Lead us not into confusion -- concerning The Lord's Prayer in French

Writing the story of the Belgian dockworkers was like eating sand.

 Once upon a time he’d persuaded himself that technical facility was its own reward: a sentence singing hymns to the attainment of coal production norms in the Donets Basin was, nonetheless, a sentence, and could be well rendered. It was the writer’s responsibility in a progressive society to inform and uplift the toiling masses.”

-- Dark Star by Alan Furst (1991)

I have my favorites. Writers whose work I turn to for enjoyment, inspiration and to steal phrases. The American spy-thriller novelist Alan Furst is a craftsman and storyteller whose work with each re-reading offers different insights into the human experience. It is fun, too.

The passage above from Dark Star illuminates the mental processes of reporting. For every exclusive or breaking story, for every fascinating glimpse or profound discussion of life, God, or the world -- come hundreds of other pieces reporting on committee meetings, speeches and conventions. The eating sand imagery is quite real to me, as is the sense of pride and pleasure of mastering a craft.

Technical ability -- things such as cleverness of language or an edgy tone -- are welcome but cannot make a story great. For an article to break free from the pack of mind numbing junk that overwhelms journalism, the writer must have technical facility but also a sense of the background to the subject. Knowing why the story matters moves it beyond being merely amusing.

The Times story of Nov. 17, 2017, entitled: “Revised Lord’s Prayer delivers French from confusion” is technically proficient, but dull. The author recites but he does not report.

The lede states:

God will no longer be asked to do the Devil’s work in a revised version of the Lord’s Prayer that has been adopted by the French Catholic Church.

That is nicely done in terms of the clarity, clever tone and aesthetic qualities of the prose. As are the explanatory paragraphs that follow:

The Conference of Bishops has attempted to remove a misunderstanding that arose from the modern French version of Notre Père, which was produced in 1966 after the reformist Vatican II council.
Using the 1966 translation, French worshippers have been asking the Lord: “Do not submit us to temptation: (Ne nous soumets pas à la dentition).
This is puzzling for some of the congregation because God does not set traps for mankind, and He cannot be the author of evil in Christian doctrine. The Lord is asked to deliver us from evil in the next line of the prayer.
The new version beseeches God: “Do not let us enter into temptation” (Ne nous laisse pas entrer en dentition).

(Note the capitalized “H” in “He” in the third paragraph -- this is a traditional form of identifying God, which is not seen in The Times’ religion news stories.)

The article then offers details of when the changes were to take effect (Dec. 3) and for whom (French Catholic and Protestant churches), also noting the Francophone churches in Africa and Belgium adopted the changes in June. A comment from a French bishop is offered as well as a report on the health of the French church (poor). And that is it.

Continue reading "Lead us not into confusion -- concerning The Lord's Prayer in French," bu George Conger.

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