What He Said

He said, “Jackass.” That’s what he said. What he said is not nearly as funny as what she said. And yet it’s as meaningful in a very different sort of way.

(Do mind the fact, however, that there’s no binary, no absolutely opposite meaning difference between the clause “that’s what he said” and the clause “that’s what she said.” Do notice also how marked the feminine pronoun she makes the clause, while there’s nothing sexual or demeaning that it means when the unmarked pronoun he is used. Is that just the way language is? Or is that the way we are, using language, splitting it up to split up our world and the people around us in it?

One reason I’m sharing such a personal story is that what is said by anyone can still evoke laughter, and more than that it may be brought on by – and definitely does bring on – love.)

He said “Jackass” about himself. That is, that’s what my Dad called himself this weekend in front of my Mom and my wife and his sons, my eldest brother and me. He’d called us together to ask our advice about talking with his oncologist regarding a particular option for cancer treatment. He’d driven to my brother’s house, or rather he’d let our Mom drive since he isn’t supposed to drive these days, not supposed to drive due to the effects of the cancer treatments on his body now.

The significances here are with his mind, his language. He’s sharper than ever in terms of his intelligence and his vocabulary. He’s seeing and thinking and talking more cogently than ever. He’s facing death, but as he wins certain battles against the disease he’s facing life too, and renewed relationships in living, in new ways. “I’m not afraid to die,” he said. “I’m seeing things more clearly than ever so that I’m now afraid to live… if I don’t change.” He told the story of Mom driving and his struggling with not driving, not struggling so much with the fact that he wasn’t behind the wheel when they were driving over but that she wasn’t moving the vehicle in the directions in traffic the way she should. And, he said, he wasn’t happy with the drivers around her either.

(The dirty little secret of the word complementarian as he’d used that word to interpret the Bible as giving him his God-given position in his marriage as always the driver is that the “completion” he’d gotten from her as his “helpmate” meant that she never drove and was always silent about giving directions so that they got whereever they were going by his “headship” and “leadership.” She was the “body” in the marriage; and the “follower.” Before they’d driven to my brother’s house this past weekend, my Dad had even written publicly, a couple of days earlier, of my Mom as “God’s instrument and helpmate” for him.)

Why, he said to us further then, does any of that matter anymore? Why, he also asked, did it ever matter so much to him? Why had he for so long been such a jackass? He cried. Mom cried too, saying all she had wanted when she woke up that morning was to find a map, the map that would help them get from their house to my brother’s. That’s what she said. Then she burst into laughter at and in all the emotion of the moment there; and he was laughing with her; they were laughing together; and we all were enjoying their laughter by laughing, with them and all together. We’d shared a meal already, barbecue and salad and bread, and tears too had filled us, in full measure. He apologized to her, and to my brother for what he said had been his “selective love.” Love had been conditional towards some members of the family, he said.

I remember as a little kid hearing him say to me not to say “Jackass.” As an adult, I heard it. He said it. That’s what he said. His language is changing. And what he showed us this weekend is that sometimes if you just say jackass then you can’t so easily be one anymore. My Dad’s love isn’t selective love so much any more, and I say he’s more alive than ever. We all are with him.


17 responses to “What He Said

  1. What a great story about your family, probably my favorite of everything I’ve read of yours…

    My parents have also shifted a lot as they get older, and it is interesting observing the change.

    • Thanks Nathan. That means a lot, coming from you and hearing of your experience too. Isn’t it interesting how language is involved in life change too?

  2. Hi Kurk

    I’m not yet a week back from holiday, so I’m still playing catch up (including blogs). As a result, I’ve just read what you wrote in your post on September 4th, where you mentioned your father.

    Now I didn’t want to get caught up in the middle of any of the later discussions, so I just picked this post as possibly the least unsuitable.

    I have (1) a favour to ask and (2) a trailer for a forthcoming production:

    If you have time at some point I’d appreciate anything you might have to offer on “logikos” in 1 Peter 2:2. I know you’ve mentioned Aristotle’s “logic” in a number of posts, but I wondered if you’ve posted anything on “logikos” in the NT.

    Our study group is going to be looking First Peter, starting next Wednesday. I’m sure it will take us a while before we get to chapter 2 (we meet twice a month), so please note that there’s no immediate urgency. Any thoughts or links, as and when, would be welcome.

