Thursday, October 30, 2008

For a few days, I'll be at the Seminary of the Southwest acting as an external consultant in a review of faculty for promotion. The weather is spectacular, and the hospitality wonderful. Once I can recover from a 7.30am flight, I'll enjoy the visit and be useful for colleagues. Here's a life-size statue of Barbara Jordan at the airport.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Durer's woodcuts of the Apocalypse (1498)

According to the NY Times, the National Gallery of Art has bought a set of 16 woodcuts of the Apocalypse made in 1498. “Only three other sets exist in the United States,” said Peter Parshall, curator of old master prints at the museum. “This is to printmaking what the Sistine Chapel is to the history of mural painting,” Mr. Parshall said.

Hospice Chaplains

“We are there to be there. That is the point. It is my job to stay when there is no answer.” The Rev. Kei Okada, hospice chaplain interviewed for an article in the NY Times on Hospice Chaplains.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Having returned safely from Michigan in the face of an incoming Nor'wester, and with the air turning cold, I'm grateful for everyone I've met over the past few days and thankful for the opportunities.

Google settlement with authors

The Google settlement with authors which must be approved by a federal judge before it takes effect, includes money for now and the prospect of money for later. There'll be at least $45 million for authors and publishers whose in-copyright books and other copyrighted texts have been scanned without permission. If your book was scanned and you own all the rights, you'll get a small share of this, at least $60, depending on how many rightsholders file claims. Far more interesting for most of us and the ambitious part of our proposal is the prospect for future revenues. Rightsholders will receive a share of revenues from institutional subscriptions to the collection of books made available through Google Book Search under the settlement, as well as from sales of online consumer access to the books. They will also be paid for printouts at public libraries, as well as for other uses.

The settlement of the lawsuits, which were filed in 2005, did not resolve the question of whether Google’s unauthorized scanning of copyrighted books was permissible under copyright law.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Third International Congress on Islamic Feminism, Oct 24-27, 2008

The Third International Congress on Islamic Feminism recently met in Barcelona. Here is the BBC report from the event. Asma Barlas of Pakistan says:

I have a friend who has been studying the interface between what he calls the Persian models and the Arabist models of Islam in the subcontinent and surprise, surprise: the Arabist models are misogynistic, authoritarian, unitarian and the Persian models are much more plural and tolerant.

This is a fight on two fronts - on the one hand we are struggling against the kinds of oppression dominant in Muslim patriarch societies and, on the other, Western perceptions of Islam as necessarily monolithic, and confusing the ideals of Islam with the reality of Muslim lives.

If we read the Koran as a totality rather than pulling out random verses or half a line, that opens all kinds of possibilities for sexual equality.

Norani Othman from Malaysia says,

Perhaps the only distinctive difference peculiar to Muslim feminists is that we are caught in the cross-currents of modernisation and a changing society, due to a modern economy on the one hand and the global resurgence of political Islam on the other.

Political Islam wants to impose a world view about the gender order that is not consistent with the realities and the lived experiences of Muslim men and women in contemporary society.

In these days when distorted views of Islam are being distributed in swing states, its good to be reminded of what Islamic women are actually saying.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Holy Family by Tiepolo

It is raining in Grand Rapids as I visit the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. And its good weather for a visit to GRAM to look at "The Legacy of Mabel Perkins" consisting of prints she bequeathed to the gallery including "The Holy Family in a Boat" by Tiepolo. In March 2008, the $75 million, 125,000-square-foot building became the first art museum in the country to receive a LEED Gold certification from the US Green Building Council in Washington. (LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and En­­viron­­mental Design, is considered the benchmark for green construction.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hitherto unrecognized in the Church of St John and St Mary Magdalene in Goldthorpe (also unnoticed by Pevsner) are two 15th C Sienese panels. They have now been identified as works of Sano di Pietro of Siena (1405-81), a pupil of Sassetta. Dating from the mid 15th century, the two gold ground panels depict an unidentified saint (possibly St James) and San Bernardino. They presumably originally formed part of a large altarpiece in a Tuscan church.

