May is vinyl month (3-final)

A year ago, I offered the last (so far) in a Monday (Worship) Music series of 96 posts.  For a time, I was writing regularly on church music and related matters, e.g., individual songs and hymns, music notation technology, and song leading.  The last post was MM: An inviting invitation (musical settings of Matt 11:28-30), a sort of travelogue through three musical renderings of this Matthew text, including a composition of my own.  Many of the posts in the series focused attention specifically on worship music—i.e. music with lyrics addressed worshipfully to God, regardless of the style or genre, and regardless of its use or non-use “in church.”  I haven’t titled today’s post “Monday Music: ____,” but it did strike me that it was a Monday, and I’ve written about music.

During May I listened only to vinyl records at home.  If memory serves, I started “Vinyl Month” a couple days late, so I ended it a couple days late, too, extending through yesterday.  Below I’ve shared the album covers of the final group of records I sampled, including piano concertos, Maynard Ferguson, Chicago, horn & trumpet solos, musical theater, and crazy Charles Ives.

First off, the piano.  I could have gone to my easy-listening jazz recording of Henry Mancini and Doc Severinsen, or to a record of three well-known Beethoven sonatas, or Bach’s Goldberg Variations on harpsichord, or Ferrante & Teicher’s entertaining duo music.  I went rather to celebrated concertos, thinking that there are probably no more famous piano concertos than Rachmaninoff’s, Grieg’s, and Tchaikovky’s.  Beethoven wrote five, I think, and a couple of those are often performed; Mozart’s and Schumann’s are not too shabby, and I had once conducted a Schumann movement with this young artist at the piano, but the three I mentioned first will probably draw the audiences these days more than most others.

  • When Jedd heard Rachmaninoff from the other room, unprovoked, he said, “This is cool music.”  The third movement includes the melody that inspired the words “Full Moon and Empty Arms.”  Grieg is actually more a favorite of mine, but I didn’t listen to that this time.
  • Chopin wrote almost exclusively for the piano; his preludes and nocturnes and waltzes are still go-to pieces for a plethora of pianists.  The preludes are ordered with a major key followed by its relative minor.  Pop singer-pianist Barry Manilow used No. 20 in C Minor in his love song “Could It Be Magic?”  “Musicologist Henry Finck said that ‘if all piano music in the world were to be destroyed, excepting one collection, my vote should be cast for Chopin’s Preludes.'”  (Wikipedia)  I later learned that a contemporary performing artist, a former colleague, viewed Martha Argerich as exemplary, whereas he had little appreciation for the glitzy interpretations of Lang Lang.

And then there was “pop,” which for me is a larger umbrella term than it is for most of the world these days.

  • Like operas in the 18C and 19C, musical theater material is largely pop-influenced.  I am not really an enthusiast but have been involved in probably 20 shows as music director or pit orchestra player.  Fiddler on the Roof is among my top three musicals, is relatively artistic and deep, and still manages to be entertaining.  I caught myself singing “If I Were a Rich Man” the other day and put this on.  This recording happens to have used renowned classical violinist Isaac Stern as the “Fiddler.”
  • A marching band demo record supplied by a publisher had some mildly interesting tunes.  My, has marching band changed in three decades.  If nothing else, this stuff is amusing and requires no brain whatsoever.
  • Chicago is always a good listen.  Gotta love trombone with the mild rock.  I never cared much for “Color My World,” but I like “Saturday in the Park” and “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”  I like my Chicago CD‘s later hits even better, but that’s for another month.

For the more serious, cultivated music of the last couple weeks, I chose horn, trumpet, and Ives.  Or, if you like the alphabetical:  André, Brain, and Crazy Charles.

