Thursday, April 27, 2006

Stumbling down the stairs

All in all the week has had its share of oddities. Monday we got a call from the communications director of the Eliot Spitzer for NY Governor Committee. Eliot Spitzer, as you may know, is the current Attorney General for the state and a Democrat, and is looking to replace George Pataki come November in the Governor’s Chair in Albany. He’s pretty much a shoe-in, as the Republican Party in this state has collapsed under its own weight of corruption and ineptitude. Much like the Democrats did in New York oh, those many years ago.

Anyhow, it seemed that Mr. Spitzer wanted to do a press conference on the front stairs of our house.

Yes, you read that correctly. Eliot Spitzer wanted to stand on our brownstone stoop and talk to the press about…well, the communications director refused to say what he would talk about. Managing a political campaign is pretty much all about managing the flow of information, so they wouldn’t tell us. But would it be OK? I said, sure, as long as he wasn’t advocating demolishing our home or something like that. We were assured of that and we were told that we wouldn’t have to be there, which was a good thing, as in the end neither Kathy nor I ended up being there.

So we missed it, and it actually was a pity, because as it turns out the press conference was to announce the endorsement of former NY Governor Hugh Carey (pictured above) for Spitzer’s cause. Apparently the former governor was born on our block back in 1919, so they wanted to take it all back home. He wasn’t born in our house, as best as we can tell, but because we had donated to Democrats in the last election cycle they pretty much assumed that we would be game to their plans, and let them use our place as a stand-in.

As I said it was a pity that we missed it, as it turned out to be solid evidence of not asking 87 year olds for their opinion on your candidacy. The article in the Daily News pretty much summed it up:

Democratic former Gov. Hugh Carey threw his support to gubernatorial hopeful Chuck Schumer - er, Eliot Spitzer - yesterday, marking a return to his party after backing Republicans in several major races.

Carey, 87, got around on his own steam but flubbed by repeatedly referring to Spitzer as Sen. Chuck Schumer.

There are times that I feel that the stairs in our house are cursed. I have fallen down every flight at least once. Kathy had her famous accident, and even our Electra broke her leg tumbling off of the landing. Now the cursed stairs have taken another more high profile victim, the addled former Governor who stumbled through a speech on our stoop, possibly because he couldn’t remember in which house he was born.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Eye of the Needle

A couple of follow-ups to some comments in my last ‘Redemption’ post.

I’m familiar with the ‘Eye of the Needle’ Gate reference (see the photo of the remains of it above.) Not being much of a biblical scholar, though I am lately trying to improve that somewhat, I don’t know all of the history behind it, but from what I have read, the reference makes sense. None the less, whether or not Jesus was saying that it was impossible for a rich man to get into heaven or just really damn difficult, Mike’s point remains – people who try to use scripture to justify a point opposite to one that Jesus beats to death in the Gospels is just a fool. And my point remains as well. Stop trying to call yourself a Christian if you can’t be bothered to even try to live up to the teachings of Christ and the beliefs of the Church.

For that’s what’s important here. Christianity, or any religion for that matter, shouldn’t be easy. It SHOULD be difficult, if not impossible. Otherwise what’s the damn point? I’m so exhausted of reading about preachers in these enormous suburban churches giving messages of comfort to those sated on the fat of our planet. People should be challenged by their beliefs, not coddled.

And on the topic of fat, a little more on the evil Peeps. I have no idea who reader ‘D’ is but there is only one ingredient in Peeps – refined sugar. The splatters of color wont make a difference, but perhaps keeping them in the microwave longer does. We bailed after about two minutes because of the god awful smell. Maybe if we had held out a bit longer, then we would have had a more satisfactory result.

Cyntia told me about Peep jousting which sounds like good fun. Take two Peeps and place a toothpick in each one, pointed at the other Peep, like a jousting setup. Turn on the microwave, and as they expand, eventually one of the toothpicks will puncture the other one, causing it to deflate, leaving the other one a winner. Sounds like it’s tournament time…

Monday Night Cat Blogging

First Springtime edition

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Matthew 19:21-24

(21) Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." (22) But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sad, for he was one who had great possessions. (23) Jesus said to his disciples, "Most certainly I say to you, a rich man will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven with difficulty. (24) Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God."

