Monday, April 29, 2013

Music Monday: Merlefest

Merlefest just ended...the first one since its founder's death last May.  Someday I'm gonna go there and soak it all in.  This roots music festival was started years ago by the legendary Doc Watson in memory of his son, Merle, who died in a tragic accident.   The two of them mastered and taught many others how to fingerpick a guitar.   They loved music and loved to bring joy to others through it.  

Here are a few of this year's performers...who happen to be on my "Frequently Played" i-Tunes list:

The first song I ever heard by The Avett Brothers and still my favorite:

Red Molly - a highly underrated folk trio who consistently produce albums of exceptional quality:

The Quebe Sisters - Andrews Sisters meets the Mandrells?  

Rhonda Vincent - a singer in the old, sad, twangy tradition:

Pokey LaFarge - St. Louis native with a unique voice and a classic sound:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Wordsmith Wednesday: Language Acquisition

HT: Wayne Larson

Below, I've pasted the portions of this post that were most fascinating to me, but for you language nerds who might want to read the whole article, you can find it here.  

Immanuel Kant was a Linguist

According to Immanuel Kant, human beings construct the world along two planes: extension and change, in other words, along space and time.
  1. The noun system captures space
  2. The tense system captures time
Both employ the same method to do so.

Beginning with a root, prefixes and suffixes are added or removed to fix that root within a matrix that assigns it jobs--being a direct object or a subject, for example.

We memorize a lexical form (lemma) of a word, but understand that the lemma really exists as a root that can manifest anywhere along a matrix.

Understood in this way, there is a deep repetition, a strategic recurrence, between verbal and noun systems. Furthermore, taken together they answer Kant's qualifications for building the kind of world that human beings experience (an appropriately phenomenological world.)

With this in mind, one can begin to interrogate a language and ask why this matrix is chosen and not another one? Why five or seven cases and not thirteen or twenty-one?

Open- and Closed-Class Words

Linguists parse the words of a language into two categories: open-class and closed-class. Open-class words are the usual nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs that we usually associate with language. Open-class words are also called content words or lexical words. These are the words that carry the meaning in sentences, and it is interesting that new words that come into a language are always open-class words (thus the "open.") Closed-class words, also called function or grammatical words, are things like determiners, qualifiers, prepositions, conjunctions, and intensifiers. They serve a variety of functions, as their names demonstrate. They do not, themselves, carry meaning in the way that content words do. Instead, they serve to grammatically connect the open-class words. There are far fewer closed-class words in a language than open-classed words by several standard deviations. And, here's another kicker, unlike open-class words, to which new terms may be coined or invented or taken whole from another language, closed-class words are stubbornly fixed. Languages have all the function words that they need, and it is near impossible to delete or add to their number, even when it would be useful to do so. Closed-class function words, then, are the inner skeleton upon which the open-class content of the language is attached. In short, if you are going to learn a new language, get to know function words well, and become adept at watching for them when reading. "Once the framework of grammar has been transferred to long-term memory," says author Tim Ferris, "acquiring vocabulary is a simple process of proper spaced repetition." I've read that an ESL teacher, for example, should aim at the perception of the structure of a text before the individual words. So by zeroing in on function words, one will learn more about a target language than would be done through memorizing hundreds of content words.

". . . the task facing the child is not to learn how language works, starting from scratch. Instead, since children are born with an implicit knowledge of languages in general, they have to figure out how the particular language (or languages) they hear functions. For example, all languages have something like prepositions, words that show relationships among things (The book is on the table). In languages like English, these words that show position come in front of the noun, so they are called prepositions. In other languages, these words follow the noun, so in those languages, a child would encounter sentences with this pattern: The book is the table on.In such languages,these words are called postpositions because they come after (post), not before (pre)." [1]

An Interesting Note from a Translator

"A translation is not just turning one language into another. It’s also about opening up a foreign mindset . . . to hear the text and experience it absolutely as intensely as I can, allowing myself to fall into its way of thinking about things. A good translator has to be an interested sponge when it comes to the idiom and cultural setting of the language he or she is translating from [--] fascinated by the picayune details of language. Every complex translation would be somewhat different if we had done it a month before, or a month later, or even an hour."[2]

