Advent week 4

How long should the sermon be? It depends.

NEW YORK (AP) — How long should a sermon be?

The major branches of Christianity in the U.S. have sharply different traditions, with sermons at historically black Protestant churches lasting — on average – nearly four times as long as Roman Catholic sermons.

That’s among the findings of an analysis by the Pew Research Center — billed as the first of its kind — of 49,719 sermons delivered in April and May that were shared online by 6,431 churches. Pew described its research as “the most exhaustive attempt to date to catalogue and analyze American religious sermons.”

According to Pew, the median length of the sermons was 37 minutes. Catholic sermons were the shortest, at a median of just 14 minutes, compared with 25 minutes for sermons in mainline Protestant congregations and 39 minutes in evangelical Protestant congregations. Historically black Protestant churches had by far the longest sermons, at a median of 54 minutes.

Pew said sermons at the black churches lasted longer than mainline Protestant sermons even though, on average, they had roughly the same number of words. A possible explanation, Pew said, is that the preachers at black churches allow more time during their sermons for musical interludes, responses from worshippers in the pews and dramatic pauses in their oratory.

Mary Beard and the snowflake issue:

The real problem, though, with imagining a straightforward stand-off between snowflakes and free speech is that it wildly over-simplifies something much more complicated. For a start, one of the reasons that my students in the 2010s get anxious about reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses or the early books of Livy is that they have a much sharper idea of what those works are about. Fifty years ago, we usually did not recognize (nor were we taught to) that the Metamorphoses was a poem founded on rape. Back then, we saw it as a series of “ravishings” (with an awkward hint of pleasure implied); and the transformation of the victims into trees, or whatever, was treated as just one more curious aspect of ancient mythology. As for the “Rape of Lucretia”, I was introduced to it principally as the event which kick-started the triumphant story of the “fall of the Roman monarchy”. If my generation was partly responsible for opening students’ eyes to the more uncomfortable sides to all this, then we have to be prepared for an uncomfortable reaction. Calls for trigger warnings do not come from nowhere.

Even more problematic is the self-serving nostalgia that allows people to claim that universities were once a haven of free speech that has been lost or destroyed over the past decade or so. In my experience, no-platforming is a slippery phenomenon, far more often threatened, or fretted over, than carried out. But more to the point is the question “whose speech are we talking about?” To be sure, half a century ago there may have been an illusion of free speech on campus, but that was sustained by the exclusivity (in terms of class, race and gender) of the university community itself. It was, for the most part, the free speech, and right to argument, that came with the privilege of being part of a group of elite white men. Those of radically different backgrounds and assumptions were simply not part of that world and their voices were never or only rarely heard (far less so than today, even though it is right to deplore the lack of diversity in universities, so-called elite ones especially). Personally, I cannot abide the practice, or threat, of no-platforming. Provided that speakers remain within the law, we should argue with them not put our fingers in our ears. But, at the same time, we should not forget that, while this method of excluding some voices is new and disconcertingly direct, the exclusivity itself and the refusal to hear “outsiders” is as old as the Academy; right back to Plato.

Definitely scatological.

Well done, Marg.

I am genuinely thankful for Grudem’s kind efforts, but I’m not convinced that his focussed attention on the phrase “in such cases” provides evidence that 1 Corinthians 7:15 allows for divorce in the case of abuse. Furthermore, I find his approach problematic. It was a too-narrow focus, in the first place, that brought about the incorrect idea that adultery and desertion were the only two biblically-sanctioned reasons for divorce. Certain phrases within Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:15 have been closely scrutinized and highlighted, while other phrases have been downplayed, and the reasons behind these two statements from Jesus and Paul have been overlooked or minimised. The result has been that these verses have been used to say things that neither Jesus or Paul intended.

Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:15 do not actually state that sexual immorality and desertion are the only biblically-sanction reasons for divorce as has been claimed by many Christians.

Paul does not mention abuse in 1 Corinthians 7 because it was not the issue at hand, but he does mention and condemn both physical and verbal abuse in previous chapters in 1 Corinthians. (See 1 Cor. 5:11-13 NRSV and 1 Cor. 6:9-11 CSB). Abuse is a valid reason for divorce regardless of how we understand the phrase “in such cases.” I discuss this further here: Paul’s Words on Divorce, and Leaving an Abusive Marriage

An unusual form of respect, and my father and mother have both donated their bodies for such research:

Paper lanterns rose into the night sky last week behind the Suter Science Center at Eastern Mennonite University. The 16 students who released them gathered to honor those who had donated their bodies to science, providing their anatomy lab with cadavers to study.

“Most likely, tonight, there are people out there missing them,” Professor Julia Halterman said, opening the memorial. But this service was very different from a funeral, she explained, as “we celebrate how we have learned from them in their death.”

They only know the cadavers’ first names: Anna, Jeane, Richard, and Earl. Yet several students referred to them as their “silent teachers.” They made surprising discoveries, in some cases – one of the men had three lobes in his left lung, making him one of just 3 percent of people with the condition.

Students shared reflections on and gratitude for the dissection experience. Then they sang “Amazing Grace” along with classmates Caroline Lehman on violin and Jonathan Nielsen on baritone saxophone, before trekking out into the cold to release the lanterns.

“Her sacrifice allowed me to learn and grow,” one student reflected. “I pray that you all rest peacefully.”

“In so many classes, we just learn the theoretical concepts,” another said. He enjoyed getting to “pass on” the gift of his donor’s sacrifice by leading prosections with underclassmen.

Another was thankful that someone would choose “for a student somewhere to get to experience this.”

