Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Friedman at His Best

I have cut out this article and plan to keep it handy throughout 2007, to measure any and all commentary on the Middle East.

The New York Times
20 December 2006

Mideast rules to live by

For a long time, I let my hopes for a decent outcome in Iraq triumph over what I had learned reporting from Lebanon during its civil war. Those hopes vanished last summer. So, I'd like to offer President Bush my updated rules of Middle East reporting, which also apply to diplomacy, in hopes they'll help him figure out what to do next in Iraq.

Rule 1: What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language. Anything said to you in English, in private, doesn't count. In Washington, officials lie in public and tell the truth off the record. In the Mideast, officials say what they really believe in public and tell you what you want to hear in private.

Rule 2: Any reporter or U.S. Army officer wanting to serve in Iraq should have to take a test, consisting of one question: "Do you think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?" If you answer yes, you can't go to Iraq. You can serve in Japan, Korea or Germany -- not Iraq.

Rule 3: If you can't explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don't try to explain it at all -- they won't believe it.

Rule 4: In the Middle East, never take a concession, except out of the mouth of the person doing the conceding. If I had a dollar for every time someone agreed to recognize Israel on behalf of Yasser Arafat, I could paper my walls.

Rule 5: Never lead your story out of Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq with a cease-fire; it will always be over before the next morning's paper.

Rule 6: In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away.

Rule 7: The most oft-used expression by moderate Arab pols is: "We were just about to stand up to the bad guys when you stupid Americans did that stupid thing. Had you stupid Americans not done that stupid thing, we would have stood up, but now it's too late. It's all your fault for being so stupid."

Rule 8: Civil wars in the Arab world are rarely about ideas -- like liberalism vs. communism. They are about which tribe gets to rule. So, yes, Iraq is having a civil war as we once did. But there is no Abe Lincoln in this war. It's the South vs. the South.

Rule 9: In Middle East tribal politics there is rarely a happy medium. When one side is weak, it will tell you, "I'm weak, how can I compromise?" And when it's strong, it will tell you, "I'm strong, why should I compromise?"

Rule 10: Mideast civil wars end in one of three ways: a) like the U.S. civil war, with one side vanquishing the other; b) like the Cyprus civil war, with a hard partition and a wall dividing the parties; or c) like the Lebanon civil war, with a soft partition under an iron fist (Syria) that keeps everyone in line. Saddam used to be the iron fist in Iraq. Now it is us. If we don't want to play that role, Iraq's civil war will end with A or B.

Rule 11: The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is humiliation. The Israeli-Arab conflict, for instance, is not just about borders. Israel's mere existence is a daily humiliation to Muslims, who can't understand how, if they have the superior religion, Israel can be so powerful.

Al Jazeera's editor, Ahmed Sheikh, said it best when he recently told the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche: "It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West's problem is that it does not understand this."

Rule 12: Thus, the Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary.

Rule 13: Our first priority is democracy, but the Arabs' first priority is "justice." The oft-warring Arab tribes are all wounded souls, who really have been hurt by colonial powers, by Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, by Arab kings and dictators, and, most of all, by each other in endless tribal wars.

For Iraq's long-abused Shiite majority, democracy is first and foremost a vehicle to get justice. Ditto the Kurds. For the minority Sunnis, democracy in Iraq is a vehicle of injustice. For us, democracy is all about protecting minority rights. For them, democracy is first about consolidating majority rights and getting justice.

Rule 14: The Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi had it right: "Great powers should never get involved in the politics of small tribes."

Rule 15: Whether it is Arab-Israeli peace or democracy in Iraq, you can't want it more than they do.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Thoughts

Also, for those with young children, Terry Mattingly has good thoughts on that whole Santa thing, here.

And this ad in today's NYTimes from CNI.

Wishing everyone a blessed Nativity.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What I Like

Last week, we observed the second Divine Liturgy held at our mission, with 27 in attendance. An adjacent small portable building serves as our temporary "hall." Needless to say, some of us had to spill over outside during and after the fellowship meal. I chanced upon an ongoing conversation among 3 of our young men. What were they discussing? Sports? Hardly. Pop culture? Please. Work? Nope. They were comparing their favorite Flannery O'Connor stories. I just love Orthodoxy.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Spengler on Jenkins and Global Christianity

Recently, I have caught up on my Spengler. His regular columns in the Asia Times , unfailingly insightful, are collected here. I took particular interest in his review of The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South by Philip Jenkins. The work, which charts the shifting locus of Christianity from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere, has been generally well-received, and for the most part, Spengler concurs with the consensus. He finds it "indispensible not only for its understanding of global change, but also for its understanding of what Christianity implies." Indeed, Spengler concludes that the "new book is a source of astonishment. One cannot quite make sense of today's world without it."

Spengler does level some criticism at Jenkins, finding him a much better demographer than theologian, whose work sometimes "maddens as much as it informs." For instance, the author views the general uncertainly of life in Africa as the major factor in the explosive growth of sub-Sarahan Christianity. Spengler argues that life in Africa has always been fragile, and even in the face of the AIDS epidemic, the drastic reduction in child mortality has in fact, made life more certain than before.

Also, Spengler faults Jenkins when comparing Christianity and Islam. Most irksome among Jenkins' omissions is a failure to explain the often brutal antagonism between Christianity and Islam throughout Africa. Where he compares the two religions, Jenkins invariably sees common features rather than fundamental differences - yet the vast amounts of Christian blood shed by African Muslims suggest that a great gulf is fixed between the two faiths. Jenkins notes that Christianity is winning the battle for souls in sub-Saharan Africa, but even so, is at a loss to explain why. Here Jenkins is no help at all. In matters of theology and religious practice, he calls attention only to similarities between Islam and Christianity.

Jenkins infers that Africans feel an instinctive cultural affinity with the Old Testament, with its stories of nomadism and polygamy. Spengler dismisses this as so much condescension, indeed the same attitude taken by America's liberal elite towards African fundamentalism (witness mainstream Episcopal hand-wringing over Archbishop Akinola).

Spengler sees other factors as work. First, a more convincing explanation of African identification with the Old Testament is that African Christians identify with ancient Israel because they desire to become part of the People of God, as tribal society disintegrates.

He also credits the role of American evangelical missionaries. US evangelical Christianity…is …unique in its identification with Israel, for Americans selected themselves out from among the nations, and crossed the oceans to come to a New Land in emulation of the Tribes of Israel crossing the Jordan into Canaan. Evangelical Christianity centers on the rebirth of the individual out of his sinful, Gentile origin into Israel, into the People of God, by the miracle of Christ's blood.…Appropriately, American evangelical religion, with its central notion of being saved in the blood, has exercised immense appeal in modern Africa. Even here, however, Spengler believes Jenkins does not follow through fully with his premise. The reason that blood is so important to Christianity (and not just evangelical Christianity) is that the Christian undergoes a change of ethnicity. As Africa emerges from tribalism - if it is to emerge at all - this is decisive. It is the Gentile flesh that is sinful by its nature, and to overcome sin and gain the Kingdom of God, the Christian must be reborn into a new flesh, the flesh of Israel. The blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ is what makes that possible.

Yet, in the end, Spengler finds this to be a seminal work. Some choice Spengler quotes, as follows:

Westerners have spent the past 400 years in a grand effort to make the world seem orderly and reasonable without, however, quite suppressing the strangeness and wonder of life. Now come the new Christians of the Southern Hemisphere, who confound enlightened Western prejudice. The Bible, and above all the Hebrew Bible, speaks immediately to the new Christians of the global South ...unlike the complacent and secure Euro-American Christians who find disturbing the actual Bible of blood and redemption. Southern Christians will dominate the religion within a generation or two and, if Jenkins is right, will bring it closer to its original purpose and character. Southern Christians hold to biblical authority not because they are backward, but because they have embraced the Bible for what it really is. Euro-American Christians who interpret Scripture to suit their evolved cultural tastes are soon-to-be-ex-Christians.

The conclusion suggested by Jenkins' report is that the people of the Southern Hemisphere increasingly are willing to substitute a universal Christian identity for their ethnic or tribal identity, choosing Christianity over Islam. If that is correct, we are witness to one of the most remarkable things to happen in world history.

Reflections of a Humble Heart (continued)

The elder, addressing his monastics:

...I greet you and say to you, "Rejoice!" Rejoice, because you are a Christian and you bear the name of Christ. Rejoice, because, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, God has numbered you with His sons, and you daily turn to Him with the words, "Our Father." Rejoice, because the Son of God and your Saviour calls you His brother (John 20:17; Heb. 2:11-12). Rejoice because you are redeemed (Gal 3:13, 1 Tim. 2:6). Rejoice, because from the foundation of the world the Kingdom has been prepared for you (Matt. 24:34), if only you apply yourself in the course of this life to inherit it in eternity. Rejoice, because you are always numbered among those who are saved (Eph. 2:5), and your name is already written in the Book of Life (Rev. 3:5), and of you is required only that you confirm this and that you hold to this great height. Rejoice, because God has called you to please Him in this monastic life. He has clothed you with the robe of salvation (by which you are to understand your baptismal robe) and He has covered you with the garment of joy (Is. 61:10), which is how you should revere your monastic habit. Likewise, rejoice and know that the Mother of God herself and the host of saints protect and watch over you, if only you do no fall into despondency and do not become careless or indifferent towards your calling. If you should stumble, they will help you up, if only you are determined to continue your path and to avoid the mire from which there is no salvation. If we have many enemies along our path to salvation, we also have many friends and helpers....Know that time does not wait for you. Love the time of your life, for this is the time that the Lord has entrusted to you in order that you labor on the salvation of your soul, and there will not be another time....Rejoice, that you are alive and are given the opportunity to manifest love for God, to please God, to labor, to show yourself His faithful servant--and not merely a servant but a son, according to the Gospel (John 1:12). And if you are called to such an honor, to such a joy, well then, endure all trials and misfortunes steadfastly and courageously. In no case hang your head in sorrow, because you have no grounds for doing so.

