Archive of articles classified as' "Observations"

Back home

I Luvz Me Some T.H.E. CAT

22/07/2015

THE Cat title color

This is the greatest TV series you’ve never seen.

A one season wonder, a critical hit that never made an appreciable dent in the ratings, and as such was soon lost and forgotten.

“Out of the night comes a man who saves lives at the risk of his own. Once a circus performer – an aerialist who refused the net. Once a cat burglar – a master among jewel thieves. Now a professional bodyguard: Primitive – savage – in love with danger – T.H.E. Cat!”

THE Cat Robert Loggia

At age 12 ½, T.H.E. Cat was exactly what the doctor ordered for young Buzz Dixon. While I’d absorbed a certain amount of knowledge on cool jazz and the beat generation through sheer osmosis, T.H.E. Cat was my first prolonged exposure to those intertwining currents of American pop culture.

My immediate response was
(a) how long has this been going on? and
(b) where can I find more?

Half-hour standalone dramas are extremely rare to come by on TV nowadays (home grown DIY YouTube webseries not withstanding) but back in the day they were common and popular.

Their advantage over hour long episodes was that they tended to be streamlined bits of efficiency, little wasted time and effort, characterization boiled down to sharp, vivid dialog, and scripts that crammed a lot into that thirty minute slot.

Thomas Hewitt Edward Cat (Robert Loggia) was different from most of the other TV show heroes of the era. They were creatures of light, even when their occupations as policemen and private eyes took them into darker corners of human nature.

T.H.E. Cat was a creature of the night; indeed, with only one memorable exception, I can’t recall an episode that didn’t take place almost entirely at night and almost entirely in the narrow streets / tiny alleys / dizzying architecture of The City.[1]

He was not a “good” man,
not in the moral sense,

but he was ethical and dependable,
 always faithful to his own code.

That code did not automatically include always informing the authorities of what he knew or had witnessed, or to adhering to the strict letter of the law depending on the circumstances (my first introduction to the concept of situational ethics).

One episode had him waiting patiently across the street with a sniper’s rifle, waiting for the one moment when somebody would open a window and he’d get one clean shot at the hostage taking killer.

Combat! and a few other military oriented shows might do a story about a sniper, but I can’t recall one pre-S.W.A.T. show where the police ever laid in ambush, much less deliberately killed their target instead of at least offering the chance to surrender first.

TV censors of the day wouldn’t permit it and only T.H.E. Cat’s spotty personal background enable him to be the only non-military character who could do it.

And that may explain why the show, despite being a critical success and a long time cult favorite, never picked up much of an audience when it was on.

Running at 9:30 on Friday nights, the audience that would be most likely to be entertained by it (i.e., older teens and young adults) were more likely out of the house and socializing with friends than at home watching TV.

At 12 ½ I was at the perfect age to appreciate the show while still being too young to go out alone on evenings.[2]

The ambiguous morality of T.H.E. Cat resonated with my own coming of age questioning and introspection, and the questionable (albeit always heroic) ethics of the hero (or rather, the anti-hero) fit in easily with a lot of wondering I was doing about the world around me.

It proved to be a rather sharp and decisive break from the glorious Technicolor yet still morally black and white cop and PI shows found elsewhere.

The jazz ambiance was infectious, and seeing the musicians in their after dark shades and sharp suits — playing music that evoked emotions and feelings impossible to articulate otherwise — pretty much nailed the coffin shut in ever enjoying Lawrence Welk or Dean Martin without irony again.

I didn’t know what it was that the jazz musicians were doing,
but I did know whatever it was I wanted to be part of it,
and whatever it was that Welk and Martin were doing,
that wasn’t it.

T.H.E. Cat was created by Harry Julian Fink (who went on to create another epically morally ambiguous character: Dirty Harry) and produced by the grossly under appreciated Boris Sagal; Fink also wrote and Sagal directed several episodes.

Sagal provides a link to an earlier show that served as a template to this and to John Cassavettes’ Johnny Staccato series: Blake Edwards’ Peter Gunn (Sagal directed several episodes).

It helps to understand the relationship of the three shows,
comparing and contrasting their specific points.

THE Cat title

T.H.E. Cat opening

THE Cat peter_gunn_slate

Peter Gunn opening

THE Cat Staccato 3

Johnny Staccato opening

All three were about lone wolf (or in Loggia’s case, lone cat) operatives who had an uneasy alliance with the authorities and a base of operations in an after hours jazz club (“Mother’s” in Peter Gunn’s case, “Waldo’s” in Johnny Staccato, and “Casa Del Gato” in T.H.E. Cat[3]).

