Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ten Fascinating Artists of the Twenty-First Century

The approaching New Year has had me thinking about the artistic accomplishments of our century (and, indeed, millennium) to date, and I think we deserve due credit for having brought Jersey Shore and Rock of Love: Charm School into existence. Of course, for one of my tastes, "due credit" here would mean something along the lines of the reviews Sodom and Gomorrah got from Heaven, but perhaps the Lord is not so just as He once was.

Anyway, for those who care, here are my top ten most interesting artists of every sort from this century so far. This is most interesting, not necessarily best; I do in fact greatly like all the people I've listed here, but I've also left out a number of contemporary artists, such as Joss Whedon, whom I think talented and even brilliant, but who don't engage me as extensively or on as many levels as the following artists do. (For the musicians, I've tried to credit all the major band members I could find, but I couldn't find everyone, and even listing everyone I did find would be prohibitively long -- so, sorry to those who got shorted.) I've included a "See also" list for other artists that I find interesting for some of the same reasons, though they aren't necessarily that stylistically similar to the entry listed.

1. Sufjan Stevens

For I could not have shaken the touch of your breath on my arm
For it has stayed in me as an epithet
I am sorry the worst has arrived
For I'm on the floor in the room where we made it our last touch of the night
-- "I Walked," The Age of Adz

Art: Music
Style: Cryptic, genre-defying, romantic, mystical
Notable work: Seven Swans, Illinoise, Silver and Gold, The Age of Adz
Why he fascinates me: My first exposure to Sufjan Stevens was in the early years of college, via the album Illinoise, and it was a mind-altering experience. The range and inventiveness of Sufjan Stevens' work was like nothing I'd heard before. He shifts effortlessly between subdued folk stylings, baroque electronica, blendings of high orchestra with experimental rock, playing by no rules except the ones that dictate the interior logic of the work. Some musicians go through fewer musical ideas in a career than he can span in a single album -- and he's phenomenally prolific, having released eleven albums (some of them quite lengthy) since his 2000 debut A Sun Came. His lyrics are something else: I've rarely heard such poetry in popular music outside of Leonard Cohen. His religious pieces mix freely and naturally with the rest of his work, much of which is about the good and bad aspects of family, or found and lost love; and none of it is constricted by the saccharine, conventional tactics of much pop music and most Christian music. It's a crime he and his band haven't won a Grammy.
Recommended sample: "Casimir Pulaski Day" and "Get Real Get Right." The two songs, taken together, give you a fairly broad sampling of his style: the one is from Illinoise, one of the earlier albums, and is more or less pure folk; the other, from his recent album The Age of Adz, and exhibits his frequently weird and sci-fi-like lyrics, together with his willingness to combine classical and electronic elements.

2. David Wong

"I'm not crazy," I said, crazily, to my court-appointed therapist.
-- This Book Is Full of Spiders

Art: Literature
Style: Morbid, unreliable-narrator-ridden, full of pop- and net-culture riffs, intricately plotted
Notable work: John Dies At the End, This Book Is Full of Spiders
Why he fascinates me: David Wong (real name Jason Pargin) is a cunning author. The influence of movies and video games on his work is clear, but these are not cut-and-paste jobs like the meme-quilts one sometimes finds passed off as humor. His plots, and the philosophical problems (notably of identity, free will, epistemology, and social dynamics) that they explore or suggest, are powerfully constructed, while at the same time being veiled behind a layer of apparent shallow and irreverent douchebaggery. The dark, insane humor of the books and their easy prose make them extremely readable, and the universe Wong has constructed is mechanically fascinating, while sucking the reader by degrees into profound ethical analysis. Though by no means a manifestly religious writer, the books do turn upon some profoundly important questions and motifs characteristic of Christianity, Spiders particularly.
Recommended sample: John Dies At the End. There is a (grossly truncated, but still pretty good) film version, available on Netflix (or it was the last time I checked), summoned into existence by Don Coscarelli, creator of the cult classic Phantasm series and Bubba Ho-Tep, and featuring Paul Giamatti. The nice thing about the film is that it keeps the second-biggest twist of the book's plot, while leaving out the first, so that if you choose to whet your appetite for the book with the movie (as I did) you can still come to the book fresh.

3. Welcome to Night Vale (Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor)

A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful,
and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.
-- "Pilot," Welcome to Night Vale (Episode 1)

Art: Radio (podcast)
Style: Lovecraftian, darkly humorous, absurd
Notable work: Every gorram episode; but, among the earlier episodes, 6, 10, and 19 are some favorites of mine
Why they fascinate me: This is the podcast that made me willing to be interested in podcasts, which I had hitherto ignored utterly. The show is basically NPR for a town where all of the X-Files are true, and in fact common knowledge -- at least, that's how it starts; as it proceeds, it gathers a plot and a collection of genuinely compelling, complex, sympathetic character arcs to itself, and makes a number of surprising moves. Like the previous entry, it is largely black comedy; like the next, and to some extent like Lewis Carroll, it plays a great number of delightful word games; but the feel of the place is all its own, and I've never met its equal. It makes a wonderful use of the limitations of its sound-only medium, creating characters and achieving imaginative effects that could only be depicted with great difficulty and expense via CGI, or in some cases (such as the character of the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home) couldn't be produced at all. The podcast itself can be found at Commonplace Books, along with a number of other cool things that are really hot.
Recommended sample: This YouTube clip of the first half of "The Drawbridge," Episode 6. This contains some nice Night Vale fan art, of which there is a great deal, and also happens to have French subtitles.

