Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Alice Meat

Really; indeed

This post is linked to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

There's a whole lotta John 6 on the Internet about this time every year. There's a whole lotta John 6 in Wednesday Night Sunday School, too. One of the key John 6 classroom verses reads:

"For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed."  in the Douai-Rheims & KJV;

"For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." in the RSV;

"For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." in the NIV;

and my preferred translation in the NAB, "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink."

I find the word "true" a bit more compelling than "real," and way more compelling than "indeed". Truth is simply a more moral, profound and comprehensive concept than the other two. I don't see how real or indeed add anything to true; but they do take something away. St. Jerome must have agreed: his Vulgate reads, "Caro enim mea vere est cibus; et sanguis meus, vere est potus." You know: truly. English uses that Latin-French -ver- root in veracity, aver, very, and of course, Jesus' favorite, verily.

Uh-oh; now I'm curious about verse 55 in we go:

"Car ma chair est vraiment une nourriture, et mon sang est vraiment un breuvage."  Yep, truly again.

And in Greek, the passage reads, "η γαρ σαρξ μου αληθως εστιν βρωσις και το αιμα μου αληθως εστιν ποσις," which is Greek to me, but the keyword ἀληθῶς/ alithos also means truly. You know, like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when they give the Easter greeting: "Χριστός ἀνέστη! Christ is risen!" followed by the response, "Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη/ Alithos anesti/ Truly risen!"

Ἀληθῶς-alithos is the adverb form of ἀλήθεια-alitheia-truth. So for example, when Pilate spoke to Jesus, he asked him, "What is alitheia?" And Jesus said of Himself, "I am the way, the alitheia, and the life." 

By the way, Alitheia is close to how Spaniards would pronounce Alicia, i.e., they softly lisp the s sound. Would Alicia/ Alice come from alitheia and mean Truth? Why, yes, it would.* Now I wonder about Martha-Marcia...why yes, Martha is Greek from Aramaic (mistress, the feminine of master). See, languages ain't so tough.

 I know this doesn't have to be the big deal for everyone else that it is to me. But in Catechism class, it's good to be able to draw parallels among: Pharisees saying Jesus is true; St. John writing that God is true; Jesus saying he's the Truth; Pilate looking right at the Truth and asking Him what is Truth; and Jesus flatly stating that his flesh is true food, his blood true drink.

Saying real or indeed in the last case takes the simple & straightforward and makes it complicated.

Is that fussy? Well, if your name were Alice, and you were to tell me what your name meant, what would you say?


*Some sources say Alice is Celtic; I think it's possible that in English the name could be conflated from both Greek and Celtic, but Alitheia seems closer than Adalhaidis.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Flow States

we are not in Turkey

A couple of posts ago I was talking about Turkish a little bit, which reminded me of an exhilarating conversation I had a long time ago. That's right, exhilarating.

I had just arrived way jet-lagged at İstanbul Atatürk Havalimanı (the airport), to begin a two-week tour of Turkey. I picked up my bags, and headed to Customs. After a few minutes of standing in the Customs line, it quit moving: some kind of kerfuffle at the front. Raised voices. Then a uniformed customs officer walked down the stalled line, repeating something in Turkish I didn't understand, although I knew it was not yes, no, thank you, good morning, or I want two beers please. Then he went back to the front. The line still didn't budge, and the voices at the front got louder. Then a civilian student-age Turk came down the line asking in English, "you speak Italian, you speak Italian, you speak Italian." I said yes, I spoke Italian, but not in a few years. He asked me to come to the front of the line anyway.

An unhappy Italian was at the counter with his big suitcase open; frowning Turks were investigating the contents. The case was foam-lined with recesses for all kinds of odd-looking metal-rubber-plastic-electrical objects. All harmless one supposes, but the customs men couldn't tell.  So the English-speaking Turk and I were going to manage a bucket-brigade conversation between the Italian and the Customs officers. I explained to the Italian what we were going to do, and then the four of us proceeded to translate from Turkish to English to Italian and back again:

Customs wants to know what these things are.

They're industrial parts, I'm a salesman. I have appointments in Istanbul.

They have to verify the parts are not dangerous.

Fine. They are not dangerous. That is not a problem for me.

Customs says they must have someone else decide the parts are not dangerous.

Yes, I will wait here.

The man who decides is not here now. They say you have to leave the bag and return tomorrow....go to the airport customs office tomorrow; don't return here. Are you good with this?

I can't do anything but as they say. I will return tomorrow, but I need a receipt. 

They will give you a receipt now. They also want a business card.

OK. (produces one)

That's all, they are content for now. (smiles all around)

OK, Thank you.

Thank you; I like to have the occasion to speak Italian.

This conversation didn't take long, and there was no time to review verb conjugations or vocabulary. It was like accidentally falling into water and immediately starting to swim. But because there was no warning there was no time for anxiety or fear, or even thinking in the normal way. Just a suspended-animation sense of joy and getting it done. The languages ran together as a continuity, rather than as separate things. A weird language high. Forget the jet-lag, I was fired-up! I realized later that for those few minutes I had been in a flow-state.

(Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.)

Back in the 70s I read an interview of Mario Andretti in one of my father's Road & Tracks. In the interview, Andretti said he drove the fastest in a flow-state. Being an unfamiliar term back then, he explained it in the same way as the above Wiki definition. Sounded like fun. I never expected to enjoy one at the airport in Turkey.

See that picture at the top? It's not Turkey! Yes, it's Russia. No, it's not Moscow and the church isn't St. Basil's. It's St. Petersburg, and the church is the Храм Спаса на Крови/ Khram Spasa na Krovi/ Temple (of) Savior on Blood. We'd say church for temple. This photo was taken a couple of minutes before I experienced a second and most recent language flow-state. After the shot, my family wandered individually back to the tour-bus (My Wife the Travel Agent and Art History Prof put together a small-group custom 2-day tour with a minibus and guide). Halfway back, my wife comes over, says can you help this German couple, I don't think they speak English or Russian. Umm...OK! (I really like German. By the way, my experience is that once you learn a second language enough to use it at all, learning more of them is pretty easy. It's the first second language that's the hurdle. Languages are not the big deal people think they are.)

Hello, I speak some German.

Yes! We are looking for Nevsky Prospekt. (St. Petersburg's main street)

I think that Nevsky Prospekt is straight up that way, but I am not sure. I can ask our tour-leader. Let us go to the tour bus.

