Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Dog spirituality 1

And the Lord said, "Do not let your front foot know what your back foot is doing."

H/T: Misspent.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Negatives in the prayer of St. Ephraim

After 15 years in the Orthodox Church, I have seen the prayer of St. Ephraim come up on the Lenten horizon and sink behind Pascha often enough to know it without looking at the cheatsheet:
O Lord and Master of my life,
Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk,
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to your servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not judge my brother,
For you are blessed unto ages of ages.
During Lent, it's prescribed for every prayer time and -- as if the Church Fathers weren't sure we'd really get it -- more than once at a lot of them. And, of course, there's no rule against saying it the rest of the year.

The words, especially of the second and third lines, always seemed to hide some profound understanding of the spiritual life, the way those 3-D pictures a few years back purported to show a hidden picture if you held the thing up to your nose and crossed and uncrossed your eyes.

I never did see a hidden picture, but I think I've found a pattern in the "Take from me" line: sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.
  • Sloth is the idea that nothing I do matters. It's the sin of the parsimonious servant in the Parable of the Talents, the one who says to the Master, "What do you need me for? You can get everything you want by your own power. Here's yours back. Take it and leave me alone" (paraphrased).

    The Master is angry, not because of the small return on investment (he apparently didn't expect -- or ask -- much of the servant, if the disparity in the investment capital is any indication), but because of the servant's lack of commitment and lack of trust.

  • Which leads to the second item -- despair -- the idea that, in the words of the third Psalm, "there is no help for him in God."

    The servant not only believed he dare not do anything to increase the holdings; he also feared the master's hardness, expecting brutal treatment from him, and certainly not help, so he was left on his own, to handle his own problems.

  • Which leads to lust of power. One response to the frustration of having no meaningful role to play in life (the illusion that is sloth) and expecting no help from God (the illusion that is despair) is to try to take over the world oneself. It would be as if the faithless servant buried his own treasure in the ground and then tried to tell the other two what to do with theirs.

  • And if that doesn't work, there's always idle talk -- both outward and inward. It's the senseless chatter -- fruitless plans and imaginary arguments and self-justifications on the inside, meaningless bilge on the outside. (Some trivial conversation is part of the process of building relationship, so I'm not talking about that, but it's important, but not always easy, to discern the difference.) We use idle talk to shut out true thought, true understanding, which can be painfully revealing. In some ways idle talk is the opposite of lust of power; in other ways, it simply alternates with it, passive and aggressive reactions to sloth and despair.
Sloth is a sin we don't talk about much these days, because it's so often translated "laziness," giving us a picture of a man sitting in a hammock chewing a grass stalk and watching a creek flow. But we're too busy running around, making money, and controlling the world to be lazy in that way, and we're too full of inward chatter to be able to do nothing in that way.

So spiritual laziness is not rest -- the Psalmist also writes, in the same Psalm, "I lay down and slept. I awoke for the Lord sustained me." In other words, he gave himself over to the vulnerability of sleep, even in the midst of being under attack, and trusted in God to protect him. And God blessed his trust.

But if sloth is not rest but a belief that nothing we do matters, then it can lead to laziness -- being a couch potato, for example, is both sloth and idle talk -- or to horrible crimes -- armed robbery can be a combination of sloth and lust for power. It can cause someone to say, "I can't provide a million dollars to fund that school, so the $20 I have to give is worthless."

Or, "I can't be a great evangelist, so being a good cook is meaningless," or alternatively, "I can't cook worth beans (heh), so my gift for opening spiritual discussions with strangers is of no use to anyone." In other words, it can cause us to deny the value of our own talents (what is with that pun anyway? does it work in any languages beside English?) instead of seeing them as a unique and infinitely valuable contribution to the whole.

The Psalmist again (same Psalm) answers the whole line of the prayer: "But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the one who lifts up my head."
  • "You, O Lord, are a shield for me . . . ." The shield, naturally, is protection, specifically from the many enemies in the Psalm ("Many are they who rise up against me; many are they who say of me, 'There is no help for him in God'"). But the "shield of faith" comes up again in Ephesians: "above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one." The fiery darts of the wicked one include both inner and outer dangers, just as broadening the interpretation of the Psalm includes both inner and outer voices saying, "There is no help for him in God."

