A “Christian” re-write of Leonard Cohen’s Halleluia

Radical conservative Christian (and neocon) Marvin Olasky has improved Leonard Cohen’s classic Halleluia

Verse 4:

“Blood your hyssop, I’ll be clean.
Wash me so my sin’s not seen.
Give me of your Holy Spirit, will you?
Create in me a new, clean heart.
Give me now a strong, fresh start,
So every breath I draw is Hallelujah.”

The post links to a recording of the new song, if you’re interested.

I’m speechless.

Here’s Cohen singing it recently:

Or one of my favorites, KD Lang:



A moral cesspool: Dave Zirin on Notre Dame

It’s not just Notre Dame, of course. There is rot at the heart of collegiate athletics. Well, given Lance Armstrong, what happens with injuries in the NFL, and major league baseball’s coverup of steroid use, it permeates all of sports. But Zirin has pursued the scandals at Notre Dame fearlessly and writes:

Yet as with the far more serious previous scandals attached to this storied program, the problem is not just the behavior of students but the moral compass on display by the adults in charge. Within hours of the story breaking online, Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick held a press conference where he backed Te’o to the hilt saying, “Every single thing about this was real to Manti. There was no suspicion. The grief was real, the affection was real, and that’s the sad nature of this cruel game.”

Swarbrick revealed that a private outside firm had been hired to investigate just who had perpetrated this “cruel game.” The athletic director even cried. His behavior only raises more important questions than anything Te’o will face tomorrow. Why hasn’t there been any kind of privately funded, outside investigation into the alleged sexual assaults committed by members of the football team? Why was there no private, outside investigation into Coach Brian Kelly’s role in the death of team videographer Declan Sullivan? It says so much that Te’o’s bizarre soap opera has moved Swarbrick to openly weeping but he hasn’t spared one tear, let alone held one press conference, for Lizzy Seeberg, the young woman who took her own life after coming forward with allegations that a member of the team sexually assaulted her. Swarbrick’s press conference displayed that the problem at Notre Dame is not just football players without a compass; it’s the adults without a conscience. Their credo isn’t any kind of desire for truth or justice. Instead it seems to be little more than a constant effort to protect the Fighting Irish brand, no matter who gets hurt.

The cost to higher education is not just moral; it is also financial. A study released this week provides shocking evidence of how much more is spent on athletics than on academics:

Football consumes much of the athletic budget. At institutions competing in the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision, the report found, median athletic spending per athlete was $92,000 in 2010, compared with median academic spending per full-time student of less than $14,000. In the other Division I subdivisions, median athletic spending per athlete ranged from $37,000 to $39,000, compared with median academic spending per full-time student of about $11,800.

Think about that the next time you watch a game on TV. For my friends in academe, think about that the next time your dean asks you to cut your budget….

Some links on prayer

I mentioned that I read Anne LaMott’s Help, Thanks, Wow. It’s a quick read about her life of prayer. LaMott writes with humor, honesty, and insight.

The Other Journal has been focusing on prayer, including this interview with Sarah Coakley.  There are two parts, both of them worth reading. She talks about asceticism, silent prayer, and the erotic (among a number of other things). Part I is here. Part II.

A very different take from Cathy Warner, who writes about her life of prayer:

When I was ten and composed my first prayer, I wasn’t trained or qualified. I didn’t know the right words. Once I joined a church, I tried to replace my primitive prayer with a better one. I thought if I invoked the precise and proper words, suffering would pass me by. I was wrong.

From Everyday Liturgy, five spiritual practices to cultivate in 2013.

Ann Hood writes poignantly about her search for a church with open doors in which to pray: A Prayer at Christmas – NYTimes.com. It’s one of those things I hate myself, that we can’t keep Grace open to the public as a place of prayer. Occasionally I’ll encounter someone who asks if they might come in to pray. I always invite them in to the church.

The Appeal of Psalm 139

An appreciation of Psalm 139 in the translation of the Authorized Version (KJV):

Psalm 139 gets my vote for being the most beautiful of the psalms in the King James version. The other day I happened to read it in French and it left me cold—it conjured up surveillance—whereas the high-low diction of the King James translators sings and is intimate, because you would only sing this way to a God you loved: “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me.” It’s like an advertisement for the English language.

