Wednesday, April 23, 2003

'the two towers' cliff-hanger

I suppose I can understand the reason for the reported move of Shelob from "The Two Towers" to "Return of the King," but I am a little disappointed. The last pages of "The Two Towers" the book is one of the all-time greatest literary cliff-hangers. The first time I read it, it was much like the same feeling I had when I heard this dialogue:

Riker: What do you mean he's with the Borg?
Worf: He is a Borg!
Picard: I am Locutus of Borg. Your lives as you have known them are over. From now on you will adapt to service us. Resistance is useless, Number One.
Riker: Mr. Worf ... fire.


And they knew they were doing it too.

I wish Jackson would leave Shelob at the end of the second movie, but I understand why he's not. The wandering in Mordor isn't likely to be appealing enough to support a big chunk of "The Return of the King" in the cinema. But he would get a lot of Tolkien newbies rushing out to buy the books and to see his movie if he did it that way.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

new reasons to squeeze them

This morning I went out to walk the dog and found someone had walked into my front yard, stepped in a newly spaded flower bed and cut the beautiful yellow blooms off some of my spring ephemerals. What the expletive is the point of that? They'll be wilted in a vase by this time tomorrow, but they'd still be blooming a week or two from now in my flower bed where everyone could have enjoyed them if they had been left alone. What a great way to start off the day.

Fat stupid hobbitses ... not nice to Sméagol.

no blood for oil

Let's be fair: The "it's all about oil" argument is rather oversimplistic, don't you think? I know I do.

I'm sure the oil argument has occurred to members of the Bush administration, and even if it hadn't, the number of protesters and war opponents who have brought the issue forward certainly would have suggested it.

That said, I'm inclined to believe the president believes the reasons he gave for ousting Saddam Hussein: the noncompliance issue with U.N. inspections and the prospect of chemical or biological weapons, and the ties between Saddam Hussein's regime and international terrorism. I'm sure other factors played into it, including the opportunity to improve America's oil supply and the opportunity to avenge his father's failure 12 years ago, but I think it's disingenuous to ascribe only or even primarily economic reasons to Bush's actions.

Monday, April 14, 2003

judas' true motivation revealed

You know why Judas betrayed Jesus? It's simple. He was mortified by Jesus' liberal social views, and was concerned if he did prove to be a political messiah he wouldn't approve massive tax cuts for the rich. Since Judas had squirreled away a nice bit of cash from the treasury -- and remember he only gave lip service to caring for the poor -- he decided it was necessary to nip this new social order in the bud.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

on my own for the moment

At the moment, Evangeline is upstairs, sound asleep, and Natasha and Rachel are out at a book club Natasha belongs to. That leaves me pretty much on my own, so after wasting time I should have been putting to better uses, I'm here writing this.

Probably the biggest news we have right now is that Natasha is turning 28 this Friday. The girls and I went out this afternoon after I got home from work, and bought her some books in Frank Herbert's "Dune" series. I've never actually read the books, but they're generally regarded as a classic work of science-fiction. They're set on the desert world Arrakis and apparently delve into religious and political philosophies. (Two of the sequels are Dune Messiah and God Emperor of Dune, which says something, I suppose.) Natasha's been reading my copy of the first book and enjoying it immensely, so I'm hoping she enjoys the sequels.

I haven't had much time to do recreational reading, unfortunately. The most I've been able to do this year is to re-read "The Hobbit" and to start re-reading "The Fellowship of the Ring." Whoever said all that you need in life is God and books must have had more time than me.

Work is going well, although I remain frustrated with my experiences there and continue to hope (and look) for opportunities elsewhere. I recently spoke with Dick Willever, the Big Cheese editor down at The Princeton Packet, and they have filled a position there that I had applied for. Just as well, probably, since the only reason I had applied for it was to get out of my current situation. I need not to settle, and instead concentrate on finding something that will challenge and interest me instead of just changing the environment I get bored and frustrated in.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

saddam double killed

By Jocko Grinn

BAGHDAD, Iraq. (Grinn News Service) — A decoy for one of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's body doubles was believed killed in an allied bombing late Tuesday night.

Allied forces, acting on intelligence that Saddam has been the unwitting puppet of one Mohammed Chang -- reportedly the body double of one of Saddam's more cunning body doubles -- dropped powerful ordnance on a residential structure in Bagdhad where Chang was said to be playing Gnip Gnop with body doubles of Saddam's sons Uday and Qusai.

