Saturday, October 13, 2007

Questions about the strength of the Duma

Atrios notes that the Secretary of State has made certain recent utterances without any evident awareness of irony.
The Russian government under Vladimir Putin has amassed so much central authority that the power-grab may undermine Moscow's commitment to democracy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday.

"In any country, if you don't have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development," Rice told reporters after meeting with human-rights activists.

"I think there is too much concentration of power in the Kremlin. I have told the Russians that. Everybody has doubts about the full independence of the judiciary. There are clearly questions about the independence of the electronic media and there are, I think, questions about the strength of the Duma," said Rice, referring to the Russian parliament.
(Associated Press via Forbes)

Let's run that by one more time: "In any country, if you don't have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development."

SSJOAS = Sweet Suffering Jesus on a Stick

Memo to Democratic members of Congress

Giving in to bullies is always wrong.

Kick them in the balls till they fall over, kick them in the balls till they beg for mercy, kick them in the balls till they vow they'll never ever ever do it again.

Then kick them in the balls once more in front of their mob, so everyone gets you're simply not fucking around. (It saves you having to hurt them again ten future times; bullies are slow learners.)

Taken from another context at the Group News Blog.

Excellent advice. Next time you feel all bipartisan and compromisal (a non-word I rather like), remember what your Republican colleagues have consistently done to destroy this nation. Then kick. Hard. Repeatedly. And get something done for America and the world for a change.

[Nice is hereby repealed until there is a Democratic supermajority in both house of Congress.]
--the BB

"the inevitable benefits of ground already covered"

La Vie Graphite has a marvelous reflective essay, with photos, titled heart in motion. I commend it, and the blog altogether, to your attention.

I am enjoying this space on its own terms, with nothing resisted or wished away.

--the BB

It has happened before

Grandmère Mimi alerted me today to General Ricardo Sanchez's comments in the New York Times about a “catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan” in Iraq. Well big effing "duh!"

General Sanchez said he was convinced that the American effort in Iraq was failing the day after he took command, in June 2003. Asked why he waited until nearly a year after his retirement to voice his concerns publicly, he responded that it was not the place of active-duty officers to challenge lawful orders from the civilian authorities.

Excuse me. Invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation that has neither attacked us nor poses any immediate threat to us constitutes a violation of international and U.S. law. It is what we quaintly call "a war crime." Just because [expletive deleted] was recognized as President by the Supreme Court does not make anything he orders lawful. The Nixon asssetion that whatever the President does is thereby lawful just doesn't pass muster. Didn't then. Doesn't now.

I share Grandmère's outrage that people who knew this from the beginning did not speak up when it might have made a difference. For all who have since perished or been injured, maimed, displaced, or dispossessed since then it is now too late. And we are having one devil of a time trying to even have a discussion of extrication, much less any action toward the same.

“There has been a glaring and unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders,” he said, adding that civilian officials have been “derelict in their duties” and guilty of a “lust for power.”

A lust for power. That, and delusions of glory, hoping to "bring" (how patronizing) democracy to the benighted folks in other lands. Or worse, insane delusions about triggering Armageddon so Jesus will come. Oh yes, they are that crazy, and that religious fringe has deliberately made huge inroads in our military.

Vanity of vanity, all is vanity, saith the preacher.

It has happened before.
Strong men put up a city and got

a nation together,
And paid singers to sing and women

to warble: We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation,

nothing like us ever was.

And while the singers sang

and the strong men listened

and paid the singers well

and felt good about it all,

there were rats and lizards who listened

… and the only listeners left now
… are … the rats … and the lizards.

From Carl Sandburg, Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind (1922)
Democracy is not a spectator sport. We all have an obligation to inform ourselves and take action so that those we elect remember why we elected them.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
You will note the pointed absence of references to empire building in the Preamble.