Past that, they were pretty different. Peter Gunn was essentially an old school private eye, just with snazzier threads and better music. His episodes, particularly in the second and third seasons which were filmed at MGM and had full access to their prop / set / wardrobe / stock footage departments, look lush and opulent compared to the other two.

Despite this, even as a kid I always found Peter Gunn bland and talky, with the action beats delivered pretty perfunctorily and not as a truly organic part of the story (Johnny Staccato and T.H.E. Cat, on the other hand, could have violence suddenly flare up yet still seem logical and motivated).

Johnny Staccato seemed poverty row in comparison, and that worked to its advantage. Though filmed in Hollywood, Johnny Staccato took place in NYC, and the production company sent Cassavetes there to film various connecting shots of him going into / out of various buildings / cabs / subway stations / etc. As a result this gave Cassavetes’ more of a lonely, isolated feel than either Peter Gunn or T.H.E. Cat.

And as the character name implies, Johnny Staccato has a jagged, driving edge to him. Though described as a jazz musician who supplemented his income by serving as a sleuth or a bodyguard or a bag man, seen in modern light Staccato is clearly a drug user if not a full fledged junkie. His nervous, anxious energy simply cannot be contained, and I’m sure more than a few viewers of the era wondered what was wrong with him.

In the end, it’s probably just as well that Cassavetes enjoyed only a single season on TV and didn’t become a TV star; it would have probably ruined his unique talent as an actor and film maker in later years.

Still, the lineage is quite clear, and while Peter Gunn only imperfectly broke away from the old PI mode and Johnny Staccato was just too twitchy for its own good, T.H.E. Cat found that perfect sweet spot and became the epitome of cool.

The episodes still bear up to this day, though unlike Peter Gunn and Johnny Staccato, you can only find them on YouTube.[4]

.

.

.

[1]  The exception was an episode that involved a car vs helicopter chase across the desert.

[2]  The lead ins were Tarzan and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. at 7:30 and 8:30, followed by Laredo, a well made but by-the-numbers standard grade Western. There was a large audience segment that could enjoy those three shows but would find T.H.E. Cat to be a big bitter pill hidden in their bag of popcorn.

[3]  Yes, Fink and Sagal had their hero operating out of a cat house. Apparently nobody at NBC Standards & Practices spoke Spanish.

[4]  The image quality is only so-so, with blurry soundtrack and multi-generation VHS tape video, far too often in black and white instead of the original color, but ya know what?  It actually works and enhances the raw, desperate feel of the original. 

No Comments

Compare & Contrast #1

15/07/2015

IAMx4W vs TGR1

Back in 1963 Stanley Kramer unleashed It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (hence IAMx4W ‘cuz I’m not typing that out every single time) on an unsuspecting movie going public and we haven’t been the same since.

A knockout success at the box office, IAMx4W inspired four direct imitations and a host of smaller “race for the prize” movies, not to mention cartoons such as Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races.

Europe turned out Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, its indirect semi-sequel Those Daring Young Men In Their Jaunty Jalopies a.k.a Monte Carlo Or Bust, and Those Fantastic Flying Fools a.k.a. Jules Verne’s Rocket To The Moon a.k.a. Blast-Off!

The US offered The Great Race.

All five films are large scale vehicular mayhem comedies with lavishly depicted chases and crashes, employing large overlapping casts.

While all have their merits, I’m focusing on the top two of this epic road race movie sub-genre: IAMx4W and The Great Race.

Mi amigo Mark Evanier will disagree with me, but I prefer The Great Race over IAMx4W for a variety of reasons.

IAMx4W is hilarious but it is a one note comedy. Greed corrupts all who encounter it so thoroughly that there is no point in trying to differentiate the characters by any but the most stereotypical tropes. The chase is the thing, and all the carnage (pun intended) it creates.

But while the title race is its centerpiece, The Great Race is actually about something else entirely. The prize is one of honor in completing a ridiculously impossible feat, and the movie quickly eliminates all competition except for the impossibly virtuous Great Leslie (played with sly self parody by Tony Curtis) and the equally impossibly diabolic Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon chewing the scenery with manic handlebar-twirling intensity).

