Bruce Springsteen and Martin Scorsese discuss faith, O’Connor

Readers may find these tidbits fascinating from Chris Willman’s full reporting in Variety:

In their conversation Sunday night at a privateNetflix event honoring “Springsteen on Broadway,” Bruce Springsteen and Martin Scorsese spent close to a third of the 45-minute chat discussing their mutual roots in east coast Catholicism and how they’ve both come to terms with a kind of faith. “I think as you get older, what you grow comfortable with is that faith is faith,” Springsteen said. “It’s about all of the mysteries and the answers that you’re never gonna come up with. And I think trying to build it around these concrete answers is vain and humanistic. But if you let it be, that’s where you find a little bit of peace in it. That’s what I’ve found, anyway.”

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They bonded over their share love for Catholic literary great Flannery O’Connor, with Springsteen saying that his 1982 album “Nebraska” “was very influenced by Flannery O’Connor stories, and her stories were always filled with the unknowability of God.” Scorsese seemed surprised that Springsteen had not read her collected letters, and urged Springsteen, “Oh, just a few pages a night, every few nights. … I have a quote here from [a letter]…  She said, ‘You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It’s trust, not certainty.’”

“If you’re an artist,” responded Springsteen, “that darkness is always more interesting than the light. It’s nice when you let the light in at the end of something. But I was always interested in, what were the things that didn’t go right? I had a habit: I would drive back through my hometown, and I would do this over and over and over again. And I used to ask myself, why am I coming back here? And I still do. Seventy years old, I still do it. I don’t know if you’re going back to fix things, but there’s so much there that informed your work and your life that it still remains just a rich location. But I always wanted to base the heart of my work in the dark side of things and then find my way. Then you had to earn the light.”

Springsteen wasn’t kidding when he said he still drives back through his hometown. That’s evident in his closing monolog in “Springsteen on Broadway,” when he come back late at night and laments the cutting down of his favorite tree, then comes to spiritual terms with it. He reinforced the truth of those homecomings with an anecdote in Sunday’s discussion.

“The faith you had as a child was very fear-based,” he said. “My initial recollection of my experience in the church was: it was dark. Now, if I go back to my hometown church, it’s been painted entirely white. And it’s bright and it’s supposed to be happy, I guess.”

“Oh, no, no, that’s not good!” protested Scorsese.

“Occasionally I get drawn back to my church,” Springsteen continued. “I was at my church — I attended some stranger’s funeral about a month ago.” The audience laughed. “I was driving by and I saw the door was open, and I said, ‘I’ve got to go in. I’ve got to go back.’ And I went in and there was some nice man’s funeral going on, and I sat in the back. And,” he admitted, “it was completely bizarre.”

Readers are encouraged to read the entire report HERE

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The fevered love of June and Johnny

By Steve Beard

Today marks the anniversary of the death of June Carter Cash (1929-2003). She died of complications from heart surgery. She was 73. Johnny Cash died four months later.

It is strangely fitting that the last time the public saw the face of June Carter Cash was on the enormously popular music video for her husband’s rendition of Trent Reznor’s song “Hurt.” She is seen looking down upon her beloved husband, Johnny Cash, as he sings about pain and loss. The well-worn lines upon her face express love, betray concern, and proclaim pride. Johnny was her man through thick and thin.

“I hurt myself today/ To see if I still feel/ I focus on the pain/ The only thing that’s real,” Cash sings. “The needle tears a hole/ The old familiar sting/ Try to kill it all away/ But I remember everything” – a poignant reminder of his dark years in the 1960s.

June remembers those days of thunder and lightning. She stood by Johnny’s side – doing everything she could to break his voracious dependence on pills and save his soul. “She’d take my drugs and throw them away, and we’d have a big fight over it. I’d get some more, and she’d do it again,” Cash recalls. “I’d make her promise not to, but she would do it anyway. She’d lie to me. She’d hide my money. She’d do anything. She fought me with everything she had.”

