Wednesday, February 27, 2002
I promised to start looking at articles on/by/about Islam, but I'm starting with something fairly cursory, yet broadly interesting: "America's Muslims: Will They Be the Heirs of the Puritan Legacy?" from Ethics Daily, a Baptist-run website (if you have a knee-jerk reaction against Baptists, get over it).
Purely apart from what it says about Islam, I found this quote in the article to be interesting:
"You get that with all the monotheistic religions," said Donner, professor of Near Eastern History at the University of Chicago. "Whenever there's one revelatory point (in writing of Scripture), there's going to be a movement to go back to the reality of original truth."
If you live in a cave, you might have missed the fact that Pat Robertson is not only making himself look like an twit, but wants to drag the rest of the Christian faith through the mud with him. Ethics Daily did the right thing in taking this supposedly Christian leader to task in their appearance on CNN: Robertson Decries Islam, EthicsDaily.com and Others Respond on ‘TalkBack Live’.
Thought from the article: “It is incumbent upon us to speak about our own religion and give witness to what we hold to be the true and highest values and not engage in a denigration or attack on other religions.”
And finally, from The London Telegraph, a short piece on the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha: Sacred mysteries.
Tuesday, February 26, 2002
SexOne of my favorite sex writers, Tracy Quan, adds some intelligent commentary (imagine that) to the discussions of General Powell's condom comments and their fallout last week: Investing in abstinence? Yes, it's a Salon article. Go on -- tell me how much you love it.
From the only in a Madison Avenue Culture file:
What do you call it when you take a cool, fun, healthy snack and remove almost all of the nutritional value? An improvement, of course. Check out Robert's American Gourmet's "open letter" about their improvements to Veggie Booty. Keep in mind, a dose of Veggie Booty used to have the bulk of a day's supply of several vitamins and minerals (my undying gratitude to anyone who can send me the original Veggie Booty info).
The Supremes do it right again: This time The Govenor of Indiana is prevented from using the State Capitol to actively promote a specific religious viewpoint. "High court bars Ten Commandments display" is the link. (A side note: This artilce is pleasantly thorough, considering the source.)
Why any Christian is remotely interested in having a secular state underwrite (thus, ultimately, watering down) the ten commandments is beyond me. Why Indiana should somehow be exempt from non-establishment is also beyond me. The Baptist Join Committee on Public Affairs website is currently non-functional, but when it's back up, I'd love to see what they have to say.
Monday, February 25, 2002
Religion... News... Stupid People...
It's a sad thing when Ivy League grads lack basic logic skills. Of course, when you're a self-confirmed bigot, this kind of column should hardly surprise anyone. Ann Coulter is sinking to new anti-Muslim lows: If The Profile Fits. Thanks heavens I discovered that the my favorite religiously biased, hate-mongering dimwit is available free on Yahoo! So, folks, next flight you get on, be sure to not carry on your pocket knife, your ballpoint pens, or anything that expresses respect for or interest in a Muslim view point. Ann's watching.
After a recent book I contributed to on world monotheism for White Wolf Game Studios (you non-geeks would never understand), I was accused of anti-Islamic bias. Perhaps it's time to correct that flaw, so, starting tomorrow, let's start taking a look at some online Islamic articles
More Religion, More Stupid People....
Another take on John Walker, this time from some of my new favorite (no, sincerely) folks at Spinsanity: The John Walker Attack on Liberalism. It's nice to know critical thinking isn't dead, but it's a little more troubling that the op/ed pieces they're arguing against are probably getting a wider readership.
A point that seems lost in their analysis is the broad, baseless association of Buddhism with the New Age movement. While tons of hokey Marin County Stepford New Agers may practice some variation of Buddhism without much reflection or thought, it's also true that an equal number of Dallas County Stepford Evangelicals also practice some form of Christianity with even less.
What's sad (though not surprising) here is the way that Christianity is being used as a pro-conformity litmus test by many on the mainstream right. This itself is an outright sell-out of the evangelical emphasis on a deeply personal, life-altering encounter with the divine. Instead, these conservatives seem most interested in promoting an 11th, previously unknown commandment: "Thou Shalt Conform." I'm sure God is delighted.
