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
Sunday, May 31. 2015
"...the wind of opinion in recent years appears to have begun to blow against those who insist that Western liberal societies owe nothing to the religion from which they arose. Partly because the more we become acquainted with other traditions, the harder it becomes to sustain. Indeed, although some people still hold out, it should be evident by now that the culture of human rights has more to do with the creed preached by Moses and Jesus of Nazareth than that of, say, Muhammad. Nevertheless, the question of whether this societal position is sustainable without reference to the beliefs that gave it birth remains deeply pregnant and troubling in the West."
Thursday, May 21. 2015
I mentioned a luncheon we are hosting for Luis Palau. Here's a recent chat with the family about what these evangelists are up to these days.
Sunday, April 5. 2015
I love deviled eggs. An egg salad sandwich is good too, with some celery in it, lots of pepper, on white bread.
Thanks, Easter Bunny, for laying all those pretty eggs. Easter Eggs for Grown-Up Tastes
What does Resurrection mean? Easter and the Cosmic Christ:
It's that gentle knock that can eventually get you out of the chair or sofa, and open the door.
That painting hangs in St. Paul's in London. I was surprised to see it there.
Saturday, April 4. 2015
For Passover, a friend sent along his reminiscences of growing up Jewish:
Brisket is not the same as Corned Beef!
Before we start, there are some variations in ingredients because of the various types of Jewish taste (Polack, Litvack, Deutch and Gallicianer). Sephardic is for another time.
Just as we Jews have six seasons of the year (winter, spring, summer, autumn, the slack season, and the busy season), we all focus on a main ingredient which, unfortunately and undeservedly, has disappeared from our diet. I’m talking, of course, about SCHMALTZ (chicken fat).
SCHMALTZ has, for centuries, been the prime ingredient in almost every Jewish dish, and I feel it’s time to revive it to its rightful place in our homes. (I have plans to distribute it in a green glass Gucci bottle with a label clearly saying: “low fat, no cholesterol, Newman’s Choice, extra virgin SCHMALTZ.” (It can’t miss!) Then there are grebenes – pieces of chicken skin, deep fried in SCHMALTZ, onions and salt until crispy brown (Jewish bacon). This makes a great appetizer for the next cardiologist’s convention.
There’s also a nice chicken fricassee (stew) using the heart, gorgle (neck) pipick (gizzard – a great delicacy, given to the favorite child), a fleegle (wing) or two, some ayelech (little premature eggs) and other various chicken innards, in a broth of SCHMALTZ, water, paprika, etc. We also have knishes (filled dough) and the eternal question, “Will that be liver, beef or potatoes, or all three?”
Other time-tested favorites are kishkeh, and its poor cousin, helzel (chicken or goose neck). Kishkeh is the gut of the cow, bought by the foot at the Kosher butcher. It is turned inside out, scalded and scraped. One end is sewn up and a mixture of flour, SCHMALTZ, onions, eggs, salt, pepper, etc., is spooned into the open end and squished down until it is full. The other end is sewn and the whole thing is boiled. Often, after boiling, it is browned in the oven so the skin becomes crispy. Yummy!
My personal all-time favorite is watching my Zaida (grandpa) munch on boiled chicken feet.
For our next course we always had chicken soup with pieces of yellow-white, rubbery chicken skin floating in a greasy sea of lokshen (noodles), farfel (broken bits of matzah), tzibbeles (onions), mondlech (soup nuts), kneidlach (dumplings), kasha (groats), kliskelech and marech (marrow bones) . The main course, as I recall, was either boiled chicken, flanken, kackletten, hockfleish (chopped meat), and sometimes rib steaks, which were served either well done, burned or cremated. Occasionally we had barbecued liver done to a burned and hardened perfection in our own coal furnace.
Since we couldn’t have milk with our meat meals, beverages consisted of cheap soda (Kik, Dominion Dry, seltzer in the spritz bottles). In Philadelphia it was usually Franks Black Cherry Wishniak (vishnik).
Growing up Jewish - below the fold -
Continue reading "Brisket is not the same as Corned Beef!"
Friday, April 3. 2015
The first Passover Seder is tonight.
