Thursday, December 28, 2006

Department of Redundancy Department

From a story on Ben Roethlisberger's bad year as Pittsburgh quarterback:
''It was tough, frustrating,'' Roethlisberger said. ''At least you know it will be awfully hard for next year to be any worse next year.''

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Third Annual Ralphies (3): Books

BEST NON-FICTION BOOK (Scholarly): Again, I didn't read anything published this year. The closest I came was in reading Joe Fitzmyer's 3rd edition of his commentary on the Genesis Apocryphon (2004; good) and Klaus Beyer's revised volume 2 of Die Aramäische Texte vom Toten Meer (2004; ditto). But the Ralphie goes to Alan Millard's Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus (2000), an excellent survey, and subtly subversive of a number of scholarly shibboleths.

BEST FICTION: I read and enjoyed King Dork (2006) by Frank Portman, but the best novel I read all year was one I read the same week in May: The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene. Very moving.

BEST GRAPHIC FICTION: So many to choose from. Marvel's Civil War series is great, if published at a glacial pace; also great is the current story arc of Ultimate Fantastic Four written by Mark Carey. I also have to mention the must-read Hatter M; my nephew Greg Cook works on that book as "Cartographic Chronicler and Historian." The Ralphie, however, goes to Brian K. Vaughan's Y: The Last Man. No, it's not a male fantasy; it's an exciting quest tale that illuminates, and deconstructs, a number of assumptions (both male and female) about what the world would look like if all the men died (except one). Vaughan has recently been hired as a writer for ABC's drama Lost.

That's it for this year, folks!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Birthday, O pale Galilean

Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath
—A. C. Swinburne, Hymn to Proserpine

The skeptical Swinburne, under the guise of a pagan critique of Christianity, really was writing against, I suppose, the dull pieties of Victorian Anglicanism, but his attitude crops up quite a bit still. The grey world? yet as I look out my window, the neighborhood is a blaze of brightly colored lights, glistening decorations, and crazy plastic figurines. These things are only the echoes or the outskirts of genuine religion; but could a life-denying faith really engender such a merry display?

The other day in the New York Times, an unrepentantly Jewish writer talked about how she and her husband celebrated Christmas for the first time:
I love that as soon as I told a Catholic friend what I was up to, she invited me to a gingerbread-house decorating party. How fun is that? And why wasn’t I invited before? What does a gingerbread house have to do with Jesus?
Some nights, I put on our Starbucks Christmas CD, light a fire, turn on the tree and play with the different settings, put liquid smoke in the train’s smokestack and turn on the choo-choo sound effects and then I sit back and enjoy my first Christmas, in all its kitschy splendor. I feel a little guilty when I look at our lone menorah on the mantel (the only evidence of my faith other than my guilt), but I ask you: how can this much pleasure be wrong?
It reminded me for some reason of a passage from Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, when one of her students told of the religious instruction in the university after the Islamic Revolution:
On one side [the teacher] had written, in large white letters, MUSLIM GIRL, and drawn a vertical line in the middle of the board. On the other side, in large pink letters, he wrote CHRISTIAN GIRL. He had then asked the class if they knew the differences between the two. One was a virgin, he said at last, after an uncomfortable silence, white and pure, keeping herself for her husband and her husband only. Her power came from her modesty. The other, well, there was not much one could say about her except that she was not a virgin. To Yassi's surprise, the two girls behind her, both active members of the Muslim Students' Association, had started to giggle, whispering, No wonder more and more Muslims are converting to Christianity.
I know that neither woman's experience is religious, or has anything to do with "authentic" Christianity; but it has everything to do with the world that Christianity made. After 2000 years, there are still plenty of people out there, on the outside looking in, who have the impression that such a world, with its colored lights and gingerbread, has something to do with pleasure and liberation. The pale Galilean, who was criticized for enjoying food and drink too much (Luke 7:34), might, after all, have had something to do with that.

Happy birthday, Lord. And many more.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Third Annual Ralphies (2): Film

BEST MOVIE: Boy, what a lousy year for movies, just as we knew it would be. I enjoyed Nacho Libre and Pirates of the Caribbean 2, but they're not really Film of the Year material. The one movie I was anxious to see, For Your Consideration, turned out to be a disappointment. So, I hate to get all haughty and everything, but I just can't award a Ralphie this year for Best Movie. However, I can start a new category:

WORST MOVIE: Lots of competition here. But I'd have to give it to Strangers with Candy, which is not only the worst movie I've seen this year, but possibly the worst movie I've ever seen. Like, in my life. I started checking my watch to see how much torture I had to endure after five minutes. It's even worse than the second worst movie ever, which I also happened to watch this year on DVD: Broken Flowers.

BEST TV SHOW: I've built my schedule around two shows this year, Lost (still great) and Heroes (also terrific). But the Ralphie goes to The Office. It's the only show I watch with Amy, whose taste otherwise runs towards earnest PBS documentaries. So, huge kudos to Carell & Co. just for luring my wife to network television.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Atheists vs. Liberals

Heave an egg outside a Pullman window anywhere in the United States today, and you will probably hit an atheist. In fact, I hope you do. There is a new prominence of what I term, drawing on my theological training, Mean Atheism. I refer to such writers as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, who are taking the old Village Atheist tradition to the ... well, to the global village. Yeah, that's it: the Global Village Atheists.

For orthodox Christians, it's all rather tiring. Didn't we just get done arguing down The DaVinci Code and guaranteeing that the movie would be the lamest and least successful Tom Hanks vehicle since Bonfire of the Vanities? We buried that sucka! Yeah! But now *sigh* there's a new shipment of nitwits that are just begging for the old double-barrel rational refutation treatment. It's exhausting. Can't we get a break?

You know what I say? I say, Let the liberals handle it this time. We orthodox folks are going to take some time off, and we'd really like some of the usual left-wing religious suspects to take this on for us. How about Katherine Jefferts-Schori, new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church? How about it, Kathy, you up for a fight? Why don't you take on Sam Harris? How about you, John Shelby Spong? Marcus Borg? Elaine Pagels? Dom Crossan, why don't you get in the ring with Richard Dawkins? Or John Hick: yes, you. Right now, start refuting. You do think there's something to all this existence of God business, don't you? Well, do us all a favor and crush some of these guys, or at least soften 'em up until the rest of us get back from Christmas vacation? Huh? Whaddya say?

No response? I thought so. Wimps.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Third Annual Ralphies (1): Music

I've decided to do the Ralphies in a series this year, in order to prolong the agony (yours, not mine). Today's Ralphies are for music.

SONG OF THE YEAR: A lot of good songs this year. Who doesn't love "Crazy"? And even if you hated it, you couldn't escape it. Also "Teach Me Sweetheart" by the Fiery Furnaces was probably one of the best this wonderful group has ever done. But the award goes to .... "Code Monkey" by Jonathan Coulton. Irresistible.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Bitter Tea by the Fiery Furnaces. So good my mind is still boggled by it.

BEST BOB DYLAN ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Snake Farm, by Ray Wylie Hubbard. Honorable mention: Modern TImes, by Bob Dylan (OK to listen to, but the lyrics and music are pretty lazy and derivative).