Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Notes to Readers

It’s the last Tuesday of the month, and if you’re familiar with the schedule, you know that the 5th Tuesday is for…

Oh, right. I didn’t think about the odd “5th Tuesdays” when I made my original editorial plan—just one of many things I’ve learned in these first few months of blogging.

Since the 5th Tuesday is open, I’m going to use this one for some notes to all of you.


Note #1: Thank you, readers, for any or all of the following:
  • Reading
  • Commenting
  • Guest authoring
  • Contributing artwork
  • Sharing posts on social media
  • Liking the Ninth and Fillmore Facebook page
  • Promoting the blog to others
  • Offering encouraging feedback
Funny thing: Every time I’ve wondered if I should keep at this (e.g., “How many other inquisitive/blog reading/rhetorical Lutherans can there be out there?”), someone has encouraged me to keep writing. Thanks for that feedback. It’s been very helpful.

Note #2: Thanks, too, for your patience with tech glitches.

Starting a blog is relatively easy. Managing the technical aspects, especially as a new blogger, can be a challenge. One example: during the first month of this blog, I discovered that all of the images here, including some of the header mockups, also appeared in the photo album of my Google + account. What?!? I deleted the albums (“Clutter!”), and guess what? All the photos got deleted from the blog, too. Live and learn.

I’m still working on smoothing out various technical aspects of the blog, such as sharing to Facebook (“Ugh! Another unexpected crop job!”), working with Feedburner email notifications (“Why this unintelligible string of letters?”), managing Blogger’s frustrating commenting system (“What? Your comment disappeared when you tried to publish?”), and seeing my pageview stats get thrown out of whack by referrer spam (“Huh. Hundreds of pageviews from Russia and Ukraine for this one post. Hmm…”).

Here's one of my favorite glitches to date: the Facebook beheading of John the Baptist.


On my tech “to-do” list: continue tinkering with optimization, image sizes, and settings, and start learning HTML. Learning code isn’t required, but it’ll make life easier (unless I break the blog, of course).

Note #3: Most-read posts

With the pageview stats out of whack, I can’t be 100% sure that the following list of most-read posts is accurate, but here’s my best guess (and it’s probably pretty close; only one post is getting hammered by spambots).
  • Guest posts (last Friday of the month)
  • A Lutheran Spin on the Five Canons
  • I Covet
  • Rethinking Goodwill
  • Thou Shalt Not Sound Like an Essay
  • The Friday Figure: Anaphora           
You might have noticed what’s not on the list: book-related reflections (e.g., Lutheran classics; religion books). I’m going to stick with those topics for awhile because reading is always a good thing, but if the reading becomes a burden, I may drop those posts in favor of…well, you tell me. I’m open to suggestions.

Note #4: To my anonymous correspondent (and anyone else interested in the topic of goodwill)

I hope you don’t mind me replying to you here. I wanted to make sure to let you know that I received your letter. Thank you! You raised a number of good points about those two posts on goodwill. I do, in fact, stand by my original argument (“On Koinonia and Goodwill”). I wrote the follow-up post (“Rethinking Goodwill”) as a minor amendment (a tweak rather than a turnaround), based on a perspective that I hadn’t fully considered the first time. 

There’s a whole lot more to say about the topic (probably enough for a book, as I think about it). For now, just know that when it comes to discussions of religion, I remain a strong advocate for greater goodwill—e.g., humility, helpfulness, patience, and “putting the best construction on everything.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Übersetzen Sie! Translate!


The guest this month is Pastor Jon Bruss, assistant pastor at St. John’s Lutheran in Topeka and former professor of classics. If you’ve been reading for awhile, you know he’s my go-to source for Greek questions (and that goes for Latin and German, too). In this post, he talks about translating Luther’s works, focusing specifically on the efforts of Concordia Publishing House (CPH) to add 20 more volumes to the American edition of Luther’s Works.

What do Lutherans do when the language of the people is out of step with the language of the church? Translate!

The Church of the Wittenberg Reformation and her chief reformer Martin Luther might be best known among the broad population for just that. Forget “faith alone, grace alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone.” It’s the use of “the vernacular,” as they called the language of the people back in the day, that’s the major watershed event—at least as the Reformation is taught in the general Western history curricula in high schools and colleges.