Religion and a Few Intelligent People (for a change)
When the Fundamentalists completed their takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, the first task was to cut their share of the funding for The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. If you want to know why I respect this centrist group committed to supporting both the Non-Establishment and the Free Exercise clauses of the first ammendment, I can only point to how much the right-wing nutcases hate them. For a refreshing statement on the rights of Muslims intthe US, check out Protecting Religious Liberty. The author isn't the best writer (it takes him forever to make a point), but this could really change your view of Baptist thought.
For a project I'm working on (again, you non-geeks should just not ask), I needed to reread the story of Odysseus and Polyphemus, king of the cyclopes from Book IX of The Odyssey. I thought it was certainly worth sharing: wanton morals, vengeful deities, blasphemous villains, and all around cruelty. Who could ask for anything more?
Of course Homer wasn't the last poet to write about Odysseus. I couldn't reread any part of the Odyssey without remembering some favorite lines from Tennyson's monologue "Ulysses":
I am a part of all that I have met;
Thursday, February 21, 2002
Alright folks, while I really like Coca-Cola and I really like Harry Potter, I know as well as anyone they can be a dangerous combination. While we all love the little jolt of caffeine from time to time (I'm contemplating one now, myself), I think we're also aware that even in first world nations, children are suffering from severe malnutrition simply because junk food remains cheap and fashionable. Santa Clause, Six Flags, folk music and polar bears have already been permanently wedded to America's largest soft drink. So, let's say "enough is enough": Save Harry!.
Many dankes to my coworker "Lola" for pointing this out!
Tuesday, February 19, 2002
Again, it's a week old, but, as the man says, "Some girls really need a good solid performance" (how heterosexist is that?). BattleBots in the bedroom covers the new high tech revolution in sex toys. Yeah, yeah - it's another story from Salon. Deal. I just couldn't resist the promise that "sexual prowess is measured by torque and horsepower." Of course, if, as the aarticle reports, the men in straight porn are "in the way," we could be seeing a lot of out-of-work John Holmes wannabes soon. If nothing else, this article will be your introduction to The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Robots.
No, I don't have any deep meditations on this? Should I? What do you, the viewers at home think?
Spiral galaxy spins the wrong way says an online story in New Scientist (a site that promises to be one of my new favorites). While the idea of galaxy being a tad out of sync doesn't keep me awake at night, it does disturb me just a little that galaxies might just wander around bumping into each other...
After all, after watching Armageddon we discoverd not only that Ben Affleck shouldn't do action movies (and that not even Billy Bob Thornton can save a doomed flick). We also learned that we only know what's going on in about 10% of the sky. So if we're unprepared for large comets to come falling down and crushing Paris, what are we going to do if we suddenly get swept up into another galaxy?
Still not worried, then check out this New Scientist headline: Common virus linked to brain tumours. Oh, and only weeks after I finally buy a DVD player (and get The Manchurian Candidate on DVD) they announce: Replacement for DVD unveiled. Aren't scientists supposed to make our lives better?
Why don't we just call the site pessimists.net or shittynews.com? No really, I love this site. Look for more links to their headlines!
Monday, February 18, 2002
Hey all! Well, this should be something worthy of thought -- should personal convictions shape a justice's interpretations and application of the law? From Slate: Justice Scalia vs. the Pope - Should every Catholic judge in America quit?. You can read more on the story in Newsday.
While liberals will almost always cry foul if a judge discusses the impact faith has on her (or his) professional life, one has to wonder about their response to such judicial activism when the religious beliefs in question support progressive activism? What's the difference between a judge who may object to the death penalty on religious grounds and a judge who may object to the death penalty on the ground of a personal moral philosophy? (And if you assert that one is authoritian while one is a reasoned decision, then you don't strike me as incredibly bright.) Should a judge from a gay-affirming church such The Episcopal Church, The United Church of Christ, The Unitarian Universalist Association, or The Metropolitan Community Churches recuse herself from deciding a sodomy case? If so, then shouldn't a judge who rejects sodomy law on personal grounds also do so?
