Saturday, December 19, 2015

mary, did you indeed know?

A friend posted the above — funny! But it got me to thinking. Maybe this song deserves a line-by-line.


     Mary, did you know
     that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?

Nope, she had no way of knowing that. There is no Old Testament prophecy concerning it, and Gabriel made no mention of it.

     Mary, did you know
     that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?

A solid yes on this one. But we'll give it a bit of understanding since it's very very obvious that they were just trying to find a rhyme for "water." ... Come to think of it, that's double points OFF, because there is no excuse for a labored rhyme.

     Did you know
     that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?

At last, an interesting question: what *was* Mary's understanding of Moshiach? Did she really see that she herself would enter into redemption this way?

     This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

Just a restatement of the above, really. But a chance to dig that paradox in a little deeper just in case you hadn't noticed.

By the way, the gleefully blammy exploitation of paradox owes much, in a that-blow-your-mind-guy-in-your-freshman-dorm kind of way, to John Donne's "La Corona," a wreath of poems that contain all sorts of linguistic games but center on the richly paradoxical fact of Christ's incarnation: "Oh, to vex me, contraries meet in one!"

The great line "Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb" always gets me trembling and teary-eyed.

     Mary, did you know
     that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?

Again, sorry Batman, she could have no way of knowing that. That said, he actually healed nine blind men. That scans just fine, but of course "men" doesn't really rhyme with "hand."

*That* said, "daughters" doesn't really rhyme with "water," so.

     Mary, did you know
     that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?

Also, the way the melody and rhythm happen, the accent is on the "His" of "His hand," which doesn't sound right. Nonetheless, nope, she didn't really know that.

     Did you know
     that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?

Aha! Another interesting one! Did she know that? What exactly does a peasant girl in Nazareth believe about heaven? Is she, in other words, more Sadduceeical or Pharisaical? Does she believe that her son-to-be coexisted with God from the start? (Almost definitely not.) Does she believe that he has indeed walked where angels trod? "Trod?" Songwriters! You wouldn't really use the word "trod" at all unless you-know-what-word is coming.

     When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?

It's almost guaranteed that this Nazarene girl did *not* see Moshiach as a person of the Holy Trinity, since the doctrine of the Holy Trinity didn't arise until much later.

     Mary did you know.. Ooo Ooo Ooo

Blessedly, Mary did *not* know anything about this modern tic in music.

Hmm... wait a second. Even as I write this I think that probably the "Ooo" is an older component of song than language itself. Hmm!

     The blind will see.
     The deaf will hear.
     The dead will live again.
     The lame will leap.
     The dumb will speak

Alex says, "Sorry. Not phrased as a question."

Nonetheless, did she know these things? One could argue that if she really knew her prophets she might have encountered passages in Joel and other Messianic texts that touched on these things. That's a bit of a stretch, though. And she was far far more likely to have an intimate knowledge of the Torah (and its interpretations) than of the prophets. Still, it's iffy.

     The dumb will speak
     The praises of The Lamb.

Now we're getting into end-times prophecy. Sorry, folks. It's unlikely that she knew, unless Gabriel said a bunch of stuff that didn't go down in the book.

     Mary, did you know
     that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?

Doubtful — this goes back to the concept of the Triune God, which doesn't begin to be revealed explicitly until roughly 31 years later.

     Mary, did you know
     that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?

A solid yes: it's been announced that he'll be the Messiah. She very likely envisioned him ruling the nations, albeit in a temporal way that we now know was limited.

     Did you know
     that your Baby Boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?

This particular Lamb mention gets a few more points than the other one, simply because she may be familiar with that great passage in Isaiah.

     The sleeping Child you're holding is the Great I Am

Blasphemy! (That's at least how she'd respond if someone told her that.)

Taken as a whole, I'd say the overall answer here is a soft "no." Robin, it's time to slap back.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

peter wins the internet for today

Paul: Backing up six terabytes. See you in eleven hours.

Patrick: Backing up from what to what? Laptop to external drive? Desktop to cloud?

Peter: I assumed 6 million floppy disks.

Patrick: You're making me laugh in the middle of business meeting at church.

Peter: People still go to church in the middle of the week? Now I am reminded of floppy disks.

Friday, December 11, 2015

why the carpenters soothe

A friend asks, "Why are The Carpenters and, in particular, Karen Carpenter's voice an immediate salve to all that might rattle one's mind?"

