Friday, 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas everyone!


Well, a lot has happened since I last sat down to blog. I'd better have a go at summarising it all. Then when I'm finshed Monica will tell me that I've forgotten something important. Such is life.

I'm in Offagna for Christmas. Right now I'm on the ground floor, listening to Hoffnung's Music Festivals, what Mum and Dad got me. This because our laptop is dead again, only this time it seems properly dead. We got a bit over a year's worth of work out of it, and since it only had a year's warranty, and since it seems to be the mother board and processor that are dead, there's not much to do except buy another one. Ho. Hum.

At least we managed to get back to Offagna for Christmas. We had snow in Sassuolo what seems like an eternity ago, just the once, but it didn't even start to thaw until Christmas Eve Eve, when we were due to catch our train back. The snow we could have coped with, but after the snow came, it drizzled a little bit, and the drizzle froze and became ice. I don't think I'm prone to exaggeration - let's just say it was a little awkward to get to work. Anyhow, the trains were all in chaos (it's only fair to say that there's always chaos on the trains in Italy for Christmas) - 500 mins delay anyone? - but we managed to get onto a carriage without heating and lighting, and I was pretty pleased with that. There was some confusion at Bologna I think, and we changed onto a slower train, but it all turned out in the end really.

There'll be plenty of people reading who have no idea how my work's been going so I'll tell you; it's going well enough for them. They said they were going to give me 9 month contract, and then more recently they said a 4 year contract, as an apprentice. Nothing signed yet - I'll be lot happier when I sign something. Anyway, we found ourselves (or rather Monica found us) a place in the centre of Sassuolo, son in the new year we'll be moving there. Work is rather mental at the moment. Work is always mental around Christmas of course, but I don't thnk it's just that. Anyway, it's lovely to have a nice long, Italian-style break.

We haven't been the most socially-active of bunnies, but we've visited some places in the vicinity, Modena, Reggio-Emilia and Fiorano. Fiorano is just over the way from Sassuolo, in the hills, and has a Sanctuary, which is very posh like. By an odd coincidence I have discovered that an IT bod, Adriano, at work directs the choir of the Sanctuary, so it looks as though I may have finally found somewhere to sing - hurrah! We managed to catch a few free Christmas concerts too. As it's some kind of centenary of Handel, we managed to hear some selections from 'Messiah', even in Italy. We also heard some famous arias from the opera in a teeny tiny room, which was very good, even though you can't get opera singers to sing quietly, so we spent a long time with our ears vibrating.

I assure you that I'm not writing in order of importance, just as things come to me. I'm an uncle! Vanessa gave birth to Beatrice. She had to have a C section, and Beatrice was premature, was breathing a bit poorly and managed to get a bit of jaundice as well, so unfortunately she's not with us for Christmas, but she's essentially fine. We're all looking forward to meeting her properly, but it seems we're still in for a little wait.

What else...

I will have already told you about Italian Christmases, so I won't spend too long on that, but just say that we spent Christmas Eve eating seafood round Monica's auntie's place. Carlo made a wicked sauce for the spaghetti. Today, for Christmas, it was the nuclear Zagalia family plus husbands. Soon I shall be speaking to Mum and Dad on Skype with any luck.
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Monday, 12 October 2009

A week in Sassuolo

A jar of mustardImage via Wikipedia
You can tell that a corner has been turned in technological-interpersonal relations when your mum says she's surprised you haven't updated you blog.

So, a week ago we arrived in Sassuolo, after a train journey of a bit longer than three hours, with the two biggest suitcases we could get our hands on, to sign the paperwork for my tirocinio, essentially low-paid work experience. But, very much on the plus side, they're paying for our accomodation, so it actually works out very generous, especially given that we're essentially staying in a hotel. It seems a bit ridiculous really - we've been very lucky. I forget precisely what we did that day, but it won't have been too much 'cos we were cream-crackered.

The most reasonably-priced supermarket is just over the road, and today Monica informed me that they have HP brown sauce, Colman's mustard, Weetabix and Jordan's cereals, which, sadly, but in all honestly, is a bit mind-blowing.

My first working week started on a Tuesday. It's a 20 minute walk, which I can't really complain about. We are at the edge of town though really, which is a bit of a bore. It took me quite a few efforts to find the quickest route using a map. They're not big on labelling streets in Italy. Monica seems to think it's much of a muchness in England, but I don't think so.

For the first week I was working entirely on one series of documents for one client, to do with cars. It wasn't gripping stuff, but it was useful, because I kept on seeing the same terminology over and over again, and I was revising it, so I saw both versions. The revision seems to be paper-based, which is charmingly low-tech, but I'm not quite sure that the disadvantages don't outweigh the benefits. The work environment seems pretty good - a bit less today I think, but then it's Monday even in Italy. Tomorrow I finally get a computer and another job to do.

On Saturday we had quite a frustrating day really. Monica saw a cheap iron in the publicity for a supermarket. We needed an iron because the hotel doesn't have ironing facilities for the guests, but you can pay for them to do it for you - sod that. We went for a 20 minute walk to buy the iron, among other things, 20 minutes back in order for the iron to break pretty much instantly and Monica to take an extended look on the bleak side of life until we went back to the same place to buy a more expensive iron, and shell out for the adaptor* and extension lead that we needed to buy in any case. And then we walked back. Then we found out that a letter form the Student Loans company dated April had arrived in Offagna (quite a sense of timing that the postal service have, eh?) which seems to indicate that Monica has to cough up a number of hundreds of quids, plus she has to see the doctor about something. Humph.

Sunday we went to mass, obviously. We decided to try S. Antonio because they seem to have loads going on, a choir, two seperate groups for married couples, Rinnovamento nello Spirito and so on. We were a bit disappointed. We had a peek at the church during the week, and Monica isn't keen on the architecture. I think she finds it harder than I do to look beyond these things; I'm not mad keen on it myself, but I don't think it's that horribly modern actually. I don't know if they do this in English Catholic parishes, but here sometimes you get someone popping up at the lectern and giving brief reflections/commentaries on the mass. It's usually pretty trite and you want them to let the priest get on and say mass because the ordinary liturgy is rather more inspiring. They had one of those. It was the music that really let it down though. Perhaps you'll think me unkind, but I would have found it easier to worship without the music group (it wasn't really a choir - I could see that coming in all honestly). The musicians were pretty okay actually, but the mix was all wrong**; you couldn't hear the words of whatever they were singing, and there didn't even seem to be any hymnals - in Italy you're just expected to know the words. We couldn't really hear the singers, just enough to know that they were a bit ropey. I bet that they practise with the instruments too loud as well, so they never really hear themselves. I'm not just a young fogey, I promise - I like guitars and whatnot, but it jsut didn't come together - it was more of a distraction from the liturgy than anything, and I don't need any help with being distracted.

Well, that was negative way to end that blog entry. Never mind. Until the next time I, or someone else (hah!), blogs, toodle-oo.

* Because it's not enough to have one kind of silly European plug in Italy, they have two which seem to alternate at random, and you can only plug certain everyday eletrical appliances into a given socket!

** I don't know quite what it is about Italians and mixing desks, but they don't seem to mix (so to speak). Italian sound set-ups, whether in church, on the radio or the television, always make me think that I could do better with one hand tied behind my back.
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Sunday, 20 September 2009

Book Review: The Story of a Soul

I say book review, but I don't know if this isn't going to more preamble than review.

When I was living in Gordon Road in Exeter, a Catholic in a house full of people who went to Belmont Chapel*, "an independent, evangelical church with strong bible teaching", I found a textbook lying round from a course taken by (at least some of) their contact workers. This one was from a module on the history of the reformation, and I had a nosey because it never hurts to know how people with opinions other than yours see things.

