Wednesday, September 17, 2014

mémoire involontaire

Sunday, September 14, 2014

the sign of Jonah

Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, three of the first disciples he'd
called to follow him, on a vision quest on a high mountain and they
see their teacher transfigured and his face illuminated like Moses',
and then they see him with Moses and Elijah. How did they know who
they were? Why did Peter offer to build shelters for each of them?
Then comes the revelation that came at Jesus' baptism, the voice from
the sky proclaiming him the beloved son.
This week's reading develops Peter's story of his evolving faith,
small like a mustard seed, but having the potential to develop, so the
disciples could become as powerful as Jesus.
Jesus' declaration that some of his listeners will still be alive when
he comes in his glory -- were all of these listeners dead by the time
Matthew was written?
The sign of Jonah was already interpreted by Matthew back in chapter
12: 38-42 as a metaphor for Jesus' death and resurrection, although
the story of Jonah seems more like a parable of redemption,
specifically, the redemption of Gentile nations. Did Nineveh convert
to Judaic Law? Maybe Jonah stands in for xenophobic Jews. When Nineveh
unexpectedly (to Jonah) repented and sought righteousness Jonah has a
crisis of faith. Jesus' death was a consequence of his obedience to
his father's will, but Jonah's symbolic descent into Sheol was the
result of his attempt to run away from God.
The strange story of the shady bush that God provides after Jonah
builds a shelter (like "Simon bar Jonah" offered to build for Jesus,
Moses, and Elijah?) and then destroys, angering Jonah yet again -- is
that also part of "the sign of Jonah"? Although the Law of Moses and
the anti-Beelzebul mission of Elijah focuses on the exclusiveness of
the Jews, Israel also is called to be a sign for the Gentiles, and the
possibility of Gentile redemption and righteousness shouldn't create a
crisis of identity for righteous Jews, as Nineveh's repentance was for
Matthew and the other gospels might be saying that the "leaven of the
Pharisees," that is, certain rabbinical traditions that are markers of
Jewish cultural identity, are inappropriate for non-Jewish cultures
seeking God. In the gospels Jesus was interpreting interpreting Jewish
law for Gentile consumption. The Law was God's gift to the Jews, but
also for everyone. How can Gentiles become righteous? Do they have to
convert and conform to rabbinical tradition, which, since the
destruction of the temple, became the authorized form of
The maji fro the east, the Syro-Phoenician "dogs", the centurion who
had great faith, all had hopes or myths of a messiah, and of a
fundamental transformation, and they were looking for an ultimate
reality and cultural revolution like that of a Moses or Elijah.
What is the essential prophetic message that can be understood and
adopted by the Gentiles? What teaching can be given to them and taken
into their own cultures? What did the Jewish scriptures have for
non-Jews, and are those new Gentile converts, those dogs, with their
unorthodox forms of worship a threat to Jewish identity in the
Centuries after this gospel was written the new orthodoxy established
by the council of Nicea excluded both Jews and many Gentiles who
embraced the teachings of Jesus, but didn't agree with everything in
the Creed.

Three Maniacs

Natalie Merchant, Michael Stipe, and Lori Ellison, last night, backstage at the Beacon Theater.
Lori was an early fan of 10,000 Maniacs and wrote about them back in the day, before they became stars. Natalie became an early fan of Lori Ellison, when she was doing poetic figurative work. Natalie gave us tickets for her show at Beacon Theater and backstage passes. I didn't even realize that was Michael Stipe standing there until Lori mentioned him later, which is why I was unconcerned about getting him in the picture with Natalie's daughter Lucia. I knew Rob Buck, the Maniacs' late lead guitarist when we were kids, but never contacted him when he became famous, to my regret. My family was from Jamestown, NY, the Maniacs' hometown and knew Rob's family very well, so we talked about that last night, but that Stipe guy was in the way.
Lori had also been an early fan and supporter of REM and had met Stipe, back in the day, but he never bought her art or sent us tickets, so screw him. Just kidding, MS. Love you, mean it, bye.

I plagiarized my own Facebook update for this blog post.

Monday, September 08, 2014

dog day pages

Sunday, September 07, 2014

beyond the fringe

Baptism of a Pharoah from first century Egypt. Thoth baptizes a Roman emperor, Claudius or Nero. (Image stolen from the web, I happened upon the actual object in the Met last week)

This verse from Matthew 14 distracted me:
"After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word
throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, and begged
him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who
touched it were healed."

I read somewhere that the "fringe of his cloak" is the kind mentioned
in Numbers15:
"The Lord said to Moses:

"Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners
of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue cord
on the fringe at each corner.You have the fringe so that, when you see
it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them,
and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes.So you
shall remember and do all my commandments, and you shall be holy to
your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of
Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God."

Is it significant that crowds were touching the fringe of his robe, as
if they were touching the Law itself?

