Monthly Archives: February 2012

Penitential Psalms 2: Psalm 32

The second of the penitential psalms, Psalm 32 is also labelled “Of David.” Previously I noted that Psalm 6 makes the turn from pleading with God for forgiveness/healing/change seem rapid as the poem is not that long, and the psalmist only seems to be crying “How long” for a short time as we read it. Psalm 32 begins with a statement of blessing, which seems to indicate that the psalmist writes AFTER praying for and receiving forgiveness from God. The psalm reflects back on the writer’s experience, it does not speak from inside the experience.

Like Psalm 6, Psalm 32 refers to the bones of the penitent. Interesting. I wonder what that is about? Psalm 6 talked about healing, Psalm 32 talks about deliverance. I wonder if those two ideas are related?

Psalm 32 also contains wisdom language — instruct, teach, way, guide. The wisdom language is concentrated in verses 8-9. The voice in verses 8&9 sounds like God talking to the psalmist. In light of the rest of the psalm, maybe God is offering to assist the penitent move forward and avoid the sins of the past in the future. God seems to be providing help for the penitent to change and live well. Maybe the instruction and teaching of the right way are the songs of deliverance God surrounds the penitent with?


In other news I’m still reading about the virtues. Interestingly both Modesty and Temperance were strongly connected with self-control. Modesty “implies not inadequacy but power, recognized and controlled.” Powers must be held in check if it is not the proper time to use them. Temperance is “the kind of virtue we associate with tempered steel, a steadiness, a reliablility, a suitability for the purpose at hand.” Christian temperance has the additional quality of accepting all material things, but also being able to give them up. “When we say, ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body’ we are recognizing a kind of divine temperance, acknowledging that the physical world is something to be given up in death and yet worth while taking up again in resurrection.”

Things that make you go hmm.


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Penitential Psalms 1: Psalm 6

In this space over the weeks leading up to Easter I’ll be talking about some Lent-related things. I’m starting with the penitential Psalms as I’m interested in the Psalter in general, and Lent is a penitential season. The penitential Psalms are usually listed as Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143.

Psalm 6 is a short poem of 10 verses (in translation, 11 in Hebrew where the header is numbered as the first verse). In it the Psalmist asks God to be merciful to him and heal him. (I’m assuming a male author as it is a l’David psalm, so David is often thought to be the author — but it could be for David or like David’s psalms not by David.) He gives reasons for God to listen — God’s unfailing love and the inability of the psalmist to praise God from the grave. It seems the psalmist has been asking for God’s deliverance and help for some time as he is worn out with the process and asks God “How long?”

It doesn’t seem that long to us as after only seven verses there is a turn in the Psalm — the psalmist turns from weeping before God to speaking to others around — his enemies — and declaring that God has heard his weeping and has accepted his prayer. The compression of the poem makes it seem like this turn, this hearing and knowing that God has answered the psalmist, has happened before much weeping and crying out has occurred. I wonder how long the Psalmist repeated verses 1-7 before being able to make the turn found in verses 8-10?

What is a take away from this Psalm? There are probably loads. In terms of penitence and Lent, I find it interesting that this Psalm strongly links penitence, repentance, a plea for mercy, with healing. Penitence can be a healing process.

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Just in Case

Just in case you haven’t quite figured out what to do/what to give up/things you might try during Lent 2012, there are 40 ideas here. There are loads of other resources out and about on Lenten disciplines, Lenten meditations, Lenten readings, and etc. It isn’t too late to start.

Around here, starting Monday I’m going to write about the penitential Psalms and possibly throw in a few more comments about the virtues. For this weekend, I’m not fasting, I’m feasting and celebrating a wedding. Rejoice with those who rejoice!

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Virtues not Vices?

I work in a theological bookshop and my particular area of responsibility is our used book section. I see all the used books that come in. I’ve learned a little self-control — I don’t buy all the books I think would be interesting. Because retiring/retired professors are a major source of our used book inventory, we’ve got a lot of mid-20th century theology, philosophy, and spirituality. Some of the material is obviously ephemeral, while other works have become classics or are recognized as seminal in a particular field. Other stuff is kind of in the middle. I’m reading a kind-of-in-the-middle book at the moment to get me started on thinking more about Lent. The editor of the collection is Alec Vidler, a name still known even now, in the 2nd decade of the 21st Century. I’m afraid I don’t recognize the names of the contributors, but from information given, they were probably known names when the book was published in 1964. I’ve read two essays so far, and find them a tiny bit dated (ephemeral!), but they ask excellent questions and made me think in new ways about their subject matter (timeless!). Ok, so I’ve established that the book is old, not really a classic, but not entirely ephemeral. What on earth is it about?? Why read it and talk about it for Lent?

