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Greed can do it as easily as Religion — or Time Itself

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — the passing of time is theft is the passing of all things ]
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Here’s a quick stop-motion movie of the Temple of Bel, Palmyra, in four powerful frames.

The Temple was originally gloriously decorated..

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That’s Palmyra’s divine triad: Baalshamin, with the Moon god Aglibol on his right and the Sun-god Yarhibol at left, discovered at Bir Wereb, near Palmyra, 60 cm high (Louvre, Paris) (photo: Emmanuel PIERRE, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Temple was, in fact, until recently, an impressive ruin..

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That’s the Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria, in a photo by Bernard Gagnon, GNU license.

But then ISIS used explosives for a sacred demolition..

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Credit for this and the final image goes to Reuters

…and now there’s not much remaining of the glory..

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End of film, end of story — setup for the point I want to make.

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Stuff gets made or born, stuff lives or exists.. stuff dies, fades, crumbles, evaporates.. sometimes stuff is reboorn, salvaged, gets a second life..

Consider the great temple of Angkor Wat, buit by Khmer artists, partly destroyed by centuries of weather and overgrowth, pock-marked by the bullets of insurgents & army.. now given a second life as a tourist destination.. Consider Tibetan mandalas, chalked out in detail, painstakingly painted in sand, then swept away, proof of impermancence..

Well?

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The establishment of monotheism in Egypt was accompanied by royal command with the destruction of what we might now call religious and cultural works —

In rebellion against the old religion and the powerful priests of Amun, Akhenaten ordered the eradication of all of Egypt’s traditional gods. He sent royal officials to chisel out and destroy every reference to Amun and the names of other deities on tombs, temple walls, and cartouches to instill in the people that the Aten was the one true god.

— in a manner that calls to mind some of ISIS excesses, their destruction of the Temple of Bel, for a recent and striking instance.

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Indeed, places of worship have not infrequently been torn down:

Lord what work was here! What clattering of glasses! What beating down of walls! What tearing up of monuments! What pulling down of seats! What wresting out of irons and brass from the windows! What defacing of arms! What demolishing of curious stonework! What tooting and piping upon organ pipes! And what a hideous triumph in the market-place before all the country, when all the mangled organ pipes, vestments, both copes and surplices, together with the leaden cross which had newly been sawn down from the Green-yard pulpit and the service-books and singing books that could be carried to the fire in the public market-place were heaped together.

That’s from England — which suffered under Cranmer (Reformation) and Cromwell (Civil War), both of them politically influential Puritans.. who between them made ruins of many British abbeys — think Glastonbury, Fountains, Walsingham..

Well, all that’s background, simply to establish that time’s river allows for the buildup by a wide variety of means and sweeping away of all manner of things animate and ootherwise, in a continual flux, a continual emergence, a continual impermanence..

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But my point, remember?


Photo credit: via Trib Live

My point is that the thief of Pittsburg’s unique and valuable book antiquities deprives us of treasures of the mind in much the same way that ISIS does with its explosives in Palmyra. In the latter case: impassioned religion; in the former: simple greed.

Appraisers discovered missing items and books that had been “cannibalized,” with entire portions removed, according to the affidavit.

and the alleged thief:

is charged with theft, receiving stolen property, dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, conspiracy, retail theft, theft by deception, forgery and deceptive business practices.

Items of high value and greed, idolatry and iconoclasm — the cutting up of books from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh including a copy of Newton’s Principia is nend ot in the too different from what ISIS’ Kata’ib Taswiyya batallion did to Palmyra.

Not too different, either, from the activities of Tibetan monks.. or, I suppose, wind, rain, and a thousand years..

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Percy Bysshe Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Unlikely (?) Intersections

Saturday, July 21st, 2018

[by J. Scott Shipman]

“To flourish and grow in a many-sided uncertain and ever changing world that surrounds us, suggests that we have to make intuitive within ourselves those many practices we need to meet the exigencies of that world.” John R. Boyd, Colonel, USAF, Ret (1937-1997), Introduction to Conceptual Spiral Abstract

Friends, I’ve been noodling the intersection of ideas for the last couple of years. Based on the classic Boyd quote above (and other works), I’d offer that:

(1) most of our problems (let’s stick to military) can be derived from a lack of tacit knowledge

(2) a lack of respect/perspective for the differences between tactical and strategic uncertainty.

I’m not suggesting any sort of novel discovery, as I’m standing on the shoulders of several other authors/thinkers, but Boyd’s little introduction manages to provide a scaffold of thought we’d be wise study.

