Marketing the Bible:  affiliative groups and special-purpose editions

I think it had been more than 15 years since I perused a CBD (Christian book Distributors) catalog, and the number of pages devoted to Bibles has probably doubled since that time.  Among the new offerings are study Bibles published with notes by famous folks.  In addition to the emphases of such recognized, popular teachers as John MacArthur, Chuck Swindoll, and David Jeremiah, there are study Bibles focused on Jewish history, cultural groups, and reader age group, e.g., children, tweens, and teens.  I didn’t notice an age-group Bible for senior citizens, but that is surely on the way if not already available.

A new, supposedly chronological¹ Bible “weaves Old and New Testaments together into one continuous story,” so The Story Bible is no longer the only one that purports to be an epic, across-the-board telling.

There is a Jesus Bible.  Hmm … in a bedrock sense, every Bible that includes NT documents is a Jesus Bible, but I would hasten to suggest that it is not sound practice to read Old Testament texts with only New Testament eyes.  If there were a pervasive-theme Bible that I might buy, it would be a kingdom Bible or a discipleship Bible.  I saw nothing of the former and only a couple of the latter in the CBD catalog.

I was especially struck by the proliferation of Bibles for affiliative groups and/or designed for special purposes.  I can certainly understand economy, pew, and evangelism- or outreach-purposed Bibles.  Special-edition gift Bibles, sure.  But I’m not so sure about the Guys’ Life, Girls’ Life, Everyman’s, and She Reads Truth editions.  Maybe these have pages filled with essays and stories about guys, girls, men, and women, and stories are fine.  Some trouble could come when attempting to interpret ancient texts in terms of contemporary women’s issues, for example.

There are recovery and “new hope” Bibles that I imagine include devotional meditations and pull-outs for recovery and addiction groups.  There are multiple editions for artists and creative people, with extra space for calligraphy and artistic doodling and journaling.  There is even a children’s Hands-On NLT with things-to-do projects—and an NKJV Airship Bible that blasts off to “discover the wonders of God’s world.”  I don’t know for sure, but perhaps these are designed with Sunday School teachers or home school groups in mind.  Some editions are particularly suspect, such as (1) the Children’s Fire Bible (in ESV and NKJV versions) for teaching children about “the work and person of the Holy Spirit in their life” [sic] and (2) The Passion translation, which seems to select certain documents and passages that the editor-compilers found related to human passion and “God’s fiery love speaking” to my heart.

The Gaither Homecoming Bible will surely have quite a few takers in its niche market.  There is an NIV Hope for the Highway Bible that apparently presupposes (1) that only motorcyclists do highways, and (2) that motorcyclists only do highways, neither of which is true in my own life.  I think the most provocative (take that however you wish) new Bible offerings are the “heroes,” first-responder, and multiple military Bibles—in some cases delineating each of the four major branches of U.S. military service.  Maybe the Navy edition has blue-green highlights over all the passages that deal with water or boats.  Does the Air Force edition have cloudburst markings in the margins alongside the sky and heaven passages, with an inspirational eschatological piece about going off into the “wild, blue yonder”?  Surely fighting men are not encouraged, through margin notes beside Old Testament battle stories, to bomb the bad guys.  I can only hope the “Marine’s Hymn” is nowhere included in a military Bible.  (See here for a diatribe on that song [which is in no real sense a hymn].)

Marketing interests are alive and well within the Bible publishing world.  While there could be genuine a pastoral concern for affiliative groups, leading to a sense of ministry to their needs, the possibility that scripture could be appropriated, based on market- and profit-driven thinking, into specialized messages for specialized groups scares me more than it sparks me.

As for me and my house, we have divested ourselves of a few print editions in the last couple of years.  We no longer have an NLT or a Good News Bible, for instance.  We do retain about 25 Bibles, including most of the established, recognized English versions.  Most of them stay on this shelf and are referenced periodically, but each of us keeps two or three Bibles close by in other spots.  We own two or three copies of (at least portions of) the RSV, the NRSV, the NIV, the NASB, and the Phillips paraphrase.  I feel no need for affiliation Bibles for brass players or motorcycle owners or audiophiles or bibliophiles.  (Oh, okay, I might be interested in a Bible for budding linguists or introverts or poets-at-heart, but these would be little more than curiosities.)  Our only recent purchases have been the CEB (Common English Bible) and a relatively new paraphrase, The Voice.  I look forward to using these new ones now and then.  Maybe they will turn out to have served a “special purpose” in my life.


¹ A 1999 publication, The Narrated Bible in Chronological Order (NIV) by F. LaGard  Smith, did not so integrate the OT and the NT.

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Impressing pastors, parishioners, and accountants

The card shown below (front and back) appears in the pew of a large institutional church near us.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to the appearance of these cards in the pews, I imagine there was an extended conversation in the regular Tuesday morning church staff meeting.  Let’s listen in on the meeting. . . .

Pastor Being:  So I assume most of you have noticed that our offering is dropping off.

Staff of 19 (not including the custodial staff of 5) [in unison, sighing ] Yes, we know.  What can we do? 

Advisory Accountant:  So glad you asked.  Here is a graph of the weekly and monthly figures leading up to Reformation Sunday.  We are off 20%, especially after that sermon series on Ecclesiastes.  Ahem, sorry, Pastor Being.

Pastor Being:  Thank you, A.A.  Now let’s get down to business.  We at RLSC¹ need to find a way to ensure that everyone feels the tug to give.  I mean, it’s good for people to be involved, and to hear sermons and all that, but we can’t do any of this unless we put forward a new pitch for pesos, if you know what I mean.  A decisive dash for dollars.  A bigger buttload of bucks.  (Smiling winsomely) . . . hey, this Christmas, if there’s no cash-y, there’s no creche-y!

