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Foolishness, Martin Luther King Jr and the Resurrection

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — from MLK via St Basil the Great to Mullah Nasruddin ]
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Three lines from the Apostles Creed locate the Resurrection between a descent into hell and an ascent into heaven. These lines are worth pondering in concert:

He descended into hell;
on the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,

In what world of three worlds are these three utterances, so poetically juxtaposed, credible as declarative propositions?

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He is risen!

Bach’s Easter Oratorio, with Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Choir and Orchestra:

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Martin Luther King Jr gently lays out the liberal / modernist perspective on the Resurrection:

The last doctrine in our discussion deals with the resurrection story. This doctrine, upon which the Easter Faith rests, symbolizes the ultimate Christian conviction: that Christ conquered death. From a literary, historical, and philosophical point of view this doctrine raises many questions. In fact the external evidence for the authenticity of this doctrine is found wanting. But here again the external evidence is not the most important thing, for it in itself fails to tell us precisely the thing we most want to know: What experiences of early Christians lead to the formulation of the doctrine?

The root of our inquiry is found in the fact that the early Christians had lived with Jesus. They had been captivated by the magnetic power of his personality. This basic experience led to the faith that he could never die. And so in the pre-scientific thought pattern of the first century, this inner faith took outward form. But it must be remembered that before the doctrine was formulated or the event recorded, the early Christians had had a lasting experience with the Christ. They had come to see that the essential note in the Fourth Gospel is the ultimate force in Christianity: The living, deathless person of Christ. They expressed this in terms of the outward, but it was an inner experience that lead to its expression.

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The Jesuit priest Fr James Schall defends that outward interpretation, as found in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, taken for dogmatic purposes as declarations of fact:

To the wise Greeks, as St. Paul tells us, the whole aura around Christ’s death and resurrection seemed to be “foolishness.” And it is foolishness unless considerable evidence is found showing that something astonishing was in fact going on. This evidence is basically the testimony of the women and men who attested to the fact that Christ did rise again. This is the same Christ whose death on the Cross they had witnessed a few days before.

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To take these declarations as reporting historical fact, it may help to have an upside-down worldview — that of the wisdom of the fool. Appropriately, this year Easter is celebrated on April Fools Day. Indeed, Fr Schall opens his piece from which I quoted above by noting that fact, then moves to a discussion of Christ himself as a Fool:

A tradition exists about “Christ the Fool.” It probably originates from when Pilate sent Christ to see Herod. Herod was anxious to see him. See him do what? See him perform. He had heard much about this man and his miracles. So naturally the king wanted to see what Christ could do; he wanted a private show to entertain the court. In response, Christ was simply silent.

Christ, we might say, played the naïf for Herod.

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Scripture declares how a naturalistic worldview perceives the eruption of God’s wisdom into this world as folly, and vice versa:

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.

while:

the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

and, in an almost tongue-twisting formulation:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

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All of which leads Christians to imitate the foolishness of Christ:

We are fools for Christ’s sake

That too is St Paul, writing of himself and his contemporaries, followers of the pattern set by Christ — and his message has echoed down the centuries among those who wish to imitate that pattern closely:

One form of the ascetic Christian life is called foolishness for the sake of Christ. The fool-for-Christ set for himself the task of battling within himself the root of all sin, pride. In order to accomplish this he took on an unusual style of life, appearing as someone bereft of his mental faculties, thus bringing upon himself the ridicule of others. In addition he exposed the evil in the world through metaphorical and symbolic words and actions. He took this ascetic endeavor upon himself in order to humble himself and to also more effectively influence others, since most people respond to the usual ordinary sermon with indifference.

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In the Orthodox tradition — in which, this year, Easter and the Resurrection will be celebrated next Sunday — the foolishness of saints is a recurrent story. As I noted, quoting from the National Catholic Register in an earlier post:

In Russian history the greatest of the “holy fools” was Basil the Blessed, a man so revered that the famous Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square next to the Kremlin was named in his honor. Basil walked through Moscow wearing nothing more than a long beard. He threw rocks at wealthy people’s houses and stole from dishonest traders in Red Square.

Few doubted Basil’s holiness. Tsar Ivan the Terrible feared no one but Basil. Basil was also given to eating meat on Good Friday. Once he went to Ivan’s palace in the Kremlin and forced the tsar to eat raw meat during the fast saying, “Why abstain from eating meat when you murder men?” Countless Russians died for much less but Ivan was afraid to let any harm come to the saintly Basil.

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I don’t suppose one could speak of left and right wing parties under the Terrible Ivan, but evcen if one could, I don’t think St Basil’s approach would fit either description — he’s acting in a manner that is plain contrary to all sane opinion — and indeed, the term “Contraries” is applied by anthropologists to trickster shamans and holy foots in many traditions. Interestingly, in Sufism the “path of blame” has at times been highly esteemed — its practitioners, like the Russian Holy Fools, draw blame on themselves to awaken those around them while subverting their own propensity to take pride in how “spiritual” they are.