The grit in the gears of this story is Maggie Dubois (the impossibly effervescent Natalie Wood), whose goal is less about the race itself than in proving herself the equal of any man.

Oh, yes, it’s a feminist comedy, written and directed by Blake Edwards back before most of the key texts of the feminist movement were written. Edwards drew less inspiration from Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and more from Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex And The Single Girl.[1]

The Great Race is broad farce, arguably the broadest of the five race comedies, but farce does not mean simplistic nor stupid.

As has been noted else where[2] IAMx4W is a perfect distillation of the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity. “There is none righteous, no, not one” could be the log line for this movie. There are no redeeming characters whatsoever: Those who are not consumed with greed are otherwise weak of character and intellect and suitable only for victimization, and even Mike Mazurki’s mission of mercy miner[3] is more than willing to threaten violence to get what he wants.[4]

Even the police are all corrupt in their own little (or not so little) ways, and the police force as a whole supports the larger corruption of the city fathers above them.

It is a very cynical world view and its morality is strictly black and white. Any of the principle characters could bring the story to a screeching halt with a single phone call to the authorities, but that would take an act of selfless moral integrity that none of them are willing to make.

The Great Race does not project so bleak a world. Despite the cartoonish dichotomy between the Great Leslie and Professor Fate, they do not inhabit a world of moral absolutes.

Leslie is generous and forgiving, and while he is skeptical of Maggie Dubois at first, he is nonetheless capable of changing his mind and first accepting her as an equal and then falling in love with her.[5]

And the world they encounter on the road from New York to Paris is morally much richer and more complex than the one in IAMx4W.

All of the subplots in The Great Race reflect some sort of moral choice or ambiguity. Vivian Vance organizes a sit-in strike at her husband’s own office, but at the same time she and her fellow protestors are blocking his door she’s also reminding him of a dinner obligation. Ross Martin and George MacReady may be scheming warmongers, but they sure have the number of drunken Prince Frederick Hoepnick’s (Jack Lemmon again in a double role) and realize he’s woefully incapable of running his kingdom. The Great Leslie is stalled in a Texas town by cowboys determined to show him a good time, and when conditions force cooperation, even Professor Fate and his minion Max (Peter Falk) are capable of at least temporarily burying the hatchet and helping their rivals, a far cry from the naked selfish greed of IAMx4W.

Another key difference is how they use their huge casts. [6] IAMx4W frequently wastes great talent in a trivial manner: I’m sure Edward Everett Horton and his agent didn’t object to prominent billing and a pay check for a role that could literally have been played just as easily by anybody picked at random from Central Casting. Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, and the Three Stooges all get fleeting but funny cameos that depend on audience knowledge of their onscreen personas, while Carl Reiner and Jesse White get barely anything to do and Stan Freberg’s role consists solely of just sitting in the background and listening to Andy Devine talk.

But in The Great Race, oh my! What wonderful scenes and bits of business and dialog do they get! The Great Race was cast to fill roles, not add star power to the marque, and as a result the supporting cast shines as unique and funny characters.

I know it sounds funny to describe a screwball comedy this way, but The Great Race is actually quite a subtle and complex film, passing judgment on no one and holding out hope for the decency of human beings.

This is not to say IAMx4W isn’t an excellent film; it most certainly is and it delivers the gags steadily and with great skill and gusto. Nothing like it on that scale had ever been seen before[7] and it deserves major props for being first out of the gate and setting the bar so high.

But The Great Race is even better.

.

.

.

[1] Which the year before The Great Race was gutted and desexualized as a movie, ironically starring Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis as well as featuring Larry Storch (Texas Jack in The Great Race) in a supporting role.

[2] By me, if nobody else.

[3] Boy, that was fun to write!

[4] Delivery of much needed medicine for his sick wife. And he’s threatening Phil Silvers, so it’s kind of a disappointment he doesn’t clobber him. Silver’s character lacks even the flimsiest shreds of characterization afforded the other actors and is nothing but naked greed and selfishness personified. If he was any more perfect an embodiment of the id, he would be coming out of a Krell machine and trying to kill Leslie Nielsen.

[5] The argument could be made that he falls in love with her because she is his equal; none before her have been worthy.

[6] It’s especially telling when one compares the characters played by three performers who were in both films. Dorothy Provine is a wishy-washy milquetoast in IAMx4W but a vivacious fireball in The Great Race, Peter Falk is reduced to a stereotypical Brooklyn cabbie (in Southern California!) but serves as one of the key comedic lynchpins in Blake Edward’s film, and even Marvin Kaplan, playing his patented put upon poor soul, has much more to do as Arthur Kennedy’s copy editor than Jonathan Winter’s punching bag.

