Friday, February 29, 2008
Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
What the commentary noted was the idea inherent in the Biblical idea of sleep that a dead man, just like a sleeping man, when called, can hear a voice and respond to it. The power resides in the calling voice of Christ. It creates ex nihilo the pwoer to hear and obey. The dead can do nothing.
This idea is crucial to the Biblical notion of death as sleep. For it is the voice of Christ which awakens the dead. The picture of death and the second return is that of a man sleeping and a fully awake man calling him, "Wake up!" It is a very common sense notion and but I had never thought of it in just this way. I guess I am slow. I had not fully connected all the pieces of the Biblical picture of death as sleep.
It connects of course with Lazarus in the tomb raised by the voice of Christ,and with 1 Thessalonians 4 ...
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
... with John 10:27
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
And of course with the great hymn "wake, awake for night is flying.
Back to Ephesians the context there in chapter 5 also indicates that the picture holds for baptism and the birth of faith. We are now the baptized, the resurrected ones. We have awoken as from darkness to light.
Wilhelm Loehe, cited in David Ratke, Confession and Mission, Word and Sacrament: The Ecclesial Theology of Wilhelm Lohe, p. 64.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Here is an interview with the blogger on NPR's Talk of the Nation.
Here are some examples:
Stuff White People Like : Religions that their parents don’t belong to
White people will often say they are “spiritual” but not religious. Which usually means that they will believe any religion that doesn’t involve Jesus.
Popular choices include Buddhism, Hinduism, Kabbalah and, to a lesser extent, Scientology. A few even dip into Islam, but it’s much more rare since you have to give stuff up and actually go to Mosque.
Mostly they are into religion that fits really well into their homes or wardrobe and doesn’t require them to do very much.
Stuff White People Like : Barack Obama
Because white people are afraid that if they don’t like him that they will be called racist.
Stuff White People Like : Diversity
White people love ethnic diversity, but only as it relates to restaurants.
Many white people from cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York will spend hours talking about how great it is that they can get Sushi and Tacos on the same street. But then they send their kids to private school with other rich white kids, and live in neighborhoods like Santa Monica or Pacific Palisades.
But it’s important to note that white people to do not like to be called out on this fact. If you run an ethnic restaurant you can be guaranteed repeat business and huge tips if you act like your white customers are adventurous and cultured for eating food that it isn’t sandwiches or pasta.
Bach is sometimes referred to as the father of Western music, not to suggest that there was nothing of substance before him (he didn’t spring full grown from the head of Zeus) but that the music after him has been profoundly influenced and shaped by his models. And surely the influences have been radical and vast, whether on the finale of Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony or the Grosse Fuge of Beethoven or the organ music of Mendelssohn or the Bachianas Brasileiras of Villa Lobos or (to acknowledge the present moment) La Pasión según San Marcos of Osvaldo Golijov. Who else could be the father of Western music? Bach is in the very chemistry of Western musical blood, like red cells, white cells, and platelets in our material plasma.
But if Bach is The Father, why hasn’t he fired the popular imagination? We have soppy movies about Mozart and Beethoven as well as proliferating biographies for the intelligent general reader, but nothing really comparable for Bach. If we sample the outpouring since the year 2000, the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death, the “life and works” biographies are nothing if not weighty and serious, but these essentially scholarly volumes by Martin Geck, Christoph Wolff, and Peter Williams, despite their generalist pretensions, are hardly readable by nonspecialists. We have fairly localizable “feelings” about Mozart because the personal letters producing those feelings are voluminous. We learn about Wolfgang as a circus freak driven by father Leopold, about the Mozart family’s obsession with “shit,” about Wolfgang’s castigation of Constanze for exposing her ankles, not to mention purported mysteries surrounding the uncompleted Requiem, perfect grist for the mills of pop culture. For Beethoven, again, many autograph materials providing insights into his “spiritual development” (to use the subtitle of an early biography) and his medical problems, his patrons, his financial independence, his nephew, his deafness, his “immortal beloved.” But what is the feel we get from Bach? In fact, who is this seemingly generic father and why has he failed to solidify as part of our cultural ethos? When we hear “Mozart” or “Beethoven,” we think of a person behind the music. When we hear “Bach,” we think of music only.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Here is the NY Times article.