--the BB

Update: John Bruhns, Iraq vet, has his own comments on General Sanchez's words at Americablog.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Artifice and discipline

Kanjincho with Ichikawa Danjuro (1990)

The magic of kabuki theatre requires incredible artifice and discipline. I learned something of this when studying kabuki at Pomona College under Leonard Pronko in the 60s. Plays were performed in translation and I fell in love with kabuki from the first performance I witnessed as a freshman. Although I had the smallest of bit parts, I did get to participate and see what it was like behind the scenes.
Whether I look today at national politics or at the current unpleasantness in Anglicanland, there seems to be a great deal of kabuki going on--kabuki in the non-Japanese-theatre sense of elaborate shows full of arcane details.
Artifice (derived from the Latin artifex, one who makes with art/skill) implies skill; it is also the source of the word artificial. In the context of church or politics it suggests all sorts of "artificial" stuff. In other words, you get great spectacle but it is all unreal--long on smoke and mirrors and short on substance. I believe artifice is a good word and one capable of a great deal of positive connotation, but that is not the case in these contexts.
Discipline suggests that some folks know what they want, will work hard to get it, will whip their troops in shape in order to achieve it, and will not give up. Good kabuki, in any sense, requires lots of discipline.
Alas, it seems those who use fear to divide and conquer, those who strive for power and the enrichment of their friends, those who cloak themselves in righteousness and condemn all others appear to have no end of discipline. Those who would unite and build peace, who show compassion for the vulnerable and seek the good of all, who do not need to denounce others to compensate for their own insecurity may well have discipline but they are up against a mighty force.
We are, perforce, in for the long haul. May practitioners of justice, mercy, truth, and peace exhibit discipline and skillful artifice to accomplish the work God calls us to do. I am strengthened by so many tales in blogtopia (TM skippy the bush kangaroo) of folks demonstrating such perseverance, creativity, and compassion.
Let's have theatres of peace instead of theatres of war.
--the BB

Friday Prince Blogging

His Royal and Imperial Highness Amedeo Marie Joseph Carl Pierre Philippe Paola Marcus d'Aviano, Prince of Belgium (since 1991), Prince Imperial and Archduke of Austria-Este, Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia. He's 6th in line to the Belgian throne. Must be hard to be so young and have a name so long.

I hope he's not as rowdy as Harry Windsor. Belgians seem a sensible lot.

Albertus Magnus

Image of Christ on the Tester

(Ceiling over St Cuthbert's Grave)

Durham Cathedral

This is not a reference to the German philosopher and Dominican friar. I am writing briefly about the Great Al of our own day, Albert Arnold Gore, Jr., who was announced this morning as co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on saving the environment.

The image above is not to liken Al Gore (the man I still recognize as the elected President of the United States, not to be confused with the impostor in the Oval Office) with a Messiah-figure. It is simply that I looked at the image this morning and it seems so full of hope and glory that I started thinking about what it would be like to have Gore officially residing in the White House, as he should have done before.

Think what it might mean to restore honor, decency, vision, and legality to our wonderful, sad country.

You can help. awaits your signature.

Congratulations, Mr. Gore. Please run.
--the BB

Thursday, October 11, 2007

More gratuitous prince blogging

His Royal Highness Carl Philip, Prince of Sweden
(God save the King and the Royal Family. My father's parents came from Sweden to California a the end of the 19th century.)

My heart looks for you at all times

E-mail on Wednesday, June 19, 2002

My heart looks for you at all times
My ears listen for you
My eyes seek your face
I feel like an ancient psalmist
yearning for God
We are steps on the journey
into life that has no end
love that never dies
Together we roam a path
unaware how vast and glorious
our destination
deeper than fears
deeper than desire
deeper than dreams
rooted beyond knowing
blossom outside all belief
fruit rich
laughter waits
and tears of joy
at journey’s end
This step we take
hands linked
hearts freebound with all things
wondering, wandering
tasting hints, dying daily
ever newborn
My joy, we are more than stardust
we are God’s glory
shining in the eyes of all

Well, that just sprang up while I was listening to music here in the church office. I guess it is today’s love poem, or prayer, or meditation. I give it to you, smiling, seeing your face before my mind’s eye. Come to me soon.

(c) PES

Since we are on the theme of divine love (and human as well), here is one more.
--the BB

Lighting the Whole Sky

There is an absurd generosity in the Holy One that scatters
Haphazard all the energies and glories of creation, like star nations
Easily flung as diamonds across the velvet night sky.