Of course, one also is forced to wonder whether Justice Scalia's opposition to judicial activism on the death penalty would also apply to judicial activism on abortion. Hmmmm?
Geek Culture: More Cartooning
I miss all the best stuff: NYC in the 80s, the early days of the Indigo Girls, seeing Kurosawa films in college... Luckily, most of these things are still with us. So's this Onion interview with Berkeley Breathed. Thank God for archiving.
Speaking of archives, you have to dig through a long personal essay, but the number of old Bloom County strips here is incredible. Have fun!
Saturday, February 16, 2002
I know, I know. Blogs are uuposed to hit on topics and move on, but I've not yet become comfortable with the way I wound things up last night (well, I only had 20 minutes, what did you want?). While I'm certainly not going to lay down universal standards of scriptural interpretation, I can at least explicate what those verses from Psalm 37, at least in part, meant to me. Yes, if you're reading this blog for funky pieces of religion news and interesting tidbits about sex and geek culture, you may wish to skip down a bit, because I'm gonna get reflective.
You've been warned.
Okay, the first thing my reflections brought to mine (or at least the oldest thing...) was a story I saw on the cover of Sunday's New York Post, "Lay Prays." While I certainly won't stand in judgement over Ken Lay (my real knowledge of the Enron crisis, apart from my rather partisan knee-jerk responses, is relatively small) and am certainly glad he's seeking guidance from his faith, I think our Lenten readings have a lot to say about the ethics of America's large business and the consumer society they feed. My readings will hardly come as a surprise to anyone, but hey...
On Ash Wednesday we heard from the Prophet Joel: "Rend your hearts and not your garments" -- don't make shows of being sorry for your wrongdoings, actually change. The Hebrew Scriptures reading from Ezekiel for today's Morning Prayer can seem disturbingly judgemental to moderns, but at the heart of the passage, Ezekiel sets out what beahviors are the mark of evil actions: oppressing the poor, commiting robbery, and not restoring a pledge, in addition to the usual sins of idolatry, usury, and infidelity.
The second thing this reading brought to mind appeared on Salon and Spinsanity on Ash Wednesday. In "Fritzkrieg! A Democratic senator lies about Enron to smear Bush," Ben Fritz examines the role partisanship plays in making false accusations against members of the Bush Administration for their involvement in Enron.
While Enron's ethical lapses might be par for the course in business and partisan adaptations of the facts might be par for the course in politics, I believe that religion, at its best, sets us a higher standard to live by than the status quo. Perhaps this is what we are being asked to do in those verses from Psalm 37:
Put your trust in the Lord and do good...
He will make your righteousness as clear as the light*
Be still befor the Lord
Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers,
Perhaps this psalm's call is not to "just let things be" and do nothing about the suffering people inflict on ourselves and others. That would be just another example of religion as an opiate, something Marx and hundreds of others rightly criticized. Rather, this psalm is telling us to rely on our hope that "truth will out" by honest means, and not to be drawn into the means of our enemies (whether they be personal, partisan, or international enemies) simply to accomplish the end of taking them down. Indeed, the last verse warns us against the whole notion of whether our goal should ever be "taking down" our enemies. Instead, our goal should be to engage to work honestly for a just, safe, sane world.
Anyway, these thoughts gave me a context for reading and rereading today's psalm, one that is might depressing, but certainly presents the harsher side of a life lived in hope - one that certainly admits openly that those who live with a commitment to truthfulness or just and honest dealings will often get the upper hand. The same reflections also made reading the prayer For Our Enemies more meaningful.
Now, on a related side note...
On a side note, to exactly this end, I'd like to say I really hope Spinsanity can contribute to a political culture with a higher ethical standard. I'm not sure if he editors have partisan biases of their own, and some of the stories I've read there could have used more documentation (at least that was my initial impression -- I may revise that on rereading). However, I think this kind of reporting is desperately needed in today's political climate... especially in an election year.
