Photo Essay #1

At Mass yesterday, saw this on the lower shelf of a side table:

The first thing that came to mind:

Or even:

Because, after all:

would take some serious horsepower to move.

Then this came to mind:

You know, the political statement of those otherwise secretive people who find our roads, in their current state and extent, just fine. Maybe this ‘DO NOT MOVE THIS ALTAR’ sign is a similar guerrilla protest?

But, alas:

When I turned around, there came into view this attractive, fairly  sturdy table, done up to be used as an altar.


Hard to picture a sheep, or Isaac, laid upon this, let alone sufficient kindling to reduce said victims to ash. Which would reduce the table to ash as well. So the imagery wasn’t totally working for me.

Grand Sweep of History, part III

5) It helps if you can imagine what events looked like to the people at the time.  An example from within living memory – imagine you’re a German shop keeper, mechanic or accountant in 1936. Are you saying to yourself: “I think I’ll support this Hitler fellow because he’ll launch a massive doomed war that’ll cost millions of my fellow Germans their lives, and march 12 million Jews, gays, gypsies, communists and the people that stand up for them to the gas chamber”? Or, rather, are you thinking “We need a strong leader in these desperate economic times, somebody not afraid to stand up to the enemies of a strong Germany and do what needs to be done! Enough of these limp-wristed wind bags we’ve been electing lately!”? Or – what? The first way of thinking is not only almost certain to be wrong in almost all cases, it paints Germans as monsters. We’re not monsters – so we comfort ourselves – so we needn’t worry that we’d fall for the kind of rhetoric Hitler used. Right?

Here’s an extreme case. By no means am I claiming this is the whole story, but it’s a big part of the story that is routinely omitted from popular discussions:

Imagine your country has been invaded and conquered by a ruthless foreign army. During the early stages of the occupation, any sign of opposition to the regime gets you promptly executed, including simply clinging to the ancient culture you’ve inherited. Many thousands have died. Order is brutally imposed and enforced.

Neighboring countries narrowly escape conquest. They hear the horror stories as refugees stream into their territories, and, in the few places where the enemy has been repulsed, they can see for themselves how the conquered peoples have been treated. They are both terrified and horrified. They mount a counter-attack.

The battle rages for years. Whenever conquered territories are liberated, the newly freed people flock to the cause. Finally, after a long and bloody war, the invaders are defeated.The celebration is deafening, the heroes immortalized in story and song.

As is the case in every war, there were collaborators. Understandably, the people who resisted, and who fought and won the war, loath them. Lynch mobs break out. People die. Worst of all – and this also happens in every war – men of bad will start flinging accusations around, and use the post-war emotions as a means to get unpopular people killed, and their wealth seized.

The local religious authorities reluctantly get involved. They attempt to set up some war trials, in order to keep innocent people from suffering mob violence. At the same time, there were plenty of real collaborators and sympathizers, people whose cooperation helped keep the enemy in power. These people, when found, are handed over to the authorities. Over the course of several years, several thousand people are convicted and handed over to death.

This is a pretty accurate high level description of the Islamic conquest of Spain, the Reconquista and the Spanish Inquisition (at least, the parts of the Inquisition that took place during and immediately after the Reconquista). Sure, there’s more to the story: the trials under the Inquisition radically fail our ideas of fairness (although they looked pretty good by comparison to their historical antecedents), it’s very likely that many of the trials were motivated by revenge, greed, bigotry, and so on, and, once the Islamic invaders felt more secure, they did lighten up on the summary execution thing, the legendary flowering of Sephardic Jews took place under their rule. (Of course, this is the very thing that got Jews in general labeled collaborators – because many of them, by all accounts, certainly were. However sympathetic we are to the tough spot Spanish Jews found themselves in, it’s also important to see things from the viewpoint of the Christian Spaniards as well.)

Picture This

You’re an Israelite, you’ve been wandering in the desert for 40 years, and Moses is laying it on thick before letting you cross over into the Promised Land. He reads the entire law, out loud, while you and your buds are standing there, concluding in Deuteronomy 30:19 with:

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.”

So, now what? You’re leaning a bit toward Life, but, being shrewd, you’d like to look over the merchandise, do a little comparison shopping. And that bit about ‘seed’ has you a little confused.

What to do, what to do?

Evidently, head on down to your local Orchard Supply Hardware, and head directly to the –

Problem solved!