Staff of 19:  [collectively, aggrandizingly]  Hahahahaha! 

Advisory Accountant:  Projecting out current trends, it is a distinct possibility that we’ll have to cut 25-35% on holiday expenditures.  The issue, if you ask me, is accountability.  Everyone’s concerned about privacy and identity theft, so donation practices are more private then ever.  I mean, how can the left hand know what the right hand is doing if all the giving is done on an app in the privacy of one’s home?  That doesn’t make a good impression on visitors . . . and what are the pastors supposed to think when the plate is passed through the pews and only 40-50% of the parishioners are dropping in cash and checks?  We need more accountability!

Pastor Being:  Based on A.A.’s recommendation, I support the notion of accountability.  Something doesn’t smell right about the left hand and right hand thing there . . . I’m not sure why . . . but I agree that the impression left when fewer hands touch the collection plates is a downer.

Pastoral Intern:  I learned in my Church Growth class last semester that if funds are being contributed by less than 75% of the membership, there is less than a 25% chance of growth during the next two quarters.

Pastor Being:  Thank you, P.I.  We definitely need a steady growth rate if we’re going to break ground next year on the new office annex, and if we don’t increase the rate, we can kiss the organ loft and pastor bonuses goodbye.  

Staff of 19:  [Collective sigh and downcast countenances]

Pastoral Intern:  I learned in my Church Methods class last fall that organs and choirs . . .

Pastor Being:  [interrupting]  For the moment, we can’t expect to have much esprit de corps unless we all have a shared sense of everyone else’s giving.  You know, like the workplace that displays a United Way contributions thermometer, coloring in the increasing level as it moves toward the goal. . . . 

Staff of 19:  [collectively]  Hahaha! 

P.B. [continuing] I’ve been wondering about those internet-savvy hipsters, working in tech companies and carrying the latest devices.  How do we know if they’re contributing regularly?  

Lead Tech Pastor:  Some of them might have encryption devices, or they might know how to disable our spyware so we can’t track their use of our new donation app.  For the run-of-the-mill donor, we are working on flash projection, using the robotics we use with the cams for the worship team.  When the team is taking a break, we can live-stream the contribution amounts in real-time, moving the screen down the row on the robotic arms in sync with the collection plate.  Later on, we can add the number of new donation app users as a sort of soft incentive.

Pastoral Accountant:  Studies have shown that people feel more obligated to give if everyone around them is giving.

GenX Involvement Pastor:  Seriously?  We’re going to make people feel uncomfortable?  I guess so, if we have to.

Creativity Pastor:  I was talking to the Pastoral Accountant after I saw the contribution figures last Sunday—thank goodness for our lay accountancy team that counts the money during worship.  Anyway, the P.A. and I both think we need to develop a card or some object that everyone who contributes online can drop into the collection plate on Sundays.  It would be symbolic, but it would increase the pressure on others to donate, too.

Pastoral Accountant:  Absolutely.  I think it should be a card that says “I give electronically.”  A card is heavy, so the sound of them being dropped into the plates will add sonic stimuli.  An additional benefit of a card would be that it gives the lay accountancy team something more to count, and that makes them feel more involved, and then they’ll probably give more money, too.  

Pastor Being:  What biblical passages can you think of that support such a card?

Biblically Learned, Subservient Pastor:  Hmm.  None, really.  Not even a principle that I know of.  Come to think of it, not even 1 Corinthians 16 . . . 

Pastor B:  [interrupting] Well, we can keep researching that.  Surely there’s something. . . .

Devoted Sheep among the Staff:  There is another way, you know.  Has anyone read about Francis Chan’s new movement? Check this out.  According to this report, “Chan leads a house church movement in San Francisco called We Are Church.  There are currently 14 to 15 house churches, he said, and 30 pastors (two pastors per church) — all of whom do it for free.  Each church is designed to be small so it’s more like family where members can actually get to know one another, love one another and make use of their gifts.”

Pastor Being:  [Never having considered a simpler, less costly way]  That seems sort of pie-in-the-sky, doesn’t it?

Assistant Pastoral Advisory Accountant:  You can’t be serious, little follower-sheep!!  What would that kind of model do to our cash flow and our end-of-decade projections?  We would experience more decline in our contribution income, and we would default on our installment notes.  Two or three banks would accelerate the balances on our loans.  We’d probably have to tap into our investment funds—or worse, go into hock with HQ.  The tax returns would be a nightmare!  Who would want to consult for us next quarter or serve as our independent auditors if we’re right around the corner from filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy??!

Pastor Being:  [continuing and calming the others]  Okay, okay. . . .  We all know we have this wonderful facility, and we’re not going to lose it just yet.  You know what?  Look around you.  There are some really well-to-do people in our immediate vicinity.  I see no reason the Lord wouldn’t want us to reach out to them just as much as to the lower classes. 

To inspire and to impress—our twofold mission.  We as a pastoral staff do the inspiring, and that impresses our parishioners to the point that they in turn are inspired to impress all those around them by giving more.  Everyone is inspired by all the giving, and more giving is the result of that, and that surely impresses our visitors and God, too.

All:  Amen.

P.B.:  All right, it’s settled then.  Let’s develop these contribution cards and roll them out in first month of the fourth quarter.  Then we can engage independent teams of auditors and church growth consultants to study the effects on cash flow and institutional involvement. . . .


For the complete blog referred to by “Devoted Sheep among the Staff” above, click here.

