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Religion — or simple decency?

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- baruch hashem, exomologoumai soi, alhamdulillah ]
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In the upper panel, Rev. David Buck, an Episcopal priest, sits on the bench outside his church in Davidson, NC, that’s part of sculptor Timothy Schmalz‘s bronze piece, Homeless Jesus that he’s bought and installed there:

The Christ figure is shrouded in a blanket the only indication that it is Jesus is the visible wounds on the feet.

In the lower panel, we see Fatima Qassem, age 6, another victim of the warfare in Aleppo, who was wounded by machine-gun fire in both knees. As the AP report puts it:

Two months into the battle for Syria’s largest city, civilians are still bearing the brunt of the daily assaults of helicopter gunships, roaring jets and troops fighting in the streets.

Fatima’s doctor, Dr. Osman al-Haj Osman, works twenty-hour days, and is reported as saying:

My life is just the wounded and the dead.

**

I composed this post yesterday from two images I ran across, each of them showing a different figure in roughly the same pose. The similarities between them once again raised the question in my mind whether religion is no more than the shell of a nut whose kernel is loving-kindness, or whether it is more — the very tree itself perhaps?

For myself I tend to think that while loving-kindness may be the essence, religion continues to bring us a wealth of tradition and imagery from which to draw inspiration:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

As one who is a wayfarer at heart, and who has been received with hospitality in many traditions, those words from Isaiah are waybread indeed.

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Sources:

  • Statue Of A Homeless Jesus Startles A Wealthy Community
  • Wounded flood hospitals in Syria’s largest city
  • Both articles are worth reading in full.

    **

    In my own view, the “proof text” Rev. Buck quoted in the article, Matthew 25.40, is of critical importance not because of the ontological status of the person who spoke it, nor because it was included in a canonical collection of sayings by and about him that was gathered and officially sanctioned in the centuries following his death, nor indeed with regard only to an “actual homeless person” in a single neighborhood in North Carolina — but because it rings high and true, semper et ubique:

    Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

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    The Bosching of John Hagee and the reddening of the moon

    Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- in mental preparation for tonight's lunar eclipse, together with some quick eschatology, plenty of blood, and an Incan jaguar ]
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    The upper panel, above, shows a detail of Hieronymus Bosch‘s Ghent representation of Christ carrying the Cross to his crucifixion, the focus here being on three of Bosch’s contemporaries depicted as citizens of Christ’s Jerusalem, mocking Christ as he moves through the crowd…

    … while the lower panel has substituted for one of them the face of John Hagee, televangelist, senior pastor of the Cornerstone megahurch in San Antonio, TX, and (eventually disowned) endorser of Sen. John McCain‘s 2008 presidential bid.

    **

    Hagee is in the news at the moment as a major promoter of the “Four Blood Moons” end times theory, according to which tonight will witness the first of four total lunar eclipses announcing — like four dots the style-books suggest when an ellipsis follows a period — the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord referred to in Joel 2.31:

    Hre is Hagee, interviewed on this subject:

    **

    There are numerous biblical references to Joel 2.31:

    The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come.

    I shall not list all of them, but have selected those which most closely address the topic at hand.

    Luke 21:25 picks up the theme:

    And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;

    And in Acts 2:20, the same author specifies these signs:

    The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:

    Unsurprisingly, the Revelation of John, 6:12 locates the blood moon in the sequence of Seven Seals that David Koresh was so concerned with…

    And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;

    And lest there be any doubt, Joel himself in the same chapter at 2:11 makes it clear that the Great and Terrible Day will in fact be both Great and Terrible…

    And the LORD shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?

    **

    It is something of a relief, then, to turn to NASA, where “signs in the skies” are considered more as opportunities for star-gazing than as precursors of Doom.

    These things happen, NASA might say — tongue in cheek, perhaps — once in a blue moon

    **

    NASA’s eclipse website draws its data from Goddard astrophysicist Fred Espenak, whose “Mr Eclipse” website offers the following diagram of tonight’s eclipse and blood moon…

    Espenak takes a long, long view of the “four blood moons” phenomenon:

    April’s eclipse is the first to two total lunar eclipses in 2014. The second eclipse is on October 08 and it too is visible from the USA. In this case, the western USA sees the entire eclipse while the eastern USA misses the end of the eclipse because the Moon sets while the eclipse is still in progress.

