Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Yair Lapid

Terribly interesting man in the news these days – Yair Lapid, the politician who surprised everybody in the recent Israeli elections by coming in a very healthy second in Parliament with 19 seats, instead of the anticipated 13 or 14 as polls suggested. Netanyahu will now have to work with him and his newly founded party, Yesh Atid (There is a Future).

I went looking to see what I could find out about this man just as a friend in New York sent a link to a speech Lapid gave to a group of Haredi (ultra-orthodox) law students which I found riveting and want to recommend, if only to watch a Barack Obama kind of pull-'em-together centrist at work, with considerably more charisma.  He speaks in Hebrew, but his text is excellently subtitled.

I then found another video of Lapid addressing a conference of American rabbis in Atlanta in May of last year.  That one turned out to be equally interesting at getting the measure of the man.    (The introduction is in Hebrew.  Lapid speaks in English and begins his talk at minute 4:55.)

I’m not making any political endorsement.   I have no place in Israeli domestic politics.  I simply find this a fascinating man to listen to.   I have linked you to the few pieces of information I have on the man.  I know, because he says in the Atlanta talk, that he is a centrist, not a leftie, not a socialist.   Actually,  one columnist from Haaretz, Israel’s well-known liberal newspaper, has called him “the candidate of ‘capital’.” 

He is a secular Jew with Hungarian roots.  A handsome man.   Former boxer.  Former actor.  Would appear to have a beautiful Hebrew – not that I’m a judge, but I think you’ll reach the same conclusion, somehow.  And he’s powerfully articulate in English, as well.  Probably has something to do with the fact he was a talk show host at one point, although that says nothing about cause and effect.

He’s clearly very smart.  Very funny.  And very much the man to pull the country back toward the left – remember, the center is left of where Israel is now.  Listening to him makes me think more than anything else of an old-fashioned Rockefeller Republican trying to pull the party away from Tea Party influence. 

One thing he and Netanyahu agree on is that the time has come for the Haredim to start sharing the load.  Outsiders may not be aware that the men study the Torah full time (or want to) and don’t work.   That means they are supported by mainstream Israelis.  They also don’t do military duty.  Lapid’s address to the law students in the first video will put that in perspective.

Maybe not your cup of tea, I understand.  And I’m ready to hear that I am in no position to endorse or criticize this man, with my knowledge that is all of maybe twenty-four hours old.  But my guess is he’s going to figure large in Israel’s future, and there’s no time like the present to get to know more about him.  And it doesn’t really matter where you start, so why not start here.

photo credit

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Welcome Mat

It’s still sinking in.  It almost went past me, at first, this reference to Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall.   Only when I heard Obama say the sentence, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law - for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” did it hit me.  “Did he say Stonewall?”  Did he really say Stonewall?

He did say Stonewall.  And he put Stonewall up against a reference to the Seneca Falls Convention, the event in 1848 we have come to see as the first great step towards women’s equality in America.  And Selma, where the world got to see what white supremacist government-sponsored racism looks like up close.  That was in 1965, when the police turned fire hoses on a peaceful march for black civil rights at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, and a critical mass of white Americans finally got it,  turned a corner and never went back.   The Stonewall Riots, similarly, are considered by most LGBT people to be the beginning of the first serious gay liberation movement in the United States, and most of the Western World, actually.   This was the first time these three iconic civil rights movements were put together in such a dramatic fashion.

Detractors are pedaling as fast as they can to downplay the occasion.   Republican Congressman Kevin Brady from Texas complained, “I did not hear the president commit to working with Republicans,” apparently oblivious to the Republican decision to oppose Obama at every turn, even when he comes around to supporting their causes.  Others complained the speech sounded more like a political campaign speech or that it was somehow just more of the same-old same-old.

It blows your mind just how completely this historical turning point went right over their boney heads.  This was a great take-back speech, when the president spoke to the nation and announced that the Reagan era was no more.  The old-boy rich men’s club is still big and strong.  But people have cottoned to the fact that governmental deregulation for the benefit of Wall Street and the notion of trickle-down is being asked to step aside.  That this may be a plutocracy, and corporations may be people, but the seeds of change have been sown.

