Monthly Archives: January 2008

One of the Lost Jews of Kaifeng Finds Love!

Awhile back, I mentioned the Jews of Kaifeng in connection with Judge Bao, real life historical figure (who had Jewish symbols all through his house) who is famous on stage and screen (and worshipped as a Chinese god of justice — what a fate for a nice Jewish boy!).

Now, via Instapundit, a nice Kaifeng Jewish girl has just married a nice Floridian Jewish boy, after meeting on a kibbutz in Israel while studying Hebrew! Aw, they look so sweet together…. Everybody sing “Simen tov v mazel tov”! 🙂


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I Was Proactive!

People tend to think that I am a fast thinker, but I’m really not. I’m very fast at data retrieval (but only if you ask the right question), I talk very fast (but only if I get excited first), and I can see implications very quickly (though only certain kinds). I can write and compose quickly, too. I must be quickwitted, right?

However, I am not a very fast thinker if you present me with a situation that is outside my expectations, or too large to answer in a precise way, or at a low energy moment. So I tend to get caught wrongfooted a lot, and only figure out what I should have done or said when it’s too late.

Thus my extreme pleasure in today’s proactive moment, though really it wasn’t anything big.

Usually, the choir I’m in is led by our music director. He took off today, so one of our other parish musicians led us and played the music. So there I was, flipping through the hymnal and checking my pagemarkers, when all of a sudden I was informed that I’d be playing tambourine on the recessional hymn because it was Celtic.

This is the sort of moment which crashes my brain. If I was reading it on a page, I’d think logically: “But I don’t particularly want to play tambourine in church. I’m not particularly good at it, anyway. And tambourines aren’t Celtic. Unless you’re in Galicia, and that’s not the same kind of tambourine.”* But for some reason, when presented to my face, all my brain can think for the first five or ten minutes is, “Whah?”

So I didn’t say anything during the rest of choir practice, and I didn’t say anything when I went up to the loft, but all the time these thoughts were fighting their way out of the “Whah?!” stage. It took until it was almost time for Mass for me to think, “But bones, bodhrans and small drums are Celtic.** And we have small drums.”

So abandoning the tambourine, I ran downstairs, outside church, and back to our practice space (the music classroom). I grabbed a smallish skin-headed drum that could sound like a bodhran, and I even found one of those two-headed bodhran cipins (though everybody except the Irish dictionary really calls them “beater”) which was in the drumstick box for some odd reason. Then I tore back up to the choir loft, and I told my plan to today’s director. (Very important. Musicians and directors don’t like being surprised. Probably because it makes them have a “Whah?” moment.) All was approved, and all went off without any particular hitch.

So I’m still a lousy percussion player, but because I was proactive, I punctuated the Irish recessional tune with an instrument that doesn’t give anyone stylistic cognitive dissonance or seventies flashbacks.

Still, life would be a lot easier if people would submit all questions and directives to me in writing. 🙂

* You may have heard a ceili band at some point that had a tambourine. If so, they were tragically misguided, and it was probably in the seventies.

** Wooden bones and their equally clattery metal variant, the spoons, are probably not recommended for liturgical use. Big huge loud kettledrum-sized drums are also Celtic, but if they sound too much like a lambeg you’ll give people Orange Ulster nightmares. So… probably not a great plan in certain parishes. Various sorts of bells, including the musical “branch” of chimes, are also ancient of use; but mostly seem to have been used as a summons to church or an announcement that one should listen up because a poet was coming, not as percussion or a lead instrument.

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Hymn Note for Turtledove Fans

A lot of people realize that, in Harry Turtledove’s alternate Byzantium, the god “Phos” (Light) is both an alternate Ahura Mazda, as well as a way to comment on Byzantine Christianity without commenting. But he’s also referring to the famous Christian hymn “Phos Hilaron”. Like “Inventor Rutili”, it’s a lamplighting hymn. IIRC, Turtledove even quotes the thing in his trilogies, but I don’t know how many people catch it.

