Monday, March 31, 2008

Comments moderation enabled

Dear Readers,

I have reluctantly decided to enable comments moderation for a time, even on such a low-traffic blog as this one. This action is in response to continued traffic from one particular undesired reader whom I picked up quite by accident by writing a negative post about someone he evidently admires and who has ignored un-subtle hints to take himself off. This is not the first time that I have picked up oddball readers by putting the name of a fanatically admired kook into the heading of a post. Google alerts appears to be my bane, and I shall have to learn to give my posts less obvious titles. Since this is my personal blog, I do not feel obligated to interact with comments from people who give me the creeps (either by their handles or by their opinions) or who fanatically admire people who give me the creeps. So that's that.

To all the rest of you, please do not be discouraged by moderation from posting your comments. I am on my e-mail many times a day and will receive alerts and post your comments very quickly. And I hope that this change will not be permanent.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Just exactly like that

I was studying Colossians with Middle Daughter the other day. Got to the part where Paul warns his readers about people who will beguile them with enticing words. It's in the "vain philosophy" section. One conjecture is that the heresy in question was an early form of Gnosticism, so I was trying to explain a little about Gnosticism to her. I got to the part about how the Gnostics tried to create mysteries and then told people that they could be part of their secret "club" by going through an initiation ceremony. People thought this was pretty cool and that they would be profound thinkers like their teachers if they learned this hidden knowledge, but really it was all nonsense.

To which she replied, "That's sort of like postmodernism. Where they say that yes and no are the same thing."

Yes, sweetheart, very much so. Right on.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Some more Easter music

There is so much good Easter music. If I may venture to give advice, I would suggest that you sing to celebrate Easter. Even if you can't sing. Play some Handel and go around humming it. Sing something you sang in church this morning. It's worth it. He is risen!

Here is "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth." Here is "The Trumpet Shall Sound." Eldest Daughter at ages 2 and 3 (which is now getting uncomfortably long ago) used to refer to this bit of Handel as "Wumpable" from the oft-repeated line "And the dead shall be raised incorruptible." It was one of her faves.

I looked all over the Web for a sung version of "Because He Lives" that I liked. Except for the rather sappy verse about "our newborn baby," it's one of my favorite sing-along 70's Gospel songs and has been much in my mind today. We have had some wonderful times singing it with the family I blogged about here. But I just did not like any of the full-length Youtube versions. Some of them just started out with the "newborn baby" verse and entirely left out what is really verse 1, which begins, "God sent his Son. They called Him Jesus," and ends, "An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives." And leaving that verse out would seem to be leaving out the whole point, right? (The newborn baby in verse 2, for those of you who don't know, is the Gaithers' baby in 1970, not Jesus.) One version by a black group that I rather liked at first lost my endorsement and link when it got to verse 3 and gave a crucial line as "I'll fight life's trials, no war with pain." Say what? The line is actually, "I'll fight life's final war with pain," which actually is rather moving and sobering. And some versions were just too self-indulgent. So here is a relatively tame sung version of just the chorus, repeated several times. And here is just the music, with the words displayed, a fun synth version on a site called, of all things, "Mama rocks."

If you have choral versions of great Easter hymns you want to recommend, or links to other Easter music you recommend, post them in the comments. I couldn't quite yet find a choir version of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" that had all the normal words and sounded good.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter

A joyous feast of Our Lord's glorious resurrection to my readers.

I've been thinking a lot about the resurrection lately, what with the paper and all. C.S. Lewis said that he never felt less convinced of a doctrine than when he had just successfully defended it. Thankfully (and I am thankful) that hasn't happened to me in this case.

Over at WWWtW I've posted Updike's poem.

Here are the words for one of the many of the very best of the Easter hymns. By Charles Wesley, of course:

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of man and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

I was trying to figure out why I was having so much trouble finding these words instead of links that had something strange I'd never seen before--"Earth and heaven in chorus say"--for the second line of verse 1. Then it hit me: That's the PC revision to avoid the word "Sons." Sheesh!

