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Blog Archive/February 2007

February 28, 2007

The Look of Death

Sick to death of your old furniture? Bored stiff with standard decor? Ready for a new look to die for?

Just visit, where you can find a casket to fit your every interior design dream. Dealing in "furniture for a lifetime ... and beyond," and warning that "sales are probably final," Casket Furniture is the ultimate in creepy innovation. Here you can buy everything from casket-themed furniture to casket accessories, novelties, games, and even build-your-own casket kits.

Located at the intersection of Grand Guignol and Functional Aesthetic, Casket Furniture promises to give you a home that will be the talk of your neighborhood, not to mention the envy of all your mortician friends. No longer do people have to go to funeral parlors to get their casket fix. They can just go visit you!

Continue reading Mary Beth Crain's A Tisket, a Tasket, a Black and Yellow Casket ... End Table, That Is.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 27, 2007

Goose Bumps Over Jesus' Lost Tomb

James Cameron claims that a tomb discovered 27 years ago contained the remains of Jesus and the family he and Mary Magdalene had together, and I, for one, haven't felt this excited since Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone's vault on primetime TV back in the mid-'80s. Sure, it turned out that the gangster's safe was empty, and Geraldo looked pretty stupid. But there was so much hype leading up to the 2-hour special, and so many thrills during the program itself, what with Geraldo firing off a prohibition-era machine gun and detonating an old-fashioned dynamite plunger, that you could have almost forgotten the next day that the whole show was for absolutely nothing.

So--yippie!--this coming Sunday we've got Cameron's TV documentary, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," to look forward to. Never mind that, for example, Professor Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who oversaw the work at the tomb in 1980, calls Cameron's claim "completely impossible. It's nonsense." Just ignore the naysayers and savor the excitement, even if you don't watch the show. Jesus' DNA--holy shit! The possibilities! Maybe they'll match it one day with the DNA of Nicole Brown Simpson's real killer! Or, as my priest friend Puck Purnell suggested, maybe the DNA will prove that Jesus was the real father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby!

Hey, when sensationalism and faith collide, anything is possible. The James Ossuary they found in Israel a few years ago? How do we know it wasn't Jimmy Hoffa's?

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 27, 2007

Cardinal Egan: Landlord from Hell?

Cardinal Egan summoned a New York priest to his Madison Avenue office yesterday morning, and told him the archdiocese was closing his church for reasons that included dwindling attendance and a bad roof. As the meeting took place, Egan had security guards changing the locks on the priest's church doors.

When he returned to Our Lady of Vilinius in the West Village, the priest, Eugene Sawicki, found himself locked out. "This church has been here for 102 years. We're supposed to have a 12:15 p.m. Mass today and people were turned away crying. I find this unconscionable," the church's secretary told the New York Post.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 23, 2007

Holy Fast Food

KFC has launched a new fish food, uhm, product...thing, and they're hoping Pope Benedict XVI will endorse it for Lent, the 40-day period before Easter Sunday during which Catholics traditionally don't eat meat. KFC is calling it their Fish Snacker Sandwich, and earlier this month the multi-billion dollar fast-food company wrote the Pope asking him to bestow a blessing on it.

"This is the first time KFC has ever served fish nationally, and we believe that the new sandwich could make it easier and more affordable for Catholics to observe the tenets of their faith," said KFC President Greg Dedrick, in his letter to Pope Benny.

Of course, KFC's choice of pitchman is a stroke of genius. In terms of authority within the Church, the Pope is second only to Jesus Christ, whom KFC probably wouldn't want hawking fish burgers, anyway. Jesus often confused the masses with parables, and even when he spoke clearly his own disciples didn't always heed what he said. (Plus, unless I'm mistaken, didn't Jesus overturn the tables at the McDonald's in the food court of the Temple 2,000 years ago?) Not so Pope Benedict, to whom the faithful have always listened carefully. In 1981, Pope John Paul II named him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was known by the Church, back in the good old days of the Middle Ages, as "Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis Sanctum Officium," or "Holy Office of Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness"--a.k.a., the Inquisition. In other words: You hat better eat your Fish Schnacker, young man!

And what's more, KFC might have a shot at getting the Prada- and Gucci-stylin' Pope to bless their sandwich. A spokesperson for KFC said the Vatican confirmed receiving the letter and the company expects a response next week.

