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Archive for December, 2007

Aionia mneme

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The mother of an absent friend is herself now absent, and the father is nearly so. Prayers, please, for Yatish and the rest of the Joshi family, and for the soul of Louise.

This photo is from my trip to London this last summer, where by fluke, they were stopping on their way back from a vacation in Italy. For a full account, go here and scroll down to where it says “Event #6”.

I also found this from a Christmas gift to which Georgie contributed a few years ago. I don’t generally take a lot of pictures, so this has become very meaningful to me.

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Memory eternal, Louise.
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Christ is born! Glorify him!

nativity.jpgAnd it came to pass that Mary was enrolled with Joseph the old man in Bethlehem, since she was of the seed of David, and was great with the Lamb without seed. And when the time for delivery drew near, and they had no place in the village, the cave did appear to the Queen as a delightful palace. Verily, Christ shall be born, raising the likeness that fell of old.(Troparion from the Royal Hours of the Nativity, Byzantine rite)

A child is born to us, and a son is given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder; and his name will be called, the Angel of great counsel.

(Introit of the third Mass of Christmas Day, Roman rite)

Expect the media to bring up the usual historical “problems” with the Nativity account, according to Fr. Stephen Freeman, and don’t fret about it:

Literalism is a false means of interpretation (hermenuetic) and is a vain attempt to democratize the Holy writings. If they can be read on a literal level, then everyone has equal access to them and everybody has equal authority to interpret them. […] the seasons come and go and the media cannot resist speaking of what they do not know. And so they ask those who do not know to speak on their behalf. But if we would know Christ and the wonder of His incarnation, then we would do well to listen to those who have been appointed to speak and to hear them in the context given to us for listening – the liturgical life of the Church.

photo-6.jpgIn other news, blogging has been light the last couple of days because we’ve been madly scanning and shelving books. The Delicious Library and LibraryThing system has been fantastic, but most definitely less than perfect. One annoying thing is that even if Library of Congress data exists for a book, LibraryThing won’t always find it, requiring you to find it yourself on the Library of Congress website and enter it manually. For books that don’t have LC numbers, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do; is there a way that one can divine what the number will eventually be?

What’s also frustrating is that LibraryThing is in theory able to identify new ISBNs when a list is uploaded and add only those, and it does this successfully in most cases, but there are somewhere around ten books that are always duplicated when I add a new list. This afternoon I eliminated somewhere around fifty dupes, in some cases there being seven entries for one book.

Another issue: I’ve entered 718 books into Delicious (representing probably roughly half of what we have), and I’ve exported the catalog to LibraryThing on a fairly regular basis. This afternoon, LibraryThing showed 756 books; after eliminating the duplicates, I’m down to 702 in LibraryThing with 8 ISBNs it can’t find (European books, I think). That means there are eight books Delicious is listing in its catalog that for some reason LibraryThing isn’t picking up.

Nonetheless, we’ve been able to accomplish in a weekend what would have surely taken us a month on our own, and that’s most certainly worth it.

Finally–any other Leopard users out there finding that with the latest update, searching for files within the File Upload dialog appears to be broken?

Merry Christmas to all!

Mmmmm, Delicious

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Usually it’s my pal Gavin who posts this kind of thing, but hey, why not. Maybe he’ll blog about dead languages tomorrow.

Remember what I said about maybe getting Delicious Library going over the break? Well, it’s going… and going… and going. I’ve got 245 books entered in so far. Only about 6,342,351 to go.

The whole thing is pretty slick, actually. You enter books (or DVDs, or CDs) by title, author, ISBN number, or even by scanning the barcode with an iSight camera, and then it pulls the item’s data off of Amazon.com—cover, genre, publisher, series, retail value, description, etc. (all as available, of course). You can hand-edit anything you need to, you can update cover art by dragging an image onto the item’s entry, you can sort by any category you like, and so on. Other very practical features include easily being able to set up a “checkout” system for loaning out books, integration with Amazon.com Marketplace if you want to get rid of things, and so on. It will also make book recommendations based on what you have (with quick ‘n easy links to the product on Amazon.com, of course).