The same speech is also given in Mark 10:21 and Luke 12:23. Apparently the author of John decided that it wasn’t gospel worthy.

It comes as no surprise that this lecture of Jesus has elicited numerous commentaries. A little over a month ago I posted a paragraph from a column in the National Review written by the clod Ross Douthat:

‘…It's similar, I think, to the traditional Christian attitude toward monasticism, poverty, celibacy, and so on — which wasn't that every rich man needed to sell all he had and enter a monastery, but that some did. Christ told the rich young man to give away all his possessions and follow him, but he didn't tell that to everyone he met — it was a specific mission for a specific person, or kind of person…’

Lest anyone think that this apology for wealth is unique to the idiots at the National Review, bear in mind that this interpretation has a centuries-old pedigree. John Wesley wrote a commentary on the Bible back between 1754 and 1765 in which he also said the following:

If thou desirest to be perfect - That is, to be a real Christian: Sell what thou hast - He who reads the heart saw his bosom sin was love of the world; and knew he could not be saved from this, but by literally renouncing it. To him therefore he gave this particular direction, which he never designed for a general rule. For him that was necessary to salvation: to us it is not. To sell all was an absolute duty to him; to many of us it would be an absolute sin. The young man went away - Not being willing to have salvation at so high a price.

To which I would add what I will call Ian’s commentary:

Shut up already. Seriously. If giving up your wealth and ministering to the poor is too much for you, then become a damn Buddhist. And stop acting like this passage is the only one in the Gospels that has Jesus exhorting us to give up our financial ties to this world.

The more traditional interpretation is Jesus setting an almost impossible high bar for his followers, and this is what I want to talk about, albeit briefly. Because it has an odd corollary that I haven’t heard talked about much: if you give up your wealth to the poor, to make yourself more open to the message of Christ, then what you are (perhaps unintentionally) doing is screwing up the poors’ chances of redemption, as they are no longer poor what with this newfound wealth that they now have. Now they will be in the same position, looking for more poor people to give up their wealth to. You can see that if the whole planet suddenly undergoes a Christian revivalist fervor then the game would soon end up being more and more wealth tied up in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Eventually there would be one person left, with an obscene amount of wealth and no one to give it to. And he would be completely screwed. Although perhaps it could be recognized as a supreme act of self sacrifice – Allowing the rest of the people on the planet to get into heaven by forgoing any chances of redemption for yourself.

That might be a better analogy for those dorks at the National Review.

Why do I bring this all up? Well, it’s still Easter season, after all, but I was reminded about all of this on the day after our Zombie Jesus Celebration. We had several pounds of delicious Chocolate left over, some made by Kathy’s sister, Jeanne (a former professional baker). Kathy didn’t want to have all that chocolate in the house as it would be too much of a temptation. So she gave it to me to bring to the office.

You can see where this all leads. Now we in the office are tempted by the chocolate, and we are forced to find others to give it to. However, just as in the real world, my above anology never happens, and we just simply ate it.

Or rather most of it. For included in the chocolate supply was a package of the dreaded Peeps. God, how I despise those. I couldn’t eat them, and I couldn’t find it in myself to foist them on anyone else. So I had a dilemma.

Peeps are evil, and there are too damn many of them. Over one billion are made each year in the U.S., and to put that in perspective, there are fewer than four hundred million chickens in the entire country. There are entire internet based communities based on these foul things. So clearly something needed to be done.

So I nuked the bastards.

Here we see three peeps having a pleasant gathering... in our microwave...

Hah! It's a trap. Watch as they expand their minds...

Now the gigantism develops...

Ow, that's gotta hurt. After two minutes, that fat lady has sung, and it's all over...

No redemption for them. They pretty much disolved about ten seconds after we removed them.

Next week, we'll talk about how Paul's Damascene conversion results in the melting of Gummi Bears...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Kathy Trying to Knit Edition.

As promised, some kitty photos. Although now that I have these up and running, they are already out of date. For this week, the wee ones were gelded, so now they will never be able to celebrate Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. They are recovering nicely, although still feeling rather mommyish and tired.

