Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Saturday, March 27, 2004
One passage in Bates' entry actually frightened me, as I felt that I could have written it. His experience mirrors my own exactly:
While most people enjoy satire because they are already familiar with the referents, growing up, I approached it from the other direction: Pogo helped me learn about Simple J. Malarkey (sorry, Senator Joe McCarthy), Khrushchev and Castro, desegregation, and the space race; old Mad magazine paperbacks taught me about postwar East Coast suburbia and '60s pop culture; Monty Python introduced me to British politics and culture. I was compelled to learn the history so I could get full value out of the humor.As for why the heading to this entry, it was what one of the mother animals in the Pogo strip called her baby. I first read it when I was a child and I've never been able to get it out of my head. One day I will coo it into my sweetheart's ear and we will fall into giggles.
I was very sorry to hear the news this afternoon that Jan Berry has died. I had the honor of meeting him once—an occasion I later described in a New York Press article—and was touched by his gentleness and grace. It was painful to see how the aftereffects of his 1966 accident prevented him from articulating his thoughts in the way that he would like, and yet it was beautiful to see how much he had overcome and continued to overcome. He was a brave man with a lot to offer the world, both musically and personally, and I'm thankful he was able to give us as much as he did.
Jan's biographer, Mark Anderson Moore, helped him write an article for a Larry King anthology in which celebrities told how they would like to be remembered when they're gone. The article is heartbreaking now. I recommend you read it to the end, especially as it's at that point that Jan says, quite rightly, that he would like to be remembered as a great producer. I called him as much in my article on Jan & Dean.
Having met Jan, I have no doubt that he is now with God. I think he's had one foot in Heaven for a while, and now the other one's there too.
Friday, March 26, 2004
The following is a guest post by Charles G. Hill of Dustbury, Okla., after I made an aside in a recent entry on the quaintness of old telephone letter-prefix exchanges:
With the desperate moves by commercial interests to snap up telephone numbers that actually spell things, I'd say it's time for a revival of the old letter prefixes.
Then again, this long period of desuetude, coupled with an increase in literal-mindedness (or so I perceive), could make this whole scheme backfire. Were I to give out my number as Windsor 9-****, some poor soul might dial the entirety of "Windsor" and end up reaching, not me, but whoever is assigned 946-3767.
Frighteningly, I remember all the letter prefixes from this town:
In a rare display of cleverness, Ma Bell parked the Sunset exchange on the west side.
Of course, none of these things matter anymore, and there is no longer any effort being made to keep similar prefixes in the same area, but I'm just enough of an old mossback to lament The Way It Used To Be.
For more by Charles G. Hill, visit dustbury.com, one of The Dawn Patrol's Top Five favorite Web sites.
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Yesterday, I had a lovely time playing tour guide for Dale Ahlquist, the president of the American Chesterton Society. Dale was in town to give lectures at NYU, Columbia University, and a New Haven, Conn., venue, and he had never been to New York City before.
It felt strange to think that I could enlighten Dale in any way, as he's been enlightening me with his writings since I first discovered his society's Chesterton.org in 1996. (Witness, for example, his "nutshell" of Chesterton's classic Orthodoxy.) But he let me lead him into the one place in the city where he'd always wanted to go—the Metropolitan Museum of Art—and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time walking the marble halls with him, talking about art, literature, faith, and, of course, G.K. Chesterton.
There's something I've longed to write on this blog for a long time, but I have always stopped myself for fear it would come out sounding too childish or sentimental. I am going to say it just once now and leave it tucked inside this entry, to speak for now as well as those few other special times when I want to express this feeling:
There are some experiences or conversations that I enjoy so much that I don't write about them, for fear that giving a word-for-word account will break the spell somehow. It's not because I fear sharing them with the world, but because I fear that, as with when one writes down a dream, I'll wind up remembering what was written instead of what happened. It seems better to risk forgetting the interaction than to remember it only according to what can only amount to, at best, a superficial outline.
I feel that way about yesterday. Dale and I have known each other long-distance since 1996, when I, as a brand-new Chesterton reader, tracked him down through his organization's Web site. He was free with advice and information about G.K.C., helping me greatly as I began to study the work of the man who became the most influential non-Biblical writer in my spiritual and intellectual life. We'd corresponded on and off since then, but never spoken until I met him yesterday at Grand Central Terminal.
If you're read this blog a while, you know I am something of a fanatic—in the nicest way possible, of course. That is, when I become enamoured of a writer or musician, I go through a period where I immerse myself deeply and intensely in the work of that person, be it G.K.C., Curt Boettcher, or Phil Ochs.
Since like attracts like, I tend to meet a lot of similar fanatics, who often try to emulate the person they idolize. Like West Coast music aficionado Domenic Priore, who, when I met him back in 1988, alternated personas between Dennis Wilson and Sonny Bono. Or the president of the Peter Noone fan club, whom I met once, in 1989, and whose image stuck with me because he had his hair cut exactly like the Herman's Hermits singer he admired—no mean feat. I've met many other similarly styled wannabes who are unfailing in their devotion to the icons they've chosen.
Dale Ahlquist is similar to those people in one sense: His devotion is such that he lives, eats, breathes, and sleeps G.K. Chesterton. Yet, there is one aspect of him that I've never seen in any of the wannabes.
He's not just like Chesterton. (For one thing, he'd need to gain several collar sizes and a toothbrush mustache.) Rather, he embodies him. And he does so in the way one would imagine Christ embodying the Word.
He is a living epistle.
The quality of Chesterton that is most noted by his fans, beyond his gift for insightful analysis and his counterarguments against heresies such as relativism, is his sense of wonder at the world. Over and over, in Orthodoxy, The Man Who Was Thursday, and, really, every other work of his that I can think of, he outlined the necessity of having a permanent sense of awe and gratitude for God's creation. I sensed that wonder in Dale, as well as an effervescent desire to carry out another one of Chesterton's dictums: that we should be happy.
Dale told me that as soon as he got off the plane in New York City, he observed that the people there weren't very happy. I didn't wonder that he saw a contrast. His own happiness is so intense that I, as a hardened New Yorker, actually found it exhausting.
It's funny that I should have felt that way, because it's not like he was bouncing off the walls or being the least bit cloying. He just had that spirit. That spirit that I want to have. Not that I felt the least bit jealous around him—there was something about his sense of caritas that made it impossible to feel such an emotion. It's just that, when you don't have that feeling, it takes a lot of effort to get on the other person's plane. It's sure worth it, though.
Magical things just seem to follow Dale. I'm not being superstitious—I'm sure everything that happened yesterday was quite ordinary to any outside observer. But it seemed magical because of his sense of wonder. Like what happened with the priests.
We were walking in the upstairs hall by the 19th-century paintings when Dale leaned over to me saying, sotto voce, "Are those twin priests?"
Twin priests? Just the concept seemed so quaint and funny. Like the Dancing Itos or something. But I looked and it seemed he was right. I encouraged him to ask them himself.
He approached them and asked one of them if they were twins. The priest responded with a smile—I think he said, "Last time I looked." They were originally Episcopalian and converted to Catholicism—just like one G.K. Chesterton. (A later Web search showed that they're quite accomplished—you can read about them here and here.)
Of course, we had to get a photo. I feel like I'm in an ecclesiastical Doublemint commercial.
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
My blogger pal Mac has given me permission to out him as a Salonica attendee. It was a real blessing for me to have the opportunity to meet him through that event, especially to hear him expound in person on some of the things I'd enjoyed reading about on his blog—like his love of the King James Version.