She waged this war because she loved Cash too much to watch him die. Through the power of prayer and June’s tough love, Johnny was able to break the power of addiction and find peace in his heart. Their love and dependency upon one another become a spectacular love story. Continue reading

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Garrison Keillor reflects on Easter Sunday

Garrison Keillor of “A Prairie Home Companion.” (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

Church was packed on Easter morning, brass players up in the choir loft, ladies with big hats, girls in spring dresses, and when the choir and clergy processed up the aisle, the woman swinging the censer looked like a drum major leading the team to victory, which is what Easter is about, the triumph over death. Resurrection is not something we Christians talk about in the same way we talk about our plans for summer vacation or retirement, but it is proclaimed on Easter and the hymns are quite confident (with added brass) and the rector seemed to believe in it herself and so an old writer sitting halfway back and surrounded by good singers has to think along those lines. It’s right there in the Nicene Creed and in Luke’s Gospel — the women come to the tomb and find the stone rolled away and the mysterious strangers say, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?”

And then, on my way back from Communion, the choir struck up a hymn, “I am the bread of life,” with a rocking chorus, “And I will raise them up. And I will raise them up. And I will raise them up on the last day.” As the congregation sang, a few people stood and some raised their hands in the air, a charismatic touch unusual among Anglicans, and then more people stood. I stood. I raised my right hand. I imagined my long-gone parents and brother and grandson and aunts and uncles rising from the dead and coming into radiant glory, and then I was weeping and my mouth got rubbery and I couldn’t form the consonants. I stayed for the benediction, slipped out a side door onto Amsterdam Avenue, and headed home.

That’s what I go to church for, to be surprised by faith and to fall apart. Without the Resurrection, Episcopalians would be just a wonderful club of very nice people with excellent taste in music and literature, but when it hits you what you’ve actually subscribed to, it blows the top of your head off.

What happened in church on Sunday, I think (hat tip to Ethan Richardson at mbird.com)

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Shepherd to the fringes: John “Bullfrog” Smith (1942-2019)

Photo from Blues Preacher

 

Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town’s garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek … at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died. And that is what He died for. And that is what He died about. That is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen ought to be about.”– The Rev. George Macleod, Church of Scotland clergyman and one of the founders of the Iona Community (1895-1991).

More than 20 years ago, I was sitting across the table in a Chinese restaurant in Nicholasville, Kentucky, when John Smith recited Macleod’s sentiments with righteous authority and a piercing gaze to describe part of the inspiration of the calling on his life. At that time, Smith, a well-known media commentator and evangelist to those on the cultural fringe in Australia, was doing doctoral work in missiology at Asbury Theological Seminary.

As a well-scrubbed son of a Methodist minister and a brand new Bible school graduate in the late 1960s, Smith recalls driving past a “bunch of menacing-looking outlaw bikers parked by the side of the road. Oddly, I felt a surge of compassion for these guys who no one really wanted to know. I couldn’t see the local minister making much headway with people like that,” he wrote in his autobiography, On the Side of the Angels. Continue reading

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Happy Birthday Flannery O’Connor

Art by Kevin Christy, The Atlantic

Today marks the birthday anniversary of the late Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), the acclaimed novelist who wrote with a splash of hellfire and holy water. She used her enormous writing talents to often delve into spiritual transformation of those in the “Christ-haunted” American South.

Bruce Springsteen once said, “the short stories of Flannery O’Connor landed hard on me. You could feel within them the unknowability of God, the intangible mysteries of life that confounded her characters, and which I find by my side every day. They contained the dark Gothicness of my childhood and yet made me feel fortunate to sit at the center of this swirling black puzzle, stars reeling overhead, the earth barely beneath us.”

“There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored,” she observed. “The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is diluted or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his sense tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to mock damnation or a mock innocence.”

O’Connor, a devout Catholic lay woman, was never short of pithy statements about the human condition.
• “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
• “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”
• “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”
• “I can, with one eyed squinted, take it all as a blessing.”
• “There is a question whether faith can or is supposed to be emotionally satisfying. I must say that the thought of everyone lolling about in an emotionally satisfying faith is repugnant to me.”
• “‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief’ … is the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.”
• “Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that i will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do no know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”

O’Connor died at age 39 after having suffered from lupus for the final decade of her life. We are grateful for her gifts and remember her talents with great appreciation.

