Jewish Rome (l’ospitalità è sacra)

I’m going to be sharing photos from my recent travels, and unlike the hasty bulk uploads to Facebook which some of you may have seen, here I will be commenting on and explaining them. Rather than make one post that might take a while to load because of the number of images, I will be trying out the new slideshow multi-page option we now have at Patheos. And so be sure to keep clicking to the next page until you reach the end!

Let me start with the very final part of my trip to Italy, the last day before I flew back to the United States. I visited Rome again on the way back from the Enoch Seminar meeting in Camaldoli. I had planned to visit some of the catacombs in Rome with some of the other conference attendees, but a train strike prevented us from leaving Arezzo until 1pm. In the end, we scrapped that plan and went to our various hotels upon arriving in Rome, with a few of us arranging to meet up later for dinner.

I made a point of exploring places that I had not been to, and passing by a couple of places I had visited a week earlier as I traveled a different route through the historic center. I was glad I did, as I got to see the Colosseum and the Forum from another side. The view of the Forum from across the Circus Maximus gave a big picture angle on the site I had visited previously, and I got a photo of the Colosseum that included tourists inside who provide a clearer sense of the size of it.


LOST Rewatch: Everybody Loves Hugo

Hugo eats chickenThe story of Hugo Reyes in the afterlife is the starting point of the episode. His incredible success and philanthropy. Dr. Chang describes his life at an event connected with the dedication of a paleontology wing which he paid for. The title contrasts with the earlier episode title, “Everybody Hates Hugo.” At a restaurant where he is supposed to have a blind date, Libby comes up to him. She has wandered off from a group from the Santa Rosa Mental Hospital. She knows him. Later, Desmond finds Hugo in the Mr. Cluck restaurant and talks to him about it. Hugo then goes and makes a generous donation to the mental hospital in exchange for a chance to talk to Libby. She tells him that a few days ago she saw him on a TV commercial and it was like being hit over the head, and all these memories of a plane crash and an island came back to her. He does not remember, but he asks her out on a date. They go for a picnic on the beach. She kisses him and he remembers. Desmond watches from his car, then drives off.

In the present on the island, Hugo places a flower on Libby’s grave. He suggests that she come talk to him the way others have who died. He hears whispers and then Michael appears to him. He says that people listen to him now, and people are going to get killed if they try to blow up the plane. A little later, Ilana accidentally blows herself up with dynamite. Ben comments that the island was done with her, and that he wonders what will happen when it is done with them. Hugo detonates the Black Rock, saying he was protecting them. Talking to Miles, Hugo says that dead people are more reliable than alive people. Richard, Ben, and Miles go to find more explosives. Hugo persuades Jack, Sun, and Frank to go talk to Locke, claiming that Jacob spoke to him. But later he admits that he lied to get people to listen to him. Richard knows that Jacob didn’t tell him what to do, because he knows that Jacob simply doesn’t tell people what to do on principle. Hugo hears whispers and realizes what they are. He goes to talk to Michael. Others like him who can’t move on are stuck on the island, and that is what the whispers are.

Smokey is waiting because he believes that the only way they can get off the island is with the candidates together, the same way they returned to the island. Sayid returns and has Desmond tied up. Smokey takes Desmond to see something. On their way, they see Smokey as a young boy. They go to the well. Smokey says it is so old that the people who dug it had to do so by hand. He said the people were not looking for water, but for answers – the place made compass needles spin. He says that Charles Widmore is not interested in answers, he is only interested in power. Smokey asks Desmond why he isn’t afraid. Desmond asks him what the point is in being afraid. Smokey throws him down the well. When he gets back, Hugo and his group reach Smokey’s camp.

The episode ends in the afterlife with Desmond driving straight into John Locke’s wheelchair.

There is an important religious theme explored in this episode. On the one hand, we have the notion of a god who doesn’t tell people what to do, wanting them to figure it out for themselves. On the other hand, we find people appealing to what that god said, not always for evil purposes, but still claiming an authority that they have not been granted.


LOST Rewatch: Dave

The episode starts with Hurley and Libby jogging. Hurley confesses that he kept quite a bit of food from the hatch. He dumps the food, and says he feels free. Then people go running past – to the place where a new supply of food had been dropped. Standing by it, Hurley sees someone and chases him into the jungle. We later learn that the man is someone Hurley knows from his past: Dave.