One of the things it mentioned was the cult of the saints. It was some time ago so I can't recall the exact words, but the gist of it was that the Church's stress on the importance of venerating saints made people feel distant from God; it set up an image of impossibly perfect people who are better than us and closer to God than we are, whereas us grotty sinners need to beg them for salvation and do everything the Church tells us. Naughty Catholic Church.

Now, there's something in the first part of that, but only because any truth can be distorted: "[W]here sin increased, grace increased all the more[. ...] What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" (Romans 5-6) The above is not what the Church tells us about the saints, though of course priests are quite capable of preaching error, or preaching badly. The Church's doctrine of the saints is a joyful things, but the devil is a dab-hand at making what is good appear evil, and what is evil appear good. There's a lot of joy on offer for a practising Catholic, and a lot of guilt for a lapsed Catholic - the same, in point of fact is true for any kind of Christian, although perhaps less explicitly.

For now, it suffices to say that the saints are our brothers in Christ, because they are as much part of the one body of Christ as we are, and "neither death nor life[...] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8) which is inseparable from love for our brothers: "[I]f we love one another, God abides in us." (1 John 4) The Church singles out the saints for us as people who lived holy lives, so that we can follow their example, as they followed the example of Christ. (c.f. I Corinthians 11:1) I wrote a lot about the saints a while ago, here, here and here.

I should probably start talking about the book now shouldn't I? I already blogged saying that I wanted to read (or listen to) The Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, because trying to follow the example of the saints without getting to know them doesn't make a lot more sense than trying to have a relationship with God without praying. The best way, I thought, to dispel this gloomy picture of perfect little plaster-saints that have nothing to do with us muggles is to find out about them.

Well, it wasn't quite what I expected. I liked the beginning a lot, reading about her family life, the trials and the graces, and somewhat predictably, her sweet demeanour. She's easy to like, and reading that part is like spending time in the company of a child - no bad thing, which is a part of St. Thérèse's message. James recently blogged about a writer at the Tablet (the Catholic Weekly we all love to hate, and which always seems to get airtime on R4's Sunday programme) who inexplicably described St. Thérèse's family as dysfunctional. I can't think of a more strange adjective to apply. Rather annoyingly, this seemed to me to be the picture of a perfect family, and where I was hoping to find the saint surprisingly similar to me, I found myself musing on whether I would be a saint too if I'd had that family (all self-delusion of course - and I'll just take a moment to thank my Mum and Dad for all that they've done for me in my life).

The middle section of the book, which is really the majority of it, describing her life in the Carmelite order, left me cold lots of times. It seemed that, far from escaping those plaster-saints, I'd found the perfect example of one; she enjoyed suffering, was filled with seemingly effortless love for God, was delighted to be forgotten and ignored - in short, the complete opposite of me, and the kind of person I feel the urge to slap around for making it all look so easy. The experiment definitely looked to be failing. Yeah, yeah, she suffered terribly - so what if she liked it so much?

What really redeemed the book for me was the final chapter. Until then it's all autobiography; the last chapter is supplied because she becomes unable to write. Now, I think it's worth saying at this point that I don't think many saints would want to be recognised as such - it stands to reason, you don't get to be a saint without a little bit of humility. I was reconciled to St. Thérèse by the witness of those who knew her. Especially towards the end, St. Thérèse talks about how she offers her sufferings to God for sinners, for missionaries, for priests. She talks about her love for mankind and her intention never to stop offering her life for her brothers even after death, never to rest until the end of the world and the beginning of eternity.

Love. Predictably enough, that's what sums it up, and whereas St. Thérèse's own words often didn't agree with me, the witness of the nuns to her tireless intercession and self-giving love for all the suffering and weary children of God did finally get through to me. It's very hard to describe - you'd have to read it you know. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was an apostle of God's love; That probably sounds very trite, and shallow, and very plaster saint, but you shall never appreciate what it means unless you get to know her, and that holds for all of the saints of God.

* Just because you can use Blogger to make a web-site, it doesn't mean you should. What happened to the nice hand-made site guys?
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Apparently no damage has been reported, so I don't suppose it'll touch the British papers, but just in case...

There was an earthquake last night, that we felt at about 6, I think. 4.6 On the Richter scale, depth of 37km. The area affected was between the provinces of Ancona and Macerata and the epicentre was between Montefano e Santa Maria Nuova (Macerata, not the one near us).

Like I say, no damage reported, except to Monica and Vanessa's psyche.

P.S. Monica would prefer me to mention that the bed was shaking for under a minute (the number of seconds is in dispute) and the furniture (especially the display cabinet) was making disquieting noises. I think she's worried I might have made her sound like a wuss (pappamolla). She's not. I wasn't so worried, but I suspect that's more due to ignorance than anything else.
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Friday, 18 September 2009

Work Trial

Hey everyone,

Good news, I've got a 3 month work trial with a translation agency called Omnia based in Sassuolo. That's further north and more inland, in Emilia-Romagna, the land of spaghetti (alla) bolognese, parmesan, Parma ham and lasagna. It's quite a way away, but the accommodation will be arranged (possibly free) for both of us in a way we can manage. It's quite a specialised agency, which deals with mostly technical translations, manuals etc., for agricultural and earth-moving vehicles as well as cars. I shall have a bit to learn.

If the trial works out, it'll be a proper apprenticeship deal, and the salary would pretty good considering the current climate, not enough to start a family with unfortunately, but enough to manage on and start from.

We're pretty pleased and relieved even it only ends up being for three months. Thanks for all your prayers - you can carry on if you like.

Monday, 10 August 2009

St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Again

I thought I'd blog something I was interested in which just happens to be topical. A little while ago James was criticising something that Archbishop Vincent Nichols said in an interview with the Catholic Herald. When I looked at that interview, I noticed this:
[B]y avoiding personal Confession do Catholics miss out on a unique encounter with Jesus himself?

Of course they do. [...]

I've been assured that when the relics of St Thérèse come then one of the things we must be prepared for is a huge increase in personal Confession. There were a couple of hundred youngsters up at the Brightlights festival in north London last weekend. At one time there were 15 priests there hearing Confessions on and off during the Saturday.

So there is something very precious about Confession and I think Catholics realise that. One of the things it is is a profound human truth, because all sacraments bring together the human realities and the divine intervention. It's a profound truth that we have to confess, that we have to face and name what we have done that is wrong. Otherwise the human process of healing, which grace builds on, doesn't begin. Sooner or later we have to do that.
I heard more about St. Thérèse's relics coming to the UK on Sunday last weekend; unfortunately you won't be able to hear that now, as they've had another transmission since then. They said the same thing about the spiritual fruits that her relics are bearing, the increase in confession etc.

It so happens that I've been meaning to read her Story of a Soul for some time. She's a Doctor of the Church, which means that it has been officially declared that through her writings the whole Church has derived great advantage. She's known for her "Little Way", a recognition that heroic deeds and great acts are not necessary to achieve great holiness but love can be lived out in the least of actions. Though she undertook the religious life, the "Little Way" has proved especially helpful for the laity.

So where am I going with all this? Well, the wonderful people at Librivox have just made Story of a Soul available in audio format. This is good for people like me, who like the fact that, say, Project Gutenberg has the text online, but would rather gouge out their own eyes than read a book from a monitor.

So, Librivox's Story of a Soul is here, and comes with helpful listening options (MP3s to download directly, individually or zipped, RSS feed, iTunes subscription, Chapter-a-day).
It's slightly less conveniently here in MP3 as well, at Maria Lectrix.
Or if you're a real glutton for punishment, you could read it online at Project Gutenberg.

Well, I hope I didn't just waste my time typing that. I'm really looking forward to listening to it myself.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Interviews, Translations, Handel, Jazz, Spoleto, Ferragosto

Good morning and a very merry 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) to you.

