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December 2005

King Kong

Look at all the cool things I can do with filmmaking!

That's how it felt at times. I was surprised by how uneven this film was. The trailers were excellent, and I was greatly anticipating this movie.

The opening montages didn't disappoint; they set the film in a significant/meaningful context of inhumanity to one another (juxtaposed with caring pictures of apes). The first thing that disappointed me was the editing. I thought the early scenes cut to sharply from one to another. And it also seemed that Naomi Watts accent was coming and going in the early bits. Unfortunately, these things resulted in my being pulled into the theater watching the movie instead of existing in the story world with the film.

For awhile I couldn't tell if Jackson was trying to be campy/silly or spooky. And throughout the film he verges between both. I wish he'd just picked one, because what suffers is the pathos. The 70's re-make actually had more emotion than this one.

Okay, so the action sequences are stunning. But there's too much. I needed more breaks. We all felt over-over-stimulated upon leaving the theatre. Plus, we really could have done without some things. There's too much blood and gore in a couple of places. The film is simply gross too often and that worked to pull me out of the story world as well.

I really liked Kong. And there was much that was fantastic about this movie. Here's my diagnosis of the problem. When a director is allowed too much freedom, they often overdo their film (e.g., Scorsese and Spielberg have had this problem some in the last decade). Having to cut a film to a certain lenght requires some disicpline, and it would have helped this film to have been shorter, I think.

Overall I enjoyed it, but it didn't live up to expectations and hopes.

3 1/2 film reels
4 popcorn kernels

Magnify the Lord

Here is the sermon for Dec. 18. My Christmas Eve and Christmas Day sermons were delivered without manuscript, and I don't have anything to post for them.

Magnify the Lord
Luke 1:26-38; 47-55
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – OKC
18 December 2005
Fourth Sunday of Advent

Angels in America begins with the funeral of Sarah Ironson. The funeral is conducted by the very elderly Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz. The rabbi says:

This woman. I did not know this woman. I cannot accurately describe her attributes, nor do justice to her dimensions. She was . . . not a person but a whole kind of person, the ones who crossed the ocean, who brought with us to America the villages of Russia and Lithuania – and how we struggled, and how we fought, for the family, for the Jewish home, so that you would not grow up here, in this strange place, in the melting pot where nothing melted. Descendants of this immigrant woman, you do not grow up in America, you and your children and their children with the goyische names. You do not live in America. No such place exists. Your clay is the clay of some Litvak shtetl, your air the air of the steppes – because she carried the old world on her back across the ocean, in a boat, and she put it down on Grand Concourse Avenue, or in Flatbush, and she worked that earth into your bones, and you pass it to your children, this ancient, ancient culture and home.
You can never make that crossing that she made, for such Great Voyages in this world do not any more exist. But every day of your lives the miles that voyage between that place and this one you cross. Every day. You understand me? In you that journey is.

Dirt. Clay. Ground. For Rabbi Chemelwitz, there is something mystical about the ground that enters into the descendants of the Jewish immigrants. For something as simple as dirt, it has long had a rich meaning. It is from the ground that Adam was formed, molded by God in paradise. Throughout scripture, there is the image of God as potter and us as the clay. Even the concept of ground has a variety of meanings. It can be the physical ground, the earth. It can also be the bottom or lowest side of a body or structure. If you’ve ever done yoga, you know that the instructor will ask if you are grounded, meaning are your feet firmly planted. A third meaning of ground is origin, cause, or beginning. And, finally, it can also mean “what is inmost [or] hidden,” the essence of a thing. A rich concept indeed.

The Medieval mystic Meister Eckhart used the concept of ground as a central element in his spirituality. In doing so, he developed an image that had already been used by some female mystics, including Mechtild and Hadewijch. They all used the term ground as an image in order “to express a new view of how God becomes one with the human person.” For, as Eckhart said, “God’s ground and my ground is the same ground.”

The thought of Eckhart has been underneath the surface of my thinking and preaching this Advent season. Eckhart himself preached a series of Christmas sermons that expressed the basic tenets of his spirituality. My interpretation of Eckhart comes from University of Chicago professor Bernard McGinn.
What Eckhart taught is that we should view the birth of Christ not solely as a past historical event, but as an on-going event. For him, the “Word taking on flesh is not a past event we look back to in order to attain salvation, but rather is an everlasting present” event. God continues to become human and humanity continues to become God.

