Saturday, December 31, 2016

Political Cartoons of the Week, No. 7

Should We Pray For Donald Trump? - A Dialogue Between A Parishoner And A Priest

This is a authentic dialogue between a parishioner and his priest.

The parishioner wrote: 

My wife and I greatly enjoyed the Christmas Eve service but we were upset, bemused and somewhat  confused. We were asked to pray for President-Elect Trump and Pope Francis. My question is why?

What exactly are we praying for in Trump's case? Should we pray that Trump stops lying, or stop being a bigot, or stops appointing racists to his cabinet, or stops his plan to increase our nuclear weapons, or stops saying that  he won in a landslide, or stops being in bed with Putin, etc. You and I both know that those things will never happen.  
I think that it is much better to pray for the victims of Trump's and his follower's  hate- like the African-Americans, the Mexican whom he wants to send back to Mexico, the Muslims he wants to make leave the country, or the women he has insulted and/or maligned, or the Native-Americans whose sacred lands he wants to take away from them, or not wanting to stop the one-percent  of the population (of which he is a part) from having more money and power than the other ninety- nine percent, or his inability to accept the fact that there really is global warming, or his being anti-gay, etc. So, for what exactly are we praying?

When I studied Political Science in college, I learned that when a nation is in decline or just feels it is in decline, it looks for scapegoats. For example, take Germany between World War I and World War II. The people looked for a savior who would recreated the "good old days".  They elected a Fascist who promised to make "Germany great again". 

Hitler was a Catholic whose symbol was a twisted Catholic cross. He exterminated or got rid of his "undesirables" - the Jews, the Gypsies, gay people, the mentally retarded, liberals , communists, artists, and yes, even some Catholics who opposed him. The Catholic Church under Pope Pius XII could have said something but it never did.

Pope Pius XII

Why did the Pope remain silent? It was because he approved of what Hitler was doing. Millions of people suffered and died because the churches remained silent or a majority of German Catholics and Lutherans prayed for Hitler. Does all of this sound familiar?

As to Pope Francis, I like him. But, why was he singled out for prayers?  After all, he does not share any of the Catholic Church's enormous wealth for the poor. Why not  for a true man of peace, the Dali Lama? Or, why not pray for the Coptic Pope, Pope Tawadros II, whose flock is being killed and persecuted. My opinion is that they deserve our prayers much more than the current Catholic Pope does.

Pope Francis

I am really not comparing you to the World War II Germans and I am not comparing you to Catholic priests of World War II. I just want to address some issues that  have been on my mind, have confused me and that grew out of my attending  the Christmas Eve service.


The Episcopal Priest's Response:

Merry Christmas.  It was great to see you both on the eve.  And thanks for your email.  Below in no particular order are a few thoughts, hastily pecked out on my phone, because the issues you raise are important ones. 

As regards praying for the president elect, yes, those are exactly the sorts of things that I hope we are praying for for him!  Perhaps a softening of the heart like Pharaoh.  (I'm sure the Israelites in Egypt would agree with you that there's a fat chance of change there, but, well, at the end of the day, God's justice and mercy prevailed for them.  I must trust that it will again.)  We always pray for the president, and now for the president elect....  As a colleague reminded me, Jesus said to pray for our enemies.  

I am as concerned as you are about the upcoming administration.  As Jesus said about a particularly hard case, 'This one comes out only by prayer.'

As for Francis of Rome, we also prayed for Bartholomew, patriarch of the East.  This wasn't a commentary on their theology or authority but a recognition that we are praying for unity of the church on this most holy night that we all celebrate together.  It's not a political statement at all.  And we probably should have a longer list there.  (We are praying for the Copts--what horror--see below.  And ECCT, for what it's worth, called at convention for prayers for Christians in the Middle East.)

Bartholemew, Patriarch of the East 

We do need to pray for the people that Trump has called to persecute.  And I think we are but we could be more specific.  Let's think of how to do that more intentionally.  And we are praying for those persecuted in faith.  Christians threatened with violence -- as the Copts are --  have been prayed for at every mass since before I came.   As for Pius, well, that's complicated and for the history books at this point, but I believe Francis, as imperfect as he is on so many things, is standing against the sort of dying false hegemony that is Trumpism.  At least that's my take.  And I have no comment about Hitler's faith except to weep a bit.  (Have you seen the new book about the use of amphetamines in the 3rd Reich?  Only deep hatred and perhaps altered consciousness could perpetuate the kind of evil that government visited.  Lord have mercy.)

What you have to say is heard and appreciated.  For what it's worth all those petitions were requested by parishioners (even the ones concerning Francis and Bartholemew). .....  I believe strongly in prayer.  After we have voted, protested, advocated, and the like, all that is left is to pray.  God's reign of peace and justice will prevail--if the resurrection can teach us anything.  (And yes, I believe the Dalai Lama is probably involved in God's peace and justice in ways I don't even yet understand!)

Know, as I believe you do, that all those made at risk by Trump's recklessness are in my prayers and on my heart. 

