15 December 2014

Napa religion.

This is utterly disgusting.  Read the whole thing.  Money gets you access to bishops and popes, $75 wines named after the pope (and Franky friend of the poor wants more of it...).  Good grief.  Dana Gioia I'd expect; the poet of Wall Street and neo-cons, whose work sucks.  But hey Joseph Pearce, next time you want to talk about distributism or third ways, stick a bottle of nice Napa wine up your ass.  This is an icon of so much that is wrong with conservative American Catholicism, and a lot of other conservative American Christianities.  What utter rubbish.   Legatus and that swindler Tom Monaghan are behind it, so no surprise. 

Extra pauperes nulla salus.

30 November 2014

Georgian gryphon ephemera.



I apologize for the lack of posts.  Newborn baby with some minor medical issues and a wife recovering from a rough c-section due to placenta previa have otherwise occupied me.

Orthodox Arts Journal recently ran this post about sacred art in Georgia.  The last two photos on that post are these, and the following description is given:
In finishing, I think I have found the ultimate proof of the unrivaled vivacity of Georgian art.  Last year a Georgian artist posted these two pictures on his facebook page of a recently built church.  In front of the church, in the image of the boldness, confidence and daring of Georgian liturgical artists, were two stone gryphons.  Any liturgical tradition alive today that can unflinchingly put two huge stone gryphons guarding a church has me bowing in reverence.

This fascinated me.  A few years back I purchased a Georgian religious medal from an Israeli dealer of sacred artifacts that includes the facade of a Georgian church, as well as a gryphon of sorts.  All I know of it was that it was made in the 1960s in Georgia.  
Here are the images of the medal:



I asked my friend John of Notes from a Common-place Book about the medal.  He got in touch with one of his Georgian contacts and gave me this info regarding the text on the side with the church building depicted on it:

Nikor tsminda
It's the name of the famous church in Racha. I don't know the meaning of the name of the church, "Nikor" is not a personal name and doesn't mean anything in particular.
"Tsminda" translates to "church," more or less. Racha is the mountainous province between Svaneti and Samelgrelo (old Mingrelia).


Google then helped me find the Nikortsminda wiki page here.

The church depicted in the OAJ post does not appear to be Nikortsminda Cathedral, but appears to be a design based on it, including the bell tower on the side.

Anyway, I am intrigued by the gryphons involved.  The gryphon on my medal seems to have the head of a mammal and not an eagle, and instead of back legs has tail feathers, whereas the gryphon in the photo from OAJ seems more like a traditional gryphon.

If anyone knows anything about the association between Georgian churches, Nikortsminda and others, and gryphons, I would love to learn about this.  And anyone with any ideas regarding the unorthodox gryphon on the medal should feel free to speak up as well.

21 October 2014


My son Paul with my father Paul.  Little Paul was born this morning.  

18 October 2014

local ephemera







10 questions - David Wooten



Fr. David Wooten.  MDiv from St. Vlad's.  OCA priest and pastor of Iglesia Ortodoxa de los Santos Apóstoles in Miami.  I've known Fr. David for a fair number of years now.  He and his family (well, what of them existed then) stayed with my family and I once when they were travelling through Memphis some years back.  I think we have read each others' blogs from the very beginning.  Fr. David is a Fort Worth native who spent years teaching Spanish in an urban public high school prior to entering the priesthood.  We share a nostalgia for Rich Mullins.  Fr. David is tenderhearted, academically serious, naturally pastoral, and embodies the best side of Southern gentlemanlines.

Here are Fr. David's answers to my ten questions:

1. A friend offers to make all social/vocational/financial arrangements in order that you may spend 3 months in the location of your choosing. Anywhere in the world. Where would you go, and during what season?

FD: My mother’s family is Scotch-Irish and is the only one I know of whose family documents go back to the old country; I’d like to find the places in Scotland where our Gillises lived. Along with the family discovery, there’s hiking, castles, monasteries, pubs, conversations with people in a place that is really trying to decide who/what they are as a people. Probably in autumn, to add the colors, crispness, and early night to the landscape.

