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I’ve just joined the liberal arts faculty at a university in Indonesia. This includes various elements, such as philosophy, civics, critical thinking, religious studies, language, and others. All students at this university must take liberal arts units.

Today we had a presentation by the dean for the roughly 50 lecturers in the faculty. It was interesting to see how he understood the department from a Christian perspective (given that it’s a Christian university)…

He pointed out that liberal arts has always – since its beginnings in ancient Greece and Rome – been about the flourishing of human being in social context. In particular, it has aimed to provide well rounded education for free (i.e. ‘liberal’) people, such that they become good citizens.

In a Christian setting, there is the opportunity to think beyond just creating good citizens of this or that country (although this remains part of the vision). There is an opportunity to help students become good citizens of the kingdom of God. In particular, the dean suggested, this will involve giving them a vision of gracious covenant and shalom. This will impact curriculum, pedagogy, and institutional structure.

This doesn’t mean that lecturers are pastors, or that the department should attempt to be like a church; it is simply an attempt to imagine what liberal arts could be like if God is considered to be present & true.

 

Well I’ve been absent on the blog for some time. I’ve just moved to Indonesia, and here are my initial thoughts:

  • Wonderful people
  • Amazingly cheap food – I just bought a delicious lunch for the equivalent of $1.70 Australian!
  • Very green
  • Great place to be

 

Well I’ve just drawn a random winner for the $100 book prize. I used http://www.miniwebtool.com/random-name-picker/ (just once – no cheating!), and here is what it came up with…

Screenshot 2016-03-30 10.51.13

So Kaye is the winner!

And now here are my own interpretative comments on the poem. In a subsequent post I’ll offer some hermeneutical reflections on what all this illustrates about interpretation. And then I’ll go back to my blogging hiatus!

Interpretative comments

In writing this poem, I didn’t have the end in view at the beginning. I had a sense of what I wanted to explore, but the meaning of the poem came about as I wrote, rather than having an initially clear message that I wanted to dress up in opaque flowery poetic clothes.

I wanted to use a simple rhyming meter, at first because I wanted this to be the sort of very simple poem that anybody could write, but then I came to like the idea of juxtaposing an ambiguously serious subject with a jovial, almost infantile, rhyme. A few of the commenters picked up on this.

One element that became stable during the brief reception history of this poem (i.e. among the commenters) was that it was, at some level, about chickens. This is a solid observation. What you might not know is that we have three pet chickens who live in a nice coop with their own enclosed backyard. But sometimes chickens go broody – that is, they sit in their nesting box 24 hours a day, and refuse to eat or drink. If left in this situation, they will die. (This is particularly true of Silky Chickens, our breed.) The only way I have discovered to shake them out of this broody state is to ensure that they have no opportunity to return to their nesting box, or to create a makeshift nest. So when our chickens go broody, we put them in a rather harsh-looking secondary  coop, made up of bare bars and chicken wire. It’s nowhere near as nice as their regular coop, but after a few days in this cheerless environment, they get shaken out of their death-wish broodiness, and can return to their proper home. We call the harsh coop ‘detention.’ While they are in detention, they are willing to eat and drink… but they act psycho – especially Mandy, who darts around the place, wishing she could go back to her nest.

But there is more to the poem than this. A number of commenters recognised that the language of the poem seemed intentionally evocative of human incarceration – whether prisoners or refugees in detention. There was a clear recognition that the tone of the poem is not happy. Words such as ‘detention,’ ‘bars,’ ‘harsh,’ ‘forbidding,’ seem to go beyond what is required in speaking about chickens. Also, a number of commenters noted that the final line, ‘a little paradigm,’ seems to demand that  the situation with the chickens and the dove be seen as a picture of some bigger reality. These are good insights. That final line is admittedly inelegant, but it attempts to force the reader to go bigger than the chicken/dove scene. If I were to try a second draft of the poem, I would perhaps attempt a more subtle way of doing this than ‘a little paradigm.’

So what ‘bigger reality’ is hinted at here? Given that it’s a poem, there is room for interpretation. Those who pointed to refugees in detention are on the same track as I was in penning the poem, though I have to say that my own sense of how the chicken/dove situation was paradigmatic was hazy as I wrote. I was certainly aware of the ‘peace’ connotations of the dove, and this explains why I referred to it as a ‘dove’ rather than a ‘pigeon.’ In reality I don’t know if those birds that frequently try to share our chickens’ food are doves or pigeons… or even if there’s any difference. But I had a sense – and this has become further clarified as I’ve read others’ comments – that there was something crazy about these death-wish chickens being annoyed that a harbinger of peace would want to share their space by coming into detention. And there might be some similar craziness about Australians (or others) being annoyed that refugees flee here to seek to share our plenty. I’d be more than happy for readers to run further with this in their own readings of the poem – indeed, that was my hope in penning my hazy thoughts.