    With the shield of faith, the slothful servant would have overcome his fear of the Master's wrath, just as the Psalmist, tempted to despair, overcomes his fear that God might abandon him.

  • "You, O Lord, are . . . my glory . . . ." Glory is fame, respect, good reputation. It's exactly what the lazy servant refused the master in calling him a "hard man," reaping where he doesn't sow, and exactly what we promise -- and, at our best, give -- to God every time we sing,"Glory to you, O Lord, glory to you."

    So if God is our glory, it's a reminder that if our task seems small -- or our investment capital insignificant -- it's God who glorifies us. Or that our reputation doesn't depend on people, many of whom say, "There is no help for him in God," but on God's declaration that we are "good and faithful servants."

  • "You, O Lord, are . . . the one who lifts up my head." I try to be careful with drawing too much of a conclusion from biblical gestures, because they can be so dependent on languages and translations, and something that has a perfectly obvious meaning in one cultural context can mean nothing or exactly the opposite in another. Nevertheless, I'll go out on a limb here and guess that throughout human society and history, a drooping head comes with sadness or depression. When someone is "downcast," we might say, "Chin up," or "Things are looking up"; we gently lift a child's chin and tell her to cheer up.

    But the Psalmist says it's God himself who does this for his despondent children. This is not a master who is a "hard man," as the mistrustful servant says, but a God of lavish compassion.
The reality is that we do tumble through the sins of this line from St. Ephraim -- sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk -- which is why I prefer the translation "take from me" rather than "give me not," even though I've heard from people whose Greek is much better than mine that "give me not" is more accurate.

The answer, again, comes from the third Psalm -- a simple prayer: "Arise, O Lord. Save me, O my God." If it can save the Psalmist from "ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around," it can save me from my lone worst enemy -- myself.

God's answer to the Psalmist and to everyone who calls on him ends the Psalm: "For you have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone; you have broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be upon your people."

So here it is, a discovery that most people probably figured out the first time they read St. Ephraim's prayer. Apologies for the length of this post. I'm like a driver who learned how to get to a destination by a circuitous route and, when trying to give directions to the place, gives all the twists and turnings of that route because it's the only one I know. My consolation is that sometime in the next 15 years, I may figure out the next line.

Friday, December 16, 2005

How did I miss this?

Soon after becoming Orthodox, I learned that we are 13 days out of step and 15 minutes late, and it didn't take all that long to learn to like it.

Now that I'm a pajama-clad blogger, I move Orthodox time into the news business, where this Sept. 5 article about a July event is news to me. But good news.

It's a Greek layman talking about joint meetings of the Orthodox Church in America and the Antiochian Orthodox Church, moving toward Church unity in North America. If you're Orthodox, you know how important such talks are. If you're not, here's a parable that might explain it.

Once upon a time there were three brothers that lived next door to each other in a village in Never Never Land. They were 10 years apart in age, so they weren't as close as they might have been, but it was a loving family, and they lived happily with their parents.

One day a local lord rode by, taking conscripts for the army, and the oldest one was drug away, never to return.

Ten years later, the lord's son rode by, taking conscripts for a different war, and the older of the two remaining brothers was drug away, never to return.

Finally, ten years later, the lord who had defeated the prior lord came by, taking conscripts for yet another war, and dragged away the last of the three sons, leaving mother and father impoverished and longing for their children, who never returned.

The three sons didn't die in the wars. They survived honorably, fell in love, settled down, and when opportunity arose, they took their wives and families to another place where they could live in peace and their children not be kidnapped into servitude.

They contacted their parents, who begged them to come home, but the sons replied that they were at home now and couldn't come back.

In the meantime they had all settled in the same city. But the brothers had never really known each other, and a resentment had grown among them through the years, with the younger ones feeling abandoned by the older and the older feeling that the younger didn't know how they had suffered. They were all struggling to get along in the new land and all tried to preserve the customs they had learned from their parents, as they remembered them, modified by the countries where they'd lived during their long exile.

