Sitting with Pain in Gaza and Israel

18-1n009-israel2-c-300x300This morning, as I tried to awaken from a fitful night’s sleep, I turned to “Darkness Falls on Gaza,” an opinion piece by Mohammed Omer in the New York Times.

The piece begins,

“Ramadan, when night descends, is usually a joyous time. Friends and family gather to break their fast at the iftar meal. Not this year.”

“Nights are the worst. That is when the bombing escalates. Nowhere is safe. Not a mosque. Not a church. Not a school, or even a hospital. All are potential targets.”

I was hooked. Even if I hadn’t been anxiously following the news out of Israel and Gaza the last few weeks, I would have been hooked by the simple, clear, dramatic yet restrained writing.

You think the day’s long fast is challenging? Think again. You think there’s a feast with family and friends to look forward to at the end of the day? Think again.

We know, those of us who have been obsessively following the news, why this year is different. [Read more...]

Everyone Deserves Clean Grout and Starched Linen

Pie Counter (1963), Wayne Thiebaud For my junior high school Home Economics teacher, Mrs. Lesca Black, who taught me how to press every seam once you’d sewed it, and for Dr. Sandra DeJong, who said she thought I might be a feminist, after all.

It all began, I suppose, with the hardbound set of Time-Life Foods of the World cookbooks my mother ordered by subscription, lined up on a kitchen shelf between utilitarian metal bookends.

There was one hardbound volume for each European region, and multiple volumes for the regional cuisines of America, each covered in darkly-lit photographs reminiscent of still-life paintings. The volume for France had a picture of a cheese soufflé; the book for Austria (Austria?) had a gingerbread house frosted with royal icing and studded with candies—a Middle American fantasy of an Alpine Christmas.

“Let’s make that!” I always said to the nearby humoring adults, who were willing to let me make a mess in the kitchen but were not otherwise interested in “projects.” [Read more...]

God, Guilt, and Aronofsky’s Noah, Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about the film Noah and the believing soul’s ambivalence to God. Today I want to quickly note that in his book God, Guilt and Death, Merold Westphal describes how there is actually ambivalence to God on the part of the unbelieving soul as well.

“I don’t believe,” the unbeliever says with real reason—she doesn’t see enough evidence to believe, or the problem of evil and the unearned suffering of children make an all-good and all-powerful god, to her view, untenable—“but wouldn’t it be great if I could believe, if there were a God to give ultimate meaning to existence.”

This category does not apply to Aronofsky’s Noah. There are no unbelievers in this film as far as I could tell. The villainous Tubal-Cain was just as devout a believer as Noah was. As a matter of fact, he embodies one aspect of the believing soul’s ambivalence to God: resentment.

According to Westphal, resentment toward the Holy niggles at the mind of even the most devout believer. He observes that Kierkegaard’s Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing is not a prescription for doing things right, but a meditation on the fundamental double-mindedness in even the most pious soul. [Read more...]

God, Guilt, and Aronofsky’s Noah, Part 1

As it has become too expensive for our family of five to go to the theater together often, we usually wait to see movies until they reach the dollar theater here in town. This means that we usually do not see a movie until the flurry of reviews has passed. Not many people were still writing about Darren Aronofsky’s Noah when we saw it a couple of weeks ago. I come late to the conversation, but I still want to share some thoughts on the film.

I do not want to weigh in on the controversy surrounding it. Having grown up in a church in which every new artistic or pop-culture offering was a cause for protest—Jesus Christ Superstar, Smurfs, He Man, The Lion King, Teletubbies—I had little trouble ignoring those rants. I did join one discussion with a boycotter who countered my suggestion that he take Aronofsky at his word when he says he wanted the movie to be a midrash with a remark about “adult diaper rash.” I was reminded why I try to stay out of discussions with certain of my Facebook friends.

Since there was no worry about spoilers, I read the reviews. A concise observation by Matt Zoller Seitz gave support to what I suspected: “This is…an immense, weird, ungainly, often laughably overwrought and silly movie, an amalgamation of elements from various literary and cinematic forebears.” After seeing the movie, I disagree. Overwrought maybe. Laughable and silly? No. [Read more...]

Lavender and Pennies

Whenever you detect the mysterious smell of lavender in a house, it means a friendly spirit is passing through one of the nearby rooms. The fragrance has to come out of nowhere, I’m told, and it has to be strong. Otherwise, your mind is just playing tricks on you.

And if you see pennies lying around on tables and windowsills, that means the spirits have “been visiting” while you were out. Again, nothing to be alarmed over; just some of the everyday goings on in a world deeply infused with things from well beyond it.

All of this knowledge comes to me by way of a lady who’s worked for my family ever since I was a boy—call her May Iris—and has lived in the very same place since she was a girl. She knows all kinds of things like that, full of a wisdom that’s being lost at a rate too clichéd to remark upon.

For instance, she can distinguish, to the day, between blackberry winter, locust winter, and dogwood winter (in the South, important parts of spring; there’s a mesmerizing story by Robert Penn Warren called “Blackberry Winter”). [Read more...]


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