Even More Religiosity
On a less pensive note, though still remembering I'm a progressive, I'll note that today was, on the Episcopal Church calendar, the Feast of Thomas Bray. Yesterday, besides being the traditional observance of St. Valentine's Day, was the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the former having given his name to the Cyrillic alphabet.
I know you all were just dying for more information on the brother saints from 2-14, so tagged this little puppy of an article, Missionary Journey of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. There's also Cyril and Methodius: Apostles to the Slavs. That should give you plenty to think about.
Religion and Sex, Together Again!I guess that moral failure by spiritual leaders shouldn't be exactly news. I also suppose I shouldn't be terribly judgemental: It's not as if hundreds of American churches allow same-sex unions. However, this story from Finland seems sad. It's from Gay.com News.
Yes, for most of us in NYC, Collin Powell supporting safer sex is old news, but it's worth at least a mention. It's also from Gay.com News.
Friday, February 15, 2002
I didn't do a single Salon story all day yesterday (the AP wire piece didn't count), so let's start today with this Obituary for Waylon Jennings.
Geekdom...Yes, collect what you can while you can is the moral of this week's Tom the Dancing Bug.
Thursday, February 14, 2002
I guess if you aren't from Texas, you might not get this, but I just had to share my day's "ho-hum" with the world. More this evening (yeah, yeah, I promised it last evening, but now I really, really mean it).
I wanted to note that I found this morning's Psalm moving ("this morning's psalm" meaning the psalm that was in the Book of Common Prayer lectionary for use on the day after Ash Wednesday -- the second day of Lent). But it left me thinking about vague and our readings of the psalms can be.
the wicked draw their sword and bend their bow
This psalm could easily be on the lips of a hundred New Yorkers after the events of 9/11. It could, also (whether justifiably or not is not what I'm discussing here), have been on the lips of those who crashed the planes into over 3,000 people in the World Trade Center. It could conceivably be on the lips of hundreds of people throughout the world - including a lot of gays and lesbians who've been unjustifiably persecuted in God's name.
The psalm also says that the righteous "wait on the Lord" - but they wait how long? Until damaged, wounded beyond capacity, and unable to fight back?
Oh wait - it's time to go home... Well, you didn't expect me to have any insights into how Christians should interpret scripture, did you? No, no -- I'm just here to post my own puzzling questions, ya dopes.
Indigo Girl Emily Saliers asks similar questions in her song "Philosophy of Loss" from Come on Now Social.
Wednesday, February 13, 2002
Alright folks. In only a few hours it will be, technically, the beginning of Lent - a time we focus on our faith and what it means to us. But for the remainder of this night, it's Mardi Gras, otherwise known as Fat Tuesday or Carnival. I celebrated by having some greasy cheese pizza, a little Ben and Jerry's, reading more Harry Potter, and enjoyed a little surfing. Since I don' have any great and meaningful thoughts, links, or meditations to share, I think I'll just give you guys this recently rediscovered thought from that great Anglican queer, W. H. Auden (actually, it's from his introduction to Loren Eisley's The Star Thrower.)
Carnival celebrates the unity of our human race as mortal creatures, who come into this world and depart from it without our consent, who must eat, drink, defecate, belch, and break wind in order to live, and procreate if our species is to survive. Our feelings about this are ambiguous. To us as individuals, it is a cause of rejoicing to know we are not alone, that all of us, irrespective of age or sex or rank or talent, are in the same boat. As unique persons, on the other hand, all of us are resentful that an exception cannot be made in our own case. We oscillate between wishing we were unreflective animals and wishing we were disembodied spirits, for in either case we should not be problematic to ourselves. The Carnival solution of this ambiguity is to laugh, for laughter is simultaneously a protest and an acceptance.
He goes on, of course, but I think that's enough food to get me thinking tonight. Thank you Mr. Auden!
Anyway, guys, I'll see ya tomorrow.