Mac's blog, Vessel of Honour, has two entries on The Salonica: a general report and a response to an attendee (whom he graciously does not name) who saw The Prayer of Jabez as a welcome bridge between Christianity and New Age thinking.
*This is the best blog headline I have written in a long time. Treasure it.
Monday, March 22, 2004
The past several days have brought some amazing publicity for several of my friends. I'd like to take this opportunity to rejoice with them and bask in their reflected glory.
- Kevin Walsh of the marvelous Forgotten NY was celebrated in an article in yesterday's New York Times (link requires registration) that described a tour he organized of a historic Queens cemetery. The lengthy piece described Kevin as "a kind of cult figure."
Excuse me while I plotz.
I mean, the New York Times described my pal as "a kind of cult figure"! The paper of record, giving my friend the kind of compliment it normally reserves only for the likes of Laurie Anderson and Noam Chomsky! You must forgive me if I am temporarily reduced to a gushing teenage Valley Girl. This is just too cool.
- Caren Lissner, my crosstown neighbor and former trivia cohost (who's kept Tuesday Night Trivia going in my absence), received a rave review of her second novel, Starting From Square Two, in the March 29 issue of People. This after receiving a rave in Publisher's Weekly.
Over the weekend, when People subscribers received the magazine, the book's Amazon rating went up accordingly—it now stands at an enviable 227. Probably by the time you read this, it will have made the top 100. I am blown away by Caren's good fortune, which is so well deserved. Her book is sensitively written, with wit and depth. Eschewing shopping tales and sexual voyeurism in favor of thoughtful examinations of friendships and love relationships, it stretches the boundaries of the chick-lit genre.
- In the late 1990s, when I was a full-time freelance writer, one of my favorite music-biz telephone pals was Hal Lifson, a Los Angeles DJ/impresario and oldies-music lover who managed the comeback of Nancy Sinatra. Since then, although I owned a copy of his beautiful 2002 coffee-table book Hal Lifson's 1966! (which supplied me with material for several Tuesday Night Trivia visual rounds), I'd lost touch with him.
So it was with a jolt of recognition last week that I looked at Liz Smith's March 17 column and saw that the last three paragraphs were devoted to Hal. Adding to my excitement was Liz's news that Hal's latest project was not a person, but a thing: the Quikoin® purse. He's singlehandedly bringing back that handy little rubber thingy that was so ubiquitous during the 1960s, marketing it as a retro accessory in chic colors, with licensed logos from the likes of Pan Am and Bob's Big Boy.
I e-mailed Hal to congratulate him, and we picked up our telephone friendship like no time had passed. It's a great feeling to see him having such success with an item that brings back his and my favorite pop-culture decade.
Sunday, March 21, 2004
Yesterday afternoon, I gathered at O'Lunney's in Times Square with four friends, one blogger pal I'd never met, and four complete strangers for a most unusual event. It was called The Salonica, and it was my attempt to start a salon-style discussion group for people who, like me, wanted a kind of fellowship that, in New York City, is hard to find. It would bring people together who were eager to discuss topics ranging from current events to literature and the arts—and unafraid to do so from a Christian standpoint.
Actually, "Christian-friendly" was the term I used in the description of the event that I posted here, on Mediabistro.com, and on Fellowship in the City. I didn't want to rule out non-Christian participation—in this city, one can't afford to do so—but I stressed that there'd be no debating first principles. What I wanted was relief from the frequent frustration of having to explain myself to Gotham intellectuals who can't imagine why an otherwise bright woman would hold to a faith that they consider outdated and disproven.
Really, what I wanted was relief from feeling oppositional. I always feel like it's me against the godless liberals, me against the godless libertarians, me against the (sometimes) heartless conservatives, me against the atheists/agnostics/New Agers, etc. I envisioned The Salonica as an opportunity, by surrounding myself with lively and intelligent people who agree with me on what matters most, to learn how to be with people, instead of against them.
Needless to say, one can't achieve all those things from one two-hour brunch at an Irish pub with a motley crew of friends and strangers. But I can honestly say that yesterday was a beautiful beginning of something that I hope will continue in a way that will bring warmth and fellowship into several lives.
This Salonica consisted of five men and four women, ranging in age from late 20s to late 40s, and everyone seemed to really take to the format. That is, everyone contributed to the conversation and listened as well. There was an unmistakable air of warmth, respect, and genuine intellectual inquisitiveness over the whole proceeding. In that most basic sense, it was everything one would want from a good salon.
I got things going with a simple question, asking each person to tell about an author who had influenced their spiritual growth. From there, the conversation flowed freely. For example, one attendee cited Ronald J. Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger as an influence, leading another to recall Jesus' statement about how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. That led in turn to discussion of whether Christians should support income-redistribution means such as higher taxes, a flat tax, or institutionalized giving.
There were a number of views on each side of the issue. What I liked was that, although I had my own strong views on the subject, I didn't feel like I had to put my two cents in every time I heard something with which I disagreed. The others' views were so heterogeneous that I could either contribute or just sit back and maybe learn something.
There was one moment in the discussion that threw me off and very nearly ruined things for me. An attendee whom I didn't know, and who arrived late, had initially been silent during the discussion. Finally it came his turn to tell of an author and book that had influenced him in his spiritual growth. He cited a book he called Unearthing the Bible—though, by his description, I think he meant The Bible Unearthed. And he said it contributed to his spiritual growth in that it drew him away from faith, showing him that the Bible is a political document, assembled by men for worldly purposes. Although he was careful not to use harsh language, he made it clear that, after reading the book, he was left with a sense of disgust over the hoax that he believed the Bible's compilers had perpetrated on mankind.
Now, I know Paul said, "Let us not grow weary of well doing" (twice), but I must admit to some desire to have a corner of my life where I do not have to defend the root of my faith. I had hoped that The Salonica would be such a corner. Unorthodox faith, I was prepared for. Outright opposition, no. So to hear this man whom I'd never met say that, and to know that he'd come to my salon [Proprietary? Moi?] just to lie in wait until he could make his defiant announcement—well, I'm sure one or two people there could spot smoke coming out of my ears.
Somehow, I managed to confine my comments to questions, asking the man things like how long he'd had faith before he lost it. Then, while I was trying to figure out how else to react, other people started to engage him. In fact, one by one, everyone else engaged him. And rather than meeting him with antagonism—which I admit was my first thought—they met him with a spirit of warmth and understanding.
Through that dialogue, some good points came up, particularly in response to a question the man posed asking, if the seven-day creation were not true, why would God have put it in Genesis, knowing that it would drive evolutionists away from religion?
I bristled at the mere thought of such an "if-then" question. As reviewers have pointed out, the whole DaVinci Code heresy is based on, "if this is true, then this must be true," etc. So I wasn't even willing to hypothesize on whether or not he seven-day creation were true. God said it, I believe it, that settles it. Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut, and others said things that were more sensitive and enlightening than anything I was thinking.
One woman noted that the Genesis story is poetry, complete with a songlike refrain. It occurs to me now that her observation is much like C.S. Lewis's description of creation in The Magician's Nephew, where he has Aslan bring forth Narnia by beginning a song with which all his creation gradually joins in.
Another man said a couple of things I really liked, about how there's reason Genesis doesn't begin with, "And God created the subatomic particle..." He explained that the creation story was meant to hold intrinsic truth, not necessarily external truth. As he also noted, the Bible was not written to show us how to program our VCRs.
The Bible Unearthed man listened and was, I thought, surprisingly noncombative. He was more resigned than rebellious. He also let me give my testimony and he didn't argue. Still, even as I felt blessed for the opportunity to share my faith, I couldn't help wondering why he showed up in the first place if he was planning to reveal that he was opposed to what I intended to be the spiritual foundation of the group.
