Monday, April 30, 2007

The arts speak

The arts speak in ways that prose can never do. Have a look, everyone. This will of course be of special interest to folks in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Good luck with the Bay Bridge, friends. Thinking of you.)

This just in from George Emblom, faculty member in liturgical music at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP, the Episcopal seminary of the Western U.S., part of the Graduate Theological Union [GTU]) in Berkeley. I have copyedited slightly for ease of reading.

LIFE AND DEATH: A REQUIEM FOR THE VICTIMS OF DARFUR will be offered by the choral group AVE at St. Mark’s, Berkeley on Saturday, May 5 at 7:30 p.m.

The concert will also be held on Friday evening at St. Ignatius Church, San Francisco and on Sunday evening at Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church).

[Note from Jane: Notice this bit of ecumenism through the arts: Episcopal, Catholic, and Presbyterian venues.]

The concert is intended to raise awareness of the plight of individuals in Darfur through the universally human medium of music and dance.

AVE, under the direction of Jonathan Dimmock, is in its third season; but this is the first occasion of its combining a concert with such a significant social issue of global concern.

Works include:

* Duarte Lobo's lush setting of the Requiem text (scored in eight parts). The concert is not intended as a funeral for a nation, but as a catalyst for empathy and alignment with human tragedy and suffering. Lobo (1565 - 1646) is considered the greatest of the Portugese polyphonists. He served as mestre de capela in Lisbon, and is noted for his impassioned style of writing – a perfect complement to tragedy looming in the Sudan today.

* John Sheppard (1512 - 1558) was one of the two finest Tudor composers (the other being Tallis). His motet Media Vita ("In the midst of life, we are in death") is also scored in eight-part writing, and is especially appropriate for this occasion.

* Herbert Howells's piece, "Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing," was commissioned in 1963 to be sung at the memorial service for President John F. Kennedy. An extremely effective piece of music and literature (from a fourth century poem by Aurelius Prudentius), this piece will be danced by modern dancer Noelle Morris.

The concert will have a speaker who is a refugee from Darfur.

The event will present opportunity for contributions to humanitarian efforts to relieve some of the suffering there.

It is the belief of the musicians that music has a special way of touching the heart, creating a sense of our common humanity. The arts are not isolated from our social context, but very much affected by it. This is our way of stating our love and understanding for the people of Darfur.

Over 3.9 million people are adversely affected by the violence within Sudan's borders, and rely on humanitarian aid just for survival.

Recent information has indicated that the genesis of the problem lies in global warming, which, in turn, reduced the amount of arable land, ultimately creating a fight between the herders and the farmers. This being the case, the Western world shares some responsibility in causing the destitution and therefore we should find ways to assist the victims. or

Note from Jane:

I don’t know the source of the global warming – related information. If anyone has info, I would welcome it and will post the source links here. Janinsanfran, any idea?

Also – the West, or more appropriately, the North, bears responsibility for other aspects of the Darfur catastrophe. Humanitarian aid is vital (and most urgent), but so is policy work. End of speech.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Darfur. Again. Still.

The woman's name is Mary. In her cupped hands is wild fruit on which she has had to survive.

Her photo is below the Catherine post.

There is fighting and famine in the Darfur region of Sudan.


350,000 dead. Over one million displaced.

A photo exhibit, with history, on the genocide.

This week and weekend are the Global Days for Darfur (a.k.a. Days of Action for Darfur).

BBC article here.

Save Darfur Coalition.

Amnesty International.

Our sisters. Our brothers.

Catherine of Siena, Reformer, Mystic, Lover of the Poor, Preacher to the Powerful

Sorry for that logo on the left, it's the only way Robert Lentz will let his icons be reproduced.

[Ooops, I originally posted this a day early! I meant to post it on the 29th, which is Sunday. I've just moved it to the proper day. Catherine' s feast is the 29th, but in some churches the 30th. Never on the 28th, though.]

Today (or in some churches tomorrow) is the feast of Catherine of Siena, one of the several great mystics of the 14th century, who was also a church reformer and supporter of church authority (yes, both).

More on her later perhaps, but here are some links.

Profile from the online Daily Office
and the same profile by James Kiefer here (the original place of publication, I think)

A somewhat traditional Catholic perspective.

And another profile of Catherine.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


We are in the midst of the Days of Action for Darfur.

For this evening, a picture and two maps. Contemplate. Facts tomorrow.

Want to do something right now?

Amnesty International action sheet here.

Blessed Slava, play on!

Photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Music by and tributes to Mstislav Rostropovich, RIP:

Music at Padre Rob's (cello solo) and at MadPriest's (cello accompanied) -- both Bach.

Fine BBC story here.

And this earlier piece announcing his death, also from the BBC.

From NPR (with stories, interviews, and a link to yet another movement from Bach's cello suites).

"The best step was not found in music, but in one page of this letter," he said. "Since that moment my conscience was clean and clear." [Referring to his 1970 letter to Pravda in support of dissidents including Solzhenitsyn.]

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday cat blogging (but do read the post on fascism below, too)

Haha, there were more photos of the late lamented Sensei around. They were just on the other computer. Here he is settled into the dobro case of a visiting friend. (A couple of friends were here, a bluegrass musical couple, one dobro-playing and one banjo-playing, about 18 months ago just months after I moved here.) Sensei thought the open case with its soft lining and perfect size was just the place to hang out. Not a very clear photo, sorry, but quintessentially feline.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ten Steps to Fascism (it can happen here)

Every fascist state has taken at least these ten steps:

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

2. Create a gulag

3. Develop a thug caste

4. Set up an internal surveillance system

5. Harass citizens’ groups

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release

7. Target key individuals

8. Control the press

9. Dissent equals treason

10. Suspend the rule of law

Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree --domestically-- as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government --the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens' ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors-- we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don't learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of "homeland" security --remember who else was keen on the word "homeland"-- didn't raise the alarm bells it might have.

.... It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere --while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: "dogs go on with their doggy life ... How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster."

... We need to look at history and face the "what ifs". For if we keep going down this road, the "end of America" could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before --and this is the way it is now.

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands ... is the definition of tyranny," wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

****************--Naomi Wolf, writing in The Guardian (U.K.)

Read it here.

Read the whole thing.

Read it again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Speaking of birds... (and spring cuteness alert, don't leave now, scroll down a bit)

I’ve never been a birder, and I probably won’t go pro, but I’ve been moving from noticing birds and listening to birdsong (and saying “hello, bird” once in a while) to wondering what everyone’s name is. There are a lot of interesting birds here, and I just discovered Greensboro Birds (hat tip to Ed Cone). Nice to have something very local to consult. It has updates on sightings and great pictures. See below. My neighbor, of course, did something much more sensible right away when she moved here a few years ago: she set up a bird feeder and bought a bird book. She has a notepad by the window and notes which birds she sees.

I thought of setting up a feeder too, but this place has a different orientation from the neighbors’ and because I have more trees around, the birds just come naturally close to the house. On the other hand, they might enjoy the extra food in the winter. The local creatures are pretty well fed, though, being on or near a college campus with a lot of green spaces and plenty of food fragments.

Now for the “see below” part. Cuteness alert! We have new baby swans in town, a.k.a. cygnets. Not here – my neighborhood is more given to baby geese and I haven’t seen any yet this year, only the large mamas and papas – but at least the swans are somewhere in this city.
For the full four-fuzzy-photos “Swan Hatchlings” post at the Greensboro Birds blog, click here. It’ll cheer you right up.

