Saturday, September 25, 2010

Audrey and Dana On Words

(A re-post of Audrey Assad's blog, "A brief word on words.")

Audrey Assad is as fine an artist with words as with her piano and a vocal score. I found this post from her and thought I’d combine it with the Trinity Forum post on Dana Gioia to make an important statement on a neglected subject. Language, including poetry, has fallen into disrepute and disrespect, out of favor with pragmatism because “mere” words have no cash value; reputation-ruined by postmodern skepticism, its smirking accusations of a text as a veil for power play. Language has also been assaulted, in my opinion, by the “clarity” requirements of modern prose which rob us of the best words in the brightest settings. If I have one wish for the rest of my vocational life, it is that God would give me the time, leisure, talent and support to write and, however possible, redeem language.

Audrey’s blog follows. First, here is a link to the Trinity Forum article on Dana Gioia, a Christian academic and poet, former head of the National Endowment for the Arts:

The article in the Atlantic is well worth the read.

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“Here is the One that I worship;
The Word, who wordless me leaves.
‘Tis in this bright Light that I linger;
A Light that shadowless be.
And I cannot serve another,
For it is I that belongs to He;
He, the One that I worship;
The Word, who wordless me leaves.”

I wrote this on a flight home today, thinking of poetry and song, and how lackluster our language is fast becoming. To this lover of literature, the manners of modernity seem monochrome, even in art. It is truly tragic.

John 1:1-5 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God; He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

I would posit that, if one of Christ’s titles be “Word” — then little words are lent some echo of His dignity, His heraldic solemnity, His creativity. They, and language, which makes use of them, are of grave importance. If we do not steward them faithfully, we will lose sight of the heaven-opening, earth-shaking significance of Christ’s title of “Word”.

God spoke Himself to us.

My poetry is poor indeed; however, I can laurel it with this one small crown, that I care about the words themselves. These little garlands of letter and ink, these clusters of curves and lines, these tightly-knit trusses are my dear old friends, and I am compelled to treat them as such. Far be it from me to deny a word its dignity.

I may not have technique, or even style; but truthfully, I love words. And so, I write,

“Let us wreathe our words
Let us cloak them in courtliness
Let us weave them with cobalt and emerald and scarlet
Let them no longer languish and linger in common dress
No, let us garland our words
Let us garb them in golden thread.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Seven Lessons of September Eleventh

Note: This is a re-post from 9/11/08

Everybody has their own memories of the infamous events of September 11, 2001. I was working alone in my office when Kimberly called to make me aware that “something bad has happened in New York City.” She told me the media were reporting that a light plane had accidentally crashed into the World Trade Center, and it was on fire. I was concerned, but not yet alarmed.

Minutes later on the radio I heard what had actually taken place – that the strike on the World Trade Center was deliberate and coordinated with other targeted strikes that same morning. It wasn’t until I got home later that I watched the overplayed video loop where the second passenger jet, under control of an Al Qaeda cell, struck the south tower. Shortly after, both majestic towers were reduced to lower Manhattan rubble. I found myself in shock. I didn’t think it would or even could happen. None of us did.

What have we learned in the seven years since we, as a nation, were violated by the savagery of a few phantoms, whose shadowy presence remains despite efforts to erase them? I offer these seven lessons, which are really reflection-points to consider:

First, we learned that we as a nation were vulnerable. Americans’ retained sense of isolation from the problems of the world – an attitude of naivety many non-Americans consider arrogance – was shattered on September 11, 2001. We hadn’t been significantly attacked on our own soil since Pearl Harbor. Terrorism happens overseas! To many of us, it seemed like the end of the world was at hand when we saw the collapse of those towers.

Second, we learned we were strong. Almost legendary recounting of individual acts of heroism filled our collective consciousness. The “Let’s roll” spirit underscored our immediate response to the tragedy. Volunteerism resurged, as local police and other emergency workers took a leave of absence and traveled to New York City to participate in rescue, relief and cleanup.

Third, we learned we have both enemies and friends in this world. I’ll never forget the images of the candlelight vigil in London, attended by grief and tears. Other nations mourned with us. Nor will the images of burning flags or effigies of George W. Bush be easily washed away. Since September 11, 2001 the clarity of the line between friend and foe has been smeared by politics. Our military responses have been questioned, perhaps not without warrant. Yet many have lost sight of the fact that the first 2,975 casualties of the “war on terror” happened before any response could be made.

Fourth, we learned something about Islam. We learned that, like any major world religion, Islam is not monolithic. There is variety within Islam and in Muslim cultures. There are “denominations” and factions which collide, sometimes violently. We learned that not all Muslims are terrorists, rather that extremists would dominate Islam as well as the world, if allowed.

Fifth, we remembered what it was like to be at war again. The 1991 action of “Operation Desert Storm” played out like a reality based video game in the consciousness of many Americans. Real losses were minimal. By contrast, the “war on terror” has reminded us we can field a strong army without a draft. The thousands of volunteers starkly contrasts the hundreds of protesters who will neither fight nor support our national response. I suppose it has been so in every war since the Revolution. Free speech is, after all, distinctively American. Both sides in the counterpoint have reminded us that war costs a lot, and we had better be willing to pay the price than to enter the fray with anything less than 100% commitment and resolve.

Sixth, we just learned in a new poll that many outside the United States do not know who was responsible for the attacks. Conspiracy theories, prejudices and plain ignorance are behind the 54% who responded that the U.S. government, Israel, or “other” were behind the attacks.

Finally, we were graphically reminded that we as a nation are utterly dependent on the grace and favor of God for our very existence. We are contingent. Our walls are not impenetrable. Therefore, we must cultivate faithfulness and justice toward the vision and values that make us great, one of which is humility in knowing that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). We need to bow our knees, individually and as a nation, and ask God to help us do what is right in His eyes, to govern justly and to seek peace on earth for the benefit of all.