Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bury your Adjectives

Doug Chaplin at Metacatholic has stimulated me to think about why I hate adjectives. Most recently, my dislike was prompted by a vague appeal to the word Biblical - as if such a modifier would prove anything.

I have considered several reasons.

  • Adjectives divide - they create parochialism and xenophobia
  • Adjectives are like an ellipsis that has been filled in - they do the work the reader should do
  • Adjectives substitute for reality - they make us think we have an answer
  • Adjectives put us in a box - they prevent maturing
I think adjectives are the skin of the fruit of that forbidden tree. Compost them and they will nourish the ground in their death. In any case, when you read one, consider its opposite. When you write one, see if a verb will do the job.

Adverbs are not different. My teachers told me to search for all words ending in -ly and eliminate them. Often just by deleting them, you will improve the text.

Here's a pair that is to be buried: totally depraved. Bury it along with your own knowledge of good and evil in the tomb of Christ Jesus (of course). Then you will see the fruit that is on the other side of the gate.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Religious comparisons

There was a recent conference on religions at the University of Victoria. I went to see what it was about. When I got there, I decided not to attend since it seemed on the surface to be thinly disguised Muslim propaganda. Two large banners greeted the guests containing justification for the veiling of women and the practice of Islam. There were no introductions from the other 5 faiths that were to speak in the conference.

When I consider the 'life after death' question they were to discuss, I felt there was a high probability for me that I would be frustrated by the ignorance of all presentations in this context. I decided to walk to the library instead. While there I picked up a very interesting book on the Sufi saints (Islamic mysticism : a short history by Alexander Knysh.) and I wrote a few notes. I thought it strange that I do not want to seek with other seekers or to listen to the religious of any religion. What one has found, however imperfectly, is to be sought out, not sought for.

Islam in the Sufi tradition of al-Hallaj (d. 922) writes this emblematic question:

Glory to him whose humanity manifested the secret of his piercing divinity's radiance and who then appeared openly in his creation in the form of one who eats and drinks.
Al Hallaj was tried for the sin of incarnationism!

These 10th century mystics appear to me to fail to find a language for their divine union that others of their faith could bear. The union language fails without incarnational or Trinitarian language.

I am fairly sure that even the Christian at the conference would not have satisfied my desire to see this language used effectively.

'Life' - the fullness of the life that Christ has for us -
'after' - now in the time after our baptism into his death and in the age to come -
'death' - his death and therefore the beginning already of a new creation.

This is not the traditional linear model of life-death-life but a resurrection and anointing model arising from the examples in the New Testament - a book listed in the displays in the foyer as an obsolete book replaced by the Qur'an. (I had not heard that this is Islamic doctrine but it is not unlike our Christian ignorance of the OT!)

Anyway - I was not there to say something intense about the removal of religious grave clothes that bind men and women to the fearful control of rotten religious practices. Probably good that I did not attend. Maybe I will hear more to counter my immediate negative prejudice if there is a report of the conference.

Next year, maybe I will speak for the atheists. No one volunteered this year - too bad. John Mortimer, Bertrand Russel, and Virginia Wolfe would make good arguing partners.

Is faith a leap?

There are some discussions about what can be believed making the rounds. Like Henry I always read some blogs and sometimes others. So today when Doug decided to castigate Jim West, I thought about conversations I have been having and I will try my hand at the undecidable.

Are faith and science irreconcilable? No - science is based on faith - even on Biblical faith. While Biblical is an acceptable modifier for faith, one can drive a truck through most adjectives. I will say that my Biblical faith is not in conflict with any science. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not for me a God of the gaps nor is the one who broods over chaos a God of confusion.

Doug has already expressed an important option:

The presupposition that underlies both science and theology is that the world is rational, ordered, and patient of being in some measure understood.
Patient ... in some measure - what a lovely phrase! Anglicans are good at this, I guess. Science is the measurable and the world is in some measure, submissive to our thought. And I see from comments on Jim's post that others have responded with the scribal logic of many voices.

The question concerning irreconcilability raised another in my mind as I rode my bicycle home. Is faith a leap? I have in mind the leap of some great philosopher I have not read. If one thought that faith was a leap over irreconcilability, then faith in God would be very difficult in the face even of our limited knowledge. If one thought that the leap was over a chasm - I could agree, but only to the extent that it is a leap over a chasm of angst. As T. S. Eliot noted:
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
My first thought was that faith is inevitable - but this is wrong. Such a thought is human centered. Faith in scientific knowledge and even in its possibility is one of the gifts of God in the being of the heavens and the earth. Faith in God is one of God's gifts to the human no matter how shrewd or simple the flesh considers itself. But then the problem is faith in what God or which God?

