Music Monday: Progress by The Dear Hunter

A year or so ago, a friend gave me “The Color Spectrum” by The Dear Hunter. The album is very unusual, but it was a delightful surprise. I especially like the song below. I think I mostly like its sound though. While the chorus is great (what better thing to bring us back to reality or our calling than love?), I think the idea is that somebody keeps coming back to a distant and non-reciprocating object of affection because of love. While that story is used in movies all the time (see Ex Machina), it is not actually noble to put others on a pedestal. It could be possible that the person is brought back to a struggling friend or lover because of love, in this case the song is much more positive.

Anyway, the song is very mellow and a great way to start the day.


Lyrics
Your heart is open
But your eyes stay closed enough
To keep actuality away

In such impassive motion
You cast a careless hand to the air
Give me something to hope for…

Oh, and the only thing that brings me back is love
Oh, and the only thing that brings me back is love

Your mind is open
But your mouth stays closed enough
To keep painful words from falling out

With every ounce of passion
I speak ’til my lungs both billow out
I’ll give you something to hope for…

Oh, and the only thing that brings me back is love
Oh, yeah, the only thing that brings me back is love
Oh, yeah, the only thing that brings me back is love
Oh, yeah, the only thing that brings me back is love

Oh, and the only thing that brings me back is love
Oh, and the only thing that brings me back is…

Things I’m Enjoying Right Now 8/30/2015

  1. Sufjan Stevens’ new album Carrie and Lowell.
  2. I’m trying to wake up completely before drinking my coffee. To do this I exercise, drink one or two large glasses of chilled water and sit down and do some of my morning reading prior to coffee. I’ve found that feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed prior to drinking my morning cup-o-sludge helps me to get a boost from my caffeine rather than waking up feeling the need to have it.
  3. Lately I buy cheap coffee to save money (though I’ve been treating myself once a week with a friend’s high quality beans). When I make my gross coffee, I’ve found that putting cinnamon and occassionally cayenne pepper in the bottom of the cup before pouring adds a delightful spice to the experience.
  4. I’ve come to really appreciate ginger water. I just buy a few ounces of ginger root, blend it up, boil it with filtered water and strain out the pieces as I pour the water into a pitcher and repeat with the same pulp one more time. Just a couple of ounces of this ginger concentrate diluted with about 10 ounces of water is amazingly refreshing.
  5. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. I’ve been reading a lot about the cardinal virtues (courage, justice, prudence, and temperance), and a psychologist friend recommended this book to me. I decided I would read it, thinking I would dislike it. It is actually filled with insight. I wish it included more research, but that’s okay. I highly recommend it to anybody who struggles with courage. Her main insight is that vulnerability is not weakness. Instead it is being vulnerable and acting anyway that is courage.  

Screwtape and the Key Question for Reading

In the Screwtape Letters, the delightfully evil demon said this to his student:

Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating the Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the “present state of the question.” To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour—this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. – C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters Letter XXVII

For those who haven’t read The Screwtape Letters, it’s a book of speculative fiction by C.S. Lewis wherein he writes from the perspective of a demon attempting to help a lesser demon tempt a human being who begins to consider Christianity.

I think that Lewis’ point above is very important. In a significant portion of scholarship (as well as in internet bickering) the source, background, or reaction others might have to a claim are what people consider. The missing piece is, “Is it true?” After we ask the truth question, we can ask, “So what?” I’d rather read a book by a brilliant New Testament scholar like Maurice Casey who actually asks, “Is it true?” and said, “No.” It gets tiresome reading work that says, “Clearly Paul got this idea from stoicism,” “Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher” or “Aquinas just said things Aristotle said,” without exploring whether the ideas are true and what it means for the reader if they are true.

The idea that one has found the origin of an idea and can therefore reject it is actually a textbook example of the genetic fallacy (the notion that an idea is discredited for its source rather than evidence to the contrary). Now, obviously in a Bible commentary part of the task is explaining parallels, allusions, background, and so-on. But even then, the truth question must be asked in one, if not, two ways:

  1. Is this interpretation true?
  2. Once the text is interpreted, is the text true and if so, how?

Examples of finding the source/influence behind an idea or the hypothetical results of expressing it are rampant on the internet. There is a good reason for this: making an idea seem unpleasant to believe is easier to do than making an idea seem untrue. For instance, if I explain where an idea comes from, then I can make it seem juvenile to think it (That idea is from the Bronze Age!). Or, if I can say that “so-and-so bad person thinks that idea,” then the idea is shameful. The problem is that many people won’t actually consider ideas on the level of logic and facts because it is rare that people think about the difference between logic and rhetoric. Anyway, I challenge you to ask the truth question when you read.