Some interesting tidbits. :
More than a quarter of adult Americans have left the faith of their childhood to join another religion or no religion, according to a new survey of religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The report, titled “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” depicts a highly fluid and diverse national religious life. If shifts among Protestant denominations are included, then it appears that 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliations.
More than 16 percent of American adults say they are not part of any organized faith, which makes the unaffiliated the country’s fourth largest “religious group.”
In the 1980s, the General Social Survey by the National Opinion Research Center indicated that from 5 percent to 8 percent of the population described itself as unaffiliated with a particular religion.
In the Pew survey 7.3 percent of the adult population said they were unaffiliated with a faith as children. That segment increases to 16.1 percent of the population in adulthood, the survey found. The unaffiliated are largely under 50 and male. “Nearly one-in-five men say they have no formal religious affiliation, compared with roughly 13 percent of women,” the survey said.
The Catholic Church has lost more adherents than any other group: about one-third of respondents raised Catholic said they no longer identified as such. Based on the data, the survey showed, “this means that roughly 10 percent of all Americans are former Catholics.”
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Not for theology or to improve your self understanding but because it is so much fun and so amazing and it is all true.
Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam is authored by Pope Brock.
There was a craze in the 20's and 30's in which the reproductive organs of animals (goats mostly) were transplanted into people to reinvigorate them in all phases of life. Of course it was a giant scam that killed many. John Brinkley was chief among them. He was also influential in developing: medical hucksterism, snake oil pharmaceuticals, the birth of AM radio as we know it (Wolfman Jack later took over the station Brinkley started), modern political advertising, and got fabulously rich in the 1930's. It is an amazing story.
Here is blurb from Amazon:
John Brinkley, who grew up poor in rural North Carolina but attended Rush Medical College in Chicago, got his start touring as a medicine man hawking miracle tonics and became famous for transplanting goat testicles into impotent men. Brinkley built his own radio station in 1923, hustling his pseudoscience over the airwaves and giving an outlet to astrologers and country music. His nemesis was Dr. Morris Fishbein, the buoyant, compulsively curious editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association whose luminary friends included Sinclair Lewis, Clarence Darrow and H.L. Mencken. Fishbein took aim at Brinkley in JAMA, lay publications and pamphlets distributed by the thousands. Even after the Kansas State Medical Board yanked his medical license in 1930, Brinkley ran twice for governor of Kansas and almost won. Finally, Brinkley sued Fishbein for libel and lost in a spectacular showdown.
Here is collection of scanned WWII filmstrips. Interesting.
Also a tidbit from Wikipedia:
"Early celluloid filmstrips had a habit of melting or combusting from the intense and sustained heat of the projection lamp."
Now that would be have been a great multimedia experience!
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
I hate funerals and having to stand up in front of a grieving crowd and saying something. What am I supposed to say? I feel just like them. I am in the same hole.
But the hymns are sung and somehow the gospel is preached and the body laid to rest and in the midst of it all is Jesus. Not the idea of Jesus or the concept but the risen Jesus, present in the suffering of his body, the church, present in his word, present in the Holy Baptism his children wear in life or death.
But still I hate it. I hate death.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Here is a very fine article on the meaning of birthmarks, slavery, self image and the crucifixion of Jesus. It is entitled: Stigm(at)a: Facing the Mirror of the Wounds of Christ. (it is a pdf file). Lisa Deam is the author. Very well done.
Bach's Mass in B Minor. Qui tollis peccata mundi. Beautiful (an understatement, of course.)
Here are some reflections on this piece of music by O.P. Kretmann past president of Valparaiso University.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
So much of what is pitched to us in art, music, culture, religion is rooted in novelty. The ability to shock whether in subverting beauty or normalcy or to surprise by mixing up expectations is what constitutes attractiveness. A new liturgy, an artwork that degrades some accepted form of past centuries or a piece of music that distorts. In all of it the core attraction is the shock of unfamiliarity.
But true beauty is rooted in familiarity. The look of your wife waking up beside you, the same face you have seen for year upon year. The buildings of the town you grew up in plastered with the same ads and windows but shot through with memories and the quiet awareness of days and weeks and years of life shared with them. The seasons of the year, new and old at the same time, familiar in the sameness of cold and hot, life and death. We recognize the falling leaf, the turning color but its familiarity is not boring; it is beautiful. If all the trees started dying and it had never happened before it would not attract us; it would terrify us. Fall is beautiful because we have seen it before we know what will happen.
