Sunday, July 29, 2007

Relevant Reads

My latest issue of Touchstone arrived last week; while always a worthy and inspiring read, this particular volume contains a couple of feature articles which were, at least for me, particularly noteworthy.
I found much to agree with in David Mills's "Preaching Without Reaching, the Irrelevance of Relevant Preaching".

I find it ironic that, as Mills notes, the church can learn from the secular world when it comes to use and precision of language. I've recently heard two explanations of the gospel which stand in stark contrast to each other. One was given by someone who noted that he has labored for a couple of years to put the gospel into simple, understandable language. I.e. no words which had a hint of theological connotation allowed. His explanation was loose, general, and flat. Another brother delivered, as my dear husband refers to it, a "steak sandwich" sermon. Lots of meat. He used robust theological terms like "justification" and "propitiation" and he patiently and illustratively took the time to explain what these words mean. Now, I am all in favor of making the excellent truth of the gospel understandable to the common man but I don't think that language bending is the way that this is best accomplished. I am reminded of the very insightful words of Lilias Trotter, an Englishwoman who lived and worked in Algeria in the late 19th and early 20th century:

When we want a word for humility or hope or holiness, we can only borrow from the classical, dimly to be guessed at by ordinary readers. We write for a people yet unborn spiritually; the words will be understood when the realities for which they stand come to need expression. We have to make a spiritual language against the time it will be wanted. (I. Lilias Trotter, by Blanche A.F. Pigott, [London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott Ltd, n.d.], pp. 129-30)

It is not the question of just giving a Gospel in words that the people can understand, but to give them the germ of a spiritual language in which the things that the Holy Ghost teaches can be expressed. The dearth of this seems in the inverse ratio to the richness of the tongue for all secular purposes. . . . The words for spiritual realities have to be grafted on to the colloquial, waiting for the sap of the new life to weld them in and flow through them. (ibid., p. 137)

Though not online, another very worthy read is Anthony Esolen's "Esther's Guarded Condition". Esolen, through the narrative of the last days of his mother-in-law's life, addresses the medical care issues that loved ones of an ill or dying family member may face in a world of where "common sense and decency have departed."

And then there is the little gem of a meditation by Peter Leithart in the Quodlibet section on what it means to be human...

Great volume.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Eastern Notes

On Monday evening Oldest Daughter joined fellow violin ensemble musicians to perform a few Arabic pieces; I thought you might enjoy hearing some Arabic violin music so I'm posting these clips:

The first piece, "Khawatir" was written by Mohammed Othman Sidiq, who is accompanying on the piano (also the conductor of the Amman Symphony Orchestra). The lead violinist is improvising when he plays his "solo" within the piece. I asked Oldest Daughter what gives Arabic music its distinctive melody. She explained that Middle Eastern music uses quarter tones, as well as the half tones and full tones of traditional Western music. (For the musically uninformed, like myself, a half tone would be the musical distance between a white key, say "F", and a black key, F#, on the piano.)

And, if you enjoyed the first clip and would like to experience more Arabic music, you may enjoy this next piece, performed by one of the Arabic ensembles of the National Music Conservatory. Instruments played, in addition to the violin are, left to right: the oud, the qanuun, and the tabli, raq, and daf (hand drum, flat drum, and tamborine). The piece begins with three+ minute improvisation on the violin and ends with an impressive three instrument percussion improvision.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


When it is too hot to stop and smell the roses we can at least stop and admire the beauty of the sunflowers, planted by landless "farmers" in a vacant field in our neighborhood.

Younger son remarked that this row of sunflowers, nodding and swaying in the hot breeze, looked like slaves, trodding along with their heads hung low.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site IX~Tell Mudayna--Jahaz

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site I~ Tell Al'Umeiri
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site II~ Ataroth
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site III~Machaerus
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site IV~ Khirbet Iskander
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site V~Dibon
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site VI~Aroer
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site VII~Um Ar Rasas, Burj Sa'man
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site VIII~St. Stephen's Church and Kestron Mefaa

Well into the afternoon hours, we were all beginning to suffer from what our guide termed "rock fatigue." I would add the adjectives"dust" and "heat". However, our guide looked so genuinely anticipatory about taking us to the next site that we pressed on. What particularly endeared him to the site was the fact that "hardly anyone knows about it!"

