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Bullfights, Bearfights, and Elisha the Prophet

The other day in Madrid, a bull leapt from the ring into the stands. It gored a few, trampled a few, fell on a few. Altogether, 40 were hurt, only a few seriously. Sure scared the wits out of them all, though. Now....you know the way American TV is: they ran the scene as a loop so that you saw it, not once, but several times.  And then the evening news did the same, and the commentaries, and the talk shows, and probably the morning news next day, in case anyone had missed it. In short...if Americans were anywhere that day, they saw the charging bull and the fleeing people.
 
And......let's be honest. It was hard not to root for the bull. Not to imply that we're happy about the injured people. No. You know me better than that. I didn't say anyone rooted against the people. It's just that they rooted for the bull. These folks had come to see the bull taunted, tormented, tortured, and killed. But the tables were turned! It didn't turn out that way. Well, actually it did...the bull was put to death....but not before he had claimed a few for himself.
 
Watching the TV loop, wasn't it a bit like those revenge shows people love to watch, where the hero is pushed, shoved, framed, bullied, run over, his family molested, attacked, stomped upon....how can anyone endure such atrocities? but then finally, his nasty tormentor gets what's coming to him, in a blood-pumping mother-of-all fights during which he absorbs blow after blow, knifethrust after knifethrust, javelin piercings, bazookas blasts, gunshot after gunshot (whereas anyone else promptly falls with a single shot fired in their general direction) till he....YES!! staggers and crashes to the ground. Whew!! Our hero's exhausted! He turns his back....why would he not?.. ...and consoles the remains of his long-suffering family, and begins to......OMIGOSH!!!!.....the bad guy's getting up again!!! How is that possible??!! He's creeping up on tiptoe with a crowbar!!!! Our hero suspects nothing! He's not even looking! Turn around, you idiot!! His foe cocks for the final blow!!!  I can't watch!! (well...maybe a little)  but then KA-BLAMO!!!!....YES!! The cowering woman summons all her unsuspected strength and fires one last fatal shot through his head, splattering brains everywhere; he staggers backward and topples over the balcony, falling 40 floors and landing in a packed pool of piranhas, who devour him alive, turning the water bright red, all to the sounds of his agonized screams! YEAH!!!! THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!!!!
 
But, back to the.....huh?....what do'ya mean 'lover of violence?' The bad guy got what was coming to him, didn't he?
 
As I say, back to the bullfight.
 
As a general rule, a rampaging bull at a social gathering would be cause for concern. You'd hope no one got hurt. It takes only one crucial fact....in this case, that the purpose of this gathering was to see the bull tormented and slaughtered .... to turn all our normal sensibilities upon their head. And a thousand years from now, when bullfights are ancient and forgotten history, so that no one could ever imagine such an cruel purpose to any gathering, one might, missing that key fact, find it absolutely barbaric that anyone could root for the murderous bull. Everything turns on one key fact, which may or may not be evident.
 
All of which is introduction to the account where Elisha calls down evil upon taunting children, whereupon bears come out of the woods and devour them.
 
And he proceeded to go up from there to Bethel. As he was going up on the way, there were small boys that came out from the city and began to jeer him and that kept saying to him: “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” Finally he turned behind him and saw them and called down evil upon them in the name of Jehovah. Then two she-bears came out from the woods and went tearing to pieces forty-two children of their number.   (2 Kings 2:23-24)
 
Let's face it; it's hard to put a happy face on that one. About the best you can do is assign that week's Bible review to a bald brother, who will tap his own shiny dome and pass himself off as one of a protected species, courtesy of 2nd Kings. But might there be some key fact that, just like the missing ingredient in Madrid, might make all the difference if we but knew what it was? It seems a notion worth pursuing.

For this account is from 3000 years ago. And I remember, for example, just 50 years ago, my mother might holler “I'll kill you for that!” if I....oh...say....ate the frosting off her newly baked cake. Americans my age will remember those five words were once a harmless expression you might use on a mischievous child. They might, in some cases, be practically an expression of endearment. The words, in most contexts, were not to be taken literally. Wasn't the accused kid of Twelve Angry Men found “not guilty” when one juror observed just that fact? Today, however, using those words will land you in deep trouble with the child protective people, the hate speech people, and God knows who else. Those oft uttered words of a half century ago are absolutely taboo today (though the deed has become commonplace).
 
If such a cultural shift can happen in a mere 50 years, what might happen in 3000 years? We think of the small boys of 2nd Kings in terms of kids of today and feel Elisha should count himself lucky they didn't attack him with baseball bats, so that to create such a fuss over mere words is just plain unseamly. But might there have been a societal norm of the day that declared certain conduct absolutely off-limits? Some norm known by one and all, drilled into the innermost fiber of everyone's being, so that a knowing violation would be shockingly unspeakable? A norm that equated mocking a prophet of God to mocking God himself, at a time when God was central everyone's being? It's a plausible notion to me. To you?
 
