Perspective

Thoughts of a Catholic convert

My Photo
Name:
Location: United States

Thursday, August 31, 2006

This Day Last Year

Last August 31st, my cat Spot died. Nine days later, her mother, Grendel, also died. Both had kidney disease. I still miss them.


- Spot



- Grendel


St. Matthew's Burial Site?

I saw the mention of the possible finding of the burial place of Matthew at the NT Gateway Weblog. Here's the story cited ... Burial Place Of Apostle Matthew 'Found' In Kyrgyzstan ...

Vladimir Ploskikh told a news briefing in Bishkek today that his team this summer uncovered on the northeastern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul what he believes are the remains of the Christian monastery that a 14th-century map indicates is the site where the Apostle Matthew was buried.

According to legends, Apostle Matthew died on his way to India and established several Christian communities during the course of his journey.

The document, which is kept in Venice and is known as the Catalan map, mentions a place named "Issicol," where it says there is "a cloister of the Armenian Brothers where the body of the Apostle and Evangelist Saint Matthew is."

Ploskikh, however, cautioned that further investigation is needed.

Four years ago, a Russian-born U.S. photographer, Sergei Melnikoff, said he had found Apostle Matthew's grave near Issyk-Kul. Kyrgyz scientists dismissed his claims.


The news story about the Russian find is here at Pravda - Where is Apostle Mathew buried?

These stories shouyld be approached with a healthy skepticism, of course :-) Wikipedia has this to say ...

Some traditions say that Matthew was martyred in Ethiopia, others say that he was martyred in Hierapolis of Parthia. According to Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus, Matthew the Evangelist was martyred in Hierapolis, and the Matthew who replaced Judas Iscariot among the twelve apostles is the one who died in Ethiopia. His relics were carried to Campania, in the Diocese of Capaccio. Retrieved by Lombards, they were moved to Salerno, where they are currently kept in the Cathedral's crypt.

And there's this from The Catholic Encyclopedia ...

St. Irenæus tells us that Matthew preached the Gospel among the Hebrews, St. Clement of Alexandria claiming that he did this for fifteen years, and Eusebius maintains that, before going into other countries, he gave them his Gospel in the mother tongue. Ancient writers are not as one as to the countries evangelized by Matthew, but almost all mention Ethiopia to the south of the Caspian Sea (not Ethiopia in Africa), and some Persia and the kingdom of the Parthians, Macedonia, and Syria. According to Heracleon, who is quoted by Clement of Alexandria, Matthew did not die a martyr, but this opinion conflicts with all other ancient testimony. Let us add, however, that the account of his martyrdom in the apocryphal Greek writings entitled "Martyrium S. Matthæi in Ponto" and published by Bonnet, "Acta apostolorum apocrypha" (Leipzig, 1898), is absolutely devoid of historic value. Lipsius holds that this "Martyrium S. Matthæi", which contains traces of Gnosticism, must have been published in the third century. There is a disagreement as to the place of St. Matthew's martyrdom and the kind of torture inflicted on him, therefore it is not known whether he was burned, stoned, or beheaded. The Roman Martyrology simply says: "S. Matthæi, qui in Æthiopia prædicans martyrium passus est".

- Read more about Matthew's crypt in the Cathedral of Salerno

- Read more about the Catalan Atlas


- St. Matthew's Cathedral, Salerno


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Trinity

Thinking of of the Trinity, I thought I'd post part of a homily on the subject by Fr. Rob Marsh SJ (you can read the whole homily at his blog) ...

Trinity Sunday Year C - Rob Marsh SJ

June 10th, 2001

Did you ever see a triptych, one of those altar pieces or icons with three panels? Well I’ve got three images to look at today. One is a photograph of the first moon landing. Second is a painting. It’s a naked man with an IV in his chest and purple lesions over his body. The title is “Christ with AIDS.” The third image is a kind of composite, I guess, a video monitor showing clips from a bunch of films—there’s Pearl Harbour, there’s Shrek, there’s Moulin Rouge. I’m not sure quite what happens when you put these three images side-by-side but let’s see.

The films first. Nothing more obsesses us as a culture than love. You can’t sing a song or make a film without romance. But no one ever sings songs or makes films where love is straightforward. There must be obstacles. The course of true love must run awry. There must be a fly in the ointment. Every Ben Affleck has his Josh Harnett. Every Shrek has his Lord Farquadd. And though Ewan McGregor sings his silly love songs to Nicole Kidman there has to be an evil Duke to ruin the day. Our perfect image of perfect love is one-on-one. Two’s company and three’s a crowd. The dreaded love triangle! Somehow we have to get rid of the third side. Find a dragon to swallow it whole. A war to heal it or a death for its dissipation. Is it any wonder, then, we have trouble with Trinity? As love goes, one-on-one won’t do for God. There has to be a third. What we view as a fascinating evil, God sees as essential.

Second panel. 20 years ago this week the plague came upon us in confusion and horror and fear. And, while tens, then hundreds, then thousands of young men were dying and a new public horror of blood was being born, an ancient vision of God was being roused. How do you name God when the plague is raging? Enemy or friend? Consoler or nemesis? For some it was clear: God is God of the pure. Everett Koop, who was Surgeon General, couldn’t even talk about AIDS at the White House because the Christian Right saw it as God’s punishment for being queer. It is an ancient idea. Bad things never happen without a reason. You must have deserved it. It’s your own fault.

Which is just the same thing they said about crucifixion 2000 years ago. It’s your fault. God has cursed you. No one mocks God. But, cross or sickbed, you can only keep that up if you can keep your distance, can keep compassion at bay, if you do not know. You can only name God destroyer if you can keep God distant, at bay, unknown.

But Jesus could never keep God at bay. He knew the name of God, knows where he belongs. God has AIDS ............



Tuesday, August 29, 2006

David Bentley Hart

In the May issue of First Things, there was a Theology as Knowledge Symposium which asked the question of why the study of theology is no longer considered a reliable way to gain knowledge, and whether that assumption is likely to change. Those discussing the questions are James R. Stoner, Jr., Stanley Hauerwas, Paul J. Griffiths, and David B. Hart. I looked up the article in the first place to learn more about David Bentley Hart, who, as Wikipedia writes ...

... is an Eastern Orthodox theologian and cultural commentator. He has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota), Duke Divinity School, and Loyola College (Maryland). His work exhibits a wide-ranging knowledge of the Western philosophical tradition, from classical antiquity to postmodernity. His own theology and philosophy are deeply informed by the writings of the Church Fathers. Hart's writings are notable not only for their robust theology, intellectual passion, and bracing rhetoric, but also for their incisive wit, acrobatic prose, and the frequently playful deployment of Hart's prodigious vocabulary ...

Below are some snips from Hart's contribution to the discussion of theology as knowledge ...

****************

... Once, in an age now rapidly receding into legend, theology enjoyed the status not merely of a science but of the “queen of the sciences,” whose special preoccupation with the highest things—God, the soul, the virtues, the transcendentals, metaphysics—invested her with the privilege of legitimating, inspiring, and unifying all the lesser disciplines. Now, though, her estate is much diminished ....

Religion, after all (as everyone knows), is a realm of purely personal conviction sustained by faith, which is (as everyone also knows) an entirely irrational movement of the will, an indistinct impulse of saccharine sentiment, pathetic longing, childish credulity, and vague intuition. And theology, being the special language of religion, is by definition a collection of vacuous assertions, zealous exhortations, and beguiling fables; it is the peculiar patois of a private fixation or tribal allegiance, of interest perhaps to the psychopathologist or anthropologist, but of no greater scientific value than that; surely it has no proper field of study of its own, no real object to investigate, and whatever rules it obeys must be essentially arbitrary.

