Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I'm taking a class about the formation of the biblical canon, and today I was doing the reading for it. We're reading a book by my professor called (what else) "The Biblical Canon," by Lee Martin McDonald. One thing that particularly stood out to me was about the definition of the word "canon." Now, this seems like it would be pretty straightforward: in common usage, canon means the group of material that is considered standard in that field (whether it's art, literature or scripture). No one knows exactly where or when this word came to refer to the Hebrew & Christian scriptures, although I read many pages of speculation about it today, but we do know that now that is the term we use.

The interesting thing is that in ancient usage, this term never meant a fixed collection of materials. A canon of literature could be updated if someone were to write a new classic, and some works dropped out of the canon as they became less useful to the current generation. Likewise in present usage for the literary canon, the "classics" of literature are changed each generation (although, of course, there are some fairly well-established stand-bys that don't change).

It's apparently true that at first the Jewish & Christian "canons" were not fixed, either--they were made up of whatever texts were relevant at the time, that a particular community felt aided them in their understanding of God and God's story in the world. These canons were similar but not the same in different churches/synagogues and in various areas. It wasn't until the 4th century that the Christian canon became more or less fixed, and even then, for those of us who use a Protestant Bible, it was changed in the 16th century when Martin Luther and other Reformation leaders said the Apocrypha, although it could be helpful, was not scripture.

So this apparent set-in-stone canon of a text we have for our Christian scripture, thinking that it's so ancient, was only really fixed as it is now 450 years ago. The texts in our Bible have been thought of as scripture for much longer than that, of course, but the fixed nature of it--these books and no others--is not so ancient. (All of this I had known before, so now we get to the part you may not have heard before.)

In our textbook, McDonald talks about a scholar named Sheppard who suggests a way of thinking about the canon as "canon 1" and "canon 2." These are two phases of the canonization process, basically. In canon 1 stage, the text is seen as authoritative by the community and is used as an edifying piece of literature that speaks of God and may even speak God's words. Sometimes this is called scripture and sometimes not. In canon 2 phase, a particular group of literature becomes a fixed standard by which other texts are judged. This group is called scripture and nothing else can be called scripture, although things that line up with this standard can speak the word of God to the people.

I think this is a very helpful distinction, because there are many texts that various groups see as authoritative, but that don't become "canonized" in the usual sense of the term. Nevertheless these texts have authority within that group.

McDonald suggests that a major reason the texts we now have in the Bible became canonized was because of their relevance in diverse situations and their adaptability. These texts can be reinterpreted over and over again and still speak meaning into the lives of those who use them as sacred scripture. Other texts may speak meaning to a particular generation or subset of people, but they don't have the relevance over time of the biblical texts.

I think it's probably a good thing to have a canon, and although I'm skeptical about the way the canon was put together, I nevertheless believe the books in the Bible tell important parts of the story of God's relationship with people. I think even though they were written by people, God speaks through these texts in profound ways.

At the same time, I think we should revive the idea of the "canon 1" phase. We do this anyway, of course, without admitting it--various groups of Christians read certain theologians or scholars or prophets more than others, like Lutherans look to Luther for authoritative judgments on various matters, Calvinists look to Calvin, Quakers look to Fox and other early Friends. These are sort of our "canon 1" texts, texts that have authority in our community and speak meaning into our spiritual lives, but don't necessarily speak truth to all times.

I hope we as Christians can begin to add to the books we allow ourselves to hear the voice of God through. The Bible will always be important for Christians, but perhaps we could also listen to the voices of women and the voices of the oppressed around the world through their writings, and our canon would be enriched because of it.

Another interesting topic for another post, perhaps: one way of looking at canon 1 and canon 2 is that canon 1 is the person, the ultimate authority falls to them--either Jesus or Moses or whomever. Canon 2 is the writing about that person. This seems like what we do as Quakers, only the rest of the church tends to give more weight to the "canon 2" phase, while we give more weight to the "canon 1" phase in this definition. It is Christ who is the standard by which everything else is measured, even the books which purport to speak in his name. Maybe I'll write more about that tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Last night I watched a documentary called 21Up for my “Faith & Film with Young Adults” class. It's available online here. This film documents several children as they grow from the age of 7 to 21, currently focusing on age 21. Begun in 1991, the filmmakers started with children from diverse backgrounds across the United States, filming and interviewing each young person every seven years. They will presumably continue this until these people die (or the filmmakers do).

