Textual transmission (and the transmission of a text about that very thing)

An interchange of comments on another blog amounted to a text-critical look of a modern text that was about textual transmission!

A thoughtful blogger was probing the notion of God’s providence/guidance in the transmission of scriptures.  I don’t share his particular concerns in this area but do greatly appreciate his transparent questions.  We will come back to those, but I will first share a passage from the 2nd edition of Dr. Neil Lightfoot‘s book How We Got the Bible:

The New Testament books have been handed down to us by means of thousands of copies.  Although God inspired the New Testament writers, he did not miraculously guide the hands of copyists.  Textual or Lower Criticism seeks to counteract inevitable scribal errors and recover the true form of the text.  Many mistakes in the manuscripts crept into the text unintentionally, and are difficult to detect.  Other textual modifications were made intentionally, usually by a well-meaning scribe, and these do not stand out so clearly. . . .

– Neil Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, 2nd ed., pp. 65-66 (chapter 5, “The Text of the New Testament”)

I have resisted the urge, perhaps as a well-meaning scribe myself, to delete a superfluous comma above.  I’m also paying attention to edits made by the author.  On the aforementioned blog, Londoner Steven Colborne had shared the following version of the passage from the 3rd edition of the same book:

It is a fact that the New Testament text has been transmitted to us through the hands of copyists.  It is also a fact that, since these hands were human, they were susceptible to the slips and faults of all human hands.  It is not true, therefore, that God has guided the many different scribes in their tasks of copying the Sacred Scriptures.  The Scriptures, although divine, have been handed down through the centuries by means of copies, just like any other ancient book.

– Neil Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, 3rd ed., pp. 95-96 (chapter 9, “Significance of Textual Variations”)

In the course of an interchange with Colborne, I discovered that Dr. Lightfoot’s chapters were apparently renumbered in the 3rd edition, perhaps with new material inserted, and that the passage Colborne quoted had been moved from the end of a chapter to the beginning of the succeeding chapter.  I’m intrigued by the emendations Lightfoot made.  It’s quite a different pot of parsnips, actually, in the new version!  It seems to me that the later edition is more emphatic in this area, using the expressions “it is also a fact” and “it is not true.”  Although the passages are not entirely parallel, I’d say bit of extra emphasis also exists in the latter on the human “copyists”—who appear where the “copies” (the inanimate product) had formerly appeared.

Speculative commentary
I might speculate on the reasons that led to these changes. . . .  Was an anti-intellectual bent developing among churchgoers (that I also saw represented in comments by two or three of Colborne’s other blog readers)?  A few years down the road, in view of developments in “Christian” culture, Lightfoot might have felt a heightened need to support the academic reality here:  sound text criticism does not always consist in disbelieving fabrications by liberal theologians; some of it is quite scientific, dealing largely with empirically derived data.  (In my view and presumably in Lightfoot’s, text criticism can support faith!)  Too, the Lightfoot passage would naturally have needed different emphasis when it became the lead-off verbiage of a new chapter.  In any event, the variants do exist, and it is clear, based on papyrology and etymology and linguistics and paleology and other -ologies, not to mention Textual Criticism, that human errors were involved in transmission.  Calling them “variants” might ease the tension, but the reality remains, and Lightfoot rightly calls attention to it.

For my part, I very much like Lightfoot’s “susceptible to the slips and faults”; I find that phrase suggestive of God’s open interaction with His humanity.  On the other hand, I’m not so sure about Lightfoot’s assertion that “it is not true . . . that God has guided the many different scribes in their tasks of copying.”  In context, that statement seems to affirm the “dictation theory” with respect to the original manuscripts, even as it denies God’s direct influence on the copyists.

Now for the deeper questions . . . .
The crux of the problem, for many including Colborne, rests in philosophies and theories, including the view that the divine will always subsumes the human will.  Underneath that lies a theory of how scripture was conceived and produced.  One who subscribes to an absolutist position on sovereignty¹ will be required to think that God specifically caused scribal errors to occur.

I, on the other hand, must ask why God would dictate (double entendre intended) the existence of such errors instead of miraculously preserving the original papyri, vellum, etc.  It seems to me, rather, that God simply created a human environment in which minor errors would naturally occur.  Humans went to great effort to preserve texts and transmit faith, and while I would say God was involved in that process, I would not go so far as to express confidence that He oversaw it a la today’s buck-stops-here managers, who not only have but exercise the power to override by correction—and even to hire outside vendors if no capable party can be found in-house.  God’s sovereignty, for me, is not sacrificed if copyists were allowed to make errors along the way.  Since the errors/variants do exist, I am left with at least these options:

  1. God caused the errors, or
  2. God allowed the errors, or
  3. A great many conscientious scholars have concocted nonexistent errors

Perhaps it’s my own limited sight, but I cannot conceive of divinely caused errors.  Some might opt for #3 or even #1, but #2 is the only one for me, and it speaks volumes about the nature of God and how He views humanity.  The thesis of Dr. Gary D. Collier in his book Scripture Canon & Inspiration is quite pertinent here:

The Bible is an act of faith, by people of faith, in pursuit of a conversation with God.  (p. 38)

Please read that another time or two.  Perhaps you stumble over the notion of a thing’s being an act.  Viewing the above wording more metaphorically (not in a stickler-y way, as is more natural for me) allows one to hear the crucial message, though, in all its richly expressive symbolism.

