June 23, 2007


For first time visitors, this blog generally covers fairly serious topics during the week. During the weekend, however, we open this space to various animal commentators in and around Goat Rope Farm.

This weekend, we are pleased to once again welcome our official film critic, Mr. Sandor Sege (pronounced Shandor Shegg-AY) who will discuss the film "The Battle of Algiers."

We must remind the reader that Mr. Sege suffered a head injury when he crashed into a wall whilst chasing a squeaky toy. As a result, he sometimes transposes the plots of the films he discusses. Nonetheless, we believe that his unique insights into the world of cinema more than compensate for this regrettable shortcoming.

It is our hope that features such as this will promote a greater appreciation of both the humanities and the animalities.


OK, this movie is very important for understanding certain geopolitical situations today.

It's like about this place Algiers and all these French people are there but everybody else wants them to leave.

What really starts the whole thing is when these guys break into the Dude's house and pee on his rug.

(Sometimes I pee on the rug when Moomus and Doodus are away too long...)

But the thing is, it tied the whole room together. All the Dude wants is his rug back.

So he leaves Kazakhstan and comes to America with his producer and falls in love with Pamela Anderson and goes across the country trying to find her but in the end he decides to just go bowling.

I think the message is if you want a peaceful world and no more battles of Algiers, people should stop peeing on each other's rugs and bowl more.


June 22, 2007


El Cabrero has been on a theological jag this week, with a special focus on the work of the great 20th century Protestant theologian Paul Tillich. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts.

To recap briefly, Tillich had a way of bringing new meaning to old religious terms that have accumulated a lot of baggage over the centuries (without sacrificing the old meanings). Yesterday's post looked at his ideas of sin and grace as discussed in his sermon "You are accepted" from the book The Shaking of the Foundations.

For him, sin is a state before it is an act. Specifically, it is a state of separation which is the fate of all people. It is something that inevitably happens to us but also something to which we contribute by our own actions. By separation, he meant our alienation or estrangement from other people, from nature, from ourselves, and from the Ground of Being (which many folks call "God").

This would also apply to

the attitude of social groups within nations towards each other,and the attitude of nations themselves towards other nations. The walls of distance, in time and space, have been removed by technical progress; but the walls of estrangement between heart and heart have been incredibly strengthened.

But if sin or separation is a pervasive reality, it isn't the only one. There is also the reality that can sometimes be experienced when separation is overcome. His word for that is grace:

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: "You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!" If that happens to us, we experience grace After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.

In the light of this grace we perceive the power of grace in our relation to others and to ourselves. We experience the grace of being able to look frankly into the eyes of another, the miraculous grace of reunion of life with life. We experience the grace of understanding each other's words. We understand not merely the literal meaning of the words, but also that which lies behind them, even when they are harsh or angry. For even then there is a longing to break through the walls of separation. We experience the grace of being able to accept the life of another, even if it be hostile and harmful to us, for, through grace, we know that it belongs to the same Ground to which we belong, and by which we have been accepted. We experience the grace which is able to overcome the tragic separation of the sexes, of the generations, of the nations, of the races, and even the utter strangeness between man and nature. Sometimes grace appears in all these separations to reunite us with those to whom we belong. For life belong to life.

And in the light of this grace we perceive the power of grace in our relation to ourselves. We experience moments in which we accept ourselves, because we feel that we have been accepted by that which is greater than we. If only more such moments were given to us! For it is such moments that make us love our life, that make us accept ourselves, not in our goodness and self- complacency, but in our certainty of the eternal meaning of our life. We cannot force ourselves to accept ourselves. We cannot compel anyone to accept himself. But sometimes it happens that we receive the power to say "yes" to ourselves, that peace enters into us and makes us whole, that self-hate and self-contempt disappear, and that our self is reunited with itself. Then we can say that grace has come upon us.

Official Goat Rope verdict on Tillich: dude was pretty good. Too bad he didn't know how to break up his paragraphs...

WAY TO GO, JOE! Thanks and congratulations to WV Governor Joe Manchin for signing on to a letter to the U.S. Senate in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. This bill, which passed the House this spring, would allow workers to join unions by signing cards authorizing representation. It would also increase penalties for employers who illegally attempt to punish or intimidate workers trying to organize. The letter is here.

A LITTLE WIN FOR MINE SAFETY. From today's Gazette,

A Boone County man won a $2 million jury verdict in a wrongful termination lawsuit against a Massey Energy Co. subsidiary Thursday.

