Monday, May 26, 2008

Safe or Saved: Christian Little League

I had never heard of Christian Little League before, and I imagine I never would have if Little League Baseball, Inc. weren’t suing them over trademark infringement. Once I heard of it, though, I had to check it out.

First of all their website makes is clear that they “are not affiliated with Little Baseball, Inc. or directly affiliated with any church, but we are affiliated directly with God through his Son Jesus Christ!”

That’s impressive. This is baseball the way God wants it played.

What is it with Jewish fathers and their sons and baseball, anyway? My dad loves baseball (also golf and football), and pushed me into Little League when I was a kid. I thought maybe he was unique in this, but now I learn that God forced Jesus to play as well. I wonder if Jesus felt as self-conscious about his level of play as I did?

You might think that since Jesus is God’s Son He played better than me, but I doubt it. The reason I doubt it is that every time I struck out or dropped a ball (I played right field), I always heard people mistaking me for Jesus Christ, and calling to me as if that were my name, “Jesus Christ!” Maybe we looked and played enough alike for people to confuse us.

Given that I suck at sports, I was intrigued with Christian Little League’s statement that there are no losers. How do you have a team sport with no losers? On their website they quote Jesus, “Thou shalt not judge for in the same measure in which you judge ye shall be judged.” I guess there are no umpires at Christian Little League games; that certainly eliminates a lot of pressure.

Of course if everybody wins, there really are no winners. So where is the fun? I mean what do the winners chant at the end of the game, “Two, four, six, eight who do we appreciate? Everyone who came today even if they struck out, dropped the ball, never got off the bench, or hit two billion home runs.” It is hard to chant this. Try it for yourself.

There isn’t much more on their website, so I was left with a few unanswered questions: Can gay boys play on the team? What about Jews or Muslim kids? And if I really could play well but didn’t believe Jesus died for my sins would I still go to Hell? Probably. So much for no losers. But, hey, I’d risk Hell if I could strike out to a cheering, rather than jeering crowd.

Maybe I should start Jewish Little League. We would have umpires and winners (we the Chosen, after all), and each kid would have her own lawyer so she could argue every call.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I Won! And So Can You!

I don’t know if I should share this news or not, but I am so exited I can’t help myself. As many of you may know I don’t have a regular job, but cobble together different gigs in order to bring in a few dollars above the official poverty line. I’m not complaining, but, to be honest, with rising gas and food prices and inflation, it is getting more and more difficult to make ends meet. And the less discretionary money you have, the harder it is for me to find gigs.

But that worry is over. Forever. Three days ago, on May 20th, I won—WON!—the British Lottery. How much did I win? £1,500,000. That is $2,965,350!!! This is no joke. I got the ticket number, the serial number, and the address to send my Social Security Number, Passport Number, and $5000 to cover processing fees.

And there’s the rub. I don’t have $5000. And the deadline for sending in the money is too soon for me to earn it. So I am going to make my readers an offer. And, again to be honest, because I am nothing if not honest, it is killing me to make this offer. I want this money, all of it. But I can’t get any of it if I can’t raise the $5000, so here is the offer.

For everyone who sends me money toward this $5000 I will send them, once the $2,965,350 is deposited in my account, ten times what you send me. TEN TIMES! You send me one dollar, I’ll send you (once the $2,965,350 is deposited in my account) ten dollars. You send me one hundred dollars, I’ll send you (once the $2,965,350 is deposited in my account) one thousand dollars. You send me one thousand dollars, I’ll send you (once the $2,965,350 is deposited in my account) ten thousand dollars. You send me five hundred dollars, I’ll send you (once the $2,965,350 is deposited in my account) five thousand dollars. And, if you send me the entire $5000, I’ll send you (once the $2,965,350 is deposited in my account) fifty thousand dollars. Yes, FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. You cannot make this kind of return on an investment anywhere else.

So I have a two–week window to take in the $5000. Now I know what you are thinking, what if I send him $5000 and someone else sends him $5000 how will he know whom to choose? I thought of that also, and I’m going to be as fair as I can. I will take in as much as comes in (up to $296,535) and still make the ten to one return once the $2,965,350 is deposited in my account. I realize that is a huge sacrifice on my part, but this way I won’t have to have you all competing. Everybody wins.

