Fall Issue 2
Another Look at the Other: Reflections from the Holy Land | Cory Janz
A Beautiful Bricolage: Interview with the Author, Silas Krabbe
From the Editor
Talking With our Mouths Full: Ft. Dr. Paul Spilsbury
Poet of the Week: Robert Hass
Tiny Answers/The Bunyan/"Deep Friar"
Another Look At the Other: Reflections From the Holy Land - Corey Janz
The Conway Holy Land Travel Bursary is given every year to the Regent College student who submits the most worthy proposal for travel and research in the Holy Land. This summer, Bursary winner Corey Janz spent August in Israel/Palestine, looking at the way local art is influenced by (and how it is influencing) the ongoing tensions between the land’s various people groups. Read more at www.medium.com/@cojanz
Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger dedicated a good portion of his talk to waxing poetic about Israel’s history and land, and to passionately crooning about how—finally!—after two thousand years in pause, God had finally hit the great cosmic Play button so that the epic Jewish drama could move forward once more. His words, though sincerely meant, were also crowd-pleaser material for the Jewish audience of some thirty Diaspora visitors (I was the only goy guest!). I strove to stay attentive, but was slowly succumbing to the Middle Eastern heat, the swarming flies, and the ardent Zionism. Finally, though, the speech took the turn I was hoping for.
Rabbi Schlesinger is a Jewish settler. He lives in Gush Etzion, about an hour’s bus-ride into the West Bank; like all his fellow Jewish settlers, he lives there undeterred by the fact that, in the eyes of the international public, his home on Palestinian soil is categorically illegal. When it comes down to it, Jewish Settlements like Gush Etzion only exasperate the already exhausted Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
By now you’ve probably picked up on the fact that, by this point in my trip, most Zionist talk had the same effect on me as eating that “St. Peter’s Fish” from the Sea of Galilee a week earlier, which I don’t think was cooked all the way through: it kind of made my stomach turn. Admittedly, I don’t know nearly enough about the Zionist perspective to discredit it outright, but from what I ‘ve gathered the Zionist hope has too often been wielded as an end that justifies some pretty crooked means.
That in mind, Rabbi Schlesinger was an enigma I was excited to unravel—For this is precisely what all reports I had read reported him to be. The rabbi is one of the chief coordinators of Roots, an organization that seeks to transform the conflict by creating spaces for Palestinians and Jews to actually meet and build relationships.
While it sounds simple, Roots’ aim is absurdly difficult, simply on the merits that, for the most part, Palestinians and Israelis are completely terrified of one another. In Schlesinger’s own words:
"We speak separate languages, Jews and Palestinians; we live in different towns and villages; we have different school systems, we have different economic systems; we read different newspapers, listen to different radio stations, different television stations, which means the news we get is completely different, which means the world we live in is completely different; different religions (did I mention?), different holy books; different calendars; we even have different time zones [Palestinians and Jews switch to and from daylight savings on different days]…
Let’s say you wanted to meet a Palestinian—which doesn’t happen around here, but let’s say you wanted to meet one—you say, ‘We’re going to meet Sunday at one o’clock in the afternoon’: you might come both on time and not see each other! And that’s a metaphor for how we live around here."
This sort of living arrangement is a breeding ground for fear of the Other—and this is precisely what Roots is trying to combat. It’s important work, and I agreed with the rabbi when he suggested that this ‘human element’ must be developed before a proper political solution will become viable.
This wasn’t always the case for Rabbi Schlesinger though. After delivering his long homage to Zionism, he shifted gears almost jarringly, explaining with shame evident on his face how he lived for 35 years in Gush Etzion before he ever so much as spoke to a Palestinian. But then a few epochal little conversations changed his paradigm completely, along with a new contemplation of an old Jewish teaching.
At the end of his speech, Schlesinger cited important Kabbalist thinker Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935); Kook asserted that “there are sparks of truth everywhere” and that, according to the Kabbalah, the human responsibility is “to gather in these sparks of truth into our own souls.” As we continue to do this, our partial truth gets fuller and fuller. Considering the Kabbalah states that there are sparks of truth everywhere, Kook went on to ask if falsehood does in fact exist at all. His answer: “Falsehood is partial truth masquerading as full truth.”
Schlesinger’s mission to better understand the Palestinian—and his broader mission to encourage his fellow Jews to follow suit—is motivated by this assertion. The perspective of each people group, Schlesinger acknowledged, is a partial truth—and so he seeks to bolster his Jewish one with that of the Palestinian.
