We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Wednesday, December 24. 2014
Clement Moore (1779-1863) inherited his grandfather's estate, named Chelsea, which now constitutes NYC's wonderful neighborhood of Chelsea where the gays walk their mini dogs, the moms push their strollers, the hipsters do their hipster thing, the Pearl Theater produces lots of cool dance concerts and other good things, the old Chelsea Hotel which sheltered so many artistic and musical luminaries like Bob Dylan - and where Dylan Thomas died - is still there, and everybody in that neighborhood has a fine youthful, ambitious, capitalist time. Ha - including one of my artistic and literary daughters - and one fierce capitalist daughter who did live there in the past.
Wonderful city. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
Moore led a movement to block the running of 9th Ave. through the middle of his rural estate, but NYC progress could not be stopped. He hated Jefferson for his apostasy. His summer house was in Newport, RI. He was buried in the Trinity Church graveyard.
His dad was a bishop and president of King's College, now Columbia University.
Writing The Night Before Christmas was the least of his academic and cultural accomplishments and generosities, but it did end up inventing an American version of Santa Claus which has endured until now. He's the guy who made Santa fat and jolly.
An email from a daughter:
You know the words of his delightful doggerel, so I do not need to print them out. Like people such as Conan Doyle or Lewis Carroll, inventive people never know what they will be remembered for.
Moore's house in Chelsea -
Moore founded St. Peter's Church in 1838 on his estate. It is still there, on W. 20th St. I've been there for performances of the Chelsea Opera. Lovely old Anglican church, now sort-of Episcopalian.
Sunday, December 21. 2014
Santa (who is clearly an obese white male in this accurate photo) is well-known to prefer Coke to Pepsi, but in our family he preferred brandy, Scotch, or Irish Coffee. Why Pepsi in this photo of him? Somebody must have paid him off.
Christmas became a federal holiday in the US in 1870. When people talk about the secularization and the material and food and booze indulgence of Christmas, I laugh because it was ever thus even though, in my family tradition, it's a pleasant if hectic blend of religious - with goodies and parties with friends, friendly acquaintances, and family.
We've been thinking about all of the charming pagan Saturnalian, and especially the pre-Christian Germanic, aspects of modern American Christmastime. A fine history of the modern Christmas here. Lots of interesting details.
My conclusion at the moment is that it's an ancient winter solstice Pagan holiday - with the baby Jesus added to the mix as Roman marketing. I have seriously-Jewish friends who do Christmas. Heck, even atheists love Christmas. My atheist Dad loved it: his entire life was about giving to others and more so than almost any Christian - or anyone of any religion - I know.
Every culture needs party seasons too, festivals. The real Christian holy day is Easter. I never heard of an Easter Party, and Easter parades are only in the movies.
No, I am not a Grinch. I love Christmas, especially Christmas Eve in church during which I shed tears every year. Advent is important to me, but far less so than Lent. I like all the parties, too, to catch up with my million best friends. Just one more, tonight, with carols. Yesterday was family pre-Christmas brunch to accommodate those who would be away, and last night's jolly party had carols too, with a neighboring pastor on the pianny and great and abundant food and drink - Champagne and wines, multiple turkeys and hams, all sorts of cakes and pies and cheeses, huge rounds of Stilton with Port. Good, memorable fun for the whole family, ages 1 to 90. Christmas balloons, lots of little kids underfoot, crazy reindeer hats and Santa hats, etc. And, finally, the carols to end it up.
In 2013, both of my parents died. That puts a damper on family things and leaves a large hole in family get-togethers, but Christmas goes on with times of its holy meaning and times of its secular delights:
Saturday, December 20. 2014
From Tim (not Ted) Dalrymple's Four Reasons Why Christmas Matters:
He also has another good piece up: What’s Better: Grilled Cheesus or the Absent God?
Friday, December 19. 2014
The article begins:
Tuesday, December 16. 2014
The earlier written narrative of the Maccabean revolt against Hellenization and outlawing Jewish worship differs in emphasis from the later “official” Jewish take on the result.
