The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, December 12, 2019

MASH Revisited: S 1, eps 10 & 11: “I Hate a Mystery”/Germ Warfare

Remember back in “Requiem for a Lightweight” how Trapper John ended a surprisingly nice conversation between Maj. Houlihan and Hawkeye by calling her “Frank’s bag?” Well, that slightly nasty streak comes out again in “I Hate a Mystery,” and Trapper turns it on—surprisingly—Hawkeye.

Ok, a little plot recap, for those who aren’t watching with me. There’s a crime wave at the 4077th, with small personal valuable items disappearing. We first find this out during a poker game, where Captain Jones and Trapper are grousing about Hawkeye’s run of good luck at the table, his having won over $300 (he claims it’s because his “heart is pure”; the other Swampmen aren’t buying). As they wrangle, Frank notices his mother’s picture is where he keeps it—but without its silver frame. Then Margaret discovers her hairbrushes, a gift from her father, are gone. As is Trapper’s watch.

Henry tries to stage a camp wide meeting in the mess tent, dims the light to allow the culprit to return the stolen items, and, when the lights come upmore Items have been stolen.

So Henry does a bunk-to-bunk inspection (welcome, Radar’s teddy bear!), getting drenched in the shower, and—oh, hell, this sequence is one of the funniest scenes the show ever shot, and just go watch it here.

I have to say, Rogers and Alda are perfect in their reaction to Henry’s misfortune in searching the Swamp. (Rogers is laughing so hard you can actually count his fillings.). But Alda—that hyena-like laugh that keeps taking him over, and laying him out flat—I don’t know if it was direction, Alda’s ability as an actor, or genuine—or a combination of the three—but it is utterly contagious and totally in character.

As is his sobering up when Henry opens his footlocker and finds all the missing items.

Mark the sequel: Trapper goes utterly cold toward Hawkeye, convinced that his erstwhile friend is guilty. He doesn’t speak to him, only to Radar or Jones. There’s a bit of a mean streak in John McIntyre, and Rogers delivers it.

With Radar stalking him, Hawkeye dodges into Father Mulcahy’s tent, and, with Mulcahy thinking he’s there to make a confession, the two men try to take seats. Both folding chairs keep snapping at the hands of the man who is trying to unfold them, so after a bit of comic choreography, Pierce flees. He gets Henry to reveal where the recovered items, evidence for the court martial the Majors have been pushing for, are hidden, over the company loudspeaker.

Later, he calls everyone into the mess tent, and, sweeping in with a hat and what our friends at TV Tropes would call a “”Badass Longcoat”, does a nifty little Ellery Queen/Nero Wolfe pastiche, identifying his colleagues as suspects. He announces that the chemical he has smeared on the re-stolen items will turn the fingers of the culprit blue, and watches as Ho-Jon, the Swamp houseboy, fearfully checks his hands, only to breathe a sigh of relief, and hold them out, saying—“look, no blue!”

Proving himself the culprit. It was, of course, a bluff. Ho-Jon confesses that he stole the items and Hawkeye’s winnings to bring his family down out of the combat zone to Seoul.

Burns, Margaret, Leslie, all agree to let Ho-Jon sell the money. Margaret even gently murmurs, “they’re just brushes. I have others.”


“The only reason I'm paranoid is because everyone's against me.”—Frank Burns

“Germ Warfare” is a light little episode. It doesn’t start that way; Pierce and Burns are at war over a POW who is taking up room that an American soldier could use, and so the Majors push for his transfer to another camp, even though his wounds might reopen on the way. Burns has the regulation son his side, so Henry can’t back Hawkeye up.

So they move him to the Swamp, but, because he needs a transfusion of AB-, which they are low on, they need a donor. A sleeping Burns is AB-, as Radar confirms, so Hawkeye (“Excellent, Igor!” Pierce intones as the blood flows) and Trapper (“Yes, my Count! But be quiet!” He replies, in character as Igor—NOT the mess hall Igor) get the pint they need. They give the North Korean (named Pai) Franck’s blood, and he shows signs of hepatitis. the rest of the episode is a MASH farce—Feydeau in khaki, with Hawkeye and Trapper tricking Frank into giving them another type of sample (beer. It’s not Frank’s friend.), the two Swampmen keeping Burns away from patients, and Houlihan and Burns away from each other. (Both Pierce and McIntyre seem to genuinely care about protecting Burns and Houlihan from getting sick.)

Finally, as Burns is about to go into OR, they handcuff him to Houlihan, to the confusion of Col. Blake. Trapped, they confess. When the analysis of Frank’s sample is brought in, he’s clear.

We return to the Swamp for the stinger—Burns is amicably playing checkers with Pai (!), and McIntryre and Pierce bring Frank some flowers as an apology—which he accepts, visibly touched, only to throw them back when the boys ask if he’d be interested in serving as the donor for a heart transplant.

There’s not a lot to unpack in these two episodes—they are quite funny and stand up pretty well. In fighting to keep Pai in a bed, Hawkeye uses a line from the film, calling Henry “a Regular Army clown.” (In the movie, that line is disdainfully tossed at Major O’Houlihan (Sally Kellerman) by Donald Sutherland’s Hawkeye. It’s pretty withering, but Alda says it in exasperation, not dismissal, as Sutherland does).

The draining of Frank’s blood is based on a similar incident in the novel, but again the series is kinder and lighter here.

There are some nice grace notes in the two episodes—Houlihan softening when she learns why Ho-Jon was stealing, Burns playing checkers with Pai, and his willingness to accept the amends of Hawkeye and Trapper.

Only 11 episodes in, and the Majors are growing, and the Swampmen are showing some darker streaks. This is some fine comedy, in a highly unlikely setting, with sharp writing—sharper every episode, as it emerges from the shadow of the film—and character development is beginning to complicate things.

Monday, December 2, 2019

MASH Revisited: S. 1, Ep 9: “Henry, Please Come Home.”

This episode gets its own entry because it’s at once a throwback to the film, and a step forward in the development of the characters. The premise is simple: Henry Blake has impressed General Hammond by the efficiency and good results achieved by the 4077th, the highest in all Korea. As a result, General Hammond offers Henry a sinecure position in Tokyo, where he advises on how to get similar results. At the mercy of the gunger-ho than usual Frank Burns, the Swampmen realize that they are no longer in control, and that Frank’s willingness to enforce discipline will make their lives a misery. (Frank even confiscates the still. Just because he can.)

So Hawkeye and Trapper (thanks to a defy little maneuver by Radar) get a furlough to Tokyo, where they visit a relaxed, comfortable Henry. He’s genuinely glad to see them, but in no way interested in returning to the 4077th. Not even the charms of Lt. Leslie Scorch, his mistress at the 4077th, are enough to entice him back. Hawkeye and Trapper, anticipating this reaction, have arranged for Radar to feign a serious illness, and, when Trapper and Hawkeye prepare to depart, Henry insists on going with them. Henry, in his concern, decides to do an exploratory surgery (Gary Burghoff’s appalled terror is pitch-perfect), and the whole thing falls apart. Blake is about to return to Tokyo, but when he hears Burns announce that he intends to court-martial Pierce and McIntryre, Henry realizes that Burns (though technically correct) doesn’t consider the consequences. Not just the 40787th’s efficiency rating, but the lives that will be lost at the removal of the men he described (just before his departure) as “two of the best cutters I’ve ever worked with.”

So, beings Henry, he stays.


So, the throwback to the film is in the Tokyo frivolity—the Japanese singers doing adaptations of Wesytern songs, the hinted at availability of sex For hire as routine, and the tacit acceptance of this. The Tokyo scenes, to that extent, partake of some of the worst aspects of the film—though not historically inaccurate.

What we see here, though, is some deepening of the characters—Henry’s deep concern for Radar leads him to not just return to see what is up, but to one of his very few medical misjudgments in the series. He takes Radar’s suffering at face value and acts to investigate it, though Burns, correctly, sees it as the sham it is quite quickly.

Henry also gives up his release from the hellish (albeit with good company) 4077th to save Pierce and McIntyre from punishment, not just for their sake (he’s pretty angry at being fooled at the moment), but because he immediately sees the consequences: more dead soldiers. Unnecessary deaths. Because he gets it, he sacrifices his own comfort and stays. Earlier in the episode, Henry refers to “my right hand, Cpl. Radar O'Reilly, who incidentally is in command of this unit, and just uses me as a front.”

This is also the episode that proves that statement false; Henry is a terrible administrator. But he’s the right CO for this time and place. He just doesn’t know it.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Problem of Non-Parables: A Sermon on Luke 20: 27-38

[Delivered at St. Bartholomew;s Church, NYC, November 10, 2019]

Sometimes the Gospel readings are so self-evident that it’s almost impossible to miss the point, that the difficulty in writing a sermon on it is not just re-stating the obvious lesson.

