EPISODE 297: Bright Road

There is this unexpected plethora of gems coming at me just now in a Mockingbird vein. Last week there was Journey into Light, from 1951; and also The First Legion, also from that year. Today there is Bright Road, also a Hollywood movie, which came out in 1953.

I feel like the surface of the moon that is being bombarded by a meteor shower. How, one asks oneself, did one miss these many, explicitly Christian Hollywood movies? Were they literally hidden from view? Or was I simply asleep at the switch, all wrapped up, for almost an entire lifetime, in Fellini, Bergman and Truffaut — or whatever one’s desired form of coolness might be?

Then again, maybe it’s the times. Maybe in this unusual period, when lots of things seem up-ended and little seems able to be taken for granted, new (old) things can rise to the surface again. I don’t know what it is exactly, but something is shifting.

Today PZ’s Podcast focuses on Bright Road, a modest but transcendent movie about imputation, the setting of which is so counter-intuitive — because it transcends conventional narratives concerning identity and race — that it is hard to believe it was ever made at all. Yet it stars Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge, and came right through the Hollywood studio system.

I also talk about — here’s one that should make you laugh — a short story by the English writer Jerome K. Jerome, entitled “The Passing of the Third Floor Back”. Unbelievably, this was turned into a play in 1907 that was the absolute number one of the London season! Then later it was made into a movie, with top stars and production. “The Passing of the Third Floor Back”. Yet it is an extraordinarily touching and perceptive dramatization of imputation, Christian imputation, in its fully orbed power.

Podcast 297 is dedicated to Paul Walker.

EPISODE 298: Outer Ashen Limits

Our parish’s Ash Wednesday service this year made me think of an old “Outer Limits” episode entitled ‘Cry of Silence’. That episode concerned alien tumbleweeds — no kidding — and a scientist’s attempts to communicate with them.

What made me associate the Ash Wednesday liturgy with wind-blown tumbleweeds were the changes over the years of my ministry in that service. Now don’t worry! This is not a ‘Boomer’s’ reaction to contemporaneity. No, this is a reflection on the change-without-end that is inherent within the human world and on the universal element that will always lie within the penitential core of Ash Wednesday.

Here is the prayer to be said by ‘The Minister’ at the end of the “Penitential Office for Ash Wednesday” as required by the 1928 Book of Common Prayer:

O God, whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive; Receive our humble petitions; and though we be tied and bound with the chain of our sins, yet let the pitifulness of thy great mercy loose us; for the honour of Jesus Christ,our Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

Will you look at that?: “… and though we be tied and bound with the chain of our sins, yet let the pitifulness of thy great mercy loose us.”

Such is the nailed truth of the human condition, the inevitably defeated conflict between the ego and the id, by which the ego is bound and chained. Yet there is a way out.

That is Ash Wednesday, no matter where the “Tumbleweed” innovations take us, It is the Heart and Soul (Huey Lewis and the News, 1983) of Lent.

Podcast 298 is dedicated to the Rev. Stu Shelby, Rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, Winter Park, FL.

EPISODE 299: Kolchak and Corona

In the middle of what may be the worst week, or close to it, this cast offers hope of a real breakthrough — and not just in mental attitude or “approach”, but in the substance of the pandemic.

At the start there is some slight use of the now-taboo word “over-reaction”; but hey, you can see it either way — just as long you stay vigilant and wash your hands a lot. No question about that.

Yet there remains the question of faith, as in the moment right after Christ stilled the storm, when He asked the disciples: “Where is your faith?”

I feel we need to not give up on actual faith. And by that I mean the faith that God is able to quell the storm, de-potentiate the virus, and heal those who have it — let alone, shield those who don’t.

I mean seriously, hasn’t anyone seen War of the Worlds — either the George Pal version (1953) or the Steven Spielberg one (2005)? Both of them end the way H.G. Wells ended the novel on which they are based. God killed the Martian invaders. Not the USAF nor the British howitzers. But God… through an unseen… virus.

Stay open to God as Deliverer.

EPISODE 300: (You’re) Having My Baby

Mrs. Zahl and I had a sort of ‘Abraham/Sarah’ moment (i.e., Genesis 17) this week, and it brought to mind an immortal song from 1974, performed by Paul Anka. But it was all because of the virus!

