. . . to go on speaking – like Al Davis.

The mentor Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote a little book of great ideas not long before he died, The Fruit of Lips, or Why Four Gospels.  In the chapter called “The Cross of Grammar” he wrote:

A word may be true as to content; it may be true enough to be verified in its own author’s actions; finally, it may be so true that it compels the next speaker to respond and to go on speaking.

These words came to mind as I read the good words in the Marshall News Messenger about a friend to many and civic servant from Marshall, Al Davis.  Al was a longtime attorney and former assistant district attorney, and husband to Jane Ogden, our university colleague in psychology, now retired.  A faithful churchman and choir member at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Al died of a heart attack this past Saturday.  We shall all miss him.

Rosenstock-Huessy (R-H) wrote of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – that “They are sound as wells of speech.”  He meant that they are all authentic responses to the message of the life of Jesus in relationship to his disciples, Father God, and the World, and that each Gospel contributes uniquely to the same story.  The Gospel writers complemented each other.   R-H writes,

What is the end and the beginning of speech?  The beginning of a human breath discloses the time and place of this particular act of the spirit.  End and beginning bring an inspiration down to earth.  End and beginning of any book declare whether it is true or not.  But this truth is a threefold truth.  A word may be true as to content . . . .

And so it is, and was, and shall be, relating to the life of Al Davis among us.  Our newspaper carries the eulogies – the good words – of Al’s colleagues, coworkers in the community, his friends, and many he helped.  If a man’s life is a book, and his words are text for his life, then Al Davis finished well – he completed a good, admirable book.  We know this because so many already have been inspired to speak further good about him, and in the days to come others will speak in a similar way.

The life and, to us, untimely, death of Al Davis bereaves us but also inspires us.  His life, actions and words should remind us that in each of us, in our communities, we have the resources to overcome the wrong, to organize our efforts so that our intentions and plans succeed, to speak encouraging words to each other so that each person is inspired to contribute his or her own words and book in the time available, to make our relationships, community and society more what they can and should be, and to bring more music and joy into everything we do.  I believe Al Davis would like that!  After all, that was so much what he was about while he lived and served among us.

Now, what about us?  One more word from E-H – a word for pondering:

The Gospels were true enough to compel the next speaker to go on speaking above and beyond the last word of the last speaker.  Each one had to step in where the last speaker left off.  They were imparting the concrete time and scene of their speech so vividly to each other that they touched each other off, to the next move.  They sing, over forty years perhaps, one Gospel, each in his own key, on his specific wave-length, according to his lights, in handing the joyful and arduous task over to the better man, one after another.  In this act, then, the “Four Gospels” became a continuation of Jesus’ life through the minds which were made over by their office of Evangelists.  They were created into the Lips of the Word.

Let’s all be like Al Davis, “the better man.”

 

References all from pages 81-82, The Fruit of Lips.

 

 

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence — Christmas at CBC Marshall, Texas

Our Central Baptist Church choir includes this hymn in our 2014 Christmas program, a traditional use for it, though it comes from a eucharistic liturgy about sixteen centuries old.  Tradition names St James the Less, Bishop of Jerusalem, as its author who infused its lines with imagery from Habakkuk 2:20, Zechariah 2:1-3, Revelation 19:16, Luke 22:19-20, Matthew 16:27, and Isaiah 6:2-3.  So, the hymn is rich in biblical imagery.  It has a Syrian origin, and that may be consistent with a role for James the Less.

Let All Mortal Flesh was a priest’s chant, drawing attention to the great mystery and wonder of “Christ our God” present among his people, God among us as Man.  The Supper of the Lord (or Eucharist, or Communion, later depending on one’s church tradition) was a picture and enactment of Christ’s sacrifice for the people in obedience to the Father.   The priest chanted as the Bread and the Wine were brought to the Table, while the standing congregation looked on in amazement.

The Eucharist could be much more, certainly not mere symbol, but participation by the congregation of the people in Christ’s sacrifice and the redemption He accomplished through His sufferings and death, burial and resurrection.  This was a hymn for the “little-c” catholic church found in the Levant, including Syria, during the early Byzantine period, and long before other Christian communions had spread beyond Rome in the West.  Certainly, this differed from a modern, Protestant memorial.