But their children and grandchildren began to discover each other and find that they had more in common than differences. Others in the city also became members of the family, through marriage and friendship, and they had interest in, but no attachment to the customs that the family had acquired during the patriarchs' exile; they wanted to be part of the original family, from the old, old country.

So by small steps and slow persuasion, the children and grandchildren closed the gap among the brothers, and finally brought them all together into one family, of blood relations and the new kind of kin, acknowledging the original parents as their ancestors and celebrating the courageous journeys of the three brothers. They finally gathered in one house at one table and proclaimed themselves brothers again.

This is a parable, not an allegory. It doesn't faithfully portray the history of the divisions among American Orthodox, which is long and complicated and better detailed in many other elsewheres. But if you imagine this as a movie and the audience's emotion as the credits rolled over the joyful, tear-stained faces of the aged men, then you know how we Orthodox look at prospects of reunion among our scattered jurisdictions.

UPDATE: I cross-posted this to the Conciliar Press blog.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Rev. Ned update

We last heard from Rev. Ned Reidy back in June when he wrote an article congratulating the Orthodox on ordaining women deacons.

A little googling turned up the fact that he's in a "let's play Catholic and have women priests" community, and a commenter (comment since lost) said that he had formerly been a member of the Holy Cross (Catholic) religious order.

Well, the Rev. Ned is back, says Get Religion, and in full Galileo mode, as he faces a trial for, I kid you not, heresy. (In California? gasp!)

Get Religion takes up the oddity that the San Bernardino Diocese seems to be the only one in the United States that does heresy trials -- along with the fact that it's hard to be excommunicated when you've already started up with a different church, but there seems to be a question of brand identification or something. Get Religion refers to the story in the as a well-written article with various experts interviewed.

I still get google searches for Rev. Ned, so I thought I'd pass along the update.

On the Incarnation

Unvoiced, the Godhead spoke the world
And unflesh hands made man.
Time's Creator, not bound by time,
More distant than the sky,

Who willed to be in place and time
Confined, Who healed and taught
With hands and voice of matter born,
Was one of us, though God.

Closer now than one's own heart,
Time deep and cosmos wide,
Enfleshed in fallen hands and tongues,
He builds and calls the world.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

God grant them freedom

This photo of an Iraqi woman sporting her vote-stained finger is a picture of courage. By the ink of a tattoo, she has marked herself a Christian in a country where Christianity is not always safe, and by the ink on her finger, she stands for a new Iraq in a time when the Rhinoceroses would kill her for that, too, if they could.

So may God grant them freedom and us the courage to stand with them in a way that honors their courage, and that of our military.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Carnival of the Clueless

After I entered Stephen Schwartz in the 25th Carnival of the Clueless, I got a letter proving him even more clueless than I had thought. It started "Hey stupid" and went downhill from there.

Last night I read a column about an e-mail exchange between Larry Elder and a reader who disputed his facts. If Mr. Schwartz ever comes back to my "pathetic blague," he might do well to follow the link and learn how a person with intelligence, class and discretion deals with a disagreeing, even disagreeable, correspondent.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A public apology

This is a public admission of arrogance to two bishops and a Protestant television celebrity. A couple of days ago, I posted a snarky comment about a Russian archbishop calling Krishna Satan, and then I drew a comparison to Pat Robertson and my bishop, Tikhon, and suggested that they all go to Antarctica together. To all three, I offer profound apologies. It's not that I think Archbishop Nikon was correct; it's that, first, who am I to sentence anyone to exile, and second why bring in Pat Robertson or Bishop Tikhon, neither of which had anything to do with it?

I thought about just deleting the post, but then I decided that this is more appropriate.

Let me do my disagreement with Archbishop Nikon more better.

