Monday, July 04, 2005

There are five Benefits, no there are six.

Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities;
who healeth all thy diseases;
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction;
who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things;
so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.

I'm a crazy sort, at least some of my friends feel, because I'm not happy just hearing something, but I want to dig deeper. I'm convinced I would be happy writing dictionaries if I had been born in a pre-electronic age. Since I was blessed to be born now, I'll just use all that I have been given to try to understand all that I can. Sometimes that means building computer systems that crossreference and ontologise themselves, and sometimes it just means looking up the meanings of words and understanding the context in which they are spoken or the syntactic form of their expression.

Which brings us to the title of this post. Different cultures have different standards for good poetry. In English, because we have been gifted with a multitude of short words that can be arranged (at least for poetry's sake) into differing orders and still convey meaning, poetry is a matter of meter and rhyme.
For some people, the word-play of punning is almost poetic, where a double meaning attached to the same (or similar) phonemes is the foundation of a good pun.
I have a friend who excels in this type of wordplay, for which he only asks an
anguished groan in payment. Then there is the spoonerism type of poetry that depends on swapping initial sounds such as that suggesting the essence of a jazzy "rad song" is contained in a "sad wrong".

A little research before I wrote this article suggests that Arabic poetry was classically measured by standards that include the virtue of wisdom and good manners. The classic style followed the clearness of meaning and ruling out ambiguity were as essential as harmony and rhythm.

Hebrew poetry, as explained in a book that I have managed to misplace, included all of the components that we have discussed so far. The emphasis on rhyme was almost non-existent, but they had their own form of tying together verses. I don't recall the formal name, but the form is something like "there are n things, no there are n+1". And this form is visible in the scripture fragment with which I started this blog entry.

King David (historically credited) starts by saying we are not to forget the benefits of the LORD, and lists five of them, concluding that such benefits will renew our youth like the eagle's. Those of us who are getting a bit older recognize that this is an example of Hebrew poetry, as the renewing of our youth is also a benefit, thus fitting the poetic form as the "sixth" benefit.

This psalm also appeals to the completist in me. For the five benefits subdivide much of our life experiences and the (sixth benefit) result applies equally to all five.
Active (Qal-form) forgiving/pardoning of our shortcomings and guilty violations against God's norms starts off the benefits. Then
the second benefit is active (Qal) healing/bringing-life to us from our diseases/sicknesses/griefs. The third benefit is again active: the redemption of our life from destruction/the pit/decaying grave.

These three Qal-forms are used by the poet to group together three aspects and reformulations of the same meaning. He uses the same verb conjugation, expressing the simple, causal, active "present tense", as a poetic device to remind us that these three benefits are really the same thing. The forgiveness of Jehovah is the healing of YHVH is the redemption of God. Our sin is our sickness is our death.

So what of the last two (three) benefits?

The fourth benefit (crowning/surrounding) us with lovingkindness and tender mercy is in the Piel-form. While the Qal-form expresses active, present tense, the Piel-form adds the idea of intensity and intentional force. The mood of the Piel-form thus includes the "unstoppable" nature of the action, the effects lasting into time in unbroken continuity. Poetically, this intensity has an echoing effect: the unending God surrounding us with unending love and deeply compassionate mercy. And again the circular "unending" crown provides a picture of this to our minds eye. An interesting side-meaning of mercy (Racham) is that it also is used in Genesis 49:25 to speak of the womb. So the tender mercy of YHWH is like a womb, surrounding us and crowning us.

The fifth benefit (satisfying/filling/sating/enriching) our mouth with good things, stresses the physical aspects of our bodies. The soma/sarki distinction of Greek between the body and the flesh is not relevant in studying a Hebrew verse, but I expect that in context, that the somatic interpretation is the appropriate one here.
One could reasonably argue that the inclusion of "good taste" in these benefits of the LORD is supportive of a rejection of a mind/body distinction in favour of a mind/body duality. We are not a "clean" soul living in a "dirty" body, but rather our soul and our body are intermixed and dual in the same way that electricity and magnetism are dual. Light is composed of both, interacting in a wave/particle duality of its own. In the same way (to use Friends terminology) we as "Children of the Light" share a dual nature. We not only look forward to the salvation of our souls after death, but to our bodily resurrection, just as Christ himself was brought forth from the dead.