I'm reminded of one of my favorite stories, Hans Christian Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling." At the end, the ugly duckling approaches the swans with the belief that they will kill him. But he feels it would be better to be killed by such beautiful creatures than to live in the poverty and hunger that is all he's known in life.
Maybe that's how that man felt. Maybe, like the ugly duckling, he longed for acceptance and understanding, but was so disillusioned that he would be satisfied if those who had the faith he lacked would simply attack him.
Well, I hope we gave him what he really wanted—or, at least, that it leads to his finding a better path.
Incidentally, the only time I felt anything approaching antagonism from the Bible Unearthed man was when he appeared to scowl at my saying I didn't know the work of Walt Whitman. But it could have been my imagination. If it was indeed a scowl, I have no doubt that I deserved it.
Today I plan to e-mail each attendee offering a choice of days for the next Salonica. Once we settle on a day, I'll announce it again here. If you'd like to be on The Salonica's mailing list, e-mail me at DawnEdenTheSalonica -at- hotmail.com (replacing the -at- with an @).
Friday, March 19, 2004
In the wake of my roaring success with song lyrics about the Concordat of Worms—which is now Google's No. 1 search result under that lyrical topic—I've penned a fitting follow-up. My new goal is to be Google's No. 1 search result for song lyrics about the Diet of Worms. This was inspired partly by my friend Jon (an erstwhile blogger), who reminded me of the other "worms" song from childhood, known as
"The Hearse Song"—"the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out..."
So—attention Google!—to the tune of "The Hearse" Song," here are the lyrics to my historically accurate song about the Diet of Worms:
At Worms, Luther was so devout
He told the Emperor, "Check it out—
You can't refute my fine theses
And popery treats us like feces."
The pope's envoys told him, "Recant!
We don't take kindly to soi-dissent,"
But Luther, he would not be swayed
And nearly was auto-da-fe'd.
Now Luther was notorious
For libeling Jews as usurious
But we'll pardon such antic sin
Because he fought the Vatican.
If you enjoyed this, please drop me a line and let me know (address at left).
In my busy corporate life as chief executive officer and editorial director of Petite Powerhouse Productions LLC, whose holdings include Gaits of Eden, The Dawn Patrol, and the Eden Archives, I sometimes forget that the word "corporate" includes the word for "body." And that a "body" is more than the virtual text that appears on your screen each morning thanks to the wonder of technology.
No, a "body" is also a physical object, in a physical place. Or, if we're speaking of a corporate body, which is actually sort of redundant, it's the hundreds of little people who toil in obscurity to ensure that The Dawn Patrol is manufactured and delivered every day, on time, in living color, and with the highest possible standards of quality control.
Being the busy executive that I am, I don't have time to thank each of these people personally. I say a corporate prayer for them each day and consider my job in that regard pretty much done. But I did find time last night to grace The Dawn Patrol's Bronx printing facility with my presence—the first time I'd done so since the operation moved out of my bedroom a few years back. It was wonderful seeing everyone again—well, the one gentleman I remembered, anyway. And it reminded me of just how far we've come since those seemingly ancient days, not so long ago, when all blogs were printed in black and white and set in searing hot type. (The Drudge Report is the last holdout.)
The Dawn Patrol begins here, with rolls of paper imported from Canada via a freight train that rolls directly into the facility's basement. The paper arrives cold and brittle, and must be stored at room temperature for at least 24 to 48 hours—or one to two days—before use.
Photo by Kevin Walsh of Forgotten NY, whom I allowed to accompany me on the trip, as his research team is exploring switching his site's color-matching system to The Dawn Patrol's patented TrueBlogue 6-shade pixillation process.
Raymond (foreground), pressroom superintendent and the only remaining loyal employee from The Dawn Patrol's humble, rustic origins in the wilds of New Jersey, leads a group of visiting Danish pigment consultants through the ink storage room. Only the highest-quality inks are used for The Dawn Patrol, including the last known storage tank of the ultra-retro N.Y. Post Red. That shade was de rigeur in Gotham press circles through the 1970s and 1980s, but in recent years was discontinued in favor of Nouveau Rosebud. Because of its scarcity, and the fact that its tank is unapproachable from the right, The Dawn Patrol reserves it only for special occasions, such as the odd homage to Phil Ochs.
Raymond checks the color on the bulldog edition of The Dawn Patrol. You can see the original plates as they prepare to make their mark on a pristine piece of blogpaper.
You'll note that Raymond is wearing earplugs. I distribute them free of charge to all employees of The Dawn Patrol's facility, as proof of my magnanimity. After all, I realize that, while I may think it edifying for them to listen to my Lesley Gore box set nonstop—and extensive research has shown that workers do get the blog out faster in such conditions—not everyone may wish to hear "Sometimes I Wish I Were a Boy" five times a night.
An anonymous hard-working quality-control employee whose dignity I respect—I can't be expected to keep track of everyone's name—watches as the bulldog edition makes its final journey onward and upward, into the blogosphere. There, it's reprocessed into bits and bytes at great expense, loaded into specially equipped Dawn Patrol delivery trucks, and delivered individually in a disposable iMac to each Dawn Patrol reader's doorstep. You did receive this on your doorstep, didn't you? Don't tell me you bootlegged it off the Internet...
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
Number of localities that I have dreamed had PATH stations, but are in reality not served by the PATH: 2* (Nutley, N.J., and South Orange, N.J.)
Number of localities whose PATH stations I dreamed about, only the stations looked completely different than in real life, but I didn't realize it because I was dreaming: 2 (Hoboken, N.J., and Jersey City, N.J. [the Journal Square station]**)
Number of towns whose NJ Transit rail stations I have dreamed about, only they looked far different in dreams than in real life, and in those dreams I had to cross a lot of scary tracks, and I very rarely caught the train, and even then it was probably going in the wrong direction: 4 (Millburn, Maplewood, South Orange, and Hoboken)
Number of localities where I have attempted to catch a bus in dreams, and sometimes did, though not at a real-life bus station: 2 (on the streets of Newark, N.J., and at something representing New York City's Port Authority Bus Terminal)
Number of times in all my transit dreams put together that I made it home: 0
On the bright side, careful effort has resulted in a major decline in the frequency of my having-to-go-back-to-high-school-and-losing-my-schedule-on-my-first-day-of-class dreams.
*All numbers are almost certainly far lower than the actual total, being drawn from memory.
**All links are to images of the actual stations.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
Like many Webmasters, I obsessively check my stats to see who's visiting and what searches led them here. Every day, those stats include some very funny searches that include words which happen to be on this site—though not always in the order the searchers want. It's terribly tempting to publish the funnier searches, but it seems like such a cheap way to fill blog space that I've resisted...until now.
You see, someone at a computer in or around York, Va. found The Dawn Patrol by putting this query into Google: "song+about+the+concordat+of+worms+lyrics."
That's right. Someone is looking for the lyrics of a song about the Concordat of Worms, the 1122 agreement between Pope Calistus and Holy Roman Emperor Henry V.
Even funnier, thanks to a one-time mention of the Concordat of Worms in these pages, this site is Google's #3 result for that combination.
Well, I'm sorry, but that's not enough. I have to be number one.
So, just to prove that here on The Dawn Patrol, We Play Your Requests—
To the tune of the campfire favorite "Worms [Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me]":
Henry wants power
We'll work out our
Concordat of Wo-o-orms
Concordat of Wo-o-orms
That pope Calixtus
He really fixed us
Concordat of Wo-o-orms
Bishop's a vassal
Still gets a castle
Concordat of Wo-o-orms
If you enjoy this sort of thing, please tell me. Better yet, come to The Salonica (see below).