Glad to hear from you as always.  Let's catch up in the New Year.  

This one can come out only by prayer. 

Yours in the love of Christ.

The Origins of the Dropping of a Ball on New Year’s Eve

Times Square, New York City, on New Year's Eve

On New Year’s Eve, Americans may turn on their televisions and have a ball watching a sparkling orb be lowered from a flagpole at the top of One Times Square. The conclusion of the ball drop has become the annual signal that the clock has struck midnight on the first day of the year. But, while the Times Square tradition dates back to the early 20th century, the idea of using a ball drop to mark time is much more than just a fun holiday activity.
The first “time balls” were built in England, in the Portsmouth harbor in 1829 and at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in 1833, according to Alexis McCrossen, author of Marking Modern Times: A History of Clocks, Watches, and Other Timekeepers in American Life and professor of history at Southern Methodist University (SMU). (The Greenwich one still exists.) These devices were large enough and high enough to be seen from the harbor or port, and they were designed to help ship captains keep accurate time. For Britain, the maritime power of the day, the question of the time was an important one: at sea, without landmarks to determine longitude and without a stable surface on which to rest a pendulum, it can be hard to tell time precisely. Ship captains would look at the time ball to set their chronometers, a type of clock without a pendulum for seafarers, which had been invented by the carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison.
Engraving taken from the Illustrated London News. A master clock, verified each day by stellar observation, sent electric impulses to clocks throughout the country via the growing network of telegraph wires providing for public and railway use. The time ball at the Strand received the impulses hourly from the Central Telegraphy Station of the Electric Telegraph Company
Though they were designed for mariners, the time balls became major attractions. At around a quarter to noon, large crowds in the area would go outside to get a glimpse of the timekeeper. “These balls, covered in black or red canvas, would be hoisted up to top and at the exact moment of noon, it would float down,” McCrossen says, “and you could check your time keeper.” By 1844, there were 11 such balls worldwide.
In 1845, the U.S. Secretary of the Navy ordered one built atop the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. but the American version of the time ball sounds a little bit less organized than its cousins across the pond. After someone gave some kind of oral signal, it would be thrown by hand, land on the Observatory’s dome and roll to the roof below. John Quincy Adams is said to have enjoyed strolling by to watch the time ball fall while he was a Congressman. Between 1845 and around 1902, time balls were erected at locations like San Francisco’s Telegraph Hall, to the Boston State House, as well as less famous towns, like Crete, Nebraska, U.S.A.
“The vast majority of clocks were put up by government entities to assert their right to control the time,” McCrossen argues. But, this method had quite a few kinks. “They were constantly malfunctioning,” says McCrossen. “They were dropping at the wrong time; a notice would be put in the newspaper to indicate the ball was erroneously dropped before or even after noon. They were covered in canvas, so on a windy day or a day when it was raining, the (method]) didn’t work.” Eventually, the invention of the telegraph allowed for the transmission of time signals across the wires, which allowed the dropping of a time ball to be somewhat more automated. For example, the time ball built in 1877 on the rooftop of Western Union Telegraph’s New York City headquarters near City Hall received a signal from the U.S. Naval Observatory. Still, by the late 19th century, the impractical devices were mostly on their way out, or at least reduced to a more decorative or symbolic role.
Once time signals could be sent to people’s clocks through wireless transmissions, fewer and fewer time balls were manufactured, so by 1908, “their time had passed,” McCrossen says (no pun intended).
Yet, when a 1907 fireworks ban forced the New York Times to find a new celebratory way to ring in the new year during its annual New Year’s jamboree, the paper’s owner Adolph Ochs, inspired by the Western Union Telegraph’s time ball, arranged for an illuminated seven-hundred-pound iron and wood ball to be lowered from the flagpole of the Times Tower.
“The great shout that went up drowned out the whistles for a minute,” the paper reported at the time. “The vocal power of the welcomers rose above even the horns and the cow bells and the rattles. Above all else came the wild human hullabaloo of noise.” And. that is one New Year’s tradition that has remained the same, even as our ways of keeping time have changed.
Peparing for the Ball Drop on New Year's Eve
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Images of the Ball Drop in Times Square

Sunday, December 25, 2016

How Christmas Became a Holiday in the U.S.

