From "Telstar" to "Vault of Horror," from Rattigan to Kerouac, from the Village of Bray to the Village of Midwich, help PZ link old ancient news and pop culture. I think I can see him, "Crawling from the Wreckage." Will he find his way? This show is brought to you by Mockingbird! www.mbird.com
Verticality is a make-or-break attribute of the Christian Church. When we put horizontality before verticality, we run out of gas. Always. People cannot "keep up" horizontal good works and outreach if they are not being, as the English say, resourced. I saw this vividly last week. A men's prayer breakfast and Bible study was powerfully taught by a local pastor. He talked directly and winsomely about various problems with which the men present are dealing, in one form or another. I suddenly found myself taking notes. Hadn't intended to take notes, and even the notes themselves were not directly related to the actual content of his message. But I was being exposed. I was a being who found himself in the direct presence of God. When horizontality and even excellent words like "community" and "outreach" become privileged in the church, then the cart can easily overtake the horse. One saw this years ago in Westchester County. A woman from down the Hudson started to attend our parish in Scarborough. I asked her why she was willing to make the long trip from her house on Sunday mornings. She said that her Presbyterian home church had completely exhausted her with its endless calls for volunteers in the community. Then something really happened: her commuting husband threw himself in front of a train one day, and she was instantly widowed. In that moment, and in its aftermath, all the horizontality in the world didn't speak. She needed God. Today's cast ends with one of the great classics of exterior help in the face of interior need. It is probably enough in itself to make you fall down on your knees. LUV U.
I think we probably all need to get "outta gear", at least to some extent. 'Gears' are the attitudes, narratives, and exterior values that shape and define most of what we spend our time doing. We are trying to be successful, trying to win love, trying to be some image of ourselves that someone else has made us covet, trying, basically, to get nowhere fast! When you get sick -- which we all do at some point -- the gears fall off. When somebody breaks up with you -- which happens to almost everyone at some point -- the gears fall off. When you get fired unexpectedly -- which happens, again, to almost everyone at some point -- the gears fall off. Rejection of almost any kind pries off the gears of your life, and they fall off. For me, getting older has tended to feel like I'm getting "outta gear". Moreover, Los Straitjackets are outta gear in over half their covers. The wheels come off at the end of each song -- tho' that turns out to be great. Sparks fly and the music ascends. Like the big black cadillac driven by John Travolta at the end of Grease (1978). There's fireworks followed by Ascension. That's what I am talking about: the inspiration that comes when you get... outta gear. This episode marks a 360 degree history of PZ's Podcast. We're not done yet, but I'd like to give thanks for it anyway. And here's a shout-out, on Mother's Day 2023, to my Bride of almost 50 years, Mary Cappleman Zahl. The cast is dedicated to Mary.
I think about it a lot: why isn't God intervening to make the world a less harsh and broiling place? 'Where are you, God? Come on, already.' Another way of putting it: What's taking You so long? And that's not just a question about "the world". It's a question concerning your individual world. As in, when are You going to help me out with this particular problem I'm having? Our friend Susannah Leighton helped me a few years ago when she opined, quite spontaneously, during an after-church youth-group meeting: "God never seems to come early". I drunk that in! What an insight. More recently, Mary and I were reading Psalm 103 when we came to verses eight and nine: "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep His anger for ever." What I heard from that is that while God's Grace is his predominant characteristic, His righteous indignation -- His Justice -- will also express itself at some point. Even God, in other words, has His limits. That feels encouraging. So when I ask, 'How long, O Lord?', the answer is, 'At some point'. Not today (apparently), but possibly tomorrow. And certainly at some point. Remember 2001 A Space Odyssey? Last weekend I made a pilgrimage to the theater in Washington D.C. where it had its world-premiere on April 3rd 1968 -- which is where and when I saw it. (The theater is closed now but the facade is preserved.) Well, there's that moment towards the middle of the movie when scientists on the Moon discover that the 'Monolith', the incarnation of Alien intelligence and control, has been sitting there, in the Crater Clavius, for four million years. The Aliens apparently take a long view. So yes, pray with me for some relief, for Heav'n's sake. But human humility requires us to give the timing to God. This podcast is dedicated to Susannah Leighton. P.S. To respond to the appeal for financial support, please click here (https://mbird.com/support/).
It just came down to me. Like the letter at the beginning of Forrest Gump. Like the chap who rescued Mary and me six years ago when we blew a tire in the most remote "track" to be found in all of England. It just came down to me: I realized that the rockabilly-surfing band Los Straitjackets had something to teach me that had been camouflaged for years. FYI Los Straitjackets are a Nashville-based instrumental rock band that specialize in somewhat weird yet most accomplished covers of mostly ancient rock 'n roll hits from the USA and Mexico. Songs like "Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka Dot Bikini", "Telstar", "Perfidia" and basically anything by Duane Eddy. The band has changed personnel some over the years, but not too much. Dave Zahl and I got to see them live in 2015. But quite seriously, Los Straitjackets specialize in a structure or form of most of their songs that majors on the last third of what they play. It's odd. They play two verses of a somewhat conventional sounding dinosaur hit from the surfing/sci fi/rockabilly past; but then, in the third verse, the band goes crazy. Another way of saying it might be this: the band ascends near the end to St. Paul's seventh heaven -- or at least something like that. You'll hear it. Always wait for the third verse. It's never ever over 'til it's over. This cast is heavy on the music. To me their sound is in a class by itself. To me it gives hope for... the last third of life. To me it's an actual musical exposition of my Handbook for Boomers (Mockingbird 2020). "Go now, therefore, and make all men... disciples of Los ..." LUV U.
We're always looking out for resources, mostly in the popular-art side of life, that embody the Belovedness that precedes all loving. Whether it's a Motown single or a novel no one's ever heard of or a TV show from last year, we're on the lookout for felt expressions, resonating with us inwardly, of the Love that precedes all 'Works of Love' (SK). Thanks to my college friend, Steven Berzin, I've gotten hooked on a French mystery program -- in episodes of an hour and a half -- entitled "Murder in...". The producers fill in the blank with a stunning regional locale each week -- Albi, Carcassonne, Blois, Colmar, you name it. What's hooked both Mary and me is the way the mystery plot uncovers the personal pain and inward conflicts of the police investigators. There's the rub! Each episode uses the "low anthropology" of the crime being investigated to unearth issues and hurts within the investigators themselves. And yet -- and yet -- these conflicts, brought into the light, almost always presage healing and hope, newness and restitution. What I love about "Murder in..." is its ideal equilibrium of realistic diagnosis with hope of new life. You see this in almost every episode. Moreover, the natural beauty of the locales is intoxicatingly captured by the rich photography. It's "Mockingbird" en France! P.S. The Mockingbird Conference (https://conference.mbird.com/) is at the end of next week in NYC. Mary and I would luv to greet you there. (Walk-ins are welcome!)
Gerry Rafferty's 1978 single entitled "Right Down the Line" is a pure classic on the experience of imputation. Imputation, for the record, is when someone lovingly regards you as different from the way you perceive yourself; and somehow in being thus regarded, you actually become the person someone sees you as. That's a lot of prepositions, but that's what imputation is. It's like when the frog, having been kissed by the beautiful princess, becomes, in the twinkling of an eye, a prince. Or when the Beast, having been embraced by Beauty, turns into a shining knight. Or it's like when you, at a low directionless point in your love, met a girl who loved you as if you were fine, self-confident and purposeful. And what happened then? To your own surprise, let alone that of everyone else, you became... fine, self-confident and purposeful. It's like Magic. It is Magic, God's magic. This cast reflects on "The Power of Love" (Huey Lewis & the News, 1985), and specifically the mind-blowing power of imputing love to create (unlooked-for) change. It's been done to me, and I'll bet it's been done to you. LUV U.