[7] Chaplin and Keaton made physically large scale comedies (The Gold Rush and The General being two examples among many) built around smaller, more personal stories. W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth took great delight in leading a battalion of kamikaze model-Ts on a mission of vengeance against road hogs in 1932’s If I Had A Million, but they were only one segment in a series of filmed vignettes which typically focused on much smaller stories. Around The World In 80 Days is often pointed to as the precursor of IAMx4W and other prize race comedies using large numbers of cameo stars, but it lacks the insane / intense direct competition of the later films and comes nowhere close to the same level on onscreen motor mayhem.

No Comments

MEH MAX: FURY ROAD

8/07/2015

o-MAD-MAX-FURY-ROAD-facebook

somewhere in there is a movie

I finally got around to seeing Mad Max: Fury Road, a film that achieved the rare accomplishment of obtaining perfect neutral cinematic buoyancy.

By this I mean the good stuff and the not-good stuff were so perfectly balanced as to neutralize each other. I neither loved not hated the experience, it neither delighted nor angered me.

It was as if it never really existed at all.

First off, the good stuff:

  1. Charlize Theron makes a great action star and was easily the most entertaining part of the film. We forgive you, Charlize, for not having enough sense to run perpendicular from a crashing starship in Prometheus.[1]
  2. Visually, a very pure cinematic experience, though it did get tiresome and boring by the last half hour (see below). It told the story and cleverly used toss away lines and little bits of business to convey a great deal of background information (or more properly, prompted audiences to fill in a lot of background information; see that below as well). A big part of that self-supplied background was presenting a feminist heroine pitted against corrupt, diseased, dying old white men and the pasty white war boys who blindly followed them, believing a false gospel of blood and power.[2] Subtle Mad Max: Fury Road ain’t. Nor complex.
  3. Great comic book characters, but next time they should get on-screen titles that introduce them since their names are rarely mentioned in a discernable way.
  4. Action stuff was really well staged. For the first hour it was all great fun crashing and bashing and banging and ka-wanging.
  5. Despite claims to the contrary, there’s a lot of CGI effects in this movie, but for the most part they were used to enhance practical effects and stunts, not create an ersatz reality: Replacing Charlize Theron’s arm with a see-thru prosthetic device, populating real crashing cars with half-naked war boys who go flying through the air, enhancing the accuracy and effects of various hurled devices and bombs, etc. This is the way to go with CGI: Whenever possible use practical or miniature effects and resort to CGI only to supply little touches and flourishes, not the whole scene.

All of which is countered by the not-good:

  1. Not a single fresh idea or plot element in this story: We know exactly how it’s going to turn out from the moment it starts. Nothing new or original or insightful.
  2. Ye gods, how do you make a movie that’s nothing but non-stop motor vehicle chases & crashes boring? By not giving the characters anything to do except chase and crash. Look at the great action pictures of the past: They all spent a significant amount of screen time showing who their characters were, getting us to feel compelled to follow them through to their destiny.   The Seven Samurai, A Fistfull Of Dollars, The Dirty Dozen, The Godfather, Lethal Weapon, all these took time to let us crawl into the heads of their characters.
  3. And speaking of Lethal Weapon, the lack of Mel Gibson is sorely felt. No snark, and we certainly wish his career well, but Tom Hardy is a walking hole on the screen.[3] I don’t know if Mel was offered the role but if he was and he didn’t take it, or if he wasn’t offered it in the first place, well, it robbed the movie of much needed emotional / character continuity and Mel of a chance to redeem his self-torpedoed career.
  4. The characters are no better developed than action figures; it would have been a great idea to introduce them by having them rip their way out of a blister pack. They are all clichés and stereotypes and in the context of this particular film that works well enough, but they are all flash and no substance. Anybody who hasn’t already seen a hundred and one mindless action movies isn’t going to be able to figure out what they want or why.
  5. It’s been reported that the film had no actual script but rather just a series of storyboards that the cast and crew referred to. Now, that certainly works insofar as you can track the story plot chain of events in Mad Max: Fury Road well enough, but the characters are reduced to walking clichés and pastiches. There was nothing really there for the actors to work with.