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Mullah Nasruddin really didn’t want to loan his donkey to a neighbor.
My brother borrowed him yesterday and hasn’t brought him back, the Mullah said..
Just then, the donkey brayed.
Who are you going to believe, the Mullah asked hastilyy — me or a donkey?

Now, who in that little vignette is more of an ass?

Music and the Friday curiously called Good

Friday, March 30th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — ffor whom the music lingers longest in the soul ]
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Yesterday, Maundy Thursday in the western ritual calendar, the Christ washed the feet of his disciples after the Last Supper, and instructed them to do likewise. Today, the day called Good Friday, the Christ, scourged and bone-weary from dragging the wood chosen for his cross uphill to a place called Golgotha or Skull, is finally nailed, hand and foot, hands and feet. and raised up with a mocking inscription above his head proclaiming him King of the Jews in three languages -– and in his almost final gesture on earth, forgives the soldier who has just applied hammer to those terrible nails. He dies – “gives up the ghost” – and then the three days of a prophesied and clearly impossible return from the tomb open before us – a cliff-hanger like no other.

The suspense!

Our western civ loses a lot if we are unable to have, in the cycle of our 24/365 lives, such a moment of suspense, which IMO cuts deeper than any doctrine. Deeper than doctrine, too, is music, which reaches far beyond the bounds of verbal belief. Thus one of western music’s greatest treasures: Bach’s telling of Christ’s passion, as written by Matthew in his gospel. Pause a moment – pause a couple of hours – pause at least long enough for Bach’s great finale – and then wait, if the Christ story can still move you, wait with aching, with dread even – or as Bach suggests, rest with the resting Christ, take consolation in the promise of his resurrection.

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Bach’s finale, Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder, WIki explains:

The work is closed by a grand scale chorus in da capo form, choir I and II mostly in unison for the first part Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder (We sit down in tears), but in dialog in the middle section, choir II repeating Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh! (“Rest gently, gently rest!”), choir I reflecting: “Your grave and headstone shall, for the anxious conscience, be a comfortable pillow and the resting place for the soul. Highly contented, there the eyes fall asleep.” These are the last words (before the recapitulation), marked by Bach himself: p pp ppp (soft, very soft, extremely soft).

Bach’s complete Matthew Passion, a Lutheran choral setting for today’s evening service:

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And the end, in Matthew’s telling:

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

Whether, weather or not you believe in climate change

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — in thunder, lightning; in darkness, light; in the eye of the hurricane.. ]
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Weather or weather:

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Sources:

  • CNBC, Powerful nor’easter ‘bomb cyclone’
  • WaPo, D.C. lawmaker says recent snowfall caused
  • **

    We don’t need the details of the two articles, or of other coverage such as the New Yorker’s Bomb Cyclones, Nor’easters, and the Messy Relationship Between Weather and Climate — the top panel headline deals with the weather-weather, the regular day to day no need to look further weather, but the lower panel headline lets in alternate, nay Biblical, spiritual explanations — and with that freedom I’ll fly to a consideration of atmosphere and atmosphere — the one measured by the barometer, the other an intangible presence in a room —

    For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

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    That’s Bibical, too — but it may apply, probably does indeed, to those of other and various flocks.. the joyful givers of any denomination, belief or disbelief.

    YMMV, of course. But read this:

    In his correspondence with Suzuki (the two finally met in New York in 1964), Merton refers to the doctrine of analogy in Aquinas by which it was just as legitimate , in one sense, to say of God that he is non-being as to affirm God is being, since God so transcends being as we know it that any attribution of being as we know it would mislead. Merton was quite taken by the mystical tradition of a kind of un-knowing in our contemplation of God. He said to Suzuki: “I have my own way to walk and for some reason Zen is right in the middle of wherever I go. If I could not breathe Zen, I would probably die of asphyxiation.” He also told Suzuki: “Speaking as a monk and not a writer, I am much happier with ’emptiness’ when I do not have to talk about it.” Merton and Suzuki exchanged manuscripts and books and eventually engaged in a written dialogue which appears in Merton’s posthumously published book, Zen and the Birds of Appetite.

    I cannot believe that between Merton the Trappist monk and Suzuki the man most responsible for introducing zen to the west, the I am was not resonant in the air between them.

    Far more severe than the Israeli occupation?