Not to be missed was an open call for attention to environmental issues.  This was quickly labeled “environmental extremism” of course by Tim Phillips, the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity organization that speaks for the oil industry. 

Republicans snubbed Latinos in this last election and they ended up voting 71% for Obama, compared to 27% for Romney.   And we all remember the “English Only” movement, the attempts to classify illegal aliens as criminals, the cries for a Berlin wall to keep Mexicans out – ironic, now that Mexican immigration has stopped and may even have been reversed.   At the inauguration, there was Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor swearing in Joe Biden as VP.  And there was our fifth poet laureate, Richard Blanco, a gay man born in Spain and brought to the U.S. by his Cuban parents where he grew up in Miami.  Reading his poem for the occasion on the theme of national unity.   Go ahead gay America, Latino America, and a whole bunch of you others in America, I dare you not to bawl like a baby.

Incidentally, for me this gift keeps on giving.  Today I got to watch my favorite gay media person, Anderson Cooper, interview my favorite gay poet laureate, Richard Blanco, and I had to pinch myself to see if it’s the same me experiencing all this as the me who not so long ago wrote letters to Obama telling him to  “evolve already!”  The same me who also had to evolve on the topic of gay rights.  I live in my head with some awful memories, way back before Stonewall, of the time when I was in college and caused one of my two closest friends no end of grief by telling him I had overcome my gay tendencies and he could too.  He should start by telling his mother and by getting the chaplain to help him find his way.

And I can just as easily go back before that to high school, when so many of my wonderful teachers were what we then called “old maids,” including the one we called Hepzibah, after Hepzibah Pyncheon, the lonely character in The House of Seven Gables, with whom she clearly identified.  And for whom I have named my blog.   We used to laugh in terrible teenager cruelty at her loneliness, her apartness, and the fact that she took refuge in literature, because nobody thought it was worth their while to dissuade us from laughing at this group of women we can now assume consisted in very large part of lesbians too cowed by homophobia to admit, even to themselves, who and what they were.

I see in today’s paper that the British have made a move to handle the possibility that an heir to the British throne might turn out to be gay, and they want to be ready for it.     That’s progress. 

Rick Warren and other U.S. evangelicals responsible for the move in Uganda to criminalize homosexuality up to and including the death penalty, are backing off, tripping all over themselves trying to prove that was never their intention (when some sort of witch hunt clearly was).   Go to the Rachel Maddow site and click on “Uganda be kidding” in the left column for the whole story.  That’s progress, too.   It Gets Better.

It’s all still so fresh, though.  Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell was only rescinded in 2010 and we’re still nervously waiting to hear how the Supremes will pronounce on Prop. 8 and on DOMA.  Nine countries have gotten rid of all discrimination against its LGBT citizens, but we know the United States is not yet among them.

But yesterday was a day of hope and pride, a giant leap closer to a time when this accident of nature, this fork in the road in the brain, this gift of the gods,  or whatever the hell homosexuality is, is no longer defined the way the fearful religionists would have us define it, as something to be put down, wiped out, wished away.  We’ve come a long long way.

We’re not yet able to take dignity for granted.  But that skinny wonderful man from Hawaii with a Muslim hero’s name that some people believe was born in Kenya got up yesterday in front of all the world and made us feel welcome here in our own country.

Not too shabby, as days go.

welcome mat picture credit

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Jodie comes out

I just listened to Jodie Foster's speech at the Golden Globes.

I had been avoiding it, because the news presented it as a coming-out speech, and I thought to myself, BFD - about time!

Coming out stories are all the rage these days, I thought.  A chance for people to get weepy and touchy-feely and have the cameras measure the distance and rate of flow from the tear ducts and make us all feel warm and wonderful for thirty seconds before moving on to the next jolt of media stimulation.

