Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Why I won't be seeing "United 93"

I heard of a news story this week where Mark Felt apparently told a journalist he couldn't remember saying the line "Follow the money" to Bob Woodward.

So far as I know, this account is right, and Felt in fact didn't say it. I've even heard (but cannot verify via Google) that Goldman admitted creating the line for the screenplay.

It isn't in Woodward and Bernstein's book. But it is conventional wisdom that: "This was one of the great phrases uttered by ‘Deep Throat’ to Bob Woodward back in the early 70s when the Watergate scandal was in full swing." Even journalists interviewing Felt seem to think it must be true.

Why? Because Americans get their history from movies. It's why we don't think cowboys rollerskated (one of the alleged "historical crimes" of "Heaven's Gate," althought it was historically accurate) or enjoyed Shakespeare (they did), or that all of Texas looks like either the California desert of the Davis Mountains of the Trans-Pecos region.

And that's why I have no interest in "United 93." Because all you really have to do to understand that film, is to follow the money.

"Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?"--Alanis Morissette

NYT:

A long-running effort by the Bush administration to send home many of the terror suspects held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has been stymied in part because of concern among United States officials that the prisoners may not be treated humanely by their own governments, officials said.

Administration officials have said they hope eventually to transfer or release many of the roughly 490 suspects now held at Guantánamo. As of February, military officials said, the Pentagon was ready to repatriate more than 150 of the detainees once arrangements could be made with their home countries.

But those arrangements have been more difficult to broker than officials in Washington anticipated or have previously acknowledged, raising questions about how quickly the administration can meet its goal of scaling back detention operations at Guantánamo.

"The Pentagon has no plans to release any detainees in the immediate future," said a Defense Department spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon of the Navy. He said the negotiations with foreign governments "have proven to be a complex, time-consuming and difficult process."

The military has so far sent home 267 detainees from Guantánamo after finding that they had no further intelligence value and either posed no long-term security threat or would reliably be imprisoned or monitored by their own governments. Most of those who remain are considered more dangerous militants; many also come from nations with poor human rights records and ineffective justice systems.

But Washington's insistence on humane treatment for the detainees in their native countries comes after years in which Guantánamo has been assailed as a symbol of American abuse and hypocrisy — a fact not lost on the governments with which the United States is now negotiating.

"It is kind of ironic that the U.S. government is placing conditions on other countries that it would not follow itself in Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib," said a Middle Eastern diplomat from one of the countries involved in the talks. He asked not to be named to avoid criticizing the United States in the name of his government.
Yes, isn't it?

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Machine Stops

I can do things, here, that Forster never dreamt of. But then, Forster knew things that I've never dreamt of.

It is a dangerous thing to read. In E.M. Forster's one science fiction story, "The Machine Stops," he imagines a world much like Clifford Simak's "Huddling Place," where humans communicate via technology and, having lost almost all taste and expectation of human contact, come to abhor movement out of their comfortable, isolated "nest".* Communication, for Forster's imagined world, is through the Machine, by "visiplate," something that gives the image of the person, but not, of course, the person. We who are so used to TV and video cameras might even object to Forster's representation, but still there is something in it:


"...He broke off, and she fancied that he looked sad. She could not be sure, for the Machine did not transmit nuances of expression. It only gave a general idea of people--an idea that was good enough for all practical purposes, Vashti thought. The imponderable bloom, declared by a discredited philosophy to be the actual essence of intercourse, was rightly ignored by the Machine, just as the imponderable bloom of the grape was ignored by manufacturers of
artificial fruit. Something 'good enough' had long since been accepted by our race."
Now you will say we have already avoided that fate; that we have turned from artificial food more and more to organic; but that misses the point, doesn't it? Isn't the Machine precisely how we know the world now? I am listening to an operatic singer I couldn't possibly hear live, certainly not at my convenience. But do I get the nuances of expression, of the music itself? No one who has heard a live performance would think so. The "imponderable bloom" of the live act (pace Glenn Gould) is undeniable. What the Machine gives me is only a general idea, really; and one that is good enough, for all practical purposes. (Not coincidentally, in the story Vashti shows all the signs of worshipping the Machine, even as she protests that "All fear and the superstition that existed once have been destroyed by the Machine." Echoes of the future are everywhere, it seems.)

The same is true for cell phones, for TV, for telephones; and we accept it. But the same is also true for blogs, for comments, for the Internet. This is only the general idea of who I am, what I have to say, what I think is worth sharing. And is that good enough, for all practical purposes? Is that enough to affect the world?

Jesus, it is often noted by skeptics, didn't write anything down. It is true; and it is a virtue. Jesus left nothing to the intermediate medium of writing (a redundancy, of course, but we have so far come to regard writing that we overlook the original meaning of the second term; pace Derrida). Jesus preferred the imponderable bloom that is the essence of social intercourse, of human intercourse, even of human existence. There is much to be said for the dry humor of Jesus; for the barbed wit, the twinkle in his eye (I imagine it especially as he looks at Simon the Pharisee and asks his first fateful question); the anger in his voice in the Temple. Such things are barely captured on paper by the best of writers, and even then are overlooked by subsequent generations, subsequent cultures. We who come so long after the premiere of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony can't imagine the shock those rhythmic cords had in 19th century Vienna. How much less, then, can we capture through writing what one person said to another, what one person is saying to another now?

Especially writing as flat and soundless and disembodied as that which we find on the Internet? Even the good stuff is mostly shock and awe and pyrotechnics, and oddly reminiscent of the "cousins" and the "conversations" Montag's wife has with her video screens in Fahrenheit 451. It is meant to stir rather than inform, to incite rather than provide insight, to confirm rather than confront.

Is that because we've lost the "imponderable bloom," and are seeking a simulacrum? Is it because, as George Bush once famously said, "We don't do 'nuance' in Texas"? And now, thanks to the uniter (who is not a divider) of left blogistan, we are all Texans?

*Yes, I've already realized these ideas are not entirely original; Google and the Internet are great humblers.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

It is good to teach poetry

I had forgotten just how insightful and relevant this poem still is:

September 1, 1939, by W.H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame

What has changed since 9/11? Our blind skyscrapers used their full height to proclaim the strength of Economic Man. The fort assumed the furniture of home, until we were forced to see where we are: "Lost in a haunted wood,/Children afraid of the night/Who have never been happy or good." We didn't like that, so we struck out at Afghanistan, and then Iraq, and soon Iran. Our "accurate scholarship" was called on to unearth the "whole offence," but we carefully kept our part in the story away from our own eyes. We still clearly and so painfully crave what we cannot have: not universal love, but to be loved alone. There's the whole sum of the consumer culture we have created, which we pursue with all the energy we can muster, which we must pursue, or we will simply die.

Or so we tell ourselves; and never consider the lives of people who live by a different culture, a different standard, or that our economic model is only 4 centuries old, and is neither the pinnacle nor the purpose of human existence. We still prefer the lie of Authority. And we still have only a voice, to undo that folded lie.

And we can still only hope to show an affirming flame.

Unstoppable force?

I and the public know
What all school children learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.--W.H. Auden

Sec. Rumsfeld says:

``We need to put Iraq and Afghanistan in that context so that those people in our country who are deeply concerned about Iran, which is understandable, recognize that success in Afghanistan and success in Iraq is critical to containing the extreme impulses that we see emanating from Iran,'' Rumsfeld said according a transcript released by the Department of Defense.
And this:

In an interview on the Pentagon's internal television channel Rumsfeld said those who believe the cost of the war in Iraq is too high should consider how failure would ``advance'' the cause of the Iranian government, which the U.S. says is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
So, in the interest of providing context, I found this at Harpers.org. Bunker busters would be the weapon of choice in this battle, since we don't have the boots on the ground to invade Iran. But apparently "bunker busters" are another chimerical idea that keeps running into the immovable object of the physical universe:

The Defense Department’s Nuclear Posture Review for 2001 laments that the B61-11 “cannot survive penetration into many types of terrain in which hardened underground facilities are located.” This is a generous analysis: the “terrain” referred to is the hard rock under which valuable targets are almost always buried. When dropped from a height of 40,000 feet, the B61-11 was able to penetrate three meters at most into the Alaskan tundra, and not at all into hard rock (that is, without self-destructing).

