Monday, February 28, 2011

Accomplished between Thursday morning and Sunday evening:

  • Scanned** and took notes on six books for my paper,
  • Met with my supervisor about my essay topic,  
  • Wrote 2000 words of my 4000 word term essay,
  • Made, ate and shared an apple pie, crust and all – yum!,
  • Wrote and revised a flute obbligato for a choir piece,
  • Spoke at Nicky’s baptism,
  • Scanned three books on the way to Ipswich (hour+ drive),
  • Played with the Cambridge YSA choir at the Ipswich Stake Sacred Music Festival,
  • Wrote a detailed outline (1300 words) for a forty-minute scholarly talk,
  • Organized a handout with New and Old Testament passages and suggested reading list,
  • Played with the choir in Sacrament Meeting,
  • Spoke about Jewish-Christian relations at the Cambridge Methodist Society Luncheon, and
  • Traveled to London for two of the Jewish Book Week lectures at the Royal National Hotel.  
**Definition: Quickly skimming the relevant portions of some, most or all of the work for material, evidence and ideas. 

Phew!  What a weekend!  I spent all day today recovering (since most of the above was done at the expense of eating and sleeping).  Part of the recovery process involved watching a portion of one of my absolute favorite films.  I love this!: “Plum puffs won’t minister to a mind diseased in a world that’s crumbled into pieces.”  Can you name it?  :)

Looking forward, the next few weeks will be busy as well.  Courtney and I will be in Dublin from Thursday morning to late Saturday night.  On Monday the 7th, Kathryn and I are attending a masquerade formal dinner at Emma.  On Tuesday the 8th, Simon Schama will be lecturing for my program!  This man made my undergraduate capstone paper possible.  Instead of speaking about the skeptical and experiential biblical interpretations of Caravaggio, though, he will be speaking about Muslim, Jewish and Christian relations.  I think it absolutely fabulous that this man can speak on ALL of my favorite subjects!  The two weeks following will be a mad scramble to finish and perfect my end-of-term paper (due Friday the 18th) and then, most fabulously of all, I get to see David the next day and every day for two more weeks! Bring on the month of March!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sorry for another academic post, but it's kind of my life right now...

I should be worried about someone copying my work or ideas, but I think I'm just going to trust my readers.  I feel like sharing my rough (and let that dissuade any who might be tempted to copy) dissertation proposal draft:

"One of the defining aspects of Adversus Judaeos literature is its descriptions of the destruction of the temple as evidence of the delegitimization of post-Christianity Judaism.  However, we see in other writings of the early Church Fathers, in the creation and symbolic use of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and in Christian eschatological expectations a fixation on the temple as a legitimate feature of God’s kingdom on earth.  Despite Adversus Judaeos literature, the Jewish temple cannot be discounted in Christian theology.  I am interested in researching the role and evolution of temple in Christianity, choosing to take my research in one or more of the following possible directions:

       Comparing and contrasting between temple as a legitimate concern for Church Fathers and temple in Adversus Judaeos
       Understanding the fixation on Jerusalem and the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as replacement of/model for the temple
       Analyzing the implications of temple in Christian eschatological expectations
       Connecting the origins of and need for Christian liturgical ritual to the Jewish temple, noticing the curious contrast to Rabbinic Judaism’s post-destruction abandonment of ritual." 

I also feel like saying that the above dissertation topic(s) is a departure from the topic I planned to explore during my time here.  Ever since my trip to UC Berkeley in November, 2009, I had planned to write my thesis on the ways in which Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites function as cultural and political symbols for communities in the modern State of Israel.  I still love that topic, but decided to change directions due to the time, language and location constraints of my current degree.  However, I felt a bit sad tonight while listen to Dr. Josef Meri lecturing on "Past, Present and Future Historical Memories: the Impact of Key Texts, Objects and Rituals on Muslim-Jewish Relations" because I realized again how excited these issues make me. Dr. Meri talked about the City, Home, Landscape and Holy Site as repositories of collective memory and areas over which varied religious communities can interact and cooperate.  It is so fascinating to me that places, buildings, cities and objects can hold such meaning for people and communities.  I think my fascination must come from my own feelings of attachment to place.  I feel such a glorious sense of sorrowful nostalgia when I think of my own Rocky Lane, Minnesota, for example. Studying the ways in which that nostalgia triggers emotional and religious response in others, however, will have to wait for another degree...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

