Monthly Archives: August 2005


Take a second or two to think what it would mean to be a priest the least of whose burdens is that the parish church was just washed out to sea.

[From the Times-Picayune website this report: “Long Beach: Most buildings within 200 yards of U.S. 90 disappeared …” — my emphasis.]

We’re thankful that David and his family survived the hurricane in good shape — but my mind reels at what David will be facing as the waters recede and his congregation comes to grips with what just happened among them.

[In case readers here don’t know where to make donations, here’s a link to Episcopal Relief and Development, where you can make send money designated for Katrina relief. Just don’t try to explore the site; I’ve hit a lot of 404 links there. Richard has an eerie picture up here.]


E called my attention to Metroblogging New Orleans, from which I’ve gotten a much richer sense of the situation there than I have from listening to the official news sources. She also reminded me there of how unevenly the weight of calamity (and attention) there has been distributed.

I heard from storm-affected Annie — she’s OK, hosting refugees from New Orleans proper. No report from my other friends in Louisiana-Mississippi.

I’m working on the last sheet of the starter deck of Ekklesia: The Congregating cards (last sheet now done and posted). In the shower this morning, it occurred to me that I could make up some special cards as a supplement: for instance, a “Persecution” card that beat everything except a martyr, no matter what category was chosen; a “Miracle” card, that won for the person who played it the next two cards (but then it had to be discarded — only one miracle per game); a “Council” card would require the next two plays to be determined by Orthodoxy; and so on. From there, we could begin to revisit Derek’s wonderful sketch of a game more deliberative than random.

In case you were worried about Josiah, he seems to be having a great time.

Last night I watched Hook, Line, & Sinker — back in olden times, when you couldn’t just choose to watch any movie ever made, but only had available the movies that local theaters and TV stations deigned to show, I hit a streak of Bert Wheeler/Robert Woolsey movies early Saturday morning on a Pittsburgh TV station; Netflix is now feeding my reminiscences. I’ll say this: it’s no Night at the Opera or Philadelphia Story, but I think it holds up exceptionally well (and some studio would be better served to remake this than to generate yet another puerile gross-out feature).

We made the turn into Volume Three of the Theological Outlines project (relying on a first-edition copy, much different format); Chapter Twenty-Two (“The Economy of the Holy Ghost”) is online.

Glancing Blow

I spent the day in a backwater of news updating — I rely on NPR and the Net for news (and just now I’m away from my radio). I gather that New Orleans had a severe, but not catastrophic interaction with Katrina. I hope Long Beach MS survived intact, but haven’t heard anything yet.

So New Orleans fared better than I feared last night; all through the day, I was unnerved by the contrast between the seriousness of the [possible] havoc and destruction (on one hand) and the amount of public attention (on the other). In the aftermath of a natural disaster, we can find a lot of news coverage, but in the hours yesterday when it wasn’t clear that this wouldn’t be the most devastating hurricane strike in U.S. history, I heard more time devote to pledge drives and read more web pages replete with lite chatter.

Now, my worries don’t oblige other people to change their programming (“Hey, Roone — there’s a guy in Chicago worried about the hurricane; let’s cut away for some special coverage, right?”). It did, however, heighten my attention to the discrepancy between post facto coverage and the preparatory reports (and on-going news).

I kept busy whipping up the fifth sheet of Theology Cards. Forty cards is plenty good for the game of which Scripture would say, “Naomi called its name Ekklesia: The Gathering.” I compiled and submitted a heap of receipts from the Disseminary, and got some necessary office work done. I’ll try to get to sleep early tonight, maybe catch up after a rest-less weekend.

Change in Plans

The plan was for me to rush home after church, take an immediate nap, and get some work done this afternoon. I had gotten very little sleep — the sermon didn’t want to come together, it had been a very difficult week of homiletical wrestling. The sermon turned out all right (posted below the fold), but it wasn’t done till low-digit hours of morning that I hardly ever witness.

So after two services and a long Adult Ed classes, I was ready indeed for a nap, but I took a quick look at my online neighborhood where I noticed Shelley’s stark alert that Katrina — which had looked like a garden-variety Bad Hurricane when I had last checked Saturday night — had turned into The Worst Hurricane Ever, at least as far as New Orleans was concerned. My nap time disappeared into an afternoon spent catching up on the scale of Katrina, the vulnerability of New Orleans, and the magnitude of the possible catastrophe.

