Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Blue Parakeet: The Book and I

A few weeks ago I responded to an offer on Jesus Creed to receive an advance reader copy of Scot McKnight's The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Zondervan, 2008).

I'm happy to announce that the book has arrived today. As the subtitle indicates, The Blue Parakeet takes a look at how Christians have read, are reading, and perhaps should read the Bible. The first chapter, "The Book and I," takes its starting point from the most problematic of slogans: "God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me!" (p. 11), to which Scot responds, "Hogwash!" He then goes on to chronicle a number of instances in which the Bible is very clear in what it says, whether about observing the Sabbath, tithing, foot washing, and so on, but in which serious-minded, Bible-believing Christians don't seem to be very serious-minded about actually doing what the Bible is saying.

Scot writes autobiographically here:
What I learned was an uncomfortable but incredibly intriguing truth: Every one of us adopts the Bible and (at the same time) adapts the BIble to our culture. In less appreciated terms, I'll put it this way: Everyone picks and chooses. I know this sounds out of the box and off the wall for many, but no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, it's true. We pick and choose. (It's easier for us to hear "we adopt and adapt," but the two expressions amount to the same thing.) (13; my emphasis)

At this point (remember, I've only just begun reading) I find myself appreciate Scot's discussion on two levels. First, he avoids the too-easy criticism that other people are picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to observe and which to marginalize and acknowledges up front and openly that everyone picks and chooses. As he eventually says, "I knew there was plenty of picking and choosing on both sides of every question (18; original emphasis). Second, and more importantly, Scot doesn't approaching this picking-and-choosing as a problem to be corrected. Rather than asking, How can we stop picking and choosing and start observing every written letter?, Scot turns his attention to why:
I believe many of us want to know why we pick and choose. Even more importantly, many of us want to know how to do this in a way that honors God and embraces the Bible as God's Word for all times. (13; original emphases)

This is exactly right. The idea that we should treat every word of the Bible as of equal moral and ethical weight is, to re-use a word, hogwash. Is the proscription in Deut. 14.21 against boiling a young goat in its mother's milk on the same level as the injunction to love the LORD with all one's heart, soul, and might (Deut 6.5)? Of course not. Even the insistence, should one want to make it, that rather than choosing between these two commands we should observe them both does not obviate the point that the latter is weightier than the former. Scot's question — How can we pick and choose in a way that honors God and embraces the Bible as God's Word for all times? — is exactly the question with which Christians ought to be wrestling.

In all of this Scot keeps his focus on something far more important than the book's subtitle might have led us to expect: Not just how we read the Bible but how we live the Bible in today's world. But reading the Bible — and examining and challenging how we read the Bible — runs its own risks, how much greater are those challenges presented by living the Bible.

As I've said, I'm only just beginning The Blue Parakeet, and it's far too soon to say I like this book (or that I don't). But at this point I appreciate the questions Scot raises as well as his focus on living the text over merely reading it. To be honest, I suspect that "living" is what most of us mean when we say "reading," but it's good for us every now and then to remind ourselves that this is what we mean. I also appreciate the personal tone of Scot's writing. The questions asked here aren't (if I understand him rightly) about what we should think about war or homosexuality or foot washing or charismatic gifts. Rather, the questions ask what we actually think about such things on the basis of how we actualize the biblical text in our own moral and ethical decisions. These are much more serious questions, and (to be honest) I'm much less comfortable asking them.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

unicode question

I hate PCs. Life on my Mac is wonderful, and I can't understand why anyone would willingly subject themselves to owning and using a computer that decides for itself whether it will do what you ask it to do.

But some of my students are stiff-necked and uncircumcised of heart, and I find myself having to know how to explain to my sometimes hapless students how to manipulate their PCs into doing what it's been told.

But one thing I can't figure out for the life of me is how to make a circumflex accent [ᾶ] and a iota subscript [ᾳ] appear with the same character [as in ᾷ, which I've done on my Mac]. This is really easy on my Mac, but I can't get it on this PC I'm using at the moment. Any ideas?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Ig Nobel Prize winners announced

This year's Ig Nobel Prize winners have been announced. As a teaser, here's the Economics Prize:
ECONOMICS PRIZE. Geoffrey Miller, Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan of the University of New Mexico, USA, for discovering that a professional lap dancer's ovulatory cycle affects her tip earnings.
REFERENCE: "Ovulatory Cycle Effects on Tip Earnings by Lap Dancers: Economic Evidence for Human Estrus?" Geoffrey Miller, Joshua M. Tybur, Brent D. Jordan, Evolution and Human Behavior, vol. 28, 2007, pp. 375-81.

The rest are just as worthy of a quick glance.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

voting Green?

Cynthia McKinney, former Congresswoman (D) from Georgia and current Green Party presidential candidate, makes this asinine statement fully aware that cameras were rolling. As sick as I am of the current manifestation of our two-party system, this video reinforces my belief that political parties are like spouses: Problems with your current ones don't get better by adding more.

on digital natives

Today at insidehighered.com Andy Guess interviews John Palfrey and Urs Gasser about their book, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. They cover issues from encouraging students to develop the skills to assess information, to allowing or banning technology in the classroom, among others.

A short quote, this one from Urs Gasser:
From our interviews, we’ve learned that many digital natives place high trust in the pieces information that they find online. . . . Younger kids in particular are relying on quite surprising clues to make quality assessments online. The color of a Web site, for example, or the amount of text displayed on a Web site are frequently used as indicators of the level of quality of information. It’s rather obvious that these features are not necessarily reliable proxies. However, among the digital natives that spend a lot of time online, we see a different pattern emerge: They tend to be more skeptical when it comes to online information, and they usually visit more than one site to check whether the information found on a given Web site is credible or not. It’s somewhat counterintuitive: The more time kids spend online, the better the skills to make sound quality judgments. But it’s also important to understand that it’s generally challenging for children to assess the quality of information, regardless of whether on- or offline.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


I'm certain I'm missing something; I just don't know what. Perhaps you can help me out. In the NYTimes review of Religulous, the new movie from Bill Maher and Larry Charles that attempts to unite and call to action America's atheists and agnostics, I read the following:
Of the 16 percent who told Pew researchers they were [religiously] unaffiliated, only 4 percent said they were atheistic or agnostic; the others said they were “nothing in particular.” And even among disbelievers, 21 percent of atheists and 55 percent of agnostics said they believed in God[!]. (my emphases)

Clearly I've misunderstood what I thought was one of atheism's central atheological tenets . . .

[HT: Chris Brady]

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