4. Randall Munroe

And the whole setup is just a trap to capture escaping logicians. None of the doors actually lead out.
-- Labyrinth Puzzle (xkcd 246)

Art: Webcomics (artist and writer)
Style: Visually sparing (for the most part) but remarkably expansive at times; verbally quick, ironical, and lighthearted
Notable work: xkcd, What If?
Why he fascinates me: There seems to be a curiously large number of physicists-turned-comics-artists (Bill Amend, the author of Foxtrot, is another), but Randall Munroe is far and away my favorite. The simple appearance of his art and even of many of his jokes belies a magnificent wit and creativity. Though a lot of his material is written for fellow math and science nerds, even most of that is comprehensible to a layman like myself, and a lot of his humor is pure, delightful silliness, word games, or appeals to universal human experience.
Recommended sample: Ah, don't make me choose! But this, this, this, and this are a very few of my favorite strips.
See also: Jeph Jacques (Questionable Content)

5. mewithoutYou (Aaron Weiss and others -- highly mutable membership)

Like an anchor-ever-dropped, seasick-yet-still docked
Captain spotted napping with his first mate at the wheel
Floating forgetfully along, there's no need to be strong
We keep our confessions long and when we pray we keep it short
-- "Messes of Men," Brother Sister

Art: Music
Style: Raw, dissonant, heavily textured, symbolic, God-haunted
Notable work: Ten Stories, Brother Sister
Why they fascinate me: I was raised, not exclusively, but very largely on Christian music, and an awful lot of it sucked. mewithoutYou don't consider themselves a Christian band per se (Weiss' parents, a Jew and a former Episcopalian, became Sufi Moslems when they married, it seems, so I have no idea what he or the other past and present bandmates consider themselves), but they deal with a lot of spiritual themes, most if not all of which are familiar and hospitable enough to a Christian; and, rarity of rarities, they do so with a deep, painful honesty and anguish that most professedly Christian artists are, to be blunt, too squeamish to employ. The fact that they're able to make their music, which is extremely avant-garde, sound good, is an accomplishment in itself -- it's one of those things that is easy to do at all but hard to do well, like free verse, and I find their mastery (particularly the diversity of the instruments they use) compelling. In addition to being profound, I find their lyrics unusually communicative despite their cryptic, allusive nature. I think and hope that mewithoutYou, along with Sufjan Stevens above, represent a new trend in Christian and Christian-influenced art, of simple artistic honesty and of viewing all human experience -- nice or not -- as proper material for the artist.
Recommended sample: "Fox's Dream of the Log Flume" from Ten Stories. The striking confluence of themes, the weird lyrics, and the unpolished, avant-garde sound are all highly characteristic.

6. Stephan Lacant

[After being punched by homophobic colleague] Is that the best you can do? Pussy!

Art: Film (director, writer)
Style: Meditative, with powerful moments of graphicness and/or brutality
Notable work: Freier Fall (English title "Free Fall")
Why he fascinates me: I ran across this film on Netflix, and was extremely impressed by it. So far as I can tell, this is Lacant's first professionally produced film; it's sort of a German response to Brokeback Mountain (response, not rip-off). The initiation of the story isn't quite as strong as it could be, but the rest is, in my judgment, perfect. The development of each of the central characters is perfect at every step, working out flaws to their logical conclusions in a manner reminiscent of Aristotle's advice in the Poetics. Lacant makes an excellent use of silence, something a lot of filmmakers, especially in America, seem to be rather afraid of (remember how Cast Away stood so alone in that way?); and, though there are rewarding moments and heartbreaking ones, the film never once slides into mere sentimental showmanship. I'm excited to see what else Lacant does, and I hope we don't have to wait too long.
Recommended sample: Freier Fall. Last time I checked, it was still available on Netflix instant, and is subtitled, not dubbed, thankfully. (Warning, it's a bit graphic -- there are a few, short scenes that pretty much amount to soft porn.)
See also: Weekend (film, dir. Andrew Haigh), In the Name Of (film, Polish title W Imie, dir. Malgorzata Szumowska)

7. Pendleton Ward

"If you want the Hero's Enchiridion, slay this unaligned ant!"
-- "The Enchiridion!," Adventure Time (Season One, Episode 5)

Art: Film (writer, animator)
Style: Innocent, mercurial, re-inventive
Notable work: Adventure Time
Why he fascinates me: Pendleton Ward is a good representative of a new trend in popular art, which was arguably started by the Homestar Runner website, of renewed innocence. Innocence is not generally spoken of as a good quality in art -- it tends to be equated with naivete, and relegated to children's books and cartoons, and it's certainly true that Adventure Time (and the other examples I've given below) are suitable for children. But the wit and creativity of these pieces far outstrips anything that most young children would notice or care about, and there are elements of each that are clearly designed for the pleasure of adults. This trend seems to me to represent a deeply healthy, and perhaps unconscious, assertion that innocence and maturity can be combined, as opposed to the cynical view that maturity and corruption tend to correlate. But, in addition to that, Adventure Time is just a great show: delightfully animated, funny, energetic, and imaginative.
Recommended sample: "Trouble In Lumpy Space," the second episode of the first season. This extensively features Lumpy Space Princess, one of my favorite supporting characters in this, or indeed any, series, who is voiced by Ward himself.
See also: Lauren Faust (My Little Pony reboot), Hayao Miyazaki, The Brothers Chaps (Homestar Runner)

8. Haint Blue (Mike Cohn, Dave Sheir, Mike Wolfe, Abby Becker, Nellie Sorenson, Ian Finch, Alex White)

As it was in the beginning, so shall we all turn to dust
But first I'm gonna kill you, son
-- "Father Abraham," Company of Ghosts

Art: Music
Style: Reinvented folk, with anticorportaist and sacrilegious themes
Notable work: Company of Ghosts
Why they fascinate me: I have written about Haint Blue before, quite recently in fact (and it so happens that they're playing here in Baltimore on the 2nd at the Ottobar). In addition to their great musical talent, Mike Cohn's lyrics are compelling in their explicit dealings with both the rejection of childhood religion and the inevitable familial consequences of that rejection, among other themes. There's something in it that reminds me of Flannery O'Connor, actually, though obviously not sharing her final conclusion: something of the same pungency and spiritual shock. In their own, very different, way, they're quite as profound as Sufjan Stevens or mewithoutYou on the other "side," and they're a talented bunch.
Recommended sample: "Father Abraham." The song "Untitled" at the beginning of the album is another stunner.

