Monthly Archives: May 2016

Religion in Moscow

The Churches within the Kremlin (Photo by John P. Flannery)

The Churches within the Kremlin (Photo by John P. Flannery)

In Moscow, I saw churches and domes throughout this modern cosmopolitan city of 15 million people, 600 Christian churches in all, and I visited several sanctuaries within the Kremlin Walls (Assumption Cathedral, the Church of the Deposition of the Robe, and Necropolis of the Archangel Cathedral).

When the Tsars reigned, the Churches were integral to the autocratic state, one lever of control by which to govern the masses.

Lenin fairly charged that the Church was “used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.”

When the final revolt came in 1917, the Bolsheviks took down the Tsar, but also the Tsar’s partner, the Church, in all its manifestations, outlawed its influence, even its existence.

In 1997, Russia reformed its past prohibitions, distrusting the Church less, declaring religion part of its “historical heritage” following upon Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost (“openness”).

The most significant difference, before the Revolution, was that the Tsars made the Church a governing partner with the Nobles.

This error of making any religious institution preeminent in secular governance is not limited to the Russian experience.

As an Irish Catholic kid from the South Bronx, I saw how Catholics were treated in the U.S. when they ran for office, Governor Al Smith being the prime example, and I celebrated when JFK became President declaiming that his Roman Catholic religion would ever affect his judgment as a public servant. Discrimination against “papist” Catholics made his assurances necessary, although it’s a guarantee every candidate should make, that religion will not be allowed to interfere with governance.

When a religious sect is integral to governance, it comes at the cost of intolerance toward those who profess any “disagreeable” faith; as for the “faithful,” they are manipulated by the fear that any dissenting word or conduct may earn them temporal punishment and bar their “eternal reward.” Constantine, for example, had the skin torn off bishops who refused to believe the communion host became flesh. Continue reading

Political Magic

magiccardsNow you see it. Now you don’t.

Since I was a kid, I’ve loved magic, learned and performed tricks with cards, coins, magnets, (foam rubber) rabbits, large silvery clanging rings, false bottom boxes, ropes, and guillotine-like finger “slicers.” I found Harry Houdini mesmerizing, and I still love going to a good old fashioned magic show – as I did the other day to watch a self-described “Hogwarts graduate,” Michael Barron, who does “magic tricks for a living.”

We know that magic is an illusion, that the finger sliced off when the blade falls will be restored, yet we scream, for our collective mind suspends its disbelief, wanting to believe we’ve observed a magical singularity defying all past experience and common sense.

We play the fool, indeed we crave to be deceived, so we may puzzle, “how do you suppose he fooled us?”

How is this like politics?

It’s similar but not so harmless.

In politics, we often have the oleaginous con, the pol who does not perform as well as a tyro carney magician, he may even appear to be a clumsy oaf, stumbling to speak, having nary an original thought, a slender resume to fill the elective post he seeks, but he searches cleverly, like a political dowser might, to find the wellspring of our hope or fear that he promises to satisfy – while our jimminy cricket whispers, “you know, he can’t possibly do that.”

You’ve heard it this silly season.

One says – Walls will go up I tell you.

Another – Opportunity will rise – beyond your wildest dreams.

There’s a high price we pay for being suckered by such political misdirection. Continue reading

Divided devotion

ironcrossI ran Sunday morning.

It was on an island, Vasilievskiy, in St. Petersburg, Russia, a long walk or a short taxi ride across one of several bridges from the island to the Hermitage or the main drag, Nevsky Street,

The island had hardly any traffic, and few stragglers, in contrast with the celebrations across the Neva River, at the center of St. Petersburg, commemorating Russia’s 1945 victory over Germany in World War II.

There were local parks and broad avenues to run, until the streets narrowed into a warren of quaint back streets, and I came upon some local folk walking, heads slightly bowed, speaking softly in Russian.

I stopped running, and was soon walking with them.

The women wore muted colored scarves pulled over their heads. The men were unsmiling but not unpleasant. The children were moderately respectful of their parents’ directives.

After a block or so, adult singles, couples and families, turned out in pleasant dress and manner, formed a swelling stream of humanity headed toward a narrow security gate just ahead.

A solitary thin woman in a long black dress stood across the street, not far from the gate, framed by a magnificent small church topped with sunlight brilliant gold eggs, each the height of five men, with crosses fixed above that brushed the blue sky.

The crowd gathered at the narrow check point, just past the darkly dressed lady, crossed the barrier, and marched onto a broad walkway.

