Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

The Medium is the Message

June 14, 2010

Posted to a Facebook thread discussing the acceptance of same-sex relationships:

I suppose most people by nature admire and sort of commitment or fidelity to another person, a career, a cause. Conversely, most people are disappointed to see capriciousness, insincerity, fickleness. We admire commitment to some endeavor, enterprise, ideology or vocation even if we do not ourselves embrace or pursue such beliefs or values. When media regularly displays various circumstances as normative then a generation grows up viewing such media presentations and taking for granted that various things are normative and to be expected or encountered.

Jackie Gleason only PRETENDED to kiss his wife at the end of a Honeymooners episode, turning his back to the audience.
One Star Trek episode made history as the first interracial kiss on television, albeit the aliens where using force beams to press Captain Kirk’s lips to Lieutenant Uhura

In Boston Legal, Shatner as reinvented himself as a lawyer who enters an unusual same-sex union.

When Alan and Denny agree to get married, Denny exclaims, “It’ll be great – like jumping a shark!” A television series is said to have “jumped the shark” when its storyline veers into absurd or out-of-the-ordinary characterizations, and usually indicates that the series is past its prime. The phrase refers to a scene in a three-part episode of the American TV series Happy Days in which Fonzie, wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a confined shark while water skiing.


KLANGFEST Gasteig München Soul Band

May 25, 2010!/group.php?gid=162357164323&v=app_2392950137&ref=ts


KLANGfest 2010 candycream ‘Son of A Preacher Man’

Filmed by Wanda Luesst

One of my favorite songs from Dusty Rhodes from long before it was played by Uma Thurman in the Pulp Fiction movie.

candycream is a Frankfurt based Soul Band:

Miriam Skroban (lead vocals)
Tanja Schmidt (lead vocals)
Carsten Goedicke (fender rhodes + organ)
Flo Zepf (guitar)
Richard Grimminger (drums)
Alfredo Hechavarria Ruddock (Bass)
Lars Joachim (saxophone, flute, backing vocals)
Thomas Wimbauer (trombone)
Gebhard Schmidt (trumpet, fluegelhorn)

Shot at the KLANGFEST Music Festival on the Open Air Bühne at the Gasteig Cultural Center, München, Germany
22 Mai 2010

Miriam Skroban


Good, Evil and Ideas Which Transform

September 9, 2009

Good, Evil and Ideas Which Transform

[added February 5, 2011

I am often AMAZED at all the people who spend hours in religious services and reading volumes of books and never in their daily life stop and ask themselves “what would JESUS do right now” which I am certain Gandhi asked, and Gandhi rejected Christianity. Folks, its not rocket science. You KNOW what the Fonze would do, and Homer Simpson and Jackie Gleason. Think of it as SHOWBIZ!

The notion of religion was INVENTED in India, and only those people REALLY understand it… and it is closely related to show business… so there are people there (Gandhi was one) who would say “what would Ram” do in this situation… it is like role playing …. there are people who say “What would Ayn Rand or John Galt do or say”…. that is what shapes and empowers us, for better or worse, good or evil ]

When we are wronged, we demand justice. When we are harmed, we cry out for mercy. No one doubts or denies the existence and reality of such qualities as justice or mercy or love. Yet such qualities cannot be seen, but exist only in the context of living human consciousness and discourse. There is one verse in Scripture which states: “God is love.”

(I Jn 4:8. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. )

Yet, we are not satisfied with the notion that God is merely a personification of Love or Mercy or Justice. We yearn for a real, palpable, detectable, provable, demonstrable, existent, personal God who will relate to us as an individual.

If God is the source of being and non-being, and therefore prior to being and non-being, then what would it mean to say that God “exists”? If God is prior to good and evil, then what would it mean to say that God is “good”? We do not realize that by such language we actually demean God because we cast God conceptually into His own created realm of dualities and antinomies.
We cannot really prove to anyone else that the Universe exists, yet we do not doubt the universe because of that lack of proof, since we may touch and see and feel the universe with our senses. We tend to seek the sacred within sense perception itself.

Schopenhauer can be credited with one of the most famous opening lines of philosophy: “The world is my representation” [§1, p.3].

