Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Australian Broadcasting Company: Family Values this coming Sunday!

All being well, I'll be one of three people in a discussion of Family Values looking at the Bible this coming Sunday night on a program called Sunday Nights on Australian Public Radio. It looks as though the program can be accessed through the above website link after the event. Other participants in the discussion will be Dr Nicolas Tonti-Phillipini, a Catholic bio-ethicist, and the Rev, Dr Charles Sherlock, an Anglican Priest who has been a member of a panel convened by the ABC to prepare a report on the family.

Update: the sound quality is not very good but the program is there fwiw!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Praying with Mary" begins on Monday of next week.

Here is a overview:
  • On Monday we will consider Prophecy and Witness including the traditions about Miriam in the Hebrew Bible and Mary of Bethany in John's Gospel
  • On Tuesday we will discuss mystical union, particularly John 20
  • Wednesday will be given over to consideration of the motifs of Repentance, Weeping and Lament
  • Thursday will include consideration of Contemplation and other intellectual activities of Mary
  •  Friday will include discussions of Mary as Theotokos and context of the Council of Ephesus and a look at Mary in popular culture.
Since it is a practicum, we will be spending time each day in exercises of prayer and contemplation using the rosary and traditional Mary prayers. We will say or listen to the Magnificat daily in different musical settings. We will visit the Metropolitan Museum on Wednesday to look at Marian works of art in the early Christian, Byzantine and Medieval galleries. We will eat together each day. It will be an exciting week and I am very much looking forward to it! For online registration, click on the link above or here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art

Peter Watts reviews the new exhibit on Magnificent Maps at the British Library for the New Statesman. He explains that the exhibit shows that, historically, maps were not objective, but designed to project the thoughts, motives and fears of those who created or commissioned them. Such maps were captivating works of art and were displayed on the walls of great houses and palaces, next to paintings and sculptures. Their heyday was between 1580 and 1780, after which Enlightenment ideas took hold, determining that maps had value only if they were geographically accurate. This belief held for centuries.

Maps are often about the ownership of space. Rachel Campbell Johnson in the Times says:
This is a show to be interpreted at a deep cultural level. The more closely you examine the objects, the more you find yourself embroiled in the ambitions and intrigues of their subtle worlds. Maps, this show argues, are as much to do with philosophy as geography. They are not two-dimensional pictures of the world but windows on to a subtle and complex world view. 

For a modern example, see Stephen Walter's The Island (2008) i.e. London satirizing a view of the city as an island using a range of symbols, for example, to find a place to have a good drink or see a beautiful view. This is a map for Londoners and perhaps tourists.

Does everyone know Jonathan Z. Smith's 1993 book Map is not Territory: Studies in the History of Religions? Some of it is available here. Smith argues that mental maps of the cosmos follow particular patterns.

An imperial map ordains that everything should have its proper place within its proper domain, and “guarantees meaning and value through structures of congruity and conformity” (p. 292). This kind of map is the one most familiar to religious studies e.g. in the work of Mircea Eliade on sacred space. Smith considers that the development of scribal elites in the ancient world attest to the presence of this world-view as their work on behalf of cultic and monarchic institutions served to identify temples as sacred centers around which the rest of the world had to organize itself. In their world view the  monarch is the divinely sanctioned political/religious authority.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Living in New York City is one of the joys of my life and this week has been exceptional. The Monet exhibit of late works is half a block from our apartment at 522 West 21st Street,
New York, NY 10011--Hours: Mon-Sat 10-6 until June 26th.

From the press release: The exhibition begins with a selection of early Nymphéas that were first shown in 1909 at the Galerie Durand-Ruel to great critical acclaim. From these delicate, poetic paintings follow the more experimental post-1914 paintings, which were never exhibited during the artist's lifetime. Aggressively rendered with broad brushwork and unusual color combinations these late paintings stand in marked contrast to the more refined 1909 works, attesting to the modernity of Monet's expanded vision.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman at 6.30 tonite!

Edith Grossman speaks tonite at the Center for Fiction for which one only has to register--the event is free. The Center is at 17 East 47th Street, New York, NY  10017 (between 5th Ave. and Madison). Her book will be available to be signed at 25% off the cover price.

Richard Howard in the April 8, NY Times Book Review observed that:
Grossman is at her eloquent best not when she makes plaintive, resentful demands that the “bloated international conglomerates” owning the major publishing houses face up to their responsibility to foster literature in translation, but rather when she reveals her joy in her work and her true inspiration:
“Where literature exists, translation exists. Joined at the hip, they are absolutely inseparable, and, in the long run, what happens to one happens to the other. Despite all the difficulties the two have faced, sometimes separately, usually together, they need and nurture each other, and their long-term relationship, often problematic but always illuminating, will surely continue for as long as they both shall live.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I like John Shore's Huffington Post piece, "Ten Ways Christians Tend to Fail at Being Christian."
Here are my favorites:
1. Too much money.