    In 1 Peter most seem to translate it as “spiritual”, which I find strange (although I realise that derivation isn’t necessarily a good clue to present meaning). Elsewhere in the NT the word only occurs in Romans 12:1, where a rendering like “reasonable” or “rational” seems to make sense. But two uses, by two different authors, doesn’t give me much to go on. Danker (I have his “Concise Lexicon”) rejects “spiritual”, and suggests “metaphorical”.

    If the idea of “reasonable” is appropriate, then perhaps the idea could be that the “milk” which “new babies” desire is called “reasonable” because it’s something that it’s reasonable for such to desire. That might give us something like:

    “Like newborn babies, desire pure milk – the milk it is reasonable [for you to desire], so that in it you may [find sustenance to] grow …”

    While on holiday I started looking at Psalm 8. That was possibly a big mistake: the problem is that giving up would have meant I’d wasted my time, but pressing on might mean wasting even more. (I’m not very good on the “when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging” idea – more like a dog with a bone.)

    I nearly did give up, but came up with a few ideas (I hesitate to call them solutions), so I kept going. Then on Tuesday evening, as I rewrote verse 2 for the umpteenth time, I found the result had certain rhythm, so experimented to see if I could apply that to the whole Psalm, fully expected not to, but did. So now I’ve just got to resolve a few points, then I’ll let you read the result sometime next week.

    Whether or not you like it, from past experience you’ll perhaps enjoy it.

    May God bless you and yours.

    With kind regards,


    • Hi John,

      It’s good to hear from you again. Thank you for your two-part comment. I’ll look forward to reading your translation of the line in Psalm 8, especially as you apply to it its “certain rhythm.” Thanks for the trailer; I’ll watch for the whole production!

      Now, back to the first part of your comment; I only remember blogging on the word “logic” in Romans 12. I believe I’ve done so a few time. Once I compared what Paul writes and how some have rendered it as English:

      τὴν λογ·ικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν / tḕn log-ikḕn latreían hmōn / (Paul to Greeks and Jews in Rome)
      which is your spiritual worship (ESV)
      this is true worship (TNIV)
      which is your rational worship (Lattimore)
      This is your reasonable service (Nyland)
      Which is your reasonable temple worship (Barnstone)
      which is that aristotle-logical, statement-istical temple service of yours (Gayle)

      My translation is over-the-top (sort-of-Everett-Fox-like); but I’m trying to emphasize how technical (how specialized) the word λογικ* is. Let me add my judgment that Lattimore’s “rational” is very good, Nyland’s and Barnstone’s “reasonable” is fine, but the ESV’s and the (T)NIV’s respective “spiritual” and “true” are suspect. There’s a long struggle over the power of language (of “logos”) in Greek, from which Aristotle famously derives his logic (“logike”). In one old post, the one where I offer the comparison of translations, I try to get at that some: http://speakeristic.blogspot.com/2009/10/double-trouble-in-greek-bible.html.

      In other posts related, I tried to compare Paul and Aristotle. Nonetheless, as far I as remember, I’ve not thought much or blogged any on Peter’s motivation for using τὸ λογικὸν. In context, I’d say the phrase must clearly be attached to another modifier and the head noun, as a whole, like this: τὸ λογικὸν ἄδολον γάλα. Lattimore has the best translation of it I’ve found, considering all the Greek wrangling over the concept of “logos” and “rhetoric” and “persuasion” and “deception” and “guile.” Lattimore renders Peter’s phrase as “the guileless milk of reason.” The larger context has it as follows:

      “This is the word [ῥῆμα] which was brought to you as gospel. Putting aside, therefore, all malice and treachery and hypocrisy and envious thoughts and calumnies, crave, like newborn babies, the guileless milk of reason…”