The film begins with the quote about, “Show me the child at seven and I will show you the adult.” The filmmakers are conducting research to see whether this is true. Do these people stay pretty much the same over time, or do they grow up to be quite different from the way they were raised? In 21Up we see the children when they are beginning to think of themselves as adults. They reflect on their childhood aspirations and the settings in which they were raised, basically addressing the questions of to what extent they have been shaped by their upbringings, how well they have lived up to their goals, and what it's like to try to move into the space of adulthood.

The filmmakers did an excellent job of making each of these people likable. They showed them in flattering and not-so-flattering moments, but you're pulling for them the whole time. You want them to succeed in many ways: wanting the poorer kids to get out of bad situations, wanting the rich kids to find some fulfillment in life—and you do see them succeeding in many ways.

One of the most interesting things I noticed was that the middle and lower class kids seemed happier at age 21 than the richer ones. With the exception of one poorer guy who was in jail, the extremely poor kids had all gotten themselves out of the Projects, and had created a relatively stable, healthy environment for themselves and their families. The middle class kids seemed fairly happy as well, although some were stressed with getting all their ducks in a row so they could have the career they wanted. The upper class kids seemed the most unhappy/unfulfilled. They seemed empty. They had aspirations and several of them were succeeding in reaching those, but realizing that they did so while sacrificing relationships and their health (mental and physical). I guess it may be true that the lower our expectations, the happier we are! The ones who simply had the goal of putting food on the table and having just a little bit more than enough seemed genuinely happy where they were, whereas those who had high expectations for themselves (and expectations put on them by their families and communities) had a harder time feeling worthwhile about who and where they were.

What does this say to me, as I'm in the midst of a master's degree, with the goal of going on to doctoral work and hopefully teaching someday? Well, it says “be happy where you are,” first of all. It's easy to get so caught up in the goal that I can miss the journey. Something else I've noticed is that my generation has to work harder and get more schooling in order to achieve the same things that our parents and grandparents did, and so the goals that we have (or that were given to us, purposely or inadvertently) are not attainable in the 22-25 years that it took our parents to begin their careers. Although this is the case, our society still has the expectation that young adults will be financially stable and taking care of themselves by age 22 or so. In my case I've been able to do this mostly, but with a lot of help from a community who gives me cheap rent or pays me to do stuff that isn't completely necessary or that I'm not really qualified for. So...I'm grateful to have been brought up solidly middle class, but it's also an interesting place to be. I can have dreams that my grandmothers wouldn't have because I have much more access to education and jobs than they had, but at the same time, the fact that both my husband and I will have to work most of our lives just to get by in America is kind of frustrating. But then there's the question of “needs” vs. “wants”—we could get by with only one income, but we would have to live at a lower class level than what we've been accustomed to, so our middle class upbringing makes it more difficult to be content.

But, with the help of God, we are content here and now, and by God's grace we will hopefully continue to be content wherever we end up.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

christian peacemaker teams

I've been feeling for several years like I feel called to actually put feet to my jabber about peacemaking. This I can hopefully do at home (both literally in my home, as well as in my neighborhood and surrounding area), but I also talk a lot about the fact that we should solve problems in other ways than waging wars. So for two weeks this May and June I'm going to begin trying to help resolve conflicts using nonviolence in a place where there has been an ongoing war for decades, and off and on for much longer. I'm going on a delegation with Christian Peacemaker Teams to Israel/Palestine!