The portion of the Apocrypha (biblical era writings not included in the Jewish Bible) dealing with the events does not mention a miracle of one day’s sanctified oil for the Menorah lasting 8 days. The Book of Maccabees speaks, instead, of eight days of rejoicing the victory to substitute for the eight days of the Torah requirement to celebrate Sukkot, which were missed due to the fighting. The eight days celebration of Chanukah (i.e., rededication) became a custom for every year.
Several centuries later, in the Babylonian Talmud (finalized approx. 5th century, Common Era) interpreting Jewish law and customs, the narrative takes on a new twist, emphasis on G-d’s “miracle” of the oil, which downplays the emphasis on the accomplishment of mens’ arms to retrieve the Temple and Judaism from Hellenistic extinction.
What had happened?: The fall of the Temple and the dispersal (Diaspora) of surviving Jews. No longer having a state, Jews had to survive through craft or accommodation (different than assimilation) to the religion and politics of the states they lived within and not by emphasizing their abilities to fight, not to mention win, when persecuted.
The rise of Zionism in the late 1800s and early 1900s emphasized Jews’ ability to fight and win, and to deserve and have a state to protect Jews from thousands of years of oppression, persecution, and murder, based on thousands of years of roots, presence, worship, investment, hard work, and unceasing yearning for Israel. The more secular Zionists’ pragmatic emphasis stood in stark contrast to the more pacifist or accomodationist teachings that had dominated for almost two millennia.
Today, although a small minority within Israel still cling to illusions of a “miracle” of Palestinians and Muslims transforming their hate into peace, a larger proportion of Jews in the US and Europe – less existentially threatened – cling to such illusions. In Israel and elsewhere, Jews light the eight lights of the Menorah with the extra “helper” light, but the emphasized meaning behind the ritual differs. Adherence to G-d may have given Jews the internal strength to fight and survive, but it was not (as during the Exodus) G-d who directly intervened.
Regardless of this difference, the overriding and more important thing that unites Jews is that regardless of how to get there, either way requires faith and hope. Without faith and hope, necessary for resilience, Jews would not have had reason, cohesion or the internal strength to survive the depredations and challenges to existence of the past two-thousand years since the fall of the Temple to the Romans. Hatikva, Israel's national anthem, means The Hope.
As long as the heart within
Our hope is not yet missing,
Chanukah starts tonight. Come celebrate the miracle of endurance and survival.
The Credo, by Zionist poet Saul Tchernichovsky:
Laugh at all my silly dreams!
Sunday, December 14. 2014
Especially if not a believer, this ordinary sermon will give you an idea of what the fuss is about.
I do not recall the history of it, but in the early days of American settlement, celebration of Christmas was a crime. It was considered Anglican or, worse, Papist. Talk about political correctness! Even baking a pie at Christmastime was a crime. Somewhere along the way, Protestants came to embrace Christmas but only in minimalist ways. I still think of it as a partial Saturnalia (which is how it really began, sort of - and is why it's celebrated on or close to the Winter Solstice. Ancient Roman, plus some German paganism.).
But, ok, the birth of a savior from sin is worth celebrating. We're all sinners for sure.
Friday, December 12. 2014
Thursday, December 11. 2014
Wednesday, December 10. 2014
I am glad that BD has scheduled a few Tim Keller posts for Advent. I attend the church in NYC where Tim is pastor, as do many of my friends. Some of my Jewish friends sometimes come with me too because the vibes are good and because Jesus was a serious Jew.
In the video posted yesterday, Keller was responding as an apologist to intellectual critiques of religion in general, and to Christianity in particular. He did so humbly, and often amusingly, but those intellectualized interrogations missed the point, I think.