Rocky Allen Burns, 55, of Madison, sued Independence Coal Co. in May 2006, alleging that his firing in October 2005 was the result of his reporting safety problems at the Justice No. 1 mine to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

There's more here.


June 21, 2007


Caption: This man suffers from the sin of vanity. He's not very graceful either.

Welcome to Goat Rope. El Cabrero is on a theological tear this week, with a special focus on the great 20th century theologian Paul Tillich. You will also find items about current events here as well. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts.

Hamlet has still got to be my favorite Shakespeare play. There are so many nuggets to mine in that rich seam. One of my favorites has to do with the theme of sin and grace.

When the troupe of players arrive at Elsinore, Hamlet asks Polonius, who is kind of a dork, to see to their hospitality. Here's the clip:

LORD POLONIUS My lord, I will use them according to their desert.

HAMLET God's bodykins, man, much better: use every man
after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?

In other words, if we all got what we deserved, we'd be in deep doo-doo (that would be the consequence of sin). Grace involves the hope that we might get off a little easier.

The ideas of both sin and grace have built up a lot of baggage over the years and have often been trivialized. Tillich had some interesting ideas about them. This is from his sermon "You are accepted":

There are few words more strange to most of us than "sin" and "grace". They are strange, just because they are so well-known. During the centuries they have received distorting connotations, and have lost so much of their genuine power that we must seriously ask ourselves whether we should use them at all, or whether we should discard them as useless tools. But there is a mysterious fact about the great words of our religious tradition: they cannot be replaced... But there is a way of rediscovering their meaning, the same way that leads us down into the depth of our human existence...

I should like to suggest another word to you, not as a substitute for the word "sin", but as a useful clue in the interpretation of the word "sin", "separation" . Separation is an aspect of the experience of everyone. Perhaps the word "sin" has the same root as the word "asunder". In any case, sin is separation.... And separation is threefold: there is separation among individual lives, separation of a man from himself, and separation of all men from the Ground of Being.... We know that the fate of separation is not merely a natural event like a flash of sudden lightning, but that it is an experience in which we actively participate, in which our whole personality is involved, and that, as fate, it is also guilt.... It is this which is the state of our entire existence, from its very beginning to its very end.... Existence is separation! Before sin is an act, it is a state.

We can say the same things about grace. For sin and grace are bound to each other. We do not even have a knowledge of sin unless we have already experienced the unity of life, which is grace. And conversely, we could not grasp the meaning of grace without having experienced the separation of life, which is sin. Grace is just as difficult to describe as sin... In grace something is overcome; grace occurs in spite of something; grace occurs in spite of separation and estrangement. Grace is the reunion of life with life, the reconciliation of the self with itself. Grace is the acceptance of that which is rejected. Grace transforms fate into a meaningful destiny; it changes guilt into confidence and courage. There is something triumphant in the word grace : in spite of the abounding of sin grace abounds much more.

(Note: if you think those paragraphs were long, you should have seen them before I cut them. Good thing he didn't write plays, huh? That would have been a sin.)

FIGHTING FIRE. Here's to the memory of nine South Carolina IAFF union firefighters who died in the line of duty this week.

ON A CHEERIER NOTE, here's a priceless WV cat rescue item fresh from the headlines:

PARKERSBURG, West Virginia (AP) - It took two fire trucks, five firefighters, several animal rescuers and about 250 gallons of water to rescue a kitten that refused to come out of a West Virginia storm sewer drain.

COAL. The Natural Resource Council has recommended increasing funding for coal research and devoting more of it to studying its environmental impact and worker safety, according to this Gazette item by Ken Ward.


June 20, 2007


We interupt this week's theological digressions to wish a happy 144th birthday to El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia.

To celebrate, here's an excerpt from a poem by a fallen friend, the late Appalachian radical Don West, who died in Kanawha County in 1992:

There was a yesterday of hurt and hope
and solidarity
when a virgin Union's inspiration
stirred mountain men and women
to heroic feats.
Born on Cabin Creek,
"Solidarity Forever"
went on to stir lowly hearts
in all parts of the land.

And there may be a tomorrow
On Cabin Creek
a clean tomorrow,
child of hope and hurt and solidarity.

May it be so.