The book is called Traditional Virtues Reassessed. Vidler (the editor) notes in his introduction that many of us prefer to talk about vices rather than virtues as vices appear more attractive to us. He suggests that virtues need to “recover their attractive power.” The 11 short essays in the book attempt to do this for the “classic virtues.” It isn’t clear who decided that these 11 virtues should be discussed, and reasons for their selection are not given. It is almost as though the editor thinks the selection is obvious. Possibly it was in 1964. The virtues discussed are: innocence, gentleness, chastity, modesty, temperance, piety, obedience, prudence, patriotism, justice, and felicity. So far I’ve read the essays on innocence and gentleness. In an interesting move, both of these essays suggest that neither innocence nor gentleness can be gained by a person’s effort of will. If we TRY to be innocent or TRY to be gentle, the true virtue does not result. True innocence comes as a side effect of faith and true gentleness as a side effect of self acceptance.

In the essay on gentleness, the idea of accepting ourselves as God accepts us (that is how we are gentle on ourselves) seemed to work in my head until the author then made the jump to accepting ourselves and not forcing ourselves to be any different from who we really are. We accept our vices and just move merrily along. Any attempt to suppress a vice is itself an act of violence, and will backfire. What? Really? Are we not to strive for holy living? How can we just accept our vices and not attempt to change? There seems to be little point to self-control (a fruit of the spirit along with gentleness) if this is the case. This caused me to revisit the idea of true innocence not coming from trying to be innocent. How then do we achieve virtue if we cannot strive for virtue? Hmmm.

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is the very last letter of the English Alphabet. As related to books I read, or how I choose books, Z (pronounced “Zed”) is for Zany

Zany. Crazy. Funny. Edgy. I like all these things in books. I tend to like the quieter sort of Zaniness, the kind that comes out in edgy wit or in crazy stunts that take brains to plan and pull off, not the kind that runs around screaming mindlessly just to appear fun and crazy. I like the Starbuck sort of character (Battlestar Galactica people, get on board). That’s my idea of a good zany character. Gaius Baltar (still BSG), he’s just weird. He’s not even a good geek. Ick. But I’m supposed to talk about reading here, not (excellent) TV shows. Zany means Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It means books by Adrian Plass. It means the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. What? You’ve not heard of Thursday Next? Go now to the library, do not pass Go, collect The Eyre Affair, and meet Thursday Next. You’ll be pleased to know that the series gets better and better as it goes along. I think I liked First Among Sequels the best. I’d have to revisit them to make sure though.

On a completely different note, Lent starts today. I hope you had all your pancakes and goodies last night, because Lent is a fasting and penitential season. Some of you may be wearing ashes as you read. I’m not giving up blogging for Lent, but I’m going to blog about Lent and my understanding of the 40 days before Easter. I learn about Lent mostly from reading theology and the Bible, so books will still be included. Hopefully I’ll learn more about Lent and the spiritual disciplines in the next 40 days. Sundays are non-fast days during Lent. If I’ve got something to say about current reading or something pops up that needs an update, I’ll post non-Lent things on the occasional Sunday.

For now, from the Canadian Book of Common Prayer, a prayer from the penitential service on Ash Wednesday:

Almighty and everlasting God, who forgavest the people of Nineveh when they repented in sackcloth and ashes: Mercifully grant that we, truly repenting of our sins, may obtain of thee perfect pardon and release; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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is for Youth.

I do a little youth ministry, mostly at camp. These days I’m primarily involved in an LIT program. I’ve directed the Jr. High girls camp (did that for 12 years) and also worked with senior high and college students. I also taught high school math and science (did that for 8 years), which is also youth ministry/youth work when you get right down to it. I’ve got a lot of books on my shelves about youth work. Many of these say a lot of the same thing; it feels like if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. There are a few that stand out. Here are five that stick in my head:

1. The Godbearing Life by Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster (1998). I think this is now in a second edition. I highly recommend this book. It talks about relational youth ministry in a realistic way that gets to the heart of the matter.