In my humble and non-theological view (raised Catholic, then agnostic, now in it) is this: If you sense a spiritual vacuum in life, if you sense a secular, or an empty survival-oriented or self-oriented attitude towards life, then you can try believing first. Willing suspension of disbelief. Give it a chance. Then see what happens. There is nothing to lose, and maybe a fresh new existence in a new world, a new reality, to gain. A rebirth, as they say. This is a kingdom anybody can live in today.
You can't think your way into it.
If it does nothing, you can quit it anytime. If the baby in the manger is not ripe to be born in your heart today, you can wait as long as you want to. This kind of pregnancy can take many years, or never.
It's like a Life Cereal. Try it, Mikey:
Tuesday, December 9. 2014
Sunday, November 30. 2014
Indeed, Christians are invited to be "in this world, but not of it."
Sunday, November 16. 2014
Tuesday, October 28. 2014
Seems like everybody wants to be a therapist or counselor these days.
Everybody has problems of various degrees, and indeed sometimes it is helpful to talk it over with a trusted person. I have no problem with Biblical counseling. Anybody in a "helping profession" needs to know his limits and needs to be humble about his capacities.
My guess is that biblical counseling as some form of psychotherapy (as opposed to help with relationship to God which I would call Pastoral Counseling) can be most helpful for those whose guilt is honestly come by. By that I mean people who have every reason to feel troubled by guilt and remorse because they have done wrong, have not earned self-respect or earned a feeling of deserving God's love (which is another complicated topic). In other words, non-neurotic guilt.
Sunday, October 26. 2014
Thursday, October 9. 2014
Wednesday, September 24. 2014
Rosh Hashanah, which begins tonight, is the first of the intense ten Days Of Awe (or Repentance) that ends with Yom Kippur. Is ten days enough time to make good on our better selves and set a course for a better year and life ahead? For some it may be. For most of us however, it takes many years to set ourselves straight with others and with G-d’s desires for how we should live. It really doesn’t matter as long as you get there. What does matter is the realization that every day that goes by without thinking about it, without in some way working at it, is time lost forever and opportunities lost forever.
Shana Tova Umetukah is the traditional greeting at Rosh Hashanah. It means I wish you a sweet and good New Year. It is up to you to make it come true.
Sunday, September 7. 2014
Wednesday, August 20. 2014
Monday, June 30. 2014
I like Pope Francis, and I think he has said and done many good things to date. I think his comments on Capitalism were misplaced, and so is his current commentary on Communists.
Points in time like these remind me why we need to teach basic Economics in our schools. Capitalism has done more to reduce poverty and improve the economic prospects of the poor than Communism ever did.
More importantly, and this is where Pope Francis goes veering off the rails, Communism forces people to 'be good', rather than allowing them the right to choose the proper path of behavior. It is true that certain miseries and unfair behaviors take place under Capitalism, but these are more than mitigated by the greater gains of all individuals across society. Communism, on the other hand, uses force and coercion to fix perceived inequalities and creates a permanent political class system which is not just economic in nature, but capable of enforcing its whims on those who are not part of the class.
It's worth remembering that Economics was originally called "Moral Philosophy." While Adam Smith is considered the father of Economics, he considered himself a Moral Philosopher and was merely seeking to determine how people made their decisions to act in certain ways. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy points out:
Sunday, June 29. 2014
A sample of Luther's table talk, from a piece at Scriptorium Daily:
Luther was an outspoken, plain-speaking fellow. The piece is here.
Thursday, June 26. 2014
Friday, June 13. 2014
Here's a good piece on scientism as a superstition.
Friday, May 23. 2014
Thursday, May 15. 2014
Fancy theological words for fairly simple ideas.
As I understand it, the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) view God as both immanent and transcendent. I do, I suppose. However, I know little to nothing about theology.
I fell into this subject while thinking about the word numinous (from Latin numen - a spirit which inhabits a thing or place). My Pastor referred to "numinous experiences," by which I believe he meant moments in which God's presence is strongly felt. I like the word very much.
Tuesday, May 6. 2014
From Gods and Gopniks by David Bentley Hart: