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Canadian Women of Valour

March 12, 2014

Sort of imitating Rachel Held Evans here, but for good reason. Of course, I really want to talk about hockey – we are so proud of our women, as well as our men! And my sister just saw K. D. Lang yesterday, reminding me of her rendition of Hallelujah. Here is Cohen on Hallelujah. I remember k.d. lang from the days when she wore skirts and boots and a cowboy hat, sang country and danced to the fiddle. (Okay, I can’t find any more youtube sites without some awful advertising so that’s enough.)

I saw two blog posts recently on memorable Canadian Christian feminists that I want to share. The first is about Nellie McClung, whose book, Clearing in the West, I read as a child.

The second post was about the quiet feminism of Bernice Gerard, who was recognized by the Vancouver Sun as the most influential spiritual leader in British Columbia of the last century. I used to love watching her TV programme as she was such a calm and matter of fact preacher, such a gentle and no nonsense person. She was a Vancouver city counsellor, pastor and preacher, anti-abortion, anti-pornography, and anti nudity on Wreck Beach. She lost those fights but she happily commented that she was content to have her say even if she didn’t win.  She was no sourpuss. She was a foster child in an abusive household and was rescued, educated, became a teacher and travelling preacher.


Gustave Doré

March 9, 2014

There is an exhibition of Gustave Doré in the Musée d’Orsay this winter, and then it moves on to Ottawa, Canada (yes, the capital city that many Harvard students can’t name) this summer. I am very excited about this exhibition, but also have the opportunity soon to view some original prints in a bound edition from 1880 that a friend inherited from his great grandfather.

Gustave Doré (1832-1883): Master of Imagination
From June 13 to September 14, 2014
Organized in collaboration with the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Gustave Doré (1832-1883): Master of Imagination is the first comprehensive retrospective devoted to this major artist. It will include prints, drawings, paintings, and sculptures. A hundred works, ranging from spectacular panoramas to intimate studies on paper, will be brought together to illustrate Doré’s great artistic diversity. NGC chief curator Paul Lang worked with Edouard Papet, chief curator at the Musée d’Orsay, and Philippe Kaenel, professor of art history at the University of Lausanne and an expert on Doré.

Today, Gustave Doré is probably better known as an illustrator; his notable works include Perrault’s fairy tales, La Fontaine’s Fables, Dante’s epic poems, and his incredibly successful edition of the Bible. He worked mostly at the more intimate scale of the book, but he also created paintings and sculptures of monumental proportions.

Doré also revived history painting in order to bear witness to the disasters of the Franco-Prussian War from 1870-71 and the consequent loss of his native Alsace. An incisive caricaturist, Doré contributed to the birth of the comic strip and the graphic novel.

Visitors will be surprised by how familiar they are with Doré’s works. His influence on film and photography is a testament to this. For example, the Victorian London in Oliver Twist by Roman Polanski pays tribute to his illustrated book London, A Pilgrimage.


The Minimum Bible

March 7, 2014

Joseph Novak has put up a “Minimum Bible” site with minimalist graphic posters illustrating the books of the Protestant Bible.  Here are three examples:




Katherine of Alexandria

March 1, 2014

I was a little taken aback recently when I followed  link to a post about five women of the early Christian church that we ought to be familiar with. One of the women was Katherine of Alexandria. I looked her up, wondering why I had never heard of her before. She was supposed to have lived in the 4th century and the first written record of her life appeared several centuries later. So her history is based on oral tradition. There is no other evidence for her existence.

Why are we suddenly hearing about her now? It turns out that the movie Katherine of Alexandria, to be released later this year, was the last movie that Peter O’Toole acted in before dying on Dec. 14, 2013. This makes it historic, in one sense at least. Here is the official website.  I scanned the website but could not find any admission that this history of Katherine of Alexandria is only a story, a legend.

What are we to do when people get enthusiastically taken up with stories like this which seem to prove that women did great and noble things in the early church? We can certainly recognize those for whom there are records, and often given less recognition that they are due – women like Paula, who worked with Jerome on the Latin translation of the Bible. But what do we do with the ones who are clearly fictitious?

This applies not only to early Christian martyrs but also to Judith, Esther and other biblical women. The books of Judith and Esther are both classified by scholars as “novels.” The book of Esther is part of the Hebrew canon, while the book of Judith is not. The most obvious reason is that Judith was written later than Esther, when the Hebrew canon was more or less formed. Even though there now exists no Hebrew copy of the book of Judith, all scholars agree that it was written in Hebrew. However, the Hebrew copy of the text was not preserved, while the Greek translation was preserved in the Septuagint. Therefore, the Greek and Roman church, but not Jews and Protestants, consider Judith as part of the canon, and her heroic acts are celebrated along with Esther’s. Jews, do, however, consider Judith an important Jewish hero. Evangelical Christian women tend to say “Judith who?”

Those who search out the Bible record and history to validate the participation of women in society as agents do well to recognize that many of these women may not have existed, or may not have lived the lives attributed to them. However, the same is true about many stories of male heroes.

In spite of this caution, one can derive from these stories which qualities were attributed to women with approval or disapproval. There are other intriguing details as well. For example, Esther was an orphan, and Judith was a widow. This put these women into  a special class of persons under the protection of God, but also distanced them somewhat from male authority. These women also used their beauty as an instrument of power, although for Sarah, Bathsheba and Joseph, beauty was a vulnerability. We can at least know what some people at the time thought about women, even if we don’t know if some of these women actually existed.

The odd Gideons Textus-Receptus ESV

February 28, 2014

I have now read repeated reports that The Gideons are now distributing (along with their traditional distribution of the KJV) a variant of the ESV that has been modified to include “missing verses” from the Textus Receptus.  According to some accounts, the ESV is replacing the NKJV; after the acquisition of Thomas Nelson by HarperCollins, The Gideons were not able to negotiate a renewed licensing agreement to their tastes. 

Here is the lengthy copyright entry in the new Gideons ESV Bible (original source):



From the copyright notice:

The ESV Bible translation carries forward the historic stream of Bible translation in English exemplified especially by the King James Version (KJV) Bible of 1611 and subsequent literal Bible translations.  At the request of the The Gideons – and in appreciation for their worldwide, century-plus distribution of more than 1.8 billion Bibles – Crossway is pleased to grant permission to The Gideons to include certain alternative readings based on the Textus Receptus, for exclusive free distribution of a Gideons edition, as follows:  Bible translation of the New Testament into English and other languages are almost exclusively based on either (a) the Greek Textus Receptus manuscript tradition (which was the basis for the 1611 translation of the KJV Bible), or (b) the Greek NA-UBS manuscript corpus (which is the basis for almost all Bible translations completed since the late 1800s).  In some places in the New Testament of the ESV Gideons edition, as printed and distributed exclusively under license to the The Gideons International, the Gideons edition follows the Textus Receptus manuscript tradition, which corresponds in the vast majority of instances to the corpus of New Testament Greek manuscripts known among scholars today as the Majority Text.

One commentator compiled a list of changes made in the Gideons ESV.

I have to admit that Crossway has shown a fair amount flexibility with its ESV edition – allowing this adaptation, a version that includes apocryphal books (based on the RSV Apocrypha), and even considering at one point a set of modifications for the Catholic lectionary

While I am unable to recommend the ESV translation, I am fascinated by its evolution and change through this process.   I hope I can obtain one of these Gideon modified ESVs..

Killing an Attitude of Entitlement

February 28, 2014

This post is slightly irregular. Carolyn McCulley has mentioned that she may be closing down her blog, and I wanted to save this post of hers from July 2, 2007, The reason that I am copying this post is because so many people insist that I protest only the hard extremes of complementarianism. I want to use this as testimony to the fact that McCulley provides this interview for biblical teaching about this lifestyle. I don’t know how she wrote this without crying, without reading the despair and loss of humanity. I have said enough. But this is what I am protesting.

The series we began in January about the good goal of getting married lives on! Today, I’m pleased to feature an interview with xxxxx, the bride of xxxxxxx and new mother of xxxxx.The goal of these interviews is to help us think both biblically and realistically about marriage and what life is like when the honeymoon is over and the real living begins. I’ve been grateful for the women who have been willing to share their experiences and insights with us.

1. In what area were you the least prepared to be a wife? What would you have done differently as a single woman to prepare for this? Well…the only thing that comes to mind is that I would have spent more time cultivating a biblical view of myself as the “worst of sinners”…recognizing that I am constantly in need of God’s sanctifying grace, that I’m unable to change anything in my own strength, and that I’m never going to be finished with the business of being sanctified. Since becoming a wife, I am much more aware of my sinfulness and my need for a Savior on a daily basis. As a single person it was easy to minimize my sin or not even see certain sins being expressed, because most times there was no context that would squeeze it from me in the way that a marriage relationship does. Seeing my sin more specifically and frequently (and against this person whom I love more than any other!) both surprised me and tempted me to despair and condemnation. I realized that, at least in my life, condemnation and despair are evidences of a reverse type of pride: I would not be despairing unless I had believed myself to be above sinning in that way, and I would not feel condemned unless I were believing the lie that Christ’s sacrifice for me wasn’t enough, like God didn’t really know what he was doing in planning my redemption or that he didn’t know all the ways I was going to sin. Praise God that the grace that saves us is the same grace that leads us and helps us grow for the rest of our Christian lives!

