Friday, January 27, 2012

The Power of Respect: a disappointing quest

Why does it hurt so much when someone doesn't listen to you? This question may seem juvenile. However, if you're like me, you may ask yourself this question throughout the day. There are many circumstances prompted it. For example, maybe you just had a conversation with a good friend of yours, but you asked more probing questions of that person then she asked in return. Maybe you talked to a role model, your parent, your future boss, or whoever. Whatever the circumstance, the common denominator is a lack of respect.

As human beings we deeply long to be respected by our peers, our loved ones, are role models, and even our enemies. The problem is we may feel as if we show respect to many people without ever receiving it in return. Is this really the case? There's probably a good chance that there are more people out there that feel as if they show respect than actually are. If many of us feel this way, yet many of us did not receive a right recognition of our capacities, character qualities, and accomplishments, then it probably follows that many of us are not actually going out of our way to respect.

So how do we overcome this impasse of mutual disrespect? First, know what respect is. Respect is not just that subliminal emotion of all of that one feels in the presence of a highly accomplished person. Certainly, that feeling has been produced by respect, but it's not equivalent to the moral action of respect. Respect is the habit of identifying and acknowledging another person's abilities, character qualities, and personal accomplishments. One must first learn how to recognize another person's unique capacities, virtuous traits, and accomplishments. Humility is required in order to recognize another's unique capacity. To recognize what is unique about somebody requires that you must admit what is not unique about you. One must know what virtue is in order to recognize it in another. Many of us falter at this point. You can prove this by a simple test. Sit down with obtaining a piece of paper. Take a few minutes to write down all of the character qualities that you admire in people. Now, provide concise definitions for each character quality. Many of us can accomplish the first few steps, but it is the last step that many of us began to stammer.

The bottom line is, respect is difficult to communicate to another person, especially if we ourselves are unclear about what we admire. Yes, we can show respect to people by acknowledging their capacity and accomplishments, but if we want to show a deep respect for somebody we must recognize the principles that govern their power and enable to accomplish their achievements. If we begin to show deep respect for others, we will not necessarily feel the need to be respected at all times by all people because strong character does not seek constant human recognition. That truth alone is more enabling then the disappointing quest for respect.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Give up!… Sometimes

It seems that at some point when it comes to writing a paper you just got print it and send it off – I have definitely gotten to that point. I know there were a few errors and incomplete footnotes. But, I just wanted to be done with the darn thing – I don't think Dr. Timmer was anticipating that I would be publishing shortly after finishing him. Anyway, it's done. I've got no more advice. And I'm going to bed.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Democracy versus Republicanism

Politics is not just about accomplishing some worthy agenda, which affects the population (or a portion of the population) at large, but it is also about the art of negotiation and discussion. Certainly, this aspect of politics is coming to the forefront as GOP candidates campaign their way through the country, while Barack Obama generates strategy and support for his own campaign. As we enter into this exciting season of political frenzy I would suggest that we should work hard to remain clear about our political beliefs, stances, principles, and goals. It is a strong temptation of political discussion to reduce discussion to the debate about specific political accomplishments and tasks.

The problem with that discussion there is no clarity. How do I know that reducing spending on the military is a good decision? Are we spending more on military costs then justify the mission and tasks of the military? In order to remain coolheaded and clearheaded in the season I would suggest that we start with defining our political principles – is only from our principles that we can adequately maintain or develop a proper sense of political mission and strategy. Here is an article that I have found helpful in identifying some principal issues among different political parties (i.e. Democrats and Republicans): Cheers! And may the rightly principled man win!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thoughts on Moshe Weinfeld and the like

So, today I was able to incorporate Moshe Weinfeld's article "The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament And in the Ancient near East." His article is a seminal article in the field of ancient near East background for understanding the Old Testament. He basically proposes that the proper historical background for understanding the Davidic covenant is the Royal grant treaties, which have their source in the second millennium Hittite covenant documents.

In addition, I was also able to incorporate some reflection on how to categorize various scholars with regard to the topic of the Davidic covenant. I came up with a distinction, which I call covenantal minimalism and maximalism a minimalist is someone who at the very least recognizes the fact that there is a covenantal framework which is at work in the Hebrew Bible – this framework is operative at the very least at the level of literature. This is a broad category that can include just about any scholar. A maximalist therefore is someone who not only recognizes the covenantal background but also accept that background as something which has literal historical referent. This means that the Davidic covenant – or whatever else may referred to the Davidic covenant – has its roots in an actual, unified, identifiable, and intelligible historical event. A maximalist gives priority to the fact that the literature bears witness to a single historical reality.

