Friday, February 27, 2015

The Media, as Usual, are "Uncomfortable" with Religion

Death row women find God; ABC News promptly loses him

I've noticed that educated people, when they are insecure about their education and their intellect, tend to avoid or ignore religion.  Religious subjects are generally associated with those whom they classify as beneath them.

Well, This is Disturbing

A report on increasing anti-Semitism on American college campuses compiled by scholars at Trinity College in Hartford.

In short, 54 percent of self-identified Jewish students in 55 college across the country experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism during the 2013-2014 school year.

Of course, the Episcopal Church has some issues in this respect, too.

Friday's Music: "Blow up your TV"

D.A. Levy and the Cleveland Beats

“If you want a revolution
grow a new mind
and do it quietly if you can” 

I taught poetry in schools and colleges for nineteen years, here and there.  Sometimes as a full-time faculty member, sometimes as an adjunct, sometimes as a visiting lecturer.  I've come to realize that there are two things about poetry I've always appreciated.  The first, and the most obvious, is that it elevates all elements of a language to art.  Not only through simple rhyming verse, but through tone, the pattern of the syllables, and the manner in which the very pronunciation of the words can create a kind of music without instrumentation.  Poetry delicately enlivens the mind and creates a synaptic theme for appreciating reality anew. [Wow, that last sentence is pure academic gibberish, isn't it?  Or is it poetry?!]

The second reason is more complicated and visceral as it appeals to another portion of my character, I suppose; that which appreciates art that is less...tactile.  For example, in my days as an indifferent and failed New Wave musician, it was "the scene" rather than the music that drew me.  The energy, the raw, undiluted emotion of primal music, the massive expectations and the sheer, wild puissance of the crowd and the band and the immediacy of shared experience. 

The people drawn to music, both musicians and fans, tended towards the fringes of society, either due to their youth or liminal habits or peculiar view of the world.  To be involved in the next, and decidedly non-corporate, development of popular music was intoxicating, especially when it had not even been noticed by the professional sentinels of the media.

Similarly, poetry, too, highlights "the scene".  While I can recognize the stirring themes of Tennyson, absurd world-view of Eliot, the vividity of Shakespeare, or the lyrical wonder of Wordsworth, I can also appreciate what has been offered by poets of, in my opinion, lesser efforts.  While they may have come and gone, or only heard on amateur nights at the corner bar/coffeehouse or at a "slam poetry" experience at a college, they were willing to extend their artistic sense into a verbal medium.

This means there isn't that much of a difference between a musician and a poet.  There are those who prefer to offer the classics, or at least the classical themes, and those who are more experimental. Some become recognized artists whose work is collected and presented to subsequent generations, others offer a more transitional effort that also plays a role in the greater corpus of art.  Both poets and musicians experiment, shove at limits that are artificially imposed, weave new themes and styles into expression, and attract followers who are eager to share in the poet/musician's art.  The life of David Bowie and the life of Lord Byron are not as separated as one might think.  Both, whether consciously or not, make their lives into an art form.

One of those poets of lesser effort but important influence was D.A. Levy, who established a forum and style for a school of verse that became known as The Cleveland Beats [which was also the name of the one of the bands in which I played].  I'm not a big fan of Levy's poetry, but I appreciate what he did and how he pushed the raw experience of localized poetry into a new, much less cautious and deliberate, dimension.  A testimony to his power was that, when I was a first-year English teacher in a Cleveland high school, I was advised not to teach Levy's works in my classroom.  Being banned from formal educational curricula is generally, in my experience, an indication that the subject may actually be valuable.

Levy was born David Allen but, with a young man's enthusiasm and as an homage to e.e. cummings, eventually shortened his name and rendered it in lower case so that, by the mid-60's, he was listed on posters and poetry collections as d.a. levy.  His family were members of the sizable Jewish population that emigrated from Europe during the 1930's and found jobs in the enormous and powerful manufacturing sector of Cleveland.  He was born in 1942, lived throughout the Cleveland area, and unlike other Cleveland poets such as Hart Crane or Langston Hughes, never left.  His overriding desire was to write the great Cleveland poem, much as had been done for Chicago by Carl Sandburg.

He was slight, quiet, and unimposing with an unremarkable voice; often seen in the centers of counter-culture life with those originally labeled "beatniks" and later "hippies".  His first poem to be read by a respectable audience, "Cleveland Undergrounds", sought to capture the dualism of his city.  It is an immature work, and derivative of many of the beat poets of the period, but shows an energy that many found compelling.

Other poems would be printed from 1962 to 1968.  These would not result in any form of mainstream recognition, but Levy would gradually become a legend in the Cleveland sub-culture that found its epicenter in the University Circle/Coventry Road area of the city and in a popular performance space located at the Episcopal cathedral.  [It's interesting that when I think back to my youth, much of the counter-cultural arts scene was introduced through the basement of Trinity Cathedral.  In those days, the Episcopal Church really was on the cutting edge of society, rather than simply believing itself to be.]

He would suffer a different type of recognition, unfortunately.  Disturbed by the movement that was consuming youth culture and creating friction with the political class, Levy and the other "hippies" would come under the aggressive scrutiny of the police, especially as their drug use and promiscuity became known.  Since Levy wrote candidly of the counter-culture experience, used sparing profanity in his art, and was recognized as a spokesman for the artists of his generation, he was targeted by local authorities and twice arrested for obscenity.  As the charges were somewhat vague and clearly designed to harass, nothing much came of them, legally.  However, they did contribute to what many of Levy's friends recognized as a growing mental disturbance.  In 1968, shortly after completing what is considered his most elaborate work, “Suburban Monastery Death Poem,” Levy took his own life.  As he was only 26-years-old, one cannot help but wonder if he would have continued to grow as an artist.

Beyond his poetry, however, Levy made another, and lasting, gift to the Cleveland literary scene. Using an old mimeograph machine, purchased from some school or church, Levy and some of this friends created the primary underground publication of its era, The Buddhist Third Class Junkmail Oracle. Beginning in the summer of 1967its crude, blue print pages presented a collection of local poets who could not find a publisher willing to print the lyrics of hippies.  These poets, The Cleveland Beats, found local notoriety and earned an appreciation that continues to this day.  Without Levy, they would have never been known.

It wasn't simply a forum for poetry, either.  As noted in a magazine profile of Levy from a few years ago:
Paging through issues of the Junkmail Oracle, which levy first published in June 1967, is like paging through levy’s radical, rambling mind. Articles on Buddhism by Allen Ginsberg and Zen author Alan Watts, levy’s own poems and some by Charles Bukowski ran along with his wild collages, which mixed images of Buddha and Hindu gods with cutouts from newspapers, movie ads and skin magazines...When police shut down the bars and cafes at Euclid and East 115th, and fires struck the buildings, levy accused the cops and the University Circle development corporation of destroying the area to create a wall between blacks and whites. (Two parking lots and a McDonald’s sit at the corner today.) Levy also wrote about books, movies and music, even interviewing the Velvet Underground, the legendary art-rockers....
In retrospect, Levy was exactly right about the motivation behind the University Circle development, as it did create a barrier between the cultures that lasts until this day.  The development also, very gradually, destroyed the counter-cultural community through re-zoning, absurd rents, and the harassment from law enforcement.  From the late 1960's through the late 1970's, the clubs where we would play our eccentric music, the coffee houses where we could hear poetry recited, the theater company that produced experimental plays, the small bookstores, even the delicatessen that provided cheap, wholesome food on ample platters, would all evaporate.

