Archive for March, 2009

I see Jesus in my oatmeal!


Only people who God really loves can see it...

Only people who God really loves can see it...

Jesus was spotted again.  He was apparently seen in a very holy place–on a seat-cushion in a small Catholic church on the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean.  The King of Kings, enthroned in glory, on the thing you put your butt on…um…sure.  I know he had humble beginnings and everything, but golly.  You can read about the whole thing here.




I think that the whole Jesus-images-on-things is being managed very poorly.  We could make a whole lot more money if we weren’t so limited–if we didn’t just limit our visions to Jesus in seat cushions, toast, oatmeal, and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Can’t we manage to create more of a spiritual aura than a day-old grilled cheese?  I have a great idea for really capitalizing on this phenomenon: let’s create images of Muhammed, Buddha, Confucius, Baha’u’llah, and Moses in random things that we want to sell in order to up their resale value and finance our new LCD 60 inch TV: your old car, used jeans, discarded computer components (you’d have to etch the image really really small).  We could have a line for all people who want to have an image in their oatmeal to adore over breakfast.  We could sell Bono on toast, and we could charge admission into our backyards to see the little image of Hitler in the dog doo.  Appropriately.

The face of Homer Simpson on a gourd.  Kept in the Secret Vatican Archives. ahem.

The face of Homer Simpson on a gourd. Kept in the Secret Vatican Archives. ahem.




Oh, the things we could do!  But please don’t suggest thinking too hard about it.  God forbid we use our God-given reason and scripture together to determine what is true from what is false.  Then things would be way more boring and definitely less lucrative for all of us.  





The one on the right sold for $25,000.   Almost %100 profit!  I'm in!

The one on the right sold for $25,000. I'm in!

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I figured that I’d celebrate St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow by going to London, so I’ll be taking a short break from my blog.  But when I get back, it’s on!

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I’m frustrated today.  I’m frustrated at so many things related to our economy, as I’m sure everybody is, but I feel like there are so many things to be said and most of them are staying around the water-coolers and aren’t making it to the blogs or to the bigger news services.  In fact, practically the only place I’ve heard any of them is on The Daily Show.  (Read my post about it here.) 


There are, to be sure, lots of things to get angry at, but I’m frustrated by the things that aren’t in the news.  Sure, there’s the stuff Obama said this morning, which was good, but my anger goes further.


I’m angry that the entire country has been, for a long time, conducting itself in an orgy of spending on credit with no regard for personal fiscal responsibility.  Individuals have done this, and the government has done this.  And people have capitalized on this practice and made billions of dollars in profit.  I’m angry that almost nobody is talking publicly about the underlying root of the problem: Americans must reign in our slobbering greed and our lust to be seen as richer than we are and exercise some responsibility, some restraint, some patience.  We have a lottery mentality, a mindset that getting rich should happen to me, and someone else ought to hand me the money, as we chant our national mantra of “We have rights!”


I’m angry that we, individuals, will have 4 or 5 credit cards (and that’s being conservative!) and think it’s ok.  I’m angry that the government continues to spend more than it has, and everyone just grumbles and wrings their hands and says, “Well, what can you do?”  I’m angry that companies like Bank of American will target people when the come into the bank and try to sell credit cards to them—credit cards that will only hurt them and put them deeper in debt.  And tellers have quotas they must fill—quotas of selling credit cards to people who don’t need them to make a bank more money so they can give more multi-million dollar bonuses to their executives.


I’m angry that some people in this crisis who have been ethically corrupt and profited off of others’ misfortune are enjoying life while others desperately struggle to figure out how to pay for hospice care for their dying mother, wondering how they’ll make their house payment, even though they’ve done everything right and always paid their obligations, even at monumental personal expense, just because it’s right.  And nobody gives them an award.


I’m angry at the banks that have been throwing lavish parties with bailout money from taxpayers, and I’m angry that the government keeps giving them bailout money without exercising more control over the company’s operations.  I’m angry.  Angry that people who make sacrifices to pay their bills and meet their obligations are ignored, but fools who have made unwise choices and continue to do so time and time again are rewarded with bailout money with little oversight.

 The words of James in the New Testament are particularly apt today, and I cling to them:

1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.”

-James 5:1-6

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It is a sad commentary on our society (and particularly on the farces masquerading as network television news programs) when some of the most poignant criticism and analysis of the culture comes from a show that comes on right after Futurama.  This is, of course, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  

Jon Stewart and I don’t agree on everything, but we do have a lot in common, apart from our first name.  Recently he has become something of a hero to me because he has the stones to openly criticize people who are doing dumb things.  He was a guest on Crossfire in 2004 and made everyone surprisingly uncomfortable when he refused to play the role of “funny guy” and instead spoke eloquently, seriously, and critically about the role of shows like Crossfire and their journalistic and ethical duty to the public.  It was one of the best face-to-face criticisms I’ve ever seen on television.

