Sunday, January 25, 2015

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said: a Book Report

"He's sixty-two years old and his name is Fred.  Originally, he was a sharp-shooter with the Orange County Minutemen; used to pick off student jeters at Cal State Fullerton."
 --Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

A while back, my friend Christine asked if I would collaborate with her on an art/writing project about the connections between Orange County and acclaimed science fiction writer Philip K. Dick (PKD).  For a masters-level class at CSUF, Christine and classmates had already created a PKD in OC web site and Facebook page.  Being a huge fan of PKD, I eagerly accepted her invitation to be  part of this project.  We are currently planning a big art show/zine release on this topic in May 2015 at Hibbleton Gallery.

PKD is known for his trippy/dystopian stories and novels, many of which have been made into films—like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, etc.  What is less well-known is the fact that he spent the last years of his life living in Orange County.  He had an apartment in Fullerton!  A while back, I visited the special collection on PKD at the CSUF library.  You can check out what I found HERE.

Dick’s last five novels (written roughly between 1970-1982) are set mainly in Orange County, and they offer an insightful and disturbing portrait of an ultra-conservative, paranoid, Nixon-era 1970s OC.  For my contribution to our PKD in OC zine and art show, I have decided to read each of his last novels, and write book reports on them—paying particular attention to their commentary on Orange County (where I grew up and live).  

The first novel I’ve just finished reading is called Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.  It was begun when PKD was living in Berkeley, but completed and published when he was in Fullerton.  The book sets up nicely some of the main themes he would explore for the rest of his life.

I’ll start by describing the world of the novel.  The year is 1988 and the U.S. is a totalitarian police state.  Police (pols) and national guard (nats) have set up checkpoints everywhere.  If you want to go anywhere, you have to pass through these checkpoints, and present various forms of ID.  If you don’t have proper ID (that is, if your identity is not stored in the vast databases of the state), you can be sent to a forced labor camp (FLC).  To be “undocumented” is a sure-fire trip to one of these detention centers.

College students live in walled-off underground areas, surrounded by pols and nats.  If a student tries to escape (and spread “treasonous” ideas) he/she is sent to an FLC.  Black people have been sterilized, and are rapidly going extinct.  They still live mostly in urban ghettos, like Watts.

Richard Nixon is worshipped like a God, or a new Messiah, and herein lies a main theme that will permeate all of PKD’s OC novels—the ultraconservative/reactionary policies of Nixon (who was, after all, from Orange County) are taken to their logical conclusion.  The student radicals and African American civil rights leaders have clearly lost in America.  The country has devolved into a paranoid, hyper-policed, and (frankly) dumber place.

The main character of the novel, Jason Taverner, is a super famous talk show host with a weekly viewing audience of 30 million.  In place of social consciousness, the people of PKD’s alternative USA tune into mindless television and celebrity worship.  Sound familiar?

The main “action” of the novel begins when Taverner wakes up one day to find his identity has been totally erased from the government’s vast databases.  This is dangerous because to be without proper ID is a ticket to a forced labor camp.  Jason’s journey to recover his lost identity introduces another of PKD’s major themes—the struggle to maintain one’s identity in an increasingly alienated, repressive, and mechanized world.

The title of the book comes from a nearly lost piece of poetry, which begins each major section of the book.  The poem reads like an elegy to a lost society.  In the worlds of Philip K.Dick, something shattering happened in America between 1968-1970.  Voices of protest and conscience (like MLK and Bobby Kennedy) were silenced and a new order rose to power, represented by Richard Nixon and his homeland Orange County, California.  Dick’s final novels, as we shall see, are a kind of elegy to what was lost in the late 60s, and a cautionary tale about where he saw the country headed.

I don’t want to include any major spoilers here (you should read the book!).  I just want to identify a couple major themes that will resonate throughout Dick’s last novels.  These themes may be stated something like this: The struggle to hold onto one’s true self (identity) while living in a repressive, Nixon-inspired dystopian USA.  Stay tuned for my next book report on A Scanner Darkly!

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Qur’an Surah 2: The Cow

The following is from a work-in-progress called The Qur'an: a Book Report, in which I read each chapter (or surah) of the Qur'an and try to capture some of its main ideas in my own words.  I will also include some original Arabic text of the surahs, because they are very beautiful.