Music Monday: Andrew W.K. Edition

The first time I heard this guy, I thought he was hilarious. I remember being at K-Mart and looking on the back of his album in high school. I was shocked because so much of his music had to do with partying. I mused, “This guy’s a joke and on purpose.” Anyway, when I was in college a friend showed me this song. Note how happily it starts and sounds, but the lyrics are completely frightening and morbid. Anyway, I suppose that a good way to start your week is to get ready to die. So, you’d better get ready to die.

Lyrics:

This is your time to pay,
This is your judgment day,
We made a sacrifice,
And now we get to take your life.

We shoot without a gun,
We’ll take on anyone,
It’s really nothing new,
It’s just a thing we like to do.

You better get ready to die
(Get ready to die)
You better get ready to kill
(Get ready to kill)
You better get ready to run,
Cause here we come
You better get ready to die!

Your life is over now,
Your life is running out,
When your time is at an end,
Then it’s time to kill again.

We cut without a knife,
We live in black and white,
You’re just a parasite,
Now close your eyes and say good-night.

Dallas Willard on the Beatitudes

Dallas Willard’s understanding of the Beatitudes:

It will help us know what to do—and what not to do—with the Beatitudes if we can discover what Jesus himself was doing with them. That should be the key to understanding them, for after all they are his Beatitudes, not ours to make of them what we will. And since great teachers and leaders always have a coherent message that they develop in an orderly way, we should assume that his teaching in the Beatitudes is a clarification or development of his primary theme in this talk and in his life: the availability of the kingdom of the heavens.2 How, then, do they develop that theme?
In chapter 4 of Matthew we see Jesus proclaiming his basic message (v. 17) and demonstrating it by acting with God’s rule from the heavens, meeting the desperate needs of the people around him. As a result, “Sick folk were soon coming to be healed from as far away as Syria. And whatever their illness or pain, or if they were possessed by demons, or were insane, or paralyzed—he healed them all. Enormous crowds followed him wherever he went” (4:23–25 LB).
Having ministered to the needs of the people crowding around him, he desired to teach them and moved to a higher position in the landscape—“up on the hill” (Matt. 5:1 BV)—where they could see and hear him well. But he does not, as is so often suggested, withdraw from the crowd to give an esoteric discourse of sublime irrelevance to the crying need of those pressing upon him. Rather, in the midst of this mass of raw humanity, and with them hanging on every word—note that it is they who respond at the end of the discourse—Jesus teaches his students or apprentices, along with all who hear, about the meaning of the availability of the heavens.
I believe he used the method of “show and tell” to make clear the extent to which the kingdom is “on hand” to us. There were directly before him those who had just received from the heavens through him. The context makes this clear. He could point out in the crowd now this individual, who was “blessed” because The Kingdom Among Us had just reached out and touched them with Jesus’ heart and voice and hands. Perhaps this is why in the Gospels we only find him giving Beatitudes from the midst of a crowd of people he had touched.
And so he said, “Blessed are the spiritual zeros—the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars, those without a wisp of ‘religion’—when the kingdom of the heavens comes upon them.”
Or, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” This, of course, is the more traditional and literally correct translation of Matt. 5:3. The poor in spirit are blessed as a result of the kingdom of God being available to them in their spiritual poverty. But today the words “poor in spirit” no longer convey the sense of spiritual destitution that they were originally meant to bear. Amazingly, they have come to refer to a praiseworthy condition. So, as a corrective, I have paraphrased the verse as above. No doubt Jesus had many exhibits from this category in the crowd around him. Most, if not all, of the Twelve Apostles were of this type, as are many now reading these words. (Willard 99-101)

Works Cited:
Willard, Dallas The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God (Harper Collins, 1997)

Translation Tuesday: Matthew 5:33-37

Text
33
Πάλιν ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις· οὐκ ἐπιορκήσεις, ἀποδώσεις δὲ τῷ κυρίῳ τοὺς ὅρκους σου. 34 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν μὴ ὀμόσαι ὅλως· μήτε ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὅτι θρόνος ἐστὶν τοῦ θεοῦ, 35 μήτε ἐν τῇ γῇ, ὅτι ὑποπόδιόν ἐστιν τῶν ποδῶν αὐτοῦ, μήτε εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα, ὅτι πόλις ἐστὶν τοῦ μεγάλου βασιλέως, 36 μήτε ἐν τῇ κεφαλῇ σου ὀμόσῃς, ὅτι οὐ δύνασαι μίαν τρίχα λευκὴν ποιῆσαι ἢ μέλαιναν. 37 ἔστω δὲ ὁ λόγος ὑμῶν ναὶ ναί, οὒ οὔ· τὸ δὲ περισσὸν τούτων ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ ἐστιν.[1]

