Category Archives: culture

A Sad Contrast

A bit of context for this quote.  A manager of his employee, Bartleby, a copyist,  has just realized that, perhaps, one of the reasons why Bartleby is so reluctant not to do anything, is because of his sorry state of solitude; no friends, no family, no home, no money, nothing!

“For the first time in my life a feeling of overpowering stinging melancholy seized me.  Before, I had never experienced aught but a not unpleasing sadness.  The bond of a common humanity now drew me irresistibly to gloom.  A fraternal melancholy!  For both I and Bartleby were sons of Adam.  I remembered the bright silks and sparkling faces I had seen that day, in gala trim, swan-like sailing down the Mississippi of Broadway; and I contrasted them with the pallid copyist, and thought to myself, Ah happiness courts the light, so we deem the world is gay; but misery hids aloof, so we deem that misery there is none.”

– Herman Melville, in Bartleby the Scrivener.


A Few of my Favorite Things

To celebrate my recently learning how to say “my favorite” in Turkish I’m writing a post on my favorite things in Turkey.

1. Turkish Idioms – This idiom actually was mentioned to me by an American who I know here, James Giles and I owe him a huge thanks you for making me aware of this delicious idiom.  The Turkish is “çaktım köfteyi” and the literal English translation is “I slapped the meatball”.  The English equivalent is “I got it!”  or “Ah, now I understand.”  Reciprocally you can ask “Have you slapped the meatball?”  meaning “Did you get it yet?”  I love it, and like I said a delicious idiom.

2. Dolmush – I know it sounds like a cross between a dollop and Goulash, at least that’s what comes to mind sometimes.  It is my favorite way of transportation here; its the name they give their van-like shared taxis.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  It’s a large van, that can fit about 20 passengers on bus like seats, with a forward and rear door.  The best part, and why its one of my favorite things here, is how they operate.  Forget bus stops, these guys can pick you up anywhere, and all you have to say to get off is “There’s a stop here!” and he’ll stop.  Also it’s really cheap.  To get on and go anywhere along the predetermined route, just pay the driver one and a quarter lira, which comes to about 75 cents in America.

3. Turkish Tea – As to why its one of my favorite things here in Turkey, I can’t precisely say.  I attribute it mostly to it’s rich, but light taste.  If you had English black tea, lightened it a bit, perhaps a hint of rooibos tea, and a slight aftertaste of rose-water, but OH so slight, that would give you an idea of what I mean.  The ideal cup of Turkish tea is said to be “rabbits blood” referring to the perfect ratio of the black tea and water.  Another reason why it may be on my favorite list is the ritual of meals here; its absolutely shameful if you don’t drink tea after a meal.  I’ve had waiters simply stop, stare and ask “Why”, just flabbergasted as to why you wouldn’t drink tea after a meal.  I grew tired of the looks and decided to make it a rule to accept when offered, and is now a thing I simply can’t do without in Turkey.  I need my tea!

When I learn how to say “my most favorite things” I’ll write another post of even better things, though it’ll be tough to trump these.  Until then “güle güle” which literally translated means “go smiling” or simply “bye bye”.


The Turkish Language Purification; the benefits and drawbacks

“It’s a pity, it really is,” my friend said.  “Our history is so rich, and now we are cut off from a lot of it.”  My co-worker and I were discussing the modern Turkish language reformation that happened sometime in the 1930’s under the direction of Turkey’s modern founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.  It’s something I’m going to dig deeper about later, but first as background, the Turkish language went through a transformation most languages in the world don’t get….it got purified.  All during the famous Ottoman Empire the lingua franca was Turkish’s predecessor Osmanlaca (depicted above), which had similar grammar and vocabulary to the present Turkish spoken in Turkey now, but was written with Arabic characters.  Ataturk’s dream for his new country was to exist and partner with the West, but he noticed a problematic trend.  All the surrounding Muslim nations, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, were all large strides behind the West in terms of modernity, ability for communication and civilization.  His heart for Turkey was for her to keep up with the West, and the way to do that was to get rid of the extremely large communication barrier of language, or at least break down to manageable fences.  He did this by overhauling the language Osmanlaca and got rid of the Arabic characters and replaced them with Latin characters, thus the Turkish we know today.