9. Lady Gaga

I'm just a holy fool, oh baby he's so cruel
But I'm still in love with Judas, baby
-- "Judas," Born This Way

Art: Music
Style: Over-the-top, highly sexed, ridden with Catholic symbolism
Notable work: The Fame MonsterBorn This WayARTPOP
Why she fascinates me: Lady Gaga (nee Stefani Germanotta) was what I had kind of hoped Madonna would be: musically outstanding, incredibly lavish, and catchy as hell. I think she's underrated as a musician -- the rather cold reception of ARTPOP this year was, to my mind, an injustice to it, and particularly to the way she seamlessly blended dubstep influences into her earlier work. The thing that's really arresting for me, though, is her music videos, and especially their extensive use of Catholic imagery. To take one example, when "Judas" came out, the Catholic League complained about the music video (apparently without watching it, since the only people who could be said to be disrespectfully portrayed in it are Judas and the singer herself; not to mention the fact that the whole Judas motif is metaphorical anyway). I loved it, and found its allusions to Catholic artwork and religious iconography fascinating, and even, maybe, suggestive of a religious side to Lady Gaga that coexists with her extremely sexual stage persona -- it not being mine to say how true-to-life that stage persona is. I don't often feel I see musicians construct music videos that gel as finely with the songs they pair with as hers, which are more like genuinely multimedia affairs, instead of just "Here's a song. Oh, and here's a video." The complexity and ambiguity of her image, and its unclear relationship to her as a person offstage, seems to me to be itself an icon of much American pop culture and its relationship to the American people as we actually are. It'll be interesting to see whether that stays true.
Recommended sample: Again, hard to choose, and in any case most of you have heard a lot of her songs already. I think I'd go with "Aura" and "Monster," since those two (though in my opinion excellent specimens of her work) were never singles; I'd also recommend "Judas," partly for itself and partly for the visual splendor of the music video.

10. Christopher Nolan

I have to believe in a world outside my own mind. I have to believe
my actions still have meaning, even if I can't remember them.
-- Memento

Art: Film (director, writer)
Style: Dark, cerebral, philosophic, apt to jump around in time and space
Notable work: The Dark Knight, Memento, Inception
Why he fascinates me: I didn't really appreciate Nolan's work at first, in part because I always had a hard time remembering the names of directors. But, partly thanks to this article by Wayne Gladstone (whom we encountered in the notes to Wong's entry above), I suddenly began to piece together his cinematic career and its striking, individual quality. Stanley Kubrick could be as dark and brainy as Nolan, and a good deal weirder, but Kubrick seemed more interested in exploring the fringes of perception and thought, whereas Nolan seems almost to be translating central questions of epistemology into cinematic form -- though without being, for lack of a better word, preachy about it. The fact that he's able to film energetic, coherent narratives while darting from place to place and even time to time certainly establishes him as a consummate storyteller, Memento being the extreme example. Nothing against Martin Scorsese, but I kind of wish they'd handed the upcoming film version of Silence to him instead. I still haven't seen Interstellar, but I plan to.
Recommended sample: Inception, in addition to being an excellent movie, is probably the least grueling to watch -- grit being definitely one of Nolan's hallmarks.
See also: Quentin Tarantino, Kurt Sutter (creator of Sons of Anarchy), Baz Luhrman

Honorable and grossly-abbreviated mentions include After Hours (by Michael Swaim, Katie Willert, Soren Bowie, and Dan O'Brien), Rick Whitaker (Assuming the Position), the Wright-Pegg-Frost-Stevenson constellation (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and The Wrong Mans (by James Corden and Matthew Baynton). But I'm honestly a little surprised I made it through ten, so I'll cut it off here.

And, Happy New Year, especially to my top ten countries of readers! Thus, to my readership here in the States, up in Canada, across the pond in the UK, and down under in Australia; Z Novym Rokom to my Ukrainian readers (sorry, the computer I'm using doesn't have settings for other alphabets, or none I know how to use); Bonne Annee to my French-speaking readers; Szczesliwego Nowego Roku to my Polish fans; Glukliches Neues Jar to my German readership; Tahun Baru Gembira, Malaysian readers; and S Novym Godom to my readers in Russia. I hope your 2015 is outstanding, everybody, whenever you are.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Not just a rather strange song rejoicing in the delightful gifts of thirty lords a-leaping and forty-two geese a-laying (hey, that's what the math says), but an actual thing. The day we know as Christmas is, in fact, the first day of Christmas, which remains an independent season in the liturgy.

Christmas Eve Mass procession at Mount Calvary Church, 2013.

The liturgical year is arranged, roughly speaking, into three discrete sections, each one celebrating one of the profound mysteries in which all the doctrine and practice of the Church is rooted.* The first cycle celebrates the Incarnation; the second, the Redemption; the third, the Trinity. The subdivisions of these cycles are the seasons of the year: Advent, which leads up to Christmas, is the first (in the Roman liturgical year, used in the West -- I understand our brethren in the East, whether Orthodox or Catholics, calculate the year's cycle rather differently), then Christmas, and then Epiphany, of which more later on. Next comes the Redemption cycle, beginning with the preparatory season of Lent, which leads into Easter; at the close of Easter, and forming a sort of bridge into the next period, is the Octave of Pentecost. The third cycle opens with the Solemnity of the Trinity itself -- the Sunday after Pentecost -- and proceeds to the very end of the year, not falling into subdivisions so much as the others do, but incorporating a multitude of other feasts (especially the Solemnity of All Saints, which celebrates the coinherence of redeemed humanity in God just as Trinity celebrates the coinherence of the Godhead with Itself).

The twelve days of Christmas are as follows:

O little star of Bethlehem, holy crap an average star can easily be more than 800,00 miles across that is so cool.

December 25th. The Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. (This is a Holy Day of Obligation -- i.e., gotta get to Mass and also try to take the day off if at all possible, just like Sundays -- for U.S. Catholics. Some Obligation days are waived if they fall on a Saturday or a Monday, so as not to combine with the Sunday obligations; Christmas, I understand, is never waived, though of course this year it wouldn't make any difference.)

