Friday, July 22, 2011

Promised Land

"And thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity." - William Bradford

     Several years ago, our family took a trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts. We saw the completely overrated Plymouth Pebble, and got caught in some National Geographic crowd shots aboard the Mayflower 2. But one of the most interesting highlights of the day trip, was our walk through Burial Hill. Not that I like Cemeteries or anything. Quite honestly, they freak me out. But we saw the tombs of some very famous people. Among them were Adoniram and Emily Judson's memorial stone, and John Howland's grave. But the most interesting stone that we saw was William Bradford's. It was a very simple stone; not extravagant or even the focal point of the cemetery. What really caught our attention though, was an inscription on the stone in Hebrew. The inscription was short; only three words long. As I have studied the Hebrew language for somewhere around five years, I recently translated the words on the tombstone to find out what they said. (Actually, Google Translate helped me out a bit.) Consistent from what I know of Bradford's character, the inscription simply said, "More be the Lord."
     Over the past month, I have been reading William Bradford's book, Of Plymouth Plantation. It's a wonderfully interesting book, and I particularly enjoyed the part where Bradford called Plato a communist, but there is one thing about the book that really irks me. The entire 344 page recounting of the Plymouth settlement is written in the third person. Bradford's fellow pilgrims become "they," and even Bradford himself becomes "the Governor."
     For what reason is Of Plymouth Plantation written in this way? I think the general opinion is that Bradford was just being very humble; but could there be a clue in the Hebrew writing on his tombstone?
     As were many of the Founding Fathers, William Bradford was a lover of the Hebrew scriptures and language. In fact, his own journal was littered with Hebrew verses and definitions. The following poem was written by Bradford, and is typed as best as I can interpret from his own handwriting.

Though I am growne aged, yet I have had a longing
desire, to see with my owne eyes, something of that most
ancient language, and holy tongue, in which the Law,
and oracles of God were write; and in which God,
and angels, spake to the holy patriarchs of old
time; and what names were given to things,
from the creation. And though I cannot
attaine to much herein, yet I am refresh-
ed, to have seen some glimpse hereof;
(as Moses saw the Land of ca-
nan a farr off) my aime and
desire is to see how the words,
and phrases lye in the
holy texte; and to
discerne somewhat
of the same
for my owne

     The first five books of the Bible were written down by Moses, the Hebrew slave turned Egyptian prince turned savior of the Hebrew people. Though Moses experienced, first hand, four fifths of the things written in the Bible's first five books, (called the Pentateuch or the Torah) each book is written in the third person. Moses wrote down the entire Torah before he died on Mount Nebo, but nowhere can there be found a "and the Lord spoke to me," or a "then I stretched my hand out over the water."
     Is it possible that William Bradford was emulating Moses as he wrote Of Plymouth Plantation? Could Bradford have pictured himself, as the head over the New England pilgrims, leading the Children of Israel to the Promised Land? Could Bradford's study and love of the Hebrew scriptures prompted the style of his book? Could New England have flowed with milk and honey as had the land of Canaan?
     We may never know the answers to the these questions here on this earth, but Bradford does tell us that America had never seen cows until several years after the pilgrims offloaded onto ye old Plymouth Pebble. Bees, I am sure, were quite prevalent.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Brush Strokes of Melody

     "Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything." - Plato

     In other words, music is emotion. What we hear influences how we feel.
     I'm extremely picky about music. Although I haven't touched a piano in seven years, and I can't begin to explain music theory, I know what melodies and sounds I am engaged by. I don't like middle C. It irks me. It's too normal and familiar. I don't like bridges. They stink. Just stick with one theme and don't change it in the middle of the song. Opera scares me. Too much repetition gives me a headache. And I don't like music with words.
     Music can best be described and compared to paintings. Like music, paintings play with the viewer's emotions. Our external senses motivate our feelings, and, in turn, our actions to a degree.
     The popular music of today is about as emotive as a Jackson Pollock painting. Don't get me wrong. There are people who are able to project emotions on the paintings, but the paintings in and of themselves have no solid emotion besides methodic chaos. 
     For many years, there has been a steady deformation of the arts that has affected both music and fine art. What we're left with are screaming, amoral or meaningless lyrics, and hollow melodies that appeal to the culture merely because of their prevalence. In art, we're left with "fine art" paintings that are nearly as profound as the Japanese flag.
     What happened?
     Much like the move away from God's calendar, mankind has moved away from an objective truth in favor of a subjective one. There is no longer a fixed meaning in some music and art. The listener or the viewer creates or projects the emotion or the meaning onto the painting or into the music.
     Nevertheless, there are still large quantities of good music out there. Personally, I like instrumental music best. The sound of raw, beautifully emotive music, unpolluted with the human voice has a very captivating aura when preformed well.
Also, I find that epic music is extremely motivating while doing something completely not motivating like calculating the product moment correlation coefficient. Epic music generates an invigorated emotion. Sometimes that vigor is edged with darkness like Hans Zimmer's music from the film, Gladiator. Other times, the vigor of epic music is pierced with rays of cautious hope or conclusivity. (Yes. I made that word up.) I think a good example of this would be Atli Orvarsson's "Return of the Eagle."
     Ludovico Einaudi's piece, "Divenire" could be best interpreted along the lines of Thomas Cole's painting, "The Oxbow."
     Michael W. Smith's instrumental album, Freedom, is an inspiring mix of patriotism and equanimity, similar to Lee Teter's "Vietnam Reflections."
     No matter what we listen to, it can influence how we feel, and, in turn, influence either our outlook, our mood, or even our conduct. Art is not a petty or fruitless invention of mankind. God can use the arts in mighty ways, but the opposite is also true. The arts can be used to break down absolute meaning and eventually degrade entire cultures.
     Music may give a soul to the universe and wings to the mind, but sometimes, music the size of an ostrich may only give the mind wings the size of a sparrow.

