Thursday, February 28, 2013

Civilization Reaches Full Flower

Black police officer faces charges for not investigating racial taunts against himself

Actually, This Seems Pretty Normal For Clarksdale

Homicide suspected in Mississippi mayoral candidate's death

For those who don't know much about American music, Clarksdale, Mississippi is the birthplace of the "blues".  Not only did a number of significant blues musicians come from the Clarksdale area, it is also where one may find the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49 where Robert Johnson was given his guitar-playing talent by Satan himself.  It's a good story.

Eddie Won't Go [This Year, Anyway]

For surfing aficionados only, especially as there are more surfing fans who read this than members of my parish.

The Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau 2012/2013 is a "No Go". Again, the Hawaiian winter didn't deliver the necessary extra large to giant swell.
Maybe I spoke too soon. Sorry, all, but I've picked up some virus and am laid rather low. No Adult Forum tonight.

Rumor Control

For some reason, some folks have been told that I'm not around this week nor will I be in church on Sunday.  I'm not sure how that came about, but please know that I am in the office as I write this, will be present for Adult Forum this evening at 7pm, and will be in church on Sunday.  As ever, I am available for all parish business and pastoral calls.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mainly, I Got Through School By Ignoring The Teachers

Reuters:: Stereotyped as "naughty," boys quickly learn that they are thought of as dumber and more trouble than girls. And that has consequences.

I did manage to read the great works of literature, along with some Marvel Comics, at my desk while the teacher was explaining something to the class, so it wasn't a complete loss.  It wasn't until I went to school overseas that I realized what education was all about.

Of Course

Cuomo Announces Plans To Modify Gun Control Law To Exempt Film Industry

Still no comprehensive exemption for law enforcement yet.  As ever, when it comes to "control" laws, some animals are more equal than others.

Some Legitimate Observations About "Crisis Counselors"

I've often wondered if these therapeutic rescuers might be driven by unrecognized wishes to play the hero in post-trauma dramas. In these scenarios, the objects of rescue are enlisted to play the sick role. Some will need help, but being pushed into the sick role isn't good.

I've had similar doubts about huge school events and the deployment of armies of grief counselors when a student dies. Kids who didn't even know the deceased end up cast in the role of distraught mourner.

Wakes and funerals already exist to serve the immediate needs for mourning and recognition of the loss. Participation in normalizing rituals is probably far more helpful than therapy in the immediate aftermath of such a loss.
This is why it's called "trauma tourism"; from time to time I've found the practice creepy and weird.  Also, all it takes to shut down the whole "crisis counsel" experience is to ask a secularized therapist, "What happens when you die?  Where do you go?"  If the counselor is a person of faith, they are constrained from answering by law; if they are non-theistic, then their role in the grief process is worthless.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Relax, Let The Police Control Guns

LAPD Officers Sold Guns to Civilians and Gun Dealers, Threatened Whistleblower Who Exposed the Scheme

I'm Tempted To Offer Him As Evidence

Reuters: Kerry defends liberties, says Americans have "right to be stupid"

I'm glad to know that the political pharisees have granted us this right.  We can be "stupid" but can't drink out of two-liter soda bottles without some Lilliputian bureaucrat legislating against it.

We Wanted To Do This 25 Years Ago, But, You Know, Focus Groups Said Something Else. So We Listened To Them And Where Did That Get Us?

I’m Done “Growing the Church”

Perhaps you mean, “Growing in Grace.” Perhaps the church is learning to become more mature about forgiveness. Maybe that would mean that the churches in the USA would be more willing to reach across boundaries of age, race, gender, and politics (yeah, I said it) in order to develop real relationships.
Read the whole thing, please. I'm noting a much more pugilistic tone among my colleagues. Good. It's time for wimpy Christianity to be put into its tomb.

Monday, February 25, 2013

This Week's Lesser Feasts

February 27: George Herbert, Poet and Priest [1593-1633]

[Herbert] served faithfully as a parish priest, diligently visiting his parishioners and bringing them the sacraments when they were ill, and food and clothing when they were in want. He read Morning and Evening Prayer daily in the church, encouraging the congregation to join him when possible, and ringing the church bell before each service so that those who could not come might hear it and pause in their work to join their prayers with his. He used to go once a week to Salisbury to hear Evening Prayer sung there in the cathedral. On one occasion he was late because he had met a man whose horse had fallen with a heavy load, and he stopped, took off his coat, and helped the man to unload the cart, get the horse back on its feet, and then reload the cart. His spontaneous generosity and good will won him the affection of his parishioners.

Today, however, he is remembered chiefly for his book of poems, The Temple, which he sent shortly before his death to his friend Nicholas Ferrar, to publish if he thought them suitable. They were published after Herbert's death, and have influenced the style of other poets, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Several of them have been used as hymns, in particular "Teach me, my God and King," and "Let all the world in every corner sing." Another of his poems contains the lines:

Prayer, the Church's banquet, Angel's age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, the heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth.

Our God and King, you called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls, a poet, and a priest in your temple: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to perform the tasks you give us to do knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

February 28: Anna Julia Haywood Cooper, Teacher [1858-1964]

Cooper was the fourth African-American woman to earn a Ph.D.  Her life as an academic is one of purpose and accomplishment, qualities she shares with many unsung [and un-feasted] Episcopalians in American history, for whom she serves as a representation.  Her placement on the church's feast calendar is due to her initial education at St. Augustine's College, an Episcopal Church institution devoted to educating black Americans. 

