MonthDecember 2019

Silent Night, Holy Night

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

My third-grade teacher taught us how to sing the carol, “Silent Night” in Dutch.  We sang it for the residence of the retirement home.  I still remember the Dutch lyrics, but I never really knew what the words said.

My dad was commenting on the song the other day and complained that the words of the English version of the song have very little of the depth found in the original German or the Dutch translation.

I dropped the Dutch version of the song into Google Translate.  The third verse goes like this:

Silent Night, Holy night,
Salvation is brought.
To a world lost in debt,
God’s promise is wonderfully fulfilled.

Keep in mind that the translator has no consideration for the rhyme, but notice the focused theological assertions.

I don’t need to remind you of the third verse that we sing every year:

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, oh, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace

Unfocused.  A little weird.  Confusing.

I agree with my dad; something has been lost in the translation.

Just for fun, the Original German version has a whole different tone:

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, oh how laughs
Love out of your divine mouth,
For now the hour of salvation strikes for us.

Why Are the Best Books the Banned Books?

Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash

I am doing a “Banned Books” unit in my English 12 class this year.

The idea came to me when I heard that it was Banned Books Week (this year, September 22-28).  This is an annual religious festival in honour of one of our culture’s main deities–Freedom.   More particular, we celebrate the freedom to read.  Because, in some circles, to challenge a book is to challenge a god, the celebration can sometimes take on a “screw you” sort of tone.  But this is a worthy focus week, even for those for those who don’t bend the knee to freedom, for there are worrisome current and dangerous historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools.  These are often attempting not just to protect the vulnerable but to limit thought.  Most of the books on the banned books lists were not, in fact, banned but challenged by someone somewhere about the use of these books in a classroom or their presence in a library.  I like to use the word banned because, sure, it’s more sensational, but mostly because it alliterates so nicely.  As in . . .

Banned Books or Bland Books

No, we are not reading Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, not only because the content is inappropriate for young readers, but because it isn’t very good.

That’s the interesting thing, most of the books on the banned or challenged book list are the same books that have been taught in schools for decades.  In other words, most of the banned books are the best books.

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There’s a reason for this: the best books are often provocative.

Books that aren’t banned ask little of readers.  They affirm our values and fulfill in the end what they promise in the beginning.  Books that aren’t banned, are often bland books.

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Books that make demands of its readers are challenged.  Books that challenge readers to look at the world differently are burned.   Books that startle and shock us out of our comfort zone are banned.  These are the books we should be reading.

The books that do this, are the best books, and they are the banned books.

A List of Banned Books

Here’s a list of some books that have been challenged; it’s also my recommended reading list.  Its a list of books that everyone should read before they die, or better yet, long before they die so that having read them may do some good.

  • To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
  • Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Catch 22 Joseph Heller
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry

These next three I actually haven’t read, but I’ve read what my students have written about them.  These stories had an impact.  Students understood, in a meaningful way, something more about our indigenous neigbours, systemic racism, and the girl with no hope.

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
  • 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

 

“Worship Christ the Newborn King” or “Coming King”?

Myriams-Fotos / Pixabay

This weekend is the first Sunday of Advent. We sang some advent songs.  That was awesome.  Mine isn’t a liturgical church–it’s more of a Modern one–so there’s not too much attention given to the Church Calendar except the biggies like Christmas and Easter.  I like liturgy and The Calendar, so I like it that Advent gets some attention.

One of the songs we sang was “Angels From the Realms of Glory.”  But the words were different.  Rather than singing “Come and Worship Christ the newborn King” we sang “Come and Worship Christ the coming King.”  Well, I didn’t sing that.  I stuck to the real lyrics, not out of stubbornness; each time we got to the line, I was already halfway through the familiar, so I just forged ahead.

I wondered about this change.  It’s obviously a shift in focus from the Incarnation to The Second Coming.  The verses of the song are about the Bethlehem story, so perhaps the lyric-alterer wants to generate some relevance for the modern worshiper by also anticipating Christ’s future coming.  Maybe he thought this made the hymn a little more well-rounded.  This argument for breadth makes some sense, but if we sing about everything in a single song, aren’t we in danger of singing about nothing.

My view is that there is much to be gained by a focus on the Incarnation during the season in which we remember it.

The Significance of the Incarnation

Advent celebrates the coming of Jesus into the world when God takes human form.  We Modern, Western Christians often fail to fully grasp the significance of the Incarnation.  The ancient Hebrew faith was unique in that there was one God and he was outside creation.  He seemed to make it a priority of being with his people, first as a pillar of fire over the Tabernacle and later in the Holy-of-Holies in the Temple, but his holiness made approaching him problematic.  In the Incarnation, a wholly transcendent God took on flesh–he became one of us.  This is remarkable.  It redefines humanity’s relationship with God.  He’s accessible and present.  At it’s most basic, the Incarnation means that God is with us–Emmanuel, which has been his object all along.  The incarnation also reminds us of our value; when God takes on flesh and remains enfleshed, he’s telling us a little about how he views humanity.

Human beings were special in creation–we were made in the Image of God.  There are tremendous forces loosed upon the world that are degrading human value at every point.  Contemporary idols, Choice, Freedom, Ease and Pleasure demand human sacrifice upon their alters.  Politicians continue to insist on hierarchies and institutions suppress dialogue.  Posthuman ideas whisper into our ears, as did the serpent in the garden so long ago–human beings are not special.  And don’t get me started on the dehumanization of social media.  We need every reminder as to our position in creation and the value conferred upon us by our creator.  We need to be reminded of our Hope.

The Incarnation is a significant part of a long, long story of Redemption.  This story also includes the call of Abraham, the Exodus, King David.  It also includes Good Friday, Easter and the Second Coming.  To reduce this long story and all it’s parts to “Jesus was crucified rose from the dead, and is coming again” is to degrade the story.  We need to delve deeply into each part in order to experience the significance of each.

So, at least for these weeks in December, let us worship the newborn king.

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