This may not be a satisfying distinction for everyone, but it's helpful in recognizing the different research goals, which given scholars are pursuing. Some are pursuing goals which are focused at understanding the world of the text – the world that the text bears witness to. Others are merely interested in understanding the subtext – the possible world that may have given rise to the text. I do not find this latter goal particularly helpful or beneficial for enhancing our understanding of the biblical text. This goal is not necessarily evil or counterproductive but it's certainly not the most productive gold pursue, especially one takes into account that exposition of the Scriptures is an exposition for the church – it's not merely academic – all biblical knowledge is missional.

Reading and Appreciating Secondary Literature

An important task in research is reading secondary literature – literature that concerns or discusses the primary data. Secondary literature comes in many forms. It can come in the form of a published essay anthology of essays. It can come in the form of a commentary, an abstract, an unpublished dissertation, or a journal article. Reading secondary literature can be a difficult and daunting task. I would suggest that the task of reading a journal article can be made easier, if one knows how to recognize the purpose of an article.

How can one identify the purpose of a well-researched article? First, one must recognize that the task of research is basically the systematic pursuit of a worthy question. A worthy question is a clear question that seeks to connect to some unknown aspect of knowledge in order to gain a deeper understanding of what is not yet known. In other words, a worthy question seeks to understand some part of something in order to understand the whole of something. For example, a zoologist me posit an inquiry into the mating habits of African lions in order to understand something about cats in general. What makes a research question worth the is the fact that it is not just a personal question. It's not just a question that seeks to inform or enlighten a single individual, but it's a question that helps clarify an understanding that is beneficial for a group of individuals or a large class of people, or perhaps even humanity in general. In other words, research questions have a public and representational dimension to them.

Second, one must understand the various purposes of research projects. Generally speaking, there are three kinds of research projects that can be conducted: theoretical, applied, and practical. Theoretical projects aimed at understanding the world as it exists. This means these projects aim at describing or defining the world as it exists in some small way. By this definition, our zoologist is someone who is conducting a theoretical project – is attempting to describe the mating habits of African lions as they exist in the real world. Applied research projects aim at developing a principal or set of principles that can be used to achieve some practical objective. Or better stated, these are research project that aim at articulating universally true principles as they relate to a specific real-world practice. For example, presently I am conducting a project that seeks to understand the basic questions that have been generated with regard to the Davidic covenant within the corpus of the minor prophets. The purpose of this paper is to obtain an idea for the scope and range of research that has been conducted in this area in order to carve out a research starting point that is not redundant. This is by definition a project in applied research.

Practical research is like applied research except that it is more specific. The difference is that practical research into articulating a set of rules that apply to a given circumstance. Applied research aims at generating a set of principles. Principles are general truths that can be used to generate rules. In other words, principles can be applied in many circumstances whereas rules are specific prescriptions for behavior in a specific circumstance. For example, one could theoretically develop a research project on the philosophy of cooking. This project could be theoretical in that it could aim to describe the process of cooking as it is in the world at large – this would be theoretical research project. Or one could conduct a research project into the principles that govern the art of cooking – this would be applied research project. Finally, one could write a cookbook – this is an example of a practical research project. If one keeps the different types of research projects in mind, one can have a better appreciation for how to read a journal article. There's a lot more that could be said, but this should be enough to get you going. Oh, one final hint – most research articles in the field of Biblical Studies are written for the purpose of describing or clarifying an understanding of the Bible – nine times out of 10, you can bet the article is usually a theoretical research project.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Slow exposition: is it worth it?

I just spent the last forty minutes puzzling over the phrase "go into your room and close your door" (εἴσελθε εἰς τὸ ταμεῖόν σου καὶ κλείσας τὴν θύραν σου (Mat 6:6 BGT). I would like to raise a very simple question: was it worth it? Yes, it was worth it for several reasons. First, although the phrase seems clear enough English, there is a lot of different semantic possibilities. For instance, the verb "go" (εἴσελθε) doesn't always just mean to move from one geographic location to another. It can also mean to enter into a state or circumstance. Now, clearly it does not mean that in the circumstance. But now the difference for me is that I am aware of various semantic valences of the term. This means that when I come to future occurrences of this word that does not seem to fit the literal rendering, I have a history with the term itself. I can remember that there is more than a literal rendering of the phrase. Second, I am now more confident of the fact that it means to move from one geographic location to another – specifically to go from not being in your room to in your inner room. This is payoff. That means that when it comes time to preach this text before congregation I can confidently restated the meaning of this verb and snowfall well that it does not mean something else. This confidence will affect the way I project my presence to the audience and in turn the audience will be more receptive to learn from my explanation of the text. The bottom line is that exposition of the Bible is an exposition of the original languages. The purpose of installing from the original languages is not to establish what is known to the larger theological community, rather it is that the preacher can glorify God by proclaiming the text with clarity, confidence, and passion. It may feel like you're slowing down when you do so, but that's a good thing because that means you're less likely to make mistakes and more likely to catch the truth.