The bombs — four HSOABs, or Half-Sisters Of All Bombs, twice removed on Aunt Edith's side — struck the upscale al-Mansour section of western Baghdad. The bombs used up all the hot water and tied up the phones all afternoon up to 300 yards away, wrinkled pages of the regime's diamond-studded Entertainment Today magazines, and started moving their things into people's rooms while they were away at school, leaving a heap of dirty, stinky laundry in the hall -- then short-circuited, exploding and destroying the entire block.

"We'd like to confirm an incident of success on a designated target," said Marine Maj. Brad Bartelt, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Qatar. "At the moment, though, all we can confirm is a really big smoking crater."

Iraqi dissidents familiar with Saddam say the Iraqi dictator began using the body doubles as a way to foil assassination attempts and to make it difficult for his wives to determine whether or not he was actually attending dinner parties with them. Hussein's body doubles then began using their own decoys, in order to take smoking and TV breaks on regime time without having their retirement funds docked.

At some point, Chang — who has the most common first and last names in the world — began using the Iraqi dictator's name to order late-night pizza and call world-renowned psychic Miss Cleo on her exclusive 900 number.

Unverified rumors speculate that Saddam Hussein himself was posing as Chang, who was posing as Saddam, and that the smoking crater marks the Iraqi dictator's unanticipated gravesite.

Also believed to have been killed in an airstrike on Basra is Saddam's top commander in southern Iraq, his first cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid. Al-Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali" for his trademark phrase "Move like a butterfly, sting like a cloud of nerve gas" made a name for himself in the 1970s and 1980s as a professional boxer in the Iraqi circuit.

"We believe that the reign of terror of Chemical Ali has come to an end," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said. "To Iraqis who were hoping for a rematch, we promise to soon send you Mike Tyson, the next time he's out on parole for a few weeks."

Meanwhile, as coalition troops reportedly uncovered caches of chemical and biological weapons that for ten years the Iraqi regime has denied having — prompting reassurances that "We've been right behind you all along," from France, Russia, China and other nations that have criticized the coalition action against Iraq — Iraqi Minister of Information Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf assured Iraqi nationals that the war was going "well."

"There are no American troops inside Baghdad," al-Sahhaf said as a procession of U.S. Marines paused afternoon fighting behind him for coffee and bagels at a nearby Panera-al-Bubwa's. "Even now the infidels are committing suicide outside the gates of Baghdad, knowing that they will never see the hallowed halls of this blessed city."

judas' motivation redux

I was listening to my "Jesus Christ Superstar" soundtrack on the way home from work tonight (this morning?) and was hit by something I hadn't really fully noticed before. Judas' motivation in the musical is stated completely in the opening song: He was scared of what was going to happen, and wanted everyone to survive.

I've usually interpreted Superstar's Judas as acting from a sense of national preservation; i.e., he was trying to keep Israel from being destroyed by the Romans. But it was simpler than that, actually: He wanted to keep Jesus from being destroyed by the Romans too. When he approaches the Sanhedrin at the end of the first act, he's pleading for help; i.e., show me what I can do to save his life. When he betrays Jesus to the Sanhedrin, he's expecting the Sanhedrin is simply going to lock him up -- and he's utterly floored, flabbergasted and appalled when he sees what they do to him: "You beat him so bad I had to turn my head / You hit him so hard that he was bent and lame / and I know who everybody's going to blame."

He's shocked at the barbarity of what happened, but he's also horrified that everyone's going to think this is what he wanted to have happen.

Perhaps I should be embarrassed it took me so long to make such an obvious reading of the book, but it still struck me about how personal it makes it. It has Judas acting out of love and "for Jesus' own good."

Makes you wonder about the things we do for one another, doesn't it?

Saturday, April 05, 2003


You know, I usually make fun of Internet poetry, but in this case I'll make an exception:

I No Longer Pray for Peace

On the edge of war, one foot already in,
I no longer pray for peace:
I pray for miracles.
I pray that stone hearts will turn
to tenderheartedness,
and evil intentions will turn
to mercifulness,
and all the soldiers already deployed
will be snatched out of harm's way,
and the whole world will be
astounded onto its knees.
I pray that all the "God talk"
will take bones,
and stand up and shed
its cloak of faithlessness,
and walk again in its powerful truth.
I pray that the whole world might
sit down together and share
its bread and its wine.

