Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Early September

Strange Day--
Cloudy, but not the usual flat-gray-blanket-cloudy;
Bits-and-pieces cloudy,
But just a handful of moments where the sun peaked through.
One of those warm-and-cool-at-the-same-time days,
A day that feels more like Wisconsin September
Than California September.

A crow flew behind the pines
As I walked past the parking garage.
No feathers were ever so black
As these, so black
Against the bright cloud
That they could have been nothing at all.
An impossible hole in the sky.
I'm sure, now, as I think about it,
That if it had not flown so fast
I could have seen the bright points of the stars
Gleaming far away behind those feathers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Team Colors

Three of you squeeze into a seat for a cozy two,
Cocooned by your chatter from the texting commuters
(And the occasional cycling enthusiast)
On your way to tonight's game.
Even the backs of your heads look young,
And you in the window seat are so careful
To rest your arm not across the one-and-a-half shoulders
As you huddle together now
On your way to the game.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Simple, Five-Step Trick

Here's a trick to try out
The next time you have a free minute:

Step One:
Stand where you find yourself.

Step Two:
Take a good look around.

Step Three:
Take a deep breath and slowly let it out.

Step Four:
Using whatever form of locomotion you prefer (legs, wheelchair, etc.), and while remaining perfectly still (this is the tricky part), push against the world until it begins to move past you.

Step Five:
Stop pushing when you find yourself where you need to be.

And have a care to be considerate of others.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

NaPoWriMo! All over my phone!

I decided to take the plunge into National Poetry Writing Month, prompted by my friend Aidan's facebook update. So I'm already three poems behind, sadly, but I can catch up... Here's the poem I wrote on Aidan's link:

Thanks for this, Aidan!
I've a deep fear of poems
(My own, not others')

But, in every life
There comes a time when we say,
"Ah, eff it, why not."

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Two years! TWO YEARS!

Actually, 2 years and three months. And this post is just a placeholder, really, to free me from the onslaught of comment-spam that gets dropped on you when you leave your blog in the wild to be raised by the wolves.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Two Men and a Sarcophagus

In a post below (titled The Perfidious Myth of the Unified Church) I talk briefly about and show a photo of a sarcophagus in the Vatican Museum. This is officially titled "The Sarcophagus of the Two Brothers". Following is what my classmate Perry had to say about this beautiful monument:

Two Men and a Sarcophagus

The highlight of the whole adventure occurred for me in Museo Pius in a lecture by Professor Martin Wallraff. While touring tombstones the class gathered around a popular and somewhat peculiar sarcophagus, the Sarcophagus of the Two Brothers. Carved together on one sarcophagus and buried together within it (facts that together represent a highly unusual story) were two men. Professor Martin did not debunk the story presented of two brothers; rather, he simply questioned the interpretation as definitive. It is possible they were brothers; however, there is no Roman precedent for brothers sharing a grave anywhere in the Roman catacombs. Many examples exist of husbands and wives sharing a single grave—a fact which at least begs the question of whether these two men may have been lovers. For me as a young Christian man, coming to turns with my sexuality was like the ripping of the veil the moment Christ died. I was shattered and torn apart. So this one moment gave meaning and purpose to every step it took to get to this point of the journey. The plausibility of the professor's question was like a bandage that holds torn flesh back together allowing the healing to begin. The moment defied any expectations I held for this trip. With evidence right in front of me, I had to concede that it is possible that some 1600 years ago two affluent Roman Christian male lovers were buried together. I could have exploded for joy because I could see myself in the history of Christianity for the first time in 25 years!

Reading Backwards


So in the posts below I hope you will get a sense of the class, Rome: A Crossroad of Religion, I just had the privilege of taking, thanks to Starr King School for the Ministry, The American Waldensian Society, and Dr. Gabriella Lettini. Of course this is a fragmentary overview, and my purpose is survey and not exhaustion. I want to share some photos, observations, and in-class learnings in the hopes that I can bring to life some of the ways in which this experience came alive for and through me.


Brilliant graffiti near the Roman Forum--just imagine it not-sideways...


Since I'm pretty low-tech, generally speaking, this blog reads in somewhat reverse order. The first thing I wrote was an overview and introduction to the class, so if you read this in typical internet fashion it will be the last thing you read. Here is a link to jump down to that post, which I hope you will read first to get framework in which to fit the other sections of writing and photographs. Thank you for reading this, and I welcome your comments!