When they came back from the vet we were struck by how big they have become. And Petey was struck by the fact that his reprieve from the kittens was only temporary.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

More on the Laughing Gospel

[I wrote this, as the previous post, on Monday on the train to DC]

In honor of Holy week, and to try to keep up with my brother who is going to be posting daily on the Stations of the Cross, I wanted to write some more on this new Gospel of Judas. Yeah, yeah, I know, but it’s not as boring as another post on abortion or (shudder) ports deals.

In my earlier post I mentioned Jesus’ frequent outbreaks of laughter in the Gospel (at least five times in seven pages of translation, by my count.) I also talked briefly about the only point that has been raised about the Gospel in the media, that of Jesus asking Judas to betray him, along the lines of a more contemporary portrayal of Judas in ‘the Last Temptation of Christ’ and other works. It actually all seems so obvious when one thinks about it, which has also been commented on. Clearly if Christ’s Passion is a requirement of God’s Plan, then Judas’ betrayal of Him is crucial. It’s been pretty much addressed in Sunday School already. What is new and interesting in this Gospel is the recognition that Judas is going to get boned by History for doing this. This implies that by the point in time that this was written (say, around 150 AD or even earlier, although this fragment is from a later edition of the text, apparently), Judas was already getting slammed for his betrayal, and clearly some spin was in order.

What hasn’t been talked about that much, or at least I haven’t seen much on it, is the seemingly drug-fueled Gnostic visions that fill the Gospel, specifically the crazed creation myth that Jesus goes on at length about to Judas towards the end of the book. It’s a little long, but I’ll excerpt some of it here:

Jesus said, “[Come] that I may teach you about [secrets] no person [has] ever seen. For there exists a great and boundless realm, whose extent no generation of angels has seen, [in which] there is [a] great invisible [Spirit], which no eye of an angel has ever seen, no thought of the heart has ever comprehended, and it was never called by any name.

A typically gnostic tract about accessing the divine through the revelation of secrets. So far so beautiful. ‘And in the beginning there was zilch.’ It’s actually lovely and poetic writing.

Jesus continues:

“And a luminous cloud appeared there. He said, ‘Let an angel come into being as my attendant.”

“A great angel, the enlightened divine Self-Generated, emerged from the cloud. Because of him, four other angels came into being from another cloud, and they became attendants for the angelic Self-Generated. The Self-Generated said, ‘Let […] come into being […],’ and it came into being […]. And he [created] the first luminary to reign over him. He said, ‘Let angels come into being to serve [him],’ and myriads without number came into being. He said, ‘[Let] an enlightened aeon come into being,’ and he came into being. He created the second luminary [to] reign over him, together with myriads of angels without number to offer service. That is how he created the rest of the enlightened aeons. He made them to reign over them, and he created for them myriads of angels without number, to assist them.

So basically the ‘Self Generated’ is making a lot of entities to Lord over. This is essentially a creation myth, similar to others, including some of those already in the Bible. But then Jesus goes off the rails:

“Adamas was in the first luminous cloud that no angel has ever seen among all those called ‘God.’ He […] that […] the image […] and after the likeness of [this] angel. He made the incorruptible [generation] of Seth appear […] the twelve […] the twenty-four […]. He made seventy-two luminaries appear in the incorruptible generation, in accordance with the will of the Spirit. The seventy-two luminaries themselves made three hundred sixty luminaries appear in the incorruptible generation, in accordance with the will of the Spirit, that their number should be five for each.

“The twelve aeons of the twelve luminaries constitute their father, with six heavens for each aeon, so that there are seventy-two heavens for the seventy-two luminaries, and for each [of them five] firmaments, [for a total of] three hundred sixty [firmaments…].

I’ll stop there. It goes on like this for another page or so, with the crazed numerology reading like some codex of a Mayan cult. This is some seriously funky stuff, and it makes L Ron Hubbard seem sane and dull by comparison. The obvious joke is that clearly there are some terrific hallucinogens in Palestine, and where the hell can I get me some.

But it’s Holy week and perhaps one should be more charitable.

