Thursday, December 29, 2005

Brokeback Mountain Reconsidered

I have watched and read with some interest the hype in recent weeks surrounding the release of the movie, Brokeback Mountain. I don't have a decided opinion one way or the other about it--haven't seen it and I really doubt it will ever show in my little burg. Both proponents and opponents of the film have been staking out their expected, and predictable positions.

One of the most thoughtful insights I've read, however, comes from Rod Dreher, a conservative Catholic commentator. He concludes that the real message of the film is not so much about tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality--as many lauding the movie would have you believe--but rather, the tragedy of the human condition, and the mess we humans invariably make of things. I appreciate Dreher's quoting from Flannery O'Connor in his article, as she is one of my favorites. To paraphrase O'Connor: once you realize that we are made out of dust, you shouldn't be surprised if things get a little dusty from time to time. Dreher's column, below, is from last Thursday's Dallas Morning News.

Rod Dreher:
The real message in Brokeback
The movie is so much more than a story about two gay cowboys

05:52 AM CST on Thursday, December 29, 2005

Seen the gay cowboy movie yet? I have, though I hadn't planned to because the rapturous reviews made Brokeback Mountain sound like a film that delivered yet another fierce left hook across the jaw of homophobic America. Ho hum.

I'm not interested in propaganda, whether pro-gay or anti-gay, and I get tired of the way the news and entertainment media find it difficult to discuss homosexuality without propagandizing. And some of the loudest conservative voices on gay issues are just about as bad.

What gets lost in the culture-war blitzkrieg over homosexuality are the complex and ambiguous truths that real people live and struggle with. Art that reduces messy humanity to slogans and arguments is not art at all, but sentimentality, kitsch, anti-art – in a word, propaganda.

My friend Victor Morton turned me around. On his "Right-Wing Film Geek" blog (, Victor wrote a long, impassioned post that said, in effect, Don't believe the 'Brokeback' hype, from either side! The film is good, not great, Victor argued, but what makes it worthwhile is its fidelity to the tragic truth of its characters, not its usefulness to anybody's cause.

Intrigued, I found on the Internet a link to the Annie Proulx short story on which the movie is based and was shocked by how good it was, especially at embodying the "concrete details of life that make actual the mystery of our position here on earth" – Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor's description of what true artistry does. Though director Ang Lee's tranquil style fails to capture the daemonic wildness of Ms. Proulx's version, I came away from the film thinking, this is not for everybody, but it really is a work of art.

Brokeback Mountain is the story of two young cowboys, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, who meet in a 1960s summer job tending sheep on the mountain. They fall in love, then upon returning to the world, go their separate ways, marry and start families. A few years later, they resume their intensely sexual affair – visually, this is a rather chaste film – but with terrible consequences for themselves and the wives and children they deceive. The film climaxes violently and tragically, and it's this that has the critics lauding it as a cinematic cri du coeur for tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality.

But Brokeback is not nearly that tidy. True, the men begin their doomed affair in a time and place where homosexuality was viciously suppressed, and so they suffer from social constrictions that make it difficult to master their own fates. But it is also true that both men are overgrown boys who waste their lives searching for something they've lost, and which might be irrecoverable. They are boys who refuse to become men, or to be more precise, do not, for various reasons, have the wherewithal to understand how to become men in their bleak situation.

It is impossible to watch this movie and think that all would be well with Jack and Ennis if only we'd legalize gay marriage. It is also impossible to watch this movie and not grieve for them in their suffering, even while raging over the suffering that these poor country kids who grew up unloved cause for their families. As the film grapples with Ennis' pain, confusion and cruelty, different levels of meaning unspool – social, moral, spiritual and erotic. In the end, Brokeback Mountain is not about the need to normalize homosexuality, or "about" anything other than the tragic human condition.

Ms. O'Connor once wrote that you don't have to have an educated mind to understand good fiction, but you do have to have "at all times the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery." The mystery of the human personality can never be fully plumbed, only explored. To the frustration of ideologues, artists like Annie Proulx and Ang Lee undertake a journey to those depths and return to tell the truth about what they've seen – which is not necessarily what any of us wants to hear.

As Ms. O'Connor taught, "Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn't try to write fiction."

Or read it. Or watch it.