However, there is an historic marker acknowledging the existence of the sub-culture and its artists, as if from some exotic, extinct tribe that surrendered to inevitable progress.  So there's that, I suppose.

There is also, like a brooding ghost, an image of Levy that can be spotted to this day on university bulletin boards, dormitory doors, some remaining independent bookstores, and the music clubs that have gradually moved further east and west.  His visage serves as a reminder that, behind the perpetual attempts of the city to be something other than it is, it remains the Jerusalem of the under-appreciated. And that's okay.

A video of Levy reading one of his poems may be found at the Cleveland Memory Project, which is still the most complete depository of his works.  As he was sloppy about seeking copyright protection and tended to release his poems far and wide, all of them are in the public domain.  In fact, most may be found for free on the Internet.

Lenten Wave #10

"The idea that an individual can find God is terribly self-centered. It is like a wave thinking it can find the sea." - Sir John Templeton

Thursday, February 26, 2015

In Australia, Windmill Farms are Called "Bird Blenders"

How a Solar Farm Set Hundreds of Birds Ablaze

Well, I Got Tagged in Twelve of Them

Below is a list of 72 types of Americans that are considered to be “extremists” and “potential terrorists” in official U.S. government documents...As you can see, this list covers most of the country…

I concede we live in an era when the government's hyper-vigilance towards potential terrorist actions requires such generalities, but it's interesting how one may passively come to be regarded as a potential extremist.

I Try to Stay Away from Secular Ideological Argument, But...

...when "pundits" decide to use religious devotion as a truncheon against their ideological opposites, I find I usually have something to say.  However, in this instance, a law professor of my general acquaintance does so for me:

Milbank (who is probably not a Christian) is missing something about Christianity that is quite glaring to me (whose possible Christianity is an enigma). To many Christians, claiming to be a Christian doesn't make you a Christian.

Lenten Wave #9

"Surfing, alone among sports, generates laughter at its very suggestion, and this is because it turns not a skill into an art, but an inexplicable and useless urge into a vital way of life." - Matt Warshaw

[In other words, it's like the practice of religion.]

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

More Criticism for Neo-Puritanism

After the great victory won by my insurgent, pro-sex, pro-fashion wing of feminism in the 1990s, American and British feminism has amazingly collapsed backward again into whining, narcissistic victimology. As in the hoary old days of Gloria Steinem and her Stalinist cohorts, we are endlessly subjected to the hackneyed scenario of history as a toxic wasteland of vicious male oppression and gruesome female suffering. College campuses are hysterically portrayed as rape extravaganzas where women are helpless fluffs with no control over their own choices and behavior. I am an equal opportunity feminist: that is, I call for the removal of all barriers to women's advance in the professional and political realms. However, I oppose special protections for women, which I reject as demeaning and infantilizing. My principal demand (as I have been repeating for nearly 25 years) is for colleges to confine themselves to education and to cease their tyrannical surveillance of students' social lives. If a real crime is committed, it must be reported to the police. College officials and committees have neither the expertise nor the legal right to be conducting investigations into he said/she said campus dating fiascos. Too many of today's young feminists seem to want hovering, paternalistic authority figures to protect and soothe them, an attitude I regard as servile, reactionary and glaringly bourgeois. The world can never be made totally safe for anyone, male or female: there will always be sociopaths and psychotics impervious to social controls. I call my system "street-smart feminism":  there is no substitute for wary vigilance and personal responsibility.

This Explains a Lot, Actually

One more disturbing number: according to the survey’s projections, only 14 percent of non-Christians today know a Christian—a number that speaks to both the isolation of religious groups from each other and the failures of evangelization. So there’s a lot of work to do in fulfilling the Great Commission, especially with those who have no contact with the faith.

Dear Government: Hush Up, Please

U.S. Dietary Panel Advocates Sweetened Drink Tax, More Labeling, and Not Adding Cream & Sugar to Your Coffee, Gosh Darnit
Committee member and Tufts University nutrition profressor Alice Lichtenstein told Bloomberg: "We put much more of an emphasis on healthy dietary patterns as opposed to individual components of the diet. When we focus on individual components of the diet, whether it be carbs or fat, we usually end up going astray."
Yes, "going astray" is another way of saying "completely, totally, fully wrong".  Everything the government assured us about the harmful effects of salt and dietary cholesterol has turned out to

Plus: “Since the 1980s, Americans over all have been eating more grains, produce, cereals and vegetable oils, while generally lowering their intake of red meat, whole milk and eggs, Ms. Hite said, and yet the population is fatter and sicker than ever.”

Gosh, it's like one has something to do with the other.  However, I'm glad to see them asserting the true purpose for such guidelines:  Oh, look.  A new tax!

It's weird that we elect people who tell us what to eat and then punish us through fines [aka taxes] when we choose not to comply with their "wisdom".  Is it the government's role to make us "perfect"?  If so, then whose perfection is it to which we are to conform?  The government's?

The University is the Incubator for Neo-Puritanism

‘Uncomfortable’ students call for ban on Bibles

This Month's New Word

"Wrongfun", as heard on campus, means having fun in a manner not approved of by the politically sensitive or those who fancy themselves warriors for social justice.

In other words, my entire childhood, youth, young adulthood, and most of my middle-age has been wrongfun.

I Think They Spent About 100K on This "Logo Change"

It's just embarrassing.

Spiritual News

Incense smoke wafts through the cold air of the centuries-old Buddhist temple as a priest chants a sutra, praying for the peaceful transition of the souls of the departed.  Some Japanese owners of robot dog AIBO believe their 'pet' have souls.

It's About Time

‘Surfer Angel’ Is Considered for Sainthood

Lenten Wave #8

"A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water." - Proverbs 11:25

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

They Don't Want to Go to Church or Volunteer for Charities, Either

Millennials don’t want to run for office

Everything They Know is Wrong, Again

For years now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been recommending that "everyone age 2 and up should consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day. Some groups of people should further limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, including adults age 51 or older, all African Americans, and anyone with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease." 

Recent studies now suggest that this advice is killing more people than it's saving.

Being willing to trust a government with your health and life is unwise.

Here's some pungency from an actual physician:
Sorry, Whole Foods, food quacks, and food faddists. You have been wrong all along. Docs finally now feel free to share the real facts, which they have known for years. I've never known a doc who would refuse a rare ribeye steak or filet mignon. Never known a vegetarian doc either, or a scientist who ate organic food. In fact, the biological scientists I know like to go to fancy French and fancy Italian restaurants as often as possible.