Now, as it happens, theology is actually a pitilessly demanding discipline .... one can still plausibly argue that theology is no more lacking in a substantial field of inquiry than are history, philosophy, the study of literature, or any of the other genuinely respectable university disciplines .... in fact, it would be hard to name a discipline outside the hard sciences or mathematics that can be mastered adequately without some degree of theological literacy.

And yet, all that said, theology will never be restored in the modern university to anything like the status it once enjoyed, or even to the status of a particularly reputable form of knowledge. Nor is it entirely certain that theologians should wish it to be ....

*****************

Read the reast of what Hart has to say (link above) ... it's interesting :-)


Rowan Williams' Poems

One of the interesting things about the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is that he's a poet. I've looked for some of his poems online, but they are thin on the ground. Here are some gleanings from a couple of articles on the web ...

Below is a poem by Williams in an excerpt from Sacred Mysteries by Christopher Howse - Telegraph.co.uk

Here is a short poem on a chapel at the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It is called "Calvary".

The metalled O. Like
Bethlehem, like
a baroque drain in the marble floor;
when your hand has been
sucked in, it comes away
from its complicity moist,
grimy, sweet-scented.


-

And here are a couple of Williams' poems in an excerpt from The Poems of Rowan Williams - Christian Century, Oct 18, 2005 by Jill Pelaez ...

In "Gethsemane" the poet finds the contorted olive trees an apt emblem for what took place in that garden, and at this site of Jesus" agonized prayer he envisions a kind of wailing wall where quick and tight" prayers can be delivered.

Into the trees' clefts, then, do we
push
our folded words, thick as thumbs?
somewhere inside the ancient bark,
a voice
has been before us, pushed the
densest word
of all, abba, and left it to be collected
by
whoever happens to be passing,
bent down
the same way by the hot unreadable
palms.

In some of these poems Williams's language is as full as that of Dylan Thomas or Gerard Manley Hopkins. "September Birds," for example, combines the cadence of line and phrase with rich sounds:

Down in the small hollow where
the currents shift
slowly, and drop with the thinning
sun, the crows
float, crowding the shallow slopes
of air,
and vague as specks of stubble fire:
the sun
has scattered them from thinning
flames, has clapped
a hollow hand, once, twice, a glowing
wooden gong,
a log that cracks sharp in the ashes,
and
has given wings to the charred dust.


More of Rowan Williams' poetry can be found in his book - The Poems of Rowan Williams

Monday, August 28, 2006

What Did Jesus Really Say?

One question that often comes up on the other blog to which I belong is how we can correctly assass the authenticity of a scriptural passage ... if we're reading a gospel, we wonder, Did Jesus really say that? I don't know enough about theology or NT studies to know the right answer to this question.

A group of scholars who felt up to the challenge of answering the question - did Jesus really say that? - was the Jesus Seminar fellows (one of whom is JD Crossan). A brief snip from Wikipedia ...

The Jesus Seminar is a controversial research team of about one hundred academic New Testament scholars founded in 1985 by the late Robert Funk under the auspices of the Westar Institute. The seminar's purpose is to determine what Jesus, as a historical figure, may or may not have said or done. The scholars attending attempt to reconstruct the life of Jesus. They try to ask who he was, what he did, what he said, and what his sayings meant using all the evidence and available tools. Their reconstruction is based on the triple pillar of social anthropology, history and textual analysis ...

The Jesus Seminar fellows wrote their own translation of the four canonical gospels, plus the gnostic gospel of Thomas, called The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus . Using contemporary phrasing, they color-coded their translation to show which sayings of Jesus they felt were most likely authentic ... red = Jesus did say this, pink = Jesus probably said this, grey = Jesus didn't say this, but it does represent his ideas, and black = Jesus didn't say this and it is from some other tradition. Below I've pasted from the Wikipedia article the Seminar's choices for the read coded sayings of Jesus, with the percentage = the agreement of the voters ...

1. Turn the other cheek (92%): Mt 5:39, Lk6:29a
2. Coat & shirt: Mt5:40 (92%), Lk6:29b (90%)
3. Congratulations, poor!: Lk6:20b (91%), Th54 (90%), Mt5:3 (63%)
4. Second mile (90%): Mt5:41
5. Love your enemies: Lk6:27b (84%), Mt5:44b (77%), Lk6:32,35a (56%) {compare to "Pray for your enemies": POxy1224 6:1a; Didache 1:3; Poly-Phil 12:3}
6. Leaven: Lk13:20–21 (83%), Mt13:33 (83%), Th96:1–2 (65%)
7. Emperor & God (82%): Th100:2b–3, Mk12:17b, Lk20:25b, Mt22:21c (also Egerton Gospel 3:1-6)
8. Give to beggars (81%): Lk6:30a, Mt5:42a, Didache1:5a
9. Good Samaritan (81%): Lk10:30–35
10. Congrats, hungry!: Lk6:21a (79%), Mt5:6 (59%), Th69:2 (53%)
11. Congrats, sad!: Lk6:21b (79%), Mt5:4 (73%)
12. Shrewd manager (77%): Lk16:1–8a
13. Vineyard laborers (77%): Mt20:1–15
14. Abba, Father (77%): Mt6:9b, Lk11:2c
15. The Mustard Seed : Th20:2–4 (76%), Mk4:30–32 (74%), Lk13:18–19 (69%), Mt13:31–32 (67%)

While I admire scholarly research and I am somewhat influenced by this work cited above, I should mention that there are a ton of criticisms of the Jesus Seminar and their Scholar's Version of the five gospels, some being that the pov of the scholars is too secular, another that not all of the members are reputable NT scholars - for instance, Paul Verhoeven, one of the members of the Seminar, is famous (or infamous :-) as a science fiction film director (Robocop). N.T. Wright wrote a criticism of the Scholar's Version - Five Gospels But No Gospel: Jesus and the Seminar.

Though I can't say how others should decide about the authenticity of sciptural passages, one possible way to discern, a way that you probably won't find expressed in a book by the Jesus Seminar fellows, is by comparing the Jesus of a scriptural passage with the Jesus known in prayer ... it's a method that depends on experience and relationship, and though it may be fraught with subjectivism, it's still my favorite.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Augustine of Hippo



Monday is the Memorial of St. Augustine. Sadly, I've disliked him from the time before I was even a Christian.

In college, I read Augustine's Confessions, and my philosophy professor saw Augustine as a social-climber who had abandoned the mother of his child to become a clerical big-wig. When I later learned Augustine was the father of Predestination and also the Just War Theory, well, he dipped even lower in my estimation.

But this is his Memorial, and I think I perhaps have misjudged him, so I'll offer him a poem from Theology Today - Letter to St. Augustine, by Gene Fendt, who teaches philosophy at the University of Nebraska, Kearney ....

Excellency,
I have no questions for you,
only for me, but since they raised themselves
while listening to your sermons, or reading
your Confessions, De Trinitate, Enchiridion,
I write to you; you needn't answer, I know
your days are busy, ground to dust, to darkness
with the thousand things a bishop has to do
before he can retire for a moment-
to pray, to write, to think about a book.

But I wonder, if love's our weight,
are there people who are weightless? I don't ask
to judge my brother, but there are times I wonder
of myself, I seem so purely pulled
to nothing. Now, for instance: I ask,
but don't await an answer; do not, in fact,
expect it, but dream of wide free spaces, floating
like the gull on wide-winged air-
effortlessly.

You say that God could not allow
any kind of evil in his works
unless he were so powerful, so good,
as to be able to turn all evil,
finally, to good, and so reveal
the weight of sin is grace, its gravity
a sign: res et sacramentum gloriae.
I cannot doubt this, only wonder.

