The Euphemist

Reflections on Jewish Studies and many other subjects big and little, by a perpetual student who sometimes searches a little too long for just the right word ...

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Location: Minnesota, United States

Christian, truth seeker, husband, son, brother & uncle, Lutheran pastor, musician (cello, etc.), Jewish Studies grad student, intellectual historian, aquarium enthusiast & pet owner, philologist, astronomer, Norwegian-American, Ford pickup driver, buffoon.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Confessions of a 40-year-old beginner

Some years ago a family I knew in Wisconsin taught me a board game called "Don't Get Mad!" I don't remember the details, but the main point of it was that, after making slow, steady progress through the game board, you could suddenly find yourself back at Square One. This would happen several times per game. Sometimes I feel like my life has been a long game of "Don't Get Mad!"

For the third time since 1988 I'm a beginning Hebrew student. The first time was my second year of seminary, and unfortunately I didn't get securely grounded in Hebrew that year, because I had some major discouragements/hangups that I was dealing with, and it got in the way of my academics. It was a real shame. Hebrew should have been the same kind of "entering a new world" experience that Latin and Greek had been for me in college.

I had actually written off Hebrew as something I wouldn't ever get back to - but then came Spertus, which was the best distance ed program for my needs - an accredited, legitimate program which connected with my special interests in ancient languages, thought, culture, and religion. I need to pass a Hebrew exam in order to complete the degree, so in mid-2004, after I was done with the first course and awaiting the second, I plowed through the first ten chapters of Biblical Hebrew Step By Step by Menahem Mansoor, a simpler Hebrew text than Weingreen, my seminary Hebrew text. Then the second course came and I abruptly dropped the Hebrew. Then I finished the second course and found that I was almost back at Square One with Hebrew! So Now that I'm starting the third course, I've decided that I'd better keep at the Hebrew a little bit each day, so I don't have to begin a fourth time. Though Weingreen is harder, I've gone back to it, as it's more comprehensive, and there's something satisfying about actually being able to compose some simple but biblical-sounding phrases after trudging through a jungle of odd-sounding grammatical rules.

Here's a fun sentence I recently translated from Weingreen:

מי אני ומה־אני

mi eni w'mah eni, "Who am I, and what am I?"

In other news, I sometimes feel like a beginner on the cello after 27 years, though I know it isn't really true. But I don't feel as sharp with it as when I was taking lessons and playing in orchestras every week. This year I set out to teach myself Bach's Suite #4 for Unaccompanied Cello, just so I would be learning new stuff and not just playing the same old things. I think I'll be continuing with Suite #4 in 2006 as well.

I also feel like a beginner as a Christian apologist, a full 28 years after I first encountered the works of Francis Schaeffer and first caught the vision from him (and from an extraordinary Bible study fellowship we were part of when I was growing up) of a Christian faith which connected with all areas of life, the mind as well as the heart.

I also feel like a beginner as a philosophical thinker, 20 years after an undergrad philosophy course which revolutionized my thinking by introducing me to the concept of a Paradigm Shift. Long before that phrase had become a banal buzzword at the hands of Steven Covey and others, a "paradigm shift" meant an all-encompassing change in an individual's or society's basic World View. Already prepared by Schaeffer for this kind of idea, I've spent the last 20 years looking for my next major personal paradigm shift, a new lens bringing into new focus my perennial questions about the Bible, the Church, the world, etc.

I feel like I should be farther along in these pursuits than I am, considering what good beginnings I had. Perhaps I'm farther along than I think. It's my nature to dig ever deeper into the roots, so that could be part of why I don't feel like I've reached the treetops. Perhaps rather than feeling like I'm too old to be beginning, I could tell myself that it's a way of being young again!

They say "well begun is half done." Maybe if I keep at it now I'll be half-way done when I die. And it'll help if I don't get mad!


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Blogger Michael said...

Just for the record, The Euphemist is South Dakota's preeminent hipster.

3:33 PM  
Blogger WERBEH said...

Good luck with Weingreen. It is one of the most difficult grammars from which to learn Biblical Hebrew. I prefer Alan Ross's Beginning Grammar.

Best of luck and feel free to come over and join the fun at !!!

1:17 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Hey, thanks, WERBEH, for stopping by, and for the recommendation, too! Sometimes I do wonder "why" when I'm wrestling with Weingreen, because I'm not that fond of pain. Thanks for the link!

5:48 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

BTW, a recent student of my sem, now in my area, tells me that the current OT prof uses, among other things, booklets that are used to teach kids in Hebrew school! Doesn't sound bad, especially if there are some nice, colorful pictures ...

5:51 AM  
Anonymous michael h said...

Michael, I really relate to your confession of feeling like a beginner in all these things. That is sort of how the past year and a half or so has felt to me in some ways - starting over some things, relearning some things, and definitely a paradigm shift.

I am trying to teach myself discipline and new things on the guitar - no Bach (although I would like to learn Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring the way Leo Kottke did it), but various strange finger exercises designed to break habits, attempts at learning things like this, and also pretty radical changes in my picking technique.

Anyway, more on all this later and thanks for the great post.


11:34 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Thanks, Michael H! BTW, another area in which I'm a serial beginner is weight loss - after a health scare I had a year ago (turned out better than I first feared) I decided it was time to take better care of myself, and I've lost slightly over 20 pounds since then - about 25 to go before my goal for optimum health. I did it once before, as I had worked off over 40 pounds 15 years ago, then gained them back a few years later when I moved to Texas, the richly-prepared beef Capital of the world.

9:55 AM  

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