Friday, September 25, 2009

Kenny's school doesn't run buses so I volunteered to drive on his class field trip yesterday. It was all day, 8:30 to 2:30, so Jeff had to take the younger two to school and pick them up at the end of the day.

I took Kenny and three classmates with two other carloads to the Stony Brook - Millstone Watershed in Pennington. If I had made it to that final lecture in Ringoes in late August, the drive to Pennington would have been more familiar. It was probably about fifteen years ago when I attended some RCIA training-type thing at St. James. And my preference would have been to detour a bit and take the scenic route down 29. Anyway. I'll get Kenny over to the Delaware one of these days.1

We left town via the Assunpink, some very rural roads. Reminded me of Iroquois, actually. And I suppose it is the same sort of thing, but state rather than federal.

I couldn't set my GPS to a proper destination no matter what, so I had to stay close to the other cars. And getting there was no problem. It was unbelievably humid. We ate snack as soon as we arrived. Then they put lunches in the fridge and our guide talked with us about insects. I was embarrassed with how much my kid wanted to monopolize the conversation as if it was only him and the guide. Looking over the pictures I took, I noticed in all of them he is always right next to whomever is talking.

She asked them which insect was their favorite and Kenny said that if the giant millipede were an insect it would be his favorite. Then he said that one night after Vacation Bible School this summer, he saw a stag beetle. I do remember a creepy bug on the sidewalk one night but mostly I remember Ella screaming her head off at the sight of it. It was hard to be interested in it with her doing that. And Kenny said that he removed a walking stick from the tennis court on Saturday morning to outside the field house. We watched it move towards and disappear into a nearby shrub. Ella was not scared of this one.

So then another kid tried to describe his favorite insect and he said, "I don't know the name ... Kenny would know it." And then Kenny said, "Rhinoceros beetle" and the kid said, "Yeah."2

The guide distributed butterfly nets and, with a class this small, she had enough for everyone. She explained how to sweep for bugs then turned them loose in a nearby open field. Kenny's science teacher announced that she wasn't going to enter the field. The other two moms made it clear that they were principally chauffeurs. One boy caught a butterfly straight away which got all the girls set on also catching butterflies. The yellow ones were the easiest to see against the green grass but they were also rare. The blue ones were more numerous but harder to see. You had to walk slowly through the grass to stir them up. The girls caught them and I helped them bottle them. Meanwhile, Kenny was catching grasshoppers with his bare hands.

We spent too long in the open field so we couldn't do the planned walk through the woods. That was alright with me, actually. But we caught plenty of bugs and after lunch we released the butterflies into the butterfly house. Kenny was only three when we went to the Bronx Zoo and walked through their butterfly garden. I forgot to remind him but I should.

The note sent home reminded people to bring extra water. Well, so I did and it's a good thing because half the kids either didn't or went through what they had brought. It was very humid.

The final 20 or 30 minutes of the field trip were spent in the gift shop. Now, I suppose gift shop purchases are a form of donation to the facility. At least I hope so. And I was prepared to dump whatever I had in my pockets into a plastic bowl marked "Donations" when we were all done. But then the teacher said something about ice cream before returning to the school and I thought I'd better hold onto my money, just in case.

No one helped the kids shop. And it seemed to me it could have been a good occasion to teach some life skills. One boy with $11 tried to buy $30 worth of stuff. The cashier had to help him pare it back, embarrassing him, making her uncomfortable and causing the check-out line to build up. Another girl warned before we left school that she didn't have any money to buy a souvenir. She was promised that she'd be taken care of. I saw her wandering around the store, muttering, "What can I buy with a dollar?" Her teacher had given her a dollar. I picked out a scarf with wildflowers on it and gave her a ten and suggested she buy it. I wasn't expecting her to pay me back but she did today. The teacher and her friend bought some nature books.