It's been quite an eventful week, especially for us. On Monday I updated my CV with the details from Intrawelt and phoned the Student Loans Company to check whether I had to declare the one off payment - apparently I don't. Then we e-mailed it out to the addresses that Monica had been collecting over the previous week. It was a pretty good response. I had a phone call from another translation agency in Bagnacavallo (Bathehorse? Horsebath?). First they asked me to interview as a Project Manager and then they changed their minds and said that they'd like some translations from me first, which I haven't received yet. I also had an e-mail back from another agency asking for me to do some test translations, which I did, and bloody hard they were too. Another e-mail said there weren't any internal positions but, subject to some test translations, they'd consider me as a freelance translator. I had to reply saying that I wasn't sure I could because I don't have a P.IVA, which I would need if I were to be self-employed. Last but not least I had a call for an interview in Rimini for teaching work, so that's where I'm going on Tuesday, for an interview plus a language test that I'm told should take around 2 hours in all.

Rather remarkably, I've managed to see three concerts, all free, in the space of a week, one in Osimo and the other two in Offagna. It's very true that generally speaking there's not a lot to do round here, but on the plus side, the summer is packed with free events of good quality. We went to Osimo with Gio(vanna), Marghe's sister who's another friend of Monica's, to listen to some pieces for organ accompanied by an orchestra by Handel. It was very good. The organist had a tough time. I think it was a period instrument. In any case it was an upright affair that you have to play standing up. To add insult to injury, the multiple pages of sheet music, which the organist was attempting to manage on his own until this became untenable, didn't really fit on the music holder and the wind (it was in a courtyard) kept blowing the sheets around. Well done him. The concerts in Offagna were both jazz, part of a series of "Jazz and Wine" (not Jazz e Vino, because English is more cool, you see...) On Friday we went down to the, um, villa(?) where we buy our wine from and listened to bebop in the garden. That was my favourite; sax, piano, double bass and drums. The sax was very good, the pianist was mental - possibly a little too much, the percussion was outstanding - we weren't so keen on the double bass though. The acoustic was excellent, especially the drums. Monica said she liked it, but it didn't grab her so much. I thought it was great, but I was perhaps too tired to take it all in. I'm not good at listening to music at night. Then yesterday it was another quartet, led by a famous Italian jazz guitarist (Franco Cerri), backed up by a Hammond organ, double bass and drums. I didn't like it so much - there was considerably less swing and I'm never really convinced by jazz guitar anyway. The drumming was good, but without any reall swing, as I say, and he kind of ruined it by relentlessly using the cymbals so it was difficult to hear the percussion underneath. We did like the man on the double bass though. I think I quite like the Hammond organ - in small doses. I coulcn't imagine playing it every day though...

What with us living with Monica's Mum and Dad, we're always keen on the idea of getting away to get some time to ourselves, but without work this seems like something we probably shouldn't splash out on. However, as I just worked for a month we decided to go away into the mountains (everyone's at the beach at the moment you see, but if we're both still unemployed we can go when it's quieter) for a bit of relaxation. So we're off to Spoleto at the end of the month, staying here, which looks lovely. Looking forward to it.

As I said, everyone's at the beach at the moment. This is because in Italy, the whole of August is basically holiday time. Lots of offices shut down for at least a few weeks. This means that the roads are horribly congested just now. Imagine that all English bank holidays happened back to back and you'd have some idea of how lousy it is on the roads right now. It's linked with Ferragosto, a celebration that dates from Roman times, but which is now linked with the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, dogmatically defined in 1950, if I've understood it correctly.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Il Testamento di Tito

You may remember I translated an article on Italian party politics a little while ago. I decided I'd try and do a few more translations, a little inspired by my time at Intrawelt. I'm using a free, very basic, translation programme called OmegaT, and what I thought I'd do was translate some songs for you, because I've been enjoying some Italian music, and I thought you could enjoy it too.

So this is a song by Fabrizio de André that I like, but which is a bit scandalous. Fabrizio de André is very famous here. He died young and is very highly regarded. There are things like memorial concerts for him and his work receives scholarly attention. I asked Monica if that meant he was a bit like an Italian Bob Dylan in that regard, and she seemed to think that you could say that.

The titular Tito you may or may not know as St. Dismas, that is the 'Good Thief'. Apparently in the apocryphal Arabic infancy gospel he's called Tito/Titus instead. Like I say, it's a bit scandalous. You might make something of the turnaround at the end (he is the Good thief after all) but this is essentially his attack on the Ten Commandments.

Just to preempt any comments to the effect that the commandments have been altered in a Catholic direction, I know. I suppose Fabrizio's ten came from some kind of catechetical source where Sabbath observance is linked to feast days and adultery is linked to self-gratification et cetera. And anyone who says the numbers are wrong will want pointing out to them that the Bible doesn't give numbers to the commandments - that's tradition, which varies from denomination to denomination.

The Italian used for the commandments isn't really thee-thouish, but it is traditional, so I started from the 10 in the Baltimore Catechism, which follows the Douay-Rheims in any case.

Il testamento di Tito
Fabrizio De André

Non avrai altro Dio, all'infuori di me,
spesso mi ha fatto pensare:
genti diverse, venute dall'est
dicevan che in fondo era uguale.
Credevano a un altro diverso da te,
e non mi hanno fatto del male.
Credevano a un altro diverso da te
e non mi hanno fatto del male.

Non nominare il nome di Dio,
non nominarlo invano.
Con un coltello piantato nel fianco
gridai la mia pena e il suo nome:
ma forse era stanco, forse troppo occupato
e non ascoltò il mio dolore.
Ma forse era stanco, forse troppo lontano
davvero, lo nominai invano.

Onora il padre. Onora la madre
e onora anche il loro bastone,
bacia la mano che ruppe il tuo naso
perché le chiedevi un boccone:
quando a mio padre si fermò il cuore
non ho provato dolore.
Quando a mio padre si fermò il cuore
non ho provato dolore.

Ricorda di santificare le feste.
Facile per noi ladroni
entrare nei templi che rigurgitan salmi
di schiavi e dei loro padroni
senza finire legati agli altari
sgozzati come animali.
Senza finire legati agli altari
sgozzati come animali.

Il quinto dice "non devi rubare"
e forse io l'ho rispettato
vuotando in silenzio, le tasche già gonfie
di quelli che avevan rubato.
Ma io, senza legge, rubai in nome mio,
quegli altri, nel nome di Dio.
Ma io, senza legge, rubai in nome mio,
quegli altri, nel nome di Dio.

Non commettere atti che non siano puri
cioè non disperdere il seme.
Feconda una donna ogni volta che l'ami, così sarai uomo di fede:
poi la voglia svanisce ed il figlio rimane
e tanti ne uccide la fame.
Io, forse, ho confuso il piacere e l'amore,
ma non ho creato dolore.

Il settimo dice "non ammazzare"
se del cielo vuoi essere degno.
guardatela oggi, questa legge di Dio,
tre volte inchiodata nel legno.
guardate la fine di quel nazareno,
e un ladro non muore di meno.
Guardate la fine di quel nazareno,
e un ladro non muore di meno.

Non dire falsa testimonianza
e aiutali a uccidere un uomo.
Lo sanno a memoria il diritto divino
e scordano sempre il perdono.
Ho spergiurato su Dio e sul mio onore
e no, non ne provo dolore.
Ho spergiurato su Dio e sul mio onore
e no, non ne provo dolore.

Non desiderare la roba degli altri,
non desiderarne la sposa.
Ditelo a quelli, chiedetelo ai pochi
che hanno una donna e qualcosa:
nei letti degli altri, già caldi d'amore
non ho provato dolore.
L'invidia di ieri non è già finita:
stasera vi invidio la vita.

Ma adesso che viene la sera ed il buio
mi toglie il dolore dagli occhi
e scivola il sole al di là delle dune
a violentare altre notti:
io nel vedere quest'uomo che muore,
madre, io provo dolore.
Nella pietà che non cede al rancore,
madre, ho imparato l'amore.
The Testament of Titus
Fabrizio De André

“Thou shalt not have strange gods before me”;
it's often made me think:
other peoples, from the East
said that it was really all the same.
They believed in a strange god, a different god from yours,
and they didn't do me any harm.
They believed in a strange god, a different god from yours,
and they didn't do me any harm.