This little episode of my trip to Israel-Palestine has left a big impact on me, and by now I must have reflected on it from at least half a dozen different angles. The most influential reflection, however, has revolved around how fear of the Other not only keeps us from meaningful engagement with one another, but it can also motivate us to inflict a lot of pain on each other. But if that fear can be quelled with courage and love, we stand a chance to learn from one another—even if in the end we disagree. I, for instance, still manifestly disagree with Schlesinger’s political and religious ideology—but difference in opinion does not preclude dignity or empathy.
We study in a diverse community of all sorts of Christian traditions, within a city of many ethnicities, backgrounds, and worldviews. It’s my hope that, coming back from my pilgrimage with this reflection, I will be able to engage the Other in my own backyard with bolder courage and stronger love. I am certain my understanding of Christ’s truth would be fuller for it!
A BEAUTIFUL BRICOLAGE: INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, SILAS KRABBE
Etc. sat down this week with recent Regent graduate Silas Krabbe to talk about his new book, A Beautiful Bricolage: Theopoetics as God-Talk for Our Time. The book is hot off the press, and was launched a week ago today. Silas will be having a book-signing on October 4 at the Regent Bookstore. Details to come.
ETC: Can you give a definition of Theopoetics for those who get lost at the title?
SK: No. Theopoetics is supposed to eschew definition. At its most basic it’s theology and poetry. But the discipline is more than that and less than that. It’s not just writing poetry about theology that’s known but entering into a way of being that enters into the mystery and kind of disagrees with the strand of theology that wants clear definition. ...
ETC: Could you summarize how … you arrived at this field of study?
SK: I went to Columbia Bible College which is Anabaptist, and so you study a lot of pacifism—and coming into Regent one of the things I was musing about … is how do we engage in nonviolent speech, intellectually nonviolent ideas, how do we enter into that without domineering over someone with, “our knowledge is superior to theirs.” So theopoetics is complex and academic but it also is based on metaphor, which is highly accessible to everyone, and the openness of interpretation which is in theopoetics—there is no single meaning of the text; there is no objective position—also opens up space for those who aren’t in the academy to speak.
ETC: It’s apparent that it’s interacting with a lot of current post-modern ideas. Can you touch on the extent to which you embrace certain postmodern thinkers or reject others… ?
SK: ... My disposition is probably more to accept than reject the postmodern thinkers, so the nonviolence comes out of my work at CBC and then as I entered Regent I entered the world of philosophy and theology and that brought me through some postmodern thinkers. Derrida, Caputo, Lyotard, and Foucault make somewhat of an appearance and with those it opens up this world of possibility rather than certainty … in reading our culture the theopoetics discipline and myself are much more open to taking the critiques of the masters of suspicion, the postmodern ideas, and wrapping them into a world of faith and doubts and primarily life… So how do you put the human rather than an abstract category at the centre of what you’re doing.
ETC: Which kind of leads into the contextual aspect of the book. It seems really centred in place and you talk a lot about the relevance of where a philosopher is when he is speaking. Can you speak on that?
SK: There’s a both/and or a both/not and in the book in terms of place in that we’re doing philosophy and theology and now Theopoetics in a world where we’re highly mobile we’re moving around, traveling, and that I argue in concert with John Caputo, disrupts our theologies of stability and our philosophies of certainty, and so it’s taking more seriously your place and less seriously your place, so that your place doesn’t have a privilege with it that gives you certain knowledge or a sure footing from which to speak about God. …
ETC: Some would take some of these ideas as an attack on Christian absolute truth… How would you respond to someone who felt affronted by that?
SK: In some ways it is an attack. Hopefully it’s not overly violent in its assault. But it is pushing back on some of the absolutism that’s plagued the Christian tradition—giving us a sure knowledge that the Crusades were a good thing or Manifest Destiny was a good thing. Those were all decisions that were theologically based that we look back on history and we go ‘we were probably mistaken,’ so if we were mistaken in the past it’s highly likely that we are still mistaken in the present. It’s not getting rid of Christianity or Christian Scriptures or the revelation of Christ, but being more delicate in how we hold them. So you can still do theopoetics and respect Scripture and see it as authoritative, but in a theopoetics posture you’re more aware that you’re interpreting and your interpretation of Scripture isn’t going to be absolute. It’s … getting rid of absolutism but it doesn’t have to be absolute relativism. In the book I’m working with a number of thinkers who are still not only deconstructionists but they’re constructionists, or constructive theologians who are wanting to say things positively, but are more attuned to the construction of ideas and the situatedness of knowledge. …
ETC: What you’re saying reminds me of the traditional doctrine of the analogy of being, [which] was a philosophical paradigm which prevented the church from the idolatrous association of dogma with a capturing or containing of God. To what extent are you interacting with that idea or rejecting that idea?