Might we consider that . . .

. . . the Bible is the result of many acts of faith, so it becomes, in a sense, an “act of faith” itself?

. . . the “people of faith” are not literally possessed by faith but are governed by it?

. . . these faith-filled people do not “pursue” conversation physically, like a racing chariot driver who wants the Hebrew slaves back?  Instead, these people do many things that lead to the writing, copying, dissemination, preservation, and translation of the texts we label as “scripture.”

All the above are my somewhat weak attempts to draw out the human elements in the production of scripture, none of which are intended to deny the divine ones.  In a comment on his blog, Colborne offered a further demurrer, commenting that if God allows a human element in the creation of scripture, that deprives the texts of their authority.  I prefer a posture of inquiry on this point, not thinking I really have it solved, but appealing to Collier’s more interactive notion, in which I would say the interplay between God and God’s people becomes authoritative in a sense.  I admit that this initially sounds weaker than most evangelical “inerrancy” statements have it.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m on board the “sola scriptura” train—although the most popular ride, over hill and dale, sometimes feels bumpy for me after it switches over onto a traditionally sanctioned bit of track.

To read Colborne’s posting in its entirety (it’s not long), go here.  I find non sequiturs in it (not at all characteristic of his writing, and probably not so in his analysis, based on his view of the will of God).  Specifically, I disagree . . .

. . . that the sovereignty and providence of God require Him to have been directly involved in text transmission
. . . that any involvement of God in text transmission would necessitate that He controlled the hands of scribes
. . . that God’s sovereignty requires that he intends for us to read certain words (as opposed to translated or paraphrased renderings) as scripture²
. . . that my confidence in God’s providence necessarily dissipates if I find Him to have built in some allowances for chance

I have over several months found Colborne to be more logically oriented than I, and I take him to be my intellectual superior.  He is typically patient and gracious, too, so I’m confident that he will support my right to differ on points here.  I’m also confident that neither Colborne’s nor my theories on this topic constitutes the final word on text transmission or God’s providence!

~ ~ Postlude  ~ ~

Neil Lightfoot affirms that “Textual Criticism is a sound science” (p. 66, 2nd ed.).  What I know of Textual Criticism tells me his affirmation is on target.  That doesn’t mean Lightfoot’s wording can’t be off base at times, or that he won’t misuse a comma or say “all of these things are not X” when he really means “not all of these things are X.”  Nor does it mean that text critics won’t have jumped to a false conclusion here or there through the years.  (Incidentally, I started to quote Lightfoot from memory, and I had “solid science” in my head instead of “sound science.”  That would have been a copyist error, but I don’t think it would have altered the import.)

What we have is impressively well-attested texts, but we can still learn from the likes of new discoveries of ancient fragments, continued research into text “families,” and new insights that connect things for us.

¹ Here, I do not intend to “implicate” Colborne in particular, but I suspect he would not react negatively to the adjective “absolutist” with respect to his view on divine sovereignty and human will.

² I have dealt with the issue of translation from language to language in multiple prior postings.  It is an important one for any inerrantist of any shade to grapple with.

  • Here is a posting, now three-quarters of a decade old, in which I’m not all that fond of my tone.  I would still stand by the advice given.
  • Here is a far more brief, on-point posting that include this quotation:  “If you know more than one language, you know that it is impossible to translate a long string of text word-for-word.”

A birthday tribute to the late KCR and ATR, Jr.

There are probably only two dozen birth dates I have remembered through the years, and this post comes precisely between two that have always stood out in my memory.  109 years ago last Wednesday, my maternal grandmother was born.  Two weeks later, my maternal grandfather was born.  Here they are in a well-worn photograph, at approximately the age I remember them best.

Kathryn Delma Cullum married Andy Thomas Ritchie, Jr. in 1933, and they had been married barely 50 years when the latter succumbed to congestive heart failure and other circulatory concerns (presumably related to diabetes).  Both of their fathers had been influential Christian leaders.  The two met at David Lipscomb high school and also attended David Lipscomb college (now University) in Nashville.  Their early life together included stints in radio and church work in Texarkana, Nashville, and Washington, D.C.  They would soon move to Searcy, Arkansas, where they would reside for the rest of their earthly lives.  Grandmother taught math at Harding Academy, and Granddaddy led the Harding College (now university) Chorus for approximately a decade, then taught Bible courses for the remainder of his career. 

After their children were grown, they took a voyage across the Atlantic—the trip of a lifetime—making stops in the Holy Land and in Scotland.  My perceptions of the two are limited since I saw them but once or twice a year through my childhood and teens, and I did not take enough advantage of their presence while I was a student at Harding.  Still, I can attest, based on second- and third-hand interactions, to the fact that their lives had impact on a great many people.

