Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Trying a little too hard

Now some people are born as conduits of inexplicable and nearly constant brooding negativity (me). As such, they tend to wax a little poetic, in a certain way, when they contemplate with their pissy lens of life. But, there is a point where you're just trying tooooooo hard. For example, look at what the artist OK GO did with an angst ridden love/lust song. Some examples are just a bit too... corny, for me to take seriously. enjoy.

Artist: OK GO - 'Invincible'

When they finally come to destroy the earth, they'll have to go through you first.
I bet they won't be expecting that.
When they finally come to destroy the earth,
they'll have to deal with you first,
and now my money says they won't know about the thousand
Fahrenheit hot metal lights behind your eyes.
Invincible. You're invincible.

That crushing, crashing, atom-smashing, white-hot thing... It's invincible.
When they finally come, what'll you do to them?
Gonna decimate them like you did to me?
Will you leave them stunned and stuttering?
When they finally come, how will you handle them?
Will you devastate them deliberately?

'Cause I'm gonna guess they won't be prepared for thousand
Fahrenheit hot metal lights behind your eyes.
Invincible. You're invincible.
That crushing, crashing, atom-smashing, white-hot thing... It's invincible.
So, please use your powers for good. You're invincible.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Symbolism of Bobblehead Jesus

Last night I was cooking dinner at the home of a couple of local, and realtively new friends. On their fridge there were several paper clips, photos, advertisement - the usual, and also on top was a Bobblehead Jesus.

Now apparently this had scandalized at least one person in the past, or at the very least I believe that was its latent intent. And perhaps when it comes right down to it I shouldn't be cool with Jesus being presented as a super-casual figurine customized for front of the car entertainment, but I can't say it bothers me. But why?

In simplest form it's that I don't really associate the Jesus being portrayed by the Bobblehead doll is the Jesus of my faith. I don't really have the ecumenical gene that says there was a historical Jesus who was the ideal and all Christians groups worship him partly right, although we've only got part of the truth and blah blah blah. That kind of mindset would see this particular doll as besmirching Jesus' honor, and rightly so. After all, if you take this line then it's Jesus qua Jesus who's being insulted here.

But for me Jesus is functional - he's a list of characteristics and teachings derived from Scriptures that teach me how God sees the vocation of being truly human. Sure he was a man, but I've never known him that way. for me I've always known him as the guiding truth of my own life and times.

The Jesus I believe in is a very gritty thing. No that's not even it - a primal thing. God is flat out a primal God. He speaks in metaphors of the most foundational human experiences - sacrifice, life, Covenants, death, war, darkness/light, sex, idolatry, agriculture, treachery, and harlotry. He demands that we die to our fleshy ambitions and arise to walk in the ways of God, living as citizens of heaven even though we're on earth, and humbly repenting when we fail to harken to His will.

I don't see this as being the same Jesus who's pre-packaged in individual servings of Welch's grape juice and a saltine, droned on about like someone's all-time best significant other in monotinous chorus-driven pop songs, and always one quick call away from answering all the "really important" questions in life like "is this the one?" and "Given that I should vote Republican, who would you chose in the primaries?" and similar vitals.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that the pop Jesus is a savior in some kind of weird abstraction - you say a few words and then you're going to heaven. Between now and then is just killing time until your friends are burning in molten hell and you can really lord it over them how right you were.

The Jesus I worship is a savior in fact - one day you live for the things of this world and they guide your perspectives and your actions. You fear death and failure and the marginalization of those around you. You seek to live in some sort of secular Utopia and have the recurring hope that some mix of politics and rights' expansion can accomplish such a thing... in short you "put your trust in princes, in sons of men."

Then Jesus says differently. He comes to turn all of those perceptions on their head. If God will care about us ultimately, and will remember us even in our lowest state... indeed if he has already shared our lowest state in his birth, who he chose as his messengers, and even his death, then there is no need to bemoan the inability of the princes of men to deliver heaven. We can thumb our nose at worldly expectation because our hearts and minds look elsewhere for validation.