3.  Too quick to believe that we know what God really means by what he says in the Bible. The Bible is an extremely complex, multi-leveled work. We're sometimes too quick to assume that we grasp its every meaning. Take this passage, for instance, from Luke 8: 9-10: "His disciples asked him [Jesus] what this parable [of the sower] meant. He said, 'The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, "though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand."'" Huh? And that's Jesus "explaining" what is generally regarded as one of his most readily understood parables! Are we really all that confident that we always know exactly what Jesus meant by everything he said? Wouldn't we do well to sometimes admit that the words attributed to God manifested on earth are just a tad, well, Greek to us?

10) Too uneducated about Christianity. Generally speaking (which of course is the most offensive way to speak about any group of people), Christians tend to embarrass themselves by knowing so little about either the Bible or the history of Christianity. Believing that the Bible is the word of God, for instance, is one thing; knowing nothing about the long process by which men decided which texts would and wouldn't make it into the Bible is another. It's not that all Christians should be full-on theologians or historians. But if you're a Christian who doesn't know the Great Schism from The Great Santini, or the Diet of Worms from ... well, the diet of worms, then you've got some homework to do.

I'd probably re-work that last point and encourage us all to learn the whole Bible rather than learning parts of Church History. And I'd encourage us to spend time praying and in silence so as to listen to God.

Got any other great ideas?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer 2011

Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer is a film to be released early next year featuring Prof John McGuckin from Union Seminary and Dr Norris Chumley as they visit monasteries at Mt Sinai, Mt Athos, Ukraine, Eastern Europe and Russia hearing about the prayer life of monks and nuns. There's an accompanying book. The website has trailers of the movie and you can subscribe to the mailing list.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Gita Sahgal's letter on leaving Amnesty International

New York Review of Books for May 13th contains this letter by Gita Sahgal on leaving Amnesty International. (The Wikipedia link gives more details about the controversy and what has happened since her departure from Amnesty in Feb 2010).


Gita Sahgal is a longtime human rights advocate and founder of several women’s rights organizations who joined Amnesty International in 2002. In early February, she was suspended from her job as head of Amnesty’s Gender Unit after giving an interview to the London Sunday Times in which she raised concerns about Amnesty International’s connections with the group called Cageprisoners and its leader, Moazzam Begg. On April 9, Amnesty International formally announced Sahgal’s departure, citing “irreconciliable differences of view over policy.” Following is a statement by Sahgal. 
 
On Friday, April 9, 2010, Amnesty International announced my departure from the organization. The agreed statement said, “Due to irreconcilable differences of view over policy between Gita Sahgal and Amnesty International regarding Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, it has been agreed that Gita will leave Amnesty International.”
I was hired as the head of the Gender Unit as the organization began to develop its Stop Violence Against Women campaign. I leave with great sadness as the campaign is closed. Thousands of activists of Amnesty International enthusiastically joined the campaign. Many hoped that it would induce respect for women’s human rights in every area of social and economic life. Today, there is little ground for optimism. 

The long and the short of all of this is that we should rethink any support for Amnesty International. Douglas Murray in the Daily Telegraph says:

Amnesty had at one time, unlike some NGO’s I could name, a track-record that was generally honourable. It stood against the oppressors of human rights. Some of us have noted before that the organisation seemed to have lost its way in recent years. But there was a hope that Amnesty could yet get back on the right side.

The treatment of Gita Sahgal shows that this is no longer possible. Amnesty’s purging of dissidents who have pointed out the moral squalor the organisation has found itself in is worthy of some of the regimes Amnesty International once condemned.

The episode makes clear that Amnesty have not blindly landed on the wrong side in the fight of civilisation against barbarism. It shows they have deliberately ignored and expelled voices of dissent which point out that this is the situation they are in.

I hope that readers who donate to Amnesty can read through the material above and decide, as many other people will, that Amnesty is longer an organisation worth listening to, let alone supporting. There are many organisations out there that fight for universal rights. I believe Amnesty is no longer one of them.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Istanbul: European Capital of Culture

Mary Beard assesses the classical legacy of Istanbul on Radio 3's the Essay. She begins with the Egyptian obelisk in the park outside the Blue Mosque as one of a series of extraordinary garden ornaments. The park is actually the site of an ancient hippodrome. The obelisk was originally brought by the Emperor Theodosius to Istanbul from Luxor. There is also an elaborate fountain.



