Monthly Archives: January 2019

A review of Ric Burns’ “Pilgrims” DVD…

“The actor Roger Rees renders [William] Bradford beautifully,” in Ric Burns’  “The Pilgrims…”

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To preview what’s coming up in the Church Calendar for 2019 –  including a continuation of the Season of Epiphany – see Happy Epiphany – 2018.  Among the Feast Days coming up are the Confession of St Peter, Apostle, on January 18;  the Conversion of St Paul, Apostle, on January 25; and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, on February 2.

Crossofashes.jpgThat all leads to the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, March 3, and that takes us to the beginning of Lent.  And Lent – a season of “penancemortifying the fleshrepentance of sins, almsgiving, and self-denial” – begins with Ash Wednesday, symbolized at right.  This year it falls on March 6.

Meaning Easter Sunday will be pretty late this year, on April 21.

“In the meantime,” again, I offer this review of a DVD I just finished watching:  American Experience: The Pilgrims, a documentary film by Ric Burns.  (Available at Amazon.com.) 

I must say that – overall – I found the tone pretty depressing.  I wrote before – in Thanksgiving 2015 for example – that of the 102 Pilgrims who landed in November 1620 at Plymouth Rock, less than half survived the first year.  (To November 1621.)  And of the 18 adult women, only four survived that first winter in the hoped-for “New World.”   (Illustrated at left.)

I just hadn’t appreciated the extent of that loss on an emotional level.  Another way of saying that – just as at Jamestown, started in 1607 – there was a whole lot of human suffering:

The major similarity between the first Jamestown settlers and the first Plymouth settlers was great human suffering…  November was too late to plant crops.  Many settlers died of scurvy and malnutrition during that horrible first winter.  Of the 102 original Mayflower passengers, only 44 survived.  Again like in Jamestown, the kindness of the local Native Americans saved them from a frosty death.

In Thanksgiving – 2016, I wrote that the “men and women who first settled America paid a high price, so that we could enjoy the privilege of stuffing ourselves into a state of stupor.”  But the Ric Burns film brought that suffering home in a way I hadn’t fully appreciated before.

And by the way, the full caption for the picture at the top of the page reads, “The actor Roger Rees renders Bradford beautifully;  it was among his last performances before his death in July,” 2015.  Which could be both prescient and ironic.  That is, while Rees died at 71 – when life expectancy today is about 78 – William Bradford lived to the ripe old age of 67, when life expectancy was about half that.

There’s more about that at the end of this post…

But what I found most fascinating was how Bradford’s journal, Of Plymouth Plantation, proved the truth of the old adage, “Everything perishes, save the written word.*”  For starters, here’s what Wikipedia said about Plymouth Colony in general:

Despite the colony’s relatively short existence, Plymouth holds a special role in American history…  The events surrounding the founding and history of Plymouth Colony have had a lasting effect on the art, traditions, mythology, and politics of the United States of America, despite its short history of fewer than 72 years.

And what gave “Plymouth” such a special place in American history?   Bradford’s journal,  Of Plymouth Plantation.  (Which proves again, “Everything perishes, save the written word.”)  And which brings up another thing that I hadn’t realized:  That the book was almost lost to history.

That is, the original manuscript was left in the tower of the Old South Meeting House in Boston during the American Revolution.  But after British troops occupied Boston, it disappeared “for the next century.”  The missing manuscript was finally re-discovered, “in the Bishop of London‘s library at Fulham Palace,” and printed again in 1856.  It was only after much finagling – including a verdict ultimately rendered by the Consistorial and Episcopal Court of London – that the manuscript was brought back to the U.S. and given to Massachusetts in 1897.

That’s one of several points noted by the New York Times’ In ‘The Pilgrims,’ Ric Burns Looks at Mythmaking (Including the Plymouth “Signing of the Mayflower Compact.”)

Mr. Burns’s most inspired touch is to end not in the 1600s, but two centuries later, by following what happened to Bradford’s journal.  It disappeared during the Revolutionary War, then was rediscovered in the mid-1800s…  The Mayflower passengers suffered terrible hardships, and from the Indians’ point of view their arrival was ultimately a dark day.  But not on Thanksgiving.  “There’s been a tremendous amount of memory produced around the Pilgrims, but there’s also been a lot of forgetting,” the literary critic Kathleen Donegan notes, adding later: “We don’t think about the loss.  We think about the abundance.”