While I’m certain that there is ultimately a logic to all the crazed nutterings here, and that (hopefully) with time scholars can piece together what all of this means (Much of it has to do with a gnostic idea that the God of the Old Testament is not the same God as that of the New Testament) to do so would eliminate the magic of this section. There is an undoubted evolution here of a creation story, that has changed over time absorbing different beliefs and with added flourishes by generations of storytellers. But I prefer to think of it as the result of a single vision, rather than the aggregations of bronze age holy men over generations of time. My preference would be wrong, of course, but I think one can learn more looking at it my way.

Aside from this section reminding people of attendees at a Phish concert, this also reminds me of how a child would speak after having seen the circus for the first time. [And then Daddy said this, and then Mommy said that, and then there were fifteen elephants and a bazillion giraffes and then there was this BIG noise…] This reads not just like some drug induced rambling but also like the description of something by someone with no vocabulary for it. Sort of like describing a dream. Or a child describing something big, loud and colorful. From the first section of the Judas Gospel:

“He began to speak with them about the mysteries beyond the world and what would take place at the end. Often he did not appear to his disciples as himself, but he was found among them as a child.”

That actually makes it work better. Perhaps a more charitable view is one of the old chestnut of madness resulting from coming into contact with divinity. It’s a common thread from Moses to Joseph Smith. Of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, my eyes and my brain can only process the narrow band of the colors of the rainbow. If my pitifully limited brain suddenly saw the divine, and then I was asked to describe it, I also would sound like I had ingested too many happy plants. Which is exactly why people who take mushrooms sound like that. Their visions can be described (and are by many people and cultures) as fleeting glimpses of the divine. And they sound a few fries short of a happy meal when they describe them.

The idea of Jesus as a madman is hardly original (and not necessarily useful in trying to inspire divinity in one’s own life), but it’s actually quite a miracle that Jesus makes any sense at all, considering he spends his life balancing in some fashion his mortal coil with his inherent divinity. It’s one of the reasons I like this Gospel – Christ is constantly cracking up with laughter. Psilocybin gives one fleeting contact with divinity. Christ would have had to put up with it 24/7.

Bwah. Ha. Ha.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Zombie Jesus Day

I’m traveling to Washington, DC and Baltimore this week, so that gives me some time to write some posts and do a bit of catch-up. Monday is spent on the train, taking pictures of a development site near Union Station in DC, and Tuesday brings a dog and pony show to some engineers working for BWI Airport. All in all a welcome leisurely pace for the beginning of the week. It will get more hectic as the week progresses, with me making up for the time I am enjoying. But the week ends on a good note – with Zombie Jesus Day.

It’s Holy week, after all, the most important time in the Christian Calendar and an excellent time for spiritual reflection. My brother is ‘grid blogging’ (a term I wasn't familiar with) the Stations of the Cross with a group of people this week. Essentially a series of topical sermons which is something he is quite good at, even if he is giving Christ two Stations number 4 (our savior never gets a break). My Holy week began with a terrific play on Friday night and a Palm Sunday performance of Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion.

The Phoenix Theatre (of which Kathy and I are board members) began it’s Spring Season Friday with the opening of Glyn Maxwell’s ‘Wolfpit’. Mr. Maxwell has a friend who apparently sends him tidbits of information on a regular basis concerning the accounts of 12th century Monks. Or something like that – I couldn’t get him to give me a complete answer after the play, although by that point it was approaching 5:00 AM and most of us (cast, crew, board members and playwright) were pretty sloshed. In this particular case, Mr. Maxwell’s friend told him about the written accounts of Monks covering a peculiar event that happened during the harvest season in 1154 in Suffolk. It seems that two completely green children crawled out of a ‘WolfPit’ (essentially a large ditch) speaking gibberish and causing much confusion in the nearby village. The accounts offer more details, but to go into them here would spoil the plot of the play. It’s a complete fairytale (filled with magic and truth as I mentioned to them that night), in the good and juicy style of the real Grimm. Death, rape and general unpleasantness rule the show and make for a thoroughly magical evening. The reviews are already coming out and are raving about the play and the production, so this is all excellent news for the company.