I used to think it was a 'cruel' doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows were 'punishments'. But I find in practice that when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a 'punishment', it becomes easier to bear. If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable; think of it as a place of training and correction and it's not so bad.

C. S. Lewis, Answers to Questions on Christianity

We Americans would do well to ponder what Lewis is saying here. We are all about being "happy." Shoot, it's even inscribed in the foundational document of our society--that whole "pursuit of happiness" thing. And yet, I suspect that despite our dogged pursuit of it, we find it less and less.

Darrin McMahon wrote an interesting article on this phenomenon, found here
McMahon's observations are timely and astute. I was particularly intrigued by his documentation of the actual historical development of a culture of "happiness." Excerpts below:

HAPPY New Year!" We seldom think of those words as an order. But in some respects that is what they are.

Doesn't every American want to be happy? And don't most Americans yearn, deep down, to be happy all of the time? The right laid out in our nation's Declaration of Independence - to pursue happiness to our hearts' content - is nowhere on better display than in the rites of the holiday season. With glad tidings and good cheer, we seek to bring one year to its natural happy conclusion, while preparing to usher in a happy new year and many happy returns.

Like the cycle of the seasons, our emphasis on mirth may seem timeless, as though human beings have always made merry from beginning to end. But in fact this preoccupation with perpetual happiness is relatively recent. As Thomas Carlyle observed in 1843, " 'Happiness our being's end and aim' is at bottom, if we will count well, not yet two centuries old in the world."

Carlyle's arithmetic was essentially sound, for changes in both religious and secular culture since the 17th century made "happiness," in the form of pleasure or good feeling, not only morally acceptable but commendable in and of itself. While many discounted religious notions that consigned life in this world to misery and sin, others discovered signs of God's providence in earthly satisfaction. The result was at once to weaken and transpose the ideal of heavenly felicity, in effect bringing it to earth. Suffering was not our natural state. Happy was the way we were meant to be.

That shift was monumental, and its implications far reaching. Among other things, it was behind the transformation of the holiday season from a time of pious remembrance into one of unadulterated bliss. Yet the effects were greater than that. As Carlyle complained, "Every pitifulest whipster that walks within a skin has had his head filled with the notion that he is, shall be, or by all human and divine laws ought to be, 'happy.' "

Carlyle was notoriously cranky, but his central insight - that the new doctrine of happiness tended to raise expectations that could never possibly be fulfilled - remains as relevant today as it was in 1843. Despite enjoying far better living standards and more avenues for pleasure than before, human beings are arguably no happier now than they've ever been.

Sociologists like to point out that the percentage of those describing themselves as "happy" or "very happy" has remained virtually unchanged in Europe and the United States since such surveys were first conducted in the 1950's. And yet, this January, like last year and next, the self-help industry will pour forth books promising to make us happier than we are today. The very demand for such books is a strong indication that they aren't working.

... we might do well to reflect on the darker side of holiday cheer: those mysterious blues that are apt to set in while the streamers stream and the corks pop; the little voice that even in the best of souls is sometimes moved to say, "Bah, humbug." As Carlyle put it, "The prophets preach to us, 'Thou shalt be happy; thou shalt love pleasant things.' " But as he well knew, the very commandment tended to undermine its fulfillment, even to make us sad.

Carlyle's sometime friend and long-time rival, the philosopher John Stuart Mill, came to a similar conclusion...."Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so," Mill concluded after recovering from a serious bout of depression. Rather than resign himself to gloom, however, Mill vowed instead to look for happiness in another way.

"Those only are happy," he came to believe, "who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way." For our own culture, steeped as it is in the relentless pursuit of personal pleasure and endless cheer, that message is worth heeding.

