Archive for the 'Christianity' Category

21
Oct
08

always free cheddar in a mousetrap….

Just a little something I found amusing……..

I’d sell your heart to the junkman baby
For a buck, for a buck
If you’re looking for someone
To pull you out of that ditch
You’re out of luck, you’re out of luck

The ship is sinking
The ship is sinking
The ship is sinking
There’s leak, there’s leak,
In the boiler room
The poor, the lame, the blind
Who are the ones that we kept in charge?
Killers, thieves, and lawyers

God’s away, God’s away,
God’s away on Business. Business.
God’s away, God’s away,
God’s away on Business. Business.

Digging up the dead with
A shovel and a pick
It’s a job, it’s a job
Bloody moon rising with
A plague and a flood
Join the mob, join the mob
It’s all over, it’s all over, it’s all over
There’s a leak, there’s a leak,
In the boiler room
The poor, the lame, the blind
Who are the ones that we kept in charge?
Killers, thieves, and lawyers
God’s away, God’s away, God’s away
On Business. Business.
God’s away, God’s away,
On Business. Business.

[Instrumental Break]

Goddamn there’s always such
A big temptation
To be good, To be good
There’s always free cheddar in
A mousetrap, baby
It’s a deal, it’s a deal
God’s away, God’s away, God’s away
On Business. Business.
God’s away, God’s away, God’s away
On Business. Business.
I narrow my eyes like a coin slot baby,
Let her ring, let her ring
God’s away, God’s away,
God’s away on Business.
Business…

–Tom Waits
from the album “Blood Money” (2002)

22
Mar
08

Resurrexi

Pascha nostrum immolatus est Christus
(Christ our Paschal lamb is sacrificed)
-Dominica Resurrectionis (Gregorian Mass for Easter)

These words, originally from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, form the entire Alleluja section of the Gregorian Mass for Easter, written some time in the 10th century. Or, should I say, written down some time in the 10th century, as the Mass itself is undoubtedly much older than that.

I love Gregorian chant. I love how this music floats down through the mists of time, envelopes me in its seductive, meter-less rhythms, and carries me away to a world of monasteries and mysteries. It is spiritual and mystic, and very, very, beautiful. The haunting melisma in the word “immolatus” (sacrificed) still sends a chill up and down my spine every time I hear it.

Easter is a very different holiday from Christmas. Christmas is a holiday that even an atheist can get into, if he so chooses. Uber-atheist Richard Dawkins admits that he “likes singing Christmas carols”, and describes himself as a “Cultural Christian”. Apart from the fact that Christmas has been secularized and commercialized almost beyond recognition, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Nothing especially remarkable about that, really; we celebrate the birthdays of lots of people: Washington, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. It does not require a belief in divinity to celebrate anyone’s birth.

Easter is very different. Unlike Christmas, one cannot separate the the holiday from its religious underpinnings. What is being celebrated here is no less than the idea that someone was resurrected from the dead. While one can believe that Jesus lived without being divine, one cannot believe that Jesus rose from the dead without believing in the divine. You either believe it, or you don’t. The only middle ground is agnosticism.

Personally, I guess I fall into the agnostic camp on this one. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve shed many, but not all, of my religious beliefs. Like many people nowadays, I find little that is appealing, and much to be deplored, in religious orthodoxy. But unlike the atheist, I am not prepared to state that something cannot exist beyond the capability of my five senses to understand it. There is much in the universe we will never understand. The unseen can still exist.

As far as Jesus goes, he lived during a time when eschatological “prophets” were a dime a dozen. Yet while the rest have all been forgotten, he somehow inspired a group of men to spread his teachings, even to the point of sacrificing their lives in the process. He quite literally changed the world forever. Divine? I don’t know, but he clearly had something going for him. The real sin is that Christianity has strayed so far, so often, from the teachings of Christ.

But I still love Gregorian chant.

Happy Easter, to all those who celebrate it.

-smith

25
Dec
07

The REAL meaning of Christmas

Much has been made, and with some justification, of the tensions that have historically existed between Christians and Jews. But this morning I read the following article by Boston Herald columnist Joe Fitzgerald. It is as moving a story as you will ever read. I need comment no further; the significance of this story speaks for itself. Here is the column in its entirety.

-Smith
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was a time of bloody conflict, not unlike the times we live in now, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was especially heavy-hearted because of the crippling wounds sustained by the oldest of his five children, Charles, as Americans battled one another in a Civil War.

So on Christmas morning, 1864, four months before Lee surrendered to Grant on the steps of the Appomattox Court House, this Massachusetts poet began to pen the lines of what would become a transcendent song of Christmas, the favorite of them all at this address.

“I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY, THEIR OLD FAMILIAR CAROLS PLAY;

“AND WILD AND SWEET THE WORDS REPEAT OF PEACE ON EARTH, GOODWILL TO MEN.”

