Over at Fallible Blogma (Is that the most clever pun ever?), Matt Warner is presenting Catholic Speaker Month all this October. Matt asked Catholic bloggers to feature a Catholic Speaker in a post on their weblog. What a great way to get to know the men and women who are out there teaching, inspiring, witnessing and evangelizing, and I am thankful that Matt at Fallible Blogma is putting this together. You can see the list of speakers and their “interviewers” here.
Although I heard about it late in the month from AmP, I was thrilled to be able to have as my speaker, the biblical scholar Prof. Michael Barber of John Paul the Great University. (Some of you already know my feelings about Prof. Barber [and let’s not forget Brant Pitre!].) Michael is a respected biblical scholar, one of several young, on-fire Catholic Biblical theologians, whose work is important not only to we Catholics, but in the wider Christian scholarly circles because of ecumenical aspects as well.
To get a sense of Michael personally, all one has to do is watch his charming videos of Reflections on the Sunday Liturgy of the Word and you can just tell that he’s a really good man. But if you do not know who he is, or read his books, or listen to his radio show, Reasons for Faith or follow his postings on The Sacred Page (formerly Singing in the Reign), then this is a great opportunity for us to get to know him. Because of the lateness of my participation in Catholic Speaker Month event, I did not actually interview Michael. But I have read carefully through his entire weblog and I slept in a Holiday Inn Express last night, so I therefore give you…
My (Imaginary) Interview with Biblical Scholar, Michael Barber**
**totally made up of quotes, snippets and assumptions pieced together from Michael’s weblog
Michael Barber: Hi!
LM: Hey, thanks for agreeing to this imaginary interview.
MB: It’s no problem at all.
LM: Happy belated birthday!
LM: So uh…tell my readers a bit about yourself.
I am the Professor of Theology, Scripture and Catholic Thought at John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego. I am finishing up a Ph.D. in Theology at Fuller in Pasadena, CA. I received my B. A. in Theology and Philosophy from Azusa Pacific University and a M. A. in Theology from Franciscan University. I have written two books, “Singing in the Reign: The Psalms and the Liturgy of God’s Kingdom” and, a brand new book, “Coming Soon: Unlocking the Book of Revelation and Applying Its Lessons Today.“ I recently began a new weekly radio show, Reasons for Faith Live, which is heard on EWTN’s Radio Network every Friday at 11am Pacific Coast Time. In addition, I am a Research Fellow for the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology (see links). I also lead Bible studies at the Sacred Heart Chapel in Covina, CA. Many of them have been recorded and are available on CD @ saintjoe.com. source
LM: Uh….your answer seems a bit out-of-date.
LM: Nevermind. Let’s move on. First off, let me say that I love your radio show, Reasons for Faith–which I should mention you’ve actually been doing for a few years now.
MB: Thank you! I really enjoy doing it.
LM: I can tell. I also love your videos on the Sunday Liturgy of the Word. They are on my ‘must-do’ list every week before Sunday.
MB: Ah, thanks again. I have a lot of fun doing those, too. The hardest work belongs to the student producer Nate Sjogren. He’s just a Sophomore, but he’s really an amazingly talented student. And he’s got the fiery enthusiasm of a new convert–he came into the Catholic Church at this year’s Easter Vigil! source
LM: That’s awesome! I agree he does a bang-up job. I really like the artwork you guys always show in the videos. I wonder where you keep finding the right art.
MB: We try for that whole “cover of Scott Hahn’s books” look. source
LM: I notice that your reflections often sound like homilies. Along with the biblical explanations and context you provide, you usually give a “going forth” message, and you seem to relish the transformational dimensions of your talks. Any particular reason for that?
MB: I’m not sure. One of my uncles is a priest though.
LM: Ever think about being a priest yourself?
MB: I have wanted to be a biblical theologian since I was a kid.
LM: That had to have stumped your guidance counselor. How on earth did you decide that– as a kid no less?
