Pontius Pilate by Ann Wroe

Pontius PilatePontius Pilate by Ann Wroe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Saint Pontius Pilate? Ever since I learned that Pilate is venerated as a saint in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the figure of Pilate has intrigued me. On the one hand, bad man! Bad, bad man! On the other – wait a minute. Wasn’t he a key figure in the working out of our salvation? After all, he sent Jesus to the cross, where in one explosive moment zenith became nadir became zenith, where the suffering and exhausted “it is finished” became words of triumph.

So it was with great curiosity and excitement that I approached Ann Wroe’s Pontius Pilate. I was not disappointed.

Painstakingly researched and brilliantly imagined, Pontius Pilate combines everything that is best in historiography and historical fiction. Wroe presents several Pilates, each portrait exquisitely drawn and consistent with the research… and each portrait amazingly different from the others.

I guess I’d classify this book as speculative history. It is history through a prism, rather than a microscope.

I reread Pontius Pilate every year at Lent. It has yet to disappoint me or seem old and tired.

Highly recommended to anyone looking for an intelligent, fluid read that will invite you into a world only superficially similar to our own.

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Shūsaku Endō’s Silence: a book review

SilenceSilence by Shūsaku Endō

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Luminous. Numinous.

Set in a distant time and place, Silence reached into my bosom and held my heart, sometimes with a caress, sometimes with a cruel and brutal grip.

This account of Jesuit missionaries in Japan at a time when Christians were persecuted is a narrative of events, but even more it is a story of people: of heroism and cowardice, of commitment to a truth greater than oneself and of callow self-interest.

Not for the faint of heart, but definitely recommended as a serious work of philosophical fiction.

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Wednesday Video: Conservatory of Music – Laboratory of Peace

Today’s video is a presentation of one of my favorite coexistance and dialogue projects in Jerusalem: the Magnificat Institute of Jerusalem, a music conservatory where young Christians, Muslims and Jews study, play and perform together under the guidance of Christian, Muslim and Jewish teachers. The pupils have the possibility of earning a European Union-recognized diploma, as well. The Institute also participates in and hosts a number of international music competitions.

This video is a “medley” of promotional videos that introduce the Institute and some of its programs. I hope you enjoy it.

Added 18.04.2013: Comments on this post are now closed.

Canticle of the Sun

Today, the fourth of October, is the feast day of Francis of Assisi. Popular culture has made of him a sort of tree-hugging hippie – and there is that side to him – but the spirituality he developed and lived is exigent in the extreme. Nothing wishy-washy about it.

The son of a merchant, Francis was not well-educated. Clare of Assisi, the nobleman’s daughter who together with him founded the order that came to be known as the Poor Clares, had much better Latin than he. Nevertheless, Francis composed a number of poems or songs in the dialect of his native Umbria. The only one to have come down to us so far is the Canticle of the Sun, composed shortly before his death. In fact, it is said that the last verse, the praises of “our Sister Bodily Death” was composed minutes before he died.

I love this text because it is at the same time exalted and lowly, magnificent and simple, spiritual and practical – like Francis and Clare themselves.

This translation from the Umbrian text of the Assisi Codex is attributed to Bill Barrett.

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. 
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
 
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
 
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
 
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.

When I’m an idiot, don’t blame God.

There is a sort of religious corollary to Godwin’s Law. I am not sure exactly how to formulate it, but it seems that the longer any online discussion of public issues continues, the greater the likelihood that someone will eventually make a reference to religion as the source of injustice, oppression, prejudice and other social evils. The conversation then turns from whatever the topic was to a very polarized debate about religion, or it fizzles out altogether.

It is no secret to the handful of regular readers of this blog that I am a Catholic Christian who leads what some might call a very pious life. Those of you who know me in other settings know that I am not a cookie cutter believer and that I am not shy about saying what I think, even when (or particularly when) my opinions differ from the perceived (or even explicit) position of my faith family.