“Thou shalt not take the name of God,
thou shalt not take it in vain.”
With a knife planted in my side
I cried out my pain and his name:
but perhaps he was tired, perhaps he was too busy
and didn't listen to my pain.
But perhaps he was tired, perhaps he was too far away.
I certainly took his name in vain.

“Honour thy father. Honour thy mother”
and honour their cane as well,
kiss the hand that broke your nose
because you asked for a bite to eat:
when my father's heart stopped
I felt no pain.
When my father's heart stopped
I felt no pain.

“Remember that thou hallow the holy days.”
Easy for us thieves
to enter the temples, flooded with the psalms
of slaves and their masters,
without ending up bound to the altars,
throats cut like animals!
Without ending up bound to the altars,
throats cut like animals!

The fifth says "thou shalt not steal"
and perhaps I've obeyed it,
emptying in silence, the swollen pockets
of thieves.
But I, lawless, stole in my own name,
those thieves, in the name of God.
But I, lawless, stole in my own name,
those thieves, in the name of God.

“Thou shalt not commit impure acts”;
that is, don't spill your seed.
Impregnate a woman every time you love her, and you'll be a man of faith:
then the desire vanishes, the child remains
and hunger kills many sons.
Perhaps I've confused pleasure with love,
but I haven't begotten pain.

The seventh says "thou shalt not kill"
If you want to be worthy of heaven.
Look today at this law of God,
nailed three times into wood.
Look what's become of that Nazarene,
and not one less thief dies.
Look what's become of that Nazarene,
and not one less thief dies.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness”
and help to kill a man.
They know the divine law by heart
but always forget to forgive.
I've sworn falsely by God and on my honour
and no, it doesn't give me any pain.
I've sworn falsely by God and on my honour
and no, it doesn't give me any pain.

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods,
thou shalt not covet his wife.”
Tell it to those, ask it of the few
that have a woman and something else:
in my neighbour's bed, already warm with love
I felt no pain.
Yesterday's envy isn't finished yet:
now I envy your lives.

But now that evening comes and the darkness
takes the pain from my eyes
and the sun slips beyond the dunes
to violate other nights:
I, seeing this man as he dies,
mother, I feel pain.
In compassion that refuses to hate,
mother, I've learnt what love means.
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Saturday, 25 July 2009

Translation Trial & Locals

I've got a week left of the trial, but I already know how it's turned out. When I had the interview, Alessandro talked about a particular contract for the trial period. Being English, I thought I would have something to sign on the first day, and probably some things, like bank details, to pass on. Nothing doing.

With a week to go, I thought it'd make sense to check what was going on so I asked to talk to Alessandro. We only talked about the contract in passing, because he told me his decision about the trial, which is that I haven't got the job. He said that there was no problem with me personally or with my level of English (as if), but that my level of Italian was too low, based on feedback from other people. This, apparently, wouldn't be a problem in other circumstances, because after a year I'd probably be fine, but they're looking for someone with the right qualities from the off. He did, on the other hand, say that some freelance work could be possible.

So there you are. Those of you who know me (and who else, I wonder, is reading?) will know that I'm not the over-confident type - I'm probably more aware of my limitations than is helpful - but I must say it seems like a mistake. Of the mistakes that I'm aware I made, one was major. Almost every day, I proofread translations which were clearly much, much worse than the translations I was doing, in terms of English, and which contained objective errors that I could easily spot. In fact, it was quite an ego trip, seeing that real-life translators were getting paid real money for what I could see was trash, and I could turn them into something better with relative ease.

There's another 'English' there called Paul, who I worked quite closely with at the start and who does the job most similar to what mine is/was. He said he was surprised and said kind things about my level of Italian and said much what I said above about the quality of "professional" translators. He also said that Alessandro had been looking for a mother tongue proofreader for ages, which makes the fact that he hasn't taken me on seem doubly peculiar. Consequently I entertain vague hopes that he'll change his mind, though I'm obviously not counting on it.

In other news, controversy in the village. The Medieval Festival (my word, that's an unexpectedly swish site - why didn't they get it translated? I would have done it for free...) started last Saturday and finishes tomorrow. Anyway, one of the features is a 'disfida in arme' ('weapon challenge') between Offagna's 'Rioni' ('Districts'). Our district (Torrione) won it, but S. Benardino weren't happy with the result and asked for an appeal. Torrione said they would withdraw their participation from the Festival and proceeded to take all their flags down (there are a lot of them about). In the end Torrione still won, but one thing led to another and there was fighting in the streets. Monica's Dad, Carlo, and Don Luca, the young priest, had to keep trying to separate them. Apparently one guy might have needed an ambulance. So that's village life for you.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Translation Trial

Saint Jerome, patron saint of translators
Monica and I were talking for some time about relocating to another city or two where we were more likely to find work. We took a long time to come up with any plan of action though, because I'm pretty ignorant about Italy in the first place, and these are strange times, so it was hard to know where to try. Nor did anyone feel especially competent to advise us. But we finally came up with a few ideas, and instead of relocating (because nowhere's a safe bet), we decided just to send out speculative applications to companies we could find in the yellow pages that we thought might like an English native speaker. I also started a 54 day rosary (that's a pair of triple novenas, if you're wondering – one for please, one for thank you) for the intention of a job for me.

We started out with the places closest to us, because it's not like we actually want to leave Offagna, so the closer the better. We got going with this on a Friday. On Saturday morning I had a phone call from Alessandro Potalivo – Intrawelt is his company. That caught me rather on the back foot. In any case we talked about my CV and we arranged an interview on Monday. It was a strange sort of interview – he invited Monica too and his wife came in for the latter half as well – but it's how I got the trial period I'm on. Essentially he said he could do with a mother tongue proof reader, but not everyone who speaks English can proof read, which is perfectly fair.

What is a strain is the hours and the commute. Office hours are 8:30-18:30 and even with a generous break of 1-1½hrs (I've not taken 1½ so far), it's still more hours than I've ever worked. If I get the job we'll try and get a place in Porto Sant'Elpidio as soon as we can, to ease that particular strain. I get up at 6:40 and get back home at 20:10, more or less.

As to how it's going – quite well I think. It's a mixed bag – What job isn't? - but I think I'm doing quite well. I don't know if Alessandro will take me on, but we shall see. What did surprise me was that I'm doing translations about as much, or at least not significantly less, than I'm doing proof reading. That wasn't was I was expecting at all, but I seem to get by, after an initial shock. I've made some mistakes, including quite a big one yesterday where I parsed a verb into the wrong person, but, the way I see it, they're hardly even my fault - I never said anything to indicate that I felt my Italian was up to translation work. One good thing about the job is the variety. Translation agencies translate whatever they can, so you end up with all sorts. Even if the bulk of the job is boring financial paperwork, I've worked on a recipe for sweet and sour ribs (thank you unrequested Google image search for teaching me that “6 pieces of green onion” means “6 spring onions”) a little article about Iceland's lᴓveli lakes and, slightly less excitingly, but still better than finance, different tyre categories. It's also a very quiet office for the most part, though it is a good, friendly atmosphere. We use a little messaging system, so you don't tend to hear those brief, everyday sorts of queries because it's all being typed out silently. I feel sorry for the girl who works all alone on the reception desk (though she's not just the receptionist) especially.

With regards to actual proof reading, I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but it's harder than I thought, and for reasons I wasn't expecting. Perhaps I am naïve. One thing that was made very clear by Paul, another Englishman (or perhaps he's Irish actually) was that one of the major problems in the translation industry is the quality threshold. Essentially, anyone who speaks two languages can say “I'm a translator”, with hilarious consequences. But a good translation, in short, is made by someone translating into their mother tongue, with a good knowledge of their own language (which, as is only too apparent to me at least, is by no means a given) and a good knowledge of the subject matter. So finding a good translator isn't exactly a piece of cake.