Here is a real problem - the particularity of the God of Israel, and the scandalous particularity of Jesus as focusing the God of Israel. The real issue becomes what sort of agreement do we have in this God or with this God? Why should I trust this God in particular? One reason, strangely enough, is the predictability of science.

Faith is a matter of testing. Hah - you will quote for me - do not test the Lord your God. But not that sort of testing as Doug easily notes.
I do not step off 50-storey buildings because I have faith in God and wish to prove it, but because I have knowledge of gravity and do not need to prove it.
Still, faith is, like science, a matter of experiment. So Psalm 34:8. Try it and see. You will find your own reasons that no one can tell you.

What? you say. How can one try something like this? Is this like a trial marriage?

Better than that. This bridegroom will never be your ex. It is no accident that the phrase כִּי־טֹוב יְהוָה, (ci-tov hashem) for יְהוָה is good reflects the origin of light in Genesis 1:4. Just consider the potential and actual misery in the world. Can you say that there is good in this reality? That other Abrahamic religions consider God as good is a consequence of these ancient texts. Contrary to some unqualified propaganda I noted recently, the TNK is not made obsolete by any other book.

Mercy is not a matter of sentiment.

Nagging questions

I still have a nagging question or two in my mind. Does Χριστός always refer to Jesus? (e.g. see Hebrews 11:26). What is its relationship to χρῖσμα (1 John 2:27)? What links it to שמן (oil) or משיח (anointed)? Is there a good book on this (besides the Bible)?

pause for reflection

Does Χριστός always refer to Jesus? The immediate answer is so obvious. Whenever the New Testament uses the body of Christ - not that frequently (Ephesians 4:12, 1 Corinthians 10:16, 12:27, Romans 7:4, 12:5), it does not refer to Jesus but to the believing community.

I am intrigued with these hits - they are unique to Paul.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How do I see it?

I have not exactly answered this question, have I? It is a direct question. And it presupposes that I have seen something. I don't know whether to write or to be silent. My banner on this blog has not changed since I started it. "A personal take..." But how personal have I been? Have I not hidden behind story and study?

What really is my personal take? Well, I can answer this question. There is a gift, freely given. Grace carries the connotation of freely given, and therefore from the receiver's point of view, unexpected, because it is never a response to something as if it were deserved. It is, as the theologians call it, prevenient. It goes before. And to be received, it needs to be accepted.

Unwrap the present.
This is faith.

My children have sometimes failed to turn up to receive a present or have sometimes delayed unwrapping. What impact does this have for the giver? I had not thought of it quite like this. But I remember the disappointment in the refusal of the gift. I remember the child ending up without the benefit of the gift through not being able to accept it. These long and difficult stories are not mine but theirs. And they are as resolved as possible under the circumstances, but painful even to remember.

What is it - this 'faith' that in unwrapping the gift, accepts it? What is this 'believing'? It is not a set of propositions that demonstrate understanding. Who of us understands anything? I am saturated with Hebrew grammar - there is no salvation there. My own memory stick may have reached its limitations - disk is full! This too is not salvation. I rant about salvation being thought of as a concept. No. Salvation is not a concept - it is hearing with faith. It is the engagement with another person, an other person, an Other person. Are we not all other to each?

How can we insist on one way of faith when we have scarcely started on the path we scarcely know? Lest it be thought, however, that there is no substance, there is a gift - a real gift. It is given to and in our mortal bodies by the Spirit through the death of Jesus. It is like the oil that flows down the beard to the collar of the clothing. It is an anointing. It is in Christ. It is unspeakable. It is good. It is personal. It is gift.
It is not to be abused. Reproof, equally a gift, follows. The relationship is unbreakable. It is covenant established by a reliable partner.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A thought

Fire and heat may appear as anger. Sometimes it is the tip of a cauterizer that binds wounds, especially the wounds you do not see.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Jesus Project

This project seems to be happening. I wonder what sort of results might come from it. From the Jesus Seminar, we had many publications and some were quite helpful for a beginner in ancient history. Perhaps there will be a scribe in the Jesus Project who can hear and tell the story without having to prove anything. I doubt though that they will succeed in defining 'faith' or even give credible reasons why Christianity began. Crossley has a good question though: "why was the figure of Jesus the object of affection?"