2. What does being a helpmate look like in your marriage? This is a big question, so I can think of a few ways to answer it. Also, after writing out this response, I realized that I should qualify it by saying that I don’t do these things anywhere near faithfully or perfectly. So this is what a helpmate SHOULD look like in my marriage and what I aspire to do!
(1) Praying for him daily and caring for him biblically (pointing him to God) when he is struggling. Actively looking for ways to encourage him and thank him for evidences of grace. Refraining from criticism unless I have spent time in prayer about it and sense the Holy Spirit guiding me to bring it graciously, as an observation, at an appropriate time, and out of pure motives (love for him as opposed to how this will make my life easier or better).
(2) Responding to the priorities he has established in the realms of caring for the home, such as cooking, cleaning, food shopping, errands, and any other tasks he delegates to me. (Perhaps I should mention that in the first year of our marriage, while I was still working full-time, this looked a LOT different than it does now. At that time, the priorities he had for me were different and were realistic given the fact that I was juggling working outside the home with caring for the home.)
(3) In this season, it also means supporting him in the ministry team that he leads.
(4) Regularly sharing my “to do” list with him and asking him if anything should be removed or added, which items are his priorities for me to do, etc. Then, I should do whatever I can to serve him on a daily basis, even if it means that items I’d rather get done don’t get done.
(5) Providing companionship in ways that are meaningful to him. In our marriage this includes things like getting up early to have breakfast with him, not only so I can prepare it for him but also because he appreciates spending a little time with me in the morning. It also includes joyfully greeting him when he comes home at the end of the day, relaxing with him when he desires to relax together (even if my ‘to do’ list beckons), giving him my attention when he wants to talk (even if I am tempted to be distracted by something else).

3. What was the biggest surprise to you after marriage? I think I may have believed that submission, as biblically defined, would be easier than it actually is. I had such a desire to be married, to serve a godly husband, and to learn how to be a godly, submissive wife. So I guess perhaps I thought this strong desire would make me better at it. (Ha ha!) I never anticipated how many times we would disagree on small things, mostly matters of preference, and how I was not at all entitled to have my own way on these things just because they were small, or just because they fell under the category of home management, or for any other reason. (Just to give you an idea, I’m talking about dumb little things like how long to store an opened jar of spaghetti sauce in the fridge before it gets thrown away.) My husband might make a decision at times based on my input, but he’s not obligated to do this. This attitude of ‘entitlement’ to have my own way was probably the biggest thing I had to work to put to death early in our marriage. An important verse for me was Philippians 2:5-8: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” If my Savior, who was in the form of God, humbled himself, took the form of a servant, and obeyed to the point of death, how much more should I, as a weak, sinful person, be willing to humble myself and die to myself and my own preferences daily? I needed to learn to trust that God has sovereignly and lovingly placed me under my husband’s leadership, and that unless his decisions are leading me into sin, I can joyfully follow him knowing that ultimately the Lord has good for both of us in it. This is easier said than done when I think he’s making a poor decision or one that I don’t agree with – but even at those times, or especially at those times, it’s important for me to obey the Lord and submit to my husband. Sometimes, the Lord wants to teach him something through a mistake that he makes. More often, though, I find that he wants to humble me by showing me that what I thought was a mistake was really the path of wisdom!

4. How do you think single woman should pursue/prepare for marriage?
(1) Spend time with married couples or married ladies and ask them these kinds of questions! Also, once they know you well, ask them to tell you what they see in you as the areas where you could most grow in your preparedness for marriage. (Then, make a plan for growing in these areas.)
(2) Involve yourself with godly married couples or families whenever and however possible – this might be by living with them, or serving them by babysitting or other practical ways – not only for the purpose of getting to know them, which is great, but also to get a real-life vision for what God requires in marriage and how it is lived out on a daily basis. (You can also get their help in practical skills where you know you need to grow – whether it’s cooking, cleaning, budgeting, basic home improvement tasks, child care, or whatever other skills might serve your future marriage.)
(3) Practice humble, biblical self-assessment and conflict resolution. In particular, I would say, learn to recognize the sin of sinful judgment in your life. When you are tempted to judge someone, put Matthew 7:1-5 into practice and learn how to find the log that is in your own eye, regardless of how obvious and blatant the sin of others may appear to you. When you are in conflict with another person, be quick to humble yourself, confess your own sin without defending it or accusing them in the process, and ask their forgiveness. Be quick to forgive the other person (whether they ask for it or not) and then work on not keeping a record of their wrongs.
(4) Practice seeking the input of others on decisions ranging from small to large. Then, don’t just ignore it if it doesn’t agree with what you were inclined to decide, but humbly ask yourself if there is any wisdom for you in the counsel you are being given (especially if multiple people are giving you the same counsel!)
(5) Actively look for ways to serve the needs of others ahead of your own. Work to die to your own preferences whenever possible!
(6) Look for ways to encourage the men in your circle to lead. Don’t try to be the ‘leader’ in group situations where there are men present, even if those men might not be the strongest leaders you know. If you really feel like you have unique gifting appropriate for the situation, perhaps ask them what you can do to help, rather than just ‘taking charge’. It will help you to practice a peaceful and gentle spirit in preparation for what it looks like to submit in marriage, and it will encourage growth in their leadership.
(7) Read great books on the biblical role of a wife like Feminine Appeal, The Excellent Wife, The Fruit of Her Hands, and Reforming Marriage. Figure out which parts you can apply to your life as a single woman, and use them to get a realistic vision for what it will look like to be the kind of wife that God requires.
(8) Practice a consistent devotional life, characterized by lots of Scripture reading and application, humble self-evaluation, and prayer for others.

5. What is one thing about men you learned after marriage? I think I have learned, and am learning, that biblical leadership is just as hard for them as biblical submission is for us. (Just look at Genesis 3 – it’s because of the fall, in both cases!) I think I was tempted in the beginning to think that men have it easier than women because as leaders, they have the final say on decisions. But they bear a lot of responsibility in this regard. They are one day going to be held accountable before God for how they led their wife and family. Not to mention the fact that their leadership should be primarily characterized by sacrificial love. So, it isn’t enough for them to just be good decision-makers. God knows their hearts and sees when they are leading sacrificially versus when they are leading from self-interest. But my encouragement to them would be that God’s grace is ever-present and will meet any of them right where they are to help them grow. It really will! God is all about glorifying himself in this process of sanctifying men and making them good Biblical leaders. And furthermore, it is ultimately the shed blood of Jesus that makes them acceptable before God, not how many instances of sacrificial leadership they can point to in their lives.

Musical fraud

February 21, 2014

BLT co-blogger Victoria has published a brilliant interview about music and theology here; and I encourage you to read it.  I want to talk about an aesthetically simpler issue:  musical fraud.

I rarely watch television, and I don’t subscribe to cable, but I do have a Tivo box to record over-the-air television.  I’m about one week behind on watching the Sochi Olympics, and thus only last night did I watch Daisuke Takahashi’s free skate performance to the soundtrack of Mamoru Samuragochi’s Sonatina for Violin.  When I saw it I was outraged.  I was outraged because Samuragochi is a fraud.


Mamoru Samuragochi’s claim to fame is that he has been a brilliant Japanese classical composer who is deaf.  However, we now know that there are three problems with that claim:

  1. Samuragochi did not compose the musical works attributed to him.

    Takashi Niigaki composed Sonatina, for example:  “Niigaki said he created the pieces based on Samuragochi’s instructions and images. He said Samuragochi is incapable of penning his own scores.”

    And in fact, in an apparent publicity stunt, the piece was “composed” for a violinist with an artificial arm:  “the most calculated part of the story involves Mikkun — Miku Okubo, the teenage violinist for whom Samuragochi ‘wrote’ the Sonatina, which went on to sell more than 100,000 CDs. While Mikkun had already been noticed by the media because of her artificial bowing arm, Samuragochi’s attentions have made her even more famous. Niigaki suggests it was he who told Samuragochi about her, since Niigaki had been her accompanist when she was a little girl and he was close to her family.”

  2. Samuragochi apparently has normal hearing. 

    Niigaki said that “that he never felt that Samuragochi was deaf and that he carried on normal conversations with him. He explained that he often composed melody fragments based on ideas provided by Samuragochi, played them on the piano and recorded them. He then let Samuragochi listen to them and choose from among them, then he composed a bigger piece based on the chosen melodies.”

    From another story:  “many of the elements that contributed to his story sound as if they were engineered to make it more affecting. In an article he wrote for Shukan Bunshun, Norio Kamiyama describes how once Samuragochi became a public figure, he always wore black, as if in mourning, and sunglasses, because bright lights made his ears ring. He walked with a cane, and his left hand was bound with tape because he suffered from tendonitis. As for the deafness that earned him the sobriquet ‘the Japanese Beethoven,’ it developed late in life, which meant he could speak with ‘normal’ pronunciation but tended to use a sign-language interpreter during interviews. Last week, Samuragochi admitted his hearing ‘returned’ three years ago.”

  3. Samuragochi is not brilliant.

    One summary:  “Though a number of critics have said, mainly in hindsight, that Samuragochi’s most famous work, the 80-minute Hiroshima Symphony, is basically an amateurish Mahler pastiche, it has sold more than 180,000 CDs, impressive even for an established artist.”

Now, this is absolutely craven.  Can there really be any doubt that any number of people were in on the con?  Here, a classical “composer” was given the “J-Idol” treatment.  We are used to this in Japanese pop music – cute but talentless adolescents being presented as “the next big thing” when their sole contribution to music may simply be lip synching (of course, this happens in Western pop music too, as any Milli Vanilli fan knows.)  But who could imagine that this would happen in classical music.

