a way of looking at the Bible

A week ago Sunday, 8 September, was Pentecost 16, Proper 18 and the gospel reading was Luke 14:25-33, which includes some harsh language:

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

BibleFr. Phil had an interesting take on this. He reminded us that the gospels were written in a time of tumult, when the followers of Jesus were being thrown out of the synagogues. The readers of the gospel of Luke and the other gospels were under a lot of stress and no doubt confused. He suggested:

So how are you and I going to read these hard words attributed to Jesus?  We can read them as intended for one specific circumstance in history; some things do not bear to be repeated.  Some words never need to be applicable again.  All of the Bible does not have to have future application; many of the words can simply remain the historical record of a single event in the history of a particular group of people.

That can relieve a lot of stress for us today, ya know?

Yom Kippur

YomKippurI remember the one time I attended an Erev Yom Kippur service. It was in Oklahoma City in the early 1980’s. I think it was much later in the fall that year, because I remember it being cold and blustery. It was before my late first wife Ruth, Jewish and the child of survivors of the Holocaust, took offense at what she perceived to be a slam at her New Age vocation in a sermon the rabbi had preached, and we stopped attending Friday evening Shabbat services. I remember how deeply that Erev Yom Kippur service, and in particular the Kol Nidre, resonated with me.

You know how I feel, of course. I have mentioned it many times before. I love the perspective of rabbinic Judaism with its emphasis on one’s direct relationship with God. I have never felt the need for an intermediary and I have long thought the doctrine of the Trinity to be unnecessary. Yet I remain an Episcopalian, a tradition deeply immersed in the doctrine of the Trinity, and I deeply value the privilege of receiving Communion each week.

Still, on this most solemn of Holy Days, on this Day of Atonement, I pause for a moment of reflection.

To all of my Jewish friends, may you have an easy fast.

The Last Train to Zona Verde

lasttrainThe Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari
Paul Theroux
Print Length: 373 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 7, 2013)
Kindle Edition $9.45, Hardcover $18.69

I have read almost all of Paul Theroux’s travel books, and some of his fiction as well. I read The Great Railway Bazaar when it was first published in 1975. Most of his other travel books I also read when they first came out. If I somehow missed a book I corrected the error when I learned of it. One of the few I didn’t read was Dark Star Safari, because its subject was Africa, and that part of the world holds less of an interest for me than does the rest of the world. As I recall, the reviews at the time accused Theroux of being a curmudgeon, a characterization he disputed.

When I saw the reviews of Last Train, I downloaded the Kindle sample and added it my queue. Yes, the book is about Africa, but the word “ultimate” in the subtitle doesn’t mean “best” or “greatest,” but rather last. That meant I had to read the book. However, I failed to note that the subtitle reads “My Ultimate African Safari,” and not “My Ultimate Safari,” or “My Ultimate Sojourn.” More on that shortly.

Theroux does his usual masterful job of vividly describing the people and places he encounters. As one would expect in Africa, there is plenty of poverty and a lack of infrastructure and Western amenities. But Theroux was happy to be there, and I saw no trace of curmudgeon-like behavior. Africa, after all, is close to his heart. He was in the Peace Corps in Malawi in the 1960’s and later taught at a university in Uganda. It’s easy to understand his desire to make that last trip.

I wouldn’t quote the closing paragraph of a novel, but it seems appropriate here to quote how Theroux ends the book. I think that he sums it all up nicely, and he seems to have gotten Africa out of his system. So if you have thoughts of reading The Last Train to Zona Verde you may want to stop reading here. Theroux brings his journeys in Africa to a close by writing:

Not the end of travel, or of reckless essaying— there is no end to those for me— but the end of this trip and this sort of travel, marinated in politics and urban wreckage, where the only possible narrative I see (and am unwilling to write) is an anatomy of melancholy. There is a world elsewhere.

What am I doing here? I knew at last. I am preparing to leave. On the red clay roads of the African bush among poor and overlooked people, I often thought of the poor in America, living in just the same way, precariously, on the red roads of the Deep South, on low farms, poor pelting villages, sheepcotes, and mills— people I knew only from books, as I’d first known Africans— and I felt beckoned home.

on being unassuming

XiamenI have written about my Facebook friend and fellow blogger, Mike Todd. Mike used to be married and live in Vancouver, Canada. Then he got divorced and moved to Xiamen, China. How’s that for making a major life change? Mike often writes on Facebook about the cultural idiosyncrasies he observes. And he has a tendency to be unassuming and self-effacing.