Eckhart wrote, “It would be of little value for me that ‘the Word was made flesh’ for man in Christ as a person distinct from me, unless he was also made flesh for me personally so that I too might be God’s son.” There is a sense in which God becomes flesh in the entire creation. As Eckhart said, “The Word universally and naturally becomes flesh in every work of nature and art.” But most importantly “God’s intention in sending his Son was that ‘[humanity] may become by the grace of adoption what the Son is by nature.’”

Eckhart teaches that the birth of Christ is on-going, that through the Holy Spirit Jesus is born anew in believers, because we share the same ground as God. He thought that the word becoming flesh was an on-going experience. God continually chooses to place divinity in the flesh, which elevates and exalts the body. In this way the incarnation is relevant to us as we seek to embody Christ in our lives.
Going back to St. Irenaeus the Christian doctrine of the incarnation has been expressed in the phrase “God became man so that man might become God.” This formulation continues through the development of orthodoxy in Athanasius and Augustine and was common in Medieval understandings of Christian theology.

What could this traditional understanding mean; it sounds so alien to our ears?

It does not mean that we can become the transcendent Creator. It does not mean that we become little gods. What it does mean is that God’s reign has invaded this world. That the divine image that each of us possesses is alight with the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Our humanity is awakened. Whatever our state, we now are able to achieve our full potential as human beings. It doesn’t matter your race, your sex, your orientation, your economic status, your family history, your education, your physical beauty or lack thereof. You have received the right and the power to believe and become a child of God. You are the adopted sons and daughters of the Most High.

Because we are created in the divine image, we share the same ground, the same essence with God, according to Eckhart. In some sense all creation shares in the essence of God. Creation is the outflowing of God; sorta like a pot of water that boils over. Of all creation, humans come closest to God, because we share the divine image.

But what does this mean? It means that we can commune with God. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that the essence of God is a loving relationship. Because we are made in the image of God, we too are capable of a loving relationship with God. As McGinn says, “Eckhart invites his audience to live according to the inner image – that is: be God’s, not yours!” Each of us shares this connection with the divine, and sin is the obscuring of that connection.

So, how do we prepare ourselves for God to be born anew in us? It must be emphasized that there are many ways to commune with God. Different Christian mystics and thinkers have emphasized different ways to approach God. All of them remind us that the language we use to describe God, ourselves, and the relationship between us is rich with metaphor and symbol. That when we speak of such things we are in the realm of mystery, awe, and wonder.

Eckhart spoke first of detachment. Silence and listening are emphasized. Retreat from the hectic pace of the world is important. It is hard to hear the Word of God if there is lots of noise around us. All prayer and meditation begin in silence, when we listen attentively for God to speak. It is us centering ourselves and being in touch with our own ground. When we do, we also make contact with the divine.
I must confess that I go through seasons when I am better at this. In Dallas I tried once a month to take a day of private retreat. I failed more than I succeeded, but when I did take a day and devote it completely to prayer and meditation, I could tell a difference in my life. It is the same with our new yoga circle; it helps to discipline me into remembering to take this time just to center myself.
You know, it can be done with just a few minutes every day. Take the time to go for a walk and really listen to the wind in the trees. Or sit beside the window and watch the squirrels play. Or while waiting in your car at a stoplight, take the time to focus on your breathing and rest in the peace of God.
To detach in this way is not to run off into the desert and become a hermit, though some people are called to that form of spirituality for a season or for life. What we must develop is the skill to rest in the peace of God as we go about our daily business. Brother Lawrence, who was the cook in a monastery, called it “the practice of the presence of God.” He viewed his work as his meditation.

Richard Foster, the Quaker minister, puts it this way,

We must come to see . . . how central our whole day is in preparing us for specific times of meditation. If we are constantly being swept off our feet with frantic activity, we will be unable to be attentive at the moment of inward silence. A mind that is harassed and fragmented by external affairs is hardly prepared for meditation. The church Fathers often spoke of . . . “holy leisure.” It refers to a sense of balance in the life, an ability to be at peace through the activities of the day, an ability to rest and take time to enjoy beauty, an ability to pace ourselves. With our tendency to define people in terms of what they produce, we would do well to cultivate “holy leisure.”