To be sure, such a notion flies in the face of the modern-day concept of “human rights,” but isn't there something a little grandiose about that concept? I admit, I'm naturally suspicious of any point-of-view originating in the modern-day, lest it be a manifestation of Proverbs 30:12: “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes but that has not been washed from its own excrement,” but even with that said, I distrust the concept. I prefer to speak of the “golden rule,” which embraces all that is noble about “human rights,” while discarding all that is pretentious.
 
For life itself doesn't seem to afford much respect for “human rights.” In his day, Ronald Reagan was arguably the most influential person alive. Ten years later, a victim of Alzheimer’s, he didn't know who he was. If nature itself discards us so easily...if we can so readily and unpredictably fall victim to loathsome disease or frightful accident....well....where is nature's respect for our “rights?”
 
Not to mention that, if you go speaking of “rights,” it almost seems that you ought to be able to do something about it if such rights are violated. While that may sometimes happen, we all know that, as often as not in the worldwide scheme of things, people's rights are violated with impunity. So how are they rights? Better to apply the golden rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matt 7:12) It conveys all the kindness of “rights,” but sidesteps what doesn't fit. It does, however, imply humility, and ours is an age where people like to “stand proud,” so “human rights” is the terminology that sticks.
 
Anyway, I advance my theory in case I myself may someday be assigned a commentary of 2 Kings 2:23-24. I'll have to say something, and I won't be able to play it for laughs, like the bald brothers do; I have a full head of hair. Though.....sigh....it is thinning. Maybe when the time comes, the whole point will be moot.

Tom Irregardless and Me   No Fake News But Plenty of Hogwash

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Redeeming America's Armpit

In the early 1990's Buffalo NY earned the title of America's Armpit. Well.....it didn't really earn the title, it just got stuck with it. There must always be something to arouse national ridicule, and for just a few brief years, comedians peppered their routines with Buffalo jokes. For example, the Air up There, a 1994 movie ripoff of the far more clever Cool Runnings, has the main character firing back to some taunter: “Don't tell me about ….(I think the word was 'armpits,' but it might have been 'dung heaps' or something).....I'm from Buffalo.” It must have been the last straw. Civic minded Buffalonians hosted a garden show that year. Green thumb people gussied up their homes with every sort of plant, and invited others to visit. It took 16 years for Mrs Sheepandgoats and I to respond.

But we did respond this year, for the two-day show in late July. Till then, we'd known nothing about it. All we'd known, thanks to Hollywood, was that Buffalo was an armpit and a dung heap. And that, more or less, squared with our own take of the city. Like Pittsburgh, Buffalo was once a center of heavy industry, steel-making and so forth. Unlike Pittsburgh, it never managed to reinvent itself when those industries evaporated. Hard to believe, but at the turn of last century (1900) Buffalo was the third most populous city in the U.S. Those days are long gone.

But each year gardeners have worked to reverse their armpit image, which was never more than pop-silliness anyway. The garden show has become an annual event, each one larger than its predecessor. One day recently, despairing of anything new in our own city, I chanced upon coverage for the Buffalo show in our local paper. We drove over to check it out. It's only an hour's drive west of Rochester, and we lodged overnight so as to take in both days.

Whoa! This is a big deal! 350 gardens this year. It's the largest show of its kind in America! These folks have been busy and we knew nothing of it. Now, Mrs Sheepandgoats loves this kind of thing, and so do I. Gardens are beautiful, people are friendly, and....one might as well say it....there's a certain nosiness about seeing how others are set up. It's a cheap date, or at least it would have been except for the hotel.....wasn't that overpriced? Plus, Mrs Sheepandgoats grumbled about it a little, since it seemed  dated.....aren't we too good to suffer such indignities?  But we found it through Priceline.com, a service that allows you (supposedly) the best price, but not choice of hotel. You have to trust them to choose for you once you specify how many “stars” you want.

Moreover, no sooner had we checked in and gotten comfortable when in waltzed a trio of women! They'd messed up at the main desk and assigned the same room twice! Fortunately, I was still impeccably dressed, as always, but Mrs Sheepandgoats had begun to change. Not to worry, I headed off the intruders at the door.....they were all embarrassed and headed down to the control desk. After a short time, so did I. The proprietress, a friendly matronly woman, apologized profusely, and then, probing sheepishly as to whether or not I was upset (I wasn't....mistakes happen), ventured that: “they were pretty, though.” Were they? I never notice such things, of course. Besides, Mrs Sheepandgoats is also pretty. Still, I complained to my wife afterward that this sort of thing happens to me all the time, and it's a great nuisance. Pretty women somehow find out where I'm staying and throw themselves at me so that I have to bolt the door to get any peace. It's almost as much of a pain as when I'm strolling down the street with my wife, and traffic comes to a screeching halt, folks snapping their necks around to admire her, disregarding entirely the Bible's counsel, cars smashing into one another, and so forth.....let's face it, the woman's a looker.