So in these last days of 2005 I say to you, "Don't have a happy new year!" Have dinner with your family or walk in the park with friends. If you're so inclined, put in some good hours at the office or at your favorite charity, temple or church. Work on your jump shot or your child's model trains. With luck, you'll find happiness by the by. If not, your time won't be wasted. You may even bring a little joy to the world.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Diyarbakir is not one of your better known tourist destinations. This city of near 2 million people lies in far eastern Turkey and is not really on the way to anywhere, unless of course you are going to Iraq or Iran. The area is overwhelmingly Kurdish and was at the epicenter of the PKK guerilla war with Turkey in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Things are calmer and safer now, though travel there can still be a little dicey. This didn't stop intrepid travelers Rich and Wendy, though. Check out their excellent travelogues at Diyarbakir is not without its attractions. Over 3000 years old, the city is the repository of layer after layer of varied civilizations. Until the 1920s, Diyarbakir had a vibrant Armenian and Syrian Orthodox Christian community. Before 1920, the city was one quarter Armenian. The Christians, as is often the case in this part of the world , got caught between the feuding Turks and Kurds, and have been effectively squeezed out. Yet behind its Byzantine walls, a handful of churches and Orthodox Christians struggle on. Rich and Wendy relate an interesting experience among the Diyarbakir Christian community:

"On to Meryamana Kilisesi, its tiny congregation just as beleaguered as Keldani's but retaining far more dignity, as befitted one of the oldest functioning churches in the world--- it had been built in the 3rd century. Services there were still conducted in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. The fierce-eyed, black-bearded Syrian Orthodox priest met us and pointed out details of the small domed nave. Directly across the narrow street from this venerable edifice with its rich rites so closely connected with their object, stood a brand new building. A friendly young man beckoned us in, and the moment he opened the inner door I knew where I was. The small room was packed with people praying--- in the arm-waving ecstatic style of American Pentecostals. Our teenage guide was very uncomfortable, so we backed out after a minute or so. An unsmiling young American woman in the hall explained to me that the church had been founded by Assembly of God missionaries 10 years before. For our guide's sake we soon left."

Does this story make you as uncomfortable as it does me? The Meryamana Kilisesi (Church of the Virgin Mary) was built in the 3rd century. Not only have they kept things going for oh, say 1800 years or so, but they are even still worshipping in the language that Jesus spoke! I find this remarkable. These Christians have withstood invasions of Arabs, Persians, Mongols, Kurds and Turks. They have suffered persecution and martyrdom, and now struggle to survive in a culture than can quickly turn hostile. Notice especially Rich and Wendy's description of the church: "this venerable edifice with its rich rites so closely connected with their object."

Now let's inject American Protestant evangelicals into the cultural mix. What do they do? They build a "brand new building" directly across from the ancient church. One almost imagines a metal building with a bright, white steeple. Such perception!

But of course, this is the American way, is it not? We build the Baptist Church next to the Methodist Church which is across from the Church of Christ which is around the corner from the Bible Church which shares a parking lot with the Believers Outreach Victory Chapel Community of Faith Church or some such--all enticing choices in the cafeteria of American religious pluralism.

Don't get me wrong, I humbly commend anyone who attempts to take the message of Christ to the Islamic world. But before it was an Islamic world, it was a very Christian world. And pockets of these Christians are still holding on. Pray for them. Respect and honor their witness. Perhaps evangelicals should consider this before they set up shop in the neighborhood, with buckets of American dollars, and seek to "compete" with the beleaugered locals. All I am saying is that a little less hubris and a little more perceptiveness to the witness of the apostolic faith seems to be in order here.

I found it ironic that their teenage Kurdish guide moved comfortably within the 3rd century church, but was spooked by American-style Pentacostalism across the street. You got it, kid.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Emergent What, Exactly?

You might be interested to know what the Emergent Church folks are thinking these days. Admittedly, that may be hard to pin down, as it seems they are anything and everything.

In recent days, Clifton Healy has engaged the movement head-on in This is Life! blog ( (see his posts on Dec. 12-14). Clifton confronts the Emergents from an Orthodox perspective, and as is usually the case, he goes deep. The discussion is well worth reading.

I certainly can't add much to the discussion, but it seems to me that emergents have forgotten that you can't just say anything, believe anything, open everything up for discussion with multiple options, pick and choose among the traditions of your choice and at the end of the day remain a Christian. Fr. Al Kimel, in a comment to Clifton's posts, made an astute observation about the Emergent Church Movement. He observed their own perceived self-importance and the very American nature of the movement. Exactly so.

Finally, the following story is an excellent little tale by Douglas over at Prochoros (, which has much to say about the Emergent churches, and schism in general. Thanks, Douglas.

