Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sunday Concert: Do You Love Me?

As I have written before, one of my favorite experiences on stage was my time as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Today I post my favorite moment from that play. It's a little duet. Very short. Not very demanding vocally or theatrically. But one of the tenderest moments in musical theatre. What a fun scene!

Here is that scene from the movie.
Topol, now 73, is doing a "farewell" tour as Tevye this year -- I'd love to see it. Norma Crane, the wonderful Actor's-Studio trained actress who played Golde died only a couple of years after the film's release, at 44, of cancer.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Encore: Becoming Tevye

First Posted in June of 2007 as a Sunday Concert --

If I Were a Rich Man: Topol

One of my very favorite roles as a musical theater enthusiast came in 2000 when I became for a few weeks Tevye. I had played several other major roles in college and community theater but only one -- Charlie Anderson in Shenandoah -- that required the kind of concentration and dedication and, well, total immersion that this role required. As Charlie I had been cast in October for a play that opened the last week of February. What luxury to have such a long period of time to create a character. For the role of Tevye, in Rome Little Theater's production of Fiddler On the Roof, I had a much shorter prep time, and was now teaching fulltime -- I had been self-employed during my time as Charlie and had a more flexible, if just as stressful, schedule.

All of that to help you understand that I was terribly stressed and uncertain on opening night. Sure enough, my nerves got to me and I had my most miserable moment on stage. I went blank. I commited the unforgivable stage sin of actually repeating a section of dialogue, I was so lost!

I wanted to take a dive into the orchestra pit. It was opening night, there would be another opportunity to bomb the next night and the next. I was miserable.

Then epiphany.

23 hours later, still miserable, I stood center stage in the Desoto Theater, nose to the dark side of the curtain as the overture played, waiting for the curtains to part for my first monologue and the big opening number, "Tradition". And it struck me.

Here I am doing the thing that excites me more than any other. The thing I profess to love. Playing a role I have coveted more than any other save Jean Valjean. How wasteful of a grand moment to be so self centered and timid. This is an opportunity to grab. A moment to treasure. An experience to live. An unrecoverable time to harvest and possess.

As the "fiddler" played on the roof and the curtain opened I resolved to pluck the moment - Carpe Deim! Or as Tevye might shout: L'chai-im.

I would possess that stage. I would live that role. I would have fun. I would laugh and love, grieve and rage. I might fall on my face. I might lose a line. I might royally screw up. But my screw-ups would be as Tevye. They would be grand screw-ups not timid ones. I WAS where I wanted to be. I WOULD be fully there. L'chai-im!

That performance is seared in my memory as the most fun I could ever have on stage. What a joyful, loving, painful, redeeming night!

A lot of folks revere Zero Mostel as the quintessential Tevye, but I love the twinkle in the eye of Topol. To me his Tevye is flesh and blood... and as a father and husband I understand the depth of his love and anger and fear. So, though I like to think I found my own Tevye, there was a little of Topol's in mine.

Here, for your Sunday entertainment, is Topol with his interpretation of "If I Were a Rich Man":

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tell Me It Is Not Summer

My favorite bush is my snowball hydrangea. And when it blooms, it means summer is here. Too soon. Too soon.

You turn around and 40 years have slipped by. I’m going to attend at least part of the Asbury reunion this weekend. I’m wondering if I’ll have a chance to greet our college president, Dr. Dennis Kinlaw. In 1969 when Terry Shaw and I graduated, proud Knights, Dr. Kinlaw was 46 years old. How is that possible? I discover that I am now 15 years older than Dr. Kinlaw was when we graduated. Wow. We were his first graduating class. Anyway, if I see Dr. Kinlaw, I’ll be able to tell him that I’ve read his latest book, “Let’s Start With Jesus” and that I’ve written a response, copied below.

I want to make it to Rome this summer.

When We Reject The Gods Of Our Childish Imaginations, What Remains?
I wrote here that this weekend is my 40th college reunion at Asbury College. My college president, Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, is now 86 years old and is still writing books. As a 17 year old, when I first met Dr. Kinlaw, I was impressed by the generosity of his spirit, by his demeanor, by his good humor. He is an extraordinary man who has inspired and helped the spiritual growth of many individuals. I love the fact that he is still among the living. I have read his latest book, “Let’s Start With Jesus” with great care, mostly at Lakeside. I wanted to write this article before the reunion, so I’m barely under the wire. What follows is not so much a review, more of a response and reaction.

