Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Ten Commandments

So, in my post before last, entitled BlogVersed, I wrote about my other blog, on MySpace, which is devoted to my amateur poetry writing, with the intent that, following that acknowledgment, well, never the twain (mark my words) would meet. The last thing I want to do is foist poetry of questionable merit on the innocent reader (and I don't think there's more than one) who reads this blog.

So, that was all well and fine, but I do want to make an exception to the rule, and I hope you will forgive me, but I want to call your attention to my most recent entry on my other blog, which is: The Ten Commandments. Now, you can just click on that link there, and go take a look, if you would be so kind. Go ahead, I'll wait here. (If it doesn't work, that's due to one of MySpace's periodic glitches, so please do try again later.)

Back? Okay, so now let me explain. I guess I could start with my religious education as a child, but instead I'll begin a bit later, still almost a quarter of a century ago now, when I was a doctoral student studying with Neil Postman in the media ecology program (sadly gone now) at New York University. Neil had been emphasizing the importance of the Second Commandment, with its prohibition against graven images, as an early form (quite possibly the first) of media ecology. This idea was included in his well known book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and he later noted that of the Ten Commandments, two others were also about communication, the prohibition against taking God's name in vain, and the one about bearing false witness.

So, that got me to thinking about the Ten Commandments off and on over the years. More recently, Donna Flayhan, who's a professor at SUNY New Paltz, had been pointing out that the idea of the Sabbath wasn't such a bad idea either, given that we find ourselves in a society overwhelmed by media and technology--it was an idea that I liked so much that I have used it on a number of occasions (thank you, Donna!). And the idea of the Sabbath is, of course, codified by the Fourth Commandment.

So, even more recently, I was thinking that it wouldn't be a bad idea for me to try to write an extended essay, or even a book about the Ten Commandments, all ten of them, I mean, about their significance in the context of a society that had only recently adopted the medium of the written word, that is ancient Israel, and about their significance for our modern, or postmodern, technological society. And maybe I will write this, some day. But as the old Yiddish saying says, man plans, and God laughs.

And maybe this is cause for a chuckle, because instead of expanding on the Decalogue, I found myself condensing it. It started when I realized that the Second Commandment could be reframed in terms of what we often say to young children: "Use your words!" From that beginning, and thinking in terms of poetry because of this BlogVersed project, the first five commandments just sort of came to me. The second five took more work.

But overall, here's what I was going for. First, my goal was to shorten each commandment down to the size of a line of a poem. The actual Ten Commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy are characterized by the copious quality of oral discourse--they're long-winded. There's explanation, detail, and a good deal of redundancy. And that's fine for the actual Ten Commandments, but given the fact that everyone knows them already, or at least knows of them and has easy access to them, I wanted to shorten them down to the length of an aphorism or, okay, an advertising slogan. Something concise, punchy, snappy, getting the meaning across quickly and, I hope, memorably.

Also, to make them more accessible and easier to relate too, I wanted to put them into a more contemporary argot. Use your words is one example, the buck stops here is another, give us a break a third. And I wanted to eliminated the harsh, well, commanding tone in the commandments, because that doesn't play so well in our new age of affirmation, casual and informal communication, etc. So I tried to capture the essential values behind the commandments, especially the final five, in that kinder, gentler manner that we all have grown accustomed to.

Anyway, that's what I wound up trying to do, without really planning it out or anything, it's just where I wound up going while more or less wandering aimlessly, like a clod. And maybe it was nothing more than a meander, just shooting the breeze, from the hip, I really don't know.

I guess, though, this means something to me, which is why I'm going to the trouble to do a blog about a blog, and write about it here. There's also an added significance, or coincidence, which I'll write about in another entry tomorrow (God willing!). But now, it occurs to me that you may not have clicked on that 10 Commandments link before, and just humored me and continued to read this blog. And that's okay, don't get me wrong. Because I want to record my Ten Commandments here on Blog Time Passing as well, so I am going to end this post with that. But it still looks different over on that other blog (and there are a few comments from MySpacers, in case you're interested). But anyway, thanks for your patient understanding and indulgence, and here comes tonight's Top Ten List:

The Ten Commandments

As Told By God to Moses

(A New Translation and Interpretation by Lance Strate)

The Buck Stops Here!
Use Your Words,
But Choose Them With Care!
Give Us Both A Break,
And Your Parents, Too!
Respect Life,
Family, And
Labor As Well!
Be Honest, And
Be Content!


Anonymous said...

Allow me to challenge your entire approach concerning the “ten commandments”. I’m certain that everyone engaging in this debate have simply gone down the proverbial rabbit trail. If you actually believe the Bible to be the Word of God and the Standard by which we live, then there should be no debate about the “Ten Commandments”, after all there are only “2” commandments which matter; adhering to them will automatically resolve honor to the remaining eight.
In Matthew 22, Jesus Himself declared “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." When and if you should spend time thinking about this, it is my hope that you and others who have put so much time and energy into the discussion will move towards a life governed by relationship with your Savior rather than education and intellect. Please understand I intend no disrespect whatsoever; both education and intellect are good and appreciated. Let us not engage any further in the divisiveness of debate, but simply take Jesus’ own words on the subject. The resulting discussion from this action would indeed become productive and life giving.
Don’t you think its time to get real about this?

DannyB <><
Atlanta, GA

Lance Strate said...

Thanks for the comment, and as you can see I allowed it, even though I don't agree with what you have to say. It's funny though, since I presented a paper on the Ten Commandments as an attempt to influence the semantic environment and media environment at a symposium a week ago (Sat., Oct. 27), and in conversation later someone asked if the Ten Commandments are also listed in the New Testament, and I said no, but I mentioned the fact that it says there that Jesus boiled them down to those two points.

Be that as it may, the original Ten Commandments remain a part of Christian tradition. And the simple and obvious fact is that not everyone believes in Jesus, or is a Christian.

Now, there is nothing terribly wrong with what is attributed to Jesus in Matthew. The first part, Love the Lord your God, comes from Deuteronomy, it's the beginning of the V'Ahavta prayer, and assuming that there was a historical Jesus, he no doubt recited it in its entirety everyday, immediately after the Sh'ma (Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One). The second part, Love your neighbor, also has a long history.

But the attempt to boil the entire set of 613 laws and commandments contained with the Torah down to a more manageable size does not begin and end with Jesus. That was the whole tradition that Jesus would have been born into, had been going on for a long time, and continued on to this day. And what you cite here is really an echo of what Rabbi Hillel said around the time that Jesus is said to have been born. When asked to sum up the Law while standing on one foot, he replied, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Law; the rest is the explanation; go and learn."

We do tend to think that this version, expressed in the negative, is the better one. For example, since it is hateful to me to be proselytized by others, such as yourself, I would not think to impose my beliefs on you. You, on the other hand, think that you should impose them on others just because they make you feel happy.

So, to be honest, your challenge is an oldie, but not a goodie. And I will take a life of education and intellect, because I believe, as do many Christians that I know, that God gave us these gifts because he wanted us to use them.