A Confession

Why did I do it, you ask?  Why is there now a corpse in the bedroom, befouling that soft, nice carpet?  What did you do to deserve it?  It’s quite simple, really.  Just a simple tale of revenge, with a bloody, deadly end.

You went away, again.  Leaving me, again, and again, like you always do.  You barely even said goodbye. Just a quick caress, then you shoved me aside and walked out the door, shutting it, locking it, making it clear I was not to follow.

You didn’t tell me where you were going.  Of course not.  You weren’t with me, so where else good could you be?

Sure, you were no kinder nor crueler the day before.  We ate breakfast.  We watched television.  I slept while you piddled with your instruments.  I’d tried to help make lunch, but you waved me away.  I tried again, but you wouldn’t let me near the sizzling meat.

You never like my help.  You like to do things yourself.  You want me near when you want companionship, but if I make too much racket you just chase me away.   You wander off, but if I do the same, you claim to “worry.”  Other times, you smother me, pulling at my hair and telling me what a mess I am.  You think I’m fickle?  It takes one to know one, wretch.

That’s why I did it.  That’s why I left that rat on the bedroom rug.  Let’s see you waltz in from a three day absence with a “Hey, kitty, kitty!” next time.  I will make you fear me yet.

Baking and the Bible

And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves. – Exodus 12:39

Reading through Exodus a couple weeks ago, I came to the passage that describes the Passover, and it struck me as interesting that God emphasized that the bread that the Jews ate during the Passover had to be unleavened.

Why was this? I decided to find out, and also to find other passages in the Bible that talk about baking.

A little leaven…

Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” – Matthew 16:6

In 1st Corinthians, when Paul addresses the sexual immorality that is continuing in the Corinthian church, he commands the Corinthians to cast the unrepentant person from their midst, following this command with the explanation:

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. – 1 Corinthians 5:6-8

From these passages, we see a theme developing: leaven (or yeast) is often representative of sin. It is analogous in the the way a little yeast can cause a whole lump of dough to rise: even seemingly minor sins can have a corrupting influence on a body of believers.

In thinking about this reality–that even small sins can have a large corrupting influence–I remembered a post I wrote a long time ago, about the little foxes. Drawn from the verse in Song of Solomon that states that “the little foxes spoil the vines,” this post was about how discipline in small areas of life can lead to greater discipline in more important areas of life.

The Bible confirms this idea with the analogy of leaven, and it’s a reminder for believers that in being transformed into the image of Christ, there is no aspect of life that we may leave untouched.

But can holiness have a “corrupting influence” as well?

In a related vein (at least in my mind), there is a Youtube series called The Bible Project that has published a series of videos explaining different biblical concepts, and their video on holiness makes a really interesting observation about holiness, drawn from the book of Isaiah:

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah has a vision of the Lord that fills him with dread because he recognizes his unworthiness to come before a holy God:

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” – Isaiah 6:5-7

The video points out that this passage is surprising in that it shows something corrupt (Isaiah’s lips) becoming holy by coming in contact with something pure–a burning coal from the altar. This was a radical idea for Israel: contact with corruption could cause uncleanness, but contact with holy things didn’t accomplish the reverse.

Yet in Isaiah, we see the reverse of the corruption of the leaven. So even though we have seen that little sins can have a corrupting influence, we also see that holiness can be imparted to have a conversely transformative influence.

We, like the woman in Matthew 9, may touch the edge of Jesus’s garment, and be made well.

Poems for All Nations: Part I

I am excited to present Caroline Bennett’s latest piece on music as she will be focusing on one of my favorite composers and compositions.  Because it is rather long, the research paper will appear in several installments.  Without further ado, here is part one.

Smetana

“I am not ashamed to reply to you in my mother tongue, however imperfectly, and am glad to be able to show that my fatherland means more to me than anything else.”—Smetana’s second letter written in Czech language, 11 March, 1860 (“Bedrich Smetana Biography”)

