Monday, July 28, 2014

New hymns - old hymns

Here's a rendering of Psalm 114. What could be done with it? This is in essence the original tonus peregrinus. It proves that Suzanne Haik Vantoura was on to something with her method of transcription of the cantillation marks in the Hebrew text.

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I tried poetry before - it's a hard discipline! This translation is a blend of mine and the traditional Coverdale.

The stress marks in the above are for the English underlay - plus you should add a few unwritten rests. I made all the barlines invisible to make it harder to be wooden.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Long-winded former prophet - 1 Samuel 21

Whatever other meanderings are in this post, be sure to read the music here. This is a very amusing chapter containing David's hobnob with the priest Ahimelek over bread, girls, and Goliath's sword. Et qui rit des curés d'Oc.  Let no one laugh (too much) at the priests of Oc (Languedoc - no it's not in the hill country of Israel - but the wine is good).

1 Samuel 21:10 has a recitation of 39 beats in length concerning the sword of Goliath. I am glad to say that my programming passed the test and counted them correctly over the maximum bar length of 24 that I allow. You might need more than one breath to sing it.

This chapter also provides inscriptions for a couple of Psalms: Psalm 52 concerning Doeg and Ahimelech, and Psalm 34 concerning David and his feigned madness before the king of Gath (Akish or Abimelech). This incident also concerns David getting bread from the priest. See also Mark 2:25 and parallels - only Mark raises the question as to what the name of the priest was, Ahimelech or Abiathar. But given the subterfuge of David - saying he has secret orders from 'the king' and his lads are stashed away wherever, we might want to read the Jesus story with a little more humour as well.

The psalms are far apart in the Psalter. Psalm 34 is one of the four acrostics in Book 1. Psalm 52 is the second of the Davidic collection in Book 2, and not one that is very famous - in contrast to Psalm 51. Who bothers to remember Doeg, the snitch? Yet here he is remembered in a psalm as that 'champion of villainy'. The phrase is from the Jerusalem Bible following the Greek. I took a different route and tried to make sense of the Hebrew. Doeg is for me 'a reproof of God all the day long'. I.e. he is deaf to the Anointed, and continuous reproof makes no headway in him - yet David rebukes him hoping for a miracle, that enemies might be transformed into allies. Doeg is an Edomite. It was tribal warfare in those days as it is today. I am sure that assigning roles, whether of loyalty or betrayal, to friend and foe is as complex then as it is now.

As it happens, I wasn't even going to consider the opening verses of this chapter, confused as they are with differing numbering systems even in Hebrew versions. The Leningrad codex begins with verse 1 as the last statement of the prior section: וַיָּ֖קָם וַיֵּלַ֑ךְ וִיהוֹנָתָ֖ן בָּ֥א הָעִֽיר  And he (David) rose up and left, while Jonathan went to the city. Current Hebrew Bibles begin verse 1 as וַיָּבֹ֤א דָוִד֙ נֹ֔בֶה אֶל־אֲחִימֶ֖לֶךְ הַכֹּהֵ֑ן And David went towards Nob to Ahimelech the priest ...

The story is unexpectedly full of deceit, fear, weakness, and subtlety on the part of David, running for his life into the arms of his enemies, completely alone - in the solitude of solitude, without his lads, his army, his infrastructure (the city), even if it was limited to playing the harp for a mentally disturbed king, and so he too feigns madness and escapes.

There is a new musical pattern in the text. It is the presence of two consecutive ornaments: qadma followed immediately by zaqef qatan. It is too subtle at the moment for me to work out a reliable search to see if this is a rare combination or not. I.e. my data is not quite in the right shape to search for musical patterns... In this case the patterns form a frame for the whole chapter - almost as if the king of Gath was mimicking the melody of king David heading towards Nob. I suspect no one would interpret such a little thing. But maybe both of them are somewhat at sea in these episodes. Also there is a strange bar where David is making up his story for the priest - and the chant is a boring single note - 10 syllables with no ornamentation.  This is quite rare - and fits the sense that David is making up his answer to the priest's question on the fly.

There are a couple of subtleties in both transcription and musical phrasing that I don't want to look at in detail in the program I have written. It has been weeks and I wonder why the output is exactly what it is - but it may be sequence of the coding of the data - and in any case the final result is under the control of the musician. The program can only produce a draft. If the original manuscripts are consulted (e.g. at the Aleppo codex online) there will be a lot of possible manual adjustment of the music.