The tune for the  Prayer and the Cherubic Hymn of the Liturgy of St James was first published in 1860.  ‘Picardy’ is the traditional French tune.  The arrangement familiar to us is the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose 1906 work was published in The English Hymnal.  The Anglican pastor and chaplain Gerard Moultrie (1829-1885), translated the lyric from Greek to English in 1864.  He produced many hymn translations and composed many original hymns, publishing them in hymnals during his career.

There is much more to this.  We have many arrangements of Let All Mortal Flesh as hymn or anthem.  In most (hopefully all) cases, I expect it is beautiful, moving, and resilient by virtue of overwhelming tune and  lyrics.  We will enjoy singing it in our program, even as we do in rehearsal.

REFERENCES

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, French Carol; Sandra T. Ford

Review by: Richard Stanislaw
The Choral Journal, Vol. 41, No. 2 (SEPTEMBER 2000), p. 94
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23553597.  Accessed 1 October 2014.
Hymnary.org.  http://www.hymnary.org/text/let_all_mortal_flesh_keep_silence.  Accessed 1 October 2014.

Sacrifices Remade

In his big little book, Fruit of Lips or Why Four Gospels, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy made a late-in-life-and-career statement about the four Gospels.  He spoke about Matthew’s impolite (so Official Israel took him to be) emphasis on blood sacrifice and salvation.   The sacrifice Who dared to speak spoke and died as a demonstration of the Way of the Cross for all who were to follow Him.  Most Christians miss the point, though, in practice.  So, Rosenstock-Huessy writes (p. 71):

The whole expression of a Body of Christ,

With the head in heaven,

Meant exactly this,

That we who would crucify the Lord every day,

In our rage and envy and indifference,

Now, with our eyes opened once

For what we have done and are doing,

Declare solemnly:

We, now, together with our Head,

Step on the side of the silent victims

And offer ourselves to our Maker

So that he can remake the sacrifice

As he pleases.

How else could ever a new inspiration

Befall us as a people

Unless we offer ourselves

As the body for this inspiration?

Time and again, man has to be ripped open

By the ploughshare of suffering

And open himself

Like a dry and desiccated earth

To dew and rain.

And ever since one man did this

Manifestly all alone by himself,

His congregations relieve the members

Of the total pressure of absolute loneliness.

In every generation, the group

Which may be remodeled,

May increase, until the whole of mankind

Will be allowed to fall silent

And to cleanse themselves

From the chatter and clatter of the day,

And to listen to the spirit,

Simultaneously.

Table fellowship, the sharing of a meal together, gained a new depth of meaning and purpose, far beyond what men had practiced from the beginnings of society.  E-H explains this more fully in his meditations on the Gospel according to Matthew.

 

Thrumming and Humming

"Here - my best side!"

Until yesterday I had never seen a large charm of hummingbirds – a dozen or more around the feeder. I am told it’s time to migrate, so I wonder how many of the daily visitors are familiars with our back yard. Ours or others, some seem to know to tap – or thump – the back windows to get the feeder refilled. The Inca believed they were visiting gods.

 

Comments and Reflections on the Love Cemetery Project as related to ETBU and the LFN Small Grant Initiative.

 

During this academic year the Lilly Fellows Network Small Grant Initiative has allowed many of us to become more aware of continuing and new opportunities related to human rights, reconciliation, restorative justice, and many other related themes.

 

On Monday, April 7, at the invitation of Professor China Galland, I took part in a mid-day meeting of individuals who would discuss Love Cemetery and the “Writing History Project”—an initiative at Wiley College involving Lisa Taylor.  The ongoing Love Cemetery initiative is the subject of Dr. Galland’s book, Love Cemetery: Unburying the Secret History of Slaves (HarperOne, 2008); a documentary film, “Resurrecting Love”, also is in production.   The persons present were:

 

Professor China Galland–Affiliate of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, formerly Professor in Residence at the Center for the Arts, Religion, and Education, and occasional adjunct faculty member; author of multiple books; member national Alliance for Truth and Racial Reconciliation.

 

Mrs. Doris Vittatoe—President of the Love Cemetery Burial Association; from Waskom/Scottsville.

 

Ms. Cristina Balli—Team Member, Texas Folk Life, Austin.

 

Mr. Archie L. Rison, Jr.—Cemetery restorer, amateur archaeologist, Nacogdoches, Texas.

