Monthly Archives: February 2013

purple

I like purple. I always have, it’s February’s birthstone, my birthstone. Amethyst, it’s a violet colored quartz. The Greeks named it μέθυστος methustos [okay, you can’t read that and neither can it] but it means intoxicated, meaning that the stone would protect the wearer from drunkenness.  No. I can tell you, doesn’t work. Now, later on, in the middle ages, soldiers wore amethyst believing had healing properties, keeping the wearer cool-headed. Well, yay! I like that one, but, no, I can tell you, doesn’t work. At one time amethyst was considered valuable, but in the latter part of the 1900’s large deposits were found and well, too much of a thing and the value drops. So now, amethyst is a semi-precious stone. Pooh! I still like purple.

Purple, on the color spectrum is a combination of red and blue. But, ha! you knew that if you were anywhere near the political spectrum these past six years. We’ve had lectures on the non-partisan meaning of purple. I almost lost my love for the color over that, I mean, take a perfectly good color, sure it’s not a primary, but to malign it is such a way as to make it political, well, upsetting to say the least. I still like purple.

Purple is still the color of royalty. It is closer to the red on the color wheel, violet being closer to the blue. Do you really care, though? It is the color of royalty because of tiny sea snail; spiny dye-murex. Who knew, right? So it was expensive. The Phoenicians found it and it was called, imperial purple. So how did it become the color of Lent, of penance, of piety. Well, from what I can tell, back in the middle ages, the Pope, one Paul II, moved the Cardinals to scarlet for their robes, that tiny sea snail apparently having given all and the imperial purple no longer available. The lower orders and the university professors, who robed much like the clergy, took to wearing purple, but a not so deep and royal a purple, more like indigo with a red dye, less expensive than the imperial dye.

In the last century, purple still stayed with the royals, but then it became, along with green and white, the colors of the woman’s suffrage movement, Jehovah Witnesses were required to wear a purple triangle by Nazi. It’s one of the colors for the New Orleans Mardi Gras, along with green and gold. Jimi Hendrix wrote the song Purple Haze about hallucinogenic drugs. In South Africa the protest against apartheid has been called the Purple Rain Protest.

Why did I think of this? Because purple is the vestment color for advent and lent. It is the vestment color the priest wears in confession. It is the symbol for penitence.

I still like purple.

 

 

detention

At Bishop Alemany High School, the one from the 60’s, not the one that is in a new location and probably is the same, but not, study hall was in the middle of the campus. At that time, having no clue if it’s the same now, although I could probably check, there was a boy’s side and a girl’s side. I’m not even sure that’s what they called it, nevertheless that’s what it was. When you walked up the main steps you came to a breezeway, one side was the girl’s office, the other side the boy’s. Yeah, co-educational down to the administration. You walked on campus into an open quad. On the other side of the quad was the chapel, small, very small. Mass for the school being held in the gym. Behind the chapel and up one level was study hall. Then one more level up was the library, my personal favorite. We had an eight period day, and you could only take seven courses, or was it a seven period day and you could only take six courses? Not the point of the story.  If you weren’t in class, you ‘took” and I use the term very loosely, study hall. My Aunt Ann, aunt on my Dad’s side,  was the study hall moderator, and when I was a sophomore I received detention for eating carrots in study hall. Pretty stupid to eat something that crunched, shoulda stuck with raisins, but no, I liked carrots.

Now we said Ant Ann, not Aunt Ann. The Aunt always sounded a bit strange coming off the tongue, that ‘u’  or \ah\ sound almost creating an affectation, and I truly have an intense dislike for affectation which is the top of a slippery slope down to pseudo-elitism. Fast forward maybe twenty years, I was on the T in Boston, the redline actually, from Quincey Center to downtown. It was winter, everyone in their black coats, scarves, mittens or gloves. The T overheated, crowded, loud. I was surrounded by three people, younger than me, louder than me and most definitely very opinionated and very willing to share their views, whether anyone wanted to hear them or not. The girl, woman, female of the group was expounding on the stupidity of people who pronounce Aunt ant. Apparently someone in her office had the gall to talk about her Ant Betty. And this girl, woman, female spit out her pronouncement with little regard for any one else’s space. “An ant is a six-legged, hooked clawed, winged creature with two antennae and compound eyes. At least she could say it correctly, Ahnt.”

