Archive for May, 2007

Girls That Sing Songs They Wrote II

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

So last week I began my first ever series. I was wondering how other people manage to post five times a week and I think I cracked it- they write thematically. On Monday they quote things, on Tuesday they review things, on Wednesday they link to things, on Thursday they take naked photos of themselves and on Friday they reminisce about their 1980’s childhoods. So here is the second post that proves Stig wrong, for once. He thinks guys are typically better than girls at writing songs. Now he’d be quick to point out that this is a cultural thing, a product of complex factors like the industry and societal impressions of gender and not because of some in-built superiority of men. This is Stig. He travelled the world in a hot air balloon. He wouldn’t be so naive.

But I disagree with him. Maybe its because I love it whenever girls sing, even if the girl is my sister who is almost as bad at singing as I am or maybe its because I am right. I am usually right. I was wrong once. But it turned out I was temporarily mistaken and that opinion had been right all along. So proof number two after Nellie McKay last week is Aimee Mann.

Aimee Mann is such a fine songwriter that the United States of America should commemerate her with a big statue facing down that one of Abe Lincoln they have in their capital city. Old Depressive Abe didn’t have a note in his head and definitely couldn’t string witty and literate lyrics together. Aimee Mann writes songs so good that I confidently predict that Stig will capitulate and ask that I turn Zoomtard into just one big link site to all the YouTube videos featuring her.

Aimee Mann is the kind of woman who can release a concept album that doesn’t annoy you and in fact, you slowly fall in love with. She is the kind of woman who can almost but not quite pull off a Christmas album. She is the kind of woman who can fight the music business and win and end up writing the most innovative soundtrack to any movie in history. She is the kind of woman who can mature from at one point having the most 80’s hair in the world, to wearing shiny pants, to being a pretty classy lady. She is the kind of woman who is married to Sean Penn’s more musical brother. She is the kind of woman who has a stand up comedian appear with her when she performs so she can focus on the music and doesn’t have to do any in-between-song banter. She is the kind of woman who invented VOIP. Ok, she didn’t invent VOIP, but she is a key part of the soundtrack to Zoomtard’s life and her album Whatever is one of about four that is flawless. There is nothing I would change on it. Plus she did one of the best covers ever with James Taylor’s Shed A Little Light and she performed it on the West Wing. She has also dueted with William Shatner and Ben Folds on the same song, is doing a Beatles tribute gig this summer and most importantly, was the first gig Zoomie ever went to back in 1996 in the RDS Library.

It doesn’t get cooler or more talented than that.

Also, she’ll never appear on the cover of Maxim baring her breasts to get ahead.

Your Correspondent, Got a hunger in the centre of his chest

Jesus Is My Health Insurance

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Back a few weeks ago I was arrogant enough to dip my toe in the question of why suffering exists. I concluded that Christianity is certainly a good thing in that it is a way of living life that can handle the existence of evil. It expects it. Then I stumbled forward and tried to say something along the lines of “It goes further. It can offer a meaning to suffering and it can turn evil inside out and make it what it is not, which is something, since evil is at base a thing without substance….”

CS Lewis would have taken me aside and told me that if I can’t explain an idea, then I don’t really understand it.

So courtesy of Byron, I like this quote from the theologian Nicholas Wolsterstoff after his son died suddenly aged 25:

The Christian gospel tells us more of the meaning of sin than suffering. … To the ‘why’ of suffering we get no firm answer. Of course, some suffering is easily seen to be the result of our sin: war, assault, poverty amidst plenty, the hurtful word. And maybe some is chastisement. But not all. The meaning of the remainder is not told us. It eludes us. Our net of meaning is too small. There’s more to our suffering than our guilt.

I completely agree with Byron’s editorialising comment, “Our job is not to explain all suffering. We can protest, groan, learn to endure – without explaining“.

I sort of feel like avoiding YouTube and creating a separate site called GodTube is not going to help Christians get out of their bubble. It also seems to be a den of dreadful fundamentalism.