Reflections of Humble Heart, pages 24-26

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Reflections of a Humble Heart

I have recently enjoyed reading Reflections of a Humble Heart, a small book of Orthodox spiritual writings. The title was new to me, and I chanced upon it at the Holy Archangels Monastery bookstore in Kendalia, Texas. The work is taken from an Byzantine manuscript discovered in the Vatican library, then translated into Russian, and only recently into English. The writer was a monk Basil, who recorded the teachings of an unnamed priest. Either the elder was so well-known that his name did not have to be mentioned, or it was recorded in the portions of the manuscript now lost. The great interest for me was that the writings date from early 15th-century Constantinople. By that time, the greatest city in the world had been reduced to a hollow shell of its former self, and the empire--if you could still call it that--extended little farther than the city walls. Written under these dire conditions, I was intrigued to see what it had to say.

I was also curious to discover just how the book would sound to me--and by this I mean that as a 21-century reader, how exactly would I hear and receive the wisdom of 600 years past? I know that for Protestants reading the actual writings of the Reformers, the teachings can seem odd and stilted in light of current beliefs (which ought to be a clue). It was refreshing to discover that the Reflections read as though one were reading a contemporary Orthodox theologian or author. Maybe this is due to the translators, but then maybe it is something a bit more basic; a confirmation of the successfull trasmission of doctrine from generation to generation. I am not saying this to try and score points, or indulge in Orthodox triumphalism, but merely noting my overall impression of the work.

Later on, I will post excerpts from the elder's writings. First, however, I found his thoughts on the impending doom of Constantinople, as well as the relationship of eastern and western Christianity to be of interest. I might note that this is not at all the thrust of the book, merely an aside to his readers in the first few pages.

The enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ will take captive our earth and the Great Church [the Hagia Sophia] will cease to be a temple of God. Great tragedies will overtake the land of the Romans [the "Byzantines"], and by God's great judgment it will cease to exist. People will die, cities will perish, even whole nations will perish, because there is nothing eternal under the sun except the human soul, which is created in the image and likeness of the eternal God. Do not look for help from Western Christians, expecting that they will take up arms in defense of the common Christian heritage. Do not expect this. Because the Western Christians are not Christians; they are pagans.

Before one dismisses the writer as just another knot-headed anti-Latin Greek, the elder goes on to explain:

Even we Orthodox have a lot of things that are pagan....Yes, brother, we have much that is pagan, because we Orthodox are sinners, both as individuals and as a people. However, we are pagans on the surface, while in the depths of our souls we are Christian, because in our humility we have Christ in our hearts....Western peoples are Christian on the surface, but in their hearts, in their souls, they are pagan. We Orthodox grieve that we have idols living in our souls, and in humility we fall prostrate before Christ, desiring with our whole heart to belong to Him. In the case of Westerners, however, Christianity is like a thin gilding over copper; the rest is wholly pagan, because within their souls they bow down before their idols and these idols reign over them. They are proud, and Christ does not dwell in their hearts. For this reason, we Orthodox are truly pagans--on the surface--but deep within we are Christians; while the Western Latins are Christians on the surface but pagans underneath. Therefore, do no expect that they will help us. We Orthodox are strangers to them. Of course, in every nation there are good and humble people who bear Christ in their hearts and in their way of life.

I find his 15th-century analysis of what separated East from West interesting, to say this least. Of course, the elder realized he was speaking in broad terms, and he qualified his judgment in the last statement. I would be curious to know if anyone finds merit to the distinctions he draws.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Return to the Hill Country

Part 7 (final)—The Monastery

This subject may seem an odd choice for my last observation in this series. But the Texas Hill Country is also home to Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery, located between Kendalia and Twin Sisters (or between Blanco and Boerne, to put it in a slightly larger context). Going to monasteries is what Orthodox people do. I am no exception.

The monastery occupies 155 acres at the end of a dead-end road. Frankly, it took me a while to track it down. Holy Archangels is one of the 15 monasteries founded across America by Elder Ephraim, and has been in existence for about 10 years. As I understand it, there are presently 3 priest and 7 monks in residence. A number of Orthodox faithful come for services on the weekend, and the homes along the little road leading to the monastery are lined with the vacation and/or weekend homes of Orthodox who wish to be close by.
I inquired about the metal framework for a large dome that I saw lying on the ground behind some building supplies. The monk informed me that the property had been previously owned by a Muslim group who had a mosque here, and that was their dome. So, he concluded, it was a double blessing: a mosque was destroyed and a monastery established. At the risk of engaging in a brief moment of triumphalism, I couldn’t help but agree.

The church at Holy Archangels is simply beautiful, the intricately carved iconostasis (made in Greece) is as impressive as any I have seen. A large amount of construction is underway at the monastery. A 3-story dormitory is being built around the church, large enough to accommodate 100 monks, as well as providing for an iconography studio and other needs.

All in all, I was impressed. The monks are unfailingly friendly and hospitable. I have seen discussions among Orthodox bloggers, with various insights pro and con about the role of monasteries in American Orthodoxy, and their influence in Orthodoxy in general. Some may believe that these monasteries perpetuate a perceived Orthodox “exoticism,” and worry that Orthodoxy will never really fit in, so to speak, to American society. God grant that we never “fit in.” Our country is saturated with that "fit-in" style of religion. But really—and I hope I am not setting up a straw man, here—I think this argument approaches the issue from the wrong angle. I view these monasteries as healthy, and while they are certainly a new addition to the landscape that doesn’t mean that do not belong here. We are a mongrel, polygot nation. We are, and have always been, in the process of becoming. I recall a magazine cover from several years back with an artist’s conception of what the average American would look like in the year 2050. And unless you are already part Caucasian, part black, part Asian and part Hispanic, then this average future American will not look like you, or like me. That is our future, as a nation. And in this particular part of the world, any concern about Orthodox "exoticism" just falls flat. We WASPs have only been here 160 years, hardy long enough to make an indelible stamp; and even from the beginning, heavily diluted with German Lutheranism and Hispanic Catholicism. The monks in their black cassocks, going about their work and worship at Holy Archangels Monastery look as natural in this rugged hill country as anybody else who has come along. In fact, maybe more so. The region has just a hint of Greece to it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Return to the Hill Country

Part 6--Luckenbach on a Friday Night

Back in 1970s, the little German village of Luckenback, Texas became something of pop culture icon, or at least among Willie Nelson/Waylon Jennings/Chris Kristofferson aficionados. I hated all the hoopla back then. I have since mellowed, and let's face it, Luckenbach has always been mellow, so we are now a good match. This local watering hole persists, with a dogged determination to preserve a unique take on life. The old store has been there, almost forever. But the main attraction is the shed on the back--a 25' square room with a bar around 2 sides, a cookstove for heat, a smattering of benches and stools, with every inch of wall covered with memorabilia. On this particular Friday night, 6 musicians sat in a circle, taking turns picking and singing. Some 25-30 of us were huddled around, backing up to the stove for warmth when need be, listening to such classics as "Watching the Fire Go Out," and "I'm the Lonliest Man in Town." Or, at least with the obligatory Shiner Bock, they seemed like classics.

Return to the Hill Country

Part 5—Enchanted Rock

Enchanted Rock is a noted landmark between Llano and Fredericksburg, Texas. If a foreign visitor were to ask me the one place that is quintessentially “Texas,” this would be the spot. Although a huge granite outcropping, to call it a mountain would invite ridicule from those who live where there are real mountains. Yet, it is certainly something more than just a large hill. I have climbed it 5 or 6 times—so far. After spending most of this fall on crutches, scaling the peak was something of a personal vindication as well. My healing foot made it just fine, and gasping for breath as I approached the summit was not as embarrassing as expected. I enjoy the view, and watching the sunset from here is a special treat, though this day was noticeably chilly and overcast.

Captain Jack Hays was the hero of a famous Indian skirmish here in 1845. He was working on a survey party, became separated from his group, and soon found himself confronted by about 20 Comanche. He sought refuge on the peak, as the war party followed. Hays was able to keep them at bay, without ever firing a shot. As they would approach up the bald, unprotected face of the mountain, he would rise to fire off a shot, and they would retreat back. This standoff allowed his survey party time to discover what had happened and come to his rescue. Hays went on the have a distinguished career, which included becoming mayor of Oakland, California.