The inadequacy of the B61-11 is due not to a particularly poor construction but rather to the basic limitations of bomb-making steel. In the test drops performed in Alaska, the B61-11 reached roughly 300 meters per second at impact. In order to penetrate reinforced concrete, it would need to be traveling at approximately 500 meters per second. At around 900 meters per second, the shock wave generated by the missile’s slamming into the ground will deform it severely; at 1,200 meters per second, the missile will in most cases break into pieces. To penetrate granite—ubiquitous in mountainous bunkers, and believed to be common above any truly valuable bunker—a penetrator would have to attain upward of 3,000 meters per second, at which speed it would certainly be crushed. Robert Nelson of Princeton University has demonstrated that because of the limitations imposed by the yield strength of the steel used in casings, no bunker buster can ever go fast enough to penetrate reinforced concrete deeper than five times its length without destroying itself in the process; and even this number is too high for any real-world scenario. What is more, the length of the bomb cannot be increased much, for two reasons: there are no aircraft capable of carrying a weapon much longer than the ones that are currently deployed; and as length increases, so does the tendency of the bomb to snap in two on impact.
I especially like the image of the bunker buster skipping across the ground like a rock skimmed over a pond. And then imagine it with a nuclear warhead:

The most stubborn part of the fantasy is that a “low-yield” bunker buster could be employed as a “clean” nuclear weapon, whose explosion and fallout would be contained underground. This aspiration is most explicitly laid out in a report from the Defense Department Science Board entitled “Future Strategic Strike Forces,” which imagines that “[p]enetration [by a nuclear bunker-buster] to a depth of 50 to 55 meters would enable disablement of 100-meter-deep underground facilities by contained 400-ton explosions.” Let us, for the moment, forget the fact that 50 meters is more than twice the depth it is physically possible for any penetrator, real or idealized, to burrow into rock. According to the government’s own guidelines, drawn up during the decades in which it tested nuclear weapons under the Nevada desert, a 400-ton explosion would have to occur a full 600 meters underground in order to be “contained.” These guidelines also stipulate a carefully sealed burial shaft to contain the blast, not a maw. Even the B61-11, at its current, inadequate impact speeds, does not burrow a clean rabbit-hole in the ground but rather kicks up a crater like a meteorite; any faster-moving penetrator would do so to a still greater degree.

Even supposing that the missile’s point of entry were miraculously neat, a nuclear blast at the depths a real missile could attain would invariably breach the surface of the earth, expelling a hot fallout cloud in what is known as a “base surge.” Base surges are more dangerous than traditional fallout clouds because they are more toxic, containing irradiated particles of dirt and rock. They also spread more quickly, sweeping across the surface of the earth in every direction, outward rather than upward. Bunkers are usually built in urban areas, so many thousands of deaths would be a virtual certainty. Even a 1-kiloton bunker buster—a relative firecracker, with a tiny fraction of the explosive power of the high-yield RNEP—detonated at fifty feet underground could eject about 1,000,000 cubic meters of radioactive soil.
The article ends noting that, during the Cold War, it became apparent that nuclear weapons could never be used, and existed only as a deterrent. That was the grim logic of Mutually Assured Destruction. But now?

Deterrence remains the government’s public justification for building more nuclear weapons, but the term has undergone semantic drift. What today is passed off as deterrence by proponents of low-yield bunker busters and the RNEP is not, as it once was, the demonstrable ability of nuclear weapons to prevent nuclear war but the unproven power of unworkable weapons to bully other countries into abjuring any action at all deemed offensive by the United States.
And the easily anticipated result in international affairs?

If we are developing nuclear weapons that our government says we might use, there is no incentive for smaller countries not to go after their own weapons as quickly and quietly as possible—down in the very bunkers we are unable to destroy.
This article was published in December, 2004. Zbigniew Brzezinski published his thoughts on the invasion of Iran more recently (but, tellingly, in the International Herald Tribune, not a U.S. daily), and while the highlight would seem to be the unconstitutional nature of such an action, this is probably the more realistic brake:

3. Oil prices would climb steeply, especially if the Iranians cut their production and seek to disrupt the flow of oil from the nearby Saudi oil fields. The world economy would be severely impacted, with America blamed for it. Note that oil prices have already shot above $70 per barrel, in part because of fears of a U.S./Iran clash.
But here's the real issue:

2. Likely Iranian reactions would significantly compound ongoing U.S. difficulties in Iraq and in Afghanistan, perhaps precipitate new violence by Hezbollah in Lebanon, and in all probability cause the United States to become bogged down in regional violence for a decade or more to come. Iran is a country of some 70 million people and a conflict with it would make the misadventure in Iraq look trivial.
And the solution is really quite simple:

The choice is either to be stampeded into a reckless adventure profoundly damaging to long-term U.S. national interests or to become serious about giving negotiations with Iran a genuine chance to be productive. The mullahs were on the skids several years ago but were given a new burst of life by the intensifying confrontation with the United States.

The U.S. strategic goal, pursued by real negotiations and not by posturing, should be to separate Iranian nationalism from religious fundamentalism. Treating Iran with respect and within a historical perspective would help to advance that objective.
Sadly, though, this White House doesn't seem to "do" history.

So we turn to the Congress. Can we have the discussion now about Sy Hersh's story? Please?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why "the peace of God, it is no peace..."

Wendell Berry:

Here is the other question that I have been leading toward, one that the predicament of modern warfare forces upon us: How many deaths of other people’s children by bombing or starvation are we willing to accept in order that we may be free, affluent, and (supposedly) at peace? To that question I answer: None. Please, no children. Don’t kill any children for my benefit.

If that is your answer too, then you must know that we have not come to rest, far from it. For surely we must feel ourselves swarmed about with more questions that are urgent, personal, and intimidating. But perhaps also we feel ourselves beginning to be free, facing at last in our own selves the greatest challenge ever laid before us, the most comprehensive vision of human progress, the best advice, and the least obeyed:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Peace of God, it is no Peace

This started here, and traveled here, and now comes back here.

But first, I see I've been here before, and more than once. Isn't Google wonderful? I went looking for this old hymn, to be sure I had the words right, and I found instead two earlier posts with the same title; different subjects, and not the subject now, but the same title. Which means either I am in a rut, or that “I know nothing except what everyone knows—if there when grace dances, I should dance.”(Auden) Lying on the couch suffering a 24 hour bug yesterday (and the day AMC runs a Godfather marathon! I am surfeited with operatic American crime stories now, or nearly so) I got to see most of Anthony Quinn's turn as "Zorba the Greek." Like Zorba's "Boss," I wonder now how much good books are, and think maybe I should learn to dance.

But that, too, is another matter. Maybe the words of that hymn are worth thinking about first:

They cast their nets in Galilee just off the hills of brown;
such happy, simple fisherfolk before the Lord came down.

Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful and broke them too.

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless, in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teeming net, headdown was crucified.

The peace of God it is not peace, but strife closed in the sod,
Yet let us pray for just one thing--the marvelous peace of God.


William Alexander Percy (alt.)

Not words welcome in Left Blogistan, or among most Christians. We all want peace; and we want it now; and we want it on our terms. We want it to be an economic transaction: we pay our dues, meet the price, and the reward is greater than our investment. That's what we expect from our stocks and bonds and bank accounts; why shouldn't we get the same arrangement from God?

The Archbishop said it best to Michael Corleone, in the Vatican. Standing by a fountain, he said "This rock has been in the water a long time. Yet the water has not penetrated it." He then bent down, retrieved the rock from the water, broke it open, and said: "You see. It is dry at the heart. Men in Europe have been surrounded by Christianity for centuries. And yet it has not penetrated." And shortly after that, Michael Corleone made his confession. But it is the truth: all of western culture has been surrounded by Christianity for centuries. But it has not penetrated. Perhaps because the peace of God we seek, is not the peace of God which is offered. Perhaps because Zorba is right: if books can't tell us why the good die young (he says this just after a young widow, having spent the night with the Englishman, the "Boss" of Zorba's acquaintance, has her throat slit in public for being an adultress and bringing shame on the village), then what good are they?