Sure, we sometimes want to hide from the implications of those Gospel readings for our own lives, but shutting out the Gospel to maintain our own comfortable existence is a struggle against out desire to not want to know where we are going wrong. Think of Jesus’s telling us that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

That’s hard.

We struggle with it.

And one way of struggling with that is to domesticate it, paper over the chasm between what Jesus teaches us and the lessons of the culture in which we live. Of course, to do that, we have to deceive ourselves as to what Jesus is telling us. Or, as Susan Howatch so memorably paraphrased Jesus, “High and wide is the gate which leads to self-deception and illusion, but for those seeking truth, strait is the gate and narrow the way—and brave is the woman or man who can journey there.” [Glittering Images, 190].

With parables, of course, we have to look for the meaning—C.H. Dodd in the 1930s and Joachim Jeremias in the 1950s and 60s pioneered the art of stripping away the centuries of allegory and theology that well-meaning preachers like me have added to the parables, and tried to recover them as Jesus’s audience would have experienced them and heard them. And then they had to deal with Gospel warnings that the disciples outside the Twelve were told parables so that they could hear, but not understand, and be lost.

And today’s discussion between Jesus and the Saducees has been the source of reams of speculation on the nature of the afterlife, from the Church Fathers to our own day. Will we really be pure souls, loving only God, and no longer those who have enriched our journeys below?

Are we really hoping and aspiring to enter the kind of afterlife that led Mark Twain to recommend heaven for climate, but hell for company?

But, hold on—aren’t we missing something here?

We aren’t dealing with a parable today. No, this is part of a test of Jesus’s acumen.

Specifically, of his legal acumen.

Which means we are, at long last, playing on my home turf.

The legal test comes in two prongs. The first question, posed by the scribes and Pharisees, involves them showing Jesus a coin, and asking if it is lawful to pay the Emperor tax. This question is an effort to put him into a Hobson’s Choice, a question where there is no safe or good answer. It’s as much a test of Jesus’s political savvy as of his legal ability—will he slight the Emperor or the Torah?

Jesus brushes this one away easily. He asks whose name and image is on the coin, and, being told that the name and image are Caesar’s, he simply answers, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s—and to God the things that are God’s.

Now that is a good answer. Succinct and to the point, but, best of all, avoiding the political pitfall of advocating denying the legal authorities their due, without slighting the legal responsibilities under Jewish law. Clever, unanswerable, unassailable. Advantage, Jesus.

The next question, though, is like something out of torts class. A tort is a civil wrong—an accident, or act of negligence that harms someone in their person and their property. And torts professors are famous for their a long, detailed hypothetical stories, in which an improbable series of events are posited to make you question the legal fundamentals.

The classic torts class hypothetical used when I was in law school was based on a real case: Palsgraf v. Long Island Rail Road. So a woman named Helen Palsgraf decided to take her two girls to the beach in 1924. This was her big mistake. While she was waiting to board the Long Island Rail Road train, an earlier train pulls in, and, as she’s waiting, two men start getting on the train. One of them is lugging a package along with the help of sme LIRR employees. They drop the package, it explodes, a piece of shrapnel hit a large coin-operated scale on the platform, which teeters over and hits Mrs. Palsgraf. After this incident she develops a stutter, and sues the LIRR.

So how about it?

Is the LIRR liable?

Or to use an actual Talmudic legal question summarized by Herman Wouk in his Inside, Outside a cow is tethered in a market. It kicks a stone, which flies into a market stall shattering a vase. Is the cow’s owner liable?

By the way, that one is so well known in the Talmud, that it’s just summarized as “Stone in market—so what?”

Here, instead of the ricocheting shrapnel, or the bovine launched rock, we have the legal hypothetical of the perennial widow. Seven bridegrooms for one wife, they all fall down.

So, say these Sadducees, who don’t believe in the Resurrection of the Dead, in the next life, whose wife is she, anyway?

They’re trying, of course, to make the Resurrection look silly, and to make Jesus look silly for defending it. Their regular opponents, the priests and the scribes, can’t be happy—they don’t like Jesus any better than the Sadducees do, but this is not just Jesus under attack, but their own special belief is being made to look ridiculous, along with Jesus.

In other words, unlike a torts hypothetical, it’s not a question posed in good faith to test the limits of doctrine.

So Jesus does what’s called in fencing a “disengage.” That’s when a fencer tries to block her opponent’s sword, and then lunge, but the other fencer—well, the other fencer moves her sword under the first fencer’s sword, and now controls the bout.

Jesus disengages with the question by denying its premise; rather than talk about whose wife she is, he tells us, “those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.”

So, she’s nobody’s wife. Indeed, she “cannot die anymore, because she, [and all they who are resurrected], are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

Then Jesus knocks out the Sadducee with a simple appeal to the Torah; the story of the burning bush, where Moses “speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” and adds that “he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Game, set and match.

It’s a wonderful example of how the itinerant preacher from Nazareth keeps besting the sharpest minds of his own tradition when they try to trip him up.

But is there more to it?

Well, let me suggest two implications of Jesus’s words. First, Jesus tells us straightforwardly that the long-dead patriarchs were alive to God in Moses’s day, and in Jesus’s own day. Jesus teaches us that he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

Second, terrible use has been made in Christian teaching of hell, as a place of eternal punishment and suffering. Yet when Jesus speaks to the Sadducee about the resurrection of the dead, he makes very clear that only those who are worthy of resurrection will see it.

How do these two statements match up—how is that all are alive to God, and yet only the worthy will see the resurrection of the dead?

And, I think back of the Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, who reminds us that:
God's grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God's grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word .... Grace is God saying, "I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word.
Or, as she also says, “We’re all sinners, we’re all saints, 100 % of the time.”

In other words, we are here to come to the table of a God who loves us in all our brokenness, who is always working to redeem us. And who is always trying to coax us into playing our own part in the redemptive process—forgiving others as we have been forgiven, and freeing them to go on, doing the same.

Passing the redemptive love around—like we pass around communion bread, but more intentionally. Understanding, as out bishop told us in his address at Diocesan Convention yesterday, that we need to redeem our time, because our time is evil, and the accelerating disdain among our conflicting tribes is bringing that evil into ever greater potency.

When Bishop Dietsche finished his address, I couldn’t help but think of Leonard Cohen’s song, “The Future,” where Cohen tells us us:
You don't know me from the wind/
You never will, you never did
I'm the little Jew/
Who wrote the Bible

I've seen the nations rise and fall
I've heard their stories, heard them all

But love's the only engine
 of survival.
And, in essence, that’s what our bishop told us yesterday, that only reaching out across our divides in love, dropping our hostility, and meeting people where they are, and as who they are, can create the Beloved Community we all yearn to belong to.

To do our part in that cycle of redemption, we have to accept that we are all broken, all sinners, all saints, and that it’s from our brokenness that—to steal another Cohen line—that’s how the light gets in.

And that light is the light of God.

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Elspeth P. Kitten, a Memorial

"“My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.” --Richard Adams, Watership Down

The little devils came to my door. I know it sounds like a setup for a joke. But it's true, mind you, and how I became a cat fancier on the epic scale. A group of kittens led by Giles, the Cat Who Came in From the Cold came to my door, and I kept two, and found homes for the rest. But a week or so later, I found two very small kittens outside, on a the stump of a tree. Then my three cats and la Caterina's three (Elspeth, Betty, and Buster) became a pride with mine. Elvis and Giles kept the peace until such time as the cats all saw each others as siblings and friends.

Over the tears, we have lost them, all but one of them, Elspeth P. Kitten. She has been with me nearly 19 years. Nearly 8 years ago, she survived a bout of hepatic lipidosis (la C was excellent at frae-feeding her, and even I could do it, having been her person since kitten hood). She made a full recovery, and resumed her ornery, lovable ways.

In some ways she was always a kitten--she used to curl up against me, jam her tail into her mouth and nurse while kneading me.

Elspeth was our mouser, once excelling herself by launching herself through the air on a moonlit night, and bringing down a bat on the wing--and was widely rumored to be a witch. (Just ask my sister in law!)

You know where this is going; we lost Elspeth today. She'd become a little thin--but not dangerously so. She had trouble with her eye, and her third eyelid, more precisely called her "nictitating membrane." But she seemed, mostly herself. But I was worried, and la C brought her up for a vet visit. I brought her in this afternoon, to the good vets of Sand Creek Animal Hospital and was informed that her third eyelid was inflamed because she couldn't blink. And she couldn't blink because she had a facial nerve paralysis. The result of either a stroke or of a brain tumor.