“The Cow” contains many references to stories from the Hebrew Bible—the sin of Adam in paradise, the covenant with Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, Moses receiving the law, David and Goliath.  The title “The Cow” comes from a story (not in the Hebrew Bible) in which God commands Moses to sacrifice a yellow cow.  Some passages are directly addressed to the “Children of Israel.”

The text shows respect towards Hebrew prophets and Jesus, and sees the revelation to Muhammad as another in a series of divine revelations.  The main criticism of Jews and Christians, throughout, is that they deny the latest revelation of God through Muhammad: “When they are told: ‘Believe in what God has revealed,’ they reply, ‘We believe in what was revealed to us.’  But they deny what has since been revealed, although it is the truth, corroborating their own scriptures.’”  

The Qur’an sees itself as a further revelation of Judaism and Christianity.  The text questions the exclusive claims of these faith traditions: “If God’s abode of the Hereafter is for yourselves alone, to the exclusion of all others, then wish for death if your claim be true,” and elsewhere, “They declare: None shall enter Paradise but Jews and Christians.  Such are their wishful fantasies.”

Like Jews and Christians, the Qur’an sees Abraham as a pioneer of faith, and states, “Who but a foolish man would renounce the faith of Abraham?”  The text tells an interesting story about Abraham, which is not included in the Bible.  Rather than focusing on Abraham’s son Isaac (like the Torah), the Qur’an focuses on his other son, Ishmael.  It says that Abraham and Ishmael built “the House,” which is the Ka’bah, the holy site in Mecca which Muslim pilgrims flock to every year by the millions.

Like the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian New Testament, the Qur’an is critical of idolatry.  Before the advent of Islam, the people of the Arabian peninsula could be described as largely “pagan,” that is, polytheistic.  Muhammad’s revolution, like the revolution of the Israelites of Canaan and the Christians in the Roman empire, was to change a formerly polytheistic culture into one of monotheism.  As with Judaism, which transformed the Canaanite god “El” into the one God, Muhammad and his followers transformed the Arabic god “Allah” into the one God of Islam.

As with the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, the Qur’an contains exhortations to right belief and practice: “Righteousness does not consist in whether you face toward the East or the West.  The righteous man is he who believes in God and the Last Day, in the angels and the Book and the prophets; who, though he loves it dearly, gives away his wealth to kinsfolk, to orphans, to the destitute, to the traveller in need an to beggars, and for the redemption of captives; who attends to his prayers and renders the alms levy; who is true to his promises and steadfast in trial and adversity and in times of war.  Such are the true believers; such are the God-fearing.”

Like the Hebrew book of Leviticus, the Qu’ran contains laws dealing with things like inheritance, fasting, prayer, property, sex, marriage, justice, diet, giving to the poor, etc.  Followers of Islam are commanded to give to the needy.  Echoing the words of Jesus, the surah says, “To be charitable in public is good, but to give alms to the poor in private is better and will atone for some of your sins,” and elsewhere, “Be charitable; God loves the charitable.”

One significant verse in this surah is: “There shall be no compulsion in religion.”  That is, forced conversion is not okay.  Although Muslims are allowed to fight to defend themselves, they are told: “Fight for the sake of God those that fight against you, but do not attack them first.  God does not love aggressors.”

The last laws of this surah condemn greed and corruption, and give instructions  for fair legal proceedings, with a focus on justice and fair-dealing.  One of the last verses is: “We discriminate against none of his apostles” (which, I think, refers to Abraham, Moses, and Jesus).

Fragment from an 11th century manuscript of the first two surahs of the Qur'an.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Qur’an Surah 1: The Exordium

The following is from a work-in-progress called The Qur'an: a Book Report, in which I read each chapter (or surah) of the Qur'an and try to capture some of its main ideas in my own words.  I will also include some original Arabic text of the surahs, because they are very beautiful.

The Qur’an is the holy book of Islam, a world religion that has over a billion and a half followers worldwide.  The book consists of a series of 114 chapters (or surahs) on various topics and themes.  The word “Qur’an” means “recitation” because the text is meant to be read (or sung) aloud.  According to Muslim tradition, it originates from divine revelations received by the prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel in the 7th century C.E.  The surahs are not arranged chronologically.  That is, they do not tell a linear narrative.  They are generally arranged according to length, with the first ones being longer, and the later ones shorter.  An English translation cannot do full justice to the original Arabic text, which is full of poetry and multi-layered meaning.  But, seeing as I don't read Arabic, I'll have to make due with an English translation.