Schopenhauer begins one of his chapters in “World as Will and Representation” by pointing out that the swirling gases of outer space produced countless revolving and orbiting stars and planets and that upon the surface of at least one of those planets, a film or layer of water and soil formed which evolved first animal consciousness, and later human consciousness and speech, and that it is only within the context of that human consciousness and discursive speech that such notions as truth and goodness and evil abide.

The harsh vacuum of outer space may appear as an evil to biological life, which requires atmosphere and moisture and gravity in order to survive, yet such a seemingly inimical void of outer space is a nurturing womb for an evolving nebula or galaxy.

Consider the atmosphere of an ordinary room, a living room or parlor, in which we are comfortably seated. If a scientist were to place the atmosphere of that room in a centrifuge, we would discover that the comfortable room-temperature air is actually composed of a minority of very high energy molecules and also a minority of very low energy molecules. When that minority of high energy molecules are segregated by the centrifuge and concentrated into one small area, they form a heat which is hot enough to injure us, while the minority of low energy molecules segregated and concentrated in a small area, form a freezing cold intense enough to cause us discomfort.

Imagine, if good and evil were analogous to those high and low energy molecules in the atmosphere. A certain balanced measure of both constitute a normal atmosphere while an imbalance creates a moral dilemma.
I am very fond of an old saying from India: “The cow and the bee and the viper all drink the same water from a pond, and yet the cow transforms that water into soothing milk, while the bee transforms the very same water into honey, yet the viper transforms the water into a deadly poisonous venom.” How may we see molecules of good and evil in the water which surrounds us, and in what manner do we personally transform the world around us as we pass through this life?

We often ignore the fact that ideas themselves are as palpably existent as matter and sense perception. We must bear in mind that the very IDEA of Christ’s life as described in the Gospels, the very IDEA, notion concept that God should take human birth and lead such a life of humility, obedience, subjugation and surrender, that very IDEA ITSELF is potentially sanctifying and transformational for those who embrace it and internalize it and imitate it and become confirmed in it, quite APART from the issue of the truth or falsehood of the Gospel accounts or the actual historical Jesus.

We may doubt or deny the existence of God if we so choose, but we cannot doubt or deny the existence of such ideas as the life of Christ, and the changes which such ideas have wrought in the world and in individual lives during the past two millenia.

Einstein once pointed out, in a tribute to Gandhi, that generations hence, people might well read accounts of Gandhi’s life and scarcely believe that such a person actually walked the earth in the flesh. Carl Sandburg has eulogized and lionized the life of Abraham Lincoln in several volumes with such flower speech that it becomes difficult for the reader to separate the real person of Lincoln from the legend of Lincoln. But the fact remains that such personalities as Gandhi and Lincoln did walk the earth in the flesh and the IDEA of their lives CONTINUES to walk the earth in the pages of books and in our imaginations, and that IDEA of their lives continues to inspire and transform the live of future generations.

There is a wonderful Roman Catholic scholar by the name of Boadt who wrote a large book on the study of the Old Testament. I was able to meet him once, briefly, after a lecture, some years ago. I was recently mistaken in my recollection that it was in one of the early chapters of that work that Boadt quotes a thought-provoking passage from Deuteronomy.

No, I am mistaken about Boadt and Deuteronomy. I actually read the passage in a book by George Martin entitled “Reading Scripture as the Word of God” (ISBN 1-56955-061-1) and the passage is from Isaiah, Chapter 55, and not from Deuteronomy.

Isaiah 55:10-11 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

This passage raises an interesting thought with regard to some things which Moses Maimonides writes in his famous work, “Guide for the Perplexed.”
Moses Maimonides is considered to be one of the greatest Rabbinical writers of all times. Maimonides died a mere twenty years before the birth of Thomas Aquinas. In some sense, Aquinas may have been attempting with his writing of the Summa Theologica to accomplish for Christianity what Maimonides had accomplished for Judaism in systematizing matters of faith and interpretation.

Maimonides, in the very middle of his “Guide for the Perplexed”, emphatically states that God does not intervene in ordinary matters of cause and effect, the causal nexus, in the universe. Maimonides gives the amusing example of a man who spits, and the spit startles a frog, who jumps and splashes, causing a bird to take flight which in turn causes an archer to take aim, fire, and miss, accidentally slaying some innocent bystander. This example which I give may not be verbatim the exact example which Maimonides cites (since I am paraphrasing from memory), yet my example is very similar to his example. Maimonides makes the point that God does not intervene anywhere in this slap-stick, Rube Goldberg example of a chain of cause and effect.