The Passover Seder, in which we follow a strict order of prayers and foods, is the Jewish way of remembering from whence we came from slavery into freedom. The question has been debated among Judaism's leading scholars whether it is more important to learn the rules of Passover or the lessons of Passover. It is largely a false dichotomy. Following the Seder rules are an act of devotion and discipline to continue the memory of our roots. The memory of our roots, however, are not just about a history but a future. In every generation we are to remember and feel the experience of the Divine liberation, and that since then there have been numerous efforts to eradicate us so it is important to build solidarity and faith for survival.
The narrative is about what the past tells us for our future. The narrative is meant to be a call to discuss and think about freedom, slavery, choice, and destiny. The Exodus is a call to revolutionary hope, rather than acceding to slavery and hardship. Because of retaining the memory of the seemingly impossible liberation, as if we had ourselves experienced it, it provides the hope and belief that the days to come will not necessarily be like today, if we work and fight for a better tomorrow. That's why the Seder ends with the affirmation of next year being in Jerusalem, of the ingathering in peace, safety and justice.
The Passover Seder is a ritual meal that serves our vision of improving our lives and world.
There's a third element that is important in Judaism: enjoying ourselves so that our connectedness is emotionally felt and ongoing via teaching in an enjoyable way. With that, I give you the latest "uptown" Passover narrative:
Sunday, March 8. 2015
That never made any sense to me. It's a myth.
"The picture of science and religion at each other’s throats persists in mainstream media and scholarly journals, but each chapter in Galileo Goes to Jail shows how much we have to gain by seeing beyond the myths."
Thursday, February 19. 2015
Embarrassed to admit that, being Protestant, I missed Ash Wednesday but that is rare for me.
Vanderleun (again today): "Let My Cry Come Unto Thee:" An Ash Wednesday Confession:
Ditto, Gerard. That is good. Been there, done that too. The sterile life, arrogant life, the "it's about me" life. I am long done with that; got the good infection by finally just letting it happen, opening my cold heart, and letting it in to change me. Or at least to try to.
Tuesday, February 17. 2015
I can't narrow down my favorite hymns to a handful, but this is one of them. It was the favorite of a pal of mine who died a year or so ago. It's been on my mind, not sure why.
Here's something about the SS Ville du Havre
Sunday, January 18. 2015
Here is A letter to Thomas Merton
Monday, January 5. 2015
Sitting in Darkness, Blogging the Light - As the Christmas season draws to a close and the return of regular blogging looms, I’m looking back over this short period of intense religion writing and thinking about how writing on religion is and is not like writing on other controversial topics.
Wednesday, December 31. 2014
Then I realized I was riding on the train to work for about the 7,000th time in my life, and I was likely to do it over and over again for another 6,000 or so rides. It was at that point I asked, "Hey God, where's my miracle?"
Almost as soon as that popped into my head, I realized how stupid I was. I contemplated this a bit further, though. Plenty of people pray to God for the things they want. Love, money, enjoyment, even critical things like surviving a difficult situation or just simply living through a debilitating disease. We all hope for God, or whatever being or entity we believe in, to provide us a miracle at some point.
I say "we all" because the old phrase "There are no atheists in foxholes" rings true to me. At some point, in everyone's life, we've asked a higher power for something.
So here I was, just lazily asking God for a miracle to help me not have to ride this train into the city anymore. Hardly worth asking for. But I asked it because I was being mentally lazy.
Atheists sometimes use the 'fact' that God doesn't 'answer' prayers as a proof that there is no God. I've never found that particularly compelling, for one reason.
Continue reading "A Thought about God While on the Train"
It's neither Protestant nor Catholic -it's from the excellent Anglican and Episcopalian Great Litany which is well-worth perusing once in a while:
That it may please thee to give us true repentance; to forgive us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and to endue us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit to amend our lives according to thy holy Word, we beseech thee to hear us, good Lord
Saturday, December 27. 2014
The often-lame David Brooks has an interesting piece in the NYT: The Subtle Sensations of Faith. A quote:
Rod Dreher has more, in The Hard, Healing Experience of Faith:
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
That's Tim Keller's routine phrase for living without God. It was nice to hear him use it in that Counterfeit Gods talk which we posted yesterday.
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