Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Advent: Nativity by Gustav Doré

Dear David,

Thank you for this nativity scene. It is one of my favorite illustrations from one of my favorite acquisitions of this year, i.e. The Dover production of The Doré Bible Illustrations, the 241 electrotype woodcut plates from La Sainte Bible of 1865. Once again we can thank the French for something of remarkable beauty and memorable magnitude.

And I thank you for finding this wonderful volume for me in the dusty piles of Betty’s Antique Store in Lenoir City (pronounced not as in the French tradition, but as the first half of the way George Strait might call one or the other of two roadies standing, smoking, behind the Yamaha mixer, ”Len or Billy Bob, get that Guild for me, will ya?”) Betty’s is closed now. I’m not sure what happened, no giant sale like the Brown Squirrel runs every couple of months, "Last Chance before Closing!" But she is really out of business, empty windows, empty floor, nothing but the sign to remind us of the treasures that once were available behind the chipped china display around the corner from the pile of old Saturday Evening Posts.

But back to the subject. The wonder of the Doré book for me (and for folks of my age category) is, as stated in the intro to it. “There can be little doubt that these engravings . . . have fixed the iconography of Bible in our minds.” I would say, “my age and tradition” but you are not of my religious tradition, and you recognized it’s classic import right away. The pictures in this black and white volume take me to the remembrances of the stories of the Bible, The Brazen Serpent, David and Goliath (replete with gory decapitation), Daniel in the Den of Lions, Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery, Jesus and the Disciples Going to Emmaus, various images of the Crucifixion, and of course this one, The Nativity. I’d say even younger folks have been impacted by the works of this masterpiece from 1865, (Can any good thing come out of the 1860’s?) because so much of the biblically-related artistic imagination of the 20th century found its roots here in the pages of the Doré Bible.

Back to this image of the advent--It is such a nice one. Men and women who are quite authentic in their response to a baby, haloing around the Christ child. Is Joseph napping? The animals are precious too. The little one reminds me of the lamb we had once, Baa-aa-b. You didn’t know us then, but Cate will doubtless remember.

Well, in all my thinking about advent this year, I have enjoyed considering it in light of this image best of all. And I have this image thanks to you. We will have to go antiquing again real soon!!!
May your holiday be wonderful. Hope to see you soon.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Top 4 or 5 or 7 of 2006

Dear Listmakers,

Meandering around blogdom, I find, everywhere, lists of favorites from 2006. I'm overwhelmed at all the books/movies/music et al. that you people have studied. I feel like Charlie Brown in the face of all the lists. (Note: I would point to an online cartoon of Charlie Brown and Linus looking at clouds, but the Schulz estate is pretty tight-lipped with their stuff. Think: Linus and Charlie lying on their backs in a field watching the clouds. Linus says, I see Moses leading the children of Israel across the Red Sea with Pharoah's chariots close behind. Charlie says, I was just going to say that I saw a ducky and a doggy.)

If I were to make a list of the top. . . 4 or 5 or7 things from 2006 (all genre) I'd include (in no particular order of importance):

1) A series of tapes by Robert Greenberg about Understanding the World's Great Music. (Robert, I do plan to post a blog-letter to you real soon!)

2) The blog Paterson Project. Very nice concept and because of it I've discovered the poetry of William Carlos Williams.

3) Toni Morrison's books. These are not easy books for me, but, I think they are honest and expansive for me.

4) The Requiem Mass. It has been a sad year in ways for me, but I have found great rest the way folks for centuries have done, through the requiem. Mozart, Verdi, Faure, Rutter.

5) I haven't seen many movies made this year, none that readily come to mind as meriting mention. One I should have seen before, but that I saw this year, is Crash. I know this movie has positive and negative following, but I did respect what it was saying, and, I do know that crash.

6) I heard bell hooks speak several times this year. She is certainly a worthy thinker.

7) Blogging. I began blogging as an experiment related to a presentation on technology at a conference. It has become important to me as a way to develop as a writer, but it's more than that, somehow.

OK. So that's it. I guess what I'll have to do is write a To Do List. Now, I could come up with an impressive one of those!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Third Week of Advent: O Lord, Come By Here

What is the attraction of the simple song that we sing and mock, love and hate, play with and worship by? Kumbayah, Lord. I suppose part of its glow is that it allows for anything. Someone's singing, someone's praying, someone's crying, someone's laughing, someone's dancing, someone's sleeping, someone's sinning, someone's serving, I suppose someone could even be having intercourse and you could Kubayah.

This song allows us to be exactly who we are and still say Kumbayah, Lord.

So, in this spirit, the third week of advent could be a true celebration, not of chaos and lasciviousness, but certainly of acceptance and forgiveness. You have not come, Jesus, in the form of authority and pomp, (see revisionist creed) but you've kind of sidled up to us with the rhythm of jimbay drums, and the beat of our own hearts, and, and participation in who we really are.

Kumbayah, my Lord, Kumbayah.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Second Sunday of Advent: O Come Emmanuel

Dear Friends Who Are Muslim and Yet Don't Hate Me for My Various Stupidities,

This second week of advent I am reminded by the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel of how patient you have been with me and my cultural faux pas. You are remarkable in so many ways and have opened up your lives to me without prejudice and with great love. Thank you.

