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Blog Archive/September 2007

September 28, 2007

Kerouac's "On the Road" Turns 50

This month marks 50 years since the publication of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," a classic meditation on restlessness and questing that sparked the baby boom generation's diehard notion that if they embraced the freedom of the open road and navel-gazed long enough, they'd discover the Meaning of Life.  

Ha. But don't blame Kerouac. Once it was published, his most famous road book--others include "The Dharma Bums" and "The Subterraneans"--set the author on a course he never intended to take. Until his death in 1969, Kerouac, who hated hippies, insisted "On the Road" shouldn't be read as an anticipation of the counterculture movement. As essays observing the book's 50th anniversary note, Kerouac was hardly a hip anarchist. Rather, he was a misfit--a shy, sensitive guy who loved his country, worked hard, and was devoted to his mother, with whom he lived at the beginning and end of his career.

He was also a deliberate writer, despite his claim that he spontaneously created "On the Road" in a three-week binge. Before he sat down and typed his famous 120-foot-long "scroll manuscript" in 1951, Kerouac spent three years working on the book as a conventional novel. And then, after he feverishly banged out the first draft, he spent the next six years revising it.

So Kerouac must have bristled at Norman Podhoretz's characterization of "On the Road" as a call to "Kill the intellectuals who can talk coherently, kill the people who can sit still for five minutes at a time, kill those incomprehensible characters who are capable of getting seriously involved with a woman, a job, a cause."

As Louis Menand writes in this week's New Yorker, 1950's "images of the Beat--[Podhoretz's] bohemian nihilist and Hollywood's hip hedonist--are almost complete inversions of the character types represented in 'On the Road.' The book is not about hipsters looking for kicks, or about subversives and nonconformists, rebels without a cause who point the way for the radicals of the nineteen-sixties. And the book is not an anti-intellectual celebration of spontaneity or an artifact of literary primitivism. It's a sad and somewhat self-consciously lyrical story about loneliness, insecurity, and failure. Itýs also a story about guys who want to be with other guys."

So what's the big deal about the road for Kerouac? Or, as Menand puts it, why is the car the place to be? "The obvious answer," he writes, "is that nothing happens in the car. Everyone has an irresistible urge to get to Denver or San Francisco or New York, because there will be work or friends or women there, but, after they arrive, hopes start to unravel, and it's back in the car again. The characters can't settle down except when they are nowhere in particular, between one destination and the next. But they want to settle down somewhere in particular."

The car, Menand writes, is also a "male space," and is "not an erotic space": "Driving is a way for men to be together without the need to answer questions about why they want to be together."

All this is not to say "On the Road" is not a spiritual book. In fact, you'll find "God on every page," according to David Gates in Newsweek. He notes that John Leland's new book, "Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of 'On the Road' (They're Not What You Think)" puts Kerouac's Christian faith "in its proper place: at the center of the novel":

"Kerouac's true children, [Leland] speculates, may not be the hippies but the Jesus freaks. Kerouac called the book 'a story of two Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him.' Among the poor, he might have added, and mostly in pain and disappointment. Their capacity for acceptance and forgiveness--how badly would you have to behave to lose Sal's friendship?--belies Podhoretz's notion of their lurking psychopathic violence. In the last paragraph, Sal has come off the road and sits by the Hudson River at sunset: 'In Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear?' That is, a holy fool and an omnipresent compassion. For secular highbrows, Kerouac had pitched them a hanging curve."

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 22, 2007

Religion Bumper Sticker of the Week

Reader AT saw this in Northampton, MA:

"Stop, drop, & roll will not work in hell."

Submit your favorite religion bumper sticker, or church sign, noting where you saw it, to: editor[at] 

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 21, 2007

Why James Dobson Should Donate His Balls to Science

Religious conservatives from James Dobson to Tony Perkins have opposed embryonic stem-cell research on the grounds that it is destroys human life, likening the research to Nazi experiments. Never mind there's a surplus of embryos at fertility clinics around the country that's routinely discarded without a squawk from anyone; for many believers, saving these "little embryos" from science is more important than finding a cure for, as one late night comedian quoted President Bush as saying, "brain diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and whatever it is I have."

Yesterday, NPR reported good news for the anti-stem cell crowd--promising new research that doesn't involve destroying embryos.

Scientists have found stem cells in testicles that not only could turn into sperm, but could, "under the right conditions, be turned into any cell you like--skin, muscle, brain, you name it," the report said. Researchers are hopeful that these results, generated from mice testes, can be replicated from human testes.

The hitch, said Marco Seandel, a researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, will be finding volunteers to donate cells--even though the procedure involves "very little discomfort."

