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Thursday, April 30, 2009

The May Queen

- by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill

I saw in the news that the U.S. House passes "hate crime" bill that Bush opposed .... classifying as "hate crimes" those attacks based on a victim's sexual orientation, gender identity or mental or physical disability. The current law, enacted four decades ago, limits federal jurisdiction over hate crimes to assaults based on race, color, religion or national origin.

As you would expect, the "usual suspects" are against the hate crimes bill, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act - the Republicans GOP Hysterical Over Hate Crimes Bill Because It Would Protect Gay People, and of course, the religious right, like the Catholic League and others (Hate Crimes Bill Heads for Vote Amid Mixed Christian Reactions).

But I'm happy to say that some Christians do support the bill (Christian Leaders: Hate Crimes Bill Is Necessary, Moral), including Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who wrote ....

A fundamental Christian belief is that every person is created in the image of God. Too often in our country when violence has been directed against gay and lesbian people, most Christians have been painfully silent. The hate crimes legislation now in the House is designed to strengthen our society's ability to prosecute these crimes. It contains additional explicit protection for free speech and religious liberty, rights which are already guaranteed by our Constitution, and allows for continued free expression of speech about controversial issues around homosexuality, gay marriage, etc. Regardless of the theological differences we may have on these issues, Christians should all agree on the fundamental protection of human rights. That is why I support this legislation.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


- Gjertrud Schnackenberg

The kitchen's old-fashioned planter's clock portrays
A smiling moon as it dips down below
Two hemispheres, stars numberless as days,
And peas, tomatoes, onions, as they grow
Under that happy sky; but though the sands
Of time put on this vegetable disguise,
The clock covers its face with long, thin hands.
Another smiling moon begins to rise.

We drift in the small rowboat an hour before
Morning begins, the lake weeds grown so long
They touch the surface, tangling in an oar.
You've brought coffee, cigars, and me along.
You sit still, like a monument in a hall,
Watching for trout. A bat slices the air
Near us, I shriek, you look at me, that's all,
One long sobering look, a smile everywhere
But on your mouth. The mighty hills shriek back.
You turn back to the hake, chuckle, and clamp
Your teeth on your cigar. We watch the black
Water together. Our tennis shoes are damp.
Something moves on your thoughtful face, recedes.
Here, for the first time ever, I see how,
Just as a fish lurks deep in water weeds,
A thought of death will lurk deep down, will show
One eye, then quietly disappear in you.
It's time to go. Above the hills I see
The faint moon slowly dipping out of view,
Sea of Tranquillity, Sea of Serenity,
Ocean of Storms... You start to row, the boat
Skimming the lake where light begins to spread.
You stop the oars, midair. We twirl and float.

I'm in the kitchen. You are three days dead.
A smiling moon rises on fertile ground,
White stars and vegetables. The sky is blue.
Clock hands sweep by it all, they twirl around,
Pushing me, oarless, from the shore of you.

Monday, April 27, 2009

America magazine on married priests

Here's a little bit of what America magazine's editorial, A Modest Proposal, has to say on married priests ....

Silence and fervent prayer for vocations are no longer adequate responses to the priest shortage in the United States. As the church prepares to observe the Year of the Priest, which begins on June 19, open discussion about how to sustain the church as a eucharistic community of faith and fortify the pastoral life of Catholic congregations has become imperative .....

What about the recruitment and training of married men as priests? Married priests already minister in the Catholic Church, both East and West. Addressing the married clergy of the Eastern Catholic churches, the Second Vatican Council exhorted “all those who have received the priesthood in the married state to persevere in their holy vocation and continue to devote their lives fully and generously to the flock entrusted to their care” (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests,” No. 16) .....

Our plea is modest. The bishops of the United States should take greater leadership in openly discussing the priest shortage and its possible remedies. These should not be conversations in which we face a problem only to find every new avenue of solution closed. Rather, they should be exchanges fully open to the possibilities offered by the Spirit .....

BTW, I think i read that America magazine will be free for all to read this month (and the next?), though now I can't find where I read that.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


- Susan Mitchell

Age cannot reach me where the veils of God
Have shut me in,
For me the myriad births of stars and suns
Do but begin,
And here how fragrantly there blows to me
The holy breath,
Sweet from the flowers and stars and hearts of men.
From life and death.

We are not old, O heart, we are not old,
The breath that blows
The soul aflame is still a wandering wind
That comes and goes;
And the stirred heart with sudden raptured life
A moment glows.

A moment here--a bulrush’s brown head
In the grey rain,
A moment there--a child drowned and a heart
Quickened with pain;
The name of Death, the blue deep heaven, the scent
Of the salt sea,
The spicy grass, the honey robbed
From the wild bee.

Awhile we walk the world on its wide roads
And narrow ways,
And they pass by, the countless shadowy troops
Of nights and days;
We know them not, O happy heart,
For you and I
Watch where within a slow dawn lightens up
Another sky.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Angels Grieving over the Dead Christ

- Gjertrud Schnackenberg

From those few famous silkworms smuggled
Into Constantinople in the head of a walking stick
Silk waterfalls
Poured from the ancient bolts

Into now-destitute reservoirs
Of church treasuries in Aachen,
In Liège, in Maastricht, in Sens,
In the Sancta Sanctorum of the Vatican,

Bright rivers seeping past
The age when a teaspoonful of
Silkworm eggs the size of one grain
Could endow a church,

The age when the letters in the words
Of sacred testaments were
Unreeled in the coastal cities of Asia Minor,
When a bookworm conspired

To wrest a maze of empty roads
Through the words My Lord—
That ancient, flickering text
Once permanently affixed

By blind but face-picturing, speechless
But law-breaking wooden shuttles,
Now a heap of gold wires displayed
With a crumbling silk vestment someone

Plucked from a shovelful of dust
During one of those treasure hunts conducted
In the burying grounds, in other eras,
A shovelful of dust

Now blowing into your eyes,
As if a storm wind from Paradise
Blew the rumors of this death
So hard you must cover your eyes

Before the museum case.
The late afternoon tugs
At a gold thread you can hear fraying
When you close your eyes,

A thread you feel your way along,
A thread at which the invisible globe pulls,
Leading you to the end of the world
Where there is a pile of

Clothes stolen from the grave,
Where your fear is relegated
To a masterwork of silk slaves—
That He is dead.

Here death is only a flash of worlds
Unfurled from a rifled
Church treasury, and you are invited
To walk this alluvial wave of gold,

To walk in the labyrinths
Of the angels’ howls,
To run your hands along the walls
Of the silk thread’s passageways,

To feel with your fingers
The angels’ barbaric, stifled,
Glittering vowels
Tightly woven with gold wires.

If you were to tug at one,
Unraveling the angels
Into a vivid labyrinth of thread
From the fourteenth century

Backwards to the scissors blade
A seraph takes to a fragile
Filament of gilt
According to a law still unrevealed,

The shroud would disappear
In the gust of a little breeze
From this door left ajar
Into the next life,

The threshold we cross with closed eyes—
Where angels hide behind their backs
The saws with which they mean
To saw the present from the past,

Oblivious to the scarlet threads
That prove to be hidden among
The filaments, those red rivers
Running through the theme of time

So shockingly—so before you set foot there,
Take heed. This is the work
Of Byzantine silk slaves confined
To the palace grounds at Constantinople,

And you must beware.
There was a way station
On the Silk Road
Where the authorities executed

Traitors in a wooden box
In innumerable, unspeakable ways.
When you touch this shroud from the east
You take that hundred feet of road.

