Category Archives: Random

Stand up at Your Desk

So, I decided to go for it and get a standing desk. Yep. It’s a bit of a craze right now and I got inspired. For some background, there’s a NY Times article on standing desks, a few blog posts (LifeHacker, Wired, ProfHacker) and a great info graphic on how “Sitting is Killing You.” [Edit 5/23/13: Link removed by request.]

I found myself often slouching in my chair and getting that yucky tired feeling toward the end of the day. My desk is L-shaped and was relatively easy to adjust, so half of the “L” is now at my elbow height and half is at sitting height. I put my computer keyboard and monitors at standing height. So far, I love it! It’s only been a few days, but I feel less drowsy at the end of the day; I feel more alert at my desk. I don’t slouch. My legs are doing fine–it feels like I just took a walk when I leave work. I’ve been sitting down sometimes, but only after standing for 2-3 hours. Yesterday I stood for 4 hours straight. I’m hoping that I’ll shed some pounds, gain some muscle and become more productive. We’ll see!

Honey in the Bible

HoneyThere’s a whole lot of honey in the Bible! No, really, there’s quite a bit. There’s a land flowing with “milk and honey.” There’s “honey from the rock.” There’s even honeycomb–and no not the cereal kind! Honey is mentioned for its sweetness–both literal and metaphorical. I’m interested writing about honey because to me it is a fascinating thing and a wonderfully rich symbol. If you think about it a bit, honey is one of the weirdest things we eat–it’s made by bugs from yellow dust that flowers produce, after all! Also, it was one of the only truly sweet things that the ancient Israelites would have eaten. They didn’t have candy stores and Coca Cola like we do.

So where does honey show up in the Bible?

In Genesis 43:11, Jacob sends honey with his sons as a gift for the overlord of Egypt (i.e. Joseph). In Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua the text mentions “a land flowing with milk and honey” many times. Also, the manna from heaven is said to taste like cakes made with honey (Exod 16:31). Yum! Judges 14 relates a strange story about the judge Samson who eats impure honey from a beehive in a lion carcass. “Honey from the rock” is mentioned twice (Deut 32:13; Ps 81:16). What is that?

In 1 Sam 14, honey becomes a flashpoint for the life of Jonathan who eats some honey despite there being a curse spoken by his father, the king, on anyone eating before sundown. A “jar of honey” shows up in 1 Kgs 14:2. The Psalms compare God’s words to honey (Ps 19:10; 119:103). Proverbs instructs us to eat honey and wisdom (Prov 24:13), but then warns that eating too much honey will cause us to vomit (Prov 25:16) and that it is not good to do so (Prov 25:27). The lover in the Song of Songs eats honey (Song 4:11; 5:1). Honey is often associated with curds (2 Sam 17:29; Isa 7:15, 22)

In the New Testament, John the Baptist eats locusts and honey (Matt 3:4, Mark 1:6). And John eats a scroll as “sweet as honey” (Rev 10:10).

Honey is to be a symbol for sweetness. I mean, you don’t really think that an evil woman’s lips actually drip honey (Prov 5:3)! Honey also appears as a common ingredient for breads and cakes (Exod 16:31; Lev 2:11; Ezek 16:13, 19). It has a kind of raw purity attached to it and is the kind of thing you would eat if you came across it while you are out and about–an ancient Israelite snack. I want to take a look at some other ancient Near Eastern cultures that wrote about honey and compare it to the biblical passages. Hopefully, I can come to a better understanding of what biblical honey is all about.

Great Site on St. Bonaventure

I just found a fantastic site on all things Franciscan, which has an extensive collection of material by and about St. Bonaventure including Latin, English and French editions of a great number of his works publicly available for free. The site even includes a lot of original English translations released into the public domain. It is called the Franciscan Archive. Take a look!

A Few Books I Bought

I thought I’d tell you about a few books I just bought.

1. The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter. This is a bit of a classic. I’ve wanted to read it for a long time, but never got the chance. Alter is a literary critic, but this little book made a big impression back in the eighties. I hope to enjoy it.

2. Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts, edited by Barry Holtz. I’ve been using the Mishnah and some rabbinic commentaries in my research, but I’m no expert in early Jewish literature. I’m hoping that this book will be a great introduction to reading this collection. I also hope it is more accessible than Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash by Strack and Stemberger. I found this book rather forbidding. It assumed you knew a lot about the topic it is trying to introduce. Maybe it will make more sense after reading Holtz.

