Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Of Men and of Angels

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but I have not love, then I have become a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."

That's from one of St. Paul's letters to the church in Corinth.  It's a passage often read at weddings, probably because it speaks eloquently about agapic love.

I like it for another reason: it has a nice onomatopoeic pun in the Greek text.  Paul's "If I speak..." is lalo; his "clanging" is alaladzon, which sounds like the noise a gong makes and sounds like it could mean "un-speaking."  (In Greek, words that begin with "a-" are often like English words beginning with "un-".)

This week, as we approach the third Sunday in Advent, I was looking again at a poem I wrote during this week a few years ago, after the school shooting in Newtown.  In it I compared first responders and teachers and others who give up so much for the sake of the common good to angels.  That is my second-most read post ever.

The most-read post is one I wrote after Ferguson, about the militarization of our first responders, and the way the tools we equip ourselves with change the way we interact with the world - and with other people.

Both of these posts are about public servants.  Taken together they remind me that what is done in love can be heroic and life-giving, and what is done in fear can become tyrannical.  They remind me that we have a tendency to revere the outward signs of badges and uniforms, when we should judge characters by the habits they embody and by the actions that show the habits.

And they remind me that we have a long, long way to go before we can say we have learned to love one another.


I should add that even the title to this post is misleading.  The word Paul uses is not "men" but "humans." I like the cadence of the old translation "men" but the word is anthropon, not andron.  Normally I prefer the more inclusive (and more accurate) "humans" but I first learned this verse in an older, poetic translation and the rhythm of it has stuck with me.

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