The degree of calculation here is just absurd:  we do, in fact, celebrate Beethoven’s late compositions  – not because he was deaf, but because he was a brilliant composer.  We do study Leonhard Euler’s mathematics – not because he was blind, but because his mathematics is particularly important and relevant.  We do read William H. Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico and History of the Conquest of Peru – not because he was blind, but because of his brilliant writing and research abilities.  Beethoven, Euler, and Prescott became greats not because of their disabilities (and certainly not because they faked their disabilities) but because of the quality of their work. 

But apparently, in Japan, it is acceptable to take such a low view of the human condition that disabilities – real or faked – simply become marketing opportunities.

A Music Theologian Engages with Pope Francis’ Favorite Music:  An Interview with Dirk von der Horst

February 15, 2014

In December I finally got around to reading the papal interview, and I was very intrigued by the section in which he talked about his favorite music. I didn’t know the pieces he mentioned, though, and I found myself wondering how his musical tastes were reflected in his theology, or vice versa. I immediately thought of asking my friend Dirk, who wrote his dissertation on early modern English musical treatments of David’s lament over Jonathan and the historicity of gay theology. He graciously agreed to be interviewed on the topic for the blog, and to answer any followup questions in the comments.

What’s a music theologian, you ask? Well, so did I:

So, you’re a theologian of music: what does that mean, exactly?
The first task of a theologian of music is to recognize the integrity and relative autonomy of musical ways of making meaning. Often, theology treats music as “a servant of the Word,” an understanding which reduces the richness of the concept of logos in the Gospel of John to mere verbal expression. If we think of logos as including the idea of pattern and not simply speech, music can be a manifestation of the Word, and not simply “serve” it. And if we look at the extent to which anxiety about music not serving the Word is a manifestation of concerns about the mind/body relationship, taking music seriously on its own terms is a way of resisting the dualisms that keep creeping back into Western spirituality. In this regard, I’m not so much a theologian of music, but a queer/feminist theologian who uses music to bring Word to flesh.

I’m especially interested in how music actively shapes and reshapes possibilities of Biblical interpretation – in this regard, my interest in music’s power to signify on its own terms meets up with a very Protestant Bibliocentricism. But I’m not simply interested in how music can reflect the Biblical text; I want to hear how it can make the text say something new, how different musical approaches to the same Biblical text make clear how opposed political and religious ideologies can find justification in the same Biblical text, how music can go against the grain of a Biblical insight and even resist it. It is precisely because music can make meaning in its own ways that it can be a partner to the most verbal and narrative dimensions of the Word, and not simply a servant to them.

Finally, theology of music involves an ethical critique of music itself. Just as language can be used to express helpful and hurtful messages, so can music. One of the great philosophers of music, Theodor Adorno (1903-1969), explored various ways in which music mediated dehumanizing ideologies. I’ve noticed a backlash against his thought in the last ten years, and most contemporary theologians of music seem eager to distance themselves from his Marxism and negative dialectics. Adorno, however, was as critical of secular reason as he was of religious justifications of oppression. There’s still room for a musico-religious engagement with Adorno’s legacy. And from a Biblical perspective, the explicit denunciation of liturgical music as covering up injustice in Amos 5:21-24 and the more metaphorical critique of musical sound devoid of love in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 mandate that a spirituality of music not be divorced from struggles for a just society and the beloved community.

How did you end up in that field? Are you a musician or composer yourself?

I started playing violin when I was seven and switched to viola in high school. In high school, I composed incidental music for productions of the plays “The Zoo Story” and “The Elephant Man.” I was very much drawn to composition in high school and took some classes in college, but it wasn’t an interest that I was able to sustain with the necessary devotion to do it as my life work. I’m not sure why that’s the case. I majored in viola performance in college, still unsure of where I wanted my life to go. College was also the time that I moved from having a life-long interest in religion to actively participating in religious communities – first with a Mennonite church, then moving to a United Methodist congregation. I later moved over to the Quakers, which is my worship community now.

Early in my college years, I read the radical feminist theology of Mary Daly, came out as a gay man, and became active in Latin American solidarity groups, which challenged my pacifism. These three developments spurred me to reflect deeply on my religious commitments and that reflection was the beginning of my theological career. I had a hard time integrating music into my theological reflections until I came across the musicological work of Susan McClary and Carl Dahlhaus, who gave me the conceptual tools to put my religious and musical interests together. After college, I stopped playing the viola and have not composed; once I got involved in political activism, I found the world of classical musicians alienating. It seemed cut off from the struggles and suffering of the world, and I had trouble seeing its relevance. I also craved more explicit conceptual engagement with music than I found in the practice room. Again, Adorno and McClary were really the main voices that helped me link my political and conceptual passions with my love for music. I should stress that even as I found the world of classical music alienating, it’s something I can’t imagine not being in my life. My main interaction with music at this point is as a listener. When the opportunity arises, I still teach beginning violin or viola, which is a real joy.

What else informs your theology?

I’d say the theologians to whom I’m most indebted are the Roman Catholic feminists Rosemary Radford Ruether and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. They both combine a deep sensitivity to the dynamics of historical change and relativity with firm ethical commitments to contemporary social struggles and what we now call an intersectional approach to feminism. They also provide good tools for thinking of the Bible as an important resource, but not an exclusivist one. I’ve had a long interest in religious pluralism and comparative approaches – Buddhist meditation in particular has been a source that has shifted some of my assumptions about how theology should work. For example, its non-dual approach to thought exposed the sterility of the theism/atheism debate for me a long time ago: Buddhist thought sees every opposition as a kind of illusion – in this light it just makes no sense to argue in the terms set out by attacks on and defenses of the existence of God. I can relax into the paradoxes of faith without getting too worked up over logical rabbit holes. The relational thought of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber and the lesbian Episcopal priest Carter Heyward has also been a major strand in my theological work; Heyward in particular has a vibrancy that is unrivaled.

Of late, I’ve renewed my love for the thought of H. Richard Niebuhr, who shares Ruether’s and Schüssler Fiorenza’s emphasis on historical change, but does so with a more explicitly theocentric focus typical of the Reformed Protestant tradition. He also anticipated many developments in religion-science debates – such as the development of neurotheology – and he’s my main inspiration in some of my newer interests in theological engagement with science. Francis mentions his love of Michel de Certeau, and there’s some similar emphases on historicism in his thought as there is in the writers I’m drawn to.

At the end of the section of the papal interview titled “Must we be optimistic?” Pope Francis talks about hope in the context of Hebrews 11, Paul’s letter to the Romans, and… the first riddle of Puccini’s opera “Turandot.” As a theologian of music, how do you read that musical piece in this context? Can you connect the dots for us between those three texts?

We have to go back to the papal interview itself to see the thread he uses to weave these three texts together. He precedes the discussion of hope with a lengthy discussion of how we discern God, not in an “empirical eureka,” but in a spiritual sensitivity to God as initiating processes. So, the entire Epistle to the Hebrews, especially the eleventh chapter, describes how faith is inextricable from the processes of history, and the changes of history. It opens with a statement of radical historical change, “In times past, God spoke in fragmentary and varied ways to our ancestors through the prophets, in these final days God has spoken to us through the Only Begotten.” (Heb. 1:1 – Priests for Equality translation). The eleventh chapter continues this line of thought by narrating the concrete history of faith. Romans speaks to the challenges to hope in the present – nakedness, persecution, sword – and holds out in a hope for a redeemed world that will make those challenges seem like nothing. So, to speak of hope is intrinsically related to any kind of spiritual discernment because Biblical faith is always faith in a historical process with deep interrelations between past, present, and future.

Francis and the interviewer hone in on the riddle from Turandot and the interviewer even recounts the lines:

At that moment I recalled more or less by heart the verses of the riddle of the princess in that opera, to which the solution is hope:
“In the gloomy night flies an iridescent ghost.
It rises and opens its wings
on the infinite black humanity.
The whole world invokes it
and the whole world implores it.
But the ghost disappears with the dawn
to be reborn in the heart.
And every night it is born
and every day it dies!”

What I want to suggest for a moment is that the fact that Francis remembers a riddle from an opera is significant because music teaches us so much about ways we can experience interconnections between past, present, and future. Music compresses processes of expectation and recollection so that we have models of large scale change, but we can experience them over the course of anywhere from five minutes to five hours. So, it’s not just significant that the riddle in Turandot gives an especially poetic expression of what it’s like to hope, but it embeds that expression in a specific musical structuring of time that models a particular way of moving through time.

Here is a performance of the riddle scene with Placido Domingo:

But the riddle in Turandot is part of a larger plot. As much as I love the opera, the Turandot example is extremely problematic in this context. The plot of Turandot is that of Calaf, an unknown prince, who solves various riddles and wins the hand of Queen Turandot – who has those suitors who can not solve the riddles executed. Turandot, however, makes the riddles a condition of courtship to memorialize the violation of a previous queen, who was abducted, probably raped, and killed. The opera spells out the defeat of a strategy of women’s solidarity through the triumph of what Adrienne Rich called “compulsory heterosexuality.” Hope in the context of the opera erases what the Catholic political theologian Johann Baptist Metz called “dangerous memory,” the memorialization of suffering that keeps us asking critical questions and looking for deeper forms of solidarity.

Turandot narrates the story of her predecessor in the aria “In questa reggia” before Calaf solves the riddles.

In the next section, “Art and Creativity”, Pope Francis identifies Mozart as one of his favorite composers, “of course,” and particularly praises the “Et incarnatus est” from his Mass in C minor. Tell us about that piece.

