Tuesday, April 29, 2008

James - Take 5

As promised, here's a clip - a one minute song. Enjoy. James is now in a low-security part of the hospital. Most of our conversation was without delusion today. He even paid me for the cigarettes.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.

Yesterday at a studio concert in Cobble Hill, a small town in the southern end of Vancouver Island, we heard a performance of Britten's canticle setting the words of T.S. Eliot's Journey of the Magi.

Is anyone still with me? There is so much fracturing of communion going on these days, I wonder. I have not been abandoned by my Counselor, in spite of the fact that I can take both Britten and Eliot together.

If anyone has been appointed by the invocation of fellowship-breaking verses like 'Come ye out from among them' then let the same ones also ask whether 'the word of God originated with them'. Is it in the words of the hymn that God should take his power and reign, or that we should say to God, 'let me take your power and reign'?

But they would not listen for their hardness of heart.

Still here? Britten and Eliot are two of my 100 best - in the 20th century. Could I really be receiving the gift of Britten's music and maintain a position of not receiving him? Those who would be great among you should be righteous for more than one day.

It is regrettable perhaps that some have gone out from among us. It remains for me self-evident that the first sin of the flesh is the desire to be right on one's own terms. It is possible for groups of people to share such sin. Too bad.

Now this really is a personal opinion. Those who are leaving, do they recognize that their stance against this and that practice, whether it be acceptance of those who are different from them in desire or the acceptance of the place of people in the Church who have a differing anatomical structure, - do they recognize, I ask, if their very legal stance has not or has contributed to the failure of the Gospel in the very tradition they so long continued in?

Money is a cheap way of writing off the prods of conscience.

What does it matter that "I" am right when I have failed in the Gospel? What does it matter that "I" am right in all my doctrine when I have not known love or been known by love?

Hypocrite - this above all you should have understood. To think I even read any of your books when after all is said and done, you didn't know, and you couldn't bear all things. Don't you even know what God does by the Spirit in the death of Jesus Christ for the sake of those who are belonging to him? If you say you do know this - why can't you say it? Why do you reduce his Gospel to your Law?

Friday, April 25, 2008


My namesake accidentally poached on this blog's territory by posting a personal opinion about liberalism on the psalm's blog.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Please do not be offended

- Here's the guitar.
- O thank-you, Dad. Now I can play my song.
- It looks a bit rough. Is that the one Peter gave you?
- Yeah. It's been on the street.

The guitar was held together on its back by nuts and bolts that would have killed a man if the instrument was used as a weapon. It was, as one of my staff remarked, a Frankintar. The neck was bowed since the steel brace for it was broken, and the strings were almost a half inch off the finger board. (But I didn't know this was important.) He took it up in his hands and struck a chord. I thought there was something wrong with the sound but I wondered what this master self-taught guitarist would do with it.

- I can't play this - it doesn't hold its tune.

He detuned it in a few seconds to a tone lower. He played what should have been an octave on the low E string.

- This is so disappointing, Dad. I can't play my song on it.
- It's unplayable, is it? So maybe this one wasn't Peter's. I didn't think it came with a skull and crossbones.
- No. It is Peter's. I put that on it.
- I had wondered if it was going to work.
- Well it doesn't. Look at the strings! And the truss rod is snapped. But what could I expect from you! You don't know shit about guitars. Couldn't you please go and rent me one from Larsen's.

The conversation was longer than this. He held his cool. He never went remotely delusional. It was the first real conversation I have had with him in several years of trying. I went downtown - laughing all the way at the truth of his statement about my knowledge of guitars. I asked at Larsen's if the old guitar was fixable - removing the neck and replacing the broken truss. I knew it wasn't - so I bought a new one and gave them the old one for parts.

When I got back to the hospital, James was asleep. The nurse told me he was probably bored. She knocked on his door. Nice view. I went into the common room and opened the case, waiting patiently. He got up. He thanked me and took up the guitar to play. I will take a film next time. The skill is astonishing - whether in traditional chords with spontaneous singing, or slow arpeggiated work or high-speed right-handed finger hammer strokes which he said he learned 15 years ago at Tsow-tun-lelum, a healing place we had sent him to at an earlier time.

Here was David and Saul in one person, an hour's conversation and wonderful music too without even a shadow of delusion.

Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.

- O Dad - would you please get me a pack of cigarettes. I'll pay you back. I'll be getting my welfare cheque here so I can.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Holey Logic Batman

Bird by Bird, a little book on writing, has this advice: - get it down then clean it up. So brewing has all this theory been, that I must get it out of my system. With what types of reasoning do I approach life etc? I find myself implied as wrong always. I pray the psalms, but not on my knees - though I fully know what repentance and the heaviness of sin is - moisture dried up as in the drought of summer. But psalm 32 is positive compared to psalm 38 and its reminder of psalm 6.