The way CPT does things, first you go on a delegation, see what they do, and see if you fit in well with the way they do things. If you feel like it's a good fit, you do a month-long training in nonviolent conflict resolution and direct action, etc., and then you can be a full-time member or a reservist. My plan is to do this delegation this summer, then do the training next summer, and then become a reservist, working with them for a few weeks per year for the rest of my life. (By the way, if you're from the US Northwest, I'm thinking about trying to get enough people for a training to happen in the Northwest in the summer of 2009--we'd need 10-15 people. So let me know if you're interested! You'd probably have to go on a delegation first, and you'd have to be sure that you were going to be a reservist or full time member of CPT.)

I'm really excited about this opportunity to go on a delegation! To me it's part of walking the talk--can you imagine if all members of "peace churches" would make this kind of commitment? It's like being in the army reserves, only you work proactively to prevent war instead of being in a reserve position in case war becomes necessary.

So those of you who know me personally will likely receive a letter in the mail about this, but for those I don't know personally, I would appreciate your support as I go through this also! Please pray for me/hold me in the Light as I prepare to go, as I'm there, and for my son and husband who will stay home. If you feel so inclined you can also support me financially. You can donate online and put my name in the designation section, or you can send a check to CPT with my name in the memo line. Their address is:
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL 60680-6508

Finally, if you want to hear about the trip (although I'm sure I'll post blog entries, too), you can be on my email list. Just drop me a comment with your email address and I'll put you on my list, or go here and click on "Apply for group membership."

Stay tuned for more info over the next few months...

Now I'm going to bed to get a good night's sleep before my first day of classes tomorrow.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

new semester

On Monday I start a new semester of seminary! I'm excited to go back to school, but also a little nervous about balancing family, school, friends, work, exercise, spiritual health, household chores...and whatever else I might need to do. But this semester will be a great one as far as the classes I'm signed up for. Here's a preview of what I'll be writing about on here for the next several months:

Faith, Film & Spirituality in Young Adults
This class is about Gen-X & Y, and the ways that film influences these generations, and how it might spiritually impact them/us. I'm excited because a) it's taught by a prof whose book I have read and appreciate regarding youth ministry, and b) because it's a topic I think is really important and have experienced first hand as something young adults connect with and a place where spiritual connections happen.

Biblical Canon
This class I might not get to take because we have to be in a small group that meets at a different time from the class period, and I can't do any of the times listed, but if I get to take it I think it will be really good. I know quite a bit about the formation of our canon, but I think it would be interesting to learn more, to think about what's important and what isn't about the idea of a "canon," and I want to write a paper about the fact that there is nothing in the Christian canon (Bible) that's written by or from the perspective of women. Does this matter? If so, can it be fixed in any way? What might we be missing of the truth of who God is that women might be able to articulate from their/our experience that men can't or don't? Why does our canon have to be only things written before Jesus' life or by "apostles" (even though the New Testament writers weren't even the actual 12 apostles)? Why can't we hear God's truth speaking through later writers, some of whom might be women?

War & Christian Conscience
I already took a class called "Toward a Theology of Nonviolence," which of course was great, although funny because as a Quaker we don't talk about moving "toward" a theology of nonviolence because we already have a theology of nonviolence. Anyway, this class will be more from the just war perspective, which I think is really important for me to learn more about. We'll be reading some John Howard Yoder, who's a Mennonite pacifist, but the rest looks like it's just war stuff. So that should be really interesting and good food for thought.

Women in the Medieval Church
This will be mainly about specific women who wrote in the Middle Ages, and it looks like we're reading their actual words (well, in English, of course). I've read some of their stuff before but it will be good to read it with others and discuss it, and to hear what my prof has to say about it from the perspective of a better understanding of their space within history.

The Radical Reformation
This is the part of the Reformation where Quakers came in, so this will be really interesting and fun. I know quite a bit about Quaker history but I'm excited to learn more, and to learn about Anabaptists and others. We were the ones who wanted to "reform the reformers," to take the Reformation ideas and really live them out instead of just breaking away from the Catholic church politically but not changing anything in actual practice. I want to write a paper about the Quaker queries as catechism, about how (ideally) our queries are similar to the catechism of other denominations in that they ask questions about our faith and the way we live it out, but our queries are open-ended, asking for a response from our lived experience, whereas other denominations' catechisms have rote answers that you memorize. (Each have their positives and negatives, but I think I like our way better.)