Surely, we feel, there must be some obligation, some burden, some debt
Under which we must struggle to prove ourselves worthy of such
Nonsensical goodness. The smile of Jesus tells me there is

No burden other than the one we make for ourselves, for God is
Eager to give, to love, to bless, to make fruitful, to set free.
Visions are given to the unworthy and food to the wicked, and
Every gift is only and always that—Gift, free of obligation, a total
Risk taken by the Almighty and Merciful One. We may

Sing the praises of the Giver and share the gifts, or mar
And misuse them with our ingratitude, our fear, our insecurity.
You and I have nothing to prove. Perfection is for God—for us the
Sharing, the striving, choosing, rejoicing in the school of love.

That, the opportunity to know the smallest particle
Or spark of the divine fire, to be kissed by Heaven,

To know the bliss of Eternity in this moment, to be loved
Here in this place by the Source and Goal of all things,
Eating at the abundant feast with all souls, all beings,

Entering into the bridal chamber of God’s love,
And shuddering at the tender caress of the Glorious One,
Reveling in delight, alive and overflowing with life—
That is as close as we can come to obligation. To
Hear the Voice of the Beloved, that itself suffices.

You see, once loved in that way we cannot then close
Ourselves from God or from others, nor from ourselves.
Useless to resist the Divine Lover, with whom is all our bliss.

Our lives, touched by that Fire, cannot then cease to burn.
We become sparks, lighting the universe along with all those
Ever-shining stars. It is not debt, it is desire and delight.

My little efforts, my many failures, seem to undo this mystery, yet
Even when clouds cover the earth, the sun shines and God loves still.

June 28, 2002

(An acrostic from Hafiz, I believe: The sun never says to the earth, you owe me.)
--the BB

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Prince of Denmark

Crown Princess Mary and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark with their daughter Princess Isabella

(File photo--Reuters: Morris Mac Matzen) via ABC News

No, not the dishy crown prince (pictured above with his lovely wife and daughter). The Shakespearean one: Hamlet.

I was watching the first hour of Kenneth Branagh's production of Hamlet this evening. When Horatio speaks of portents surrounding Julius Caesar's death (Act I, Scene i, lines 112ff.), he notes:
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets....

Deliciously put. Well, this is no lofty post. I only thought, "What a wonderful title for a blog!" So, if I were starting one tonight, it would be titled "Squeak and Gibber." (I'm not going to do the research to see if such already exists; I couldn't bear the disappointment.)

[The gratuitous prince blogging is for those who prefer something other than the antics of cats in their online visuals.]
--the BB

Our sights are set too low

Bernini's St Theresa in Ecstasy

photo via University of British Columbia Library

Amid our quotidian concerns over furnace repairs and leaking roofs, vestry meetings, spiritual nurture, crisis counseling, community building, outreach and evangelization, social justice work, stewardship of the environment, and annual pledge drives (the list could go on for several paragraphs), we usually manage to remember that we are seeking faithfully to follow Jesus.

Our Orthodox sisters and brothers would remind us that we are offered more than following.
God endowed [us] with the gifts "according to His [sic] image", so [we] may ascend very high, so [we] may acquire with them a likeness to [our] God and Maker; to have, not an external, moral relationship with [God], but a personal union with [our] Creator."
--The Deification as the Purpose of Man's Life by Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios of Mt. Athos

Our friends at JN1034 remind us of the Orthodox teaching on theosis or deification, including a posting from yesterday. It is mostly ignored in the Western churches, much as the Trinity in the West is seen more as an intellectual challenge than as our Life, our Home, our Joy. Sigh.

This is the "Byz-[antine]" part of the BB typing this morning. I picked up a copy of the limited third edition of Archimandrite George's booklet from the Greek Festival at St. George's Greek Orthodox Church on Saturday. (Fabulous lamb! I remarked to my friend that the Greeks have had thousands of years to get lamb right.) And a nice icon of St George.

