Words according to Thomas, Co-Founder, Jack of all Trades, and Creative and Visual Director of Raven Vanguard
I am Catholic and today is Good Friday, so you are adequately forewarned.
Vengeance is Mine Sayeth the Lord
Well, at least the Bible tells us so – “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, sayeth the Lord.” Taken from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans 12:19-21 which is found in the sixth book of the New Testament. To me, these words have long-carried enormous significance and have acted as a personal guidepost, of sorts.
Einstein once famously said regarding the theory of quantum mechanics that “God does not play dice with the universe." Since Einstein was an atheist who did not believe in the existence of a personal god, we probably shouldn’t take his remark too literally. But, if taken so, this week proves that either God Herself has a wickedly sardonic sense of humor or a bizarre way of invoking the rules of engagement for that scriptural vengeance thing I mention above.
Today’s Once-over has nothing whatsoever to do with the ongoing political free-for-all taking place in Washington, although it might seem that way for a brief moment. Let's face it - Washington is, and throughout much of its history has been, a bona fide cesspool of greed, corruption, and small-minded thinking, and the politicians that inhabit it are nothing more than vengeful ideology-mongers with no sense of righteousness, fairness, or compromise. This week saw the release of the Mueller Report to both outcry and fanfare. I haven't read it and have no intention of wasting my time doing so; being entirely honest, I couldn't possibly care any less about its contents. Whether the Mueller Report categorically establishes Trump's complicity in all things Russia or proves absolutely nothing at all, we'll let you be the judge of its details without any further input from us.
You see, in Raven Vanguard's world, this week was genuinely unsettling but for reasons having nothing to do with the growing political shitshow raging here at home, nor does it have anything to do with the insanity of Brexit that has been perplexing Europe ever since June 2016.
[Point of Clarification - From both political philosophy and theory perspectives, I am not wholly anti-government, although you might conclude as much from the paragraph above. I am not what you would call a revolutionary three-percenter. But I am not entirely pro-government either, especially considering that I oppose most forms of organized government completely; without reservation, I take issue with all types of monarchy and aristocracy, totalitarian dictatorships, fascism, communism, theocracy, and oligarchy. From a form of governance standpoint, in theory, our United States system of government should work best, but theory and reality are hardly ever reconcilable, are they? Some political scientists will disagree with me, but our hybrid form of government is part democracy, republic, representative, constitutional (authorizing a clear division of powers, some of which are delegated, others being residual, and others being concurrent), and federal or national (meaning working in cooperation with state and local governments). So, what is my grievance with Washington? Well, that explanation would be interminably long, so I cannot spell out my many criticisms in the format of this or any other Once-over. But I will say this, the root of the problem is the mushrooming divisiveness brought about by our deeply entrenched political party system. The divide in this Country is more profound and broader now than at any time following the conclusion of the Civil War. The reason, following blindly. It’s either #VoteBlue or #VoteRed, without compromise and zero interest in finding common ground. Since when did we all become lemmings? Are we no longer able to think for ourselves? Try voting your conscience in support of the best candidates available, rather than voting by rote based on ingrained bullshit party ideology. Another problem, fear mongering; which happens to be the latest contrivance used by politicians, and the mass media, to manipulate the gullible, the disenfranchised, the uninformed, the ignorant, and those who are easily persuaded by fake news, falsehoods, complete gibberish, and utter nonsense. Wake up America. How to regain consciousness in 2019? Think for yourself. Question authority. Challenge societal norms. Be a catalyst, not a sponge. Lend a hand. Be a giver, not a taker. Never characterize fiction as fact. Oh yeah, and pray.]
Now, moving on to the beating heart of today’s Once-over –
Lamentations Over the Ravaging and Ruination of an Age-Old and Preternatural Holy Place
Ever since I was an inquisitive teenager, I have been utterly fascinated with the preeminent role played by the Catholic Churches of France throughout history and their theological, artistic, architectural, historical, cultural, and, at times, even political influence over France itself and large swaths of Europe, especially amongst European Christians.
[The balance of Today’s Once-over comes with a caveat; the Catholic Church (meaning the priesthood, clergy, and political organization, not the edifice) and Rome are not now, nor have they ever been completely pious, infallible, blameless, trustworthy, or incorruptible. Instead, like every other patriarchal system that has run amok the past four thousand years or so, the Catholic Church, at times (some might say more often than not), has proven to be every bit the notorious wolf in sheep’s clothing, the absolute sacrilegious embodiment of evil here on earth.]