It's the 40th Anniversary of Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti. I Know!

More on the Continued Martyrdom of Middle-Eastern Christians

Activists report dozens of Assyrian Christians kidnapped by ISIS


BREAKING NEWS: ISIS kidnap at least 90 people from Christian villages in Syria, human rights watchdog reveals

I'm Trying

It’s official: Americans should drink more coffee

Of course, after my eighth or so trip to the urns at the market or gas station, the attendant pleads with me, "There's no more coffee!"  [That's an homage to an old Richard Pryor joke, so please don't take it literally.]

Lenten Wave #7

"Water is also one of the four elements, the most beautiful of God's creations. It is both wet and cold, heavy, and with a tendency to descend, and flows with great readiness. It is this the Holy Scripture has in view when it says, "And the darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." Water, then, is the most beautiful element and rich in usefulness, and purifies from all filth, and not only from the filth of the body but from that of the soul, if it should have received the grace of the Spirit."  -John of Damascus

Everything They Know is Wrong

Limited airborne transmission of Ebola is ‘very likely,’ new study says
"There was almost a rush to ensure the public that we knew a lot more than we did," Osterholm said in an interview Wednesday night, repeating a theme he has raised many times before. "But we're saying you can’t rule out respiratory transmission."
This has not been a great year for "experts", and it's just February.

Monday, February 23, 2015

I Thought This Day Would Never Come

Medical Marijuana May Soon Be Made Kosher

Lenten Wave #6

"The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them." - Thomas Merton

No, There's Too Much Money in It

Can we stop the doom mongering?
Whenever someone asserts that a scientific question is “settled,” they tell me immediately that they don’t understand the first thing about science. Science is never settled. Science is not a dogmatic body of doctrine. It is an open system of knowledge that establishes probable truths that are subject to continual revision. The entire history of science is one of established theories being overthrown. Astronomers once believed the Sun revolved around the Earth. Naturalists maintained that species were immutable. Geologists thought continental drift was physically impossible. Physicians attempted to cure people by blood-letting. Are we to suppose that the process of history has stopped?

It Can't Be Utopia Without a Carpenter

They sought paradise in a Scottish field — and found hunger, boredom and mosquitoes

No Kidding. You Should See Their Religious Views.

Millennials' Political Views Don't Make Any Sense

Sunday, February 22, 2015

So Much for Politics at the Oscars

Lenten Wave #5

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust

Saturday, February 21, 2015

When It Comes to Petty Bureaucrats, I Agree with the President

He said, "Punch back twice as hard."  Although, I think he was speaking of the opposing party rather than his fellow ideologues.

All over America, people have put small "give one, take one" book exchanges in front of their homes. Then they were told to tear them down.

Such nonsense should not be left unchallenged.

Just When It Seems Hopeless, Shared Monotheism Shows Its Best Nature

Norway's Muslims offer symbolic protection for the city's Jewish community while condemning synagogue attack in neighboring Denmark last weekend.

Update:  Well, it doesn't happen very often, even with the Internet, but it appears that this is a cynical PR stunt that had me buffaloed.  Phooey.

An Obituary of Note

Timothy Field Beard

Sad and Wonderful

Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer

Lenten Wave #4

"Christians have children, in great part, in order to be able to tell our children the story. Fortunately for us, children love stories. It is our baptismal responsibility to tell this story to our young, to live it before them, to take time to be parents in a world that (though intent on blowing itself to bits) is God’s creation (a fact we would not know without this story). We have children as a witness that the future is not left up to us and that life, even in a threatening world, is worth living—and not because “Children are the hope of the future,” but because God is the hope of the future."

- Hauerwas, Stanley (1989-10-01). Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (p. 60). Abingdon Press.

Friday, February 20, 2015

This Friday's Music Reminds Me That the World Has Always Been a Place of Chaos

Alfred Pierce Reck

"I didn't say get the story.  I said get the kid his peaches."

In the 1970's, in part of my mad scramble to pay my tuition for college, I worked as a part-time beer truck driver, disk jockey, clay mixer for the school's art department, bus driver for a halfway house, Marine Corps officer trainee, and cab driver.  My most lasting impressions from those days, though, was when I worked as a stringer for a news agency.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a stringer is a reporter hired on a temporary basis to cover large, complex stories that develop quickly; things like natural disasters, acts of war, political scandal or tragedy, and the like.  A stringer may be called upon for extra on-the-scene coverage, running down multiple sources, digging through a newspaper's "morgue" for old stories about a related subject, running to the library for extra research, and a lot of time on a telephone.  At least, that's what it was like in the days before the Internet and online search engines.

Stringers also tended to be hired in the summers and during holidays when the regular staff members were on vacation.  If there was a particularly dull or onerous regular assignment, a stringer was usually dispatched to handle it.  Hence my regular gig as the reporter at the monthly meetings of the local sewer board.

Stringers had no job security and received no benefits.  If a stringer wrote a story, whether an obituary or the caption to a photograph, we would expect to be paid 5 cents a word.  This was why my sewer board reports tended to run about 5000 words; reports that the editor would cut down to about 300. Still, it was a heady and fun experience.  I don't know what it's like these days, but there was something about walking into a large room filled with mad chaos, the clatter of typewriters, reporters hollering for copy boys and girls to rush to their desks to deliver their initial reports to the editors' scrum, and phones ringing and ringing, that was intoxicating.

Reigning over all of this was the city editor or editor-in-chief, a figure of unquestioned authority, power, and respect within the organization.  What he [and, in those days, it was always a "he"] said was law, and even the publisher, if he or she were smart, would bow to the editor's wisdom.  Such editors tended to be gruff, terse, critical, shirt-sleeved, heavy-drinking, connected, and absolutely dedicated to ensuring that the facts were presented cleanly and clearly to the readers.  They almost always smoked too much and, when they did, it was either a cigar or equally pungent and very cheap cigarette.  As with all strong characters, there is an archetype.  In the good, old days of typewriters and telephones, that was Alfred Pierce Reck.

