Reading Scripture—and Modern Times—through an Honor/Shame Culture Perspective

Many times I will go to bed with local Christian radio on. Perhaps this accounts, at least in part, for my occasional feeling of sleep debt.

Last night—I realize now this was at 4 AM!—I caught part of a very engaging monologue by Abdu Murray from RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries). In my semi-conscious state, I knew I had to investigate this further, later in the morning when I would be more lucid. The title of this podcast is “Evangelism in an Honor and Shame Culture, Part 1”. Below is the audio. I cannot recommend it enough:

[Side note: I am saddened by the recent death of Ravi Zacharias; I really enjoy/ed listening to him.]

One of the points Murray argues is that this cultural norm of honor versus shame in the Middle East and the East is becoming more commonplace in the West. He is absolutely correct! This can be found in the “virtue signaling” and social media tirades against those who dare disagree with the Leftist position on a given subject. From this perspective, a person adhering to a particular belief which is at odds with Leftist ideology does not merely render said person guilty of wrong-belief on this subject, but one who is inherently bad! This wrong-thought then not only deems the entire person malevolent, but extends to anyone who defends this particular belief of said person. Thus, the social media mobs not only attack the one person who subscribes to said belief, but to anyone who defends this person’s belief in any shape or form—including their free speech right—regardless of the rest of the defender’s worldviews. One strike, you’re out. You’re ostracized. Cancelled. You’re inherently bad, too.

Murray uses the account of the man born blind and subsequently healed by Jesus in John 9 as a base text. One of the main points he makes centers on a very astute observation regarding John 9:19 (~15 minutes into the podcast). Murray rightly emphasizes the “you”—something I’d not found in any of the numerous commentaries I consulted on this matter. Though he does not explain his reasoning for why he views this as emphatic, below I will illustrate how Murray is correct in his expression of this particular passage.

First, I must add the following related comment. While searching the RZIM site for this podcast, I came across a brief article by Margaret Manning Shull titled, “A Face for the Faceless”. In it, she covers some of the same territory as Murray. The following section merits inclusion here (emphasis added):

The story of the man born blind in John’s gospel is a fitting example of a more collective honor and shame culture: “Who sinned,” the disciples asked Jesus, “This man or his parents that he was born blind?” Here, the belief that someone else’s sins could be borne by another is striking. After Jesus healed this man’s blindness, the religious leaders question the blind man’s parents. His parents didn’t want to speak on his behalf “for fear of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus as Messiah, he was to be put out of the synagogue” (See John 9:20-23). To be put out of the synagogue was to be excommunicated from God, family, and society—and to bear the burden of collective shame and dishonor. The son was already in a dishonorable state because of his blindness. One false move by the parents and they would suffer the same fate.

Note that it’s not merely individual but collective shame.

“…whom you say…”

This section will necessarily be a bit technical—though I don’t think it is too much so. For those with limited time and/or shortened attention spans (a byproduct of our “social media” culture)—though this section is not very lengthy—please go to the final section for my important closing comments. With this brief preface out of the way, I shall proceed.

In Greek, all finite verbs encode both person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd person) and number (singular or plural), though not gender. (Stay with me!) Given this, in Greek a complete sentence can be made with just one verb, as Jesus does with his final word on the Cross (John 19:30): Tetelestai. The verb here is a 3rd person singular, which, on the surface, could be either masculine (he is finished), feminine (she is finished), or neuter (it is finished). But by the context we can clearly discern that it should be the neuter it is finished. Thus, adding a pronoun (or noun) is unnecessary in the Greek. Now, certainly, the question of just what was finished is a big one; however, the point here is that it wasn’t a “she” or a “he” that was finished in the context of John 19:30.