For a prior blog specifically about e-giving, click here.  Near the bottom are two additional links to posts about 1Cor 16:1-2, often cited in support of Christian contributions to churches.

Annnnd . . . I had last written about contributions and tithing in institutional churches here.  That piece was a protracted tearing-apart of a very poorly done brochure.  At the end, I expressed that I hoped I had the restraint, when coming on this topic again, merely to refer to that post.  Unfortunately, the sighting of the cards above brought the topic back, and I was compelled to speak against it.


¹ RLSC:  Reformed Large Swanky Church

(Im)maturity

Maturity involves a developed sense of thought, discernment, and the capacity for appropriate response in various situations.  I suppose, then, that immaturity would involve a lack of discernment.  An immature person would be prone to respond inappropriately, without a developed sense of what is acceptable.

A business might reach a mature stage.

A person might mature in his/her ability to communicate or paint or write music.

We might observe that there are immature ears of corn, immature savings bonds, immature singing voices, and immature people and behaviors.

How should one begin a meditational post about the last kind of immaturity?

tantrum child: Little girl with her arms crossed and angry expression Out of the gate, I want to acknowledge the immaturity in me,¹ and I do so in all sincerity, but a full disclosure would also confess that this piece started out, a couple of months ago, as a less-than-mature, silent tantrum thrown over other people’s immaturities.  Below are some behaviors that strike me as immature.  Some of these are recent, and some are long past.  Some just might be mine, or potentially mine, and some might have been observed in others.

  • A young musician takes every opportunity to show off skills and knowledge (say, on the piano or trumpet or saxophone).
  • A Little League baseball mom with some knowledge and skills tries to push her way into the coaches’ ring.  When her conceited efforts are not appreciated, she begins a campaign to show the assistant coaches she is better than they are.  (And actually, she is.)  Once, when her child is held at third base, she erupts in the full colors of immaturity by yelling, loudly enough that both sides of the bleachers can hear, “I don’t care what he says!  You’re my kid!  You run when I tell you to run!!”
  • An office worker asserts thoroughly detailed knowledge while manifesting little appreciation for relationship, let alone insight or discernment in particulars.
  • A Bible student inserts corrections, responsible questions, and textual insights, regardless of the group’s interest level or capacity for understanding.
  • A coworker reacts outwardly to mistakes in punctuation² and regional symptoms of poor grammar.
  • An employee takes liberties when the boss is on vacation.
  • A parent who’s having a bad day places too many restrictions on a child just because the parent is mad or worried.

No one is completely mature.  We all have more or less serious immaturities that come out from time to time.  Some of these behaviors are seen in less-than-emotionally responsible, less-than-considerate, and less-than-grown-up people, while others are more run-of-the-mill.  Surely there are countless marks of immaturity.  Yes, I’ve pointed the finger at others and have been rather irritated over a couple of the above.  But again, I’m also aware of some of my own immaturities.  We are all carriers of the immaturity disease.

And then there’s spiritual immaturity.

When I drafted this in early July, I knew I wanted to end it with a spiritual emphasis, but I’ve never become settled on a conclusion.  It’s not that I don’t have something to ask or something to say (although I often do).  It’s not that it’s an awkward segue (although it is).  I think it’s that I feel increasingly spiritually immature myself.  I don’t handle some things with as much discernment or mature Christian response as I once did, and this is of much greater concern to me than the behaviors listed above.  Regression here is worse than ironic; it might be putting Grace to the test.

So, what to say about spiritual maturation . . . I could spout some verbiage about the illusory doctrine of “total sanctification,” as though I were experiencing it.  I could manufacture some exhortation about “iron sharpening iron” or “letting go and letting God.”  Those might amount to little more than a diversion of attention.  

I could cherry-pick any of several mentions of maturity from New Testament passages, but that might prove to be immature in itself.  Few of the scriptual mentions seem related to what I have shared above, anyway.  Philippians 3:15 has something specific at its root.  Hebrews 5:14 might be close, but I’m not sure.  Any of these, including the one I am deciding to leave in below, is purloined from its literary context—a times a spiritually criminal act.  I will not be satisfied, no matter what I say, how I feel, or however I close this little essay.  I am in need of refinement and growth and more maturity—likely more than you are.  Perhaps unwiselyI suppose I will opt to finish this with James 1:4, in isolation from its context (although perhaps some readers will read/ponder the context):

Let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

I don’t currently have any illusions of enduring very well, but my weak self hopes to attain to the growth—the maturation—that can come later from having endured.


¹ Some of the following parts of my past and present might at any moment lead to manifestations of immaturity:

  • deep losses of human trust
  • general irritation and anger at things both big and small
  • vocational injustices and misfortunes
  • various insecurities
  • an ebbing/flowing faith in God (now in an ebb phase), and a sense of not feeling cared for by the Almighty

² “Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking,” said Lynne Truss famously in Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.  In that same book, she also wrote, “The reason to stand up for punctuation is that without it there is no reliable way of communicating meaning.”  Truss is essentially right, but I’m also thankful for grammar that gives us a shot at aptly interpreting most Greek passages that didn’t have any punctuation to begin with.

Inexplicable courses of action

HastingsLogo.PNGIn a good-sized city, a Hastings store went out of business last year.  Inexplicably, a new store with essentially the same slate of business lines just installed a store at the same location.

