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.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The seriousness of Christ's blood ... and the ludicrous ineptitude of me ...

A couple of months ago the editor of our denominational magazine honored me with a request to write an article on the subject of how important it is not to soft-pedal the sufferings and the blood of Jesus Christ. So, about a month ago I finally completed the article (at the last possible minute, as usual) and sent it off, feeling like it wasn't quite as good as I hoped it would be.

Yesterday the new issue came out, with my article in it. I read it, and overall was quite pleased, actually. By God's grace it came out better than I thought it had. But then, for the first time, I began to wonder about one certain sentence. I began the article by pointing out the difference between our nicely polished church altars and decorative crosses, and the original crosses and altars of the Bible, which were used for blood sacrifices and brutal executions. Here are the first two sentences of my second paragraph:

But the first altars and the first crosses did not look, or smell, like our altars and crosses. They were soaked with blood, not polished with Lemon Fresh Joy.

I had been especially pleased with the punch of my "Lemon Fresh Joy" reference, but all of a sudden it occurred to me, "Did I get that right? Is Lemon Fresh Joy a furniture polish?" A little bit of research, and my fears were confirmed. Lemon Fresh Joy is dishwashing detergent! A little more reflection, and I realized that Lemon Pledge, I think, is the product reference I was really looking for.

So now I feel a bit sheepish. I suppose there's no harm done, but I imagine my garbled product reference will cause a few bemused head scratchings. It isn't that I'm a guy totally out of touch with dishwashing detergent, as in our home division of labor I happen to be the one who takes care of the dishes. But, Crunchy Conservatives as we are, we use all-natural Shaklee dish soap, and when my wife polishes furniture she uses a hypoallergenic home blend of oil, vinegar and water that she found in an Amish do-it-yourself book.

So it'll be interesting to see if anybody asks me if we really polish our church altars with dishwashing liquid.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Musical adrenaline rush meme

Sometime I'll resume making posts with deep, thoughtful academic and theological observations related somehow to my academic pursuits. Meanwhile, it's New Meme Time! I can't claim this one is totally original, because I read something akin to it on Ralph the Sacred River awhile back. But here it is: what are your top ten musical adrenaline rushes? They may or may not be exactly co-extensive with your top ten musical pieces, period. They are the ones that give you the biggest sensation of giddiness & make you feel like turning the car stereo all the way up if they should happen to come on. Genre mixing is encouraged. These aren't necessarily in exact order, except that #1 is indeed #1 for me.

10. Alas, this is the one least likely to be heard on the car radio. Years ago an obscure Indianapolis Christian band called "LivingDead" used to do a remarkably catchy, B-52s-ish song called God Cares. I hope they are still doing it, and I wish everyone could hear it.

9. U2's Where the Streets Have No Name has a very memorable guitar intro.

8. The "Amen" at the end of Handel's Messiah, provided that it is done correctly, that is, FAST! The way Dr. Hanson always directed it the several times I was involved in Messiah performances during college. Somehow a tradition has developed of playing it slowly and stodgily, which defuses the giddy wonder of its brilliant counterpoint. Speaking of stodgy traditions ...

7. Bach's Suite #6 for Unaccompanied Cello. Years ago, college orchestra stand partner Jeff H (see "cello reunion" post below) worked up this piece in a spritely, folk-dance-like fashion, which I believe was very true to Bach's original intent. Towards the end of the Praeludium there is a jaw-dropping arpeggio, of which Jeff did a jaw-droppingly good job. Then, he started preparing for grad school auditions (he ended up studying at the Manhattan School of Music), and Dr. Alton taught him a new way to play the piece, the big, fat, stodgy, organ-chord approach that she knew the auditioners would be looking for. Sadly, once he learned it the new way, he couldn't play it the old, spritely way any longer. I wonder if they recorded him doing it the old, correct way. I'll have to ask ...

6. Antonin Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B, another piece performed brilliantly by Jeff during college, and it also has a jaw-dropping arpeggio in the first movement. (Beginning to detect a jaw-dropping arpeggio theme here)

5. Evanescence, Bring Me To Life. I don't listen much to current rock, but this one caught my ear. Something compellingly apocalyptic about their sound, a young woman's crystal-clear, bell-like voice soaring over deep rolling thunder. And I read somewhere that they're Christians. Cool!

4. O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen, a Christmas choral anthem, one of those pieces that just bring tears to your eyes with simple, sweet beauty.

3. Our Father by Alexander Gretchaninoff, a majestic Russian choral anthem forming a staple of the repertoire of my college choir & similar Lutheran college choirs for decades.

2. Symphony 6, "Pathetique" by Tschaikovsky. A gradual crescendo towards the end of the first movement builds to an amazing fortississimo that actually made the rehearsal and concert halls feel like they were moving when I played it with the local semi-pro symphony during college. (I also tend to like first movements, for some reason. Maybe because I don't like good things to end. I guess the Handel "Amen" above is a notable exception.)