I wonder, too, if when our souls are finally turned
to face that ever warming fire, if from our ashes
there might rise some new and unimagined way
of loving, some way we know not of, nor guess,
until whatever we are now has reached
the other side of fire, and life, and mercy's justice,
embodied and immortal, lives as it will.

Such are my meditations, such my prayer,
and so this letter, from many thousand miles,
near as many months, to you from your brother,
deep in the bowels of the good God's body-


- Death of St Monica (Augustine's mother) - 1464-65 Fresco
Apsidal chapel, Sant'Agostino, San Gimignano


Saturday, August 26, 2006

Blind Man's Vision

Sorry if my blog entries have been kind of dismal lately - it's because I've been feeling dismal myself. Today's no exception - my mom's car, which has been sitting in the driveway since she died four years ago, was given away to a neighborhood kid, who will pick it up tomorrow. Don't know why, but this makes me very sad.

I decided to find something upbeat to read, and I searched The Tablet, and instead found an article about a guy who has a degenerative eye disease similar to mine - Blind Man's Vision. The blurb says ... Inevitably a blind person asks, ‘Why me?’ A writer and journalist at present resident in Rome explains how he spent years of thought and prayer in trying to answer that question, and the part his Catholic faith played in helping him to do so. .... I read it, because misery loves company, but I found he had some insights. Here's some of the article ...

*******************

... The fading of the retina, and the rods and cones that transmit to it from the front of the eye, is today the major cause of untreatable loss of sight. The body fails to replace the cells, as they die ahead of the rest of you. MD (macular degeneration), the most common form, is a result of ageing, likely to affect anyone who lives long enough, but it can occur in one’s fifties. It attacks your central vision. You can board a bus but not see its destination sign, stroll down country lanes but not recognise people you know. At meals, you may see the people around you, but not their faces or the plate of food in front of you. Life becomes an exhibition in which you see only the frames.

My own blindness comes from retinitis pigmentosa, which affects about 25,000 people in Britain. It is inherited, in my case, after by-passing generations. It often begins in childhood by blinding one in dim or bright light, then narrows one’s sight, as though one were looking through the cardboard tube of a roll of lavatory paper, which becomes a pin-hole. Each new, marked deterioration creates shock, depression and often resentment, followed by adjustment.

When I was 18, my parents asked my headmaster to deputise for them in telling me I was going blind. I went to the eye hospital at Moorfields, where I was told that I would probably have no useful sight after the age of 30, should learn braille, and not trouble them again ....

Dealing with the emotional turmoil of losing any of one’s faculties can be one of the greatest obstacles to regaining independence in practical matters. People losing their sight are often assured, by those who aren’t, that it brings a sense of inner calm. Contributors to the St John’s forum about retinitis pigmentosa more often express bewilderment, fear, isolation, loss of identity and, sometimes, anger. There is mass irritation towards those who come up with psychological or spiritual panaceas. Jesus did not say, "Blessed are the blind, for they shall enjoy peace of mind". He gave them sight.

I did not turn to Catholicism from my atheist background in the expectation of such a miracle. But prominent among my conscious motives for doing so was a search for an answer to the ageless cry, why me?

A priest in London preached in a sermon that disadvantaged people were paying for the sinfulness of their parents at the time of their conception. It was an initiation into the theological breadth of the Church. But though he was so flawed in his misanthropy, what was right? Was disability a vocation? If so, what was God calling one to do? To become a spiritually and intellectually diminutive version of Helen Keller or Stephen Hawking?

After years of questioning, prayer and meditation, I have come to a conclusion: why not me? Yet through my blindness I have gained a living memory of a glimpse of God’s presence in my life, as I was and am ...

****************

Friday, August 25, 2006

We Cried Like Lost Children ...

The Karl Rahner book I sent for - The Need and the Blessing of Prayer - has come. The chapters are taken from sermons he gave in a bombed-out Munich, Germany during the Lent of 1946. As I flipped through it, I found a part that made me stop and read - it seemed to be speaking to me, though I'm not in the terrible circumstances of those who heard these sermons preached. Here's part of one of the sermons, on petitionary prayer, below ... ...

********

... We prayed, and God did not answer. We cried, and he remained mute. We wept tears that comsumed our hearts. We were not allowed before his countenance .... We would have shown him why we have every reason to despair, because of his silence. We would have had endless material on file: the unanswered prayer for babies who starved to death, the unheard complaint for the little ones who suffocated from tonsillitus, the misery of violated young women, of children who were beaten to death, of the exploited labor slaves, of betrayed women, of those crushed by injustice, of the "liquidated", of the cripples, of those dishonored ...

... We would have appealed to his Son who knows how we feel emotionally and physically because he shared our life. We would have done all that, we actually did all of that. For we have prayed. We have prayed. We have begged. We have lifted ardent, entreating words to heaven. It didn't do any good. We cried like lost children who know that in the end the policeman will take them home. But no one came who wiped our tears away and consoled us ...

.... this brutal conclusion ... There is no purpose in praying. There is no God to hear a prayer of petition, he doesn't exist at all, or he dwells in such dreadful glory that the scream of need doesn't penetrate the ear of his heart ...

********

Well, it goes on, of course, but I haven't read that far yet. I sincerely hope that Rahner will resolve, in a way that works, this problem of unanswered prayers, for I too find myself crying like a lost child.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hidalgo



This week's DVD rental is Hidalgo, a 2004 film starring Viggo Mortensen.

Here's a little of what Wikipedia has to say about it ...

Hidalgo is a 2004 film based on the life and tales of former horse rider Frank Hopkins and his endurance horse Hidalgo, a mustang. Held yearly for centuries, the Ocean of Fire--a 3,000 mile survival race across the Arabian desert--was a challenge restricted to the finest Arabian horses ever bred, the purest and noblest lines, owned by the greatest royal families. In 1890, a wealthy sheik invited an American, Frank T. Hopkins, and his horse to enter the race for the first time ...



And here is most of Roger Ebert's review of Hidalgo, minus snips, below ...

**********

... Hopkins is played by Viggo Mortensen, fresh from "Lord of the Rings," as a bronzed, lean loner who (if I guess right) enters the race as much for the sake of his horse as for the prize. He respects and loves Hidalgo, especially after the scornful Arab riders scoff at the notion that a mixed-breed mustang could challenge their desert stallions with their ancient lineages. Of course Hopkins is a half-breed, too, and so we're dealing with issues here.

The race is so grueling that many men and horses die, and some are murdered by their rivals. Hopkins functions in this world like a duck in a shooting gallery. When he is discovered in the tent of the beautiful princess Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), he is brought before her father, a powerful sheik (Omar Sharif) and threatened with the loss of that possession he would least like to part with, even more than his horse. But then, in the kind of development that sophisticates will deplore but true children of the movies will treasure, his manhood is spared when the sheik discovers that Hopkins knew -- actually worked with, and spoke with, and could tell stories about! -- that greatest of all men, that paragon of the sheik's favorite pulp magazines, Buffalo Bill!

.... This is a movie that has: Concealed pits in the sand with sharpened stakes at the bottom; exotic sprawling villas made with corridors and staircases and balconies and rooftops where countless swordsmen can leap forward to their doom; sandstorms that can be outrun by a horse like Hidalgo; tents as large and elaborately furnished as a Malcolm Forbes birthday party; blazing closeups of the pitiless sun; poisoned oases; tantalizing mirages; parched lips; six-shooters, whips, daggers, and ... no, I don't think there were any asps. Some will complain that Hidalgo magically arrives on the scene whenever Hopkins whistles, but Hidalgo knows that if he could whistle, Hopkins would be right there for him, too.

