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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Never hope in any other

Tallis, from Wikimedia Commons

Lots of driving this weekend resulted in multiple listenings to Thomas Tallis’s great motet “Spem in alium”. Calling for a minimum of 40 singers, it’s considered a pinnacle of Renaissance polyphonic choral music (which as far as I’m concerned is already a pinnacle).

I wish the dial on the car radio would go up to 11. As it was I was afraid I would blow out my speakers, not to mention my eardrums. Tallis (1505-1585) was possibly a recusant Catholic, a dangerous critter to be in Elizabethan England. But thank goodness she must not have objected to setting Latin texts, and so we have this work for 8 choirs of 5 voices each – soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass in modern arrangements.

I have recordings by the Tallis Scholars and King’s College Cambridge. Based on a rave review in the Gramophone, I bought a recording by the group Magnificat. Here’s a link to possibly the largest performance in history — over 700 singers in Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, recorded by the BBC in 2006. What’s missing, at least on my laptop, is a sense of the extraordinary effects big stereo speakers can bring. But it’s fun to watch, and now there are even flash mobs performing it.

Man, would I love to see that. It will be performed on March 28th at St. Ignatius Loyola in New York.

Spem in alium nunquam habui praeter in te
Deus Israel
qui irasceris
et propitius eris
et omnia peccata hominum in tribulatione dimittis
Domine Deus
Creator coeli et terrae
respice humilitatem nostram
I have never put my hope in any other but in You,
O God of Israel
who can show both anger
and graciousness,
and who absolves all the sins of suffering man
Lord God,
Creator of Heaven and Earth
be mindful of our lowliness
(original and translation from Wikipedia)

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I was reading an article about Occam’s Razor (and how’s that for an attention-grabber, sports fans) that defined it along the lines of “Of two possible explanations for something, the simplest one is probably correct.” That’s been bothering me ever since. It rather seriously mis-states what Occam’s Razor is all about. It has nothing to do with probability and is not a predictor.

The logical principle elucidated by the Franciscan friar William of Occam (or Ockham), c. 1285-1349, is sometimes given as Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate. “Entities are no to be feigned without necessity” is one translation. Let’s say we had theory A (simple) and theory B (complex). If we relied just on the formulation above and new evidence came to light that theory A can’t explain, then wouldn’t that prove Occam’s Razor (OR) wrong?

Not at all. In fact OR demands that the simpler explanation that accounts for all the observed phenomena is to be accepted as correct. It can’t be proved or disproved; it’s an axiom or heuristic principle. We don’t say that in Euclidean space “parellel lines probably never meet.” By definition, they can’t.

For much of the Middle Ages the Ptolemaic system was capable of explaining the motion of the stars and planets. It was based on the notion that they had to move in circles (because, as we know from Aristotle, circles are the perfect shape). To explain observed irregularities astronomers had to add circles on top of circles (epicycles) in ever more complex patterns.

Now, of course, we “know” that the movement of Earth around the sun (Copernicus) and the elliptical nature of planetary orbits (Kepler) explain the  motions we see. But how do we know that we know this? In theory epicycles could multiply and be refined endlessly to account for new observations; but eventually OR caused that monstrously complex system to collapse under its own weight.

Here’s the ironic part: probably many today would use OR to argue against the idea of a supernatural Creator. But for Occam himself, his principle was a grand demonstration of God, the one entity who exists by necessity and whose marvelous economy is to be found throughout the plenitude of created world.

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October 23, 4004 BC (or BCE) was the day the earth was created, according to the eminent scientist Church of Ireland Bishop James Ussher (1581 – 1656).

Today only fringe groups like Young Earth Creationists would take this literally, but as his Wikipedia article notes, “… in Ussher’s time such a calculation was still regarded as an important task, one previously attempted by many Post-Reformation scholars, such as Joseph Justus Scaliger and physicist Isaac Newton.”

So hoist a beverage and sing Happy Birthday today.

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The Sacred Harp community of Cincinnati has lost one of our dearest friends. Christine Cox died last Wednesday at 87, following a serious stroke in March of this year. Singer Eloise Clark was with her when she died, singing some of her favorite hymns. John Bealle has a wonderful tribute to Chris on his website.

The Cincinnati singers will sing at her visitation this Sunday night and her funeral Monday morning. Isaac Watts’ lyrics to “China,” which we will sing, read in part:

Why do we mourn departing friends,
Or shake at death’s alarms?
‘Tis but the voice that Jesus sends,
To call them to His arms.

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These graphs were sent to me by the good folks at the national office of Interfaith Power and Light (I’m the Executive Director of the Ohio affiliate).

Enough said.

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from Wikimedia Commons

As usual on Trinity Sunday, we sang “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” at Holy Trinity Oxford today. It’s a terrific hymn, both in words and music.

According to Wikipedia, although the Old Irish poem is traditionally ascribed to Patrick of Ireland (4th century), it probably dates from the 8th century. The English translation by Cecil Frances Alexander powerfully captures the incantatory power of Celtic nature poetry:

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

And the equally great music is by Charles Villiers Stanford, with Ralph Vaughan Willams contributing one stanza.