Conditions remained dicey here, even 20 years later. The Civil War wiped away whatever defenses that the U. S. Army and/or Texas Rangers had afforded. My great- grandmother’s brother, Charles, was a young man of 20 years, just home from the war in July of 1865. He volunteered to help his uncle and family move from Honey Creek down to Mountain Home, a two-three day journey. On the return, Charlie stopped off in Fredericksburg, refreshed himself in a local saloon and then pushed on. About four miles out of town, he stopped at a creek to water the team and camp out for the night. He was ambushed by a party of Comanche, tied to a wagon wheel, tortured and then scalped. Neighbors overheard his screams. When word reached his family's ranch on Sandy Creek, his father, brother and brother-in-law set off to retrieve his body. Before leaving, they dug a hasty grave for him next to his mother. The heat and the time delay, however, dictated that they bury him where found, south of Enchanted Rock. In 1923, my granddad and his uncles sought to relocate the grave, but to no avail. Soon after the tragedy, my family abandoned their home of 13 years and moved 75 miles northeast to a safer area. They would remain away for 12 years. The murder (and the subsequent murder of another uncle nearby some 4 years later) has always made me take a somewhat jaundiced view of the “noble red man” school of revisionist American history. I realize that it was 140 years ago, but generationally (merely my grandfather’s uncles), it was not far removed at all, and the stuff of my childhood stories.

Looking out from Enchanted Rock, I recalled this saga, and pondered how life seldom works out the way we envision. And thank God for that. Most of our envisioning is motivated by our selfish wants and whims of the moment. Somehow this story causes me pause, even at home when I walk down our hallway and the honest, confident, clean-shaven and youthful face of my Uncle Charlie stares out at me from the old daguerreotype on the wall. If my family had not been chased off by the Indian depredations, my great-grandmother would have never met my great-grandfather (himself, ironically, part-Indian). Their love, and the years and obstacles that stood in the way of their marriage, is another story. But somehow, this twisting tale is all God’s grace, and part and parcel of who I am.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Return to the Hill Country

Part 4 -- The Grove

The family of my great-grandmother Nannie was the last of my relatives to settle in the Hill Country of Texas, arriving in 1879. Her parents lived in a 2-story house on a flat stretch of high ground. Nannie lived there in later years, as did my dad, one year. The school in his neighborhood went only through the 10th grade. He lived with his grandmother so that he could attend the 11th grade and graduate from high school. The little rock schoolhouse down the road had a graduating class of 8.

In 1882, Nannie’s little brother, Willie, died. My great-great grandparents laid him to rest in a live oak grove a couple of hundred feet west of the house. The cemetery took on the name of Nannie’s family, even though it soon grew into a community burial ground. The house is long gone, marked only by a cistern and a straggling fig bush. In fact, the cemetery is now so large that most of the house site is within its fence. The oldest area, under the live oaks, is filled with my kin. I remember hearing accounts of my grandmother’s funeral in 1934--the casket being carried directly from the house to the grove, the waves of grief and incomprehension of the children, the uncomforting words of the preacher—as they laid her to rest, next to her father and near her Uncle Willie. The effects of her untimely death still ripple down through the generations.

From the early 1980s through the mid 1990s, I would visit my favorite uncle, who had retired to nearby Georgetown. Our Saturday morning routine would never vary—after a pot of coffee and pecan waffles, we would hit the road. Sometimes we would visit this or that family landmark. Sometimes we would drop in for a cup of coffee with another uncle, though always leaving before the war-stories could begin. We would often check on various older relatives, with my uncle being the self-assigned caretaker. We might even stop by Jimbo Davis’ roadhouse on the way back. But always, we would stop at the live oak grove.

Here we would perpetuate an age-old country tradition. Neither of us knew why it started, or why we continued to do it. We would keep our family’s graves “mounded-up.” Grave sites here are rocky by nature, and seldom grassed over. Old-timers would keep the graves slightly mounded. The cemetery association maintains a pile of rough, course sand just for that purpose. So, we would remember to throw a wheel barrow and shovels in the back of the truck before leaving, and we would, if needed, “mound-up” the graves of my grandfather, grandmother and grandmother’s father. This must be a central Texas thing. It is certainly not done in East Texas, or other parts of the South.

My favorite uncle himself now lies in the grove, as does another uncle and his wife. I try to attend the cemetery work-days whenever possible, though there is little to do. The association does an excellent job of maintaining everything. But we meet out there anyway, and rake the acorns and leaves away. And when need be, I mound-up the graves, and most especially that on my uncle.

Return to the Hill Country

Part 3 -- The Road

My grandmother’s people lived across the river from my granddad’s farm. Though only a few miles apart, as the crow files, the road twists for 7 or 8 miles around the rugged, hilly terrain to connect the two communities. Other than paving, the road has changed little since my dad’s youth. I rarely drive it without seeing deer or turkey. As one travels south, the road unwinds into a long straight-of-way, stretching nearly a mile from one hilltop to the next. This is known as “Seven-Mile Hill,” though I am unsure of which of the two peaks is so named. This stretch of road is the setting for one of my dad’s favorite stories. Whenever he would begin the story, my mother would always roll her eyes and claim that it “grew” with each telling; much the same way my wife does when I tell it. For it was on this stretch of road, in the summer of 1919, that my dad saw his first automobile.

My granddad was very much the stereotypical old-time Texan. Dark-complected and square-jawed, he stood 6’ 4” in his stocking feet. With boots and Stetson, he seemed 7’ tall. He died when I was 8 years old and he has been my life-long hero. My granddad and his mother-in-law never quite got on, as they say. Nannie was so tiny that she wore a hatband as a belt. She stood 4’ 8” and never weighed over 90 lbs. She kept her hair pulled back tight and wore spectacles over huge, piercing eyes. This gave her a something of a hen-like appearance, and in fact, she looked much like an even tinier version of Granny Clampitt from the “Beverly Hillbillies.” Nannie had been widowed when only in her mid twenties, and never remarried over the course of her long life. And she was tough as a boot. She and my grandfather were evenly matched.

Nannie was not above using a little maternal manipulation. Her three daughters were overly protective of her, and I suppose that they somewhat “petted” her. If things were not particularly going her way, she could pout and throw a "Smith fit," as my grandfather later dubbed it. She imagined herself subject to "heart flutters,” as she put it, particularly in those times when she needed to get her way. The “heart flutters” did, in fact, finally carry her off, but at age 84. My grandmother loved her mother, but she also loved my granddad. They married when she was 19 and he 24, and she left home in a sense that her 2 sisters never did. I suspect Nannie somewhat resented my granddad for taking her oldest daughter away. He, on the other hand, had little patience with her carryings-on. And herein lay the root of their low-level war of wills.

Nannie would come for extended visits. My dad recalled that once, in the midst of a “Smith fit,” she exclaimed, “Well, I’ll just kill myself.” My granddad coolly replied “Well Lizzie, the strychnine is on the mantle, next to the clock. But if you take it, make sure you take enough because if you don’t, it will just make you sick.” Such was the nature of their relationship.

And so on that summer day in 1919, my granddad was carrying Nannie back home. It was a family affair. My granddad was driving the team with my grandmother sitting next to him, holding the baby. My dad, his older brother and his next youngest brother were sitting on the back of the wagon, their bare feet hanging off. And in the bed of the wagon, in a cane chair, sat Nannie. They were nearing her home, when they topped Seven-Mile Hill. In the distance, on the far summit, an automobile was chugging their way. The boys were craning their necks to get a better view of the approaching vehicle. Meanwhile, my grandmother began to admonish her husband to stop and hold the team until the vehicle passed. He, like most of my gender, took a dim view of such sensible instructions. My granddad just keep on his way, as the dust and noise from the car came closer and closer. Sure enough, right before the two travelers met, the jittery horses spooked and reared straight-up. Grandmother clutched the baby and screamed. My dad and his brothers were yelling with excitement, while my granddad was attempting to bring the team back under control. In this midst of this commotion, Nannie’s eyes got “big as sauces,” and without a word, she leapt over the wagon wheel and landed in a bar-ditch. My grandmother turned to my granddad and said, “Now look what you’ve done. You’ve gone and hurt Mother!” It would take more than a tumble in a bar-ditch to do serious harm to Nannie, but I suspect my granddad never heard the end of it;, from either his spouse or his mother-in-law.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Return to the Hill Country

Part 2—The Bridge

Much of my family story played itself out along the Lampasas River of central Texas. The area remains somewhat remote, but with relentless sprawl marching north from Austin, and a smaller version of the same moving south from Fort Hood, the rural nature of this part of the world will ultimately give way. But for a while yet, progress is at bay. In all my returning, I try to visit 3 touchstones: the bridge, the road and the grove.

The old iron bridge over the Lampasas River was brand new in 1914, the year of my father’s birth. I have crossed the rattlely old bridge dozens of times in my life. In recent years, it has been closed to vehicular traffic as a new, low concrete replacement has been opened downstream. At some point, a do-gooding entity of some sort will undoubtedly declare the old bridge to be unsafe, and recommend that it be dismantled. But until then, I retain this link with our past.

It has even gained a bit of fame in its last days. The movie “Second Hand Lions,” starring Robert Duvall and Michael Caine, was shot on location in central Texas. The 2 bridge scenes in the move were shot here. The background scenery was digitally altered, but there is no mistaking the bridge.