Death and the remembrance of history will not have the final word on the value of our life. When I pray I see the same darkness, the same emptiness, the same nothingness as anyone else. Like Job I wait vainly for God's answer, and the answer is silence. The answer is in time, but not my time. And there is something beyond that darkness, and it allows one to be unafraid of the darkness, knowing that the light will never be totally extinguished. How we answer the fact of the darkness, the finitude and shortcomings inevitable in an earthly life si the real difference between a believer and an atheist. Is the darkness all there is?

In the Bobblehead Jesus I find a critique on the other Jesus; the cuddly teddy bear Jesus of too much of middle America. I guess the statement in making Jesus into a doll for commercial sale is itself a jab on this kind of Jesus - if your theology can make him a teddy bear, why can't others make him a Bobblehead? It's basically irreverance that shows the ongoing irreverance of the supposedly reverant, if that makes sense. It's a challenge of sorts: If your Jesus is this cheap and easy, if he's nothing but a friendly ticket puncher for the heaven train, then why not take the next logical step? And if you can't accept that step, should that not challenge you to rethink your own sentiments?

We hear too much Gospel of nice guy Jesus. And it comes from all angles; liberals are just as complicit as conservatives. Both basically assume that what God would do is what they would do minus a little self-interest. It's presumed that God is always a friendly, happy-go-lucky God, even if he might have to roast a few who don't see it that way. But rarely is the tough God invoked.

One of my favorite Psalms nowadays is the Psalms 136, which Orthodox usually hear in Saturday Vigil as the Polyeleion. Each of the mighty and great works that God has done for his people are recounted, and after each is the refrain "for his mercy endureth forever". But we rarely look or listen to exactly what's being said. Among the "merciful acts" are the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt, the purging and guiding of the people in the wilderness, the vanquishing of proud kings and the obliteration of Pharaoh's armies in the Red Sea. God absolutely will put you through trials and travails, before he remembers you in your lowest estate. He will humble you, and not answer you, and even stump you when you thought wrongly that you were among the righteous. This is the teaching of Jesus that he came 'to bring not peace, but a sword'. It's not about war, but it's about the tumult that logically follows when some on this earth refuse to serves those who are its masters.

Somehow I don't think the makers of the Bobblehead Jesus are really picking at that sort of Jesus.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

USA team restoring some sanity to international basketball

After dominating the team many felt was the second most talented in the World Basketball championships, Team USA is now into the round of 16 to play currently undefeated Italy.

Many people were disillusioned with USA National basketball after the Olympics. There were calls for massive re-evaluation of the quality of the NBA and popular heckling had hit its zenith. Many who, being fairly illogical, tried the old "don't make excuses for them" line to cut off any sane explanation of why the best basketball nation on earth was falling short. (By the way I really hate that kind of thinking. Not every reason is an excuse - excuses are only when the reason has no validity. Reasons are part of life. Even evolutionary theory leaves room for the strongest species dying out due to poor luck or unfortunate happenstance).

I was not among this group. I did not feel, as did others, that the rest of the world had "overtaken American basketball". Far from it. What the rest of the world had shown was that the US could no longer whip up a team of random potential-all-star rookies and a couple of known ballers who never play together and who's positions don't necessary correlate to any kind of team composition, have them shoot around for a few minutes during warm ups, and then send them out against teams that have practiced together for literally years and have well-developed player roles.

While the Olympics did prove that we could no longer afford to be arrogant, it did not prove, to a neutral observer, that foreign teams as of yet can take the US at its best. If we get drubbed out of the World Championships I'll be more willing to grant that we're no longer dominant. This time we've sent an intentional team with known players (albeit not all necessarily our best players), and they've made a three-year committment like the other nations have, and they have a proven coach (Brown had some high accomlaids, but hadn't proven much in the long term. His last year with the Knicks proves that there were some gaps).

Also, let's get real. Basketball is a five man sport, and as with so many sports, is kind of fickle. On any given day a team with better chemistry and decent players can beat a team with great players who are off a bit or don't compliment each other on the court. With only 5 players on the court, depth is not a factor in the same way it is in, say, soccer. Depth can really help, as this team is demonstrating, but ultimately a really solid group of 5 can grit their teeth and persevere, especially if it's a tourney situation in which losing means going home. There's no reason to hold back.