In the heart of Europe lies an expanse of land enclosed by low mountains. This expanse is a river basin, with several rivers passing through it and then draining into three different seas. Throughout the rolling hills are forests of towering trees, interspersed with ruined castles that recall days long ago. This region was once known as Bohemia, though it has since become a region of the Czech Republic. The ethereal geography of this land has long inspired poets and musicians, but none more so than Bedřich Smetana, a prominent Czech composer from the 19th century. 1200px-PragueCityscapeLike many other Czechs, Smetana was devoted to his homeland. His love for Czech life and culture is beautifully expressed in his symphonic poem cycle Ma Vlást, which is comprised of a number of tone poems depicting various landmarks and stories. The overarching theme for Ma Vlást is one of freedom, which was a pertinent topic at the time that Smetana wrote, for the Czechs were in the middle of a struggle to break away from the Austrian empire. It has been more than a century since Ma Vlást premiered, but Smetana’s most well-known composition continues to speak to audiences all over the world. He may have originally been writing to praise the loyalty and independence of the Czechs, but people of all times, all nations, and all backgrounds can grasp and appreciate love for one’s homeland and the struggle for freedom. In order to better understand Ma Vlást and its importance in the world, it is essential to know the fundamentals of Czech history, the life of Bedřich Smetana, the composition of Ma Vlást, and the most beloved of Smetana’s works: the symphonic poem Vltava.

Music was a part of Czech culture long before Smetana was born. Rosa Newmarch, an English historian, writes that music was an important part of Czech life extending back to the Roman Empire. As Christianity spread across Europe, a lot of folk music was suppressed because of its origins in pagan ritual. Eventually, however, the church embraced music and ultimately became the primary source of music in the Czech lands for many centuries. Indeed, many of the most beloved Czech songs were written by men of the church, and even sung in services.[1]

Prague_07-2016_Smetana_MuseumSuch hymns became an important part of Czech history. “Ktož jsú boží bojovníci” (translated “Ye Who Are Warriors of God”) was initially used as a war song and later reminded Czechs of their long struggle for freedom.[2] Indeed, another of the reasons religious music was such an important part of Czech culture was the fact that for hundreds of years, the Czechs were struggling to maintain their independence from other empires and countries. As a result, “love-songs, drinking and dancing songs, did not accord with the grim struggles of conscience which then absorbed the Bohemian people.”[3] Unfortunately, the Czechs’ fight for freedom usually failed, and at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, the Czech lands became a part of the Hapsburg-Austrian empire. Governed by foreigners for the next two centuries, the Czechs’ faith, language, and music were suppressed.[4] By 1848, however, the Czechs had had enough, and many rebelled against the Austrian government. The Czechs were brutally repressed,[5] but the independent spirit of the Czech people would not be stifled, and as the Austrian government weakened, the beautiful and unique culture of the Czechs returned in full force.

[1] Rosa Newmarch, The Music of Czechoslovakia (Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 1942), 4.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] Ibid., Music of Czechoslovakia, 7.

[4] Maria Dowling, Czechoslovakia (London: Arnold, 2002), xiii.

[5] Ibid., xiv-xv.

Pick up a Pen and Write in Cursive Again

Several years ago, I was at a local high school preparing to take the PSAT.  We were filling out the personal information before the actual test when we reached a section that required us to copy out an honor code promising not to release information about the test.  The proctor explained that we would have to copy the honor code in cursive.  She sounded almost apologetic as she instructed us, and she told us “just try to do your best.”  While I was actually excited to write the honor code out as prettily and tidily as possible, many of the students around me groaned when they heard the instruction.  My experience was not unique.  In a 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal, high school junior Emily Freeman wrote, “The honor code was the hardest part of the whole [PSAT]…because it had to be written in cursive” (Freeman).  Cursive is disappearing because it is no longer being taught in most American schools.  Because the Common Core curriculum does not mandate cursive, many states and schools have dropped cursive education.  Little do people realize the importance of keeping cursive, for cursive has many benefits.

writing in cursiveOne of the clearest benefits of using cursive is that it improves learning.  One way cursive helps learning is by developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.  In a New York Times article, columnist Katie Zezima writes that pediatric occupational therapist Sandy Schefkind “said that learning cursive helped students hone their fine motor skills” (Zezima).  According to a Time article by Katy Steinmetz, another way in which cursive aids learning is that it activates different parts of the brain than print and typing do and often helps students remember information and generate ideas.  In addition, studies have shown that students who have learned cursive perform better on reading and spelling tests than students who have only learned manuscript writing (Steinmetz).  One reason for this may be because cursive connects letters together, helping the brain think of words as whole units instead of individual letters (Steinmetz).  Psychologist Dr. William R. Klemm says that cursive “is an important tool for cognitive development” and causes the brain to integrate “sensation, movement control, and thinking.”

