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Careful with those DoubleQuotes: Benedict & Francis

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- two popes, two images, and vive la différence ]
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It seems that back in the day, I missed this classic example of what I call DoubleQuotes in the Wild:

JP II Francis

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I was reading an article in the Catholic Herald this morning, because they’re changing format in response to “just how much technology had reshaped the world in the eight years between the elections of Benedict XVI and Francis”, and my attention was caught by this para:

That change was captured beautifully in an image that did the rounds during the conclave. It showed two crowds waiting for the white smoke. In the first, dated 2005, the faithful milled around under street lights, with just one clunky clamshell mobile phone visible. The second, dated 2013, presented a twinkling ocean of iPads, Nokias, iPhones and Motorolas. The message was simple: almost everyone today is online, seemingly all the time.

That expresses the power of DoubleQuotes very nicely — but I hadn’t seen the twinned images, so I went in search of them, and discovered that NBC New’s Facebook page had posted the image under the caption:

What a difference 8 years makes: St. Peter’s Square in 2005 and yesterday.

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That’s accurate as far as it goes, but others presented the two images just a tad differently, as in:

NBC posted a powerful image of St. Peter’s Square showing how different things looked in 2005 when Pope Benedict was chosen from the new world of 2013 with Pope Francis.

and that’s not quite right. As Emi Kolawole pointed out in About those 2005 and 2013 photos of the crowds in St. Peter’s Square:

A composite image has been making its way around the Internet that appears to juxtapose images of the throng in St. Peter’s Square in 2005 during the announcement of Pope Benedict’s election with the audience present during that of Pope Francis.

But here’s thing, the photos weren’t taken at those times.

Post photojournalist Nick Kirkpatrick did a little digging and found that the lower photo (shown below this paragraph), which features a sea of smartphones and tablets, was, indeed, taken during the announcement of Pope Francis’s election. But the top photo (shown above), which shows an audience with far fewer gadgets was taken during the funeral procession of Pope John Paul II — a very different mood and event type. There was no one addressing the crowd from the balcony, for example. So, the comparison isn’t quite accurate.

Indeed, Kolawole’s piece reproduces the original caption to the upper photo:

People fill Via Della Conciliazione boulevard about half a mile away from the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican after Pope John Paul II’s body was carried across the square into the Basilica for public viewing on April 4, 2005. With tens of thousands of mourners outside hoping for a glimpse of the body, 12 pallbearers flanked by Swiss Guards carried the late pontiff’s body on a crimson platform from the Sala Clementina, where it had lain in state since the previous day. (LUCA BRUNO – AP)

— and follows up with photos like this one, of the crowd in St Peter’s Square when the election of Pope Benedict XVI was announced:

daylight

— which does indeed show more than a few digital cameras raised to capture the event, though not as many as at the “comparable” in 2013.

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But then the photo of the 2013 announcement was taken looking towards St Peters, over the shoulders of the crowd, while the photo from 2005 was taken facing into the crowd — and the 2013 announcement was made at night, when the presence of so many digital cameras and phones lit up the square, whereas the announcement of 2005 was made in broad daylight.

So. With DoubleQuotes, wild or otherwise, it’s always a matter of caveat emptor.

Stage Two of any rigorous use of the DoubleQuote mechanism, after the juxtaposition has been made, should therefore take the form of critical thinking, providing a clear analysis of the similarities and differences between the two “quotes” (texts or images or whatever) so that we are not misled by superficial resemblances into conclusions that jump the proverbial shark.

Nor is Francis — though both be Peter — identical to Benedict.

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Of game, the little brother of war

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Maori Haka vs Aboriginal War Dance, Rugby Football, the Huron origins of Lacrosse. the UK's Adventurous Training manual, and a testosteronic Christ with whip by El Greco ]
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Let’s start with war dances on the twenty-first century Rugby football field. Here’s the Maori Haka vs the Aboriginal War Cry — in a video that’s all the more remarkable in that it pits two forms of Australasian war dance against one another:

One wonders whether the game can be won or lost before the game begins…

One commentator on the above clip said, “I’m guessing we’ll see something very similar when Tonga take on Samoa on Friday night”.

