Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday Morning, March 28th

Sometime in the middle of the night (must have been the wee hours of Friday morning) I woke to one of those eerie sounds you could never get used to. At first I thought an animal was dying just outside my window. But it sounded closer, like it might be coming from inside the house.

My next thought was that Michele must have gotten sick in the night (gross, I know, but that's what I thought). I reached over to find that she was in bed, sleeping peacefully. So what could that sound be?

After another minute or two, I finally realized that I was hearing an incredible howling wind.

By the time the sun rose on Friday, hardly any snow had fallen in Amarillo. But the TV weathermen were saying, "Just wait." As they predicted, it snowed without a break all day on Friday. Interstate 40 west of Amarillo was closed; so were the state highways going north out of the city.

Sometime that morning, Michele made potato soup and put it in the slow cooker. Around 6 that evening, with a little cheese and bacon bits on top, that soup turned out to be the perfect supper.

Before we ate it, though, we took a walk through the winter wonderland. It wasn't entirely by choice. We knew that all the local schools would be closed on Friday, and my step-daughter, Aubrey, had spent the night a friend's house about a half mile away.

We couldn't drive over to pick her up because our three cats, none of whom I like that much, were holed up in the garage. If we opened the garage door, they'd "run out and freeze" (Michele's words). So Michele and I walked the dog over to the friend's house with a sack full of warm clothes for Aubrey to change in to. Then we walked the dog and daughter back home.

As long as we were walking south, the first leg of the trip, it was merely miserable. By the time we made it to where Aubrey had spent the night, Michele, the dog, and I were frozen.

Once Aubrey had bundled up, we began the walk home, going north, straight into the wind, snow flakes hitting our faces like ice-cold pellets. The dog didn't seem to mind too much; the teenager in tow was not amused.

I coped by imagining I was a cold character in some Jack London novel. A little melodramatic, I know, but I've been doing that sort of thing since I was a kid and I'm not about to stop now.

Anyway, it's late Saturday morning now and that sound still hasn't stopped.

As you can probably tell from the photo above, Amarillo's Blizzard of '09 wasn't technically a blizzard. It didn't have the snow to qualify. But I think it had the wind.

Either way, the photo at the top doesn't really do justice to the amount of snow that fell. There are places where the drifts are two or three feet high. In other places, the snow is only an inch or two deep. I heard one of the local weathermen say that even they were having a hard time figuring out how much snow had fallen. There wasn't a spot where you could get a reading that hadn't been influenced by the wind.

Anyway, here's another photo facing north, away from the building. As you can see, the pay loaders have already cleared the parking lots at Amarillo College. Oh and that's my 1992 Ford Crown Vic, affectionately known as "Big Blue."

Thursday Afternoon, March 26th

I took this photo mid-afternoon on Thursday of this week. It was about 74 degrees, a beautiful day. Oh, that's the Amarillo Bible Chair, where I do a lot of my "work" reading, studying, thinking, teaching, praying, eating, and drinking coffee.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Weird Weather and Recent Reads

As I write this, it's not yet noon on Thursday and it's 66 degrees and mostly sunny here in Amarillo. Later tonight and tomorrow, we're expecting blizzard conditions and snow accumulations as high as 14 inches. Hard to believe. Maybe I'll take some pictures tomorrow.

- - - - - - - -

I like talking about books. Here are some of the ones I've enjoyed the most over the last year or so:

1. This edition of Augustine's Enchiridion (handbook) on Faith, Hope, and Love. Sometimes dense and baffling, almost-always profound and entertaining, the writings of Augustine, dedicated to God, haven't gotten old over the last 1500 years.

2. St. Paul by A.D. Nock. A Harvard professor who never finished a doctorate, Nock was a walking encyclopedia. He had a reputation for reading everything and forgetting nothing. This short book was originally a series of lectures delivered at a seminary. It sometimes anticipates contemporary studies of Paul. Oh, and Nock was also a teacher-mentor to likes of Abraham Malherbe and Everett Ferguson, who have provided intellectual leadership for the Churches of Christ for about a half century now.