It’s not perfect by any means; Library of Congress or Dewey data would be nice, as would the ability to generate a bibliography, the genres imported from Amazon are not consistently accurate or useful—and it’s going to take a lot of hand-tweaking to make them useful. Custom fields would be a most appreciated feature. On the other hand, this is a version 1.5 product, and I’m told some of these things will be available in v2.0 (due within a couple of months, apparently). Also, you can easily export your Delicious catalog to LibraryThing, which does do Library of Congress and plenty of other things, enough so that it’s worth it to have both, really.

If you’re a Mac user drowning in books, Delicious Library might very well be worth your time.

Rod Dreher: “what integrity really is”

Food for thought which speaks for itself.

U. S. News and World Report on a return to the old stuff

With a tip of the hat to the good folks over at Get Religion, I give you an article in U. S. News and World Report by Jay Tolson entitled “A Return to Tradition: A new interest in old ways takes root in Catholicism and many other faiths.”

Go ahead and take a moment to read it—it won’t take long. On a personal note, not to mention in the interests of full disclosure, I’ve met Roger Finke; his daughter and son-in-law are my godchildren, and his son and daughter-in-law are also dear friends. As converts to Orthodox Christianity, they themselves are part of this “return to tradition” of which the article speaks. (EDIT: the referents of “they” are Dr. Finke’s son, daughter, and in-laws; Dr. Finke himself is LCMS, not Orthodox.)

A few broad observations: it appears to be an article of faith for the mainstream media that Pope Benedict XVI’s liberalization of the traditional rite will ultimately have little to no effect, and certainly won’t catch on terribly well—it just means that a handful of old folks can now go back to saying their rosaries on their own while the ad orientem priest mumbles in Latin and a smaller handful of young militants can pretend to insert themselves into a tradition which was never theirs in the first place. This is not, of course, what Tolson says in so many words, but it certainly seems important to him to make sure to include a quote from somebody downplaying the significance of Benedict’s move.

Along the same lines, does the “return to tradition” mean a break from the “religious service provider” mentality, according to Tolson? Of course not. Tolson provides a quote from Finke that makes it very explicit that the cafeteria is by no means closed; it’s just that perhaps some people are trying to add a sit-down restaurant option for those who want it: “It’s a structured life, but it’s a structure they are seeking and not simply submitting to authority.” An earlier quote from IUPUI sociologist Sister Patricia Wittberg underscores this: “I think the future is with a group that is interested in reviving the old stuff and traditions in a creative way.” In other words, what we’re talking about is a group of people who are interested in tradition, but on their own terms. It’s less the received tradition and more the cherry-picked tradition; tradition-as-trapping rather than Tradition-as-authority.

In the interests of fairness, there is a fundamental conundrum that, some would argue, ensures that anybody who embraces a more traditional expression of Christianity is going to be engaging in a range of cherry-picking, cafeteria-esque behavior. “There’s nothing more un-Orthodox,” I’ve heard various people claim, “then intentionally converting to Orthodoxy.” In other words, if you’re converting to a faith in which you were not raised, you’re already cherry-picking; you’re already intentionally grafting yourself onto something else rather than accepting whatever tradition you received growing up. You’re asserting yourself onto an organic entity in such a way that ensures you will never be part of it. You’ve already chosen what it is you’re willing to submit to, and since you’ve already presumably left something else at least once, you’re tacitly reserving the right to do so again. It’s healthy, so the argument goes, to acknowledge that we’re all cafeteria believers of one form or another, and that there’s no other way you can be in this country, where religion is just another part of the marketplace of ideas.

I suppose to some extent this is true; I will say that for myself and people I know who have converted to either Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism (or even people raised in either communion who have made a conscious choice to more fully “own” their faith), there is always a struggle to figure out how to live life more fully within the faith but also with an awareness of the reality of the world. That’s the struggle of any Christian at any point in history, really. As G. K. Chesterton might have put it, the struggle doesn’t invalidate the conversion any more than the rain invalidated the ark.

Finally—the following point is worth noting, as much as for how Tolson says it as what he says:

Something curious is happening in the wide world of faith, something that defies easy explanation or quantification. More substantial than a trend but less organized than a movement, it has to do more with how people practice their religion than with what they believe, though people caught up in this change often find that their beliefs are influenced, if not subtly altered, by the changes in their practice.