You must walk softly past.
You must try not to look.
The torrent of words—later, later.
Here tongues are cut out,

And that is why the howling
Is mute,
Gilded, herringboned.
Because although this is death,

It is the work of slaves
Whose task was only
To expose the maximum amount of gold thread
To the ceiling price of so many nomismata

Per square inch, in a swift mischief
Of curious knots, of mazes
Flashing past, of straight paths
Made inextricable,

So look again.
The angels wring their hands
Over a statue. They are deranged,
But not by grief. They mourn

Not a body, but a work in bronze.
They do not bring a mortal to the grave.
But we onlookers who grieve and grieve—
We cannot relegate this thought

To a glory woven cryptically
In heavy silks;
We cannot consign it, sweep it off,
For we cannot weigh

In our palms the empty cocoons,
We cannot study
Within the secret workshops
Of the silkworm,

We cannot touch the boiling
Water where the spools whirl,
We cannot learn firsthand
The bleakness of the craft

With which God made the world,
We cannot recount the legend that,
When they met face-to-face, both
God and the worm laughed.

NOTES: The title is from a description of the Thessalonikian epitaphios in Byzantium, by Paul Hetherington and Werner Forman (London: Orbis, 1983). Hetherington proposes that the epitaphios, an Orthodox liturgical length of cloth, was worn, perhaps, over the heads of priests as they approached the altar to celebrate the Eucharist. The epitaphios of Thessaloniki was discovered in 1900.

both/God and the worm laughed: I have not been able to locate the source of this legend.

Gjertrud Schnackenberg, “Angels Grieving Over the Dead Christ” from “Crux of Radiance” from Supernatural Love: Poems

Friday, April 24, 2009

Debunking myths

From the stance of the Catholic Church on same-sex marriage, one might draw the conclusions that all Christian Churches are against same-sex marriage, or that the legalization of same-sex marriage in some way restricts religious freedom, but this isn't so. Here's some of a post from the Episcopal Cafe ......


Debunking myths

The Boston Globe reports that several prominent religious leaders from Massachusetts are lending their support to the campaign for the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York state. They told New Yorkers that gay marriage has not affected religious freedom in the Bay State.

The gay rights group, the Empire State Pride Agenda, said it sought out clergy in Masachusetts in an effort to rebut critics of same-sex marriage.

"There is a campaign on the side of the religious right to convince people that marriage equality for same-sex couples will threaten religious freedom, but we don't think that is the case, and we don't want any myths to go unanswered," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the organization. "Nobody has more experience in dealing with the issue of marriage equality than Massachusetts, and so the best people to respond are those who live in Massachusetts and who lead religious institutions."

Empire State Pride yesterday released a YouTube video featuring three Massachusetts clergy: Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts; the Rev. Nancy S. Taylor of Old South Church, a United Church of Christ congregation in Boston; and the Rev. Michael Wayne Walker of Messiah Baptist Church, an American Baptist congregation in Brockton. Taylor and Walker officiate at same-sex marriages; Shaw does not, because his denomination opposes it, although he personally supports them.

"We've never had any litigation around same-sex marriages, we've never had any protests that I know of, and we've never had any interference, as far as the government is concerned, in our religious tradition," Shaw said.

They address three Big Myths which are:

#1 -- Churches and other religious institutions will be forced to marry same-sex couples

In fact, churches don't have to marry anybody they don't want to. Many traditions do not perform same-sex marriages because their traditions do not allow it. As the Globe notes, while Bishop Shaw supports same-sex marriage he does not permit them to be performed in Episcopal Churches his diocese. This is a disappointment to many but it is also a sign that the church does not have to act in lock-step with the state.

#2 -- Religious institutions can face penalties such as law suits or loss of tax exempt status if they refuse to marry same-sex couples

No church has faced any penalty for refusing to perform same-sex marriages because the state will not dictate to a church their teaching or practice on marriage. Because of that, it often works the other way around: clergy who act against their traditions rules can face penalties from their denominations.

#3 -- Marriage as we know it will be destroyed

The Rev. Dr. Nancy Taylor, Senior Minister of Old South Church in Boston says: "I can't think of any way, shape of form how same-gender marriage has harmed our life in the Commonwealth let alone in this congregation."

Susan Russell at An Inch at a Time posted the YouTube video which we share here:


Thursday, April 23, 2009

St George and the Dragon

- by Briton Rivière

Happy Day of St. George

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cleopatra's tomb?

- Cleopatra by John William Waterhouse

I saw a story today about the possibility of Cleopatra's tomb having been found - Egyptians hope to find Cleopatra's tomb ....

Cleopatra and Mark Antony were immortalised as two of history’s greatest lovers, but their final resting place has always been a mystery. Now archaeologists in Egypt are about to start excavating a site that they believe could conceal their tombs.

Zahi Hawass, director of Egypt’s Superior Council for Antiquities, said yesterday that there was evidence to suggest that Cleopatra and Mark Antony were buried together in the complex tunnel system underlying the Tabusiris Magna temple, 17 miles from the city of Alexandria.

The dig, which begins next week, could reveal answers to the many myths surrounding the pair — including speculation about the Queen’s reputed beauty and the couple’s suicide. Teams from Egypt and the Dominican Republic will begin excavating three sites along the tunnels in the hope that one of the deep shafts will lead to a burial chamber. The sites were identified by a radar scan ....

Other experts are cautious, however. John Baines, Professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford, doubted that Antony would be buried alongside Cleopatra. “It’s unlikely Mark Antony would have a tomb that anyone would be able to discover because he was the enemy at the time he died,” he told The Times last year ...

- Zahi Hawasswith a part of a mask believed to belong to Mark Anthony

For a more in depth discussion of the tomb find and the question of its authenticity, check out this post (and related posts) at rogueclassicism ... Cleo’s ‘Tomb’ ~ Further Thoughts (thanks, Liam :).

And now here's some basci background on Cleopatra from Wikipedia ....


Cleopatra VII Philopator (in Greek, Κλεοπάτρα Φιλοπάτωρ; January 69 BC – 30 BC) was a Hellenistic ruler of Egypt, originally sharing power with her father Ptolemy XII and later with her brothers/husbands Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV; eventually gaining sole rule of Egypt. As Pharaoh, she consummated a liaison with Gaius Julius Caesar that solidified her grip on the throne .... After Caesar's assassination, she aligned with Mark Antony .... She was the last Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. Her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarion, co-ruled in name with his mother only a very few years before Octavian [Augustus] had him executed .... Though she bore the ancient Egyptian title Pharaoh, her main language was Greek; for several centuries preceding her rule, Egyptian kings had been of Macedonian Greek (i.e. Hellenistic) origin rather than Egyptian origin. The establishment of a Greek aristocracy in Egypt had come with Alexander the Great nearly 300 years before .... After Antony and Cleopatra were defeated at Actium by their rival and Caesar's legal heir, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian (who later became the first Roman Emperor, Augustus), Cleopatra committed suicide, the traditional date being 12 August 30 BC, allegedly by means of an asp bite ....


- The Death of Cleopatra by Jean André Rixens

Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape

I saw a story today at Slate - Psychology and Torture - that mentions SERE. Here's what Wikipeda says of this, with some good links to stories leading up to where we stand today ....