..... Whether you like movies like this, only you can say. But if you do not have some secret place in your soul that still responds even a little to brave cowboys, beautiful princesses and noble horses, then you are way too grown up and need to cut back on cable news. And please ignore any tiresome scolds who complain that the movie is not really based on fact. Duh.

***********

I don't have the eloquence of Ebert but here's how I felt about the movie... for what seems like a broad and light hearted adventure, Hidalgo still manages to incorporate some thoughtful themes - for instance, near the beginning, we learn that Hopkins is half Native American and then he and we see the chilling results of the massacre at Wounded Knee ... the next scene has an alcohol- anesthetized Hopkins re-enacting that massacre in a wild west show. The obvious reasons to see the film are, of course, beautiful scenery, beautiful horses - the less obvious reason ... might learn something :-)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Second Book Meme

Since Liam tagged me with the meme, I've decided to revise mine and give it more thought. So, for those who don't mind a second read theough ...

1. One book that changed your life -
I think last time I mentioned that the essay on Self-Reliance by Emerson influenced me when I was a kid. But what I read in college had an effect as well - the idealism of Plato's Republic and the existential angst of Sartre's Nausea ... can't say I really understood them, but I was very impressed.

2. One book that you've read more than once -
I'm sticking with The Lord of the Rings. As CS Lewis wrote of this book ... here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart.

3. One book that you'd want on a desert island -
I've changed my mind ... I'll go with the Bible this time.

4. One book that made you laugh -
I avoid these kinds of books like the plague, but once in a while, one slips through ... How (not) to Write a Screenplay: 101 Common Mistakes Most Screenwriters Make by Denny Martin Flinn. If you've ever tried to write a script, you'll understand.

5. One book that made you cry -
The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. Though I probably haven't cried at the reading of the text, the meditations and especially the contemplations from the text have led to many tears being shed.

6. One book you wish had been written -
I wish there had been a gospel written of Jesus' life before his ministry.

7. One book you wish had never been written -
One that comes to mind, after mentioning a book about Jesus' early life, is the really creepy Infancy Gospel of Thomas ( not to be confused with the Gnistic Gospel of Thomas ). It shows the child Jesus as a murderer.

8. One book you're currently reading -
I've just started Faith Beyond Resentment by Catholic priest and theologian James Alison.

9. One book you've been meaning to read -
I've sent for a book by Karl Rahner - hope I can understand it :-) - and I may give The Seven Story Mountain a try.


- Map of Middle Earth (The Lord of the Rings)


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Blogging Time Out

Monday, August 21, 2006

Angels, Demons, and Barth



"Angels we have heard on high …. Gloria in excelsis Deo!"

"Christian dost thou see them on the holy ground, how the powers of darkness compass thee around?"


I came across an old Theology Today article - Angels Heard and Demons Seen by Gabriel Fackre, Abbot Professor of Christian Theology at Andover Newton Theological School - which discusses angels and demons in both popular culture and theology, andI uses the help of Karl Barth to find a path between "the Scylla of New Age angelogies and the Charibdis of Enlightenment orthodoxies". The article quotes Barth ...

Our reference is . . . to the Christian use of the term "angel." What has been meant and thought and written and maintained and taught in both ancient and more modern times concerning the being and existence and activity of the possible hypostases and mediators of other gods, we commit into the hands of the inventors and adherents of the relevant systems and messages and writings in which these figures occur. We are obviously unable to prevent them using the term "angel" for what they think they may know and accept and believe in this respect. We insist, however, that whatever lies to the right hand or to the left of the reality whose concept is decisively given by its relationship to the living active and revealed God of Holy Scripture, does not correspond to the Christian idea of angel and does not deserve to be called an angel according to the Christian use … including … angels of so many mythical, spiritualistic, occult, theosophical and anthroposophical systems … those of popularly fantastic imagination of so many individual dreamers or whole circles of such. Nor are the beings which under this name have met with so much ridicule and skepticism and denial…. As Christians and theologians we must refrain from speaking of such beings as angels, and … we must certainly not be so foolish as to try to learn from an acquaintance with such beings what is to be understood as angels in the Christian sense of the term. - Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics

The article's author goes on to write ...

Barth's advice is lodged within a 160 page guidebook to "the higher cosmos" of Scripture in the third volume of his Church Dogmatics.4 No churchly travel over this terrain can ignore Barth and his maps. We shall be in conversation with him, following his pointing finger much of the way. But not all the way. While Barth is a good guide, others know some trails he has either missed or been reluctant to tread ....

And the rest of the article uses scripture (and Barth) to discusses in some detail the characteristics of angels and demons, and concludes with these words ...

... "a piety or theology in which there is no mystery … no angels … is a godless theology." The work of Christ in Scripture is inseparable from the work of angels. For all that, biblical angels are on the edge, not the center, of Christian faith, in the stained glass windows but not on the altar. That they are very much there in our songs, texts, and sanctuaries should give us, as too often forgetful teachers and preachers, some pause. Their prophetic, priestly and royal work under and for Jesus Christ have made a difference in the life and witness of other generations. And not to remember the demonic counterparts to the angelic hosts is the best assist we can give the agents of nothingness. In re-centering in Jesus Christ, may we better see the demons lurking and hear the angels singing.

It's worth a read :-)


Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Apocalypse of John


- Saint John on Patmos

Although I don't mention it often, I appreciate belonging to a group blog - friendly skripture study - in which we discuss spiritual writings, usually the OT and NT. We're just starting a new project - the last book of the NT, Revelation. Wikipedia summerizes the contents of the book thusly ...

... After a short introduction (ch. 1:1–10), it contains an account of the author, who identifies himself as John, and of two visions that he received on the isle of Patmos. The first vision (chs. 1:11–3:22), related by "one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle", speaking with "a great voice, as of a trumpet", are statements addressed to the seven churches of Asia. The second vision comprising the rest of the book (chs. 4–22) begins with "a door … opened in heaven" and describes the end of the world—involving the final rebellion by Satan at Armageddon, God's final defeat of Satan, and the restoration of peace to the world ...

I've never read Revelation before, but I could not help but be aware of its end-of-the-world theme, as it's pervasive in our populat culture ... just check out the popularity of the Left Behind books, for instance. My first exposure to the book of Revelation, however, was not (thankfully :-) Tim LaHaye's books but a movie my boyfriend took me to when I was in college ... The Seventh Seal. Wikipedia says ...

The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) is a 1957 film directed by Ingmar Bergman, most notable for the scenes in which a medieval knight (played by Max von Sydow) plays chess with the personification of Death, with his life resting on the outcome of the game. The film was the winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, in 1957. The title is a reference to the passage from the Book of Revelation used both at the very start of the film, and again towards the end, beginning with the words "And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour." (Revelation 8:1)

I was really touched by the movie, especially its existential pov, and as I look back on it, I realize that I am very much like the main character in my view of life and God ...

Antonius Block (von Sydow), a knight, returns with his squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) from the Crusades and finds that his home country is ravaged by the plague. To his dismay, he discovers that Death (Bengt Ekerot) has come for him too. In order to buy time he challenges Death to a chess match, which allows him to reach his home and be reunited with his wife after ten years away. The knight's faith is war-weathered, and this theme is stressed in one of the greatest scenes in the movie: the knight gives confession to a priest about his doubts whether God actually exists ....

In another powerful scene of a witch burning, the knight is asked by his squire whether he sees in the victim's eyes God or a vacancy. The disquieted knight refuses to acknowledge the victim's and, in a way, his own emptiness despite his doubts about God. The knight realises that he would rather be broken in faith, constantly suffering doubt, than recognise a life without meaning ....



