Monday, April 29, 2013

Don't Know Whether to Laugh or Cry

A friend, who happens to be ordained, and had an emergency visit to the dentist during Holy Week, sent the following:

I spent Maundy Thursday through Easter Sunday feverish, miserable, and mad about not being listened to. I kept thinking I would get up and dressed and go to church, but it didn't happen. About 3 or 4 on Easter morning, I gave up the idea of trying, and instead read St John Chrysostom's Easter sermon, and then listened to a couple different versions of the Exultet on YouTube.  
It turned out to be just what I needed. Moreover, I was spared the indignities of the service at church, where the interim decided to make Easter "fun" by changing the service into a stand up comedy routine starring himself. Part of the sermon was a decription of how Mary Magdalen must have reacted to reacted to seeing a walking breathing Jesus when she'd gone to anoint his corpse:  by saying "JESUS CHRIST!"  He said this not as Rabboni, but as an obscenity. 
Then, when it came time to celebrate the Eucharist, he pulled put a bottle of champagne and uncorked it with a flourish (hitting a choir member in the head, which necessitated another joke), because "it's a party, folks."  Have you ever heard of such insanity?  Such ego, to have to make himself the center of the Eucharist. Such arrogance, to have to curse like a teenager when he could have illuminated the first encounter with the risen Lord!  
When I heard about his shenanigans,  I was so grateful for my YouTube Easter, and for the understanding of the contemplative Eucharist ... But it makes me fear for the future.... Interim priests [have become] a cottage industry that has gotten way out of control here.  Parishes end up spending two or three years in "the process" of all these artificial tasks of self study, and visiting and interviewing. And most of the time, the person they call ends up being an unintentional interim anyhow. 
It's a crock.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Please Write to Fight Genocide in America

My dear Readers,
A long-time friend of mine, the Rev'd Margaret Watson, has left a wealthy urban parish in Virginia to serve the poorest of the poor on the Cheyenne River reservation in South Dakota. She writes the blog I mentioned earlier, which can be found at—surely one of the most powerful and compassionate ongoing accounts of the slow, agonizing genocide being visited on the Lakota that has ever been written. Yet it is also luminous with grace. Read it and be blessed.
The Lakota have been particularly hard hit by the Sequestration cuts. Whoever you are, wherever you are, please write to a senator or two or, best of all, to all of them, as I will, and forward Margaret's letter, which I will post below. The list of senators can be found at That such conditions exist in a supposedly civilised country is a nightmare beyond belief—and they are conditions of the government's own making and perpetuation, which have visited death on The People for more than a hundred and fifty years.
Forget what you read about wealthy Indian casinos: this is the reality.
May you be richly blessed, as I have been blessed, by you, this blogging community, and by the blessings, enrichment and wisdom our culture has been given by indigenous peoples everywhere.


My name is Margaret. I am the Episcopal priest serving the Cheyenne River Reservation. It is a difficult job, at best, but I have never felt more fully alive than when serving the good people of South Dakota.
Here is my concern: The "Sequester" cuts have cut to the bone here on the Reservation. Our Social Services workers will be working without a direct office supervisor, and will be expected to absorb the work load of their supervisor when she is laid off beginning May 1. They already each have over 150 clients. I have heard one serves more than 260 clients --adding more is going to make a difficult job impossible.
But more importantly, the clients themselves have been cut off --they have received no monies since the beginning of March. They are coming to my door asking for heating fuel, food, clothes, diapers. Children are at risk. There are no Tribal programs that can assist these folks, they are mostly disabled, elderly with grandchildren in the home, or are desperate for work. Last night, after a funeral, I delivered left over food to people's homes. Funeral food to a family of six of baloney sandwiches, biscuits, two apples, two oranges and some chocolate cake.
I cannot afford to feed all the people who come to my door asking for help. I have emptied my own freezer, my own cupboard in order to help these desperate folks.
I would like to invite you and any one else who is interested to come and stay here for ten days. Just ten days. I would like you to open my door and hear the stories, see the faces, see the desperation and despair. I would like you to feed the people from my freezer --and when it is empty explain to them why it is they have to go hungry and cold.
I would like you to attend the funeral I would probably do sometime in that 10 days and see the faithfulness, the generosity, the generational grief. I would like you to come with me on home visits and see the extreme poverty out of which that faithfulness and generosity and grief springs.
In the last six months, I have done 40 funerals --six infants, two teen suicides, and many, many folks under the age 40.
And food, shelter and heat are not the only problems here --the Indian Health Services were also part of the Sequester cuts. And the cuts are affecting the Head Start programs.
Have you all become so twisted up in your political lives that you have forgotten the people you have been called to serve?
I think so.
Look, it's really easy --have no cap on Social Security payments --everyone pays, all the way up. Including you. Don't make me pay 25% and more on taxes while the ultra-rich pay 15%. Don't give yourself healthcare benefits and raises and then deny them to others.
Don't punish the children and the elderly and the poor and the disabled by cutting the programs that at least keep them alive at poverty levels. 
Oh, and by the way, don't sacrifice the environment for monetary gain --that will kill us all.
I'll say it again: Don't exempt yourselves from the burden the poor must bear every day.
I can only say I am shocked and depressed by my own government. Do better than this. The people you are supposed to serve deserve better.
Shocked and depressed,
The Rev. Margaret Watson