    Thursday, February 15th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — an invitation to explore some suggested comparisons — Afghanistan, too ]
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    ben wittes, lawfare blog

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    I generally find Ben Wittes’ Lawfare blog worth reading, and was accordingly struck when I read The Methodology of Historical Misrepresentation and came across this paragraph:

    There is a widespread tendency amongst scholars, journalists, and legal experts to app double standard when relating to Israel and the Palestinians. Israel is often singled out for prejudicial treatment in comparison to cases far more severe than its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, such as the killing in Syria of over half a million people, the hanging of hundreds of dissidents in Iran every year, the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Russian behavior in Chechnya, Syria, and Ukraine, and countless other human rights infringements infinitely worse than the Israeli occupation and settlement movement.

    That wasn’t, I’ll admit, what I expected when I read the post’s title: in the context of the Israeli/Paalestinian issue, I could iagune the misrepresentation might be found in Israeli hasbara as easily as in Mahmoud Abbas‘ tendency to say things about the “occupied territories” that only include the West Bank and Gaza when addressing English-speaking audiences, and the whole shebang including Tel Aviv when speaking in Arabic — as repeatedly shown by Itamar Marcus of Palestinial Media Watch

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    That said, I’d be interested in specific comparisons in detail, one at a time, between these levels of documented human rights infringements..

    For instance, the Israelis have established “facts on the rgound” in the form of both settlers and their sccompanying schools, synagogues, etc within the Palestinian und, with military enforcement, while the Chinese appear similarly to have established “facts on the ground” in Tibetan territor in the form of both settlers and their institutions, militarily enforced.

    Howw can one compare these two situations in greater detail, fairly?

    Israel separation wall in West Bank

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    The first problem any such attempt will encounter is that both sides will produced partisan accounts of history, law, populations, etc, and that accounts by “honest brokers” are desperately hard to find — I mean, educate me in the comments section.

    I’ve tried to propose a graphical/typographical system for conducting bilateral debates.. but maybe the Talmud is not ideal for these particular debates..


    Talmudic page

    Specifically, I took my early inspiration from the Talmud because it explicitly llows divergent viewpoints in its graphical format, as explained by Eliezer Segal on his interactive (ie clickable) Page from the Babylonian Talmud. But perhaps the Talmud is not the ideal basis for these particular debates, in which the Israelis (often deeply influenced by forms of Judaism) are one of the contending parties…

    In any case, how, with all the affordances of the web, can we provide a space in which written debates can be refined in light of written (and equally valued) responses, iteratively, so as to provide a record for ongoing dialogue, with both sides equitably represented, and able to respond point by point whwere they disagree or wich to provide additional material, and to agree where they agree.

    I am encouraged to know what such a format can eventually produce a document where twwo adversaary-friends collaborate, because of the collaboration of Mustafa Hamid and Leah Farrall, friend of Mullah Omar and OBL and Australian Federal Police AQ expert respectively, on their book, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, in which some sections indicate that the two co-authors were agreed on theie contents, while some sections are attributed to Mustafa alone, and some to Leah likewise. Two adversaries first meet on the net, then in person in Alexandria, Egypt, then after months and months of collaboration, and no doubt much excellent coffee — this book!

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    PS & NB:

    Ben Wittes has notably and repeatedly challenged Vladimir Putin to a martial arts match: I’ll Fight Putin Any Time, Any Place He Can’t Have Me Arrested.

    That would be something to watch on both RT and MSNBC!

    If you want to warn about global warming, this photo might do it

    Monday, September 11th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — the elements speak Power to power]
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    Images speak louder than words: the right images cut to the heart. Billions of dollars extinguished in freak storms also speak.

    It may be that some of those who have been denying global warming are about ready to — reluctantly — take it sweriously as a matter for stragetic gaming.

    Realism from Miami’s mayor:

    As Hurricane Irma forces millions to evacuate, Mayor Tomás Regalado says: “If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is.”

    Oh, and Rush Limbaugh

    Rush Limbaugh indicates he’s evacuating Palm Beach days after suggesting Hurricane Irma is fake news:

    Image:

    Oh no, that’s not Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, nor is it the apocalypse, just a foretaste. It’s a photo of California burning.

    Mother Nature speaks in water, wind and fire. First responders can respond, up to a point. Funding is crucial.

    Hey. Job would understand:

    At this also my heart trembleth, and is moved out of his place. Hear attentively the noise of his voice, and the sound that goeth out of his mouth. He directeth it under the whole heaven, and his lightning unto the ends of the earth. After it a voice roareth: he thundereth with the voice of his excellency; and he will not stay them when his voice is heard. God thundereth marvellously with his voice; great things doeth he, which we cannot comprehend. For he saith to the snow, Be thou on the earth; likewise to the small rain, and to the great rain of his strength.

    Humbled yet? Is this the time for a few minds to change?

    Hurricanes don’t lie. The earth is now under attack from water, wind and fire.

    To see this in the microcosm, take a look at Rohingya, by water and fire — Upshortly

    Oh, ah, dark hell by Hieronymous Bosch

    :

    That’s Judgment Day— how many signs — accelerando & crescendo — you wanna see?

    Thank you. Out.


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