Thomas Nast's 1880s interpretation of Santa Claus

Although Christmas is not technically a national holiday in the U.S., but it still played an important role in American history
The custom of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ is not exactly a new one for Christians around the world: the holiday is believed to date back to December. 25, 336 A.D., in Rome. But in the United States, Christmas was not officially a federal day off from work or a break from mail delivery until 1870.
In fact, though the term may be used freely, Christmas isn’t really a “national” holiday in the United States; rather, it is a federal holiday and a holiday in the states. Neither the President nor Congress exercises the power to declare a holiday that would apply to everyone in all of the states at once, the Congressional Research Service points out.
Still, that doesn’t mean the U.S. has historically been unenthusiastic about Christmas. The Puritans banned Christmas celebrations, but by the time the holiday was made a legal one in addition to a religious one, Americans were already a notably Christmas-celebrating group.
Several older, highly industrialized states declared Christmas a legal holiday in the mid-19th century. Massachusetts makes a good case study: With burnout rates skyrocketing during the Industrial Revolution, one state legislator argued that the lack of leisure time was literally killing workers. So, though Massachusetts had had a state-supported church until 1833 and it’s likely that many workers in the predominantly Christian society would have taken the day off anyway, the effort to pass the law came from commercial lobbies rather than religious groups.
“When that legislature declared Christmas to be a legal holiday, they included a proviso that, when Christmas happened to fall on a Sunday, the following Monday would become the legal holiday. They did the same thing with Washington’s Birthday, which had never been a holiday before,” says Stephen Nissenbaum, author of The Battle for Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of Our Most Cherished Holiday. “Opposition to the bill focused on the Washington’s Birthday provision, presumably because it was politically easier to attack.”
Finally, on June 28, 1870, towards the end of the legislative session, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into a bill designating Christmas a legal, unpaid holiday for federal employees in the District of Columbia.

President Ulysses S, Grant
The legislation also included holidays like the Fourth of July and New Year’s Day. Such holidays were later extended to federal employees outside of D.C., but a provision making sure they got paid on those days didn’t exist until 1938. According to Congressional records, the 1870 law was instigated by area “bankers and business men” who wanted certain holidays to be formalized. Though it might have stood to reason that such a bill might provoke debate about hot-button issues like the separation of church and state, there was no notable debate on the bill in committee. (“One could argue that giving federal workers the day off, which is all the federal holiday does, does not ‘support’ any religion—it doesn’t require anyone to do anything religious, it just says the office won’t be open,” says Douglas Ambrose, a professor of history at Hamilton College and an expert in Christianity in early American history.)
But, some historians argue that Christmas in the U.S. isn’t really about any law at all. Rather, the idea that Christmas is a national American holiday may have been a matter of the widespread appeal of certain practices that spread in the 19th century, such as writing Christmas cards, decorating Christmas trees, a custom from Victorian England that was introduced to Americans by popular magazine Godey’s Lady Book and telling children about Santa Claus, who was depicted by the era’s famous political cartoonist Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly. Though some have theorized that the law was meant to unite North and South during the height of the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, the Northern publishing houses that produced Christmas imagery and circulating the latest customs and traditions led the charge for the holiday, argues Penne L. Restad, author of Christmas in America: A History and a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin.
While a day off from work was important, that wasn’t the only purpose of Christmas during that rapidly changing time. Christmas customs encouraged a sense of community and unity at a time when urbanization, industrialization and the memory of the recent Civil War had made many people feel more unsettled than ever, says Restad. Unsurprisingly, Thanksgiving’s place as a federal holiday dates to the same era. During that time, people across the nation sought to impose order on a confusing world, from time zones to department stores. One result of that effort was an expanding sense of what America meant.
“This idea of creating a nation becomes important,” Restad says. And. Christmas was part of how the nation came to be.


Other Christmas Images by Thomas Nast

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Neglected Important Artists, No. 36

Piero di Cosimo

Piero di Cosimo (c.1462-1521?). Florentine painter, a pupil of Cosimo Rosselli, whose Christian name he adopted as a patronym. There are no signed, documented or dated works by him, and reconstruction of his oeuvre depends on the account given in Vasari's Lives. It is one of Vasari's most entertaining biographies, for he portrays Piero as a highly eccentric character who lived on hard-boiled eggs, `which he cooked while he was boiling his glue, to save the firing'. The paintings for which he is best known are appropriately idiosyncratic - fanciful mythological inventions, inhabited by fauns, centaurs and primitive men. There is sometimes a spirit of low comedy about these delightful works, but in the so-called Death of Procris (National Gallery, London) he created a poignant scene of the utmost pathos and tenderness. He was a marvellous painter of animals and the dog in this picture, depicted with a mournful dignity, is one of his most memorable creations. Piero also painted portraits, the finest of which is that of Simonetta Vespucci (Musée Condé, Chantilly), in which she is depicted as Cleopatra with the asp around her neck. His religious works are somewhat more conventional, although still distinctive, and Frederick Hartt (A History of Italian Renaissance Art) has written that `His whimsical Madonnas, Holy Families, and Adorations provide a welcome relief from the wholesale imitation of Raphael in early Cinquecento Florence'. One of his outstanding religious works is the Immaculate Conception (Uffizi, Florence), which seems to have been the compositional model for the Madonna of the Harpies by his pupil Andrea del Sarto.

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Works by Piero di Cosimo

The Visitation with St, Peter and St. Anthony

Saint Mary Magdalen

Portrait of Semonetta Vespucci

St. John the Evangelist

The Finding of Vulcan on Lemnos

The Death of Propero di Cosimao

The Incarnation of Mary



Young St. John the Baptist

Perseus Frees Andromeda


A Young Man

The Discovery of Honey by Bacchus

The Adoration

Madonna and Child