Happy Christmas Eve!
At this time of year, the blog is usually full of ruminations on the birth of Christ (like this entry) or self-pity wallowings (like this rather plaintive entry or this poem from last year). But right now I have neither the time nor energy to be deeply profound nor (believe it or not) deeply self-centered.
So I thought I’d share, as rather paltry gifts, a few links to things I’ve loved recently; you may find them interesting!
First, for anyone who like me has been completely annoyed by (what I am calling) the “Dawkins Meme” of recent months, I want to give this article–a review of Dawkins’ new book by Terry Eagleton (who’s not, I don’t think, a Christian). The problem with Dawkins is not that he’s wrong–if we were to quantify beliefs, I’d probably agree with more of his than your average fundamentalist Christian–though certainly some basic ones differ. The problem is, as Eagleton says, his unwillingness to see surfacely-nuanced differences in “religious” systems that actually have huge under-the-hood ramifications.
Second, to all and sundry, I want to gift two podcasts done by St Paul’s Theological Centre in London, which happen to be interviews with NT Wright. The first podcast is on gnosticism, and the second podcast is on, among other things, “apocalypse”. I would go so far as to make the second one mandatory listening for any thoughtful Christian; it’s that good.
I have to admit, of course, that I’m drinking the NT Wright Kool-Aid at the moment. I’ve been reading his Christian Origins and the Question of God series, and am almost done with the second (long) volume, on Jesus. It’s been one of the most groundbreaking works I’ve read in a while. Last year I read some Kierkegaard and reflected that he had done more than anyone to re-affirm my love of Scripture as something worth remaining conversant with. Now, I’d say the same thing about NT Wright; I feel that I’ve been given a whole new (and better) way of reading the gospels (and much of the Old Testament). It seems as though I was dealing with something two-dimensional, and now the text has sprung to life amidst a vibrant and colorful context. My exegeses of almost every parable and saying of Jesus have been subtly, if not fundamentally, alered, and many things now just make sense that were opaque before.
This isn’t to say that Wright is correct on all his points (though as a novice in historical studies it’s hard for me to launch a critique), but rather that the overall story he is weaving answers, it seems, more questions than any other view I’ve come across. It has the result, of course, of turning much conventional “Christian” (particularly western fundamentalist) wisdom on its head–a result I’m amenable to in any case. So, if you are a Christian who cares about the content of your beliefs and whether or not they make sense, read these books.
Third and finally, I have a gift for lovers of language learning. I recently discovered that the iTunes music store has many language-learning podcasts available for free download. I found one for German that has 100 lessons, each ~15 minutes long. That’s essentially a 25-hour language course, free! I discovered these podcasts from a very helpful list of language-learning podcasts. From what it looks like, iTunes has a lot more that didn’t make this list, so I’m sure further exploration would be fruitful.
So again, I wish all of you a very happy Christmas, focused indeed on reflection on the having-already-come of the Messiah, and the having-already-been-inaugurated of the Kingdom of God. I leave you, therefore, with this excerpt from an article by CS Lewis (one that my family reads every Christmas Eve), which pretty much sums up my feelings about this time of year:
But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Crissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket”; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).
But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in.