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