Here’s Tonga vs Samoa — not quite so ediying, perhaps, but a little closer to war?

– and, for what it’s worth, here’s New Zealand Maori Vs Tonga absent the feathers and war-paint:

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What’s going on here is another of the intersections of wars and games — and that should be of interest to anyone who would like to see less conflict and more resolution.

Back in 2005, I wrote our my “vision” of games, and included the following:

In the back of my mind there’s a sense that games of high risk are somehow of great importance -– that gambling is not the province solely of addicts (players) and mafiosi (“the house”) but of some archaic and primordial importance that was sensed by the native peoples of America when they made gambling and the playing of games and sports a feature of their spiritual life.

By way of example, I quoted this excerpt from The Creator’s Game:

The Game of lacrosse was given to our people by the Creator to play for his amusement. Just as a parent will gain much amusement at the sight of watching his child playing joyfully with a new gift, so it was intended that the Creator be similarly amused by viewing his “children” playing lacrosse in a manner which was so defiant of fatigue.

And concluded:

Iry to bear in mind the tale of early ganes of chess in which the player was his own King on the board, subject to death if the game was lost — and of the ball games of the Mayans, where a whole team would be sacrificed to the gods if they played so superbly as to win…

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And so to Lacrosse…

vennum cover

In The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries
in New France 1610—1791
, we read:

Of three kinds of games especially in use among these Peoples, — namely, the games of crosse, dish, and straw, — the first two are, they say, most healing. Is not this worthy of compassion? There is a poor sick man, fevered of body and almost dying, and a miserable Sorcerer will order for him, as a cooling remedy, a game of crosse. Or the sick man himself, sometimes, will have dreamed that he must die unless the whole country shall play crosse for his health; and, no matter how little may be his credit, you will see then in a beautiful field, Village contending against Village, as to who will play crosse the better, and betting against one another Beaver robes and Porcelain collars, so as to excite greater interest.

Sometimes, also, one of these jugglers will say that the whole Country is sick, and he asks a game of crosse to heal it; no more needs to be said, it is published immediately everywhere; and all the Captains of each Village give orders that all the young men do their duty in this respect, otherwise some great misfortune would befall the whole Country.

One account of the early game indicates that it had no boundaries, and only a single rule:

The Native American games were seen as major events, which took place over several days.They were played over huge open areas between villages and the goals, which might be trees or other natural features, were anything from 500 yards to several miles apart. Any number of players were involved. Some estimates have mentioned between 100 and 100,000 players participating in a game at any one time. The rules were very simple, the ball was not to be touched by a player’s hand and there were no boundaries. The ball was tossed into the air to indicate the start of the game and players raced to be the first to catch it.

Here’s Prof. Anthony Aveni‘s description of the game, in The Indian Origins of Lacrosse:

Originally, the lacrosse field lay on rough ground with opposing goal trees, or posts if vegetation was not convenient, as much as a mile apart. One game witnessed by a colonist tells of two villages engaging each other, hundreds of men on the field at once. The swiftest players usually would engage at the center of the field and the slower arranged themselves around the goal posts. The heavier players held the ground in between.

Once the sphere was tossed up, the player who caught it “immediately set out at full speed towards the opposite goal. If too closely pursued, he throws the ball in the direction of his own side, who takes up the race”—this from a description by a mid-nineteenth century witness. This account fits the present version of lacrosse, except that the old game was more violent. Often in striking the opponent’s stick to dislodge the ball, a player inflicted severe injury to an arm or leg. One chronicler tells us: “Legs and arms are broken, and it has even happened that a player has been killed. It is quite common to see someone crippled for the rest of his life who would not have had this misfortune but for his own obstinacy.” In this instance the player refused to give up the ball, which he had trapped on the ground between his feet.

