May 28, 2008

The Long-Winded Man

Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

In honor of his birthday, which is today, here’s a quotation from G. K. Chesterton:

Neither in public nor in private life, indeed, is it at all true that the man who talks a great deal is necessarily an offensive person.  It is an entire mistake, for instance, to imagine that the man who monopolises conversation is a conceited fellow.  The man who monopolises conversation is almost always modest.  The man who talks too much generally has a great deal of humility.  Nay, even the man who talks other people down, who argues them down, who shouts them down, does not in the least necessarily think himself better than they are.

It may seem a contradiction, yet the truth and reason of it are really very obvious.  The man who talks too much, talks too much because he is interested in his subject.  He is not interested in himself: if he were he would behave better.  If he were really an egoist he would think of what effect his ego was producing; and a very mild degree of mental perception would enable him to realise that the chief effect his ego was producing was a unanimous human aspiration to hurl him out of the window.

A man who fills a drawing-room for two or three hours (say) with a monologue on bulbs, is the very reverse of a selfish man.  He is an unselfish hero, courting the scorn and contumely of men in the great cause of bulbs, objects which are hardly likely to offer him in return any active assistance or even any animated friendship.  He is a Martyr, like Stephen or Joan of Arc: and we know that the blood of the martyrs is the seed (or bulb) of the Church.

No; the really selfish men are the silent men, those wicked and sinister fellows.  They care more for their own manners (a base individualistic asset) than for conversation, which is social, which is impersonal, which is divine.  The loud talker is humble.  The very phrase you use about him proves this.  If a man is rude, and bawls and blunders, the snub given to him would be “You forget yourself.”  It is the very ecstasy of altruism — an impersonal apotheosis.  You say to the cad, “You forget yourself.”  What better, what higher, could you say to the saint than that “You forget yourself”? — G. K. Chesterton, “On Long Speeches and Truth,”  Collected Works 27: The Illustrated London News 1905-1907, pp. 132-133 (paragraph breaks added).

Posted by John Barach @ 2:51 pm | Discuss (3)
May 15, 2008

Psalm 61

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I have prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

For the director.
On string music.
By David.

Hear, O God, my cry;
Attend to my prayer.
From the end of the earth to you I call, when my heart is weak.
To the rock too high for me, lead me.

For you have been a refuge for me,
A strong tower in the face of the enemy.
I will sojourn in your tent for ages;
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings.  Selah.

For you yourself, O God, heard my vows;
You gave the heritage of those who fear your name.

Days to the days of the king you will add;
His years will be like generation and generation.
He will sit forever before God;
Loyalty and trustworthiness you appoint;
They will preserve him.

So I will psalm to your name for everlasting,
To perform my vows day by day.

Some comments about this psalm:

(1) Line 4 is often translated “the rock higher than I.”  But what is in view is not that the rock is taller than David is.  Rather, the idea is that David cannot climb up into this refuge himself but asks God to lead him up to the rock that is too high for him to reach.

(2) In line 12, “generation and generation” means something like “generation after generation,” a long succession of generations.

(3)  “Sit” in line 13 means “sit enthroned.”  The idea isn’t just that David is sitting around.  Rather, he is sitting as the king on his throne.

(4) The verb in line 14 could be a jussive: “Appoint loyalty and trustworthiness!”

Posted by John Barach @ 3:50 pm | Discuss (0)
May 8, 2008

Stock Names for Sin

Category: Sin,Uncategorized :: Permalink

In a discussion of Eve’s fall into sin in Milton’s Paradise Lost, C. S. Lewis reminds us of the way our minds begin to embrace sin:

No man, perhaps, ever at first described to himself the act he was about to do as Murder, or Adultery, or Fraud, or Treachery, or Perversion; and when he hears it so described by other men he is (in a way) sincerely shocked and surprised.  Those others “don’t understand.”  If they knew what it had really been like for him, they would not use those crude “stock” names.  With a wink or a titter, or in a cloud of muddy emotion, the thing has slipped into his will as something not very extraordinary, something of which, rightly understood and in all his highly peculiar circumstances, he may even feel proud.  If you or I, reader, ever commit a great crime, be sure we shall feel very much more like Eve than like Iago. — A Preface to Paradise Lost, p. 126.

Part of the way in which we avoid confronting our own sins, then, is by giving other names to them.  It’s not “murder”; it’s “euthanasia” or “abortion.”  It’s not “adultery”; it’s a “love affair.”

On top of that, of course, we also often try to keep our minds from thinking about the sins we’re about to commit, including keeping from naming them, even to ourselves.  We don’t say, “Now I’m going to have a fit of rage.”  Instead, we simply rage, and then, perhaps because we refused to name the sin when we chose to commit it, we act as if it somehow just happened: “I just blew up!”  A man may not say to himself, “I’m going to go and look at some pornography.”  He says, “I feel like surfing the web,” and then he refuses to name just what he’s looking for.  But somehow he finds it.

And when we’re confronted on the sins, our minds start casting about for ways to explain them away, to justify ourselves, again using words other than the “stock” names: “I wasn’t raging; I was a bit irritable, that’s all.  It wasn’t really adultery.  I’m married, yes, but that’s really only on paper.  For all intents and purposes, my marriage is really over and so, if only you understood my unique circumstances, you’d see that what I was doing was really okay.  It wasn’t as serious and as terrible as you make it out to be.”

So part of our calling as Christians, and part of the church’s calling and the pastor’s calling, is to call sins by their real names, by the “stock” names, the names that we shy away from, the names that reveal our sins for what they really are.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:11 pm | Discuss (2)