There is beauty in seeing and knowing and feeling the same things. For the things that last have a depth, a richness that does not exhaust itself with a gasp of surprise. That depth is, in fact, beauty, the beauty of the infinite and the unchanging, glimpsed here in an unchanging world, in things that do not change but live with us and accompany us day in and day out.
Heaven will not surprise us with its beauty. It will feel like we have been there for a thousand years before, like we have always lived there, like we are at home.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Can't the sermon deal with a topic, a question or an occasion in an orthodox Biblical way without being a direct explanation of a particular Scripture passage or passages and still be considered Scriptural?
Isn't the church year, the occasion, the particular rituals and customs observed on a particular day in a particular place important data for sermon making?
Shouldn't a sermon assist people in understanding and living as Christians ?
Can't stories and anecdotes and even occasionally jokes be used in service to true evangelical, Scriptural preaching?
Doesn't the connection between preacher and congregation that develops over time modify and influence his style?
Are there really just simply greats sermons by themselves? Aren't sermons part of the relationship between preacher and people in a particular place and time?
Can't one text produce multiple and widely varying (though equally orthodox) sermons depending on the preacher and the people?
Thursday, February 14, 2008
So when you have that heavy an influence that early you can see that the liturgies are really mongrelizing, they're coming together, which is a constant process. There are people who seem to think that the Eastern liturgies are by definition more ancient than the Western liturgies, that they go right back to the apostles. But for anybody who's spent their life studying Eastern liturgy, that's laughable; it's ridiculous. The Christian East until the they were suffocated by the Moslems in the 7th century is where all the creativity and all the changes began with one single exception: the December 25th, date of Christmas. Eastern conservatism? Boloney! The creativity all came from the East in the early centuries. But that's not a criticism; that's clearly the way it was. This business that everything Eastern goes back to the apostles is sheer mythology, absolute nonsense for anyone who's ever read a manuscript.
Taft, Through Their Own Eyes, p. 72
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
This selection from Taft's book on the popular participation in the liturgy reminds me how important it is that the people in the pews be able to sing the hymns we choose. Great hymns that are sung are not great hymns. Of course bad hymns that are sung are not great either but orthodox hymns beyond the reach of a congregation do not make a congregation orthodox. They only make it quiet.
During all this movement, of course, the people were not only marching in the processions and absorbing the splendor of the ceremonial; they were also kept busy responding to each petition of the diaconal litanies and singing the antiphonal psalms farced with refrains appropriate to the feast of the day. The cantors intoned the psalm verses, the people responded after each verse with the short poetic refrains from the simple and easy to remember limited repertoire.
According to the patristic witnesses of Late Antiquity, this liturgical psalmody was a huge success." Around 562, Paul the Silentiary praises the antiphonal psalmody in Hagia Sophia: "without interruption wells up a well-sounding song, pleasing to the ear of the life-giving Christ, where the precious service of the god-fearing David is intoned by alternating choirs, sung by men. In Novella 6, Justinian I (527-565) fixed the number of clergy of Hagia Sophia and the other three patriarchal churches its clergy served (Hagia Eirene, Chalkoprateia, Hagios Theodoros of Sphorakios) at 60 presbyters, 100 deacons, 40 deaconesses, 90 subdeacons, 110 lectors, and 25 cantors . There were plenty of cantors and others to lead the people in their singing and other aspects of liturgical participation."Though Chrysostom, ever the nag, complains even about the psalmody, it was in fact about the only thing for which most of the Fathers of the Church praise rather than berate their congregations.'` In Asia Minor St. Gregory Nazianzen's (d. ca. 390) funeral Oration 43 iii says that when the Arian emperor Valens visited St. Basil the Greats (d. 379) church in Caesarea in Cappadocia (Kayseri) at Epiphany, "the thundering psalmody struck his ear... And Miracle 33 in the fifth-century Greek Life and Miracles of St. Thecla from Seleukeia (Silitke) in Isauria on the southern coast of Turkish Asia Minor directly north of Cyprus, tells how the pilgrims to Hagia Thekla (Ayatekla), the sanctuary of the saint just south of Seleukeia, recounting their impression of the feast and its liturgy (synaxis), single out for mention "the harmony of the chanting of the psalms.