Last week, Jon Stewart ran a piece on his comedy show criticizing the CNBC network and especially its financial programs.  Jim Cramer, former hedge fund manager and host of the show Mad Money, got uber-defensive and decided to fire back.  At a comedian.  Anybody who has ever been to see standup knows that you don’t heckle comedians unless you want your butt handed to you or force-fed to you.  And especially if it’s a comedian who is really smart and has a legitimate bone to pick with you.  And especially if he’s full of righteous anger.  

So anyway, Genius Jim decides to fire back, and CNBC gets defensive, too.  Which gives Jon Stewart more fuel to work with.  Finally, in what can only be called the sickest possible action taken by a television corporation, CNBC handed Jim Cramer to Jon Stewart to destroy, meaning Jim Cramer was a guest on The Daily Show.  In the course of this half-hour show, Jon Stewart repeatedly nailed Cramer to the wall.  He pulled out footage of things that Cramer had said that were at best morally dubious, and several times it looked like Cramer was about to break and start weeping like a little 5-year old.  The link to the entire show is here, and I highly recommend everyone watching it.  Stewart was relentless but fair, giving Cramer plenty of time to explain what he thought, but not letting him get away with anything.  

Various shows are framing this as a duel, but I appreciated it because it was a small moment of justice.  The wizard was unmasked, and though I’m sure it won’t change much, it was so satisfying to see someone who had admittedly lied over and over again get caught in his own web…on national TV.  

So for these couple of weeks, Jon Stewart is my hero.  And people can say that I ought to have a more mature hero than a comedian, but for these few weeks in America, this comedian was the most gutsy defender of the common American that we had.  Someone cared about justice this week…and he served it, if only in a small way.

If only more talk show hosts did the same!

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The Sublime and the Page

There are sublime moments of my life that stand out in my memory: sitting all alone on the beach in Florida watching the sun rise over the sea; standing on top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park watching an electrical storm rumble up the canyon toward me; sitting on an old bench outside in a small cloister in Westminster Abbey, breathing in the heart of Britain while sharing a half hour of silence with a small bird perched a foot and a half away; holding a hummingbird and straightening its wings out, brushing it off, and petting its head while it simply looked up at me for five full minutes before it flew away; standing  in the Greek Theatre at the University of Redlands, silently talking to God and feeling His presence pressing on the place, filling the huge bowl of earth to the brim; driving a small zodiak boat in the Bahamas with my best friend beside me at dusk in water so shallow I could get out and walk; listening to and smelling the fresh clean rain falling outside through an open window as I sat inside next to a cheerful fire; worshipping God on an open air rooftop in the metropolis of Bangkok as the sun set and shone its last light down on me and the two dozen other Christians whom I could not understand, but who were nonetheless one with me in spirit and purpose.


The beach in Florida at sunset

The beach in Florida at sunrise, very similar to the one I sat on--Satellite Beach, just south of here.



All of these things are real events; they happened to me, and I lived them.  But there are also many memories I have of intense beauty that never really happened to me, at least not in the same way as the above memories.  I have intense memories of things that only existed in my mind, brought there by symbols slopped on pressed wood pulp.  Experiences that I share with no one else, because no one else imagined them the same way that I did.  These experiences I lived through the pages of books and the countless hours spent devouring ideas and stories, descriptions of evil and good, ugliness and beauty, the commonplace and the royal.  And anyone who has a passion for stories and books knows exactly what I mean. 


cover-the-lord-of-the-rings1I just finished reading the Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, and although they are codices of pages of symbols, they have affected me deeply.  I experienced more beauty in them than I have perhaps in my lifetime outside of the world of books.  Books and stories can take us far away, and I wonder what it is in our imaginations that is apparently so well-suited to telling stories.  We tell stories our whole lives, every day.  The function of stories is fascinating to me, but right now I’m just interested in seeing and feeling the sublime again.  And that is why picking one’s next book is such an important thing.  And if you haven’t had a beautiful moment recently, you need to pick up a well-written book and find a quiet spot, preferably with rain outside and fire inside, and a warm drink, and explore the realms of beauty that can only exist in the mind.  The joy of the experience and the after-ache of longing is the reward, and can never be diminished by the sudden jerk back into the shadow land of reality.


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An interesting article from the NY Times having to do with various and sundry things related to the Pope.  Here are some excerpts:


“MADRID — The letter released Thursday in which Pope Benedict XVIadmitted that the Vatican had made “mistakes” in handling the case of a Holocaust-denying bishop was unprecedented in its directness, its humanity and its acknowledgment of papal fallibility.

But it also contained two sentences unique in the annals of church history.

“I have been told that consulting the information available on the Internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on,” Benedict wrote. “I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news.”

In other words: “Note to the Roman Curia: try Google.”