In Webster’s the pronunciation key uses \ˈant, ˈänt\ . In the OED  they suggest pronunciation of \ah-nt\. not pronouncing the u, but the \ah\ sound. Sigh. Two very respected research resources, two different views.  Personally, I wanted to send this girl to detention. But all I could think of was the 1937 Gershwin song, Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off which had more to do with class differences than regional differences. “Hey,” I wanted to say, “we’re past that, aren’t we? We don’t mock speech patterns. We are tolerant and open, this after all is the 1980’s.” The two men, boys, males were far too affirming of the girl’s proclamation. I suspected the truth was they had lost to her many times in the past, her verbal style sharp, direct, cutting for them to even vaguely attempt to suggest she was anything but right. So, yeah! detention for her, loudly crunching in a public place, for being obnoxious and bullying and yes, because for her it was all about elitism.

understanding evil

I always thought it was sad that some people wanted to ban Harry Potter for being about witchcraft, when in truth, it was really about the triumph of love (the good in us) over hate (the evil in us). It seemed so clear that Harry’s Aunt and Uncle were denying Harry everything because of one of the seven deadly sins, envy, they were the haters, accepting the evil in the world.

It’s easy to see the battle played out in Harry Potter. Or in the Chronicles of Narnia. Or in The Lord of The Rings. Yes, battle between good and evil is a basic story concept. But, it seems we have a huge problem in really dealing with evil. Many of the stories dealing with evil are in the SciFi/Fantasy  genre. It’s like we can’t battle evil, except with the use of magic. In Harry’s terms, pity us poor muggles. So, do we truly believe in evil?  M. Scott Peck’s Book, The People of the Lie, discusses human evil as a concept totally alien to the science of psychiatry. We have all sorts of euphemisms developed to excuse or evade the idea of evil. But that still doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it just means it terrifies us. Another good reason it is a great basic story concept.

 

a basic dilemma

Conflict between good and evil is a basic dilemma. Most of us would say we’d go with the good. But evil can look so good and easy. I’ve always thought that the easy is what makes it bad, that we must struggle for the real good. In most conflicts, and in most books, it always seems that good and evil are equal. That there is a possibility that evil could win.

This week’s gospel, The Temptation of Jesus, was all about that basic dilemma, between God and the devil. And the devil treats God as an equal. But God is not fooled.  For me, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis,  come to mind.  I read C.S. Lewis on a regular basis, not every Lent but many of them, since I was in high school. It is a very short read, can be disconcerting and challenging and should be better known. The letters are about the faith side of evil.  Written during what Lewis calls The Second German War, the book was published in installments in The Guardian and received a ‘like it’ or hate it’ sort of reception. Through the letters, the book takes on the idea that good and evil are equal. In a forward to the paperback edition, written by Lewis, he said the most common question is “Do you believe in the Devil?” And he answers, ‘Now, if by “the Devil” you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self-existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly No.” He says he believes in devils, like he believes in angels. These are angels who have become depraved, enemies of God, fallen angels.

In the letters, Screwtape is a supervising demon counseling his nephew, Wormwood, a junior tempter, who is on Earth. He asks, in his first letter,  “But are you not being a trifle naïf?” Screwtape is anything but and, throughout the book, his letters deal with helping Wormwood tempt his patient toward Our Father Below. For Screwtape, the Enemy is God, and definitely much less a supreme being. But for us, reading the book, we know that these devils, definitely with a small ‘d’, have chosen to follow one who is not the opposite of God, but one created by God, who is less than God.

 

 

 

 

Good and Evil

There is no more basic story concept than the battle between good and evil. There are some classic SciFi/Fantasy novels dealing with good vs evil. Probably the one that comes easiest to mind is Harry Potter, who took seven novels to defeat Lord Voldemort. And, as in most good stories, it is Harry’s constant temptation toward evil that makes for the primary conflict of the story. But there are others, Frodo and the Ring and Aslan the Lion to name but a few.

This is the first Monday in Lent. Last Wednesday we were reminded of ‘from dust we came and unto dust we shall return’. We’ve received the instructions, yet again, of Fasting and Abstinence. And, now, this week, we turn to the most difficult part of belief, withstanding temptation and staying true. The gospel for the first Sunday in Lent is Matthew 4:1-11, The Temptation of Jesus.

Temptation is one of those words that come fully packaged with negativity. We don’t really ever admit that being tempted is a good thing. Temptation is usually something that we succumb to and hope we live the next day, probably with regret. For Harry, the temptation was small like using magic for self maybe just once. For Frodo, letting the ring keep you alive a little bit longer. Meanwhile, the effort to withstand the temptation is huge. Thus, the conflict because the temptation never ever really look quite all that bad, which leaves us with a basic dilemma.