Grandma Orca:

Humans aren’t the only species in which grannies help raise their grandkids. Killer whale grandmothers boosted the survival of their grandkids in a new study. The grandma whales were even more important to the youngest generation when food was scarce, the New York Times reports.

The findings provide a possible explanation for why killer whales are one of just five species, including humans, that undergo menopause. Female killer whales typically stop reproducing in their 30s or 40s, but can live into their 90s. Why this extra life stage after reproduction evolved was something of a mystery to evolutionary biologists: The most successful genes in evolutionary terms are the ones that get passed onto the next generation, but somehow by not breeding these grandma whales appeared to still be helping their own genes persist.

The study followed 378 killer whales off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and found that those with grandmothers lived longer. Calves that had lost a maternal grandmother within the last two years had a mortality rate 4.5 times higher than those with living grandmothers. The impact of grandma orcas was biggest in the years that salmon, the whales’ main food source, were hard to find, suggesting these matriarchs’ wisdom may have helped their grandkids find food in lean times.

This is the first documented non-human example of what is called the “grandmother effect,” in which older females help their extended family survive. Scientists have observed a grandmother effect in a few other species, such as African elephants, that are long lived but do not undergo menopause.

The researchers hope the findings can inform conservation efforts by underscoring the importance of protecting these older females, not just the breeding age females and offspring that are currently the focal point.

Definitely clever:

That’s one way to cut down on bathroom breaks.

A start-up company in the UK developed a new, downward-tilting toilet meant to make employees so uncomfortable in the loo that they take care of business quicker.

The StandardToilet is slopped about 13 degrees forward to increase strain on the legs, making it painful to sit on for longer than five minutes, Mahabir Gill, founder of the company, told Wired in an article published Monday.

“Anything higher than that would cause wider problems. Thirteen degrees is not too inconvenient, but you’d soon want to get off the seat quite quickly,” Gill told the mag.

The porcelain throne isn’t meant to be a torture device, Gill said, claiming health benefits like improved posture.

Still, the primary purpose is to promote brief relief, cutting down the time workers spend on their phones and reducing monetary losses.

New Jersey shore line… sad… 

Sea level along the New Jersey coast has risen 1.5 feet, more than twice the global average of 0.6 feet over the last century, according to a Rutgers University report compiled for state officials and released Thursday.

The Rutgers scientists say the rise is largely the fault of humans, and our use of fossil fuels.

The report, commissioned by the state Department of Environmental Protection, presents few positive scenarios for the Garden State as sea levels continue to rise, even if fossil-fuel emissions decrease, as called for by the Paris accords.

As New Jersey is experiencing higher sea levels, it is also undergoing subsidence, meaning the land along the coast is sinking because of geological forces and groundwater withdrawal. In turn, New Jersey is seeing not only more flooding from more precipitation during storms but also an increase in what’s known as sunny day flooding — water that rises higher tidally, rather than because of storm surge.

Scientists who study climate almost universally agree the global climate is changing because of the combustion and processing of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide or methane into the atmosphere. Both gasses have properties known to prevent solar radiation generated by the sun from escaping the atmosphere, essentially trapping heat.

“Human-caused climate change is accelerating sea-level rise in New Jersey and, together with shifts in coastal storms, driving increases in coastal flood hazards,” the authors state in a summary of the report, which includes historical sea-level rise information and projections.

Post-tenure blues?

To outsiders, faculty life can look fairly cushy. Follow the rules and engage in shrewd academic politics during a six-year probationary period and you secure tenure and lifetime employment. Quite a shiny brass ring, to be sure. However, the tenure pursuit — for those lucky enough to get a tenure-track job and then earn tenure — is not for the faint of heart.

Quite a few tenure candidates experience early career burnout. By burnout, psychologists mean mental and physical exhaustion tied to a sustained effort — in this case, the challenges of creating an admirable employment profile along with the vigilance required to stay on track along the way.

As a young scholar, you stress about the true value of your work amid fears that, if a committee votes the wrong way, you will be ousted from a profession you spent a decade or so training for. Tenure expectations — sometimes murky, sometimes fluid — provide a wobbly foundation for evaluating whether your efforts will be successful during this mad marathon. Symptoms of burnout are many, but often include: anxiety, insomnia, forgetfulness, procrastination, loss of appetite, physical illnesses, and depression.

Even if full-blown burnout doesn’t occur, the protracted audition of a six-year probationary period is fatiguing and stressful.

Oddly, the predictable emotions of joy and relief generated by a successful tenure decision can also be tainted with ambivalence. With a stroke of the president’s pen, the drama is over. The brass ring is yours yet the dissolution of the incentive leaves the newly tenured with sometimes profound existential questions: “I worked so hard for years — for this?” or “What’s next for me?” …

All tenure-granting institutions have professors who do not advance beyond the rank of associate professor. “Terminal” associate professors tend to have distinctive characteristics in common:

  • Their scholarship tends to be lackluster, either in scope or substance.
  • They allow themselves to be drawn into an excessive amount of service that diverts time and attention from building a research agenda or improving their teaching.
  • They forgo leadership opportunities or choose ones that lead nowhere. Consequently, they end up building a local rather than a national reputation.
  • They are often unduly critical of colleagues who advance beyond them.
  • They tend to be dismissive of the institution that granted them tenure for not recognizing the value of their continuing contributions, or for maintaining standards that are too difficult or too fuzzy for them to attain.

So what can you, as a new associate professor, do to prevent the post-tenure blues? Some academics may need to seek mental-health care. As longtime professors and administrators, we also suggest the following strategies. (At link above)


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