Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bless you

Jesus in Galilee Matthew 4:12-5:12

"the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light"

Herod has John the Baptizer arrested.
Jesus hears about this and splits for Galilee.
He settles in a lakeside town and teaches his message, which was John the Baptizer's message, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand," and begins to organize.
He approaches two men casting nets and two other men mending nets and says come I'll make you networkers for the gospel.
Jesus went around Galilee, teaching about the community (as some prefer to call it) of heaven and healing people. Crowds gathered to be cured of demon possession, epilepsy, and paralysis, and his reputation as a healer spread beyond Galilee to "the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judaea and Transjordania" and people came from those places to be healed.

Matthew's gospel is a documentary composed of documents from various sources which were edited in a particular form to present to the community that grew out of this movement Jesus started by the Sea of Galilee. It is instructive to read Mark's narrative to see where Matthew makes his cuts, and where he pastes discourses attributed to Jesus. Since Matthew and Luke used the same sayings of Jesus, scholars write of a hypothetical document that consisted entirely of Jesus' oral doctrine and anything they remembered him saying.

Mark's storytelling more dramatically shows the appearance of an opposition among certain powerful groups and portays the Pharisees as collaborators with Herod against Jesus, but at this point in Matthew the Pharisees have not yet started to troll Jesus. John is in prison and Jesus is a superstar. Matthew cuts to Jesus performing on a hilltop, speaking to the disciples gathered around him.

What is he saying? 
Blessed are the poor in spirit? What if someone led a movement today and his message was, Blessed are the schizophrenics who live on the streets of the cities? Blessed are the elderly who are waiting to die in rehab centers, blessed are those who are so sick we can't stand to look at them? Blessed are those locked in prisons and forgotten? Blessed are the collateral damage to surgical military strikes? Blessed are the peacemakers who show up to every anti-war protest for every war and know its all hopeless, but will somehow feel guilty if they don't don't march and chant and circulate petitions? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after justice and know that the ruling class will never let it happen?

What is this "blessing"?

“Obamacare’s ‘good news’ applies only to the poor," some conservative columnist recently wrote. Jesus' good news was also aimed at the poor because they would benefit from the change that was coming. For me, "the Pharisees" represented the conservative religious type who insisted on a doctrinal purity based on a literal reading of ancient texts, who taught that poverty and illness were punishment for sin, and who prevented rational universal healthcare from coming about, and who sold out to the gods of the military industrial complex. As a young christian leftist I considered the Moral Majority televangelists to be the new Pharisees. Not a perfect analogy, but not a bad metaphor. In the gospels, the Pharisees are ultra-conservative scholars of the law who are so intransigent they condemn miraculous healing as demonic, or a violation of the Sabbath. 
If we translate "community or kingdom of heaven" to mean a possible world, a just society, an approximate utopia, and imagine how this could look, we don't want to design a healthcare system based on faith healing. Whatever Jesus was doing that inspired stories of miraculous healing, how does that help us now? 
I also want to know if the gospel writers were being fair to the Pharisees. 

within a budding grove

ink on canvas board 10' X 5'

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday School 6/22

                                    River baptism performed by my father in Florida in 1980.

