Middling

The fancies and reflections of a loquacious ninja

Monthly Archives: June 2011

Forget the camera

This past weekend, I was in New Orleans for a chorus festival. Being the absent-minded scatterbrain I am, I forgot to bring my camera on the trip.

There was certainly no shortage of things to take pictures of. Even in less than a week, you can experience a lot in “N’awlins.” We visited an aquarium, stopped by most of (or at least a good number of) the souvenir shops in the French Quarter, and took a street car to the Garden District (lots of beautiful old homes and free Mardi Gras beads). We suffered a sugar-saturated beignet breakfast, savored a scrumptious gumbo luncheon, and endured a restaurant dinner where little kids ran wild (Cajun Chuck E Cheese’s if you will). The experience I enjoyed the most was going to a live jazz club and having dinner while reveling in the rhythm of real New Orleans jazz (their trumpeter turns 100 next month, and their trombone player gets into the music so much he’ll start dancing with his instrument while sitting down).

But surprisingly, the best part of the trip for me was the chorus aspect of it. There were choruses from all over the country attending, and some of them were really good. I got to know a few of the singers from the other choruses pretty well, and it was heaps of fun being with them. And the music was great. When we all sang together, it was nothing short of magical at times.

I also really enjoyed meeting our guest conductor Bob Chilcott. Besides being an awesome and talented conductor, he was the composer/arranger of several of the songs we were doing, so he knew exactly how each song should be, and the result was fantastic.

I think my favorite song was The Lily and the Rose, a modern arrangement that Mr. Chilcott had done of an old 16th century poem. Regrettably, I couldn’t find an SATB (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) arrangement online, but this soprano-alto version I came across is also very beautiful, and well sung:

The maidens came
When I was in my mother’s bower;
I had all that I would.
The bailey beareth the bell away;
The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.
The silver is white, red is the gold;
The robes they lay in fold.
The bailey beareth the bell away;
The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.
And through the glass window shines the sun.
How should I love, and I so young?
The bailey beareth the bell away;
The lily, the rose, the rose I lay.

~ Anonymous

I feel something when I read poetry like this. Usually something along the lines of “What the heck does this mean?”

In this case, there are multiple possibilities. One interpretation is that it’s about a rich young girl who’s pledged to be married to a man of her status, but loves another, poorer man (it makes sense if you look into it; the full exposition is here). Mr. Chilcott gave us the possibility that it’s about a girl weeping for her lost love, an English soldier who’s been killed in battle by the French, but he seemed to favor the idea that it’s about Mary mourning the death of Jesus.

All of these interpretations make sense to some extent if you look into the meanings of the words in the poem, but I’m afraid it can addle your brain after a while: Is the bailey the low-ranking man who has won the girl’s love? The “keep” where the soldier’s body is taken? The Bailiff who bears away the Beautiful One (belle)? What about the lily and the rose? Is it the lily of purity and innocence VS the rose of love and passion? The lily of France VS the rose of England? What about the purity of Mary VS the red of the blood shed by Christ? If the silver is white, and red is the gold, does that mean that the lily is worth less than the rose? Is purity lesser than love then? France inferior to England? *gasp* Is this song actually saying something political? On the confusions rolls…

So what is the purpose of this song? To express the fear of marrying one you do not love? To mourn the passing of one you do love? To make a political statement between nations at war? To grieve over the death of a mother’s son?

As we sang this song in the final concert, these meanings glided back and forth through my mind. One moment I saw the girl crying over her lost soldier, the next I saw Mary holding the body of Jesus, and so on, so forth. But by the last chorus, I’d forgotten to think about who or what the bailey was, and what he was doing with the bell. I stopped thinking, and I just listened to the music as we sang it.

Words matter, be they in a book, online, or in the lyrics or text of a song. But sometimes we forget that you don’t have to fully understand something to appreciate its beauty. You don’t have to analyze something, and document it, and take it apart with Descartes’ screwdriver so you know how it ticks, in order to know that it’s beautiful.

Maybe it’s a good thing that I forgot my camera. I wasn’t able to document much, but perhaps I was able to experience it all the more as a result.

When the song was finished, the concert done, the trip all over, that song was still running through my head, and I found myself asking God to show me more of His beauty because of it.

And I can’t help but think that that was the purpose all along.

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Poorly designed

At the training camp I attended a few weeks ago (see preceding post), tradition dictates that every year, on the night before everyone goes back home, there must be a dance party to finalize the weekend (and every year, there are some really good dancers attending). But this year there was an accident on the dance floor. One of the people dancing (who I’d guess to be in his late teens/early twenties; I’ll call him Josh) dislocated his knee. I don’t know how it happened exactly, but my guess is that he slipped on the tile floor and fell on his knee at the wrong angle.

Of course, when we all gathered around him, we were asked to clear the dance floor and continue the party elsewhere. I sat in the lounge a little ways off and watched quietly as the paramedics came. Josh’s teacher (whose name I never learned… I’ll refer to him as Mark) happened to be sitting nearby, and we struck up a conversation as we watched them tend to Josh as he lay on the ground, in silent but obvious pain.