The Vatican, a 2,000-year-old monarchy built on the ruins of the Roman Empire and run by octogenarians, has officially recognized the demands of the 24-hour news cycle, not a 24-century one.”



Future policy in Vatican City?

Future policy in Vatican City?









Another excerpt: 

“On Thursday, the Society of St. Pius X said it was ready to begin the doctrinal debates necessary for its return to full communion with the church. It conveyed the news in an e-mail message, in Latin, which instructed recipients “Ite ed vide,” or go and look, at its Web site, of course.”


When I want to really make my point, I always send email messages in latin.  

Don’t you?


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The Age of Hybridity

An interesting piece I heard on NPR today by Andrei Codrescu, an author, poet, radio correspondent, and professor at LSU Baton Rouge:


Andrei Codrescu

Andrei Codrescu




All Things Considered, March 11, 2009 · This is the age of hybrids. It isn’t just the cars — we the drivers are hybrids, too. Our bodies used to be all flesh, but now we are wired to iPods, GPS devices and the Internet.

The hybrids we drive are the hybrids we are, and it took the whole of the 20th century to mainstream the idea. The United States was always a nation of hybrids: Immigrants mixed here to make a new kind of people — a hybrid people called Americans. The 20th century, the “American century,” was the huge rush of euphoria that came from the mixing of so many differences.

This was the reality, but acknowledging it was something else: Not until the 1970s did we allow the possibility that we could accept our roots and also be Americans. The age of the hyphen was upon us: We became African-Americans, Italian-Americans, Mexican-Americans and so on.

Even Native Americans, while not hyphenated, were prefixed by “Native” to distinguish them from the Anglo-Saxons who insisted that they were just “Americans.” Hybrid reality preceded the hyphen in places like New Orleans, where mixed-race Creoles created jazz, that most American of all arts.

At the beginning of the 20th century, artists started making hybrids, and they haven’t stopped since. Collage mixed paint and newspapers, assemblage assembled diverse materials, sculptors combined steel and foam, soft and hard, rock and water. What artists did was to rid us of the pernicious notions of “purity” circulated for centuries by overanesthetized and frustrated ideologues. Artists made obvious what everyone knows: There isn’t a single human being or any living thing that isn’t a combination of things.

There are no pure races, there are no pure nations or tribes, and there are no clear lines of descent from the gods, who are themselves nothing but hybrids. Zeus even messed with animals, and the mono-God is composed of earlier gods like a psychedelic quilt.

The human urge to claim some kind of purity is a curious feature of our hybrid natures, but it’s a dead end. Ideas of race purity lead to genocide. Setting apart one’s tribe or nation ends inevitably in war. Monopolizing the engine of a moving vehicle to burn only petroleum leads to disaster. All monopolies of vision that claim to be unhybridized are doomed to a tragic end.

Happily, we’ve accepted first the hyphen, then the idea that we have more in common than what separates us. And now we have a hybrid, black and white leader, ready to drive the hybrid Americans of the 21st century to new sources of energy.

Say it out loud: I’m hybrid and I’m proud.


Andrei Codrescu’s website can be accessed here.

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“The Media”

I hear a lot of people talking about “the media” as if it is some conglomeration of people and companies, some sort of defined entity.  I hear this term thrown around as if we all understand exactly what it means, but I think that most of us don’t.  I hear people nursing left-wing ideologies call “the media” the fundamentally ultra-conservative tool of the upper class to propagate the state’s ideological controls.  I hear ultra-conservatives on their radio shows crying out that “the media” is liberal and that there’s a conspiracy that started in a dark cavern somewhere to rend the world as we know it and set up a godless socialist state.  Even if this trope didn’t sound like it was an excerpt from a flamboyant novel about the Illuminati, I would still ask in response to any reference to “the media,” “What do you mean when you say the media?” 


If I ever teach media studies, I plan to forbid the use of the mere term “the media” because it is not nearly specific enough to serve as a term that is useful, even in everyday speech, and it also has far too much elasticity: it is quite easy for the term to be abused by people taking it and fitting it into their own rhetorical devices to serve their own ends, instead of being a descriptive term that is helpful.  It is so elastic that it can be used and twisted to mean almost anything in almost any context.


So, I propose a ban on the term “the media.”  Not a Gestapo kind of ban, with thought police running around and reporting their names to the IRS for eventual bureaucratic torture and punishment.  No, I propose that whomever wishes to do so join me in a self-imposed ban of this term from their vocabulary.  In doing so we can make our language more precise while resisting the urge to fall into singularly and unhelpful oversimplifications about our society and how it communicates.  We can acknowledge that there are many different forms of communication, and they are all in a state of extreme flux right now.