Sermo I: Sanctity of the unsavory

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — my most original contribution to theology? — saints of negative virtue ]
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Anthony Bourdain, RIP.

Friend Callum Flack drew my attention to Don’t Eat Before Reading This: A New York chef spills some trade secrets in the New Yorker yessterday. It’s a piece Anthony Bourdain, chef raconteur extraordinaire, wrote in the waning months of th twentieth century, and in Callum’s note it is “The article that kicked off Anthony Bourdain’s writing career. Everything is there already: curiosity, no-bullshit, brotherhood, secrets. Hell of a rollick.”

I’ve occasionally dipped into one of Bourdain’s exotic foods shows on TV, but was frankly surprised and impressed by the outbreak of love and high respect that attended his recent passing. Naturally, I read the piece, and this sentence jumped out at me:

In fact, it was the unsavory side of professional cooking that attracted me to it in the first place.

Those words crystallized for me something i’ve been feeling my way into for years — the sense that there is a second sanctity, just as laudable as the well-recognized first. Bourdain, I saw very clearly in that moment, is a saint of the second category — no insult or diminishment in any way intended — and that remark of his offers exactly the right term to begin my consideration of the hitherto intuited, but to my knowledge seldom theologically recognized category of the sacred to which Bourdain belonged.

Anthony Bourdain was a saint of thee unsavory.

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Bourdain’s piece opens with a paean to unsavories to be savored and tasty cruelties of various forms:

Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay. It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger—risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish. Your first two hundred and seven Wellfleet oysters may transport you to a state of rapture, but your two hundred and eighth may send you to bed with the sweats, chills, and vomits.

Shocking. Distinctly unsaintly.

Sanctity of the first category is liable to sound more like this account of the diet of FF Baptiste Vianney, the Curé d’Ars:

There was no housekeeper at the presbytery. Until 1827 the staple of his food was potatoes, an occasional boiled egg and a kind of tough, indigestible, flat cake made of flour, salt, and water which the people called .[2] Subsequent to the foundation of the orphan girls’ school, to which he gave the beautiful name of ” Providence,” he used to take his meals there. At one time he tried to live on grass, but he had to confess that such a diet proved impossible. He himself reveals his mind, as regards all this, in the words he addressed to a young priest: “The devil,” he said, “is not much afraid of the discipline and hair-shirts what he really fears is the curtailing of food, drink and sleep.”

This too is shocking — but Shakespeare would have recognized and, may we even say, delighted, in both. Indeed, in responding to Callum, I wrote:

Shakespeare knew all about this type of sanctity, theology misses, the blues know it.

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We frequently view the creator, religiously speaking, as “all good” — in which cae the category of the sacred will tend to be open to those whose lives demonstrate extreme “goodness ” — purity, love, self-sacrifice, call it what you will. But if we view the creator, religiously or in terms of evolutionarily biology and psychology, as an artist, then tension becomes a positive, the brilliant extreme of “evil” as significant as that of “good” — and Hannibal Lecter a paragon of negative virtue. Shakespeare must have relished writing Lady Macbeth.

Shakespeare, the great dramatist of our humanity, speaks to the unsavory as well as the savory virtues, while the blues, among the most piercing of our expressions of grief, fury, jealousy, and yes, sin, is also a fount of joy and exultation. In a later sermon in this series, I shall explore Eric Clapton‘s two songs, Have You Ever Loved a Woman, and Wonderful Tonight — one of which is an exploration of “a shame and a sin” — the other of the wonder of an evening in love..

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Let me note briefly here that Santa Muerte is an example of a folk outcropping from traditional Catholic piety in a morbid direction not sanctioned by the Church — an unsavory saint, and what is perhaps worse, visually an inversion of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her typical offerings include whiskey and cigars.

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Getting back to our culinary theme, I ran across a fascinating account of JS Bach‘s eating habits recently, headed:

J.S. Bach’s wife recorded an epic meal that he enjoyed after dedicating the new organ in Halle on May 3, 1716. The meal had almost as many courses as he had children

That was quite a few. The courses:

Beef bourguignon, followed by sardines and pike, then smoked ham, a side plate of peas and a side plate of potatoes, spinach (that apparentttly counts as one course), belgian endive, and let’s get hearty, roast mutton, veal, squash, a head of lettuce, ooh, sweet, glazed donuts (plural), white radishes, sweet again and a touch sour, candied lemon peel, fresh butter, and cherry preserves

— surely those last two go with a large tranche of bread, no? — Mrs Bach didn’t tell us. In any case, stout JS Bach was obviously quite a trencherman.

