Grieving for Our Lady of Paris…

I had another post written for tonight, but in light of the great fire sweeping Notre Dame cathedral those words fade to less than insignificant.

With its cornerstone laid in 1163, Notre Dame saw nearly the entire rise of Western civilization in its shadow over the last 855 years. It saw Paris grow and expand into one of the world’s handful of indisputably great cities.

As a young 18 year old American in Paris, I was fortunate to pass through the cathedral over 20 years ago. Honestly I don’t remember many details of that trip now, but I remember standing in the nave of Notre Dame and being awestruck – exactly the effect that it’s long ago designers and builders had hoped to achieve.

I’m not religious in any significant way… but Notre Dame wasn’t about just being Catholic, or even being Christian. Yes, the great structure was raised to the glory of God, but it was also about celebrating great art, and architecture, and an undeniable knowledge that there is, and there should be, something larger than ourselves. You couldn’t stand before the great rose windows and feel anything other than humble.

Tonight I grieve for the people of Paris, and France, and the world at the loss of such a treasure trove of our collective history. This world is poorer and darker for its loss.

Heroes and villains…

Last week a friend of mine asked if I thought the Devil was a hero or a villain. Now having been raised by a good Methodist mother, my response should have been automatic, immediate, and emphatic. Nothing with me is quite that simple, though, so the question became something of a thought exercise – and one that I’ve spent more time pondering over the last few days than I expected.

First, if we accept the Bible as the literal word of God, the answer is obvious. The devil is the bad guy. He’s the super villain’s super villain. However,I’m all too aware that edition of the Bible I grew up with was one commissioned by England’s King James I and completed by his team of translators, all members of the Church of England, between 1604 and 1611. The fact that it is a translation based on previously translated works based on events first described not closer than several centuries after they would have originally take place has always felt to me a bit problematic. For purposes of this particular argument, though, that’s not my point.

When I look at the Old Testament story of Lucifer’s fall, I’m often tempted to give it some of the context it’s lacking. Context that perhaps paints an image at an Almighty who is unelected and wholly unaccountable in His actions. If we apply a bit of literary license, we can see God, certainly the God of the Old Testament, as the purest incarnation of absolute monarchy – quite literally king by divine right. Within that broader context, Lucifer raising a reported one third of the angelic population in open rebellion against the throne could be construed as an act of defiance against a totalitarian regime. I’m thinking here now about the images of Romanians rising against Ceaușescu and East Germans overtopping the Berlin Wall in 1989.

From the seat of an all knowing and all powerful deity, Lucifer’s actions can only appear ungrateful, immoral, and a blatant violation of the established order. If one were to be devil’s advocate it certainly seems possible to argue that as a leading light among the heavenly host, he had a duty and an obligation to rise up and cast off the shackles of oppression and lead his people towards a more democratic future. At least that’s how I’d make the case if I were devil’s advocate, but maybe I’m flavoring it with a little too much of my own ideas about how oppressed peoples are supposed to respond.

Perspective is everything. Especially when it comes time to label the winners and losers of the story. So, is the Devil a hero or a villain? Yes, I suppose he is.

What Jeff Likes this Week

This week it’s a no brainer. What I like is the Winter Solstice. More specifically what I like is that from here on through mid-June the days are going to get longer. Even though Winter is just officially starting, the solstice comes with the promise that at some point in the fairly near future I’ll get to feel the sun on my skin on a weekday rather than just being able to looking at it through a tinted glass office window.

This might be a bit presumptive since this evening is technically the longest night of the year, but that’s just a bit of technicality. What’s more important is what comes after – the longer days, the warmer weather (eventually), the growing grass, and abundant critters. There’s still a long slog through the coldest months of the year, but the solstice reminds us that even in its depths, winter won’t last forever. The sun will rise, push back the darkness, and bathe the world in its glory again.

Hummm… I wonder if there isn’t a metaphor in there somewhere. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that so many of the religions founded in the northern hemisphere have some sort of traditional celebration this time of year.

Note: This is the 5th entry in a six-part series appearing on jeffreytharp.com by request.

Disregarded…

I’m fairly sure that somewhere we are enjoined to maintain Sunday as a day of rest. And while I’m sure that’s a fine theory, it adds up to 1/7 of the week where I’m not getting a damned thing done and that plan just isn’t going to hold water. So yes, as we speak I’m blatantly disregarding the command of having a “day of rest.” There’s laundry to do, floors to scrub, a bathroom in desperate need of cleaning, shrubbery that needs cutting back, a dog in need of a bath, and at least two more meals that are going to have to be cooked. That’s just the top few items on the list.