Today's reading from Matthew:
Baptism and temptation of Jesus

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all quote Isaiah and identify John the Baptist as the voice crying in the wilderness, but Mark's quote begins with a phrase from the prophet Malachi: "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way." The other writers "correct" Mark's quote and leave that out, but all four canonical gospels introduce John the baptizer with Isaiah's "voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" This is where Mark begins his gospel.  Mark and Luke also say John preached repentance, but only Matthew reports JtB as saying "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." They all quote John saying he is unworthy to carry or untie the sandals of the one who is coming after him. John wore clothes made of camel hair and a leather belt like Elijah and ate locusts and honey and baptized people in the Jordan River. Like Malachi, he may have been directing his prophetic criticism primarily against the corrupt priests, particularly the Sadducees, calling for their purification and change of mind, a transformation symbolized in the ritual of baptism. The one who comes after him will baptize with the Spirit (in Mark) or with the Spirit and fire (in Luke and Matthew). Baptism in the Spirit means a change of consciousness, and a new way of thinking, not just a change of behavior, but fire implies God's judgment on his people, or on the ruling class: "His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" - this is in both Matthew and Luke. I think this is an interpretation added by the second generation of the Jesus movement, an attempt to find meaning in the destruction of the Temple and the Temple-centered religion. Matthew and Luke both say that it is useless to claim privilege in being descended from Abraham, because God can make sons of Abraham out of rocks. 
It is not enough to copy out different stories about Jesus and what he said and what happened to him. Matthew and Luke used Mark's gospel and some other accounts that they regarded as credible plus a written or oral record of what he said. The gospel writers are collecting  the teachings of the first generation of the Jesus cult. A couple centuries later, church elders get together and determine which Christian writings are credible - but what does that mean? 
I know little about the early christians. This is what I think - Jesus had a teaching and a worldview and a set of practices and performances, a constant, improvised street theater as well as his routine of parables and paradoxes which he taught his disciples.   Jesus appeared at a time of revolutionary upheaval against the occupying superpower and its puppet dictator and corrupt ruling class. There are rival groups, including a ruling class of priests plus Jews who work for the state plus revolutionaries who carry on the prophetic tradition and even the oriental intelligentsia are expecting a new king, anointed by the Creator to liberate his people. 
Matthew's stories ( like the massacre of the innocents) are understood to have biblical significance. Just like when Moses was born, a massacre occurs to stop the birth of the new liberator. Elijah, or someone dressed like him, appears in the wilderness and crowds of people come to him to be initiated into the movement that will prepare the way for the kingdom of heaven, the revolutionary utopia conceived by an unmarried girl who was accepted by a the boy who married her, because of what an angel told him in a dream, and their son grows up and goes to be baptized by this revolutionary who is calling for a purification of the cultic practices and demanding social justice (Luke has JtB tell his followers to become communists). Only Matthew has JtB direct his accusations at the Pharisees and Sadducees. This might reflect conflicts among second generation Jewish christians in the last third of the century. The ex-Pharisee Josephus wrote respectfully of John the Baptist, who, he says, Herod considered to be a threat. He describes the Sadducees as a ruling elite who ran the Temple as well as everything else. They disappeared after the destruction of the Temple, but the Pharisees, built the base of what we now call Judaism, I guess.
Jesus is baptized and all four gospels say the sky opened and the Spirit of God descends like a dove and a voice says, This is my beloved son, etc., only John's gospel tells this as something JtB experienced, his personal revelation of Jesus as son of God. Jesus submitted to the ritual of initiation into the movement led by John and John believed Jesus was the next stage, the one he was preparing the Way for by calling for the purification of the ruling priestly class who serve the empire and exploit their own people. Whatever "the kingdom of heaven is," it is neither the kingdom of Herod or Caesar.'
Emulating Moses, Jesus fasts for forty days in the wilderness. Moses wrote down the ten commandments when he did that. Mark says very little about Jesus' vision quest following his baptism: "And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan: and he was with the wild beasts and the angels waited on him." To that spare account Matthew and Luke add the story of the three temptations. The scriptures Jesus/Yeshua uses to battle Satan all come from Deuteronomy and the context is Moses calling on Israel to obey God's laws and remember their deliverance from Egypt, and  recalling the forty years in the wilderness before Israel was led across the Jordan River by a leader named Joshua/Yehoshua/Yeshua. Maybe the significance of John's baptism practice was in the symbolism of its location, as if he is calling Israel to reinvent itself by returning to the wilderness, re-crossing the Jordan,  and retaking the Promised Land?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday School 6/15

Magi, Massacre, and Escape to Egypt
Matthew 2 in the New Revised Standard Version

