Perspective

Thoughts of a Catholic convert

My Photo
Name:
Location: United States

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A letter from Ignatius



Tomorrow is the memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I tried to think of what to post (and it's never too late watch my mini slideshow of him :) and decided on a hypothetical letter written by Ignatius to anyone who might be interested in Ignatian spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises - I first read it when I was taking the online Ignatian retreat "in everyday life" given by Creighton University, and it touched me. The letter was created by Canadian Jesuit John Veltri SJ. I've posted the letter below, and though it is long, it's well worth a read. The original has many hot links contained within it that give more info on various concepts mentioned, like spiritual freedom or the discernment of spirits, so please visit Fr. Veltri's page, as I didn't include the links in my post. Here it is .....

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

To You . . .
. . . From Ignatius


As you know, my great desire was always
to tell people about God and God's grace,
and about Jesus ... both crucified and risen,
so that my brothers and sisters
would experience
the freedom of God.

I wanted to bring the same message
as the church had always brought
... and yet,
I felt I could put this in a new way.


Why was this so?


I had a direct encounter with God,
particularly during those months at Manresa,
where, as I told you in my autobiography,
God personally taught me like a school boy.
Yes, I, Ignatius of Loyola, Inigo as they called me,
I knew God ... Father, Son and Spirit ...
nameless and unfathomable,
mysterious and yet near ...
bestowing themselves upon me in a manner
beyond all concrete imaginings.

I knew God clearly in such nearness and grace
as was impossible to confound or mistake.

God, God's very self ...
I knew God,
not simply human words describing God.

I knew the Divine Majesty.

I knew God,
as you would say in your modern world --
experientially,
even if knowing God face to face, as I do now,
is again different ... and yet ...
somehow the same.

This is grace ... gift ...
I believe that God ... Father, Son and Spirit ...
desires to give this gift of God's self
to all who desire to be open to it.

This grace that I received during those days
at Manresa,
was not something that I considered
a special privilege
for myself or a chosen few.
Therefore, I set down the structure of this experience
in a little manual which I called
The Spiritual Exercises.
I gave these exercises to anyone
for whom such an offer of spiritual help
might seem profitable.
I did this as a lay person,
long before I went to school
to learn theology for ordination.

I gave these Exercises on the conviction
that God desires to communicate directly
and personally
to the generous person,
eager to discover God's will
and ready to act responsibly in the world
with deliberate choice.


Over the years, it has been observed
that, if persons are willing to dispose themselves generously
according to the directives of these Exercises,
in time ... God personally leads them.

God can and does communicate personally to human creatures
who are open-hearted.


A person knows God truly when this happens,
and that person
will experience the sovereign power
of God's freedom in one's own life.
This very simple and yet
stupendous conviction of mine
is a key to my spirituality.

Unfortunately, over the years,
people have thought of my spirituality
as being too rigidly methodical.
They did this because they separated
the exterior structure and content of the Exercises
from their interior dynamic,
sometimes misinterpreting and misunderstanding
the very simple approach
that I have always believed in,
namely ...

We do the best we can,
only by way of disposition
and by way of creating an openness.
In the meantime, we know that
only God's Spirit can give us
what we are seeking.

My spirituality would be betrayed if it were reduced to methods ...
but the Exercises contain many methods.
My spirituality would be betrayed
if persons were not led, ultimately,
to abandon all tangible assurances,
including my methods --
thus growing in confidence toward the inconceivable
where there are no longer paths or methods,
and thus entering their final, fearful,
creaturely choice
at the end of their lives.

To help others to experience God directly,
and to realize
that the incomprehensible mystery we call God,
is near ... and ...
we can talk with God --
this is the goal
of the Spiritual Exercises journey.

Do you desire that the Father, Son and Spirit,
share themselves with you?
Do you desire to base your life choices
and decisions
on this personal sharing and communication?

Then, by all means,
enter into these Spiritual Exercises.
But you will have to pay a price --
the price is your time;
the price is your patience;
the price is putting aside, for almost a year,
frenetic occupations, pressing decisions,
that will scatter your energies
and leave you so unfocused
that you will not be able to give yourself
to the daily moments of solitude
that my Spiritual Exercises presume.

The price is commitment to prayer,
each day, at a special time;
perhaps the best time.
More prayer, possibly,
and more focus in your prayer
than you have been used to.
The price is waiting for God
to influence your being
and trusting God to do so.
The price is that you will have to surrender
your own personal methods ... and wait ...
at least, for a time.
Occasionally, you will feel
that you should never have begun,
and you will experience a variety of reactions
towards which you will become more and more sensitive.
Reactions that are interior,
some of which are spiritual movements ...

... turmoil, anxieties, joy, pain, uplift,
peace, enthusiasm, comfort, happiness,
sadness, dryness, discouragement, tears,
hope, enlightenment, temptation, fear ...

In my Spiritual Exercises manual,
I describe them in Spanish as "agitaciones" --
spiritual movements caused by the good and evil spirits.
Modern psychology undoubtedly will have
a different explanation of how they arise.
I have discernment guidelines that will help
you and your prayer guide
sift through these reactions.

At the beginning of the manual which I wrote
for your prayer guide,
I included twenty-two different
introductory notes or comments
that apply to the whole of the Exercises.

In time, these comments came to be known as Annotations.
The way you are receiving
the Spiritual Exercises
is according to Annotation 19,
or as some of your contemporaries call it,
Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life.

The journey you are about to make
will take you many months,
and you will be doing the Spiritual Exercises
in the midst of your everyday life.

If you were to do this same journey
according to Annotation 20,
you would be doing so in the closed setting
of a retreat house,
away from everyday life,
from your usual activities and occupations.
You might feel that this is a better way
of making the Exercises.
I used to think that way myself,
particularly in my time.

Remember, however,
we didn't have retreat houses then,
and the person who made the Exercises,
even in a closed setting of thirty days,
had to take lodging in a boarding house,
away from home,
and had to go to church several times a day
for mass, vespers and benediction.
The directee
had to go outside for one's toiletry needs,
go to the stream to wash one's clothes,
and sometimes cook and shop for oneself.
There were many more distractions for the person
of the 20th Annotation in my time,
than for the person
of the 20th Annotation in your retreat houses today.

Another difference in my time had to do with the culture.
Society, then, was not what you refer to today as
schizoid ... separated.
There was a more unified way of looking at life.

In the past seventy years,
you seem to have discovered
what is called the unconscious, and, I believe,
you experience this phenomenon
as being separated from your conscious self.
Your life in various areas seems to be divided.
The public and private spheres of life in my time
were not experienced as
disparate, as I believe, they are for you.
Nor did we speak of secular and sacred
as if they were separate,
as you regard them now.
For persons of my time, the process of integrating
their spiritual experiences
with their secular experiences
was easier.
Therefore, when they went away for thirty days,
they would more automatically experience
a unity
between their experiences.
Not so with the people of your time.

The advantage of doing my Spiritual Exercises
according to Annotation 19
is that you will be taught to integrate
the experience of God's Spirit
with your daily life.

In the next several months,
many of your activities
of work, family and leisure,
even if you adapt them for this journey,
may appear to take you
away from God.
I assure you, however, that
if you are faithful
in your committed prayer times
and to what you will learn in the course
of the Exercises journey,
you will begin to find God in all things.

This is the goal of the Spiritual Exercises journey ...
to find God ...
to experience God ...
to return love for love ...
in the choices you make.


Your prayer guide is a companion on your journey.
She is neither your superior nor your judge.
You do not have
a subject/superior relationship,
a slave/master relationship,
nor a sacred obedience relationship with her.

She is a sister pilgrim.
She is a sinner as you are.
She is a person whom God will use,
at this point in your life,
as an instrument for your guidance.

I have given her
very special instructions on how to apply
my Spiritual Exercises
so that she will not interfere and
will allow God to communicate personally with you.

I presume, then,
that you and your guide are companions on the journey,
that each of you is coming out of good will,
that each of you is coming out of generosity.
Your relationship
will be one of friendliness and gentleness.