"Boss" doesn't have a good answer.

But I said this was a response to Phila: and here is that part; appropriately, from a book.

"In one of his Heretical Essays on the Philosophy of History Jan Patocka relates secrecy, or more precisely the mystery of the sacred, to responsibility. He opposes one to the other; or rather underscores their heterogeneity. Somewhat in the manner of Levinas he warns against an experience of the sacred as an enthusiasm or fervor for fusion, cautioning in particular against a form of demonic rapture that has as its effect, and often as its first intention, the removal of responsibility, the loss of the sense or consciousness of responsibility. At the same time Patocka wants to distinguish religion from the demonic form of sacralization. What is a religion? Religion presumes access to the responsibility of a free self. It thus implies breaking with this type of secrecy (for it is not of course the only one), that associated with sacred mystery and with what Patoeka regularly calls the demonic. A distinction is to be made between the demonic on the one hand (that which confuses the limits among the animal, the human, and. the divine, and which retains an affinity with mystery, the initiatory, the esoteric, the secret or the sacred) and responsibility on the other. This therefore amounts to a thesis on the origin and essence of the religious.

"Under what conditions can one speak of a religion, in the proper sense of the term, if such a thing exists? Under what conditions can we speak of a history of religion, and first and foremost of the Christian religion? In noting that Patocka refers only to the example of his own religion I do not seek to denounce an omission or establish the guilt of a failure to develop a comparative analysis. On the contrary, it seems necessary to reinforce the coherence of a way of thinking that takes into account the event of Christian mystery as an absolute singularity, a religion par excellence and an irreducible condition for a joint history of the subject, responsibility, and Europe. That is so even if, here and there, the expression "history of religions" appears in the plural, and even if one can only infer from this plural a reference to Judaic, Islamic, and Christian religions alone, those known as religions of the Book.

"According to Patocka one can speak of religion only after the demonic secret, and the orgiastic sacred, have been surpassed. We should let that term retain its essential ambiguity. In the proper sense of the word, religion exists once the secret of the sacred, orgiastic, or demonic mystery has been, if not destroyed, at least integrated, and finally subjected to the sphere of responsibility. The subject of responsibility will be the subject that has managed to make orgiastic or demonic mystery subject to itself; and has done that in order to freely subject itself to the wholly and infinite other that sees without being seen. Religion is responsibility or it is nothing at all. Its history derives its sense entirely from the idea of a passage to responsibility. Such a passage involves traversing or enduring the test by means of which the ethical conscience will be delivered of the demonic, the mystagogic and the enthusiastic, of the initiatory and the esoteric. In the authentic sense of the word, religion comes into being the moment that the experience of responsibility extracts itself from that form of secrecy called demonic mystery.

"Since the concept of the daimon crosses the boundaries separat-ing the human, the animal, and the divine, one will not be surprised to see Patocka recognizing in it a dimension that is essentially that of sexual desire. In what respect does this demonic mystery of desire involve us in a history of responsibility, more precisely in history as responsibility?

" 'The demonic is to be related to responsibility; in the beginning such a relation did not exist.' In other words, the demonic is originally defined as irresponsibility, or, if one wishes, as nonresponsibility. It belongs to a space in which there has not yet resounded the injunction to respond; a space in which one does not yet hear the call to explain onself, one's actions or one's thoughts, to respond to the other and answer for oneself before the other. The genesis of responsibility that Patocka proposes will not simply describe a history of religion or religiousness. It will be combined with a genealogy of the subject who says "myself," the subject's relation to itself as an instance of liberty, singularity, and responsibility, the relation to self as being before the other: the other in its relation to infinite alterity, one who regards without being seen but also whose infinite goodness gives in an experience that amounts to a gift of death. Let us for the moment leave that expression in all its ambiguity.

"Since this genealogy is also a history of sexuality, it follows the traces of a genius of Christianity that is the history of Europe. For at the center of Patocka's essay the stakes are clearly defined as follows: how to interpret "the birth of Europe in the modern sense of the term"? How to conceive of "the expansion of Europe" before and after the Crusades? More radically still, what is it that ails "modern civilization" inasmuch as it is European? Not that it suffers from a particular fault or from a particular form of blindness. Rather, why does it suffer from ignorance of its history, from a failure to assume its responsibility, that is, the memory of its history as history of responsibility?"

Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, tr. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1995), pp. 1-4.

Let me first say you will search the work of Daniel Dennett in vain for any reference to Derrida, Petocka, or any other serious reflection on the philosophy of religion. Certainly his idea of the 'demonic' would be as mythological and superstitious (and so useless) as that of anyone sitting in a pew, or anyone who refuses to sit in a pew. So let this passage stand as the final flicking away of the uselessness of thoughts like Dennet's in any discussion of religion, for believers and non-believers alike.

So, Zorba and the Boss represent religion; if you will. Zorba is the wild, the irresponsible, in some ways (to the "Boss") the demonic. Certainly he almost refuses to be responsible for his actions; he curses the "Boss" at the end, when the old French woman in the village comes to Zorba and insists they be married. "What have you done to me?", he asks the Englishman. Bu that is just the beginning of the struggle; and the story ends with Zorba teaching the Englishman to dance. "In the proper sense of the word, religion exists once the secret of the sacred, orgiastic, or demonic mystery has been, if not destroyed, at least integrated, and finally subjected to the sphere of responsibility."

It is equally worth noting that America has its ahistorical perspective, but, says Derrida, so does Europe. The two conditions do not at all appear alike, but they stem from the same root. Twain would never use the language of Derrida, but his critique of 19th century American imperialism is grounded in the same understanding of the importance of responsibility, and of taking responsiblity.

With any luck Blogger will publish this much today, and we can continue to mine this vein further.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Fish Continues to Rot from the Head

Or, why I am not terribly excited by what Harry Reid said. As the topic was discussed on Democracy Now!:

"The Issue is Not Whether the Military Option Would Be Used But Who Approved the Start of Operations Already"

Amy Goodman interviewed retired Air Force colonel Sam Gardiner.

COL. SAM GARDINER: Well, the evidence is beginning to accumulate that a decision has already been made to use military force in Iran. Now, let me do a historical thing, and then I'll tell you what the current evidence is. We now know that the decision and the actual actions to bomb Iraq occurred in July of 2002, before we ever had a U.N. resolution or before the Congress ever authorized it. It was an operation called Southern Focus, and the only guidance that the military -- or the guidance that the military had from Rumsfeld was keep it below the CNN line. His specific words. The evidence that we've already --

AMY GOODMAN: Keep it below what?

COL. SAM GARDINER: The CNN line. In other words, I don't want this to appear on CNN, okay? That was his guidance to the military, you can begin to bomb Iraq, but don't let it appear on CNN. You're catching your breath.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah.
And then he lays it out, very simply, very neatly: we are at war, again.

COL. SAM GARDINER: I think the same thing has happened, and the evidence -- let me give you two or three evidences. First of all, the Iranians in their press have been writing now for almost a year that the United States is involved inside Iran conducting and supporting those who conduct military operations, attacks on military convoys. They've even accused the United States of shooting down a couple airplanes inside Iran. Okay, so there's that evidence from their side.

I was in Berlin three weeks ago, sat next to the Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and I asked him a question. I read these stories about Americans being involved in there, and how do you react to that? And he said, oh, we know they are. We've captured people who are working with them, and they've confessed. So, another piece of evidence.

Let me give you a couple more. Seymour Hersh, in his New Yorker article, said that there are Americans in three locations operating inside Iran. Another point. We know that there is a group in Iraq, a Kurdish group called the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, that crosses the border from Iraq into Iran, and they have taken credit for killing numbers of revolutionary guard military people. And the interesting part about that is, you know, we tell the Syrians, ‘Don't let that happen. Don't let people come across the border and stir things up in Iraq,’ but we don't seem to be putting any brakes on on this unit. So, you know, the evidence is pretty strong that the pattern is being followed.

