My Photo
Location: United States

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Saint Edmund Campion

Today's the Memorial of Edmund Campion. Creighton's Daily Reflection Page has an interesting post on the twenty-eight Jesuit martyrs of England and Wales, who died between 1573 and 1679, Campion being one of them.

Read more at Wikipedia about this Jesuit after whom Campion Hall at Oxford University is named.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

An Article on the Spiritual Exercises

Rob Marsh SJ has a mention on his blog of an article of his - Id quod volo: The Erotic Grace of the Second Week - in the current issue of The Way, a journal of spirituality published by the British Jesuits. Here's how the journal introduces it ....

During the Second Week of the Exercises, we are called to grow in the love of Christ - it is only on this basis that good discernments about discipleship can be made. Rob Marsh uncovers some erotic elements in the Ignatian process, and offers directors of the Exercises some provocative suggestions about love.

It's well worth a read :-)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

David Hart and Dostoyevsky

As I mentioned before, I'm reading David Bentley Hart's book, The Doors of the Sea, and I've now come to the place where Hart gives Dostoyevsky's argument (in The Brothers Karamazov, and in the mouth of the character Ivan) for the wrongness of an all good and all powerful God who allows evil. I'm happy to see this, for the fact that Hart presents this argument means that he believes he has an answer to it. My hope isn't academic ... for me, there is no greater damage done to God's goodness than the divine ends-justifying-the-means philosophy that Dostoyevsky rejects.

Here below is some of what Hart has to say ...


Above, I spoke of the moral power of Voltaire's poeme, but .... His poem is ... a feeble thing indeed compared to the subtler, more unrelenting, more tortured and more haunting case for "rebellion" against "the will of God" in human suffering that Dostoyevsky placed in the mouth of Ivan Karamazov ..... Admittedly, Ivan does not much concern himself with the randomness of natural calamity, as Voltaire does; the evils Ivan recounts to his brother Alexey (or Alyosha) are acts not of impersonal nature but of men .... the human propensity for malice should be no less a scandal to the conscience of the metaphysical optimist than the most violent convulsions of the physical world .... what sort of God permits it?

Ivan does not really represent himself as an atheist .... he accepts that there is a God and even that there is an eternal plan that will, in its consumation, bring about a condition of perfect peace and beatitude for all creation ...

... and still he rejects the world that God has made, and that final harmony with it .... the terms of the final happiness God intends for his creatures is greater than his [Ivan's] conscience can bear.

To elucidate his complaint, he provides Alyosha with a grim, unremitting, remorseless recitation of stories about the torture and murder of (principally) children ....

What can a finite Euclidean mind make of such things? How, with anything like moral integrity, can it defer its outrage to some promised future where some other justice will be worked, in some radically different reality than the present? ....

What makes Ivan's argument so novel and disturbing is not that he simply accuses God of failing to save the innocent; in fact, he grants that in some sense God still will "save" them, in part by rescuing their suffering from sheer "absurdity" and showing what part it had in accomplishing the final beatitude of all creatures. Rather, Ivan rejects salvation itself, in so far as he understands it, and on moral grounds. He rejects anything that would involve such a rescue - anything that would make the suffering of children meaningful or necessary .... After all, Ivan asks, if you could bring about a universal and final beatitude for all beings by torturing one small creature to death, would you think the price acceptable?

I am convinced that Ivan's discourse .... constitutes the only challenge to a confidence in divine goodness that should give Christians serious cause for deep and difficult reflection ....Ivan's ability to imagine a genuinely moral revolt against God's creative and redemptive order has a kind of nocturnal grandeur about it, a Promethean or Romantic or Gnostic audacity that dares to imagine some spark dwelling in the human soul that is higher and purer than the God who governs this world; and, in that very way, his argument carries within itself an echo of the gospel's vertiginous annunciation of our freedom from the "elements" of the world and from the power of the law ....

Ivan's argument ... in disabusing believers of facile certitude in the justness of all things ... forces them back toward the more complicated, "subversive", and magnificent theology of the gospel ....

Voltaire sees only the terrible truth that the history of suffering and death is not morally intelligible. Dostoyevsky sees ... that it would be far more terrible if it were.


In a world where so many suffer, I find the justification of it by any "good end" unnacceptable. I'll have to wait until later to see how Hart answers Ivan's argument. I hope it's a good one ... it will have to be.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Whale Song

A science fiction writer I especially like is Nebula award winner David Brin (of San Diego). One reason why is his "Uplift" series of books in which humanity of the future uplifts animals through genetic engineering to be our equals. Whale song is a factor in the worldview of the uplifteded dolphins in the stories, comprising elements of religion, philosophy, cosmology and poetry. I'm not a fan of genetic engineering but I do like the idea of animals sharing the world with us in a fairer fashion.

I saw this story in the news today ... Humpback whales have "human" brain cells: study ...

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Humpback whales have a type of brain cell seen only in humans, the great apes, and other cetaceans such as dolphins, U.S. researchers reported on Monday ... Patrick Hof and Estel Van der Gucht of the Department of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York studied the brains of humpback whales and discovered a type of cell called a spindle neuron in the cortex, in areas comparable to where they are seen in humans and great apes ... Although the function of spindle neurons is not well understood, they may be involved in cognition -- learning, remembering and recognizing the world around oneself. ...

And Wikipedia has a lot of info on Humbacks ... here's a litlle of it ...

Alongside its aerial acrobatics, the Humpback Whale is well known for its long and complex "song". As cetaceans have no vocal chords, whales generate their songs by forcing air through their massive nasal cavities. Humpbacks repeat patterns of low notes that vary in amplitude and frequency in consistent patterns over a period of hours or even days. Scientists are still unsure what whalesong is meant to communicate. Only male Humpbacks sing, so it was at first assumed that the songs were solely for courting. While the primary purpose of whalesong may be to attract females, it's almost certain that whalesong serves myriad purposes. Also interesting is the fact that a whale's unique song slowly evolves over a period of years —never returning to the same sequence of notes even after decades ...

It is estimated that during the 20th century at least 200,000 Humpbacks were taken, reducing the global population by over 90%. To prevent species extinction, a general moratorium on the hunting of Humpbacks was introduced in 1966 and is still in force today ... By the time the International Whaling Commission members agreed on a moratorium on Humpback hunting in 1966, the whales had become sufficiently scarce as not to be worthwhile hunting commercially. At this time, 250,000 were recorded killed. However, the true toll is likely to be significantly higher. It is now known that the Soviet Union was deliberately under-recording its kills; the total Soviet Humpback kill was reported at 2,710 whereas the true number is now believed to be 48,000...

Phil Clapham, a scientist at the Smithsonian Institute, says "this wanton destruction of some of the earth's most magnificent creatures is one of the greatest of our many environmental crimes." ... I agree.

Read what Greenpeace has to say about whales and present day whaling.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Christ the King :-)

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

- Jackman as a conquistador

I haven't yet seen the movie, The Fountain, but after hearing, in the trailer (see it below) the line ... Our bodies are prisons for our souls (so Gnostic! :-) ... and reading a bit about it ... the Spanish Inquisition, the Tree of Life, the Fountain of Youth, and the Mayan Xibalba ... I had to write something about it.

The movie stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz and is directed by Darren Aronofsky ...

Aronofsky ... commenced writing an original screenplay entitled The Fountain. The story was written by Aronofsky and Ari Handel and spans over 1000 years in three different time periods. In 2002, days away from the start of filming, lead actor Brad Pitt pulled out over "creative differences" and the film collapsed. Sets were demolished and Aronofsky left for home. He subsequently rewrote the film from a $75 million epic to a $30 million film. In 2005, The Fountain was resurrected with new stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, Aronofsky's wife. ...

