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Blog Archive/March 2008

March 30, 2008

Buddhism: Going to the Dogs?

Attendance at a Zen Buddhist temple in Japan has jumped 30% since a dog started praying there.

Every day, Conan, a 1 1/2-year-old black-and-white Chihuahua, joins the morning and evening prayers, sitting up on his hind legs and putting his front paws together before the altar, the AP reports.

Joei Yoshikuni, the temple's priest and owner of the dog, insists Conan's acts of devotion are completely unprompted. "I think he saw me doing it all the time and got the idea to do it, too," he said.

The dog seems to enjoy prayer so much, the priest is teaching him meditation.  "Basically, I am just trying to get him to sit still while I meditate," he explained. "It's not like we can make him cross his legs."

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email
Tags:    Buddhism meditation dogs

March 26, 2008

No ExtenZe Necessary: How the World's Largest Church Organ Measures Up

When it comes to certain organs, does size really matter? You bet, if you're talking about the largest church pipe organ in the world, which happens to belong to First Congregational Church in Los Angeles. At five manuals, 352 ranks and 20, 417 pipes, the longest of which is a whopping 32 feet, it beats out Europe's largest church organ in Passau, Germany, but takes the back seat to the famous Wanamaker organ in Philadelphia, built by John Wanamaker in 1911. The Wanamaker isn't a church organ, but happens to be the world's largest department store organ. Still residing at Macy's, it boasts six manuals, 466 ranks and 28, 765 pipes.

Still, the First Congregational organ is one big monster. And "one" is a relative term; it's actually two organs--one in the front and one in the rear of the chancel, which are connected and can be played individually or simultaneously--plus smaller "divisions," or parts of organs, on the sides. Anyway, if you've always wondered how the heck an organ works, Angelenos--or anybody with enough of an obsession to travel to L.A.--can  find out on Sunday, March 30, when the church hosts an "organ crawl" of the Great Organs that will reveal all the secrets of this musical marvel. You'll explore ranks--the set of pipes that produces a certain timbre-and the organ's winding (that's wind, as in blowing wind, not wind, as in wind up) system, including fan blowers and reservoirs. You'll learn all about stops-the components that admit pressurized air (wind) to a set of pipes, which, depending on their size, then create the sounds of various instruments. Some typical stops include the 16-foot bourdon, the 8-foot chimney flute, the 8-foot trompette, the 4-foot clarion, and the 2-foot night horn, to name just a few of the hundreds available.

There are also flue pipes and reed pipes, which imitate brass and reed instruments like the hautbois (oboe), tromba (trombone), trompette (trumpet) and a really weird one by the name of the ophicleide. So what the hell is an ophicleide? Well, it means "keyed serpent"--in this case, not the snake but an actual old musical instrument, which was difficult to play because its tone holes were arranged where they could be easily reached, not where they would have the best acoustic effect. The ophicleide is one of the family of keyed bugles invented in the early 1800s, the larger members of which were made upright, creating an odd sight indeed.

When you think about what an organ builder has to know--and an organist has to contend with--you come away with a whole new respect for the instrument. Just imagine having to manage simultaneous five or six tiered keyboards, hundreds of stops, and a full set of foot pedals! Not to mention the fact of the annoying "delay" every major church organist has to contend with. That's when you hit a note and it takes ten or twenty seconds to travel through the air and reach the ears of the audience, or the choir that you're accompanying. Edward Murray, former First Congregational Church organist, basically never had to go to the gym because he got enough of a workout at the keyboards. "The hugeness of the console is a big factor in playing the First Church organ," he says. "I had trouble reaching the top manual-it was so far away!"

By the way, here's a little organ trivia: the loudest organ stop in the world is the Grand Ophicleide on Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall Auditorium organ. If you weren't prepared, you'd be Gone With the Wind. They say that the former organ curator was careful to warn the stagehands when the Grand Ophicleide was going to be used, so they wouldn't get their ears blown off.

For more information on the "Organ Crawl of the Great Organs," call (213) 385-1345 or visit

Submitted by Mary Beth Crain

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

March 13, 2008

Want to Experience Purgatory? Hit Your High School Reunion.

I don't know if you've seen that new reality series, "High School Reunion," on TV Land, but if not, I'll give you the lowdown. It's about 15 grads of J.J. Pearce High in Texas, who meet on a Hawaii vacay 20th reunion. The promos blare "What happens when the Jock, the Popular Girl, the Spoiled Girl, the Stud, the Pipsqueak, the Bully and the Lesbian get together again after 20 years?" What happens is what you might expect on "reality" TV: a regression into behavior so dumb and childish that you canĂ½t believe you're watching it.

Continue reading Mary Beth Crain's High School Reunion Blues.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

March 7, 2008

Garry Wills on "What the Gospels Meant"

In his latest book, Garry Wills explains the challenges of reading the Gospels today. "We have to enter into a gathering very different from a modern church," he writes, "into an oral culture resonant with echoes from the omnipresent prophets and psalms, into a world more interested in what a tradition means than in what a document says, a world where Jesus was partly hidden but by no means absent. In order to get back into that world, it may be necessary to stress how strange the Gospels must seem to the modern reader, how distant from our literary preconceptions."

Read my review of Wills' book here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

March 5, 2008

"Dude, Thou Shalt Not, Uh, Whoa..." Was Moses High on Mt. Sinai?

Thunder and lightning, heavenly trumpets and holy smoke--and, oh yeah, the voice of God. Admit it, the events at Mt. Sinai were a tad surreal. But could the reason for all the otherworldly atmospherics be that Moses and his followers were bent on psychedelic drugs when God delivered the Ten Commandments?

You bet, says Benny Shanon, an Israeli professor of cognitive philosophy. In the British Journal Time and Mind, Shannon writes that when Moses spoke with the burning bush he was probably tripping on the psychoactive plants found in the Sinai. In the Amazon, similar drugs are usually mixed in a drink called ayahuasca, he says.

"In advanced forms of ayahuasca inebriation, the seeing of light is accompanied by profound religious and spiritual feelings," Shanon writes.

"On such occasions, one often feels that in seeing the light, one is encountering the ground of all Being ... many identify this power as God."

Given the speculative nature of Shanon's claims, it's tempting to wonder exactly who may have spent a little too much time in the desert sampling the ayahuasca. The prophet, or the professor?

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

March 3, 2008

Seeking God (and a Great Bargain) at IKEA

To those of us with visions of everything from stunningly remodeled kitchens to Swedish meatballs, IKEA is holy ground. When you see those beautiful blue and gold flags waving gaily to you, announcing that you are about to enter the IKEA parking lot, you almost want to jump out of your car and get down on your knees, in prayerful gratitude. When it comes to consumer fundamentalism, IKEA is Mecca, Jerusalem, the Crystal Cathedral, St. Patrick's, and the Buddha's Enlightenment Tree, all rolled into one...

Read Mary Beth Crain's Pass the Holy Meatballs.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email
Tags:    IKEA shopping religion

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