About 50% of the time, when I proof read, it's more like a re-write, or that it's me doing the translation. I'm not sure precisely how many of Intrawelt's translators are technically freelance, but they certainly almost all work remotely. The team I work with is made up, for the most part, of project managers, which is to say the people who co-ordinate the translation by dishing it out to various translators. Anyway, we receive these translations through the ether and sometimes I find it very hard to believe that these people are really English mother tongues. No exaggeration, I assure you. I have to assume either that they're translating in the wrong direction, for whatever reason, or that they've somehow bluffed their way onto the records as English mother tongues, or more charitably that though they're technically mother tongues, they've been living and working in another language for so long that they've lost their grasp on English, which may not have been amazing to begin with.

If anything's going to stop me getting this job, I expect it'll be this, that I can proof read an intelligible English text, but I can't fix a god-awful translation that I don't understand in either the original or the “English”. We shall see.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

You wouldn't want nuns to fall out of windows would you?

Because if there were any more vocations to the convent where we stayed for the weekend, that's probably what would happen. Here, have a read:

Benedictine Convent "Santa Maria delle Rose"
Via Castello, 18
62020 Sant'Angelo in Pontano, Macerata

September 2008

Dear Sir

We are a Benedictine monastic community of strict observance, dedicated to praising the Lord and praying for every man on earth.

We are 30 sisters, the majority of whom are very young, from Italy and from other parts of the world (Belgium, Poland, Canada, Mexico and Taiwan).

The Lord is surprising us, continually sending us new young women who want to embark upon our Benedictine life, that unfolds in a harmonious alternation of Ora et Labora (Prayer and Work). In this way, as St. Benedict recommends in the Holy Rule, we sustain ourselves with the work of our hands.

The old convent is by now too small for our needs and for this reason we think that it is the will of God to construct a new one that, while remaining in the spirit of St. Benedict, will make tangible in its beauty the love of God for each person. We are sure that the Lord will carry this work to completion.

We are writing to ask for your help according to your means.

The new convent will be erected in Passo Sant'Angelo, where the Lord has already provided us with a gift of beautiful land and the authorisation to begin construction.

May the Lord bless you, your family and your work. We are praying for you.

Mother Abbess and community
Tel/Fax: (+39)0733/661206 or (+39)0733/978909 E-mail:

If you would like to participate in the construction:
Banca Delle Marche:IBAN: IT26 M060 5569 1600 0000 0002 225BIC/SWIFT: BAMAIT3AXXX
BancoPosta Italia:IBAN: IT89 A076 0113 4000 0003 6806 743BIC/SWIFT: BPPIITRRXXX

That's their letter. I'd like to add some words of my own:

The Mother's not kidding that the Lord is surprising them. At one time it seemed that the convent was bound to shut down for the lack of vocations, but now the place is teeming with young sisters, and quite an international bunch of sisters too. They are not chalking this up to co-incidence, but to the will of the Lord to do a new thing. They've already received requests to found new convents abroad, not so much in developing countries, but in countries where the Gospel has faded out of public life and where they would be sheep among wolves.

I might also mention that the New Movements of the Church have had a large part to play in this. That is to say that many of these young women were drawn to this ancient way of life precisely because they responded courageously to the call to live out their lay vocation, the priesthood of all believers. They haven't "escaped" - they're full of life and they're doing battle "against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" on your behalf and on the behalf of everyone you love.

We're grateful for the love, the hospitality, and the words that they gave to us during our time there.

N.B. There are enough English-speakers in the convent that, should you wish to send a letter or an e-mail, I'm sure it will be gratefully received.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Nuns and Voting

This weekend we went to the Benedictine convent of Sant'Angelo in Pontano, "Santa Maria delle Rose". That's where Monica's friend Marghe(rita) has taken the habit and taken her temporary vows (if I err not). Apparently she "expires" (her own word - like passing your sell-by date) within a year, so she's pretty close to the final commitment. She's been there four years now. We felt the need for a retreat, if only a little one, and Marghe is Monica's best friend, present company excepted, so we decided to take a weekend break there.

It was great.
Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ,
for He is going to say,
"I came as a guest, and you received Me" (Matt. 25:35).
And to all let due honor be shown,
especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.
- Rule of St. Benedict
One of the things that this means is that I ate very well (though the tea was Lipton). Monica didn't eat so much, for she is a delicate individual with delicate insides, and when we arrived, the only other guest was fasting (practically two days), with a room right next to the dining room, so we couldn't really bang on about the food too much. She was a girl called Sonia on the (Neocatechumenal) Way and we felt a bit sorry for her because she was very young, fasted a lot and evidently had a very emotionally overwhelming time - notwithstanding the fact that she'd fasted, she didn't have a lot of appetite afterwards.

We didn't have any kind of programme for the retreat, so we basically ate, joined in with the Office, the Mass, spent time with Marghe and talked with Madre Diletta (Diletta meaning "one in whom delight is taken" rather than Delitta which is almost Italian for "crime") who Marghe recommended to us as a person through whom the Holy Spirit speaks.

I love singing the Psalms. We decided to make the effort to get up for the first prayers of the day, which means getting up around 5-6 at the weekend and neither of us regretted it at all though we did get quite tired out. The convent is a bit of a peculiar one. It looked at one point as though it was going to close down due to the lack of vocations, but God had other ideas, and it's currently packed out with young women. One of the consequences of this is that, for a Benedictine convent, it's a madhouse, and another is that their singing (about which I am certainly not complaining) isn't up to the high standards that are rather expected of the religious orders - so they were quite impressed when I just turned up and sang. Without going into detail, it was great, and it was nice simply to have a straightforward acoustic - San Tommaso is pretty echoey, so it's hard to follow a melody you don't know.

We were very fortunate to have the amount of time that we did with Marghe - you'd be surprised at how busy nuns in an enclosed order can be, and it was good to catch up, especially for Monica of course. Practically the first time Monica spoke to me it was to confide in me how hard it was for her that her friend was entering the convent - she misses her. But it was also very good for my Italian, not just with Marghe, but with everyone. It was very easy to listen, and to speak, which is not something I can take for granted here.

I'm not going to go into what we talked about with Madre Diletta, but suffice to say we received a lot of comfort and a lot to think about, and we're very glad that Marghe suggested it.

Now, theirs is an enclosed order, but it was time to vote over here too, and the Church makes a big deal of voting (Carlo blames the Church for supporting Berlusconi, among other things) so they go out in groups to vote. We went with Marghe's lot as an excuse for a stroll, and one of the nuns, on learning that I was from Sheffield, proceeded to tell us more than I could remember about the Yorkshire metal industry. Pfft. Sant'Angelo in Pontano is a very nice place, and there's a beautiful view of the mountains, behind some of the greenest hills I've seen in Italy (not so green as England), so it was nice to see the nuns having a chance to appreciate that as well.

We very cleverly scheduled our retreat so that we had to vote when we got back to Offagna tired from insane prayer schedules. It was a bit funny to vote in Italy, but the system is basically exactly the same as in England. Monica asked me who I was going to vote for, but apparently I wasn't meant to tell her, because then everyone would know. This is a little village after all. Monica says if people know how you vote, you get labelled - s'probably true everywhere. I voted PD anyway. I had half a mind to vote UdC because of their family policies, but they're rather a minorty party, and I'm not sure how much you can legislate for strong families. I also like the idea of the IdV, because if there's one thing Italy needs, it's a continual, real struggle against corruption. Di Pietro, the leader, was a judge at the time of Tangentopoli ('Bribesville', a scandal that destroyed the Christian Democrats, completely reconfiguring the Italian political landscape) before founding his party as a response to the corruption. But I couldn't condone all of their programme.

