Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hither and yon (updated)

This woman, named Panthea, a rare African-American contestant appearing in the second season (1974) of The Price Is Right, had earlier won a sailboat and has just been shown a prize she's expected to bid on to win. What was that prize, you may ask? And what prize had she not bid on but passed to her fellow competitor? The answers below the fold. Images found here.

Here are some things that have caught my eye/ear in the recent past . . .

** Over at Musings from the Hinterland, my lawyer friend Randall finds himself on the horns of a moral dilemma. (Just look at that: "lawyer" and "moral dilemma" sitting there in the same sentence like matter and antimatter, but not blowing up. An amazing thing, language.) The theological dimensions of charity are more complicated than one might think, as I was reminded while I tried to respond to his post: In the past, I have found myself in similar circumstances, torn toward wanting to do right by someone and, on the other, feeling trapped by that very desire. To what extent does a given charitable act obligate one to perform future acts? Also, of course, we should examine the motivation behind the charitable act. It seems odd to think of charity as contingent, especially when Jesus says, "When you give to the poor, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" (Matt. 6:3). Paul's famous meditation on love in I Corinthians 13, meanwhile, is not quite about that love celebrated at weddings but, rather, a meditation on charity--that love which, when given, asks for or expects nothing in return. Not a whole lot of contingency there, which, I'd argue, makes it an odd passage to read at weddings . . . but THAT'S a whole other debate. Similarly, though from the opposite direction, in Walden Thoreau has things to say about charity (his term is "philanthropy") that at first seem quite caustic (he says that most "good deeds" are in fact "goodness tainted" because they are motivated by felt obligation and/or expectation of reward rather than true love of people (the etymology of philanthropy, after all)) but, on further inspection, are not really out of line with the Gospels. Compare Matthew 6:3 with this, for example, paying close attention to the phrase "conscious design": "If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life." But while it's pretty clear to me that what the Bible (and Thoreau) are addressing here is one's attitude--that one should have what some more conservative denominations call "a servant's heart"--it's considerably less clear on the matter of whether (and the extent to which) a given act of charity creates a further obligation toward the recipient of that act. Or maybe I'm missing/forgetting something?

** Speaking of religion, one of the stickier dilemmas created by Christian doctrine is the implications of the claim that Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine. To fully embrace Jesus' humanity subjects Jesus' ministry to history and the tools by which we examine history; it also doesn't allow us quite so easily to use Jesus' divinity as an excuse for being less than, um, vigilant in our own conduct . . . and it makes us uncomfortable to consider that Jesus was subject to the same temptations as all of us are. Anyway, perhaps the most prominent explorer of the historical Jesus is John Dominic Crossman, and has up a (to my mind) fair-minded profile of Crossan that is well worth your time if you're so inclined. And, in case you're wondering: I think that the more one knows about and takes seriously the idea of Jesus the human being, the more extraordinary he becomes, independent of his divinity.

Along these lines: I highly recommend The Complete Gospels, which is a compendium of the four canonical gospels along with 16 other known texts about the life of Jesus written during the early years of Christianity. Attentive reading will make the familiar unfamiliar--in a good way. For example: It was after reading the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, in which Joseph plays a prominent role, that I realized how, after the story of Jesus as a boy in the temple (Luke 2:39-52), Joseph never reappears in the canonical gospels. Given the urgency with which is treated the story of Joseph's going through with his marriage to Mary after she becomes pregnant, his early disappearance from the gospels opens up a space of wonder about him: what he was like as a man; the inevitable whispers about Jesus' actual parentage and the wide gap in age between him and Mary; and, of course, what it must have been like to raise Jesus, to guide him in, well, how to behave. Who knows, really, whether any of the events in the Infancy Gospel actually occurred? But no matter, really: the stories will still ring true. If Jesus was fully human, that means that he was a little kid. And all little kids need instruction in how to behave--even one who is also fully divine.