Or consider this, from Who Were the Pilgrims Who Celebrated the First Thanksgiving.  “The first winter, people died from dysentery, pneumonia, tuberculosis, scurvy, and exposure, at rates as high as two or three per day.  ‘It pleased God to visit us then with death daily,’ Bradford wrote.”

But the Pilgrims were “inventive enough” to conceal their losses from the Indians:  “inventive enough, as Donegan notes, to prop up sick men against trees outside the settlement, with muskets beside them, as decoys to look like sentinels to the Indians.”

The point is this:  Our “Forefathers” – and Foremothers as well – suffered greatly to come to America, and usually much more than we appreciate.  More than that, from the beginning they were “aliens in a strange land.”  Which brings up Deuteronomy 10:19, where God said to the Children of Israel:  “You are also to love the resident alien, since you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt.”  And that’s a point worth remembering these days…

But let’s close with a note of hope and cheer, at least for me.  That is, rumor has it that William Bradford was one of my long-ago ancestors.  If that’s true, I hope I inherited his longevity gene.

That earlier “Bradford” lived to a ripe old age of 67.  That was at a time when life expectancy for that time and place was about half that long.  See for example, life expectancy in America in the years 1750-1800.  That is, the life expectancy a century after Bradford’s time – he died in 1657 – was 36 years.  So if that “1.86 factor” applied to me today – with a  male U.S. life expectancy of 76 years – I should live to be 141.  (Giving me another 74 years.) 

And who knows, I might end my years with the old-age benefits of King David:

King David was old and advanced in years;  and although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm.  So his servants said to him, ‘Let a young virgin be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king, and be his attendant;  let her lie in your bosom, so that my lord the king may be warm.’  So they searched for a beautiful girl throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king.  The girl was very beautiful.  She became the king’s attendant and served him, but the king did not know her…

(In the biblical sense.)   On the other hand, King David didn’t have all the “better living through chemistry” advantages we have today.  And that will no doubt increase by, say, 2080?

Something to look forward to…

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The upper image is courtesy of Review (NYT): In ‘The Pilgrims,’ Ric Burns Looks at Mythmaking.

Re:  “Everything perishes save the written word.”  The quote is from Techniques of Fiction Writing: Measure and Madness, by Leon Surmelian.  Surmelian cited Plato as saying the poet – including but not limited to the writer of fiction, and maybe of such essays as these – creates “not by science or technique, not by any conscious artistry, but by inspiration or influence of some non-rational, supernatural influence.”  Which could apply to the writers of the Bible, which Surmelian implied by saying a true writer “is the medium of some higher spirit that gets into him.  He is literally inspired.”

But – Surmelian continued – the writer needs more than mere inspiration, by and through “what mysterious power dwells within him.”  (The “madness” in the book title.)  He needs “measure:”

Through measure a story is given the structure and style that snatch it from the chaos of reality and fix it in the memory of man.  We remember through measure.  We move from the unrealized to the realized through measure.  Through measure writing resists the ravages of time.  Everything perishes save the written word, says an old eastern proverb.

From the 1969 Anchor Books paperback edition, at pages 242-44, emphasis added.

The image to the right of the paragraph ending, “Bradford lived to the ripe old age of 67, when life expectancy was about half that,” shows the “Coat of Arms of William Bradford.”

Also from (New York Times) Review: In ‘The Pilgrims,’ Ric Burns Looks at Mythmaking:

The Pilgrims and their fellow travelers weren’t terrorists, of course (despite an instance of putting the severed head of a perceived enemy on a pole), but they and those who followed certainly did effect a cultural conquest.  Some versions of their story play that down, partly because a plague resulting from earlier contact with Westerners brought widespread death to coastal Indians in the Northeast just before the Mayflower arrived. God, it seemed to some, killed off the Indians to make way for the whites, a view this program corrects.

 Here’s more from Who Were the Pilgrims Who Celebrated the First Thanksgiving:

It draws on the unique, nearly lost history, Of Plymouth Plantation, written by William Bradford, the new colony’s governor for more than 30 years, whom the late actor Roger Rees portrays from a script derived from Bradford’s book.