     On a completely unrelated note, the formatting on this post is significantly different from that of my previous two posts. To make this post look like the other two, I would need to mess with the messy HTML that specifies fonts. I don't like HTML. It's confusing. In other words, get used to the way that this post looks because you'll be seeing it this way from now on.

Friday, July 1, 2011


     "Everyone has his day and some days last longer than others." - Winston Churchill

     And it's true. In the summer, the days are significantly longer than days in the winter. That is, if you're in the northern hemisphere. It also means that dinner is nearly always around nine o'clock. If there's light on the farm, there's work to do on the farm, so when there's light at eight thirty, you had better still be working. 
     Obviously, this isn't quite what Churchill meant. Nonetheless, it springboards me into something that has boggled mathematicians and confounded the regular person like me for centuries. 
     We kill it, we waste it, we get ahead of it, we keep it, we lose it, we get behind it, we pay for it, we wait for it, and inevitably, we all want more of it in a day. It's troublesome, granted. 
     In 1852, mankind messed with time even more by trying to force it into a pad of twelve sheets of paper with grids drawn on them. 
     Pope Gregory XIII made a revolutionary revision to the previous Julian calendar by suppressing ten days of the year, and compensating for them with a strange invention called a leap year. We now call this system of keeping time the modern Gregorian calendar. 
     I personally think that this calendar may have been a by-product of the European Enlightenment. Thousands of years ago, there was once a calendar that was simple and effective. It was traditional, and driven by legacy, not reason. I would propose that this old-fashioned and customary way of measuring the nebulous of time may not have fit the standards of logic and reason that the philosophers of the day stood by. They wanted concrete, not conceptual. Numbers, not shapes. Perfection, not discretion. 
     Even the head of the Catholic church was willing to reform traditionalism for the sake of reason. By doing what he thought was right, Pope Gregory may have inadvertently changed the way that time was meant to be kept, and added unneeded complexity to an already inerrant calendar. 
     This simple, traditional calendar was lunar, not solar like the Gregorian calendar. In other words, every time that the moon was full, you would be halfway through the month. The first night when you could see a crescent moon would be the start of a new month. It was, and still is, that simple. Every cycle of twelve moons is one year. Every three years or so, a simple repeat of one month allows for tracking with the seasons. The first day of the week is what we now call Sunday, and each new day began at sundown, not at midnight. It actually makes a lot of sense. Back when there was no logical reason to stay up after the sun had set, the day ended at sundown, and a new day would begin. 
     Believe it or not, the framework of this first calendar system was set up by God Himself. 
     In approximately 1312 BCE on the night of what is now the full moon of April or March, a mass group of people filtered out of Ancient Egypt under the light of a full moon. They were leaving behind lives of slavery, and they were also leaving behind the eerie wailings of Egyptian families. It was the first Feast of Passover; the Israelite Exodus. 
     Fourteen days earlier, God had instituted His calendar. 

     "The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 'This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of if Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household... and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight." - Exodus 12:1-3 and 6 

     Fourteen days was nearly halfway through the month. This offering of the lambs happened one day before the first Passover, and therefore landed one day before the halfway marker: the full moon. It makes perfect sense that God would give light to his children as he led them out of Egypt on that first Passover night. 
     Thousands of years later, the Passover Feast is still celebrated on this very night. Fifteen days into the first month; the month that God names "Abib." 

     "Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night." - Deuteronomy 16:1 

     In the civil Jewish calendar of today, the month of Abib is called "Nisan" and is considered as the seventh month of the year, not the first. Actually, the civil Jewish calendar is almost as messed up as today's Gregorian calendar, but we know for certain that on the fifteenth day of the first month, the month Abib, God has set up a timeless feast of remembrance and joy. Passover serves to continually remind us of our deliverance from bondage; be it the physical Egypt, or be it sin: the Egypt of our souls. Jesus, Yeshua, is the only one who can deliver us from that Egypt of sin. 
     Passover is also one of seven Biblical feasts instituted by God on his own calendar. Just like God created Holy and set-apart places on earth like the tabernacle and temple, God also created holy and set-apart places in time like Passover. 
     For our family, Passover is a wonderful time of joy and peace. No matter how crazy our modern calendars can get, we can always count on the consistency of God's calendar. Until the moon gets sucked into a wormhole, we'll always know when Passover comes around each year. 
     Needless to say, time still confuses me, and even using God's calendar, time will still be somewhere in that nebulous fourth dimension just waiting for a time machine. 
     But I do know one thing, my dear reader. I know that today is not your birthday.