      Lattimore rightly brings in the last sentence of I Peter 1 as the very first sentence of the paragraph that begins I Peter 2. Peter has quoted the Septuagint speaking of God’s word (or “rhema” ῥῆμα) from which, incidentally, the word “rhetoric” is derived. I’m not trying to make anything big of the etymologies here, and I don’t think Peter was either. But since he’d used not “logos” but “rhema” from the quotation of the older scripture, his readers know for certain as they continue on that he’s talking about solid and reasonable “logos” – notably “logikos” or “logik.” It has very little to do with spirituality, in my view. It has everything to do with how convincing, how sure, God’s word is. And, therefore, and henceforth, and so on, Peter’s readers should crave it like a baby does milk. (In parentheses, I’ll add that Barnstone’s rendering copies Lattimore’s, the former translator admires the latter — no pun intended. And yet, Barnstone fails to make the paragraph break before the end of the first chapter as Lattimore does. For Lattimore’s readers, “word” is a key beginning to what follows. Nyland misses here altogether, and with many others, goes with “spiritual.” And Danker’s “metaphorical” seems wrong as well.)

      I do hope that helps some, if not so much for your study group, then for our further conversation.

      Warm regards!

  3. Hi Kurk,

    Thank you for the comments on “logikos”. I mentioned I was playing around with Psalm 8 partly to set myself a vague deadline, as otherwise I could be doing rewrites without end.

    It’s about 10 years or so since our group last studied 1 Peter. To be honest, I’m not sure why we’re revisiting it, as there are other books (such as 1 John) that I’d really like the incentive to look at in detail. Anyway, at least it will give be the chance to see whether the “expanded translation” I produced last time still makes sense, although I wasn’t encouraged to see I’d just gone with “spiritual” in 2:2.

    Your input is appreciated as a basis for getting me to rethink that verse and its context.

    Many thanks

    • Hi John,
      Your questions about Peter’s “logik” are making me think again too. I’ve been re-reading Naomi Seidman’s Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation and Tom Thatcher’s Jesus the Riddler: The Power of Ambiguity in the Gospels, books that make a compelling case of wordplay by Jewish writers and rhetors. I’m thinking now of Jesus, and his “Peter” (or “Kêfâ”), and even Paul, as Jewish writers and rhetors. Maybe I’ll write a blogpost soon along these lines. Why “logik” from Paul (to those in Rome, e.g. Romans 12:1)? Why does Peter (or someone using his name, e.g., 2 Peter 3:16) say Paul is difficult? Why is Peter the only other one in the Greek Bible to use logik, the word, explicitly? There may be more to the riddle here than at first glance.

  4. Hi Kurk,

    When I commented earlier on this thread that I just had to “resolve a few points”, it seems I was being rather optimistic. In fact I ended up completely rewriting some sections where the metre was faulty. That in turn led to quite a lot of other changes (including expanding the opening half line, “O LORD, our Lord”, into a pair of lines). So with other things taking priority, it’s been on the backburner for some time, as I kept trying a new line here, or recasting a bit there.

    In the end I decided that the only way to stop me tinkering with it was to move on to something else. (In the short term, that something else turned out to be Psalm 121, but I don’t expect it to take nearly as long.)

    I doubt the rendering itself is worth all the effort, but there were some related benefits which perhaps made the exercise worthwhile overall for me. (Those included gaining a better understanding of metre and stress in English, and seeing that (1) it’s possible to say essentially the same thing a variety of ways, but that (2) no two wordings actually convey exactly the same meaning, although the differences may be subtle.)

    I’ll put the rendering by itself in the next comment. I hope you enjoy it.

  5. Psalm 8

    1 O LORD, the Ever-Living One,
    … the only Lord we own as ours,
    how awe-inspiring is your name,
    … as evidenced throughout the earth;
    the wondrousness of all you are –
    … it towers far above the skies.

    2 But it is in things children say,
    … and babies at their mothers’ breast,
    that we can glimpse what lies beneath
    … your firmly-founded universe.
    Thus you confound your enemies,
    … and give the lie to those who think
    that winning is what life’s about –
    … and getting even when we don’t.

    3 So when I look up at the skies,
    … and see there things your fingers made,
    the moon and stars you put in place –
    … then that is when I ask myself:
    4 Just what regarding humankind
    … makes you remember them at all?
    What trait that Adam’s offspring show
    … prompts your involvement in their lives?

    5 Yet you created them to be
    … just little lower than if gods;
    then crowned that honour with still more,
    … and even shared your glory too,
    6 when you did delegate to them
    … rule over what your hands had made:
    you put it all into their care,
    … and under their authority –
    7 all animals of flock and herd,
    … and even those that roam the wild;
    8 the birds that soar and fill the skies;
    … the fish that make the sea their home;
    and other things that travel paths
    … upon, within, or through the seas.

