30 December 2007

slight of hindsight: (it's not in the texts, dude)

Posted by at 2:46 AM
I listened to this debate on the historicity of the resurrection between Richard Carrier and Michael Licona a few days ago. At several points in the debate Licona repeatedly refered to the "fact" of James' conversion from "hostile" to "faithful" as evidence in favor of the historicity of the resurrection. The amateur historian in me winces every time I hear this kind of reasoning. I'm surprised that Carrier didn't call attention to Licona's repeated fallacy.

Let's ask the obvious: What conversion?

I think that arguing from a Jacobean conversion is faulty for various reasons.
First of all, where is this conversion mentioned in the New Testament? One can infer a conversion from the apparent disjunction between two extremes— i.e. on the one hand, from Mark's (3:19–35) portrayal of Jesus' family as essentially antagonistic (they thought him mad), and on the other, from the clear authority that was James' in Jerusalem after Jesus' death (Acts)— but I think that it is only because we are conditioned by tradition that we do this, the texts themselves don't warrant such an inference. Our mind recognizes a logical problem which requires a solution, and the easiest way to resolve this seeming contradiction (for us the faithful inheritors) and to fill in this gap is to posit a "conversion".

We can also infer it from 1 Cor 15 if we wish, but the only thing we really get in that list is a defense of James' right to apostleship as safevouched by his "having seen" the resurrected Jesus; no conversion is described. Part of the problem here is that folks tend to project Paul's christological constructs onto James, and this is something which I think is simply unsupported by the texts. It would be fantastic if we had any extant bits of writing from such early Christians as Apollos or Barnabas or Theclas, so to compare the variegation of christologies as they were being conceived, lived and taught by the apostles, but we simply don't have any of these, and I think it is wrong to ascribe pauline views so universally just because his are the only writings that survived. It's easy to think James was a Christian in the Pauline vein only after being indoctrinated into a formal faith system that presumes to call the meeting between the two leaders the "Jerusalem Council" and which the author of Acts wants you to think ended amicably (yet also conceding to Paul's gentile mission, this despite Yacob's bloodline relation to Jeshua). This is the same kind of pious logic that also anachronistically refers to Cephas as the first "pope".

As a last resort, we may appeal to the weight of "tradition" but then, when we realize that the closest thing to an early reference to a Jacobean conversion that we have available to us is from the second century Gospel of the Hebrews (an excerpt preserved by Jerome), this prospect becomes rather dim.

In short, no conversion of James is mentioned anywhere in the New Testament.

Fast forward a couple of days.

Now even the pope is engaging in this kind of faulty inference:

I finally got around to reading a translation of Benedict XVI's Spe Salvi encyclical. I'll limit my comments on it to just pointing out one of these conditioned (but ill-founded) inferences that he used in it.
Specifically, he included the name of Barabbas in a list of "political activists." My point here is not to engage the pope's main argument in this letter, but to highlight an hermeneutic error. I have always thought that Mark's wording of his very brief description of Barabbas was very vague.

hn de o legomenoV barabbaV meta twn stasiastwn dedemenoV oitineV en th stasei fonon pepoihkeisan.
"And one called Barabbas was being held with the insurgents who had comitted murder during the uprising."

The labeling of Barabbas as a murderer or even as a zealot is not as overt or explicit as one is conditioned to think it is and though he is held "with" the insurgents, he is not necessarily one of them.

But that kind of semantic parsing aside, has it ocurred to the pope that the story of the freeing of Barabbas is most likely fictional? First, no such custom of releasing one Jewish prisoner during Passover, as described in the story, ever existed under Pilate's rule. To hear the gospels tell it, Pilate was afraid of the Jews. On the contrary, the record shows that Pilate was notoriously ruthless in his dealings with them, particularly in his crowd-control techniques. Barabbas is obviously a fictional character. His name in fact is a very good clue to the symbolic function that his character serves in the story. Some of the earliest manuscripts of the gospel include his full name: Jesus Barabbas— Jesus, Son of the father. He's part of a "scapegoat" paralell construction in the gospel. This is clearly a Yom Kippur symbol.

But then again, the pope also refers to Ephesians as though it was an authentic Pauline letter, so it's no wonder that another, more nuanced textual anomally should slide right by him and go over his head.

On a final side note:
I used to respect and admire his predecessor very much, even when I disagreed with his pronouncements.
I cannot say the same thing about this new guy. Basing my opinion on his performance so far, I honestly fear that he might cause more harm than good in his tenure as pope.

I'm hopeful nonetheless.



25 December 2007

carol . . .

Posted by at 5:18 AM

"peace on Earth and good will to all men"
sounds like such a lovely idea . . .


24 December 2007

irreverence as art . . .

Posted by at 6:37 PM
"Aki no teto romba (tei chintes)."

The year was 1975. Punk was busy being born and dying at the same time (inevitable, really—oh, the irony!).

Picture this:
A tall slender man walks onstage on yard-high platform boots (this was a mere two years after KISS's first record, mind you), wearing not much more than a silver jockstrap and a wig of copious wavy blond hair. Thick campy makeup. A psychotic Goldielocks wielding an oversized guitar body which in retrospect reminds me of Prince's later auto-erotic showpieces.

The song was "White Punks on Dope," a paen to self-indulgent suburbanite teenage Americans. The band was the Tubes. They specialized in the parodying of extravagance in music way back then, before the lure of fame and riches got to them and they themselves comitted the cardinal sin called "selling out."

They understood the value of "shock".

It happened sometime in the late twentieth century. Post-modernism, inasmuch as it can be blamed, was bound to produce artists whose methods relied on "shock" to achieve an asthetic end. Irreverence as a primary color.

I've been thinking about this lately because my friend Rob and I were surfing YouTube videos and happened upon some old Andy Kaufman footage. This got me thinking about Lenny Bruce before him, and about Howard Stern after him, and about the continuity in that chain. These were men who pushed the limits with their appeals to brutal honesty. Such carefree honesty is traditionally reviled.
People were appalled by Lenny's temerity. They were simultaneously weirded out and indifferent to Andy's experiments in the absurd. Though Howard is seen as a kind of pariah by the communnity at large and is avoided by all who fear what being in the crosshairs of his acerbic scorn might be like, he is one of the most successful and highest-paid entertainers in history and has paved the way for countless comedians who now hone their vulgarity and innuendo skills to razor sharpness. In the many Improvs throughout the land, you can pretty much say whatever you want. This is a relatively new phenomenon.

Shock sells when once it didn't.

If the progression could be graphed, it would look like an exponential curve showing increased tolerance for what used to be unmentionable fare. We went from nearly zero to sky's-the-limit in a matter of a few decades. The world has changed so much that Lenny was pardoned by the state of New York posthumously (in 2003—thirty-seven years after the fact) of his indecency conviction (Governor Patakis at the time cited the state's comittment to the first ammendment as the reason for the pardon). It has changed so much that what seemed scandalous in those post-war years is an almost daily occurence, beckoning our passing attention only in extreme cases, like when Michael Richards, in a moment of uncontrolled rage, lost it and went apeshit on a heckler last year.

It's a post-hiphop, post-post-post-Norman-Rockwell world. I think this is a case of Pandora refusing to go back in the box. I don't watch television anymore (it's been a long time now—over fifteen years), so, for all I know, it's even worse than I imagine out there!

Hmm . . .

Anyway . . . in honor of Lenny Bruce, here's an obscure Randy Newman recording from 1968, when the memory of his martyred soul was still fresh in the minds of those that he inspired. I have a thing for songs that can say as much as possible in as short a time as possible. This one clocks in at less than two minutes.

Laughing Boy (realAudio)

Laughing Boy keep movin'
Keep movin', Keep movin'
Laughing Boy keep movin'
Keep movin', Keep movin'

Find a clown and grind him down
He may just be laughing at you
An unprincipled and uncommitted
Clown can hardly be permitted to
Sit around and laugh at what
The decent people try to do

Laughing Boy keep movin'
Keep movin', Keep movin'
Laughing Boy keep movin'
Keep movin', Keep movin'


23 December 2007

Oh, be the music in my head . . .

