Monthly Archives: May 2008

Beside The Point

This morning I’ve been thinking about the Greek exegesis class I’ll be teaching in the fall, and wondering how to talk to my students about my somewhat out-of-the-ordinary perspective on the work of biblical interpretation (especially pertinent in a Greek class, since a superficial version of my hermeneutics might convey the sense that original-language study doesn’t matter much). I don’t anticipate requiring my students to prepare formal translations of the assigned passages, but I do want them to study the Greek carefully; as I was mulling over how to express this, I thought about what I’ve written elsewhere on the topic of translation.
 
It occurred to me to suggest to students that they regard translation as a side effect of understanding what they read in Greek, rather than as a goal. When we treat translation as a goal, we tend to succumb to the red herrings about meaning and correctness that I’ve inveighed against at such great length. If on the other hand we put our greatest emphasis on understanding the Greek — making sense of the words before us — the capacity to translate will come along. After all, translating involves a finer understanding of the target language than many students bring with them (teachers of Greek commonly bemoan the weight of responsibility they bear to teach students elementary English grammar).
 
In the Greek reading group that some of us sustained at Seabury, we often came to the point of agreeing on what was up with the Greek, without arriving at a consensus on how we’d translate it. That seems right to me (however much it may frustrate people who want to arrive at a sound English translation). On one hand, we’re all constrained by the common-tongue translations that the churches uphold (the NRSV, NIV, and so on), so that adopting a reading that departs from those cuts us off, to some extent, from the shared discourses of those readers who encounter the New Testament only in translation. Moreover, promoting one’s own particular translation entails a de facto claim to superior authority (a claim few of us can actually back up), and tends to provoke assertions about “real meaning” that I find profoundly misguided. Better to stick with observing and attending to the Greek as the primary focus of our work. As I’ve been known repeatedly to say, “Let the Greek teach you Greek.”

More Obscure Gospel

I don’t see lyrics to Blind Alfred Reed’s “Walking in the Way With Jesus,” either, so I’ll post them here:

Come all you people ’round
Listen what I have to say
I’ll sing you a song about the heavenly throng
Thank God I’m on my way
I’ve traveled the paths of sin
And many a crime I’ve done
But I trust in God
and through Christ’s blood
Thank God the victory’s won

Walking in the way with Jesus
Feeling mighty happy now
When I’m tempted to do wrong
Before the Lord I bow
I ask him for protection
And we begin to fight
And tis not long till the tempter’s gone
and everything’s all right

I came to the feet of Jesus
Determined to do right
I prayed and trusted night and day
Until I saw the light
I’ve started now for heaven
I’m taking a different trail
I’m trusting now in the promises of God
For I know they cannot fail

Walking in the way with Jesus
Feeling mighty happy now
When I’m tempted to do wrong
Before the Lord I bow
I ask him for protection
And we begin to fight
And tis not long till the tempter’s gone
and everything’s all right

God leads me to the Bible
Where I can plainly see
That Jesus hung on Calvary’s cross and died for you and me
I’m sorry now for sinners
For you I’m sick at heart
Why can’t you decide for Christ today
And never from him part?

Walking in the way with Jesus
Feeling mighty happy now
When I’m tempted to do wrong
Before the Lord I bow
I ask him for protection
And we begin to fight
And tis not long till the tempter’s gone
And everything’s all right

I gave up sin and drinking
To live a different life
And by God’s grace I will hold out
Till freed from toil and strife
Then when life’s book is opened
And not a thing is found
I’ll gladly join the angel choir and receive the promised crown

Walking in the way with Jesus
Feeling mighty happy now
When I’m tempted to do wrong
Before the Lord I bow
I ask him for protection
And we begin to fight
And tis not long till the tempter’s gone
and everything’s all right

“Sin and drinking” — two distinct categories? Or is it an epexegetical construction (“Sin, that is, drinking”)?

Ponder

Is it just my imagination, or do some music files demand more processor energy than others? It seems as though some selections tie up iTunes (the spinning rainbow pizza, for you Mac users), whereas others unreel smoothly and cooperatively.

Older “Down”

I’ve admired Janis Joplin’s work since the days I had a crush on her in elementary school, and “Down On Me” is one of my favorites. But a year or two ago when I first heard the original recording by Eddie Head and His Family, I said “The old is better.” The lyrics aren’t anywhere online, and in several spots they’re unintelligible, so I’m inviting the LazyWeb to help me puzzle out the bits I can’t understand.