So I think what would be more telling is to force second and third tier teams to play the tournements - that is, if our goal is to figure out which country has generically "better basketball". My contention is that whereas this USA team will probably win the championships, and almost certainly the next olympics when they've spent some real time together, a third or fourth string US national team against a third or fourth string anyone else's national team would be a skunking. Right now nobody else has much in reserve past what's on their national court. On the other hand, the US has arguably better players not on the team. The leagues leading scorers, Iverson and McGrady, are not on this team. Kobe is out with an injury. Some 20 players were cut for various reasons, all of whom could viably have made the team (it wasn't a cinch going in, and chemistry was a big factor). Point being, it would be an interesting litmus test for the development of a country's skills to say "pick your top 10... ok now you can't have any of them, pick 10 more" and see how those teams would line up again Shaq and T-Mac.

Another factor, and not one to be overlooked, is that the three-point line is shorter. This means that internationals who are used to that line practice it quite often in their leagues. NBA players are constantly practicing from further away. But, now that we've had a team actually practice that distance a bit we're going over 50% from beyond the arc... quite a difference from the Olympic team which was finding the net around 30%.

We shall see. If someone were to defeat this team I would be surprised, although I think the next Olympics will be a better display (since our team would by then have spent comparable time together as the other national teams). Until such happens, I remain unconvinced that world basketball is quite the super force people claimed it to be in the last Olympics.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Blogging the Bible: What Happens When an Ignoramus Reads The Good Book

This is a really neat little idea from a columnist on Slate News. He's an unobservant nominal Jew who has decided that he is going to read the Torah straight through and blog it as he goes. He's untrained and admits that he's doing this more as an experiment in what happens when an average Joe gives it a whirl than to prove any particular point. Yet, I think he does prove a point. He shows what Biblical reading looks like outside of the academy. It's spirited, and more than often funny. He's very forthright about what he reads and how it hits him. It's very private Bible-Study ish, and at times quite humerous.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"I'd Rather Be Roasting Heretics" clothing and apparel line

This is pretty cool. It's merchandise associated with New Oxford Review, a Catholic magazine. It's a merchandise line with a classic female figure with a big lipsticked, motherly smile cooking at her grill with an apron on and the tagline "I'd rather be roasting heretics. Now of course all the psychos would be tripping over themselves to be the first to condemn this one publicly, which makes me love it. Get yours here today.

note: I don't affirm that this is something that should be done, it's just that I take some measure of joy in the politically incorrect machinations and hyperbolic expressions of such groups.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Free Market of Ideas and when the Democracy elects an Enlightened Dictator

Pluralism of thought - religion, cultural preferences, lifestyle preferences, etcetera is a fact of modern life. All of these things are practically as ubiquitous and taxes, and if you take many of our cultural elites' word for it, far more real than death.

In re-reading Jaques Barzun's monstrously long treatise From Dawn to Decadence for the third time, I am once again struck by his scathing observation on the primary result of the Protestant REvolution in the intellectual history of the West. While Barzun is clear that Protestantism in not part destroyed 'religiosity', or even Christianity as a vibrant belief system, he observes that it did serve to destroy "that ancient solace of a single faith, universally agreed upon." After this came to lodge fully in our cultural conscience, pluralism and even universalism was a virtually guaranteed extension.

But what's the big deal? Shouldn't we be happy that the splintering of Christianity has afforded us so many alternatives? Shouldn't we thank these 'prophetic' figures for freeing us from the needed submission to a single, corrupt church?

My critique on this is in three parts, but with one major personal caveat about my own paradoxical involvement in this mixed blessing known as the Free Market of Ideas.

Firstly I believe whole-heartedly with Barzun's criticism that once the singularity of faith was no more that the door was opened for unmitigated preferential belongingness. As we know from capitalism, this consumer-friendly market, even if the goods are ideological rather than tangible, gives preferential treatment to soothing egos and placating popular desire. Religion quickly devolves away from what the learned, however corrupt, say it should be, and towards the Straussian axiom of the religion that is "whatever it needs to be" for people to more easily stomach it in their lives. Why submit to any ecclesiological discipline or censure if you can just move churches? Who cares if you're excommunicated if there's always a broader, more heterodox body that will gladly embrace your membership?