Almighty God, you inspired your servant Anna Julia Haywood Cooper with the love of learning and the skill of teaching: Enlighten us more and more through the discipline of learning, and deepen our commitment to the education of all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

March 1: David of Wales, Bishop [c. 500- 589]

By tradition and necessity, the Welsh developed a Christian life devoted to learning, asceticism, and missionary work. They were quite passionate about it. Since there were no cities, the centers of culture were the monasteries, with most abbots also serving as bishops. David was the founder, abbot, and bishop of the monastery of Menevia.

The custom in Celtic Christendom was for bishops to have no clear territorial diocesan jurisdiction, but to simply travel about as needed [peregrination]. With that freedom, David was able to evangelize most of Wales, and his monastery was sought out by scholars from far and near. That tradition continues in the contemporary Church of Wales, as it not only keeps the faith but serves to maintain the particular language and culture of the Welsh people.

Almighty God, who didst call thy servant David to be a faithful and wise steward of thy mysteries for the people of Wales: Mercifully grant that, following his purity of life and zeal for the gospel of Christ, we may with him receive the crown of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.

March 2: Chad of Lichfield, Bishop [? - 672]

Chad was the bishop of Lichfield [the one in England without the "t"; not the one in Connecticut where the "t" stands for "tetched"]. Chad is best known for settling a potentially schismatic issue during the period of controversy following the Synod of Whitby in 663. In Whitby, it had been determined by the British Church that the Celtic tradition would be surrendered in favor of that of the Church of Rome. This did not rest well with everyone, including a couple of the bishops who had consecrated Chad. Because they were non-conformists, Chad's installation as the Archbishop of York was held to be irregular and, instead of cracking the greater church in two over the issue, Chad humbly resigned the see of York. His consolation prize was Lichfield.

And what a consolation it was, at least for those whom he served. Chad is recognized as the "icon" of the peripatetic bishop: he was in constant motion baptizing, confirming, teaching, preaching and celebrating. He did so on foot, because he did not wish to spend diocesan funds on a horse [the Archbishop of Canterbury gave him one as a gift, eventually]. Because of this familiarity, he was widely beloved by those of Lichfield whom he served. This is even more remarkable when one considers that Chad served for only two and one-half years before succumbing to exhaustion. [Imagine, a time when bishops visited all their parishes not to have meetings, but to engage in the sacramental rites and abide simply with their flocks through meals and common fellowship. "You may say I'm a dreamer,..."]

Chad died on this day in 672. Subsequently, countless chapels and other structures in what was once Mercia [and is now the English Midlands of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire] were named for him.

Almighty God, for the peace of the Church your servant Chad relinquished cheerfully the honors that had been thrust upon him, only to be rewarded with equal responsibility: Keep us, we pray, from thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, and ready at all times to step aside for others, that the cause of Christ may be advanced; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

This Week's Best Obit

SHUCHMAN--Amos, of New York, on February 1, 2013. Beloved and caring husband of Alice Shuchman for 51 years, father of Daniel (Lori Lesser) and Nina (Brian Roth), grandfather of Jacob, Sarah, Aaron and Ariela. Born in Tel Aviv in 1928, fought bravely in the Haganah. Loved his family, his birth and adopted countries, finance, skiing, opera, ballet and biking in Central Park. Loved everything about NYC, except the New York Times. Services at Beth El Cemetery (Or Zarua section), Paramus, NJ, Sunday at 11am. Memorial contributions to a charity of your choice. His fearless heart still beats within all of us. Shalom, Saba.

(Courtesy of The New York Times)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Richard Race

By the time I met him, when he was well into his 60's, everyone called him "Bud".  He's one of those people I regret my granddaughter will never meet, as she is to be a native of western Massachusetts and Bud embodied the rapidly evaporating traditional values of that region.

In the 1980's, Bud was the senior warden of the now-departed St. James' Church in Great Barrington when they were faced with finding a new rector, which meant that he also had to take responsibility for the search process.  As the greater church was just coming into the "post-Christian" age, it was a challenging time for most serious Episcopalians.  We were in that decade when we had changed the Book of Common Prayer, for better or worse, changed the Hymnal, ditto, and begun to address divisive social issues in a way that ensured that congregations would be split and dissenters from the accepted narrative would be labeled, ridiculed, and eventually driven from the Anglican nest into congregations that were more reflective of Jesus' tolerance.

As with most secularized organizations, the Episcopal Church learned during that decade to value "groupthink" over the Gospel.

There was one issue that Bud was not quite ready for, and that was the prospect of having a woman as the new rector of his parish.  Certainly, it was something with which he struggled.  In the 21st century church, he probably would have been removed from his position by some bureaucrat at a diocesan house where, when his name was mentioned, those wearing the apparel of authority would shake their heads in wonder that such a morally un-evolved person would have even been elected to a vestry. 

In those days, however, it was accepted that everyone had his or her own path to follow, and through prayer and practice, would discern God's will as to what matters and what doesn't.  Perhaps diocesan authority will reach that point one day, too, but I digress.

