such gathering. If, however, some miracle took place and I were able to attend SBL this year, I would be most excited of all to attend the biblibliogger dinner, if such were convened, and other blogger events. It would be a genuine pleasure to meet face to face the many people with whom I have interacted online for so long. (Of course, it is understood that no blogger dinner or reception could ever rival John Hobbins’ beach house spaghettata at SBL 2007 in San Diego, but clearly that was a once in a lifetime event.) I was going to say that I would also enjoy the book hall, but in truth I would be probably be too broke to buy anything at all!

Five Bloggers I Nominate

  1. Matthew Malcolm, Cryptotheology. I like Matthew Malcolm. A lot. But he grieves me by his refusal to get on the grid: he’s not on Twitter; he’s not on Facebook; he’s only on his blog. This means that if I’m away from blogging, we don’t cross paths online, ever. I’ve considered a move to Perth, Western Australia, to be able to engage him better and more often, but it occurred to me that I might try tagging him in something like this instead.
  2. Timothy McCormick, Catholic Bibles. Tim and I live within an hour of each other, yet we have only met up for coffee exactly once, three years ago. How tragic is that? And now I can’t even drink coffee! Well, I guess that the next time we can do a sandwich shop instead.
  3. Geoff Smith, My Blog. You know, I was going to include Geoff in this list anyway, but then I saw that he added me to his blogroll with the alt text, “The most frequently updated blog in the world.” That clinched it.
  4. Marc Cortez, Everyday Theology. You all might not remember it, but Marc owes me an exceedingly great debt: many moons ago, when he conceived the ill-fated idea to change the title of his regular roundup post to “Morning Links” (?!), I alone—Stephanus contra mundum—withstood him to his face and demanded the return of “Flotsam and Jetsam,” thus saving his brand. Yeah, you’re welcome, Marc.
  5. Mike Aubrey, Koine Greek. Mike is one of my very most favorite people in the whole wide world. Here’s a fun fact: he is the only person on this list who has been in the car with me as we drove on poorly lit backroads to our destination during a freak ice storm. We are survivors.

Five Questions for My Nominees

  1. Identify your chief area of expertise and three works that you consider to be of primary importance for it.
  2. Name three writers (academic, spiritual, or literary) whose works have had a formative influence on your thinking.
  3. You have the extraordinary opportunity to settle or correct, universally and definitively, three particularly grievous misunderstandings about your area(s) of study. Which three do you choose to address?
  4. Adapted from Pivot/Lipton: What profession other than your own would you like, or not like, to attempt?
  5. Last but certainly not least, Moisés Silva: great biblical scholar, or the greatest biblical scholar?
    (N.B.: There is no word limit for this last answer. Write like mad.)

Well, it took me a day and a half longer than I expected to complete this post, but I have relished the writing exercise! I thank Jen for the opportunity, and look forward to learning from the answers of my distinguished nominees, all of whom I sincerely hope will participate.

On Reading the Scriptures, Revisited

St Melania the Younger, from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000)

In the life of St Melania the Younger (c. AD 383-439, commemorated Dec. 31), we read that in addition to her time spent in prayer and the Divine Services, the copying of Greek and Latin manuscripts (her “principal employment,” we are told, at which she excelled), caring for the poor and other charitable endeavors, and the systematic reading of patristic and spiritual works, the Saint also assigned some hours daily “to the reading of the Holy Scriptures, which she read through from beginning to end four times during the year.”1 Since the feast of St Melania occurs on the last day of our Civil Year, her admirable example can be to us both a reminder and an encouragement to take up anew the reading of the Holy Scriptures with every New Year.

Of course, I have previously had occasion to address the subject of daily Bible reading in two well-received posts, which I now commend to the attention of any interested readers:

In these posts, I have attempted to explain why it might be beneficial to begin a program of systematic Scriptural reading with the Gospel and the Psalter, which are the backbone of the Church’s liturgical use and experience of the Bible, and offered suggestions on how to move from that beginning to a full-fledged reading program that incorporates the entire Scriptural canon. To these things I should now like to add a few short suggestions, later to be followed by a rather more substantial update on the various posts entitled “On Englishing the Church’s Bible” and the like, which update is now happily necessary.