On your part,
you are being asked to be deeply faithful
to the exercises for each day
and faithful to the reflection
upon the experiences of these exercises.

Then, when you meet with your prayer guide,
you will share
what has been transpiring in your experiences ...

... the ups and downs ...
the insights ...
the struggles ...
the success feelings ...
the failure feelings ...

By listening to your prayer experiences,
she will be able to guide you and
help you to proceed on your journey.

Her very first task
is to help you get beyond the barriers
that prevent God from being personal with you.
This may take a long time
or it may proceed quickly;
there may be teaching, explaining, dialogue,
and possibly some experimenting.
However,
once you have allowed God
to be personal with you,
once you are free enough to allow your mystery
to be touched by God's mystery,
then your guide moves into the second task.


Her second task is to be more passive,
sitting on the sidelines, as it were,
but attentive while God leads you.
I describe this in the 15th Annotation:

... while one is making the Exercises, it is much better that the Creator and Lord communicate directly with the directee seeking to discover God's desires, that God inflame him with God's love and praise, and dispose him to serve God better in the future. Therefore, standing in the centre like a balance, the director of the Exercises, should permit our Creator God to deal immediately with the directee, and the directee immediately with God.

There are two obvious exaggerations
which she will help you to avoid ...

The first
is that God is not able
to communicate personally with you,
and that you can never have
a close experience with God.

Against this exaggeration,
she will teach you to take seriously
what happens in your heart.

The second
is a growing exaggeration in your day ...
growing because your society, like my own,
is in transition;
you may be tempted
to look for black and white securities
that are not God.
This exaggeration
states that every good feeling you have
is a direct experience of God.

Against this exaggeration,
she will help you to become better attuned
to what is more authentic within your heart.

Often, it is with one or the other
of these two exaggerations,
that the enemy of our human nature
will attempt to obstruct
the good work that God desires to do in you,
by seductively and persistently,
attempting to trivialize your attempts
to be open to God's initiatives.

What is my hope?

My hope is that week by week,
slowly and gradually,
you will develop a greater ability,
a greater facility,
in entering the mystery of God
You can then experience God's love
the way I was able to experience God's love.

My hope is that you will grow in Spiritual Freedom
and in union and love ...
deep love with Jesus,
my risen Lord and King.

With all the communion of saints,
I am interceding on your behalf ...
that at some point in your life,
you will be affected by God's power,
that all the desires of your heart
and the actions
and decisions
that flow from these desires,
will be oriented towards God,
who is more than both Mother and Father to us
and towards God's service and praise.


We pray that you may grow
in the awareness of God's continuous
presence in your everyday experiences
and discover that presence
in both the private and public worlds
in which you live.
Then, later, living in faith
and meditating on the word of God,
you will be able to find God always
and everywhere,
seek God's will in every event,
and see Jesus, the Lord, in all people
and in all their struggles for liberation;
you will be able to make good judgements
and correct decisions in all you do
and in all you are.

I finish here
with two statements
that will be given again to you
towards the last weeks
of the Spiritual Exercises journey.

The first
is that love is manifested in deeds,
not just in words ...
God's love, poured into your heart,
will move you
towards your sisters and brothers.

The second
is that love consists in a mutual sharing
by the two parties involved ...
the lover gives to and shares
with the beloved
all that the lover has,
and the beloved acts towards the lover
in the same way.

On your Spiritual Exercises journey,
you are the beloved,
and God is your lover.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
desire to share everything that they have ...
even their intimate life ... with you.

Hopefully, through the power of Jesus' love
poured into your heart,
you will be able to share
everything that you have with them.

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



Happy St. Ignatius Day :)


Monday, July 28, 2008

Jesus' friend, Martha



Tuesday is the Memorial of Saint Martha (the reading - Jn 11:19-27) and I thought I'd post some pictures of her from the film Jesus, one of the few Jesus movies I've seen that depicts her.


- Mary, Lazarus, Martha, and Joseph ... near the beginning of the movie, Joseph and Jesus visit the home of Martha


- Jesus arrives at Martha's house too late to save Lazarus' life


- Martha tells Jesus if he'd been there, her brother would still be alive


- Martha, the brought-back-to-life Lazarus, and Mary


Herzog's Antarctica


- a diver under the Antarctic ice

Those who know me know I like all things Antarctical, so when I saw that William has a post on film directors, it reminded me of one who often doesn't make the lists due to his uniqueness .... Werner Herzog. He has a new movie out - Encounters at the End of the World - a documentary about the people, animals and environment of Antarctica, especially at McMurdo Station. Here's a little about it from Wikipedia ....

Encounters at the End of the World is a documentary film by Werner Herzog completed in 2007. The film studies people and places in Antarctica. The film is dedicated to American critic Roger Ebert ..... The film was shot in Antarctica as part of the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. The entire film crew consisted of Herzog, who recorded all production sound, and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger. The two went to Antarctica without any opportunity to plan filming locations or interview subjects, and had only seven weeks to conceive and shoot their footage. Herzog often met his interview subjects only minutes before he began shooting them ....

You can read Roger Ebert's review of the film here (he gave it four stars), but I thought I'd instead post some of what Ebert had to say about what a commentor (commentator?) to his blog, the art critic Daniel Quiles, had to say about Herzog and his Antarctica movie. A it turns out, Herzog made a comment to that post too. Here's a bit of Roger Ebert's blog post, and the Herzog comment ....

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

Herzog and the forms of madness

[...] I received an intriguing communication from a reader, the art critic Daniel Quiles, about Werner Herzog .....

Quiles: First of all, no other director in history could turn a blizzard-safety exercise into an allegory for the extinction of human life on this planet. This is sheer mastery of the documentary form.

Two additional issues that interest me are the motif of language and Herzog's occasionally dismissive treatment of the day-workers at McMurdo. Apocalyptic as the film is, it is in equal measure profoundly optimistic about the myriad languages that persist even in Antarctica, both human and animal. While the scientific languages we encounter have to be translated for us to comprehend them, Herzog does his best to do justice to their different modes of understanding the universe and bringing it "into its magnificence," as the Bulgarian tractor-driver concludes the film. Language-- what facilitates any "encounter" and puts the non-sense of the universe into sense-- is the life-force that struggles against our ongoing demise.

Hence Herzog's outrage at the lapsed linguist who professes not to care that a language has died (though it obliterated his career and sent him to the middle of nowhere, so perhaps he did). Here, in a brief sequence, the film gets quite un-Herzogian. This man is one of two characters who the director does not allow to speak for themselves, using an interesting and hilarious trick of cutting them off via voice-over. To me this runs contradictory to Herzog's recent films, in which Treadwellesque characters are given center stage and allowed to run their mouths to their hearts' content. In "Encounters," it is the highly skilled masters of their languages (the scientists) who are idealized, while the professional adventurers of McMurdo, who labor in miserable conditions at high salaries to fund globetrotting excursions for the rest of the year, are bores and phonys, akin to the buffoon running around the world breaking Guinness Book records.

Remarkably, Herzog laments that adventure ended more than a century ago; these people never got the memo. Treadwell of "Grizzly Man" didn't get it, either, but he was mad enough to put himself in harm's way and film it (not unlike our dear director). Treadwell and Graham Dorrington in "The White Diamond" seem like two poles for Herzog now, mad outcast and mad scientist, with those in between them not proving interesting enough. In "Encounters," I get the sense that Herzog, like the old master that he is, is favoring the Dorrington side, that of the scientist, that of craft and virtuosity.


Ebert again. Quiles is right that Herzog has no interest in the in-between. Whether "mad outcast and mad scientist" represent the two poles of his work is open to question for this reason: Are they mad? ...... Quiles cites "The White Diamond," the film about a man who designed an airship to investigate the unknown eco-system that lives in the treetops of the Amazon, and has no contact with the ground. When you see Dorrington's teardrop airship and learn of its safety history, you may put him among the outcasts, but when he talks of uncounted species never seen by man, you can return him to the scientists. And what of Herzog himself? On the airship's maiden flight, he insists on handling the camera himself, because (1) he does not want to risk the life of his cinematographer, and (2) if there is only one flight, how else to obtain the footage? What is he here? Mad artist?