The New York Times review is mixed ... it compares the story to both a comic book (btw, there's also a graphic novel of the movie) and the work of Jorge Luis Borges, and it names banal a theme the movie shares with a Dylan Thomas poem ... Though lovers be lost love shall not; And death shall have no dominion.

Here's some of the Times' review ...

In “The Fountain,” Darren Aronofsky’s third feature (after “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream”), Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz play star-crossed lovers in three different eras. Back in the 16th century, Ms. Weisz is Queen Isabel, a glowingly beautiful monarch menaced by the cruel intolerance of the Spanish Inquisition. (I know, I didn’t suspect it either.) Mr. Jackman is Tomas, a conquistador of sad countenance and unruly beard, hacking his way through the Central American jungles in search of the Tree of Life and in the service of his queen.

In the present, Mr. Jackman is a clean-shaven research scientist named Tom Creo, obsessively trying to develop a cure for the disease that threatens the life of his glowingly beautiful wife, Izzi (Ms. Weisz). Five hundred years in the future, Tom’s head is completely bald, and he floats through the air. Ms. Weisz, if I’m not mistaken, has turned into a tree ....

Tom Creo (the last name means “I believe” in Spanish) rages in the lab, bullying his subordinates and exasperating his supervisor (Ellen Burstyn) with his insistence on going after the secret of immortality rather than a mere cure for disease. Izzi, meanwhile, may have unlocked the secret herself, in a manuscript she has been working on (by hand, on old-fashioned folio pages) called “The Fountain.” “Finish it,” she says to Tom.

She also tells him about Xibalba, the Mayan afterlife, a swirling vortex where all distinctions of present and past seem to vanish. Xibalba, which is also the name of a distant nebula in the movie, is connected to that tree, which is, according to the movie’s dream logic, both a metaphor and an actual organism. (It is also, a bit misleadingly, the source of the film’s title: fountain of youth, tree of life — same thing, really). It is where superstition and science meet, and where the truth of ancient religion is affirmed by the methods of modern science ....

“The Fountain” leaves a tantalizing sense of puzzlement in its wake .... its techniques run too far beyond its ideas, which are blurry and banal, rather than mysterious and resonant. “The Fountain” is something to see, but it is also much less, finally, than meets the eye.

Here's the YouTube trailer ...

The Fountain contains some interesting ideas ... are our bodies just prisons for our souls ... does love survive death ... what would it mean, not just physically but also spiritually, to be immortal ... all these questions have very different answers, depending on your religious views or lack thereof - though the movie may not answer them well, at least it raised them.

- Weisz as Queen Isabel

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

St. Cecilia Images

Today is the Memorial of St. Cecilia ...

Saint Cecilia in the Catholic Church is the patron saint of musicians and of the blind. Her feast day, celebrated both in the Catholic and Orthodox Church, is November 22. It was long supposed that she was a noble lady of Rome who, with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius, and other friends whom she had converted, suffered martyrdom, C. 230, under the emperor Alexander Severus. The researches of de Rossi, however (Rom. sott. ii. 147), go to confirm the statement of Fortunatus, bishop of Poitiers (d. 600), that she perished in Sicily under Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180. ...

Cecilia, whose musical fame rests on a passing notice in her legend that she praised God by instrumental as well as vocal music, has inspired many a masterpiece in art, including the The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia by Raphael at Bologna, the Rubens in Berlin, the Domenichino in Paris and at San Luigi dei Francesi, and works by Artemisia Gentileschi, and in literature, where she is commemorated especially by Chaucer's Seconde Nonnes Tale, and by John Dryden's famous ode, set to music by Handel in 1736, and later by Sir Hubert Parry (1889). Other music dedicated to Cecilia includes Benjamin Britten's Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn for St Cecilia by Herbert Howells, a mass by Alessandro Scarlatti, Charles Gounod's Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile, and Hail, bright Cecilia! by Henry Purcell. ...

- Wikipedia

- St. Cecilia by JW Waterhouse

- The Martyrdom of St. Cecilia by Orazio Riminaldi

- The Ecstacy of St Cecilia (with Sts Paul, John Evangelist, Augustine and Mary Magdalene) by Raphael

DC Meetings

Today, as I visited the blogs I have bookmarked, I saw that many of them dealt with happenings in Washinton DC ... the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting and the Karl Barth Society of North America meeting. I can't claim to understand half of what it's all about, but the little I do pick up from reading these scholarly blogs is very interesting ...

Mark Goodacre - NT Gateway Weblog - presented a Pauline paper at the SBL meeting on Galatians - check out day I and day 2 ...

Stephen Carlson - Hypotyposeis - has a post on the SBL meeting and the papers he gave there, including Luke’s Panel Technique for an “Orderly” Account ...

Ben Witherington gave a paper at the SBL meeting on Lazarus as the Beloved Disciple.

At the Karl Barth Society meeting, George Hunsinger and Archie Spencer gave criticisms of the Analogia Entis in David Bentley Hart's book, The Beauty of the Infinite, and Hart gave a response. Read discussions about this meeting at Faith and Theology and at Brian Hamilton.

Monday, November 20, 2006

David Hart and Voltaire

- Voltaire

As I wrote in an earlier post, I've been reading David Bentley Hart's theodicy book, The Doors of the Sea. I've come to a place where Hart mentions Vlotaire and his poem about the disaster of All Saints' Day, 1755, in Lisbon. That event affected not only Voltaire, but many thinkers of the Enlightenment, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant, and drove a stake through the heart of the theodicy arguments of the day. Here's just a tiny bit of Voltaire's poem ...

"But how conceive a God supremely good,
Who heaps his favours on the sons he loves,
Yet scatters evil with as large a hand?
What eye can pierce the depth of his designs?
From that all-perfect Being came not ill:
And came it from no other, for he ’s lord:
Yet it exists. O stern and numbing truth!
O wondrous mingling of diversities!
A God came down to lift our stricken race:
He visited the earth, and changed it not!
One sophist says he had not power to change;
“He had,” another cries, “but willed it not:
In time he will, no doubt.” And, while they prate,
The hidden thunders, belched from underground,
Fling wide the ruins of a hundred towns
Across the smiling face of Portugal."

And here's a bit about the earthquake that inspired it ...

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake took place on November 1, 1755, at 9:40 in the morning. It was one of the most destructive and deadly earthquakes in history, killing between 60,000 and 100,000 people. The quake was followed by a tsunami and fire, resulting in the near-total destruction of Lisbon. The earthquake accentuated political tensions in Portugal and profoundly disrupted the country's eighteenth-century colonial ambitions .... Geologists today estimate the Lisbon earthquake approached magnitude 9 on the Richter scale...

- engraving of the earthquake in Lisbon in 1755

The earthquake shook much more than cities and buildings. Lisbon was the capital of a devout Catholic country, with a history of investments in the church and evangelism in the colonies. Moreover, the catastrophe struck on a Catholic holiday and destroyed almost every important church. For eighteenth-century theology and philosophy, this manifestation of the anger of God was difficult to explain.

- the ruined Convento de Carmo, destroyed in 1755 by the earthquake.

The earthquake strongly influenced many thinkers of the European Enlightenment. Many contemporary philosophers mentioned or alluded to the earthquake in their writings, notably Voltaire in Candide and in his Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne ("Poem on the Lisbon disaster"). The arbitrariness of survival motivated Voltaire's Candide and its satire of the idea that this was the "best of all possible worlds"; as Theodor Adorno wrote, "[t]he earthquake of Lisbon sufficed to cure Voltaire of the theodicy of Leibniz" (Negative Dialectics 361). In the later twentieth century, following Adorno, the 1755 earthquake has sometimes been compared to the Holocaust as a catastrophe so tremendous as to have a transformative impact on European culture and philosophy ....

