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, November 28, 2005

Have you ever ...

Everything's all iced up here in the Upper Midwest, and now the snow will be coming. Perfect time for one of these meme things, though I have some serious stuff up my sleeve this week, too. Dave just did this one, which looks fun.

Have you ever...:

Smoked a cigarette or tried it:: I think I've smoked about 5-6 in my life, but not for nearly a decade now. I was curious, but never understood the attraction. I don't think I ever will again, but occasionally the thought crosses my mind of trying one of those "Swisher Sweets" cigars - but I'll probably never really do that, either.

Crashed a friend's car:: No.

Stolen a car:: No.

Been dumped:: As in, by a lady? I don't think so - unless I blocked it out of my memory.

Shoplifted:: No.

Been fired /laid off:: Happy to say I haven't.

Been in a fist fight:: I never send my fists out on a mission they can't complete. If I did, the results would be ludicrous.

Snuck out of your parent's house:: Not that I can recall.

Been arrested:: Not exactly. Once I was detained about 10-15 minutes when I walked out of a McDonald's wearing the same general outfit as a suspect who had reportedly just been intimidating/verbally abusing a woman at that premises.

Gone on a blind date: : Not really, though I think once or twice I was invited to someone's place at the same time as someone else - it definitely looked like our mutual friends were trying to get us to meet each other. It didn't go anywhere.

Lied to a friend:: Yes, but not for a long time.

Skipped school:: Once in 6th Grade I accidentally skipped school, when we'd been at the nearby public library and I got confused about what time it was. I was hanging around on the steps when I suddenly realized that there was over an hour left, and I was supposed to be back at school. I didn't get in trouble, but it was a close one.

Seen someone die:: No, come close to it a few times, though. A parishioner with heart problems collapsed on the street near our house on a cold evening. I think he was already dead when I came upon him, but I really don't know. Once in heavy traffic on I-10 in Texas a couple years ago I saw someone stretched out on the ground after an accident, with others gathered around. Very chilling. I never found out whether he was alive or dead.

Been to Canada:: Many times to Manitoba, once to Saskatchewan.

Been to Mexico:: Walked about 10 blocks into Neuvo Laredo. Once I had a little scare when I was attempting to reenter the USA. The customs guards didn't think I talked like an American! Just because I talk like someone from the movie "Fargo" ... (which hadn't come out yet at the time - maybe it would have helped ...)

Eaten Sushi: :No, and don't intend to. Why do you need sushi when there's lutefisk?

Met someone in person from the internet:: No.

Taken pain-killers:: Does aspirin count?

Had a tea party:: I've had parties with tea, but I'm not sure that they constituted a "tea party" in the classic sense of the term.

Cheated while playing a game:: Possibly once or twice, but not for ages.

Fallen asleep at work:: My work includes desk work such as writing sermons, so I guess I've even put myself to sleep a few times!

Used a fake ID: :Nope, never had one, never used one.

Felt an earthquake: :In 1975 (July, I think), there was a strong earth tremor in West Central Minnesota, which I remember vividly. I was 10. My sister accused me of jumping up and down in my bed and waking her up, but the joke was on her, since she was the one still in bed! Sorry, sis, I had to say it ...

Touched a snake:: I occasionally caught garter snakes with my bare hands when I was a kid. But I really preferred frogs.

Been robbed: :No.

Petted a reindeer/goat:: I bring quarters to feed the goats every time we go to the zoo.

Won a contest:: I won a desk clock from "Thrivent Financial for Lutherans" for answering a few online trivia questions about Thrivent (they generously told you where to find the answers). 14 years ago as a student pastor in North Dakota I sometimes played duets with an elderly lady who sang and played autoharp, and we won the talent show at a nearby town festival. Back in college I won 3rd & 2nd place, respectively, in nationwide Latin & Greek translation contests sponsored by the Classics honor society.

Been suspended from school:: Never.

Been in a car accident:: A handful of times, never serious.

Had braces:: No.

Eaten a whole pint of ice cream in one night:: I doubt it, though I'm sure I've come close a few times.

Witnessed a crime:: Once, back in seminary, I was on a neighborhood walk when I came upon a line of cars, each with the driver just sitting there, in a secluded side street. One by one as I approached each car the driver started the car & drove off. I've always wondered if I unwittingly muddled a drug drop or something. Also during seminary, I heard someone noisily trying to break into an apartment below me. If I had the experience to relive again, I would call 911 immediately, but I was afraid to do anything at the time. More recently, I came upon someone parked along a street who was in the midst of the suspicious activity of putting a different license plate on a car.

