Apr 132008

When I used to teach a pre-confirmation class at our church, it seemed that young people (and old) wouldn’t easily buy Martin Luther’s words of explanation to the First Commandment: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Young people wouldn’t say much, but older ones would.

People think fear is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. There are any number of cliches that put fear in the same category with ignorance, superstition, and intolerance. (It was a discussion of Barak Obama’s bigotted remarks about bitter people and their religion and guns that got me thinking about it.) Somehow people don’t think it’s right that we should fear God.

It so happens I was just looking looking at the words of the famous Russian love song, “Dark Eyes,” trying to memorize it for language-learning purposes. I noticed that it talks about fear in a way that indicates a relationship that is perhaps complicated, but not a bad one.

Here’s a transliteration of the first verse, sort of from Wikipedia:

Ochi chyornye ochi strastnye
Ochi zhguchiye i prekrasniye
Kak lyublyu ya vas kak boyus ya vas
Znat’ uvidyel vas ya v nedobryii chas

And here is an English translation, from the same source:

Dark eyes, passionate eyes
Burning and splendid eyes
How I love you, how I fear you
For sure, I espied you in an ill-starred moment

You can hear the song on a whole bunch of utube clips, most of which don’t do it well. Perhaps it’s because it’s too familiar to most listeners. The best sung one I’ve found so far is a music video that’s slightly raunchy and violent. Maybe the video is of scenes from a movie. I’m not sure, but I think the singing is good. When the Red Army Chorus and most other groups do it, it’s too ponderous. Maybe famous singers who are too full of themselves shouldn’t be allowed to sing it.

I don’t think I’d play the one linked to above at church, though, if I want to make the point that fear can be part of a healthy relationship. I’ll keep looking.

And in case anyone is wondering, I don’t think the word for afraid (boyus) means anything very different from what we usually mean in English. As far as I know, it can have the same complicated meanings in Russian as in English. It’s the very same word I hear in wartime movies where someone might hear the the sound of distant guns and say, “I’m afraid.”

Jul 042007

Paul Greenberg writes:

I’m all for the wonderful mosaic of cultures in this country – social, religious, linguistic, culinary and every other kind in this country of countries. Each contributes something to the way we all see things, think about things. We learn from each other. But here there is room for only one, indivisible, unhyphenated civic culture. A civic and civil culture that gives us a common tongue to argue in, and common ground to stand on.

Note that having English as the one official language of this country, the language used for government work, would be quite compatible with our being more of a multi-lingual society. It would be quite compatible with kids learning more languages in school, and perhaps ought to be accompanied by such if it were ever to be made official policy. It’s no threat to our having a multitude of cultures and languages — unless all aspects of our cultures and private lives become government business. If that’s the case, then government is too big.

This was in Paul Greenberg’s recent article on immigration reform : Me, Ma, and Ben Franklin. So was Greenberg for the recent immigration bill or against it? He explains in the introductory paragraph to the article in which the above quote appeared.

I didn’t much like the immigration bill that just stalled in the U.S. Senate. In fact, I disliked it. Intensely. And I was for it. You can imagine how the folks who were against it felt about the bill.