Rudolf Bultmann’s Letter to Jeffrey B. Gibson (Oct. 27, 1972)

On facebook, Jeffrey B. Gibson recently posted a letter that Rudolf Bultmann sent him, and he has kindly given me permission to provide a translation of this letter here.

As usual, I will alternate between the German text and the English translation:

Sehr geehrter Herr Gibson!

Dear Mr. Gibson (or: Very honored/esteemed Mr. Gibson)!

Für Ihren freundlichen Brief von vom 2.10. danke ich ich Ihnen bestens.

I thank you you most sincerely (or: very much) for your friendly letter from October 2 (1972).

Ich kann ihn nur kurz beantworten, denn ich bin alt und leidend und meine Augen sind schwach, so daß ich nicht mehr lesen und arbeiten kann.

I can answer it only briefly since I am old and suffering (or: ailing) and my eyes are weak, so that I can no longer read and work.

Ich kann nur mit Mühe wenig schreiben.

I can only with difficulty (or: toil) write a little.

Ich freue mich, daß meine theologische Arbeit für Sie fruchtbar geworden ist.

I am glad (or: I rejoice) that my theological work has become fruitful for you.

Zu Ihren Fragen kann ich nur kurz antworten.

Your questions I can answer only briefly (or: I can only respond briefly to your questions).

1. In den biblischen Schriften müssen alle mythologischen Sätze und Begriffe entmythologisiert werden.

1. In the biblical writings all mythological sentences and terms (or: concepts) must be demythologized.

2. Alle biblische Texte müssen existential interpretiert werden.

2. All biblical texts must be interpreted existentialistically.1

Die Interpretation hat zu fragen, welches Verständnis der menschlichen Existenz sich in den Texten ausspricht.

Interpretation must ask (or: The task of interpretation is to ask) which understanding of human existence is expressed in the texts.

Der Leser ist dann vor die Entscheidung gestellt, ob er die in den Texten zu Wort kommende Möglichkeit menschlichen Existenzverständnisses bejahen oder verneinen soll.

The reader is then placed before the decision of whether he (or: s/he) will (or should) affirm or reject the possibility for understanding human existence that comes to expression in the texts.2

Mit den besten Wünschen für Ihre Arbeit und freundlichen Grüßen

With best wishes for your work and friendly greetings

Ihr sehr ergebener,

Yours sincerely (or: Your very devoted),

Rudolf Bultmann

Note 1: For the translation of “existential,” cf. David Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing, p. xv: “The terms existential and existentiell are consistently translated as “existentialist” and “existential,” respectively, according to the convention of earlier Bultmann scholars, even though the distinction is largely ignored today.” I owe my own knowledge of this distinction to Michael Wolter.

Note 2: I am not sure if “the possibility for understanding human existence” is the correct translation of die … Möglichkeit menschlichen Existenzverständnisses, but this seems to be what is being said.

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Annette Merz on Gender Research and the Quest for the Historical Jesus

Rather than undertaking a detailed grammatical analysis of a single quotation, today’s post will provide a translation of three different excerpts from Prof. Annette Merz‘s essay “Wie verändert die Genderforschung die Frage nach dem historischen Jesus?” as a way of giving the reader a better sense of her overall approach and argument. In my judgment, this essay would be an excellent place to start for anyone who is interested in seeing how this topic is being discussed in recent German (and Anglophone) scholarship.

Like Petra von Gemünden essay on affects in the Synoptic Gospels, Merz’s essay appeared in Jesus – Gestalt und Gestaltungen: Rezeptionen des Galiläers in Wissenschaft, Kirche und Gesellschaft. Festschrift für Gerd Theißen zum 70. Geburtstag. Edited by Petra von Gemünden, David Horrell and Max Küchler. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013, pp. 597-622.

(1) Translation (wmc): The often heard accusation that gender conscious reconstructions/Bible translations falsify history fails to recognize the complexity of historical research. Historical reconstruction always has to do with judgments of probability and the weighing of plausibilities. I am personally of the opinion that the few cases in which women have perhaps been  wrongly added through gender conscious reconstruction are far outweighed by the number of cases in which they have been wrongly removed from a historical setting. The application of the hermeneutic of suspicion has led to an intensive historical research and to the demonstration of the participation of women in many life spheres in which androcentric history writing of past centuries did not suspect them.

