Meeting Nataka; a Woman in Search of Peace

A few years ago I was studying at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary outside of Boston, MA. I was enrolled in a course on Islam. One of the course requirements was to talk to a Muslim about Jesus and then write a reflection paper.

I decided to call around to a few mosques and ask if I could come by for a visit.

I was fortunate. A Mosque in Cambridge gave me the okay to stop by anytime. One morning I decided that was the morning and I drove myself over praying gibberish to the Lord and hoping that things would just be okay as I entered a Muslim Mosque on my own.

I arrived shortly before noon and was surprised to see the parking lot full of cars, most of which were taxis. What on earth could all of these taxi driver’s be doing here in the middle of the day? I approached the front door of the Mosque and was greeted by the Imam (the leader of the Mosque, believed to be gifted with the ritual of prayer as one of the five pillars of faith in Islam). Then I realized the reason behind the taxis. Noontime was one of the daily calls to prayer. The taxi drivers were there to pray.

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Democrat Debate: Over Confident Democrats Can Lose

It began for me when I heard a debate watcher say (something like), “It doesn’t matter whom we nominate. The Democrats will win.”

The two major candidates for the Democrats have forced each other further to the left, bad politics generally,  and still have not dealt with changing public perceptions of Iraq. The Surge keeps working and Iraq keeps improving. Political goals in the nation of Iraq are difficult, but some are being met now and more will be met as the weeks pass.

What if the Surge works? Really works? The single political figure who pressed hardest for the surge, John McCain, will reap a huge benefit if independents agree with Republicans that Iraq is a winnable war. Like a mortgage holder clinging to an upside down house payment who sees real estate rebounding in the neighborhood, there looks to be real hope the investment will pay off.

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2008 Oscars: A Distant Fire in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Who will the Oscar for Best Picture of 2007?   No Country for Old Men  is an instant masterpiece.  After achieving cult status with directing Fargo and The Big Lebowski, The Coen Brothers’ do not waste a shot or a gesture in No Country.   They nail every chill, spill and punch line.   

Adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country for Old Men merges the darkness of film noir with the open spaces of the west.   It is about the dismal tide of violence that arises from greed.   When hunter Llewelyn Moss encounters a drug deal gone bad, he grabs a satchel loaded with two million dollars.   Unfortunately, a calculating hit man named Anton Chigurh follows his trail.   Anton’s air gun represents the most frightening murder weapon in recent cinematic history.  Javier Bardem portrays Anton with a ferocity that will win a well deserved Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.  
Tags | Film

Poetry Friday: Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke was a German poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, known for not just his poetry but also his prose in works such as Letters to a Young Poet (a wonderful, slim lyrical volume on being an artist).  His poetry was written in German, but thankfully has been translated for our benefit.  Here's one.

The Last Supper

They are assembled, astonished and disturbed
round him, who like a sage resolved his fate,
and now leaves those to whom he most belonged,
leaving and passing by them like a stranger.
The loneliness of old comes over him
which helped mature him for his deepest acts;
now will he once again walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him still will flee before his sight.

To this last supper he has summoned them,
and (like a shot that scatters birds from trees)
their hands draw back from reaching for the loaves
upon his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, frightened, round the supper table
searching for an escape. But he is present
everywhere like an all-pervading twilight-hour.

On seeing Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper", Milan 1904
Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming
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As your own poets have said...

In Acts 17, when Paul wants to share Christ with the Athenians, he doesn't begin with Old Testament prophecy or history because that would be like opening a sermon in Nepal with an illustration taken from the Super Bowl. It's a matter of emotional intelligence more than anything else; the simply capacity to get inside the head of the hearer and share truth in a way that they'll be able to receive. We need this when we teach, and we need it when we marry and raise children.
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Tags | Film

The Politics of Faith...

Have you seen the picture of the Obama team praying before going on stage for a rally? This article in Time explains how different this season is than '04, when the Democrat party tried to distance itself from any affiliation with matters of faith.

This year, we're seeing both parties appealing to the Bible for moral mandates; one party is intent on stepping into people's lives on issues of sexual morality, but stepping away on economic and environmental matters. The other party is intent on stepping into the economic machinery while leaving sexual, family morality to ride a more libertarian course.

