Friday, March 11, 2011

Thinking about tsunamis.

A month ago I was asked to write a "lenten meditation" for a booklet of "daily devotions" for the season published by my church. I agreed, and was assigned what for me proved a difficult Biblical passage. In my piece, I referred to the earthquake that had just struck New Zealand. Today's disaster in Japan, which may spread to other places by tsunami, brought it to my mind. I'm republishing it below, in an expanded form based on some more thoughts I've had since I submitted it.
You will be in the right, O Lord,
when I lay charges against you;
but let me put my case to you.
Why does the way of the guilty prosper?
Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
You plant them, and they take root;
they grow and bring forth fruit;
you are near in their mouths
yet far from their hearts.
But you, O Lord, know me;
You see me and test me-- my heart is with you.

Jeremiah 12: 1-3

This passage troubles me. Jeremiah must have been in a bad way when he wrote it; after all, “do all who are treacherous thrive”? Bernie Madoff may have prospered for a time, but he was brought to justice, though it has proved mostly cold comfort to those whose trust he betrayed. Beyond the question of factuality, though, the passage points to a great difficulty for me and for many: the problem of evil. If God is good and just, omniscient and omnipotent, how or why can evil exist? Perhaps, like me, you were told as a child that everything is part of the unfolding of “God’s Great Plan.” You may wonder if this Great Plan includes, to use an example in the news as I write this, the deaths of perhaps a hundred or more people in an earthquake in New Zealand. Near the close of the passage, Jeremiah addresses God with, “You see me and test me.” Does God “test” people? Did God arrange the death of young Annie Darwin to “test”—evidently past the breaking point—her father’s belief?

Jeremiah’s faith survived the test, whether it was put to him by God or by his own troubled mind. At the close, he confesses, “my heart is with you.” This took me back a few years to a time when I was wrestling with the concept of faith, and wrote a blog post on the subject, which I headed with an epigram from Anne Lamott: “The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.” Doubt may arise from facts: for example, good things happening to bad people, and bad things happening to good. If we try to explain these facts--that is, to achieve certainty--with statements like "it's God's will," we are on shaky ground. People who try to do so are, in the words of Cathleen Falsani, “more interested in being right than being Christian or loving or gracious or civil.” Faith should be grounded on hope, and oriented toward the future. It doesn’t mean denial of the past or of present realities; indeed, it may demand action to change those realities. This is where I think Jeremiah was at the end of the quoted passage.
You may reasonably ask: "What can we do to change the realities that give rise to earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters?" At present, relatively little, beyond creating and enforcing building codes, discouraging people from building in areas of especially high risk, making better warning systems, and studying ways to improve our ability to predict such events. You may then ask: "Couldn't a wise and benevolent God have given us a planet without shifting tectonic plates?" That's a question I can't try to answer. Perhaps the problem is in the question itself.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Mets' angel, Doris from Rego Park

I've avoided posting about the Mets this year, for obvious reasons that unfortunately inspired this Manhattan Mini Storage subway poster. For a while, I was mentally composing a piece with the title, "Could Bernie Madoff be Good for the Mets?" I was thinking that the Wilpons might be forced to sell a controlling stake, which they may yet. I've blamed them for the team's woes, on no better theory than the buck stops at the top. But, then, I began to contemplate the devil you know versus the one you don't conundrum, especially if the latter is Mark Cuban. Next I fell back on an inversion of Tim Marchman's explanation of the Sports Illustrated cover curse: if a team that makes the cover is at the top of its game and has nowhere to go but down, then one that has suffered a series of disappointing seasons and is having cash flow problems because its owners are embroiled in a financial scandal can go nowhere but up. Try as I might, though, I couldn't convince myself. The Nationals have nowhere to go but up, too, and bid fair to relegate the Mets to the division cellar this year.

So, I was delighted to find, among the barrage of articles about lawsuits, emergency loans, possible fan desertion, and the seemingly endless psychodrama of Oliver Perez, this Times story about a faithful Mets fan who, alas, is no longer with us to share her opinions. As an exercise in metafandom (I guess that's what you would call being a fan of a fan), Don Rosler has written and recorded a song about her (clip above). Rest in peace, Doris, though I can't help but wonder what thoughts you'd have about the Mets of today. Somehow, I think, you'd find a reason for optimism.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Some music for International Women's Day: Marshall Chapman and Sue Foley

In celebration of International Women's Day, here are selections from two of my favorite women singers.

I've had the pleasure of knowing Marshall Chapman for some years, and wrote a long post about her here. I also posted a clip of her singing "I Love Everybody" with the late Tim Krekel and his band here. In addition to being a superb singer and songwriter, she is the author of two books, the autobiography Goodbye Little Rock and Roller and They Came to Nashville (the linked post also has a clip of her doing "Going Away Party" as part of the same set with Danny Flowers at Nashville's Loveless Cafe that includes "I Love Everybody" in the clip above). She also writes a regular column (the linked clip includes another song, and has a very funny ending) for NashvilleArts magazine. Check out Marshall's website,

This being International Women's Day, I've gone north of the border to include a clip by the Canadian blues singer Sue Foley, who shares her surname with my wife. I've posted this clip before, but her woman's version of Slim Harpo's "King Bee" is well worth repeating.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Thank you, Hank!

A year ago last November I was in Tampa, and one of my friends said, "You've got to see the house Derek Jeter is building on Davis Islands." I found it, took a photo, and did a blog post about it. Since then, I've received a fair number of hits on that post off web searches for "Derek Jeter's house" or similar. On February 22, though, my Site Meter showed I was getting a blizzard of hits; when I checked, I saw they were almost all from searches for Jeter's house. Some quick web research got me the reason why. The 23rd proved to be the blog's biggest day ever. Since then, things have tapered off, but I'm still getting lots of "Jeter's house" hits. Not bad for a Yankee-hater.

So, thank you, Hank. You've also given me the opportunity to caption a post with a lyric from a Marshall Chapman song.

Photo courtesy of I suspect Lester of a little Photoshop magic, but I love it.