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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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A Quick 1: ISIS and Karbala

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- another quick one, this one concerned with "key religious and transportation hubs"-- ie pilgrimage routes ]
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BBC Karbala
Millions of Shiite pilgrims in the Iraqi shrine city of Karbala for the Ashura mourning rituals, 2012.

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Everyone should calm down.

That’s the message from Michael Knights in his Politico piece yesterday, Why the Islamic State Is Losing, subtitled The pundits have it wrong — the terrorists’ move toward Baghdad is a sign of desperation. Read the full article for his reasoning.

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Given my abiding interest in religion, and in the ritual commemoration of Husayn at Karbala, these two paras in particular caught my attention:

But most likely, ISIL is simply readying for its annual killing spree against Shia pilgrims during the Ashura and Arbaeen religious festivals. In the week before Ashura begins on Nov. 3, Baghdad will swell with millions of pilgrims making their way to Karbala, just southwest of the capital. Many of these pilgrims make the 50-mile walk from Baghdad to Karbala, which passes within seven miles of Jurf as-Sakr, a heavily-contested ISIL stronghold to the south of Baghdad. We can expect mortar attacks, car bombings and suicide-vest detonations inside the crowds.

This is the real meaning of ISIL being at the gates of Baghdad – that the movement is poised perilously close to key religious and transportation hubs, and may be intent on mounting sectarian outrages at the most sensitive moment of the year for the Shia.

Martyrdom is already one the minds of Shia pilgrims as they make their way to Karbala to memorialize the death of Husayn ibn Ali and his infant son, Abdullah ibn Husayn. If they risk their lives in this way, their dedication to the memory of the martyred Husayn may have much to do with it.

As an eyewitness quoted in Elias Canetti‘s Crowds and Power puts it:

No destiny is accounted more beautiful than to die on the feast-day of Ashura, when the gates of all eight paradises stand wide open for the saints, and everyone seeks to enter there.

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Of literal and metaphorical readings

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- from "whistleblowers" via the interpretation of hadith to Aztec sacrifice and Christian Eucharist ]
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Whistleblowing in Thailand (upper panel, above), which I wrote about in my previous post, is a literal matter, and whistles have seen a huge surge in sales since the “whistleblower” campaign began. In the US practice and politics of leaks, on the other hand, whistleblowing is an activity that requires no physical whistle — just a “blower” with some form of access to media.

There’s nothing terribly metaphysically significant about the distinction in this case, but in other cases it can make a great deal of difference. It’s an issue I keep running into, as a poet and as an analyst of religious drivers in war and peace, and the image of Thai schoolkids blowing their (literal) whistles finally nudged me into writing about it.

I suspect the difference between literal and metaphorical readings maps closely to many of the major fissues in US and globe-wide society.

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One area where the distinction can be of vital importance is in the interpretation of scriptures. Thus Jonathan Brown, Georgetown professor and author of Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World, shows how the same authoritative text can be very differently interpreted:

When I tell you a hadith, this is in Sahih Bukhari and other books, where the Prophet says to Abu Dharr, his companion: Do you know where the sun goes after it sets, Oh Abu Dharr? and Abu Dharr says, God and His Prophet are more knowledgeable. Tell me, and the Prophet says The sun goes goes down and it prostrates before the throne of God… it prostrates before the throne of Ar Rahman and it asks His permission to rise again and one day it will rise from the West.

Now it’s very interesting, you see in the early twentieth century, Muslim scholars who were kind of modernist scholars start reacting very strongly to this hadith. They said it contradicts astronomy and this hadith contradicts the certainties of modern science because nowadays we know that the Earth actually goes around the Sun and not vice versa and classical Muslims didn’t know that and that’s why they accepted this hadith so we need to go back through the hadiths and analyze them to see which ones are scientifically impossible and which ones are acceptable. This was a big debate and we still have this debate today. Guess what? Classical muslim scholars, going back to the ten hundreds, said exactly the same thing.

Because if you’re a muslim scholar, one of the things you do before you had clocks on your phone and everything is to calculate prayer times and living in a place, I need to tell people what time the prayers are.

