Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Biblical Look at Hell

We've been having an interesting conversation on the Rush messageboard about hell. One of the more enlightened and intellectually honest Christians on the board created a thread asking about what the bible actually says about hell. He has, apparently, been struggling with the concept of an all-loving, all-merciful God who also sends the majority of human beings to eternal damnation in a lake of fire (what intellectually honest Christian wouldn't struggle with such an abominable and counter-intuitive idea?).

As a result, there has been an interesting conversation taking place. I wanted to post some of my own thoughts from the thread here on my blog, for a wider reading audience.

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Did you know that the word "hell" only appears 14 times in the bible? Fully half of those instances are in the book of Matthew alone, and 12 of the 14 are in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). The other two are in James and 2 Peter.

How can something that plays such an otherwise insignificant role in the bible be such a central theme within Christianity? By way of comparison, consider the instances of these words in the bible:

Free: 186
Prison/Jail: 140
Slave: 164
Field: 301
Flower: 22
Tower: 51
Life: 589
Love: 697
Compassion/Compassionate: 88
Vomit: 13
Spit: 17
Semen: 6

I mean, for crying out loud, the word "vomit," or a variation thereof, is used as many times in the bible as the word "hell"!!! And look how many times "love" appears in the bible. Based on some of these numbers, what do you think is most important in the message of the bible? Eternal damnation for sin, or showing love and compassion to each other, and bringing the message of abundant life to the people you encounter each day?

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There is very little in the bible regarding hell. There are plenty of references to Satan, but not a single one of them is referenced in a passage regarding hell.

Think about that for a moment.

In the bible, Satan is characterized as the embodiment of evil, temptation, and wayward living. Hell, on the other hand, is where you end up if you are out of communion with God. Christianity, and other religions, connect these two things, but if you simply look at biblical texts, you won't find a clear connection between Satan and Hell. If you assume hell is a real place, the very first question you must ask yourself is "Is Satan there too?" The bible doesn't make this clear. For me, this is strong evidence that our modern concepts of hell and Satan are entirely manmade. If God were a supernatural entity attempting to communicate with us through the bible, he sure messed up on giving us a clear picture about hell and Satan.

The reason for the ambiguity in the bible, of course, is because hell, as a theological concept, was still in its infancy when the New Testament was being written. I've remarked elsewhere that I don't personally believe Jesus probably ever said anything about hell. I think the references Jesus makes to hell in the gospels were probably words put into his teachings by later Christian writers who were writing after the concept was beginning to be incorporated into Christian theology.

Thus, for instance, when Matthew has Jesus say, in chapter 5, verse 4, "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell" I think the part about hell was probably added to Jesus's authentic teaching. More than likely, Jesus's teaching would have been about eternal separation from God -- thus, discard your sinful ways (that is, ways that lead you out of communion with God), and begin leading God-centered lives, so that you don't end up permanently out of communion with God. When such a teaching is translated into late 1st century emerging Christian theological language, you end up with what Matthew wrote.

Whether Jesus actually used hell language or not, the issue still remains irrelevant for me. As a 1st century spiritual teacher, Jesus may well have used language and concepts that were common to the people he was teaching and to the culture in which he lived. However, since hell wasn't a concept within Jewish theology, I don't believe he ever talked about hell. Even if he did, 1st century conceptions of eternal damnation are irrelevant for 21st century theology, in my opinion, even if they are from Jesus.

To go a little deeper, let's look at another hell reference in the New Testamant. Most scholars agree that 2 Peter was probably the last NT book to be written -- written sometime in the first part of the 2nd century. There is a reference to hell in the second chapter.

"For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment....."

Gloomy dungeons? That doesn't sound like a lake of fire to me. Interestingly, the Greek word for hell used in this passage was "Tartarus," which refers to a deep, dark pit or hole where the dead await judgment. This concept was drawn directly from Greek mythology, which stated that Tartarus was within Hades -- Hades being the abode of the dead. It's very closely related to the Jewish concept of Sheol.