3. N. T. Wright's two small books covering the Gospel of John. Wright's series of books on the New Testament--called "For Everyone"--is comparable to the old Daily Bible Study series by William Barclay. Not just newer, though, Wright's books are better.

4. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas' engaging memoir My Grandfather's Son. I wrote earlier about this book here.

5. John Grisham novels, The Street Lawyer and A Painted House. Does anyone tell a better story than Grisham?

So, what have you been reading lately? What books would you recommend?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On Reading from Books Versus Computers

I know I talked about it before. But I'm having so much fun reading Reading the OED. It's a new book by Ammon Shea, pictured above, who read the Oxford English Dictionary. That's 59 million words, give or take a few thousand, in one year. Who knew that someone who loves to read dictionaries could be so interesting? Here's part of Shea's reflection on why he didn't read the OED online:

You cannot drop a computer on the floor in a fit of pique, or slam it shut. You cannot leave a bookmark with a note on it in a computer and then come upon it after several years and feel happy you've found something you thought you had lost. You cannot get any sort of tactile pleasure from rubbing the pages of a computer. (Maybe some people do get a tactile pleasure from rubbing their computers, but they are not people I have any interest in knowing anything about.)

Reading on a computer screen gives you no sense of time or investment. The page always looks the same, and everything is always in the same exact spot. When reading a book, no matter how large or small it is, a tension builds concurrent with your progress through its pages. I get a nervous excitement as I see the number of pages that remain to be read draining inexorably from the right to the left. The fact that this will happen twenty times over as I read the OED does not in any way diminish its appeal.

I've never sat down at a new computer and, prior to using it, felt a deep and abiding need to open it up and sniff it as deeply as I can, the way I have many a book. To me, computers all smell the same, and their smell is not a nice one. And though a computer will unarguably hold far more information than even the largest of books, sitting down at a computer has never provided me with that delicious anticipatory sense that I am about to be utterly and rhapsodically transported by the words within it.

I've never looked across the room at my computer and fondly remembered things that I once read in it. I can while away hours at a time just standing in front of my books and relive my favorite passages by merely gazing at their spines. I have never walked into a room full of computers, far from home, and immediately felt a warm familiarity come over me, the way I have with every library I've ever set foot in.

This is why I do not care to read the OED on the computer.

Actually, that's not the best or funniest passage I've come across so far. It just happens to be what I read this morning and wanted to post. Can you relate?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

C is for Chloe

The morning after I got to Connecticut, Chloe and I drove down to New Haven for lunch at Claire's and for some shopping and just hanging out. It had been a while since I'd been back to Yale. So we spent some time just walking among the buildings.

I made Chloe stand there while I took her picture at the main entrance to the Sterling Memorial Library. Of the dozens of libraries on campus, this is the big one.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

B is for Benjamin

We went to eat at the Cheesecake Factory in West Hartford on a Friday night. It was a long wait, so we got our buzzer thingy and Chloe volunteered to stay in the restaurant lobby. The rest of us went over to the Barnes & Noble across the street.

Benjamin was to take the SAT the next morning. So he found one of the prep books and sat down for some last-minute study.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A is for Abigail

I'm in my hometown of Altus, OK tonight. Spring Break is nearly over for me. So I decided to make one more trip while I had the chance; drove over earlier this afternoon to spend a day with my folks.

Last Saturday, Abigail had a soccer game at this really nice indoor facility in Bristol, CT. Her team didn't come out on top this time. But she's one fine player.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Old Testament: A Very Short Introduction

I had a fine time in Connecticut; made it back to Texas last night. This time around, instead of reading a little bit of this and that during my travel day, I decided to read a book from beginning to end. I picked something that I'd be sure to get through by the time I touched down in Amarillo. Here's a quick review. . . .