But did the psalmist believe the earth was flat? Well maybe I should not believe anything he/she wrote then. Ridiculous - as my mother would say. And to avoid ad hominem remarks like that, let me just say - that in my illogical mind, the conclusion does not follow from the premise.

The pristine perfection of logic has always been difficult to use. The purity of the condition is marred by the vagueness of the objects. We are more like balls in a pin-ball machine than preprogrammed elements in a logic diagram. (I never draw such diagrams.) Our trajectory is determined by the barriers we encounter.

Is our end any better than the gutter at the end of the game - should we just enjoy the bumps and the exhilaration of being bounced around? (Exhilaration already implies an answer - just consider the 'h' - shorthand for breath. It's a hard h, ח, the last of the fiery letters of ruach.)

End is itself an ambiguous word - terminal or telos? End-point or purpose? It suggests another metaphor for life, that of completeness. I find this best imaged in the death of Jesus - as any who read this blog will know. In my thinking, I have turned this event into the foundation of time and space. I have done this, because my experience of his life, my bare and insufficient knowledge in myself finds a completion in his presence that I can only point to.

But that is not helpful in an argument about history - so why argue. Let us reason together. Is there any ground we can share - our skeptical part, and our other part? The search is important but it is not the end. Do you remember the pin ball that bounces repeatedly between the 500 and the 1000 point bumpers - wow - what a score! Lucky ball, that one.

Is part of my search for an answer to the question what did Jesus believe? Not as if he 'believed' in that sense. He lived - and he lived always 'in the bosom of the Father'. If only we could have made up such a story - and gotten so many differing authors to agree even as close as the differing images that we see in the Scripture. If Jesus believed in a flat earth (it might have been convenient at the time in some circles), does that invalidate the whole edifice? If Jesus was not a Trinitarian (I was going to say Chalcedonian, but I am not sure how to spell it) - what can I say then, that this extra-Biblical construct is not useful? (Well, it has certainly been a serious obstacle - and I think you only get 5 points for hitting that one.)

If the pin-ball surface is not flat, the game becomes more not less interesting. What dimension will we stop at - why not an infinitely curved surface that returns onto itself outside the light cone, a five-dimensional view in which every space-time creature is able to be seen as a whole. Mathematically, it is a piece of cake. (But keep the cake out of the argument - no points for smearing the surface with icing.) The Jesus event is the origin of all things - he is the fullness of all in all - certainly not flat.

Some say that if your system of faith is not perfect in itself - or orthodox, or infallible, or right in all respects, then there is no game at all. The problem with such systems is that they will not hold without violence. The kind of violence that systems engender is incompatible with the absorption of violence that they intend. Absorption and transformation is not coercion for the sake of political or religious or economic control. (We aren't there yet - someone tilted the game and jammed a few of the gears.)

The real issue is how did we come to think that there was a word to begin with. Where did those letters of fire and their incarnation come from? He is just another ball in the game - and he became the game itself. I bounce first where the shadow of his ball might have been. What was that! - a score in the infinity range - I just glimpsed it for a moment - free games forever in a hyperbolic space where time is a Möbius strip. It says on the bumper - not by system, not by intellect, not by orthodoxy, not even by our own version of morality, but by the spirit, enfleshed (incarnate for you Latins out there), in your own body. Do we have to get the theory right to live? Not for a moment. Does it fall apart if our thinking is somehow incomplete? No.

But what must we do? - I will save that till later, but reading the psalms is not a bad idea.

The use and non-use of power

When do you know you have power and therefore might use it (well or badly)? Is there a power in knowledge? Why is it so easy to pretend you know more than you do?

These questions are too general, but are suggested to me by the easy tendency we have to label some act or some person as being of low or high quality or whatever. In few or many words, we resort to ad hominem remarks to establish our certainty or the validity of our arguments.

Do I see any such tendencies in Biblical writers? Are the Biblical writers bullies in any way? Do they win essentially by calling their opponents names?

There is buzz in the blogosphere on both historicity and metaphor. I am an ordinary man in these areas of expertise. But I have to live in history and I have to use language. I also am separated from my fellow humans in time, space, and in thought. None of us can fully share anything, whether from literature or history. The closest we get is in music when we hear a quartet play homophony in perfect ensemble - Try the Heiliger Dankgesang in Beethoven's string quartet opus 132. (Online here).

DO it - too good to pass up. Blessed are they who can play together. May it become so among the bloggers. When two of you agree .... here are four who agree.

Now if we must disagree over history or metaphor, let us do so with agreeable disagreement and not stoop to the lows and highs of scorn or adjectives or claiming to know what it is impossible to know - like whether Jesus or Paul used metaphor or thought literally about x, y, or z or not.