The C-minor mass is an unfinished work, which Mozart composed in 1784 to celebrate his engagement. You can hear the “Et incarnatus est” here:

Mozart does something very different in his setting of this text than do the Renaissance composers I’m more at home with. Where they stop playing with intricate polyphonic textures to set the words “et incarnatus est et homo factus est” in a more declamatory style, Mozart plays with a lot of polyphony. For an example of the contrast, listen to the Credo from the Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis by Clement non Papa (1510/15-1555/6).

Both Mozart and Clement non Papa are able to achieve breathtakingly beautiful results in their music, but what “et incarnatus est” means is something different in each case. In Clement’s case, incarnation is a moment where movement slows down, becomes more solid. But what’s intriguing about this moment in Mozart’s setting is the way it envisions the incarnation as an ongoing process – the text is clearly in the plain past tense, but Mozart’s music lingers on this phrase and makes it go on and on and on, and repeats it. So, in contrast to Clement, in Mozart’s case, incarnation is a moment where movement keeps flowing.

Historically, there have been moments where churches have tried to force choices between one kind of music and another, but one thing that’s nice about reflecting on music now is that these different versions don’t make us rush to choose between one meaning and another in the same way that trying to hammer down a doctrine in language tends to do. In this sense, musical engagement with religious texts can teach us the kind of suppleness in relation to doctrine that Francis gestures toward in his discussion of the church as a field hospital. Both musical versions affirm the same doctrine – but they do something very different with it according to the conventions and culture with which they affirm it.

Francis says, the music of the “et incarnatus est” “lifts you to God!” I hear the music moving in the other direction – it is more a sensation of the Spirit wafting down to meet us.

He also says, “But I cannot think about his music; I have to listen to it.” What do you think he means by that?

I have a few very different reactions to that statement, so I’ll unpack some ranges of meaning implicit in it – but I won’t pretend to know what Francis means by it. And – I should admit that I keep finding myself defaulting to hearing the statement in relation to music in general, whereas Francis is specifically referencing Mozart. So, that’s a layer I’d want to think about further.

First, it strikes me as a queer sentiment. This response should strike readers as strange – that’s part of the nature of the concept “queer,” which has as much to do with ways of transgressing normalcy as it does with sexual identities. Still, my response here isn’t suggesting that Francis is queer, but rather that there’s an opening in his response for deep dialogue with queer perspectives. My reaction here comes out of conversations within musicology and music theory: two of my teachers have had a particularly strong impact on my thinking here. The music theorist Fred Maus has done an exemplary job of showing how certain kinds of “thinking about” music have to do with maintaining a masculine subjectivity through control over music. In his analysis of music theorists’ rhetoric he finds underlying and connected misogynistic and erotophobic assumptions. Instead of letting oneself be seduced and overpowered by music, music theorists have found ways of perceiving music in ways that emphasize the ability to be the master of the sounds that one finds seductive. In a complementary perspective, Suzanne Cusick describes a lesbian relation with music as one in which refusing the kind of control over music that music theorists often seek manifests a way of being that is an escape from the entire patriarchal system exerts control over women’s lives.

The kind of straight masculinity that Maus and Cusick resist is also a very secular subjectivity. Just as musicologists and music theorists find ways to avoid the kind of openness to musical sensuality that motivates their work, that kind of closing off to openness is definitive of secular identity: the Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor makes a basic distinction between a traditional “porous” self and a secular “bounded” self in his analysis of modern secularism. Recently, the musicologist Karol Berger has made the secular commitments of much music history and theory explicit in his study of the transition from Bach, whom Berger sees as representative of a theological mindset, and Mozart, whom he sees as a representative of the modernity of the bounded self. Francis’s exclamation that Mozart’s music “lifts him to God” resists the narrative Berger wants to tell, and I’m happy to see that resistance. So, in both in relation to sexual and spiritual experience, I hear the bracketing of “thinking” in relation to listening as a kind of maintaining openness.

Of course, musical experience is different than other kinds of experience, and listening engages us in a different way than thinking does. Music’s ability to reach into an ineffable dimension is one of its greatest pleasures. There’s a way that deep listening brings us into a kind of insight that can underlie the things we can say about music technically, but shifts our perception so profoundly that we’re aware of how inadequate language can be when trying to explain what is going on in the music and our experience of it. This aspect of music is key to the connection of music and spirituality. The “Et incarnatus est” manifests this aspect of music superbly.

From a very different angle, the statement makes me somewhat nervous because there is so much misperception among people that music is something we experience in a way that bypasses cultural conditioning and the discursive aspects of experience. The canard “music is the universal language” often is a short-hand way of expressing the illusion that musical experience is strictly extra-linguistic and not culturally conditioned. A wide body of ethnomusicology and many studies in music perception have laid that idea to rest – there is absolutely no way we experience music unmediated by cultural and linguistic conditioning.

A contrast between a lot of classical music and Gospel will provide one blunt example of the fact that we always experience music through cultural and discursive lenses. Classical music often works with the idea of the return to the tonic, moving back to the home key, which creates a sense of stability. But in Gospel music, the return to the tonic would signify a let-down, rather than stability. If you want to hear the contrast, a good example of “returning to the tonic” is Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken,” in which he sings melody twice in the tonic key, moves to another key, and returns to the tonic for the fourth verse. What you want to listen for is the chord that gives a feeling of stability right before the final verse in the home key:

In contrast, listen to Gospel singer Hezekiah Walker keep going to higher keys (whenever he says “take me a little bit higher”), where the idea is to illustrate being lifted without going back down.

In classical music, the return to the tonic creates a kind of closure that gets us to a sense that the music itself is a self-contained world like a Platonic form to be contemplated; in Gospel music the continual pressing upward emphasizes redemption as going to heaven, of which the musical experience gives the singers and hearers a foretaste.

There’s one example of how sounds don’t just mean something by virtue of being sounds, but need various conventions for us to make sense of them. Of course, the raw experience of music is valuable, but the rawness of such experience is in some important ways illusory. Because of the power of this illusion, when “listening” and “thinking” are placed in such stark opposition, there’s a real danger of reinforcing some bad assumptions about how music works.

So, that one little sentence has many layers.

What might you infer about his theology, based on the music and performances that he mentions here?

It’s hard to just get a list of musical pieces and composers and infer something about someone’s theology because a list of pieces tells me nothing about the listening strategies someone brings to those pieces. The same instance of music can mean very different things to people depending on what their listening habits will clue them into. A very blunt example: I was listening to Mahler at a friend’s house when his roommate walked in and said, “Oh, you’re relaxing.” Here the strategy is simply to follow an expectation that classical music is relaxing – amply attested to by oodles of recordings of classical music compilations for the purpose of inducing relaxation – and Mahler equals relaxing. Now, “relaxing” is the last thing on my mind when I listen to Mahler. The musicologist Raymond Knapp, who describes a movement from Mahler’s Second Symphony as an analogue to the psychological horror movie, Sybil, hears Mahler on even more distressing terms than I do. So, the statement that Mahler’s music was “relaxing” revealed a completely different listening strategy than the one I was bringing to it.

The differences can also happen at different registers; for example, one listener paying more attention to harmony may get a completely different sense of what’s happening in music than another listener who is focusing on what happens rhythmically. So, it’s impossible for me to infer much about Francis’s theology from a list of works, though his inclusion of performers does help limit the range of possibilities. I could analyze the works he mentions in their historical context or unpack my reactions to them, but that would tell me nothing about what theological messages Francis is drawing from them. Readers can draw their own theological conclusions from the music by listening to the various examples he mentions:

Clara Haskil playing a Mozart piano sonata:

Furtwängler conducting the first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Here’s Christa Ludwig singing “Erbarme dich, Jesu” from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion – I chose a performance along the lines of the performances Francis mentions elsewhere:

But, one thing that stands out is that he talks exclusively about music from the era of what we used to call “common practice tonality” – European music written between 1700 and 1900. Music in the nineteenth century, especially, often fostered a kind of contemplative practice that fits well with the contemplative emphasis in the interview. The classical music tradition is my home base, as well – it’s what I was raised on and what I gravitated to as a child. What I would suggest, however, is that the classical music tradition has a narrative and way of forming subjectivity that can be idolatrous in its own way. I’ve had to spend many years unlearning an affirmation of Arnold Schoenberg’s notions of musical progress as a practical object of faith. So, when I hear Francis speak of the arts, I hear a kind of narrowness of reference. To be sure, there’s tremendous depth in the classical tradition and I affirm that, but there’s a danger of falling into a “Christ of Culture” approach if that tradition isn’t relativized by other forms of musicking.

Given what he likes, what pieces or performances might you suggest to him that he might like, that he might not normally encounter?

The music he describes all falls in the notion of “serious” music, a prominent element of the nineteenth-century classical tradition that sets the basic parameters of his musical experience. If I were to recommend one new composer along these lines, it would be the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Here’s his setting of Psalm 130:

There’s a small gem by Brahms, the Intermezzo Op. 119 #3, that has always suggested to me the kind of freedom that I anticipate as a quality of redemption. It’s very gentle, somewhat playful, and very non-aggressive:

What music might you suggest that would complement, challenge, or invite him to stretch theologically?

First, let me stress that as a Quaker and someone who identifies broadly with the Protestant tradition, I’m aware that an intra-Catholic conversation is a very different matter than an ecumenical conversation. As a non-Catholic, I respect the real limits as to how I can ask Francis to stretch theologically. Nevertheless, as a gay theologian, it’s clear to me that there’s still a gap between Francis’s willingness to listen to LGBT people and the current state of Catholic teaching on the matter. Where Francis’s listening will lead is an open question at this point, but there’s a real difference between treating LGBT people with sensitive pastoral care (which I think Francis is doing admirably) and learning from advances in queer theology (I have no idea where he is in relation to this step). For a Catholic lesbian-feminist perspective, I’d direct readers to Mary Hunt’s recent reflection on the papacy at Religion Dispatches.