MB: When I was a young teenager I was first exposed to a lecture given by Dr. Hahn–it literally changed my life. I was immediately hooked on Scripture. I must have been around 13 or so and I was hooked. I told my dad I wanted to major in Theology, get my Ph.D. and become a professor. I’ve been on that track ever since.
LM: I understand that you personally know the Hahns, Scott and Kimberly.
MB: The Hahns are like a second family to me. I honestly thank God for them everyday. They took me in as a graduate student, allowing me to live with them. During that time, Scott Hahn personally showed me the love of Christ through witnessing his life. Words fail to express how grateful I am to him. source
LM: I guess some of my readers may not know who we are talking about.
MB: Dr. Scott Hahn is a Catholic Biblical theologian and professor. He has written dozens of books, both lay Catholic titles and scholarly treatises. His work is incredibly important. So I mean it when I say that really no one has impacted me more than Dr. Hahn–he introduced me to Biblical Theology and was the first to light a fire in me to study my faith. And his work continues to profoundly shape my thought. source
He also rocks out on an electric guitar. source
LM: Really? That totally surprises me!
MB: Scott is a man of many talents.
LM: Five talents?
MB: I don’t know how many; quite a few.
LM: That was a bible joke.
MB: Oh! Haha.
LM: I bet you know some really good bible jokes…?
MB: Oh, yeah, yeah! Biblical scholars are very funny people.
LM: Tell me one.
MB: My brother-in-law said the funniest thing…
LM: Go on.
MB: [grins] Let me set it up.
So…the San Diego Natural History Museum had the eleven of the Dead Sea Scrolls on display for several months, see? including 4Q521 and the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice [4Q400]–two of the most important! So I take my wife’s family to see them before they left, right? My brother-in-law had the greatest one-liner in the parking lot afterward. We were talking about the different scrolls we saw and how ancient they were when he said with a grin:
I just kept looking at the bottom of each of the scrolls to find a signature–to find the place where it was signed ‘J’ or ‘E’.
[laughing] And then Kim’s father pipes up–
I kept looking for ‘Q’.
[laughs hysterically] That kills me, just kills me!
LM: I don’t get it.
MB: [wiping tears out of his eyes] You had to be there.
LM: I’ll take your word for it.
LM: Okay, well, um, excluding your “Dead Seas Scrolls schtick“, you are a very funny, warm and personable young man. You must be popular on the speaker circuit. [note: did I mention that it’s Catholic Speaker Month?] How would one contact you to set up a talk or visit?
MB: I really enjoy talking with groups. And I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
LM: Speaking of your weblog, why did you change the name? It was that Brant Pitre, wasn’t it? [editor’s note: Michael Barber’s weblog, The Sacred Page was formerly Singing in the Reign]
MB: [laughs] Well, frankly I wanted to change the name for a long time. The content had outgrown the name.
LM: What do you mean?
MB: Here of course we are interested in the study of Scripture. Many of the posts apply historical methodology and speak to critical issues involved with exegesis. However for the writers of this blog, exegesis and theology are not two disconnected fields, they are interrelated. We recognize Scripture as something more than mere ancient literature; it is the inspired Word of God. The name of the blog therefore hopefully underscores its contributers approach to biblical studies, using a phrase which emphasizes our commitment to Catholic magisterial teaching….
MB: The previous name was silly. I didn’t want serious scholars like John Bergsma and Brant being stuck with a weblog called “Singing in the Reign.”
LM: I thought it was cute.
The material had outgrown it. source
LM: Speaking of the material…I tried to read your posts on criteria of authenticity and dissimilarity but they made my head hurt. I think I may not be smart enough to understand what you are writing about. After Jim West complained, I sorta hoped you’d ease up on the footnotes. Anything you can do to help us lay people? source
MB: I’ve thought about putting a User Warning on the sidebar.
MB: No, not really.
Tell me about your fellow contributors.