That title song is a quiet masterpiece. Sure, it's a little corny in the arrangement, but the message is universal. It never fails, at least in my case, to elicit tears -- of recognition. This cast is a hymn to life-long marriage. (That's just what it is.) It is also my attempt to say better what I almost always tried to convey to engaged couples in pre-marital counselling, especially at the start of the second session of the three we would have. I would highlight the importance of a shared spiritual life. I realize that could sound a little preachy, and one tended to soften it some over the years, especially when the couples who would come were less "churched" and more secular in experience. But that doesn't mean I stopped believing it. ("Don't Stop Believin' -- but hey!...) What you observe empirically, both in others and typically in yourselves, is that the closer you feel to God, as a married couple, the closer you feel to each other. Moreover, a shared vertical commitment offers decisive help to your relationship when the storms start coming and the losses begin to add up. Bottom Line: Praise the One who brought you together in the first place, and please don't lose touch with him. (If you do, go to a conference at Tullian's church in Jupiter -- he's got the Answer to lostness.) Read the Bible together, and, well, you'll be looking in the same direction. LUV U (both).
These podcasts are almost all dialogues with music. The music, such as "Beep Alonia" from 1964, touches a soft or sensitive spot in my heart -- and also one's brain, maybe -- and suddenly "the waters flow". Here I am thinking about contact with the supernatural, with God, really: the curtain coming down between "God and man" ('Modern Love', David Bowie 1983). Are you, dear listener, actually open to divine encounter? Or do you simply dismiss such a possibility, at least in practice? (I believe you probably don't.) Booth Tarkington's explicit regard for Charles Fort and Fort's writings is an almost unique instance of a mainstream writer's being open to the Beyond. And Tarkington was! The ending to his novel The Magnificent Ambersons (1918) is beyond unusual. It shatters almost every preconception you have ever had instilled in you -- about life, let alone death. Moreover, that ending is universally unread by the critics, and especially by the thousands of persons interested in Orson Welles' movie version. Why is this? Why the complete and IMO willful neglect of the entire "twist"-event that enables the resolution and ending of a great work of art? (I think it has something to do with "the world, the flesh, and the devil"...) Well, read the ending of The Magnificent Ambersons. It's just nine pages, and doesn't really need an intro. And then... then... consider a trip to Beep Alonia!
Good things, true things, lasting things have built-in repetition. They repeat in life because they are always valid. So they come back. Like "The Monster Swim"! That major contribution was the follow-up, by the same artist/s, to "The Monster Mash". We all know about the latter. It was the Best Song of 1964, hands down. Recently, an appearance to me several years ago of the soul of my oldest friend, who had died, had a sequel. The soul of another, more recently departed friend appeared to me the night he died, far away and alone. I didn't even know he was dead. Only three days later did I get the news. But he actually came to me the night he died. I write in earnest. The supernatural is real. It is not the only means of navigating our lost and fallen world. But it is true nevertheless, at least in my opinion. When we die, our souls go somewhere. Loose ends need to be tied up; explanations, offered; assurances, given. I know this for sure now. It's also made me go back to Booth Tarkington. Anyone remember an essay in Mockingbird at the Movies (2015) concerning "The Magnificent Ambersons". That celebrated Orson Welles follow-up film to "Citizen Kane" is marked by an ending that omits entirely the most important thing about the novel. In the novel -- not the movie -- the main character is directly confronted by the soul of a woman who has died. That really happens. Tarkington describes it as empirical fact, not psychological fantasy. And all the good of his novel's beautiful resolution hinges on this "para-normal" encounter. I believe in such encounters, tho' only because they have happened to me. Not every day. But twice. And that's enough. LUV U.
Warning from Space, a Japanese sci-fi "thriller" from 1956, is an extremely ridiculous movie. But I had confused it with Message from Space, also Japanese but from 1978, which is in fact not as good. (What is he talking about?!) I had wanted to entitle this cast "Message from Space". That is because the messages we need so urgently to receive from Space, i.e., from God, come in often ridiculous, and certainly unexpected forms. ("O Little Town of Bethlehem") One is constantly trying to shoehorn reality into a preconception. So I want to believe a particular person is_ this_ way, i.e., my way; but he or she is not. They are their way. I'm desperate for someone to approve of me who doesn't, while all the time not seeing the person who does approve of me and who is actually right there in front of me. This is why I love Ritchie Blackmore -- or the Ritchie Blackmore whom Joe Meek kept calling on in the early 1960s to insert flashy guitar solos into otherwise lame material. It happens again and again! 'God' -- in this case equivalent to Ritchie -- shows up and blows away the "reality" of the dumb song and makes it into something... well, transcendent. I invite you to listen to the Ritchie Blackmore oddnesses in your own personal history -- and even now. "That's what the Good Book says": Remember.
There is so little one knows. Here one thought one had a "deep bench" when it comes to foreign films, and yet I knew nothing of Julien Duvivier! Yes, there is his 'classic' Poil de Carotte, and Criterion put out Pepe le Moko a while back. And they are both outstanding. But it took an almost accidental viewing recently of Duvivier's Flesh and Fantasy -- for he had a Hollywood phase -- followed by his all-star (sort of) epic Tales of Manhattan, to put it through my head that his was a distinctly Christian view of reality. Then Lo and Behold! Turns out all of Duvivier's films from the 1920s have just been packaged to BluRay. So Mary and I sit down to watch them -- and, well, the tears roll, because three of them are Christ-centered epics of the highest quality, visually, theatrically, and emotionally. Where have I been all these years? The answer is: nowhere near as close to full truth as you thought. How did these remarkable Gospel movies escape you, Paul? You know so much less than you thought you did. Part of it is the critics. The critics one grew up with -- from the New Yorker to the Village Voice to the NY Times: well, they were almost all secular. Or, if they had Christian belief, they tried to hide it. Maybe they would tout a movie for being "humanist" -- which for JAZ and me is shorthand for "probably Christian" but SHHHH. The specifically Christian content needs to be hushed up, or just ignored. That is true again and again in the history of movie criticism. Anyway, Duvivier shatters the narrative. And not just in the '20s, but in the '30s -- when he produced and directed Golgotha -- and the '40s -- when he made Tales of Manhattan -- and then again in the '50s, when he directed the 'Don Camillo' movies, which are milestones of Christian encomium, albeit painted with humor. Now seriously, "Can't You Hear the Beating of my Heart?" LUV U.