יישר כוח

Tonight I went to Cambridge's "ulpan" (Hebrew learning) evening for the first time this term.  It was in the shul (pronounced shool) instead of the Jewish student room and so I was able to experience some of what happens there during the week.  There were only two Hebrew learners tonight, so while Simon - Sarah's husband and the Jewish chaplain - worked with the beginning student, I read through "מעשה בלפת ענקית" (ma'ase b'lephet anakit or "Tale of the Enormous Turnip"). While I was learning words like "to debate with oneself," "to draw out," "varied," "craftsman," "your Excellency" and "to plot," I was also mindful enough of my surroundings to feel that unbidden sense of longing that tugs at times like these: my own form of holy envy.  The term was first coined by Krister Stendahl, a Lutheran theologian and Harvard School of Divinity professor who developed an interest in Jewish Studies and began participating in Jewish-Christian dialogue because of his interest in the Jewish context of the New Testament.  In 1985, when he was the Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm, Stendahl gave a presentation to a press conference in response to Swedish protests against the building of a Stockholm temple by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It was called "The Three Rules of Religious Understanding." His three rules were:

  1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
  2. Don't compare your best to their worst.
  3. Leave room for "holy envy."
 There are aspects of Judaism that I admire and, in a way, long for in my own tradition.  Tonight I was "envying" the Jewish sense of community as I have many times the past few months.  I sat there in the synagogue, reading my children's book in Hebrew, listening to two men conversing about piel verbs and smichut next to me.  Behind a drawn back divider curtain, two other men were loudly studying Torah together, singing out the Hebrew and spinning the liturgical language so quickly that the syllables started running into each other. They worked their way through relevant midrashim, shouting out the opinions of Rashi and then Rambam, this rabbi and that rabbi.  I could turn my head their direction and see another man in front of the bimah (raised reader's platform), rocking gently, praying softly to himself.  To my left in the kitchen were the sounds of a young woman cleaning up after her dinner.  The Hebrew student next to me was eating the remains of her creation and I could smell how delicious the kosher pie must have been.  This Jewish confidence in peoplehood was manifest in the cacophony of sounds I heard tonight, in their common language, their ritual garments and modest dress, their cheerful dietary discernment, in the Torah Ark in the corner of the room and the religious texts laying well-worn on all of the tables and desks.  This building was a well-loved place of study and worship, not just for the individual, but for the students to lift and learn together.  Though I have great faith and find great joy in my own religious tradition, I find myself yearning not only to borrow a chair for an evening, but to belong to that building and her people.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In-the-Absence-of Travel Companion

David and I share a troll:

I took it and other trolls from Laura White to give to my sister for Christmas last year (I thought Becky should have a taste of my childhood).  I kept this one, mostly to give me a taste of my childhood, though I think I probably told myself it was for my future children. Somehow Dave and I started hiding it around the house for the other person to find.  If any of you entered our home between September and December and noticed the troll sitting in the arms of the white mother and daughter statue on the book case by the door, you should know that statue was its final BYU-student-apartment resting place.  The troll disappeared in the hubbub of the move, and I didn't give it a single thought...until I found the troll in my cereal box my first week back in England.  David had found a spy in my roommate, and sent it to Europe with her.  Luckily for the troll, that means that he now has the opportunity of touring Europe with me in place of my husband:

