history


I’ve been listening to a Christmas CD from the Boston Camerata – An American Christmas, which contains few familiar carols, but many beautiful early American hymns, which demonstrate an understanding of [I cringe to use the cliche] the true meaning of Christmas far beyond that which pervades pop culture today. This song is called Bozrah, from the Biblical reference given further down; you can hear a rendition of it by the Rose Ensemble here, very similar to the Camerata version, but with different verses at the end.

Who is this that comes from far,
With his garments dipped in blood?
Strong triumphant traveller
Is he’Emmanuel, is he God?

I that reign in righteousness,
Son of God and Man I am.
Mighty to redeem your race -
               Jesus is your Savior’s name.

Hark the trumpet’s awful voice
Sounds abroad through sea and land.
Let his people now rejoice -
Their redemption is at hand.

I that reign in righteousness,
Son of God and Man I am.
Mighty to redeem your race -
                Jesus is your Savior’s name.

See, the Lord appears in view;
Heav’n and earth before him fly.
Rise ye saints, he comes for you;
Rise to meet him in the sky.

I that reign in righteousness,
Son of God and Man I am;
Mighty to redeem your race -
               Jesus is your Savior’s name.

The first half of the song is a paraphrase of  Isaiah 63:1. The  prophet asks,  “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength?” And Christ answers, “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”

Messianic prophecies often refer to blood-red garments: either the Lamb’s blood, shed to cover his people’s sins, or the blood of the Lion’s enemies, spilled as he comes in judgment.

A lot of people have been known to remark at Christmas-time that they “relate best to baby Jesus,” or some similar nonsense; as though it is possible to believe only in Jesus as a helpless infant, and to ignore the rest of his life. Jesus’ birth was a real moment in time and space, when one Person of the Triune God took a human body. But he existed before that, indeed from all eternity, as the Son of God, the Word, the Wisdom of God who breathed life into creation (Proverbs 8, John 1). He existed after that, as a sinless man, the perfect sacrifice who died, and then rose from the dead. He exists now, reigning at the Father’s right hand, while all enemies are put under his feet.

And now, when we remember his birth, we also remember and long for his second coming, which will be from the heavens, awesome and full of glory; when those who have denied and mocked him will see the One who was pierced for our transgressions, and weep at their fatal error; when those who have believed in him will realize in full the truth of his promise, “He who believes in me, though he be dead, yet shall he live; and he who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

As the historic church recognized in the observance of Advent, Christmas is a joyful time, not only because our Savior was born, but because he is coming again.

Belatedly, Merry Christmas.

The children’s hospital is not as bad as rumor painted it (although their computer system is strictly for the birds). There’s something to be said for having so many senior residents and fellows around that I am only responsible for floor patients – and I am by now very efficient at handling a large floor service.

It’s also fun to see entities which were previously the stuff of [textbook] legend showing up as large as life: gastroschisis, malrotation, intussusception, Meckel’s diverticulum – and lots of classic appendicitis. (Which is especially fun, because in pediatrics you try to avoid radiation as much as possible, so almost none of these kids get CT scans. Diagnosis and management are based on history and physical exam, with the occasional ultrasound. For a rarity, I got to book a patient for the OR simply on the basis of, “His abdomen is nearly rigid, and certainly requires urgent exploration.” No labs, no imagaing, just what my hands could tell me.)

For added fun, I stumbled across in the library (amazing how the books I like just pop up in front of me) an audio edition of Alison Weir’s Queen Isabella. Alison Weir is an English historian who writes detailed accounts of obscure medieval events, and manages to make them interesting. I first appreciated her for her defense of Richard III as innocent of the death of the Princes in the Tower (a private bias of my own; I always enjoy finding reputable evidence to support my romantic belief in Richard as hero). This book, while occupying 18 cds, and therefore valuable as promising to last for two months’s driving, seems a little biased. Admittedly, the story of Isabella (French princess, betrothed at 7, married at 12 to a homosexual 12 years older than her, she eventually ran away, took a lover, led an invasion of England, deposed (and allegedly murdered) her husband (Edward II), and ruled in her son’s name (Edward III) for years, till he came of age, killed her lover, and put her under house arrest till her death) lends itself to some feminist revision. However, the argument that we ought to regard Isabella in a better light, now that we can look back from the standpoint of modern sexual mores, seems a little weak. After all, Isabella did what she did in a society which certainly condemned adultery (especially by women, and regardless of excuses) and treason. The fact that 700 years later her behavior seems almost normal/rational/excusable doesn’t change the fact that it was wildly countercultural and dangerous at the time. Her choices were made in that setting, not under modern “enlightenment.” Nevertheless, I’m always up for a good story about international intrigue and the primal conflict between France and England (two nations that seem born to hate each other), and if Ms. Weir can stop mentioning male oppression in every other sentence (once a paragraph, perhaps?), this should be a fascinating book.