And what they found very quickly is that prayer times differ based on latitude, longitude..and they knew that the sun was always up in certain places. You can go to certain parts of the earth where the sun never sets.

So they looked at this hadith and they said how do we understand it then? Oh it must mean that the sun prostrates to God metaphorically like in Surah Rahman Najmu washajaru yas judaan.. the stars and the trees prostrate to God. It doesn’t mean literally the star is doing little sujood up in the sky. It means it’s surrendering to God’s will, it follows God’s will. So they had no problem, they just said this hadith is obviously figurative.

FWIW, the Neoplatonist Proclus, quoted by Henry Corbin in his treatise on Ibn Arabi, uses very similar language:

Just as in the dialectic of love we start from sensuous beauties to rise until we encounter the unique principle of all beauty and all ideas, so the adepts of hieratic science take as their starting point the things of appearance and the sympathies they manifest among themselves and with the invisible powers. Observing that all things form a whole, they laid the foundations of hieratic science, wondering at the first realities and admiring in them the latest comers as well as the very first among beings; in heaven, terrestrial things according both to a causal and to a celestial mode and on earth heavenly things in a terrestrial state….

What other reason can we give for the fact that the heliotrope follows in its movement the movement of the sun and the selenotrope the movement of the moon, forming a procession within the limits of their power, behind the torches of the universe? For, in truth, each thing prays according to the rank it occupies in nature, and sings the praises of the leader of the divine series to which it belongs, a spiritual or rational or physical or sensuous praise; for the heliotrope moves to the extent that it is free to move, and in its rotation, if we could hear the sound of the air buffeted by its movement, we should be aware that it is a hymn to its king, such as it is within the power of a plant to sing…

That’s either nonsense, taken literally — or poetry, taken in a metaphorical sense.

We would do well in reading scriptures of any tradition to bear both possibilities in mind — and remember that in the cultures of the writers, the distinction may be one that is less clear-cut than in our own.

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My second version of literal vs metaphorical readings of texts in this post — there have been and will be others — has to do with the overall genre of sacrificial liturgies, and specifically with Aztec and Catholic practices.

But first, some Judaic background. Leviticus 1-7 is concerned with sacrifice — and opens thus:

And the Lord called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.

If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. And he shall kill the bullock before the Lord: and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces. And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire: And the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord.

Blood sacrifice was indeed a central aspect of worship in the First and Second Temples — and those who would like to see the Temple again restored in our own times are busy training kohanim, preparing ritual vessels sand holding “practice” sacrifices so that once the Temple is rebuilt, the sacrificial liturgies can recommence…

The Psalmist, however, appears to be of the opinion that God takes no pleasure in blood sacrifices:

Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.

and:

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

— so we also see from the time of the Second Temple what might be characterized as an inward-turning or metaphorical approach to sacrifice.

Eric Heaton, with whom I studied the prophets at Oxford, was easily distracted from whatever text I should have but hadn’t read by a quick reference to blood sacrifice — it would send him into a tirade sufficient to see us through to the end of my tutorial. I will have none of your blood sacrifices, saith the Lord, Dr Heaton would thunder…

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Early Christianity takes this a step further, heightening the sense of sacrifice in the Eucharist to the point where it transcends physical existence, and the “memorial” sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood in bread and wine at the Last Supper — prefigured by and embodied in the sacrifice of the paschal lamb of Judaism — along with the subsequent sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, and the continuing of that sacrifice in each successive Eucharist, are all portals within time to the “marriage supper of the lamb” or “heavenly eucharist” beyond time and space.

Thus the church historian JND Kelly writes that in the early days of Christianity:

the Eucharist was regarded as the distinctively Christian sacrifice. … Malachi’s prediction (1:10–11) that the Lord would reject Jewish sacrifices and instead would have “a pure offering” made to him by the Gentiles in every place was seized upon by Christians as a prophecy of the Eucharist. The Didache indeed actually applies the term thusia, or sacrifice, to the Eucharist.

I’ve quoted Dom Gregory Dix‘s long, profound and astoundingly beautiful paragraph “Was ever another command so obeyed?” in the Cadenza to my Said Symphony game, so I won’t repeat it here, but a poetic reaqding can be far more than metaphorical, it can be sacramental.

