dual personalities

Month: April, 2012

The slob is loved

The Gospel is bad news before it is good news. It is the news that man is a sinner, to use the old word, that he is evil in the imagination of his heart, that when he looks in the mirror all in a lather what he sees is at least eight parts chicken, phony, slob. That is the tragedy. But it is also the news that he is loved anyway, cherished, forgiven, bleeding to be sure, but also bled for. That is the comedy. And yet, so what? So what if even in his sin the slob is loved and forgiven when the very mark and substance of his sin and of his slobbery is that he keeps turning down the love and forgiveness because he either doesn’t believe them or doesn’t want them or just doesn’t give a damn? In answer, the news of the Gospel is that extraordinary things happen to him just as in fairy tales extraordinary things happen. Henry Ward Beecher cheats on his wife, his God, himself, but manages to keep on bringing the Gospel to life for people anyway, maybe even for himself. Lear goes beserk on a heath but comes out of it for a few brief hours every inch a king. Zaccheus climbs up a sycamore tree a crook and climbs down a saint. Paul sets out a hatchet man for the Pharisees and comes back a fool for Christ. It is impossible for anybody to leave behind the darkness of the world he carries on his back like a snail, but for God all things are possible. That is the fairy tale. All together they are the truth.

Frederick Buechner, “Telling the Truth”

Tout va bien

“Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.”
Arthur Schopenhauer

Happy birthday, Susiebelle

It has been 22 years since the belle, daughter #2, was born (almost three weeks early!) on Holy Saturday. Happy Birthday, darling girl (one day early)!

Here’s hoping we can meet at Ted Drewe’s for a birthday mini mocha!

Happiness is…

A new album by Lyle Lovett

This CD is a fresh selection of traditional folk and country songs, plus ones by Townes Van Zandt, Frank Loesser, Miller and Yount, Chuck Berry and others. I love how Lyle always ends his albums with a hymn. This time it’s Keep Us Steadfast by Martin Luther. I am really enjoying this CD on my ride to and from work!

…flowers from my assistant’s garden in my office!

St. Louis broke a longstanding record, according to the National Weather Service, “enjoying” its warmest March since record-keeping started in 1874. The average temperature in St. Louis in March was 61.1 degrees, soaring past the former record of 57.7, set in 1910. We actually had several days over 90 degrees and others in the high 80s. Zut alors. I’m enjoying the flowers now, since I’m afraid they’ll be gone soon.

…a new Anne Tyler book

Just starting to read this, but what a joy to crack open a new novel by one of my favorite authors!

…estate sale finds!

Look what I found last Saturday! A nice antique dresser. And the boy was home and could carry it upstairs. Score.

(Happiness makes me use exclamation points.)

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light

Well, it’s baseball season again. The Cardinals are off to a good start, managing somehow without Albert Pujols. Growing up in Cardinal-town, I have been a fan for many a year. My first baseball memory is in 1964 watching the final game of the World Series on a little black and white TV in my third grade classroom. I hardly knew what baseball was then, but I knew we were doing something special. I hit my peak in 1967 when we won the World Series with the help of my hero Tim McCarver. I even had a scrapbook. I have fond memories of 1982 and 2006 as well.

My grandfather, Daniel Herbert Hilton Cameron III, was a big baseball fan as well–of the Boston Red Sox! I forgave him for that. He loved the game and played it as a boy.

Bunker Cameron at Camp Abnaki in Vermont around 1911. He's the one on the far right with his elbow out.

"The baseball crowd" at the Feller Institute in Quebec 1916--Bunker is in the middle with the x written on his chest.

The Feller Institute was the French-speaking Baptist boarding school in Saint Blaise Sur Richelieu, Quebec that his father sent Bunker to after he was asked to leave Tilton Academy. I suppose he thought it would be strict enough to handle Bunker, but he was asked to leave that school too. Apparently it didn’t take much to get thrown out of a prep school in those days. (Bunker was thrown out of three.)

Ultimately, Bunker ended up at the University of Vermont back in Burlington without having actually graduated from high school. He would have played baseball there, I’m sure, but he left with a friend to go to Boston to enlist in the army during WWI. The war ended before they could sort out their options.

But we were talking baseball. Go Cards!

Who doesn’t love elephants?

I’m not sure what made me think of elephants. Perhaps it was the boy’s recent visit to the flyover zoo and his reacquaintance with Raja and his newest progeny, Kenzi. Raja was the first elephant ever born at our zoo. Now, at age 18, he has started his own dynasty, with daughter #1, Maliha, and daughter #2, Jade. Anyway, I have always loved elephants.