December 26th. The Feast of Saint Stephen Protomartyr. First dude to get wasted for being a Christian (see Acts 6.1-8.3 for the full story). It may seem strange to us to juxtapose the birth of Christ with the first death for Christ; I am sure it wouldn't have seemed that way to the early Church who buried Saint Stephen (although the Nativity didn't begin to be celebrated by most Christians until around the fourth century or so). They referred to the dates of the martyrs' deaths as their "birthdays," i.e. the day of their birth into the new life of Heaven -- I expect the combination of the one sort of birthday with the other would have pleased them a great deal.

December 27th. The Feast of Saint John the Apostle. The only one of the Apostles not to get murdered, though he is traditionally said to have been exiled to Patmos, a small island in the Aegean, where he was less able to make trouble (i.e., serve as a bishop) than he had been doing in Ephesus, to which he had emigrated from Palestine, perhaps some time in the 60s when the Jewish and Roman persecutions were heating up. (The only one of the Twelve who never left Palestine was Saint Matthew -- the former tax collector -- who was finally killed there.) He is usually identified with the Beloved Disciple of the Fourth Gospel, who is also usually identified with the author of that Gospel, and the author of I, II, and III John.

Modern scholarship tends to doubt that he is the same person who wrote Revelation, which was much debated in the primitive Church itself. The Apostle is also known as Saint John the Theologian or, in a somewhat archaic and in my opinion incredibly cool-sounding style, Saint John the Divine.**

December 28th. The Feast of the Holy Innocents. These were the children and infants massacred by Herod the Great sometime around 1 BC,*** as recounted in Matthew 2. Because they died for Christ, however unwittingly, the Holy Innocents are traditionally counted among the martyrs. The Coventry Carol is written about them, from the perspective of their bereaved mothers.

This is Sufjan Stevens' version, possibly my favorite.

December 29th. The Memorial of Saint Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr. Becket lived in the twelfth century, during the reign of King Henry II of England, with whom he was friendly for many years; Henry, having made him Chancellor, wished him also to be the Archbishop of Canterbury, to consolidate the government's power, both as such and over the possible rival influence of the Church. (This was, officially, after the end of the Investiture Controversy, but dealt with some of the same problems.) However, after being consecrated, Becket abruptly experienced a profound conversion: he resigned the chancellorship, devoted himself to the works of mercy and penance, and began defending the independence of the Church. Becket eventually fled into exile on the Continent, and was abroad for seven years; after he returned, and began making more trouble for Henry, four of the king's knights broke into Canterbury Cathedral as the saint was saying Vespers, surrounded him, and murdered him at the altar. T. S. Eliot's magnificent and timely play, Murder In the Cathedral, is a hybridized modern-verse/Greek-tragic structure play about the martyrdom.

December 30th. This day has no special character of its own, though, if there is no Sunday between Christmas Day and New Year's Day, December 30th is observed as the Feast of the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph). Otherwise, the Holy Family is celebrated on whatever Sunday immediately follows Christmas (including this date), which this year is the 28th.

December 31st. The Memorial of Saint Sylvester I, Pope. He oversaw the First Council of Nicaea in 325, and the deathbed conversion of the Emperor Constantine I. Apparently he is, or was, a super popular saint, particularly in Italy and central Europe: a lot of places use some variant of his feast-day's name as a synonym for New Year's Eve (in Germany and Austria, for instance, it's known as Silvesternacht).

January 1st. The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. New Year's Day, of course, and in the pre-Vatican II calendar the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus (since it's eight days after Christmas); it is also, in the revised calendar, the Solemnity of the Mother of God. There are a lot of Marian feasts in the Catholic year, but this one is perhaps the most illustrious of all, because it celebrates that fact from which all the graces and miracles she received flow: the fact that she gave birth to Christ. (This is another Holy Day of Obligation.)

I have posted this before. It is uncommonly amazing.

January 2nd. The Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus. These two saints are much better known in the Christian East than they are here; both were great luminaries in the fight against the Arian heresy, and both, together with Saint Gregory of Nyssa, are known as the Cappadocian Fathers (because all three came from the region in Asia Minor called Cappadocia). Basil was bishop of the city of Caesarea, and laid the foundation for practically all Eastern monasticism; Gregory Nazianzus was for a time the Archbishop of Constantinople, and helped to convene the First Council of Constantinople, which confirmed and strengthened the decisions of Nicaea from fifty-six years before.

January 3rd. This is not generally kept as anything in particular, though it was the Memorial of Saint Genevieve, who in addition to having a pretty name has a fairly cool story. Check it out.

January 4th. The Memorial of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. She was a convert from Episcopalianism to Roman Catholicism, and took a lot of flak for it (this being the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, when tolerance, at any rate of Catholics, was not "in" in either Great Britan or the U.S., Charles Carroll notwithstanding). She was the foundress of a religious order and established America's first Catholic school, and in fact spent many years living and working right here in Baltimore: my own church, Mount Calvary, was received into the Catholic Church from the Episcopal Church in 2012, and has long looked on Mother Seton as one of our patronesses, which isn't hurt by the fact that we are at the northern extreme of the neighborhood of Seton Hill which bears her name.

My parish's first Corpus Christi procession after our reception into the 
Catholic Church concluded at the St. Mary's Seminary Chapel in Seton Hill.

January 5th. This is the last day of Christmas proper, known also in some places as the Twelfth Night (from which Shakespeare's play gets its name). It is traditionally a day of merrymaking, especially eating and drinking -- the old beverage wassail, with its attendant carols, is specially associated with Twelfth Night. In New Orleans, Twelfth Night begins the Carnival season (from the Latin carni vale or "farewell to meat," since meat could not be eaten throughout Lent), which lasts until Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday. Most other places in the country, being either historically less Catholic or the grimmer sort of Catholic one finds in northern Europe instead of the Mediterranean, are correspondingly less fun about this.

