Wednesday, February 11, 2015

You are Never Too Old to Learn: Reading Scripture and Listening to Rock Lyrics


Sailing this past Saturday
(this has nothing to do with this post!)
I have been blessed to attend two workshops over the past five days that have provided me much to ponder when it comes to the written word (writing or reading).  The first was this weekend.  A church in Savannah has an endowed lecture series and this year they brought in Anna Carter Florence, a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Alabama.  Her topic was reading scripture.  Unfortunately, I was only about to be at one of her three events and for this particular one she started off handing out a copy of Genesis 3.  She had us focus on the first six verses and divided up the room and had us count the number of nouns, verbs and adjectives. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but there were 20-some verbs and 20-some nouns and only two adjectives in this passage.  Florence suggested this ratio (10-10-1) is typical for the Old Testament.  Although I often get tired of writers who over-use adjectives, I sometimes find myself guilty.  But in the case of scripture, her point was that because there are so few of them, we should pay special attention.   The adjectives in this passage provide hints into the serpent manner of being (he’s crafty, so we better watch out) and the pleasing manner of the forbidden fruit.  She also had an interesting insight into nouns and verbs in the Old Testament.  The nouns, because they are so foreign or other-worldly to our lives, tend to create distance with the reader, but the verbs have the power to bring us into the story.  I have often heard the mantra to use strong verbs in writing, and the way she suggest they are used in scripture provides a bit of a twist on this logic.

Then, last night, I attended the Savannah’s Writer’s Group meeting in which a local professor, Tony Morris, at Armstrong State spoke.  Not only is he a professor, he also is the editor of the Southern Poetry Review and the facilitator of the Ossabaw Island Writer’s Retreat.  He began reading a poem from his upcoming book, “Pulling at a Thread,” to be published by Main Street Rag in May.  The poem, “Radar Love,” (with proper homage to Golden Earring) describes a road trip early in his life while it to the lyrics of what he refers to as the best driving song ever, while looking forward into his journey through life (even to the birth of a son years in the future).  I am going to have to buy the book just to have the ability to read that poem! 

Morris then went on to present an essay that drew heavily upon his son’s development in the world.  A child’s early questions, “what’s this?” “what’s that?” and I want it!” are all aspects of desire that the writer must use to draw in the reader into the story.   It is through encountering the world that his son learns not only about the world, but about himself.  Knowing others (and other things) allows us to know ourselves.  He concluded his presentation telling us that “our job as writers should be to pull our readers into our dreams and keep them there so that our dreams may become theirs.”  It was a good evening and I wish I had a manual transmission vehicle as I drove home with “Radar Love” playing in my head.  It was almost as if I was back in high school! 

By the way, until I looked it up, I always thought this song was "Rate Our Love" not "Radar Love," which seems to create some conflict with it being a good driving song because radar (in the hands of police) is to be feared and not loved when driving...  

I’ve been drivin’ all night, my hand’s wet on the wheel.  There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel.  It’s my baby callin’, says I need you here.  And it’s a half past four and I’m shifting gears.

39 comments:

  1. that is a pretty cool exercise with the scripture..i have done a word analysis on some scripture before and it is very interesting....knowing others does allow us to know ourselves....sounds like some cool fun the last little bit...

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    1. There was a time when I would graph out sentences of scripture... this is easier :)

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  2. Sounds like you learned some fascinating stuff this week, Sage. And yes, the mechanics of communication are more given to manual transmission than automatic.

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    1. I do miss having a manual transmission! And it would be a good take off for an essay on communication

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  3. I've never counted nouns, verbs, adjectives-not in my own work or anyone else'. Don't see a point in it, because everyone will write differently unless of course they are plagiarizing, which happens often enough.

    But I have always found those particular 6 verses to be extremely instructional because ol' Eve got it all wrong when she replied to the serpent about what God actually said to Adam. All the big guy said was don't eat the fruit, nothing about looking or touching or climbing or cutting it down or anything else. Just don't eat the fruit. Dumb asses could have just gone to the tree of life and ate that fruit but it probably looked more like a brussel sprout than a mango.

    Thank you Jeff for the nod to my poetry, thank you for reading it, understanding the heart behind it. I appreciate the support. There is a reason for not complicating it and keeping it brutal and honest. Most folks just don't seem to be aware of how distorted we have allowed our cultures to become. Maybe one day before I get old, I'll write like TS Eliot or Frost (hahahahahahahaha) Bukowski though would be more like it.

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    1. You're right. Eve appears to have already been tainted with that aspect of human nature that tends to make us interpret things differently and to lie, even before the fall. And thanks for writing, Walking Man, your voice is one needing to be heard.