I begin with the Kontakion of Pentecost:
When the Most High came down and confused the tongues,
He divided the nations;
But when He distributed the tongues of fire,
He called all to unity.
Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the all-holy Spirit!
The nations, as we know, are still divided, and the task of calling all to unity has fallen to the Church, empowered with the Holy Spirit. But the fact that we are divided doesn't mean that those on the outside are necessarily rebelling against the Cosmos, harmony with God -- they may be following to the best of their understanding -- more or less, and often more than, say, I am, who am supposedly blessed with the Holy Spirit.

So how can we give the Good News to people who have grown up not knowing it? If someone comes to me and says, "Everything you think is good is evil. Everyone you thought loved you has deceived you. Let me turn your world upside down and give you a life of dissension and chaos," I'm not going to be much inclined to listen.

Instead we can say, "Everything that you know that is true is True. Everything that you know that is good is Good. Everything that you know that is beautiful is Beautiful. Like everyone who learns and grows, you may have to throw away some fond beliefs on the way to a better understanding of what's True and Good and Beautiful, but you'll count them as dross in light of the greater Truth, Goodness and Beauty that you'll find." Then if we follow it up with deeds of mercy and compassion, we may find some who will listen. Others won't, but as St. Paul says, one plants, another waters, and God gets the harvest.

This is true whether we're talking to Hindus, Moslems, Native Alaskans or 21st-century agnostic skeptics. We owe a gentler touch to people outside the Church than to those within. After all, St. Nicholas punched out the archheretic Arius, not his pagan neighbors.

That's what I should have said about Archbishop Nikon's comments, and not what I did say.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Hey stupid

Begins the big comeback from my new acquaintance Stephen Schwartz, recently heard from waxing starry-eyed about prospects for an Albanian Kosovo. I had already planned to post his reply -- seems only fair, after all, to let him have his say -- when he kindly extended his permission.

So here it is, in its entirety, with breaks for comments:
Une flas shqip. Do you know that means? It means I speak Albanian.
Actually, no. Dare I ask? Have I just posted some flawlessly obscene idiomatic Albanian insult, or does it literally mean "I speak Albanian"? Being stupid, I've only studied French, Greek, Russian and Spanish, and though I'm not conversational in any of them -- not being a globetrotting journalist with many opportunities to polish my language skills -- I could figure out how to say, "I speak [language]," in all of them. I won't do it, though; it would be showing off.
I first went to the Albanian area of Yugoslavia in 1991. I worked in Kosovo in 1999-2000 and returned to the area in 2003 as well as this year.
My mistake. Being caught up in the dreary mundanities of Stateside life, I haven't read his entire opus.
You can't even read English. The guy who wants to publish the American founding fathers is an Albanian from Albania, not a Kosovar.
My error again. And actually, my impression of the Albanian Albanians is that they've been drug through the mill, first by Hoxha, and then, just as they were starting to get on their feet again, by a bunch of hucksters posing as capitalists, and yet there's remarkable harmony among the ethnic and religious groups there. Again, I'm not a globetrotting journalist who speaks Albanian, merely a stupid American who tries to sift the truth out of the news and who knows some people who have spent time there and loved the Albanian people. Is is safe to point out that these people were Orthodox Christians?
I have written on the Greater Albania issue since 1990. I have published more on Wahhabism in Kosovo and the Albanian lands than any other foreign writer.
See above about not catching the opus.
You should also go back and check out the fact that THE WEEKLY STANDARD supported the Kosovo intervention, regardless of your opinion of Clinton and Albright.
I'm aware that a lot of conservatives thought it was a pretty neat idea to "bomb Serbia into the Stone Age." I believe a lot of them were impatient with the bad behavior among the divorcing Yugoslavs, and the U.S. media, tired of trying to figure out who was right and what was really going on, finally just landed on a bad guy to villify (Let's see, Muslims are exotic; Catholics have the Vatican; that leaves the Serbs. OK, Serbs are wholly bad and the others are wholly innocent. See how easy that is? It totally works on TV.) Then with a good deal of selective reporting, some "revised" voice-over translation of Serbian "man in the street interviews," and some high-class public relations, it became easy to maintain a settled paradigm. But that excuse doesn't work for people who have been following the issue as globetrotting journalists since 1990.