And yet his name crops up in an Episcopalian church calendar as that of a saint, with his feast day on July 28:

Johann Sebastian Bach, 1750, George Frederick Handel, 1759, and Henry Purcell, 1695, Composers

followed a short while later on August 5th by:

Albrecht Dürer, 1528, Matthias Grünewald, 1529, and Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1553, Artists

— while the Orthodox Church in DC celebrates the life of “St. Andrei Rublev, iconographer” on July 4/17.. while Kenneth Randolph Taylor, an Episcopalian in Georgia, is compiling his own “ecumenical calendar of saints”, and includes “the poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkinsas a saint, and surely John Donne and perhaps even Jonathan Swift will soon follow..

My point being that artists seem to occupy a space that has plenty of room for culinary delight, wives and childen, asceticism, monasticism, Lutheranism, Catholicism, Anglicanism, you name it. My own birthday, November 27, occurs in older Catholic calendars as the feast of Sts Baarlam and Ioasaph, whose story is recounted by St. John Damascene and can be traced back to a tale of the Buddha (Ioasaph = Iodasaph = Bodasaph = Bodhisattva if I recall the various names as they can be traced back to their various sources) — so I have a truly ecumenical saint’s day for a birthday in Catholic tradition — and the Buddha as a patron saint!

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Anyway, how long till the church recognizes the uncanny lack of hypocrisy in Hannibal Lecter, ambling down a street in the Bahamas, intent on having “an old friend for dinner”…?

IMO, that’s the over-the-top case that brings my whole suggestion here into the status of an Open Question.

Metaphors, more iii

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — continuing from Metaphors, more ii — which has become seriously overloaded and is listing, seriously, to port ]
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Almost all of these are references to Trump’s press conference with Putin, which seems important enough to call for its own post — there may be a couple of earlier statements dropped in..

For example:

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jump to 17.10 in the video, answering “What was your view of Vladimir Putin today?” “Well, Ari, it’s All Star week here in Washington DC. HGe won the Home Run Derby of all Derbys, Vladimir Putin .. I think this was a big victory for Vladmimir Putin..”

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This too:

WILSON: “I do think, though, that a lot of people today saw the real Donald Trump. They saw the Donald Trump who comes out acting like he’s the swaggering alpha male and he sat there on the stage like a whipped dog. I mean, he wanted Vladimir Putin’s approval. He didn’t care about anything else. He wanted Vladimir Putin to pat him on the head and to tell him he’s a good boy and nothing else mattered. He was defending himself with these wild haymaker punches trying to bring Hillary Clinton back into the conversation, but it was very clear today who the boss was in that room and who wears the dog collar. And it’s Donald Trump.”

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And these:

not taking one on the chin..
i don’t know if they’d show up in his ofice and say, game’s up…
trump made a game-time decision to play things his way ..
he could have hit a home run, I’m ashamed he didn’t ..
it was a game-time decision that virtually no one in his white house approved of – ashley parker
was the white house awaree that they were likely gamed .. ?
trump has outgamed himself ..
the democrats are charlie brown, the republicans are lucy — sen chris murphy
the informational dark side of the moon in that meeting..
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Trump & Putin took turns on the tire swing yesterday — rachel maddow
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British economists prove it: Sports destroy happiness

Sports make the world a sadder place. Seriously. We’ve got data.
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Armed with 3 million responses to a happiness monitoring app, plus the locations and times of several years worth of British soccer matches, University of Sussex economists Peter Dolton and George MacKerron calculated that the happiness that fans feel when their team wins is outweighed – by a factor of two – by the sadness that strikes when their team loses.
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Which means, assuming a roughly equal number of fans on both sides, Sunday’s World Cup final between France and Croatia made the world less happy than it was the day before. On net, soccer is a destroyer of happiness.