God’s Business Plan, originally uploaded by Matthew Baldwin.

From Defective Yeti comes this heavenly artifact. There is an astonishing book called According To Plan that I suspect I should post to Matthew Baldwin and save his heathen ass but if I did that he might end up quitting blogging and resorting to making videos about how the orange colour of the lightbulbs on the motorway mean that Jesus is about to return and punish anyone who didn’t use non-recycled toilet paper.

Your Correspondent, His favourite crisp flavour is bum and onion

Now I Am A Man

Monday, May 28th, 2007

This Year’s Blue Book, originally uploaded by Zoomtard.

So this arrived in my postbox. It came with a voting card. It means that I am spending the first week of June in Hell, I mean, Belfast. Anyonw up there want to meet for coffee and gouge my eyes out?

In reality I can’t wait. There’ll be fights and controversy and silly accents and lots of friendly men giving me mighty handshakes and making inappropriate comments about my religious heritage. I’ll Zoomtard it, needless to say.

In fact, the hip thing in the Christian blogosphere is to blog live from conferences. So maybe I can be the official blogger of the PCI General Assembly. Talk about compelling reading. I bet you can’t wait until July when I provide a 24 hour live feed of weeds taking over my back lawn.

Music Tames The Savage Beast. So Does Pizza
I saw Dave Matthews Band live last week thanks to the generosity of my oldest friend. They were astonishingly good. DMB are one of those bands that you can’t really pretend to be hip while loving them. I love those bands. But I can’t understand the animosity so many people have against them. There were 4 minute long violin solos! Oh. I just realised why people hate them. We should have seen them five years ago though, before our DMB fandom peaked and started to slide. Why’d you take so long to get here Leroi? Eh? Carter? You got an answer?

I also saw Duke Special again (thanks Wylie!). It was as usual, an outstanding gig. You really should buy the album or catch him live next time he comes your way. There was only one moment where it got a little “Sunday worship” (singing “music is the language of the soul” over and over is bound to give the God-bothering away Peter!) and otherwise it was all above board. I really enjoyed the concert. It was a visual feast without having any stage or special light shows or inflatable santas or anything of that sort. The band were great. The songs are so much better live. And the encore in the middle of the crowd is more than just a cool touch.

I am going to see Liam McDermott perform in my spiritual homeland next weekend. For some stupid reason he is going to Leitrim and its as good an excuse as any for me to go back to the Zoomtard family home and spend the weekend reading big books and staying up late drinking beer and singing songs with friends. The Zoomtard family home is massive and empty and has a lake and a basketball hoop and we’ll be planting oak trees. Stigmund and Babette are going to some gig in Malaysia or some other far fetched excuse so you are welcome to join us seeing as they won’t come.

No, not you. You are not welcome.

Things I Read And Enjoyed. You Might Like Them Too.
Pornographer Larry Flynt of all people helps me to come to terms with Rev. Falwell. Flynt displays a stunning ability to forgive when he talks about his friendship with Falwell, a man who repeatedly sued him. There is probably a great short story to be weaved from the fact that the pornographer has more integrity than the preacher but I’ll leave it to you to think about before remembering that Cornation St is starting.

I don’t have the greatest sympathy for vegetarianism and I think that veganism is stupid. You’ll never free me of this prejudice now however, since I heard about the fact that babies die from veganism and the parents go to prison. Weird.

I voted Green in the General Election and am considering joining the party. (I am planning to become a Presbyterian Minister. Should I just not join any parties?) But this projection of climate change kind of excites me. I see no drawbacks for any of us living in Dublin.

Your Correspondent, Learning To Be More Judgemental

If We All Band Together, We Can Do This…

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

So my friend MG is studying for his final exam on Monday of his final year of his undergrad degree. But he keeps getting distracted by the internet. So Zoomtard is shutting down until Monday evening. No more entries. No links. Nothing.