Anyhow, same story here as in the rest of Europe. The PdL, Berlusconi's centre-right party, in coalition with the Lega Nord (racists) seem to have done it again. The IdV have made good progress, and I hope they continue to do so.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The European Elections

I decided to do a rough translation of an article on the various parties and their manifestos in Il Messagero because it seemed like a good way to a) help me vote sensibly b) practise Italian and c) give you a window into Italian politics, should you want such a thing.

Here we vote on Saturday and Sunday. We're away for the weekend at a nunnery for a personal retreat, so we'll have to vote when we get back on Sunday.

If you want to ask any questions, do. I know that there are tons of typos - this does not concern me. I think it's pretty interesting to compare this with British politics.

Here it is:

Popolo della Libertà (People of Liberty): first objective: becoming the largest party within the European popular parties
The first objective of Berlusconi is to make the PdL the most numerous group of the PPE, thus the leading party, thereby conditioning the choices of [the European popular house?]. The PdL has undersigned the programme of the PPE, that, after unrestrained laissez faire, ending with the world finiancial crisis, is now staking everything on the “social market economy”. The financial markets must submit to fixed rules. Job creation is a priority, given that unemployment is on the increase, as well as investment in green technology and renewable and nuclear energy.
Then the struggle against illegal immigration, a common policy on asylum and the Blue Card system for immigrants. Pension reform and tax policies for families. Also a stronger EU that will renew its partnership with the USA, more control of world financial markets from the Monetary Fund and re-inforcement of the UN.

Partito Democratico (Democratic Party): Economic Emergency: supporting workers and businesses in crisis
The PD is relying heavily on social-economic themes. Modification of the stability pact (to remove investment and reserach expenses from the deficit), issuing of European public qualifications to develop infrastructures and a fund for supporting workers and firms struck by the international crisis. The development of social shock-absorbers, from a minimum income to support for low salaries.
Then the “green economy” following Obama, an obligatory Erasmus programme in the universities and achieving equality between men and women. Management of the immigration problem by the EU: struggle against illegal immigration, black-market work and human-trafficking, but also integration, common rules on asylum, and entrusting border control to the EU rather than single states. Co-operation against organised crime and defence of Schengen, creating a European police force.

Northern League: No to super-state Europe
less immigrants, more security

More than a programme, Carroccio proposes a manifesto against beaurocracy from Brussells. The league doesn't want a “continental super-state”. The alternative is that of a “Europe of the peoples” with a confederal model in which the member states maintain their unaltered sovereignty. The League's document recalls the battle for Europe's Christian roots: a separate chapter is dedicated to the refusal of Turkey's entry into the EU. The participation of Ankara “would make the idea of a Europe founded on common roots, which are Christian, collapse”. Fiscal federalism, defense of Malpensa as an international airport, defence of the family and no marriages except between a man and a woman. Also: regional autonomy in waste-management and re-introduction of customs duties to beat unfair competition from the far-east and elsewhere.

Unione di Centro (Union of the Centre): The family above everything
aids, relief and subsidiarity

The centrists of the UDC are relying heavily on the Europe of families. And they've put together a manifesto in which the defence of the family is the central nucleus: the family founded on marriage, as the Catholics consider it; family policies that aim to defeat poverty, without the redistribution of wealth as their goal, to be applied in terms of subsidiarity and not welfare, that don't regard solely welfare, but also tax relief, school, bioethics and employment. A fundamental principle is that a European citizen's capcity to contribute must be based on the size of the family in his care. Immigration also to be managed with a view to the family: “Illegal immigration and violence, exploitation and xenophobia – they are fought with family unity and Europe must take up the fight”.

Left and Liberty: Reduction of working hours. Yes to civil partnerships and gay marriages
Vendola and company are looking to the European socialy salary for the unemployed and also propose ther reduction of working hours and taxation of large estates, instability, reduction of the differences in EU payments. Renewable energy rather than nuclear, bio-construction, quality agriculture, consumer protection and struggle against the climate emergency. On civil rights, Left and Liberty wants a Europe that recognises the decisive role of the individual conscience in the great ethical questions: Yes to liberty of treatment, to the use of stem-cells, to assisted fertilisation, to civil unions and gay marriages. Equal opportunity and freedom for women and men. No to the Gelmini reform, quality public schools and universities financed by public money. Against armaments and in favour of disarmament.

PRC-PDCI: Minimum salary, private incomes to be taxed and dismissals blocked
Another Europe is possible is the title of the manifesto presented by the anticapitalist list formed by the PRC and PDCI. “We are opposed to a laissez faire, technocratic Europe”, it declares. The joint programme sustains that the workers mustn't pay for the crisis of capitalism. Therefore, a plan for full employment and a fund financed by the taxation of private incomes and financial speculation is necessary, as well as the blocking of dismissals and delocalisation. The firms that make use of public contributions can't dimiss workers or use the funds for relocating production. A European contract and minimum salary, a social income for the unemployed and an adequate pension. Among the proposals: public control of credit, nationalisation of the banks, closure of detention centres for immigrants, the dissolution of NATO. Renewable energy and no to nuclear.

Italia dei Valori (Italy of Values): More transparency and inelegibility for the condemned. European social pact
Italy of Values presents a 12-point programme. The party of Di Pietro intend to carry their flag for the defense of legality into Europe: transparency in European finance, inelegiblity for the condemned and European sentences to be respected within 60 days of their approval. The IdV says yes to the affermation of civil rights (in particular civil unions and living wills), and would like the obligation to study a second European language from infancy. On immigration it asks for the regulation of the flow of migrants on the basis of solidarity, of regular employment and of capacity for subsistence. Help to the unemployed, a European social pact for the ditrubution of aid and social shock-absorbers in relation to support capacity, to the nuclear family and to the possibility of relocation.

The list of Bonino: “The United States of Europe, immediately”. A vote against 'partyocracy'“United States of Europe, immediately. For a European homeland against the Europe of homelands”, the slogan of the Bonino-Pannella list and the most European of all. The exact opposite of that procliamed by Bossi's League, that is the desire to have a strong, united Europe guiding us, overcoming selfishness and national myopia. One of the strongest slogans exclaims: “For the Liberation from 60 years of 'partyocracy' Let us call together the Italians for the great 'American' reform, liberal and federalist, lay and non-violent, for a new governing class, an alternative to the one we have, for an open society like the one proposed by our referendums, often approved by the overwhelming majority of the Italian people, but then betrayed by 'partyocracy'”. The radicals denounce: “Not only democratic elections” undermined by disinformation and “violation of legality”.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Pilgrimage to Loreto

I was thinking that it's been a while since I blogged, and that it's really been a while since I let anyone know what I'm doing except over the phone, so I'm going to try and be more regular.

What's more, you Dobson people, I'd like to know what you're up to as well - so if you blogged a bit as well, that'd be great. And there's Skype too.

Anyway, rather conveniently, this weekend we've done something for a change. We went on the diocesan pilgrimage to Loreto. Now there's a risk that may sound hardcore, but, if Wolfram|Alpha is to be believed, it was only a3.735 mile walk away, or 20 seconds at the speed of sound.

We got a lift to Crocette from Monica's Dad, because the coach from Offagna was a bit steep (€7 each) and picked up a booklet each and we were off, with a Madonna of Loreto carried up at the front, and various people carrying speakers all the way through the crowd. We basically walked across the main road - people are used to this kind of thing in Italy. The speakers didn't work very well, and sometimes cut out completely. I don't know quite what it is, but pretty much all of the audio equipment in Italy seems to be really clapped out and unfit for purpose.

It was good, but it was more rosary than I can deal with really. We prayed 2 and a half sets of mysteries, and walking in a crowd in the heat (we've had a warm spell here - pre-emptive summer temperatures) makes it difficult to concentrate. For those of you who don't know, the main point of the rosry is to meditate on events in Jesus' and Mary's life i.e. The Annunciation, Mary's visit to Elisabeth, The birth of Jesus, his presenatation at the temple, his being found among the teachers of the law there. So if you can't concentrate it detracts rather.