As great as a day of rest every week sounds, it’s just not going to happen. If I’m lucky, I’ll carve out a few days for that a couple of times a year, but getting there once a week is a pipe dream if I’ve ever heard one. There’s no way around my Sundays being filled with ticking things off the long list of shit I didn’t get to in the previous six days. For some reason, I don’t think that breaking a sweat on the sabbath is going to be the sin that pushes me over the edge. Just between you and me, it’s probably not even in the list of top ten sins I’ve committed this week so I’ve got that going for me.

So if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to quit pecking at the keyboard and get a few more things done this morning.

The traditional Sunday…

Sunday morning blogging was a lot easier when I could just trot a few old posts out of the archive, gin up a few snarky comments about them, and then go on about the day. Now that I have to dream up something new and theoretically interesting to say, I find myself really reaching for ideas. This morning felt like it could really go one of two ways. I could write the standard “Happy Easter” post and go along to get along or I could pen a more natural feeling skeptics post. Both of them felt like enough of a lie to be not worth writing down.

Sure, Easter is the high holiday of Christianity and being raised in the faith, I know enough about it to articulate the salient points. Since I haven’t been inside a church for anything other than weddings or funerals in the better part of 20 years, that post felt like something of a farce. If I’m a bad Christian, I’m an even worse atheist because at heart, I want to believe that there is some greater power in the universe. Now whether that power is the God of the Israelites or Vishnu or Zeus or the flying spaghetti monster, I don’t feel particularly well equipped to decide. I’ll leave that discussion to the theologians. I’ll find the answer to those question far sooner than I want them anyway.

For the faithful, I’ll wish you a happy Easter this morning. For the rest, I’ll wish you a good Sunday. As for me, I’ll mark this Sunday in the traditional way – writing, doing laundry, and whipping up some barbecue chicken.

Mooning…

Time was I’d drag myself out of bed at all sorts of wild hours just for the possibility of seeing something cool in the night sky. Tonight’s blood moon would definitely qualify as one of those things. Until I started checking out the times of best viewing and doing the math on how much cloud cover there was probably going to be here on the east coast at 3:07 AM EDT. Getting up in the middle of the night to watch something live streaming on my iPad just doesn’t have the same effect. Some things are meant to be done live, preferably with a steaming cup of coffee and a touch of Irish to help pass the time. Since tonight’s show looks like it will be clouded out, I’m going to have to take a pass and satisfy my curiosity with seeing the stream after the fact. It’s a little disappointing that I’ll be missing nature’s big show, but since there will be three more chances in the next year and a half, I’ll roll the dice on seeing the next eclipse, or the one after that, or the one after that. Surely the weather can’t conspire to block out all four of the harbingers of the end of days, right?

A religious experience…

I don’t consider myself a Sunday service kind of guy. I’m willing enough to accept that there are powers in the universe at work well beyond the conception of the mind of man, but I have a hard time with the idea of a supreme being who’s interested enough in the proceedings of the men and women on this little rock of a planet to spend his entire day in judgement of our rights and wrongs. If there is more powerful force in the universe, I hope he has something better to do with his time time than watch our collective tomfoolery.

Assuming for a moment that there is someone with their hand at the helm, I suspect he’s a little too busy to worry about whether or not we all show up in a special building on Sunday mornings. I’m spending this one drinking what to my mind is some of the finest coffee ever roasted and listening to one of the greatest jazzmen of the 20th century. I’m celebrating nature’s magnificent bounty and the genius of the human mind. If that’s not a religious experience, I don’t know what is.

Conceding defeat…

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE —- OFFICIAL STATEMENT

I come before you this evening with a heavy heart. A few moments ago, I sent a tweet to Pope Francis, congratulating him on his election as your next Pope in Rome. Your support of my candidacy for these past few days has been a source of strength for me, but tonight we must come together behind the victor and accept that my dark horse candidacy was, at best, a long shot.