2. Portrait of Youth Ministry by Maria Harris (1981). This may seem dated, but Harris’s discussion and definition of ministry in general and youth ministry in particular is very helpful.

3. Youth, World and Church by Sara Little (1968). Surely Little’s book is past its sell-by date in the youth ministry world? No. Little discusses issues still relevant, though parts of the book are dated. Little argues that youth are serving the church and the world NOW, thus youth ministry should equip them for this service. This is still a valid thesis. Little is thought-provoking even for 21 C youth minstry.

4. Black and White Styles of Youth Ministry: Two Congregations in America by William Myers (1991). Absolutely fascinating study of the youth ministry at two churches in the American mid-west. One church studied was suburban and white, the other urban and black. Really really interesting thoughts on style and culture and the gospel.

5. Like Dew Your Youth by Eugene Peterson (1994). This is a great book about parenting teens.

Remember this blog is about Backlist books, not the most recent youth stuff out there. See above on if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. These are the stand-outs that I’ve encountered. How about you?

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is for Xenophile. Look it up.

I like British writers. I’ve said this before. This may make me a xenophile. Canadian authors are ok, but I find Canadian literature tends to the depressive side. This is not always true, but there are some writers from Canada who probably mostly wrote during the winter, when the lack of sun influenced their mood. Just saying.

I enjoy reading books in translation, but I recognize that anytime a work of literature is translated into English, something happens to the book. Different translators have different ways of rendering a book or poem or whatever into English. The translation of a literary work is in itself a literary act, one could argue. In theology this can be seen in the variety of Bible translations that exist and the enormous amount of heat and light generated by people arguing over which English translation is superior. Each translation has a slightly different theory of translation and usually has a large number of scholars working on it. Then look at serious Bible commentaries, which usually contain the commentator’s English translation of the original text. It is fascinating what divergences are possible over rendering the same Greek or Hebrew text into another language. Fascinating. Since such variance can be seen in the multiple English translations of the Bible, it will probably also be the case that different English translators of (say) Tolstoy will provide slightly different versions of a book in English. INteresting. How does one decide which one to read?

Do you read books in translation? How do you decide which translation to read if multiple options are available? Or do you pick the one in the course text list because that is the only time you read literature in translation — for a course?

In other news, I finished The Great Divorce. Huh, I wonder why I’ve never read that before. Really good and really interesting. If you haven’t read that particular C.S. Lewis work, go and do that now. It’ll take you an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the interruptions around you. Totally worth it.

For those of you wondering what will happen after I hit Z in the current series, worry not. I have it figured out. All will be revealed on Ash Wednesday, the day I post about Z. Tune in then for the next Backlist series announcement.

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I got a Scrabble mug for Christmas with W on it.

is for Women.

Are you really surprised by this? I research and write about women interpreters of the Bible, of course W is for Women. It only makes sense.

In the novel Unless, by the brilliant Carol Shields, the main character is a feminist who becomes more aware as the novel progresses how many feminist battles are still being fought. One of the character’s particular concerns, the one that jumped out at me when I read the novel the first time, is that books considered Important are often written by men. Where are all the women? Surely some women must have recorded thoughts that are Important in Books. This reflection on the male dominated canon of Books to Read in Unless made me look carefully at the books I read. Are they by both men and women? Is the gender of the author related to the genre of the book? Things that made me go hmmm.

Possession (that book again) is also about genre, writing, and reading from a different angle. The key characters are two twentieth-century academics, one male and one female, researching two nineteenth-century poets, one male and one female. The book contains interesting discussions on gender and reading and writing particularly in an academic setting. Very Interesting.

I’ve noted previously that published reading lists I’ve encountered tend to be male dominated. Has anyone found a reading guide that isn’t? Do tell.

Lots of people I know, women included, inform me that they’d read more books written by women if they existed. Really. Have you looked? Here is a list of some Important Women Who Wrote Ideas Down (available in English) that you should investigate:

Margery Kempe (I’ve mentioned her before)

Julian of Norwich

Elizabeth I

Christine de Pizan

Hildegard of Bingen

Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke

The Bluestockings

Hannah Adams

Harriet Martineau

Caroline Cornwallis

That’s a start anyhow, and I’ve barely begun. Check them out. Google them. Find their works on the internet archive. Read Women Writers.

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Ain’t no hearts and flowers here.

Lookit that scary skeleton frightening the guy on the horse. V could be for Violence. I don’t usually go for Violent books, though I do read murder mysteries, spy stories, and war books. Instead of Violence we’ll go with Variety.