In the U.S. military, SERE is an acronym for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape for a program that provides personnel, Department of Defense civilians and contractors with training in evading capture, survival skills and the military code of conduct. Established by the Air Force at the end of the Korean War (1950-53), it was extended during the Vietnam War (1959-75) to the Army and Navy. Most higher level SERE students are aircrew and special forces soldiers considered to be at high-risk of enemy capture .....

In July 2005 an article[4] in The New Yorker magazine alleged that psychologists who help direct the SERE curriculum have been advising the military at Guantanamo Bay detainment camp and other sites on interrogation techniques.

The SERE program's chief psychologist, Colonel Morgan Banks, issued guidance in early 2003 for the "behavioral science consultants" who helped to devise Guantánamo's interrogation strategy although he has emphatically denied that he had advocated the use of counter-resistance techniques used by SERE instructors to break down detainees. The New Yorker notes that in November, 2001 Banks was detailed to Afghanistan, where he spent four months at Bagram Air Base, "supporting combat operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters".

In June 2006 an article on, an online magazine, confirmed finding a document obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through the Freedom of Information Act. A March 22, 2005, sworn statement by the former chief of the Interrogation Control Element at Guantánamo said SERE instructors taught their methods to interrogators of the prisoners in Cuba.[5] The article also claims that physical and mental techniques used against some detainees at Abu Ghraib are similar to the ones SERE students are taught to resist.

According to Human Rights First, the interrogation that lead to the death of Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush involved the use of techniques used in SERE training. According to the organization "Internal FBI memos and press reports have pointed to SERE training as the basis for some of the harshest techniques authorized for use on detainees by the Pentagon in 2002 and 2003."[6]

On June 17, 2008, Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times reported that the senior Pentagon lawyer Mark Schiffrin requested information in 2002 from the leaders of the Air Force's captivity-resistance program, referring to one based in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The information was later used on prisoners in military custody.[7] In written testimony to the Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing, Col. Steven Kleinman of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency said that a team of trainers that he was leading in Iraq were asked to demonstrate SERE techniques on uncooperative prisoners. He refused, but his decision was overruled. He was quoted as saying "When presented with the choice of getting smarter or getting tougher, we chose the latter." [8] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has acknowledged that the use of the SERE program techniques to conduct interrogations in Iraq was discussed by senior White House officials in 2002 and 2003.[9] ....

[4] Mayer, Jane (2005-07-11). [ "THE EXPERIMENT: The military trains people to withstand interrogation. Are those methods being misused at Guantánamo?"]. Retrieved on 2009-04-02.

[5] Benjamin, Mark (2006-06-29). "Torture teachers". Retrieved on 2006-07-19.

[6] Hina Shamsi; Deborah Pearlstein, ed. Command's Responsibility: Detainee Deaths in U.S. Custody in Iraq and Afghanistan: Abed Hamed Mowhoush, Human Rights First, February 2006. Accessed 4 August 2008.

[7] Mazzetti, Mark. "Ex-Pentagon Lawyers Face Inquiry on Interrogation Role". The New York Times, June 17, 2008.

[8] Kleinman, Steven. "Officer: Military Demanded Torture Lessons". CBS News, July 25, 2008.

[9] Rice, Condoleezza "Rice admits Bush officials held White House talks on CIA interrogations" LA Times, September 26, 2008


Here's another link, one to an article by Elaine Scarry ...... The Difficulty of Imagining Other People .... in which she opines that the reason it's so easy to be cruel to others is that we don't see them as real people. With all of this torture stuff coming out in the news, I'm beginning to wonder if that's true or if the theory gives us too much credit.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Incredulity of St. Thomas

- by Guercino


The baptismal questions of Easter night mention the glamour of evil but as I read in a post at Experimental Theology, The Banality of Evil, Torture, and Mindlessness (which referenced Andrew Sullivan's post, The Banality Of Evil), evil is more often disturbingly banal. Here's a bit of Experimental Theology's post ....

Some thoughts on the banality of evil and American torture prompted by this post by Andrew Sullivan.

The phrase "the banality of evil" comes from Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem, a book about her covering of the Adolf Eichmann trial.

Eichmann is often called “The Architect of the Holocaust” because he was the SS Officer charged with handling the logistics of the mass deportation of the Jewish population to the ghettos and, eventually, to the extermination camps. Eichmann was, in essence, the Bureaucrat of the Holocaust. The Organizer and Paper-Pusher of Death.

After the war Eichmann escaped to Argentina and lived under a false identity. He was eventually captured by Israeli operatives on May 11, 1960. Eichmann was secretly taken to Israel to eventually stand trial for crimes against humanity and the Jewish people.

Unable to cover the Nuremberg Trials, Hannah Arendt was keen the cover the Eichmann trial which took place from April 11 to August 14, 1961. At the end of the very public trial Eichmann was found guilty on all counts and was sentenced to death. Eichmann was executed on May 31, 1962.

Arendt, being a Jew, wanted to cover the Eichmann trial to have her own personal confrontation with Evil. She wanted to stare the Devil in the eye. She came looking for the Monster.

But what she found was something quite different. Eichmann was bland, nice and, oddly, intellectually shallow ....

And here's a bit from Andrew Sullivan's post .....

This is what Hannah Arendt wrote of when she talked of the banality of evil .... Human beings were contorted into classic stress positions used by the Gestapo; they had towels tied around their necks in order to smash their bodies against walls; they were denied of all sleep for up to eleven days and nights at a time; they were stuck in tiny suffocating boxes; they were waterboarded just as the victims of the Khmer Rouge were waterboarded. And through all this, Bush and Cheney had lawyers prepared to write elaborate memos saying that all of this was legal, constitutional, moral and not severe pain and suffering ....

This ordinary reality of evil is more chilling than anything wrought from glamour.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Given the stories in the news lately about torture - The wages of torture: Bush bears the blame for use of torture to question terror suspects - I was interested to see a post at Professor Mark Goodacre's NT Blog ..... The Horrors of Crucifixion and Amnesty International. Here's what he wrote - hope he doesn't mind me posting it in its entirety .....


This week in my Historical Jesus class we came to one of the topics that I never particularly enjoy teaching, not because it is lacking in interest but because it is such a profoundly disturbing topic. If there is one thing that we know about the Historical Jesus with a degree of certainty, it is that he died by crucifixion. If we don't know that, we really don't know anything. But if we do know that, what are the details of what we know about crucifixion in general?

When discussing Jesus' crucifixion, I like to explore the archaeological and the literary evidence for ancient crucifixion. That means drawing attention to the blood-curdling accounts from Seneca, Cicero and Josephus, among others, with help from Martin Hengel's little book, and adding to those Joe Zias's work on Crucifixion in Antiquity. When I showed the students a picture of the heel bone of Jehohanan, the sole archaeological evidence of a crucifixion victim, with the nail still embedded, there was an audible sense of horror at what must have been involved in that crucifixion. It brings home to students the unspeakably cruel nature of the punishment.

If, like me, you are a sensitive person, discussing forms of ancient torture with some degree of detail is not a pleasant experience. There is an anxiety in drawing attention to something so horrible from the past. When I was teaching this a few years ago, I found myself making some kind of remark about the cruelty, the sadism of the ancient figures we were discussing. And then I paused for a moment. The conceit of the academic who studies antiquity allows the indulgence of separating oneself from the past. The distancing is, of course, necessary and often desirable if one is to understand the past. But appreciation of the horrors of antiquity can at the same time awaken us to similar horrors in the contemporary world. And here there is something we can do about it. Why not use the reminder of evil in antiquity to stimulate us to action about the evil in the contemporary world?

