The Violence at Charlie Hebdo: A Sacred Tragedy

"In memoriam Charlie Hebdo." Image courtesy Emeline Broussard/Flickr.

"In memoriam Charlie Hebdo." Image courtesy Emeline Broussard/Flickr.

What is the sacred? The sacred has been around since the beginning of human history and, according the great French thinker René Girard, it is the reason humanity has a history at all. Girard defines the sacred in a way that encompasses archaic sacrificial religions and diagnoses modern violence. He contends that the sacred is any belief that creates identity and cohesion within a group over and against outsiders. In others words, the sacred protects a community from its own violence by designating the proper enemies one can hate, ridicule, satirize and kill without remorse. Indeed, to do so is a sacred duty. By hating and killing others, we strengthen our love for members of our own group. If you recognize this as what we now call scapegoating, you are correct.

Anderson Creates Sacred Cinematic Space in 'Grand Budapest Hotel'

Director Wes Anderson (left) chats with Jude Law (Young Author) on the set of "Grand Budapest Hotel."

To my mind, all of Wes Anderson’s films are masterpieces in the truest sense of that word. But his most recent creation, Grand Budapest Hotel, is, perhaps, his chef d’oeuvre.

Anderson’s eighth feature-length film, which opened in limited release last week, Grand Budapest Hotel is a whimsical, hilarious, and surprisingly touching tale laden with nostalgia for a world and way of life most of us (including the 44-year-old director himself) never have experienced.

Set in the fictional Eastern European mountain region known as the “Republic of Zubrowka,” the plot centers around the character and adventures of Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the eponymous Grand Budapest Hotel, one of Europe’s palatial “grand hotels. Gustave is something of a dandy, a throwback to a bygone era even in his heyday of the 1930s on the cusp of World War II.


Smell. Sip. Sacrament.

Coffee ceremony at a restaurant in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Coffee ceremony at a restaurant in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani.

Back home in California, we recently purchased one of those one-cup-at-a-time Kuerig coffee makers after running through two high-end traditional coffee machines in 18 months. (Two writers in one house equals a high rate of coffee consumption.) While I think it was the proper choice for us – we waste less coffee this way, and have bought one of those reusable pods so that we’re not always using recyclable-but-still-plastic-and-not-terribly-ethical disposable pods pre-filled with the coffee of our choice.

I brought home a pound or so of ground coffee from Ethiopia and we’ve tried to get the amount of grounds and water pressure just right to replicate the drink I’d had in Africa.

Nothing doing.

Ethiopian coffee ceremony a la Keurig is too fast, too easy, and much too weak in myriad ways. 

In coffee ceremonies back in Africa, the beans were ground by hand with a mortar and pestle. They’d be uneven. Chunky. When steeped, the coffee needed to be sieved over and over to make the final product perfectly potable. It took time, patience, and a practiced hand. It also required a different kind of regard for the act itself: the woman preparing the coffee wasn't simply making a drink. She was presiding over something humble and holy.

Even if I could replicate the grounds (I do have a Le Creuset mortar and pestle that mostly serves as decoration on my kitchen window sill), and sieved the elixir until it was just right, it still wouldn’t be.

Why? No frankincense and all the sacred intention that comes with it.

The Lower Lights — "A Hymn Revival Vol. II"

Break out the tambourines and rise up singing! A hymn revival is happening … again.

This month, The Lower Lights continue to shine as they release a second stand-out collection of hymns, aptly titled, “A Hymn Revival II.” And this time around, the group of 20+ musicians expands their repertoire outside of the “American Protestant” catalog, and into the wider collection of folk music, including country classics like Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” and “Calling You,” the African-American spiritual “Go Down Moses,” and the familiar Irish hymn “Be Thou My Vision.”  

Each of the 16 tracks on “A Hymn Revival Vol. II,” glow with intention. Whether it’s the soft but steady pulse of the song “Nearer My God to Thee,” or the call-and-response elicited from snappy chorus of “In the Sweet By and By,” The Lower Lights’ sophomore album presents another authentic look at the joy of the Christian life found in community and comradery, all propelled by the sacred art of making music.

Songs for the Lenten Journey

Music to aide contemplation as we head into the fifth week of Lent and Holy Week…

I discovered Songs for Lent last year on Noise Trade – the site that trades music for promotion, and maybe a small donation — and I think it’s one of the most spiritually moving and challenging albums of the “Christian music” genre, at least that I’ve encountered. 

There’s something earthy and beautiful about Songs for Lent that elicits a response I believe is lost in contemporary Christian music. It’s raw, simple, transcendent.