I have no intention of letting this sound electoral defeat drive me out of the arena… and if asked, I would happily serve as Vice Pope or in any other position that didn’t necessarily require poverty and chastity as conditions of employment. Unfortunately, tonight was simply not my time to step up to the big chair. It’s a fair bet that we’ll get another chance at the job since the Sacred College has once again chosen someone old enough to be my grandfather (and an actual Catholic) for the job. I do, however, find it suspicious that the ballots were all destroyed before they could be independently validated and the formal announcement was made before appeals could be filed with the court, but I digress.

So in conclusion: Congratulations, Your Holiness. We’ll see how things turn out next time around.

Lifetime appointment…

Aside from the celibacy thing, I’ve always thought being Pope would be a pretty good gig. You get to live in one of the world’s best and largest museums, you’re the absolute monarch of your own sovereign country, your personal bodyguard has those snappy uniforms, you’re head of the only organization I can think of that dates back to the time when a Caesar ruled the known world, and about a billion people go along (more or less) with whatever you tell them because you theoretically speak with the voice of God.Slide1 Let’s be real honest, even for a non-practicing Protestant like me, that sounds like a pretty sweet job. Plus, it’s a lifetime appointment, so it’s not like you’ve got some wackadoodle member of a House of Representatives running around trying to impeach you.

I’m not making light of Pope Benedict’s decision to resign. I think it shows a remarkable degree of self discipline to walk away from the kind of temporal authority that goes along with the fancy hats and armored thrones of his office. The guy was basically elected king at 78 – an age by which I plan to be either retired for over a decade, dead, or possibly both. By 85, I don’t think I can fault him for wanting a little down time before going off for a more personal and very final introduction to his maker.

Of course there’s more to the story than has come out in the media. Over two millennia the Catholic Church has gotten very skilled at guarding its secrets, so we may or may not ever really know what was going on inside the Vatican when the decision was made. I guess one of the perks of being the Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter is you really don’t have to justify yourself to anyone.

If the princes of the church are looking for an unorthodox candidate, I’m happy to throw my hat, as it were, in the ring. My Latin is a little rusty, but pope-ing it seems like good work if you can get it.

The God of Happy Accidents…

There’s something that’s been bugging me for the last few days. It’s one of those things that most don’t consider a topic for polite company and I’ve swung from one side to the other debating whether this was the right place to even bring it up… or whether I should bring it up at all or just let it be one of those questions that agitates me quietly forever in the back of my head. Since I use this site as a platform for pretty much every other flavor of Buddycontroversy, I don’t suppose religion should be more off limits here than any other topic has been in the past.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that I’m not exactly what you’d call religious. I’m not sure I can even get away with describing myself as “spiritual,” as many people seem to prefer these days. It’s not exactly that I’m anti-religion, but I’ve never quite been able to accept faith as the ultimate evidence of things not seen. I’ve always liked my evidence to be something a little more corporeal. Despite that, I’ve always had a healthy level of curiosity about world religions and have a tendency to pay attention when they are discussed academically.

This past weekend I heard a theologian argue that we can’t really blame God when something bad happens. In the next breath, this same panel member argued that we should praise God for all the good things that we enjoy in the world. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where my train of thought came off the rails. It seems to me that if we’re going to worship an all knowing, all powerful deity that is responsible for every good thing that happens, the very nature of an omnipotent God demands that He also be responsible for bad things when they happen. To think otherwise suggests a divine duality – one god responsible for all good things and another responsible for only bad things. That’s a pretty problematic concept to tinker with when the world’s major religious groups are pretty well established as monotheistic enterprises.

After writing that last paragraph, someone is sure to argue that I just don’t like religion in general or Christianity in particular. Because I know my own mind, I can say that’s not exactly true. I’m fine with religion and with Christianity (as long as they’re not being forced on anyone at the point of a sword)… what chaps my ass is hypocrisy. If someone of faith had the stones to go on national television and simply say “sometimes God just lets bad shit happen” I think I’d be fine with it, but to absolve your particular deity from responsibility because it doesn’t fit with the traditional narrative that God is Good requires a level of mental gymnastics that I’m not comfortable carrying out.

Although I’m not a theologian by any stretch of the imagination, it seems to be that if there is a God and He is, in fact, all powerful and all knowing, then we’re doing Him a disservice by only giving Him accolades for the happy accidents of life. Sorry, but if He wants the credit when things are going well, He’s going to have to share in the blame when it’s gone to hell in a handbag, even if it’s only because free will was His idea in the first place. How’s that for a controversial stance?