God built a mountain and called a people to share in His work. They came from far and wide to live on the mountain. They worked with God to make the mountain strong and to defend it against enemies that would try to tear it down. The mountain was a place of strength, of refuge, of nourishment, and of healing - and the people prospered on its slopes.
Though there were often differences among the people of the mountain, these were like the differences between the members of a family, because they knew that they were all the people of God’s mountain. But eventually some of the people of the mountain rose up in dispute against their brothers and these left the mountain and descended into the plains. They claimed that they took the real life of the mountain with them and that those who continued to live on the mountain were, in fact, no longer the true people of the mountain.
These settled in view of the mountain on the plains and grew into a great nation in the world. Eventually, some of these rose up in revolt against their leaders as well, saying that they had lied to them about what it meant to be the people of the mountain. But instead of returning to the mountain itself, they moved off further into the plains. They split into tribes and generation by generation they spread into the far reaches of the world.
But though they had long ago lost all sight of the mountain, they continued to think of themselves as the people of the mountain, and to preserve the ways of the people of the mountain as best they could. And yet they were split into camps that fought one with another about what the mountain was, what it looked like, how its people lived, and about what it really meant to be the people of the mountain. The tribes split into clans, and the clans into families and single vagabonds, roaming the world.
Eventually they began to deny that a real mountain ever existed. Some insisted it was a theoretical mountain only, a symbol of something, some said the mountain was evil, or just a story told to children. And they stopped telling the story to their children, and eventually the mountain was completely forgotten.
Finally some of these began to talk to one another, and insist: “If we are called the people of the mountain, then there ought to be a mountain!” They gathered together in new clans and tribes and brought handfuls of sand from near and far and set out to build little hills of their own.

Iraqi Elections

Early reports from Iraq indicate that the election is going smoothly (or at least by Iraqi standards). With absolutely no real experience with true representative government, this effort to fashion a rough constitutional democracy out of whole cloth, so to speak, is noteworthy indeed. While disaster still lurks on every side, there is room for at least guarded hope. Let's just not be surprised, however, if this nascent "democracy" takes root and brings forth fruit not exactly to our liking.

The mess in Iraq, like so many others, has it roots in the divvying-up of the old orders after World War I. Mark Steyn, a gifted Canadian writer, had these thoughts on Veterans Day, 2002, which are still appropriate today:

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the guns fell silent. But peace is more than the absence of war. for the last decade, the world has been preoccupied with the messy unfinished business of the Great War, the "war to end all wars"--first in Yugoslavia, the prototype multi-ethnic utopia, which fell apart along the old Hapsburg/Ottoman fault line as if the last 80 years had never happened; and then in "the Middle East," an Anglo-French construct cooked up in the years after 1918. After decades of coveting Araby, by the time they got their hands on the place both powers were too exhausted to do little more than draw lines in the sand and call them "Syria," "Iraq," "Saudi Arabia." The most toxic states of the 21st Century are the progeny of whimsical Colonial Office cartographers of 1922.

Mark Steyn, National Post, 21 November 2002

C. S. LEWIS "Quote of the Week"

The dangers of apparent self-sufficiency explain why Our Lord regards the vices of the feckless and dissipated so much more leniently than the vices that lead to worldly success. Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannont turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, chapter 6

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Dog's Life


Occasional thoughts on my spiritual journey

Life in Christ

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

St. Patrick (5th-Century Ireland)

It is Christ who gives us the power to walk,
And he is himself the way;
He is the lodging where we stay for the night,
As well as our final destination.

St. Nicolas Cabasilas (14th-Century Constantinople)

In Part 1, I began this examination of my spiritual journey by looking at the church through the eyes of a historian. My concern was the historical witness and continuity of the church, or rather the lack of it I experienced in my own religious heritage. I hope those observations were not too polemic in nature, as I am trying to curb the worst excesses of my “convertitis.”

The historical witness is indeed of vital importance. In every step of my journey, it has served as confirmation of the truths I have been absorbing. Yet, this is perhaps not the greatest concern, or at least it wasn't with me. Rather, the determining factor in my journey thus far has been what I like to simply call “Life in Christ.” This is an admittedly expansive term that encompasses much. But I suppose what I intend in this regard is something fairly tangible and measurable: my own transformation. That, it seems, has been what has been nagging me for years—my complete lack of growth, the lack of real closeness and communion with Christ, the lack of true spiritual fervor. I could put on a good show of it, but I always knew nothing much had changed inside. The person I presented to the world was not my true self as I actually was, and was certainly not the person God had created me to be--as Thomas Merton would say, a "false self."