- Wikipedia

David Hart lines up the arguments against a God both good and all powerful - Voltaire's poem is an example of the best of these - and though Hart feels these arguments sometimes speak of a God he barely recognises, he does not dismiss them lightly, but writes ...

"... there are even certain respects in which arguments of this sort should command not only the attention of Christians, but some measure of their sympathy - not pity, that is to say, not a patronizing longanimity, but sympathy in the proper sense of kindred feeling. After all, at the heart of all such unbelief lies an undoubtedly authentic moral horror before the sheer extravagance of worldly misery, a kind of rage for justice, a refusal of easy comfort, and an unwillingness to be reconciled to evil that no one who believes this to be a fallen world should want to disparage ..."

That is one thing I like very much about Hart's book ... he doesn't try to reconcile the reader with evil - doesn't try to make suffering acceptable or understandable. I guess I'd rather find no redemptive meaning in my own suffering than think God had anything to do with it.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Turkey Day - Not!

Soon it will be time for our American version of the Harvest Festival - Thanksgiving - and before that day arrives, I'd like to say a few words for the sake of all the frightened turkeys out there ... it's never too late to become a vegetarian :-)

Here's a little of what Wikipedia says of the Harvest Festival ...

In Britain, thanks has been given for successful harvests since pagan times.The celebrations on this day usually include singing, praying and decorating churches with baskets of fruit and food in the festival known as Harvest Festival or Harvest Home or Harvest Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving.

In British Churches, Chapels and schools, people bring in food from the garden, the allotment or farm. The food is often distributed among the poor and senior citizens of the local community. ...

An early Harvest Festival used to be celebrated at the beginning of the Harvest season on 1 August and was called Lammas, meaning 'loaf Mass'. Farmers made loaves of bread from the fresh wheat crop. These were given to the local church as the Communion bread during a special service thanking God for the harvest.

Early settlers took the idea of harvest thanksgiving to North America. The most famous one is the harvest Thanksgiving held by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1621.

Nowadays the festival is held at the end of harvest which varies in different parts of Britain. Sometimes neighbouring churches will set the Harvest Festival on different Sundays so that people can attend each other's thanksgivings.

Farmers celebrated the end of the harvest with a big meal called a harvest supper. Some churches and villages still have a Harvest Supper.

The modern British tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began in 1843, when the Reverend Robert Hawker invited parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at his church at Morwenstow in Cornwall. Victorian hymns such as "We plough the fields and scatter", "Come ye thankful people, come" and "All things bright and beautiful" helped popularise his idea of harvest festival and spread the annual custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce for the Harvest Festival service ...


For those like me who are vegetarians, here's a great page - Gentle Thanksgiving - of recipes and photos.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Judas on an Iceberg

A stranger to poetry as I am, I've only just read this one by Matthew Arnold for the first time ...

Saint Brandan

Saint Brandan sails the northern main;
The brotherhoods of saints are glad.
He greets them once, he sails again.
So late!—such storms!—The Saint is mad!

He heard across the howling seas
Chime convent bells on wintry nights,
He saw on spray-swept Hebrides
Twinkle the monastery lights;

But north, still north, Saint Brandan steer’d;
And now no bells, no convents more!
The hurtling Polar lights are near’d,
The sea without a human shore.

At last—(it was the Christmas night,
Stars shone after a day of storm)—
He sees float past an iceberg white,
And on it—Christ!—a living form!

That furtive mien, that scowling eye,
Of hair that red and tufted fell——
It is—Oh, where shall Brandan fly?—
The traitor Judas, out of hell!

Palsied with terror, Brandan sate;
The moon was bright, the iceberg near.
He hears a voice sigh humbly: ‘Wait!
By high permission I am here.

‘One moment wait, thou holy man!
On earth my crime, my death, they knew;
My name is under all men’s ban;
Ah, tell them of my respite too!

‘Tell them, one blessed Christmas night—
(It was the first after I came,
Breathing self-murder, frenzy, spite,
To rue my guilt in endless flame)—

‘I felt, as I in torment lay
’Mid the souls plagued by heavenly power,
An angel touch mine arm, and say
Go hence, and cool thyself an hour!

‘”Ah, whence this mercy, Lord?” I said.
The Leper recollect, said he,
Who ask’d the passers-by for aid,
In Joppa, and thy charity.

‘Then I remember’d how I went,
In Joppa, through the public street,
One morn, when the sirocco spent
Its storms of dust, with burning heat;

And in the street a Leper sate,
Shivering with fever, naked, old;
Sand raked his sores from heel to pate,
The hot wind fever’d him five-fold.

‘He gazed upon me as I pass’d,
And murmur’d: Help me, or I die!—
To the poor wretch my cloak I cast,
Saw him look eased, and hurried by.

‘Oh, Brandan, think what grace divine,
What blessing must true goodness shower,
If semblance of it faint, like mine,
Hath such inestimable power!

‘Well-fed, well-clothed, well-friended, I
Did that chance act of good, that one!
Then went my way to kill and lie—
Forgot my good as soon as done.

‘That germ of kindness, in the womb
Of mercy caught, did not expire;
Outlives my guilt, outlives my doom,
And friends me in the pit of fire.

‘Once every year, when carols wake,
On earth, the Christmas night’s repose,
Arising from the sinners’ lake,
I journey to these healing snows.

‘I stanch with ice my burning breast,
With silence balm my whirling brain.
O Brandan! to this hour of rest,
That Joppan leper’s ease was pain!’——

Tears started to Saint Brandan’s eyes;
He bow’d his head; he breathed a prayer.
When he look’d up—tenantless lies
The iceberg in the frosty air!

- St. Brandan the Navigator

Feeling Swinburne-ish

- a portrait of Swinburne by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A little bit of the end of the poem Tristram of Lyonesse by Algernon Charles Swinburne ... Tristram and Iseult have died, and King Mark has buried them ...

... And the king
Built for their tomb a chapel bright like spring
With flower-soft wealth of branching tracery made
Fair as the frondage each fleet year sees fade,
That should not fall till many a year were done.
There slept they wedded under moon and sun
And change of stars: and through the casements came
Midnight and noon girt round with shadow and flame
To illume their grave or veil it; till at last
On these things too was doom as darkness cast:
For the strong sea hath swallowed wall and tower,
And where their limbs were laid in woful hour
For many a fathom gleams and moves and moans
The tide that sweeps above their coffined bones
In the wrecked chancel by the shivered shrine:
Nor where they sleep shall moon or sunlight shine
Nor man look down for ever: none shall say,
Here once, or here, Tristram and Iseult lay:
But peace they have that none may gain who live.
And rest about them that no love can give,
And over them, while death and life shall be,
The light and sound and darkness of the sea.

Read about Tristram and Iseult at Wikipedia

Friday, November 17, 2006

The US Bishops

Bishops approve documents on contraception, communion, and gay ministry ... National Catholic Reporter. The US Bishops adopted guidelines on gay sex, contraception and communion. I found their decisions disappointing. There's a good post on communion, and Who Can Commune With God?, at Ben Witherington's blog.

- Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Roger Ebert and The Queen

You may have noticed that when I post something about a movie and quote a movie reviewer, the person I most often use is Roger Ebert. There may be film critics more well known but I've grown to respect and like Ebert's way of looking at the movies, and though I don't always agree with him, I know where I stand with him - if I read one of his reviews, I have a good idea of whether I'll like a movie or not, whether I should like it or not :-)

Sadly, I've missed the benefit of his reviews these past few months , when h'e been so ill. But things are looking up for Ebert and for those who like his work - he has just recently written his first movie review for the Chicago Sun-Times since his illness began ... it's of the film, The Queen.

