Tuesday, July 30, 2002

For those of you who are not regular NPR listeners, go here for Baxter Black's cautionary tale on the dangers of Sheep Farming.
While doing a little housekeeping on the "comments" feature, I found I had overlooked a response to my post on Billy Collins. The writer takes me to task for missing the intended humor of the poem, consistent with its original French models. She may well be right. Hanging out with cops, crooks and lawyers all day can dull one's sensitivity to the subtler shades of irony. We in criminal law specialize in tragedy and farce. Disagreements about Collins aside, I can heartily recommend her own web site, Laurable dot com. She has a unique collection of links to audio files of poetry and a poetry weblog of her own.
The author of Notes From Pure Land Mountain lives near the western shore of Lake Biwa. Three hundred and twelve years ago the haiku poet (and proto-blogger?) Basho lived in a hut on the southern tip of the lake. Here is his report of life there:

In the daytime an old watchman from the local shrine or some villager from the foot of the hill comes along and chats with me about things I rarely hear of, such as a wild boar's looting the rice paddies or a hare's haunting the bean farms. When the sun sets under the edge of the hill and night falls, I quietly sit and wait for the moon. With the moonrise I begin roaming about, casting my shadow on the ground. When the night deepens I return to the hut and meditate on right and wrong, gazing at the dim margin of a shadow in the lamplight. (Translation Makoto Ueda)

Robert Brady's story of an encounter with the descendants of Basho's boars can be found here.
This is the summer of rabbits. We are overrun with Sylvilagus Floridanu, that is, the Eastern Cottontail. We have always had a few around; our mixture of woods and pasture with tangled brush at the margins is perfect habitat. This year however, I can hardly walk in the early hours or the evening without kicking up one. The morning trip down the dirt and gravel driveway is an exercise in rabbit avoidance as they break across in front of truck. Usually the local alliance of foxes keeps their numbers down. I'm not sure what has caused this break in the food chain. Perhaps the presence of five llamas on this part of the farm has caused our red coated raiders to find other hunting grounds.

Monday, July 29, 2002

Up til now, the largest list of Christian Blogs has been kept at Martin Roth's site. His list has migrated and mutated into a searchable index of 245 (as of this morning) sites at blogs4God. Blogs are broken down into eight categories. I can be found under "Church Polity." I probably should be under "Journals" but the current category has a pleasantly Elizabethan sound, so I won't complain.

Sunday, July 28, 2002

By happenstance I ran across another rural "Notes" site, only this one is by an American living in the countryside of Japan; Notes from Pure Land Mountain. I lived in Japan for two years as a small boy at a time when most of the country was still rural outside a few big cities. Here is a quote from the first post in his archives:

I decided not to take the main and faster highway back home, but to meander a bit in search of the kind of moments one can only come upon in mid-meander, and so took the narrow winding road along the Lake. I would thereby also get to see the old thatched-roof cottage again, where the beauty of its old wood and the stone path to the door was discreetly revealed by elegant bamboo fences and the gracefully sloping arms of ancient red pines and I could feel that old spirit, one of those last embers of the old Japan, like sitting close to fading loved one, moving close to a dying fire

The rest of the post goes on to mourn the loss of that "old Japan" which I can only half-remember myself from forty year's distance.
I was sorry to discover that Gerard Serafin has removed the Orthodox section from his blog list. I had grown acustomed to getting a few ecumenical hits a day from his link. He gives the reasoning behind this here on his blog. Orthodox/Catholic relations are a convoluted and controversial subject. I have previously posted on the topic here and may have some further thoughts in the near future.
I have added a list of a few of the Orthodox folk who keep on-line journals on LiveJournal.com to the permanent links section on the left. LiveJournals are typically more personal and less link-oriented than most weblogs. The first one listed, LiveJournal for Orthodox Christianity, shows off one of the useful features of the LiveJournal software, the ability to easily create a jointly authored "community" page. If any of you other Orthodox LiveJournaler's stray into blogger territory and would like your page listed, drop me a line.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