(We do; only the driver is in the bus)

Mr. Driver, these German people want to know: Nevsky Prospekt this way? (Russians don't say "is" if it's obvious)

No. Go 4 blocks and turn left.

The driver says go straight 4 streets then turn left.

All good; is it far to walk?

Mr. Driver, Nevsky Prospekt not many meters, maybe 10 minutes to walk?

Yes, 10 minutes.


You're welcome.

The walk is only 10 minutes or so.

Thank you!

Thank you too, I like to have an occasion to speak German.



And once again I came down from that high, and was charged-up for the rest of the day. I doubt I could have translated straight from German to Russian and back if I had planned to do it. My self-awareness would have processed the conversation through English each time, each way; slowing things down.

So: two flow states, both involving a loss of self-awareness and increased ability. Seems like something that'd work well spiritually. I imagine saints must experience such flow-states; I'm not there yet.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Cup with a Theme Song

My wife & I watched a movie last night called The Gift. We realized within the first few minutes that it had been filmed in the Deep South, where we live. We like to guess filming locations: we'll freeze a frame to discuss the fine points of trees, topography, flowers, architecture, any detail that helps us nail down an anonymous location. In this case, the Deep South coastal plain, but not Louisiana or Mississippi; maybe around Mobile Bay; not Florida; most likely somewhere between the Okeefenokee in Georgia and the Pee Dee in South Carolina. Beaufort? No, Beaufort's too much of a city. Savannah? Again, too built-up. But around there. Low Country. Around Edisto? Yeah...those roads look like the roads to Edisto:

And the swamp scenes look like swamps around Edisto:

Like lots of South Carolinians, we vacation on Edisto Island. It's very isolated and there's only one grocery store. Part of the Edisto Island experience is unloading the car at the rental house, then heading over to the Pig to buy groceries. That is, the Piggly-Wiggly:

Pay no attention to the lower case p and w.

Piggly-Wiggly is a regional chain, founded in Tennessee in 1916. Just based on the name you might've guessed it was Southern: where else in the 21st century United States could such artless charm be profitable? Here's an old logo:

Is that corny, or what? Reminds me of Betty Boop. But even in the Information Age, the Pig is still the Pig:

I have liked the Pig since I was little: he was happy and friendly and helpful and about my size. And in my adulthood I appreciate that no-one has tried to make him cool, clever, sexy, sophisticated, or God forbid, pretentious. Being happy and friendly and unaffected is enough. The Pig is just a decent human being, so to speak; a citizen, transcending both cool and corny.

So anyway, in the movie there is a scene where Cate Blanchett is toting some groceries...and the Pig is on the bags! Ha! We knew they filmed it around Edisto! But as the credits rolled, we learned that we were wrong. They'd filmed The Gift near Savannah after all.

A few Edisto summers ago the house we were renting didn't have enough coffee mugs, so my wife picked up a few at the Pig. The mugs of course had the Pig on them. Every morning that week I'd get up, pour coffee into a Pig mug and go drink it out on the beach; and in some winsome way the cartoon pig on my cup supercharged the natural optimism of those beach mornings. I enjoyed seeing his shiny happy face each day, and when the week was over, the Pigmugs came home with us, along with the mustard, ketchup, spices, cereal, and other nonperishables that we didn't finish off.

Now I drink all my coffee from a Pigmug. I must sound like a happy idiot (which I am in many ways not related to coffee cups), but each morning the unassuming Pig still sparks in me a microburst of cheerful energy. Other coffee mugs don't do that.

There's an old song that comes to mind when I'm out on a morning beach: a morning-beach-theme-song.  It's one that I sing to myself more often, now that the Pigmug bears summer beaches year-round into my Upstate world. In fact, as much as that theme song belongs to the morning beach, it belongs to the Pigmug even more:

All Year Permanent Beach

Oh, yeah...I almost forgot: the Beach-Pigmug Theme-Song.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tomato, Tomahto, Potato, Papaya

This post is linked to Amazing Catechists

 A good Catholic Bible, relatively speaking.

In Wednesday Sunday School virtually everything that is read out loud in class is from the Bible. I use the NAB for most reading (that's what the kids hear at Mass), but usually check the RSV-CE, Douai-Rheims, and KJV for critical verses: sometimes I just don't love the way the NAB says things.

As part of lesson planning I frequently do word searches. The best online searchable Bibles IMNSHO are the collated Protestant and Catholic versions at Bible Gateway. There are several search options, plus it's easy to quickly see a given verse, chapter, or the whole Bible in a number of versions and languages (Spanish!). Occasionally I will prefer the 1611 King James Version to the Catholic Bibles I typically use, so my default version at Bible Gateway is the KJV.

Gateway also has the NIV (New International Version) which I understand is one of the most "readable" Protestant Bibles. Occasionally I have a look at the NIV. Sometimes it's ok with me; other times, wow, it's not. I mean: if you are reading the Bible to learn or teach your Catholic faith, it will be hard to do if you're using the NIV, or anything like it. Let's look at a few examples comparing the KJV to the NIV:

Bishop/ Episkopos/ἐπίσκοπος (literally, over-seer)

In class we use the New Testament to discuss the early organization of the Church, including offices such as Bishop. The word bishop shows up 6 times in the KJV; zero times in the NIV.

KJV: Acts 1:20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.
NIV: Acts 1:20 "For," said Peter, "it is written in the book of Psalms, "May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,' and, "May another take his place of leadership.'

"Place of leadership?" Ya kiddin', rite? The Greek word here is ἐπισκοπή/ episkopi. At least use the word office. Office? We'll get to that in a few minutes.

KJV: 1 Timothy 3:2 This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
NIV: 1 Timothy 3:2 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.

KJV: 1 Timothy 3:3 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach....
NIV: 1 Timothy 3:3 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach....

KJV: Titus 1:7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
NIV: Titus 1:7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.

KJV: 1 Peter 2:25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
NIV: 1 Peter 2:25 For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Yes, bishop means overseer; but saying overseer eliminates the historical significance of the word episkopos. You may as well say "saver" instead of "savior." They both mean "one who saves," right? And at least in the South, overseer already has meant for centuries the Simon Legree types who boss the slaves on a plantation. Nobody down here would want to use that word for anything else because of its pejorative meaning. Now I'm thinking that Southern revanchists might want to take a hint from the NIV and start saying bishop instead of overseer. It sounds so much nicer to say the slaves had bishops rather than overseers.