Mark, Evangelist

Often symbolized by the winged lion, Mark, identified
with the writer of the Gospel of Mark, is also revered as the founder of Christian churches in Africa. The Coptic Church especially honors him as its founder.

Both the Coptic and the Orthodox Churches remember him as the first Patriarch of Alexandria.

This first image is a fair-skinned Western one, with the lion hovering over Mark rather than standing in for him.

And here is a darker-skinned and Byzantine image from a biblical manuscript originating in Sicily or Southern Italy.

The Coptic style of iconography, especially the older paintings, has the flat, wide-eyed faces as do many of the Byzantine icons. The wide eye represents the spiritual gaze on the world. I only found two Coptic icons of Mark --one was a contemporary one-- and I decided not to put them up here. (Apologies to the Evangelist and no offense intended to icon-writers.)

I have two senior thesis conversations (the department decided "defense" sounded too militaristic), one this morning and one this afternoon, and a dance performance to attend this evening ('tis the season for college students to strut their stuff and for us to celebrate their accomplishments), so for good words on Mark, visit Padre Mickey's Dance Party. (Mark has long been my favorite Gospel, too, though I try not to play favorites, and there are a few scenes in the Gospel of John I wouldn't trade for anything. I love Mark's starkness. And then there are all those interesting contemporary interpretations, e.g. Ched Myers's.)

Here's a wonderful contemporaryAustralian aboriginal- or African-looking Mark the Evangelist.

Just for fun (music/nostalgia department)

Though I'll probably sign right off YouTube after this because a) it freaks me out that they have my blog password (which of course they will probably have forever now) and b) YouTube posts are ugly and I want my blog to be beautiful.

But I like this piece (what is it with the nostalgia? first Clapton, now this? going backwards in time -- must be the approach of a birthday) and some of you may too. (Padre Mickey? Laura in the Mountains? Anyone else?) Enjoy: Mason Williams, playing "Classical Gas."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Six weird things

Okay, but you have to promise me you'll read the bird post below, too. (No, that does not count as one more weird thing.)

Rob has tagged me with the Six Weird Things Meme and I am complying, though belatedly.

1. I was a French Protestant girl scout. Which to me wasn’t weird, but when you say it to people in the U.S. it sounds strange. How it happened: My parents were U.S. Americans living in France, where I grew up. The scouting movements in France are denominationally based: there are Catholic scouts, Protestant (Reformed Church of France) scouts, Jewish scouts, Orthodox Christian scouts, and because it’s France, secular scouts. There are now Muslim scouts, though there weren’t yet when I was a child. Given my parents’ humanism, the secular scouts would have made most sense, but because their closest French friends happened to be members of the Eglise Réformée de France and had been very active in the church’s scouting movement, my parents sent my brother and me to that one.

2. I have five incisors on the bottom instead of four. (And all my wisdom teeth came in. Which means I have about as many teeth as you can have.)

3. I am completely bilingual in English and French, except that I count in French. I have to make an extra effort to add, subtract, multiply, and divide in English, so most of the time I just do it in French.

4. I don’t hate fund-raising. I actually like it. But don’t ask me to do accounting.

5. It turns out half my blogger buddies are ever so slightly obsessive-compulsive. Not clinically so, just in moderation. I am among the bunch. Really, it’s mostly for practical reasons, so it’s not that weird. Spices in the kitchen cabinet, books on the shelves in my home and office, CDs, clothes – they all have to be organized thematically. So how come my desk is so messy?

6. I’ve never read Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, or Catch-22.

I tag no one. This branch of the meme ends here. Not that we will ever run out of weird things, or people.

There's a new meme going around about five joyful events -- but I can't remember where I saw it or exactly what the wording of it was.

So, read about the bird below.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A bird-centered view of life

I was walking through campus and back to my house the other day –a few days before Earth Day— smelling the spring and listening to the birds, and one of the birds, a little one, chirping away, was perched above me on a telephone wire. I said, “hello, bird!” but of course the bird was up there and probably didn’t hear me, or care, which was just fine because it made me think: when we humans look at what we know and perceive, thinking that our way of perceiving and seeing is the only way, we are not in our right minds. The world looks entirely different from a bird’s point of view –I am curious to know how, but never will know. One thing I can do, though, is imagine that point of view enough to displace or de-center myself. I can imagine enough to realize that the big lumbering human below who said “hello, bird!” is of not much importance to the bird, and that this is as it should be, because the world does not revolve around humans, much as we have thought of it that way. Theology, philosophy, physics, and all manner of other fields are finally telling us otherwise and it took the environmental crisis for Western philosophy and religion to wake up and begin reformulating their vision of the universe.

Of course I like it when I say hello to a cat or a dog and the animal talks back, or when the deer come out of the woods and we look at each other, curiously and quietly. But there is something healthy in saying “hello, bird!” and not getting back an answer, or even the slightest notice, and realizing that the ecosystem functions just fine without us humans, thank you very much, and sometimes fares worse because of the way we walk the earth.

Which is not to say that birds don’t speak to us sometimes.

Still, we would do well to consider the bird-centered view of the world. Regularly, as a spiritual discipline.

St. George's Day

Ha! Another battling saint. (St. Michael’s Day, aka Michaelmas, a.k.a. the Feast of Michael and All Angels, is two seasons from now, but I had a Michael the Archangel episode a few weeks ago.) Today’s saint is George, and in the interests of time (mine and maybe yours) I am posting some links for your edification. I've not much to say about St. George myself since I still had much to learn about him. And it's not all about battles. (A good thing, given my other posts of today on birds and reverence and other non-violent realities. But I never said I wouldn't contradict myself.)

Good summary including all the patron saint information and some nice pictures, from a Catholic parish in Hawaii. Patron saint: we knew about England, Greece, Palestinian Christians, chivalry, and the Order of the Garter, but herpes and syphillis?! And all manner of skin diseases. Nothing to indicate this was related to any of his reputed martyrdoms. Read more here.

Padre Rob offers an icon and muses on Saint George as dragonslayer, defender from evil, and possible patron of same-gender marriage.

MadPriest offers a not so mad reflection by Garth Hewitt on St. George, patron for our times. Lots of good info and some thoughts on dragons and empires.

He also has a slightly more mad segment here with pics and a selection of music in honor of the day -- and of England, of course.

A contemporary icon by Irina Kolbneva is here.

Reverence and vengeance

Zach Roberts, the Baptist campus minister at UNCG (University of North Carolina at Greensboro), offered a fine reflection last week at a meditative memorial service for the people killed at Virginia Tech. I found his contrast between reverence and revenge compelling and I commend it to you. I was not at the service, but heard the reflection when Zach's Episcopal colleague shared it with the congregation on Sunday . Have a look.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

"... this fragile earth, our island home."

Héloïse, as promised

Here's Jordi Savall playing a little medieval something for you while you read.

15 Saltarello - Jo...

So, we read a bit of Abélard’s theology last fall in “History of Christianity” (which I teach every year) and a few of Abélard and Héloïse’s letters. The students did not like Abélard – his personality, that is. It does shine through, or rather, it doesn’t shine. He was a brilliant, aggressive, rather obnoxious character. I told the students to think of him as the really smart arrogant guy who was captain of the debate team at Yale. It turns out many people agree (and agreed back in the day) about Abélard’s personality. Writes one reviewer (rather informally as you will see by his language – this was not for the New York Times but for something called, and he misspelled Canon as “Cannon,” confusing the church position with the weapon): Abelard…comes across as something of a schnook. A brilliant schnook, but nonetheless a schnook.