You should shut down your blog too.

Soon there will be no more pages on the internet to be distracted by. MG will have to resort to either study or read 19th Century philosophers as a distraction and well, who’d read Danish existentialism when you weren’t subject to a strange thought experiment in Guantanamo? Actually, MG would.

Good luck with the study.

Your Correspondent, Competing on a poppin’ idol show.

Heaven Is All Well And Good, But Its Not The End Of The World

Friday, May 25th, 2007

The title of this post is a much loved quip by NT Wright. The Bishop of Durham, interestingly, has given me an answer to my question about how to deal with the death of Jerry Falwell, a man I disagree with about many things but agree with on the most important things. Well, that last sentence is misleading since Wright didn’t address his brief column in the Washington Post directly to me.

At least not explicitly.

I know you love me Tom. Its time to admit it.

May he rest in peace and, with the rest of us, rise in glory where we shall look back on present disagreements like an adult looks back on childhood squabbles in the playground.

Once, I worked with a very brainy Ukrainian woman and I didn’t hit it off with her immediately. I know that its hard to imagine someone not instantly falling for my Clooney-esque charisma but there you go. Then one day over lunch we got into a great discussion when she admitted to me that she didn’t look forward to heaven. She thought she’d get bored by it. If the idea of it bores her now, imagine how boring it would be for all eternity. Back then I took the line of reasoning that I had held for many years. Pie in the sky when you die religion is a travesty and Karl Marx was right. Religion is the opiate of the people. But authentic Christianity should be anti-religious, hated by the religious establishment because it sides more with Marx than it does with a doped-out, calm eyed Jesus, meek and mild, that most dangerous of fantasies.

I was well aware that I was skirting the issue by trying to refocus her on the fact that we believe in life before death. She was brainy after all. She could see right through me and wasn’t for a moment distracted by the fact that I was avoiding the conversation she wanted to have about life after death.

Back then I was utterly inept on the topic of heaven. Then we preached a sermon series on the book of Revelation and things started to get interesting. The reason I had nothing to say about heaven was because my idea of heaven was a fabrication. I had thought heaven was about the afterlife, in a different plane of existence. Of course I didn’t think it was on clouds. I’m not that stupid. But honestly I was thinking that underneath the ground of heaven, it all might be floating on clouds. It might as well have been, considering how fluffy my thoughts were.

Christians have given up thinking about heaven in any meaningful way. This shouldn’t surprise us. There are still plenty of educated adult Christians who insist that they know hell is a firey pit, and they maintain that even after they are informed that Jesus refers to Hell all but once as Gehenna, which was the always-on-fire dump on the edges of Jerusalem. Hell might be a firey pit, but Jesus’ hellfire and brimstone talk (by the way, Jesus spoke of hell more than everyone else in the Bible combined) is a clear cut case of having a literal meaning that is more than the plain meaning.

Which brings us nicely to the Biblical treatment of heaven. Where were we told about clouds and babies with wings and smart-arsed girls who love cream cheese? The idea of heaven we carry around is no more or less faithful to the Bible than say, the Simpsons:

The Bible begins with the Tree. It sits in the centre of the Garden of Eden and it contains the knowledge of Good and Evil. The first humans ate from this tree that was forbidden and the whole rí rá agus ruaille buaille began. The Bible ends with a Tree too. Its the Tree of Life and its fruit and leaves are for the healing of the nations who stream into heaven. Heaven, by the way, is a city called New Jerusalem that God builds.

Heaven is a city God builds and then lives in.

God moves in and welcomes us home. This is what the Bible says heaven is. It is not the end of the world and then an escape plan to the clouds. It is right here, where we stand, but its all made new. In fact, that is exactly what Jesus says when the vision of the regenerated Earth is completed,

Behold, I am making all things new.