My great-grandparents’ farm lay about 1 ½ miles north of the community which was clustered on either side of the bridge. My dad was born in the village and lived there until he was about 6. He was a natural horseman, even as a child. By the time he was 5 years old, my grandparents would set him atop old Star--their gentle mare--and point her in the direction of the general store. There would invariably be a cluster of men gathered around in front of the store, located just north of the bridge. One of them would go in, get the family’s mail, hand it to my dad, and then he would head the horse toward home. The community cemetery (perhaps one of the most beautiful in Texas), lies just south of the bridge. My great-grandparents are here, lying beneath massive Woodmen of the World grave monuments. The old Baptist Church is a little west of here, though now a non-denominational something or the other. In my dad’s youth, there would have undoubtedly been a Presbyterian Church somewhere in the area.

The Lampasas River is not much of a river, actually. The banks are high and wide, but the river is sometimes shallow enough that one could walk across without getting unduly wet. A huge sandbar hugs the south bank, just east of the bridge. This, more than anyplace else, served as a community center for the now vanished village. Large enough to accommodate quite a crowd, the sandbar provided the perfect venue for picnicking, swimming, wading, and perhaps some low-key fishing. The rocky bluffs above were also popular. Granddad’s two sisters came of age in the Edwardian era. I recall the faded old hardback pictures—they, with hair piled high beneath wide-brimmed hats, posing with the other area young people on the bluffs.
My dad remembers one gathering from about 1919 or 1920 in particular. Grandmother’s mother, Nannie, and her two other daughters had just returned home from Dallas. I have always been incredulous that Nannie ever lived in that city, for she was notoriously old-fashioned, even then. They had left the Hill Country after the debacle of my youngest great-aunt’s rather thrown-together marriage. The baby died and the husband bolted. The whole saga was a little scandalous for that day and time, and so they decamped for the anonymity of the city for a while. My aunt would recover. She would marry again. And again. And again. But at that time, friends and family were just glad to have them back where they belonged. As my dad recalled, everyone was down on the sandbar. His younger brother (not much past toddler stage) had captured a horned-toad that he was carrying around in a shoe box. He was chasing his aunt, both of them running barefoot across the sandbar. My great-aunt was something of a tomboy and hardly afraid of a horned-toad. But she was glad to play along with her nephew. Standing on the old bridge, looking down, I can just about see it all, in my mind’s eye.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Return to the Hill Country

Part 1--The Farmhouse

I am going to stray a bit from my usual topics and take a break from fretting about our foreign policy, George Bush, Pope Benedict, the Armenian Genocide, the banalities of our popular culture, as well my various observations of a religious nature, etc. Rather, I want to flesh out some jumbled thoughts and impressions that are never far from my consciousness. They are all of a family nature. Whether the writing of them will be therapeutic, or merely self-indulgent navel-gazing, remains to be seen. But I do apologize in advance, so don't feel compelled to read through all these ramblings.

In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to spend time in the Texas Hill Country--that ruggedly beautiful region than fans out northwest, west and southwest from Austin. As much as I enjoy the scenery, the real treat is the approach to life one finds here—straight-forward and honest, little given to pretense, egaliterian, lively, yet laid-back. My own region of the state, by comparison, appears cramped, uptight and often given over to superficial pettiness. I recognize the romanticism in all this--there's clearly good and bad all over.

My roots are here, at least on the paternal side of things, though my immediate family has been gone for 70 years now. My dad’s leaving had everything to do with the cold, hard necessities of the Depression era. His life (and as a result, mine) was played out elsewhere, and in the measure of the world, done so with some degree of success. And yet, I have always believed that something special and meaningful was lost along the way. And so, I return here, time and again, whenever possible; looking for that intangible, and on occasion, catching a glimpse of it.

A distant cousin invited us to a Christmas barbeque at her ranch, which served as the excuse for the most recent excursion. Although she lives in Austin, she lovingly maintains the old 1870s farmhouse, and drives out several times a week. And her holiday get-togethers are always done up right—this year being a catered, chuck wagon barbeque out on the hilltop homestead. The connections are now remote—my closest kin there being a few remaining 2nd cousins of my dad. But my surname removes these gradations, and I treasure the time spent with these easy, gentle souls. I allow myself a little pride here, noting that the adjoining “mountain” (more like a butte, actually) bears our name and still gives testimony to the role we played in this place.

On the drive out, I made a quick detour by my grandparent’s last farm. My granddad had sold the earlier, old family farm in 1920. With his sisters living elsewhere and owning a 2/3 interest in the place, the decision was made to sell. And so they did. A succession of rented places followed; first by grandmother’s people, and then later among granddad’s, until he purchased this 160 acre farm in the late 1920s. There's no getting around the fact that it is something of a forlorn and melancholy site now. Yet, in my mind I can see the bustling farmstead in its day. They grew crops of all kinds--cotton, as well as row crops--raised beef cattle, kept dairy cows, sheep, horses, mules—altogether as diversied and self-sufficient a farm as could be. My granddad served on the board of the little school house located two miles south. And, most importantly, grandmother had a church of her faith within riding or driving distance. Theirs was a happy home.

My granddad was a forward-looking, optimistic sort—perhaps foolishly so. After the Stock Market Crash of 1929, agriculture and cattle prices dropped sharply. While prices were low, he figured that this would be a good time to expand. The leading local mercantile firm was happy to oblige and gave him more than enough rope. But agricultural prices had not stabilized, they had just paused before dropping off the precipice into nothingness. My granddad was a proud man and concealed their plight from his children, who really did not realize they were poor. My dad thought he was going to college. Granddad talked him into putting it off a year or two, and by that time it was out of the question. During this time, my dad when out to the Texas Panhandle (in the fall of 1933) to earn extra money by picking cotton. Some cousins were becoming well-established out there, and had a job waiting for him. He returned home for Christmas, only to find an empty and deserted farm. The lender had pulled the plug—taking everything, even my dad’s personal horse and saddle. This event, in turn, led directly to my grandmother’s untimely death 3 months later, which completed the tragedy. My dad had just turned 20 years old; his baby brother had just turned 3 weeks old. My dad and his younger brother had to go to work to support the younger children, wo were more or less farmed out among various relatives. So, the farm became a melancholy place in our collective family memory.

The little box house still hangs on, after a fashion. The porches are long gone, and recent owners have covered the structure in tin and used it as a barn and/or storage building. I stopped to have a look around. The back was more or less off the house, so I just hopped in. Since I was trespassing, I didn’t linger long. The wood floors remain firm and strong. The ceiling and some interior walls have been removed to facilitate storage. The room that must have been my grandmother’s kitchen lay next to the back porch. But I couldn’t tell where the stovepipe into the parlor had been. I recall the story vividly. My dad’s older brother, who always took him self very, very seriously, was entertaining his girl friend in the parlor. My dad and his younger brother snuck up to the attic room, taking along one of the family cats. Somehow, they managed to open the stovepipe and shove the cat down the pipe going into the parlor. The mayhem which ensued from a screaching, clawing cat, frantically trying to extricate itself from the stovepipe, brought a swift halt to my uncle’s wooing. My dad, ever quick-witted, made a hasty retreat down the stairs and out the back of the house. His younger brother, convulsing in laughter, was a little slower on the getaway and, unfortunately for him I suppose, by that time my granddad was waiting for him at the foot of the stairs. I smiled as I jumped to the ground from where the porch had been. As I walked back to my vehicle, I noticed narcissuses coming up in the surrounding pasture and wondered if my grandmother had planted them. And I also paused to wonder what all of our lives would have been like had they not lost the farm, had she lived to a ripe old age and if the family had stayed together? But such thoughts are not helpful and are not productive of anything. And worse yet, such thinking discredits and discounts the very real providence of God. And so I drove off, for my cousins, and the barbeque, were waiting.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Finding Unity

Rod Dreher has a timely article in today's Dallas Morning News, concerning Pope Bendict XVI's visit in Istanbul. Dreher hits on a number of issues of great interest to me: Turkey and its relationship to Europe, the plight of the Orthodox in Turkey (and all Christians, for that matter), Turkish nationalism, Armenian Genocide denial, and Catholic-Orthodox dialogue. He suggests that while the media will be focused on Benedict and his prickly relationship with the Islamic community, the real story will be his meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Dreher recounts a recent conversation with an Orthodox priest who laments that "the entire Byzantine Empire has been reduced to the Phanar." Would that it were so. Actually, the Orthodox Patriachate is hemmed into part of a block, with a mere handful of Greek shops on the adjoining street corner. The Phanar district has been almost completely taken over by the most conservative Islamic immigrants from eastern Turkey. If you want to see black burkhas in Istanbul, then go to the Phanar. But this is just symptomatic of the precarious plight endured by the few remaining Orthodox Christians in Constantinople. Dreher writes:
Few in the West gave a thought to Byzantium until Benedict cited in September Emperor Manuel II Paleologus in a controversial address that set off Muslim mobs in yet another spasm of inflamed sensitivity. Benedict's speech--both its content and the Islamic reaction--brought to mind the fact many Western elites take pains to avoid noticing: that down through the ages, the meeting between Islam and Christianity has been a mostly unhappy one. This is certainly true from the point of view of Eastern Christians--Orthodox, Coptic and otherwise--wh have suffered for many centuries under the Muslim yoke.
Well put, particularly the reference to our Western elites. Dreher comments on the age-old grievances between Eastern and Western Christianity, but concludes that "the hour is late indeed for the Orthodox to dwell on this history, as a resurgent Islam pushes what is left of Christianity in Muslim lands further to the brink of extinction." He also believes that "Benedict has a clearer eye about Islam than his predecessor... [and] he is not prepared to pretend that it is of no matter that in Europe Muslims are free to worship as they please and to build mosques at will, while in Turkey and the Muslim world, Christians are generally not permitted to build churches and face state-sanctioned discrimination. It is better, says Benedict, to speak frankly about the world as it is, rather than about the world Western elites wish we lived in." Lastly, Dreher believes that "it is in the interest of both Catholic and Orthodox believers to achieve whatever effective spiritual unity they can manage. History is on the move again, and not in their direction." Good thoughts, all around.
(The picture is of the Haghia Sophia the last time I was there, I taking special pains to find a view that clipped off the 4 minarets.)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Not Ready for Prime Time