There is also a thin bronze "serpent column" over five metres tall consisting of three intertwined bronze serpents from the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi commemorating the victory of the battle of Plataea in 479 BCE against the Persians. It was brought by the Emperor Constantine in 324 CE as he developed the city soon to be renamed as Constantinople. All that is left of the column is the base that supported the serpent heads on top of which sat the gold cauldron.
On the right (from the Wikipedia article) is an Ottoman miniature from the Surname-ı Vehbi, showing the Column with the three serpent heads, in a celebration at the Hippodrome in 1582

Such monuments reflect the classical legacy brought to be part of a city called "New Rome" now a city both European and Asian. Their complicated history is part of what Istanbul represents today.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

"The Bible is dynamite" Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Krista Tippett in this week's program "Speaking of Faith" interviews Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Bible teaches the intrinsic worth of human beings in Genesis in that humans are made in God's image. Desmond Tutu tells of speaking to his congregants that when the white employer asks you, his black employees in apartheid South Africa, "Who are you?" you say, "I am a God-carrier." And their backs straightened up and they left church walking taller.

Here is the South African National Anthem which plays during the interview:


(Xhosa) Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo,
(Zulu) Yizwa imithandazo yethu,
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo.
(English) God [Lord] bless Africa
Raise high Her glory
Hear our Prayers
God bless us, we her children
(Sesotho) Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso,
O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho,
O se boloke, O se boloke setjhaba sa heso, Setjhaba sa, South Afrika - South Afrika.
God we ask You to protect our nation
Intervene and end all conflicts
Protect us, protect our nation, our nation, South Africa - South Africa


Speaking of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission they speak of the distance between truth and reconciliation. When people ask if this has been achieved in South Africa, Desmond Tutu speaks of Germany today where one can ask about reconciliation where alienation still exists after separate existence for 50 years. In South Africa alienation existed for 300 years. Reconciliation is a process, a national project where every South African makes a contribution. "We are wounded people" he said.

His latest book published this year is Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Who is your favorite religious poet?

Luke Coppen in the Guardian suggests RS Thomas and I agree.

He writes: "In his poems we see him kneeling hour after hour before a bare altar waiting for God to break his silence. But Thomas does not see this silence as proof of God's absence. As he writes in "Nuclear":
"It's not that he can't speak;
who created languages
but God? Nor that he won't;
to say that is to imply
malice. It is just that
he doesn't, or does so at times
when we are not listening, in
ways we have yet to recognise
as speech"
It's this sense of the difficulty of the search for God, of its cost, that makes RS Thomas a major religious poet. He challenges the tendency of modern Christians to offer easy answers to questions people are not asking. There is no cheap feeling in his poetry, no glibness. If you could measure smugness on a scale of one to 10, with Mother Teresa at one end and Jonathan Ross at the other, Thomas would be in minus figures."

"RS Thomas didn't aim to soothe but to unsettle with an unflinching record of his inner life. He saw God in workaday things, such as a field lit up by sunlight. In "The Bright Field", he concludes:
"Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you."
From Wikiquote comes this:


  • I wouldn't say that I'm an orthodox Christian at all and the longer we live in the twentieth century the more fantastic discoveries are made, the more we hear what the universe is like I find it very difficult to be a kind of orthodox believer in Jesus as my saviour and that sort of thing. I'm more interested in the extraordinary nature of God. If there is God, if there is deity, then He, even as the old hymn says, He moves in a mysterious way and I'm fascinated by that mystery and I've tried to write out of that experience of God, the fantastic side of God, the quarrel between the conception of God as a person, as having a human side, and the conception of God as being so extraordinary. ... So these are still things that occupy me, and every now and again, if you're lucky, you're able to make a poem out of this conception of God ... so I suppose I'm trying to appeal to people to open their eyes and their minds to the extraordinary nature of God.
    • "R. S. Thomas in conversation with Molly Price-Owen." in The David Jones Journal R. S. Thomas Special Issue (Summer/Autumn 2001)
A recreation of Emily Dickinson's garden is at the New York Botanical Garden. The point is to highlight the connection of flowers to her poetry.


To her, as to many Victorian Americans, flowers weren’t just beautifiers; they were moral and personal emblems. Dickinson, with her auburn hair, identified with the orange tiger lily and sometimes called herself Daisy, for a flower that symbolized innocence. She associated certain richly scented flowers, like roses and jasmine, with men and women to whom she formed emotional attachments. 

Emily Dickinson saw herself as Eve and the garden as Eden.  In the following stanza, she offers  herself as an alternative to Eve:
Put down the apple, Adam,
    And come away with me,
So shalt thou have a pippin
   
From off my father’s tree!