It seems strange to believe that occasionally the universe, karma, God, gives us great favors. But I’ve come to believe that such is true. Science keeps discovering how everything is intrinsically intertwined with everything else, and how reality in its essence is astonishingly weird. I like the phrase used by St. Paul, that now we “see through a glass darkly,” and his promise that someday we will know as we are known. It is interesting to suppose that someday humans will come to understand the universe and even understand humans.

I like the image provided by Isaac Newton, that he felt like a child on a seashore, noticing now and then some beautiful pebble of understanding, “whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

What is it that we call God? Dennis Kinlaw in his book, “Let’s Start With Jesus,” relates the notion that students who embrace atheism, often do so as an effort to reject gods thoughtful Christians also reject. When we reject all of those gods of our childish imagination, what remains? The rise of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism makes it pretty important that people who value rationality have some thoughts about this overall subject.

For myself, I find it increasingly difficult to believe in a God that is supernatural -- outside of nature. Certainly, when humanity arrives at a more perfect understanding, and sees reality, in Paul’s words, “as face to face,” we will have a very different view of consciousness, personhood, karma, God, and nature itself. I’m inclined to believe that some day, spiritual truths will be understood in scientific terms. There are many more dimensions of understanding than what have been codified and if the human race survives the next 200 years, it is likely that there will be transformative change in our basic understandings of many matters, some of which are now considered spiritual, or religious.

Deepak Chopra’s idea in his recent book,"The Third Jesus," is that the first Jesus is the historical Jesus, the second Jesus is the Son of God, the Jesus of theology, and the third Jesus, is the cosmic Jesus. One reviewer says, "The cosmic Jesus is the spiritual guide whose teaching embraces all humanity, not just the church built in his name. The third Jesus invites us to join him on a higher spiritual plane, invites us to achieve enlightenment."

According to Chopra, the historical Jesus was a gifted teacher, an enlightened being, whose mission was to bring individuals into a realization of their spiritual potential. This view of Chopra’s is not so contradictory of scripture that speaks of being “conformed into the image of Christ.” Paul says we are to “grow to the measure of the full stature of Christ,” and that we should be “transformed by the renewing of our minds,” that "the Mind that was in Christ should also be in you.” Chopra is using different terminology, but he seems to be talking about the same reality as New Testament writers whose thinking and spirit were transformed by the risen Christ. It is this risen Christ who transformed St. Paul's life and thinking. It is this risen Christ Chopra refers to as the "cosmic Christ."

Dr. Kinlaw has written and spoken about this new life in Christ in his sermons and in previous books. In fact, I just googled, "mind of Christ" and according to my search, there are 21,700,000 responses and Dr. Kinlaw's book, "The Mind Of Christ" is number one on the list. But his newest book, “Let’s Start With Jesus” seems centered on Chopra’s second Jesus, the Son of God of theology. In this book, Kinlaw’s writes about the trinity. He speaks of the formation of this concept of God -- one, in three persons -- as a breathtaking intellectual accomplishment, a watershed of thought, that reveals astounding truths about ourselves -- ourselves as persons.

Dr. Kinlaw says that Jesus was the “prototypical” human, that even as Jesus understood himself as part of a fellowship, the trinity, part of a family, so do we understand ourselves in terms of community and connections. Kinlaw says that we should not attempt to understand God simply in juridical terms -- the law, grace, vicarious sacrifice -- but should seek to understand God as revealed in the trinity, in familial and in nuptial terms. The idea is that Christ is wedded to his believers, has union with them. I find this an interesting avenue of thought. Kinlaw explains that our salvation is not simply to escape physical death and God’s certain judgment, but it is to enter into a transforming relationship. The implication is that we are to be God’s sons and God’s daughters.

But Dr. Kinlaw, in this book, it seems to me, spends too much space in rehashing St. Paul’s theology. What is sin, what is salvation, what was the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection? St. Paul was a towering intellectual of his day, a powerful writer, and he worked out a way of thinking about these questions. I’ m inclined to believe that if, as the book title recommends, we start with Jesus, then we should set much of what Paul wrote aside. Paul emphasized a view of Adam and Eve, that said, as the first humans, their sin and disobedience infected the entire human race, “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin,” and, that Jesus was the vicarious sacrifice for us all. Paul outlined interesting theological theories, but what Paul failed to do was to show much curiosity about the historical Jesus. He was a contemporary of Jesus and Jesus' disciples, he had the opportunity to learn everything possible from these first hand witnesses, but, he showed little interest in writing much about the actual life, teaching and ministry of Jesus. Paul seems not so much interested in Jesus, but he was absorbed into the the reality of the risen Christ, the power of his resurrection.