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And in the Catholic and Anglican liturgies, one phrase struck me with peculiar force. It is found in the opening of the Eucharistic prayers of consecration, the Anaphora. The Book of Common Prayer gives it as:

V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up unto the Lord.

— while the Latin of the Catholic missal has:

V. Sursum corda.
R. Habemus ad Dominum.

It is Sursum corda — literally, Hearts lifted — that I’m concerned with here, because it is a poetic or metaphorical usage, as we can see very simply by contrasting it with its literal equivalent as found in Aztec ceremonial.

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Hearts lifted – isn’t that precisely what is depicted here?

To the best of my knowledge, that’s an indigenous, post-conquistador image of Aztec ritual. And since the section of my library discussing such things is largely still in storage, not to mention under threat of auction, I’ll quote a crafts page on the history of obsidian to bring you a verbal description:

With sacrificial alters at the top of tall pyramids, built to be as close to the sun as possible, human offerings were often dispatched with the aid of an obsidian-bladed knife, their still pulsating hearts lifted high to the Sun.

How’s that for “hearts lifted” in a literal sense, ritually enacted?

It’s crucial (no pun intended) to note that there are significant differences between the various forms of sacrifice I have described here —

  • human vs animal sacrifice
  • the sacrifice of self vs the sacrifice of another
  • sacrifice by God vs sacrifice by humans (albeit commanded by God or the gods)
  • actual vs symbolic blood sacrifice
  • demonic inversion vs divine sacrament
  • etc..
  • — and yet they all fall under the general heading of ritual sacrifice. And although many Aztec ritual practices seemed to the early Catholics who first encountered them as demonic parodies of Christian rites, at some level they spring from the same archetypal soil and utilize the same archetypal imagery–

    — which has itself, thank God, been slowly transmuted from human sacrifice to sacramental symbolism across continents and centuries, a process for which we should be profoundly grateful.

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    For those of you interested in further readings in Eucharistic theology, I recomment particularly:

  • Geoffrey Wainwright, Eucharist and Eschatology
  • William Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist

  • I shall have more to say on Torture and Eucharist in an upcoming post on Sarah Palin, baptism and waterboarding.

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    Easter celebrations 3: the Middle East

    Monday, April 21st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- third and last of three Easter posts ]
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    Voice of Russia reports:

    The Holy Fire has been descending in the Holy Sepulcher Church, in a small chapel called Kuvuklia, for more than one millennium. The famous Church Father St. Gregory of Nyssa is believed to be one of the first to mention the miracle back in the 4th century.

    The church service of the Holy Fire begins about 24 hours before the Orthodox Easter begins. This year it coincides with the Easter celebrations of other Christian confessions. Traditionally at 10-11 a.m. on Holy Saturday the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem clad in inner-rason brings a big icon lamp where the Holy Fire is expected to descend and 33 candles – the number of the years of Christ’s earthly life. After a series of rituals, the priest stops near the entrance to the chapel. His chasuble is taken off, and he is left wearing the linen chimer only for everyone to see that he is not taking any matches or other fire-making devices with him. The Patriarch goes inside, and the doors behind him are sealed with a big piece of wax and a red ribbon.
    Then light is switched off in the church and anticipatory silence follows as believers pray, confess their sins and ask God to grant them the Holy Fire. When the Holy Fire finally descends, then the doors of Kuvuklia open and the Patriarch comes out to bless the believers and gives them the fire.

    A group of pilgrims will deliver late on Saturday the Holy Fire from Jerusalem to the central Russian cathedral.

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    For the dismal wider Middle Eastern context, Phillip Smyth tweets:

    I usually wait for 2 times in a year when media remembers Mid East Christians exist: Easter and Christmas. Coverage today has been light. The stories which are run usually encompass 2 main themes: “They’re still there, but shrinking” or “Uncertainty for __ community”. In honor of the lack of Mid East Christian coverage (despite fact it’s Easter), I’ll go through some trends which impact communities.