Regarding the question of injury, Vennum (who wrote the book, see above) xplains:

Europeans were less impressed by the violence that they witnessed than by the lack of anger over injuries or losses. Almost all writers mention this “stoic” Indian characteristic.

Parkman‘s account of the “Pontiac Conspiracy” describes one such game in which the little brother of war deftly became its elder brother:

Bushing and striking, tripping their adversaries, or hurling them to the ground, they pursued the animating contest amid the laughter and applause of the spectators. Suddenly, from the midst of the multitude, the ball soared into the air and, descending in a wide curve, fell near the pickets of the fort. This was no chance stroke. It was part of a preconcerted scheme to insure the surprise and destruction of the garrison. As if in pursuit of the ball, the players turned and came rushing, a maddened and tumultuous throng, towards the gate. In a moment they had reached it. The amazed English had no time to think or act. The shrill cries of the ball-players were changed to the ferocious war-whoop. The warriors snatched from the squaws the hatchets which the latter, with this design, had concealed beneath their blankets. Some of the Indians assailed the spectators without, while others rushed into the fort, and all was carnage and confusion.

And little brother is still recognized as family into modern times. James Vennum writes:

During the Cherokee Fall Festival in North Carolina, I once watched the Wolftown Wolves beat the Wolftown Bears. Although the field was surrounded by carnival rides and food concession stands, little had changed in the Cherokee game since 1888, when it was described and photographed by James Mooney, who must have come by wagon on a dirt road to get there. Each team still marched abreast in line by degrees to midfield, letting out ritual war whoops and yells as they faced their opponents and laid down their sticks to be counted.

At the conclusion of the Cherokee game, in keeping with tradition, the teams were “taken to water,” an ancient ritual meant to cleanse and restore them from their warlike condition during the game.

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I’m writing this post, as always, for my own instruction and delight — but also to give context to the recent Kings of War post, Colonel Panter-Downes Introduces the US Armed Forces to British Adventure:

Adventurous Training (AT) is a singularly British military activity and is a fundamental element of its training ethos and regime. Defined as “Challenging outdoor training for Service personnel in specified adventurous activities that incorporates controlled exposure to risk,” AT is invaluable as “the only way in which the fundamental risk of the unknown can be used to introduce the necessary level of fear to develop adequate fortitude, rigour, robustness, initiative and leadership to deliver the resilience that military personnel require on operations.” There are currently nine core AT activities and all UK Service Personnel are required to undertake this training as part of their basic training as well as post-operational decompression activities.

The Joint Services Pamphlet 419: Joint Service Adventurous Training Scheme can be downloaded here:

adventurous training

As you’ll see therein, the nine activities are..

Offshore Sailing, Sub-Aqua Diving, Canoeing and Kayaking, Caving, Mountaineering, Skiing, Gliding, Mountain Biking, Parachuting and Paragliding.

Mark you, I still don’t entirely understand why they include, say, kayaking, but not parkour — surely a high risk game as close to what might afford helpsul skills in urban warfare as we’re likely to see:

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And quite incidentally, because I also ran across it today, because I’m interested in religion, because testosterone is the reductionist’s broad-strokes explanation for Rugby, Lacrosse, haka and war alike — and because I love El Greco above all other painters:

The blogger who has taken the pseudonym Archbishop Cranmer was writing about feminist theology today, and inter alia described Christ as..

a macho realist who deployed His divine testosterone on numerous occasions.