I have never seen anyone suggest that God does something special. I guess it is because God is immeasurable - i.e. not subject to scientific statements in whatever science you name: history, language, astronomy, or physics. God is not even subject to religion. I cannot define God's doing either. Nor can any scholar define God's undoing. But affection? That's almost like measuring love.

Here's what I think in a very few words. Humans are violence-prone, filled with fear, kept in check by a veneer of social graces beaten and shamed into them in their youth. Some try to raise with love and there is some degree of alleviation of fear, self-seeking, pain-avoidance and violence in a few cases. Violence may or may not improve chances of a temporary survival. It seems people still believe this proposition and take their chances.

Jesus seems to have been different. At least those are the reports in the New Testament. It could be that the ultra-violence that Rome had spread around the Mediterranean world and competition for her favours improved the chances of some kind of explosion particularly in a special place like Israel. In one sense the explosion came through revolution and the subsequent crushing of Jerusalem. In another sense, because of Jesus, the explosion came through a radicalization of response to each other and even to rulers. (Affection?)

It appears also that there was preparation in the human psyche for the message of redemption and love. Those like the Ethiopian eunuch who 'went on their way rejoicing' don't seem to have been great politicians or scholars. They may have found joy in that kind of knowledge - the measurable, readable, quotable kind. But they also more particularly found joy in something new in their relationship to 'the ultimate'. One dare not say. They spoke in tongues, they traveled and preached till their heads were chopped off, they recounted the presence of the Spirit of Christ, a risen Lord Jesus to everyone they met. They reasoned but not about axioms and proofs, rather about hope and experience.

Their 'success' seems moot. Eventually, they / we seem to have created the same old religious structures that were there before the explosions. Something good maybe, but something missing also? The good news doesn't seem very joyful. Violent children still are violently shaped for a violent and unjust social order. And though there is good work, there is also an abundance of trouble.

Was there something special in Jesus? Something that is an invitation? Something that frees one to a different joy? Something that leads into hope and heals the angry heart? Or is this impulse of stubborn faith just the working out of a bootstrapped process that runs on power and death? (Bootstrap is a technical term here. It refers to the necessary and tricky start-up of an automaton - which then can keep going till it runs out of stuff to do or someone turns off the power.)

I searched here and there in my life and I found a few interesting tidbits. Nothing helped till I found the power of the death of Jesus for me. Like Psalm 34, where the writer says - taste and see that the Lord is good, I found a start of a journey that did not seem to be simply another violent and shameful dead end. There was an end, my end in him, and there is also surprise. Of course, I can't really tell you everything. Affection? Yes - definitely. As the Beloved for the Bridegroom and without disappointment.

So what will the intelligence behind the Jesus Project give birth to? Something more effective than the Jesus Seminar? Or something similar - lots of books for the religious market and a few wandering lecturers reading Psalm 82 and going on about meeting someone again for the first time.

[Update - see this interesting essay by Richard Beck]

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Habakkuk 3

Just for fun, I thought I would try a reading of Habakkuk 3. I have kept Hebrew word order somewhat slavishly. What strikes me is the potential for reading a more positive theophany than some translations imply, a reading that does not limit itself to a local battle. I mention this because of