Sometimes I hear a 'Grace' sermon that is just terrific... until the last five minutes. During the last five minutes, the preacher seems pressed to tell me how I should respond, at least mentally, to the message of God's One-Way Love. The preacher -- in good faith and sincerity, to be sure -- tells me to "relax into the Message", "accept the Gift", "live into It", "let It sink in", "allow It to become part of you". And although that sounds good, it ends up, at least for me, feeling abstract. It may even convey a(n un-intended) sense of pressure, as there is still something to do. Which I can't seem to do. It's a little like what Roman Catholics sometimes describe as the need to perpetually return to the Confessional because they haven't quite taken it in, i.e., the forgiveness they were told they had last week. Luther taught something different. (As did St. Paul.) They both taught that one's response to the Gospel is automatic. When you are "One-Way-LUV'd", you automatically wish to respond -- with love! Belovedness engenders loving back. I mean, look: it's true in Romantic Love. When you are sincerely loved by another person, no one needs to tell you how to respond. You always, or almost always, respond by desiring to love the other altruistically -- selflessly -- empathetically. That just happens. You don't need imperatives, even subtle ones; nor instructions. That's the point of this 350th Episode of PZ's Podcast. I am particularly proud of it. It is dedicated to Tullian Tchividjian and his remarkable ministry of One-Way Love. "Bleib bei Mir fuer alle Zeiten."
This is a follow-up to "Joe Meek Is God", and observes the non sequiturs of one's life. I believe they are Providential, those decisive non sequiturs; and are best observed in the absence of a "narrative" or personal story-line. What has happened in your life has happened. The turning points, the "pivots", both for 'good' and for 'ill', were not rationally conceived -- or at least few of them were. They came upon you. Just look! Be a scientist for a minute. Study the data of your actual experience. It's all a bit of a mystery in terms of the whys and the wherefores. Yet over time a kind of odd observed plan -- not your plan, but God's Plan -- becomes apparent. As Dr. Tom Calhoun says with Doric profundity: "It had to be that way". My call on the listener to this cast is this: Study the way your life's actually been. You'll very possibly see a larger Purpose, albeit caused by non sequiturs. Your entire life, within stops and starts, under extrusions and intrusions, had an individual direction that added up to a supernatural Non Sequitur Who is God. I hope you like the concluding track, too. It is entitled "Tom Tom Cat" as performed by The Tom Cats, i.e., one of Joe Meek's "bands" in 1961. "Tom Tom Cat" out-Los Straitjackets Los Straitjackets -- which is Saying Something. "Tom Tom Cat" is an inspired non sequitur. Like you and me. LUV U. This cast is dedicated to Ryan Alvey.
I've talked about Joe Meek before, but think I've finally gotten to the spiritual wisdom that lies beneath his many records. (Meek was an English independent record producer in the 1950s and '60s.) The wisdom of Joe Meek, which is a prolific and dramatic instance of the wisdom of the Biblical God, consists in the power of non sequiturs. Meek's almost innumerable pop-music productions are almost all examples of the non sequitur. To wit, he generally takes a lame lyric (and a lame artist or group of artists) and inserts inconsistent instrumentals or sound-elements that completely transform the original raw material. (In this cast, I have given four (4) excerpts of this "technique" -- tho' it was not really a technique for it came from Meek's all-over-the-place personality rather than from a conscious artistic strategy.) Joe's jaw-dropping interruptions/interpolations are an instance of what we used to call, at least in the 1970s, "the God of Surprises". Just look at oneself: the breakthroughs and providential turns in our lives are almost always caused by something that came out of nowhere. There was the unexpected phone call, the off-sides note or e-mail, the chance bumping-in to someone, the car accident or illness that put everything in a new perspective, the loss which turned into a gain (!). You name it. Fill in the blank. My own life, let alone my ministry, has been like a Joe Meek single: the best part/s are the odd guitar bridge or the "reverb". Isn't this true of your life? So the point is, if you want to understand the nature of life as it is actually lived, listen to the odd productions of Robert George Meek. He probably didn't know it, but his fingers in the control room were just like the Fingers of God. This cast is dedicated to Mary C. Zahl, with whom I have walked, for coming on 50 years, in Paradise Garden.
What could really do it? What could actually revive the beneficent influence of the Christian Gospel on our current masochistic/sadistic world? "What Does It Take/To Win Your Love for Me" (Junior Walker, 1969). That is the question of this cast: What might need to happen in order for the unique vision of New Testament faith and hope to "re-enchant" the world? One's attention was drawn recently to the martyrdom at Carthage, in 203 A.D., of St. Perpetua. Her journal, the personal account of her trial for the capital crime of being a Christian in that place and time, is the only document of its kind preserved from Classical (i.e., Greco-Roman) culture that was written by a woman. It is entirely genuine and also entirely unique. Plus, the final chapter, which was written by an observer of Perpetua's death in the arena, is as shocking, in my opinion, as almost anything you will ever read concerning the physicality of martyrdom. What happened to Perpetua is a certain confirmation of "Low Anthropology". Perpetua's death -- she was a single mother, aged 22 -- made a huge difference in the perception of Christianity by the people of North Africa. In fact, the difference it made was decisive. Thousands of everyday people were shaken by her courage and her explicit faithfulness. I believe the fortunes of the Church would change overnight if someone were willing to die for their faith, were willing to give up even their physical life for it. This doesn't seem to be happening in the West. I hope it will -- tho' I recognize that's easy to say. (What if the lot should fall on Mary's and my door? "Fuh-get about it!"?) Listen to Billy Preston now, from 1971. "(God) promised to exalt us/But low is the way." Podcast 347 is dedicated to my friend Steven Berzin.
I'm not talking about dying these days in order to be a downer. (For years one has tuned out all sorts of devotional books that major on death and dying. Especially R.C. ones, which felt morbid. They seemed both remote from one's actual life and almost intentionally depressing.) What I am talking about now, though, is the question of where one goes immediately after death. Not Too Long Ago (Nick Lowe/Los Straitjackets, 2015) I was preaching at a funeral and ended the sermon by asking the question: Now where is our friend? Where is he right now? People almost jumped out of their pews. But not in a bad way. It proved an arresting question. "Everybody's Talkin'" (Nilsson, 1970). That is the purpose of this cast. Who wants to be a Dumb Head at the end of your life? Believe me, at that moment, all your attention will be on the question, Where am I going? "To San Francisco, with a Flower in your Hair" (Scott McKenzie, 1967)? Maybe something like that. One is required to deal with this. You become less interested in the vagaries of the "dying process", terrible as they are, than in the question of Final Destination. Into the arms of Whom or What am I falling when I am pushed off the cliff of physical life? Nothing else matters. At least in my opinion. We conclude with a swift journey into the Unknown, Joe Meek's production of "Message from Venus" by The Tornados. It's German-language, tho' produced in a third-floor flat in North Islington, London; and has to be... from God. Right? LUV, PZ
Dennis Wheatley was an author "on the margins". In other words, he was a flawed (tho' very popular in his day) writer who was not taken seriously by most critics. But his distinctly marginal themes and observations gave him a kind of crossbow into truth that endow more than one of his novels with Inspiration. I am a big fan of Dennis Wheatley. In 1956 he published a novel about the immediate aftermath of one's bodily death. It is called The KA of Gifford Hillary (https://amzn.to/3DBe4tx) and I can't recommend it highly enough. In it, the narrator is murdered, and his 'KA', or immediate soul -- not exactly his Soul in the Christian sense, but the sum of accretions and experiences had by his human ego -- is suspended, as it were, before he can proceed towards Ultimate Destiny. Gifford Hillary's KA is put on hold, you might say, because there is a crime, a heinous crime, of which he was the victim; and the unresolved nature of the crime has to be resolved before he can move ahead. Whether this makes any sense to you or not, I think there is something to it. Why? Well, because three times in my life I have seen, or sensed directly, the KA of persons I loved. First was a college roommate who drowned in our sophomore year but appeared to me four months later on an escalator in Grand Central Station. Second was my best friend, who after his sudden and all-alone death appeared to me during Centering Prayer in All Saints Episcopal Church, Winter Park. And third was a close college friend who caused me recently, one day after her sudden, unexpected death, to find a letter she had written exactly 50 years that was the pure essence of sincere upbuilding. So three times I have met a KA. And three times an unresolved death was, at least for me, given "peace at the last" (BCP). Oh, and I'd rather encounter a KA than become one at the point of death. Look to yourself now!