When it became obvious that the best candidate for the job was a woman, Bud engaged in that wonderful moral re-evaluation for which Christians were once noted, and put aside his discomfort with the notion of female clergy, and a woman rector, and voted to call my wife.

It should come as no surprise to Christians who have struggled with prayerful re-appraisal [or even to diocesan bureaucrats] that Bud and my wife would become good friends.  That's when you know that Jesus is at work.  Of course, it helped that he was the head landscaper at Chesterwood, the mansion and grounds that host the museum of the works of the American sculptor, Danial Chester French, and that my wife was and is an avid gardener.  Together, they would spend five years or so at St. James' rectory creating what always appeared to me a miniature version of those gardens.  They would also enjoy a martini or two upon occasion.

Bud died earlier this month at the age of 90.  When she's old enough, I'll walk my granddaughter around those grounds and show her what a living tribute to a person of nature looks like.  I'll also tell her how Jesus can overcome even the petty and transient differences that can sometimes divide people and reveal something deep, marvelous, loving, and eternal, such as the friendship between Bud Race and her grandmother.  As nature evolves and adapts to a point where beauty may be realized, so can human relations if given a chance to grow and develop.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tonight in the parish house basement [aka Christian Education HQ] we will have "The Tale of Two Ossuaries".  Plus, a look at the great archaeologists of the 20th century.  See you at 7pm.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

This Guy's My New Hero

"Truth is not determined by popular consensus. A thing is either wrong or it is right. Whatever it is, it will be it tomorrow and it will be it four thousand years from now. Truth is not a fad. How lost are we that we treat philosophy like denim jeans, insisting it has to be updated every two years?I don’t give a damn what the surveys say. I’m sure I could find a million people who would tell me Die Hard 5 is the greatest cinematic achievement since Raging Bull. They’re wrong, they’re wrong once and they’re wrong a million times. Now, while essential truths do not change, many other things do. And the Church has, in fact, been on the forefront of the many other things. The Church saved western civilization after the illiterate barbarian tribes invaded and destroyed the Roman Empire. The Church, for centuries, has been the driving force behind art, architecture, science, medicine, and political theory. I know Hollywood and your seventh grade history teacher taught you otherwise. But they’re both peddling a discredited myth."

Asteroids And Scripture Collide

"What’s more, the Gulf of Carpentaria object was a skipping stone compared with an object that Abbott thinks whammed into the Indian Ocean near Madagascar some 4,800 years ago, or about 2,800 B.C. Researchers generally assume that a space object a kilometer or more across would cause significant global harm: widespread destruction, severe acid rain, and dust storms that would darken the world’s skies for decades. The object that hit the Indian Ocean was three to five kilometers across, Abbott believes, and caused a tsunami in the Pacific 600 feet high—many times higher than the 2004 tsunami that struck Southeast Asia. Ancient texts such as Genesis and the Epic of Gilgamesh support her conjecture, describing an unspeakable planetary flood in roughly the same time period."

It's from a piece in The Atlantic from four or so years ago to which I linked in an earlier incarnation of The Coracle, but I thought it worthy of review.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gosh, That Arab Spring The Govt/Media Was So High About Is Really Something

Muslim Villagers in Egypt Attack Church

I expect bishops to march in protest about this any year now.  Right after they march against drone strikes [there is no official statement about this issue one way or the other], the fact that Gitmo is still open [there is no official statement about this issue one way or the other], and...ah, never mind.

However, they do want us to try to be vegetarians and eat as many whole grains as the food lobby government expects us to eat.  Unless, of course, you wish to avoid whole grains and thus avoid obesity, joint and tissue damage, and diabetes.  But, whatever....

When did the Episcopal Church's definition of "speaking truth to power" come to mean "operating as an information tool of the US government?"

Oh? Quelle surprise!

Senator pushing higher taxes faces outstanding $1,200 tax penalty

Monday, February 18, 2013

I'm Sure Our Bishops Will Be Marching About This Somewhere Soon

Or they would if it were a Republican administration.

"Many of the biggest losers in the Bernanke era are key Democratic constituencies, such as minorities and the young, who have seen their opportunities dim under the Bernanke regime. The cruelest cuts have been to the poor, whose numbers have surged by more than 2.6 million under a president who has promised relentlessly to reduce poverty.

Things, of course, have not too great for the middle-age and middle-class – more of them now supporting both aging parents and underemployed children. Median income in America is down 8 percent from 2007, and dropping. Things, in reality, are not getting better for anyone but the most affluent."

This Week's Lesser Feasts

February 23: Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, [? - 156]

"He who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails."

More of this very early church martyr may be found here.  He is significant not just due to his martyrdom, but because its witness was captured in contemporary history and, as he was purportedly in his 80's, he bridged the period of the disciples with that of the early church fathers [I'm supposed to say "mothers" now, too]. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ah, This Post-Christian Age

I'm glad a university chapel is being used for something.

Washington University in St. Louis hosted an event in the school’s main chapel last week aimed at preparing students to pursue careers in pornography.