Translation
33
Again, you have heard that it was said to the ancients, “You [singular] will not break your oath, but you will fulfill your vows.” 34 But I am telling you all to not make oaths at all. Not by heaven, because it is the throne of God, 35 nor by the earth, because it is his footstool, nor for the sake of Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great king, 36 nor by your head shall you swear because you do not have power to make one hair white or black. 37 Instead, let your word be Yes or No. Anything more than this is from the evil one.

Reflection
Two of the most important ideas to keep in mind when reading the Sermon on the Mount are that:

  1. Matthew wrote it because he thought Jesus really wanted us to put it into practice.
  2. There are exceptions to many of the commands that are simply assumed without elaboration. So the point is probably not merely that all oaths are bad (Jesus answered under oath in court in Matthew 26:63). There is likely to be something else going on.

There is some evidence that ancient persons were not future oriented in the same way that modern Americans are (note how often Paul cancelled his travel plans in his letters). In this way, it is possible that people would make lofty oaths to gain honor and trust in the present even though they had no intention to keeping their vows in the future. In fact, in 2 Corinthians, Paul notes that he wasn’t a man who broke oaths, but that his vacillation between visiting or not was not dishonesty but legitimate frustration with the Corinthians that kept him from visiting (2 Cor 1:16-24).
What Jesus seems to be saying is that grand gestures of fealty and integrity are unnecessary for God’s people. We simply need to say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Oaths taken for honor’s sake in the Old Testament never turned out well. Jesus even tells people to consider whether they will follow him and to weigh the options carefully (Luke 14:26-35). This is a message that is greatly needed in our present culture because lofty promises are made by politicians and millennial types often never show up to things they claimed they would intend. In a real way, Jesus’ teaching here appears to be moving integrity to the locus of personal consistency rather than the external locus of group rapport.

Translation Reflections
There is no reason for the phrase, “μήτε εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα” to be translated “nor by Jerusalem.” It carries the force, “nor for the sake of Jerusalem.” In other words, don’t even take oaths for the city.  I’ll have to look more deeply into this expression, but my instinct is that it is related to political zealotry, perhaps oaths to attack Rome when the moment is right. But the point is not the oaths, (which are prohibited with the infinitive, not the imperative), but the point is that that Jesus commands us to simply say yes or no and to do what we say we’ll do.

[1] Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), Mt 5:33–37.

Music Monday: Thrice and the Sands of Time

Back in the days of “the myspace” I had a roommate who was in a hard core band and a significant number of friends on myspace I met at his concerts or through another friend who went to a lot of evangelism conferences and such. I still remember when one of them messaged me and said, “You’ll really like this album by Thrice.” She was right. I’ve loved this album for a decade. My favorite song on it probably changes from year to year, but Of Dust and Nations is fantastic. The main theme is the sands of time continue to trickle through the hourglass of history and that anything that isn’t eternal that we put our trust in will be destroyed by time.

The writer is a bit of a Christian-Platonist (this isn’t a bad thing, so was C.S. Lewis), and this can be seen in the line, “We live in but a shadow of the real.” Do enjoy the song and read the lyrics below:

the towers that shoulder your pride
the words you’ve written in stone
sand will cover them, sand will cover you
the streets that suffer your name
your very flesh and your bones
sand will cover them, sand will cover you

so put your faith in more than steel
don’t store your treasures up, with moth and rust
where thieves break in and steal
pull the fangs from out your heel
we live in but a shadow of the real

step out from time, see the dust of nations
step out from time, hear the stars ovation

Saturn will not sleep, until the sand has made us clean
still we stack our stones and bury what we can
but it all will be undone, and nothing built under the sun
will ever stand before the endless march of sand

so put your faith in more than steel
don’t store your treasures up, with moth and rust
where thieves break in and steal
pull the fangs from out your heel
we live in but a shadow of the real

so put your faith in more than steel
don’t store your treasures up, with moth and rust
where thieves break in and steal
pull the fangs from out your heel
we live in but a shadow of the real

Translation Tuesday: Matthew 5:31-32

Text

31 Ἐρρέθη δέ· ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ, δότω αὐτῇ ἀποστάσιον. 32 ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ἀπολύων τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ παρεκτὸς λόγου πορνείας ποιεῖ αὐτὴν μοιχευθῆναι, καὶ ὃς ἐὰν ἀπολελυμένην γαμήσῃ, μοιχᾶται.[1]

Translation

31 Now, it was said, “If any should divorce his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce. 32 Now, I am telling you that anybody who divorces his wife, except in a matter of fornication, makes her to be an adulteress and if any should marry a woman who has acquired a divorce, he is made to commit adultery.