Oh, I don't know. If it means sparing those cute lil' blastocysts from research, I'm sure Christians like Dobson and Perkins would gladly offer science all testicular tissue it needs. Assuming, of course, they've got the cojones.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 20, 2007

The Most Famous Man in America

On the vociferous stage of Victorian American opinion flinging, there was no more flamboyant figure than the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher. Preacher, social/political activist and orator extraordinaire, Beecher's charm, wit and intensity captivated audiences here and abroad. Unfortunately, his private peccadilloes were even more captivating, and when, in 1874, the 59-year-old Congregationalist minister was accused of having a torrid affair with a much younger married parishioner, the ensuing scandal was said to have taken up more newspaper space than the entire Civil War.

And why not?

Continue reading Preacher Beecher and the Molding of the American Christian Mind.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 14, 2007

Is Spong Wrong?

Bishop Spong, pushed to the margin even by his own colleagues, probably for reasons that have little to do with theology, should relax.

Look, I sympathize. I admit I've sometimes felt uncharitable toward our furry archbishop. Maybe if Rowan would just have the balls to stand behind his personal piety, the world would be a much better place. But is such thinking realistic?

Read Gawain de Leeuw's response to Spong's letter.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 14, 2007

Church Sign of the Week

Reader Brett Hendrickson spotted this one at a little church in East Texas:

"Give Satan an inch, and he'll become a ruler."

Submit your favorite church sign, noting where you saw it, to: editor[at] Religion bumper stickers are welcome, too. 

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 14, 2007

Bishop Spong's Open Letter to Archbishop Rowan Williams

...Today Scripture is quoted to continue the oppression and rejection of homosexual people. The Bible has [always lost such] battles. It will lose the present battle and you, my friend, will end up on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of morality and the wrong side of truth. It is a genuine tragedy that you, the most intellectually gifted Archbishop of Canterbury in almost a century, have become so miserable a failure in so short a period of time.

Read Bishop Spong's Open Letter to Rowan Wiliams.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 13, 2007

The Secret Symbols of the Men's Room

If there's one thing Larry Craig's arrest has demonstrated conclusively, it's that there's a whole clandestine men's room world few of us guys have entered, knowingly at least. So to help us "decipher what is going on in this murky subculture of hookups, trysts, danger, and extremely agile older men slithering under toilet stalls," Sarasota Magazine columnist Robert Plunket, aka Mr. Chatterbox, has prepared a "handy-dandy guide to 'demystify' the situation."

For example, signal one:


Secret meaning: "Republican caucus meeting in three minutes."

Read Plunket's Sept. 6 column, Just for Guys.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 12, 2007

Rosh Hashanah Girl

No doubt you're familiar with Obama Girl, the fictitious political hottie who's Got a Crush On Obama. Well now, in time for the Jewish New Year, there's Rosh Hashanah Girl, who rings in 5768 on, blowing her shofar and singing the praises of her favorite holiday in I Gotta Love You Rosh Hashanah.

Thanks to Lara Starr for the link.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 11, 2007

For Christ's Sake, Don't Censor Kathy Griffin

Kathy Griffin received a creative arts Emmy last weekend for her reality show, "My Life on the D-List," and in her acceptance speech she said that "a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus."

Holding up her Emmy, she added: "Can you believe this shit? Hell has frozen over. Suck it, Jesus, this award is my god now!"

Now, I don't find her comments offensive, in part because I don't believe that Jesus--or Buddha or Krishna--is in the business of helping people win entertainment awards. I believe that the Man From Nazareth, and all and the heavenly hosts, are too busy scratching their heads over AIDS and global poverty and starvation to be fulfilling champagne wishes and caviar dreams in Hollywood.

Then again, I'm not Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League. Yesterday he condemned Griffin's remarks as a "vulgar, in-your-face brand of hate speech."

But hateful towards whom, or what? Jesus? Magical thinking? Show biz people who worship awards? Who knows. Maybe Donohue was offended because he's praying he'll win an Emmy someday.

Anyway, it'd be nice to think that Griffin's comments could stir some critical theological reflection when the taped event is aired this Saturday night on the E! channel, but that's not to be. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences issued a statement yesterday saying Griffin's remarks would be cut.

The Devil must be thrilled. Bill Donohue, too, of course. 

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 7, 2007

Church Sign of the Week

Brian G. writes:

It was a particularly sweltering summer in Iowa this year, so I had to chuckle when I passed this sign at a Disciples of Christ church north of Des Moines:

"You think it's hot here..."

Submit your favorite church sign, noting where you saw it, to: editor[at] Religion bumper stickers are welcome, too. 