France, without question, has, in totality, the most beautiful houses of worship in the entire world. They were built when ingenuity, grandeur, artistry, craftsmanship, originality, ornamentation, symmetry, and femininity in composition still mattered. France is home to Holy Places like Rouen Cathedral, Strasbourg Cathedral, Chartres Cathedral, The Cathedral of Reims, The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris (Sacre-Coeur), The Abbey of Mont St-Michel, Laon Cathedral, The Church of St. Pierre, and the Abbey of Saint Remi; majestic sacred spaces of Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque, Baroque, and Romano-Byzantine architecture. And, at the center of it all, literally speaking, Our Lady of Paris – or Paris Point Zero or kilometer zero/zero mile marker from which all other locations in France and around the world are measured by their distance radiating outward from this point.
[To lay to rest any claim that I am a closet Francophile with an unyielding affinity for Catholic Holy Places in France and no others, off the top of my head I can name the following sacred sites as being among the most beautiful in the world: Hagia Sophia (Turkey); the Batu Caves (Malaysia); Duomo di Milano (The Milan Cathedral)(Italy); Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque)(Turkey); Church of Mary Magdelene (Israel); Saint Basil’s Cathedral (Russia); La Sagrada Familia (Spain); Glastonbury Tor (England); Great Mosque of Mecca (Saudi Arabia); Spanish Synagogue (Czech Republic); Maha Bodhi Tree (India); Old Synagogue (Hungary); Sri Meenakshi Amman temple (India); and last, but never least, Saint Louis Church (Buffalo, New York).]
Colloquially speaking, in the United States, April 15th is a day of infamy for most Americans because it is Tax Day. And as it happens every Tax Day, I spend the day knee-deep in business records preparing pro forma tax returns so that I can file IRS Form 4868 to request an automatic extension of time to file my federal income tax return, and the New York State equivalent.
Unexpectedly, on Monday, April 15th, just past 12:30 PM EST, along with the rest of the world, I watched aghast in horror and disbelief as the Parisienne skies over the fourth arrondissement blackened with smoke, and a seemingly apocalyptic inferno of orange and yellow-colored flames engulfed Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris (reverentially, Our Lady of Paris) gutting the innards of one of the most important architectural treasures on this, or any other planet. Unbelievably, to most Christians, myself included, the fact that this devil’s conflagration was taking place during the beginning of the Catholic Holy Week is the cruelest twist of fate imaginable.
Approximately 50% of the French population considers themselves Catholic, but only about 3% of France’s total population in reality actually practices Catholicism. By contrast, even though France’s Muslim community is only about 8% of its general population, the number of persons in fact actually practicing the Islamic religion in France account for 4% of the total population. In other words, practicing Muslims exceed the number of practicing Catholics.
So, while the numbers of practicing Catholics in France continues to dwindle, and as the Country itself continues to become increasingly secular, the importance of Notre-Dame to French society and Christians worldwide has not diminished one bit. Notre-Dame possesses a sacredness distinct from most every other holy shrine the world over, and, for this reason, in a sense, it belongs to the world at large. Even if you've never once stepped foot inside Notre-Dame, you no doubt, through a form of cultural-osmosis, already have an aesthetic appreciation of this magnificent artistic and spiritual masterpiece.
As I lay awake in bed in the wee, small hours of Tuesday morning, the hellfire that had befallen Notre-Dame seemed remarkably unprecedented; perhaps, save the destruction wrought by the German bombing of the Cathedral of Reims in World War I, and the UK Royal Air Force’s bombardment of the Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany during World War II. While Notre-Dame was still ablaze, several commentators mentioned, as a point of comparison, the savage September 11th attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center. And while genocidal massacres and other systemic attempts to annihilate others have become far too commonplace throughout the history of humankind, nowadays, I tend to see unforgivable defilements, like September 11th, as nothing more than additional evidence of the barbarity of human beings. In other words, I have become increasingly numb to the carnage mankind (gender-biased language intended) wreaks on itself. This most unfortunate of paradoxes of which I speak could fill volumes, I’m afraid.
Still and all, the point I am trying to make is that outside of its toll on humanity (which cannot be quantified), the supervening destruction and demolition of the monstrous and grotesque World Trade Center complex bears no comparison to that which nearly wiped out our beloved Notre-Dame. That’s my point in a nutshell – whereas Notre-Dame is hallowed and revered, the structures of the World Trade Center complex were never anything more than hideous monolithic testaments to the hubris of architects and engineers in their homage to gargantuan sky-borne erections (phallic allusion intended).
In the days following the blazing of Notre-Dame, the enormity of this tragedy became clearer – that no matter what remnants of the Cathedrale actually survive, the unified whole of it is now forever gone, and the magnitude of our loss is undoubtedly incalculable. Be that as it may, Notre-Dame will survive and never become part of the smoldering ash-heap of history. Interestingly, considering its architectural and engineering significance, no original building or construction records, or drawings exist documenting its construction. However, that does not mean that Notre-Dame is completely undocumented; in fact, its structure has been thoroughly studied over recent years, including 3D laser-imaging of its interiors.