MB: My good friend, Dr. Brant Pitre is an amazing New Testament scholar who received his Ph.D. from Notre Dame in New Testament studies and Ancient Judaism. He joined my weblog as a contributor almost two years ago.
LM: February 2007.
MB: If you say so.
LM: You said so.
MB: I said what?
LM: You posted about Brant joining your weblog on…uh…your weblog. ‘Singing in the Reign.’ source
LM: And John Bergsma?
MB: John is another extraordinarily talented, up-and-coming biblical scholar. source
LM: There seems to be a surfeit of them.
MB: On the contrary, there are never enough biblical scholars. I have a blast around them. One of the highlights of my year is going to the Society of Biblical Literature annual conference. I love going to SBL! source
LM: Yeah, I read that you had a great time. I understand you got some books there, too. You love books, don’t you?
MB: I write in my books.
LM: Um…pardon me?
MB: I write in my books. I highlight them. I highlight my books. Only with bright yellow Sharpie Accents though–used yellow Sharpies for books that have thin pages. So they don’t bleed through, you know. New ones for thick pages, older Sharpies for thin pages. It’s important to have them both: new for thick paged books, old for thin paged books, see? A thick tip Sharpie, did I mention that? I only use the thick tip, bright yellow Sharpie Accents. I’m almost so dependent upon them that if I can’t find one, I’ll put off reading altogether!
LM: You…don’t read if you don’t have a Sharpie?
MB: [Shakes head emphatically]
LM: You don’t use any other kind?
MB: If I find any other color or any other kind, I throw them away.
LM: [stunned silence] You throw them away. You sound like…Adrian Monk.
MB: So here’s my question, LuceMichael: Do you write in your books? Do you have particular books you can’t bring yourself to scribble notes in or mark-up with a highlighter? source
LM: I think I’ll keep my scribble habits to myself, thank you very much.
MB: I love American Blues. And I’m a big fan of The White Stripes.
LM: I admit, that surprises me. I really hope they can resume touring and recording. I have a scratchy collection of blues masters myself. Blind Willie and Mississippi John Hurt. You know, finding out personal information about you is rather difficult.
LM: Oh, I don’t know about that. Games 3 and 5 of the Phillies series sort of had ‘disaster-of-biblical-proportion’ written on them…Some of those innings had a rather ‘lost in the desert for 40 years’ vibe…
MB: I’m not going to address that.
LM: …losing the division playoff against Philly two years in a row, sorta like the plagues of–
MB: [interrupts] Can we move on?
LM: If you insist. You are, after all, the imaginary interviewee.
Any spiritual advice for my readers?
MB: I would advise spending time in contemplation. Contemplation is an absolute must for Christian spirituality (cf. CCC 2708). Prayer should be more than a monologue–a litany of requests. As I tell my students, we need to talk to Jesus more than we talk about Jesus. But if your idea of prayer is simply rattling off requests, you miss the point. Spending time in his presence through contemplation helps us remain with him and helps us hear his voice so that our prayer is not simply about what we say to him.
We need to be still. We need to place ourselves in God’s presence. We need find ourselves living in the Gospels. The Rosary helps us use our imagination the way God intended us to use it–we get lost in the Gospel stories, placing ourselves there, witnessing Christ’s life with Mary and the apostles. source
LM: Hey, that’s some good advice.
MB: Yeah, I helped John Paul the Second write up a letter on the Rosary.
LM: Wow, really?
MB: No, not really. But!… my weblog is going to get mentioned in one of Pope Benedict’s encyclicals. source
LM: Oh my gosh! Really???
MB: No, not really. You are very gullible.
LM: Bible study. Good idea or bad?
MB: Oh absolutely a good idea. Every Catholic and Christian should read the Bible faithfully. The danger is in taking the Bible out of context.
LM: What is its context?