  • A rare recording of the British horn genius Dennis Brain, who died young in an auto accident, this one includes interviews and Dennis’s favorite encore.  I have three other Brain records, as well.
  • The trumpet concerto record is one I’ve owned most of my serious-listening life.  Maurice André was a renowned master who taught many, including Guy Touvron who would later found a recorded brass quintet.  André  also “inspired many innovations on his instrument and he contributed to the popularization of the trumpet.”  (Wikipedia)
  • Charles Ives was the pet project of my doctoral professor and his colleague Jim Sinclair, both of whom studied at Yale, in Ives’s haunts.  Ives was a different sort of musical master, never making his money with music, succeeding rather in the insurance business.  This recording features a piece I’d never heard of before, so I listened to it first:  Robert Browning Overture.  I found more of a savant’s lunacy than a poet’s soul in this music.  Also included is the more famous Three Places in New England, about which Wikipedia reports, “Each is intended to make the listener experience the unique atmosphere of the place, as though they (sic) are there. . . .  Ives’s “paraphrasing of American folk tunes is a particularly important device. . . .  The intention was to make the music accessible despite its avant-garde chromaticism.”  (Wikipedia)  A large part of middle movement of Three Places is better known to many as the wonderfully quirky, quodlibet-ish “Country Band” March for wind band.

I couldn’t resist a little “high Baroque” with Händel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks.  Händel is no hero of mine; I don’t care for the oratorio and opera genres in which he gained much fame.  This brass-heavy, pompous music is nice, though, and almost as pleasurable as the Water Music suite (which I only have on CD).

Finally, the jazz I chose for the last couple of weeks included some personal favorites.

  • Charlie Parker, born in Kansas City, is a jazz legend and also a tragic figure who experienced depression and addiction to heroin, dying at age 34.  (Schubert, Mozart, Purcell, and Gershwin also died in their 30s.)  Parker’s improvisation is pure genius, and he is known as a paragon of bop and an intellectually gifted architect of jazz.
  • Maynard Ferguson produced three “M.F. Horn” recordings, and I like them all very much.  I think I acquired #2 first (just after “Gospel John”), and it is probably my favorite, including “covers” of James Taylor’s “Country Road,” arrangements of movie themes, “Spinning Wheel,” and “Hey Jude.”
  • Stan Kenton’s jazz orchestra has always attracted me, largely because he’s a piano player and also because he sometimes used orchestral brass (horn, tuba).  My Kenton knowledge is shallow.  This is one of four recordings I have, but I haven’t played Side Two in years, so I did in May.
  • A serious jazz musician today would probably not want to think of Herb Alpert’s music as jazz, and I suppose it’s more like pop-lite Latino novelty stuff.  It’s great fun, though!

I take the glories and varieties of music to be one of many evidences of the existence of God.  I liked forcing myself to get back into musical variety on my records for a while.  Compared with cassettes, vinyl records had the advantage of random accessibility of different “tracks,” so I sometimes took advantage of that.  I haven’t purchased any newly produced records yet, but I hear they can be amazing.  For now, it’s back to my ten-times larger CD collection.  But now that I’ve dug into the records with more purpose, I might also be prompted to find treasures in this collection more often.

– B. Casey, 6/3/18


The benefits you get with H/R

The paragraph below, I assume, was written by an H/R “professional.”  I am pasting this in, so the original remains intact.

Our new colleague will teach in our comprehensive music education program, which includes BME, MME, and Ph.D. students. They will provide leardership in curriculum and program development. They will provide leadership and oversight of the recruitment of undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. music education students. The successful candidate will be a creative, flexible musician, scholar and pedagogue who is an experienced master teacher with substantial K-12 experience as well as college-level teaching experience. They will be responsible for teaching in our comprehensive music education program which includes BME, MME, and Ph.D. students. Our new colleague will provide leadership in curriculum and program development, and will be expected to have a well-developed, active research agenda. They will teach other courses in the music education curriculum as necessary.

Now my observations and reactions.  (You knew there would be some, didn’t you?)

