"This has been mostly a sheep day, and of course studies have been interrupted." John Muir

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sheep Days has moved

I've moved to WordPress. I'm not going to delete this blog right away, but probably some day. From now on, I'll be at www.sheepdays.wordpress.com.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Religion and Violence

Bruce Lincoln, a premier scholar of religion's role in violence, published the following in 2003 in the 2nd edition of his book Holy Terrors: Thinking about Religion after September 11. Each of the theses leads to the next; Lincoln's analysis of how religion can contribute to violence is challenging and insightful. While all of the theses seem true to me, thesis #11 is especially hard for me to hear.

Theses on Religion and Violence
1. If war is the continuation of politics by other means, as von Clausewitz observed, violence is the continuation of conflict by means of physical force. Understanding the causes of violence thus involves two questions: a) What are the causes of conflict (in general and specific)? b) Why is it that a given conflict was not resolved—or not resolvable—by other means?
2. Some violence is the product of psychopathology: paranoia, sadism, wildly displaced rage, and the like. Violence of this sort accounts for a very small portion of the total and holds relatively little theoretical interest. The designation of violence as irrational, however, is attractive to certain theorists and policy-makers since it removes such acts from the realm of the comprehensible and relieves them of the responsibility to have prevented or understood them.
3. Most conflict is caused by competition over scarce resources. Violence represents the attempt to resolve such conflict to one’s own (individual or collective) benefit against the determined resistance of an adversary.
4. The resources most often and most bitterly contested include not only material desiderata—above all, wealth, power, and territory—but also such non-material items as prestige (the respect of others), dignity (the capacity for self-respect), and justice (or at least the sense of having been treated justly). This latter set is more diffuse and harder to quantify than the material desiderata, and as a result such considerations tend to be analytically undervalued. Nonetheless, they have enormous importance, especially when the maldistribution of material goods is compounded (also facilitated and legitimated) by non-material maldistributions.
5. Crossing the threshold from non-violent to violent conflict involves a qualitative leap that can be difficult to accomplish, particularly if it is motivated only by material desires. Normally, the naked pursuit of self-interest is perceived and defined as greed, not only by observers, but also by those who experience such temptation. To
reveal oneself as motivated by greed calls forth sanctions. These include the loss of non-material assets (reputation, trust, self-respect, et al.) that seriously offsets potential material gains, thereby inhibiting the move to violence.
6. Insofar as a sense of suffering non-material maldistribution also entails a sense of having been wronged, would-be aggressors become able to define their violent acts as not just greedy, but morally justified. The discourses they develop and circulate toward that end may be intended to persuade others, but above all they help overcome their own subjective (i.e. moral) inhibitions.
7. Certain kinds of religious discourse can assist in this task, specifically those which recode otherwise problematic acts as righteous deeds, sacred duties or the like, as when killing is defined as sacrifice, destruction as purification, or war as Crusade.
8. In principle, no religious tradition is more inclined than any other to make arguments of this sort. All people are capable of this move and the canonic texts of all religions include passages that can be put to such purpose. Those who are interested in undertaking violence can always find arguments and precedents that sanctify their
purpose, but selective reading and tendentious interpretation are an important part of this process.
9. When social groups constitute their identity in religious terms and experience themselves as a sacred collectivity (the faithful, the righteous, or God’s chosen people, for instance), as a corollary they tend to construe their rivals in negative fashion (heretics, infidels, apostates, evil, bestial, demonic, satanic, etc.). Under such
circumstances, the pursuit of self-interest—including vengeance for slights to one’s pride (a.k.a. “honour”) — can be experienced as a holy cause, in support of which any violence is justified.
10. The factors that determine whether a group will embark on violent action include the extent to which it feels itself to have been wronged; the extent to which it experiences those wrongs as unbearable and intractable; and its ability to define itself and its cause as righteous, even sacred.
11. Religious considerations are never the sole determining factor and there is no necessary relation between religion and violence. In most instances, religious considerations probably help to inhibit violence. But when religious discourse, authority, or communal identity are deployed in such a way as to facilitate the leap from non-violent to violent conflict, they can be enormously effective in accomplishing what Kierkegaard called “the religious suspension of the ethical.”
12. In such moments, religion can help disadvantaged groups to gain a more equitable division of the world’s resources by unleashing violence (or the threat thereof ) that helps them overcome the resistance of their better-situated adversaries.
13. The ugliest, most dangerous situations of all are not those in which the disadvantaged turn violent, believing they enjoy divine favour. Worse still are episodes in which groups who already enjoy disproportionate power (and other resources) persuade themselves that religious injunctions, like the need to convert the heathen or the need to spread “freedom,” justify use of their superior force against disadvantaged others, construing such aggression as benevolent, meritorious, or holy.
14. Just as the use of violence tends to elicit a violent riposte, so the religious valorization of violence prompts its victims to frame their violent responses in religious terms. In doing so, they normally invert the signs through which their adversaries mark one side as sacred and the other, profane. When both sides experience their struggle in religious terms, the stage is set for prolonged, ferocious, and enormously destructive combat.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Beard's Banana Bread

In college, I worked in a bartending agency. On one job, I met another bartender in the agency, and we discovered that we both enjoyed baking. He recommended a cookbook: Beard on Bread, a small book by "the dean of American cooks."

Since then, I have baked many of the breads in the book, but I return again and again to one of Beard's recipes for banana bread. It's made with honey, a flavor that complements the banana in a superb way. Like all sweet quick breads, this one is better after being wrapped up in plastic wrap for a couple of days. Some people like to toast their banana bread and spread it with peanut butter. This is good, but I like mine plain, or with some butter.