Max Hardberger

There was one evening, almost twenty years ago now, when the sun in the Leeward Islands had just set with a memorable green flash on the horizon, when the rigging on the sailboat we had chartered was making the familiar sound of ratcheting and releasing cordage, as the splash of the flying fish could be heard over the gunwales, and when the clear sky revealed more stars than one would think even God's imagination could hold, that I thought that the last thing that I ever wanted to do was to return to a Massachusetts winter and the scabrous demands of the underemployed faculty of the private school at which I was working in those days.  Whatever work I could find in the islands or along the Costa Maya, even as a marina deckhand or tour bus guide would have been fine with me.

Of course, I went back to the Berkshires and listened to the disgruntled and outraged, patiently smiled as the prosaic pretended to be the perspicacious, and saved my money so that I could again return to the Caribbean and that lonely boat in the middle of the Gulf Stream.

Max Hardberger was a high school teacher of history and English with a graduate degree in fine arts when he reached that point of no return that many in the more lyrical professions tend to reach when relating the subtleties of Shakespearean sonnet form to a roomful of ungracious adolescents.  He quit that nonsense and started his own very small air transport company.  Mainly, he transported the remains of the dead from one location to another, sometimes circumventing local laws by dressing the corpse as his co-pilot.  You can see why I like this guy; this is what "questioning authority" is really all about.

He then drifted into work on freighters, eventually getting his master's license and serving as a well-respected captain.  Then, one fateful day in Haiti, he found what was to become his life's work.  As anyone who has spent even a short amount of time in some of the ports of the Caribbean can testify, it is a remarkably corrupt area.  In the 1980's, small local governments were notorious for using their courts systems to "legally" seize any ship or boat that caught their fancy.  One day, Hardberger found himself on the pointy end of some rifles [Or are they now "assault weapons"?  I'll have to ask a politician, TV reporter, or movie star; they know everything.] while in Port-Au-Prince when his ship was seized by some local "businessmen".  Naturally, he surrendered the ship.  Sort of.

While a handful of guards were left on board, Max threw them a party with lots and lots of rum.  Once the guards were unconscious, unarmed, and locked in a cabin, Hardberger quickly moved his ship into international waters and placed the former guards in an open boat to row themselves back to the Haitian mainland.  When the story became known, Hardberger became a legend in the commercial shipping community.

So much so that, from that point on, he was asked to, essentially, "steal" back ships that had been seized by corrupt governments or their local bureaucrats.  It became a surprisingly lucrative enterprise.  Although I'm speaking as one who was never more than on the outside of the very remote orbit of Caribbean sailors, I can testify that Hardberger is regarded as a combination of Robin Hood and Captain Morgan, maybe with a little bit of Superman thrown in for good measure.

I could relate some more of his adventures, but I don't think I could do so with the same linguistic panache as the writer whom I quote below.  A word of warning, though; if you choose to go to the link, you will find the paragraphs laced with pungent language:

Hardberger once repoed a freighter from the Russian Mafiya [sic] in the ice-covered Baltic port of Vladivostok, Russia. One time he captured a ship in Central America by hiring a prostitute to flirt with the guards and give them shots of booze lined with Hardberger's-homemade handy-dandy insta-sedatives. During the Haitian Revolution of 2004, Hardberger sailed into the battle-torn hive of destruction in the middle of a warzone, boarded a ship pretending to be a potential buyer, and got his men to distract the guards while he snuck off, repaired a damaged engine, and cut the anchor chains with a blowtorch. Another time in Haiti, he used a Voodoo witch doctor to freak out a crew of AK-47 slinging pirates and send them running from the ship. In Venezuela he straight-up convinced the guards that the...ship was sinking, and he did such a good job of it that the entire crew of bad guys all ran to the life boats and rowed back to shore, leaving Max and his buddies plenty of time to leisurely pull the ship out of dock. He also snuck a boat out of Greece by buying the Coast Guard a case of Ouzo on Greek Easter and sailing out right under their noses. More recently, he's hired a team of ex-Special Forces operatives to help him extract ships from Somali pirates armed with assault rifles and RPGs, but by this point it was about as routine as filing a TPS report.

During his adventures, Hardberger has been chased by pirates, shot at by Mafia bosses, accosted by Coast Guard officials, and pursued by god-knows-who-else. He once eluded...INTERPOL agents by grinding the ship's name and serial number of its hull mid-transit and painting a fake new name over top of it. In the Dominican Republic he was being pursued by a...naval cruiser, but even a...warship couldn't slow this moustachioed madman down – during his recon, Hardberger had noticed that the Dominican navy was using outdated radar gear, so he sailed his ship right into the middle of a horrible thunderstorm because he knew it would [mess]with their detection equipment.
Hardberger has written a book or two about his adventures; I can certainly recommend Seized: A Sea Captain's Adventures Battling Scoundrels and Pirates While Recovering Stolen Ships in the World's Most Troubled Waters, as it is a ripping yarn and great fun.  The chapter on how he "stole" 47 airplanes across Soviet airspace and got them to Venezuela is alone worth reading.

Hardberger is still recovering illicitly seized ships and still collecting remarkable fees for so doing.  Just as importantly, he still serves as the subject of some wonderful tales that can be heard in port and marina bars from Key West to Puerto Aventuras.

Lenten Wave #3

"One who has no faith has no freedom of spirit." —St. Ambrose of Milan

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Relax, The Government Will Control The Guns. You Can Trust Them.