I could collate information about Reck and present it through my own questionable editing process, but I'd rather simply link to two stories written by proteges of his.  The first is a portion from Reck's obit as it appeared in The Oakland Tribune, the newspaper he served as city editor for 22 years, upon his death in 1967:
The men and women who learned their craft from Mr. Reck, a restless soul, recognized him as a professional. He was a product of an era when newspapers expressed the American conscience and journalism was a brawling art. He began his career as a reporter in 1919 in his native Piqua, Ohio, after an Army tour in World War I that read like an adventure novel. Commissioned before he was 21, he was wounded, left for dead in the field for three days, captured by the Germans, escaped, recaptured and finally released on Christmas morning of 1918.
He returned to Piqua something of a local hero, with a reputation that helped land him his job on the weekly Call. His ability to recognize and write the news soon became apparent, and in less than a year he moved from the 4.000-circulation Call to the 40,000-per-day Dayton Journal.  It wasn't long before he moved again, this time to Washington as a congressman's secretary, a post he held long enough to nail down  some of the news sources that were to serve him well for the rest of his life. 
Finally, in 1924, after interrupting  his Washington sojourn long enough to work for a while as a free-lance foreign correspondent in South Africa,  Mr. Reck, by his own admission, couldn't hold still. It wasn't because he was a drifter. It was just that his urgent sense of history-in-the-making demanded action. He pursued the breaking news wherever it seemed to be breaking the fastest, from the Tampa Tribune, to the Washington News, to the old United Press, to the Deseret News in Salt Lake City and finally to the Oakland Tribune.
However, the best of the Reck stories was this reminiscence that captures the rough-and-tumble world of 20th century journalism along with its common-sense and compassion.  Please read the whole thing:

As we live in an era where news readers and their organizations "exaggerate" stories for personal and professional effect, or are satisfied to have smug comedians deliver the news, or turn the simple exercise of reportage into ideological advocacy, it's worth remembering that there actually was a time when it was the facts, rather than the narrative, that were important.  It was also a time when the people who served as the subjects of their stories were as, or more, important to the media organizations as were the advertisers.

Lenten Wave #3

“Life is a blank canvas, and you need to throw all the paint on it you can.”
                                                                                                            ― Danny Kaye

[Actually, Michaelangelo said something simliar, but he was not a star of movies and tv shows.]

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Yet They Keep Meeting, Praying, Singing, and Worshiping, Regardless

ISIS Releases Video Showing Beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians

Meanwhile, in New England, we cancel church services for a snowflake.

Revelation 20:4
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

Lede of the Week

A man who drove himself to hospital while drinking gin to relieve pain after stitching up his own hand with fishing line has had appeal over drink driving charge dismissed

I Expect More of This

Vandals set fire at Florida church, write 'Allahu Akbar'

Oh, look:
Terror In Motown: Detroit Man Stabs Two After Establishing They Were Not Muslims

Good for Him

Indian Prime Minister vows to protect Christians

We Have "Safe Church"; Looks Like We Need "Safe Govt".

Well, Those Who Make Our Laws are Urbanites, So This isn't Much of a Surprise

EPA's Wood-Burning Stove Ban Has Chilling Consequences For Many Rural People

The Bass is Supposed to be a Mere Portion of the Rhythm Section. Look What My Favorite Bassist Can Do with It.

If You Wish to Understand the 21st Century, Please Read This

I appreciate that it's long, but it's worth it.

The Atlantic: What ISIS Really Wants

Honestly, Who Could Be?

Ginsburg: ‘I Wasn’t 100 Percent Sober’ For State Of The Union Address

Until Now, I Had to Settle for Religion to Say It

The Atlantic [no longer Monthly]: Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.

Why Uncle Sam is a horrible nutritionist

Put down that egg-white omelet. Whole eggs aren't going to give you a heart attack.  So says the government now, after 40 years of warning that eggs are killing you, and funding bad research to "confirm" that they do, and employing experts to shout down nutritionists who say they don't. 

Lenten Wave #2

" … the world is a work of art, set before all for contemplation, so that through it the wisdom of Him who created it should be known …"
                                                                              —Basil, from Exegetical Works, On the Hexameron

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lenten Wave #1

Acknowledging the old surfing expression that a surfer learns something from every wave, big or small, junky or sublime, we again offer during this Lenten season a quotation to serve as an aid in daily meditation.  If used so, one may learn something from every quote.

Today's quotation is from Alan Watts, who was, before he become the premier apologist of Eastern religion in the United States, an Episcopal priest:

"Religion is not a department of life; it is something that enters into the whole of it."

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Dear Readers

My small parish lost a big personality this week and, combined with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, my spare hours will be filled attending to the work of a country rector.  We will post more as the week progresses, I'm sure, but for now I'll turn my full attentions to those whom I serve.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday with Anita, and Not at Three in the Morning, Either

Anita O'Day

"When you haven't got that much voice, you have to use all the cracks and crevices and the black and the white keys." - Anita O'Day

I was thirteen or fourteen when I first heard jazz.  Given that I grew up in Cleveland, it was not difficult to discover.  There were a number of jazz clubs that attracted the leading performers in that medium and, while I was too young to attend any of their performances [I didn't start sneaking illegally into clubs until I was seventeen], their art was unavoidable as the artists would appear on local news shows, at shopping center openings, and in surprise, free concerts in the parks or public square.

Each city or region of the United States has contributed to the sound of jazz.  Cleveland style is dominated by the electric organ, specifically the Hammond B3.  Since most of the native jazz musicians learned to play in church rather than in school or from private instructors, and since the Hammond is the instrument of choice in Pentecostal choirs, it was a natural relationship.

New York style often has a more nervous and frenetic beat, the sounds of the subway and urban traffic.  Shortly after the end of World War II, New York "bebop" became dominant with its quick licks and lyrical improvisation offered by musicians like Charlie Parker, Lips Page, Lester Young, and Miles Davis.

The oldest form of jazz, that of New Orleans, derives its particular sound from Creole folk rhythms and the pitchiness that comes from well-used instruments purchased from pawn shops, captured in the brassiness of horns and the jangle of the piano.  No surprise since Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton are two of its representative artists.

Many of the musicians from the South along with those from New York, seeking newer venues, came to Chicago and blended their styles into the unmistakable Chicago sound, a rhythm emphasized by the upright bass and guitar. 

As with any entertainers, musicians, especially once they were established, tended to roam from city to city, traveling along their performance routes or re-locating to the cities of their record companies.  This continued the blending of styles and sounds so that one group would inform another and create yet more avenues of aural exploration.  The eventual "swirl" of styles would lead to Los Angeles, of course, and become known as West Coast Jazz, best known by artists such as Mel Torme and Henry Mancini.

One of the artists to participate in this mass, roaming adventure in sound was Anita O'Day [as she would inform people, her stage name is from the pig latin for "dough"].  While her roots were in the bebop blend of Chicago, she is generally remembered as one of the practitioners of West Coast Jazz, a much cooler fusion of existing styles and one that marked, in particular, the decade of the 1950's.

O'Day was born Anita Bell Colton in Chicago in 1919.  It was an impoverished upbringing from which she escaped as soon as she could into the venue most likely to take a poor, young woman and not illegally exploit her.  So, O'Day began her life as an entertainer as a marathon dancer in the infamous events of the 1930's.  In these she would remain on her feet for hours and days, enlivening the experience for the audience by also engaging in odd competitions, harmful games, and extemporaneous song.  It was in the latter event that she began to realize she had a voice and persona that people liked.  The fan favorite was her version of "The Lady in Red".