Back to the poetry here, the Hebrew word for mouth mentioned here is also used for trappings or ornaments. So the use of "good taste" above was its own double meaning. Just as you would fit the horse bit into its mouth, and then decorate it with jewels or fine embellishments, God satisfies our needs by filling our hearts, and sating our mouth/belly with wonderful things as one of his benefits. An accurate though alternate expression of this verse is that God richly festoons us with high quality decorations. Much as the Prodigal Son was given a feast with a fatted calf, God is so joyous that we are in safety that he gives us many blessings.
The double meaning tying this enriching satisfaction with the crowning verb of the previous benefit just reinforces the high quality of this poetry.

The Hiphil-form used for this "satisfying" verb, much like the Piel-form on "crowning" builds up on the unbroken continuance, yet as the "final" benefit also stresses the causative actions of the Qal-form used for the first three benefits.
This verb form reifies this action and condition, which makes sense as as the last of the benefits, the youthful-renewing conclusion semantically requires a "cause" so that it can be expressed as an "effect".

Our final poetic conclusion, the renewing/making-new/recreating of our youth as a result of the benefits of God, is expressed in the Hithpael-form of the verb.
The Hithpael-form is a relatively rare verb form. Only about 1.4% of the verbs parsed use the reflexive Hithpael as opposed to 66.7% for the Qal-form,
and 13.3% for the Hiphil-form. Some of the semantically reflexive nature of this word is shown by the "re-" prefix we use in English to convey a part of its meaning.
The Hithpael-form has a "broken" nature to it, an incompleteness that adds colour to the process by emphasizing a single iteration of an unending process.
Much as a picture of a man taking a single step conveys the motion and change of the process of walking, the Hithpael-form emphasizes one division of the continuing "present" action of the Qal-form and the Piel-form. In Cyc terms, this would be a single granule of the action. It is a single molting of the feather-renewing cycle of the eagle.

Much like the physical analogue, when an action is broken down below its granule size, it loses its identity and the logical imperatives lose their inferential integrity. A physical tub of water has certain physical properties, consistencies, and predictable behaviour. If you reduce the size of your water sample, the smaller portions will still react in the exact same ways. However, if you reduce the sample to the point that you take a single molecule of water and
break it down, all of the properties and water-behaviour change radically. Much as
water undergoes a phase-shift between its ice-form, its liquid-form and its steam-form, the step of reducing a molecule of water into atoms of hydrogen and oxygen will radically change its behaviour.

In the same way, the single step of renewing, reflexive as it is, reminds us that this is where certain behaviour begins. The benefits of our God start in the context of a relationship. The benefits of YHWH are tied to the Presence and the Power of God. We may want to become youthful. We may buy moisturizers, and dehydrating creams. We may work out in the gym, and jog in the evenings. We may listen to fresh young radicals commenting on society, or may stretch our minds to the sage wisdom of greybeards. But taken out of the context of God, we will still not get the renewing of our minds. Paul offers a suggestion to help us in Romans 12:2. "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."

We need to let go of the older ways, to turn away from the ideas that we can be good enough, strong enough, perfect enough. We need look ourself squarely in the eyes (reflectively and reflexively) and recognize that we can not do this on our own. Being conformed to the ways of the world won't do it. The Greek word "metanoia" reminds us of this transformation of our minds. Tying in the idea of "amartano", ie: missing the target, means that if we recognize that we are one of those who have missed the target, if we recognize that we need the renewing of ourselves, we need the transformation of God, then an alternate translation of "metanoia" and "amartano" yields that we recognize that we need to repent for we are sinners.

In a poetic, reflexive way, this brings us back to the first of our benefits. The forgiveness of our iniquities. And so the circle begins again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Wish Fulfillment

I recently read an opinion that wish fulfillment is a process of projecting onto someone our image of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, or the like. From that I realized that some people act out of wishes but they project their own wishes and dreams onto Jesus.