In L.A. County, records show, most of the [gun] permits go to judges and reserve deputies. But there is another group that seems to have better luck than most in obtaining permits: friends of [L.A. County Sheriff] Lee Baca. Those who've given the sheriff gifts or donated to his campaign are disproportionately represented on the roster of permit holders.

He Should Have Waited For The Police To Save Him...Oh, Wait....

Miami 'super dad' dies protecting daughter, 11, during home invasion

Call Me Doctor

I confess to being puzzled as to why it is common to address the vice president's wife as "Dr.".  I assumed, as did many, that she was a medical doctor.  Apparently, all she holds is a Ed.D.  Now I know that Washington D.C. is filled with doctorates; indeed, many on the cabinet have held such degrees, but I have never heard Condoleeza Rice or Steven Chu or even, in the world of punditry, Paul Krugman addressed as "doctor" when quoted or acknowledged during a presidential address, yet all have earned Ph.D.'s.  [Ph.D.'s, mind, not Ed.D.'s.]

Jonah Goldberg makes a pungent observation: 

I don’t recall Lynne Cheney being called “Dr. Cheney” very often. She has a Ph.D. in English Literature. Her dissertation was titled “Matthew Arnold’s Possible Perfection: A Study of the Kantian Strain in Arnold’s Poetry.” That sounds at least as worthy of respect as Jill Biden’s dissertation: “Student Retention at the Community College: Meeting Students’ Needs.”

I think, from now on, when being referenced by those who prefer behind-the-back criticism, that I be addressed not as "that jerk" but as "Dr. Jerk" or something similar.  It has much better cache.
Adult Forum tonight at 7pm in the education center [aka the parish house basement]. Tonight, a look at the top ten Biblical Archaeological finds of 2012, two significant finds located in parking lots [not Richard III], and the latest display at the Israel Antiquities Center.

Lenten Wave #2

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone-we find it with another.” - Thomas Merton

This Week's Lesser Feast Days

February 14: Cyril and Methodius

While most people think of St. Valentine on the 14th, on the Episcopal Church's calendar we remember Sts. Cyril and Methodius, remarkable brothers who were priests, missionaries, and the creators of the Slavic language.  It's a good story, and well renedered at this link.

Almighty and everlasting God, by the power of the Holy Spirit you moved your servant Cyril and his brother Methodius to bring the light of the Gospel to a hostile and divided people: Overcome all bitterness and strife among us by the love of Christ, and make us one united family under the banner of the Prince of Peace; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

February 15: Thomas Bray

Although he only spent a brief time in the colonies, Bray established the two organizations that built missions and parishes throughout the New World, including the original Christ Church.  Those organizations, now 300 years old, remain active to this day.  More may be read of him at their site.  He also, among other endeavors, founded a number of lending libraries that enabled the Church of England in the colonies to champion colonial literacy and education; and was also responsible for the creation of what would become the state of Georgia.  Not bad for a parish priest in England.

O God of compassion, you opened the eyes of your servant Thomas Bray to see the needs of the Church in the New World, and led him to found societies to meet those needs: Make the Church in this land diligent at all times to propagate the Gospel among those who have not received it, and to promote the spread of Christian knowledge; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Okay, This Is Terrific And Worth Reading

Huffington Post:  Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me.

"Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself."

Things You Will Never Read In An Episcopal/Anglican Periodical

...I think Joseph Ratzinger — aka Pope Benedict XVI — is one of the greatest men of the age — possibly the only great man of the age — and almost certainly the last great man Europe will produce. As far as I’m concerned, he should turn the continent’s lights out as he steps down at the end of the month.

B-16′s greatness doesn’t lie in his papacy. Or that is, if it does, I wouldn’t know. It’s his writing, his theology, his thought that elevate him in my mind. When I was but a youngish dude, pounding my way through the great works, it seemed to me that the wisdom of many of the great German thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries had been thrown aside for no good reason. Kant and Hegel had philosophically rescued the essence of Christianity for the scientific age, and had been ultimately left behind by mainstream thinkers not because they were wrong, but because they were just sort of out of keeping with the atheistic spirit of the day.

As Nietzsche understood, that God-is-dead zeitgeist would perforce lead to moral relativism. And so it has. But Ratzinger, shrugging off the zeitgeist like the cheap suit it is, humbly went on tilling the Kantian and Hegelian fields, making his way back not just to the essentials of Christianity but to the sacred person of Christ himself.

This is a great act — an intellectual feat that shows the idols of the age — men like Derrida and Lacan and Foucault — to be the mental pygmies that they are. When they are forgotten (which will be around Thursday at 4PM), the writings of Ratzinger will be remembered and read and discussed for their radical divergence away from the wisdom of the age and toward the truth.

Lenten Wave #1

In honor of the surfing expression, "You learn something from every wave", we offer a quotation a day during the season of Lent as a point of focus for seasonal meditation.  Unless otherwise noted, these will be accompanied by photographs offered by Robbie Crawford Arts of Huntington Beach, California.

"People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering." - St. Augustine

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ash Wednesday formal liturgies at Noon and 7pm,
with the "Ashes to Go" campaign for commuters in the parish house parking lot from 7:00am to 8:00am or so.
Remember that we have our annual Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner this week from 5:30pm until 7pm. This benefits our altar guild so that they may purchase supplies for the coming year. Also, remember to bring with you your palms from Palm Sunday to the dinner so that we may properly prepare the ashes for the next day.