Below I've posted a little about Ebert from Wikipedia and under that, bits from his review of The Queen.

Roger Joseph Ebert (born June 18, 1942) is an Emmy Award-nominated American television personality, author, and film critic who began writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, every week since 1967 ... He is also the co-host of a syndicated television program featuring his film criticism, first for 23 years with Gene Siskel and, since Siskel's death, with Richard Roeper on Ebert & Roeper. He has written more than 15 books, including his annual movie yearbook. In 1975, he became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism ...

He underwent surgery Friday, June 16, 2006, just two days before his 64th birthday, to remove cancer near his right jaw, including a section of jaw bone. On July 1, Ebert was hospitalized in serious condition after an artery burst near the surgery site; he later discovered that the burst was likely a side-effect of his treatment, which involved neutron beam radiation. He has told his fans that it is a search for ways to prevent future arterial bursts that has kept him bed-ridden ....

An update from Ebert on October 11 confirmed his bleeding problems have been resolved. He was receiving rehabilitation care at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to regain muscle strength lost during his convalescence. Ebert stated he planned to fully resume work early in 2007, and to hold his annual Overlooked Film Festival as scheduled. He returned to the Chicago Sun-Times with his October 13 review of The Queen, but has not resumed his television work ...

Below's a part of the review. Read the whole thing here at Ebert's website.


The opening shots of Stephen Frears' "The Queen" simply show Helen Mirren's face as her character prepares for it to be seen. She is Queen Elizabeth II, and we know that at once. The resemblance is not merely physical, but embodies the very nature of the Elizabeth we have grown up with -- a private woman who takes her public role with great gravity.

Elizabeth is preparing to meet Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), the new Labor prime minister who has just been elected in a landslide. We see Blair preparing for the same meeting. His election was a fundamental upheaval of British political life after Thatcherism, and at that time, Britain stood on a threshold of uncertain but possibly tumultuous change.

Within months, the queen and Blair find themselves in a crisis that involves not politics but a personal tragedy that was completely unforeseen -- the death of Diana, princess of Wales, in a Paris car crash. "The Queen" tells the story of how her death with her boyfriend, the playboy department store heir Dodi Fayed, would threaten to shake the very monarchy itself.

Told in quiet scenes of proper behavior and guarded speech, "The Queen" is a spellbinding story of opposed passions -- of Elizabeth's icy resolve to keep the royal family separate and aloof from the death of the divorced Diana, who was legally no longer a royal, and of Blair's correct reading of the public mood, which demanded some sort of public expression of sympathy from the crown for "The People's Princess" ....

"The Queen" is told almost entirely in small scenes of personal conflict. It creates an uncanny sense that it knows what goes on backstage in the monarchy; in the movie, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and the Queen Mother have settled into a sterile domesticity cocooned by servants and civil servants. It shows Tony and Cherie Blair (Helen McCrory) in their own bourgeois domestic environment. Both households, privately, are plain-spoken to the point of bluntness, and Cherie is more left wing than her husband, less instinctively awed by the monarchy, more inclined to dump the institution.

What Tony clearly sees is that the monarchy could be gravely harmed, if not toppled, by the Queen's insistence on sticking to protocol and not issuing a statement about Diana. The press demands that Elizabeth fly the flag at half-mast as a symbolic gesture at Buckingham Palace. Elizabeth stands firm. The palace will not acknowledge the death or sponsor the funeral.

"The Queen" comes down to the story of two strong women loyal to the doctrines of their beliefs about the monarchy, and a man who is much more pragmatic. The queen is correct, technically, in not lowering the flag to half-mast -- it is not a national flag, but her own, flown only when she is in residence. But Blair is correct that the flag has become a lightning rod for public opinion. The queen is correct, indeed, by tradition and history in all she says about the affair -- but she is sadly aloof from the national mood. Well, maybe queens should be ....

Stephen Frears, the director, has made several wonderful films about conflicts and harmonies in the British class system ("My Beautiful Laundrette," "Dirty Pretty Things," "Prick Up Your Ears"), and "The Queen," of course, represents the ultimate contrast. No one is more upper class than the queen, and Tony Blair is profoundly middle class.

The screenplay is intense, focused, literate, observant. The dynamic between Elizabeth and Philip (James Cromwell), for example, is almost entirely defined by decades of what has not been said between them -- and what need not be said. There are extraordinary, tantalizing glimpses of the "real" Elizabeth driving her own Range Rover, leading her dogs, trekking her lands at Balmoral -- the kind of woman, indeed, who seems more like Camilla Parker-Bowles than Diana.

Mirren is the key to it all in a performance sure to be nominated for an Oscar. She finds a way, even in a "behind the scenes" docudrama, to suggest that part of her character will always be behind the scenes. What a masterful performance, built on suggestion, implication and understatement. Her queen in the end authorizes the inevitable state funeral, but it is a tribute to Mirren that we have lingering doubts about whether, objectively, it was the right thing. Technically, the queen was right to consider the divorced Diana no longer deserving (by her own choice) of a royal funeral. But in terms of modern celebrity worship, Elizabeth was wrong. This may or may not represent progress.

- Helen Mirren as the Queen

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

John Milbank / Sacrifice

I'm still thinking about atonement (it's all your fault, Talmida :-) and that led me to thinking about self-sacrifice. I'm not comfortable with the idea of self-sacrifice. My cynical self would say that there are not true sacrifices because people do what they do for self-serving reasons, whether or not those reasons are apparent to others, or even to themselves When religion enters the picture, self-sacrifice seems even more illusory - does belief in an afterlife and eternal reward negate the "gift-ness" of giving up one's life?

These thoughts led me to a 1999 article in First Things by radical orthodoxy theologian John Milbank ... The Ethics of Self-Sacrifice. Milbank opposes the belief that self-sacrifice is only a gift if it's given without hope of return - he thinks true sacrificial giving actually depends on a kind of reciprocity based on the resurrection. I can't say I understood all of the article or that I agreed with what I did understand, but it was interesting. The article was long and involved, so forgive me if my hatchet job on it below doesn't actually make any sense :-) As always, it's best to read the whole thing.


If I were to say that the highest imaginable exemplification of the good consists in dying sacrificially on behalf of an other or others, I imagine that many people, religious or otherwise, would concur .... the highest ethical gesture is a sacrificial self–offering which expects no benefit in return ...

Anyone who thinks of this pure self–sacrifice more closely must answer four questions: How is giving to be understood? What is the reality of death? What is the appropriate concept of the self? What are the background ontological circumstances against which the sacrificial gesture would be situated?

Recent ethical thinkers have certain characteristic answers to these questions. The only real gift, they claim, is one that expects no counter–gift in return. Unless a gift is in this fashion sacrificial—the giving up of something—it is argued, a gift reduces to a hidden contractual agreement, governed by a principle of self–interest; and actions out of self–interest, as Kant pointed out, are not pure gifts.

Secondly, they hold that death, far from being complicit with evil as religious traditions have often taken it to be, is the very circumstance that makes it possible to act ethically at all ...

Thirdly, in the trend of ethical thinking we are investigating, it is characteristically assumed that what makes us aware of the self in the first place is just this double intrusion of death: the cry of the vulnerable other eliciting our preparedness to negate our own life ...

Finally, in the fourth place there is the question of ontology ... if we are all terminally fragile, then our temporary lives assume an ultimate value, since we can offer our own lives for the sake of others. A death without return ensures that the choice of the good exceeds any self–interest ... Death in its unmitigated reality permits the ethical, while the notion of resurrection contaminates it with self–interest.