In our rush to do too much, we are really missing out. There is so much beauty and wonder in the world that we simply don’t take the time to see or fail to sit and listen. For example, Wendell Berry comes across a sycamore tree while out walking in the country. But he sees so much more than a sycamore tree. When he really looks at the tree, he learns a lesson about life:

In the place that is my own place, whose earth
I am shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,
hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in
that has not harmed it. There is a hollow in it
that is its death, though its living brims whitely
at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.
Over all its scars has come the seamless white
of the bark. It bears the gnarls of its history
healed over. It has risen to a strange perfection
in the warp and bending of its long growth.
It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.
It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.
I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling
the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place, and feeds upon it,
and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.

See how Wendell Berry takes the time to be attentive to his surroundings? When he does, he is centered, grounded. He can hear a word from God in the sycamore tree. He is connected with the divine.

When we detach like this, we open ourselves up for God to be conceived in us in a way that leads to action. Our detachment does not mean that we run from the problems of the world, that we are not active in the world. Quite the contrary. Once we have opened ourselves up to God, then God can work in us and through us. It is this process of bearing fruit that Eckhart referred to as birthing. Like a woman who opens herself to receive so that she might conceive and then birth. Opening ourselves to God results in the birth of Christ within us. We become more Christ-like and must live as Jesus did.

Wendell Berry’s contact with God through nature has led him to be an outspoken voice in American Christianity and politics. He writes and speaks about the environment, agriculture, economics, and war. He is an example of how being centered leads to action in the world that furthers the reign of God.
The full revelation of God in human form came in the incarnation of God as Jesus Christ. But the Word continues to become flesh. We each carry the Holy Spirit within our flesh. We each share the divine ground. We are God’s embodiment. Actually the totality of Christ’s Church is his Body. Have you ever realized that when the gospel says “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” that it wasn’t only speaking of an historical event but was speaking of the here and now? The Word is still flesh and is still among us. And we are it!

Eckhart felt that there was too much emphasis in Christian piety upon Jesus as a person in the past, that there needed to be more emphasis upon how those of us in the present should be living like Jesus. And the way we do that is by taking advantage of the ground we share, the divine image that connects us to God.

So, how do we magnify the Lord? By realizing that this Christmas story is true for us. The words of the angel Gabriel come to us, “Do not be afraid, for you will conceive.” The words of the prophet Mary are our words, “God has looked with favor on the lowliness of the servants. All generations will call us blessed.” Because we have a part to play in God’s rule. His mercy and strength will be revealed in us. The powerful will be brought down and the lowly lifted up, only if we learn to live like Jesus.
It is similar to the lesson learned by the characters in Angels in America; these characters who carry within themselves the long history and stories of their ancestors. At the conclusion, when they are standing at the Bethesda fountain, looking forward to the day when God will reign and all will be cleansed, Prior, who has learned that AIDS cannot defeat him, no matter what it does to his body, pronounces this benediction that I have used before, but will use again because it is so beautiful and reminds us of our part to play in this on-going story:

This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.
Bye now.
You are fabulous creatures, each and every one.
And I bless you: More Life.
The Great Work Begins.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!

I've been out of touch a lot because of the move/unpacking/etc. Once I get more settled, I'll get back to my regular blogging routine. Until then, I hope everyone is have a great holiday season.


Moved In!

I'm moved in! Just started unpacking. It is wonderful to be around my own stuff again after all these months. Tonight, however, I'm still at Mom's. ONG was supposed to turn the gas on on Thursday, but they didn't! It is too cold to stay there. Curses!!!

Early Oscar Nomination Predictions

The last few years I haven't been into the Oscar race as much as usual. In the past, I would generate my first prediction list in September or so and adjust it up until the night before. Today the Golden Globe nominations came out and recently the winners of the National Board of Review, New York, and L. A. Film Critics have been named. So, I think I can begin to make an intelligent guess on some of the major categories.

An asterisk means that is my early pick to win the award. A dividing line means I'm fairly confident about the names above the line, but the names below the line could possibly overtake.