Down On Me
Eddie Head and his Family

Down on me, down on me
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me

If I could I surely would
Stand on the rock where Moses stood
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me
Down on me, down on me
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me

Ain’t been to heaven but I been told
Streets are silver and the gates are gold
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me
Down on me, down on me
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me

mumble mumble mumble mumble
Got nowhere to lie my head
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me
Down on me, down on me
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me

Ain’t a good Christian mumble mumble mumble
mumble mumble mumble and the time ain’t long
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me
Down on me, down on me
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me

mumble mumble mumble mumble
mumble mumble mumble and the time ain’t long
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me
Down on me, down on me
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me

Jordan River is bitter and cold
Chill my body but not my soul
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me
Down on me, down on me
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me

Went to the cemetery the other day
Looked in the grave and saw my mother
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me
Down on me, down on me
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me

If I could I surely would
Stand on the rock where Moses stood
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me
Down on me, down on me
Seems like everybody in the whole wide world is down on me

The entire composition provokes some questions. For instance, what’s with the penultimate verse, which doesn’t even attempt to rhyme “day” and “mother”? Or is he rhyming “other” and “mother,” such that the next line should be sounded as beginning with “day” (that’s not the way they sing it, though)? And since everyone is singing more-or-less together, what makes Eddie so special? Why not call it “The Head Family”? OK, I guess that last one answers itself.

Steps Four and Five

Margaret received her contract today — or rather, it had arrived several days ago at our Evanston address and hadn’t made its way eastward. She will sign it as soon as she can, but since that‘s already decided, we can now say publicly that she will serve next year as an Instructor in the Department of Theology at Loyola College in Maryland. Loyola has an exceptionally strong theology faculty, so this is both a feather in her cap and a great chance to hang out as a colleague with first-water theologians. W00t for Margaret!
 
She has already found a room for rent in Baltimore, a walkable distance from campus. We currently plan for her to fly to Baltimore for half the week, and to spend the rest of the week in Durham. That’s a deplorable carbon footprint, but we’ll try to atone for it by other means — and these are both exceptional opportunities for us.
 
On Saturday, Margaret will fly to Evanston to begin boxing up the belongings we expect to move, and to distribute the household goods we will do without (or will replace in Durham). If you ever coveted a table or pan or bookshelf or whatever from our dwelling-place (or if you just need some odds and ends), let us know. Evanston friends, we’re looking at you!

Elasmobranchological Vaulting

We’re preparing to return to being a family without broadcast or cable telelvision in a few weeks, but during the days that remain unto us we’ve fallen into an affection for Hugh Laurie’s House. Margaret used to be a fan of Quincy, Medical Examiner (for which I teased her mercilessly), and shows with detection themes appeal to the puzzle-solving imperative in all three of us. Throw in House’s irascible persona and Hugh Laurie’s acting skill, and we were easy targets.
 
And Monday night, we watched intently as the final episode of the season played out. I won’t comment on the particulars, since in this digital age some readers may have time-shifted the episode for later viewing, but we were captivated and moved as the hour’s developments played out.
 
That being said, Monday night (or more precisely, Tuesday morning) as I was lying awake in bed, it occurred to me to wonder whether House had not, alas, jumped the shark. Several aspects of the episode seemed to fit criteria for shark-jumping, and as I tossed and turned and sleepily ruminated, I recalled the earlier episode this season wherein House abducted his favorite soap opera star in order to treat his undiagnosed neurological affliction. That one seemed a paradigm example.
 
Then, to my utter delight, yesterday morning while Margaret and I were washing up and getting dressed, she turned to me and asked, “Do you think maybe House has jumped the shark?” Two minds, two hearts, in near-perfect harmony — what more could you ask? (Apart from a tauter, more plausibly creative plot vision for a well-acted TV medical drama.)

More Roosevelt and Washington

I wrote yesterday’s post before I checked eMusic and Amazon for downloads of my favored Roosevelt song; when I checked this morning, I found performances by Blind Connie Williams, McKinley Peebles, and Bishop Perry Tillis. If I can tweak the lyrics on the basis of these (when I download them), I will.
 
And on the subject of lyrics, I found that somebody else was disappointed by the lack of Washington Phillips lyrics online; Jerry Dallal transcribed all the Washington Phillips lyrics he could find, including “Denomination Blues.” Now, if only Washington Phillips had recorded “Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt” — but his version would have had to refer to Teddy, not Franklin, since the his latest recordings were made in 1929 (though he evidently lived into the 1950’s).
 
Blind Connie Williams adds this verse:

Good God Almighty in the World War time
England [something] Churchill to resign
Working through the European War was hard
Put him out in the hands of the almighty God
His success actually
Good God Almighty wrote history
Wish Roosevelt could live to see
Old Glory waving over Germany

then continues with “God almighty knew what was best.” None of these versions articulates the kind of neighbor we should look over at, but Bishop Perry Tillis seems to be saying something like “beloved,” which works better than “regular” so I substituted that pro tempore.