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs,” O’Connor wrote. “They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”

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Bono: ‘Capitalism is not immoral – it’s amoral’

By Michelle Hennessy, The Journal

The U2 frontman participated in a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos today with Managing Director of the IMF Christine Lagarde, Rwanda President Paul Kagame and others.

“We have to just ask ourselves deeper questions about where we are with the project called capitalism,” he said. “And, you know, capitalism is not immoral – it’s amoral. It requires our instruction. Capitalism has taken more people out of poverty than any other ‘ism’, but it is a wild beast and if not tamed it can chew up a lot of people along the way. And in fact those people’s lives that it has chewed up are pushing the politics in our homes towards populism.”

Bono made similar comments during a panel discussion with former British Prime Minister David Cameron at the 2014 World Economic Forum, when he said: “Capitalism can be a great creative force but it can be a destructive force. It is not immoral but it is amoral, we need to give it some instructions”.

To read entire article, click HERE

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Great white shark “Deep Blue” thrills divers off Hawaii

A shark known as “Deep Blue” swims off Hawaii, U.S. on January 15, 2019 in picture obtained from social media on January 17, 2019 @JuanSharks/@OceanRamsey/Juan Oliphant/oneoceandiving.com via@JUANSHARKS/@OCEANRAMSEY/JUAN OLIPHANT/ONEOCEANDIVING.COM VIA REUTERS

By Mindy Pennybaker, Honolulu Star Advertiser

The surprise arrival at the feast was big and regal and as wide as your grandmother’s hot rod Lincoln, and when she cruised onto the scene the other diners fled — as was only natural, for she was a great white shark, said Ocean Ramsey, who studies sharks, advocates for their conservation and leads educational, cage-free shark diving tours on Oahu’s North Shore.

On Jan. 15, Ramsey and her team had taken their dive boat to monitor tiger sharks feeding off a dead and decomposing sperm whale that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had towed 15 miles offshore from Sand Island, where it had lain against the shoreline, attracting sharks, when, to her astonishment, the female great white appeared.

“We saw a few tigers and then she came up and all the other sharks split, and she started brushing up against the boat,” Ramsey said in a phone interview that evening, her voice trembling with exhilaration and exhaustion after swimming with the shark all day. “She was just this big beautiful gentle giant wanting to use our boat as a scratching post. We went out at sunrise, and she stayed with us pretty much throughout the day.” …

One thing that surprised Ramsey was the presence of dolphins, who usually avoid great whites. “There were two rough-tooth dolphins escorting her, nudging on her fins, twirling around her nose. These guys wouldn’t leave her alone — they were having so much fun.”

She was especially thrilled because, based on the shark’s size and markings, she tentatively identified her as Deep Blue, a shark she has swum with on research trips to Guadalupe Island, Mexico. “I’m without words; it’s heartwarming; she’s probably the most gentle great white I’ve ever seen. Big pregnant females are actually the safest ones to be with, the biggest oldest ones, because they’ve seen it all — including us.” (Sharks only bite humans when they are curious or mistake people for their natural prey, she said.) “That’s why I kind of call her, like, a grandma shark.”

To read entire article, click HERE

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How did Elvis get turned into a racist?

Jeffrey Smith

By Peter Gurlnick

The New York Times, August 11, 2007

ONE of the songs Elvis Presley liked to perform in the ’70s was Joe South’s “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” its message clearly spelled out in the title.

Sometimes he would preface it with the 1951 Hank Williams recitation “Men With Broken Hearts,” which may well have been South’s original inspiration. “You’ve never walked in that man’s shoes/Or saw things through his eyes/Or stood and watched with helpless hands/While the heart inside you dies.” For Elvis these two songs were as much about social justice as empathy and understanding: “Help your brother along the road,” the Hank Williams number concluded, “No matter where you start/For the God that made you made them, too/These men with broken hearts.”