Here’s the hymn in Greek, sung to the “ancient” melody (“melos archaion”) by the late Fr. Dositheos, a blind monk from Mount Athos, with a drone backup (Kevin tells me below that the sound’s called an “ison”) from the monastery choir. From’s very interesting Byzantine music resource pages.

For those of us who don’t read Greek letters, here’s the transliterated lyrics so you can sing along:

Phos hilaron aghias dóxis, athanátou Patrós, ouraníou aghiou mákaros, Iisoú Hristé, elthontes epí tin ilíou dysin, idóntes phos esperinón, hymnoumen Patéra, Yión, kai ághion Pnevma, Theón, Axion se en pási kairoís hymneisthai, phonés aisíais, Yié Theoú, zoín o didoús, dió o kósmos se doxázei.

The interesting bit is that, although you hear its great solemnity when sung here as a church hymn (and rightly so), after a while the underlying bounciness starts to come through.

Here’s three totally different settings (in English translation) dug up by Chantblog. I don’t know if any of the music is the same as the tune above. Oremus has “O gladsome light” TTTO “Le Cantique de Simeon” by Louis Bourgeois.


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Secular Canonesses

Interesting stuff here in the back issues of Musica Sacra. I didn’t know about the secular canonesses, a group of Early Christian active contemplative women developed out of the consecrated virgins and widows of the earliest days. “Secular Canonesses and Chant” gives background on them as well as their musical activities. Originally they were a sort of supplemental deaconess, and usually had deaconesses heading their organization. They were bound only by rules, not by an oath; usually lived at home; and they could easily leave to be married, if need be.

Medieval canonesses didn’t get out and about as much. But they were educated women who ran schools teaching girls reading, literature, music, writing, and often the seven liberal arts. They also ran hospitals/hospices. They had to make their own clothing; and since they had no habit, they could express themselves somewhat. But their true duty was to sing the divine office.

Some medieval canonesses lived in households within the household, so to speak. The aristocratic older canonesses were called “lady aunts”, and could nominate a certain number of girls as candidates to join the canonesses. While in training, these girls (the “lady nieces”) would live with their lady aunts and their lay servants.

(I dunno about you, but these setups scream fantasy novel to me.)

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This is the kind of guy who could be a really great artist, if he decided to believe something.

He can draw and paint well and beautifully, he’s got an eye for meaningful design, and his sense of humor and grotesquerie is interesting… honestly, it just breaks the heart that he won’t commit. So close, and instead he messes around in the shallows. Sigh.

His sculpture and swords I can’t judge as well, but there’s a lot of solidity to them (yes, I know, but figuratively, too) that the paintings lack.

Anyway, it’s all well worth looking at. Just not as good as it could be.


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More on the Pants Thing

Jeri, the old school Doctor Who fan who runs a support group for victims of abuse from (mostly Protestant) church pastors, has a post on the history of women wearing pants. (She also has one on Huckabee making a morally dubious visit, which I haven’t heard about from anyone else.)

We get a lot of people on the “traditional” side of Catholicism who blithely throw around shoulds and musts in connection to dresses and pants. It’s silly, but it’s also dangerous. Jeri deals with people who’ve seen what happens when should and must become a stick to beat people. It is no part of the tradition of the Church to be oppressive.

If you want to know about the context of New Testament pronouncements on clothes, I’ve been reading a very good book. Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities (by Bruce Winter. Eerdsmans, 2003.) explains the social context in which our little Christian fishies swam.

So if you long to blindly imitate the mores of that very moment… all married women should wear a fairly substantial marriage veil (palla) at all times when they are outside their own house. This “veil” is really more of a cloak; they were to draw the folds over their heads for modesty. The Emperor Augustus added the additional legal obligation for all respectable women to wear a bulky overdress (stola). Un-respectable women were legally forced to wear different clothing than the stola and palla. (Here are some pictures of respectable female Roman clothing — relatively respectable except for the colors — and some unrespectable clothes here.)

