Saturday, February 2, 2008

What I've been reading lately

Well, these are the kinds of "books" (now in electronic form) I spend much of my time reading. But every now and then, I put them aside. Lately I've found the following of interest:

by Latzer, Michael, Encounter, Summer 2005

God Is in the Dendrites: Can "neurotheology" bridge the gap between religion and science?
By George Johnson, Slate, April 26, 2007

The Edge Annual Question — 2008

Ren on "Neoconservatives, Past, Present and Future"

And for viewing, the BBC Documentary, "The Power of Nightmares"

The Power of Nightmares Part 1: Baby it's Cold Outside

Part II: The Phantom Victory

Part III: The Shadows in the Cave


Quote of the day, thanks to Reverend Boy, from Phyllis Tickle:
“Christian nation” is such an offensive term that I can hardly speak it, even. One of the biggest blows to Christianity’s vitality and legitimacy occurred on the day that Constantine made it the official religion of the Empire. Nobody in his or her right mind would want to be a member of a socially acceptable religion. It’s very dangerous for the soul. A nation is in the business of doing Caesar’s work, not God’s.
(my bolding).

Thursday, January 31, 2008


This icon was written for this place in our nave by Sr. Mary-Gabriel of the Sisters of St. Margaret. Someday I will have to obtain a better photo, but for now, let me just share this, from a book on icons and the Seventh Ecumenical Council (aka Second Council of Nicea):
Incarnation does not divide form from content or media from message or the signifier from the signified. The beauty makes manifest something of the truth of the thing that is perfected in the manifestation – just as, even knowing all the sins that X may have done by commission or omission does not prevent the priest from bowing to X in adoration of the image of God within her or him. The story does not give us an account of Abgar’s response to receiving the image, but the suggestion is elsewhere that the recognition of beauty calls forth praise, doxology. In the opening paragraph of his Images III, Damascene describes the icon as a canticle. It is part of an economy of grace that calls for latreia, worship. Beauty makes manifest giftedness and a participation in an eternal mystery, and it is in the function of human beings in their making to articulate that praise within creation. The records of the Seventh Ecumenical Council of 787 C.E., which deliberated on the importance of icons, state that “creation does not worship its Maker directly in its own right, but it is through me that ‘the heavens declare the glory of God’ (Ps 18:11), through me that the moon venerates God, through me that the stars venerate God, through me that the waters, rain, dews, and the whole of creation venerate and glorify God. My making participates in and testifies to God’s begetting.
Giakalis, A., Images of the divine: The theology of icons at the seventh Ecumenical Council. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994, p.44. (The passage refers to St. John Damascene, who testified on behalf of icons, and the story of Abgar).

The Gaudy Baubles of Sacramentalism

The Lead reports this story of how Peter Phillips, director of the choral group, the Tallis Scholars, is taking on the anti-sacramental excesses of the Jensen clan in Australia. It's worth a read.

Of particular note was this part of an interview with Phillips:
PETER PHILLIPS: Well I represent the point of view I think that God is beautiful, and can be approached - best approached - by mortal men through beauty. Any sort of beauty; I mean it could be a beautiful building, or the incense that the Catholics have. But I represent music, and my experience is that good music takes people nearer to God than anything else, and quicker. It happens just like that, you feel him, right there.

Take the Allegri 'Miserere' for example.

STEPHEN CRITTENDEN: That many people will know.

PETER PHILLIPS: Which I hope they do. The moment that piece is sung, the first time I heard it which must now be 40 years ago in the original King's recording, I couldn't believe what I was hearing, and it wasn't that it's fantastic music exactly, it's an atmosphere that's created by those lines and those harmonies and the building that it's sung in, that produces its effect.

Here is the Allegri 'Miserere'in all its glory:

[Update: Of course Mad Priest has the story as well, with the usual scintillating commentary, but The Lead's got the music].