Now, the question that really follows from that is “Who authorized that?” See, there is no congressional authorization to conduct combat operations against Iran. There are a couple of possibilities. One of them is that it's being justified under the terrorism authorization that occurred in 2001. The problem with that is that you would have to prove a connection to 9/11. I don't think you can do that with Iran. The second possibility is that it's being done under the War Powers Act. I don't want to get too technical, but the War Powers Act would require the President to notify the Congress 60 days after the use of military force or invasion or putting military forces in a new country under that legislation, and the President hasn't notified the Congress that American troops are operating inside Iran. So it's a very serious question about the constitutional framework under which we are now conducting military operations in Iran.
So, to Sen. Reid, I want to ask: have we taken the military option away from this Administration? And do we have any choice but to do so?

Why I don't read Texas Monthly

For some reason I can't resist comment on this profile of Tom DeLay in Texas Monthly. It is typical of the mendacity of Texas Monthly, which never bites the hand in power: even as it critiques DeLay for his excesses, it attempts to "analyze" the politics of the race for the 22nd Congressional district by getting all the facts wrong, or simply ignoring them.

For example:

A special election to fill the rest of DeLay’s term, which expires in January, would have helped Lampson. The Republican vote would have split among several candidates, allowing Lampson to win—which is why Governor Perry chose to leave the seat vacant for now. The GOP nominee on the November ballot will be chosen by the method Eric Thode explained to DeLay’s staffer: The county chairs of the district’s four counties, along with one precinct chair from each county, will choose the nominee. If this were an ordinary Republican primary, the front-runners would be David Wallace, the mayor of Sugar Land, and Robert Eckels, a former state legislator who is now county judge of Harris County. But only eight votes matter, so anything could happen. For example, there has already been some discussion of the three non-Houston counties ganging up on the big city. Thode told me on the night DeLay quit that he expected the county chairs to meet fairly soon so that the chosen candidate could start campaigning.
Start at the top of that paragraph, and work your way down. A special election is required under Art. I, sec. 2, of the U.S. Constitution. Whether Perry can refuse to call one is an open question. It depends, just now, on when DeLay actually resigns. Which he hasn't done yet.

He's only announced that he will resign. Soon.

I don't know how much of a vacuum the courts have permitted in such situations; i.e., how far away from a regular election will the courts decide a special election is unnecessary? This is a key issue, because many factors, as I said before, are in play just now:

1) DeLay needs to resign in order to get his name off the ballot and to allow the GOP in Texas to replace him on the ballot. As the Texas Monthly article indicates, DeLay is no lawyer and apparently doesn't keep one on his staff. The article opens with a DeLay staff member calling the Fort Bend County GOP Chairman to ask about the procedure for replacing Delay on the ballot three months before he announced his resignation. Or rather, his intention to resign. As I say, he hasn't resigned yet.

2) If he doesn't resign within the right time frame, there could be a legal battle to keep his name on the ballot, something the Texas Monthly analysis never even considers.

3) There could also be a legal battle to force a special election. If DeLay leaves office close enough to November to obviate a special election (which Lampson, the Democrat, would probably win), is it too close under Texas law to get him off the ballot? And if he isn't off the ballot soon, how does another GOP member campaign for DeLay's seat?

Simple, obvious questions the article never even considers in its rush to declare the seat safely GOP. The article does a fairly good job of explaining DeLay's activities in the House, which were all and solely about accruing power. There is no law on the books with Tom DeLay's name on it (although there are many with his fingerprints deeply impressed into them). There is also no evidence that DeLay ever understood the law, except as a means of power. There is ample evidence DeLay still thinks that his will is law, or should be. As he said to Rush Limbaugh:

“No, there won’t be a special election,” .... “Texas has a law that there’s only two dates that you can have a special election, November and May, and this weekend the deadline for the May special election will have passed.”
I really don't know where he got that information, because he's just flat wrong. And the requirement for a special election is in the U.S. Constitution, which would overrule Texas law on this point, anyway. As Reuters reported:

An election could be held between May 13 and the November 7 vote if the governor, a Republican, wants it, but Perry's comment appeared to rule that out and raise the possibility the congressional seat could be empty for a while.

If the regular and special election are held on the same day, and there are two different winners, the winner of the special election would serve only until the winner of the regular election is sworn in January 2007.
Again, no mention of this in the Texas Monthly article.

And note, finally, that this e-mail from Fort Bend GOP chairman Thode was quoted by Fort Bend Now on April 5:

DeLay’s resignation “will lead the governor to declare the seat vacant and either set a special election or leave the seat vacant for the remainder of the term ending December 31,” Fort Bend County Republican Party Chairman Eric Thode said in an email to party faithful on Wednesday. “If one is called, the special election should have NO impact on how the place on the ballot gets filled. In fact, I would argue that it could impair the Republican Party in November.”
Somehow, though, that very partisan information didn't make it into the Texas Monthly article.

Gee, wonder why not?

Addendum: Burka writes:

But DeLay’s fall is not a tragedy, for he was not a victim of fate. He has no one to blame but himself.
This, of course, has nothing to do with tragedy. In fact, the great tragic heroes, like Oedipus, Creon in Antigone, or Lear, all fall from self-inflicted wounds. No, the reason DeLay is not a tragic figure is that he is not in the least sympathetic. No one bemoans his fall; most rational people cheer it.

DeLay has all the required elements of a tragic hero: a man of great power and influence, matched (and attained by )great hubris, which of course is his hamartia. He suffers not only a reversal of fortune, but a reversal of intention as well. And why? As Burka points out, the wounds are all self-inflicted. Even Burka can't quite see that DeLay's sins more than outweigh DeLay being "one of the ablest politicians of our time and an essential benefactor to his region and his state."

Burka inadvertently sums up DeLay's tenure in the midst of trying to point out that "everybody does it": "He didn’t care how blatant he came across, as long as he got the money." And that's precisely why DeLay is not a tragic figure. Not because his wounds were self-inflicted (they were); not because "everybody does it" (they do, but practice does not make illegal acts legal, or ethical); and not because DeLay is being attacked by a Democrat District Attorney.

It's because Tom DeLay generates about as much sympathy as the bugs he used to exterminate. And he seems to like it that way. It's because DeLay has absolutely no interest in the common good, and is only interested in what serves Tom DeLay, which is why he still hasn't resigned. Tragic heroes like Oedipus and Lear and Creon suffered because their hubris blinded them to the effects of their actions on the common good, and their punishment was just because of their selfishness. What is missing from politics today is precisely what DeLay lacked and Burka derides: a sense of the common good, of the public interest, that corrects and controls excesses. DeLay still doesn't understand that; and Paul Burka still doesn't understand that.

But if politics is to be redeemed, it will have to find that sense of common purpose, and place it at the center of political action again. Otherwise there is no hope, and no reason to hope; not for politics, at least.

Monday, April 17, 2006

"My death; is it possible?"--Jacques Derrida

I recognize some who come here regularly have a more personal relationship with death than they might like, but I still found this article significant for what it says now about our very human reactions to what Wittgenstein called "the one experience of life that is not lived through."

"The mausoleum says, 'I'm really significant in this world, I think I'm really significant to my family,' and this is one way to communicate that to the community," said Nancy Lohman, an owner along with her husband, Lowell, of this and several dozen other Florida cemeteries and funeral homes.

Mr. Peck, 87, an Atlanta native with a sonorous voice and a laconic manner, framed a similar thought more modestly. "It began to occur to me that I did not want to be in the ground covered with weeds and whatnot and totally forgotten," he said. "I don't like the idea of dirt being dumped on me."

Six feet up and not six feet under is increasingly the direction in which people want their remains stored when they die, representatives of the funeral industry say. In addition to custom single-family mausoleums, community mausoleums for both coffins and cremated remains are also gaining popularity; in classical or contemporary styles, these often have room to hold hundreds of niches for coffins or urns.