Saturday mornings in fall are a great time to make quick breads. Then the bread is around for breakfasts and snacks through the early part of the work week. Since this is Arizona, we have just recently opened the windows after the long, hot summer. So this morning as the bread baked, I swept the patio, which has windows off the kitchen. The scent of the bread was strong and caramel-ly, even outside. Here's the recipe (I normally leave out the nuts, because not everyone around here likes nuts in the bread):

Banana Nut Bread
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed banana (about 3)
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sliced nuts, almonds (optional)

Cream the butter with a wooden spoon (I use my stand mixer). Add the sugar and honey and beat till creamy and light. Add the eggs, one at a time, then thoroughly mix in the bananas. Sift together the flour, soda, and salt and blend thoroughly into the mixture. Finally fold in the nuts. (Aside: it's always better to add nuts after you combine wet and dry ingredients. This way you don't get clumps of dry flour stuck in the ridges of the nuts.)
Butter a loaf pan and pour in the batter. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven 1 hour, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

How to Fold a Shirt

I don't know if I've mentioned it here, but I'm an absolute maniac for systems for daily routines. I have elaborate rules and methods for all my household chores.

I think the question of whether youtube can impact your life is answered once and for all.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Text by an Inca

I've recently been reading excerpts from Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala's book Nueva crónica y buen gobierno. The book is a collection of history, philosophy, advice to King Phillip III of Spain, and some absolutely spell-binding drawings, done by the author himself. Guamán Poma was the grandson of an Incan prince and a leader of people in his own right. His book is one of the earliest examples of American colonized people speaking to and back to their colonizers. The original manuscript of the book is in the Danish Royal Library; fortunately, much of it is available online.

There are hundreds of drawings, and each of them has a trove of information and suggestion. One that drew my attention as a preacher was this one:

The congregation has fallen asleep for the most part. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends despite the haranguing preacher and his sleep-inducing words. The dove might be a nod to the Spanish Inquisition that would surely be revising Poma's work, or it might have been an expression of some kind of sincere belief. In this drawing, Poma manages to insult the priest (an activity he is justly and frequently engaged in throughout the book) while at the same time creating a work of revealing perspective. The sleepy Incan masses seem to both bask in the light of the Spirit even as they present a solid shield to deflect the empty words of the Spanish priest.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Ebstorf Map


In recent studies, the above map, called the "Ebstorf Map" has come to my attention. In this conception of the world, the earth is made of the physical body of Jesus Christ. His head is at the east, the direction of the rising sun and paradise. His arms stretch north to south. His navel is Jerusalem, the center of the world.

To be sure, this is hardly an inclusive worldview. In fact, the very conceptualization behind this map was one that was used in colonial ventures around the globe. But this map is engrossing. The body of Christ is an image that is reproduced in so many ways: as bread, as church, as people. And here it is as the world itself. It's an exalted, cosmological, totalizing statement about the person of Jesus. The positionality of the body points beyond the earth to the arrangement of the heavens. The center-point in Jerusalem ties history to myth, geography to belief.

The place I found this map was in a critique of the way European worldviews--such as the Ebsdorf Map--were deployed in colonial takeovers of other views. The book is by Walter D. Mignolo and is called The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, & Colonization (Michigan, 1995, 2003). The text of the book is turgid and overwrought, but the pictures are great. Placed side by side this map were Amerindian mappings of their own worldviews. Mignolo makes the point that European cosmologies, though clearly dominant, were not able to erase other ones. These disparate worldviews persist in co-existing, a concept that Mignolo unhelpfully terms "the denial of the denial of coevalness." Sheesh.

This Ebstorf Map may have contributed to colonial atrocities, and for that I am sorry, and probably complicit. But I love this worldview. I am filled with joy to recast my existence as one where I walk upon the very body of the Savior. When the sun rises, it is over his blessed countenance, and when it sets, I can be sure that he has carried me through the day. When I put my hands in earth, I am like Thomas placing my doubting fingers in his side. When I go to my final rest and return to dust, I will rejoin him, my brother, in his very self. And while I travel, I travel in distances concentric and centripetal from the central story of the gospel. The eucharistic prayer ends with such an idea: "in Christ, through Christ, with Christ, all glory and honor are yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Blessing of the Animals

October 4 is the Feast of Saint Francis, a day in the liturgical calendar when we remember animals, especially our pets. This year we're not going to a specific pet blessing service (our cats have never enjoyed it very much anyway), but I do think fondly of our furry friends on this day. If you want to bless your own animals, you might use this Franciscan-style prayer that I found:


Blessed are you, Lord God,
maker of all living creatures.
On the fifth and sixth days of creation,
you called forth fish in the sea,
birds in the air and animals on the land.
You inspired St. Francis to call all anim
als
his brothers and sisters.
We ask you to bless this animal.
By the power of your love,
enable it to live according to your plan.
May we always praise you
for all your beauty in creation.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.

We have two cats, an all black 6 1/2-year-old named Bev (she was my cat before I got married to Alex), and Judy, a 4-year-old gray and white and pinkish orange delight of a cat we got in Kentucky. Before Judy came to us, we had a beautiful and high-strung tabby cat named Nora. Once on St. Francis day, we took Bev to blessed out our church. Nora had to stay home because she wasn't all that friendly. When we returned with the newly blessed Bev, Nora had a psychotic break. She wouldn't let us handle her for several days and acted like we were total strangers. She slowly calmed down but still wasn't the same. She now lives a hermit's life in my mother-in-law's barn all by herself. During her first year in the barn, she stopped taking care of herself and developed huge dreadlocks up and down her back. But then one day, she returned to herself, cleaned up, and now is a fairly pleasant if solitary animal. Sometimes I wonder if her life would be different if we had brought her to be blessed instead.