What I am about to say, however, is 100% “kosher” theology, to the best of my knowledge. Ready? It may be a shock. You may want to sit down and have a glass of water on hand. Here goes…

God created human beings with free will. We were created with the innate ability to believe or not, to choose to act for good or for evil, even to decide for ourselves what to believe in (or not) and to define good and evil in any way we wish.

One of my most basic religious beliefs is that God is God and I am not. If God saw fit to leave this huge responsibility of choice in the hands of human beings, who am I to take it away? It is not up to me to use civil law to take choice away from human beings who disagree with me. I am free to tell people what I believe and explain why I think there are better choices to be made. I am not free to threaten them with fines or imprisonment or physical injury or humiliation to make sure their choices are the ones I prefer.

I am probably very heavily influenced by what I was taught is the principle of separation of Church and State in the USA. That principle of separation seems to be under a great deal of strain at the moment, and I certainly find it hard to see its application in some of the recent state legislation I’ve read about. But again, I am guided by the axiom God is God and I am not. If God left us free will, who am to take it away?

But… If I do act as though I’m God and start filling in the spaces that God left to each individual to fill, it is not God’s fault. It is mine. Don’t blame God because I am an idiot. And please don’t blame me because some members of my religion are idiots. Let’s keep the personal responsibility that accompanies free will squarely on the individual, where it belongs.

Among the readers of Telling Knots are believers in at least three different religions, atheists, agnostics, and people for whom religion has no real place in their life at all. Most readers don’t comment, but I am really interested in hearing your thoughts and feelings about this post. Please take a couple of minutes to share your reactions.

War on Women?

I have been growing daily more appalled at the news of proposed and recently enacted legislation in some of the fifty United States that appears to violate women’s rights in several different ways.

First a clarification. I am not talking here about whether or not contraception and abortion are good things, about whether or not they should be regulated by law. I have my own opinions about these issues, and I keep them pretty much to myself. The one thing I am very vocal about is that it is not up to me to judge someone else’s actions, much less try to control them.

So. Some states in the US will require a woman who requests an abortion to undergo a compulsory transvaginal ultrasound. What part of that makes sense? Counseling and a cooling-off period are, as far as I know, a regular part of the process. Compelling a woman to undergo an unnecessary, invasive medical procedure would be ridiculous if it weren’t such a brutal disregard of her autonomy.

I’m going to make a leap here, and I don’t think it is an unreasonable one. Have you heard about the “virginity examinations” performed on female detainees by Egyptian military security forces as recently as the end of last year? Here is an excerpt from a Reuters article that was posted on March 11th, 2012 on the MSNBC World News site (Source):

Controversy over the virginity tests gathered pace after a general was quoted by CNN last year as saying tests were carried out to prove the women were not virgins when they were detained, so they could not say they were raped in detention.

An army official later denied the comments were made.

and

A civilian court issued a ruling in December ordering the army to end the practice and a military judicial official then said cases of reported forced virginity tests had been transferred to the Supreme Military Court.

I am not alone in making this connection. Forbes.com, hardly a hotbed of radicalism, posted an article by contributing writer Victoria Pynchon called “Egyptian Virginity Tests, America’s Shaming Wand and Trudeau’s Satire” (click). The latter reference is to Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau whose cartoon about the compulsory transvaginal ultrasound has been refused by some newspapers that normally run his work. (This is the Los Angeles Times article about it.)

The legislation, if I understand correctly, all seems to come from a particularly conservative part of the Republican Party and is identified with certain Christian denominations or faith communities. However – and again, this is assuming I understand things correctly from far away in Israel – it does not appear to be a pan-Republican or pan-Christian phenomenon. One of the problems is that public debate is seldom nuanced; it is far easier to paint with broad strokes.

I wonder if the people who read this blog would like to join me in discussion about all this. I am very interested in finding out what my friends around the world think about it. Just one thing: comments are not moderated but, as always, I reserve the right to delete inflammatory, trolling or ad hominem comments. Argue fiercely and fairly.

So who’s first?