The Cold Spring Granite Company, among the country's largest makers of cemetery monuments, sold 2,000 private mausoleums last year, up from about 65 during a good year in the 1980's. Prices range from $250,000 to "well into the millions," said Michael T. Baklarz, a vice president of the company.

The development is perhaps logically to be expected of those at the leading edge of the baby boom generation, which forms the bulk of the market. The progression seems natural for the folks who gave the world blocklong, gas-hogging sport utility vehicles and lot-hogging 40,000-square-foot suburban homes.

"It's in keeping with the McMansion mentality of boomers," said Thomas Lynch, an author and funeral director in Michigan. "Real estate is an extension of personhood."

The market for the custom structures is greatest on the coasts, although exclusive estate sections have recently been set aside for private mausoleums at cemeteries in Atlanta, Cleveland and Minneapolis.

Some mausoleums echo the temple of the goddess Fortuna Virilis in Rome. Some are hefty, rusticated stone barns. Some have more square footage than a good-size Manhattan studio apartment, their interiors fitted out with hand-knotted carpets, upholstered benches and nooks for the display of memorabilia. In late 2004, a Southern California family ordered a mausoleum with room for 12 coffins, 20 cremation niches and a patterned marble vestibule.
Several observations can be made at this point, but perhaps the most poignant is: of all the places no one in modern society wants to go except under duress or extreme need, my observation is that the hospital ranks second; the graveyard ranks first.

At one time graveyards were next to, if not surrounding, churches. The graveyard was the churchyard. And the church, of course, was the center of the community. But even the church I served that had a family graveyard which had been open for over a century, ignored it. Some years before I became pastor of the church, the Boy Scout Troop the church sponsored cleaned up the graveyard as one boy's Eagle Scout project. Years later, people still told me how overgrown it had been. But nobody in the church had cared, despite the fact their families were buried there (albeit relatives, for the most part, not mothers, fathers, siblings). And even elderly children grow tired of tending private cemeteries (I know of at least one here in Houston, in a parking lot that was a family farm only 50 years ago; within my lifetime, in other words). The sad truth is that when the dead are gone, the living soon stop remembering them.

It wasn't always that way, and it doesn't have to be that way. Memorial Day was once "Decoration Day." People went to the graveyards for picnics, to dine among the dead, family and friends and relatives. Death then occurred in the front room, and burial was a quick matter. Now I know people who don't even want the funeral of their loved ones in their church; they want the idea of death to be kept carefully circumscribed from their life. Which, given our longer lives, may be a good thing. But death, like illness, is something we try to keep away from our daily lives as much as possible. We go to cemeteries for graveside services, and even then only if it is close family, and even then are glad the service is brief. And we hardly ever go back. So who is going to tend a mausoleum with carpets and displays and comfortable benches?

The denial of death is not peculiarly American; and it isn't a unique property of baby-boomers to want to leave something to posterity. But it is a function of money, and of the illusion that money and power can be used to work our will irrevocably on the world.

But who can say how we will face the end? I have tried to recognize that I won't go underground, that the premature burial that so plagued Poe and 19th century America (and was a reality, as the comatose were mistaken for corpses) won't be a reality, and what is buried won't be aware of its burial. I would prefer to be cremated, and my ashed kept in a shoebox in my daughter's desk. But when the time comes, might I prefer a mausoleum to my accomplishments? Might I wonder, to the end, if my death is really possible?

Who Watches the Watchers?

Just to disagree with Atrios, I suppose: aside from the obvious point, which is that active duty generals will soon find themselves retired if they complain about the civilian leadership, there is an important and fundamental question here:

Should the retired generals criticize the civilian government?

Richard Holbrooke considers the question, and concludes with this rather ominous forecast:

That first White House reaction will not be the end of the story. If more angry generals emerge -- and they will -- if some of them are on active duty, as seems probable; if the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan does not turn around (and there is little reason to think it will, alas), then this storm will continue until finally it consumes not only Donald Rumsfeld. The only question is: Will it come so late that there is no longer any hope of salvaging something in Iraq and Afghanistan?
I think it may actually be worse than that.

Generals both retired and active duty have been concerned that criticism is even being raised, because the American tradition is that the military should not question the civilians.

But neither should the civilians be allowed to wrap themslves in the flag of "Support our Troops" while doing precisely the opposite. The problem here is partly an issue of who runs the military, but more profoundly an issue of: why do we have a standing army?

The standing army is the legacy of WWII, and the reason Eisenhower spoke about the "military-industrial complex." It is, IOW, a new thing in American history. We had military forces, but even some of the the forces in WWI were the "Expeditionary Force" (sounds almost romantic, doesn't it? Like the "Foreign Legion.")(was that even the whole army?). We geared up an entirely civilian force in WWII in record time, and outproduced the war machines of Germany and Japan to win that war. It was an amazing feat.

And today, we are a muscle-bound giant, helpless in our power, still beset by the conviction that with the right attitude ("Support our Troops!") we could win any conflict. "Win," of course, meaning end it like WWII ended.

And this is all related to the issue of Iraq and, as Holbrooke notes, to who is higher in the chain of command than SOD. Iraq is precisely what happens when you have a standing army (and nuclear weapons). Sooner or later, somebody just has to use it. And yet, if we are also invested in protecting it, well...what then? Who rules?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Sermon Watch

The Archbishop said he knew that conspiracies have their appeal. "We have become so suspicious ... the first assumption we make is that ... we're faced with spin of some kind. So that the modern response to the proclamation 'Christ is Risen!' is likely to be, 'Ah, but you would say that, wouldn't you? Now what's the real agenda?'"

But the New Testament does not fit this model, Dr Williams says. In fact, he argues, it was revolutionary for its time. "It was written by people who, by writing what they did made themselves less powerful, not more ... it was written by people who were trying to find a language that would catch up with a reality bigger than they had expected."

The world is now full of Christians following the same risky and radical traditions - such as Abdul Rahman, the Christian convert threatened with death in Afghanistan, he adds. "If we want to know what it is about today, we need to turn to the people who are taking the same risks, struggling with the same mystery. We need to look at the martyrs and the mystics.

"There are places in our world where conversion to Christianity is literally a matter of putting your life on the line. We have all been following the story of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan and we know that his story is not unique. We can say with absolute certainty that whatever the gospel means in circumstances like that, it isn't a cover-up for the sake of the powerful."
I am less disturbed by these things than the Archbishop may be (I'd have to read his text first, to be sure), but he makes a good point, regardless.

Mark 16:1-8 (SV)

And when the sabbath day was over, Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices so they could go and embalm him. And very early on the first day of the week they got to the tomb just as the sun was coming up. And they had been asking themselves, "Who will help us roll the stone away from the opening of the tomb?" Then they look up and discover that the stone has been rolled away! (For in fact the stone was very large.)

And when they went into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right, wearing a white robe, and they grew apprehensive.

He says to them, "Don't be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified. He was raised, he is not here! Look at the spot where they put him! But go and tell his disciples, including 'Rock,' he is going ahead of you to Galilee! There you will see him, just as he told you."

And once they got outside, they ran away from the tomb, because great fear and excitement got the better of them. And they didn't breathe a word of it to anyone: talk about terrified. . .

Saturday, April 15, 2006

LACHRIMAE AMANTIS, Geoffrey Hill

What is there in my heart
that you should sue so fiercely for its love?
What kind of care brings you
as though a stranger to my door
through the long night and in the icy dew

seeking the heart that will not harbor you,
that keeps itself religiously secure?
At this dark solstice filled with frost and fire
your passion's ancient wounds must bleed anew.

So many nights the angel of my house
has fed such urgent comfort through a dream,
whispered "your lord is coming, he is close"

that I have drowsed half-faithful for a time
bathed in pure tones of promise and remorse:
"tomorrow I shall wake to welcome him."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Paul Tillich

"The stories of the crucifixion the agony and the death of Jesus are connected with a group of events in nature: Darkness covers the land; the curtain of the temple is torn in two; the earth is shaken and the bodies of the saints rise out of their graves. Nature, with trembling, participates in the decisive event of history.