January 6th. The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This feast, being the first day after Christmas proper, represents the manifestation (hence epiphany, from the Greek for "shining forth") of the Son of God to the world, and especially the arrival and adoration of the Magi, and their bestowal of their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (The Magi are known traditionally by the names of Gaspar or Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, which have so far as I know no historical foundation but do sound awesome.) In Latino countries, gifts are generally exchanged on this day instead of on Christmas, and are brought by the Wise Men rather than Santa, which you have to admit makes a hell of a lot more sense.**** It is also linked, especially in the East (where it is called Theophany or "the manifestation of God"), with the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan, and with the miracle of the changing of the water into wine at Cana, that being the first of His miracles. This makes Epiphany, which in the Anglican Use is its own season, a natural bridge between the celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas, and the journey into His Passion and Resurrection at Easter.

Gentile da Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi (altarpiece), 1423, Florence

*This threefold division is of my own devising, and is primarily a way of understanding the Church's year to one's own edification -- not a doctrinal tool. The Church herself, at least in the standard practice of the Roman Rite, recognizes two basic divisions: Christ Our Light is celebrated in the first half of the year, in which Christmas is the apex, and Christ Our Life dominates the second half, with Easter as its apex. I have departed from this for illumination, not in dispute, partly because a slightly different and more archaic calendar is employed in the Anglican Use. One of the most marked differences between the two is that the Anglican Use preserves the Octave of Pentecost and treats it as a feast ranking with Christmas and Easter themselves, whereas this Octave (like many others) has been suppressed in most of the Roman Rite.

**I.e., not that he was elevated to deity, but that he was a student of divine things, i.e. theology, mysticism, etc. We retain a trace of this meaning of the word when we speak of someone having a degree in divinity; and there are still a few groups know by the title for historical reasons, such as the Caroline Divines. The term divination is related.

***The BC/AD system is, as we all know, fucked; not (as is sometimes thought) because there was no year 0, though that's also true, as because the monk who developed it, the awesomely named Dionysius Exiguus, got the numbering slightly wrong in the first place. This is one reason I actually don't mind the slightly silly but at least unarguable system of BCE/CE -- silly, because it still uses the Nativity as its point of reference, but just can't quite bring itself to admit as much.

****The myth of Santa Claus, or Saint Nick, is a dim and garbled recollection of Saint Nicholas Thaumaturgus, or Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, who was famed for being extremely generous to the poor and to children, and also for punching Arius right in the face at the Council of Nicaea, because church used to be hardcore.

I love that "More images for 'saint nicholas punched arius in the face'" is a thing that Google suggested to me.

Friday, December 19, 2014

His Blood Be Upon Us

Like my last post, this one deals with torture. Don't read it while you're eating or if you don't like things that are hellish in their ghastliness. Otherwise, uh, soak it up, I guess.

O for a voice like thunder, and a tongue
To drown the throat of war! When the senses
Are shaken and the soul is driven to madness,
Who can stand? When the souls of the oppressed
Fight in the troubled air that rages, who can stand?
When the whirlwind of fury comes from the
Throne of God, when the frowns of His countenance
Drive the nations together, who can stand?
When Sin claps his broad wings over the battle
And sails rejoicing in a flood of death;
When souls are torn to everlasting fire
And fiends of hell rejoice upon the slain,
O who can stand? O who hath caused this?
O who can answer at the throne of God?
The Kings and Nobles of the land have done it!
Hear it not, Heaven, thy ministers have done it!

-- Poetical Sketches, "Prologue Intended for a Dramatic Piece of King Edward the Fourth," William Blake

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, William Blake, 1805

+     +     +

I've written a little on the subject of torture recently, in the wake of the report made by the SSCI. My previous post was more concerned to explain my own pacifism; my blood then curdled to see people -- nearly all of them professing and practicing Christians -- positively coming out of the woodwork to defend the use of torture, as a drastic necessity or even as a work of positive justice.

For the purposes of this post, I'll ignore the more obvious blasphemies of creatures like Sarah Palin. D. C. McAllister at The Federalist is one author who has come forward in defense of torture.* She writes:
... 79 percent of evangelicals in America and 78 percent of Catholics (along with 68 percent of all Americans, according to a recent poll) ... say torture can be justified. ... Torture in some forms and in some circumstances -- conducted by the police and military officials -- can be morally justified because (1) torture is not necessarily morally worse than killing (i.e., the death penalty); (2) the terrorist has forfeited his right to life and his dignity by his own evil actions; and (3) the innocent lives that can be saved are of higher value than any moral claims by the terrorist who has committed atrocities.
Now, in strict fairness, I must say that I was predisposed to disagree with (and indeed be pretty horrified by) McAllister's essay; having read it, as objectively as I can, I do find it objectively horrifying. I also think that its argument is rationally sloppy. However, since it seems to be fairly representative of Christian defenders of torture, and also better written than many -- for instance, she has the great good sense to define her terms -- I've chosen it as my point of departure.

McAllister defines torture as "the infliction of severe pain on a defenseless person for the purpose of breaking his or her will," which seems as good a definition as any.** This, from the start, places torture decidedly outside the traditionally Christian view of violence.

Have a kitten. You're, uh, going to need it.

The abhorrence of Jesus for violence hardly needs to be explained; though He seems to have been angry, or at least exasperated, often enough, we have only two instances on record of His being by any description violent, neither one against human beings. And when things came to the point, He made quite explicit His refusal to employ any kind of force, and indeed, openly begged His Father to forgive His crucifiers. Yet all that being said -- and even apart from the subsequent history of Christendom, with its wars and rumors of wars -- it is difficult, even so, to take the view that, say, the mother who knocks a man on the head with a lamp to keep him from raping her daughter has really sinned by doing so. To argue, as some pacifists do, that even defending the life of a defenseless innocent is wrong, is far too demanding a doctrine for most people to even consider.