Read the Associated Press report here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email
Tags:    KFC Pope Benedict Easter

February 16, 2007

Bruce M. Metzger, 93

As language evolves, words in classic texts change their meaning and require updating. Even--sorry, you King James purists--words in the Bible. Take Psalms 50:9, which until the New Revised Standard Version came out in 1990, read: "I will accept no bull from your house." The 30 scholars comprising the NRSV committee changed the wording to read: "I will not accept a bull from your house."

Similarly, the committee translated II Corinthians 11:25 as, "Once I received a stoning." Earlier versions (King James, RSV) had the Apostle Paul declaring instead, "once I was stoned."

The NRSV committee was overseen by the eminent biblical scholar, Bruce Metzger, who devoted his life to understanding, translating, revising, and teaching the New Testament. Though best know for his work on the NRSV, Metzger was the author of dozens of books and was a New Testament professor at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1940 until his retirement in 1984. An ordained Presbyterian minister, Metzger died on Tuesday in Princeton, N.J., at age 93.

Read his New York Times obituary, by Margalit Fox, here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 15, 2007

Defensive Driving?

As much as I am entirely against the United States' war for oil--er, I mean--mission to bring peace and democracy to Iraq, I support to a degree the notion of "supporting the troops." Having said that, doesn't your heart just sink when you see this kind of thing?


Being so far away and entirely unfamiliar with the culture of Iraq, it is, of course, hard for any of us to understand the pressures the soldiers are under. But just ask yourself: How exactly is the United States going to "win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people" when its soldiers are ramming their armored cars into vehicles with families in them, bashing buses full of people, and narrowly missing children running across the road, in incidents that are just chilling to watch?

Continue reading Simon Jones' Support Our Troops, But...

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email
Tags:    humvee Baghdad war

February 14, 2007

A New Saint on Valentine's Day

Move over, St. Valentine, and prepare to share the honors of this day with the "beatified beauty," Saint Angie of Pontani, over at Josh Gosfield's Saint of the Month Club. "Worship her and a big hunk of love is likely to come your way," Josh promises. 

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 14, 2007

A Day at the Races

One of the great joys of parenting is getting to see the world through your young kids' eyes. This afternoon I watched "Ben-Hur" as my almost-four-year-old twin boys played at my feet, and when the famous chariot race scene came on, they put down their toys and sat glued to the screen. They love anything that moves, and moves fast, so they were in heaven as Charlton Heston flew around the track behind those four white horses, the other chariots blowing apart in spectacular crashes. "Who's going to win, daddy? Who's going to win?" they kept demanding. And, "Is that guy going to crash?"

After the race was over, I played with the boys, and we ignored the TV as the film continued. Finally, all three of us paid attention again at a later scene. It's the one where Jesus and the two thieves carry their crosses out of Jerusalem and up the hill to be crucified. When we tuned in, Jesus and the thieves were about to start the arduous climb, crowds lining both sides of the street. Evan, one of my boys, turned to me and said, "Daddy, are they going to race?"

I busted a gut. Yeah, buddy. Last one up the hill's a rotten egg! The winner gets nailed last! Ah, kids.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 13, 2007

Religion Wrestling Match

There's an interesting exchange between Jeff Sharlet and Alan Jacobs at the "Books & Culture" website. In his Feb 5. "Rumors of Glory" column, Jacobs critiqued Jeff's December Harper's piece about fundamentalism called "Through a Glass, Darkly." Jacob focused on two sentences of the 8,000-word article, and took exception, for example, to Jeff's assertion that Francis Schaeffer was a student of R.J. Rushdoony. Jacobs countered that Schaeffer was older than Rushdoony (by four years), suggesting, I guess, that Jacobs has a policy of not allowing himself to be influenced by the ideas of people younger than he is.  

In any case, it's on the basis of the two sentences that Jacobs lumped Jeff in with the "Know-Nothing Party"--Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins--that is "waging a war on religion." Which is absurd, and Jeff didn't let him get away with it. Read his great reply here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 12, 2007

Why Protestants Need Saints, Too

It was clear to me as a kid that the deck was stacked against us. One glance out the kitchen window at our neighbor's driveway, where kids, adults, and umpteen cousins were constantly coming and going in new model cars, and I knew that my family could never "keep up with the Joneses." The Ildertons outnumbered us eleven to five in people (11 to 4 after my dad left); 2 to 1 in dogs; and about 8 to 2 in cars, or so it seemed--they owned our town's Dodge dealership. In addition to all the cars and cousins and happy domestic chaos, they were Catholic. Which meant they had holy water, incense, really cool beads, Mary and a million other saints, and about as many days off school. We, as Milquetoast Methodists, had God, Jesus, and Vacation Bible School. It didn't seem fair.