 

Mr. Estrus Tucker—International consultant, speaker, storyteller, poet and master facilitator; board of Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at U/Mississippi; Tarrant County (TX) Workforce Development Board; International Association of Human Rights Agencies Board; the National Center for Courage and Renewal Board; Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and the Brite Divinity School Board of Visitors; ordained minister; Vietnam-era veteran; 2012 recipient, International Association of Human Rights Agencies Individual Achievement Award “for his work and leadership in support of creative civic engagement and transformational leadership in Mississippi; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Cape Town, S. Africa, and Texas.  Native and resident of Fort Worth, with three generations before born and resident in Marshall, Texas.

 

And I, Jerry Summers—The Sam B. Hall Jr. Professor of History, and Dean, School of Humanities, ETBU.

 

My purpose in attending the discussion session was to honor an invitation that came as a result of East Texas Baptist University’s Lilly Fellows Program Small Grant initiative, “Human Rights, Reconciliation and Restorative Justice: East Texas and the World.”  That initiative for the academic year was to give opportunities to evaluate further involvement in or attention to the broader range of human rights issues locally and worldwide.  The initiative resonates strongly with the mission and purpose of our university.

 

The involvement of ETBU in the Love Cemetery cleanup and celebration day in April had begun in the previous academic year when our director of the Great Commission Center, Dr. Melody Maxwell (now at Howard Payne University), had organized student, staff and faculty participation in the event.  Wiley College students, including the Wiley College choir, and faculty also participated, along with townspeople and visitors, some who came great distances in order to take part.  Others who were responsible at that time are unknown to me.  The program was held again on April 5th this year and featured Ysaye Barnwell of Honey in The Rock, the Wiley Choir, students from Wiley and ETBU, and others.

 

The April 7th meeting about Love Cemetery and the Writing History Program was, in China Galland’s words, to be informal and a discussion of “our work to preserve this fragile, potent history and build a stronger, more resilient community around Love.  This 1.6 acre cemetery is emblematic of a history almost lost, paved over or denied all over the United States.”

 

Our discussion, which was being filmed for possible inclusion in an updated documentary, ran for approximately an hour.  My singular impression was that the discussion and the themes it addressed connected vitally with those of the ETBU grant initiative, with the work of many people and organizations on our campus and in the community, and with my own teaching and research.

 

The efforts surrounding Love Cemetery help us to focus on the theme of past, present and future, where interethnic relations and the need for reconciliation are connected so strongly to our society’s segregated past.  An African-American cemetery typically reflects the segregation of black from white both in life and in death.  It is the surviving evidence of that segregated past.  Yet that same cemetery can be the focus of efforts to remember a broken heritage and to mend relationships among the living descendants of a divided society.  The point of Love Cemetery and others like it is that its potential as an instrument to evoke memory and provoke reconciliation is lost if it is inaccessible and forgotten.  I need only  mention that Love Cemetery is but one emblem of the same problem around the world, where the first tendency is to avoid the pain of remembering and thereby to pass by the prospect of healing.

 

I should not say much more.  The Love Cemetery discussion came during late winter and early spring when several campus and community organizations and churches sponsored programs that emphasized our shared interethnic and faith heritage through traditions, food, music, worship, and community service.  Evidently there is considerable good will among and around us.  That same good will is and should be gathered and directed toward more comprehensive, intentional acts of caring, attention, reconciliation, and redemption.

 

Here are some related links:

http://www.chinagalland.com/

http://www.etbu.edu/spiritual-development/gcc/ –Great Commission Center

http://guides.etbu.edu/lfp-humanrights  and  http://www.etbu.edu/school-humanities/lilly-small-grant-initiative/

http://www.resurrectinglovemovie.org/ — Wiley and ETBU students at work at Love Cemetery, 2013

http://www.iaohra.org/

When the Holy Spirit Gets His Way

The late (but gratefully remembered) Dallas Willard evoked Oswald Chambers’s axiom that “The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting his way with us.” Today, Christ-followers, for sake of King and Kingdom, cannot spurn the Spirit’s promptings. The “times” intensify the difficulty and sense of threat in a society set against a righteous culture. Yet the historian in me hastens to remind us that we live in times, and in a society, that reflect the historical norm. Why, being as we are, we vex the Holy Spirit even in our churches unless the Christ-life is our unchanging daily aim! And that is what we need, what I need.