V is for Variety.

I like variety in my reading. Sometimes I go on an author binge, but then I can’t read the person for some time after that. It’s like having the same thing for dinner all the time. A little variety goes a long way. I also don’t read the same genre all the time. Some Science Fiction should be mixed with some Mystery or Historical Fiction or some other kind of book. Variety is the spice of life, to use a cliche.

In the Various books I read, I have read a little about Vampires. The Constant Reader hoped I didn’t read Vampire books when she suggested that V could stand for Vampire. But I’ve read some. Recently. I read the first five Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. “True Blood,” the HBO Vampire series, is based on the Sookie Stackhouse books. While Harris’s books tend to the comic, they have a bit too much of the gruesome in them for me to continue to read them. I found the first five in a local used book shop (big surprise to all of you I realize) and they were ok, but not good enough for me to look for more. I’ve never watched the show, so I can’t comment on that. Sookie and Vampire mysteries with a surreal comic edge have added to the Variety of books I’ve read over the last six months.

My Neighbour suggested that V could stand for Victorious, as in Oh Sweet Victory, I’ve finished this book which was a real slog to get through. In the Various books I read, I do encounter books that require a battle to finish, and, at times, I feel Victorious when they are finished. Most often when I finish a tough read, though, I don’t feel Victorious, rather I feel Vindicated. Possibly Valourous. Maybe Vindictive. Even Virtuous. Such a Variety of V-feelings to choose from after Valiantly battling through to the end of a difficult book. A lot of the theology I read has a Valiant battle aspect to it. Some of the non-fiction I read is poorly written and edited. I’ve complained about that before (Vindictive). Other times, the book may be reasonably well written, but the ideas are dense on the page and one must creep slowly through the tangle of thoughts and try to grasp the pattern of the whole. It can be rewarding to do so and the end result is positive (Victory! Virtue! Valour!).

What Various Virtuous Volumes are you reading these days? Oh, that reminds me. It seems that The Great Divorce should climb to the top of my TBR pile. It comes next, after Started Early, Took My Dog, which, so far, is Atkinson at her edgy and odd best.


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Here come the challenging letters…

is for Unread.

Oh c’mon, you might be saying. Unread? What you read next is an unread book? Isn’t that a little obvious? No, not really, not when you consider my habit of re-reading books. Re-reading is important, so it is not always obvious that the next book I read will be an unread book from my (growing, teetering) to-be-read pile. But I do like to read and experience new books as well as old friends. U is for Unread.

A quick look back at my 2012 list of books read so far (14 to this point, almost done #15) reminds me that I’ve only read new-to-me books since Jan 1. The final three books I read in 2011 were re-reads.

Unread books are full of potential – potential for greatness and also potential for disaster. Let me peek at a couple of my TBR piles and tell you what potential delights await, then you can tell me where I should go next. I’m presently reading Neverwhere due to the insistent prodding of my friend Whosit, who blogs as The Mrs (see blog links on the right). (FYI, she calls me Whatsit back. We are not always consistent in which of us is Who and which is What. I don’t think we got these names from A Wrinkle in Time as I first read the book long after this tradition started. I’ve known Whosit since she was born, so the tradition is one of long standing.) ANYWAY, I’m probably going to finish Neverwhere tonight and then turn to Started Early, Took My Dog which the Restless Teacher lent me. After that, anything from my piles is possible. Here is a list of possibilities in no particular order:

World of Wonders by Robertson Davies (3rd of Deptford Trilogy)

N-Space by Larry Niven (short stories)

a complicated kindness by Miriam Toews (I hear some of you screaming WHAT?!?! You haven’t read that yet??????)

Gai-Jin by James Clavell (very thick)

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville (no, I haven’t read it yet, though the Vicar’s Wife told me I should in December)

Sovereign by C.J. Sansom

Discipleship of the Mind by James W. Sire (non fiction)

Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith Anne LaMott (a memoir)

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (a request from the Apprentice Actor)

and The Gospel and the Mind by Bradley G. Green (non fiction again).

Thoughts? Feelings? Suggestions?

In a slightly different vein, I’m open to suggestions for words that I could (reasonably & topically) blog about that begin with V, X, Y, or Z. I think I know what I’ll do with W. Suggest away. Please note that I will reject any suggestion that I blog on a word beginning with V that may occur to some people because of a certain day this week.


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