We cannot base faith on our interpretation. We have two options - adore or run like hell.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Blog appreciation day

Dr. Platypus has suggested we blog about 5 blogs that we appreciated today. It is a nice thought so here goes:

1. Tim Bulkeley (not so named for his culinary expertise) always gives me pleasure when he writes or reads.
2. Richard Rhodes has a post on inerrancy that invites a deeper scratching - some day I hope I can find words to gentle this particular horse more sweetly.
3. Mark always stretches my ability to think about other languages - here in Zug der Erinnerung he points to a reminder of great difficulty and significance.
4. I would love to meet some of the writers that April quotes in her Apocryphote of the Day.
5. I cannot appreciate some bloggers enough for their clarity, support, and encouragement - so to my fifth, I will include three: Doug for boxing with metaphors, John for the political side of the poor with us, and Kathy for a brief word on the church in relation to the Pope's upcoming visit to the U.S.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Another day - another 40 clicks

Letting the anniversary weekend linger on, my wife and I decided to cycle again via the Galloping Goose trail and take some more pictures between home and
Royal Roads University and end the trip at a local pub - Spinnaker's on the water - the stout was outstanding. (Last night's meal was both good and unique, but the pub fare was a better venue and 1/4 the price - and I can remember the names of what we ate: seafood chowder and fish and chips.)

Here's the odd flower emerging in our own garden
Next some cherry trees in blossom. I ran out of batteries or I would have shown some cherry blossom snow too.

The gardens at Royal Roads are lovely but there was not much time for them today - too many kilometers to pedal. We did manage a snap of the local peacock.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

On a lighter note

The first really warm day of the spring and Diana is far ahead of me on the trail.

Today is our fortieth anniversary (really tomorrow, but it was a Saturday in Montreal at Christ Church Cathedral 40 years ago). We rode out to Sydney (BC) - here are a few pictures: daffodils, fallow fields, noisy roosters with a few pot bellied friends.

After the ride we had on our back porch a slightly red gin and tonic with a slice of lime and a maraschino cherry.

Tonight we will be going out for a full length dinner at Café Brio, a place we have heard good reports of, have often looked at, but have never yet entered. Yesterday Diana gave me a very expensive bottle of scotch and believe it or not - an even more expensive bottle of red wine.

Flat Earth Society

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who divide everything into two kinds of things and those who don't. (Another quote from that lost book of mine on General Systems Thinking.)

Side by side with this is a story I remember about some obscure group or other who were being addressed by a well-known scholar. He was being primed to help him target his talk to the assembled crowd. "Sir," warned his advisor, "there are two kinds of people in this room, those who believe the earth is flat and those who don't - same people."

Chris Tilling scored 29 comments and growing on his post "was Jesus wrong?" I was going to try and develop an argument that would put some of the claims for the perceived need to have an omniscient 'Jesus' in an absurd light, but it seems so unnecessary. I was thinking of how necessarily limited our God-talk is and how poor we are even at figuring out who we are ourselves. What is the human that you give it a passing thought?

Would Jesus have answered a scientific question? There were plenty of answers attributed to him that are tangential if at all related to the stated question.

- Jesu, my love, is the earth as flat as we think it is?
- shall the One who made the heavens and the earth not build a miniature so that you can know this answer yourself? Amen, amen, I tell you, since you do not know this or even who you are in yourself, let yourself be known by the maker, and you will by that same brooding love, come to know exactly how flat the earth is under the canopy of the heavens.
- Jesu, my love, how is it that the man and the woman could not speak accurately to each other even in the beauty of the garden and in the presence of the ineffable?
- Are you a teacher in Israel and you do not know this? What is incomplete must be completed. As the Lord God took from one and made two, so I will take even you from my side and bring you to myself that we may be one. In that day, they will not say that the two should not be divided, for the light and the dark, the waters above and below the canopy, the day and the night will be such a unity that each of you and all of you together and severally will no longer fear to gaze, to touch, or to eat.
- Jesu, my love, when will these things be?
- Amen, amen, I say to you. They are, they have been, and they will be in me. For where I am, there all things are gathered, and you yourself will divide them and will decide in your joy how to be even as I am in myself.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Meaning and stuff

Don't miss this lecture on Writing Modern Midrash. Put up with the inaudible student questions and the untranslated. The teaching about reading is too good. HT Iyov via a comment from Drew Kaplan. You need to hear a few words that he says too quickly at first: pshat = peshat, the plain meaning, sdom = Sodom, lote = Lot, hava = Eve etc.

Here is a Jewish teacher who reads Herbert, Keats, and Lewis, as well as Rambam and Rashi of course.

