Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

Author: Chris (page 3 of 18)

Scripture Together

I’m currently working on a book by Shannon Nicole Smythe called Women in Ministry: Questions and Answers in the Exploration of a Calling. It’s an important book, I think, because the issue is one still dogging evangelicals. Smythe approaches it in a helpful way. Rob Wall, in the foreword, writes:

Dr. Smythe offers readers a careful selection of sacred texts because she has a bone to pick; that is, the dialogue between selected biblical passages and her core belief in the triune God guides her to where theological goods are mined that most likely will help her readers engage in their process of discernment. But they are also selected with a full awareness that a primary reason why people disagree over this topic concerns how to read the very passages she has selected to study. While the reasons for these disagreements are complex, often involving social worlds as much as linguistic analysis, the practices for doing so are properly communal. This is a book that encourages interested people to read, study, and discuss Scripture together. Worshiping God and studying Scripture together cultivates those characteristics that enable earnest Christians to resist the tendency of allowing disagreements between them to harden into non-negotiable positions that occasion harsh and hurtful accusations of others on the other side of the divide. This provides a context for both understanding and reconciliation.

Wall’s foreword has some great reflections on theological interpretation. In addition to calling attention to the book itself, highlighting Wall’s words is the purpose of my post today. Here are some longer excerpts I found especially good given my own ongoing interests in theological interpretation:

A theological interpretation of Scripture does not bring a particular modern “criticism” to the biblical text but, rather, a range of theological interests as ancient as the church. Strong students not only recognize that Scripture bears authoritative witness to God’s saving work in history, they expect that a faithful reading of Scripture targets the loving relationship between God and God’s people. That is, if Scripture is approached as a revelatory text, then any Spirit-directed application by its faithful readers should result in a more mature understanding of God’s word whose effective yield is a more satisfying life with God.

The practical problem of such a task, of course, is the abundant surplus, not scarcity, of theological resources at the church’s disposal in its Scriptures. In fact, one could say that the Bible, from beginning to end, is about the relationship between God and God’s people: what does it truly mean to be God’s people and do as they ought? In part, this is because the Bible is the church’s holy Scripture, shaped and sized from beginning to end in the company of the holy Spirit to size and shape a holy church that is also one, catholic, and apostolic. Toward this end, every Scripture is God-breathed to inform, form, and reform God’s people into a covenant-keeping community, a light to the nations.

This book is deeply grounded in the church’s confession that its Scripture—every bit of it—is God’s inspired and inspiring word. Any attentive engagement with what Scripture says, especially if it demands our repentance, as I think this book does, not only recognizes the holiness of the biblical texts that are studied—even those well-known “texts of terror” such as 1 Timothy 2:9–15—but their proper reading and application within the economy of grace. That is, Scripture is the sanctified auxiliary of the holy Spirit who teaches us God’s word and draws us into loving communion with God and with all our neighbors. The practice of studying biblical passages together commends the belief that Scripture’s authority cannot subsist apart from an engaged community of readers who carefully and prayerfully wait upon the Spirit to disclose God’s truth to them.

Underwhelmed, Excited, Satisfied

This post has three parts. The first is about the music offerings of 2015 so far. The second is about the start of the 20th season of MLS. And the third is about a running app. In other words, if you came here looking for a book announcement, or a theological reflection, or commentary on a current event, you’ll be disappointed. However, if you’d like to get some new music recommendation, or you are a fan of soccer in America, or if you’re a runner and want the lowdown on a helpful app, then you’ve come to the right place. Links abound!