2. A friend who has suffered considerably in recent years asks you to recommend a novel that you found moving, and/or which helped frame how you view human life. Which novel would you recommend?

FD: I guess I have to cheat a bit here and ask, “Suffered how?” For those who suffered while minding their business as the world moved around and at times against them, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, (recommended by Owen and several others to me at the same time), takes you through Ebenezer’s life and shows you how life moves on, how there is shining gratitude upon reflection, in spite of suffering.

For those who’ve suffered because of their own mistakes, I’ve recently read and was moved by Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory; while it mainly has to do with a priest, it shows a man who comes to grips with his own weaknesses and failures, all the hurt and pain he has caused, reconciles himself to it and in the end (no spoilers) it is shown that his reconciliation of himself to the truth—his repentance, in other words—doesn’t ultimately lead to any happy ending for him, but to an example for another, for his own reconciliation to himself.

3. You may have any (living) musician or group of musicians in the world come perform a concert at the location of your choosing for you and your friends and whomever else you would invite. What musician(s) at what venue would you choose?

FD: Probably for my friends, that would be Asleep at the Wheel, in The Flying Saucer in Fort Worth (it’d be a change from their normal venue of Billy Bob’s).

4. If you had to work with your hands in order to make a living (trade, craft, manual work of some sort) what tactile vocation would you like to do?

FD: Cooking. I’ve always said that, if I could go back and study anything, I’d like to go to culinary school.  I’m hardly a gourmet chef, but I love making what I can, and there are few things more satisfying than seeing someone enjoy something you’ve cooked for them.

5. Describe a garden, or a field, or a forest that was or is important or notable in your life.

FD: That would be the dirt paths between the fields of the horse farms around my Granny’s house in Canyon, Texas.  Flat, brown prairies with barren, gnarled elms clawing the gray sky, it was really the first place I can remember just walking, and there being real quiet, nothing other than the wind whipping through the grass (and the occasional tumbleweed). This was the place I connected to where I came from and which actually seemed to me like a place.

6. You may have a meal and drinks with any living person on earth with whom you have never had a conversation. Name the meal, the drinks, and the person.

FD: I would probably ask Fr. Andrew Louth. I would have a spread of every kind of seafood imaginable, coupled with a couple of bottles of an Albariño wine.

7. Name a painting that has moved you (and perhaps tell us why).

FD: “Dormition of the Virgin,” by El Greco. Besides being an “ecumenical icon” (showing the death as well as the Assumption of the Virgin Mother), I particularly like the care with which the Savior leans over to cradle the soul of His mother, almost like a midwife cradling a newborn.

8. A student tells you that she plans on memorizing one poem, and intends to recite that poem at least once a week for the rest of her life. She asks you for your recommendation for said poem. What poem do you recommend?

FD: Going to cheat a little here, too: In English: “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I chew poems, and that one is delightful to recite. If said lass could speak Spanish, I would add Pablo Neruda’s “Muere Lentamente” to this, but only on the condition that she memorize it in Spanish.  I have yet to find an English translation of any of his poems that I can stand.

9. Describe your ideal quotidian evening? [Nothing special, but as you like things to go.]

FD: Dinner and prayers with family, then the older girls do their chores while we read to the little one, then get her to bed, then read with the older girls after their chores, then finish cleaning up, then conversation and maybe a TV show with my wife, and finally a little work, then my own prayers before sleep. 

10. You are on a nose-diving plane that is obviously going to crash, bringing about your certain death. You intuit that you have between 30 and 60 seconds before you lose consciousness. What words come to mind during this last bit of time you are alive?


FD: I would hope I’d spend my last moments remembering a lingering kiss with my wife, and our children’s laughter. Prayers thanking God for their presence in my life, and prayers begging God to keep them in His care without my presence in theirs.

08 October 2014

10 questions - John Congdon


John Congdon.  Great-great-grandson of the Confederate governor of North Carolina, and the father of African-American children.  That has to be appreciated.