  1. My ambition is to be a learder.  However, I don’t have other learders around to mentor me and showr me what a learder can be.  I even lookerd online for a graduate leardership program.  I can’t finrd a single one.  Maybe if I use fuzzy logic, the search would be more successful?  Can someone out there leard me to the info I neerd?  I will follow if you leard.
  2. In seriousness now … I would like a role in which I could train the world to match plurals with plurals and singulars with singulars.  (Creating a plural of the word “singular” makes me smile . . . and note that it does not have an apostrophe before the “s”! . . . it’s a plural, not a possessive or a contraction.”)  The next-to-last sentence is just fine.  Why not include the last sentence and remove the plural mismatch, like so:  “Our new colleague will provide leadership in curriculum and program development; will be expected to have a well-developed, active research agenda; and will teach other courses in the music education curriculum as necessary.”
  3. I’ll leave the lack of the Oxford comma alone in this phrase:  “will be a creative, flexible musician, scholar and pedagogue.”  Wait.  I didn’t.
  4. On a deeper level:  I find this ad to be a bit ambitious at its core.  Rare would be the person who (1) could legitimately be classed as a “master teacher,” (2) has “substantial” K-12 experience, and (3) also has college-level teaching experience.
  5. I would also think that some “H/R professional” would have read through the posting well enough to know that s/he had repeated almost one-quarter of the material.  If the music department had simply written its own job description, it would have been better.

Layering H/R process on top of process may satisfy regulations and policy without serving the real need.  On the other hand, if there is no process at all, someone or some department will likely need to oversee employment matters, given the litigiousness of our society.  If there is a separate benefits department, there are benefits to be reaped there, although the health insurance benefit is more than it’s cracked up to be.  As I wrote in this post,

Currently, [my wife and I] pay approximately 1/3 of the total cost of our own insurance, and my employer covers the rest of the group-rate premium.  The rates for adding an additional family member [our son] increase dramatically, though—to the point that the deduction from my paycheck to insure three people would be equivalent to half of my take-home (net) pay. 

A very perceptive man once remarked that the “Graduate School” in his institution didn’t add value to the process of getting a graduate degree.  This post from 2016 mentions that right after complaining about the lack of benefit in three food additives, moving to question the value of additions in Christian churches.

And here is a post that briefly mentions three items that I find pretty much without benefit in churches.

Going back (1)

There seems to be something that causes humans in some kind of crisis to need to return to something they had previously known—and in which they had found some kind of comfort.  I’m not sure how to label this observed human tendency, so, for lack of a better term, I’m just calling it “going back.”  One or two other “going back” blogs may appear; those will be of different types.  Here, I am thinking primarily of the spiritual, sociological, and/or psychological pitfalls inherent in retreats to one’s former ways.  Thus, “going back.”

The scenarios to which people go back might be positive or neutral.  A family friend, upon learning of my trying times in another phase of life, commented that I might need to go back to “the Northeast,” which is the area of the country in which I was raised.  I did go back, rather purposefully, and it turned out to be a good thing for a while.   Going back can also be decidedly negative, such as with incarcerated individuals who, upon obtaining freedom, may revert subconsciously or even intentionally to harmful or illegal ways of life.

A person who struggled rather openly with homosexuality later repudiated homosexual practice in a speech to other believers.  Still later, the person went back to homosexual practices that began during child abuse, presumably (consciously or subconsciously) looking for some emotional salve.

Again, not all retreats constitute lapses or regressions, but many do.  Countless would be the sad stories of alcoholics who start on the recovery road but then return to destructive drinking.  I have also seen people go back negatively in conjunction with the impending failure of a marriage.  For instance, a deacon in a Restoration Movement Church went back to his less-well-founded religious roots even as he concurrently abandoned his family.

I knew of a person who had accepted principles of non-participation in human government as an expression of allegiance to Jesus Christ’s examples, teachings, and Kingdom  That person made demonstrably poor, sinful choices over a period of months and was eventually divorced.  A couple years later, in a new dating relationship, the person went back to the pro-military stance affirmed in the family of origin.  It would be hard to say this “going back” could have led directly to any emotional solace, but there might have been something vaguely comforting about returning to one’s roots.  What became of the higher, more enlightened way learned as a young adult?  It is difficult to imagine that both the prior course and the latter one were both matters of conscience.  Perhaps the conscience was undeveloped in the first place, allowing room for political conservatism to edge out Christ-ian devotion.