I read with interest the interview in last week’s NY Times with Katharine Jefferts-Schori, the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America. I had refrained from commenting on this truly embarrassing interview, for frankly I do not have a horse in this race. The ECUSA is on a somewhat different trajectory than I am on. Additional information on KJ-S coming to light, however, causes me to offer up an opinion anyway.

I find three of her answers deeply troubling:

Q: How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

A: About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.

I recall a saying from either one of the Desert Fathers, or perhaps from the Philokalia that one will never get in trouble for saying too little, or remaining silent. [S-P, help me out here!] Let's examine her answer. The newspaper asked a straightforward question. The correct answer (if indeed it is that many) was “about 2.2 million.” STOP. But KJ-S continued, noting that they “tend to be better-educated.” (While certainly true in the past, less so today and totally beside the point.) She concluded, somehow, that reproducing was somewhat lower-class behavior, or at least a under-educated thing to do. And then for good measure, she took a swipe at those rutting, breeding Catholics and Mormons. Considered alone, the last sentence is almost neutral, but within the context of her total answer, it was highly insulting. Why would one say those words, and particulary to a reporter of the nation's newspaper of record??? Can you say Elitist?

Q: Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?

A: No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

This answer completely floors me! Yes, it is true that for the most part, higher-income and better educated people do have smaller families. But that is not the question. The question was “aren’t Episcopalians interested in having children (new little Episcopalians)?” KJ-S answers flat-out: No. And then, true to form, she goes on. In her view, being a good steward of the earth is a greater good than procreating (since when did it become either/or?). The last religious group I am familiar with that actively discouraged families and children were the Shakers. Met any Shakers lately?

Q: He [Pope Benedict] became embroiled in controversy this fall after suggesting that Muslims have a history of violence.

A: So do Christians! They have a terrible history. Look at history in the Dark Ages. Charlemagne converted whole tribes by the sword. I think Muslims are poorly understood by the West, and it is easy to latch onto that which we do not understand and demonize it.

Oh, dear. Where to begin: a cheap, moral-equivalizing, milksop cop-out, coupled with an appalling ignorance of history! No one seriously tries to whitewash Christian history these days—far from it. But KJ-S seems eager to spotlight our "terrible history,” as if this were some novel insight on her part. Yes, we tend to view the “Dark Ages” (a simplistic misnomer if there ever was one) as a rather bleak period of history. Bad things happened and terrible conditions persisted (as viewed from our modern perspective.) And yet, this is a western European concept that totally ignores the Christian East, where conditions were much different. And the thing to remember is that, by and large, the barbarity of the age was in spite of the Christian influence, not because of it. As Western Europe was coming out of barbarism (when things were really rotten), imagine how much worse conditions would have been (and had been) without Christianity. And the bottom line is that violence, the “convert or die” mentality, was never a tenet of the faith, was never institutionalized into the very fabric of belief, regardless of the brutality of the age. Even in the worse excesses of European Christian expansionism (the Spanish in Latin America, for example), the authentic Christian witness was always there as well. Such cannot be said for the violent, forced imposition of Islam across much of the known world, as decreed by Mohammed, the Koran and the hadiths. And yes, Islam is often misunderstood, but just because something is uncomfortable, or is an inconvenient truth does not mean that it is misunderstood. It seems the demonizing is largely not of our making. KJ-S would be better informed if she were to read the account of a recent symposium, here.

Even more disturbing is the story concerning KJ-S's mother, a convert to the Orthodox faith, and the behavior of KJ-S after her death. Ochlophobist has investigated and has the full story, here.


This is a little late in coming, but I did want to mention the series of excellent essays in the November 20th issue of The American Conservative. Any literary endeavor associated with Patrick J. Buchanan is guaranteed to be lively and, shall we say, colorful. The magazine does not disappoint. I have learned to appreciate the writings of Daniel Larison at Eunomia and particularly wanted to see what he had to say in the current issue.

The headline on the cover asks Who Killed Conservatism? with a droll caricature of Bush as a gravedigger beside an open grave. One writer after another excoriates the Bush Presidency and his foreign policy legacy. And this from conservatives--just imagine what is being written over at The Nation. And I think therein lies the gist of this issue: that whatever Bush is, he is not conservative, or at least not one in the traditional meaning of the word, back when words actually had meaning. In a strange way, he and Hillary Clinton occupy opposite ends of the same continuum; each suffused with a heady Methodism, convinced that the world can be remade in this life, and that is what the "Almighty" (to use a Bushism) intended.

Buchanan writes:

Judgment day appears at hand. For the neo-Wilsonian foreign policy Bush embraced after 9/11 is everywhere collapsing in ruin. It consisted of three components....the concept of preventive war...an "axis of evil".... [and] contending contra history, that America can never be safe until the world is democratic...Neoconservatism has thus given us a bloodshed unending in Iraq, inflamed the Islamic world, divided America from Europe, antagonized Russia, and probably effected our early expulsion form Central Asia.

Austin Bramwell, former director and trustee of National Review observes:

Since 9/11, the conservative movement has not made unsound or fallacious arguments for supporting Bush's policies. Rather, it has made no arguments at all....the broader conservative public supports Bush for very sensible, non-neoconservative reasons. Those reasons just happen to be poorly informed....If Americans understood that soldiers were dying not to kill the bad guys but to prevent them from killing each other, Bush's popularity would evaporate.

Jeffrey Hart concludes:

Is Bush a conservative? Of course not. When all the evidence is in, I think historians will agree with Princeton's Sean Wilentz, who wrote a carefully argued article judging Bush to have been the worst president in American history. The problem is that he is generally called a conservative, perhaps because he is obviously not a liberal. It may be that Bush, in the magnitude of his failure defies conventional categories. But the word "conservative" deserves to be rescued.

Daniel Larison writes:

In Traditional Christianity, the motif of liberation and deliverance is a strong one--so strong that the story of Israel's freedom from bondage in Egypt and the spiritual liberation of humanity from sin through Christ's death and resurrection can easily become confused with ideas of earthly, political liberty from which they are clearly and sharply distinct....but lately here in America we have started to see a similar blurring of the lines between Christian spiritual liberty and political liberty, the latter of which assuredly has its historical roots in the lands and traditions of Christian civilization.

[Quoting Bush]: "I believe a gift form that Almighty is universal freedom. That's what I believe...God's gift to every man and woman in the world."

...there is something deeply disturbing about the conflation of God's gifts and political liberty, and especially with the political liberation of other nations....it can dangerously blur the lines between the sacred and the profane...and...there is the danger of encouraging despair and loss of faith in a God who supposedly gives universal freedom but nonetheless withholds it from billions of our fellow human beings and who denied it to most of humanity for thousands of years.

Political freedom is a product of culture and habit, the fruit of the discipline of civilization. As beings created in the image and likeness of God, it might be said that all men have the potential to acquire these habits and learn this discipline over a great length of time, but to believe that this discipline is more or less automatically inherent in all people right now is to dismiss both the effects of the fall and the contingencies of history.

If Bush speaks of God giving men universal freedom, he might as well say that God has given man universal bread or universal world peace, while tacitly ignoring hunger and war....He grants to men spiritual liberty from sin and death--far greater liberation, surely, than the tawdry Rights of Man. It is not faithful to the Christian tradition, and possibly rather unhinged, to say that God gives man universal freedom.

Read it all here, or better yet, go out and purchase a copy.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

St. John of Damascus Orthodox Mission

After our first Divine Liturgy. Yours truly on the far left.

Christianity Today

A reference in today's Dallas Morning News sent me scurrying to the website for Christianity Today (otherwise not a site I particularly frequent). The article I wanted to read, "Finding God in Russia," was not yet online. But I can only imagine the worst. The CT folks are not exactly Ortho-friendly these days.

But two online articles did catch my attention. The first Marginalized Again, is particularly galling.