This category is still in flux, though the contenders are beginning to solidify. I'm fairly confident about this prediction, though a couple of films could change (like we have to wait and see how Munich fares at the box office).

A History of Violence
*Brokeback Mountain
Good Night, and Good Luck
Walk the Line

I think Walk the Line is probably the weakest of these films.


George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck)
Peter Jackson (King Kong)
*Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain)
Fernando Meirelles (Constant Gardener)
Steven Spielberg (Munich)

Fairly confident of this list.


*Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote)
Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain)
Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line)
David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck)
Terrence Howard (Hustle and Flow)

The first four are certain and have been for months. The fifth slot has been the one up for grabs, and Howard seems to be gaining steam. I think only Cillian Murphy for Breakfast on Pluto could suplant him.


There have been hardly any clear, dominating women's roles this year in major films. Reese Witherspoon is the only exception. I look for Judi Dench to lock a nomination because she's Judi Dench. The other three slots are up for grabs.

Judi Dench (Mrs. Henderson Presents)
*Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line)
Ziyi Zhang (Memoirs of a Geisha)
Felicity Huffman (Transamerica)
Laura Linney (The Squid and the Whale)
Keira Knightley (Pride and Prejudice)

Zhang will be included, probably, because she is one of the few female leads of a major film this season. I expect that Felicity Huffman will keep gaining ground after winning the National Board of Review. Linney is well respected, and Knightley is a rising new star, so not sure which of them could get the nod. Mario Bello of A History of Violence seems to be contending either as leading or supporting. I'm guessing she'll get a nod for the latter.

I really have little to no clue for the supporting awards, so I won't, at this time, venture a guess.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you should know that there is no series of books more important to who I am as a person and the nature of my faith than The Chronicles of Narnia. As I've mentioned before; when I meditate, I imagine myself in Narnia. When I think of heaven, it is Narnia I picture. When I want to be comforted by an image of God, it is Aslan.

I was excited when I heard a film was being made, though I was very nervous. The first pirated images of the trailer that I saw, gave me encouragement. The later trailers the same.

This is a good film. Very well done. I was most impressed by the Pevensie children. They are as perfect as they could be; which is what makes the film succeed. Peter looks the very image of an English king (is he a direct descendant of the Plantagenets?).

So much of this film is good.

In my opinion they skipped or didn't adequately focus on the best parts. The conversation about Aslan in the Beavers' house should be like the book. I'm not picky about details in my film adaptations (Goblet of Fire was wonderful because it wasn't picky about details and it left nothing essential to the spirit of the story out). But the conversation about Aslan in the Beavers' house is essential to the story.

Despite lacking things I think are essential, it is still a well-done adaptation.

But I had a weird reaction; unlike any other reaction to a film I've ever had. I've watched plenty of film adaptations of books I like, but there was something different this time. I kept thinking, "I don't need to see a film of this story." It was like it was okay, but not important. Unlike Fellowship of the Ring, which became my fourth favourite film of all time; I don't think I'll ever think much about this movie. "Okay. They made a film of it. Pretty good. Enjoyed it." And that's about it.

So, I'm wondering why this is? Maybe because this story is so fully formed in my mind's eye that I don't need to see it played out on film, no matter how good? Maybe because that film didn't jive just right with my images (e.g., Narnia was too rocky to be Narnia, though it looked great in the film). Or to borrow something from The Last Battle (something Neoplatonic, in fact), this was just a copy of the real The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Hopefully it will get even more people to walk through the door into the real story.

4 film reels
4 popcorn kernels

P. S. Great effects. I wish someone other than Disney had made it, because it was a little to rosy in some places, covering over the darker elements and the violence (like there was no blood on the Stone Table after a lion was slaughtered?).

On another note. For weeks now many of us have been marvelling at the fact that this is a gay old year in cinema. And the early awards are demonstrating that.

Cry Out

This is last week's sermon (I'm behind in posting; so busy). Last night I didn't preach; we did an all music service.

Cry Out
Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – OKC
4 December 2005
Second Sunday of Advent

When Jerusalem was destroyed and the people of Judah were sent into exile in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah raised a lament to God:

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude;
she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate, her priests groan;
her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.
For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed.