For today, Willard’s statement about Christ-like engagement (Matthew 6:33–love your enemies) with the world reminds me of the impossible necessity–that only Christ through Holy Spirit makes possible:

. . . Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do. For a person living that life, the hard thing to do would be to hate the enemy, to turn the supplicant away, or to curse the curser, just as it was for Christ. True Christlikeness, true companionship with Christ, comes at the point where it is hard not to respond as he would.”  (The Spirit of the Disciplines, page eight)

Impossible? Yes, for me and you, unless, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it (and Jesus – John 15:5), we recognize that by ourselves we can do nothing; only as Christ bears the cross (the same one he calls us to bear, also our yoke) can we bear it at all. Only as we find our constant dwelling in and with Him can we live as He lives. Only as we bear the sins, sorrows, sufferings even of our enemies, just as we should our own fellowship of believers in Christ, do we love as Christ loves. Truly to follow Christ is to be bound to him in sorrow and suffering, even forsakenness. And following his Gethsemane and Golgotha example, one overcomes only by going through. Christ’s cup could not be taken from him–and only by following through is it possible to overcome. Thankfully, we have the fellowship of suffering in and with Jesus Christ, himself and his gathered community of witnesses and disciples. In that fellowship we are sustained, in that same fellowship we are commanded to love each other, and we are commanded to love others outside it. (Bonhoeffer, Nachfolge, 44-5; Matthew 26:39, 42; John 15:5, 26-27; 16:13. Bear in mind that when I say “love”, I refer to determined action for the sake of the other’s good. It is that “dynamic other-interestedness” of I John 4:7-8.)

Pardon my Pique, Again . . .

In the Hoover Digest, Spring 2013 issue, Chester E. Finn writes in “A ‘Bar Exam’ for Teachers?” about his concern with a phrase in one of the American Federation of Teachers’ objectives for such a national exam.  It is the phrase “in-depth test of subject . . . knowledge.”  He indicates that the AFT document tells little about what subject knowledge is to be known.  Finn, along with the blogger Andrew Rotherham, at Eduwonk, has doubts about the purity of the AFT proposals to raise standards for new teachers.

But I  am still stumbling over the expression, “in-depth”.  Yes, it is in my dictionaries.  Yes, it means what it means.  It also is among the most overused words in “professional” discourse.  My students litter their papers with it.   In practice, however, the word often means little.  Beyond that concern, with so many richly nuanced candidates in the dictionary, why not consider using them?

I have in mind (to replace the term in the objectionable phrase) words like deep, comprehensive, thorough, ample, complete, extensive, and exhaustive.  Yes, I know that speakers and writers seek words that communicate to hearers and readers clearly.  But I refuse to accept the assumption that jargon serves best, when a better word, just the right word, could serve better and more thoughtfully. 

 A word fitly chosen is like apples of gold in baskets of silver.  The baskets of silver are rare, still rarer the apples of gold.

But back to Finn’s doubts about the AFT’s concern for subject-matter knowledge also relate to the emphasis on an “in-depth test” rather than a test of comprehensive knowledge.  We do have too many “in-depth” tests, and often too little mastery of content in the teaching field.  Perhaps the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards can develop acceptable nationwide standards for disciplinary examinations, but I am with those observers who ask whether that is a good idea.  Apparently it sounds like a good idea to some, or might it also serve unspoken political purposes?  This matter is worth attending to over the near term.

Our Story within the Story

In her book The Writing Life, Annie Dillard tells about life experiences on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest.  She related the story of her conversation with a painter friend; asked how his work was going, Paul Glenn told another story.  He reminisced about Ferrar Burn, a man long dead, who had rowed his eight-foot skiff out one evening into the strait to salvage a stray Alaskan cedar log–the locals watched for these logs so prized as building material.  With a towline on the log, Burn rowed toward his beach, but the swift outbound tide swept his skiff and the log miles down the channel from evening until the tide reversed in the early morning.  During the night hours, in the northern twilight, Burn kept rowing until the swift, inbound tide carried him and the log home, to his own beach.  Glenn’s response merits reflection:

‘You asked how my work is going,’ he said.  ‘That’s how it’s going.  The current’s got me.  Feels like I’m about in the middle of the channel now.  I just keep at it.  I just keep hoping the tide will turn and bring me in.’  (p 88)

Two points here.  One, that your life’s work can feel that way.  You’re either rowing against the tide, or with it, but it’s not your call.  Two, that life is like a story within a story.  No surprise there, but your — my —  faith story needs to be understood rightly:  I tend to think God’s sovereign place and work is a story within my own, but that’s reversed from the greater truth.  My story can only be, at last, a story within God’s story.  You and I need to know our places and roles.  Like Burn in his skiff, our role is to keep rowing, to keep relying on the rule of the tide.