spellingIn addition to improving learning, cursive can assist people with handicaps.  According to New York Times journalist Maria Konnikova, some people with dysgraphia, a condition in which writing is impaired, cannot write print yet can still write cursive with little impairment.  Another condition, called alexia, involves reading impairments, and once again, some people who cannot read print can read cursive, or vice versa (Konnikova).  Finally, cursive can help students with dyslexia.  According to Washington Post journalist T. Rees Shapiro, cursive is an important part of the work that academic therapist Deborah Spear does with dyslexic students.  Shapiro writes that “Because all letters in cursive start on a base line, and because the pen moves fluidly from left to right, cursive is easier to learn for dyslexic students who have trouble forming words correctly.”  Because “b” and “d” in cursive are formed very differently, people with dyslexia are less like to confuse them.  Also, the left-to-right flow of cursive keeps dyslexic students from accidentally reversing letters.  According to a PBS news article by Elizabeth Jones and April Brown, learning cursive has helped students improve in school and overcome some of the impediments of dyslexia.  Alec Falconer, a dyslexic student who went undiagnosed for almost ten years, began learning cursive and claims that doing so helped him in school, and he said, “My handwriting, my spelling, the way I put sentences together has definitely improved a lot” (Jones).

hybrid handwriting
The words in black ink are an example of hybrid handwriting.

A final way in which learning cursive is beneficial is that it expands people’s reading and writing possibilities.  Those who know cursive can read more historical and personal documents, such as the U.S. Constitution and handwritten letters from family.  Knowing cursive enables one to write personal and professional-looking letters.  In addition, according to graphologist Heidi H. Harralson, less complex handwriting is easier to forge than cursive (Zezima).  Thus, while cursive may often be harder to read than print, this also means that it is harder to forge.  A final benefit of cursive is that it enables people to create a personal penmanship.  According to Kate Gladstone, the director of the World Handwriting Contest, a 2012 survey of handwriting teachers at a conference showed that more than half the teachers wrote in a hybrid style of handwriting that combined cursive and print.  Once people have learned cursive and print, they can choose to create their own version by mixing the two styles and creating their own unique style that enables them to write with the most comfort and speed.  Thus, learning cursive can open up other handwriting possibilities and combinations, allowing for more creativity and personality in penmanship.

When I was little, my sister began learning cursive, and I began imitating her.  I filled notebooks with connected and repeating loops.  Then I proudly displayed my work to my family, telling them, “See, I’m writing in cursive!”  Learning cursive for real turned out to be a long, taxing process, but I am extremely glad I did.  I can see how writing in cursive has helped me be more artistic, improve my hand-eye coordination, and hone my fine motor skills.  If we really do allow cursive handwriting to disappear, it will be a loss both to education and to culture.  I hope that other children can enjoy the fascination I had with cursive and the benefits that it produces.  Let’s pick up our pens and write in cursive again so we can keep the skill that provides an important foundation for basic learning, development, and creativity.

Works Cited

Gladstone, Kate.  “Handwriting Matters; Cursive Doesn’t.”  The New York Times, 30 Apr. 2013, nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/04/30/should-schools-require-children-to-learn-cursive/handwriting-matters-cursive-doesnt.

Jones, Elizabeth and April Brown.  “How Cursive Can Help Students with Dyslexia Connect the Dots.”  PBS.org, 6 May 2014, pbs.org/newshour/updates/connecting-dots-role-cursive-dyslexia-therapy/.

Klemm, William R.  “Biological and Psychology Benefits of Learning Cursive.”  Psychology Today, 5 Aug. 2013, psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201308/biological-and-psychology-benefits-learning-cursive.

Konnikova, Maria. “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades.”  The New York Times, 2 Jun. 2014, nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html?_r=0.

Shapiro, T. Rees.  “Cursive Handwriting Is Disappearing from Public Schools.”  The Washington Post, 4 Apr. 2013, washingtonpost.com/local/education/cursive-handwriting-disappearing-from-public-schools/2013/04/04/215862e0-7d23-11e2-a044-676856536b40_story.html?utm_term=.074ad2c44441.

Steinmetz, Katy.  “Five Reasons Kids Should Still Learn Cursive Writing.”  Time, 4 Jun. 2014, time.com/2820780/five-reasons-kids-should-still-learn-cursive-writing/.

Zezima, Katie.  “The Case for Cursive.”  The New York Times, 27 Apr. 2011, nytimes.com/2011/04/28/us/28cursive.html.

Photographs, in order of use:

http://www.statesymbolsusa.org/symbol-official-item/national-us/state-cultural-heritage/united-states-constitution

https://www.brainbalancecenters.com/blog/2014/09/brain-benefits-write-in-cursive/

http://thefederalist.com/2015/02/25/ten-reasons-people-still-need-cursive/

http://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/topic/70986-trialling-the-namiki-falcon/