Part One: Music of 2015

So far I’ve been underwhelmed by the music coming out in this two-month-old year. Nothing has stood out. To be fair, I listen almost exclusively to Spotify, so I’m not able to hear everything. For instance, I’ve yet to hear the new Bjork album. From what’s available to me, and from what I’ve taken the time to listen to, I’ve not yet been wowed. I had high hopes with the new releases of some old favorites: Father John Misty, Iron and Wine, Jose Gonzalez, Joshua Radin, The Lone Bellow, Of Montreal, Dan Deacon, Belle & Sebastian, and the Punch Brothers, to name a few. They’ve not disappointed me, necessarily, but none of them have hit me quite like they did the first time I heard them however many years ago. I’ve come across some artists new to me that might grow on me as the year goes on: The Amazing, Champs, Fryars, Ibeyi, Sea Change, Jape, and Rhiannon Giddens come most readily to mind. And I’ve hope some of the singles being put out in anticipation of later albums will lead to a better music year: see especially Alabama Shakes, Florence + The Machine, and Passion Pit.

Part Two: MLS

The MLS owners and players worked out a new CBA yesterday, so the 2015 will not be derailed by a work stoppage. This means the 20th season begins tomorrow night. My boys and I have created our fantasy teams, we’ve got tickets for a Timbers game in April, and the league has a new television deal that will allow us to see a few more games.  The recent influx of USMNT players to the league makes it all the more exciting.

Part Three: Wahoo running app

I’ve been running fairly regularly for the last 5 years or more. In that time I’ve used two different sport watches and numerous running apps on my iPhone. I’m as addicted to the data as I am the running! The problem is that my data has gotten scattered across several platforms. I like certain things about one platform and certain other things in other platforms. I have running data on Garmin Connect, RunKeeper, Runtastic, and Runcoach. I’ve been able to consolidate much of that data to some extent. There are still several missing activities on some platforms and still many other duplicates, but I’ve got a good history on several sites. I still can’t decide which one I like the most, so I’ve decided to keep adding activities to all of them and more. Recording runs on several platforms means having several apps open at once while I run, or it means having to manually enter my runs on a half dozen sites after I’ve completed my run. I was going the manual entry route for a while. It got old quick. Then I found a running app that recorded my runs and also allowed me to upload the run to several other running apps: Wahoo Fitness. It is the most versatile running app I’ve ever used. After each run I upload my run to my accounts on Garmin Connect (which automatically connects to Runcoach), Runkeeper, Strava, Nike+, and MapMyRun. I can also put the GPX or TCX file into a folder on Dropbox for uploading to Runtastic. There are other fitness sites Wahoo can upload to, but I’m trying to discipline(?) myself and stick to these seven. While I can’t seem to make up my mind about one platform for recording my running data, I am quite satisfied with the Wahoo app for giving me the option of not having to decide. In addition to compatibility with other sites, Wahoo is capable of linking up with various devices like heart rate monitors, cadence sensors, bluetooth scales, bike computers, and a host of other gadgets for purchase. I’ve yet to buy any of those compatible gizmos. The thing I like best about Wahoo is its simplest feature: the screen! The workout screen has big, easily readable numbers. Reading your distance or pace or time on an iPhone strapped to your forearm, your head bobbing up and down, and sweat getting into your eyes that don’t have glasses on them or contacts in them is not easy. Wahoo’s designers seem to understand this. Highly recommended for runners who are as indecisive and visually impaired as I am.

Stuck in My Craw

I don’t often take up hot button issues here on our editors’ blog. This is for a handful of reasons: 1) I rarely have the time to sit with the topics long enough to put together something thoughtful and coherent. I am not the sort of person who processes by writing. I usually need to let thoughts germinate for a while before trying to say anything in public about them, and I just don’t give them the time. Hot button topics typically come across my radar as I browse headlines or Facebook walls. They then go off my radar, or at least move to the periphery, once I turn my attention to editing books, raising kids, running, college basketball, or following various soccer leagues. 2) I have not developed the art of tactfulness when it comes to these things. My foot fits in my mouth very easily. 3) Because of the first two things, I am careful not to put knee-jerk posts on this blog (but you should see my Facebook wall!). In some ways I am representing Wipf and Stock Publishers on this forum; although, we have been given a good deal of leeway. Still, I proceed cautiously because I work with all sorts of authors, and I kind of like keeping good relationships with people across the ideological and theological spectrum.