- Death and the knight play chess

Not the most cheerful film :-) and the mental image I came away with of the breaking of the seventh seal, and the consequence of pestilence and death, was vivid. I'm hoping, though, that the reading our scripture group gives Revelation will help me get a better picture of its meaning. That won't be an easy row to hoe, of course - Revelation is known as one of the most difficult and controversial books in the New Testament. It barely made it into the canon, and the number of differnt schools of its interpretation are legion.

Wish us luck, and if you have the time and interest, drop by the scripture blog and leave a comment :-)

* For another movie about the breaking of the seventh seal, take a look at The Seventh Sign, not especially profound, but unusual for the fact that Jesus is one of the characters, played by Jurgen Prochnow.

* Read about Søren Kierkegaard, whose theology is said to have informed Bergman's movie.


Happy 200

Tonight was Stargate SG-1's 200th episode ... 10 years of a quite good (and funny) science fiction series :-) ...







Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Archbishop of York's Tent



I saw a post at Catholic Sensibility that touched me - it spoke of a recent interview in the Guardian with the Archbishop of York. I'm going to post bits from the interview below, but first, here's a little about the Archbishop, John Sentamu, from Wikipedia ...

John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu, FRSA (born 10 June 1949) is the Archbishop of York. He is the first member of a racial minority to serve as an archbishop in the Church of England. Sentamu was born in 1949 in a village near Kampala, Uganda, the sixth of thirteen children. He was educated for the law at Makerere University and practised as an Advocate of the High Court of Uganda. Sentamu was appointed a High Court judge in 1973 at the age of 24 by the newly-ascendent Idi Amin; his judicial independence earned the dictator's ire, however, and he suffered threats and physical violence before fleeing to the United Kingdom in 1974 ....

... His enthronement was remarkable as it combined the sombre church protocol of enthronement with African singing and dancing and contemporary worship music. The Archbishop himself played African drums during the service. In an unprecendented step, Archbishop Sentamu also opted for the distribution of picnic bags for all who attended the service ....

... Early in 2006, Archbishop Sentamu was featured prominently in the British press for his comments on what he saw as injustices over the treatment of alleged prisoners of war in Guantanamo Bay ...


Most recently, the Archbishop has been in the news because of a fast he has been undergoing in solidarity with those impacted by the Middle East conflict. Snips from the Guardian interview - Inside is an odd place to pitch a tent - are below ...

*****

.... Inside the great cathedral, a small, hunched figure, dressed in purple, prayed. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, the Church of England's first black primate, has foregone his summer holiday this year - he was meant to be going to Salzburg to enjoy some Mozart with his wife - in favour of seven days of prayer and fasting for peace in the Middle East and beyond. o ensure that his sacrifice does not go unnoticed, Sentamu is carrying out his week of prayer and fasting right in the heart of his cathedral, and in dramatic fashion: he has pitched a small mountaineering tent - green, with an Episcopal purple lining - in front of the altar in one of the minster's side chapels.

The sign hanging from the railings surrounding the small chapel of St John the Evangelist announces that there will be prayers on the hour, every hour, between 9am and 5pm this week. It adds: "And the archbishop will be sleeping here each night ...

... t was stream of stories coming out of Lebanon in the past few weeks that inspired his week in the tent, says the archbishop.

"Early in the war, I was watching BBC television news and Jeremy Bowen came on in a hospital in Lebanon and there was an eight-year-old girl who had lost her right eye and he said her parents had been killed and she hadn't been told yet. It was like a bayonet went into my heart. It just got to me.

"Then, a week or two later, there was Jeremy Bowen again in a village wrecked by rocket fire and there was an old woman, 85 years old. Most people had left and only the elderly and infirm remained behind. She could have been my mother. I found myself so devastated. My prayers were just crying out to God. This was atrocious. I couldn't get it out of my mind.

"People were asking me what they could do and I was giving them the usual glib answers like prayer, but my prayers were getting quite difficult. I knew I wouldn't achieve much writing to the prime minister. My feeling of helplessness was getting to me. I was becoming numb and I thought I had to pray. The question was where?" ...

... "I think this has taught me to listen and not to grumble," he says. "We as a church are preoccupied with sexual morality, but there is a more important morality in terms of poverty, justice and equality. This has been helpful. One drop of water cannot turn a water wheel but many drops can." ...

... I tell him that his fast started on Sunday and by Monday there was a ceasefire. He shrugs. "The more I pray, the more coincidences there are," he laughs.

*****

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Kermit

Kermit likes her birthday toy :-)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Perplexed

I saw a news article online recently that troubled me ... Catholics perplexed by actions of San Francisco Catholic Charities. The story says, in part ...

Catholics in San Francisco and throughout the United States continue to be confused by the decision of San Francisco Catholic Charities to persist in facilitating adoptions to homosexual couples, an action which the Church has spoken out against. In announcement made two weeks ago, San Francisco Catholic Charities decided that while it will close its own adoption services, it will continue to outsource personnel to an agency that facilitates adoptions in the area, including adoptions to homosexual couples ....

I must admit, I'm also perplexed, but for different reasons ... I don't understand why homosexual couples should not be allowed to adopt children.

There is no real evidence that any harm is caused children who are raised by same-sex couples. Below is what the American Psychological Association has to say on the subject - it supports adoption by same-sex couples in its policy statement of July 28 & 30, 2004 ...

... There is no scientific basis for concluding that lesbian mothers or gay fathers are unfit parents on the basis of their sexual orientation (Armesto, 2002; Patterson, 2000; Tasker & Golombok, 1997). On the contrary, results of research suggest that lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children .... Research suggests that sexual identities (including gender identity, gender-role behavior, and sexual orientation) develop in much the same ways among children of lesbian mothers as they do among children of heterosexual parents (Patterson, 2004a) .... Evidence also suggests that children of lesbian and gay parents have normal social relationships with peers and adults (Patterson, 2000, 2004a; Perrin, 2002; Stacey & Biblarz, 2001; Tasker, 1999; Tasker & Golombok, 1997). The picture that emerges from research is one of general engagement in social life with peers, parents, family members, and friends. Fears about children of lesbian or gay parents being sexually abused by adults, ostracized by peers, or isolated in single-sex lesbian or gay communities have received no scientific support. Overall, results of research suggest that the development, adjustment, and well-being of children with lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from that of children with heterosexual parents ...
- link

I might add that I was raised by four heterosexual parents - a mother, a father, and two stepfathers - and I'm a living proof that having straight parents does not guarantee a safe, healthy or happy childhood.

Of course, the Church's stance is not based on sociology but theology ... the Church's position can be read here - CONSIDERATIONS REGARDING PROPOSALS TO GIVE LEGAL RECOGNITION TO UNIONS BETWEEN HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS - CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH

My feelings on the subject are well expressed by an old article in Commonweal - To Welcome a Child - Gay Couples & Adoption by Jo McGowan

... gay couples, having staked everything on love in a world that is often hostile toward them, let alone tolerant, are better suited than most to the challenges of caring for children who need unconditional acceptance. If, having risked being ostracized and rejected by the community they-like anyone else-desire to be a part of, they are still willing to offer their lives and their hearts as a haven for children in the most desperate need of protection and unconditional acceptance, who on earth are we to say they are unworthy?


Thursday, August 10, 2006

St. Clare of Assisi



Friday is the Memorial of St. Clare and this month marks the 750th anniversary of her death. . Here's what the saint of the day post at American Catholic has to say about Clare ...

One of the more sugary movies made about Francis of Assisi pictures Clare as a golden-haired beauty floating through sun-drenched fields, a sort of one-girl counterpart to the new Franciscan Order.

The beginning of her religious life was indeed movie material. Having refused to marry at 15, she was moved by the dynamic preaching of Francis. He became her lifelong friend and spiritual guide.