Taft, Popular, p. 56-58.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
John of Damascus, cited in Taft, Popular Participation in the Liturgy, p. 115
The divine coal is a reference to Isaiah 6 and the vision of Isaiah. John puts together the burning coal of that vision with the reception of the Eucharist. Beautiful.
Monday, February 11, 2008
These rules for writing of Cardinal Newman posted by S.M. Hutchens at Mere Comments could well serve (with some modification) as good advice for sermons as well.
I especially think the aim for simplicity and understanding are important for preachers.
1. A man should be in earnest--by which I mean he should write, not for the sake of writing, but to bring out his thoughts.
2. He should never aim to be eloquent.
3. He should keep his idea in view, and should write sentences over and over again till he has expressed his meaning accurately, forcibly, and in few words.
4. He should aim at being understood by his hearers or readers.
5. He should use words which are likely to be understood. Ornament and amplification will come spontaneously in due time, but he should never seek them.
6. He must creep before he can fly--by which I mean that humility, which is a great Christian virtue, has a place in literary composition.
7. He who is ambitious will never write well; but he who tries to say simply what he feels and thinks, what religion demands, what faith teaches, what the Gospel promises, will be eloquent without intending it, and will write better English than if he made a study of English literature.
I think the young blonde dude wasn't too bad but that is not saying much. At least he mentioned Jesus.
Death came to His body, therefore, not from Himself but from enemy action, in order that the Savior might utterly abolish death in whatever form they offered it to Him. A generous wrestler, virile and strong, does not himself choose his antagonists, lest it should be thought that of some of them he is afraid. Rather, he lets the spectators choose them, and that all the more if these are hostile, so that he may overthrow whomsoever they match against him and thus vindicate his superior strength. Even so was it with Christ. He, the Life of all, our Lord and Savior, did not arrange the manner of his own death lest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind. No. He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those others His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognized as finally annulled.
A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death's defeat. Therefore it is also, that He neither endured the death of John, who was beheaded, nor was He sawn asunder, like Isaiah: even in death He preserved His body whole and undivided, so that there should be no excuse hereafter for those who would divide the Church.
Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 4.24
Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 4.21.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
A fine list of bloggers are behind it, it has a lot of useful stuff including collections of sermons (of course), art works, and a link to a site on Bach's cantatas that I was unaware of (I am so slow on alot of these things.)
A fine looking site that I am sure will only improve over time.
Here is great little rockabilly tune I ran across ( don't ask how!) that
(academic mode on)
expresses a quintessially American viewpoint on the non-necessity of creeds or formal beliefs and a core belief system revolving around a personal experience of a saving event centering in the person of Jesus.
(academic mode off)
But really it is much more fun just to listen to it. Millard Presley, Gastonia, North Carolina, 1957.
It is not the whole song ... only a sample. but you'll get the idea.
Often however we romanticize the past and read great sermons or treatises and imagine the past as an age of heroes. Certainly there were heroes but to live in these supposedly glorious periods was, I suspect, mostly like living today. Messy, ordinary with much sin and distraction and imperfection.
That truth is one of the charms of a nice little book by Robert Taft, entitled Through Their Own eyes : Liturgy as the Byzantines Saw It. It is a look at the liturgy in the ancient East from the bottom up. Surprises abound.
Here is a bit of a description of what experiencing the liturgy was really like:
But that was only half the story. During all this, one should not imagine the congregation primly seated like Methodists at a wedding in Indianapolis.
There were no pews in church to keep the people penned in—they sat on the floor if at all—which may be one of the reasons why Late Antique congregations in East and West were an unruly lot, wandering around and chattering even during the Scripture readings and homily. Chrysostom in Constantinople (398-404) accuses his congregation of roaming around; of either ignoring the preacher or pushing and shoving to hear him, when not bored or downright exasperated with him; of talking, especially during the homily and Scripture lessons;" of leaving before the services are over (or not coming to church at all), and, in general, of causing an uproar and acting—the words are Chrysostom's—as if they were in the forum or barbershop —or worse still, in a tavern or whorehouse.