Some say there is no hope,
but then I've always applauded the holy fools
who never seem to give up on
the scandalousness of our faith:
that we are loved by God. . . .
that we can truly love one another.
I no longer pray for peace:
I pray for miracles.

Ann Weems
Ash Wednesday
March 5, 2003

Copyright © 2003 by Ann Weems. All rights reserved.
Ann Weems has given permission to share this poem with others

Friday, April 04, 2003

the apostle: a monologue

This is a monologue I wrote two years ago for the Good Friday service at my church. It may not be reprinted, reposted, forwarded or performed without my express permission.

"The Apostle"

Don’t look at me like that.

The first time I met the Lord, he couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. I really don’t remember too much about it. I remember my family and I were in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, and we happened to bump into this family from Nazareth with a boy about the same age as me.

He was a little different even then, you could tell. He had a certain
mischievous look in his eyes — the kind that doesn’t do anything that’s actually wrong and that you can’t punish him for but it still makes you nervous anyway. We hit it right off, if for no other reason than we were the same age and both awed by the sites of the Holy City.

We saw each other a few more times as the years went by, and even though we got older, we still looked for each other around the Passover when we were in the city. By the time we were adults, Jesus had adopted a kind of intense air. Not brooding so much, but when you looked into his eyes, it was like looking at the sea and knowing there were such deep mysteries hidden within.

His eyes ... Don’t look me like that.

We were thirty when it all came together. I met him after he had been out in the desert with John the Baptist. I didn’t realize at the time that they were cousins, but I found it out later. It wasn’t long after that that he asked me to be one of his disciples. You can imagine how I felt. It was like — well, it was like I’d just been named one of the Twelve Apostles.

And let me tell you, it was a ride I will never forget as long as I live. When he spoke, everyone listened. Crowds. Demons. The waves. Even the priests and teachers of the law.

Then there were miracles. Everywhere we went, people came to him with
diseases, with afflicted children, and he healed them. Did you know that one time when were in Bethany he actually raised an old friend of his from the dead? There was no doubting who he was. He was the messiah, the very son of God himself, and I was left speechless that he actually would associate with me.

Please don’t look at me that way. It’s bad enough already.

You see, I was there with him from the very beginning. The others all knew him and loved him, but I could tell they couldn’t see what I saw happening. Things were getting out of control. When we started out, there was no doubt that Jesus was in control of things. People came to him for a miracle, and he gave them that miracle, and then they told others, and more people came, and Jesus gave them their miracles too, and they kept coming and taking, and Jesus kept right on giving, no matter how exhausted he was.

It all started to come clear to me a little over a week ago. Jesus had been hinting that there was trouble ahead. He was still talking about the kingdom of God, but something had changed. He started talking about being executed, and Peter — God bless him — Peter got upset with him. Jesus rebuked him, and I think that’s when I realized where we were headed.

It was absolutely clear to me just after we entered Jerusalem, and I knew it was clear to Jesus too. He kept looking at me with those eyes of his — eyes that were warm, but somehow sad — and I knew what he was thinking. It had gone too far. In all their hosannas and shouts of "Son of David, save us!" the crowd had changed. He had stopped leading them, and they hard started to drive him.

We had come too far, too fast, and things were spiraling out of control. I remember the last time that nearly happened, when hundreds of people left him at a time because of something he had said. His eyes had been filled with pain and confusion, and I knew we were headed toward that again, only worse.

Do you know what it’s like to love someone and see them get eaten away, piece by piece? It’s horrible. You see them in pain, you hear them crying out for release, and in the end, there’s nothing left of their glory or majesty. They’re empty shells, and that’s all that people remember of them.

I had to do what I did. I love him too much to let people remember him as anything but what he was this past week. A king, triumphantly riding his way into town. A prophet, angrily facing down the hypocrite shepherds who fatten themselves on their flock. A priest — the only real priest I’ve ever known — who cares for people and brings them closer to God.

Stop looking at me that way. I don’t want your pity, and I don’t need your horror. I did it because I love him. He knew it at the seder last night, and when I came to him early this morning, I saw it in his eyes that he was ready … his eyes ...