For generations to come it would capture the sentiments of those whose hearts were aching in what was assumed to be a season of joy.

Of all the stories recorded here in the many years this column has existed, none captured Longfellow’s musings more than what happened to the Markovitz family and what a neighbor named Keeling did about it.

The Keelings lived on a quiet suburban street where all the homes were illuminated with Christmas decorations, except for the Markovitz home, which displayed an illuminated menorah.

Around 3 in the morning Judy Markovitz was awakened by a shattering sound.

“My husband and I ran downstairs and saw that our window had been broken and the menorah was on the floor. The frame was shattered, too; they must have used a bat. Whoever did it had to squeeze behind bushes to reach it.”

More than blind hatred, it was a cruelly personal assault.

“Both of my parents were in the camps at Auschwitz,” Judy explained. “My husband’s mother was there also. My mother now lives with us. All of her family died there. There are things we don’t talk about, but I know older people like her have a need to feel safe.”

“AND IN DESPAIR I BOWED MY HEAD: `THERE IS NO PEACE ON EARTH,’ I SAID.

“FOR HATE IS STRONG AND MOCKS THE SONG OF PEACE ON EARTH, GOODWILL TO MEN.”

Lisa Keeling awoke to see Martin Markovitz nailing plywood over his broken window frame before packing his family into its car and driving off.Heartsick, she began calling neighbors with an idea.

“We’re Catholics,” she later explained, “but I know that menorah represents a miracle by our God before our faith was known as Christianity. I know of the king who told the Jews they couldn’t practice their religion.

“When they reclaimed Jerusalem and saw the temple had been desecrated, they wanted to reconsecrate it, but found only a tiny bit of oil, enough for a night.

“They decided to use it anyway and it burned for eight nights. That was a miracle from the same God we worship, and why anyone would take a symbol of His love and use it for hatred, I just don’t understand.”

It took many calls, many hours, but Keeling and her neighbors, scurrying from store to store, were successful.

When the Markovitz family returned that night, there wasn’t a Christmas decoration to be seen; instead, every home was graced by an illuminated menorah.

“At first, I was confused,” Judy said. “Then I had tears in my eyes. They even bought one for us.”

In personifying the Judeo-Christian foundation upon which this republic was founded, those neighbors reminded the haters and everyone else that the God who made the oil last is the God of the manger, too.

“THEN PEALED THE BELLS MORE LOUD AND DEEP: `GOD IS NOT DEAD, NOR DOTH HE SLEEP.’

“THE WRONG SHALL FAIL, THE RIGHT PREVAIL, WITH PEACE ON EARTH, GOODWILL TO MEN.”

Indeed. Merry Christmas.

24
Dec
07

…and god bless us, every one?

We live in a time when even saying “Merry Christmas” to a stranger might get you a dirty look. How did this come to pass?

Yes, I’m all in favor of cultural sensitivity. There is a time and a place for “Happy Holidays”. But when did “Merry Christmas” become the semantic equivalent of an insult?

Yes, it’s true that Christmas in our time has been cheapened, commercialized, and degraded. Yes, it’s true that there are those who do not believe Jesus Christ was divine. And yes, it’s true that Christians can sometimes be insufferable in their zeal.

There are some who say that I suffer from a “mental disorder” for believing in God, and that I am “deluded” for participating in a false and commercial holiday such as Christmas. To them, and to all those who would criticize me for not only celebrating Christmas but for believing it to still be important and relevant, I would say this:

I do not know if the man known as Jesus of Nazareth was divine. I do not know if he performed miracles. I do not know if he was resurrected from the dead.

And I’m not sure I even care.

What I do know is that he preached a message of love, tolerance, peace, and forgiveness at a time when his people were looking for a leader who would overthrow the Romans and return Israel to its former glory. I know he was spurned by the religious establishment of his day. And I know that he really, really, pissed off the government. Like so many who came after him, he was murdered because he would not back down from saying things he felt needed to be said, even to the point of surrendering his own life in the process.

Ultimately, it matters not what one believes regarding the Divine. The fact is that all of us, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, and all the rest of the human race are stuck together on this little rock we call Earth. Imagine what the world would be like if people really did live their lives the way Jesus of Nazareth extolled us to: love your neighbor, forgive your enemies, judge not lest you be judged.

If one can grasp those ideas, then one has truly grasped the very real meaning of Christmas. And so, whatever your beliefs, please allow me to wish you a very Merry Christmas.

-Stephen P. Smith

10
Dec
07

My Favorite Christmas Carol

For reasons which frankly elude me this blog seems to have more readers than it did a year ago, and since it’s my mission in life to make sure that everyone sees this wonderful movie, I am reposting this review, with some minor revisions.