Once again, I had to say goodbye.

I stayed with her till the end, holding her and petting her. I had been the first person to care for her, and I was the last. La Caterina, who was such a good kitten mama to her, couldn't be with us, and it couldn't wait. So I held my dear friend, that soft, soft fur against my cheek one last time.

Vogue la Galère, lttle Elspeth, cat of magic and mischief. Let your ship sail free.

Friday, November 1, 2019

MASH Revisited: The Matter of Mulcahy

(Not Season 1's Mulcahy)

Many years ago, when I was in high school in the 1980s, the Catholic League riled me. You see, my primary memory of the Catholic League in high school was its consistent denunciations of the television version of MASH, based on its portrayal of Father Mulcahy, the Catholic chaplain of the 4077th MASH unit as "weak" and "indecisive".

As a fan of the show even as a student, this seemed to me an absurd misreading of the character portrayed in the series. And, even though we are only in season 1 in this rewatch--and not even halfway through season 1--I want to challenge that reading of the series. Because I think that the critics were wrong from as early on our rewatch as season 1.

But let's begin where the critics have a point.

In the original film, religion takes something of a beating, including through Robert Duvall's Frank Burns,and (to a lesser extent) Rene Auberjonois's Father Mulcahy. In the film, Mulcahy is affable good natured, but, yes, a little weak, and a little easily imposed on (watch Donald Sutherland fast-talk him into presiding over a "Last Supper" for the suicidal dentist.)

The problem is, none of this really carries over into William Christopher's portrayal of the priest. Take this first shank of Season 1. We have met Father Mulcahy three times: In the pilot, played by George Morgan (the celibate priest wins the trip to Tokyo with Lt. Maria "Dish" Schneider); we see Christopher's Mulcahy in "Requiem for a Lightweight" in which he s sensibly skeptical of Trapper John's winning a fair fight; and we see him in "Cowboy," demonstrating a respect for faiths other than his own.

Let's dwell on it a moment. On seeing that a wounded soldier on the operating table is named "Goldstein," Mulcahy asks "Think he'd mind?"

Now, I had forgotten this moment entirely--I haven't seen the show in 30 years. So I expected Mulcahy to offer a Catholic prayer, almost certainly (for the period) in Latin. Instead, he recites, gently, and with meaning:
Mi Shebeirach avoteinu v’imoteinu,
Avraham, Yitzchak v’Yaakov, Sarah, Rivkah,
Rachel v’Lei-ah, hu y’vareich et hacholim
[names]. HaKadosh Baruch Hu yimalei
rachamim aleihem, l’hachalimam ul’rapotam
ul’hachazikam, v’yishlach lahem m’heirah
r’fuah, r’fuah shleimah min hashamayim,
r’fuat hanefesh ur’fuat haguf, hashta
baagala uviz’man kariv. V’nomar: Amen.
It's a lovely moment, because it's so understated. Mulcahy doesn't just refuse to impose his faith tradition on the wounded Jewish soldier--he knows how to pray for Goldstein in his own tradition. This means Mulcahy cared enough for non-Catholic--indeed, non-Christian wounded, to learn to care for them by having studied and memorized prayers outside his own tradition. In "Cowboy," we see Mulcahy drawing on that preparation, caring for the patient by meeting him where he is--the first rule of good pastoral care, as I was taught in my diaconal training.

Yes, Mulcahy isn't quite the character we'll get to know much better in later seasons. But even now, he is not the easily led figure from the film. He's a wry, ex-CYO boxing coach with enough scholarly chops to have looked beyond his own perspective, and one who knows that he is called to be a chaplain for all, not just his own co-religionists.

Not bad for a first draft.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

MASH Revisited: S 1, Eps 7-8: "Bananas, Crackers & Nuts"/"Cowboy"

This idea of pairing up episodes has (so far) been fortuitously effective.

In the Beginning, there was the Deluge.

No, I don't mean the biblical one, but rather a portion of "Richard Hooker's" MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors that depicts the 4077th MASH under siege, a two week push pushing the doctors to their breaking points.

Episode 7, "Banana, Crackers & Nuts," gives us a taste of such a period, and despite the limits on 1970s television, manages to get across the fatigue, irritability, and sheer frustration of watching patients die quite well. (It also makes clear that Chief Surgeon Pierce and Chief Nurse Houlihan are extremely good working together. Swit and Alda do a marvelous job of conveying their characters rapport in the OR, however at odds they are outside of it. Houlihan is quietly supportive of Pierce in surgery, and seems solicitous of Pierce's well-being as the strain increases.) Burns is fractious, and Margaret flashes an impatient glare his way.

But when the Deluge is over, at least for now, Hawkeye needs a change, as does McIntyre. They try to get a pass for R & R in Tokyo--but Henry takes his own break, leaving Frank Burns in charge (to be fair, Henry tries to warn Frank not to push his authority too far, but Burns, of course, is sure he knows better.)

So Pierce decides to convince Burns that he's cracking up, and needs R & R. In full scrubs, Pierce enters the mess hall with liver on a surgical tray--and liver is not on the menu. Burns and Houlihan are at first perturbed (Alda is hilarious as the allegedly cracking Hawkeye, but he manages it by deftly underplaying the scene--he's dark, and a bit macabre, and he's far more convincing than the benign Corporal Klinger ever will be). If that's not enough, Pierce picks a fight with Lt. Margie Cutler--whom he'd just successfully wooed away from Trapper in the last episode.

Margaret, with her nose for fraud, calls in Cpt. Philip Sherman, a psychiatrist who is infatuated with her, and he quickly works out that Pierce's alleged infatuation with Burns (yeah, he's desperate) is fake.

All might be well, if Blake didn't describe some of Pierce's crueler pranks on Burns, trying to get the Majors to laugh with him, and reassure Capt. Sherman that it's all just fun and games. Sherman, who has not experienced a war zone, thinks these "exculpatory" stories evince real mental illness, and not releases of intolerable stress, and margaret and Frank play the moment perfectly. (Linville's sad face, and Swit's murmur of "poor, poor, Hawkeye" are classic--without breaking character, their eyes are gleeful.) Sherman resolves to take Pierce to Tokyo for further testing the next morning.

Pierce and McIntyre come up with a plan, having radar lead Sherman to the "visiting officers tent" as night falls, and, in the absence of a light bulb, the psychiatrist goes to sleep in hat is (of course) Margaret's bed. When she comes in, cursing the "burned out" bulb, and undresses, Sherman awakes and--

--OK, this part doesn't hold up well. Sherman basically tries to sexually assault Margaret. The show wants us to find it funny, and the fact that within seconds Swit is pummeling Stuart Margolin quite mercilessly helps, but her cries for help and Pierce's and McIntyre's insouciant air until Henry arrives are pretty disturbing.

So it's Sherman who is despatched from the 4077th, and Henry gives Hawkeye and Trapper passes for leave, and as they get ready to go--the next Deluge is upon them.

The episode is a mixed bag; the "liver" scene is classic, the OR sequences really convey the exhaustion and frustration of the doctors and nurses--but that scene in Margaret's tent, though a reworking of many French farces, is a bit too true to be good.

"Cowboy" is a very different type of episode. A heroic chopper pilot, known only as "Cowboy" is bringing in wounded--including himself. Not for the first time He is fuming at being helpless to get back home, because he's afraid his wife is cheating on him. Pierce and McIntyre try to get Henry to send Cowboy stateside, but Henry, who is himself in an incredibly tetchy mood, just doesn't think his condition is serious enough.

A series of highly comic attempts on Blake's life ensue, a jeep running through his quarters (A shocked Henry: "Jeep. Tent. Boom"). The latrine detonates with him in it, and he stumbles trgoug the wreckage wearing the toilet seat as if it were a ceremonial collar. (Henry, blankly: "Boom.)

Radar goes to absurd lengths to avoid being near Blake, as does the mess tent server (not Igor yet, folks). Finally, Blake agrees to go to Tokyo--and accepts a ride from Cowboy.

Too late, the Swampmen realize that Cowboy is the one trying to kill Henry (this is good example of what TV Tropes calls grabbing the idiot ball, because it's pretty obvious from the midpoint of the episode.) But by the Hoary Hand of Hoggoth, the long awaited letter from Cowboy's wife arrives just as Cowboy is pushing Henry out of the chopper. When he hears that his wife still loves him, despite being tempted to stray, Cowboy relaxes, and Henry, suddenly calm again, simply says "Let's go home, Cowboy." He doesn't press charges, but makes sure Cowboy gets the care he needs--stateside, with his wife.

