Saturday, November 28, 2015

Duke Chapel

Just down the road from UNC is Duke University. The central attraction on Duke campus is Duke Chapel. It is an impressive structure and I highly recommend seeing it if you are ever in North Carolina. Currently it is undergoing renovations and will be closed until May 2016.
Inside the main entrance way. On one side are three "saints" of Protestantism, Girolamo Savonarola, Martin Luther, and John Wycliffe. On the other side are three "saints" of the South,  Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, and Sidney Lanier. 
Over the main archway are the three Bishops of American Methodism, Francis Asbury (center), Thomas Coke (left) and George Whitefield (right). Inside the arch, directly over the door is John Wesley, who founded Methodism.

Friday, November 20, 2015

What are the most commonly sung LDS hymns? DATA NEEDED

[Link to hymn form.]

This year is the 30th anniversary of the current LDS hymnbook. Because I love playing with data and numbers I was wondering what were the most commonly sung LDS hymns. There are a few people who have looked at the most commonly sung hymns at General Conference, but the hymns sung at Conference aren't always the same hymns we sing in church every Sunday. Someone at BYU did do an informal poll, but I wanted a slightly larger sample.

I plan on keeping track of which hymns are sung in my ward every week, but to get a larger sample I need data from other wards. So if you want to help out, at the very top of this post, and also below, I have a link to a Google form where you can enter which hymns were sung in your ward. You only have to enter hymn numbers to make it easier. So this Sunday when you go to church take note of the hymn numbers and enter them into the form. It should take no more than 15-20 seconds.

I am looking for hymns sung in any meeting. That includes Sacrament Meeting, Stake Conference, and Priesthood or Relief Society meetings. If you sing a hymn for Seminary or Institute you can enter that as well. If you can only enter data for one Sunday that is just great. But if you feel like contributing more to the data collection you can keep coming back every week and enter more hymns. I'll put a link to the form in the sidebar, or you can bookmark the link (like me), so you can find it easily. You can also collect the data in a text document or spreadsheet (maybe you are the person in your ward who chooses the hymns) and send it to me. I got 6 months worth of data from a ward in Australia because the ward music director kept a record of it and sent it to me. So what ever is easiest.

I plan on collecting data from my ward for at least two years (I have been collecting data for the past month and a half already). This ensures that I get data from Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Pioneer Day and everything in between. I want to augment this a larger sample from other wards. I realize not everyone is a data nerd like me, so I set it up to make it simple so anyone can contribute, even if it is only for one Sunday. If you want to contribute more that would be great.

So why am I doing this?

Like I said, I like data, and I like numbers. Sometimes those numbers tell us things we didn't expect. I love the hymns, and this is one way that I can learn more about them and how we interact with the hymns. Some people may be curious just which hymns are sung all the time, and which one we never sing. This is intended to answer those questions. At some future date the church may decide to redo the hymnbook and it might be helpful to know which ones we sing all the time and which ones we never touch.

In a broader sense, and anyone who loves data and numbers like me knows this, if the data is there we will find some use for it, but if we never gather it we will never know what we can discover.

I should point out that the most commonly sung hymns may not be the most popular. There are constraints on time, or ability which may skew the numbers (one year in seminary we sang "Choose the Right" nearly every day because only one person could play the piano and that was the only song she knew well enough to play). Just because a song is not sung frequently doesn't mean people don't like it, or it isn't popular. So this may just tell us which songs are easy to sing and commonly known.

I hope you choose to help out. If you have any questions just leave a comment or email me at [the title of this blog]

I will provide, or link to any updates to this project. Like I said, I plan on this being a long term project to get enough data. Please share this with friends and family (but try not to duplicate data with more than one person per ward), so I can get as much data as possible. Please.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Heavens and God: Contain Vs. Sustain

"But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!"
There was a small translation oddity that I noted while reading in 2 Chronicles in a passage where King Solomon is dedicating the temple in Jerusalem. At one point in the dedicatory prayer King Solomon asks if God will dwell on the earth, because if the heavens themselves are insufficient for God then how much more is a simple temple insufficient for God. This is where the translation gets interesting.

In 2 Chronicles 6:18 records, "The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you." [emphasis added]. Here the Hebrew word translated as "contain" is יְכַלְכְּל֔וּךָ. But if we look up how the word, its root, and derivatives are used in other verses we get a different sense for the word. The general meaning of the root word is "to comprehend, contain", while various roots are also translated as: endure, maintain, provide, provided, provided them with sustenance, provisioned, sustain, sustained, and sustainer.

The general idea is that the primitive root implies a measured container that can be filled with a certain amount of stuff. But in a figurative sense it implies providing a measured amount of sustenance, hence passages such as Genesis 45:11 are translated as "I will provide [וְכִלְכַּלְתִּ֤י] for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute." Or Nehemiah 9:21 which reads, "For forty years you sustained [כִּלְכַּלְתָּ֥ם] them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen."

While the root form of word is translated as "contain" or "hold", for example, 1 Kings 7:38 reads, "He then made ten bronze basins, each holding [יָכִ֣יל] forty baths and measuring four cubits across, one basin to go on each of the ten stands.", all other variants of the word are translated as "provide", "sustain", "maintain" or some other variant of a similar concept, except for three instances relating to the same question asked in 2 Chronicles 6:18. Two of those are from the dedicatory prayer as recorded in Chronicles and Kings, and the other is uttered by King David when he is commanded to prepare to build the temple, the language of which is later mirrored by his son King Solomon.

It just seemed a little odd that a word which is almost always translated in the figurative sense as "provide", "sustain", "maintain" or some other variant, would be reduced to the literal sense as "contain" in the three cases where it refers to God. I just wonder on what basis the translators decided to go against the common definition of the word for those three verses and insert "contain" instead of "sustain". If we instead translate יְכַלְכְּל֔וּךָ as "sustain" we see that it changes the sense of the verse in such a subtle way that it can imply something very different about God.
"But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot sustain you. How much less this temple I have built!"
In the first case the verse implies an extraphysicality to God which belies a particular view of God as incorporeal. While the second case simply implies that the heavens themselves are insufficient to sustain the majesty of God, and that an insignificant building would do no better. The first makes a metaphysical judgement on God, while the second merely casts judgement on the heavens and the temple. It is easy to see why so many modern Christians would not question the first translation, but the question to ask is if there is a basis for those ideas in the Bible, in the original autographs, or if those where ideas were introduced later and no one stopped to ask if they were correct, or if they fit with other, plainer scriptures.

Sometimes there are subtleties in translation that cause original meanings to be lost, and new ones to appear. Sometimes it is a small and seemingly insignificant thing, and that is why we must be careful not to take a particular word, or verse and draw conclusions from that which may not be correct.