As in John 2.15:

And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;

From the National Gallery in London, one of the later versions:

Greco

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Ukraine and the Churches

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- playing catchup with a world that seems to spin faster as it gets older, unlike my weary self ]
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tent_chapels_on_Maidan_Square_in_Kiev__Jakub_Szymczuk
One of two tent-chapels on Maidan Square in Kiev, February, 2014. Photo credit: Jakub Szymczuk

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Here’s a backgrounder from the Ukraine, excerpts from several key articles & letters, in roughly chronological order.

ecumenism in ukraine

First, George Weigel, from January 14, 2014, writing under the title The Exhaust Fumes of Stalinism:

The religious dimension of the EuroMaidan protests in Ukraine these past two months has gone largely unremarked. Yet in Kiev and elsewhere, the day’s activities at these oases of civil society are punctuated with prayers offered by clergymen of a variety of Christian communities: Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Protestant. That fact in itself says something about the nascent civic community that is being born in Ukraine today. Ecumenical fellow-feeling and cooperation have not been a prominent feature of Ukrainian religious life in the past. Yet now, with the future of the nation (and no small part of the future of Europe) being contested amids snowstorms, tent cities, flying universities, and police brutality, Ukrainian Christians have discovered a common cause: the moral and cultural renewal of Ukraine, which the brave men and women of the various EuroMaidans understand is essential to free politics and free economics in the future.

The-Exhaust-Fumes-of-Stalinism
Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halych, Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

Letter from His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk), Head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, on the very difficult situation in Ukraine, dated August 29 2014:

All of the Churches and religious organizations of Ukraine stood together against the violence of the Yanukovych regime, the annexation of Crimea, and the division of the country. On the Maydan-Square for months, every day, and hourly in the night, in common prayer they insisted on respect of civil rights, non-violence, unity of the country, and dialogue. This civic ecumenical and inter-religious harmony and cooperation has been an important source of moral inspiration and social cohesion in Ukraine.

In annexed Crimea and in the Eastern war zone some of the Churches and religious communities have been targeted for discrimination, enduring outright violence. In Crimea the most exposed have been the Muslim Tatars. The Tatar community as a whole is in daily danger. Some of its leadership has been exiled, barred from their homeland. The existence of Greek and Roman Catholics ministries, Orthodox parishes of the Kyivan Patriarchate, and the Jewish community in Crimea has been variously menaced.

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Here’s Timothy, Cardinal Dolan, September 15, 2014:

The Catholic Church in Ukraine is young, alive, growing, and prophetic. This, from a worldly point of view, is illogical, near miraculous, as Greek Catholics were viciously persecuted by Stalin in the years of Soviet oppression. Even after the breakup of the communist empire, and the restoration of freedom in Ukraine, Catholics were not given back their former churches that had been given to the Russian Orthodox, and the courageous yet decimated community almost had to start afresh.

Through the optic of the Gospel, we know that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith,” so believers are hardly surprised by the vitality and growth of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine.

and John L Allen Jr, reporting from the 2014 Synod of Bishops in Rome, October 16, 2014, under the striking title Synod is more and more like a soap opera:

On a different front, Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church used his speech in the synod today to take a shot at the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, basically telling them to stop complaining about Russian foreign policy and the support for Russian incursions in Ukraine voiced by Russian Orthodox leaders.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was sufficiently outraged that be grabbed Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Greek Catholic Church, who was also in the synod hall, and immediately taped a segment for his radio show in New York to object to Hilarion’s rhetoric.

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Putin and Kirill

On the other side of things, there’s the close alliance of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church in the person of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow to consider:

After weeks of defying international pleas to free eight European officials they had captured in May, pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine released them unexpectedly in June following a public appeal by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill.

The role Kirill’s resurgent church played in the release of the monitors, who were from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), sheds light on how a close cooperation between the state and the church in Russia is now playing out in Ukraine.

What the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) presents as its humanitarian mission in east Ukraine, Western diplomats see as a pattern of cooperation in which the church is acting as a “soft power” ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During the OSCE monitors’ captivity, Moscow gave no public indication that it was heeding calls to help their release by using its influence with the rebels fighting to split east Ukraine from Kiev.

But what looked like a solo venture by Kirill was the culmination of a flurry of diplomatic contacts that, behind closed doors, involved the OSCE, Russian and church officials, separatist leaders and a rebel Cossack unit, according to interviews with parties to the talks.