How the panels arrived at Goldthorpe remains a mystery. The most likely explanation is that they came from Lord Halifax, who paid for the building of the church in 1916. He may have acquired the Sienese paintings on a grand tour or they could have come from the family’s seat, nearby Hickleton Hall.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Paul and Sophie Auster at 192 Books

Went to hear Paul Auster and daughter Sophie give a book reading at 192 Books last night. It was done very well.

They acted out "the shocking yet tender resolution scene from Auster’s Man in the Dark. Set within a political fantasy, a 72-year old man’s live unravels one sleepless night as he’s prodded by his granddaughter’s questions about his relationships with his late wife and his daughter, who is sleeping upstairs."

Here's a video of such a reading.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pew Study shows networked families are more in touch

Here are the details from the Pew Research Center.
Some features:

Technology is enabling new forms of family connectedness that revolve around remote cell phone interactions and communal internet experiences.

Although some commentators have expressed fears that technology pulls families apart, this survey finds that couples use their phones to connect and coordinate their lives, especially if they have children at home. American spouses often go their separate ways during the day, but remain connected by cell phones and to some extent by internet communications. When they return home, they often have shared moments of exploration and entertainment on the internet.

A majority of adults say technology allows their family life today to be as close, or closer, than their families were when they grew up.

While new communication technologies have increased the amount of time some people spend at the office or working from home, few people see them as having a negative impact on family closeness.

Indeed, 25% of our survey respondents feel that their family today is now closer than their family when they were growing up thanks to the use of the internet and cell phones, while just 11% say their family today is not as close as families in the past. A majority of adults downplay the impact of technology entirely: 60% feel that new technologies have not made their family any more or less close than families in the past.

This is true of my experience as well.

Monday, October 20, 2008

After a day's work of theological reflection, I went for an evening walk with my binocs and saw an unidentifiable hummingbird and several Acorn Woodpeckers. According to sources, the Acorn Woodpecker range is Southern Oregon south through California. The bird stores nuts in individually drilled holes in trees called granaries. The acorns are jammed in so tight that even squirrels can’t pry them out. Some of these granary trees have up to 50,000 holes drilled by extended woodpecker families.

Acorns seem to be emergency provisions; on mild winter days these birds catch flying insects.

Breeding groups may contain as many as 7 male breeders and 3 females. All breeding males can mate with any and all of the female breeders of the group.

A group of acorn woodpeckers are collectively known as a "bushel" of woodpeckers.

More information here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Here I am in Pasadena for a few days at a consultation held at Fuller Seminary. It starts tomorrow so I've been walking around in beautiful weather this evening discovering places like Vroman's, an independent bookstore.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Schomberg Forum on Black Theology and Black Women: Oct 20th at 7.00pm

Black Liberation Theology: Black Theology and Black Women

Monday, October 20, 2008
at 7:00 PM

Langston Hughes Auditorium, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY.

Guests include a variety of leading black female theologians from around the country including Rev. Dr. Yvonne Delk, Center for African American Theological Studies, Chicago; Dr. Stacey Floyd Thomas, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth Texas; Dr. Theresa L. Fry-Brown, Emory University, Candler School of Theology, Atlanta; Dr. Jacqueline Grant, Interdenominational Theology Center, Atlanta; and Rev. Violet Dease, Abyssinian Baptist Church, New York.

Internal Conversion: Christ and Annie Miller by Holman Hunt

Holman Hunt is the subject of a new exhibit at the Manchester Art Gallery reviewed in the Guardian. Here is "The Finding of the Savior in the Temple" (1854-60) which Hunt saw as the Child's first consciousness of himself, as a revelation or conversion.

In the exhibit, three versions of "The Light of the World" are displayed side by side, juxtaposed with "The Awakening Conscience" (1853). Apparently the exhibit intends to describe Hunt's idea of making the conversion of a fallen woman his material embodiment of "The Light of the World." While reading the Bible he found Proverbs, "As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, so is he that singeth songs to a heavy heart." These words, "expressing the unintended stirring up of the deeps of pure affection by the idle sing-song of an empty mind, led me to see how the companion of the girl's fall might himself be the unconscious utterer of a divine message." (Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood II.429-30)

In his pictorial demonstration that God works in mysterious ways, the painter represents the girl's seducer as the ironically unintended means of her salvation. In singing Moore's "Oft in the Stilly Night" with her, the man unintentionally awakens "the memory of her childish home"; in response she suddenly breaks away "from her gilded cage with a startled holy resolve, while her shallow companion still sings on, ignorantly intensifying her repentant purpose" (II.430).