 

This is an exercise in hermeneutics. I’ve had an ongoing interest in hermeneutics, which seeks to explore how interpretation and understanding take place. The key value of hermeneutics is listening to the other. I’m curious to explore this further, and I invite your input by offering comments on the poem below that I’ve just written.

So, how do you win a book worth up to $100 of your choice? Well first, let me limit that a bit: it has to be in one of the following fields: history, philosophy, hermeneutics, theology, religious studies, biblical studies. That’s a LOT to choose from! You can be based anywhere in the world for this, so long as Amazon delivers there.

Well, what you need to do is twofold:

  1. Offer an interpretative comment of at least 80 words in the comments below. This could be as basic as saying that you don’t understand the poem at all, and pointing out the bits that you find confusing, or why you find them confusing. Or it could be a fully fledged commentary. Your comment could also take the form of questions – ‘What does this bit mean?’/’Could it be referring to such and such?’ I’m NOT hoping for a ‘right’ answer here, so no interpretative comment will be thought of as silly. I’m just interested to see how people interpret it, and what reasons they give for their interpretations/lack of understanding.
  2. Draw attention to this post, either by Twitter, Facebook, or a blog.

If we get at least a dozen such comments, then – after a couple of weeks – I’ll choose one of the commenters at random, and you’ll win yourself any book from the above categories. I’ll have it posted out to you, brand spanking new, by Amazon.

Without further ado, here’s the short poem:

Feeding Time

I went to see the girls,
But they were in detention.
I guess I should have known,
But Bec had failed to mention.

I went and peered through bars,
And saw their stubborn faces.
These girls are hard to shake
With harsh, forbidding places.

I offered them some scraps,
Which they accepted gladly.
Then Mandy did her laps,
While others stood there sadly.

A dove came in to share –
This happens all the time –
They scared the thing away;
A little paradigm.

  
Since October 2015, I’ve been working for Berlitz International, frequently in the AMP building in the picture above (the smaller one in between the two biggest ones). Berlitz is a language-teaching organisation. I’ve been doing one-to-one personal English tutoring, especially for executives from the mining industry. It has been quite enjoyable getting to know a range of people from different cultures, and developing my language skills.

I’m also enrolled in a full time postgraduate course in Professional Education, at the University of Western Australia. This covers issues such as ‘global perspectives in education,’ ‘technology and pedagogy,’ and the like.

Of course, I’m still interested in biblical studies, and I continue to engage in research. But it seems appropriate at this time for this blog to have an extended hiatus. I’ll still be on Twitter, and if anyone would like to be in touch, you can contact me at mattrmalcolm [at] gmail.com. Oh… and those who owe me book reviews are not let off the hook!😉

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David Seccombe has taken over teaching some units that I used to teach when I was at Trinity Theological College in Perth. He’s a great guy, and I’ve enjoyed using his books in the past. After chatting to him yesterday, I discovered that he’s crowd funding a new book which will be out next month – so I quickly ordered a copy. This will be a scholarly, accessible, useful book. You can find out further details here.

Today I was kindly given a copy of the ebook The Corinth Letters, by its author Ben Chenoweth.
Here’s the description:

In 55 AD, Linus, a pottery worker of the house of Chloe, is sent by his mistress with a secret message to Paul, the founder of the church in Corinth. The letter that Paul sends in response, however, does not have the desired effect, involving Linus in some nasty church politics. Something more than a letter from Paul will be needed, if the church in Corinth is going to survive.

In 2013 AD, Matt, a young Australian on holiday in Greece, meets Emily, a beautiful young American archaeologist. In an effort to impress her he decides to fake Paul’s ‘previous’ letter to the Corinthians. However, things do not work out quite as he planned and their relationship seems to be over before it even begins.

Become immersed in the historical context of 1 and 2 Corinthians in this exciting sequel to The Ephesus Scroll.

“creatively conceived… illuminating and engaging… hard to put down” Dr. Colin Kruse, author of 2 Corinthians (Tyndale New Testament Commentary)

The book can be found here. I look forward to giving it a read!

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