Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Degradation of the English Language: A Rant

Dear friends, we are gathered here today to commemorate the untimely passing of the word, "fewer." Once a well-accepted term to describe the frequency of matters, "fewer" became the victim of a decline in the English language, being usurped by its cousin, "less." This disturbing trend, increasingly found in the media, ultimately led to the passing from the scene of this once-valuable term.

OK, so, maybe that's a bit extreme; but anyone who lives in our household has probably gotten used to hearing me growl, "fewer!" when some talking head -- especially on the news -- uses "less" when the proper term would be, well, "fewer." For example, a report on the state of the U.S. economy that aired not too long ago mentioned that the economic stimulus plan had generated less jobs than expected. (It's painful even to type that...) No, no, NO!!! The plan has created FEWER jobs!!! Sigh. Generations of English teachers must be spinning in their graves...

Speaking of the degradation of the English language... One phrase that I hear on the news all the time lately is, "Take a listen." Now, for whatever reason, "take a look at this" doesn't bother me at all; but "take a listen to this" sets my teeth on edge. I hear it, and I want to SCREAM! Why does anyone want to say, "Take a listen" when "Listen to this" is every bit as effective without being offensive? Or am I being too sensitive?

President George W. Bush honors {{w|William Sa...Image via Wikipedia

Years ago, a well-respected newspaper columnist, William Safire, regularly wrote, in addition to his comments on the larger issues of politics, the economy, world affairs, and the like, a column in which he tried valiantly to hold the line against the erosion of the English language. I miss those columns... I don't know the language well enough to try to emulate him -- grammar was never my strength; it's all based on what "sounds good" to me -- but that doesn't mean that there is not a need for someone to take up the burden...

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Prisoner

The PrisonerImage via Wikipedia

The three-night run of AMC's remake of The Prisoner concluded this evening; and I have to say that I don't understand this version any better than I did the original series, which starred Patrick McGoohan. On some levels, the original was easier to understand, in that it "played" in a fairly straightforward manner; at least, on the surface. However, while I have watched The Prisoner many times over the years -- I even own a few episodes on DVD -- I remain frustrated in my efforts to get deeper into the story, to discern what its underlying message may be. The 17th (and final) episode is completely baffling. There is, in that episode (if I remember correctly) a moment when No. 6 get to meet the person in charge, and finds a gorilla -- or, at least, a gorilla mask; which, when he removes it, reveals his own face. The unmasked leader then leaps up, hooting insanely, and runs about the room in which he was found; a prelude to other baffling events.

In that regard, the remake's ending makes more sense -- even if I can't say what that sense is. We find, at the end, No. 6 -- or simply, "Six," as he is called; I have to admit that I didn't appreciate that initially, although over the next two nights it faded somewhat -- has become, in the words of the introduction sequence to the original, "the new No. 2." This calls to mind a bit of (potential) insight into the original series, again drawn from that introductory series of questions and responses between No. 6 and the new No. 2. Toward the end, the Prisoner asks, "Who are you?" He is told, "The new No. 2." Then the Prisoner asks, "Who is No. 1?" The answer is, "You are No. 6." This gives us the conclusion: "I am not a number! I am a free man!"; followed by a loud burst of laughter from the new No. 2.

Who is No. 1? Here's the insight (and I have to say this is not mine; I read it somewhere): Instead of the question being avoided, with the Prisoner being given his number, if one punctuates the reply in a slightly different way, it changes from a declarative that the Prisoner's number is six, and becomes, "Who is No. 1? You are, No. 6." Seeing the Prisoner in the remake take on the role of the new No. 2 at the conclusion seems drawn from that same source -- and sets up another line of questions about the overall meaning of the series in both its iterations.

Who is the Prisoner? Someone with something to hide: the reason for leaving behind a way of life that finally prompted that person to withdraw -- resign, if you will -- to change their way of life. Those who are challenged or threatened by this action want to know why the change has taken place; and there is the clear sense that if the Prisoner reveals the why, not only is the threat removed, but that the Prisoner will, in some way, have betrayed himself, and the very morals or ethics that prompted the decision to resign.

Who are the jailers? They represent the powers that are threatened by the knowledge that the Prisoner has obtained; and who act to preserve their power, even as they seek to co-opt the Prisoner to return him to their service. This is much more clear in the original; but is present in an altered, and intriguing, form in the remake. There is no "turnover" of Number 2's in the remake, perhaps because there were 17 episodes in the original, and only... 6... in the remake. (I just noticed that!) One result is that this very clearly reduces the conflict to make it explicitly between No. 2 and No. 6; and less about the overall system. Anyway, that's how it looks from where I see it...

In a way, I suppose, we are all prisoners. We have something to hide: our sins. We have reasons for wanting to withdraw from the way of life that leaves us helpless before sin, and victims of our passions. When we try to justify our transgressions, we betray ourselves, and become ever more deeply trapped, imprisoned, by our very being. Similarly, we are all participants in seeking the control of others, and so become members of the Village -- even, perhaps, becoming the new No. 2 in someone's life. After all, it is easier for us to give in to sin when we are doing it with others...