Hunt's Protestantism stresses internal conversion: here we see that of Christ and a woman, the model for which was Annie Miller.

"Oft in the Stilly Night" was also used by James Joyce. Here are the lyrics:

Oft, in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
Of other days around me;
The smiles, the tears,
Of boyhood's years,
The words of love then spoken;
The eyes that shone,
Now dimm'd and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus, in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain hath bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

When I remember all
The friends, so link'd together,
I've seen around me fall
Like leaves in wintry weather;
I feel like one,
Who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus, in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain hath bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Connecticut decision on (spiritual significance of) Same-Sex Marriage

Richard Just describes the recent Connecticut decision on same-sex marriage for the New Republic. The lengthy legal decision (cited in the article) includes the following paragraph:

Indeed, marriage has been characterized as ‘‘intimate to the degree of being sacred’’; Griswold
v.Connecticut,381U.S.479,486,85S.Ct.1678,14L. Ed.2d510(1965);see also Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 96, 107S.Ct.2254,96 L.Ed.2d64(1987) (‘‘many religions recognize marriage as having spiritual significance’’); and‘‘an institution more basic in our civilization than any other.’’ Williams v. North Carolina,317 U.S.287,303,63S.Ct.207,87 L.Ed.279(1942).

Marriage, therefore, is not merely shorthand for a discrete set of legal rights and responsibilities but is ‘‘one of the most fundamental of human relationships....’’Davis v. Davis, 119 Conn. 194, 203, 175A. 574 (1934).‘‘Marriage...bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family....Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution....’’Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, 440 Mass. 309, 322, 798 N.E.2d941 (2003).

This is a perspective that needs a hearing in our faith communities.

Hunger Action Week in the new Action Center in NYC

Today is the kick-off for Hunger Action Week in the new Action Center in NYC. Today is World Food Day.

"We want children to grow up strong and healthy because they might grow up to do something great."
~ First grade student

"Hunger is not an issue of charity. It is an issue of justice."
~ Jacques Diouf, FAO Director-general

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Kenyan Pastor who blessed Palin chases witches at home

Zoe Alsop reports from Women's ENews that Bishop Thomas Muthee from Kiambu in Kenya who came to media attention when he blessed Sarah Palin before she was elected governor, claimed in 1989 to have rid Kiambu of witchcraft.

"We have not had a single accident since," Muthee said in one widely published sermon. "In fact, since that woman moved out of Kiambu, the entire atmosphere has changed. Whereas people used to be afraid to go out at night, now we enjoy one of the lowest crime rates in Kenya."

Muthee claimed that police rescued Mama Jane from a lynch mob at the time, and then whisked her away for good after gunning down a pet python they mistook for a demon.

But some residents of Kiambu were somewhat skeptical of Muthee's claims.

Not least among them is the herbalist Jane W. Njenga, a pastor with the African Mission of Holy Ghost Church, who is best known as Mama Jane.

She says she didn't own a pet python and she's never left her compound, located about a half-mile from Muthee's immense new church. Last week Women's eNews interviewed her there, next door to the Superkid Solid Foundation Faith in Every Footstep daycare center just off Kiambu's main street.

"If I am bad, why haven't people attacked me?" Njenga says. "Why haven't they burnt this building down? That is what people here do to witches."

A local health worker in Kiambu, Jane Karande, attributes the drop in road accidents to the introduction of speedbumps on local roads rather than exorcisms.

The Telegraph (UK) has the same story. Something is going on here...

Abel Ferrara's 2005 film "MARY" opens in New York this weekend

The NY Times reports that Abel Ferrara’s 15th feature film, "Mary" which had its premiere at Venice in 2005, is only now having a run in New York. (It opens on Friday at Anthology Film Archives.)