Remember the first time I invited you over for dinner and I served bacon bits to go with the salad. I suppose you should have walked out then and there, but you didn't and I'm so glad. I know it was thoughtless of me, and I actually knew better. I guess that I just went on "company-for-dinner autopilot" and pulled out the usual stuff. Gee, I don't even like bacon bits.

Then there was the time I served Aunt Melba's green salad. The salad is a sneaky thing, with all the cool whip and cream cheese; it just doesn't look like jello. You seemed to like it, and were ready for seconds when I mentioned the word gelatin. That time I really didn't know that Muslims do not eat jello. Oh how I wish I were better prepared for the socio/religious challenges of building a bi-cultural relationship. Yet, you forgive and I'm trying not to forget.

And I didn't forget to consider you at Anne GG's wedding. Our priest didn't quite understand why we insisted on non-alcoholic wine for the celebration of the Eucharist just because our Muslim friends would be in attendance. Of course, I didn't expect you to participate, but heck, I thought, if you wanted to, I didn't want you to have to deal with alcohol. See, I am trying to pay attention!

Now even your children are teaching me new things. Remember the Christmas stocking incident? I'm glad you like to celebrate Christmas with us. One of my other Muslim friends actually said she thought that Jesus was the greatest prophet. I don't know if you would express it quite that familiarly, but as you say, "We are both people of the book," and you are glad to join us in our celebration of Jesus' birth as told in our book. So both you and your beautiful little girls enjoy the "stocking" tradition, or as your youngest would ask upon entering for the holiday visit, "Where is my sock?" And it will be waiting next week, her "sock," with her own name engraved in sparkles, but. . . without the Gummy Bears I mistakenly included one year, indelicately, without reading the ingredients. Yes, caught by gelatin once again. I can still picture your oldest girl, barely able to read but, careful by your training, saying, "Mommy, can we have this?" and pointing to the label. You are always so gracious and delicate in your responses. Thank you for once again forgiving my failing.

So last Christmas I was again, uncomfortable, that we had crossed a line, with the singing of this song:

"O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel."

I realized while singing, that these words just might be beyond the pale for my dear friends. I hadn't thought, in advance, how these particular words might sound to your ears. I promise that I won't select O Come Emmanuel this year, though you have always generally loved our annual carol singing. And of course you have already shown that you have not taken offense, for when I called to set the date for the party this year, you eagerly asked, "We will be singing?"

Needless to say, at this holiday season, it is one of the great gifts of my life to have you as my friends. Your presence in my life is truly an advent of Christ for me.

Eid Mubarak!


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Call Me a Socialist or a Pirate

Avast Yusaf Hamied,

Call me a socialist, but I like what you are doing, have done, etc. Let capitalism fall if it must. (It won't.) I am also willing to call it good. (See Survey on this topic.)

I know that lots of people call you a pirate. Maybe being a pirate is good too, when what you are doing is saving Aids victims and heart patients, not just downloading MP3s. (I heard that your company provides the drugs for 40% of the Aids patients in third world countries. Is that so?)

Of course large pharmaceutical firms want to make a profit. And they should on some level, but I wonder what ever happened to motivation that comes from saving peoples lives? I'm thinking that since the government already pays for a good share of the research that sits behind most drugs, the idea of patents that block people from getting life-saving medicine is ludicrous and uncivilized. (Let's reserve the patents for Viagra.) If pharmaceutical companies find it hard to be motivated to make drugs without accruing the level of profits that will provide yachts ("It's a Sailor's Life for Me!") for every drug rep in the lower 48 states, then perhaps we could outsource the work to India.

I don't have much more to say, except, thanks, matey.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

First Sunday of Advent: Even So Come Lord Jesus

Dear Georg Friedrich,

Today we sang our way into the Christmas season with the annual Messiah sing-along. Yes, I suppose it sounds either hokey. . . garnering about it fuzzy feelings of Kum Ba Yah about a campfire, or pretentious. . . right. . . we are all plopping open scores of one of the world’s most difficult oratorios and sight reading it for our own enjoyment. Ok, you are correct, we were bad (and not just a little bit) especially when we stumble through passages like that from Chorus 21, “His yoke is ea-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-easy, His burthen is light.” (Burthen, what the heck is burthen?)

Well, you wrote this music. Don’t criticize us when even seasoned choir members slide off pitch.

Nonetheless, advent is here and it is not bad entering it with a high musical tour of the images of the season.

“Who, indeed may abide the day of His coming? And who of us may stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s (refi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-iners) fire.” I’m standing there singing, (or maybe listening at this juncture) and looking around saying, “Who indeed, of this motley off-key bunch will be left standing if He advents like Loge rather than the Jesus we have come to know and love. That Jesus, a.k.a. holy child born in a manger, is certainly where we want to head in this advent season. Let’s try to keep the refiner’s fire out of this thing or at least reduce it to a campfire for a few shepherds, motley like ourselves, huddling for warmth on a cold winter night, intoning “Come by here.”

What we need to behold is “the Lamb of God, that taketh away, taketh away, the Lamb of God, of God, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world, of the world. Behold!”



P.S. Here is a great advent poem by Rich of Pilgrim Path.