In Elvis’s case, this simple lesson was not just a matter of paying lip service to an abstract principle.

It was what he believed, it was what his music had stood for from the start: the breakdown of barriers, both musical and racial. This is not, unfortunately, how it is always perceived 30 years after his death, the anniversary of which is on Thursday. When the singer Mary J. Blige expressed her reservations about performing one of his signature songs, she only gave voice to a view common in the African-American community. “I prayed about it,” she said, “because I know Elvis was a racist.”

And yet, as the legendary Billboard editor Paul Ackerman, a devotee of English Romantic poetry as well as rock ’n’ roll, never tired of pointing out, the music represented not just an amalgam of America’s folk traditions (blues, gospel, country) but a bold restatement of an egalitarian ideal. “In one aspect of America’s cultural life,” Ackerman wrote in 1958, “integration has already taken place.”

It was due to rock ’n’ roll, he emphasized, that groundbreaking artists like Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, who would only recently have been confined to the “race” market, had acquired a broad-based pop following, while the music itself blossomed neither as a regional nor a racial phenomenon but as a joyful new synthesis “rich with Negro and hillbilly lore.”

No one could have embraced Paul Ackerman’s formulation more forcefully (or more fully) than Elvis Presley.

To read the rest of Gurlnick’s article, click HERE

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Maui Cookie Lady and The Rock

“This is not a drill,” wrote Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on Instagram. “This is 16oz of hand made, hand rolled, slap someone in the face cause it tastes so good, decadent and dangerous chocolate chip cookie … as a gift from one of my fav cookie spots in the world.” The actor’s endorsement would prove to be a vivid example of the power of social media and small business marketing.

Almost immediately, Mitzi Toro (aka Maui Cookie Lady) got inundated with orders for cookies – her website crashed temporarily – and the business shot through the roof. She had sent a basket of her treats to Johnson while he was filming “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” in Hawaii in 2016. The small gesture paid off in big ways. 

Weighing over six ounces each, her overstuffed cookies include hidden Oreos, Snickers bars, pineapple chunks, and peppermint patties. Other cookies incorporate Kona Coffee, Maui Brewing Company beer, Waihe’e Valley macadamia nuts and include exotic flavors such as Pineapple Lychee Passion. 

Rapper Ludacris went so far as to fly nearly a 100 miles in a helicopter to personally get a cookie from Toro while he was in Hawaii. “I literally rented a helicopter to fly all the way from Honolulu, Oahu, to Maui to meet this woman right here; it’s on my bucket list and it’s all Dwayne Johnson’s fault,” he said in an Instagram video. 

“Food unites people,” said Toro in Hawaii magazine. “I learned early on that it doesn’t matter what religion or culture you come from or what language you speak, food is beloved by all.”

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In Praise of Boredom

By James K.A. Smith, IMAGE

The long human grind of mere survival, still a daily reality in too many places, has always threatened to consume any time or energy for play. Plato’s philosopher-kings banish poetry from the city, while consumerism’s corporate-kings are more sly, turning every endeavor into a commodity. Fascists shut down the theater while the gods of stem shut down the music program.

But human longing has always managed to overcome such threats in order to make art that limns the beyond. Somehow our ancient forbears, exhausted by hunting and gathering, made time to create the ancient beauty that adorns the walls of caves in Lascaux. A Hebrew shepherd, and the poor of Appalachia, made stringed instruments sing. Those oppressed by slavery bequeathed to us jazz and the blues. We don’t deserve A Love Supreme. Out of the unspeakable horrors of the Shoah, Night appeared.

Every work of art that is true or beautiful is, one might say, a pièce de résistance, telling the truth about how the world really is and offering us a portal to what we’re called to be. Such art resists lies, apathy, and all the forces that would diminish us to mere consumers or enemies or copulating pieces of meat. Such imaginative works are at once disconcerting and enticing. They remind us that we’re not as good as we think we are, and they call us to so much more than this. As in Terrence Malick’s Thin Red Line, a dappled light finds its way through the cathedral of palms while war rages below, making us look up and wonder. And hope.

To read the entire essay, click HERE.

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