Traveling Music (ReMix)

Here is yet another iteration of a “re-run” post from a different venue several years ago, engendered this time by scanning old iPod tracks on the ever-more-repetitious journey down I-65 from Chicago to Indianapolis.  It is likely just babel/babble to anyone but me.  FWIW.

Mumford and Sons – Babel – ROCKS!

But it also engenders reservations, similar to their first album, about which I posted the following on 21 January 2011.

In an earlier post I mentioned listening to the musical group, Mumford & Sons while driving near the end of long trip.  Due to some questions, I took it down, lest anyone think I condone the use of profanity on that CD (Sigh No More).  I do not.  Here’s a response of sorts to some of the questions:

Presumably most people understand that mentioning a group, person, or work of art does not imply endorsement of everything in, on, or about it.  The track Timshel, referencing Genesis 4 and resonating Steinbeck’s East of Eden, does not imply endorsement of Steinbeck or all that is in the book.  Quoting a commentary on Genesis 4 does not mean accepting or recommending everything in it.  This is, one hopes, elementary for anyone willing to think about it.

I’m a sucker for clever lyrics, especially those with religious implications – even cryptic ones (especially when married to great harmonious melodies).  Who could not like the opening lines of the first track: “Serve God, love me, and mend – this is not the end…Sigh no more, no more.  One foot in sea and  one on shore.  My heart was never pure – You know me.”   Or, “If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could have won” (from “I Gave You All”).

Or this:  “You told me that I would find a hole Within the fragile substance of my soul, And I have filled this void with things unreal And all the while my character it steals”  — followed by, “It seems all my bridges have been burned, But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works – It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart, But the welcome I receive with the restart” (Roll Away Your Stone).

However, admixed with admirable thoughts expressed with dexterity are others of a baser sort…of infidelity and betrayal, doubt and denial.  Of course, many people, even those of strong faith, have experienced such thoughts and possibly even behaviors, as we succumb to various temptations to one degree or another.

Most vexing and disturbing is the gratuitous use (in Little Lion Man, CD track 7) of a common vulgarism meant to describe one of the most divinely pleasurable of human experiences – made into a cheap swear-word.  That is, of course the nature of profanity – taking something which is a should be special or limited to particular circumstances and profaning it by making it common or ordinary.  As several before me have noticed, if one wished to express extreme displeasure, one could at least use something REALLY unpleasant, like “Audit you, buddy!”

I realize one can hear such vulgarities at the mall or at a high school sporting event (to say nothing or college or pro games).  But it pains me to spend money to download or rip such junk.  One man’s opinion.

Other issues raised by such questions include how those who find such things objectionable should react.  Bury head in sand and ignore?  Boycott?  Draw up the bridge and retreat behind the moat?  Or recognize and engage when possible?  Do we read only that which has no objectionable material?  Hard to come by.  Can we be “fans” only of athletes, teams, or artists without flaw?  Good luck.

Late night thoughts from a fried brain at the end of a long day. Anybody want to sound off on this?  No obligation.

(A closing thought:  It is sobering, when contemplating passing an 18-wheeler in snow, to hear lyrics like, “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die…for you were made to meet your maker.”  Hmmmmm)

 

A Hymn Author Comments on One of His Best

A Hymn Author Comments on One of His Best

Matt Bassford on Writing “Exalted”

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

— 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NASB)

I can’t find my writer’s notebook from the late 1990s, but if memory serves, I wrote “Exalted” in April 1999, which makes this the 15th anniversary-ish of my having done so.  At the time, I had no inkling that it would make its way into the repertoire of the Lord’s church; indeed, to this day, its success leaves me both thankful and bemused.  Hopefully, my account of its creation will prove of interest.

In April 1999, I had no idea how to write hymns.  I had been through two sessions of Craig Roberts’ Hymninar; I could analyze hymns according to the technical trinity of rhythm, rhyme, and meter; but my own ability to duplicate what I had studied was negligible.  Writing an “Abide with Me” or “In the Hour of Trial” was as far beyond me as playing in the NBA.

That was a problem, because I had something I wanted to say.  It too came from Craig, from a sermon that he had preached for the Sunday-morning assembly of R.J. Stevens’ 1998 singing school.  It was entitled “The Glory and the Shame”, and it was a study of the contrast between Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and His crucifixion less than a week later.

I became fascinated with the rich irony of the Biblical account.  I said to myself, “I should write a hymn about that.”  I set pen to paper, gave it my valiant all. . . and failed ignominiously.  This was not a, “It’s not THAT bad, Matt” kind of failure.  It was more like, “Matt, are you sure that English was your first language?”  I am notoriously incapable of determining when something I’ve written is bad, but this time I could tell.  It was bad enough to set stray dogs to howling.