You are cordially invited to listen and be heard at the first-ever meeting of...
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."—1 Thessalonians 5:21
A salon for people who want to enjoy literate, Christian-friendly discussion and fellowship over Sunday brunch at one of New York City's best-loved Irish pubs.
WHEN: Sunday, March 21, 1 to 3 p.m.
WHERE: O'Lunneys Pub, 151 W. 46th St. (between Broadway and 6th Ave., just off Times Square). Web site: http://www.olunneys.com .
WHO: You, me, and 13 other oddballs with nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon than drink Irish coffee and spout about God and man.
IS THIS A SINGLES EVENT?: No. Singles events are no fun. This is fun.
WHAT KIND OF FUN?: You know how everyone talks about the weather and nobody does anything about it? Well, for years, I've been moaning in The Dawn Patrol and to anyone in earshot about how tough it is to find fellow intellectual-minded Christians in the city. I'm talking about people who not only love the Bible, but are also up on current events, the arts, and literature -- and have strong opinions about them. They're there, all right, but you're not likely to find them in one place outside of church pews.
So I'm finally doing something about it by forming The Salonica -- and yes, it's inspired by the books of Thessalonians, from whence comes our motto (above). If this first meeting goes well, I hope to make it a regular occurence, one or more times each month.
MMMAYBE—BUT WHAT'LL WE TALK ABOUT?: For this first Salonica, be prepared to tell about (1) an author who has influenced you in your spiritual growth; (2) which work of that author most influenced you, and (3) how that work influenced you. Beyond that, it's free for all.
IS THIS CHRISTIANS-ONLY?: No. The operative word here is Christian-friendly. If you go to nearly any other salon in the city, you'll find that, if people are discussing God at all, they're debating first principles. I'd rather take it as a given that Jesus is Lord, so that discussion turns on how we should occupy ourselves 'til He comes.
DOES THAT MEAN I CAN SKIP CHURCH?: Sorry, no—only if you, like me, haven't got one. Otherwise, let me know if you have to arrive late due to church or another commitment and I'll save you a seat.
HOW MUCH: No charge to attend, but you are expected to order something to eat or drink, as the pub's being kind enough to reserve us a large table.
RSVP: If you would like to attend, you must notify me no later than WEDNESDAY, MARCH 17 so I can give the pub a head count. Attendance is limited to 15 people, myself included. If you receive this notice late, please contact me anyway, as it's possible someone may drop out, plus I can make sure you'll be among the first notified of the next Salonica. Please RSVP to DawnEdenTheSalonica -at- hotmail.com .
I just discovered Mac's entry called "Peter: The Original Rocky" (OK—I got a little tip-off from Mac) and am blown away by the information he collects about the Hebrew origins of one of the best-known verses in the Gospels: "Upon this rock I will build My church." Fascinating stuff. Make sure you read down to the comments too.
Sunday, March 14, 2004
Will and I have been having an e-mail dialogue on the meaning of Romans 11:26—"all Israel shall be saved"—and on John Piper's sermon on that same topic. After Will wrote to me noting that Piper's sermon would preclude the salvation of Jews who died before the endtimes, I wrote,
I believe that Jesus is capable of making Himself known to a person at any time, including the moment of death. To me, salvation of someone who hasn't understood Jesus in this life hinges on whether or not that person recognizes and accepts Jesus when they see him. The people who go to hell are the people who knowingly show up for the King's wedding in street clothes—who consciously reject the opportunity to be clothed in white robes.Will responds:
I'd like to believe this; just as I like to believe that Emeth the Calormene soldier [in C.S. Lewis's The Last Battle] ends up in Aslan's country. But I worry that it isn't true, that it's just an excuse to not spread the gospel.That's an argument that demands to be answered, because the idea of anything being used as an excuse to not spread the gospel is a problem for me.
Interestingly, the word emeth is Hebrew for "truth." Given C.S. Lewis's attention to detail, I don't believe that's a coincidence. Emet is Lewis's—
While searching the Web just now for "emeth" and "truth," I found the "Alpha and Omega" entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia. The encyclopedia was written in 1907. Given that Lewis had a vast storehouse of knowledge on Christian theological issues, and that the Catholic Encyclopedia was the foremost Catholic reference book, I'd say it's probable that he read this entry.
The entry begins by describing the Hebrew word "emeth":
It is composed of three letters: Aleph=Alpha, Mem=My, and Thaw=Theta. The Aleph and the Thaw are the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet as the Alpha and Omega are of the Greek. Thus the term Emeth (truth) begins with the first letter of the alphabet and ends with the last. This letter of the alphabet and ends with the last. This led the Jewish sages to find in this word a mystical meaning. The Aleph or the first letter of Emeth (truth) denotes that God is the first of all things. There was no one before Him of whom He could have received the fullness of truth. The Thaw, or last letter, in like manner signifies that God is the last of all things. There will be no one after Him to whom He could bequeath it. Thus Emeth is a sacred word expressing that in God truth dwells absolutely and in all plenitude.It then places the word in the context of the "Alpha and Omega" of Revelations 1:8:
The manner of expressing God's eternity by means of the first and last letters of the alphabet seems to have passed from from the synagogue into the Church. In place of the Aleph and Thaw, the Alpha and Omega were substituted. But the substitution of the Greek letters for those of the Hebrew tongue inevitably caused a portion of the meaning and beauty in thus designating God to be lost. The Greek letters Alpha and Omega have no relation to the word Truth. Omega is not the last letter of the word aletheia (truth), as Thaw is of the word Emeth. The sacred and mystical word Truth, expressing in Hebrew, through its letters Aleph and Thaw, God's absolute and eternal being, had to be sacrificed.I don't know about you, but I just love learning about stuff like this.
—Emeth is Lewis's model of a seeker of truth, one who has never had the Gospel presented to him, but longs for it in his heart. He feels the God-shaped vacuum, as it were.
I can identify with that, as I felt that God-shaped vacuum for my entire adult life, until the Lord broke through my consciousness in a dramatic way. (I discuss my faith experience in a lengthy interview conducted by Luke Ford, himself a convert to Orthodox Judaism.)
For many years, I wanted very badly to believe in God, but I just couldn't feel it. I remember what that was like. I suffered from suicidal depression and could not see any point to life. I tried to convince myself that there was no God, so that I could kill myself without having to worry about an afterlife. (Worse than hell was the thought of seeing my loved ones mourn me.) I didn't understand why everyone didn't kill themselves, seeing as, no matter how much good life brought, sooner or later there would always be pain.
But I couldn't convince myself that God didn't exist. And I couldn't believe that, if He did exist, He cared for me. From time to time, something would happen that would make me wonder if Someone was looking out for me. But there was no continuity that I could see—God's grace came and went. It seemed that if God cared about anyone, it wasn't me. I felt forgotten and, really, forsaken.
The odd thing is, I always loved the Bible. From childhood. When I was a kid and my family went to temple, which was often back then, I would always pull out the book of Torah readings and read it whenever I got bored. I also read and liked a book of children's stories from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and I read the actual New Testament at various times—even studying it in an eighth-grade social-studies class (thank you, Mr. Owen Snyder, wherever you are).
I really never had any quarrel with the New Testament—that's why I recommended it to my mother, who read it and got saved, 15 years before my own experience (as you can read in the aforementioned interview). I figured that, if there were a God, it was natural that Jesus would be His Son. Everything that Jesus said seemed to me to be in line with the Hebrew Bible.