Also last year, in a small town with a fairly prominent Taco John’s and two fine mid-range Mexican restaurants, a Taco Bell/KFC went out of business.  Subsequently, an entrepreneur decided to add to the somewhat lacking mix of fast-food options Taco Bell 2016.svgwith a startup burrito joint that offers mostly Mexican fare.  Later, a restaurant group inexplicably tore down a ramshackle building and broke ground to install a new Taco Bell . . . a block away from the Taco John’s and five blocks from where the last Taco Bell failed.

Both of these examples call to mind the proverbial definition of insanity—doing the same things and expecting different results.

In a new locale, tired Christians try to maintain a trusting outlook.  Almost inexplicably, they visit church after church, hoping to find a small, biblically attentive, mutuality-emphasizing, non-franchise group to work with.  Nearly every visit to an established congregation results in listlessness, discouragement, waning hope, and windless sails.  (Churchiness has a way of doing that.)  I think these folks are more idealistic and fatigued than insane, but the matter might be argued otherwise.

– B. Casey, 7/29/17

Early summer potpourri

Summer Camps
For two extended periods in my personal history, Christian camping played a very important role in my spiritual and social life.  I began my summer Christian camp experience as an eight-year-old at Camp Hunt, a fairly small camp in upstate New York.  I was stomach-sick that week and had a bad time, transferring the next summer to a much closer camp with burgeoning loyalty.

Camp Manatawny in Southeast PA always offered something to look forward to.  From age 9 through 17, I annually spent a week there as a camper, and I also served a few weeks of my later years as a staff member (dish washer and counselor).  In 1998-2001, I returned as an adult and counseled and led hymn sings and devotionals, forming some lasting relationships.  My memories include cabin devotionals, hymn sings, campfires with equally rich silly and spiritual sides, and girlfriends.  It was an athletic experience, too, actually:  I have a few athletic awards to my credit, notably including placing in the softball accuracy throw and winning the push-ups event at least one year.  I don’t think I ever placed higher than 4th in a track event.  Manatawny and I parted ways (arguably its choice, not mine), but I still have many fond memories.

I was pleased last year to learn a little of my nieces’ Christian camp experiences.  They are growing similarly at other camps.  Last year, my son Jedd went to a day camp at Camp Wyldewood and enjoyed himself.  This year, baseball and a theater camp are filling the first half of the summer for him.  At some point within the next year or two, I want to find a good camp at which he can grow relationally with God and with others.  I want to start him fairly early, not waiting until the pre-teen or teen years for this important part of summer.

Naming Rights
Academic buildings, dorms, and fields, etc., are often named with the largest donor’s name.  This practice has always bothered me a bit, feeling that the “money talks” principle could end up compromising academics.  The problem becomes more acute when it’s a church room or building that’s named for an individual.  I’m such a purist about this that I don’t even think church facilities should be named for one of the twelve apostles.  Of course, this problem doesn’t occur when a Christian group owns no real estate.  Keeping it simple is better.  And living rooms are more homey and comfortable, too.

Time was when more pro baseball stadiums were named for their teams (Dodger Stadium, Astrodome, Yankee Stadium, Tiger Stadium).  A couple 1970s-built parks were named for their settings near rivers.  These days (see complete list here), only three stadiums use their teams’ names, and the rest appear to have large corporate sponsors that presumably paid for naming rights.  The ballparks now sport such names as Comerica, Miller, Citizens Bank, Minutemaid, and Target.  Having some knowledge of the Kauffman Foundation’s work in the Kansas City area, I don’t mind that the Royals stadium is named Kauffman, but I end up doubting the philanthropy of major insurance companies and banking conglomerates.  Incidentally, we’ve enjoyed one Royals game already and look forward to another.  Kauffman is my second favorite stadium experience, just behind Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, but Kauffman is easier to get to.

Kids’ baseball teams also have sponsors, and this scene is good for the community and for the kids.  Personally, I’m glad that my son Jedd’s team is sponsored by the River Cities Credit Union and not by a denomination or para-church organization like one of the other teams is.  I wouldn’t prefer to play a role in advertising for churchy business concerns.

Mulberries Revisited
The mulberries have just about stopped attracting the birds, which probably spend half their time now nesting in diabetic comas.  It is almost safe to park our cars in the driveway again.  See Mrs. Shuck and the mulberry tree for the backstory.  I’ve since learned that Mrs. Shuck did indeed have quite a Christian legacy, and that she passed from this life a year or two ago.

Summer Sounds
Time was when a friend and I attended a few Philly Orchestra concerts at the Mann Music Center.  One could often get cheap or free tickets to sit on the lawn.  Good times.

This year, I’ll again be missing the summer Concerts Under the Stars at the Garden Theater at UNC.   There is really only one UNC, by the way, and it’s in Greeley, Colorado, not in North Carolina.  Since I was a UNC grad student and was able to participate in one or two of said outdoor concerts, I’ve only been able to attend one or two other concerts there.  It’s always a nice time.  For some reason, I feel more loyalty to UNC than I ever did to my high school or to two other universities I had attended prior to my last degree.  I’ve never been a rah-rah type, but hey, “Once a Bear, always a Bear.”

Summer sounds in eastern Kansas have so far involved raucous, sporadically nocturnal neighbors who don’t handle the clock or their booze very well.  On the plus side, Jedd and I heard the Kansas City Symphony a few weeks ago, and I look forward to hearing a local jazz group and a children’s folk singer in July.

Bonus:  the Android “Gumdrop” ringtone sound
And now for a cool sound that has nothing to do with hot summer.  At some point while listening to this “Gumdrop” ringtone on my phone, I realized it included asymmetric meter.¹  I couldn’t resist writing it out.  For us rhythm geeks, the fun is built into the 7/8 bar, which makes it seem like the repeat comes an eighth-note too early.