The first surah is called “The Exordium” (or Al Fatihah).  It like a short prologue/prayer, which I will include in its entirety here:

In the name of God
The compassionate
The merciful.
Praise be to God, Lord of the Universe,
The compassionate, the Merciful,
Sovereign of the Day of Judgment!
You alone we worship, and to You alone
we turn for help.
Guide us to the straight path,
The path of those whom You have favored,
Not the path of those who have incurred Your wrath,
Nor of those who have gone astray.

Surah 1: The Exordium (Al Fatihah)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Revelation: a Book Report (Part 2)

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, summarize it in my own words, and occasionally give some commentary.  I will also include artwork by famous artists.

In my first report on the book of Revelation, I gave a summary of the story and imagery—a bizarre nightmare vision of strange beasts, plagues, cosmic war, etc.  For this part, I would like to discuss interpretations of this book, the last in the Blble.  Throughout the ages, Christians have seen in Revelation a vision of their own conflicts and concerns.  Perhaps the most popular recent example of this was the best-selling series of novels called Left Behind, which offered a conservative, evangelical interpretation.  Even in this “conservative” interpretation, the authors did not take the book literally.  The “beast” was not a dragon, but a man.  And the monsters were often seen as people, nations, or even military weapons.

For my interpretation, I will not be engaging in such speculations.  Rather, I will take a historical-critical approach, trying to understand what the book may have meant in its original context.  I am using as my main source a book by scholar Elaine Pagels called Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation.  Here we go.

Revelation as Anti-Roman Literature

Scholars today generally date the book of Revelation to around the year 90 C.E.  It’s author, John, was probably not the author of the gospel of John (their literary styles are very different).  The John of Revelation was a Jewish Christian living in exile on an island off the coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey).  The likely reason he was in exile from his homeland Judea was because, a few decades earlier, there had been a brutal war between Jewish nationalists and the mighty Roman empire.  Ultimately, in the year 70 C.E., Rome invaded Jerusalem and destroyed it, including the holy temple, the center of Jewish worship.

After this national tragedy, many Jews were scattered throughout the Roman empire, and John was likely one of these.  Because of these recent socio-political events, John clearly hated Rome.  Pagels writes, “Horrified by the slaughter of so many of his people by Rome, John put his own cry of anguish into the mouths of the souls he said he saw in heaven, pleading for justice.”

Arch of Titus in Rome, showing spoils of the sack of Jerusalem.

John, like other Jewish Christians of his day, believed that Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Messiah, would return soon and set things right.  Writing at the end of the first century, many Christians probably wondered when this second coming would happen: “Now two generations had come and gone—and John, along with Jesus’ other followers, must have wondered how the prophecy had failed.  For when John traveled through Asia Minor, he could see evidence everywhere that the kingdom that had actually ‘come with power’ was not God’s—it was Rome’s.”

The might of the Roman empire could be seen throughout John’s world in the myriad temples to Greco-Roman gods, and the massive statues of emperors and generals.  John’s letters to churches in Asia minor reflect this reality.  For example, in his letter to the church in Pergamum, he refers to “Satan’s Throne.”  This was likely a reference to the great temple of Zeus in that city.  John sees the world of his day as dominated by an evil empire of Satan, represented by Rome.  He encourages the Christian communities to hold fast to their faith in the Jewish Messiah, and not to capitulate or compromise with this evil empire.

The Great Altar of Pergamum is reconstructed here at a Museum in Berlin.

Drawing from Jewish prophetic literature (like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel), John presents an alternative vision of the future in which the forces of good and the followers of Jesus would triumph over Satan and Rome.  If you recall, this was one function of Hebrew prophets—to speak to the suffering community of Israel, living in exile in Babylon, and to tell them that God would one day set things right.  Ultimately, John’s prophecy shares this hopeful outlook.

References to Rome (which John refers to as Babylon) permeate the book of Revelation.  Perhaps most tellingly is the number assigned to the “beast” of the earth—666.  In Hebrew numerology, which assigns numbers to letters, this number can spell out emperor Nero’s imperial name.  Thus, the beast is Rome, Satan’s kingdom on earth.