This week I’ve been haunted by several online essays, public memes, and other cultural conversations. Given the reasons listed above, I don’t plan to say much about any of these topics, but I do want to get some of them off my chest, as it were. Some may these things and accuse me of suffering from white man’s guilt. If that is so, it is a justified guilt, I think. I come by suspicion and criticism easily. I’m especially good at poking at the cultures and institutions I myself am or have been a part of. For example, I could go on for a while about white, Southern evangelicals. I have in recent years become more critical of northwest liberalism’s influence on northwest Christianity. I think some of this criticism from within is a product of my own personal self-reflection/criticism. See all that has preceded as evidence of this! I’m working on it. All that to say, here are a couple of things that have stuck in my craw lately.

White Privilege, Quantified

In all, the experiment yielded data on more than 1,500 encounters between volunteers and drivers. Nearly two-thirds of the volunteers’ pleas were successful, but the rate at which they were granted differed greatly across ethnicities. White participants were given a lot more leeway than black ones: 72 percent of white subjects were allowed to stay onboard, while only 36 percent of black ones were. The rate for South Asian subjects was around 50 percent, and for East Asians it was 73 percent.

The Failure of Macho Christianity

The ego-inflation and aggressive tendencies that these hyper-masculine ministries encourage seem to be the very pathologies that undermine their churches, leaving their congregations vulnerable to upheaval and public spectacle.

and the backlash the author has received from the Pick-Up Artist movement she mentioned in the above article.


A Womanist Biblical Hermeneutics Reader

Last week I shared a flurry of Pickwick titles I’ve worked on in this new publishing year. Today I’d like to call attention to a recently published Cascade book:

I Found God in Me is the first womanist biblical hermeneutics reader. In it readers have access, in one volume, to articles on womanist interpretative theories and theology as well as cutting-edge womanist readings of biblical texts by womanist biblical scholars. This book is an excellent resource for women of color, pastors, and seminarians interested in relevant readings of the biblical text, as well as scholars and teachers teaching courses in womanist biblical hermeneutics, feminist interpretation, African American hermeneutics, and biblical courses that value diversity and dialogue as crucial to excellent pedagogy.


I first worked with Mitzi J. Smith in 2011 to publish a revision of her dissertation, The Literary Construction of the Other in the Acts of the Apostles: Charismatics, the Jews, and WomenIn the first part of this new book, she and other womanist interpreters pull back from the text a bit to take a look at womanist interpretative theory more broadly, using Alice Walker’s short essay, “Womanist,” as a springboard. Beginning with Walker’s essay, the chapters in the first half of the book then include:

  1. Womanist Interpretations of the New Testament: The Quest for Holistic and Inclusive Translation and Interpretation by Clarice J. Martin
  2. Re-Reading for Liberation: African American Women and the Bible by Renita J. Weems
  3. Womanist Interpretation and Preaching in the Black Church by Katie Geneva Cannon
  4. An African Methodology for South African Biblical Sciences: Revisiting the Bosadi (Womanhood) Approach by Madipoane J. Masenya
  5. Marginalized People, Liberating Perspectives: A Womanist Approach to Biblical Interpretation by Kelly Brown Douglas
  6. Our Mothers’ Gardens: Discrete Sources of Reflection on the Cross in Womanist Christology by JoAnne Marie Terrell
  7. “This Little Light of Mine”: The Womanist Biblical Scholar as Prophetess, Iconoclast, and Activist by Mitzi J. Smith

In the second half of the book, Smith and others look more closely at biblical passages, characters, and books.