No manger scene in Matthew. Luke has that story.
Enter the wise men from the East. Arabs? Persians? Zoroastrians? Whoever this Oriental intelligentsia represented their diplomatic skills were questionable, as they tell the sitting King of the Jews that they have come to pay homage to the new King of the Jews, whose star they are following. The star (Jupiter?) has signaled the time of the new king's birth, and Jewish prophecies tell the place, according to the priests and scribes Herod consults. The story of the magi shows that the world outside of Palestine is interested in the news of the new king, but also implies that the knowledge possessed by the magi has some authority or value (the incense trade moved through Judea, bringing cultural influences along with the myrrh and frankincense). Messianic expectation extended beyond Palestine, apparently.
The story of the massacre of the children, ordered by Herod, only appears in Matthew's book. Josephus didn't mention it in his histories, but he has other stories of the king murdering family members and rabbis. Herod's brutality and paranoia were well-known and Matthew's audience would have found it believable that he would order such an atrocity. Herod was the King of the Jews, but he was backed up by the Roman Empire, and he ultimately was Rome's servant. He was known for his remarkable building projects, financed by high taxes, including the Temple in Jerusalem, for which he appointed a High Priest. He had forty six leaders from the rabbinical council killed. He had a Roman eagle installed at the entrance, a symbol of oppression and sacrilege to the Jewish people that was smashed by students of the Torah, who Herod had arrested and burned alive. The priests and scribes Herod consulted about the new king the magi sought, were required to be loyal, or they would be killed.
Matthew's audience (the people who were listening to the story being read out loud) hated and feared the existing government, and understood that this power structure considered the new king to be a threat.

Here is a helpful account of Herod the Great and his significance in Jewish history:

Typically, Matthew quotes scriptures to show that prophecy was "fulfilled" by these events, but dreams also have something to tell us. The magi are warned in a dream about Herod, Joseph is warned in a dream to escape to Egypt, and then Joseph is told in a dream to return to Israel, and the family settles in Nazareth. I suggest that the reader consult his/her own dreams relating to this story, for more insight.

Two men with a mission:

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Catch up with Kopchak

Perry Kopchak and I met in art school and we were roommates for awhile. I reminisced about those days on earlier posts: here  and here . Perry and Scott were in the band Redness. We both took classes with Julian Stanczak and Edwin Mieczkowski and, largely under the latter's influence, but also inspired by the work of our classmate Don Doe, we got involved with making constructions. Perry went to Tyler for graduate school and then surprised his friends by moving to Washington state on a spiritual quest of some kind. He still lives there, making art. In the past year or so his work revisited ideas and forms from back in the day and then moved forward to new ideas. He has a show opening this weekend in Cleveland, Ohio at the Bruno Casiano Gallery: Although he was very busy getting his show together Perry sent jpgs of a few of the pieces in the show so we could attempt a conversation about what he is doing.

LS: I'm looking at GIZCON. How big is it and what is it made of?
PK: GIZCON is 15" x 14" x 2-1/2". It is acrylic on wood, it was built and painted in 2005. I repainted it this year.
LS: I picked this one to start with because I wanted to ask about the influence of Ed Mieczkowski and this one reminds me of his work, while the others don't. Do you know what I mean?
PK: Of course I do. I saw Barbara and Julian yesterday for a couple of hours and showed them pics. Barbara mentioned the same thing.
LS: That would be Barbara and Julian Stanczak. We both had Julian Stanczak and Mieczkowski as teachers at the Cleveland Institute of Art. I think Barbara started teaching a Foundation class there in my last year, so I never had her for a teacher. Could you say something about Ed M? What is it about GIZCON that makes us think of him? What do you recall about his process that you took up in your own way of working?
PK: Ed was a strange one to me in the beginning. The first class I had with him was Creative Drawing in my third year. He was on sabbatical my first year and Julian took over his Dimensional Drawing class. He seemed a bit of a rebel with a message. I remember making a wire chair for his class and drawing the shadows it cast. He was doing constructions at the time (grey, black, and white as I remember). My chair shadow drawings evolved into cardboard constructions. I also collected wood from garbage day and assembled painted constructions. I eventually became his studio assistant and drawing assistant. My time with him in his studio impacted me. It was a great experience. GIZCON is very reminiscent of some of Ed's earlier constructions. Those that are familiar with his work often see the influence. All those days and (late) nights working in his studio, the ongoing conversations, and the importance that he stressed on developing ideas are still with me. His process......I remember the brush and ink drawings he had in his studio, a working of ideas. Keeping the work flowing. I work on many things at once. They feed one another. In many ways I have a similar process as Ed. 