"The sun veils its head; the temple makes the gesture of mourning; the foundations of the earth are moved; the tombs are opened. Nature is in an uproar because something is happening which concerns the universe.

"Since the time of the evangelists, wherever the story of Golgotha has been told as the turning event in the world-drama of salvation, the role nature played in this drama has also been told. Painters of the crucifixion have used all their artistic power to express the darkness over the land in almost unnatural colors. I remember my own earliest impression of Good Friday - the feeling of the mystery of the divine suffering, first of all, through the compassion of nature. And so did the centurion, the first pagan who witnessed for the Crucified. Filled with awe, with numinous dread, he understood in a naive-profound way that something more had hap-pened than the death of a holy and innocent man.

"The sun veiled its face because of the depth of evil and shame it saw under the Cross. But the sun also veiled its face because its power over the world had ceased once and forever in these hours of its darkness.

"The great shining and burning god of everything that lives on earth, the sun who was praised and feared and adored by innumerable human beings during thousands and thousands of years, had been deprived of its divine power when one human being, in ultimate agony, maintained His unity with that which is greater than the sun. Since those hours of darkness it is manifest that not the sun, but a suffering and struggling soul which cannot be broken by all the powers of the universe is the image of the Highest, and that the sun can only be praised in the way of St. Francis, who called it our brother, but not our god.

" 'The curtain of the temple was torn in two.' The temple tore its gown as the mourners did because He, to whom the temple belonged more than to anybody else, was thrown out and killed by the servants of the temple. But the temple - and with it, all temples on earth - also complained of its own destiny. The curtain which made the temple a holy place, separated from other places, lost its separating power. He who was expelled as blaspheming the temple, had cleft the curtain and opened the temple for everybody, for every moment. This curtain cannot be mended anymore, although there are priests and ministers and pious people who try to mend it. They will not succeed because He, for whom every place was a sacred place, a place where God is present, has been hung upon the cross in the name of the holy place.

"When the curtain of the temple was tom in two, God judged religion and rejected temples. After this moment temples and churches can only mean places of concentration on the holy which is the ground and meaning of every place. And like the temple, the earth was judged at Golgotha. Trembling and shaking, the earth participated in the agony of the man on the cross and in the despair of all those who had seen in him the beginning of the new eon. Trembling and shaking, the earth proved that it is not the motherly ground on which we can safely build our houses and cities, our cultures and religious systems. Trembling and shaking, the earth pointed to another ground on which the earth itself rests: the self,surrendering love on which all earthly powers and values concentrate their hostility and which they cannot conquer. Since the hour when Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last and the rocks were split, the earth ceased to be the foundation of what we build on her. Only insofar as it has a deeper ground can it stand; only insofar as it is rooted in the same foundation in which the cross is rooted can it last.

"And the earth not only ceases to be the solid ground of life; she also ceases to be the lasting cave of death. Resurrection is not something added to the death of him who is the Christ; but it is implied in his death, as the story of the resurrection before the resurrection, indicates. No longer is the universe subjected to the law of death out of birth. It is subjected to a higher law, to the law of life out of death by the death of him who represented etemal life. The tombs were opened and bodies were raised when one man in whom God was present without limit committed his spirit into his Father's hands. Since this moment the universe is no longer what it was; nature has received another meaning; history is transformed and you and I are no more, and should not be anymore, what we were before."

Matthew 27:45-61

Beginning at noon darkness blanketed the entire land until mid-afternoon. And about 3 o'clock in the afternoon Jesus shouted at the top of his voice, "Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani" (which means "My God, my God, why did you abandon me?")

When some of those standing there heard, they would say, "This fellow's calling Elijah!" And immediately one of them ran and took a sponge filled with sour wine and fixed it on a a pole and offered him a drink.

But the rest would say, "Wait! Let's see if Elijah comes to rescue him."

Jesus again shouted at the top of his voice and stopped breathing.

And suddenly the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth quaked, rocks were split apart, and the tombs were opened and mahy bodies of sleeping saints came back to life. And they came out of the tomb after his resurrection and went into the holy city, where they appeared to many. The Roman officer and those keeping watch over Jesus with him witnessed the sign and what had happened, and were terrified, and said, "This man really was God's son."

Many women were there observing this from a distance--those who had followed Jesus from Galilee to assist him, among whom were Mary of Magdala, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When it had grown dark, a rich man from Armimathea, by the name of Joseph, who himself was a follower of Jesus, appeared, and went to Pilate and requested the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be turned over . And taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and put it in his new tomb, which had been cut in the rock. He rolled a huge stone in the opening of the tomb and went away. But Mary of Magdala and the other Mary stayed there, sitting opposite the tomb.

Good Friday, 2006

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.

But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.

They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.

But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.

All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,

He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.

But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts.

I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother's belly.

Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.

Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.

They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.

For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.

I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.

They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.

Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.

Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.

I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.

Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.

For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.

My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.

The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.

All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.

For the kingdom is the Lord's: and he is the governor among the nations.

All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.

A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.

They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I have to assume this would include Judas

13:10 Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you."

13:11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

13:12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?

13:13 You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am.

13:14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.

13:15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Both before, and after.

Compare it to Luke 7:36-50. There is an interesting tale of transmission here. The Synoptics and John don't share are many stories as we might imagine, but the anointing is one of them. For Mark and Matthew, that anointing takes place just before Jesus retires to the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke relocates it to the beginning of Jesus' public ministry away from the Pharisees (it is their last lesson, for awhile, in who is called to the basiliea tou theou). John's story takes place almost entirely from the time Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time (the cleansing of temple occurs right after the wedding in Cana). John includes the anointing story after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (which is only in John), and has it performed by Mary, while Martha serves; an echo of a similar story in Luke.

The other echo is here. Luke moved the anointing from the head to the feet. John keeps that alteration in chapter 12, and repeats the gesture in chapter 13. Luke's story clearly involves a prostitute (women in the company of men, even a wife, would be shamed as a whore in Jesus' time; his inclusion of women, and their willingness to be included, is more radical than we realize) and solicitation (her actions are straight from 1st century Greek erotic literature). Jesus' actions clearly accept her, even though she is a "sinner" (the point of the story). John's gospel includes no "last supper," but only this tale of foot-washing. It is the sacrament-that-wasn't, though it gives rise to the name for this day, "Maundy" being an older English word meaning "command." But when Jesus says "love one another--as I have loved you, so you are to love one another," Jesus doesn't say "except for traitors like Judas." And Jesus doesn't say "you should do as I have done for you, except for Judas." And John underlines that, by pointing out Jesus knew what Judas would do, but at no point does Jesus exclude Judas from the circle.

Neither before, nor after.

G.K. Chesterton

Our faith begins at the point where atheists suppose it must be at an end. Our faith begins with the bleakness and power which is one night of the cross, abandonment, temptation and doubt about everything that exists! Our faith must be born where it is abanoned by all tangible reality; it must be born of nothingness, taste this nothingness and be given it to taste in a way that no philosophy of nihilism can imagine. H. J. IWAND

"That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point - and does not break.

"In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." No; but the Lord thy God may tempt himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane.

"In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God.

"And now let the revolutionists of this age choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist."

The limits of belligerence

The drumbeat of war will not be as it was before.

48% of the American public say they are ready to go; but they don't know what they are going for, nor do they trust the Commander in Chief to lead them. That support is not likely to get stronger as reports like this come out:

Still, nuclear analysts called the claims exaggerated. They said nothing had changed to alter current estimates of when Iran might be able to make a single nuclear weapon, assuming that is its ultimate goal. The United States government has put that at 5 to 10 years, and some analysts have said it could come as late as 2020.
The entire article makes clear that what we have in Iraq is two parties (the US and Iraq) behaving like children in a sand box. Whether the adults can take charge is still an open question.

There are limits to belligerence, and it is time to consider the truth of that. Arianna Huffington points out that left blogistan can be as belligerent as the right wing, and just as avidly go seeking after power.