Maimonides sees the created universe as something set in motion by God, operating by its own laws and principles, much like the comical Energizer Bunny which we see in the Duracell battery commercials.

Many Centuries earlier, the writings of King Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Chapter 9, Verse 11, confirmed the validity of Maimonide’s notion when he writes: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Modern Orthodox Rabbinical thought agrees with Maimonides that God only intervenes in causality in the form of “Divine Overflow’ in the life of a Zadek or righteous man.

But if we look back to our passage in Deuteronomy about the rain and the snow and their analogy to the “Words” which God sends into the world to accomplish a certain work, we may see some agreement and confirmation of Maimonides understanding of the role which God plays in causality.
Jesus said to “search the scriptures” (the words of God) for “therein we shall find Eternal Life”, but Jesus does not point to any particular chapter and verse. When the two Apostles say to Jesus “Where do you live”, He replies “come and see” (an invitation to a subjective experience) but Jesus does not give a street address. Jesus tells one man “You are not far form the Kingdom” but Jesus does not say how far or give a longitude and latitude for the Kingdom’s location.

What we see, I suspect, is the invitation to a subjective individual dialectical experience.

Rabbi Kook, the first Ashkenazie Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, quotes a Rabbi of old, Nahman from Bratslav regarding the 3rd chapter of Malachai (which is the last book of the Old Testament). The verse in Chapter 3:16 of Malachi reads: ““Those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them. A book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His Name.”

The Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav comments that “Two men who live in different places, or even in different generations, may still converse. For one may raise a question, and the other who is far away in time or space may make a comment or ask a question that answers it. So they converse, but no one knows it save the Lord, who hears and records and brings together all the words of men, as it is written: “They who serve the Lord speak to one another, and the Lord hears them and records their words in His Book” (Mal.3.16)

This is the Talmudic dialectical process.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810 C.E.)

The great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (sometimes called Bratzlav, Breslau or Bratislava) was the founder of the Breslover Chasidic sect. Breslov is a town in the Ukraine where Rabbi Nachman spent the end of his life, but some say the name Breslov comes from the Hebrew bris lev, meaning “covenant of the heart.” He emphasized living life with joy and happiness. One of his best-known sayings is, “It is a great mitzvah to be happy.” Collections of his Chasidic tales (or tales attributed to him) are widely available in print.

In Genesis, we see that at the end of each day of creation, God looks and sees that “It is GOOD”. But when the entire work of creation is finally completed, God looks and sees that “it is VERY GOOD”. Jewish tradition sees within this “very good” the “yetzer harah”, the natural human tendency or inclination towards evil which may be spiritually harnessed as an energy and redirected towards GOOD. For example, the man with a tendency towards greed may become greedy for Torah knowledge or spiritual wisdom.

R. Nahman said in R. Samuel’s name: BEHOLD, IT WAS VERY GOOD refers to the Good Desire; AND BEHOLD, IT WAS VERY GOOD, to the Evil Desire. Can then the Evil Desire be very good? That would be extraordinary! But for the Evil Desire, however, no man would build a house, take a wife and beget children; and thus said Solomon:

“Again, I considered all labour and all excelling in work, that it is a man’s rivalry with his neighbour.” (Koheleth/Ecclesiastes IV, 4)

The translators have rendered yetzer hara literally, as “evil desire,” but as a recurring concept from classic texts, I would think of it as “selfish” or “egocentric” rather than “evil” in its ordinary sense. Thus the midrash works something like this: all of creation is “good” in that it fits together in a harmonious scheme, and is beautiful, bountiful, and reflective of its Source. Basing itself on two textual variations from the other days- the “and” and the “very” – R. Nahman points out that humans have an extra or additional aspect, different from the rest of creation. We have the capacity to be altruistic or selfish, good or evil, generous or stingy. Human beings are neither inherently good nor bad, but are given the impulse and desire for either direction.

If the midrash stopped there, we’d have a fairly straightforward point: humans possess a moral consciousness that animals don’t, and are thus morally responsible for our choices. R. Nahman, however, goes a step further, and points out that things that we might think of as self-centered can actually produce great things. The human drive for achievement might be based in ego, but without it, the world would be poorer.