Revelation as Apocalyptic Literature

Understanding the historical context of Revelation yields valuable insights, but there is another context that is perhaps equally important—it’s literary context.  The book of Revelation falls into a genre of literature circulating in the fist century known as “Apocalyptic Literature.”  Perhaps the earliest example of this genre is the biblical book of Daniel—in which the prophet is given a divine vision of the future that is also meant to give hope to those living in a present crisis.  Daniel was written in the context of Greek persecution of Jews in the 2nd century C.E., and it saw a future glory for Israel that transcended their present troubles.

Four Beasts from the Apocalyptic Visions of Daniel.

Though often dealing with the end of the world, apocalyptic literature is more accurately defined by historian Elliot Wolfson as “the revelation of divine mysteries through…visions, dreams, and other paranormal states of consciousness.”  In 1945, a major discovery was made in Nag Hammadi, Egypt of a collection of ancient writings that included about twenty examples of “apocalyptic literature” not included in the Bible.  These texts are helpful from a literary standpoint, to show how John’s revelation fits into this genre.  I would like to briefly discuss a few of these other “revelations.”

The Revelation of Peter describes a vision the apostle Peter had while standing in the temple in Jerusalem, when people were about to stone him to death.  Jesus gave him a vision of light, to help him overcome his present suffering.

Fragment from the Apocalypse of Peter.

The Revelation of Ezra, written by the Jewish prophet Salathiel is told form the point of view of the ancient Jewish leader Ezra, who lived to see the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 B.C.E.  Salathiel was actually writing around the same time as John of Revelation, and he too refers to Rome as Babylon.  His point, like John’s, is to comfort Jews who’d experienced the destruction of the second temple—by writing a vision of hope.

The Revealtion of Zostrianos, written about 50 years after John’s revelation, tells the story of a young man named Zostrianos who had a visionary experience in the desert that helped him overcome a crisis of faith.

The Secret Revelation of John is set shortly after the death of Jesus.  The disciple is grieving and, in the midst of his grief, he is comforted by a vision of the heavenly Jesus.

Thus, a main feature or purpose of these apocalyptic writings was to give comfort to suffering individuals and/or communities of faith.  In the first century C.E. in a climate of suffering and loss, these kinds of writings proved hugely important for communities of Christians, Jews, and Jewish Christians like John.

Thus ends my book report on the Bible.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Revelation: a Book Report (Part 1)

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, summarize it in my own words, and occasionally give some commentary.  I will also include artwork by famous artists.

I have decided to divide my report on the book of Revelation into two sections: 1.) summary and 2.) interpretation.  This is because, before getting into what the text means, I feel it is important to explain what the text says—it’s overall story and imagery.  It’s a bizarre and wild ride.  Here we go, part 1—summary.

"St. John the Evangelist at Patmos" by Verhaecht Tobias Congnet Gilles (1598)

John’s Vision and Message to the Churches

A man named John, a follower of Jesus, was alone on the island of Patmos when he had a vision of things to come.  He heard a voice, telling him to write down what he saw.  First, he saw a man wearing a robe and golden sash.  His hair was white, and his eyes like fire.  He had a booming voice, and when he spoke a sword came out of his mouth.  He stood in the midst of seven golden lampstands, and held seven stars in his hand.  He told John to write letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor.

"John's Vision of the Seven Candlesticks (Lamp-stands) by John Henry Fuseli (1796)

To the church in Ephesus, he said, “You are doing a good job overall, but you have sinned a little too.  If you repent and hold fast, you will get to eat from the tree of life.”

To the church in Smyrna, he wrote, “I know you guys are poor, but you are spiritually rich.  Unfortunately, you are going to suffer some more.  Hang on.”

To the church in Pergamum, he wrote, “You live in a place where Satan has power.  Hold onto your faith, and don’t listen to false teachers.”

To the church in Thyatira, he wrote, “You are doing a pretty good job, but beware of false teachers and their pagan practices.  If you hold on, you’ll get to conquer and rule over the nations of the world.”

To the church in Sardis, he wrote, “You are not doing a good job.  Get your shit together, and you’ll get a reward.”

To the church in Philadelphia, he wrote, “I will make you conquerors over those who follow Satan.  You’ll have a prime place in the new world to come.”

To the church in Laodicea, he wrote, “You guys are total slackers!  Shape up, or you’ll be punished.”

The Seven Seals

Then John saw a door in heaven open and he was allowed to enter through the door.  He saw a heavenly being seated on a throne with a rainbow around it.  Around this throne were 24 other thrones with elders sitting on them, dressed in white robes, wearing crowns.  Coming from the main throne was thunder, lightning, and fire.  Around this throne were four strange creatures with six wings each and eyes all over.  One creature looked like a lion, another an ox, another a human, and the last an eagle.  The 24 elders and the four creatures all worshipped the one on the main throne (who, I think, was God).

"The Four and Twenty Elders Casting Their Crowns Before the Divine Throne" by William Blake (1805)

Then man on the main throne held a scroll with seven seals.  An angel asked, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals?”  No one was found to do it, so John started crying.  But one of the elders said, “Look, there is a lamb who has been slaughtered.  He can open the seals.”  So the elders and thousands of angels sang a song of praise to the lamb.

"The Slain Lamb" from a 14th century Latin manuscript.

The lamb opened the first four seals (which must have been hard, as lambs don’t have opposable thumbs) and four horsemen came forth, one after the other—white, red, black, and pale horses.  These four horsemen were given power over one fourth of the earth, to kill people with the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild animals.

"The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" by Victor Vasnetsov (1887)

The lamb opened the fifth seal, and the souls of those who had died for their faith cried out from beneath an altar in heaven, “How long before we are avenged?”  They each got a white robe and were told to wait a little longer.

When the lamb opened the sixth seal, there was a massive earthquake, the sun was darkened, the moon became like blood, stars fell from heaven, and the sky vanished like a scroll rolling up.  Everyone on the earth, from kings to peasants, hid in caves and wanted to die, they were so afraid.

Then John saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back great winds of destruction.  Another angel said, “hold back destruction until we hold back those who will be saved.”  John looked and he saw 12,000 people from each of the twelve tribes of Israel standing below the throne in heaven, wearing white robes, singing praises to God.  These were the saved remnant of humanity, spared from the great suffering to come upon the earth.  Things were about to get really gnarly.

When the lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for half an hour.  Seven angels came forth with seven trumpets, and another angel took fire from the altar of God and threw it to earth and there was thunder, lightning, and another earthquake.

"The Seventh Seal" is a great film by Ingmar Bergman

The Seven Trumpets

The first angel blew his trumpet and hail, fire, and blood fell from heaven and burned up a third of the earth’s trees and grass.

The second angel blew his trumpet and a great burning mountain fell into the sea and turned a third of the oceans to blood, and killed a third of all sea creatures, and destroyed a third of the ships.

The third angel blew his trumpet and a great burning star fell from heaven and burned up a third of the rivers and streams of the world, making their water poison.

The fourth angel blew his trumpet and a third of the sun, moon, and stars were darkened, so the length of daylight was shortened by a third.  At this point, an eagle flew by and said, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth!”  Things were going to get worse.

The fifth angel blew his trumpet and a star fell from heaven and opened “the bottomless pit” (hell?) and smoke rose from the pit and the sky was darkened.  Out of the pit flew great locust monsters and they began to torture everyone who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.  These locust monsters had scorpion tails to sting people.  They had human faces, long hair, teeth like lions, and scales like iron.  The king of the locust monsters was named Abaddon (in Hebrew) and Apollyon (in Greek).

Terrifying locust/scorpion/lion/horse monsters.

The sixth angel blew his trumpet and a massive cavalry army descended upon the earth.  The horses of this cavalry had lion’s heads and serpent’s tails.  Out of their mouths came fire and smoke and sulfur.  They were allowed to kill one third of humanity.  The remaining humans did not repent of their sins.  They were in for more suffering.

Before the seventh angel blew his trumpet, this happened—a mighty angel came down from heaven wrapped in a cloud, surround by a rainbow.  He had a face like the sun and legs like pillars of fire.  His carried a little scroll.  Instead of opening it, he told John to eat it.  So John ate it.

The pillar-legged angel gives John a scroll to eat.

