December 2010


Here are a few things we did this year, some of which might be a little different than we did in the US…

  • A Lessons and Carols service with a brass band sometime during advent.  I think more high church denominations in the US have lessons and carols services–readings through the nativity story (i.e., the lessons) and songs (i.e., carols), but the brass band is definitely local.  Most pit villages (coal mining villages) had their own brass band.  Most of the mines are now shut but the Pittington Brass Band is still holding on.
  • You go to church on Christmas day (as well as Christmas eve), but our services were cancelled for Boxing Day (see next).
  • The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day, and it’s as much a holiday as Christmas–kinda like the day after Thanksgiving.  If you spend Christmas with one side of the family, you are likely to spend Boxing Day with the other side.
  • For our Christmas Eve service, we always do a Christingle service, though others do it other times during advent.  It’s a craft-based and kid-focused service.  (My wife filled in as the leader of this service this year and did a smashing job.)
  • Christmas Carolling to home-bound members.  Pretty much the same, but you’d be hard stretched to have a hay ride.  Almost nobody has trucks here.  Another tricky bit is that some of the famous carols here have different tunes, a problem you also face with various other hymns as well.
  • There are two standard Christmas food items: Mince pies and Christmas Pudding.  Now this gets tricky for the uninitiated.  ‘Mince’  is typically the term here for ground meat, so minced beef, minced lamb, etc.  However, when it comes to Christmas food, mince (or mincemeat) pies don’t have meat.  They are very sweet with sultanas, raisins, and the like.  Christmas Pudding is basically a fruit cake.  The pink and green fluff that my wife makes and sweet potato casserole aren’t big hits as parts of the main meal because you are not supposed to mix sweet and savoury, so when we share our Christmas meal with our minister’s family who have adopted us for Christmas lunches, they always have to take the mick out of us about them.
  • Treats for Santa.  We left out ‘biscuits’ and milk.  Our ‘biscuits’ (cookies/crackers) weren’t typical British because they were peanut butter on ritz with melted chocolate poured over.  This is a no-no here because you aren’t supposed to mix sweet and savoury items.  We normally do traditional Christmas cookies, but didn’t get around to making them this year.  We learned this year that the traditional offering to Santa is a glass of sherry and mince pies.
  • Christmas Crackers.  These range from cheap to really spendy.  You pull them apart with a friend, and they typically have a surprise, a joke, and a paper crown.
  • At church, there is always a nativity play.  Lots of kids come in who don’t normally come just for the day and are typically slotted as extra shepherds or animals.
  • Speaking of plays, pantomimes (or pantos) are definitely popular.  They are usually (humorous) adaptations of traditional children’s stories, with things like cross-gender roles, singing, etc.
  • People are fanatics about Christmas cards.  For instance, all the kids at school give them to everyone in the class (almost like kids in the US do for Valentines).
  • Lots of key shows have a Christmas special.  For instance the big one for our family to watch is the Dr Who special.  And, let’s not forget the Queen’s speech every Christmas.  She talked about the 400 year anniversary of the KJV coming up in 2011 and the importance for sport.  Not sure the connection, but the speech is a piece of British tradition.

These are just a few things off the top of my head. Now that this is the fifth Christmas we’ve done here some things start to seem ‘normal’, but then we always learn other new things that stand out.  I suppose one of the big things that is missing is the football games to fall asleep to after eating your big meal.  The Ashes (‘the’ cricket competition between England and Australia) competition is going on right now, but that’s not anything to do with Christmas.  It’s just summer there (Australia) this time of year.  And it’s important to note that England have thrashed Australia on the first day of the 4 Test… but that’s a different blog post.

Here’s an interesting story I came across this news story at my hometown paper about Baylor.  Ken Starr is the new president (yes, the Ken Starr from the Clinton days), but a key part of the discussion is the vision of the school to be both Christian and academically excellent.   During my time at Ouachita Baptist University, the Pew Scholars Program was just rolling out and I was definitely infected by the mindset that evangelicals need to leave behind their anti-intellectual heritage.  In fact, I just remembered that my first time to lead an academic discussion group (as a part of Pew) was kick started by an article in the Wall Street Journal I came across detailing Sloan’s changes.  Baylor seems like a great place to try out this experiment, but I’m sure it’s a difficult process.

But as I was doing some research for my statements about the integration of faith and learning a few months ago, I came across this article: ‘Faith and Learning: Toward a Typology of Faculty Views at Religious Research Universities’ by Todd Ream, Michael Beaty, and Larry Lion in Christian Higher Education, 3 (2004):349–372. They questioned faculty (apparently in the mid-1990′s) from Baylor University (BU), Boston College (BC), Brigham Young University (BYU), and the University of Notre Dame (ND). There were some quite surprising statements regarding the segregation of faith and learning at Baylor (and the other schools), which probably helped motivate Sloan’s 2012 vision. It would be interesting to see what the responses would be today since more concern is given to this in hiring.

