Sunday, September 24, 2006

Be an attitude...or something

The Beatitudes start out rather interestingly. They repay word study more than most texts.

The word for blessed is specific and peculiar. In general, the (vain male) Greeks thought you were blessed if people spoke well of you in public, and the two main words mean that (to "speak well" of someone and to "talk them up"). The Hebrew term is from a root meaning to kneel, which is part literal, part metaphorical, part euphemistic. It means, euphemistically, to 'give someone the knee' as a sexual phrase, implying fertility and (re)productivity, from an ignorant and sexist era when the man's implantation of his "seed" was deemed to be the effective reproductive action. From this is the idea that to bless is to give material increase to. But it also literally means taking a child on your knee, or accepting the kneeling of a subordinate (a "child" to you), and giving them something of benefit. As a leftover of the sexual imagery, the idea was that once a blessing went out from you, it was gone, that was it, and we see this in the story of Esau and Isaac. Metaphorically (and, I would say likely at an early point, magically) to bless thus means to transfer some of one's fertility (of mind, heart, body, fortune, future, whatever) to another. That's the Hebrew. In English, the word bless is a nominalization of a third person singular verb, "he bloods," as in, the priest or whoever is making a sacrifice puts some of the animal's blood on a stick or branch or something and flings it on everybody standing around to include them in the efficacy of the sacrifice. To bless, in English, meant to throw (sacrificial) blood on someone. Which obviously worked nicely when Christians were first evangelizing the English and explaining what Jesus had done for us.

But the word in the beatitudes for blessed is entirely different. It's a word, makarios, meaning "got it good like the gods." It means, characteristic of the gods' life. So blessed here means, "You've got it good like God does when..." And of course since the beatitudes are a reversal teaching (blessed are the poor, the sad, etc., all those that people don't think are blessed), they're to be understood as telling us what God is like, and to be seen ultimately christologically, i.e., in terms of how what Jesus's life was like tells us what God is like.

The word for poor, as in blessed are the poor in spirit, is ptochoi, which comes from a root meaning to cringe, to act in a way that invites the contempt of others, to have no self-respect. It's the root of the word for rabbit, which was not thought of as cute but as a pest, and as worthless one at that. Not "scaredy-cat" but "scaredy-rabbit" was the idiom. I wonder if there is an onomatopoetic reference to spitting in this word as well.

So blessed are the poor in spirit is something like, you've got it good like God does when you are and are treated as being contemptible, especially spiritually.

In blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted, both mourn and comfort are interesting. Comfort here is just the verb form of "the Comforter," as in John's term for the Holy Spirit. So it doesn't mean "for they shall receive comfy pillows," it means for they will be accompanied by those (the one) who sympathize with them. The word for "mourn" comes from a root meaning to be the passive recipient of something, to have something done to you. In macho male Greek culture, this was offensive, bad, pathetic, depending on your stance towards whatever was being done to you--it had connotations from military to sexual to religious. In fact as far as the religious implications go, the word for "passover" in Greek also comes from this. Our term would be "victim." So blessed are those who are sad because they have been forced to passively receive the active intentions of others, who have had misfortune happen to them, who have been victimized. So blessed...for...comes to: you've got it good like God does when you're sad because of what has been done to you, especially unjustly and religiously.

So I find that there stuff sehr interessantlich.

And you?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Homeward Bound

People moving, homes moving, people moving home, people moving new places which will be home...

Dawn went back to Louisville with Jonathan to see her mom. She (her mom) will come here to stay in January.

Steven is in England now.

Jonathan leaves for Seattle at half-past early on Thursday.

Dawn announces that the theme for FallFest this year will be Moves That Move You--your own moves, stories about refugees, displaced peoples, new houses, new homes, exile, coming home, etc. There'll be two nights so that kids get their own night.

Lauren and Danny came through (yay!) which was very fun and spent tons of time with us, going to San Luis Obispo from Los Angeles via Dallas...just as you would expect.

Amber is in Niger, sweating out the frustratingly high mortality rate at the mission hospital there. Pray for her and anyone else willing to do that work.

Did I mention that Jonathan is off to the University of Washington this week? It will require him to move to Seattle, we understand.

Still and all: it's good to be home.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Silly Putty...or Pate`?

Sorry for the delay.


I have my new job, which means I have my new office. Dawn observed that every single surface in it is putty colored--the walls, desktop, drawers, lateral files, bookshelves, carpet, ceiling, computer tower, hutch, chair. Amazing and sustained effort to avoid any sense of interior design at all. Oh, and windowless. But biggish, with prompt IT attention to my computing needs, prompt facilities attention to putting in coathooks and nameplates. Being pretty much a hobbit any way, working in a cave is not so bad for me.

Not so my faculty colleagues. I'm at the end of a long hall, off which are the offices of the fashion design, studio art (visual and sculptural), art history, architecture, and interior design people. And then there's me. So far I've worn ties that matched. That must count for something. How people with actual color sense and aesthetic taste survive in the punishingly 1970s institutional setting (see, no windows, so we can air condition all the time!) is beyond me. How to build bridges to them?