It is time to consider that, if there is no power without resistance, then the only purpose of power is to seek resistance. And what is the point of that?

Maundy Thursday, 2006

God, bless to me this day,
God, bless to me this night;
Bless, O bless, Thou God of grace,
Each day and hour of my life;

Bless, O bless, Thou God of Grace,
Each day and hour of my life.

God, bless the pathway on which I go,
God, bless the earth that is beneath my sole;
Bless, O God, and give to me Thy love,
O God of Gods, bless my rest and my respose;

Bless, O God, and give to me Thy love,
O God of Gods, bless my rest and my respose.


Psalm 42

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?

My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?

When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.

O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.

Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.

Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.

I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

John 13:1-15

13:1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

13:2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper

13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,

13:4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.

13:5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

13:6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"

13:7 Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand."

13:8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."

13:9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"

13:10 Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you."

13:11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

13:12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?

13:13 You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am.

13:14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.

13:15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Life be in my speech,
Sense in what I say.
The love Christ Jesus gave
Be filling every heart for me,
The love Christ Jesus gave,
Filling me for every one.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Wendell Berry

The speaker is Jayber Crow in Berry's novel of the same name.

For a while again I couldn't pray. I didn't dare to. In the most secret place of my soul I wanted to beg the Lord to reveal himself in power. I wanted to tell him that it was time for his coming. If there was anything at all to what he had promised, why didn't he come in glory with angels and lay his hands on the hurt chchildren and awaken the dead soldiers and restore the burned villages and the blasted and poisoned land? Why didn't he cow our arrogance?...

But thinking such things was as dangerous as praying them. I knew who had thought such thoughts before: "Let Christ the king of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Where in my own arrogance was I going to hide?

Where did I get my knack for being a fool? If I could advise God, why didn't I just advise him (like our great preachers and politicians) to be on our side and give us victory? I had to turn around and wade out of the mire myself.

Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave. And why not otherwise? Wouldn't it have put fine comical expressions on the faces of the scribes and the chief priests and the soldiers if at that moment he had come down in power and glory? Why didn't he do it? Why hasn't he done it at anyone of a thousand good times between then and now?

I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it. He didn't, he hasn't, because from the moment he did, he would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be his slaves. Even those who hated him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to him and he to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.

And so, I thought, he must forebear to reveal his power and glory by presenting himself as himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of his creatures. Those who wish to see him must see him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world.

I would sometimes be horrified in every moment I was alone. I could see no escape. We are too tightly tangled together to be able to separate ourselves from one another either by good or by evil. We all are involved in all and any good, and in all and any evil. For any sin, we all suffer. That is why our suffering is endless. It is why God grieves and Christ's wounds still are bleeding.

Wednesday of Holy Week, 2006

God guide me with Thy wisdom,
God chastise me with Thy justice,
God help me with Thy mercy,
God protect me with Thy strength.

God fill me with Thy fullness,
God shield me with They shade,
God fill me with Thy grace,
For the sake of Thine Anointed Son.

Jesu Christ of the seed of David,
Visiting One of the Temple,
Sacrificial Lamb of the Garden,
Who died for me.


Psalm 70

1 Make haste, O God, to deliver me;
make haste to help me, O LORD.


2 Let them be ashamed and confounded
that seek after my soul:
let them be turned backward, and put to confusion,
that desire my hurt.


3 Let them be turned back for a reward of their shame
that say, Aha, aha.

4 Let all those that seek thee
rejoice and be glad in thee:
and let such as love thy salvation
say continually, Let God be magnified.


5 But I am poor and needy;
make haste unto me, O God:
thou art my help and my deliverer;
O LORD, make no tarrying.

John 13:21-35 (SV)

When he had said all this, Jesus became deeply disturbed. He declared: "I swear to God, one of you will turn me in."

The disciples stole glances at each other, at a loss to understand who it was he was talking about. One of them, the disciple Jesus lved most, was sitting at Jesus' right. So Simon Peter leans over to ask that disciple who it was was talking about. He, in turn, leans over to Jesus and asksk him, "Master, who is it?"

Jesus answers: "I am going to dunk this piece of bread, and the one I give it to is the one." So he dunks the piece of bread and gives it to Judas, Simon Iscariot's son. The moment the piece of bread, Satan took possession of him. Then Jesus says to him, "Go ahead and do what you're going to do."

Of course no one at dinner understood why Jesus had made this remark. Some had the idea that because Judas kept charge of the funds, Jesus was telling him, "Buy whatever we need for the celebration," or to give something to the poor. In any case, as soon as had eaten the piece of bread he went out. It was nighttime.

When had gone, Jesus says, "Now the son of Adam is glorified, and God is glorified through him. If God is glorified through him, God in turn will glorify him through the divine self, and will glorify him at once. My children, I'm going to be with you only a little while longer. You'll look for me, but, as I told the Judeans, I'm going where you can't come; it's to you that I say this now. I am giving you a new directive: Love each other. Just as I've loved you, you are to love each other. Then everyone will recognize you as my disciples--if you love each other."

Bless to me O God,
Each thing mine eye sees;
Bless to me O God,
Each souind mine ear hears;
Bless to me O God,
Each odour that goes to my nostrils;
Bless to me O God,
Each taste that goes to my lips;
Each note that goes to my song,
Each ray that guides my way,
Each thing that I pursue,
Each lure that tempts my will,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ethics

One is distressed by the failure of reasonable people to perceive either the depths of evil or the depth of the holy. With the best of intentions they believe that a little reason will suffice them to clamp together the parting timbers of the building. They are so blind in their desire to see justice done to both sides they are crushed between the two clashing forces and end by achieving nothing...The news that God has become man strikes at the very heart of an age in which the good and the wicked regard either scorn for man or the idolization of man as the highest attainable wisdom.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, trans. Neville Horton Smith (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1965), pp. 65-67.

Tuesday of Holy Week, 2006

Come I this day to the Father
Come I this day to the Son
Come I this day to the Holy Spirit powerful;
Come I this day with God,
Come I this day with Christ,
Come I this day with the Spirit of kindly balm.

God, and Spirit, and Jesus,
From the crown of my head
To the soles of my feet;
Come I with my reputation,
Come I with my testimony,
Come I to Thee, Jesu;
Jesu, shelter me.

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

2 When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.

3 Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.

4 One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.

5 For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.

6 And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.

7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.

8 When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.

9 Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.

10 When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.

11 Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.

12 Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.

13 I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

14 Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

John 12:37-50

Although he had performed ever so many miracles before their eyes, they did not believe in him, so that the word the prophet Isaiah spoke would come true:

'Lord, who has believed our message?
To whom is God's might revealed?

So they were unable to believe, for Isaiah also said:

He has blinded their eyes,
he has turned their hearts to stone,
so their eyes are sightless
and their hearts closed to understanding,
or they would do an about-face
for me to heal them.

Isaiah said these things because he saw God's majesty, and spoke about it.

Nevertheless, many did believe in him, even many of the ruling class, but because of the Pharisees they did not acknowledge it, so they wouldn't be thrown out of the synagogue. (You see, they were more enamored of human approval than of God's endorsement.)

Then Jesus proclaimed aloud: "Those who believe in me do not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. And those who see me see the one who sent me. I am light come into the world, so all who believe in me need not remain in the dark. I won't pass judgment on those who hear my message but don't keep it. You see, I didn't come to pass judgment on the world; I've come to save the world. But those who reject me and don't accept my message have a judge: the message I've spoken will itself be their judge on the last day. For I don't speak on my own authority, but the Father who sent me ordered me to say what I said and will say, and I know that his commandment is unending, real life. Therefore, I say just exactly what the Fahter told to me to say."

O Christ of the road of the wounded
O Christ of the tears of the broken
In me and with me the needs of the world
Grant me my prayers of loving and hoping
Grant me my prayers of yearning and healing.

Ecclesiology and Humanity

For an interesting insight into ecclesiology, listen to this report on DemocracyNow! And especially if you are not Roman Catholic, remind yourself that St. Augustine is a Roman Catholic church.