Thinly Disguised

Before I returned to England the second time, I was reminded very strongly of an email my brother had sent from his mission in Africa:
The border was a nightmare, it took us forever to get into Zambia, and the officials at the station ripped us off because we were Americans. The AP, said that one time, he was taken into a back room, and they wouldn't let him leave until he gave them a bribe. It's funny because there was a big poster on the wall that said 'ZAMBIA IMMIGRATION: we don't tolerate corruption.'  Yeah right.
I experienced my own border nightmares the first time I attempted to come to England.  You can read all about them here.  In summary, I had to wait a month and a half, only to hear that my passport was going to be rejected due to an error I had made while filling out the forms.  So I canceled my application and lost $130.  I had done everything possible to try to fix the mistake, but the agency makes it impossible to talk to anyone at the consulate.  They hire a third-party company to deal with concerns, but I received only an automated (and very unhelpful) message from them.    I had called and emailed, and finally, out of desperation, sent my angel mother-in-law to LA to speak with someone face-to-face, which was also impossible we discovered.  Because I desperately needed my passport returned, Paula asked the guard if someone could look at my passport application to determine if it would be accepted or rejected.  The woman at the consulate office said over and over that no one had time to glance over the application - it would have taken 30 seconds!  By the time I decided to cancel my application, I was so thankful to have my passport back in my hands before my flight that I barely thought of the money I had lost in the whole confusing, frustrating process.  

I learned an important lesson.  When I applied for a new visa over the Christmas holiday, I decided to pay the extra money to expedite automatically.  I did not want to risk another two month procedure!  I spent around $250 to purchase the visa and expedite it and, to what should have been my delight, I had my passport and visa back in my hands less than forty-eight hours after I had dropped the envelope off at the post office! I wasn't delighted; I was disgusted.  I hadn't imagined that my ability to receive and retrieve my entry visa would be so similar to that of my brother's AP attempting to enter Zambia. 

I am grateful to have a visa this time; the other evening I purchased tickets to both Ireland and France.  I feel comfortable in my ability to leave and enter the country freely.  I can't blame the economics of the border agency.  They cater first to those who are willing to pay most for the product: market economics at its best.  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Please explain your life to me. What the heck is going on with you?": On Life and the House (for the patient and confused among you)

The title to this post is from a friend who realized that within two months time, our lives were completely different than what we had previously reported they would be.  This post is for her and for others of you who have wondered the same thing.  It is also for those of you who voted for your house preference (thank you!!) and have since wondered about our choice.

David and I are happy and positive about the future.  I will start there :)  But I will admit, things are very different than we had planned.  When my mentor at BYU suggested two years ago that I could complete a graduate degree if David and I lived separately for a time, I laughed at him.  I valued education and had ambitions for my future, but  I didn't value education that much and I didn't hold that many ambitions!  It appeared an unnecessary sacrifice and one that would ultimately be detrimental to the goals David and I had for our marriage and family.  It seems, though, that the words of my professor were prophetic; I both begrudge him for it and stand unwillingly impressed.  We had intended to be in Cambridge together, maybe for several years beyond the end of my courses here.    For various reasons, those hopes disintegrated and we are working our way through the first of five lonely months.  However, we were extremely blessed in Dave's options for employment.  He received two Bioinformatics job offers during his final semester at BYU: one for a position at Rutgers University and one at Arizona State University.  We chose the job at ASU because of its proximity to family and its opportunities to work with some of the impressive names in his field.  We moved to Arizona on Monday, January 3rd, which made our holidays slightly hectic!  In a way, though, it was nice that I had so much time to acquaint myself with the area before returning to England.  Dave found an apartment close to campus and began his career (!!) on January 10th.  He likes his coworkers and is loving the opportunity to become an expert in the Bioinformatics ways.  Whenever he misses me too much, he reminds himself that he works in a high-security building protected by a retinal scanner, and that cheers him up well enough!  To break up the time apart, David is coming to England for two-weeks in March (negotiated up front in his interviews and included in his employment contract - phew!).  I'm afraid I have spent long, distracted hours this term planning our time together :)