We had a lamb die this afternoon. I'm not sure what the cause of death was. Sheep can die for a thousand different reasons, some usual, some so implausible as to defy description. His body was in the barnyard. It was raining when I got down there in the truck to carry him off up the hill to the spot we use as a graveyard. When I picked him up, there was a patch of dry ground underneath, lighter in color than the wet barrnyard, in the shape of a lamb. It looked half like a crime scene outline, half like some ancient petroglyph line drawing saying, here we once had sheep.
Tolle Blogge links to another rural blog, View from an Iowa Homestead, the online journal of John VanDyk, entomologist and Christian back-to-the-lander. I had a great-grandfather who was a doctor in the mining town of Lucas, Iowa, which about exhausts my knowledge of the state. When a friend of mine headed off for grad work in drama at the University of Iowa, I remember telling her, "Debbie, why Iowa? Iowa is just like Kansas, except no one from Iowa ever got to the Emerald City . . ." I'm willing to learn better, and will try reading a while.
Francis Mooney at Xavier+ has some kind words to say about my Bill Mallonee post. His latest post is a link to a site where you can view online Action Comics #1, the original episode of Superman. Watch, as the man of steel takes on domestic violence. If only it were that easy!
Archbishop Rowan Williams of Wales has been named the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Fr. Nectarios at Orthopraxis has links to the announcement on BBC news. I posted some thoughts about this earlier, which can be found in the archives here.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Archbishop Herman of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania has been elected as the new ruling hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America. Go here for the official press release.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Come back baby, Rock and Roll never forgets . . .

Just returned from a concert by Bill Mallonee at Jammin' Java in Vienna, Virginia, about 65 miles from home. It's the type of thing I did without a thought in my teens and twenties. I find that forty-seven is a little old to be up past your bedtime, traipsing up and down the road for a little live music. Nonetheless, it was a good time. Small club, great band, good sound. I discovered Mallonee's music last year and have been listening ever since. He is my age, and I can hear in the background of his music all the bands and artists I grew up with; Lennon-McCartney, more than a little Dylan, Neal Young and Crazyhorse, Roger McGuinn and the Byrds, the jangly Athens GA sound of my college and law school years as well as the folk sounds of a hundred high school and undergraduate coffee houses -- good stuff. It may be fatigue, but I swear I could even hear some Freddie and the Dreamers run through the blender in the more British Invasion pop influenced songs. What makes all this more than a classic folk-rock rehash is the bite and beauty of Mallonee's lyrics. They are grown up stuff, notes about the kind of pain and joy you only get by living for a while, succeeding, failing, falling in love, raising kids, wondering if the new dreams measure up to the old ones. Mallonee is also a Christian, which puts him in a kind of pop-music no-man's land. He is too interesting and honest for CCM (that is, the Contemporary Christian Music industry) and too concerned with sin and redemption to ever fit into a corporate music marketing niche. It makes it tough for him, but it means the rest of us can see a world class artist in a small club for what you would pay to park at a bigger venue.

As I said, the show tonight was a good time. Acoustic solo pieces mixed in with electric numbers backed by bass and drum, played loud. As a would-be agrarian pursuing an Orthodox spiritual life, it is a little embarrassing to admit the pleasure I get from feeling the kick of the bass drum inside the ribcage when the band is cranking. Folks my age and younger seem to have an inescapable urge to turn the knobs up to "11" on occasion. I remember reading once that scientists who study acoustics have found ways to cancel out noise by playing an equally loud sound just out of phase. Maybe rock turned up loud has the same effect on the mental noise the tensions of modern life leaves inside our heads. Between the two clashing rackets, there are sometimes moments of equilibrium. Like making an eye in your own mental hurricane. If so, it serves as a poor man's pasteboard imitation of hesychia, the stillness sought by Orthodox spirituality. I'll have to think about that, and think even more about how to attain the real thing.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Orthodoxy makes little distinction between "Old" and "New" Testament Saints, celebrating both equally. For those of us using the New Calendar reckoning, today is the feast of the Prophet Elijah. Here are the troparion and kontakion (short hymns) for the feast:

Incarnate Angel and summit of the Prophets,/ second forerunner of the coming of Christ,/ glorious Elijah sent down grace from on high to the Prophet Elisha./ He heals diseases and cleanses the leprous./ He pours healings on all who honour him.