Meanwhile, Héloïse was a much more attractive personality. Their affair, of course, is compelling, and it does take two to make an affair, but if I had to pick a conversation partner, it wouldn’t be Abélard.

Two recent-ish books got me really hooked on those two, though my old friend (now deceased, he was of my parents’ generation and was their friend first) Joe Barry had earlier written a popular essay on them as lovers in his book French Lovers: From Heloise and Abelard to Beauvoir and Sartre. (Note: That book also included Jean Marais and Jean Cocteau -- unusual for a book back then to include a gay couple as models of love.)

The first of the two books was so interesting I actually paid big money for the hardback shortly after it came out. It looked pretty solid when I read it, but afterwards I was worried since I am not a medievalist and I asked one of the most reliable scholars I know in the field and she said yup, trustworthy. So it’s not like The Da Vinci Code even though the first part of the title sounds like it. The Lost Letters of Héloïse and Abélard: Perceptions of Dialogue in Twelfth Century France, by Constant Mews (with translations by Neville Chiavaroli and Constant J. Mews) came out in 1999 from St. Martin's Press.

Mews is an Australian scholar, and in the book he examines a cache of letters preserved in a 15th century manuscript and edited in the 1970s by another scholar as The Letters of Two Lovers. Mews’s hypothesis, which holds up well, is that the letters are from Héloïse and Abélard during their affair – this is hot stuff of course, since the other letters we have are from after the affair ended due to Abélard’s unfortunate encounter with sharp metal and Abélard and Héloïse’s separation and entrance into monastic life. This is not fluff and it has the Latin and English texts side by side. It shows not only Héloïse’s erudition (she was a well-educated young woman, quoting the Latin poets and using their turns of phrase) but the dynamics of the relationship itself. Great stuff. History and religion nerds out there, check it out.

A more recent book, not by a university type, but making use of Mews and of a number of other scholarly sources, is Heloise and Abelard: A New Biography, by James Burge (2003). It’s a little sensational on the cover (typical HarperSanFrancisco). Burge is a documentary maker for the BBC and the Discovery Channel. Not exactly Harvard or Oxford, but he’s a student of medieval philosophy and culture from way back and dramatized the writings of Roger Bacon. I haven’t finished the book –teaching interrupted my reading, funny the way that works— but I just brought it back from the office in honor of Abélard’s feast day and of my promise to write about Héloïse here, so it’s going on the home reading pile.

Bernard of Clairvaux figures prominently in this whole story, by the way.

It is a story for the ages: philosophy, romance, sex, pregnancy, violence, distance, monasticism (always fascinating to the non-monastic), intellectual controversies, politics, culture, religion, public and private lives, and more.

And do you remember Abélard and Héloïse had a son? They named him Astralabe. He lived to adulthood. It is not certain, writes Mews, what happened to Astralabe. According to a mid-12th century document from Brittany (the province from which Abélard hailed and where he still had plenty of family) there was a canon named Astralabe at Nantes, and (this is me talking, not Mews) how many church people are likely to have that name? But we don’t know for sure.

(More medieval fiddle music, grave and slow.)

16 Ductia - Jordi ...

Here are some of Constant Mews’s perspectives on Héloïse, based on all possible sources including the stash of 113 letters, duly analyzed:

Initially thrilled by the eloquence of [Abelard’s] letters, [Heloise] gradually begins to define their relationship in a way quite distinct from her teacher. Heloise’s ideal of love integrated three normally distinct concepts; amor, the passion or subjective experience of love; dilectio, an act of choice by which one consciously decided to love another person; and amicitia, or friendship. She develops ideas similar to those formulated by Baudri of Bourgueil in poems exchanged with various friends, including nuns at Le Ronceray, Angers. Heloise does not see any inconsistency between her love for Abelard and their shared study of philosophy. The quality which he so admired in her was that her words were matched by her behavior. Other people’s words seemed to him to be empty by comparison. [Mews, p. 147]

Heloise emerges in both her early and later letters as a writer profoundly familiar with classical literature, but preoccupied from the outset by ethical concerns. She combines classical rhetoric, such as found in the letters of Peter the Venerable, with an intensely personal interest in self-knowledge, much more reminiscent of the meditative writing o Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard himself was profoundly aware that his contemporaries were fascinated by the literature of love. Heloise shares these concerns, but was not afraid to draw on pagan literature to purse these themes. [Mews, 170]

As an abbess, Héloïse also shines. Not only intellectually and spiritually, but strategically. Unlike Abelard, Mews writes, Heloise was able to establish good connections to individuals from a number of different ecclesiastical networks. [Mews, 157.] (Diplomacy and the art of networking were not Abélard’s strengths. On the other hand, he could beat anyone at rational discourse, hands down.)

Of course I have the students read (and listen to music by) Héloïse’s contemporary, Hildegard von Bingen, but I believe in giving attention to Héloïse as much as to Hildegard, about whom there is an ongoing fascinating (I almost said “craze” – there, I said it). Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for Hildegard, Renaissance woman before the Renaissance. But despite the smaller number of sources (we have whole books written by Hildegard), the study of Héloïse is well worth it especially because of the stories of love and friendship along with the focus on God, philosophy, virtue, poetry and church politics.

At the end of the book, Mews makes a final argument for taking the letters seriously:

Their language is so close to that of other writings of Abelard and Heloise that there seems to be no reason to doubt their authorship. These letters help confirm the authenticity of the famous correspondence of Abelard and Heloise. They also suggest that the historia calamitatum [“The History of My Misfortunes” by Abélard] cannot be relied upon as the final word on Abelard’s early relationship with Heloise. Much more than Heloise, Abelard distances himself from his past to save his reputation. She, by contrast, was rigorously hostile to hypocrisy both in love and in the religious life. Heloise belonged to one of the last generations of educated women for whom writing Latin prose and verse was a natural facility. By the second half of the twelfth century, French was beginning to rival Latin as the language in which to speak about love. Even in Heloise’s own lifetime, it was becoming increasingly difficult for women brought up in old-established monastic houses to maintain close literary contact with male friends, at least in France. The expanding influence of Parisian schools effectively marginalized women from benefiting from the education which Heloise had once enjoyed at Notre-Dame. The love letters copied at Clairvaux in the late fifteenth century offer a glimpse into a relationship from which Abelard wanted to distance himself. In transcribing those letters, Johannes de Vepria discovered the power of voices all too easily lost.
**************[Mews, 176-177]. [The annotated text to the letters in Latin and in English translation follows and takes up about half the book.]

That last chapter of Mews’s is called “The Voice of Heloise.”

Anselm doesn’t need me to talk about him, he has enough fans (and detractors) out there.

Abélard gets talked about and talked plenty himself. Rhetoric was his thing.

Remember Héloïse.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Héloïse (on the feast of Anselm and Abélard)

Anselm and Abélard. Can you believe those two have the same day? The coincidences of death. As I recall, Karl Barth and Thomas Merton died the same day as each other, the same year. (I just checked and my memory was accurate: December 10, 1968.) Anselm and Abélard died a generation apart, though.
But today I wish to speak of Héloïse, Abélard's beloved, one smart woman. My medieval books are at the office, and I must spend the day here at home pondering and working on the Big Academic Tome. So Héloïse will wait till late tonight. Meanwhile, here's a bit on Anselm and one on Abélard.