A family lost an adult son in a horrific accident.  One of the parents has reverted, in some measure, to his Roman Catholic upbringing, seeming to find meaning there, even though he retains connections in evangelical non-denominational, quasi-Reformed expressions of Christianity.  (I don’t know the timing for a fact here, but it is difficult to conceive of another reason in this particular case other than the life-tragedy experienced.)  Even for those who see Roman Catholicism as one way among many or even as the way, an argument could be made in this case that the redirection constituted a conceptual regression.

The particular “goings back” that I have noted are but a few, but I hope the general point is clear:  something often causes humans in some kind of of crisis to revert to something they had previously known—something in which they had found solace or meaning.

This has perhaps amounted to little more than an unstudied observation about human nature.  Is there a doctrinal “beware” here?  Something related to the “Hebrews” letter, maybe?  I wouldn’t suggest that every negative “going back” (above or otherwise) should connote the revulsion of a dog returning to its own vomit (Prov 26:11; 2Pet 2:22).  At times, it seems, we return to patterns of the past, and at times, those are negative patterns.  Moving away from observations of others, I ought to beware of any destructive or negative “going back” behaviors in my own life.

Two empires (2 of 2)

Now posted on my other blog here:  a second set of quotations on the kingdom of God from Sweet and Viola’s Jesus Manifesto.  Ostensibly moving from the “manifestos” of Marx & Engels and Francis Schaeffer, these packed-with-punch authors pen powerful statements such as these:

Justice does not assume freedom from suffering.

The kingdom is a presence that we enter, a gem-like gift that we receive and treasure, a new creation that engulfs and embraces us. In other words, the kingdom of God is Jesus the Christ, and his righteousness.

Christians don’t follow Christianity.  They follow Christ. 

Click here to see this whole second set of quotations, and here for the first set.


May is vinyl month (2)

May is “vinyl month” in my house.  That means discovering, or re-discovering, some old “LP” records.  Listening is not necessarily all “serious music” but can be serious business for me:  I care about what I listen to, and I make conscious choices with a good deal of variety.  Here, I feature most of the records I’ve chosen during the last week or so.

  1. Dvorak:  Symphony No. 7   In my view, neither Dvorak nor Mendelssohn receives due attention as the effervescent, quintessential 19th-century composers they were.  Dvorak’s #7 and #8 deserve every bit as much play as the more famous #9, “From the New World.”  This composer’s Serenade for Winds is a piece that has been in my top 10 for quite a while, and his tone poems and piano works are wonderful, too.
  2. Kerry Livgren:  Seeds of Change   This is also the title of the songwriter’s autobiography.  For this post-Kansas album, Livgren utilized Kansas principals on some songs.
  3. Kansas:  Monolith   Yes, more Kansas!  This album came after the biggest hits and includes the interesting songs “People of the South Wind,” “On the Other Side,” and the tender, probing “Reason To Be.”
  4. Seals & Crofts:  Greatest Hits  Surely only the most hardened criminals rap fans wouldn’t like the fun, ever-so-pleasant, mid-seventies songs “I’ll Play for You” and “Summer Breeze.”
  5. Stravinsky:  Threni   The Latin vocals and quasi-serial composition technique make this absolutely horrific listening for me.  I’m sorry I had to pick this record out of my stacks in order to recall it.  (It is for good reason that I’d only listened to it once before.)  I only have this album because it potentially intersected with funeral music, which was the topic of my dissertation.  This “threni,” a shortened plural form of “threnody,” refers to the Latin title of the Old Testament book “Lamentations”—which is filled with Jeremiah’s lamentations of a different sort.  In any event, I recommend this music to precisely no one.  Much more interesting and provocative, although also generally unpleasant, would be Penderecki’s famed Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.
  6. Canadian Brass:  A Touch of Brass   This has been a go-to quintet album of mine for quite a while.  It includes an arrangement of Bach’s Contrapunctus No. 9 and the ever-brilliant Malcolm Arnold quintet, a tour de force that requires technique, musicianship, and inner rhythm the likes of which most musicians can only hope to approach but rarely to achieve.  I saw these guys live when I was a teenager and still have the t-shirt and an autographed program!
  7. Jackson Browne:  Lives in the Balance   I’m still getting acquainted with this 1986 album.  Musically, I’d say it consists of appealing pop-rock.  Apparently the album is a favorite of Browne’s but was not received well critically or even popularly—because of its political commentary nature.
  8. Harding A Cappella Chorus:  Tour ’69   I don’t care for much choral music these days, but I particularly love former professor Bill Holloway’s works “Peace I Leave with You” and “Hosanna in the Highest.”  He would have been a young professor in his late 20s or early 30s when he wrote these pieces.  This is vinyl month, so I’ll stick with the above for now, but I just pulled out the CD of his choral works that Holloway place in my hands only about five years ago.  I’ll listen to that in a couple of weeks.
  9. Maynard Ferguson:  Carnival  This is pop jazz from around 1980—fun stuff, including the title track, Gerry Rafferty’s hit “Baker Street,” a beautiful arrangement of “Over the Rainbow,” and an iconic, funk-bass version of the jazz classic “Birdland.”  I prefer the earlier Maynard albums, possibly for sentimental reasons, but some of the material here is really listenable.