Not mad at all. Simply brave, and like all great directors, determined to get that footage. If the airship crashes, there may be no more Herzog but if he doesn't go, there will be no film. There is also a Herzog movie, "Lessons of Darkness," in which he put himself in the middle of the blazing oil wells of Kuwait. And one, shown at Telluride but not I believe widely released, in which he and his team were trapped on a mountaintop by a blizzard and nearly died. He grows a little annoyed as people cite some of these stories, because they make him seem reckless, and that he is not. He does what he must to get his film, calculating the situation, hoping not to be surprised.

He is annoyed when some writers (including me) have suggested he went hundreds of miles up the Amazon on a lark, seeking the "voodoo of location" for "Fitzcarraldo." In fact, as he corrected me, he had a perfectly sensible location, but it was burnt down in a border war, and he was forced to move to the only other place where two tributaries of the Amazon were close enough to pull a boat overland between them. (His determination to physically move a real boat raises other questions, but never mind.)

The phrase "voodoo of location" was first used by Herzog in my hearing when he explained that, for his "Nosferatu," he sought out and used as many of the same locations as he could from the silent classic by Murnau. In some sense the genius of Murnau would haunt the film. If I were a producer asked to finance the film, that would sound like madness, but as a film critic, it makes perfect sense to me.

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

And here is Herzog's comment to the post ...

Dear Roger,

The producer of Grizzly Man and Encounters, Erik Nelson, forwarded me your conversation with an art critic (Quiles), and I have the feeling that these people do not have the ability to simply look straight at a movie any more.

If you find it useful, please introduce my remarks into this ongoing discourse (without giving my e-mail address away):

About the linguist: I intentionally steered the discourse with him into the terrain of dying languages. Both of us are deeply worried by the prospect of the future: about 90% of all of the roughly 6.500 spoken languages today will be extinct well before the end of this century. I am already in the planning stage to do a long-term documentary project on last speakers of a language.

It is a total misreading of the sequence that Bill Jirsa (the linguist) does not care that possibly during our conversation a language has died.

I had to cut him off and summarize his travails with academia, as this was a highly complex story which went on and on for about forty minutes. The next following sequence with the computer expert and traveler Karen Joyce I had to cut short as well, and give only some taste of her way of exploring the world, as she went on non-stop for about two hours - without ever making a full stop or a comma in her tales. There was literally no chance during editing to ever get out of her most wonderful stories. I love both of them dearly, and they have forgiven me that my film's total running time had to be under two hours.

No one is a phony in my film. They are most fascinating human beings, and I wish I could have them as friends forever, even though our encounters were so brief.

The pogo-stick man breaking Guiness book records was archival footage I found. I never met him, but his story and attitude makes a clear point.

Best,
Werner



- McMurdo Station


Sunday, July 27, 2008

National Treasure's Trinity Church



I was reading through some blog post excerpts from bishops at the Lambeth Conference at the Episcopal Cafe, and saw mention of a certain church - Trinity Church, Wall Street - and I thought, hey, that's the church in the Nick Cage movie, National Treasure, beneath which a cache of Templar gold lay buried in a secret underground chamber :)


- five stories below Trinity Church, Ben Gates searches for buried treasure

Here's a little bit about Trinity Church from Wikipedia ....

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

Trinity Church, at 79 Broadway in New York City, is a historic full service parish church in the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Trinity Church is located at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street in downtown Manhattan.

In 1696, Governor Benjamin Fletcher approved the purchase of land in Lower Manhattan by the Church of England community for construction of a new church. The parish received its charter from King William III of England on May 6, 1697. Its land grant specified an annual rent of one peppercorn due to the English crown.

The present day Trinity Church, designed by architect Richard Upjohn, is considered a classic example of Gothic Revival architecture and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 for its architectural significance and place within the history of New York City.

When the church was consecrated on Ascension Day May 1, 1846, its soaring Neo-Gothic spire, surmounted by a gilded cross, dominated the skyline of lower Manhattan. Trinity was a welcoming beacon for ships sailing into New York Harbor .....

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


- organ in All Saints' Chapel of Trinity Church


- Trinity Church Cemetery

You can take a slideshow tour of the church at its website


Thursday, July 24, 2008

I Want to Believe


- FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder :)

Yes! At long last, another X-Files movie. Readers of the blog will know I'm a fan of the series, and I've been looking forward to this second film, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, starring David Duchovny.

The film's story is set six years after the events at the end of the X-Files series ..... Scully had a child but gave it up for adoption, the evil Cigarette Smoking Man was dead (maybe) and Mulder, having been abducted by aliens, found dead, buried, disinterred and resurrected, was no longer a member of the FBI ..... if I remember correctly. The film is said to be a stand-alone and doesn't deal with the complex mythology of the series but is a straight thriller, so it should be accessible to people who were not fans of the show.

I haven't seen it yet, but hope to soon .... meanwhile, here is some of Robert Ebert's review of it .....

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

"The X-Files: I Want to Believe" arrives billed as a "stand-alone" film that requires no familiarity with the famous television series. So it is, leaving us to piece together the plot on our own. And when I say "piece together," trust me, that's exactly what I mean. In an early scene, a human arm turns up, missing its body, and other spare parts are later discovered.

The arm is found in a virtuoso scene showing dozens of FBI agents lined up and marching across a field of frozen snow. They are led by a white-haired, entranced old man who suddenly drops to his knees and cries out that this is the place! And it is.

Now allow me to jump ahead and drag in the former agents Mulder and Scully. Mulder (David Duchovny) has left the FBI under a cloud because of his belief in the paranormal. Scully (Gillian Armstrong) is a top-level surgeon, recruited to bring Mulder in from the cold, all his sins forgiven, to help on an urgent case. An agent is missing, and the white-haired man, we learn, is Father Joe (Billy Connolly), a convicted pedophile, who is said to be a psychic .......

What I appreciated about "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" was that it involved actual questions of morality, just as "The Dark Knight" does. It's not simply about good and evil but about choices. Come to think of it, Scully's dying child may be connected to the plot in another way, since it poses the question: Are any means justified to keep a dying person alive?

The movie lacks a single explosion. It has firearms, but nobody is shot. The special effects would have been possible in the era of "Frankenstein." Lots of stunt people were used. I had the sensation of looking at real people in real spaces, not motion-capture in CGI spaces. There was a tangible quality to the film that made the suspense more effective because it involved the physical world .......

The movie is insidious. It involves evil on not one level but two. The evildoers, it must be said, are singularly inept; they receive bills for medical supplies under their own names, and surely there must be more efficient ways to abduct victims and purchase animal tranquilizers. But what they're up to is so creepy, and the snow-covered Virginia landscapes so haunting, and the wrong-headedness of Scully so frustrating, and the FBI bureaucracy so stupid, and Mulder so brave, that the movie works like thrillers used to work, before they were required to contain villains the size of buildings.

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mystery vine

A few years ago I planted a flowering vine from seeds, and this year it finally made flowers. I can't remember what it's called, but the flowers are just an inch long. Anybody recognize it? ....




More on Lambeth

The last day has provided some news about the Anglican Communion's Lambeth Conference .....

Live: Sudanese primate calls on Robinson to resign (updated) from the Episcopal Cafe ....

The Primate of the Church of the Sudan, the Most Rev. Daniel Deng called on the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson to resign to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion ..... “Gene Robinson should just go away from the Anglican world and be a normal Christian,” said Deng. He said he could not predict the future of the Communion if Robinson did not resign ..... Asked whether there were homosexuals in Sudan, Deng said, "They have not come to the surface, so no, I don't think we have them." ...

And Cardinal Ivan Dias of the Vatican’s Congregation for Evangelisation, also at the Lambeth Conference to remind the Anglicans, I guess, that they're making a terrible mistake in allowing women bishops, gave a statement comparing the disunity of the Anglican Communion to a disease process ....

The Cardinal said: “Much is spoken today of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. By analogy, their symptoms can, at times, be found even in our own Christian communities.