At 18, she escaped one night from her father’s home, was met on the road by friars carrying torches, and in the poor little chapel called the Portiuncula received a rough woolen habit, exchanged her jeweled belt for a common rope with knots in it, and sacrificed the long tresses to Francis’ scissors. He placed her in a Benedictine convent which her father and uncles immediately stormed in rage. She clung to the altar of the church, threw aside her veil to show her cropped hair and remained adamant.

End of movie material ...


The rest of the article goes on to describe the kind of life Clare led as abbess of a Second Order ...

The nuns went barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat and observed almost complete silence ... They possessed no property, even in common, subsisting on daily contributions ... The 41 years of Clare’s religious life are poor movie material, but they are a scenario of sanctity: an indomitable resolve to lead the simple, literal gospel life ...

And check out another, longer article on Clare at American Catholic - Celebrating St. Clare of Assisi, which tells about Clare's life, has some information about what it's like to be a Poor Clare today, and also links to some recommended books.


St Clare with the Scene of the Siege of Assisi - Giuseppi Cesari


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Canaanite Woman



I was happy to see that the gospel reading for Wednesday is one of my favorites - Mt 15: 21-28 ...

At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and did him homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.

There's an interesting commentary on this reading (and a couple of others) in Theology Today ... Spirit, Mercy, and the Other by Judith Gundry-Volf, Associate Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. She writes, in part ...

The Syrophoenician woman knocks down every obstacle in her path to making Jesus her Lord, the helper of the Gentiles. She meets his stony silence with more pleading. She drowns out the disciples' request for Jesus to send her away with her own repeated requests for Jesus to have mercy. She factually negates his exclusive mission to the Jews when she, a Gentile, calls him Lord and worships him. Finally, she cleverly turns his own maxim supporting exclusivism into an illustration of inclusivism in salvation ...

.... In the encounter with her, Jesus is faced squarely with the contradiction between fulfilling this Gentile's request and his perceived mission to Israel alone. Yet, when the powerless woman impresses on him the power of mercy that is not based on privilege through birth or deserts, Jesus' sense of his mission is expanded through this principle of mercy, the basis of her faith. In this light, he senses how appropriate it is that Gentiles should experience the fruit of his work now. So, finally, Jesus says the word-"Be it done for you as you wish"-"and her daughter was healed at once" (Matt. 15:28). Fittingly, her wish determined Jesus' action, for she rightly expected divine grace to be extended to the Gentiles.


What touches me about the story is that the woman doesn't give up, even when refused help, and that Jesus seems to change his mind about helping her. I come away (perhaps wrongly) with the idea that it's ok to be honest with Jesus/God about our desires, whatever they may be. And I come away with a Jesus/God who is changeable in response to us.


Monday, August 07, 2006

Timothy Radcliffe



Tuesday is the Memorial of St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order, so I thought I'd write a little about one well known Dominican, Timothy Radcliffe. As Wikipedia says ...

Timothy Radcliffe OP (1945, London–) is a Catholic priest and Dominican friar of the English Province, and former Master of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) from 1992-2001. He is the only member of the English Province of the Dominicans to have held the office since the Order's foundation in 1216. Before Radcliffe became Master of the Dominican Order, he had been the Prior Provincial of the Dominicans in England. He is a professor of theology at Blackfriars, Oxford and a renowned and highly sought after speaker.

A few of his homilies can be read here - Preaching by Timothy Radcliffe O.P.

You can read some quotations of his here. My favorite :-) ...
We can identify with Frodo and Sam, setting off not knowing quite where they are going and what they are to do.

And a number of articles by and about Radcliffe can be found at The Tablet, including an interview by Catherine Pepinster of Radcliffe from last year - An enigma wrapped in a cowl. Here's a bit of it below ...

*****

.... But what does Timothy do, nowadays? The answer seems to be actually rather simple: he is very much a twenty-first-century member of the Order of Preachers, criss-crossing the world to give homilies, talks and lectures. Up until now his CV is certainly impressive: a biblical scholar; prior of Blackfriars, Oxford; head of the English province of the Dominicans; nine years as Master of the Order; head of the Angelicum in Rome; and author of regular publications. His latest book, What is the Point of Being a Christian?, is an examination of the ultimate goal and purpose of our lives in the modern world. ....

.... What is the Point of Being a Christian? explores different aspects of Christian faith, examining the extent to which it is bound up with freedom and happiness. Radcliffe suggests that it is joy which is needed so urgently in the Church today, yet there is also a sense of gloom in the book, a pessimism so often conjured up by Christian writers wanting to show how much the world is in need of salvation. He agrees that this is indeed a problem, which can cause people to feel alienated by a judgemental Church. ....

... One of the book’s abiding themes is the need for truth – not surprising for a man who chose the Dominican order, with its motto “Veritas”. He writes in the book of truthfulness being the essence of Christianity, while truth seems difficult for modern society. “We are drowning in information but we do not know whom or what to believe,” he writes. The influence of the Enlightenment means that many people believe the truth requires us to be detached observers, unmasking hypocrisy and denouncing failure, but Radcliffe emphasises trying to achieve a shared understanding, not closed to people’s goodness ...

... one might ask, what is the point of being Timothy Radcliffe? There is a sense in which Radcliffe remains an enigma. Many wonder if he sees himself at the age of 60 in the quiet days of his life, or whether he harbours ambitions for episcopal office. This Pope is believed to think well of him, and they certainly encountered each other in Rome in their previous respective positions as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Master of the Dominicans. In those days, Radcliffe was frequently dubbed by the press “the most important Englishman in Rome”. Then, he was easy to label. Today, he is harder, in the world’s terms of ambition, concrete achievement, or hierarchical advancement, to pin down. But perhaps that is the essence of his success and of his contribution: a sign that it is not the world’s values that really count.
- The Tablet
****


Tobit and Sarah

Not long ago, at the scripture blog to which I belong, we were discussing what to read next. One suggestion was the Book of Tobit, and it wan't until then that I realized that book was not part of the Protestant Bible. We ended up choosing something else, and I was somewhat disappointed, because the Book of Tobit has it all ... two characters, Tobias and Sarah, in such despair they pray for death, annd a plot that intertwines a giant fish, a demon, and an angel in such a way as to make everything right. Here's a synopsis of the story from the New American Bible ...

Tobit, a devout and wealthy Israelite living among the captives deported to Nineveh from the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C., suffers severe reverses and is finally blinded. Because of his misfortunes he begs the Lord to let him die. But recalling the large sum he had formerly deposited in far-off Media, he sends his son Tobiah there to bring back the money. In Media, at this same time, a young woman, Sarah, also prays for death, because she has lost seven husbands, each killed in turn on his wedding night by the demon Asmodeus. God hears the prayers of Tobit and Sarah, and sends the angel Raphael in disguise to aid them both.

Raphael makes the trip to Media with Tobiah. When Tobiah is attacked by a large fish as he bathes, Raphael orders him to seize it and to remove its gall, heart, and liver because they make "useful medicines." Later, at Raphael's urging, Tobiah marries Sarah, and uses the the fish's heart and liver to drive Asmodeus from the bridal chamber. Returning to Nineveh with his wife and his father's money, Tobiah rubs the fish's gall into his father's eyes and cures them. Finally, Raphael reveals his true identity and returns to heaven.


What are we to make of this story? I recently read a homily by Fr. Rob Marsh SJ on Tobit that has some insights ...


Wednesday Week 9 Year I

June 1st, 2005

Listen to them pray. Listen to Tobit and to Sarah. They are both beyond the protocols of prayer.

Tobit wants to die. His life is a misery. He is blind. He has to rely on charity to keep him, or—worse of all it seems to him—women’s work. And he’s going a little mad with it all. So he lays it on thick to God. You are great and wonderful God and all you do is true and good but we are all worthless maggots who have never done what we should. I deserve to be punished, to live and suffer, but please snuff me out and have done with it. Let it be over.