The point, of course, is this -- this particular biblical reference to "hell" is clearly not related to the concepts of fire that you get in other biblical hell references, and certainly not in the modern evangelical concept of hell. To the Christian community that composed 2 Peter, hell was not about eternal fire and damnation, but more in line with Jewish and Greek concepts as a holding tank for the final judgment. This speaks to Jeremy's original question about whether we get a chance, after death, to accept God. It would seem, by the standards of the writer(s) of 2 Peter, that final judgment doesn't happen during life or even at death, but at the end of time -- and this was a distinctly Jewish idea, not at all like what we understand in modern Christianity.

All this leads back to the original statement -- and that is that the bible gives no clear idea of what hell is, and no clear connection at all to Satan. Hell was a concept that was in use in sporadic Christian communities during the 1st and 2nd centuries, and there was no clear agreement even among these communities about what hell was or what Satan's role was there. It was not until much later that specific ideas about hell, Satan, fire, and eternal damnation were developed. And because we now have these sorts of ideas about hell, we read those same ideas back into the bible, even though those ideas aren't actually there.

It's important to note, too, that no reference to hell ever appears in Paul's writings -- the earliest Christian writings in existence. If Jesus talked about hell, and hell was an important Christian concept, wouldn't the father of Christianity have at least mentioned it in passing? I firmly believe no Christian ever talked of "hell" until the latter part of the 1st century, long after Jesus, his followers, and the earliest missionaries were gone.

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Just remember....hell, as a location, is mentioned in only 5 of the 66 biblical books (that's less than 8% of the books in the bible), with a total of only 14 mentions, half of which are in one book alone. Hell is never mentioned by the New Testament's earliest writer, and the general father of Christian theology, Paul, and it is also not mentioned in other early New Testament books like the book of Hebrews. Finally, hell and Satan are never mentioned together in the bible, and there is no indication in the bible that Satan lives in hell, or that hell is place of eternal and irreversible damnation. All of those ideas were developed long after the biblical books were written, and by people and institutions that were not part of the earliest Christian communities.

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If you want to read further on my beliefs and feelings about hell, click here. This is a blog post from March where I talk about hell.

Friday, May 18, 2007

On Second Thought....

It is beginning to appear that we will be staying in Lexington, at least for the time being.

Several things needed to come together in order for us to reasonably make the move up to Cincinnati, but it seems that instead of coming together, various roadblocks keep arising instead.

Primarily, Melanie needs to get a job in the Princeton district. Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be any openings right now, and she has also been told that any openings will likely be filled internally. That leaves her Mom’s district, and maybe a handful of others, but none of those pay as well as Princeton’s district. With the raise she will be getting here next year, there would only be a difference of a couple of thousand dollars per year if she got a job at one of these other districts in Cincinnati. Since I will be spending at least a couple of thousand dollars per year driving to school, clinicals, and back, this would negate any extra that she was making.

Couple that with the fact that it seems apparent we are going to have to pay more to rent the house than we previously (or should reasonably have) expected, it just seems like too much trouble and hassle to go up there now, be no better off or possibly even worse off financially, and also have me driving to and from Lexington 3 or 4 times a week. I’ve also recently discovered that one of the clinical sites for the LMR program I’m in is actually at the prison that sits almost within site of our house. One instructor has already said that this would be a good fit for me, as the person there is a very good teacher/mentor, and that she believes I would fit well in that site. How absurd would it be for me to be driving several times per week right back to our old house for clinical sites? I could practically walk there from where we live now.

Additionally, we’ve spoken with a realtor about our house, and because we have refinanced it twice, including just a few months ago, it would only list about $10K higher than what we still owe on it. When you figure that we’ll probably have to come down at least somewhat off the asking price, as well as the potential for buyers to want us to pay closing costs, and the 6% the realtor will take from the sale price, we could come out making next to nothing on the house. At best, we might make a couple thousand dollars. At worst, we could end up owing.