“For example, when we live myopi-cally in the fleeting present, oblivious of our past heritage and apostolic traditions, we could well be suffering from spiritual Alzheimer’s. And when we behave in a disorderly manner, going whimsically our own way without any coordination with the head or the other members of our community, it could be ecclesial Parkinson’s.”
- TinesOnline

He goes on, int the TimesOnline piece, to rant about the horrors of secularism ....

He described modern secularism as being engaged in “spiritual combat” with the Church. The Cardinal said: “This combat rages fiercely even today, aided and abetted by secret sects, satanic groups and New Age movements, to mention but a few, and reveals many ugly heads of the hideous antiGod monster: among them are notoriously secularism, which seeks to build a godless society; spiritual indifference, which is insensitive to transcendental values; and relativism, which is contrary to the permanent tenets of the gospel.”

I'm so tired of reading that people who don't believe in God are without ethics or morals. If you ask me, western secularism, with its recognition of the rights of all citizens, whatever their sexual orientation or gender, is more representative of the teachings of the Gospels than either of these two guys quoted.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mary M Day



Today is the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene. I do like her and even put her in one of my short science fiction stories :) Of course there's not much about her in the NT but I find all I need to know in the passage in John where she goes out early in the morning to be near the body of the dead person she loves, despite the danger and the pointlessness.

She's been jerked around a bit in her portrayal, both by the Gnostics (as Jesus' inamorata) and also by Church tradition (as a prostitute). Even in my favorite Jesus movie (Jesus) she's inaccurately shown to be plying her dishonorable trade. Later in the film she says to Jesus that if she were a man, she'd be his most loyal disciple. He says to her in reply, Anyone who speaks my words is my disciple, and more recently, Mary M's reputation as the apostle to the apostles has been reinstated.

Here's a little about Mary from an article at American Catholic, St. Mary Magdalene: Redeeming Her Gospel Reputation .....

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

[...] One thing on which we all might agree: The Church has not valued women enough, especially a woman whose greatest assignment was to tell the apostles the pivotal news that Jesus was alive. Her words, “I have seen the Lord,” are the first act of faith in the Resurrection.

Does it really matter all that much which biographical details we attach to a long-ago woman? In a word, yes. In the 21st century, as in centuries before, the Church is full of sinners. We all are sinners. It’s good and instructive to be convinced that Jesus loved sinners, because that’s our human history and weakness.

But we also need the example of sanctity. Women especially need the encouragement of a Gospel role model who exercised bravery and leadership in challenging circumstances.

Perpetuating demeaning and unflattering stories about Mary Magdalene “reminds women of what has been done generally in the Church and in the world,” says Elizabeth Johnson. And that has not always been honest or affirming. Why compound the challenge when Mary Magdalene can and should inspire women and men to be full, effective and dedicated witnesses to the gospel?

Mary herself may not have cared what we 21st-century Catholics think of her, so long as we believe her testimony to the Resurrection. Indeed, as Augustine said, she was “Equal to the Apostles,” the title by which she is honored in our “other lung,” as Pope John Paul II called the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Apostle has multiple meanings and most of them apply to Mary Magdalene with ease. She is one sent on a mission. She is an authoritative person sent out to preach the Gospel. She is first to advocate an important belief. Or to put those in other terms, she points the way as disciple, partner and evangelist. Preceding all of that, of course, she is an eyewitness to the wonders of Jesus among us ...

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

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Polanski's Macbeth


- Jon Finch as Macbeth

There's a very comprehensive post at Zone on movies .... really worth a read .... and I also saw an interesting post about Roman Polanski at American magazine's blog, so I thought I'd write something about a Polanski movie. I should say first that I don't like Polanski - I think he's a creepy, smarmy person, considering that for which he was convicted, and I doubt I'll going to more of his films, which is conversely, not to say that they may not be good .... how's that for a tortured sentiment? :)

Maybe this is a chance to visit the question of whether the character of the artist/writer/musician should have a bearing on the appreciation of their work. In school we were always told that the work should stand alone, without reference to the person who created it, but I don't know ..... can something good come from a compromised source? As usual, I'm confused on the issue. But anyway, on to the movie .....

The Polanski movie that probably stands out most for me (if you don't count Frantic's Harrison Ford dressed only in a teddy bear) is Macbeth. Made in 1971 and based on Shakespeare's play, it didn't star anyone I recognized - Jon Finch as Macbeth and Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth - and what struck me most about it was something I had never known before ..... that if a person's head is removed, they probably will remain alive (their head, anyway) for the amount of time it takes to die of lack of oxygen. Yep, this one's a keeper :) Oh, maybe I shouldn't be so tough on it - it was violent, yes, but there was a certain power to it as well, I guess. Roger Ebert really liked it, anyway, and perhaps he's a more objective reviewer than I. Here's his review ....

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

We have all heard it a hundred times, Macbeth's despairing complaint about life: " ... it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." But who has taken it more seriously than Roman Polanski, who tells his bloody masterpiece at precisely the level of the idiot's tale?

Macbeth always before seemed reasonable, dealing with a world in which wrongdoing was punished and logic demonstrated. Macbeth's character was not strong enough to stand up under the weight of the crime he committed, so he disintegrated into the fantasies of ignorant superstition, while his flimsy wife went mad.

It all seemed so clear. And at the proper moment, the forces of justice stepped forward, mocked the witches' prophecies which deluded poor Macbeth and set things right for the final curtain. There were, no doubt, those who thought the play was about how Malcolm became king of Scotland.

But in this film Polanski and his collaborator, Kenneth Tynan, place themselves at Macbeth's side and choose to share his point of view, and in their film there's no room at all for detachment. All those noble, tragic Macbeths -- Orson Welles and Maurice Evans and the others -- look like imposters now, and the king is revealed as a scared kid.

No effort has been made to make Macbeth a tragic figure, and his death moves us infinitely less than the murder of Macduff's young son. Polanski places us in a visual universe of rain and mist, of gray dawns and clammy dusks, and there is menace in the sound of hoofbeats but no cheer in the cry of trumpets. Even the heroic figure of Macduff has been tempered; now he is no longer the instrument of God's justice, but simply a man bent on workaday revenge. The movie ends with the simple fact that a job has been done: Macbeth got what was coming to him.

Polanski has imposed this vision on the film so effectively that even the banquet looks like a gang of highwaymen ready to wolf down stolen sheep. Everyone in the film seems to be pushed by circumstances; there is small feeling that the characters are motivated by ideas. They seem so ignorant at times that you wonder if they understand the wonderful dialogue Shakespeare has written for them. It's as if the play has been inhabited by Hell's Angels who are quick studies.

All of this, of course, makes Polanski's "Macbeth" more interesting than if he had done your ordinary, respectable, awe-stricken tiptoe around Shakespeare. This is an original film by an original film artist, and not an "interpretation." It should have been titled Polanski's Macbeth, just as we got "Fellini Satyricon."

I might as well be honest and say it is impossible to watch certain scenes without thinking of the Charles Manson case. It is impossible to watch a film directed by Roman Polanski and not react on more than one level to such images as a baby being "untimely ripped from his mother's womb." Indeed, Polanski adds his own grim conclusion after Shakespeare's, with a final scene in which Malcolm, now crowned king, goes to consult the same witches who deceived Macbeth. Polanski's characters resemble Charles Manson: They are anti-intellectual, witless, and driven by deep, shameful wells of lust and violence.

Why did Polanski choose to make "Macbeth," and why this "Macbeth"? I have no way of guessing. This is certainly one of the most pessimistic films ever made, and there seems little doubt that Polanski intended his film to be full of sound and fury - -which it is, to the brim -- and to signify nothing.

It's at that level that Polanski is at his most adamant: The events that occur in the film must not be allowed to have significance. Polanski and Tynan take only small liberties with Shakespeare, and yet so successfully does Polanski orchestrate "Macbeth's" visual content that we come out of the film with a horrified realization. We didn't identify with either Macbeth or Macduff in their final duel. We were just watching a sword-fight.

