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“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”

10 December 2011

I have always loved this song. It’s probably one of my favorite hymns ever. And now that I’ve started viewing the hope for the parousia (the Second Coming of Jesus) as a deep desire for a rule of justice and love on earth, this song has become for me the cry of the oppressed, and the promise of liberation. In this light, it’s equally beautiful, heart-wrenching, and hopeful. Here is the Future of Forestry’s take on it, which Fr. Sammy Wood introduced me to.

Neighbor or stranger?

3 December 2011

It has often been thought that the greatest moral principle of the Bible is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I used to believe so myself. But I have found that there is yet a greater principle: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of the stranger—you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Or again: “When a stranger lives with you in your land, do not ill-treat him. The stranger who lives with you shall be treated like the native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” In the century of the Holocaust these commands echo with unrequited force.

It is easy to love our neighbor. It is a difficult to love the stranger. That is why the Torah commands us only once to love our neighbor, but on thirty-six occasions commands us to love the stranger. A neighbor is one we love because he is like us. A stranger is one we are taught to love precisely because he is not like us. That is the Torah’s repeated and most powerful command. I believe it to be the greatest religious truth articulated in the past four thousand years. Throughout history, Jews were the archetypal strangers. Abraham says to the Hittites, “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you.” The Israelites were “strangers” in Egypt. Moses said, on the birth of his first son, “I am a stranger in a strange land.” They were strangers to teach that God loves the stranger. They were different, yet God set them on His love, to teach the dignity of difference.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, A Letter in the Scroll: Understanding our Jewish Identity and Exploring the Legacy of the World’s Oldest Religion (New York: Free Press: 2000), 93-94.

Transience revisited

6 November 2011
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My year last year was kind of horrible, and since Boston was the locale for most of that, I didn’t know if I could see it without that veneer of suck. From around November through April, I seriously thought about leaving Boston many, many times. I was unhappy, far from everyone I knew and loved, and just overall not into it. Then spring came, and summer with it, and Boston came back to life. It felt a little unfair to judge Boston by my earlier negativity, and by the time I left I had already begun to question that stance. Three months after my first “On transience” post railing against Boston, I posted “Transience kick-back”, when I was realizing that Boston and I are in it for the long haul.

Then yesterday happened. A group of friends and I had found out that Noah and the Whale were performing at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, and so we bought tickets and headed up. I was beyond excited to get back to Boston, to visit the places that made last year great when other things were threatening to make it awful. As I saw the tops of the Hancock and Pru peak over the tree line as we approached the city, my heart leapt. I parked two blocks away from where I lived last year in Packard’s Corner, I bought my T day pass at the Shaw’s grocery store I shopped at, and jumped on the 57 that took me into the city every day. It was all so very familiar. Walking around Copley Square (where I worked), wandering on the path through the Public Garden and Common (which I walked all the time), eating at Upper Crust in Beacon Hill (my standby when I was early for church), getting cannoli at Mike’s (my favorite of the two North End bastions). It was like reconnecting with a friend I hadn’t seen in several months.

It wasn’t until the brewery tour at Harpoon that things started to shift slightly. Harpoon in many ways represents everything about my last year that was good. It’s my friend S. who was there with me weekend after weekend; it’s the unwinding after a long, hard week; it’s the comfort of having a place you know inside and out; it’s the motivation to drive 6hrs to Vermont just for passion’s sake. Being there with people from Yale was disjointing: new people from a new place in an old place associated with old friends, people who are now a source of a new joy in a place that was once a refuge from suckiness. My brain kept saying, “Wait, they aren’t supposed to be here…” But I left Harpoon happier than ever (with three growlers in tow).

As I stared out the window of the bus watching the sun set over the city skyline, my friends around me tipsily telling stories rather loudly, a wave of nostalgia washed over me and with it, swept away the rest of the bad feelings I harbored towards the city. My friend C. was on the phone arranging dinner plans in Harvard Square, and said, “Oh, yeah, we’re with someone who’s from here, so we’ll be able to find it…” My brain reeled for a second. “I’m from here now?” But I guess I really am. Boston is in many ways where I was born and raised as an adult, rather than as a child. I don’t know if “Boston” will be my response to the common question, “Where are you going to live after this?” that I keep getting asked, but it is where I’m from.