Over time, exile became a complicated experience. Those who were initially exiled experienced great pain such as that expressed in the Psalms:

By the rivers of Babylon –
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.

But for some, especially in later generations, it was not an occasion for suffering. The stories of Nehemiah, Daniel, and Esther all testify to the fact that the people of Judah could rise to the highest levels of Babylonian and then Persian society, even if at times their faith was a complication. Many in later generations had accommodated themselves to their new life away from the homeland.

But, eventually, the Jews were allowed to return to Palestine and to rebuild Jerusalem. Some returned, but not all did. That even some returned reminds us that no matter how good life became, there was a still a sense that they were not able to be at home. It is the same motivation that we’ve seen in the last hundred years as many Jews have returned to Israel despite all the difficulties. There is something important about returning home.

Today’s Isaiah text comes from the period near the end of the exile. It announces that an opportunity to return home is available. Salvation is near; we have found forgiveness.
The voice cries out, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” In essence, a road will be built through the wilderness, connecting Babylon and Jerusalem. But there is even more to this image. For one thing, it reminds us of the other great redemption experience in Israel’s history – the Exodus. Just as the people traveled through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land, a new path will be opened up in the wilderness, allowing the people to once again return home to that land of promise.

The author also draws upon this image and proclaims that a metaphorical road will be built through the people’s wilderness, connecting them to their God. Along this road, God will return and “then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” So, the people are instructed to cry out! What are they to proclaim? “Here is your God.” God returns with might and, like a mother, will take the people into God’s arms and comfort them in God’s bosom.

This message from Isaiah is good news. It is a word of freedom and hope, comfort and salvation. When you’ve got good new like this, you should share it. Therefore, Isaiah tells the people to cry out.

In the first century, the author of the Gospel of Mark is one of the first people to record the story of the life of Jesus. It opens with these words, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

To explain this good news further, the author refers to Isaiah, but misquotes the passage. He misquotes by taking some words from Malachi and Isaiah and combining them. He also changes what Isaiah actually said. Isaiah said that a way was to be prepared in the wilderness. Mark says that a voice is crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way.”

Mark has drawn upon this Isaiah text and the exilic experience of the people to announce good news. First there is the wilderness again. I imagine that just as the wilderness has two meanings in Isaiah, it has two meanings in Mark. It means the literal Judean wilderness, where John and Jesus will preach. And it means the wilderness that the readers find themselves in. So, we can approach this text as proclaiming good news to us when we are in the metaphorical wildernesses of our lives.

In Isaiah we are to take comfort because God is on the way. Mark draws upon this idea as well. Since God is on the way in the form of Jesus, then it is time for us to prepare. How should we prepare?
In the Isaiah passage the way to prepare for God’s coming is by crying out, by telling the people the good news that God is coming. So too in Mark the implication is that we prepare the way by crying out, by proclaiming this good news.

Mark next tells us the story of John the Baptist who was crying out, which is an indication of what must be done if the way is to be prepared. John was preaching repentance and baptism, and he was doing it at the Jordan River. According to Mark scholars David Rhoads, Joanna Dewey, and Donald Michie, these actions of John are significant as well:

After the exodus of Israelites from Egypt, the crossing of the Jordan River signaled the entrance to the ‘promised land.’ In the first century, Jewish prophets led followers to reenact the crossing of the Jordan River in hopes of precipitating Israel’s liberation from the Roman Empire. John’s baptism at the Jordan recalls the river as a threshold experience in Israel’s history. There Judeans and Jerusalemites come to John to turn around in anticipation of the inbreaking of the rule of God.

So, just like the Isaiah text, the story in Mark is also referring back to the Exodus event and claiming for the people a new entry into the promised land. Except that this time the promised land is not a literal place in history, but is the reign of God that is about to break into the world with Christ’s coming. In the bit of Mark that immediately follows this opening, Jesus comes to John to be baptized, and we are told that the heavens are ripped open and that God’s Spirit descends.

Just as the children of Israel passed through the waters of God’s liberation in the Exodus, so too do these new children of Israel pass through the waters of baptism. This baptism stands as a symbol for the liberation and healing that comes when we repent of the normal way of doing things and begin to live in the reign of God.