But how did this start out an article for Better Homes and Gardens, and practically end in Playboy territory? C'mon Sheepandgoats, back on topic!

You'd almost think there would be a lot of married couples in attendance at the show, and there were, but they were not the majority. Largely, it was packs of women with their girlfriends. Men were....what....maybe 30%? Just an impression, maybe there were more, but the wife and I both commented on it. Guys think their manhood threatened should they confess an interest in gardens, apparently; probably they were off bowling.

The 350 garden sites, front, side, and back yards, were clustered, for the most part, in neighborhoods, so that, if you weren't in one of the neighborhoods....if you were an island somewhere all by yourself....you might not get a lot of traffic. But the neighborhoods themselves were well traveled and some, such as the Summer neighborhood, were mobbed. Summer Street ends in a little hook just west of Delaware St. It's homes were built in the mid-1800's as cottages. Lovingly restored cottages, some painted bright bold colors. A few of them seem not even to have street access, but you had to walk in a house or two deep to reach them.

Nearby was 16th Street, a street with a story some residents posted for all to see. The area is quite modest, you might almost say poor, but several years ago residents banded together to form a neighborhood association. Gardening was the common strategy. Not only did they flower their own properties, but they gifted gardens to neighbors not in position to afford or maintain their own. (One home had a sign in front: 'this garden gifted by the so-as-so neighborhood association'....which I thought was a bit tactless, really. I mean, how must that sign make the people inside feel? But perhaps I'm too sensitive. Anyhow, today 94% of the short street is owner-occupied. Go the next street over,  where there are no gardens, and it's as though you've entered another world.

We started our tour at the Seminary headquarters near the Frank Lloyd Wright house. It wasn't the only headquarters....you could start wherever you wanted. Pick up a map, make a voluntary donation to the cause if you like, and off you go. Take the shuttlebus, drive, or walk. Lots of bistros and shops along Elmwood Avenue, for refreshments and change of pace. It's fairly monied around the FLW house, but to me,  the most interesting gardens were in neighborhoods quite modest, some even being reclaimed from urban decay, with  dinosaur-sized homes being nurtured back from near-extinction. Are gardens the means to revive a city? Instilling civic pride and such? Come to Buffalo and you might almost make a case for it.

It was unseasonably warm that Saturday....disgustingly hot, actually, with obscene humidity, the kind every upstate New Yorker knows only too well. We nonetheless trekked on valiantly till the show's 4 PM end.  Quite a few of the residents offered refreshments of sorts.....cold lemonade, perhaps, though in the poorer areas you were more likely to find those who charged for the service. Ah, well....no matter. And....walking up and down Elmwood Avenue, roughly the show's backbone, there were the aforementioned bistros and coffee shops one might duck into to cool off. The weatherman had called for rain all day, but it held off till the end.....when we were just feet from our car, and then in came down in a manner that would impress Noah. It was almost as if angels had held back the rains all day for our benefit. But they didn't, I'm quite sure. Don't they have other things to do?

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

The New Cool Mormons

The Mormons launched a new PR campaign on local TV.  Two 15 second spots run back to back.  There's a series of them. Each features a young, cool, vivacious person doing young, cool, vivacious things, with voiceover:
 
 I'm a bicyclist, I'm a curator, I'm a husband......and I'm a Mormon!
 
I'm a scateboarder, I'm a student, I'm a musician.......and I'm a Mormon!
 
Toss in some feel-good banal statement, such as “I believe in living every minute of each day as though it was my last,” and the ad is complete:
 
I'm a surfer, I'm a wife, I'm a nurse, I believe that we're all here in life to make a difference.......and I'm a Mormon!
 
Get it? We're cool, just like you. What.....did you hear somewhere that we're weird? Who told you that? No! We're not weird at all! We're just like you, only more so! Please.....love us!
 
Now, can I tell you what I think of this campaign? If I do, it will be a departure for me, because I've said kind things about Mormons on these posts. Besides, I don't want to offend Nate the Mormon, an amiable fellow with whom I sometimes exchange comments, who is these days given to writing movie reviews on off-the-radar films.  I mean, don't get me wrong.....it's not as though I think Mormons and JWs are brethern religions or anything.......we're poles apart spiritually.... but there are several similarities between us and they are good similarities. Both faiths have a public ministry....yes, yes, just a two year stint for the youngsters, but it's intense, and more than anyone else has. Both have a reputation for honesty. Both keep their ranks clean. Both look after their own, and promptly come to the aid of members in times of disaster. Both recognize the value of organization. Neither has members who insist on exercising their own rights to the exclusion of all else. Both even had a child superstar of the 70's: Donny Osmond for them, Michael Jackson for us (who, alas, strayed). No question about it: there's things about Mormons I like.