German (602-603): Der oft zu hörende Vorwurf, dass geschlechterbewusste Rekonstruktionen/Bibelübersetzungen die Historie verfälschen, verkennt die Komplexität historischer Forschung. Historische Rekonstruktion hat es immer mit Wahrscheinlichkeitsurteilen und dem Abwägen von Plausibilitäten zu tun. Ich persönlich bin der Meinung, dass die wenigen Fälle, in denen Frauen durch geschlechterbewusste Rekonstruktion eventuell zu Unrecht hinzugefügt worden sind, bei weitem überwogen werden durch die Zahl der Fälle, in denen sie zu Unrecht aus einer historischen Szenerie entfernt worden sind. Die Anwendung der Hermeneutik des Verdachts hat zu einer intensivierten historischen Forschung und zum Nachweis der Partizipation von Frauen in vielen Lebensbereichen geführt, in denen androzentrische Geschichtsschreibung vergangener Jahrhunderte sie nicht vermutete.

* unsure if “setting” or “scenery” is better for Szenerie, but the former seems better? Not sure if”did not suspect them” captures the force of “sie nicht vermutete” or if it would be better to say “never suspected them” or something entirely different.

(2) Translation (wmc): Corley must initially be affirmed as correct in the fact that there are no traditions that can traced back with certainty to Jesus that explicitly thematize the theme of gender justice. Jesus neither took up the cause of the liberation of the woman nor that of the man from patriarchy. But this does not yet mean that the theme of gender definition and gender justice is not, in fact, present in his message, even if it may be implicit and broken by contradictions, which could not be expected to be otherwise in light of the dominant patriarchalism of ancient culture. In my opinion, one cannot convincingly contest the fact that the Jesus tradition reveals a criticism of dominant common-ancient concepts of masculinity and femininity. I am going to discuss thereto four thematic spheres: gender symmetry in a strikingly large number of traditions, countercultural values in the family and gender order presupposed in Jesus logia, criticism of rulership and imperialism as kyriarchy criticism and indirect patriarchy criticism, and the specific form of sexual morality formulated with a view to men and women.

German (615): Corley ist zunächst darin Recht zu geben, dass es keine mit Sicherheit auf Jesu zurückführbaren Traditionen gibt, die das Thema der Geschlechtergerechtigkeit explizit thematisieren. Jesus hat sich weder die Befreiung der Frau noch die des Mannes vom Patriarchat auf die Fahnen geschrieben. Das bedeutet aber noch nicht, dass das Thema der Geschlechterdefinition und Geschlechtergerechtigkeit nicht doch in seiner Botschaft vorhanden ist, sei es auch implizit und durch Widersprüchlichkeiten gebrochen, was angesichts des dominanten Patriarchalismus der antiken Kultur gar nicht anders zu erwarten ist. Man kann m. E. nicht überzeugend bestreiten, dass die Jesusüberlieferung eine Kritik an dominanten gemeinantiken Männlichkeits- und Weiblichkeitskonzepten erkennen lässt. Ich bespreche dazu vier Themenbereiche: Gendersymmetrie in auffällig vielen Traditionen, gegenkulturelle Werte in der in Jesuslogien vorausgesetzten Familien- und Geschlechterordnung, Herrschafts- und Imperialismuskritik als Kyriarchats- und indirekte Patriarchatskritik und die spezifische Form der mit Blick auf Männer und Frauen formulierten Sexualmoral.

*tough paragraph: struggled to translate opening words; gender equality read better than gender justice but the latter seemed preferable in terms of content; not at all sure whether “even if it may be implicit” captures the force of “sei es auch implicit” or whether “could not be expected to be otherwise” captures “gar nicht anders zu erwarten ist”. I very unsure about the force of dazu, which I translated as thereto. Finally, “order” might not be the best translation for “-ordnung”?