So is it true that death undergirds ethics? I want to argue against this, instead proposing the opposite position that only with faith in the resurrection is an ethical life possible. However, I believe that recent thinkers are rigorously consistent when they argue that self–sacrifice is supremely good only if death is final and unrewarded. So in exalting resurrection, I will have also to deny that self–sacrifice is most paradigmatic of the good. And this is what I shall now proceed to do, arguing that this idea is incoherent, actually unethical, and not at all a translation of the essence of monotheistic tradition as some tend to claim. To make this argument, I will examine in turn the four components of this ostensibly pure sacrifice: 1) gift without return or "unilateral" gift; 2) death as grounding the ethical; 3) a subjectivity as constituted through sacrifice and the demand of a God beyond being; and 4) ontology without resurrection or eschatological overcoming of death ...

(big snip)

The one thing about ourselves we know with certainty is that we are to die. When we accept this death, or prepare ourselves, if necessary, actively to appropriate it, we fulfill most rigorously the Greek demand to value only that which cannot be taken away from us.. ... one might suggest that pure self–sacrifice strangely turns out to be the securest self–possession ...

German Roman Catholic philosopher Robert Spaemann ... giving food to those in need, he observes, can occur as a one–way gift from those who have to those who have not, or it can occur in a feast, where all eat together. In the feast egotism is mitigated, since here one eats only if one eats along with others; and yet at the same time one does eat, and so selfhood is not eradicated. This image of the feast suggests for Spaemann that what is supremely good is the ecstatic—not in the sense of departing from life, but in the sense of living life as departing from oneself while in this very departing receiving oneself back again ...

The third component of the notion of pure sacrifice is the idea that subjectivity itself is constituted through the "persecution" of my consciousness by the demands of the vulnerable other. Here again, I have already enunciated my main response: this tends to render the personal impersonal ...

This leads naturally to the fourth and final component of the idea of pure sacrifice: the ontological vision which sees Being without immortality of the soul or resurrection of the body ... What the modern presentation of this ontology tends to overlook, however, is its profound link both to the antique pagan polis and to the modern secular state ... the exaltation of pure self–sacrifice for the other is secretly the sacrifice of all individuals to the impersonality of the formal procedural law of state and marketplace. Like the antique polis, this alone abides, this alone is eternal ...

Within the ethical thinking regarding pure sacrifice that I am opposing, one’s decision to be responsible for this person rather than that appears to be entirely arbitrary. As Derrida puts it, Why look after this cat rather than all the other stray cats? ...

But it is at this point that faith in resurrection doubly sustains the project of a charitable society, founded on the widest extension of reciprocity. First of all, because of this faith, one can have hope for the victims of the failures of others; and secondly, in the case of necessary self–sacrifice, one need not surrender oneself to the consuming totality. In either case, one need not embrace the logic of ultimately necessary self–sacrifice without return, either of others or of oneself. If this is true, then only the vision of the eschatological banquet could be an image of the good, whereas the image of dying for the other—though it is the advent of the good in fallen time—cannot itself be the final good, without once more subordinating the person to an impersonal totality, in this case an abstract moral principle ...

And so we must finally conclude that resurrection, not death, is the ground of the ethical ... for the Christian, to give is itself to enter into reciprocity and the hope for infinite reciprocity. And to offer oneself, if necessary, unto sacrificial death is already to receive back one’s body from beyond the grave. To give, to be good, is already to be resurrected.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

War Crimes

I saw this headline today - Rumsfeld faces renewed war crimes claims - in the Guardian. Here's a little of it ...

A US-based civil rights group today asked German prosecutors to take legal action against the former US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld for war crimes. The Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) lodged a complaint with the German federal prosecutor urging investigations of Mr Rumsfeld, who resigned last week, and other former US officials over alleged abuses in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay. Under a law enacted by Germany when the international criminal court was created in 2002, the federal prosecutor can investigate and prosecute war crimes regardless of where they are committed or of the nationality of the perpetrators ...

I don't really understand about international law but my feeling is that if we (the United States) want to have the right to judge others guilty of war crimes, we should be willing to take responcibility for the war crimes we ourselves commit. I seriously doubt that will occur, at least not where Rumsfeld is concerned.

This makes me think of an episdoe of The West Wing - War Crimes. Below is part of the dialogue between Leo McGarry, White House Chief of Staff, and General Alan Adamely, the man who was his commander when he served in Vietnam. They are talking about the creation of an international war crimes tribunal. Leo is for it, the general is against it. Leo begins the conversation by summing up the seriousness of a crime against humanity ...

Leo - A crime so immense as to exceed the jurisdiction of any single court or government. Alan, systematic extermination of civilians, enslavement, torture, rape, forced pregnancy, terrorism-doesn't the world need a permanent standing body...?

The general - National sovereignty is at stake. Americans are answerable to no one but their own government and their own laws.


Leo - 139 countries have signed. 35 have ratified. Once 60 ratify, that's the ball game. You want to be left out?

The general - Absolutely. And I'll tell you what else. This is gonna raise nineteen kinds of hell in Congress .... There're already extreme Republicans who are attaching amendments to bills cutting off military aid to any NATO member that signs the treaty... and committing the U.S. to forcibly rescue any American soldier held and tried in such a court. Leo, this commits the United States to a scenario...where we'd be invading Holland!

Leo - How much of this is about hedging our bets?

The general - It's not about...

Leo - Look, we set up Nuremberg! We set up the Tokyo War Crimes Trial. And that was fine until we realized the Cold War threat was gonna take precedence. So when the German rocket scientists came here to help us get into space... we looked the other way, while SS officers followed right behind, protected by American intelligence services, 'cause they were gonna help us with the Communists. Oh, please, Alan...So how much of this is hedging our bets?

The general - Remember Operation Rolling Thunder?

Leo - Yeah. I think I do, yeah.

The general - September 1966?

Leo - Yeah.

The general - You were piloting an F-105 Fighter Chief. This was our first unit, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing out of Thailand.

Leo - Yeah.

The general - I was Forward Air Commander. I gave you your directions. "From I.P., heading 273 for 10.5 miles. Your target is north-south running bridge over river, one kilometer to the tree line running east-west."

Leo - Yeah? ... It was a military target.

The general - It was a civilian target. It was a dam. There were eleven civilian casualties.

Leo - Why did you tell me that?

The general - Because you could be charged and tried for a war crime.

Leo - Why did you tell me that?!

The general - All wars are crimes.


All wars are indeed crimes ... I suppose some think it pointless to make judgements about degrees of badness in our actions, when all relevant acts are bad ... but until war has ceased to be a reality, it's better than doing nothing at all.

What constitutes a war crime?

Read about The International Criminal Court established in 2002 as a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression, and war crimes, as defined by several international agreements, most prominently the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Monday, November 13, 2006

James Alison / Atonement

A post at Talmida's blog, The Lesser of Two Weevils, touched on atonement. I don't like the theory of atonement, but I can't intelligently explain why ... the idea of original sin, an angry God, a scarifice, Jesus having no free will ... it just mixes me up :-).

But I've recently read an article in The Australian EJournal of Theology by Fr. James Alison - An Atonement Update - that was helpful. Fr. Alison discusses how atonement, from the earliest Jewish liturgy to what we today know of as the substitutionary theory, is turned on its head through Jesus.

I almost hesitate to post part of the article here, as it's long and the few parts I've picked out below can't really give a good picture of the whole. But for those who want to check out the shreds :-) ...


I tried, over three chapters of On being liked to set out some bases for thinking through what it means to say that Jesus died to save us. That was, and is, very much an ongoing project. Since writing those chapters I have been greatly helped by the work of Margaret Barker, especially The Great High Priest and her study of the book of Revelation The Revelation of Jesus Christ, in helping me take this further. Barker’s insights seem to me to combine extraordinarily well with the New Testament detective work of scholars like J. Duncan M. Derrett and the anthropology of desire which René Girard has made luminous for us to offer the possibility of a richer and deeper understanding of the atonement, and one which will, I hope, not only help to overcome divisions within Christianity as to how Jesus’ death is to be understood, but also give a far more positive account of the Jewishness of that saving death than we are used to.