I’ll probably write only one more “Vinyl Month” post, so I had better choose well.  I’m thinking Chicago, a couple of piano albums (Horowitz playing Beethoven?), John Denver or the Doobies, string quartets of Schubert, music for hunting horns or baroque trumpets or classical guitar . . . and, oh yeah, maybe a marching band demo album or some other novelty. . . .


A reasonable step and an ill-conceived stance

A reasonable step
At first, I didn’t think so, but I now believe the President’s step was a reasonable one:

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” – President Donald Trump, 12/6/17

Could it also be time to pass a proclamation that trumps the long-standing rule against splitting infinitives?  (I digress before I really get started!)

I assumed the decision was intended to play to the “conservative Christian” element among the voting public.  I no longer assume that is a major factor.  I was under-informed on Tel Aviv, as well, thinking there had been an official Israel capital there.  If that had been the case, the U.S. President’s move to “recognize Jerusalem” in this way would have been silly.  Regardless, I was wrong.  It seems there has not been a single capital per se:  Tel Aviv was set up as a temporary headquarters in 1948, but the Knesset is in Jerusalem, and the recent history of Israeli capitals seems complex.

After having read the President’s statement in full, I don’t find much fault with it, insofar as it goes. The only concern I would have is the underscoring of the presumed, scant connection between the ancient Jews of King David’s time and the Jewish state today.

So the US Embassy will be built and will open soon in Jerusalem.  The content of the President’s proclamation notwithstanding, people will be all over the map as to the intentions and ramifications.  Zionist Jews and Zionist Christians will celebrate a conclusion I find baseless.  A Muslim in Jerusalem was quoted in his use of a foul epithet to describe the President’s news.  One source intimates that President Trump was making a gesture to his “close ally,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  The left-leaning American media will surely huddle in a corner.  Maybe I’ll listen to Monday’s NPR report to see who thinks President Trump is risking a deterioration of relationships with Palestinian Muslims while establishing even firmer ties to Israel’s Jews.

An ill-conceived stance
The cover blurb on the book Standing with Israel (2006) begins with these words:

David Brog has written a passionate and personal testament on the ever-growing support and affection that many Christians have for the State of Israel.  He has brilliantly captured the spirit of brotherhood between the Jewish people and American Christians.

The back cover continues as follows:

Written by a committed Jew, Standing With Israel provides an insightful explanation of why so many Christians are dedicating themselves to supporting the State of Israel. . . .