And here is the tomb of Héloïse and Abélard, where they were (re) buried, at the Père Lachaise.

Bonus Clapton

No reason, only because I like it.

Which may surprise many, because I am a Mozart kinda girl (well, also Afro-Cuban music and a bunch of other genres) and probably going to go hear some Brahms choral music this weekend, but I do love this piece. Enjoy.

Eric Clapton - Lay...

This blog is NOT going to turn into a music-playing site. MadPriest is the reigning king of the genre and it's more fun to listen to his selections than even to imagine becoming the disc jockey queen of cyberspace. Besides, I am by nature a scribbler and writing is my medium. (Also the pulpit, altar, stage, and voice, but none of that here.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

Experiment (music): lament (Clapton)

Ignore this if it doesn't work. I know nothing about linking to music and I'm experimenting.

If you have trouble with the "play" arrow on the player thingie below, click the name of the artist below that. But if you click the arrow either vigorously or a second time, the thing should play. It did for me just now.

If it works, consider it a dedication to the Virginia Tech dead.

eric clapton - tea...

Friday cat blogging (2): The real thing

Bless his heart, Dave Walker has put up two more photos of the adorable creatures. Thanks to the blogosphere, they are circling the globe, while playing happily at home oblivious to our human nonsense. Have a look.
And to honor the one who didn't get its own portrait here on Tuesday, here it is. A graceful creature, that.

My Alyosha (well, it was more like the reverse, I was Alyosha's Jane) looked like this, but he was bigger. Same color pattern though. He wasn't fat, just older and thus with a bit more heft; these two over in London are still touching kittenhood. Alyosha came to live with me around the age of 11 when his humans moved from Boston to Jerusalem and couldn't take him along. At first he was my foster cat and then, as the humans stayed longer and longer and finally settled over there, he became my common-law cat. He moved with me from Boston to the San Francisco Bay Area at the ripe old age of 17 and I thought he might not live much longer, since 17 is already quite an age especially for a boycat, but Berkeley (and a brief stint in Oakland) agreed with him and he lasted till 21. He died half a dozen years ago but I still think of him. He used to meditate with his face to the wall like a little Zen monk (the monk part was appropriate since previous humans had named him Alyosha after the youngest of the Brothers Karamazov, the monk with the pure heart) and I came to calling him the Bodhicat because of this Zen practice and of his general wisdom. He would meditate at the wall for hours, but he also followed me around the house at other times, carrying on long conversations with me in various tones of meow. He ate cat food, but he liked roast chicken and fresh goat cheese (not together) when he could get a hold of them. Also avocado; hey, he was a California cat in the end, so why not.
Thanks for the pictures, Dave.

Friday cat blogging (1): Kliban creatures

Some chuckles from the official Kliban cat website.

Still, the fur kind is better...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire."

Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.
************************* a saying from the Talmud

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
************************* Gospel according to John 15:13 (NRSV)

More on Professor Liviu Librescu, who died saving his students at Virginia Tech, and whose funeral was yesterday in Brooklyn. His body will be buried in Israel.

When you go to this CBS site, make sure you click on the interview of Librescu’s son Joe. You can see the video if you have either RealPlayer or Windows Media Player, which you are likely to have. (You can also download RealPlayer for free).

Hat tip to Baby Blue for this one.

Episcopal Café opens today -- on the Web

Everyone and their sister is announcing it, but it's one of those gotta-know-about-it things, so I am happy to join the crowds to let you know that the Episcopal Café is up and running. It replaces Jim Naughton's "Daily Episcopalian" blog (Jim is Canon for Communications in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C.) and offers expanded resources.

Says the site:

Welcome to the Episcopal Café, a ministry of the Diocese of Washington in partnership with The Episcopal Church in the Visual Arts.

The Café is a collaborative effort by more than two dozen
writers and editors, and an ever-growing list of visual artists. Together, we aspire to create a visually appealing, intellectually stimulating, spiritually enriching and at least occasionally amusing site where Episcopalians and those interested in our church can read, watch, listen and reflect upon contemporary life in a context informed by faith and animated by the spirit of charity.

Our aim is frankly, but we hope gently, evangelical. To the extent that we can speak intelligently, passionately, persuasively and truthfully—and to the degree that we manifest wisdom, humility and genuine concern for those we disagree with—we will succeed in drawing Episcopalians more deeply into their faith, and in persuading those without a spiritual home to
explore our Church.

Read more here.

Note: If the Café is "at least occasionally amusing," this means you all still need to go visit MadPriest, where "amusing" is not an occasional thing, and "uproarious" is more like it. OCICBW (of course, I could be wrong...), but I don't think so.

And you want to stay in touch with the Episcopal Church outside the U.S., as in Our Fabulous Missionaries, like Padre Mickey and the Lovely Mona and their Panamanian companions.

I am changing the blogroll to the right to reflect the change from "Daily Episcopalian" to "Episcopal Café." The Café looks like a fine resource, with a good group of contributors, including Richard Helmer and Deirdre Good, whom I have quoted here, and many others.

I am hoping there will be ecumenical perspectives, sensitivities, and visions there. I will muse --or rant-- in a separate and later post about Episcopal narrow-mindedness in this area. Not that other communions are much better, but one expects more of a church that is both Catholic (catholic) and Reformed (reformed). (Note: we have a perfectly fine ecumenical officer nationally, so I'm not talking about him, but about general attitudes and knowledge among church members, including various leaders at local and other levels; but let me not get started here.)

I also wonder, because the Episcopal blog scene is so active and influential, whether those who are NOT involved in it will become somehow marginalized from public conversation. As someone who lives on bridges and builds bridges, I will continue to reflect on this -- and to keep it in mind. (Yes, I feel an essay coming on about this very topic, but not quite yet. I'm going to keep observing and let it cook.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What I miss

Read and see (and drool) more here.

"April Gun Metal Morning"

An exquisite and powerful poem by Sheila McJilton. Read it

The Anglican blogosphere is a wondrous thing. Hat tip to MadPriest for this one. Sheila McJilton is an Episcopal priest and writer in Wilmington, Delaware. She has roots here in North Carolina.

BBC, violence, Virginia Tech

What is it that makes men, and in some cases boys get up in the morning, slaughter innocent civilians in a place of learning and then end their own lives?

The question pursued us on our way to Virginia Tech. Outside Washington the headquarters of the NRA - the National Rifle Association - glints at passing cars.

The lights were on in many of the offices. Was this usual? Or were they busy working on damage control for the inevitable criticism?

Another 100 miles further down the Interstate you enter the Bible Belt. Periodically giant illuminated crucifixes jostle for attention with huge billboards advertising injury lawyers and fast-food outlets. Just before the city of Roanake there is a Wal-Mart. "Guns for sale all year round", it boasts, "except on Xmas Day".

Matt Frei of the BBC has a thoughtful commentary on Virginia Tech, Americans and Europeans and guns, and related matters. Well worth the read. The rest of it is here. Thank you, BBC.

The piece includes a heartbreaking detail I hadn't yet read or heard: ...Professor Liviu Librescu, the 76-year-old Holocaust survivor who died wedging himself against the door to stop the gunman from killing his students...