As marathon dance competitions began to take their physical toll [she was seventeen, after all], O'Day found employment as a singing waitress in some of the tonier clubs of Chicago, a vocation that allowed her close association with politicians, gangsters, characters [frankly, in the Windy City and its smaller Rust Belt cousins, it's a little hard to separate those three categories], and, especially, professional musicians of no small repute.  I'm sure it didn't hurt that she was considered attractive by the standards of her day.

At eighteen she met and married a jazz drummer who got her a gig singing with his band at the famous nightclub, The Off-Beat, which was owned by the editor of Down Beat magazine, still the "bible" of the jazz world.  From this job O'Day met almost all of the most popular jazz musicians of her day.  More importantly, she had a chance to sing with and for them, and to learn through observation how music could be individually interpreted and presented.

When Gene Krupa, the great, frenetic jazz drummer, who had heard her sing at The Off-Beat, discovered that his eponymous band's singer was thinking of departing, he made sure to hire O'Day when the position opened.  At the age of 22, she was now fronting for the most popular band on the charts.  With Krupa, she made the first form of music video, "soundies", which would be shown at movie theaters as part of the entertainment in between the B movies and feature films.

Unfortunately, Krupa and his band also introduced her to something as intoxicating as popularity.  They were notorious, even among other musicians, for their alcohol and drug use and O'Day became a participant in that associated experience.  In 1943, Gene Krupa's band broke up when he was arrested and jailed for marijuana possession.  [An aside: This seems odd, doesn't it, from our perspective?  Since we currently live in a world that is far more judgmental about tobacco use than that of marijuana.]  She was now unemployed and stranded in Los Angeles.

While her marijuana usage would eventually lead to heroin addiction, O'Day continued to perform for other leading jazz bands, now as a solo artist, joining Woody Herman for performances at the Hollywood Palladium and on tour with Stan Kenton's band.  When Krupa was released after two years, O'Day rejoined his band for one year but, by then, she had come to prefer the schedule and musical freedom of a soloist.  At this time, the readers of Down Beat rated her the fourth best jazz singer, just behind Billie Holiday at number three.

With World War II coming to an end, and the veterans returning to a burgeoning economy offering the greatest amount of discretionary income ever known in U.S. history, over the next decade the music industry jumped with new acts, new labels, new venues, and new artists who continued to push the envelop of sound and style.  With dozens of small record labels now filling the market, O'Day found more than enough solo work, along with the "o'day" she needed to support her second husband and her growing dependency on drugs.

One of those small record labels, Verve, was becoming well-known as an upstart company able to work outside of the sometimes tightly controlled association of nightclub owners and music managers. As the company came into existence at the same time that recording technology was enabling instruments other than the clarinet and drums to be heard with more aural precision, and the format changing from ten-inch records to twelve-inchers with greater tonality and fidelity, it was well-suited to allow singers, in particular, to indulge their particular styles.

O'Day's first solo album in 1952, Anita O'Day Sings Jazz, was a critical and popular success.  Her follow-up album, Songs, would be delayed when she was arrested for marijuana and heroin possession and be in and out of courtrooms and jails for a couple of years, but its eventual release was equally well-received. Since musicians tend not to have their reputations damaged by drug use, arrests, and prosecutions [in fact, reputations are often enhanced], both her work and her addiction continued apace until, at the age of 49, she almost died from a heroin addiction.

Recovery and rehabilitation marked her next few years as her recordings and performances ceased. A number of jazz artists, replaced in popularity by the rockers of the 1960's, found opportunities in Europe and the newly-clean O'Day, not to be left out, wound up stealing the show at the 1970 Berlin Jazz Festival.  From that point forward, O'Day could always be found a studio or performance venue.

She would die in 2006.  A year later, the documentary Anita O'Day: The Life of an American Jazz Singer would be presented to acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival.

I initially knew of her from the "soundies" that used to be shown at college film festivals in the 1970's, and from the round of appearance she made on Johnny Carson's and Dick Cavett's shows in the wake of the publication of her memoirs, High Times, Hard Times, in 1981.  In her book and interviews, she spoke candidly of the toll that drug abuse took on her life but also entertainingly of the stories of those who created and refined America's particular music form.

In those days, when I used to host a weekend jazz show on a small radio station in rural Pennsylvania, somewhere in the middle of my midnight to 6 AM shift, I would often receive a phone call from the same listener, perhaps my only listener, who would always request the same song.  Even when I would automatically set up the record around 3 AM, she would still call and ask if I would "play some of that Anita with the sweet voice; play some 'Sweet Georgia Brown'".  I always would, of course, not just because it was the only request I would ever receive, but because O'Day's live performance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival is considered the high-water mark in the popularity of American jazz.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness...." - Howl, by Allan Ginsberg

The President of the United States discovers the "selfie stick".

Really? Because You Look Like a Rich, White Lady

CNN: Joni Mitchell thinks she's experienced being a poor, black man.

Sometimes I wish musicians would just, well, hush up.  Between Mitchell and Kanye Whatever Compass Direction, not to mention a dozen other singers and instrumentalists lately, they tend towards the puzzle-witted when trying to make a point outside of their coterie of fans, employees, and supplicants.  It's their right, of course, but I'd rather just listen to their music without questioning their intelligence, perception, sense of privilege, or sanity.

Then again, I like Wagnerian opera, so my sanity is a bit suspect.

Gallup: Connecticut Is Last in State Job Creation

Connecticut's position at the bottom of the list in 2014 highlights that four of the six New England states had among the lowest Job Creation Index scores last year -- the others being Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island. All four also ranked in the bottom 10 in 2013. New Hampshire has occasionally appeared in the bottom tier for job creation, leaving Massachusetts as the sole New England state that has avoided this unwelcome distinction.

Look on the bright side, our politicians are terrible, awful, and ghastly at job creation, but at least you can't legally buy a rifle magazine that carries eleven bullets.  You can buy one that carries ten, of course, but you're not supposed to notice that.  See, you're safe now.  Unemployed, but safe.

[By the way, to put that whole "too many bullets" issue in perspective, we never carried more than 100 rounds [bullets] each with us when geared up for combat.  That was deemed enough to win any battle. Yes, that's right.]

This Should Be Worth Some Commentary on the Part of the Episcopal Church's Social Justice Folks

Alas, that's not the case.  I think I know why not, but that would be mere speculation on my part.

Bloomberg Media:
The problem with using your police force as a stealth tax-collection agency is that this functions as a highly regressive tax on people who are already having a hard time of things. Financially marginal people who can't afford to, say, renew their auto registration get caught up in a cascading nightmare of fees piled upon fees that often ends in bench warrants and nights spent in jail ... not for posing a threat to the public order, but for lacking the ready funds to legally operate a motor vehicle in our car-dependent society.

Forensic Anglican Archaeology, Continued

Pathologists at the University of Leicester believe they may have found the "killer blow" that claimed the life of King Richard III.

The Wages of Theophobia

Recent assertions in the Los Angeles Times that secular family values result in better-adjusted children than believers rest on three fallacies.