“Mary” is simply the most direct expression of spiritual crisis in a filmography riven with Catholic notions of guilt and redemption. “I don’t know how anyone with half a brain can make a movie that’s not about those things,” Mr. Ferrara said. “The Catholic thing is so ingrained in our upbringing. Where I come from you’re not raised to think on your own. It’s not that you’re pushed to read the Bible. The Bible is read to you.” But when he started working on “Mary” — “living within three blocks of the Vatican,” he noted — he revisited the Bible and this time approached it “as a revolutionary tome.”Mr. Modine, who first worked with Mr. Ferrara on “The Blackout,” said via e-mail that he and Mr. Ferrara prepared by poring over ancient scripture. “Abel and I tried to strip away the interpretations and poetic language,” he said.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

This weekend the fall leaves are apparently at their peak in coastal Maine. They are indeed spectacular! We have been out and about leaf-peeping and here are some results.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Church Music Humor

A clergy friend sent along word of a recent conversation she had with a church musician and the subject of funerals came up. During the course of this conversation, her friend confessed that he once played "Sheep may safely graze" at the funeral of a butcher!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Religion and Politics in Ohio from a UK perspective

The BBC's Radio 4 reports from Ohio where members of the Ohio Christian Alliance are well represented. The marriage amendment carried the day for Bush in 2004 and Senator McCain's choice of Sarah Palin seems to be believed to have a similar effect. But Democrats discovered God after 2004, according to an interview with E. J. Dionne in the program. "Closing the God" gap is also an interest of Senator Obama. Matthew 25 Network featuring Democrat congressman Tony Hall has advertised throughout the state. Roman Catholics in the middle of either side are identified as classic swing voters. The Catholic Conference of Ohio supplies information to help prospective voters and one person interviewed said the Catholics are not a "one-issue" church. Ralph Reed is interviewed criticising Obama's vote on abortion.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Rescuing a golden-crowned kinglet

A friend rescued a female golden-crowned kinglet in Chelsea recently. It weighed 5 and half grams. She picked it up from the street as it was in shock. She put into a raspberry box (seen here) with rags and called the vet and then the Animal Medical Center, then the ASPSA. Finally, she ended up finding a federally and state licensed rehabilitator where she took the bird. She called the next day to find out how the bird was. It had probably flown into glass and became injured. The rehabilitator gave it water and half a worm. So far, it is surviving.

The Rev. Leslie Hardman, Orthodox Jewish minister, R.I.P.

Today's Times (UK) has an obituary of The Rev. Leslie Hardman, Orthodox Rabbi, present at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen in 1945.

In 1942 he joined the Army as a chaplain. It was on April 15, 1945, that the formative event of his life occurred. He later described how he was told to report to the colonel. He said: “We have uncovered a concentration camp. It is horrible, ghastly, sickening. Most of the inmates are your people. You should go there now. They need you.”

As Hardman said, he had never felt more needed in his life. He immediately set about trying to bring comfort to the survivors and then saying the memorial prayer, the Kaddish, over the dead as he tried to persuade the bulldozer drivers who were thrusting the bodies into a pit to bury them with some kind of dignity.

The amazing thing, he recalled, was the effect his uniform had on the inmates. “They saw the Star of David on my cap and my tunic and they at first couldn’t understand it. Then, they regarded me as a kind of messiah.”

One woman who was so emaciated that he at first found it difficult to be with her, begged him not to leave her. He recalled that he spent an hour talking to her in Yiddish before conducting prayers, the first they had heard for years.

Hardman spent the next half century or more speaking about his experiences at Belsen.

“Far too many people have got away,” he would say. “They have hardly scratched the surface of the enormity of this evil.”

At one time he went on record saying that he had lost his faith at Belsen, an astonishing confession from a rabbi. He later amended that: “I didn’t lose my faith, but some of the words of the prayers I said at Belsen stuck in my throat. I couldn’t understand how the God I worshipped could permit this.”

A New World Order: Thoughts on Yom Kippur

It's clear that we are in the midst of unprecedented social and economic change on a global scale. We are witnessing the birth of a new world order.

