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Saturday, June 30, 2007


I saw an article in the latest issue of the online Catholic Herald about human-animal “chimera” embryos - Chimeras should be treated as human beings, argue bishops - and I'm disturbed on a whole number of levels, partly because the Church stance seems to have sidestepped the weird science on a tangent, and then there's the weird science itself.

But first, what is a chimera? The word reminds one of Greek mythology and the creature created from a number of different animals. But here we're talking about genetically engineered combination beings ... you know, like the tomatoes with fish genes, or spider-goats. This is (or was) the stuff of science fiction and I have a few short stories on the subject that I wrote a few years ago (like Spidergoat), but it's been reality for some time - Animal-Human Hybrids Spark Controversy / National Geographic News 2005. Though I love science fiction, I guess that at my core, I'm one of those retro greens who hate the very idea of real life plant/animal transgenetics ... and animal/human hybridization? Yikes! It's not about religion vs science, it's more a response to an inner queasiness ... hard to explain.

But enough about me, here below is the beginning of the article from the Catholic Herald ...


The English and Welsh bishops have asked for human-animal “chimera” embryos to be accorded the status of human beings and to be respected as such by law.
The bishops said they were “opposed in principle to many of the procedures” covered by the draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill which, they said, “should not be licensed under any circumstances”.

But in a surprising move they made it clear that they believed women should be able to give birth to human-animal “chimeras” created artificially by scientists in the future.
At present it is illegal to create embryos using a mixture of human and animal genetic material.

But the Government is proposing to allow scientists, for the first time ever, to create chimeras under the terms of the Bill, which will be introduced in the autumn.
Ministers insist that the chimeras – named after the mythical creature made up of a lion, a goat and a serpent – will be created solely for research in the fight against cancer and other diseases.

It will be against the law to allow them to live longer than two weeks or to implant such embryos into a woman.

But the bishops, in a submission to a Parliamentary committee set up to scrutinise the Bill, said: “We oppose the exclusion of interspecies embryos from the definition of embryo in the Act. At the very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings, and should be treated accordingly.

“In particular, it should not be a crime to transfer them, or other human embryos, to the body of the woman providing the ovum, in cases where a human ovum has been used to create them. “Such a woman is the genetic mother, or partial mother, of the embryo; should she have a change of heart and wish to carry her child to term, she should not be prevented from doing so.” .......


What do you guys think of all this ... my mind boggles

Related reading - saw this article today at the Times Online - Master of Creation?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Church and State, part 2

A few days ago I posted something about the separation of church and state, quoting from a speech given by Obama. Today I saw an article at The Tablet - Rudy’s rude awakening - on the subject of whether Catholic politicians in the US who support legalised abortion should be allowed to take Communion, and that led, through a quote, to another speech, one given in 1960 by John Kennedy when he was running for president. In some ways, his view is kind of gnostic ... religion seen as only personal and not a part of public or communal life ... yet with the recent fervor in the other direction, I have to say Kennedy is sounding pretty good to me right now.

Here below is just part of the speech, which can be found in its entirety at Beliefnet ....


While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face ...... But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured--perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again--not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me--but what kind of America I believe in.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim--but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end--where all men and all churches are treated as equal--where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice--where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind--and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe--a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office ......

Whatever issue may come before me as President--on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject--I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come--and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible--when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.

But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith--nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election ..... I can "solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the help me God.


It's Ramon Llull Week ...

... and Liam has exhorted us to get our Llull on, so hampered though I am by an almost total lack of knowledge of Ramon Llull, I've managed to come up with one bit of completely unsubstantiated Lull-matter.

It's said Llull got sassy with Duns Scotus .......

There is an amusing story about his [Llull's] attendance, when at the Sorbonne, of a class taught by Duns Scotus then a young man fresh from triumphs at Oxford. It seems that Scotus became annoyed by the old man in his audience who persisted in making signs of disagreement with what was being said. As a rebuke, Scotus asked him the exceedingly elementary question, "What part of speech is `Lord'?" Lull immediately replied, "The Lord is no part, but the whole." (link)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Word to the Elect - Anne Bronte

Looking up stuff on apocatastasis, I came across this poem by Anne Bronte and thought I'd share it .....

YOU may rejoice to think yourselves secure;
You may be grateful for the gift divine–
That grace unsought, which made your black hearts pure,
And fits your earth-born souls in Heaven to shine.

But, is it sweet to look around, and view
Thousands excluded from that happiness
Which they deserved, at least, as much as you,–
Their faults not greater, nor their virtues less?
And, wherefore should you love your God the more,
Because to you alone his smiles are given;
Because he chose to pass the many o'er,
And only bring the favoured few to Heaven?

And, wherefore should your hearts more grateful prove,
Because for ALL the Saviour did not die?
Is yours the God of justice and of love?
And are your bosoms warm with charity?

Say, does your heart expand to all mankind?
And, would you ever to your neighbor do–
The weak, the strong, the enlightened, and the blind–
As you would have your neighbor do to you?

And, when you, looking on your fellow-men,
Behold them doomed to endless misery,
How can you talk of joy and rapture then?–
May God withhold such cruel joy from me!

That none deserve eternal bliss I know;
Unmerited the grace in mercy given:

But, none shall sink to everlasting woe,
That have not well deserved the wrath of Heaven.
And, oh! there lives within my heart
A hope, long nursed by me;
(And, should its cheering ray depart,
How dark my soul would be!)

That as in Adam all have died,
In Christ shall all men live;
And ever round his throne abide,
Eternal praise to give.

That even the wicked shall at last
Be fitted for the skies;
And, when their dreadful doom is past,
To life and light arise.

I ask not, how remote the day,
Nor what the sinners' woe,
Before their dross is purged away;
Enough for me, to know

That when the cup of wrath is drained,
The metal purified,
They'll cling to what they once disdained,
And live by Him that died.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Heaven and hell

Saw a new question at On Faith - Do you believe in heaven or hell? If not, why not? If so, who's going there and how do you know? - and thought I'd post the answers of two interesting guys ... Tom Reese SJ of the Woodstock Theological Center, and Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham.


My Father's House - Tom Reese SJ

I believe in heaven because I believe that God loves us so much that he would not let us simply disappear. I believe in hell because I believe we are free to reject God.

Meditating on our place in the universe as taught to us by science should make us humble. We live for a brief time on a small planet spinning around a sun that is one star in a galaxy that is only one of the millions of galaxies in the universe. How insignificant we are. As a result, I sometimes think that the hardest act of faith for a modern person is believing that God cares about us.

Believing that God loves us—that we are not just a blink of an eye in the history of the universe—is at the core of religious faith. For Christians, that is what the incarnation and the resurrection are all about—God loves us so much he became one of us and raised Jesus up as a sign of our everlasting life. Heaven is everlasting life with God.

Who goes to heaven? Those who choose love, those who love.

Matthew 25 makes this explicit: “Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.”

But we are free not to choose God; we are free not to love. God does not condemn us to hell; we go there freely. Hell is not a place of fire. Hell is the absence of love, the absence of God who is love.

Do only Christians go to heaven? No, anyone who loves can go to heaven.


Neither is The Final Destination - NT Wright

(a) Heaven is important but it's not the end of the world: in the mainstream Christian tradition until the Platonists corrupted it, the ultimate destination is THE NEW HEAVENS AND THE NEW EARTH, which will involve an ultimate resurrection (bodily, of course) for God's people (in some versions, for all people).