The recent death of an old friend (i.e., of 52 years' standing) has brought vividly to mind, in the recollection of the person by their friends and family, a vital distinction: the distinction between what actually took place in one's life and the interpretation/s we place on events in retrospect. I saw this clearly when my mind, upon hearing the news of their death, turned almost instantly to the music I was listening to when I first knew the person. It was the album "Who's Next" by The Who, which had just come out and featured "Baba O'Riley" and "Behind Blue Eyes", to name just a few. Whenever I think of my now deceased friend, my mind first fixes on "Who's Next". But if you had asked the person, they would have said, "Oh no, I wasn't listening to The Who back then. I was listening to "Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding, not to mention "Ram" by Paul and Linda McCartney." The point is, "Who's Next" was my interpretation, albeit contemporary with the events. "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" was the music to which my friend was listening. So if I want to understand them, I need to "Stick with the facts, Ma'am". This principle, of distinguishing, especially in personal recollection, between what actually happened and one's interpretation of what happened is crucial. It is crucial to understanding the true facts of one's life, let alone that of another. I see this quite clearly in trying to recollect -- let alone evaluate -- the old friend who has died. This cast proceeds to unlock the so-called "Synoptic Problem", let alone the historicity of ... the Israelites in the Old Testament, from Dan to Beersheba. [Whuh?] I hope your own gaze personally will sharpen as a result of listening to this podcast. And I hope that my assessment of an unexpectedly deceased old friend will grow not only more accurate, but richer, kinder, more hopeful, and more faithful.
People conceal so much about themselves. They don't always mean to, but in one area or another they are afraid to say what's really going on -- especially inside themselves. Then, over time, they -- we! -- become habituated to not ever saying what they/we are really thinking. Listening to the Michel-Legrand-like title theme for the 1967 spy thriller _Billion Dollar Brain _put me in mind of so much. Its urgent, lyrical theme made me want to talk somehow. I don't know what sort of music does that for you, but I'll bet you there's something that does. From this stirring "signature" piece at the start of the cast, I talk about four different kinds of conversations that go on in people as we go about our day -- from the weather or the traffic, to concrete circumstances and concerns, to internal emotional stresses and anxieties that govern those concerns, to the innermost drives of being and surviving as a human being. Which leads me to Carl Jung and his enduring if humbling insights concerning why men and women "do the things they/we do" (Temptations, 1964). I hope you will identify, at least a little. The episode closes with another "signature" piece: Los Straitjackets' rendition of the 'Linus and Lucy' theme from Vince Guaraldi's "Peanuts" soundtrack. (With Los Straitjackets, always wait until the last third of the track. That's when it goes through the roof.) LUV U, and Merry Christmas 2022.
Herein is a degree of pushing-the-envelope that I hope may speak to you, dear Listener. One was struck recently when someone announced, "Your problem's been solved". "Come again?", I said. He added, "Your problem's been solved on the astral plane." Well, normally, that would not have computed. Or at least one's jaw would have dropped. But I did remember Strange Conflict, and the effect that novel had had on me just a few years ago. You remember Strange Conflict. Dennis Wheatley wrote it during the Blitz and published it at the height of WWII. It concerns a French mystic who confounds the Nazis by ascending, during his sleep, to "the astral plane" of consciousness, where he is able to observe and investigate the 'soul'-lives of the people around him. 'Le Duc de Richleau' is able, on the astral plane, to discover the source of the espionage by which English shipping lanes are being betrayed to Nazi submarines. It is a terrific book. I hadn't realized, though, that I'd sort of become a character in it. When my mystical friend informed me that my problem had been solved on the astral plane, I was both surprised, encouraged, and mystified. It turned out to be true! I found this out in my dreams subsequent to his announcement. You'll see. Listen to the cast and you'll see. I told you I would push the envelope. "No Regrets" (Edith Piaf). Episode 242 of PZ's podcast is dedicated to Paul Walker, who is in the top 5 Episcopal clergy of the 21st Century.
Three recent sudden deaths of old friends have called forth this Christmas podcast. In two of the cases, the family, let alone the deceased, have been completely unprepared. I mean, completely. No service, no faith, no comfort, no hope. Only shock and abandonment, unsuppressed bewilderment and surprise. So I decided to describe two ladies I know, both characters in Enid Bagnold's late plays "The Chinese Prime Minister" and "A Matter of Gravity". Enid Bagnold was an English playwright who once had a string of stage and movie successes. Near the end of her life, she decided to look backward and forward at the content of her life. She portrayed -- these characters were acted by Margaret Leighton and Katherine Hepburn -- two women in their 70s who are given to resolve their lives through visits from their adult children and one estranged husband; and who do! Not only that, but the supernatural suddenly comes into it. The heroine of "The Chinese Prime Minister" is confronted by her butler's literal resurrection from the dead; and the heroine of "A Matter of Gravity", by her cook's repeated levitations to the ceiling of her house. Each of these women comes to terms with their physical lives, and each of them is thus enabled to move forward towards a new beginning. These are astonishing, surprising plays. I end with a Dedication to Brent White. Brent is a Mockingbirder who serves a parish in Toccoa, Georgia, and who has a wide-ranging pop sensibility that is a total treat. Recently he has helped me re-discover Los Straitjackets' Christmas tracks. With one of these, "Christmas Weekend", I close this cast. I have often toyed with the idea of having "Christmas Weekend" played as the postlude at one's funeral. It is just so 'up up and away' in feel. I want you to soar after you abreact.
What do our favorite songs, movies, and shows -- and even places -- say about us? Why do we like the media we do? What draws us to one form of art rather than another -- to one sort of setting rather than another? Why R.E.O. Speedwagon, for some strange reason, rather than Dylan? Why "Next Plane to London" rather than "A Day in the Life"? Whatever the draw is, I think it has more to do with us than with the thing. Or rather, the object or medium that catalyzes one's deep feelings is less important than the feelings being catalyzed. This cast starts with a reflection I first encountered through Mockingbird. It is from Frederick Buechner (R.i.P.). The cast then careens into George A. Romero, director of Night of the Living Dead -- to which I dragged poor Mary back in '73 when we were courting. (That particular date was almost as much a disaster as when my friend Lloyd and I dragged her to see Jean-Luc Godard's Wind from the East in 1970.) But George Romero's Damascus-Road experience in terms of his future direction in life and art turns out to have been... Tales of Hoffmann. I mean... Then Jerry Garcia gets a hearing, with his Damascus-Road experience. Time and again, and I believe you can see it in your own life, the thing that moved you was accidental. You, however, and your vulnerability were not. Try to focus on the latter, not the former. We close with an immortal and illustrative song by Jimmy Webb, as performed by Johnny Rivers. Please hear it through to the very last line. LUV U.