So, I’d like to give you a kind of progress report on where I think this understanding is going, by trying to defend a thesis with you. My thesis is that Christianity is a priestly religion which understands that it is God’s overcoming of our violence by substituting himself for the victim of our typical sacrifices that opens up our being able to enjoy the fullness of creation as if death were not.

The first thing that I ought to do, therefore, is to rehearse for you my brief account of what is traditionally called the substitutionary theory of atonement. This is what we are up against ...

God created the universe, including humanity, and it was good. Then somehow or other humankind fell. This fall was a sin against God’s infinite goodness and mercy and justice. So there was a problem. Humans could not off our own bat restore the order which had been disordered, let alone make up for having dishonoured God’s infinite goodness. No finite making up could make up for an offence with infinite ramifications. God would have been perfectly within his rights to have destroyed the whole of humanity. But God was merciful as well as being just, so he pondered what to do to sort out the mess. Could he simply have let the matter lie in his infinite mercy? Well, maybe he would have liked to, but he was beholden to his infinite justice as well. Only an infinite payment would do; something that humans couldn’t come up with; but God could. And yet the payment had to be from the human side, or else it wouldn’t be a real payment for the outrage to be appeased. So God came up with the idea of sending his Son into the world as a human, so that his Son could pay the price as a human, which, since he was also God, would be infinite and thus would effect the necessary satisfaction. Thus the whole sorry saga could be brought to a convenient close. Those humans who agreed to cover over their sins by holding on to, or being covered by, the precious blood of the Saviour whom the Father has sacrificed to himself would be saved from their sins and given the Holy Spirit by which they would be able to behave according to the original order of creation. In this way, when they died, they at least would be able to inherit heaven, which had been the original plan all along, before the fall had mucked everything up.

Now, rather than make mockery of this storyline, I want to suggest that the trouble with it is that it is far too little conservative. I want to put forward a much more conservative account. And the first way I want to be conservative is to suggest that the principal problem with this conventional account is that it is a theory, while atonement, in the first place, was a liturgy ...

Let’s remember that we’re talking about a very ancient Jewish liturgy about which we only know from fragmentary reconstructions of what might have gone on in the First Temple ... the early Christians who wrote the New Testament understood very clearly that Jesus was the authentic high priest, who was restoring the eternal covenant that had been established long before; who was coming out from the Holy Place so as to offer himself as an expiation for us, as a concrete living out and demonstration of God’s love for us; and that Jesus was acting this out quite deliberately ...

In the Second Temple ... The priestly mysteries had been lost ... i.e. the real high priest was engaged in being the sacrifice, “the victim”, the priest, the altar and the temple on the city rubbish heap, at the same time as the corrupt city guys – which is how the ordinary Jews saw them at the time – were going through the motions in the corrupt Second Temple, which was not of such great concern to the people. They didn’t think it was the real thing. Many of Jesus’ contemporaries would have regarded the Temple which they knew and the priesthood which ran it as, if you’ll excuse the imagery, the diet-Pepsi version of a long lost real Coke.

From our point of view these are all aspects of atonement. What Jesus was doing was fulfilling a set of prophecies concerning a liturgical happening, which is to us largely mysterious. The reason I wanted to tell you about it is that it is very important for our understanding when we see that this is not simply an abolition of something that was bad, but someone fulfilling something that was considered good but not good enough. Do you see the difference? That means that our tendency to read the whole world of priesthood and sacrifice as an “unfortunate Semitic leftover” is really very wrong ...

... what Jesus was doing was substituting himself for a series of substitutions. The human sacrificial system typically works in the following way: the most primitive forms of sacrifice are human sacrifices. After people begin to become aware of what they are doing this gets transferred to animal sacrifices. After all it’s easier to sacrifice animals because they don’t fight back so much; whereas if you have to run a sacrificial system that requires you to keep getting victims, usually you have to run a war machine in order to provide enough victims to keep the system going; or you have to keep pet “pharmakons” around the place – convenient half-insider half-outsiders, who live in splendour, and have a thoroughly good time, until a time of crisis when you need people to sacrifice, and then you sacrifice them. But this is an ugly thing, and people are, after all, human; and so animals began to be sacrificed instead. And in some cultures from animals you move on to more symbolic forms of sacrifice, like bread and wine. You can find almost any cultural variation on the theme of sacrificial substitution.

The interesting thing is that Jesus takes exactly the inverse route; and he explains to us that he is going in the inverse route. “The night before he was betrayed…” what did he do? He said, “Instead of the bread and the wine, this is the lamb, and the lamb is a human being.” In other words he substituted a human being back into the centre of the sacrificial system as the priest, thus showing what the sacrificial system was really about, and so bringing it to an end. He was the Great High Priest giving portions of himself as lamb to his fellow priests, just as the High Priest in office would distribute portions of the sacrificed lamb to the other priests.

So you do have a genuine substitution that is quite proper within the Christian living out of Atonement. All sacrificial systems are substitutionary; but what we have with Jesus is an exact inversion of the sacrificial system: him going backwards and occupying the space so as to make it clear that this is simply murder. And it needn’t be ...

We are the angry divinity. We are the ones inclined to dwell in wrath and think we need vengeance in order to survive ... it turns on its head what has passed as our penal substitutionary theory of atonement, which always presupposes that it is us satisfying God, that God needs satisfying, that there is vengeance in God. Whereas it is quite clear from the New Testament that what was really exciting to Paul was that it was quite clear from Jesus’ self-giving, and the “out-pouring of Jesus’ blood”, that this was the revelation of who God was: God was entirely without vengeance, entirely without substitutionary tricks; and that he was giving himself entirely without ambivalence and ambiguity for us, towards us, in order to set us “free from our sins” – “our sins” being our way of being bound up with each other in death, vengeance, violence and what is commonly called “wrath” ...


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Poem / Robert Graves

Jeff's comment to the post before this made me wonder about the poems of Robert Graves ... I hadn't read any of them, though I've read a few of his books. Here below is the one poem of Graves' I was able to find online - they seem thin on the ground web-wise ...


CHRIST of His gentleness
Thirsting and hungering
Walked in the wilderness;
Soft words of grace He spoke
Unto lost desert-folk
That listened wondering.
He heard the bitterns call
From the ruined palace-wall,
Answered them brotherly.
He held communion
With the she-pelican
Of lonely piety.
Basilisk, cockatrice,
Flocked to his homilies,
With mail of dread device,
With monstrous barbed slings,
With eager dragon-eyes;
Great rats on leather wings,
And poor blind broken things,
Foul in their miseries.
And ever with Him went,
Of all His wanderings
Comrade, with ragged coat,
Gaunt ribs--poor innocent--
Bleeding foot, burning throat,
The guileless old scape-goat;
For forty nights and days
Followed in Jesus' ways,
Sure guard behing Him kept,
Tears like a lover wept.

And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

This is the week we remember those who fought in wars, and I noticed that The Tablet has an article about Siegfried Sassoon’s brother, who died at Gallipoli. Sadly, I can't read the article as it's only for subscribers, but here's the blurb for those interested ...

Unsung soldier, unknown muse ... He died during the Gallipoli campaign of the First World War, one of 21,000 in that suicidal tragedy with no known grave. Yet, as the younger brother of Siegfried, Hamo Sassoon’s death helped inspire some of the greatest verse on war, the tragedy of which we reflect on this weekend.

But that did make me think about the battle of Gallipoli ... I've had the Peter Weir/Mel Gibson movie Gallipoli on my to rent list for a while ... and so I read a little about it. One item that struck me was a song written in 1972 to commemorate that battle - And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. Here's a little of what Wikipedia says of the song ...