There are myriad different industries and technologies that are used by people, and many of these get utilized for communication, and as people begin to use a technology (essentially a communication delivery system) not merely as an oddity, but actually as a method of communication, then a medium is born.  All sorts of things are media: smoke signals, text messaging, email, corporate television, radio, satellite radio, podcasts, vodcasts, books, billboards, magazines, blogs, discussion boards, independent television stations, the independent film industry, and on and on.  To lump all of these things together into one definition is to miss the fact that different media develop to meet different communication gaps, needs, or functions in a society, and one may have little to do with the other. 


Let’s criticize media if it is warranted, but let us be specific in exactly what we place in our sights.  Add other words to “the media” to specify what we say and mean, and if this is a challenge for us, then let us accept the challenge as a blessing that will force us to stop making bad arguments.  Criticize network television news or discuss the eccentricities of video gaming machinima; ask about the finer points of texting or blow your stack and vent about how you think radio journalism has lost its soul.  Even better, talk about specific programs or media sites.  Talk about the decline of the LA Times, or the political bent of a particular television network or program.  Talk specifically.  With specific words.  That mean specific things.  Then we can start to begin to know what we mean when we talk to one another about media, and we can all stop pretending that we know what “the media” means.


What does this mean?  Nobody really knows, but at least it looks cool, and that's all that matters...

What does this mean? Nobody really knows, but at least it looks cool, and that's all that matters...



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Memory is a funny thing.  I can remember the backyard of my childhood home and feel nostalgic, a sort of sweet memory that hurts.  I can also read and immerse myself in the history of World War II (as anyone who knows me well can attest to) and feel a tragic sweetness for that time.  I might wish that I could have seen those days, but those who live through them would tell me that this wish is ridiculous, and they would be right.  It was not nostalgic to live through it.  It would not satisfy my nostaligic ache to live through those days or to visit my childhood home again.  In fact, this often makes things worse—and everyone knows what it is like to not want to see something from our childhood because we know it will not feel the same.  We choose to simply keep the thing in our memory, sweet but not actualized. 


I was sitting in a coffee shop yesterday talking about this with my wife Melody, who is studying to be an archivist.  I told her that I believe that somehow there is an almost ineffable quality or feeling that we experience when dealing with archives and with memory.  I wondered what it is that we want when we long for something that is long past–something that we never experienced but have read about or heard about (like WWII), or some memory of our own that we have not visited in a long time (like an old childhood house or the feel and the memories of the neighborhood we grew up in).  We get a pang of longing, and even if the stuff we’re looking at is not our own, we often are overcome with wistful, nostalgic feelings.  Then I started wondering, what is it exactly that we’re longing for?  Because I do not long to see my childhood neighborhood again.  I know it will be different, and there have been times when I have specifically avoided going back and looking because I know it will not satisfy this desire; it will only make me sad; I will feel that the thing I wanted to see or experience is lost even more, is further away than it was before I went there.  


Our front yards are, painfully, never the same as we remember them if we go back to visit.

Our childhoods are, painfully, never the same as we remember them if we venture back to visit them.


I think that this ineffable thing that we long for is somehow related to our desire for something that is permanent, something that is outside the effects of time.  I think that this longing comes out of the human desire for transcendence.  This urge to archive or record our lives comes from a desire for immortality, or for a desire to escape our own mortality—almost the same thing, but not quite.  And our desire to know and get back permanently that which we know only in an archive (my great great grandparents, for example) is the other side of the coin; it is the desire to know permanence, to know the ineffable beauty beyond us, but it is always thwarted and turned to a bittersweet longing by the reality of our own mortality. 

C.S. Lewis wrote about this very longing, and he pointed out rightly that the longings of this kind (of which the longing related to permanence and memory is only one form) are times when our desire for God, our desire for home, our desire for transcendence is pricked by some small ray of light spilling from that Realm to our dusty, tired, and shadowed land.  The pang of sweet and terrible desire that fills our hearts when we hear a beautiful line of music, or a beautiful moment in a forest: any sublime moment is a spilling over from There to here.  Even the moment of wanting something that is not immediately attainable—the desire we feel to go back and experience life in 30’s and 40’s America, to see our ancestors and talk with them, even to see and talk with our own first father and mother before the fall—those things are real losses and will never happen, yet they point to a larger and greater Fulfillment of our desire.

It is in this poetic moment that we find ourselves taken out of time–one of the reasons why we create archives, I think.  We are able to experience a shadow of the thing we desire: to know outside of time, to always be, to be solid and unmoving, and to intimately know (experientially) things that will always be.  In the sweetness of a memory a person can linger in this twilight between the mutable and the immutable, between the temporal and the edge of the universe, between the cold hard granite reality of our own mortality and the frighteningly vast but warm infinity of the heavens: the unveiled realm of the Real, Living I Am. 


Who knew that something as lofty as a desire for the Immutable God could be found in a dusty archive?  Amazing.


Deus ex tabulinum

Deus ex tabulinum



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