I just didn't believe.
It took the voice of God—or, rather, an angel of God—piercing my consciousness in the middle of the night to make the Bible suddenly come alive for me. The next day, I was directed in my mind to open the Bible to Romans 5:1—"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"—and realized where I'd been wrong all those years.
The voice in the night had said to me simply, "Some things are not meant to be known. Some things are meant to be understood." I'd been seeking knowledge of God, thinking that if I had all the facts, the faith would come to me. What I needed was to understand God, and the only way I could do that was by faith. Moreover, if I understood God by faith, the knowledge would be added to me, as it says in Proverbs 1:7: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge."
What would have happened if my life had been taken from me before I received my faith—and not taken by my own hand?
When I received my faith, God reached out to me. I had an open heart, and I'd tried all I could to know Him. But I needed Him to make that step.
I don't think that's the way it is for everyone. I've heard about some people who have faith from childhood, without ever having a dramatic faith experience. But if I needed that divine touch to believe—something that caused a real, biochemical change in me, healing my depression and making me a new person—I can't help thinking that some others do too. Just as our sins cut us off from God, so too does depression or a simple lack of knowledge. Those things are not the same as outright rebellion, and I don't believe God treats them the same way.
If I had died without receiving that touch, I can't imagine that God would have cut me off. I was truly seeking His face. If Jesus had appeared to me at the moment of death, I would have run into His arms.
But the idea of those who do not know the Lord having the opportunity for salvation is by no means an "excuse to not spread the gospel." If I had continued in my unbelief, my depression could have very well led to suicide—which at the very least is an extremely dangerous position in which to place one's soul, if not a certain route to hell. (Whether it is in fact certain, I'll leave to others to discuss; I'm still hoping against hope that I'll run into Phil Ochs in heaven.) And if I had survived, I might still have easily fallen into rebellion, which would have also put my soul in jeopardy.
Another reason I believe it is always the right thing to spread the gospel is that God wants us to be fruitful in this life. As David said in Psalm 27:13, "I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living." Likewise, in 3 John, the apostle writes, "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." God wants us to know Him while we still have this mortal coil, so that we may enjoy His blessings in this life as well as in the next.
Never a Dollar Moment
My headline in the first edition of today's paper for a story about how experts believe a certain coin is the very first U.S. dollar:
Last night was the best night I've ever had for headlines. I'm very thankful, as regular Dawn Patrol readers know that it means a lot to me to do well at this aspect of my job, which is at once the most difficult and the most rewarding. I've got to immortalize all my good 'uns before I turn in. Here are the rest, in ascending order of wittiness—
For a story on how the Scott Peterson defense is studying the case of Dr. Sam Sheppard, who inspired TV's "The Fugitive":
For a story on a Yiddish translation of Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat:
I seem to have gotten all the Jewish and Christian headlines last night. For a story on how "The Passion of the Christ" is the top-grossing film for the third straight week (keep in mind that all the good "Passion" puns have been used up):
And for a story on how John Paul II is now the third-longest-serving pope:
Saturday, March 13, 2004
From Kdip comes word of a truly inspired sermon by Dr. John Piper: "All Israel Shall Be Saved." (If you do not wish to listen to the audio version, just do as I did and check off the option to "display sermon notes.")
It makes me very happy to read this because I have never before read anything from a prominent evangelist that upholds what I believe to be true about God's plan for Israel. There are Christian Zionists who hold that God retains a special relationship with His people Israel, but their theology tends to fall into the two-covenant model described in Piper's sermon. (This is also the accepted, post-Vatican II philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church.) Those Christian Zionists who do believe that Jews have to accept Jesus to be saved will usually claim that a "remnant" will be saved—something I myself have claimed here.
But Piper goes further, finding biblical proof for what I myself long to believe and am coming closer to accepting: that the promise of Romans 11:26 will be fulfilled just as it says. All Israel will be saved.
It's an amazing concept, and Piper has strong arguments that God will bring it to pass, even as he admits uncertainty as to how it will happen. I strongly recommend reading this remarkable work of apologetics, clearly borne a of deep love for the Jewish people and a desire to draw nearer to them in understanding.
Will Duquette of The View From the Foothills, writes with regard to The Dawn Patrol's recent discussion on supersessionism, a k a replacement theology:
I picked up a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church the other day; this is the official statement of Roman Catholic belief, i.e., what the priests and catechists are supposed to be teaching. In paragraph 839, it says this:It is good to know that the catechism incorporates Paul's Romans 11 teachings that God has not forsaken the Jews. That said, I still have problems with the church's "New Israel" terminology. Although there is a New Jerusalem to come, it isn't here yet, and the old one is still with us. The Roman Catholic Church's new teachings fall along the lines of two-covenant theology, which, as mentioned, is confronted very ably in Dr. Piper's sermon.
To the Jews "belong the sonship, the glory, the convenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ"; "for the gifts and call of God are irrevocable."
The two quotations are from Paul's letter to the Romans, according to the footnotes.
The phrase "the gifts and call of God are irrevocable" seems to me to pretty clearly rule out supersessionism as a part of RC doctrine.
Which is what I'd said the other day, based on someone else's
assertion; it's nice that it turned out to be true.
Friday, March 12, 2004
Mac of Vessel of Honour tipped me off to the latest syndicated column by the widely read Canadian columnist Michael Coren, a committed, religiously orthodox (though politically liberal) Christian who has written books on faith. The column's about how he's received seriously disturbing hate mail—and even been fired from a job as the host of a radio show for a pro-life Web site—because of his review of "The Passion of the Christ."
His "Passion" review is no longer up on any Web site I could find, but some creative searching turned up Google's cache of it.
What offends Coren about the film is what he views as grotesque imagery and heavy-handed filmmaking, combined with an us-vs.-them sensibility. But, contrary to some other critics' complaints, it's not merely the depiction of Jews that he finds offensive. It's the way that Mel Gibson turns all Jesus' enemies into caricatures:
Herod is some cross-dressing lunatic, the Pharisee leaders, some of the brightest men of the age, are all obscene brutes and the Roman soldiers and the mob resemble crazed gargoyles.The film is "not really" anti-Semitic, Coren says. "Jews are generally shown as hideous, stupid and barbaric, but then so are the Romans"—apart from Pontius Pilate, he adds.
No, no, no! The point has been completely missed. Hate me if you like, but please listen. The point is this:
We would have crucified Him. We would crucify Him. You, me, us. We'd smile, be tolerant and loving, do the right thing as we see it, and crucify Him. Then go home to hug our children and talk about how bad the world had become.
Evil seduces and beguiles. It is frequently attractive. If it was as ugly as director Gibson has portrayed, Jesus would not have had to die in agony. And agony is what it was.
I wanted majesty and pathos but was given clumsiness and thumping. Yet God's grace and His love still surround me.
If the movie works for you, I am happy. For me, it is prayer, Bible and a dwelling in a God-given imagination that this hyped Hollywood product can never rival.
That last paragraph reflects my feelings exactly. I have not seen the film and do not intend to do so. Yet, many of my friends have seen it and have been deeply inspired by it.