As Barzun contests, Protestantism, and the free market of denominational choices that has sprung from it, has led to religion being seen not as the better or worse attempt to live into an eternal standard that is mutually agreed upon, but rather as being one of the many "preferences" in peoples lives, "similar to their preferences in food". I cannot contradict him. I know of very few who genuinely see their faith as a given to be striven for and not a physical system to be challenged. People view religion as a general good, sort of like nutrition, but the particulars of a faith tradition are downplayed greatly.

Secondly, I question how much the Protestant ethos has really freed us. As Mel Gibson's character in the Patriot asked the Carolina parliament "why would we trade one tyrant a thousand miles away for a thousand tyrants one mile away?" Point taken. Whatever strangehold the papacy or Ecumenical Patriarch has ever exerted on Catholics in foreign lands, I do not believe it could possibly equal the disasterous effects of a corrupt local/congregational leadership that has enforcement powers.

Lastly, the idea didn't work. Protestantism is not, in its Reformational forms, structurally sound. The old Protestant churches did not say that there was no One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. No, they kept that confession in their prayer books. Rather, they simply claimed to be the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, over and against the Roman Catholic Church of the time.

I believe their failure to launch on this position is evident. The premise of scholastically or 'spiritually' interpreted Scriptures as the key to finding out "the truth" of Christian doctrine, then synthesized into a denominational confession, has led to more interpretations, scholastics, spirits, and 'truths' than ever pre-exsited them. The denominations then have a choice. They can claim still to be the one True Church, in which case they're only a far smaller and ridiculously puny Catholicism based on a very select and temporal interpretation of scriptures, or they can give up any claim of singularity for a more 'broad church' appeal. But then their authenticity is brought into question. If you're not more or less right than the thousands of other people, how deep can your theology get? Why would people submit to a rigorous theology that does not claim to be better than the less demanding theologies around it? This choice, in our capitalist market, is self-assured decimation.

I cannot stomach the plurality that is Protestantism. It leads to a public conscience wherein the truth of religion is how well it meets the consumerist needs of its paying members. It multiplies words and ideas, each putting our newer, longer, and more convoluted pamphlets desperately trying to convince you to pay dues to their little branch of truth. There are so many books, takes, interpretations, and worship styles that even the more sympathetic onlooker has to conclude that this form of Christianity has Anarchy latent in its DNA.

Besdies, the Scriptures were supposed to be plain and obvious according to their original letter. That's the foundational presumption of the entire Protestant ethos. Scholarship has now shown, to my mind, that this is a baseline error according to the early Christian writers who first understood those same Scriptures to be holy writings and the common sense of rational people. If they're so easy we wouldn't have 235293590283042 different understandings, point blank. Also, we're finding more and more that this simply isn't the way the ancient writers understood the inspiration of scripture. It was a treasury of images used for well-understood metaphors, not a quarry of words from which a few diamonds of doctrine needs to be extracted and polished by gated professors.

Ultimately Protestantism, to my way of thinking, falls victim to St. Irenaeus' ultimate slam on the so-called Gnosticm heretics: The Gnostics were shown to be absurd and self-contradicting precisely by their multiplicity. Many teachers, each claiming to render teachings leading to Gnosis, or True Knowledge, each had different and competing views. They were localized, culture-specific, and impossibly varied whereas the One catholic Church was the same in all places, and even those who held the faith without the ability to read could understand the teachings of the most cosmopolitan and would reject the teachings of the various Gnostics and being senseless and not in accord with the preaching they received.

But as for my own part. I am, as some of you know, Orthodox. But I was not born into it. Thus, my choice was precisely one made among the Free Market of Ideas. I feel like the Iraqis who would use their newly found democracy to elect a theocrat. It's always been one of those dilemmas of being free - what to do when a free people freely choose to curtail freedom?