Posted by at 4:36 PM

. . . . . . . . . Oh, be my rest.


12 December 2007

On the Centenarian Defense as an Apologetic Strategy...

Posted by at 3:23 PM
I'd like to devote this post to a subtle apologetic technique that I've encountered in recent conversations and blogsurfs. Some Christian apologists seem to be fond of citing patristic writings and then linking these citations to specific New Testament characters. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. The warning flags fly, however, whenever one claims that the characters "could have" lived to an extremely old age, old enough to have had contact with said patristic writer. A few examples follow:

centenarian #1: John the Evangelist

We are told that the apostle John, the son of Zebedee (and brother of James) is the same person that composed the fourth gospel. We are told that he lived to be over a hundred years old. This would explain how an actual eyewitness to the life of the historical figure of Jesus could have waited until the turn of the century to write down his account of the events that had transpired seven decades earlier (dating the fourth gospel earlier than say 90–100 C.E. would be problematic for various reasons). His having lived to such a ripe old age would also explain how a peasant fisherman from the Galilee would have found the time to take up and master the Greek language to such high degree that he was able to write in a highly advanced poetic style. It would also explain how he could have found the time to develop the elaborate christology that his gospel is so replete with. We know (with a reasonable degree of certainty, we must admit that the consensus is nearly universal on this) that the Gospel of Mark was the first canonical gospel written, followed by Matthew and Luke, and eventually by that of John. So it's just as well if he lived to be over a hundred.
But . . .

problems with this . . .

While I accept that there existed a certain John "the Elder" who was a highly esteemed presbyter who was remembered as an influential figure in the Christianity at the turn of the century, I am convinced that this is neither the same John who wrote the fourth gospel, neither is it the same John who was one of Jesus' closest companions. I remember the moment I grasped this fact; I was reading chapter 3 of Loisy's "Origins of the New Testament" some years ago.

Adding to the problems raised from equating the three Johns, there is some internal evidence that suggests that John (Bar Zebedee) was martyred alongside his brother James sometime between Paul's writing his Epistle to the Galatians (the 50s) and the author of Mark's writing his gospel (circa 70). — (Galatians speaks of meeting with the "three pillars." Mark (10:30–41) implies that John died along with his brother—if you frown at this suggestion, ask yourself if Mark would have made reference to the death of John along with his brother—verse 39— had John not already suffered martyrdom?)

There is also some external textual evidence (e.g. Papias by way of Eusebius, Philip of Side and George the Sinner) that suggests likewise.

As R. Alan Culpepper points out in his "John, the Son of Zebedee: The Life of a Legend" (2000, Fortress Press, p 174):

"The cumulative weight of the references just considered has been enough to keep alive the possibility of the early martyrdom of John but not sufficient to override the tradition of his long residence in Ephesus. As the tradition of the Ephesian residence becomes more suspect there has naturally been renewed interest in the testimonies regarding John's early martyrdom. It is not necessarily an either/or choice, however, between the traditions of a long residence in Ephesus or an early martyrdom in Jerusalem. Both may be legendary, and the circumstances of the death of John may simply be unknown, as are the circumstances of the deaths of most of the other apostles."

centenarian #2: Mary

A Catholic apologist recently insisted to me that the extant letter of Ignatius to the "virgin" Mary (and her reply to him, also extant) are quite possibly genuine Ignatian works, arguing that she could have lived to be a centenarian and thus "could have" (there's that magic phrase again!) communicated with Ignatius in this way.

problems with this . . .

First of all, the fact that neither Eusebius nor Jerome makes the least reference to these letters is a pretty good indication that they are spurious articles, written much later (in fact, the oldest manuscript of these letters dates to the 12th century).

That smoking gun aside, I reminded this fellow that, if Mary was about 15 years old when she gave birth to Jesus in approximately 4 B.C.E., and if Ignatius wrote his letters in 110 C.E., then Mary would have had to have lived to the age of at least 129! After pointing this out to my Catholic friend, he merely huffed and puffed and walked away. I haven't heard from him since. I wonder if he still believes those letters are genuine. Personally, I doubt that any of the Ignatian letters are genuine, but that is for another post altogether on another day.

centenarian #3: Jairus' daughter

I came upon a reference to Quadratus (a 2nd century apologist) the other day on a particularly pious blog that I sometimes read. The gist of the post was about Quadratus' testimony (preserved in Eusebius) that some of the people that Jesus had healed or brought back to life during his lifetime were still living at the time of his (Quadratus') writing (circa 125 C.E.). This blogger then went on to enthusiastically suggest that Jairus' daughter was likely who Quadratus was refering to.

problems with this . . .

Jairus asks Jesus in GMark to heal his "little daughter", so I'm guessing she was maybe 7 years old (give or take a year). This episode occurs early on in both the GMk and GLk narratives, so let's say for the sake of argument that it happenned somewhat early in Jesus' career—say the year 27. Therefore, in 125 C.E.—the time of Quadratus' writing—she would have been approximately 105 years old. Add to the probabilities involved in all of this the fact that the name "Jairus" can be translated from the Hebrew to something like "he will be raised", which suggests a mythic origin of the story.
Talitha cum, indeed.

Quadratus uses the plural too ("many of those healed"); I wonder who else was still alive at the time of Quadratus.
Maybe Lazarus?
Maybe the Gerasene demoniac? How old do you suppose HE would have been?. . . o_O

conclusion . . .

While I don't discount that a couple of the earliest Christians probably lived fairly long lives, I see a big red flag whenever I hear the "could have"-been-a-centenarian defense of some apologetic point or another. It all seems like special pleading to me. (If Mary lived to be 129, why has no one mentioned it?)

Anyway, I won't belabor this point further.

It would be nice, however, if apologists dropped the centenarian "could-have-been"s, which only serve to reveal a sense of urgent anxiety in the face of the enormous dearth of evidence regarding the apostolic period.


on relics . . .

Posted by at 8:13 AM

On Saturday, the 23rd of February, of the year 155 C.E., Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, one of the most venerable and outspoken Christian heresy-bashers of that early period, was put to death by the local authorities. The details of his martyrdom, "preserved" by Iraneus, speak of a miracle happenning just then; according to the legend, he was bound and readied for being burned alive at the stake, but when the pile of fuel was ignited, the flames did not consume his body. Seeing that the fire would not take him, a guard was then ordered to pierce him with a lance, whereupon a dove appeared out of the blue and a prodigious amount of blood flowed out of him, extiguishing the fire beneath him. After his death, the fire was relit and his body was cremated and his reliquiae (remains) were collected by his devoted followers, who conducted a burial ceremony so that they could annually celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom at his grave.

As a result of numerous similar incidents, the remains of the bodies of saints (or portions of them) came to be venerated as avenues of miraculous benefits and divine grace. In time, any object associated with a key figure in Christendom was jealously guarded as a wonder-working relic.

Veneration for relics, and the consequent search for the oldest of them, took on frenzied proportions during the medieval period. Skulls, teeth, rings and personal articles were especially sought after. Inevitably, the whole of Christendom became obsessed with relics linked to the New Testament account of Jesus' own life.

The chalice that Jesus supposedly drank from at the Last Supper thus became the Holy Grail. So much wood from the actual cross on which Jesus was crucified was collected, in fact, that an entire ark, capable of carrying two of every animal on earth, could probably be built from it (with enough left over to burn yet another martyr perhaps).

Most scholars doubt that any such handed-down relic is genuine, yet thousands of them are still displayed to this day—the most famous example being the Shroud of Turin—for the "edification of the pious."

Fast forward to our modern day . . .

The above photograph shows a lock of John Lennon's hair that was sold for approximately $48,000 today.