Now I know what you are thinking after you were thinking the other thing: What if something goes wrong and he never gets the $2,965,350? Well, I can’t see how that could happen. After all it is the British Lottery, British government we are talking about, not some bogus Nigerian princess who has inherited a paltry $500,000. These people backed us in Iraq, they won’t screw us in the lottery. But, on the off chance that they do, all your money is forfeit.

So, what do you say? Do you want to be rich? I thought so! So send me the money now!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Go To Shell: Happy World Turtle Day

Now that the weather is warming up I often see a family of turtles sunning themselves on a large boulder jutting into the river along which I walk in the morning. Whenever I see them, I am moved to stop and just marvel at them. I don’t know what species of turtle they are, but I call them the Slowski’s after their Polish counterparts in the Comcast Internet ads. I didn’t see them this morning but I expect to see them all dressed up tomorrow because tomorrow, May 23rd, is their very special day: World Turtle Day.

World Turtle Day has only been around since the year 2000 so it isn’t as old as Shemini Atzeret (look it up), but for me it has more meaning than Shemini Atzeret (I mean it, if you want to know what this is, look it up yourself. Do I have to do all the work in this blog? Don’t answer that.) I don’t know why I love turtles, but I do.

Perhaps it is because they are, mythically speaking, the living embodiment of tranquility, and as an Enneagram Type 9, I am all about tranquility. Perhaps it is because the Cheyenne believe (along with Hindus and many others) that the earth is carried on the back of Old Grandmother Turtle, and I am very fond of the earth and old grandmothers. Perhaps it is because, as the Yoruba say, the turtle is also the trickster, and I was once given the name Coyote Rebbe by a Native American medicine man for whom coyotes are tricksters and who was impressed that every time he passed me the pipe in a pipe ceremony the coyotes in the surrounding hills began to howl. Perhaps it is because the Chinese say that the origin of the I Ching hexagrams is linked to the markings on a turtle shell. Or perhaps it is because I can take the day off for World Turtle Day by claiming it is a Jewish holy day no less important than Shemini Atzeret (LOOK IT UP!!!).

My love of turtles goes back to my youth when I managed several turtle farms, each of which ended in the death of all my turtles and their subsequent burial at sea (toilet, really). I now know that keeping turtles in a small plastic dish and using them to scare the crap out of your little sister is not what turtles are for, but it took me years to learn this.

Here is how I will celebrate World Turtle Day tomorrow. First, I will light a yahrzeit (memorial) candle in memory of all those turtles I murdered in my youth. Second, assuming I can find and afford one, I will place a giant turtle statue by my back door, which, according to Feng Shui, attracts good blessings to the house. Third, I will attend the celebration of turtles at our local science museum. Fourth, I will eat a turtle sundae. And fifth, I will help defend our reptilian Grandmothers by working to end the following: 1) the eating of turtles, 2) the racing of turtles, 3) turning turtles into pets, 4) polluting turtle habitats, and 5) running turtles over as they try and cross the road. (Why did the turtle cross the road, by the way, is the second most important question asked by humankind. The first is Why did the chicken cross the road?)

It is also customary to send World Turtle Day greeting cards and gifts to friends and family on World Turtle Day. Or it will be as soon as someone convinces Hallmark they can make money promoting this. In any case, I want to wish you all a happy World Turtle Day. And don’t forget to celebrate Shemini Atzeret which falls on October 21st.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A New Pastime

I’ve just invented a new pastime. If you use Microsoft Word you can analyze your writing using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tool that appears after you run the spell-check program, and determine the grade level at which you write. For example, thus far in this blog I am writing at a 9.2 grade level. If I remove the term “Flesch-Kincaid” it drops down to a 2.3 grade level. I guess that means to go from second to ninth grade you only learn two new words, Flesch and Kincaid. And you thought school was tough.

Anyway, my new pastime is to type out passages from famous authors and see how smart they are. For example, Shakespeare wrote “To be or not to be, that is the question.”