Like the builder of Swamp Castle, I tried again a few months later.  Also like the builder of Swamp Castle, I failed again.  The result looked sort of like a hymn, with rhymes and lines of the appropriate length.  However, it had all the elegance and grace of a cinder block.  Whatever one needed in order to capture the ironies of the crucifixion in rhyme and meter, I did not possess.

Fine.  I couldn’t write hymns.  So what?  I was still going to write THIS hymn!  In the depths of my frustration, I hit upon the expedient of structuring the hymn around parallels, like the Hebrew poets did, rather than using rhyme.  Once I made that mental switch, the rest was easy.  I banged out the first draft of “Exalted” in about half an hour, and that first draft was substantially what is sung today.

However, my work created another problem.  If some determined 20-year-old handed me “Exalted” today, I would tell him it couldn’t work as a hymn because the verse-to-verse structure is bad.  As most of our hymns do, “Exalted” has three verses, each intended to be sung to the same tune.   That same tune, then, must match the emotional feel of all three verses.  In most good hymns, all the verses have the same mood or at least reside in the same general part of the emotional spectrum.  This allows the composer to craft a joyful tune that matches the joyful mood of “Hallelujah!  Praise Jehovah!” or a rich, sorrowful tune that matches the sorrow of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”.

Those hymns have excellent verse-to-verse structure.  The verse-to-verse structure of “Exalted” is terrible.  It has one grand verse about the glories of Christ the King, one ironic verse about the vicious way He was received by His people, and one half-and-half verse about the different ways He is received today.

A hymn like that pulls a composer in two.  He can’t write a grand tune to match the first verse, because then it won’t match the second.  He can’t write an ironic tune to match the second verse, because then it won’t match the first.  All he can do is compose a neutral tune that kind-of matches the tone of the entire hymn, but neutral is boring is not sung is a failed hymn.

This is not a hypothetical.  I spent years writing hymns that failed because of bad verse-to-verse structure.  It still gives me more trouble than any other aspect of hymnwriting.  “Exalted” should have ended up on the dust heap with all of those other failed hymns.  It didn’t because I, having no idea what I was doing, asked Charli Couchman to write the music.

Charli is a phenomenally talented composer, but “Exalted” may remain her finest work.  She’s written plenty of good tunes to good hymns, but in “Exalted” she found a hymn that was destined to die and gave it life.  The flawed verse-to-verse structure meant that she could not write an interesting melody, because an interesting melody would be a mismatch to one or more verses.  Instead, she wrote a boring, flat melody and made it interesting, even unique, by passing it back and forth between parts.  The result is unlike anything I’m familiar with in the tradition of English hymnody, yet simple enough that a congregation with moderate musical gifts can pick it up.

Charli’s success was not apparent at first.  If you’ve ever heard a MIDI recording of “Exalted”, it’s terribly boring, and 15 years ago, the MIDI was all we had to go on.  However, when the hymn is sung, its chords swell and come to life, infusing both the glory and the suffering of Christ with grandeur.  It is quite an achievement.

By profession, I am inclined to supply morals to any story, so here are three.  First, it highlights the utility of good old-fashioned stubbornness.  Even a brick wall may cave in if you bang your head against it long enough.  Second, it helps to have friends who will rescue you from yourself and make you look good!

Finally, though, and most of all, I am reminded that when it comes to the gospel, the talents of the messenger are nothing next to the power of the message.  God is perfectly capable of taking a 20-year-old kid in central Missouri, a kid who doesn’t know anything and doesn’t know how to do anything, and using that kid to glorify Him.  If there are lines in “Exalted” that confuse you, that’s not because I was particularly profound in 1999.  It’s because I wasn’t a very good writer.

And yet, despite the warts, despite the flaws, despite all the things that I yearn to go back and red-pen, the majesty of the story of Jesus shines through.  That’s not only all that I can hope for from my hymns.  It’s also all I can hope for from me.

Posted by M. W. Bassford at 7:28 AM, Monday 14 April 2014

NOTE: EXALTED is #198 in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

Read more, including comments, at http://hisexcellentword.blogspot.com/2014/04/writing-exalted.html

Not What You Think: Most Popular Bible Translation?

Not What You Think: Most Popular Bible Translation?

NIV vs. KJV: Surveys and searches suggest the translation that most Americans are reading is actually not the bookstore bestseller.