Can I remark again how absolutely infuriating I find it, that the surgeons’ lounge here is inside of the men’s locker room? Infuriating, and humiliating by how completely everyone overlooks the fact. This is why you -me, actually; the guys don’t have this problem – can never find most of the attendings, or senior residents, between cases: but the two women attendings, and the female residents, will always be found standing by the OR desk (or wandering the ICUs), because we have nowhere else particular to go.

(And please, now is not the time to discuss my theoretical inconsistencies. I might throw something. . .)

For someone who spends as much time communicating as I do, I’m obviously still not very good at it.

Since between work and Pascha services this week I don’t have much time, let me, as the fastest way of saying what I really think about Mormonism, refer you to a post I made this spring, back when Romney was a viable contender. You can find it right here. Basically, I conclude that Mormonism is a false religion, just as much originated by Satan as Islam is, in that he probably inspired two men (Mohammed and Joseph Smith) to write blasphemous lies against Jesus. Mormonism, unlike true Christianity, does not regard Jesus as divine, the only-begotten, unique Son of God. Mormonism teaches that God was once a human, and that all humans (or at least all males) can become gods in their own private universes, peopled by the offspring of their subservient wives (so yes, Mormonism, like other false religions, tramples on women, and, unlike Christianity, regards them as lower in kind than men).

Regarding polygamy, I agree that it’s illegal in America, and that even the biblical patriarchs limited themselves to two wives, and those of an age to consent.

What I was trying to say about the FLDS branch of Mormonism is that 1) I think most Americans’ visceral reaction to them is based on lifestyle choices that have nothing to do with polygamy, but which do present a glaring challenge to the culture of hedonism and free sex that prevails in America today; and 2) I respect groups which hold to the original tradition when it’s not politically correct to do so. The mainstream LDS church threw out Joseph Smith’s original teaching on polygamy because it made their life easier to do so. The FLDS hold onto it; even though that may involve brainwashing women, it’s at least the original form of Mormonism. Similarly, I respect “radical” Muslims more than “moderate” Muslims, because I think the radical Muslims understand and obey the original commands of Mohammed (kill the unbelievers until they submit to you, make no friends with Jews or Christians) better than the watered-down, secularized, moderate Muslims. That doesn’t mean that I approve of suicide bombers; I simply think they’re acting on the logical conclusions of their beliefs.

Does that help at all? Maybe I should also mention that in my personal beliefs, I try to stick to the Bible exactly as God gave it, without making alterations for modern sensibilities. God created the world out of nothing, in the space of six days, and all very good, until it was marred by man’s sin and the entry of death. God condemns sinners to hell in the next life because of their infinite crimes against him, and he is righteous and loving to do so (we can take this up in a later post). God offers free forgiveness and eternal life to all who confess that they have broken his laws, and accept his merciful gift in Christ, who died for us and rose from the dead on the third day, and sits in heaven until his kingdom is established through the whole world, and all nations kneel down and worship him. And along the way, women should submit to their husbands, men should have one wife and be faithful to her, and Christians ought to love their neighbors as much as they love themselves. This is absolutely true, and I make no apology for any of it, except to say that I wrote it as forcefully and bluntly as possible in order to parallel my wild statements about Islam and Mormonism.

They and I are at least in agreement about the existence of absolute truth and the extreme importance of finding it out; just as I had more in common, regarding modest clothes, and avoidance of wild parties, and chastity, and taking time out from studying for religious observances, with the Muslim girls in medical school, than with the nominal Christians.

I look forward to reading your comments.  :)  And I guess I had better also put out an apology in case any of the above is needlessly offensive, as I may not have time to answer comments till late in the day. I don’t mean to be insulting, but to state the truth as I know it, forcefully. The lateness of the hour may make some phrases ill-judged.

You know the reason everyone is really so rabid about the polygamists? It’s not just the matter of teenage mothers (who, after all, are a common enough phenomenon in this society; here, at least, they’re respected as legitimate, and the fathers are involved with their children).