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Bob Kerrey

He got played by Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin is going to play you, and play you he did ..
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Ari to George Will:

We go into this baroque fugue state

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this sort of Potemkin gun group in Russia ..
while we’re playing bingo.. [Ari]
here’s an easy one for you, here’s softball on hardball .. [chris matthews]
coming up: spy games ..
they do a walk back and a half twist ..
this is a very simple pattern ..
a russian diplomatic vehicle / miracle — and then, game over ..
trump torpedo
moral equivalency, tit-for-tat ..

there’s a lot of tit-for-tat in this .. [Jonathan Chait]
this kind of contrition theater ..
keep your bingo card open for a few more minutes, nicolle ..
gone beyond a goat rodeo ..
[ new terms ] helsinki republicans, helsinki humiliation ..
this is a velcro, not a teflon situation for him ..
appears to have walked back his walk back ..
“think of it as a player-trade” 11th hour/ swapping mcfaul for russians
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WotR: THE SHELL GAME: FUELING A FUTURE WAR IN THE PACIFIC

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Will Hurd, Trump Is Being Manipulated by Putin. What Should We Do?

By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.

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Nicolle Wallace Bursts Out Laughing as Jonathan Swan Talks WH Confusion: ‘No One Really Knows Anything’

Axios’ Jonathan Swan broke down how things are, um, movin’ right along in the White House at the end of this very chaotic week, but the way he described it was just too much for Nicolle Wallace.

Wallace brought up how Dan Coats sounded “unshackled” yesterday and asked, “What is the collective feeling among the White House staff about the fact that Donald Trump’s own appointees, who head arguably the most important government agencies… are no longer pretending that Donald Trump isn’t ridiculous?”

Swan noted how some officials are still “pretty buttoned up,” citing DHS Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen, before telling Wallace the following:

“We’re finding more and more often that when we talk to people who work in the White House or at a senior level in the administration is we’ll ask them why did Trump do this thing, whatever it might be… In the early days of the administration, you could expect an answer that rationalizes, tells your game theory and whatever. Now they’re just like [makes an ‘I dunno’ noise].”

Wallace burst out laughing and Swan made the noise a few more times before saying, “They’ve stopped bothering trying to explain him.”

Game theory, see?

But you can hear that laugh, and Swan’s noise, at Mediaite, though I can’t find a way to bring the video here — if I could, I’d have a marbelous DoubleQuote with Andrea Mitchell‘s interview with Dan Coats and the interruption by a White House tweet:

A DoubleLaugh!

Snap!

Sunday surprise: Eucharist above, below and beyond

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — have you time to spare for a little beauty? ]
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Prof Emily Steiner of the University of Pennsylvania posted this image, which she described as of the “Stunning mosaics in the apse of S. Maria in Trastevere, attributed to Pietro Cavallini (c.1240-1330)”:

Dr Steiner attributed the photo to “the talented @pdecherney” — her colleague at U PEnn, Dr Peter Decherney.

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When I first saw this image, only the top half was visible on my screen, a fine, and I’m no expert, possibly world renowned, and yes, as Dr Steiner says, stunning mosaic of Christos Pantokrator, Christ the ruler of the universe if I’m not mistaken — and again, I’m no expert, and willing to take instruction.

But stunning, yes. Christ, a mosaic, stunning. Art at the service of praise, beauty as a window on the divine, .

And then, perhaps an hour later, but lapses of time are mended in this realm, I saw the whole image, sized to fit my screen.

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And thus the bottom half —

— with, brightly lit, even moreso if it were possible than the Christ in mosaic above it is, a small table — an altar, with three priests, and more in the wings, celebrating what looks to be the Eucharist — thought I suppose it might also be Vespers — and again, some expert could say whether the central celebrant is, by his zucchetto or skullcap, a cardinal, bishop, or maybe monsignor.

No matter the celebrant’s rank, he is, as celebrant, at the vanishing point — both the central point of attention photographically, and the point where the priest acts in the person of Christ, in persona Christi, thus himself, his persona, vanishing at the vanishing point.

Do this in memory of me, Christ said to his disciples at the Last Supper before his crucifixion, in words of sacrifice, previsioning his body about to be broken on the cross the next day — and down the centuries priests have broken bread as he did, speaking his words in his place, Take, eat, this is my body.

In the consecration, with these wrds, bread and wine become invisibly the body and blood of Christ, which we may remember, digest and allow to transform us.

It is this which makes the celebration of the Eucharist, in Catholic terms, “the source and summit of the Christian life”.

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And then, between this focus on the priest celebrant below, and the Christ all-ruling above, there is a mysterious relationship, each reflecting the other as in duet of mirrors — above, below and I invite you to envision, beyond.

Taking us, to switch religious traditions.. into the upper room with that one and self-same Christ

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Eucharist: literally, thanksgiving!

May your Sunday bring you cause for such thanksgiving..


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