Research strategy: how to report on secondary literature

Okay, so the strategy of summarizing and teaching was very effective. I was able to relax as I pinpointed the basic facts from Lambert's article. This enabled me to organize those facts in a comprehensible and useful manner. After I did this, I printed out a copy of my results. This enabled me to teach what I had learned – in other words, writing a research paper is a form of teaching. Teaching demonstrates that one has mastered the basic facts of a subject, organized them, and is able to lead others into an understanding of that subject. By this definition, teaching is a form of leadership. Teaching is leading a mind into a subject – an orientation or roadmap of that subject – a basic explanation of the signposts found on the roadmap – and it to her through that country of knowledge.

Kings in ancient Mesopotamia

Yesterday, I was attempting to do too much at once. I was trying to summarize an article on Egyptian kingship while trying to incorporate that summary into my paper. This was a frustrating task because I was trying to learn the article and teach the article simultaneously. Certainly there is much overlapping these two tasks, but teaching and learning must be differentiated – learning is the process of absorbing information – i.e. identifying points of information and understanding it – where is teaching is the process of presenting that information in a clear, orderly, and illustrative manner. I hope to overcome this difficulty by creating a separate page where I will summarize the article – after which I will print out that summary and then incorporate a summarized version of that report. This will enable me to differentiate the tasks of understanding information and presenting information.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Giving up for the day

Okay, I have summarized the Baines article. And I have about an hour before my wife comes and picks me up in order to go swimming. My brain is pretty fried from trying to pound out this paper on the Davidic covenant. So I think I will take a break for the day. I may try to do some preliminary reading later on this afternoon or evening in order to prep for tomorrow. Whatever the case, I'm going to take a coffee break and then work on some Greek.

Who actually knows anything about Egypt anyway?

I am having a hard time right now trying to summarize an article by John Baines – who is summarizing his own research on the Egyptian concept of King. I admit that I know very little and next to nothing about Egyptian history – in fact, I think most of my knowledge on the topic comes from the 10 Commandments (i.e. Charlton Heston as Moses, the mummy (part one and two), and a few snippets I've seen from Cleopatra. But other than that, I've got nothing! So working through this article is like sloshing through mud! Anyway, I'm going to try my hand one more time at summarizing this article – and then I may move onto a new topic for the day.

Research into the Davidic covenant

Presently right now I am working on a paper that is an investigation into the precedent research into the Davidic covenant. I realize that's a mouthful. My goal is to try to understand the questions that have been raised in relation to this topic. So far, I have crafted a basic outline, introduction, and conclusion. My goal over the next hour is to sketch out the basic research that has been conducted concerning the historical/conceptual background of Kings within the Bible. In order to do this, I must introduce five different scholars. My task will be to introduce their major research question, to state and clarify the results of their investigation, summarize their basic argument and evidence. I do not need to do this exhaustively, but I must do this carefully and concisely.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Taking a Step of Faith

If you have conversed in Christian circles for a significant amount of time in your life, then you have probably run across this phrase – "taking a step of faith." I find this phrase somewhat puzzling because the phrase is very often invoked in the context of a monumental life change. Very often one brother or sister in the faith will divulge to another brother or sister a life circumstance that will result in a change in job, geography, or relationship. For instance, one sister may say something like: "the Lord has really opened up the opportunity to practice my nursing in the country of Zambia and, although I'm not quite sure how I'm going to fund myself while I'm there, I have decided to take up this opportunity." And someone else may respond like this: "well, that's a very big step of faith that you are taking." What puzzles me about this interaction is the meaning of the word faith. Generally speaking the word faith means a strong confidence. My question is: in what way is an affirmation of confidence beneficial to the one who has openly divulged a story that concerns a life transition? Certainly making a life transition requires confidence, but confidence is merely the muscle that moves a decision; it is not the basis of a decision nor is it the act of the life change. Now, more than likely people that say things like "taking a step of faith" are attempting to assert the centrality and importance of Christian belief as one moves through life, but to emphasize the virtue of faith runs the risk of reducing the act of faith to a monumental life decision. However, the reality is that Christian belief frames every decision of life from the decision to rise up in the morning with the sound of the alarm clock to the decision of cross-cultural missions. I would suggest that certainly an affirmation of faith is in order, but it must be more specific than just faith – it must be an affirmation of courage – faith empowered encourage which is able to assess and realize the risks involved in such a life transition, but also able to act in spite of those dangers – I would suggest that we should step away from affirming steps of faith and move towards affirming leaps of courage.