I'm going to try to spend some time looking at the additional information that can be found at the website for AMC. Perhaps then I might understand the story a bit more. What are your thoughts?

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Love and The Shipping News

Just finished watching The Shipping News, a 2001 film (yes, I'm a bit slow) starring Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, and Judi Dench. I missed the first few minutes of the film, which will give me an excuse to look for it at the local library, and so to watch it again. One aspect of the film that helped draw me in was that the music playing in the film was clearly Celtic in origin and influence; and many of the characters spoke with a faint Irish accent. I find myself growing increasingly more interested in the Celtic (and especially the Irish) background of our family -- but that's probably better left for another time.

More compelling were scenes in which small acts of kindness, not terribly significant in and of themselves, were, at a deeper level, profound acts of love. As the story unfolded, it also became abundantly clear how deeply human beings can be hurt -- especially by those who are closest to us, who should be foremost in love, not in wounding us. Spacey's character was wounded by death; Moore's by being deserted by an adulterous husband; Dench by a barbarous act she suffered as a twelve year old girl at the hands of her older brother, who was Spacey's character's father. By the end of the film, Spacey's character, known only by his family name (Quoyle), discovers that it is possible for a wounded man to heal.

The movie is far more profound and moving than I am able to convey. So, too, is its deeper message of love, betrayal, bereavement, and healing. I suppose that a part of what I am trying to say -- and maybe this will become more clear after I've had some time to process the film -- is that I was particularly struck by the power of the small acts of kindness to spread love to those who were in great need of being loved. Given that the message of our salvation arises from the love of God in Jesus Christ, and how we are to be ministers of the same, it would seem to me to merit some consideration each day: How may I/did I share God's love with someone else today?

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

30 (40) Days of Blogging; Calendars, Old and New

Icon of Ss. Basil the Great (left) and John Ch...Image via Wikipedia

Some of you may have come across the website for The Preacher's Institute, started by Arizona's own Fr. John Peck, the priest serving the Orthodox mission church in Prescott. Fr. John is a genuinely good person, and his "challenge" to blog daily for a period of 30 to 40 days during the time of the Nativity Fast is one that I know will be good for me, so I will do my best to take part and to keep up! Now, those of us on the old calendar haven't entered the Nativity Fast just yet, and won't do so until November 28th -- but for those on the new calendar, the Fast begins today, and thus, so does the blogging challenge.

I suppose that this first entry in the challenge would be a good place to express myself on the calendar question, which is not usually a topic of much interest or concern to me on a personal basis. I do respect that the question is much more serious for many people, and do not, in any way, mean to suggest that they are incorrect in their concerns. I have friends who attend churches that follow the new calendar, as well as our Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), in which we follow the traditional calendar of the Orthodox Church. I've heard the arguments of some who feel that it is important that the calendar be more closely synchronized with the movements of the heavens on which calendars are based, and so support the new calendar, and I understand their position. For myself, I am sympathetic to the argument that there is no compelling need for the calendar of the Church to be in harmony with the secular calendar; and, without surprising anyone who knows my sense of humor, I particularly enjoy tossing out wry comments such as, "When the Lord sets the date for the end of the world and the Last Judgment, those of us on the old calendar will have 13 more days to prepare than those on the new calendar."

Of far more concern, especially given the responsibility of being a pastor that is incumbent upon every priest, at least in the parish ministry, are those whose view of the calendar question leads them to take the stance that this is a question that borders on heresy, or, at least, schism. Yes, I will concede that the adoption of the new calendar by some, but not all, of the Orthodox Churches has produced an unfortunate division in our Orthodox "family." It is perhaps even tragic that we do not keep the same feasts on the same days. One example was in my email inbox this morning. Our parish will be blessed this coming Friday and Saturday with a visit of the Kursk Root Icon, and we have heard from many Orthodox Christians across the state who would like to come and venerate this miraculous icon. One such email observed that the icon will be at our parish for the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos, which falls on the 21st of November. Now, it is true that the icon will be there for the 21st, but it isn't REALLY the 21st (and so it is not the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos) -- it's the 8th of November according to the calendar of the Church, and so it is the feast of the Synaxis of St. Michael and All the Bodiless Powers, and the feast day of our parish.

However unfortunate it may be that we do not celebrate the same saints on the same days (at least we all keep the same season of Great Lent and Pascha, even if the specifics of the days are different), this does not, in my mind, justify those who, on either side of the question (but especially adherents to the old calendar) who consider those who disagree with their position as having ceased to be Orthodox. There are instances where Orthodox Christians will have no contact with others who follow the same teachings and practices and worship, who learn from the same patristic sources, who revere the same saints, and differ only on the calendar used. To me -- not that I am in any way an expert, or a paragon of virtue, for I am anything but, being chief among sinners -- to hold this extreme a view means that the essence of the Orthodox faith has been lost, or, at least, misplaced. If we do not love those who differ with us on the calendar question, but are otherwise one with us in proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Savior and Lord, and that the most complete source of the Christian faith is found in the Orthodox Church, are we truly Orthodox?

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