"The object of all good literature is to purge the soul of its petty troubles." ~ P.G. Wodehouse

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Robert H. Gundry on "Learning for Spirituality"

Here is a brief excerpt from Robert H. Gundry's essay "Learning for Spirituality" which is in his new book Extracurriculars: Teaching Christianly Outside Class. It was originally an address given in chapel at Westmont College where Gundry is Professor Emeritus and Scholar-in-Residence.

"...my point...is not to work Christianity into your business. It's not to work spirituality into your learning. You should, of course. You should make your learning an act of worship by putting a Christian perspective on the literature you study, on the art, on the psychology, on the sociology, the political science--on whatever you study. Sometimes it'll be easy to do, sometimes hard to do. How do you put a Christian perspective on math? I don't know. Maybe our math teachers can tell us. But this morning isn't about putting learning into spirituality, about infusing our learning with spirituality. It's the other way around. It's about putting learning into spirituality, about infusing spirituality with learning, so that our spirituality will have density and depth and weight, so that our spirituality is thoughtful and wise and knowledgeable as well as warm and glowing and tender. Learning for spiritual formation means working everything you learn, in all your courses, working it into your Christian life and witness instead of keeping it separate from you spirituality. Instead of walling off your spirituality and keeping it supposedly safe from your learning, pray the Holy Spirit to make your learning nourish your spirituality, your Christian life, your Christian witness" (40).

What a wonderful description of what faith and learning, learning and faith, the spiritual life and the liberal arts is all about! If you enjoyed this quote, you should read the rest of the essay and the other essays in the volume. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Liberal Arts in Washington State

James McGrath just tweeted a link to this article by Michael Zimmerman at the Huffington Post. It is a great piece on the value of the liberal arts, and it highlights how employers actually want exactly what liberal arts grads have to offer. The exerpt from the winner of the student essay...superb! This is why I teach undergraduates at a liberal arts institution. This is why I believe the liberal arts is the best education on offer.

Anyone for a Canadian Consortium for the Liberal Arts? I am all for it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mark Sargent on the Value of the Christian Liberal Arts

Mark Sargent has been provost at Westmont College now for over a year. The following is a long excerpt on the value of Christian Liberal Arts Education from an article in the Westmont Magazine entitled "A Few Words from Mark Sargent" (Winter 2012). They are great words and reminders about what the liberal arts is and how important this sort of education has been and will continue to be.

The Value of Christian Liberal Arts Education
During my college years I often made long bicycle trips with friends along the California coast. For cyclists, few stretches of the road are more demanding than the Big Sur coastline, where the mountains press against the sea. For 70 miles the highway clings to precipitous cliffs, mixing sharp climbs and rapid descents. That stage of the journey requires full concentration on the thin white line along the road’s edge as you weave through the fallen shale and pine branches and avoid nervous drivers.Yet every now and then, after a long ascent, you reach a vista point.You can raise your eyes from that hypnotic white line to survey your environs: the clouds darkening the quiet ocean, the cypress twisting in the wind, and the whitecaps sinking into the crevassed stone.

The liberal arts are much like that slow trek along Highway 1. They will increasingly require both singular focus and breadth of vision. Few challenges will be more pressing for 21st century leaders and intellectuals than balancing specialization and wisdom. Scholarly or professional work often demands the intense concentration of a cyclist climbing a single hill one fierce pedal at a time.We may need, at times, to display the intellectual discipline to carry a single task to finer and finer levels of refinement. But we can also, like the weary and anxious cyclist, get obsessively preoccupied with the white line in front of us, on our own professional duties, scholarly ambitions, disciplinary guilds, or even the proprietary use of knowledge.We need to see our own labors and hopes against the grander vista—the wide history of human endeavor, the diversity of our global neighborhood, and the looming ethical challenges.

At its best, the Christian liberal arts college provides several remarkable vista points. Our task is to help students lift their eyes to see, as we endeavor to lift our own.Above all, we need to continually discover the beauty of the world the Lord has made. The Christian liberal arts—with its diverse fields of inquiry— should enrich our capacity for worship and wonder.The life of the mind is inflamed by discovery and gratitude for all that our Creator has given us. Exploring natural and special revelation is one of our prime callings.We undertake that task with the audacious hope that the broad vista of liberal learning can help us discern, more fully, how to know and to serve God.

We also need to encourage students to see the long panorama of the Christian faith—not just current doctrines and disciplines but the tradition of faithfulness.All of us came to faith at some point along the road, either in a quiet, restful spot through the guidance of family and mentors, or after a tough hill or crash. Evangelical students generally arrive at Christian colleges caught in their own moment, within their own generational stories and idioms.They need to study the various twists and turns in the course of Christian community and thought, both the legacy of great witnesses and the church’s moral failures.We need to help them discern their own road ahead, their sense of calling, realizing that the conscience of the future is often indebted to an understanding of the past. In short, we need to connect heritage and vocation in our students’ journeys.

Similarly, a Christian institution can connect the future and the heritage of the liberal arts themselves.Westmont is able to invoke the medieval synthesis of classical inquiry and Christian thought, when the liberal arts flourished among those who followed Christ.We can also blend this with the service-orientation, philanthropy and pragmatism of American evangelicalism into an ever-more vibrant model of life and learning, full of rich texts and transformative experiences.