Here is a recording, too.


¹ Since none of the first six WWW sources I found had a very good definition of “asymmetric meter,” here is my simple one:  a unit or measure of music in which not all pulses (beats) have the same duration.  

In the above case, the 7/8 bar

  1. contains one eighth note less than the 4/4 bars
  2. theoretically has a final, or fourth, pulse that’s only half the length of the others (one eighth vs. one quarter . . . or one quaver vs. one crochet, for the two Brits or British-trained musicians who might be reading this), but it
  3. would be conducted with three pulses—beats one and two are “simple,” containing an evenly spaced two eighth notes each; whereas the final pulse is “compound,” comprising three eighth notes, and requiring 50% more time than each of the first two pulses

Automated phone systems and surveys

Customer service units of large companies seem almost universally to operate on the assumption that they can handle a large number of customer inquiries (and pay fewer employees) through Automated Call Distribution and Interactive Voice Response systems.  While the dollars and cents may make sense, I’m not sure how much sense it makes to use the systems.  Customer frustrations can run high while on hold, and the options available rarely if ever include the one I, for one, am looking for.

In an earlier life, I was forced on a few occasions to sit in an “agent” seat using predictive dialing software for a bank, and I quickly came to view such software as a public nuisance.  (Civil penalties ought to be increased fourfold when it’s a telemarketing enterprise.)  This societal problem was eventually mitigated somewhat by regulations, but it’s still a problem—and especially for those who maintain landlines.  In the above case, I found that it was pretty silly to have just four or five people “dialing” at a time; when the numbers are low and/or the ratios are improper, there will be more calls dropped than connected.  Incoming call centers are not as bad as their outbound cousins, but those who perpetrate or operate any call systems ought at least to be aware of the numbers of agents needed to use the systems effectively.

Now matter how well thought out the call-routing decision tree is, on the customer side, almost invariably, an experience with an automated phone system goes something like this for me:

  • I listen to options, tune out because it sounds the same as every other phone menu, including the omnipresent “please listen carefully, because our menu options have recently changed.”
  • I choose the option to replay the whole thing.
  • At some point, realizing there is no option that relates to the reason for my call, I choose 0 (or 0-0, or ***, or some other punctuational gibberish that feels like cartoon cursing).
  • I am placed on hold because, of course, I have called during a time in which all available agents are busier than normal.  (Do they ever staff the phone lines according to need, or are they always intentionally understaffed to save on wages?)
  • The convenient on-hold message is played every 60 seconds, telling me I should go to the website.  I ignore that because I already tried it, and it didn’t provide the answer I needed.
  • Sometimes I have to start the call all over again first.  Finally I connect to a real voice, but the agent transfers me, and I must revert to the original recorded message and go through the above steps again.

If it is a non-native English speaker I eventually reach, my odds of getting the needed info are about 50-50, and if it’s an English speaker, about 90%.  And I wonder how much money was spent on the hardware and software to support the system whose sole purpose, in effect, has been to occupy me until one of the humans becomes available.  All these companies should quit viewing conversations with humans as “escalations” to be avoided.  I like quickly handling things with a few clicks and keystrokes on a web page as much as the next guy, and it’s a treat when you can get your business done on a website.  When I call on the phone, though, don’t give me canned responses.  Perhaps more companies who feel the need to outsource should use outfits like Hastings Humans, with a 70-year history and representatives all located in Austin, Texas.

I rarely take the time to complete digital surveys of any type, feeling that they are likely created mostly in order to allow customer service vice presidents to report to executive vice presidents and corporate boards that their departments are actually doing something to improve customer service.  (Maybe a secondary purpose is to give jobs to survey-creation people.)  The corporate resources  expended on automated phone systems would be better utilized actually doing customer service (and hiring native speakers who can speak intelligibly and understand what customers ask and say).

Here is a snippet from a texted customer survey I did complete recently:

Survey question:  How easy was it to get the help you wanted using our automated phone service on a scale of 0 (very difficult) to ’10 (very easy)?

Response:  1

Survey question:  Did you manage to achieve what you set out to using our automated phone service on a scale of 0 (not at all) to ’10 (completely)?

Response:  0

Survey question:  How satisfied are you with the way our automated phone service is organized on a scale of 0 (very dissatisfied) to 10 (very satisfied)?

Response: 2
Comment:  Never ever is an automated phone service sufficient for real people and real questions.  Your personnel are good, but automated service never will be.

Meet the mascot

Meet the Mascot at Walls of Books – Atchison . . .

Betty (Bibli)Ophilia¹ Walls

a/k/a Betty the Bookstore Bunny

Betty the Bookstore Bunny has become a store fixture at Walls of Books – Atchison, the store my wife manages, since the Great “Books with Bunnies” Adoption event.²  At night, Betty sleeps in her cage in the back, and she stays behind the counter most of the time the store is open.  She eats pellet food, hay, and the occasional celery top or strawberry leaf.  She is “trained” and has only had one minor accident-statement—as though to say “this area is now mine.”  She enjoys ripping newspaper shreds and nibbling on cardboard, an activity that’s good for her teeth.

Development and Training

Betty has grown comfortable in her area.  She lazes, she sits and munches, or she watches and checks things out.  She perks up when cars pass by and when customers come in the door but is not skittish.  She shows curiosity about Mama Manager’s activities and often approaches to sniff and to learn about the cash register.  Betty may turn out to be a natural retailer, but she is a hare short to be of much direct assistance.  BOSHA² has recommended the installation of an ergonomically sound rabbit pedestal.  Betty doesn’t appear to be the litigious type and is unlikely to sue, being rather content with standing on her hind legs, jumping a little in the morning, and flopping down at breaktime.