These situations are always very complicated. But the people in power never have absolute power (and they are the first to recognize that), and the exercise of power is never without thousands upon thousands of complications and unforeseen consequences.

Monday, April 10, 2006

I have never read any works by Elaine Pagels

This may be why:

Startling as the Gospel of Judas sounds, it amplifies hints we have long read in the Gospels of Mark and John that Jesus knew and even instigated the events of his passion, seeing them as part of a divine plan. Those of us who go to church may find our Easter reflections more mysterious than ever.
Well, if you consider something written in the middle of the 2nd century of the common era to be a more reliable record of the words of Jesus of Nazareth than the Gospel of Mark (70 C.E.) or the gospel of John (circa 100 C.E., and I have a memory of dating it as late as 120 C.E.), I suppose so.

But the Jesus Seminar wasn't so sure many of the words in the canonicals could be accurately related to Jesus. Disagree with their scholarship and conclusions as you wish, but their method was quite exacting and has to be met on its own terms to be properly challenged. Just as with the word "gnostic," which was used by Iraneaus because it is from a Greek word meaning "knowledge" (i.e., it was not originally a perjorative). And the emphasis on knowledge as a source of salvation is a very Greek one, not a Hebrew one, because Greek epistemology (fundamentally) is centered on discovery, Hebrew epistemology (fundamentally) on revelation. If we are going to assume that Jesus was more interested in Greek mysteries than in the communal and scriptural based Hebrew society, then we need a basis for such a fundamental shift in the Nazarene's thinking. There are no real mysteries in Torah; the "secret teachings" in Judaism, so far as I know and Pagel confirms, come from Kabbalah. My brief review, via Google, indicates Kabbalah reliably dates back no earlier than 100 C.E. and originally referred to the publicly available teachings of Torah. Which buttresses my memories from seminary, that "mystery cults" were of Greek influence, if not entirely of Greek origin, and makes a connection between Jesus of Nazareth (crucified in about the 4th decade of the 1st century) and Kabbalah dubious at best. Although the connection to John's Gospel and Kabbalah or similiar teachings could certainly be made (and certainly has been, somewhere). Perhaps Pagels' makes that argument elsewhere; if so, it must be a very interesting one.

The fundamental critique of the Gnostics is that they preferred individual over corporate revelation. In a post-Romantic world, we are inclined to side with such sentiments against the "corporatizing" institution, which we immediately assume to be soulless. But it wasn't always seen that way, and it isn't ipso facto true, in any case. I've often thought that hasty conclusion was Pagels' primary scholarly sin. I think in that, I may have been right. In fact, Pagels' NYT column raises a half-serious question (courtesy of my snarky brother): who did write this gospel? And did Judas leave a really long suicide note?

Monday of Holy Week, 2006

Thanks be to Thee, O God, that I have risen today,
To the rising of this life itself;
May it be to Thine own glory, O God of every gift,
And to the glory of my soul likewise.

O great God, aid Thou my soul
With the aiding of Thine own mercy;
Even as I clothe my body with wool,
Cover Thou my soul with the shadow of Thy wing.

Help me to avoid every sin,
And the source of every sin to forsake;
And as the mist scatters on the crest of the hills,
May each ill haze clear from my soul, O God.

Psalm 25

Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul.

O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me.

Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause.

Show me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.
Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy loving-kindnesses; for they have been ever of old.

Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness' sake, O LORD.

Good and upright is the LORD: therefore will he teach sinners in the way.

The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.

All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.

For thy name's sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great.

What man is he that feareth the LORD?
Him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose.

His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth.

The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.

Mine eyes are ever toward the LORD; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.

Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted.

The troubles of my heart are enlarged: O bring thou me out of my distresses.

Look upon mine affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins.

Consider mine enemies; for they are many; and they hate me with cruel hatred.

O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee.

Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee.

Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.

John 12:1-11
12:1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
12:2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.
12:3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,
12:5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?"
12:6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)
12:7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.
12:8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
12:9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
12:10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,
12:11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

O Christ of the poor and the yearning
Kindle in my heart within
A flame of love for my neighbor,
For my foe, for my friend,
for my kindred all.
From the humblest thing that lives
To the Name that is highest of all
Kindle in my heart within
A flame of love.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Soundtracking Holy Week 2006

I am listening to Anonymous 4's recording, "1000: A Mass for the End of Time."

Somehow it just seems appropriate, given that the Washington Post has independently (and with no reference to him whatsoever) confirmed Seymour Hersh's New Yorker article. The only comfort I draw is that obviously the Pentagon is taking this threat to invade Iran very seriously, and are doing all they can to stop it, short of resignations and insubordination. And at least one of those is on the table.

I figure later I'll get out my recording of Messian's "Quartet for the End of Time." More and more these two seem like the appropriate soundtrack for Holy Week 2006.

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison

Palm Sunday

I have remembered bits of information bouncing around in my head that I cannot confirm, and some of them have to do with Lent, the 40 days before Easter, which, if you stop and calculate them, are obviously not 40 days at all, but longer than that. One explanation (Thomas Merton's, I believe) is that the Sundays of Lent are excluded from the count because, much as Lent is a season of penance and penitence, Sundays are the day Christians celebrate the Good News, the Resurrection, the hope in Christ. It is not a day, on the liturgical calendar, for mourning.

"On the liturgical calendar," because liturgy, leitourgia, is the work of the people, and the liturgical calendar, the church's calendar, is the people's calendar. Not in the Congregational (Protestant) v. episcopal (Roman Catholic hierarchy) sense, but in the sense that Augustine knew, when it was the people who pressed him into service as their bishop. "The people" in the sense of the gathered body of believers who consider themselves corporately as part of a larger body, the "body of Christ," not as part of an institution, "the [fill in the blank] Church." The work of the people is the work and worship of the Church, guided and directed by God, led and inspired by the Holy Spirit, founded and taught by Jesus. The Church lives after Easter, and so the Church corporately does not mourn.

But the Church liturgy has no place for mourning; except during Holy Week. Lent is a season of penance, created in a time when worship and church and life were seamless, so that the flow from personal penance to public worship back to personal penance, was a natural one. It was a time of preparation for the great celebration of Easter, the communal and corporate memory of the reason the Church is present. Still, the liturgical calendar reflected the seasons: the coming of the light as the darkness was growing in December: Advent. The celebration of the Light of the World from Christmas to Epiphany, in the darkness of the year. The winter months of Epiphany giving way to preparation for spring that are Lent into Easter. The celebration of spring in Easter, and then the months of the Church itself, in the Season of Pentecost, until the year came round again, and the Church started a cycle of birth and renewal and life to give its corporate life structure and reliability, and ordinary life even richer meaning.

Life is not all celebration and elation, though; part of life is mourning. The Church, corporately, needed its acknowledged time of morning. It worshipped, after all, a crucified God. It needed to acknowledge the crucifixion, in order to enjoy the Resurrection. And so we find ourselves again, in Holy Week, trying to conduct, or just prepare to conduct, the ritual of mourning. And we take three days almost out of the calendar altogether: the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. We silence the music this week; we strip the altar and remove all colors, leaving only black. We bring the world of the Church almost to a halt. This morning we praised the coming of the King in triumph into Jerusalem, and the very same morning mocked him, and spat on him, and demanded his crucifixion. Now we are ready to mourn him.

We will try again to recall the last meal; try to recall the agony of his dying. We will try to recreate, as a community, that time and those events, so we can feel them, so we can mourn our God whom we helped crucify. Were you there? Sometimes it causes me to tremble.....

Christians around the world will be trying again, this week, to prepare ourselves for what must be done, to take it seriously enough to know it is serious, to accept the paradox of a God who can be crucified, to try to grieve for him, so the reality will become a little more real to us. Were you there? Peter was, and three times denied him. But if he hadn't, would he have lived to be the rock, the petros, upon which the Church would be founded? It is mysteries like that, that Christians this week will be pondering. Questions like that prick and fuel and disturb and quiet, our mourning.