Always good to read news and commentary about the U.S. in non-U.S. media sources, folks.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tuesday (yes, Tuesday) cat blogging

Hey, it's my blog and I can do what I want. Cats on Tuesday.

Dave Walker (of and Cartoon Blog fame) and his household have new cats. 1) They are perfectly adorable. 2) They both remind me of late lamented cats of mine. 3) Their names are Matins and Evensong. (Mattie and Evie for short.)

Check 'em out.

Here's one for starters, but the other one is a cutie too.

Kobia: sorrow over killings; need for control of trade in small arms

Well, good for him.

Secretary-General of the World Council of Churches Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia expressed deep sorrow yesterday at the killings in Virginia. He also noted how extensive the trade in small arms and light weapons is worldwide and how much more we need to work on control and accountability.

We are all Virginians in our sympathy, but many people around the world are also Virginians in their vulnerability to the misuse of unregulated guns. Each day, about 1,000 of them die from gun violence and many more are injured.

Read his full statement here.

The World Council of Churches is currently in the middle of its Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010).

Monday, April 16, 2007

Blacksburg, Virginia: killings on campus

Words fail.

Richard, again, brings news and prayers. It turns out Bishop Marc (Andrus, of the Episcopal Diocese of California, my former home) has a personal connection with Virginia Tech, as does his wife Sheila.

A violent society, we U.S. are. A student, in my office, comments on recent occurrences of violence. I remember my reaction as an eleven-year old hearing about JFK's assassination. MLK's murder when I was not quite sixteen. The Kent State killings my first year in college. The shooting at Morningside Baptist Church in Boston, two decades ago. Death by guns by men.

O God who brought us to birth
and in whose arms we die;
in our grief and shock
contain and comfort us;
embrace us with your love
give us hope in our confusion,
and grace to let go into new life,
through Jesus Christ, Amen.

************(((a prayer by Janet Morley)

The Archbishop cometh

Image courtesy of the great Dave Walker at

The irenic Richard announces the upcoming visit to the United States of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury (a.k.a Rowan Cantuar), in September of this year. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Foot people and car people

I am reading, or rather I am lusting after the time to read, Jane Jacobs’s 1961 classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities. One of the things that bothers the hell out of me in Greensboro is the sprawl/mall thing. Yes, there is a downtown, and I may move there a couple of years from now (why not sooner is outside the purview of this blog, which is not a personal journal) but the general culture in these parts is get in the car and drive.

My first year and three months here I was too poor to get a car, so ironically, I didn’t feel that sprawl-mall culture as much as I do now that I have wheels, because I didn’t get much of anywhere beyond my two or three major destinations –unless I could a) borrow a car or b) find time to take the bus, which is dreadful here, as in the buses only ran once an hour last year (I hear they’ve changed them to every half hour, but they still can’t take me from my house to the post office; there is no route that does that). I like riding the bus –and if you want to see the race and class divide, there it is: not a lot of white people or rich people on the bus. (Coincidentally, I read a newspaper article on this very fact today.) But the bus often takes time that a 60 to 75 hour work week doesn’t allow and it doesn’t go everywhere. I just didn't get to a lot of places and events last year.

So when I had the opportunity to get a cheap and not even used copy of the (1993) Modern Library Edition of Jacobs’s book, I jumped on it, because I knew this was the right time to read it, after moving from life in a series of sidewalk cities to life in the great sprawl.

I’ve always loved and been interested in cities. I love the country, too. It’s suburbia I don’t like. Worse: it’s not dislike as much as discomfort. I find suburbia and the kind of suburbia that gets called a city disorienting. To the body, to the mind, and yes, to the soul.

Stop right here: I’m not saying there aren’t good people in suburbia, exurbia, or spread-urbia, and I’m not saying there’s no good happening there.

But I already know I’m going to relish reading what Jacobs wrote about urban planning and development lo those four and a half decades ago. I’ve read about what she wrote, of course, and seen some of it up close in cities where I’ve lived and visited. But there’s nothing like going to the primary texts. I'm looking forward to reading the book, even if I only get to it once the academic year is over.

I already like a distinction Jacobs makes in the Foreword to the Modern Library Edition:

In a kind of shorthand, we can speak of foot people and car people.

The minute I read that sentence I recognized myself.

And my discomfort with the city planning here began to find a name and feel more legitimate.

This book, Jacobs continues, was instantly understood by foot people, both actual and wishful. They recognized that what it said jibed with their own enjoyment, concerns, and experiences, which is hardly surprising, since much of the book’s information came from observing and listening to foot people. They were collaborators in the research. Then, reciprocally, the book collaborated with foot people by giving legitimacy to what they already knew for themselves. … Conversely, the book neither collaborated with car people nor had an influence on them. It still does not, as far as I can see.

If you don’t understand what Jacobs means by “foot people” and “car people,” here is her previous paragraph:

Some people prefer doing their workaday errands on foot, or feel they would like to if they lived in a place where they could. Other people prefer hopping into the car to do errands, or would like to if they had a car. In the old days, before automobiles, some people liked ordering up carriages or sedan chairs and many wished they could. But as we know from novels, biographies, and legends, some people whose social positions required them to ride –except for rural rambles— wistfully peered out at passing street scenes and longed to participate in their camaraderie, bustle, and promises of surprise and adventure.

I’ve long said that I choose the place I live based on whether you can walk to two things: public transportation and a fresh loaf of bread. If those two are within walking distance, generally the rest is there, too. This time around I didn’t have the choice. And while I can walk to both, the public transpo is not a full system, and the fresh loaf of bread doesn’t count, because it’s in a supermarket and wrapped in plastic. So it’s not really fresh. Fresh means just out of the oven and bare bread, no plastic. Either someone puts it in a paper bag for you or you put it in a paper bag – or you just carry it out. And you can smell the oven. So for the first time in decades, I don't really have my two-essentials-that-lead-to-all-the-rest.

Yes, there are a few places like this in the United States. I've lived near them. But I did grow up on the other side of the Atlantic, where they are even more plentiful.

Friends across faiths, races, and years

Velveteen Rabbi, whose blog I love but don’t read often enough, has a moving item about an interfaith friendship.

It’s based on an article from the Washingtonian about an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and an Orthodox Muslim (who happens to be the brother of comedian David Chappelle).

Always good to read these little bits of hope.

Thomas story from the Resurrection season: more along the same lines

Bill Carroll of Anglican Resistance preached a fine sermon, quoting here from former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Frank Griswold:

Christ not only rises from the dead but destroys death—death in all its forms. And, as members of Christ’s risen body, we are called to trample down death.

What does it mean to trample down death? It means to confront all that is death-dealing: greed, disease, poverty, hunger, violence, war, oppression, neglect of the needy and vulnerable, pollution of our planet, disregard for the dignity of all people, and—yes—legalized executions carried out for the presumed good of society. All of these are within our human power to overcome. We, in virtue of the power of Christ’s Spirit at work within us, are able to be instruments of his death-destroying love. With this in mind, we keep the Easter feast.

Read the full sermon here.

It's the story of Thomas coming to believe

Kevin Matthews preached another excellent sermon at St. Mary's House, Greensboro, but he doesn't write them down, and though I was tempted to take notes, I didn't.

So, two little bits from it, from memory and probably paraphrased:

1. Thomas gets a bad rap with this doubting thing. As if the others didn't doubt. Peter, the most clueless of them all, and all the others. Yes, there is doubt here, but this is really the story of Thomas coming to believe.