The story also contains a marvelously pungent lede:

"The dominant feature of the Christian religion is belief in Jesus Christ. The dominant feature of Buddhism is the promise of nirvana. The dominant feature of atheism, as best I can tell, is crippling insecurity."

Some Sorry News

I was sorry to hear of Bob Simon's death first thing this morning, especially as a couple of years ago he offered one of the best stories ever about Middle Eastern Christians.

60 Minutes: Christians of the Holy Land

Random Folks of Europe

Leading Jewish groups have slammed the German government for creating a new commission on anti-Semitism without including a single Jew.


After three men firebombed a German synagogue, a judge let them off with just arson charges because they intended to ‘bring attention to the Gaza conflict.’


Belgian teacher tells Jewish student: 'We should put you all on freight wagons'


Europe’s Jewish Population Continues to Plummet


A vicar who suggested Israel was responsible for the 9/11 attack on the twin towers has been banned from Twitter and other social media for six months, the Church of England said yesterday.


Anti-Semitic hate crimes on the rise in Hackney


Antisemitic attacks in UK at highest level ever recorded


Teacher quits French Muslim school, citing anti-Semitism

[Hat tip to Laura Rosen Cohen for the links.]

More About "The Crusades"

From a liberal:
At the prayer breakfast, President Obama struck a patronizing tone

From a conservative:
President Compares Islam to Christianity

People of faith, regardless of political ideology, don't care for facile or patronizing commentary from politicians about their religion.

George Orwell Was A Genius And Seer

Your Samsung SmartTV Is Spying on You

“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Linear Result of Militant Atheism

The man arrested on suspicion of killing three young Muslims in North Carolina described himself as an “anti-theist” and criticised all religions online.

This is the pitiable outcome of the increasingly violent rhetoric of atheism.  I regret that professional atheists are so poor at contradicting this trend.  I would think it would be in their interest to do so as they promote themselves as the people of reason as opposed to those like myself whom they label as fantasists.  Theophobia is a terrible illness.

Yes, but those Crusades were pretty bad, too, right?

Ergo, No End

No Big Bang? Quantum equation predicts universe has no beginning

Everything You Know Is Wrong

The Full-Fat Paradox: Whole Milk May Keep Us Lean

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Oh, Okay

Connecticut to super-rich residents: Please don't leave

Headline of the Week

Drunk gorilla punches photographer

From The People Who Brought Us Global Warming

Everything you know is wrong:
"Guidelines warning people to avoid eating fatty foods such as butter and cheese should not have been introduced, new research has found.  Dietary advice issued to tens of millions warned that fat consumption should be strictly limited to cut the risk of heart disease and death.  But experts say the recommendations, which have been followed for the past 30 years, were not backed up by scientific evidence and should never have been issued.  The guidelines, introduced in the UK in 1983 and in the US six years earlier, recommended reducing overall dietary fat consumption to 30% of total energy intake and saturated fat to 10%.  But researchers say the guidelines “lacked any solid trial evidence”.
Yeah, let's repeat that last sentence: But researchers say the guidelines “lacked any solid trial evidence”.

How many times have we been advised by physicians, scolded by nutritionists, and lied to by politicians about our diet and what it should be?  All of it based on complete and total bosh.

Health Experts Recommend Standing Up At Desk, Leaving Office, Never Coming Back

“We encourage Americans to experiment with stretching their legs by strolling across their office and leaving all their responsibilities behind forever just one time to see how much better they feel. People tend to become more productive, motivated, and happy almost immediately. We found that you can also really get the blood flowing by pairing this activity with hurling your staff ID across the parking lot.”

Even After Death, Defiance May Be Offered

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Crusades?

I have been asked by a number of people about the President's singular statements about Christianity and the Crusades at the National Prayer Breakfast, an odd observation for him to make especially in a room filled with serious people of faith who, by and large, have supported and voted for him.  I am uninterested in the partisan political observations that one may make, and rather easily, about this, but would offer a few observations of my own:

1.]  Many of the observations about Christianity that are made by politicians are either, on the conservative end of the spectrum, flat and narrow and, on the liberal end, fanciful and disjointed.

2.]  I've noticed, especially when working with young people, either fellow faculty or students, that "What about the Crusades?" is a common riposte whenever someone like myself offers testimony as to the intellectual and spiritual freedom found in real Christianity.  While they tend to know little or nothing about the actual Crusades, they feel [since feelings trump knowledge in our brave new world] that this is a sublime example of Christian hypocrisy that negates all other experiences of the faith in any period of history.

3.] This limp feeling of hypocrisy relieves the faculty member or student from actually having to contemplate the reality of Christianity.  Appreciating historical context, cultural moral development, and perpetual intellectual inquiry are things that are out of fashion.  This is especially splendid when one notes that Western education, which was formed by Christian scholars, is now in the hands of spiritual puzzle-wits.

4.]  Regrettably, I have found many of the statements about religion, and not just Christianity, presented by the current administration to be obtuse or prosaic, so I'm not surprised that the President's ad-libbed remark about his understanding of the Crusades sounds like something I have heard many, many times in the cauldron of ordinary thought that is a faculty lounge, if not from an obstreperous fourteen-year-old.

5.]  Historically, the Crusades are a better example of government misusing a religious institution than of the Church running amok.  This is why I support the separation of church and state.  I only wish that politicians would observe their end of the arrangement and keep their bazoos out of theology and ecclesiastical history.

I've read several reactions from true thinkers, but I preferred some of the things said by this fellow, a retired professor of history:
So the question for the president is, why does such medieval violence persist to a much greater degree among so many Islamic extremists in the present world than among most zealots of other religions? (This is an empirical statement. Cf., for instance, the nature of recent global terror attacks in resources such as the Global Terrorism Database). And why search the distant past for examples of moral equivalence, unless the present does not offer suitable data?
Areas of Central and Latin America are as poor as the Middle East, but Christian liberation theologists, unlike the Islamic State, are not beheading and burning prisoners alive to advance their redistributionist cause. Chinese imperialists and colonialists have absorbed Tibet, but the Dalai Lama is not sending suicide bombers into China. The children of East Prussians expelled from 1945-47 are not suiting up with suicide vests to attack Poles. Impoverished Hindu extremists, angry at centuries of British colonialism, do not hijack planes and ram them into high-rises in British cities. Jews are not blowing up cartoonists and satirists in Paris and Germany who deny or caricature the Holocaust.
It would seem the current world situation requires an approach that is apolitical and deeply aware of the reality of contemporary religion.  Sadly, I'm unsure if there is any leader capable of such a response.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Friday Rush Hour Music

Igumen The Iconographer

“We are here.  And we were not supposed to be.”

"Call me Charlie."

Those were the first words spoken to me by Igumen, the legendary, and rather mysterious, iconographer active in the metro New York area in the 1980's.  How I came to meet him, and to find his small studio filled with his labors and tools, captures what ecumenism was once like.