If Melanie could manage to get a job in the Princeton district, and/or if we could either live for free or for very, very low rent ($200 a month, maybe), then it might be one thing. But with us looking at Melanie only have a few thousand dollars more in her salary, and us only saving $350 or so per month in rent/mortgage, as well as the likelihood of not making much on selling our house, it just suddenly doesn’t seem like the best choice.

So, at this point, unless Melanie gets an opportunity in the next few weeks for an interview in the Princeton district, or a district with a similar pay scale, or unless her aunt suddenly has a change of heart about how much she wants to charge us to live in the house, we will most likely be staying here.

Regardless, I will have to find a new job come the end of summer, because, despite what we were told when we started in this program, there are no night clinicals currently available. So starting in September, I will have to be in clinical sites for 9 hours a day, during the day, about 2 or 3 days per week. So I won’t be able to work a regular business week job like I have now. I’ll almost certainly end up waiting tables again (which is what I would also probably be doing in Cincinnati). I’m not particularly looking forward to that, but one thing I did like about waiting tables was the hours. You can work 30 hours a week and bring home 350 in cash each week, and you don’t have to get up early.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Satan's Got a New Golfing Buddy in Hell

Well, in case you hadn’t heard, let the joyous news be spread, the wicked old witch at last is dead.



Of course, my initial feeling upon hearing of Jerry Falwell’s untimely passing (untimely because it didn’t happen 30 years ago) was happiness. It’s not often that I feel that way upon finding out that someone has died. I can feel compassion for his family, particularly for any grandchildren he had who didn’t know him as the monster he was, but rather simply as Granddad (although I feel more compassion for the fact that they had to have him as a grandfather). But when someone has dedicated their life’s work to spreading hate, intolerance, and bigotry, any compassion for their passing is forfeited.

Jerry Falwell dedicated his life to pushing our society, and indeed our world, back toward the Dark Ages, and we are all now the beneficiaries of the evil he spread in this world.

A USAToday article I read said the following:

...the controversial Southern Baptist minister from Lynchburg, Va., launched a political force that would help elect two presidents and install a Republican-controlled Congress.

“He will be remembered as one of the originators of the movement of conservative Christians, especially evangelical Protestants, to bring traditional values back into public policy by means of politics,” said John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron.

“He was at the genesis of the religious right,” said Marshall Wittmann, legislative director of the Christian Coalition from 1993 to 1995 and now a veteran Capitol Hill aide.


Falwell is at least partly responsible for the influx of the religious right in our current political situation, mass media, and public consciousness. When Christian fundamentalism was dying in the 1960’s and 1970’s, it was Falwell who helped to resurrect it in the 1980’s, not only as a dominant religious force, but a dominant political one too. Falwell has, single-handedly, done more to damage this country, and our world, than just about any single figure in the last 30 years.

Here are a few gems right from the horse’s mouth:

“AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

“Any sex outside of the marriage bond between a man and a woman is violating God's law.”

“Billy Graham is the chief servant of Satan in America.”

“Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions.”

“God himself preserved the Bible, and brought it down through the ages.”

“I am such a strong admirer and supporter of George W. Bush that if he suggested eliminating the income tax or doubling it, I would vote yes on first blush.”

“I believe that global warming is a myth. And so, therefore, I have no conscience problems at all and I'm going to buy a Suburban next time.”

“If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being.”

And, of course, the penultimate statement, on the 700 Club, right after 9/11:

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’”

As a person who attempts, in my every day life, to live a Godly life, centered around the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth – teachings that stressed love, forgiveness, compassion, and abundance of life – I am trying very hard to find someway to be compassionate about this person. The best I can do is state that if God exists as a supernatural being the way that most religions define God, I would hope that this God would somehow find a way to offer mercy, compassion, and forgiveness even to someone like Jerry Falwell. Maybe such a God is capable of that.