For all of its farcical elements, "Cowboy" has some very serious character beats. Unlike Hawkeye's feigned madness in the last episode, Cowboy is really falling apart. His anxiety is turning him into a killer, and Blake escapes with his wife due to simple good luck. Cowboy's increasing mania works because Billy Green Bush plays the character straight--laconically heroic when we first meet him, unraveling as the episode progresses.

McLean Stevenson's Blake is just the sort of man who would turn his attempted murderer into a patient, and his "let's go home" is reassuring to the man who just tried to kill him. What makes henry different from anyone in the show is that for all of his incompetence as a commander, he is a first rate doctor--and that's how he treats Cowboy the minute he understands the sutuation. He's not heroically brave--Stevenson projects real fear--but he's concerned not just for himself, but for the pilot whose symptoms he'd misjudged.

Theres a little moment in "Cowboy" I want to mention, because it'll come up in the next post. Father Mulcahy, as he goes from wounded man to wounded man, sees that the next patient is named Goldstein. Without missing a beat he says from memory the Mi Shebeirach, a Jewish prayer for healing.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

MASH Revisited: S. 1, Eps 5 & 6: The Moose/Yankee Doodle Doctor

Yung Hi apparently got off lightly.

It seems that the "moose" (a corruption of the Japanese word "musume" ("Girl") was a real phenomenon. (There's a singularly unedifying section on the relationship in Japan during the Korean War in a Korean War veteran's online memoir, which asserts that the relationship was generally sexual in nature.)

So Sgt. Baker, who is perhaps the most unsympathetic character in the series to date, is not as abusive as the reality would have allowed, as Yung Hi insists that Baker has not taken advantage of her in that way.

The Swampmen--Hawkeye, Trapper, and Dr. Oliver Harmon Jones (Oliver Wendell Jones, in the original novel--don't make me put his nickname in print; it hasn't aged well!) recoil at this young woman being sold by her family into servitude. After a failed effort by Captain Pierce (in full uniform for a change) to bully his subordinate officer into releasing Yung Hi, the Swampmen set up a rigged poker match, with Radar spying on Baker's cards, and a receiver in Hawkeye's ear allowing Radar to transmit the information. Hawkeye wins the poker game, and Yung Hi.

Happy ending?

Not quite yet; Yung Hi now seeks to serve Hawkeye as well as she served Baker. Pierce tries to teach her how to enjoy freedom, but she keeps trying to be a good worker. Hawkeyes tries to send her to Seoul, but she returns.

When they try to return Yung Hi to her family, as a free woman, her baby brother Benny--an Americanized young tough of the Damon Runyon variety, with a heart filled with larceny--who explains that he will just sell her again, for even more money.

In a lovely moment, the Swampmen are downcast at her leaving with Benny, only for her to return, having learned who to tell to "shove off!"

So the Swampmen try to "de-moosify" her, teaching her self-respect, having her work around the hospital, and discover that she's capable of more than serving American soldiers. She finds a home at convent school in Seoul, and the episode ends with Pierce, McIntyre, and Jones celebrating her freedom, and her new attitude, as revealed in a happy letter from Yung Hi.

The episode is funny--Benny is a comic monster who uses Korean tradition to exploit his sister, while ignoring tradition himself--and poignant. The censors in 1972 would hardly have let the show show Baker as the sexually exploiting Yung Hi, but by having her allude to Baker's not having done so, the possibility of it is underlined for the audience.

But even absent the specter of sexual exploitation, the fact is that Yung Hi has been treated by her family, by Baker, and by who knows who else, as a commodity--a thing, not a person. Pierce, McIntyre, and Jones are genuinely revolted by this, and their efforts to free Yung Hi are comic, but increasingly urgent.

Timothy Brown is another alumnus of the film, but as Corporal Judson, not as Dr. Jones, is very good--he's warm, confident, and holds his own in his scenes with Alda and Rogers--in fact, he's memorable when he gets to mock Alda's Pierce for not living up to his high principles. His anger at Yung Hi's position is equally authentic, and his rapport with the two leads is convincing.

Brown's part is especially visible in this episode in part because the cast is so shrunk--this is the episode where he is most directly involved. "The Moose" is something of a "bottle episode" as, part for a brief scene in Henry's office, the story really exclusively belongs to Yung Hi, the Swampmen (minus Burns) and the guest stars.


Alan Alda is clearly enjoying himself in "Yankee Doodle Doctor," and his enjoyment is infectious. He gets to do a long--really long--impression of Groucho Marx (its first appearance in the series), with Wayne Rogers as Harpo as they subvert a ridiculous propaganda movie (starring Pierce, scripted by Burns, and sponsored by yet another of Margaret's general rank conquests--Herb Volland as General Crandall Clayton).

While Alda's is the star turn, Larry Linville's pompous narration--absurd, but just this side of plausibility, only a little more over the top than Don La Fontaine--is as funny as any of Alda and Rogers's antics. Though the unveiling of the narration to a mocking Pierce and McIntyre is possibly the best comic beat of the episode, as Frank tries to impress, and Loretta Swit does a great slow burn:
Frank Burns: [practicing reciting for upcoming film] "A group of brave men are at work in a make shift operating room struggling to save your sons and brothers while outside the dogs of war bark at the door of this sanctuary."
Trapper: [Hawkeye barks like a dog] Down, boy, down, down! Roll over. Jump through that.
Frank Burns: "These are the saints in surgical garb, dedicated surgeons, all volunteers. Every red-blooded American knows, if he is wounded, he will be in the strong, capable hands of a Yankee Doodle Doctor."
Hawkeye, Trapper [singing]: A Yankee Doodle Doctor? Stuck a feather in his nurse and called her macaroni.
Hawkeye and Trapper destroy the film, and make one to their own taste--Groucho and Harpo impressions, slapstick, and a sober finale from Captain Pierce:
Hawkeye: [Recorded at the end of the film Hawkeye and Trapper made] Three hours ago, this man was in a battle. Two hours ago, we operated on him. He's got a 50-50 chance. We win some, we lose some. That's what it's all about. No promises. No guaranteed survival. No saints in surgical garb. Our willingness, our experience, our technique are not enough. Guns, and bombs, and anti-personnel mines have more power to take life than we have to preserve it. Not a very happy ending for a movie. But then, no war is a movie.
It's a good ending. Even General Clayton agrees--he intends to keep it in the new version, that will open with his intro, and end with Pierce's musings. But the General wants a copy of the Pierce/Mcintyre version, too. He needs a good laugh, every now and then.


*Major Houlihan seems particularly irresistible to Generals Hammond and Clayton.

*In a nice call back to "Requiem for a Lightweight," Hawkeye manages to reverse Trapper's winning the affections of Lt. Margie Cutler (Marcia Strassman), and walks off with her at the end of the episode.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Struggle and Survival: A Sermon on Luke 18:1-8; 2 Tim 3:14-4:5 & Genesis 32:22-31

When I was at college in the mid-1980s, I was a member of not one but two theater groups. The well-established theater group, the Fordham Mimes and Mummers, was where I got to act in Rostand’s The Romancers, play a campy Bob Cratchit (by way of Eric Idle) in A Christmas Carol, and play supporting parts in The Tempest and Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (Yes, I was the murderer. Why do you ask?)

The newer, smaller one was the Fordham Experimental Theater, where I got to play the primary guard in Jean Anouilh’s Antigone—which meant I got to be the main collaborator with Creon, who Anouilh casts as the Nazi regime.

But the play that comes to my mind in respect to today’s reading is one we didn’t do, in either group: Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser. We didn’t do it, but this story of a World War II era acting troupe led by an aging Shakespearean actor and his wife, propped up by the backstage employee who props up the troupe by keeping the leading man functioning, was one that struck home with one of my friends.

What touched my friend most in the play was how, whenever disaster befell—or they were about to go on stage, which is not the same thing, the long-married couple would turn to each other, and one would say “struggle” and the other respond: “survival.”

Struggle and Survival.

Bear them in mind, because the appointed readings for today may seem ill-assorted, but if you look at them through the lens of “struggle and survival” you may see the common thread linking them all.

Jacob, wrestling with an angel, refusing to let go until he receives a blessing.

Paul, writing his protégé Timothy, urging him to “be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.”
And Jesus telling the peculiar parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge.

These three stories give us the same advice, in very different ways, and I think in these chaotic times, it’s one we—us, gathered tonight in this chapel, need:

Endure. Don’t give up. Don’t leave before the miracle happens.