LS: I don't know who took this picture and don't remember how I gained possession of it ("provenance" could be the word I'm looking for). Can you identify this construction?
PK: This construction is part of my domain.
LS: Did you build it? Where is it? Do you still live there? What kind of community do you live in? Is there a local art scene that interests you or are you an outsider in your community? Do you wish to belong to a community of artists? Do you think social media such as Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, etc., have the potential to bring about a community of artists that would link isolated artists in the boondocks of America? Do you live in the boondocks of America? Why are you there and not elsewhere? What other paths might you have taken? Do you ever wonder (as I often do) if a different turn, a different path, might have been a better path, but just as well might not have been or might have been worse because you can never really know where a possible path may have led, and after all, all paths lead to the grave?
PK: I built it (with a little help from my friends).  I still live there. The house now has an addition in the back which is my kitchen. I had a horse back in the day. I live in a very mixed community. The 'local' art scene is Olympia and Seattle. I love Olympia, it is Bohemian and reminds me of Coventry and art school days. I'm an outsider in a way. I'm quite private, though many people know me as 'that artist guy'. I have a few artist friends, one in particular that I get together with and build funky furniture with. I do wish for a bigger community of artists to hang out with. Social media such as Facebook has been great. I've connected with many people whose work I respect and there has been some great dialogues as well as two collaborations which will be taking place soon that I am very exited about. Living in the boondocks (or as I say: 'livin' in the woods') has been very isolating up until about a year ago when I started connecting on Facebook and meeting new artists. I avoided 'the modern world' for a long time. Now connecting in this manner is very useful and inspiring.  I moved west in 1988. I was living in Philly and my next move was New York. I had a dream to get together with my school chums in New York and rent some old warehouse space to do the Abstract Expressionist thing of the fifties. I realized I really couldn't live in New York. I grew up always playing in the woods. I wanted open space and the open mindedness of the west. I refer to my move as a spiritual journey. I didn't know anyone in Washington State. I packed up my pick up truck and drove to an unknown adventure in my life. I do wonder at times what life would have been had I moved to New York. For better or worse I live where I live. I do love my five acres and the trees and critters. No matter where I go I am always here.

LS: When did you make TAUPIN? Are the shapes as you found them, or did you cut them?
PK: That's a very recent piece, perhaps within the last two months. I cut the shapes for this one.

LS:What material is PATHWAY? What tool did you use to make the path, a fork?
PK:The piece you refer to is called PHENS. It is part of my 'pathway' series. This particular piece consists of incised sheet rock mud on panel. I made my own customized tools for this series, though I have used forks.

LS: Two paintings. One is called Punk and the other is labelled scan0198. What are their dimensions? Are they on canvas board?
PK: The one you refer to as scan0 198 is called PERPETRA. PUNK and PERPETRA are 8" x 10", acrylic on stretched canvas.

LS: And two that look like corrugated cardboard with masking tape?
PK: What are you asking?
LS: I'm not sure. Do they have titles? I like these. They appear to be about 8"X8"
PK: The one with the yellow stripe is called BUBBLEJUMP. The other piece is SYNSY. They are 7-1/2" x 7-3/4".  They hark back to my cardboard pieces at CIA. The images look flat, although they actually fold out on the left about 1/4". I scanned those pieces. While taping off some of my canvases I decided to save the tape. Recycle once again. I live in a very green area. Off the grid. I've a great respect for Nature. 

Thank you, Mr. Kopchak. I'm looking forward to your other projects and seeing where your pathways lead. Meanwhile, if you meet the Buddha on the road, tell him I said, "Hey."