Someone once said "God created man in his own image - and man returned the favour". I did a web search and found that "someone" might be Blaise Pascal, Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, or a random philosopher or theologian. I'm not sure exactly who was the author, though if it was someone French, I would almost guess that there would be a French quote with the mention of it on the various websites. We do some crazy things when it comes to wish fulfillment. One example is that we take good quotes and ascribe them to someone we feel was historically "clever". Mark Twain gets a lot of credit for things he never said, exactly for that reason, as I expect the other folks in the list also do. I expect we'll properly attribute stuff only when we get to heaven.

Those who have spent much time talking to me, probably have heard the quote before, and know my next allusion will be to J.B. Phillips 1952 book "You're God is Too Small". Written by the same man who actually produced the Phillips Translation of the New Testament, it is an engaging and thought provoking book talking about how we re-create God in our image.

I'm sure the general idea is available to most of us. We are too small and God is too big. Whenever we try to imagine what God is like, we distort his image into one we are more comfortable with, whether emotionally, intellectually, or philosphically. Man made gods, whether they are made of stone, wood, or the noosphere, just are more convenient.

Its far easier to serve and believe in someone we can relate to, and much easier to not face ourselves by having a god that we can predict, figure out and most importantly, control.
As an echo of my previous blogs , I just have to ask, if God fits into this very small mould we make for him, is this someone we really can trust and believe? The Truth is generally stuff we can't quite handle. It's far easier to wish that we have found the truth than it is to face what truth is revealed. I think the Strict Interpreters (Pharasees/Perushin/Hakamim) , Free/Liberal Interpreters (Saducees), and Ascetic Interpreters (Essenes) would have all loved a Jesus who fit into their own box.

It's great, but it isn't reality. Reality is a place with sharp edges and corners, where kids (metaphorically or not) can fall and skin their knees. It is also a place where drug addiction, exploitation, gossip, self-righteousness and various other snares of the soul can trap people, sometimes for a very long time. We live in a Post-Fall world where dog-eat-dog leaves many people who can't understand Jesus-Saves.

It is a harsh world that we got after the Fall. The world where "Survival of the Fittest" holds, isn't really a world where the value of the individual is really understood. And no matter how much we wish it were better, this doesn't change that life with thorns and by the "sweat of your brow" really is what we have, and wishing doesn't make it better. A significant fact about this is that God agrees with us, doesn't like it any better than we do.

There are many theological thoughts about this, usually talking about the value of faith, and the sovereignty of God, about the patience of God, and the right of Free Will. Some people want to say that God is powerless, while others point out that he is keeping a promise to let us grow. Some discuss about Bad Things happening to Good People, and others point out that "our righteousness is like filthy rags". The intricacy of all these ideas is why Theology is known as the queen of the sciences. Theology, as a science, essentially depends upon careful observation, logical arguments, and exacting definitions. The lesser sciences, like physics and chemistry, get to include the principles of repeatability and falsifiability.

The bottom line for accountants is the place where all the credits and debits add up to a single concluding line. Sometimes Christians seem to only focus on the credits but the debits exist too. Life is rough, and as Rich Mullin's song says "don't make sense at all". He follows this with the prayer "to Hold Me, Jesus". Pam Thum has a song which has the same message "Sometimes living takes the life out of you", followed by the phrase "Life is Hard, but God is Good". Which of course, reminds us about the simple gospel message, that God loves us, and gives us a way out through his Salvation.

So my bottom line is:

Jesus Saves

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Cats, Categories, and other Gory details.

Cats have personalities. I was recently talking to a friend about cats, and we could describe the way that cats in our lives acted, and even talked about some cats as "lap cats", and others as "aloof". Since I had never really seen his cats for very long, nor he had seen mine, an interesting thing to me is that we still were able to characterize them, and tell a few funny stories about their behaviour. I would argue in fact, that the absense of personal knowledge of his particular cats actually strengthens the case that cats have personalities in and of themselves. Because I had seen the same kinds of behaviour in cats of my experience. Its not that we are ascribing a personality to creatures who didn't have one. We were simply giving a name to their behaviour and recognizing we could categorize cats.