Did you know he was writing at a 1.2 grade level? Shakespeare was writing at a first grade level! I mean he probably wrote: “See Spot. See Spot run. Out, out damned spot.” Whoever turned that into Macbeth was a genius, but it clearly wasn’t Bill Shakespeare.

Let’s try another. How about Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Clearly the guy was confused, and why? Because he was writing at a .8 grade level. Point eight! That is below first grade level. He was dumber than Shakespeare!

He probably wrote this when he was four or five years old. If he had been my kid and said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” I would have said, “Well, that makes no sense; you have to choose. Which was it: the best or the worst of times?” And if he refused to make up his mind, I would have taken him to a therapist. Best of times, worst of times. The kid has problems.

I am detecting a trend here. Shakespeare wrote before Dickens, but Dickens wrote dumber than Shakespeare. You would think we would get smarter over time, but no, things only get worse.

To test out my theory I went to the Author Himself who wrote: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was unformed and void.” This tests out at 6.3. Not bad. God is a sixth grader, way beyond Shakespeare and Dickens. But even God can’t help us here because by the time we get to “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God” God’s writing skills fall to a 4.2 grade level.

So it seems that when it comes to writing devolution is the norm. But there are mutants. Abe Lincoln is my favorite: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” That is 12th grade prose. Lincoln wrote better than God! Could that be why He had him killed? Inquiring minds want to know.

By the way, if you’re wondering, this completed blog tests out at 4.4 grade level. My mother would be so proud.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Behind the Eight Ball

How do fortunetellers make money? I notice Palm Reader shops in high rent areas, and I never see lines of people waiting to get in. So how do they manage?

I ask this because I have to find a job this year. Adjunct teaching is fun but not financially rewarding. Writing books, blogs, and magazine columns is even more fun, but only slightly more financially rewarding. So I need to find a job.

I went to a temp company, but they had no idea how to place a guy whose only skill is public speaking and Torah commentary. Of course I could look for a rabbinic position, but I want something more satisfying than pretending that Judaism has anything of spiritual value to offer twelve-year-old kids and their harried parents. A local church offered me a job, and I admit to being tempted by the chance to damn to hell people who disagree with me, but in the end I have decided on fortunetelling.

Not astrology, mind you, that’s too hard. You actually have to be able to make and read charts, and, to be honest, I can’t remember all twelve Zodiac signs. Tarot Card reading is out as well. If I can't remember twelve Sun Signs, there is no way I can recall the meanings of the 22 Major Arcana. Palm reading, too, isn’t for me, since I don’t like the idea of having to touch people’s palms. Who knows where they have been?

No, my plan is to use a proven fortunetelling tool that has been with me for over half a century: The Magic Eight Ball. I trust the Ball. You can ask it anything, and it always answers.

To prepare for my new career, I spent New Year’s Day asking deep personal questions of my round Seer.

“Will I loose this year the fifty pounds that I failed to lose last year?” OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD. “Will I have to work hard to make ends meet this year?” AS I SEE IT, YES. “Will this be the year that I stop hurting people I love?” DON’T COUNT ON IT. “Will this year find me finally changing the way I live and think so that I can at last do both with true serenity and integrity? MY SOURCES SAY NO. AND WHILE WE ARE ON THE SUBJECT YOU ARE A REAL BUTTHEAD.

See: it never fails. So I have the tool for my trade, now I just have to figure our how to ply it. Maybe I should rent space in the town square. MY REPLY IS NO. Or maybe I should set up a roadside stand. VERY DOUBTFUL. Hey, I’m not even asking the Ball these questions. WITHOUT A DOUBT. Then who is feeding me these answers? BETTER NOT TELL YOU NOW. This is weird. IT IS DECIDEDLY SO. OK, knock it off. MY REPLY IS NO. All right, fine.

Anyway, I think people will go for this. I will charge five dollars for an answer, and another ten to explain the answer. And if I have no idea what my client is talking about— REPLY HAZY. TRY AGAIN. That’ll be five dollars, please.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

"Evangelical" Defined

For many the word “evangelical” is a fighting word. Depending on your personal beliefs “evangelical” means standing for the truth or standing for narrow-mindedness and bigotry. It really means neither.