But in my own defense, I see my choice of Orthodoxy less in the sense of intellect and more in the realm of hope. I confess certain things because my faith depends on their truthfulness. Unable to ever again submit to the anarchy and ideological choosiness of the Christian world outside of Ortho/Catholic claims, I submit to the small bickerings and theological priorities of a faith I sometimes don't have a completely organic relationship to. I have learned to love the old liturgies, but it was no love at first sight. I will learn to chant and even be sincere in my appreciation for Greek and Russian hymnody, but they will probably never warm the cockles of my heart the way a high Anglican organ can do with Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence or a Scottish bagpipe busting out a rendition of Amazing Grace, or even a large Baptist choir bringing in the Fall season with Come Ye Faithful People. I have come to understand the goods of Confessions and Mariology, but I was certainly not drawn by them, nor am I blind to their excesses. But I submit nontheless. Submission, and not choice, is ultimately how I must proceed. I am comforted that I cannot trust myself, and that I am not the arbiter of all truth. Submission has honed my understandings, and in its own way increased my effectiveness as an individual. I know that I stand in a line of thinkers not totally bound by my own day and time, with all of the pecularities and discomforts that come with that gift. I feel safe that if I am wrong, I am wrong by what was traditioned to me, which I believe that God has sympathy for, and not for the destruction cause by my own hubris.

Perhaps this is the "solace of the ancient faith, universally agreed upon." The peace that passes all understanding.

Public Faith position

I found this in a First Things magazine online. I always appreciate sincere positions of why someone wishes for a certain action to be taken. This one is promoting religious ethical engagement in politics, a position which I am often skeptical towards. Yet, I'm sympathetic to his rationales.

That time of year comes around once more, and John Grondelski, who teaches Christian ethics at Seton Hall University, says we should not take it lying down: “One hears endless calls for ‘tolerance’ and ‘civility.’ But those calls invariably ask Christians to be ‘tolerant’ and ‘civil’ about being gagged in public life. No one seems to ask, in the name of pluralism, that the atheist ‘tolerate’ the crèche. No, the civility is all on one side and the toleration is a sham—in which Christians are complicit so long as they play by the current misconceived rules. So, yes, Virginia (and Rhode Island and Jersey City and Pittsburgh and Scranton) . . . ’tis the season to fight injunctions. Christmas (or Hanukkah or Ramadan) is only truly worth celebrating when Christians (or Jews or Muslims) can proclaim—even on the public square—their unadulterated messages. That is what American religious freedom is about, not about holiday scenes that hide Jesus in his manger behind the jolly snowman Frosty and the red–nosed reindeer Rudolph.”

Friday, August 11, 2006

Petrarch and our Laura's

Among the poets perhaps the best is Petrarch. He almost inspires me to learn Italian. What gets me most as his poems to Laura. Yes, it's lame. Yes he's sort of pathetic in that he probably didn't even talk to the woman, but rather wrote poems about her for two decades, but it doesn't matter. That's the beauty of it. When we find our own Laura's we begin to understand him. I haven't yet pined for twenty years, but I have it in me. The unrequited love... the kind that cannot stand the inevitable 'no', that's the kind that burns the stomach and churns to inner acid.

So far I've had two candidates for 'Laura' status, especially the one several years ago. The untouchable ones who reject all of our advances despite themselves. The chaste suppression of feelings in favor of committments... those are the ones men like me yearn for.

Petrarch, The Canzoniere

You who hear the sound, in scattered rhymes,
of those sighs on which I fed my heart,
in my first vagrant youthfulness,
when I was partly other than I am,

I hope to find pity, and forgiveness,
for all the modes in which I talk and weep,
between vain hope and vain sadness,
in those who understand love through its trials.

Yet I see clearly now I have become
an old tale amongst all these people, so that
it often makes me ashamed of myself;

and shame is the fruit of my vanities,
and remorse, and the clearest knowledge
of how the world's delight is a brief dream.

Letter to Posterity (fragment)

In my younger days I struggled constantly with an overwhelming but pure love affair - my only one, and I would have struggled with it longer had not premature death, bitter but salutary for me, extinguished the cooling flames. I certainly wish I could say that I have always been entirely free from desires of the flesh, but I would be lying if I did.