I have three sections of introductory philosophy, which I teach by means of Sophie's World. Then I have an ethics course and a survey of world religions. Sounds like a lot--university instructors normally have 3 sections to teach per term. But then, their class sizes are often larger; interestingly, community college classes cap at 30--originally on the theory that the students there needed more faculty attention?? But it's nice; I'm teaching less than half as many students as the senior lecturer I TAed for at UTD. I'll start a philosophy club in the next few weeks. And I'm already on committees. Sigh.

Year 517 at the med school commences. I think one group will be a being-a-Christian-in-a-pluralistic-world group, and the other will be bioethics--which I must write something in. I'll speak to the SCF large group (the Christian student umbrella group on campus) throughout September.

And then Blue Door, me and Dawn's code word for That Thing We Want to Do. Maybe this fall; I think so.

And in other news--namely, The News.
So the does CIA have off-shore interrogation prisons, just like those mean ole Europeans said. And turns out the Guantanamo never-never land (not a prisoner of war, not a criminal) has no legal standing, as the UN and everyone else has said all along. Perhaps someone will now also shoot down the misnamed signing statements in which an executive in effect says he doesn't have to execute any laws passed which politically he can't afford to veto but which he doesn't like. Yes, and Iraq had no WMDs, and while Saddam was a creep, he was no threat to us. And he had nothing whatever to do with Islamic terrorism, since Islamic terrorists' number one target is (or was) not us but other Muslims, especially dictators like him. And we've harmed large, easily-identifiable terrorist groups like al Qaeda, just...leaving hard-to-find, uncoordinated ones all over the place, courtesy of our successful recruitment campaign, Please Hate America Now.

And what is frustrating and sad is that so far as I can tell Bush himself personally intended and intends no harm, has no megalomaniacal ambitions (he might want to prove himself to Dad and get one up on Jeb, but he has no Napoleonic dreams of being world ruler), and is some sort of actual Christian, with at least some decent gut instincts and a well-duh-we-should-be-moral attitude towards several moral-political issues on which I thoroughly agree with him.

Talk about ill-served and much-misused by one's advisers. He's got some real gems: monarchists like Cheney's legal adviser and the current attorney general, American imperialists like Wolfowitz and company, the let's-give-the-wealthy-a-chance demolition of all the twentieth century's regulatory environment that kept companies otherwise nailed to the bottom line from extorting communities, exploiting workers, wrecking the environment, and bamboozling consumers, not to mention paying their fair share. And then there's Cheney and Rove, standing at the head of all those who resented Reagan's pragmatism, George H W Bush's international cooperation, Clinton's success at coopting Republican issues like welfare reform, and ultimately, Nixon's abdication. These are people who talk about "permanent majorities," which is, if you think about it, not actually a democratic thought; who think Nixonian nonsense like executive privilege counts as wise government, and wrapping dead minorities--see how many of the names are Hispanic?--up in a flag counts as patriotism. They're mad--that Reagan didn't take out Iran in 1980, that Bush the First didn't take out Saddam in 1990, that America founded the United Nations, that we can't just make everybody do what we want, that we need to build coalitions and consensus and work with allies and do all that long, tedious, complex work. They want it to be easy, and obvious, and clear that the good guys are us, and that we will and should win because we're the good guys, and that we don't need anybody else, and that people should just sit up straight and realize that and fly right, and and and. And that it shouldn't matter that we're spending ourselves way through the ground, past China, out into the debt depths of intergalactic space. Because according to this fantasy rich countries, like rich people, never have to pay and never have to answer to anybody else and never go broke.

In Chesterton's spy novel The Man Who Was Thursday, about the anarchist terrorism around the year 1900, one guy observes, poor people object to being governed badly. Rich people object to being governed at all. The great victory of the post 1994 era has been tricking the poor--well, the middle class--people into thinking that if the rich aren't governed at all, no one will have anything to object to. That is a lie. And when Democrats stupidly and arrogantly decided that normal people weren't necessary to the success of a great political party with justice and right and mercy on its side, and they ditched all personal morality and those who stood for it, then the Roves and Delays of the world found easy pickings in the politically-naive, easily-led, obviously offended, and newly energetic and well off evangelical community. Which now marches in lockstep behind the "American exceptionalists" in the (vain) hope that an abortion law will get tightened here or intelligent design given a chance there.

All this makes my Christian witness ever so much more difficult, since while on things like abortion--about which, by the way, not very much has actually been done--I hopelessly agree with Bush, on almost everything else--where his administration has put all its effort, namely into favoring the rich and starting wars--I disagree with this oh-so-overtly "evangelical" administration so much. Sigh and alas.

And I am critiqueable too, of course.

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream, that every knee should bow, and every tongue confess, Jesus Christ as Lord.