Reflection on the plexiglass barrier surrounding the conservation-work of Bernini's Fontana de Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona--the fountain features four river gods representing the four major rivers of the four major continents (in the conception of the Renaissance era): the Nile, the Danube, the Rio de la Plata, and the Ganges.



The God of the Nile

Depicting Rome, pt. 1


The Tiber as seen from the Ponte Principe Amadeo--this sideways problem is tricky. All I can say is that portrait-oriented photos don't get sidewaysed in Preview, or in iPhoto. Computer friends, help!




The interior dome of the Pantheon. The whole of the temple dome is poured concrete, with walls 20 feet thick at the base. The interior is exactly as tall as it is wide: 140 feet. It survives (at least in part) because it was made a Christian church in the 7th century.




The Sacristy in Santa Maria sopra Minerva




Sundown in the Roman Forum




Detail of the Triumphal Arch of Titus. It commemorates the Roman Imperial sack of Jerusalem in 70 CE. This panel, from the interior of the arch's span, shows the triumphal procession parading the spoils plundered from the Herodian Temple--note the large candelabrum. Roman Jews are a distinct group, historically descended from Palestinian Jews who moved to Rome in the Second Century BCE. Thus they are neither Sephardic (Spanish) nor Ashkenzi (Eastern European), although a number of Sephardic Jews settled in Rome following the expulsion of the Moors in 1492 and the subsequent persecution and Inquisition. Official persecution and ghetto-ization of the Roman Jews began in 1555 under Pope Paul IV, and continued until 1870, when the French forces defending the Vatican were defeated and a unified Italy founded. The Jews in the Ghetto were confined to its borders, subjected to a strict curfew, forced to attend compulsory Catholic Mass on their Sabbath, and were publicly paraded and shamed each Holy Week. Here is a link to the Wikipedia article on the ghetto, which I think soft-peddles the oppressiveness of it terribly. At any rate, it is curious that such a massive monument as the Arch of Titus would be erected to commemorate victory over such a relatively small rebellion. Prof. Wallraff hypothesized that it was to send a message to Jews then living in Rome, or because the Jews were generally well-educated and cultured--a message that we can crush any uprising.

Prayer Lives of Starlings

I am taking a class this semester about the teaching and theology of Dr. Howard Thurman. It is taught by Dr. Dorsey Blake, who in addition to his work at Starr King is the pastor of Dr. Thurman's Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco. In the first class meeting we watched about an hour of an interview with Dr. Thurman. At one point, when Dr. Thurman was discussing his practice of reading as meditation, looking for the occasional passage where the author's authentic voice and presence leaps out through the text, he mentioned a book on elephants he read on an ocean voyage. The book featured an entire chapter on The Prayer Lives of Elephants, which seemed silly to Dr. Thurman. But then he read something similar about monkeys, and then noticed that a certain dog in his own neighborhood would trot to the crest of a small hill every day near sunset, would sit there until the sun had gone down, and then would trot off again. He accompanied that dog a few times, and decided that prayer seemed to be the best word for what the dog was doing.

Each night over the oldest parts of Rome one can see huge flocks of Starlings, thousands and thousands of birds, flying in obscure, constantly morphing patterns; flowing together, splitting apart again, sometimes flying so low that you can hear the rush of their wings and their twittering calls, sometimes flying so high that they seem to be wisps of impossible smoke. They particularly seem to love the sky over the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

and the trees on the North side of Piazza Venezia (to the right in the image below).

I was spellbound by these birds, gaping and goggling each time Sarah and I happened to be walking through this part of town at sundown--dangerous to take one's attention away from the Roman traffic, not to mention the dog-poop strewn sidewalks. ;) But I couldn't help it. We hypothesized and pondered: were they roosting? Engaged in some kind of territoriality exercise? Just blowing off steam? None of the answers we produced seemed adequate, and I wonder now if we were simply privileged to witness these birds in the act of prayer, offering thanks and praise for another day, for the ability to fly, for each other.




At the end of the following video you can see the tops of the trees that the Starlings were landing and ascending from. On a walk near the end of the class my friend Jeannette and I saw city sanitation workers dressed in full head-to-toe HazMat suits walking under these trees playing tapes of hawk-calls through megaphones in order to scare the Starlings out of the trees.





This video gives a particularly good sense of the magic of these flocks:



My classmate Shams has video of these Starlings that she took on our trip--as soon as I find it on YouTube I will post it here.