I can't help but be mildly amused at the veneration that people extend to celebrities. There is a queer irony here. In 1966, John Lennon caused a furor with his passing comment that the Beatles had become "more popular than Jesus." In the wake of this comment came numerous condemnations, criticisms, and even mass record-burnings. How dare he say such a thing?

Yet, here we are, forty years later, placing undue value on such things as a lock of the man's hair. I doubt that anyone will be praying over it (at least I hope not), or even hoping for some kind of vicarious benefit from it. Still, the adulation that things like this receive boggles the mind.


10 December 2007

barefoot servants too . . . (another polaroid)

Posted by at 6:06 PM

When I was seventeen years old I lived in the Bronx. The stomping grounds went from the upper 190s north along the Grand Concourse (starting from around Poe Park) and then hang a right at Bedford Park Boulevard, all the way to the Botanical Gardens. The gully between Decatur and Marion Aves. was one of the regular hangs.

I was recently contacted via email by one of the people I knew back then. We used to call him Pinhead, not in any pejorative way, it was just a name he had acquired in grade school, long before we had met him—something about a haircut gone awry.

He was a good kid; always a smile and a kind word to even the stranger.

I haven't seen this guy for probably twenty years. In his email, he asked me what I have been up to in recent years. I made the mistake of mentioning my decade-long interest in all manner of scholarship regarding the birth of Christianity, describing myself as an atheist Jesus freak in that first exchange. I didn't intend to stir up a hornet's nest; it was just a brief mention of one of my interests.

Shortly after that, he showered me with email after email after email (thirty of them in total) of citations (he is particularly fond of Jerome and the canonical Epistle to Titus). I wasn't expecting this barrage of questions or biblical citations. It struck me as a little odd, but I figured it would only be fair to at least try to respond. I addressed a few of the points he made in his first emailing spree and managed to send it off.

His messages were full of really bad apologetics.
It's hard to refute really bad apologetics, not because it contains any compelling argument, but because its proponents are not really interested in listening to counter-arguments. The art of apologetic is really the art of preaching to the choir (read an insightful essay on this phenomenon here by Robert J. Miller). It is a way to persuade adherents to a faith system that that system is not only acceptable theologically, but is also rationally and logically plausible. I think that people, once sold, are sold, period; it is almost impossible to deconvert the pious (which is why I admire people who manage to break free of the chains of dogmatism so much) and would rather defend their religion than listen to another's pitch.

Anyway, I quickly realized that Pinhead, my long-lost friend in adolescence, has become a pious Jehova's Witness convert. And it was obvious that he didn't appove of some of the things I might write about from time to time in this blog.

I was willing to play along and answer some of the questions he raised, most of them are quite easy to tackle. I even saw it as an interesting way to focus my thoughts on these topics through the lens of my own critical mind. After absorbing both the liberal and the conservative literature of the last century, I think I have a pretty good idea of where current scholarly consensus lies in any given controversial question regarding early Christian history.

I won't go too deeply into the bad apologetics he showered me with; one example should suffice:

He insisted that the Gospel of Matthew was completed by the year 41, before the Gospel of Mark, in "Palestine" (whether he means Judea or Samaria is unclear, but this kind of anachronistic shape-shifting is used in all of the apologetic material).

I tried to point out a couple of things which make such an early dating of Matthew improbable from a historical viewpoint. Some of the things I touched on were:

  • The obvious reference to the destruction of the temple
  • The almost universal scholarly consensus that Mark must have preceded both Matthew and Luke by at least a decade
  • The fact that some of the redaction from one gospel to the other makes no sense at all if the direction of redaction is from Matt to Mk (especially in light of the fact that some of these redactions would even be anathema to the nascent Ekklesia — I'm thinking Mk 3:19 here)
  • etc
So, I gently tried to show him that the apologetic stuff he was citing was mostly written by theologians and not by historians, which is okay, but any claim that Matthew was written in 41 is just simply historically unsupported and is just a pious desire for the text to be earlier than the evidence supports. I have no such need and so it doesn't bother me at all that Mark seems to have come first.

Anyway, like I said, I was willing to play along and go point by point. But one of the email subject lines caught my eye: "Expletives."

I skipped over the long list of emails and opened that particular one. It was a request that I refrain from using "expletives" in my responses. I guess that in my long expositions I must have thrown in a Bronxism or two. Lord knows I'm no vulgarian, but I'm not a prude either. Prudes are a red flag to me.

It kind of shocked me. It set me to meditating on the meaning of all this for some few moments.

This changed everything. It became obvious to me that Pinhead was acting in the role of missionary here.

I decided then to remind him where we both came from. I proceeded to remind him of who we had both been during those days when we hung out together on the streets of the Bronx. We did things together that would be considered scandalous in those days, even profane things, like rolling joints with paper from a Bible (the thinness of the paper is perfect for the task—those were the days). I'm not boasting here. I realize we were just stupid kids. My point is that people should not put on "holier-than-thou" airs, is all.

We had grown up in the Bronx, for God's sake! And now he was asking me to please not use the word "shit."

The nerve!

I'm not really sure what he expected me to respond with to his manic fanaticism—in hindsight, I realize that only a conversion would have satisfied him—but what he got from me instead was a scolding. What had been a pair of expletives slipped in for frivolous effect in my previous note were now intentional less-than-polite exhortations to mind the logs in his own eye.

"Let me get this straight:

You want me to adopt the religion that you espouse because you feel that it is somehow superior to the one I already may or may not have . . .

does that sound about right?

. . . hmmm . . . I see . . .""

What makes it all sad, is that he really is a sweet guy, generous and genuinely caring. Too bad he can't keep his preaching to himself. I wouldn't take that from my own mother, much less from one of my adolescence buddies.

Sorry, man. I love you, but the last thing I need in my life right now is a fanatical Jehova's Witness droid up my ass, dude. If you can't see beyond your religious pretensions to reach out and talk to ME (not some potential convert), there's just no point to it.




Posted by at 1:09 AM
I that saw where ye trod
     The dim paths of the night,
Set the shadow called God
     In your sky to give light;
But the morning of manhood is risen, and the
     shadowless soul is in sight.

The tree many-rooted
     That swells to the sky,
With frondage red-fruited
     The life-tree am I;
In the buds of your lives is the sap of my leaves; ye
     shall live and not die.

But the Gods of your fashion
     That take and that give,
In their pity and passion
     That scourge and forgive,
They are worms that are bred in the bark that falls off;
     they shall die and not live.

—Algernon Charles Swinburne


05 December 2007

weedeater . . .

Posted by at 8:51 PM

Sifting through a stack of CDs, I came across a promotional compilation of music from Louisiana ( Music: The Language of Louisiana — vol.1 ). One of the artists represented in this collection is a band with the name of Weedeater. I googled the name and found nothing more from these folks (there IS a newer heavy metal group with the same name now, but it's obviously not the same people). The seeming disjoint between the sound and the look of this group inspired me to blog about this. This little blurb is all I know about these fascinating musicians. Clink on the link below the foto to hear why (in realAudio) I find it so fascinating.

That's the liner note blurb. Below is their tune from the anthology.
Whoever these people are. Wherever they are. I love them for their originality and temerity.

Travel well, friend.
Godspeed to you.

27 November 2007

a war on X-mas? (on first strikes)

Posted by at 3:28 PM
I stopped at a shop to get a bite to eat today. As I sat and ate my food, some piped-in muzak played from speakers concealed somewhere in the acoustic-tile ceiling. Christmas carols.
Not only do I find Christmas carols to be a particularly insipid genre of music, but the fact that they are being pumped out into our daily activities so soon (not even a week after turkey day) causes me to roll my eyes in disbelief. After a few of these innocuous and banal songs, I was moved to comment, aloud, "It's not Christmas yet, goddammit!" I looked around, only slightly concerned about whom I might have offended with my irreverent paroxysm. A young man looked at me and nodded a smile as if in silent agreement. A trio of hip-hopper high-school kids didn't seem to have heard me at all.
No casualties, then.