Look, I'm not a teacher. I don't know these kids. I understand that if the teacher helps one kid, she's got to help them all. Maybe. So she helps no one. I've helped out at many school book fairs and holiday boutiques. I handle my own kids differently because I know them. For instance, I wouldn't let Kenny buy these wooden snakes for his younger brothers because I knew they would break right away. I was happy with what he bought, actually. He made a good choice. And, of course, it's possible kids can take advantage but given the option between pleasant memories of a field trip and rotten memories, what's a few dollars?

The kids seem to have to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and have to endure some hard knocks. I remember never wanting any breaks when I was young. I'm not saying I was stupid then, I just now think everyone needs a break now and then.

Our first choice for ice cream, along 31 South, was closed for the season. I searched on "dairy queen" in my GPS but didn't find anything reasonable. I suggested the one by Six Flags even though it was the exit after ours and the teacher went with it. I guess they should have let me lead because they got off at the wrong exit and had to turn around. But it wasn't a major blunder. I told the kids I knew a shortcut, words that didn't convince any of them except my own. By the time I got my Blizzard and sat down, the boys at Kenny's table were questioning him about which level he'd attained in Gears of War.

1 He was excited enough to see the Trenton factory visible from 295. A flying pink pig would have made me excited.

2 Kenny had taken an insect book to school last week and showed it. He had taken it to camp too, I remember. So this was all a recent discussion for the kids.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jim wants us to read all of Mark and then the first two chapters of John. He wants us to see all the stuff about Jesus John doesn't include. I think that Mark is Jim's favorite. It's many people's favorite. I have no idea why. Maybe reading it will give me a clue.

Nearly all of his handouts were from Brown's books, like Introduction to the New Testament. He'll probably have something from The Community of the Beloved Disciple next time. But he handed out a paper that appeared in Review & Expositor in 1965 by a Raymond Brown. He was prepared to use it as an example of how accepted and accepting Fr. Brown was within the larger community of Christian scholarship. But it immediately struck me as odd for that journal to publish anything by a Catholic. In '65 or ever.

As he talked, I checked the footnotes of the paper and looked for a blurb about the author. The author cites Dodd and Bultmann, Lightfoot and Jeremias ... all man Fr. Brown might cite and has cited. But then also Calvin. Really, though, I needn't have looked beyond the byline because this paper was published by Raymond Bryan Brown, not Raymond Edward Brown. I said,
This isn't by Fr. Brown. His middle initial is "E."
Jim thought a minute and said, "You're right." He hardly ever says that to me so I relished hearing it. Regardless, it should be interesting to read the article and see whether the Baptist slips in any reference to the pope being antichrist.

We were studying Matthew when Michele began seminary and I gave her a copy of a short paper from Brown's New Testament Essays. I've since bought the book from Amazon's Used Books but at the time it was a copy that I'd received in grad school, though I can't remember which class. It's an exegesis on the Lord's Prayer from Matthew with a little comparison to the prayer as preserved in Luke. I thought, if nothing else, the paper would give her some idea of how to prepare an exegetical paper for seminary, even if she didn't happen to agree with Fr. Brown's conclusions. I remember never being told how to do an exegetical paper except to look at published examples and imitate them.

So then, shortly after beginning seminary, she told me that they were reading a Raymond Brown in her class on the Gospels. I was delighted to hear that his work had finally been received even in conservative circles. But then she wasn't sure whether it was the same Raymond Brown and I became aware of another Raymond Brown.1

And now that I have Kostenberger's commentary on the Gospel of John, I can see that even though Michele may have been instructed to read Fr. Brown, it was only for the sake of seeing his supposed faults:
Popularized by J. Louis Martyn and his colleague Raymond E. Brown, this view holds that the Fourth Gospel was actually authored by a group that traced its origins to John the apostle and that used the gospel story to work through conflicts it experienced in its own day. It was conjectured that the members of this "Johannine community" had been expelled from their Jewish mother synagogue in the aftermath of the curses on the Christians allegedly imposed on Christians around A.D. 90 and that the Fourth Gospel represents an attempt either to recover from this traumatic event or to evangelize some of the members of this mother synagogue. For a while this view, though virtually unsupported by direct evidence, rose to astonishing prominence, achieving almost paradigmatic status. But recently scholars such as Martin Hengel and Richard Bauckham have decisively shown that there is no historic evidence even for the existence of such a "Johannine community" and that John's Gospel represents, not a sectarian document, but rather an apostolic Gospel aimed at a universal readership. Encountering John, Kostenberger, 212-213.
As this book is written for a popular audience, there aren't any arguments given and the interested reader is directed to other books for more detail.