Depicting Rome, pt. 2

Ruins of a Christian church built into the ruins of an ancient Insula (apartment block) in the Southwest hillside of the Capitoline. Rome, where even the new ruins are three times older than my country.



Flower shop at night. It seems to me that the fellow on the right has had his fill of tourist taking snapshots.



Long exposure of St. Peter's square at night. Hard to capture the unbelievable huge vastness of the space without a fisheye lens, or a spy satellite or something. When Bernini first designed the Piazza the ginormous porch had not yet been built on the front of the Basilica, and the dome was much more prominent. The porch is generally derided for its clumsy proportions and opressive and overwhelming mass. In this photo you can really see how it makes the dome (which is, uh, the tallest in the world at *450* feet!!!!) look like a pathetic little beanie. This is a trick of scale, as the dome is actually almost a tenth of a mile from the front of the porch. I know, go big or go home, but you have to have a sense of perspective.



I think this is some really great counter-grafitti.



The interior of Santa Maria in Trastevere. The columns are plundered from temples and buildings of antiquity, and the mosaics in the apse date from the late 13th century. I'll post some closeups further down. This is an incredibly beautiful and peaceful church. The floor is Cosmatesque mosaic, elaborate cosmological designs in small chips of colored marble. Again, more of that to come...

Family and Gender in Ancient Rome

I mentioned below that Prof. Diane Lipsett delivered a wonderful lecture on the conversation currently taking place between New Testament scholars, family historians, social archaeologists and the like. The title of this post is actually the title of en entire semester-long course taught by Prof. Lipsett, so for our, geez, ninety minute session she condensed her focus to Men, Women, and Children in Ancient Rome. With her permission, I am posting my notes from this lecture below, tweaked a little for readability.

Prof. Lipsett is interested in studies of gender formation among non-elites as well as elites, those people about whom we know much less because they did not have the resources or clout to commemorate and study themselves, generally speaking.

Roman households were much broader than we conceive of in modern terms, with a wide spectrum of people connected by family and employment living under one roof (the terms domus/eikos/ikea capture this idea of an indiscriminate household)

Christian texts growing in importance as voices of largely non-elite family populations, and are newly central in a cross-fertilization between field. A Crossroad of Scholarship, one might say.

To examine theology in terms of embodied social relations is a partial goal of Prof. Lipsett's session, and with this overreaching goal in mind we examined four excerpted texts.

Romans 16: 1-16

Paul writes so many names because he is uncertain of the success of his mission to come to Rome, and is looking for folks to vouch for him. [Prof. Bovon also talked about this letter, and thinks that Paul was feeling insecure about taking his evangelizing mission to a place where the Jesus-following movement was experiencing such success, and therefore lists so many as a kind of preemptive strike against critics--either way (and probably, of course, it's both) it's a demonstration of Paul's unease and insecurity. Meanwhile, back at the ranch...] So what can be learned from this list of names & relations about family/gender in ~50 CE? Clues in references to geography and places of origin; references to households and house churches; to names of women; and the personal qualities Paul raises up and honors.

***Rome at this time was a city of immigrants. Prisca and Aquila, who are mentioned more often in the New Testament than any other couple, seem to have been patrons of house-churches all over the Mediterranean Basin-->evidence of missionary work at many levels. Number of blood marriage connections [? In the list? Can't get em all...] There were a number of churches in Rome, separate but in communication with each other [another strike against the Universalizing myth of the once-unified proto-Christian church. Another knock on that myth is the tendency of people to imagine it as being fundamentally like their own tradition: I think it must have been very justice-oriented and overlook the evangelizing aspect, the fellow we spoke to at the Vatican Museum I'm sure sees things differently--indeed, the whole justification of Catholicism as the true Mother Church is the idea of Apostolic succession, that the current Pope is just the most recent in an unbroken chain of Bishops all the way back to Peter, the "First Bishop of Rome," who was personally appointed by Jesus himself. There is no historical evidence for this kind of hierarchy in antiquity--there were Bishops, but they seem to have been more a council of co-equals than today's first-among-equals-style papacy. It just goes to show how tricky it is, all this scholarly objectivity. At any rate...] Paul also may be using Phoebe to repair bonds between groups. Did Paul have blood relations who were in Christ before he was (Andronicus and Julia)?