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Diagram Development from Al Mozol

[I was thrilled to see this further development by Al Mozol of his diagram posted on Wednesday April 10, 2013. I am still taking this new analysis on board. Thank you, Al.]

Understanding faith through the lens of Rossian epistemephasis

-      'two epistemologies' connote a binary, an intellectual fissure, a neat bifurcation in the brain, even a hierarchy of thinking

-      'two epistemologies' connote the primacy of logos over non-logos/the unsayable/ruach

-      epistemephasis: dynamic co-existence of the hemispheres of the brain; dynamic, transfiguring interplay between logophasis and apophasis; cycle of gestation and birthing of sapiential knowledge/theology; marriage of knowledge and wisdom; resurrection of the mind; creative (as in the priestly creation account in Genesis) coinherence of silence and speech; contemplative stance/presence in the world

-      retention of the root word “episteme” has both incarnational/immanent undertow as it points to the potential of human “knowing” mediated by the human brain, but also transcendental in the sense that such human knowing is anchored on the phasis of “knowledge of reality” through contemplative liturgy, silence, prayer, or the body in active listening to the abyss of unknowing; it is dependent on pneumatic strokes or movement for its authenticity in the world of many knowledges

-      epistemephasis as critique and corrective to modernist rational foundationalism and postmodernist anti-foundationalism; a philosophical corrective to the traditional dominance of epistemology much as Panikkar's Christophany is to the cymbal-noise of Christologies

-      epistemephasis as foundation of theology currently either gasping for breath, or swimming fashionably in the deconstructive foundational doubt/distrust of Derridean epistemologies; or for theology (and its ramifications like ecclesiastical hierarchy or rituals) seemingly choked by its own stringent cordon sanitaire of self-promotional, self-preservational, or even dialectical hermeneutic (ex. over-rated Marx/Gramsci-inspired liberation theology/ feminism that give primacy to the hermeneutic and referentiality of redemption/personal and structural sin/cross/Exodus/Pesach over structural and pedagogical beauty of creation//priesthood of creation/Temple vision of paradise through its liturgical enactment/ resurrection/silence/beholding)

-      epistemephasis as foundation of reason and faith; of speech and silence 

-      where there is no epistemephasis, or lack of habit thereof, there is only epistemology or epistemologies and its many versions of disembodied (armchair, absolutist), wounding dualisms, mechanisms of ideational and rational control and moral or even technological elitism; the verbosity, overconfidence and utilitarianism of the human logos/rationality/discourse ironically siring foundational distrust on any human transaction as if human authenticity is but an illusion

-      the goal and context of epistemephasis is theosis/transfiguration into the self-outpouring, non-grasping, and infinitely open, cosmic “mind of Christ”

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Human Tragedy

"I simply can't believe it's the same person!"
"Why did he do it? What possible motivation could he have had?"
How many times have we heard these sentences during the pursuit of the Tsarnaev brothers and beyond? Remarks such as these reveal a mentality that is out of touch with knowledge of what it means to be a human being and blind to our cultural matrix: we should never forget that each of us is capable of anything, given sufficient context and provocation.
Next, the amount of repression, schmoozing and masking required to live successfully in a culture such as ours that is based on competitive materialism, appearances, and spin, as opposed to authenticity and integrity, can arouse unbearable conflicts, in sensitive, intelligent, impressionable people, especially those who come from life-threatening situations in which everyone's life is on the line. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev seems to have been such a person.
And though she came from a very different background to the Tsarnaevs, these conflicts also arose in my classmate, Diana Oughton, who, as a member of the Weather Underground, blew up a house on West 11th Street in New York City while she was making bombs to kill and maim servicemen and women at a dance in New Jersey. Some  people who knew her at that time say she set it off deliberately.
Das was the daughter of a wealthy banker, privately educated. She had a stable midwestern childhood and, from a material point of view, everything a young girl could desire. She was attractive, popular, and intelligent. She was physically graceful and accomplished, a leading member of the modern dance club at Madeira School. She was accepted by all seven of the Ivy League Seven Sisters when she applied for college. She obtained a degree from Bryn Mawr.
She then began to work with poor children in the USA and in Guatemala. Their plight cut her to the quick. She was horrified by poverty and squalor, by the indifference and corruption of governments and individuals. She became increasingly torn: she hated the impact of affluence on society, but she equally despised Marxism. From all accounts she felt increasingly alien from everyone, personally and culturally, including herself. She fragmented every political pressure groups she belonged to, including the Weathermen, becoming ever more radical. One friend who saw her in the days before the bomb shredded her body said that she and her friends seemed disoriented, incapable of making rational decisions. One might say her terrorism arose from her having been terrorised by the state of the world.
Remember the Unabomber? He was perhaps another person of this stripe. A lot of people agreed with much of what was in his manifesto, though they completely rejected his violent tactics. And reaching back a little further into history, whoever would have thought that the mild-mannered pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, would become part of a group that attempted to murder Hitler?
It doesn't take a mentor, or a conspiracy, or an organisation to make a terrorist: it takes a culture of extremity, whether that culture expresses its extremity as the idolatry of materialism, religious fanaticism or genocide. Every time an event such as the Boston marathon bombing takes place, we need to look hard at the stresses our own culture puts on people, far more than we need to look outside and beyond our selves and our international borders in a paranoid search for aliens conspiring against us.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Grief and Frustration

Violence of any sort is bad enough, but home-grown violence is exponentially worse. The sense of violated trust, of betrayal, raises the spectre of paranoia which is hard to ignore, but which must be fought at every turn.
The various horrors that daily smear the newspapers' front pages these days seem mostly to be of this home-grown variety: bombs at the Boston marathon; the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan; Syria's civil war; creepy North Korea. And Margaret Thatcher: even in death she continues to do violence to this country and beyond. Even in death, along with her best buddy Ronald Reagan, she continues to arouse feelings of violence in otherwise peaceful people, as does her diabolical heir, David Cameron. Violence breeds violence: I am not the first nor the only person who feels the urge to slap his smooth, cruel baby face.
But Thatcher was and is in a class by herself. Gerald Scarfe captured her true nature:

[click on the image to enlarge it]

Her funeral today can be called nothing less than bizarre. To spend ten million pounds to honour a woman who made selfishness and greed acceptable, thus destroying the sense of community and rightness that once characterized what it meant to be British, a tactic which led directly to the current banking and economic crisis, is simply unacceptable, especially during the week when the government is implementing the slashing of benefits for those who need them most. She was a blatant racist; she despised anyone not as ruthless, bloodthirsty and pig-headed as herself. 
To honor such a person at a time when more and more people are losing their homes, when they are having difficulty merely surviving, seems nothing less than sadistic. Good for Glenda Jackson for having the guts to stand up in the Commons and say what many of us are thinking, facing down her colleagues who continued to drone their obsequious rewriting of one of the worst eras of social history in the UK.
I'm writing this post at three in the morning because something deep inside me is crying out at the cumulative horror of all this violence, including my own. Early yesterday afternoon I watched online the controversial BBC undercover film about North Korea that has caused such a ruckus. I didn't watch it the night it was broadcast because I knew it would be deeply disturbing and my sleep problems hardly need exacerbating. But obviously, since I am sitting here, this precaution didn't make any difference: I might as well have watched it on the night. Normally I avoid watching the news—any news—because it is too depressing, but this report seemed mandatory.
The controversy surrounding this programme, which was filmed under the cover of an organised tour from the London School of Economics, is also revelatory of Thatcher's legacy. It is incredible to someone like me, who was at university at the height of the civil rights and anti-war movements in the US, that the whinging LSE students seem primarily worried about the effect on their careers which providing that cover might have. By contrast, I have read or heard nothing from them of the horrors they observed in a country that is one huge concentration camp, where hundreds of thousands of people are starving to death while the fat cats slurp cream in Pyongyang and compel robotic marches and displays from tens of thousands of wraith-thin troops and performers. Kim Jong Un's gross face arouses in me the same urge as David Cameron's.
At the risk of sounding old, my classmates and I would have jumped at the chance to provide such cover for the BBC.
Other universities, in a show of ingenuous hypocrisy, add their complaints about 'losing credibility'—as if using education as a cover to gather information, a tactic as old as human beings, were a shocking novelty. What has happened to students that they are no longer passionate for justice and setting the world to rights?
This post may be as inchoate as the emotional nausea in the pit of my stomach, but I make no apologies. When are we going to WAKE UP?!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


[A long-time reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, has made this diagram of topics in this blog. Many thanks to him. He claims it is only what I have written but it is far more: a subtle interpretation that moves the work forward. Click on the diagram to enlarge it.]

Friday, April 05, 2013

'I said, "You are gods!"'

'. . .the tiny flock . . . the muddy, imperfect, tone-deaf, literary simpletons . . . many many different people with a whole range of hopes, needs, hurts and fears . . .' [phrases from recent comments on this blog]

What really upsets me about the approach summarized by the above statements—that 'we do the best we can with the hurt, flawed, etc. people'—is that it is such a snivelling, pinched, patronising view of the human person and the work of Christ. It is degrading it is most certainly not Christian anthropology at all! 

Rather, we should revere one another as Christ-bearers, as people capable of divinisation, who bear within themselves the divine nature, and encourage one another to behave accordingly. This is what we should be striving for as Christians, and if so, the rest follows! This is not to say that hurt and suffering go away, but they are no longer able to de-stabilise us. It doesn't happen overnight, but we can truthfully hold out this hope: the work of silence makes us self-forgetful, kenotic, instead of solipsistic.

What we realise in opening to the deep mind is our shared nature with God (John 14-17): divinity, theosis. Liturgies such as the Easter Vigil, done late at night and without any instruction are profound teachers of silence. The most fundamental resonances are there, which is why I find it absolutely shocking that in a place like Devon, which is so numinous, almost no one does it. Cyril of Jerusalem meant for his mystagogical catecheses to be taught after the rites—this was the wisdom of his old age. He understood as so many patristic writers did, that good liturgy is the best teacher.

Theosis is not just a New Testament idea; "I said, 'ye are gods'"; 'he has made you a little lower than the angels'; to quote just two verses from the Psalms.

As noted earlier in this blog (and as Peter Brown in The Rise of Western Christendom and Brock and Parker in Saving Paradise note), for the first thousand years, Christians understood that the veil between heaven and earth was lifted, that the new creation was present in the silence of their minds, in their liturgies that appealed to all the senses, in their programmes of social welfare, their beautiful churches which depicted people as noble, upright, beautiful, confident (parreshia) to approach God, life, and each other, celebrating the luminosity of the creation—not as fearful, hurting, bewildered, benighted downtrodden solipsists clutching closely the comfie blankie of folksy tunes, Taizé chants and stasis.

In The Farthest Shore, Ursula le Guin paints a devastating picture of our society obsessed with its short-sighted materialism and fear of death:

'...when we crave power over life—endless wealth, unassailable safety,  immortality—then desire becomes greed. And if knowledge allies itself to that greed, then comes evil. Then the balance of the world is swayed, and ruin ways heavy in the scale . . .'

'. . . to refuse death is to refuse life . . . For only that is ours which we are willing to lose. That selfhood, our torment and glory, our humanity, does not endure. It changes and it goes, a wave on the sea. Would you have the sea grow still and the tides cease to save one one wave, to save yourself? Would you give up the craft of your hands, and the passion of your heart, and the hunger of your mind, to buy safety?'

Stasis is idolatry, and if we are to call our selves Christian, then we must let our selves go to grow and change, out of our sight as we do the work of silence and realise our spiritual maturity, and our divinity.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


I will have no internet access until Saturday, April 6. Next post will appear shortly after my return.