(3) Translation (wmc): The aforementioned observations do not intend to re-establish a feminist myth of origin. This has been rightly criticized, and it occurs, by the way, not only in Jesus research but also as a much used problematic model for history (of religion) writing, which has a tendency to glorify beginnings. Rather, my concern has been to place Jesus’s teaching and the way of life of the Jesuanic kingdom of God movement in a nuanced manner into the complex historical context that knew of not one but many gender discourses.

German (618): Mit den genannten Beobachtungen soll nicht ein feministischer Ursprungsmythos re-etabliert werden, der zu Recht kritisiert worden ist und übrigens nicht nur in der Jesusforschung vorkommt, sondern als ein vielfach verwendetes problematisches Muster von (Religions-)Geschichtsschreibung identifiziert wurde, die eine Tendenz hat, Anfänge zu verklären. Es geht vielmehr darum, Jesu Lehre und den Lebensstil der jesuanischen Reich-Gottes-Bewegung differenziert in den komplexen historischen Kontext einzuordnen, der nicht einen, sondern verschiedene Geschlechterdiskurse kannte.

* Another tough paragraph! I sometimes find it preferable to translate mit X … passive verb into X … active verb. Using “intend” to translate soll sometimes seems best. And it seemed preferable to break up the long German sentence here by introducing a full stop. “by the way” is the best solution I have for  übrigens apart from not translating it; writing history (of religion) of the writing of history (of religion) might be better than history (of religion) writing. verklären could perhaps be translated with “transfigure” to make a connection with the “transfiguration” but “glorify” seemed to convey the most important point more clearly. I translated es geht um very freely with “my concern has been” rather than “the concern is” or the like. It might be better to translate Jesuananische with Jesus’s instead of Jesuanic? Likewise, it might be better to simply say “carefully” rather than “in a nuanced manner” for differenziert.

Substantive analysis: Annette Merz is one of those rare scholars who effectively combines (a) advanced theoretical reflection, (b) high quality exegesis, and (c) the ability to communicate her arguments in a clear and compelling manner. For me at least, these excerpts convey something of all three of these virtues. Excerpt 1 immediately turns the tables on the reader who might approaches her topic with reservations or skepticism: Yes, it is true that it is possible to read women into early Christianity in problematic ways. But, no, you shouldn’t dismiss what I am going to say because the danger of reading women out of early Christianity in problematic ways is much greater. In other words, precisely in order to do good historical research, you need to alter your default setting. Excerpt 2 then acknowledges an element of truth in second perspective that runs counter to her own, while explaining why this element of truth does not undermine her viewpoint and outlining how exactly she will develop her argument in relation to the primary texts. Finally, in Excerpt 3 she distances herself from an approach to her topic that has met with criticism, while showing how her approach is not liable to such criticism insofar as it is precisely concerned to provide a nuanced account that does justice to the complex historical context.

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Jörg Frey on the Theological Approach to Johannine Interpretation

Looking far into the future, this week’s post comes from my übernächsten translation project, namely Jörg Frey‘s book Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten: Studien zu den Johanneischen Schriften I / The Glory of the Crucified One: Studies on the Johannine Writings I.

Today’s key quotation inaugurates a series of posts on Frey’s introductory chapter “Ways and Perspectives of the Interpretation of the Gospel of John. Reflections on the Way to a Commentary”. More specifically,  it comes from section 1: Five Classic Model of Interpretation, which provides an analysis of The Theological Approach (1.1.), The Historicizing Approach (1.2),The zeitgeschichtlicher approach (1.3), The literarkritische and Redaction-critical Approach (1.4), and the literaturwissenschaftliche or Narratological Approach (1.5). [Still need to think about the translation of some of these terms]

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the (selective) grammatical commentary directly follows the German text.