It would be silly for me to say to my friends, "Ah, you think you were inspired by that film, but..." And when I think about it, I've been inspired by a lot of things that many of my friends would shake their head at—like the climactic scene in Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," when Gerda, after many trials, finally finds her beloved lost playmate Kay in the Snow Queen's palace:
Just at this moment it happened that little Gerda came through the great door of the castle. Cutting winds were raging around her, but she offered up a prayer and the winds sank down as if they were going to sleep; and she went on till she came to the large empty hall, and caught sight of Kay; she knew him directly; she flew to him and threw her arms round his neck, and held him fast, while she exclaimed, "Kay, dear little Kay, I have found you at last."I cry when I read this stuff. I'm choked up right now. No, it's not God's word. But it puts me into that sense of wonder—that overwhelming awe in the face of beauty, loss, and hope—that makes me more willing to admit to God that I am a broken vessel (Psalm 31:12), so that He may fix me. If people have that kind of feeling walking out of "The Passion of the Christ," then I am happy for them just as Michael Coren is.
But he sat quite still, stiff and cold.
Then little Gerda wept hot tears, which fell on his breast, and penetrated into his heart, and thawed the lump of ice, and washed away the little piece of glass which had stuck there. Then he looked at her, and she sang—
"Roses bloom and cease to be,
But we shall the Christ-child see."
Then Kay burst into tears, and he wept so that the splinter of glass swam out of his eye. Then he recognized Gerda, and said, joyfully, "Gerda, dear little Gerda, where have you been all this time, and where have I been?" And he looked all around him, and said, "How cold it is, and how large and empty it all looks," and he clung to Gerda, and she laughed and wept for joy.
So, after reading what I thought was a sensitively written film review, I was all the more disappointed in the people who have treated Coren so horribly because of it. He writes in his latest column:
If being a Christian means anything, it means trying to live the life Christ told us to live; which is the only way we can truly follow and believe in Him. It's not about feeling good about ourselves, it's not about crying in a theatre, it's about attempting to replicate Jesus. If every Christian did this, the world would be transformed overnight.He's undeniably right on all counts there. But the same nut jobs who are leaving the written equivalent of horse-heads on his doorstep write now will probably object to that as well. And I don't think those nut jobs represent a large number of Christians, either.
Faith isn't found in a cinema. It's found in prayer, self-analysis and work with the most vulnerable. If a movie can help, that's tremendous.
If you would like to show Michael Coren that, regardless of whether or not you agree with him, you don't approve of the way some Christians have responded to him with hate and censure, do as I'm doing and e-mail him via his Web site.
On a related note—related, that is, since Michael Coren wrote a biography of C.S. Lewis—Will Duquette's View From the Foothills has a very good review of Lewis's The Abolition of Man. Sample quote: "If moral values are self-evident, then why don't all cultures agree on them?
"The astonishing fact is that for the most part they do..."
Thursday, March 11, 2004
This is really a note to myself. I'm reading a fantastic book right now—a two-in-one collection of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell's Hebrides journals— but there are a few books that I'm due to reread:
1) The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. I was fascinated by this book as a kid (especially after seeing the phenomenal Gene Wilder in the film version as the Fox) but when I hit adolescence, its details all but disappeared from my memory. I was reminded of it yesterday when I was having a phone conversation with my friend Jim Friedland and he made a reference to it that I didn't get—saying that something or other had "no field, no fox." If it's good enough for Jim, it's good enough for me.
I do remember that the central message of The Little Prince, as spoken by the Fox (I think), is something that I now realize is biblical: "What is essential is invisible to the eye." After I accepted the Lord, I was reminded of that saying when I read 2 Corinthians:18b: "For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." All the more reason to pick up the book again.
2) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll. These have been favorites of mine since childhood, and I know them backwards and forwards. Yet, they're so rich that I really don't get tired of reading them. Also, I understand their messages better as my bible knowledge increases; Alice seems more and more like a guileless and yet salty child of God, struggling to overcome a world where reality appears through a (looking-)glass darkly.
I have Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice, which is wonderful, but I really need to repurchase the Barnes & Noble edition of Lewis Carroll's complete works. I first got it when I was 12 and it finally gave up the ghost last year—I tossed it carelessly on the floor and it came apart in about twenty pieces. That's how much I'd read it—there were dozens of weak spots in the binding.
3) The Man Who Was Thursday, The Ball and the Cross, and The Napoleon of Notting Hill, by G.K. Chesterton. The one of those three that I most need to reread is The Napoleon of Notting Hill, but it's my least favorite, as I don't like books where the satire and political lecturing overwhelms the characters. Still, it's essential Chesterton, so I know I have to tackle it a second time. At least it's got his famous line about how men in top hat and tails, seen from the back as they walk away, look like dragons walking backwards.
The other two Chesterton novels are great favorites of mine and I only need to reread them because every story that's in the news these days adds to them new levels of contemporary relevance. For example, this quote from a devout character to an atheist—words which, while they refer to the Roman Catholic Church, I believe could apply just as well in this day and age to all who uphold traditional values:
"The world left to itself grows wilder than any creed...That is the only real question—whether the Church is really madder than the world. Let the rationalists run their own race, and let us see where they end. If the world has some healthy balance other than God, let the world find it. Does the world find it? Cut the world loose! Does the world stand on its own end? Does it stand, or does it stagger?"
Me, to my friend Nick Sarames: Y'know, nowadays, for the first time, I envy you for being blind. Because no one's saying to you, "You've got to see 'The Passion.'"
Nick: Yeah, I know what you mean. That's true. I wouldn't want to see it. But I'd go just to have a date whisper in my ear all through it.
Me, confused: Whisper in your ear?
Nick: Yeah, just like if we were seeing a Chaplin film or, better yet, something by Fellini. Anything with subtitles.
Monday, March 8, 2004
You come off sounding like Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster. What you need is, obviously, a butler named Jeeves to gently clear his throat and make helpful comments.
I've never heard anyone sounding like a Wodehouse character. I'm surprised he wasn't immediately taken with you and invited you to grab some eggs and b., with some scin. conv., "if conv. is the word I want; Jeeves would know, of course."
Saturday, March 6, 2004
NOTE: If you're coming in late to my discussion of replacement theology and would like to know what it's about, or if you're interested in learning more, here is a very good article I just discovered on the subject.
I get the feeling I'm not winning over any new readers—or keeping old ones—with all this discussion of replacement theology, and I myself am tiring of the subject. However, some blog pals of mine have written me some thoughtful e-mails on the subject, so I'd like to tie up some loose ends before moving on.
Will Duquette recently wrote to me that the Roman Catholic Catechism officially rejects replacement theology. I haven't found the reference in the catechism, but I have found other church pronouncements that appear to repudiate replacement theology, a k a supersessionism, particularly these reflections by Cardinal Walter Kasper. As Kasper notes, the church's apparent rejection of replacement theology is a product of Vatican II, meaning that it would have no meaning for Mel Gibson, whose traditionalist sect rejects church developments of the past 40 years.
It's my understanding from my mother, who took the catechism and converted to Catholicism in 1986 (and who has since left that religion, while retaining her faith in Jesus), that, despite its apparent rejection of supersessionism, the church continues to call itself the "New Israel." [UPDATE: Mom wishes me to stress that the Catholic Church is not the only religious body that follows or has followed replacement theology; for example, Family Radio propagates it as well.]
To call oneself a "New" something implies that the old one is outdated and therefore less than valid. For example, if I called myself a "New Catholic," it would imply that I considered myself in some way above the "Old Catholics." If such terminology is indeed still in use within the church, then I would consider that an unfortunate hangover of replacement theology. However, I'll add to my earlier entry a link to Cardinal Kasper's sensitively written piece, to reflect that the church has taken sincere steps towards reversing its history of teaching replacement theology.