    These two eclipses of [2014] are the first of four consecutive total lunar eclipses (each separated by six months) – a series known as a tetrad. The third and fourth eclipses of the tetrad occur on April 04, 2015 and Sept. 28, 2015 .

    During the 5000-year period from 2000 BCE through 3000 CE, there are 3479 total lunar eclipses. Approximately 16.3% (568) of all total eclipses belong to one of the 142 tetrads occurring over this period. The mechanism causing tetrads involves the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit in conjunction with the timing of eclipse seasons. During the present millennium, the first eclipse of every tetrad occurs during the period February to July. In later millennia, the first eclipse date gradually falls later in the year because of precession.

    Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli first pointed out that the frequency of tetrads is variable over time. He noticed that tetrads were relatively plentiful during one 300-year interval, while none occurred during the next 300 years. For example, there are no tetrads from 1582 to 1908, but 17 tetrads occur during the following 2 and 1/2 centuries from 1909 to 2156. The ~565-year period of the tetrad “seasons” is tied to the slowly decreasing eccentricity of Earth’s orbit. Consequently, the tetrad period is gradually decreasing (Meeus, 2004). In the distant future when Earth’s eccentricity is 0 (about 470,000 years from now), tetrads will no longer be possible.

    Far from seeing them as signs of Doom, Espenak views them as inherently lovely:

    Although total eclipses of the Moon are of limited scientific value, they are remarkably beautiful events

    Nota bene: If Hagee is prophecy’s Espernak, Espenak is science’s Hagee.

    **

    Tibetans, like those from many other cultures, take eclipses seriously, though they seem to see them more as opportunities than as prophecies of doom. A dear friend pointed me to this invitation to practice from the Tibetan meditation master, Chojje Rinpoche:

    On a lunar eclipse, please accomplish practice because whatever you do at this time, good or bad, multiplies many, many times over. It is therefore a great opportunity for you to accumulate merit which is really needed for the betterment of our lives and for our enlightenment. So, whenever an opportunity like this comes, we should not waste it but rather focus on practice, charity and all good works.

    According to National Geographic, on the other hand, the blood red moon seen during a total lunar eclipse was attributed by the Inca to a jaguar attacking and eating the moon:

    The big cat’s assault explained the rusty or blood-red color that the moon often turned during a total lunar eclipse.

    **

    Okay, enough. There’s positive contempt dripping on Pastor Hagee from whoever placed him in that photoshopped version of Bosch’s painting:

    Gary DeMar is President of American Vision, where this headline and a more recent attack on Hagee — Why John Hagee is certainly wrong about “blood moons” — can be found. DeMar, following Rousas John Rushdoony, hopes for the eventual imposition of “Biblical Law” in America, and like Rushdoony holds a post-millennialist view of the end times. Wikipedia gives this brief explanation:

    Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions Jesus Christ will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows.

    You can see, then, why post-millennialists hold the pre-millennialist enthusiasms and “soon coming” expectations of the likes of Harold Camping and John Hagee in low esteem…

    **

    Let’s return to the Bosch painting itself. Arguably missing both from the detail (upper panel, above) and its use by American Vision (upper panel, below) is the face of Christ — which in fact appears twice in Bosch’s original painting…

    … once just above and to the left of the three who mock Christ, and once more imprinted on the veil with which Veronica — according to a legend enshrined in the sixth of the Stations of the Cross — wiped Christ’s face, lower left. In the mind and heart of Bosch, too — amid all the brute human throng he sees so clearly — that one face leaves its unforgettable imprint…

    **

    I leave you with Albrecht Durer‘s images of the Veronica:

    and of the Madonna and the Moon

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    Sunday surprise #21 — Defiant Requiem

    Sunday, April 13th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- the power of music -- Verdi's Requiem in the Terezin / Theresienstadt concentration camp ]
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    Two minutes of your time will bring you the Dies Irae of Giuseppe Verdi‘s Requiem, conducted by Claudio Abbado with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra:

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    Yes?