No, it’s the women’s clothes. Modern Americans take one look at their appearance – which I would describe as graceful, elegant, sweeping, modest dresses and beautiful swept-up hair – and react viscerally, I believe because they’re convicted by this total contravention of modern society’s flagrant embrace of everything vulgar and obscene. It’s almost as though men think they have a right to see barely-clothed women, and are affronted by these women denying them that privilege; as though women think that they earn respect by flaunting their beauty in the eyes of all, and are defied by these women’s refusal to do that.

That, and the large families. In a society where a single child is pondered before years before being accepted, and where two children are an imposition, three unheard of (in the professional circles I seem to be in these days), the idea of having many children is shocking – the 400 kidnapped children (since I don’t see where the government gets the right to take all of them without specific evidence against everyone’s fathers) are described as a crowd of toddlers and 4-5 year olds running around under foot.

Plus, their rejection of the modern world. My friends talk as though it’s evil not to have TV and internet and cell phones. Who am I to talk, of course; but I think I can at least recognize the beauty and possible desirability of such a lifestyle (the Amish, for instance), while still choosing to use some of modern technology myself. So far, I’ve refrained from pointing out to my colleagues that I was raised without TV (although they may have figured that out from my profound pop culture illiteracy), and regard my cell phone as a necessary evil.

(I have previously described Mormonism as a heresy. But I respect the FLDS people for being consistent and true to the original spirit of Mormonism in spite of intense persecution.)

I made molokheya the other day, finally. I had bought a frozen package (I’ve never seen it otherwise, except sitting in piles on the streets of Cairo, which even the organic purists would have to admit is less appetizing than sanitized in a frozen plastic bag) much earlier in the year, but somehow never got around to making it.

Molokheya is the ultimate Egyptian comfort food (actually, I guess it has to compete with kushari and besboussa (another one I made recently) and kunafa). One of our cookbooks reports that this is what the Egyptian peasants came home to eat after working on the pyramids, or what the women took out to the fieldworkers since pharaonic times.

I couldn’t tell you what it’s made of, since no one I’ve ever met has been able to give an English, or even a Latin, name to the vegetable involved.  I’ve never seen anyone offer to cook or eat it in a solid form. It is always prepared as a collection of finely chopped green leaves, boiled in water with fried garlic and salt. The result is a gooey green soup, and when you add it to rice, you get a sticky mixture with a fascinating texture, and it tastes perfect – green and a little salty.

[Somehow I doubt that my American readers will grasp the deliciousness of this prospect. Most American guests, when confronted with a bowl of it, are too overwhelmed by the appearance to appreciate the taste. Like I said, gooey soup; and I have no idea what protein makes it gooey and slimey like that.]

Or, what I think of Congress’ trying to change the position of the sun in the sky. They’re not Joshua, you know, although apparently most members of our esteemed representative body would benefit from a head examination on that account.

Let me see here: from November to February we have “standard” time, and from March to October we have “daylight savings time.” That makes five months on “standard.” We now spend less than half the year in the real time zone.

Back when I went to grade school, which is admittedly getting to be a ways back, and was not in a government-funded setting, either (that could be the problem), I was given to understand that “noon” was a definable moment when the sun was directly overhead. Or, to quote the dictionary, when “the sun is on the local meridian.” But our government seems to have arranged that, for the greater part of the year, the time that we arbitrarily define as 12pm is an hour before true noon.

What I don’t understand is why they don’t just redefine the time zones, if it bugs them all that much. If by act of Congress 12pm is now an hour before the sun is on the local meridian, why don’t they just say so? Why do we have to do this seven months on, five months off deal?

You can tell me I’m getting carried away about a simple act of government idiocy. But it seems to me that this behavior by Congress truly is an act of idolatry on their part, setting themselves up as gods, to tell the sun and moon what the times and seasons shall be. Added to condoning mass murder on a daily basis, and redefining the nature of gender, and arrogating to themselves a larger tax than God ever took for himself, it’s just one more sign that our society is irredeemably on the skids. (Ok, those signs were enough by themselves.)

When my state secedes, my first motion (ok, second, after repealing all income taxes and estate taxes) will be to put the clock back where God intended it to be. Down with Daylight Savings Time! (Which is an oxymoron: the day hasn’t gotten any longer since these laws were passed, as far as I’ve noticed.)

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