Dominique Strauss Kahn writes in today's FT of a "comprehensive and global solution to problems in the financial sector" and makes several suggestions. The first is that "the fragility of public confidence has now reached a point that some explicit public guarantee of financial system liabilities is unavoidable." The fourth is that a "high degree of international co-operation has become urgent" since "Financial institutions now span many countries and credible rescue plans must be consistent across many jurisdictions. More fundamentally, and looking beyond the immediate crisis, it is clear that the international community needs to work to close the many loopholes in the global regulatory architecture that allowed financial institutions to minimise capital even as they concentrated risk." She concludes that the way out is to get policymakers to pull in the same direction.

Roger Steare in the Times (UK) wants us all to think carefully about our collective responsibility. This credit crunch is not just about a bunch of greedy, short-selling hedge fund managers; it is a collective responsibility. Either we have been happy to take the cheap credit when it is there, or we did not do enough, or we did not care.

“This economic meltdown and demographic growth are symptoms of a greater fundamental problem - in that we want more than we need. What is wrong with just saying: ‘I have enough, thank you?’ I’m not saying that I’ve got the answers, I’m trying to find the answers for my life, but I think that we need to stop listening to people who tell us how to fix this, think about our own personal values and learn to fix it for ourselves.”

These articles and others like them invite us to reflect long and hard about the shape of a new world order in which new alliances are being formed. Today of all days, it behooves us to admit our mistakes individually and collectively as the basis for renewed commitment to the common good and other shared values. In this new world order, conflict management will surely play an important role. I'm no expert on any of this but it surely deserves our best collective efforts.

Reading the parables of Jesus

Donald Schell has a fascinating piece in today's Daily Episcopalian. Preaching the parables from a reader-oriented perspective is a worthy challenge and Donald invites us to engage with this issue. William Herzog's Parables as Subversive Speech is a good resource for this approach although its now an older book.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Codex Sinaiticus confusion from the BBC +Update

The BBC reports that Codex Sinaiticus, "probably the oldest Bible we have, also has books which are missing from the Authorised Version that most Christians are familiar with today - and it does not have crucial verses relating to the Resurrection."

This is true but strange. Its no secret that Mark 16:8 is where the gospel ends in the earliest manuscripts. But no reader would know that from the BBC write-up. There's no mention of chapter and verse and no indication that this isn't news. Anyone who looks at footnotes to Mark 16:8 in most bibles will read that "Some of the most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8." The rest of the footnote clarifies that some manuscripts add a shorter ending to Mark and others a longer ending. Other footnotes preserve other endings.

The article continues, "The Codex - and other early manuscripts - do not mention the ascension of Jesus into heaven, and omit key references to the Resurrection, which the Archbishop of Canterbury has said is essential for Christian belief."

Even if Mark's gospel ended at 16:8, without a resurrection appearance, Mark's gospel mentions the resurrection frequently in the central teaching of Jesus at Mark 8:31; 9:31 and 10:33. Mark 9:31 describes Jesus' prediction of the suffering, death and being raised of the Son of Man using verbs that indicate such teaching is continuous not rare. And just before the gospel ends, the young man announces to the women at the empty tomb, "He has been raised!"

Only Luke's gospel mentions the ascension of Jesus. It's simply not in Matthew, Mark or John. This isn't news to most people.

What is interesting about Codex Sinaiticus is that it contains about 23,000 corrections by different correctors.

Update: Roger Bolton's report on the same topic on BBC Radio 4 records interviews with Father Miletus at the monastery of St Catherine's, Mount Sinai and Dr. Scott McKendrick of the British Library. Father Justin takes Roger Bolton to the tower of St. George in the monastery of St. Catherine's where Tischendorf may first have seen Codex Sinaiticus. Father Justin does not dispute that the manuscripts were stored (in accord with medieval practice) in a basket but not that the manuscripts were not going to be burned as Tischendorf first reported. Parchment cannot burn. Tischendorf promised to return the manuscript to the monastery but did not. 12 pages of the Codex left in the monastery and discovered in the 1970's have never been published before and contain the opening pages of Genesis in Greek and pages from the Shepherd of Hermas. The digitized restoration project of 2009 will include an account of the coming together of the Codex.