  • the heading which uses the same word as Psalm 7,
  • some of the rarer words for indignation (see this post),
  • the poetic repetition of salvation,
  • the strong linkages to the language of Psalm 110.
א תְּפִלָּה
לַחֲבַקּוּק הַנָּבִיא
עַל שִׁגְיֹנוֹת
1 A prayer
of Habakkuk the prophet
For the reels
ב יְהוָה שָׁמַעְתִּי שִׁמְעֲךָ יָרֵאתִי
יְהוָה פָּעָלְךָ בְּקֶרֶב שָׁנִים חַיֵּיהוּ
בְּקֶרֶב שָׁנִים תּוֹדִיעַ
בְּרֹגֶז רַחֵם תִּזְכּוֹר
2 יְהוָה, I have heard your report and I am afraid
יְהוָה, your work in the midst of the years, revive
in the midst of the years make it known
in wrath remember compassion
ג אֱלוֹהַּ מִתֵּימָן יָבוֹא
וְקָדוֹשׁ מֵהַר-פָּארָן
כִּסָּה שָׁמַיִם הוֹדוֹ
וּתְהִלָּתוֹ מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ
3 God comes from Teman
and the Holy One from mount Paran
His glory covers the heavens
and his praise fills the earth
ד וְנֹגַהּ כָּאוֹר תִּהְיֶה
קַרְנַיִם מִיָּדוֹ לוֹ
וְשָׁם חֶבְיוֹן עֻזֹּה
4 And a brightness as the light appears
Horns from his right hand he has
and therein lies the concealment of her strength
ה לְפָנָיו יֵלֶךְ דָּבֶר
וְיֵצֵא רֶשֶׁף לְרַגְלָיו
5 Before him goes correction
and burning coals emerge at his feet
ו עָמַד וַיְמֹדֶד אֶרֶץ
רָאָה וַיַּתֵּר גּוֹיִם
וַיִּתְפֹּצְצוּ הַרְרֵי-עַד
שַׁחוּ גִּבְעוֹת עוֹלָם
הֲלִיכוֹת עוֹלָם לוֹ
6 He stood and earth moved
he saw and set nations free
and the ancient mountains scattered
the everlasting hills bowed down
his walkabouts are everlasting
ז תַּחַת אָוֶן
רָאִיתִי אָהֳלֵי כוּשָׁן
יִרְגְּזוּן יְרִיעוֹת
אֶרֶץ מִדְיָן
7 under iniquity
I see the tents of Cushan
the curtains tremble
of the land of Midian
ח הֲבִנְהָרִים חָרָה יְהוָה
אִם בַּנְּהָרִים אַפֶּךָ
אִם-בַּיָּם עֶבְרָתֶךָ
כִּי תִרְכַּב עַל-סוּסֶיךָ
מַרְכְּבֹתֶיךָ יְשׁוּעָה
8 Against the rivers does יְהוָה burn?
Is your anger against the rivers
or your fury against the sea
that you ride upon your horses
upon your chariots of salvation?
ט עֶרְיָה תֵעוֹר קַשְׁתֶּךָ
שְׁבֻעוֹת מַטּוֹת אֹמֶר
9 Bare exposed is your bow
oaths staves a word
You divide earth
י רָאוּךָ יָחִילוּ הָרִים
זֶרֶם מַיִם עָבָר
נָתַן תְּהוֹם קוֹלוֹ
רוֹם יָדֵיהוּ נָשָׂא
10 Mountains saw you and birthed
a downpour of water passed over
the deep gives its voice
and its hands it lifts up on high
יא שֶׁמֶשׁ יָרֵחַ
עָמַד זְבֻלָה
לְאוֹר חִצֶּיךָ יְהַלֵּכוּ
לְנֹגַהּ בְּרַק חֲנִיתֶךָ
11 Sun and moon
stand exalted
to the light of your arrows they go
to the brightness of your shining spear
יב בְּזַעַם תִּצְעַד-אָרֶץ
בְּאַף תָּדוּשׁ גּוֹיִם
12 In indignation you tread earth
in anger you thresh nations
יג יָצָאתָ לְיֵשַׁע עַמֶּךָ
לְיֵשַׁע אֶת-מְשִׁיחֶךָ
מָחַצְתָּ רֹּאשׁ מִבֵּית רָשָׁע
עָרוֹת יְסוֹד עַד-צַוָּאר
13 You emerge for the salvation of your people
for the salvation of your anointed
You wound the head from the house of the wicked
baring the foundation to the neck
יד נָקַבְתָּ בְמַטָּיו
רֹאשׁ פְּרָזָ
יִסְעֲרוּ לַהֲפִיצֵנִי
עֲלִיצֻתָם כְּמוֹ-לֶאֱכֹל עָנִי בַּמִּסְתָּר
14 You have stricken through with his own staves
the head of his rulers
they stormed to scatter me
their joy is as if to devour the poor in secret
טו דָּרַכְתָּ בַיָּם סוּסֶיךָ
חֹמֶר מַיִם רַבִּים
15 You strode your horses in the sea
the heap of great waters
טז שָׁמַעְתִּי וַתִּרְגַּז בִּטְנִי
לְקוֹל צָלְלוּ שְׂפָתַי
יָבוֹא רָקָב בַּעֲצָמַי
וְתַחְתַּי אֶרְגָּז
אֲשֶׁר אָנוּחַ לְיוֹם צָרָה
לַעֲלוֹת לְעַם יְגוּדֶנּוּ
16 I heard and my belly trembled
at the voice my lips quivered
rottenness entered my bones
and under me I tremble
that I should rest in the day of trouble
when in his comings to the people he attacks them
יז כִּי-תְאֵנָה לֹא-תִפְרָח
וְאֵין יְבוּל בַּגְּפָנִים
כִּחֵשׁ מַעֲשֵׂה-זַיִת
וּשְׁדֵמוֹת לֹא-עָשָׂה אֹכֶל
גָּזַר מִמִּכְלָה צֹאן
וְאֵין בָּקָר בָּרְפָתִים
17 For though the fig not blossom
and there be no increase in the vines
fail the work of the olive
and the fields work no food
flock from the fold be cut off
and there be no herd in the stalls
יח וַאֲנִי בַּיהוָה אֶעְלוֹזָה
אָגִילָה בֵּאלֹהֵי יִשְׁעִי
18 yet I in יְהוָה will rejoice
I will exult in the God of my salvation