2. We're all doubters, if we search ourselves and admit it. Because, if we really, really believed in the Resurrection, the world would look different. Because we would act differently. Believing in the Resurrection is not believing in a one-time event. It is part of the whole story of Jesus, which began long before the Resurrection occurred. Believing in the Resurrection means being willing to follow Jesus' path and to hear his word(s). If we really believed in the Resurrection, would there still be hunger? war? hate speech and hateful actions?

Except that Kevin said it much better.

Doubting Thomas and fear of the Jews

The Gospel reading for today is the wonderful story of doubting Thomas (John 20:19-31).

It is from the Gospel of John, with its language about "the Jews," in this case "for fear of the Jews" in the first sentence. The language makes it seem as if Thomas and the other disciples were not Jews -- which of course they were!

I wrote about this in an essay (also a sermon-help sort of thing) in the late lamented but still online The Witness.

This Sunday's Gospel and most of the other readings for the day – Psalms included – are about opening doors, not only literally but into new ways of seeing and being and doing. Easter is the season of openings and transformations: open tomb, walls traversed, truths revealed. Even the jaws of death and the gates of hell give way.

The Gospel also contains its own jagged gate: “for fear of the Jews.”

Mel Gibson's film The Passion of The Christ reminds many of us of the anti-Semitic uses of the Passion story and of the anti-Judaism within the Passion texts themselves. What we do not always attend to is the way in which this season of Resurrection is pervaded with some of the most deeply anti-Jewish material in the Christian testament.

As you can tell, I wrote it three years ago just as Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" was coming out.

You can find the rest of the essay here.

Yes, it does broaden out, while not losing sight of the jagged edge.

Reading together – in conversation – the text and its edges, its fissures, its uses and misuses, its past and present contexts, how will we define our Episcopal, Anglican, Christian, and Earth communities? Like the early disciples, we often huddle with walls about us and doors locked. But the Risen One walks through them. Will we follow?

P.S. A few of my clergy friends who don't want to spend the whole sermon explaining context substitute words and read the Gospel as "for fear of the authorities."

Friday, April 13, 2007

Environmental action: Step It Up 2007: Saturday, April 14

Sorry to be so last minute about this. I just found out, and so did Christy, whom I thank for the info.

In brief: communities across the U.S. are uniting for action on climate change. The name of the action, Step It Up, is a call to Congress to cut carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050.

As Christy says in her subject line: Tree-huggers of the world, unite.

And remember Earth Day is coming, April 22. Climate change is a big focus for this year, too.

Imus roundup (as if you weren't already saturated)

{A partial roundup -- maybe a few more bits later.}

Some (mostly) thoughtful gleanings from corners of the blogosphere – but not all corners.

Pre-firing, Peacebang wrote about Imus and the Culture of Incivility. His party is apparently over, and maybe now he can start to bridge the great divide between being the so-called "not a bad man" he claims to be and the harmful, hateful radio talk show host he's been behaving as. And the rest of us can continue the conversation about how it is that women in our culture are so regularly denigrated in just this way with no public outcry whatsoever.

Ken at the Daily Diary of the American Nightmare on Don Imus: Idiot and Victim. So a forty-year career comes to an ignominious end, on the gutlessness of the same advertisers who dictated the content of game shows back in the 1950s.

LutherPunk on Imus, Racism, and my Favorite Ice Cube Album. He wonders, does it really matter that he lost his job? Has racism or sexism actually been challenged? I don’t think so, but I could be wrong.

Elizabeth at Telling Secrets reproduces Harvey Fierstein’s NY Times op-ed, Our Prejudices, Ourselves. Says Fierstein, pondering the episode as a gay man: What surprises me, I guess, is how choosy the anti-P.C. crowd is about which hate speech it will not tolerate.
*************He also writes [I'm adding this for those of you who don't have time to do all the clicking to the links]: What I am really enjoying is watching the rest of you act as if you had no idea that prejudice was alive and well in your hearts and minds.

And Louie weighs in.

Barbara Cawthorne Crafton used to know Imus and phone in to his show. She also offers her definition of what satire is and isn’t.

And on Catherine’s Come to the Table (where I originally found the link to Barbara Crafton, whom I hadn’t read in a while), a commenter named Morgan asks, what happened to "Sticks and Stones"? What happened to the option of turning the channel or the dial? Or of teaching our children that their self-worth derives from being children of God and not from what someone might say about them?

Pam at Pam’s House Blend notes how fast lgbt groups spoke out about racist speech, and wonders whether there is a vice versa.

Says our local media-politics-et-al. blogger Ed Cone in his semi-random notes on Imus: Imus is no virgin, but he got thrown in the volcano for the sins of the whole village.

And for an antidote, this from Rob at Padre Rob, who didn’t intend it as an Imus-row antidote (Don’t you love the useful Brit word “row”? Today they used it twice about us.) but who timed it well. Thanks, bro.

(Yeah, I know, problematic: male God figure, female soul. But that's Meister Eckhart he's quoting.)

Friday cat blogging: academic cat

I'm going to run out of pictures of Sensei soon, but this is another nice one.

Hermenegild, martyr

Who in the world is Hermenegild? I had no idea this was his day. Today, April 13, is the anniversary of his martyrdom (in the year 585) at the hands of his own father. Read more here. Who knew? Thanks to the LutherPunk for enlightening me.

For even more detail, here’s what Butler’s Lives of the Saints says. (Via EWTN, yes, you can tell your friends I quoted EWTN. Mirabile dictu.)

The ever-reliable Encyclopedia Britannica has a little article too.

Happy feast, blessed Hermenegild. Will you come back and teach us to pronounce your name?

Illustration: "Triunfo de San Hermenegildo," by Francisco de Herrera the Younger (1654).

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Mosquitoes coughing" and why Krister Stendahl loves the Bible

What is this about mosquitoes coughing? Krister Stendahl says that's what apologetics is.

I love that.

I'm going to make some enemies by saying this, or at least some will disagree with me (my old classmate Fred, for one) or think I am a theological lightweight, but let me tell you, I have never liked apologetics as a theological discipline or as a task and I'm not going to start now, and I am tickled that the least lightweight of them all, my beloved mentor, has given me something to quote, and with help from a Swedish saying, no less.

Apologetics, defending the Bible—defending God, for that matter—is a rather arrogant activity. Who is defending whom? I love to use the old Swedish expression, "It is pathetic to hear mosquitoes cough." I don't know why that is funny, but in Swedish it is funny. And apologetics is mosquitoes coughing. It kills so much of the joy in reading and practicing the love of the scriptures.

The quote is from an essay by Krister Stendahl I found on Deirdre Good's blog, which I recently discovered. (D. Good, for those of you who don't know, is a New Testament scholar who teaches at the General Theological Seminary in NYC. Old acquaintance from years ago.)

You have to remember, when you are reading this, that Stendahl is in his eighties, looking at the end of his life, an eminent scholar of the New Testament, an early supporter of the ordination of women (including through his 1958 The Bible and the Role of Women), former dean of Harvard Divinity School, Emeritus Bishop of Stockholm (Church of Sweden), leader in Jewish-Christian relations,* ecumenical and interreligious pioneer, theorist, and practitioner, and husband of scholar and writer Brita Stendahl.

* which makes his use of the expression "Pharisaism" in the essay a bit odd, but if you know him you know there is probably some irony in his use of it. The published text of the essay is very close to the spoken delivery -- this was a talk he gave several years before the publication.