It first appeared to be a park or garden, but then more like a natural forest.

It was the Smolenskoye Cemetery, hundreds of years old by the dated headstones.

Crosses standing over unseen grave sites emerged from a back lit growth of grasses like they were flowers instead.

Concordant with the complexity of nature, there was a harmony in this place of what is with what was.

Nature seemed to embrace and lend life to the dust we contemplate is our end, salving the pain of the living walking among their remembered loved ones.

A large crucifix lay flat on the ground, at an angle crossing the grave site, resting on a bed of flowers.

There were the signs left by the living in memory of those they lost, saying something about who they were and why they mattered and still do to those who are with us.

One family had placed photographs encased in aged porcelain of a married couple, in separate photos, smiling as they had before they left us for this garden of what was.

Those who bury their loved ones know such places.
Plainly, the people of this island in St. Petersburg struggled to find a way to say something special and different; the usual just wouldn’t do.

This was a place of grief but also a place of love and reconciliation and respect.

An older slight lady, in a warm sandy coat, weighing as much as her frail self, bent by age, a royal purple scarf about her head, sat by the side of the walk way, a bag of her things beside her, her white cane resting against the slight hill’s decline. She didn’t ask for alms except by the sad empathy that hung about her. I had only a few quarters, and no rubles. I gave her what I had. She looked up into my eyes and crossed herself.

russianwomanHard nerveless working men wrapped their arms about their women as they left. Some cried. They comforted each other. Young and old, comfortable and working poor, all made their devotions in different ways. Young children seemed to learn something from their visits – if their restrained and respectful conduct, as they were leaving, was any indication.

How can people around the world feel love for those they lose and still harbor hate and suffer division from others who care as much for those they’ve loved and lost?

Why does human kind suffer this arrhythmia?

Reality check

trumpfuReality TV has always struck me as cultural porn, transfixing bystanders with the participants’ non-stop trash talk, wrong headed views, erratic and impolite behavior, not to overlook their clumsy violence, cursing intolerance, calculated to demean each other “for amusement.”

The tv participants in these seemingly impromptu presentations are indifferent as to how they appear as long as they are being watched.

If the “players” have any sense at all, they know they are being abusive, even sadistic to one another.

Those watching are masochistic, as they submit, and perhaps even embrace this misconduct.

It’s not like a road side accident because this is no accident. “Huge” amounts of time and money and promotion are spent on this immersion “entertainment.” Parents reform a child’s worst impulses to act this way but disregard what they teach.

Marshall McLuhan studied cultural phenomenon and wrote how the “medium is the message” and how it forms our daily conduct. There could perhaps be no better example of McLuhan’s instruction than how reality tv has crossed over and embedded itself, compromised our “culture,” as it’s being mimicked increasingly off-camera, and is the latest in-your-face fashion this presidential season. Continue reading

Loudoun Water allegedly let Goose Creek run dry

We received a report from the Loudoun County Soil and Water Conservation District that alleges  actions by Loudoun Water halted the flow of water over Beaver Dam for two periods during the summer of 2015. The report begins:

The Loudoun County Soil and Water Conservation District Board passed a resolution, appointing the undersigned as Special Counsel, to inquire into whether Loudoun Water had failed to pump water into the Goose Creek Reservoir and whether, because of that failure, Goose Creek ran dry; otherwise, the assignment was to suggest what recommendations, if any, might cure this failure going forward.

John Flannery, one of our bloggers, submitted the report and will serve as the undersigned Special Counsel.

beaverdam goosecreekmap goosecreekflow beaverdamarial REPORT OF SPECIAL COUNSL_BEAVER_DAM_4_14_16_Approved_4_29_16

Father Dan

danielBerriganFather Daniel J. Berrigan, a saintly Jesuit, has died at 94 years of age.

In his 94 years, he saved many lives and souls because he believed that being spiritual meant doing justice.

Father Dan once wrote of “the poem called death” yet “unwritten,” while walking “patiently through life,” and coping with “the mind’s dark overflow,” awaiting “the violent last line.”
Few thought of Father Dan as “patient.”

When they say, “Give me some of that old time religion,” I’d like to think they were talking about Father Dan’s brand of belief.

In sharp contrast, we are overrun these days with pulpeteers spewing forth hate, intolerance and dispirited bile.

The Berrigan Brothers, Dan and Philip, a World War II vet and religious himself, dedicated their lives to non-violent protest on behalf of peace and love and a just society and, in ironic response, were arrested for breaking the law. Continue reading