Reflections

This, in many ways, is pretty weird. But here are my thoughts in list format:

  1. Jesus’ point seems to be that a man who puts his wife into an economic hard spot by divorcing her (putting her away from his household) has not dissolved the marriage covenant on a theological level. But, the man who put her away is held morally responsible for the ‘adultery’ committed by her and the man to whom she becomes married if such a remarriage occurs. This is in keeping with Jesus’ teachings on adultery in 5:27-30 (see my thoughts on that here).
  2. I follow Glen Stassen and take the Sermon on the Mount to be organized into several triads from 5:21-7:11[2]. The third element of the triad is missing here. But I think that the implication is no different from Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 5:21-26, “Go be reconciled to a spouse with whom you would rather not live.”
  3. “if any should marry a woman who had acquired a divorce” is Jesus applying the principle to women who have gotten divorced without the proper exception (the matter of fornication). Mark’s gospel references women having the capability of acquiring a divorce in the ancient world in chapter 10:12. In this case, a woman who remarries after acquiring an immoral divorce is responsible for the adultery committed by the man she later marries (he’s not culpable, he can’t be…he didn’t damage the first marriage).
  4. That being said, Paul reflects on Jesus’ teachings here in 1 Corinthians 7 and he notes that while one ought not leave their spouse, if their spouse leaves them, they are free (in context, free to remarry). One is not obligated to be reconciled to somebody who is actively being unfaithful to their marriage vows by literally living as though unmarried to them.
  5. It is worth noting that “except in a matter of fornication” probably carries a wider connotation than the words denote. The idea appears to be anything the breaks the commitment to monogamy made in the marriage vows (adultery, leaving, and probably extensible to physical abuse). Jesus is disagreeing with a school of Rabbis who claimed that divorce could occur for any reason including finding a prettier woman to marry.
  6. It would seem that the “greater righteousness (Matthew 5:19-20)” Jesus is talking about here includes the virtues of interpersonal fidelity and reflexive reconciliation (I made the name of that virtue up, but I’m sure it’s a real one).

Translation Comments

Translating ἀπολελυμένην as “a woman who has acquired a divorce” makes the most sense to me. I’m only aware of one scholar who reads it this way (John Nolland), but I’m pretty sure he’s right.[3]

I also got the idea for point 1 above from the passive tense in “to commit adultery.” The idea is that the divorcer is morally culpable for the negative consequences faced by the divorcee. This is also the case for the man who marries a woman who acquires a divorce, he is “made to commit adultery.”

Footnotes:

[1] Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), Mt 5:31–32.

[2] Glen H. Stassen, “The Fourteen Triads of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21–7:12),” ed. Gail R. O’Day, Journal of Biblical Literature 122 (2003): 267.

[3] Nolland John, “Preface,” in The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005), 246.

Music Monday: Saturday Foo Fighters Edition

I’ve always liked this song and meant to post about it Monday, but my other job started back up this week. I’ll be back into writing soon. But I think this is a challenging song about dealing with difficult relationships and trials in general. I hope you find it encouraging.

Favorite line: “I swear I’ll never give in, I refuse.”

Space Lance Saturday: Translation, Preaching, and Explanation

As a child I watched a movie called “Tekka Man: The Space Knight” with my brother. It’s a completely ridiculous piece of pop-culture. I liked it (we weren’t very cultured). Anyhow, I was reflecting on the best way to translate the word αρετε into English for the past few days and I was reminded of that show and of the Italian version.

Watch these two videos. In the first (an Italian translation): Tekka Man is a stoic soldier whose stalwart attitude toward battle leads him to destroy a supposedly invincible alien fleet single-handedly. He and his robot sidekick are strangely colored, but utterly intimidating and unstoppable.

Now for the second (I won’t explain it, except to say that it’s in English):

The main character in the second video with the same visuals and music is a buffoon whose need to explain everything he does in the vacuum of space defies explanation or reason. There is almost nothing redeeming about Tekka Man. Sure, he defeats an invincible alien force, but who would want to be friends with such a self-conscious guy?

Conclusion
Anyhow, translation matters. Not only that, but too little and overmuch explanation can ruin a story, sermon, or lecture.