    9 O LORD, the Ever-Living One,
    … the only Lord we own as ours,
    how awe-inspiring is your name,
    … as evidenced throughout the earth.

    • Hi John,
      Thank you very much for sharing your translation of Psalm 8. Why “doubt the rendering itself is worth all the effort”? Yes, I think you enjoy it, and you certainly are keen on the subtle differences your words make. Please know that I’ll see things you may not (at first, or ever) intend; with that license, may I say I have some favorite lines of yours already? These:

      2 But it is in things children say,
      … and babies at their mothers’ breast,
      that we can glimpse what lies beneath
      … your firmly-founded universe.
      Thus you confound your enemies,

      The alliterations and near rhymes and the lyric verse are all striking. There’s much to hear in them again and over again. Then there’s the visual imagery, the sensory figures of bodies founded also, and confounded. (For these very same reasons I struggle most with your verse 4. Adam always seems so transliteral and, thus, a good bit abstract; and I want him personally to be human, the kind of creature of humankind; and his “offspring” can seem as technical. More Aristotle’s and Alexander’s Greekish than David’s Jewish Hebrew, to me. But you have it very well elsewhere, especially and remarkably with verse 2). Thank you.

      • John Radcliffe

        Thank you (again) for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

        I’m not sure I follow your reference to “Adam” and his “offspring”, but if it helps the verbal digestion, feel free to go with “human beings” or whatever. Personally, I see “Adam” here as more of a nametag for the race than as a reference to its progenitor, whatever your take on that part of Genesis. On the other hand, I think there’s no doubt that Genesis 2 is in mind in v5.

        Why “doubt the rendering itself is worth all the effort”?

        I hate to think just how much time and effort I’ve spent on this rendering, but fortunately I did find the learning experience rewarding in itself. Understanding how words work at this level isn’t something that comes easily to me (with my dyslexic’s ear), but that probably explains why I find it satisfying when I achieve a result that I like, one that sounds good (to my ear at least) and says what I want it to say, that is, what I hear the Psalmist saying (or hinting at).

        And really, that’s what I’m trying to achieve: wrapping ideas that are meaningful to me in appropriate words, so that they don’t jar when I read them. I’m trying to make these passages “mine” (and sometimes succeed).

        Another benefit is that, while turning the phrases over and over trying to get things to fit, I will sometimes see things that I would never have “got” by simply reading someone else’s rendering. That’s especially important, I think, when dealing with well known passages (as was definitely the case with Psalm 23). It’s also too easy to just go with second-hand solutions neatly packaged by commentators.

        That’s also why when studying a NT book I like to produce one of my patent “expanded translations” (a fairly literal “base text” with expansions of various kinds embedded in it). As I see it, if reading someone else’s translation didn’t bring out what the writer was saying when I read it before, it’s not likely to do so next time I read it either. On the other hand, for example, I am finding that my version of 1st Peter is making a lot of sense (to me) as I now re-read it some 10 years later.

      • John, Thanks for your further thoughts. I shouldn’t have said anything about verse 4. I just don’t like transliteration whether “metaphor” in English or Indonesian or “mockingbird” in Indonesian or “Adam” outside of Hebrew. Your rendering is lovely and I love it.

      • John Radcliffe

        I shouldn’t have said anything about verse 4.

        Kurk, while in posting my renderings I’m not looking for a detailed point-by-point critique, please still feel free to point out anything that particularly stands out, but for the wrong reasons! I might even agree with your comments. On the other hand, if you only ever expressed glowing approbation I might begin to doubt your sincerity.

        In this case I’m in two minds. On reflection, I’d agree that an explicit reference to Adam is probably out of place. I suspect I left it in (from my very first draft) basically because (1) I couldn’t think of an alternative that allowed me to keep the “son” idea as well (I hate those renderings that use terms such as “mortal”), and (2) the transliteration had certain appeal (at least for me).

        It just demonstrates, yet again, that translation is an art that involves weighing compromises, rather than a science with precise right-or-wrong answers (and a long way from a mechanical process).

      • if you only ever expressed glowing approbation I might begin to doubt your sincerity.