During my time in Arizona, I spent long hours driving the neighborhoods and visiting houses with our realtor.  When I left at the end of January, we had narrowed our options down to two, as many of you will recall.  I will admit, we had already decided on the condo when I posted, but I was curious for the opinions of house-owners and house-owners-to-be!  The proximity to campus sold us on the condo; if the house had been closer I think we definitely would have jumped on it.  As poor first-time-homebuyers, it was comforting to know that we could always rent the house to students if for some reason we were unable to sell the next time we moved.  What actually happened, though, was that both the house and the condo fell through.  After considering several other options, we decided to put our house-buying on hold.  Never fear, though!  The words of advice so many of you offered will go to good use when we return to our search in a few months.  I will be sure to post pictures of the house or condo we purchase later this year.

SO, in summary:  David is in Tempe and I am in Cambridge.  David is a Bioinformatics researcher at ASU at the BioDesign Institute and I am a master's student in Jewish-Christian Relations at Cambridge.  When I return (permanently!) to the States in July, I will be returning to Tempe, Arizona, where David and I will commence our search for the perfect first home.  In the meantime, we both love each other and talk on Skype every day :)

Dover and Canterbury

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Peek Inside the Cambridge Classroom

Below are four successive posts containing notes, thoughts, and quotes from some of the lectures and seminars listed in my post from last week (if you missed it, you can read the list here).  These posts came at popular request, but I was already composing the drafts to post anyway.  I think it's about time you see what I'm up to out here.  If you would prefer not to read them all, look through the posts and read only the ones that interest you; you will see a brief description of the post at the top of each one.  I hope you enjoy :)


Thoughts on the seminar on Wednesday, 26 January: with Edward Kessler discussing Translation and Interpretation:

There are ten of us in the program but only five who study in the classroom.  Three of the five of us graduated from BYU.  Though it feels more familiar this way, there are disadvantages to having three of us from the same religious background and scriptural experience. 

For example: the other day Kathryn, Courtney and I were the only ones in class as the other two were unwell.  We were discussing the difficulties of translation and the extent to which interpretation affects translation.   We were given various translations to compare with the original text and asked to identify specific theologies held by the translators.  The text was Gen 8:21: “And the Lord smelt the grateful odour.”  The Targum Onkelos (Aramaic translation done in the first or second century BC) translated this text as “And the Lord received with grace their offering.”  My thought was that the translators were worried about their audience understanding the meaning of the original text; one would have to know it was the smoke that was being offered as a sacrifice.  “Receiving their offering” helps clarify for those who might not understand the Lord “smelling the odour.”  Courtney and Kathryn  had thought something similar. 

Our lecturer did some “umming and arring” (as they say here) and after some talking around it a bit more, he twitched in slight frustration and told us the answer he’d been looking for: anthropomorphism.  The translators didn’t believe in an anthropomorphic (human) God.  It was the smelling that was the problem – to these people smelling was a base human sense and couldn’t be imposed on a high, great and glorious God.  I almost started laughing – three Mormons alone in a classroom and we were supposed to recognize the theological difficulty of scriptural “personification” of a non-human God.  I can safely say that had we sat in that classroom all day long staring at that verse, none of us would have considered it.  [I should note, the point was not to teach or inform us that God is or isn’t anthropomorphic.  We were only supposed to recognize the theological position of the translators.]

Transforming the World

Quotes from the preparatory reading for the seminar on Tuesday, 1 February with Edward Kessler and Rev. Michael Thompson discussing Paul and the Jews (using Romans 9-11 as a case study):

Influenced by Martin Luther’s spiritual experience, a traditional Protestant interpretation sees Paul reacting to a Judaism that was a religion of works instead of faith, of doing instead of trasting.  Luther’s own struggle to gain peace with God was resolved when he began to interpret Paul as teaching a fundamentally different way of relating to God in contrast to the way of Judaism.  Luther read Paul’s description of Jews and of Old Testament religion through the lens of his own experience of medieval Roman Catholicism that emphasized the importance of works of penance (not to mention the sale of indulgences) to help secure one’s salvation.  Luther’s understanding of justification by faith alone, apart from works, then became for him and his followers the decisive truth revealed in Christ, and the centre of Paul’s theology  (4).   