So, I’ll continue with queer musicology, as I’ve already touched on some of its insights. Before I’d ask Francis to listen to any new music, I’d ask him to read Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology, so he can get a sense of how our musical desires work, how we articulate our own needs, what we have to offer in insight to the conversation about music.

One advantage to starting with that book is to broaden a perspective on musical agency. I’ve already talked a bit about paying attention to what listeners do when they listen, and how that subverts the idea that the composer makes all of the meaning. Queer musicology has been one significant force in broadening our understanding of who makes musical meaning – it has drawn special attention to the roles of listeners and performers in music’s signifying processes. Francis gives both performers and composers their due in his interview – so in a way he’s already moved beyond the “works-centered” approach of classical music, which treats the “musical work,” the composer’s product, as paramount. Of course, one of the projects of queer musicology is to get composers out of the closet, so I’ll draw attention to one composer in particular here: Dame Ethyl Smyth (1858-1944): Her Mass in D, dedicated to her friend Pauline Trevelyan, was first performed in 1893. The Credo starts at minute 9:32 in this recording:

What I’d want to draw special attention to in Smyth’s handling of the et incarnatus est section is the way she makes the phrase blossom on the words “Maria virgine.” Heard in light of her lesbian desires and efforts for women’s suffrage, Smyth uses the text of the Credo to find an opportunity to emphasize the woman-centered perspective that informed all of her output. The musicologist Elizabeth Wood hears in the fugue in the et vitam venturi saeculi section a return to a way in which Smyth used fugues throughout her life to code lesbian desire. Wood postulates that by turning to a fugue in the expression of hope for future eternal life, Smyth may have been expressing a wish for reconciliation with her former lover Lisl Herzogenberg.

Keeping with the project of fighting the erasure of women’s voices from the historical record, I’ll also highlight a very different composer, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-1677), a Benedictine nun. Here’s her version of the “Dixit Dominus.”

Another direction in which I’d be interested to see Francis’s musical experience grow is in relation to music that more explicitly reflects the experiences of the Latin American poor that inspire much of Francis’s emphasis on social teachings.

When I was involved in Latin American solidarity efforts in college, one of the singers who was particularly popular was the Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez. I didn’t fully appreciate his music at the time, but his craft is solid and he carries a revolutionary ethic forward. One of his more popular songs is “Playa Giron”:

In this collaboration between Holly Near and the Peruvian group Inti-Illimani, two parts of my life come together as a lesbian icon sings with a Latin American group:

And I’ll close with a bit from music from a mass celebrating the spirituality of Brazil’s poor, a collaboration between Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga and the Brazilian musician Milton Nasciamento, the Missa dos Quilombos, recorded in Brazil in 1981:

Thank you very much, Dirk! This has been fascinating – you’ve really given us a lot of depth here. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m sure our readers have too.

Dirk von der Horst is a Visiting Scholar at Graduate Theological Union. He earned his doctorate in Theology, Ethics, and Culture from Claremont Graduate University. He is a co-editor of Voices of Feminist Liberation: Writings in Celebration of Rosemary Radford Ruether and contributed an essay on gender identity in relation to the music of Yes to Progressive Rock Reconsidered.

You can ask him more about the music in the papal interview and the other pieces he’s discussed by posting a comment here, and follow him on Twitter @DirkvonderHorst.

Crossposted from Gaudete Theology.

Do Jews have anything to say about the Catholic canon?

February 13, 2014

In an interesting pair of comments to a post on Tim McCormick’s bog Catholic Bible, active commenter CJA Mayo observed

The canon is closed, and can not be re-opened. The Jews lost their stewardship of the old revelation around the time the NT canon was completed (if not recognized as closed) — to use an infamous saying of Justin the Martyr’s, speaking to Trypho, his Jewish interlocutor: "Not your scriptures, but our scriptures." [Chapter 29] […] As the early Christian church had no competence to define (for lack of a better word — the canon is not defined, it is recognized: and it was left to the Jews to recognize the OT canon) the OT canon, the Jews had no competence to affect the NT canon. And so on.[…]

The Jews can’t change their canon now, not in a way that affects Christians, because the OT canon was transferred to the care of the "New Israel" after the close of NT revelation.[…]

Now in a very real sense, I agree with him.  Each religion defines its own canon.  You and I might consider The Book of Mormon to be 19th century cultist writings in pastiche of the KJV, but to a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, The Book of Mormon is sacred scripture.  

And further, the Roman Church has an Old Testament Canon distinct from the Hebrew Scriptures – the Roman Church has a Deuterocanon considered to be apocryphal by Jews (and even its own Catholic apocyrpha in an appendix to the Vulgate.)  We are fortunate to have ecumenical scholarly translations such as the RSV, NRSV, NETS and the OTP (the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha – recently expanded) which present these texts.

Finally, the Christian churches do not generally accept the body of greater rabbinic “Torah writings” (including the Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, and medieval writings).  Christians may study Rabbinic “Torah” writings for historical insights, but regardless of the degree of reverence granted to these writings by Judaism, they are most definitely not regarded as scriptural by most Christians.

But yet, it seems to me that the Hebrew Scriptures are in a different category.  Jews guarded these texts with care, and this carries weight in the Christian churches.  Thus, for those books in the Hebrew Scriptures, Divino Afflante Spiritu gives primacy to the Hebrew version (and this is subsequently clarified in later Vatican writings to include consultation of the Septuagints).  In practice, this means that translations tend to be based largely on the Masoretic texts of the 9th-11th centuries; even though these versions were under Jewish stewardship (as opposed to the Septuagints, which are sometimes available in more ancient forms and were under Christian citizenship).  The reasoning, as I understand it, is that even though the Masoretic text is much later and under Jewish control, it is generally acknowledged that Jews have been careful custodians of their sacred texts and thus the Masoretic text is generally considered to be less corrupt than a translation from the Masoretic text.  (There are clearly some exceptions to this rule – there are places where the Masoretic text appears corrupt or incomprehensible – but overall, the Masoretic text carries the day.)

Now to be fair to CJA Mayo, I do not think he was necessarily making any statement about text critical issues, but rather he here restrictied his statements to the question of the list of books included in the canon.  Nonetheless, it is fascinating to me that despite the centuries of animosity between Judaism and Christianity, there is still is a degree to which contemporary Christianity sometimes relies on post-Common Era Jewish scholarship.  (A notable exception to this rule, of course, is the practice of certain Eastern Churches to solely rely on particular Septuagint texts in the suspicion that Jewish texts may be seriously corrupt. )

Sochi’s Abecedary

February 13, 2014

I just got around to watching the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics last night, and I was of course struck by the choreography (even if only four of the rings unfolded).  I was particularly interested in the striking film of the character of the little girl Любовь/Lyubov (“Love”) working through a Cyrillic abecedary (now conveniently archived at Wikipedia).  Here it is:





А ABCs Азбука general
Б [Lake] Baikal Байкал geography
В [Igor] Sikorsky’s helicopter [also associated with US] Вертолёт Сикорского aviation and space technology
Г [Yuri] Gagarin [first human in space] Гагарин aviation and space technology
Г Gzhel [pottery] Гжель folk culture
Д [Fyodor] Dostoyevsky Достоевский literature
Е Catherine the Great Екатерина II history
Ё [Animated Film] “Hedgehog in the Fog” Ёжик в тумане cinema
Ж [Aerodynamicist Nikolay] Zhukovsky Жуковский aviation and space technology
З Corn mowing machine Зерноуборочная машина technology
И Empire Империя history
Й [Pyotr Ilyich] Tchaikovsky Чайковский music
К [Wassily] Kandinsky Кандинский painting
Л Lunokhod [lunar rover robots]


aviation and space technology
М [Kazimir] Malevich Малевич painting
Н [Vladimir] Nabokov [also associated with US] Набоков literature
О [International] space station

Орбитальная станция

aviation and space technology
П [Dmitri Mendeleev’s] periodic table Периодическая таблица science
Р [Sergei Diaghilev’s] Ballets Russes Русский балет performing arts
С Sputnik Спутник aviation and space technology
Т [Leo] Tolstoy Толстой literature
Т Television [likely referring to Boris Rosing’s experiments] Телевидение technology
У Ushanka [hat]


folk culture
Ф Fisht [a mountain and the name of the Soichi stadium holding the opening ceremony] Фишт geography
Х Khokhloma [painting style] Хохлома folk culture
Ц [Rocket scientist Konstantin] Tsiolkovsky Циолковский aviation and space technology
Ч [Anton] Chekhov Чехов literature
Ш [Marc] Chagall [also associated with France] Шагал painting
Щ [Architect Alexey] Shchusev Щусев architecture
Ъ [Alexander] Pushkin [note the Ъ is implied but not explicitly written in the name] Пушкин literature
Ы We [note that the Ы appears at the end of the word] Мы general
Ь [The little girl narrator of the story] Lyubov (“Love”) [note the Ь appears at the end of the word] Любовь general
Э [Sergei] Eisenstein Эйзенштейн cinema
Ю [Gleb Kotelnikov’s] Parachute [note that Ю appears in the word] Парашют aviation and space technology
Я Russia [note that Я appears at the end of the word] Россия geography


Now grouping these together, we see the most popular broad categories are

Arts (5 literature, 3 painting, 2 cinema, 1 architecture, 1 music)

Science and technology (8 aviation and space technology; 2 [other technology]; 1 science)

It was a bit surprising to see so much formal culture discussed in a popular forum (especially since the program also included references to War and Peace, etc., and featured classical music icons such as Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev). 