But that bit of cynicism stemmed not from my generous parts, but from my “Oh, please!” parts where gay people in the public eye play coy with their gay identities, thus paying court to the homophobia in our culture which persists way way way past its actual shelf date.  Being in the closet in Hollywood in this day and age?  Like I said.  Oh, please!

But as I listened to Jodie Foster’s rambling moment in the sun, I heard her say something about being in the public eye since the age of three.  And that put her desire for a private life in perspective, and I realized I was being too hard on her by far.  After all, I’ve avowed over and again my view that, given the unpleasant consequences of coming out in some circumstances, one really needs to give people copping to gay identity some space.  Some time to assess the situation and figure out how to admit that they had been living a lie up to that point.  So it was a chance to match my behavior and my judgment with my principles, and just sit back and let Jodie go.

I’ve come a long way since growing up in New England with a Pilgrim identity, where kids were taught how to behave by looking out of the corner of their eye at the adults to see what they were sniffing and clucking at.   The Catholics went to the Magic Show.  We went to a church where the Sunday sermon was the same thing every week.  “Be nice.”  Catholics went to heaven by confessing when they touched themselves down there.  We in the Pilgrim Congregational Church went to heaven if we were nice.  And that meant collecting all the ways there were to be nice.  Nice people don’t pick their nose.  Nice people don’t make noise with their mouths when they eat.  Nice people don’t speak of other people’s infirmities to their face.

And nice people don’t talk about sex.  Really nice people don’t even have sex.

Somebody who really had my number commented to me once, when I said I had left religion behind, “Well you may have left religion behind, but you’re still carrying around the mold it came in.”  Even after I decided there were simply too many errors of fact in the Bible for it to be any kind of authority, and had read the Old Testament carefully enough to affirm that God was really an egotistical bully, I still hung on to the notion that if I said out loud that I was gay that I was somehow damned.

Don’t care what you do in your bedroom.  Keep it out of the salon.

Don’t do it in the road and scare the horses.

Don’t give me information I don’t need to know.

Fast forward half a century and I’m listening to Jodie Foster standing up on stage, all awkward and goofy and gangly, telling her world she loves her kids and she’s lonely, and my heart went out to her.  You go, girl!  You tell your story.  This is your time and your place and you tell it your way.

It’s hilarious to go on the gay websites and listen to all the chatter.  And most of them end with, “And didn’t she look faaaaabulous!”

We can be a silly bunch.  Awkward sometimes.  Tasteless sometimes.  But we’re movin’ on up at last, and soon we’ll settle down and become unremarkable.

And maybe that won’t be such a good thing.

Maybe we’ll decide it’s OK to be awkward and inarticulate, as long as you look Fabulous.

I’m for that, actually.  Provided we get a little better at looking beneath the surface.

picture credit

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Body and Soul

It's only four women, but it's a start.

Four Ukrainian women took their shirts off at the Vatican today and showed their boobs to Papa Ratzinger.

A truly naughty act.  According to USA Today, the pope "appeared not to have been disturbed."  

Possibly he's seen the upper parts of the female anatomy before.  And, of course, his eyesight isn't what it used to be and he was way up there on his balcony and they were down in the crowds at St. Peter's.

The spokesperson for the protest explained that they were angry at his moves to stop the advance of same-sex marriage.

Interesting example of English as an international language.  The women had "In Gay We Trust" written in big capital letters on their backs.  Obviously a spin-off on the American credo in dollar omnipotens - "In God We Trust." 

Pernicious example of American cultural imperialism, possibly.

But that's up for interpretation.

It could also be a sign of democratization of the Vatican, for all I know.  We'll know if Benedict speaks out on their behalf and claims to disagree with them but expresses a willingness to die for their right to protest.

OK, maybe not.

Meanwhile 300,000 people marched in France to protest the move of the socialist government to legalize not only same-sex marriage but the right of LGBT couples to adopt kids.  Same arguments.  God made one père and one mère and so it follows logically that if kids in need of adoption have to wait a little longer - like till age 18, for example, for the troublesome ones that les gais et les lesbiennes tend to be more willing to adopt, well that's tough Ukrainian body parts.

