Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Cinch Review

Gospel Plow

Gospel Plow by Bob DylanThe gospel reading in many Christian churches today would’ve been from Luke, chapter nine, and included this passage where Jesus has some interesting responses to those who, impressed by his teaching, expressed a desire to follow him.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

As some preachers may have reminded some congregations today, if you begin plowing and then stop and look back, you’re not going to be able to plow a straight furrow.

This metaphor inspired some person, sometime, to compose what has now become a traditional gospel song, known alternatively as “Gospel Plow” or “Keep Your Hand on the Plow” or simply “Hold On.” I first heard it and automatically think of it via the version that Bob Dylan recorded on his debut and eponymous LP in 1962. He could have heard it via multiple sources, including Odetta’s version, which was captured at Carnegie Hall in 1960. Continue reading Gospel Plow

Bono Son of God shocker

Bono in “Son of God” Shocker

Bono in Son of God shockerBono, the lead singer of U2 and a prominent activist for AIDS relief and economic development in Africa, has been interviewed by Jim Daly of the American evangelical Christian organization “Focus on the Family.” (Embedded audio at bottom.) The interview has generated various headlines, in particular with regard to Bono’s statement that he believes Jesus is the Son of God. The statement is not likely to be too surprising to those who’ve followed U2 and noted the spiritual and biblical content of their work along the way, but any time a celebrity makes such a blatant statement of belief it produces shockwaves of various kinds. The relevant part of the interview goes something like this:

(Bono speaking) When people say “good teacher,” “prophet,” “really nice guy”—this is not how Jesus thought of himself. So, you’re left with a challenge in that, which is either Jesus was who he said he was or a complete and utter nut case. You have to make a choice on that, and I believe that Jesus was, you know, the Son of God. I understand that for some people and we need to—if I could be so bold—need to be really, really respectful to people who find that ridiculous and people who find that preposterous.

Predictably a lot of the reaction to this is along the lines of exhortations to Bono to stop believing in a “man up in the sky,” but more interesting to me (and more sad) is the negative blowback from those who profess Christian faith themselves but feel for one reason or another that Bono is a poor example. One accusation that keeps cropping up is that Bono is a “universalist,” and therefore should be treated with great skepticism or shunned. I’m pretty sure I know where this notion of Bono as a religious universalist (i.e. someone who believes everyone’s truth is as good as anyone else’s) comes from and I believe it is actually a misunderstanding or mishearing of something he was proclaiming from the stage a few years ago.

During tours in the 2005/2006 time-frame, during the song “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” Bono would talk about a sign which he said was “written on a wall in Lebanon,” which read “Coexist,” incorporating in its letters an Islamic moon, a Star of David, and a Christian cross. The screen behind the stage displayed such a sign in huge letters as he spoke. Then he would begin singing some lines and encourage the crowd to participate. What caused great scandal was that some people heard him sing this line: “Jesus, Jew, Muhammad: All true.” Well, if that were what he were singing it would be a pretty empty-headed bit of pablum, to be sure: dangerous to some and fundamentally disrespectful to all three faiths being invoked. (One does not have to pretend there are not serious differences in order to have respectful dialogue with those of other faiths; in fact, the opposite is true.) Someone preaching this from the stage and getting thousands of concert-goers to sing along made for a pretty disturbing image even to some real fans of Bono and U2, and people wrote about it, blogged about it, facebooked about it, and the story got out there to lots of people who never attended a U2 concert for themselves.

Only problem was, that’s not what Bono was saying (or singing) during that segment of that show. I base this opinion on recordings such as the one you can currently listen to via YouTube at the bottom of this post. What Bono actually sings is the following, I do think:

Jesus, Jew, Muhammad, it’s true: all sons of Abraham
Father Abraham, what have we done?
Father Abraham, speak to your sons
Tell them “no more, no more, no more”

So, to spell it out, that which he’s saying is “true” is that Jews, Jesus and Muhammad are all descendants of Abraham. And this actually is true, as far as the Bible goes and as far as we know. And then in the succeeding lines Bono is pleading with Abraham to speak to his sons and tell them to stop fighting. Continue reading Bono in “Son of God” Shocker

The Cinch Review

Everybody Knows (Starting with the N.S.A.)