While imagining what a parallel to Christianity might be like in a parallel world for my fantasy fiction, I have emphasized the Christ-figure's role as opening the way for all people to unite with the Uncreated Light of God. There is less emphasis on being saved from sin because that is only a first step, it is not the central point. Union with God is the point, the purpose, the goal.

How different that is from the faith I was raised on. I find it incredibly sad to ponder how limited, short-sighted, and crippling the emphasis on sin and atonement has been in the lives of millions of people, and it grieves me. I am not rejecting the notion of sin, nor of its consequences and the necessity of dealing with it. It is all too real and our sorry world testifies to that daily. But all the talk about it is only, as I just wrote, a first step.

The first major spiritual crisis (reformation era) of my life was centered on asking "what are we saved FOR?" I was tired of hearing what I was saved FROM, it wasn't moving me or anyone else into God's future.

Fantasy fiction as critique of Western Christianity.

I think Marcus Borg is on the right track when he rejects the inadequacies of a [liberal] examplar and a [conservative] rescuer to see Jesus inviting us into a transformative journey in relationship with the living God. Transformation, metamorphosis, transfiguration, changing from glory into glory, becoming one with the Ultimate, with the Holy, with God.
--the BB

Monday, October 08, 2007

Blame Dennis

Dennis at psychology, dogs, politics and wine got tagged with one of the list thingies. He had the decency to tag no one, so I will volunteer as a taggee.

Four answers to various things about me:

Four jobs I've held
  1. Dishwasher / cook’s helper (summer camp and juvenile hall—yes, I spent a summer in juvie)
  2. Resident hall assistant (graveyard shift)
  3. Accountant (someone has to track the beans)
  4. Parish priest (both as a gift and grace and for my sins which are many and grievous)

Four films I could watch over and over (and have done so)
  1. Four Weddings and a Funeral
  2. Much Ado about Nothing (with Thompson & Branagh)
  3. Babette’s Feast
  4. The Milagro Beanfield War
Four TV shows I watch

  1. CSI (the original)
  2. Law and Order: Criminal Intent
  3. The Daily Show
  4. Robin Hood (BBC) (I must confess I also watch Psych and Scrubs: heavy stuff)

Four places I've lived

  1. Fresno, California (my birthplace)
  2. Montpellier, France (for two months in my senior year, followed by one month in Paris)
  3. Albany, California (small town with all the advantages of being next to but not in Berkeley)
  4. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Four Favorite Foods
  1. Butter (the one place where my Swedish genes come through). Not to list this first and by itself would be dishonest. So many other foods support butter well: breads, crackers, vegetables, baked potatoes, etc.
  2. Anything cooked by Bill (whether grilled vegies, kulebiaka, pork loin, roast beef with his mother’s mushroom and sour cream sauce, beef stroganoff, creative leftovers, or anything else)
  3. Fruit desserts, especially extremely tart lemon ones
  4. Lasagna when made with al dente pasta, excellent cheeses, and really good sauce; either meat or vegetarian is fine with me (the only, only, only point at which I resonate with that vile cartoon cat Garfield)
Four websites I visit every day (How to choose? I visit so many every day.)
  1. The Wounded Bird
  2. Padre Mickey’s Dance Party
  3. Hullabaloo
  4. The Mahablog
Four favorite colors
  1. Blue (royal, cerulean, ultramarine, sapphire, indigo)
  2. Deep rich reds (garnet, burgundy)
  3. Rich dark greens (pine, dark emerald, forest)
  4. Bright saturated warm golden yellows (marigold), lemon rind, and pale butter yellow

Four places I would love to be now

  1. Le Midi (the South of France)
  2. Spain (never been, want to go)
  3. The Berkeley hills (Chez Panisse?)
  4. New England
Four names I love but wouldn't use to name the next dog
  1. Vunskridh (but I wouldn’t want to marry her)
  2. Hripsime (such an exotic-sounding Armenian name; I think it’s totally cool); and Stjepan Drzslav has always been big since my course in medieval Balkan history.
  3. Alexander and its many variants
  4. Christopher

Montpellier, France
In the words of Dennis:
Am I supposed to tag four other people? 
 I don't want to do that. I might forget someone. Or upset them. Not going to tread in those waters.