In 1995, Oxford University Press launched a new series called Very Short Introductions. About 200 of these little books have come out since then, everything from Ancient Warfare to Hinduism to Wittgenstein. Written by a recognized expert, each one is designed to provide "a stimulating and accessible way in to a new subject." Among the latest is The Old Testament, by Michael Coogan, Professor of Religious Studies at Stonehill College and Director of Publications for the Harvard Semitic Museum.

I teach a first-year college course on the Old Testament almost every semester. So I decided to read this book mainly because I wanted to pick up some ideas and strategies for taking on this task. I found a good bit of what I was looking for.

A fine teacher, Coogan is at his best when explaining, for example, the development and canonization of Tanak(h), sometimes called the Hebrew Bible (pp. 1-11); or how source analysis, form criticism, feminist readings, and the canonical approach might be applied to the first fifteen chapters of Exodus (43-47); or the contents of the book of Job and how that book represents a strong, dissenting voice among the many voices that can be heard in the Jewish Scriptures (106-110).

Conservative readers might be put off by any number of things in this book, like Coogan's assertion that the chronology of the Bible is often unreliable and sometimes just wrong (23), or his questioning of the existence of Abraham and the historicity of the Exodus (32). At times, I found his endorsement of Enlightenment culture a little over-the-top, like when he speaks of modern philosophy as critical thinking without presuppositions (21).

In spite of these and other possible sticking points, some of Coogan's simple categories and explanations are just so good, I plan to use them in my own teaching. Everyday Bible students might read this book to get a feel for how the Old Testament is usually studied in an academic setting. Preachers and teaching pastors can use it as a quick refresher, or to get a few tips on how to make the Old Testament not so intimidating to people in the pew.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Spring Break in New England

Yeah, I know. My title sounds like a collaboration between Barry Manilow and the Beach Boys. Anyway, the title for my life on Thursday was "Amarillo to Hartford on Southwest: One Man, Three Planes, Four Flights, 2100 Miles." And here I am back in Connecticut.

Friday was such a great time with my children. Chloe's on Spring Break from UConn this week. So I picked her up that morning (yes, she was devastated about the previous night's basketball game). We went down to New Haven for lunch at Claire's Corner Copia, hanging out in bookstores, etc. Chloe wound up buying a new pair of shoes. She really liked them and besides, "They were originally $100!" (Sigh. Cha-ching).

I, on the other hand, wound up buying two new books: Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages. (Yeah, that's where I got the phrase above). The book is Ammon Shea's story about reading all twenty volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary in one year. That's the equivalent of about one novel's worth of reading every day, for a year, through the world's greatest, most-technical English dictionary. He has a chapter for each letter of the alphabet, talking about some of his favorite words. For someone who sits around reading dictionaries (he's been doing it since age ten), Shea is one entertaining writer.

I also got Michael Coogan's volume on the Old Testament in Oxford's "Very Short Introduction" Series. So far, I've found this series to be a bit of a failure, mainly because the authors have a hard time hitting a balance between "informed, solid coverage" and "very short." It's the nature of the beast as far as I'm concerned. We'll see how Coogan does with the Old Testament.

Later in the day, we picked up Benjamin and Abigail. The four of us got to spend some time just hanging out together. Then it was looking around in the Barnes & Noble, followed by dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in West Hartford.

More about books: On the plane rides up here, I read most of Jon Meacham's book American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of Nation. I suspect every religious professional in the U.S. should read this book--at least the first 80 pages or so--especially if one doesn't know much about the history of the First Amendment. Meacham's book goes a long way in proving that the framers of the Constitution were neither Tom-Paine type anti-religionists nor conservative Protestants bent on making the United States a Christian nation. The book is well-written and full of tasty quotes from people like Jefferson, Adams, and Madison.
- - - - - - -
So I'm done with the Rice Haggard series from a couple weeks back. But that experience made me realize that there are several topics I'd like to do a series of posts on. Here are a few that are running around in my head:

As Good As It Gets: The Message of Ecclesiastes

Our Turn to Preach: Structures and Message in Matthew

The Basics of Buddhism

Chapters in a Life of Paul

So, You Want to Learn Hebrew

Church Elders and Their Children
- - - - - - -
I'm sitting here writing this post at Michele's parents' place, my Connecticut home. I've said it before, but they're such fine people, such great hosts. I'm thankful for them and for this place.

