“. . . illumine the world with your image . . .” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

The Transfiguration of Christ, Lorenzo Lotto, 1511

The Transfiguration of Christ, Lorenzo Lotto, 1511

You like to think about synergy and coincidence and “a god thing” and other spookinesses. That is, you like the logical fallacy of Post hoc ergo propter hoc, assuming that if ‘A’ occurred after ‘B’ then ‘B’ must have caused ‘A.’

In 1456, the Ottomans laid siege to Belgrade in Serbia. They were repelled, and the Christian world of Europe rejoiced. News reached Pope Callixtus III on August 6, and he declared the date The Feast of the Transfiguration, the liturgical remembrance of Jesus’ appearing in light to the disciples (Protestant liturgical churches recently moved the Transfiguration to the Last Sunday in Epiphany).

In 1945, the United States and Japan were locked in the last stages of WW II. President Truman ordered the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities to end the war and “save lives.” Hiroshima was bombed on August 6.

Synergy, coincidence, a “god thing.” The Feast of the Transfiguration celebrating the end of the siege of Belgrade and the bombing of Hiroshima come together on the same day. Does this convergence mean anything?

This convergence was pointed out to me by the widow of Admiral Robert A. Theobald, a commander in the Pacific fleet who accused the Roosevelt administration of knowing the attack on Pearl Harbor was immanent and doing nothing about it in order to bring the U.S. into WWII. Betty Theobald, a cellist of some renown and a member of the altar guild of my (Episcopal) church in Salem, MA, gave me a history lesson from personal experience, her understanding of many coincidences and ironies of WWII.

On August 6, 1787, the U.S. constitutional convention began. On August 6, 1806, Francis II renounced the title “Holy Roman Emperor” ending the empire. On August 6, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia and Serbia beginning WWI. On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Unrelated (or are they?) events on August 6, starting with the defeat of the Ottomans who were besieging Belgrade, giving the Christians of Europe reason to rejoice and proclaim a Feast of the Church to mark the day.

This year on August 6 the world was in turmoil: Putin getting ready to invade Ukrainia. Landslides at Mt. Baldy. Ted Cruz running the House of Representatives. Fugitive children massed on the southern border of the US. A lull in the murderous siege of Gaza by Israel. And so on.

We need a victory as decisive as the end of the Siege of Belgrade or the bombing of Hiroshima to lead us out of this morass of bad news, of gruesome events over which we apparently have no control.

We need to figure out how to change the bizarre and dangerous coincidences of our lives, both personal and national.

We need a victory we can mark with a national or religious holiday and move on in the assurance that God’s in her heaven, and all’s right in the world.

We need to learn to accept all of the “coincidences” of our lives or to change the horrendous situations we can change. We need to begin to understand the difference between accepting and changing.

For several days I have been immobilized by a thought I’ve not been able to write.

It’s a simple thought. In our admirable attempt to be “charitable” and “diplomatic” and “equitable” we (all of us, but especially “educated” and “liberal-minded” folks) work hard at trying to “understand” in order to find “fair” solutions to any and all problems. We know every conflict has two sides. Accept or change?

The brightest man made light

The brightest man made light

However, the simple act of saying “there are two sides” means almost certainly we have accepted one side of the argument. Should LGBTQ folks marry or not? Was “Hobby Lobby” the right Supreme Court ruling? Has Edward Snowden helped or hurt Americans? There are two sides to all of these arguments.

I’ll bet everyone has an opinion about each of them. Does anyone really think there are two equally correct sides to those questions?

Is Israel justified in bombing Gaza to rubble?

Of course you have an opinion. If you think Israel has a “right” to bomb Gaza, you a priori think the Gazans have no “right” to fight back against the blockade that has kept their children hungry and their society imprisoned for seven years.

I can hear the most liberal, the most thoughtful, the most fair-minded folks saying, “Well, yes, it’s horrible, it’s gruesome, it’s disastrous, but Israel has a right.” I wish those people—particularly those who make some claim to having a sense of morality—would play that back in their minds. If it’s horrible, if it’s gruesome, if it’s disastrous, then Israel has no right. Period. Whatever the attempt at justification, it is not “right.” Period.

We love synergy, coincidence, strange concurrences. We love the heavenly light of the Transfiguration of Jesus juxtaposed with the brightest light ever created by mankind in the bombing of Hiroshima.

We—especially we liberals and wanna-be intellectuals—love to think we can be reasonable and hold murder and destruction in our minds along with righteousness and light.

I’m not that clever. I think bombing innocent civilians of Hiroshima was an act of violence that haunts our nation 69 years later. And bombing innocent civilians of Gaza will haunt not only Israel but also the United States—which provides the munitions of destruction—for at least 69 years.

gaza bombThe prayer Lutherans read on the Feast of the Transfiguration says,

Almighty God, the resplendent light of your truth shines from the mountaintop into our hearts. Transfigure us by your beloved Son, and illumine the world with your image, through Jesus Christ, our Savior, and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Whether one is a Lutheran or not, or a Christian or not, or an atheist or not, “The resplendent light of truth” is not the light from bombs exploding. Some synergies simply aren’t.

I need seven singers – or a conspiracy theory, whichever comes first (Singers, sign up below!)