Even if “Translate!” doesn’t get to the core of what the Reformation was about, its admittedly a big part of it. And today the language of the Reformation is out of step with the language of the people (or vice versa). They spoke Latin and German (in its many dialects). And although through the 1950s and into the 60s, at least in LCMS, most Lutheran pastors were learning enough German and Latin to use the base sources, that (sadly) became a dying art. Today, it’s pretty much dead.

And that has opened a huge gulf between us heirs and our inheritance, the theology of the Lutheran Reformation. The Lutheran answer? Translate!

Back in the 1950s, as the light of German and Latin was fading among Lutheran pastors, Concordia Publishing House (LCMS) and Fortress Publishing House (of the erstwhile LCA) came together in a joint venture to translate many of Luther’s works into English. That resulted by the 1970s in some 55 volumes in English. Decent, if short (and therefore incomplete), forewords accompanied many of the translations.

But the base text from which the translators and editors were working includes roughly 100 volumes in German and Latin. To be sure, not all of the 100 or so volumes are Luther—they contain some historical notes, text-critical notes, and lists of editions for comparison purposes. But the vast majority of it is Luther. And that means that a significant portion of Luther remains untranslated.

Enter Christopher Boyd Brown and Benjamin T.G. Mayes. These two Reformation scholars are now hard at work producing 20 more volumes in English of Luther’s works through Concordia Publishing House. You can read the project’s prospectus here. They’ve gathered a cadre of German and Latin scholars, many of whom are also Lutheran pastors, to produce this translation. And their notes and introductions to the translated texts are alone worth the price of each volume. (You can even place a standing order for the new series so that as each new volume comes out, you can get it when it’s released.)

As a translator on this project, it’s been rewarding to me not only as a Latin and German scholar, but also as a Lutheran theologian and pastor. First, it’s a great indulgence for the language-nerd in me. How great to bury your nose in a macaronic (both Latin and German) sermon text from notes handwritten as Luther was preaching!—the closest thing we can get to a “transcript” of his work. (To be sure, it’s not that Luther preached one and the same sermon going back and forth between Latin and German. But it was the case that those taking notes were often as comfortable in Latin as in German, and so simply transcribed what Luther said in both—perhaps to get a more compact expression of what he had said.)

Macaronic text from Luther's Commentary on Some Chapters of Matthew

I’ve also learned a great deal as a preacher. Working slowly and carefully on a text allows you to see more than you normally would—and to chew on it a bit. So if I’ve become a better preacher over the course of the last several years, some of it is surely due to working on these sermons and commentaries.

Perhaps the greatest reward has been theological. Luther’s clarity of thought and expression can really cut through tangled messes. A sermon on 1 Thess 4:13-18, for example, rewarded me with great insight on this verse, “We who are alive, who left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep…. The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds.” What’s the order here? And what about the “twinkling of an eye” in 1 Cor 15? And if the dead receive a new, imperishable body, what about those who are alive? Do they receive an imperishable body?

    Weimarer Ausgabe 17/1:224-225; text translated below 

This is how Luther explains it to the survivors of Elector Friedrich der Groẞe at his 1525 funeral and burial (WA 17/1:224-5):

[Paul] says this [word] “first,” and [yet] does not postulate that they would rise before the others. For it will all transpire in the twinkling of an eye [1 Cor 15:52].
  
It will happen like this within the first moment: The dead will rise; and in the twinkling of an eye within that resurrection we, too, will be changed. And both we who are dead in our graves and we who are alive will be changed into another kind [1 Cor 15:40]. First the dead will rise; that is, [they will rise] before [all] who are Christ’s are whisked up and in a split second immediately thereafter are transported away and float in the air; and the godless will remain here below on the earth and not be whisked up. And once they have arisen, we will be changed at the same time and go up with them to meet Christ. He will not be waiting so long that He will find us lounging here, but in the shout of the trumpet the dead and living must be changed and transformed.

Great stuff, eh? You’ll have to wait for volume 56 to come out to read the rest of it which, like much of my work on the project, won’t be published for a few more years. If you’re interested, though, you can find a wonderful sermon on Baptism that came out (in English) in 2010 for the 1 April 1540 Baptism of the infant prince Bernhard von Anhalt, Luther’s Works 58.31-52. Serendipitously, the 475th anniversary of that event is coming up in just a few days.



The translator at work


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Another Interesting Saint Peter

How familiar are these names?

Stephen Langton. Henry Suso. John Colet. Peter Damian.