O great Prophet Elijah,/ seer of God's mighty works,/ who didst halt the torrential rain by thy word,/ pray for us to the Lover of Mankind.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Scrap of conversation today at the library:

"Hello Mr. Bell, how's the law business?" "Too busy, I'm afraid." "'Litigious', that's an evil word. It just sounds slimy . . ."

I left work tonight one step ahead of the annual parade for the Fireman's Carnival. When I first moved to Front Royal, I lived around the corner from the parking lot of Bing Crosby Stadium where the Carnival is held. Every year I would dread it, partly for the lost sleep from loud noise and bright lights, partly because of the extra work it would bring sorting out the fights and alcohol related incidents in Court over the succeeding weeks. Things have quieted down since those days, and it is now, mostly, a pleasant family event. Still, it brings to mind a few verses from Leigh Hanes, former poet laureate of Virginia, and himself a lawyer:


Anything can happen
When the silver crown
Of the moon is laid
On a small town.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

This weekend we rounded up the purebred Hampshire Ewes for drenching and hoof trimming. One, Number 16, did not get with the program. She somehow got herself turned around in the chute and had to be dragged, bodily, out through the foot bath. Full grown Hamp ewes weigh in well upwards of two hundred pounds and, as a breed, are noted for good muscle development. It was not a satisfactory experience for either of us. Sheep all have their own personalities, but I had not remembered her as being difficult before. Yesterday, we found the reason when she presented us with a pretty little scrap of a lamb. She did not lamb with the rest of the flock this winter and was put in with the back-up buck. We thought she had been bred, but, surprisingly, had no clue she was that far along. Mother and son are doing well and staying temporarily in a pen in the barn. Me she remembers from the footbath incident, so Susan is doing the post-natal care. We have had fall lambs, winter lambs, a few spring lambs, but this is our first mid-summer arrival!

Monday, July 08, 2002

This morning while going down to the barn, I heard the sound of a small gas engine on the hillside. My father-in-law, out early, cutting down weeds and thistle to clean the pasture. In my work day as a lawyer, everything is up for negotiation. At times it seems that facts are slippery things, sliding out of your grasp into a sea of interpretation. Here in the fields, working with the flock, reality is made of sterner stuff. No matter how good a story I tell, weed and thistle will grow, streams will run or go dry, sheep will thrive, or die. A good farm comes from labor and prayer, together with a measure of grace disguised as luck. Clever talk has little to do with it. Farming can make you rich, but not in any sense an economist or self-help guru would recognize. In a "post-modern" world having a reality that pushes back at you is itself a treasure. "The fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows." said Robert Frost in his poem Mowing. I post it here to prove again that poets (and farmers) are wiser than lawyers.

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound--
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labour knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.

Sunday, July 07, 2002

While some elements in the Jerusalem Patriarchate may be soft on terrorism, not so the iconographer of this chapel in Romania!

Saturday, July 06, 2002

I've added a link to Telford Works' excellent blog, Clutter from the Desk of Telford Work over on the left. As someone who has read, profited from, and mentally argued with the work of theologian Stanley Hauerwas over the years, I refer you to Work's site for links and reactions to the controversy over some remarks of Hauerwas' post (and pre-) 9/11. Work also has some interesting comments on the stagnation of Islamic world. Let me quote a passage that goes to the heart of the matter:

It took only a few centuries for the Muslim empires to burn through the cultural capital it inherited from late antiquity. Early Muslims relied on Jewish and Christian expertise to administer their territories (John of Damascus, for instance, worked for a while as the Christians' representative to the caliph). Early modern Muslims, unable at first to incorporate themselves into businesses, needed people free from the sharia to be engines of economic ingenuity.