The Catholic (and mainstream Christian) solution to this paradox has been that violence in defense of one's own life or the life of another is morally permissible -- and may even, when it comes to those who depend on us, be a duty -- but that this is qualified in three important ways. First, it's precisely defending the innocent that is allowed here, not a general license to harm or cause pain to an attacker. Second, coming from this first concern about motive, the defensive means must go only as far as it takes to effectively restrain an attacker from hurting someone, no further. And third, at any rate in the case of self-defense, it is also permitted to forsake this right, rather in the way that forsaking the right of marriage in favor of celibacy is not required of Christians yet is still a good work. These notions about violence -- which, I think, first began to be formulated by St Augustine, after Constantine's quasi-conversion had improved and complicated the relationship between the Church and the Empire -- finds expression both in the idea of self-defense, and in the tradition of Just War Theory.

In any case, one of the essential threads in the tapestry is that only an aggressor may be responded to through violent means; another is that only those means which effectively prevent an aggressor from causing harm, and no more, may be used. St Thomas, whom McAllister refers to a number of times in her essay, is quoted in the Catechism on this point.
Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with its Creator ... God alone is the Lord of life ... The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent ... "If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful ..." Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and to human dignity.***
How does all this this exclude torture? Well, look back at the definition: torture is the infliction of severe pain on a defenseless person. Defenseless people are in no position to be aggressors; they have already been restrained. The moment an aggressor's power to harm is neutralized, according to the Christian tradition, our right to use violence disappears -- because it ceases thereby to be self-defensive violence. And this holds in the formulation of Just War Theory, whose exponents have long maintained that not only civilians but even prisoners of war have a right to humane treatment, precisely because they no longer qualify as aggressors.

But what about terrorism? Terrorists are already breaking all the rules of justly conducted warfare -- they deserve to have those rules broken right back on them!
Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many live that deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.****

Gandalf the Grey, wearing what may be the finest "bitchplease" face in pretend-history.

And if we speak of just deserts, I think we must be prepared to meet the ghosts of the Cherokee, the Chickasaw and the Choctaw, the Muscogee and the Seminole, the Sioux and the Dakota, the dead of Tippecanoe and Wounded Knee; the ghosts of African and Caribbean slaves, the "strange fruit" that hung from Southern trees, the victims of depraved Tuskegee; the ghosts of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki; the palatably-termed "collateral damage" of Afghanistan and Iraq.

McAllister's argument is (in my judgment) founded on deeply un-Christian premises. She asserts that it's worse to kill someone than to torture them, because "When someone is dead, they have no autonomy, no hope of life, and no dignity. They're dead." This line of thinking is materialistic: it makes life the highest good, and declares that those who lack life lack humanity. But some of the most basic Christian doctrines are the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body. If the soul continues to exist, then they do still have autonomy and dignity; and if we will be raised again to life at the Last Day, then hope of life is a given as well. No thoroughly Christian defense can be made for the claims McAllister here makes as part of the basis of her argument.

She goes on to point out that death by torture (namely stoning) was the standard form of capital punishment prescribed in the Torah; she also states that
If killing were not morally justifiable on the basis of human dignity, God would be a monster. But he isn't. Why? Because of human guilt. Even though the Bible says "Thou Shalt Not Kill," God orders Joshua to "go in and clean house, and don't leave anything breathing! Don't leave a donkey, child, woman, old man or old woman breathing. Wipe out Jericho!" He can order this because these people had violated God's law and in so doing had forfeited their rights and lost all sense of dignity.
I decline to speculate -- still less (for once), to pontificate -- on why God did this or that in the Old Testament. Most of that part of the Bible is very mysterious to me; though I will point out that, in Job, God sternly rebukes those who deduce from human suffering that the person who suffers deserves to do so.

That question aside, I don't think that appeals to the Old Testament work for us, for two reasons. First, the Torah and the rest of the Old Testament record God dealing directly with a nation with whom He had made a covenant. He has made no such covenant with America. It isn't to be expected that a one-for-one correlation between the Torah and political justice as such should exist.

And second, to be blunt, I'm deeply disturbed by a lot of things in the Old Testament. Slavery, racism, and infanticide all make more or less regular appearances, and they aren't always being practiced by Gentiles, nor even by apostate Jews. I don't know what the explanation for that is; I am quite certain that if someone deduces from their presence in Scripture that these things are morally acceptable, that person creeps me the fuck out, and frankly I don't want them anywhere near me or my nephews. If the story of the averted sacrifice of Isaac would have made just as much sense to you if Abraham had murdered his son and God had accepted it as worship, like Moloch, your theology is Satanic.

"Tash! Tash! The great god Tash! Inexorable Tash!" (There was no nonsense about "Tashlan" now.)
-- C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, Cap. XII: Through the Stable Door

But, one might point out, Isaac was innocent, and McAllister's argument was that these people forfeited their human dignity by violating God's law. What, the babies? The farm animals? They got what was coming to them?

Besides, how do we measure this? -- how bad does a person have to be before they forfeit their rights as a human being, made in the image and likeness of God? Do they have to be a war criminal like Adolf Eichmann or Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein? What if they're only a war criminal like Harry Truman or George W. Bush or Barack Obama? Or is it perhaps a question of whether they fly the Stars and Stripes over their killings?

She asserts, too, that the use of the death penalty in the Bible plainly shows that human dignity is mutable, and that the doctrine of hell shows this even more so. I don't think either of those things follows. Of the first, the Catholic Church (and most Christian thought on this subject with her) admits that defending yourself against unjust aggression entitles you to use such force as will restrain the attacker -- even lethal force. But that is justified only if lethal force is the only kind that will suffice, and is permitted not because the criminal deserves it, but because you aren't obligated to surrender your own life. To use more force than is strictly necessary, or to desire a criminal's death for its own sake, rather than (in the logical sense) accidentally, is wrong.

As for hell, the Catholic tradition -- while not excluding the language that God sends people to hell -- has laid more emphasis on the fact that the damned choose hell. "Without that self-choice there could be no hell," as C. S. Lewis states in The Great Divorce. If God respects that choice, it is because of human dignity and autonomy, not in spite of them: He will force everlasting bliss upon none who refuse it.