I can see why. We turned, turned, and turned again, through dusty, barren territory. And just when we thought that we were in the middle of a dull-brown nowhere, a tin-roofed shanty town appeared, apparently inhabited by workers who were pumping water out of some underground reservoir. Other than the settlement and some water trucks, evidence of a water source was an oleander-filled valley.
We descended, on foot, through the valley, and then ascended Tell Mudayna, believed to be the site of the ancient Amorite settlement of Jahaz.

But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. He gathered all his people together and went out against Israel to the wilderness and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. And Israel defeated him with the edge of the sword...
Numbers 21:23,24
Nerium oleander

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site VIII, St. Stephen's Church and Kestron Mefaa

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site I~ Tell Al'Umeiri
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site II~ Ataroth
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site III~Machaerus
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site IV~ Khirbet Iskander
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site V~Dibon
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site VI~Aroer
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site VII~Um Ar Rasas, Burj Sa'man

Leaving Burj Sa'man, we traveled by car, through a "road" of fine, powder-like dust, to the entrance of St. Stephen's church. The short journey left our vehicles looking like they had just exited a dust car-wash.

Dated at 785 AD, St. Stephen's church, and the mosaic floor for which it is visited, was built after Islam was established in the region.

The center area of the mosaic floor boasts what were once lovely hunting, fishing and pastoral scenes. Unfortunately, the iconoclasts defaced many of the human and animal figures in the mosaic.

Left intact, however, were the frames bordering the center area, depicting the cities of the region. The south row, shown in part below, shows seven Jordanian cities: Kestron Mefaa (Um Ar Rasas), Philadephia (Amman), Madaba (still, Madaba, one of oldest cities mentioned in the Bible and still a thriving city), Esbounta (Hesban), Belemounta (Mai'in), Areopolis (Rabba), and CharachMouba (Kerak). Frames from other parts of the border depict cities of Palestine and Egypt.

From top: Kestron Mefaa (Um Ar Rasas), Philadelphia (Amman), and Madaba

Now mostly ancient rubble with a few intact arches, the ruins at Um Ar' Rasas were once part of the Roman garrison city of Kestron Meffa, city which continued to thrive in the Byzantine and Omayyad periods.

Ruins of Kestron Mefaa

Despite the long day and the warm temperatures, the kids are still smiling.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Last Thursday evening we climbed the steep stone steps of Amman's ancient Roman Theater in anticipation of a summer evening filled with beautiful music. We were not disappointed. The combined musicianship of the Amman Symphony Orchestra, musicians from the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, the Choir of the the Holy Spirit University~Kaslik, Lebanon and prodigious 14-year old pianist Iyad Sughayer of Jordan performing as a soloist provided the appreciative audience with a grand evening of music. The crowd loved Iyad playing Beethoven and they enjoyed Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue which followed, but it was Carl Orff's Carmina Burana which brought them to their feet. Below is a clip from the short encore they performed from this piece: "O Fortuna"
(Oldest daugher, probably indiscernable in the picture/video is playing in the first violin section, fourth stand on the inside.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More Baseball??

No. More. The season, fun and joyous as it was, ended the first Friday in June. But then what, you ask, are those sports-loving guys going to do on a Friday morning? Well, I had some ideas that had to do with getting things done around the house, reading books, a little gardening maybe. Not. Really, I do not begrudge them their SOFTBALL league. It is for charity, after all, and they are having lots of fun. And I am still able to read some books and do a little gardening while they are off at the field--though I will probably go to watch this week's big game against the undefeated team.

Even though this is a co-ed adult league, I'm not playing. Unless our team, the Eagles, is really desperate. As in, one of the two mandatory women players can't make it--which did actually happen for the first game of the season. "Hi Dear, would you mind coming out to the field and playing second base for us so we don't have to forfeit." I actually managed two easy outs at second, though I was criticized for how I held the ball next to my body (I didn't want to drop it!), hit the ball once, and had the dubious honor of striking out, making the last out of the game. Someone had to do it.