Contrast Russia’s pride for its high culture, for example, to the opening and closing ceremonies at the Vancouver Winter Olympics which featured performances by K. D. Lang [yes, I know she does not like to capitalize her name], Garou, Nelly Furtado, Bryan Adams; with the closing ceremony featuring William Shatner, Michael J. Fox Catherine O’Hara, and Michael Bublé.

Why do we treat Shaw so shabbily?

February 11, 2014

1997I remember being taught, when I was a child, the G. B. Shaw was the second greatest playwright in the English language (Shakespeare, of course, was first).  Now some may consider such an assessment overblown, but it is hard to argue against the assertion that Shaw was a literary giant of the 19th century, fin de siècle, and first half of the 20th century.  Still we lack any good compilation of Shaw’s writings (or a quality edition of his plays).   How could someone so highly praised in his own era (Shaw won awards ranging from the Nobel Prize in Literature to an Oscar for Best Screenplay) have fallen so far a few mere decades since his death.

Now, some may argue that Shaw is still held in high esteem, pointing, for example, to the Shaw Festival in Canada.  However, this year’s program reduces productions of Shaw to a mere two out of ten plays!  Similarly, there are some outstanding volumes of Shaw’s plays.  I particularly want to praise the “New Mermiads” volumes on him:  Arms and the Man, Major Barbara, Mrs Warren’s Profession, Pygmalion, and Saint Joan.  Nonetheless, “New Mermaids” treats a number of other playwrights better:  Thomas Middleton and Christopher Marlowe, for example.  (Middleton does particularly well, with Oxford publishing a luxurious collected works and textual companion.)   Penguin publishes a scattering of Shaw plays, with many volumes now out of print.  We have better collections (e.g., Metheun’s volumes) of the writings of Noël Coward than Shaw.  Even modern playwrights such as Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, and August Wilson are treated better than Shaw.

I do own three serious collections of Shaw, but all of them are flawed (and long out of print):

  • From 1994-1997, Viking published a three volume set of the Complete Prefaces of Shaw, collecting the various prefaces that Shaw had to his various plays.  One interesting point is that several of these prefaces were previously uncollected, even among so-called complete editions of the plays and prefaces.
  • From 1970-1974, Bodley Head published a seven volume set of Complete Plays with Prefaces, which aimed to present in chronological order, the fifty-two plays (with prefaces) that comprise Shaw’s “official” canon, augmented by “pertinent essays and programme
    notes by Shaw, and […] self-drafted interviews, many of which have not previously appeared in book form, and some of which have not previously been identified as by Shaw.  A history of composition, publication, and earliest performances [is] provided for each play, as well as a cast of characters.”  They attempt to preserve Shaw’s unique spelling and punctuation (e.g., spelling “don’t” as “dont,” “show” as “shew,” and putting spaces in some words for empahsis.)  While this is arguably the best edition of Shaw ever published, it leaves much to be desired.  Reviewer Bernard Dukore complained: “First, the rationale underlying what is to be included and what excluded is never made explicit, and if there is an implicit justification, it escapes me. For instance, the publishers include Shaw’s Preface to the 1893 edition of Widowers’ Houses (which is in neither the Standard Edition nor the Dodd, Mead), but why do they fail to include his three appendices […] ?  They include Shaw’s spoken and written prefaces to the film version of Major Barbara, but why do they exclude the added scenes Shaw wrote?  They include Shaw’s reply to a questionnaire about the ending of the movie Pygmalion, but not the ending Shaw actually wrote. […]  Why did the publishers not include or summarize significant textual variations […] ?  It would be instructive, for instance, to have the original version of Act III, Scene 2 of Major Barbara, for it is strikingly different from the final version. It would be useful, too, to have the Candida references in the original How He Lied to Her Husband and Shaw’s added dialogue for the extras in the crowd scenes of Caesar and Cleopatra. The latter would be of obvious value not only to students and scholars but also to directors of the play. Helpful as well would be indications of such variations as the final line (by Sergius, after Bluntschli’s departure) of Arms and the Man: first edition (1898), ‘What a man! W h a t a man!’ […]; Standard Edition (1931), ‘What a man! I s he a man!’ […]; Odham’s Complete Plays (1950), ‘What a man! Is he a man?" Although the third version was also printed during Shaw’s lifetime, Bodley Head uses the second. The punctuation is in this instance a significant change, and I for one should like to know whether the third version is a typo or an authorial change, and, whether or not this can be answered, why the publishers chose the second.”
  • In 1963, Dodd, Mead published a six volume set of Complete Plays with Prefaces which is hardly complete and arranged in an apparently haphazard fashion.  (Dukore notes one volume, typically, ranges from the 1892 Widowers’ Houses to the 1937 Cymbeline Refinished.)

The mind staggers that a major writer such as Shaw has yet to receive a worthy complete collection of his plays, much less Shaw’s many other prosaic and critical pieces.

The Creation-Evolution Debate & the Genres of Genesis 1 and 2-3

February 9, 2014

Cross-posted from Wordgazer’s Words.

A lot of people have been talking this week about the Bill Nye/Ken Ham Debate on Creationism vs. Evolution.  So I decided to weigh in with where I stand on this issue.

When I converted to Christianity at the age of 15, I was taught that one of the things I had to embrace if I was going to follow Jesus was young-earth creationism.  The Bible “clearly” taught that God had made the earth in six 24-hour days and that the earth is 6000 to 10,000 years old. So I read several books that supported creationism, and as far as I could tell with my not-particularly-scientific mind, it made sense.  I left what my parents and my teachers had taught me and became a creationist.

Something happened when I was nearly through my college years, though, that shook me up a little.

A public debate was scheduled on my college campus between a local biology professor and Duane Gish of the Institute for Creation Research, who had flown in specially for the event.  Since most of my fellow church members were attending, I went along.  As I listened, I couldn’t help but think Dr. Gish was winning the debate.  After all, he was a gifted debater and public speaker, while the biology professor was– well, a scientist who taught classes now and then.  And the audience was clearly on Gish’s side.  Whenever Gish spoke, he was applauded.  When the local professor spoke, he was booed and hissed at.  And most of my friends were gleefully joining in.  This clearly bothered and rattled the poor guy– and that was where my cognitive dissonance started.  My sympathies have always lain with the underdog, and I simply couldn’t understand why good Christian people who were supposed to be following Jesus’ teachings on loving your neighbor, would treat this poor man with this abysmal rudeness.

I left the debate wondering how, if we were in fact so very right, we could be so totally wrong about it.  I knew that what really mattered, what Christ really cared about, wasn’t whether we believed single-celled organisms could slowly become human beings.  It was how we treated actual human beings

I walked away from that debate feeling ashamed. I couldn’t bring myself to join in with my fellow church members as they rejoiced in how thoroughly the biology professor had been humiliated.  As far as I could see, the main thing he was going to take away from that debate was not the reasonableness of creationism.  It was how little Christians actually practiced what they preached.

Years later, when I began the process I’ve mentioned before of laying all my beliefs on the table and finding what held true for me, creationism was one of the things that I took another look at.  I bought a book called A New Look at an Old Earth by Don Stoner.  He discussed how early Christians had considered God to have “written” another “book” in addition to the Bible– the “book of nature,” and how the created universe itself was meant to testify alongside the Bible, just as Psalm 19:1 and Romans 10:18 said.

He also talked about how very un-Christian it was to mock and ridicule evolutionists in public debates.

I thought he made a lot of sense.

So for a while I became an old-earth creationist and stopped believing that the “days” in Genesis 1 referred to actual 24-hour periods.  But I had learned in the process of re-examining my faith to hold my view lightly.  What I believed about human origins wasn’t essential to my faith in Christ, and I knew I wasn’t a science expert.

I kept on reading, and I kept on examining.  And some of the books and articles I read actually made even more sense than Don Stoner’s book.  One of them was The Language of God by Francis Collins. Dr. Collins is the founder of the Biologos Foundation, and his view is called “evolutionary creation” or “theistic evolution.”  Collins believes in the same foundational Christian doctrines that I do: in the Incarnation, death and Resurrection of Christ as the Son of God, in the authority of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit.  And the genetic evidence for theistic evolution presented in his book is hard to deny.

So the one obvious thing I have come to see is that it’s quite possible for sincere Christians to believe any one of these positions.  So who is right?

I think the most compelling scientific view definitely lies with theistic evolution.  But I am an English graduate from the University of Oregon, and the best way for me to approach the topic is to look at it in terms of one thing I do really feel I have learned well– how to read and understand a text.

So here’s the thing.  Both young-earth and old-earth creationism approach the first two chapters of Genesis as if they are historical/scientific prose about the origins of the universe and of humanity. Young-earth creationism says that each detail should be read according to its most obvious, plain-sense reading, including the “days” as literal 24-hour periods.  Old-earth creationism says that the “days” actually represent periods of time lasting thousands and thousands of years. It says that the passage that says that God made the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day should be understood as God revealing the functions of the sun, moon and stars as they would exist for humankind.  It says the current Cenozoic period is the extended “seventh day” of the creation.  But it still approaches the text as a scientific, historical narrative.

And that is exactly what I can’t, as an English graduate, view as the actual genre of these first chapters of Genesis.