With questions lingering over Moscow’s role in the turmoil in east Ukraine that has killed more than 3,500 people, European diplomats say the ROC was used to strike a deal and conceal Moscow’s influence with the rebels.

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There have been church destructions — perhaps the most note-worthy being that of the all-wooden Chuch of the Annunciation in Gorlovka in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, which is reported to have gone up in flames after being hit by an artillery shell:

Cathedral of Gorlovska

I should note here that the only reports of this incident I have ound have been from RT, the English-language Russian state new source, and Daily Stormer, a white nationalist site — caveat emptor.

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And then there’s propaganda, notoriously a grey area as far as authorship is coincerned. According to RT’s piece, War on religion: Orthodox Christian priests, churchgoers face threats in Ukraine:

Using both the years-long strife between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its breakaway Kiev branch, as well as allegations of the Moscow-tied Orthodox priests particularly supporting anti-government fighters in eastern Ukraine, radical activists have distributed leaflets with alarming threats addressed to the clergy and parishioners.

The rhetoric is worth noting:

Every coin given to the Moscow Patriarchate Church – is a bullet for a Ukrainian soldier. Every candle burnt in a Moscow Church – is your citizen burnt alive.

and:

For every Ukrainian soldier killed in Crimea, one priest from Moscow Patriarchate will be killed. Blood for blood.

As to authorship? Even RT admits it is uncertain:

As the fliers have been widely distributed, the Security Service of Ukraine has issued a warning, saying that citizens should not “fall for this primitive provocation.” Some Ukrainian mass media went as far as saying that “Russian special forces” were behind the distribution of the leaflets.

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These are the days of Elijah

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a Youtube video of Marines singing a praise song goes viral, some love it, some hate it, what is it? ]
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Here’s a Christian “praise song”, These are the days of Elijah, sung by Donnie McClurkin:

I love me some good, rousing gospel music.

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Here are the lyrics:

These are the days of Elijah
Declaring the Word of the Lord
And these are the days of Your servant, Moses
Righteousness being restored
And though these are days of great trial
Of famine and darkness and sword
Still we are the voice in the desert crying
Prepare ye the way of the Lord

CHORUS:
Behold he comes
Riding on a cloud
Shining like the sun
At the trumpet’s call
Lift your voice
It’s the year of jubilee
Out of Zion’s hill salvation comes

And these are the days of Ezekiel
The dry bones becoming as flesh
And these are the days of Your servant, David
Rebuilding the temple of praise
And these are the days of the harvest
The fields are as white in your world
And we are the laborers in your vineyard
declaring the word of the Lord

CHORUS 2X
Behold he comes
Riding on the clouds
Shining like the sun
At the trumpet call
Lift your voice
It’s the year of jubilee
Out of Zion’s hill salvation comes

There’s no God like Jehovah (x8–modulate)
There’s no God like Jehovah (x8–modulate)
There’s no God like Jehovah (x7)

CHORUS X2

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Please note the end times references here, particularly in the chorus:

Behold he comes
Riding on a cloud
Shining like the sun
At the trumpet’s call

These four short lines manage to plait together:

  • Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him (Revelation 1.7),
  • and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength (Revelation 1.16), and
  • for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible (I Corinthians 15.52)

The writer of the song, Robin Mark, writes:

The chorus is the ultimate declaration of hope – Christ’s return. It is paraphrased from the books of Revelation and Daniel and the vision that was seen of the coming King and refers to the return of Christ and the year of Jubilee. Theologians and Bible commentators believe that Israel never properly celebrated this particular 50th year jubilee, and that it will only be properly celebrated when Christ returns. That might be true but I reckon that a Jubilee is an apt description of what happens when Christ comes into anyone’s life at any time; debts are cancelled and a captive is set free.

Similarly, Similarly, these lines:

And these are the days of the harvest
The fields are as white in your world
And we are the laborers in your vineyard

braid together:

  • Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest (John 4.35),
  • The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest (Luke 10.2), and
  • the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard (Matt 20.1-16)

Robin Mark’s comment here is:

Finally the “days of the Harvest” point towards what is the purpose of the Christian to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. By the way “The fields are as white in the world” is from the old King James version and means, their ripe for harvest.