But whether God is merciful to Jerry Falwell or not, those of us still living on earth are left with his legacy, and must clean up the messy repercussions of the prominent life he used for evil, hate, and diabolical anti-intellectualism. What a shame that a Christian with such ambition and such gifts of oratory and leadership couldn’t have used them to further the Christ-centered message of love, acceptance, abundant life, and personal growth. Instead, he used his gifts to destroy those things.

May God have mercy on this monster’s soul.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ode to My Mother

My mother was born in rural western Kentucky, the daughter of a coal miner and a housewife who never learned to drive a car. She grew up in a house that had a grocery store and gas station in the front room, and she proudly wore a high school letterman’s jacket that displayed her prowess as a cymbal player in the marching band.

Shipped off to college in the late ‘60’s to get her MRS degree, she met and married my father a few weeks prior to her 20th birthday. My father had just graduated and was slated to go to Germany as part of his ROTC obligation. They boarded a plane a few weeks after they were married. It was the summer of 1970.

They spent 4 years in Europe, traveling throughout the continent, and bringing my sister into the world in 1972. They returned in 1974 when my father’s obligation to Uncle Sam was finished. They moved into a house in Lexington, Kentucky and my father started graduate school. I was born in February of 1975.

My earliest specific memory of my mother is hard to categorize. I have a number of snapshot memories from that old house in Lexington, but it’s hard to separate real ones from pictures or stories I have seen or heard. We moved from that house in 1978 to Louisville, when I was 3, and when I think of memories from that first Louisville house, it’s hard for me to categorize a timeline of when certain events/memories took place. Suffice it to say, my earliest memories of my mother are centered around feelings of warmth, comfort, safety, and an overabundance of love. Funny thing is, when I think of my Mom now, it’s still that way.

Next to holidays, I think my favorite early memories of my mother are centered around trips to the mall on quiet weekdays when all the big kids (including my sister) were in school, and I had my Mom all to myself. She’d get me a sugar cookie at the store in the mall, and if I was really lucky an Orange Julius. I remember being fascinated by the trees that grew out of the mall floor. I loved those trips to the mall with her.

As I grew older, my mother never seemed to fall out of touch. She was always there for me, was always the consummate “cool” Mom. She let me skip school, she gave me money to go out with my friends, she rarely nagged (except about leaving my shoes or my coat lying around), and she always tried to be interested in the things I was interested in.

My mother is kind, personable, selfless, self-disciplined, hard working, and generous. She comes from simple roots, but has never used that as an excuse for intellectual stagnation. She is intelligent, worldly, and urban, but she is also simple, laid back, and easy going. She is a world traveler, a successful nurse and medical center administrator, and she is well-liked and respected by her peers. She’s also extremely humble, which may be one of her more endearing qualities.

My mother has a seemingly boundless capacity for love. This is the most important thing she has taught me. Generosity, compassion, kindness, good humor – those are all hallmarks of who my mother is. It’s not a platitude when I say that I have the quintessential mother – the perfect mom.

So since it is too frequently deserved and far too rarely spoken, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell my mother that she is wonderful, intelligent, inspiring, caring, loving, generous, and, most of all, the best mom in the world. I would not be who I am, and I damn sure wouldn’t be where I am, if it were not for my mother.

I love you, Mom.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Flight of Rudolf Hess

Sixty-six years ago today – May 10, 1941 – Nazi Party Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess parachuted into Scotland, apparently in the hopes of negotiating peace with the British in light of the coming war with the Soviet Union.



Hess had been born to German parents in Alexandria, Egypt, but returned to the Fatherland as a young teenager. He wanted to be an astronomer, but his business-minded father insisted that he attend school in Switzerland at a business college. Already 20 at the outbreak of World War I, Hess took the opportunity to escape the rule of his tyrannical father and joined the infantry. He served at the battle of Ypres in 1915, and later in Romania. He was wounded twice, earning an Iron Cross 2nd Class. He later transferred to the air service and flew Fokker D.VII’s for JG 35 in the last few weeks of the war, though he was not credited with any kills.