KJV: Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
NIV: Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

I love this one. The Greek word bishop just has to go; but the no-less-Greek deacon (diakonos/ servant) gets to stay. Is that because someone thinks it's ok to have deacons, but not bishops? Well, as Ian Faith might say, "Oh, no, no, no, no, no,, no, not at all. I, I, I just think that the...uh...the NIV is becoming more selective."

Communion/ Koinonia/ κοινωνία

Communion is found 4 times in the KJV; zero times in the NIV.

KJV: 1 Corinthians 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
NIV: 1 Corinthians 10:16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?

KJV: 2 Corinthians 6:14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
NIV: 2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

KJV: 2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.
NIV: 2 Corinthians 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Koinonia translates well as communion; e.g., the koin- root shows up in other Greek words such as koine, which describes the common, spoken Greek of St Paul's day. Participation and fellowship are not bad words, but they move away from the root meaning of koin- and also strip out the historical continuity and implications of the word communion.

Tradition/ Paradosis/ παράδοσις

Uh-oh. You know how the Catholic Church accepts the authority of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. But non-Catholics are ummm, non-fond of the latter two. But the KJV and NIV both use the word tradition to translate paradosis, which means to surrender, give up, hand over. Or at least they do when the traditions are bad. For example, the N.T. speaks of the "traditions of men:"

KJV: Mark 7:8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the traditions of men
NIV: Mark 7:8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.

KJV: Colossians 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
NIV: Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

So where tradition is found in a bad context, both Bibles keep the word. But, you ask, doesn't Scripture also say good things about tradition? Why yes it does, when it speaks of tradition which is "handed down" by the Church's authorized teachers, such as St. Paul and the Apostles. But gosh, the NIV won't say tradition if it's in a good context, per the examples below:

KJV: 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
NIV: 2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

KJV: 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
NIV: 2 Thessalonians 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.

So if traditions are shown in a bad light, the NIV sticks with the KJV; when traditions are shown in a good light, the NIV punts the KJV and says "teaching."  By the way, the Greeks do have a word for teaching; it's διδασκαλία/ didaskalia. You'd think it'd be easy to distinguish didaskalia from paradosis; St. Paul must've been way confused.

Work/ Ergon/ ἔργον

Uh-oh, problem word: works. Like traditions, sometimes works are bad; sometimes works are good. How to translate? Let's see if this rule will "work": bad works are works;  good works are anything but works.

Works are bad or useless:

KJV: Romans 4:2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God.
NIV: Romans 4:2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God.

KJV: Romans 4:4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.
NIV: Romans 4:4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.

KJV: Romans 4:6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
NIV: Romans 4:6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

KJV: Romans 9:32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the "stumbling stone."
NIV: Romans 9:32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the "stumbling stone."

KJV: Romans 11:6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
NIV: Romans 11:6 And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace

Yep, works are works! So far, anyway.

And where works are good:

KJV: James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
NIV: James 2:24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

KJV: James 2:25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
NIV: James 2:25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?

KJV: James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
NIV: James 2:26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

KJV: James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
NIV: James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?

KJV: James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
NIV: James 2:17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

KJV: James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
NIV: James 2:18 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

KJV: James 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
NIV: James 2:20 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?

KJV: James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by work, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
NIV: James 2:21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?

KJV: James 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
NIV: James 2:22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.

KJV: Rom 2:10 but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile...
NIV: Rom 2:10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

KJV: Rev 20:12-13 the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
NIV: Rev 20:12-13 The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.

That was easy! You just have to apply the rule.

Last one now. Both the N.T. Greek and Old Testament Hebrew have an array of words which the KJV translates as office. In total the KJV says office 46 times. In contrast, the NIV uses office 7 times. Some NT examples:

KJV: Luke 1:8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course.....
NIV: Luke 1:8 Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,

KJV: Luke 1:9 According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord
NIV: Luke 1:9 ...he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

KJV: Romans 11:13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office...
NIV: Romans 11:13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry...

KJV: Romans 12:4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office...
NIV: Romans 12:4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function...

KJV: 1 Timothy 3:10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless
NIV: 1 Timothy 3:10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

KJV: 1 Timothy 3:13 For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
NIV: 1 Timothy 3:13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Like translating bishop as overseer, I don't find these alternate translations to be be less technically accurate than saying office; but if you're trying to show the Scriptural reasonableness of the Church having permanent, formal offices, as opposed to gauzy "places of leadership," you're going to have a problem doing so from the NIV. And the same thing will be true when subjects such as bishops, tradition, communion, and good works are concerned. In the NIV, the positive Biblical support for these (not exclusively) Catholic concepts has been translated right out of the plain text.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sacraments and Semitic Triliteral Roots

Most names mean something. In some cases the meaning is plain: Prudence, Grace. Other names have meanings that are less obvious: Fletcher (arrowmaker, from the French flèche, arrow).  To an Anglophone, meanings of foreign names are practically inaccessible, such as the Turkish girl's name Birsen. Birsen comes from bir, one; and sen, you. The meaning in English isn't so much one-you as it is only-you. Very sweet. Sometimes I tell my wife, "You're the one," and recall that Turkish name.

In Wednesday Sunday School, depending on a name's relevance to the material, I'll tell the kids what a name means. But then I make them tell me why it matters. For example, in the first class of the year we start with Creation. Genesis says, "God said, Let us make man in our image...And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground..." Swapping out some English for Hebrew gives us, "God said, Let us make adam in our image...And the LORD God formed adam [of] the dust of the adama..."  Then through quick discussion the kids figure out: Adam got his name by being the first man; that first man was made of earth; and his name helps to explain these things about him. It's good that there's an easy name to figure out in the beginning of the year.

Less easy is Isaac, which means Laughter. But if I've adequately communicated to the class how sad Abraham and Sarah were that their love had not created any children, then someone will get it in short order. Knowing what Isaac means then makes it easier for them to grasp how awful it was for God to ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, to kill laughter.

