In addition to maintaining a rigorous schedule of teaching, writing, and speaking, you manage to give time and energy to teaching at a maximum security prison in Nashville. How did you come to do this, and what have your learned about yourself?
I first started teaching at Riverbend Maximum Security Institute ten years ago, not because I wanted to do prison ministry, but because I did not want to teach a scheduled Ph.D. course; I did no think the students knew Greek well enough. Harmon Wray, who developed the Riverbend program, suggested that I redesign the course for Masters of Divinity candidates and teach it at the prison. I am ever grateful to Harmon; learning with and from classes with both Vanderbilt and "insider" students is not only informative, it is inspirational. Whenever I teach, I try to bring insights from Riverbend to people in the "free world."
Who have been the important role models in your life? How have they shaped you?
Easy question: I was blessed with fabulous parents. Because of the depression and then WWII, neither was able to obtain the education each wanted. They decided that their little girl - I am an only child, and my parents were in their mid-40s when I was born -- would have every opportunity to pursue her interests, even when those interests turned out to be in comparative religion. When my mother met me at the bus stop each day after school, she would ask me, "Did you ask any good questions today?" She encouraged my curiosity, and she taught me that my views mattered. My father, who died when I was quite young, would in the evening after dinner put an opera on the record player (I hope your readers remember "record players") and then read to me from the old Jewish Encyclopedia. Then we would talk about what he had read, and why I should be interested. To this day, I associate Verdi and Puccini with Jewish history.
Of all the biblical figures you have studied, with whom would you wish to spend a day, and what would you hope to learn?
The answer depends on the day. Along with the obvious answers - Jesus, Paul, Mary Magdalene, James…. -- I'd like to talk with Judas Iscariot. I'm curious about his motives, how he would respond to the New Testament and Christian History's increasing vilification of his role, and how he understood Jesus' mission.
What is the one thing about Jesus that you wish Christians would “get”?
Summarizing complex issues in sound bytes is invariably misleading, but I'll try: I wish that all those who proclaim the Gospel would stop using Judaism as a negative foil and stop proclaiming who is saved and who is damned, and would instead focus on loving one's neighbor by following the teachings in such texts as the Sermon on the Mount and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.