Right from the start, the death rate was awful. Mortality had been enormous at the Jamestown colony, where by 1620 nearly 8,000 people had arrived, although the settlement was struggling to keep its population above a thousand. Bradford’s history recalled the Pilgrims’ anticipation of “a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men.” Ferrying in supplies from the ship meant wading through ice-cold water, at one point with sleet glazing their bodies with ice. The first winter, people died from dysentery, pneumonia, tuberculosis, scurvy, and exposure, at rates as high as two or three per day. “It pleased God to visit us then with death daily,” Bradford wrote…

See also PBS Documentary “The Pilgrims”: A Review.

The lower image is courtesy of King David Abishag – Image Results.  The painting may actually show Bathsheba, see Moritz Stifter Bathsheba – Image Results, and/or Bathsheba Painting – Image Results.  The “Abishag” connection was gleaned from “Interesting Green: Reflection – King David and Abishag,” from veryfatoldmanblogspot.com.  But see also Is Veryfatoldman.blogspot legit and safe?  (Review).

 

On the 12 days of Christmas, 2018-2019

The “nativity of Jesus” – a.k.a. Christmas – marking the birth of a new way to get to know God… 

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A Twelfth Night Feast: 'The King drinks'The last post I did was on December 14, 2018.  (My excuse is the rush of the holidays.)  So here goes:  The first post of 2019.

On that note, the full 12 Days of Christmas just ended this past Sunday, January 6:

The Twelve Days of Christmas is the festive Christian season [including “Twelfth Night,” shown above left] beginning on Christmas Day … that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, as the Son of God.  This period is also known as Christmastide…   The Feast of the Epiphany is on 6 January [and] celebrates the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus.  In some traditions, the feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Day overlap.

See also Happy Epiphany – 2018, which noted this Feast Day has a number of different names.  Like Epiphany proper, which “celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ.”  It’s also known as the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  (Again, just to confuse things, the evening of January 5 is called Twelfth Night.)  But wait, there’s still another name for January 6.   It’s also known as Three Kings Day (As in, “We Three Kings of Orient are…”)

For more on these topics, check Epiphany, circumcision, and “3 wise guys,” and To Epiphany – “and BEYOND!”  The “Three Wise Guys” posted noted that in its original sense – circa 600 A.D. – the term Magi meant “followers of Zoroastrianism or Zoroaster.”  Also, the consensus that there were three kings started because they brought three gifts:  Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

And while a literal view of the Three Wise Men story has them getting to the manger-scene just after Jesus was born, the truth seems a bit harder to pin down.  Some say they arrived the same winter Jesus was born, while others say they came two winters after his birth.  That would explain Herod’s order – noted in Matthew 2:16–18 – that his soldiers kill “all the male children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under.”   (Known as the “Massacre of the Innocents,” illustrated at right.)

On a more cheerful note, we’re familiar with the three wise men largely thanks to a Christmas carol,  “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”  (For an “old-timey” version see Kings College Choir, Cambridge.  Another note:  The “3 wise guys” post went into great detail on the circumcision of Jesus, leading one authority to call January 1st the time “when Our Lord first shed His blood for us.”  And about the practice dating back to ancient Egypt, whose “Book of the Dead describes the sun god Ra as having circumcised himself.”  (That “Ra guy had to be “One Tough Monkey!”)

And finally, To Epiphany – “and BEYOND” explored the issue of “sin” as sometimes held out:

[T]he concepts of sin, repentance and confession should be viewed as “tools to help us get closer to the target.”  In other words, they help us grow and develop, and are not to be used as a means of social control…  Note also that the “Biblical Greek term for sin [amartia], means ‘missing the mark,’” and implies that “one’s aim is out and that one has not reached the goal, one’s fullest potential.”

And that – after all – is what the true Christian should be working for, during these alternating seasons of celebration and reflection:  To reach his or her full potential…

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But the main thing to remember here is that this whole season celebrates the idea that Christmastide celebrates the birth of “something new under the sun.”  It celebrates the birth of a new – non-conservative – way of thinking about God.  It celebrates the birth of a new – and far easier – way to approach God.  And it celebrates the birth of a new way to get closer to God.

But as noted in Announcing a new E-book, some say conservatives are the only real Christians.  And such stick-in-the-mud Christians will likely object – e.g. – to calling the Old Testament the “Conservative Testament.”  (That Jesus had to change, to bring up to date; see the notes.)