Blizzard Update For Sunday Morning

It's 9 degrees in Roxbury this morning.  The parking lot is as cleared as it can be, given the volume of snow, however the state still has a travel advisory in effect and the roads are slippery.  I think this has been the first Saturday night since I've lived on the green where I did not hear traffic through the night.

I'll be at the church and the 8 and 10am liturgies will be offered, but please do not risk injury by trying to get here this morning.  We can all meet on Tuesday for a pancake breakfast and we have two liturgies on Wednesday, that is, Ash Wednesday this week at noon and 7pm; not to mention "Ashes to Go" during the morning rush hour.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Update: While the roads in Roxbury look good, we have yet to have the parking lot plowed. This is complicated by the high wind and volume of snow. I'll have an update at 6:30 on Sunday morning. Please take care and be prudent tomorrow.  My intention is to have services at both 8 and 10, just so you know.
Remember that we have our annual Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner this week, beginning at 5:30pm. This benefits our altar guild so that they may purchase supplies for the coming year. Also, remember to bring with you your palms from Palm Sunday to the dinner so that we may properly prepare the ashes for the next day.

Relax, You Don't Need A Gun To Protect Yourself. Leave It To The Police.

LAPD shoot several innocent people during massive manhunt for former officer accused of firing on four officers and killing a couple

It's Okay Citizens, You Can Rely On The Police To Save You

But when the smoky haze -- caused by rapid fire of nearly 140 bullets in less than a 30 seconds -- dissipated, it soon became clear that more than a dozen officers had been firing at each other across a middle school parking lot in East Cleveland.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Malcolm Lowry

"I can't decide if he was a talent without genius or a genius without talent."

I was reminded of that observation, made by my former mentor James Magner, when I recently read a biography of Malcolm Lowry, a minor mid-century English poet who, in one of those curious moments of artistic clarity, managed to transcend mediocrity and write what is regarded by some as one of the best novels of the 20th century.  However, by the third chapter of the biography, I realized that he was an absolutely horrid human being and I couldn't wait to get to the final chapter where I knew he would end his life a suicide at the age of 47.  Well, let's just call it "death by misadventure", as they did at the coroner's inquest.

When I originally encountered Lowry's work in the late 1970's, it was before much was known about his personal life and history, save for what one could glean from his poetry and prose.  He was one of those poet/writers of whom I learned during my time as a graduate student/research assistant, a relative unknown who had produced some collections of poetry and a novel or two, one of which was beginning to be re-discovered by the taste makers in the New York publishing bubble. 

There is admittedly something romantic about the notion of the self-destructive writer, an image so common that it's practically an archetype.  Offhand, the names of alcoholic writers such as Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack London, Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Parker, Norman Mailer, John Cheever, Frank O'Hara, Hart Crane, William Faulkner, and Edgar Allan Poe come to mind.  [I also know, as part of the useless minutiae that I seem to retain, that five of the seven American Nobel literature laureates died of alcohol abuse or related disease.] 

Except I'm not in my early 20's any longer and I have seen the ravages of alcohol and drug abuse on the users and, particularly, on the users' families and friends.  Any romantic notion has long since evaporated and, if it had not, even a casual reading of Lowry's life would cause one to reconsider.  In addition to his poetry and prose, most of which I find tepid, he also aided an annoying college classmate in committing suicide, raped his first wife, horribly beat a girlfriend, and plagiarized from his second wife and other friends and writers.  As far as I could tell, he was drunk just about every waking moment and detoxifying during the others.  He was as dissolute a person and as nightmarish a friend as one can imagine, save for approximately three years in his life when he and his second wife took up residence in a small cabin north of Vancouver where he produced the novel Under the Volcano.  That brief window of lucidity is why we still know his name.

Lowry was a rich man's son who was aided in every way by his father's money.  Naturally, Lowry hated his father for this, which was another unattractive aspect to the man.  He attended a charming little English public school [what we would call a private or "prep" school] named The Leys where he was taken under the wing of the senior master of the school, W. H. Balgarnie.  [One of The Leys former students had been James Hilton, the author of Lost Horizon and other novels of great popularity in their day.  Balgarnie served as the model for "Chips" in Hilton's Goodbye, Mr. Chips.]  From there he went to Cambridge where he made a right nuisance out of himself but did manage to graduate and to make himself known as a writer of some ability.  Then, aided by the allowance granted to him by the father whom he hated, he set out to be a poet and author; or the most colossal drunk and horse's rear-end yet known in history.  I'll let the reader make that determination.

He lived and worked in London during the 1930's, then moved to Hollywood in an attempt to secure screenwriting jobs in the movie industry.  Honestly, he may have been the only drunken writer not to have been employed in Hollywood in those days, which may be testimony to just how much of a drunk he was.  When thus rejected, he moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico, where the living was easy and the mescal was cheap.  It seems remarkable to me that he would, again, make such a nuisance of himself that he would eventually be judged as even too boracho for the Mexican authorities, a tolerance that I cannot imagine being tested to its limit, based on what I've witnessed in my many trips to that country, but he was eventually "invited" to leave.  What nightmarish adventures he both witnessed and in which he participated may be gleaned by reading his one lasting gift to world literature.