So, in eight verses we have telescoped the entire history of the nation of Israel from Exodus through Exile and return. Just as those events brought good news, now there is new good news and it is found in the story of Jesus. So, get ready, for God is coming.

What does all of this mean for us?

Let me turn again to Angels in America. I’m going to make use of this story throughout the Advent season because it is a contemporary, American story that is about advent, and it brings all of these scriptural themes into a contemporary, American context.

Remember that Prior is suffering from AIDS. He is also the prophet; the one whom the angel visits and gives a word to share to all humanity. Prior wrestles with his angel and gains entrance to heaven. He does this in order to gain a blessing, more life. This is a triumph for Prior. Early in the story, Harper tells him that there is a part of him, deep down, that is not diseased. Prior does not believe her. Yet, as the play goes on, Prior begins to struggle against the disease, as if he is hoping that Harper’s words are true. When Prior demands more life from the angels, it is his announcement that the disease will not overcome him. It may cause great suffering and pain, but Prior is going to fight, and Prior will not be defeated by this disease, even if it takes his life.

At the conclusion of the play, he is at his favourite place in New York City, the Bethesda fountain in Central Park. He is there with his close friends, and together they tell the audience about the meaning of the original Bethesda fountain and its significance:

This angel, she landed in the Temple square in Jerusalem, in the days of the Second Temple, right in the middle of a working day she descended and just her foot touched earth. And where it did, a fountain shot up from the ground.
When the Romans destroyed the Temple, the fountain of Bethesda ran dry.
If anyone who was suffering, in the body or the spirit, walked through the waters of the fountain of Bethesda, they would be healed, washed clean of pain.
When the Millennium comes. . .
Not the year two thousand, but the Capital M Millennium . . .
The fountain of Bethesda will flow again. And I told [Prior] I would personally take him there to bathe. We will all bathe ourselves clean.

There are wildernesses in our lives. Israel experienced this wilderness while they were slaves in Egypt, exiles in Babylon, and when their home was occupied by the Romans. What wildernesses do you experience? Sin, poverty, disease, depression, debt, loneliness, grief, injustice, violence?

The story of Advent is that God can break into these experiences with comfort, redemption, and healing. These texts draw on previous stories in the people’s history in order to remind them what has been done before. In so doing, they give us hope that God can come again.

So what can we do this advent or all the advents of our lives to prepare for Christ’s coming? Last week the texts told us to keep awake and stay alert to what is going on in our lives and in the world around us. Tonight’s texts tell us to cry out – to proclaim this good news. How do we do that? Because I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean go stand at the city square with megaphone in hand screaming to all passersby that God is coming.

I think what it does mean is that we as the church ought to live our lives together in such a way that we proclaim the hope of Christ’s coming. It is our lives together that will let people who are in the wilderness know that they can have hope. That’s one reason our Christmas baskets project is so important. As we give of our time and resources to help people in need, we draw attention to the good news of Christ. When we show up to deliver those baskets, we might just be the way in the wilderness that that person needed. We might ourselves be the conduct of God’s glory reaching into their life. The more we turn from the usual way of living and live like Jesus, the more God’s glory and Christ’s presence will be visible in us. The more we live into the reality of God’s reign, the closer we get to God’s reign being present in its fullness. So, in essence, we help to prepare the way by living as if we are already there.

Prior wasn’t destroyed by his infection because he realized that if he lived into blessing, life, and hope that no matter what the disease did to him physically, he still would not be defeated.

So no matter what wilderness we are in or no matter what wilderness others are in, if we live into hope, then we’ll find comfort and blessing. That’s the good news we have to proclaim. So cry out and rejoice!


With the impending close on my house in Dallas, I have been working overtime to arrange the move and resettle. And I've found a place! I'm going to lease for a year to save back up instead of buying right off. Now, I haven't hunted for rental property since college, so I was not really sure what to do. Over the last couple of weeks I talked to friends and started looking around. Friday I spent the entire day looking. And it wasn't promising. Very discouraging in fact.

Then I found it. It wasn't advertised; I just happened to drive by it. Saw it at 6 that evening. Could have signed the lease then, but wanted to think on it. Someone else was coming at 7; I was afraid I might lose it, but still, didn't want to commit then (partially because I had only seen it in the dark). Yesterday morning I took Mom by and with her seal of approval, I signed a year's lease.