Summary:

The good parts are really good, but the not-good parts are really…empty. There are lots of movies where the good parts are counterbalanced by bad parts that lead one to ask, “WTF were they thinking?!?!?” but in Mad Max: Fury Road we don’t ask what the creators were thinking as it’s abundantly clear they weren’t thinking anything at all but rather taking the simplest / easiest paint-by-numbers approach to story telling.

The Mad Max franchise is better served as a series of video games than movies at this point. Have fun; I begrudge no one their pleasure.

.

.

.

[1] Hey, Fox, want some free advice? Now that you’ve lost the Star Wars franchise to Disney and Ridley Scott is mucking things up with the Prometheus series, why not cast Charlize Theron as a grown up Newt kicking Alien ass all around the cosmos? Just explain away Alien 3 and Alien: Regurgitation as nightmares Ripley had in hypersleep and that Newt never died but made it home safe and sound.

[2] A large number of so called Men’s Rights Activists had the vapors over girl cooties being found in their all boys adventure. The glorious schadenfreude of their collective impotent hissy fit alone makes Mad Max: Fury Road worth the effort.

[3] Not that he’s ever given anything to actually do. Yeah, he comes up with The Really Cool Idea that turns everything around at the end of the movie but by then it’s as arbitrary a plot point as anything else in the movie.

No Comments

“40 Questions For Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags”

1/07/2015

The Gospel Coalition website has posted the following questionnaire and commentary from Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan:

“[P]erhaps what’s been most difficult is seeing some of our friends, some of our family members, and some of the folks we’ve sat next to in church giving their hearty ‘Amen’ to a practice we still think is a sin and a decision we think is bad for our country. It’s one thing for the whole nation to throw a party we can’t in good conscience attend. It’s quite another to look around for friendly faces to remind us we’re not alone and then find that they are out there jamming on the dance floor…

“If you consider yourself a Bible-believing Christian, a follower of Jesus whose chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, there are important questions I hope you will consider before picking up your flag and cheering on the sexual revolution. These questions aren’t meant to be snarky or merely rhetorical. They are sincere, if pointed, questions that I hope will cause my brothers and sisters with the new rainbow themed avatars to slow down and think about the flag you’re flying.”

Fair enough, Kevin. After the jump I will take you at your word that you are sincere in your desire to understand why we believe what we believe.

For the rest of you, here are the Beatles going to work…

animated abbey lane

Read the rest of this article »

No Comments

Are You A Monster? Take This Simple Test!

29/06/2015

Cof Frankie edit a

No individual action in and of itself is either moral or immoral, ethical or unethical.  They are moral and ethical only in context.

In the latter part of the twentieth century, a woman was pinned down in the rubble of her home following a devastating earthquake.  A fire started, and not only was there no water flowing in the broken water mains, but the fire departments and paramedics were all swamped with horrendous casualties in their immediate vicinity.

Though neighbors were able to rescue the woman’s husband and children from the rubble, they could not save her.  As the fire grew closer and closer it became obvious the woman would die a slow and horribly agonizing death.

The husband stayed with her as long as he could, comforting her as best as possible, reassuring her that he loved her and would take care of the children…

…then as the flames grew too intense
for him to stay he shot her in the head.

If you do not see that as a kind and just and moral and ethical and loving act, you are a monster incapable of differentiating between good and evil.

A woman who willingly submits to invading soldiers to spare her child from being raped has committed no sin, has done nothing dishonorable, has not betrayed her husband, has not committed adultery.  She sacrificed herself to save an innocent:  She did a just and moral and ethical act; if you cannot see that, you are a monster incapable of differentiating between good and evil.

While millions were being marched off to gas chambers during WWII, some were saved by the khassidey umot ha-olam who looked the Nazis in the face and flat out lied, “No, no Jewish people here” while hiding them in their own homes.

Had their lie been discovered, they would have suffered for protecting Jews, up to and including going to the gas chambers with them.

If you think they committed a sin by lying to murderous anti-Semites in order to save innocent lives, you are a monster incapable of differentiating between good and evil.

Earlier this year I paid one last visit to a friend dying from cancer.

He was heavily sedated; I’m not at all certain he was even aware we were there.

But his wife was by his side, and though she was wracked with anguish she was determined to be as uplifting as possible for her husband even as he lay dying.

She tended to him and talked cheerfully to him and made sure his breathing tube was clear and did everything she could to look after him as he slowly slipped away.