The way the phrase 'heaven and hell' are used today implies you go straight to one or the other, ignoring the solid biblical testimony to an ultimate new creation in which heaven and earth are brought together in a great act of renewal (for those who want it, check out Ephesians 1.10, Revelation 21 and 22, Romans 8.18-27 and 1 Corinthians 15.20-28 -- though once you see this theme it's there everywhere). When Paul says 'my desire is to depart and be with Christ which is far better', and when Jesus says 'today you will be with me in Paradise', the wider context of both indicates that this will be a TEMPORARY state prior to the eventual resurrection into the new creation. This means (by the way) that the 'second coming' is NOT Jesus 'coming back to take us home', but Jesus coming -- or 'reappearing', as 1 John 3 and Colossians 3 put it -- to heal, judge and rescue this present creation and us with it.

(b) The word 'hell' is a shorthand for several biblical themes which converge at the point where (i) God has promised to put the entire world right at last, showing up evil as what it is, the corruption and destruction of what is good, and the distortion of the good humanness which God made and loves, and therefore judging it so that it no longer has the power to infect his good creation; (ii) God will finally say to those who have persisted in their deliberate collusion with the powers of corruption, destruction and dehumanization (i.e. 'sin') that there can be no place for them in the glorious new world that he is making, so that (iii) God's new world will not have in it 'a concentration camp in the midst of a beautiful landscape', as some earlier visions of 'hell' have supposed, but rather the celebration (1 Corinthians 20.28) that 'God will be all in all'.

(c) There is a constant danger for contemporary western Christians of making a similar mistake at this point to first-century Jews. It appears that many Jews of, say, Jesus' and Paul's day supposed that when God acted to put the world right it would be the Jewish people who would be automatically OK.

The great breakthrough in Paul's thinking is that no, the one God of Abraham wants to reach out and welcome ALL people on the basis of faith alone. Similarly today many Christians think God is only interested in rescuing them, as saved humans, FROM the world, whereas the Bible is full of hints that those who know God and receive his salvation here and now are to be his agents in bringing that salvation to the wider world. Note how, even when Revelation 21 and 22 speaks of those who are in the holy city, the new Jerusalem, and those who are excluded from it, it also speaks of the river of the water of life flowing out to the world around, and of the tree of life growing on the banks of the river, with 'the leaves of the tree being for the healing of the nations'. What does that mean?


They both seem to be universalists :-) but Fr. Reese appears to believe in hell (as did Ignatius, the founder of his order), while Fr. Wright, if I understood him correctly, does not, though I'm not sure if he means all the bad guys get forgiven at the end, or if they get disappeared. As for heaven, I'm still not clear on it ... is it a place, a state of mind, a renewed earth, a beatific vision, and do we experience it when we die or at some future point in time when the world ends (yikes!) and if that's the case, where are we hanging out in the time between death and resurrection?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Speaking of the sanctity of life ...

Some questions ... Are a number of lives worth more than one? Was Spock correct when he said that the good of the many outweighs the good of the one? Was Bonhoeffer right to join the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler? I believe the short answer is "no", but you might like the long answer better ... it's the same, but we arrive at it through this week's movie rental - Extreme Measures.

Extreme Measures is a 1996 thriller starring Hugh Grant, Gene Hackman, and one of my favorite character actors, Paul Guilfoyle (Detective Brass of CSI). Though it incorproates some of the typical mystery/action aspects of a thriller, at the core the film is about how we value life. Here below is a review of the film by Roger Ebert ....


A woman called in to the Howard Stern show one morning to protest animal use in lab experiments. Stern discovered that she had a cat named (as I recall) Fluffy. She had no children. "My wish for you," Stern said, "is that someday you have a beautiful little baby girl, and that your daughter gets a disease that can only be cured by sacrificing Fluffy. Call back and tell me how you decide." A version of this moral dilemma lurks at the center of Michael Apted's "Extreme Measures," making the movie more thought-provoking than thrillers usually are. At one point the hero is asked by the villain: "If you could cure cancer by killing one person, wouldn't you have to do that?" Well, would you? To the movie's credit, it sees that the question is a good deal more complex than it appears.

As the movie opens, Hugh Grant plays a young New York emergency room surgeon named Guy Luthan. He gets a patient -- bald, middle-aged, naked, delusional -- whose symptoms confuse him. The patient eventually dies, and when Guy goes looking for the autopsy report, he is startled to discover that the body, and all records involving it, apparently have disappeared.

Many emergency-room doctors would be too busy to follow up, especially in the case of a homeless man who probably was on drugs. But Guy can't forget the case -- nor the fact that the man already had a hospital-patient tag on his wrist when he was admitted. Had this man escaped from a different hospital? Guy keeps digging, searching computer files and old records in a warehouse, despite a warning by his superior (Paul Guilfoyle) to drop the case.

We meet, in the meantime, the distinguished medical researcher Lawrence Myrick, played by Hackman. He has just been awarded a medal in honor of his work with paralyzed rats: He's found a way to regenerate their damaged spinal columns, so they can walk again. No prizes for guessing that Myrick may be connected with the mystery patient, and that he may have been working on him rather than on rats.

The plot develops as a version of Hitchcock's favorite dilemma, the Innocent Man Wrongly Accused. The more Guy pushes, the more the establishment pushes back. His only friend seems to be a nurse in the E.R. (Sarah Jessica Parker) who supports him and helps him find some records. But soon Guy's medical career is brought to a sudden halt, when the cops find cocaine in his apartment. It's not his, but never mind: His reputation is destroyed in a second, and it is easy to read this part of the film as an emotional reflection on Grant's own contact with overnight scandal.

Apted seems more in tune than many directors to the voodoo of location, and here (shooting exteriors in New York, interiors in Toronto), he creates a paranoid world in which Guy seems helpless to understand the forces against him. In one of the most effective sequences, his search leads him into the labyrinth beneath Grand Central Station, where mole people -- the homeless who have burrowed out living quarters there -- may have the clue to the dead man, and much more besides.

The movie, written by Tony Gilroy, is pitched at a higher level than most thrillers; the dialogue is literate and intelligent, and Grant is more of an everyman than an action hero (he tones down his light comedy mannerisms and emerges as a credible doctor). It's interesting that, at the end, Apted avoids the obligatory action cliches of the usual movie thriller and goes with the strengths of his two actors: Grant and Hackman deliver well-reasoned speeches in defense of their characters.

Hackman is such a persuasive actor that when he was finished, I was almost prepared for the young doctor to cave in and admit he was right. But of course Hackman isn't right. Is he? I found myself debating the film's moral questions on the way out of the theater.

I've often thought about that Howard Stern program, and the woman asked to choose between her cat and her child. Of course, most people wouldn't pause one second in choosing between *your* cat and their child. Or their child and your child. But what if you were told that 10 children you had never met would live if your child died? What would you say then? You'd still not sacrifice your child? Very human. What if a hundred children could be saved? A thousand? A million? On and on we talked after the movie was over, but we didn't come up with a very satisfactory answer.


I also came up with an answer that was less than satisfactory, but still here it is anyway ... lives have no price tag - a million are not worth more than one. And a life's worth is not relative - a baby's life has no more intrinsic value than that of a convicted killer. To paraphrase something else Spock once said, this is not logical, but it is (I believe) true.

Monday, June 25, 2007

DVD - Spiritual Exercises Retreat

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that I'd read about the Spiritual Exercises retreat in a DVD format ... today I happened to come across a version of this, as given by Fr. Raymond Gawronski SJ.

Here's the blurb for the DVD ...

Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius DVD - Under the guidance of Fr. Raymond Gawronski, the viewers of this series can make the actual Ignatian retreat, covering all the major points of the Spiritual Exercises. These "exercises of the soul" are intended to lead the follower of Christ from self will and excessive attachment into the freedom of the sons of God: freedom to know -- to discern -- and do the will of God in his life. The goal is to enter fully as possible into the subject matter at hand, employing all our faculties of imagination, memory, understanding, and will. Fr. Gawronski presents the 30 day retreat of St. Ignatius in a series of 13 half-hour retreat talks suggesting points of meditation and reflection., (Fr. Raymond Gawronski, S.J.), 2 DVD Set, 13 / 28 min. programs.