In a flashback, Hurley is talking to a counsellor, Dr. Brooks. His mother put him in there because of an accident. Dave is also in the same asylum – Hurley says Dave is the most normal person in there, but the doctor says he is a bad influence who doesn’t want Hurley to change. We learn that Hurley had walked out on a deck which then collapsed, killing 2 people – but it was a deck designed to hold 8 and it already had 23 people on it before he walked out there, and so Brooks says it wasn’t his fault. He points out that Hurley stopped speaking, sleeping, but never eating – because that is how he punishes himself. Brooks also shows Hurley a photo which shows that Dave doesn’t exist. Then we see Hurley follow Dave in an escape attempt, only to tell him that he is not real and does not want him to change, and Hurley closes the window and locks Dave outside.

On the island, Dave tells Hurley that he is still at Santa Rosa – he never left the hospital. Dave says that he is the part of Hurley that wants to wake up. He says that the means is to kill himself in his imagination – telling his mind that he doesn’t believe any of this. Dave says “see you in another life” and then dives off the cliff. Libby talks Hurley out of jumping, and at the end of the episode we learn that Libby was in the asylum with Hurley, while Dave was imaginary.

Locke has a hairline fracture in his leg. He adamantly doesn’t want to use the wheelchair.

The real Henry Gale wrote a note for his wife on a piece of money. It is clear that Ben is continuing to lie. Sayid almost shoots him, but Ana stops him. Ben talks about a leader of his people of whom he is afraid – not the guy in the beard.

Locke says “God knows how long you and your people have been here.” Ben tells Locke that God doesn’t know how long they’ve been there. He can’t see this island any more than the rest of the world. Ben then says that he never entered the numbers and pushed the button, saying that “this place is a joke.” With hindsight, we know he could not be trusted – but his statement about God is interesting nonetheless.

In light of what happens later, was “Dave” the Man in Black trying to get Hurley to kill himself in order to keep him from becoming Jacob’s replacement? Or Hurley suffering a nervous breakdown? The show was still playing with viewers, leaving open questions about whether the experiences on the island were real or hallucination, in this world or an afterlife. Unfortunately, the result was that some people fixated on a theory and never let go of it in light of new evidence, so that even today you will encounter people who think “they were dead the whole time.” LOST required close reading and careful attention, and I’m rewatching it to see whether, like a detailed and deep novel, it repays rereading.



Doctor Who: Last Christmas

The episode starts with Clara being awoken by noise on the rooftop. It is Santa, two elves, a sled and flying reindeer. It is immediately comical. An elf makes a reference to Santa growing a beard as a disguise, but peope have picked up on it. They pole fun at Clara’s suggestion that her parents just suddenly decided to give her presents one day a year – it is a nice story, but it is time to live in the real world. The mention of growing out of fairy stories is nicely timed to coincide with the Doctor’s arrival.

The episode begins comically, and does not entirely lose that element. But it becomes the stuff of horror later on.

doctor-who-the-last-christmas-141214The Doctor finally learns that Danny Pink is dead, when he tries to distract Clara with a mention of him. They have arrived in a place where humans are trying to get through an infermary where telepathic species are sleeping. There are dream crabs on Earth. They generate a telepathic field, altering perception, making it impossible to tell what is real. The Doctor says that the big problem telling fantasy and reality apart is that “they’re both ridiculous.”

There is a deliberate echo of the Gift of the Magi, as the Doctor and Clara both admit that they each lied in order to try to help the other. Each hid their own sorrow and loss in order to try to protect the other’s happiness.

The Doctor says to interrogate everything, in case it is a lie.

Someone compares the dream crabs to face huggers. The Doctor says, “There’s a horror movie called Alien? That’s offensive. No wonder they keep invading you.”

The dream crabs use the perception of others to see. They induce a dream state while they devour the brains of their victims.

One of them gets Clara. The Doctor tries to get through to her by allowing one of the creatures onto his face, to join her dream. Dream Danny works to save her, and they manage to wake up.

Then they realize that in fact, they are all still dreaming, they all continue to have the same pain in the side of their head. The Doctor does a dream test, gets them all to read the base manual, since they will not have a common memory of it and so will not see the same thing on the same page number. It’s a clever plot device.

Shona talks about Santa as a dream that is trying to save them. He says she just defined him.

The Doctor says, “No one knows they’re not dreaming.”

Towards the end of the episode, the Doctor finds Clara 62 years later, in a touching scene. And then, Santa wakes him, for real. A rare second chance for the Doctor.

The question of whom the Doctor has to thank, and the shot of the tangerine on the windowsill, poses the same “Is this reality or just another layer of dream?” question that one also found in The Matrix series, Existenz, Total Recall, and most of all Inception. And it is a subject that Doctor Who touched on previously, in the episode “Amy’s Choice.”

I was a bit nervous when it was revealed that the episode would feature Santa Claus, elves, and flying reindeer. And so I was very pleased with what was actually done. What did you think of the episode?


