A Sea of Saints

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Hours of Louis de Laval, France ca. 1480

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ISIS Desecrates Saint’s Remains, Bulldozes Monastery–Priest Still Missing

marelian0In 284 St. Elian, a physician, refused to renounce Christianity and was killed by his father. The site of his death in Homs, Syria soon became a locus of miracles and devotion, and a Church was was raised there in the late 5th century. A stone sarcophagus was built in side chapel to house his remains. A monastery grew at the location.

Some time this month, all of that history and devotion was ground into dust by barbarians. ISIS has released photos (and possibly a video, though I haven’t been able to find it) that show them destroying the site. They allegedly smashed their way into St. Elian’s tomb, then brought in heavy machinery to do the rest.

There are pictures circulating showing uncovered bones. Some are saying these are the bones of St. Elian, but I don’t think they are. It’s unclear at this moment what became of St. Elian’s remains, but from the reports I’m reading it appears that the entire site was bulldozed. That would include the tomb, the church, the remains, and the frescos uncovered during restorations:

Frescos_in_Saint_Elian_Church_-_Hims,_Syria

Some videos online claim to show the destruction, but they appear to show a different site. Right now, it’s all very sketchy, with only a few pictures in ISIS Twitter accounts and scattered reports. The media is filling in the scant details with a lot of speculation, so I’ve tried to sift it all as well as possible.

Worse than the loss to history is the human loss: Father Jacques Mouraud was kidnapped in the area on May 21st and is still missing. Fr. Mourad was the abbot of St. Elian, and had been working since 1991 to rebuild and restore the site.

Revelation of the destruction follows news earlier this week of the torture and beheading of leading Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad. al-Asaad had worked excavating and preserving the site of Palmyra for 40 years, and some called him the Howard Carter of Syria. Reports vary as to whether the 82-year-old was killed for collaboration and idolatry (including appearances at archaeology conferences with infidels), or because he refused to disclose the location of treasure, which ISIS imagined he was hiding somewhere in the ruins.  al-Asaad had made important discoveries at the ancient site, and was an expert in Aramaic. Please pray for the repose of his soul.

Where Have I Been?

For about the last week or so I’ve been in bed taking Percocet and listening to Gilbert and Sullivan.

I don’t know quite how this combination came to be, but last week, after coming home from gallbladder/hernia surgery, I took my meds, got in bed, and thought, out of the blue, “I’m going to listen to some Gilbert & Sullivan.”

And it wasn’t just a passing thought, either: it was more like “I NEED TO LISTEN TO HMS PINAFORE NOW OR I’M GONNA BURN THIS PLACE DOWN!!!1!”

The weird part is that I don’t listen to musicals, or opera, or Gilbert & Sullivan … ever. I have a sentient person’s knowledge of Pinafore and Pirates and The Mikado and I saw Topsy Turvey and that’s about it.

So, that was odd, and not among the listed side effects of either Percocet or abdominal surgery.

gilbert-and-sullivan-1378135665In the past week I’ve had a barnstorming tour of the whole G&S oeuvre, thanks to a combination of streaming music with multiple versions of each show, this incredibly deep Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, and a helpful discography to serve as a guide through the various performances. I prefer full dialog versions and am partial to the mid-century D’oyly Carte releases on Decca, but I supplement these with odd items like the Ohio Light Opera’s excellent rendering of Ruddigore and Oh sweet mercy what has happened to me? What else did they remove along with my gallbladder?!

Turns out the offending organ was really really bad and likely causing much of the problems I’ve been having the past few months. My surgeon–an army field surgeon with experience going back to the first Gulf War–didn’t seem prone to overstatement, so when he told me afterwards that it was a really rotten gallbladder, I was relieved to have it out of my body.

So, I hope to be back to bloggishness soon and put these last awful few months behind me. Those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, thanks for your prayers.

One parting gift: Chesterton on Gilbert and Sullivan.

And Tobit Wept

Khalil Abdur-Rashid, a spokesperson for the Islamic Association of Collin County

Khalil Abdur-Rashid, a spokesperson for the Islamic Association of Collin County

From Rod Dreher comes this story of citizens in Farmersville, Texas telling Muslims they don’t want them burying their dead there:

The Islamic Association of Collin County purchased 34 acres to develop a cemetery in the sleepy burg of Farmersville because the closest Muslim burial ground is rapidly running out of space.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area already has three Muslim cemeteries, all developed and run for years without incident.

Residents in this town of 3,400 about 45 miles northeast of Dallas packed a community meeting on Tuesday night arranged by Farmersville city officials, who tried to convince locals there was nothing to fear and the planned religious burial ground will meet state standards.