Like 2.2 million others, I am a member of Amnesty International and I attempt, often inadequately, to make my small contribution to ending human rights abuses around the world.

I don't often discuss politics on this blog. It's not the blog's topic, and I am not expert enough to provide incisive political comment. I leave that to those who are more skilled and knowledgeable than I. But on occasions like this, with the reminder of such inspeakable human cruelty, I break with protocol, as I do in the classroom too, and share my own commitment to joining those who campaign for internationally recognised human rights for all.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

There was a time when men were kind

- Susan Boyle

I was really touched by a post from Fr. James Martin SJ at America magazine's blog - Susan Boyle and the Love of God - about an unemployed, unnattractive Scottish woman living alone with her cat who blew peoples' socks off with her surprising voice. Here's part of his post ....


[...] Ms. Boyle, a matronly 48-year-old unemployed woman, who touchingly described herself on camera as "never been married, never been kissed," lives in a small English village with her cat, Pebbles. When she strode onto the stage of "Britain's Got Talent," you could see the contemptuous grimaces in the crowd. And when the heavyset woman smilingly announced that she would sing the vocally challenging song from "Les Miserables," called "I Dreamed a Dream," you could see the collective judges (including the ever-present Simon Cowell) literally roll their eyes in barely disguised disgust. Please.

When Ms. Boyle opened her mouth, however, out came a voice that silenced her critics. Watch her video (which is unembeddable) here if you haven't already .....

The way we see Susan Boyle is very nearly the way God sees us: worthwhile, special, talented, unique, beautiful. The world generally looks askance at people like Susan Boyle, if it sees them at all. Without classic good looks, without work, without a spouse, living in a small town, people like Susan Boyle may not seem particularly "important." But God sees the real person, and understands the value of each individual's gifts: rich or poor, young or old, single or married, matron or movie star, lucky or unlucky in life. God knows us. And loves us .....


The video is worth a watch - it made me cry :) - here are the lyrics of the song, from Les Miserables ...

I Dreamed a Dream

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame

He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came

And still I dream he'll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

By the Sea of Tiberias

- Peter throws himself into the sea by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

The gospel reading for tomorrow is about one of Jesus' post resurrection appearances to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. It's the final contemplation in Creighton U's online retreat, and I find it interesting for a number of reasons .... the "Sloppy Agape" discussions about the use of different words for "love" in the reading .... the significance of the number of fish caught by the disciples .... and the stuff about the beloved disciple not dying until Jesus returns.

Not really related, but in looking up this stuff I came across a poem by George MacDonald

The Beloved Disciple


One do I see and twelve; but second there
Methinks I know thee, thou beloved one;
Not from thy nobler port, for there are none
More quiet-featured: some there are who bear
Their message on their brows, while others wear
A look of large commission, nor will shun
The fiery trial, so their work is done;
But thou hast parted with thine eyes in prayer--
Unearthly are they both; and so thy lips
Seem like the porches of the spirit land;
For thou hast laid a mighty treasure by
Unlocked by Him in Nature, and thine eye
Burns with a vision and apocalypse
Thy own sweet soul can hardly understand.


A Boanerges too! Upon my heart
It lay a heavy hour: features like thine
Should glow with other message than the shine
Of the earth-burrowing levin, and the start
That cleaveth horrid gulfs! Awful and swart
A moment stoodest thou, but less divine--
Brawny and clad in ruin--till with mine
Thy heart made answering signals, and apart
Beamed forth thy two rapt eyeballs doubly clear
And twice as strong because thou didst thy duty,
And, though affianced to immortal Beauty,
Hiddest not weakly underneath her veil
The pest of Sin and Death which maketh pale:
Henceforward be thy spirit doubly dear!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Supper at Emmaus

- by Eugene Alexis Girardet

Keith Ward / materialism

Here's a video of "The Boyle Lecture - Misusing Darwin: The Materialist Conspiracy in Evolutionary Biology" by Keith Ward (in church?) ..... it's better than the title makes it sound - he speaks to the erroneous belief that science and religion are incompatible ......


I've been reading in the news about a law being considered in Afghanistan that would, among other things, legalize (for the country's Shia minority) rape by a husband of his wife. It's hard for me to figure out what exactly is going on, but I came across an informative blog post by Anand Gopal at Huffington Post - What You Should Know About Women's Rights in Afghanistan - that sheds some light ......


Just as the world's eyes are turning towards Afghanistan once again, a few conservative Afghan lawmakers are trying to pass a law that would, amongst other things, legalize marital rape, prohibit women from leaving the home without permission, deny them the right of inheritance, force a woman to "preen for her husband as and when he desires," and set the minimum female marital age to sixteen.

The draft proposal, which is aimed only at the country's Shia minority, recalls for many the harsh strictures of the Taliban era and has been roundly condemned in the international community: Hillary Clinton said that she is "deeply concerned" about the law, Obama found it "abhorrent", and others in the West have asked, "Is this what our soldiers are dying for?" The international condemnation has forced the Karzai administration to shelve the law for the time being, as the Afghan government pledges to look at the details of the bill more closely.

While the world buzzes about this latest setback for Afghan women, you might be wondering just what exactly the bill says about women's rights in Afghanistan.

What do Afghan women think about this law?

Most Afghan women have never heard of it. This is because the majority of Afghans are rural, living without electricity or a connection to the happenings in Kabul. Afghan women suffer from the lowest literacy rate in the world, at 13 percent. And the ones that are familiar with it mostly shrug their shoulders, because the conditions that the law imposes are no different than those that already exist in their everyday lives. The typical woman from the country's south or east, for example, cannot leave her home without a male guardian. She must wear the burqa in public at all times, and in some villages she must even don one in private. Marital rape is the norm in a society where sex is a man's right, not a woman's.

According to the UK-based NGO Womankind, anywhere between sixty and eighty percent of marriages are forced, 57 percent of brides are under the age of 16, and 87 percent complain of domestic violence. UNIFEM says that 65 percent of widows in Kabul see suicide as their only option to "get rid of their miseries and desolation." Thousands of women turn to self-immolation every year. There are no reliable stats on rape, as most women will never report it. This is because women can be convicted of zina, extramarital sex, if knowledge of the rape becomes public. In most of the country, even a woman just found outside of her home without the permission of her male guardian will be thrown in jail and tried as an adulterer.

How do Afghan women fare now compared to the Taliban era?

The answer, like most things in Afghanistan, depends on where you look and whom you ask. In the central highlands, for example, women of the ethnic minority group the Hazaras are usually allowed to leave the home and sometimes even find work. In Kabul, some females now have access to education, and there are well-paying NGO jobs available for the elite. Only five percent of girls go to secondary school throughout the country, but in Kabul more girls are enrolled than at any point in the last ten years.

In the south and east, life for women is mostly unchanged since the Taliban times: they remain cloistered indoors, in burqas, away from schools, without health care, without independence, and without protection from physical and sexual violence. And in some ways, life is even worse than during the Taliban: these women now live in an active war zone, caught in a crossfire between belligerents.