My friend and I were talking about this reformation and how it had both great and not so great consequences on Turkey.  The terrific effect of Latinizing the language was the shortening of the language bridge of Turkish to English and vice versa.  The downside to this transformation of language was Ataturks “other” motive.  In getting rid of the Arabic characters, he also wanted to “purify” the Turkish language.  You see the Ottoman Empire was an extremely ethnically mixed empire. Christians, Muslims and Jews co-mingled peaceably, and with the various ethnicities there were many dialects of Osmanlaca.  Bulgarians, Romanians, Arabs and Persians lived in this empire, and as is the nature of two languages living side-by-side, they lend to each other.  Up to the transformation of the Turkish language, it consisted of Arabic, Persian, Hebrew and various European linguistic flavors.  Ataturk’s goal was in effect to place a language filter under Osmanlaca, so that as it dripped through only pure Turkish comes through to the other side, getting rid of “foreign” influences.

Well this succeeded for the most part, sadly.  My friend was telling me that most of the youth don’t know old Turkish, but simple modern Turkish.  Well what’s the problem with that, you might ask.  Language is inextricably linked to culture.  One defines the other.  One feeds into the other.  The presence of certain words in a culture can speak volumes to the ethnic history of a people group.  You take away one’s language, you take away their culture.

The same day my friend and I had this conversation, I saw students walking around with course-books for Osmanlaca.  To my joy and the benefit of Turkey, Universities are offering the old Ottoman language as a language you can learn.

If we forget where we came from, how can we know where we are going?

Can you think of any phrases or words we have borrowed from other languages, that make ours more rich?  For example, “cest la vie” (its the life).

“We are far too easily pleased!”

“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Sotics and is no part of the Christian faith.  Indeed, if we consider the unblushing proimses of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.”

C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”

Fatal Fantasy and the Truth

Among grunts and laughs I watched a wall filled with LCD screens, as I finished my last set of wide chest sets.  I love my gym that I go to, but at times the music videos can be a bit much.  The kind that shows too much skin?  Maybe.  Mostly it’s the sort of junk that just makes me sick to my core, deeper than my stomach.  The kind of sick, when I see abuse merge shamelessly with appeal.  Appealing abuse!  Disguisting!

I noticed two screens this time I looked up.  One displaying a young man waving a pack of bills satisfyingly towards his nose while two beautiful women grind him on either side.  The other screen displaying a show called “Celebrity Rehab” with Dr. Drew.  Fantasy and truth…the cold hard truth.

I went home and watched an episode of Celebrity Rehab, and found it was a show where celebrity alcoholics and drug addicts go to publicly talk with Dr. Drew about their problems and struggles being a star (it’s definitely not on my recommended list of TV shows to watch, just poorly put together).

There it was, fantasy in all its false promises and lures, and truth beside it exposing fantasy out for what it really is, a damaging cyclone that can be severely harmful to a person.  What’s wrong with fantasizing?  Fantasy allows a large measure of imagination with a large measure of consequence, consequence being more and more out of touch with reality.  My fear is for people who have found themselves in difficult times, life having dealt them a less than perfect hand and watched this smut on TV (or involved themselves of any form of fantasy for that matter) and said, “Yeah, that’s what I want.”

“Thanks” for the “Hand”; a look into Hebrew thankfulness

Recently as I was reading my Bible, I was struck at how many times the word “thanks” is used.  In the Psalms, I Chronicles, and New Testament, just so much.  “Give thanks for He is good.”  “Give thanks for His mercy endures forever.”  “In all things, give thanks…”  “It is good to give thanks to the LORD.”

Not sure if you do this too, but sometimes I take a step back, and just wonder, “where did we get to using this word?”  For example, where did “OK” come from?  Did our ancestors say “OK” five generations back, or did it come about recently like trendy words like “rad”, “dude”, or “psychedellic”!  So I went to to check out the linguistic history of our gratitudinous word “thanks”.  It’s nothing too impressive, but earliest accounts show that it was a way of showing gratitude by wishing them “good thoughts, gratitude”.  Early Danish “takke” or early German “danken” were a modern form of the root word “thankoz”, which simply meant “good thoughts, gratitude”.