“When we fail to see Paul’s corporate emphasis, we run the risk of turning a faith that teaches our mutual interdependence into a religion of privatized piety, as though God were concerned only to save individuals instead of building his church and transforming the world” (6) 

“The separation of belief and action, of faith and works is alien to the teaching of Jesus.  It can lead to antinomianism and the marginalization of a multitude of NT texts that emphasize the importance of what we do.  It is a striking fact that apart from the Gospel of John, every text in the New Testament about God’s final judgment of humanity reflects the OT tradition of judgment according to deeds, not simply what a person professes.  We look in vain for a passage describing how God will ask people what they believed; their lives will have revealed it.  To drive a wedge between belief and action is to encourage self-deception, cheap grace, and the kind of thin pious veneer that James rightly rejects (James 2:14-26).  That does not mean that salvation is earned by what we do; it is simply to affirm the biblical truth that the fruit we bear reflects who we really are and what we really believe.  Fortunately the God to whom we all give an account is gracious and understanding, already at work in us to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13)” (7).  

From Michael B. Thompson's "The New Perspective on Paul," Grove Books, 2005.  

Most Pernicious Hypothesis

Thoughts on the lecture on Wednesday, 2 February with Daniel Langton discussing the topic "Evolution and Jewish-Christian Relations":

There was something strange about the lecture; it simply didn’t bring forward the sorts of religious anti-Darwin protestation I was expecting.  There was some protesting, but where I was expecting expressed concerns about the origins and nature of humankind, I received instead concerns about a disorderly natural world.  One Jewish anti-Darwinist said this:
“In a moral point of view the Darwinian hypothesis on the descent of man is the most pernicious that could be possibly advanced […] chiefly because it presents all nature as a battleground, a perpetual warfare of each against all in the combat for existence, and represents the victors as those praiseworthy of existence, and the vanquished ripe for destruction…Peace in any shape is illegitimate and unnatural”   (Isaac Mayer Wise, The Cosmic God). 
This was also given as the chief concern of the European Christians of Darwin’s time.  The lecturer mentioned the concerns of American Protestants in terms of the literalist reading of Genesis, but the particular concerns he mentioned were the issues of time (each creative period equaling twenty-four hours) and the distinct creation of species.  Again, no mention about the divine creation of man.  I pondered the problem and found an answer again in my LDS background: Mormons are most concerned with the phrase “created in the image of God” because we believe that God is a man (perfect, yes, but a man with a physical body) and that we were literally created like Him, and that we were the only species created in His image.  For this reason, the concept of an inter-species evolution is problematic.  This particular belief about the nature of God is unique to Mormons, though, and so is not a problem for other sects or faiths.  On the other hand, Jews and Christians had always observed a beautiful, complete, ordered world – a perfect world created by a perfect God.  Darwin’s observations of a world filled with chaos, disorder, competition, death, struggle, suffering, and “an awful lot of waste” (as the lecturer said) threaten the afore held natural theology of the monotheistic religions.  Mormons believe the natural world fell with Adam and Eve and so the same struggles that humans must endure in this life are also experienced by our natural surroundings.    Just as life can be beautiful despite the struggles (and sometimes because of them!), nature is also beautiful, despite its struggles.  