Most people who think abstractly love categories. It gives us the opportunity to name things that we didn't characterize before. As an example of this, some people describe Man as a "tool-maker" because they want to focus on the building of tools as a part of intelligence. Another example I've heard is "Curious Creature". Again this emphasizes a particular class of behaviour seen in people. I think another accurate descriptor is to call Man a "name-user". In Genesis, we are reminded that God gave to Adam the responsibility of naming all the animals. One of the interesting things about this is that this task was given before the Fall. Thus, one can argue that whatever happened afterward, the principle that God does not take back his gifts [Romans 11:29], means that the ability and even the responsibility to "name names" is an essential characteristic of all humans. So we love associating things from Life with names because it is a built-in drive.

So, as an exercise in category-making, let's say I know someone who has brought life into this world, who is very protective, much like a mother hen with her chicks, who is creating new things regularly, concerned about the style and beauty of the home place where they are, who can even be called a homebody. Someone else who knew our mystery person well, even described them as a "great comfort", and someone who would stand beside and support, someone whose warm presence is a "breath of fresh air". Would you characterize our mystery person as more "motherly" or "fatherly" ?

Now as a digression, I'd like to say that when I'm wearing my "categorize and name the world" hat, I usually use the root meanings of a word as guidance, but not the sole definition of the word. For example, someone can be "motherly" who never actually mothered any children.
I would say that a "fatherly" person wouldn't even have to be married, but I guess that betrays my mindset that anyone who has children should be married to their partner in procreation. Kids deserve all the help they can get, and that means two loving parents who love each other and are married to each other. Its a tough world out there, and I know that the ideal doesn't always become real, but someone with a family behind them is stronger, and able to handle much more than those who don't.

Enough editorializing, and back to our mystery person. I would ascribe the adjective "motherly" to them, and with no contrary evidence, assume that the pronoun "she" would be appropriate, even if I didn't know "her" name. Your mileage may vary.
If I added a hint that the person I was talking about was named Shekinah and sometimes Paraclete, I'm sure some readers would know exactly where I'm going with this.

The name "Shekinah" is based on a Hebrew word "sheken" which means dwelling or home. Hence I said our mystery person was a homebody. Interestingly enough, this name also is tied to the word "eshkar" which means gift. The name "Paraclete" is a Greek word meaning "one beside", and was elaborated by Jesus as the Comforter. At various times, the Divine Breath,
[Hebrew:ruach hakodesh], has been called the Glory of God [Hebrew:Kabod Jehovah], whose warm presence as a pillar of fire led the people of Israel through the desert away from Egypt. The 8th chapter of Proverbs refers to the Holy Wisdom of God (Greek:Haga sofia, Hebrew: chokmah hakodesh) who was present at creation with God. In English, we refer to the Holy Ghost, or the Holy Spirit.

Supporting whether a "male" or "female" pronoun should be applied to God, is in a way, foolish.
According to Scriptures, we know that God has a body solely in Jesus and so it is easiest to use the pronoun "he" in referring to God. The curious thing is that many of the Hebrew words traditionally used to talk about the Holy Ghost are feminine. In fact, my research shows at least one time (in Isaiah 51:9) the phrase "she cut" from the Hebrew text, (refering to the hand/arm of the LORD) was translated as "it cut", perhaps because someone was uncomfortable with a feminine form of God, or because the English word for "arm" has no gender. My guess is that the phrase " thou not she who..." would stir up as many conversations as translating the word "baptism" as "dunking".

My final point is that God truly is in the details, quoting Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, again in my blog. Looking at the details adds new meaning to the promise of James 1:5 that "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.". God has promised to send us this Wise Spirit who will lead us into all truth. And if the Bible seems to indicate that the Spirit should be referred to as "she", then we should face up to this and recognize that even amidst our human contradictions of multiple genders applied to God, we still can trust, and believe, for that is who God is.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Fish, Flash ... Blog in under a minute

Just a quick blog entry to mention happy things that are going on my life. (a friend calls this Flash blogging).

Cycorp has released a new version of OpenCyc (the first in two years or so).
The cool thing is that they have released a several times larger knowledgebase than before.
Other breaking news is that they are changing their release strategy which may increase participation outside of Cycorp dramatically. They have an open server if your firewall doesn't block port 3602.