If you recognize any of them, you’re a step ahead of me. I didn’t know any of these figures before reading this month’s book, Christian Eloquence: Contemporary Doctrinal Preaching (2005, Hillenbrand Books), by C. Colt Anderson.

The people listed above were all engaged in “doctrinal preaching” in the Middle Ages. As Anderson explains, doctrinal preachers had a license or permission to teach the faith. Today, “doctrinal preachers” in Roman Catholic circles (Anderson’s primary audience) would include anyone approved by a bishop to teach, including priests, deacons, catechists, retreat leaders, and seminary professors.

I won’t be leading a Roman Catholic retreat anytime soon, but I still appreciated Christian Eloquence, largely because of the primary source material. Anderson includes 10 sermons spanning roughly a 1000-year time period, from figures like Saint Augustine (late 4th/early 5th century) to John Colet, a reform-minded English preacher (late 15th/early 16th century).

All of the sermons are interesting for one reason or another (e.g., insights into a particular preaching orientation, clues about audience or historical context), but one in particular stood out for me: “The Exaltation of the Holy Cross” (trans. Ian Levy) by Saint Peter Damian (1007-1072), a monk in the Order of Saint Benedict.  

Why Peter Damian?

Saint Peter Damian
Maybe it’s his way with numbers. In the middle of the sermon, for example, he talks about the significance of the divine number “six” (e.g., God created the world in six days, etc.). He then shows how the construction of Christ’s body in the womb (“6” x 46 = 276 days = 9 months and 6 days) mirrors the time of the construction of the temple of Jerusalem: 46 years. (John 2:20: The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up again in three days?”)

Peter Damian’s conclusion: “Only by examining this with great care does one see that the number of years needed for the construction of the temple is calculated to match the number of days taken to build the Lord’s body” (p. 118).

Wow. Sounds like something out of a Dan Brown novel, doesn’t it?

And then there’s Peter’s way with words. Consider his description of the cross:

In short, the cross is the death of vices, and both the fount and life of all virtues. The cross is a footpath for those just beginning, a highway for those running, and a secure resting place for those who arrive. [. . .] The cross is the strength of those who fight bravely, a place of recovery for those who are staggering, and a crown for the victorious. The cross inflicts but a momentary death and then provides the compensation of eternal life.” (p. 115) 
Lovely. And thank you, Peter, for giving me an idea for next month’s “Friday Figure.”

Even without the eloquent phrasing and divine calculations, Peter would still stand out for his core message about the power of the cross. It’s a familiar message for anyone used to hearing sermons focused on “Christ and Him crucified.” Early in his sermon, Peter says:

What tongue is found worthy to sing the praises of the cross which opened up heaven, released the earth from the sentence of its ancient curse, and laid waste to hell? This is the cross which engrafted us wild olives onto the olive tree, and from vases of wrath crafted vases of mercy (Romans 9:22; 11:17). Though we were sitting in darkness this cross transformed us into children of light (1 Peter 2:9).” (p. 108)

The message is timeless, isn’t it? That’s one of the great rewards in reading old sermons—seeing a common message that connects believers across space and time.


ART: San Pedro Damiani, Biblioteca Classense, Ravenna, Italia. By Andrea Barbiani [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Friday Figure: Anadiplosis


“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

These figured words from the apostle Paul are memorable, but I cant say the same for the name of this figure of speech: anadiplosis (an-a-di-PLO-sis).

Doesn’t have quite the same ring as “metaphor” or irony, does it?


It might help to think of anadiplosis as duplication or repetition, which is the Greek meaning of the term. In this figure, the last word of a clause or sentence is repeated at or near the beginning of the next one.

A few other examples from Scripture:

Romans 8:30: And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified he also glorified.
Romans 10:14-15: How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”
2 Peter 1:5-7: For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

Anadiplosis is a figure of emphasis, calling attention to key words that are repeated. It also displays a chain of reasoning, as in this example from Shakespeare:

The love of wicked men converts to fear,
That fear to hate, and hate turns one or both
To worthy danger and deserved death.
—Shakespeare, Richard II 5.1.66-68

Shakespeare could have simply said, “the love of wicked men leads to danger and death,” but then we might be puzzling over the leap from point A to point B.