Inasmuch as Brog has written an account of historical events and coalitions founded and formed over time, it is a valuable set of insights he brings.  I’m chilled, though, when I read some of the things recounted in this book.  For instance, Jerry Falwell stated this in 1980:
I firmly believe God has blessed America because America has blessed the Jew.  If this nation wants her fields to remain white with grain, her scientific achievements to remain notable, and her freedom to remain intact, America must continue to stand with Israel.  (pp. 138-139)
In 1994, Pat Robertson referred to his own commitment following the 1973 Yom Kippur War:
I made a solemn vow to the Lord that whatever happens, however unpopular it would be, whatever the consequences, that I personally, and those organizations that I was in charge of, would stand for Israel.  And we have not deviated.  (p. 139)
In 2002, Ralph Reed, the former executive director of Robertson’s organization, formed a new group called “Stand for Israel.”  The political impact of all the above is documented in Brog’s book.  Have Falwell, Robertson, and Reed ever been known for standing for Christ?  Clearly, that has not been their priority.  To the extent that they wish to be politicians, they made their intentions known and remained loyal to their principles.  But we must not make the mistake of thinking that such positions and loyalties are Christ-ian (of, or belonging to, Christ).  They are political, and they are to some extent social.  They are philosophical.  They are perhaps “Christian” in an ironically secular, “Christendom” sense.  But they are not of Christ.

Brog’s description of the scenario seems studied and is doubtless apt, but the stance to which he attests is ill-conceived.  While American Christians have the intellectual right to feel supportive of one political entity over another, the very idea of a Christian’s taking a stand for or against another country seems even less appropriate than standing in some limited way for one’s own country.  (Save me from the now-cliché Lee Greenwood lyrics, “I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.”  Probably only 10% of those who would sing those words would actually do the defending.)  Actually, we ought to be more about moving than standing:  walking intentionally as disciples of Jesus the Messiah.  Insofar as we plant ourselves, though, taking stances, let’s reconsider which ones to spend time with.

Take a stand, I say, for the kingdom of God or for the Lord Christ or for His church—or for love or justice or grace or right vs. wrong.

Take a stand for responsible, contextually aware Bible study or for meaningful Christian assemblies.

Take a stance against dogmatism or sectarianism.

Take a deer stand into the woods near a meadow, and take a hunter’s stance before aiming for your venison.

Take a music stand home to practice.

Take an aggressive, serious-business batting stance if you want to hit the baseball well.

But, Christians, we ought to avoid taking stances for or against political entities.

Music box dancers in church

One of the oddest “pop” hits of the seventies was an instrumental called “Music Box Dancer.”  If a YouTube comment is to be believed, it was an accident that this was ever played on a rock radio station, and then the single became a hit.  Not to toot my own horn (wind my own box?) too much, but I recalled this tune a few days before I became aware of an interesting “Instrumental Oldies” channel on AccuRadio.  This station plays the likes of “Chariots of Fire” and the “Miami Vice Theme.”  If I ever hear “Music Box Dancer” in that audio stream, I’ll probably switch channels to something else.

“Music Box Dancer” was one of those things a young piano player could learn to play fairly easily, even by ear, but I have no affinity for it, and the thrust of this post has little to do with it, either.  So there you have it.

Last Sunday, I did have the sense that I was listening to a music box and watching a kind of dance evolve during a church visit.   The tune was particularly child-like and repetitive, and each “verse” lasted about as long as a typical music box tune would last.  There was a little pause at the end of each repetition, at which point someone robotically decided in favor of another rep.  This decision was made based on the “dance” that was going on with people passing trays.  Was there time for another complete repetition, or would the music box wind down and slow down?

This thought-pattern may indicate nothing more than the ennui of the typical church experience in my soul.  So there you have it.

