Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Cor. 2 -- the limits of rhetoric

"A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns," wrote American novelist Mario Puzo.

As the recent shakedowns of the American public reveal, "banksters" who are considered "too big to fail" are immunized from the consequences of their own cupidity, their own stupidity, by their partners in government who enrich that tiny handful of plutocrats by impoverishing every American taxpayer. The printing presses are smoking, and for the first time in living memory, the American dollar is dropping towards, or below, parity with the Canadian "loony."[1] As the currency is inflated / debased / debauched, the losers are the thrifty, the people who, through systematic self-denial, accrued savings.

Somehow, the "symbol-handlers" dance rings around the "thing-handlers," time after time. People with verbal skills are both respected, and resented. Winston Churchill's silver-tongued oratory might rally a desperate nation to win a desperate struggle -- but after the war, the weary electorate turns him out of office.[2]

We normally think in words,[3] understand the world around us by the stories we tell ourselves, and are influenced by those who can use words effectively. Knowing how easily we can be misled, we are suspicious of the rhetoricians among us. Congressmen are held in lower repute than used-car salesmen, for example.

In the ancient world, skill in rhetoric was the key to political advancement. People who could teach the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) made good money. However, when Paul spoke to the Corinthians, he deliberately refused to exploit them with fancy language:
1Co 2:1 Kardeşler, Tanrı'yla ilgili bildiriyi duyurmak için size geldiğimde, söz ustalığıyla ya da üstün bilgelikle gelmedim.
1Co 2:2 Aranızdayken, İsa Mesih'ten ve O'nun çarmıha gerilişinden başka hiçbir şey bilmemeye kararlıydım.
1Co 2:3 Size zayıflık ve korku içinde geldim, tir tir titriyordum!
1Co 2:4 Sözüm ve bildirim, insan bilgeliğinin ikna edici sözlerine değil, Ruh'un kanıtlayıcı gücüne dayanıyordu.
1Co 2:5 Öyle ki, imanınız insan bilgeliğine değil, Tanrı gücüne dayansın.

Let's have some fun with a simple Turkish word that can be expanded in a number of delightful ways:
  • bilmek -- to know. to be aware. to understand. to learn. to recognize. to assume. to appreciate. ken. savvy
  • bilge -- wise. learned. erudite. omniscient. polymath. profound. sophisticated. wise person. scholar. luminary. owl. sage. sophisticate.
  • bildiri -- announcement. assertion. bulletin. communique. declaration. handout. manifesto. notice. notification. paper. report. communiqué.
  • bildirim -- my announcement. assertion. bulletin. communique. declaration. handout, etc.
  • bilgelik -- wisdom. erudition. savoir vivre. sagacity.
  • bilgelikle -- characterized by bilgelkik.
A famous line from one of Shakespeare's plays goes, "The lady protesteth overmuch, methinks." When people try too hard to convince us, we "smell a rat." Paul gave his audience the facts -- the King had arrived. He informed his audience about what they needed to do -- pledge allegiance to the King, and enter the royal service. He demonstrated the benefits of the Kingdom, by working a miraculous healing or three. Maybe an exorcism. Then, he left it up to the audience to make up their own minds.

People tend to "own" decisions they reach on their own initiative, and to disown "decisions" they felt pressured into making -- by slick rhetoric, by abusive social pressure, etc.


[1] A $1 coin, minted in base metal, with a loon -- an aquatic bird -- on the obverse side.

[2] Kemal Atatürk not only led his people to victory against overwhelming odds, but stayed in office long enough afterwards to preserve the fruits of that victory.

[3] An exception that tests this rule is the autistic folks who can say, as Temple Grandin's book title does, I Think In Pictures. She processes the universe of spoken language by imagining it to be a movie.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

I Kor. 1 -- the circular firing squad

When my son was a lad, I once had to warn him concerning the younger of two brothers he counted among his friends. The younger boy was a catalyst for trouble. He could direct conversations and interactions in such a way as to embarrass his big brother, and cause the older boy to look bad in the eyes of the adults in the room. He could make intensifying actions and reactions go up the scale, while apparently remaining unaffected himself. Big brother would suddenly find himself humiliated, and not know that had come to pass.

Agatha Christie's final Hercule Perot mystery, Curtains, had such a catalyst as a key element. This party could find and push anyone's hot buttons, and took pleasure in provoking a series of murders.

There is a malevolent spirit on the move, Satan (İblis), the enemy of humanity. Much of his evil work is done by catalyzing fitna or discord among people. A house divided against itself is in danger. Consider the situation in the church at Corinth:
1Co 1:10 Kardeşler, Rabbimiz İsa Mesih'in adıyla yalvarıyorum: Hepiniz uyum içinde olun, aranızda bölünmeler olmadan aynı düşünce ve görüşte birleşin.
1Co 1:11 Kardeşlerim, Kloi'nin ev halkından aranızda çekişmeler olduğunu öğrendim.
1Co 1:12 Şunu demek istiyorum: Her biriniz, "Ben Pavlus yanlısıyım", "Ben Apollos yanlısıyım", "Ben Kefas yanlısıyım" ya da "Ben Mesih yanlısıyım" diyormuş.
1Co 1:13 Mesih bölündü mü? Sizin için çarmıha gerilen Pavlus muydu? Pavlus'un adıyla mı vaftiz* edildiniz?
Apparently, the young community of believers was turning into a "circular firing squad." Instead of community, the group was experiencing factions. Some, probably the more Jewish members, claimed to be on the Kefas (Peter) team. Others followed Apollos, an eloquent, learned, and philosophical believer who still wore the name of a Greek pagan deity. Some claimed to be on Paul's side, and to enjoy the best of both worlds, Jewish and Greek. Finally, others claimed smugly to be above such petty strife, and to belong only to Christ.