After the war, Hess, like so many other embittered German veterans, joined the Freikorps, a right wing paramilitary outfit that sprang up in post-war Germany, fighting, among other things, to put down Communist uprisings. He was also reputed to be a member of the Thule Society, an anti-Jew and anti-Communist occult group that later gave Hitler the basis for such Nazi ideas as the primacy of the Aryan race, the use of the swastika as a party symbol, and Jewish extermination.

Hess first met Adolph Hitler in 1920, after hearing Hitler speak. He soon joined Hitler’s budding organization, officially as the 16th member. He took part in the Bier Hall Putsch of 1923, and served 7 and a half months in prison as a result. About this same time, he began serving as Hitler’s secretary, and was the primary editor for Hitler’s book Mein Kampf. He very quickly rose to become Deputy Führer of the Nazi Party and third in command after Hitler and Hermann Göring. Göring, of course, was another former World War I aviator.

Although he maintained his high position in Hitler’s inner circle, he grew increasingly disenfranchised during the 1930’s as others began to grow more powerful within the Nazi hierarchy.

Be that as it may, by May of 1941, Hess was still a right hand man to Hitler and a devoted Nazi to the core.


Hitler and Hess

To this day, the exact circumstances surrounding Hess’s flight on May 10th of that year are unknown. Ostensibly, Hess decided, on his own, to solve the problem of the coming 2-front war for Germany by flying to England to negotiate peace. This, he apparently believed, would help to restore his influence within the Nazi hierarchy. His plan was to meet with the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon, who was an influential commander in the Royal Air Force (he was in charge of the air defense of Scotland), but was suspected, by the Germans anyway, of being a Nazi sympathizer. The Duke had visited Germany a number of times during the 1930’s and had rubbed shoulders with many of the Nazi leadership, including Hitler and Göring. Göring, in fact, had given him a personal invitation to inspect the newly formed Luftwaffe only several years prior to the outbreak of war.

So, presumably acting completely on his own, Hess took off on the evening of May 10, 1941, bound for Scotland. Knowing he would have nowhere to safely land, he parachuted from his plane over southern Scotland, landing on a farm in Eaglesham, just south of Glasgow.


The wreckage of Hess's Messerschmitt in Scotland

Apparently believing he was at or near Dungavel House – the summer estate of the Duke, which was in the same area – Hess limped on a broken ankle to the door of the workman’s cottage nearby and asked to be taken to the Duke, providing the name “Albert Horn” to the dumbstruck farmer.

Instead of taking him to the Duke, the farmer, a man named David McLean, transported him to a local hospital, promising to summon the Duke for him. When Hamilton arrived, Hess admitted to him who he was and told him why he had come. He outlined a plan of peace with England that included returning all European lands to their original nationality, but keeping German police located throughout. Germany would agree to pay to rebuild these countries, but England would have to support the German war against the Soviet Union. Hamilton, realizing that Hess did not, apparently, represent the official German government, and realizing that Hess appeared to be mentally unstable, immediately contacted Winston Churchill. Hess was taken into custody of the British, where he remained a prisoner of war until 1945.

Shortly after his imprisonment, Hitler publicly announced that Hess had not been on any sort of official mission, and that he had gone insane. He arrested and imprisoned most of Hess’s staff and replaced Hess with Martin Bormann – who would later become another influential Nazi figure. Upon hearing of these things, Hess told his interrogators that Hitler’s statements and actions were part of a pre-arranged plan in case the mission failed, in order to save face for the Nazi party. Hess was seen throughout his time in England by a British psychiatrist who determined that he was not, in fact, insane, but was mentally ill and was severely depressed.

Tried with other Nazi criminals at Nüremberg, Hess appeared to go in and out of lucidity, though many believed it was an act. At one point he claimed to have amnesia. During one particularly lucid moment, Hess proudly proclaimed his devotion to the Nazi party, assuring the court that, if he could do it all over, he would not change a thing. His behavior was so disconcerting that Hermann Göring asked for a seat away from him. This request was denied.