So the lives of women in the central highlands and in some cities have improved, while things have remained the same or even gotten worse for women elsewhere. The sum result is that things have mostly stayed the same for Afghan women since the fall of the Taliban. It shouldn't be surprising that the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development recently released a study finding that Afghanistan is the second most unequal society in terms of gender in the world. Or that Afghan women rank at or near the bottom in almost every conceivable world ranking: life expectancy, maternal mortality, access to education, access to health care, suicide rates, domestic violence, and more. In short, Afghanistan is just about the worst place in the world to be a woman.

Why are things so bad for Afghan women?

People wrongly assume that the Taliban is a sort of alien force, imposing misogynistic views on an unwilling society. For instance, Ellen Goodman of the Washington Post Writers Group writes in a recent editorial that:

Afghan women had slowly gained rights through the 20th century. They helped write their country's 1964 constitution. They served in parliament and went to universities. They were 40 percent of the doctors and 70 percent of the teachers. Then the Taliban turned their homeland into a patriarchal jail.

This couldn't be further from the truth. Afghan women did gain rights throughout the twentieth century -- in the cities. In the countryside, where the majority lived, no such thing happened. And the Taliban did not turn the Afghan homeland into a patriarchal jail; it was already a prison for women.

There are three causes for women's predicament. First, Afghanistan was and is a rural society, and in the south and east dominated by tribes. This tribal society is deeply patriarchal, with women commodified into a resource to be bartered, sold and fought over. Hence the Pashtun man is honor-bound to defend zan, zamin and zar (woman, gold and land).

Various Afghan leaders -- including some kings and the Communist government -- tried in vain to modernize the countryside. But this was a second reason why women remained oppressed -- the central state has been weak and unable to successfully enact reforms throughout the country.

Even as the central state made such attempts, other actors were actively working to undermine women's interests in the country. The third reason for the situation today is foreign intervention, especially by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States. The US and its allies supported the mujahedeen -- fundamentalist, misogynist warlords -- against the Soviets in the eighties. The mujahedeen transformed an extremely reactionary interpretation of Islam into the national standard, and in many ways were even worse than the Taliban. They burned down schools and libraries, killed women in public positions, enforced the burqa in areas under their control. They raped and killed thousands. After coming to power in the mid-nineties, they established a Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. One issued decree mandated that:

Women do not need to leave their homes at all, unless absolutely necessary, in which case they are to cover themselves completely; are not to wear attractive clothing and decorative accessories; do not wear perfume; their jewelry must not make any noise; they are not to walk gracefully or with pride and in the middle of the sidewalk; are not to talk to strangers; are not to speak loudly or laugh in public; and they must always ask their husbands' permission to leave home.

When the Taliban arrived in Kabul in 1996, they continued to enforce these mandates, without resorting to the widespread raping and killing that marked the mujahedeen government.

After the Taliban was toppled, the US and rest of the international community supported these same mujahedeen in their return to power. The majority of the Afghan parliament today consists of these warlords. Is it any surprise then that parliament tries to pass anti-women laws?

Can the West save Afghan women?

Many observers say that unless the rural, tribal structure of the society is changed, the patriarchal prison will continue. But that might be something only the Afghans themselves can accomplish. In the meantime, many Afghan women say that the West can help this process -- by dropping support for fundamentalists and misogynists.

It will be important to take such a step, they say, because the West has a credibility gap -- despite billions of dollars, thousands of lives lost, and scores of promises, Western intervention has not made the lives of Afghan women significantly better.

Anand Gopal is an Afghanistan-based journalist. To read more of his dispatches from the region, see his website:


Keith Ward / cosmology

- in the movie Timeline Gerard Butler and friends didn't time travel back to the medieval past, but instead traveled to another universe in the multiverse

A fan of science fiction, I have somewhat limited understanding of the multiverse (the hypothetical set of multiple possible universes that together comprise all of reality), but here's what Professor Keith Ward DD FBA writes of it in this excerpt from his Gresham lecture, Cosmology and creation ......



Some of the possible states it contemplates will be universes that can provide additional objects for its contemplation that have an independent reality that is not just in the divine imagination. If they are actualised, they will become what Newton called ‘sensoria of God’, logical spaces in which beautiful and intelligible objects of direct divine knowledge are given actuality, moving from the realm of the possible into the objective existence of the actual, and then being received back into the eternal through divine knowledge of them as actual.

How many such possible worlds are there, and how many of them may become actual? We have seen that in modern cosmology the idea of a ‘multiverse’ is often thought to be the most plausible explanation of the fine-tuning of this universe. When Martin Rees, the British Astronomer Royal, in his book ‘Our Cosmic Habitat’ (Princeton University Press, 2001), considers the amazing fine-tuning of our universe, he says, ‘We seem to have three choices: we can dismiss it as happenstance, we can acclaim it as the workings of providence, or (my preference) we can conjecture that our universe is a specially favored domain in a still vaster multiverse’ (p. 162).

A multiverse is a vast – but how vast? – ensemble of universes, of spacetimes, that all exist. Perhaps black holes can spawn other spacetimes, with differing initial conditions and laws of physics. We could never communicate with such other universes. But it we had a vast range of them, perhaps every possible set of laws and initial conditions, then the existence of this fine-tuned universe would no longer be a surprise. It would be bound to happen sooner or later.

Appeal to a multiverse, within which our universe is just one case, still leaves massive problems unsolved. What is supposed to specify the array of possible laws and conditions from which particular existent universes arise? How many arrays are there, and in what sense do they exist as possibilities? What can ensure that every possible universe actually comes to exist, that the whole gamut of possibilities is systematically run through? And is it really the case that there is a finite set of universes, all of which will come to exist sooner or later (for if the set of universes is infinite, they will never all exist)?


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Obama at Georgetown U

President Obama speaks at a Catholic University (Georgetown) and the sky doesn't fall :) You can read his speech (on the economy) at the NY Times here. You can read more about it and see some pics (and watch a video of the event, I think) at the Georgetown site.

And I thought I'd add some of what Thomas Reese SJ had to say about this in the Georgetown/On Faith blog .....


Prof. Obama Comes to Georgetown

While conservative Catholic pundits were wringing their hands over Notre Dame University's invitation to President Obama to speak at its commencement, their total irrelevance was apparent when the President popped over to Georgetown University to give a major speech on the economy. Protests were minimal and excitement was palpable ....

President Obama gave a substantive talk on the economy. Step by step he took his audience through the causes of the current crisis, what his administration has done so far and what challenges have to be faced in the future. This was prose, not poetry, as he explained at the beginning of his talk. But it was clear and concise prose explaining the situation better than do the shouting heads who claim to present the news ....

Honest and intelligent people can still disagree with him and on some issues they may be right, but Obama has set a standard for serious political discourse that is not simply ideological appeals to the base. He is demanding that his audience stretch their minds and concentrate. It is nice to have a president who is more interested in educating the public than simply pleasing them. Whether we will rise to the challenge remains to be seen.


Public and private ethics

I guess you've all seen the recent stories about Paraguayan president Lugo, who quit being a Catholic bishop to run for that political office, and who has been hit with a paternity suit. I probably wouldn't post something about this except that I had posted a couple of times earlier about Lugo, praising him for his liberation theology stance, and now I feel pretty disillusioned about him. Here's a bit from the news story, Paraguayan president's affair: She was 16 and he was a Catholic bishop ...

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo admitted Monday that he's the father of a 2-year-old boy who was conceived when Lugo was still a Catholic bishop.