Two things bother me about this. First, Scripture typically served the purpose of a smaller group before it was adapted to have a broader appeal. Why should the Fourth Gospel be any different? Second, when someone steeped in Brown's paradigm presents at a Bible study, Kostenberger's words essentially shut her down. She gets pigeonholed as a heretic from the get-go. Not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything.

I suppose I could be pigeonholed as a heretic whether anyone has read Kostenberger or not.

1 I think there is even another Raymond E. Brown but Fr. Brown is so prolific it's hard to google anyone else.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I finished the first week's homework on Genesis 1-5 in two days. The approach includes marking key words and phrases in the text. I had to mark "Adam" and I found "the man" occurs more often (in the NASB). This is a translator's choice, isn't it.

My second time in recent memory studying Genesis; I studied it two years ago at a Presbyterian church. And I thought I got a good handle on the historical narrative, to the point of knowing what occurred in which chapters. But it gets foggy with time. And this study has a different focus, just on the first five chapters.

Something I was shocked to discover, then, considering my recent, intense exposure to the text was that a few of Cain's descendants listed in Genesis 4 make a second appearance in chapter 5 as Seth's descendants. Now, in my liberal brain, I have an idea of what's going on here. But I've yet to find a corroborating study note, as a footnote in the NAB merely points out what I observed without venturing an explanation. I'd better hold my peace until I look at a commentary or two. I have Waltke and Sarna from that study of two years ago. Those are probably good enough.

Since the homework takes a chapter at a time, it was suggested that chapter 1 really runs through to Genesis 2:4. The student is reminded that chapter and verse numbers were added later and not always well placed in respect to where a complete thought or subject comes to a transition. Now, it's clear and I agree that including the seventh day of creation with the other six in one chapter could make sense. But I learned from Sarna that the chapters and verses used in Christian bibles were introduced or adopted by a rabbi in 1330 CE for the sake of countering Christian polemics that made use of the references. Not a happy history. But, with all due respect to Eugene Peterson, freedom from the convention of chapters and verses has a price.1

Towards the end of Lesson 1, Second Timothy 3:16-17 is referenced and broken down into the four things that Scripture is good for: teaching (doctrine), reproof (showing how one is wrong), correction (turning the wrong into the right) and training in righteousness (how to live in a way deemed right by God). Then there are five fairly confrontational questions inquiring about one's willingness to obey the Scripture in Genesis:
Will you embrace the teaching of the Word of God or not? Were you reproved in any way by what you learned? Are you willing to correct that? Will you live in the light of what you learned? Will you obey?
I suppose it depends on the extent of the differences. All together, these questions seem to me like brainwashing, not unlike being informed, at the outset, that if I am a true child of God, I have the mind of Christ because of the Holy Spirit. That the Holy Spirit is like a resident tutor to me as a child of God.

A couple more things. I remember commenting two years ago how mind-boggling it is to think Adam living 930 years. How English has changed over that amount of time?! Imagine! Think about human progress2: culture, technology, one would be always adapting.

The other thing is how people move from being "blessed" of God to being "cursed" of God. God utters the words and it happens. I suppose I might benefit the most if I pay attention to the portrait of God presented in Genesis 1-5.

1: I see they've been added.

2: Alright, so maybe things don't always move forward but they always move. I'm still a bit of an optimist on progress.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I do not have many worldly ambitions for my children, but high on that short list of goals is that they know what happened on 9/11 in precise, exact, dispassionate, historic detail. Times and places and names and occurrences. We know so much and we've promised to never forget.