***Women-->Phoebe the Deacon--probably this was not a specific office, but was synonymous with the office of Minister. Deacon in this context is a flexible and highly-valued word, and there is no feminization of the term in the original Greek as it is applied to Phoebe. She also has been a benefactor/patron who has provided help and support to many, including Paul. Charging her with duty implies patronage going both ways. Also, Prsica/Priscilla usually listed first when named with Aquila. She might have been higher status, or means, or more honor from her ministry. Junia could be a man or woman, but one of the rules of textual criticism is, when evidence is otherwise even, to choose the more difficult and less typical reading. Paul usually talks about lower-case "a" apostles. There are 10 women in this list, which is a high concentration.

***In this portion of Romans, we see that Paul values: hard work (physical, but especially missionary); risk-taking and sticking necks out (literally--gulp!); assisting others (which was not gender-specific); and people who have turned their homes into churches.

This list of names shows a great deal of geographic mobility, strong presence of women (representative of churches of the 50's, we hope), women in the Roman West had greater freedoms than back East; a mixture of Jewish names and Roman names, and a few common Latin slave names--provocative, range of social constitution of Roman churches (possibly).

1 Clement, where the Roman church hierarchies intervene in a dispute in Corinth. This letter likely dates to the 90s, and was not necessarily written by Clement--likely it was produced by a council of authorities, of whom Clement was prominent or had a special/specific authority (like an ombudsman, or Greek heritage, or something). The authorial voice demonstrates a high level of education, and is seeking peace, harmony, and concord through submission and obedience. This is a rhetorical project seeking exploration of obedience. [I think there was more to this, but I get bogged down in the specifics of rhetorical analysis sometimes. Plus it was right before the break...]

1 Clem 6:1-4 Interesting that Clement also involves female martyrs--what is meant by Danaids and Dircae? Dircae = executed by bulls [one bull tied to each limb, and sent in different directions--]/eroticization of spectacle. Danaids in myth eternally filling leaking vessels-->metaphor for sexual assault? Unending torment? Odd juxtaposition of pagan myth; also that Clem moves from female martyrdom to jealousy wrecking families to jealousy uprooting great nations
1Clem 21:6-9 -->Hierarchical--compare to Collossians; submission or reciprocity. Clement uses richness of language of character formation that is not found in other parts of the NT. Is Clement descriptive or prescriptive? The whole thing points to the diversity of social expectation in the early church.

BREAK!

On to text 3, The Shepherd of Hermas from the late 1st or early 2nd century. This allegorical search for faith (the title refers to the mysterious, otherworldly guide who leads the character Hermas [which may or may not have been the name of the author] through a series of long, repetitive allegories) consists of three sections, each featuring visions and dream encounters with different dialogue partners: female figures representing the church, and the aforementioned shepherd. It is a very long elaboration on sin and repentence, deeply rooted in social relations. Historically, it gets mixed reviews. Tertullian called Hermas "The Shepherd of Adulterers." The text represents a prophetic voice but is not an argument for submission to church authority.

Visions 1, 3 and 4 feature the brother/sister language indicative of Christianity. Raises questions of self knowledge of heart, problematizes... [something--must have lost the thread at this point]. As part of self-examination we must make the choice to embrace downward mobility. This is a text deeply concerned with the problem of rich Christians neglecting their responsibilities to poorer Christians and the church in general. The metaphor of the vine and elm idealizes relations between rich and poor Christians: the rich are the elm, up which the vine can climb to the heavens. Hermas uses the voice of one who has been poor, gained wealth, and then been called to task for neglecting his faith. In terms of gender construction, household control and taking care of other Christians are both highly gendered as masculine--"Be a man, Hermas." This nature of masculinity resistant to other classical constructions of masculinity. In another section, germane to the previous text, the author mentions a certain Clement, whose role in the church seems to be to send letters to foreign cities...interesting!

Apocryphal Acts of Peter

[earlier I wrote about the story of "Domine Quo Vadis"--the Acts of Peter is the text from which that story comes. It primarily deals with the power struggle between Peter and the sorcerer Simon Magus.] The book is set and revised in Rome, but was not written there, and dates from the mid-2nd century. In Romans 16, couples, single people, and women are key to missionary work; in 1Clement and The Shepherd of Hermas we see a great concern regarding the social order of women and the household. The Acts of the Apostles depicts an emphasis on asceticism that becomes highly disruptive to households, especially elite households. The Apocryphal Acts of Peter is dominated by the conflict between Peter and Simon Magus, which culminates in Simon being cast down in the Roman Forum. The book ends with the story of Peter's martyrdom. Along the way we learn how disruptive Peter's ministry in Rome was to the practice of concubinage, and then to sexual relations between married people (Peter was too successful at converting women in particular to his brand of asceticism). According to the Acts, the Apostles became disruptive rivals to extremely high-status males; and if households were disrupted, then whole cities were disrupted.