I forget exactly why now, I think it was because I had struck up a friendship with some of the Armenian and Syrian Orthodox students with whom I attended seminary, but one sunny, winter morning I found myself with them sharing an audience before Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, in his private dining and reception room at St. Vartan's Cathedral on 34th Street.

There was certainly something regal about Manoogian, who was addressed in conversation as "Eminence".  He was, without question, the revered driving force behind the resurgence in the Armenian faith in the United States, had raised the spirits and funds necessary to build the first Armenian cathedral in the country, and was as sharp a theologian and parish priest as he was an ecclesial politician.  In his presence I had a sensation of what the earliest church was like, as it was in Armenia, and not Rome or Canterbury, where Christianity made its first historical inroads.

Manoogian held us in thrall as he spoke of the small pockets of devotion located around the cathedral, most of them highlighted with some vivid iconography, of the history of Armenian Christianity and, especially, of the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century.  As he spoke of this, one of my Armenian friends began to mutter profanities concerning the Turks, which seemed a little impolite given our company.  The Archbishop, however, seemed used to such a reaction and pretended not to notice.

There were three moments that remain on the needle hooks of my memory about that morning.  The first two related to the sheer spiritual power of Manoogian as behind him at all times was an older monk or cleric, I was never sure which, who was there simply to attend to him.  At one point, Manoogian shifted slightly in his large, ornate chair.  His attendant, thinking the Archbishop desired to stand, leapt forward with considerable vigor, ready to assist Manoogian should he wish to slide the chair back from the equally ornate table at which we were seated.  The second was when, in the middle of a conversation about King Tiridates's regard for the theology of transubstantiation, the Archbishop suddenly clapped his hands and said "luncheon".  Bursting through the door to the adjacent kitchen came a collection of Armenian mothers [well, that's what they looked like] bearing various platters of chechil, topik, and byoreks.

 The third was the one that lead me to Fr. Igumen.  I mentioned to His Eminence how interesting I found it that, in the midst of the all of the very traditional artwork in the cathedral, including some of the most beautiful icons I've ever seen in the United States, there was one work that was contemporary and rather startling due to its juxtaposition.  He was delighted that I'd noticed and, after a quick burst of Armenian to his attendant, fetched same to the bureau to bring me a business card.  It said, simply, "Igumen the Iconographer" with an address but no phone number.  "He's always working," said the Archbishop.  Then, leaning forward and furrowing his brow, added, "He is devoted to the Lord".

I had an open afternoon one Saturday and thought I might test Igumen's devotion by dropping in on his studio.  Unannounced, of course, since the absence of a phone number made an appointment impossible. The address was on the border of Chelsea and Greenwich Village in a building that had once been a warehouse now converted into small apartments and simple shops.  Four floors up some bowed stairs between a bike shop and a witchcraft supply store I was to discover a large [by NYC standards; tiny by normal regard] flat that served as Igumen/Charlie's apartment, studio, and library.  He was a small, sallow-complexioned man somewhere between the ages of 40 and 60 with dark hair, thick eyebrows, a prominent nose and even more prominent beard.  About him were icons of various sizes and in various states of progress either propped up or leaning against every available space; paints, finishes, brushes, glues, and oils were in handmade racks attached to the shelving that held his impressive theological library.  On a metal pole suspended between two cabinets hung the vestments, artist smock, and simple black suit of his wardrobe.

He seemed casual and not at all nonplussed by my dropping in, "People do so all of the time", he said.  Charlie steeped some strong, fruit-infused Armenian tea, poured us both some cups, and lounged on a piece of furniture that looked like it had once been a sofa or loveseat, but now resembled something that had been left on the curb and perhaps run over by a large truck once or twice.  Despite its √©bouriff√© appearance, like its owner, it was clean and comfortable.

I explained to Charlie that I had received his card from His Eminence, he bowed at the mention of his name, and that he had urged me to drop in.  He understood completely. 

"I was informed by the Archbishop that you are devoted to the Lord.  I took that to mean that you work around the clock.", I noted.

"He often says that to people.  His Eminence understands that I spend my days in constant prayer.  I am a hermit*, you see.  The icons are my prayers; I work on them all of my waking hours."

For the remainder of the afternoon, Charlie took me through the theology and history of iconography and showed me the very deliberate technique that results in a proper icon.

"They are not simply art, you see?  They are windows to God.  What one does is look into the eyes of the sainted person.  With prayer and Godly intention, you can see beyond merely your own soul. An icon is always a religious subject, but not every religious subject is an icon.  There must be intention, you see?  I do not simply paint a figure.  Every icon is a result of the three legs of the stool of faith: Prayer, Fasting, and Study.  Always, always study.  Remove one and you fall on your dupa."

"This one, you see?  This one is about the Trinity; it is for teaching a doctrine.  This one," he pulled a length of wood from under a canvas that was under another piece of wood that was under another canvas, "This one is to feel the sorrow of the Holy Theotokas.  Do you see her face; her eyes?  Do you not feel her sorrow?  Does it not carry into your prayers?"

As our conversation progressed into appropriate subjects for icons, I mentioned that I had some experience as a rather poor carpenter, as it had once been the family business.  He brightened and said, "Good.  Now you can pay for the tea you drank."

The rest of the afternoon I prepped planks of wood for Charlie, cutting them to length with a hand saw and finishing them with a block plane.  He would lightly sand them, sweeping the fine particulates away with a brush that he told me was made from his own beard hair, and place them in the sunlight, where the freshly exposed wood would cure. 

When it was obvious that my audience was coming to an end, he beckoned me to an easel that was prominently centered in the studio.  "This is what I am making for the end of the month.  We are remembering our Holocaust, you see?  Do you know of it?  We call it 'The Great Crime'.  Two million Armenians slaughtered by the Turks.  Such loss.  Such horror.  In the midst of prayer this came to me.  I don't know if it's a true icon or not.  It is the result of prayer, of course, so perhaps...."

Charlie removed the canvas to reveal an icon of about two and one-half feet by four, divided into a triptych with two hinged panels of half the size of the center.  The border was of the blackest black I've ever seen.  Even given the constraints of the medium, the figures were twisted in agonized attitudes.  If an etching of Hieronymus Bosch's could be rendered as an Orthodox icon, this would be it.  On the left panel was a row of crucified bodies; naked and still.  Just to view it was painful, not because the art was poor but because it was so sublime that the rawness of the emotion was palpable. 

On the right panel was a collection of children, all clearly Armenian, and, while not smiling, looking at the viewer with deep power and devotion.  In the center was The Christ surrounded by the apostles and the Holy Theotokos and joined with a collection of what I took to be Armenian saints, including Tiridates himself.  They shared both looks of horror and those of hope.

"I was thinking of something His Eminence said recently.  Of our Holocaust he said, 'We are here.  And we were not supposed to be.'  That's rather good, you see?  We have come through our Exodus; our wilderness.  That is what this is; the Armenian people in the midst of death and horror, able to see the God who will make us whole again.  Whole and safe."