The Gospel of God's One-Way Love can find an appealing, commodious platform within the Anglican tradition. This is because when that tradition is allowed to be fully itself -- historically, theologically, and even aesthetically -- it supports the Good News and pastorally embodies it. On the other hand, like any ancient tradition, 'Anglicanism' can become dry and even choking. When the tradition becomes an end rather than a means to an end -- a "thing" rather than a fountain -- then it can desiccate the very soil on which it was first planted. In this cast I tell something of my own Anglican story, which goes back to 1960. There is within it some of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly -- and when it comes to the Church of England, mostly the Good. If you're an Episcopalian, I hope you'll be encouraged. Mary's and my story within the Church is also quite funny (at least to me). Hope you'll laugh along. Incidentally, the opening music is the very first song my suite-mates played for me when I arrived at a C. of E. theological college in September 1973. It was counter-intuitive, to say the least. LUV U! P.S. The second song they played was... "China Grove" by the Doobie Brothers. (That one I knew.)
The vehement secularism all around us is no secret. I have seen its pointed perseverance in at least three settings recently, and most powerfully at my 50th Harvard College class reunion. In all three settings, 'God' was sedulously left out of the discourse, and, it felt to me, conscientiously. Nothing new in that, to be sure; but it made me reflect on the Christian Church, at least in its traditional manifestation, and what is it that "triggers" the sharp antagonism. But I came up with a slightly different answer. Had recently read John Weaver's book Evangelicals and the Arts in Fiction from McFarland Books, that wonderful publishing house which specializes in sincerest monographs on subjects such as the history of wax-museum horror films or 1940s Mummy movies. Weaver's book is counter-intuitive in the extreme, and contributes an insight that I have read nowhere else. So maybe we can learn from contemporary secularism, albeit from a different direction. The cast concludes with one of the most unusual Christian pop songs ever recorded, and filmed, from Peter Watkins' 1967 "anti-Establishment" movie Privilege, starring Paul Jones, the lead singer of Manfred Mann (i.e., "Doo Wah Diddy"). In brief, you can learn something about yourself by studying what others dislike about you. LUV U.
Mockingbird's 14th annual New York City conference, entitled "Hope for a Weary World", was a kind of summit for this utterly needed Word. I'll bet almost everyone there felt the same way. Was it the fact that we hadn't met in person for two years? Is that what made this conference so refreshing? Was it the depth of the content, let alone the humor, the music and the sheer joy of the message? What was it? For me it was the unique chord of utter realism with electric Hope. You could hear it in everything -- in Aaron's Zimmerman's timely video/s and tone, in David Zahl's Titian and St. Dismas, in the video by the German hardware company Hornbach that encapsulated base-line empathy, in Simeon (and Bonnie) Zahl's phrase "theory of change"; in the trenchant, applicable breakouts; in the delicious meals that we wanted never to end; in the tracks of JAZ's eternal 'Episco Disco'. The main thing was that chord of realism (even tragic realism) assimilated to us personally by means of Divine Hope. Oh, and there was also a special guest among us. Did you see him? Not sure you did. He's been dead awhile but he came back for Mockingbird 2022. He was actually there! He signaled to me, first, from the balcony. Then later, during "Drinks with PZ", from the back of the church. And he sent me something he had written ... to read to you. Which I include at the end of this cast. All My Love -- and in its after-glow, which I hope will never fade.
It seems as if almost everybody is a little like the "Death Star" in Star Wars. There's a way in to our inner reality, but it's very small -- tiny, in fact -- and it takes a sure shot to get inside. With people, it is often serious stress or failure of some sort that opens up the portal; and even then, it seems rare that some healing hope makes contact with the real you. I remember how gripping Dr. Frank Lake's essay was, from the mid-70s, entitled "The Presence of Christ in the Healing of Primal Pain". He pointed us, you might say, to the cure for one's profoundest trouble. But how many didn't take him up on it? Didn't take God up on it? This cast starts with an illustration from Jacques Demy's despairing masterpiece A Room in Town ("Une Chambre en Ville") from 1982. A Communist labor organizer's "Death Star Portal" is pierced by an entrancing person -- and all his "primary" commitments turn "secondary" in exactly five minutes. His portal opens and his world explodes. Sadly for the activist, known as 'Guilbout' , things happen too fast for him to understand what has happened. (Wish I'd been there in the script to try and help him towards a transformed life.) The cast proceeds to talk about Spotify and iTunes playlists. (I make a new one every single day, absurd as that sounds.) But there's a portal lurking there that is also probably important. Oh, and here's to brevity. Episode 336 is short. LUV U, PZ
Can you ever "over"-impute? Can you treat a person as they actually are not to such an extent that you lose yourself and are ultimately taken advantage of? The short answer to the question is No. Imputation can never go too far. Of course the 'imputor' may lose himself/herself in the act of treating someone as they are (objectively speaking) not. Christ did. But the effect of imputation in 99% of its enactions is transformative. Yes, you may have to take it pretty far. And yes, you may lose your "boundaries" and self-protections in loving someone the imputation-way. But it almost always, finally, works. Case in point -- trying to sound like Rod Serling for a sec -- is the amazing movie The Big Street, which came out in 1942. Based on a short story by Damon Runyon entitled "Little Pinks", The Big Street stars Henry Fonda as a busboy who makes his life's work the enablement, protection, and care of an impossible woman, played by Lucille Ball. The woman could care less about him. Poor 'Little Pinks' is taken gross advantage of by a scheming harridan who appears interested only in money, things and ruling over men -- but never 'Pinks'! The audience keeps wanting to shout at 'Pinks': "Leave her. Forget about her. She will only use you, for good, and then cast you off. You have no future with her." That's what the audience keeps wanting to, literally, scream. But watch the movie through. Even the Lucille Ball character has her limits -- that is, the limits of her resistance to self-sacrificing love. I think The Big Street is probably unique in the annals of Hollywood depictions of Christ-like romantic love. It goes all the way. I stand by my meme, which someone in Dallas has apparently placed behind the piano in an elementary school classroom: "ONE WAY LOVE IS THE CHANGE AGENT OF LIFE."
The first cast, "Animotion I", laid the 'low-anthropology' groundwork for this new one. Carl Jung's typification of animus and anima diagnosed the male/female dynamic buried within us primordially -- _a la _"Quatermass and the Pit" (1967). Now comes the Hope, which for me is not only real but also empirical. Damon Runyon (d. 1946) understood about men and women. How could the author upon whose stories Guys and Dolls was based not have done so? Runyon's stories are vignette after vignette of oddly paired (but not to Jung) couples who find lasting love, grace and transformation. The context may be New York City streetlife of the Depression era, but the 'types' and situations are universal. The exterior framework is limited to a place and time, but the people inside themselves could be you and me. And in every case, or almost every case, grace triumphs, justice works itself out, and transformation occurs. (Thus you absolutely have to see the 1941 mini-movie of Runyan's short story "The Old Doll's House". Mockingbirders will hardly believe what they see. You can pull it up on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZo6gL3CwrE).) What I am saying is that God works (a la Damon Runyan) within the framework He has made (a la C.G. Jung) . The inborn primordial framework of our personhood does not prevent God from working for our good. He is always doing something, even if it looks at first like the "back story". That is the point of this cast and I hope you like it. Oh, and see Guys and Dolls (1955), with Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, and Frank Sinatra. It's all there. LUV U.