With regard to other e-mails from Will and from Eric Siegmund, I don't know Mel Gibson's own views on replacement theology. However, he has made it clear that he is a traditionalist Catholic, and every traditionalist Catholic I've met—and I've met a few—upholds replacement theology as part of their rejection of Vatican II. Admittedly, I don't know Gibson's views for certain, but for me to assume that he is a traditionalist Catholic who doesn't adhere to replacement theology would be like assuming a Hasidic Jew doesn't believe in wearing a tallis and tefillin.
As for why Gibson's religious motivations should even matter to me with regard to "The Passion," I believe that I should not support the work of someone whose religious beliefs fail to recognize the place of the Jewish people in God's salvation plan. Moreover, I believe that traditionalist Catholic beliefs are identical to the arrogant and divisive beliefs that spurred the Roman Catholic Church and other churches to antagonize Jews throughout history, until the changes of Vatican II.
I try not to get testy on this blog, because I treasure the correspondence of my readers and blog pals, and I don't want to alienate anybody. But I must admit that, although everyone who's written to me on this has written in the loving spirit of a brother or sister in Christ, all but one has failed to grasp why replacement theology would disturb me. It disturbs me deeply, not just as a Jew, but as one who's accepted Jesus and believes God's word: that "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:28).
The article I linked to at the start of this post, "The Error Of Replacement Theology," by Clarence H. Wagner, Jr. outlines it well, raising several points on which I'll end this discussion:
What Happens When the Church Replaces Israel?
1) The Church becomes arrogant and self-centered.
2) It boasts against the Jews and Israel.
3) It devalues the role of Israel or has no role for Israel at all.
4) These attitudes result in anti-Semitism in word and deed.
5) Without a place for Israel and the Jewish people today, you cannot explain the Bible prophecies, especially the very specific ones being fulfilled in Israel today.
6) Many New Testament passages do not make sense when the Jewish people are replaced by the Church.
7) You can lose the significance of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, for today. Many Christians boast of being a New Testament (NT) Christian or a NT Church as in the Book of Acts. However, the Bible of the early Church was not the New Testament, which did not get codified until the 4th century, but rather the Hebrew Scriptures.
8) You can lose the Hebraic/Judaic contextualization of the New Testament, which teaches us more about Yeshua [Jesus' Hebrew name] and how to become better disciples.
9) The Church loses out on the opportunity to participate in God's plan and prophecy for the Church, Israel and the world today.
What Happens When the Church Relates to Israel?
1) The Church takes its proper role in God's redemptive plan for the world, appreciating God's ongoing covenant relationship and love for Israel and the Jewish people.
2) We can see the consistency of God's redemptive plan from Genesis to Revelation as an ongoing complementary process, not as disconnected snapshots.
3) We show love and honor for God's covenant people, not contempt.
4) We value the Old and New Testaments as equally inspired and significant for the Church today.
5) Bible prophecy makes sense for today and offers opportunities for involvement in God's plan for Israel.
6) We become better disciples of Yeshua as we are able to appreciate the Hebraic/Judaic roots that fill in the definitions, concepts, words and events in the New Testament that are otherwise obscured. Why? Many were not explained by the Jewish writers of the New Testament, because they did not feel the need to fill in all the details that were already explained in the Old Testament.
Friday, March 5, 2004
Perhaps those who expressed disgust at "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"'s attempt to normalize the homosexual lifestyle spoke too soon. Kevin McCullough's latest WorldNetDaily column reveals that Hollywood's efforts to portray homosexuals as glamorous, successful, fashionable, and, well, gay, is causing a backlash among blacks—traditionally the strongest voting base for the party of gay marriage.
Witness this quote from a black caller to Kevin's show:
"If you're 'gay' in America today you have everything, no one is raping your daughters, enslaving your sons, or keeping you locked in public welfare."
Now, I personally could get into an extended argument with this caller over the issue of whether or not anyone in America is truly enslaved or "locked" in public welfare. But what's interesting is that those are essentially Democratic Party concepts—that poor blacks in America remain not only oppressed, but oppressed to the point of being enslaved. And here is a caller who would normally toe that party's line, but is instead alienated from it. The caller believes that these financially successful homosexuals that he or she sees on TV, who do not appear to have any sympathy or understanding for the truly oppressed, are now using their political influence to gain rights that will enable them to rise even higher above the less-fortunate masses.
I may not agree with everything that caller believes, but I'll tell you one thing: You can thank Hollywood for splitting the Democratic Party.
7:03 p.m. last night, on an M train that's just left the Essex Street station—
Me, to a conductor who is actually approachable, standing outside his booth—an amazing sight on a subway car: Hi! It's my first time on this train—
Me: Thank you! I'm sure I must be on the wrong train. I want to go to Fresh Pond Road—
Me: Wonderful! You mean I'm on the right train.
Conductor: You're on the wrong train.
7:35 p.m., on the street downstairs from the elevated Fresh Pond Road station in Glendale, Queens, where I'm hoping to attend a service led by the inspiring Dr. David Ireland—
Me, to a member of New York's Finest: Excuse me, I wonder if you could help me.
Me: Could you please tell me which way I should go to Myrtle Avenue? I'm going to the Christ Tabernacle church.
Policeman, suddenly enthusiastic: Oh, Christ Tabernacle, sure! That's a good church. I have friends who go there. I don't go there myself—I go to a Methodist church—but my friends say it's really good. Follow down that way—when the road forks, bear right. When you get to the end, make a left. The church takes up nearly a whole block. You'll see a Stop & Shop on your left side, and the church is right by a gas station. It's about a 10 minute walk.
Me: Thank you so much! I really appreciate it. Have a good night.
Policeman: You're welcome. Good night.
[He begins to walk away and then turns his head back towards me.] Have you seen the movie?
Me: No, not yet. [Deciding to save him a discussion of replacement theology.] I'm afraid of the violence.
Policeman: But it happened.
Thursday, March 4, 2004
Poor Wes. I would not like to have his life. If what he writes in his latest entry is true, I hope he gets a job—any job—and moves out of home ASAP. I'm sure there must be other Yale philosophy grads working at his local McDonald's.
Then again, maybe I'm too easily taken in. Maybe his whole blog is just brilliant satire. Maybe, contrary to his recent "coming-out" post, he's not even black. How else to explain this brilliant aside, as he writes about how his bonkers sister called the cops on him: "Most of my encounters with police have been somewhat relaxing, actually..."
It's that modifying "somewhat" that cracks me up.
Seriously, Wes, please, whatever it takes, get out of that house.
Wednesday, March 3, 2004
Robert George, who is a very fine comedian as well as a political writer and commentator, has a line I should have said to the musician on the PATH (see "How Not to Pick Up Guys," below):
"Is that a cello you're carrying around or are you just happy to see me?"
Me, to a stranger on the 33rd St. PATH platform who is standing beside a jumbo musical-instrument case: "I've seen you with that on the train and wondered what kind of instrument that is. Is it a...cello?"
Me: "Ah. Stand-up. Of course. It's much too large to be a cello."
Me, continuing: "I should have known that. I guess I was just hoping it would be a cello. Because I really like cellos."
Me, continuing: "But if it were a cello, it would be far too big. Silly of me to wish something were larger than it should be, to the point where it really wouldn't be useful."
We did not exchange phone numbers.
Tuesday, March 2, 2004
I admit it. Reading Wes's Web site and blog for the past few months, and corresponding with Wes via e-mail, I'd formed a mental picture of him.
I pictured him as Asian—Korean ancestry, probably—acne-ridden, with short, choppy hair and Coke-bottle glasses.