When the chain of thought ascends, building to a high point, the figure is also known as gradatio, or climax  (“ladder” in Greek), as illustrated by this example from Lanham’s Handlist of Rhetorical Terms

“Good wine makes good blood, good blood causeth good humours, good humours cause good thoughts, good thoughts bring forth good works, good works carry a man to heaven, ergo good wine carry a man to heaven” (James Howell, Familiar Letters).
 
Like many figures, anadiplosis isn’t familiar by name, but you can find examples everywhere, even on defensive driving websites:

Kinetic energy is also known as the energy of motion. A vehicles energy of motion doubles when its weight doubles. When a vehicles weight doubles, it needs about twice the distance to stop. —GetDefensive.com

That example, by the way, comes from AmericanRhetoric.com, a must-visit site for rhetoric fans. The site lists 15 examples of anadiplosis, including the one that I’ll leave you with here. Can you name the source? (Hint: It’s not the Bible or Shakespeare; it’s contemporary.)

They call for you: The general who became a slave; the slave who became a gladiator; the gladiator who defied an Emperor. Striking story.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Thou Shalt Not Sound Like an Essay

Several years ago, my pastor told me about a book he was reading called Preaching Without Notes, by Joseph M. Webb (2001).

The basic argument: Use a manuscript, and risk losing your listeners. Abandon the manuscript, and keep your listeners engaged.

That’s basic public speaking wisdom, and it’s solid. Sometimes, though, using a manuscript makes good sense. You might have intricate points to make. You might want to guard against misstatements. Time might be tight. What then?

Go ahead. Use the manuscript. You don’t need to toss your notes. What you need to abandon is written style.

Speechwriters know this. They write “listenable” manuscripts for a living. Read any of their books, and you’ll see this same piece of advice:

Write for the ear, not for the eye

Speechwriters are masters of oral style. They know that “a speech is not merely an essay standing on its hind legs” (Winans and Hudson, A First Course in Public Speaking, 1931, p. 17).

Hence today’s style “commandment”: Thou shalt not sound like an essay.

Formal essays are composed in written style; they’re meant to be read, not heard. If you write a speech or sermon or presentation like an essay, it may look fine on paper, but it won’t likely “speak” well (at least not as well as it could).

If you intend to speak with notes, oral style is a must, whether you write that way initially or edit later.  

To help with the process, here are five guidelines for oral style that make a major difference in “listenability”:

1. Use contractions. In formal essays, contractions are typically avoided. In speaking notes, you should use them liberally, just as people do in conversation. This is an easy thing to identify and change in a manuscript.

2. Avoid “sea serpents” (i.e., tangled sentences with lots of clauses). I ran across this concept in a book chapter on broadcast newswriting (Andrew Boyd, 1994); it comes from Mark Twain, and it’s a beauty. A sea serpent expresses multiple winding thoughts, “with half its arches under the water.” 

Watch out, in particular, for long dependent clauses at the beginnings of sentences. (E.g., “Having been a product of the Great Depression myself, and seeing the problems it caused my grandmother, I valued thrift above all else.”) People don’t typically talk like this, and the thoughts packed into sea serpents can be hard to follow by ear.


"Sea Serpent" by Fritz Palmer (age 9)

3. Closely related to sea serpents: Write in short sentences, using simple subject-verb structure. Fragments are fine. So is repetition. 

4. Use first- and second-person pronouns. I don’t know about you, but I was trained in the “never use anything but third-person” school of formal writing. You should break this rule, and do it often. Listeners need to know that you’re aware of them.

5. Use familiar language. Sometimes, the words and expressions we use in writing don’t reflect how we sound when talking. Consider this sentence: “The transformation is, indeed, remarkable.” That works for an essay, but for speaking notes, I’d go with, “The transformation really IS remarkable.” When reviewing a manuscript, ask yourself, “Would I say it this way if I were talking to someone one-on-one?” If not, say the idea aloud, and type what you say. (Then polish if needed.)

Some of you may have already mastered the “art of artlessness,” but if you’re interested in honing your skills, here are a couple of additional suggestions, based on strategies I’ve used in speechwriting classes.

First, read books or articles by professional speechwriters. Analyze their style, and see what makes it effective. Two writers worth checking out: Peggy Noonan (On Speaking Well) and Robert Lehrman (The Political Speechwriter’s Companion).

Second, practice translating. Take something in written style and turn it into something speechworthy, using the guidelines above. Even a few small changes can make a big difference.

Your message is important. Don’t let sea serpents and stilted language get in the way.