Paris Review – Psalm 139, Lorin Stein.

Cat-Blogging: Margery Kempe

Margery Kempe came to us in the fall of 1995. It was Parents’ Weekend at Sewanee and we suspected that she was dropped off by people who had come up to the Mountain for the weekend. We found her running from the general direction of St. Luke’s Chapel towards All Saints’ Chapel, crying with all of her might (Hence the name Margery Kempe). She was an itty-bitty little thing. When we took her to the vet for the first time to have her checked out, he told us she tested positive for Feline Leukemia and needed to be put down. We disagreed.

Another vet, vitamins and interferon, plus a couple of months of isolation away from our Maggie Pie, Margery was retested and came up negative. She was a feisty thing. She had a dear friend in Sewanee for a couple of years, Tigger, who would come and visit every day after his girls went off to school. And we’ll never forget the summer Reginald Fuller and his wife lived next door, and when a dead cat appeared on the street below us, Mrs. Fuller worried that it was Margery, or the “little fat one” as she called her. In Sewanee, our cleaners named her “Large Marge.” Although she was small-bodied, she ate her fill.

When we moved to South Carolina, Corrie wanted to get her a new playmate to replace Tigger. That explains Merton but they never really got on. Perhaps the most poignant moment ever for me and Margery came upon Maggie Pie’s death. For the last couple of years of her life, Maggie always slept up next to my head. It was the spot where she felt protected from Merton’s onslaughts. Margery never slept in the bed. She had grown accustomed to sleeping on her own, probably because of her early months in isolation.

Maggie’s last night, I knew she something was wrong. She couldn’t get comfortable next to me and in the morning, we took her to the vet and he discovered a huge tumor in her lungs. That night, for the first time, Margery came in the bed and settled down next to my head.

A couple of photos from Margery in her prime:

1(3) copyMargery copy

As I wrote this a couple of nights ago, Margery was sleeping on my lap. She barely moved her limbs in an hour. Her breath at times seemed forced; at other times it came easily. She’s on pain medication, blood pressure medication, subcutaneous fluids. But she’s still eating and especially enjoyed bites of shrimp cocktail on Christmas Eve.


What I would say to President Obama if he dropped by Grace Church tomorrow.

Once again, Capitol Square of Madison will be the site of momentous political events. In 2011, there were the protests which brought over 150,000 people into the streets on cold winters’ days to challenge the policies of Governor Scott Walker. It’s likely that the President’s visit will attract a smaller crowd and part of the reason for that may be his silence during those protests. I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 for many reasons—for the vision of an America united around a common vision. I voted for him as well because of his promises to end torture, to close Guantanamo, to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to bring a new era of transparency to government, especially in the area of national security. I voted for him because of his promise to reform our healthcare system.

President Obama will be a couple of blocks away. I doubt he’ll see the church. I know he won’t drop in to say hello, or for a photo op at our food pantry or at our First Monday meal. I wish he would. Here’s what I’m thinking I would say to him if he did drop by.

How would I assess his first term and the prospects of his second? Four years later, where are we? Yes, Obama has struggled with an obstructionist Congress. He has been opposed at every step by those who wanted to him fail. But he has accomplished a great deal. The economy has recovered; healthcare is law. He has ended discrimination against LGBT’s in the military and refused to defend DOMA. He is eager to pass immigration reform. But I struggle.

What I would ask President Obama would have to do with foreign policy, with military policy, with the National Security state. I have grave concerns about the expansion of drone warfare, of the use of these weapons to kill people in far-off countries outside of the legal system with no oversight from any other arm of government. What are the ethics of such actions? What is the legality? The victims of these strikes have no recourse to the legal system, no right to defend themselves. Even US citizens have been killed in such attacks.

And Guantanamo. All those promises to close it and still prisoners languish there, without recourse to the legal system. Apparently for those caught in it, the only exit is through death, most quickly, through suicide.