Swam in the ocean:: Never swam in it. Waded a couple of times.

Sung karaoke: : Yes, if you count it as "singing" when the selection I did was "Whip It" by Devo. I'd like to do more karaoke, but I don't frequent the venues in which it is usually done.

Paid for a meal with only coins:: Sure, back in my dirt-poor days, when I also sometimes would put 50 cents worth of gas in the car just to make sure I got to my destination.

Laughed until some kind of beverage came out of your nose:: A few times, but usually not in front of anyone. Once when I was at the theater watching "Star Trek V" I had a mild chuckle just at the wrong time while swallowing soda, so I had a loud snorting spew which attracted lots of attention. It would have been embarrassing in any case, but it was especially embarrassing then, since it came across as a reaction way out of proportion to the joke's rather low level of funniness, and anyone who's been to Star Trek V knows it's a pretty lame movie anyway.

Been kissed under mistletoe:: No.

Crashed a party:: No.

Worn pearls:: No.

Jumped off a bridge:: No.

Ate dog/cat food:: Dog food a handful of times (no, not a handful of dog food) - it's edible in a bland sort of way. But cat food only once - it has a very strong taste compared to dog food.

Kissed a mirror:: No.

Glued your hand to something:: Not deliberately.

Done a one-handed cartwheel:: Nope, and haven't even done the two-handed variety for over 30 years.

Talked on the phone for more than 6 hours: :No.

Didn't take a shower for a week:: Question should be rephrased, since some people take tub baths, which is what I grew up with. Never went more than 2-3 days without bathing.

Pick and ate an apple right off the tree:: Lots of times, and very recently. We have two apple trees right next to our house.

Been told by a complete stranger that you're hot: Not in those terms, though, unbelievably, I have had a few rather forward come-ons, upon which I won't elaborate.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

This is to pass on a hearty Thanksgiving wish to everyone out there, and to reassure all my faithful readers (there must be at least 5 or 6 of you!) that I haven't dropped off the face of the earth just yet.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

C.S. Lewis: Hottest theologian of 2005!!!

An essay in the current issue of Time about noted Christian author and Oxford/Cambridge Medievalist C.S. Lewis says "In 1947, a TIME cover story hailed Lewis as 'one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world.' Now, 58 years later (and 42 after his death, in 1963), he could arguably be called the hottest theologian of 2005." Considering that Lewis' body has been resting in the grave for 42 years, a number of current theologians who thought themselves to be quite "hot" might be double-checking their own body temperature right now.

But since I have listed Lewis as one of "MY TOP TEN (OR SO) GREATEST INFLUENCES, OUTSIDE OF GOD AND MY FAMILY MEMBERS", I thought I'd say a few words. BTW, it's gratifying to see my new meme coming to life - check out Dave's list. Dave mentions a Deacon Michael Walker who was a witness at his wedding - Dave himself was at our wedding, and Dn. Michael's wife was my wife's matron of honor at our wedding.

Now, Lewis. He is best known, of course, for his Christian-oriented writings, which I appreciate very much. I haven't read all of The Chronicles of Narnia, though I enjoyed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and am looking forward to the upcoming movie. I also enjoyed Mere Christianity, which I think was an early topic of study in a Bible study group which my family was part of during my teens. That study group left a big stamp on me, as it cultivated a type of Christian faith which embraced deep thinking and spirited discussion of issues, combined with a warm appreciation of the rich, colorful things in life - art, music, hot apple cider with cheese and crackers, the beauty of human relationships. C.S. Lewis was a part of all that.

I should mention that my college roommate Bryan, the Nicko-Mickeyan Ethics guy was a self-described "Lewis junkie."

Now, here's my soapbox. Lewis' "day job" was as a professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature, and I personally believe he was at his true best when he was writing in his own field. Alas, few have read some of his most carefully reasoned and witty works. One of my top ten favorite books of all time is The Discarded Image, subtitled "An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature," but what it really is is an introduction to the world view of Medieval times, what he calls the "Medieval Model" of the universe, the conceptual lens through which Medieval people looked at the world around them. He wrote the book to help people not to read into Medieval and Renaissance literature our own modern preconceptions. For example, people are always thinking that since the Medievals had a geocentric view of the universe, that that put earth and humanity at the most important point. In fact, we have that backwards. The Medievals saw the earth as being at the bottom, the "periphery", the "infernal dregs" and "offscourings" of the universe, and so being at the center of the universe put them, in their minds, at the least important place rather than the most important place in the universe. Lewis was lecturing on this stuff at Cambridge in the 1940s, and people still don't know these things.