Quotation from Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, Harper Perennial, 1989.

 

Copyright 2012 by Jerry Summers.

 

Psalm 42

In a special preaching class at SBTS, around 1978, George Arthur Buttrick, then about 86, commented that certain passages left the preacher mute, they were beyond profound.  Deep calleth unto deep . . . .  Yes, in Psalm 42, opening Book 2, the psalmist limns deer, streams of water, the “I” and “my soul,” depression; but the LORD who gives loyal love and gives songs in the night, the living God, his mountain summit, his deliverer, is absent.  When will I be able to go and appear in God’s presence?  (v.2–see the face of God)  Not so his enemies, his mourning and depression.  My tears have become my food day and night.  (v.3)  But despite all the psalmist is undeterred:  I will again give thanks to my God for his saving intervention. (vv 5-11)  I can imagine the psalmist  driven to the high hills by enemies, separated from the community of Israel and temple worship, needing reunion, vindication, and the soul-quenching presence of the LORD.  Enemies say relentlessly Where is your God?  (vv 3, 10) There were the deer, drinking deeply at the mountain streams early and late, hiding in secure places at other times.  They, too, live in refuge and seek to replenish their souls.  O, to seek God early and late each day!  The promise is at mid-psalm:  One deep stream calls out to another at the sound of your waterfalls; all your billows and waves overwhelm me.  By day the LORD decrees his loyal love, and by night his song is with me, a prayer to the living God. (vv 7-8)  And twice the psalmist says to his soul Wait for God!  (vv 5, 11)  Meantime the psalmist knows the depth of his distress and the saving intervention of God–both at once?–as he is overwhelmed in the stream’s torrent.  This might be the place where the preacher knows only to choose the best understanding for the day.  The stream so desired appears ready for drinking, it announces love by day and songs by night, yet for the psalmist the promise of deeper replenishment is not fulfilled.  Hope remains, though, for one deep stream calls out to another — deep calleth unto deep — the human soul in bottomless need calls out to the LORD who is the endless resource.

I will add here that Psalm 43 following shows God’s holy hill where he lives as our psalmist’s desire.  In the mountains of Psalm 42, only promises, the true source is on a special hill.  See, too, Revelation 21:9–22:5.

Quotations from the NET Bible ; for superlative poetic value, try the Authorized or King James Version.

(Dr. Buttrick was visiting by special request by SBTS from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary where he was a guest lecturer.  He was among the most profound of preachers and lecturers.)

Copyright 2012 by Jerry Summers.

Eden Waning

When I think about the paradise called Eden, I am torn between two visions (just two, but not that there are no more possibilities).  The first vision, much like the Persian paradeizia or walled garden, is a place of cooling shade and breezes in a desert or semi-desert.  Such a place is indeed a delight in the predawn or early dawn and later in the evening, and at the least a welcome break during the heat of the day.  The second vision suggests a humid, subtropical or tropical, verdant jungle where the heat of the day still is quite comfortable and the evening and morning will balance rising humidity with coolness.

This is not what I find in East Texas right now, here, in the seam between summer’s hottest period and the decisive cooling trend that is still to come, and especially when the days are humid and still or misty and rainy like today.  It is as if the seasons have almost agreed on a boundary between themselves, and they cannot decide when and where to mark it.  So it is a transition, yes, that is what we say.   The astronomical summer season ends  in just nine days by the calendar, but we do not dare to hope that its heat will leave us quickly, though we will still feel it during many days in October and perhaps even November.  Autumn will enter gloriously and at a time  not of our choosing.  This year, with our late summer rains, the browning and dying are to be a bit late, following surely the later greening that surprised us, that conflicted with our expectations of August and September.