Everybody Knows (starting with the NSA)With all the recent news stories regarding the data that U.S. intelligence agencies are collecting, at home and worldwide, my brain has been hosting a not-entirely-unpleasant ear-worm of the old Leonard Cohen song, “Everybody Knows.” It’s from his 1988 album I’m Your Man, but some of the words sound especially timely right now.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost

What we’re experiencing is a belated “catching-up” to where it is that the technological changes of the past 10-15 years have put us. It has all happened so quickly. When it comes to conventional telephone calls, it is well known that the NSA has been snooping on those (internationally) for decades. What has changed so quickly is that so much of everyone’s ordinary life is online; it is transmitted, recorded and preserved in digital format. One’s personal communications, one’s banking and bill paying, one’s shopping habits, one’s political inclinations, one’s philosophical and religious beliefs, one’s embarrassing predilections, one’s health problems and concerns … all of this and more can be found out by crunching the data on one’s internet use. With the alleged and/or potential reach of an agency like the NSA, all kinds of sources of material could be matched up together with data filters to obtain a complete and intensely personal portrait of the individual, with information that could be “abused” either by an oppressive government authority or simply by an unscrupulous employee who happens to be able to access it. Continue reading Everybody Knows (Starting with the N.S.A.)

The Cinch Review

Smoking (and John Malkovich) Saves a Life

John Malkovich Saves a LifeJim Walpole, a 77-year-old man from Ohio, was visiting Toronto with his wife Marilyn when, as reported in the Toronto Sun, he just happened to stumble. He fell against scaffolding and in a freak happenstance his throat was cut by some sharp piece of the structure as he fell. Blood gushed from what should have been a lethal wound.

“Out of nowhere” a man who had been standing outside an adjacent building (apparently the King Edward Hotel) while smoking a cigarette rushed over and immediately pressed on Mr. Walpole’s neck at the precise location necessary to prevent him from bleeding to death. He was soon assisted by a couple of other bystanders. Paramedics arrived and Mr. Walpole looked up at the man who’d saved his life and asked, “What’s your name?” He reportedly said, “My name is John and you’re going to be alright.” Multiple reports now confirm that the man was none other than John Malkovich, the well-known actor, who is currently starring as Casanova in a stage-play titled “The Giacomo Variations” at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto.

There is as yet no word on whether he finished his cigarette. Continue reading Smoking (and John Malkovich) Saves a Life

The Cinch Review

Twilight Zone for Dog Lovers

There is an episode of The Twilight Zone titled “The Hunt” which first aired in January of 1962. Thank you to the noble soul who forwarded it to me. It stars Arthur Hunnicutt, Jeanette Nolan, and an unnamed canine actor (as “Rip”). In addition to answering the age-old and crucial question about whether dogs go to heaven, it also poses a provocative question about what just might happen in the afterlife to those who do not love dogs.

The show is 24 minutes long, not counting commercials, and you may watch it via the embedded Hulu clip below, or on the Hulu website at this link. Continue reading Twilight Zone for Dog Lovers

The Cinch Review

Koss PortaPro Headphones

Review of Koss PortaPro HeadphonesThe other day we did a review of the SanDisk Sansa Clip MP3 player, which seemed a solid choice for the frugal consumer. A necessary accessory is clearly a pair of headphones or ear-buds or such. So here’s a brief look at one option, namely the Koss PortaPro headphones. They are listed at $50 but at the time of writing sell for $39.99 on Amazon.