Krister Stendahl is also one of the best preachers I have ever heard.

His essay on his relationship to the Bible is well worth reading -- slowly and carefully.

You Anglicans out there may also be interested in the fact that he was a co-consecrator of Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson. (The Church of Sweden is in full communion with the Episcopal Church.)

Monday, April 9, 2007

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor, theologian, martyr (2)

The line breaks are mine, for easier and slower reading.

"What is bothering me incessantly
is the question what Christianity really is,
or indeed who Christ really is, for us today.
The time when people could be told everything by means of words,
whether theological or pious,
is over,
and so is the time of inwardness and conscience –
and that means the time of religion in general.
We are moving toward a completely religionless time;
people as they are now simply cannot be religious any more.
Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’
do not in the least act up to it,
and so they presumably mean something quite different by

…if our final judgment must be that
the Western form of Christianity, too,
was only a preliminary stage
to a complete absence of religion,
what kind of situation emerges for us, for the church?
How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well?
Are there religionless Christians?
If religion is only a garment of Christianity
–and even this garment has looked very different at different times—
then what is a religionless Christianity?

Barth, who is the only one to have started along this line of thought,
did not carry it to completion, but arrived at a positivism of revelation,
which in the last analysis is essentially a restoration.
For the religionless working man (or any other person)
nothing decisive is gained here.
The questions to be answered would surely be:
What do a church, a community,
a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life
in a religionless world?
How do we speak of God
—without religion,
i.e. without the temporally conditioned presuppositions
of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on?
How do we speak
(or perhaps we cannot now even ‘speak’ as we used to)
in a ‘secular’ way about God?
In what way are we ‘religionless-secular’ Christians,
in what way are we the ek-klesia
[Bonhoeffer wrote this word in the original Greek],
those who are called forth
[the literal meaning of ekklesia, the church],
not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view
as specially favoured,
but rather as belonging wholly to the world?
In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion,
but something quite different,
really the Lord of the world.
But what does that mean?
What is the place of worship and prayer
in a religionless situation?

… I often ask myself
why a ‘Christian instinct’ often draws me more
to the religionless people than to the religious,
by which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention,
but, I might almost say, ‘in brotherhood.’ …
Religious people speak of God
when human knowledge
(perhaps simply because they are too lazy to think )
has come to an end,
or when human resources fail
–in fact it is always the deus ex machina that they bring on to the scene,
either for the apparent solution of insoluble problems,
or as strength in human failure
–always, that is to say, exploiting human weakness as human boundaries.
Of necessity, that can go on
only till people can by their own strength
push these boundaries somewhat further out,
so that God becomes superfluous as a deus ex machina.
I’ve come to be doubtful of talking about any human boundaries
(is even death, which people now hardly fear,
and is sin, which they now hardly understand,
still a genuine boundary today?).
It always seems to me that we are trying anxiously in this way
to reserve some space for God;
I should like to speak of God
not on the boundaries but at the centre,
not in weakness but in strength;
and therefore not in death and guilt
but in human life and goodness.
As to the boundaries, it seems to me better to be silent
and leave the insoluble unsolved.
Belief in the resurrection
is not the ‘solution’ of the problem of death.
God's ‘beyond’ is not the beyond of our cognitive faculties.
The transcendence of epistemological theory
has nothing to do with the transcendence of God.
God is beyond in the midst of our life.
The church stands,
not at the boundaries where human powers give out,
but in the middle of the village."

from a letter to Eberhard Bethge written in Tegel Prison, 30 April 1944

"Today you will be baptized a Christian.
All those great ancient words of the Christian proclamation
will be spoken over you,
and the command of Jesus Christ to baptize
will be carried out on you,
without your knowing anything about it.
But we are once again
being driven right back to the beginning of our understanding.
Reconciliation and redemption,
regeneration and the Holy Spirit,
love of our enemies,
cross and resurrection,
life in Christ and Christian discipleship –
all of these things are so difficult and so remote
that we hardly venture any more to speak of them.
In the traditional words and acts
we suspect that there may be something quite new and revolutionary,
though we cannot as yet grasp or express it.
That is our own fault.
Our church,
which has been fighting in these years only for its self-preservation,
as though that were an end in itself,
is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption
to mankind and the world.
Our earlier words
are therefore bound to lose their force and cease,
and our being Christians today
will be limited to two things:
prayer and righteous action among men.
All Christian thinking, speaking and organizing
must be born anew out of this prayer and action.
By the time you have grown up,
the church’s form will have changed greatly.
We are not yet out of the melting-pot,
and any attempt to help the church prematurely
to a new expansion of its organization
will merely delay its conversion and purification.
It is not for us to prophesy the day (though the day will come)
when we will once more be called
so to utter the word of God
that the world will be changed and renewed by it.
It will be a new language,
perhaps quite non-religious,
but liberating and redeeming –
as was Jesus’ language;
it will shock people
and yet overcome them by its power;
it will be a new righteousness and truth,
proclaiming God’s peace with humanity
and the coming of God's kingdom."

from "Thoughts on the Day of the Baptism of Dietrich Wilhelm Rüdiger Bethge " - written in Tegel Prison, May 1944

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor, theologian, martyr (1)

Today is the anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I'll try to find time later to write a bit about him or at least to post some good quotes. Those of you who know me know how important Bonhoeffer is to me and that I teach his work. It's another busy day in academe and I don't want to burn the 2 a.m. oil again, so for now, see this post in the Sojourners/Wallis neighborhood of the blogosphere.

Now that I think of it, I can probably pull some things from last semester's "Radical Theologians of Europe and North America" course website (closed to the public, which is why I can't link you directly) and upload them here. Stay tuned.

The Episcopal Church calendar lists B's feast day as April 10, at least in this year's edition, but the anniversary is in fact today, April 9.

Here's a good Episcopal link about Bonhoeffer. More coming, though. (And we really should read something from our Lutheran sisters and brothers!) The essay on that link says that some of B's statements in Letters and Papers from Prison "baffle the reader." It depends which reader! Those are probably the statements that spoke most deeply to some of my students -- and to Dorothee Sölle, and to me.

Either way, tolle, lege.

Sunday, April 8, 2007


It happened again. More, this Easter, than last year or the year before, or perhaps I forget. But it is, each time, a surprise. I was in many ways “not ready for Easter,” not sure I had made a good Lent, or rather, sure I hadn’t. With the approach of another and more significant middle-aged birthday a month hence, I am thinking about “what I have done and what I have left undone” and about other realities over which I have no control. I think about mortality, mine and that of others – the beloved friend in whose memory I would have made an altar flower offering were I not so broke, the childhood friend of a close family member about whose death I heard this morning, the friend who just received a diagnosis of returned cancer.

And then on the first verse of the first hymn of the Easter liturgy, surprise hits.
********Hail thee, festival day!
********blest day that art hallowed forever,
********day whereon Christ arose,
********breaking the kingdom of death.
The tune is every bit as potent as the words. More. Both together.


It has nothing to do with logic.

Nothing to do with proof.

It has much more to do with the story, later in the liturgy, of Mary of Magdala meeting Jesus in the one she thought was the gardener, and recognizing him when he speaks her name.

I remember C.S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy (whose title I liked better than the book itself), remember that it is a book title a split second after naming that this is what I am, in the middle of the Easter hymn: surprised by joy.