"And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" is a song, written by Eric Bogle in 1972, that commemorates the battle of Gallipoli between Australian, New Zealand (Allies) and Turkish (Axis) forces during the First World War. It is written from the point of view of a young Australian man who is sent to Gallipoli. The song incorporates the melody and a few lines of "Waltzing Matilda's" lyrics at its conclusion. The song has been covered by the Clancy Brothers, June Tabor, Slim Dusty, John Williamson, The Dubliners, Joan Baez, Skids, Christy Moore, and the Pogues. Midnight Oil has a live version of the song which has circulated on the Internet.

The song is often praised for its haunting imagery of the devastation at Gallipoli. The protagonist in the story loses his legs in the battle, and after the war notes the passing of other veterans with time, as younger generations become apathetic to the veterans and their cause. The song, written in 1972, has also been interpreted as paralleling with the Vietnam War. The song rails against jingoism and the romanticising of war. As the old man sits on his porch, and watches the veterans march past every ANZAC Day: "The young people ask what are they marching for, and I ask myself the same question" ...

Here below are the lyrics to the song ...

When I was a young man I carried me pack
And I lived the free life of the rover
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in 1915 my country said: Son,
It's time to stop rambling, there's work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
When the ship pulled away from the quay
And amid all the tears, flag waving and cheers
We sailed off for Gallipoli

It well I remember that terrible day
When our blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell they call Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk, he was ready, he primed himself well
He rained us with bullets, and he showered us with shell
And in five minutes flat, we were all blown to hell
He nearly blew us back home to Australia

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
When we stopped to bury our slain
Well we buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then it started all over again

Oh those that were living just tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
While around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I awoke in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
I never knew there was worse things than dying

Oh no more I'll go Waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

They collected the wounded, the crippled, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind and the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And when the ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thank Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity

And the Band played Waltzing Matilda
When they carried us down the gangway
Oh nobody cheered, they just stood there and stared
Then they turned all their faces away

Now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Renewing their dreams of past glories
I see the old men all tired, stiff and worn
Those weary old heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question

And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But year after year, their numbers get fewer
Someday, no one will march there at all

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by the billabong
So who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?

- from Wikipedia ... Anzac Beach at 8am on 25 April 1915. Men from the Australian 4th Battalion (1st Brigade) and Jacob's 26th Indian Mountain Battery are seen landing. The men in the foreground belong to the 1st Brigade staff. At the water's edge is the body of Sapper R. Reynolds, one of the first men to be killed at Gallipoli.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Castello Orsini Odescalchi

A post at You Duped Me Lord has brought me up to speed on Tom Cruise's wedding plans ... I can't find the will to care much about it except for the mention of the place where he had planned the wedding to take place ... the Castello Orsini Odescalchi. Here's some info from Wikipedia on this medieval castle and the town where it lives ...

Bracciano is a town and commune located northwest of Rome, Italy, famous for its lake of volcanic origin (Lago di Bracciano or "Sabatino") and its medieval castle. The town is a popular tourist destination for Italians as it is situated on Lake Bracciano, a crater lake of volcanic origin. Lake Bracciano is widely used for sailing and other watersports ...

In 1419 Pope Martin V gave the fief of Bracciano to the Orsini family branch of Tagliacozzo. Under this powerful family the city developed into a flourishing town, famous in the whole of Italy for its castle, which was enlarged, starting from 1470, by Napoleone Orsini and his son Virginio. In 1481 it housed Pope Sixtus IV, who had fled from the plague in Rome; the Sala Papalina in one of the corner towers commemorates the event. Four years later, however, the city and the castle were ravaged by Papal troops under Prospero Colonna, and subsequently a new line of walls was built.

In 1494 Charles VIII of France and his troops marching against Rome stopped at Bracciano. This act led to the excommunication of the Orsini, and in 1496 the city was besieged by a papal army, though it resisted. The sixteenth century was a period of splendour for Bracciano. In 1558 the notorious Paolo Giordano I Orsini, marrying Isabella de' Medici, daughter of Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, received the title of duke of Bracciano. The economy was boosted by the exploitation of sulphur and iron, the production of tapestries and paper. The latter was favoured by the construction of an aqueduct whose ruins can be still seen in the city. Bracciano in this period had some 4,500 inhabitants.

However, the expensive tenor of life of the Orsini eventually damaged the economic conditions of the city. The last great ruler was probably Paolo Giordano II, a patron of arts and literature which made Bracciano a center of culture in Italy. The decline culminated in 1696 with the cession of the fief to the Odescalchi family, who still detain the castle ...

Magazine Covers

I saw a post today at Aun Estamos Vivos ... Religion & Politics Magazine Covers ... which made me laugh. I had to try to make a magazine cover myself. If you want to try it, go here. Mine is below ...

Hating Gays

I was reading the Nov. 10th post at First Things, about hypocrisy as shown in the example of Ted Haggard, ... I came to this part below and the mean-spiritedness of it made my skin crawl ...

... Another oddity is that gay and gay-friendly commentators assume that any publicity involving homosexuality—whether Ted Haggard or the Florida congressman who flirted with male pages—works to the benefit of their cause. This strikes me as highly doubtful. A congressional predator or Haggard’s liaisons with a male prostitute hardly enhances the public image of gayness. Of course, there are adult men who prey on girls and there are plenty of female prostitutes. But most Americans live in a heterosexual world where such deviance is recognized as deviance. Almost all the people they know do not prey on girls or patronize prostitutes.

But what they do know about the gay world? Largely the sleaze that comes to the surface in public scandals. There was an op-ed in Wednesday’s New York Times asserting that 70 percent of Americans personally know someone who is gay. That seems statistically improbable. Somewhere between 2 and 4 percent of American males identify themselves as gay. (The figure is much lower for women.) Most of them are congregated in cities, and in those parts of cities known to be gay-friendly. Chelsea and the West Village, along with the Castro district of San Francisco and counterparts in other larger cities, are not America. Gays live in such places precisely because they are not America.

Admittedly, young people in college, or at least in most colleges, do know personally people who are gay; and some of them they count as friends. Most campuses have special-interest LGBT groups, and students are indoctrinated in gay ideology under the rubric of opposing “homophobia.” At one Ivy League college, faculty members told me over dinner that one-third of the male students were at least “experimenting” with homosexuality. Among the women, there were also a large number of “LUGS” (Lesbian Until Graduation). Whether such developments will significantly increase the percentage of adults identifying themselves as gay or lesbian will, I suppose, be discovered in due course. Apart from an intuition for the natural built into human beings, there are all kinds of incentives and pressures militating against such a significant increase.

What most Americans know about being gay is distinctively unattractive and, in their view, morally repugnant ...

Boy, am I glad I'm not gay/lesbian ... I'd have to haunt a gay ghetto-town like San Francisco (one of those places not really America), slithering out from under my rock only to socialize with the incredibly small number of other perverts, sandwiching in a few college courses between my visits to prostitutes ... the shame of sharing my repugnant self with "most Americans" would be too much to bear.

This First Things post was written on the subject of "hypocrisy" - one definition of a hypocrit might be a professed Christian who hates others.

Friday, November 10, 2006


- the Wicked Witch of the West

It's odd ... tonight The Wizard of Oz is showing on tv (TBS), and today a friend recommended I see a musical - Wicked. Adapted from a novel by Gregory Maguire, titled Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, it gives a revisionist view of the Witches of the Land of Oz. Here's what Wikipedia says of the plot ...