They’ve been around a long time and seem to be quite popular. Their advocates maintain that the Koss PortaPros are a nice, affordable and portable alternative to high-end headphones. They are said to have a frequency response of 15 to 25,000 Hz. If that means a lot to you, so be it. I’m not going to belabor the technical issues. Is the sound significantly better than the $10 earphones I was using before, which I picked up somewhere I can’t remember? I cannot really assert that it is, to me. In my experience one tends to hear things pretty darned clearly through headphones or earphones that are working properly, just so long as there is not excessive ambient or background noise. (The Koss PortaPro headphones are not the noise-cancelling variety.) The chief difference I’ve found with the Koss PortaPros is instead in the area of comfort. They are well designed in this regard. I have a very large head (as you might well imagine) but these expand to fit comfortably and easily. A key comfort feature is the small cushion on each side which rests above the ears, thus reducing the pressure of the cushioned ear plates. The ear plates also pivot. So, after putting them on and adjusting them for comfort, they are very unlikely to annoy you at all, as opposed to those ear-bud things which can chafe after a short while. The metal band which goes over your head might be noticeable or might catch your hair when you’re removing it, but I suppose that’s a trade-off for portability. Continue reading Koss PortaPro Headphones

Heschel Quest for God

Time, Prayer and God: Heschel

Man's Quest for God by Abraham Joshua HeschelThe following is one of those passages from Abraham Joshua Heschel—extraordinarily common in his writing—that is fascinating when considered as philosophy, penetrating when heard as theology, and quite moving and beautiful when simply read as poetry.

Common to all men who pray is the certainty that prayer is an act which makes the heart audible to God. Who would pour his most precious hopes into an abyss? […]

The passage of hours, almost unnoticeable, but leaving behind the feeling of loss or omission, is either an invitation to despair or a ladder to eternity. This little time in our hands melts away ere it can be formed. Before our eyes man and maid, spring and splendor, slide into oblivion. However, there are hours that perish and hours that join the everlasting. Prayer is a crucible in which time is cast in the likeness of the eternal. Man hands over his time to God in the secrecy of single words. When anointed by prayer, his thoughts and deeds do not sink into nothingness, but merge into the endless knowledge of an all-embracing God.

Those lines are from his book Man’s Quest For God.

Perhaps it’s something to do with aging, but I happen to be increasingly preoccupied with questions of time. Not so much the lack of it (which is very obvious and about which I can do nothing) but the nature of it, and in particular the difference between our time and God’s. It doesn’t matter that this is unknowable; if we ceased wondering about things which are unknowable I suppose that we would be very bored and very boring indeed. But you wonder—and I know that all humans, atheist, agnostic and devout, wonder this—why most seconds, minutes and moments just tick away like a great impersonal and unstoppable clock, and why there are other moments in our lives which may be incredibly brief on the clock but the duration and weight of which seem almost boundless to our experience. These moments can come in a wide variety of contexts, but I think they are often those moments in which we involuntarily shed tears, or at least are very deeply moved by something inexpressible. I think that we are certain, in such a moment, that what is happening matters a great deal, and that it will not simply pass on into the void but will somehow be remembered, and not only by ourselves. Are we wrong, or are we in such moments receiving a tiny glimpse of the eternal? Continue reading Time, Prayer and God: Heschel

Hook, Line & Singer Cerys Matthews

Hook, Line and Singer: A Singalong Book by Cerys Matthews

Hook, Line and Singer by Cerys MatthewsHook, Line and Singer: A Singalong Book is a 288 page, hardcover tome being released imminently via Penguin. It’s a songbook which has been put together by Welsh singer and raconteur Cerys Matthews, of whom we’ve become big fans lately at the Cinch HQ. This isn’t a review, as I don’t have the book [*see ADDENDUM below], but merely an honorable mention for something that looks charming. By all accounts, the book presents a wide collection of beloved songs in an easily playable and singable format, with the goal of encouraging folk—especially families with young children—to make their own music, turning off for a while the auto-tuned plastic product that assaults us all the time on the airwaves. It also includes background and commentary on the songs, alternate translations and the like.