Excerpts from Christiaity Today — read more at http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/march/most-popular-and-fastest-growing-bible-translation-niv-kjv.html?utm_source=ctweekly-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=13563403&utm_content=255150180&utm_campaign=2013

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra        [ posted 3/13/2014 11:17AM ]The Most Popular and Fastest Growing Bible Translation Isn't What You Think It Is

When Americans reach for their Bibles, more than half of them pick up a King James Version (KJV), according to a new study advised by respected historian Mark Noll. The 55 percent who read the KJV easily outnumber the 19 percent who read the New International Version (NIV). And the percentages drop into the single digits for competitors such as the New Revised Standard Version, New America Bible, and the Living Bible.

So concludes “The Bible in American Life,” a lengthy report by the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Funded by the Lilly Foundation, researchers asked questions on what David Briggs of the ARDA, which first reported the results, calls “two of the most highly respected data sources for American religion”—the General Social Survey and the National Congregations Study.

The numbers are surprising, given the strong sales of NIV translations in bookstores. The NIV has topped the CBA’s bestselling Bible translation list for decades, and continued to sell robustly in 2013. The high numbers of KJV readers confirm the findings of last year’s American Bible Society (ABS) State of the Bible report. On behalf of ABS, Barna Group found that 52 percent of Americans read the King James or the New King James Version, compared with 11 percent who read the NIV.

The KJV also received almost 45 percent of the Bible translation-related searches on Google, compared with almost 24 percent for the NIV, according to Bible Gateway’s Stephen Smith.  In fact, searches for the KJV seem to be rising distinctly since 2005, while most other English translations are staying flat or are declining, according to Smith’s Google research.

Smith, whose research on how technology is shaping Bible use is profiled in this month’s CT cover story, blended data from Google Trends and the Google Keyword Tool to see how English Bible translations compare in search terms. Bible translation searches may not necessarily be an indicator of Bible translation usage—a Bible Gateway study earlier this year found dramatic differences between the cities most likely to search for Bible verses and the American Bible Society’s list of top “Bible-minded” cities.

Nevertheless, other studies also indicate that the KJV remains the translation powerhouse. A 2011 Lifeway study, for example, found that 62 percent of Americans—and 82 percent of Americans who regularly read the Bible—own a copy of the KJV.

“Although the bookstores are now crowded with alternative versions, and although several different translations are now widely used in church services and for preaching, the large presence of the KJV testifies to the extraordinary power of this one classic English text,” Noll commented in the IUPUI report. “It also raises most interesting questions about the role of religious and linguistic tradition in the makeup of contemporary American culture.”

READ MORE AT http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/march/most-popular-and-fastest-growing-bible-translation-niv-kjv.html?utm_source=ctweekly-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=13563403&utm_content=255150180&utm_campaign=2013

CT has reported on ABS’s State of the Bible reports, including how the Bible gained 6 million new antagonists in 2013.

Footnote 28 — Reading Biblical Narrative – Jan P. Fokkelman

Footnote 28 — Jan P. Fokkelman, Reading Biblical Narrative: An Introductory Guide (Westminster John Knox Press, 2000; trans. Ineke Smit), pp. 21-22.

“As the meaning of a text is only realized through the mediation of the reader, our responsibility for its meaning is greater than the text’s own.  Moreover, this meaning is realized in the here and now; we confer meaning around the year 2000, not in 800 or 500 BCE. This may seem obvious, but it needs to be stated clearly.  The effect of bestowing meaning on one’s own readings and interpretations has hardly, if at all, been taken into account by established Bible scholarship (the so-called historical-critical school), which assumes its own attitude to be self-evident. This approach sets out to ‘understand the Bible texts within the framework of their own time,’ according to the slogan characteristic of these scholars. This attitude conveys a totally different message: the text comes from far away, dates from a long time ago, and is rooted in a radically different culture.  Thus, there is a three-fold alienation which has discouraged many Bible readers, students of theology, and future preachers.

“It is true that the text of the Bible comes from the Near East, that it is almost 2000 to 3000 years old, and that it originated in a culture which differed greatly from ours, both materially and spiritually. These differences should not be underestimated; yet these distances are only half-truths, and if you treat them as unshakeable axioms they will quietly turn into lies and optical illusions. There is a greater, more important truth, which is that these texts are well-written.  IF they are then so fortunate as to meet a good listener, they will come into their own without having to be pushed into the compartments ‘far away,’ ‘long ago’ and ‘very different.’ As products of a deliberate and meticulous designing intelligence they have been crafted to speak for themselves, provided there is a competent reader listening closely.