First of all, this assumes that there is a divide between belief and practice. This may very well be the case, but it’s a divide which would have been quite foreign to the early Christians, who were very aware that how one prayed and worshipped impacted how they believed. (Google Lex orandi, lex credendi if you don’t believe me.) As an Episcopalian praying the Rite II Eucharist Sunday in, Sunday out, in allowing myself to actually pray the liturgy, I was occasionally confronted by something in the text, and I realized that in order to keep praying it, I had to decide if I actually believed it or not. Did I actually believe the words of the Nicene Creed? Did I actually believe I was receiving the Body and Blood of Christ? Did I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church? And so on. The more I decided that yes, I actually believed what I was praying, ironically enough, the less tenable of a position it seemed to remain an Episcopalian.

Liturgical practice is at once both the expression and the teaching of the faith held by the community; someone actively engaging it and praying it will of course find what they believe being influenced by it. That is the whole point, and it is a point easily lost on people who think that worship is all about style, taste, and aesthetic preference.

Orthodox Christianity and anti-Catholicism

stpeterwith-key.jpgiconstandrewnewbrand.jpgFirst off, a brief explanation of what this post is not: it is not an examination of the issues surrounding the lack of unity between the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Churches in communion with the See of Rome. There are plenty of other people willing to go there; I’m not, at least not today. This post will mention some of the issues which exist, but it will neither focus on nor analyze them.

It is also in no way a polemic against any particular individuals; the problem of Christian disunity is everybody’s problem, and however we may be convinced of how that came about, blame is never going to accomplish as much as charity and humility. If we are to be “little Christs” even to those with whom we cannot partake of Holy Communion, we must act in love. That said, Our Lord wasn’t one to sugarcoat. Therefore we must speak the truth, but we must do so in love or it is worthless.

And so, my point: when an Eastern Orthodox Christian frankly and openly acknowledges issues which divide East and West, this is not de facto anti-Catholicism. This is not to say that there isn’t anti-Catholicism among some Orthodox, any more than Roman Catholics can fairly say there aren’t any anti-Orthodox among their number. There are some embarrassingly hostile anti-Catholics among the Orthodox; those, for example, who see that there have been differences in practice and expression between East and West since just about day one, and subsequently conclude that the West has been in grave error from the beginning. No question about it, this exists, and as much as is possible, other Orthodox should work to counteract that.

Be that as it may, when an Orthodox Christian tells his Roman Catholic brother, “There are these stumbling blocks which exist for us in terms of papal supremacy/the Immaculate Conception/created grace/etc. which are, from our perspective, obstacles to unity,” assuming that the context is appropriate for the exchange, this is not automatically an example of Orthodox hostility towards Rome. It could very well be that the person has taken a hostile tone, but an attempt to discuss the issue and in particular, a subsequent “sticking to one’s guns” does not in and of itself indicate hostility.

It is true that such discussions are not likely to solve anything; presumably an Orthodox is convinced of the truth of the Orthodox position and a Catholic of the Catholic position. It is true that people far better educated than I ever will be have chosen to swim the Tiber rather than the Bosphorus, but it is also true that others with the same class of education, given access to the same evidence, have chosen New Rome over Old Rome. For example, I have heard some suggest that Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan’s conversion to Orthodoxy was really a product of an inherited anti-Catholicism which was ultimately too strong to overcome; I suppose it would be just as easy to suggest that Newman’s conversion to Catholicism was effectively a product of a Western enculturation which was too strong to overcome. Charity, I find, is lacking in both assertions, as well as in a parallel assertion, that if someone like Pelikan or Newman had truly considered the evidence “in faith,” they would have chosen differently.

