Episode 314 — Heinz Agonistes

How should we think about God when faced with a massive, injuring disappointment? Or rather, how can a person of faith assimilate an experience in which you see not God, but God’s opposite, appearing to win?

The question can apply to anyone, on any “side of the aisle.” I have friends who were so upset by the election of 2016 that they basically retreated into a long-term depression for roughly four years. There will be people you know today — tho’ they may not be saying — who feel the same way about 2020. Disappointments and disillusionments can touch all parties!

Also, there’s the COVID. Just after Mrs. Zahl and I received our vaccinations in Florida, articles started appearing stating that, vaccinated or not, we could still transmit the virus. (What?) In other words, there may not be an end to the ordeal, even if the “miracle Moderna/Pfizer” is given to everyone. (Would that mean we still can’t see our grandchildren?)

This podcast is about the agonizing struggle to deal with acute personal disappointment in terms of faith.

Do we just go along? Do we rationalize? Do we “look for Another”? Is God asleep? Is God dead? Or were we simply wrong about Him — misled, seduced, hypnotized, something like that?

This is my subject. And with some help from ‘Heinz’ the immortal (and Joe Meek), and also from John Milton the Immortal, I hope we can get somewhere.

Episode 313: Reverse Chronology

Harold Pinter wrote a play once entitled “Betrayal,” and he used a sort of trick to tell his story. He began the play at the end — at the tragic finale of the events dramatized — and ended the play at the beginning, at the touching and tentative start of those events. He reversed time, to tremendous effect.

Today’s brief cast is intended as a salutary instance of what often happens in life: Things start well and end badly. In addition to the startling music that begins and ends my story, I tell how I met a very old friend after almost 55 years of not having seen him. This friend, now dead, by the way, was once a charming, funny, open, dear young person, truly at the threshold of his life. After 55 years, however, he had grown humorless, disappointed, withdrawn, and turned in upon himself.

Just once, at one brief moment within our conversation, my friend came to himself — and right then, he was all at once 15 again. I was hurtled back in time by the mere expression on his face, only to be hurtled back again into the present when his eyes went grey again.

Reverse chronology! It doesn’t have to happen. God is there, even as I write this and you read it, and … I have proof.

Listen to the last track, by the way, of “Reverse Chronology.” It’s a gem. And remember what Gerald Heard said so memorably in 1941, quoting from Meister Eckhart, “If you want to find God, go back to where you lost Him.”

Episode 312: Hope From Heinz

‘Heinz’ was short for Heinz Burt (d. 2000), a grocery clerk in Southampton, England, whom Joe Meek, an independent record producer, made into a star for a brief period in the early 1960s.

The brilliance of the five or six singles that Meek produced for Heinz is an almost perfect instance of how straw can be converted into gold, à la Rumpelstiltskin. That is to say, Heinz Burt himself had little talent and almost nothing going for him, yet Meek created magic out of his voice and persona. Utter magic! I mean, these are not the greatest records in the history of music, but given the givens, they are striking examples of what effect/s an outside influence can have on you.

Now take this irregular but prodigious instance of what can be done to transform an everyday mediocrity — he was a nice guy, to be sure — and it can be seen what God can do for anyone — like you and me, for example. I’m being completely serious.

Hug that “low anthropology”! We really cannot help ourselves very much, at least where it counts, i.e., where we are really in thrall; under the influence, bound and paralyzed, of drives, losses, and resentments that prevent us from living — living freely, I mean — let alone, joyfully. We need someone to look out for us — Joe Meek, for example. But actually I mean God.

Heinz’s singles — “Just Like Eddie” went to Number 5 in England — are a picture of God’s creative work with losers. (Never thought of myself as a loser, by the way, until life put me there.) Heinz (Burt) spell Hope (Cert.).

Episode 309: Little Bit O’ Soul

There’s a truth of life that more and more people are telling me about from their own experience. To be sure, these people are mostly my own age, so we are considering that last third of life with which my Boomer Handbook is concerned.

The observed truth of life I am talking about is simply that when you reach a certain age, say from 55 or so on, if you don’t move forward, you move backward.

Sometimes I just want to stay where I am — treading water in the memories and also the accomplishments of my life’s second third. But treading water is not what actually happens. Drowning is what happens! You regress, whether you want to or not, and it’s easy to end up like Miss Bates’s mother in Jane Austen’s Emma, staring all day into space. You are somewhere but you’re definitely not … where you are.

This cast is about the anchorage and possibility of hope, hope for a real and concrete future. I get given some good counsel from a novel by Joyce Cary (d. 1957) — who was, incidentally, a conscious Low-Church Anglican — and report on Pastor Paula’s enduring gift to me.

There’s also some nice parsing, courtesy of Sheila Schwartz, of “Little Bit O’ Soul” (The Music Explosion, 1967). Not to mention the last track, one of the most concise and delightful rock ‘n roll hits of all time.

Oh, and the Gospel of complete forgiveness comes into it, too.

Episode 308: Phosphorus

There’s a terrific Sherlock Holmes movie from 1944 entitled The Scarlet Claw. Well, it’s actually not that terrific, but the premise is great. In the movie a criminal disguises himself as a kind of glow-in-the-dark swamp creature out on the moors, who murders unfortunate travelers and terrorizes the village. Come to find out, the murderer is putting phosphorus on his hands, his feet, and his face in order to frighten everyone, and Sherlock Holmes figures it out. Our detective ends up finding his man by following the phosphorus.

The analogy is to our personal histories. If you want to find out the truth about yourself, follow the phosphorus! And the phosphorus can be found wherever and whenever your true inward heart-self came out — whether in a relationship or a moment of stress or an incident of rejection, you name it. To understand yourself, follow the phosphorus to the places in your past where it stuck. And as I tried to say in Podcast 307, the phosphorus may well have stuck on a song.

I listen to “Please Come to Boston” (1974), for example, by Dave Loggins, and I’m right there in our first year of marriage, in a foreign country, no car, no fridge, no stove, no money. Just a little hope, faith, and charity.

And I cry. For being moved and touched by that period, I cry.

You may have something like that. All it takes to capture your entire emotional attention is to hear a song from a vulnerable time in your life, and you’re right there again! It’s phosphorus.

It is also true that by means of the phosphorus you can become the main, lamed character in your own case of arrested development. That’s no good. It is why uncompleted mourning of a loss can paralyze you for … well, almost … forever. Somehow, to live, you have to get off of square one.

At the end of the cast, I offer a kind of blinder to the deceptive glow of your phosphorus. It’s worked for me, and it can work with you. Think R. A. I. N. … “Summer Rain,” Johnny Rivers, 1968.