Or a trip–choose your double entendre. I have been impeccably busy these last few weeks, so that family meals have been like Gatorade cups in a marathon, and my garden has started to engulf the neighbour’s Buick. The wood is not in yet for the Winter, and will not be for a few weeks. Here are the awesome reasons why:
1. It’s All Greek to Me!
Yep, I’m teaching Greek again. This is a course that comes up every 3-4 years at the local Bible College, and I love it. No, it isn’t sheer linguistic masochism that make me want to make these poor students suffer. Well, not just that. Instead, there are three great reasons teaching Greek these days is awesome:
- It gets me into the structures of the language. I can read most any day, or create reading courses for myself to stay fresh. But must of us who enjoy language don’t spend a lot of time in the basics. Teaching Greek allows me to get up close and see the trees for the forest.
- The resources today are awesome. Granted, the Koine/Biblical Greek training materials by Bill Mounce are three steps above anything in the Classic Greek worlds. His system is so clear and approachable, that most students are highly successful. Beyond Mounce, though, we are in the days of great apps, solid exercises, textbook diversity, and audio aids. Much better than those old school suffering programs.
- The students are awesome. Seriously, students today are part of a revival of the value of classical languages, core philosophical or scientific approaches, a recovery of history, and the reading of old books. Sure, not all students. But there are enough students excited about more classically styled education using contemporary technology that it is fun to leave the office door open.
2. Is There Any Such Thing as Christianity?
Through sadder circumstances–I am pinch-hitting for a sick colleague–I am teaching a course at UPEI called RS 202: Christianity. That’s right, Christianity. Talk about a super broad topic!
If I were bright, I would teach it historically, going through history and looking for diversifying and unifying moments. But I am not bright. Plus, I am traveling, interrupting that great historical flow.
Instead, I am setting the historical stage, and then talking about different movements, spiritualities, Christian expressions, and core questions in the Church globally. In the biblical roots I’m focusing on Worldview and Story. I’m also doing two or three Vlogs that I will post that cover some pretty cool topics.
3. Reading The Screwtape Letters as Epistolary Fiction (ISRLC)
I am presenting a paper in Leuven, Belgium, in just a few days. I am very excited, and a little bit nervous. For those who are interested, here is another abstract in my ongoing campaign to have the world re-read The Screwtape Letters as Literature:
From Epistles to Epistolary Fiction: Expanding Norman R. Petersen’s New Testament Sociology of Narrative Worlds
In approaching the apostle Paul’s letter to Philemon, Norman Petersen has attempted a “socio-literary” reading. In Rediscovering Paul: Philemon and the Sociology of Paul’s Narrative World (1985) he explores the sociology of the narrative worlds that Paul constructs in his letters. With the goal of noting Paul’s rhetorical emphases, Petersen suggests that we treat the reality of the text as a “world,” and then examine it from social and cultural standpoints. As such, we are examining a constructed world even when it is presented within a letter of historically referential parties. Petersen explores the narrative world Paul constructs in Philemon, and considers what ways the particular construction of this world reflects Paul’s rhetorical emphases. The result is a sociology of narrative worlds.
This paper explores the question of whether this fruitful approach can be generalized into other letter forms. In his project of spiritual theology, C.S. Lewis used the letter form to frame The Screwtape Letters—the project that launched Lewis into the public sphere and began a veritable genre of demonic epistolary (anti-)spiritual theology. If the author of epistolary fiction has created a consistent fictional world, and if Petersen’s project is plausible, then we can attempt a socio-literary reading along Petersen’s lines in more contemporary—and even fictional—letter forms. Based upon the recent discovery that The Screwtape Letters is plausibly connected to the broader speculative universe of Lewis’ Ransom Cycle, this paper will focus on character typification and narratology in The Screwtape Letters with the goal of understanding “Structure and Anti-Structure” and spiritual resocialization in Screwtape’s universe. Finally, in considering the sociological features of a contemporary narrative world in letter form, we can augment and refine Petersen’s New Testament project, extending the project to more sophisticated early Christian letters.