Product Knowledge and Local Sales Implications

Betty’s IQ has not been tested, but she manifests a love of learning.  She shows a particular taste for what is termed “inspectional reading” in Mortimer Adler’s classic guide (but has not actually tasted any books).

A shop three doors down often has a black lab mix sitting near the door, but he seems to ward off undesirables and divert attention more than actually contributing to sales.  A couple of notable establishments in town have the requisite store cat, but no feline-revenue correlation has been published.  On the other hand, a couple of special customers have gotten to spend time with Betty the Bookstore Bunny, forming a bond.  It is thought that Betty will eventually be able to greet customers—and perhaps to help direct them to certain authors/items, e.g., the Beatrix Potter and Alice in Wonderland books, the pet section, and fidget toys (but not the hunting section).

~ ~ ~

Previous posts on books:

Books! (1 of 2)

Books! (2 of 2)

Store Link:

Walls of Books in Atchison, Kansas:  http://wallsofbooks.net/atchison


¹ “Bibliophilia,” from Gk. biblio and philos, means “love of books.”

² The adoption program on 4/15/17 was jointly sanctioned by Walls of Books franchise headquarters and BPS.  [BPS, of course, is Bunny Protective Services.  I assume readers can deduce what BOSHA in the Development and Training section is.]  No large snakes were benefited by the bunny placements.  

Comparing two Mozart chamber works in Bb

As I set out to make a surface-level comparison of two Mozart works, I will first make two background observations.  First, an 18th-century composer’s choice of key was often quite intentional.  Each key was considered unique and had its own connotations of mood/affect.¹  For instance, C and D, although only a step apart, would have suggested different moods: the first, perhaps pompous and regal; the second, more exuberant and joyous.  Therefore, my choice of two works in the key of Bb makes for a closer comparison than works conceived in different keys.

Second, it may be interesting to know that, in some of the chamber scorings of Mozart’s culture (e.g., string quartets, wind sextets, and later, wind octets), wind instruments were most often heard in pairs.  Moreover, this was not “classical” music in any stuffy, go-to-a-concert sense.  Chamber music was typically more casual evening entertainment for large, well-to-do homes.  Compositions for these ensembles bore a variety of names such as Serenade, Partita, Divertimento, Cassation, and Notturno (Nocturne).  The minuet (menuet, minuetto) frequently shows up in this kind of suite since folks apparently liked to dance it.

  1. Mozart’s Cassation in Bb, K. 99 was written in 1770.  The work, scored for string quartet plus pairs of oboes and horns, comprises seven movements, including an opening march and two minuets.  It lasts approximately twenty minutes.
  2. Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 in Bb, K. 361 was written ten years later and is known as the “Gran Partita.”  This latter work, scored for pairs of oboes, clarinets, basset horns (something like an alto clarinet), bassoons, and contrabassoon or upright bass) is still frequently performed and is widely considered to be among Mozart’s two or three masterworks for the medium.  This work also includes seven movements, including two minuets and a theme/variations movement.  It lasts approximately fifty-five minutes.

Below is a listing of the movements titles in each work with rough tempo markings.  It should be noted that, in the 18th century (and beyond), movement title words such as “Moderato” and “Largo” were not taken as mere tempo markings, though.  These words originally designated a great deal more than tempo.  For instance, “Allegro” was not only moderately fast; it was lively and cheerful.  With that said, I present the tempo numbers below as reasonably indicative of common practice.  They are, within a beat or two per minute, those used by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, respectively.²  In the context of comparison, the numbers can reveal a kind of tempo “shape” of each work as a whole.

Cassation, K. 99 Tempo & Meter Serenade, K 381 Tempo & Meter
I.  Marche 124 duple-compound I.  Largo – Allegro Moderato 56 (8th note) duple 152 duple
II.  Allegro Molto 144 duple II.  Menuetto 108 triple
III.  Andante 60 duple III.  Adagio 72 duple
IV.  Menuet 148 triple IV.  Menuetto – Allegretto 144 triple
V.  Andante 50 duple V.  Romanze – Adagio 66 8th note – 92 duple
VI.   Menuet 152 triple VI.   Tema Con Variazione 72 duple
VII.  Allegro – Andante – Allegro – Andante – Marche 120 duple |    60 duple compound | 120 duple |  60 duple compound |  124 duple-compound VII.  Rondo 140 duple

I might observe a few things in analyzing the performance tempos and character of the movements of each work.  First, the strict numbers themselves are not always indicative of the tempo or the feel.  In some cases, as in the example shown here, there is a lot of “black” on the page of music—generally meaning there are many 8th and 16th notes in the parts, leaving little white space—yet the basic pulse unit may be quite slow.  Above, I also note the pulse groupings in twos or threes.  For example, a duple andante that gives way to a faster, triple minuet shows variety and contrast.

One may also observe balance and even symmetry.  In the Cassation, the work quite obviously comes full circle:  the “Marche” music heard at the beginning is quoted at the end of the 7th movement.  The even-numbered movements of this work are all relatively fast, while movements 3 and 5 are the slowest.  The minuet (menuet or menuetto) tempi are intriguing in their own right; these four minuets exhibit at least three different moods.  There is more to the technical makeup of minuets than this, but generally, a slower minuet may be considered more courtly and/or stately, whereas a faster one often connotes peasant or country dancing of the time.  The most subdued, elegant minuet of the four would be Movement III of the Serenade, being performed at roughly 72 pulses per minute.