  1. A Womanist Midrash on Zipporah by Wil Gafney
  2. Fashioning Our Own Souls: A Womanist Reading of the Virgin-Whore Binary in Matthew and Revelation by Mitzi J. Smith
  3. A Womanist-Postcolonial Reading of the Samaritan Woman at the Well and Mary Magdalene at the Tomb by Lynne St. Clair Darden
  4. Minjung, the Black Masses, and the Global Imperative: A Womanist Reading of Luke’s Soteriological Hermeneutical Circle by Mitzi J. Smith
  5. Wisdom in the Garden: The Woman of Genesis 3 and Alice Walker’s Sophia by Kimberly Dawn Russaw
  6. “Knowing More than is Good for One”: A Womanist Interrogation of the Matthean Great Commission by Mitzi J. Smith
  7. Silenced Struggles for Survival: Finding Life in Death in the Book of Ruth by Yolanda Norton
  8. “Give Them What You Have”: A Womanist Reading of the Matthean Feeding Miracle (Matt 14:13–21) by Mitzi J. Smith
  9. Acts 9:36–43: The Many Faces of Tabitha, a Womanist Reading by Febbie C. Dickerson

The result of this structure is a fascinating collection that introduces readers to both theory and practice of womanist biblical interpretation. Thomas B. Slater of the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University, Macon, GA says,

It is good reading for pastor and academician alike: for pastors to see the many implications of a growing movement for fellowship in the black church; for academicians to engage in a continuing activity that is not dissipating but growing, a movement which has significant implications for the interpretation of Scripture and the development of Christian theology and ethics in the future. The church and the academy are indebted to Smith for this significant, stimulating study.

Flurry of Academic Titles

While many northeastern sections of the US have been hit with a flurry of snow storms, the Pacific Northwest has been relatively mild. On my desk, however, there has been a flurry of academic titles coming off the printers. (That’s a weak intro, I realize. But it’s early and I’m needing to move on.)

You may not know that Wipf and Stock Publishers is the publishing center for six different imprints, each of which have their own distinctive traits. We editors who blog here at Running Heads work primarily with two of those imprints: Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications. We try to make this clear in the tagline of our blog, “From the Editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers.” Still, I often see signs that people do not realize we have several imprints, let alone do they understand the differences between them. For instance, I will frequently see Wipf and Stock listed as the publisher in bibliography entries when Cascade or Pickwick should be named instead. Or, I will see a confused look on the face of a potential author when I tell her that the book proposal from her revised dissertation will be considered for Pickwick.

In short, under the Cascade imprint “we publish new books that combine academic rigor with broad appeal and readability.” The Pickwick imprint is more “focused on discussions within the scholarly community.” That is not to say Pickwick titles will not find an audience outside the guild. The guild is the focus, though. In Pickwick you will find monographs, festschriften, revised dissertations, conference proceedings, edited volumes of academic essays, etc. There is an exception or two now and then, but on the whole a Pickwick title will typically have a narrower focus, denser style, and more substantial bibliographic apparatus. Thus, Pickwick titles tend to have a smaller market.

And yet, I think, Pickwick titles are some of the most creative and important books we (or any others!) publish. Since the end of November, when our publishing year ends, I’ve had a good handful of Pickwick titles in my editing queue published. I’d like to highlight some of them below:

“The Christian church must respond to the overwhelming challenges of worldwide migration. Fundamental to these efforts should be a fresh and creative engagement with the Bible that can speak into these new global realities. God’s People on the Move is a wonderful resource for our time: experienced missiologists from various traditions, steeped in the Scriptures and committed to their particular contexts, demonstrate the relevance of the word of the God who loves the immigrant.” –M. Daniel Carroll Rodas, Distinguished Professor of Old Testament, Denver Seminary, Littleton, CO

“To understand what it means to enact the reconciling justice of Jesus Christ in the world today, Geoff Broughton brings the text of Scripture, the insights of prominent theological thinkers, and lessons learned from years of practical ministry on city streets into a rich and intriguing mix. This is a welcome contribution to elucidating the theological foundations of the restorative justice vision, the need of which has never been more urgent.” –Christopher Marshall, Professor of Restorative Justice, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand


“Bradley has gathered a community of scholars adept in the analysis of and the timely reflection on the lack of African American presence, females in particular, even in the Christian academy. An impressive array of topics are pursued to demonstrate diverse and pervasive challenges. The authors attempt to show that though the challenges are formidable, they are not insurmountable.” –Bruce Fields, Associate Professor, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL


“With so much attention paid to the explosive revival of Chinese Christianity today, G. Wright Doyle masterfully contributes a historical piece to the discussion, namely the ‘Great Century of Missions’ in that nation. This edited collection highlights both indigenous and expatriate Christians, and both official and underground churches. It is a 1 Cor 3:6 type of book, showing that while many people have contributed various parts to the Christian enterprise, it was God who made it grow.” –Allen Yeh, Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies and Missiology, Cook School of Intercultural Studies, Biola University, La Mirada, CA

“Orthodoxy and Heresy in Early Christian Contexts brings up to date a long-existing debate about those other gospels and early Christianity. Covering issues tied to the Apostolic Fathers, Irenaeus, Gnosticism, and the rule of faith, here is a solid compendium of essays that issues a significant challenge to the thesis of Walter Bauer–that orthodoxy emerged late from a largely sociological battle over the origin of the Jesus movement. It shows how orthodoxy’s roots are far older than claims of other options from the second century and beyond. This is simply profitable reading.” –Darrell L. Bock, Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, TX

“Since Theophilus’s Ad Autolycum has received less attention than other second- and third-century writers, Stuart Parsons not only fills a lacuna in scholarship but also provides us with an important lens for reading Theophilus’s exegetically based, apologetic argument by situating the work in its second-century rhetorical context. This book presents a helpful balance between establishing Theophilus’s rhetorical purpose, providing close readings of texts, and demonstrating an overall structure for reading these letters.” –Ben C. Blackwell, Assistant Professor of Christianity, Houston Baptist University Houston, TX

Greek isn’t that easy

Greg Lanier posted a couple of days ago an application of quantitative analysis to the acquisition of Greek vocabulary for New Testament reading. He runs through some statistics about the number of words in the GNT, the number of hapax legomena, the number of words one has to acquire to reach 80% of the word occurrences, etc. It is all very interesting and informative, and there are graphs. I love graphs! His point is to encourage students to focus on learning core vocabulary. His numbers and graphs help to make this task less daunting than it might appear at first. His summary is thus:

  • Investing significant time up front to acquire the 50+ words pays significant dividends.
  • There is a tremendously “long tail” whereby going from 90% to 100% of words by occurrence (that is, ability to read that percentage of the NT without relying on a dictionary) requires learning >80% of the total vocabulary! That’s a huge step!
  • Perhaps the best idea is to focus on the 882 words that get you to 90%.

882 words doesn’t seem like all that much . . . if that were all there was to it! I always think I am giving students too rosy an outlook when I tell them how few words they have to memorize to read a majority of the NT. Inflected languages actually require students to memorize a handful of words when they are learning “one” word. For instance, it feels dishonest to tell students they only have to learn one word in the definite article to have nearly 20K (19,867 to be exact) word occurrences under their belt. That one little word actually has 17 different forms, 17 different words to memorize, if we’re being honest. And some of those words pull double duty (or triple, in the case of plural genitive).


It sounds less daunting to think we only have to memorize 882 words to get to 90% of the GNT, but in reality it is much more than that. 

I’m by no means a statistician and I do not claim the same abilities in quantitative analysis as Greg. So you will not be getting any charts from me. But I want to explore my point a bit further. Using Greg’s post, the list provided by the Institute of Biblical Greek, a calculator, and a grammar to check my paradigms, I want to take a look at the 20 “unique” words that occur 900 times or more in the GNT.