300,000 is a lot of folk.  But France, unlike the Vatican, is a democracy and the majority of French people seem to be in favor of extending rights to gays and lesbians, bless their croissant loving hearts.   Stay tuned to the news from gay Paris.

And Ukrainian ladies (and others) living in Italy and fighting homophobia, more power to you.

The world loves it when you put your whole body into it.

Keep up the good work.

Picture credit

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Season Three

We were, my partner, my dogs and I, among the millions glued to the TV from 9 to 11 Sunday night as the long-awaited and (forgivably) overly touted third season began of Downton Abbey.  Such excitement, such anticipation comes rarely.

Because I’ve been a fan from the start, I know all the characters and all the plot twists and turns.  I love how the characters grow and mature and then go off in another direction and surprise you.  They are a particularly rich ensemble of actors, matched by the house they live in, a character in its own right.

Downton Abbey is almost grand opera in the way it portrays life’s dramas on multiple levels simultaneously.  It’s also soap opera in the way it rivals As the World Turns in the number of relationship crises it squeezes into any given block of time.   And it’s also epic Hollywood in the grandeur of the settings and the spare-no-expense costumes, cars, feathers, furniture and Marcel waves. 

The juxtapositions work marvelously, the upstairs vs. the downstairs, the chauffeur who becomes family, and the Irish republican (same character) sitting down to dinner with English imperialists, the saintly innocents and the decadent manipulators.   The privileged upper class twit one moment and the hearty Brit that muddles through the next.  The internal shifts can make your head spin.

The main plot line in last night’s two-hour premiere was whether Lord Grantham, his mother and his daughter Mary are going to get Shirley MacLain to hand over the big bucks they need to keep Downton afloat when a financial crisis hits the family.  It’s two years since the war killed off most of the young men and now this new existential crisis looms.   In the process, Matthew, who has already morphed from country cousin to paterfamilias-in-training in previous episodes, and from near-dead soldier with a spinal injury to “I can walk!” miracle child, now steps in and out of sainthood as he wrestles with the choice between love and honor.  When he averts that crisis, he then threatens to reduce the Crawleys to what they (but few others) might consider poverty.  This time, your head actually does spin.

And all the while you can’t wait for Maggie Smith’s next entrance because you know you’re in for another of her world-class put-downs.  Sometimes, it’s as if the entire series was written just for those lines.  Until now my favorite lines by Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham, have been her exchanges with Isobel Crawley, who, as Matthew’s mother, is rightfully her peer, and thus a possible threat to her status.

Lady Grantham: "You are quite wonderful the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal."
Mrs. Crawley: "I take that as a compliment."
Lady Grantham: "I must've said it wrong."

In the Season Three premiere the new foil is the Shirley MacLain character, Martha Levinson, about whom Lady Grantham says (I cannot find the exact quote, so I paraphrase):

Lady Grantham: Every time I see that woman, I appreciate the value of being English.
Granddaughter: But grandmama, Martha is American.
Lady Grantham: Precisely.
One of the the winning features of Downton Abbey is the ability creator Julian Fellowes has to write complexity into his characters.  At least one critic finds this a weakness, sees it as subordinating honest and consistent character portrayal for the sake of plot development, but I prefer to see it as human richness of character.  O’Brien goes from Lady Macbeth of the servants’ quarters to honest lady’s maid and loving auntie.  Lady Grantham can tell her son she mistook him for a waiter when he comes in black-tie tuxedo to a white-tie dinner.  But she can also persuade Daisy, the lowly kitchen maid wracked with guilt over marrying a man she didn’t love, that her guilt is misplaced, and that her act marks her as a woman of character.  In that one instant, she rises to the same level as Isobel Crawley who makes her way in the world saving fallen women.  It fits my preconception that we all carry within us the capacity to reduce others to quivering jelly as well as the capacity to help others to the finish line first.

And at the other extreme, we get a shot of the hitherto saintly Mr. Bates in a prison setting clearly suggesting the possibility that he murdered his wife after all.  Leaving open, of course, the truth of the matter for plot twists in future episodes.