My observation is this:

Neither party is consistent - both try to legislate at some points (require health insurance from all employers, or forbid abortion), and at other's call for the government to 'keep their hands off' (my body, my womb, the wage I should need to pay my employees, my freedom to get eight miles to the gallon).
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Tags | Politics

Resistance Is Futile

So, I finally watched American Idol last night.

And I voted.

My journey to the Dark Side is complete.

I had resisted hopping on the AI bandwagon for six seasons, for all kinds of reasons—one of which, quite frankly, was pride. I admit, it was kind of cool to be the only one in the room who could say, “American Idol? Never watch it.” But apparently, like the Borg, resistance is futile.

I confess, I also resisted watching because the show scared me a little. When I happened to flip by it (or see one of FOX’s relentless promotions for it!), I got a little queasy. Leopard Man? Taylor Hicks? Really?

So you might be wondering what changed my mind. Peer pressure, pure and simple. Lots of people I know and genuinely like and respect all watch American Idol. And they don’t just watch it—they watch it with passion and opinions and predictions. They vote over and over and over again. Some of them text message and call each other during the broadcast to compare performances.

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Obama’s Intended Restoration of the Great Society

Mrs. Obama has not been proud of being an American for her entire political life.

Her husband sees an America full of problems and promise.

Combine the two facts with his policy ideas and one begins to suspect that both Obamas long to return to the golden age of their childhoods. They long not for Camelot, but for Lyndon Johnson’s great society.

The problems of American, Obama implies in every speech, are caused by the failure of government to act on the promises Lyndon Johnson made in the sixties. He does not name Johnson, at least often, but he consistently emulates him with a modern social libertine twist.

The real vision of the Obama campaign is turning back the clock to the expansive domestic government action of the Johnson administration. Liberals have long agonized that the failure of the Vietnam War got this ambitious growth of government programs off track. Obama is trying to undue the agonizing (to the Left) Clinton proclamation that “the era of big government is over.”

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2008 Oscars: Blood-stained

Two of the more troubling dramas from 2007 deal with the blood that remains on our hands.   Can we get rid of guilt that haunts us?   What type of payment do we make for the decisions we've made?   The Oscar nominated films Michael Clayton and There Will Be Blood depict tortured, compromised souls.    

Michael Clayton mines the gap between our personal and professional lives. George Clooney plays the eponymous character, a fixer for a powerful law firm. Clayton considers himself a janitor cleaning up the mess created by reprehensible clients. While he fixes others’ shattered lives, privately Clayton deals with divorce and a gambling addiction. When a senior lawyer suffers a mental meltdown, Clayton is assigned to keep him in line. But Arthur Edens is simply waking up to his moral bankruptcy. Tom Wilkinson plays the penitent Arthur, literally stripping down naked in court. He senses that there is blood on his hands. Michael Clayton’s adversary on the case is Karen Crowder, U/North’s cool and cold-blooded counsel. Billions of dollars are at stake for U/North when their chemicals start to kill much more than weeds. Tilda Swinton portrays Karen as a nervous, well-rehearsed wreck. She tries to navigate a high stakes, masculine world.

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No Different than a bottle of wine...

Contemplatives (like me) are people who find a great deal of joy in being alone with God. Solitude, silence, and the prayers that unfold in those contexts have a sweet way of nurturing our souls. But it's easy to hide behind this pious looking posture. Our love a contemplation may be nothing more than an addiction to the more comforting parts of life with Christ, and an avoidance of the hard work of truth telling, the messiness of relationships, and sacrifice of service. Thomas Merton speaks of this very accurately when he writes:

Sometimes contemplatives think that the whole end and essence of their life is to be found in recollection and interior peace and the sense of the presence of God. They become attached to these things. But recollection is just as much a creature as an automobile. The sense of interior peace is no less created than a bottle of wine. The experimental 'awareness' of the presence of God is just as truly a created thing as a glass of beer. The only difference is that recollection and interior peace and the sense of the presence of God are spiritual pleasures and the others are material. Attachment to spiritual things is therefore just as much an attachment as inordinate love of anything else. The imperfection may be more hidden and more subtle: but from a certain point of view that only makes it all the more harmful because it is not so easy to recognize.
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