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  4. Your post reminded me of the BBC series I'm watching these days, Wolf Hall ( I have read the two novels it's based on) and the struggle and ultiate of Tyndale to have the Bible translated into English. Good post (yours) and brilliant series so far(recommend it).

    Greetings from London.

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    1. That series sounds good--I'll have to see if I can find it on cable or public TV which often replays BBC series. Thanks!

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  5. You do know its a bad moon on the rise and not a bathroom on the right?

    Back when I was in high school, I won a one-on-one session with a young and upcoming writer named Garrison Keillor. The only thing that stuck in my memory was that in the era of flat tops, Keillor had such long hair and soft features he looked very feminine. I often wish I could go back now that I'm older and wiser and relive that one-on-one and see if I could do something to improve my writing.

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    1. I have heard Bad Moon Rising sung that way! You had an incredible experience to be able to be with Keillor... You should try to explore your mind and mine what you can remember and share with us!

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  6. had a chuckle at "Rate our Love." I have plenty of similar mishearings in my history as well.

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    1. I am still pondering radar and a driving tune!

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  7. I love this. We learn things all days and we find new worlds, amazing!
    yes!

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    1. The world is ours to enjoy, behold, stand in awe of, and to care.

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  8. What a fascinating idea: how we create our life philosophy from clips of popular culture. I'll just forewarn you that I may rip off that idea and expand on it some day.

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  9. Rock music goes with everything--from driving to reading scripture! Your comment about Radar Love reminded me of when I was driving home yesterday, listing to Flashdance. I read one of those "most misunderstood lyrics" articles once and the line, "Take your pants off and make it happen" was one of them. Now when I hear that line in that song, I always laugh!

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  10. I never paid attention to how many nouns, verbs, and adjectives are in scripture, but I can image there being a ton of nouns.

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    1. Nouns and verbs are generally equal in the Hebrew passages, according to her

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  11. That's rather interesting that the teacher went through the use of nouns, verbs, and adjectives in scripture. I would have never even thought to do that.

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    1. dissecting scripture is a way to get deeper into the text

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  12. That's rather interesting that the teacher went through the use of nouns, verbs, and adjectives in scripture. I would have never even thought to do that.

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  13. It's been a long time since I heard that song.

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  14. I thought to myself if I were home I'd be taking notes from your post! So many important, useful tidbits for the writer in me. Besides all the wisdom too. I'll go over it again tonight I'll have to check out his book as well!

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  15. By the way, your photo that you say doesn't have anything to do with the post, does in my reflective mind. What an awesome photo of you! On the water as he loves it!

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    1. I may make that photo my profile shot. And his book isn't out until May, but you can preorder it

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  16. I love workshops and conferences. I'd like to go to more since there's always a takeaway. I'm glad you went to some great ones recently.

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    1. It is nice to be able to occasionally get to workshops. I am glad that it is expected that I make use of the continuing education time that is available to me

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  17. On the Genesis 3 and other such sections. If we use the tools of the Classicist. They would say such are older and unchanged relativity speaking with movement between text and recitation, and from simple marginal societies to one of the city.

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    1. I think the general assumption is that Genesis 2-3 is a part of the Older (more earthy) account of creation while Genesis 1 is newer and more sophisticated

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    2. Mmm, loosely it follows the less complex a text the older. Same with poetic meter. But they've been tossing about archaic for a good few years now, and without going into it too much, the word is designed to explain the anomalous finds like the paintings of Santorini now in the National Museum and the much earlier city at Troy -1 to 5- that was vastly more complex and better built than anything after.
      The, this works in all cases except these. Except the 'these' are getting more numerous all the time.
      Here though I think we're dealing with something that hasn't been rewritten/remolded since it works within and across many societies.

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  18. Those are good thoughts on verbs and adjectives and such. And Decatur, Alabama, is just up the road from me!

    There's nothing a like a stick shift. I miss the days before gas prices skyrocketed and I didn't feel guilty about driving around for the heck of it.

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  19. What an awesome experience you had. I've heard of Ms. Florence - I live near CTS (it's in Decatur, GA, not AL though.) Sounds like a fascinating time.

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  20. Very interesting sciptural analysis exercise

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  21. A fascinating post. I have done an exercise in which you study some verses of a Gospel, prepared for you with the punctuation removed. This makes you really look and consider the sense.

    As for adjectives, well, I would try in my poetry to use them sparingly - though where would we be without the red wheelbarrow, the blue guitar and the pea-green boat?

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