Archive for January, 2008

Eucharist and Church

January 31, 2008

Although it is evident from the whole content of this chapter [1 Cor 11] that Paul is speaking here about the assembly to perform the Divine Eucharist in Corinth, he nevertheless describes the assembly as a “Church”: “when you assemble as a Church I hear that there are divisions among you” (v. 18). Reading this phrase of the Apostle Paul’s, the Christians of Corinth might be expected to have asked, “What exactly does the Apostle mean when he talks about “coming together as a Church”? Aren’t we a “Church” whenever we meet, and even when we don’t come together in the same place?” This question, which seems so natural to twentieth-century Christians, did not concern the Christians of the Apostle Paul’s time. Indeed, from the passage it can be concluded quite naturally that the term “Church” was not used in a theoretical sense but to describe an actual meeting; and again not to describe just any sort of meeting, but the one that Paul had in mind when he wrote the words quoted above – the assembly to perform the Divine Eucharist. Paul does not hesitate in the slightest to call this assembly “the Church of God”: to despise the eucharistic assembly is the despire the very “Church of God” (v. 22). And going on to identify Eucharist and Church in a manner which is quite astonishing, he talks about the institution by Christ of the divine Supper, linking his reference to the “Church of God” with the subject of the Eucharist by a simple explanatory “for,” as if it were one and the same thing: “For I received from the Lord what I also delievered to you” (v. 23), namely the celebration of the Eucharist. This identification of the eucharistic assembly with the Church allows Paul to use the expression “coming together in the same place” (epi to auto) as a term having at once ecclesiological and eucharistic content. “When you come together in one place (epi to auto) it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat” (v. 20), because, by the way you behave, “you despise the Church of God” (v. 22). “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another . . . lest you come together to be condemned . . . ” (vv.33-34). Thus, in the thought of Paul and the Churches which read his Epistles, the terms “coming together” or “coming together in the same place” (epi to auto), “the Lord’s supper” (i.e. the Divine Eucharist) and “the Church” (ekklesia) or “the Church of God” mean the same thing.

–from Eucharist, Bishop, Church by John. D. Zizioulas

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Teaching Civ

January 26, 2008

Apart from today’s earlier, whimsical post, I have not written much for the blog lately. This is largely due to the pressure of work—teaching, committees, etc.—which is a bit above average this semester.

But along with all that, for the last two weeks I have been reviewing a world civilization text book manuscript for a publisher. This is one of those things that publishers ask academics further down the food chain (like me) to do from time to time, usually for a paltry sum. I’d done it before, and would not have done it again, except that it allows me to make certain Schedule C tax deductions and this time the particular publisher was offering a pretty good chunk of change.

I finished my review today and sent it off, and then wondered: how many people actually remember anything from their college civ classes? I have been teaching these courses—originally “western civ,” now “world civ”—for over twenty years, even though I never took such a course myself in college (Columbia’s core curriculum was centered around Great Books). Indeed, how many people remember anything from my courses? I have always found teaching such courses—all of human history from Autralopithecus Afarensis to W. in two semesters—problematic, an occasionally satisfying but often frustrating experience. At the same time, it is precisely because of the institutional requirement of such courses that I have a job and can do the other stuff, both teaching and research, that I enjoy.

So below is the first part of my review. It is a response to questions the publisher gave me concerning the teaching of civ. I will not name the publisher, nor will I give the actual questions (you can pretty much guess what they were based on my response). I will not give the specifics of my review of the manuscript. But I thought it might be interesting for readers to look over what I wrote about what and how I teach and compare that with their own experience, whether as students, parents, or perhaps educators themselves. I would be interested in any response on any related matter, whether it is the specifics of how I teach, or how well anyone remembers the material from such courses, or what sort of impact these kinds of classes have had on them or anyone they know.

  • My department offers a two semester World Civilization survey. The first semester covers from the beginnings of history to 1453 (the fall of Constantinople) and is only required for history majors, history minors and one or two other minor fields. We usually offer one or two sections of 80 students in both Fall and Spring, and despite being required for relatively few students, it almost always fills up. The second semester is required for all undergraduates (which is over 90% of our 16,000 students) and we offer many sections, usually of 80 students, in both Fall and Spring. I teach both courses.

    We do not have a departmental requirement for the course; that is, there is no common survey text, and each faculty member is free to emphasize what he or she chooses.

    My emphasis in both semesters, but particularly in the first, is cultural literacy, since I find that my biggest challenge, frankly, is ignorance. Most of my students seem to be starting from ground zero, and my goal is to help them make sense of their world. At the beginning of the first semester, I ask the students how many know or even recognize “Pyrrhic victory” or “as rich as Croesus” or “Let justice roll down like water,” etc. Almost none ever do. I hope that after the course, they should be able to see a movie, or read a newspaper, or go to a museum and find that these experiences make more sense.