Evangelicals are incensed over developments in Israel. Religious education is compulsory in Israel. Muslims and Jews have their own religious instruction. And so do Christians. Representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Anglican churches developed the curriculum for the Ministry of Education. But it seems the new school curriculum approved for Arab Israeli Christian students in grades 10 through 12 is not evangelical. They maintain that it "conflicts with their theology and must not be adopted." Oh, dear. The curriculim seeks to "include doctrinal statements and teachings about the sacraments and church rituals with an emphasis on the heritage and traditions of Christians in the Holy Land." The nerve! For the life of me, I cannot imagine how these heirs of 2000 years of Christian history and martyrdom in Palestine can last much longer without indoctrination into the cream of late 19th-Century American theological insight, such as: premillenialism, "one-saved, always saved," the non-essentiality of baptism or the "invisible" church.

While the overwhelming majority of the remaining 140,000 beleaugered Arab Christians are members of the Orthodox, Catholic or Anglican churches, an Evangelical spokesman said that they "could not accept the curriculum's teaching that the church is the believer's interpretive authority, nor its assumptions that rituals, sacraments, and liturgical prayers are means of sanctification." He asked "how can I as an evangelical advocate transubstantiation, praying to the saints and the Blessed Virgin, or salvation by water baptism?"

The Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal, the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem, responded that evangelicals are "often perceived as having a different agenda, more to do with Zionism." No joke. The evangelical spokesman admitted as much, but added "there are clear voices among both Western and Palestinian evangelicals who oppose Zionism." Where, exactly?

The ancient Christian community in Palestine is taking a battering from all sides. They don't need grief from know-it-all American evangelicals or their agents.

And then there is the interesting development concerning the purposeful Rick Warren, of Saddleback Church fame. Mr. Warren recently visited Syria, held a series of meetings--one even with Bashar Al-Assad--and then flew on to Rwanda. Some Conservative Christians have consequently turned on Warren, seeing this visit as a betrayal of Israel. "The Crosstalk Radio Talk Show, part of a Christian radio network, called Warren a 'mindless shill' for Syria and said he 'owes an apology to Israel, to the American people and to the victims of Syrian-sponsored terror.'" I hope to visit Syria one day. Somehow, I doubt I will be apologizing to Israel for doing so.

Warren's response in a press release is well worth reading. A couple of excepts, as follows:

Dr. Warren was in Syria to meet with and encourage the country’s key Christian leaders; dialogue with top Muslim leaders; and promote religious freedom. Leaders who met with Dr. Warren included the Patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church; the leader of the coalition of Evangelical Churches of Syria; and the pastor of the world’s oldest standing church dating back to 315 AD; and Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, the Grand Mufti.

Many Americans don’t realize that both Christianity and Judaism are legal in Syria. In addition, the government provides free electricity and water to all churches; allows pastors to purchase a car tax-free (a tax break not given to Muslim imams); appoints pastors as Christian judges to handle Christian cases; and allows Christians to create their own civil law instead of having to follow Muslim law. Every Christian with whom Dr. Warren’s team met -- including those in the city of Malula, where they represent two-thirds of the population -- expressed gratitude for the government’s protection of their right to worship.

"The Syrian government has long had a bad reputation in America, but if one considers a positive action like welcoming in thousands of Christian refugees from Iraq, or the protection of freedom to worship for Christians and Jews in Syria, it should not be ignored,” Dr. Warren said from Rwanda. He further explained that in terms of religious freedom, Syria is far more tolerant than places like Burma, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, and nations identified in the U.S. Commission Report on International Religious Freedom. ''Muslims and Christians have lived side by side in Syria for more than a thousand years, often with mosques and churches built next to each other,” he added. “What can we learn from them?"

Warren is a man to watch. Somehow, I think he may be about to break out of the evangelical reservation.

Nahed's Story

I have just finished a short book, Islam Encounters Christ: A Fanatical Muslim's Encounter with Christ in the Coptic Orthodox Church by Nahed Mahmoud Metwalli (Minneapolis: Life and Light Publishing, 2002). This rivetting story, an autobiographical account of an Egyptian Muslim woman's conversion to Christianity, is one that will stay with me for a long time.

In 1989, Nahed was a noted and influential educator, with important family connections in the Egyptian government. She presided as head principal at a high school of over 4,000 students, the largest school of its kind in Cairo. Like Saul himself, she hated Christians and took particular delight in persecuting the Coptic Christian teachers, staff and students under her charge. Without fail, they took her abuse and quite literally, turned the other cheek. And yet, Nahed was empty inside, concluding that even though she "prayed a lot and read the Koran often, yet there something missing." She even went to Mecca for 10 days, but returning more distraught than ever. As she was to learn, what was missing from her life was Christ. Nahed's remarkable conversion cost her everything--her job, home, position in society, as well as most of her family. She went from a respected and sometimes feared, official to a hunted fugitive, staying one step ahead of the police, as she fled from apartment to apartment. Many of the Christians who befriended her along the way suffered imprisonment and torture.

At one point, her sister was able to contact Nahed and give her 3 options: (a) she could turn herself in and recant what she had done, or (b) her family would commit her to a mental hospital as she had converted to Christianity and must obviously be mentally deranged, or (c) the family would kidnap and kill her and bury her in the desert, with absolutely no repercussions. Thankfully, Nahed and her oldest daughter were able to leave Egypt by means of fake passports (though not without one final scare as she noticed her picture on the wall in the airport passport control office).

But what I find particularly instructive (and convicting) is what first attracted Nahed to Christ: the behavior of these detested Christians--what we would call Christ-likedness. Nahed writes:

Indeed, I was both innovative and creative in humiliating, hurting and causing problems for the Christians. Not because I was evil but because I thought they did not love the God whom I loved and I worshiped. Yet there was always something puzzling me; I needed that inner peace which Christians had and for which I yearned. I was far wealthier than they were, wore expensive clothes and lacked nothing. Yet, there was something reassuring inside them. I could spot a Christian from the look in his/her eyes, that deep confident, peaceful look.

Later, Nahed caused much difficulty for a priest trying to enroll his daughter in her school. She remembers:

He thanked me, we shook hands and he went on his way. He had no idea of what turmoil was going on inside me. I felt so bad. One question kept haunting me, "What is it within this man? How can he be so kind and tactful?" He had what I lacked and was searching for: peace. I tried to forget this incident, but from time to time I would remember his look at me; his deep eyes filled with peace.

If one is looking for the elusive key to ministry in the Middle East, the simple answer is found in this book. But there is even a more obvious application, one that hits much closer home to me. Privileged and pampered American that I am, I do not have to live among people who hate me because I am a Christian (yet). But I am in contact with many, many people in a day's time. I wonder what peace do they see in my eyes, if any?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Not that it matters in the least, but

This is the one-year anniversary of this blog. I have to admit that I take great pleasure in the writing and dialogue. And while this exercise may have brought some much needed clarity to my own muddled thinking, the best part...the absolute best part of all this is the online acquaintances I am now honored to number among my friends. Thanks, guys!

Good thoughts

Over at Second Terrace, there is a good anaylsis of the recent Republican election debacle. Somewhat as an aside, he relates the following fascinating, and prescient anecdote:

(A Nazarene missionary stopped by to see me, some years ago, as he was heading off somewhere in Northern Africa. Since I was the only Orthodox priest he knew, he asked me what the Orthodox Church knew about living with Muslims. "What kind of evangelistic program did you guys use with them?" he asked, with a callowness that was charming, in a way. I mused, while he coached me with a multiple-choice response: "Door to door? Evangelistic services? Literature?" He didn't like my answer, as I had expected. "There's only one evangelistic program that works in that world," I said, "Martyrdom -- the old-fashion, non-homicidal kind.")

And then I have just come across Frederica Mathewes Green's thoughts on the Ted Haggard mess, found here. She has the best take on it that I have read so far. I particularly like this:

So it is a mistake to present Christianity the way some churches do, as if it is the haven of seamlessly well-adjusted, proper people. That results in a desperate artificial sheen. It results in treating worship as a consumer product, which must deliver better intellectual or emotional gratification than the competition. And that sends suffering people home again, still lonely, in their separate metal capsules.

What all humans have in common is our pathos. Getting honest about that binds us together. And then we begin to see how the mercy of God is pouring down on all of us all the time, just as the Good Samaritan bound the wounds of the beaten man with healing oil. May God give this healing mercy to Ted and Gayle, and to their children. May God reveal his healing mercy to Michael Jones, who told the truth. May God have mercy on all of us.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

High Five!

Okay. Confession time. I went to see Borat!: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. This may be the most hilarius bit of film making I have ever seen. I was literally on the floor laughing. Check it out here (be sure and watch the deleted scenes), here and particularly, here. Not for the squemish or easily offended. You go see! High Five!

Monday, November 06, 2006

You Gotta Love Texas Politics

I have tried to refrain from commenting on this year's political campaigning. I saw no need to join the chorus predicting a well-deserved drubbing for the GOP. But then, there is always Texas. Our gubernatorial race has generated a bit of interest. Rick Perry, the current occupant, is a former Texas A & M cheerleader who moved up from Lt. Governor when W moved into the White House. He served out the remainder of that term and was reelected in his own right in 2002. Although popular with the Texas business establishment and GOP activists, his statewide ratings are abysmal--and rightfully so. The irony is that if Perry is re-elected and serves out this term (as seems likely), the most mediocre governor in memory will be the longest serving governor in Texas history.