Weren’t No Kin

A while back I posted the lyrics to Washington Phillips’s “Denomination Blues,” since I was dissatisfied with the extant web resources for that song; this morning I was frustrated that I couldn’t find anyplace on the web that gave the lyrics to the song known variously as “Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt,” “Sad About Roosevelt,” or “Franklin D. Roosevelt, The Poor Man’s Friend.” To redress that lack, I present that song here:

[Tell me] Why’d you like Roosevelt? Weren’t no kin
Why’d you like Roosevelt? Weren’t no kin
Why’d you like Roosevelt? Weren’t no kin
Lord God Almighty, he’s the poor man’s friend

Year of nineteen forty-five
A good president laid down and died
I knew how all of the poor people felt
When they received the message we lost Roosevelt
In his life there were all indications
At Warm Springs Georgia he received salvation
Listen friend, don’t you rush
Elizabeth Shoumatoff she grabbed the brush
She dipped it in water and began to paint
Looked at the president and began to faint
She never painted a picture for him at night
Knew that the president didn’t look right
The time of day it was twelve o’clock
Tell me that Elizabeth had to stop
Great God almighty she started too late
That’s why they call this that unfinished portrait
A little bit later, about one-thirty
Had a cerebral hemorrhage and the world looked muddy
They called Atlanta and Washington too
Like zigzag lightning the call went through
They called long distance to notify his wife
Dr Bruenn said he died at three thirty-five
Great God Almighty weren’t no bells to tollin’
But in less than thirty minutes the world was in mournin’
 
And I cried about Roosevelt (weren’t no kin)
I cried about Roosevelt (weren’t no kin)
I cried about Roosevelt (weren’t no kin)
Great God Almighty was the poor man’s friend
 
Only two presidents that we ever felt
Were Abraham Lincoln and Roosevelt
Way back yonder in the olden days
Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves
Roosevelt’s administration Congress assembled
First time in history ‘ppointed a Negro general
General Benjamin O Davis I’m trying to relate
First Negro general of the United States
After Dorie Miller had shown his skill
They kept sending him to sea until he got killed
Then Roosevelt said that “I’ll back the attack”
Appointed a Negro captain over white and black
This qualified man was Hugh Mulzac
Racial prejudice he tried to rule out
Invited Negro leaders into the White House
He advocated the fair practice of labor
To let the poor man know he was our emancipator
Made Madame Bethune the First Lady of the land
And made part of his will to Mr Prettyman
He endorsed inventions of Dr Carver
This is why that I say he was an earthly father
Cause he took my feet out of the miry clay
Haven’t had to look back at the WPA
 
That’s why I liked Roosevelt (weren’t no kin)
That’s why I liked Roosevelt (weren’t no kin)
That’s why I liked Roosevelt (weren’t no kin)
Lord God Almighty was the poor man’s friend
 
Well, Hoover’s administration Congress assembled
All of the poor folk began to tremble
The rich would ride in the automobile
Depression made poor people rob and steal
Well, look next door at our beloved neighbor
Wasn’t getting anything for their hard labor
But great God almighty they were moonshine stilling
Brought about a crime wave, robbing and killing
After Hoover made the poor man moan
Roosevelt stepped in, gave us a comfortable home
 
It was sad about Roosevelt
It was sad about Roosevelt
It was sad about Roosevelt
 
Well, I’ve told you the history of Roosevelt’s life
Now he’s done with his grief and strife
Great God Almighty but he left a sweet wife
Have been so worried since she was a girl
After Roosevelt’s death what would become of the world
She notified her son across the sea
“Don’t get worried about poor me
But keep on fighting for victory
Your father is dead boys, you all are grown
Wouldn’t worry ’bout your father but the world is in mournin’
 
It was sad about Roosevelt
It was sad about Roosevelt
It was sad about Roosevelt
 
Well, God Almighty knew just what was best
He knew that the president he needed a rest
His battle done fought, vict’ry done won
Our problems have just begun
Your burden get heavy and you don’t know what to do
Call on Jesus, he’s a president too
 
It’s sad about Roosevelt
It’s sad about Roosevelt
It’s sad about Roosevelt
Lord God Almighty was a poor man’s friend

This amalgamates characteristics of the two versions I know, one by the Evangelist Singers and one by Willie Eason. The only word I’m flummoxed by occurs toward the middle, when Eason refers to a certain kind of neighbor; I used “beloved” to fit the meter, but I’m sure that’s not what he’s singing.
 