I would follow this up by asserting that Islam is a fundamentally parasitic faith. It is tempting to quote a comment attributed to Samuel Johnson about a new work he had read; "Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is orignal is not good." The great vitality of the Muslim empires came from a prodigious borrowing from their non-Muslim predecessors. In addition to the Jewish and Christian influences mentioned by Work, there was also the influence of Persia, a great empire with its own heritage, and the material and cultural treasures of the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Northern India. What we call "Arabic" numbers, including the zero, were adapted from Hindu mathematicians. The Buddhist statues destroyed by the Taliban were some of the last relics of a civilization annihilated by the Islamic "religion of peace." Islam flowers in the aftermath of the rape of a higher culture. With the end of conquest comes stagnation.
Today we worked with the lambs set aside to show at the Warren County Fair. Nothing special, just normal sheep "maintenance"; worming, trimming hooves and generally checking them over. They were not enthusiastic about the hoof trimming. I always manage to bang, scrape or cut some appendage of my own when I do this. My right hand looks like I've taken up bare knuckle fighting as a hobby. It will heal in a few days and be none the worse for the wear. I'm afraid my hands are in the awkward in-between stage; not callused enough for a real farmer, but too beat up for a proper lawyer.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Compared to Catholics and Calvinists, there are very few Orthodox bloggers. One reason may be that they are all hanging out at Livejournal.com, writing on-line diaries. Here are two: Seraphim's LiveJournal prints the reflections of retired Orthodox Bishop Seraphim Segrist. Dasha's LiveJournal, in both Russian and English, offers cross-cultural thoughts from New York.

With the end of June, July has taken us into what feels like deep summer. A week of thunderstorms, a few days of relief, and now nearly unbearable heat and humidity. Handling fifty pound grain sacks leaves my clothes wringing wet at evening feeding time. Shade is a grace and a breeze a foretaste of glory. There are some other consolations as well. Fireflies are everywhere. Driving home after dark on Saturday, one landed on my windshield wiper and stayed, flashing out his lovelorn semaphore at 50 miles per hour down Browntown Road. Beast, the black cat, was on the porch last night, nearly invisible, his eyes glowing green in the twilight, surrounded by the blinking green of a half dozen fireflies. If I weren't so tired, I would go out and catch some in a jar, and let them light my way home.

Monday, July 01, 2002

The latest controversy in the Anglican world surrounds the status of Rowan Williams, now Archbishop of Wales, as front runner for appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury. The choice of Williams, known to support both the ordination of women and revision of church teaching regarding homosexuality as well as being an outspoken pacifist, has stirred vehement protests from the evangelical wing of the Anglican church, both at home and abroad. For a sample of the conservative reaction, see this editorial by Episcopal "muckraker" David Virtue.

As an Orthodox Christian, and a former Episcopalian, I share some of their misgivings. At the same time, Williams is the one figure on the "liberal" wing of the church that I read and admire. His early work on Christian spirituality, The Wound of Knowledge, has repaid repeated readings over the years. He is aware of and knowledgeable about Orthodoxy, both through study and some first hand experience. In one interview, he describes how regular use of the Jesus Prayer is part of his own discipline of prayer. He has written on major figures in Russian Orthodoxy and his latest book is a meditation on several Orthodox icons of the Virgin.

A vital part of Williams' work is his engagement with Tradition. As distinguished from such figures as John Spong, who facilely rejects Tradition with all the sophistication of an old fashioned village atheist, or Frank Griswold, who grazes through the Tradition, picking and choosing like a banquet line, Williams wrestles with it. He is a sensitive, acute reader who listens to the voices of the great Christian thinkers of the past. Yet, at the same time, his engagement with Tradition is still, in a sense, from the outside. Where Tradition conflicts with the apparent needs and pains of persons before him, Williams feels free to abandon or change it. Perhaps this comes when one confronts the Tradition embodied in books, rather than monks. In the Roman Church, the magisterium speaks on behalf of the Tradition (at least as it developed in the West). In Orthodoxy, monasticism and the liturgy serve the same function. The Anglican church was born in the rejection of a magisterium, the destruction of the monasteries and the radical simplification of the liturgy. As a result, when even as sensitive and intelligent a scholar as Williams reads the Church Fathers, he is engaging in an imaginative recreation of a past world, much like those ensembles devoted to early music. In Orthodoxy, the Tradition is a living music.

If Williams is chosen as the symbolic leader of the Anglican Communion, we have the irony, as Orthodox, of dealing with a man who is both closer to and further away from us than Archbishop Carey, his Evangelical predecessor. It would be a further irony if Williams, a man devoted to peace and reconciliation, were responsible for a final schism within the Anglican Communion.