The most productive period of his life would be spent in during the next three years while he lived in a squatter's shack north of Vancouver, B.C.  It was here that his second wife kept his drinking under control, where there were few distractions, and where she could both type and edit his work as he produced it.  It was as close to a normal life as he would ever have, until his neighbors would burn down the shack, of course, but that's another depressing story.

I find Under the Volcano to be one of those novels, rather like William Burrough's Naked Lunch, that a fan of literature should read at least once.  More than once is another matter entirely.  Here's a synopsis:

Geoffrey Firmin, a former British consul, has come to Quauhnahuac, Mexico. Here the consul's debilitating malaise is drinking, and activity that has overshadowed his life. Under the Volcano is set during the most fateful day of the consul's life - the Day of the Dead, 1938. His wife, Yvonne, arrives in Quauhnahuac to rescue him and their failing marriage, inspired by a vision of life together away from Mexico and the circumstances that have driven their relationship to the brink of collapse. Yvonne's mission is to save the consul is further complicated by the presence of Hugh, the consul's half-brother, and Jacques, a childhood friend. The events of this one day unfold against a backdrop unforgettable for its evocation of a Mexico at once magical and diabolical. Under the Volcano remains one of the most powerful and lyrical statements on the human condition and one man's constant struggle against the elemental forces that threaten to destroy him.

As I noted above, it is on many lists of the top novels of the 20th century and is a harrowing read.  It ends in death, naturally, although that is hardly a surprise that I'm revealing.  John Huston made a film of it some thirty or so years ago, with Albert Finney in the lead, that well captured the tragedy and nightmarish imagery of the novel. 

Lowry's story reminds me of how often art, of any sort, is born of chaos and sometimes terrific pain.  Not just the artist's pain, either, but that of those who try to love them.  I suppose that, for the artist, trapped as they are in the cage of disease, the only redemptive outlet is that of intense self-expression, where whatever they have that is strong and sound is offered through lyricism and endeavor.  Perhaps, in retrospect, what some produce is what permits their redemption in the eyes of others.  Fortunately, Jesus redeems us despite of our sins, provided we are willing to amend our lives.  For those who cannot, though, I'm sure that redemption is also proffered.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Adult Forum returns tonight at 7pm with "New Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology". Join us in the parish house for stories and photos of the smallest discovery with the largest impact and the stair step that will require us to re-translate the Gospels.

Thursday's Verses

"Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed!
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tuesday's Quotation

"I recommend to you holy simplicity. Look close before you, and do not look at those dangers which you see afar off. You fancy they are armies; they are only trees in the distance, and whilst you are gazing at them you may make some false steps." - François de Sales (1567-1622)

Monday, February 4, 2013

What? Another One? They Just Mass Produce These Fellows, Don't They?

New Archbishop of Canterbury Takes Office

Honestly, they all look alike to me anymore.

Archaeological News

Skeleton found in parking lot identified as that of England's King Richard III, experts say

This Week's Lesser Feasts

February 4: Cornelius the Centurion

There are moments in great literature that always cause me to pause, if only for a moment, regardless of how many times I've read that particular sacred or secular work.  In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is the moment when Huck, who has been taught that to defy authority is a mortal sin, decides that he would rather go to Hell than to turn in Jim, the runaway slave who has become his friend.  In sacred literature, it is the moment when Peter, who has understood that Christianity is for Jews and Jews only, realizes in the tenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles that, "Truly, God shows no partiality."  This moment of revelation is what opens Christianity to all, in fulfillment of Jesus' teaching.

Peter's revelation is made known through his work with Cornelius the Centurion and Cornelius' family.  All we know of today's feast day honoree is captured in two chapters of Acts,
that Cornelius lived in Caesarea, the capital of Judea under Herod, and would have been in charge of 100 Roman soldiers [The title "Centurion" is the root word for the military rank of "captain".]  This reference gives us a window into that moment when Peter, and the other surviving apostles, were able to internalize and live the teachings of their rabbi, thus opening Christianity to the large influx of gentiles that would fill its ranks by the end of the 1st century.

O God, who by your Spirit called Cornelius the Centurion to be the first Christian among the Gentiles: Grant to your Church in every nation a ready mind and will to proclaim your love to all who turn to you with unfeigned hope and faith; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

February 5:  The Martyrs of Japan

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"The Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan (日本二十六聖人 Nihon Nijūroku Seijin?) refers to a group of Christians who were executed by crucifixion on February 5, 1597 at Nagasaki...
A promising beginning to Catholic missions in Japan — perhaps as many as 300,000 Christians by the end of the sixteenth century — met complications from competition between the missionary groups, political difficulty between Spain and Portugal, and factions within the government of Japan. Christianity was suppressed, and it was during this time that the 26 martyrs were executed. By 1630, Christianity had been driven underground. Two hundred and fifty years later, when Christian missionaries returned to Japan, they found a community of "hidden Christians"...."

Thus reads the official history, although what played the greatest role in their slaughter was the fear of the first shogun, Tokugawa, that outsiders would begin to dilute both Japanese culture and, particularly, his brutal control over his people.  Historically, there is nothing more threatening to authority, whether that of a feudal dictator or a 21st century politician, than free-thinking people of faith who recognize only one higher authority.