A Little Religion, A Little Geek Culture
Well, my categories are all falling apart here. After my rant of yesterday evening, I thought it interesting that Holy Cross Monastery's Prayer Paper for February discussed The Lord of the Rings (at least it discussed the movie, though it seems to me what they're saying fits the book even better). It's quite appropriate for Lent, and I'd like to comment on it more tonight, if I get the chance.
Today at noon, I'll be going to The Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin for a sung Eucharist and attending my (semi)regular parish church tonight -- though they haven't put the service times on the website, I'm assuming the service is at 6 PM.
Yes, yes, the long quote from W. H. Auden should be indented, not italicized, but there's this problem: Somehow, my use of either tables or stylesheets in my Blogger template is screwing up the way the blockquote tag works. If anyone has any ideas, drop me a line.
For those of you who discovered the problem with the online version of Jerry Mack from Sunday, I've discovered the link to the second page (hey - they all worked when I first discovered this page) through a little creative digging. Once you've read page 1, if the link isn't fixed, try this one: Jerry Mack (Page 2 of 9).
And it's a little bit religion, too. See how everything just comes together...
Be nice to those customer service people!
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
Alrighty folks. Since we started off with religion last time, let's beging tonight with:
Yes this is all pretty loosely defined.
Anyway, I'm behind the times, but I'd like to say "Go Girl" to Ms. Jean Tang, who's Salon article, "'Lord of the Rings' vs. 'Star Wars,'" does a brilliant job of pinpointing exactly what makes this film version fo Fellowship of the Ring such a big disappointment. Though her analysis isn't completely on target on all counts, she gets full marks for stepping out from the pack of mindlessly glowing reviews (try Salon's original review for an example of the kind of empty-headed devotion the movie seems to inspire), and she hits one of the key problems square on the head: As portrayed in the movie, the characters are lifeless, emotionless, and, all in all, about as compelling as a Builder.com tutorial -- less archetypes, more stereotypes. The movie bent over backwards to include every bit of available Tolkien trivia it could get its hands on, but it lost the heart and soul of the book completely, substituting instead amatuerishly utilized special effects and -- saints preserve us -- Liv Tyler (while shafting the truly talented Cate Blanchett by covering her most important scene with an idiotic shift to negative and modulating her voice beyond recognition). While several letter writers and Salon contributor Eric Lipton too exception (perhaps justifiably) to her comparison, most of the points she makes seem completely unable to pierce the special-effect bedazzled skulls of most American movie goers.
Alright, I'll stop the rant there. I've managed to avoid frothing at the mouth and whining about the inclusion of Enya on the soundtrack, so I'd better quit while I'm ahead. Ironically, Reuters and just about everyone else announced today that Fellowship of the Ring will be joining the long list of forgetable films that won Oscars.
Anyway, I'm now busy rereading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which is supposed to come out in paperback on July 31 (Harry's birthday). I'm also nearly sick wondering when Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will be coming out, but alas, according to the Unofficial Harry Potter Fan Club, there's still no word!
Speaking of Salon, though, those of you who enjoy reading ranting idiots (and if you're here, you probably do), should check out Caleb Carr's response to Laura Miller's review of his book Lessons on Terror. He followed up with an apology to women readers. But it looks like the damage had been done. For what it's worth, I still plan to read The Alienist, but I'll just buy my copy used.
For those of you who live under rocks and missed the big news, today is Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, when, throughout western Christendom, thousand of young hoolidans will be displaying their sexual organs to random strangers for beads and/or sex. Should I discuss under Religion? Should I discuss this under Sex? Well, since I'm still at work, I'll have to figure it out on the subway. You'll find out more when I get home.
Sunday, February 10, 2002
Hey, I'm Richard, aka BrooklynScoob, and this is Impolite Conversation, my first foray into the world of blogging. The proposed topics are:
It's an odd, possibly even contradictory compilation of topics, but I'm and odd and contradictory guy, and these are the topics which I find meaningful (and, besides, politics has so been done). Eventually, I'll post up more information about me, but for now, let's get down to business: Today's Topical Entries, we'll start with...