I am a big fan of this elephant:

Babar, a French elephant

And an elephant in a movie is always a plus:

Doris Day and Jumbo

Cary Grant has an elephant for a friend in Gunga Din, and she comes in handy once or twice, although not in this scene. (Yes, you guessed it. She wants to follow Cary onto the rickety bridge and hilarity ensues.)

Tarzan always had cool pachyderm friends. Elephants are something you definitely want on your side, because they can do this:

Cecil B. DeMille's The Sign of the Cross (1932)

One movie with an elephant I am not fond of is Disney’s Dumbo (1941) where in typical Disney fashion the child is torn from his mother’s loving embrace. When the elephant-mother is enraged, she is summarily punished. Boo.

It is very disturbing, and who needs that from a children’s movie?

I have blogged about my needlepoint elephants here, and I have a few other elephants at home:

Daughter #1's first needlepoint effort

I have elephants in my office:

I have actually touched an elephant. Flora, for whom the one-ring Circus was named, came to visit our church once long ago, when one of the Church Service ladies was on the board of directors of Circus Flora. Flora was still a baby then and came right into the Great Hall. She had long wiry black hair which was a surprise. Pretty neat.

Who doesn’t love elephants?

The Assyrians inspired fear…and eloquence

Over the weekend while doing some research I came across Isaiah’s poetic warning to the Philistines about an impending Assyrian attack and it was so perfect it gave me chills:

“Wail, O gate; cry, O city; melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you! For smoke comes out of the north, and there is no straggler in his ranks.” Isaiah 14.31-32.

Assyrian soldiers from the palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh -- 7th century BC

I’d run away, wouldn’t you? It’s better than Byron’s “The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, and his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold”, don’t you think? Byron’s too flowery and no Assyrian army ever wore purple and gold. Isaiah gets it just right. I can see why he was an effective prophet!

It ain’t no easy thing

“Ever’one here think it easy for me. I be this good little church boy from Mississippi with my good little church-goin’ Mammy, and since I be this stupid country n**ger with the big faith, I don’t have no troubles. Well, it just don’t work that way. He paused. Jermain said nothing. “I see my friend Williams get ate by a tiger,” Cortell continued. “I see my friend Broyer get his face ripped off by a mine. What you think I do all night, sit around thankin’ Sweet Jesus? Raise my palms to sweet heaven and cry hallelujah? You know what I do? You know what I do? I lose my heart.” Cortell’s throat suddenly tightened, strangling his words. “I lose my heart.” He took a deep breath, trying to regain his composure. He exhaled and went on quietly, back in control. “I sit there and I don’t see any hope. Hope gone.” Cortell was seeing his dead friends. “Then, the sky turn gray again in the east, and you know what I do? I choose all over to keep believen’. All along I know Jesus could maybe be just some fairy tale, and I could be just this one big fool. I choose anyway.” He turned away from his inward images and returned to the blackness of the world around him. “It ain’t no easy thing.”

Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn

A blessed Good Friday to all who “choose anyway”.

This is the day

What, you ask, is the climax of our lenten viewing?
Of course, it is Ben Hur (1959).

Every year on Good Friday we reverently dust off our 2-DVD set and watch, sometimes waiting until Holy Saturday to view the second part which commences with the famous chariot race. When my children were little we stayed home from church on Easter Sunday and watched the movie. One daughter famously proclaimed this to the altar guild ladies with whom she was making palm crosses in response to a question about seeing her at church on Easter. “Oh, we don’t go to church on Easter. We stay home and watch Ben Hur. My mother says it’s too crowded with all the people who only go twice a year!”

Undeniably one of the greatest movies of all time, it won 11 Academy Awards, a record untouched until Titanic came along in 1997 and tied it. (Go here for the list of Oscars Ben Hur won.)

Ben Hur deservedly won everything that year except writing for Karl Tunberg, who was given credit for what was allegedly a group effort (with Gore Vidal and Christopher Fry), and I think that is why he didn’t win. It is a great screenplay and one of the few instances where the movie is actually better than the book upon which it is based. Also no actresses were nominated, leaving the field open for Simone Signoret who won best actress for Room at the Top over Doris Day for Pillow Talk and Shelly Winters who won supporting for Diary of Anne Frank over Thelma Ritter for Pillow Talk. (All I’ll say is Doris and Thelma were robbed.)

This is such a big movie and its greatness so monumental, that it is hard to know where to start. I will do my best.

1. First and foremost, as its sub-title proclaims, this is “A Story of the Christ”. However, the face of its central character is never seen. He never speaks. I guess it took a Jewish director to figure out how powerful this is. It works.

