Smells and Bells, Anglo-Catholic style

Today, I decided to scratch my occasional (about every five years) itch to attend an interesting religious service. I’ve been to Tridentine pre-Vatican II masses, Latin masses, a whole host of various Protestant services, synagogue on various occasions, and even a morning service at a Shingon Buddhist Temple in Japan. I’m not religious myself, but I do enjoy the history and ceremony behind services, constantly asking myself questions like, “so why is this important?” and “why do they say it that way?” It’s a strain of my history interest, but also a throw back to my Catholic upbringing.

Today we attended St. Hilda of Whitby, an Anglican Catholic congregation here in Atlanta. My interest lies in apparent contradiction between the two words in the title of their church, as well as my interest in high church liturgy.

Indeed, it was quite high church. Certainly it was the most Tridentine liturgy I’ve seen outside of a Roman Catholic church. The priest kept his back to the congregation for a large portion of the liturgy, there was plenty of standing, sitting and kneeling as well as intra-prayer genuflecting and crossing. Sung hymns were kept at 6 or even seven verses. None of this “two verses and done” nonsense! It felt very Roman Catholic.

Yet there was the Book of Common Prayer at every seat, specifically the U.S. Episcopal 1928 Book of Common Prayer. My quick reading today tells me that the Anglican Catholic Church in the U.S. exists primarily because of deep disagreement with the 1979 revision to this book as well as disagreement with the ordination of women. The Congress of St. Louis is key here.

It was a good Easter service, filled with tradition and history. I am glad I went, and I am happy to say that the people of St. Hilda’s, although small in number, were quite welcoming. Theologically, it’s not my cup of tea but I wish them well and I always glad to partake of the vast difference in religious experience this country allows.

 

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Not enough (words for) love

I’m reading Robert Nozick’s The Examined Life. It’s full of good, mind-tingling things, and last night I read his chapter on love. He doesn’t mention this specifically but it reminded me that the Greek’s (yes, back to that language) have 4 words for love, where English has one.

agape

eros

philia

storge

They are pretty distinct and world certainly simplify English, leaving behind a lot of mucking about with adjectives. But at the same time, we would lose out on some great comedy of misunderstanding.

I’m really focused on Greek lately, aren’t I? This despite the fact that I have never attempted any education (self or otherwise) in Greek. I taught myself and took college level courses in Latin for years. And yet I return to Greek for in interesting tidbits more often.

No lesson today. Just bits of info. I assume people aren’t generally aware of this, but perhaps I am wrong?

Christopher Hitchens: read him now

I re-started blog writing because every successful writer I know has told me, “Um, the only way you get better at writing is by writing.” It’s obvious, but it took me a while to hear it and act on it.

When I want to write, I turn to Christopher Hitchens for inspiration and guidance. I find every sentence well-crafted and the whole structure of almost everything he does just mesmerizing. He’s working above most opinion and reporting writers even when’s just tossing something off.

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You may find some of Hitch’s work disagreeable. Indeed, the work I’m reading now is Letters to Young Contrarian and it is highly recommended. Within the first few pages he successfully steers you away from categorizing him as a mere naysayer, but rather someone with an awful lot to say, especially on topics that a lot of people don’t want to talk about. And it’s all done with light but deep prose that I don’t find anywhere else.

Part of the joy of Hitchens is his encyclopedic quote work, especially of people outside my normal range of familiarity. I’m less than halfway through but he’s already provided me with Harold Rosenberg referring to his friends as “the herd of intellectual minds.” How about a little Latin: Fiat justitia — ruat caelum. “Do justice, and let the skies fall.” And then a reminder that the cliche “miscarriage of justice” has the (perhaps intended) effect of pardoning all parties involved. Miscarriages happen. Most of the time what people mean is “abortions of justice,” but perhaps that’s a bit on the nose.

His brief but powerful examination of Emile Zola and the Dreyfus years in France also has me wondering what the hell happened to journalism in the United States. Hitchens would and did call them cowards. I’m fairly convinced.

Oh, and I read his Mortality while I was sick last year. It helped.

So read this book. Read Hitchens. Be delighted. Be enraged. Disagree with him and with me. He loves conflict and wants you to love it too. Because out of conflict comes truth and life. He quotes Aldous Huxley:

“Homer was wrong,” wrote Heracleitus of Ephesus. “Homer was wrong in saying: ‘Would that strife might perish from among the gods and men!’ He did not see that he praying for the destruction of the universe; for if his prayer were heard, all things would pass away.” These are the words on which the superhumanists should meditate. Aspiring toward a consistent perfection, they are aspiring toward annihilation. The Hindus had the wit to see and the courage to proclaim the fact; Nirvana, the goal of their striving, is nothingness. Wherever life exists, there also is inconsistency, division, strife.

 

Dungeon, Fire, Sword and a disappointing re-read

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It’s amazing how much your taste in literature can change in 20 years. When I first read John J. Robinson’s Dungeon, Fire and Sword: The Knights Templar in the Crusades when it first came out in around 1992, I thought it was the greatest thing ever. What’s not to like: war, adventure, chivalry, deceit, corruption, conspiracy, religious conflict on the grand stage of history, and all true.

Today, its ponderous, filled with political and battle detail that seems extraneous to the actual history of the Templars, and just not very well written. Years ago I gave this book as a gift to people who were interested in the medieval world. I couldn’t do that today.

That said, a detailed history of the crusades is worth reviewing for a few reminders:

  1. It was never really about religion, although it was certainly sold that way. It was about siphoning off second and third sons from Western Europe and sticking it to the Byzantines.
  2. By the end, the Christian crusader states were perfectly happy with peace with their Muslim neighbors, because everyone was making a nice living from trade with the East. But people get greedy and warlike.
  3. It’s not just about Christians and Muslims. The Sunni-Shi’a divide made the early Crusades possible, and the appearance of the Mongols briefly prolonged the shrinking Crusader states.
  4. It is a crime that the Battle of Ain Jalut (linked above) gets zero coverage in most history reviews of the period.
  5. In a world where strength was right, I still find it fascinating that the powers of the day, including King Philip of France and Pope Clement, went through such amazingly circuitous proceedings to get the Templars disbanded and take their stuff. Even in 1300s Europe, where torture, rape and murder were the political norm, it was somehow important to make the whole thing look legit.