If this seems a bit confusing, don’t let this detain you just yet. I think any confusion will be quickly cleared up as I explain the specific clause in John 9:19. Below is the Greek text, under that its transliteration (substituting English letters for the Greek), a rough translation is beneath that, which is followed by my translation. I placed brackets [ ] around the implied pronouns encoded in the two finite verbs below:

ὃν ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι τυφλὸς ἐγεννήθη
hon hymeis legete hoti typhlos egennēthē
whom you [you-]say that blind [he-]was-born
whom you say {that} was born blind

Beginning our discussion with the last word, the verb “was-born” (egennēthē), the encoded person/number is 3rd person singular. Since the context makes it clear that the referent is the man born blind, we know that “he” is the implied pronoun, not “it” or “she”. Thus, adding a pronoun is unnecessary in the Greek. (And in English it would be improper to translate the implied “he”.)

The third word, the verb “say” (legete), has the 2nd person plural encoded. This is in reference to the parents of the now-healed man. Since the context makes the referent clear, then, once again, adding a pronoun is unnecessary in the Greek. (Of course this “you” must be translated into English in order to make sense of the passage.) However, the Greek text also includes the 2nd person plural pronoun hymeis (“you”), even though, as we just noted, this pronoun is unnecessary to convey what was meant. Thus, this is not a redundancy; this is to make the “you” emphatic.

So here [some of] “the Jews” (hoi Ioudaioi) were trying to shame the parents of the man born blind by implicitly accusing them of lying about the blindness of their son—since these Jews assumed the formerly-blind-but-now-healed man had been lying all this time about his own blindness. The other option—that Jesus, that “sinner”, healed him—was beyond the realm of possibility in their figuratively blinded eyes. But this was also a set-up. If the parents were to affirm his blindness from birth, then, in “the Jews” darkened eyes, they would also be an implied party to his “purported” healing by Jesus. This is why the parents claimed ignorance of just how their son was healed and then deferred to their son—to let him speak on his own, thus making him the sole one ‘guilty’ of this—so that they would not face expulsion from the synagogue. Better to let the son face the dishonor and shame by himself. They didn’t wish to share it with him.

Take a listen to the podcast to hear the other (explicit) points the speaker makes.

Concluding Near-Field Digression

I must end this blog post with somewhat of a digression, though not far at all from where I started. I count myself as blessed to live in a place—namely San Antonio, Texas—that has excellent programming (largely so, but discernment required) on Christian radio. This includes both KDRY (AM 1100) and KSLR (AM 630). Programs include both internationally recognized voices and local pastors/teachers. For those in the local area, I suggest you check them out. For non-locals, there may be programming available in your area. Moreover, I’m aware that KDRY can be listened to online or through a mobile app. For those with the financial wherewithal, donations are appreciated, of course.

Silence Punctuated Occasionally by Music

“…When the musicians saw the score, they cried out: ‘Where is the music?’ But then they went on to play it very well. It was beautiful; it was quiet and beautiful.”

— Arvo Pärt1

OK, I confess I’m being a bit hyperbolic with the title. But music can be as much about the space/time between the surrounding notes—the silence—as about the notes themselves. This space can evoke a sense of tranquility, melancholia, anticipation, drama, etc. or combinations thereof.  Both Arvo Pärt and Erik Satie exemplify this approach of placing more distance between notes on the page, to varying degrees, in some of their compositions.


Arvo Part

Arvo Pärt was previously featured in a blog post about 1.5 years ago. That post centered on the music of, lyrics to, and background of one brief choral prayer of peace. Below is a bit more biographical data on the man as well as some historical background on his oeuvre:

Arvo Pärt began his series of orchestral works with an obituary—but one that was at the same time the start of something new. Written in the year 1959 while he was a student at the conservatory in Tallinn, Necrology is the first piece by the Estonian composer to make use of serial music—a scandal for Soviet aesthetics. And so Pärt began what was to be an eventful life as a composer alternating between periods of withdrawal in the search for a style and periods of considerable creative output. Since the early ‘60s, Pärt (who was born in 1935) has traveled between the extremes of official recognition and official censure. Our Garden for children’s choir and orchestra (1959) and the oratorio The Pace of the World (1961) were awarded the first prize in composition in Moscow in 1962. Because of its text—“I believe in Jesus Christ”—Credo for piano, choir and orchestra, was banned.2