Monday, January 19, 2009

Frame focus

This is an open meditation. What is a mind? Milton says the mind is its own place and in it self Can make a heav'n of hell and a hell of heav'n. (PL Bk1 254) Christians are supposed to have the mind of Christ. How is this to be managed? Much of Christendom's history reveals a mind devoted to control and self-preservation and an evangel of coercion. Think like me or you're dead meat!

Psalm 1 begins with instruction concerning the wicked, the sinner, and the scoffer. It speaks of not walking, sitting, or standing with such. It is not about mind but about action.

In Isaiah 26:3 by the old translation, we have a use of 'mind' that seems potentially misleading to me in the 21st century: Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee. I wonder if mind might mean something more. What if mind is more like a framework (a suggested gloss for this word used in Isaiah, יצר)? A framework supported you keep in wholesome peace (shalom shalom שָׁלֹום שָׁלֹום) for it trusts in you.

A software framework is a set of routines and algorithms that enable quicker development of systems. A framework of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), a framework of focus on God (Isaiah 26:3) - is this more than a religious or pious thought? Will it bring forth more than wind? Perhaps a modicum of justice instead?

I note from Chris Tilling's meditation Beyond lost immediacy, that the encouraging words outnumber potential scoffs. Where is the action? It is too easy to be distracted and sit with the scoffers, or to walk according to imperfect counsel or to stand with those whose aim is poor. A good scoff is worth a laugh from others. Who has perfect counsel? And as for accurate archery, it hurts. And as for trust - what more subjective, unobservable, and elusive word is there? ... unless it leads to the visible fruit.

Here, Christendom (with or without the t) has a serious problem. The thorns and thistles grow with the fruitful vine. Maybe this is for the sake of the thistles - a kind of companion gardening. When the harvest is ready, even hell itself (PL Bk 4 75) will have had a role in the framing of the results.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ruth - a beautiful summary

Rachel Barenblatt wrote last year a lovely summary of Ruth. Such a gift to the blogosphere should be more widely read and is not at all a transient value. As I work through Ruth as a slow exercise is learning grammar and uncovering story, I hope I can hold the beauty as Rachel does in her telling of it.

There is also here a detailed grammatical analysis of Ruth. (I really should read this as I go - it will probably save me some howlers.)

Friday, January 9, 2009

What about these questions?

  • Given our gifts as the community of [fill your name in here] Church, with all we have to offer and to give, how must we invite others into the body of Christ through those gifts?
I don’t think I ever explicitly invite anyone “into the body of Christ”. It is a mystery to me why we are the way we are. I do try and reach out to suggest that there may be other answers to common questions than those that seem to be implied by our common culture.
  • What is Evangelism?
Specifically it is communicating the Good News of the Gospel that in the person of Jesus we have something unique and worth investigating.
  • What exactly does our Lord commission of us, as he sends his followers out into the world to make disciples and to baptise?
I don’t know. Baptism has become a professional issue. I am immersed in my study for the sake of reaching out to say to others how good this Jesus is. To me that is a continuation of Genesis 1:4 – that the light is good.
  • What kind of world are we, now, sent?
We are a world filled with sin and wonder. Distorted, violent, oppressive, powerless, timed, limited, a collection of solitudes yet impinged upon by everything and everyone including the created order. [In the midst of this, we have the promise that Jesus made that there is fire everywhere on the earth - specifically the fire of his Spirit - so the world is redeemed.]
  • If, as it seems to me, our world is in spiritual crisis of a very dangerous kind, how are we, the church, asked both to understand this danger and to meet it?
It has always been dangerous. We are to preach acceptance, forgiveness, love, respect except for the impossible. I cannot define possible or impossible. We are the danger – we do not first understand but must first do 'the obedience of faith'. It is the philosophy of meaning before 'obedience of faith' that is problematical. Israel responds with 'we will do it and we will understand', a nice bit of consonance נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע [na`aseh venishma`] Exodus 24:7 - (and it is a 24-7 requirement - not just when you are on 'church' business!)
  • How do our scriptures prepare us, conceptually, prayerfully, and in deed, to meet that danger -- both in ourselves and in love for our neighbours (for the two are surely inseparable)?
Scripture without the Anointing (1 John 2:27) cannot prepare us for anything useful. Scripture permeated with oil refreshes, rebukes, and releases each to our own uniqueness. Such is very inconvenient for the powers that be including religious establishments.
  • And what are we, as individuals but especially as a parish, being asked, concretely, to do?
Maintain the status quo – a minimum temporal responsibility. Encourage all to learn the reality of our calling. Learn what it means to be in Christ. Pray without ceasing. Be open to the possibility that we may be wrong. Meet each other where we are and not necessarily where we think we ought to be.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ruth 1:4-6 - more of the story