Doctor Who Christmas Special Preview

I was so delighted to see this snippet of the Doctor Who Christmas special, courtesy of IO9. The Doctor, Clara, and Santa, will all be back, together with a couple of elves!

Doctor Who: Death in Heaven

The season finale of Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Doctor certainly packed a punch time and time again. From the opening scene when Clara tells a Cyberman that she is the Doctor, stalling for time, to the moment when Santa Claus arrives as a deus ex machina with the hope that, for Christmas, perhaps we’ll get some resolution to certain loose ends, it was a wild ride of the sort that we’ve come to expect from Doctor Who.

doctor_who_death_in_heaven_3Some of my favorite moments will be highlighted here. I liked the reference to selfies and going viral – you can introduce things to the public and, as long as they have a chance to get photos with these strange costumed individuals, they will assume it is some marketing ploy.

I loved when UNIT showed up, including not just Kate Stewart but also Oswood, now wearing a bow tie because “bow ties are cool.” I got a kick out of the difference between the OCD count and the “queen of evil” count of the number of Cybermen. That the Doctor is still technically on the payroll of UNIT was cute – especially when the Doctor asked how much they were paying him.

I loved that the Doctor had been installed as President of Earth, chief executive officer of the human race. This brought together two major threads of the season – that the Doctor lives among us and has a responsibility to Earth, and the dislike that the Doctor has for soldiers even though he is something of one himself, and indeed, is an officer. And it was a great moment when the Doctor gloated at Missy, pointing out that he had achieved what the Master had often tried to but failed to: ruling Earth.

I loved when Danny Pink came back as a Cyberman, and even so managed to save Clara, even while she talked about her skills as a liar, and her faithfulness to the Doctor as the one man to whom she would not lie.

Doctor Missy selfieI loved that Missy knew where Gallifrey is. And that its coordinates were the same coordinates used in the classic series. But I wonder why the Doctor, having found it, pounded on his TARDIS console until is smashed – what did he see there?

I loved the question, “How can you win against an enemy that can weaponize the dead?”

I loved the scene where Danny asks Clara to help him, to turn on his inhibitor and stop his emotions. And I loved the Doctor’s intervention, saying, “Pain is a gift.” But I loved that it was ultimately Danny’s love and not a solution the Doctor came up with that allowed Danny to overcome the effects of the “upgrade.” And I loved how that scene showed that the Doctor is, at times, all the things he hates – worse than a soldier, a general who sends soldiers to do his dirty work.

I loved the reveal (even if it was already becoming clear) that Missy brought the Doctor and Clara together.

I loved lots of little details about Missy as the latest regeneration of the Master. When she arrives like Mary Poppins. When she remembers the Doctor’s birthday (but what is a birthday for a time traveler?).

I liked that Missy’s scheme was to give the Doctor an army, to give him the chance to see what he would do with it, saying, “I need my friend back…I need you to know we’re not so different.”

I loved the Doctor’s response, leading him to thank and then kiss Missy, saying, “I am not a good man, and I’m not a bad man…I am an idiot…”

I loved when the Doctor said, “Love isn’t an emotion. Love is a promise.”

I loved the Doctor being willing to kill Missy in order to spare Clara from having to take a life. And I loved when Missy asked, “To save her soul? But who, my dear, will save yours?”

I loved that among the dead was the Brigadier who, as a Cyberman, saved his daughter.

I loved that Danny chose to return the boy he killed to life, rather than himself.

I appreciated, even though it leaves us hanging, Clara’s decision to not tell the Doctor that Danny had not come back.

How will that last bit be resolved? I suspect that the Cybermen, and Missy’s device, were designed to transport people to the nethersphere rather than disintegrate them – the effect of Missy’s weapon seemed to be the same thing we saw in other episodes this season, when we saw someone disintegrated only to find they had teleported elsewhere. And so I am hopeful for a return of not only Missy and Danny, but also Osgood. Missy killing her, simply because she’s “bananas,” was among the most brutal moments. Because, above all else, she illustrates how the Doctor impacts lives, leading them to be weaponized, leading them to be vulnerable, leading them into harm’s way and sometimes to death. She was an endearing character both in “Day of the Doctor” and in “Death in Heaven.” I hope that she can be brought back – but if not, I hope the Doctor will meet her again at an earlier point in her life.

There were moments where I felt the pace was a bit too rushed. Perhaps it is a result of watching too much classic Doctor Who, in which the pace can seem somewhat too slow. But the strongest moments in the episode, and its resolution of key questions from the season’s arc, seem to make up for any shortcomings.

What did you think of “Death in Heaven”? What do you think is going to happen next?