And when we got to the end, it was the mass of the Ascension with the bishop, who was atypically brief in his homily (apparently he had to be up for something early this morning). All in all, a good day was had by all.

Schools nearly finished in Italy. They have an immense summer holiday. And in the last weeks of school, even goody-two-shoes' like Monica bunk off apparently. Plus, the first weeks a new school year are infallibly interrupted by strikes. So this means that the children we've been helping with English and sundry other scholastic disciplines won't need our services soon, and we'll have more free time to look for work but less money. We intend to go to the beach and look for seasonal work.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Talking Dirty (Yes, it's rude.)

Death of Onan. watercolor by Franc LanjščekImage via Wikipedia
Dave recently put up a link to a thing called Porn-Again Christian, a leaflet about masturbation and pornography in a Christian context. There's some good stuff in there, but I did find myself disagreeing with quite a few things, and I wanted to mention one in particular:

Many Christian pastors have tried in vain to find a mention of masturbation in the Scripture so they can condemn and forbid it. Unable to find any verses on the matter, some have foolishly used the story of Onan in Genesis 38:6-10 as their proof text. However, the story of Onan says nothing of masturbation. Instead, the story is about a man who died, leaving his wife a childless widow. The dead man’s brother was then expected to marry his widowed sister-in-law, have normal sexual relations with her, and enable her to have children. Although Onan was happy to have sex with his sister-in-law, he would pull out of her just prior to his orgasm and ejaculate on the ground rather than obey God and become a father. To argue against masturbation with Genesis 38:6-10 is as ludicrous as arguing for masturbation like one young guy did with me by quoting Ecclesiastes 9:10, which says, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might."

Now I disagree with the author, one "Pastor Mark Driscoll [of] Mars Hill Church, Seattle", on his take on the passage, but I disagree still more with the tone he takes. People who disagree with him argue "foolishly". He asserts (there is no argument - the relevant verses about the levirate law are omitted) that it has nothing to say about masturbation, rather, that it's purely about his refusal to continue his brother's line. Then he makes an irrelevant and insulting comparison between those who do think that this passage is an argument against masturbation and some guy looking for an excuse to wank in the bible.

Here's the story of Onan:

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death. Then Judah said to Onan, "Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother." But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so he put him to death also. - Genesis 38:6-10

Here's the substance of the levirate law, together with the designated punishment for defying that law:

If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.

However, if a man does not want to marry his brother's wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, "My husband's brother refuses to carry on his brother's name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me." Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, "I do not want to marry her," his brother's widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, "This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother's family line." That man's line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled. - Deuteronomy 25:5-10

Onan refuses to "obey God and become a father"
- God kills him.

An Israelite "refuses to carry on his brother's name"
1. He loses a sandal
2. He gets spat on
3. He gets publicly dressed down
4. His family is called "Unsandaled"

Now, I'm sure I lack many of the qualities necessary to become the Pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, but at least I can pick up on the massive disconnect between those two scenarios. Is is possible that there's more to this verse than Driscoll says? Well... yes.

On Driscoll's scheme, the crime is the same in both cases, the refusal to become the father of children by his brother's widow. Consequently, we'd expect the punishment to be the same, but it isn't.

The ends are the same, but the means are clearly different. Onan does take his brother's wife, but the way he gets round becoming a father is to avoid, as Driscoll himself puts it, "normal sexual relations with her". The hypothetical Israelite simply doesn't marry her, and has a lesser punishment. The intent being exactly the same, by elimination the problem must be somewhere in here:

"Whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother."

I do know that coitus interruptus isn't masturbation - I'm not an idiot - it's a crude form of contraception, a way of escaping the natural consequences of intercourse. God doesn't seem to be sold on the idea.

Now, I'm dubious about this verse's possibilities as a "proof text" against masturbation, but I do think the following question is worth considering: If God doesn't appear to approve of the distortion of lovemaking within marriage to avoid its natural consequences, can we assume that a husband/wife masturbating themselves or each other to avoid lovemaking altogether, and its natural consequences, is somehow actually better?

Driscoll seems to speak with the voice of authority. Being a Catholic, I'm very familiar with the idea of authority; it's a consequence of Jesus' promises to the Church founded on Peter the Rock would be led into all truth and the Scriptures which call that Church the pillar and foundation of truth, declare that the faith has been delivered once for all and that the teachings of the apostles, whether in writing or by word of mouth, are to be handed down in perpetuity by those who are given the ministry of teaching by the Church.

On the other hand, why should we listen to Driscoll when we can all read the Scriptures for ourselves? Is it because he's the Pastor of Mars Hill, and has presumably been to theological college? You don't need to listen to the Pope; he has a silly hat, and repeats the things that Christians used to believe in the past, before progress happened. Listen to Mark Driscoll. All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others, so when Mark Driscoll says you can have oral sex and masturbate within marriage, case closed.

However the real trouble is not that Mark Driscoll talks as if he's the Pope, but that if, instead of looking for guidance to the community which is the pillar and foundation of the truth, we pull out our bibles and say we can work this stuff out for ourselves, just me and Jesus, we can't help but be our own Pope.
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Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Presence of God

From Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales. Some advice on "placing yourself in the Presence of God":
IT may be, my daughter, that you do not know how to practise mental
prayer, for unfortunately it is a thing much neglected now-adays. I
will therefore give you a short and easy method for using it, until
such time as you may read sundry books written on the subject, and
above all till practice teaches you how to use it more perfectly. And
first of all, the Preparation, which consists of two points: first,
placing yourself in the Presence of God; and second, asking His Aid.
And in order to place your self in the Presence of God, I will suggest
four chief considerations which you can use at first.

First, a lively earnest realisation that His Presence is universal;
that is to say, that He is everywhere, and in all, and that there is no
place, nothing in the world, devoid of His Most Holy Presence, so that,
even as birds on the wing meet the air continually, we, let us go where
we will, meet with that Presence always and everywhere. It is a truth
which all are ready to grant, but all are not equally alive to its
importance. A blind man when in the presence of his prince will
preserve a reverential demeanour if told that the king is there,
although unable to see him; but practically, what men do not see they
easily forget, and so readily lapse into carelessness and irreverence.
Just so, my child, we do not see our God, and although faith warns us
that He is present, not beholding Him with our mortal eyes, we are too
apt to forget Him, and act as though He were afar: for, while knowing
perfectly that He is everywhere, if we do not think about it, it is
much as though we knew it not. And therefore, before beginning to pray,
it is needful always to rouse the soul to a stedfast remembrance and
thought of the Presence of God. This is what David meant when he
exclaimed, "If I climb up to Heaven, Thou art there, and if I go down
to hell, Thou art there also!" [25] And in like manner Jacob, who,
beholding the ladder which went up to Heaven, cried out, "Surely the
Lord is in this place and I knew it not" [26] meaning thereby that he
had not thought of it; for assuredly he could not fail to know that God
was everywhere and in all things. Therefore, when you make ready to
pray, you must say with your whole heart, "God is indeed here."

The second way of placing yourself in this Sacred Presence is to call
to mind that God is not only present in the place where you are, but
that He is very specially present in your heart and mind, which He
kindles and inspires with His Holy Presence, abiding there as Heart of
your heart, Spirit of your spirit. Just as the soul animates the whole
body, and every member thereof, but abides especially in the heart, so
God, while present everywhere, yet makes His special abode with our
spirit. Therefore David calls Him "the Strength of my heart;" [27] and
S. Paul said that in Him "we live and move and have our being." [28]
Dwell upon this thought until you have kindled a great reverence within
your heart for God Who is so closely present to you.

