Cold Psalms

“Ne’er cast a cloot ’til May be oot,” as we heard it in Scotland, was a warning, loosely translated, to “never take off a layer until May is over.”  That bit of lowland wisdom fits this spring pretty well.  As I was donning full winter regalia for my jog this morning my thoughts naturally turned toward the weather.  Memory distorts things, of course, but I keep coming back to my youth and thinking late May used to be reliably warm.  There were chilly mornings from time to time, but yesterday held a touch of November in the air, as if the world somehow switched axes.  Even the usual animals I see—deer, groundhogs, ducks, and the occasional fox or raccoon—all seemed to be sleeping in this morning.  Who could blame them?

I postulated in Weathering the Psalms that the weather is somehow connected in our psyches with the divine.  It’s God’s big blue heaven, after all.  The weather is something we can only control in a bad way, though.  While other people are fixated on surviving the coronavirus outbreak Trump has been quietly (although well documentedly) been relaxing environmental regulations so that when this is all over the beleaguered wealthy will have further income streams.  And so global warming gets a head start on opening the doors of industry again.  Those older than even me tell me the weather is far wilder than when they were young.  Perhaps it’s just the Anthropocene hadn’t had time to settle in yet.  Or maybe environmental degradation is spitting in the face of God.

First light is beautiful.  I’ve been awakening before the sun for so many years now that I can’t recall what it’s like to stumble out of bed when blue begins edging the curtains.  When it does I pull on my sneakers and head out the door.  It’s easy to pretend out here that everything’s okay.  When I do spot a deer, statue-still until I’m mere feet away, I wonder what life was like before the koyaanisqatsi of industrialization.  When our human impact on the earth was humble, like that of our fellow animals.  Now the weather has turned.  It’s chilly out here this morning.  I’m wearing a stocking cap and gloves and I’m watching my own breath forming the only clouds in the sky.  The weather is a kind of psalm, I guess.  I should pull on another clout and consider the wisdom of my elders.

Livin’ On a Prayer

Am I the only one who finds it disturbing that Neo-Con politicians are naïve enough to believe that prayer will solve all our problems? Where was God during the Bush years, for crying out loud? And yet headline after headline speculates about Texas Governor Rick Perry’s prayer-fest scheduled for Saturday. What is more disturbing than the lack of imagination on the part of would-be candidates is the sheep-like following on the part of a large segment of the electorate. If God is going to step in and take charge, he had a great chance back on May 21 and refused to pick up the option. If God was behind politics, why did George W. Bush fail to find Osama Bin Laden? If God is running things, why are so many unemployed? Ah, but the religious pundits have a pat answer: America is a sinful nation. What it takes is religion, Texas-style.

In the many years I spent at Nashotah House, the majority of our students hailed from Texas. They represented the conservative hard-line and doctrinal strappadoes that caused much suffering but still somehow didn’t placate an angry God. That, of course, says more about Nashotah House than it does about Texas. Perhaps it is the logical evolution of a country that began with prominent ministers gleefully describing sinners in the hands of an angry God. Nearly three centuries later and we are being told God is still angry. Thou shalt not hold a grudge, eh? The problem seems less about sinful folks just trying to get by (a la Bon Jovi) than about politicians using their religion to get elected. Centuries down the road it will be the topic of some new series of History’s Mysteries that an affluent, educated, and generally forward-looking nation cluttered its governing bodies with politicians who believed the answer to complex problems is to bow their heads and tell God how to fix it. Are we really half-way there, or have we spread our arms to embrace Jonathan Edwards once again?

In MSNBC’s article on Rick Perry’s prayer day, it is noted that the book of Joel is cited as an inspiration for the event. For such a brief book, Joel has been at the forefront of a ton of damage wrought by prooftexters. Joel wrote three brief chapters about a locust infestation for which the suggested response was prayer. One wonders if Rick Perry simply prays when the termites begin to gnaw on his expensive home, or does he call Ortho instead? Joel was truly old school. The locusts in his day meant literal mass-starvation. No chemical romance to solve the problem there. Unfortunately we don’t know how that one turned out—Joel doesn’t say. I’m just glad that Governor Perry hadn’t been reading Psalm 137 when inspiration struck, and can I get an amen from the pro-lifers on that?

Ricky used to work on the docks?

P.S. Matthew 6.5.

Eyre the Apocalypse

Finishing Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre last night proved timely from the point of view of today’s much anticipated apocalypse. (I hate to leave a book unfinished as the final trump begins to sound.) As I stress to my students at Rutgers (when I actually have a class), the Bible surrounds them whether they are aware of it or not. Quite aside from the present rapture-envy—that one’s just too easy—reading literature of the nineteenth century is an excellent way to show the Bible’s influence on western culture. Jane Eyre is suffused with biblical allusions and direct references, even with the faulty theological notions that the Scriptures had hatched in that century. Of course, the Bronte sisters, all successful novelists, were the children of a clergyman, but other writers of the period demonstrate an equally biblical worldview. In fact, much of the dramatic tension in the present novel revolves around distinctly biblical issues.

Interspersed with my reading of classical novels, I read many more recent literary explorations as well. A couple of weeks ago I completed Stephen King’s It, not a particularly favorite novel, but one that at times demonstrated that even masters of the macabre frequently draw on the Bible. For modern literature the Bible is the ultimate foundation. It would be interesting to live long enough to see if it still has any relevancy at the end of the present century. Jane Eyre, perceptive as most nineteenth century novels are, also pressed directly the wound that currently afflicts much of our nation. Cast upon misfortune, Miss Eyre is mistaken for a beggar. Miss Bronte observes, “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education,” a line that should be emblazoned upon the door of public officials who feel it is their right to withdraw funding from public education. You want an apocalypse? That’s the recipe right there.

Nevertheless, Miss Eyre presses on until she reclaims the man who had once “stood between me and every thought of religion,” dodging an impassioned missionary along the way. In revealing the manipulations of the cousin who dies on the mission fields, enriched by Miss Eyre’s beneficence, once again Charlotte Bronte displays her perception of how the church may ultimately rob a soul of its true potential. Upon learning of his death, the now Mrs. Rochester ends this penetrating novel with his words, strangely appropriate for this day of fictional endings: “’My Master,’ he says, ‘has forewarned me. Daily he announces more distinctly—“Surely I come quickly!” and hourly I more eagerly respond, —“Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!”’” Of course, St. John is here quoting Revelation 22.20. Since I am scheduled to run a 5-K in a couple of hours, if the second coming is about to happen, it would be convenient should it transpire before I end up exhausted in my own personal apocalypse.

Jane Eyre stopping one of the horsemen of the apocalypse?

This Year’s Apocalypse

Sundays are notoriously slow news days. The local paper, therefore, ran a whimsical headline: “Will the world end on May 21? Are you ready?” Nearly 40 billboards are asking Garden State commuters (as if they aren’t already stressed enough) if they are prepared to meet their doom. This year’s apocalypse is sponsored by Howard Camping, a California prognosticator with an history of calculating the world’s end. Given that our daily experience confirms uniformitarian processes on this planet have been in place for millennia – and even longer – the belief in a cataclysmic termination of billions of years’ work is rampant as ever. The end of the world, as touted in the media, is always based on religious precepts of some sort or another. Our scientifically scheduled apocalypse is about five billion years away when the sun becomes a red giant. (The biggest threat to capitalism since the collapse of the Soviet Union.)

Why do so many religions want to see it all burn? Life certainly has more than its fair share of misery and suffering. Apocalyptic scenarios abound in disadvantaged communities – the final leveler of all inequalities will put us all in the same place. Privilege creates as many problems as it does boondoggles. A truly evolved race would wish to share its good fortune to those without access to resources of the more fortunate. It is a severely effaced line between inequality and iniquity at the best of times. Those who don’t get a fair shake in this life look for a better lottery pick in Heaven’s jackpot.

But why do affluent people share this urge to watch it all explode to a theological fantasy-land? The local electrical engineer funding the billboards, is quoted by Star-Ledger staff as saying, “Seven billion people are facing their death! What else could I do?” My humble suggestion would be to put that money toward helping those who do not have enough. The underprivileged could be made to suffer considerably less with the obscene income of the Left Behind franchise. Instead that money is being funneled into questionable political causes. Maybe it is best that the world end next month after all. I’ve put it on my calendar, but I’m still expecting to be around for the 2012 apocalypse as well.

An apocalypse worth waiting for!

Jesus’ Broken Dates

Jesus apparently has his calendar out. Again. This time it looks like May 21 is a red-letter day (he has a predilection for red-letters too). Well, at least it’s penciled in, like many other broken dates. An unemployed woman in Colorado Springs has decided to spend her dwindling reserves on bus bench advertisements reading “Save the Date / Return of Christ / May 21, 2011,” according to CNN. She states in the interview that she believes her job until judgment day is to get the world ready. She will find herself standing in the unemployment line on May 23 (the 22nd is a Sunday), more likely than not. Even more disturbing than the mostly harmless neurotic behavior of the unemployed (who am I to cast the first stone?) is the choice of Jerry Jenkins as an expert witness in the story.

Who questions a bus bench?

Jenkins and perennial Paleo-Con Timothy LaHaye wrote the “Left Behind” series that made more than a cottage industry out of repackaging Christian apocalyptic mythology into slick, science-fictionesque novels. They have more than a vested interest in promoting “and they lived horrifically ever after” scenarios. There is good money to be made by trolling the fears of the gullible. Very good money.

Our Colorado Springs prophet took her date from a billboard in Texas, a leading purveyor of rapture-mania. The thing that’s been left out of this – and many other apocalyptic episodes – is a serious consideration of the Bible. As most biblical scholars know, doomsday predictions generally derive from misinterpretations of ancient metaphors. Jesus, at least according to the canonical Gospels, was much more concerned about fair treatment of the poor and disadvantaged than he was about raining down brimstone on Babylon. Instead of spending money to warn the folks of Colorado Springs about yet another end of the world, why not donate the money to a local food bank and try to make the world a little bit better place?