“Theology Amidst the Stones and Dust”

1 November 2011

The profound “do not be” which the social and ecclesiastical voice speaks to us, and which forms the soul of so many gay people, was profoundly rooted in my own being, so that au fond I felt myself damned. In my violent zeal I was fighting so that the ecclesiastical structure might speak to me a “Yes,” a “Flourish, son,” precisely because I feared that, should I stand alone before God, God [Godself] would be a part of the “do not be.” Thus I was absolutely dependent on the same mechanism against which I was fighting. Hiding from myself the fact of having despaired of God, I wanted to manipulate the ecclesiastical structure so that it might give me a “self,” that it might speak to me a “Yes” at a level of profundity of which the ecclesiastical structure, like any human structure, is incapable. For the “Yes” which creates and recreates the “self” of a [child], only God can pronounce. In this I discovered myself to be an idolater. I had been wanting to negotiate my survival in the midst of violent structures, and negotiation in the midst of violent structures can only be done by violence.

[…]

And then, at root, what began this whole process of beginning to untie myself from the idols I had so assiduously cultivated, what I had never dared to imagine, the profound “Yes” of God, the “Yes” spoken to the little gay boy who had despaired of ever hearing it. And there, indeed, I found myself absolutely caught, because this “Yes” takes the form, not of a pretty consolation of a spoiled child. Rather, from the moment it reached me, the whole psychological and mental structure by which I had built myself up over all the previous years began to enter into a complete collapse. For the whole structure was based on the presupposition of a “No” at the center of my being, and because of that, of the need to wage a violence was so as to cover up a fathomless hole. The “I” , the “self” of the child of God is born in the midst of the ruins of repented idolatry.

James Alison, “Theology Amidst the Stones and Dust,” in Theology and Sexuality: Classic and Contemporary Readings, ed. Eugene F. Rogers, Jr. (Oxford, UK and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002), 396-397.

Reformation Day

31 October 2011

Today is Reformation Day, and for many Protestant denominations is an occasion of much celebration. I think this is certainly right, because without Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, nailed to the doors of the Wittenberg Cathedral 494 years ago today, the important changes that the Reformation brought about would never have occurred, or at least not at that point. And also, Martin Luther was an inflammatory nutcase at times (e.g. burned the papal excommunication bull, married a nun) so that’s always fun.

At the same time, I think it is a day for some mourning, because those reforms were bought at a great price: the further fracturing of the Church. Already, two great schisms had happened: first in 449, when the Oriental Orthodox split over the Council of Chaceldon; second in 1054, when Western Christianity and Eastern Christianity split. The Protestant Reformation meant yet another major split in the church, and within that movement, further fracturing. These splits cause somewhat irreconcilable differences between people who should be banded together, and is the source of much pain for those of us who claim in the Creed to believe in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.”

In light of all this, two prayers—the one more reforming, the one more unifying:

Gracious Father, we pray for the holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hot toddy

30 October 2011

 

1 shot whiskey (whisky, bourbon, rye, scotch, take your pick)
1 tbs. honey
1 cinnamon stick
3-4 whole cloves
1 lemon slice

Pour shot of whiskey into a mug and add honey. Fill rest of mug with hot water. Add cinnamon stick, cloves, and lemon slice.

St. Crispin’s Day

25 October 2011

596 years ago today, on the feast of St. Crispin, Henry V of England led his troops into the valley at Azincourt (Agincourt) to battle the French, at what would become a turning point in the 100 Years War. The English army was greatly outnumbered, but their victory over the far larger French army decimated the French aristocracy and would have consequences (i.e. the removal of military titles from the nobility, leaving them with no purpose) that would bring about the French Revolution.

The Battle of Azincourt plays a huge part in Shakespeare’s Henry V, one of my favorite of his works. Before going into battle, the king gives a rousing speech to his troops who are disheartened over the huge size of the French army compared with them. The speech is now famous, often called the “Band of Brothers” speech.

On this St. Crispin’s Day, I offer for your viewing pleasure, Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film performance.

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’ed.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
Henry V, IV.iii

(Originally posted 25 October 2010)