        Well, of course, John. And to be fair to us both, when I did make both positive and critical comments, you replied only to talk about the latter. How do you like your verse 2’s effect on me?! Yes, translation is an art, allowing also for a different sort of appreciation and critique than any work of science alone allows. (Since you bring up “mechanical” with process, I’ll just say this is precisely the thing I hate, usually, about mere transliteration — it’s the mechanical akin to what translator and translation theorist Anne Carson calls cliché, saying “We resort to cliché because it’s easier than trying to make up something new.”)

      • John Radcliffe

        when I did make both positive and critical comments, you replied only to talk about the latter.


        Perhaps I felt I could learn more from your (constructive) criticism than approbation; but I suspect the truth is that I find the latter harder to deal with (although both are staples of life).

        Although I rendered v4 first (my interest was drawn by its use in Hebrews 2, and dissatisfaction with how I’ve seen it rendered elsewhere), it was clear that if I was to render the whole Psalm I’d have to make some sense of v2.

        Of course v2 is also quoted in the NT, and this time by Jesus himself. That led me to wonder whether, in each case, I should feel bound by the form quoted in the NT, i.e. “praise” in v2 and “angels” in v4. I quickly decided in the negative; I think in each case the text was being used “as found” rather than in order to endorse a particular understanding or translation. (As an aside, I don’t understand why some translators replace “month” with “lips” as the source for such praise (e.g. Matt 21:16)? It’s not a natural transformation for me; I’d more naturally say “I heard it from his own mouth”, rather than his lips.)

        As things turned out, v2 is probably my favourite bit too, despite (or perhaps because of) being the freest. I couldn’t, for example, see what “revenge” or an “avenger” was about, until I came up with a rendering that seemed to fit. As a result, I even allowed myself a couple of contractions (I usually consider them a last resort), because I see them as almost quotations (of the way some people think, even if they might not say them aloud).

        So although I’m not uniformly happy with everything; overall, I’d have to admit to being pleased with the result. In this case I certainly think I’ve taken ownership of the Psalm; I can now relate to it in a way I couldn’t have done a couple of months ago.

      • Learning that you were interested in v4 first (for the reasons you give), I’m especially unhappy with myself for saying anything negative. Nonetheless, you have clearly worked to improve what you saw elsewhere as poor renderings of the verse.

        To make the Hebrew acknowledge the Greek of the writer of Hebrews or the Greek of the (LXX) quotation of Matthew seems tricky. Translator Willis Barnstone, at Matt 21:16, seems to direct his English reader back to the Greek (LXX) and not to worry with the original Hebrew: “And Yeshua answered, Yes, Have you never read in the Psalms: “From the mouths of children and infants You have composed praise for yourself”? In his fn, Barnstone makes explicit that this is “Septuagint,” but notice how he’s added “in the Psalms” (a transliteration of the Greek name for the Hebrew Tehillim) right into the text. (So please note that Paul did what you did by transliterating the Hebrew letters adam with letters of the language he uses for translation. There’s a place for transliteration, I believe, to signal certain things. As long as your English Adam somehow retains the ambiguous Hebrew senses and not some vacuous abstraction pointed singularly at the first man, then I think your rendering does fine. Paul’s contrasts in I Cor 15 v45 and v47 are just fascinating [ἄνθρωπος Ἀδὰμ] but not so clearly as dimensioned as the Hebrew he references. — Going back to Mt 21, since you mention “lips,” I have to agree that it’s just very odd and unfounded.)

        Going beyond Mt 21 v16, and back to your Psalm 8 v2, may I say something else? I just love how your language plays “lie” is so much less than “life’s” and “give the lie” nicely contrasts and complements “getting even” (both semantically and also alliteratively); likewise “who think” pairs with with “when we don’t” — which has hooked from “what life’s about” by way of the apostrophe and the “wh” and the ending “t”. It’s all pleasingly visual with enough semantic consonance and poetic alliteration to make the stanza sound and feel rather confounding. Yes, you own this well.

        Thus you confound your enemies,
        … and give the lie to those who think
        that winning is what life’s about –
        … and getting even when we don’t.

  6. I’m especially unhappy with myself for saying anything negative.

    Don’t be. (I’m unhappier with your unhappiness than I ever was at your honesty.)

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