She loved him, and if there is one joy any of us could take away from his passing, it’s that he went with his good and loving mate by his side, staying with him and supporting him as best she could under the most adverse conditions.

Do you think God smiles on their relationship
while condemning another of
equal strength and integrity and compassion
just because it’s between
two members of the same gender?

No Comments

Okay, Lemme ‘Splain It To Ya…

29/06/2015

DagwoodSandwich

Imagine if you will, that you are an observant Jewish-American citizen living in a predominantly observant Jewish-American neighborhood. (If you already are an observant Jewish-American citizen living in a predominantly observant Jewish-American neighborhood, you may skip this part.)

Any non-observant non-Jewish-American neighbors are a small minority in your community. As a result, all of the grocery stores, butcher shops, restaurants, delis, and sandwich shops in your community are kosher.

Especially the sandwich shops.

All your life you have been raised with the familiar concept of sandwiches = kosher food: Corned beef, hamburger, chicken, turkey, liverwurst, egg salad, tuna salad, each and every one kosher no matter where it was purchased.

Then one day one of your non-Jewish-American neighbors opens up a sandwich shop that sells ham sandwiches.

You rage, you sputter, you fume. How can this be? you demand. How dare they call that a sandwich?!?!?

Well, it is a sandwich, you’re told. It’s a piece of meat between two slices of bread, mustard and Swiss cheese extra, if you so desire. If you don’t desire, why, every other restaurant, deli, and sandwich shop in your community sells kosher sandwiches; every grocery store and butcher shop sells kosher sandwich meat.

Nobody is depriving you of your right to enjoy a sandwich made of kosher meat.

But you’re calling it a sandwich! You can’t call it a sandwich! You have no right to call it a sandwich!

Actually, we have just as much right as you to call it a sandwich, because like it or not, that’s what it is. What we aren’t doing is claiming it’s a kosher sandwich, and if you want to call your sandwiches kosher sandwiches in order to distinguish them from our sandwiches, you go right ahead.

You’re depriving me of my religious freedom! If I can’t stop you from making ham sandwiches, if at the very least I can’t stop you from calling them sandwiches, you are persecuting me as a patron of kosher meat products!

Do what you want, pal. As per our constitutional right, we are going to make and enjoy ham sandwiches and offer them to anybody who wants one. We won’t try to force them on you, we won’t make your sandwich shops sell them, we won’t make your grocery stores carry ham.

It would be wrong if we tried to keep you
from eating the type of sandwich you enjoy.

No Comments

What Is “Sin”?

28/06/2015

Paul wrote, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Well…duh!

We don’t have God’s power or might or authority.
We can’t create a universe out of nothingness.
We can’t transcend time and space.
We can’t create life or consciousness, only pass them along.

Chiding human beings for not being as glorious as God is mean spirited at best, hypocritical at worse.

Unless Paul wasn’t writing about God’s
power or might or authority at all.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

How can we possibly do that?!?!?

Well, let’s start by looking at those verses not in isolation, but in context.

Jesus is delivering the Sermon on the Mount; the verses immediately preceding “be…perfect” are these:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

“And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

“For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Jesus is not talking about power, Jesus is talking about love.

Love: The one thing humans can do as perfectly as God if they choose to.

Paul, when he writes of humans failing and coming short of the glory of God, is writing about that: Not humans breaking cultural taboos and traditions, but failing to love one another.

If you love others, you won’t kill them unjustly.
If you love others, you won’t steal from them.
If you love others, you won’t betray them.
If you love others, you won’t lie to cause them trouble.
If you love others, you won’t want to take what they have.

If you have to be told not to do these things, you are not perfect in love as God is.

If you avoid these things only because you fear punishment, you are not perfect in love as God is.

If you avoid these things because you seek a reward, you are not perfect in love as God is.

If you even have to think about these things, you are not perfect in love as God is.

When you love others, your instinct is to see what is best for them, what will make them happy and able to find peace.

When you love others, you can only find your own peace and happiness when you know others are free to find their peace and happiness.

Sin is not watching certain forms of entertainment or wearing certain clothes or smoking certain plants or ingesting certain compounds or eating certain foods or saying certain words or not following certain rituals.

At worse, those are just symptoms of sin.

I’ll tell you what sin is:
Sin is the opposite of love.

Helen Keller on Satan

Sin is attitude, not action.

Action can do great harm, of course, but unless the attitude motivating the action is sinful, the act itself is not.