And another thing I noticed, the repetition of a phrase I thought was more rare - ki im, as in Psalm 1. (כִּי אִם)

If you are interested - read the story - and imagine this outlaw, the famous king David before his fame. Laugh? Not sure about that.

Here's an experiment - embedding the pdf in the web page. Or use the link above to my shared documents.

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Patheos blogs are badly behaved

I am removing all Patheos blogs from my reader. That includes Marcus Borg, Peter Enns, and James Mcgrath. While the content of these bloggers is very good and very interesting, the hosts are impolite: ads that start without permission, images of naked ladies pasted all over, a serious consumption of CPU cycles from these pages, jerky ads that stop you from reading and ugly popups that ask if you want to be further disturbed.

Pathetic - as Eeyore would say.  Bye folks - see you on Facebook maybe occasionally - but you are toast - hosted by the evil world - and I'm out of here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

2 Samuel 6 - David whirling before the ark

My reading partner has suggested this as a passage that demands a close reading. So there's nothing like translating and finding an underlay for the implied music to force a close reading. It is a strange passage. David is burned up just as Yahweh is burned up at the negligence of Uzzah. The passage is framed by laughter, translated 'play' in the KJV, but it is the same laughter as the derision of Psalm 2. A rollicking good time seems to be David's command as the king of all Yahweh's people. Yet he feared also. But the critical Michal is to have no children to the day of her death. The fear of making a scene where honour is compromised doesn't cut it as an excuse for David. Humble / base (Psalm 138:6) David will be and the maidservants will still honour him.

The music in pdf form with my inimitable awkward translation is here.

I am still thinking too, especially in the light of the face saving and dissembling that is going on in the world, about the third petal - how to approach completeness. I will get there, I hope.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


My second thought-petal when I was musing on what I value as "good for you" was acknowledging error.

Good for you is, by the way, the name of a bulk food store nearby, about 7 km away. We often go there for bread flour, oats, wheat germ, and other bulk foods.

So how can one classify error? (And I note to my relief that I included the verb acknowledging.)

First, of error, there is accident, mistake, things arising from ignorance, from complexity, from various kinds of action, things having unexpected consequences, things that happen where the mechanics are broken, such as in the case of disease or other damage to a human being.  It's not an easy list!  Some of these errors are easy to correct, and some cannot be fixed. And they are not necessarily anyone's fault.

And then there's 'sin'. What is it that we call 'sin'? It is always communal, always against another. While it may be committed by the individual, there is no escaping from its origin or its impact even if one considers oneself without it. And by definition, no one is without sin. You may have a necessary belief that someone is without sin, but if anyone is short of it, he can have some of mine. So in a sense, I refuse to go to the answer before I have the questions. I will undermine a theoretical faith because theory may prevent us from actually behaving in a manner suitable to our calling in faithfulness.

It was Northrope Frye who taught me through his book The Great Code, about the problem of having answers to questions. Answers consolidate the learning at the level of the question, and prevent the development of further questions. This (one among many other causes) produces stunted growth. The doctrine of 'original sin' is an example of theory that prevents growth. We can take no consolation from such doctrine if we do not find the reality of obedience. That is the real question. And it is not quite the subject of this second thought-petal.

So, secondly, how easy is it to acknowledge error? I think you know that it doesn't even matter which kind of error we are talking about. It is hard. Honour and shame can prevent us from even considering a typo. You didn't sin. You just had a fingering problem on the keyboard, but you didn't notice until it was published!

I found one in a delightful book the other day. The book is Aleph through the Looking Glass, Yale 2006, by Jonathan Orr-Stav. It is by far the best introduction to Hebrew letters I have come across. Late in the book, an inconsequential image omits the letter resh. Resh, he describes, is a fundamental stroke in the Hebrew script. The omission of resh in the image (twice) is curious but unimportant in the overall scheme of things. It may have happened for a variety of systemic reasons, many of them outside the author's control. In a book this many years following initial production, it may even be a recurrence of an error that had been fixed already.

Books like systems are a complex process. Many people must cooperate to produce such things. And in many senses they are never finished. This should put a limit to the perfection we seek and allow us to stand away from the products we build. To stand too close is to expose our need for perfection in a way that reveals deeper troubles.

There will always be misprints. Some of them we correct as we read and we never even notice. Such self-correcting processes are an essential component to life and our ability to operate in any fashion. Life would be boring without them. (What! O happy fault!)

