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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Connecting with my grandfather and other thoughts

Yesterday was absolutely beautiful in Portland. Warm weather soaring into unseasonable 70s- breaking records. Every breath of air freighted with a different springtime scent. I got home early enough I decided to pull the new bicycle out and give myself a thirty minute run on the Springwater Trail. The bike is my new low-impact cardio to alternate on days we don't play soccer. So here I am, an old guy with a gray beard and a shiny new bike helmet flying along in the late afternoon, and I found myself thinking about my very first bike. That bike, a black and white Huffy, arrived for Christmas when I was, I think four. I remember my grandparents pulling up in their big car, opening the trunk, and pulling out a trove of bright packages. I think the bike was in the back seat. And as I mused on this distant image, whizzing through my Friday afternoon, I realized that the year the Huffy arrived was probably 1953 based on my age. My grandfather, born in 1896, would have been just 57 himself. My age today. I felt a strange disorientation in that moment. I don't know that my grandfather ever had a bike, but I am sure he would not have seen himself bicycling along for recreation. Businessmen of the time did not. I felt gratitude as well for being able to bicycle now, far down the road he'd set me on with my little bike and training wheels. I also realized how tied together we are...in time and in our experiences. Thanks Bompop.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Chocolate Jesus

This past week there has been an uproar over the intended display of a crucified Jesus at an art gallery in New York. The representational form has stirred outrage, particularly among Catholics, because it comes on the leading edge of Holy Week, perhaps the most sacred cycle in Christian theology. Outrage focuses on several fronts. One is that the statue is made of chocolate. One is that the statue is "anatomically correct " which I assume means that a penis is represented. The previous observation breeds outrage because the figure is also naked. In all of the hubbub it is not clear what the artist intended to say. News reports suggest that the artist's medium, chocolate, is not really an issue because he usually works in sculptural food, something my mother disapproved of. I think this is disingenuous. I suspect that the artist's choice of chocolate might have been related to our culture's selection of chocolate as the ultimate medium for Easter; we have chocolate eggs, bunnies, chickens and more. Creating a chocolate Jesus would point to the ironic jettisoning of the core Easter symbol, the risen Christ, for a series of chocolate icons. The artist is castigated for presenting Jesus naked and as a real human male. When I heard that this was the case, I recalled all the iconography of the crucifixion I had been raised on. Typically, Jesus is portrayed on the cross with a loincloth. Until the recent uproar , I hadn't stopped to think that the more likely reality is that he was crucified naked. The Roman theory of punishment was to make it as strong an example to the populace as possible. Giving a victim of this system the dignity of a loincloth would have been, I suspect, unlikely. Not something the Church is comfortable talking about I imagine. In truth, the "food medium" artist may have been making a point about general Christian discomfort with nudity when in fact Christ likely died naked. If Christ is indeed the Messiah, I suspect this was not an issue for him. For followers some two millenia later, though such an idea ill fits their orthodoxy.

I don't know, of course, if the artist's intent was to poke Catholicism in the eye and malign Jesus. I think there is at least a glimmer of reason to think that the artist was trying to trigger thoughts about Easter and Jesus that merit consideration. What is most disheartening is to see how quickly orthodoxy coalecses around the pole of outrage. For God's Sake! Don't THINK!

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