    A little over an hour will bring you an astounding documentary, describing how the Jewish prisoners of the Theresienstadt camp ouside Prague rallied around conductor Rafael Schächter to perform that great Requiem, not once but sixteen times, inside the camp…

    From the Defiant Requiem Foundation site:

    Conductor Rafael Schächter told the choir, “We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them.” … The performances came to symbolize resistance and defiance and answering the worst of mankind with the best of mankind. The performance is powerful, dramatic and inspirational, with a contemporary message of hope.

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    You might wish to support a performance of this work in Detroit, currently being funded on Kickstarter:

    **

    And the Requiem itself — played here by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Ricardo Muti — will take less than two of your hours — you can safely skip the introductory remarks and go straight to the 12 minute mark:

    — less than two hours, yet timeless.

    **

    Trumping even the horrors of the camps: the power of music.

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    Lovescape crucified: in memoriam Francis van der Lugt SJ

    Sunday, April 13th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- from one Jesuit to another across centuries ]

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    The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote these lines in his incomparable poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland, in 1875 — an ode on what was for the poet a deeply moving current event, though the world was not ripe for such a poem, and it was not until 1918, almost thirty years after his death, that the poem was finally published:

    Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
    Drawn to the Life that died;
    With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance…

    The poem is dedicated to five Franciscan nuns drowned in a shipwreck as they fled the Prussian anti-Catholicism of the Falk Laws for safe haven in England — but his words apply with equal force to his fellow Jesuit, Francis van der Lugt, killed and now buried in his garden in Homs.

    **

    A quick round up of blog and press reports will give us something of the flavor of the man, and include some pertinent details along the way.

    In a blog post titled The good fight ends, Dutch Catholic blogger Mark de Vries writes:

    An exemplary icon of steadfast dedication to those in need is no more. Father Frans van der Lugt was abducted, shot and killed this morning in Homs, Syria, the city and country that was his home for more than four decades. The Dutch Jesuit priest did not think of leaving his home and the community he was a part of – consisting not only of the few Christians in the city, but also, especially in later years, of his Muslim neighbours in the widest sense – as civil war engulfed Syria and cut off the part of Homs where Fr. Frans lived from the rest of the world.

    The Telegraph reported:

    During more than three years of war, Father Francis Van der Lugt, 75, had insisted on remaining in the destroyed Old City of Homs, risking starvation and near constant shellfire, until every last civilian could be evacuated from the district.

    The Jesuit priest – of the same order as the Pope – had helped to keep the plight of the Old City’s residents in the international spotlight by writing letters to his church order in Holland, and posting video messages from inside his monastery in the besieged Bustan al-Diwan district.

    The DC Laus Deo blog:

    Christians used to make up 10% of the Syrian population before the Civil War, but Christians have been brutalized for their faith during the conflict Fr. van der Lugt reasoned that he was the only priest remaining to minister to his people so how could he leave.

    The Washington Post reported:

    The Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans called Fr van der Lugt “a Syrian among Syrians” who refused to abandon his adopted people even when it meant risking his own life…

    Khaled Erksoussi, head of operations at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said of him:

    He was one of the very few people who could cross the front lines in Homs. Whoever killed him is hindering any effort for peace. Whoever killed him knew he had good relations with almost everybody.

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    For Pope Francis this was the death of a fellow priest, a fellow Jesuit, and a namesake of his papal name. He spoke of his feelings at a General Audience in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday:

    Last Monday in Homs, Syria, Fr Frans van der Lugt one of my Dutch Jesuit confreres was assassinated at the age 75. He arrived in Syria some 5o years ago and always did good to everyone generously and with love. He was therefore loved and highly esteemed by Christians and Muslims.

    His brutal murder has deeply distressed me and has made me think again of the many people who are suffering and dying in that tormented country, my beloved Syria, which for too long has been the prey of a bloody conflict that continues to reap death and destruction. I also think of the many people who have been kidnapped, Christians and Muslims, Syrians and those from other countries, including bishops and priests. Let us ask the Lord that they may soon return to their loved ones and to their families and communities.

    From my heart I invite you all to join me in prayer for peace in Syria and the region, and I launch a heartfelt appeal to the Syrian leaders and to the international community: Please, silence the weapons, put an end to the violence! No more war! No more destruction! May humanitarian laws be respected, may the people who need humanitarian assistance be cared for and may the desired peace be attained through dialogue and reconciliation.