Looking elsewhere, I found a little info on Fr. Gawronski ...

A native of New York City, Fr. Raymond Gawronski, SJ lived in many places around the world before settling down as a Jesuit of the Maryland Province. Building on earlier graduate work in the religious traditions of Asia and of Eastern Christianity, he completed his doctorate at the Gregorian University in Rome, specializing in the thought of Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. His research in this area was published as Word and Silence: Hans Urs Von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter of East and West (William B. Eerdmans Publishers). For thirteen years he was on the faculty of Marquette University in Milwaukee, where he taught courses in Christian discipleship, mystical theology, world religions, eschatology, and, of course, the thought of von Balthasar. Currently he is on the faculty of the Saint John Vianney Seminary in Denver, where is also a spiritual director.

In addition to his work as professor, he has done much work as a retreat director. His series The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (DVD: Ignatius Press) has long been shown on EWTN, and led to his book A Closer Walk with Christ: A Personal Ignatian Retreat (Our Sunday Visitor Press). He has written many articles on various subjects, most recently on the Papacy of John Paul II and the Polish Church.

- Fr. Gawronski at Marquette

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Last Temptation of Al Gore

As I've mentioned before, I've been nurturing the hope that Al Gore might run for president in 2008. Every now and then I look around the web to see if there's anything about him to be seen, and I came across this May article from Time magazine - The Last Temptation of Al Gore :-) It's a long article, but here's a little of it below ....


Let's say you were dreaming up the perfect stealth candidate for 2008, a Democrat who could step into the presidential race when the party confronts its inevitable doubts about the front-runners. You would want a candidate with the grassroots appeal of Barack Obama—someone with a message that transcends politics, someone who spoke out loud and clear and early against the war in Iraq. But you would also want a candidate with the operational toughness of Hillary Clinton—someone with experience and credibility on the world stage.

In other words, you would want someone like Al Gore—the improbably charismatic, Academy Award–winning, Nobel Prize–nominated environmental prophet with an army of followers and huge reserves of political and cultural capital at his command. There's only one problem. The former Vice President just doesn't seem interested. He says he has "fallen out of love with politics," which is shorthand for both his general disgust with the process and the pain he still feels over the hard blow of the 2000 election, when he became only the fourth man in U.S. history to win the popular vote but lose a presidential election. In the face of wrenching disappointment, he showed enormous discipline—waking up every day knowing he came so close, believing the Supreme Court was dead wrong to shut down the Florida recount but never talking about it publicly because he didn't want Americans to lose faith in their system. That changes a man forever.

It changed Gore for the better. He dedicated himself to a larger cause, doing everything in his power to sound the alarm about the climate crisis, and that decision helped transform the way Americans think about global warming and carried Gore to a new state of grace. So now the question becomes, How will he choose to spend all the capital he has accumulated? No wonder friends, party elders, moneymen and green leaders are still trying to talk him into running. "We have dug ourselves into a 20-ft. hole, and we need somebody who knows how to build a ladder. Al's the guy," says Steve Jobs of Apple. "Like many others, I have tried my best to convince him. So far, no luck."

"It happens all the time," says Tipper Gore. "Everybody wants to take him for a walk in the woods. He won't go. He's not doing it!" But even Tipper—so happy and relieved to see her husband freed up after 30 years in politics—knows better than to say never: "If the feeling came over him and he had to do it, of course I'd be with him." Perhaps that feeling never comes over him. Maybe Obama or Clinton or John Edwards achieves bulletproof inevitability and Gore never sees his opening. But if it does come, if at some point in the next five months or so the leader stumbles and the party has one of its periodic crises of faith, then he will have to decide once and for all whether to take a final shot at reaching his life's dream. It's the Last Temptation of Gore, and it's one reason he has been so careful not to rule out a presidential bid ......

People looking for signs that Gore has a secret plan often point to the fact that he has lost a few pounds and hopes to lose many more. They mention that he hasn't asked the draft organizers to stop, the way he did before the 2004 election. They point out that in May, a group of former Gore fund-raisers met at the Washington home of his onetime chief of staff, Peter Knight. (Someone handed out buttons that said Al Gore Reunion 2007, but it was just a social event; Gore didn't attend.) They cite October as a good time for him to get in, since that's when the Nobel Committee announces its Peace Prize. Finally, they point to The Assault on Reason, the sort of book that could be a talisman of intent, since it takes aim at George W. Bush from multiple directions, diagnoses what's wrong with our democracy and offers ideas for curing it. Why else would you write a book like that, they say, if you weren't laying down a marker for 2008? ......

The Assault on Reason will be hailed and condemned as Gore's return to political combat. But at heart, it is a patient, meticulous examination of how the participatory democracy envisioned by our founders has gone awry—how the American marketplace of ideas has gradually devolved into a home-shopping network of 30-second ads and mall-tested phrases, a huckster's paradise that sells simulated participation to a public that has all but lost the ability to engage. Gore builds his argument from deep drafts of political and social history and trenchant bits of information theory, media criticism, computer science and neurobiology, and reading him is by turns exhausting and exhilarating. One moment he is lecturing you about something you think you know pretty well, and the next moment he's making a connection you had never considered. The associative leaps are dazzling, but what will stoke the Democratic faithful are his successive chapters on the Iraq war, each one strafing the Administration for a different set of misdeeds: exploiting the politics of fear, misusing the politics of faith, misleading the American people, throwing out the checks and balances at the heart of our democracy, undermining the national security and degrading the nation's image in the world. For anyone who stepped into the Oval Office now and tried to end the war, he says, "it would be like grabbing the wheel of a car that's in mid-skid. You're just trying to work the wheel to see what pulls you out of it." But the mess we're in can't be blamed solely on the President or the Vice President or the post-9/11 distortion field that muzzled the media, immobilized Congress and magnified Executive power. "I think this started before 9/11, and I think it's continued long after the penumbra of 9/11 became less dominant," he says. "I think it is part of a larger shift driven by powerful forces"—print giving way to television as our dominant medium for examining ideas, television acting on our brains in ways that scientists are just beginning to unlock. As such, it's not the sort of problem that legislation is going to fix. Gore hopes that the Internet, which is so good at inviting people back into the conversation, will be the key to restoring American democracy. "It's going to take time," he says. "After all, we've been veering off course for a while." .......

What if he launched a new kind of campaign: no handlers, just the liberated Gore talking about what really matters to him? Would he seem too squishy? These days he improvises, giving freer rein to matters of the heart and spirit than he ever could as a candidate. He draws from a number of faiths, from philosophy and self-help and poetry and from Gandhi's concept of truth force, the idea that people have an innate ability to recognize the most powerful truths. He often cites an African proverb that says, "If you wish to go quickly, go alone. If you wish to go far, go together." Then he builds on it. "We have to go far, quickly," he said in April at the Tribeca Film Festival, where he was introducing a series of environmental films that will be shown at Live Earth. "We have to make it through an uncharted region, to the outer boundaries of what's known, beyond the limits of what we imagine is doable." Then he recited a famous line from the poet Antonio Machado: "Pathwalker, there is no path. You must make the path as you walk." I once heard him get tangled in that line during the 2000 campaign, but this time, he wasn't trying too hard. "We must find a path that we create together, quickly," he said. "With truth force. To seize the opportunity that lies before us." His words were simple, direct and powerful. One clue to how he found that power lies at the end of the poem, in a line Gore doesn't recite, as the poet reveals his desire "to be what I have never been ... a man all alone, walking with no road, with no mirror."