I suppose what I was looking for was authenticity. I like the connotation of the word "authenticity," and I will probably overuse it horribly in coming posts. In John 17, Jesus prayed to His Father that we would all be one, as He was in us and the Father was in Him. St. Paul taught much about being "in Christ:"
to the Corinthians--“do you know know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?”
to the Galatians--“Christ lives in me”;
to the Colossians--“your life is hidden with Christ in God,” and
“Christ is our life," and
“Christ is all and in all”
to the Phillipians--“to live is Christ.”
All these scriptures and dozens more speak to the need to live a life that is truly "in Christ." I quess I was seeking a faith that was as Christocentric as the one Jesus prayed for and the one Paul described.

I have found that kind of faith in Holy Orthodoxy. But what I am trying to describe is my passage from evangelical Protestant (albeit of the Restorationist slant) to Orthodox. To be critical of what I have now left would be neither difficult nor noteworthy. The fact that I have left, in and of itself, already speaks to my dissatisfaction with what I once was. So, I should be cautious in what I say, not judging the spirituality of anyone, or the authenticity (there's that word again) of their faith.

That being said, I have always been dubious of cheap sentimentality. The Protestant world of my background seems awash in it, or if not in cheap, then certainly easy sentimentality. Here in the South, what passes for Christocentricity often seems to be just an endless variation on the old evangelical mantra of "all you've got to do is just accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior." Just??? The mystery of our reconciliation to God through Christ--just??? Anyway, you get my point.

This easy sentimentality lends itself to a more subjective view of "life in Christ." Though I am admittedly painting with a broad brush here, life in Christ in popular Evangelicalism is at its root, more juridical than experential. Everything revolves your status--are you "saved" or not? You are "saved" because you have accepted the mantra (above) and since you "feel it in your heart," it must be true, right? Confirmation of "life in Christ" is exhibited by the warm fuzzy feeling you get during a praise service, or how many times you can say the word "Jesus" in the chorus of a "praise song."

Now it is easy for me to be a little sarcastic in all this, as my own heritage church traditionally took the opposite approach. They shunned runaway emotionalism and did consider salvific issues more objectively. Yet, status was still all-important, just with a slightly different set of entrance requirements. We spoked in terms of "obeying the Gospel." "Life in Christ" often just translated into knowing more things about Christ, willing yourself to follow Him more closely, memorizing more proof texts and running yourself ragged in the busyness of the "work of the church." Somehow this approach didn't seem to be quite while St. Paul was talking about either.

Thinking back now, it is almost amusing to remember that in my Protestant evangelical/fundamentalist heritage church, we could never, ever, in any bible study or class, have quoted from the two sources at the top of this post. The words of either St. Patrick or St. Nicolas Cabasilas would have been highly suspect and undoubted brought down a rebuke from a self-appointed guardian of Church of Christ orthodoxy. The reasoning goes that since the church supposed “fell away” soon after AD 100, nothing was noteworthy, and everything was suspect until our guys got around to “restoring” the church some 200 years ago. Gentle readers, I am not making this stuff up!

Occasionally, “trouble-makers” like me would sneak in quotes such as these, always dropping the “St.” to cover ourselves! But seriously, what I hear in these two quotes-separated as they are by a thousand years—is a continuity of the same Christocentricity expressed by Paul and the other Apostles. That was the life and authenticity I was looking for and had not found in my evangelical heritage.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Favorite Picture

This is a picture of an elderly monk at the Monastery of the Transfiguration, outside of Veliko Turnovo in Bulgaria. One of my favorites.

Some More Merton

My friend Grant recently put me on to Thomas Merton. I have just finished his New Seeds of Contemplation. I highly recommend it. Here's a selection (emphasis mine):

To avoid sin and practice virtue is not to be a saint, it is only to be a man, a human being. This is only the beginning of what God wants of you....But the crucial problem of perfection and interior purity is in the renunciation and uprooting of all our unconcious attachments to created things and to our own will and desires.