If you’re looking to find fault, you don’t have to go far.  I think Martha, the Shirley MacLain character, didn’t quite work, and I’m still trying to decide whether it was the hamfisted way she played the part, or the way she was portrayed as a kind of American boor – which many will want to claim is a redundancy.  I think, in the end, this is probably what rich Americans actually looked like to English gentry of the early 20th Century, so I don’t fault the writers for that.  And in the end, Martha’s talents include the ability to save the day when the dinner can’t take place because the oven fails and she gets the ladies in ermine to see the charm of an indoor picnic.  And she becomes the voice of reason in drawing the line at bailing out the dying institution of upper-class privilege, whose time has come.

If you want to, you can ask all sorts of questions about where the money came from in the first place.  How much misery still extant in the world today is directly attributable to the colonial era and the twin engines of capitalism and militarism that made it all possible remains a taboo subject, communism still being pretty much defined as pure evil according by the current ideology, despite its origins in original Christianity, and before it was corrupted by money.

But we don’t want to go there.  We don't want our critical faculties exercised.  We want for an hour once a week to put them on hold.  We want the fantasy of the house with the chandeliers and the servants below at one’s beck and call.  What, we ask ourselves, would life be without such fantasies.  We know it’s fiction, but they’ve gone and given Mrs. Hughes cancer and I’ve heard that a major character dies this season and I’m afraid it’s Mrs. Hughes and I already hate them for it because she feels like a close friend.  I know her personal history and of all the people at Downton, she’s the one I want to be related to.

And I’m wondering if this cancer of hers is not a red herring, and she’s going to live and somebody else is going to die and how am I going to resist paying to get the entire season in advance and find out?  And how am I, at the same time, going to make it last?

Isn’t that the definition of good theater?  When it makes the audience lose the awareness of the lines between real and make-believe?

I have provided nothing, I suppose, to those who saw the premiere, that they haven’t come up with themselves, and I’ve said far too much for those who might yet want to see it.  But I wanted to join the discussion.  Much of it is enlightening and informative.  And that strikes me as a good indication of the audience taken in by this marvelous entertainment.  Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain who wants to remind you why you should not shed a tear at the passing of a world of inherited wealth.  Enjoy the spectacle.  Tear up at the weddings.  Let your spirits lift with every popping cork.

The Season has just begun.

picture credit

Friday, January 4, 2013

And Ever Shall Be

Eric Zorn had an interesting article in the Chicago Tribune yesterday about Lincoln, the best film I’ve seen all year.   I had not heard before that in the movie, which centers on the fight to pass the 13th Amendment, the one that outlaws slavery, they changed the names of the actual people ­– democrats, they were in those days ­– who voted in favor of maintaining slavery.  The reason?  So as not to bring shame on the descendants of those congressmen.   Bravo, I say.  One of the more insidious of many insidious biblical passages is Exodus 20:5, where God allegedly says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me…”

This is an example, if you need one, of why it’s way past time for the humanist values of universal brotherhood and sisterhood to take precedence over the traditional values of the abrahamic religions.  Time to see tradition for what it is, not a positive notion but a neutral notion, like culture, containing things that are sometimes lofty and worthy of preservation, and sometimes pernicious, and worthy of the trash bin of history.

Zorn wonders if we will some day make a film about the fight for gay rights in America and if we will have to do the same thing, change some names for the benefit of those who trace their ancestry back to present-day homophobes.

It’s an intriguing question.  Imagine sitting in a high school history classroom in 2163 when the topic of the Supreme Court battle of 2013 comes up, and your name is Arthur Scalia, and you are a direct descendant of Antonin Scalia.  However the decisions go on DOMA and Prop. 8, Scalia is expected to act on his previous inclinations to see gays in the same camp as people who commit murder, incest and cruelty to animals.   How would you feel?  (I am tempted to ask a second question: how would you feel about your great-great-great grandfather if you turned out to be gay, but I don’t want to push the argument off the point.)

