Articles in section: 'Faith'

Ebola, God, Just Sayin’

Ebola and GodThese kinds of things tend to be quickly swept away in the major media outlets, so I’m just pausing for a moment to highlight them.

Today Dallas Nurse Amber Vinson was discharged from Emory University Hospital, and declared free of Ebola, which she caught while caring for the patient Thomas Eric Duncan. Her statement on release began like this:

I’m so grateful to be well. And first and foremost, I want to thank God. I sincerely believe that with God all things are possible.

While the skill and dedication of the doctors, nurses and others who have taken care of me have obviously led to my recovery, it has been God’s love that has truly carried my family and me through this difficult time and has played such an important role and given me hope and the strength to fight.

After thanking many specific people, and drawing attention to the terrible toll that this disease is taking on so many people in West Africa, and before asking for privacy, she ended her statement with this: [Read more →]

Heschel on the Need for the Unnecessary

Abraham Joshua Heschel The Earth Is the Lord'sIn 1949, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a book called The Earth Is the Lord’s on the culture of the Jews of Eastern Europe; i.e. on a culture that had then been all but wiped out. It was the first book he had published in America, having himself escaped from Europe to there during the war.

In writing about the joy that was to be found in the culture of the Hasidim for pure ideas, for endless study and restudy of the Talmud, he says this: [Read more →]

Strange Days, Weird Monsters, and Prayers

SwordsLife is a gift. While surveying what often seems the bleakness of the current global landscape, one should try to remember that simple fact. After all, we haven’t actually earned anything of what we get the chance to experience here. The world teems with love, compassion and joy, and in an ultimate sense all of those good things are for free: we as individuals did not have to have experienced any of it. We have no true ownership of our breathing, of our own existence, of the reality that anything exists. Life itself is a gift.

But with the gift comes a responsibility—should we care to accept it—to be careful of how we and our fellow creatures are treating that same gift. That part can be a bit difficult.

When might the following words have been written? [Read more →]

A Church with no God

Church with no GodAn article in the UK Telegraph alerted us to the curious “Sunday Assembly” godless church movement. Although the idea was originally hatched by some comedians (literally-speaking) in London, the article focuses on a congregation in the somewhat unlikely locale of Nashville, Tennessee. (On the other hand, perhaps it’s not so surprising that atheists in that part of the country would want to network and find some reassurance in numbers.) [Read more →]

George Herbert and Samuel Menashe; Improvidence and Faith

George Herbert Samuel MenasheVery recently I happened upon one of those discoveries (new at least to me) that seems sufficiently obscure to justify being written down, and especially so while it’s still at the frontal area of the old lobe. It is merely a beguiling echo perceived in two poems, written respectively by two poets separated by about 330 years.

Samuel Menashe was born in 1925 in New York City, and died in that same city in 2011. The relevant poem from him is “Improvidence.” I hope no one would come after me for quoting it here in full; Menashe’s poems are so short, and so tightly constructed, that it is not as if one can just quote a verse and say “buy the book and read the rest” (though by all means buy the book and read the other poems). In the great majority of cases the poem is a single stanza, and you need the whole thing to have any sense of it. All the more so “Improvidence,” which possesses careful timing all the way to its quasi-punchline. It is a poem which on its face is about economics, as well as human nature, and indeed Menashe liked to mention that it was once incorporated into a talk by an economist of note. [Read more →]

Death is not the End

Death is not the endDeath was the chief topic at church this morning. It is a sturdy old standby. Death, ironically enough, never seems to get old. Just when you might think it’s become old hat, that you’ve been there, done that and moved on, death has this way of reasserting itself in one’s life in some novel and unexpected way. Endlessly resourceful, death may sometimes take a holiday but, just like taxes, will always return demanding to be paid. And even if you purchase an island and declare personal sovereignty, you turn out still to be within the dominion claimed by death. You may argue and protest, of-course, but while the case is tied up in the courts death will simply take everything you own and move on. (Exactly like taxes, then.)

Someone who is well aware at the moment of the truth of all the above is Miley Cyrus. A few days ago her dog Floyd died suddenly. I intend no mockery here; as a lover of dogs, I have no doubt as to the genuineness of the grief felt by a dog owner when one dies. There can even be an added nakedness and rawness to the emotion. The mechanisms and rituals we human beings have for finding consolation and closure after the death of a fellow human being aren’t there in the same way when a pet dies. And no matter how senior, a dog’s life always seems to have been too short, because their lifespans are so short compared to ours. [Read more →]

Cantor Bob at 75

Bob Cohen and Delores Dixon
Bob Cohen and Delores Dixon at Temple Emanuel

Yours truly has been blessed to get to know a little bit the inestimable Bob Cohen over the last several years through shared interests in music and related shenanigans. In his current life, he is Cantor Bob Cohen of Temple Emanuel in Kingston, New York, and yesterday held a shindig there in celebration of his 75th birthday; essentially it was a chance to play music with and and for his friends, and intersperse it with stories of how he became the Bob Cohen he is today. [Read more →]

It’s All Good: Bob Dylan and Saint Augustine

[Adapted from a version originally published in 2010]

Bob Dylan Augustine It's All GoodWhen, not very many years ago, I first read the great work, Confessions, by Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430), I recall being a little inwardly nonplussed at the fact that while reading it I was persistently put in mind of Bob Dylan. It often seemed as if Augustine were subtly echoing Dylan, or as if the lines in Confessions were ever-so-close to flowing right into one of his songs. I thought: Is this what it’s come to? Am I so deranged now, on account of listening so much to this old warbler from Hibbing, that I can’t even read a great piece of literature, completely unrelated to him, without his songs flitting in and out of my head?

And unquestionably I am so deranged, but, with hindsight, it’s perhaps not so hard to understand why my mind was making the kinds of connections it was. [Read more →]

Natural Wonders and Belief in God: Important New Research

Natural wonders and belief in GodOnce again, scientists have directed their telescopes and most advanced instruments upward, have spent long months studying the data and spending their grant money, and emerged to deliver their important conclusion: The sky is blue.

The story this time is in the UK’s Daily Mail: “Natural wonders increase our tendency to believe in God and the supernatural.” Doctor Piercarlo Valdesolo of Claremont McKenna College and Jesse Graham of the University of Southern California announced their findings based on studying the reactions of human subjects to awe-inspiring natural sights, and have concluded that such sights increase the tendency of people to believe in God or the supernatural. Amazing. [Read more →]

River of Love – T-Bone Burnett

T-Bone Burnett River of LoveStopping by the local chapel this morning, some might have heard Psalm 46:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Hearing mention of that river which makes “glad the city of God” caused my brain to make a connection—which might not be so wildly inappropriate—to this old T-Bone Burnett tune, “River of Love.” He’s known all over these days as the producer to tap when a deft touch on rootsy-realness is called for (recently even bringing Reggie Dwight back to basics) but yours truly was the closest-thing-possible to a real fan of his back in the mid-1980s when he was still releasing records under his own name on a semi-regular basis. His music had a special charm (and so still does), being a fine cocktail of wryness, cynicism and hope, with memorable melodies and a decent degree of that rootsy-realness. [Read more →]

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