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Sunday School 6/8/2014

Matthew 1 in the King James Version

a tree in Greenpoint by unknown artist

 For anyone who has never read any of the gospels, I'd recommend starting with Mark. Mark's gospel is not only the earliest account, it is the common source of much of the material that went into Matthew and Luke's versions. Mark's account is more dramatic and intense and, in the earliest version, ends with an emphasis of the fear experienced by the disciples when they encountered an empty tomb. Mark's Jesus is "uncanny," as Harold Bloom described it.
My interest in Matthew has to do with exploring the doctrine of "the kingdom of heaven" or "the kingdom of god," as an idea of a just, transcendent revolutionary community. My connection to the biblical writings is poetic and existential and critical. I hope to show what I mean by that pretentious claim as I write, or else prove that I'm an idiot. I rely on the scholarship of others, but I aim to respond spontaneously.

The geneaology of Christ
Matthew begins his book with an account of Jesus' ancestry: "A genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham." This is meant to establish that Jesus was a Jew, apparently, and also in the line of King David, but the genealogy turns out to be for "Joseph the husband of Mary; of her was born Jesus who is called Christ." Matthew says that Joseph didn't "know" (yadda yadda) Mary, who was a virgin. So, what's the point of the genealogy?
Matthew's gospel is not the earliest gospel we have. Mark's gospel, thought to be written some four decades after Jesus' death, was first, and Matthew and Luke appropriated much of it for their books. Luke also has a genealogy that is a different from Matthew's in that it starts with Adam, "the son of God" (there are other differences). Why was Matthew made the opening chapter of a collection named "The New Testament"?
The gospels took the place of eye witness testimony after the first generation of the Jesus movement died out. In the period between the death of Jesus and the writing of the gospels there was a Jewish rebellion against Rome that resulted in the slaughter of many Jews and the destruction of their Temple. After this catastrophe, Rabbinic Judaism eventually became the mainstream Jewish religion, and the messianic movement started by Jesus became increasingly a non-Jewish religion.
The author, or compiler, of Matthew's book was a Jew writing to Jewish Christians, and his book is meant to claim that Jesus' ministry was the true continuation and fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures, traditions, and desire for a kingdom in a new covenant with the God of the Jewish scriptures (which Christians came to call "the old covenant," or "Old Testament"). The Christians in the New Testament are almost entirely a Jewish sect competing with other Jewish groups, but by the time the New Testament was compiled, the Jesus movement had become a new religion for gentiles.
The early Christians didn't read the Bible, because there was no Bible. They'd read the Prophets, the Psalms, the Law, etc., of the traditional scriptures, usually in Greek translation, and they'd read copies of letters from the apostles and written accounts of Jesus' ministry, including sayings attributed to him.
Jesus' followers believed that Jesus had been resurrected and would return to establish a kingdom (in their lifetime?), and they used passages from scripture to show that this new era was foretold all the way back to Abraham, and that Jesus' death and resurrection fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. Were these passages  taken out of context?
" Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us."
In the Christian canon, Matthew's genealogy of Christ is the first move in the revision of scripture that became the Bible. According to Matthew, I guess, Jesus doesn't belong to the Abrahamic genealogy as a biological heir, but as the continuation and culmination of a narrative.

My interest in the early christian writings is in their role in the formation of Western Civ ideology and empire, and The Way Things Are Now. The New Testament synthesized an ethic and a mythology that merged with hellenic culture to evolve into the all pervasive multiculture we call Reality, and it also gave us the idea of a counterculture, and some wild apocalyptic poetry.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Three small studies

  ink on canvas board 5"X11"

                                                             ink on canvas board 5"X11"

                                                            ink on paper 5 1/2"X11"

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Sunday School

Yesterday I had the idea of doing a weekly Sunday School blog post. I will be commenting on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. For sentimental reasons I am using the copy of The Jerusalem Bible (1968) my father gave me in 1981. You are welcome to argue with me.
We'll start at the beginning, with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, June 8.

I removed the first part of the original post to rewrite it and develop it a bit more.