Lugo made the surprise announcement five days after the boy's mother, Viviana Carrillo, filed a paternity suit against him that contained more than just the explosive claim about the father's identity.

In it, the 26-year-old Carrillo said they began having sexual relations when she was 16. As bishop of San Pedro, Lugo sometimes stayed at the rural home of her godmother, where Carrillo also lived, she said.

McClatchy Newspapers obtained a copy of the nine-page paternity suit on Monday.

Carrillo said that she first met Lugo when she was studying in preparation for the sacrament of Confirmation in her church, and that their personal relationship began one night shortly thereafter.

She said she'd just brought bed sheets to his room at her godmother's house and then asked him if he needed anything else.

"He told me yes," Carrillo wrote, "that he needed me."

Carrillo said Lugo began to pursue her "until, because of my youth and inexperience, I was seduced by the way he talked, his pretty words, his beautiful expressions and by his promises that he would resign his position for me, that he would spend his life with me, that we would have many children together and form a household."

She said that Lugo had been "my first and only man."

Reaction to the disclosure is divided.

Alfredo Boccia, a political columnist for the Paraguayan newspaper Ultima Hora, said by telephone from the capital of Asuncion that most people there would take the news in stride.

"He did the smartest thing he could have done," Boccia said. "He nipped the scandal in the bud. People are more lax in their attitudes here. It shouldn't hurt his personal image much."

That view was shared by Pastor Vera, the mayor of San Pedro, an impoverished city with dirt streets in south central Paraguay, where Lugo served as the bishop until 2004.

"Most people will see it as a private affair," Vera said by telephone. "What's important is that he assumed his responsibility." ....

I guess I don't understand how people manage to compartmentalize their ethics so that as long as they are stand-up guys in the public square, it doesn't matter how they deal with people privately. What bothers me is not that Lugo had a relationship, but that he had one with a minor, and then lied about it (he denied rumors about this during the election) until his partner filed a paternity suit.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bart interrupted

Doubtless you've heard of Bart Ehrman's latest book, Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) - it's probably more well known from Ehrman's interview with Stephen Colbert than from serious reviews :) .....

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bart Ehrman
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

But if you are interested in serious reviews of the book, check out the two detailed posts by Ben Witherington ..... Bart Interrupted -- A Detailed Analysis of 'Jesus Interrupted' Part One and Bart Interrupted -- A Detailed Analysis of 'Jesus Interrupted' Part Two and Bart Interrupted -- A Detailed Analysis of 'Jesus Interrupted' Part Three and Bart Interrupted -- A Detailed Analysis of 'Jesus Interrupted' Part Four.

Seven Stanzas at Easter

- John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Joy in the resurrection

- He is risen: The first Easter by Arthur Hughes

The 30th week of Creighton's online retreat is about Jesus' resurrection and the grace that is asked for is the ability to share in his joy. That seems like it should be easily accomplished but for many it's difficult, me included. Here's a little about this from a book by William Barry SJ, Finding God in All Things: A Companion to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius ........


Christians believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, but have we ever experienced what that means for Jesus and for our world? In the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius expects that those who have received in some measure the grace of compassion for Jesus and his sufferings, both personal and in his mystical body, will begin to desire to experience the joy of Jesus' resurrection. Once again under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit of God, retreatants are expected to desire "the grace to be glad and rejoice intensely because of the great joy and the glory of Christ our Lord" (Spiritual Exercises n. 221) ....

The fact that we are asking for a grace should alert us to the possibility that the grace may not be easily attained, not because God withholds it, but because we seem to resist it. This seems paradoxical. One would think that we would be eager to attain this grace after suffering with Jesus through the passion. But .... The resurrection is not a restoration of the status quo ante, of things as they were before the passion and death. It does not erase those cruel memories. No! The Christ had to die in this way in order to be who he now is. In other appearances this "necessity" is underscored by the fact that the disciples see the marks of the nails and of the wound in his side. The past with all its cruelties is not undone. In fact, without that past Jesus would be different from the person he now is. But the disciples and we, too, want the cruel memories to be erased. "It was only a bad dream," we hope to be able to say. We do not want to face the truth that only through the actual life and death he and we undergo can we attain the joy of resurrection .....

I want to repeat once again Macmurray's maxim of real religion. "Fear not; the things that you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of." The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates real religion. The passion and death really did happen, but, the resurrection of Jesus says, they are nothing to be afraid of. When we receive the grace of rejoicing with Jesus in his glory, then we want to shout Alleluia over and over again ....


Speaking for myself, I'm not quite there yet :)

But after watching the end of the movie Jesus, I do get a glimpse of what that joy might be like. Here below is a YouTube excerpt from that movie that takes us from Jesus being lowered from the cross to his resurrection, and even beyond (it has the ending that I've never seen before, as it was cut from the US version of the movie for being too controversial :) ......

Friday, April 10, 2009

Holy Saturday

- Christ in Limbo by Fra Angelico

Holy Saturday is a strange day, a day with Jesus dead, and the day when, according to the Apostles' Creed, he descends into hell. Though I try very hard not to believe hell exists, I still find this idea of the harrowing of hell kind of compelling and I'm not alone .... guys from Thomas Aquinas to Hans Urs von Balthasar have written about it. Wikipedia ...

Some maintain that Christ did not go to the place of the damned, which is what is generally understood today by the word "Hell". For instance, Thomas Aquinas taught that Christ did not descend into the "Hell of the lost" in his essence, but only by the effect of his death, through which "he put them to shame for their unbelief and wickedness: but to them who were detained in Purgatory he gave hope of attaining to glory: while upon the holy Fathers detained in Hell solely on account of original sin, he shed the light of glory everlasting." [Summa Theologica: Christ's descent into hell]

While some maintain that Christ merely descended into the "limbo of the fathers", others, notably theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (inspired by the visions of Adrienne von Speyr), maintain that it was more than this and that the descent involved suffering by Jesus. [Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter by Hans Urs Von Balthasar .... Was Balthasar a Heretic? (First Things)] .....

Interesting, but if I didn't know better, I'd wonder if the concept of the harrowing of hell was constructed to distract us from the emptiness of a day without Jesus.

Good Friday

- The Glorious Cross by John Flaxman

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Jesus failed

- The Maundy (Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples) by Tintoretto

I saw this post by Fr. Thomas Reese SJ at the Georgetown/On Faith blog and it reminded me of the imaginative contemplations I've done for Holy Week, putting myself into the last few days of Jesus' life - I always try to find a way out of the situation, like the hollywood rewrites that Fr. Reese mentions below :) ......


Holy Week: The Week Jesus Failed

Holy Week is a challenging time for Christians because it reminds us that Jesus failed. That's right, I said he failed.

This is especially emphasized in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus' preaching is not accepted and his mission is a failure. In the Gospel of Mark, no one understands Jesus, not even the disciples. At the passion, Jesus is alone. The disciples fall asleep. He is betrayed by Judas. Peter denies him, and the young man runs away naked. Even the women do not approach the cross but stand at a distance.

The Roman and Jewish authorities condemn him of blasphemy and sedition. The bystanders mock him. He even appears to be abandoned by God. He prays at the beginning of the passion that this cup pass, but no answer is recorded. At the end, he pays "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And then he dies with a loud cry.

This is especially disconcerting to Americans who prize success. We believe we can do anything.