Grandmother played the piano well, often accompanying Granddaddy’s bass-baritone voice.  She had exceptional responsibilities for his care, since he was not only diabetic but also legally blind for the latter half of his life.  In hindsight, one of the things I would say she was known for was “juggling” a full-time teaching position, the raising of four children, and the care and support of her husband.  Rare would be the Harding Academy high school student who did not respect Kathryn Ritchie’s math teaching capability, her intelligence, upright living, and Christian devotion.  The College Church’s congregational singing included her strong alto for decades.

Also rare would be the spiritually attuned Harding College student in the late 40s, 50s, and 60s who did not hold Andy T. Ritchie, Jr., in the highest regard as a deeply, genuinely pious Christian and a devoted, humble servant of his Lord.  He led quite a few summer evangelistic campaigns in the Northeast, preaching nightly, and he worked in Christian camps, as well.  As a church leader, he was known for preaching and also for leading congregational singing, emphasizing high-quality songs with good poetry.  He led worship in song long before the term “worship leader” was fashionable.

I recently unearthed a song for which I’d written the music long ago.  I had set a poem that Granddaddy favored when performing weddings, including a few family ones.  Below is the complete poem by Richard Wightman:

Of course, the question how far will you go with me? and the ultimate notion of “going to the end of the lane” rise well above the sophomoric.  Grandmother, a late-in-life cancer victim who outlived Granddaddy by almost five years, certainly “traveled the lane” with devotion, and the two were a pair until the end.  Since I have no recording available of Granddaddy’s voice reading this poem, please accept two of my favorite songs from his solo record as a consolation prize.  At the point at which he recorded these, his voice and ear were probably a bit past their prime, but one can still perceive the talent and the storytelling ability.

Big Bass Viol

Little Boy Blue

Community music ensembles

I would define “community music ensemble” generally as a group that combines willing volunteer musicians of various ability levels for the sake of free or low-cost community performances.  These groups typically rehearse in the evenings, in school or church facilities, approximately weekly.  On occasion there may be explicitly charitable purposes; more often, the goal is simply to contribute to community life.  Community music ensembles will periodically ask members to help advertise or raise funds; dues-paying and/or charitable grants might also be a part of the support scheme.  Rarely, CMEs involve small stipends for some or all performers.

Like some of my readers, I have through the years given countless hours to community music ensembles (hereafter CMEs).  My CME involvement started when I was a high school junior looking for additional experience before majoring in music in college.  I had a spot in the First State Symphonic Band in Delaware then, and after returning from college and a sojourn in the South, it was almost a given that I would re-involve myself:  I rejoined the horn section and also served as assistant conductor.  I can count very few years of my life¹ that I haven’t had weekly rehearsals with at least one CME, and the schedules can be problematic.  Lately it has been very difficult to find three or four days in a row to be gone, because I feel committed to the ensembles.  The bumper sticker that resignedly yet proudly proclaims “I Can’t.  I Have Rehearsal” rings true for me!

Primary CMEs
I’ll have a go at listing the ensembles I have served in one or more of these capacities:

brass instrumentalist  (ß)

conductor or assistant/associate conductor (*)

First State Symphonic Band ß Newark Community Band ß Cecil County Choral Society *
First State Symphonic Band ß * (2nd x) Newark Symphony Orchestra ß Kansas City Brass Project ß *
Benedictine College/Atchison Community Orchestra ß * Sedalia Symphony Orchestra  ß Southern Tier Symphony ß *
Kansas City Wind Symphony ß * Northern Colorado Concert Band * Hornell Area Wind Ensemble ß
Rushford Town Band * Little Rock Wind Symphony ß Benedictine College Brass Band ß *
Powder River Symphony  ß Kansas City Wind Symphony (2nd x)  ß Atchison Jazz Express ß

The line between CME and college ensemble can sometimes be hazy, and the above list does not include the mixed collegiate-community (a/k/a “town-gown”) ensembles I’ve conducted as part of a full-time faculty role.  In only three cases above were musicians other than the conductor paid, and I think all would agree that in no case did the remuneration make anyone rich.  I consider the bolded ensembles as holding to higher performances standards than the others.

Other CMEs
I could also add CMEs in which I’ve subbed, accompanied, or performed by invitation in one or more sets of rehearsals and performances:

  • Liberty Symphony (horn)
  • Philharmonia of Greater Kansas City (horn)
  • Kansas City Civic Orchestra (horn)
  • Heart of America Wind Symphony (horn)
  • Kream of the Krop (piano in jazz big band)
  • Greeley Children’s Chorale (accompanist)
  • Alfred University Orchestra (horn)
  • Alfred University Symphonic Band (horn)
  • Buffalo Bill’s Cowboy Band (alto horn)
  • Medical Arts Symphony (trumpet)

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say I’ve had broad, extended experience with these organizations.  I’ve been on the board of two or three CMEs, and I could easily add to the above another dozen or more short-term/ad hoc gigs in Delaware, Maryland, Kansas, and Missouri.  That supplementary list would include special church programs, musical theater spots, and “summer bands” that involved only a couple rehearsals and one concert per season.²