Carribbean dinner

It's been a very Islander kind of night. After watching the Colonel and General down some Red Stripe on SG-1, and after chatting with Boolos in Hawaii for about an hour, I decided it was a Carribbean sort of night. So, I fixed Carribbean Jerk Chicken, which owned (adding it to the recipie), and bought some Red Stripes for dad and I.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I dream Far Right Wing dreams

Politics politics, my sometimes obsession, my ex-lover, my occasional friend with whom I no longer converse...

Finding where I fall on the political spectrum is a bit like guessing what motif David Bowie will be using on his next CD. Will it be the Androgenous Ziggy Stardust? The depressingly somber 'Low' Bowie? Or will it be the happy tights-wearing Goblin King wanting to bust some peppy 80's beats? Or the Diamond Dog overseeing Big Brother?

There's no question that as I've gotten older I've gotten more conservative. Many might ask why this is. Don't most people naturally liberalize in college? How can I possibly support conservatives in this political climate?

Well let me quash the rumors - I am no Neocon.

In fact, I find the Neocons revolting, inconsistent, war starting, hate mongers... as a general thing. But, moreover, I find them to not really be conservatives in the classical sense.

As my areas of expertise in undergrad were Middle Eastern politics and Political Theory, I have little tolerance for the American tendency towards label-bending. "Conservative" classically refers to those political systems that wish to support large portions of the status quo, or at least support agendas that protect vital institutions of the status quo. Thus, a Conservative in a Communist system is, by definition, a devout Communist, whilst a Conservative in a capitalist system is the same mentality the other way. As a good example, Far right wingers in Netherlands are often profiled as extremely pro-gay, pro-socialist, pro-racially white, anti-immigrationists. Because, those are the status quos... that is the existant society which the political parties labeled Conservative wish to "conserve". Make sense?

Liberalism is a political theory founded on the principles of the inherent goodness of human beings and thus one that leans towards supporting the fewest possible restrictions on individual liberties. By extension, the economic system that inevitably springs from such a mindset is based on free-trade, often in the past based on the gold standard, and generally laissez-faire economics.

In the US our Far Right Wing is some combination of these two principles, as is our Far Left Wing, both of which I find much more internally consistent than either the Democrats or Neocons currently running our two-pronged Tour De Idiocy. One of the most interesting pieces I've read in politics for quite some time is the interview Pat Buchanan did with Ralph Nader some two or three years ago for the American Conservative magazine. It showed two men with radically different views and yet who have a bond in that they are from a civic-minded generation that has not had numerically proportional impact on the political scene of our country (they're both from the 'Silent Generation', that appropriately named group between the GI's and Boomers who never produced a president).

What struck me is how much they agreed with each other. Despite their very different answers, each agreed on the fundamental problems of both parties, and saw the existing two-part hegemony as a flippable coin, with the head and the tail equally unable to claim a good mint.

What also strikes me at these fringes, and what makes them worth reading, is that they propose far-reaching programs and ideals behind which society can rally. They do not bother as much with the temporal agendas. There's something of a meta-narrative underlying Buchananite Classical American Conservatism and Naderite Classical American Populism. Both see the country as more of a society, and less a collection of individuals each making autonomous choices that largely don't affect those around them.

We are, to my mind, far to quick to believe that if something doesn't effect our society, then it doesn't affect our society. Put another way, neither Nader or Buchanan sees what the government does in this or that decision to be autonomously good or bad. Rather, there is a sort of gradual movement of soceity - a slow moving mass of popular sensibility - which is gradually pushed this way or that by each decision we make. For instance, increasing tax burdens might not seem to be an anti-family issue, but Buchanan and company give us pause - don't be so sure they're not related. Gay marriage might not seem to be the lynchpin of successful heterosexual families, but is there a link?

I'm not asking for answers, but we should allow these voices to speak. We've got to hear them out because honestly these people are thinking clearly. You might not agree with them, and indeed you can't agree with both of them, but you've got to say that they ask the hard question. They truly are a fair and balanced report of both ruling parties since their relationships are doubly ambivalent.