1. Yes, here it is: Piano Concerto #2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Slava! Glory! A lavishly, thickly romantic piece, yet in my opinion it has a deep-seated spiritual core that gives it its real kick. Especially when you're privileged to be sitting in the middle of an orchestra that's playing it, which I've been privileged to do twice. Again, the first movement is my favorite, though the others are great, too.

Tagging Dave, Lars & Phil, Michael H, Naomi, & anyone else who wants a go at it.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Great Cello Reunion, Part III

Yesterday was a fun blogging day, as a former cello comrade from college happened to find her way here. This e-reunion with an old friend is a big improvement over the cello-related spam I was getting for awhile, though cello-related spam is better than some spam I've received.

Anyway, I'm calling it The Great Cello Reunion, Part III, and I thought I'd share a picture from Part II, which happened in about February 2002. Another former cello comrade named Vance Zuehlsdorff called on the phone out of the blue one day (how he found my number I still don't know) to tell me that he was guest-conducting the Concordia College Orchestra in a piece of his own composition, so I went to the concert and enjoyed his piece very much - a Korngold-like tone poem about an ascent up Denali (AKA Mt. McKinley), which was visible from his home in Eagle River, Alaska. The last I knew, Vance had moved to California where he was hoping to find a place in the movie music industry, but I haven't heard anything more since. Anyway, Vance is in the middle in this picture. The dark-bearded guy is Jeff H, a brilliant cellist who was principal cellist for his entire Concordia Orchestra career (1982-1986), and whose shoes I never did quite fill when I advanced to principal in 1986-87. The guy on the right is me. Jeff & I had both gained weight since college (I'm happy to report that I'm over 20 pounds lighter now than in the picture, and still working on it), but Vance looked exactly the same as I remembered him from college days!.
Jeff Holston, Vance Zuehlsdorff, Michael the Euphemist

I don't know why I was leaning over like that. My wife says that it makes me look like a Russian monk known as "St. Seraphim of Sarov":

St. Seraphim of Sarov

Click for picture credit

Great Cello Reunion Part One was when I made contact with Dr. Joan Garvin a few years back, my first cello teacher at Concordia and a great influence on me. It's inspiring to see so many of my old comrades still involved in musical pursuits. Kinda makes me think I should practice a little more myself ...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Get GROSSED out!!!!

In my ongoing campaign for Emancipation From Stuff, I've created a new and inspiring slogan: Get GROSSED out!!! It stands for:


On Tuesday I brought some old magazines to the local library. I may have slacked off yesterday, but maybe today I'll send Lars a bundle of Norwegian-language books I culled from my library, since I see from an issue of the Georg Sverdrup Society Journal that he knows how to read/translate Norwegian (and I don't, though I can do a convincing/amusing Norsky accent a la "Fargo", but that's not exactly the same thing ... ). Maybe tomorrow I'll finally get rid of some other thing that I don't really need. If nothing else, there's always the trash.

Send us your inspiring personal story of how you got GROSSED out!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Conversation Between Jesus and a Modern-Day Christian

Interesting, thought-provoking dialogue - h/t to Michael H.

"Strange.. I would have guessed that my followers were those who… follow me."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Orthodox Desert Island Book Meme

I'm picking up the tag on a meme which Orthodox fried Dave picked up from another Orthodox friend - so I suppose it'll get a bit Lutheranized in my hands. But here's the original meme idea:

"In the vein of Desert Island Discs, which ten specifically Orthodox and/or General Christian books would you take to your desert island ?
We will allow one copy of the bible as well as the ten books."

Dave graciously adjusts it for Protestants like me: "I'll put an open tag on this one as well, including Protestant readers who can ignore the "specifically Orthodox" part of question ..."

As you'll see, as I'm being shipped off to my desert island I'll be petitioning for another rule change, as three of my ten books are also portions of the Bible - but I think my choices make sense. As Michael H has noted here, I have a tendency to bend the rules of memes. Anyway, the way I'm interpreting the meme is "A collection of books of Christian interest, weighted a bit towards Eastern Orthodoxy." And I'm sticking to books I have on hand right now.

Though the NIV isn't necessarily my favorite version, I think my one (English) Bible would be my Concordia Self-Study Bible, a Lutheranized edition of the NIV Study Bible.

1. The Greek New Testament, ISBN 3438051133. Because if I'm really stuck on a desert island, I want to study the Bible in the original languages.

2. Biblia Hebraica (Hebrew Old Testament), ISBN 0564000299. Ditto.

3. Lancelot Brenton's Greek-English edition of the Septuagint. Very important ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, often quoted verbatim in the New Testament, also seems to be the "official" Old Testament of the Orthodox Church, and includes the Apocrypha.