However, so well taught were those early Japanese Christians that, even without benefit of clergy or viable copies of the Holy Bible, Christianity remained alive and well, if hidden, for over 200 years and emerged from its underground a fully realized faith.

The Episcopal Church in Japan is the Nippon Sei Ko Kei, just so you know.  Above is a photo of their shrine in Nagasaki to those martyrs.

O God our Father, source of strength to all your saints, who brought the holy martyrs of Japan through the suffering of the cross to the joys of life eternal: Grant that we, being encouraged by their example, may hold fast the faith we profess, even to death itself; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Friday, February 1, 2013

John Fitch

“You know what makes a racer different from other people?  
The faster he goes, the more relaxed he becomes.”

I found myself thinking about John Fitch's words on the afternoon that he took me about the countryside, regaling me with stories of great drivers, great moments, and terrible tragedies while I blithely tried to ignore the fact that a man of nearly ninety was about to exceed that number on his car's speedometer and, all the while, looking like other men do when they sit in a recliner and watch football. I shouldn't have been worried; I doubt if I have ever been in safer hands.  The reason that I found myself riding in an open roof, hyper-powered vehicle on the winding road that is Route 7 and shooting through the West Cornwall covered bridge was because of one of those odd duties that has marked my career.

Not a bad weekend ride, eh?

Because my parish was next door to the well-known Lime Rock Park race track, and I belonged to the local volunteer fire department, I had been asked to serve as the "chaplain" to the track and its drivers.  My duty was remarkably simple:  I gave the invocation at the beginning of the race, standing at the start/finish line with the singer of the National Anthem, the honored guest who says, "Gentlemen and Ladies, start your engines", and some scantily clad Pirelli Tire girls.  I've had worse duty, believe me.

That reminds me; I need new tires.

Each year I would be "paid" with two season passes, which was a magnanimous compensation, a gift of either a book about racing, a facsimile of Steve McQueen's racing jacket from the film "Le Mans", or, one spectacular year, the chance to ride with John Fitch in a racing car of his own construction.  Yeah, that year was the best.  I only wish I had worn the McQueen jacket while doing so.

I suppose it looked better on him, but still....

John Fitch, his wife, children, and great-grandchildren, were Episcopalians and familiar to the Anglican community in the northwest corner of the state.  However, I was familiar with him because, as a fan of auto-racing, I knew a story about him, a famous one in auto racing that included the false reporting of death, an international tragedy, the half-century withdrawal from racing by one of the world's premier automobile marques, and the impetus for the creation of safety devices that would eventually become standard equipment on highways.

It should be no surprise that Fitch was born in Indianapolis, as that is the ideal spot from which to hail for an American racer.  Not just due to the famous track and its race, but because of the tradition of machines, metal fabrication, engineering, and manufacturing for which the Hoosier city is also known.  In this world, it was natural for Fitch to develop an interest in all of these things.  As his stepfather was an exec with the Stutz Company, makers of the famous Bearcat, Fitch was able to abide with those who showed him how to take junk metal and turn it into a functional car.  This, even before he was licensed to drive, became his hobby and passion.

Fitch enjoying another day at the office.

After serving as a Mustang pilot during WWII, his avocation became his profession.  Beginning in 1950, Fitch raced a Ford-powered Fiat 1100, which he soon modified into the "Fitch Model B", and drove in the first 12 Hours of Sebring. In 1951, he won the Buenos Aires Grand Prix, drove in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and became the first Sports Car Club of America national champion.  In 1953, Fitch competed in as many European races as he could afford to enter and was named "Sports Car Driver of the Year" by the automotive press.  The next season, he drove for both Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz and, in 1955, Fitch raced for the Mercedes-Benz sports car team along with Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling, and Stirling Moss [the three best drivers of this era]. That year, Fitch won the production class at the Mille Miglia.

Then came the most notorious moment in road racing history, occurring as it did during that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, to this day the world’s most demanding endurance race.  As the drivers race for 24 consecutive hours, they are made up of two or three-man teams, each alternating a couple of hours at the wheel with a couple of hours of rest.  That year Fitch’s teammate was Pierre Levegh, not one of the great drivers of his era, and a fellow who should have had nothing to do with a professional automobile competition of this calibre.

From an official retrospective:

Fitch's family heard on the radio that it was Fitch, and not his co-driver Levegh, who had been driving the Mercedes and been killed in the conflagration.  It took some time to straighten out the misinformation.  Mercedes-Benz would immediately withdraw its factory teams from all forms of competitive racing for half a century.

Fitch's close involvement with this tragedy lead him to grow beyond driving and car development and into the area of safety equipment.  While he was one of the first racers to build his own eponymous cars, he is best known these days as the inventor of "The Fitch Barrier", those sand-filled barrels often seen on highway off-ramps and bridge abutments.  Innumerable times they have rendered potentially horrific traffic accidents into one-car incidents with little or no damage to driver and passengers.

John Fitch died last October.  The Burial Office was read for him in the local parish.  He will be remembered for two things: His association with the deadliest accident in racing history and his determination that nothing like that would ever happen again, be it on a track or a highway.  Mostly, I remember him for that Sunday drive. 

Although, to be honest, once it was over I was tempted to kiss the ground like the Pope when I was released from that car.  I guess that's why I'm not a racer.