William Blake, The Lovers Whirlwind, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, 1827

McAllister treats it as a truism throughout that it is worse to kill than to torture, and that therefore, if war can be accepted, so can torture. I dispute this also. Everyone is eventually going to die, so that killing is morally important for slightly different reasons than our usual modern, scientistic, materialist habits of thought would imply: important because God, not man, is the Lord and giver of life, and because man is made in the image of God. Conversely, not everyone will be subjected to torture; it is an avoidable evil, unlike death, which can at best be postponed.

I do maintain that it is worse to torture a man than to kill him. For -- going back to that important definition -- a victim of torture is defenseless (whatever his past conduct), and the only kind of killing I admit to be just is the killing of an aggressor, and even then I admit the justice of killing only when nothing else will suffice.

Conversely, torturing a man is specifically designed -- as McAllister says -- to break his will. That is, to reduce him from the status of a rational soul to that of a shambling mess, by terrifying him and treating him like filth. Her assertion that "Interrogative torture is not prolonged, maximal, pleasurable, vengeful, or punitive, and it does not have long-term debilitating consequences that completely disrupt a person's ability to function normally" reads like a tasteless joke. Yeah, I'm sure the prisoners who had pureed food rammed into their rectums will just get over it; that the ones who were waterboarded literally hundreds of times weren't traumatized at all; that the torturers who had admitted to prior anger management issues and freaking sexual assault didn't experience any sensations of pleasure, vengeance, or punishment while they were subjecting the victims to mock burials or threatening to rape their mothers; that the victims who were wrongly imprisoned in the first place (which lasted for months after the CIA had determined there was no reason to keep them there), and the one who died because of the way he was treated --

Did you miss that part before, Ms. McAllister? When you were talking about innocent lives being worth more than the lives of terrorists (for each one of whom Christ died), did you miss the fact that innocent people were detained and tormented along with the guilty? When you were saying that it's worse to kill someone than to torture him, did you miss that we did exactly that, and in the most degrading and hideous way possible?

I haven't even brought up the question of the horrific effects of torture upon the perpetrator -- since, in order to torture someone, you have to make yourself (however temporarily) the sort of person who will torture someone. Some CIA operatives felt the same way, objecting to what their employers nonetheless ordered them to do; some of them were disturbed to the point of weeping. But I can barely stand to write any more about this. 

Still, it may be worth noting, for anyone who can still stand to read about it, that torture has also been conclusively shown to not work. At all. Even those who gave information under torture often gave false or misleading information -- because why the fuck wouldn't they? -- and literally all of the useful information we obtained was gotten without torture. I am not kidding or exaggerating, and I'm not pulling it out of my ass, either; it was one of the things the SSCI found in their investigation.

I take that back; it did work for one purpose. It made the psychologists who developed the torture techniques the CIA used over $81 million. But I'm sure that's a coincidence, and not one of the most despicable examples of war profiteering in Western history.

Ms. McAllister, if you should happen to read this, I implore you to look squarely at what you have been defending and acknowledge that it is evil, and to repent.

To anyone reading this: I have been fasting and praying today for the healing of victims of torture, and I solicit your help in doing so, as I solicited the same thing for torturers this past Wednesday. Tomorrow, I plan to do the same thing, on behalf of those who did or do advise or approve of torture. The torturer, the tortured, and the one who counsels torture are all my brethren -- I will dissociate myself from none of them, but confess and practice the coinherence, reciting with the great John Donne:
The Church is Catholike, universall, so are all her Actions; All that she does, belongs to all. ... And when she buries a Man, that action concernes me: All mankinde is of one Author, and is one volume ... The Bell doth toll for him that thinkes it doth; and though it intermit againe, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, hee is united to God. ... [A]ny mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde ... The Bell rings out, and tells me in him, that I am dead
-- Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII

Pilate took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person;
see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. -- Matthew 27.24-25

+     +     +

Torture victim at Abu Ghraib, four of whom have since been sued by a US defense contractor.

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine --
Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget -- lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;

The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget -- lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;

On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget -- lest we forget!

If drunk, with sight of power, we loose

Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law --
Lord God of hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget -- lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust

In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word --
Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord!

-- Recessional, Rudyard Kipling (composed for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee

*I have assumed (based on her argument and background) that McAllister is a professing Christian. If I'm mistaken about this, and she is simply conducting a hypothetical argument on Christian premises, then I apologize, as in that case much of my own argument is merely irrelevant to her. (I have done my best in the course of my argument to avoid assuming that she is a Protestant or a Catholic, since she has attended and written for Protestant institutions but also very largely cites Catholic sources in her essay.)

**We need not be detained by the philosophically important, but only orthogonal, possibility of torture whose primary purpose is not to break the victim, but to satisfy some appetite of the torturer, such as lust for revenge or perverted sexual appetite (which latter, as in BDSM, need not be a violation of the victim's will at all).

***Catechism of the Catholic Church, paras. 2258, 2263-2264, 2297; italics are original. The section in quotation marks is taken from Aquinas' Summa Theologica, Part II, Second Part, Question 64, Article 7.

****The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 69. This may be the more significant in that neither Tolkien personally nor the character of Gandalf can be regarded as pacifists, nor cowards, nor intellectual slouches.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Peace Which Passeth Understanding

Warning: this post deals frankly with torture, which is some fucked-up shit; it is not recommended for people who are easily disturbed by things that are completely horrible.

I was more than a little irked when I was sent a link to the article "Our Partial Pacifism" on First Things, which lays the blame for our government's acceptance of torture, partly at least, at the feet of pacifists. Author Matthew Schmitz says the following:
Traditionally, Christians have argued that there is something called "just war." Leaders and their nations are bound to prosecute war justly without resorting to immoral tactics. Some things are in bounds, some out. 
In reply, pacifism insists that all war is evil -- that it is hell, so we must stay the hell out of it. This position is much derided, but more for the conclusions it reaches than the argument it makes. Many people believe along with the pacifists that war does indeed necessarily involve evil actions and so any attempt to impose a moral standard on our conduct is doomed from the start. 
Elizabeth Anscombe noted this in reviewing the justifications offered for the use of the atom bomb. Those who argued for it did not argue that it was in fact justified, they argued that war always and everywhere demanded the unjustifiable ...

