Archive for August, 2011
Here’s hoping you haven’t had too much damage from Irene.
Like every reporter, I’ve been driving around the past few days checking out the floods and downed trees and talking to exasperated people who don’t know when they’ll get power back.
But it appears that things could have been worse.
Otherwise…an interesting development from the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
You may know that Bishop Mark Sisk will retire over the next few years. The diocese has started a process to choose his successor. This morning, a committee announced the names of five nominees, one of which will be chosen by delegates to a diocesan convention on Oct. 29.
One of the nominees is the Rev. Tracey Lind of Cleveland, who is dean of Trinity Cathedral there. She is also a lesbian who got married in New Hampshire last year.
For obvious reasons, Lind’s election would be big news.
Although the Episcopal Church is very gay-friendly — and this is especially true of the Diocese of NY — many are still uncomfortable with gay marriage. In fact, Bishop Sisk supported the passage of civil gay marriage and has been an outspoken advocate for gays in the church, but does not believe that his priests should perform marriages for gay couples. Instead, he supports “clergy who wish to bless a couple who are members of the Church and who have entered into a same-sex civil marriage.”
If Lind was chosen bishop, would the Catholic Church send anyone to her installation?
Maybe we’ll find out. Maybe we won’t. Lind was also a candidate to become bishop of Chicago in 2007, but was not chosen.
You can read about the other nominees here.
Back to storm coverage…
What I read during my summer vacation • 08.24.11
Back from the beach.
Got in a lot of family time, mini-golf, running and eating. I also made my way through four books, which I chose for a variety of reasons. Three of the four dealt with World War II, although I didn’t plan it that way.
I started with a classic that I had never read — James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Not exactly beach reading, I know. I had just finished “The Brothers Karamazov” — brilliant but taxing — and I should probably have given myself a break before encountering Joyce. But so it goes.
“A Portrait,” of course, is soaked in religious themes and settings. It’s a coming-of-age story (Joyce’s story, I guess) in which Catholicism is a central character. The protagonist, Stephen, wrestles with his Catholic faith throughout.
The novel includes the most vivid and terrifying description of hell that I’ve encountered, as described by a priest who is speaking to a class of students. While I was reading it, I couldn’t help wondering about the effects that such warnings must have had on Catholic students when the threat of hell was a common theme.
Joyce also has Stephen wracked with guilt over certain moral transgressions involving the world’s oldest profession. Stephen’s visit to a confessional, where he is barely able to come clean to a priest, makes for one of the most dramatic scenes in the book.
Reading “A Portrait,” I quickly understood why it has held its place in the canon. Joyce puts you in Ireland during the early 1900s. His language is radiant in parts, although I’ll confess that there were sections I read twice and could barely follow.
Next up, I read “Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink” by David Margolick. I’m a big boxing fan and have developed the odd tradition of reading a boxing book during my annual summer break. I chose this one because I’d never read a biography of Joe Louis.
It was a terrific book that surpassed my expectations in certain ways. I knew, of course, that the book would focus on the political context in which the two fights between Louis, the American heavyweight sensation, and Schmeling, a German, were fought. Margolick handled it beautifully, teasing out the tenuous but troubling relationship between Schmling and the Nazis.
I hadn’t been aware of the degree to which Schmeling allowed himself to be used as a propaganda tool by the Nazis. Clearly, Schmeling was not a believer in the Nazi cause. He had many Jewish friends in the U.S. and pre-Nazi Germany. But when the Nazis came to power, Schmeling was quite willing to cozy up, meeting regularly with Hitler and Goebbels. When Jews were thrown out of Germany’s boxing program, he denied it to the American press. Schmeling’s answer to every question: He wasn’t interested in politics.
The part of the book that surprised me — and it shouldn’t have — was the extreme, virulent, horrifying racism that was directed at Louis during the 1930s. American journalists referred to him in the most degrading terms imaginable and many whites, particularly in the South, refused to root for him, even against a German.
I had a sense of what racism was like at that point in time, but I assumed that Louis was treated differently because of who he was and what he represented. Boy, was I wrong. In fact, Margolick has the Nazis insisting that the U.S. secretly agreed with their racial policies. Just look at how Americans treated their own blacks, the Nazis said.
What a disgrace.
Next, it was between another classic, “Heart of Darkness,” and a more recent literary offering, Martin Amis’ “House of Meetings,” which was recommended to me. I chose Amis. Once I started reading it, I discovered that the story makes several references to Joseph Conrad and “Heart of Darkness.” Spooky.
Amis’ 2007 novel is narrated by a Russian WWII veteran who winds up in the Gulag after the war, accused of mysterious political crimes. Much of the story describes his miserable day-to-day existence and what his war and Gulag experiences do to him. He is, at times, an intelligent, gravely injured and sympathetic figure and, at times, a violent monster.
The themes play out in a strange love triangle involving the narrator, his brother and his brother’s wife. It works because Amis is a pretty darn gifted writer.