It is entirely possible, of course, that I am doing Antonin Scalia a great disservice in believing I can predict the future.  Who knows?  It is conceivable, however unlikely, that he could end up writing the opinion that the time has come for LGBT Americans to enjoy the right to full and happy lives in America as LGBT people, instead of reworking their psyches and their relationships according to the belief that, because God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, human sexuality must be expressed heterosexually or not at all.

I could be very wrong, yes.  But I am having trouble at the moment getting past something Scalia wrote in 2003.  The Supreme Court had just overturned a 1986 decision (Bowers vs. Hardwick) that had upheld a law in Georgia that made oral and anal sex illegal.  For gays.  The law did not apply to non-gay citizens.  In that 1986 decision, the majority opinion was written by Chief Justice White, who argued there is nothing in the constitution that allows homosexual activity.  Chief Justice Berger went even further in his concurring opinion.  Berger quoted the 18th Century jurist William Blackstone, who described gay sex as an "infamous crime against nature", worse than rape, and "a crime not fit to be named." 


When that decision was overturned in 2003, in connection with a case in Texas, here’s what Scalia wrote in dissent:

The Texas statute undeniably seeks to further the belief of its citizens that certain forms of sexual behavior are ‘immoral and unacceptable,’ . . . the same interest furthered by criminal laws against fornication, bigamy, adultery, adult incest, bestiality, and obscenity. Bowers held that this was a legitimate state interest. The Court today reaches the opposite conclusion. The Texas statute, it says, ‘furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual,’ …The Court embraces instead Justice [John Paul] Stevens'  declaration in his Bowers dissent, that 'the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice,' . . . This effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation. 

The end of all morals legislation?  The arrogance of that statement takes the enamel off your teeth.  Scalia is a conservative Roman Catholic, the kind that is unafraid to claim that the Bishop of Rome with his "infallible sacred magisterium" has the right to determine what is moral and what is not.  One of his sons is a priest who sides with those who would get rid of the Vatican II reforms and bring the church back to where it was when Pius IX declared himself infallible.   Conservatism – the way it was is the way it should be – apparently runs in the family. 

Scalia père is  known for his “originalism” orientation to constitutional law.  Want to know what’s right?  Just look at how it was back then.  Never mind that “then” included slavery, child labor, defining American genocide as “clearing the wilderness” and keeping the little woman barefoot and pregnant.

When the Court decided in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002 that the death penalty imposed against a man with an IQ of 59 should be seen as unconstitutional, it made its case on basis of an “evolution” of ideas, specifically on the common view held today that executing the mentally retarded was a barbaric practice from the past, and as such, against the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Scalia dissented.  His reason?  It would not have been considered cruel or unusual to execute the mildly mentally retarded at the time of the 1791 adoption of the Bill of Rights.  So much for evolution of ideas, or of morals.  Living Constitution?  Where’d you get that idea?  Changing times?  Don’t make me laugh.  “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,” is more like it.

Similarly, Scalia reasoned that even though the Second Amendment gives us the right to raise a militia, and not the right to own guns per se, we have that right because at the time the Second Amendment was ratified (emphasis mine),  the right to bear arms did not have an exclusively military context.   All argument about changing times goes right out the window.  What was good in the horse and buggy days is evidently good in the age of bullet trains.  And AK-47s that shoot off 600 rounds per minute.

So I may be worrying unnecessarily that putting the decision to allow gay men and women to marry in the hands of the likes of Scalia is handing us chickens over to the fox.  He may surprise us.  Then too – and this is more likely – he may be outnumbered.

But imagine, if you’re not black, that you are black and there is a man deciding your fate who has argued that blacks have lower intelligence than whites, a view still alive today and quite prevalent when I went to school and learned about the concept of IQs.  Imagine, if you’re not a woman, that you are a woman and there is a man deciding your fate who has argued that women have no inherent right to have a credit card in their own name, or to attend a movie without their husband’s permission – to use one example from the U.S. of a couple decades ago and one from India today. 