This new cast, which is the 300th, talks about the supernatural Power of God in relation to the scourge that is whipping us all. I bring back an ‘Oldie but Goodie’, William Hale White (aka ‘Mark Rutherford’), to witness concerning the Power of God through a remarkable short essay he penned in 1908. The essay is entitled “Little Nell”. The conceit of White’s elliptical piece is that actual conversion and authentic transformation is possible within the human situation. Not just “God with us” in our pain; but God come to reverse it, and heal it. In “Little Nell” William Hale White moves from Dickens’ account of an old man’s conversion to non-self-referenced love for his grand-daughter, to the conversion of St. Paul, to the power of outside love to alter the entire chemistry of the “inner man”.

The cast concludes with an excerpt from Eddie James’s track “Power”, assisted by Ashley Brison and Patricia Miller, which, if this doesn’t get you out of your seat, then the virus-panic really has gotten to you. LUV U!

EPISODE 302: Narrative Schmarrative

“Narratives”, which used to be called “paradigms”, and before that, “preconceptions”, are like shackles on human necks. They force one to look down from what is before you, rather than at it.

Narratives short-change reality because you either discard things that don’t fit your narrative or you alter the facts in order to squeeze them in. I’m not talking about the ideological content of your narrative. (That varies from person to person.) I’m talking about the idea that we need narratives to understand what we are facing.

Take the narrative couched within the statement, “You’ve got to go toward the cannons”. In order to deal with the negativities in your life, you have to confront them directly rather than flee them or deny them. Sounds good.

But here comes another narrative: “In this context there is no room for that idea.” If someone is guilty of this or that objectionable action or idea, they have to be nullified, deleted.

So behold: two narratives, entirely in conflict. Yet sometimes I hear the same person enunciating them both within the space of a single hour.

Narratives are everywhere, and they are like heavy yokes, causing one to look down not_ at_.

In my experience, only the Christian freedom of the New Creation, the New Being, is sufficient to un-yoke narratives. Only the New Being can act freely, love freely, give freely in emancipation from narratives.

This is a lesson, incidentally, to be derived from Charles Dickens’ (previously unknown to me) novel Our Mutual Friend. That book, by the way, is a total must. T O T A L M U S T.

Oh, and talk about the New Being: Listen to the Wagnerian sounds of The Delfonics, with which this cast begins and ends. The Delfonics, together with their inspired producer Thom Bell, were not burdened by narratives, so they broke through to inspired heights. Just like the un-shackled you can.

EPISODE 304: Speed Bump

I like Greg Townson very much! He’s a guitarist who’s been around for a while, but is now a leading member of Los Straitjackets. He combines that great Rockabilly sound of theirs with some really lyrical passages. Townson’s track “Speed Bump”, an excerpt of which begins this cast, got me started on the theme.

It’s a familiar theme, especially with Mockingbird; but should never be foregone. A speed bump is when an obstacle or blockage on the road on which you are traveling causes you — if you are going too fast or not looking where you’re going — to crash, or at least shock you out of yourself.

In regular life, a speed bump is the unexpected loss or blow or intrusion that makes you stop. “Hey, what’s that sound/Everybody look what’s goin’ down” (Buffalo Springfield, 1966). It can be the illness of your child, a sudden catastrophic interruption/lurch in your marriage, a notice that you’ve been fired, a pandemic (to say the least), or one’s nervous collapse into absorbing anxiety.

Ideally — and this is the Christian point of the cast — your biggest speed bump should cause you to stop and re-evaluate, “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)” [The Stylistics, 1971]. The old word for this is Repent. And always with a view to a fresh direction and a new beginning.

At a key moment in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, something happens — a proposal of marriage goes terribly wrong — which causes both the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, and the hero, ‘Mr. D’Arcy’ individually to re-evaluate their whole lives. The “speed bump” of that catastrophic conversation causes each of them and both of them to see themselves in a new light — really, to humble each of them in their own eyes. The result of their speed bump is lasting good and great blessing.

What has been your biggest speed bump? Where are you with it now? Tell me.