Sensing that Perry had a lock on the Republican base, Texas' political gadfly, the much-married Carole Keeton McClellan Rylander Strayhorn, opted out of the Republican primary and challenged Perry as an independent. She shares the moderate anti-Perry disgust vote with another independent: singer-songwriter-author-animal rights activist Kinky Friedman. Kinky initially grabbed the spotlight with campaign slogans such as "How Hard Could it Be?" and "Why the Hell Not?" Although still wildly popular on the Letterman show, his campaign has stumbled somewhat in Texas. And then there's the Democratic candidate, somebody Bell, I think. As it stands, the lackluster Perry will win another term with something over 30% of the vote.

Oh well, the state that foisted LBJ on an unsuspecting nation can hardly complain much about a piker like Perry. And then he does this. With the election absolutely sown up, Perry decides to throw a little red meat to his God-and-County constituency. He, along with some 60 odd Republican candidates, prostitute themselves before a get-out-the-vote worship(?) service at the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. [Does this many Republicans on the dais at one time raise any red flags about the church's tax exempt status?] You may not be familiar with the Cornerstone Church by name, but have probably seen it on television, as this is the megachurch of that bumble-butt televangelist, John Hagee.

Hagee, once he got wound up, declared that "if you live your life and don't confess your sins to God almighty through the authority of Christ and his blood, I'm going to say this very plainly, you're going straight to hell with a nonstop ticket." After the event, a reporter asked Governor Perry if he agreed that non-Christians were going to hell. Perry, a graduate of the George Allen School of Political Suavity, responded: "In my faith, that's what it says, and I'm a believer of that."

His opponents were quick to respond. Friedman, a Jew who often describes himself as a "Judeo-Christian," noted that Perry "doesn't think very differently from the Taliban, does he?" and that Perry's comment "hits pretty close to home." Meanwhile, Keeton McClellan Rylander Strayhorn, trolling for votes in the black Baptist churches of Ft. Worth, tried to match Perry in cringe-inducing commentary: "There are many ways to heaven. We're all sinners, and we're all God's children...God's a uniter." [Carole might need to refresh her reading of Luke 15:49-53]. The Democratic candidate noted that "God is the only one who can make the decision as to who gets into the kingdom of heaven." I am reminded of an observation I once made about Protestantism being all about status: who is in and who is out.

The picture at the top of the article says it all. Hagee, Sr. is front and center. Hagee, Jr. is to the right [Why am I reminded of Governor O'Daniel and son from O Brother, Where Art Thou?] Our governor is on the left, with his hands covering his face. I'm ashamed too, Governor.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dry Spell

My nephew tells me I need to post something to the blog. Okay.... Yet, for the life of me, I cannot think of anything that really needs saying, or rather, that needs to be said by me. At the risk of sounding like a whiney-baby, I suspect the weariness of being on crutches since September 22nd is starting to take its toll on me, in body and spirit. And then I remember those who have never walked, or those who will never walk again, or those who have lost limbs. All of which makes me ashamed of my minor complaints, particularly in light of the grace shown me in this recovery. And so, all I offer is the following quote:

He was bald but seemed to be bearing up well.

Anthony Powell, Afternoon Men

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Trick Dogs

Down here in Evangeland, it is the Fall Festival season. This is the time of year when many of our churches, being oh-so-careful not to use the "H" word, trot out their annual "Fall Festival" extravaganzas. Two goals seem to be in play. One is to provide a safe, secure venue for children to dress up, have fun, play games and indulge in some serious sugar highs. This is noble and laudable. The secondary motive is evangelical in nature--to entice families into the church through the children. The thinking is that if the children come, the parents can't be far behind. Frankly, I've never seen this really work, but of course, I could be wrong.

And I have absolutely no beef with any of this at all. What amuses me, however, is the fierce competition among churches within the "Fall Festival" market. A case in point: in my morning drive into the city, I passed a small surburban non-denominational community church (something with "Grace" in the name) that had obviously chunked out a great deal of money on a new, state-of-the-art sign, with bright red streaming video. And this morning, they were advertising their Fall Festival.


Trick Dogs??? That's it! This church has inadvertantly stumbled upon what has been missing in American evangelicalism all along--trick dogs. Look for it soon in your neighborhood!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Let's Talk About Real Persecution

This is Bahaa El Din Al Akkad, a former muslim sheikh in Egypt. He has spent the last 18 months languishing in an Egyptian prison. His crime? Leaving Islam and converting to Christianity, of course. Or as the charges read, "insulting a heavenly religion." Thanks to Sand Monkey, who is, in my view, one of the best news sources in the Middle East. Read his account and Bahaa El Din Al Akkad's story here. By all means, READ HIS STORY.

Two thoughts come to mind. First, this is why I want to gag whenever I hear American Christians talk about being "persecuted" for their beliefs. Such talk trivializes faith and demeans the suffering of the truly persecuted church throughout the world. And second, I am ashamed that it is our billions which prop up this regime. (I know, I know. What replaces it will surely be much worse. But still....)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

No Relief in Sight

The news from Iraq remains unremittingly bleak. Syrian Orthodox Priet Fr. Paulos Iskander (Paul Alexander) was recently kidnapped and beheaded by unknown terrorists. Read here. The most comprehensive report is from Al Jazeera News, found here, and a related story here.

And today's paper is just chock-full of news from the abyss, such "Shiite town erupts in revenge killings after bodies found." Shiite villagers attacked a neighboring Sunni village, killing at least 26, this in retaliation for the beheading of 14 local Shiite construction workers the day before. And this story: "Iraqis' faith in premier fading fast." The story notes that to date, some 400 committees have been formed to investigate the myriad problems facing Iraq. So far, only 1 has brought its findings to Parliament. Meanwhile, since the government's formation, daily killings in Baghdad have risen from 65 to 100. At least one bureau of the new government is doing a landmark business--the passport office. Passports are being issued at the rate of 15,000 a week. Anyone who can afford to get out is getting out while they can.

These stories just set the stage for the cringe-inducing interview with Samir Sumaidaie, the Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. He states:

...I want to make the distinction between what's going on in Iraq and all-out civil war. What's going on in Iraq is a campaign of violence waged by extremists on both sides, extremist Sunnis and extremist Shiites. There is no widespread conflict between the communities. The communities live quietly, peacefully and agreeably with each other, and have done so for thousands of years.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sunday Quotes

Sunday Paper Misc.

Georgie Ann Geyer on Immigration:

She quotes from film producer Ron Maxwell, who says

"the world is divided into two kinds of people. Those that live in three diminsions live simultaneously in the past, present and future. Those of us who live in this present are trustees to hand the past over to the future so the dead and the unborn are as alive as we are. But those who live only in the present think it's fine to pave over a battlefield or destroy a Buddha."

and John Tanton, founder of FAIR, who asked

"when did we begin to see man in America as only an economic animal?"

Good question, that.

Nick Gillespie, in article on Chris Anderson, editor of Wired and author of The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More:

We are turning "from a mass market," he argues, "into a niche nation" in which we can find exactly what we want in clothes, art, music and food. And, quite possibly, politics, personal identity, lifestyle and more.

And I suspect our American religiosity falls firmly within the "more."

Finally, in a review of Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children, an excellent quote from Edith Wharton:

"There are lots of ways to be miserable, but there's only one way of being comfortable, and that's to stop running around after happiness."

I like Edith Wharton.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Staring Down History

Igdir is a rather nondescript, if not unpleasant, modern city in far eastern Turkey, close on to the Armenian border. The region is noted throughout Turkey for its apricots. I can attest to the fact that they are indeed heavenly--juicy and the size of peaches. The region's shame, however, is this monstrosity. For this is the monument to the "Turkish Genocide." That's right; not the Armenian Genocide, but the Turkish Genocide. Turkey, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, maintains that there was no systematic genocide against the Armenians between 1915 and 1918, that while some Armenians did die during the "troubles," it was nowhere near the 1 to 1.5 million figure usually cited, that this part of Turkey was never primarily ethnic Armenian and that as many innocent Turks died as did Armenians. This monument, with museum underneath, is meant to perpetuate and validate this lie. Supposedly, the monument was built in such a location that, on a clear day, it could be seen in Yerevan, the Armenian capital.

My hosts wanted me to see this. The museum contained several rooms with official statements from Turkish historical conferences, old photographs showing Armenian "guerrilla" fighters (with guns!), and pictures from the 1990s unearthing of Turkish graveyards, supposedly showing the victims of the Armenians. The musuem sought to hammer through 3 points:

1. the Armenians "had it good" under the Ottomans
2. the Armenians were armed
3. that Turkish deaths equalled, if not exceeded those of the Armenians

The first point does have some merit. In many ways, Ottoman Armenians functioned in the same way as Jews did in many European societies. This appeared to be more of a Constantinople phenomenon, however. The fact that there were some armed Armenian freedom fighters is not news. So what? The museum's implication is that all were. Their panaramas depicting Armenian priests urging bloodthirsty hordes against the "innocent" Turks were particularly revolting. The third point is their Big Lie. Certainly, some innocent Turks lost their lives in this era. No one denies that. But Turkey resolutely denies the magnitude of Armenian deaths, or that there was any aspect of systematic "ethnic cleansing."