Kenny wrote a few paragraphs on 9/11 tonight for homework. His teacher shared that she lost someone in the Towers that day. Her sadness set an emotional tone in Kenny. I told him the day from my perspective. Naturally I want him to have my perspective, over against his teacher's. This ought to be a family memory. Perhaps if Kenny had been at school that day I would feel differently.1 However, do the math: he was at home with me.


Kenny's TV watching has given him a very strange idea of what happened on 9/11. I feel as if I have failed him in a very simple matter. Not knowing better, he skips over the actual events in order to talk in terms of debunking conspiracy theories. It's nonsense to debunk conspiracy theories without any knowledge of what events those theories attempt to decode.

I mean, before assimilating the proposed conspiracy theories and learning how to debunk them, it's necessary first to internalize what most of us think happened. After that's accomplished, there's no reason to be ignorant of the alternative narratives loonies propose or remain unaware of how the fiction falls short.

And, so, to that end, it seems to me that that his teacher lost someone helps Kenny acquire the foundational story. The story is grounded or rooted in her experience and sharing her experience gives Kenny - who has no memory of it - a way of entering the story. And my experience. And Jeff's experience. He catches it from us.

But it still might be a good idea to pop in a DVD that explains the whole disastrous day because, clearly, he learns by TV.

1 At public school one week and Kenny has already learned the word "lockdown," although not from actual experience, thankfully.
With no "review," things were pretty much done by the time I arrived to pick up the study materials. Instead of breaking, though, we went around the room with introductions. First time for everything. I spoke last.

A few stood out. One said practically nothing. Many had traveled, with one returning to the Middle East for several weeks.

This one gushed with enthusiasm about spirited conversations with a close relative who had been to Medjugorje. I wondered instantly if that place name meant anything to anybody.

This relative had had a vision while there ... and, if I heard right, had a photograph of the Marian apparition. Ever since, this woman had been troubled in various ways: woken at all hours by visions, scars to her flesh without medical reason and feverishly writing hymns and poems and songs of praise. Not an appealing spiritual condition to me.

And apparently, neither to the others. They might as well have had tiny, red flags. One asked point blank, from across the room, "Does she know the Lord as her Savior?" The facilitator uttered a caution that the praise be directed to God and not "to her," meaning Mary, I suppose. Both objectors were reassured that everything was copacetic.

Afterwards, I was inclined to whisper that I appreciated what she shared but there was no opportunity. Those two who met the obligation to "say something" did so temperately, without haste. She was not urged to conform ... but then, this was secondhand. It wasn't actually about her.

Rarely do we talk amongst ourselves. I can't expect anything like this to occur again.

Monday, September 07, 2009

I had read this so long ago that one would think I'd had learned it ...
I could not help knowing that most other people, boys and grown-ups alike, did not care for the books I read. … there was no point of contact, and this I accepted as a sort of natural law. If I reflected on it at all, it would have given me, I think, a slight feeling, not of superiority, but of inferiority. The latest popular novel was so obviously a more adult, a more normal, a more sophisticated taste than any of mine. A certain shame or bashfulness attached itself to whatever one deeply and privately enjoyed. I went to the Coll far more disposed to excuse my literary tastes than to plume myself on them.

But this innocence did not last. It was, from the first, a little shaken by all that I soon began to learn from my form master about the glories of literature. I was at last made free of the dangerous secret that others had, like me, found there "enormous bliss" and been maddened by beauty. … What had been "my" taste was apparently "our" taste (if only I could ever meet the "we" to whom that "our" belonged). And if "our" taste, then - by a perilous transition - perhaps "good" taste or "the right taste." For that transition involves a kind of Fall. The moment good taste knows itself, some of its goodness is lost. Even then, however, it is not necessary to take the further downward step of despising the "philistines' who do not share it. Unfortunately I took it.
- C. S. Lewis Surprised by joy: the shape of my early life

Thursday, September 03, 2009