SK: Yeah it’s definitely there. The idea of pushing back against certainty and absolutism is throughout the Christian tradition, often associated with the analogy of being and Platonism and Neoplatonism, but what Theopoetics does largely is accepts some of the critiques of that tradition and so works in a post-metaphysical space, not attempting to reassert the analogy of being as has been classically done but taking a more phenomenological approach, so that’s Caputo’s approach to it, or a more event-based metaphysic coming out of process theology, so those ways are more deconstructive than classically apophatic, so most of Theopoetics takes the deconstructive turn rather than reverting to classical apophatism, which is linked to a metaphysic which most of the theologians would disavow in the discourse of Theopoetics. …
ETC: To what extent is this also an attempt to reintegrate art and theology?
SK: It’s definitely there in that with modernity we prioritized the metaphor of the machine and tried to fit everything into its parts and with art we have a difficulty reducing a painting to its brushstrokes. We understand that something more is being said and something less is being said than simply the paint on a canvas… Just like that poetry and the discourse of poetry both says more than we can normally say about existence and being and God and it says less in that you can’t quite pin it down. Theopoetics is using that artistic turn or that artistic reality to explore life in relationship to the divine in fresh new ways, which kind of like a painting are more open to interpretation than a propositional logic.
From the Editor - Derek Witten
I’d like to introduce myself as this Fall’s editor of the Etc.
Probably I should have done that last week, when the first edition came out, but some fraud bumped me to this week.
I am in the last semester, of what has been a stretching, growing time here at Regent, and very much hope that putting the Etc. together will be a gift to the Regent community for the next three months or so: I've been eyeing this role for three full years of Regent, and am excited to be able to step into it for my final semester.
The way I view this position is that its essential task is simply panning the Regent river for the gold that's already drifting about. Most of the ideas that I would love to see brought to life here flow out of the fact that there's an astounding amount of creativity, humour, cultural analysis, and nuanced academic thinking, etc. (get it) already flowing in this campus, and I hope I can do my job of making sure that some of the good stuff surfaces on these pages every week.
Which explains some or all of my thoughts on articles and columns. The "Bite-sized Theses" column, for example, arises out of my belief that the kind of passion and care that goes into a thesis is richly deserving of a central place in our community. The work has already been done, and I hope that we all enjoy getting just a wee taste in these columns.
Same thing with the "Bunyan." Good communities laugh at themselves, and it doesn't take long sitting in the atrium to witness that this one already does in some of the wit being tossed around the soup lineup. That deserves to surface on these pages too.
So if/when I hassle you to write an article about that half-idea you casually mentioned to me while filing out of chapel, please take it as the compliment it is. I think your insight, humour, and research is already there. Now it deserves its place in the larger Regent conversation.
TALKING WITH OUR MOUTHS FULL: FT. DR. PAUL SPILSBURY
When we first started at Regent a few years back, a couple of Regent students ran a column called ‘Out to Lunch,’ wherein they invited faculty out to dine, ostensibly to review local lunch dives, but more truthfully, to have an opportunity to amicably chat up the profs. We have shamelessly stolen this idea, and although we have slightly modified the review system, and realized we have a lot to learn about the greasy art of restaurant shorthand, we both thoroughly enjoyed our first lunch date with Dr. Paul Spilsbury at the Maurya Express.
Maurya Express is an Indian restaurant and so Dr. Spilsbury is well qualified to review the restaurant. He had several good friends in his native South Africa who were from India with whom he often shared authentic Indian cuisine; his wife, who grew up in India, enjoys cooking curries, and he has travelled to India where he sampled many various styles of Indian cooking. We are also qualified, both of us having made a priority of eating food on a regular basis:
Troy: “Dr. Spilsbury, we know that you’re a New Testament scholar and an expert on the Jewish historian Josephus. Is there some subject that you are quite knowledgeable in that Regent students wouldn’t be aware of?”
