The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel

[The is the second in a three-part series on Mark’s Gospel.  The other parts are 1. Hearing Mark’s Gospel and 3. The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel.]

The first verse of Mark’s Gospel poses a question.  “The beginning of the gospel,” it says, “of Jesus Christ the son of God.”  Of course this is the beginning:  it’s the first verse, after all.  But Mark goes out of his way to insist that this right here, this thing he is about to say, is “the beginning of the gospel.”  This is where the story starts.

What is even more curious, Mark then begins his gospel from a point no one else would choose.  Matthew and Luke start with Jesus’ conception and infancy, and John takes us back to Jesus’ pre-existence with the Father before time began.  I have asked groups of students to outline what they would put in their ideal gospel, and every group has shown the same inclination to seek out roots:  they want a gospel that tells more about Jesus’ childhood, or more about Mary’s family, or more about Joseph, or more about the eternal life of the Trinity.  Everyone thinks the gospel story should somehow introduce us to Jesus by explaining his background.

But Mark insists that “the beginning of the gospel” is Jesus’ baptism under John the Baptist.  After introducing John the Baptist, Mark has Jesus simply show up, without explanation, and then the heavens are torn open, the Spirit descends, and the voice says, “This is my beloved son.”

Why is this scene so important, so pivotal, that this and no other is “the beginning of the gospel”?  Mark gives us seven clues: Continue reading “The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel”

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Hearing Mark’s Gospel

[The is the first in a three-part series on Mark’s Gospel.  The other parts are 2. The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel and 3. The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel.]

Over the past two weeks, I have led four groups through an intensive four-day introduction to Mark’s Gospel.  We looked at how Mark presents Jesus’ geographical movements, the development of characters, the structure of the story, and the peculiar “shorter ending” of Mark.  The high point of the class was a read-aloud of the whole text.

Most Christians did not own a copy of the Bible prior to the invention of the printing press.  Manuscript copies had in fact become more common in the centuries leading up to that point, but in the early Church owning even one book of the Bible was rare.  Mark’s original congregation would normally have experienced his Gospel by hearing it.

So, I figure, why not recreate the read-aloud experience for my students?  It only takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.  Their reactions were fascinating: Continue reading “Hearing Mark’s Gospel”

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Whether teachers in a liberal arts college are employees

[This is the third in a three-part series on liberal education: (1) Whether the purpose of a liberal arts college is to teach; (2) whether teachers at a liberal arts college teach for the sake of their students; (3) whether teachers at a liberal arts college are employees.  For background on the subject, see my post on Pieper’s book.  For a glimpse into the kind of enjoyment I hope this post offers, see my comments on the scholastic question format.]

Article 3: Whether Teachers at a Liberal Arts College Are Employees

Objection 1. It seems that teachers at a liberal arts college are employees, because an employee is someone who does something for pay.  But teachers are paid for teaching.  Therefore, teachers are employees. Continue reading “Whether teachers in a liberal arts college are employees”

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Whether Teachers Teach for the Sake of Their Students

[This is the second in a three-part series on liberal education: (1) Whether the purpose of a liberal arts college is to teach; (2) whether teachers at a liberal arts college teach for the sake of their students; (3) whether teachers at a liberal arts college are employees.  For background on the subject, see my post on Pieper’s book.  For a glimpse into the kind of enjoyment I hope this post offers, see my comments on the scholastic question format.]

Article 2: Whether the Faculty Teaches for the Sake of the Students

Objection 1.  It seems that teachers teach for the sake of the students.  If teachers did not teach for the sake of students, then their teaching would be for themselves.  But teaching is an activity directed toward others, not toward oneself.  Therefore, teachers teach for the sake of the students. Continue reading “Whether Teachers Teach for the Sake of Their Students”

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Whether the Purpose of a Liberal Arts College Is to Teach

[This is the first in a three-part series on liberal education: (1) Whether the purpose of a liberal arts college is to teach; (2) whether teachers at a liberal arts college teach for the sake of their students; (3) whether teachers at a liberal arts college are employees.  For background on the subject, see my post on Pieper’s book.  For a glimpse into the kind of enjoyment I hope this post offers, see my comments on the scholastic question format.]

Here’s how to read this post.  Read the first objection, and then stop to think through how you would reply.  Do the same with the second objection.  Read the “on the contrary,” and stop to think about whether you agree with the argument.  Then read the body of the article, where I tip my hand as to my own ideas, and see if just reading the body changes how you would reply to the objections.  Finally, read each reply and see whether I said the same thing you would have said.  If not, why not?  Let me know.

 Article 1: Whether the Purpose of a Liberal Arts College Is to Teach

Objection 1. It seems that the purpose of a liberal arts college is to teach.  After all, the purpose of a college is to benefit students, and students go to college in order to be taught.  Therefore, the purpose of a college is to teach. Continue reading “Whether the Purpose of a Liberal Arts College Is to Teach”

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5 reasons I love the scholastic “question”

These days, anyone familiar with the medieval “question” format has probably met it through the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas.  To the modern eye it seems stuffy or even pretentious, with its stilted language and logical distinctions and its appearance of completeness.  We prefer the humble “essay,” a word that means an “attempt,” an effort in the right direction.

But over the years I have come to love the “question” format.  Each “article” within the “question” is a dehydrated debate.  Just add imagination, and you have a rowdy crowd of objectors who even disagree with each other and an enthusiastic team of supporters whose support is sometimes as embarrassing as the objections, and in between them the master whose mental agility alone can keep order.  Here are just a few of the things I like about the “question” format: Continue reading “5 reasons I love the scholastic “question””

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Education and leisure

In light of recent essays by my two bosses at WCC, the Academic Dean and the President, I have been thinking about the nature of the place where I work.  What is a liberal arts college?  What is my job at a liberal arts college?

So I found myself back the at the font, so to speak, rereading a book that has taught me much over the years about education, about teaching—about humanity.  The book is Joseph Pieper’s Leisure the Basis of Culture (translator, Gerald Malsbury; Sound Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998).  In this post I have pulled together a few of my favorite of Pieper’s sophismata.  They read well on their own, without commentary: Continue reading “Education and leisure”

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The rosary: a medieval app

A friend recently mentioned to me that he uses a “meditation app.” It provides a Scripture reading as fodder, and it bongs a little gong to start and stop the meditation time.

My first reaction was to think this odd. Technology-driven prayer time must surely be the final flowering of modernity’s mechanistic mindset, right? Buddha and Moses have failed to bring us into God’s presence, but the GPS on my smartphone can take me straight to him. Continue reading “The rosary: a medieval app”

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Fantasy vs. fantazy

Reading C.S. Lewis’s autobiographical Surprised by Joy, I was reminded of a useful distinction between two meanings of the word “fantasy.”  One is the meaning I outlined in a previous post, namely a kind of literature that brings one into contact with the Other.  The second is the self-indulgent fantasy we turn into the verb “fantasize.”  Lewis draws the distinction nicely: Continue reading “Fantasy vs. fantazy”

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The Power of Positive Thinking

I saw a fellow suffer such a crushing blow
as would have forged a saint out of a lesser man,
and yet he would not suffer, would not cry, or bow.

He kept his head erect, maintained a steady hand,
and sailed away with stolid cheer the sea to cross
and leave a matching wreckage in some other land.

He gave us one glimpse only of his inner gloss,
a single lifting of the curtain: as he turned,
he shook his fist at all behind who mourned his loss.

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