The Nüremberg trial, Hess seated 2nd from left, next to Göring

Hess was found guilty of crimes against peace, as well as conspiracy, and sentenced to life in prison at Spandau Prison, in West Berlin. He was found not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Spandau Prison

Hess lived well into the 1980’s, spending the last 10 years or so of his life as the jail’s only prisoner, before finally committing suicide at the age of 93, in 1987.


A rare photo of Hess at Spandau on one of his daily walks

Even his death is shrouded in mystery, as many, including his son, believe the British secret service actually assassinated him. For many years, there had been talk of pardoning him, due to his mental illness and old age. Even Winston Churchill and other prominent British leaders expressed publicly that they felt his lifetime incarceration was unjust. By 1987, such a pardon seemed imminent. It is believed by many – though not supported by any hard evidence – that the British killed him to ensure that no embarrassing secrets were revealed upon his release. Many believe the British were, in fact, involved in peace talks with Germany during that period of 1941, and many believe that the British, in fact, had known that Hess was coming, but later balked at making peace with Germany, instead plunging England into another 4 years of war.

After Hess’s death, Spandau Prison was demolished, to keep it from becoming a neo-nazi shrine.

As a postscript, Greg Illes’ excellent novel Spandau Phoenix (Barnes & Noble Link) is centered around the Hess conspiracy, and follows one theory that has suggested the prisoner in Spandau all those years was not Hess at all, but a double. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes thriller novels centered around World War II intrigue.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Random Thoughts Born from Boredom

Well, I’m bored at work, don’t feel like working, and thought I would sit down to blog. Unfortunately, I discovered that I have nothing to blog about. So I decided I would blog about nothing; or, at least, about whatever came to mind.

I saw in the news today that they have uncovered King Herod’s tomb in Jerusalem. Yes, the same King Herod who is portrayed as a paranoid, jealous, baby-killer in the Gospel of Matthew. It’s interesting that no other Gospel or New Testament book mentions this singular event. Similarly, it cannot be verified through any known outside archaeological or historical source. Considering the writer of Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, attempting to show them that Jesus was the prophesied Jewish Messiah, and attempting to show why Jesus was the one the Jews should be following as opposed to the established Jewish hierarchy, it is not hard to imagine that the writer of Matthew might have been exaggerating the truth to make this Jewish king look bad.

Herod, of course, was no saint, and I’m not here to suggest that he was. Secular records of the time showed that he did, indeed, frequently give death sentences to people he viewed as threats. One story says that on his deathbed, Herod ordered the execution of numerous Jewish dignitaries, to ensure that a sincere period of mourning followed his own death. Perhaps it was this sort of reputation, combined with Matthew’s agenda to show his Jewish audience why Jesus was the Messiah, that helped birth Matthew’s story of the massacre of the Jewish infants. Remember, also, that Jerusalem had fallen 10-15 years before Matthew’s gospel was written, and Herod and his descendents were a good target of blame for angry Jews.

On a different note, we had what was definitely our hardest test/comp of the year last night in my Rad 200 class. It was on the pelvis and upper limb. Not only was the comp very difficult, due to a lot of tube angles, convoluted positioning, and a large quantity of methods to learn, but the written test was difficult and convoluted as well. I came out of it unsure whether or not I got an A – which, as most of you know, means that I found it very, very hard.

As part of our written exam each week, we also have to critique various films, labeling landmarks, anatomy, and such. Our bonus film had one question: “What is the object on this film?” The film was an AP pelvis, showing all of the pelvic girdle and upper thighs. In the center of the pelvis, just above the pubic bone, was a long, narrow, white object that extended halfway up the sacrum. On its tip was a smaller projection that seemed to be broken off. At its base was a ring of some sort.

It was a rotating, vibrating dildo.

With a condom on it.

Stuck in someone's asshole.

Now, I don’t have a problem with the crazy stuff people like to do to get off. If a dildo in the rear is your thing, then great. But why would you stick it so far up that it got stuck? And why in the hell would you put a condom on it!? If someone else had just used it and you wanted to be safe – wash the fucking thing!

