18 July 2009

the day after

on monday i returned from a retreat with the core group of the community. the night before we'd talked about what we'd say if someone asked about the retreat. my response had been that i hope no one asked! at least not for a couple of days. i just wanted to spend some time resting or reading or thinking and being mostly alone - and after that, i'd be able to talk about it well.

and it's now a bit more than the day after. and i've read lots. i went biking for most of tuesday. i went to work on wednesday and thursday and thought all day. and i'm feeling a lot more like myself and a lot less like my exhausted day after self.

and i can now honestly say that the retreat was good. although i'd been along for a winter retreat with the community, i'd never been along for the longer summer retreat. and since it was new, and all in dutch, and i was partially responsible for the younger children's program, and there would be a lot of people around a lot of the time, i was a bit anxious about it all. but i not only survived, it was good. i had a lot of lovely talks with different people. i could follow almost all of what was going on around me. i got to hang out with children (and we got to read our very own letters from Paul and do fun stuff). i worked hard. i laughed. i saw and understood others better - and felt like others got to see me more. i felt accepted and was accepted as more a part of the community.

and thus, all in all, even if it was tiring, i can say that it was very good. and even if i'm not sure i'll ever be super excited for another such retreat, i think i might actually admit to looking forward to at least parts of it [like having it in Norway :)]

11 July 2009

still a mathematician at heart

although i now work with languages and theology and how to read the Bible, there are certain things that have carried over from my love of (and time studying) mathematics:

- a love of patterns and figuring out the puzzle of how things work together - this love has allowed me to enjoy the somewhat more technical work of working on a database.

- i really, really like consistency. with the werkgroep this is at times a challenge. the hebrew of the Massoretic Text doesn’t always follow exact rules, especially not poetry. and there’s a level of subjectivity in experimenting with the semantics and syntax of words and phrases and clauses and sentences. and this subjectivity increases when you realize that a diverse number of people (with different perspectives) have worked on the dabase – and the database is too large for one person to be able to keep all of it in his/her head. it’s understandable that there’d be inconsistency, but it’s something that frustrates me a lot (and something I probably complain about the most).

- i get excited about when i re-create a computer technical error. our computer program designed to work with the data in the database has a few glitches (although i guess that's understandable since most of them do :)). i manage to crash it much less than i used to - and even when it does crash, it’s so much less frustrating. either i now know how to work around the crash or i know how to reproduce the problem (crashing consistently at the same place for the same reason) so that it can be reported to our IT specialist and hopefully fixed.

- i remain astonished by how frequently poor logic or bad statistics is present in biblical studies. the number of things I’ve read/seen that say that said “this” proves “that” based on faulty statistics or logic exasperates me. See the footnote for examples of bad logic/statistics.

- i’m in the process of changing my dissertation project so that it in essence becomes trying to solve the puzzle of how all the talking (discourse) in Ezekiel fits together. this then becomes a large study of different patterns in Ezekiel. as a friend of mine (who works in computer science) put it – such a project is what might expect from somebody with a mathematical background studies the biblical text.

i think i'm overall glad that my former mathematical training affects my life and studies even now.

Footnote: An example of a poor use of statistics would be to say that since God is named five times in a certain chapter, his actions are obviously key to understanding the chapter. It is possible that God’s actions are an important element in the chapter but God’s name being used five times is not enough to prove that. Since God is often named in many chapters, there is nothing that would make five times be statistically significant. It is the use of the name of God 30+ times in Genesis 1 that is an example of something statistically significant/relevant (especially when you consider that since God is the only character/actor in the chapter, a pronoun could have easily been used in many of the cases where He is named).

An example of poor logic is when you argue that “this” is true because of “that” when in reality “that” is true because of “this.” [This is the difference between the mathematical \Rightarrow \!\, vs. ↔ or "if" vs. "iff" (if and only if)]. An example of this is: If a verb is a cohortative, it has an added ה at the end of it. However, the argument cannot be reversed – you cannot say that a verb having an extra ה at the end of it is then a cohortative. Certain verbs with this extra ה are actually just ‘long imperatives.’ The argument could only be reversed if you defined whether the verb is first, second, or third person.

This last example is actually taken from a glitch in Libronix where there are more than 250 examples of imperatives that have a very confusing cohortative mood label. I’m doing what I can to see if this can be changed.

a version of this entry was originally published at "Joining in the Conversation".

08 July 2009

looking back - another odd accomplishment

i had the privilege of visiting an old student of mine a couple of weeks ago. and memories of my time teaching english in Ukraine came back to me. that time was challenging and even hard at times, but it was always good. after all, i was surrounded by a community that cared for me and i for them (i think my love for the community and life here was nurtured in that boarding school in Ukraine). and besides that, it was another place where life was rarely ever dull!

a friend of mine recently came back from Zambia and had some wonderful stories to tell about her experience there. when she started to talking about travelling - and the craziness of arranging rides, either by official taxis or more a sort of hitchhiking, i had to laugh about how much it reminded me of some of my travelling adventures in Ukraine. sometimes it was simple to travel - but a lot of times it had its challenges.

i still remember one time when i had stayed alone on a friday night with some of the students because there was a math and english competition in Beregszasz on the saturday. while we were waiting for a ride, i ran back to the dormitory to get something i had forgotten (an umbrella, i think!) and while i was rushing, the bus/taxi thing came. the girls made it to Beregszasz early enough - but the boys chose to give up their seats to wait for me. so we were stuck in Bereg waiting for a bus/van that wasn't coming. and we'd already waited long enough - and who knows who long it would be before anything else came?

so i decided that we should hitchhike (i'd then lived there long enough to consider hitchhiking a normal mode of transportation - and i even, perhaps naively, considered myself good at it). the three teenage boys all kind of looked at me like i was crazy: who would ever give a ride to us? but i figured it was my fault that we had missed the bus - and i knew that something had to happen or we'd be late - and what else could i do? besides, it wouldn't hurt, would it?

so the boys let me stand there - and i went closer to the road so people could see me - and they kind of stood away from me. i'm not sure if they stood so far away because they wanted to pretend they didn't know me or because they just wanted to be in a more comfortable place while waiting for the next taxi/bus. after a few minutes (maybe 10 at the most), some middle-aged man stopped to pick me up. i told him that i was going to Beregszasz - and was it okay if he took me and my students? i'm not sure who was more surprised at that point: the man, who instead of only having the pretty young teacher in his car he now had 3 teenage boys as well? or the three teenage guys, surprised that i actually could get us a ride? ah, well, the man did have a good talk with one of the boys on the way to Beregszasz i remember. and i still remember being pretty proud of myself - for surprising everybody and making sure we got there on time :)

and the story reminds me again of all the surprises that happen when one lives in a different country. i have to smile at all of the strange challenges and odd accomplishments that i couldn't help but manage to collect.