(choked laugh)

Oh God ... I've betrayed divinity....


Copyright © 2001 David Learn

easter baskets

An odd question here: What sort of treatment do you give to extrabiblical holidays and extrabiblical customs? Natasha and I are trying to decide how we want to handle Easter this year and whether we want to go the route of an Easter basket for Evangeline.

I'm inclined to, on the grounds it's not an offensive addition to the holiday; Natasha is discinlined, on the grounds that it's an occasion for overindulgence on chocolate and other junk, and feeds into the American consumer mentality. We have similar concerns about Christmas, obviously.

My best thought of course is to reinterpret the custom in some way, not to give it a Christian gloss, but to give it a new spin that somehow is Christ-centered. What the missionaries did with Easter made sense at the time -- turning a pagan holiday about renewal into a Christian celebration of new life and forgiveness -- but I'm kind of stumped about what to do with an Easter basket and chocolate. The best I can see is something with the basket being hidden and then found somehow paralleling the risen Christ emerging from the tomb, but that's kind of a stretch.

What does everyone do?

judas' motivation

Why did Judas betray Christ?
  • Evil needs no motive
  • He hoped to force Jesus to lead a revolt against Rome
  • He hoped to spare Judea a futile revolt against Rome
  • He didn't realize the Sanhedrin's intent to have Jesus executed
  • There was no choice involved; it was the role God had chosen for him
  • Because he loved Jesus and wanted him to be remembered at his height
  • He needed the money
  • The Pharisees or others had been threatening him and the others
  • He had decided that Jesus was a false messiah
  • He chose to betray Christ in order to see the prophecies fulfilled

It's actually a serious question. Judas has fascinated me for years, mostly because we know so little about him. Dante puts him in the lowest level of hell, calling him the worst of all sinners, and Christians often depict him as someone who doesn't really fit in with the other Twelve Apostles, someone who doesn't quite belong with Jesus, who is on the outskirts of the group rather than an insider.

That doesn't sit well with me. For one thing, he was eating at the same table as Christ during the final Passover seder, which isn't exactly a seat of dishonor. For a second, one of the messianic psalms bemoans the betrayal, saying, "If it had been an enemy who had done this, or even a stranger, I could have dealt with it. But it was you, a friend of mine." For a third, he was someone who had seen the miracles right from the beginning: the resurrection of Lazarus, the healings, the demons being cast out, the feeding of the five thousand -- heck, he even performed healings and other miracles when Jesus sent the disciples out.

And yet he betrayed Christ anyway. That makes him a compelling figure to me because it means he probably was doing what he thought was the Right Thing, or at least a Good Thing. I see more applications there for me as a believer, when I've duped myself into believing that I was doing was good and right when it was obvious to everyone else that it wasn't. And after all, "Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me."

Of course Judas could be forgiven, and so could Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and even me, but whether any of the others are forgiven of their sins is none of my affair to decide. My own sins, black and horrid as they are, I accept on faith that they are no more in the eyes of God, even though their memory haunts me some times.

From the textual descriptions we have of Judas and the betrayal, it doesn't seem that he reached the point of understanding what Jesus offered. His suicide seems to me an act of supreme despair, where he thought himself too horrible and too hardened in his heart to turn and seek forgiveness.

It's an interesting question, and one we'll never know the answer to until a lot of other things are made clear too, but I don't think it's likely the answer is yes. John the Evangelist writes that Satan entered into Judas and led him to betray Christ, which would indicate his heart wasn't right with God.

Another intriguing character from the Passion, of course, is Pilate. I posted an interesting essay about Pilate at CHRefugee last year, and (not surprisingly) there are old traditions about his salvation as well. In the Ethiopian church, there is even a St. Pilate's Day and an accompanying feast.

And as long as we're talking about the supporting cast, I have a drama I started working on but never finished, about an old priest who is remembering a time when he was younger that he met the messiah, still a child at the time, in the Temple courts. The priest at the time walked away, his pride hurt, and when he returned the next day, realizing who the boy was, found he had gone. That part is based on a song by Mike Card, but the part that's completely mine is what comes next -- the priest is Caiaphas and he's about to go out and make sure the Sanhedrin sentences Christ to death.

It's one of my projects. I really want to finish that.