26 November 2007

"this golden silence"

"My soul is full of peace and light:
Although in pain, this light shines bright.
For here Thou keepest to Thy breast
My longing heart, to find there rest.

Leave me here freely alone,
In cell where never sunlight shone.
Should no one ever speak to me,
This golden silence makes me free!"
(by Titus Brandsma)

With Christ the King Sunday behind us, we now approach the season of Advent. (Or what the faces on TV crassly call "the Christmas shopping season"--if that hasn't already been the case throughout November!)

The lines above are an excerpt from a poem by the Blessed Titus Brandsma, prisoner at the Dachau concentration camp. The second stanza appears from time to time on the website, Sacred Space.

For him to find "peace and light" in such a horrible place demonstrates true spiritual depth. Still, we need not undergo such intense suffering to find "golden silence." Finding any silence during a "shopping season" is an unlikely scenario. However, silence is certainly a key element to the Advent season. Advent means "coming," and that also means waiting for the One who is coming.

So much of life depends on how we think of time. Are we in a "shopping" season, or are we in a "waiting" season? If the poet could find "golden silence" amid the shouts of Nazis, surely we can find it where we are.

23 November 2007

get into the black friday

Today is so-called "Black Friday," when retailers are hoping a shopping frenzy will begin: one that will guarantee moving them from being "in the red" to being "in the black." (That's economic talk!)

In recent years, stores have been opening earlier than ever. JC Penney opened at 4:00 this morning. Best Buy opened at 5. Last night on the local news, a reporter was talking to people who were already in line, waiting to enter a Best Buy which was opening at midnight. One guy admitted that he simply wanted to be the first one in the store. Two other guys said they'd been there all day. They had skipped their Thanksgiving turkey dinner; someone was going to deliver it to them. (I suppose they skipped another Thanksgiving tradition: watching the Dallas Cowboys on TV.)

The suits in the corporate offices are counting on people like this. Of course, they were sleeping late this morning--as any sane person would do who doesn't have to work. I'm sure the employees of these stores are overjoyed at the thought of getting up hours before sunrise.

I can feel a rant coming on, so I'll end this now.

21 November 2007


"Some say the world will end in fire,
Some in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice."
("Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost)

I just finished Charles Seife's book, Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea. It was published in 2000 (a year with plenty of zeros). Seife is a mathematician and physicist who takes us on a journey through history. He outlines how cultures as diverse as the Babylonians, Mayans, and Greeks dealt with the concept of the number "0." He points out philosophical and theological approaches to zero. He shows how scientists have grappled with it, and with its counterpart, infinity.

Zero is written for non-scientists (like me), and Seife presents some really big (infinity) and really small (zero) ideas in an understandable way. (Please forgive the weak attempt at humor in the previous sentence.) He even takes on the fate of the universe. Will it eventually collapse in on itself as "the big crunch," the fiery mirror image of the big bang, which started it all? Or will the universe continue expanding until the galaxies, stars, and even atoms pull apart from each other in a chilly, dark death? He thinks the latter will be the case. He concludes, "The answer is ice, not fire, thanks to the power of zero."

So Frost prefers fire, but is willing to give ice a chance!

20 November 2007

amazingly graceful

I recently watched the DVD of Amazing Grace. It stars Ioan Gruffudd (pronounced "Griffith," for us Anglophones) as William Wilberforce. Gruffudd is also known as "Mr. Fantastic," the stretchy genius from the Fantastic Four. It also stars Albert Finney as John Newton, the slave ship captain turned Christian minister.

Early in the movie, we see Wilberforce's reaction to a man beating his horse, which is lying on the ground, completely exhausted. Besides being the driving force behind the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, Wilberforce was also behind efforts to end cruelty to animals. (His house is an animal hospital in itself.)

Finney's John Newton has some memorable quotes. When speaking of how he's haunted by the ghosts of 20,000 slaves whose names he doesn't know, he recalls how he and his crew didn't speak to the Africans; they ordered them around by grunting at them. "We were apes," he cries, "they were human." And after he loses his sight, he says to Wilberforce, "'I once was blind, but now I see.' Didn't I write that?" Wilberforce says, "Yes, you did." And he replies, "Now at last it's true."

I told my wife that it's a very good movie, with only a tiny bit of cheese! There is a bit of sentimentality in it, but not enough to spoil it.

13 November 2007

supporting veterans

Yesterday, I, along with 40 or 50 others, observed Veterans Day by participating in a peace (and peaceful) march. (It was actually the Monday right after Veterans Day, which is a national holiday.) We walked from the other, larger, Presbyterian church in town to the plaza at city hall. There were a couple of brief addresses, but most of the time was spent reading the names of New Yorkers who have died during the war in Iraq.

Before we left the church, there was one fellow who stepped forward and apologetically said that, while he also is opposed to this war, having this event on Veterans Day sends the wrong message. He said that any veterans who saw us would think about those who returned from Vietnam--and how some of them were spat upon. However, anyone who bothered to notice would see that there was no ill-will toward those who've been sent to Iraq to fight. The placards people were carrying had various messages: "Support our troops by bringing them home," "War is not the answer," and my favorite, which I selected upon arriving at the church, "Who would Jesus bomb?"

It continues to amaze and dismay me how opposition to Bush's war in Iraq gets conflated with opposition to the military. Equally amazing is how the Bush administration can be viewed as being supportive of veterans. They're good with easy speeches and photo ops, but their policies threaten the fabric of the military. (I'm speaking of human beings, of course. Weapon systems are in good shape!)

Dwight Eisenhower once told his son, "God help us if we ever get a president who doesn't understand the military." There's a term that has disappeared from the political lexicon, one that was frequently uttered during the '90s, when Clinton was in office. Once Bush and Cheney assumed power, the term "draft dodger" was no longer spoken. I'm not advocating a return of that ridiculous label, but in the case of the present administration, it's more appropriate than ever.

10 November 2007

a day for armistice

With Veterans Day arriving tomorrow (most of the world calls it Armistice Day), I've been confronted with inconsistent themes. One is the commercial for the Macy's Veterans Day sale--a happy thirty seconds with bouncy people and bouncy music. The obligatory nod to the meaning of the day comes at the end, when we're cheerfully ordered to "march" in for savings.

The other theme comes in the quite excellent film, Joyeux Noel ("Merry Christmas"), Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film in 2006. I watched it this evening. It tells the story of the spontaneous ceasefire between French and Scottish soldiers on one side and Germans on the other. It happens in 1914, during the first Christmas of World War 1. The movie portrays both the character of that particular war, as well as some of the insanity that is the essence of war itself. We see what happens to them when all of their superiors hear about their decision to forego slaughtering each other on the day of Christ's nativity.

I liked the football match (that's "soccer" for us Americans), in which the Germans win handily. Afterwards, we learn that some of them play for Bayern Munich.

04 November 2007

we and Sudan have something in common

I remember when I first heard about the Sudanese government torturing people in so-called "ghost houses." That was in the '80s. "Wow," I thought, "they must be real thugs."

But now we have Bush and his boys with their secret prisons. Why would the good ol' USA need such evil places? Of course, Bush promises that they don't torture people. But then, how would we know anyway? We are talking about secret prisons and Guantanamo Bay, aren't we?

Here's part of a German citizen's story: http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/11/05/rendition/