But it occurs to me that heathens like me (or even those unlike me) have not declared any war on Christmas after all, despite what idiot-pundits like Bill O might think or say. It seems to me that every year the first shots are always fired by corporate America (I realize that this practice is no longer a solely American phenomenon—but then corporate Japan doesn't concern me here).

I have absolutely nothing against the Christian celebration of Christmas. In fact, I have been known to sing a carol or two for my family and friends on that holiday, something which I genuinely enjoy doing. However, I do strongly object to being bombarded by a month's worth of it. If we heathens are at war with X-mas, it is only because we are carpet-bombed on a yearly basis. We are conducting defensive maneuvers, not the other way around. Yet we hear the advocates of this avarice repeatedly accuse all who don't fall in step with their profit-scheme of unfairly discriminating against the Christian religion.

My response to this charge is to point out that the month-long anticipation has absolutely nothing to do with the Christian religion. It is nothing more than a subconscious appeal to potential consumers, a reminder that there are "X" number of days left in which to get all of our shopping done. Nothing more. If you doubt the non-religious character of this practice, ask yourself what the song "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow" has to do with the Christian religion. Or how about "Frosty the Snowman"? All of this is made even more ludicrous by the fact that I live in the Phoenix valley, where the total accumulation of snow precipitation since the time of Jesus is less than an eigth of an inch.

What idiot-pundits perceive as a "war on X-mas" is nothing but a reaction against a calculated and (because it is areligious in nature) disingenuous and hypocritical first assault on the part of greedy financiers.

Peace on earth and good will toward men—my ass!


26 November 2007

batá Sunday . . .

Posted by at 2:47 AM

Earlier today (yesterday by now) I went over to Emilio's to pay him for a recent gig. He had one of his students over (Shane). When I got there they were working over some batá rhythms. Seeing that they were only two, I picked up the okónkolo, sat down, and joined them, figuring that batá is best learned as a set of three drums. Emilio, of course, did not object to that. It was a pleasant afternoon of batá playing.

For those who might not know, Batá are double-headed, hourglass-shaped drums that are used in traditional liturgical Orisha music. Ever hear of the religion of Santeria? (La Regla de Ocha) — Well, THAT music. They are played horizontally resting on one's lap, the smaller of the two heads always on the left side. The little drum is called the okónkolo. The mid-sized one is the itótele. And the big one is called the iyá (mother).

The Orisha traditions, originally from the Yoruba people of West Africa, were brought to the Americas (they blossomed in Cuba) via the slave trade. Each orisha (an analogue to a deity) has a specific set of rhythms, dances and iconography that are used in the ceremonial calling of "the saints" (hence the misnomer of "santeria" a name that is really just a vestige from the synchretism between that tradition and Catholicism).

By itself, the rhythmic pattern played by any one batá drum is not terribly exciting. In fact it's deceptively simple. But when each drum locks in to its individual part together with the others, the individual patterns intertwine into a gorgeous and wondrous tapestry of sound and rhythm that is very complex and electrifying. It is one of the most challenging forms of music that I've had the pleasure to study.

Okay, I'm up late painting and need to go to bed now . . .
It was a good day.


21 November 2007

quote of the day . . .

Posted by at 7:23 PM
"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

Albert Einstein

faith and healing ...

Posted by at 2:40 PM

I've been recuperating from a medical condition for three months now. Grateful to be finally feeling better, and having promised myself that as soon as I felt enervated and focused enough I would attempt to do a few watercolors (as a kind of reward), I started working on a couple of them yesterday. I'll probably post fotos of them when they're done.

I felt like jotting down some thoughts here that I've been ruminating on during this time of convalescence.

I've come to the conclusion that most forms of medical practice rely heavily on the patient's "faith" in the efficacy of the procedures undertaken to counter his illnesses. In other words, I think that most medicine is a kind of placebo science. This point is highlighted in a short story I encountered recently (and which I included in one of my Brainstorming Simian Hour mixes—#3):

My father was a traiteur, a healer. "That's a fact," he said when I asked him about it. "It's an old, old tradition, passed on to me by Jacob Patou while he was on his deathbed. Some day, before I die, I'll pass it on to you. It's an honor to be chosen, son. It's got little to do with me or you, though; it's in His hands. And theirs—them that come to be healed. You've got to be a believer to be healed. And a believer ain't scared of what'll happen. He knows in his heart. It's in his eyes. The eyes will always tell you." . . .
I think he's essentially right. Faith of some sort is required in order for the chosen treatment to have the desired positive effect on our psyches and thus facilitate our recovery.

This, however, is part of my unique dilemma. What happens when a heathen like me is treated using means that I am inherently deeply skeptical about? Naturopathic remedies: Chinese medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, "cranial/sacral" therapy, energy-work. My rational mind suspects all of the above to be founded on irrational superstitions and/or outright guile. This being the case, what chance does any one of these "therapies" have of being effective on one such as me?

I realize that the answer is less-than-inspiring, yet I still found myself willingly subjecting myself to some of these follies early into my malaise. Why? Because a drowning man will reach out for even the edge of a sword (as an old saying goes). But without the requisite faith, it is only an act of desperation and, ultimately, a waste of time and money.

This all reminded me of someone's comment on a blog that I read recently, where he (she?) implied that the story of Paul's healing of the town cripple (Acts 14:8–10) showed a kind of "faith" in things that had gone before. The commenter implied that the old man had "faith" in Paul's abilities as a healer, and because of this faith, he was healed. I disagree with that interpretation. As I read the story, the man had faith in being healed, not in Paul. Paul was just the travelling healer that happened to be nearby at the time. In fact, the story seems to imply that the townspeople had no idea who Paul was (they even hail him as a god when the healing has been accomplished—they obviously had no clue as to what Paul was really about).

Scientists have known for many years that the mind/body complex is a reciprocal synergistic relationship. Retaining a certain level of optimism and positivity is the crucial thing. Faith in a particular "method" is not what's needed. Faith is simply a rational trust in an outcome. I am convinced that faith has almost nothing to do with belief in things past.

Funny how thinking about one thing can spark insights into another.

What has helped me the most in this period of illness has been both a sense of acceptance of my condition and keeping as positive an outlook as possible within the limits of my humanity. Meditation helps with both.

19 November 2007

quote . . .

Posted by at 7:50 AM

"Forms and rhythms in music are never changed without producing changes in the most important political forms and ways."


11 November 2007

the synoptic meme . . . (brilliant corners)

Posted by at 4:49 PM

Over at Exploring Our Matrix, James McGrath has written a post about how our specific paradigms regarding the chronology and the inter-relationships between the synoptic gospels affect the scriptural arguments we make. He asks that anyone who understands what the synoptic problem is take a stab at describing the cathartic moment in which the paradigm congealed into a conclusive assertion —the moment in which turning a corner brought one face to face with an undeniability. In his case, the moment came while pondering the divergent stories of John the Baptizer's death.

In MY case, the thing that cememnted GMarkan priority came when I was reading some commentaries on GMk some years ago and was contemplating his use of chiasmi (some folks call them sandwiches). He uses the device many times, and each time he does, it serves to highlight some particular teaching. One night, I was examining each instance in which GMk uses one of these sandwiches, and then comparing it to its respective counterparts in GMatt and in GLk (a good three-columned synopsis is a beautiful thing).