So will heaven be boring because all we do is sit around and worship God? Hell no! Worship doesn’t just mean singing. Thank God it doesn’t mean interpretative dance either. Heaven as a renewed Cosmos as opposed to a cloud-bound place in the sky is a setting where such trivial concerns as boredom can’t really be anticipated. The picture painted by the Bible is a place where there is great rejoicing, healing, relationships with others (presumably that span time and race entirely), and most importantly relationship with God, who will be your neighbour. The best parties are places where you meet new people you really click with, who you are certain to become friends with. Without slipping into an 80’s montage where we are all wearing Hawaiian shirts and spending the weekend at Bernie’s, heaven will be a party like this. As dawn breaks, and the chillout really begins, we’ll sit around with our pints of water and listen to Old Man G tell us some funny stories about a possible universe He was going to bubble out one day but He never got around to it.

Oh wait, I forgot to tell you one of the cool things about this Biblical heaven. There will be no dawn. There won’t even really be night or day because God himself will illuminate things. When you get close to him, darkness has fled.

This is heaven, briefly, as clearly as I can communicate it for you in a blog entry. Its not an irrelevancy because Jesus says the regeneration programme began on that first Easter and he has invited us to join in with the recreative process. So it turns out that Belinda Carlisle was a theological genius with her classic 1987 hit. (I had such a little boy crush on Belinda Carlisle). No one on the Interweb has brought this out better than Byron at Nothing New Under The Sun.

If you found any of this post beyond the bounds of good sense, write a complaint to the Atheist Complaint Box.

Your Correspondent, His feet won’t dance with just anyone at all.

The Heart Can’t Contain All That Empty Space

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

Like all great poets, let me quote myself.

Let me put it another way. I am compelled to believe because the idea of Grace has gripped me. I find Grace presented in the Gospels. Its beauty is beyond the reach of science and its profundity is deeper even than philosophy.

I wrote that a few days ago and my good friend Jimlad has asked me to back it up. Its like an amateur theologian throw-down. Jimlad wants me to to show potential somebodies out that that my faith is not “based on pleasure triggered in your brain as a result of an evolutionary process”.

The first thing to point out is that I can’t categorically prove that this is not happening.

The second thing to point out is that it might not even matter.

If it turns out that my religious faith, like all other faith systems, are really just evolutionary by-products of human socialisation that doesn’t in any way indicate that my faith is misplaced. Its a dead-end argument for the doubter to classify Christian faith as an evolutionary product because:

  • Orthodox Christian theism believes God is the cause of and sustainer of evolutionary development at every step of the way.
  • Or

  • If religious faith is postulated as an evolutionary by-product and therefore meaningless (somehow), what protects evolution theory itself from the same meaningless since it too has come about through the same process?
  • All arguments for the Christian faith, I think, are cumulative. The order and beauty of the universe as displayed in this formula that Jimlad shared with me is thought-provoking, the portrait of Jesus in the Gospels is compelling, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is haunting but none of them prove anything. The world and our experience stacks up however, with philosophical argument and scientific observation and aesthetic joy and theological insight and together they push us to the edge of the precipice and we see that the leap into faith was always the most rational thing to do.

    Well one of those arguments I have really been enjoying over the last few weeks goes like this: (Quoting CS Lewis):

    Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

    I think that when you take that and add it to Jean Paul Sartre’s comment, “there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?'” you get a pretty robust opposition to the faith-is-evolved argument that is increasingly extended.

    Some Election Related Links
    So the Irish General Election is on today and so people are thinking about lots of things like tax rates and motorways and inevitably, because we are Irish, the potential legalisation of abortion. I found this article from the LA Times about doctors who are planning to do abortions as a form of protest really disturbing. The arguments are so weak, “It’s like when your big brother says you can’t do something, that just makes you want to do it even more”.

    Teragram was a key figure in keeping our humble pencils as our way of voting instead of silly e-voting machines but in the USA, it seems voter fraud is slipping into the category you would just label as run-of-the-mill.