Charlie indicated a figure, small and distant in the background of the right panel.  A scholar, from outward appearances, and senior to all of the other of the panel's figures.

"My grandfather.  He was a professor of history.  He was killed by the Turks.  All of us, we have all lost grandparents, so we take their inheritance for us and become scholars and artists; people of faith. These young people will save all Armenians by being people of faith and knowers of history.  We are still here, you see?"

I assured Charlie that, given the effect that his work had on this American Episcopalian, that regardless of whether or not it fit the narrow definition of an icon, as far as I was concerned, it was.  "It makes me want to pray, Charlie; and to give thanks for what we have.  It's an icon."

We bid farewell.  Charlie did not let me leave without taking a piece of Armenian bread and an icon of the Last Supper, a work that I still cherish.  The triptych was well-received at the gathering of the Armenian survivors and their posterity, but was apparently purchased by a private collector in exchange for a remarkable contribution to an Armenian Genocide memorial.  I have not seen it since.

Fr. Igumen left to study with the most accomplished Orthodox iconographers in Romania a few years later and now resides in Jerusalem, creating his works of devotion for others who experience the pain and tragedy of intolerance and terror, yet still find hope and accomplishment through their faith.

An introduction to the art of iconography may be found here, although I would urge the reader to explore the external sources linked in the article, especially this one.

[*Traditionally, a hermit is not a person who simply lives alone, like Thoreau at Walden Pond, but is one within a religious community, whether a monastery or convent, who lives distinct from the other members of the religious order in order to pursue specific acts of contemplation.  Thomas Merton, for example, while a member of a Cistercian or Trappist order of monks, was a hermit who lived not in community with the other monks but in a small cabin, or hermitage, on the monastery's grounds where he concentrated on prayer and writing the books and articles for which he's famous.

Orthodox and Anglican traditions have a broader definition for hermits, also known as "solitaries", as the hermit doesn't have to be a member of a particular religious order.  Instead, a man or woman may choose to live a deliberate life of prayer and devotion under the authority of a his or her bishop.  I once had an organist who was also a hermit who was very much in the world but also devoted, through vocation and avocation, to prayer in all things, especially those musical.  True hermits, even the worldly ones, strive to maintain the traditional vows.

In Igumen's case, his hermitage was the studio and his work of devotion was, clearly, his art.

For those of the Anglican/Episcopal tradition, I would quote from the general manual for the so-called "solitaries":

In the Canon Law of the Episcopal Church, those who make application to their diocesan bishop and who persevere in whatever preparatory program the bishop requires, take vows that include lifelong celibacy. They are referred to as "solitaries" rather than "hermits". Each selects a bishop other than their diocesan as an additional spiritual resource and, if necessary, an intermediary.]

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Well, I Know What I'm Naming My Next Dog

Thai crown prince’s poodle, Air Chief Marshal Foo Foo, has been cremated

Harvard Catches Up With The Late 20th Century

Harvard bans professors from having sex with undergrads

10 Odd Things You Can Buy From Monks

I can testify as to #'s 2 and 3.  My beloved golden retriever, Toby [RIP 2009], was trained according to their manual.  He also enjoyed those treats.

I take exception to the term "odd", however.  These are fairly standard things one may buy.  Perhaps the people at Mental Floss think that monks would only be normal if they sold Bibles, chant recordings, or portions of the "one true cross".  Muggles are strange in their regard for people of faith.

By the way, when I was a monk, we kept bees and sold tasty honey.

That's For Sure

Time:  Every Teenager Should Be Required to Work a Grubby Job

"Our over-scheduled, pampered kids need part-time jobs to learn humility."

My first job, when I was fifteen, was at the circus.  Glamorous, eh?  Not really.  I was given a snow shovel [it was July] and told to walk behind the elephants.  Yeah.

Almost every job since has been better, of course.  Well, except for that parish in Rhode Island....

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Our Weird Times

The VP of the USA visited the offices of Vice magazine today and it appears that the staff could only look at him through their phones.  Is he radioactive?  I doubt he's as bright as the sun, but who knows?

Journalist Lies. Also, Pope Catholic And Bears Use The Woods For Their Outhouse.

Sorry, but I prefer reporters to journalists any day of the week.  There aren't many still around, but while reporters may have their issues, they are brutally honest.

Stars and Stripes:
WASHINGTON — NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a false claim that has been repeated by the network for years.

Thus Withers My College Major

There are fewer and fewer English majors in higher education these days.  While English departments are struggling against the common view that the humanities prepare one only for work in the fast food industry, they seem to be missing the true value of their subject.

Consider this:

“What really amazed me when I started reading through the senior surveys is that literary study is profoundly transformative,” Cartwright said, adding that seniors report enjoying and learning from the classics as much contemporary fiction. “Its value registers profoundly with students, and that’s the basis on which to build, and what I would turn our attention to.”

I think this may be related: The Death of College Humor

"But victims and oppressors are how college students are taught to see the world. And now professional comedians are avoiding gigs on campuses because students are so hypersensitive."

Surfer Rides Breaker, Falls Off Board, Body Surfs Alongside It, Then Re-Mounts In Mid-Wave

Monday, February 2, 2015

Today's Favorite Headline

Zamboni Driver Arrested for DUI at High School Game

This is a close second:
Chicken truck, bee truck collide, catch fire

Why Are Colleges And Universities So Afraid Of Free Speech?

That fear is starting to get rather expensive for them.

Ohio University pays $32,000 to settle free speech lawsuit over t-shirt slogan

Breakfast Of Champions, Ohio Version

On Jan. 11, a man in Worthington walked out of the Kroger at 60 E. Wilson Bridge Road with a shopping cart containing an estimated $1,300 worth of candy, beef jerky and laundry detergent about 8:30 p.m.

Thank You For Noting This, Bloomberg News

"Last week, in her State of the Union response, Joni Ernst mentioned going to school with bread bags on her feet to protect her shoes. These sorts of remembrances of poor but honest childhoods used to be a staple among politicians -- that's why you've heard so much about Abe Lincoln's beginnings in a log cabin. But the bread bags triggered a lot of hilarity...."

Heck, please read the whole thing.

I don't tell people this very much, as I live in a judgmental part of the United States when it comes to issues of income and possessions, but I spent my earliest years living in a Cleveland housing project that had plastic sheets instead of glass for the windows.  I had two pairs of shoes growing up, the dress shoes that I wore to school and church and the Keds I had for gym class.  On the days right before pay day we would have meatloaf for two or three dinners; meatloaf that was often more breadcrumbs than meat.  My biggest luxury was a 25 cent goldfish from Woolworth's for whom I cared with great seriousness.

Due to my father and mother's hard work, we went from the projects to living next door to the mayor by the time I was in 7th grade.  Still, I remember the days when we were poor and have no patience whatsoever with those who would either mock that state or patronize those within it, even if the mockers and patronizers wear clergy collars and/or purple shirts.