As as I was looking at GMk 3:20–35

Then he goes home, and once again a crowd gathers, so they could not even grab a bite to eat. When his relatives heard about it, they came to get him (you see, they thought he was out of his mind).
And the scholars who had come down from Jerusalem would say, "he is under the control of Beelzebul" and, "he drives out demons in the name of the head demon!". And after calling them over, he would speak to them in riddles: "How can Satan drive out Satan?" After all, if a government is divided against itself, that government cannot endure. And if a household is divided against itself, that household won't be able to survive. So if Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot endure but is done for. Noone can enter a powerful man's house and steal his belongings unless he first ties him up. Only then does he loot his house. I swear to you, all offenses and whatever blasphemies humankind might blaspheme will be forgiven them, but whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit is never ever forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin. (Remember, it was they that had started the accusation, "he is controlled by an unclean spirit.")
Then his mother and his brothers arrive. While still outside, they send in and ask for him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they say to him, "Look, your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside looking for you." In response he says to them, "my mother and brothers�who ever are they?" And looking right at those seated around him in a circle, he says, "Here are my mother and brothers. Whoever does God's will, that's my brother and sister and mother!"
**I've color-coded the form of the narrative in order to better show its "sandwich" structure.

As I was looking at this chiasmus, I came to a crossroad:
  1. If Mark is a condensation of Matthew:
    • In this story, Jesus' family is on the side of those who thought Jesus was a nut. It's clear and explicit. Not only that, in thinking that way, they also risk blaspheming against the holy spirit. No? Why would the author of GMk top this story about people thinking Jesus was crazy with this particular, very potentially subversive slice of "bread," one which, in effect, adds 'and so did his family think he was crazy too' in no uncertain terms?
    • This question leads to another: If whenever GMk uses one of these devices, it is usually to underscore some important teaching, why did this bit slip by GMatt's community?
    • Would not this addition be embarrasing or even anathema to the nascent Church?

  2. If GMatt used GMk:
    • Matthew takes out the family's thinking that Jesus was crazy or posessed—Poof!—verse gone! (And so does Luke remove it, btw.) Since very few verses that are contained in Mark are omitted by both Matt and Lk, this is indication that they simply found the idea too hard to stomach. So they delete the bit about the family thinking Jesus mad. The author of GMatt foresaw the problem this could bring and dismantled Mark's neatly composed sandwich and linked the central portion (the meat) regarding posession by Beelzebul with other material about seeking signs and unclean spirits.

This second possibilty makes infinitely more sense to me. I simply cannot rationally imagine a motive for GMk to add this scandalous portrayal of Jesus' family into the story. If this was the only bit of evidence in favor of Markan priority, it would probably be insufficient to shake a paradigm. But it's not the only evidence.

Here's another doozy:
If Mark is but a condensation of Matthew, why on earth would he omit the Sermon on the Mount (arguably Jesus' "greatest hits") . . . or the Lord's Prayer, while we're at it.

So it was my study of Markan sandwiches that, inadvertently, in combination with other data, was the determining factor in my accepting Markan priority as the best conclusion regarding that aspect of the interdependence between the synoptic gospels.

As far a "Q" goes ... I don't have an analogous certainty on that. I view both camps—proponents of Q and deniers of Q—as having pretty interesting arguments. I tend toward the existence of a Q source, but I've not yet had that moment of catharsis which convinces me of its undeniability. Perhaps this meme-thread will help.


I read the very good post over at MetaCatholic regarding this issue.
One quick note:
I would object to coming to a negative conclusion regarding Q simply based on how "irritating" the deconstruction and parsing of a merely theoretical source by its proponents can be.

That's no way to study.



05 November 2007

15th translation . . .

Posted by at 5:31 PM
I found a used copy of the New Testament in Arabic today, one more translation for my growing collection of sacred esoterica.
I've decided to use a Japanese Book of Mormon that I've had for a while as the centerpiece of an elaborate sculpture.
I actually studied Japanese for a year, so I can phonetically sound out the words—although g-sh only knows what the hell I'm saying.
Come to think of it . . . I may use this Arabic bible for another such work as well . . . . hmmm . . . . a series?

¿fin? . . . .


03 November 2007

ditty: (sung to the tune of Sam Cooke)

Posted by at 12:23 PM
I know a bit about history
Know a little biology
I get my facts from 'dem science books
Je me rappelle de le français que je étudié. . .
. . .

I was just thumbing through a paperback copy of one of the Keneth C. Davis' "Don't Know Much About . . ." series. I had previously read his "Don't Know Much About History" and found it to be a pretty good introductory outline of the players and events of American history. This one is called "Don't Know Much About the Bible". It's not bad. It pretty fairly presents the basic outline of the texts and some of the more explicit absurdities and controversial verses in a humorous way. Seems a pretty good synopsis (pardon the pun) for an "idiot's guide" type book ( it's the same genre, ¿non?).

Unfortunately, any such comprehensive condensation is bound to miss (or misrepresent) a thing or two.

For instance, this is the book's only mention of Q:
"Early Christians believed Matthew was written first and placed it first, but modern scholars now consider Mark the earlier book. Relying on literary and chronological clues, they believe the author of Matthew had read Mark, as well as the theoretical collection of Jesus' sayings called "Q." Some scholars believe Matthew was written in Palestine; others favor another early Christian center, such as Antioch in Syria sometime between 70 and 85 C.E."

This seems a huge oversimplification to me. Not only does it say essentially nothing about what Q is or why we would need a "theoretical" gospel (out of context, "Q" is but a meaningless letter), this might confuse the reader who is new to the synoptic problem, who would naturally ask, "What theoretical collection?"

Such limitations aside, it's a fun book to flip through.


02 November 2007

The Turing Test

Posted by at 1:22 AM

I love the part when someone in the audience starts cracking up over DeepBlue's corny punchline. That makes me laugh.


01 November 2007

the jumping cholla meme...

Posted by at 11:54 PM
So I got tagged with a meme by the prolific "Exploring our Matrix" blog. I don't know where this will all lead, but I'm gonna play along.

The rules are as follows:

You can leave them exactly as is.
You can delete any one question.
You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".
You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".

You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions. Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

My ancestors:

My great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
My great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Flying Trilobite
My great-great-great-great-grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock
My great-great-great-grandparent is The Anterior Commissure
My great-great-grandparent is Laelaps
My great-grandparent is Quintessence of Dust
My grandparent is An Evangelical Dialogue On Evolution
My parent is Exploring Our Matrix

My answers:

  1. The best scary movie in sociopolitical dystopias is: Brazil.
  2. The best song that moves me inexplicably in 80s pop is: “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper
  3. The best classical story in Historical Fiction is: The Odyssey
  4. The most fantastic harmony of all time is found in: Todora (a polyphonic Bulgarian folk song)
  5. The most frightfully honest artist of all time is: M.C. Escher
My victims:

I'll stop there :)

post for the curious

Posted by at 1:44 PM
(for Patrick)
And for anyone else who might be genuinely interested in listening to a pretty good presentation of the mythicist case in three parts:
  1. the arguments from silence,
  2. the arguments from similarity,
  3. the arguments from ahistoricity.

Excuse the loud corybantic intro music
(Is this the time on "Sprockett" when we dance?!?)

These are all from the wonderful site.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


31 October 2007

all hallows . . .

Posted by at 4:04 AM
foto by león

29 October 2007

nothing on sale . . .

Posted by at 1:57 PM
I saw the film adaptation of Jon Krakauer's "Into The Wild" last night. I quite enjoyed the book, it's one that I read in one sitting, in fact, a rare thing. The film is not too bad. It was interesting to see how the screenwriter (Sean Penn in this case) changed some details and omitted others in order to translate the story to a film format.
Two examples: he gives much more prominence to Tracy "the girl" in the film than the book does, and he makes Chris' book of local flora and fauna explicitly say something which Krakauer's story does not, namely that the wild potato seed pods that ultimately killed him were poisonous. Chris would not have been that careless as to miss that detail in his foraging had that bit been in there, but then how else to explain to the movie's audience that it was this poisoning that did him in? In that sense, I could see how Penn had no choice.

It's cool to see the creative visualization process at work.

Before the movie, I did a little window shopping. One of the things I found for sale was a package of "nothing". Imagine packaging that would be wrapped around a small toy-like product - moulded plastic shaped into a spherical capsule - with nothing within that moulded space.