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at [Jan 29] 9.04

According to the traditional spiel about Greek vocabulary learning, one would only need to memorize 20 words to account for 64,486 (somebody check my calculator work!) word occurrences out of a total of only 138,150 total words in the GNT. That’s 20 words for over 46% of the GNT! Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Of course, you would have 5400 more words to learn to acquire the nearly 54% outstanding, but let’s focus on the surmountable part for now. Here’s the rub, though. As I said earlier, there are actually 17 different, truly unique words that make up what most vocabulary lists put down as only one word in their listing of the definite article.  In fact, if I am counting right, there are only 9 words in this list of 20 that do not inflect, decline, morph, augment, presto-change-o somehow. Wait, strike that. There are a few of those prepositions that will end differently depending on the word they precede. When I set out on this blog post, I had in mind to try to count the actual number of words hidden away inside this list of 20, but the idea of trying to count all the verbal forms of a couple of the words overwhelmed me, and I have actual editing work to do today. So , I never did make use of the Greek grammar I had on my desk in order to count all the different forms/words. Still, the point I want to make explicitly now is that learning enough Greek vocabulary to account for 90% of the GNT is a good deal more than learning 882 words.

And before pedants start putting me in my place about what a “word” is or about what we mean by “learning” a vocabulary word or about how memorizing a few paradigms make it so that one need only memorize one word to have all 17+ forms (AKA unique words!) at hand, let me appeal to my Merriam-Webster dictionary for an example or two. You will find there an entry for the indefinite article ‘a’ on one page, and an entry for ‘an’ on another page.  One could argue that it is just one word with different forms, but there are two separate words for English-language learners to memorize! Yes, I understand that if English-language learners memorized a few rules (easier rules than Greek since English inflects only minimally), then they would only have to memorize ‘dog’ to get ‘dogs’ and ‘inflect’ to get ‘inflected’ and ‘inflecting’ and ‘inflects’ and ‘inflection’ and so on. I would say, however, that learning these rules only makes learning related words easier. It is not that they’ve memorized one word. It’s that they’ve memorized several related words with the assistance of standard rules. And it is a hard argument to make that English-language learners are memorizing only ONE word when they learn ‘go’ and ‘went’ or ‘goose’ and ‘geese’ or any number of irregular word sets. Greek is filled with irregular words of all sorts. It is a hard argument to make that Greek-language learners are memorizing ONE word when they learn all of the crazy forms of εἰμί.

I don’t mean to be discouraging of students learning Greek vocabulary. When I taught, I had a reputation for requiring more than the normal number of vocabulary words. And now in retrospect I see that I was actually assigning many more words than were listed. I don’t regret it. My students might. I don’t. I’m writing all of this as a way to think out loud, as it were, about how we “market” vocabulary learning to students. Is it fair to say only 882 words and you’ve got 90% of the GNT? Most students, I would guess, hear the word “words” and assume it is something like looking up an unfamiliar word in Merriam-Webster. They have no idea that Greek is just not that easy.

Spam a lot, a whole lot!

In recognition of having surpassed 2 million spam comments caught by our blog’s spam filter, I highlight some of the more recent ones below. I’ve extracted the good bits, removing links and gibberish. You can see earlier responses to spam comments here and here and here.


From True Religion Jeans Sale Online:

These crops (ingrown toenail, tomatoes, grains, and other veggies) are no area for honey bees.

Is the jeans brand called “True Religion” or are they jeans somehow associated with a true religion? And why shouldn’t honey bees be around ingrown toenail crops?

From tree stump removal:

Hey! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so I came to look it over. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Fantastic blog and wonderful style and design.

First off, thanks! Secondly, seriously “tree stump removal” is on Myspace? Is anybody on Myspace these days? Thirdly, I can‘t help but tell you bookmarking is not supposed to be hyphenated. Finally, you actually have followers on Twitter? Who follows “tree stump removal” on Twitter?