The categories start to overlap, and one group might lead to another, such as when my work with the KCWS and BC/ACO led to the formation of a woodwind quintet.  Below are the non-curricular quintets and ensembles I directed or co-founded as a player.  I would say that fully half of these were capable of performing artistically.  They were formed to satisfy playing appetites and artistic goals more than to serve community needs, but they might still be classed as small CMEs:

a Harding University brass quintet a University of Delaware brass quintet North Winds quintet in Delaware
River Winds quintet in KS/MO Foundation Brass at the University of Northern Colorado Grad Brass Quintet at the University of Northern Colorado
Alle-Catt Brass Quintet in New York’s Southern Tier

I have dreams of a starting a high-level chamber wind ensemble (using a dectet as a foundation, supplementing with another handful of wind and percussion players when necessary), but the requisite complement of capable musicians isn’t available in my area.  Unfortunately, while performance venues might be available, audiences would be scant to nonexistent unless we could piggyback on an existing orchestra or wind band.  Late last week, I was asked about possibly performing in a community musical theater pit orchestra, and that is usually fun if the rehearsal schedule is reasonable and geared toward people who can read music and adapt quickly.

The chamber choral group I presently serve as a tenor (not listed above) is really the first choral community ensemble to which I’ve ever belonged as a regular.  An interesting group in which I was deeply entrenched for almost a decade is LIGHTS.  I would not class LIGHTS as a CME, but I gave that Christian vocal (not really choral) ensemble some very good years, investing a lot of time with arranging, programming, co-administering, singing, and leading rehearsals—not always very well.³

Probings  Perceived issues with community groups have never been so noticeable as in the last 3 years.  I suppose there have been many evenings through the years that I didn’t feel like going to rehearsals, but the concentration of those evenings has been greater recently.  Note that I said “perceived” issues above; I think a good deal of this has to do with my state of mind and situation, but there are some objectively ascertained reasons, as well:

  • administrative and musical leadership issues 4
    • lack of rehearsal productivity
    • concerns with literature choice and programming
    • snafus with instrumentation, personnel and scheduling
  • interpersonal concerns (involving precisely two ensembles and three people, for the first time in my life)
  • my own attendance—for reasons beyond my control, I have missed two CME performances and several rehearsals . . . and not being at rehearsal every time is just plain weird for me, perhaps contributing to a sense of distance

Other details would probably be unhelpful, but suffice it to say that my introspective, discouraged musing about CME involvement seems unusual—even aberrant, given my longtime history with these groups—and it gives me pause.  There is a sense in which any reasonable person will want to serve and give, and I do continue to believe that CMEs play an important role in community service.  Still, in my present state of mind (not as healthy as I’d like), and at my present age (not as young as I’d like, yet not as old as I feel), I have begun to probe my involvement and contributions to CMEs.  One particularly hospitable director has provided some nice opportunities, but I find myself feeling generally wistful about CMEs.  I have to ask myself whether I’m being used well enough to warrant the energy expended and the frustrations felt.  Dropping down to one or two groups instead of three would make some sense, but each group offers its bright spots, and I would probably end up dropping the best one, due to lack of insight or foresight on my part, and I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities.

Can I continue to contribute positively to these ensembles, without taking away too much from my family?  Should winter ever end, outdoor gigs might serve to sunny-up the mood and enhance my outlook.  Time will tell.

¹ I don’t recall having or making the time for professional ensembles or CMEs in Chattanooga, TN or in Kingsville, TX.  In Beaumont, TX, it was only a summer community band one year.  I probably should have joined the barbershop chorus there, too, at the invitation of an older friend, but I didn’t.  I did direct a congregational special choir for a short time, but that wasn’t a CME as I’ve defined it.

² This “summer band” format with only one performance has been disappointing to me, but I know it serves a purpose in some communities.

³ For a couple of posts about this group, see here and here.  Some arrangements I made for LIGHTS are captioned on this page, and some originals sung by LIGHTS, such as “You Who Seek God,” “Come To Me,” “In the Heavenlies,” and “You Are Inescapable” and are offered here.  While LIGHTS involved my longest “tenure” with a single group of volunteer musicians, its nature and mission seem to place it in a separate category.

I admit that these are probably no more regular or serious than in my more distant past, but they affect me differently these days.


Three theological tidbits

One  I’ve come up short in terms of knowledge so often that it’s hardly worth mentioning.  It’s happened again, in the last couple of weeks, with respect to a theological teaching known as PSA.  Here, PSA is neither an oncologist’s measurement nor a mediaperson’s “public service announcement.”  Theologically, apparently PSA is Penal Substitutionary Atonement.  I didn’t even know anything had been labeled as such, and I’ve never before considered PSA’s pros and cons.  Essentially, I think most people who would call themselves Christians assume some degree of PSA, whereas discriminating, studied theologians have nuanced it and decided on at least a partial yea or nay.

