Archive for January, 2008

Jesus’ earthy parables often offended the sense of justice that had accrued over centuries to conventional wisdom and salt-of-the-earth logic. His contemporaries, like ours, managed fairly established assumptions about what a good man was like and how a bad man was likely to behave. Even for those unschooled in the legal minutiae of Israel’s long dance with Torah would have agreed with a high level of consensus about the kinds of behavior that were worthy of respect, the kinds that cried out for retribution, and the unspoken moral code that lay behind all of this. (more…)


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Moses and Miryam each snag space for a song in Exodus 15. Staggering forward from the violent salvation of the Yam Suf (the ‘Sea of Reeds’), the screams of drowning Egyptians still clinging to them like smoke to a survivor’s clothes, the escaped Hebrew slaves sing. (more…)

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This masterful album can only be called succulent. And that’s just to start with. The adjectives need to wax ever stronger in order adequately to describe the movement from one classic piece to the next in this eleven-track celebration of some of the 1970s finest music.

Like Seinfeld for the ears, Simon and Garfunkel’s music generates many of the lyrics and observations that are engraved upon the brains of us who grew up in that era and which spring almost unconsciously to the lips when circumstances beckon. (more…)

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Moses’ place in the story of Israel comes long before the establishment of a monarchy and the emergence of prophets as counterweight to the king. Yet the text presents Moses as the prophet par excellence. Patterns are established here that will mark the prophetic trajectory when its moment comes.

One of these patterns is counter-intituitive, at least if we begin from the modern perception of prophets as loud-mouthed, imposing, self-assured verbalists who spoke for God with little self-restraint and loved the perks that came with doing so. (more…)

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Russian romantic music performed like this in a 1992 recording by Antoni Wit and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra is the reason the Naxos label came out of nowhere to the kind of well-deserved prominence that makes ‘budget music’ seem an irrelevant misnomer.

Tchaikovsky’s great Symphony Number 5 is played with exceptional verve. The stirring Andante tempo that predominates in three of the four movements comes off majestically. If Tchaikovsky teetered on the edge of madness, he managed to transpose whatever chaos gusted in his soul into memorable late romantic lines that occasionally make one almost shudder. This fifth symphony set him up for the unforgettable sixth (‘Pathetique’), in which emotion burst whatever dam was still standing as he wrote this, its precursor. (more…)

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Joseph in his maturity is one of the appealing characters of Israel’s patriarchal narratives. We have seen his youthful dreamery and felt a mild revulsion before it. Even the way he toys with his brothers when they come to Egypt in search of grain and do not recognize Joseph in his Egyptian finery leaves one to wonder whether there are still dark demons aflutter in this man’s soul, whether they can ever be tamed now that power’s corrupting agency has joined them there.

Yet in the end Joseph appears to have learned to love and, certainly, to forgive. (more…)

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Yasmín Levy’s music is a revelation. Blending and sorting influences from Ladino (Jewish-Spanish) culture, Gypsy, and Flamenco music with other Middle Eastern aural aromas, the result is stunning. Levy is the kind of interpreter who could sing about a floor mop in an exotic language and leave you paralyzed by the emotion of it.

Her style is richly sensuous. Accompanied by some splendid Spanish guitar, the Mediterranean sabor of it all splashed a bit of sun on even a winter’s morning in Indianapolis. Yet this is not music for the casual vacationer hoping for a bit of melodic bronzing before lunch.

Levy’s theme is often abandonment. Whether the Gypsy with no country or the lover with no choice but to leave because ‘quiero olvidar el aroma de tu cuerpo, quiero olvidar el sabor de tus labios’, Levy’s song is as often as not a lament.

From an aesthetic point of view, that is just as well. The deep sadness that comes through in this genre accounts for its well-echoing beauty. Even to sing of amor is to weep over love lost or to cringe in the face of its anticipated departure or to cut off a beautiful thing because one knows it will turn bad.

The flamenco touches are gorgeously done, the genre’s staccato clap punctuating a vocal line laid down with superb maturity by the singer. It is not difficult to believe Levy’s reviewers who say that she presents an exquisite live concert.

No one will ever say that Yasmín Levy’s music lacks feeling. Yet there is so very much more here than just passion.

La Judería is indeed a revelation.

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The patriarchal narratives seem almost inebriated by the destabilizing habit of placing posterity and blessing upon the shoulders of the wrong child. The first-born, time and again, sees circumstances trump his privilege. The lesser becomes the greater. Legacy draws its protagonist from the margins and stations him front and center. (more…)

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As to seasick disciples on a turbulent Sea of Galilee, Jesus sometimes appears out of context, seeming very much to be a ghost. He comes at an angle from which we expect only threat and danger, messengers of an alien chaos that could only devour us.

Amazingly, to his disciples’ cry of ‘It is a ghost!’ (for who else comes walking on water through a storm but weird, destroying things?), Jesus’ reply echoes the long, biblical pattern by which unsought appearances of the divine are announced by just these words: ‘Don’t be afraid!’

But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

Quite reasonably, we fear that chaos which we cannot control. Yet very much to our amazement, Jesus often approaches us most promisingly from out of that very disorder. He is not to be controlled. Yet we ought to welcome rather than fear him when he comes to us this way. Or if we cannot do that, then at least we may hear his words of friendly intimacy: ‘Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.’

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Dear Christopher and Johnny,

These Pennsylvania mountains mean nothing to you. How could they? You’ve grown up in places we Pennsylvanians consider much more exotic, though they seem perfectly natural to you. Places like Costa Rica and England.

Still, this Pennsylvania landscape that continues to evoke feelings of home in me on my infrequent visits is exquisite in its own way. To my eye on this windy, blue-skied January morning, the intermingling of woodland and cultivated fields—though these lie fallow on this Winter’s day—occurs in perfect proportion.

Yet this place brings a tear and more sobering thoughts than physical beauty can explain. As I write you these words, my sons, I look out over the place where Flight 93 plowed its way forty-five feet into the Pennsylvania soil on September 11, 2001. (more…)

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