Efficiency! Also genocide!

There are of course pacifists who believe that it is always wrong to use any form of violence, even in defense of the lives of innocents; not I. I accept self-defensive violence and indeed Just War Theory. Mind you, that still leaves approximately all wars open to criticism, since most are fought for unjust reasons, by unjust means, or both; but if the question is whether it is in principle morally acceptable to defend one's country by violence, then my answer is yes.

The reason I still describe myself as a pacifist is that I personally reject violence, because I feel called to do so. I think that the renunciation of the right of self-defense is not strictly necessary, yet a good thing, as renouncing the right to marry in favor of celibacy or the right to property in favor of poverty are good things. I think that pursuing one's ends through consistently non-violent means is a more excellent way, and that not making use of one's rights in order to imitate Christ, who emptied Himself of His rights as the Deity, more closely, is one legitimate path to holiness, and one for which we have a great deal of Scriptural, historical, and saintly precedent. Saint Joan herself, it may be noted, urged her opponents to withdraw rather than be killed, and carried no weapon but only a banner.

I hasten to add that my conviction of a pacifist vocation has been little tested. I don't know what I would do in the heat of anger or, still more, fear. I've participated in one anarchist anti-Nazi protest that included (but was not stopped by) a few protesters being arrested, and at the time I felt no impulse even to run, let alone to fight; that is as close as I have come. So I don't propose to make myself a poster-boy in all this.

Reminder: I'm this guy.

Turning to the question of torture, I don't know that I accept the charge that pacifism -- whether of the vocational sort that I espouse, or of the absolutist sort that would condemn a man for defending the lives of his children (such as seems to be implied by Shane Claiborne and others) -- has contributed to our acceptance of torture. It's true, certainly, that the same oversimplifications about justice and violence are present in both systems; but I don't see, based on my knowledge of the history of philosophy, that absolutist pacifism has had anything like enough range or influence to indirectly cause a corruption of Just War Theory into the pragmatic, patriotic theology that justifies torture, whether espoused with the honesty and reluctance of a Charles Krauthammer or the twisted, diseased sacrilege of a Sarah Palin. Torture has been a recurring problem, practical and philosophical, throughout Western history, and nearly all our institutions both political and ecclesiastical are stained with it; I do not think it is pacifism that has made it appealing as a solution to the minds of a frightened and unreflective generation.

I was heartbroken, and horrified, when, as a high schooler listening to discussions at my school over the then-current interrogations and invasions connected with the pursuit of al Qaeda and the Taliban, I realized that some of my Christian brethren were seriously proposing that torture could be countenanced. Mark Shea's ire is, in my opinion, completely justified. Torture is a hideous and fundamental assault upon the dignity of man as the image of God; no Christian may ever approve of its use, and the fact that Christians have done so in the past and do so in the present is one of the blackest marks on our history.

So what am I saying? That the lives of terrorists are more valuable than the lives of infants? Well, do let's keep in mind that there is no exchange center where you can trade one life for another, or weigh them in scales. Let's remember, too, that every human being -- including, as Scripture so often reminds us, our enemies -- is precisely a human being, an icon of the uncreated God; not a cost-benefit ratio. Or, to be more exact, there is an exchange center, and it looks like this:

Neither the U.S. government nor any other has access to that medium of exchange; nor is such a way of trading lives how the coinherence functions, whatever necromancers say.

But after all, torture works, right? It gets intel we wouldn't get otherwise, doesn't it? Well, no, there's actually no reason to think that at all. People regularly hold out under torture, or give false or misleading information -- whether out of cunning or to make the pain stop. Why wouldn't they? Besides which, whether it works is really beside the point. If something is always wrong, it's still wrong if it works. And torture is always wrong. It degrades not only the victim but the torturer; in order to ram food into a man's rectum or threaten to slit his mother's throat as a means of forcing him to talk, you have to become the sort of person who is willing to do that ramming and that threatening, and that kind of person is horrible.

It is peculiarly tragic, and stupid, that pro-life Catholics should apparently be disproportionately likely to advocate such measures. We, of all people, ought to know better. Not only because of the clear voice of the Church on such matters; not only because the dignity of all human life is, literally, the point of being pro-life; but because we have a special reason to recollect that everyone does eventually face the Four Last Things: death -- judgment -- heaven -- hell. What will you gain by saving your own skin, or someone else's, at the expense of your soul's corruption? It is, all but literally, making a deal with the devil: obtaining an expanse of earthly life, at the cost of damnation.

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.

Not that that penalty cannot be avoided, if you do approve of torture or have done so in the past, or have even participated in it. But the sole way out is repentance.

And all this is part of why I have, to the best of my ability and with little confidence in myself, renounced even just violence. It may be a hard path, one with its own spiritual perils, and one not strictly necessary nor suitable for every person; but it has the advantage of being a simple one. I believe that accepting violence even when it is just to do so carries with it the dangerous tug toward accepting violence when it is not just to do so, and I do not propose to open myself to that risk.

Moreover, such a vocation is eschatological. As celibacy prefigures the kingdom in which they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of heaven, as poverty prefigures the kingdom in which they kept all things in common and none of them called anything his own, so pacifism prefigures the kingdom in which there will be no more pain, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And it has this eschatological or prophetic character because it imitates our Lord, who, as He said, could at the moment of His arrest have called upon twelve legions of angels to halt the injustice, sparing the Apostles their lapses into cowardice and apostasy and perhaps converting both the Sanhedrin and the soldiers; but He would not force them. He represented in His person a new way of being, a peace which passeth understanding, and to Greeks foolishness. His victory was the victory of love, which is more powerful than power. He received into Himself the totality of human hatred and violence, together with the uttermost consequences, and showed Himself the conqueror.

The third week in Advent is an Ember week, one of the four traditional weeks in which Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday are observed as days to fast (wholly or partially) and to abstain from meat. This year, that means the 17th, 19th, and 20th of December. I encourage you, readers, to join me in observing this fast, not only in preparation for Christmas, but in penitence and humble supplication to God for forgiveness and healing in this country.