May is vinyl month (1)

Last month, I acquired a few more used records, so I decided that May would be “vinyl month” in my house.  Listening can be a serious business for me.  That doesn’t mean it’s all “serious music,” but it does mean that I care about what I listen to, and I make conscious choices with a good deal of variety.  Since my CD collection customarily gets considerable attention, besting the records and far surpassing the cassettes, this “vinyl month” is actually a “thing” for me.  Only two of these particular records are new, but I’ve listened to one or both sides of all seven within the last week:

  1. Philip Jones Brass Ensemble:  lighter works for 10-12 brass instruments, and always a pleasant listen
  2. Claude Debussy:  serious “impressionist” piano music, enough to take my attention
  3. Doobie Brothers:  fun, although many tunes seem dated
  4. Art Garfunkel solo:  a couple of these songs struck me as duds … I really enjoy the type of music made famous with Simon & Garfunkel duo, but I think Paul Simon is the stronger songwriter
  5. Elizabethan and Jacobean Lute Music:  just what it sounds like, and it makes for great evening listening
  6. La Malmaison:  tenor and harp or piano . . . not my favorite record by any stretch, so it may be another 15 years before I pull it out again
  7. Kansas I (self-titled):  I think this was my 4th Kansas record (after Leftoverture, Point of Know Return, and Masque).  I still love their “prog rock” creativity.  I could name almost every tune on this album as a “favorite,” but I particularly love “Aperçu,” “Journey from Mariabronn,” and the sweet “Lonely Wind.”  “The Pilgrimage” is captivating in terms of its fade-up intro, its vocals, and its instrumentals throughout.

What comes next?  Seems I might head for some deep orchestral music, some Andres Segovia classical guitar, some Chicago, or maybe some Kenny Rogers.  One of the other new acquisitions was a Jackson Browne LP; I’ve listened to that already and probably will again soon.  I often need some brass, too, so I’ll surely add some horn or trumpet solos or a brass ensemble of some kind.  The next “Vinyl Month” post, in a week or two, will tell. . . .

(Hucka)been there, done that

Crossposted from my other blog, a bit of a diatribe on something from the typical “conservative Christian” world:

Here are a few excerpts:

“God’s love for the U.S.” is an idea concocted out of thick air—thick with people who not only believe, but also blithely promulgate, the idea that God especially guides the United States.  These people are almost as common as, and even more deluded than, those who think they can play the guitar.

. . .

God is not about geopolitical entities.

. . .

I would assert that God did specially orchestrate some events for the ancient Jews for centuries, but the scenario then changed.  

Interesting translation questions in Philemon 6-10

In returning to Philemon for two different purposes lately, I’ve been engaged again in the deep study of this absolute gem of a letter.  I’ve been reworking my own translation basted on expanded knowledge and senses of the letter as a whole.  Below are some translation-oriented matters that have particularly intrigued me in Philemon verses 6-10:

6 – The expression “partnership/fellowship of faith”—which has so many possibilities that it can make your head spin.  At issue here are the numerous ways to understand the genitive case of the noun “pistis,” most often translated “faith”—and also the range of meaning of both nouns individually.  “Partnership” (koinonia) can also be “fellowship” or even “contribution.”  Although financial concepts do appear in this short letter to Philemon, I rather feel the sense here is more strongly tied to joint effort.  I am aware, for instance, of the notable greetings and concluding phrases about fellow-workers and fellow-prisoner.  The primary sense of the word “koinonia” here is the work together, the partnership.

Although I am intensely aware th ese days of the NT word “pistis,” insofar as I can tell, I did not come to this passage with a prejudice over whether “pistis” implies mental assent, trust, fidelity (or some combination of the three) in this passage.   For the present, however, I’ve ended up with the translation “faithful partnership,” which does lean in an atypical direction, along the lines of author Matthew Bates’s suggestions.  (See this post on my Subjects of the Kingdom blog for more on Bates’s book Salvation by Allegiance Alone and the translation of πιστις | pistis.) 

6 – The beginning of v6.  Just before the expression “partnership” and “faith” appears the word “hopos.”  The import of this word is a trifle difficult to narrow down.  Traditionally, the words “I pray” have been supplied by translators.  (One must supply something in order to have the verse make sense in English.)  “I pray that …” is not the only possibility, however.  “Hopos,” the lead word, is not nearly as common as its cousins “hina” and “hoti,” which head many clauses in Greek, and which usually mean something along the lines of “in order that” or “because.”  The question here is whether “hopos” serves more of an adverbial function (how the next thing relates to the former) or a conjunctive one (joining the two in a different way).