Dr. Kinlaw in the preface to his book indicates that he believes progress is possible in Christian theology, and that this realization of progress was a breakthrough in his own thinking. I’m thinking that the hope of humanity lies in progressing beyond Paul’s theology into a more direct understanding of Jesus. I like the scripture, “We would see Jesus.” I’m inclined to believe that our theology obstructs our view. When we see Jesus, we may begin to understand how we too may be resurrected to become a new being. I wrote a contemplation, “How Did Einstein Become Einstein?” that reflected on Einstein’s flat out rejection of the notion that humans have free will. I wrote, “Einsteins don’t just pop up. It seems to me that it is likely that Einstein grew into Einstein not through the forces of causality, but, through humility, through deliberate awareness, through a commitment to truth, and, through a conscious willingness to suffer for the sake of truth. And, is that not the path to growth that is available to everyone?”

In my view, Einstein was not inevitable and neither was Jesus. It seems a rare happening that anyone grows into their potential.

A supernatural view of God sees the birth of Jesus as a miraculous event -- God breaking through nature, via a virgin birth, choirs of angels. A supernatural view sees the return of Christ, also, as God breaking though nature in a miraculous event -- the rapture -- Jesus appearing in the sky, believers taken up. A zillion dollars has been made on the Left Behind books that develop this supernatural theme. But it seems to me a dangerous view. It promulgates a belief that however badly humanity screws up -- polluting the earth with hate, injustice, hunger, war, industrial waste -- God, in the end, will perform a supernatural miracle and save true believers. This is an irrational view that thinks it is faith to pray, “Oh God, please don’t make two plus two equal four.” A faith that sees God as breaking through history and through nature to save us from our own man-made disaster, to me, seems an immature faith and, more than that, it is a faith that has a real potential of bringing humanity to disaster.

I am wondering if the hope for humanity lies in spiritual renewal, in spiritual awakening. I am wondering if this is the meaning of the Christian hope that Christ will return. Such an awakening may be humanity’s best and only hope. The hope for such awakening, it seems to me, is found in the title of my college president’s latest book, “Let’s Start With Jesus.”

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Kind of President

I wrote this a month ago. Just noticed it was never posted. Here goes.
I just listened to the President being interviewed on C-Span. Once again I am reminded of the blessing it is to have this man as our President. I am sure I will sometimes disagree with him. I am sure he will make mistakes. But even then I will be thankful that we have a President who:

• is reflective. He actually thinks about the issues, considers options, considers his critics' arguments, evaluates his own successes and failures.

• is a constitutional expert. He is grounded in the Constitution, the theories that underly it, the arguments of its authors, its history, the great decisions about it in the Supreme Court, the men and women who have interpreted it.

• is pragmatic rather than doctrinaire. He can change his mind. He can compromise.

• is intellectually relaxed, open, honest, and self-confident without arrogance.

• walks with an easy relaxed gait into any gathering without self-concious swagger.

• listens to questions and just answers them in simple English without bluster or nervous tight-pursed lips.

Whatever cards history deals him, I believe he will play them about as well as anyone could, and, if they are the right cards, he may go down as one of the greats.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Some Feed Lone Wolves

"...lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent right-wing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States."
- Homeland Security department

It is from a report of the Homeland Security department that the likes of Sean, Rush, and Glenn used to blast the Obama administration for supposedly trying to smear merely obnoxious right-wingers as potential terrorists. The fact is, the sentence above is true. Anyone who does not agree with this statement has not been paying attention. The Tim McVieghs, Eric Rudolphs, James von Brunns, Joseph Paul Grahams of America are the most dangerous domestic terrorists.

Violent right-wing extremists are the abortion-crazed zealots who see murder of those who help incest and rape victims get abortions as justified, Neo-Nazis who openly call for killing all Jewish people, Klan idiots who burn crosses on lawns of "misbehaving" black people, Second Amendment "defenders" who would blow up federal buildings and their day-care centers to emphasize in blood their righteous indignation.

I defend the right of these crazies to say what they will. But I also expect a responsible government to keep an eye on them, to take seriously their threats, and to guard against them acting on their crazed beliefs.