Decades later, I hope I'm more sophisticated in my religious worldview, but I still feel a tinge of faith-based envy when I consider my non-Protestant neighbors. Despite horrid school uniforms, ingrained patriarchy, dogmatic authoritarianism, and far-too many middle men (with emphasis on the "men"), I do admire the Catholic teamwork approach. Those of us who have inherited Martin Luther's legacy may be free from papal edicts, but we're also minus a cheering section of some 10,000 strong. There's a deficit in our divine intervention strategy. We've let the saints, from St. Aaron and St. Zodicus, slip away, and are left with a lone ranger theology: off we go, solo, galloping across the dry and dusty plains of our souls toward a radiant salvation on the horizon. Kind of like Bush's foreign policy.

Continue reading Stephanie Hunt's Saint Maybe.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 11, 2007

Irritable Clergy Syndrome

I think we all know some clergy who could relate to this item from News of the Weird:

"A 2006 Church of England report warned that disagreeable congregants, together with the pressures of the church's 'feudal system' bureaucracy, were turning priests harshly negative and creating an 'irritable clergy syndrome.' One of the report's authors told The Times of London in December that priests are bothered by 'having to be nice all the time to everyone, even when confronted with extremes of nastiness,' such as aggressive and neurotic parishioners.'"

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 10, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith Is Dead. So What?

She rose from poor white trash to rich white trash. She was the typical misguided non-entity with an unstoppable appetite for fame and recognition, an appetite that took her to the heights and depths of notoriety. There was nothing she wouldn't do for celebrity; from stripper in a Texas dive; to Playboy bunny; to marrying an ancient billionaire gargoyle 63 years her senior; to battling his apoplectic family over his fortune for years in court after he croaked; to finagling her own reality show that consisted of weekly displays of unfathomable tastelessness; to sleeping with anything and anyone, preferably famous but if not, oh well; to giving birth to a baby whose father is still a mystery at the same time her 20-year-old son collapses and dies of a drug overdose; to collapsing and dying herself, just yesterday, in a Hollywood, Florida, hotel room, at the age of 39...Who could make it up? Who would want to?

Anna Nicole Smith was, to put it politely, pathetic. A Marilyn Monroe wannabe with neither the talent nor the brains of her idol, all she had going for her was her chutzpah. She was Amazonian in size and Lilliputian in intelligence. Last night they re-ran an interview she did with Larry King, and when she opened her big red mouth, she was about as fascinating as George W. Bush on a bender. Narcissistic, whiny, speaking in an inarticulate Texas drawl, she was an embarrassment to herself and everybody else who thought she was worth the air time.

Continue reading Mary Beth Crain's Trash and Tragedy: The Anna Nicole Saga.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 10, 2007

Evolution Sunday

Today, at the height of scientific knowledge, we ironically face a skepticism of science that in many ways is rooted in religious challenges. And nowhere is this skepticism more rabidly evident than in the debate over evolution.

First it was "scientific creationism," and then more recently "Intelligent Design," that has challenged the science behind the theory of evolution. The problem is that the challenge, though often disguised (especially within the Intelligent Design camp), is religiously based. Proponents of creationism and ID have played with and manipulated public perceptions of science that does harm both to science and to faith.

Because biblical literalists and proponents of "Intelligent Design" have captured the attention of the media and provided fodder for atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, it might appear that there are only two choices: atheism and science or belief and biblical literalism. The truth, however, is there are other ways of looking at these issues that are not so black and white, more nuanced and friendly both to science and to faith.

Continue reading Dr. Bob Cornwall's Darwin Matters.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 9, 2007

Friday's Low

And thus our week of negativity ends, on a low note:

Today, for five minutes, I will sit quietly and meditate and think pleasant thoughts and I will recite gentle positive messages to myself. Oh yeah, that really sounds like me. I'm sure I'm going to do that. Right.