We are living in historic, if perverse, times. Impeachment of the President is stealthily brewing in the background, the United States House and Senate ring with denunciations of our abandonment of our Kurdish allies, and, all the while, we drift further apart from our fellow citizens, divided by clouds of distrust, and, all too often, of increasing dislike.

It’s a grey and cold time, this era of ours, whatever the weather. A time in which anxieties about our country’s very nature are muted, but always present. A time when we feverishly look for a solution, an answer, a way to find our way back to normal. We search the blogs, the tweets, hoping for something to resolve this long, tedious and yet fearful waiting process.


Or maybe you’ll like Churchill’s version better: Never give up, never give in, never surrender.

Persist, says St. Paul, and despite the dreariness of these times, we are called to persist.

Jesus’s parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge teaches us that persistence is necessary to gain justice. He describes for us an unjust judge, a man who fears neither God nor man, and has respect for nobody. A judge who rules by his own self-interest and profit, his own whim, who doesn’t care a bit for justice. And he rules in just that way until one day—poor man—he meets a certain widow.

Now, remember that in Jesus’s day, to be a widow was to helpless and vulnerable—not quite an outcast, but relegated to the margins of the community.

At first, the unjust judge ignores the widow with his usual contempt, and dismisses her cries for justice.

But, nevertheless, she persisted, and her loud cries of “give me justice against my opponent” began to grate on him. She got under his skin, and became a burden to her. Finally, simply to be rid of her, he grants her the justice she demands, and to which she is entitled—not because it’s his duty (though it is, of course), but because he can’t bear not to anymore. Even though he fears neither God nor man, and has no respect for anybody, he simply can’t go on.

So he does the right deed, for the wrong reason—which T. S. Eliot tells us is the greatest treason.

But is it?

Just why can’t the unjust judge bear her complaints any more?

It can’t be because she’s offensively loud—he could have her thrown out.

It can’t be because she’s yet another litigant who keeps pestering him, because the story only makes sense if it’s this one widow who keeps coming back.

And what about that? In ancient as in modern law, you normally only get one chance with any one claim. However it comes out in the first case is final, and forbids any further claims—what in Latin lawyers call res judicata—the thing has been decided. So just toss her out. As many times as it takes.

No. he doesn’t even try.

So what is it?

Isn’t it likely that she keeps turning to him as the just man he is supposed to be, and that her perpetual cries refuse to let him be the lawless, selfish man he has become?

Isn’t she calling to the depths of his soul, trying to awaken the younger judge, the man who wanted at some point to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with his God?

And doesn’t the shadow, deeply buried within him, of that idealistic younger former self, once awakened, call him back to himself ?

In other words, the widow won’t let the old rascal off the hook. She won’t accept the venal man he has become.

She won’t give up on him.

Jesus uses this parable as a metaphor for prayer, and the need to persist in prayer. He tells us that, unlike the unjust judge, God will grant us what we ask without long delay. God will grant justice to God’s children—those who choose to walk with God, who answer the call to become partners in the ongoing creation of God’s world.

And then Jesus hesitates—after assuring us that God will swiftly grant us justice, Jesus muses, asking quietly “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the Earth?”

What he’s really asking is can we—you and I—refuse to give up in the face of the silence of God, in the face of disappointment and loss. Can we trust in God so much that even as we wait, we refuse to believe that God can or will ever abandon us.

And if we can put our trust in God so firmly that we do not allow even for the possibility that God will break faith with us—as the Psalmist often accuses God—then our prayers return to us. Not with easy answers and wish fulfillment, but with the conviction that, just as we won’t entertain the concept that God will fail us, so too neither will God entertain the thought that we will fail God. That God will never doubt that we—yes, you and I are capable of persisting with the widow, and never accepting that those who oppose us are not worthy of love. That we are capable of wrestling with the angels, and finding that we are renamed, no longer merely Jacob, but the new creation Israel, maybe only a drop of water in the eternally rolling sea, but a drop that sparkles with the sunlight, and changes all around it.

We can, like Paul and Timothy, pray, act, teach and do what comes to hand, knowing that our work is never in vain.

In Susan Howatch’s novel Absolute Truths, the sculptor Harriet March—an avowed atheist—teaches Bishop Charles Ashworth, our narrator, a lesson about creation. Charles applies Harriet’s lesson to God’s creation, and realizes:

“Harriet had touched that sculpture with a loving hand long ago, and in that touch I sensed the indestructible fidelity, the indescribable devotion and the inexhaustible energy of the creator as he shaped his creation, bringing life out of dead matter, wresting form continually from chaos. Nothing was ever lost, Harriet had said, and nothing was ever wasted because always, when the work was finally completed, every article of the created process, seen or unseen, kept or discarded, broken or mended – EVERYTHING was justified, glorified and redeemed.”

We have to remember that, and be like the widow. It’s not enough to cry out for justice for ourselves. We have to recall oour opponents to their best, truest selves. We have to fight our own demons, our own anger, our own prejudices, and cry out for justice for all—even—no, especially for the other, the one we fear, the one we hate.

Our struggle, our survival, only comes with a blessing if everyone is included, if everyone is justified, gloried, and redeemed.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

May we go forth and do likewise.

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Tiny Story, In Memory of a Tiny Cat

(Picture by Kerin F.)

La Caterina and I have been feeding the feral cats in the Brooklyn Navy Yard for--my, it must be getting on for ten years now. At least 9, I'm sure of that. We first joined a long-standing friend of both hers and mine when she generously placed three cats we had located in the back yard of our Queens digs which la C called the Dutch Kills Orchard and Cattery (we had two fruit trees in the back yards). When, perforce, we moved to Brooklyn, la C (and thus me, in a non-executive, "Thog lift!" capacity) became volunteers at our friend's large feral cat colony spanning both Steiner Studios and the Annex of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

We made friends with the other cat ladies and the cats. The Steiner cats flourished in the studio's parking lots, while the Annex cats had the run of the sprawling, overgrown Victorian buildings and the grass sward between them. In those halcyon days, the ruined buildings were a feline domain, and the cats themselves an attraction on the public tours that ran through the annex on buses.

Alas, now the Annex is closed and we feed the cats at certain designated points. Still, they let us do it, and even allow us to use the studio water supply to refill the water jugs we use to provision our furry charges. Over the years, we have lost a fair amount of the original cats, but a core cast has delighted us over the years.

We lost one last week. Tiny Cat, pictured above, was one of the original Steiner cats (at least, she has been there as long as la C and I were serving the kitties food and beverages). Years before Hurricane Sandy, this small, petite black cat would demand a separate bowl of food, or jump in the hatchback opening of our Saturn Vue and help herself to some of the large wet cat food stock filling la C's Tupperware boxes. Tiny was, well, tiny, but she was funny in her aggressiveness, and a beautiful, trim cat with luminous eyes.

I remember on my first visit, la C warned me, "Don't pet Tiny. She scratches. For real."

Now, la C is the Cat Whisperer, but I too have had cats for many years--getting on for 20, now. So, recklessly, I dared to approach Tiny, and to tentatively pet her. Remarkably, she took to me, and the cat that you could not approach allowed me to pet her for what has been a long service in the Navy Yard/Steiner Studios. I loved the little beast from the moment she accepted me, and petting Tiny was one of the highlights of a Navy Yard visit for me. She was as silky as a pampered house cat could be, and as sleek as anyone could hope for their pet to be. She was feral but friendly, made her own rules, but had favorites.

More so than I, la C's colleague at the Yard Kerin was a Tiny Cat adoptee as well. The little thing was ok with la C, loved Kerin and was unaccountably fond of me. In all our years there, Tiny thought about scratching me once, and then changing her mind, head-butted the hand she had moved to attack. She was always painstakingly gentle with me.

According to the ASPCA "community cats", that is, "outdoor, unowned, free-roaming cats," have short lives: "If a community cat survives kittenhood, his average lifespan is less than two years if living on his own. If a cat is lucky enough to be in a colony that has a caretaker, he may reach 10 years." So if you wonder why busy professionals like Kerin, la C and their friends and colleagues burn a helluva lot of their scant spare time nursemaiding these cats it's that 8 year difference. They give these cats a good life, love, and stability. Which is why so many of them have lasted a decade or longer.

Tiny Cat made her decade (and in fact Tiny was probably a bit older) but we lost her tragically. She died, as I said, but not of sickness or old age, but of--misadventure. I'm not sure just what happened, because her body was found post-mortem. Not a natural death, as she deserved.

CORRECTION: Kerin writes to inform me that Tiny was found injured but alive, and that she was mercifully st free from pain with Kerin comforting her. She didn’t die alone, and that is a comfort.