Note: these story 'lessons' are my first attempts at reading grammar explicitly - please add corrections in the comments if you see any errors.
If you remember, you were at ease in the cool desert evening around a fire listening to a storyteller.

vayis-u lahem nashim moevot
וַיִּשְׂאוּ לָהֶם, נָשִׁים מֹאֲבִיּוֹת
and they took for themselves Moabite wives

One might have expected the young men to marry. וַיִּשְׂאוּ is a good example of a vav conversive. The tense is third person plural imperfect. This is signaled by the prefix י and the suffix וּ. The conjunction וַ (and note how the Masoretes put the dagesh - the dot - in the yod prefix יִּ) changes the aspect of the verb to perfect. Notice too the irregular plural נָשִׁים of אשה the feminine of איש. And Moabites, a feminine plural adjective to match the feminine plural of wives. Moabites has the traditional feminine plural ending וֹת.

shem ha-axat arpa, veshem hashenit rut
שֵׁם הָאַחַת עָרְפָּה וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִית רוּת
the name of the one Orpah, and the name of the second Ruth

Is this first and second or the one and the other? First ראשון (rishon) is a different word from אחד but translations vary. In this case, הָאַחַת and הַשֵּׁנִית have feminine markers.

vayashenu sham k`eser shanim
וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם כְּעֶשֶׂר שָׁנִים
and they lived there for ten years

See how many numbers you can learn from this story! Here too is a masculine form plural (years) and the place locator 'there' שָׁם which has the same consonants as name שֵׁם.

vayamutu gam-shneihem maxlon vechilion
וַיָּמֻתוּ גַם-שְׁנֵיהֶם מַחְלוֹן וְכִלְיוֹן
and they died - even the two of them - Maxlon and Chilion

How uneven my transliteration. X is a strong pharyngeal noise. My friends say no one except the Yemenites today can really pronounce it. So let's remove the transliteration and see what happens. Notice the ending of the number two - perhaps we could translate as "and even the two of them died". Three (or two) words in Hebrew, 7 in English since we don't do affixes the same way. Our pronouns and tenses use more helping words than prefixes and suffixes.

וַתִּשָּׁאֵר הָאִשָּׁה מִשְּׁנֵי יְלָדֶיהָ וּמֵאִישָׁהּ
and she was bereft, the woman, of her two children and of her husband

Bereft - again Niphal, i.e. passive. It is a sad story so far - lots of trouble for Naomi. I wondered if the archaic English 'bereft' or even bereaved gives the meaning of שאר and it will have to do (left behind doesn't cut it for me). Perhaps we should put a positive spin by saying she survived. What would happen to the story if we let it become more colloquial?

וַתָּקָם הִיא וְכַלֹּתֶיהָ וַתָּשָׁב מִשְּׂדֵי מוֹאָב
and she arose, she and her daughters in law to return from the fields of Moab
כִּי שָׁמְעָה בִּשְׂדֵה מוֹאָב
for she had heard in the fields of Moab

News travels about the doings of יְהוָה even in the fields of Moab. This is a construct plural and could be translated as country. The construct is the way that Hebrew links nouns often with an implied possessive but not necessarily. (I wonder to what extent that it corresponds linguistically with the German habit of concatenating nouns.)