The dioceses of Louisiana and Mississippi have sent a lot of seminarians to Seabury over the last few years — people I’ve worked with, people I love, people who’ve gone back to a region they love to serve God and their neighbors. Mary, Richard, Jeff, Dave, A.J., Annie, Bill and Susan — and Andrew’s and Laura’s families — I don’t even know what to hope for, but I’m thinking of you all, and will want to know that you’re well and safe, as soon as I can.
Continue reading Change in Plans

David I. Has A Point

David Isenberg points to a constructive response to the Robertson inanity, and the idea comes from Hugo Chávez himself (I’m not talking about the “rather mad dogs with rabies” part of the remark, for which I can offer no intelligible explanation. I thought “mad dogs” were by definition rabid; and what’s with the qualifier “rather”? Unless that’s in for the Guardian’s English readership. Rather!) .

Chávez has been using Venezuela’s oil resources as a policy tool, enlisting doctors from Cuba in exchange for discount oil and offering oil to Jamaica at a cut rate. “We want to sell gasoline and heating fuel directly to poor communities in the United States,” he says.

So far as I can imagine, there’s no way to swing that. “Poor communities” in the U.S. still obtain oil from the transnational corporations that import, refine, and distribute petrochemicals. A tanker of Venezuelan crude might make a nice present, but it wouldn’t provide any very direct benefit to, say, East St. Louis or Camden. Still, it’s more edifying to hear Chávez talk about helping the needy than to hear Pat Robertson bumble through his attempted justifications of his oafish bullying. “I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the US is out to kill him” — so (if Robertson is being honest) he thought that the way to respond to someone who (groundlessly?) feared U.S. assassination squads is to. . . kill him? Open your mouth, Mr. Robertson, and insert entire leg.

Theology Cards — The Game

As I work toward completing the starter set of 48 Early Church Theology Cards, I’ll post the links here. Right now, I’ve uploaded a design for the backs of the cards, and two sets of eight theologians. I think they’re pretty snazzy; Ryan and I had an impromptu game with the first set of eight to test-drive the game, and things worked pretty well (once he stopped cheating). Anyway, I’ll add links to this post rather than scattering them throughout my blog, and eventually we’ll have them linked from the main Disseminary blog, which is coming together bit by bit.

Preparations: First, determine how the variable categories will be directed: the “Date of Death” category may favor earlier or later saints, and the “Orders of Ministry” may favor Patriarchs (magisterial rules) or the Baptized (kingdom rules). Then deal the cards.

The divisions of Ministry are: Apostate, Baptized, Monastic, Deacon, Presbyter, Bishop, Patriarch. (“Apostate” always loses, whether by Magisterial or Kingdom rules.)

The divisions of Asceticism are: Virgin, Celibate, Chaste, Penitent, Unchaste. (The distinction between Chaste and Celibate is elusive and sometimes arbitrary. Virgins are always women; Celibates are men whose theology or practice foregrounded their sexual purity.)

The divisions of Orthodoxy are: Heresiarch, Heretic, Heterodox, Ambiguous, Orthodox, Theologian, and Doctor.

The divisions of Martyrdom are: Megamartyr (a martyr under extraordinary circumstances), Martyr, Confessor, Exile, Simplex (for those who just plain died).

The Play: Shuffle and deal the cards.

A turn consists of each player looking at the top card of their deck. The first player chooses one of the categories: Date of Death, Order, Asceticism, Orthodoxy, or Martyrdom. Players then compare the characteristics of the two cards in the category that the chooser indicated, and the player whose card is higher takes both cards and becomes the next chooser.

If the chooser’s card surpasses the responder’s card, the chooser gets both cards, puts them on the bottom of their deck, and and keeps the prerogative to choose the category when the next cards are drawn.

If the responder’s card is equal or higher when then cards are compared, the responder gets both cards, puts them at the bottom of their deck, and earns the prerogative to choose the category when the next cards are drawn.

[Later: Special Rules/specialcards to come. . . .]

When one player has all the cards, the game is over.

(Now I just have to come up with a sermon for Sunday.)

On Virgin Martyrs

I was going to hold out against incorporating legendary saints in the Church History Card Game, but the weight of the present list tips so heavily to men that we may need to draw on the (copious) ranks of the virgin martyrs to attain even the semblance of equity. I can rationalize it by pointing out that many of these figures are well-known, and it will help my students to know more about their stories and to know whether this or that martyr has a basis in fact.

