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Showing posts from January, 2016

Friday Fun: Boss Top Ten, #7--"Trapped"

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"Trapped" (cover song, originally by Jimmy Cliff)
Concert Footage: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio (U.S.A.), 2014


Bruce Springsteen has sung a lot of songs in his career.  In addition to his own work (in the form of 18 studio albums), he often plays covers.  Some of the covers are of songs he wrote for other people that have gone on to become hits, such as "Because the Night" which was a hit for Patti Smith and then later 10,000 Maniacs.  But some of them are just straight up covers.  And because there are so many of them, they tend to cycle in and out of setlists--they will be a routine presence in his shows, then fade away, then come back.

Such is the case with "Trapped."  "Trapped" was originally performed by reggae pioneer Jimmy Cliff.  After a bit of Google-fu, it turns out that "Trapped" was first covered by Springsteen on 1985's USA for Africa charity album (best known for "We Are the World"), and then played live …

L'Affaire du Lavement des Pieds

This may be the dumbest controversy of all time, and because of that I wanted to avoid this topic altogether.  But, I just can't help it--I have to talk about foot washing.

For those not familiar with this issue, in the service for Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) in Catholic and other liturgical Christian churches (I know, for example, its in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer), there is a part where the priest washes the feet of certain members of the congregation.  This practice is derived from John's Gospel, where Jesus washes the feet of those gathered for the Last Supper.  The symbolism here is that washing feet was something done by a servant, and thus Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples is a sign that leadership in the Christian context involves serving others instead of lording over them.

I go to the Maundy Thursday service every year.  We didn't always go as a kid, so I would estimate I have been to that service around 20 times in my life.  Ev…

Reading the Quran--Surah 1 ("al-Fatihah", "The Opening") and Opening Thoughts

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds
the Compassionate, the Merciful
Master of the Day of Judgment
Thee we worship and from Thee we seek help
Guide us upon the straight path
the path of those whom Thou has blessed, not of those who incur wrath, not of those who are astray.

Surah 1 (Study Quran translation)

So begins the Quran, in the form of the first chapter, or surah, in its entirety.  Al-Fatihah is a prayer, and (so the notes tell me) is used as the basis of the five-fold daily prayers performed by practicing Muslims.  In Catholic high school, I was taught the four purposes of prayer--adoration, thanksgiving, penance and petition.  In seven short lines, al-Fatihah covers at least three of those purposes, with the possible omission of penance.  It is a very direct, rather beautiful prayer.

"Direct" is a descriptor that I suspect will be coming up repeatedly in this series, as the Quran is seen by Muslims as "direct" i…

Friday Fun: Boss Top Ten, #8--"Death to My Hometown"

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"Death to My Hometown" (off of Wrecking Ball (2012)
Concert Footage:  Apollo Theatre, New York (U.S.A.), 2012


Bruce has a large number of songs in his catalog that relate to the collapse of American cities.  In fact, if there is one consistent thread running through all of his work, it might be that.  Off the top of my head, I can think of at least a half-dozen songs that have this as an element or a significant theme--"The River," "Born in the U.S.A.," "The Promise," "Johnny 99," "My City of Ruins," "Factory."  And there are many more.

This is a controversial opinion, but I think his songwriting on this topic has gotten better as time has gone on.  I think many of the earlier songs can be a bit too formulaic, such that they all become variations on the same song ("is this the one where the factory closes down, or the one where there are no construction jobs, or what?")  The other problem is that there is a…

Joy of Being Wrong Essays, Part 6.2--Our Fear of a Genderless World

In the previous post, I took a look at the idea of a taboo, and whether people are freaking out about homosexuality because it is a taboo.  If homosexuality is a taboo, we would expect it to be "protecting" some social division or structure.  And I think homosexuality is "protecting" a social division--the division between men and women, and the notion that this division manifests itself in rigid roles respective to each gender.

Let's go back to St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians.

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3: 26-28.

Other than the resurrection accounts, I think this is the most radical passage of the New Testament.  St. Paul is naming three of the most profound divisions in his society and declaring them to be irrelevant in light of the coming of Jesus.  …

Joy of Being Wrong Essays, Part 6.1--Is Homosexuality a Taboo?

One of the true joys that has come from writing this blog is that it has given me the chance to make what I call "Internet friends."  These are people that I have not met in person, but people who I have interacted with via Twitter or email as a result of something I written, or something they have written, or both.  Frank Strong of Letters to the Catholic Rightis one such person (by the way, you should absolutely check out his recent post on the goings on in the Episcopal Church, of which he is a member), as is Bill Lindsey of Bilgrimage.  Another one of my Internet friends is Maureen Clarke, a woman who lives in Manchester, England, and maintains an active Twitter feed involving the Catholic Church, UK politics, and healthcare issues in her neck of the woods.

On Saturday, Maureen tweeted the following:

The debate on LGBT dominated the Synod on the family yet nothing changes.  Why is sin always synonymous with sex?  What about greed power, etc

Wish we could ask Rene Girard…

What Are We Fighting About, Part VI--Gay Christians and the Ecclesiastes Choice

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up; 
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-9.

I know I said that this series was going to be done with five posts, but another dimension to this discussion occurred to me over the last few days that I felt was worth adding.  It is spawned from two things.  The first is the action taken yesterday by the Primates of the Anglican Communion to "…

Friday Fun: Boss Top Ten, #9--"Lonesome Day"

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"Lonesome Day" (off of The Rising (2002))
Concert Footage:  Rose Center, New York (U.S.A.), 2002


2002's The Rising is my favorite Springsteen album.  A large part of that has to do with very idiosyncratic and personal reasons, which I will get to in a future post.  But another big reason is that The Rising is the most diverse album tonally and sonically.  You have very slow, punishingly sad piano ballads like "You're Missing," and you have aggressively upbeat, positive songs like "Waitin' On a Sunny Day."  You have songs about crumbling communities ("My City of Ruins") and songs about things getting made right ("Counting On a Miracle").  You have straight forward rock songs ("Mary's Place") and you have more experimental tracks ("The Fuse").