Translation and German Original

English Translation (wmc): This approach rightly recognizes the theological intention of the Gospel’s message without classifying its message simply as ‘time-conditioned’ or ‘historical’ or ‘cultural’ and thus relativizing it. The material claim of the Gospel of John to mediate theological truth is explicitly taken up in this reading. Therein resides its validity, for the Fourth Gospel undoubtedly calls for such a theologically sensitive reading. A danger may, however, reside in the fact that in an overly close identification of the interpreter with his [or her] author or the work and its proclamation the possibility of adopting a position of critical distance  is easily lost. John then becomes the standard of what is actually Christian and the problematic aspects of Johannine theology, for example the polemical statements about ‘the Jews’, can be relativized only with difficulty.

Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten (7): Dieser Ansatz erkennt mit Recht den theologischen Aussagewillen des Evangeliums, ohne dessen Aussagen einfach als ‘zeitbedingt’ einzuordnen oder ‘historisch’ oder ‘kulturell’ zu erklären und damit zu relativieren. Der sachlich Anspruch des Johannesevangeliums, theologische Wahrheit zu vermitteln, wird in dieser Lektüre eindrücklich aufgenommen und vertreten. Darin besteht ihr Recht, denn zweifellos verlangt das vierte Evangelium nach einer solchen theologisch sensiblen Lektüre. Eine Gefahr mag allerdings darin liegen, daß in einer zu engen Identifikation des Interpreten mit seinem Autor bzw. dem Werk und seiner Verkündigung die Möglichkeit einer kritischen Distanznahme leicht verloren geht. Johannes wird dann zum Maßstab des eigentlich Christlichen, und die problematische Aspekte der johanneischen Theologie, etwa die polemischen Äußerungen über ‘die Juden’, lassen sich nur schwer relativieren.

Selective grammatical analysis

Although the German sentence reads very smoothly and is not especially difficult to understand, I found it quite difficult to translate. Aussagewillen presented a difficulty for me, and I am not sure if I am getting it right. I considered various options such as statement/declaration/testimony of purpose/intention, stated intention/purpose, and intended testimony. Sache/sachlich can’t be captured well in English. It is often translated as “content”, but I usually prefer “subject matter” for Sache and “material”, “materially” or “in terms of the subject matter” for sachlich. vermitteln is often best translated with “mediate” but “convey” is sometimes better. bestehen is often best translated as “consist” but “resides” seemed to read better here. I struggled with ihr Recht, but ultimately settled on “its validity” rather than “its right/legitimacy/justification/due/authorization” . verlangen nach has the force of “calls for”, “requires”, “demands”, “desires”, “longs for”: here, “calls for” seemed best. sensiblen means “sensitive”
(NOT “sensible”, which is a false friend: see here). I first translated kritische Distanzhame as “critical distancing” but then changed my mind and translated it as “a critical taking of distance”, which also didn’t seem quite right. And so I decided, against my usual inclinations, to translate more freely and write “the possibility of adopting a position of critical distance”. I recognize that “is easily lost” hardly does justice to leicht verloren geht but “easily goes lost”, “easily gets lost” or “easily gets lost in the shuffle” didn’t seem to work too well. But perhaps “easily slips away” would be better. eigentlich could also be translated as “real” or even with the term “authentic”, especially as this quotation occurs in relation to Bultmann. lassen sich + infinitive is usually best translated as “can be x-ed”, but the wooden “allows itself to be [or lets itself be] relativized only with difficulty” might be better here.

Substantive analysis

one of the things that I like about this section of Frey’s chapter is that he attempts to identify both the elements of truth of the approaches that he traces and the weaknesses and (potential) problems that burden them. Here, I think his assessment of the strengths and potential dangers of a theological approach are basically on target.

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For two interviews with me about the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Series, see Clifford Kvidahl and Michael Hölscher.

German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! In an effort to provide a sense of regularity and predictability for this blog’s readership, I plan on writing a new post each Monday. So hopefully I will ‘see’ you again in a week’s time. Best, Wayne.




Oda Wischmeyer and the Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik

This post falls under one of my favorite categories on this blog, namely “German scholars”. The purpose of this category is to introduce German scholars and their research to the English-speaking world. Each post will consist of (I) my translation of a short passage from a publication submitted by the German author her/himself and (II) some biographical-bibliographical information about the scholar in question. For further information on this category, see here. For my other “German scholars” posts, see here.