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 7, 2007

Ah, Fall--Turning Leaves, Football, and Another Damn School Fundraiser

So, finally, it's back to school--which means one thing, at least in my neighborhood: Sally Foster.

If you've never been propositioned to "buy some Sally Foster," you must live in a blissful bubble, far from the innocent underage hordes each year who are lured into being the de-facto booster club for their school, scout troop, or soccer club. Maybe you hail from a utopia where education is not chronically under-funded, and PTA doesn't stand for "Please Take my Assets." For the rest of us who know that "school papers" these days means wrapping paper as much as math worksheets, stocking up on Sally Foster has become an annual ritual, like cramming the freezer full of Thin Mints when it's Girl Scout cookie season. I'm already harboring enough tangled curling ribbon and star-spangled gift wrap to hide various weapons of mass destruction...

Continue reading Caught in the Wrapture.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 5, 2007

Laurel Snyder Cleans Up Nice

Say you're a longtime blogger who's freely dropped the F-bomb and is now writing children's books. Suddenly that online marketing tool you've been developing all these years is too hot to link to from your new author site. What to do? Well, if you're JewishIrishy poet/essayist-turned-YA-author Laurel Snyder, it's simple--you just start a new blog. Hence, Kid*Lit(erary), which features "micro-reviews of the very, very very very very best children's books in the world...for highly selective readers (or maybe their parents!). "

Since she launched Kid*Lit in late April, Laurel has posted some two dozen reviews with nary a naughty word to be found. Just some keen observations and fine recommendations. I got a kick out of reading she had the same reaction I had to David LaRochelle and Richard Egielski's "The End"--a book that begins at the end of the story, with each subsequent page explaining the cause for the action on the previous page. Thus, this clever upside-down fairy tale concludes with "Once upon a time..." She writes: "I wish I had thought of this!!!" I hear you, Laurel, and my four-year-old twins think it's pretty neat, too.

Anyway, on a religion note, her post yesterday is about "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," in which Harry's acceptance of death places the young wizard, in Laurel's estimation, among some fairly spiritually advanced company: "Harry Potter, Aslan, Jesus. The only thing that could overcome death was the willing submission to death. Powerful, heavy, lonely, sad."

Laurel's forthcoming titles include a picture book, "Inside the Slidy Diner" (Tricycle), a novel, "Up & Down the Scratchy Mountains OR the Search for a Suitable Princess" (Random House), and a poetry collection, "The Myth of the Simple Machines" (No Tell Books).

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 5, 2007

The Future of Religion Journalism?

For decades, critics have decried journalism's coverage of religion. The press, they've said, either dismisses the vital role of faith and spirituality in American life, or simply doesn't understand it. Well, defenders of the faith, take heart. "Faces of Faith in America," an initiative of the Carnegie and Knight Foundations, equipped 44 journalism grad students from five leading universities to produce, in a variety of forms, dozens of carefully researched, in-depth religion stories. Guided by a team of faculty and professional journalists, the impressive result could come as an answered prayer to even the media's most bitter critics on the side of faith.

Merrill Brown is a former editor-in-chief of and the editorial director of New21, which produced "Faces of Faith." Recently I spoke with Brown about the project, as well as the state of the Internet and online news, the blogosphere's at-times questionable reputation, and journalism's frequent failure to grasp religion.

Read Reshaping Religion Journalism in the 21st Century.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 3, 2007

Jiminy God!

Watch hardcore hetero Larry Craig call Bill Clinton a "nasty, bad, naughty boy" on Meet the Press back in 1999.

And, in case you missed Conan O'Brien's joke the other night: "Now there's more trouble for Senator Craig. First he's accused of soliciting gay sex at an airport. Now he's accused of soliciting gay sex at a train station. Craig denied the charges and said, 'If you'll excuse me, I have to get ready for a big night at the bus terminal.'"

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

September 3, 2007

Gods and Goddesses Be Praised

Christians who pray for lucky lottery tickets but never win might consider switching over to Wicca. New Age devotee Elwood "Bunky" Bartlett says he made a deal with Wiccan gods before purchasing tickets in Friday's Mega Millions drawing: "You let me win the lottery," he vowed, "and I'll teach" Wiccan beliefs. Apparently, the gods were listening.  He bought two $5 tickets at a liquor store, and on Sunday he announced he was one of four winners of a $330 million jackpot.

If he accepts a lump sum payment, he'll have at least $32 million after taxes.

Bunky also credits his local New Age store, Mystickal Voyage, for beating the odds, which were one in 176 million. "If it wasn't for this place I wouldn't have won the lottery," he said, noting that he plans to invest in the shop.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email
Tags:    Wicca lottery New Age

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