    Let us ask our Mother Mary, Queen of Peace, to give us this gift for Syria, and let us all pray together. Ave Maria

    And he made this appeal, this prayer to the Virgin beloved of Christians and Muslims alike, after offering a short discourse on wisdom:

    In the Bible we are told that Solomon, at the time of his coronation as King of Israel, had asked for the gift of wisdom (cf. 1 Kings 3:9). And wisdom is precisely this: it is the grace of being able to see everything with the eyes of God. It is simply this: it is to see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, everything through God’s eyes. This is wisdom. Sometimes we see things according to our liking or according to the condition of our heart, with love or with hate, with envy…. No, this is not God’s perspective. Wisdom is what the Holy Spirit works in us so as to enable us to see things with the eyes of God. This is the gift of wisdom.

    To see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, Muslims, Christians, everyone and everything through God’s eyes — this is wisdom.

    **

    Fr. Francis’ own words, sent to colleagues to alert the world:

    We refuse to die of hunger in Homs. We Christians and Muslims love life and want to live.

    [...]

    Christians and Muslims are going through a difficult and painful time and we are faced with many problems. The greatest of these is hunger. People have nothing to eat. There is nothing more painful than watching mothers searching for food for their children in the streets.

    **

    Today as so often, Christians are killed, Muslims are killed, innocents are killed and not so innocents — for as the saying goes, all have fallen short of the glory — yet there are those among us too who have loved, fallibly yet with strong assurance, loved even those who would kill them, those such as Fr. Francis, such as Fr. de Chergé and the monks of Tibhirine

    There’s a stubborn grace that comes from long love of neighbor, a grace that stands its ground under fire, that will not budge, for in its simplicity it shares the hardships of others in its own flesh, undivided and inseparable from its place in time, its neighborhood.

    Fr. Francis van der Lugt did not budge. This is love in full bloom, the rest is tentative.

    **

    Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
    Drawn to the Life that died;
    With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his
    Lovescape crucified

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    AirTrains at the Antipodes

    Friday, April 11th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- playfully expressing his usual preference for play over terror ]
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    In the upper panel, above, we have Inspire magazine’s take on the San Francisco AirTrain — an ad for mayhem.

    In the lower panel we see an ad for Airtrain Brisbane, which suggests that traffic between you and the airport may be slow enough for you to solve the Sudoku puzzle on the billboard before you pass it… and suggests you take the Airtrain, where you will presumably be able to solve a similar puzzle on your iPad before reaching the airport in time for your flight.

    The text of the Inspire ad reads:

    For how long will you live in tension? Instead of just sitting, having no solution, simply stand up. Pack your tools of destruction. Assemble your bomb, ready for detonation.

    It follows from this wording, incidentally, that “you” are in no hurry to catch a plane since — like Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce‘s Portrait of the Artist — “you” imagine “heaven” to be your destination.

    **

    But look again at the question Inspire asks:

    For how long will you live in tension?

    There is plenty of tension right there between the two ads: while AQ-style terrorism is designed to elicit terror, Sudoku suggests playful relaxation.

    I’d like to take that a little farther. I’m more literate than numerate, to be honest — so I find crossword puzzles more appealing than Sudoku. And heck, I was even beaten once in boarding school (four with a bamboo cane) for doing The Times crossword instead of my math homework. So here’s an alternative, more peaceable version of our two images:

    The upper panel shows a decidedly more pleasant variant on the Sudoku ad — while the lower panel shows Edward McGowan‘s original photo, which AQAP’s Inspire magazine swiped for use in their ad, and which is far more restful on the eye without the garish reddening that Inspire added for dire effect.

    **

    Sources:

  • SFGate report on the Inspire ad
  • Ads of the World, AirTrain Sudoku ad

  • Ads of the World, AirTrain crossword ad
  • SFGate account of McGowan’s original photo
  • The Brisbane ads were designed by De Pasquale of Brisbane, Creative Director Cos Luccitti, Copywriter Jake McLennan, Art Director Daniele Milazzo.

    **

    One day, perhaps, you or I will be on our way to BNE Brisbane or SFO San Francisco, and we’ll see an ad that shows a DoubleQuotes board, with one panel filled with a neat quote or headline from the day’s news and the other one left blank for the reader to fill in… and a question:

    Mind quick enough to try for a creative leap?

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