Close to the end, here--we found ourselves pressed for time, surprising given that we were only trying to cram an entire semester into one class! Professor Lipsett's closing remarks focussed on early Roman Jesus-following/Christian polycentrism, with its different churches, levels of social status, authority figures, and social roles.

Whew! So that was the lecture! This was one of the moments when the lives of non-elites in ancient Rome came alive for me a little. It is so easy to think of the Roman Empire only in terms of emperors and conquests and triumphs, and incredible engineering and public works; the people of lower and middle class get lost, not to mention slaves! In his great book Constantine's Sword, James Carroll says that the usual figure given for the population of Rome at its peak is 1 million. However, he points out, this figure ignores the huge number of slaves living in bondage, which was a further million. Professor Lipsett's lecture gave me a little feel for who these people were, what their lives must have been like, and why the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth would have such appeal.

Immediately following this lecture we walked over to the Vatican for our meeting with Cardinal Walter Kaspar, about which you can read more below.

Depicting Rome, pt. 3



One of my favorite books of the last few years is Lawrence Weschler's Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences, gorgeously published by San Francisco's own McSweeneys'. It attempts to show or create connections between different artworks, public spaces, and ways of thinking and seeing that have echoed in Weschler's life. It is intuitive, mysterious, occasionally infuriating, and completely gorgeous. Above is an example of a convergence between my experience in Rome, and a hiking trip last summer where I got a gnarly blood-blister under my left-toenail, which then took a full month to heal and then fall off. But it could be worse! This poor foot still has its little toe, but the rest are MIA, as is the entire rest of the leg/body system of which it was a key component.

This is a sculptural fragment from the ruins of the Palace of Domitian on Palatine hill, overlooking the Roman Forum to the North, the Capitoline hill to the West, and the former Circus Maximus to the South. The Circus Maximus, by the way, certainly lived up to its name: it sat the most people of any public arena ever, an estimated 300,000. It was also the site of the vast majority of early Christian martyrdoms, and not the Colosseum. According to the tour guide who lead my family through the Colosseum (so take it with a grain of salt), only one Christian martyr can be placed in the Colosseum. The Colosseum, by the way, sat 50,000, with standing room for 30,000 more. From inside it felt almost intimate, which made me very queasy when I considered the type of spectacle that would have been perpetrated there.





The head of Laocoön (pronounced Lay-OCK-oh-on) in the Vatican Museum. This original Greek sculpture was unearthed in Rome while Michelangelo Buonnaroti was working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. This sculpture, along with the Belvedere Torso, was one of the major influences on Michelangelo's work as well as on his theology of spiritual perfection as revealed in perfect, contorted male torsos. Michelangelo never sculpted nor painted a nude woman; all his women are modeled after men, with women's faces and very awkward breasts slapped on. I have some awesome pictures of the Belvedere Torso, but I don't want to post them and have them get all sideways on me. So here's one from Wikipedia:Laocoön, by the way, is the Trojan priest who received the message "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts." The gift was, of course, the famous Trojan horse (interesting coincidence: "gift" is the german word for "poison"). So he immediately set out to warn his people of their imminent doom, but the Gods really really wanted the Greeks to slaughter every single person in Troy. Before Laocoön could set foot outside his temple he and his two sons were set upon by a plague of poisonous snakes, and they died horribly. It's a powerful, horrifying sculpture. Nobody knows who is depicted in the Belvedere Torso.





This is a portion of a wall fresco in the Vatican Museum Palaces, right before you approach the Sistine Chapel. I think it's some kind of Papal UFO...





It may have been winter, the least beautiful season in Rome according to many I spoke to, but nobody told the sunsets that.

Depicting Rome, pt. 4

One of Bernini's angels on the Ponte Angeli. Each of ten angels holds a different instrument of the Passion.




Roman skyline, from the top of the Castel Sant'Angelo.