I have only barely started thinking about this, and even a cursory search and scan immediately sends me spiraling suspiciously down a staircase of suppositions.  In other words, I get dizzy with the labels and can’t find my way to the elevator.

Did you know that the root word “atone” is not found in the entire New Testament in the RSV or NASB or NJB translations?  It does appears 4x in the NT in the NRSV, and there are dozens of instances in some English Bibles in the Old Testament (but only 4x in the OT in the Roman-Catholic NJB).  The words “propitiation” and “expiation” come into play here, too . . . but the exegete’s questions must be focused on original-language words such as “ἱλάσκομαι” | hilaskomai and what they mean in context in such passages as Hebrews 2:17.  How intriguing that the only other place hilaskomai is used is in Luke 18:13, and the aorist middle/passive form is not translated “atone” there in any of my English Bibles.  Related, cognate words such as ἱλαστήριον | hilasterion ought also to be considered (and this word is also rendered with multiple English words), but cognates won’t all necessarily refer to the same theological notion.  The questions keep coming. . . .  In pursuits like this one, we deal in concepts, not merely words, and we cannot blindly focus only on the concepts present in the receptor language (in my case, English).  Still, the absence and presence of “atone” or “atoning” in certain English Bibles intrigues me, perhaps betraying theological alignments or biases.  Another interesting “find” is that atonement appears ten times in three apocryphal books (Sirach and 2nd and 4th Maccabees) literature.  Could it be that the literature from inter-testamental period, as appropriated after Christ, influenced a new-covenant theology of atonement?  I really have to stop here for now.

Eventually, I ought to ponder and study more about atonement and PSA.  This notion is potentially highly significant, and its long legs extend into such areas as soteriology, eschatology, and congregational worship.  Theological matters do have ways of extending themselves.  They also have ways of making some of us yawn, recoil, or shrivel.  A friend once relayed to me the following quotes or near-quotes:

“Happy is the Christian who has never met a theologian.” – Vance Havner, an influential Southern Baptist evangelist

I was wandering around lost in a dark forest with only one little candle to light my way when a theologian came along and blew out my candle.  – French Renaissance essayist Francois Rabelais

I can laugh at those, but, in my mind, theology has a forbidding presence—one that I’m only sporadically interested in acknowledging.

Two  In the current Lexham Press catalog, I found a few titles I was interested in:

  1. Honoring the Son: Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice (Larry Hurtado’s forthcoming work on the worship of Christ in the early church)
  2. The Universal Story (Dru Johnson’s treatment of Genesis 1-11)
  3. The Bible Unfiltered (Michael Heiser’s angle on the supernatural worldview inherent in scripture)

So many titles, however, seem like mere theological meanderings:

  • The Apostles’ Creed:  A Guide to the Ancient Catechism 
  • 1) Christian Essentials and 2) Theological Institutes (two different titles, surely with two different lists/presentations)
  • Studies in Historical & Systematic Theology (series)
  • Introduction to Dogmatic Theology (most of it is, I’d say!)
  • The Theological Correspondence of John Frame
  • No Quick Fix (an exposé of Keswickian “higher life” theology)
  • An Exegetical Theology of 1-3 John

Even the last one’s blurb shows the book to be more connected to “systematic theology” than to 1-2-3 John.  When I do take time for theology, it’s with trepidation.  In a recent “church” visit, I was unwittingly put on notice that I could never belong there, because anyone who does not support X theological construct is clearly viewed as heretical.

Three  I do appreciate the following wise words on the theological bent, so I’ll leave you with them for today.  Don’t miss the final clause about the likely mingling of motivations.

Theology is a bit like a spider’s web, in the sense that cutting a single strand of a theological framework can drastically alter the shape of the whole.

A good theologian understands the web from many angles. They can identify the fundamental tenets of an intricate system. They can foresee the potential effects of disregarding those tenets in advance. They can perceive when an apparently obscure issue is being used as a proxy for the underlying disagreement — and when it is not actually an obscure issue at all. They can spot patterns, echoes, allusions, and possibilities.

This obviously requires clarity of thought — but it also demands empathy and a wide-ranging understanding of context, since personal motivations are so often mingled with doctrinal ones.

– Academic scholar Maddy Ward

Past blasts #4: AVB’s “U Can’t Go 2 Church”

A few people in my past were big fans of the A Cappella organization.  At one point, it was just two guys on tour with pre-recorded tracks, but it was more often several guys.  Later, additional groups were spawned, including women and children.  AVB, the A Cappella Vocal Band, made forays into rappish tunes and used more vocal percussion effects.  I was never too big a fan myself, but I find myself going back to the past once in a while now.

Here is a YouTube link to an AVB song I happened to pull out yesterday.  Jedd and I listened while on an adventure and hour-long errand.  The message is simple but simply provocative for all of us—even those of us who’ve heard throughout our lives that we should call “Bible things by Bible names.”  I was happy this morning to be able to remember the words to the chorus.  I left the last line open for Jedd to fill in, and fill it in he did, with a smile.  I think this song’s punch drove home something he’s known for a few years already.