But you can listen below via YouTube to Cerys Matthews talk about Hook, Line and Singer, and also about her literary hero (Dylan Thomas), her musical hero (Bob Dylan) and music in general. Also you can hear a snippet of one of the songs in the book, namely the gospel classic “Down by the Riverside.”

*Addendum July 10th: Since writing the above I have bought a copy and shared it with two nieces on a recent family visit. It was a big hit, and looks certain to be used a great deal in the future. What makes it an especially wonderful songbook is the breadth of genres covered, with movie songs such as from “The Wizard of Oz,” folk songs, gospel songs, Americana, melancholy songs and funny songs. From “Edelweiss” to “Home On The Range” to “Whistle While You Work” and “On Top of Old Smokey” … it’s just a really well-chosen collection that has something for any mood, and some quite unusual things too. And then to have the little essays and stories accompanying each song is superb, because it puts them in some kind of context, instead of just tossing them out there helplessly. I was not in the least disappointed. It is a beautifully put-together book and a wonderful gift.


The Cinch Review

SanDisk Sansa Clip MP3 Player (4GB)

Review of SanDisk Sansa Clip Music PlayerI’m not a heavy user of portable music players. I like to listen to music the old-fashioned way: at home, in front of the speakers of my stereo system, not only hearing the music but feeling its vibrations through the floor and the air. Short of hearing it live, this seems like the most natural way of listening to music. However, when traveling or when out and about for long periods, it is certainly nice to be able to bring along some music to make the time go more pleasantly. Until recently, this occasional need was satisfied by an old Creative Zen V Plus 2GB MP3 player. It accompanied my wife and me on various trips for years, but lately has been erratically refusing to play when called upon to do so. It was time to send it to the farm where they keep the old carriage horses and those turkeys spared by presidents through the ages.

My criteria for a replacement MP3 player were simple: it needed to be low-cost and reliable. I’m not an Apple aficionado, and an iPod would be a case of extreme over-buying for my needs. I wanted something under $50. The “SanDisk Sansa Clip+” player which I settled upon is listed at $49.99 but can currently be found on Amazonfor $34.95, and perhaps even less elsewhere.

The model I purchased has a 4GB capacity. It surprised me that this was only twice as much capacity as the old Creative Zen, considering how such things have changed in the computing world, but when I received it and saw that it was also less than half the size of that old player, this made more sense. It is 2 inches long and 1 1/4 inches wide, and about as small as such a player could be and still have a readable screen and manageable controls. Anyhow, 4GB is plenty for my own purposes. For those who care to do so, SanDisk microSD or microSDHC cards can be utilized to expand the capacity by many gigabytes. It is also designed to accept a “slotRadio” card, the nature of which interests me not a bit. Continue reading SanDisk Sansa Clip MP3 Player (4GB)

God Bless America Irving Berlin

(Sitting Out) God Bless America

Irving Berlin, composer of God Bless AmericaThere is an opinion column by a Methodist minister named James P. Marsh in The Washington Post, titled “Why I Sit Out ‘God Bless America.'”

Explaining his discomfort with the song, he states:

I imagine that the God I believe in isn’t interested in dispensing special nationalistic blessings. (Or, perhaps more to the point, blessings for our bullpen, error-free fielding and sufficient run support.) When we ask for blessings to be bestowed only on “us,” we are in danger of seeing ourselves as set apart from the world. Faith is global, and one nation doesn’t get any more or less of God than any other.


It honestly never occurred to me that in praying for God’s blessing on America, I was praying that He not give his blessing to any other nation or people. What a strange way of perceiving prayer. There is nothing in the lyric of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” that condemns any other nation or people. By extension, if one prays to God to bless one’s own family, is it implicitly a prayer to God to curse everyone else’s family? Continue reading (Sitting Out) God Bless America