Mude Sartawi, organizer of the league, is keeping an entertaining blog if you care to check it out:

Amman Softball League Blog

Scroll down to the July 2nd entry for a shot of my baby Bond and the Eagles team shot.

Go Eagles!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site VII~Um Ar Rasas, Burj Sa'man

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site I~ Tell Al'Umeiri
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site II~ Ataroth
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site III~Machaerus
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site IV~ Khirbet Iskander
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site V~Dibon
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site VI~Aroer

The ruins we visited in the vicinity of the village, Um Ar 'Rasas, are not actually biblical sites as they date from the Byzantine and Umayyad periods, the fifth to the eighth century AD. Before visiting the ruins of the Byzantine town, Kestron Mefaa, we stopped about one km away to see an usual tower--unusual in that the 15 meter tower is solid and has no internal stairs, though it appears to have had a room at the top of the tower with four windows, once facing each directions. Rough crosses are hewn into three sides of the tower, with finer carving at the top.

The peculiar architecture of this tower, Burj Sam'am in Arabic, seems to indicate that it is a Stylite tower of the fifth century, used by a Christian holy man.

During the pre-Constantine rule of the Roman Empire Christians were persecuted and many were martyred for their faith. Once Christianity became the official religion of the Empire and intense persecution ceased, a movement sometimes known as "white martyrdom" rose up, with holy men and monks demonstrating their piety by undertaking such ascetic feats as living atop pillars or towers. One of the most famous, Simon Stylites, a Syrian ascetic, lived atop a pillar in Aleppo, Syria for 37 years. Pilgrims came from miles around to visit this holy man and to listen to him preach God's Word. After Simon Stylites became famous, other holy men began to imitate him, themselves living atop towers in order to pray and preach away from the distractions of the world. Our guide suggested that these Stylite towers may have even been the prototype for the Islamic muzzein, from which the call to prayer is given.

The scaffolding surrounding the tower is part of ongoing excavation and preservation work. Near the tower is the ruins of a church, cisterns, and a three storey building which may have been some sort of lodging quarters for visiting pilgrims.

Ruins of 5th century church
Ruins of 3-Storey building

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Not to be missed...

The Amman Symphony Orchestra, performing together with musicians of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and the Choir of the Holy Spirit University, Kaslik, Lebanon, presents its biggest concert of the 2007 concert season. The 100 musician strong orchestra/choir will be performing three masterpieces:

Carmina Burana, Carl Orff
Choral Fantasy, Beethoven
Rhapsody In Blue, Gershwin
Thursday, July 5, 2007
7:30 pm
The Roman Theater, Downtown, Amman

Tickets for JD5 and JD 10
Valet parking will be available
To reserve tickets call 5605772, 5687620, 5687621

Farewell, Dear Friend

I awoke with a sense of melancholy this morning as last night we bid farewell to Oldest Daughter's dearest friend--today this dear young woman embarks on a journey that will take her to Texas to visit friends and then to NYC, where she will attend college. Joining us for annual camping trips to Wadi Dana, American Thanksgivings, and many other day-to-day adventures our friend has, through the years, become like a sister and a daughter to us. You will be missed! And though we parted with tears, we are excited for you as you begin this new chapter of your life.

A Wayfaring Song

Henry van Dyke

O who will walk a mile with me
Along life's merry way?
A comrade blithe and full of glee
Who dares to laugh out loud and free
And let his frolic fancy play,
Like a happy child, through the flowers gay
That fill the field and fringe the way
Where he walks a mile with me.

And who will walk a mile with me
Along life's weary way?
A friend whose heart has eyes to see
The stars shine out o'er the darkening lea,
And the quiet rest at the end o' the day--
A friend who knows, and dares to say,
The brave, sweet words that cheer the way
Where he walks a mile with me.

With such a comrade, such a friend,
I fain would walk till journey's end,
Through summer sunshine, winter rain,
And then?--Farewell, we shall meet again!