You could stage a version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with sock puppets and I would probably watch it. Ever since I was a child, this has been one of my favorite stories. Perhaps it’s the idea that there is good in everyone, and therefore no one is beyond redemption, that appeals to me, but for whatever reason I never miss an opportunity to watch one of the many screen adaptations of this timeless classic when they’re on TV as they inevitably are this time of year.

The International Movie Database (IMDB.com, and one of my favorite sites, by the way) lists no less than 25 different versions of “A Christmas Carol“, and while I can’t claim to have seen them all, I’ve certainly seen quite a few. I have watched Alistair Sim, Reginald Owen, Patrick Stewart, Mr. Magoo, and even Rowan Atkinson (as Ebenezer Blackadder in one of the stranger twists on this story) all bring credit to the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.  But my favorite version of all time is the one made in 1984 featuring the incomparable George C. Scott as Scrooge.

This will probably be on sometime this month, but if you miss it, you owe it to yourself to buy or rent this DVD. This is, in my opinion, simply the very best version of this story ever filmed. It is a dark version, to be sure, but the incomparable acting, not only from Scott but from the supporting cast, make this a version you simply have to see, no matter how many times you’ve seen other versions of “A Christmas Carol”.

What makes this version really stand out is the somber gravitas that the entire cast bring to their respective roles. Lines we’ve heard dozens of times in the past take on a whole new intensity, and each character becomes more real and believable in the hands of this wonderful ensemble.

George C. Scott was nominated for an Emmy in 1985 for this role. It is to his everlasting credit that rather than sleepwalking through this oft-portrayed role of Scrooge, he instead gave it a fresh interpretation that was, in my opinion, one of his finest performances ever. He wisely did not attempt a British accent, instead delivering his lines in that famous gravelly voice. His Scrooge is not merely a cranky old man (as he is so often portrayed), but rather a man who harbors a profound rage against the world. As he is visited in turn by each of the Three Spirits, we understand how this rage took root, grew, and ultimately strangled his soul.

As he is forced to review his life, we see him alternately softening, and then relapsing again into unrepentant obstinacy. And in the great dramatic scene when he, kneeling and weeping at his own grave, begs for mercy as he attempts to convince the third spirit of his repentance and desire to alter his life, we see a man who has been utterly broken and brought to his knees literally and figuratively. Scott has made Scrooge utterly believable and painfully human.

Impressive as Scott’s performance is, the ensemble of supporting actors contributes significantly the this version’s dark beauty. Fred Holywell, Scrooge’s nephew, is an excellent example of this. Often portrayed as an affable buffoon, here he is played by Roger Rees with an emotional intensity missing from earlier portrayals. When he implores Scrooge, “I ask nothing of you. I want nothing from you. Why can’t we be friends?”, we see in his face not only his frustration, but his pain at Scrooge’s self-imposed separation from his only living relative. It is a moving performance, and one of the movie’s most dramatic scenes.

Even more magnificent is the performance given by the wonderful English actor Frank Finlay as Scrooge’s late partner, Jacob Marley. In most versions of this tale, the scene with Marley tends to be a bit of a low point in the film, simply because it’s difficult to portray a dead man convincingly, and the results are usually just plain silly (ooooh, look, it‘s a scary ghost…….not!)

In this version, it is perhaps the most riveting scene in the whole movie. Marley’s entrance, as the locks on Scrooge’s door fly open of their own accord and the sound of chains rattling echo throughout the house, is wonderfully creepy. But Finlay’s Marley is no ethereal spirit. He is a tortured, despairing soul, inspiring both horror and pity. Marley may be a ghost, but his rage and regret over a life wasted on the pursuit of wealth, and his despair at his realization that his sins are now beyond redress, are still very human. As portrayed by Finlay, we have no problem believing that even the flinty Scrooge would be shaken by this nightmarish apparition. Finlay really steals the scene here, no mean feat when you’re sharing the screen with George C. Scott.

And so it continues, as one remarkable performance after another makes it seem like you’re experiencing this story for the first time. Edward Woodward (remember him from “The Equalizer”?) is by turns both jovial and menacing as the Ghost of Christmas Present. When he delivers the famous line, “it may well be that in the sight of Heaven you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child” he is no longer a jolly Santa Claus surrogate, but has become an avenging angel who gives Scrooge a much needed verbal spanking.

Susannah York is a wonderfully tart tongued Mrs. Cratchit, and David Warner brings marvelous depth to the long suffering Bob Cratchit, a man who goes through life bearing the triple crosses of poverty, a sick child, and an insufferable boss. His face alternately shows his cheerful courage, and also, at times, his weariness, in the face of intolerable circumstances. Later, in the scene in which Scrooge is shown by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come the Cratchit family after the death of Tiny Tim, Warner’s performance will move you to tears.