NSUV Bible

Eddie Arthur shared a wonderful set of excerpts from the Not So Unpleasant Version of the Bible, shared by Archdruid Eileen. Here is the text of that post:

It was Snargent who originally started it. He complained about the Crucifix in the Chapel of Contemplation – said that the depiction of an execution was quite unseemly for a religious group.

And that was nothing to when I pointed out that it was based on the accounts in the Gospels. The discovery that we have a holy book that includes such things has caused uproar. What, we were asked, did we think we were doing? Dolorez says that thinking about the Bible has caused her little ones, Mordant and Celery, to have sleepless nights. Personally I reckon it’s more likely the sound of Dolorez singing “I will Survive” into the small hours that has given the little ones unsettled sleep, but still. I didn’t want to upset her further.

And I remembered that, so as not to upset people who flick on during the boring bits, we’ve already made the decision to have no Funeral Service in the Beaker Common Prayer. I reckoned this was the way forward. And so we have produced the Not So Unpleasant Version of the Bible. Like the original Bible, but with all the nasty bits sanitised. So if you’re fed up with bloodshed, slaughter and annihilation in your favourite inspired text, why not try the NSUV? For example:

In the NSUV, after a heated debate with his brother, Cain admits that his offering wasn’t as good as Abel’s. God tells them that, actually, he was just feeling a bit grumpy and off cereals, and they were both pretty good.

Noah trains as a lifeguard. In gratitude for him saving their lives in the Flood, the people of Mesopotamia mend their ways.

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah take Lot’s guests down the pub for a pint.  Neither fire nor brimstone are required.

The Levite is not such a coward as to push his concubine out into the street. The men of Gibeah consider that their behaviour hasn’t been so great, and go home to their wives.

All sacrifices are of vegetables.

The Children of Israel book a holiday in the land of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar turns out to be a remarkably affable hotel-owner. The waiter is from Barcelona.

After Elijah wins the “who can call down fire” contest, he invites the Prophets of Baal to an inter-faith tea.

King Herod visits the town of Bethlehem dressed as Santa, with a sleigh full of toys.

After St Peter provides King Herod Agrippa with an anti-worming treatment. Herod is so grateful he agrees that he is just a man, after all.

Everybody goes to heaven at the end of Revelation.

So why not give the NSUV a chance? It’s a new kind of Bible for a new kind of religion. Offence-free. Blood-free. Violence-free. Outrage-free. And, above all, salvation-free.

What do you think? Clearly this is intended as humor. But the instinct to want to sanitize the Bible presumably reflects the concern that some people look to this collection of literature, expecting it to be consistently holy and to provide positive role models, among other things. And so perhaps instead of an NSUV Bible, we need a different view of what the Bible is? Then we can place it alongside all the other great and not-so-great literature that contains violence and hatred, and which we do not feel compelled to rewrite – again, except for comical purposes.


How Christmas Shopping is Like Going to Church

David Hayward shared this cartoon:

I think it is hilarious. But it makes some serious points. The oddity of giving people a certain time and saying that this will be “fellowship” time or “worship” is distinctly odd, and that oddity is only missed when we have be ome accustomed to this way of doing things. Most church leaders will tell you that fellowship is something that can happen anywhere at any time, and that worship is something that should not be limited to once a week in church, and yet the way we do things conveys the very opposite.

Instead, being a Christian ought to change how we navigate the mall, our attitude in the check-out line, our appreciation of the activities we engage in in the food court. And we ought to ask questions like “Where (and how) would Jesus shop?” even though the answers tell us about ourselves rather that the historical figure of Jesus.

Of related interest, Gavin shared a link to an article suggesting that significant numbers of people today think that Santa Claus is a character in the nativity story.


How Was It?

I saw this picture a few days ago. It was apparently supposed to be “Breakfast with Santa.” Either way, does anyone know how it went this morning? Did a guy in a red suit turn up, and if so, which one?


Dreaming of a White Jesus

The recent statement by a Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly illustrates well why historical Jesus research is so important. Jesus has become a powerful myth, indeed more than one, and has been coopted in the service of a great many ideologies. Nothing provides as effective a counter to the infinite range of things that Jesus has become and may yet become, than historical evidence does.

Ironically, Kelly was emphasizing that Santa Claus was white, just like Jesus (and equally historical, it sounds like). Santa Claus the myth can become any color, just as Jesus the myth can. But the historical St. Nicholas, from the region of modern-day Turkey, was probably at most only a shade closer to Kelly's definition of whiteness than Jesus was.

Of course, historical evidence is only effective as an antidote to ideological distortion of evidence, if people are willing to listen. And so willful ignorance can provide an antidote to the antidote.

Satirical responses to this have also been offered by Jeff Carter and Fred Clark, the latter having shared the image below:




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