But I can't stand this new campaign of theirs. It wore out it's welcome the first time I saw it. Is it just a stupid  public relations move from the Mormons, or does it represent what they are? Dunno. But it's so pandering. It is so....oh, please love us.....we're cool, like you! Not the slightest hint of anything spiritual. Instead, absolute emphasis on how Mormons love to have fun, and how they love to do neat things. It's like the Catholics crowing 'we're the place for BINGO! Or “we've chucked those boring masses for guitars!” At least when they embraced those things, they didn't glorify it through PR spots, as though they wished to redefine themselves thereby. I mean, why carry on as if ashamed of what you are? Aren't Mormons supposed to be a faith?
 
Look, I'm not opposed to fun. Or having interesting work. All of those things the various Mormons do....we have people who do them, too. But I can't imagine a campaign in which we identify ourselves by those activities.

Now, it just so happens that the general managers of two Rochester radio stations are Jehovah's Witnesses. Sometimes you'll hear them on the air. That's cool, isn't it? I know both of these guys They're nice people. But there's no way I can imagine a TV spot featuring them in the control room, laughing and chatting into the mike, flipping this switch or that, grilling some recalcitrant newsmaker....so busy, so active, so alive, with the voiceover: I'm Tom Whitepebble. I'm a radio guy. I'm a husband. I'm a golfer. And.......I'm a Jehovah's Witness!
 
For crying out loud, you could make one of those dopey ads about ME! Surround me with the developmentally disabled. See me helping them with this or that project. See the happiness I bring them, their excited, smiling faces. And now listen to the promo:  I'm Tom Sheepandgoats. I'm a community worker for the disabled. I'm a writer. I'm a father. And.......I'm a Jehovah's Witness!

“I'm not weird at all! I'm cool! I don't eat Bible sandwiches! You could be cool, too, and happy, just like me, if you'd just become a Jehovah's Witness!”

I mean, doesn't it just make you want to puke?

Two years ago the Watchtower ran the life story ("Never Forget the Door to Door Ministry") of a Witness who was raised a Mennonite. I know the fellow. I've been to his home. As a Mennonite, he was chased from Russia to Germany. There he studied with Jehovah's Witnesses, was baptized, and again emigrated to Paraguay. He began preaching in a Mennonite colony in Paraguay, where they promptly spread out warnings about the newly arrived "false prophet." With his growing family, he moved here to upstate New York. The article touches upon various spiritual highlights and experiences of his life.
 
What it does not mention at all is that this fellow is now a millionaire. I mean, he must be, unless he gave it all away, which is possible....he's a very generous man. He became one of the area's premiere homebuilders. Tracts of homes bearing his company name are found everywhere. But there's absolutely no mention, in the Watchtower, of his material success. Instead, an exclusive focus on the spiritual. Possibly the next guy featured in the magazine didn't have two nickels to rub together. It's a matter of no importance. Each is defined in terms of spiritual things, not material. The day I hear “I'm Bob the Builder. I'm a homebuilder. I'm a traveler. I'm a millionaire. And......I'm a Jehovah's Witness!” I'm outta here.
 
That the Watchtower does not even mention this fellow's material success makes me very proud indeed to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Finally, a group that sees right through the shallowness of goals society teaches us to slobber over. Finally, a group not awed by social prominance, material success, or “coolness.” When our people are cool, it's incidental. It's not something sought after, and....one might as well say it, we have many who are decidedly uncool. Finally, a group who gets the sense of 1 John 2:15-17:
 
Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world. Furthermore, the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.
 
Of course, 1 John is from the Bible, and Mormons make little use of the Bible. Other than trying to make a few verses point to an Upcoming Modern Revelation, their own Book of Mormon, I don't think they use it at all. But apparently, if this new media campaign is anything to go by, the Book of Mormon repeals 1 John 2:15-17 in favor of avidly pursuing all goals the world deems valuable, being fully part of the world, if you will. It's just not our way.
 
Look, we have fun, Jehovah's Witnesses do. And we have interesting work, too, some of us anyway. A handful of us are even cool. But if you're main focus on life is to have fun and career fulfillment, don't come to us. That's not what we're all about. We're Bible people. We live it. We teach it. We don't carry on as if ashamed of it.

...........................

Update here

Still more here

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Tom Irregardless and Me   No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)