There is also the assault on civil liberties at home—the prosecution of whistle blowers, the refusal to bring those responsible for torture to account for their actions. There is also the pandering to Israel, the imposition of inhumane sanctions on Iran, and more. In the realm of foreign policy, Obama’s administration is little different from the worst of neo-con excess under Bush

But between Obama and Romney—is there a choice? The foreign policy debates showed no difference between the two, and on torture, only the littlest difference. Obama has ended it, waterboarding, but apparently Romney continues to see its utility.

There are those who advocate not voting in this election, given these alternatives. Among them are Conor Friedersdorf, progressives critical of Obama’s foreign policy and perceived timidity on a domestic agenda. There are pastors who worry about their vote and their congregations.

What would I ask President Obama if he dropped by Grace Church tomorrow? What about the least of these—those we will be serving at our First Monday meal tomorrow night. What about those victims overseas—in Yemen, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, killed by drones, killed by buttons pushed by American soldiers in comfortable situations thousands of miles away. What about those men languishing in Guantanamo, with no hope of exit, no hope of facing accusers, no hope at all?

To be faithful Christians, to be responsible citizens, we must ask these questions of our political leaders, of our presidents, of those who ask for our vote.

And their answers should help us make our decisions when we enter the voting booth.

Is it a fake? More on the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”

The New York Times has a follow-up on the sensational announcement this week in which scholars express both excitement and considerable skepticism about Karen King’s discovery. (My previous discussion is here).

Mark Goodacre links to a line-by-line takedown of the text by Francis Watson of Durham University. His summary:

Six of the eight incomplete lines of GJW recto are so closely related to the Coptic GTh,
especially to Sayings 101 and 114, as to make dependence virtually certain. A further line is derived
from Matthew; just one is left unaccounted for. The author has used a “collage” or “patchwork”
compositional technique, and this level of dependence on extant pieces of Coptic text is more plausibly
attributed to a modern author, with limited facility in Coptic, than to an ancient one. Indeed, the GJW
fragment may be designedly incomplete, its lacunae built into it from the outset. It does not seem
possible to fill these lacunae with GTh material contiguous to the fragments cited. The impression of
modernity is reinforced by the case in line 1 of dependence on the line-division of the one surviving
Coptic manuscript, easily accessible in modern printed editions. Unless this impression of modernity is
countered by further investigations and fresh considerations, it seems unlikely that GJW will establish
itself as a “genuine” product of early gospel writing.

An earlier post by Goodacre assembles links to some of those casting doubt on the text’s authenticity.

It turns out there is a documentary in the works.

Radioactive Beer may taste OK

Apparently, the US government tested the effects of nuclear explosions on the quality of beer back in 1955:

Examination made immediately upon recovery showed no observable gross changes in the appearance of the beverages. Immediate taste tests indicated that the beverages, both beer and soft drinks, were still of commercial quality, although there was evidence of a slight flavor change in some of the products exposed at 1270 ft from GZ [Ground Zero]. Those farther away showed no change.

No word on long-term effects of the test on those who drank the radioactive beer. In case you were wondering, bottles survived the blast better than cans. Read it all here.

Did Jesus have a wife?

Karen King of Harvard Divinity School made the announcement today.

From the New York Times:

The faded papyrus fragment is smaller than a business card, with eight lines on one side, in black ink legible under a magnifying glass. Just below the line about Jesus having a wife, the papyrus includes a second provocative clause that purportedly says, “she will be able to be my disciple.”

The press release from HDS might be available here. (h/t David Brakke)

Of course, as the Times piece points out, the fragment is hardly reliable historical evidence for the claim that Jesus was married. Written in Coptic, it dates from several centuries after Jesus’ death and its provenance is uncertain.

Craft Brewery Pilgrimage

Greg Richardson (Strategic Monk) is doing this in Southern Cal. Sounds like a perfect fit for Madison. Anyone want to join me in organizing?

Here’s the idea:

I love craft-brewed beer, and I love the wholeness of a centered life.  I especially love when those things come together.  I believe that revelry and retreat are sometimes one and the same, which brings us to the second annual Craft Brewery Pilgrimage. Join us as we explore the monastic roots of brewing great beer and the rapidly growing craft beer community in Southern California. Meet new people and share excellent food with great brews as we visit a new craft brewery each month.