In music of this period, tempo and key tend to be related.  For instance, rarely would one find an Allegro (generally “lively”) in C minor, because C minor carries a funereal association and wouldn’t be performed in a moderately fast, lively manner.  Keep in mind that most works of art music in this time modulate to different keys as a matter of course, but note below the primary key of each movement.

Cassation, K. 99 Key Serenade, K 381 Key
I.  Marche Bb I.  Largo – Allegro Molto Bb
II.  Allegro Molto Bb II.  Menuetto (courtly) Bb-Eb-Bb
III.  Andante Eb III.  Adagio Eb
IV.  Menuet Bb-F-Bb IV.  Menuetto – Allegretto Bb-F-Bb
V.  Andante Bb V.  Romanze – Adagio Eb
VI.   Menuet Bb-Eb-Bb VI.   Tema Con Variazione Bb (includes minor)
VII.  Allegro – Andante – Allegro – Andante – Marche Bb VII.  Rondo Bb

Both works come full circle in terms of key, and that is no surprise.  Each creation is successful and worthwhile.  (That may go without saying for Mozart, but it is not always the case with even the best composers.)  The Cassation was the product of a 14-year-old prodigy, and the Serenade was written when the composer was 24; the latter work does seem to manifest more maturity, more depth.  Its tempi and character show a greater range of emotion:  the opening Largo is deeper, and the presence of an adagio, in comparison to the andantes of the Cassation, seems to reveal a progression in Mozart’s explorations.  Moreover, the Theme and Variations, sometimes an exercise through which a composer challenges himself to be creative, was (wisely? ³) not included in Mozart’s teen work.  The Serenade’s Rondo is a rollicking finale that might not have been as effective if written ten years before.

Both these Mozart chamber works could have provided good “dinner music” for a wealthy family (and guests) in the Austrian countryside, and I’m glad I get to experience them still today—sometimes, during my own dinner.  I listen to these and other Mozart chamber works multiple times every year, and that is saying a lot for a guy who’s not really a Mozart aficionado and who has as many listening options as I have on hand!  Within the next two or three years following the “Gran Partita,” Mozart would go on to write a Serenade in Eb and the Serenade in C Minor.  The Serenade in Eb contains some truly sublime chamber music, and I consider it a chamber-music must-listen for the true music lover with any breadth of taste.


¹ Arguably, this sensibility stemmed from the non-equal-tempered tuning of the time.

² In actual performances not governed by electronics, there will naturally be some variation in tempo.  Also, it bears mention that there were no metronomes of any kind in the time of Mozart, so there was no absolute standard, although historical research has shown generally acceptable windows for most such markings.

³ I myself wrote an elementary Theme and Variations for Horn Quartet as a college student, and it’s not very good.

A birthday of sorts

I’m not much on birthdays (or any holidays, for that matter).  I do remember the birthdays of all those in my family of origin, of three of my grandparents, and of my own, little nuclear family.  That’s about where it ends.  I only know birthdays for one niece, one nephew, one aunt, so I probably ought to be embarrassed that I do remember the birthday of my childhood baseball hero every year.  That guy is a year younger than my father, but let’s just say Dad’s character and life patterns are infinitely more admirable than the former Major Leaguer’s.  I have once again not mentioned the baseball player’s name on his birthday, because I don’t want to call any more attention to him.

April 30, though, is a birthday anniversary of something I will call attention to:  the initial invitation for Eugene Peterson to write The Message. 

Portions of The Message were published serially for a period of about ten years, starting in 1993, and I intentionally purchased each new volume until the whole was at last published in 2002.  It was difficult for me to divest myself of the separate volumes such as The Pentateuch and The Prophets, but it didn’t make sense to keep them all.  I now have only a complete hardback edition, a separate hardback copy of The Wisdom Books, a paperback Psalms, and a full electronic, versified edition.

Speaking of “versification,” one helpful-yet-annoying feature of the original work is that it does not contain traditional “verses.”  I say “helpful” because not having those little numbers can guard against the breaking up of thoughts as one reads longer passages.  I say “annoying” because the lack of verse numbers makes it difficult to find a particular spot and to compare with other versions.  There is a place for both, so I’m glad to have non-versified editions in print but also glad that my Logos software contains a versified version for easier pinpoint access.

I could not presume to add what so many others have said in praise of the translation, and I don’t care to expend effort refuting or responding to its judgmental detractors.  (No translation is above criticism, and I’d rather be more granular in my approach to this one and all others.)  Rather, I just want to recognize this milestone.  Here, I’ll allow Peterson’s own introductory words to speak for themselves.  He tells of the time in which the seed of The Message took root:

     I lived in two language worlds, the world of the Bible in the world of Today.  I had always assumed they were the same world.  But these people didn’t see it that way.  So out of necessity I became a “translator,” . . . daily standing on the border between two worlds, getting the language of the Bible that God uses to create and save us, heal and bless us, judge and rule over us, into the language of Today that we use to gossip and tell stories, give directions and do business, sings songs and talk to our children.
     And all the time those old Biblical languages, those powerful and vivid Hebrew and Greek originals, kept working their way underground in my speech, giving energy and sharpness to words and phrases, expanding the imagination of the people with whom I was working to hear the language of the Bible in the language of Today and the language of Today in the language of the Bible. . . .
     The Message is a reading Bible.  It is not intended to replace the excellent study Bibles that are available.  My intent here . . . is simply to get people reading who don’t know that the Bible is read-able at all, at least by them, and to get people who long ago lost interest in the Bible to read it again. . .  So at some point along the way, soon or late, it will be important to get a standard study Bible to facilitate further study.  Meanwhile, read in order to live, praying as you read, “God, let it be with me just as you say.”