As you know the Biblical culture of the Hebrews is gone.  Jew’s stopped speaking Hebrew a long time ago, and it wasn’t til recently, shortly after Israel was re-instated as a country that Hebrew became an official language of a state (people have spoken Hebrew through the ages, it is true, but we are not absolutely certain how the Hebrews of 2,000BC spoke).  Today we have word associations that are embedded into our culture.  For example, Trump = money, 50cent = Rap, CD = music, iPod = portable music.  Whenever a slow rock ballad with cathartic overtones is played at a concert, people pull out their lighters.  When we want to express elation to a performance or an exquisitely delivered speech, we clap.

My goal in all of this?  I wanted to explore the idea of what was going through an Israelites head when he gave “thanks” to God.  It’s almost synonymous with praise; almost every time there is an exhortation to praise, there is an exhortation to thanks.  This is where we get into the ideology of thanks in the Hebrew mind.  The word used for “hand”, (H30217) יד yad, is the root for the word “thanks” (H3034) ידה yada.

I’m not going to pretend I know all the answers or that mine are definitive.  But after looking at all the occasions in which this word yada appears it’s interesting to note that there is a connection between “hands” and “thanks”.  When the word yada is used in terms of thankfulness, it is sometimes insinuated that your hands are raised (we extend our hands horizontally to each other, but we extend our hands heavenward in thanks to God).  One thing is certain, the word for thanks, is definitely a word also used to describe other motions of the hand, “to throw down” or “to cast out”.

What does this all mean?  Not sure to be honest.  We definitely cannot substitute one word in for the other, for one is derived from the other.  For example we can’t subsitute “hand” for “thankfulness”; “By Gods [thankfulness] he delivered Israel out of the Philistines land.”  No, but one thing I think it does do, is beautifully intensify worship.  We have an urge to lift our hands during worship.  We have a lot of unexplained instincts, but this one drives to the core of our spiritual being.  It may be that lifting our hands in thanks to God, may be as natural as a hug for an old friend, or a kiss between lovers.  We just know what to do!  When we thank another human being, we shake hands, grasp their shoulder, extend a hand in their direction; but when our thankfulness is turned towards God, our hands go up in worshipful thanks!!  O give Him thanks for He is good! “O give thanks to the Lord, for you are good O Most High.” – Psalm 92:1

Church conspiracy, mystery, and Billy Graham

Mystery, secrets, the “feel-good” life, church conspiracies and a testimony of a terrific man.  This about sums up the “Christian religion” section at our local library.  The section is one shelf long containing a poorly chosen 20-25 books (except for “Just as I am” by Billy Graham).  Among the only well-known authors were Billy Graham and Joel Osteen.  So what about CS Lewis, GK Chesterton or D. Martin Lloyd-Jones.  Of the living, perhaps they could shelf John Piper, John MacArthur, RC Sproul, Max Lucado, Kevin DeYoung or Ravi Zacharias.  I am thankful they chose one author, who is renown the world over, Billy Graham.

As I looked at the shelf, I realized I was looking at a snapshot most Americans have when it comes to Christianity.  Say the word “religion” and at least these two things may come to mind to average Joe; everyone has seen a Billy Graham crusade, and everyone has at least heard of the “Da Vinci Code”, by Dan Brown.  Religion itself though is rarely on America’s radar.  Religion is brought back into focus in ones life when a few things happen; a tragedy strikes, the Holy Spirit is really prodding their hearts to search out the truth, or when a “church conspiracy” or mystery is brewing.  Vatican secrets, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Judas, the shroud of Turin all tantalize the imagination into the question, “what would we really know if all secrets were revealed?  That Jesus Christ really didn’t rise from the grave?  That the church really is a way to control the masses?”

But people start asking questions with answers that they just don’t like.  When an answer comes they don’t like, the question is asked again but to a different set of authors who will give them the answer they like.  We are not really a spiritually minded society anymore, so spiritual questions don’t really have a place anymore on the list of questions to be answered, but when a spiritual question is asked, a natural answer is desired.

All that to say, this was somewhat of a reminder to me that shows where most people are in relationship to the church in America.  We treat religion the way we shop, the way we view entertainment: sell me, thrill me, pick me up shake me around and set me down wobbly-legged.  Who wants to go to a “church service” these days?