As a side note, if you check out Houston Baptist’s 10 Pillar’s vision statement, it seems that they have also embraced this vision from Sloan (who is now the president there).  I hope it succeeds there as well.

I preached last Sunday on the lectionary readings of Isa 7.10-16 and Matt. 1.18-25.  Since the names of Immanuel (God with us) and Jesus were central to the account of who Jesus is, that’s what I focused upon.

Immanuel seems pretty straight forward, but the name ‘Jesus’ is one that I can’t ever remember hearing much about in the academy or the church.  If I’ve heard anything, people most often point out the name Yeshua, but that doesn’t get English speakers any closer to the OT connections.  The anglicised name we would recognise is Joshua.  This first became clear to me a couple of years back when I was translating through Hebrews, where Joshua shows up in 4.8, and lo and behold his name is the same as Jesus in Greek.  I’ll have to do some more reading on the connection.

The other learning opportunity for me was to track down the background to the H. in the ‘Jesus H. Christ’ name that you hear on the street rather than in the church.  I was told that it wouldn’t be appropriate to bring it up in a service, but since I was looking into Jesus’ name, I thought I would look into it.  Who would have thought there would have been a Wikipedia page on it?  Essentially, it stems from the nomina sacra IHC for IHCOYC (or Ιησους).  For those that don’t know Greek, they would assume the C from uncial Greek (which is Σ in modern Greek) stood for Christ.  Therefore, the IHC would be Jesus’ initials.  Coming out of a nonliturgical background, I wouldn’t have ever come across this at church, but the pulpit cover at our church has a lowercase form ‘ihs’.  Probably the most practical part of my sermon was to explain to them what that ‘ihs’ stood for (without the modern interpretation).

With graduate studies, having a secure place for your documents is necessary.  I’ve had a couple of hard drives go out since I’ve been here, but I was fortunate that I never lost anything.  There are a couple of programs that I’d recommend.

I’ve heard people talk about Dropbox in the past but I’ve had a little time over the weekend to try it out for the first time.  Basically, you get 2GB of online storage, but the files also stay local on any machine you download the program to.  That way, you’ve always got access through the internet or on any computer with the program (each computer has the same folder in the My Doc folder).  So, there’s no more emailing files back and forth, and you’ve got an online backup for key documents.

For  backing up the whole hard drive, we use Carbonite.  It makes a full back up of the whole drive, and then it automatically recognises when a new file is added or if a file is changed and backs those up.   It doesn’t do everything I’d like (it’s limited to one hard drive per subscription), but I never worry about pictures and work files being lost.

Conferences go much beyond just giving and hearing papers.  In fact, I think the social interactions are actually central.  I had to miss out on some of this since I had to spend some time doing some editing.  But I still got to meet and hang out with some great friends, especially since many of us have now moved to various places about the world.  But now that I’m finished with my studies, these relationships do have a different angle.

As you meet new people and catch up with others, I’ll echo Nijay that the change from student to scholar is an interesting one.  Since I still don’t have a full-time position, I still feel in the middle of things.  The further you go along, you realise that most things are not really that new or different, though that doesn’t mean they are necessarily less interesting.  But I think it leads to being much more selective in the topics and people you go hear.

One new part of the conferences was interviewing and concern with jobs.  I’ve been approached about a tentative opportunity, and I also had a couple of interviews as I take part in that search towards that next step.  I did come to an important realisation about the job market in relation to past experiences:  I am very content with my academic journey, but your academic past does bear consequences.  While I have a few theological differences from my time at DTS, I still quite value the experience I had there, not least with regard to my introduction to historical theology and Trinitarianism.  I think DTS’s reputation is derived more from its history in the last generation rather than its current position, and, accordingly, mainline and non-confessional programs may see my experience at DTS as a point of concern.  On the other hand, my thesis research in deification and readings not traditionally explored by protestants can be a question mark for confessional schools .  Once you get beyond the strange terminology, much is actually not that unique, but with lots of competition this could be a way to filter out someone.  As I mentioned, I am content with my academic journey and I have a couple of solid job leads, but for those starting out it does help to be aware of the consequences of different decisions.

Conferences in the south are always great because of sweet tea, chick-fil-a, and biscuits and gravy.  I didn’t get out much from the conference area because the hotels were connected to a mall with a food court, but the weather was great.  I returned to Durham, and we promptly got about 4 inches of snow!  Plus there’s no Thanksgiving break, so I got to teach at 9 am on Thursday, the morning after I got back.

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