The quote at the beginning of this blog post (Where is the music?) is a reference to one of Pärt’s most famous pieces, Tabula rasa (Latin for “clean slate”), composed of two movements. Below is a performance of this work by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Paavo Järvi, with Viktoria Mullova (1st violin), Florian Donderer (2nd violin), and Liam Dunachie (prepared piano):

In many of the renditions I have heard the second movement is played too hurriedly. The above rendering is suitably slow. Near the end of the piece only one bass viol remains, and in its solitude it grows ever quieter until it ceases altogether, acquiescing to the increasing scarcity of musical notation.

Below is, in my opinion, the best complete live performance currently on YouTube (disregard the grainy video; the audio is clear enough). Inexplicably, however, the initial strokes of each of the violins are omitted (each instrument is to actuate its own note—different from the other—and is to play in unison with the other). In the first movement (Ludus), the diminuendo portion is slower-paced than the intervening crescendos, thus providing a fittingly moving contrast. The final movement (Silentium, beginning at 11:26) is paced at what I deem to be the right tempo, resulting in a more delicately rounded prepared piano tone—not somewhat abruptly truncated like faster readings—every note retaining appropriate distinction and intonation:

My favorite rendition, though, is found in the (premier?) ECM Records WDR (West German Radio) recording of November 1977, featuring the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Saulus Sondeckis, with Gidon Kremer & Tatjana Grindenko (violins) and Alfred Schnittke (prepared piano).

From the same period of creativity producing Tabula rasa is the brief, sparse piano piece Für Alina. Below is a vlog showing the score as the doubled single notes are struck—one note for each hand (two different notes are struck simultaneously, with the exception of the very first one):

Below is the same piece rendered just a bit slower by a different interpreter:



Some of Erik Satie’s music is recognized as a precursor to minimalism, or minimal music, as in the works of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Gavin Bryars, etc. Thus, Satie may have had indirect influence on Pärt. But whereas Pärt seems to be spiritually grounded throughout his (still-ongoing) career, one may perhaps describe Satie’s life as a bit ‘messy’—not unlike many Biblical characters. Not unlike me.

An eccentric with a wry sense of humor, Satie titled one of his written works, Mémoires d’un amnésique (Memories of an Amnesiac). Additionally, he wrote cryptic player’s instructions between the staffs (staves) such as, “with astonishment”, “on yellowed velvet”, and “like a nightingale with toothache”.3 (I would have really enjoyed getting to know this man!) His Vexations, unpublished during his lifetime—and there is no evidence to suggest it was intended for publication4—is conjectured to have been written in response to the demise of a romantic relationship, though there may be a different impetus for this work.

Reinbert de Leeuw (who just recently passed) provides my favorite interpretations of Satie’s piano music. His tempi are typically slower than other Satie interpreters—this extra space allowing the pieces to ‘breathe’ a bit more—and his touch seems appropriately light or heavy given the particular piece or section of a piece. The vlog just below is timestamped at what is probably my favorite Satie composition, Gymnopédies (1888; there are three variations), performed live (though, somewhat annoyingly, with an inordinate amount of coughing):

And here are de Leeuw’s slower-paced studio renditions of Gymnopédies 1 & 3 from 1977, with suitably stark mostly b&w images:

Also from 1977 is de Leeuw’s Ogives 1—4 (1889), set to interspersings of Monet’s and others’ artwork:

Here are more of de Leeuw’s interpretations (again rec. 1977), including the much lauded—and probably my second favorite—Gnossiennes (1890—1897; six in total):

Act Three of Satie’s ‘Christian Ballet’ Upsud (1892; de Leeuw, rec. date unknown), set to the artwork of Monet, Robert Reid and others:

Sarabande # 1 (1887; de Leeuw, 1977) set to various artists’ works:

All the above reminds me of the former tag line of my favorite record label, ECM Records, as found in one of their album inserts from the ‘70s:

ECM tagline

1 From an interview with Wolfgang Sandner (as translated by Anne Cattaneo), regarding his piece Tabula rasa, published in 1984 as part of the liner notes to ECM Records 1275.