The label says, "for the person who already has everything, NOTHING".

And get this . . .

It costs $5.00!!!

I just had to mention this weird bit of pop culture.

Also, before the start of the movie, before the previews, there was projected on the screen a series of "trivia questions" and "factoids".

One of these went something like:
"Animals can sense spirits. That's why they can be often found staring into space."

Excuse me?? This is obviously bullshit founded on nothing that could remotely be called scientific. I mean, how would one test this hypothesis (stated here as fact, no less) to verify it?

Another factoid went:

"According to a recent Harris poll, 27% of Americans believe in reincarnation or in some form of coming back in another "body"."

If this is true, and if another recent poll that shows that something like 85% of Americans are self-described Christians is also true . . . then there is an overlap here. Some people who profess Christianity also believe in something which is not an acceptable position to Christian orthodoxy. Is this a simple case of syncretism? . . . or is someone just lying somewhere in there? Y'think?

Just a thought.


25 October 2007

brimstone (the polaroid)

Posted by at 11:10 AM

I decided to go down to Mill Ave. to see what was playing at the Valley Art Theater. This theater was the place where Dan Harkins, the man who runs the Harkins Theaters network, was conceived and raised in. The theater is unique in the realm of moviehousedom in that it plays all kinds of obscure and esoteric films, without regard for commercial concerns (I was one of but three audients in the house). They don't follow any prescribed format. They might show old releases, things from years ago—I thankfully had the opportunity to watch The Graduate and Apocalypse Now on the widescreen there—or they might show some video-tractate like What The Bleep Do We Know? —for endless weeks they ran this film, something I found really annoying, having little tolerance of new-agey pseudo-mysticism. They've even hosted live music at times, though it's been a while since they've done that. Among the most memorable performances there were Tori Amos with just a piano and Jeff Buckley's band right after Grace had been released. It's been preserved as a kind of shrine, always clean and well-maintained, a Tempe phenomenon, an anomaly. It's one of only two artsy theaters in the whole metro area (the other being the Camelview in Scottsdale) in which to catch "independent" films. On this occasion, it was Manda Bala, a Brazilian documentary about the lucrative kidnapping industry in Sao Paulo.

I was walking south on Mill, trying to kill some time before the next showing of the film, when this painting in the window of the post office caught my eye. Through the years this post office has always displayed arts of all kinds. I wonder how unique that is within the realm of post-ofiicedom.

At the very moment this foto was snapped, from my right re-came the good news. I and a shaven bald man whom I learned was named Mark, had the following discussion:

Mark - (from my right, after the foto) Hello, how are you?

Ó - I'm okay, thanks. (I put my camera back in its case and into my backpack)

Mark - Do you know the "gospel"? (he places tract on the ledge next to me)

Ó - The "gospel"? Do you mean that in the pauline sense or do you mean one of the gospels? Which one? (I look down and see the tract's title, "The Atheist Test")

Mark - I mean the gospel.

Ó - Okay . . . I guess it's a "yes" on both, then. (pointing, smiling impishly) Is this a test to determine whether one is an atheist or not?

Mark - Not really, it's just a tract.

Ó - A Chik Tract?

Mark - No.

Ó - Okay. (pause) What about the gospel, then?

Mark - Do you believe in the Bible?

Ó - (jokingly) Believe in it??!!?? Hell, I've seen it with my own eyes!!
Why . . . there's one right now!! (pointing to his Bible on the opposite ledge—I laugh)

Mark - No, no. I mean, do you believe that the Bible is true?

Ó - "True"? In what sense?

Mark - Do you believe the Bible is infallible?

Ó - Good heavens, no!! Don't you mean "inerrant", though?

Mark - Yeah. You don't think the Bible is inerrant? Why not?

Ó - Well, I don't have any reason for thinking that it is . . . and so I don't. It's actually very simple.

Mark - What about all of the prophecies that have come true? Things that were foretold.

Ó - What prophecies?

Mark - Books like Daniel that foretold the coming of Jesus.

Ó - Wait, you think that prophetic clairvoyance makes for inerrancy? Why ain't you worshipping that Russian dude? . . . Nostradamus.

Mark - Nostradamus actually was very inaccurate, though. The Messianic prophecies about Jesus are very accurate.

Ó - Not really, they are just as vague. I'm glad you brought that word up, though. What's a messiah?

Mark - You know ... the Messiah . . . Jesus!

Ó - I realize you think Jesus is the Messiah—that's not what I'm asking, though. I just want to describe what a messiah is, as you understand it. What's a messiah for?

Mark - The Messiah . . . . "Meshiah" is the Hebrew word for "savior".

Ó - Actually . . . no, it isn't. That's not what "meshiah" means at all.

Mark - Well, it means a messenger, a savior.

Ó - No, it doesn't. The word "meshiah" means "annointed". A messenger is an angel. Annointing was a ceremonious commemoration of attaining some position of high authority, a literal ritual annointing with oil. Kings were annointed. Many people in the Hebrew scriptures were annointed.

Mark - So, you've read the Bible, then?

Ó - Yeah. I have fourteen different translations, in fact.

Mark - So, you've pretty much read it front-to-back a few times.

Ó - Well, there are certain sections, like the opening geneologies in the book of Numbers that I can't get through without falling asleep, so I skip over those long boring sections when I can. But yeah, I've been studying it for about ten years now. I'm mostly interested in just the New Testament and the history of the early Jesus Movement, though.

Mark - Do you believe in Jesus?

Ó - He probably existed. We have no way of really knowing, though, if you ask me.

Mark - Do you believe that Caesar existed?

Ó - Sure.

Mark - Do you know that there's more historical information about Jesus than there is about Caesar?

Ó - No there isn't. Only someone who thinks that the New Testament is a historical account would think that. We have plenty of contemporaneous corroborating data regarding the caesars. We have coins, edicts, statues.

Mark - The Gospels are history.What do you base saying that it's not on?

Ó - I base it on my understanding of the respective genres involved. I base it on the concept of analogy. I base it on the fact that no contemporaneous textual evidence exists to corroborate the events they narrate.

Mark - What about Josephus?

Ó - Josephus is hardly contemporaneous. Josephus didn't write until from about 70 to about 100.

Mark - Forty years is not that long.

Ó - Actually, it's more like sixty years; His mention of Jesus (if even genuine which most scholars think it's not) is in his "Antiquities", which was completed in 93 C.E. Jesus had been dead 'bout sixty years by then —if he even existed —(I add playfully).

Mark - If you don't believe in it, then why do you study it?

Ó - Well, it's part of my cultural inheritance. No? I was born into it, so I try to learn what it is and where it came from.

Mark - So, what do you think the Bible is?

Ó - The Bible is a collection of books, a self-contained library, you might say. It is the collected anthology of a desert people, a book that gives us insight into their wrestling with the concept of a divine reality transcending our mundane existence.

Mark - And you don't think it's worthy of being worshipped?

Ó - No. I don't think it is worthy of worship, or idolatry, or veneration, or deification. I think it is worthy of study. Like I said before, I have no reason to see it as somehow "divine" . . . and so I simply don't.

Mark - What about Pascal's Wager?

Ó - (curtly) I'm not a betting man.

Mark - But don't you think he's got a point?

Ó - Sure, but it's irrelevant. You know what's wrong with Pascal's Wager? It assumes that one can just all of a sudden change one's mind, as if by flipping a switch. Besides, a conversion argued from his wager can lead straight to a textbook case of cognitive dissonate, i.e. our sense of logic tells us one thing, but our need for religious adherence requires us to suspend the logical side. Think about it. Psychological needs subjugate our perception. That's some weird scary shit I want nothing to do with.
Pascal's wager is just a story that apologists tell each other in order to support that which they already subscribe to.

Mark - But aren't you afraid of what happens after you die?

Ó - Yeah, but that's just my ego, it has nothing to do with what will happen.