Sarah too wants to die. She has husband trouble—or maybe demon trouble. Seven she has lost, all on her wedding nights, before they ever got to her marriage bed. But it’s not the lost husbands she is worried about in her prayer—it’s that people are talking! Suicide has its problems so she turns to God to do the deed—she too prays to die. Let it be over.

They both pray lousy prayers full of mixed motives, misunderstandings, and manipulation. They are hardly models for us, yet their prayer is the prayer of all the afflicted, offended, lost souls of this world.

And God hears. Both of them found favour before the glory of God it says. Prayer may be messy, it may be selfish, it may be theologically incorrect—but God hears. And God’s answer is to give them both better than they ask. God’s answer is an angel. They want to die but what they get is an angel to heal them. A rather delightful, incognito angel with a dog for a sidekick.

The answer is immediate though the healing takes quite a while to be revealed. The remedy for Tobit and the remedy for Sarah, though hundreds of miles apart, turn out to be joined by a journey, several outrageous coincidences, and a near miss with a killer fish. Oh and true love. … and treasure—read on!

Tobit and Sarah must have been so very disappointed that night they prayed, let it be over. Come the morning they were still there: Tobit still humiliated and blind; Sarah still a scandal and unwed. God’s care is never over. God’s remedy for them took some brewing, some strange twists, a fishy exorcism, and an angel with a dog. But as we shall see our God is God of the living not the dead.


- The Wedding Night of Tobias and Sarah by Jan Steen


Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Children of Men



A science fiction movie coming out in September has caught my attention - The Children of Men. It's adapted from a novel by P.D. James, and stars Clive Owen, with Alfonso Cuarón directing. The reason I noticed it was the premise of the movie ... a future in which all humans become infertile. A few years ago I wrote a short story on that theme, so I wanted to see how P.D. James handled it.

The movie hasn't been reviewed much yet, as it hasn't been released, but info on the novel is more extensive. Here's a little of what Publishers Weekly wrote ...

... Near the end of the 20th century, for reasons beyond the grasp of modern science, human sperm count went to zero. The last birth occurred in 1995, and in the space of a generation humanity has lost its future. In England, under the rule of an increasingly despotic Warden, the infirm are encouraged to commit group suicide, criminals are exiled and abandoned and immigrants are subjected to semi-legalized slavery. Divorced, middle-aged Oxford history professor Theo Faron, an emotionally constrained man of means and intelligence who is the Warden's cousin, plods through an ordered, bleak existence. But a chance involvement with a group of dissidents moves him onto unexpected paths, leading him, in the novel's compelling second half, toward risk, commitment and the joys and anguish of love ...

As one would expect in a world where no babies are born and the youngest humans are in their twenties, fear and despair play a big part in people's lives. The story has England ruled by a despot, criminals are abandoned on the Isle of Man, the Church of England has fragmented into sects, the countryside is depopulated, crime slows, sex loses its allure, and the aging citizenry prepares for death through suicide. All this has the potential to change when Theo learns of the existence of a pregnant girl and strives through adverse conditions to get her to safety.

James' take on the scenario sounds much darker than mine but I think the issues raised by her story will make a couple of movie hours well spent.


- Michael Caine's also in the movie


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Transfiguration

Sunday is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord


- Fra Angelico


- The ikon shown here is located on the ceiling of the south transept of SS Peter & Paul Orthodox Church, Meriden, CT. It was painted in 1961-2 by Ivan Diky.


- Titian


Lorca - City That Does Not Sleep

Here's a past article from The Tablet - The Magic of Lorca - on the Spanish poet, Federico García Lorca. And here's one of his poems ...

City That Does Not Sleep

In the sky there is nobody asleep. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins.
The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the street corner
the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the stars.

Nobody is asleep on earth. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
In a graveyard far off there is a corpse
who has moaned for three years
because of a dry countryside on his knee;
and that boy they buried this morning cried so much
it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.

Life is not a dream. Careful! Careful! Careful!
We fall down the stairs in order to eat the moist earth
or we climb to the knife edge of the snow with the voices of the dead dahlias.
But forgetfulness does not exist, dreams do not exist;
flesh exists. Kisses tie our mouths
in a thicket of new veins,
and whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever
and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.

One day
the horses will live in the saloons
and the enraged ants
will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the eyes of cows.

Another day
we will watch the preserved butterflies rise from the dead
and still walking through a country of gray sponges and silent boats
we will watch our ring flash and roses spring from our tongue.
Careful! Be careful! Be careful!
The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
and that boy who cries because he has never heard of the invention of the bridge,
or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe,
we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes are waiting,
where the bear's teeth are waiting,
where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting,
and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.

Nobody is sleeping in the sky. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is sleeping.
If someone does close his eyes,
a whip, boys, a whip!
Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
I have said it before.

No one is sleeping.
But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the night,
open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.


- Statue of García Lorca in Madrid's Plaza de Santa Ana


Friday, August 04, 2006

Pendleburys Bookshop



I received an email today from Pendleburys Bookshop in London, asking if I would list their site in my posted links. I have no posted links, but I thought I'd mention them instead in a post. Let me say first that I've never visited their store, have never bought anything from them, and I do not know of and cannot vouch for the quality of their products or services, and I won't be getting any kickbacks for posting this :-) ... but I looked around on the web and they seem reputable, so here's some info about them, from their site ...

Pendleburys Bookshop is one of the largest dealers in secondhand and antiquarian theological books in the United Kingdom with stocks of over 30,000 volumes. 0ur aim is to provide books for the working library of the student, minister and layman and academic books for libraries and those engaged on in-depth study of religion and philosophy. We have a small collection of antiquarian material for the specialist collector. Our stock is housed in part of the premises of a Victorian church in north east London, just 3 miles north of St Pauls Cathedral, where we welcome visitors on week-days excepting Wednesday. Our books cover all aspects of the Christian religion, without denominational bias, comparative religions and philosophy. We also have stocks of secular material which are being added to our website. Founded in 1982, with the help and support of local churches, our business has grown in both size and scope.



The bookshop's site tells of their one moment of fame, back in 1997, when many of their books went missing due to theft. They mentioned their problem to a friend in Spain, and the rest is history ...

He sent us a 'copy' of an ancient curse on book thieves belived to emenate from the Monastery of San Pedro in Barcelona. In a spirit of light hearted amusement we posted the copy throughout our shop and were dumbfounded that it worked. Thefts ceased & books were returned through the post with notes of apology. We wrote a short letter to the Church Times informing them of this phenomenon and asked if any readers knew of a similar curse that might induce sales. We were much surprised when Thursday's copy of the Church Times arrived at our desk, delivered an hour early by the local newsagent with our story on the front page. All very good we thought and rather a laugh. The following morning our newsagent delivered both the Times & Telegraph two hours early as they both contained lead stories about our shop and the bookseller curse. Tuning into Radio Four at 7.00 am we were much taken aback at our names being mentioned first in the press reviews and this was quickly followed by follow up telephone calls from the BBC, ITV, and other independent stations ...


- For him that stealeth a book from this library, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy and let there be no sur-cease to his agony till he sink in Dissolution. let Bookworms gnaw his entraills in token of the worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him for evere and aye .... (Yikes!)

For those interested in checking out their website ... PENDLEBURYS BOOKSHOP

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Gustavo Gutiérrez



In looking through a recent issue of The Way, I saw an article ... God Talk in Latin America - The View from the Margins, ... by Gustavo Gutiérrez, in which he writes about the "preferential option for the poor", an important element of liberation theology. Sadly, the article isn't available online and I'm a two-fingered typist with bad eyes, so I'm not going to try to transcribe it here. But I was able to find an online interview with Gutiérrez at America Magazine that covers some of the same material and I'll post a bit of that below.