** I've not exactly built a shrine to Bob Dylan here at home, but I don't deny his greatness or his importance to American music. He is a genius. And he knows it, and he's known it since before he even arrived in Greenwich Village to meet Woody Guthrie. And, though I've read only a couple of anecdotes about his life, what I've read there would seem to qualify Dylan for a title that I conferred on Faulkner a while back: "sophist bastard." But in many (most?) of his greatest songs, Dylan plays the same role: Wise man who sees more than the rest of us mere mortals; indifferent lover who's already self-seduced, so why doesn't the woman, like, lay across his big brass bed already? I think all this is why my favorite Dylan song is "Tangled up in Blue." For once, he is more in awe of his sometime-lover than he is of himself and even faithful in his own Odysseus-like way as he meets and becomes separated from his lover and wanders over America, never forgetting her, then reuniting with her and separating again but, again, with the promise to meet again. For once, the story Dylan tells in this song is bigger than he is.

** The '70s. If you're nostalgic for them, you either weren't a fully-sentient being or you were still hungover from the Sixties. Really, now: what were our mass-cultural betters thinking? James Lileks makes a strong argument in his site-under-construction The 70s (hat-tip to Andrew Sullivan) that the decade in which Yours Truly came of age is unmatched "for sheer idiocy, ugliness, meretricious music, televised banality and general malaise." I suspect Lileks is engaged in an indirect attempt to head off here the inclination to do for the '70s what Mad Men is doing for the early '60s. So far, I'd say, Mission Accomplished.

Even though the site is under construction, there's already lots to look at. So, to give you a sense of what you'll find, here is where I found Panthea: on a page of Lileks' "Faces of the Price is Right." (Lileks' rendering, by the way) This page neatly encapsulates what is best about Lileks' project: really good snark combined with, as you'll see in his discussion of Panthea's appearance on a the show, some pretty good commentary on the implicit assumptions of mass culture.

And now to show you Panthea's prize . . .

Yes. A certificate for riding lessons.

And below is the first prize she had been offered and had passed on to her competitor:

Yes again: A trip to Scandinavia. Lileks summarizes succinctly:

I’m not trying to make a big deal of race and culture here, but it does illustrate the assumptions the show made. You can’t get any WASPier than sailing, horseback lessons and a trip to Norway.

UPDATE: Today is this humble blog's 7th birthday. I don't really know what to say about this turning of the calendar (which I very nearly forgot to check on), beyond the obvious: It's been fun and it remains so, and I find myself wishing I've had more time of late to post more frequently and write things of more substance. But aside from that and the general wish that I were a better writer, I have no regrets about keeping this thing going. To those of you who have found your way here, kept returning and reading, commented, occasionally linked, and sent others my way, Thank you. I have gotten to know some of you quite well, I feel, and have even had the pleasure of meeting a couple of you in real life--people I almost certainly would never have met if not for this blog, people who have enriched my life, making me think, and laugh, and think some more. I've never made a dime off this thing, but my life is richer because of it.

Thank you again.


R. Sherman said...

You go away for a week or so and then arise from blog slumber with a vengeance.

I still worry about charity. You reminded me of the ten lepers, of whom only one saw fit to thank his benefactor. I think that's the way we should be, even if we know the gift will ultimately be misused.

Of course, then I wonder, if I give something to someone, will I then be unable to help one who is worthy.

"What/who is worthy," I then ask myself.

I'm afraid there's no answer. Pondering such "angels dancing on pins" questions, leads inevitably to inaction, I think.

Now I'm back from Lileks. In the vernacular of our modern culture, O . . . M . . . G!!!!!!

In the Seventies, a prominent black contestant was unusual; less so today substantially, though I don't regularly watch day time TV. One wonders whether such faux pas are returning, not because of insensitivity, but because our changing society has caused many of these stereotypes to be forgotten. I know the EMBLOS sees this among her students and marvels at it in a good way.


R. Sherman said...

I left the above comment before the update.

A belated "Happy Birthday!" Seven is about the time when you start getting cool presents, if I remember correctly. I'll send you a BB gun.