Respond if you wish.
—the BB

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Tired of prelates? Invent your own!

Goddess knows I have long since burned out on church politics. When important but tedious issues are discussed... AGAIN... and anxiety rises like a hot air balloon (and it is the season of the Ballon Fiesta in Albuquerque right now) and tempers flare, I roll my eyes and walk away (literally or figuratively).

This is why I have not posted in a long time on a local list serve. Just when folks had gotten used to my rambling disquisitions on matters theological, pastoral, or practical, my voice went silent. I began posting more here where I could pursue such topics as catch my fancy without the fevered hysteria, the pain, the anger that seem to swirl about everything Anglican these days.

If you follow this blog (or have spent time at Bearfeathers, where I haven't posted in donkey's years), you know that I have been writing fantasy fiction. It springs from tales I wrote in the years from 1972 to 1974, then set aside. Now they spring forth anew with a vengeance. Friends are reading the completed draft of the first novel. It is the starting point for a series of stories about a family on earth with several members over the generations who, unexpectedly, cross over into a parallel world. Some return; some do not. They have adventures, needless to say.

It has been fun and very satisfying and I am deep into it these days. While early drafts of some of the sequels have been around for over three decades and I have done some revising and expanding in the past two years, there is much yet to do.

The first tale is set in a pagan world and I enjoyed developing its mythology. The imagery of that pre-Christian faith has become part of my own thought world now. The latter tales are in a "Christian" environment for this parallel world has a parallel Christ event. Right now I am exploring the background of the arrival of "Christianity" to the portion of that world where my tales take place. This is all backstory, stuff that wouldn't be published as narrative (or, God help us, fictive history) but serves to make the world real to me, understandable, interconnected, full of texture and detail. Then I can tell a story within that rich texture.

So this weekend I am ignoring that Genovese slaver working for the Jew- and Moor-hating monarchs of Spain (if you want Italian pride, let's think of Francis and Galileo, maybe) and focusing instead on the early church history in a backwater region of a world that only exists in my mind. So I am composing the Acts of the First Council, a prologue reciting who was there and the Canons that come out of it.

Yes, I have escaped from Primates' Meetings, ACC, Lambeth, the ABC, the HoB, and all the other alphabet soup in which TEC is drowning, to create my own Church Council, with my own clergy and laity. There are no arguments over faggotry or heresiarchs. They affirm their orthodox faith, referencing earlier councils in the Empire; they canonize two new saints (their recent martyrs); they discuss inculturation, the old faith, and the use of the vernacular and customs of the old faith; and they elect and certify their first archbishop. There are mass baptisms; one deacon and four priests are ordained; they have communion; they rejoice.

At the point in the canons where one would expect anathemas they proclaim peace and the hope that all who stray will turn and even the evil one will at the last turn to the Light.

I am clearly a bleeding-heart liberal and a Trinitarian Universalist.* So sue me. Here I stand, I can do no other.

Just think--a church meeting where you emerge with joy. Sometimes it happens on earth. I would love to see it happen with greater frequency.

Peace be to all who confess this Faith and honor to those who practice it. May the hearts of those who do not share it be turned, may all enemies of the Gospel become its friends, may Light shine where there is now darkness, may all things be brought to unity in the One God, and at the last may Atkriva [the Denier] behold, acknowledge, and adore the Radiant Song of the One. Amen. **
--the BB

* By "universalist" I do not mean that I have any certain belief that all will be saved, only that all MAY be saved. I do not believe that God coerces but I place great stock in the image of gates to the New Jerusalem that are NEVER shut. I know imagery of a shut door occurs elsewhere in the Scriptures, but for some reason this image is placed at the end of our canon as though it were the final word. Maybe that is chance or historical vagary but I still give it weight. I do not propose a debate over this in the comments; in fact, I am clearly not in the mood for more arguments. This is where I come out and y'all may come out wherever you choose.
** Even if this is not intended for publication, the non-anathema conclusion to the First Canon is (c) by me.