All four of the canonical gospels pull quotes from Hebrew scripture to
show, I had always been told, that Jesus was the messiah whose mission
was foreseen by the prophets, and is the Reality signified by ritual
law. Certain religious fundamentalists among the Pharisees of his time
lived in especially strict observance of the Torah and the rabbinical
tradition that interpreted it, but Jesus' criticism seems to go
beyond their orthodoxy to charge them with diverting funds from where
they are most needed:

"But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to
help their father or mother is 'devoted to God,' they are not to
'honor their father or mother' with it. Thus you nullify the word of
God for the sake of your tradition. "

Apparently Jesus was also observant (and even wore the fringe,
(Matthew 14:36). The Pharisees had popularity, while the Sadducees
were of the Jerusalem ruling class and ran the Temple under the
authority of Herod, King of the Jews, whose authority over the Jews
was granted by the Roman Emperor, whose authority superseded all
others, because he was a god. The Jews gave the Romans more trouble
than other conquered people because of their refusal to allow images
of the state religion in the Temple, or even in Jerusalem.
John may have been critical of the Pharisees of his time, but his
righteousness or observance of the Law was well known, according to
Josephus. His baptism was a symbolic purification and cleansing, and
Jesus also submitted to it "for righteousness' sake." What exactly was
the teaching of the Pharisees that Jesus was warning his disciples
about? And why does it come with the stories of the feeding of
multitudes? To emphasize the message of the feeding of the multitude,
Jesus did it again. But what is the message?
The message we always seem to find in the feeding of the multitudes is
something like "Give everything to Jesus and he will provide us with
more than enough." Or, "Hey man, its cool - I'm on it. Jesus is Top
Cat." It might be, "Give God her/his portion and God will give us what
we really need."
But let's not try to fix one meaning to it. Look at the image of Jesus
distributing the food as prefiguring the Eucharist, and the creation
of a messianic community in which everything was held in common, and
there was no private property. Christians later taught that Jesus
"fulfilled the Law," but Jesus was teaching that the Law is fulfilled
by the realization of the messianic kingdom of heaven. The sabbath
looks forward to this day of the Lord where there will be enough for
everybody and nobody will be exploited.
Jesus ( or the writers of the gospels) accuses the religious leaders
of using an obscure "tradition" to divert resources from caring for the
elderly and poor. Some of the gospel attacks on the Pharisees  might be a message to Jesus' later  followers to, for instance, let male Gentile converts forego circumcision, and other "observances"
that were especially burdensome or painful, and an obstacle to growing
the movement among non-Jews, or "dogs," as Jesus calls the Syro-Phoenician woman.

Jewish "atheism," the even suicidal refusal to recognize the state as
a god, spread to the other people under Roman rule. The empire
demanded submission of regional gods to the emperor. After Jerusalem
and the Temple were destroyed, the Jewish diaspora was scattering
Jewish ideas among pagans who could no longer worship the empire. The
main idea was the messianic idea which many pagans tended to think of
as a new god, or god of gods, or son of Zeus.
Jesus' followers identified with their leader to the point of
sacrificing themselves for a kingdom they believed would be realized
in their generation. This suicidal resistance movement, a mass
defiance of the empire and its god was underway at a time when the
Roman empire was in turmoil (Spoiler alert: 666 was Nero).
That this Jewish resistance movement evolved over the centuries into a
new state religion for a new empire and a new orthodoxy which excluded
Jews is a central problem in the study of the writings held canonical
by the new paganism called "Christianity."

The context of the passage in Isaiah quoted by Jesus is Jerusalem
under siege, which is also the analogical historical context of the
Jesus movement:

"Yet I will besiege Ariel;
she will mourn and lament,
she will be to me like an altar hearth
I will encamp against you on all sides;
I will encircle you with towers
and set up my siege works against you.
Brought low, you will speak from the ground;
your speech will mumble out of the dust.
Your voice will come ghostlike from the earth;
out of the dust your speech will whisper."

Saturday, August 30, 2014

canned laughter

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Matthew 14

Jesus practiced a solitary form of prayer, alone on a mountain or in
the wilderness, fasting, and speaking to the universal Dad. His prayer
or meditation put him in an altered state (I think). Maybe he learned
this from John the Baptist, or maybe he learned it independently of
the baptizer, but they both seemed to practice a kind of mysticism
that used fasting and prayer to contact another reality, or another
perspective, another reference point, and maybe today people like this
are put under psychiatric care and medicated back to the norm. This is
why many said they were demon-possessed (psychotic) and others said
they were prophets.
When Jesus went into the wilderness after being baptized and initiated
into John's movement, he didn't talk to God, he talked to Satan and
the various traps he encounters could be the various pitfalls faced by
all the Jews of his generation, repeating the mistakes of the
Israelites in the wilderness, or creating a imitation empire, or
self-destructing by "tempting God." I haven't worked out this idea
yet. Maybe the temptations also correspond to roles he is expected to
play, as miracle worker, or as king of an empire, or as dead messiah?
Jesus didn't become a leader until John was put in prison. His style
is very different. The crowds don't go to him at first. He goes to the
people of Galilee, visiting different towns, and gets accepted or
rejected. He has a new revolutionary message and it is said he works
miracles. When John is killed Jesus seeks solitude, to be "apart." But
the crowds follow him, because John the Baptist is dead and Jesus is
IT, but many say Jesus is the reincarnation of John, who may have been
the reincarnation of Elijah. His compassion overrides his need for
privacy and he declares the spontaneous gathering a free festival. His
disciples are against this and claim there isn't enough food for
everybody, but Jesus officiates, like a priest, or a god, and there is
a surplus left over. After the crowds leave, Jesus gets his time alone
and the disciples get in a boat and get caught in a storm. When they
see him coming, and they are miles from shore, they think he is a
ghost. Jesus gives the classic "Fear not" of a Buddha and Peter tests
him, tempts him, but falls into his own fears. Now they think he is
Son of God. They have been travelling all over Galilee with him, but
he has become uncanny to them.
The earlier miracles were for individuals, people who were sick and
isolated. The feeding of the multitude met the ordinary collective
need for daily bread and could be read as a parable of the redistribution
of wealth, or as an expectation the masses had for their messiah.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

flowering mask