Paul of Tarsus, CEO

I just finished a submission for Glossolalia, a student-run peer-review journal at Yale Divinity School, about Paul, who was so dynamic that I call him the CEO of the new Christian franchise.

The expansion of the early church across the Mediterranean was driven not by wild eyed mystics (okay, that too) but by clear headed operatives who planned strategy, travel schedules and meetings in exquisite detail. Just follow the travel plans for one of Paul’s journeys, where up to a dozen co-workers meet up in different cities on the way, and you’ll get an idea of how driven—and how smart—these people were.

If Paul were alive today, he’d most certainly be carrying a Blackberry.

While writing this, I was listening to “Sweet Freedom” by Uriah Heep

Trials of the writing life

I’m not getting the spontaneity I need in order to produce decent prose by editing and editing and bloody editing. I’m going to have to redo the plot and simply add the nice bits I have back in.

Also I’m not going to do so much soul-baring. That gets in the way of a good story. Nobody cares anyway; they want to read a good story. Further, I’m letting go a bit of the high-falutin’ artsy fartsy approach. Did I mention people want to read a good story?

Here’s what happened: I lost my momentum by applying editorial procedures to prose that would be better suited to poetry.In the process I lost the fluidity of storytelling; the camp fire effect.

Well, I vow to get back to the camp fire. I want children in tears because it’s bedtime and the story must be paused. No really. I can do that. In fact, I have . . .


Kindles, Page Numbers, Editions, and Professors

About a year ago I found out that I could not carry half a tree worth of paper to class anymore. There’s just so much of it: if it’s not I writing and printing it and carrying it to the professor, it’s the professors writing and printing it—and giving it to me to carry. I addition, there are numerous books, especially in theology, that were written centuries ago, and consequently have no copyright on them, so they’re freely available in electronic format. Prime Kindle food! So I invested painfully heavily in a Kindle DX, a format in which I can carry the equivalent of several sets of Encyclopedia Britannica around in 8.2 ounces. Financial pain in exchange for physical pain – trust me, that’s always a bargain. But the Britannica is only a hackneyed phrase for equating a number of words with physical weight: what’s more important, is that I could carry around the famous Harvard Classics – the Harvard five feet of shelf space – in my one hand. Now, in the humanities, that’s something!

There is one drawback, though, and it has to do with citing from Kindle-based documents while writing papers. There’s a debate going on about the lack of page numbers on Kindles and in other electronic book formats. Here’s what’s happening: professors, when grading papers (I assume) look at the page number cited in the student’s paper, take up the corresponding book, and check the reference. Calvin says on p. 384 of the Institutions that faith is like a box of chocolates. Mmm. I’m pretty sure Gerhard has been at the Amarula again—Calvin said no such thing!

If Gerhard had been citing from a Kindle, he’d have to give a location number, and if it was a website, it would be worse: the accepted method of citing from a website is not to give an indication of the exact location at all—after all, web pages don’t have pages, right?

Now people get passionate over this. Some professors insist on page numbers, and in many cases I get their point completely.In seminar-type classes, for instance, you really want to have everyone on the same page during discussions—pun fully intended.

But the world is moving on, and page numbers are fading away into the past, and we have nothing with which to replace them yet. We better find something, though.

Page numbers are arbitrary

I bin thinkin’ about this. Paper page numbers are not perfect. First, page numbers are arbitrary. Even though the words of an author may be identical in three or four different editions of his or her book, the page number for the the place where the text “Sally put on her new plastic boots” occurs may be different in each edition. In database technology, we would call the page number a key to the piece of text, and it wouldn’t matter if the format of the key were arbitrary, as long as the relationship was not—in other words, the same page number, even if it’s WJ82394WWK27834, must always lead you to the same piece of text. But my analogy is bad, because one page number contains many different word combinations.

Kindle locations could theoretically migrate to paper books. In fact, they already have . . .

The Kindle location number system fully solves the reference problem.

Picture this (Sicily 1922): you have three editions of the same bad novel. Through the Kindle system, location number 144 has been allocated to the phrase “Sally put on her new plastic boots.” In fiction on paper, the location range could be printed at the top or bottom of every page, and if you knew the snippet about the boots was numbered 144, you could find it anytime as fast as via a page number. Why? Because it works almost exactly like a dictionary, except that you  don’t have to remember the alphabetical sequence of letters.

But where it gets really exciting is in ancient, very technical, or seriously literary texts: there one could have the location numbers printed down the margin or even inside the text to make locating a particular phrase a snap. Come to think of it, we have one rather popular book where that has already been done—it’s called the Bible.

And who would have authority to allocate