R. Nahman in his example is acknowledging that human relationships contain elements of both selfishness and selflessness; perhaps he is even suggesting that without the personal satisfaction of intimate relationships, the hard work and emotional struggle just wouldn’t be worth it for many people.

R. Nahman is certainly also challenging the views of those religions that posit poverty and celibacy as the spiritual ideal- in his midrash, God directly approves of personal fulfillment in worldly relationships. Again, this is not about hedonism, but balance. No reasonable reading of Jewish sources would produce the idea that personal, self-centred fulfillment is the ultimate goal of life. On the other hand, this reading of the story of Creation seems to teach us that we are meant to enjoy life and find it good. Hard things can happen, but the challenge is to see the world through God’s eyes, making the choices and connections that raise the material world, which is good, to the level of spiritual fulfillment, which can be “very good” indeed.

From the Sufi’s, we read the following:

“What is Fate?” Nasrudin was asked by a scholar.

Nasrudin answered: “An endless succession of intertwined events, each influencing the other.”

The scholar objected, “That is hardly a satisfactory answer. I believe in cause and effect.”

“Very well,” said Nasrudin, “look at that.” He pointed to a procession passing in the street.”That man is being taken to be hanged. Is that because someone gave him a silver piece and enabled him to buy the knife with which he committed the murder or because someone saw him do it or because nobody stopped him?”

The above is from Sufi stories about the wise fool Mulla Nasrudin. The Sufis believe that intuition is the only real guide to knowledge and use these stories as exercises. The stories can be applied to many different situations,
The source for the Sufi stories is Indries Shah’s The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin (ARKANA Penguin Books, reprint edition 1993).

On page one of Hans Kung’s work “On Being Christian”, Kung raises a profound question:

“Why should one be a Christian? Why not be human, truly human? Why, in addition to being human, should we be Christian? Is there something more to being a christian than to being human?”

I might paraphrase Kung’s words by asking “What is there to prevent us from leading good, humane lives if the Gospels had never been written and we had no knowledge of Christ?”

The psychologist Alfred Adler was once asked by a student during a question period, after one of his lectures, “And what of God, Dr. Adler? What are your thoughts on God and Religion?” Adler simply replied, “I would hope that, if there is a God, that he would approve of the manner in which I have conducted my life.”

It has been said of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that during the last years of his life, he became increasingly concerned with the a question, “What does Christ mean in our life TODAY, right NOW?”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was safe in America, but chose to put his life in jeopardy by returning to Nazi Germany, and there met a martyr’s death after his unsuccessful attempt to stop Hitler. Social activism and protest was not a part of the Lutheran tradition in which Bonhoeffer had been raised.

“Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”

“Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like the cheapjack’s wares. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

–Quotes from Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, first published in 1937.

By the way, Hans Kung ends his 600 page book, “On Being Christian”, with these words:

So we have asked: why should one be a Christian? The answer will certainly be understood now if we reduce it to a brief recapitulatory formula:

By following Jesus Christ, man in the world of today
can truly humanly live, act, suffer and die:
in happiness and unhappiness, life and death,
sustained by God and helpful to men.

Someone wrote to me, saying:

The part that stood out for me was the part about the rain and water going down to earth and when it completes it’s task it returns to the heavens. It reinforces the idea that there is a purpose for things.

How do your ideas relate to atheist writings?

It is helpful to read things which have contradictory views.


Sitaram replies:

Read many things. Read all the religions and philosophers and poets.

Smorgasbord/Buffet is really good, because you pick and choose and sample, and eventually you may find something you really like and have your fill. Our postmodernist “restaurant at the end of the universe” matches the appetites of freewill.

Regarding the essay, think about the part where it says something like “the very IDEA itself, apart from its truth or falsehood or historical accuracy, has the power to transform us.”

Ideas have an existence and a reality all their own, as does the imagination. Some ideas are immortal.

Regarding the rain and snow and purpose (teleology), think of the Existentialists who see the world as absurd, but create THEIR OWN PURPOSE in that absurdity, and find meaning by that means and fashion.

Think of Sisyphus learning to be happy.

Originally Posted by Camus
Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth. Nothing is told us about Sisyphus in the underworld. Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them. As for this myth, one sees merely the whole effort of a body straining to raise the huge stone, to roll it, and push it up a slope a hundred times over; one sees the face screw ed up, the cheek tight against the stone, the shoulder bracing the clay-covered mass, the foot wedging it, the fresh start with arms outstretched, the wholly human security of two earth-clotted hands. At the very end of his long effort measured by sky-less space and time without depth, the purpose is achieved. Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward that lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain.