In fighting deliberate and evident vices a planned strategy of resolutions and penances is the best way--if not the only way. You plan your campaign and fight it out and reshape the plan according to the changes in the aspect of the battle. You pray and suffer and hang on and give things up and hope and sweat, and the varying contours of the struggle work out the shape of your liberty.

When it ends, and when you have a good habit to work with, do not forget the moments of the battle when you were wounded and disarmed and helpless. Do not forget that, for all your efforts, you only won because of God, Who did the fighting in you.

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

C. S. LEWIS "Quote of the Week"

To study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place. But I think it liberates us from the past too. I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians. The unhistorical are usually, without knowing it, enslaved to a fairly recent past.

C. S. Lewis, They Asked for a Paper, chapter 1

Monday, December 05, 2005

Transatlantic Llamas

Last night I finally got around to watching the 2004 so-called blockbuster, Troy. I recall at the time that the reviews were pretty flat. I suspect that the main draw for the movie has been the sight of a buffed-up Brad Pitt strutting around in various stages of undress. Yes, it was a big, overblown spectacle, but I have a weakness for big overblown spectacles. So I guess you can say that it was a guilty pleasure. And there is the added consolation of Peter O'Toole, who is always excellent.

Now I expected liberties to be taken with the story line, and I certainly wasn't disappointed in this respect. So I am not complaining about that. But I was incredulous at one scene. When the Greek fleet approaches the harbor of Troy, pandemonium breaks out inside the city. The inhabitants are rushing around and jostling with one another and the horses and the donkeys and the llamas. That's right.... llamas. The last time I checked--and I'm pretty sure about this one--llamas are, and have always been native to the Andean regions of South America. You wouldn't really expect to see a llama on the eastern Aegean, anymore than you would an elephant in the Mississippi delta. Did anyone else notice this? Anyway, I thought it hilarious.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Good News From Turkey (Maybe)

An article by Stephen Kinzer in today's NY Times offers some encouragement regarding Turkey, its relationship to Europe, and it belated soul-searching about the Armenian Genocide. While there is still a long, long way to go, apparently the Turkish desire to join the EU is finally breaking down their nationalistic stone-walling about the Armenian genocide.

The immediate beneficiary is the Turkish government's restoration--in the absolute brink of time--of the 10th-century Armenian Orthodox Church on Akhtamar Island in Lake Van, located in far eastern Turkey. Since the expulsion and genocide of the Armenians in 1915, this achingly beautiful architectural gem has stood vacant--at the mercy of looters and vandals--all the while maintaining silent testimony that the former residents of eastern Turkey were, well, Armenian Christians. As Kinzer noted, "its condition symbolized the abysmal relations between many Armenians, who believe their ancestors were victims of genocide in 1915, and the Turkish Republic, which rejects that claim."

Kinzer goes on to observe "that there is a new sense of freedom taking hold in Turkey," to the horror of the nationalists. The old prohibitions against admitting a Turkish genocide of Armenians seems to be falling. Yet old ways die hard; a newspaper editor and Turkey's most prominent author have been indicted for making comments "disrespectful to our Turkish ancestors," or similar charges. And of course the land border with Armenia remains firmly sealed.

One of the more interesting recent developments invovled the academic conference in Istanbul, challenging official Turkish nationalist denial of the Armenian genocide. Postponed twice, and banned from two universities, the conference finally convened at a third. Attendees had to run a gantlet of protesters outside the conference. But once convened, the speakers were free to speak their minds. One paper was aptly entitled, "What the World Knows but Turkey Does Not." The conference generated a tremendous amount of news coverage and launched weeks of public discourse and analysis. One newspaperman noted that "it felt like we were making history, like something incredible had suddenly happened."

While this progress is minimal, it is at least something. Lets hope that this new openness to reassess "official" Turkish history in light of actual Turkish history may indeed open the door to the re-evaluation of other thorny issues. And by this I don't mean just the obvious Kurdish question, but perhaps Turkey's treatment of its vanishing Greek Orthodox population, as well. On a final note, Kinzer cautions that this new openness may also open the door to a more engaged political Islam in Turkey.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

C. S. Lewis "Quote of the Week"

"I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious, provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience etc. don't get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal think is to lose one's temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence."

C. S. Lewis, Letters (20 January 1942)

This quote is much along the same lines as the one I posted last week. I don't know about you, but I need the reminding.