Things did not improve with time, apparently, for in the Holy Land three hundred years later Anastasios of Sinai (ca. 700), whose wonderful Oratio de sacra synaxi, unfortunately never translated from the Greek as far as I know, gives a whole spirituality of the liturgy, accuses his churchgoers of being irritated if the sermon and prayers drag on too long, of gabbing when they should be praying, thereby distracting even the priests serving, of ogling the women, and of being eager to get the liturgy over with so they can get out and busy themselves with less noble endeavors.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
The Uneasy Priest writes:
Today I did something I've never done. Neither as a pastor or as a person did I do what happened this afternoon. I burned palms into ashes. So many pastors buy ashes from their local papist supply shop. I decided to make my own ...
It was fun, but my clothes and jacket smelled terribly of smoke. Even the house has a patina of smoke odor wafting about.
I have done this myself for the past several years after realizing how silly it was to buy ashes when an ancient custom of the church was so readily available.
I have begun to associate the smoke smell in my clothing with Ash Wednesday.
As the Uneasy Priest says, we all burn down.
Monday, February 04, 2008
He trains his eye on the worship of his youth with its faults and much of the worship of today with its amplified faults and what can be done to rescue some good from much bad.
You can’t go home again, so I wouldn’t expect to find that church now in the same condition. Long gone, no doubt, is the excellent pianist who, on a fine concert grand donated in the estate of one of its members, played perfectly executed Chopin preludes to those evening services after bathing her arthritic hands in warm wax. These uncommon things were not uncommon in the wilder, less homogenized churches of my youth; surprising things were often found, and rare beauty was not all that rare. It was a silver age, and I didn’t know it until it was past.
It was not a golden age, for even though the entire church sang from the hymnal in four-part harmony, the children learning the parts by standing with their parents and following the rise and fall of the notes on the page, the hymns, in whole or in part, were often bad. The worst offense was bad theology, particularly that of the Holiness Movement, which produced a great many popular gospel songs in which striving for holiness in this world became its actual achievement, the gracious work of God in Christ issuing in fulfillment or completeness of joy or freedom from sin in this world. This little church didn’t really believe the theology of these hymns, but sang them anyway for a good Arian reason: they were pretty. The theology, however, was false doctrine; it makes an unbeliever of our Lord, or at least shows him to be insufficiently sanctified, being, as he was, a man of sorrows--and it made liars or hypocrites of everyone who sang them.
Instead of cultivating the use of the human voice combining in part-harmony that reflects the glorious differences of age and sex in the congregations of the faithful, it took away the good its church already possessed, electronically increasing and augmenting the instrumental voices, promoting the soloist and “praise team,” reducing the congregation to a unison accompaniment by taking away the hymnals and (being weighed in the balances and found wanting) projecting the words on the wall. Instead of turning their people toward the richness of the Christian musical tradition, their teachers spent their time justifying and promoting the music of rebels and drug addicts, now half-converted into something called “Christian rock.” When there was hymnal revision, instead of correcting the bad theology (where it could be done), the words were dumbed down and subjected to feminism.
Whatever the Reformation revived in making the principal--not the only, but the principal--musicians the congregation itself has been effectively killed by a generation of willful, ignorant upstarts who, parading themselves about as specialists in worship, have turned the liturgy into a noisy religious spectacle whose Zeus or Apollo is now named “Jesus.”
(Hat tip: Ora et Labora )
How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present debility? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing steadily in accordance with its proclaimed social intentions, hand in hand with a dazzling progress in technology. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.
This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very foundation of thought in modern times. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was born in the Renaissance and has found political expression since the Age of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for political and social doctrine and could be called rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and practiced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man as the center of all.
The turn introduced by the Renaissance was probably inevitable historically. The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, having become an intolerable despotic repression of man's physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. But then we recoiled from the spirit and embraced all that is material, excessively and incommensurately. The humanistic way of thinking, which had proclaimed itself our guide, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man, nor did it see any task higher than the attainment of happiness on earth. It started modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend of worshiping man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and the accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any higher meaning. Thus gaps were left open for evil, and its drafts blow freely today. Mere freedom per se does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and even adds a number of new ones.
And yet in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted on the ground that man is God's creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding one thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose, simply for the satisfaction of his whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were eroded everywhere in the West; a total emancipation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming even more materialistic. The West had finally achieved the rights of man, and even to excess, but man's sense of responsibility to God and society had grown dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistic selfishness of the Western approach to the world has reached its peak and the world has found itself in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the celebrated technological achievements of progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century's moral poverty, which no one could have imagined even as late as the nineteenth century.