So that will be my semester! Stay tuned for further thoughts and learnings.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

my new band

If I ever had a band and we made an album, here's what it would be and look like:

It's Not the End of the World
come to wisdom through failure

OK, not really. It's actually just a fun online game...make your own!

1. Click Here
The first article title on the page is the name of your band. (If it’s the entry for a real musician or band, cheating with a reload is probably a good idea.)

2. Click Here
The last four words of the very last quote is the title of your album.

3. Click Here
The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Wow, it's been a while! I'm back on the East Coast, ready for school to start a week from tomorrow. Presumably once I'm back in school I'll have a little more to write about. We'll see if I also have time to write...

A couple weeks ago I re-read C.S. Lewis's science fiction book "Perelandra." I read this trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) in middle school and hadn't read them since then, so it was interesting reading it with adult eyes with some theological training. No longer was it just a fun story, but it was an interesting look into Lewis's theology and world view.

The story is basically about this guy (Ransom) who goes to Venus (Perelandra). Venus is, in Lewis's early 20th century lack of knowledge, habitable, and it is in a similar stage to how the Earth mythologically was in Edenic times, before the Fall. There are two people (although slightly different from humans) and the entire world is perfect: warm, covered with clouds so the sun can't burn the skin or hurt the eyes, friendly animals, satiating fruit, etc.

Enter the Devil, who cannot get into this idyllic place without an invitation. Another person from Earth, a mad scientist if you will, comes to Venus and invites the Devil to take him over, so he becomes demon possessed and starts talking to the Eve character, trying to convince her to break God's one command of something they're not supposed to do.

The story is interesting in that it ponders the question of whether it was possible for humans not to sin, what temptation might have looked like, how far temptation goes before sin actually occurs, and the role of God when someone is being tempted.

A couple of Lewis's ideas were particularly interesting to think about, although not necessarily accurate. He suggested that things that are the stuff of our myths may all exist in other places. There were dragons and other mythological creatures on Perelandra. When angels appear they appear in the form of Greek gods. His angels are interesting, too. He imagines them as beings who live in a different dimension from the ones we can normally sense. They are very powerful and intelligent so humans generally think of them as gods, although they only serve God. But God puts the planets under their care, as we think of with the names of our planets. These angels, or "eldila" as they're called, can communicate with us without our knowing it, putting thoughts in our minds, or they can cause us to become aware of them. What we think of as "demons" are actually evil elidla who have become twisted and no longer follow God. Earth has been under siege by these evil eldila since the dawn of our histories. Sometimes good eldila come to Earth as well, and that's where we get ideas of angels. This is an interesting idea, although of course all conjecture.

Lewis apparently believes that humans could have chosen not to sin, and in that case, we would have continued in wisdom and understanding without the actual necessity of doing evil. To Lewis, because we chose evil God used it for good and sent Jesus, which was the central point of all history on all planets and would never be repeated, and was a redemptive act for all creation, not just for our planet. I don't agree with his entire theology on this point--it's hard to explain here, but he believed in predestination in a harsher sense than I do and that came across in his writing.

Another thing that I don't remember from reading this book when I was 13 was how sexist it is. The Devil comes to the woman, tempts the woman because, presumably, she is the weaker one and there is more of a chance of her failing. Every time he comes to her, if she thinks he's perhaps made a good point, she says, "I must talk to the King about this," meaning the man. She can't make a decision for herself, she has to ask him because he's "older" (wiser) than her. If she had to go talk to the King about it because they make all decisions together, that would be one thing--that would be a positive way of living in community, in a healthy relationship, where important decisions are made together. But that wasn't what she was indicating. Also, she is the one who is tempted for several weeks on end, while the King is off doing some random stuff with God, and yet when the celebration happens at the end because she withstood the test, it is the King who is given dominion over the planet and given the privilege of naming everything. He wasn't even tempted!

So, although I would recommend this book because it has some interesting ideas and makes you think about various aspects of Creation & Fall mythology, take it with a grain of salt!