All of that has NOTHING to do with peaceful right-wingers who can use their self-evident liberty to petition, argue, sue, persuade, protest, holler, complain, whine, call the President socialist, call a Supreme Court nominee racist, etc., etc., etc. ad infinitum. And I reserve the right to point out the idiocy of blow-hards like Sean, Rush, Lou D., Glenn, Newt, Michael S., Bill O., etc. etc. ad infinitum who feed the Lone Wolves raw meat every day on TV and radio.

Eugene Robinson said it better than I have.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Homegrown Terrorism

A right wing terrorist struck again today.
Another murdered a medical doctor less than two weeks ago.

And some of our ordinary-run-of-the-mill-non-violent-right-wing-nuts have been screaming bloody murder because the Homeland Security Department warned of the growth of right-wing extremists.
Had these folks forgotten Tim McVeigh?
Will they continue to say we should ignore extremists on the right?

Just because they want to keep an eye out for extremists like the neo-Nazis and Klan and Violent Abortion "holocaust" screamers doesn't mean Homeland Security is monitoring Scalia's every move, or even idiots like O'Reilly and Limbaugh.


I suppose there are left wing extremists in America. As someone has pointed out: the extremists on the left hug trees or pour fake blood on furs; extremists on the right blow up federal buildings (a a few hundred men, women, and children), murder doctors, and attack museums with deadly weapons.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Barr is right, twice.

I have no special love for my former Congressman, Bob Barr. He defeated my friend, and a good Congressman, Buddy Darden. He led the effort to impeach President Bill Clinton for boorish personal behavior -- Clinton deserved it, the nation didn't.

But since he has been freed from any real political power or influence, doggone if Barr ain't occasionally sensible. He writes "The Barr Code" for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In today's article he rightly praises President Obama's refurbishing of America's Middle East policies.

If the Obama administration follows through on the president’s vision presented last week in the centuries-old mosque, then American influence in that troubled part of the world, which has fallen dramatically in recent years, is certain to increase.
- former Republican Congressman Bob Barr
Recently he took congressional Democrats and Republicans to task for their nonsensical refusal to support the President on closing the Guantanamo prison.

The manner in which grown men and women in the United States Congress are fretting over the possibility that some of the Guantanamo detainees may wind up being incarcerated in federal civilian and military prisons on the mainland, illustrates yet again how tight a grip FEAR has on public policy in post-911 America...

...The president has made a policy decision to close the detention facility at Guantanamo. Members of Congress ought to have the backbone to vote for or against the president’s plan based on its merits, not hide behind irrational fear that somehow a super-human terrorist will be able to scale the walls of the Supermax prison and wreak havoc on a community in their district.
- former Republican Congressman Bob Barr
I personally will support the President if he decides to place terrorists at the Atlanta pen. I'll have no more fear of them than I have of the other violent men at that facility.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Assalamu alaykum

Our new President is a masterful diplomat. Because of his unique personal history -- Kansas, Kenya, Africa, America, Indonesia, Hawaii, skeptical parents, Christian grandparents, Muslim grandparents, father of descendants of slaves -- he has a unique authority when he speaks of non-violence and peace and coming together. His basic moderate temperament and cautiously progressive philosophy, his ability to bring together disparate viewpoints, his respect for honest disagreement, his reaching out to the opposition, all are wonderful changes. His presidency is young and there will be more difficult times. He will make mistakes. There are those who will continue to bitterly oppose him. There will be more terror strikes. The economy is a long way from being righted. Our President's approval ratings will fluctuate and probably be considerably lower come November of 2012. But we are witnessing a transformative Presidency.

I suspect we just might be witnessing greatness.

Here's an evaluation I happened upon by Jonathan Freedland, an Australian writer:
IN AN ancient city, America's still-new President aimed to heal a rift that has endured for decades, if not centuries. Barack Obama stood before a crowd of 3000 in the great hall of Cairo University on Thursday to deliver a speech that demonstrated not only his trademark eloquence, but also the sheer ambition of his purpose — nothing less than bridging the divide between Islam and the West.

"No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust," Obama began, mindful of the expectations that preceded this event. Still, as he has proved, a major address can have a major impact, and there will be few more masterful speeches than this one.
(Read more here.)
If you didn't hear the Cairo speech, read it here.

And read his wonderful D-Day speech here. Listen to an excerpt here.