Evangelical is an adjective used to describe someone who propagates the Good News of Jesus Christ. In and of itself the term is somewhat neutral, though over the past decades it has been associated with the right wing of the Republican Party. An evangelical Christian, which is really an oxymoron given that all Christians are charged with spreading the Gospel, may or may not be in favor of abortion, capital punishment, evolution, deregulated capitalism, the Rapture, or dancing. Yet the word continues to be used as if it told us something.

To help correct matters some, the Evangelical Theological Society has issued an evangelical manifesto that requires those who label themselves evangelical to adhere to two principles: the inerrancy of Scripture, and belief in the triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as “separate but equal in attributes and glory” and essential for salvation. Now evangelicals can vote Democratic and dance at the inauguration balls. Good for them!

But I am now more troubled than before. I know that most evangelicals accepted the idea that the Bible was without error. Most of my Bible students at Middle Tennessee State come into my class with this belief, and, much to my dismay, leave with it intact as well. But I didn’t know that the Trinity required a belief in a separate but equal clause; the key word being “separate.” If Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are separate then they are distinct, they are three not one, and hence evangelicals are polytheists. That surprised me.

To look deeper, I checked the Catholic Encyclopedia and learned that according to the Athanasian Creed: "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God." Obviously someone can’t count. Each of the three Persons of the Trinity is co-eternal and co-equal: all alike are uncreated and omnipotent. Which means, despite creedal assurances otherwise, that there are three Gods. You can’t be co-anything if you are the same thing. So I stand corrected. I thought the charge of Christian polytheism was a slur, but now I don't think so. I think they do believe in three gods, but have found it politically inexpedient to just come out and say so.

Now I have no problem with people believing what they like. I stand with Tom Jefferson on this, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. (Notes on Virginia, 1782). Believe what you like, but be honest about it. If you believe in three Gods, say so, but don’t pretend that you really believe in one God.

The Hindus have their trinity: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva but say they these gods are attributes of the One God Brahman and not three co-equal deities. And the Hindu Rig Veda, the oldest scripture in the world says, “Truth is One, different people call it by different names.” This is my understanding as well, but it isn't the evangelical or Catholic position. I just find it fascinating that in the 21st Century people still believe in multiple gods. But then I am still amazed that you get two scoops of raisins in every box of Post Raisin Bran. Every box!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Are You A Harley Man?

Forever in pursuit of deeply accurate and meaningful categories in which to pigeonhole people, I am now prepared to argue that there are only two kinds of American men: Harley Men and Vespa Men. I am a Vespa Man suffering from Harley-envy. Worse still, I’m a Vespa Man without a Vespa. Where is Dr. Freud when you need him?

Now before you go ballistic on me for reducing all men to their wheels, New Scientist magazine, reports on a study of male rhesus monkeys (these are monkeys made from a mixture of chocolate and peanut butter for you scientifically challenged readers) who, when given a choice between playing with dolls or trucks, ignore the dolls and choose the trucks every time. Darwin rules! Men are evolutionarily designed for motorized locomotion. If that doesn’t prove Intelligent Design nothing does.

The problem with my peanut butter filled primate cousins is that they cannot distinguish between cool wheels, i.e. a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and metrosexual wheels such as a Vespa. I, on the other hand, can and do.

I have ridden a Harley once and sat on one twice. When I was a student at Tel Aviv University I had a friend who looked like the rock star Meatloaf and who owned a Harley. I would sit behind him, my arms wrapped tightly around his ample middle, as we sped through the streets of the not-so-holy city. I think he would have preferred it if the person pressed against him was wearing a miniskirt or bikini but I refused.

My second Harley experience was at the Jewish Community Center in South Miami-Dade when I sat on the bike of a friend. Unaccustomed to being in the driver’s seat I pressed a bare leg (I was wearing gym shorts not a bikini) against the hot muffler and burned myself badly. If only there had been a dragon embossed on the side of that muffler I would have had a cool tattoo ala Kwai Chang Kane, but, just my luck, there was only a welt. It was then, I suspect, that I knew I was a Vespa Man.