3. The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, volume II, by Jacobus de Voragine, trans. William Granger Ryan. I got the first volume last year and I’m happy to have both now. I got interested in the Golden Legend after visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. The medieval section of the museum is rich with saint story paintings, but unfortunately, I found myself hopelessly unfamiliar with the stories presented. I was constantly scrambling to identify saints by their traits and symbols. Many of the stories depicted and the symbols collected around each saint are derived from the Golden Legend. It was extremely popular during the Middle Ages and from it flowed much religious art right at the time that Late Medieval Tuscan painting was born. That is, the book prompted lots of art at a time of great transition in Western art, when painters were moving from iconography to more realistic painting. I think reading the Golden Legend will give me a better understanding of the art of the time.

In addition, I recently grabbed Roland De Vaux’s book Early History of Israel  off my shelf and started reading. I’m hoping his scholarly and Catholic perspective will enhance my understanding of the Old Testament.

New Amazon Kindle Lending Library

One of the reasons I have eschewed the Kindle from Amazon is that you can’t use the device to check out ebooks from your local library. Many public lending libraries now lend ebooks. They can be read on PC’s, Android devices and things like the Sony eReader. But they have never worked on an Amazon Kindle. I suppose some people might have found a way to convert proprietary file formats from libraries to work on Kindle, but I doubt it. It’s a big turn off for a book lover not to be able to get FREE library books on your electronic reading device when you can pick up real books at the library or use a compatible device. Rather than working with the library community, Amazon just performed an end-around. If you have an Amazon Prime membership (which I do) you can now read books in the Amazon Kindle Lending library for free. The catch is, you can only read them on a Kindle device. Weird, huh? Part of the draw of Kindle is that you can read your books on your Kindle, your PC, your phone or whatever device that can run the Kindle app. But with this lending library, the books are ONLY available on a Kindle device. To read a loaned book on your phone, you’ll have to pony up some cash and buy it. That seems to go against Amazon’s philosophy of ubiquity, but hey, free books! Now, of course, not everything is available in the lending library and it would take some time to sort through the available books to see if it is worth it. The content of the library seems to be mostly new stuff like NY Times bestsellers. But if you read a lot of new stuff and own a Kindle, the Prime membership could be worth its weight in gold. This new library will really change both the book selling market and the library scene. Revolutionary? Perhaps. I think a lot of public lending libraries that pay gobs of money to grant their patrons access to ebook collections are going to be up in arms. It also reveals a changing dynamic in Amazon’s business model. Their goal is to get people paying subscription fees (the annual $79 Prime fee) forever. If they get enough people to jump in and they continue to crush the competition, they’ll be free to crank up that annual price over time. I’m very curious as to what the pundits will have to say about this one. I also wonder if publishers are going to throw a fit. But knowing Amazon’s style, they probably worked out some kind of contract with publishers ahead of time. It’s bizarre to think that books are going the way of Netflix online streaming, but here it is in front of our faces.

Update: So I looked further into the details and the Amazon Library is not as golden as it seems. You get to “check out” 12 books per year, that’s one per month. It says there are no due dates, so why would you ever “return” a book. That’s a bit of a mystery to me. It seems like you would want to keep every one of your 12 annual books in your library and not return them. I’m sure this will get hashed out as people start using the library. Maybe an un-returned book will expire after  year or something, but that would seem to undo the “no due dates” claim. What if you’re a slow reader and you check out a 2000 page book? Will they take it away when your on page 1701?

Ok, I think I figured it out. It says you can only “check out one book at a time.” That means if you don’t read a book a month, then you won’t be able to check out 12 per year. Seems like a good service for short books you can read in a few weeks, but not for long stuff.

Good Catholic Music

Today it is hard to find good Catholic music at mass. Many parishes have few, if any, well-qualified and committed musicians. The musicians they do have are often over-worked and underpaid (with 3 or 4 weekend masses, plus weddings and funerals). And then the musical selections they have to work with, well, lack quality, diversity and compositional excellence. Most Catholic parishes use hymnals published by GIA (Gregorian Institute of America) or OCP (Oregon Catholic Press). While detailed critique of these hymnals is not something I’ll indulge in right now, suffice it to say that the selections available in these hymnals are very limited: Traditional hymns are left out or their words are altered or neutered. Contemporary hymns are plentiful, but usually by only a few composers who are not necessarily world-renown apart from the GIA and OCP publications. Some of the hymns have theological/doctrinal problems. Some are just vapid.