Skating rink on the banks of the Tiber. I walked past this almost every day. When we arrived, during holiday, it was packed from early afternoon on. Attendance seemed to taper off after Epiphany (Jan. 6), and by the time I left on the 23rd it was like a slippery little ghost town. Isn't that just the way with youth culture, though.




The sky on the other side of the sunset.




And Sarah! This picture doesn't at all capture the way she was glowing with the sun sinking behind her, but it's pretty okay anyways.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Teaching Moment

One night, walking with Gabriella and Cathy from the seminary to the Casa Valdese, the talk turned to the relationship of the students to the teachers of the class. Gabriella had heard through the grapevine that some of the students were complaining about the accents of some of the guest and Italian teachers, and that the lectures were hard to understand and follow.

At the time, this seemed incredibly ungracious and insensitive, and Gabriella was understandably upset. "I wish that they had the courage to say that to my face. I would have something to say to them!" she said.

At the end of the class, one of the students raised exactly this point during our group evaluation session. We were all sitting in a large circle in the Facolta's common room, having just filled out written evaluations. We were taking some time before the closing banquet to reflect and share thoughts, feedback, and experiences, and one of the students in the course raised up that it had been a challenge for her to understand the accented English in which some of our professors lectured to us.

I was expecting ...fireworks? Anger? Bottled frustration to be vented? I couldn't have been further off the mark. Gabriella hadn't been looking for a confrontation in our earlier conversation, but rather for an opening into dialogue with that student or other students that were having the same thoughts.

This was a powerful lesson for me. Where I had anticipated outrage, there was understanding. Where I had expected upset, there was love. There was no anger in Gabriella's voice, no frustration, only a calm dialogue about the importance of being flexible in terms of the professors and gracious in light of the gift they were giving us by speaking in our native tongue instead of theirs.

The moment quickly ended, and the conversation moved on to other matters. But that brief window of time stuck with me as a powerful example of how to interrupt a conversation in a positive and constructive way. This was one of my most profound learning experiences on the trip.

Depicting Rome, pt. 5

We got a late start on the morning of January 6th, and as we approached St. Peter's Square from the apartment Mom and Dad had rented we heard marching band music and noticed a large number of people bustling towards the square with us. Whoops! It was Epiphany, the culmination of the Christmas holiday, and we were arriving at the square with just enough time to soak in the scene before Pope Benedict gave his Epiphany address!

View Larger Map(scroll the map over to the West to get a sense of the scale of the square and basilica)
Almost the entire, massive square was filled with people, most simply standing clutching umbrellas, but many who were dressed in costume--whether the historical costume of their home region, or as La Befana, the Italian Christmas Witch, or as part of a theme with their club or organization (the giant lobster you see below was part of the local kayak club--it was chaperoned by people wearing kayaks with the bottoms cut out so they could walk around).




Finally, action! A large banner was unfurled from the window of the Papal apartment (top floor of the central building, second window from the right), and a figure emerged to speak! A quick check of the Jumbotron revealed that it was indeed the Pope! We hadn't bargained for this!



(this image is from the "wall of fame" at the City of Rome Sanitation Worker's Creche, the most beautiful in the city of Rome) The Pope gave a short message of greeting and blessing in Italian, German, English, and (most enthusiastically) in Spanish. Nothing too memorable. People started filtering out of the square almost as soon as he started to speak, which I hadn't expected--I had thought he would have a captive audience all the way through. The last to leave were the various groups in historical costume. It was something else to be walking down the Via della Conciliazione with people in full Renaissance-Faire garb smoking cigarettes and chatting on cellphones under their umbrellas.




Evening on Via dei Coronari.




Last family photo before Mom and Dad and Will split for the States. Not bad for a long exposure! We were in the Pantheon, just before we got dinner. Even though it was way touristy, we ate on the square--being part of the evening fabric, even as obvious tourists, was even more delicious than the food.

The Perfidious Myth of the Unified Church



On welcoming us to our tour of the Vatican's collection of archaic Pagan, Jewish, and Christian tomb inscriptions, the collection's curator noted that the purpose of our tour was of a kind with the inscriptions we were about to experience: "something about these inscriptions demonstrating the early unity of the church, a unity that you in this class are trying to recapture. Good for you!"

This is, of course, bullshit, as Prof. Wallraff was quick to point out. I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Dr. Elaine Pagels shortly before my entrance into seminary, and she was quick to point out that there was an astounding diversity of belief and faith among the early Jesus-following communities. This has been echoed in various of my courses in the GTU, and was raised here by Dr. Wallraff.