It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.

If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that can not be surmounted by scorn.

Religion is being stronger than your rock.

If you can be stronger than your rock, then I shall call you Peter and give you the Keys to the Kingdom.


God’s Party Game of Souls

Perhaps we are all some grand experiment, to see what conclusion conscious beings will come to about the purpose of existence if the true reality is hidden from us. The all powerful God made himself known to all beings…. but then, just like the devil in Job, someone challenged God to test a group of beings in a world, to test unaided blind faith.

We are part of the ongoing experiment.

Each of us holds a piece of the puzzle, an aspect of the truth: the fool and the philosopher; the beggar and the king; the harlot and the renunciate. The Truth is too big for any one person, or to be put in “layman’s terms”.

I am very fond of this anecdote (which is a modern day version of “Divine Lila”):

God’s Party Game: a theory of the origins of souls

Once upon a time, there was a large group of powerfully divine creatures. After doing everything they could do, they got woefully bored. Then someone had the bright idea (writer’s interjection: “I’m going to strangle this person when I find him”), namely, to lock a whole lot of ourselves into a box, except we wouldn’t know it was a box, and we wouldn’t be ourselves, but a tiny shade of our divinity, eking out an existence in this world, given a brief lifespan before our memories are washed away and we would have to start all over again.

To be really bright, you’d have to:
a)realize you were in a box
b)get yourself out of the box and
c)get everyone else out of the box, and the end of which, we’d have this really great party whilst we talk about all our experiences of being different people.

One person would have to oversee the operation, and this person would be, for all intents and purposes: God. God would do his best to keep us in the box (maybe there’s a time limit or maybe not) by modifying things, but basically he’d be part of the box too, and be locked into it as we are, playing by the rules.

These two stories could be the same story, seen by different people.


“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes”, said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

-The Velventeen Rabbit, Margery Williams


Let us say that Divinity is Consciousness; Consciousness is divine, imagination is an aspect of consciousness, and within the realm of imagination dwell all things, and at imagination’s borders, all impossibilities, absurdities, unicorns and horned rabbits, await admission and entrance. Hence, Imagination is the threshold of existence, and the unimaginable is non-being.

Let us look about in the world, and behold all the anguish and bitterness in people’s hearts concerning the uncertainty of why the universe exists, why we are in it to suffer, desire, and aspire and what is the relationship between our own personal individuality and that ultimate cause of All: THIS is RELIGION.

Each of us is a complex sum total of our life experiences, triumphs and frustrations. As some sage in India might say “God wears many masks of Good and Evil.” Perhaps the Universe is a reflection of God, or perhaps human concepts of God are a reflection of ourselves and the Universe. But certainly humanity reflects all of this, itself donning many masks of Good and Evil, kaleidoscopically, as we morph from sinner to saint, back to sinner, struggling in this Divine Drama to emerge from the pupa of our egos and spread our wings of selflessness and equanimity.

We read a line a thousand times. We look and do not see. Then, suddenly, one day, we read and see and understand, as if we had never read before. The verse has always been the same. It is we who have changed, ripened, become ready, receptive.

The human problems which we deal with are unchanging. No matter how fast computer chips might become, patience will always be a virtue. The more powerful and effective weapons and missiles become, the more essential it is to learn meekness and nonviolent methods of resolving disputes. No matter what progress science makes in birth control, genetics and cloning, our primordial sexual desires will always present a profound challenge to us as a source of temptation, misconduct and addictive behavior. No matter how many continents or planets we conquer and colonize, we will always have to face the emptiness and loneliness of a Universe in which we seem out-of-place and extraneous. No matter how wise and ancient we become, medically and genetically extending our life span indefinitely, there will always remain buried somewhere deep within us a weeping child seeking the consoling love of a heavenly parent.

A theory or hypothesis is a “story” which is SO GOOD that it HAS to be true, and if it isn’t true, then a Universe should be created in which it BECOMES true. Faith is telling that story, and hearing it, again and again, with perennial freshness and joy. In the heart of the devotee, Christ is ever arising, Buddha beholds an unwaning Morning Star, Ram is always returning to Ayodiya; there is always a “Festival of Lights.”