Today’s “German scholar” is Prof. Dr. Oda Wischmeyer (em.) of the Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, an institution that holds a special place in my heart as my first university home during my studies in Germany. Insofar as this blog and the BMSEC series both aim to facilitate increased dialogue between English-language and German-language scholarship, I would like to underline here the extent to which Prof. Wischmeyer’s scholarship has contributed to this aim, for example through the English translation of her edited volume Paul: Life, Setting, Work, Letters, which I mentioned in my last post, and now through her 2014 co-edited volume Paul and Mark (cf. Jim West’s Review), which brings together the work of about twelve German-speaking scholars and twelve English-speaking scholars who deal with the question of the influence of Paul on Mark.

As her passage of choice for this post, Prof. Wischmeyer has submitted an excerpt from the Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik. Edited by Oda Wischmeyer. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2013, p. VI.

As usual I will begin with the English translation so that the selective grammatical commentary can directly follow the German version.

I) Translation

English Translation (wmc): “The text-oriented hermeneutic of the Bible represents a new hermeneutic paradigm in which the canonical version of the Bible is not primarily understood in a theologically internal manner as ‘gospel’ and ‘Holy Scripture’ and thereby largely hermeneutically and methodologically withdrawn from the non-theological text-oriented disciplines. Rather, the hermeneutical approach [of the Lexikon] is already in its basic approach heuristic and multiperspectival and does not follow an already existing conception. The leading theological-hermeneutical terms ‘gospel’, ‘word of God’, ‘Holy Scripture’, and ‘revelation’ stand alongside terms that belong to the humanities and the study of culture   [or: to the human sciences and cultural sciences] in the broadest sense such as ‘canon’, ‘holy book’, ‘text’, ‘supertext’, and ‘reception’. The term/concept of text is chosen as an integrating guiding term/concept to which both the theological disciplines and the humanities and cultural disciplines have genuine methodological and hermeneutical points of access and to which they can make their own contribution. The Bible is understood as a collection of different texts that together form a supertext. All present-day text-elucidating scholarly [or scientific] disciplines with their theories, methods, conceptions, and terms/concepts are drawn upon for the understanding of this text or these texts. The field of linguistic, literary, historical, theological, philosophical, and religious studies understanding yields together the basis of a ‘Bible hermeneutic’ that opens up the biblical texts in all their aspects to understanding.”

Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik (p. VI): “Die textbezogene Hermeneutik der Bibel stellt ein neues hermeneutisches Paradigma dar, in dem die kanonische Fassung der Bibel nicht primär binnentheologisch als ‘Evangelium’ und ‘Heilige Schrift’ verstanden wird und damit den nicht-theologischen textbezogenen Disziplinen hermeneutisch und methodisch weitgehend entzogen ist. Der hermeneutische Zugang [des Lexikons] ist vielmehr bereits im Ansatz heuristisch, multiperspektivisch und schließt sich nicht einer bereits bestehenden Konzeption an. Die führenden theologisch-hermeneutischen Begriffe ‘Evangelium’, ‘Wort Gottes’, ‘Heilige Schrift’, ‘Offenbarung’ stehen neben den im weitesten Sinne geistes- und kulturwissenschaftlichen Begriffen wie ‘Kanon’, ‘heiliges Buch’, ‘Text’, ‘Supertext’, ‘Rezeption’. Als integrierender Leitbegriff ist der Textbegriff gewählt, zu dem die theologischen Disziplinen ebenso wie die geistes- und kulturwissenschaftlichen Fächer genuine methodische und hermeneutische Zugänge besitzen und eigene Beiträge leisten können. Die Bibel wird als eine Sammlung unterschiedlicher Texte verstanden, die gemeinsam einen Supertext bilden. Zum Verstehen dieser Texte bzw. dieses Textes werden alle gegenwärtig texterklärenden wissenschaftlichen Disziplinen mit ihren Theorien, Methoden, Konzeptionen und Begriffen herangezogen. Das Feld von sprachlichem, literarischem, historischem, theologischem, philosophischem und religionswissenschaftlichem Verstehen ergibt gemeinsam die Basis einer ‘Bibelhermeneutik’, die die biblischen Texte in allen ihren Aspekten dem Verstehen erschließt.”