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


- Francesca Annis and Polanski on the set


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Pope likes animals ....

.... and despite the differences I have with him, I really like that about him. Here's a YouTube of him meeting some native creatures of Australia ..... takes me back to The Crocodile Hunter :) See the story below the YouTube .....



Pope Benedict XVI yesterday met special visitors including a koala, red-necked wallaby joey and other unique Australian animals at the Kenthurst Study Centre.

"We wanted to offer the Holy Father an opportunity to experience some of Australia's unique fauna, and were delighted when our partners at Taronga Zoo offered to help," said Fr Mark Podesta, WYD08 spokesman.

"The Holy Father expressed that he wanted to meet some of our native animals, so we were more than happy to offer him this experience," he said.

Fr Mark said the Zoo staff were very professional showing great love for the animals they care for included a wallaby, koala, python, lizard, baby crocodile and an echidna. The Pope patted each of the animals and thanked the team from Taronga Zoo .....

- Independent Catholic News


The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.


- An engraving of the death of Astyanax

I'm still reading The Last of the Wine and I've come to the part where the main character, who is a student of Socrates, meets another student - Phaedo. I'd read the Phaedo, one of Plato's dialogues about the death of Socrates and his discussion with some friends about the immortality of the soul, as told through his student Phaedo, but I'd never learned anything about Phaedo himself.

The Last of the Wine writes Phaedo as an inhabitant of the island of Melos (though he was actually from Elis), but the rest of his story is correct ..... his city was on the losing side of war and as a prisoner, and young, he was not killed but made a slave, ending up in Athens in a house of prostitution. He began to hang out with Socrates on his off time and one of Socrates' rich friends eventually bought his freedom.

Reading this reminded me of two things ..... a commencement speech given at Georgetown University I'd seen some time ago about compassion - Compassion and Global Responsibility by Dr. Martha C. Nussbaum - which mentions what happened at Melos and how that related to the Euripides play The Trojan Women.

The other thing I thought of was, strangely, Iraq. The connection? Here's a little bit about the war between Athens and Melos ....

Though the Melians sent a contingent to the Greek fleet at Salamis, it held aloof from the Delian League, and sought to remain neutral during the Peloponnesian War. But in 415 BC the Athenians launched an attack to the island and compelled the Melians to surrender, slew all the men capable of bearing arms, made slaves of the women and children, and introduced 500 Athenian colonists. Thucydides made this event the occasion of one of the most impressive of the "speeches" in his history. Written like the others in more complex and difficult Greek than his pellucid narrative, this passage, known as the Melian Dialogue, is a locus classicus for the contest between raison d'état and ethical action, and is the fulcrum at which the state of Athens in his history abandoned the noble ideals with which it had entered the war and began to pursue simply its own self-interest. - Wikipedia

Thucydides wrote about what happened at Melos in his History of the Peloponnesian War, and his Melian dialogue (you can read it here) is a famous "might makes right" argument made by the Athenians. It's pretty chilling. Here's what Wikipedia writes of it ....

In the passage, the Athenians present the Melians with a choice: the island may pay tribute to Athens and thus survive, or fight Athens and be destroyed. The Melians respond by arguing that their neutrality should be respected, and that international law guarantees their right to neutrality. The Melians also present several other counter-arguments, namely that showing mercy towards Melos will win the Athenians more friends; that the Spartans will come to Melos' aid; and finally that the gods will protect the island. The Athenians, however, refuse to discuss either the justice of their demand or any substantive argument advanced by the Melians. Instead the Athenians offer a sharp, simple, and oft-quoted formula of hard realism: The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. The Athenians further suggest that the Spartans are no strangers to this principle, and thus that the Spartans will not assist the weak Melians if doing so is to Sparta's disadvantage.

Melos did not surrender, though no one came to their aid, and Athens attacked the city, won the battle with superior numbers and through treachery, and put all the adult males to death, and made slaves of the women and children, and then colonized the city.

This brings me back to that commencement speech. Here's a bit of just the beginning of it ....

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

President DeGioia, faculty, parents and friends, and, especially, graduates: On this day of celebration, I want to ask you to pause for a minute, and to think of the ending of a tragic drama, Euripides' The Trojan Women. The towers of Troy are burning. All that is left of the once-proud city is a group of ragged women, bound for slavery, their husbands dead in battle, their sons murdered by the conquering Greeks, their daughters raped. Hecuba their queen invokes the king of the gods, using, remarkably, the language of democratic citizenship: "Son of Kronus, Council-President of Troy, father who gave us birth, do you see these undeserved sufferings that your Trojan people bear?" The Chorus answers grimly, "He sees, and yet the great city is no city. It has perished, and Troy exists no longer." A little later, Hecuba and the Chorus conclude that the very name of their land has been wiped out ......

The dramatic festivals of Athens were sacred festivals strongly connected to the idea of democratic deliberation, and the plays of Euripides were particularly well known for their engagement with contemporary events. In this case, the audience that watched The Trojan Women had recently voted to put to death the men of the rebellious colony of Melos and to enslave the women and children. Euripides invites them to contemplate the real human meaning of their actions. Compassion for the women of Troy should at least cause moral unease, reminding Athenians of the full and equal humanity of people who live in distant places, their fully human capacity for suffering .....

America's towers, too, have burned. Compassion and terror are in the fabric of our lives. And now, like the Athenians, we must grapple with the fact that we have caused devastation in foreign lands ......

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

Anyway, I've wandered far afield, but once again, The Last of the Wine is worth a read.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Why it's more fun to write about Anglicans

You might wonder why I'm blogging about the Anglicans when I could be writting about the Pope and the World Youth Day in Australia. OK - here's something - a post by James Martin SJ at America magazine's blog takes up the topic of the Pope apologizing to Australian abuse victims - Benedict Apologizes Again.

What was especially interesting to me, though, was a comment someone made on the post, and Fr. Martin's reply. The person who made the comment, expressed the view that the Pope had been so on-the-nose in his assessment of what had caused the clergy sex abuse in the first place .... the perils of proportionalism. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about proportionalism ....

1960s Proportionalism is a consequentialist attempt to develop Natural Moral Law, a catholic deontological absolutist theory by Thomas Aquinas. The moral guidelines set down by the Roman Catholic teachings of Natural Moral Law are mostly upheld in that intrinsically evil acts are still classified so. In certain situations where there is a balance of ontic goods and ontic evils (ontic evils are those which are not immoral but merely those which cause pain or suffering, ontic goods are those which alieviate pain or suffering) Proportionalism can be used to determine the right course of action by weighing up the good and the necessary evil caused by the action. As a result, Proportionalism aims to choose the lesser of evils. Pope John Paul II condemned 1960s Proportionalism is his 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae.

And here is what Benedict said, as quoted in the comment ....

We have to reflect on what was insufficient in our education, in our teaching in recent decades. There was, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, the idea of proportionalism in ethics: it held that nothing is bad in itself, but only in proportion to others. With proportionalism, it was possible to think for some subjects – one could also be paedophilia – that in some proportion they could be a good thing. Now, it must be stated clearly, this was never Catholic doctrine. There are things which are always bad. - ZENIT

What is so weird about all this is Benedict's idea that pedophilia is a condition created in any person when they rationally consider the pros and cons of abusing a child and decides that the pros are proportioanlly larger. Fr. Martin points this out in his reply to the earlier comment .....

Re: proportionalism as the "root" of pedophilia.

First, I can't imagine any Catholic moral theologians, even "proportionalists" approving of pedophilia. Proportionalism, as I understand it, is a school of moral theology that seeks to incorporate the context of the environment into a moral decision. In these cases, quite obviously, the context of the crime of pedophilia would necessarily take into account the lifelong damage done to the minor, and would therefore be rejected pedophilia as, obviously, immoral.

Second, I can't imagine priests reading a proportionalist text and then deciding to abuse a child as a result. (The same argument was made against "liberal" Catholicism during the height of the abuse scandal, as if attending a Voice of the Faithful meeting made one a pedophile.) While the priest's overall environment (loneliness, access to minors, etc.) can contribute to the incidence of pedophilia it is, at heart, a psychological problem deeply rooted in a person's sexual and emotional makeup. (See Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea's book, "Predatory Priests, Silenced Victims.") Also, many of the bishops who reassigned these pedophiles, shuttling them from parish to parish, were orthodox prelates who took a dim view of proportionalism.