2. It has a good plot. The author of Ben Hur, General Lew Wallace, had a good idea. The book’s main character, Judah Ben-Hur, accidentally causes injury to a high-ranking commander, for which he and his family suffer tribulations and calumny. He first seeks revenge, and then redemption. As I said earlier, the 1959 film adaption improves on this novel which became the best-selling American novel of the 19th century, surpassing Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and is considered by some the most influential Christian book of the 19th century. One way the film is better is its depiction of the character Esther, Judah’s love interest.

In the film she is multi-dimensional and smart. She takes charge of a very bad situation and goes forward, like an Old Testament prophetess. A former slave, she is in every way worthy of the Prince of Hur. I also think Haya Harareet, who plays Esther, is wonderful, and certainly deserved to be nominated (at least) for her performance. I love her accent and the way she imbues a simple statement with meaning: “The world is more than we know.”

3. This movie takes the view that the Romans were to blame for Christ’s crucifixion. It is a story about Christ where the Jews (and a few Arabs) are the heroes. I’m sure this was very appealing to the Hollywood powers that be, as well as mainstream Americans. Rome is evil. As Judah says to Messala, “Rome is an affront to God! Rome is strangling my people and my country, the whole Earth! But not forever. I tell you the day Rome falls there will be a shout of freedom such as the world has never heard before!” Ben Hur is all about personal freedom. And the film’s art director has a field day with Nazi iconography.

4. It has great (pre-CGI) action sequences using models (the sea battle) and the best stunt men ever. I always told my kids that one of the stunt men was killed filming the chariot race, because that is what my mother told me. But according to IMDB.com, that is an urban legend and claims that 4 stuntmen were killed during the filming of the chariot race are untrue. Charlton Heston had learned how to handle a two-horse chariot when he was making The Ten Commandments. When he arrived in Rome to shoot Ben Hur, he began lessons in four-horse chariot racing with the film’s stunt co-ordinator, Yakima Canutt. Props to Chuck–it made a big difference in the realistic final cut of the chariot race scene.

5. Like all great films, Ben Hur has great dialogue and great scenes that you cannot forget. There are, of course, the monumental scenes, but there are also the small ones that stay with you. Who can forget the face of Drusus as the jailer opens the prison door revealing Miriam and Tirzah, and the jailer saying, “Lepers!”? Or Simonides, carried by his other “half”, saying, “We will laugh…We will celebrate! Among the dust and cobwebs.” Or Quintus Arrius: “Your eyes are full of hate, forty-one. That’s good. Hate keeps a man alive. It gives him strength.” And later: “In his eagerness to save you, your God has also saved the Roman fleet.” And the end of the movie when Christ is crucified and there is the fearful thunderstorm with the scariest rumbling in movie history. The three ladies huddle in the cave and Esther says, “The shadow of a storm.”

I remember once sitting in a two-man paddle boat with the boy (when he was a little boy) on a lake in Michigan and he started amping up the speed, crying, “Battle speed!… Attack speed!… Ramming speed!” Another time when we were waiting to pick up daughter #1 and had the back of the 240 wagon open, the boy hopped in and holding tight to the seat-belt straps, re-enacted Messala’s death scene verbatim: “It goes on. It goes on, Judah. The race… the race… is not… over.”

6. One of my favorite things about Ben Hur is that Judah is the best son in literature. He spends years in the galley and all he can think about is finding out what has happened to his mother and sister. Then when he’s in Rome and Quintus has adopted him, all he wants to do is go home and save his mother and sister. And he does. Eventually.

7. All the actors are great–especially Charlton Heston, who really gave it all he had. It was the part of a lifetime and he made the most of it. Plus, let’s give him credit for having the greatest naturally-occurring physique (no steroids for Chuck) of any actor ever.

Remember the galley slave in the loin cloth floating on the scrap of wood with Quintus? Awesome. And then, of course, there’s Stephen Boyd in Roman tribune attire, looking terrific and owning it.

On that note, I’ll finish with this picture:

What is your favorite scene in Ben Hur?

Be that as it may

Today we take note of the birthday of our pater familias, who would be 90 today.

Wind on the Hill
by A.A. Milne

No one can tell me,
Nobody knows,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes.

It’s flying from somewhere
As fast as it can,
I couldn’t keep up with it,
Not if I ran.

But if I stopped holding
The string of my kite,
It would blow with the wind
For a day and a night.

And then when I found it,
Wherever it blew,
I should know that the wind
Had been going there too.

So then I could tell them
Where the wind goes…
But where the wind comes from
Nobody knows.