Monthly Archives January 2013

Music As Truth: Thoughts on “Goin’ Home”

Sometimes it seems that music does religion better than religion does. Which is to say it elicits depths and ranges of soul-stirring emotion (wonder, rapture, joy, universal brother-and-sisterhood) that all religion aspires to but so often falls short of when it focuses more on doctrine and notions of absolute truth and exclusivity.

As much as we may cleave to and even argue over our musical preferences, I can’t find any listings for “The Music Wars” or “The Folk Music Crusades” on Wikipedia, and dinner party conversations are rarely if ever fractured by an otherwise gracious guest’s semi-bellicose insistence, after that second glass of wine, that jazz really is the one true music.

These thoughts occurred to me again the other night while glorying in the second “largo” movement of Dvorak’s Ninth “New World” Symphony, and the many interpretations of it offered by an astonishing array of artists,...

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Against Wholeness

I’m about to let my membership in the Church of Human Wholeness lapse. It’s not that I can’t afford the tithe anymore (there isn’t any). Nor that the people there aren’t nice (everyone I know striving for wholeness tries unceasingly to be as kind as they can be).

It’s just that the effort is based on a model and goal that are not only unattainable in this fractured existence we encounter, but, in my mind, not particularly desirable. Too many treasures abide in the roiling waters just below the surface of our everyday social selves—nuggets of contemplation, tensions leading to inspiration, interpersonal imbroglios leading to insight.

So I’ve had enough of wholeness. I’m giving it up. And I couldn’t be happier.

Let’s face it: human beings are a mess. A glorious, endearing, mystifying, contradictory, staggeringly complex, often-edifying-but-also-aggravating mess, but a mess nevertheless...

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The Dignity of “The Dutchman” (and His Wife)

Sometimes, life is just crappy and sad, so sad. And those who bear it may show tremendous dignity, but that doesn’t necessarily earn them a return of cheerfulness the next day, or the next year, or ever. Life is never even remotely that fair.

“The Dutchman” and his devoted wife look to be two such people. Michael Peter Smith’s haunting elegy to aging and dementia casts a plaintive poetic glow that settles on the quietly shifting scenes like a dreamy summer fog as Margaret guides her ex-seaman husband through his old haunts in Amsterdam. His faculties ebbing, she serves as both his physical escort and his memory.

The wedding day question “Till-death-do-you-part?” meets its existential peak in dementia...

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Prophecy for All At the Jewish Prophet School

According to a year-end Associated Press report, a Jewish “prophet school” is causing controversy in Israel, offending traditionalists who say the era of prophecy is over and will not return till the coming of the long-awaited Messiah and the rebuilding of the second temple in Jerusalem.

Besides, Jewish thought insists prophecy is a gift from God, not an acquired skill like baking or computer programming. (Actually, computer programming does strike me as a gift from God, as does trigonometry, carpentry, and numerous other talents that God, in her infinite and unknowable wisdom, has forsaken gifting me with throughout my life.)

“It’s like opening a school to become Einstein or Mozart,” complains Rachel Elior, religion professor at Jerusalem University.

“Cain and Abel School of Prophecy” founder Shmuel Hapartzy is unmoved, and claims that in 40 brief classes (and for 200 shekels—about $53) he can t...

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