Many were doubtful.

Resident Barbara Ashcraft told the Dallas Morning News after the meeting: “People don’t trust Muslims. Their goal is to populate the United States and take it over.”

There were a few who spoke out in support, but the reactions were overwhelming negative, with others other saying:

“I don’t like your religion, and I don’t even classify it as a religion,” said one man who spoke at the meeting.

“And you’re not part of our community.” [There are 22,000 Muslims in the area]

Death and burial customs are one of my interests, and one of the works of mercy we’re called to do. Tobit was judged a righteous man for burying the dead at great risk to himself. Maybe these attitudes are what we get from Protestants removing books from the Bible: they lose a beautiful example of righteousness.

I wrote about this at length when some tyrants and bigots wanted to deny a burial to marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev:

Why does Tobit do it, particularly as such great risk to himself? He makes it quite clear: it’s a central act of charity. He does three things that are righteous: gives bread to the hungry, clothes the naked, buries the dead (Tobit 1:17).

Are any of these beginning to sound a bit familiar? Because you’ve been ordered to do them, too:

  • Feed the hungry.
  • Clothe the naked.
  • Bury the dead.
  • Give drink to the thirsty.
  • Give sheltered to the homeless.
  • Visit the sick.
  • Ransom the captive.

You’ll note the name of these acts–corporal works of mercy–comes from the Latin root corpus, for body, the source of the English word corpse.

There’s nothing in there about “burying the nice folks.” The command to bury the unrighteous is partly a matter of preventing contamination of the land, but it’s also interpreted as something due to any human created in the image of God. (I’ve written a whole series on how bodies and burial were handled in ancient Israel: a major focus of my study during a semester on the OT. This entry in particular summarizes Jewish attitudes toward the dead from a Biblical perspective.)

Mortality entered the world through sin. The person who handled the dead was therefore in the realm of death and sin. That’s why the person handling a corpse is considered impure for a time, but is also considered righteous. They are cleaning up the mess made by the sin of man, and in a very real sense doing close battle with that sin. It takes courage. It takes faith.

Read the rest, and let’s not be like these people. Let’s try to be better Christians. Let’s be like Tobit.

Fundie Follies: Cultists Will Curse Your Fetal Ultrasound Via Facebook

Pat Robertson is basically a cartoon character spouting the kind of nutty nonsense many non-Christians think we all believe. I don’t share it because I think he’s an important voice: he’s not. I share it mostly to point and laugh, but also to warn against wadIng into the deep end of the crazy pool. As someone who takes demons seriously and writes about them often, it’s as much a warning for myself as anyone.

Note how he begins by saying he doesn’t see anything wrong with it, wanders into the weeds muttering something about demons, and ends up by calling it abhorrent. Basically, his brain is dribbling out his mouth. I might be tempted to excuse it as the ramblings of a sad old man whose mind is going, but he’s always been like this. 

Goodbye Microsoft

After 27 years as a PC user (Commodore and TI before that, with some Apple programming in high school) I’m done. Enough is enough. This is what you’ve driven me to, Microsoft:

2015-08-04 13.50.28Did any of my PCs ever have Snoopy and Woodstock toasting their logo over a campfire? No they did not. When I started up my PCs they did everything but punch me in the face and steal my milk money.

Yeah, I’m keeping a gaming rig on the side, but it’s no longer my work computer. And I hear that once you go Mac, you never go back. My wife is being very kind about the transition (the Mac I’m using for now is hers), and has only reminded me a few times of all the years I spent mocking Macs as toy computers for unserious computer users.

Well, I’m about to be 48, and I aim to be unserious in my impending dotage.

Something happened” indeed.

 

Couple Uses Their Wedding Feast to Feed Refugees

I haven’t been able to verify this story, but it’s been percolating through some alt-media and looks legit. In any case, here’s hoping it’s true, because we need a little hope right now:

A Turkish couple who got married last week invited 4,000 Syrian refugees to celebrate with them.

Fethullah Üzümcüoğlu and Esra Polat tied the knot in Kilis province on the Syrian border, which is currently home to thousands of refugees fleeing conflict in the neighbouring country.

It’s traditional for Turkish weddings to last between Tuesday to Thursday, culminating in a banquet on the last night, but this couple decided they wanted a celebration with a difference.

Hatice Avci, a spokesperson for aid organisation Kimse Yok Mu, told i100.co.uk that the charity is responsible for feeding 4,000 refugees who live in and around the town of Kilis, but last Thursday the newlyweds donated the savings their families had put together for a party to share their wedding celebrations with the refugees living nearby instead.

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“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Matthew 22:8-10