Nevertheless, even from my sheltered stupidity, I remember when Richard Holbrooke stiff-armed the religious leaders of the former Yugoslavia -- Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim -- who had together authored a letter to all their people asking them to eschew violence. He visited Milosevic and the KLA (and don't miss the photo at the link of Holbrooke lounging with armed thugs), but didn't have an hour to spend with the bishops and the imam. It was a time when the diplomatic apparatus of the most powerful country in the world sent a message by its behavior -- the message that the people who mattered in Yugoslavia were the thugs in power. Beside that, Holbrooke calling Serbs "murderous assholes" on television in 1995 was just part of the Clinton approach to diplomacy.

The fact that the Weekly Standard has been so supportive of Clinton's abysmal foreign policy is part of why I don't read the publication much and therefore haven't followed Mr. Schwartz's opus more carefully.

Mr. Schwartz continues:
You write:

1. "why investigators couldn't find evidence of the Kosovo massacres that were the pretext for the assault on Serbia;"

A lie. There are 550 mass grave sites. Everyone knows about them.
Call me a liar if you want to. It's the same definition of "lie" that the Democratic Underground uses against Bush. But the link I gave in my earlier post has the World Court saying that the "mass graves" contain 5,000 bodies. This is, as Detective Sgt. Brian Honeybourn points out, a great evil, but not genocide. It's also not entirely clear that Serbs did all the killing. After-the-fact investigations have turned up evidence that some of the pivotal "massacres" never happened. Or maybe they did, but how many of the victims were killed by Serbs and how many by the KLA? "Everybody" apparently knows a lot of stuff, but when the reporters are so biased, we stupids in the hinterlands don't believe them at all.
2. "about the mass graves of Serbs discovered in Kosovo since the war;"

And where were these? There were a couple of gravesites I know of with fewer than two dozen Serbs altogether in them. They were fully investigated at the Hague. Place names? You don't know what you're taking about. I doubt you could find Kosovo on a map.

3. "and why Kosovo Albanians, set free to create a society in their own image, made it twice as much of a hell as the one Milosevic created for them."

How would you know? What do you know? Nothing. Kosovo is flourishing. But they have yet to be set free.
I honestly hope it's true. Here's a story of a courageous Serb family trying to return to their life in Kosovo. But here's an analysis that suggests that "flourishing" may not be exactly the adjective for it: "Why now? Kosovo has no economy to speak of, no one in authority able to push through privatization, and consequently high unemployment. Hideously abused in the past by the Serbs, the Kosovar Albanians are now on top and have been wreaking vengeance on the Serb minority in their midst, capped last year by the ransacking of churches and a monastery. This naturally stirs strong feelings in Serbia proper, even with Slobodan Milosevic away in custody. Without a functioning judicial system, organized crime in Kosovo is flourishing, so much so that it poses a threat to the entire region."

It's late, and I'll let Mr. Schwartz go on uninterrupted for a while:
4. "Oh, and while he's at it, he might have looked into human trafficking,"

Human trafficking largely involves activity by members of the international community, and Serbian gangsters, using Moldovan women and Ukrainian women to service said internationals. North Albanians, Kosovars, and Albanians from Macedonians do not get involved in this. If you think different, cite cases: indictments, names of the accused, dates of arrests, etc.

"drug dealers" Cite the names of the indicted, accused, dates of arrests, etc. They don't exist. The drug routes run from eastern Macedonia through south Serbia to Belgrade and from Greece through southern Albania to Italy. You can't cite any evidence otherwise. You are a victim of your own bigotry abetted by propagandists.