MB: “The Bible” is the collection of books that can be read in Christian worship. Thus, Catholics can’t read the writings of the saints at Mass. Nor can they read papal encyclicals. Only the Scripture can be read. The Bible therefore was put together for the liturgy. The liturgy is the proper context for the Bible. The problem today is that many don’t recognize the Bible’s proper context. They read the Bible as if it had nothing to do with the liturgy. As we will see, by doing this, people run into all kinds of problems. source
LM: Do you usually say short prayers during the course of the day?
MB: Yes. Here are a few regulars:
“Dear Lord, help me to find my keys.”
“Lord Jesus, help that cop to not have had his radar gun on.”
“Father in heaven, please let bookfinder.com have this book.”
“Bountiful God, help my credit card to not be declined.”
“Jesus, teach me to offer prayers others than these.”
LM: So you pray often?
MB: I believe in the power of prayer. source
LM: Are your prayers answered?
MB: I almost always find my keys.
LM: I had heard that you were kinda forgetful.
MB: I am so absent-minded–Kimberly Hahn used to tell me that it would make me a great professor some day. Added altogether, I think I spend a total of 30 minutes a day looking for my wallet, glasses, keys or cell phone. It’s God’s way of keeping me humble.
LM: Hehe, Kimberly Hahn looked into your future.
MB: Kimberly Hahn made my future.
LM: What do you mean?
MB: Upon hearing that I had decided on Fuller [for his Ph.D. work], Kimberly Hahn told me: “I am going to pray that you meet a nice Catholic girl there who you’ll end up spending the rest of your life with.” I laughed at her. It seems God laughed at me: Fuller was the last place I expected to meet a devout, well-versed Catholic. source
LM: So you met your wife at Fuller after Kim Hahn’s prayer? That’s some powerful prayer!
MB: We joke about the fact that two Catholics had to go to a Protestant theological seminary to meet. I love to tell others that I am dating the most beautiful Catholic seminarian I have ever met. You should see people’s faces. [laughs] source
LM: If you don’t mind my saying, you have a very [makes quotation marks in the air]–“different”—sense of humor.
MB: Thank you.
LM: You’re welcome. Tell me more about her.
LM: Your wife.
MB: Kim is my wife.
LM: Omigosh, you married Kim Hahn?
MB: I married Kim Gilmore. Who are you talking about?
LM: Oh! Sorry! Confused. Go on….
MB: My wife Kim is amazing, wonderful, beautiful and intelligent. She does all things well. She’s an amazing teacher. She loves Jesus Christ, she loves Sacred Scripture and she loves the Church.
She can shift gears from talking about the biblical theological to Napolean Dynamite on a dime. She knows more about computers than most people you will ever meet. She has mad creative skills. She always treats people with kindness and charity. She doesn’t know the meaning of the word “impossible”. These days, Kim is the Director of Catechetical Ministries (or, the Director of Religious Education) at the largest Catholic parish in San Diego. The youth program alone has over 1500 kids. source
Last year, Kim and I had the most wonderful little boy, Michael Patrick Barber, Jr. I haven’t been the same since. I came to know and love my wife so much more deeply and profoundly than I could have ever imagined possible. source Our son recently took his first steps. source
Kim is truly amazing. Wonderful, beautiful, charitable, intelligent, humorous, adventurous – words fail. She’s the best. Kim, I love you! source
LM: Ahhhh, that’s so sweet. [interviewer sighs] By the way, I loved the “Child Not a Choice” video. Michael Jr. is adorable.
LM: ….Who are your heroes?
MB: People I would cite as inspirations would include my grandfather, Papa, George Peter Irving II, who was saintliest man I ever knew. source John Paul the Second, whom I was honored to be able to meet in private audience source Pope Benedict XVI. I might cite Avery Dulles source My uncle, Fr. George Peter Irving source Scott Hahn, certainly. source Probably people I haven’t written about.
LM: But if you haven’t blogged about them, I don’t know who they are.
MB: I can see that my failure to anticipate your imaginary interview was an oversight on my part.
LM: Is that an apology?
MB: You can pretend it is.
LM: Okay, I will.