Those lines at least overtly reference the end times — but Mark does not see the entire song in that way. In fact he suggests the phrase:

“Days of great trial, of famine, darkness and sword” is a reflection of the apparent times in which we live when still thousands of people die every day from starvation, malnutrition and war.

— not necessarily describing the “great tribulation” — and indeed, further specifies:

Firstly the song came from watching a television “Review of the Year” at the end of 1994. This was the year of the Rwandan civil war tragedy which claimed 1 million people’s lives, and also when the first ceasefires in N.I. were declared.

So it’s the song of a soul distressed at all the destruction, not at all a militant cry. And he goes on to note that his own interpretation may not be the final (authorial) one:

There is a post script to this story for those who (by letters to me!) believe the song means something entirely different. A few years ago I was privileged to be in Israel at Yom Kippur for a celebration with hundreds of Messianic Jews. A very kind, gentle and humorous messianic brother had a bit of fun arguing with me that I, as an Irish Christian, could never have written a song which explores some of the themes that many (non-replacement theology here!) Jewish believers believe are the themes and indications of Christ’s return. The Spirit and Power of Elijah in the Church, The restoration of Israel to righteousness in Christ (David’s fallen tent), The restoration of praise and worship (David’s tent also!) and the unity of the body particularly with a renewed and redeemed Israel under Christ.

For me, I only know what I wrote. I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it was His desire to say something more than I personally intended and to do more with this song than I first considered.

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So that’s the song, and there’s quite a bit of nuance to it, and to its interpretation.

Here is the same praise song, sung by a congregation of US Marines from Camp Pendleton at a “Faith Warrior service”:

This version of the song has recently gone viral, and is giving great delight to those who view it as “this bunch of Marines unabashedly praising the true living God” and “Holy Spirit takes over, Oorah-style!” — and considerable to concern to those who see in it more “crusade” than “praise”.

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Two comments on YouTube illustrate the way in which this overtly apocalyptic battle song can be interpreted as supporting the notion that the war agsinst jihadist terrorism is a spiritual clash between the Christian and Muslim Gods — something the jihadists are at pains to convince their followers of.

It’s wonderful to see our troops worshiping the one, true God with such fervor. Despite the fight for political correctness and the squelching of faith under the current leadership, nothing can hold back the praise of Yahweh. This is the only thing that will strengthen the military and give them power in the fight against ISIS and the other evils that threaten us.

and:

The Game is now over for the Taliban, Isis and all the rest who want to challenge our God! These boys and girls just invited Jehovah to the fight! This battle is not ours, but the Lords! If 1 can put 1000 to flight and 2 can put 10,000 to flight what about a whole company of Marines! So lift your voice (hoorah) this is the year of jubilee out Zion’s hill salvation comes!

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You might say I have me some mixed feelings about that video.

From my own perspective, viewing the fight against IS / Daesh as a war between apocalyptic Islam and apocalyptic Christianity is:

  • a permissible religious position for a US citizen to hold
  • a dangerous position to the extent that it influences US foreign policy

And I’m sure those Marines at Camp Pendleton, who had presumably signed up for that particular worship service, thoroughly enoyed themselves — and felt uplifted and bonded by their praise song.

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Then again, I wonder if those who dislike it, fearing the impact of a hard Christian dominionist right American military, would have similar qualms about a Catholic Mass celebrated at Pendleton — or the one depicted here, in which Fr Charles Suver SJ celebrates the Catholic Mass Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, at about the same time the famous flag was raised…

Chaplains WWII Mass on Mt Suribachi
Source: http://www.mcu.usmc.mil/historydivision/Chaplains/Chaplains-WWII-110605.jpg

uti accepta habeas et benedicas haec + dona, haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata

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DQing my way towards Arabic, one letter at a time