"and weapons markets." Albanians like guns. So what? You aren't for the second amendment? I am. They are. Deal with it. The gun market is in north Albania, not in Kosovo.
OK. I take it back. None of the links I provided had any information. I don't have dates and places, and the people who have access to dates and places have agendas that are preserved by not publishing them. So there are no drug dealers, no human traffickers and no Al-Qaeda-trained terrorists among the Kosovo Albanians.
The comparison with Kristallnacht is the usual kind of sloppy, morally despicable slobber one can expect from a comfortable American pseudo-intellectual sitting in a couch in pajamas.
I don't use these comparisons lightly, but I think the similarities are very strong between the Night of Broken Glass and the anti-Serb riots that ripped through Kosovo in March of last year. By the way, it was a UN administrator who made the comparison before I did.
As to the heart-breaking spectacle of vandalized Serb churches (sob!) -- the churches that were targeted were mainly recent foundations built to symbolize Serbian domination.
Hearing such hostility to a faith's religious structures makes me wonder if Mr. Schwartz is perhaps a Christian who hates the Orthodox, a Christian who hates Serbs, or a non-Christian who hates Christians. But I'm not asking for an answer to that question. Suffice to say that the hate is evident. On the other hand, he does ascribe considerable foresight to the Christians of the 14th through early 20th centuries, to know where to built churches to symbolize Serbian domination.
The old Orthodox monasteries, which were stolen by the Serbs from their Macedonian and Vlach builders, were largely left alone.
Is that why Decani has to be under constant guard, after its monks rescued Albanians during the war?
Do you know the story of the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Warsaw? It was a gigantic Orthodox structure built by the tsars to symbolize Russian power over Poland. When Poland became independent in the 1920s it was demolished and there is no trace of it today. Just as there will soon be no trace of the Japanese governor's palace in Seoul, Korea. Why should Albanians be held to a different standard than Poles or Koreans? To make foreign Serbophiles happy? Sorry, no thanks.
Even this "foreign Serbophile" was saddened by the Taliban's destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.
All comments on the record; I will post them to your pathetic blague if you don't.

Stephen Schwartz

P.S. [in follow-up e-mail]: The Serbian government now admits what happened in Kosovo: the Serbs attempted to expel the Albanians, killed many of them, including many children, destroyed many structures, etc. etc.
As a matter of fact, the Serbs are the only ones who admit that their side has done any wrong. It's part of their bad PR, and it's part of why I, as a stupid American who can't find Kosovo on a map (it's next to Ecuador, right?), think it's important to stand up for them every once in a while. I mean, Mr. Schwartz may call me names, but he's not likely to bomb my house.

UPDATE, DEC. 10: I edited out a reference to Michel Chossudovsky in the piece above, because his stand on other matters led me to doubt his credibility. For more information on the Kosovo Liberation Army, from a more authoritative and balanced source, here is a U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee report on the KLA filed one week after the war on Serbia began in 1999.

Kristallnacht? I didn't see any Kristallnacht

Stephen Schwartz, writing in the otherwise conservative Daily Standard, goes looking for white hats in the Balkans and finds them -- on the same heads blessed by Madeline Albright and Richard Holbrooke.

Schwartz manages to find a Kosovo Albanian who reads American founding fathers and a couple of others who assert that there's no plan for a Greater Albania and that Kosovo Albanians don't like Wahabbism.

Great. Life is simple if you only listen to one side of these messy situations.

In the meantime Schwartz, who seems to have arrived in Kosovo within the past couple of days, needs someone to explain to him about those piles of blasted rubble that used to be churches; why Serbs who have lived their whole lives in Kosovo -- including monks who gave shelter to Albanians running from Milosevic's troops -- aren't safe to leave their dwellings; why NATO troops need to spend more effort protecting Serbs from Kosovars than vice versa; why investigators couldn't find evidence of the Kosovo massacres that were the pretext for the assault on Serbia; about the mass graves of Serbs discovered in Kosovo since the war; and why Kosovo Albanians, set free to create a society in their own image, made it twice as much of a hell as the one Milosevic created for them. Oh, and while he's at it, he might have looked into human trafficking, drug dealers and weapons markets.

The answers to those questions might have made for at least a paragraph somewhere in his "It's a beautiful morning" story. The questions might have at least come up in his conversations with the "democracy-loving" Kosovars he talked with. Unfortunately, it's an opportunity lost and a whitewash perpetrated.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Is there a country where we can send Archbishop Nikon and Pat Robertson?