I miss her. In her memory, John Keats's "To Mrs. Reynolds' Cat":
Cat! who hast past thy grand climacteric,
How many mice and rats hast in thy days
Destroy’d?—how many tit bits stolen? Gaze
With those bright languid segments green and prick
Those velvet ears—but pr’ythee do not stick
Thy latent talons in me—and upraise
Thy gentle mew—and tell me all thy frays
Of fish and mice, and rats and tender chick.
Nay, look not down, nor lick thy dainty wrists—
For all the wheezy asthma,—and for all
Thy tail’s tip is nicked off—and though the fists
Of many a maid have given thee many a maul,
Still is that fur as soft as when the lists
In youth thou enter’dst on glass-bottled wall
Tiny Cat's fur was ever soft, her velvet ears had only the nick that warns Animal Control that this cat has a place, and is cared for, her tail may have had a nick or two, but her affectionate, slightly sardonic spirit aways delighted me--that I was accepted, for no real reason, by the sharpest cat of the lot.

May she rest in peace.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Cyrano--a New Adaptation by Erica Schmidt at the New Group

I'm delighted to report that Cyrano, director Erica Schmidt's bold adaptation of Rostand's classic, is an innovative, compelling reworking of the original. As a lifelong fan of the original (José Ferrer was my first Cyrano, and until now my favorite), I've always loved the play, and when I hear it was to be adapted into a musical, I was. . . concerned. (Wrongly; the score by Aaron Deesner and Bryce Dessner is admirable; the lyrics by Matt Berlinger and Carin Besser are as well). Then I heard that Peter Dinklage was to take on the part, I was...intrigued. I thought Dinklage could be a great Cyrano--if the script let him.

It did, and he is.

From his first bellowing denunciation, to his sharp pull of the heartstrings at the very end, this is a Cyrano to remember. He's as witty as Ferrer, but exceeds his in the emotional nuances. Cyrano's fear, his self-loathing that motivates his heroic feats--all these feel organic and fully realized. Cyrano's bravura is a defense mechanism, as Dinklage plays the role--in part. Because Cyrano's repugnance at time-serving, compromise, and lack of gallantry--these are deeply held views that define the gallant man he has created himself to be, despite the world's disdain. And these views put him on a collision course with the Duke de Guiche (A first-rate Ritchie Coster, in a nuanced performance, at turns a comic monster, an ogre of exploitation, and a dangerous foe. But also a man in love, and one who comes to have a deep admiration for Cyrano).

Cyrano's love, Roxanne, played by a luminous Jasmine Cephas-Jones is stronger than in most versions of the story and neither Cyrano nor Christian (Blake Jenner, a strong, solid performance) can refuse her anything.

But the surprise of the show is that Ms. Schmidt has made some risky directorial choices, and they all come romping home successfully. First, she severs the link between Cyrano and the 17th Century in which Rostand set his play and the real man (no, really!) lived. Rather than unmooring the play, it sets it in a non-specific but nonetheless concrete world adjacent to ours, in which in the first act the soldiers evoke heroic musketeers (d'Artagnan, a character in Rostand's play, does not appear in Schmidt's adaptation), but in the second act evoke the American Civil War. Rather like Christopher Fry's The Lady's Not for Burning, this Cyrano is all of a piece, sealed off from our time.

The choreography by Jeff and Rick Kuperman--which is superb--compresses Cyrano's battle against 100 men into a shadow dance, music and rhythm depicting Cyrano's strikes again his many foes, and their gradual defeat. Similarly, the workers at the pastry shop heighten the emotional resonance of Cyrano's critical conversation with Roxanne, and then with Christian.

The last scene--Roxanne at the convent, de Guiche visiting her, and Cyrano's newspaper--begins softly, and ends with the tragic ending we knew was coming. As the leaves fall, Dinklage poignantly asks, "Can they rest, now?"

Cyrano finally can, as well.

The whole production has a feel of--appropriately enough--Cocteau's magical Beauty and the Beast (1946), and like it, is suffused with enchantment, in this case, through the brilliant staging and the music and choreography which take us away from the mundane world, even that of the 17th Century, and into the magical worlds created by artists like Cocteau, Fry--and Erica Schmidt, whose vision for Cyrano is fresh and challenging (this production censures Cyrano for his pride, instead of applauding it) and yet feels as old as tragedy itself.

A sublime evening at the theater, and one that lingers.

Monday, October 7, 2019

"Requiem for a Lightweight"/"Chief Surgeon Who?": MASH Revisited, S. 1 eps. 3 & 4

No, no; I don't intend to force episodes together into mini-reviews. It's just that these two go together so naturally that it's hard not to look at them together. That's partially because the first focuses more on Trapper John, while Hawkeye is the focus of "Chief Surgeon Who?" We start seeing some differences between the two Swampmen, and each has a moment in the Sun.

For Trapper, in "Requiem" it's winning the affections of Nurse Margie Cutler (Marcia Strassman) because "you fought for me." And indeed Trapper does--albeit a little reluctantly. Still, the good doctor (he fights under the name "Kid Doctor" against General Barker's large and loutish "Killer."

For Hawkeye, it's being appointed Chief Surgeon of the 4077th by Col. Blake, over the vehement (if shrill) protests of Major Burns, and the more formidable objections of Major Houlihan, relayed to General Barker (Sorrell Booke), another of the Major's amorous conquests. (General Hammond in the pilot and "To Market, to Market," was as well. He's also one of the very few actors from the film to recreate his part for television, as did a considerably more important character, Gary Burghoff's Radar O'Reilly. More on Radar a little down the road).

In "Requiem," we see both doctors are infatuated with Margie. When their infatuation offends Margaret, she transfers Cutler to another unit. In Trapper and Hawkeye's effort to persuade Henry to countermand Houlihan's transfer and get Cutler back, Hawkeye puts aside the venery for a moment, and appeals to Henry's best side; the man is a good doctor, and Hawkeye urges him that "Real talent in the operating room is hard to find." Henry glumly agrees, and offers to do it if either Hawkeye or Trapper will participate in the inter-unit boxing tournament. Hawkeye claims shoulder damage, and wheedles Trapper into agreeing to fight.

We get several training scenes that are pretty amusing, including one in which Father Mulcahy reveals that he is an experienced trainer for CYO boxers, and, asked to give Trapper some advice says "Prayer. I don't think he has one."

But let's take a look at a moment when Trapper is working the bag (Frank's bag, if he did but know it) in front of the Swamp. Trapper is, as mentioned, working the (Frank's) bag. Hawkeye is resting comfortably in a chair sipping a martini when Margaret walks by. Hawkeye gives her a cheery "Oh, Good morning, Major," and Margaret's response is--well, I find it interesting. Loretta Swit gives a brilliant, happy smile, and responds with an even more cheery cheery "Good morning, Captain." It's a well acted moment; Hawkeye in a good mood, carelessly being polite, Margaret's persona unfolds a little bit, she allows herself to be warm. Even when Hawkeye decides to get rid of her, he does so in the same friendly tone, saying "'Im afraid I can't ask you to stay. My boy's in training, and he's not even supposed to look at a women until after the fight." Margaret, still friendly, answers, "Oh, I understand." Swit plays the moment as Margaret enjoying being friendly with Hawkeye and Trapper; she seems genuinely happy. Then of course it shatters. "Just a minute," the Major almost growls, "isn't that Frank's bag?"

Trapper answers, pretty brutally, "I thought you were Frank's bag." It's rather nasty. Alda plays it quiet, almost as if Pierce doesn't quite know how to react to Trapper's dig. Margaret, angry, but hurt, storms away. It's a moment when, for just a minute, you can see Margaret and Frank's side of things.

When the boys discover that Trapper's opponent is, apparently, a killing machine, it's John Orchard's "Ugly John" Black, the anesthesiologist, who comes up with a plan (based on his own experience): douse the boxing gloves with ether, get in a "lucky shot" (and hold it to the face of the other fighter), and declare victory. And it's likely to work except that Frank--in a moment of surprising acuity--swaps out the ether for an ether bottle filled with distilled water. At the end of the first round, the somewhat battered Trapper is holding on, but the switch is found out--Hawkeye gets fresh ether, and the day (and Margie Cutler's affections) is saved.

"Chief Surgeon Who?" contains some resonance of "Requiem." As in the earlier episode, General Barker is drawn to the 4077th, this time based on a complaint from Major Houlihan, about the inappropriate behavior of the newly appointed Chief Surgeon, Hawkeye. Ironically, it's Frank's own complaint about Hawkeye's behavior in the OR that gets Hawkeye the unsought post. In particular, Hawkeye offends by countermanding Frank's recommendation dealing with pancreatic injury. Frank, relying on "the book," says "drain it." Pierce belays that order, imperiously saying "resect it." He criticizes Frank as "a year behind in your journals," and Hawkeye's advice is taken.