LINCOLN AND THE PEACOCKS. Since WV was signed into statehood by Abraham Lincoln, allow me to suggest taking a look at this recent New Yorker article which looks over the recent spate of Lincoln literature. My favorite scene described therein is about Lincoln and Secretary of War Stanton untangling peacocks at the Soldier's Home, where the president sometimes stayed. (Blocks of wood were tied to the peacock's feet to keep them from flying away.)

The theology jag resumes tomorrow...


June 19, 2007


Caption: Daddy Rabbit should reflect on theological matters--the cat is after him.

Welcome to Goat Rope. El Cabrero is on a theological jag this week. If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's entry.

Paul Tillich (1886-1965) was one of the 20th century's greatest theologians. He grew up in eastern Germany and studied and taught at several universities there. When the Nazis came to power, he was fired from his job and emigrated to America, where he spent the rest of his life, becoming a citizen in 1940.

He was a deep (his favorite spatial metaphors went down) and systematic thinker (hence the title of his 3 volume Systematic Theology wasn't just a clever name). Tillich wrote big dense books, little dense books and the occasional accessible little and middle-sized books. His books of sermons, however, such as The Shaking of the Foundations, The New Being, and The Eternal Now are his most accessible works.

Tillich believed that

Theology must be "answering theology"; it must adapt the Christian message to the modern mind while maintaining its essential truth and unique character.

While essentially Christian and Lutheran in perspective, he was also keenly interested in the perspectives of other world religions and Christian traditions and believed that the truths of revelation transcended the trappings of conventional religion.

For him, God was not an anthropomorphic "gaseous vertebrate" (to quote the German biologist Haeckel)or even a being among other beings but rather being-itself or the ground of being:

God does not exist. He is being itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him.

Religion for him was less about supernatural beliefs than about the subject of our "ultimate concern," which remains when all our finite concerns about daily living have been addressed.

Jesus for Tillich embodied "the New Being," in which all the tragic limitations of the human condition were overcome.

The demonic for him wasn't about little imps with pitchforks but rather with the bad consequences of trying to elevate any finite thing to an ultimate level. For example, nationalism in itself isn't necessarily harmful, but it becomes evil when the nation idolizes itself, and so on. Religion becomes demonic when its concrete form matters more than the realities towards which it points.

Sin represented separation: the separation we experience when we are alienated from others, from creation, from ourselves and from the ground of all being.

Grace was the overcoming of that separation, which is real even though we don't deserve it and could never earn it.

About which more later...

INTERESTING ANTIQUITIES ITEM. OK, so the ancient north African kingdom of Kush doesn't have all that much to do with economic justice issues...still this Times item is pretty cool.

MORE ON TASK, this report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggests how tax credit reforms could make higher education more affordable to low and moderate income families.


June 18, 2007


Caption: Seamus McGoogle is still working on his theological masterpiece.

Say all the bad stuff you want to about the 20th century, but it did produce some good theologians. They were thoughtful people of faith who spoke to a large public audience of believers and non believers and had a significant positive impact.

Three in particular were big ones for El Cabrero. In no particular order, they included Reinhold Niebuhr, the Jewish theologian and philosopher Martin Buber, and German emigre Paul Tillich. Each came from a specific tradition (Calvinist, Hasidic, and Lutheran, respectively) but had something to say to people from widely different traditions.

I'm not sure we have anybody of their caliber today, but maybe I'm missing something.

Niebuhr (1892-1971) put sin back on the map. Here's a good profile of him by the late Arthur Schlesinger from 2005. I've had the privilege of learning from some people who were taught by him and consider myself a second-generation student. Niebuhr is an excellent antidote for personal and national self-righteousness and we need him now.

Martin Buber (1878-1965) is best known for his work I and Thou, which deals with human relationships with other people, nature and the spiritual world. I had to hit it three times (once with a commentary) before anything sank in but it was well worth the effort. His other biblical and philosophical writings are worthwhile as well.

And then there was Tillich (1886-1965), a German theologian from the Lutheran tradition who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Nazi Germany. But he'll keep till tomorrow...

CARING FOR VETERANS. Many veterans have been and will be returning from Iraq with serious mental health issues. According to this item from the Washington Post, the outlook isn't good that they'll get the timely help they need.

LONG STRANGE TRIP. Here is an op-ed by yours truly recapping the 10 year fight to raise the minimum wage. And here is a good editorial from the Saturday Gazette about inequality.