So – just in case some conservative Christian says anyone who believes in such things is “going to hell” – we can just quote 1st John 4:15:  “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”  Also, as I’ve indicated before, in prior blogs:

If Jesus had been a conservative, we’d all be Jewish!

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jesus 88

An image from “Discovering the Jewish Jesus…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Christmas – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ (1622) by Gerard van Honthorst [which] depicts the nativity of Jesus.”

The “Twelfth  Night” image is courtesy of A Twelfth Night Feast: ‘The King drinks’ c.1661 – rct.uk.  The full blurb from the Royal Collection Trust (RCT) read:  “JAN STEEN (LEIDEN 1626-LEIDEN 1679)  A Twelfth Night Feast: ‘The King drinks’ c.1661 … Oil on panel | 40.4 x 54.5 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 407489.”

Re:  Christmas as “the birth of a new way to get closer to God.”  You might even call the birth of Jesus the start of a whole New Testament, and thus what might be called the Liberal Testament.  That is, the newer Testament designed “to attain the objects for which the instrument is designed and the purpose to which it is applied.”  Which would be the Bible, and it’s goal of “saving” as many people as possible.  See for example, 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord isn’t slow to do what he promised, as some people think.  Rather, he is patient for your sake.  He doesn’t want to destroy anyone but wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act.”

That would be as opposed to the Old Testament, or what might be called the “Conservative Testament.”  See for example Strict constructionism – Wikipedia, which noted in part that “strictly literal interpretations” can lead to logically-deduced absurdities.  (Leading in turn to the “doctrine of absurdity, which holds that  common sense interpretations should be preferred over a “literal reading of a law or of original intent.”)  On that note see Isaiah 66, “Whoever kills a bull is like someone who kills a person.”  How many Bible literalists would support that interpretation today?  Which leads us back to the standard notes (below), holding that “this blog takes issue with boot-camp Christians.  They’re the Biblical literalists who never go ‘beyond the fundamentals.’”

Re:  “If Jesus had been a conservative, we’d all be Jewish.”  See Jesus: Liberal or Fundamentalist?  To which might be added, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”  See The Outing (Seinfeld) – Wikipedia, on the 57th episode of the sitcom, and it’s “popular catchphrase among fans.”

Re:  Christmas as “something new under the sun.”  That’s a reversal of Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;  there is nothing new under the sun.”  Which could be an apt metaphor for the whole idea of the Old Testament being conservative and the New Testament being liberal.  Then again, it would be safe to say there has never been a president like Donald Trump.  In case I’m being too subtle, he too is “something new under the sun…”

The lower image is courtesy of Discovering the Jewish Jesus – Israel – Jerusalem Post.  The article – originally dated December 7, 2005 – began:  “Jesus Christ is the most famous Jew of all time, but is today remembered as a Christian.”  The article later added:

How odd that the Jews would accept a Christian version of one of their brethren rather than seeking to discover the man entombed beneath the myth.  Like a mummy whose bandages must be removed, 2,000 years of Christian gauze must be stripped away so we may discover the Jewish Jesus.  We may do so by reading the original story of Jesus in the New Testament, before it was modified by Pauline and Lucan editors…   These Christian editors hid the real Jesus’ message of political revolution against Rome, thereby transforming him into a sound-bite-speaking do-gooder who loved the Romans and hated his people.  THE REAL Jesus was a deeply religious Jewish patriot who despised the Romans for their cruelty to his people and for their paganism.  He never once abrogated the laws of the Torah, and expressly condemned those who advocated doing so (Matt. 5:18).

See also Jesus – Wikipedia, which noted the Islamic view of Jesus:  “A major figure in Islam, [He] is considered to be a messenger of God (Allah) and the Messiah (al-Masih) who was sent to guide the Children of Israel (Bani Isra’il) with a new scripture…  Muslims regard the gospels of the New Testament as inauthentic, and believe that Jesus’ original message was lost or altered.”  And finally, “Belief in Jesus (and all other messengers of God) is a requirement for being a Muslim.  The Quran mentions Jesus by name 25 times—more often than Muhammad.”  The image at left reads:  “The name Jesus son of Mary written in Islamic calligraphy followed by Peace be upon him.”