2 Ibid; emphasis added.

3 This according to Ornella Volta’s liner notes (translated by Susannah Howe) for Erik Satie: The Complete Solo Piano Music (483 0236), p 26.

4 Ibid. “The care he took over any piece of writing destined to be seen by anyone else (even the shortest of letters) was always meticulous, bordering on the excessive; during his lifetime, he only ever gave his publishers signed and dated manuscripts, displaying the most elegant calligraphy throughout, his signature acting as his official authorisation for publication” (p 20). Vexations bears no date by the author.

Masking…the Truth?

thespian masks

I’ve shown a number of Tony Heller’s vlogs here on the subject of “climate change”. He has more recently been covering COVID-19. Heller just moved from Colorado Springs to Wyoming, having tired of the increasing Leftism in his former location. In a recent vlog he plays a short clip from a 60 Minutes segment (March 8, 2020) in which Anthony Fauci discusses the use of masks. The video is timestamped at this mark (0:56), and below is my transcription of the brief discussion on this subject:

Fauci: Right now in the United States people should not be walking around with masks.

60 Minutes: You’re sure of it? ‘Cause people are listening really closely to this.

Fauci: No. Right now people should not be wa- — There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask. When you’re in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better, and it might even block a droplet; but, it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is. And often there are unintended consequences: people keep fiddling with the mask, and they keep touching their face.

60 Minutes: And can you get some schmutz sorta staying inside [the mask]?

Fauci: Of course, of course; but, when you think masks, you should think of healthcare providers needing them, and people who are ill.

I can affirm that every time I wear the mask—in places where I live in which it’s currently enforced, such as grocery stores—I am constantly “fiddling with the mask”. Yet Fauci contradicts the above in his recent Senate testimony (May 12, 2020):

Well, ya know, the best PPE [personal protective equipment] for the general public, if possible, right now, is to maintain the physical and social distancing. But, as we’ve said, and I think all of us would agree, there are certain circumstances in which it is beyond your control, when you need to do necessary things—like go to the drug store and get your medication, go to the grocery store and get your food—that, in fact, you need some supplementation than just physical distancing. That’s the reason why some time ago, a recommendation was made—I believe it was Dr. Redfield at the CDC who first said that—about getting some sort of a covering. We don’t want to call it a mask—because back then we were concerned we would be taking masks away from the healthcare providers—but, some sort of mask-like facial covering, I think for the time being, should be a very regular part of how we prevent the spread of infection. And, in fact, the more and more as you go outside right here in where I am sitting in Washington, DC, you can see many people out there with masks on, which gives me some degree of comfort that people are taking this very seriously.

Yes, I can recall the pleas not to use up all the surgical masks, especially N95 respirator masks, (in favor of construction masks, e.g.) so that healthcare workers will have enough; but, what about Fauci’s earlier statement in the 60 Minutes segment above? He clearly said that we, the general public, should not be wearing masks of any type, and, further, that it is healthcare providers and the ill that need them. Was he not telling the truth earlier, in order to ensure adequate supply for first responders and healthcare providers? Or is he exaggerating right now, and, if so, for what purpose(s)?

From the World Health Organization (WHO) website we find the following (and more) on the subject of masks:

  • If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with COVID-19.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.


So, which is it?

I always enjoy listening to Mike Rowe. In the following he uses one of my favorite terms: personal responsibility. This is one of the hallmarks of a free society. And, not surprisingly, he has other nuggets to consider:

…Something is happening right now with regard to public safety and individual responsibility. It’s a collision.

In some areas particularly, if things continue much further down this track, there’ll be no need to strive for the Green New Deal or to impose any of the more stringent “climate change” mandates since the same deleterious end-goals can be achieved this way instead, and at a much quicker pace.