As a respectable and industrious woman instead of a layabout, all your respectable clothing should not only be made by you and the free women of your household, but woven by you, too. Naturally, you should spend every spare moment spinning and weaving; otherwise you will have far too much time on your hands!

No respectable woman should wear a dress with any color to it (or any tailoring to it, for that matter), but especially not orange (scarlet), red (purple), or flower designs. No respectable woman should wear gold or (horrors!) pearls. In fact, wearing colors and gold is the legal and literary sign that you’re a prostitute! (In a married woman, it makes people assume that you’re being given gifts by your adulterous partner, and that your husband is either a wimp or a pimp.) Anything transparent or gauzy or small, like a tiny little lace veil, would be interpreted by an ancient Roman man as a blatant advertisement.

Big hair, braids, curls — all hairstyles of any complication whatsoever are signs that you are some kind of flaunting party woman. Shame on you for wearing pigtails.

Women weren’t supposed to speak out in the Christian assembly because women weren’t supposed to speak out in the public assembly. Only the “new women” who slept around with everyone would do that. There is a connotation in the language, apparently, that said women speaking out were rudely arguing with their husbands or the leaders under the guise of prophecy, and that the kind of unveiling they did in the assembly was a very nasty comment in itself.

There is so much interesting material in this book that I haven’t finished it yet. (There’s a huge section on women patrons and benefactors, for example, that ties into the whole deaconess question, and some very interesting stuff about widows and their financial and social status — which explains why some widows were expected to remarry and others not.)

But it’s fairly clear that a good amount of Paul’s advice needs to be followed with good sense, not blindly and ignorantly. If you can’t tell which parts are which, you should look to the Church and the bishops. But you are not a Roman woman, and you aren’t expected to share her closet.

UPDATE: Corrected the name of the book above. Sorry. I keep trying to remember that I should only post while awake.


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On Reviewing TV, Sight Unseen

Nobody would be surprised, I think, if I passed judgment on an apple based on its outward appearance. If I saw a wormhole or a large rotten spot, nobody would say, “How dare you judge that apple without eating every bit?” Nobody would say, “How dare you accuse that stinky fish with the clouded eyes and dull scales of being a bad fish? Who are you to be so cruel!”

Yet there’s this strange idea going around — that’s it’s forbidden to tell anyone that a piece of art strikes you as bad, and that you don’t intend to waste time or money on it. As a rational consumer, I am here to tell you that this is not true.

Works of art are not people with souls. I can judge them however I like.

Let me clear up a few other matters:

This is my blog. Its purpose is to express my thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

No commenter, no TV producer, and no anime voice actress is paying for my cable or employing me to stay home and watch everything. I will continue to watch only what appeals to me. If the idea doesn’t appeal to me enough to turn it on, that is the TV producer’s problem and not mine.

If a TV producer does not offer anything appealing to me, I am obviously not his target audience.

I have every right in the world to advise others, even at the top of my voice. I do not have the right to expect them to become my adoring clone worshippers — and neither does anybody else have the right to expect that of me.

I have a friend who loves The Shield. I, however, do not love The Shield, nor any of its works and pomps. And why should I? It is not my kind of show. Equally, I do not expect my friend to have a road to Damascus moment and decide that he will devote the next two years of his life to The Tale of Genji or the study of Gregorian chant. My friend and I know each others’ opinion on these subjects; and if he does not expect me to change my opinion on a show so dear to his heart, why on earth would a comment box stranger expect me to rewrite all my likes and dislikes?

I have an open mind; but it is a mind, not a blank slate. I am a full-grown woman, not a baby bird gaping to be fed whatever regurgitations that writers deign to provide.

So there are some things I would not watch were I paid to do so. Even less will I perform such spiritual drudgery while being charged for it, in the form of commercials. But don’t worry. If Vince Gilligan wants my business, I’m sure he can write a premise more to my taste. (Given the fragmented nature of the market, he doesn’t have to.)


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