Gore is not carrying a mirror. He's not selling himself; he's selling a cause, a journey. There are no consultants fussing at him, telling him how to be himself. "There's no question I'm freed up," he says. "I don't want to suggest that it's impossible to be free and authentic within the political process, but it's obviously harder. Another person might be better at it than I was. And it's also true that the process is changing and that it may become freer in time. Obama is rising because he is talking about politics in a way that feels fresh to people ... But anyway, I came through all of that"—he waves a hand that seems to encompass everything, the advisers pecking at him, the attacks in the media, his own mistakes, the unspeakable Florida debacle—"and I guess I changed. And now it is easier for me to just let it fly. It's like they say: What doesn't kill me makes me stronger." What would this Gore be like as a candidate? This Gore is just not all that tempted to find out.


I wish he would run.


The Benedictus (also Song of Zechariah or Canticle of Zachary), given in Gospel of Luke 1:68-79, is one of the three great canticles in the opening chapters of this Gospel, the other two being the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis. The Benedictus was the song of thanksgiving uttered by Zechariah on the occasion of the birth of his son, John the Baptist. It is Jewish in form, but Christian in sentiment ..... The whole canticle naturally falls into two parts. The first (verses 68-75) is a song of thanksgiving for the realization of the Messianic hopes of the Jewish nation; but to such realization is given a characteristically Christian tone ..... The second part of the canticle is an address by Zechariah to his own son, who was to take so important a part in the scheme of the Redemption; for he was to be a prophet, and to preach the remission of sins before the coming or the Dawn from on high. The prophecy that he was to "go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways" (v. 76) was of course an allusion to the well-known words of Isaiah 40:3 which John himself afterwards applied to his own mission (John 1:23), and which all three Synoptic Gospels adopt (Matt 3:3; Mark 1:2; Luke 3:4) ..... - Wikipedia

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; because he hath visited and wrought the redemption of his people:
And hath raised up an horn of salvation to us, in the house of David his servant:
As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, who are from the beginning:
Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us:
To perform mercy to our fathers, and to remember his holy testament,
The oath, which he swore to Abraham our father, that he would grant to us,
That being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve him without fear,
In holiness and justice before him, all our days.
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways:
To give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto the remission of their sins:
Through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us:
To enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: to direct our feet into the way of peace.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Vine

No, not that vine ... the trumpet vine on my porch. Here's a photo ...

Crossan and Tutu on gay issues

Looking through the archives of questions asked at On Faith, I came across one that asked ... What does your faith lead you to believe about gay unions and gay clergy? ... and I thought I'd post the answers given by two of the many people asked - Desmond Tutu and John Dominic Crossan.


Here below is Desmond Tutu's answer .....

Blessed are the persecuted

"On race my faith told me that each of us is of inestimable worth since each is created in the image of God.

Thus this worth is intrinsic and not dependent on such irrelevancies as skin color or ethnicity. Thus it was totally unacceptable, just as a matter of justice, to penalize people about something they could nothing, a given, their ethnicity, their race.

Equally my faith convinced me that it was fundamentally unjust to penalize individuals for their gender and so sexism was as unacceptable as racism ever was.

It is being consistent to assert that I cannot condone penalizing someone for something about which she or he can do nothing. It would be bizarre in the extreme for a person to choose to be gay or lesbian in a set-up that is so homophobic.

I believe that sexual orientation is as much a given as ethnicity or gender. Thus the same principle would apply that ruled out racism and sexism as unjust.

In every instance that we have in the Gospels, Jesus sides with those who are discriminated against, who are persecuted. It seems a bizarre hermeneutics that would assert that in this one case, that of gay and lesbian persons, Jesus would join those who persecute, denigrate and oppress an already persecuted minority. That would be a Jesus I could not worship.

I would aver that the same standards of behaviour should be expected of gay and lesbian persons as apply to those who are sexually heterogeneous -- no promiscuity, fidelity to one partner in the relationship, that is all.

Why are we generating so much heat over this issue at a time when the world is groaning under the burden of dehumanizing poverty, when disease -- especially HIV/Aids -- is devastating whole communities, when conflicts are sowing mayhem and carnage?

God must be weeping."


And here is what JD Crossan answered .....

Against Nature?

"Decisions on what is natural and unnatural define our humanity, but those determinations, unfortunately, are also and always conditioned by time and place, society and religion.

An example. The Greek philosopher Aristotle judged slavery to be a natural situation. But the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, judged it to be an unnatural status—“a thing absolutely and wholly contrary to nature, for nature has created all men free, but the injustice and covetousness of some men who prefer inequality, that cause of evil, having subdued some, has given to the more powerful authority over those who are weaker."

Another example. My own personal and moral judgment is that capital punishment is a cruel, unusual, and unnatural penalty. But, quite clearly, many others in our country find it quite natural.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul made a rather sweeping accusation against non-Jews. “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural,” he wrote in 1:26-27, “and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”

That judgment on homosexuality as against nature (physis) is also echoed in most other contemporary Jewish writings on that subject.

Earlier, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul also invoked “nature" in discussing the length of female and male hair. “Does not nature (physis) itself teach you,” he asked them rhetorically in 11:14-15, “ that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.”

Most of us might well agree that gendered hair-length is not about human nature and human un-nature but about social custom and social habit.

My point is not that our judgments about what is natural and unnatural are irrelevant or absolutely relative, but that we must always carefully assess what is nature (avoid eating people) and what is tradition (avoid eating pets).

If being gay is as intrinsic for some people as being straight is for others--that is, both are God-given options--then gay unions, ordinations, and consecrations must be treated equally with straight ones.

On homosexuality, many ancients judged sexual nature in terms of biology and organs but many moderns—myself included—judge sexual nature in terms of chemistry and hormones.

In other words, Paul was wrong on hair and equally wrong on homosexuality. And, by the way, can you imagine how unnatural Paul would have considered a heart-transplant?"


Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I heard a hymn - Be Thou My Vision - tonight on an episode of Without a Trace. I had never heard it before and liked it enough to look it up. Here's some of what Wikipedia says of it ....

Be Thou My Vision is a traditional Christian hymn, which can be traced to Ireland ..... The text (Rop tú mo baile) is often attributed to Dallan Forgaill in the 8th century; in any case, this text had been a part of Irish monastic tradition for centuries before the hymn itself was written. It is an example of a lorica, an incantation recited for protection ..... The music is the Irish folk song, Slane, which is about Slane Hill where in 433 A.D. St. Patrick defied the pagan High King Lóe­gaire of Ta­ra by lighting candles on Easter Eve .....

Here's the English translation of the lyrics ...

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Borg and Radical Amazement

I've never read any of the work of Marcus Borg although I knew him to be a scholar of biblical studies and a fellow of the Jesus Seminar, but today I came across an archived post at On Faith, that had his (and other people's) answer to the question: What was your own most formative religious experience, if you had one? Here's his answer below ....


My most formative religious experiences were a series of mystical experiences. They began to occur in my early thirties. They changed my understanding of the meaning of the word "God" - of what that word points to - and gave me an unshakable conviction that God (or "the sacred") is real and can be experienced.

These experiences also convinced me that mystical forms of Christianity are true, and that the mystical forms of all the enduring religions of the world are true.

My experiences were what scholars of mysticism call "extravertive" or "eyes open" mystical experiences (the other type is "introvertive" or "eyes closed"). I saw the same visual "landscape" – a forest, a room, the inside of an airliner – that I normally see. There were no extra beings, no angels.

For a minute or two (and once for the better part of an hour), what I was seeing looked very different. Light became different – as if there were a radiance shining through everything. The biblical phrase for this is "the glory of God" – as the book of Isaiah puts it, "the earth is filled with the glory – the radiance – of God." The world was transfigured, even as it remained "the same." And I experienced a falling away of the subject-object distinction that marks our ordinary everyday experience – that sense of being a separate self, "in here," while the world is "out there."

They were experiences of wonder – not of curiosity, but of what the 20th century Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel called "radical amazement."