U Can’t Go 2 Church

You can’t go to church as some people say —
The common terminology we use everyday —
You can go to a building—that is something you can do—
But you can’t go to church
‘Cause the church is you

While I’m heading into the past with music from the 80s and 90s . . . a song that still gets to me, as sung by the parent group A Cappella, is “Fly Away,” in which I am reminded that “we will fly away when He hears His Father say, ‘Jesus, go and get your bride, today is your wedding day.'”

Past blasts #3: Gerald Casey, basketballer

This year’s March Madness is now history, and it was really the first time I “followed” the NCAA college basketball tournament.  I thought now would be a nice time to share a blast from my late father’s athletic past.  Dad seems to have excelled in almost everything he did athletically; he was a three-sport letterman in high school (basketball, track, and football; my mother tells me there was no Academy baseball then) and had been in the first Arkansas Little League (in Searcy).  An article once appeared in the college newspaper when my dad was a freshman playing on the associated high school basketball team.

They tell me that the hottest thing in trunks is a lanky red-headed Irishman by the name of Gerald Casey.  –Toady Bedford, “One Man’s Opinion,” Harding Bison (school newspaper), date unknown, presumably early 1953¹

Keep in mind that “hottest” didn’t have the same connotations in the 1950s!  My dad, Gerald Casey, #55 in the pic above, appears to have been the tallest on the team and couldn’t have been more than 5’10” at the time.  Bedford later referred to Dad as a “young ace” and noted, surely with a bit of hyperbole, that fans were turning out to eat the principal’s popcorn and to “watch ole’ Case wear out another set of cords every Monday and Thursday night.”  Apparently my dad was leading the area in scoring, averaging 18.6 points per game near the end of the season.

“How does he do it?” continued the complimentary Bedford.  “He hasn’t four arms . . . no four leaf clovers growing out of his ears . . . luck of the Irish you say?”  Then he called attention to my dad’s practice habits:  “[H]e practices . . . not just an hour every other day or a few minutes a day but all the time. . . .

“Second, he knows basketball from top to bottom, left to right, from every angle. . . .

“The beauty of the whole thing is that Casey is only a freshman in high school.  I guess that explains the glint in Hugh Groover’s eye.”

Gerald Casey, Hugh Groover circa 1980s

Groover, then the high school coach, would later coach my dad in college and would also become something of a mentor, not only on the court.  When my dad wrote his autobiographical memoir, he honored Groover, saying that he and Andy T. Ritchie, Jr. “were the top two Christian examples for me.”

¹ I can’t locate this excerpt in the available digital archives, and the date was unfortunately cut off in the paper copy our family had.





Programming for ensembles (and Easter?)

Concert programming for large ensembles can be a function of diverse considerations, such as

  • the calendar
  • the budget
  • the ensemble’s capabilities
  • recent performance history
  • pedagogical or developmental needs (particularly in an academic setting)
  • rehearsal schedule limitations and learning/assimilation capacity of the ensemble (only one rehearsal per week?  or three or more short ones?  usually better to have two or three rehearsals, at least one hour each, per week)
  • the ensemble members’ preferences and musical interests
  • the conductor’s values
  • variety in terms of compositional form, structure, and proportions (e.g., single movement, suite, symphony, variations, song)
  • specific concert requirements (e.g., holiday seasons)

Interested readers may find my succinct but relatively thorough three-page essay “On Repertoire and Programming” here.

In the collegiate ensemble music setting, it is important to have regular performance goals at reasonable intervals.  Many colleges and universities tend to fall into similar patterns in concert scheduling, yet variants may be found.  At the University of Northern Colorado, the Director of Bands was in the habit of scheduling the top ensemble for brief concerts (featuring marches and novelty pieces) about two or three weeks into the semester.  This practice seemed to work well, kick-starting the semester.  At some colleges, regular opportunities for short performances of one or two pieces (at a ceremony, in “chapel,” etc.) may provide appropriate performance goals.

For large instrumental ensembles at institutions on a “quarter system,” one performance in each of the three quarters could be a reasonable plan, whereas in the more common semester system it is generally optimal to have two or more concerts per semester.  Having only one concert in a semester would either mean having thirteen or fourteen weeks to prepare (creating a mismatch with the corporate energy peaks and valleys) or having a few blank weeks at the end of a semester without a performance goal.  Single-concert programs can end up confined to light holiday fare in December and “pops” in May.  Those types of concerts, which may be nice for public relations in a non-musician administrator’s eye, are not enough, pedagogically speaking.

Following the formation of an ensemble early in a semester, here is a typical schedule I believe is generally good:

  • 12-18 rehearsals (six weeks)
  • 2nd week of October:  concert with ~60 min. of music
  • 12-18 rehearsals (six weeks)
  • 1st or 2nd week of December:  major concert with ~60 min. of music
  • 1 week of reading, student conducting finals, or other

In the fall of 2011, two special, early-fall events virtually dictated the concert schedule for my ensembles that semester.  It went something like this:

  • 3-4 weeks of rehearsal
  • Special event with 45 min. of music
  • 7 weeks of rehearsal
  • Early November: major concert with 60-70 min. of music
  • 3 weeks of rehearsal
  • Concert with 45 min. of (generally easier) Christmas music OR joint program with ~20 minutes of music per ensemble

That schedule worked out fine on a one-time basis, although the three- or four-week preparation period for major concert events was a bit intense.