Prof. David Parker of Birmingham University is interviewed about the state of the text. The reality of the biblical text is not that it is uniform but that many ancient copies exist. The NT text is a living text. Here's an addition in the Codex Sinaiticus to the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount at 5:22, "The person who is angry with his brother _without reason_ with his brother shall be liable to judgment..." (the words "without reason" are preserved in a marginal note).

Nov 6: Jeff Golliher's A Deeper Faith

Jeff Golliher's book A Deeper Faith: A Journey Into Spirituality published by Penguin will be the topic of a talk by the author on Nov 6th at General Seminary. The event is co-sponsored by the Center for Christian Spirituality. Here's more information about Jeff. Details to follow.

"Talking to the Taliban"

The normally bellicose Daily Telegraph now thinks "Talking to the Taliban" is on the table (from the Opinion section).

Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, Britain's most senior military commander in the field, says that we should not expect "a decisive military victory". This should serve as a timely wake-up call in Westminster and Washington.

Stomach-wrenching though such a course would be, both Northern Ireland and South Africa provide examples of where negotiations have worked. Similarly in Iraq, the Americans struck a deal with Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq's Anbar province, allying them to the US and not al-Qaeda, thereby reducing violence.

The Government has a responsibility to our Armed Forces to ensure casualties are kept to a minimum: pursing a more flexible strategy may be one way of doing that.

Episcopal Repentance for Slavery

ENS reports that expressing "profound regret that the Episcopal Church lent the institution of slavery its support and justification based on Scripture," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori issued a public apology October 4 for the church's involvement in the institution of transatlantic slavery.

She went on to state that "after slavery was formally abolished, [the church] continued for at least a century to support de jure and de facto segregation and discrimination."

The historic gesture of remorse drew hundreds of Episcopalians, both black and white, to St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia October 3-4 for the Day of Repentance -- a two-day solemn observance which included presentations that examined racism in the past, present, and future. Jefferts Schori's complete homily is here.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The National Gallery (UK) beginners guide for Mary Magdalene

In my spare time, I'm going to try and get this changed. Specifically the opening sentence. Watch this space!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Amos Oz at Columbia University

I went to hear Amos Oz last night at the Miller Theatre at Columbia University. He was outstanding! This year he's been nominated for the Nobel Literature Prize. He spoke on the topic of his book, A Tale of Love and Darkness, (with excerpt) recently translated into Arabic. In 2007, A Tale of Love and Darkness was nominated one of the ten most important books since the creation of the State of Israel.

Here's a 2004 New Yorker profile. What was utterly captivating was the care and precision with which he spoke and the tenderness in his description (from the book) of his grandmother's view of "the Levant" when she arrived in Jerusalem in the 1930's announcing soon after that she would wage daily war on microbes and germs. She took scalding baths three times daily and when the doctor said to her late in life that he could not be responsible for her health if she continued this practice, she died in the bath of a heart attack.

How can he peal back with certainty the layers of her fears and motivations? How does he know that behind her phobia of microbes lay an attraction to masculine sweaty bodies and the earth? And that behind the phobia lay an anger that she was attracted to such things? Because, he said, he asked his genes that were also her genes. And these genes told him enough about her for him to write of her.

He said that if asked to describe in one word the topic of all his books, it would be "family." After listening to his exquisite diction for fifteen minutes, I felt as though I could trust everything he said and wrote. I've never had that experience before.

Anthony Caro's Le Choeur de Lumière (Chapel of Light)

Over a period of several years, Anthony Caro has been working on a major series of sculptures and architectural features to form part of the restoration of a chapel at Bourbourg in Northern France, about 12 miles east of Calais. The Chapel of Light is situated in the choir of the Church of St Jean Baptiste. During World War II, a damaged English aircraft crash-landed on the roof of the church in order to avoid the houses in the town, and set it on fire. The church itself was restored, but the choir was separated by a wall from the body of the church and left in ruins until ten years ago. Caro was commissioned by the French Ministry for Culture and Communication to make a sculptural installation that would bring new life to the redundant choir.