Here is the version of the words in our 1940 hymnal. I'm not quite sure I have this right, but I think from what it says here as well as at the previous link that there were some verses originally in Latin written in the 14th century and that Charles Wesley just wrote a whole bunch of others in the same vein. It looks as though all of the ones I quote above are by Wesley but only the fourth one in the 1940 hymnal is by Wesley.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Songs to Die for--Precious Lord, Take My Hand

A couple of weeks ago Youngest Daughter said, "I want you to sing to me." So I sat down with her and broke out the standard repertoire for such sessions--chiefly Negro spirituals and early American hymn tunes or folk tunes. "Brethren, We Have Met to Worship," "Sweet Little Jesus Boy," "I Wonder As I Wander," "Talk About a Soul," "Poor, Wayfarin' Stranger," "I Want Jesus to Walk With Me," and "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" are the ones I can remember. Eventually Middle Daughter came out and asked, "Are those all songs that were written by the slaves?" I told her that as far as I could tell, only a few of them were, but that the tunes to the rest of them were old American tunes. Except for one. The only one I thought fell into neither category was "Precious Lord."

So I looked it up and got quite a surprise. It turns out that "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" is written to a modified version of the very same tune as one of my other favorites, which I've blogged about already, "Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone." I've known both of those songs for years and never recognized the similarity once. But I was right that it isn't either a spiritual or early American. Thomas Dorsey, the black song writer who wrote the words and put them to the tune in 1932, did something pretty cool. Basically he took what is essentially a "white" American hymn tune (akin in chord pattern and style to "Amazing Grace"), written in the 1800's by a man named George N. Nelson, and he gave it a spiritual "swing," adding a number of extra notes to fill it out and make it slower. So my ear did detect correctly the fact that it isn't a true spiritual, but I also detected correctly its vague resemblance to a spiritual. Dorsey wrote the song after his wife died in childbirth; their child then also died. Here are the words:

Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light:
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.

When my way grows drear,
Precious Lord, linger near,
When my life is almost gone,
Hear my cry, hear my call,
Hold my hand lest I fall:
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.

When the darkness appears
And the night draws near,
And the day is past and gone,
At the river I stand,
Guide my feet, hold my hand:
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.

Now, if I could just find some confirmation of my gut feeling that all the sources are wrong, and that "Let us Break Bread Together on our Knees" is not a spiritual, I'd feel like a real instinctive music historian. The harmony seems wrong for the genre; the words seem wrong for the genre. But I have to admit that Google is solidly against my gut instinct on this one, so probably that one really is a spiritual.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Thy beauty, long-desired

This morning we sang "O Sacred Head." I always have a bit of trouble wrapping my mind around verse 2:

Thy beauty, long-desirèd,
hath vanished from our sight;
thy power is all expirèd,
and quenched the light of light.
Ah me! for whom thou diest,
hide not so far thy grace:
show me, O Love most highest,
the brightness of thy face.

The image is clear enough: Jesus on the cross had been so beaten by the soldiers that his face could hardly be seen clearly. But what about the "beauty" part? The trouble here is my over-literal mind. I immediately start thinking about what Jesus probably really looked like. We have absolutely no reason to believe that he was especially handsome. In fact, Isaiah 53 prophecies that he will not be particularly impressive in appearance. Considering the matter literally and historically, rather than devotionally, we should picture Our Lord at the time of his death as a Jewish man in his early 30's, toughened by outdoor living, bearded, probably dark-eyed. OMEA, as the new expression is. So what's the special "beauty" the hymn writer is talking about?

Well, the hymn writer isn't thinking literally and historically but rather devotionally. There are several different strands or traditions, both Protestant and Catholic, of the "beautiful Jeus" motif, including the "beautiful name" motif. And I have to admit that none of them speak to me very deeply. So I'd like to take this in a totally different direction from the one the author probably intended: Consider it, in the terms of E.D. Hirsch, a matter of the "significance" of the lyrics (to me and possibly to you) rather than of their "meaning."