I really appreciated the comment he made about hearing Simon and Garfunkel sing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” in an elevator in Xiamen:

I’m not completely unfamiliar with the complexities of the various theories of globalization—I know, for instance, that it’s a small world after all…

Thank you, Mike, for that.

what if I’d made a different decision?

You may know that my degree from Pitzer College is in classics, that is the study of Greek and Latin, and of Greek and Roman history and culture. The graduation requirements included, in those days at least, something like three years of Latin and two of Greek, plus associated courses in history, art and literature.

PitzerftnsmIt was actually the associated courses in history, art, and literature that I was interested in, and less so the languages. Now Pitzer has always been very flexible when it comes to crafting the course requirements for one’s major, and I certainly could have put together something acceptable that would have omitted the languages. That would have been a good idea, since I always struggled with languages other than English, as I certainly did with Latin and Greek. Never mind, of course, the fact that the world of classical scholarship frowns on translations and insists on scholars reading research in the original language. That means both German and French are strongly recommended. So, yes, in my case a custom major that omitted the languages would have been a wise choice. And in fact, there was precedent next door at Scripps College, where there was an official classical studies major, which omitted the Latin and Greek.

So why didn’t I? For the same two reasons that many people of college age make bad decisions: arrogance and peer pressure.

That was 38 years ago, so I’m not sure why I’m even recalling this now. But I can’t help but think that I would have saved myself a lot of stress and frustration had I made a more pragmatic decision.

Sacred Music Friday: Immortal, Invisible

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise arranged by Samuel Metzger, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir; Dr. John L. Wilson, Conductor; Samuel Metzger, Organist

the pleasure of the book business

timesThe Time of Their Lives:
The Golden Age of Great American Book Publishers, Their Editors and Authors
Al Silverman
Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Truman Talley Books, 2008
out of print

I read this book when it first came out on my physical Kindle device. Oddly, today it is out of print and not available even in Kindle format. (Why would a book go out of print in the Kindle edition?) It is today only available as an audio book. Some time after I read the book I did see a review that suggested it was only of interest if you were in the trade. Perhaps that’s why it had a short life in print.

And perhaps it’s true that the book had a limited audience. I loved the it, but then I was in the book biz working for B. Dalton Bookseller from 1975 through 1982 and again 1986-87. I knew the publishers and the imprints, and I remember the changes and mergers described that happened in my era. I enjoyed reading about changes in the business that happened before I got there.

The book business is very different today from what it was when I was there. This book captures well much of that history and deserves to be better preserved.

At least restore the Kindle edition, please.

the Oxford Dictionaries Online

I really enjoy the posts by the good folks over at Language Log. It’s an added bonus when they point me to a new language resource, as they did recently. The occasion of the post was the fact that two days after the infamous Miley Cyrus “twerking” performance, the Oxford Dictionaries announced its quarterly update of new words, which included that word. There was some confusion that the performance was responsible for the entry, when in fact that and other entries had been planned for some time.

However, this gave Ben Zimmer at Language Log the opportunity to mention the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and explain how that site is different from the venerable Oxford English Dictionary. As they themselves explain at the Oxford Dictionaries Online:

While ODO focuses on the current language and practical usage, the OED shows how words and meanings have changed over time.

The Oxford Dictionaries Online site has both a free version and a reasonably priced paid version, while the OED is outrageously expensive.

I’m delighted to have this new resource in my repertoire.

By the way, in case you didn’t know, you can get the definitions from my favorite dictionary, The  American Heritage Dictionary, at the Web site for their 5th edition. It’s doesn’t have the detailed etymology and word roots, but it’s free and well worth bookmarking.


the Sunday Times

We used to subscribe to the New York Times print edition on Saturdays and Sundays. I discontinued that some years back when the then-CEO of my company cut everyone’s pay by five percent and I cut back on a number of expenses. But Terry and I both always enjoyed it. I kept my connection with the Times by subscribing to the Sunday Book Review by mail. Coming by second class mail, it usually arrives long after the Sunday of publication, but it turns out to be the most inexpensive way to get full online access to the Times. That allows me to peruse the iPad app and to read the Sunday Book Review in my Web browser, which more closely mirrors the print version than does the iPad app.

Still, there is something special about the print edition and reading the various sections with Terry on a Sunday evening. I thought about subscribing again, but these days one carrier delivers the San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle, Barron’s, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. We confuse the guy enough as it is getting both the Merc and the Chronicle. I didn’t want to cause further chaos. But it occurred to me that I could stop in at our locally owned bookstore, Booksmart, in Morgan Hill after church on my way to Trader Joe’s and pick up a Sunday Times. I’ve started doing that.

Supporting our locally owned bookstore and having a Sunday Times to read. How’s that for nice?