The story is written as a prelude to L. Frank Baum's classic book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and is heavily influenced by the iconic 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz. Set in the days prior to Dorothy's arrival from Kansas, Wicked explores the idea that the infamous antagonist we call the Wicked Witch of the West was misconstrued and victimized. Her alleged wickedness was merely retaliation against a charlatan wizard’s corrupt government. At Shiz University, the intelligent green-skinned teenager, Elphaba Thropp, meets beautiful and ambitious Galinda Upland (who changes her name to Glinda during the course of the play and later becomes Glinda the Good) when the two become roommates. Their lives intertwine, and, throughout the show, their friendship struggles to endure extreme personality differences, opposing viewpoints, rivalry over the same love-interest, and of course, Elphaba’s eventual tragic fall from grace ...

I have to admit, my memories of the Wicked Witch (from the movie) are sketchy ... she had flying monkey minions and ended her life with the words, "I'm melting!"on her lips ... but the musical sounds interesting :-)

Leo and Attila

- Leo Repulsing Attila - fresco by Raphael

Today is the Memorial of St. Leo the Great. One of the things for which Pope Leo is famous is turning Attila the Hun and his army from the gates of Rome. Here's what Wikipedia says ...

When Attila invaded Italy in 452 and threatened Rome, it was Leo who, with two high civil functionaries, went to meet him, and so impressed him that he withdrew -- at least according to Prosper of Aquitaine, although Jordanes, who represents Leo's contemporary Priscus, gives other grounds. Pragmatic concerns such as the large sum of gold that accompanied Leo, or logistical and strategic concerns, may have been the true reason for Attila's mercy. Attila's army was already quite stretched and full from booty from plunder, the Pope's plea for mercy may well have merely served as an honorable reason to not continuing on and sacking the Roman capitol. His intercession could not prevent the sack of the city by the Vandals in 455, but murder and arson were repressed by his influence. He died probably on November 10, 461.

A fun way to learn more about this is to rent the 2001 TV miniseries Attila, starring Scottish actor Gerard Butler (of Beowulf and Grendel and 300) and Powers Boothe ... I thought it was worth a watch :-)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Beauty Of The Written Word

The books by David B. Hart that I ordered finally came after almost 3 weeks (let this be a word of caution to those who choose "free shipping" :-) and I'm reading The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami. It's a compilation of a few theodicy articles Hart wrote about the tsunami of 2004 (links to articles at bottom of page). I don't agree with all his ideas, but he writes in a style that I appreciate, which makes me feel a little guilty - it's like being attracted to someone just for their body :-) Here is an example of his imagery, in just one sentence about the sea ...

Up there, when the weather is calm, the water is a smooth, immeasurable, tremulous mirror of the tropical sky, gleaming like silver, furling with crystaline brilliancy, its waves sapphire blue at their crests and a deep glassy green in their inner folds.

The very end of the book is moving ...

... the world remains divided between two kingdoms, where light and darkness, life and death, grow up together and await the harvest. In such a world, our portion is charity, and our sustenance is faith .... it is a faith that set us free from optimism long ago and taught us hope instead ... that God will not unite all of history's many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that he will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes .... and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and He that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold, I make all things new.”

The middle of the book is for you to discover, if interested :-)

Tsunami and Theodicy - First Things

Hart by the Numbers - Touchstone
Tremors of Doubt - The Wall Street Journal

Basilica of St. John Lateran

Today is the feast day of the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope's church (not St. Peter's Basilica) and the parish chirch of all Catholics. Here's a little from Wikipedia ...

Officially named Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris (Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior), it is the oldest and ranks first (being the only cathedral in Rome) among the four major basilicas of Rome, and holds the title of ecumenical mother church (mother church of the whole inhabited world) among Roman Catholics. The current archpriest of St. John Lateran is Camillo Cardinal Ruini, Papal Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome.

An inscription on the façade, Christo Salvatore, dedicates the Lateran as Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour, for all patriarchal basilicas are dedicated to Christ himself. As the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, containing the papal throne (Cathedra Romana), it ranks above all other churches in the Roman Catholic Church, even above St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican ...

And here's a quote from Augustine, courtesy of American Catholic ...

"What was done here, as these walls were rising, is reproduced when we bring together those who believe in Christ. For, by believing they are hewn out, as it were, from mountains and forests, like stones and timber; but by catechizing, baptism and instruction they are, as it were, shaped, squared and planed by the hands of the workers and artisans. Nevertheless, they do not make a house for the Lord until they are fitted together through love" (St. Augustine, Sermon 36>).

- the Holy door

- the Pope's chair

- the nave

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

John Duns Scotus

Franciscan John Duns Scotus (c. 1266 – November 8, 1308) was ...

... a theologian, philosopher, and logician. Some argue that during his tenure at Oxford, the systematic examination of what differentiates theology from philosophy and science began in earnest. He was one of the most influential theologians and philosophers of the High Middle Ages, nicknamed "Doctor Subtilis" for his penetrating spirit ...
- Wikipedia

Read more about John Duns Scotus at Thomas Williams's site (University of Notre Dame) and at Research Group John Duns Scotus

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Face Values / The Tablet

The feature article this week in The Tablet - Face Values - is about physical appearance and how it reflects our true nature.

This subject has had significance to me my whole life, from when I was a kid too unnattractive to make friends at school but too attractive to my stepfather, to now when I'm getting used to a 3 inch facial scar. The issue of physical appearance affects us all ... studies have shown that people (even children) prefer those they consider attractive and attribute positive qualities to them. How much of this is learned and how much is instictive? And what does it really mean - is Beauty intrinsically Good, and if so, what does it then mean to be ugly?

But enough about my personal demons :-) here below are some bits from the Tablet article, which begins with a reference to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey, and moves on to discuss the effect of face-covering veils and face transplants ...


... there is a widespread belief that the face is a window of the soul and reveals our innermost nature ...

Perhaps this sense that there is an intimate connection between a person's character and his or her face helps to explain some of the recent controversy both with regard to the Muslim face veil (niqab), and in terms of public reaction to the news that a British surgical team has been given ethical approval to carry out this country's first face transplants. These issues invite reflection on why we invest so much significance in the face when it is less vital to our physical well-being than our body organs. Perhaps it is because the face is uniquely and inseparably associated with the social aspect of our being, so that the concealed or disfigured face affects that fundamental dimension of our humanity which we experience only in relationship with others ....

Each individual's face is invested with his or her sense of being, and the faces of our loved ones occupy a unique place in our affections and responses. That's why, when discussing face transplants, people ask what it would feel like to have another person's face, or how that person's loved ones might feel if they encountered his or her face on another's body. When we have to communicate with a veiled face, we may feel that person is resisting interaction by withholding something vital ...

There is also a gendered dimension to all this, in a society in which young girls and women go to ever greater lengths to acquire the perfect, ageless face. Our culture has a very narrow concept of beauty, so that the result of this striving after perfection is an increasingly costly conformity to an ideal which in itself masks the true beauty of the human face with its capacity to reflect the stages and ages of life ....

All this should make us pause for thought before we condemn those who withdraw behind the veil as a way of dealing with the conflicting pressures that women face with regard to these distorted concepts of femininity and sexuality ....

We also need to re-examine the association between physical appearance and moral characteristics inherent in Wilde's novel and in the equation of beauty with goodness and ugliness with moral depravity ... face transplants may offer hope to those who have suffered extreme facial disfigurement, ...

From the beginning, Christians have been drawn to imagine the face of Christ .... "He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53: 2). This reminds us that the graced vision is that which sees the beauty of God where others see only ugliness, and which takes pity on the diminished soul that we sometimes glimpse behind the most aesthetically pleasing visage. It is only when we resist the seduction of the beautiful mask that we are able to glimpse the face of the human made in the image of God, who stands before us as an invitation and a challenge to our own sense of what it means to be human.