Old Irish is a quirky language, no doubt about it. I had the privilege of studying it under the great Murray Fowler at Wisconsin. It’s the only language I know where the word for 7 literally means “large 6.”

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just about the most amazing graph ever

I recently saw a LinkedIn discussion about how to define the South. Think there’s no such thing? Think again.

This graph from the ASARB in 2002, available from the Glenmary Research Center in Nashville, shows the distribution of church membership. The different colors signify the predominant religious denomination in each county in the U.S. Black dots signify that there is an absolute majority of that denomination in the county. Click on the map to enlarge.

Care to guess what the red counties mean?

Southern Baptist, of course. If like me you grew up in the South you know intuitively what this means. I found this map while researching a course on Faulkner I taught for Miami’s Institute for Learning in Retirement in 2007 (you can find a PDF of my PowerPoint on my Presentations).

Oh, and there is one other way. I can’t locate it now, but I remember reading about a study that looked in Yellow Pages to find occurrences of the word “Dixie” in business names. Not surprisingly, as I recall, the percentage was highest in Alabama and Mississippi. But I don’t think the results were as striking as this.

I can only think of one other graphic I have ever seen that so effectively captures meaning. (Sorry to be mysterious, but I’ll have to blog about that later).

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I began a new job this week: I am the Executive Director of Ohio Interfaith Power and Light. This is a statewide organization here in Ohio whose mission . . .

. . . is  to empower a religious response to climate change
and to promote energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.
We focus on tangible results in religious communities – putting our faith into action.

OhIPL is part of a growing nationwide network, with chapters in most states, that brings together people of faith to address the great issue about which we share one concern — the Care of Creation. We present educational programs and work with congregations of all kinds to reduce their carbon footprint, increase efficiency, and save money.

We work with many partners such as the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance, which has been described as “ground zero” of the green building/energy efficiency movement in communities. This week GCEA announced the receipt of $17 million in stimulus money to pay for energy audits and retrofit projects throughout southwest Ohio.

A unique aspect of this program is the eligibility of non-profits, including communities of faith, to receive funds. OhIPL will work with GCEA on outreach to those communities. Houses of worship as a group are among the “leakiest” buildings in the country. But people of good will in those communities can be a powerful force for real change.

As I told the Board of OhIPL, it’s very exciting to me to be working with them at this critical time. Everywhere I’ve gone, when I explain to people the work of OhIPL, the reaction is the same: “What a great idea!”

I’ll be working with OhIPL on a contract basis through December 31, 2010. My task is to help OhIPL move toward the next chapter in its future (at present we are an affiliate program of the Ohio Council of Churches). I’m still engaged in wrapping up my teaching duties at Miami-Hamilton, which will keep me busy through next week.

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Our English words for common terms often set us apart from speakers of  European languages, especially the Romance languages of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French and others descending from Latin. In English only one name for a day of the week (Saturday) comes to us from Latin. The others are from the ordinary English words sun and moon, or from figures in pagan Germanic mythology such as Tiw, Woden, Thor, and Freya/Frigga (spellings vary).

Most Greek and Latin church traditions name Easter from the Hebrew Pesach (Passover). But once again, English turns to pagan roots and uses the name Eostre. This is possibly a female fertility figure associated with spring rebirth, but there’s not a lot of hard evidence left to be able to draw definitive conclusions.

That doesn’t stop the neo-pagans and New Agers from coming up with all sorts of speculation, of course. They share with some extreme fundamentalists the notion that this makes the English term Easter somehow “really” pagan.

Nonsense. The early (7th century) missionaries from Rome who came to Britain to convert the heathen Angles and Saxons simply made over existing traditions to Christian concepts — baptizing the names, as it were, or causing them to be born again. An English speaker using the word Easter is not any more or less pagan than a French speaker using the term Pacques. Pagan is as pagan does.

The illustration (from Wikimedia Commons) is by Johannes Gehrts and reflects a late 19th-century German Romantic view of Eostre. With a few Italianate putti flitting around and a tidy-looking purple martin house.

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Maimonides teaching

Don’t you just love that? As Dave Barry would say, Rambam would be an excellent name for a rock band, and I think Guide for the Perplexed would be a great album title, too. But they’re neither.

Rambam comes from the initial Hebrew letters of ‘Rabbi Moses ben Maimon.’ Moses Maimonides (1138-1204), as he is better known, was one of the leading Jewish scholars of the Middle Ages. His 1168 commentary on the Mishnah, the Siraj (‘Luminary’) was “a notable contribution to exegesis and scholarship,” says the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.

His Guide for the Perplexed (‘Dux Neutrorum sive Dubiorum’) appeared in 1190. It deals with the existence of God, the creation of the world, the problem of evil and more. It exercised a profound influence on later Jewish and Christian thinkers (St. Thomas Aquinas, for one).

But not, so far as I can tell, on rock bands.

Note: This post is #151 since I started blogging in 2009. I wasn’t sure I’d get that far. I’ve been experimenting with a new blog, wordsmatter (aka clevecallison.com), and put a short post on this topic there. I’m planning to have that blog be more  devoted to questions of writing and language usage, and keep the personal-interest posts (such as this one) here.

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