Michael, one of your uncles is a priest, another is the founder of St. Joseph Communications, and your grandfather was saintly. You seem to come from a very devout Catholic family.
MB: I do want to emphasize that I’m not Catholic simply because I was born Catholic. While I was raised a Catholic, I continue to be Catholic because I choose to be. At the same time, I am not Catholic because I suppose that I am the best arbiter of truth and because, in my great wisdom, I have decided that the Catholic Church comes closest to what I think is right. I don’t [think] that’s the kind of system Christ established. I think he left his teaching authority with the apostles, especially Peter, and I think we have to submit ourselves to that authority, which they expected would belong to their successors. This was clearly what Paul, and early figures like Clement and Ignatius thought!
I want to agree with the Church, not convince the Church that it needs to agree with me. source
LM: What do you think of Vatican II?
MB: Well, let me tell you, I like the Mass said in English–I love it that Vatican II did that. I also love that the Council expanded [and] reformed the Liturgy of the Word and lectionary cycle–it’s way better than what we had before (far less Scripture was read!). Indeed, I could go on and on about things I love about Vatican II.
Even more, I have nothing bad to say about Vatican II!
LM: What do you think of the Latin mass?
MB: Oh it definitely can be good too. My uncle taught his bilingual parish in central LA some Latin so they could worship together. source
LM: What about Pope Benedict?
MB: I couldn’t be happier when Cardinal Ratzinger was elevated to the Pontificate. He is one of my favorite theologians. This Pope is going to set the world on fire. I can’t wait for his second book on Jesus of Nazareth. source
LM: Ecumenism is very important to you.
MB: Ecumenism is a big part of my goal for my website. I want to engage in discussion with the world of blogging biblical studies—which, at present, is dominated by non-Catholics. I want to show what contributions a Catholic perspective can make to the discussion. I think open and honest dialogue in the scholarly world is one of the most exciting avenues of ecumenism. My goal is to build bridges—not walls. source
MB: I was very happy that that video became as popular as it did, and it was honored by a couple different groups. The anti-Mormon attacks after the election were unconscionable. We couldn’t let that go without standing up for Truth.
LM: I noticed in the video that your office really is full of books. Pretty shade of green, by the way.
MB: Er, my office? You are sort of worrying me…you aren’t a stalker, are you?
LM: No, but when you make up an interview with someone, it helps to research a lot. Hypothetically speaking.
MB: Mmm-hmm. I imagine it does.
LM: I’ll pretend you didn’t say that.
LM: Do you Twitter?
LM: How is your doctorate program going?
MB: I am still working on it at Fuller.
LM: I have seen pictures of Dr. Brant Pitre and Dr. Scott Hahn.
MB: [nods] uh-huh….
LM: They’re both Ph.D.s
LM: So…are you growing a beard when you get your doctorate?
This is me pretending that I didn’t hear you.
LM: This is me imagining you with a beard.
MB: This is me, fake-calling 9-1-1.
LM: Righto. This is me, wrapping up the non-interview. One last question: Kirk, Picard, Janeway, Sisko or Archer.
MB: I’m going to have to go with Picard. source (sorta)
LM: [fist pumps the air] I knew it! Jean-Luc is a ‘gotta.’ Oh hey, could I ask one more thing? Could you let Brant Pitre know that I’m really really sorry about that whole, er…misunderstanding?
MB: Don’t worry about it. Brant isn’t.
LM: Do I have your imaginary assurance of that?
MB: Oh, I imagine you most assuredly do!
MB: I have an idea. Why don’t you pretend to apologize to Brant and then write up a fictional absolution from him, which you then post on your website?
LM: Oh wow, could I do that?!
MB: [long pause] You’re kidding, right?
LM: Er, yes…I see your point. Well, Michael Barber, biblical scholar and all around good guy, I really appreciate your (imaginary) time. I know you are busy. On Friday I’ll be listening in to Reasons for Faith.
MB: Thanks for picking me for Catholic Speakers Month. (Not) talking with you has been a pleasure.