The perceived trajectory of the semester ultimately tends to have a “shape” in the sensitive program director’s mind, based on rising and falling musical intensity and difficulty levels—and, realistically speaking, also on student musician dedication levels.  Even the most mature, devoted student musicians will naturally have periods in which they are less available and energetic, due to requirements in other classes, Thanksgiving break time, and so forth.

At an avowed Christian college, I considered a spring-semester (“spring”? nevermind that winter could extend through nearly two-thirds of the semester!) plan that had a single, major concert about two-thirds through the semester, just before Easter.  That program would have featured music amenable to Easter-minded individuals.  The concert might have been titled “Rising” or “Above” or even “Resurrection.”  Here are some of the pieces I’d considered programming, in no particular order:

[An arrangement of Mahler’s “resurrection theme” from Symphony No. 2 or other “spirits soaring” piece]
[Air Force flight piece]
As Summer Was Just Beginning (Daehn)
Ascension (Mobberley)
Ascent (Gorb)
Fiddler on the Roof medley (including an excerpt with the song “To Life”)
Firefly (Ryan George)
Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak (Grieg/Fennell)
Funeral Music for Queen Mary (After Purcell) (Stucky)
High Flight (Turrin)
Music for Prague (Husa)
My Faith Looks Up To Thee (Rhea)
One Life Beautiful (Giroux)
Red Balloon, The (McGinty)
Rising (a new fanfare I once planned to write myself) (Casey)
Salvation Is Created (Tschesnokoff)
Via Crucis (Ellerby)

The thematic connection with some of those works will be obvious.  Any single concert would have included only a handful of them.  The “Above” or “Rising” idea might have featured

  • a work connected to human flight;
  • the technically difficult Firefly
  • Ascent
  • a funereal piece, and/or
  • extended, lyrical, moving music such as Mahler’s “Resurrection” theme.

If the programming went in the overtly Christian direction, perhaps I would have included the perennial favorite Salvation is Created, which is musically rich and intense.  It requires focus but is not technically difficult, so it might balance any quicker, more technically challenging pieces.

In thinking of funereal pieces, the tie with the Jesus’ body in the grave is obvious.  Would it be appropriate in a Christian campus setting to include one of the many beautiful works written to pay tribute to others?  I think of Giroux’s One Life Beautiful, written as a commissioned as a memorial for the daughter of a well-reputed college wind band conductor.  The most mature, artistically capable ensembles might perform the late Karel Husa’s Music for Prague 1968, a provocative, poignant tribute to the people of his beloved Czechoslovkia after a siege.

On Friday, I was reminded of my late father’s love of a particular song that acknowledges death.  This song is tenderly sung by a “barbershop” quartet.  Even the thought of this song causes emotion to rise within.  Seeking such inspiration and even consolation in music can be rewarding.  Such is not the only pathway to concert programming, of course, but at Easter, thinking along these lines can speak to the soul.

Odd observations for Easter: “God” in the NT

Now would you kindly think nothing odd
About my use of quotes around “God.”

British writer Lynne Truss has aptly proclaimed that “proper punctuation is …  the sign of clear thinking.”  I think I was thinking clearly (this time, at least) when I put quotation marks around “God” in the title of this post.  Here, “God” is a word used as a word, and that usage needs quotation marks, as my father the English teacher taught me.  (I hope that no one clicked out of this post because s/he thought I was going pantheistic or was unsure about whether God figures in prominently in the NT.  Although I will never comprehend God, I don’t think I’m too confused about the referent of the word “God” in the NT.)

Now, to the point and to my higher purpose:  to draw attention to the use of the word “God” in the pages of our New Testaments, following Larry Hurtado, a noted academic and specialist in Christian origins and texts.  Hurtado notes,

The great NT scholar, Nils Dahl, famously wrote an article on “the neglected factor in NT theology,” which was God!  He acutely observed that there were oodles of books on almost every other topic in the NT, but a scant number on “God.”

How interesting that God would be neglected in New Testament theology studies!  In a book of his own, Hurtado attempted to “map the contours” of “God discourse.”  In other words, he inquired how the texts we have appear to refer to God—in the “world full of gods” of the 1st century CE.  As a good biblical and historical scholar, he would attempt to avoid theological presuppositions and worrying about ramifications of anything he might uncover, simply investigating the texts.  In the next excerpt, on one level, Hurtado does deal in theology, but he is primarily making observations based on the textual evidence.

I judge that the discourse about “God” in the NT is “triadic” shaped, with “God” (often further specified as “Father”), Jesus, and the Spirit all prominent.  More specifically, I contend that in the NT writings “God” is so closely linked with Jesus that any adequate discourse about “God” must include adequate reference to Jesus.