If you pay attention to my “Currently Reading” panel on the left side of the screen, you’ll know I’ve been reading the first couple of books of the Harry Potter series. I have had these books for 4 or 5 years, but was never that interested in reading them. I always figured I’d get around to it eventually. Well, I’ve gotten around to it, and I am totally hooked. I think these first two books are absolutely sublime. They are so comforting and warm and cozy. I love it!

Don’t worry, I won’t be turning up at Barnes & Noble at midnight in a cape, pointy hat, and funny glasses to buy the next one. But I am excited about reading the series now.

Melanie and I are 99.9% decided on moving to Cincinnati. We have been offered an opportunity to live in her grandparents’ house, which has been empty since last year, for a very low rent (renting from her Mom and aunt). I will have to commute to school, but Melanie will make a lot more money teaching up there, I can work part-time bartending or waiting tables, and we will have a lot of family close by to help with the kids. We’ve weighed all the pro’s and con’s, and it just seems like a no-brainer to go up there. We will only live in the house while I’m in school. After that, we may stay in Cincinnati, or we may come back this way. But right now, we’re just at the end of our rope with the kids and not having any close help, and we are financially strained like we have never been before. I have always been opposed to moving back up to Cincinnati, but because of the present circumstances, I am really excited about this, and I think it will be a good move for us. And who knows, maybe I’ll find that Cincinnati is not so bad after all.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Snakes & Arrows

On May 1, 2007, Rush’s 19th studio album, Snakes & Arrows, was released to stores in the United States. In anticipation of this event, I took the day off so that I could buy the album and listen to it to my heart’s content. I also got a 2-hour massage while I was at it. If the massage was sublime (and it was), then the album was splendid, marvelous, and utterly refreshing.

Because I only became a devoted Rush fan in the last few years, Snakes & Arrows has been my first real experience with a brand new, studio-made album of new Rush material. It has been billed as a work dealing largely with issues of faith, religion, and spirituality – topics that, most of you know, are very close to my heart. The very title, Snakes & Arrows, is a reference to an ancient Hindu game detailing the ups and downs of spiritual and material life. Needless to say, I anticipated the release of this album for quite some time.

So far, it has not disappointed. I think it may be Rush’s best album in 20 years. There are also several songs/moments on the album that come pretty darn close to being downright bluesy – something I’ve never heard in a Rush song before.

The first song on the album, Far Cry, was released to radio and the Internet back in March, and is probably the most radio-friendly song on the album. It has an upbeat sound with the alternating time signature stop-beats that Rush is so famous for. It also has a chord in one of the primary riffs that is clearly a reference to an old epic song of Rush’s, the 18-minute masterpiece Hemispheres, from 1979. The lyrics of Far Cry lament the state of the world today. “It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit.” Later in the song: “Whirlwind life of faith and betrayal/rise in anger/fall back and repeat.”

Track two, Armor and Sword, is a more relaxed song with several moments of solo acoustic guitar and voice, mixed in with a driving verse. It discusses the way that our emotional refuges frequently serve to hurt, rather than help. “What should have been our armor becomes a sharp and angry sword,” and, “No one gets to their heaven without a fight.”

Workin’ Them Angels, track three, is a set of lyrics first written in Neil Peart’s book “Traveling Music,” which details a week-long car trip that Neil took, and the music he listened to along the way (Neil is Rush’s drummer, and also their lyricist). If I recall correctly, the title was taken from a conversation he overheard in some out-of-the-way town where one person told another that they had been “workin’ them angels.” “All of my life I’ve been workin’ them angels, riding and driving and living so close to the edge. Workin’ them angels overtime.”