In the BDAG lexicon, a conjunctive sub-type is proposed as a possible fit for Philemon 6.  In this sub-type, the word “hopos” essentially replaces an understood infinitive.  Accepting this possibility, and reaching back to include the main verb in v4, one comes out with

“I thank God …, (v4)
hearing of your love …, (v5)
and I want to ask that….” (v6)

Why not simply stick with the traditional understanding that Paul is continuing his prayer in v6?  Well, because I suspect Paul is moving toward asking something of Philemon instead of God here, and he might be intentionally engaging in a bit of ambiguity.  Supplying a verb such as “to ask” can leave both possibilities open.

6 – The word “epignosei.”  This word can mean knowledge or full knowledge but seems in the context of Philemon to move in the direction of recognition or awareness of “every good thing.”  This expression is used twice in the letter—intentionally so, I’m persuaded.

7 – The word “splangxna.”  This interesting word is most often translated “heart,” and it is discursively significant within the Philemon document.  The thing is, this is a plural word, and it’s exclusively used in the plural in the NT.  Clearly, though, it cannot be translated “hearts” in many instances.  At issue here in Philemon are both linguistic and psychological concerns, i.e., how the ancients and we understand the source of human emotions.  The King James had “bowels,” which does a nice job with the plural but is obviously ill-advised in our age.

Personally, I’m moving away from “heart”—or I want at least to consider something different—because I feel that “heart” has been co-opted, becoming a kind of Christianese slang that could lead a reader down a rabbit trail instead of communicating to us what Paul was communicating to Philemon.  I am wondering about translating the plural word splangxna (which, by the way, I understand is diachronically etymologically connected to the English word “spleen”) as “affections.”  In Philemon, we would have

  • “the affections of the saints have been refreshed through you” (7)
  • “I am sending him back to you—the object of my (brotherly) affections” (12)
  • “revive my affections in Christ” (20)

At this moment, I like the “affections” option in v7 and v20, but not so much in v12, because it’s hard to make that phrase sound non-homosexual in English these days.  If we leave v12 as “heart” while rendering the other instances otherwise, though, the verbal connection is lost in the English translation.

7/8 – The parallel use of the verb “exo.”  This verb means “to have” and which appears in two distinct tenses in versus 7 and 8.  Regardless of the particular type of of aorist Paul intended in v7, the present participle form of this same verb in v8 seems to indicate some measure of heightened emphasis.  In other words, his saying “I have great boldness to command you” is stronger in some way than “I have great joy and consolation” above.

9 – The unusual (to me, at least) sequencing of words ὢν ὡς (ōn hōs). I think this expression is idiomatic.  The two words are (1) a being verb and (2) a particle of some kind—a conjunction, or a preposition, or an adverbial particle.  Taken together, we might translate “ōn hōs Paulos” simply as “This is I, Paul.”  In the mid-range context, Paul appears to be revealing himself, or self-identifying, as an old man and a prisoner—all for the sake of influencing Philemon’s future behavior.

9 – The word “presbutes,” often translated “elder” or “old man.”  “Presbutes” is used only twice in Paul’s extant writings.  Once in Luke makes a total of three instances in the NT.  I wondered whether the RSV rendering “ambassador” might be a viable one in Philemon 9.  A cognate of “presbutes” is used in Eph. 6:20, also juxtaposed with the prison (a different word for “chains” there than in Philemon).  The range of meaning of “presbutes” in non-NT literature does include “ambassador.”  Still, I’m not persuaded that it means “ambassador” here.

10 – A verb that roughly means “to become the father of”  How can gennao be translated in a way that comes across both smoothly and meaningfully in English?  Is “became my son” (switching the agency from the producer to the one produced, and converting the verb to a passive sense) sufficient to do Paul’s expression justice?