We treat other names as well, especially the -el- names: Samuel, Elisha, Gabriel, just so they get the hang of recognizing that -el- means God, as in Elohim. My favorite -el- name is Elizabeth, I'll usually explain it just for fun. Eliysheba,  אֱלִישֶׁבַע combines God אֱלִ and seven שֶׁבַע to mean "God is my oath," "sworn to God," or my preferred expression, "consecrated to God." Seven is a holy number, so to seven oneself is to swear, take an oath. Kinda fun.

Then I read an article which extended the seven/oath concept into an understanding of why seven is the correct number of sacraments. I was reminded of Elizabeth, and was prompted to refresh myself on the details of the name. Turns out that seven and oath aren't quite the same word in Hebrew. We might think of them as fraternal twins, like skin/shin, shirt/skirt, ship/skiff, ear/hear: words that used to be one word, but drew apart just enough to distinguish related, but distinct, meanings. In the Hebrew seven/oath case, both words come from a common root...a common three-letter root...a Semitic Triliteral Root! Of course! I should have known.

Long ago I was active friends with a group of Turks (we still keep in touch), went to Turkey,  learned some Turkish. One of the words I liked was kitap, book. On one occasion I heard someone say what I thought was kitap, but not quite: katip. Is katip related to kitap? Yes: katip means author. But those aren't Turkish words, they're Arabic words which were grafted onto Turkish, as French was grafted onto English. 

Unlike Turkish, Arabic isn't fond of the p-sound. Thus, Arabic says kitab for book; katib for author; and kuttab for primary school. In Arabic, the three sounds k-t-b (or q-t-b) form a triliteral root which itself isn't a word per se, but from which a family of writing words spring. Arabic has hundreds of these roots, and shares them with other Semitic languages, including Aramaic and Hebrew. For example in Hebrew, a ktuba is a marriage contract. Just to get a better feel for how these roots work, here are a couple of well-known Semitic roots: from the s-l-m root come Islam/surrender, salim/purity, and salem/peace; and s-b-t generates shabbat/ to desist (Sabbath).

Less familiar is the s-b-a root, which shows up in Elizabeth. S-b-a generates a bundle of words whose similarites are Biblically significant:

שֶׁבַע sheba, seven (cf. German sieben, Greek [s]hepta, Sanskrit saptá, etc. )
שָׂבֵעַ sabea, satisfied, abounding
שֹׂבַע soba, fullness
שָׁבַע shaba, to swear
שבע shebua, an oath

I understand that in the oldest written Hebrew that these were all spelled the same, that is, with the three letters Shin ש, Bet ב , and Ayin ע , but lacking the jots and tittles that add differentiating stress and vowel information. So before those vowel points existed, a reader would have to already know more or less what the s-b-a root meant in given passage, and be aware of all the overlapping meanings even if one made more (but not necessarily exclusive) sense than the others.

And as the Hebrew in Genesis makes a point about earth and Adam, so it also makes a useful point about שבע s-b-a in chapter 21. Here's a synopsis:

After the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah, Abraham and Sarah journey to Gerar, whose king is Abimelek (m-l-k, malik, king, if you must know). Like Pharaoh before him, Abimelek wants to add Sarah to his harem (women can still be babes when they're older). After a misunderstanding as to Sarah's marital status, Abraham and Abimelek make nice, and later swear a non-aggression pact between themselves:

At that time Abimelech...said to Abraham, "God is with you in all that you do...swear/shaba to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but as I have dealt loyally with you, you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned." And Abraham said, "I will swear/shaba." When Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water which Abimelech's servants had seized, Abimelech said, "...I have not heard of it until today." Abraham set seven/sheba ewe lambs of the flock apart. And Abimelech said to Abraham, "What is the meaning of these seven/sheba ewe lambs which you have set apart?" He said, "These seven/sheba ewe lambs you will take from my hand, that you may be a witness for me that I dug this well." Therefore that place was called Beer-sheba; because there both of them swore/shaba. So they made a covenant at Beer-sheba (Well [of the] Oath).

In order to make a covenant, they had to swear (an) oath, shaba shebua. As part of the oath, Abraham gave Abimelek seven/sheba sheep. This ritually expresses not only the seven-ness, the Godness, the sacredness of the oath/shebua, but also its sufficiency/sabea and its fullness/soba; which are also aspects of God's power and love. That is, fewer than sheba would not have been a plenitude of sheep, and more than sheba would be cloying.

Years later, Jacob would agree to work seven years for Laban in order to marry his daughter Rachel. That's quite a seven to ratify a marriage covenant.

Centuries later Naaman the Syrian must immerse sheba times in the Jordan to wash away his leprosy. Six times would not be what Lincoln might call the "full measure;" and if sheba washings cleaned Naaman's disease, then why jump in an eighth time? It'd be like Moses hitting the rock again: I trust ya God, but I just wanna make sure. You know, in case you don't get it done in one smack. Uh-huh. And remember after the seventh dip, Naaman is converted, believes in Elisha's God.

Now, let's jump ahead to Jesus and his New Covenant. Before Good Friday, Jesus was bodily accessible like the rest of us. But after the Ascension, he wasn't. To maintain a connection to Jesus until he comes back, we have Sacraments, which maintain the fullness of the spiritual and physical aspects of that covenant relationship. Based on the Old Testament precedents, and what Jesus and his apostles did in the New, it's reasonable that the Church recognizes seven Sacraments. And she does so not only through the numeric significance of sheba, but also in the complete oath-swearing covenental fullness and abundance of the s-b-a root.

So how does this apply to Wednesday Sunday School? Triliteral roots and 5 variants of s-b-a are too fussy and time-consuming for a kids' class. But sometimes (ok, rarely) a lesson plan ends a few minutes early. When it does, I like to have something new and useful to teach for those extra minutes, something self-contained, but which connects to other stuff. So I anticipate trying something like this:

"Hey look, we have three whole minutes left in class! So can we get out early? No indeed, classtime is valuable. New topic: somebody tell me a word that rhymes with 'shirt.' Umm...skirt? Yes. How are shirt and skirt alike? They're both clothes. Yes...what do I hear with? Umm, your ears? Yes, I hear with my ear. Y'all see how some words sound alike and have similar meanings? Yes. We only have a few words like that in English.

What language was Genesis first written in? Hebrew! Yes, good on you for remembering. Hebrew has lots of word families like shirt and skirt; ship and skiff; shin and skin. Let's look at one. Y'all know the name Elizabeth? Yes. It's Hebrew: El-i-sheba [on the board]. Remind me, the -el- means....God? Yes, good. And sheba means seven. What's the big deal about seven? It's God's number. Yes.

