Monday, July 29, 2013

The war to end all wars

Western front, 1915-1916. (Source: U.S. Military Academy.)

Over on The American Catholic, DarwinCatholic has posted an interesting article on an ongoing reassessment of World War I. The American Catholic has a lot of posts on American history that don’t even begin to reference Christ, the Church or anything specifically Catholic, so I don’t feel so bad about calling this blog a Catholic blog.

The main thrust of Darwin’s post is that post-war revisionism struck early and hard. Most of us who learned anything about the war in school learned that it was a horrendous waste of life, as idiot generals and field marshals hurled frontal attack after useless frontal attack in an obscene homage to Napoleon’s tactics; why, such attacks had become outdated by the end of the American Civil War!

Of course, now that I read this, I realize that the Civil War never dealt with front lines that extend hundreds of miles; with one end fused to the English Channel and the other to the Swiss Alps, the Western front didn’t permit flanking attacks. Just the sheer number of soldiers by itself changed the way the war had to be fought.

The generals of the war, Darwin points out, knew very well Napoleonic tactics wouldn’t work. The problem was finding something that would work. Both sides were fairly evenly matched for inventiveness; as soon as one side found a possible solution, the other side would develop a counter. For instance, gas worked for the Germans only until the French and English started producing their own gas masks. The art of war had to be not just changed but reinvented altogether.

But did the war have to be fought at all?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mary, Martha and earning readers

Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Jacopo Comin (Tintoretto) (1518-1594)
Christ in the House of Mary and Martha
I’ve referred to Luke 10:38-42 before, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as Jesus’ big convention-crossing moment, when he allows Mary the sister of Lazarus to sit at his feet as a disciple, a place only men could take. Here, if one wishes, one finds Jesus unequivocally treating a woman as an equal to the men around her, refusing to relegate her to the role of servant to men against her will.

That’s if one wishes to do so. G. K. Chesterton noted, in The Everlasting Man, that Christ “did not particularly denounce slavery … [but] he started a movement that could exist in a world without slavery. He never used a phrase that made his philosophy depend even upon the very existence of the social order in which he lived. He spoke as one conscious that everything was ephemeral, including the things that Aristotle thought eternal.”[1]

In the same way, the passage in Luke’s Gospel is not about sexual politics or women’s equality. Rather, it’s about how we let the thousand details of quotidian life distract us from discipleship.

By “we”, of course, I mean “I”.