Mark - What do you think will happen.

Ó - I have absolutely no idea.
I'd go further and say that it's none of my business what happens afterward.

Mark - (kinda shocked) It's none of your business?? Don't you want to know what will happen for eternity?

Ó - Sure, we would all love to know, but wishing that something be true is not the same thing as something being true. Is it? And, personally, I think that any insistent yearning for a continued existence above and beyond our alloted terrestrial time is just an expression of our own vanity. Eternity?
It 's ego-driven; that much is obvious to me.

Mark - Are you a Buddhist?

Ó - No, I'm not. I like their teachings too, but I am not one.

Mark - (pauses) Why do you think God gave us the law?

Ó - We figured out a long time ago that if we have no laws, justice is not possible. We seem to hold to justice as important, it's characteristic of our species' gregariousness. I don't know, why did god give us Hammurabi's law? Why did god give us the U.S Constitution? The answer is ultimately, "God helps those that help themselves", I think.

Mark - Why do you think this whole thing started then.

Ó - That's a very good question. Not just "why", but "how" too. It's why I keep studying.

Mark - So why do you think they canonized the book at the Council of Nicea?

Ó - Wow, Nicea had nothing to do with establishing the canon, dude.

Mark - Yes, it did.

Ó - No it didn't. Nicea was convened to counter the teaching of Arius regarding the relationship between God and Jesus (e.g. whether he was "created" or "begotten"). It had absolutely nothing to do with setting the canon.

Mark - (what I'm telling him rings a bell in his mind—he realizes I'm right—I'm a puzzle to him—it goes on for about a half hour longer) . . . . . .

We spoke some more about a bunch of issues. Eventually he had to go and I had to go catch my movie. I thought I'd record some of it just as a passing anecdote. Mark was really surprised to see someone who is actually informed about the history of Christianity yet does not subscribe to any of its dogmatic tenets.

Just a warning to would-be missionaries. Be careful that you are not de-converted in the process by he whom you wish to convert in the first place. At least have your story straight, Be factual; don't just pull facts out of vaguely remembered theological assertions, out of thin air.

Be accurate, lest you find yourself uttering blatant untruths in the name of the lord.

14 October 2007

Posted by at 7:14 PM

10 October 2007

reprise . . .

Posted by at 8:19 AM

I came across this old drawing which made me smile. Thought it an appropriate follow-up post.

This was sketched sometime around '70, maybe. I don't know who the artist was.

We can tell it's pre-80 because some of the predictions that it makes didn't pan out in history. (Ringo still has all his hair, for one).

On an analogous note, this is also how we know the gospels came shortly after the Jewish War. The predictions that they make about the coming kingdom of God right after the fall of Jerusalem aren't quite what happened in actuality as time rolled on. (I'm talkin' just the pedestrian stuff, never mind the theological accretions!)



09 October 2007

what's in a northern song

Posted by at 3:09 PM

I found the paperback "Beatlesongs" at the used bookstore. It Has some fascinating bits of trivia about every song they recorded:

  • the idea that sparked that song,
  • how much Lennon and McCartney did on each (actual collaborations, with exceptions, were few and rare - they each wrote separately, it turns out)
  • who played what,
  • who hated it,
  • who fought for it,
  • etcetera

It's pretty cool. A friend once said that what the Beatles were the first to do was be the first rock group to write one (in some cases two) of every kind of song. He was all drunk and we got a good laugh, but it's kinda true. They blazed a trail, let Pandora out. That flood made popular music change its course forever as a result. As both an admirer of their work (the first record I ever bought was the Red double album -1962-1965) and student of songcraft, I've enjoyed leafing through this book.

Did you know that the song "Yesterday" came to Paul in a dream?

Did you know that "Rain" was Ringo's all time favorite performance?

Did you know that the last piano chord at the end of "A Day in the Life" (the only tune that Lennon thought was exceptional on the whole Sgt. Pepper record) was played by all four Beatles plus George Martin on three different pianos in the room? (the inputs were lowered for the initial attack of the chord and then slowly raised gradually all the way up to max . . . you can hear the air conditioning units if you listen carefully.)

Thought I'd share a few tidbits from the book here:

On the topic of Lazarus and the rich man
. . . . Baby You're a Rich Man

This was one of those rare occasions where Paul and John "collaborated"; instead of creating the song from scratch, they fused together two songs which they individually had already written. They stitched the verse of one's and the refrain of another's together to create the song as we now know it. That's weirdly cool.

Harrison:(on the songwriter's aim) "For a while we thought we were having some influence, and the idea was to show that we, by being rich and famous and having all these experiences, had realized that there was a greater thing to be got out of life - and what's the point of having that on your own? You want all your friends and everybody else to do it too."
Strange. A mission statement of "money don't matter" from the rich and famous? It's easy to preach from the top of a hill, as my friend Frank likes to say . . .

On Jesus in '69 . . . .
The Ballad of John and Yoko

This song, of course, with its refrain of

Christ, you know it ain't easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They're gonna crucify me!
was going to get banned in rural America for sure. The memory of the record burnings incited by John's "more-famous-than-Jesus" remark was still fresh on their minds then. The fact that they got along so well at this session might be evidence that they didn't care what the fundies did in the end. Though John wrote the tune, they were united in this. I think it was a joint statement, as well as a wedding gift to a hard-headed brother.

Despite the animosity that had built up between Lennon and McCartney by this time, they came together for this session in good spirits and with affection.

They concentrated first on the basic rhythm track, recording eleven takes with Lennon playing acoustic guitar and McCartney playing drums. Before take four, John says to Paul, "Go a bit faster, Ringo!" and McCartney replied, "Okay, George." After deciding on the best take, the two then overdubbed all the other instruments. [Just the two of them in the studio.] They worked together so efficiently that the session ended one hour earlier than scheduled.

In return for McCartney's recording help, Lennon gave him coauthorship credit for "Give Peace A Chance", which McCartney had nothing to do with.

On Jesus in '67
. . . Fixing A Hole

McCartney: "The night we went to record that, a guy turned up at my house who announced himself as Jesus. So I took him to the session. You know, couldn't harm, I thought. Introduced Jesus to the guys. Quite reasonable about it. But that was it. Last we ever saw of Jesus."
Do you suppose? . . . ??? . . . . (scratches head in wonder . . .)

Hmmmm . . . . . . . . . . . . . I wonder what I'd hear if I played the song backwards.

Finally, not to be too morbid, but it would be kind of ironic, considering all the hullaballoo regarding all the "hidden clues", if Sir Paul outlived us all.



08 October 2007

Chicken Snakes . . .

Posted by at 10:49 AM

In keeping with the "Lucifer Effect" theme, here's a fascinating talk I found by John Henry Faulk :

He begins thus:

"I was born and raised out in south Austin, Texas. Travis County, and, when I was about twelve years old, I was playin' in the back yard with a boy named Boots Cooper. And Momma said, 'Johnny, there's a chicken snake out in the henhouse, would you get a hoe and go out there and kill it?' Boots and I went out there at the henhouse, and, the chicken snake - I don't know if you ever saw one in a hen's nest or not, but it swings its head, and it's a frightful looking sight, licking out its tongue and hissin'. Got us right jumpy. We stayed about three whole handle links away from it. [laughter] Even the poor [...] hens were closer to it than we were. And we were challenging each other, 'Go on! Hell, it ain't gonna hurt you. Get up there and get at it!'
Finally Momma came out and said, 'Lord have mercy! Gimme that hoe!', and she took the hoe and knocked the chicken snake's head off with it and then said, 'Goodness, don't you all know that a chicken snake is harmless. A chicken snake won't hurt you!' And Boots Cooper made an observation that has stayed with me a long time; he said, 'Yes, maam, I know a chicken snake won't hurt ya', Miss Faulk, but they can scare ya so bad so's you'll hurt yourself!!!!' "

This is the opening to a speech given on 6th November 1969 at the University of Texas entitled 'What Happens to a Democratic Society When Fear is Rampant'. It was featured recently at the excellent Talking History site. In it he is talking specifically about the strange phenomenon of McCarthy's paranoia movement that had taken place the previous decade, but I can't help but hear echoes of that same paranoia resounding in todays political and social climate.