It is 2000 square feet. No kidding. 550 more square feet than the largest house I've owned. And it is amazingly affordable. My friends who have seen it are stunned, and my step-dad considers it a blessing. So, I move in Saturday. I'm in this whirlwind. Life had gotten so lazy as it hung in limbo. Now it is all action again.

Harold Pinter's Nobel Acceptance Speech

I know this is long, but it is an amazing speech. He says powerful things about writing. But this is also a political speech, described by the New York Times as "a furious howl of outrage against American foreign policy." Please take the time to read it.

Harold Pinter – Nobel Lecture
Art, Truth & Politics

In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.

The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of The Homecoming is 'What have you done with the scissors?' The first line of Old Times is 'Dark.'

In each case I had no further information.

In the first case someone was obviously looking for a pair of scissors and was demanding their whereabouts of someone else he suspected had probably stolen them. But I somehow knew that the person addressed didn't give a damn about the scissors or about the questioner either, for that matter.

'Dark' I took to be a description of someone's hair, the hair of a woman, and was the answer to a question. In each case I found myself compelled to pursue the matter. This happened visually, a very slow fade, through shadow into light.

I always start a play by calling the characters A, B and C.

In the play that became The Homecoming I saw a man enter a stark room and ask his question of a younger man sitting on an ugly sofa reading a racing paper. I somehow suspected that A was a father and that B was his son, but I had no proof. This was however confirmed a short time later when B (later to become Lenny) says to A (later to become Max), 'Dad, do you mind if I change the subject? I want to ask you something. The dinner we had before, what was the name of it? What do you call it? Why don't you buy a dog? You're a dog cook. Honest. You think you're cooking for a lot of dogs.' So since B calls A 'Dad' it seemed to me reasonable to assume that they were father and son. A was also clearly the cook and his cooking did not seem to be held in high regard. Did this mean that there was no mother? I didn't know. But, as I told myself at the time, our beginnings never know our ends.

'Dark.' A large window. Evening sky. A man, A (later to become Deeley), and a woman, B (later to become Kate), sitting with drinks. 'Fat or thin?' the man asks. Who are they talking about? But I then see, standing at the window, a woman, C (later to become Anna), in another condition of light, her back to them, her hair dark.

It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author's position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can't dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.

So language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.

But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.

Political theatre presents an entirely different set of problems. Sermonising has to be avoided at all cost. Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to breathe their own air. The author cannot confine and constrict them to satisfy his own taste or disposition or prejudice. He must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles, from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives, take them by surprise, perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless give them the freedom to go which way they will. This does not always work. And political satire, of course, adheres to none of these precepts, in fact does precisely the opposite, which is its proper function.

In my play The Birthday Party I think I allow a whole range of options to operate in a dense forest of possibility before finally focussing on an act of subjugation.

Mountain Language pretends to no such range of operation. It remains brutal, short and ugly. But the soldiers in the play do get some fun out of it. One sometimes forgets that torturers become easily bored. They need a bit of a laugh to keep their spirits up. This has been confirmed of course by the events at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad. Mountain Language lasts only 20 minutes, but it could go on for hour after hour, on and on and on, the same pattern repeated over and over again, on and on, hour after hour.

Ashes to Ashes, on the other hand, seems to me to be taking place under water. A drowning woman, her hand reaching up through the waves, dropping down out of sight, reaching for others, but finding nobody there, either above or under the water, finding only shadows, reflections, floating; the woman a lost figure in a drowning landscape, a woman unable to escape the doom that seemed to belong only to others.

But as they died, she must die too.

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

But before I come back to the present I would like to look at the recent past, by which I mean United States foreign policy since the end of the Second World War. I believe it is obligatory upon us to subject this period to at least some kind of even limited scrutiny, which is all that time will allow here.

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all. I believe this must be addressed and that the truth has considerable bearing on where the world stands now. Although constrained, to a certain extent, by the existence of the Soviet Union, the United States' actions throughout the world made it clear that it had concluded it had carte blanche to do what it liked.