The limitations of these hymnals do two main things: 1.) They discourage musicians who love great music from participating in parish music groups. They don’t want to be forced to perform sub-par music. This lack of musicians is frustrating for parishoners who then complain about the quality of the parish music  group. 2.) They discourage parishoners from singing (many of the contemporary hymns are not well composed for congregational singing).

Ok, so in response to all of this (and maybe I will discuss some of the problems in detail at a later date), a few good-hearted souls have decided to try to help us all out by publishing new hymnals not within the GIA/OCP monopoly and by performing alternate music that, shall we say, is a little more impressive. I have already mentioned one initiative (The St. Augustine Hymnal), but I’ll introduce you to a few more. I’m sure there are more efforts out there to produce good Catholic music, so if you know of any besides what I mention here, please comment below.

1. Adoremus Hymnal

The Adoremus Hymnal is a 14-year-old effort by Ignatius Press, which is not a music publisher, to provide a simple, traditional hymnal for Catholic parishes. It has the Gregorian Mass VIII and a decent selection of older hymns. It is limited by the fact that it does not include the Sunday readings cycle (which many parishes like) and it does not have a plentiful selection. That is, it’s a rather thin hymnal and many parishes would like a thick one. They are publishing a new edition for the new mass translation.

2. St. Augustine Hymnal

The St. Augustine Hymnal, which I have seen in one edition, is a new attempt. It comes in several editions and boasts a broader selection of music, some from the GIA/OCP monopoly. But it is published by its own outfit, the International Liturgy Publications (ILP). I leafed through it and I like it. It has both traditional and contemporary music–a good mix. The only trouble I see is that there are way too many compositions by one guy, Vince Ambrosetti, the founder of ILP. But you’ll find a broader range of hymns and fewer hymns with doctrinal or theological problems in the St. Augustine Hymnal. It is a great first step in the right direction.

3. Corpus Christi Watershed and the Vatican II Hymnal

I just learned about Corpus Christi Watershed. They are a singing group out of Corpus Christi, TX and they have a fantastic sound. I highly recommend checking out some of their videos on their Vimeo page. They have published a new hymnal called the Vatican II Hymnal. I have not held it in my hands yet, but it looks like it has quite a few mass settings and lots of traditional hymns. Some of the mass settings are by Kevin Allen, the leader of Corpus Christi Watershed. They have done a lot of work to include traditional Gregorian chant and Gregorian-style forms. It seems like a great effort and I think I’ll be purchasing a copy to look through the details. The only limitation I see is that the hymnal does not contain any contemporary-style hymns or songs, which many parished would probably like.

4. Songs in His Presence

Songs in His Presence is an effort associated with ILP. They have published a few CD’s and song books, especially Psalms settings called “Psalms in His Presence.” Using the praise and worship style, their goal is to put forth music that is singable, contemporary, doctrinally correct and easy to use in a parish. I must say I’m biased since I know a lot of the people involved. The main limitation with this group is that they have not published a full hymnal. The most readily useful stuff for a parish would be their psalms settings since the congregation won’t need song books.

I think there are probably more efforts out there at producing good Catholic music. These are the ones I have discovered. I just hope that pastors, bishops and parish music directors will begin finding and using some of this music. I think new efforts in this direction will go a long way to renewing music in the Catholic parish, shaking off the GIA/OCP duopoly, getting more qualified musicans involved and encouraging parishoners to open their mouths and sing!

Amazon Kindle Fire (but I’m still waiting)

Amazon just released their new Kindle Fire tablet…sort of. You can pre-order one, but it won’t arrive until after November 15. I, however, will pass on the neat device and wait until Amazon produces a full color E Ink touch screen Kindle, hopefully with a keyboard. I told you before how the E ink company has developed a color version of their technology. That is way more attractive to me because of the super long battery life, the light weight, the ability to read in bright light. Overall, I see the E Ink technology way more conducive to reading than any kind of LCD screen. We’ll see, but I’m hoping to see a full color Kindle in the next 18 months.

John of Ford on Biblical Authorship

When discussing whether Solomon himself or some of his companions wrote Song of Songs 8:11-12, he pronounces the question unanswerable and says,

Since we all agree that the voice is that of the Holy Ghost, why squabble about his instrument? Let us rather look for what the Holy Spirit wanted to convey to use in these words, seeing that he is the sole author of this marriage song, in the deepest sense.

–John of Ford, “Sermon One Hundred and Sixteen,” in Sermons on the Final Verses of the Song of Songs, translated by  Wendy Mary Beckett (Cistercian Fathers 47; Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 193.