– Eugene Peterson, Preface to The Message, 2002, © Eugene Peterson, published by NavPress

Now, especially if you have never read from The Message, you might try it once in a while.  Try it for a change.  Try it for a perk.  Try it for a comparison.  Try reading long passages.  You might be surprised at how quickly one of Paul’s letters goes, or how marvelously new one of the gospels or the books of Hebrew history sounds.  Whether or not you get into The Message, read, consider, and study the message by any helpful means.

Happy creative birthday to Eugene Peterson for his distinctive accomplishment in The Message, with thanks to the editor who wrote the invitation letter received more than a quarter-century ago on April 30, 1990.  No translation is perfect, but this one went a long way in making scripture come alive for readers.


For more Bible Anniversary reading . . . another translation of note, now more than four hundred years old, celebrated a birthday in 2011.  The KJV was a massive achievement in its time and was deserving of celebration and praise for 200-300 hundred years, I figure.  Read my anniversary farewell wishes to the Authorized Version (KJV) here.

Conductors from whom I’ve learned

This post is a tribute to influential conductors.  I’ve learned things from all of these; in some cases, the impact has been broad and deep.

I’ll start with men I never had the opportunity to learn from in person but whose conducting has, in one way or another, had strong impact on me.  Of the conductors I have only seen on video, three deceased men rise to the top as those I would like to have learned from, had I the opportunity:

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Carlos Kleiber

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Leonard Bernstein

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Frederick Fennell

Kleiber is perhaps most admirable for his depth of score knowledge (albeit, reputedly, with a limited repertoire) and ability to show the music’s character; Bernstein and Fennell, perhaps for their unbridled passion and command.  If I knew his work better, one living composer might fall into a similar category for me:

Gustavo Dudamel

I played or sang under these next two only once or twice, back in the 1990s.  Those occasions are now in my distant memory, so I am not altogether sure how I would assess them as conductor-musicians at this point:

Mary Woodmansee Green
Miguel Harth-Bedoya

Green and Harth-Bedoya have the distinction of being conductors who had multiple, standing appointments (as opposed to being a principal guest or regular guest conductor) in different cities.  That always struck me as a goal to which to aspire, but I’m not so sure anymore.  A life of perpetual flux and travel is not very desirable.

Of all those conductors under whom I have performed on a regular basis for some period of time, the next two seem the most exemplary to me at this juncture.  One is deceased, another in his seventies.  Their personalities were markedly different, and I learned very different things from them in vastly different scenarios and phases of life.  In their respective idioms and milieux, they were strong leaders and rehearsers, and they both had impact on me:

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Kenneth Davis, Jr. (Harding University)
Robert Streckfuss (University of Delaware)

There have been many conductors that I do not feel I have learned much from.  Some of these seem to be viewed by others as iconic, and at times, I have been unable to discern why.  Other times, I happen to have had similar skill sets and values, so I didn’t particularly take anything from them.  I suspect the strengths of some lie not in conducting per se, but more in their musicianship or program leadership effectiveness or administration than in their conducting and artistry on the podium.  I will not list names in this category, because it is not my desire here to be critical of any individuals in the slightest.  There are actually two or three from whom I learned negative lessons, i.e., “Brian, do not do as s/he did!”  Like many others, I witness unhelpful and/or stylistically inappropriate division of beat, spasmodic gesture, and other nonverbals that should be checked in a mirror or on a video recording.

Other lessons have been interpersonal in nature:  one has consistently modeled, as a gentleman musician, how to treat people with dignity; another once displayed in the starkest terms what a travesty can be made of the communal music-making experience when a conductor shows no human concern or care for what an individual musician is going through in life.

Leaving generalities and negatives behind . . . the next group is short list of conductors whose work has impacted me in unique ways.  They have affected me for good and have been particularly exemplary in one or more respects:

Richard Mayne
Kenneth Singleton
H. Robert “Bob” Reynolds

I never had the opportunity to play under Reynolds, a true prince of conducting pedagogues, but I did spend a little time with him, both personally and in a group.  At summer symposia, he shared a lesson or two I won’t forget.  Here, I honor Reynolds (who taught some who taught me) along with two graduate professors who were and are examples of generosity, teaching, and devotion to music-making and students.

The next list includes a few more I’ve learned from at symposia, plus others I have observed on only one or two occasions.  These conductors strike me as highly artistic, but they have not been specifically formative in my development.

Patrick Casey (no relative)
Steve Davis
Craig Kirchhoff
John Lynch
Cynthia Johnston Turner
Jerry Junkin
Sarah McKoin

In some of the above instances, chronologically distant memories are still strong of impressive, beautiful, controlled gesture, well connected with sound (McKoin, Casey, and Kirchhoff in particular).  From Lynch I learned the necessity of correlating baton “travel” distance with the relative duration of pulses in asymmetric meter.  In all of these, the traits I admire include visible, artistic passion.

These last two conductors exhibit different yet overlapping sets of strengths.  Among all those I have played under or observed on multiple occasions, I have learned most from these two, who rise above all the rest, in my estimation.  One knows me, and the other doesn’t.  These are the two most formative, most deeply admired conductors in my experience.  Image result for allan mcmurray

Allan McMurray

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Mallory Thompson

Above, I have opted to show McMurray and Thompson doing one thing they both do very well:  teach younger, aspiring conductors.  In the next post on this topic, I will offer some more detailed praise of these two, as well as the concert offered at the CBDNA conference by Thompson’s ensemble, the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble.

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