Ironically, those who attested that the crisis was primarily about "fidelity" failed to see that many of the bishops who were directly responsible for the crisis were appointed precisely because of their "fidelity" to doctrine. (Was there any bishop more "orthodox" than Cardinal Bernard Law?) If anyone was using "context" to their advantage, it was these bishops, whose "context" was their own security. Moral theologians, as I see it, are not to blame; the bishops who reassigned these men are.

Posted By James Martin, SJ | 2008-07-15 12:13:06.0



Well said, Fr. Martin.


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


Monday, July 14, 2008

Gene Robinson's sermon

Not a great day .... Kermit isn't feeling very well, my computer is slowly perishing from some unknown aliment, received a county letter commanding me to fix the drain pipe under the driveway at a cost of about $3,000 or else, and the squirrels are into the air-conditioning ducts in the attic crawlspace and driving me insane. Also, no one is reading the blog. I guess I'll devote more space to my Anglican/Lambeth obsession. Here's part of a story in the Guardian today about Bishop Gene Robinson's sermon yesterday at St Mary's church, Putney, by Stephen Bates ....

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


- Gene Robinson preaching at St. Mary's

On Sunday evening, a lone campaigner stood outside St Mary's church, Putney. Stephen Green, a haggard and unshaven figure, obsessed and weighed down by the wickedness of modern Britain, handed out leaflets warning of the consequences of same-sex love, while announcing to anyone who would listen: "Homosexuality and sexual immorality is all on a continuum with paedophilia, bestiality, adultery, child-sacrifice. You are saying it is all OK."

The Right Rev Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, is used to people like Green. Ever since he was elected - not chosen as in the Church of England, but democratically elected by his parishioners in one of the most rock-solid conservative states in the US - he has faced similar demonstrations.

At his consecration in New Hampshire in November 2003, he was required to wear a bullet-proof vest, as was his partner, Mark Andrew, and the presiding bishop, Frank Griswold. Outside, demonstrators bore placards bearing the loving message "God hates fags" and inside, an elderly priest called Earle Fox stepped forward to denounce gay sexual practices in considerable detail and with no little relish. "It breaks my heart to do this," he insisted unctuously.

The irony is that, but for Robinson's openness about his sexual orientation and his long-term association with his partner, the most controversial bishop in the world today would be regarded by fellow Christians as entirely orthodox and unexceptional. He is not the only gay bishop in the worldwide Anglican communion, of course - there are understood to be two in the Church of England, at least one with a partner, and two of the 38 primates of the worldwide denomination - but Robinson's sin is to admit it; and to refuse the calls of conservative evangelicals to repent.

This is not to mention the hundreds of gay clergy - some active, some celibate - in the church and all denominations, in Britain and around the world. Robinson is staying with two of them in London during his current visit.

Without such partnerships, the established church in many areas, particularly the inner cities and especially in London, would probably cease to function. Most of them, it hardly needs saying, keep quiet about it - so deep in the closet, it is said, that they are almost in Narnia. Their bishops turn a blind eye too, even as they accept their invitations to dine, or quietly attend their civil partnerships.

Alone among the episcopate however, Robinson has made no secret of his homosexuality and, because of his orientation, he alone of all the world's 800 Anglican bishops has been denied an invitation by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to attend this week's Lambeth conference.

About a quarter of the world's bishops are now declining to attend the gathering, not because Robinson will be there, hovering around the fringes, but because some of the other American bishops who attended his consecration and accordingly laid hands upon him will be going.

Robinson is discouraged from preaching while in Britain, but in addition to last Sunday's sermon, he will be attending gatherings of pro-gay and liberal Anglicans, will speak at a fringe meeting outside the Lambeth conference - so bishops can see what a gay Anglican looks like - and last night addressed a meeting that was co-hosted by Sir Ian McKellen at Queen Elizabeth Hall. To many Anglicans, not only gays, he is a hero.

Under Williams, an archbishop who in a past life preached that faithful gay partnerships might be more life-enhancing and loving than some abusive heterosexual ones, but who now keeps largely silent on the matter, worldwide Anglicanism is threatened with a split of historic proportions over a stance of most unheroic hypocrisy.

Small, neat and instinctively friendly, Robinson preaches an impeccably Anglican message of hope and charity - indeed, he is probably one of the most evangelical, Bible-believing, of American bishops. He has come a long way from a childhood as the son of poverty-stricken tobacco sharecroppers in rural Kentucky. He was so ill at birth that he was not expected to survive and was rapidly Christened Vicki Gene - after his father Victor and his mother Imogene. (His parents had been convinced the baby would be a girl and in their rush to name the child, apparently stuck to their original plan. Naturally, his conservative opponents usually spell out his names, presumably to emphasise his supposed effeminacy.)

Something else that his conservative opponents often stress is the lie that he left his wife for his partner, as a way of demonstrating their contention that gays are promiscuous and untrustworthy. In fact, Robinson tried very hard to live the heterosexual life that conservative Christians insist gay people should. He was married for 15 years to his wife Isabella and the couple had two daughters, even though he already knew he was gay. He underwent lengthy counselling.

Eventually Isabella met someone else and the couple divorced, holding a church service, handing back their rings, apologising to each other and pledging to bring up the children together, before they finally separated. Robinson met Andrew only some years later. His former wife supported his candidacy to become a bishop and she and their daughters have frequently spoken on his behalf.

There are those who claim that Robinson should have no role in the church, should never have been ordained and should certainly never be allowed to preach. One such, Dr Christopher Knight of Orpington, complained in a letter to last week's Church of England Newspaper: "Any action to stop it and cancel Gene Robinson's 'invitation'? No. Any action ... for allowing this nonsense to take place? No. Stop engaging in ... mindless 'modern' liberal, 'pick-and-mix' theology and return to true Anglican orthodoxy."

Robinson told the congregation: "We should not be fearful for the church, for the church is not ours to win or lose. It is God's gift to us."

They gave him a standing ovation.

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

Katharine Jefferts Schori


- a Ph.D in oceanography as well as a bishop

Who knows if we'll ever see a woman bishop in the Catholic Church, but I'm vicariously proud of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, Katharine Jefferts Schori. She's in the news now because of the Lambeth Conference (see the official Lambeth site) that's about to start. If you want to read more about her, there's a recent interview with her in the Telegraph - US Anglican leader Katherine Jefferts Schori wades into women bishop row. And you can read about her preaching at Salisbury's Cathedral Church of St. Mary (with links to the sermons) here.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Essay in the Guardian

I write many of my posts right before I go to bed and lots of them get deleted just after they're written ..... I'm always worried what I've written is too weird, too boring, or grounds for excommunication :) The one I wrote and deleted last night is one I want to put back up today. Here it is ....

I saw this essay by Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson in the Guardian today and I thought I'd post it. When I read it, I thought it was pretty good. Then I read some of the comments by readers that followed and was disturbed - they were almost all very hostile. As usual I'm confused, but for those who might be interested, here below is the essay ......

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

Face to faith

I believe in the living God. Now, that may not seem like a surprising statement for a bishop of the church to make - but as we approach the Lambeth conference of bishops, it may be a crucial belief to reaffirm.

The debate raging in the Anglican communion over the place of women and gays in the life and ministry of the church, and the name-calling about who does and does not accept the authority of scripture, belies a much deeper question: did God stop revealing God's self with the closing of the canon of scripture at the end of the first century, or has God continued to be self-revelatory through history, and right into the present?

My conservative brothers and sisters seem to argue that God revealed everything to us in scripture. Ever since, it has simply been our difficult but straightforward task to conform ourselves to God's will revealed there and to repent when we are unable or unwilling to do so.

For me, there is something static and lifeless in such a view of God. Could it be that even the Bible is too small a box in which to enclose God?