I just finished watching the 11 hour PBS documentary history of Vietnam produced in 1983. It is a very well done survey of the war, exhuastive in its scope for a TV production.
It is also in many places incredibly slanted in the leftward direction. Often one gets the feeling it ought to be retitled "The Glorious History of the Triumph of the People's Republic of Vietnam."
So it was interesting for me to run across this snapshot of contemporary Vietnam. The communists may have been "freedom fighters", patriots fighting for the liberation of their homeland. But they are also vicious hoodlums and dictators intent on punishing any and all who dissent.
The Communist Party maintains strict one-party rule in Vietnam. It prohibits political opposition, owns and operates the domestic media, and tightly controls most aspects of the country's civic life. It deals swiftly and harshly with its critics, who have been rare since the North forcibly reunited the country in 1975. Those who have dissented tended to be lone intellectuals who published secret newsletters for tiny audiences, or artists who cloaked their critiques in layers of symbolism. To criticize the government openly was to sign up for a life of isolation and prison, a path few chose.
That all changed in April of 2006. A group of dissidents including Do Nam Hai drafted two pro-democracy manifestos and posted them online. If the police response was predictable ("Four hours after we posted one, the police confiscated my computer. Then they confiscated me!"), the public's was not. More than one hundred people signed the petitions initially, an astonishing feat made even more so by the signatories' decision to disclose both their names and addresses. Eventually, more than 2,000 people inside Vietnam signed, along with 30,000 Vietnamese overseas. The group came to be known as Bloc 8406, after the date of the second petition, but also in a conscious evocation of the former Czechoslovakia's Charter 77. The signatories come from all parts of the country, which is significant in Vietnam, given the cultural distinctness of its northern, central and southern regions. They are doctors, lawyers, scientists and even a former officer in the North Vietnamese Army. The country has not seen organized opposition on this scale in decades.
"Bloc 8406 is different from the anti-Communist groups of the 1980s and '90s, almost all of which were based outside of Vietnam. Many of these groups espoused, in equal parts, violent means and unrealistic goals," said Sophie Richardson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "The Bloc 8406 dissidents are using peaceful means and not suggesting violent overthrow. This is a much more thoughtful challenge to the Communist Party's claim to represent everyone in the country."
In presenting themselves so publicly, the dissidents were taking a calculated gamble. The country was on the brink of securing membership in the World Trade Organization, a prize long coveted by the party, and world leaders were to descend on Hanoi later that year for the high-profile Asia-Pacific Economic Conference. In the run-up to these milestones, the country's human rights record was coming under international scrutiny, and the government needed to avoid scandal. Although the authorities harassed and questioned some dissidents in the weeks and months after the petitions were posted, they could do little more. The dissidents saw an opening, and they rushed to fill it, starting new political and labor organizations and online journals. The dissidents felt emboldened to speak up for their fellow countrymen, who had been silenced by fear for years.
"Many people from all parts of the country are unhappy with the one-party system," Do Nam Hai said. "The Vietnamese people want democracy. I know this because they tell me. I understand their aspirations."
But when the party got its WTO prize in 2007, it was newly free to act without fear of international consequences. The police, intent on setting an example, rounded up eleven activists. Last spring, in a series of show trials, the courts convicted them of attempting to overthrow the government and handed out jail terms ranging from eighteen months to eight years. In all, about twenty dissidents received jail terms last year, bringing the total number of Bloc 8406 members and affiliates in prison to around forty, according to Human Rights Watch. In the end, however, the regime wasn't able to avoid embarrassment.
Friday, February 01, 2008
Here at the Altar, focused to a point, we find our communion with the dead; for the Altar is the closest meeting place between us and our Lord. That place must be the place of closest meeting with our dead who are in his keeping… How pathetic it is to see men and women going out to the cemetery, kneeling at the mound, placing little sprays of flowers and wiping their tears from their eyes, and knowing nothing else. How hopeless they look. Oh, that we could take them by the hand, away from the grave, out through the cemetery gate, in through the door of the church, and up the nave to the very Altar itself, and there put them in touch, not with the dead body of their loved one, but with the living soul who is with Christ at the Altar.
Thanks to Paul Sauer over at Lutheran Forum.