Of Meaning and Defeating Probability

Transcribed notes from the lecture on Wednesday, 2 February by Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks discussing the question "Is There a Role for Faith in Modern Britain" (the West):

In 1832, Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and was astounded at the multitudes of worshipping church-goers in such a modern, enlightened world.  If de Tocqueville expected the world to progress away from what he considered an old-fashioned and untenable faith, how much more would he exclaim at the magnitude of religiosity today, nearly two hundred years later and in a world far more technologically and scientifically advanced?  “More people go to a place of worship every week in America than in Iran.  There are more Christians in China than members of the communist party.  Our nations are desecularizing.  Why?” 

Nothing else answers the most basic of questions asked by mankind:
1.       Why am I here?
2.       Who am I?
3.       How then shall I live?

"An examined life needs to find some meaning in it."  Like our brains, which are divided into one scientific, mathematical half and another half dealing with relationships, emotions and meaning, our ability to make sense of life is divided too.  “Science takes things apart to see how they work,” the rabbi said.  “Religion puts things together to see what they mean.” 

This can be explained by an illustration from sports.  If an anthropologist from Mars (theoretically, of course) came to our world and approached a football stadium, he might think he was witnessing some kind of religious ritual.  People would be there jumping up and down and screaming, completely invested physically and emotionally.  The martian asks “What is this?  What is going on?”  A kindly observer sits the martian down and explains every rule of the game, precisely and with care, until the martian can repeat the rules back with exactness.  The martian can now watch the game and know exactly what is happening on the field.  However, he still has absolutely no idea why everyone is so excited.  He knows the rules, but that doesn’t mean he knows the meaning of the game.  “The meaning of the system lies outside the system,” explains Sir Sacks.  “Just as the meaning of the universe lies outside the universe.  When you understand this, you understand the breakthrough that was Abrahamic monotheism.” 

The rabbi’s final thoughts were on faith.  Gauguin, a famous painter, left his Paris position as a stockbroker and traveled to Tahiti to become a painter.  When he gave up everything and left, he didn’t know if he could paint well or not.  It turned out that he was a very good painter.  Gauguin had faith in his gift because he made a commitment based on something he could not know in advance.  Such faith always involves RISK.  This commitment pushed Moses and the children of Israel into the desert to seek the promises of God in an unknown land.  It pushed Noah, Abraham, Jeremiah, and Esther.  It takes faith to get married; it takes faith to have a child.  “Faith,” explained the rabbi, “is neither rational or irrational, but without faith, I cannot see how life is meaningful.” 

“Faith is the defeator of probability by the power of possibility.”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Reason I'm in Cambridge

In the past two weeks, I have been: 
Monday, 24 January: with Michael Berkowitz discussing the topic "Picturing 'Jews in the News' 1933-1948: Questions of Criminality, Respect and Honour."

Wednesday, 26 January: with James Renton discussing the topic "Zionism and the British Empire."

Wednesday, 26 January: with Victor Greenbert discussing his experiences as a Holocaust and Auschwitz survivor and with High Court Judge Sir Charles Gray discussing his experiences presiding over the trial of David Irving's libel lawsuit against Professor Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books over claims that he was a Holocaust denier.

Monday, 31 January: with Edward Kessler discussing Judaism in the New Testament.

Tuesday, 1 February:  with Edward Kessler and Michael Thompson discussing Paul and the Jews (using Romans 9-11 as a case study).

Tuesday, 1 February:  in the Abrahamic Faiths scriptural reasoning event discussing texts on wisdom and folly.

Wednesday, 2 February:  with Daniel Langton discussing the topic "Evolution and Jewish-Christian Relations."

Wednesday, 2 February:  with Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks discussing the question "Is There a Role for Faith in Modern Britain" (the West). 

Thursday, 3 February:  with Yael Ziegler discussing the topic "Mirror Characters in the Bible: the Case of Samson and David."

So cool.  

Oh, and on my way back from Dr. Ziegler's lecture today, I stopped at the blue crepe stand and bought myself a lemon and sugar crepe.  Walking back through the life-filled, cafe-lined streets of Cambridge eating such a divine thing made it even that much more worth it.