Selective grammatical analysis: Let me restrict myself to a few difficult points. textbezogene could be translated text-related, but it is perhaps a bit weak, and I think that text-oriented might capture the intended sense better. binnentheologisch is hard to render: I chose to adopt the paraphrasing translation “in a theologically internal manner”. It would have read better to translate entzogen as “removed” but I thought “withdrawn” better conveyed the intended sense. “approach” is often the best translation for Zugang and Ansatz, but in order to lessen the awkward repetition I translated Ansatz as “basic approach”. I considered translating Ansatz as “conception” here, but this solution also fell flat since this term follows shortly thereafter! As I have indicated elsewhere (see here and From Jesus to the New Testament, p. viii), the translation of the German term Wissenschaft/wissenschaftlich causes problems (for me), since there are advantages and disadvantages of using the language of “science/scientific” in English. With respect to the phrase neben den im weitesten Sinne geistes- und kulturwissenschaftlichen Begriffen, the problem is felt with particular severity for three reasons. First, it is necessary for stylistic reasons to change the German adjectival construction to a relative clause, which also requires one to change the adjectives into nouns here. Secondly, the translation of Begriff (my least favorite German word) is often problematic since it tends to hover between word and concept (see further here). Thirdly and most importantly, it is extremely difficult (for me) to translate geistes- und kulturwissenschaftlichen. In English, I suspect we might just say “the humanities” or “the liberal arts”, which in our sentence would result in “alongside terms that belong to the humanities in the broadest sense”. But I think it is probably necessary to retain at least something of the German nuance, so I have suggested “alongside terms that belong to the humanities and studies of culture in the broadest sense”. In the end, however, it might be better to employ the language of “science” here and write “that belong to the human sciences and cultural sciences in the broadest sense”, despite the fact using the language of “science” for anything other than the “natural sciences” (Naturwissenschaften) will probably meet with criticism from at least some readers (see e.g., here), which is notable in view of the different linguistic conventions of French, German, and presumably other languages. Finally, there would be several options for translating dem Verstehen erschließt. Given the overall tenor of the quotation, it seemed preferable to me to adopt the less theologically-loaded translation “open up” rather than “disclose” or “reveal” for erschließt. It is not clear to me whether it would be better to say “to the understanding” or “to understanding” in this case.

II) Biographical-Bibliographical Information

For Prof. Wischmeyer’s academic profile, see here. For a chronological list of her publications, see here.

Prof. Wischmeyer describes her current research focus as follows:

My field of research is the collection of writings of the New Testament in their religious, literary and historical contexts. At the foreground of my work stand, on the one hand, the writings of ancient Judaism (esp. Ben Sira), and, on the other hand, texts, themes and theology of Paul’s letters and the letter of James as well as the Gospel of Mark. The canonical and noncanonical writings of ancient Judaism and early Christianity are foundational texts both in religious and cultural respects. Like the great texts of the Graeco-Roman culture – above all the Homeric epics and the Aeneid but also the texts of Plato – they have brought forth a hermeneutic of their own. Rudolf Bultmann showed for the European and North American exegesis of the twentieth century that New Testament scholarship always goes together with hermeneutical questions. In the last generation it came, in the wake of the globalization of biblical scholarship, to something like an explosion of new hermeneutical approaches that must be exegetically and hermeneutically sifted and processed. It is to this task that my own works on New Testament hermeneutic are devoted, namely the Lexikon der Bibelhermeneutik (ed. Oda Wischmeyer 2009 and 2013) and the Handbuch der Bibelhermeneutiken (ed. Oda Wischmeyer, Walter de Gruyter, forthcoming 2015).

For a complete list of my blog posts, please see here.

For tips on how to use this blog, please see here.

For two interviews with me about the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Series, see Clifford Kvidahl and Michael Hölscher.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! In an effort to provide a sense of regularity and predictability for this blog’s readership, I plan on writing a new post each Monday. So hopefully I will ‘see’ you again in a week’s time. Best, Wayne.