With Frank demanding charges against Pierce, including failure to salute a superior officer, Henry has him brought into the room. Watching Burns and Pierce spar, Henry makes a decision: "What I obviously have to do is appoint a chief surgeon...He'll be in charge of all surgical situations. In addition to his own work, he'll assist each shift to help with the tough cases. The job will be a killer." Burns assures Henry that he can adjust, only to find that Henry has given the job to Hawkeye. Burns protests, but, as usual when it comes to medical matters, Henry knows what he's doing. Pinning Frank with his eyes, he raps out "Face it! Pierce is the best cutter in the outfit. He's certified in chest and general surgery. In case you haven't read the papers, there's a war on. We're here to patch guys together. We can't be so G.I. we lose patients." Frank plaintively asks "Are you implying he's a better doctor?" Henry saves Frank's face a little, answering "Yes, when the heat's on."

Burns resorts to Margaret for comfort and passion, although his effort to be brave at the slight leads to him weeping against her torso. Meanwhile, at the Mess Hall, a coronation of the new Chief Surgeon is under weigh. (The scene, in a nice use of source material, is a toned down version of a similar scene in the novel and the film.) Radar leads Hawkeye in while bestrewing his path with confetti. Hawkeye, when urged to give a speech that starts off funny, then changes: "But let me say this, honestly, when you live in a cruddy situation like this long enough, you get to love a few people and even hate a few. I guess outside of our families we'll never be closer to anybody than we are to each other."

Trapper then asks, "You finished?" and Hawkeye responds "What did I get on the humble meter?," to the annoyance of those who thought Pierce was moved. The mood lightens when Radar runs in with Hawkeye's orb (a volleyball) and scepter (a plunger).

Burns and Houlihan have lured General Barker to the unit, where he is confronted by Corporal Klinger (first appearance!) in a WAC uniform. Barker is unimpressed. Concerned that Pierce is neglecting a patient, he's infuriated to find him playing poker. When he returns, Hawkeye is gone. But then, wandering the camp to find Blake, he runs into a series of romantic trysts including, to his intense annoyance, Margaret (whom he had hoped was waiting for him) and Frank. Several hours later, he finds Hawkeye scrubbing up, and goes in to watch. Pierce's delay has given the wounded soldier time to receive blood and fluids and to stabilize. In surgery, he finds additional injuries that Barker did not, and performs coolly and calmly. On their way out of the OR, Henry challenges Barker:
Blake: Well, sir, what do you think of my chief surgeon now?

Barker: I'm not very good at apologies, Pierce, but forgive a rusty old doctor, will you?

Pierce: I think you're very good at apologies, General.

Blake: Major Burns is probably going to continue to complain to you about the promotion.

Barker: May I make a suggestion about Major Burns?

Blake: Yes, sir.

Give him a high colonic and send him on a ten-mile hike.

Pierce: With full pack.

Barker: Good touch.
The next scene bookmarks Margaret's brief rapprochement with Hawkeye in "Requiem." In a busy OR, Trapper asks Hawkeye for an assist. But Burns has a tough issue, and asks "Can you give me a hand with this resection? " Hawkeye makes sure Trapper can keep his patient's situation stable, and goes to assist Burns. Calmly, respectfully, he looks to Frank, and says "I'm ready, Doctor." The two start working. Hawkeye says to Frank, "We'll split the fee, right? After a second, Burns answers, matching Hawkeye's tone, "right."

Beneath their masks, both doctors smile.

Transcripts of the episodes:

Requiem for a Lightweight

Chief Surgeon Who?

Saturday, October 5, 2019

“To Market, To Market”: MASH Revisited, S. 1, ep. 2

The surrealism of Henry Blake’s “handmade American antique” desk sailing through the air as the dazed C.O. watches from below (while still recovering from the disappearance of the entire back wall of his office) is all the more irresistibly funny for McLean Stevenson’s surface calm through the whole sequence. He underplays it beautifully, leaving the audience to fill in what Henry is thinking, with only his darting eyes to provide a clue. Stevenson’s contribution to MASH is sometimes under appreciated, because he’s so good at playing confusion overlaying panic, which is itself desperately suppressed, that you could miss it. Hawkeye and Trapper are more pyrotechically funny, but Stevenson makes you empathize with Blake, who just wants some normalcy.

Jack Soo (of Barney Miller fame) comes close to walking off with the episode as the perversely likable Charlie Lee, a black marketeer who is willing to sell anything to anyone, and from whom Hawkeye and Trapper John try to repurchase the 4077th’s stolen hydrocortisone. Trapper is more bewildered by the bizarreness of having to give money to the guy who has their drugs because his agents stole them than Hawkeye is, but he’s game enough to join Hawkeye in convincing Charlie that his desire for “only the best” mandates a finestkind desk. And the boys know just where to find him one...

An interesting character beat takes place when, prior to the realization that the 4077th’s drugs have been stolen, Hawkeye and Trapper accuse Margaret of making a mistake in the inventory. Her anger at having her professionalism questioned is volcanic, and when she can’t explain the discrepancy, Loretta Swit plays Margaret’s bluster as frustration that she genuinely can’t account for it. Even this early, the dichotomy between Margaret’s hardline persona and her professional perfectionism is being thinly sketched; Major Houlihan is a consummate nurse who doesn’t tolerate errors—especially her own.

Frank and Margaret are unexpectedly effective in their efforts to thwart Pierce and McIntyre (they unknowingly trap Hawkeye and Trapper in Henry’s office, thinking they’re barring the captains’ entrance, and go off for some, er, private time). Their escape requires toppling the back wall to Henry’s office, and Radar improvising a quick desk lift from a chopper pilot.

The whole thing has the feel of a Damon Runyon story, with con and mark changing places swiftly throughout. Hawkeye and Trapper prove to be as quick thinking and fast talking as Charlie is. Their goals are laudable—to save lives by replacing the stolen drugs—and if they don’t feel guilty toward Henry, well, they do care about the wounded.

MASH hits its stride in its second episode, humane, funny and surreal (I kept expecting the desk to hit a rock, a tree, or just to fall, but it sails, as Henry mutters, “up, up, up.”)

The series has achieved liftoff.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

MASH Revisited: S 1, Ep 1: Pilot

Our friends at Hulu having provided, I watched the first episode of a show that I was a fan of from childhood through high school, until it vanished, as 70s and 80s TV shows did, prior to the modern age of video, MASH.

Not having seen the pilot in--30 years? Probably.--it was not entirely what I remembered. The casual 70s sexism, the intrusive, studio-mandated laugh track, the crassness the scripts sometimes showed (some left over from the original film)--I'd forgotten those defects.

But even 47 years later, there's a lot to admire and enjoy. First, that the series had the sheer guts to be squarely anti-war in the middle of the Vietnam War. Second, Alan Alda's Hawkeye has a wounded, cynical tone in his voice over letter to his father, and the seeds are already sown of the man who will break in the last days of the war. Wayne Rogers and Alda have a casual comfort in their roles, and in riffing off each other.

No-one sulks like Larry Linville or glowers like Loretta Swit. The casting seems inevitable now, but that's an illusion--this is, after all, only two years after the original film, and it's inspired that Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds didn't try to echo the performances of Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Robert Duvall and Sally Kellerman. If Linville lacks Duvall's underlying menace, he's a lot funnier. (Swit was pretty menacing though; don't mess with her!) Alda doesn't have Sutherland's faintly amused air of detachment--he's fully present in every moment.

One thing I'd never liked was the too cheery, slightly brassy theme music; I'd always preferred the film version. But in the pilot, we get a little of the original theme's controlled wistfulness, with the orchestra rising as the choppers descend on the second verse. The way the chopper rocks a little as the titles begin is a nice touch, too.

The story was slight--Hawkeye and Trapper throw a raffle to send a young Korean man to college in the United States (Hawkeye's alma mater)--but the jokes (mostly) worked, and the performances were strong.

The patient has a heartbeat...

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Without Hope, Without Witness, Without Reward: A Sermon on Luke 14: 25-35

St. Bartholomew’s Church
September 8, 2019

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I can’t believe I volunteered to preach on today’s Gospel. I mean, really, what was I thinking?

There’s no softening this one.