    Finally, in Maynooth it is rumoured that the local government body will consider going into partnership with the churches to provide much needed community services, which is a political step of some importance. It makes me sad that it might mean the end of the glorious church buildings in Ireland as we all rush to build badminton halls that can hold mass. But there is always the past and such majestic buildings as Las Lajas in Colombia, which is surely the greatest church in the world, if for nothing else, the theological allusions drawn from its location bridging two deeply separated worlds.

    Your Correspondent, Slouching towards Bethlehem

    Girls That Sing Songs They Wrote I

    Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

    You know I know some world renowned musicians who have sometimes, say, late at night, argued with me that girls aren’t as good as guys when it comes to making music. Thats crazy talk! I know it is. So here is proof. Nellie McKay is one of those girls that sing songs that she writes that makes my heart a-flutter and my brain go all eppo.

    The insipid women hosting that show obviously have no idea what kind of genius they are dealing with. They are damn idiots. Can’t they see she is mocking the idea that marriage can fulfill a life? And that she is oh so pretty. Which proves, I believe, that you can have both stunning looks and songwriting chops.

    Her first album was called Get Away From Me, an amazing double disc of jazzy, rappy, idiosyncratic piano-based songs. The absolute highlight for me was Sari. Neuro preferred the hilarious Dog Song. It really does make sense to talk about her as a cross between Eminem and Doris Day. The second album is called Pretty Little Head which she had to release in true Aimee Mann style when the big record company shafted her. Its highlight is Real Life. Together, they make pretty much the most distinctive two albums I have ever come across. In between the two albums she starred on Broadway and now she is writing the soundtrack for a graphic novel that is being adapted for the big screen called “The Amazing True Story Of A Teenage Single Mom”. Don’t you just want to marry her? Or buy her albums? Or go tell Stig about how great girls are at writing songs…

    If you are struggling to know who to vote for in tomorrow’s General Election, I have found MyCandidate a very useful resource.

    My beloved tickets arrived, originally uploaded by Zoomtard.

    Our tickets to the awfully exciting R.E.M. Live Rehearsal shows arrived this week. Look at them, all pretty like. I even had to sign for the tickets, that’s how sweet they are.

    Your Correspondent, Sorry for my part in the liberal theology that’s leading us to hari-kari

    When Desperate Static Beats The Silence Up

    Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

    Rob Bell is coming to speak about Peacemaking in Tripod in Dublin this June. A wise thing would be to get tickets. This is the Rob Bell who begins a sermon like this:

    Right in the middle of the Bible, there’s this collection of Hebrew love poems that are so explicit and erotic that young Jewish boys weren’t even allowed to read them until they were over. Now Song of Songs…

    So now watch this.

    Your Correspondent, A quiet truth to calm you down

    Just One More Thing About Falwell

    Monday, May 21st, 2007

    Bono is certainly a much better theologian than me. Sunglasses don’t look so out of place on his head.

    I can’t tell the difference between ABC News, Hill Street Blues
    And a preacher on the old time gospel hour
    Stealing money from the sick and the old
    Well the God I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister!

    Your Correspondent, hes peeling off those dollar bills, slapping them down, one hundred, two hundred…

    My Objection

    Sunday, May 20th, 2007

    I’d love to one day write a book of lenten reflections that consist of a dialogue with Friedrich Nietzsche. One of my old theology lecturers, Fr. Michael Conway managed to open my eyes to the devotional possibilities of reading this harshest of critics of Christianity. A future lecturer of mine, Prof. Stephen Williams wrote a book called The Shadow of the Antichrist that detailed the ways in which Nietzsche, in his damning attack on the church, actually did a great service to Christians. He relentlessly pursued the weakness that had crept into Christianity and hearing him was the first step church leaders had to take to set things right.

    I have just read this great piece of Nietzsche and it sums up my feelings towards Intelligent Design and Creation Science:

    The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.

    Your Correspondent, He thinks about the things he thinks about until immobilised with fear