  • Increased Iranian (via proxies & from Tehran) messaging to craft sense of minority (Shi’a) alliance with Christians.
  • Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has also pushed this “minority alliance” theme. Christians are viewed as group(s) to be utilized.
  • The Kurdish-Christian relationship has grown & changed depending on actors. #Syria/#PYD is the place to watch vis-a-vis cooperation.
  • Identity politics within Christian communities will continue to grow, create difficulties, and eventually settle a bit–just not now.
  • Lebanese Christians are ones to watch–Will certain communities (looking at Armenians/Syriacs) grow more involved in Syria?
  • My perception is sense of decline in influence for Christian groups is far more ‘palpable’ among those in upper-echelon poli circles that doesn’t mean those circles want that, but accepting that reality has been hard for many ideologues.
  • I expected there’d be a bit more “unity” btw Levant Christian groups & Copts. Not much change there. Albeit,expats a little different
  • Intra-Christian sectarian/ethnic identities will probably further a continuing state of disunity. Likely no fix to that.
  • BTW, since it’s Easter, I find it really unnerving & sick when AQ lovers who follow me, “favorite” material about Christians leaving M.E.

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    Phillip Smyth also points us to Suzannah George‘s NPR piece, ‘A Wound That Doesn’t Close’: Armenians Suffer Uncertainty Together:

    At St. Elie Armenian Catholic Church in downtown Beirut, Zarmig Hovsepian lit three candles and slowly mouthed silent prayers before Easter Mass. After reciting “Our Father,” she added a prayer of her own: “For peace, for Lebanon and the region,” she said, underscoring the deep sense of apprehension beneath the surface of otherwise festive Easter celebrations.

    Next door in Syria, violence recently displaced thousands from the historic Armenian town of Kessab, which rests in northwestern Syria, along the Turkish border. Groups of Syrian rebels, including some with ties to al-Qaida, swept into the Latakia province last month, seizing a number of towns in the strategically important mountains.

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    Hope and hatreds.

    Bringing our varied strands together we have the Economist, with a piece blog-friend Michael Robsinson pointed me to titled The fire every time:

    Water, soil, wind, the sun, salt… in religious language, all the primordial elements of human experience have taken on new layers of meaning, as prophets, preachers and scribes down the ages, inspired or otherwise, struggled to express their intimations of the divine. Often the same element (water, for example) has two or more opposing meanings, standing either for nurturing or for retribution. And so it is with fire.

    Over this weekend, more than a billion Christians round the world are proclaiming their belief in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; this happens to be one of the years when the Christian West and the Christian East (which use different computational systems) are marking their faith’s defining event on the same Sunday. And especially for Christians of the East, one of the defining symbols of Easter is fire — not the fire of retribution but the redeeming, death-conquering power of a God-man who, they believe, freely submitted to all the trials besetting humanity, including mortality, and overcame them.

    { … ]

    As in all recent years, the flame was whisked by air to Russia by an organisation with close presidential ties; this year it is also being taken to Crimea in celebration of its annexation. In Athens, a row broke out after a sceptical writer, Nikos Dimou, complained over the public funds that are used to air-lift the flame to Greece “with honours befitting a head of state”, escorted by a government minister. Presumably the faithful managed to celebrate Easter before the age of air travel, added Stelios Kouloglou, another well-known journalist. But Mr Dimou resigned from a newly founded political movement after his words earned him a rebuke.

    Meanwhile, in other places where the Jerusalem flame cannot easily be air-lifted, there were equally impressive celebrations as candle light cascaded through darkened churches and exhausted but eager choirs sang hymns like “Shine, shine, O New Jerusalem, the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.” In Damascus, Easter ceremonies were decently attended despite the muffled shell-fire in the background. In Kiev, Easter messages were mingled in some cases with denunciations of Moscow. In the Turkish-controlled Cypriot port of Famagusta, the holding of a Good Friday ceremony for the first time in over half a century offered a glimmer of inter-communal hope. And in the Ulster Protestant stronghold of Ballymena, Erasmus can report, about 200 Romanian migrants lit one another’s candles at midnight with nostalgic pleasure. The flame remains the same, but the world it touches keeps changing.

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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:

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    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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