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Amazing Grace

My niece pointed me to this story tonight and it is too jaw-droppingly beautiful not to share.  It makes me wonder about all those autistic, aggressive, self-abusive, silent young adults I worked with over the course of 10 years in Chattanooga.  What was built up inside of them just aching to find expression?  How much did we assume was not happening inside of them that was?  How much did we increase their frustration by requiring them to participate in mindless rituals that we thought were helping?  Our actions were motivated by love and were based on empirical evidence, but who knows what deep and profound thoughts accompanied their wild, erratic behavior?  It makes me horribly sad to think about it, but also gives me joy to think of them one day, whether in this life or the next, finding their voice.  I can't wait to hear what they have to say. 


I am thankful for the internet. can be a bottomless pit of time wasting, but for every minute I've wasted, I've been  encouraged and blessed by Sisters whom I haven't seen for years, Sisters whom I see regularly, and even by Sisters whom I've never met.   This article is an example of the latter.   Is it not a great gift to be blessed by an honest, godly perspective that resonates with your own heart and mind?  It certainly is for me.  I'm thankful for those women who take the time to share their hearts as well as for those who pass along these little gems.  We need one another.

I wish I could remember how many times your father has read the Narnia books to you. During those slow years when you still had time to crawl up into a lap and listen, you spent hundreds of hours in the company of Caspian, Lucy, Jill, and Reepicheep.

We read those books until the fabric of that world integrated with the fabric of our own. When we ate a good breakfast, we declared it a centaur breakfast. A thick, white snow was a Narnian snow. That awful kid at school was a Eustace. When your dad and I grew weary, we would crawl under our covers at night and remind ourselves of the fatigue of little Shasta running in the woods.

There are so many ways we have watched our own lives unfolding through the lens Lewis provided; yet there is one particular Narnian theme that tends to recur more than any other in my life. It is a thing so subtle, it is rarely addressed openly in the stories; yet somehow I sense it in all of them. That theme is loneliness.

By loneliness, I do not mean friendlessness, for loneliness and friendlessness are not the same.  Most of life will give you a friend or two somewhere or other. What I mean is that there is sort of loneliness that exists even among friends, among brothers and sisters, even in a world where Aslan appears and disappears in the checkered shade. Among good things, among good people, among warm food and bright rooms there are still those of us who live with a sense that somehow something is missing.

When I was a child, I believed that the remedy for this ache was a proper friendship. In my third grade class there was a flurry of silly little girls volleying over one another. We all wanted the sort of companion who could share our giggles, and our secret words, and our subtle meanings. Once we found her we could form an alliance so tight, the world would never hurt us. But it never quite worked like this. I found people to love, but I never found the one I was looking for.

As I grew older, I believed romance was the answer. I began to look for a dark-eyed young man with a hearty vocabulary who knew how to make music and interesting things out of wood. I wanted a student of my heart, a dreamer, a thinker,  a guardian to protect my softness from every dragon of the night.  Searching for this, I fell in, and out, and in, and out of love. I learned that romance cooled and warmed again like the seasons.  I learned that no one person, no matter how perfect, could remedy every lack.

Young motherhood arrived with all of its glory and confusion. I looked for pilgrims to share this adventure with me, a few sweet hens with new chicks. We exchanged moments of camaraderie, organizing play dates and doing our best to share life together. Yet there was a severe isolation to those days we all spent at home, and when we finally came together, we were starved for praise and affection. Inside our own little walls, we had been grunting out different philosophies, walking in our lack until we couldn’t help but compete for affirmation here and there. Also, our kids slowly grew old enough to annoy one another, and we all seemed to have different solutions for that problem. There was a collective sigh of relief when the time came to send you all to different schools, because life in the close had grown more awkward than life apart.

Some of us stretched out into the larger Christian community. There were beautiful elements to that, elements of nurture and warmth that I enjoy to this day. Life is busy, though. From what I can tell, most of us are focused on simply surviving. When I am at church, I see faces that look interesting to me, faces I would like to know more. Yet there is hardly time to sleep, let alone mingle. So we wave, and we smile, standing two feet away and twenty miles apart.