During a brief lull in the conversation, as we both looked on at the injury being tended to, Mark said something that caught my attention. I wish I could remember word-for-word the conversation that followed, but I’ve done my best to capture the essence of what we said:

Mark: If you think about it, we’re pretty poorly designed beings.

Me: …What do you mean?

Mark: Well, it’s all about evolution. It’s just the way we evolved.

Me: But if we’re evolved beings, then we’re not really designed, right?

Mark: All right, to be completely technical about it, we’re incomplete, evolutionarily speaking, not designed.

Me: So… you believe that there’s an ultimate, final stage that we’ll attain some day? That right now we’re imperfect just because we’re not there yet?

Mark: No, I don’t believe that. Evolution isn’t a path to perfection, it’s a path to survival. But it’s also about progress. Think about how easily this sort of thing [gesturing to the dance floor] happens, especially as we get older.

Me: Almost inevitably as we get older.

Mark: Right. But I think one day we’ll get to the point where this kind of thing won’t happen. It just has to do with evolutionary pressures.

Me: Well… but no structure is perfect. Any structure, even if it was well-designed, is going to have some flaws and weak points. What do you mean by evolutionary pressures?

Mark: Well, what’s one thing that would keep you from being able to survive? Say, from eating?

We talked for a bit longer, about how disease is an evolutionary pressure and so on, when we were asked to help clear the area so they could bring Josh through and take him to the hospital.

The party resumed, the dancing continued. I wanted to pick up the conversation where we’d left off. But I didn’t want to seem like I was pushing the subject, so I sort of figured that if God wanted the conversation to continue, it would happen without me prompting it. It didn’t.

I never got to see where that conversation would have gone. Perhaps I should have approached him and asked to keep on going… I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised though; I kind of figured that since, after the exchange, I’d had time to think about what I was going to say, I wouldn’t actually get a chance to say it, at least not then. But now that I have thought about it some, I guess this is the place to share:

The conversation never went far enough for me to really know what Mark believes, but I feel compelled to respond to the claim that we appear to be “poorly designed” beings.

Over the course of the training camp, a lot happened. Demos, testing, and classes of all sorts took place ― forms, weapons, applications, sparring, board breaking, you name it. There were also a few just-for-the-fun-of-it classes, such as a basic parkour/free running class I got to take (keep in mind that what we did was the fundamentals, not quite up to this level).

Josh was also in that class, and being one of the few people who had done parkour before, he was one of the better ones. That busted knee that he was lying with on the dance floor had served him pretty well when he’d been using it to scale walls and vault obstacles. But on the dance floor, something happened that made that knee do something it wasn’t designed to do, and that’s when it was injured.

All structures will experience problems if they’re used (accidentally or otherwise) outside of what they were designed to do. And all machines will deteriorate with use over time. Think about how even something as carefully designed as a car or a computer is liable to not work when it’s used improperly or gets old. Our bodies are far more intricate than even the best that technology has to offer today (one glance at the structure of a cell will tell you that), but no structure, no matter how well-made or well-designed, will last forever in this world.

There are many problems that afflict us physically. Disease and injury are realities that none of us can ignore. But how often do we think about what can go wrong with our bodies instead of what they’re getting right already? (Our bodies usually run so well that we don’t even think about them until something’s wrong.) The human body is capable of some pretty amazing feats ― just what we were doing over the course of training camp (or even just then on the dance floor) stands testimony to that.

Yes, we are imperfect beings, in more ways than one, and in more ways than just physically.

But we are far from being, or even appearing, poorly designed.

As for being incomplete, becoming injury/disease free one day, and evolutionary progression, those are topics for another time. My apologies for my loquacity, and my thanks if you actually read the entire thing.

  ~ Timothy

Back from Training Camp

This is going to be one of those it-struck-my-fancy posts, so please bear with me if the level of coherence seems a little lower than usual.

This past weekend, I was off in Atlanta, Georgia attending a martial arts training camp. I could detail in earnest how much fun it was, all the stuff I learned, the people I met, the spiritual environment and so on, but I’ve decided just this once to restrain my loquaciousness and go for a more wayward, “sound-bite” approach.

A quick, more-or-less snapshot of the weekend:

The P.E. building where we worked out (complete with a PA system ever reminding us it was time to go)

"Rise above your enemies so you can drop-kick them in the face!"

"Attention. The P.E. Building will be closed in 15 minutes. Initiating timeblock sequence."

"I saw a man jump over house!"

"Attention! The P.E. Building is now closing in 10 minutes. We are releasing the zombie Dobermans and killer bees!"

Only time I've ever seen someone break five boards (the most is usually three)

"The P.E. Building is closing in 5 minutes. We are now setting the building on fire!"

Yes, it was a weekend full of fun and learning.

(By the way, the airborne guy in the 4th picture is my brother)