I planned to get to “Heart of Darkness” next, but I instead substituted a book that my wife had just finished. She was mesmerized by it, so I decided to dive in.
The book is called “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption.” It was written by Laura Hillenbrand, the author of “Seabiscuit” (which I have not read).
It tells the almost-impossible-to-believe story of Louie Zamperini, a track star who joined the the Army Air Corps, becoming a bombardier, after Pearl Harbor. What Zamperini goes through — being lost at sea with two men after their bomber goes down and then being taken as a POW by the Japanese — is among the most amazing, mind-blowing stories you will ever read.
Hillenbrand tells the tale simply, but with incredible detail after seven years of reporting. When you’re done, you’ll feel like you know Zamperini — as well as several of the Japanese soldiers who brutalized him.
I understand that Universal has optioned the film rights to the story. Zamperini is a dream role for an actor. But I would think that “Unbroken” will be a difficult movie to make without making the WWII-era Japanese look like monsters. I can only imagine the media coverage that the movie will get in Japan.
For most of his life, Zamperini was not a religious man. But as he is trying to put his life back together in the post-war years, he is deeply influenced by a preacher holding revivals in California. His name was Billy Graham.
I’m off for the next two weeks but will return around Aug. 22 with my annual report on religious elements in my beach reading.
I think I’m starting with “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” which I’ve been trying to get to for years.
Come fall, I’ll try to post a bit more often than I’ve done of late. It’s tough, being that I’m mostly covering education these days, we have a lot of 9/11 anniversary stuff in the works, and there are plenty of other demands on our small, but committed-as-ever staff.
One interesting note: A new study from the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, a partnership with Gallup polling machine, finds that American Muslims are more satisfied with their American lives that members of other faith groups.
They say they face discrimination, but that they are thriving in general.
According to the Washington Post:
…almost two in three Muslims said their standard of living is improving, up 18 percentage points from 2008 and higher than any other faith group surveyed. This is the same period that Muslim leaders say has been the most oppressive for Muslims in this country, with rhetoric against their faith group appearing to rise.
An LA Times write-up includes this:
The polling also indicates significant common ground between Muslims in America and their Jewish counterparts. The two groups largely share similar views on resolving the decades-long conflict in the Middle East. Eighty-one percent of Muslim Americans and 78% of Jewish Americans support the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. A majority of Jewish Americans, 70%, also said they didn’t believe American Muslims sympathized with Al Qaeda. The only respondents more likely to agree were Muslim Americans themselves.
The Forward also notes the similarities between Muslim and Jewish thinking:
What may be surprising is the Gallup poll’s finding that in many respects, Muslim Americans most resemble… Jews. Sixty percent of Muslims say they are thriving here; ditto, American Jews. Almost all (93%) of the Muslims in Gallup’s survey believe that other Muslims are loyal to America; Jews (80%) are the religious group most likely to agree with that statement. Jews are also among the least likely religious groups to think that Muslim Americans sympathize with al Qaeda, and both groups consider the war with Iraq a big mistake.
There’s more. Muslim Americans are the most likely of any major religious group (80%) to approve of President Obama’s job performance. And who is next on that list? Yep, the Jews.
Remember the King’s College? • 08.02.11
This and that:
1. Those who have been around for a while might remember when the King’s College — an evangelical school — was located in Briarcliff Manor. The college shut down in 1994 because of financial problems, leading to a long stalemate over how the campus should be used (it’s now a luxury senior housing development).
The King’s College reopened a few years later in the Empire State Building of all places.
New York magazine recently caught up with the school and its new president, the conservative political and social commentator Dinesh D’Souza. The article covers the college’s mission to engage its secular opponents and to train Christians for careers in politics, finance, the media, etc.
It focuses, though, on D’Souza and whether his “pointed” views may be too much even for the King’s College.
The writer, Andrew Marantz, describes how D’Souza tells a group of students and others about the “unique villainy of Barack Obama.” D’Souza offers this: “For Obama, the radical Muslims are on the right side of history—that’s why he is so unnaturally solicitous toward them.”
One can only wonder which radical Muslims the college president is referring to. Must not be those who have been the targets of all those drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
2. The NYTimes writes today about plans slowly moving ahead for that Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero.
Remember the Islamic center? I think it was a pretty big story just about a year ago.
Anyway, the main developer is moving much slower to build networks of support and decide what to do with the place. This is how the planning should have been done to start with.
If you remember, opponents of the “Ground Zero mosque” were attacking the place last year before there was any staff, money or plans. The few people involved were caught totally off-guard and essentially froze instead of explaining themselves and their intentions.
3. The Times also writes today about an Islamist insurgent group blocking aid to starving people in Somalia.
When I was reading the article, it struck me that this would be a good time for American Muslim groups to condemn what these people are doing, supposedly in the name of Islam.
When Americans call on Muslims to denounce terrorism, this is what they mean.