Dr. Spilsbury: “Cricket, actually. I’m a big fan of cricket.”
Ed: “Do you enjoy playing it or just watching it.”
Dr. Spilsbury: “Mostly just watching it now, but I played a lot when I was younger. Paid for my college at Cambridge.” [i]
Ed and Troy: “Wow!”
Further conversation revealed that Dr. Spilsbury supports Royal Challengers Bangalore, the same team, incidentally, of our own RCSA president, David Paul. We discussed cricket for a short while but there wasn’t a huge amount of traction due to our unfamiliarity with the game, although we are aware of some parallels. Troy, being American, is familiar with baseball and I’ve watched paint dry before. Soon the subject changed to art though, and here we found common ground.
Dr. Spilsbury is a self-described artist (“I’m a bit of a hack artist, although that’s an overstatement.”) He enjoys watercolours and drawing. As a child he would make large copies of scenes from the comic, Asterix and Obelix. Perhaps comics inspire more artists than one would expect, as Troy revealed that he found inspiration from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. We discussed our mutual deep appreciation for its creator, Bill Waterson and Dr. Spilsbury remarked that Waterson is noted for being a recluse, who neither allows for marketing of his characters nor poses for pictures. Few people know what he looks like.Troy confessed that he, in grade 7, once used his paper route money to buy a Calvin and Hobbes t-shirt, later feeling enormous guilt when he realized that it was definitely a copyright violation.
After talking about comic books we made the natural transition to a discussion of canon.
Dr. Spilsbury: “My son Oliver is a great fan of Harry Potter, but for him, it’s a closed canon. He told me, ‘if J.K. Rowling writes anything else, that’s fine, but for me the story is done. You just can’t add any more, even if it’s written by the author who created the story and characters in the first place’.” Dr. Spilsbury then brought up an interesting hypothetical parallel concerning biblical canon. “If they were to uncover a truly authentic, yet previously unknown letter of Paul to the Corinthians, for example, could you let it into the canon? I don’t think you could. Its closed.”
We pondered this question for a while before moving onto the even thornier question of interpretation. Whereas Catholics have the authority of the pope and magisterium to discern doctrine, Protestants are left on their own. Dr. Spilsbury made the suggestion (probably facetiously) that we make N.T Wright the Protestant pope.
All in all it was a satisfying meal. Maurya Express is more of a take-out restaurant, but we were able to take advantage of sunny weather and one of the tables they had set up outside to enjoy our meal. We each ordered the veggie box which came the choice of various curries. The food was good for what it was, so long as you aren’t too put off by tofu whose colour can best be described as “glow in the dark green.”
Maurya Express Report Card
Ambiance: Although there were a couple tables set up on the patio, ours was quite literally the door stop so we ate our meal in the entrance.
Dr. Spilsbury: C Ed and Troy C
Food: We stayed true to the Regent tradition where the professor chooses to increase the stingy grades of some overzealous TA’s.
Ed and Troy: B+ Dr. Spilsbury: A-
Price: Dr. Spilsbury, despite our feigned objections, picked up the tab.
Ed and Troy: A+ Dr. Spilsbury: A
Service: Ed and Troy: A Dr. Spilsbury: A
Every week or so, Troy and Ed will be taking a member of the faculty or staff for lunch. Learn where to go for lunch; learn unexpected things about professors.
[i] Both of us were very impressed at that little piece of intel, neither of us having heard of this impressive athletic accomplishment, probably because it isn’t true. What he actually said was, “Played for my college.” referring to a sort Cambridge cricket beer league. BONUS: IF you hear anyone claiming their NT prof went to Cambridge on a cricket scholarship, they can safely be labelled as someone who doesn’t read footnotes, and judged accordingly.
Poet of the Week: Robert Hass - By Blythe Hutchcroft
You might know Robert Hass as that former U.S. Poet Laureate who was beat down in the Occupy Berkeley riots. (That one made the headlines, arguably more so than his poetry ever has.) Or perhaps you’ve come across some of his translations of Czeslaw Milosz’s work. Maybe you’ve never heard of him, but I will argue (biased by my own preferences, of course) that we all should be reading Hass’s poetry. It’s sharp yet creaturely, it teems with clever wonder, and it challenges my own assumptions about knowledge and language. And lo, the beauty of this little column! We can share our favourite poets with you, and you can jot down those that grab you (be they a Regent peer or a peer’s recommendation), building your own list of “who we all should be reading.” But here, allow me to suggest Robert Hass for that list you’re growing.