At some point, I began to take my loneliness into niches of thinkers who share my creative interests. In these exchanges, I found brilliant moments of resonance, flashes of what I’ve always thought community could be like. I don’t know when I have ever felt so alive. But those moments do not happen every day, they are rare and they are sacred. Furthermore, even in creative community, there can be misunderstanding. Sometimes foundational beliefs don’t align. There are time barriers, societal barriers, emotional barriers, and even jealousy. We have weaknesses that wound one another. We live too far from those who fill us. Even where it seems all could be well, and that all should be well, all isn’t well. Not always.

I suppose there are people in the world who never feel this sort of unsettledness. Maybe they have grown up in small, idyllic towns among the insightful and tender. Maybe God gives a Jonathan a David here and there, even yet.

Or perhaps there are certain souls who don’t desire the same level of resonance that I do. From what I can tell, some people are quite content to never chase questions or creations, and I am not sure whether to envy them or doubt them.

But for those who are wired like we are (because I believe you and I are at least similar in this), I think every Lucy is likely to find herself standing alone now and then. Even though Susan, Edmund, and Peter wait nearby – they cannot hear that singular call of Aslan. And sometimes she stands in the wood alone and without even hearing the Lion. There are days when we walk among friends, without any friends at all.

As I think about the sort of man Lewis was and imagine what a unique burden it must have been to live with such a capacity of mind and heart, I wonder what the exact shape of his loneliness was. I don’t see how the sorts of things he made could have been made without this longing being present. (Or perhaps I am projecting, because most of the beautiful things I have ever made have come from it.)

Regardless, what I most want you to know is that loneliness doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. Instead, it is a training ground.

Of course loneliness will be difficult. Within every training ground, there are a thousand opportunities to be wounded. For instance, feeling alone might tempt you to grow cynical. It might cause you feel so desperate and restless that you try to get your needs met in ways that you know could be harmful to yourself or others.

Loneliness might make you afraid to do what you know you must, because doing hard things is so much harder when you have no one cheering. It might make you doubt yourself when you should not. It might even make you hate yourself.

It might make you so impatient for resolution that you choose a lesser answer too quickly. It might make you want to impress people who have labels, or who seem to be settled, or who are beautiful. I suppose it could even tempt you to take such a strong stand against a broken thing that you live reactively instead of proactively.

Each one of these possibilities is terribly dangerous and terribly beneficial, because in every inclination you will be refined. In every inclination you will see how you are defined.

So far I have mentioned only the gap between men, but there is something harder still. I do not fully understand why God seems to choose silence so often, but the loneliness we feel on earth between our peers is only a shadow of a more primary ache.

It is not that God doesn’t commune with man, but He does tend to meet with us in a way that transcends our daily vernacular. We have been taught to engage with cold milk and mathematics. We are not accustomed to listening with ears of the Spirit.  We want God to be tactile in the exact same way that we want men to be tactile.

It is my suspicion that the filling of this tactile desire might be the first joy of Heaven. For now, though, we spend days like pilgrims walking in a cave, listening to our own hearts pounding, listening to the threads of our own ears brushing against one another.

In private, we cry out for God to be closer  – though if you asked us, we would tell you that we believe He is already as close as our own hearts. We say we believe, and yet we are ashamed that such a mighty hunger remains, and that we long to place our cold fingers in the wounds of a warm hand to confirm (at last) what we claim not to doubt but sometimes do despite ourselves. Because sometimes God feels close. And sometimes He feels so very far away.

I tell you, I would cling to those flesh ankles as they were ascending to heaven, because that thing called death is ever so much easier than faith. There are different dimensions in this world, some named and some not, and our senses for some are stronger than others. There are things I know from a spirit I cannot show you, things I would die for but cannot hold between my hands.

Which means this is a hard thing we do. And yet, this ache is not nearly as bleak as it seems. Here is why.
Long ago, wise men would journey into the desert to find wisdom. They did this because they sensed a great secret – that want is a greenhouse for revelation. Hunger cleanses. It makes us ready. And loneliness, as hard as it is, is a sort of hunger. It grows a heightened awareness in us, burns away the dross, primes us, shows us our weakness.