WorldVistA just had a development meeting in Salt Lake City. Got a chance to see some folks I have known for a while, and get to know in more depth some people I didnt' know very well.
Generally, strategy about creating effective Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) for VistA.
Lots of ideas about visualization, effective strategies for presenting information to end-users,
and methods to implement, such as m2web. The conversations ranged from security authorizations for protected content, to development strategies to keep track of code versioning. Lots of good stuff. Our next general meeting is in April, corresponding to the $HOROLOG rollover to 60,000.

And finally: A link attempting to explain why so many cars have the icon of a fish on their bumper. (Disclaimer Note: I did a web search, found the page, generally it covers what I know. Further web search, especially on wikipedia seems to support the bit about the goddess Atargatis, tying her to Ashtorath (from the Old Testament) and Astarte (from which we get the word "Easter") and the Pythagoras, where it is tied to a mathematical/geometric object called the Vesica Piscis and the square root of 3. I assume the quote is accurately represented from Jung but I had never read it myself. I also had never heard of Vishnu being symbolized by a fish.

But hey, that is the fun thing about symbols. They are highly community and individual specific.
The same symbol to one person may be highly religious, expressing their heart succintly, and for another person may be blasphemous. Its a good thing that God doesn't look on the outside, but looks at our hearts.

Monday, February 07, 2005

What is Truth ?

If you are person of truth, is there a place in your life for fiction? Isn't fiction just a complex way to lie? Whatsoever things are true (alethes),...If there be any virtue, or praise, think on these things. [Phil4:8] (to continue this thought in another direction, see also Fiction, Friction, and Factions)

"alethes" (truth) is an interesting Greek word. In the modern world, we normally think of truth as being self-evident, obvious, and easy to find. In contrast, the greek word shows a contrasting worldview. When a Greek word starts with "a-" it is a sign that it is a negation of some other word. (This is not always the case, but a general pattern to which students should pay attention) Another common greek word following this pattern is "amartano", ie: to sin, or to miss the mark. So this Greek word (alethes) for truth is derived from "a-" (not) plus "Lanthano" which means "to be hidden, to be hidden from one, secretly, unawares, without knowing" and is translated as "being hid , being ignorant of , unawares". This ancient Greek view is certainly compatible with the scientific worldview which sees truth as something that must be found or discovered.

There is an observation named the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, developed by the two American linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf on the cusp of the Great Depression in 1929-1930. This hypothesis can be described as elaborating two intertwined principles about language and worldview. The first might be called linguistic determinism, ie: our thought is determined by our language. The second principle, linguistic relativity, is that people who speak different languages perceive and think about the world quite differently. (interesting analogue on the Free Will-Predestination issue)

So if the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is true, then just using a word like "truth" shapes our response to truth in different ways than a phrase like "not-hidden-stuff" (a loose translation of alethes).

In the same way, our experience, and the ideas that we already know, the foundation documents we remember (like the Bible), and the people we come to know, can also shape our response to truth.

This has a deep impact.

For example: remembering the scripture that "the Holy Spirit will lead us to all truth" [Jo 16:13], and that Jesus refers to himself as the "Way, the Truth, and the Life" [Jo 14:6] , means that our conception of truth is changed. It also changes our emotional and psychological worldview. We can know that truth does exist, and that it makes sense to "Seek the Lord while he might be found"[Isa 55:6]. We don't have to believe the futile thoughts that no matter how hard we seek for truth that it isn't there to be found anyway.

Some may argue that combination of the two thoughts from Jesus is that Paraclete will lead us to Jesus, but that we can't expect to be led to truth about other aspects of the world, such as Chemistry, Physics, or Philosophy. This is a shallow form of reasoning, which assumes only those two thoughts have bearing on the issue. Incidentally, this is the heart of creating an intelligent reasoning program, ie: being able to determine which facts and rules have bearing on each other, so that the best conclusions can be determined. The relevant fact I would argue that they miss is that "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." [Jo 1:3] and "For by him all things were created," [Col 1:16]. So if Jesus is the incarnate Creator, and the Holy Spirit leads us to him, and "By their fruits you will know them" [Mt 7:16] therefore a path the Holy Spirit can use to show us the Incarnate Truth is to show us the truth about his creation.