They were also experiences in which I felt that I was seeing more clearly than I ever had before – that what I was experiencing was "the way things are." And they were also experiences of complete peacefulness, marked by a sense that I would love to stay in this mental state forever. Anxiety and distraction utterly disappeared. Everything looked beautiful.

When I had these experiences, I had no intellectual understanding of mysticism. Indeed, whenever I tried to read mystical writings, they seemed like gobbledy-gook. I had no idea what they were about – they were completely opaque. But after these experiences, mystical texts became luminous. I recognized in them what I had experienced.

The effect was to transform my understanding of the word "God." I began to understand that the word does not refer to a person-like being "out there," beyond the universe – an understanding of "God" that ceased to be persuasive in my teens and twenties.

I began to understand that the word "God" refers to "what is" experienced as wondrous and compelling, as, to use William James' phrase, "the more" which is all around us. Or to use a phrase from the New Testament, the word "God" refers to "the one in whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17.28). "God" is not a hypothesis, but a reality who can be known.

Thus, to argue about whether God exists seems to me to be based on a misunderstanding of what the word points to. If "God" means a person-like being "out there," completely separate from the universe, then I am an atheist. I do not believe there is such a being. But if the word "God" points to a radiance that pervades "what is," as I now think – then, of course, God is real. Not just the God of Christianity, but the God of all the enduring religions.


I recognize his mystical experiences, but somehow I've still kept the feeling that God is a person-like being, though not one separate from the universe. Interesting :-)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Leonardo Boff - Justice, not Charity

Not long ago, I had a post about the Pope's remarks on the Church's mission in Latin America when he visited Brazil (Some Films for the Pope). Today I came across an online journal published by the Jesuits of Latin America - Mirada Global - and saw an article, The Forsaken Ones by Leonardo Boff, that touched on this subject. Here below is a little of it ...


Surely when the Latin American bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, had to deal with the central issue of the mission of the Church, they must have faced the still unresolved historical question arising from the treatment afforded the native peoples of these lands, and the Afro descendents. Christianity in general was always sensitive to the poor, but implacable and ethnocentric when it came to cultural otherness. The other (the Indigenous and the Black) was considered an enemy, pagan and infidel. “Just wars” were waged against them and they were read The Requirement (a document written in Latin, recognizing the king as sovereign and the Pope as the representative of God), and if the document was not accepted, forced submission was legitimized. We must never forget that our society is based on great violence: on colonialism ........

This is why we were astonished when we quite recently heard that the first evangelization was “neither an imposition nor an alienation” and that trying to rehabilitate the religions of our ancestors would be “a backward movement and a regression”. Confronted with this, we cannot but hear the voice of the victims echoing into the present, witnesses of the other side of the conquest, such as the voice of the Mayan prophet, Chilam Balam de Chumayel: “Oh!, let us grieve because they arrived... They came to make our flowers whither away, so that only their flower may live... They came to castrate the sun.” And their lamentation continues: “Sadness was introduced among us, Christianity... That was the beginning of our misery, the beginning of our slavery.”

According to Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West, the Iberian invasion was the greatest genocide in human history. Destruction amounted to around 90% of the population. Of the 22 million Aztecs in 1519, when Hernán Cortés entered Mexico, by only one million was left by 1600. And the survivors, as expressed by the theologian Jon Sobrino, are crucified peoples hanging from the cross. The mission of the Church is to take them down from that cross, and bring them back to life ........

The mission of the Church is one of justice, not charity: to reinforce the rescue of ancient cultures with their soul that is their religion, and after that, to establish a dialogue in which both parties’ complements, purifies and mutually evangelizes one other.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

John Donne Book

I came across an article at PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly - a review actually, of a new book on poet and Anglican priest John Donne - Passionate, Pious, Pragmatic John Donne by David E. Anderson (link). Here's a little of it below ......


Contemporary readers often know John Donne only as the difficult metaphysical poet whose early erotic poems puzzled, then titillated (and still do) students in English literature survey courses.

"Come live with mee, and bee my love, / And wee will some new pleasures prove" run the famous opening lines of "The Baite." Or "The Canonization": "For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love; / Or chide my palsie, or my gout." We know without knowing many phrases and thoughts from Donne's sermons and devotional poetry: "No man is an island"; "Death be not proud"; "Batter my heart, three person'd God." As with Shakespeare, they have entered the conversational world sundered and separated from their author and context.

It is not as Donne -- whose final years saw him as a popular preacher rather than a passionate poet -- would have had it. He liked to make a sharp distinction between the "Jack Donne" of the poetry and "Doctor Donne," the Anglican priest who served as dean of the prestigious St. Paul's Cathedral and preached the gospel to king and court. In a famous letter of 1623 to the Duke of Buckingham, Donne argued that poetry was "the mistress of my youth," while divinity was "the wife of my age." ......

The lively, vivid new biography by John Stubbs, John Donne: The Reformed Soul: A Biography (W.W. Norton & Co.) is a welcome addition to Donne studies, especially in unraveling the riddle of religion ..... Stubbs tells Donne's story with verve and style, bringing the characters sharply to life and succinctly navigating the complex cross-currents of religion, politics, and diplomacy that marked the volatile last years of the 16th century and the first decades of the 17th. He is weakest on Donne the poet, assuming too easily that Donne's early love poetry is rigidly autobiographical. Nor does he devote much energy to putting Donne in his aesthetic context or explaining the characteristics that marked what came to be known -- first derogatorily by Samuel Johnson and then more positively by T.S. Eliot -- as metaphysical poetry .....

But Stubbs is especially good on the evolution of the political aspects of Donne's religious views. Unlike British literary critic John Carey, who opened his 1990 study of Donne with the harsh finding that "The first thing to remember about Donne is that he was a Catholic; the second, that he betrayed the faith," Stubbs develops a more balanced and nuanced view that does more justice both to the psychology of the man and the complexities of the age. The see-sawing of official religious persuasions and consequent persecutions -- Donne's illustrious ancestor Sir Thomas More (his maternal great-great-uncle) was a harsh and unremitting persecutor of Protestants until he met his own death as a resistant Catholic under Henry VIII -- kept the religious and theological waters roiled ......

As Stubbs develops his portrait, he draws a Donne who is politically pragmatic and ambitious -- the kind of attitude for which Carey judges him a "betrayer" -- but also intellectually restless and, from a very early age, theologically inquisitive .....


And one of his poems ...

Go and Catach a Falling Star

Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be'st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And swear,
No where
Lives a woman true, and fair.

If thou find'st one, let me know,
Such a pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet do not, I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet;
Though she were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
Yet she
Will be
False, ere I come, to two, or three.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Horns or a Halo? :-)

When I was looking up art portraying Alexander the Great, I saw some pieces showing him with horns. This reminded me of another work of art where the subject is wearing a pair of horns ... Michelangelo's Moses. I thought I had remembered an art history teacher saying that horns symbolize power in ancient/medieval art, but I could have remembered incorrectly, as Wikipedia has another explination .....


Michelangelo's Moses is marble sculpture executed by Michelangelo Buonarroti 1513-1515 which depicts the Biblical figure Moses ...... The statue depicts Moses with horns on his head. This is believed to be because of the mistranslation of Exodus 34:29-35 by St Jerome. Moses is actually described as having "karan ohr"--"rays of light"--coming from his head, which Jerome in the Vulgate had translated as "horns" (See Halo). The mistake in translation is possible because the word "keren" in the Hebrew language can mean either "ray" or "horn" .......

The leader of Israel is shown seated, the tables of the Law under one arm, his other hand gripping the coils of his beard. This figure of Moses can be imagined as him pausing after the ecstasy of receiving the Law on Mount Sinai, while, in the valley below, the people of Israel give themselves up once more to idolatry. Here again, Michelangelo uses a turned head, which concentrates the expression of awful wrath that now begins to stir on the mighty frame and eyes.