Amid the tidal wave/s of views and perspectives on men and women in relation to one another stand the enduring insights of Carl Jung. Much of what he wrote feels almost too complex and too layered to be true, for truth is simple. But what he observed over the years about men and women in their archetypal difference stands. I think it stands. One used to scratch one's head, at least in the late '70s, when almost every Episcopal minister one knew became a Jungian therapist, or almost did! No kidding. Talk about a tidal wave. Now I understand a little better. Not the going "whole hog" -- for the journey to health for most Jungians takes too long, like kind of forever. The therapy itself feels life long -- just much too long! But the diagnosis, especially concerning women and men in primordial perspective, is brilliant. Jung didn't make it up. He observed people, during thousands of hours of therapeutic dialogue, and his observations were acute. In this podcast, I read a -- I guess we could say -- seminal passage from the Collected Works that concerns the embedded archetypes of anima and animus. What he wrote is clarifying and surgical. "Read, Mark, Learn and Inwardly Digest". Once the ground is laid, and it takes only three paragraphs from the master to lay the ground, we can move on to the hope of cure -- God's cure. But that comes next, in "Animotion II". LUV U.
This is one's ecclesiology, one's doctrine of the Church, after a lifetime's involvement with it and 47 years' ordained ministry within it. For what it's worth, I think I've "got it now" ("One Monkey Don't Stop No Show", The Animals, 1966). Where I think it might help, dear Listener, is in the area of reactivity and also in the area of inclusivity. To wit, if you are on 'The Canterbury Trail', say, as a former evangelical or former Baptist, you won't reach a final or satisfying destination until you reduce the reactivity to near nil. Most seekers after the right church are in reaction to where they started. That is quite normal, but it still won't get you to God in His Church. Your (fluid) "destination/s" will almost always be one-sided or partial. You won't stay there, in other words. Somehow, your initial reactivity has got to decelerate. Secondly, in my own case the Church of England Evangelicals (and charismatics) answered the question of "Church" because they were Scriptural, orthodox, and brave but at the same time tolerant of the other wings of the Church. (It's the 'left' wing, today, that is less tolerant in the main; and their distaste has probably got to decrease in order for the Church to be comprehensive again.) As I say in the cast, in an anecdote from Blackburn Cathedral that still makes me laugh after almost 48 years, the English Evangelicals learned how to "embed" and not stick out, yet still be true to the Gospel call. To watch them in action was a gift that even now is still giving -- to Mary and me, at least. So "Here 't'is" (Bo Diddley): an ecclesiology drained -- ideally -- of reactivity and thriving "between the sheets". Try it (if you can find it). You'll like it.
It's funny that in one's recovery from illness, the "band width" is still nowhere near what it used to be. I used to be able to read a novel by Dostoyevsky one week, then a book by Forde the next, then a novel by Cozzens the next. *Sayonara to that! *Now one is fortunate to be able to read The Runaway Bunny. So hey, I've gone back to reading in three-page spurts. And the perfect author for this "new way of walking, new way of talking" is... Robert Nathan. You remember Robert Nathan. He wrote The Bishop's Wife and Portrait of Jennie, to name just two of his roughly 40 or so fantasy novels. But the thing is, Robert Nathan's novels are all short -- more like novellas -- and they read like pudding, because he was an excellent and simple narrator. Anyway, I'm back to Nathan, like it or not; and today's cast updates you on this charming "Mid-Century" author. It is good to note, too, that Robert Nathan was Jewish but had zero chip on his shoulder. That may be because he was born into a wealthy Manhattan family and didn't feel he had to prove himself in the wider American scene. (We would say today that Nathan was a child of "privilege".) One corollary of Nathan's un-reactive growing up is that he was explicitly favorable to Christianity. You see this in several of his novels, and also in his poetry, which was much acclaimed on the home front during World War II. Well, that's lesson two for 2022, and I hope it's the second of many, for Mockingbird, in our New Year. LUV U.
I was "thrown" a little recently by a liturgical service that felt confused at a pretty deep level, and maybe even untruthful. The service was trying to honor someone but "too many cooks" (theologically and personally) "spoiled the broth". That is true of many services when they are not rooted in the Gospel. I mean the Gospel that brings together accurate, i.e. "low" anthropology and the hope of God's mercy. Most "celebrations of life" that Mary and I attend seem to almost capitalize on false encomium. You come away feeling that the person you knew wouldn't recognize himself if he had been there. I'm not arguing for negativity, but I am pleading for accuracy, with humor and compassion -- Christ's compassion. As I came away from the service I have in mind, I suddenly thought of The Music Man! That's a musical about a con man who specializes in imputation not rooted remotely in truth. And only when a woman falls in love with him, and really does impute goodness to him -- for she was the first person in the town to find out the truth about him -- does everything change. He, the con man, changes; the townspeople forgive and unite; and the "at-risk" young people of the town form a marching band that does, miraculously, find its true and powerful voice. The Music Man is about real transformation. For PZ, it was the antidote to the discomfiture I felt during the service. The Music Man healed me. This podcast is dedicated to David Zahl, Mockingbird, and the 2022 Tulsa Conference.
You can respond to PZ's appeal and support the work of Mockingbird by clicking here (https://mbird.com/support/). All gifts are tax-deductible. The Lemon Pipers captured something universal and actually moving in their second single, from 1968, entitled "Rice Is Nice". In the third and last verse of that song, the singer asks a question of her/his love and his/their feelings: "And when I get old and wrinkles appear/Will I still find some rice in my hair?" This cast concerns long-term marriage and its possibility and also its enabling word. What makes it possible? How can you keep loving the same person you first met 30 years ago, or 40 or 50? I mean, people change, right?! Well, think of all the answers you have heard to that question. Think of all the recipes and maxims and axioms. All I am trying to do here is add my own, via The Lemon Pipers. The answer to the question of long-term continuity in love is, well, Go Back to the Beginning. How it started is the key to what is happening now, and will happen. Remember how Meister Eckhart put it: "If you're trying to find God, go back to where you lost Him." Mammoth words. Now think of them in relation to your relationship. I had my own little breakthrough on this front the other day, concerning an airplane flight of all things. But it really happened. Oh, and listen to the short excerpt, for Christmas, of the song at the end at the cast. It's by The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, which is probably all you need to know. Merry Christmas and LUV U!
It is easy ("It's So Easy" - L. Ronstadt, 1977) to talk about "going deeper" and the "journey inward" and the layers of human personality. But in practice it rarely happens. It rarely happens that you actually let on to another person what you are thinking. As Joseph von Sternberg, the director of at least ten great movies, observed: "The average human being lives behind an impenetrable veil and will disclose his deep emotions only in a crisis which robs him of control." That is a supremely important sentence from the great man. I saw it this week -- on the track, of all places -- as I thought of something that has happened in a former parish of ours. I suddenly burst into tears as I thought of the people there -- the hundreds, honestly, whose faces I still remember -- and how they have been treated by Authority. It wasn't the presenting issue that touched my heart so much as the wonderful individuals who are being affected. My "face behind the mask" was a face of remembered mutual love. Episode 327 of this cast seems to have really connected with some of its listeners. Or maybe it was the music, Steppenwolf's immortal single "Magic Carpet Ride (1968), that did it. Somehow the cast got through! I hope that this new one will go even deeper. And at Christmas, when one can be utterly crushed by obligationism, that's probably a good thing. LUV U!! P.S. I dedicate Episode 328 to Don Menendez.