Direct invasion of a sovereign state has never in fact been America's favoured method. In the main, it has preferred what it has described as 'low intensity conflict'. Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but slower than if you dropped a bomb on them in one fell swoop. It means that you infect the heart of the country, that you establish a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace has been subdued – or beaten to death – the same thing – and your own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably in power, you go before the camera and say that democracy has prevailed. This was a commonplace in US foreign policy in the years to which I refer.

The tragedy of Nicaragua was a highly significant case. I choose to offer it here as a potent example of America's view of its role in the world, both then and now.

I was present at a meeting at the US embassy in London in the late 1980s.

The United States Congress was about to decide whether to give more money to the Contras in their campaign against the state of Nicaragua. I was a member of a delegation speaking on behalf of Nicaragua but the most important member of this delegation was a Father John Metcalf. The leader of the US body was Raymond Seitz (then number two to the ambassador, later ambassador himself). Father Metcalf said: 'Sir, I am in charge of a parish in the north of Nicaragua. My parishioners built a school, a health centre, a cultural centre. We have lived in peace. A few months ago a Contra force attacked the parish. They destroyed everything: the school, the health centre, the cultural centre. They raped nurses and teachers, slaughtered doctors, in the most brutal manner. They behaved like savages. Please demand that the US government withdraw its support from this shocking terrorist activity.'

Raymond Seitz had a very good reputation as a rational, responsible and highly sophisticated man. He was greatly respected in diplomatic circles. He listened, paused and then spoke with some gravity. 'Father,' he said, 'let me tell you something. In war, innocent people always suffer.' There was a frozen silence. We stared at him. He did not flinch.

Innocent people, indeed, always suffer.

Finally somebody said: 'But in this case “innocent people” were the victims of a gruesome atrocity subsidised by your government, one among many. If Congress allows the Contras more money further atrocities of this kind will take place. Is this not the case? Is your government not therefore guilty of supporting acts of murder and destruction upon the citizens of a sovereign state?'

Seitz was imperturbable. 'I don't agree that the facts as presented support your assertions,' he said.

As we were leaving the Embassy a US aide told me that he enjoyed my plays. I did not reply.

I should remind you that at the time President Reagan made the following statement: 'The Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers.'

The United States supported the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua for over 40 years. The Nicaraguan people, led by the Sandinistas, overthrew this regime in 1979, a breathtaking popular revolution.

The Sandinistas weren't perfect. They possessed their fair share of arrogance and their political philosophy contained a number of contradictory elements. But they were intelligent, rational and civilised. They set out to establish a stable, decent, pluralistic society. The death penalty was abolished. Hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken peasants were brought back from the dead. Over 100,000 families were given title to land. Two thousand schools were built. A quite remarkable literacy campaign reduced illiteracy in the country to less than one seventh. Free education was established and a free health service. Infant mortality was reduced by a third. Polio was eradicated.

The United States denounced these achievements as Marxist/Leninist subversion. In the view of the US government, a dangerous example was being set. If Nicaragua was allowed to establish basic norms of social and economic justice, if it was allowed to raise the standards of health care and education and achieve social unity and national self respect, neighbouring countries would ask the same questions and do the same things. There was of course at the time fierce resistance to the status quo in El Salvador.

I spoke earlier about 'a tapestry of lies' which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a 'totalitarian dungeon'. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. 'Democracy' had prevailed.

But this 'policy' was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

The United States no longer bothers about low intensity conflict. It no longer sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn't give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant. It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days – conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally – a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they're interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. 'We don't do body counts,' said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. 'A grateful child,' said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. 'When do I get my arms back?' he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, 'I'm Explaining a Few Things':

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.

And you will ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!*

Let me make it quite clear that in quoting from Neruda's poem I am in no way comparing Republican Spain to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. I quote Neruda because nowhere in contemporary poetry have I read such a powerful visceral description of the bombing of civilians.

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as 'full spectrum dominance'. That is not my term, it is theirs. 'Full spectrum dominance' means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don't quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity – the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons – is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force – yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.

'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'

A writer's life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don't have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection – unless you lie – in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.

I have referred to death quite a few times this evening. I shall now quote a poem of my own called 'Death'.

Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?

Who was the dead body?

Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?

Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?

Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?

What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?

Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror – for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.