There are real issues which divide Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, and there are practical consequences of those issues.  To acknowledge this is not to be hostile to whichever side one has not chosen; it is simply to admit reality.  I suggest, however, that for those of us who aren’t bishops, we’re better off frankly acknowledging the issues, agreeing to disagree (however sadly), but then further acknowledging that, while lacking the power to formally resolve any issues, we can work to cultivate the unity that would already have to exist before formal procedures would ever do any good (think of the Council of Florence). False ecumenism isn’t helpful; I’m not sure something as lofty-sounding as “dialogue” is really going to get laypeople anywhere, and there’s certainly nothing we can do about concelebration or communion. Conversation and cooperation, however, in the context of treating each other as brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of what issues our bishops might have with each other, might just accomplish something.

We’ve got to be able to talk openly and honestly without fear that points of disagreement and recognition of reality are going to be automatically interpreted as hostility. If we can’t do that, conversation and cooperation won’t get far. We must truly walk in love just as Christ loved us.

“It’s common knowledge that Christmas and its customs have nothing to do with the Bible” (updated)

reportcard.jpgSo, the good news is that for all of my handwringing about Greek this semester, it wound up being more of a bright spot on my transcript than I would have thought. It’s still a variety of “B” rather than a variety of “A”, but it’s a better variety than I figured possible, and it’s certainly not a variety of “C”. I’m still probably going to try to sit in on third semester Greek again next fall as a refresher (since, because of scheduling issues, I can’t take the fourth semester until next year), but the unmitigated disaster I was convinced was inevitable on Wednesday afternoon appears to have been nonetheless avoided.

unchristmas.gifThere’s an article in the Associated Press about Protestants who don’t celebrate Christmas (hat tip: Dr. Philip Blosser), and it provides an interesting overview of the history of Christmas celebrations in the United States. In a nutshell, Protestant America was at best uncomfortable with and at worst hostile towards Christmas until the 19th century, when it shifted towards being more of a secular, family holiday and less of a religious observance associated with Catholics. In other words, it was largely because it took on commercial aspects (at least according to this piece) that its liturgical trappings were tolerated. Still, despite this “domestication,” certain Protestant groups retain the objection into our own time:

Christians like the United Church of God reject the holiday [because they] say divine instruction, rather than culture and society, should determine whether the holiday is appropriate.

“It’s common knowledge that Christmas and its customs have nothing to do with the Bible,” said Clyde Kilough, president of the United Church of God, which has branches all over the world. “The theological question is quite simple: Is it acceptable to God for humans to choose to worship him by adopting paganism’s most popular celebrations and calling them Christian?”

I have to say, there’s a part of me that has absolutely no problem with this attitude. What reason do Christians who reject the liturgical calendar as a whole have to keep Christmas as an observance? Aren’t they trying to have it both ways? Here’s the follow-up question, though—do these same groups reject Easter? If not, why not? It seems to me they’d have to, to stay consistent.

Here’s what is, for me, the money quote:

[T]he mainline Protestant churches have learned to accommodate Christmas. But the change came from the pews rather than the pulpit.

Christmas benefited from a 19th century “domestication of religion,” said University of Texas history professor Penne Restad, in which faith and family were intertwined in a complementary set of values and beliefs.

Christmas became acceptable as a family-centered holiday, Restad said, once it lost its overtly religious significance.

At the same time, aspects of the holiday like decorated trees and gift-giving became status symbols for an aspirant middle class. When Christmas began its march toward dominance among holidays, it was because of a change in the culture, not theology.

“In America, the saying is that the minister follows the people, the people don’t follow the minister,” Restad said. “This was more of a sociological change than a religious one. The home and the marketplace had more sway than the church (emphasis mine).”

The minister follows the people, the people don’t follow the minister. The home and the marketplace had more sway than the church. That’s a mouthful, folks, and one that strikes me as bearing some real consideration.

All that said, I have to say I’d love for the guys at Get Religion to offer their thoughts on this story; I’m sure there’s a lot here I’m missing.

UPDATE: Fr. Stephen Freeman has some words which are directly applicable to the matter at hand:

…[T]radition is not only normal – it is inevitable… We cannot, without great violence, declare that there will be no traditions. This has been sought through the centuries by various iconoclast regimes (Puritans come to mind the easiest). But they never completely succeed. Today, the descendants of Puritans will seek Christmas trees whether they believe in God or not. The tradition is stronger even than the belief. But the tradition wasn’t given in order to destroy the belief, but to live it out.


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