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


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