Someone inscribed a book to me once, and wrote, "To Paul, In hope of transformation." (I didn't feel insulted, but rather moved.) This podcast is about sudden transformation. We are sometimes taught that change is gradual. I don't believe it, at least not in most cases. Transformation takes place when the vice (i.e., grip) of conflicting forces in our lives, both outwardly and inwardly, becomes so great that we simply have to make a decision. There is a memorable illustration of this in the Jacques Demy movie Bay of Angels (1963), in which the gambling-addict heroine, played by Jeanne Moreau, is forced at the end to decide between the heroin of risk and the fact-on-the-ground of a man's one-way love for her. The groundwork for change, especially inside a person, may well be gradual, but the moment itself is sudden -- what Paula White calls "your Suddenly". I agree with Pastor Paula. This is especially important in the light of death. Two deaths recently hit us hard. Neither of the deceased was ready. Death came, as Christ said it often does, "like a thief in the night". Don't be like Scrooge! Or rather, don't be like Scrooge before Marley came to him. Marley opened the December night's window and showed his old friend the haunting vision of thousands upon thousands of individuals who had died weighed down and unready. They were outside in the cold ether, over-individuated shadows flitting uncomprehendingly through the ether.Please don't end up like those shadows. (Many people do.) Things can change right now. It's called a "mustard seed" (of faith), and I've never known it to fail. Think, I don't know, think ... "Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf. LUV U, and God Bless Us Everyone !
I keep talking about life-resolution issues that are fairly elemental. Part of the theme comes from recent personal experience, but part of it comes from popular music and movies. Today's entry point is a song from 1954 that almost won the Oscar that year, entitled "Hold My Hand". It is from an incredibly cool movie by Frank Tashlin, which you have got to see, entitled Susan Slept Here. This oddly titled movie starred Debby Reynolds and Dick Powell. Anyway, I'm talking about physical touch at the end of life, but also about the self-revelation that serious stress almost inevitably presents one. Think H.G. Wells' three religious books that he wrote during the carnage of World War I. Later on, after the War, he wrote that he could no longer understand these books nor why he wrote them. In fact, the later, less-stressed Wells said he was actually bewildered by the fact that he had written them at all. He came very close to disavowing the books, tho' today we regard Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916) as a masterpiece. Why do people seize on secondary things for help/support in everyday life? Especially when almost all of those things literally vanish into thin air when real stress hits. This podcast tries to take the listener to the rock-like essentials of human survival. LUV U.
When people ask you "How's it going?" or "Hey, what's on your mind these days?", I'd be surprised if you always give an honest answer. In fact, even if you decide to sound honest and authentic, you may be covering over the real facts. And under the "real" facts of your outward -- and more importantly, your inward -- life, you may even be covering something else. It's "Human Nature" (M. Jackson, 1982). Human inwardness, let alone one's outward conversation and demeanor, can be a charade from top to bottom. I've seen more than one instance of this during my life, both personally and pastorally. This cast begins with something that happened "Not Too Long Ago" (Nick Lowe & Los Straitjackets, 2014). It pulled the curtain on a charade through a pretty dramatic chain of events. Guess I'm talking about the real shipwrecks of life, not the charades we pretty much construct to disguise them. The cast ends with an excerpt from a piece of music by Jan Hammer, which he wrote to accompany a searing honest talk between two detectives at the end of an episode in the first season of Miami Vice. The point of the excerpt is to give some meditative cover for the listener's own confession. Think the ending of Manon of the Spring (1968). LUV U.
There used to be a monthly column in Reader's Digest magazine -- of which one number featured a photo of John Zahl on the back cover -- that was entitled "Laughter Is the Best Medicine". It was a fairly "middle-brow" column, but its heart was in the right place. This new podcast explores the element of humor in resourcing one's detachment from the "boxing ring" of everyday life. (Did you wince at that 'English' use of "resource" as a verb?) I want to say that when you "lose your life and thereby gain it back" -- in the New Testament view of the world -- humor takes on an almost crucial role in smoothing the uncomfortable edges of withdrawal. Whuh? When I was sick in the hospital recently, just about all one's previous attachments -- excepting, vividly, Mary, our sons, and their children -- faded away. Like, almost instantly. And when that happens to you, it kind of stays with you. Thus humor, a la Tyrone Davis' impossible-to-make-sense-of lyric in "Something You've Got", becomes, well, important. The song's impermeable confusion about who is being addressed and to what end -- albeit in the context of a great 'Soul' arrangement -- is a matchless "Song Without End". I mean, I've studied this song for years and still can't tell you whether it's a dialogue between two people concerning a third person, or a trialogue with three persons in the room. The alternating pronouns stump me every time. Anyway, think for a minute about your own sense of humor. When do you find yourself losing it -- your sense of humor, I mean -- and what always works to (re-) "tickle your funny bone". You tell me. The cast ends with another Tyrone Davis track -- there are many contagious songs by this wonderful artist. "I Had It All the Time" is a perfect and delightful exercise in attractive insincerity. And where actually is the singer while he is addressing the girl? You tell me. LUV U. Podcast 324 is dedicated to Jim McNeely and Derek Nelson. P.S. One small correction: When I refer in the cast to Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, I really mean Battle in Outer Space (1961).
I know it may seem pretty far off in geography, but the "zero-case" policy of Australia, with its accompanying long and also 'snap' lockdowns, is arrestingly relevant to Mockingbird (and over-all Christian) concerns for human welfare. What is going on officially in Australia is so striking in its steel mindset of fear over faith that it calls out for observation, let alone evaluation. In this podcast, I look at "zero-case" policy in its high(est) bar of risk aversion; in its seemingly complete disbarring of models for human fulfillment outside of physical survival of the body; and its implacable and surprising use of the "civil arm" to enforce the details of the average person's locked-down life. I then ask, Where is the Church's voice being heard? One has spent almost one's whole ministry admiring a certain unusual brand of Australian Anglicanism associated with the Diocese of Sydney. Yet one seems to be hearing nothing from them in terms of faith over fear. I wonder if that Church can recover, after the lockdowns are over, from its silence. Of course there must be many Australian Christians who desire to place other goods beyond just the physical before the public eye. But one sees no evidence of that. Even Beyond the Beach (1959), the nuclear disaster film about the end of Australia (and the world), postulated a mass turning-to-God near the end. And remembeer the evangelical closing shot of that alarming movie: "Brother, there is still time." Where is that spirit "Down Under" now? Where is the Christian Church, and our Christian Hope? Je ne sais pas. Oh, and the opening and closing music today consists of excerpts from cover versions of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' song, "I Put a Spell on You". One grew up on that song, albeit its Tyneside incarnations. LUV U.
As I reported last time, I believe God gave me two words, or inspirations, as I struggled through an echo cardiogram during a recent illness. But wait, there's more! On the day after the echo cardiogram came a heart catheterization. In the midst of that -- Mary not being with me now, but in her place were six technicians and a surgeon, with the patient un-anesthetized -- three more words came. Seriously. Three more specific words... from Beyond. The first had to do with the false narrative(s) I've attached to my life. The second visualized an 'Outer Limits' episode from 1964, which featured an alien being called 'The Chromo-ite', from the Planet Chromo. I was compared with The Chromo-ite. The third was an imperative consisting of three syllables. This episode of PZ's Podcast says what the specific words actually were that I believe came from God, and states what they meant to me. I hope they will each mean something to you. The cast is dedicated to the memory of Ali Hanna.