By Sunday, Kathy and I had recovered enough to attend another event at BAM, a follow up to the tragic-comic Hedda we saw a few weeks ago. It was a new production of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, with this production being ‘staged.’ These days it’s apparently not enough to do something straightforward, such as a traditional staging of a play or musical piece. No, instead we must reimagine it or add something to it. In the case of Hedda it failed – in the case of Bach, it didn’t.

The gist of the performance was to have the musicians and singers minimally act out their roles. A violinist will walk over to a singer during a duet, soloists will look confused when singing the word ‘what?’ or ‘who?’ in a call or response moment of the piece. People will walk around all informal-like while they sing, acting out their roles. And on and on. The whole effect was that of a Baroque production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which ultimately I didn’t mind because it really didn’t take away from the wonderfully performed music and chorus. It all looked rather silly and didn’t add anything to the piece in my mind, but what the hell? In the end if these singers and players want to roam the halls looking like amateur actors while they ply their wonderful craft, then who am I to care? It sounded glorious.

But our Holy week will end with our annual celebration of Zombie Jesus Day. It is a crowd favorite holiday for our guests, what with Kathy doing her usual amazing dance in the kitchen. This year will be no exception – currently it looks like a first course of soup (perhaps four lily soup, perhaps another), a fish course of scallops, and the main course of lamb, fingerling potatoes, beans, peas, chard and squash. It’s looking like a dozen or so will attend, meaning two lambs, so Kathy will brine one and marinate the other to give everyone a taste test of the two approaches. I’ll be on wine patrol, and I’m currently leaning towards a Spanish Rioja or something similar. And, of course at least three different desserts will be served, including the famous crème brule.

But the focus of the evening will be the incredible irreverence with which we treat the resurrection of our Savior. I came up with Zombie Jesus Day after watching a series of episodes of Futurama, where the old fart character occasionally screams out “Sweet Zombie Jesus!’ when something surprises him. The phrase seemed so bizarre that it stuck with me, and after letting it stew in my mind I decided that it was a keeper. Of course, I'm not the only one. But we celebrate the day that Christ rose from the dead by cracking undead jokes and generally poking fun at the piousness of most religious folk. All while enjoying a terrific meal.

Actually most cultures have irreverent celebrations of the dead. Halloween is but one example. Mexico’s Day of the Dead a better one. And when one thinks about it, brains and bunnies are both equally absurd ways of celebrating a resurrection. If one can cross pollinate an Easter celebration with various Spring fertility rites to get Chocolate Rabbits and Peeps, then why not mix up the Passion with some good old fashioned horror stories to get a seriously fine meal. Besides, as Kathy well knows, I can’t stand those damn Peeps.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Hey, Jude

This week was a boon to all those, as myself, who are always fascinated by the history of religion, specifically Christianity. Like most Americans, I grew up in an environment where the sophistication of religious beliefs never exceeded the level of that found in those Children’s’ Bible Books in a dentist’s office. So waking up one morning this week to the announcement of a translation of the fabled Gospel of Judas found several decades ago and languishing in a bank vault since then has filled me with joyous wonder and glee.

As has been noted in several articles on the discovery and translation, this Gospel is not a surprise, having been written about centuries ago in reference to other heretical texts. Perhaps a potted history is in order.

After Christ’s death (and resurrection) the early churches revolved around oral traditions of the teachings, meaning and divinity of His life. It wasn’t until several decades later that ‘official’ writings were created, in a period running starting around 60-70 AD and lasting for around 100 years, which were essentially derivative works of these oral traditions. These writings were fought about and argued over as different churches with different beliefs and agendas struggled to achieve a primacy. These ‘Gospels’ were numerous, including ones attributed to Peter and Mary Magdelene, along with Judas and the big four. By the end of the second century, the powers that be had pretty much canonized the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, relegating the rest of the texts to the island of misfit Gospels. Although certainly the arguments didn’t end there. Sections of Gospels, such as Mark, were argued about until the fourth and fifth centuries and beyond.

Mike, feel free to correct any of this.