I myself don’t find the Spirit nearly as prominent as the other two (see word counts in footnote below¹), or quite as delineated as most find them, although the Spirit is present.  Perhaps Hurtado’s sense of the relative weight of certain passages comes into play here.  The notion that Jesus shares in “divine glory and rule” surely connects to the Kingdom (kingship) of God as well as to the distinctly Christian doctrine that Jesus Christ is God.  While the Holy Spirit of God acts in Acts and appears elsewhere, the story are more about Jesus as teacher, deliverer, and risen Lord and King.

Also, remarkably, the divine Spirit “of God” (or “Holy Spirit”) in some texts is now also identified with reference to Jesus (e.g., Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11; Philippians 1:19; Acts 16:7).  This must surely be a consequence of the NT claim that God has exalted Jesus to share in divine glory and rule.

The discourse about “God” in the NT is triadic in shape, but, interestingly, the worship-pattern (emph. mine  -bc) is dyadic.  That is, “God” and Jesus are invoked, prayed to, reverenced in worship, etc., whereas the Spirit doesn’t figure in the same way.  – L. Hurtado

I’ll bet oodles of evangelical Christians would be surprised at the “dyadic” bit in the last paragraph.  I’m not.  To date, my textual examination in this sphere has not been systematic or in any way scientific, but I’ve found the same absence of examples and suggestions of Spirit-worship.  Years ago, I stopped singing a couple of 3rd stanzas such as “Spirit, We Love You; we worship and adore You.”  I do not seek to downplay the action of God’s Spirit in the world as portrayed in Acts and other places; on the other hand, I do wish to shine a spotlight here on the lack of what we could have been termed a “triadic worship-pattern.”

Find Hurtado’s complete post here, and please feel free to comment here (or there).

Today, tomorrow (Easter Sunday), and beyond, consider Jesus’ willing, intentional, God-ordained sacrifice.  Then consider that God is presented as having raised Jesus, (see Hurtado’s prior post Jesus’ Resurrection: Act of God).  May we worship God the Father and God the Son, all the while seeing such expressions as “Spirit of God,” “Holy Spirit,” and “Spirit of Christ” with new clarity.

¹ Word counts in the NT (based on Greek root-word searches, except where noted):

Son of God—122
Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus—224 (Gk. phrase searches)

Total Father/Jesus/Son/Christ references:  >3,200

Spirit (includes other uses of pneuma as breath, wind, etc.)—408
Holy Spirit—23
Spirit of God—3
Spirit of Christ—2
Spirit of His Son—1
Spirit of Jesus (Christ)—2
Spirit of (your) Father—1

Total # of Spirit references:  430 (at least seven of which refer to breath or wind, not deity)

Based on the above, most Christians would assume that there are as many as 415 instances of “Spirit” that refer to a 3rd God-being.  (I do not assume that.)  See for example material presented here:

How would one describe the Indescribable?

Garrett et al on “trinity”

Software will find instances of words near other words.  These stats are interesting, but I don’t suggest that they are the only way to “slice and dice” the verbiage:

  • “Spirit” NEAR (“God” OR “Holy” OR “Jesus” OR “Christ”)—366
  • (“Jesus” OR “Son” OR “Christ”) NEAR “Spirit”—101
  • (“Father” OR “God”) NEAR “Spirit”—150

One must decide for oneself how many different entities are referred to in some passages.  In any event, the “Spirit” references appear far less frequently than Father or Son/Jesus/Christ references.

Past blasts #2

Below is an excerpt from a very nice note, recently unearthed, having been written to my mom and me many years ago.  It pertains to the memorial service for my mom’s friend’s mother.  I think I had met the man who wrote this letter once, but I really had only an arm’s-length connection with him.  I share this here as a blast from the past, yes, but for two other reasons:

  1. To illuminate someone’s general thoughtfulness and courtesy—from a time that almost seems like another era now
  2. To encourage myself to be more mindful of meaningful, personal gestures such as attending funerals

Following the passing of my own father late last fall, I still have in mind to share in more depth some thoughts about death and dying.  For now, maybe this will perk your heart, too.  I myself am encouraged that someone was encouraged by sharing tender moments with people of “like precious faith.”

Past blasts #1

I thought I would post a series of blast from the past.  I have in mind a variety of these, from various aspects of life, but who knows how it will shape up?  This first installment is not from my own experience—for which I am thankful.  Rather, it’s from the past of the town in which I reside.  Can you even imagine finding this in the display window of your office area in the morning?

No date appears on the newspaper clipping I stumbled on, but a few searches indicate it is probably from 1990.  The snake was purportedly placed there in the newspaper’s office as revenge for some news articles that had appeared.  A high school science teacher was called, and the snake was subjected to “summary execution.”  These days, depending on who was nearby, the same measures might not be taken.

About 15 years ago, I recall being in a national preserve and seeing a sign warning the public that it was rattlesnake season, but reminding us that the rattlesnake was a protected species.  I thought to myself, “Hmmph.  Right.  If I were threatened by one and had a garden rake, I wouldn’t care too much about its political status.”