The grief does not go away, nor the burdens of work (which these days have been many) nor the regrets and sorrows I cannot yet shake.

But in my body I know again, and in my heart and mind I know, that all is transformed and I am a part of it and that the resurrection is in me and in us and that this God has wrought.

And I know it because I am inside the local community, the Body of Christ which I know once again in ways I could not perceive or receive, late last night when, alone at home, I posted the Resurrection icon and proclamation.

It is a great mystery and it has never felt more real. Alleluia.

First witness to the Resurrection, apostle to the apostles

For occasional church-goers and other visitors

With thanks to Elizabeth Kaeton, priest extraordinaire, and to the one and only Dave Walker of

Il est ressuscité

Christ is risen from the dead,

trampling down death by death,

and on those in the tombs bestowing life.

Paschal Troparion

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Algernon on Nancy Pelosi's headscarf

My friend Algernon (stage actor, complete with Equity card, and dharma teacher, complete with solid Zen practice) has a great comment on the whole flap about Nancy Pelosi's visit to a mosque during her recent trip to Syria. Read it here -- and sorry, Algernon, for not reading you more often. Haven't forgotten you, buddy. Up on the blogroll you go. Rock on. Many bows.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem: A Good Friday Meditation for the Way of the Cross

St. Mary's House, Greensboro has a wonderful custom on Good Friday. In the evening, we pray the Way of the Cross (a.k.a. Stations of the Cross) and a different person is responsible for each of the 14 meditations. Most people do something spoken, but there are always a few people who offer a musical meditation, with or without words, and once in a while there is dance or visual art (last year this was in the form of a slide show). There are different views of the death of Jesus and different theologies of suffering and redemption, tied together by the simple service with prayers and silence. At the end we receive communion from the reserved Sacrament.

From the shortest and simplest to the most complex, all the meditations are beautiful and moving and in some cases very, very powerful. Lay people do most of the speaking. All fourteen people put time and care and prayer into composing their meditation. We are a small congregation -- tonight about half the people in attendance were those offering a meditation; they ranged in age from a little over 20 years old to a little under 80. An inspiring, humbling experience that helped focus us all on Jesus, suffering, death, betrayal, justice, human responsibility, and divine accompaniment and presence.

I am among the long-winded -- the curse of the theologically educated. Below is my meditation. It's a little hard to convey the feel of it just in writing, since I sang a portion of it a capella and the melody is really haunting. It's Eastern European Jewish music but it is also reminiscent of some of the tones one hears in both Arab and Israeli music. The words are in Yiddish -- it's a lullaby from the Vilna Ghetto, ca. 1942.

(The congregation didn't receive a translation of course, just the song as sung, but I'll put the translation below for you, since you can't hear the tune or the sound of the words. Also, this blog doesn't indent paragraphs (or if it does, I haven't figured out how) so I am using different colors instead, and space to mark some of the silences. I read this slowly and in some cases dramatically, so you' have to imagine the voice inflections.)

The Gospel passage is from Luke, chapter 23.


Station VIII:

Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

27A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”

[E]s dremlen feygle oyf di tsvaygn,
Shlof mayn tayer kind.
Bay dayn vigl, oyf dayn nare
Zitst a fremder un zingt:
Bay dayn vigl, oyf dayn nare
Zitst a fremder un zingt:
Lyu-lyu, lyu-lyu, lyu.
S'iz dayn vigl vu geshtanen
Oysgeflokhtn fun glik.
Un dayn mame, oy dayn mame,
Kumt shoyn keyn mol nit tsurik.
Un dayn mame, oy dayn mame,
Kumt shoyn keyn mol nit tsurik.
Lyu-lyu, lyu-lyu, lyu.

Kh'hob gezen dayn tatn loyfn
Unter hogl fun shteyn,
Iber felder iz gefloygn
Zayn faryosemter geveyn.
Iber felder iz gefloygn
Zayn faryosemter geveyn.
Lyu-lyu, lyu-lyu, lyu.

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
I am Aviva, an Israeli Jew. My name, Aviva, means “spring.” My grandparents came here from Europe. On Good Friday, in Lithuania, the mobs would come and kill the Jews. My grandparents escaped, before the Nazis and their camps. They came here. In their lifetime and in my parents’ lifetime, and mine, there have been wars in every generation, on this small slip of land. Three years ago, my son was killed in a bomb attack on a bus in Jerusalem. Since then I have not slept a full night.

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children."

I am Habiba, a Palestinian Muslim. My name, Habiba, means “beloved.” My niece in Gaza has a heart defect. She must get to the doctor, but there are checkpoints, and travel restrictions, and she and her mother cannot get through. Her father has no work. What will happen to her? She is only ten. Her older brother is in prison. My son, their cousin, seethes with anger. I fear for him, for what he might do, for what might befall him. And now there is a wall separating us from friends and family, right here, in Jerusalem.

For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

I am Sahar. I am a Greek Orthodox Christian and a Palestinian. My name, Sahar, means “awakening” or “dawn.” Not long ago, the army bulldozers uprooted my family’s olive groves to clear land for the Separation wall. The people weep. The land weeps. Some of my relatives are educated people, scholars and merchants; most of them have emigrated. I am thinking of leaving too, but my family has lived on this land for generations. Will we ever all return to Jerusalem?

‘s dremlen feygle oyf di tsvaygn,
Shlof mayn tayer kind.
Bay dayn vigl, oyf dayn nare
Zitst a fremder un zingt:
Bay dayn vigl, oyf dayn nare
Zitst a fremder un zingt:
Lyu-lyu, lyu-lyu, lyu.

I am Aviva. With other women, I monitor the behavior of my country’s soldiers at checkpoints. I will not forget the other mothers. I work as I weep.

I am Habiba. I teach young children. I will not let hate claim a victory. I work as I weep.

I am Sahar. I am a physician. I divide my time between the hospital and speaking tours. I work as I weep.

We work as we weep.
We know each other.
Some people call us traitors and whores.
We are not going away.
Our eyes ache and sting from tears.
Still we stand here.
Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.

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What follows wasn't part of the meditation, but I thought you might be interested.

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The women above are composites, but their circumstances are real. I based their words on research and first-hand accounts, some of them from the organizations listed below.

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

Women's Organizations working for peace in Jerusalem and in Israel/Palestine:

The Jerusalem Link
(Linking Bat Shalom in West Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Center for Women in East Jerusalem)

Bat Shalom:

The Jerusalem Center for Women:

Partners for Peace – Jerusalem Women Speak:

Building Bridges for Peace:
(Bringing together young women ages 16-19 from Israel, Palestine, and the United States.)

Machsom Watch (Checkpoint Watch):

Women in Black:

And there are others.

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Translation of lullaby:

Birds sit sleeping on the branches,
Sleep, my precious child.
At your cradle, at your little nest,
Sits a stranger and sings,
Lyu-lyu, lyu-lyu, lyu.
Here your cradle had its dwelling,
Surrounded with happiness,
And your mama, oy, your mama,
Will never return again.
Lyu-lyu, lyu-lyu, lyu.
I have seen your father running,
Under a hail of stones,
And across the fields there drifted
His melancholy groans.
Lyu-lyu, lyu-lyu, lyu.
“S’Dremlen Feygle oyf di Tsvaygn,” lullaby from the Vilna Ghetto, words by Leah Rudnicki (1916- 1943), music by Leyb Yampolski.