Loneliness forces us into the presence of the soundless symphony of the Divine, so that we might learn to hear the songs of a distant land. It stretches us larger so that we might have more room for a God the world has painted far too small. It shows us an ache the size of the heavens, an ache that was given to be filled.

So I hope you will not be too afraid or too surprised when it comes to you. I have lived with this a good long while now, and I am starting to see that there is a need for Shasta to run for a night, exhausted, cold, and friendless. I am starting to see that there is growth in the falling heart of Lucy when no one believes what she has heard whispered, not even herself. I am starting to understand why solitary Edmund wavers, and why Reepicheep points his nose East at all costs, and how this terrible want that keeps me awake (night, after night, after night) will be met one day when my desire has grown not smaller, but large enough to burst the tiny cage the men of earth have built for the containment of a ridiculously-tiny lion.

Our wants are not too great, but too small. So, do not fear. There is an answer for the sadness in you, though you will only find it a bit at a time. Without it, you are wise to be a bit unsettled. Be content. Be also ravenous. What you long for is here already. What you long for is coming still.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Music Monday: Abbie Gardner & Anthony DaCosta

Let Me Die in Your Arms

Abbie is a member of the folk trio, Red Molly.  She collaborates regularly with singer-songwriter, Anthony DaCosta.  They produced a lovely little album in 20  , called Bad Nights, Better Days.

Down on My Knees

Thursday, April 4, 2013

St. Louis Poet: Sara Teasdale

I Would Live in Your Love
by Sara Teasdale

I would live in your love as the seagrasses live in the sea;
Borne up by each wave as it passes, drawn down by each wave that recedes;
I would empty my soul of the dreams that have gathered in me,
I would beat with your heart as it beats, I would follow your soul as it leads.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Morning Mass

Hilaire Belloc set out on his walk from Toul to Rome, with the intention of attending Mass every morning along the way.  That goal was immediately spoiled as Mass was finished by the time he arrived in the first town.  He struggled to understand his extreme disappointment and irritability about having missed, which led him to meditate on What's The Big Deal Already?  His conclusion: daily morning Mass is a source of continual comfort for him for the following reasons:

1)  That for half-an-hour just at the opening of the day you are silent and recollected, and have to put off cares, interests, and passions in the repetition of a familiar action.  This must certainly be a great benefit to the body and give it tone.

2) That the Mass is a careful and rapid ritual.  Now it is the function of all ritual (as we see in games, social arrangements, and so forth) to relieve the mind by so much of responsibility and initiative and to catch you up into itself, leading your life for you during the time it lasts.  In this way you experience a singular repose, after which fallowness I am sure one is fitter for action and judgment.  

3)  That the surroundings incline you to good and reasonable thoughts, and for the moment deaden the rasp and jar of that busy wickedness which both working in one's self and received from others is the true source of all human miseries.  Thus the time spent at Mass is like a short repose in a deep and well-built library, into which no sounds come and where you feel yourself secure against the outer world.

4)  And the most important cause of this feeling of satisfaction is that you are doing what the human race has done for thousands upon thousands upon thousands of years.  This is a matter of such moment that I am astonished people hear of it so little.  Whatever is buried right into our blood from immemorial habit that we must be certain to do if we are to be fairly happy (of course no grown man or woman can really be very happy for long--but I mean reasonably happy), and, what is more important, decent and secure of our souls. 

--The Path to Rome

Monday, April 1, 2013

Musical Monday: Wailin' Jennys

You've been taken by the wind
You have known the kiss of sorrow 
Those who would not take you in
Outcast and a stranger
You have come by way of sorrow 
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny 
Meant to find you all these years.

You have drunk a bitter wine
With none to be your comfort
You who once were left behind
 You will be welcome at Love's table
You have come by way of sorrow 
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years.

All the nights that joy has slept
Will wake to days of laughter
All the tears that you have wept
Will dance in freedom ever after
You have come by way of sorrow
You have come by way of tears
But you'll reach your destiny
Meant to find you all these years.