If acknowledging a simple error is difficult, how much harder is it to face a situation where we damage others either by accident or by design, or as a byproduct of our own pursuit of self-interest? This fear of shame, correction, or inability to change is the cause of endless governance problems in our world. In fact, the line between systemic error and sin is not at all clear. Murder happens sometimes as a result of mental illness and this in turn is caused by systemic problems in either or both gestation or social structures.

So my second thought-petal reveals a serious set of concerns. Whether it be power to build, or desire to protect, or all the myriad of conflicts that emerge from our lives, how will we deal with the power and the desire within us when we ourselves have been produced by that prior generation that we are so happy to blame? First we must acknowledge that there is a fault-line.

Perfection in the limited sense of "working towards completeness" and with a byproduct of purity and holiness is our next thought-petal.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Till by turning, turning, we come round right

So goes the old Shaker song, 'tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be .... But maybe you didn't think that turning in this song meant repentance.

What do I mean by turning, my first petal. To turn is to change, to turn from something, to turn to something else. The turn may be very slight, as for instance, seeing faith as faithfulness, an action and an attitude rather than a belief, a concrete conversation rather than an abstract belief.  Maybe turning is impossible - maybe one needs a dance partner to help.

But repent?  That word is loaded. Yet its simplest meaning is to turn towards God - to face God, to know presence. Turn, face, presence are all themes Psalm 90. In verse 3, the poet writes of God:
you turn a mortal to contrition
and you say, Turn children of humanity
In verses 8 and 9, iniquity - ours - the corporate failure, is spoken of - and we face away from the face of God:
you put our iniquities before you
our dissembling in the light of your face
for all our days face away from your fury
we consume our years as a mutter
In verse 13, the poet appeals
Turn יהוה, until when?
And be comforted over your servants.

Of course that psalm should be read in its context, as the beginning of Book 4 and the focus on Moses after the failures recorded in Books 2 and 3.

Turn - repent - is the first command of Jesus in his ministry according to Mark 1:15. This call always bothered me. As if one could be called to good news by the word 'repent'. Repent always meant bad news. It concentrates on the things we have done wrong. It has nothing to do with good news so why should I pay attention.

O poison! How loaded words get twisted and distorted. Repent turned these gospel words for me into something worth running away from. Why! Who would not want to be face to face with the One who created us, the One who loves us, the One who suffers with us and longs for us to be present, facing, fully alive, in the created and redeemed world which is so beloved? Yes - there is work to turn away from destructive behaviour, but there is joy first to turn toward love.  If love is what you are expecting, of course.

But maybe we are expecting condemnation, judgment, criticism, (and maybe we deserve it). But who knows what one deserves or not. Can we believe there is good news? (Without making it up). If one stops the things that are destroying one's life, it is possible that healing and growth might be the result. Who knows? And who has the power to stop destructive things?

Anyway - turn is my first word. As the soil is turned to prepare for a planting, so we are turned to prepare for the impregnating word that will enter into our own humus.

Simple? Yet maybe not so simple.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What's poison?

I raised a possibly disturbing question in my post on "good for you". Surely there's not poison in the Bible! Well, think about it. Even the best fertilizer will burn a young plant. And the wrong fertilizer will lead to lots of green growth but no fruit. So are these poison? Yes - truth improperly applied is falsehood.

But you can hold on to prejudice concerning perfection for the time being.

A few things I thought of while contemplating Psalm 2 and a book on the Suffering of God by Terrence Fretheim (Fortress Press 1984): Psalm 2 presents God and the human ruling jointly. One poison that can be taken from it is fear, specifically the fear that the rule of God is a domination structure, an unconditional set of orders. What kind of God is the God who is worthy of worship? How does God rule? True enough there is ridicule and derision in Psalm 2 but there is also a hint of humour, and an invitation to responsibility. The kindling with a touch of wrath is the gift of a sensitive conscience, to speak in human terms. There is refuge also and a completion of the opening command of Psalm 1 to be happy.

So hold on to prejudice but bear in mind it may need tweaking to allow some of this light to get in through the cracks. Bear also in mind that our prejudice may be a defense mechanism, designed to prevent light from entering into us because of a deep-seated dread that one prefers not to face.  To paraphrase those last few commands (invitations) of Psalm 2, fear a little in your service - tremble with joy, and kiss with purity - more on this later as we move into turning, the first of my five petals.