This headline from the Hindustan Times online edition tells the whole story: Russian Archbishop calls Lord Krishna 'Satan.'

Maybe Antarctica, where they can melt the ice pack by hurling burning epithets at each other. And let's add Bishop Tikhon while we're at it.

Note: It's not good evangelism to call other people's religious figures "Satan" (unless the people are actually Satanists). It should be obvious, but apparently isn't, that you build better relationships with people by honoring their highest impulses. It's something the members of the original Alaska mission, as well as Sts. Cyril and Methodius, understood.

UPDATE: I apologized for this post here.

Monday, December 05, 2005


We'll be hearing a lot of Christ-hatred, apparently, with the release of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Up till now I've been mostly running across Philip Pullman, getting quoted all over the place in his efforts to become the anti-Lewis and to keep interest in his own books going 10 years after the movie release. I don't think it will work, but the aim -- even if duplicitous -- is at least rational.

Now Polly Toynbee, writing in the UK Guardian, reveals the depths to which hatred of Christianity can go.

Just to clear up one thing, I think she's got a point when she says some Christians have used guilt to manipulate children:
Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to? Poor child Edmund, to blame for everything, must bear the full weight of a guilt only Christians know how to inflict, with a twisted knife to the heart. Every one of those thorns, the nuns used to tell my mother, is hammered into Jesus's holy head every day that you don't eat your greens or say your prayers when you are told. So the resurrected Aslan gives Edmund a long, life-changing talking-to high up on the rocks out of our earshot. When the poor boy comes back down with the sacred lion's breath upon him he is transformed unrecognisably into a Stepford brother, well and truly purged.
I've read a book by a Catholic priest, containing various meditations on the stations of the cross. They were all awful (though the priest was a kind-hearted, well-meaning soul), but the meditation "for children" was hideous, containing just the sort of guilt-smack Toynbee says her mother got from the nuns. The result, as so often happens when guilt -- as it inevitably does -- goes sour, is a soaring rage full of fear, shame at having been duped, and a wall that keeps one from looking at the situation in any light but one's own defensive anger.

But however pitiably Toynbee came by her rage, her view is still warped by it.

At the core of her argument with Aslan -- and with Christ -- is that He's not just the Lamb but also the Lion.
Christ should surely be no lion (let alone with the orotund voice of Liam Neeson). He was the lamb, representing the meek of the earth, weak, poor and refusing to fight.
For Toynbee, Christ must always be "gentle Jesus, meek and mild," certainly not "a mighty fortress." She mocks the idea of a powerful Christ: "Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America -- that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right."

Lewis, a British citizen, was neither was neither Republican nor Democrat, certainly not as those parties align themselves in the dawning years of the 21st century. What Toynbee fails to understand -- or, understanding, hates -- is that in fairy stories good people are rewarded and bad people punished; heroes become kings and queens, and villains get their comeuppance. The Church is not a place for rolling over and letting the bad guy kick you; it's an army of martyrs who laughed at death and saints who killed dragons and cities protected from marauding armies by an icon of the Theotokos.

She says that in Great Britain 43 percent of people polled didn't know what event Easter celebrates. How much of that ignorance and disdain is due to the "sensitive," "mild" and "inoffensive" cup of weak tea that Christianity has become? Toynbee would like to keep it that way, but Toynbee, as she says herself, is no friend of the Church.

And Aslan, the Lion who plays like a being at once thunderstorm and kitten, may be a worthy opponent to such a view. The fact that Toynbee is so upset is a sign of hope.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Talkin' dog

I've been working to learn to speak dog most of my life. Most of my dogs have done better at learning my language than I have at learning theirs, but over time, I've gotten better at it.

For instance, if you want to tell a dog that you're friendly, start at a high pitch and work down to a low pitch. Words are optional. Babytalk is fine, such as "Oh, what a good puppy." For added emphasis, wave your arm behind your back as if it's a tail. Dogs don't see well, and they don't make distinctions between arms and tails. People, unfortunately, do see well, and they are likely to think the tail thing is a bit of overkill, if not utterly mad. Proceed at your own risk. Also, of course, if you've violated some other dog protocol, such as crossing into restricted territory or seeming to threaten its pack, making friendly noises may not help. It can't hurt either.