In the first place, I might bring up the bugaboo of attrition: the obvious reason behind the multitude of Bible reading plans that make the rounds at the beginning of every year, and also the central concern of my above-linked posts. Needless to say, even the best designed plan cannot be considered an infallible remedy to the twin maladies of impatience and burnout. It is often the case that those who start small can become impatient at the slow rate of their progress, just as those who attempt too much tend to collapse under the burden of a reading program for which they are not ready. Moreover, even those who manage to proceed apace might eventually succumb to despondency in view of that rather long term of completion of any Bible reading program—anywhere from one, to two, or even three years. In all of these cases, attrition is ultimately due to untempered overeagerness. Of course, we all know (perhaps even from bitter experience) that people tend to start new projects with a great deal of enthusiasm, the intensity of which might noticeably fluctuate until it effectively fizzles out. It seems, then, that it should be possible to harness that initial impetus and apply it to a much shorter and more focused goal, which would then give way to the slower plan, incrementally augmented, as described in my previous posts. With this in mind, I should like to recommend The Daily Walk Bible NLT: 31 Days with Jesus, available for free as a Kindle book from Amazon, and in other formats through the publisher. This resource, equipped with short thematic introductions and outlines, simply walks you through the four Gospels in canonical order over the course of 31 days. You don’t like the New Living Translation, you say? Don’t let that become an excuse: simply download the free resource and follow their plan using the translation of your choice. With distressing regularity, the search for the “perfect Bible” merely functions as a thinly veiled device to grant us permission to avoid reading Scripture altogether. And if the pace becomes too accelerated, say, by the third week or so, there is no reason to quit: at that point, one may simply reduce the length of the daily readings from the Gospels to three, two, or even the one daily chapter proposed in my first post.

A second suggestion concerns the reading of the Psalter, which I indicated earlier could be done at the rate of a single stasis (i.e., roughly three Psalms) per day. However, I am pleased to share an appealing alternative: the “Greek Psalms in a Year” initiative, spearheaded by one Russell Beatty, that gets off the ground today. Modeled after our friend Abram K-J’s celebrated “Greek Isaiah in a Year” program for 2012, it aims to complete the reading of the entire Greek Psalter at the rate of roughly 4-6 verses per day. Abram has posted the reading plan, as well as many other resources for reading the Psalms in Greek (including links to a couple of dedicated discussion forums). It occurs to me that even those who are innocent of Greek might benefit from this reading plan: if one stasis a day becomes overwhelming after a while, one might well slow down the pace by taking in these small portions instead of ceasing to read altogether. It is, again, better to continue to read consistently at least a little bit than to give up entirely.

Finally, I should like to share with one and all the excellent Bible reading plan devised by Dr Mary Healy, Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and author of The Gospel of Mark in the superb Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series from Baker Academic. It will be noted that this plan has remarkable similarities with the final plan I have proposed here and elsewhere, as it starts out with readings from the Gospels, the Psalms, and then the rest of the Bible. However, it does not repeat the Gospels and the Psalms, so that the rest of the New Testament is read after the former, and the rest of the poetical and wisdom books are read after the latter. The daily divisions are very well thought out and are sensitive to the composition and structure of the various books, as one would expect from a world-class biblical scholar of whose deep immersion in the contents of Scripture the bards will sing one day. I can’t think of any reasons not use Dr Healy’s program of lectio continua, provided that after the Gospels run out in June 13, one should read at least the appointed Gospel reading for the day as printed in most ecclesiastical calendars. This is hardly an onerous addition, since there are fewer readings in Dr Healy’s program than in the full-fledged program proposed in my second post. Yet this rather minimal addition helps to keep the reading of the Holy Gospel a daily activity central to the Christian life.

The day is not yet over. There is still time to pick up, right now, the Holy Scriptures. Give the Gospels a read over 31 days. Or read one chapter of the Gospels and a stasis of the Psalms, or else Psalm 1 in Greek. Or read according to a yet more developed plan—whether Dr Healy’s, or the one proposed here, or even from one of the handful of truly excellent daily reading Bibles one can still find out there. Whatever plan you choose as better suited to your temperament, take up and read, and be patient and faithful. The rewards, as the remarkable life of the great St Melania reminds us, are abundantly ours both in this world and in the world to come.

Endnote:

1. Mariano Cardinal Rampolla del Tindaro, The Life of St Melania, translated by E. Leahy and edited by Herbert Thurston, SJ (London: Burnes and Oates and New York: Benzinger Bros., 1908), page 105.