Hebrew has a lot of words that are like sheba, seven. Say it: sheba. Sheba. Be fearless: sheba! Sheba! Good. Because seven is a holy number, when people like Abraham swore sacred oaths or made covenants, which are like....contracts! yes, they would swear on the holy number seven, make gifts of seven sheep, or work seven years before making a marriage covenant. The Hebrew words for swearing and oath are shaba and shebua, both very close to...sheba! yes, which! Yes. So Elizabeth means 'God is seven,' but it also means God is holy, God is my oath, God is my covenant, God is abundant, things like that.

So tell me how many Sacraments are there? Seven. Yes. And how many Gifts of the Holy Spirit? Seven! Yes, why seven? Because that's the holy number. Yes, and because it's a covenant-making number. So when you receive a Sacrament, such as...Communion! yes, remember it's one of the seven outward signs of the New Covenant; or as we'd say in Hebrew, one of the sheba signs of the New Shebua.

OK, class is over sheba seconds early!

(At the top, Sarai Is Taken to Pharaoh's Palace, by James Tissot)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Reticent Circumflex

 little hat- geddit?

French is just the greatest; who doesn't like French? And the Anglophone can step easily into French, because our English vocabulary has been enriched (that's right: enriched) with thousands and thousands of French words since 1066, when Francophone Vikings conquered England.

Or something.

Anyway, by recognizing some patterns in French, it's easy to know what the English sibling or cousin of a French word is likely to be. Of course any Anglophone can recognize train, couleur, honneur, fleur, raison, raisin, appetit, detour, porter, direct, and example. In these cases the English siblings are identical, or virtually so, and we don't need to know any patterns.

But here's a pattern in French that isn't so obvious: maître, fête, côte, bête, forêt.

The pattern is the little hat on the vowels; it's a circumflex; or le petit chapeau, the...little...hat. Often, but not always, the circumflex indicates the loss of the letter s from a word, per the examples above. If we add the s back we create (or at least approximate) the English cognates: master, feast, coast, beast, forest.

The circumflex indicates the lost s so often that it always pays to try the s in a circumflexed word just to see if it helps with the meaning. For example prêtre gives us prester, which is an older version of priest in English, as in Prester John. A favorite of mine is huître. that English? Yes, but we spell it oyster. 

Don't worry if the s trick doesn't always work. For example, in rôle and diplôme it's a comment on the vowel sound. And I think sometimes the French use a circumflex just because they like how it looks.

Now you ask, if we got those words from the French, why do we say them with an s when they don't? Well, because the French still said them with an s in 1066. But the French language in England stopped changing, unlike the French in France, which kept getting more French. As Chaucer said of the Prioress around 1370:

And French she spoke full fair and fetisly
After the school of Stratford at-te Bow-e,
For French of Paris was to her unknow-e.

So the English kept the s (but sometimes in a French way: aisle, isle) as the French were letting it go. But if the French increasingly dropped the s in speech, the s didn't erase itself from French books. And I expect that Frenchmen who could write were not fond of spelling forest without its s even if nobody made the sound anymore. Does that seem unduly fussy? It's not- do you want to spell knight as it sounds? Me neither. So the French compromised: drop the s, but add the chapeau where it used to be.

But the circumflex doesn't indicate every case that an s has been dropped; see if you can figure these out: écorcher, école, étude, écrire, étonne. In these examples, adding the s gives us scorch, school, study, scribe, stun. The accent mark takes priority over the circumflex, which is implied though it's not there. So another lost-s pattern is French words which begin with an e followed by a consonant.

There's something else these lost-s-words have in common: they all are part of French's Latin patrimony. That is, école comes from schola; fête from festa; and maître from magister. And this next example is less obvious, but still solvable: château from castellum (fort, castle). But a caution is in order: not every lost-s-word comes from Latin. For example, étiquette lost its s, but its origin is Germanic. 

But sticking with the likelihood that a French lost-s-word is Roman in origin, consider how many words that makes available to you, the discerning pattern sleuth, in all the Latin-sourced tongues, the Romance languages. Remember, Latin originally was simply the language of Latium, the area of central Italy inhabited by the Latini tribe. As the Latin city-state of Rome extended its empire, so spread the Latin language. But the people in Hispania, for example, already spoke their own languages. So when Latin was imposed on them, they didn't speak it as Romans did, but altered it through their existing sensibilities of pronunciation and rhythm. As the Empire later receded, Latin persisted; but only as a local language. The Latin of Hispania wasn't the Latin of Gaul or Dacia, and these local versions would eventually be recognized by their speakers as languages separate from, other than, Latin. Of course Latin herself was also the child of older tongues, but in this post Latin is the only source we'll look at.

Consider the Latin word schola. In French it's école; in Italian, scuola; in Spanish, escuela; in Romanian, şcoală (shkoala). Each version of schola reveals a pattern of each language's rhythm and sound habits; and those patterns can apply to other words. Since this post is about French, let's try étudiant. It starts with an accented e followed by a consonant; assume it's a lost-s-word with an implied circumflex. So we add the s back to get éstudiant. Allowing for our English vowel preferences, we drop the e to get student. Judging from scuola, Italian doesn't add an e in the first place, but it does want to end with a vowel for reasons of rhythm: studiante, maybe? Close, it's studente. Spanish escuela suggests we keep the French e and add a vowel at the end for rhythm...estudiante? Yes indeed. And while in Romanian the word is student, it's worth remembering from şcoală Romanian's tendency to turn an initial s into sh, as we may do with strike and stranger. Thus when English says scholar, Romanian says şcolar (shkolar). 

Now this circumflex pattern is a small one; but it gives the English-speaker easy access through French to dozens of Romance words, and allows a student to jumpstart his foreign language vocabulary with just a bit of practice.  

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Wily Umlaut

 Warning: this is not a catechetical post.

 English is just the best; it's so rich in words. Not only do we have oodles of  'regular' English words such as chicken, deer, lawyer, pig, and cow, but also thousands of French words such as poultry, venison, attorney, pork, and beef. And words from India such as shampoo, bungalow, ketchup, punch, khaki, and jungle. Not to mention several thousand more loanwords from all over the planet. I will not mention them. But English isn't just a mix of vocabularies: it's also a mix of grammars.