“The Problem of Describing Trees”
The aspen glitters in the wind
And that delights us.
The leaf flutters, turning,
Because that motion in the heat of August
Protects its cells from drying out. Likewise the leaf
Of the cottonwood.
The gene pool threw up a wobbly stem
And the tree danced. No.
The tree capitalized.
No. There are limits to saying,
In language, what the tree did.
It is good sometimes for poetry to disenchant us.
Dance with me dancer. Oh, I will.
The aspen doing something in the wind.
I like this poem because it is a poem that resists taxonomies. A poem that acknowledges Hass’s attraction to silence as an integral part of how he relates to the world. Ah, attraction to silence—that old poet’s paradox! Alongside any denial of one’s ability to describe the world lives this concession: you have to speak to write about your wonder for that which surrounds you. In other words: words have limits, but the poet has no other tools. “The Problem of Describing Trees” suggests an inability to get it right—there will always be something in the aspen that escapes the poet’s grasp—but a commitment to marvel, curious and eager, at all this creation anyways.
What’s so great about this poem is its progression to that final vague articulation: the aspen doing something. I think we should read that line—a line that’s both abstracted and alert—in light of Hass’s claim that “it is good sometimes for poetry to disenchant us.” What do you make of that claim? Do we read poetry expecting to be disenchanted? Should we? I am reminded of Canadian poet Tim Lilburn’s essay, “How to be Here,” in which he says:
"Poetry is where we go when we want to know the world as lover. You read a poem or write one, guessing at the difficult, oblique interiority of something, but the undertaking ultimately seems incomplete, ersatz. The inevitable disappointment all poems bring motions toward the hard work of standing in helpless awe before things."
As you rush about your Tuesday afternoon, may you have the chance to run up against language, to stand “in helpless awe” of some corner of this world—maybe even a fluttering B.C. aspen. (I think there are some in Pacific Spirit Park.)
You can find “The Problem of Describing Trees” in Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005 by Robert Hass.
Question: What one physical thing would you add to the Regent College campus?
- Kasey Kimball (3rd Yr): A designated napping room.
- Ricky Stephen (3rd Yr): A bar.
- Dr. Phil Long (Hebrew Prof): a work-out space, or a “weight” room, as “weight” in Hebrew has something to do with “glory,” and some of us could well improve our glory.
- Derek Witten (4th Yr): Bronze statues of Hans and Loren standing on top of the atrium pillar, Hans pointing up, Loren pointing down.
- Mitch Ferreria (3rd Yr): A room of puppies.
- Dave Comeau (3rd Yr): A ping-pong table. Adjacent to the hot tub.
- Timon Schneider (2nd Yr/Economist): A Well that has outdoor and indoor tables; the Well would make double as much.
- Meredith Cochran (3rd Yr): Kneelers for the prayer room, and a punching bag (probably not in the prayer room (but maybe in the prayer room)).
Monday, Sep 12, A male, mid 20s, heavily bearded, wearing a blazer and dark jeans walked into the Allison library, and sat at one of the middle tables.
He pulled a volume of Pseudo-Dionysius in the original Greek from his leather shoulder-bag, and placed the book on his portable bookstand.
He then plugged his white earbuds into the computer. As the man was arranging himself for study, however, his arm caught the headphone wire, jolting the headphone plug just enough to break connection with the computer.
The student’s music was projected from the laptop speakers for all to hear.
Reports identified the song as “If You Wanna Be My Lover” by the long-forgotten Spice Girls. Students across the library glanced uncomfortably in his direction. After several seconds the student noticed all eyes on him.
The student’s hand jolted to the pause button as realization suddenly dawned.
He looked around and said, “I had my Itunes on shuffle.”
A library worker, however, reported that the student was seen subtly but accurately mouthing the chorus, “If you wanna be my lover, ya gotta get with my friends; make it last forever, friendship never ends,” all without taking his eyes from the his volume of sixth century Neoplatonist apophatic theology.
The student later admitted: “The song reminds me of my idyllic teenage years, when my thoughts were carefree and unburdened, my theology simple and pure. It helps me focus. Besides that, the song actually has a pretty solid moral backbone. The singer is contending that if you do, in fact, wish to be her lover, she first needs to consider the opinions of those near and dear to her. It’s something to think about.”
"Deep Friar" | Erik De Lange