4. I am Going to King Arthur’s Court! (University of Chester and Gladstone’s in Wales)
Well, less his court, and more the general area we think the Arthur legends emerged. And even that is a stretch. But I am going to the University of Chester–you remember the Cheshire cat, I hope–so I can meet with my PhD supervisors and get to know the campus. I am taking a bullet train through France from Brussels to London, then a train up North. Chester is on the trainline from London, and I will be staying at a downtown hostel while I do some research and get some context for further work.
Of my time in Chester, I am taking a couple of days to study at Gladstone’s Library. This is the Prime Minister’s library, situated in Wales near the border with England. This amazing, historical library will be my study session for part of my time in the Northwest of England. These days will be filled with long hours reading and great long walks in old countryside.
That’s all there is to say, really. Oxford.
I am spending four days in Oxford before I fly back to Canada. The weekend will (hopefully) be filled with walking through this grand historic University town, giving context to the things I have been reading these last years. I have a dear friend as a guide, and hope to see all there is. Well, at least a quarter of what there is. I hope the feel of cobblestones through my old boots will help me as I study the Inklings–that strange Oxford School of great writers and thinkers.
I will also be spending a couple of days at the Bodleian library. There is no place like “the Bod.” One of the oldest libraries in England, as a deposit library, it has almost every book every produced in England.
However, it is more than that. It is both the place that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien did their work–Lewis complained he couldn’t smoke there–and it is where their papers are held in England. Or at least many of them. My goal is to do some fact checking, and then spend some time reading out of C.S. Lewis’s handwritten notebooks. They contain some of our favourite stories and essays, and some that we’ve never read.
We’ll see what comes to Light!
6. Spiritual Theology from the Master (Eugene Peterson)
I’m thrilled, on top of these things, to be the instructor for two of Eugene Peterson’s spiritual theology courses at Regent College. The first course, “Soulcraft,” is a reflection on Ephesians from the perspective of spiritual practice. Here’s the description:
In this series, Eugene Peterson uses the letter to the Ephesians as the primary text in developing the craft of spiritual formation (soulcraft). The letter is explored in the actual conditions in which this formation takes place in us, such as the home, workplace, congregation, institutions and culture. As God does his formational work in us and with those with whom we live, we will develop skills in recognizing what he is doing, and look for the appropriate ways to respond, participate, and guide.
I get to help students work through the material, engage in online discussions, and then mark their papers. I am doing the same for his longer course, “Praying with Jesus.” These graduate-level courses are challenging, but they are most challenging not in academic content, but in personal investment. I love these world-class courses.
Is That All?
No, that’s never all! I am editing a book in October, and writing a chapter on Arthur and the Inklings. I have a couple of short stories spinning, and I am, as always, working on the larger project of rereading the Ransom Cycle.
It will be a busy fall, but some amazing experiences. Take care dear reader!
Jealous am I, especially after seeing those library pictures and the fact that you are headed to Wales. I’ve traveled to Oxford (though for too-brief a visit) but never to Wales. Safe and fruitful travels to you!
It too envy you all of this… except for the Greek. I took a year of Classical Greek at the University of Washington in preparation for my sem studies where I took Koine Greek. Let’s just say… my brain prefers English.
Ah, but if you took my class!
I know you said that you have a friend as a guide, and there is much in the following that I am sure you are well aware of already, but thought that this article might be interesting/useful for your four-day trip to Oxford:
Also, I just came across an inaugural lecture by Rowan Williams at the University of Chester on ‘Approaches to Jesus in Fiction’. I have only just started watching it myself, so cannot vouch for the content, but am sure that, given it involves Rowan Williams, it will be edifying, and hope it is of personal interest for you as a Chester alumnus, as well as someone who is deeply interested in the interrelation between Christianity and fiction:
Hey, Thanks! I’m not yet in Oxford, but I’ll have to follow up on both these links.
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