And if the attitude is sinful, no action is necessary.

This is what Jesus was getting at when he taught about lusting in one’s heart being the same thing as adultery, or calling one’s brother a fool being the same thing as murdering him.

He wasn’t equating noticing a person’s attractiveness with sin;
you can look at pretty people all day long and not sin.

Sin comes in when one stops merely appreciating the other person’s beauty and instead begins thinking of how to satisfy their desires with that person regardless of how it might hurt someone else.

If you are single and the other person is single, you’re free to see if it might be possible to build a relationship with them. If either of you is in a committed relationship and yet you still pursue them, your attitude is one of supreme disregard to the mate who is being betrayed.

That’s not love.

That’s sin.

No Comments

Uncle Festus

25/06/2015

John de Yongh - fat guy Uncle Festus

at the family gatherings
Uncle Festus would always
crowd to the end of the table
and shove food in his great big ugly jowls
while ranting and raving about “them”
“them” being anybody “not me”
and he was gross and ugly
but at times he could be kind and funny
so we ignored his attitude
and his angry words
and just let him eat
with the rest of us

eventually
some of the younger cousins
more distant cousins
began wondering why we put up with
Uncle Festus’ bullshit
and we said well
he’s been thru some hard times
(hard times)
and he needs to vent
(needs to vent)
and he’s not doing nobody no harm
when he talks like that here
because we’re family
and family looks after their own
so the younger cousins
more distant cousins
didn’t say anything
but we noticed after that
when it came time to have
tea and ice cream
they’d move off
and have it

somewhere else
somewhere away
from Uncle Festus

after a while
we started moving
Uncle Festus down the table
away from the grown ups
(the real grown ups)
down towards the peripheries
with the elderly and decrepit relatives
the crazy old aunts
the cat ladies of our family
Uncle Festus did not like this
but he channeled his bile
into more talk about “them”

one day a young cousin showed up
married to one of “them”
and Uncle Festus was unfailingly polite
greeting her warmly and cheerfully
but soon enough he began railing about “them”
and we all blanched in horror
but she closed her eyes (painfully)
and said
that’s okay
I understand
that’s the way he is
he’s not really going to change

and we relaxed
because she understood
and she wasn’t going to make a big deal about it
no matter how painful it was

and this went on
for a couple of years
with her patiently enduring
because she had to
he was family
then one year
she showed up
with a baby
and Uncle Festus
began railing
against “them” again
and this time we were horrified

this time we said
Jesus Christ, Uncle Festus,
there’s a baby here!

yeah? so?
she’s still one of “them” ain’t she?

and that’s when we realized
if the price
of having Uncle Festus
in our family
was putting up
with his bullshit
in front of a little baby
who had done nothing to deserve it
then we
weren’t willing
to pay
that price
anymore

Uncle Festus did not take kindly to this
he grew bitter ugly resentful
claimed we were depriving him of his liberty
his freedom of speech
punishing him for
that little baby being one of “them”
and we began listening to his crap
really listening
not just letting us wash over us
the way we had in the past
and we realized
how wrong he was
and how wrong we had been
and how it wasn’t going to get any better
until he was no longer there

so pass another plate of bacon down to Uncle Festus
give him a big pile of biscuits and gravy
plenty of ice cream
loads of sugar
in his sweet tea
and afterwards
go out back
encourage him to
smoke his cigarettes
by the carton

we don’t “hate” you Uncle Festus
but for the peace of the family
we just need you to die
and the sooner
the better

art by John de Yongh
text © Buzz Dixon

 

 

No Comments

We Are Walking Contradictions, Partly Truth And Partly Fiction

21/06/2015

If further evidence was needed of the complexity of the human psyche, if more proof was needed that we are all full of contradictions, today Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, cropped up twice in my newsfeed.

Russell Moore

First with this:

A measured and intelligent look at the continued use of the Confederate battle flag in the South and a realization it should go, if for no other reason than it’s continued use appears to demonstrate open antipathy to huge segments of the American population.

Then with this:

The clickbait headline does not convey the full nuance of what Russell Moore said (which in his own words is closer to “we will eventually persuade” than “we will win the fight”), and leaves out his admission that the SBC & other socially conservative groups’ approach to the issue of LGBT rights was badly handled and somewhat presumptive.