My host and I had a somewhat spirited discussion later on. He observed that many of the Armenians were not killed by the Ottoman troops, but rather, died of disease. "Like starvation," I asked? He excitedly replied, "Yes! Yes!" My sarcasm was lost on him. In other words, the only deaths that counted were those Armenians actually shot, stabbed, drowned or clubbed to death; not those who died of starvation.

I can understand Armenian anger towards Turkey. But this illogical Turkish animosity against Armenia baffles me. Would they not stay in line as they were being executed? Apparently, the fact that Armenians refuse to concede the point on what happened, and that the Armenian diaspora keeps the issue alive, infuriates many Turks. My host even thought tiny Armenia had designs on this part of Turkey, which would be comparable, I suppose, to Paraguay having designs on Brazil.

In my view, this is the main obstacle to Turkey joining the EU, or indeed, Turkey taking its rightful place on the world stage. By this, I do not mean the fact that they are Muslim, for frankly, they wear that very lightly. No, it is rather their infuriating nationalism, xenophobia, historical amnesia, and simple Turkocentric view of everything.

I love Turkey. I have friends there. I've traveled there three times, and hope to return. But this attitude becomes really, really hard to take at times. Much of it could be dismissed as mere silliness, were it not for the fact that it is believed, just as they largely believe 9-11 to be a U.S. government conspiracy. For example, I learned that: the Great Wall of China was built to keep out the Turks; that a Turk probably discovered America before Columbus (I suppose he will have to get in line behind the Norse, the Chinese, and according to Mormon theology--the lost tribe of Israel); that the American Indians are actually a Turkic people (could be); and on and on it goes. The 5 raised swords of the Igdir monument depict various stages of Turkish history, with a bas relief below each. One depicts a fierce Turkish soldier underneath a double eagle ensignia. I pointed this out to my host and said, "that's a Byzantine symbol!" He replied, "no, it's Turkish." I said, "no, I know a little about this sort of thing. That is definitely the Byzantine double eagle." "They got it from the Turks," he confidently replied. End of discussion.

I readily agree that the Ottoman Empire worked better in the Middle East than anything that has come along since. Think about it. But no, Turkey is not ready. And it will never be unless it honestly engages its own history.

A Ride with the Queen

On Fox News tonight, I listened to an interview with former Secretary of State, James Baker. Baker related an anecdote about President Reagan's state visit to Great Britain. Queen Elizabeth II hosted the Reagans at Windsor Castle. As both were avid horse-people, aides arranged a short, private ride. Far removed from reporters, the riders trotted up a nearby hill. Queen Elizabeth's horse, shall we say, was suffering from gas and emitted several short bursts, as only horses can do. The Queen turned to President Reagan and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry!" The President never batted an eye and replied, "that's quite alright, Your Majesty. I thought it was the horse."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

History Matters (Still)

Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con has a number of excellent and timely articles posted today. The most intriguing, to me, is "History Matters," and his link to Daniel Larison.

Larison is a Ph.D student in Byzantine History at the University of Chicago. His post, entitled "History Matters, Even For Those Who Think It Has Ended," can be found here.

Larison begins by quoting Paul Schroeder from The American Conservative, whose full article is well worth reading and can be found here. Schroeder notes that the main intellectual defect in current American foreign policy is the lack of any sense of history...a trained intuitive sense of the way things do not happen. (How they actually happen depends on the evidence.) America’s leaders and their advisers, including some so-called historians and political scientists, not only are ignorant of history and insensitive to it, they despise and repudiate it.

Larison's commentary is impressive.

History teaches the attentive student the tragic sense of life, which most Americans cannot grasp at all, and an awareness that some problems are not meant to be solved but are to be endured.

and masterfully (and also quoted in to Dreher post):

History does not repeat itself, of course, but it does provide cautionary lessons to those who would take heed of them. Among them are these basic truths: that great powers sow in the exercise of their own dominance the seeds of their collapse; that no victory is complete, no cause is ever truly vindicated by force of arms, and no defeat is final so long as people retain memory of it; that concentrated power is the ruin of a nation; that natural affinities and attachments to kith and kin are more enduring and powerful than almost any idea or belief known to man; that man has a deep need to worship and find meaning beyond himself, whether in the divine or the demonic; that man is impractical and irrational and will ensnare himself in fetters to acquire what he desires; that most men, if given the chance, will betray themselves and all they hold dear for the acquisition of power.

Untold volumes have been written, either trying to explain or explain away what Larison sums up in a paragraph. His site is well worth visiting and exploring.
Thanks Rod, and Daniel, and Dr. Schroeder.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Give Me That Rodeo Religion

In the last few days, I had opportunity to travel around a bit in this weird state of mind called Texas. Obstensibly, I was to attend a one-day continuing education seminar west of San Antonio, but you might say I took the long way there. A freakish accident, resulting in a broken ankle, scotched my seminar attendance and sent me limping home a day early (but that is another story).

I enjoy driving the backroads, savoring the small towns and the occasional cafe where the waitress might still call you "Hon." In these places, you catch glimpses of the unique, the off-beat, and sometimes, the downright bizarre.

Somewhat in that context, I always pay special attention to the churches I pass along the way: their archetecture (or lack thereof), their sloganeering, and especially their names. The Jesus Christ is the Answer, Inc. Church, painted in large red letters on the church roof is hard to miss, or forget. Somehow I suspect someone didn't really think this one through...."Hi, I'm with the Jesus Christ is the Answer, Inc. Church and I'd like to tell you that Jesus Christ is the Answer"....it just doesn't flow. I found the Little Zion Jerusalem Baptist Church, an odd juxtaposition, but then I found the Mother Zion Missionary Baptist Church completely baffling. I am familiar, of course, with the biblical usage of the word "Zion," but what is meant by "Mother Zion?" I don't get it.

But outside of these colorful varieties and the traditional Baptist/Methodist/ Church of Christ matrix, most everything else was of the "new" variety. By this I mean some variation of the phrase "New Life," "New Beginnings," "New Covenant," etc. or something or the other. In fact, 90% of these churches are some jumble of the following phrases:

New Life
New Beginning
New Covenant
Outreach Center

Just mix and match to come up with a jazzy name, find a metal building, and you are in business. Interestingly, many tend to avoid the word "church," thinking, I suppose, that if you don't call it a church, then people will come. So you end up with things like New Life Outreach Center, or New Beginnings Family Fellowship, or New Covenant Fellowship Center. A variation in a nearby county is Driven Life Outreach Center. Driven life? Excuse me. I don't mean to put too fine a point on it, but Muslims are driven. Christians are led. Bottom line: more often than not, new is not better.

I take all this in stride, but for some reason, I am baffled and a little disturbed by the phenomenon of the "cowboy churches." Those of you who don't live in the South or West may be puzzled by what I mean. These are churches specifically designed for "cowboys," where they can wear their boots and jeans and whatever else (hats?) and be comfortable and not feel out of place. Invariably, they meet in a large metal building that perhaps once was, or could still double as, a barn. Usually there is a roping arena out back, where the congregation can "rope," I suppose, after church.

What got me to thinking about this was the particular cowboy church I passed down in Central Texas--the All Around Cowboy Church. Now I understand that this is a rodeo term, but it just struck me as funny. If you are a part-time cowboy, or what we used to call a drug-store cowboy, then podner, you'd better jest mosey on down the trail, for this church is for "all around" cowboys.

And therein lies the heart of what bothers me about all this, and why it is just another example, par excellence, of the dissipation of Protestantism. The cowboy church philosophy, I gather, is to create a worship environment that is inviting to the "cowboy." I am speaking only for my part of the state, but real cowboys are pretty scare around here. There are folks who may have a few cows and who may occasionally ride a horse, but by and large it is merely an affectation, a stance, in many cases a mere fashion statement--a preference for wranglers and Tony Lama boots. (Now some truth in advertising here: I am not one, have never been one and have never aspired to be one. But my dad was--a real, old-time cowboy. He did other things, for sure, but at heart he was a cowboy, from cowboy country. So I do know the genuine article when I see it.) So, in effect, what we have here is a denomination created in large part for people who want to dress a certain way. I suppose it is no different than having Surfer Dude Churches in California and Hawaii, where you can carry your surfboard to worship. The raison d'etre of the cowboy churches is their particular hobby, or fashion preference. In my mind, this has trivialized Christianity down to the point where it cannot go much further.

Two final points and I'll stop "beating this dead horse." American religious groups of all stripes have long adopted casual dress in worship. (I have no problem with this, up to a point, because what bothers me more than casualness is pretense.) I never heard of anyone being turned away from any Protestant church around here for showing up in boots and jeans. It just wasn't an issue. So there was no real need for any separate churches. And I wonder what my reception would be at the All Around Cowboy Church if I showed up in khakis and loafers? It's just the same old thing. Finally, the image of the cowboy in American culture is one of lonely, rugged, individualistic, self-reliance. While these traits may serve you well in taming the frontier, I don't see a single one that should be a characteristic of Life in Christ.

By the way, the first picture is our cowboy of American myth. The second picture is the real thing, my g-g-uncle Henry who went up the Chisholm Trail in the late 1870s.