One of the many charms (or aggravations) of English is its plurals. The easiest don't even require a change: deer, fish, moose.  Other easy ones all end in s: cats, dogs. Fussier ones take an s but have a consonant change: leaf/leaves; house/houses; mouth/mouths. The oddest (and oldest) require a vowel change to make the plural: geese, men, mice, lice, brethren, cistern (kidding), and my favorite, women. Women is my favorite because both vowels change to make the plural. German, one of English's cousins, requires vowel changes even more than English does. How nice that in German the change may be indicated by an umlaut, those two dots that occasionally appear over its vowels. Like so: Mötley Crüe. Just kidding. I mean like so: ä,  ö,  ü. Thus in German there is one Buch/ book, and two Büche; one Hand, two Hände. The umlauted vowels sound different. If we used such marks, we might spell particular plurals like this: man/ män; woman/ wömän; and goose/ göse. English umlauts all sorts of words, not just nouns (e.g., sink/sank/sunk); but doesn't ever use the marks.

Now Anglophones learning German often don't want to worry about the umlauts; they're content to show the plain vowels. After all, English don't need no stinkin' umlauts to indicate vowel change...but failure to use the umlaut can radically change a word's meaning.

Here's a little Anglo-Deutsch example which visually makes the point.

With an Umlaut:

Without an Umlaut:

Which example is your favorite? Well, probably neither one...but you get the, uh, point.


Catholic Cruise Lady 1

Warning: this is not a catechetical post.

 My Wife the Travel Agent advertises in the diocesan newspaper as the Catholic Cruise Lady. She doesn't blog, but I think her cruise stuff is interesting, so I'm posting a link to her brochure for a recent cruise we took on The World's Biggest & Largest Cruise Ship Which is Five Times Bigger & Larger Than the Titanic:

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas

And afterward she posted the following review of the cruise at the Cruise Critic website:

We sailed Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas May 14-21, 2011, Western Caribbean itinerary from Fort Lauderdale with ports of call in Labadee (Haiti), Falmouth (Jamaica), and Cozumel (Mexico). This was our 12th cruise: 5th on Royal Caribbean and we have also sailed 5 times on Norwegian and once each on Celebrity and Carnival. On this cruise we had my husband and me (53 and 60 respectively), our 3 youngest kids, aged 21 and a pair of 19 year olds, my mother (age 83), and a friend along as her roommate.


We live in South Carolina and will usually opt to drive to embarkation ports in Florida rather than flying. Parking cost us $15/ day for our minivan, which is a bargain compared to 5 airline tickets. We spent the night before our cruise at the Days Inn Bahia Cabana at Fort Lauderdale Beach and I heartily recommend this motel. The rooms are spacious if not glamorous, with good air conditioning and free wifi available for Internet access in the rooms. Best of all was the open-air restaurant overlooking the marina with a live band at night. It was also incredibly convenient to scoot over to the port in the morning as we were able to take a short-cut from the 17th street causeway, and never had to get back out to the main roads … sweet!


Our entire family found Oasis of the Seas to be a mixed bag, and in the end I would NOT rate this ship as my favorite Royal Caribbean sailing experience. On the one hand, the ship itself is nothing short of amazing, and it was worth it to take a cruise on Oasis … once … just to see the ship because there is nothing else like it on the high seas. Both embarkation and disembarkation were a breeze moving thousands of people on and off the ship at a remarkably fast clip. We also found that despite only having forward and aft elevator banks (no centrum), we never waited for elevators, and people were easily whisked up and down between decks with no muss or fuss. Many of the public spaces like the inside Promenade mall seemed graciously grand and open, and my husband noted that the spacing of seats in the theater was more generous than on other ships, with more leg room than he usually finds. We also had no trouble whatsoever getting our bearings and finding our way around after a few hours onboard. It may take a little longer for somebody unfamiliar with the Voyager or Freedom class ships; Oasis is much bigger, but once you figure out what is stacked on top of what, for example Central Park is on top of the Promenade, it makes easy sense. Also, as an aside, the week we sailed we had Richard Spacey as our cruise director, and he has to be the most hysterically funny cruise director we have ever encountered; his quirky good humor with goofy body language and always those crazy socks was a joy.

We had Central Park view staterooms which were both comfortable and very spacious, especially with the bay window with a window seat added in. I chose this type of accommodation to get the most of the unique Central Park; we could look out on the park both morning and night which was lovely. We also ate breakfast most days at the Central Park Café which was quick and easy so long as you can be happy with an extremely limited menu and paper cups for your coffee. If nothing else, it was better than coping with the Windjammer Café which seemed too small (always people wandering around looking for a place to sit – it didn’t have the panorama open feel of other Windjammer Cafes) and it seemed poorly organized compared to Windjammer Cafes on Freedom Class and Voyager Class ships.

In addition to the one-of-a-kind Central Park there are other remarkable properties of Oasis of the Seas, and most readers will already know the list, especially the outdoor boardwalk with its magical carousel (although I rarely saw anyone on it) and the incredible Aqua Theater which was well attended for both the water shows and also smaller venue outdoor theater. Beyond that, however, most of the bells and whistles like the interior Promenade with its tasty pizza parlor, café, English pub and more, or Studio B offering ice skating for the guests and a fabulous ice show can be found on Freedom class and Voyager class ships too, so for our family at least, these “perks” would not be a draw by themselves to sail Oasis or her sister ship, Allure of the Seas. So beyond what can gleaned from reviewing deck plans, how did the actual experience of sailing Oasis of the Seas compare to sailing other Royal Caribbean ships?


We have always found the staterooms to be comfortable on Royal Caribbean. Our cabins on Oasis of the Seas were larger than industry standards, the beds were comfortable and there were plush bathrobes in the closet – a nice touch. We were able to access the Internet on our laptop from the stateroom which was super convenient for checking in on work back home. One thing I really like about Royal Caribbean (really really really like) is their policy for booking families. Many cruise lines have their computer systems rigged so that it is difficult or even impossible to book a stateroom without having somebody over 21 in each cabin. This places a particular hardship on large families with 2 parents but several children, more than 2 cabins worth of warm bodies. On Royal Caribbean, if Mom and Dad say that the kids are old enough to have their own bedroom, then Royal Caribbean says okay too. Children need to either be next door or across the hall from Mom and Dad, but that is usually easy enough to arrange. So when we sail Royal Caribbean, our two 19 year old daughters can be booked into their own stateroom and it’s no hassle. On many other cruise lines we still have to split them up on paper with my husband listed in one cabin and me in the other, then we swap rooms onboard so the girls are together and so are my husband and I … a senseless charade which is a nuisance … and it’s nice to skip the hassle on Royal Caribbean.