I was suddenly struck while singing the song with the thought that babies do appear beautiful to their mothers, even if not to strangers. When you are bonding with your newborn, you do a lot of looking down and gazing. I've never had a son, only daughters, but as far as I know it's the same way with sons as with daughters. Now, Jesus was of course someone's Son. And Mary had doubtless seen him in many different situations before he grew up and became a bearded and perhaps somewhat scruffy, outdoor-living itinerant preacher. She had seen him laughing, running, studying Torah, intent over work with Joseph, asking the questions at the Passover meal, enjoying his food, seen him grow in strength and, yes, in beauty. So even from a purely literal, human, and historical perspective, there was one person at the foot of the cross who would have had a real meaning for the notion that his beauty had "vanished from our sight." That one person would have that contrast in mind--the face battered almost beyond recognition in contrast to the tiny infant face, the laughing boyish face, the young man with a twinkle in his eye, all those images of peace, joy, and relaxation. That human beauty that every mother's son, made in the image of God, has in the eyes of a woman who loves him.

And that thought finally gave me an entrance into the devotional possibilities of that verse of the song. For he "humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross"--and that was what it meant: That by cruel men, his human worth was set aside and his human flesh, that humanity in which he had been loved and had loved, had felt the sun and the wind, had eaten and played, had sung and learned, was tortured and killed. In that, he is like every young man cruelly slaughtered by his enemies, every young man mourned by his mother. But with a difference. Because this Victim was not just a victim, and this Victim finally conquered death. And this Victim died for all the sons of men, that by His death they might be redeemed.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quick cross reference to new W4 post

I meant to write something here about hymns and songs but don't have time. But I have a new post on What's Wrong with the World that I'm rather pleased with. The writing could stand to be polished, but the structure is fairly tight, which is a pleasant thought.

A reader of W4 is a former reader of Right Reason. He is planning a paper on the subject of the role of religious beliefs in public policy, and he sent me the link to his posts on the subject on his new blog, "Being Appeared to Bloggishly." So instead of just telling him what I thought in his combox or in an e-mail, I wrote up a post of my own about it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Announcing a new annotated bibliography on historical apologetics

I'll be posting briefly about this on What's Wrong with the World in the next couple of days, too. Meanwhile, I'm very pleased to announce here that Tim McGrew's annotated bibliography on historical apologetics is available on my personal web page, here.

It's taken a while for Tim to be satisfied that the biblio is ready for web posting, but it really is good to make this stuff widely available to people who will find it useful. If you have a history buff in your life or a Christian apologetics buff, and especially if you know someone who is both, get him the link. It's cool stuff.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Humor for mathematical folks

Attention all you readers with some mathematical flair or knowledge. Or even without. (I don't have a whole lot of that myself and enjoyed it.) Here is a video you'll want to watch for relaxation and laughs.

I had never heard of Tom Lehrer until the other day, but I'm told that he taught statistics at MIT for quite a number of years in the Political Science department (he mentions that on the video) and then apparently made a living as a musician. Here's the Wiki article. I gather he was/is a flaming liberal and was best known years ago for his political satire against the "conservative establishment" and on subjects like nuclear proliferation. I must say that he doesn't seem as sensitive on all that stuff as liberals are nowadays in the video (made in 1997); he makes a joke in one of the songs about having a more inclusive mathematics so as not to discriminate against numbers to the left of the origin. A sense of humor is a saving grace that too many liberals lack.

The video is thirteen minutes long. He begins to introduce my favorite song of the lot at about 7 minutes, 15 seconds. It's "Sociology" and is sung to the tune of "Choreography" from the movie White Christmas. I've always loved "Choreography," sung in the movie by Danny Kaye, which in its turn mocks pretentious, pseudo-intellectual dance forms. Lehrer's version makes fun of the attempt to disguise the fact that one is talking nonsense by putting it in mathematical terms to make it look scientific. You should be able to let the video load while watching the first few minutes, then push the slider to the right until the timer reads about 8 minutes, if you want to skip to the later song. I just tried it, and it worked, though that may be because I already watched the whole thing through once on this computer. But the whole video is funny if you have the time to enjoy it.