And you’ll get some idea of what it feels like to be sitting and waiting for the Supreme Court to make a decision that, if it goes the “conservative” way, will encourage every kid in the country who bullies his classmates with the label “faggot” to think he’s on the right track, and license every bible-thumping preacher who urges his congregation to “pray the gay away” to go on doing things – exorcisms, for example – “the way they have always been done.”

I really hope I’m wrong about Antonin Scalia.

We'll know in a few months.

 picture credits - Slavery and "Tradition

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Savior of Shingo

There are so many things about Jesus of Nazareth that people don’t know.  They think he was born at Christmas, when actually he was probably born in September.  They know that he got gold, frankincense and myrrh for his birthday, but don’t know that frankincense is good for arthritis and these were gifts more suitable for the aging and the dying than for those just being born.   They assume Luke and Matthew were right in telling us he was born in Bethlehem, because his mama and daddy had to go there to pay their taxes and be counted in a census.    They don’t know there is no evidence of a census from any Roman sources and that scholars are coming around the to view he was probably born in Nazareth.

All very interesting, and it doesn’t really change anything.  Jesus, if you’re a believer, is still the Son of God.

It’s easy to trip over historical facts when you go back to a pre-literate time and have to depend on he-says, she-says.  Since that time, we now have universal literacy, at least in the Christian parts of the world, so when we hear that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri, and the Hebrews came to America in little boats, and Jesus visited the American continent after his resurrection, we know we're on much firmer ground.

Now, thanks to a Smithsonian publication I just came across, I find there is a connection between Jesus and Japan, as well.  Which delights me no end, since Japan is home to me after twenty-four years of residence there.  I just wish I had heard before of Jesus’s burial place in Shingo, in the north of Japan.  I would have made a point of hopping a train and walking where Jesus walked.

You know there are twelve years of Jesus’ life unaccounted for in the Bible.  Turns out he went to Japan, where he studied theology.   He also became a disciple of a great master, learned Japanese, and studied Eastern Culture.  At age 33 he returned to the Holy Land by way of Morocco and spoke of the “sacred land” he had just visited.  It’s all there in black and white.

Where things get really interesting is when he was condemned by Pontius Pilate to die for being a troublemaker.  Jesus got his brother Isukiri to take the rap for him.   How that would make Jesus a good guy, much less divine, is beyond me,  but I guess that’s what faith is for.

Once Isukiri was in place on the old rugged cross, Jesus fled back to Japan with one of his siblings’ ears and a lock of Mary’s hair.  This time he went the hard way, trekking across Siberia for four years and then to Alaska.  (Another test of faith here – why Alaska?)  In any case, he ended up in the port of Hachinohe, and hopped an ox-cart to Shingo. - 新郷村 - in Japanese.

I know this story is far-fetched.  But don’t take my word for it.  It’s in Wikipedia, and you know they don’t lie.

And here’s the Smithsonian article, and a BBC report from 2006: 

Here’s a sign next to the Jesus's gravesite next to his brother Isukiri's, with the legend explaining how Jesus settled down, became a rice farmer, married a local girl named Miyuko, had three daughters, and lived to the ripe old age of 106.  If you can’t read the small print in Japanese, here’s an English translation:

When Jesus Christ was 21 years old, he came to Japan and pursued knowledge of divinity for 12 years. He went back to Judea at age 33 and engaged in his mission. However, at that time, people in Judea would not accept Christ's preaching. Instead, they arrested him and tried to crucify him on a cross. His younger brother, Isukiri casually took Christ's place and ended his life on the cross. Christ, who escaped the crucifixion, went through the ups and downs of travel, and again came to Japan. He settled right here in what is now called Herai Village, and died at the age of 106. On this holy ground, there is dedicated a burial mound on the right to deify Christ, and a grave on the left to deify Isukiri. The above description was given in a testament by Jesus Christ.

If you happen to be in Jackson County, Missouri, when he comes back, say konnichi wa to him for me.

I knew there was a reason Taku and I felt an urge this year to have our Christmas Eve dinner be temaki sushi.  So much more meaningful than turkey or goose.

picture credit