One final note should be made about the musical device used in this movie to unite certain themes. Composer Nicolas Bicat uses a variation of the Wagnerian “leitmotif”, whereby a musical theme becomes associated with a certain character. Here Bicat uses two themes to unite groups of characters. The first, a plaintive theme consisting of two falling phrases, is first heard when Jacob Marley enters Scrooge’s room. This is particularly effective, for instead of the “scary” music one might expect to hear at the entrance of a ghost, what we hear instead is a sad, lonely theme played by a single cello. This unexpectedly tender music underscores the utter tragedy of Marley’s condition.

This theme appears several times in the movie during scenes when Scrooge is forced to reflect on his life, uniting him with Marley, and undergoes a dramatic transformation at Scrooge’s graveside scene, where it becomes powerful and dramatic as it is blasted out by a full orchestra. Finally, in the scene where Scrooge “awakens” from his visit from the third spirit, this theme appears in an altered form, coming full circle as it is again played by the solo cello. Now it somehow sounds hopeful, and just as the theme has changed, we realize that Scrooge, too, has changed.

The other leitmotif is heard whenever Fred, or his mother Fan, Scrooge’s dead sister, are in the scene. It is a gently skipping theme which, while seemingly happy on the surface, still has a streak of sadness in it. We hear it in the background as Scrooge reminisces about his late sister, or muses over how much like her Fred looks. By uniting these characters it helps make Scrooge more human.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I love this movie, and make it a point to watch the DVD several times during the month of December. It is my sincere hope that you will, too.

–Smith

29
Aug
07

God, anyone?

For those of you who are interested in such things, I am currently debating the existence of God, as well at the merits of well known atheistic gasbag Richard Dawkins, in a series of comments on another blog. The gentleman I’m debating is intelligent and articulate, and this is getting rather interesting.

Yeah, I know, I’ve got a lot of free time on my hands. But if you’re interested in this topic, or you just want to see two reasonably intelligent people debate, click here.

-Smith

18
Jul
07

The Ring Thing

By now nothing that goes on in public schools should surprise me. We live in a through-the-looking-glass world where students are suspended for smoking cigarettes, but can get free condoms from the school nurse, where prayer is not allowed but t-shirts glorifying rap music and its odious messages are commonly worn, and where students graduate knowing how to TM while barely being able to read and speak articulately.

So why should it surprise me that an English school has forbidden a fifteen year old Christian girl from wearing a small silver ring that symbolizes her commitment to chastity until marriage? If you want the details, see this article here, although a Google search of Lydia Playfoot turns up quite a bit of material. Suffice to say, she has been told by the school to remove the ring or face expulsion.

I have two BIG problems with this.

First, this same school allows Muslim girls to wear their head scarves, and Sikh girls to wear the silver bracelets of their faiths. This I have no problem with. Freedom to express one’s religion is a basic human right. But don’t Christian girls have the same rights as Muslims and Sikhs?

And perhaps more importantly, does anyone really think it’s such a hot idea to punish a teenager when she’s actually trying to do the right thing? Anyone who has ever been the parent of a teenager knows what a demoralizing experience this can be. There are just so many ways teens can screw up their lives: drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, gangs. No matter how hard you try to steer them away from these, many just blithely embrace some or all of these self destructive behaviors while regarding their parents as hopelessly out of touch simpletons. Any parent who can shepherd their teen to adulthood while keeping them in one piece has done something to be proud of.

This process is made harder than ever because there are just so many other influences on teens that parents must now compete with. Peer pressure used to mean the kids at school. Now, thanks to the Internet, it means kids all over the world. Kids are being urged by way too many people to make really, really bad decisions.

So in a world where teenagers kill just because they want to “see what it feels like”, it is refreshing to hear about a girl like Lydia Playfoot, who is actually doing the right thing and encouraging others to do the same. But instead of getting the praise she deserves, all she’s getting is a whole lot of undeserved aggravation. It is a sad indictment of our culture when a teenage girl is turned into a pariah for NOT having sex. The scarlet letter A used to stand for “adulteress”. I guess now it stands for “abstinence”.

In our increasingly secular world, there are many who find her extroverted brand of Christian faith cloying, but that is more of a reflection of our society than it is on her. I find it rather ironic that while the western world is predominantly Christian, Christianity itself is becoming ever more marginalized. Devout Christians are often looked down upon by the intelligentsia as rubes and simpletons. And yet in Muslim, Jewish, and other cultures, religious faith is still viewed as a virtue.

But one does not need to embrace devout Christianity to recognize the value of her message, or to be disturbed by the school administration’s attempts to squash that message, which should be regarded as a breath of fresh air. What parent in the world wouldn’t sell their soul just to hear their teen say, “Mom, Dad, I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve decided not to have sex until I’m married. Is that OK?” In a world where so many influences are telling her to do otherwise, Lydia Playfoot is doing the right thing. Ring or no ring.

–Smith




taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood" ~ Dr. John H. Watson ************************
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