The third way is to dwell upon the thought of our Lord, Who in His
Ascended Humanity looks down upon all men, but most particularly on all
Christians, because they are His children; above all, on those who
pray, over whose doings He keeps watch. Nor is this any mere
imagination, it is very truth, and although we see Him not, He is
looking down upon us. It was given to S. Stephen in the hour of
martyrdom thus to behold Him, and we may well say with the Bride of the
Canticles, "He looketh forth at the windows, shewing Himself through
the lattice." [29]

The fourth way is simply to exercise your ordinary imagination,
picturing the Saviour to yourself in His Sacred Humanity as if He were
beside you just as we are wont to think of our friends, and fancy that
we see or hear them at our side. But when the Blessed Sacrament of the
Altar is there, then this Presence is no longer imaginary, but most
real; and the sacred species are but as a veil from behind which the
Present Saviour beholds and considers us, although we cannot see Him as
He is.

Make use of one or other of these methods for placing yourself in the
Presence of God before you begin to pray;--do not try to use them all
at once, but take one at a time, and that briefly and simply.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

New Life From Old

Identical twinsImage via Wikipedia
That's the title of the blog af a chap I used to live with. He did a post a little while ago about an alternative stem cell source, and his thinking on the matter, and we had a bit of a comment box exchange.

He moderates his comments, and I think he decided he didn't want to continue the discussion, but I didn't want my last comment to be lost in the eTher, so here it is:

I think that
it is important to delineate the respective positions. If we're talking about potential human beings that's ethically troubling. If we're talking about human beings, murder is the right word. There's quite a wide range within the word "immoral".

To say that there is no 'magical' moment of conception doesn't strike me as very important. The "moment" of conception can be understood as the beginning of the process, or perhaps the end. By selecting implantation as the 'magical' moment of the beginning of the process of personhood, you're proceeding to answer a philosophical and theological question with a scientific method; strictly speaking, an impossibility, though obviously science can and does aid philosophical and theological enquiry.

With regard to the fertilised egg not being able to be "flushed out", I believe that a baby can be rejected by the mother's body very late term, resulting in a miscarriage or stillbirth. If this were the case, that would make the criterion irrelevant. Moreover, that people die before they are implanted in the womb is no more philosophically unacceptable than that people die at any other stage. Also, I should think that a genome is a distinct individual structure. If so, it doesn't make sense to choose the structures to which you refer in preference to the genome. Neither can the mother's awareness of the pregnancy answer the question. A soul is never demonstrable from scientific observation - the mother's feelings can hardly be a more valid test. Besides, there has already been incredible interplay between the mother and the embryo in conception, where the embryo receives half of its genetic information from her.

I understand that we are currently unaware of what causes the embryonic fission that results in identical twins. This being the case, it may be that the fission is inevitable from genetic or environmental factors. In this case, it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that there were two souls from the beginning. Or it is possible that there is only one soul at the beginning which becomes two. I gather you don't accept this idea, but I don't see that it's possible to reject the idea whilst maintaining at the same time that Jesus is "eternally begotten of the Father, [...] true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father"; He is of one being with the Father, yet is begotten, a distinct person.

Chimeras would be a separate mystery, but no more impossible than the full humanity and divinity of Christ, the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, the union of the Church as the body of Christ, and that man and wife are "no longer two, but one flesh".

That we don't know how it works can't be an insuperable obstacle. We may think "that a unique genome is insufficient for personhood" but we might also think that 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish were insufficient to feed more than 5,000 people, and yet they weren't. Of course, we know that the second is a miracle - it breaks all the usual rules, but in the case of souls and "personhood", we don't even know the rules unless God tells us.
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Tuesday, 24 March 2009

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

It's the year of St. Paul at the moment (no offence St. Paul, but your year seems to have been going on forever), and we've been having a priest over to give talks on his epistles in the presbytery.

Said priest, in the course of his last talk, realised that some among us were being discouraged rather than encouraged by his words on Ephesians (I forget precisely why), and he therefore related an image that St. Thérèse used to cheer us up a bit.

St. Thérèse is one of only three women to be recognised as a Doctor of the Church - that is, it has been officially declared that through her writings the whole Church has derived great advantage. And here is what she had to say about the spiritual life.

One of the novices, greatly discouraged at the thought of her
imperfections, tells us that her mistress spoke to her as follows:

"You make me think of a little child that is learning to stand but
does not yet know how to walk. In his desire to reach the top of
the stairs to find his mother, he lifts his little foot to climb
the first step. It is all in vain, and at each renewed effort he
falls. Well, be like that little child. Always keep lifting your
foot to climb the ladder of holiness, and do not imagine that you
can mount even the first step. All God asks of you is good will.
From the top of the ladder He looks lovingly upon you, and soon,
touched by your fruitless efforts, He will Himself come down, and,
taking you in His Arms, will carry you to His Kingdom never again
to leave Him. But should you cease to raise your foot, you will be
left for long on the earth."
- The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux
With Additional Writings and Sayings of St. Thérèse
I don't much go in for inspirational writings (because I have a heart of flint, naturally), but I find that image beautiful and consoling.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

From the Office...

...a good Sunday psalm:

1(A) Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

2(B) Let Israel say,
"His steadfast love endures forever."
3(C) Let the house of Aaron say,
"His steadfast love endures forever."
4(D) Let those who fear the LORD say,
"His steadfast love endures forever."

5(E) Out of my distress I(F) called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me(G) free.
6(H) The LORD is on my side;(I) I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
7(J) The LORD is on my side as my helper;
I shall(K) look in triumph on those who hate me.

8(L) It is better to take refuge in the LORD
(M) than to trust in man.
9It is better to take refuge in the LORD
(N) than to trust in princes.

10(O) All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12(P) They surrounded me like bees;
they went out like(Q) a fire among thorns;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13I was(R) pushed hard,[a] so that I was falling,
but the LORD helped me.

14The LORD is my strength and my song;
(S) he has become my salvation.
15Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
(T) "The right hand of the LORD(U) does valiantly,
16the right hand of the LORD exalts,
the right hand of the LORD(V) does valiantly!"

17(W) I shall not die, but I shall live,
and(X) recount the deeds of the LORD.
18The LORD has(Y) disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.

19(Z) Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
20This is the gate of the LORD;
(AA) the righteous shall enter through it.
21I thank you that(AB) you have answered me
(AC) and have become my salvation.
22(AD) The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.[b]
23This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!

26(AE) Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We(AF) bless you from the house of the LORD.
27The LORD is God,
and he has made(AG) his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to(AH) the horns of the altar!

28You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will(AI) extol you.
29(AJ) Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever! - Psalm 118 (117)
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Culture 'n that

If you're interested in such things, you can watch a performance of Mendelssohn's 'Elijah' online for free online, because of the uique way in which the BBC is funded. For about a week.

It's here.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Abstinence in Genesis

The Tree of Knowledge, painting by Lucas Crana...Image via Wikipedia
Reading the Fathers, and Popes, and theologians, I find it remarkable how much you can simply miss reading the Bible on your own. I recently reread Revelations and it was a wholly different experience to when I read it on a Scripture Union or CYFA or something venture in my youth.

The parish here handed out free copies of Pope Benedict's message for Lent for 2009 (looking at the back I see that they apparently cost €1 for 10 pages - that's a bit steep) and I find the following:
We might wonder what value and meaning there is for us Christians in depriving ourselves of something that in itself is good and useful for our bodily sustenance. The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting. In the very first pages of Sacred Scripture, the Lord commands man to abstain from partaking of the prohibited fruit: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gn 2, 16-17). Commenting on the divine injunction, Saint Basil observes that “fasting was ordained in Paradise,” and “the first commandment in this sense was delivered to Adam.” He thus concludes: “ ‘You shall not eat’ is a law of fasting and abstinence” (cf. Sermo de jejunio: PG 31, 163, 98). Since all of us are weighed down by sin and its consequences, fasting is proposed to us as an instrument to restore friendship with God.
First commandment in paradise - fast. Never would have occurred.
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