There's a lot going on there. First of all, she's a terrific musician who sings (for the most part) great arrangements of first-rate songs. There's something deep inside us that is simultaneously calmed and energized by good music.

Second, the person asking is around 50 years old. The familiar and favorite music of one's childhood will always soothe.

Third, there's the actual quality of her voice. We've all heard shrill voices, and shrill voices do cut through rock 'n' roll better, but to hear a woman with a low, warm voice (plenty of 300 Hz in there) activates all the "pleasant" cues in us.

Fourth, and here's where I really think she touches the culture, she often sings sad songs with her sunny voice. That juxtaposition creates a very interesting recipe. When you're feeling down, it's good to hear her radiantly croon "Rainy days and Mondays aaaaalways get mayyyy down." This is just another example of what's going on with, say, the blues, in which we hear characters sing about their woes with wit and verve. It's a way of telling your subconscious mind that everything's going to be OK, that you'll live to sing about all this someday.

We also like gloriously happy songs sung by people with sad voices. Paul Buchanan is the modern master, and any of the Blue Nile albums (particularly Hats) is immensely satisfying because of it. He sings, "I love an ooooordinary girl; she makes the world alright," with such sorrow and pain in his voice that you can't help but know that love and joy are possible no matter what you've been through.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

the vanishing subjunctive mood

Wow! I just came across something striking.

We all know that the main features of the subjunctive mood have been disappearing, and in a generation or two will be gone. But much has already been lost, even before an old person's lifetime.

We always trot out the usual examples and say that if Tevye were singing today instead of in the 60s he'd say, "If I was a rich man..." (Of course, Browning said "If this was ever granted" a hundred years before, in his prosily sublime "Guardian Angel".) Fewer people notice the source of Ray Charles's mistake in those same 60s, when he sang "America, America, God shed his grace on thee ... He crowned thy good with brotherhood...." Charles misses that both phrases ("God shed his grace," "and crown thy good") are actually subjunctive: May God shed his grace, may god crown thy good. So he, quite naturally, assumes it's in past tense. In some versions, he sings "God done shed his grace on thee." And no one blinks!

OK, anyway. I was reading some Chesterton, which you should always do after discussing what was wrong with the Stoics. It all came from a Facebook discussion, in which I'd said that, as opposed to their fellow pagans, who lived in festive cities in a dark cosmos, and to later Christians, who lived in gloomy towns in a joyous cosmos, the Stoics somehow decided that gloominess and festivity are all peripheral to the issue of goodness — something a Christian today can only half-agree to. My phrasing owed much to a vivid thought, in "Orthodoxy," that has stayed with me since college. In a shimmeringly Chestertonian passage, he says:
I freely grant that the pagans, like the moderns, were only miserable about everything — they were quite jolly about everything else. I concede that the Christians of the Middle Ages were only at peace about everything — they were at war about everything else. But if the question turn on the primary pivot of the cosmos, then there was more cosmic contentment in the narrow and bloody streets of Florence than in the theatre of Athens or the open garden of Epicurus. Giotto lived in a gloomier town than Euripides, but he lived in a gayer universe. 
BAM! Ya gotta love him. But did you hear that: "if the question turn...." That knocked me for a loop. I've read that passage a dozen times, but never really noticed that lost subjunctivism. Plenty of people would still say "If I were a rich man," and plenty would still say something like "God give you grace." ... But there is no living person on this planet who would say "If the question turn on it." That's just crazy!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

my charlie grinch

OK, I love the Peanuts special as much as the next person. But, amid all the glowing reviews and tributes, I have to say there's one thing that never fails to get me cranky about it: the dance scene.

It's the laziest bit of animation in a notoriously lazy era for animation. It's essentially a GIF: each kid doing, literally, one move on a half-second loop, and then the camera just switches between the whole scene and zeroing in on one at a time.

Insult to injury: the "twins" are just reversed clones of that same loop. Further insult: they don't even pan and scan *differently* throughout the segment; they just clone the back-and-forth pattern — several times. I feel certain that the brief (and jarringly unmatching) new dance close-ups for the swingy bridge were grudgingly done at the last minute for a disgusted exec.

The casting of actual kids for the parts? Genius (and still rare). Linus's Scriptural speech? One of the most touching moments in television history. But that dance sequence — to what has become one of the most recognized and beloved pieces of music in our culture — ? Three minutes of lazy inferiority. It's an embarrassment.