  • The main textbook I use is [editorial excision]. It’s main strengths are that it is relatively easy to read, and the students like it (at least as much as they ever like a textbook). It is well illustrated, with copious clear maps. It has a common tone and approach, as a result of only two authors. It’s divisions of the material are traditional, which does not suit everyone, but which I like just fine.

    It’s weaknesses are the same as the weaknesses of every civ textbook—it covers things I wish it would skip and leaves out much that I want to discuss. But that sort of thing is inevitable.

    As for additional reading: in the first semester, my emphasis is on the religious and philosophical foundations that the ancient world has left us. Thus I have the students read Genesis, Exodus, Amos and Hosea in the Hebrew Bible; the Bhagavad Gita; selections from the Analects of Confucius; the Euthyphro and Apology of Plato; the Enchiridion of Epictetus; selections from Islamic philosphers; and a small portion (ten pages) of the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. I have also used Tacitus’s Agricola and Einhardt’s Life of Charlemagne. For the second semester, I shift to a more political focus, and usually include such works as Machiavelli’s Prince; Luther’s Freedom of a Christian Man; Jonathan Spence’s translation of the emperor K’ang Hsi; Rousseau’s Social Contract; the Communist Manifesto; and some of Gandhi’s political writings. But at times I will vary the diet and use Descartes’ Discourse on Method, or More’s Utopia, or Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, or some other such. I am always on the lookout for relatively short books of primary source material that I can assign.

  • I always tell the students that I will never include material on a test that is only found in the textbook and not at least mentioned by me. The textbook is meant to reinforce the lectures, particularly by giving the students a bit more context within which to understand the material, and to enable students who have missed a class to catch up. When students ask which is more important, the textbook or the lectures, I tell them to think of the lectures and the textbook as two speakers of a stereo system, and I emphasize that old college rule of thumb: two hours of work outside of class for every hour in class.

  • For lower division civ surveys, I use PowerPoint a lot. It helps a great deal in presenting a massive amount of material in a short space of time. (However, I hardly use it at all in upper division history courses.) I do not assign any online resources—I consider these distracting when the main thing students should be doing is encountering a text and considering ideas. I do not use WebCT or Blackboard—no one has ever explained to me (to my satisfaction, anyway) what is the pedagogical value of such tools. I do not have a web page or home page for the course, but am considering setting one up. I have never taught the course online and hope that I never will.

    Bumper Sticker Anglicanism

    January 26, 2008

    The Brits are at it again. According to The New York Times, the government is trying to come up with a definition of “Britishness.” This has resulted in various sly suggestions for a national slogan, but the winning entry in a Times of London contest was “No motto, please, we’re British.” Read it all.

    So how about the C of E? Or the Anglican Communion in general? “No doctrine please, we’re Anglican”? And there’s always that old standby, “Catholic-lite: all the flavor, but a third less guilt.”

    I open the floor to suggestions. Come on, Rowan Williams and Katherine Jefferts-Schori need our help!

    Brief note III: restoration in progress

    January 15, 2008

    Dear reader:

    Thanks to the back-up provided to me by a generous reader (God grant him many years!), I have managed to restore almost all the postings for 2007.  Alas, for now the comments are still missing, but it is possible that they may also get restored gradually, as will postings for the entire blog.  Meantime, you can still see earlier postings on the original blog site, partially restored by the good people of CaNN after the vicious cyberattack their servers suffered recently. 

    Slowly but surely, the blog is being rebuilt.  I’ll be adding to the blogroll to the right soon, since so many blogs have been kind enough to list me on their sites and it is time to return the favor.

    Brief note II: an interesting exchange

    January 10, 2008

    See here and here.

    Brief note: so what happened?

    January 9, 2008

    Still recovering from Christmas . . . and classes start Monday. However, for those who are still wondering whatever happened to the old CaNN site and related blogs (including this one), see here. Somewhere, Voldemort is laughing . . .

    Old blog back on the air

    January 5, 2008

    Thanks to the dedicated efforts of Mike the Tech Elf, the old RatherNotBlog has been partially restored, but only with posts up to last June, and still without comments. I will, however, continue to post here. God willing, eventually all the old posts (or those worth saving, at least) will get a new life here.

    As some of you may recall, we also celebrate Christmas on the old (Julian) calendar in my house, so postings will be rare until sometime next week, even though I know a lot is happening and there is much I would like to say. So stay tuned.