Born near Albany, NY; grew up primarily in New England; Orthodox since 1986; degree from Oberlin in Ancient Greek Language & Lit; former cabinetmaker, violin repairman, art restorer, delivery truck driver, and furniture salesman; professional fundraiser (5 years at SVOTS, 6 years now for Oberlin), kitchen gardener, inactive subdeacon; married with two kids, a Chinese exchange student, and two pitbulls.

John used to lurk on Orthoblogdom.  I don't quite remember first when we began interacting, but it was some years ago.  I've made the mistake of trying to peg him as SWPL because of his Oberlin connection and the fact that he grows kale, but he consistently defies categorization.  He has a heart of gold, and is one of the humanly humans.  

1. A friend offers to make all social/vocational/financial arrangements in order that you may spend 3 months in the location of your choosing. Anywhere in the world. Where would you go, and during what season?

JC:  Probably Savannah, GA. More charm per square inch than just about anywhere else I’ve been, plenty to do, good food, nearby Tybee Island for beach relaxation, plus lots of opportunities to marvel at how little is acknowledged that the material and cultural wealth of America was built on the blood and sweat of slaves. Plus, my dear friend Fr. James Bohlman is priest at an Orthodox parish within driving distance. You’d like him, Owen: serious Christian, plus a wit with a pH of 1.5.

2. A friend who has suffered considerably in recent years asks you to recommend a novel that you found moving, and/or which helped frame how you view human life. Which novel would you recommend?

JC:  This is a tough one. When I was younger, I was a big fan of Dostoevsky (during my Russophile phase) and the Dutch writer Jan deHartog. Unfortunately, I also had a father who liked to identify people with characters in novels and interact with them as if they were, for example, Grushenka or Ivan Karamazov; this left me with something of an aversion to foisting favorite literature on people. If non-fiction is allowed, James Gaines’s “Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment” is an amazing treatment of the intersection of faith and reason, the tension between optimism and suffering, and the shift from the medieval to the modern, all in the context of the parallel lives and the 1757 meeting of Frederick the Great and J.S. Bach. I literally (and I mean “literally” literally) could not put it down the first time I read it.

3. You may have any (living) musician or group of musicians in the world come perform a concert at the location of your choosing for you and your friends and whomever else you would invite. What musician(s) at what venue would you choose?

JC:  The Scottish fiddler Aly Bain would be welcome in my living room any time.

4. If you had to work with your hands in order to make a living (trade, craft, manual work of some sort) what tactile vocation would you like to do?

JC:  I HAVE made a living with my hands, primarily as a woodworker doing cabinetmaking, violin repair, and art object restoration. I have also done timber frame carpentry, sheep farm labor, a bit of logging and sawmill work, and dabbled in pottery and weaving. I am more than happy to remain in my current line of work, but if I could go back to woodworking without having to make the compromises necessary to make it economically viable, I’d definitely think about it; maybe as a sculptor.

5. Describe a garden, or a field, or a forest that was or is important or notable in your life.

JC:  I am very fond of my current gardens, which not only provide tasty veggies and pretty flowers, but give me a respite from the mental exertions and the grind of travel my current job provides in abundance. However, there was an extensive cow pasture next to our place where I lived in New Hampshire until I was ten that was perfect for the rambles of an adventuresome boy with a taste for Robin Hood, King Arthur, Hogan’s Heroes, and the Adventures of Tintin.

6. You may have a meal and drinks with any living person on earth with whom you have never had a conversation. Name the meal, the drinks, and the person.

JC:  I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to have dinner with Owen White. Not sure whether or not we’d actually get along in person, but meat cooked over fire and good beer would help, I’m sure.

7. Name a painting that has moved you (and perhaps tell us why).

JC:  The painting of the Burial of Sarpedon on the Euphronius Krater (formerly at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC) is both beautiful in its own right and also depicts one of my favorite passages from the Iliad, a moment of peace and sorrow amid the violence.