And now, we're off to Abigail's soccer game for this afternoon.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Back Again, Leaving Soon, Psalms, Ecclesiastes

Last weekend's visit to Lubbock turned out even better than I expected it would.

For one thing, Kevin Schaffer wound up traveling with me and Ken Danley. Kevin, a former member of Acappella, is the worship minister at the Central Church of Christ. We'd met once or twice before. But the car ride to Lubbock and back gave us the chance to get to know each other better.

Over the weekend I got to talk with, learn from, and worship with the following people: Terry and Charlotte Smith, Jeff Walling, Randy Harris, Mike Cope (who, if you hadn't heard, announced a transition this week), Scot McKnight, Greg Taylor, Brandon Scott Thomas, Randy Gill, Larry Mudd, and Tod Vogt. Rich stuff.

Spring Break is next week for us. I plan to get an early start, flying out to Connecticut later this week to spend some time with my kids.

- - - - - - -

This month, I'll finish out a Sunday-morning class on the Psalms that I've been teaching at Central.

Next month I'll be teaching a four-week, Wednesday-night series on Ecclesiastes at the Colonies Church of Christ here in Amarillo. I'm so looking forward to doing that class. For one thing, I'll have the chance to get better acquainted with the people at that congregation. And, this will also force me to go ahead and finish out some material on Ecclesiastes that I've been trying to put together for a long time now.

As a lot of people have discovered, Ecclesiastes is one of the more-interesting books of the Bible. To their credit, the people who put the Scriptures together decided not to squelch this dissenting opinion.

Getting ready to teach Ecclesiastes, I've thought about working through one of the newer commentaries. I've read the great, older works of Robert Gordis and Graham Ogden.

What newer books (or classics) would you recommend?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Zoe Conference in Lubbock

Is anyone else out there going to attend the Zoe Conference in Lubbock this weekend?

My friend Ken Danley and I plan to go. I'm really looking forward to it. Scot McKnight, whom many of you know from his books and his blog, Jesus Creed, is going to be the keynote speaker. Should be good.

Anyway, if you're planning on being there too, drop me a note. I'd like to meet up with some fellow bloggers there.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Trip to the Wat Lao Buddharam of Amarillo

On Wednesday, Feb. 25th, my "Introduction to World Religions" class took a field trip to the one place here in Amarillo, Texas where we could get a taste of traditional Buddhism: the Wat Lao Buddharam, which means something like "Laotian Buddhist Temple." The campus, which includes several acres and a number of buildings, is located at 4695 Hwy. 136, just inside Amarillo Loop 335, and is open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm every day.

I had been trying to set up such a trip for a long time. Some of my first phone calls were answered by a monk who didn't speak much English at all, just enough to tell me that the one man who did speak English wasn't there. And since I hadn't gotten very far with my Laotian language studies, well. . .

Eventually, though, I was able to meet up with a new friend, Bantun, a monk who speaks English quite well and who agreed for my class to come out.

Coming through the entrance gate, we saw the small temple pictured at the top. We were told that this facility usually sits empty, used only on special occasions like the ordination of a monk.

Once inside the main building, which doesn't have the ornate exterior, we were greeted by Bantun who spoke to the group and answered our questions. Over all, it turned out to be a good trip, one that my students and I won't soon forget.

I really like it when my classes can get out of the classroom and do something out of the ordinary, something they didn't expect when they signed up for the course. People truly learn and retain things that they actually do. And, while things like field trips, experiments, etc., always involve more risk and inconvenience than keeping everyone in the classroom, I think that the extra effort is worth it.