ReligionThey say you should start with what you know, so I'll start with my current spiritual home, The Episcopal Church, USA. The church home page is an interesting, if you're looking for news, a lists of departments and official ministries, or trying to find a local parish. If you want to really get the nitty, gritty on doctrine, worship, and history, though, you have to the unofficial homepage by Brother Thomas Bushnell. The official page does have one interesting list of Church-Related Organizations, ranging from religious orders to Integrity, an organization for Gay and Lesbian Episcopalians, and The American Anglican Council, an umbrella organization for Episcopalian conservatives. The Episcopal Church is the autonomous American branch of the Anglican Communion, a group of churches descended from The Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury serves as a spiritual leader but has no actual authority over the churches outside of England.
Oddly enough, very little of that (with the exception of the site by Br. Thomas) will tell you much about what Episcopalianism or Anglicanism is all about, where they came from, where they're going, or why anyone would think about becoming one. Since most people start going to (or going back to) church to, in some sense, acquaint themselves with God and Christ, it seems odd to me that church Web sites have so little substantive to say.
As this blog progresses, I'll try and include more details about my own spiritual journey - from Baptist preacher's kid to grumpy Episcopalian conservative to occasionally grouchy Episcopalian liberal. Until then, suffice it to say that for most Episcopalians, we pray first and figure out doctrine second. Therefore, the best place to learn all about us is from The Book of Common Prayer. The BCP is actually several books, each adapted to the culture and time that creates it, but all owing some debt to the Church of England's 1662 edition.
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is the current version used by the Episcopal Church, USA. There's also an online version of the 1979 Morning and Evening Prayer complete with daily readings and information on saints who are comemorated that day from a website called The Mission of St. Clare. If you've never been to a Sunday Eucharist at an Episcopal Church, take a look at this PDF Annotated Eucharist, or you can download it as an RTF file.
Chemistry Professor Dan Berger also has the 1979 Compline and Noonday Prayer online. Compline and Noonday Prayer are wonderful, short introductions to the way Episcopalian and Anglican prayer services are shaped. Compline, the prayers before bedtime and will tell you a lot abou the way contemporary Episcopalians see God. Should you want something even shorter, try Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, though I personally find these a tad too short.
Episcopalians, being a theologically open people, often adapt prayers and devotions from other Christian traditions. Many Episcopalians, such as myself, identify as Anglo-Catholics, meaning that they, for a number of reasons, identify with and cherish some of the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. One of my favorite of these prayers is the Angelus, a very popular prayer in many Anglo-Catholic Episcopal Churches.
Well, that should get you a good introduction to where I'm coming from religion wise, now on to...
SexWell, I could get much more risque than I'm gonna get tonight. Suffice it to say that it's midnight, and I've got work tomorrow, and you'll just have to get your decadent jollies elsewhere. I won't type much or type long, but I wil lshare a couple of much cherished links with you that I think speak pretty well for themselves.
First up is the cute little story called Rusty Is a Homosexual. I too once had to ask my parents for a leash and collar, all for reasons they could never quite understand. Now if I could only get a sweaty, smokey fireman to crawl into my window, preferably without having to actually set the apartment on fire (that would really piss off my roommate).
Next up is a piece by the ever-brilliant gay cartoonist, artist, and author, Howard Cruse, creator of Wendell, Stuck Rubber Baby and other cartooned works of sheer brilliance. His contribution to tonight's program is a tad more serious than the above: Jerry Mack. I first read the story of Jerry Mack, which Cruse apparently based on a real man he knew while growing up in the south, as a twenty-two year old, closeted, ex-Baptist, soon-to-be grad student in a gay owned San Angelo, Texas bookstore. It was the kind of place that most likely went under due to guys like me: We'd go in, shame-faced, look at all of the books we could, and not buy a thing. Though it was years before I would finally come out, the story stuck with me, especially that closing line. So, Mr. Cruse (who lives just over in Queens, I might add), thanks.
Alright girls and boys, it's time for bed.