One can still disagree with Moore on his goal while acknowledging he admits his group couched their opposition to LGBT rights in general and same sex marriage in particular in divisive terms. And one can certainly argue with no disagreement from me that opposing equal rights for anyone is divisive under any circumstances; what is remarkable is that for the first time we have even a hint of, “Yeah, we may have had some responsibility in that…” from his side.

And I even feel a bit of sympathy for Moore’s twin statements: All the kudos he receives for saying the Confederate flag should be permanently retired are tsk-tsked by allusions to his anti-LGBT rights stance, while on the opposite side he’s doubtlessly being hammered for attacking the Confederate flag while getting no credit for staying the course re the SBC’s stance on same-sex marriage.

But…baby steps, baby steps. For an SBC leader to say maybe it’s time we start listening to the African-American community and start addressing their concerns is a significant step in the correct direction, and to acknowledge even in passing that they contributed to stirring up the stink re LGBT rights is remarkable.

No Comments

The White Man’s Burden

20/06/2015

norman rockwell - the_problem_we_all_live_with

The Problem We All Live With
painted by Norman Rockwell

I’m going to pull back and look at the large systemic problem we have in this country, observe what its components are, then zoom in on one part to suggest a solution for it. This is not to isolate that one component as the only / most important component, or say that others shouldn’t address the problem in the other components, but this area is one where I have special interest and insight, and as such the one I can best address.

First, my bona fides: I was raised in a strongly religious-bordering-devout Southern Baptist family.[1] I went thru my crisis of faith, did a lot of research and examining of every major religious belief system and numerous Christian denominations, have moved from SBC to Presbyterian to non-denomination / leaning Quaker.[2]

My faith informs my outlook on all other things, but it does not confine or define it. By nature I’m somewhat conservative and am one of those people who say they didn’t leave the GOP, the GOP left them.

We have a particularly toxic stew in this country that can be traced by to a few key ingredients: Anglo-European colonists laid claim to a continent they had no right to, and used their culture (which included their political make-up plus rationalism via the Enlightenment and strict dogmatic religious beliefs) to justify persecuting / killing / enslaving / exploiting anyone the least bit different from them.

And, yes, that same Anglo-European culture laid the groundwork for our constitution, did wonderful educational and charity works, greatly increased productivity and wealth and on a level of improved goods and health care left many of the exploited better off than they had been before being exploited.

Occasionally we read about burglars
who fix themselves a sandwich and
carefully wash the dishes in the sink
before departing with the silverware.

They still used biological markers of skin color / gender / sexual orientation / ability as a scientific (read: “objective”) reason to justify excluding as many others from full participation in their culture as possible.[3] They cited religious teachings — specifically Judeo-Christian teachings — as a moral justification for this exclusion.

Science, however, considers new evidence and changes its opinion based on the validity of that new evidence. Most religious denominations are loathe to engage in the same kind of self-examination unless absolutely forced to (i.e., their membership rolls are imploding).

(History gets stuck in the middle with objective historians willing to consider and evaluate new evidence and new interpretations, and hagiographers of varying stripes refusing to change from an interpretation they find comfortable and reassuring, no matter how dubious or false.)

In this country, the issue of race relations remains the most complex problem to resolve if we aspire to a better, more just union (something which both Christians and humanists claim to want).

Slave-owners were extremely wealthy people, and they defended that wealth with every tool at their disposal. They encouraged racism among poor whites so as to deflect examinations of class oppression (“I may be poor but at least I ain’t black!”). They misquoted Darwin to claim African-Americans and others were biologically inferior. They encouraged literalistic interpretations of the Bible (literalism being long since discarded by mainstream European and Eastern Orthodox theologians) to justify the institution of slavery with a few cherry picked verses.[4]

The Southern Baptist Convention was formed specifically to help the slave-owners do the latter. The SBC was founded on a theology of exclusion: If slaves were good and obedient and went to the churches their masters told them to attend, then they’d get to go to heaven and obey to their masters in the afterlife as well; if they rebelled and demanded freedom and justice, well, they were instruments of Satan who were doubly damned because they were also little more than monkeys to begin with.

part 2 / part 3 / part 4

.

.

.

[1/1]  I count at least 5 professional pastors + pastoral spouses in my generation of siblings and cousins.

[1/2]  I’d probably join a Quaker church if I could find one anywhere near where I live.

[1/3]  In fact, until the suffragette movement, one could argue they consciously excluded the majority of human beings occupying this country from full participation.

[4/1]  That whole “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” bit getting shunted aside.

No Comments