From tree removal service:

Hi, I log on to your new stuff on a regular basis. Your story-telling style is awesome, keep up the good work!

Come on tree stump removal, I know this is you! Did you expand your business to removing the whole tree and not just the stump? Good for you! Thanks for another nice comment, but once again you’ve hyphenated something unnecessarily. It’s storytelling, one word, no hyphen.

From best skis 2015:

Do you have a spam problem on this site; I also am a blogger, and I was curious about
your situation; we have developed some nice procedures and we are looking to trade techniques with other folks, why not shoot me an e-mail if interested.

YES! Yes, we do have a spam problem. How did you know? By “blogger” do you actually mean “spammer”? I’m not sure how trading techniques is going to help with our spam problem. Although, I am curious about your nice procedures. By the way, your punctuation is atrocious!

From Doudoune Moncler Authentique Pas Cher:

Whether we know it or not each decision we make is based off of intelligence support that we gather. When choosing what to wear we will likely check the weather. You wouldn’t wear a sweater and jeans on a hot, humid afternoon.

True dat!

From true religions jeans hot sale:

(We tend to) just (need) steadiness in a lot of areas. Girls were dressed up, in a major way. Their dresses ended up being fly

This is almost as confusing as your ingrown toenail crop comment earlier. By the way, dropping the caps and making it a “hot” sale fools no one. We still know its you!

From junk removal business:

May I just say what a comfort to discover a person that truly knows what they’re talking about online. You certainly understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people have to look at this and understand this side of your story. I was surprised that you’re not more popular since you most certainly possess the gift.

Tree stump removal? Is that you again? Your business seems to keep growing. You’re into junk now? Thanks again for your kind words and for avoiding poorly placed hyphens. I’m not sure why you are so surprised that I’m not more popular. I blog about the spam our blog has received! I appreciate you calling that a gift, but it is not going to drive much blog traffic.

100 Favorite Tracks of 2014

This is not scientific by any means. I went through all of the tracks I flagged this past year (nearly 500!) and checked the ones that stood out the most for whatever reason. I only allowed myself one song from any one artist or group. When I was done I had almost 100 favorite tracks. I needed a round number, so I went back through and checked a few more to get to an even 100. Here they are in no particular order:

Unhappy New Year

The turn to a new year ought to bring excitement, but I’ve learned over the past several years that it provides somewhat of a letdown for me. It usually takes a few weeks for the melancholy to settle in. I’m anticipating it now. I’ve tried to pinpoint its cause and I’ve identified three possibilities.

The closing months of most years are full and busy and fun. At work we build toward the highlight of our year: AAR-SBL. I work feverishly to squeeze out the last few projects before the conference. I spend a good deal of time leading up to the conference scheduling meetings with friends (and [possible] authors!) old and new. I attend the conference and go full steam from breakfast to nightcaps. And from there we move right into Thanksgiving, which has been for the last few years spent with extended family. December, of course, is packed with Advent rituals, Christmas parties, more time with school-free kids, and the like. The last quarter of each year is extra-ordinary, and I think that is what makes it so exciting and invigorating. January, too, usually begins with an extra dose of energy. A few extra days of the boys out of school. The novelty of the new Soda Stream Christmas gift hasn’t worn off yet. A slew of projects at work that had to be set aside for more urgent matters awaits me. But eventually the energy wanes and the “normal” routine takes hold. I suppose I shouldn’t mind the mundane routine. I actually thrive better with routine. But routine is not energizing, is it? And so when I notice I am settling back into the routine that governs most of my year, there is a bit of a letdown.

Most years I try to make some resolutions, knowing full well that I will not keep many (or any!) of them. As January 1 rolls around, I am still riding the year-ending wave of energy enough to think I can stick to some resolutions this year. But the resolutions practice can sometimes disappoint and discourage.  As I look back on the previous year’s resolutions, I see a list of things partially completed, abandoned, or never attempted. So I adjust. This year I will not be so unrealistic, which can feel like I’m cutting back on ambition and adventure. What a letdown that can be!