The angel told John to measure the Temple of God.  Then two mysterious prophets (or “witnesses”) spoke against the people of the earth, and they had the power of plagues.  Then a beast came up out of the bottomless pit and killed them.  The people were happy, because these prophets were a nuisance.  But then the prophets came back to life and went back to heaven, and an earthquake killed 7,000 people.

Two dead witnesses.

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet and loud voices in heaven sang: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his messiah and he will reign forever and ever.”  The 24 elders in heaven sang, and God’s temple in heaven was opened and John could see the Ark of the Covenant inside.  Meanwhile, on earth, there were more disasters: lightning, thunder, another earthquake, and hail.

The Pregnant Woman and the Dragon

Then John saw another crazy scene in heaven—a pregnant woman crying out in labor.  She was wearing the sun and a crown of stars.  A red dragon came forth with seven heads and ten horns.  With his tail, he swept down a third of the stars.  The dragon was waiting to devour the pregnant woman’s son, but as soon as the baby was born, he was taken up to God and protected.  The woman fled into the wilderness, where she was also protected.

"The Great Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun" by William Blake

Meanwhile, a massive war broke out in heaven.  Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels.  Michael won, and the dragon (who is called Satan) was cast down to earth along with his angels.  There was more singing in heaven.

"Michael the Archangel" by Guido Reni (1636)

Down on earth, the dragon pursued the woman, but she sprouted eagle wings and flew away.  The dragon spat out water to wash her away, but the earth swallowed up the water, and she got away.  So the dragon decided to fight against the followers of Jesus on earth.

The Two Beasts

The dragon (or beast) rose out of the ocean.  On each of his seven heads were blasphemous names.  He had bear-like feet and a lion’s mouth.  One of his heads was wounded, but had healed.  Almost everyone on earth followed this sea-beast and worshipped him.  The beast spouted blasphemy, and made war on the followers of Jesus.  He slaughtered lots of people.

"The Beast from the Sea" (Medieval French Tapestry)

Meanwhile, another beast rose out of the earth.  He had two horns like a lamb, and a voice like a dragon.  His got the inhabitants of the earth to worship the first beast, and even to make idols of it that could actually speak.  This beast marked all of his followers on the hand or the forehead.  The number of this earth-beast was 666.

The Lamb and the Reaper

Then John saw a lamb on Mt. Zion (in Jerusalem) and he had 144,000 followers who were also marked on the forehead.  These people were all virgins.  A series of three angels flew by, each with a different message.  The first told people to fear God.  The second said, “Babylon has fallen!”  The third said that everyone with the mark of the beast would suffer God’s wrath.

Don't fear the reaper.

Then John saw a man in heaven with a giant sickle.  An angel with another sickle joined him, and together they reaped all the grapes of the earth.  These grapes were pressed in a giant wine press and blood flowed out for miles.  This was called the wine press of the wrath of God.  

The Seven Bowls

After some more singing in heaven, John saw seven angels with seven golden bowls of the wrath of God, which each angel, in turn, poured on the earth.  These seven bowls caused the following plagues: 1.) boils on people, 2.) turning the sea into blood and killing all sea creatures, 3.) turning rivers and streams into blood, 4.) the sun scorching people, 5.) the kingdom of the beast plunged into darkness, 6.) the river Euphrates drying up in preparation for a great battle at a place called Armageddon, 7.) huge hailstones falling on people.  After these seven bowls, the earth was seriously fucked up.

"The Giving of the Seven Bowls of Wrath" by Matthias Gerung (1531)

The Whore of Babylon

Then an angel showed John a “great whore” with whom kings of earth had sex.  The whore was riding the earth-beast, wearing expensive clothes and jewelry.  The angel explained that this imagery was largely symbolic.  The great whore represented Babylon (which actually represented Rome), prepared to make war on the forces of good.  Another angel corroborated this elaborate symbolism, and sang a song about the fall of Babylon.  Meanwhile, multitudes in heaven were singing songs of victory to God.

"The Whore of Babylon" illustration from the Luther Bible (1534)

Last Battles

Then John saw a white horse with a rider named “Faithful and True” and “The Word of God” leading the armies of heaven against the great beast.  It was a massive battle, and the beast was captured, along with his cohorts, and they were thrown into a lake of fire.  Scavengers birds ate the dead of the battlefield.  The beast/dragon/Satan was cast into a pit for a thousand years.  Jesus and his followers ruled the earth for this millennium.