The relevance of each detail of body and drapery in forcing up the psychic temperature can be appreciated by closely studying the work — the muscles bulge, the veins swell, the great legs begin slowly to move. If this titan ever rose to his feet, says one writer, the world would fly apart. The holy rage of Moses mounts to the bursting point, yet must be contained, for the free release of energies in action is forbidden forever to Michelangelo's passion-stricken beings.

Michelangelo felt that this was his most life-like creation. Legend has it that upon its completion he struck the right knee commanding, "now speak!" as he felt that life was the only thing left inside the marble. There is a scar on the knee thought to be the mark of Michelangelo's hammer .....


- Moses, in marble, at San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Scandalous behavior

Raised by wolves ... that's how I characterize myself when my interpersonal behavior makes others (and me) uncomfortable, but sometimes a serious wearing of one's heart on one's sleeve is rewarded, or at least it's so for the woman in Luke 7:36–8:3 who crashes a dinner party to wash Jesus' feet with her tears.

I saw an interesting article on the subject in the latest issue of The Christian Century - Scandalous behavior by Michael Lindvall. Here's a little bit of the article below .....


Each of the four Gospels tells about the woman who anoints Jesus while he is at table, and in each Gospel someone sharply rebukes her for her action. But Luke is unique: unlike event as told the other three Gospels, the act of anointing as told in Luke does not portend Jesus' death. Instead, hospitality and table fellowship are the recurrent themes, and they are a clue to the meaning of this parable. The woman in Luke enacts radical (and offensive) hospitality even as she crashes the party. She incarnates an extravagantly gracious (and scandalous) welcome as she washes Jesus' feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, kisses them with her lips and finally anoints them with oil .....

There are three characters in the tale: Simon the Pharisee and host of the party, this unnamed woman who crashes Simon's pleasant soirée, and Jesus, the guest ...... Simon is the very caricature of respectable religiosity, a Pharisee who is doubtless good and honest, as well as curious and open-minded enough to invite Jesus to dinner. The woman is, well, a woman, and a "woman of the city" at that. She is "a sinner" in everybody's estimation, finally even that of Jesus. And she's forward, uninvited and outrageous, breaking all the rules about how women and men are to relate to each other in this time and place. Yet it is this woman, and not Simon the host, who offers Jesus the ironically appropriate hospitality .....

Simon didn't need Jesus as Messiah or Savior; he was just interested in what he'd say. Thus his hospitality, such as it is, is really all about Simon and Simon's spiritual interests. Our society, indeed our churches and our seminaries, are populated with more than a few Simons, interested and interesting spiritual dilettantes for whom Jesus is mostly, well, interesting.

The woman, in contrast, offers Jesus a hospitality that is all about Jesus. It is oriented toward him, not her. There is no theological dinner talk, only her act of utter, off-putting, self-yielding devotion. She needs Jesus not to round out her personal spirituality but so she can become whole, the human being she was created to be ......


RIP, Alexander

- Detail of the mosaic of Battle of Issus (333 BC) ... Alexander the Great on his horse Bucephalus, found in Pompeii in the House of the Faun and is now in the National Museum of Naples, dated first century BC. (Wikipedia)

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, if you're in the US, and I read an interesting homily at Creighton University's Daily Reflection page ....

Believe it or not, in the text of the Spiritual Exercises, by St. Ignatius, there is a section of “Rules for Eating”. The main thrust of his thinking is that when we are seated at the table for meals, Jesus is seated with us. This image would increase reverence for the food and others at the table with us. We are preparing to celebrate the wonderful mystery of Jesus’ presence at the Eucharistic Table with us in His Body and Blood ......

That's probably what I should write about, but I saw elsewhere that today is the anniversary of the death of Alexander the Great, and I veered in that direction instead.

If your only exposure to Alexander has been the really bad movie of the same name directed by Oliver Stone and starring Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, and Val Kilmer, then I won't blame you for moving on to the next blog. But I learned about him bit by bit in other ways ... in philosophy classes, I found out his teacher was Aristotle ... in art history, I saw the great works of art dedicated to him ... in ancient history, I read that he had a favorite and famous horse named Bucephalus :-), that Cleopatra was Greek in culture, a direct descendant of Alexander's general, Ptolemy, and that Julius Caesar said, when he saw a statue of Alexander, Do you think I have not just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable. And then there's Alexander's... ahem ... interesting personal life.

I also learned of him through novels. If I was a history teacher, I'd use fiction - movies and novels - to teach. The fact that they aren't always accurate portrayals of history wouldn't be a problem, but an incentive to dig deeper and learn more ... nothing gets one so emotionally involved as fiction. The novels I remember are by Mary Renault ... Fire from Heaven and The Persian Boy and Funeral Games.

Wikipedia has a great page on Alexander. Here are just the basic into paragraphs ...

Alexander the Great (Greek: Μέγας Aλέξανδρος, Megas Alexandros; July 20, 356 BC–June 10, 323 BC), also known as Alexander III, was an Ancient Greek king of Macedon (336–323 BC), and one of the most successful military commanders in history. Before his death, he conquered most of the world known to the ancient Greeks.

Following the unification of the multiple city-states of ancient Greece under the rule of his father, Philip II of Macedon (a labour Alexander had to repeat twice because the southern Greeks rebelled after Philip's death), Alexander conquered the Persian Empire, including Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, Gaza, Egypt, Bactria and Mesopotamia and extended the boundaries of his own empire as far as the Punjab. Before his death, Alexander had already made plans to also turn west and conquer Europe. He also wanted to continue his march eastwards in order to find the end of the world, since his boyhood tutor Aristotle told him tales about where the land ends and the Great Outer Sea begins. Alexander integrated foreigners into his army, leading some scholars to credit him with a "policy of fusion." He encouraged marriage between his army and foreigners, and practiced it himself. After twelve years of constant military campaigning, Alexander died, possibly of malaria, West Nile virus, typhoid, viral encephalitis or the consequences of heavy drinking.

His conquests ushered in centuries of Greek settlement and cultural influence over distant areas, a period known as the Hellenistic Age, a combination of Greek and Middle Eastern culture. Alexander himself lived on in the history and myth of both Greek and non-Greek cultures. After his death (and even during his life) his exploits inspired a literary tradition in which he appears as a legendary hero in the tradition of Achilles ...

And a couple of works of art ...

- Hermes-type bust (pillar with the top as a sculpted head) of Alexander the Great called Hermes Azara. Bears the inscription: "Alexander [the Great], son of Philip, [king of] Macedonia." Copy of the Imperial Roman Era (1st or 2nd century CE) of a bronze sculpture made by Lysippos. (Wikipedia)

- Entry of Alexander into Babylon by Charles le Brun, commissioned by Louis XIV


- for those interested, check out the poem by John Dryden - Alexander's Feast; or, The Power of Music: An Ode in Honour of St. Cecilia's Day - link

Friday, June 08, 2007

JD Crossan - Faith or Works

In Christian theology, justification is God's act of declaring or making a sinner righteous before God ..... The extent, means, and scope of justification are of significant debate for all in the Western church. Justification is seen by historians as being the theological fault line that divided Catholic from Protestant during the Reformation .... - Wikipedia

I've been reading PamBG's Book Blog, and the latest post is on chapter 2 of "The Story of Atonement" by Stephen Sykes, which deals with the idea of justification by faith.

Coincidently, today I also saw a post at Mark Goodacre's NT Gateway Weblog - Faith and Works with Crossan, Wright and Others - about just that topic. Mark mentions a column at the Washington Post/Newsweek site, On Faith, that asks the question (for this week) - What's more important from a faith perspective? Being saved, or doing good works? - and has that question asnwered by a number of interesting people, including John Dominic Crossan, NT Wright, Thomas Reese SJ, and Paula Fredriksen, plus readers comments. ... link.