The Larger Bowl is subtitled “a pantoum,” and I admit I had to look the word up. A pantoum is a Malay poetic form in which the second and fourth verses of a quatrain (a four-verse stanza) are repeated as the first and third verses of the next quatrain. At this early stage, The Larger Bowl is one of my favorite songs on the album. It is relaxed and laid back, largely acoustic, and the lyrics, because of their repetitious nature, have a gentle, lilting feel. There's also a timely and well-crafted guitar solo toward the end. “The golden one, or scarred from birth/some things can never be changed/such a lot of pain on this earth/it’s somehow so badly arranged.”

Spindrift is the fifth track on the album, and although the meaning of this word is evident after you read the lyrics, I looked it up as well. It refers to ocean spray that gets blown into misty circles by a strong wind. This is probably the darkest song on the album, musically, and perhaps even lyrically.

“As the waves crash in
On the Western shore
It makes me feel uneasy
The spray that’s torn away
Is an image of the way I feel.”

Track six is the first of three instrumentals on the album. Titled The Main Monkey Business, it is a 6-minute song with a nice groove that displays, like all their songs, Rush's instrumental virtuosity.

Track seven, The Way the Wind Blows, has probably the most straightforward, no punches pulled lyrics on the whole album. It’s also an early contender for my favorite song:

“Now it’s come to this
It’s like we’re back in the Dark Ages
From the Middle East to the Middle West
It’s a world of superstition.”

“Wide-eyed armies of the faithful
Pray, and pass the ammunition.”

“Hallow speeches of mass deception
Like crusaders in an unholy alliance
It’s a plague that resists all science.”

“It seems to leave them partly blind
And they leave no child behind
While evil spirits haunt their sleep
While shepherds bless and count their sheep.”

Need I say more about this song? This is why I love this band. The music to this one is great, too, and the opening riff is so bluesy it could have been taken straight off a Stevie Ray Vaughan album.

The eighth song on the album is a solo acoustic guitar instrumental called Hope. It is a great example of Alex Lifeson’s virtuosity and feel for the guitar. The liner notes to the song state that Alex wrote it “all by his own self.”

Track nine, Faithless, is another song with strong, straightforward lyrics. This is the song that many traditionally believing Rush fans will bristle at. “I don’t have faith in faith/I don’t believe in belief/you can call me faithless/but I still cling to hope.” “Like a flower in the desert/that only blooms at night/I will quietly resist.”

Bravest Face is probably the only song on the album that, at this point, I would call “average.” It’s a fine song, but there is just nothing in it that strikes a chord, emotionally, with me. It’s got a nice chorus, however, and I do like the lyrical refrain, “Though we may have precious little, it’s still precious.”

Track eleven, Good News First, is another blues-inspired song that almost has a ghostly, underwater feel to it. Geddy sings the verses with an unusual warble that sounds a little odd at first, but grows on you with time. “Some would say they never fear a thing/well I do/and I’m afraid enough for both of us/me and you.”

Track twelve is the third and final instrumental on the album, and, in my opinion, the best. Titled Malignant Narcissism, it has a funky, hard rocking beat with a lot of great drum and bass work. Probably their best instrumental since 1981’s YYZ.

The final song, We Hold On, carries on the Rush tradition of closing albums with a very good song. After twelve previous songs that are often dark, pessimistic, and angry, this song is upbeat and ends the album on a positive note. The lyrics are also disturbingly relevant to my life and experiences:

“How many times
Do we chafe against the repetition
Straining against a fate
measured out in coffee breaks?”

“How many times
Do we swallow our ambitions
Long to give up the same old way
Find another road to take?”

“Keep holding on so long
‘Cause there’s a chance
That we might not be so wrong
We could be down and gone
But we hold on.”

Definitely a set of lyrics I need to hear right now, and definitely an important message for anyone struggling (like the Hindu game the album is named after) with the ups and downs of spiritual and material life.

I think there is a little in this album for everyone. The lyrics are powerful and relevant, the music is varied and drawn from a wide variety of musical styles, Geddy’s voice sounds great, and the playing is, as always, superb, tight, and virtuosic.

I highly recommend it.

Serene Musings Books of the Year, 2005-2015