An excellent instance of the use of these semi-fringe-ideologies is the issue of what's happening in the Middle EAst. The Neocons want 9 simultaneous wars and a septupling of our military budget (fought of course by poor people). An increase in tariffs in Guatemala is more than liscence for national regime change. Liberals want peace at all cost and cannot stomach any amount of interventionist American violence... but if Israel wants to beat the piss and feces out of the Lebanese, they sort of wink and nudge... Israel needs to "defend itself".

But the Buchanans and Nader's of the world see it differently. They question the roots of the problem. Perhaps we should rethink interventionist policies period? Perhaps we should radically revisit the issue of general Arab hostility by reviewing our relationship with Israel? Perhaps a look at our policies for the first 100 years of this country should give us an idea what the framers meant by things like "Separation of Church and State"... and of course we should also review the legality and feasibility of income taxes.

Of the two, I'm even more inclined to support the Classic Conservatives. Of course, they're really more rightish-reactionaries at this point; the system they wish to 'conserve' has been dying for half a century and functionally dead for at least four decades. Nevertheless, I think if I were going to give in to certain right-wing tendencies I would just skip the niceties of 'compassionate conservatism' and its logical conclusion of Neoconism, and just go neo-Fascist. A strong but small government with few laws, but one where the laws which do exist are rigorously enforced.

Buchana/Taki magazine The American Conservative:

Response about going to a Madonna concert

This interesting little piece about a Busted Halo's writer going to a Madonna concert was kind of interesting. This author and I communicate on occasion via email, and I felt like responding to this one. It's posted on the busted halo site with a few other responses. It's interesting, because upon re-reading it, I notice that I'm vacillating more than I usually do when sounding of on this or that issue.

Dr. Whelan's description of Madonna's slide show and profane imagery of the last two Pope's is pretty disgusting. She's also right that the 20,000 or so, who would not have otherwise thought it was cool, were more than happy to respond with applause at her representing the Pope and Church as evil dictators in line with Hitler and Pol Pot when in group-think mode.

For those not in the know BustedHalo is a catholic website dedicated to 20 and 30 somethings of a Catholic persuasion. As an Orthodox I find a little more similarity with them than with many others. Also it should be noted that the website has a strong Northeastern slant to its Catholicism, which cannot always be equated with Catholicism everywhere in the country. Anyhow, here's my response to the question "should I go to confession?".


A Balance Between “In” and “Of” the World

Confession must be done if you are convinced that you have sinned. But, as you said, you feel "ambivalent," so it's not real proper to confess something before God that you're not really sure is negative. Plus, the statement that you would gladly buy the next CD and aren't really sorry about going doesn't exactly smack of "repentance".

As for whether or not Christians should mingle in this sort of thing at all (buying CD's, attending concerts, etc)...

The microscope you use affects the results as much as the specimen on the slide. How you internalize that experience will ultimately, for you, be the ending point of its morality or immorality. I'm convinced that Christians can't hide from culture, and the more we shield other Christians from the culture by censorship and condemnation, the more we make those unpleasant aspects a forbidden fruit rather than something the Christian sees for what it is and can process effectively. You alluded to this when you said that by this stage in your life you could see Madonna's antics for what they were "and not much else".

It's always a dangerous slope between "in" and "of" the world, and sometimes we fall, but we can't be part of the redemption of the world if we don't at least witness the vices of our culture before passing summary judgment. I think we should perhaps get into the habit of taking parts of culture more seriously in general. Like you were saying about how Madonna's music was "wallpaper" for your life, many feel that way about even the chauvinistic rap or sexually explicit nonsense. But I think that's not good enough.

If we listen to crap and read crap and watch crap over and over and constantly blow it off, then we become the type of people who have accepted cultural attacks on our faith. At what point have we sold out? At what point have we lost our right to call ourselves "resident aliens" or to say that we are God's people whose true citizenship is in heaven, no matter where we live in this world?