You can download a translation of the Gospel at the New York Times. Reading it is generally frustrating, as most of the passages run like this:

‘Yeah, and the Lord didst say, thou shalt not [-15 lines missing-] or thouest will certainly suffer the wrath of the Lord.’


‘ And Jesus said, Blessed are those who […] strawberries […] goats […] crowds of […] for surely heaven will be their reward.]

Perhaps that is why most of the news coverage has been focused on Judas being asked by Jesus to betray him, to ‘sacrifice the man that clothes me.’: It's one of the few sections that hasn't been redacted by the ravages of time. And it's also pretty cool - This is basically a key theme of the ‘Last Temptation of Christ.’ But written 1900 years ago. Good stuff. Maybe finally it will no longer be illegal to name your child 'Judas' in Germany. But what actually struck me the most about this Gospel is that the following passage appears with frequency:

‘When Jesus heard this, he laughed.’

Reading this translation one is struck by Jesus speaking constantly in metaphors, the disciples looking confused, and then him breaking out in crazy laughter:

‘The disciples said to [him], Master, why are you laughing at [our] prayer of Thanksgiving? We have done what is right.”

Then the disciples get angry.

Bill Hicks would have loved this, and it’s a pity he’s not around to have seen this translation happen. One of his favorite rants was on the concept of God being a prankster: He would harp on fundamentalists’ belief that dinosaur bones are a way for God to test us and our faith:

‘Am I the only one bothered by this… that God is just …Fucking with our minds?’

Perhaps God is indeed messing with our heads with this Gospel. Jesus repeatedly rants in it about the evils of men having sex with men, thereby providing specific scriptural proof of the evils of homosexuality. It would be a dream come true for fundamentalists – no metaphors, but specific undeniable scriptural condemnation of a ‘perversion’ – but, oops, the text is heretical. Shit.

It’s like watching God playing with us like kittens. ‘Here’s the text, kitty, kitty.’ And then he yanks it away.

‘Ha, ha, ha…’

Monday, April 03, 2006

Tonight on a very special Oh, That Hedda!, Hugo Weaving guest stars as Hedda learns about the importance of Gun Safety.

Apologies (again) for not posting more frequently. The usual, too busy, yadaa yadda.

By coincidence, Kathy has had a history of getting me tickets to Hedda Gabler for my birthday. Four years ago it was to the Broadway show starring Kate Burton, and this past birthday it was tickets to the BAM show with Kate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving. We went a week ago last Friday, eager to see the show which had become the hottest ticket in town, especially after a glowing Times review.

We began the evening with some food at a new bistro near our house, and a bottle of wine. It’s always a danger for me to have a bit of wine before a Friday night event. By then I am often suffering from lack of sleep, so a glass or two will go straight to my head. As it did a bit that night.

We got to the show at the last minute (thinking it started at 8:00 and not at 7:30). The curtain rose and the play began. And several minutes into the show, a curious thing happened. The audience was laughing. And I got really confused.

For starters, the casting was strange. Hedda’s new husband looked like a goober, and played the role like he was in a Marx Brothers movie. Kate Blanchett was making goofy gestures, pointing out her disdain for her new husband with comedic conventions. Guffaws abounded. It was like no one had actually ever read the play.

Not being a theater expert I can’t criticize the director’s choice of staging Hedda Gabler as a Sitcom. Perhaps there is was some subtle jab at our contemporary culture in the irony of the story of a young woman destroying several lives, including her own, being played as a light farce. If so, it’s beyond me.

By the beginning of act four, things really got weird. Hugo Weaving, actually looking very Nordic under his acres of facial hair, stopped the accent he had been working on the entire time and reverted to Agent Smith of the Matrix. While everything started to go to hell in the play, I kept expecting him to start snarling, “ Mister Anderson…” And then the audience got confused as the laughs stopped, first when Hedda convinces her ex to shoot himself, and then when she blows her own head off. Not many laughs there.

It was like watching a ‘very special episode.’ The kind where a happy go lucky character has a life affirming event happen. WKRP started the whole thing with their Who Concert episode. It was noted at the time that there were only three laughs in the entire second half of the show. I guess on that mark, this Hedda scored better.