We did not visit any of the specialty restaurants for dinner so I regret I cannot comment on these. We did have lunch at the Seafood Shack one day. It was tasty but I am not sure it was worth paying a surcharge for fish and chips. We’d planned to get a burger at Johnny Rockets at one point but didn’t realize we’d have to pay extra for that too, which seemed even less logical given that we could get a burger up by the pool for free (I knew there was a charge for the milkshakes, but didn’t realize the hamburgers carried a fee too). We were not impressed with the layout of the Windjammer Café on this ship, although my husband sometimes braved the crowds to find some light fare on days when we were out by the pool because the food was nevertheless delicious (especially the curries!). The food in the main dining room at dinner was also very good, and the service was excellent. Our waiter (Fajar) and assistant waiter (Alvin) were entertaining as well as conscientious to do a good job. We also had no trouble picking up a quick lunch on the Promenade at Sorrento’s or the Café Promenade. In any event, it’s impossible to go hungry on a Royal Caribbean cruise! There is always a variety of food available.


This is where it gets sticky. Was the entertainment good? YES! It was the best we have ever seen on any Royal Caribbean cruise bar none. I still maintain that I have seen some better shows in the past on Norwegian Cruise Line, but this was the best ever on Royal Caribbean. BUT - and this is a really big but - kudos to Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure - the way entertainment is “administered” on Oasis of the Seas is ABSOLUTELY AWFUL. I was so fed up after the first two days I was ready to jump ship, and I love cruising and am pretty good about rolling with the punches. The funny thing about Oasis of the Seas is that it is a gargantuan ship with some very grand public spaces, but most of the ship is filled with itsy little cabaret-sized venues … dozens of them. Just when you are expecting to enjoy a nice relaxing cruise, where dinner is served and you expect to enjoy some interesting entertainment after … you discover that it doesn’t work that way on this ship. Nope, everything is scheduled and I mean scheduled in advance of you even showing up to board. Everything is by reservation, and because the venues are mostly small and there are thousands of people competing for seats … well … it’s mayhem. I tried to make some reservations before we left home (although I really didn’t want to have to do this – it’s a pain to have to schedule your onboard “vacation” hour by hour weeks before you travel) but found the online booking wasn’t working. I was told no problem, just take care of it from the convenience of your stateroom after you board.

Okay. We got onboard and my husband pulled up the screen on the television in our stateroom but alas … the reservation function was not working. We later learned that as far as we could figure it out, we would only have been able to book our stateroom anyway, so would have had to go door to door to book the kids and grandmother’s reservations from their television screens – an incredible nuisance. But because the screens were not working the day we boarded, we were instructed to go down to Studio B (where the ice arena is located) to make our reservations. So I trooped down there, and after an hour of waiting in line it was my turn to request reservations. Naturally some of the shows I had penciled in were already closed, so after more time spent working with a staff person rearranging everything, I got as decent a schedule (and it very much IS a schedule) as I could get and he keyed it into the computer. Good to go, right? Not so fast.

That night we showed up early for our first show (Hairspray) only to discover that our reservation was not in the system. In fact, they checked, and only one of the reservations I’d made for the entire week actually had registered in the computer. And I stood in line for an hour and worked with a staffer to piece together a week-long itinerary for THIS? So we waited in the stand-by line and at the last minute were able to get in for some lousy seats way off to one side.

The next morning I marched down to customer relations to try to sort out the “reservations” but of course was told that everything was booked up, which was phenomenally irritating given that we were supposed to be among those who had gone to the trouble to make reservations. To make a long story short, we DID wind up seeing all the shows, but sometimes we had to see what I would expect to be an after dinner show during the afternoon, but then had nothing to do after dinner, and in every case except one we had to stand in the stand-by line to wait to see if somebody with reservations didn’t show up so we could get in. Mind you, it wasn’t much better for those who did have working reservations because if they didn’t get there early, the staff started letting in the stand-bys to replace those who were presumed to be no-shows. Perhaps the biggest irony of all is that with rare exception, most of the shows were not even full. My guess is people got so frustrated with the annoying system that they gave up on seeing the shows at all.

Royal Caribbean needs to SERIOUSLY rework the entertainment venues on Oasis of the Seas. A ship this size needs to have AT LEAST 2 large theaters and there need to be shows going in there – 2 or 3 a night – every night of the cruise so that everyone has the option to see a show after dinner – or before if you prefer to catch a late dinner after the show instead. No guest should be expected to stand in line for 45 minutes to an hour every single night – and sometimes twice in a single night - to see if maybe they might be able to enjoy some entertainment that evening – that’s nuts and completely unacceptable. They also need to get rid of their crazy reservation system, which apparently doesn’t work very well anyway. Instead, have a couple big theaters – at least two - with shows running at different times each night and with first come first served seating. Readily visible electronic boards can tell passengers which shows have seats remaining, and there can be smaller shows (Aqua Show, Ice Show, other performers in clubs) on the boards too so guests can plan their time day by day instead of weeks ahead. If the big theaters ran different shows for a few days on alternating nights, it would be possible to catch each show, but as it was, some nights nothing was going on in the large main theater at all. The whole entertainment scene was very badly managed and it cast a pall on the cruise experience – not just for our family but for lots of others who were complaining too.

Outside of the main theater most of the venues were quite small, I suppose to alleviate the sense of being on a huge ship, but the odd thing is most of them were nearly empty most nights. The comedy club was an exception – always stuffed with long lines of people trying to get in (hint to Royal Caribbean – the comedy show needs to be one of your headliners in the big theater!), and the trivia games were well attended and the occasional karaoke did okay, but more often than not we’d pop into a bar and 8 people would be there, go to another and see 5, and a third pub to find a dozen people. It was very odd really – where WAS everybody? Our kids found the same. Instead of having one main nightclub catering to the young adult all night disco crowd, they were always running back and forth up and down elevators between multiple clubs all on different decks trying to find their friends and make connections. At the end of the day, I suspect fewer clubs a little larger in size would serve everyone better. I felt so sorry for the large number of excellent musicians scattered throughout the ship that were putting on their shows for half a dozen people, who might wander out for no reason other than wondering where their friends were.