It takes a conspirator to know a conspirator?

It takes a conspirator to know a conspirator?

December 7th, “the date that will live in INFAMY!”

That sentence is one that I use regularly to demonstrate to students how the careful use of one word can change not only the meaning but the import of a sentence.

FDR’s first draft of his speech asking Congress to declare war on Japan after Pearl Harbor began with the sentence (he wrote it himself, by the way), “. . . a date that will live in history.” Big deal.

Don’t all days live in history?

We don’t have a record of FDR’s thought process—my guess is there wasn’t one, that he knew it had to change because he had studied communications at the Meadows School of the Arts at SMU, and they teach people how to be effective—in changing “history” to “infamy,” thereby making the speech one that lives in history.

Teach people to be effective? Baloney. People with degrees in communications know how to follow trends, how to use tools, how to make money selling stuff, but no one—let me repeat—NO ONE can teach a person that “infamy” is more memorable than “history.” You’re thinking, anyone can see that. We have 72 years of saying the sentence over and over again to know that single word made the speech. FDR could have stopped right there, and Congress would have declared war (even Robert A. Taft voted in favor).

How do you start a conspiracy theory, anyway? As I’ve said in a post here before, you make people believe your explanation for an event is the evidence that it happened.

Dallas has been awash in conspiracy theories all this year. The 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination here in our fair city. The one person I know personally who is an authority—that is, he has been studying the matter and having his students research and write about it for 20 years or so—thinks there was a conspiracy to murder the President. I’ve told him I want to talk to him about it. Perhaps we will and perhaps we won’t.

It was revealed recently that Robert F. Kennedy did not believe the Warren Commission. So that is somehow evidence that there was a conspiracy.

Robert F. Kennedy got his start in government law in 1952 when his father, Joseph Kennedy, persuaded Senator Joseph McCarthy to hire Bobby as assistant counsel to McCarthy’s conspiracy-searching and character-assassinating committee in the Senate. Robert Kennedy got his start in government “service” sniffing out conspiracies. Does Bobby Kennedy’s explanation of his brother’s death count as evidence? No. Explanations and conjectures are not evidence.

The first great conspiracy theory?

The first great conspiracy theory?

So my colleague tells me there IS, in fact, evidence. I have not bothered to read any of it because—well, because what difference does it make? Will absolute proof that there were two killers change anything? No. The American people have already chosen their lot—let conspiracy theories make our decisions. To wit, September 11, 2001.

We have laid down our freedom at the feet of the federal government on the theory that there is a vast world-wide conspiracy of “terrorists” who will destroy society as we know it if we don’t kill them with drones and let our own government go sniffing in our private affairs just as Bobby Kennedy did for Joe McCarthy.

Rhetoric is the art of using all available means to make an argument (not to “argue” but to make an “argument”—there is a difference). That’s what Aristotle said, at any rate.

I have no idea what rhetorical strategy to use to get from Bobby and Joe sniffing around and the CIA and the DHS sniffing around to “infamy” and “history” and then to my need for some singers.

So I’ll just say it. What difference does it make whether or not my students understand the rhetorical power of one word over another? Conspiracies demand acquiescence. Young people have been so brainwashed by our concessions of our liberties that they have no concept of our rights under the First Amendment. There is little point in trying to help them have an “ah-ha” moment about writing, about the choice of words, when the only amendment to the Constitution they care anything about is the Second. (No, I don’t know what process of “logic” I used to get from one idea to the next here. Deal with it.)

And the power of language—of anything beautiful or expressive—has one purpose now. To make money. Or to wield military (or corporate) power. After all, according to one of the first great conspiracy theories, FDR’s choice of words was important because he was involved in bringing about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I know, I know. I’m not making any sense, and I’m becoming one of those grouchy and irrational old men my mother warned me about. I want to draw myself into a cocoon and forget all of the nonsense of the world. You all can go ahead with your conspiracy theories, and with your forfeiture of your right of freedom of conscience if you want. Or any other freedom—like the freedom to get on an airplane without a stranger looking at your privates.

But all I want is to make some music. I can’t do it even as well as I used to (which was never brilliant, my degrees notwithstanding). So I want simple. And I’d love to have a group of singers to direct so the physical act of producing the music didn’t fall on my shoulders alone.

Singers. Send me a comment here—I’m not kidding!!!—and let’s withdraw from conspiracies together.

Here I am playing the notes without the words for Thomas Ravenscroft’s little anthem (1611). I need singers! I can play the notes for a work like this, but that cries out for the original (which has more stanzas than I have here).

Remember, O thou Man,
O thou Man, O thou Man,
Remember, O thou Man,
Thy time is spent.
Remember, O thou Man,
How thou camest to me then,
And I did what I can.
Therefore repent.

Remember Adam’s fall,
O thou Man, O thou Man,
Remember Adam’s fall
From Heaven to Hell.
Remember Adam’s fall,
How we were condemned all
To Hell perpetual,
There for to dwell.

Remember God’s goodness,
O thou Man, O thou Man,
Remember God’s goodness
And promise made.
Remember God’s goodness,
How his only Son he sent
Our sins for to redress.
Be not afraid.