Download in MP3 format:

05 October 2007

Po' Lazarus . . .

Posted by at 6:52 PM

In the Gospel of Luke there's a parable attributed to Jesus about a rich man who ignores the plight of his neighbor, the wretched Lazarus (16:19-31), who begs him for a crust of bread. After they've both died, Lazarus joins Abraham in Heaven and the rich man winds up burning in Hell, asking Abraham for mercy, a mercy which is denied. The rich man then asks Abraham to send Lazarus (whom he interestingly still sees as some kind of servant even in death) back to Earth to warn his live brothers so that they may repent and become righteous and thus avoid his fate. God half-jokes his reply to the rich man:

Look . . . they already HAVE the law. If they won't listen to Moses and Abraham, why would they listen to Lazarus? They won't listen even to one come back from the grave!
What is this parable about?

I've been thinking about it for a few days. The question was brought up in A New Testament Student's blog. As usual, I was disappointed by all the exegetical acrobatics that people tend to engage in order to squeeze some christological significance into every little thing that Jesus is made to say in the gospels. It's irritating to watch such spinning, complete with parsing of particular Greek verbs in the text, as if that changed the overall meaning of the parable in any significant way. That's just feigned erudition thrown up as a smokescreen. As someone who doesn't have any theological need for such fanciful interpolations, I object to people inserting their own christological constructs into a text that clearly doesn't contain them.

This parable is simple and straightfoward, it is an exhortation for rich people to share their good fortune with the destitute and to help the marginalized. This is obvious, especially in light of the fact that this particular parable is but one in a series of short parables and aphorisms in that chapter alone with the same basic moral. Jesus' point is fairly clear in the whole chapter: he's sayin', "Not only can't rich people buy their way in, but their very fortune handicaps them from the git go". Nowhere is there any real indication that this story is to be read with any kind of christological lens. You can follow such pious labyrinths til the cows' second coming if you want, but you would only be surmising things into the text that are simply not there.

So . . . . What IS there in the text?

A few particularly interesting about this parable:

  • The two men are sent to their respective places, but no mention is made of either the rich man's wickedness or of Lazarus' righteousness. These have nothing to do with salvation/damnation in this parable. All we know is that, because he has suffered much in life, Lazarus is comforted. This fits in with other familiar teachings of Jesus such as, "Blessed are the poor, for they shall find comfort" and ,"it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle", etcetera. In other words, simply being rich and apathetic is what lands the rich guy in hell. Belief or righteousness are secondary to compassion in the Hebrew Scriptures. This is a very important point. And these exhortations are not limited to the parables of Jesus, this extends to parables about Jesus as well. There is a post in James F. McGrath's very cool and very prolific blog, Exploring Our Matrix, in which he riffs on the story of Mary annointing Jesus with expensive oil (John 12). The apostles complain about wasting the precious oil
    McGrath - This difference between John and other sources seemed less crucial a point of discussion that the statement of Jesus that "the poor you will always have with you". When I first read those words, I took them to mean that, in general, concern for the poor should take a lower priority than worship. I now take a different view of the meaning, primarily because it seems that the words attributed to Jesus are an allusion to Deuteronomy 15:11. When combined with the story from other Gospels (which John seems to have known, even if not directly from one of them in written form), the impression one gets is that concern for the poor remains as central a concern as ever - it is more central in both Testaments than many contemporary Christians do justice to.
    I think he's right. And I think that Jesus' insistence on such radical economic justice has little to do with pious christological affirmations. He was upholding the deeply-held tradition of compassion that is the essense of Torah, both written and oral. Concern for the poor and the helpless is arguably one of the crucial and recurring themes in Torah. Unfortunately, then as now, people seem to choose to ignore that little command from God, that urgent reminder that, yes, we are in fact our brother's keeper. It's more important than worship, as James rightly points out. I guess that's too inconvenient a teaching for folks to take seriously, though. Funny how Jesus' strong anti-rich stance as portrayed in the gospels is not given much lip service in sermons. Is it?

  • The punchline of this parable, the turnaround, the promise to the poor and downtrodden of the world that they would be compensated in the afterworld must have sounded like an amazing paradox to listeners of this parable. And a right welcome one too! Imagine that! The rich finally paying dues and the poor triumphing in the end. This must have been one of Jesus' most popular lectures.

  • Lazarus is unique in that he is the only character in all of Jesus' gospel parables to actually be given a proper name. That's interesting in and of itself.

  • There's another reference to a Lazarus in the gospels. In John 11. I think that the author of GJohn is making a kind of humorous allusion to the parable in Luke 16 in his story of the raising of his Lazarus. A persuasive argument for this can be made based on the following facts:
    1. Both Lazarus stories contain the raising from the dead motif.

    2. The stories of Jesus rasing people from the dead in the other gospels (e.g. Luke 7:14) are told with less dramatic emphasis than the one in John 11. In fact, they rise to a level no higher than any other healing miracle of Jesus. However, it is almost the climax in the story that John tells before beginning the passion narrative. This progression from simple to more sensational elaboration fits the current chronological model and thus strengthens the notion that John was familiar with a lot of the stories (if not the actual texts) contained in the synoptics.

    3. If the raising of Lazarus is not allegorical, that is, if it happened literally in such a public and grandiose way as GJohn describes, then why have none of the other evangelists recorded it? This deserves more than a glossing-over.
  • In the very gospel which features an unnamed disciple as "the one Jesus loved", Lazarus is explicitly called by that very same phrase, "the one Jesus loves" (John 11:3). ¿Coincidence?

Maybe. Whether yes or no, it's a valid question. But I honestly think that to not see a connection between these two stories is to be in the proverbial, "lah lah lah !!! - I can't hear you!!!" mode of selective hermeneutics. Though it might rock the sycophantic sensibilities of some fideists . . . in the words of a favorite Leonard Cohen poem:

Forgive me, partisans,

I only sing this for the ones

who do not care who wins the war



30 September 2007

in memoriam . . .

Posted by at 11:58 PM

I had the misfortune of watching a man die horrifically on the freeway yesterday. He was on a motorcycle.

It was right before I had to sing too. I was in a kind of auto-pilot/wide-awake state through most of the gig as a result. My anxiety went pretty much unnoticed, though, thanks to the fact that it was all killer guys on the gig. Ozuna, Javis, Emerson and TonyV. Playing with them again recently has felt like a sort of homecoming.

It's good to be alive.


28 September 2007

why good people do evil things . . .

Posted by at 7:14 AM

I came across a story about an album of fotographs that recently surfaced showing the Nazi officers of the camp at Auschwitz relaxing and unwinding. On the same day that Hoecker (SS officer, center) and SS women were snapped enjoying blueberries, records show 150 prisoners arrived at Auschwitz. The SS selected 33 for work and gassed the rest.

How does an otherwise normally gregarious people committ morally reprehensible crimes while retaining the appearance of normalcy in all other respects, without abandoning the essence of its morality?

Perhaps no one comprehends the roots of depravity and cruelty better than Philip Zimbardo, author of The Lucifer Effect. He is renowned for such research as the Stanford Prison Experiment, which demonstrated how, in the right circumstances, ordinary people can swiftly become amoral monsters. Evil is not so much inherent in individuals, Zimbardo showed, but emerges dependably when a sequence of dehumanizing and stressful circumstances unfolds. He elucidates on the finds of the 1963 Milgram experiments and their implications and how they might help to understand the case of U.S. reservists who perpetrated the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison . . . .

It's a fascinating lecture. To read more go here

Here's a direct link to the lecture.

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