Derek (congratulations on your impending paternity, Derek, and you’re sadly right about church hiring) proposed the following candidates:

St Prisce, St Agnes, St Anastasia, St Brigida, St Agatha, St Pudentiana/Potentiana, St Felicula, St Praxedis, St Susanna, St Sabina, St Eufemia, Sts Lucia and Eufemia, and Geminianus, St Cecilia, St Catherine, St Lucia

We might add to this list St Barbara and St Margaret of Antioch (two of the Fourteen Holy Helpers). I suppose that I’d favor these two, plus Catherine (shudder) and Agnes, who has a decent chance of having been an actual person. Depending on how many cards we already have, we could add — hmmm — Cecilia? Lucy? And maybe Cosmas and Damian?

[Later: As I mock-up cards (curses on Freehand, not fully compatible with OS X 10.4!), I have to come to a resolution about the terminology of non-ordained characters, of characters who die of natural or non-theological causes, of people who die out of communion with the church — maybe some others, too. Suggestions welcome.)

Defining “Out of Left Field”

Has anybody else noted the point of contact between Harry Potter and Reformation anti-Catholic polemics? That is, evangelical/Protestant advocates accused Catholic clergy of being Totenfresserei, “Eaters of the dead” (because they took offerings for saying masses for the souls of the deceased) — not precisely “Death-eaters,” but close enough to make a theologian wonder whether J. K. Rowling (from famously Reformed Scotland) has composed Harry Potter with a very subtle anti-Catholic subtext.

Not that that would stop me from itching to get hold of volume seven.

Things I Didn’t Want To Know (As It Turns Out)

The other night I succumbed to Si’s in-absentia blandishments and watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I knew it was going to be stupid, but I was willing to believe him when he assured me that it was stupid and fun. Alas, I just didn’t enjoy it that much. The whole production seemed to shoot for “so bad it’s good,” and it overshot its target — it’s so bad that it missed its chance to be good, and ends up just really, really bad. I’m always willing to cut Keanu Reeves a break (among the various actors of the “make a quizzical expression and that makes it really profound” stripe, I prefer him), and I appreciate pop-cultural gestures toward acknowledging the value in academic knowledge, and I’m not an entirely humorless old grouch, but Bill and Ted just made me wonder how long the movie would drag on. Best parts: Clarence Clemons, Fee Waybill, and Martha Davis as the three governing people in the future, and the scene(s) where Bill and Ted meet themselves traveling through time. The rest? As Pippa frequently says, “I want my two hours back!”

The other thing I didn’t want to know came to my attention in the course of my research for the Theology Cards project. I was looking into the numerous examples of virgin-martyrs in early church history, most of whom turn out to be legendary. I wanted to pin down just which ones were more likely fictive, and which had a plausible claim to factuality. As I scanned down the list I came to St. Catherine of Alexandria, a wildly popular saint whose stature seems to serve as a displaced compensation for Christian complicity in the lynching of Hypatia. The Wikipedia confirmed my recollection that “Historians believe that Catherine probably did not exist.” It also, however, provided the answer to a question that had troubled me since I was a youth. though I knew that Catherine had been tortured on “the wheel,” and that the wheel was variously associated with spikes and with “breaking,” I could never figure out what wheels had to do with torture (and iconographic treatments of Catherine were of little help). I’ve asked medievalist friends and ancient historians, but no one I asked has ever had a clear idea how this torture worked. Now I know, and it took my an hour or so of queasiness to pull myself together again.

I noticed recently that I’ve gotten more sensitive to cruelty in my advancing years. Margaret and I went to see Mr and Mrs Smith, and we both appreciated many aspects of the movie (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the tension in their relationship, Vince Vaughn), but Margaret was troubled by the plot holes. The plot caverns, to be more precise. I, in turn, was almost sleepless over the way the movie could invite us to delight in a couple’s love to such an extent that we were expected simply to disregard the staggering quantity of people whom they killed.

That experience catalyzed my latent horror at the ways our culture deals with denies mortality. (I may have disabled my capacity to enjoy the spy/thriller movies that our family has long enjoyed.) But reading about Catherine, watching the Smiths in action, I couldn’t help thinking about the U.S. government’s determination to sacrifice lives and torture captives in order to buy a respite (ephemeral at best, illusory at worst) from fears that its own belligerence reifies and magnifies.

Words To. . . Something By

Jennifer called my attention to the latest manifestation of Pat Robertson’s wisdom: “You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if [Hugo Chavez] thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war … and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.” This, as Michael Crowley notes over at Talking Points Memo, comes from the same man who suggested that activist judges (the ones who aren’t conservative activists) endanger the U.S. more than Al Qaeda does: “Over 100 years, I think the gradual erosion of the consensus that’s held our country together is probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings.”

Mmmmm hmmmm.