If there is anything that joins these songs together, it is their complete refusal to adopt a Manichean view of the world.  Every song on the album that is basica…

New Project--Reading the Quran, Introduction

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It is basically impossible to live a day without hearing something about Islam and the Muslim world.  And much of what we hear is disturbing.  We see terrible violence in Syria, primarily Muslim-on-Muslim, and that violence is spreading to other countries (including the U.S.) from ISIS and other radical groups.  Iran and Saudi Arabia, perhaps the two most high-profile Muslim nations, seem to be on the brink of war, if they are not already at war.  Meanwhile, there are calls from political leaders in the U.S. to round-up American Muslims, including American citizens, because they represent an existential threat to the country.

Truthfully, I don't know what to make of much of this.  I believe strongly and completely that for the government to discriminate against Muslims in the United States on the basis of their religion would be to surrender the very thing that makes this country what it is.  Beyond that, it has dawned on me that I do not know enough about Islam, or way in which I…

Quick Hitter--Maybe Marriage Doesn't Matter as Much as Douthat Thinks It Does

Prior to the coming of the English, Ireland was governed by a set of traditional laws, passed down orally through a class of judges/lawyers, called the "Brehon Code" or "Brehon Law."  Brehon law lasted for a long time in Ireland--in the western part of the Ireland, it was still the operative rule of governance into the Elizabethan period, as can be seen in the tale of the Pirate Queen of Ireland, Grainne Mhaol ("Grace O'Malley").  In fact, one of the interesting things one sees from the story of Grainne is that Brehon Law governed marriage and family relationships in medieval Ireland, not the rules of the Catholic Church.

And the Brehon laws related to marriage were wholly incompatible with the Catholic theology of marriage as currently presented.  Rather than being a singular, life-long commitment of personal and sexual fidelity, marriage under the Brehon laws was a series (as many as ten) of pre-determined relationships that regulated the status of…

Friday Fun: Boss Top Ten, #10--"Glory Days"

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"Glory Days" (off of Born in the U.S.A. (1984))
Concert Footage:  Hyde Park, London (U.K.), 2013



Well, after a couple weeks off for the holidays, back to the Springsteen countdown.  We start our official top ten with a track off of the album that put Springsteen into the stratosphere, 1984's Born in the U.S.A.  I was listening to Born in the U.S.A. last night, and I was struck by how great it sounded.  With the exception of two tracks ("I'm on Fire," and "My Hometown"), every single one of the tracks is a high-energy, expansive rock song.  It's all very "big," and in that sense it is not surprising that it resonated with people in the mid-80s, a time when uncomplicated excess was seen as cool.  All of the songs are also very fun from a musical perspective--the experience of listening to them makes you smile and bop your head along to the beat and sing along (the well-known "Dancing in the Dark" and the less well known "…

What Are We Fighting About?, Part V--Gay Christians and the Caesarea Moment

Previous Posts in the Series:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

I said in the beginning that I wanted to hit four different perspectives on what was at stake with LGBT issues in the Christian Church.  But it occurred to me that there was a critical fifth issue at stake that I was ignoring in my scheme.  To explain how I see that issue, it is necessary to take a dive into the Scriptures.  In particular, to take a look is one of the richest stories in the Bible, the 10th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

Acts 10, and basically the rest of Acts (and a large chunk of Paul's writings) is about the question of whether or not non-Jews had any place in proto-Christianity.  And Acts 10 begins by presenting us with a good test case--Cornelius the Centurion.  Cornelius was, essentially, what today we would call a "Jewish fanboy"--someone who admired the religion of the people among whom he was serving, and tried to follow their practices as far as he was able.  The "as far as he …

What Are We Fighting About?, Part IV--Orthodoxy and The Process of Scandal

I moved to Columbus, Ohio in 2011 to take a one-year position as a law clerk for a judge on the United States Court of Appeals.  The Court of Appeals is the level below the Supreme Court, and so we would hear appeals from every sort of case that makes its way through the federal trial courts.  We would also review what are called petitions for habeas corpus--supplementary appeals of criminal convictions (usually either life sentences or capital sentences) that occurred in state court.  When I tell people about the cases we saw during my time associated with the court, many people assume that these criminal cases were the most interesting and engaging.  But they were not, at least I didn't think so.  More than anything else, those habeas cases were frustrating.

The source of this frustration came in large part from a law called, and I am not making this up, "The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996," commonly called "AEDPA."  AEDPA was passed i…

The Joy of Being Wrong Essays, Part 5--Why Bother With Girard?

The previous posts in this scattershot series have been looking at various issues that come up from James Alison's book The Joy of Being Wrong.  Before diving ahead with that, I figured it made sense to circle back and ask a more foundational question--why bother with any of this Girard stuff in the first place?  Why do we need some outside source to further complicate an already complicated religion that is Christianity?

The simplest answer to that question is that Girardian ideas have provided the best and most comprehensive set of answers to my questions regarding how to be a Christian in our time.  And because it seems that my questions are not particularly unique to me, but questions that lots of people seem to be asking, that means that Girard is providing answers to questions that people are asking.

What are those questions?  I think there are four basic questions.

1.  What Should We Do About the Violence Around Us?  2015 was a year of violence.  We had ISIS beheadings in th…