If you want to speak warning, on the other hand, a staccato, "Bark! Bark! Bark" is the standard doggie alarm. If your dog says that to you, it's something the dog considers worth noting. (It may be a cat moseying down the street, but the dog considers that noteworthy.)

Or if it's time for sleep, a long breath expelled through the nose is a signal that it's time to calm down.

Now ABC News gives us another one. Researchers are calling it a "laugh," which is probably as good a name as any. Just for an experiment, I did a loud, long pant, as described in the article, to Sadie and Mocha, my dog teachers, who were sleeping nearby. Sadie got up and brought me a tug toy. Mocha got up and corrected my pronunciation -- it should be done with a rounded mouth, as if you've taken a large bite of a too-hot roasted marshmallow and are trying to cool it off before it burns your mouth. She congratulated me on my efforts before lying back down and releasing a long breath through her nose.

This is just my first attempt at dog-laughing. Anybody else have results to report (those who aren't the sort of people to look askance at using a spare arm as a tail on occasion)?

I can't wait to see the movie

It's like Chinatown, the 1974 film noire with Jack Nicholson investigating a simple adultery case that ends up revealing crime and corruption up through the highest levels of Los Angeles city authority.

Only more so
. The murder of a couple of gangsta rap musicians points to corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department, a coverup benefiting the then-police chief (who is now a city council member), aided and abetted by an apparently corrupt and complicit Pulitizer Prize-winning music reporter at the LA Times.

With the outcome that the Times bends its trial coverage so the repoter's buddy, a rap music producer, gets acquitted.

Chinatown is film noire in color; Jan Golab's piece is film noire in nonfiction.

H/T: Patterico.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Wait -- what have I been laughing at all this time?

Al Sharpton wants his own sitcom

OK, guys, fun's over -- who hid the passengers?

More random searches for passengers at US airports

Answers to Pullman

For some reason, a good many of the articles about C.S. Lewis coming out in advance of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe include interviews with Philip Pullman, British author of the revolting His Dark Materials trilogy and confirmed Lewis-hater. To judge by the constant quoting of this hostile witness, you'd think Lewis was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, instead of simply being a deceased author of a very popular series of children's books, one of which has been made into a movie. (Does anybody remember hearing from angry enemies of Roald Dahl around the time of the opening of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? I don't either.)

Nevertheless, Pullman is asked, and Pullman bilefully accuses, and Michael Nelson, writing in the Chronicle Review, answers Pullman's charges. Which is good, because Lewis doesn't seem to have as active a press secretary as Pullman does.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I just want to say thank you

to this Jewish group defending "Merry Christmas."

And Happy Hanukkah to you, too.

Non-scandal of the week

The LA Times revealed this week that the U.S. military has paid Iraqi newspapers to run pro-U.S. articles.

The task force also bought a newspaper and "took control" of a radio station (sounds like they sent in a SWAT team and held the announcers hostage, but that would be too juicy a detail to leave out, so it was probably just some unused bandwidth).

Anyway, does the LA Times remember Voice of America or Radio Free Europe? Radio Liberty broadcast Father Alexander Schmemann's sermons into the Soviet Union for 30 years.

So the task force writes and translates articles and pays the newspapers to run them. Sounds like a win-win to me. Unless the Times is presuming that the poor benighted Iraqis can't discern a pro-American article when they see one. Well, welcome to the age of the Internet, O newspaper of plummeting circulation that runs Democratic Party press releases for free. We all have other sources of news now, and newspapers are being held responsible for their bias. If the Iraqi readers don't like seeing pro-American articles in their pages, they won't read them or they won't buy those papers. On the other hand, it might be nice to see a pro-American article occasionally in the LA Times.

Next scandal up: The president wears socks. I kid you not. Black ones, too.

UPDATE: In an LA Times column, Walter Jajko goes into more detail about the need to join the propaganda war.