כִּי-פָקַד יְהוָה אֶת-עַמּוֹ לָתֵת לָהֶם לָחֶם
that יְהוָה had visited his people to give to them bread

This is the first instance of the object marker אֶת in this story. It is not usually translated. Note also the infinitive לָתֵת of נתן. There is only one letter ת left behind of the root with this form of the infinitive. You can decide which of the last two words means 'to them' and which means 'bread'. (They are different)

It may be too early to remove the transliteration - but you can fill one in in the comments if you want. You can also find help online for reading and listening.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A precious film

ELI (aged 20 months) 1st solo violinooo

Enjoy the movie! (Anyone with children playing the fiddle should not miss this.)

The film is taken by the namesake of Ethan the Ezrahite - see Psalm 89 for insight.

It took me a long time on two machines to get this to play - requires quicktime 7.5 and a recent browser. Good luck. Be sure and watch the whole thing. There are some priceless interactions with big sister the budding fiddle teacher later in the film.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ruth - pure story

Imagine you are sitting in the cool of the evening around a campfire and the voice begins

Vayehi bimei shepot hashoptim
- or if you prefer וַיְהִי בִּימֵי שְׁפֹט הַשֹּׁפְטִים
Now there was in the days of the judgment of the judges

What was? Have I got your attention? This is a chain of nouns - read slowly. Cover the transcription and sound out the Hebrew. The definite article is on the third noun so the other leading nouns inherit it. But time works backwards. When we hear bimei, בִּימֵי in days, we don't yet know if the days are specific or not. When we hear shepot, שְׁפֹט we don't yet know if judgment is specific, but when we here ha הַ - then hashoptim הַשֹּׁפְטִים, we place the story in the days of the judges. The specific is established but there is tension in the telling. The tension is built into the language. The end of the phrase is like a musical cadence, in this case, a half-close.

I rendered va וַ as now - but it is as if this is part of a continuing narrative. It is one of the many aspects of vav, in this case pronouced va because of the yod which follows it. The vav is used as a textual connector. Vav means hook as in the hooks that join the curtains to their places in the tabernacle. So vav hooks together words into a narrative. The vav walks like an upright human - are we all hooks to each other that we might make a holy temple for the dwelling place of Ha-Shem?

All this goes through your mind unconsciously as the storyteller begins. You shift a little on the log to taste the cool air and balance your limbs

vayehi ra`av ba-aretz
- notice the repeated word וַיְהִי רָעָב בָּאָרֶץ
and there was a famine in the land.

You note that this is a story - there are two invocations of 'once upon a time'. The identified time also has a curious name - the judgment of the judges - or when the judges were judging. Here we can see the 'root' שפט of a word and a plural form with the suffix ים.

וַיְהִי בִּימֵי שְׁפֹט הַשֹּׁפְטִים
וַיְהִי רָעָב בָּאָרֶץ
Who is the story about?

vayelek ish mibeyitlexem yehudah
וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ מִבֵּית לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה
and he went a man from the house of bread (Bethlehem) of Judah

It's important, don't you think, to know that there was famine in the house of bread! It takes longer to say this fragment than the first two. Note how it begins with a va again and we don't know 'who' went quite yet nor where he went.

lagur bisdei mo-av
לָגוּר בִּשְׂדֵי מֹואָב
to stay in the fields of Moab

You slip from your perch on the log, relaxing into the desert sand behind, your back burrowing into its grainy touch. You're not going to stay in this sand for ever, but you make yourself a bit comfortable. Moab is a specific place so the chain of nouns is again specific. You think the storyteller is quite lilting with the poesy of the raconteur.

hu, ve-ishto, ushenei vanaiv
הוּא וְאִשְׁתֹּו וּשְׁנֵי בָנָֽיו
he, his wife, and his two sons

Must translate as his two sons in this case. [A different word for child will appear in verse 5 and in chapter 4 at the end of the story as we will see.] Note the flexibility of that hook - at the beginning of the first two sentences is preceded a yod and so was pronounced va. Now it precedes an alef and is pronounced ve and a shin where it becomes -u-. But it is all the same connector.

veshem ha-ish elimelek
וְשֵׁם הָאִישׁ אֱֽלִימֶלֶךְ
and the name of the man was Elimelek

Now for introductions by name. Each name has a story and a hope. The name of the man, God is king.

veshem ishto na`ami
וְשֵׁם אִשְׁתֹּו נָעֳמִי
and the name of his wife Naomi

The name of his wife, Pleasant

veshem shenei-vanaiv maxlon vechilion
וְשֵׁם שְׁנֵֽי־בָנָיו מַחְלֹון וְכִלְיֹון
and the name of his sons, Maxlon and Chilion

and the name of his sons, Mild, and Pining

Ephratim mibeyitlexem yehudah
אֶפְרָתִים מִבֵּית לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה
Ephratites from Bethlehem of Judah