Prof. Wallraff lectures in the Vatican Museum's inscription collection




He pointed out that, for one, the people who commissioned and were commemorated by the inscriptions at which we were looking would likely not have called themselves Christians, at least not for a while; for another, followed different leaders and teachings; and third were using a multiplicity of texts in their worship lives, most of which no longer exist.



The myth of the unified proto-Christian church is pervasive, and in my opinion, dangerous. The idea of getting back to the "original" Christianity (as though there was just one) is undeniably appealing--I feel attracted to the teachings of Jesus as I understand them, and have thought about how much more powerful they must have seemed at the time of their utterance. Who wouldn't want to experience the primordial teachings of Jesus? The problem arises, as always, in the interpretation. Where I would see a non-dogmatic, social justice and anti-oppressive minstry working hard against the Roman occupation, another might see the roots of their faith, justification for their tradition's superiority. Rather than creating unity, therefore, the myth of proto-Christianity sows the seeds of division through opening a space for each believer to see their faith as the true root of the Christian religion, and therefore to see followers of other branches of Christianity as misguided and in need of correction.


This sarcophagus deserves special attention. According to Professor Wallraff, the iconography of sarcophagi in antiquity tells us that the two men depicted here would have been buried together. The standard Vatican explanation is that they were brothers. It seems to me likelier that they were lovers and partners. Of course, we cannot know, only wonder. My classmate, Perry, was very moved by this artifact, and I will recruit him to add to this commentary.

Plunder or Proto-ecology



The Colosseum, perhaps the most iconic of Rome's parade of iconic structures, was famously plundered for building material during the Renaissance, serving as a living quarry for marble and travertine in particular. It was stripped down to a third of its original mass during this building boom. The typical response seems to be: "how dare they have plundered this priceless architectural relic!" Sarah, however, turned this attitude on its head, seeing a resonance between the plunder of the Colosseum and present-day Green building practices. One way building projects earn points for LEED Certification, for instance, is to "plunder" preexisting on-site structures as part of the project.

In today's terms, the much-reviled builders and planners of the 1600's were not plundering, but rather were recycling, making use of a decrepit and no-longer-useful structure as a way of cutting costs and conserving resources. Of course, the stakes were much lower at that time, environmentally speaking, with world population less than a tenth of what it is today and climate change, industrialization, and globalization still far off over the horizon. So maybe it's comparing apples and oranges, but I thought it was an perspective on an art historical orthodoxy. Here's some Colosseum images, starting with Thomas Cole's painting (pulled from wikipedia):



And some of my own photos of its interior, the third of which shows some of the different tunnels and architecture below the stadium's floor. These, incidentally, were not used to flood the stadium in order to stage mock-naval battles, but were the holding pens and access tunnels for combatants and animals. The naval battle idea is romantic (in a sick kind of way), but I'm surprised that anyone who had been inside the Colosseum would think it a possibility--the place is much too small, smaller than any professional football or baseball stadium I've been in inside the states, and there's just no room for maneuvers.





The internet is jammed up with romantic evening photos of the Colosseum, but it's a big internet and I'm sure there's room for one more. The folks in charge of lighting this sucker sure know what they're doing:

Depicting Rome, pt. 6


Michelangelo's famous Moses sculpture at San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in chains), inspiration for weirdos as diverse as Sigmund Freud and Cecil B. DeMille (who cast Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments simply due to the actor's physical resemblance to the statue--yes, I see the joke in that statement). The church also houses what are purported to be the actual chains with which St. Peter was imprisoned. The chains were originally housed in two separate locations, and when brought together in their current location miraculously snapped together to form one unbroken chain. Careful observers might see in this story a metaphor about the "unbroken chain" of papal succession dating all the way back to St. Peter, and by extension, Jesus.



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This building was near the Casa Valdese--I was totally enamored with its frescoes depicting flocks of pigeons cavorting around its upper story. Maybe it's like a reverse scarecrow?



The sculpture of Giordano Bruno in Campo de' Fiori marks the spot on which he was burned at the stake in 1600 for heresy. It also features relief portraits of other martyrs to the faith, including Unitarianism's own Michael Servetus, featured below.








Last, the whipped cream and colorful topping of a cup of Roman hot chocolate, which is like drinking boiling pudding. Wow! Super-rich, super-thick, totally perfect on a rainy afternoon.