Special mention goes to the combo playing in the Viking Crown Lounge, the Standard Time Trio. We found them to be engaged with the audience (which was usually disappointingly small; I suspect many people had no idea that club was even there way up on deck 17). The vocalist, Melanie, would visit the tables on their breaks, and she also took requests from the audience. It was a pleasure having a lounge that was glamorously appointed where you had entertainment but could also carry on a conversation with others at the same time. For Royal Caribbean regulars, the Viking Crown Lounge on Oasis was much smaller than on other RCCL ships – really only a high ceilinged bar overlooking a couple of the pools but no 360 view like on Sovereign class or Vision class, and not even a 180 view like the later generation ships, with another bar and card room located behind. Instead, most of the deck was suites, with the Viking Crown Lounge occupying a sliver overlooking the pools (forget seeing much of the sea – this ship is so huge the water is often way far away and what you see when you get a vista view is the boat and more of the boat).

Another special mention goes to Katia Labozzetta and her superb jazz quartet that played most evenings in Jazz on 4. We thoroughly enjoyed their music and again found them eager to play requests (the “boy” from Ipanema was especially good). But again, very few people were in the audience, and in this case I attribute that to the venue itself. Frankly, Jazz on 4 was an unpleasant space. It was small, decorated as if to serve as Dracula’s lair (and this has what to do with jazz one might wonder?), but worst of all, there was a constant flow of staff coming in and cutting in-between the audience and the band on their way to a door on the far side of the room. I have no idea what was behind that door, but bar servers and officers alike were continually trooping in and out (sometimes chatting as they went by), which was distracting. It’s a pity that Katia Labozzetta and her jazz quartet were not offered the On-Air Club on the Promenade which as often as not was also mostly empty, and the stage in there wasn’t even being used except occasionally for karaoke or music trivia.


Our cruise had only 3 ports of call, which suited us fine as we enjoy at sea days.


We had been to Labadee less than a year ago on Liberty of the Seas, so we limited our stay onshore to the barbecue lunch which was delicious, and some lollygagging on the beach accompanied by the local rum cocktail beverage, the Labadoozy.


Although I have spent time in Jamaica, this was the first visit for everyone else, and since I knew the port was barely opened – it’s still under construction – I booked a shore excursion here. We did the Mountain Rafting which we all thoroughly enjoyed! My one caveat is this: this is a new port and my guess is Royal Caribbean is dealing with a variety of new shore excursion vendors. I lived and worked in Jamaica years ago so I should have been better prepared, but these folks, while warm and friendly, are also very entrepreneurial and for better or worse, when they see cruise ships their assumption is that everyone on board is made of money and it is their sovereign duty to relieve each of you of as much of it as they can.We were presented with preprinted forms from the Jamaicans informing us what they expected as a customary tip for the rafting – a hefty sum I might add – and at every turn in the excursion we were reminded that if we enjoyed so-and-sos presentation that we should show our appreciation and a basket or bucket was prominently displayed for us to pony up more tips. I reported this to Royal Caribbean and my guess is it will be addressed with the locals, BUT just the same, be smart and take plenty of small bills with you so you can appear to be generous should you be so inclined, but not lose your shirt with only $20 bills in your wallet! And PLEASE remember, the rate of exchange on the US dollar to Jamaican dollar is US$1 = J$84.65 at this writing. They do not NEED a US$20 tip in addition to what you already paid for the excursion – this coming from somebody who worked down there as an archaeologist and dealt with the locals in their own local economy. Buyer Beware.

Aside from that unpleasant tidbit, I highly recommend this tour! The river rafting was splendid – very scenic and relaxing. The river tour was followed by a presentation on Jamaican liqueurs – with tastings – and a demonstration on making pina coladas from scratch starting with a coconut and pineapple – and we got to sample that too. A tasty barbecue lunch followed (expect to buy your drink however - US$2 each), and then a demonstration on how coconuts can be used, and then a jaunt up to see a “banana plantation” which was actually not really a plantation at all but rather just another demonstration in a slightly different location, this time on all the uses of banana plants, which was fascinating.


We were just down here over New Year’s Eve on another cruise, but honestly, it’s hard to not enjoy Cozumel as many times as you return (this was our 4th visit in 6 years). We had planned to hit the beach (any one of many – they are all lovely), but we were already extra crispy after too much sun the day before at sea, so elected to do some shopping in San Miguel instead, especially since our plans to buy souvenirs in Jamaica were squelched by spending all our souvenir cash on tips! We ended the day with cool beverages at Carlos and Charlie’s.

Please feel free to contact me directly ( if you have any questions about Oasis of the Seas, or about cruising in general.

Janet LeBlanc

This post has been linked to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Top Three Ax

This post got my attention recently: list your three favorite Bible verses. I tried picking three; couldn't do it.

I decided to set a lower standard for myself and pick three favorites from the Ax of the Apostles, which coincidentally are discussed in Catechism class...which makes this a catechetical post.  Here they are, the Top Three Ax:

"And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed." (Ax 14:23)

Paul and Barnabas did not allow the new flocks to hire their own shepherds. Paul and Barnabas appointed shepherds for them (although the congregations could propose candidates). As God spoke through Jeremiah: "I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding," and "I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, says the LORD."

"For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things" (Ax 15:28)

The Apostles, Paul, Barnabas, and the elders meet in Jerusalem, and decide on their own authority that clear Scriptural instructions about the necessity of circumcision (and other observances) simply do not apply to Christians, thus rendering whole swathes of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy null and void. And to top it off, this proto-Magisterium also confidently says the Holy Spirit agrees with them! The effrontery! The authority! Take that, you newly-baptized Pharisees!

"And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them."  (Ax 19:11)

Can Sacraments really be more than symbols? Can they effect spiritual changes in those who receive them? How about relics? Is there any value in a saint's clothes or body parts? This post-Ascension passage suggests there is.

In conclusion, picking 3 verses only from Ax was harder than I expected.

I know that's not much of a conclusion, but school's out for the summer.