Asian, because I'm pretty sure Caren told me she thought he was Asian (though I doubt she'd admit it), and because the only other Wes his age I've met is Asian. As for the rest, well, Wes often writes that he's unattractive, plus he prides himself in nerdy pursuits like computers and comics, so I let my imagination fill in the blanks.
Well, Wes has now published photos of himself on his Web site for what I believe is the first time, and I was wrong. He's attractive, with beautiful skin, and he puts some attention into his grooming (though my tastes don't run to black eyeliner and nail polish on guys). And he's black.
Or "black," as he puts it in his coming-out entry, "The 'Mother' of Posts," a highly personal accounting of his lifelong experience confronting "the Great Deception"—the idea that skin color should be used, for good or evil, to distinguish people and groups.
Wes's belief is radical by modern standards because my generation, the one that came of age after the 1960s, was taught that blacks—and members of pretty much every ethnic group save for generic "whites"—should celebrate their "heritage." (Sorry, those scare quotes are contagious.)
Contemporary society sees no middle ground between racial shame and racial pride. On the contrary, to wish for the old-fashioned American "melting pot," where all skin shades and ethnicities blend together, is to paint oneself not just out of touch, but insensitive.
I remember a conversation with one girl who asserted that she would never marry a person of another "race" -- because if everyone did it, that would be the eventual outcome. "And wouldn't it be horrible," she said, "if everyone looked the same?"
I looked her in the eye and told her, "No." I went on to say, "Does that entail that they'd all think the same?" And of course I don't think it does.
As a Bible believer, I believe that God made ethnic groups and skin colors different for the same reason He made the trees and flowers different—so that His own beauty and richness could be reflected in a myriad of different ways. So I don't find anything unattractive in the existence of different skin shades, physical features, and languages—just the opposite.
At the same time, when God created Adam and Eve, there was just one race. And that race, whatever it looked like, glorified Him just as much as the hundreds upon hundreds of ethnic groups do now. So I agree with Wes that the concept of preserving races shouldn't drive people's decisions on whom to marry.
I first discovered Wes' "'Mother' of Posts" entry during a quiet moment at work, and was so impressed with it that I called my boss's attention to it. He thought Wes's grade-school photo was cute (it is), but didn't understand why I was so impressed at Wes's resistance to black popular culture. He said that, when he was growing up in New York City, it was perfectly natural for black people to have "white" interests and vice versa.
I tried to explain my reaction to the post, praising Wes's courage in asking his mother hard questions about why she was so loyal to shallow media outlets like Black Entertainment Television, which had little going for them beyond uniting popular entertainment under the banner of skin color. But I soon stopped myself, realizing I was at risk of sounding racist—something I wouldn't want to appear anywhere, and especially not at work.
On my way home, I thought about how, in the past, whenever I had asked blacks with "white" interests if they'd had a hard time growing up without sharing the interests of their fellow blacks, they'd been annoyed. It was a subject that genuinely interested me, having grown up as an outsider myself, but perhaps I had phrased the question poorly. Or maybe it really was a racist-sounding question, even though I don't consider myself a racist. Yet, I was convinced that it must not be easy for those who went against their friends' and families' accepted norms.
Then I remembered that there's one question people often ask me that gets under my skin—and they too mean it as a compliment:
"So you're Jewish and you accepted Jesus. How did your family take that? That must have been rough."
I hate that question because it envisions Jews as a monolithic force that bears down against anyone who tries to desert the tribe.
In my case, it wasn't rough. My family was understanding. But when I think about it, asking about my family's reaction is a perfectly legitimate question. In some way, I departed from my family's culture (though I personally identify as a Jew and a Christian), just as Wes has departed from his.
But was there really any culture for me or Wes to leave?
What does it mean to be black? Wes sees contemporary "black" culture as a vapid stream of vulgar songs and TV commercials: "With the rising popularity of 'black shows' and a particular kind of rap music to fuel the multicultural agenda, people are being encouraged to reduce others to the color of their skin in more ways than one. Here, 'race' is given a lot of emphasis, and people are told to 'be themselves' -- by which it is really meant, 'conform to some representation of who we assume you are at a glance.'"
What does it mean to be Jewish? It means the world, if you're an observant Jew who lights candles on Shabbat and keeps the mitzvot, like some of my relatives. It doesn't mean quite so much if, like others close to me, all you do is buy blue-and-silver wrapping paper for your gifts in December, eat bagels and lox on Sunday mornings with the Times, and grudgingly let your parents drag you to a Seder each Passover.
But I'll tell you one thing I still have in common with both segments of my culture—and which Wes still shares with his: To someone who hates my culture, I'm part of it—whether I like it or not.
In other words, when I'm on a hijacked international flight and the terrorists tell the passengers to hand over their passports, my last name will insure that I'll be the first to be shot.
I can't say to them, "But I've been baptized! I'm a Christian! Really!" They won't believe it.
Moreover, in such an unthinkable situation, even if I'd married (heavens to Betsy!) or changed my name to something goyishe (like Eden, my middle name), I couldn't just let the hijackers hurt other Jews without hurting me. I'd have to tell them I was a Jew too—and not out of any Christian sympathy.
No, I would have to identify myself because I would have to share the fate of my fellow Jews, period. That's something that's instilled in Jews from birth. You hurt one of us, you hurt us all.
That, too, is one of the reasons I won't see "The Passion," besides the violence. Mel Gibson, regardless of his motives (which I believe are noble) has no concept of the place of the Jews in the salvation story. His belief in replacement theology, or supersessionism—the idea that God has, contrary to Scripture, utterly cast off Israel and given the Roman Catholic Church all its blessings—permeates his public statements, and it can't help but permeate his film as well.
For those friends of mine reading this who have been spiritually uplifted by "The Passion," I'm not writing this to degrade your own experience. I'm thankful if people have been touched by the film in a godly way. The force at work in the film and in Gibson's comments that offends me is not intentional anti-Semitism, but rather a supersessionist attitude which to me conveys outrageous arrogance. It treats the Jewish people as a quaint antiquity at best, a bloated dinosaur at worst. Gibson does not at all give the impression that he loves the Jewish people. Nor has he ever given the impression that he believes Israel—real Israel, not replacement "Israel"—is the original olive tree onto which he, as a believer, has been grafted.
Wes is right that it's what's under the skin that counts. And the person who needs to understand it the most is the Hollywood star who's benefited, spiritually speaking, from skin grafts.
UPDATE: I added the words "spiritually speaking" to that last line after a friend wrote to ask me which Hollywood star had skin grafts.
Perhaps it's a poor analogy, but I'm trying to express a deep disappointment with Mel Gibson and traditionalist Catholics who follow the unbiblical view of the church as replacement Israel. I'm also disappointed with the non-traditionalist Christians who praise "The Passion" without thinking that Jews might be offended not just by the angry Jewish mob—which I realize is biblical up to a point—but by Gibson's entire theology, which is based upon the concept that God's promises to Israel have been usurped by the church.
Gibson, then is the grafted branch of the olive tree that boasts against the natural branches (as in Romans 11:18—but read the whole chapter, please).
Monday, March 1, 2004
Last night was Oscar night, so you know what that means.
I got all dressed up in my black velvet ruffle skirt, goddess-style halter top, and Carole Little jacket (one of the very few designer pieces I own—it belonged to my late step-grandmother Charlotte, a personal friend of Little's).
I put on my rhinestone necklace with the cascading silver fringe, and matching earrings.
I put on sensible flats, but stowed a pair of black leather pumps into my bag to change into before arriving at my destination.
I put on foundation, eyeshadow, black eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick.
I sprayed my hair to give it some lift.
I walked out the door...and then...