Archive for January, 2009

The clear, concrete familiarity of that first line comes on this troubled morning like a gift:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1 NRSV)

For a moment, it burns away the thick underbrush of scarcity, pain, and need. It casts the soil under my feet into sunlight. It brings one near to believing that this thing is true.

Oh, to be shepherded through the longest night, the darkest shadowed valley of abandonment. Oh, to know for a moment the absence of want, the quieting of one’s scream against the madness of things.

A body longs for it to be true more than almost anything else. If this is reality, then all other can be endured.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Green pastures. Still waters. Right paths. I can almost recall their shape, feel again the softness under bare feet, the cool of lapping water, the pleasure of a path that aims—however erratically—at a destination rather than petering out in the confused shapelessness of the bush. There was a moment, almost a lifetime really, when joy was the default, when laughter crowded in and flowed down like a rushing stream even when justice seemed to have slowed to a trickle.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

Perhaps this gnawing, soul-gutting solitude is not alone-ness but the slightly skewed perception of being so because the one who accompanies veils himself for reasons only he can know. But does he indeed accompany? Does he walk even here, know the heat of these tears, tune to the uncommon, unrhythmed cacophony of a grown man’s sobs?

It is too much to be believed, this lack of want. Yet maybe it will become true in its moment, even if the darkness does not quickly, does not ever, turn to light.


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Children are both central and essential.

They are central to the drama of human life. Jesus ‘puts a child among them’ in more ways than the mere physical positioning of the child whose nature he employs in the teaching that follows as the image of how his Father wishes all of us to be. They are central in that Scripture time and again locates critical importance in their essence and their activity.

They are essential because adults would, it appears from the teaching of Jesus, be rudderless without the reframing, refocusing presence of the little ones. Like so many other creatures whom we find it easy to marginalize, the children are here for us. (more…)

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A brief codicil to the story of Jacob/Israel’s death and burial displays how deeply suspicion and fear had intruded themselves into the cells and sinews of Israel’s earliest generations:

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?’

Joseph wept when his brothers approached him with their ugly negotiation about becoming his slaves if only Joseph would swear off the sad tradition of blood vengeance. After all they had been through, it seems to grieve this half-Hebrew, half-Egyptian head of state to learn that his brothers still did not consider him to be one of them. (more…)

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In the face of the mixed tones, hues, and points of view that show themselves in the ‘five books of Moses’, students of this material have often had recourse to complex theories of composition. Surely, the logic goes, such divergent perspectives require us to conjecture a broad mix of oral and literary traditions that by some mechanism became integrated into the document(s) that lie(s) before us.

It is a reasonable conjecture. In the nature of the case, scholars with their attention fixed on the minutiae of the data will sometimes take a good idea to a less than plausible extreme. Yet this does not discount the probability that complex layers of tradition have made their distinct and varied contributions to our Pentateuch, our Torah, our first five books of the Bible. (more…)

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The chemistry between Franka Potente’s ‘Marie’ and Matt Damon’s ‘Jason Bourne’ sizzles on top the European scenery where it’s left to rest in this film adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s novel. The result is a splendid kickoff to a strong trilogy treating a CIA black op gone bad and, to boot, amnesiac.

My son got me into these flicks. Now there’s no getting out.

A great night’s entertainment here. And the fun has barely begun.

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This breathtaking classic of American film-making frames Francis Ford Coppola as one of the all-time great cinematic craftsmen.

Having inexplicablyl missed out on this piece of Americana at the time of its popularity, this reviewer bought the three-film set in time to finish it just after his fiftieth birthday. It was worth the wait.

This epic saga of a mob family that cannot escape the burden of honor no matter how hard it tries (or, at times, fails to try) does not glorify gangsters or their ways. To the contrary, we grow to pity Michael Corleone for the centuries-old Sicilian trap into which he has unwittingly fallen. (more…)

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Positions of large responsibility rarely allow one to follow his feelings. Like Michael Corleone in the Godfather movies—though hopefully with more redemptive outcomes—stewardship over the lives and fate of others requires us to become reasonable men or reasonable women.

Elevated to improbably sovereignty over the famine-time life of Egypt, the biblical Joseph is in many ways a model of self-control. The wife of Potiphar, for examples, finds her charms useless to her attempts to seduce Joseph. His discernment of dreams and the courage to articulate their meaning to people whose lives will be enriched or cut short in consequence show Joseph to be a man who knows who he is, what truth is, and how to reconcile the competing demands of each. (more…)

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Jesus’ parable of the sower stands out from similar stories transmitted to us in the four gospels. It is unusually allegorical. Elements of the story point to real-world referents in an almost one-for-one fashion that is extraordinary when compared to the body of Jesus’ signature teaching style.

There is tragedy in this tale of seeds, soil, and a sower. For multiple reasons, seed is wasted. The promise of life and harvest turns out to have been betrayed. Rocks, hard-packed earth, and thorns are for the most part the unattractive victors in this story of long odds. (more…)

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The compilers of the mid-1980’s Sunday Times Music Collection had the good sense to corral representative works of jazz legends Erroll Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins on to this short-length CD.

All eight tracks shine, but the preternaturally talented Gillespie and the cool-plodding Monk take honors.

It is amazing to consider the down-and-out venues where music of this caliber was being made in this way at a time in American history when most of the artists recorded here were barred from the posh joints for reasons of color. Two days from the date of this short review, we inaugurate a Black president …


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Joaquín Sabina, his band, and his audience shine on this 2001 double-CD live performance. The first disk is labeled acústico, the second eléctrico. Both display Sabina’s captivating stage presence and his knack for telling the story of regular people caught up by irregular forces like that of love itself. This balladesque touch puts one in mind of Juan Luís Guerra, a very different musician but a close cousin when it comes to musical narrative touched with glimmers of Latin America’s signature realismo fantástico.

‘Yo me bajo en Atocha’ is a stunningly beautiful tribute to the enigma that is Madrid. ‘Princesa’ is as bitter and biting as ‘Atocha’ is fluid with exquisite nostalgia. (more…)

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