There is very little I would want different about the life my family and I have established in Eugene. It really is a great place to live and raise kids. But the weather! Part of what lends to the thrill of the last quarter of each year is the changing of the seasons. Fall is beautiful and winter has its own charms. Having lived in Texas and Southern California, I appreciate actually getting to experience seasons. But the gray, wet, dreariness of the Northwest begins to weigh down my spirits after a few of months. Usually around late January or early February I am ready for it to be over. I get tired of biking to work in low light and returning home in equally low light. I get tired of having to put on various articles of clothing to keep dry and/or warm as I make the 2.5 mile  pedaling trek. The letdown is only amplified when I realize I’ve got a few more months of this.

Any and all of these things can contribute to the annual dip in energy I feel in the early stages of most years. I’ve learned to cope pretty well, I think. It helps to spin each of these contributors to my letdown in a different direction and take a look at them from a different vantage point. One of the benefits of growing older is being able to get a better sense of the long game. The exciting periods of the year can make the rest of the year look too routine and dull, but if I step back from it, I see that these exciting periods are themselves part of a larger rhythm of life.  That is, they are part of a bigger routine, which is not so dull taken as a whole. Some aspects are dull. Life, with the full rhythms of ups and downs, is not.

It is easy for me to dwell on unfulfilled resolutions. They outnumber the fulfilled ones (if there are any fulfilled ones). I too easily lose sight of the fact that there was a lot that I did over the past year. I even kept a resolution or two. I ran my first marathon, for goodness sake! And, hey, even a few of the goals I did not reach pushed me further down the road than I was before. So what if I didn’t read as many books as I had set for myself. I read a good deal more than I might have without the early-year resolution. Plus, there were several things I did that I cannot check off my list of resolutions because they were not on the list in the first place. The backpacking/hiking trip with my brother was not on my radar last January, but it was a highlight of 2014.

I may never grow to like the extended gray season of the Northwest. I can, however, learn to appreciate its necessity. Have you seen Oregon in the summer? It’s absolutely gorgeous, and naturally so. Part of this may be that Oregon summers look magnificent over against its winters. More importantly, though, is that the beauty of the summer requires the damp dullness of the winter. The rivers are full and rushing and incredible because the mountains have melting snow to shed. The flora is blooming because it has been soaking in the nourishment for the last several months. Much like the rhythm of my own life that I am beginning to understand better, the rhythm of nature in the Northwest makes better sense when I take a long view.

Well, I feel better now. I know the doldrums are coming. I needed to steel myself for them. I, therefore, resolve to ride the rhythms; take pride in accomplishments large and small, listed and unlisted; and appreciate the need for gray, wet, dull seasons. I am sure I could make a connection to the way the Christian liturgical year conditions us for these sorts of things. I won’t try to spell it out here though.

One last thing. I’ve purposefully avoided the language of “depression.” Depression is a much more serious condition and not to be taken as lightly as I have “letdowns and doldrums.” And it has secrets we would do well to uncover.

Tiny Cliques and Esoteric Clubs

Scott Porch interviews Steven Pinker, a Harvard professor, experimental psychologist, linguist, and author of the new book The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century,  on a variety of writing topics including grammar feuds, “literally,” commas, italics, and more. What Pinker says about how poorly graduate students write, I think, is something for authors with whom I work, young and old alike.

when you enter graduate school you enter into a tiny clique, a sub-sub-sub-set of your discipline. Your estimate of the breadth of the knowledge of the people you are writing for gets radically miscalibrated. Highly idiosyncratic ideas are discussed [as] if they are common knowledge, and you lose the sense of how tiny a club you have joined. And you’re in terror of being judged naive and unprepared, and so you signal in your writing that you’re a member of this esoteric club.

Members of tiny cliques and esoteric clubs buy books. Just not very many.

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