Excerpted from Daily Negations, by John S. Hall. Published by Soft Skull Press. Copyright 2007. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 8, 2007

Thursday's Downer

Oh, crap. Only one more day of negativity left:

Each morning, I think, "This day will be better." Tonight I will go to sleep, thinking tomorrow will be better, but maybe one day I'll stop hoping. I'll stop being disappointed, and I'll start being realistic. But it's probably not realistic for me to think I'll ever be realistic.

Excerpted from Daily Negations, by John S. Hall. Published by Soft Skull Press. Copyright 2007. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 7, 2007

Wednesday's Downer

Our week of negativity continues...

Perhaps the incompetence of others wouldn't bother me so much if I could truly understand how inept and inadequate I am. But that would require self-awareness, wouldn't it?

Excerpted from Daily Negations, by John S. Hall. Published by Soft Skull Press. Copyright 2007. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 6, 2007

Tuesday's Downer

Our week of negativity continues...

Do I respect myself? Why? What have I done to earn my respect? Or, for that matter, anyone else's?

Excerpted from Daily Negations, by John S. Hall. Published by Soft Skull Press. Copyright 2007. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 6, 2007

Ted Haggard: Totally Not Gay

After three weeks of intensive counseling, Ted Haggard has emerged convinced he is "completely heterosexual," the AP reports. The Rev. Tim Ralph, one of four ministers who oversaw Haggard's counseling, told the Denver Post: "He is completely heterosexual. That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place. It wasn't a constant thing."

By the "acting-out situations," Ralph is presumably referring to the three-year, drug-fueled tryst Haggard allegedly had with a gay prostitute. Admitting to "sexual immorality" last November, Haggard resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

What's next for Ted? On Sunday, he emailed members of New Life Church, from which he was fired as senior pastor, saying that he and his wife, Gayle, plan to move to Iowa or Missouri and pursue master's degrees in psychology.

WWFS--What Would Freud Say?

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 5, 2007

"Dear Lord Baby Jesus"

I can't recall the review now, but a critic I read (or heard) last summer turned me off to Will Ferrell's stock-car spoof, "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." The sense I got was that the film managed to celebrate rather than skewer Nascar, for fear of alienating the sport's millions of fans. What's the point then, right?

So, it was with zero expectations that, unable to sleep but too tired to read, I decided to rent the flick on demand at 3:30 last night, er, this morning.

My take? "Talladega Nights" does as much to celebrate Nascar culture as Ferrell's earlier film, "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" did to celebrate '70s sexism. At one point, Ferrell, as the confused, speed-luvin' Ricky Bobby, runs around the track in his underwear, convinced he's on fire. As he begs first for Jesus and then for Tom Cruise to put out the flames ("Tom Cruise, use your witchcraft to get the fire off me!"), his dim-witted racing buddy, Cal Naughton Jr. (John C. Reilly), implores the heavens, "Please don't let the invisible fire burn my friend!" David Lynch's "The Straight Story," about a 70-year-old man who drives his lawnmower across two states to visit his dying brother, glamorizes Nascar more than scenes like that do.

But my favorite scene is when Ricky Bobby says grace at dinner. He insists on praying to the "Lord Baby Jesus," spurring a family debate about how best to envision and address the Lord--as the Christmas Jesus, the teenage Jesus, or the bearded Jesus? How about Jesus as a ninja, fighting off evil samurai? Demands Bobby, "I like the baby version the best, do you hear me? I win the races and I get the money!" See a clip of the scene here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

February 5, 2007

A Week of Daily Negations

Thanks to a new book from Soft Skull Press, I've been jump-starting my mornings lately with a chuckle. "Daily Negations"--a "collection of negative thoughts, one for each day of the year"--is so down, and so dark, it's actually, oddly, affirming. Written by John S. Hall, lead singer of the band King Missile, the book is, as the title suggests, an antidote to "Daily Affirmations." I was hooked by the description on the back panel: "Like any other daily meditation book, it can be kept by the bed, on the coffee table or by the toilet. Daily Negations can be consulted first thing in the morning, or anytime during the day when a quick let-me-down is needed." So convenient, so easy!

This week, SoMA will offer a John Hall negation each day. Here's your downer for Monday:

When I think about how awful everyone is, how miserable life is, how futile it is to try, and so on, I should try to relax, take a deep breath, and experience the process of breathing, and ask myself, why do I continue to breathe? Do I really think anything good will come of this day?

Excerpted from Daily Negations, by John S. Hall. Published by Soft Skull Press. Copyright 2007. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

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