Looking Backward

Driving back from choir rehearsal tonight, after spending the first hour on Evensong for Candelmas this Sunday and the second on Lenten and Holy Week music, heavy on Rennaisance music, I flipped on some radio stations in the car, and not finding anything I liked, switched to our "oldies" station. In honor of "Let's Hang On" which was playing, I bring you these, circa 1965-66, from my youth, the kind of music that, well, stays with you forever if only because it was from when:

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Melancholia's Dog

Alice Kuzniar has recently written what sounds like a fascinating book entitled Melancholia's Dog: Reflections on Our Animal Kinship published by the University of Chicago Press. She describes the book as follows:
Bred to provide human companionship, dogs eclipse all other species when it comes to reading the body language of people. Dog owners hunger for a complete rapport with their pets; in the dog the fantasy of empathetic resonance finds its ideal. But cross-species communication is never easy. Dog love can be a precious but melancholy thing. My new book is an attempt to understand human attachment to the canis familiaris in terms of reciprocity and empathy. It tackles such difficult concepts as intimacy and kinship with dogs, the shame associated with identification with their suffering, and the reasons for the profound mourning over their deaths. In addition to philosophy and psychoanalysis, I turn to the insights and images offered by the literary and visual arts. The short stories of Ivan Turgenev and Franz Kafka, the novels of J. M. Coetzee and Rebecca Brown, the photography of Sally Mann and William Wegman, and the artwork of David Hockney and Sue Coe. Without falling into sentimentality or anthropomorphization, in this book I try to honor and learn from our canine companions, above all attending the silences and sadness brought on by the effort to represent the dog as perfectly and faithfully as it is said to love.
Alice Kuzniar at UNC.

Kuzniar speaks more extensively about the book in an interview with Deborah Harper for Psychjourney. An audio version of the interview is available in a podcast (click on play bottom at the the bottom of the UNC webpage). It's well worth a listen.

[P.S. Hat tip to Scott Abbott at Goalie's Anxiety for both info on the book and credit for the reference to Durer's etching, "Melancholia" (image above). And totally off-topic, but marvelous nevertheless, is Scott's essay entitled Goalie's Anxiety. As the mother of a sometimes goalkeeper who has taught me much about the position (and who has a special talent at both saving goals as a keeper and making them as a player in PK situations), and as a former student and promiscuous reader about language and philosophy, I appreciated it more than I can say.]

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose

Photo Credit: USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Herman, D.E. et al. 1996. North Dakota tree handbook. USDA NRCS ND State Soil Conservation Committee; NDSU Extension and Western Area Power Admin., Bismarck, ND

Saturday I watched the live video of the service held Saturday at Church of the Savior in Hanford, California, in the company of other Episcopalians viewing from afar. Although there was much of substance to be remarked upon, both in real time and after the fact, it was interesting that several people were struck by the similarities and differences in the style of worship as compared to their home parishes. The similarities far outweighed the differences, and the overwhelming feeling was one of solidarity with those who were present. Nevertheless, there was some fleeting attention to liturgical detail and with it differing visceral responses to how things were done.

Since then I've been thinking about writing something along the lines of "Good Liturgy - Necessary for Salvation?" (tongue-in-cheek, please) or simply "Good Liturgy - What Does it Matter?" One problem is defining "good liturgy" or even what might make it "good." I'm barely literate in such matters, let alone expert. But something struck me forcefully when someone, one of the most consistently articulate, thoughtful voices I've read said, in response to the alb vs. chasuble comments, "it's just clothes." It was, I take it, meant lovingly and with gentle humor (of the kind articulated with more gusto in the "Jesus in the fridge" story). Nevertheless, I still wanted to shout out "NO it's not!"

The truth of the matter is that some days the only thing that finally gets me out of bed and to church Sunday morning is the liturgy. This is, I'm sure, reflective of the infirmities of mind, body, and spirit that I suffer from time to time. But assuming for the sake of discussion that the impulse is not entirely pathological or trivial, I wonder what moves me so.

* * * *

Been reading many things trying to find the words to explain some of my thoughts and feelings about the liturgy -- including Keats on "negative capability," all sorts of writers -- literary critics, philosophers, and psychologists -- on Keats, but especially Walter Jackson Bate (who authored, among other things, a text on criticism that was the focus of a course I took in college), and off into icons and Eastern Orthodox views, including Giakalis, A., Images of the divine: The theology of icons at the seventh Ecumenical Council, which took me to, and Scott Abbott (see post above). If and when I stop reading and my own words come to me, I'll get back to explaining why a rose is rose but not a rose (and see if it can give some sort of principled defense of why I don't want no Protestant informality, chumminess, clap-happy noise, or inattention to ritual detail -- why the sounds and images and love and care in doing liturgy thoughtfully and intentionally are important. But... then again, maybe I'll just keep reading. ;)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

State of the Union Message

I heard on the radio this morning that tomorrow will be George W. Bush's last (got that? LAST!) State of the Union Message. Somehow that made me think of this:

"No One Can Be Trusted"