How much can we achieve for good if we are united in heart and purpose? We have been given skills and resources that can turn the world into a garden spot, or a desert. The trap of Satan is to provoke dissension, and to thus neutralize the servants of the living God, as they turn their tools against one another rather than to the tasks at hand.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Romans 16 -- it pays to stay connected

Paul mentions 37 or so names in this chapter. Seven are people on his side of the conversation, including the scribe, Tertius, who puts in his $0.02 worth, not knowing that folks would be reading that insertion thousands of years later. One, Phoebe, is the lady deacon who will carry the letter to Rome. Then, there are 28 people who he already knows who live in Rome, a city he's never visited.

It pays to network. Paul had friends in place wherever he wanted to go, and people to stay with. For example, the gentleman who is providing accommodations for him at the moment:
Rom 16:23 Bana ve bütün inanlılar topluluğuna konukseverlik eden Gayus size selam eder. Kent haznedarı Erastus'un ve Kuartus kardeşin size selamları var.
The key word here, konukseverlik, is obviously a compound word, since it jams together front and back vowels in one congenial alliance, to make a point. Konuk = guest, visitor, sojourner. Sever = fondness, affection. Konuksever, accoring to the excellent, and sometimes quaint, dictionary at hazar.com means hospitable, open-doored. A man described as konukseverlik is obviously one whose life is characterized by hospitality. A genial character who loves people, has an open heart, and an open home.

There are people in Rome who have also, in other days and places, enjoyed having Paul as a guest:
Rom 16:13 Rab'bin seçkin kulu olan Rufus'a ve bana da annelik etmiş olan annesine selam edin.
Alexander and Rufus were the sons of Simon of Cyrene, the dark-complexioned farmer who was conscripted to carry the cross of Jesus, when the Romans worried that the condemned might expire ahead of schedule. I like the way Turkish expresses the relationship to the unnamed mother of Rufus: bana da annelik etmiş olan annesine selam edin. To me / also / like a mother / it is said that she was[1] / being / to his mother / peace / be upon.

One last point. Paul enjoyed hospitality, and believed that the faithful of all flavors should be kind to one another. His list of friends includes those with Jewish names, Roman names, Greek names, and barbarian (indigenous people) names. His advice to those he wishes all good things to includes this practical step:
Rom 16:17 Kardeşler, size yalvarırım, aldığınız öğretiye karşı gelerek ayrılıklara ve sapmalara neden olanlara dikkat edin, onlardan sakının.
Notice -- and avoid -- the troublemakers. Every gathering has them. Healthy groups help them find the door.


[1] Turkish has a "narrative / dubatative" tense used for telling stories, or reporting things one has not witnessed first-hand. When you translate a verb containing the tense marker miş or its kin, use some qualifying words like "they say" or "it is said that" or "I heard that..."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Romans 15 -- A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man

As any fan of The Simpsons recognizes, this is the town motto of Springfield, and embiggens is a perfectly cromulent adjective. And it seems to be one of the motivations Paul recommends to his quarrelsome Roman friends:
Rom 15:1 İmanı güçlü olan bizler, kendimizi hoşnut etmeye değil, güçsüzlerin zayıflıklarını yüklenmeye borçluyuz.
Rom 15:2 Her birimiz komşusunu ruhça geliştirmek için komşusunun iyiliğini gözeterek onu hoşnut etsin.
Rom 15:3 Çünkü Mesih bile kendini hoşnut etmeye çalışmadı. Yazılmış olduğu gibi: "Sana edilen hakaretlere ben uğradım."
Let's look at a few key words:
  • güçlü -- filled with / characterized by strength. Visit the Turkish version of a computer repair manual, and you'll encounter the phrase güç kaynak -- power supply. Güç seems to be equivalent to the Greek word δυνατοὶ, which is used here as a plural substantive adjective .
  • güçsüzlerin -- those who are weak. güç - power. süz - lacking. ler - plural. in - are.
  • komşu -- neighbor.
  • hoşnut etmek -- to please.
There's an old Latin cliche, noblesse oblige. Nobility obligates. Truly great, truly noble, people do not, like Mel Brooks' Men in Tights "wander through the forest looking for fights."

Gentile saints, be kind to your Jewish fellow guests at God's feast. After all, they spread the table, bringing the Word and Messiah of God into the world. Jewish saints, wake up to the fact that you are not God's ultimate project, but a means to His ends.

And it would do us all good to be kind to each other, rather than looking for arguments to win.