First, a few words about Gutiérrez from Wikipedia ...

Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino, O.P. (born 8 June 1928 Lima) is a Peruvian theologian and Dominican priest regarded as the founder of Liberation Theology at the University of Notre Dame .... He has studied medicine and literature (Peru), psychology and philosophy (Louvain), and obtained a doctorate at the Institut Pastoral d'Etudes Religieuses (IPER), Université Catholique in Lyon. The founder of liberation theology, he was born in Peru, and spent much of his life living and working among the poor of Lima ... Gutiérrez's groundbreaking work, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation (1971), explains his notion of Christian poverty as an act of loving solidarity with the poor as well as a liberatory protest against poverty ...

Here are a few of the Q&As from the America article - Remembering the Poor: An Interview with Gustavo Gutiérrez. (I've not put it in italics, because I'm having trouble reading long stretches of italicized print, but it is directly quoted from the article) ...

***************

You have always placed the concerns of the poor in the forefront of your theological reflection. Must every theologian come to grips with the reality of social suffering in the world, or is this only incumbent, say, on those who work directly within a context of poverty?

I am firmly convinced that poverty—this sub-human condition in which the majority of humanity lives today—is more than a social issue. Poverty poses a major challenge to every Christian conscience and therefore to theology as well.

People today often talk about contextual theologies but, in point of fact, theology has always been contextual. Some theologies, it is true, may be more conscious of and explicit about their contextuality, but all theological investigation is necessarily carried out within a specific historical context. When Augustine wrote The City of God, he was reflecting on what it meant for him and for his contemporaries to live the Gospel within a specific context of serious historical transformations.

Our context today is characterized by a glaring disparity between the rich and the poor. No serious Christian can quietly ignore this situation. It is no longer possible for someone to say, “Well, I didn’t know” about the suffering of the poor. Poverty has a visibility today that it did not have in the past. The faces of the poor must now be confronted. And we also understand the causes of poverty and the conditions that perpetuate it. There was a time when poverty was considered to be an unavoidable fate, but such a view is no longer possible or responsible. Now we know that poverty is not simply a misfortune; it is an injustice.

Of course, there always remains the practical question: what must we do in order to abolish poverty? Theology does not pretend to have all the technical solutions to poverty, but it reminds us never to forget the poor and also that God is at stake in our response to poverty. An active concern for the poor is not only an obligation for those who feel a political vocation; all Christians must take the Gospel message of justice and equality seriously. Christians cannot forgo their responsibility to say a prophetic word about unjust economic conditions. Pope John Paul II’s approach to the phenomenon of globalization is a good example. He constantly asks: “How is this going to affect the poor? Does it promote justice?”

Do you think the “preferential option for the poor” has become an integral part of the Catholic Church’s social teaching? And where did that term come from?

Yes, I do believe that the option for the poor has become part of the Catholic social teaching. The phrase comes from the experience of the Latin American church. The precise term was born sometime between the Latin American bishops’ conferences in Medellín (1968) and in Puebla (1979). In Medellín, the three words (option, preference, poor) are all present, but it was only in the years immediately following Medellín that we brought these words into a complete phrase. It would be accurate to say that the term “preferential option for the poor” comes from the Latin American church, but the content, the underlying intuition, is entirely biblical. Liberation theology tries to deepen our understanding of this core biblical conviction.

The preferential option for the poor has gradually become a central tenet of the church’s teaching. Perhaps we can briefly explain the meaning of each term:

• The term poverty refers to the real poor. This is not a preferential option for the spiritually poor. After all, such an option would be very easy, if for no other reason that there are so few of them! The spiritually poor are the saints! The poverty to which the option refers is material poverty. Material poverty means premature and unjust death. The poor person is someone who is treated as a non-person, someone who is considered insignificant from an economic, political and cultural point of view. The poor count as statistics; they are the nameless. But even though the poor remain insignificant within society, they are never insignificant before God.

• Some people feel, wrongly I believe, that the word preferential waters down or softens the option for the poor, but this is not true. God’s love has two dimensions, the universal and the particular; and while there is a tension between the two, there is no contradiction. God’s love excludes no one. Nevertheless, God demonstrates a special predilection toward those who have been excluded from the banquet of life. The word preference recalls the other dimension of the gratuitous love of God—the universality.

• In some ways, option is perhaps the weakest word in the sentence. In English, the word merely connotes a choice between two things. In Spanish, however, it evokes the sense of commitment. The option for the poor is not optional, but is incumbent upon every Christian. It is not something that a Christian can either take or leave. As understood by Medellín, the option for the poor is twofold: it involves standing in solidarity with the poor, but it also entails a stance against inhumane poverty.

The preferential option for the poor is ultimately a question of friendship. Without friendship, an option for the poor can easily become commitment to an abstraction (to a social class, a race, a culture, an idea). Aristotle emphasized the important place of friendship for the moral life, but we also find this clearly stated in John’s Gospel. Christ says, “I do not call you servants, but friends.” As Christians, we are called to reproduce this quality of friendship in our relationships with others. When we become friends with the poor, their presence leaves an indelible imprint on our lives, and we are much more likely to remain committed.

Some people say that liberation theology made an important contribution, but that it is now in decline. Do you agree? What is your prognosis for the future of liberation theology?

Any new insight within a particular field of knowledge initially receives a lot of attention, but then it slowly gets incorporated or assimilated into the normal ways of doing things. This principle applies to many of the key insights found in liberation theology.

Like any other way of doing theology, liberation theology is linked to a particular historical moment. Now we can ask ourselves: have the historical circumstances changed? Certainly, it is true that many important events have taken place over the past decades and that the political climate is very different from that of the 60’s and 70’s. But the situation of the poor has not changed fundamentally. As long as there is a group of Christians trying to be faithful in these circumstances, a group trying to follow Christ among the poor, we will find something like liberation theology.

Even though it is common to refer to liberation theology in the singular, we are witnessing several new expressions of this theology in different contexts and continents—North America, Central and South America, Africa and Asia. Each of these theologies has a particular point of view, but they also have much in common, particularly a concern for the poor and excluded. Liberation theology revolves around this attention to the plight of the poor.

***************

Liberation theology is out of style, but I know of a few hardy souls in blogdom who are still interested in it ... enjoy :-)


Nativity mural at Batahola Norte - liberation theology church in Managua

More Rowan

I saw a post at Catholic Sensibility a day or two ago ... it was about a BBC piece - Rowan Williams, Reflections on the Lord's Prayer. Here is the beginning of it, below (not italicized) ...

*****

A prayer to set us free

The prayer as a whole is a prayer which I think tells us we stand in a very vulnerable place. We stand in the middle of a human world where God's will is not the first thing, the most automatic thing that people do. Where crisis faces us, where uncertainty is all around about tomorrow and where evil is powerfully at work.

To stand with dignity and freedom in a world like that, we need to know that God is Our Father. We need to know that whatever happens to us God is God, God's name and presence and power and word are holy and wonderful and that that glorious God has made us members of his family in a very intimate and direct way.

With that confidence, that kind of not childish dependence, we're actually free. We know that there is a relationship that nothing can break.

And again, you could turn to Saint Paul on that to the end of chapter eight of his Letter to the Romans: "I know that nothing, nothing can separate me from the love of God and Jesus Christ". And to begin that prayer "Our Father" is really to say what Saint Paul is saying. Here is an anchorage, you know the old hymn, here is an anchor that keeps the soul. Here is the anchorage that keeps us steady in this turbulent, difficult, nightmare world.

So the Lord's Prayer is a prayer that is utterly serious about the danger, the tragedy of the world.

*****