But the Gospel of Mark is not a gospel of success but of failure. If Mark's Gospel were presented to movie producers in Hollywood, it would be sent for rewrite (which is actually what happened with Matthew and Luke who found Mark too much of a downer). "Why don't we have the disciples break into the Praetorium and release him? Bruce Willis could play Peter. Or why not have Jesus give a brilliant speech at the trial and convert everyone?"

But the reality is that Jesus failed.

Mark's Gospel is for losers, for people who feel abandoned by God. This is a Gospel for sinners, for people like the disciples who have abandoned Jesus. This is a gospel for people who understand their limitations. This is a gospel of failure unto death. This Gospel proclaims that Jesus had to suffer and die, and challenges us to take up our cross and follow Jesus. It does not guarantee success.

But this is also a gospel of hope because it reminds us that Jesus did not want to suffer any more than we do, but he went on. This is a gospel of hope because it shows that Jesus refused to give up even when he knew he would fail. This is a gospel of hope because it reminds us that even his closest disciples abandoned him like we do, but they were welcomed back. But most importantly, this is a gospel of hope because we know that it does not end on the cross, it does not end in failure, but in the resurrection. God would not let failure have the last word.


Holy Thirsday / Blake

Two competing poems by William Blake on Holy Thursday from Songs of Innocence and of Experience ....

Holy Thirsday (Songs of Innocence)

Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean
The children walking two & two in red & blue & green
Grey headed beadles walked before with wands as white as snow
Till into the high dome of Pauls they like Thames waters flow

O what a multitude they seemed these flowers of London town
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own
The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs
Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among
Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door

Holy Thursday (Songs of Experience)

Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine.
And their fields are bleak & bare.
And their ways are fill'd with thorns.
It is eternal winter there.

For where-e’er the sun does shine,
And where-e’er the rain does fall:
Babe can never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

He loved us enough to live for us

I'm still listening to that Creighton U Lenten audio retreat with Fr. Larry Gillick SJ. The one I heard today, the twelfth conference, made an interesting point. I wrote that bit down while I was listening - think I got it all right ....


For [the gospel of] John, the glory of God is Christ being fully who he really is. I'll unpack that a little bit. One of the problems there is about art and especially recent movies about the passion of Jesus is that it specifies that Jesus loved the Earth, loved us, from the cross. Loved us enough to die for us. No. He loved us enough to live for us. It's his whole life, his whole life of obedience, that saved us. Saves us. They say how you live is how you die. There's nothing dramatically different between Jesus on the cross and Jesus doing anything else in his life. It was all for love .... he loved us unto death, but he loved us all the time.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Yeah, Vermont!

I saw this post by Madeleine M. Kunin, the first woman (and first Jewish) Governor of Vermont, and thought I'd paste it :) ...


Vermont Passes Gay Marriage: How Far We've Come

Right after the Vermont legislature voted (100 to 49, precisely the 2/3 needed) to over-ride Governor Jim Douglas' veto this morning of a law permitting gay marriage, my daughter got a text message, "Yeah, Vermont!"

She was not the only one cheering when the vote was announced. I felt an elation that surprised me. These men and women in the legislature are not professional politicians; they are citizen legislators representing small districts where voters know who they are, meet them at the general store and chat with them at the gas station. The grass roots support that was evident in today's vote signifies strong support for equal rights for our gay and lesbian relatives, friends and neighbors to a degree that has not happened before.

Vermont is the fourth state to enact gay marriage but it is the first state to do so by a vote of the legislature. The three others (Iowa, most recently) did so only as a result of narrow decisions by their state Supreme Courts.

I cannot help but think how far we have come in such a short time to guarantee respect to gay and lesbian Americans. I remember when I was in my second term as Governor I was the only politician to speak at one of the first gay pride parades in Burlington. I stood on the steps of the Unitarian church under a broad banner that said "Gay Pride." The newspaper made certain that both my photo and the banner fit into the picture that was featured on the front page the next day. I later learned that that photo was scotch taped to several cash registers in stores with a red circle and a red slash.

Almost ten years ago Vermont was the first state to enact a law that permitted civil unions, by a margin of one vote. The fact that this law was enacted by two-thirds of the legislators is one indicator of how much has changed. At that time, a dozen legislators who voted for the law lost their seats in the next election. There was a severe back lash, complete with yard signs that read, "Take Back Vermont."

In the public hearings held in 2000, many Vermonters learned for the first time that gay and lesbian Vermonters were their neighbors, not simply "the other." This time, we learned that they are worthy of full citizenship. Not every gay or lesbian person will want to get married, but every gay and lesbian person can feel a little more safe, experience a little more dignity, and most important of all, feel proud -- proud not only for themselves (gay pride), but for the citizens of this small state which has had the good sense to do the right thing.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.


James Alison / John 13:21-32

- Jesus at the last supper, from The Passion of the Christ

I was reading a past sermon by Fr. James Alison on the subject of today's readings - the last supper and Judas. It's the last of three sermons for Holy Week, from 200g - Three Holy Week Sermons - and I thought I'd post that one here .....



Isaiah 50:4-9a Hebrews 12:1-3 John 13:21-32

Weirder and weirder. We get two 'boo' words in today's gospel which tend to throw us off kilter, because they have resonances for us that are too strong to enable us to hear what's going on.

One 'boo' word is 'Satan'.

And Satan went into him. (John 13:27)

It's the only use of the word 'Satan' in John's gospel.

And the other, the other 'boo' word is, of course, 'Judas', which has become for us a symbol of something, and just in this last week a sort of cause célèbre in a certain press. (Lost Gnostic Gospel of Judas revealed, National Geographic story 6/4/06)

What I want to do with you today is to ask you to separate, as we have been doing, the three levels of sound which are coming through this passage. Remember we've talked about those three levels before. The first level is the level of the crowd, of the lynch mob. That voice is here today simply as a person. That's all that Satan means. The second voice is the voice of the disciples, the ones who half know that something is happening, and half don't know and don't get it. And the third voice, working at an entirely different level, is the work, the voice, of Jesus, doing something and explaining something, peacefully. So let's try and explore that voice, to see if it can quieten the way in which we hear the 'boo' words, so as to give them their proper banality. Because that's what's difficult for us, to hear the banality of what is going on here. 'Boo' words hide banality.

A couple of key words in today's reading. Two key words for the whole of the gospel, particularly at this passion time. 'Handed over'. To 'hand over'. In the reading, as we heard it, it was translated 'betray'. The reading as we heard it said:

I say to you, one of you will betray me. (13:21)

All it says is: "One of you will hand me over". And remember that 'handing over' has different senses. It is a positive thing. What Jesus is doing is handing himself over. Earlier in the chapter, which we don't get to read today, we get to read tomorrow, the foot washing chapter, early in that chapter we get:

God has put all things into his hands. (13:3)

In other words God has handed over everything to Jesus. And Jesus is now handing himself over. He is transmitting himself. He is literally going to transmit himself, giving his body and blood to people. What they do with it is up to them, that's part of the vulnerability of handing over. It's the risk of putting yourself in someone's hands. But remember that betraying is simply a sub-section of handing over. The verb is actually the same verb in Greek. To transmit; to hand over; to betray; the same word.