8. A student tells you that she plans on memorizing one poem, and intends to recite that poem at least once a week for the rest of her life. She asks you for your recommendation for said poem. What poem do you recommend?

JC:  Shakespeare’s Sonnet 60 or Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad”

9. Describe your ideal quotidian evening? [Nothing special, but as you like things to go.]

JC:  A good comforting meal that comes together well in the kitchen, good conversation over dinner, walk the dogs, get the kids (who have miraculously done the dishes without fighting) off to bed, relax on the sofa with my wife (perhaps watch an episode of Poirot), bed at a decent hour.

10. You are on a nose-diving plane that is obviously going to crash, bringing about your certain death. You intuit that you have between 30 and 60 seconds before you lose consciousness. What words come to mind during this last bit of time you are alive?

JC:  I had a dream like this once, except that it was driving off the end of an unfinished elevated highway (kind of like the Illinois Nazis in “The Blues Brothers”) in an open sports car. I remember in the dream that a great calm came over me as I realized I was about to die and that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it, so I turned to my wife and said, “I love you.” I hope that I get to die like that, with my last words and thoughts being of love.

01 October 2014

shoe box, casket.

Had a few deaths around here lately.  Plus my wife is at the end of a high risk pregnancy.  So this story has been on my mind.  I posted it on an old blog 3 and 1/2 years ago, but here it is again.  I was sitting in the company of a group of nurses at the time I heard it:

The oldest nurse there told the story of a fetal demise that occurred a long time back.  Young, poor girl from Memphis, there without any family or friends with her.  Baby died at around 30 weeks.  The nurse and mother cried, the mother held her dead baby, and later went home.  The dead baby boy was put in the morgue.

Two days later the nurse gets a call from administration saying that the girl was on her way over to the hospital.  She wanted to dress the little boy up in his funeral clothes and take pictures of him.  Of course it was a terribly busy day.   The nurse thought, "what the hell I am going to do?"  The baby had been in a bucket of ice for two days.

So she goes down to the morgue and tries running warm water over the dead baby for a while.  Still the joints were stiff as could be.

The mother arrives.  She has a shoe box.  When she opened it, the nurse said "I had to sit down; I didn't know whether to laugh hysterically or burst out in tears!"

Inside the box was a suit, a doll's suit, like a Ken doll would wear - a sequenced black suit with a white very ruffled shirt and black trousers, even little shiny black and white dress shoes.  The nurse thought that there was no way they would ever get the clothes on the dead baby, and she caught herself shaking her head, but then she looked at the mother, composed herself, paused, and said, "honey, if you want to dress your baby in these clothes then we will do everything we can to try to make that happen."

They were able to get the pants on with less trouble than the nurse thought it would be, though they had to cut several inches in length from the pant legs for them to fit.  When it came to the shirt, the cold joints of the baby would not move easily.  The nurse was trying her best to get the shirt on without breaking the baby's tiny body.  At the sight of this struggle, the mother placed her hand on the nurse's shoulder, and looking her in the eyes said, "ma'am, it's not like you're going to hurt him."  They both laughed, though with rue.  Somehow, someway, the nurse said, they got the shirt on.  They had to cut the suit coat a little bit, and then sew it up again, but they got it on as well.  The shoes were huge on the dead baby, the nurse said they looked like bozo the clown shoes on his minuscule feet.

After getting the dead baby all decked out in his flamboyant 70s style threads, the mother held the baby and a ton of pictures were taken, the mother laughing and crying and saying over and over again how beautiful her little man was.  Eventually they put the dead baby into one of the little cheap caskets the hospital donated back then to people who couldn't afford them, and the funeral home came and took the remains of this preterm miscarried baby dressed in a Ken doll Liberace outfit to the little pentecostal church where he would be buried.

The nurse said the whole time she felt like she was in a Twilight Zone episode.

After she told this story there was a pause, and another nurse said "that was the one and only thing that mother would ever be able to give to her baby."  The other nurses all quietly agreed.