Here below is the beginning of JD Crossan's reply to the question ...


Both/And not Either/Or

The answer from within my Christian tradition is both/and rather than either/or. And, for me, no one ever expressed better than the apostle Paul that creative dialectic of “being saved” and “doing good."

It was Paul who took the message of Jesus out into the wider Mediterranean world and proclaimed Christ’s biblical vision of peace through non-violent justice against Rome’s imperial vision of peace through violent victory. That former program was, as he said in to the Corinthians in southern Greece, power and wisdom for God but impotence and stupidity for this world; just as that latter program was power and wisdom for this world but impotence and stupidity for God (1 Cor 1-4).

Here, then, is Paul’s own answer to this week’s question: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” he wrote to the Philippians in northern Greece, “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:12b-13). I make four comments on that text—which is, by the way, my favorite text from the seven authentic letters of Paul ......


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Kermit and The Lost World

Sometimes it seems like the cure for illness is almost as bad as the illness itself. Kernit's new antibiotic for her infection has given her diarrhea, vomiting and loss of appetite, so now she has a medication for nausea and another for diarrhea as well as the antibiotic, plus I'm supplementing her nonexistent diet with forced syringe feedings, and this is just day 8 of 30 days of pills ... we're not happy.

It's at times like this that I turn to escapist movies and I think tonight I'll watch one from my small DVD collection - The Lost World, a 2001 BBC adaptation of the novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, filmed in New Zealand and starring Bob Hoskins who plays Professor Challenger, James Fox, Peter Falk, Matthew Rhys, Tom Ward and Elaine Cassidy.

- Professor Challenger shows Professor Summerlee a dinosaur bone from the Amazon

The BBC site for the miniseries says this of the plot ...


Professor Challenger (Bob Hoskins), on an expedition to South America, shoots an animal that he claims is a pre-historic pterosaur. On his return to England, his fellow Professor, Summerlee (Edward Fox), and most of the scientific establishment dismiss it as a hoax. However, an ambitious hunter and womaniser John Roxton (Tom Ward) and journalist Edward Malone (Matthew Rhys) are prepared to undertake the mission to find the truth. Challenger, Summerlee, Roxton and Malone set off for a Brazilian plateau in search of pre-historic life. They are joined by Reverend Theo Kerr (Peter Falk, best known as Columbo) and his niece Agnes Cluny (Elaine Cassidy).

After finding the plateau, they become stranded and are attacked by a large carnosaur. This is later identified by Summerlee as a member of the family of Allosaur. Edward and Agnes are then chased by another through the forest. The group come across an Indian tribe and live harmoniously with them for several weeks. However, danger strikes again when the village is attacked. Is the expedition set to end in tragedy? And will the adventurers ever see home again?


- Agnes and her guardian, Reverend Theo

I had never read the book, The Lost World, and so I was unaware when I first saw the movie, that certain changes had been made through the adaptation of the story (the replacement of the original "bad guy", a Mestizo, with a creationist Christian preacher, and the addition of a couple of strong female characters). An interesting point was made in a review I read today of how differently we think of things now than people did when the book from which the movie was made was written ... especially on the topics of race, social status, gender and religion ... and the question of if and how the original story should be rewritten. Here's a little from that review ...

One bit of controversy that dogged the production was the requisite rewriting of the story to suit a television audience. In particular, it was the rewriting of Edwardian racial attitudes that troubled some, as it was seen as an attempt to rewrite history itself. Christopher Hall was quoted as saying "Some of the Victorian obsessions and concerns are now viewed slightly differently. There are things about Conan Doyle which are old-fashioned, particularly his view of natives. We feel differently now." He has said elsewhere that the changes were for the sake of time and adaptation, but did not say he was misquoted. However, despite legitimate concerns of cultural effacement and whether or not Conan Doyle’s own complex views towards race were being misrepresented, racism or the appearance thereof has always proven to be a problem for adaptations of The Lost World. Few are the productions that even try to tackle the matter at all: the 1925 film reduced the apemen to a single role, while every other version tends to avoid it. The Alien Voices audio-dramatization took perhaps the most mature approach by simply presenting the apeman war as it was and allowing mixed feelings of satisfaction, pragmatism, disgust and sympathy to come from the characters (even if they changed Prof. Summerlee to a woman).

It doesn’t, however, say much to excise Edwardian attitudes about race while at the same time injecting an unhealthy dose of Information Age contempt for religious figures. In the interests of "political correctness", the half-breed who stranded the company on the plateau in the novel was replaced with a religious psychotic who embodies practically every negative stereotype of Christians in existence: Reverend Kerr is insane, Creationist, dogmatic and exclusionist... A solitary line in the novel about Challenger’s debate with a missionary over the effect of evolutionary theory upon faith was turned into a crude villain who all-but twirls a moustache. If religion is to be injected into The Lost World, one would at least hope that the approach would be mature and nuanced ...

- Lord John Roxton

The movie is worth a look ... the scenery is beautiful, the characters are interesting (Roxton :-), and there's no dearth of danger, courage, true love, betrayal, self-sacrifice ... and dinosaurs.

- their first glimpse of a dinosaur on the plateau

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Elaine Scarry

Jeff has an interesting post on terrorism and torture today and it reminded me of a book I had seen mentioned a while ago on Fr. Marsh's blog ... The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World by Elaine Scarry

Here's a little of what Wikipedia says of Scarry ...

Elaine Scarry (born 30 June 1946), a professor of English and American Literature and Language, is the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University. Her interests include Theory of Representation, the Language of Physical Pain and Structure of Verbal and Material Making in Art, Science and the Law. She is the author of The Body in Pain which is known as a definitive study of pain and inflicting pain. She argues that physical pain leads to destruction and the unmaking of the human world, whereas human creation at the opposite end of the spectrum leads to the making of the world. As a writer and lecturer on civic questions ranging from plane crashes to nuclear weapons to the Patriot Act, Elaine Scarry has become an important public intellectual .....

My own feelings are that torture is wrong, under any circumstances, and also an unreliable source of information, so I was interested in reading more about Scarry, who seems to agree. Here below is a bit from an article on her stance on torture for military purposes from the Chronicle Online - Torture can never be defended as a military necessity, asserts Harvard professor and Iraq war critic Elaine Scarry ...

Talking on "Undoing Democracy: Military Honor and the Rule of Law," at Cornell Law School April 27, Scarry focused on the illegality of torture and the cost to society of defying the accepted rule of law ......

But instead of defending the rule of law, "the U.S. has become neo-absolutist" in violating it, declared Scarry, as evidenced by President George W. Bush's statement that he has the authority to suspend Geneva Conventions rules on torture, and by the subsequent torture of prisoners in U.S. care at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and the deaths by torture of Iraq war prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Those incidents are not aberrations but a "stark line of influence [emanating] from Washington, D.C., as Abu Ghraib documents made clear," said Scarry.

What does suspending the rule of law look like? "It's the image of a frightened, naked man clutching his genitals to protect them from a lunging dog," she said. Permitting such "barbarism" as stripping prisoners and intimidating them with dogs -- which U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield approved for Guantanamo detainees -- led to the practice being exported, intentionally or unintentionally, to Abu Ghraib, Scarry claimed.

"Torture can never be defended on the grounds of military necessity," she said, rejecting arguments by her Harvard law professor colleague Alan Dershowitz that certain circumstances might make torture necessary. "The infamous medical experiments and the murders of Jews, gypsies and other so-called enemies of the state by the Nazis were argued to be of military necessity," she pointed out. But the laws governing warfare view necessity "not as a license to do dastardly deeds but a prohibition ruling out actions not necessary to military success."