Why am I bringing this up today? Because yesterday I read a full page Harley-Davidson ad in USA TODAY: We don’t do fear. Over the last 105 years in the saddle, we’ve seen wars, conflicts, depression, recession, resistance, and revolutions. We’ve watched a thousand hand-wringing pundits disappear in our rear-view mirror. But every time this country has come out stronger than before. Because chrome and asphalt put distance between you and whatever the world can throw at you. Freedom and wind outlast hard times. And the rumble of an engine drowns out all the spin on the evening news. If 105 years have proved one thing, it’s that fear sucks and it doesn’t last long. So screw it, let’s ride.

Yeah! Let’s ride! I said, LET”S RIDE! CAN YOU HEAR ME? I HAVE TO SCREAM OVER THE SOUND OF MY EN… Oh, yeah. Vespa Man. I’m riding a scooter that whines rather than roars. And while those Harley Men are racing away from whatever it is those other men are throwing at us, I keep getting hit in the back of the head.

Actually it’s worse than that. I can’t afford a Vespa, so I’m walking. It is easy to throw stuff at a guy whose walking. I move at about 3.8 MPH, and I go from 0 to 60 in about, well, never. I guess I will just have to make my peace with fear.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Tossing and Turning: the Insanity of Religion

Do you think religion makes people do weird things? I don’t. I think people make religion do weird things. People invent religion to excuse weird behavior that they want to do, but that they need some excuse for doing. They know what they want to do is insane, but they want to do it anyway, so they invent a god who will punish them for all eternity if they don’t do it. It gives them the perfect cover.

Take for example the Jewish custom of kaparot (kapores where I come from): turning a rooster or a hen over your head (a rooster is you are male, a hen if you are female) during the High Holy Day period and believing that by doing so your sins are passed to the bird and that by slaying the bird you are free from those sins. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten chicken to die for our sins? Does this make sense to you? Is this the best my ancestors could come up with when they sought to borrow from their Christian neighbors?

I can imagine a bunch of rabbis gathering in a shul saying, “Look we’ve got to modernize to fit in. We have to be more goyish. The Christians believe Jesus died for their sins, why don’t we run with that. They’ll appreciate the sentiment. Say, I have an idea, instead of Jesus, why not go with a chicken?”

This kind of magic is ridiculous. But, if you don’t really care about the welfare of chickens, quite fun. You take this bird squawking and screaming, grab it by its feet and spin it around your head like you were a finalist on Dancing with the Stars or representing Israel in the Winter Olympics ice skating competition. I’ve seen this done, though not on Dancing with the Stars or at the Winter Olympics. No, I’ve seen it done in Israel. And in Haiti. In Israel it is called Judaism. In Haiti it is called Voodoo.

And then there is baby tossing. Indian Muslims at the Shrine of Solapur have for the past five hundred years dropped their infants from a fifty-foot tower into a taught sheet held by the faithful many feet below. In this way God will bless the baby either with a long and healthy life, or a very short one lasting no more than the time it takes to hit the ground after having been tossed from a fifty-foot tower. Maybe these Muslims read Nietzsche, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”

Rooster swinging and baby tossing. No wonder Christopher Hitchens is angry. Religious people are insane.

And then there is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The man is angry about American Indian genocide, the enslavement of millions of Africans, Jim Crow laws, lynching, the interment of Japanese Americans during World War II, Vietnam, the treatment of blacks in South Africa during Apartheid, the treatment of Palestinians by Israel, and the fact that Barack Obama dissed him on national television. I mean get over it. What if we Jews kept harping about the destruction of the Temple, or our problems with ancient Egypt, Persia, and Rome, or our expulsion from Spain, or the Crusades, or the Holocaust, or the fact that classic Star Trek with two Jewish leading men got cancelled while the oh so goyish Capt Picard gets to fly where nobody has gone before for longer than the guys who did it first? People would think we are just using history to promote our own agenda.

But maybe you think there is a difference between the prophetic call for justice and the killing of a chicken to ransom you from your sins. Maybe you think decrying slavery then and racism now is somehow more righteous than tossing your six-month-old off the top of a tower. Maybe you think. But if you do you probably aren’t among the truly faithful.