The Weary Lion and the Wary Lamb

tensions-remain-high-at-israeli-gaza-border-1Author’s note: Like many Jews around the world, I’ve been following the news out of Israel closely the past month and a half. In this piece, I continue to explore my responses to the conflict in Israel and Gaza. I began these explorations in my previous post, “Sitting in Pain in Israel and Gaza.”

The enemy of Israel shakes hands with the enemy of the Jews. The mother of the kidnapped scholar shakes. Just after the explosion, five fresh eggs shake.

In some places, the enemies of the Jews disguise themselves as enemies of Israel. In some places, an enemy of Israel disguises himself as a Jew, a Hasid in fedora boarding an egged bus.

Some days, the enemies of Israel and the enemies of the Jews quietly sip coffee. Yesterday, you had to listen carefully to hear a thin sliver of quiet while the mob on the Parisian street caught its breath.

You going to the Enemies of the Jews show? The Enemies of Israel is opening. I have to show my face at the solidarity rally. Besides, I hate heavy metal music.

An enemy of Israel marries an enemy of the Jews. Their daughter, a religious Zionist, marries a boy in the Givati Brigade.

[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...]

Only God is an Atheist, Part 2

It was not out of sheer flattery that Thomas Merton compared Flannery O’Connor to Sophocles, for the things at which she stared were the very pulp and pith of humanity. Her ability to express metaphysical profundities through her native vernacular is nearly as impressive as the profundities themselves. For it is one thing to express sadness with the objective correlative of a weeping violet; it is another to express the Noumenon by way of a folksy, backwoods serial killer.

In yesterday’s post, I commented on the young O’Connor’s journal to God, published in the September 16, 2013 edition of The New Yorker, insofar as it concerned her prayers about writing. Today, I’ll comment on some other aspects of the journal.

On Prayer:

Permeating both O’Connor’s correspondence and this journal is a candor about her spiritual limitations. Her thoughts about the four aspects of prayer reveal an undeveloped soul that she seeks to mature, but finds herself incapable of achieving:

Prayers should be composed I understand of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication…. It is the adoration of You, dear God, that most dismays me. I cannot comprehend the exaltation that must be due You.

She worries that her assent to adore is only intellectual, a dispassionate fiat. God must even provide the grace to adore him, she acknowledges, mystified. Still, if that is the way it must be, she asks:

Give me the grace to adore You with the excitement of the old priests when they sacrificed a lamb to You. Give me the grace to adore You with the awe that fills Your priests when they sacrifice the Lamb on our altars.

However close she came to that attitude, none can doubt the transfixion of the protagonists in Parker’s Back, The Artificial Nigger, and Wise Blood, all of whom exalt their God with scorched eyes.

[Read more...]

Fast-Food Funeral Procession

The line lurched forward one vehicle at a time, halogen halos radiating from headlights. Although it was eleven o’clock at night, I could not help but think of the funeral processions I saw as a boy, cars coursing through town in the daytime with lights aglow.

As I sat in the drive-thru lane at Taco Bell that night in 2008, I began to think of that line of cars as a fast-food funeral procession. But who—or what—were all of us in that line mourning?

I had seen Morgan Spurlock’s film, Super Size Me, so I had come to think of all fast food restaurants as merchants of death. In denial, I frequented them anyway. Surely I would not be the one for whom the Taco Bell would toll, I reasoned.

The headlights of the car behind me glared in my rearview mirror, stabbing my retinas. I tilted the mirror, dimming the light, and soon found myself able to make out the backlit, black silhouette of the driver behind me.

That week at work had been blinding, too. I entered data all day, and although my errors always seemed insubstantial to me, my employer maintained spreadsheets listing them all—a practice that applied to my coworkers, too. By the time the spreadsheet made the rounds that week, reaching everyone in my department, I could see nothing but my blunders. [Read more...]

The Bible as Icon

For Vic Sizemore

With six children in a Southern Baptist family in the 1970s, we could easily have had a dozen Bibles in the house: There was the giant, gray Family Bible with the embossed cover that resided on the bottom shelf of the living room, which nobody ever read. And there was a scattering of those palm-sized New Testament and Psalms around the place, like silverfish in a drawer—always white or pale green, with ersatz gold leafing that would flake off under the prodding of a fingernail.

There was a Novum Testamentum from when my oldest sister took Latin in college, sandwiched on a shelf. I also always liked the ones from the Gideons (do the Gideons even still exist?) that had translations of John 3:16 in the back. My favorite: Sinhalese.

The vast majority, though, were what could be termed “presentation Bibles.” Invariably from Broadman Press (headquartered in Nashville, the Baptist Vatican), either slick shoe-polish black or steak-slab red “bonded leather” (Ooh, baby!), these had been awarded as part of Sunday School or scripture memorization schemes, and always had about them the whiff of bribery, with the name of the person to whom the Bible was “dedicated” written in ostentatious cursive in the front. “The Words of Christ Are in Red,” it was noted, and in the back was a sheaf of Biblical maps, the topography of the Exodus and Paul’s missionary journeys rendered in Sweet Tart pink and blue. [Read more...]


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