Generally speaking, the first obstacle to the proper restoration of any historic structure is financing. But judging by the worldwide outpouring of donations, funding should not be a problem. That brings us to the crux of every complex historic restoration project – the availability of skilled craftspeople. With the successful restoration of York Minster Cathedral following a fire in the mid-1980s, the benchmark already exists in Europe for the ability to gather the necessary craftspeople. So, I am hopeful.
Given my prior experience with massive-scale construction projects, the efforts to rebuild Notre-Dame will likely take 10-15 years once started. And in all likelihood, considering the urgent need to construct a temporary roof over the structure to protect it from the elements, and to permit structural inspection and temporary shoring, after which will follow 2-3 years of architectural archaeology work before the actual construction process begins. Thus, even considering advances in construction technologies, Notre-Dame may not entirely rise from the ashes for another twenty years.
From the time the first old-growth oak trees were cut down around the year 1160 at the behest of The Bishop of Paris, Maurice de Sully, and King Louis VII to build the Church’s intricate wood frame structure, Notre-Dame, by the guidance of Providence, has lived a mostly charmed life as an extramundane cat with nine lives. Often masterfully navigating the incorporeal knife edge separating the brink of death from the precipice of immortality. Although not nearly as old as the Megalithic Temples of Malta, the Göbekli Tepe, or the ancient Egyptian pyramids and temples, or even the Horyuji Temple in Japan, as far age-old religious sanctuaries go, Notre-Dame is the one we all know and love.
Notre-Dame endured the riotous sacking and pillaging of the Huguenots (French Protestants that followed the teachings of John Calvin) in 1548, and the French Wars of Religion from 1562 to 1598, which included the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572. Notre-Dame also survived the Kingly plundering and tasteless reimagining wrought upon its architecture by Kings Louis XIV and XV. Notre-Dame also weathered the German bombing of Paris during World War I in the spring of 1915 and the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II.
Notre-Dame would also bear witness to the beatification of the peasant girl who led French troops in battle against the English, and the coronation of Napoleon as Emperor. Notre-Dame was transformed in the 19th Century due, in large part, to the literary efforts of Victor Hugo and a fictitious hunchback (or, was he? I am looking at you, Trajan). Esteemed French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc led the 19th Century restoration efforts.
And let’s not forget the near annihilation and utter desecration of Notre-Dame during the ten years of the French Revolution starting in the spring of 1789 and ending in November 1799 during which Catholicism and Christianity were replaced in France by a new belief system called the Cult of Reason, with Notre-Dame serving as its primary Temple. Before the French Revolution, France was a deeply divided country being comprised of the so-called three estates – those being, the clergy, the monarchy/aristocrats/nobility, and the commoners which actually included 98% of France’s population at the time.
[Aside: following the market crash in 2008, there was much vitriol in this Country surrounding wealth inequality, and a crying out for radical approaches to wealth redistribution. Not a day went by without some form of protest or media story shaming the so-called “one-percenters” or “two-percenters.” It was this type of animosity exactly that led to the start of the French Revolution.]
If the long and winding history of Notre-Dame teaches us anything at all, it is that its wounds will surely heal and that it will be rebuilt. Faith and patience are the words of the day.
Attempted Arson Fire at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
On April 17th, two days after the inferno that nearly destroyed Notre-Dame, a man enters St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan with four gallons of gasoline, two full bottles of lighter fluid, and two long-reach butane lighters. (This is America folks, I couldn’t possibly make this shit up). But, according to said man, he intended no harm whatever to St. Patrick’s because he was merely using the Cathedral as a cut-through to reach his car that had run out of gasoline on the other side of the Church (yeah, right; I call bullshit on this one. Thankfully, so did the police).
In the immediate aftermath of the Notre-Dame fire, spokespersons for St. Patrick’s made a point of publicly assuring New Yorkers that a similar fate could never befall St. Patrick’s because of its fire-retardant coated roof structure, high-fog misting sprinkler system, around the clock video surveillance, and the lack of combustible materials comprising the inside of the Church itself.
Perhaps this would-be arsonist believed that these reassurances came across as mere boasting and he wanted to put their braggadocio to the test; obviously, this is just my working theory. If it weren’t for that whole song and dance vengeance thing I opened today’s Once-over with, I would be rightfully advocating for the death penalty to punish blatant attempted acts of stupidity like this one. But since vengeance is God’s alone, the best I can hope for is that this person spends the rest of his insignificant life behind bars in the company of a 400-pound behemoth of a cellmate taking care of his bestial urges and grooming needs.