Several observations about this lovely tribute: Can you imagine a song like this today? The closest I can think of in recent history would be “Abraham, Martin, and John.” but that differs from Roosevelt in a number of ways. Dion’s song retains the comparison to Abraham Lincoln, but lacks the staggering avalanche of specificity with which the song recounts Roosevelt’s actions on behalf of African-Americans and the poor. (I know, and will remember, more about Roosevelt’s relation to Black Americans after hearing this song.) Dion’s song submits only that his heroes “freed a lot of people” and died young, a somewhat questionable claim relative to JFK (however good a president one might have thought him). If you want to argue about Roosevelt, though, be prepared to cite names and dates.
 
The other possible contemporary examples that come to minds are the painful ballads by John Ashcroft and Lee Atwater (I think), about how great America is and what a statesman Ronald Reagan was. Are you tempted to hum along with any of those? I have a hard time enduring hearing them at all, much less singing along.
 
This song rings true to me; it doesn’t sound like campaign publicity (which would, of course, be too late anyway) or partisan shillery. The fact that at least two (African-American) performers recorded it suggests that it appealed to more than just taste-impaired red-white-and-blue political climbers. I don’t subscribe to idealizations of any moment in U.S. history, but “Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt” burnishes FDR’s standing in my imagination, and impresses me as a popular memorial to that poor man’s friend. (Has anyone been tempted to write, “George W. Bush, The Poor Man’s Friend” or “Ronald Reagan, The Poor Man’s Friend” or even “Bill Clinton, The Poor Man’s Friend”? I didn’t think so.)
 

Local Idioms

Surely you’re familiar with the ways that casual remarks catch on as bywords in families and other small social groups; the other day, I had a long talk with PTS former President Tom Gillespie about an occasion when he referred to a combustible riposte that he decided not to make was “insufficiently redemptive” (a phrase that Margaret and I still use to describe plans that satisfy wrath more than grace).
 
Yesterday evening, as Pippa was getting ready for bed after a long day shopping for new eyeglasses, she came downstairs and thanked Margaret for the time they had spent at the glasses emporium (and other nearby shops, while the glasses were under construction). “But I’d like to mention. . . ,” she began, and Margaret immediately interrupted her to fend off the request for a further favor. “I just thought. . . ,” Pippa resumed, and Margaret introduced some wildly off-topic diversion. “You probably should remember. . . ,” she started again, and this time I chimed in to help Margaret. Pippa retreated upstairs to her bedroom.
 
Margaret called to PIppa, “If I keep interrupting you, will you not ask me?”
 
Pippa replied, “No! I mean, you might confuse me with your crafty grammar. . . .”
 
I have the feeling we’ll be alluding to “crafty grammar” around here for a long time.

Step Three-Point-Five

We’re intensely thankful for all the prayers, well-wishes, helpful suggestions, cheers, and all that have greeted our exodus from Seabury and our advent in Durham (and Margaret’s in Mystery City, which we’ll specify as soon as her contract is signed). We keep saying to ourselves, “But it’s only for one year, we have to go through this all again next year!” — but your enthusiasm helps remind us how marvelous this arrangement is, and we are pretty eager to throw ourselves into it.

Step Three

Looks like we’re on a roll — this afternoon Margaret got the phone call that our application for a lease on a Durham house was accepted. We now have mailing addresses in four states: Evanston, Princeton, Durham, and Mystery City. Supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain, as George Carlin said.
 
We have a home on Gregson Street, less than a mile from the bus stop that will take me to West Campus to the Divinity School, and just across the intersection from Margaret’s grad-school compatriot Sarah. We have a manageable time for getting goods from Evanston to Durham, and — granted (for the first time in our marriage since I started seminary in 1983) the two incomes that we’ll have once Margaret’s contract kicks in — a reasonable rent. We have wonderful friends in the area, and I have a good (if temporary) job. Now, if I can only bear down on the writing front. . . .

Step Two

Yesterday afternoon, I received my contract in the mail. For the coming academic year, I will serve as Visiting Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School. It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to reconnect with my doctoral alma mater, for Margaret to have a base in Durham while she finishes up her dissertation, for all three of us to spend a year among wonderful friends, and of course it’s among the top two or three theological schools in the country.
 
I expect to be teaching all exegetical courses — a marked change from Seabury, where I rarely had the chance to teach exegesis and mostly taught intro courses. On the other hand, it means immersing myself in John’s Gospel, Romans, Luke, and 1 Corinthians (unless there’s an unanticipated change). No committee or administrative work, and I’ll probably look into the possibility of participating in a hermeneutics reading group, if there’s any interest.
 
Now, we have to get Margaret’s contract squared away, and find a place to live. But next year’s destination is set.