Tuesday, August 12, 2014

This Is Mork Signing Off

I won’t rehash his biography, or list his extensive library of cinematic roles.  NBC Nightly News has already done that.  I’m not going to talk about his struggle with addiction, speculate on the causes of his depression, or try to discern the motives for his final solution.  A special episode of 20/20 will undoubtedly do that.  All I can do here, is to record my reaction to the August 11th suicide of, the comedy genius, Robin Williams.

Photo courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program.
In 1980, my father organized the parking garage for the, then brand new, Marriott Hotel, in Portland.  As a job perk, dad was given a suite, for our family, for a three day weekend.  Part of the package were tickets to the double feature, Flash Gordon & Popeye.

The ten year old me loved the Star Wars-esc action of Flash Gordon, but I remember also being enchanted by the music and comedy of Popeye.  Seeing the man, I knew as Mork, play E.C. Segar’s classic character was a treat for my young eyes.

 His unpredictable wit has entertained me for decades.  I enjoyed his improvisational wit and his willingness to step, even leap, outside of the box for a laugh.  Meanwhile, I found myself inspired by his charity work for organizations such as Comic Relief, the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, the LiveStrong Foundation, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and more.

Robin Williams’ talent, humor, and compassion literally brought joy to millions of people.  Keep in mind, I’m also a huge fan of Maverick and The Rockford Files, but I don’t think the recent death of James Garner hit me nearly as hard as the death of Robin Williams.

By ending his own pain, Robin Williams chose to stop spreading joy by denying his talent to the world.  He chose to quit making millions of people happy; that’s the part that stings the most.

R.I.P. Robin Williams.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Tradition Of Hate

On June 12th, 2014, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped, and later killed, in Gush Etzion, in the West Bank, as they were hitchhiking to their homes.  Under the assumption Hamas (a Palestinian Sunni Islamic organization, with a military wing known as the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades) committed the crime, the Israeli military began bombing Gaza.

Since then, rockets have killed multiple civilians and destroyed infrastructure on both sides.  As the death toll has risen, diplomats have appeared on Meet The Press, and other talk shows, to explain their  solution to the crisis.  Such conversations are based on the idea that this struggle is over political goals, land acquisition, or justice.  It’s not.  If it were, the fact that Hamas has been cleared of the June murders would have ended the conflict.

This is a conflict about hate and blame.  Israel blames Hamas for suicide bombings, Hamas blames Israel for 30 murders committed in a Hebron mosque by Baruch Goldstein, and the blame goes back and back and back four millennia before we’re done.

4,000 years ago, when Abraham was one hundred years old and his wife ninety, Sarah gave birth to a son. Abraham called him Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day, making him a party to the holy covenant God had established with Abraham.

However, Isaac was not Abraham’s first born, for Hagar had borne him Ishmael thirteen years earlier. Sarah implored Abraham to send Ishmael away. Abraham feared to send his son away but, God told Abraham to do as Sarah had requested.  Thus, Abraham  sent Hagar and Ishmael away, providing them with water and food for the journey.

Lost and near starvation, Hagar and Ishmael were saved from death by an angel. God blessed the boy, for he was Abraham’s son. Ishmael grew to have many children. His children multiplied and became known under the name of Ishmaelites, or Arabs, the people of the desert.

Meanwhile, Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac.  He prepared to do so, only to be stopped by God at the very last moment.  Touched by Abraham's obedience, the angel of God called unto Abraham a second time out of heaven and said, "By Myself have I sworn, says the Lord, that because you have done this thing and you did not withhold your son, your only one, that I will surely bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand that is on the seashore, and your descendants will inherit the cities of their enemies.“

As a result of this blessing, Isaac fathered Jacob, later renamed Israel, who fathered the children of Israel, or the Israelites.  The Israelites have been feuding with the Ishmaelites ever since.

The current conflict may have been triggered by the June murders, but it was NEVER about those crimes.  As bizarre as it sounds to many of us, the current crisis is simply an extension of the conflict initiated by Sarah’s jealously.  The murders were an excuse for the fighting to start, and the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem are simply trophies in an age old tradition of hate.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs


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As an experiment, writer: A.J. Jacobs attempted to obey the laws of the Bible as literally as possible for one full year. He followed the Ten Commandments, ate Kosher, wore a full beard, avoided wearing clothes made of mixed fibers, and loved his neighbor.  The result was the book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs .

I've spent the last few weeks reading this book, and generally speaking I liked it.  The chronicle was full of humorous moments and thought provoking questions concerning the concrete nature of God's law.

Much of the humor was centered around his wife's reactions to the experiment.  According to Leviticus 15:19-20, “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean."

When Jacobs' wife became frustrated by not being able to see R rated movies with A.J. on date night, she decided to torture him by sitting on every seat in the house, on the first day of her menstrual cycle, forcing him to stand during the entire week.

While the book is filled with this kind of humor, the over all message of the book concerns the impracticability of obeying God's law in modern times.

One can't read a book like this without comparing it to their own beliefs.  I'm no exception.  In my opinion, adopting the laws of the Bible, without accepting God as real, misses the point of the Bible.  The first commandment is, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:2-3)  Without accepting that, and Jacobs made it clear that he couldn't, the other laws become meaningless.

One of the most detailed commandments is found in Exodus 20:10, "but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates." 

While God seemingly left no wiggle room within this commandment, Christ himself broke the rule in order to let his hungry disciples pick grain (Matthew 12:1-8) and to heal the disabled  (Luke 13:10-17).  By my way of thinking, these examples demonstrate that God's laws are guidelines for defining our relationship with God, rather than a set of absolutes to be blindly adhered to.

Jacobs didn't get this distinction.  During the year in question, his wife gave birth to twins.  Once the first baby came out, Jacobs would no longer hold his wife's hand because Leviticus 12:2 says, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean."  He obeyed the letter of God's law, but sacrificed its compassionate spirit.

While Jacobs and I are on different theological pages, I'm glad I read The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. In addition to being entertaining, it forces readers to think about why they believe what they believe.

I give The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Quick Question Of Happiness

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap clap)
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap clap)
If you're happy and you know it, and you really want to show it,
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap clap)

Most people grew up singing this diddy in school and summer camp.  Few people think about the words though.

The song implies that it’s possible to be happy, but not know it. If you’re happy and you don’t know it, are you happy?  I’m not sure.

If happiness is simply the lack of sadness, fear, and anger then it may be possible to be happy and not realize it.  This view implies that happiness is a default baseline emotion, which we revert to when we’re not feeling something negative.

I’m not sure I entirely buy that though.  I think many people wander through life in a blah state of neutral, neither happy nor sad.   Happiness, real happiness, may be a conscious choice.  If so, and I think this is likely, then knowing you’re happy may be a necessary part of the definition of happiness.

If you’re happy and you don’t know it, are you happy? Leave your thoughts below.