Here we see the chapel and the concrete immersion font in the centre. The Chapel of Light opens on October 11, 2008.

Did he have any hesitation about being asked to make a Catholic chapel? ‘Not in the least. I’m not practising anyway, and I wanted the chapel to be non-denominational, for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, anybody who goes in there …They agreed with that, just made one stipulation, to have a lamb in it, which I’ve done, but it’s just a lamb among other animals. Works of art are contemplative things but with a chapel I think you have to go a little bit closer to people’s everyday lives. So in the niches, for example, although they’re fairly abstract, I’ve always got an animal or fish in each sculpture: that’s to make connections for people so they see something more than just shapes.’ Caro has also created ecclesiastical fittings for the church, including a stone altar with a door for a reliquary, a tabernacle, two candelabra and two lecterns. ‘It’s not an art gallery, it’s a place for trying to get on the road to truth or to God. Are artists all priests trying to say something spiritual in a very material world? I think we probably are. I think that is what religion is about, and what art is about.’

Banned Books week

The last week of September each year is given over to Banned Books Week by celebrating the freedom to read. The American Library Association reports:

The 10 most challenged books of 2007 reflect a range of themes, and are:

  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
    Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group
  2. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
    Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence
  3. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
    Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language
  4. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
    Reasons: Religious Viewpoint
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
    Reasons: Racism
  6. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
    Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language,
  7. TTYL, by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
  8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
    Reasons: Sexually Explicit
  9. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
    Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit
  10. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

I can see that some people might think that Pullman's "The Golden Compass" is anti-religion but what is the "religious viewpoint" of "And Tango Makes Three"?

Rainbow over Lincolnville Beach this week.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Ostia Antica

The New York Times reports on a decade-long restoration of four dwellings lavishly decorated with frescoes in the Roman port of Ostia.

Last week the second-century insulae, or housing complexes, were presented to the public through the European Heritage Days program, in which each member country of the Council of Europe promotes new cultural assets and sites that have mainly been closed to the public.

“Over all, this is the most important ensemble of second- and third-century frescoes in the world,” Angelo Pellegrino, the director of excavations at the site, now called Ostia Antica, said in an interview.

The buildings, in the western part of the ancient city, were built around A.D. 128 in a housing boom during Emperor Hadrian’s reign. With demand for accommodations growing, new multilevel homes resolved issues of space and expansion. Although only the ground floors remain, evidence that buildings stood taller than one story has emerged from the rubble.

If it weren’t for Ostia Antica and its multistory houses and apartments, “it would be difficult for people to imagine how people lived in that era,” said Norbert Zimmermann, president of an international association for ancient mural painting.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


From this week's "In Our Time" is a discussion of miracles. Here's the description: The parting of the Red Sea, the feeding of the five thousand, the turning of water into wine - miracles. Miracles? Yet miracles have been part of human culture for thousands of years. From beliefs about the shin bone of a saint to ideas about the nature of creation and the laws of nature, miracles have been a measure of disputes within religion and between religion and rationality from St Augustine in the 4th century to David Hume in the 18th.

Some highlights: Miracles are a sign of power and something greater. In the case of the Red Sea, the miraculous has been built into creation from the beginning. The rabbis argued that all water has built into itself the ability to obey God's command to separate. Ordinary miracles of love and compassion are equally miraculous.

Augustine theorizes what a miracle is: everything that exists is miraculous. We are sinful and ignorant and miracles are relative to our experience of it. Miracles are not contrary to nature but only to what we know about nature. Because of our ignorance, we can never be sure that what we are seeing is miraculous.

There are 500 shrines around the martyrdom of Thomas a Becket. Stories around miracles enable the powerless to feel themselves part of something larger and more powerful. If you have an under girding belief that God created everything that is, then miracles are to be expected.

Martin Palmer, Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture
Janet Soskice, Reader in Philosophical Theology at Cambridge University
Justin Champion, Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London

Podcast Conversations with contributors to Borderlands of Theological Education

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