When Satan and his cohorts returned from the pit, there was one last battle outside Jerusalem.  God (of course) won this battle.  Then came the last judgment, when the followers of Satan were sent to burn in the lake of fire, and the followers of Jesus were glorified to eternal life.

"The Messiah Casts the Fallen Angels Down from Heaven" by Gustave Dore

The New Jerusalem

The visions of John end, not with people rising to heaven, but with heaven descending to earth.  The ruined world passes away and is replaced by “a new heaven and a new earth.”  A new Jerusalem descends from heaven, and God and his people live there together forever.  It is a beautiful city of gold and precious stones inhabited by glorified humans, heavenly beings, Jesus, and God.  There is no temple because God himself lives among the people.  A river of life flows through the city, and there is a new tree of life beside the river.  This new city lasts forever.

John of Patmos Watches the Descent of the New Jerusalem from God (14th century tapestry)

John ends by telling his audience that all these things are about to happen soon, and to remain faithful to God as they wait for this imminent apocalypse.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Triumphal Entry: a poem

When Caesar Augustus 
defeated Mark Antony, 
and became the first emperor of Rome, 
he entered the city in a Triumph,
people lining the streets,
waving patriotic banners
and palm branches,
and in this great parade
were treasures looted from Egypt,
and conquered enemies.
On Caesar’s rode to be emperor,
he left thousands of corpses
on the roadside.  He betrayed 
friends and family,
he used people he loved as pawns.
He killed, lied, deceived, and manipulated
his way to glory.  He was a monster
who made the people love him
through fear, lies, and intimidation.
This was Caesar’s Triumphal Entry.

When Jesus of Nazareth
defeated no one,
and remained a poor peasant,
he entered the city in a Triumph,
people lining the streets,
the poor and hungry and homeless,
waving palm branches,
and in this modest parade
were followers and friends,
loved ones, people he’d healed.
On Jesus’ road to Jerusalem,
he killed no one.  He loved
everyone, even his enemies.
He healed, loved, and fed people
on his way to glory.  He was a hero
who people loved because he loved them,
through selflessness and self sacrifice.
This was Jesus’ Triumphal Entry.

Anti-Club Mixtape 1/16/15

On Friday nights, I DJ at Mulberry St. Ristorante (aka The Anti-Club) with my friend Phil Higson.  Here's what we played this last Friday, which was also Phil's birthday!

“Nobody’s Empire” by Belle & Sebastian

March: Theme from A Clockwork Orange Beethoven’s 9th

“One by One” by The Blues Magoos

“Little Girl of Mine” by The Cleftones

“It Ain’t Me Babe” by The Turtles

“Catch” by The Cure

“Kicking Up a Racket” by Stiff Little Fingers

“Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode

“Post Post-Modern Man” by DEVO

“What More Can I Say/While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Dangermouse

“Revenge” by The Flaming Lips & Dangermouse

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys

“I Saw Her Standing There” by The Beatles

“Baby Britain” by Elliot Smith

“All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix

“Just Like Honey” by The Jesus and Mary Chain

“Love and Violence” by OMD

“You Really Got Me” by The Kinks

“Can’t Get Enough of Your Love” by Barry White

“Sexy Ways” by Funkadelic

“Daddy’s Little Baby” by Hank Ballard

“Country Cub” by HOTT MT

“3 Bit Blues” by Kid Koala

“Invisible Girl” by King Khan & Barbecue Show

“That’s All I Need” by Magic Sam

“Born on a Saturday Night” by Mean Jeans

“Walk Away Renee” by The Four Tops

“Shake” by Otis Redding

“Get Ready for Love” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

“Rocks Off” by The Rolling Stones

“Shoplifters of the World Unite” by The Smiths

“The Witch” by The Sonics

“Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always” by Interpol

“Sea of Heartbreak” by Johnny Cash

“Kick Out the Jams” by MC5

“Max Ernst” by Mission of Burma

“Restless Young Men” by The Middle Class

“Venus” by Television

“Chocolate Jesus” by Tom Waits

“Speed of Life” by David Bowie

“Sounds of Laughter” by T.S.O.L.

“Luisiana” by The Walkmen

“Dadra” by Ravi Shankar

See you next Friday at The Anti-Club!