The teacher is identified - per comment - as R. Aryeh Klapper of Harvard Hillel, Maimonides High School, the Boston Beis Din (Rabbinical Court).

Double Yod continued

וַיִּיצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם, עָפָר מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו, נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים; וַיְהִי הָאָדָם, לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה.

Then the LORD God formed (+)the human of the dust of the humus, and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being.

One ought to notice that double yod, יִּי is a common abbreviation of 'the name'. So one could say that the LORD God, mentioned first only at the end of the 7 days, is also hidden in the creation of the one from the dust. The 'image' is hidden in the act. This accidental misspelling could be seen as prefiguring the incarnation. I say accidental in much the way that accidentals are used in music - to enrich the harmony and the counterpoint.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


I will take a serendipitous post by Kevin Edgecomb as a warning. My last post is not meant as contentious as if there were no work to be done.

Kevin quotes the following:

Therefore, the Christian must be one who takes up his cross, and his life, likewise, must be an ascetic labour of bearing that cross. Whatever the outward circumstance of his life, be he monk or layman, it is of no consequence. In either case, if he does not force himself to mount upwards, then, of a certainty, he will fall lower and lower.

Excerpt from a sermon of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow (1782-1867) of New York (d 1985), given on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the Sunday of St John of the Ladder.
Knowing that the word of faith is nigh me is not an excuse for doing nothing. There is a good discipline and a realistic work in Christ, even if the yoke is easy and the burden is light.

But this does not apply only to the 'Christian'. St John in the ladder episode (1:51) has the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Note that it is not that Jacob is beautiful or that his face is engraved on the heavenly throne - though both these things might well be true - or that we need some way of getting angels to and from heaven. (See The Ladder of Jacob, by James Kugel for an exploration of these explanations). The angels ascend and descend on the Son of Man - so the striving applies to all. The Son of Man is the ladder itself. There is no falling. There is willing and enabled ascent and descent. And we are not the angels but we all comprise the ladder. The angels, I suggest, are interested in the ladder itself and are themselves messengers of its composition.
ו וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ מְּעַט, מֵאֱלֹהִים; וְכָבוֹד וְהָדָר תְּעַטְּרֵהוּ. 6 You have made it a little lower than the angels, and crowned it with glory and honour.
Their messages are concerning how well we accept each other in the ladder. The angels blog about it so that the Most High knows what is going on both with our well-meaning strivings as well as our confusions and broken rungs, and most particularly how we apply that great gift of glory and honour to ourselves and to others.

If, as is implied in a prominent rung of the ladder (ht Iyov), "the salvific grace of God is given only by means of Jesus and[?] the Church", then we must address the unity of the Son of Man as ladder and not imagine that our own constructs will suffice to bring heaven to earth or earth to heaven. The offense is in the claim to unity made in the person of Jesus. The offense of history is in our parochial contention, thus disassembling this narrow gate. We are tripping the angels on their way to and fro on our behalf.

(I fail to see where that word 'and' came from. In my software analysis, 'and' in a module definition is always a tip off that your design lacks coherence.)

Double Yod

I had just written Extreme Allegory when I find in the work of Genesis a double yod where it needs to be most expected!

וַיִּיצֶר יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם, עָפָר מִן-הָאֲדָמָה, וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו, נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים; וַיְהִי הָאָדָם, לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה. 7 Then the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
See Rabbi Wolf's comments here.

Needless to say I would counter (as does Paul in Romans 10:6-7) with Deuteronomy 30:14

יד כִּי-קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר, מְאֹד: בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ, לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ.
14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth, and in your heart, and you can do it.

It is not by striving that we reach to divinity. And there is no place in our fleshly existence that our Lord will not go with us and in us. If there is such a non-place, then Incarnation is not truth.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Daring to write on translation

Iyov has a lovely post on the JPS and the three days of darkness that followed the completion of the LXX. Also going the rounds is a meme on which book of your library you would take with you from a burning building - no collections or such allowed.

I would take the doomsday book, my own life, and let the rest be consumed. Whether I can read polyglot or know a perfection of Hebrew, or hear God speak on Patmos in Greek, or understand the modulo-19 arithmetic of the Qur'an, none of these written things is needed. God can raise his children from the stones and write laws on their hearts, stony or otherwise, from the book of his presence.

[ed. whoever will save his life ...]

Of course, I might lose my life too, if I were saving it myself, but no book fills the completeness of the Gospel, so I do not need to swim in these particular hypothetical flames to save myself, as it were.

[ed. but would you leave behind those books you have not read? or that a friend just gave you? or that you are blogging about!]

All of them - as it is written, save yourself from this crooked and perverse generation.

Well, so much for that meme.