In case you were asleep, the storyteller repeats where they were from with a little more information as to their tribe
vayabo-u sdei mo-av
וַיָּבֹאוּ שְׂדֵי־מֹואָב
and they came to the fields of Moab

and closes the bracket with where they were going to
vayiheyu sham
and they were there
and where they stayed.
vayamat elimelek ish na`ami
וַיָּמָת אֱלִימֶלֶךְ אִישׁ נָעֳמִי
and he died Elimelek the husband of Naomi

Whoa - wake up - something has happened. Notice the form of man אִישׁ (ish) and woman אשה (ishah) but with the vav suffix for 'his', it is אִשְׁתֹּו, (ishto) his wife.

vatisher hi ushenei vaneiah
וַתִּשָּׁאֵר הִיא וּשְׁנֵי בָנֶיהָ
and she was bereft and her two sons

She was bereft - passive voice - Niphal conjugation. The sons are her sons now that were earlier stated as his. Note the he הוּא (hu) and the she הִיא (hi) and the masculine בָנָיו and feminine בָנֶיהָ pronouns indicating this as part of the word for the children בן. That ב could have a dagesh (dot) in it when it stands alone. In this story, one would hear a 'v' but the word might also sound with a 'b' if it began a phrase. It depends on the preceding noises and stresses whether b or v is easier to say.

to be continued ...

Update: just found this resource on Ruth

From protestant orthodox catholicism to Israel

How far is the distance to unity? The JTS commentary on the unity of Joseph and Judah through this week's Parashat Va-yiggash contains this quote from Heschel (1955)

Why is my belonging to the Jewish people the most sacred relation to me, second only to my relation to God? Israel is a spiritual order in which the human and the ultimate, the natural and the holy enter a lasting covenant, in which kinship with God is not an aspiration but a reality of destiny. For us Jews there can be no fellowship with God without the fellowship with Israel. Abandoning Israel, we desert God.
I wondered about my belonging to Israel in Christ. My last post on Mary reflects the Anointed as incarnate. This Man became a life-giving Spirit. Yet what can I say of my protestant relationship to Mary who takes up in herself the Vine - and incorporates into one body the Word of God. That protestant relationship deriving from schism hardly predisposes me to any sense of unity that can be expressed in words. The problem with me and Heschel is one of sin. It is manifestly clear in the JTS commentary. Rabbi Ackerman has identified a problem - but the solution is not Jewish unity as if it could be separated from unity with all those who suffer in the created order.

In both these posts, we can relate to Romans. Here a Jew tells us of the life-giving Spirit from the second Adam. Here a Jew notes that God is not only the God of the Jews, but of the Gentiles also. Trouble everywhere. Jewish unity apart from the Gentiles is parochialism, not unity. Catholic or Orthodox or Protestant unity is a splintered rock. From the beginning it has missed its unity with Israel. We are each an affront to the other.

What if I were to try and imitate Heschel? I cannot claim any belonging. I cannot claim any "most sacred relation second only to God" that would not become an idol for me. I cannot claim a spiritual order - church, confession, or nation that replaces the covenant in flesh through the circumcision of the cross and Spirit that is mine through the Anointed of Israel. I will not separate aspiration from reality of destiny. My unity is not dependent on time. My aspiration is the breath of God who as Spirit anoints now through the death of the incarnate Christ, Jesus. How can I claim such disclaimers? Has God abandoned us in our disunity?

Why can we not do what is right?

Misquote of the day

Piety must always be guided and checked by dogma. HT Macrina.

Piety and dogma are not two of my favorite words. And do I really want to be guided or checked? The tone of Macrina's post is one of enforced belief. If you can't say theotokos, you are not alive. I.e. a tone of faith as a power trip. Believe this or "you are estranged from God". Is that the mark of love? On the other hand, one could say that the doctrine of Mary is us. If there is no incarnation in each of us, then of what value is our faith?

Tell me what you think of this post - or not. What matters is deeper than the threat of those words or these:

The Christological doctrine can never be accurately and adequately stated unless a very definite teaching about the Mother of Christ has been included. In fact, all the Mariological doubts and errors of modern times depend in the last resort precisely upon an utter Christological confusion. They reveal a hopeless “conflict in Christology.” There is no room for the Mother of God in a “reduced Christology.” Protestant theologians simply have nothing to say about her.
Who is my mother?

Is it January yet?

Happy New Year