“It is only natural that the Bible text should have quickly freed itself from its origin.  The current rather infelicitous phrase is that the text has been decontextualized: maker, audience, and context have long been lost.  Of course, the writers knew that this was to be the fate of their stories, laws and poems – assuming for the moment that they were not born yesterday. Reading the Bible ‘within the setting of its own time?’ A lofty goal, but in the first place this is a perilous enterprise since the setting is not there any more – it was lost about two thousand years ago. Secondly, it is hardly a viable undertaking, as we are not Israelites. The publication of a text implies that its umbilical cord has been cut; from then on, it is on its own.  Now, good texts can indeed manage alone, as from the beginning they have been designed to outlive their birth and original context by a long way.  The writer knows that he cannot always accompany his text to provide explanations, clear up misunderstandings, etc. He has to let go of his product completely; he should leave it to his poem or story to take care of itself on its own.  So he decides to provide is text with the devices, signals, and shapes with which it can withstand the onslaught of time and guide the reading activities of the loyal listener.”

We Can Measure Educational Value in Words

We Can Measure Educational Value in Words

by Peter Augustine Lawler

 Excerpted – read more at http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2013/01/we-can-measure-educational-value-in.html

E.D. Hirsch (the cultural literacy guy) has, I think, written the most important article on educational “outcomes” in a long time. The great benefit of education, “the key to increasingly upward mobility,” is expanding the vocabulary of students. Why is that?

  • Hirsch observes that “vocabulary size is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities—not just skill in reading, writing, and listening, and speaking but also general knowledge of science, history, and the arts.” People have large vocabularies because they know a lot. They know a lot, because they’ve read a lot—that is, many, many challenging books and articles and such….
    • To make Americans smarter again and come closer to equal educational opportunity for all, we in our country have “to undo the vast intellectual revolution that took place in the 1930s.” The dumbest of our dumb ideas—one that we still think is innovative but is actually discredited and worn out—”is how-to-ism—the notion that education should concern itself not with mere factual knowledge, which is constantly changing, but rather with giving students the intellectual tools to assimilate new knowledge. These tools typically include the ability to look things up, to think critically, and to accommodate oneself flexibly to the world of the unknown future.” Although Hirsch’s article deals with primary and secondary education, it’s clear to me that dumb-and-dumber how-to-ism has permeated higher education. So we want to assess our programs in a content-free way—as being all about the abstract skills such as critical thinking and analytical reasoning….

NPR: New Study Shows Brain Benefits Of Bilingualism

NPR: New Study Shows Brain Benefits Of Bilingualism

New Study Shows Brain Benefits Of Bilingualism

The largest study so far to ask whether speaking two languages might delay the onset of dementia symptoms in bilingual patients as compared to monolingual patients has reported a robust result. Bilingual patients suffer dementia onset an average of 4.5 years later than those who speak only a single language.

While knowledge of a protective effect of bilingualism isn’t entirely new, the present study significantly advances scientists’ knowledge. Media reports emphasize the size of its cohort: 648 patients from a university hospital’s memory clinic, including 391 who were bilingual. It’s also touted as the first study to reveal that bilingual people who are illiterate derive the same benefit from speaking two languages as do people who read and write. It also claims to show that the benefit applies not only to Alzheimer’s sufferers but also people with frontotemporal and vascular dementia.

………………………

Being bilingual opens up new worlds of global connection and understanding, and almost certainly allows some degree of flexibility in personal expression, too.

Now we know, more concretely and convincingly than before, that there’s a brain benefit to bilingualism, too.

Read more at: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2013/11/14/244813470/new-study-shows-brain-benefits-of-bilingualism?utm_content=socialflow&utm_campaign=nprfacebook&utm_source=npr&utm_medium=facebook

WHAT’S RIGHT, WHAT’S WRONG -17 Phrases You May Be Saying Incorrectly.

WHAT’S RIGHT, WHAT’S WRONG -17 Phrases You May Be Saying Incorrectly.

WHAT’S RIGHT, WHAT’S WRONG

Who would have thought that so many people misuse the most common phrases? Let’s take a look at 17 phrases you may be saying incorrectly.

“I could care less” and “I could literally eat a horse” are two of the most commonly misused phrases in the English language. While you may or may not be using them correctly, chances are you hear phrases being misused all the time — and it’s probably one of your biggest pet peeves! Let’s look at 17 of the most commonly misused phrases and learn the proper way to say them. We won’t tell anyone if you forward it to a few people you may know.

Read more ….

http://www.sheknows.com/living/articles/1003885/17-phrases-youre-probably-saying-wrong