This also means that an inquiring mind, searching for Truth, is a good, and valorous goal. When we have such a mind, and act upon where it is led, we are honoring the Most High, and bringing his kingdom into our lives.

Truth Is.
As for us, we are called to discover, delight, and proclaim it.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Fortunes, Lyrics, and Quotes

Fortune Cookie: We must always have old memories and young hopes.

And a riff on a friend's quote: Judge a man by both the enemies and friends he has. His enemies will define what he stands for, his friends will define who he stands with.

And of course, from the Monkee's theme: We're the young generation and we have something to say.

So meandering among these, I realize that I've always been a part of the young generation. Generally, as I grew up, I really didn't want to leave childhood. It wasn't that I didn't understand Adult Responsibilities. I understand them quite well, thank you. After all, as the oldest brother of four kids, I knew that there is no shortage of adult responsibilities, and had at least a clue about what was involved. I've spent a lot of time talking to older adults, and hence knew more about World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II than most kids my age.
There were lots of hard realities which my compères and compadres were simply ignoring.
Using childish logic, I simply decided I'd grow up at my speed, not the one my body was pacing. And if I felt like never, then never it would be.

Hindering my plan to never grow up was that if you really pay attention to what is going on around you, then you really can't just be a kid for the rest of your life. Everyone in the world around you conspires against it. That being said, I'm just stubborn enough to think that some kind of adult-kid blend is better than an all-out abandonment of childhood. I want to keep some of the things that kids have going for them.

Intensity of life is great. Really being involved in what is happening now, is great. Carefully looking at things around you, rather than assuming they are the same as last time, is great. Beyond aspects of Living in the Now, other traits are great too. Some folks consider loyalty to your friends, and prioritizing your life based on idealistic understanding of how things ought to be as childish traits or just not being realistic. The problem with this abandonment mindset is that it avoids true reality.

We are never able to know everything. No matter how we may try to be, (or want to be) self-sufficient or independent or adult, we just can't do it. Recognizing what we can do and what we are incapable of doing is something most kids handle better than adults. There's something about becoming physically larger that causes some folks to forget they learned both of these facts as kids. Some of them start to act like they can do anything, contrary to all facts they see. Other folks start to think they are incapable of doing anything new, and so they limit their lives to stagnancy.

So what am I advocating? Simple truth: We need help.

Where does our help come from? Our friends, Our God, and Our history.
So the friends we make, shape us, cover us, and enhance us. For love covers a multitude of shortcomings. Jesus reminded us that we should become as a little child to be great in the kingdom of heaven. [Mt 18:4] As a child, we have hopes with no reason, but as an adult, our young hopes need more foundations, and the Hope of Glory [Col 1:27] is a very good basis for life. As children of God, we will always be learning, growing, becoming more than we were.
Our present experiences when combined with our memories of old dynamically create our Self.

Finally, our enemies. It has been said, beyond your good friends, no one understands you better than your enemies. In a paradoxical way, we need our enemies just as strongly as we need our friends. In fact, we are commanded to love them. Our enemies help give us clarity of thought, because their antagonism takes advantage of a muddled self. In the process of really opposing, they force us to think through ideas, and resolve inconsistencies. They are part of the character building process that God has given so that we can have integrity, passion, and something to stand for. And in some strange way, in rare cases, some of them change or we change, and friendship ensues.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Praxis and Practice

To develop oneself, one must act.

The word praxis comes from an
1) Practical application or exercise of a branch of learning.
2) Habitual or established practice; custom.
3) Translating an idea into action
4) The performance of an action.

In other words, learning comes from doing, or tritely stated "Practice makes Perfect". Ideas become real through action. The way that we do things becomes the way that others around us, by custom or by training, do them. When we act, whether listening to a Muse, or when Meandering, we can bring life to the plans we have made. And since laughing is the best way to be living, Mirth can give us life.

Hence the name of my blog.