In my life, God seems infinitely more engaged with humankind than that, desiring a relationship with each one of us, continually attempting to lead us closer and closer to God's will. So too with the church. Isn't God - the living God - constantly making God's self and God's will more perfectly known to the church over time?

Jesus says a remarkable thing to his disciples at his last supper with them: "There is more that I would teach you, but you cannot bear it right now. So I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into all truth." Could it be that God revealed in Jesus Christ everything possible in a first-century Palestine setting to a ragtag band of fishermen and working men? Could it have been God's plan all along to reveal more and more of himself and his will as the church grew and matured?

God, of course, was not and is not changing - but our ability to apprehend and comprehend God's will for us is. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, the church was led to permit eating things proscribed by Leviticus, to oppose slavery (after centuries of using scripture to defend it), and to permit and bless remarriage after divorce (despite Jesus' calling it adultery).

And now, by the leading of that same Spirit, we are beginning to welcome those who have heretofore been marginalised or excluded altogether: people of colour, women, the physically challenged, and God's children who happen to be gay.

This is the God I know in my life - who loves me, interacts with me, teaches and summons me closer and closer to God's truth. This God is alive and well and active in the church - not locked up in scripture 2,000 years ago, having said everything that needed to be said, but rather still interacting with us, calling us to love one another as he loves us. It is the brilliance of Anglicanism that we first and foremost read scripture, and then interpret it in light of church tradition and human reason. No one of us alone can be trusted to such a process because, left to our own devices, we recast God's will in our own image. But in the community of the church, together we are able to discern God's will for us - and sometimes that may mean reinterpreting and even changing old understandings of things thought settled long ago.

In the midst of all the wrangling about who should be "in" and who should be "out", who is fit to lead and what relationships are worthy of blessing, can we find the grace to thank God for loving us enough to be engaged with us? Can we find the leading of the Holy Spirit - even into painful and, for the moment, divisive places - a blessing and not a curse? Can we discern God's hand in Anglicanism's current struggles? Can we rejoice that we worship not only a God of scripture and history, but a living God, who is leading us forward toward the truth at this very moment?

· The Rt Rev Gene Robinson is the Bishop of New Hampshire

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

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hollyhock



Here's a picture of a hollyhock (click for a closeup) that I grew in a pot from seeds. It's an heirloom plant ....

[...] a cultivar that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. The trend of growing heirloom plants in gardens has been growing in popularity in the United States and Europe over the last decade.

I'm a terrible gardener so I'm always thrilled when something actually grows for me. Here's a little about hollyhocks from Wikipedia ....

Alcea rosea (Common Hollyhock; syn. Althaea chinensis Wall., Althaea ficifolia Cav., Althaea rosea Cav.) is an ornamental plant in the Malvaceae family. It was imported into Europe from China in the sixteenth century. William Turner, a herbalist of the time, gave it the name "holyoke" from which the English name derives .....


Friday, July 11, 2008

f

,

Thursday, July 10, 2008

JD Crossan and the Eucharist

A while ago there was frisson in the blogosphere over Sally Quinn, a non-Catholic, taking communion at the funeral mass of her friend, Tim Russert. I saw today that On Faith asked this question - What do you think about Sally Quinn, a non-Catholic, going to Communion at Tim Russert's Catholic funeral? What are some do's and don'ts for observing the religious rituals of others? - and that one of those who answered it was NT scholar John Dominic Crossan. Here's what he wrote ......

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

Whom Does Christ Exclude?

Sally, and only Sally, can say whether she should or should not have received communion at Tim Russert's funeral mass. From how she herself described it, my own answer is an emphatic yes. But since the sacraments belong to Christ rather even than to Christianity and certainly to Christianity rather than just to Roman Catholicism nobody would have had the right to refuse her. What God has brought together in Christ, do not dare to put asunder in Church.

When you ritually recite the "Pledge of Allegiance" are you pledging your life to a piece of multi-colored cloth. Of course not. Are you pledging your life to the republic for which it stands? Well, yes and no. Yes, definitely yes, if you mean "liberty and justice for all." But no, definitely no, if you are merely thinking about a huge area of land between Canada and Mexico.

Ritual participation may be offhand, distracted, unintentional, and meaningless. It may be sheer unthinking habit or mere contagious emulation of others. But that pledge is very, very straightforward. I pledge myself to liberty and justice for all. You will understand, therefore, why we prefer to debate whether "under God" should or should not be included as a magnificent red herring to distract us from asking whether we have the slightest intention of promoting liberty and justice for all.

Who can or should recite that pledge? Anyone who believes in it and intends to live by it. Would a non-American visitor who lived by that faith have more right to it than an American citizen who did not? My answer is: emphatically yes. Rituals have meaning and, therefore, intentional participation in them is either vital commitment or something between vacuity and hypocrisy.

The Christian Eucharist has two intertwined layers. First, it is bread and wine, the standard summary of a Mediterranean meal, the normal synthesis of Mediterranean eating. It is, in other words, about food. Throughout his life, Jesus insisted that food, as the material basis of life, was to be fairly and equitably distributed to all God's children around God's table. He imagined God-as-Householder (he said "Father" but that was patriarchal normalcy) of the House-World or Homemaker of the Home-earth. And his question was--as in any well-run family--whether everyone had enough or some members had far too much while others had far too little.

Second, none of that was about compassionate charity but about distributive justice. (The Roman Empire did not crucify you for insisting on the former but for insisting too much on that latter.) So Jesus, having lived for non-violent justice died from violent injustice. When one dies an ordinary death, we speak of the separation of body and soul. But a violent death--like crucifixion--involves a separation of body and blood.

In forging the magnificent eucharistic ritual, those twin layers were inextricably linked together to proclaim this: if you live for justice very strongly you could die from injustice very swiftly. When those earliest Christians participated in that ritual, they understood all too well what it meant and to what they were committing themselves. They were pledging themselves to a way of life by participating in the life (definitely) and death (possibly) of Jesus.

They did not have time to debate about the exact mechanics of the "transubstantiation" of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (watch for red herrings, always watch for red herrings) because they were too acutely aware of their own "transubstantiation" from Roman citizens to Christian traitors.

Finally, then, we can face our question. In general: who should accept the eucharistic ritual? Those and only those who are intentionally, self-consciously, and publicly committing themselves to live like Jesus and, if unfortunately ever necessary, to die like Jesus. That is, of course, an on-going lifelong process and it is precisely such eucharistic participation that initiates, continues, and consummates it. The eucharist both proclaims and empowers a life, as Paul, would say, "in Christ" or, better "in the body of Christ."

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

You can also read here, at On Faith, what Sally Quinn herself has to say about what she did and why.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Earth 2


- space stations orbit Earth

This week's DVD rental was the 1984/5 science fiction tv series, Earth 2. The series didn't last long - just one season - and the only mention I'd ever heard of it was on The X-Files, when the Lone Gunmen asked Mulder to join them for an evening of picking apart the series' scientific inconsistencies :) Still, I wanted to check it out, and though it was not as edgy as something like Battlestar Galactica, I liked it.

The story takes place in a future where Earth is so contaminated that most people live in orbiting space stations and children are beginning to die of a mysterious disease caused by the sterility of the stations' environment. When her son contracts the disease, Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino) decides to fund an expedition to an uninhabited Earth-like planet twenty-two light years distant. The government opposes the expedition and infiltrates it with a secret agent. After twenty-two years in stasis, both passengers and crew end up crashing on the planet due to sabotage and must trek about 3000 miles overland to the site they'd meant to found as New Pacifica, on the way encountering both indigenous aliens and human felons.

There are some nice special effects, the aliens are interesting, and I especially liked the relationships between the characters. The theme of the connection between human and environmental flourishing is also pretty timely. Here are some pics .....


- a member of one of the alien species on G889


- Yale (Sullivan Walker), the cyborg tutor to Devon's son


- Morgan (John Gegenhuber) uses his virtual reality gear to escape into fantasy


- Danzinger (Clancy Brown - he played the Kurgan in Highlander :) and his daughter, True


- Alonzo (Antonio Sabàto, Jr.), the ship's pilot, communicates with the aliens through dreams


- Tim Curry plays a felon sent to the planet in a Botany Bay scenario


- on the road to New Pacifica


Monday, July 07, 2008

Rowan Williams' sermon at York

Update - I just saw that the Church of England has voted to ordain women bishops.