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- also the Latin Breviary in 24 letters, and the meaning of blood and dots ]
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I was aware of the Arabic letter nun:

but not until the last few days, the letter ra:

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The letters that comprise alphabets, and the words, phrases, sentences and books that are built of thedm, are capable of enormous meaning…

The banging of a judge’s gavel can be a death sentences, the pillars of a door painted in sacrificial blood can cause hamash’chit — the destroyer angel — to overfly a house in which there are Jews, thus saving them from the destruction of their first-born, a yellow six-pointed star painted on a house or shop indicate its Jewish ownership — and the Arabic letters nun and ra serve similar purposes, signalling both a threat from ISIS and a mark of pride and solidarity…

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For those with hermetic and kabbalistic tastes, I’d like to take this a little further.

A single dot can have powerful meaning…

In Judaism:

bereshit

Although the Torah itself suggests that certain hylic entities co-existed with God at the beginning (water, darkness), by separating out the diacritical dagesh from the word [it is the dot in the first letter]:

Beginning with a point… b • reshit (Zohar I:15a)

the Zohar finds the philosophic principle creation ex nihilo [from nothing] in the first word.

In Islam:

dot_under_ba

And know that all of Allah’s secrets are in the heavenly books, and all of the secrets of the heavenly books are in the Qur’an. And all of which is in the Qur’an is in al-Fatihah, and all of which is in al-Fatihah is in bismillah, and all of which is in bismillah is in the ba’ of bismillah, and all of which is in the ba’ in bismillah is the dot (nuqtah) which is under the ba’. Imam ‘Ali said: “I am the dot which is under the ba’”

first finds the saying I am the dot which is under the ba’ in al-Ghazali, where it is attributed to Abu Bakr al-Shibli, disciple of the great Sufi al-Junayd

and comments:

We can not understand the Quran properly without dots, or if we can know the point (Nukta) of a thing we understand the reality of the whole matter.

In Hinduism:

black-aum-sign-on-white-background

The symbol of Aum contains of three curves, one semicircle and a dot. The large lower curve symbolizes the waking state; the upper curve denotes deep sleep (or the unconscious) state, and the lower curve (which lies between deep sleep and the waking state) signifies the dream state. These three states of an individual’s consciousness, and therefore the entire physical phenomenon, are represented by the three curves. The dot signifies the Absolute (fourth or Turiya state of consciousness), which illuminates the other three states. The semicircle symbolizes maya and separates the dot from the other three curves. The semicircle is open on the top, which means that the absolute is infinite and is not affected by maya. Maya only affects the manifested phenomenon. In this way the form of aum symbolizes the infinite Brahman and the entire Universe.

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And the entire elphabet?

Here’s the Shortest Rite for Reciting the Breviary, for Itinerants and the Scrupulous, as transmitted to me by Dom Sylvester Houédard, priest, poet and scholar:

RITUS BREVISSIMUS RECITANDI BREVIARIUM PRO ITINERANTIBUS ET SCRUPULOSIS

Dicitur: Pater et Ave

Deinde:

A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

V. Per hoc alphabetum notum
R. componitur breviarium totum (Tempore paschali, dicitur Alleluia)

Oremus.

Deus, qui ex viginti quatuor litteris totam sacram scripturam et breviarium istud componi voluisti, iunge, disiunge et accipe ex his viginti quatuor litteris matutinas cum laudibus, primam, tertiam, sextam, nonam, vesperas et completorium. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Signat se dicens: Sapienti pauca.

V. In pace in idipsum.
R. Dormiam et requiescam.

If my rusty, Google-assisted Latin is to be believed, the gist of the central prayer here reads:

O God, who hast chosen to compose the entirety of sacred scripture and this breviary out of twenty-four letters, separate, join and receive from these twenty-four letters Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline, through Christ our Lord. Amen..

That’s the complete Holy Office as recited by Catholic monks — Dom Sylvester was a member of the Benedictines — in just 24 letters.

Which is less than it takes to type:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

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