I find, in fact, that I agree with Old Testament Theologian Bruce K. Waltke in his article The Literary Genre of Genesis Chapter 1, when in response to the identification of Genesis 1 as a “straightforward historical narrative”  he says, “The text, however, is begging us not to read it that way.”

When I look at other portions of Genesis, this is the type of thing I read:

After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife. (Genesis 16:3)

That’s it.  Straightforward prose, recounting events more or less in chronological order.

When I read Chapter 1 of Genesis, however, here’s what I see:

Then God said,Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earthand it was so.  And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind, and God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

The bold parts mark phrases that repeat themselves over and over throughout the text. The two phrases picked out in green mark text that repeats itself within the same section.  The entire chapter works this way.  Each section has a “Then God said,” a statement what He is making, then a phrase “and it was so” noting what God has made, followed by a repetitive detail of what was made. Then, each time, God sees that what He has made is good, and we get a repetition of “there was evening and there was morning,” denoting a day.

This is not quite poetry, but it is, as Dr. Waltke says, highly stylized, didactic prose, intended not to give a straightforward recounting of events so much as to show the power of God and the order and beauty of His work:

[W]e argue that [this text] cannot give a satisfying scientific account of origins, for it is not scientific literature. . . The Bible is concerned with Ultimate origins (“Where did it all come from?”) not scientific questions of proximate origins (“How did A arise out of B, if it did?”).  [Also] its language is non-scientific. The account reports the origins of the cosmos phenomenologically, not mathematically or theoretically. . . We come back to [this] genre identification: it is a literary-artistic representation of the creation. To this we add the purpose, namely, to ground the covenant people’s worship and life in the Creator, who transformed chaos into cosmos, and their ethics in His created order. [Emphasis added.]

I also note that as far as the specific things being made, there are three pairings, occurring in two groups.  On the first and fourth days God creates light and the orbs that convey the light. On the second and fifth days God sets apart the “expanses” of the sea and the air, and then makes creatures (birds and fish) that will live in them.  On the third and sixth days God makes the dry land and its vegetation, and then the animals (and finally humans) that will live there.  The whole pattern up to the seventh day goes as follows:

Creation of an element (light)

Creation of an element (air, separated from water)

Creation of an element (land)


Creation of things for the light (sun, moon, stars)

Creation of things for the air and water

Creation of things for the land

I find this reminds me of the kind of stylized, didactic order shown in parts of the Proverbs, such as in Chapter 2, where the pattern is:

My son, receive my wisdom

Here are the results of my wisdom

For the Lord gives wisdom

Here are the results of the Lord’s wisdom

They will keep you from the ways of evil

Here are the results of the ways of evil

So you will walk in the way of the good

Here are the results of doing good

And here are the result of doing evil.

In short, I think the first chapter of Genesis is a kind of didactic prose, similar to but not identical to the opening chapters of Proverbs.  I think it was written for the purpose of revealing the nature of God as Creator, not for the purpose of detailing scientific facts about the processes of our origins.  Dr. Waltke says that “Genre identification depends on a text’s contents and function.”  By the context and function of Genesis 1, it simply is not in the genre of historical/scientific prose.

Similarly, when I read the second and third chapters of Genesis, here is what I see:

A garden at the source of four great rivers

Two highly symbolic trees: the “tree of life” and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”

A serpent that talks

God walking in the garden

A prophetic speech of God (the curse) spoken in the prose style of the Books of the Prophets

I don’t actually know of any Christian group that takes all of this literally– particularly not the talking snake. Based on other biblical texts such as Revelation 20:2, Christians identify the serpent with Satan– that Satan appeared in the form of a serpent, not that Satan actually is a literal serpent. Similarly, when the text says God “walked” in the garden, most Christians don’t take this to mean that God literally has legs like a man.  Christians believe, on the basis of texts like John 4:24, that God is a Spirit, not a big manlike being like the Greek god Zeus.  The walking of God in the cool of the day may mean that God appeared in the form of a man, or it simply may be a metaphor for the Presence and Voice of God moving through the garden.

Since no one knows what kind of fruit a “life” fruit is, or a “knowledge of good and evil” fruit is (it’s only tradition that calls it an apple), these trees are meant to be symbols.  Were they also literal trees, somehow bearing these abstract concepts as actual fruit?  I’m not at all sure that we’re meant to understand the text that way.

In fact, Genesis 2 and 3 are no more straightforward historical prose than Genesis 1 is.  This second part of the creation text is not stylized didactic prose, but bears more in common with the symbolism of the Book of Revelation, or with the metaphorical language of some of Jesus’ teachings (“the tree is known by its fruit” in Matt. 12:33 is not a reference to actual trees) than it does with the straight prose of the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob narratives.

Does this mean there was no actual, real Adam and Eve?  I don’t know.  Since both Paul and Jesus speak of Adam and Eve, they may actually have been real people.  They may have been the first humanoid creatures that God chose to bear His image.  Or this may be a true story of the universal human condition, told metaphorically/symbolically (that from the beginning, when free to choose to believe God or believe the serpent, humanity, as one, has ended up choosing the serpent).  In this case Paul and Jesus, understanding that their audiences also understood it symbolically, may have felt free to speak of Adam and Eve according to the truths their story conveyed without needing to mention a shared understanding of the story as non-literal– in the same way we might speak of Dorothy and the lure of “over the rainbow” today.

You may have a strong conviction one way or the other.  But this is not a primary, foundational doctrine of the faith, so I’m simply going to allow it to remain a mystery in my mind.  Either way, there is certainly a heavy metaphorical/symbolic emphasis in the Adam-and-Eve story. And the intent of the story is manifestly not to give a scientific account of how humanity came to exist on the earth.

I don’t think the original audiences, either of the oral or written traditions, thought according to our post-Enlightenment emphasis on fact and procedure.  I think God accommodated His revelation to their mindset, not to ours.  In fact, to insist on reading these stories as scientific explanations of origins is, in a way, enslaving our minds to Enlightenment ways of thought.  Rather than examining the biblical texts according to what they themselves seem to be saying they are, we impose upon them what we believe they ought to be– and what we think they ought to be is directly determined by the Enlightenment’s emphasis on fact and historicity.

According to Dr. Waltke in the article above, “Natural theology and exegetical theology are both hindered by a continued adherence to the epistemic principle that valid scientific theories must be consistent with a woodenly literal reading of Genesis.”  In other words, whether our theology focuses on understanding God through the “book of nature” or the “book of scripture,” when we make it a rule that the only way we can know either book is according to a strict literal reading of these texts, we keep our thinking inside a very small box and try to drag the limitless God to fit in there with us. And it doesn’t really work.

What it all comes down to is that I have come to embrace evolutionary creation, also known as theistic evolution, on the basis of the biblical texts themselves. I think young-earth creationism and old-earth creationism both show too much dependence on Enlightenment mentality to be true to the pre-Enlightenment revelation of God to the pre-Enlightenment original audiences.  The point of these texts is that God created, not how God created– and this is also the main point of theistic evolution

Since I also find the evidence for evolution more compelling than the evidence for either young-earth or old-earth creationism, the cognitive dissonance of my college years is resolved.  But my position is based more on how I understand the Bible than on how I understand science.

So to Ken Ham and Bill Nye, I would say this.  This science-faith schism is unfortunate and completely unnecessary.  I hope that in the future we can find the openness– and the humility– to move past it.

Godes Bearns and Bible Resources

February 2, 2014

In the Anglo Saxon Gospels, the phrase for huioi theou in the Greek – therefore by fiat of Wayne Grudem, “sons of God” – has actually been translated as godes bearn, “children of God.” The Lindisfarne Gospels, however, are a Latin text accompanied by a gloss, which supplies a Northumbrian word above the Latin one, and there it has suna for “sons of God.” One would expect this in a word for word gloss, not a translation. However, one can say that for 1000 years, on the basis of the Anglo Saxon gospels, the English expression has been “children of God” or its equivalent, and there is manuscript evidence to support this. Here is a past list. But now I can say that Matt. 5:9 has contained the expression “children of God” from the Anglo-Saxon Gospels through Wycliff, Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew’s, Cranmer, Bishops, Geneva, JKV, Calvin, Luther, Douay-Rheims, and so on.

Here are some internet resources that I have used in the past few weeks to research this and other matters. And these are some of the Bibles I have referred to. Wycliff, Tyndale, Coverdale, Cranmer, Matthew’s, Bishops, Geneva, KJV, Douay-Rheims, Calvin, Luther, Olivetan, Svenska 1917, Pagninus, Erasmus, West Saxon, and Lindisfarne. The worst one of all to read is the Olivetan. I will post an image at the bottom.

Bible Corner

Downloaded Bibles

Calvin 1588
Die Schrift by Buber and Rosenzweig
The Source by Nyland

Below is an image of Ex. 3, from the Olivetan Bible. I would love a searchable text, but no luck. I can kind of get the hang of it now, for most of it, but the first time I tried to read this was no joke. I still can’t make out the last margin note.