And then the other word with two meanings is the word 'eat'. We have this strange moment of Jesus dipping a morsel into some liquid and handing it over to Judas to eat. Because the same word can mean to enjoy and to destroy, not only in English, but more to our purposes in Hebrew and Aramaic, a word with the same root. I suppose we would have something the same with our word backbiter, a backbiter - someone who eats their neighbours. That's the same set of resonances that we have here. One of the words in ancient Syriac for a calumniator, a slanderer, was a pieces-eater, someone who eats the flesh of their neighbour. So what we have here is a handing over and an eating. Exactly the same act. It can be a betrayal and a destroying. Exactly the same act. But what Jesus is doing he's doing very calmly and gently. Remember that the disciples don't get what's going on at all. The beloved disciple asks Jesus who it is. And Jesus says, presumably sotto voce, so that only this disciple could hear – it's the one to whom I am going to give the morsel. But that message doesn't get back to Simon Peter in time, and none of the others know what's happened, because after Judas takes his bite he gets up and goes, and Jesus says:

What you are going to do, do quickly. (13:27)

And that's the only thing they hear, "What you are going to do, do quickly", an entirely ambivalent remark which they are able to interpret in a variety of different ways. And one of the reasons of course which John knows, and which we all know, is that Judas wasn't the only person given a morsel by Jesus that evening. Everyone is given a morsel. The handing over, and the how the handing over is lived out, is universally available, the possibility of betrayal is universally available. So what happens here? Judas does something terribly banal. A reward notice has gone out into the local Post Offices. It says that at the end of Chapter 11 – not the bit about Post Offices, I'm making that bit up – but the ruling authorities had let it be known that anyone who provided them with information as to where this person might be found would be rewarded. The notice had gone up. And Judas thought "Hmm. I might take advantage of that". And then he does. That's all. We know nothing about Judas's motivation. There are hints that it might have been for the money. It might have been, because he thought that he could provoke Jesus into doing something grandiloquent by handing him over, that it would produce the final clash of powers, in which the Holy One would be vindicated. We don't know anything about Judas's motives. And guess what? In the real gospels, as opposed to the Gnostic gospels, it doesn't matter, because what Judas did is utterly banal. All he has done, in fact, is give someone away, give a friend away. The last time we see Judas in John's gospel he's standing with a group of soldiers in the garden of Gethsemane, that's all. It says very clearly:

And Judas was standing there with them. (John 18:5)

And that's very significant because that's what's specifically forbidden in Leviticus:

You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand forth against the blood of your neighbour. (Lev 19:16)

All that Judas has managed to do is the utterly banal thing of breaking a commandment. That's all he's managed to do, to achieve nothing at all. We don't even hear the end of the story. There is no story of Judas, because all that has happened to Judas is that the prince of this world, the principle by which social order is maintained, the self-defeating social principle has taken advantage of him, to try to create spurious meaning, to try and produce something exciting, meaningful, advantageous. And guess what? Nothing is going to happen. Jesus is not going to rise to the bait. He's going to go quietly, having handed himself over to occupy the space of the one whom the lynch mob get. And by doing that, actually he's going to undo the mechanism of the lynch from within. And it says:

When Judas goes out it was night. (John 13:30)

At the moment, if you like, it's the moment when the power that thinks it can create meaning by lynching is inexorably set in motion. From that moment on, what Jesus is doing is going to be invisible, and Jesus immediately says:

Now is the Son of Man glorified (13:31)

It's at the moment when he does not resist that he goes into occupying the space of the one who is betrayed, occupying the space of the killed one, the necessary victim, the one who it's convenient for you that we kill someone so that the nation not perish. It's when he occupies that space peacefully that the whole panoply of fake meaning is undone, is revealed to have no meaning at all. That is when God is glorified, when the self-giving victim shows that he's been able to undo all the power of darkness and death to give fake meaning.

It's one of the reasons why it's so important that we don't get carried away by Judas. Anyone who tries to make a story out of Judas doesn't get it. They are trying to create meaning where there is only banality, just as anyone who tries to make Satan apocalyptic doesn't get it. All there is is the ordinary social structuring of this world, the ruler of this world, the principle by which we create our unity, our meaning, our togetherness, and which is fake. The handing over, the gentle handing over, the quiet handing over, of himself, to occupy that space, not even provoking it or tempting it, but deliberately moving into that space was described by the patristic authors almost as if it were Jesus giving the devil a bait to grasp, as though Jesus was a particular sort of bait on a fishhook, and once the fish got it, it was in fact hooked. That's how the patristic fathers described this handing over, the Greek fathers. They saw it as though Satan thought he had sprung a trap for Jesus, but Jesus was in fact undoing the trap from within. The quiet handing over which cannot be heard, the one who occupies the space, who does not allow themselves to be given identity by the crowd, by the pressure ("give us meaning", "give us signs", "give us wisdom"). The one who occupies that space gently is the one who will explode the whole system of meaning from within, which is the promise of glorification. And it can only be done as the trap tries to close down and finds that it's been stuck half open. Because if someone occupies that space voluntarily, and shows what it's about, it doesn't work any longer. It depends on people not knowing what they doing in order to work. It depends on people being able to pass the buck in order to work. Whereas, what Jesus is doing is showing that from the perspective of the innocent one "they hated me without cause". There was no real reason behind it, there's no real meaning to it. Meaning is created slowly and gently by the creator who brings things into being in the midst of our learning how to undo our sacred forms of handing over.

See the irony of the two words in John, the 'handing over' and the 'eating'. How easy it is to receive something from someone and use it to destroy them. How difficult it is to receive something from someone and realise that you have been challenged to transmit something. Someone has given themselves to you and is saying "You're going to be me. Where will you take it? Where will you take it?" That's the risk of creation. The other way is the trap of false meaning. And it's the very, very, very, delicate interface of those two which John shows us in today's gospel.

I want to bring out finally once again the banality. We're so used to reading this as a ritual with the grand words that we forget how different the voices are: the voice of the crowd; the unknowing of the disciples; and the quietness of Jesus. In the face of the quietness of Jesus what we typically dress up as a particular form of wickedness is banal, it's meaningless, it goes nowhere. We need to let that music out of our ears if we are to hear the deeper, slower, quieter, music carrying us towards Good Friday.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Siena's Piazza del Campo

The photo from my Italy calendar for today was of the Piazza del Campo in Siena, Tuscany. It especially caught my attention because for some reason I had always weirdly thought that Catherine of Siena was born in Spain, not Italy. Anyway, here's a bit of what Wikipedia says of the Piazza del Campo ...

Piazza del Campo is the principal public space of Siena, Tuscany, Italy and is one of Europe's greatest medieval squares. Around the piazza are ranged the Palazzo Pubblico, with its Torre del Mangia and various palazzi signorili .... It was paved in 1349 in fishbone-patterned red brick with ten lines of travertine, which divide the piazza into nine sections, radiating from the mouth of the gavinone (the central water drain) in front of the Palazzo Pubblico. The number of divisions are held to be symbolic of the rule of The Nine (Noveschi) who laid out the campo and governed Siena at the height of its mediaeval splendour between 1292-1355 .... The Fonte Gaia ("Fountain of Joy") was set up in 1419 as an endpoint of the system of conduits bringing water to the city's centre, replacing an earlier fountain completed about 1342 when the water conduits were completed .... At the foot of the Palazzo Pubblico's wall is the late Gothic Chapel of the Virgin built as an ex voto by the Sienese, after the terrible Black Death of 1348 had ended ...

And Catherine ....

- The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine by John William Waterhouse, a photocopy of a B&W photograph of a painting :)

- the head of Catherine lies in this Chapel of Saint Catherine of Siena, Basilica of San Domenico