Although "the harm from torture cannot be lessened if all the rules were followed," breaking them wantonly suggests a disregard for the rule of law that leads to a complete breakdown of moral values, suggested Scarry. "Can a country that breaks international rules and the rules of its own military fly our flag without flying it falsely?" she asked.

To read more on this subject, check out The Question of Torture, the transcript of a panel discussion held at The New York Public Library, 06/01/05, cosponsored by the Carnegie Council, Live from the New York Public Library, and the New York Review of Books, and participated in by Elaine Scarry, Mark Bowden, Mark Danner, Darius Rejali, Aryeh Neier, and Joel H. Rosenthal.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Narrow Path

I've read a couple of books by Jesuit peace activist John Dear, and mentioned him on the blog a few times .... today I was browsing the Google/YouTube viseo place and came across a 4 minute trailer for a 90 minute documentary film, The Narrow Path: John Dear and the Way of Nonviolence, produced by the San Damiano Foundation. Here's a little of what John Dear has to say about the film (and Gerry Straub) in his May 8th column at NCR ...


Gerry spun out his idea. "Let's do a film about you in the New Mexico desert," he said. "We'll film you talking about the nonviolence of Jesus. We'll culminate with the gathering at Los Alamos sitting in sackcloth and ashes."

Thus a movie is born, "The Narrow Path," some 90 minutes long on DVD with cameos from Daniel Berrigan, Martin Sheen, Cindy Sheehan and Ron Kovic, and music by Jackson Browne, "Lives in the Balance," and Joan Baez, "Let it Be." The movie is set in the austere beauty of the desert where I live, atop a mesa 7,000 feet in the air, overlooking miles of spectacular scenery, the land teeming with jackrabbits, ravens, horses, coyotes, scorpions, tarantulas and rattlers. Plus my cat. And in the distance -- the nuclear hellhole of Los Alamos.

It's awkward undertaking such a project, but the risks notwithstanding, I harbor hopes that the film will spur people, young people especially, toward a life of peace work and active nonviolence. And I thank Gerry Straub for his ongoing creativity and Gospel risk-taking. We both hope it will encourage others to take another step forward on the narrow path of Gospel nonviolence.


Here's the trailer ...

Monday, June 04, 2007

The letters of St. Boniface

June 5th is the feast day of St. Boniface.

Though there's a lot of info on him at Wikipedia (link above), here's a short blurb about him from a page on a medieval lecture series ...

St. Boniface (d. 754), called "the greatest Englishman" in the title of a recent book, was an Anglo-Saxon monk who undertook to convert the pagan Saxons of Germany. His missionary work on the continent of Europe brought him into contact with the major political figures of his time, including the pope and the progenitors of the Carolingian dynasty. Boniface helped to shape Carolingian relations with the papacy and the Carolingian monastic ideal; he also has a claim to be considered one of the creators of Germany. No less fascinating than Boniface's missionary and political career is his correspondence, including letters he wrote to and received from female admirers and disciples. Boniface's life and literary remains offer a full, luminous insight into the culture of his time.

About those letters - you can read many of them at the St. Boniface of Crediton site. Here's an example .......

Boniface Asks Abbot Huetbert of Wearmouth to Send Him the Works of Bede

Huetbert was brought up at Jarrow from childhood and later pursued his studies in Rome during the time of Pope Sergius (687-701). He became Abbot of the twin monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow about 716.

To his very dear and revered brother Abbot Huetbert, and to all the brethren of his holy community, Boniface, a humble servant of the servants of God, sends greeting of brotherly love in Christ.

We earnestly beseech you, kind brother, to assist us with your holy prayers in our labours among the rude and savage people of Germany, where we are sowing the seed of the Gospel. Pray that we may not be scorched by the fiery furnace of the Babylonians, but rather that the seed strewn in the furrows may germinate and grow an abundant harvest. For, in the words of the Apostle, "neither he that planteth nor he that watereth is of any account, but only God who giveth the increase".

Meanwhile, I beg you to be so kind as to copy and send me the treatises of the monk Bede, that profound student of the Scriptures, who, as we have heard, lately shone in your midst like a light of the, Church.

If it would not give you too much trouble, pray send me also a cloak-it would be of great comfort to me in my journeys.

As a token of my deep affection for you I am sending you a coverlet, as they call them here, made of goat's hair. I beg you to accept it, trifling though it is, as a reminder of me.

May the Blessed Trinity, one God, guard you and prosper you in health and every holy virtue in this life, and glorify and reward YOU in future blessedness among the shining cohorts of the angels.

(Tangl, 76)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Mary and the Trinity

It's Trinity Sunday, and I thought I'd mention an article that has Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins linking in his poetry the Trinity with Mary - "To Minister That Matter": Mary and the Trinity in Hopkins' "The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe" - by Mary McDevitt, a lecturer at Stanford University (link). Here's just a little bit of the introduction ...

Almost six centuries after Duns Scotus defended the Immaculate Conception, and twenty-five years after the definition of that dogma, the English Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins said this about, if I may use a play on words, his country's "matrimony" in a sermon for that feast day:

"It is a comfort to think that the greatest of the divines and doctors of the Church who have spoken and written in favor of this truth [the Immaculate Conception] came from England: between 500 and 600 years ago [Duns Scotus] was sent for to go to Paris to dispute its favour. The disputation or debate was held in public and someone who was there says that this wise and happy man by his answers broke the objections brought against him as Samson broke the thongs and withies with which his enemies tried to bind him.i"

The writer of these words had himself a lyric voice of great power, a voice that also broke the "thongs and withies" of the sometimes pedestrian English religious verse of his time, as later generations would discover. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that Hopkins, with his tour de force verbal manipulations, his intricate weaving of metaphor , imagery and wordplay with an incarnational vision, not only recaptured both the medieval lyric's complex theology and the wit of the metaphysical or baroque lyric, but revealed a fresh poetic voice. Perhaps less familiar than his sonnets and the "Wreck of the Deutschland", however, are Hopkins' pieces devoted to Mary, no less ardent in their devotion to her than his medieval hero’s defense of the Immaculate Conception. Two in particular, "The May Magnificat" and "The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe", are superb works. In this paper, I will discuss the latter poem, focusing in particular on Hopkins' representation of Mary's relationship with the Trinity .......

And here's the poem by Hopkins that she mentions ...

37. The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe

WILD air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed 5
Snowflake; that ’s fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element; 10
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise, 15
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast, 20
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet 25
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through, 30
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round 35
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let dispense 40
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms’ self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air. 45
If I have understood,
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man’s beating heart, 50
Laying, like air’s fine flood,
The deathdance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.
Of her flesh he took flesh: 55
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us, 60
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn—
Bethlem or Nazareth, 65
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one 70
More makes, when all is done,
Both God’s and Mary’s Son.
Again, look overhead
How air is azurèd;
O how! nay do but stand 75
Where you can lift your hand
Skywards: rich, rich it laps
Round the four fingergaps.
Yet such a sapphire-shot,
Charged, steepèd sky will not 80
Stain light. Yea, mark you this:
It does no prejudice.
The glass-blue days are those
When every colour glows,
Each shape and shadow shows. 85
Blue be it: this blue heaven
The seven or seven times seven
Hued sunbeam will transmit
Perfect, not alter it.
Or if there does some soft, 90
On things aloof, aloft,
Bloom breathe, that one breath more
Earth is the fairer for.
Whereas did air not make
This bath of blue and slake 95
His fire, the sun would shake,
A blear and blinding ball
With blackness bound, and all
The thick stars round him roll
Flashing like flecks of coal, 100
Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt,
In grimy vasty vault.
So God was god of old:
A mother came to mould
Those limbs like ours which are 105
What must make our daystar
Much dearer to mankind;
Whose glory bare would blind
Or less would win man’s mind.
Through her we may see him 110
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.
Be thou then, O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere; 115
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky; 120
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled, 125
Fold home, fast fold thy child.