Akin to The Discarded Image is his extended Introduction to his English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama, entitled "New Learning and New Ignorance." Again, he ably demonstrates that our modern conceptual lens can lead us unwittingly to misconstrue the meaning of writings from the past. He points out, for example, that we moderns tend to lump astrology and alchemy together as forms of "superstition", when in fact, to Sixteenth Century thinkers they represented opposite poles of thought. The astrologers, seeing our destiny in the stars, were Determinists; alchemists, seeking the knowledge and power to alter matter, represented a type of Free Will approach (ah, yes, the old free will/determinism debate! I learned in my first Spertus course that this debate was active even in ancient Israel - but that's for another post ...).

Lewis' English Literature in the Sixteenth Century was his contribution to a multi-volume set entitled The Oxford History of English Literature, OHEL for short. Lewis, not a pietist of the type who populate my church denomination, liked to pronounce that acronym as a two-word phrase. It seems that OHEL wasn't his favorite project. But I think it's some of his best writing. A book about literature, IMHO it's a piece of literature in its own right. I chuckle every time I read this quote, from page 24, in which he points out some pitfalls of the early humanists, who lofted the ancient Roman authors as the model of excellence, at the expense of poo-pooing perfectly good Medieval literature:

This desire to be very 'adult', as we now say, had some unfortunate consequences. The qualities which the humanists admired are, of course, to be found in Latin literature, even if less exclusively and continuously than they supposed. But few qualities are less suitable for imitation. Elevation and gravity of language are admirable, or even tolerable, only when they grow from elevation and gravity of thought [Excellent sentence! - The Euphemist]. To imitate them directly is to manufacture a symptom ... The gestures and accents of magnanimity, laborously reproduced by little men, clever, meticulous ... nervously avoiding what is 'low', make an ugly spectacle. That was how the humanists came to create a new literary quality - vulgarity. It is hard to point to any medieval work that is vulgar. When medieval literature is bad, it is bad by honest, downright incompetence: dull, prolix, or incoherent. But the varnish and stucco of some neo-Latin work, the badness which no man could incur by sheer defect of talent by only by 'endless labor to be wrong' is a new thing.

At the risk of making this post appallingly long, I'd like to end it with an extended quote from The Discarded Image, one that reads as if it could have been written in 2005 concerning Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, except it was published in 1964 (and obviously written before Lewis' death in 1963). It contains some excellent points to consider before swallowing Brown's faux-history whole, as so many people have:

I have read a novel which represents all the Pagans of that day [Constantine's time, the 4th Century AD] as carefree sensualists, and all the Christians as savage ascetics. It is a grave error. They were in some ways far more like each other than either was like a modern man. The leaders on both sides were monotheists, and both admitted almost an infinity of supernatural beings between God and man. Both were highly intellectual, but also (by our standards) highly superstitious. The last champions of Paganism were not the sort of men that Swinburne, or a modern 'Humanist', would wish them to have been. They were not lusty extroverts recoiling in horror or contempt from a world 'grown grey' with the breath of the 'pale Galilean'. If they wanted to get back 'the laurel, the palms, and the paean', it was on the most serious and religious grounds. If they longed to see 'the breasts of the nymph in the brake', their longing was not like a satyr's; it was much more like a spiritualist's. A world-renouncing, ascetic, and mystical character then marked the most eminent Pagans no less than their Christian opponents. It was the spirit of the age. Everywhere, on both sides, men were turning away from the civic virtues and the sensual pleasures to seek an inner purgation and a supernatural goal. The modern who dislikes the Christian Fathers would have disliked the Pagan philosophers equally, and for similar reasons. Both alike would have embarrassed him with stories of visions, ecstasies, and apparations. Between the lower and more violent manifestations of both religions he would have found it hard to choose. To a modern eye (and nostril) Julian [the Apostate, the emperor who attempted a pagan revival after Constantine] with his long nails and densely populated beard might have seemed very like an unwashed monk out of the Egyptian desert. (pp. 46-47)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Inspiring thought concerning the Hebrew language ...

From WERBEH (read it backwards - get it?) at Daily Hebrew, from the pen of Martin Luther:

“The Hebrew language is the best language of all, with the richest vocabulary….If I were younger I would want to learn this language, because no one can really understand the Scriptures without it. For although the New Testament is written in Greek, it is full of Hebraisms and Hebrew expressions. It has therefore been aptly said that the Hebrews drink from the spring, the Greeks from the stream that flows from it, and the Latins from a downstream pool.”