I don't know if it's the weather (103 today) or the dearth of activity in blogdom, but I've been having trouble thinking of what to blog about One subject has kept my interest - what's going on in the Anglican Communion (Anglicans await key ruling on women bishops). It just intrigues me that they can have the same issues that we have in the Catholic Church (women's ordination, gay clergy, etc) but that they actually deal with them. Not well - it's a mess - but still they're dealing, unlike us. Anyway, Rowan Williams gave a sermon during the current Synod at York and I thought it was worth posting here ......

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

Any congregation might be forgiven for wondering what are we going to hear about this morning. Members of Synod in particular (but perhaps members of the Church of England in general) may have the slight sense that there's rather too much to be hearing about, that we're suffering somewhat from issue fatigue. So perhaps we ought to begin where we always ought to begin, in listening to what the Word of God has to say. And scripture says, 'Rejoice greatly, o daughter of Zion. I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit". And today's scriptures say, 'Who will rescue me from this body of death. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord'. And scripture says, 'Come to me all you who travail and are heavy laden. My yoke is easy and my burden is light'. In a way, the pivot for understanding all this is provided in the epistle today. Paul in the letter to the Romans gives us the key.

We live under law, different kinds of law. The law of God, which is for our health, and the law we make for ourselves. We long to be masters of our future, and so we become the prisoners of our past. We long to take control of the world we're in. And because we are who we are, and our histories have been what they have been, we dig ourselves deeper and deeper into unfreedom. The will that we want to use to conquer the world, is a will weakened and bruised by the legacy of self-love, going back to the very roots of the human race. The effects of that legacy work themselves out as relentlessly as any oriental karma. We want to take hold of our future and we are gripped, paralysed, by our past.

We find ourselves in that 'waterless pit' of which Zechariah speaks. Waterless pits - perhaps that should trigger a memory of one particular Old Testament story. Do you remember that when Joseph went in search of his brothers and they decided to kill him – they threw him into a pit where there was no water. Remember Joseph? Joseph who was so unpopular with his brothers because he believed his future was in his hands. He knew he could foresee the day that his brothers and his father would bow down to him. But he finds himself in a waterless pit, sold into slavery. God's future for him only begins to happen when he is stripped of his claim to be master of his own future. In a waterless pit the dreams fade away. There is only God over against the body of death.

So, reflecting on Joseph, we can perhaps turn back to our own moments of waterless perplexity, those times in our discipleship, individual and corporate, our discipleship as persons, our discipleship as a Church, to which we may turn back to those moments, as moments when – if we will – we can hear the Word, when – if we will – our dreams are overtaken by God's future. And how very hard it is to let go of our claims upon our own future. How very hard to accept the waterlessness of the pit, how very hard to understand that we are there in the presence of God and of death.

And so we struggle. And no doubt at all that Joseph in the first few hours struggled mentally and physically in his waterless pit and began to devise plans. And as we load ourselves down with that struggle against God and against death, we are doing exactly what Jesus in the Gospel tells us not to do. We are burdening ourselves. One of the desert fathers remarked, 'And how very easily we laid aside the yoke of Christ and burdened ourselves with the heavy yoke of self-justification' - There's a phrase to ponder – a heavy yoke of self-justification. That's the law, that's the curse. That's the waterless pit indeed - where we struggle ceaselessly, unrelentingly, to make ourselves more right, and to lay hold upon our future. We lay upon ourselves a heavy yoke, from which only the grace of Jesus Christ can deliver us. In a nutshell, we lay upon ourselves the yoke of desperate seriousness about ourselves.

And Christ's promise is so difficult because it's so simple. 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being', as the novelist says, that is what Christ offers to us: receiving it is hard. Naaman of Assyria when he came to Elisha to be healed of his leprosy, could not believe that the answer was easy. There must be something complicated for him to do. There must be some magic to be done. The word alone, 'release' is not enough. We long for, we are in love with the heavy yoke of self justification. Naaman wanted to go away from Elisha, able to say, 'Well I had some part in that – I did the difficult things the prophet asked me'. And Elisha, in the name of God, tells him to do something simple, to immerse himself in the mercy of God. And when Jesus says, "Our yoke is easy and my burden is light", that is what he says, to all of us as individuals, to us as a Synod, to us as a Church, to us as a society, to us as a human world: lay aside the obsession to possess the future, receive the word of promise, here. And that's why, as Jesus himself says in the gospel, that's why only some people really do hear the word easily - only the tax collectors and the sinners.

It's never a bad idea, during meetings of synod or indeed any other church activity, to turn your eyes occasionally – literally or metaphorically – through the windows. You might see Jesus passing by. And where is he likely to be and who is he likely to be with? The Gospel suggests very, very strongly that he's going to be first and foremost with those who do find it easy to hear the word of simple promise. Because, in their own waterless pits, they've had to let go of confidence about the future, confidence in their power. 'What would Jesus do?' is a good question to ask, but, 'Where would Jesus be?' is just as good, and, 'Who would Jesus be with?' is a question the Gospels force on our attention again and again.

In the middle of all our discussions at synod, where would Jesus be? Jesus is going to be with those who feel the waterlessness of their position: with those traditionalists feeling the Church is slipping away from them, the landmarks have shifted, and they don't know how what they've taught and heard and what they've been taught can be life-giving for tomorrow. He'll be with those in a very different part of the landscape who feel that things are closing in, that their position is under threat, that their liberties are being taken away by those anxious and eager to enforce new ideologies in the name of Christ. He would be with those who feel that their liberty of questioning is under threat, he would be with the gay clergy, who wonder what their future is in a Church so anxious and tormented about this issue.

Where will he be? He will be with those members of the Synod staff and the staff of the University of York; the people in the Press Gallery, who are trying to keep their minds on their business while dealing with any number of complex personal issues, who may be inflicted by private anxieties, griefs and losses, who will never be noticed by those who take them for granted as they go about their businesses. He will be all over the place. He will be with people we don't much want to sit with, because that's a place he always occupies. He pipes for them, and they will dance, because in their unprotected-ness they are able to meet him at a level any of us can't. Where will Jesus be? In whose company? The company of those who feel lost; have lost; and who are just beginning to see that lost-ness is the beginning of wisdom. It's in that lostness they're beginning to let go of the law that is in their members, the compulsion to take hold of and script and control their future.

Into this darkness comes Jesus to release us in our prison and make us, as the Prophet says, 'Prisoners of hope'. 'He comes to be with us so that we may be where he is' as he tells us in the fourth Gospel. 'So that we may be where he is? And where he is (he says in this morning's gospel) is in the presence of the Father; seeing and knowing that unconditional depth of love out of which he comes, to which he looks in adoration and obedience, into which by his Holy Spirit he draws us. He alone knows the Father, sees the Father, and there is no salvation but to be where He is, seeing, knowing, as He sees and knows by the gift of his Spirit. He alone rests in that eternal, unifiable life. That is why he says, 'Come to me and I will give you rest; I will give you sight; I will bring you hope.'

'My yoke is easy; my burden is light' which is why we need to be where he is, nowhere else, where he is with the Father; where he is alongside those occupying their waterless pits, oh and where he is in the waterless pits into which we, gradually, bit-by-bit are being introduced the agonies, complexities, of our life as a Christian community.

'Who shall deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord', we are delivered from the body of death by our incorporation into the body of his life; the body that is the Catholic fellowship of Christ's Church. The body that is all of us in our various waterless pits, in our corporate waterless pit of bewilderment and confusion and division today. Nonetheless, his body, his body of life, which this morning as week-by-week we take once again into our hands in the sacrament, the body of life. The body of life which makes us prisoners of hope, which takes us where he is. 'Come to me, I will give you rest. The yoke is easy and my burden is light'.

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© Rowan Williams

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