-Ray Fulmer

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Red Muscadyne Wine

It's a great day to be an Arkie. Cajun food on the stove, the smell of boiled crawfish and gumbo filling your nose, french bread baguette from the local bakery made fresh, picked up after church with hot dipping oil, biscuits and gravy with the option of buttering a couple biscuits with some Mayhaw (a sweet, light-pink swamp berry) jelly, and of course semi-sweet, chilled Red Muscadyne Wine from a local winery in the fridge and on the table, to be drunk all day. It's 106 and humid, no reason to go out except to swim. So, biscuits and gravy with one biscuit set aside for Mayhaw, then wine, then swim, French bread, then wine, then swim, the wine, then swim, then dinner with some more wine, then swim, some French bread with Brie all year long, then some wine... then bed.

I've lost 17 lbs the past month with strict diet and excercise. But every week you're supposed to take one day off to spluge on your favorite and remind youself of the need for more discipline. It's a lifestyle diet, and I'm loving it. But once a week, with no place to go, a little God in the soul, a full day of free time, and some local Red Muscadyne Wine. It's so sweet. :)


my sister is wearing a nice, clean-smelling perfume called Pacific. Yeah sure, it's good. But it's not as good as my new-found cologne. I've named it Aqua. You can't buy it in retail stores. What you have to do instead is to is work out for two straight days (two and a half is optional as well, and perhaps more accurate), but swim both days for several hours. Now the trick is, don't bathe. You swim instead. Then you will have the refined, sophisticated, Italian-cool smell known only as Aqua, by Roland. (note: If I'm to be a designer brand, it's not enough to say my first name. Rather, you must say it like it is said in German, the language of origin for the family name, with an "umlout" - two dots on the top of the 'o', which lengthents its sound -so it's "Aqua, by Roolan'td").


Once every few years you find something that...well... makes sense but depresses you about someone very close. Usually it involves a person you've always held in high esteem, but who does something that makes you second guess yourself. Then you think hmmm... then again... if I was in their position, the action would makes sense. I see how they got there, in spite of their high morality and general goodness.

Then you consider the secondary symptoms: recent personality changes, withdrawl from previous committment and relationships, a sense of distance and disconnectedness in their private life that is not echoed in the public or business life - an indulgence in things they would not condone publicly.

We all have frustrations, and eventually we will most likely indulge those frustrations. We can only resist so long, and it can only be healthy up to a certain point. Fighting the good fight cannot be all consuming. Eventually, without reinforcements, the Alamo will fall.

What they do goes against all they stand for and all that they are. You'd gladly have accepted a sermon from them the day before, but not now... not ever again. The right to preach has been lost, but your love and understanding have not wained. In fact, it puts you closer to your own debased actions. You realize that you're not alone in hypocrisy. This is why we're commanded to obey those who who sit on the seat of Moses, but not to do as they do. Jesus never changes the standards, but he does tell us to adhere to words of wisdom, even if God choses a messenger that does not incarnate that same wisdom in their daily life.

i'm convinced now that the strongest of us will fall. Our pride will be destroyed.

I've never come to terms with the part of the Christian faith which reserves judgement for God. I want people to pay for their actions, or to be rewarded for them, and if I'm the messenger of that justice then all the better.

But no, I cannot be the messenger. If all were right, then I would be annihilated by the very justice I would wish to represent. i'm among the most evil people in thought. So far grace has kept me from acting on what I would do. There's a kind of sickness in my head. A demonic fact of life and a seige set by the devil on my better half. It's not that I've got the normal dark wants, it's a passing from lesser forms of filth into true corruption, into the darkness of unapologetic evil which is easy to label for what it is. On occasion it seems that the only thing that staves off the latter is the former; a drink keeps me from being an alchoholic and the sheesha belies the desire to grab an addictive box of smokes.

I have no inherent good or quality other than that which was given to me. And yet I love virtue. I live for those who reach for more. I know that I stand for everything that betrays my truest nature, but it could not be otherwise. I have to fight the monster lest I become it, no matter what the poets might think. For some of us there can be no moderation, but paradoxically there must be some leeway. A mild degree of calculated insanity keeps me level; makes me impossible to scandalize. It's my sharp glass of scotch that does not dull the mind. We all have a release, mine is to assuage possible guilt, and to capitulate, but to a lesser degree, to those thoughts that can never materialize. I am as I was created, and the creator has taken that into account.