Ex. 3 b Oliv

Children of God in the Lexicons

January 28, 2014


1. —son, Il.6.366, etc.; υἱὸν ποιεῖσθαί τινα to adopt as a son,Aeschin.2.28υἱεῖς ἄνδρες grown-up sons, D. 25.88: metaph., Κόρον Ὕβριοςυἱόν Orac. ap. Hdt.8.77: rarely of animals, Ev.Matt.21.5.
2. periphr., υἷες Ἀχαιῶν, for ἈχαιοίIl. 1.162, al.; cf. “παῖς” 1.3.
3. generally, child, and so υἱἄρρην male child, Apoc.12.5,PSI9.1039.36 (iii A. D.).
4. freq. in LXX in periphrases (Hebraisms with various meanings), “υἱὸς ἐτῶν ἑκατόν” 100 years old, Ge.11.10, al.; “υἱοὶ ἀδικίας” 2 Ki.7.10; “υἱοὶ θανατώσεως” 1 Ki. 26.16; “υἱοὶ τῶν συμμίζεωνhostages, 4 Ki.14.14; so “υἱὸς εἰρήνης” Ev.Luc.10.6.
5. in some dialects, including the Ion. Prose of Hdt.υἱός is replaced by παῖςυἱός is rare in Trag., A.Th.609Fr. 320E.Or.1689 (anap.), al., and 7 times in S.Hom. has both words in this sense.
6. as a general term of affection, PGiss.68.2 (ii A. D.), POxy.1219.2(iii A. D.); υἱέ, an author’s address to the reader, LXX Pr.1.8, al.
Several parts of this entry from Liddell, Scott, Jones indicate that υἱός can indeed mean “child.” First, meaning number 3 says “child,” second it can be replaced with παῖς which is a common gender word, and third, it can be qualified by the adjective “male.” In the plural, if often refers to the nationality of a group of people. It is paraphrastic for the Achaeans in 2. above. In various Hebraisms it refers to groups of people. It translates banim which is the Hebrew word for “children” in the phrase, “the children of Israel.”
But the guidelines, which I have been sadly reviewing say,
“Son” (huiosben) should not be changed to “child,” or “sons” (huioi) to “children” or “sons and daughters.” (However, Hebrew banim often means “children.”)
I know it is like banging your head against cement – very much like that. But if the word got out that theologians don’t make a habit of looking things up in a lexicon, it might push people to ask more questions.
Why in the Hebrew Bible were people called “the children of the living God” but in the New Testament, it is “sons of God?” Because women will be treated as sons? Not so far. Here is a comment I read on a Christian woman’s blog this morning and I cried for her. She wrote,
The office of Old Testament Prophetess is closed to us today. But we can still learn from Huldah and her example…. Women are not to be busybodies. They are to mind their own affairs. They are to avoid going from house to house spreading rumors (1 Timothy 5:13).
That is what she learned from studying women in the Bible, and she posted this on a blog called “Theology for Girls.” I feel so sad when I read things like this. Why did women have more respect in the Hebrew Bible? Why were there authoritative women who acted independently in the Hebrew Bible, but we don’t take these lessons from the NT?

Adoption as Children

January 28, 2014

This is from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery edited by Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman III, 1998. Even though Leland Ryken is the original literary stylist of the ESV, there is not one mention of “sons” in the following discussion of adoption of children. It all sounds so open and non-genderized. This is published by IVP. I thought that perhaps they had a stated policy on non-sexist language, but if they do, they don’t advertise it. At least, I haven’t found it so far. So this selection uses only inclusive language. It’s great! Sometimes my kids buy books and I like to know what is safe reading for them.

I hate to seem knit picky, but some of you know that I am. I can’t help but think that someone needs to assess which authors, which publishers, which books are not sexist and are safe reading. Where has the notion come from that the Bible must say in English “adoption of sons?” Oh right! I know where it comes from. Aoption 1.Adoption 2Adoption 3 Adoption 4Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 11.51.47 AMAdoption 5


January 25, 2014

I remember being told by my pastor how much easier it was to teach the gospel with the words “adoption as sons” for the Greek word uiothesia, than “adoption as children.” He explained to me about Roman laws regarding inheritance and so on. A lot of people could see his point. In fact, in the TNIV, Gal. 4:5 was translated as “adoption to sonship,” just so that this version could be used to explain salvation, in spite of otherwise using inclusive language like “brothers and sisters.” Sonship was a very important word. Women are saved through sonship and being under headship. It takes two ships to save a woman.

And as one evangelist explained about Matt. 5:9,

Actually, the TNIV appears to be a move not toward greater accuracy but away from it. One example: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ (Matt. 5:9). The TNIV changes sons to children. But the Greek word huios in its plural form means ’sons,’ not ‘children. ‘My Latin Bible translates it ’sons’ (filii). My German Bible, my Dutch Bible, and my French Bible translate it ’sons.’ Likewise, every English Bible I own translates it ’sons.’ Indeed, from the first century until today, the whole world has understood what the Greek says.

I had never made a serious investigation into finding out which Bibles translated Matt. 5:9 using “children” once I knew that the KJV and Luther used “children” or the linguistic equivalent. But eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to line up six verses for investigation. They are Matt. 5:9, Romans 8:15, 8:23, Gal. 4:5 and Eph. 1:5. Here are the verses in the ESV using “sons.”

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matt. 5:9

but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father! Romans 8:15b

we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies Romans 8:23b

so that we might receive adoption as sons. Gal. 4:5b

he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ Eph. 1:5

The preface to the ESV says of “adoption of sons,” “it was used as a legal term in the adoption and inheritance laws of first-century Rome.” Yes, the term was used when a man with no heir adopts a free male citizen with no father, and that adopted son is under the authority of his adopted father until the father dies, and then the adopted son inherits and carries on the family name. The adopted son was not free nor did he inherit until the adopted father was dead. Not much comparison with Paul’s epistles. However, that is the explanation.

In any case, here are the translations I have picked, Tyndale, Coverdale, Bishop’s Bible, Geneva Bible, KJV, Luther and Calvin’s French Geneva Bible, 1588. I feel that this covers the Reformation fairly well. I will simply list the terms used in each of these 5 verses in the various Bibles.

Tyndale:  chyldren, adoption, adopcio, naturall sons, heirs

Coverdale: chyldren, adopcion, childshippe, childshippe, as children

Bishop’s Bible: chyldren, adoption, adoption, adoption as chyldren, adoption as children

Geneva Bible: children, adoption, adoption, adoption of sons, adopted

KJV: children, adoption, adoption, adoption of sonnes, adoption of children

Luther: kinder, kindschaft, kindlichen, kindschaft, kindschaft

Calvin: enfans, adoption, adoption, adoption d’enfans, adopter

Following the use of “adoption” all these translation used the word for “children” or the linguistic equivalent, except for the 3 cases I have noted. I would like to note further that all these translations use “children of God” in Matt. 5:9, and Luther, Calvin and Coverdale, three significant Bibles of the Reformation use “children” and “adoption as children” throughout.

Continuity with the Reformation seems important to some people, and I wonder if they would like continuity with Reformation Bibles. Afterall, these were the Bibles which influenced so many for salvation, for doctrine, for literary and secular purposes as well. These are the recognizable Bibles. How does the TNIV stand up to this,

TNIV: children, adoption to sonship, adoption, adoption to sonship, adoption to sonship

Clearly this correctness overall did not affect the acceptance of the TNIV. It was doomed for including women on any level, in spite of the inclusive tradition of the Reformation Bibles. How about the NIV 2011?

NIV 2011: children, adoption to sonship, adoption to sonship, adoption to sonship, adoption to sonship

Well, I have no statistics to say that “adoption as sons, or to sonship” as saved more people than just plain adoption, or adoption to childshippe, I just don’t know. But I do know that if we want to connect with our heritage, we need a few more children. I know which ship I want to be on.

Why words?

January 17, 2014

Even though the landscape is familiar, these poems are meditations on the attributes and value of words.

I sat by the lake,
under the hemlock,
flat needles carpeting the ground,
the familiar smell
mingled with close-by cedar.

The wind blew down
from the dry pine ridge,
over the alders below,
bordering the lake.

A lone fir tree towered
on the right,
a lonely sentinel.

We had scrambled up
a short rocky path,
rough steps set
in a pile of boulders,
tossed downhill by the last ice age
and rounded a small bog,
rimmed with hardhack,
blooms turned to brown.

Then over a slight rise in land,
and down to the small lake,
surrounded by rock bluffs
and mountains in the distance.

False box and oceanspray
lined the path,
but when I lay on the mossy ground,
and looked at the sky,

a huckleberry bush
hung over me,
ripe with tiny fruit,
and the sharp spurts of tart juice
wakened my mouth.

Words bring yesterday’s reality
Back to life in the mind
For those of us
Who don’t paint.

Also on words, Email to a Friend 2006 and Before I came to Write  2006.


Poems of nature, life and death, collected

January 15, 2014

I hope this isn’t too redundant, but I have posted links to a few poems from this last year in chronological order, to show how a sense of mortality approaches and recedes, and approaches again, I guess, always. But also, themes of gender reconciliation, of nature and church, of the innocence of being children, of my attachment to my own children, but also of how we make a part of our human journey with ourselves, so we need to be good company to our own self. I can’t weem to get into my former blogger blogs at the moment, so I wanted to post Potholes, and keep track of the other poems here.

I wrote Fully Adam in the summer of 2012.

Then Potholes in September, 2012

The wind blew free
As we gazed across the gorge
To the distant mountainside
Where rigid ranks of fir
And grass brown slopes

We looked down on cone-laden spruce
And rust-stained madrone bleeding into gray
Fingers stretched toward the sky
And the lichen draped skeleton
Of a long dead larch

Rock cathedrals hovered over
Still pools of water
Lying in the hollow
Of the nave

As we picked our way back
Down the needled path
The bitter scent of bracken
Filled the air

And we stepped aside
To avoid the fresh bear scat.

Then I wrote Last Christmas, 2012

Then Children Playing in the summer of 2013 in hospital.

And recently The Beech Wood, winter 2013



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