4. The Apostolic Fathers, ISBN 0801022258.

5. The Seven Ecumenical Councils, ISBN 1565631307. One volume of the encyclopedic 38-volume set of the church fathers, the only volume I happen to own. Because if I'm going to be trying to figure out Orthodoxy on the desert island, I will be focusing on the basic primary texts behind it (applies to the previous entry, too).

6. A Practical Grammar For Classical Hebrew, ISBN 0198154224. So I can finish learning how to read the Hebrew Old Testament.

7. A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, ISBN 0023270705. In case I need a boost with the Greek NT & the Septuagint.

8. Bl. Theophylact's Commentary on Matthew , ISBN 0963518305. An important Orthodox Bible commentator, this 11th Century bishop of Bulgaria is actually mentioned very favorably in the Lutheran confessions, possibly because he sometimes uses Lutheran-friendly phrases such as "grace alone."

9. My Book of Assigned Readings from the course I took on "The Religion of Biblical Israel" at Spertus.

10. In the last minute before being shipped off, I'll have to make a choice between these two: C.S. Lewis' Discarded Image (which I blogged about here, ISBN 052147732; and Spiritual Counsels, by St. John of Kronstadt, ISBN 0913836923. Another of the more Lutheran-compatible Orthodox figures. I realize I just bent the rules of the meme once again, but "I yam what I yam."

For anyone who's packing their bags for their own desert island stay - feel free to purchase any of these fine books through my search box on the left (* shameless attempt to gain a few membership points for purchase of another book for me to leave behind *).

Feel free, one and all, to pick up on this meme, and adjust it if necessary, though I suppose we shouldn't twist it beyond recognition - I think the original Orthodox meme author had an Orthodox purpose behind it.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Hooray for Governor Rounds (& our legislature, too)

My adopted home of South Dakota has taken a leading position in the battle for the sanctity of life. The battle has just begun, of course.

Governor signs abortion ban

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Purpose-Driven blog entry

Glad to be resurfacing once again. The last month has been a full one. I presided over the funeral of my aunt, and then, without any intervening "breather", our local community was hit by the tragic loss of a teenager who died by his own hand. I was called upon to assist in the aftermath, ranging from "grief counseling" at school to co-presiding at the funeral.

Besides that, the Town Church held a "40 Days of Purpose" seminar, which was well-attended by people from several area churches. The book & seminar have their strong & weak points - I wouldn't want to make it the centerpiece of our Christian education efforts, but I think it can be a useful tool in the hands of a church that's generally well-balanced and discerning in their theology.

One point I appreciated from the Small Group Edition Study Guide was "The first building block for fellowship is authenticity." My personal theory about why certain things such as The Purpose-Driven Life appeal to many is as simple as this: people are looking for opportunities to "get real" and open up about what's really going on in their lives.

We've now begun another 40 days of purpose, namely the Lenten season, which always blesses me. The Ash Wednesday service was at the Country Church this year, and was well-attended considering that a near-blizzard briefly hit later on that evening (right when I was driving home - visibility was alarmingly low, and I would have streamlined the service if I'd realized it was coming - there's a somewhat remote 17-mile stretch between the Country Church & home, and many accidents have happened there). In our Lutheran pietistic tradition we tend to do Ash Wednesday without ashes - maybe we should call it "Clean Wednesday" in parallel to the Orthodox who start Lent with "Clean Monday," but I suspect trying to get everyone to cooperate in a terminology change would be like herding cats or squirrels.

Rick Warren of The Purpose-Driven Life also states that knowing your purpose streamlines your life, since you spend less time doing things that aren't really part of your purpose. I was thinking for awhile, "is blogging part of my purpose? Is it worth the time?" The conclusion I've come to is "yes, I don't have that much time for it, but it's an opportunity to 'be real'." So, I'm not going to be a daily blogger, but every few days or so I'll post something. How's that? And I'm giving up on trying to be too "focused". The most popular blogs seem to be the ones where people unashamedly write for themselves. If there's an audience out there for them, they'll connect.

Speaking of connecting with an audience, I'm truly gratified to see that my blog has generated some interest. According to my Clustrmap I've had an average of 5.87 clicks per day since January 1. The amazing thing is, for half that time I haven't posted a single post. I'm intrigued by the string of big dots stretching from my home in the Heartland over to some point in New York or New England. I know the big dot in Minnesota must be Lars, the one in Indiana must be Michael H, and the one in England is definitely Dave, but I haven't a clue who the others are. I invite everyone out there to say "hi" - you don't have to blow your cover or anything, but I'd like to hear from you. Maybe you could tell me what interests you on this site, and what you'd like to see more of.

Thought for today: would a wandering stocking cap be a peregrine toque?