For me, our essential goal is to awaken the moral imagination of our students. So many come to us with hearts eager to serve; they also need minds able to imagine new possibilities for social and spiritual hope.The scope of learning provided by the liberal arts encourages interdisciplinary solutions to contemporary issues, often overcoming some stubborn preconceptions, professional habits, partisan loyalties or even counter-productive philanthropy. American Christians, for instance, rushed millions of pounds of grain into rural Africa to address hunger only to discover that their actions undercut the markets for native farmers and, before long, actually increased poverty and starvation.The humanitarian needs the botanist and economist. Pursuing justice—and meeting social needs—requires the interdisciplinary and imaginative problem-solving skills that the liberal arts can cultivate.

To cultivate the moral imagination, the Christian liberal arts college needs to bolster its commitment to blend spiritual virtues and intellectual strengths. For instance, fewer skills may be more necessary for promoting international peace and the resolution of conflict than charity and empathy, the spiritual disciplines of discernment and even forgiveness before condemnation and violence. Our students also need to see the vitality of Christian thought in the marketplace of ideas, rather than retreating into subcultural silos. Even as our graduates learn to live civilly in our increasingly pluralistic society, they also need stronger confidence that bioethics can be enriched by Christian ideals of prudence, stewardship and human dignity—or that community development and economic reform are enhanced by the Christian practices for addressing the spiritual and psychological welfare of people as well as their physical needs.

Few things kindle the moral imagination more than respect for other peoples and cultures.The most significant influence on students’ personal and cognitive development is their peer group. Recruiting a more diverse student and faculty community— socially, ethnically, denominationally—enriches the intellectual and spiritual climate on campus, as we daily encounter the perspectives, experiences, and faith journeys of a broader range of the world’s citizens.The classical image of the liberal arts stresses both an encyclopedic gathering of the world’s knowledge and a commitment to pass the cycle of learning to a new generation.
In many respects, the Christian liberal arts college is the laboratory for the next generation of leadership in the church.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Translating the Bible and First Nations Languages

I sat in on Ruth Heeg's paper at the Native American Institute of Indigenous Theological Studies Symposium 2013 Friday afternoon. The paper was quite interesting, especially for someone who teaches Greek and challenges students to think about translation. Some sitting near me were less than enthused about the discussion of transitive and intransitive verbs and abstract nouns in Greek, English, and Algonquian languages. At some level, (μεν) I agree with them, but (δε) on the other hand, all of these grammatical details are important for translation, especially when it involves translating a text that means a lot to many people.

In her paper, Heeg focused on the translation of Greek abstract nouns in First Nations languages, particularly Algonquian languages such as James Bay Cree, Ojibwe, and Plains Cree, in New Testament doxologies. One passage she used as an example was Rev 4:11: “Worthy art thou, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things,and by thy will they existed and were created” (RSV). What is interesting about these First Nation languages is that they prefer verbs to abstract nouns, whereas Greek and English are very content with the use of nouns such as "glory," "honor," "power," and "will." These Algonquian languages would typically use a verbal phrase like "he-is-high-up" or "you-are-being-high-up" for "glory." (Another passage she noted that is full of abstract nouns is Mark 1:4: "John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.") The English equivalents of these First Nations languages in the doxologies have the effect of shifting the emphasis of the passage in a helpful way and, in my opinion, bring a fresh understanding to God's glory and working in the world.

Say for instance that Rev 4:11 is translated with a greater verbal sense and fewer abstract nouns. Something like this: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to be glorified, to be honored, to have power, for you created all things and all things exist and have been created because you wanted them to be." (ἄξιος εἶ, ὁ κύριος καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν, λαβεῖν τὴν δόξαν καὶ τὴν τιμὴν καὶ δύναμιν, ὅτι σὺ ἔκτισας τὰ πάντα καὶ διὰ τὸ θέλημά σου ἦσαν καὶ ἐκτίσθησαν.) I don't know if this is the case for everyone, but a translation like this, similar to what a First Nation language would prefer with verbal action over static abstract nouns, offers a broader understanding of God and what he is worthy of. It highlights more significantly God's action and will.

I am more of a formal translation person, but Heeg's paper is a reminder that in translation the target language plays an important role. If we create idioms and use phrases and words in ways that are not idiomatic to a language, the translation is of no help to those native speakers and readers. English is difficult to use as a barometer, since William Tyndale's translation of the NT and the subsequent KJV have had such a huge influence on the formation of English. As a native English speaker, the following verse from 1 Peter 5:1 has a richness to it, but when Heeg used it as an example, I wondered if that richness is due to the way in which the biblical text has informed modern English usage. "So I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed..." (ESV). Does it come more to life as: "So I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder and as one who has witnessed Christ suffering, as well as one who will partake in the revealing of the one who is to be glorified"? Peter's act of witnessing and partaking become more act and less abstract in such a verbal translation. However, verbalizing glory here is tricky. A choice has to be made about the subject of "glorify." Is it God, Jesus, believers, all of the above? I went with the ambiguous "one," although without a closer look, I would guess it is Jesus who will be revealed as glorified, but I also think there is a sense that believers will also somehow partake in that glorification. How is the glory/glorification to be revealed? When? In order to translate "glory" as a verb, many interpretational decisions have to be made. A closer look at "glory" and "revelation" in 1 Peter would help guide this and keep consistency, but this highlights the difficulties involved in translating.

Translation may seem overly detailed, but it is important. Making bread and wine have to be done in particular ways to. You have to follow the recipes, otherwise you don't have bread and wine. Regardless of translation philosophy, all translations in any language should seek to represent the meaning of the original as closely as possible in the language being targeted. This requires a knowledge of the original, but also a sensitivity to the idioms and flow of the target language.