I'm finally well enough to reflect, somewhat formally through this new podcast, on the recent illness I went through, and on what I heard at the nadir of it. What happens when you are that sick -- and it happens in some form to everyone who has ever lived except those who die suddenly -- is that your body in its requirement to defend itself wipes out every thought, consideration and proper noun of your life other than what serves the body's need to survive. I mean, the preoccupation of your body with survival wipes out everything else. The word I use for this in the cast is negation. Thus when things were at their worst in the hospital, it was as if everything and everyone in whom I have ever set store disappeared. So total was the focus at that point on physical survival. Except -- except -- except -- two things: 1) I wanted Mary to hold my hand, and 2) I wanted to know where, if anywhere, I was going. ("Going", that is, if my heart stopped and my body died.) Wonderfully, Mary was there, present physically in the room, and she held my hand. Throughout the very threatening test, she held my hand. It was an incomparably precious support -- the difference, I want to say, between getting through it and not getting through it. Moreover, I got an answer to my question about "destination". What came to me, quite loudly and unmistakably, was the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah. And not only that, but the version of the "Hallelujah Chorus" that comes at the end of The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). In other words, the music of Hope came to me in my way, in a form with which I could immediately identify. (I always loved the ending of that movie, with Pat Boone as the Angel at the Tomb.) God's Word of Hope came to me from a movie! En bref an experience of severe illness gave me the everlasting connection of Divine Love in the form of Mary's hand gripping mine, and in the words of the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah. Maybe I should be glad I got sick.
What did Dr. Johnson say concerning one's imminent death?: It wonderfully concentrates the mind. While I was sick recently, a familiar feeling came "shining through". Nothing is really important except love and God. That is not a cliche. Or better, it is a true cliche. I call this cast "Moot Point" because I've been following a tempest in the Church of England; and every time I read a new major story about the pros and cons -- almost all cons -- of a once highly regarded priest who has had a mighty fall, I say to myself, But wait a minute. Church isn't even meeting now over there (at least until two weeks in England, but not yet in Northern Ireland and Scotland). I mean this headline story, with all its letters and accusations and interviews -- what meaning does it have when the Church is essentially shut down? Remember the episode in the last season of X-Files, when Fox Mulder comes face to face really with a full-scale, in-the-now invasion of the Earth by aliens. No more bits and pieces, nor hints. No, Mulder turns to Scully and says, "Scully, now all bets are off." What Mulder means is, if this is really taking place, then just about everything is about to change. The episode is entitled "The Red and the Black". I feel the pandemic has consigned a large percentage of our everyday interests to the Buddhist category of "dependent arisings". A lot of things are just "Too Much of Nothing" (Peter, Paul and Mary). What matters? Well, personal love between two people matters. And the Love of Christ matters. And your children matter. And there are one or two other things that matter. But that's more or less it. COVID19 has rendered just about every enthusiasm and circumstantial anger of our lives a moot point! Except, maybe, a few movies (i.e., Bride of Frankenstein, 1935), together with Spanky and Our Gang (1969).
The excerpt at the start is from a song that was Number One in 1958 and to which I once got almost the entire support staff -- all of whom it turned out already knew the refrain -- of an institution of which I was the dean, to perform an inspired, spontaneous line dance. It was a high point of Mary's and my entire ministry. Anyway, this podcast focuses on that extreme moment in life when you come to the end of your resources and finally have no choice but to reach out for succor. You don't first go for the prescription. You can't -- you have no idea what it is! You go to someone who can give you the prescription. The necessary step of faith when things are really bad is to reach out. It's surprising sometimes how long it can take you to get to that point. A friend of mine once told me that it took him 40 years to get to the point of need from which he finally said 'Uncle'. As the saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. And your readiness is your point of need! Whether it's David Seville (and the Chipmunks, as it turned out) telling us, or peerless Bishop Morris Maddocks in the C. of E., or Dr. Frank Lake, or John Stott, or Pastor Paula, the saying is sure: "oo ee oo ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang". It's not a 'road map' nor a 'how to'. It's God's specific and particular Word to you. As it was to the boy Samuel, the boy Timothy, the Syrophoenician woman, Saint Helena, and to ... LUV U tons!
I've talked about "phosphorus" (https://pzspodcast.fireside.fm/272) before -- the ever-glowing points of connection that constitute a kind of trail within the story of our life. Today the subject is another kind of phosphorus, its other side of the coin, by which I mean rejection. In late career I experienced a rejection so mighty in effect that it seemed to pull down the curtain on decades of ministry. This rejection came as an utter surprise. So one day, during the lowest point, I'm in a Jewish deli in SE Florida. And the song "When Smokey Sings" by ABC comes on. The lilting 'Motown' sound carries me right back to former times, of happiness and joy. At the same time, the song becomes instant phosphorus to whatever trail of rejection I have trodden in life. Rejection is decisive! Whether it comes in affairs of the heart, or at work, or in any relationship you want to name -- whether it comes in the form of cancer, self-sabotage, or an intrigue mounted against you -- rejection is impossible to swallow and assimilate, at least not in the initial instance. Some rejections -- like Charles Foster Kane's childhood rejection in Citizen Kane (1941) -- are never overcome. They can stay with you forever. Yet there is a way. There is in fact the promise of new love, which life, which God, almost always brings once you say goodbye to the rejecting love. As my friend Paula White says, When you say 'goodbye', God will bring you a new 'hello'. The Dave Clark Five told the truth back in 1964. You can hear their "take" on this at the end of the cast. But The Beatles did, too, on "Magical Mystery Tour": "I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello." LUV U.
The title of the Zombies' marvelous album from 1968/69 entitled "Odessey and Oracle" (sic) puts one's life in two-word perspective that means a lot to me. We are all on an odyssey of sorts, as Odysseus/Ulysses was in Homer. There are headwinds, zephyrs, tailwinds; and more to the point, storms, whirlpools and icebergs. No one could really disagree with the picture of our human experience as an odyssey, the forms and circumstances of which are quite hidden to us -- as Thomas Cole's epic visual parable "The Journey of Life" conveys with jaw-dropping perspicacity and prescience -- at the start. And hidden almost all along the way, in fact! So yes, sans doute, life is an odyssey. And we need -- I mean need urgently -- an oracle. Which is to say, we require a Word/words from outside ourselves to orient us and re-orient us. If we think that we ourselves can provide the required wisdom to understand and interpret our misfires, let alone our successes, that conception proves untenable over time. We need an oracle. Very recently I ran into an oracle -- a person, I mean, who stated an astonishing conviction concerning a current event, and whom I trust. In other words, I trust this person as a kind of oracle to interpret the present in the light of God's overriding Purpose. I was struck quite speechless by this preacher's certainty concerning something, shall we say, Very Big. Am still not sure whether I believe her, in fact -- she ministers at a small store-front church in west Orlando. But I take her seriously. The point is, I felt I was being addressed by an oracle. We need not only an interpreting confidence in the Divine Purpose behind our odyssey, but we also need an oracle to navigate us towards "Our Year" (The Zombies, 1968/69), that New Day of God's unfolding -- let alone shattering. LUV U!