Today’s Gospel is Jesus at his most forbidding, his most challenging. “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

Then the follow up: “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

And just in case you didn’t see it coming, Jesus adds “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

So I did what I always do—I went to my sources. On Luke, that means I go to Joseph Fitzmyer’s massive and brilliant explication of Luke in the Anchor Bible series, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, and the commentary on Luke by my favorite Anglican theologian, Charles Gore—I say my favorite Anglican theologian, because I’m a fan of Nadia Bolz-Weber. Just to be sure, I consulted The Interpreter’s Bible—12 volumes I was given by the priest who supervised me at my field parish, where I trained for an academic year before I was ordained.

Basically, all the commentary can be summarized in four words: “Yeah. He meant it.”

Oh, Gore, with his typical subtlety, points out that “hate” here does not mean an emotion, but that just as love is an action, a promise, a commitment, so too here is hate—“the will directed toward action,” not feeling or emotion.[1]

And, Gore tells us, Jesus is laying down the “the sternest, most repellent claim—the claim for absolute renunciation of all natural ties and every kind of self-interest as the first condition for discipleship.” [2]

And yet, we don’t live that way.

We can’t live that way.

We do love our spouses, our families—biological or logical—our friends.

And we do not give away all our possessions.

Even in the Roman Catholic Church, only clergy, monks and nuns, are called to celibacy and lives of renunciation of the world. And yet even they engage lovingly with family.

The most fundamentalist churches, priding themselves on fidelity to scripture, do not follow this passage, because it is so hard to deny love, family, friendship.

We do not, in part because we recognize it as a form of self-harm. Without love, we grow distorted, angry, bitter. Like plants without sunshine, we wither without love, and only a very, very few of us can recognize a genuine call to celibacy and withdrawal from the world.

But even that is not what Jesus is speaking of here. Because picking up our cross means being in the world, but embracing shame, humiliation, and the rejection of the broader community, up to and including death.

This is Christianity at its most costly, its most harsh, its most difficult.

I’m not going to suggest that this is an easy Gospel. I’d be lying to you. But I think if we pull these verses out and make them into a self-standing, isolated code of life, we will either reject what Jesus is teaching us, or condemn ourselves to lives of self-inflicted isolation and deprivation. And when I think of Jesus in the Gospel According to John saying that he has come so that we might have life, and have it in abundance, we have to reflect more deeply on this Gospel to truly understand it.

The secular writer Steven Moffatt has written that “Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit – without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis,” he says, and tells a tale of two old friends, who have taken radically different paths. One is a hero, the other has become a criminal. When the hero asks his old friend for her help against seemingly insuperable odds, she refuses to throw away her life in a futile cause, and leaves him. But then, she changes her mind, and returns to help her former friend—only to be killed before she can reach him.

She dies, without hope, without witness, without reward.

She dies, knowing that her death did not help, that she will not be remembered or honored. She dies knowing that no one—not even her friend—will even know that she was coming to help him.

Virtue is only virtue in extremis—that is, virtue is only virtue when it costs. It is easy to lead an inoffensive life. But, if we look at Moffat’s tale as a parable, maybe we can catch a glimpse of what today’s Gospel is teaching us.

We are called to lives of heroic virtue, unheroic people though we may be, though I am. We are called to, as Gore wrote, direct our wills toward action—in plain language, to be ready to subordinate everything—comfort, family life, our position in the community—to witness the truth of Jesus Christ. To back up our professed belief that the ultimate truth, the absolute truth of the world is love. Not love as a pleasant feeling, or a diluted ethic of niceness, but love as a commitment, a promise.

That promise is a frightening one to make, because it requires us to actually be willing to pay the price of redeeming our word.

We can all point to stories of heroic virtue. Some are famous—Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela—so famous that the very establishments that sought to break their commitment now honors them, if only by lip service.

But there are stories of quiet heroism, of loving despite cost. The gentlest man I have ever known was my grandmother’s second husband when my sister and I were in our early teens. We called him Uncle Fred. He had served in World War II, and had helped liberate a concentration camp.

That youthful experience of wholesale, industrialized horror burned all the violence out of him. Later in his life, when we knew him, his much-loved daughter was murdered, her killer suspected, but never caught.

A little grimmer, a little greyer, Uncle Fred turned his love toward my grandmother, my sister, me, and our younger cousin.

It took heroism to commit to love again after his wartime experience, and to maintain that commitment, that promise, after my Aunt Carol’s murder.

He did it without witness—he was just acting like a normal person, not flaunting his sorrows. He did it, and here I must depart from Moffatt a little bit, with hope—hope not that the pain and loss would be magically healed, but that refused to give in to the face of the most obscene evil, both on the world stage and in his own family life. Uncle Fred continued to believe in the primacy of love, and to teach the children who loved him to love.

I know he did it not for reward, but I like to think his last family, the family he and my grandmother created in marrying—was rewarding to him.

That life of virtue in extremis, in the face of loss and the experience of cruelty, may shed a light on today’s Gospel. Jesus teaches us to put family ties, self-esteem, possessions behind the source of all of those good things—to not let ourselves be held hostage by them.

In AA we call this putting first things first—sobriety is more important than anything else. Because it is the condition of any kind of wholeness, of any spiritual growth.

Jesus is warning us that discipleship is hard.

That we may pay a price for it.

And if we intend to follow Him, we need to find courage inside our anxious hearts, and be ready to lose anything and everything along the way.

So when we lose them, when we are hurt to the very heart, we will not, as Job’s wife invites her husband to do, “curse God and die.” Rather, we continue on, always remembering that we are called to live abundantly, to our last breath, and to remember that the feeling of hate is always foolish, while the promise of love is always wise.

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

[1]Charles Gore, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in Gore, Goudge & Guillame, A New Commentary on Holy Scripture, Pt. 2: The New Testament, 228-229 (1929).

[2]. Id.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Have You Seen the Muffin Man?

[David Hemmings as Charlie Muffin, and Rohan McCullough as MI6 Secretary Janet exploit each other]

Brian Freemantle's Charlie M and its sequels are what I'd call school-of-le Carré espionage thrillers, but they have their own unique flavor because of the downmarket nature of the leading character, the illegitimate, Mancunian Charlie Muffin, whose inexpensive clothes lower-class origin, make him an outsider in the British Secret Service. Well, at last as it has become under new leadership--Charlie was in favor with the previous leadership, which found him in the 1950s, and set him against the Soviets.

But in 1979, Charlie finds himself disposable, deliberately sacrificed by the snobbish new administration in an operation at--perfect location--Checkpoint Charlie. Cheating death, Charlie finds himself unsure who to trust, and how to react...

The first novel has a great final twist that I won't ruin, but suffice it to state, Charlie spends the next several volumes vulnerable to treachery, relying on his professional training, his instincts for danger, and, most of all, his ruthless need to survive.

Charlie has few reliable friends or allies (to the point that the captured KGB spy Charlie had unmasked is probably his most sincere sympathizer), but manages to outplay the toffs who look down on him in their deadly game.

Until he loses.

That's when the series takes a level in quality. Charlie's ruthlessness can be breathtaking, and Freemantle keeps him just the right side of likable. His rapport with several of his foes--they bond over professionalism, and the lack of it among their colleagues--keeps Charlie and the reader wondering who, if anyone, can be relied on.

I'm trying to give you the flavor of the books without spoiling them, but they are quite fun, and startling on occasion. And Charlie--who in the film version of the first novel was played by a wonderfully world weary David Hemmings, with his aristocratic boss played by Ian Richardson--is a rumpled, clever, reverse snob with a chip on his shoulder. He uniquely is an outsider; even George Smiley, for all his dowdiness, has an Oxonian background, was recruited by the scholarly amateurs who in le Carre's novels created the "Circus"--the Secret Service--and joined the right clubs. Even his chronically unfaithful wife, Ann, raised Smiley's social status--as Edith, Charlie's wife, raises his a little. But Charlie's unfashionableness, disdain for his "betters", and fierce refusal to be condescended to (unlike Smiley)--makes him a thorny proposition indeed.

And a damned good read.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

"'Til the World Turns Upside Down": Hamilton in 2019

When I first heard the score to Hamilton, I bought it, and would listen to it on my drives to and from Albany. And then....the world was turned upside down politically in ways which have been inimical to my own ideals, and Hamilton's brand of idealism seemed inadequate to the times.

I was wrong.

I am fresh from seeing the show at Proctors in Schenectady, and, as A. Burr and A. Ham could both say, "it blew us all away."

Watching the superb cast--from leads to the ensemble--enact the story, the play's form of idealism seemed just what we need in 2019. There are no easy solutions for the problem posed in Hamilton. Alexander's own harrowing childhood renders him unable to say no to sexual temptation, such is his need to connect. Burr's own similar, though more cushioned past, leaves him a morally empty opportunist, yet one who thinks he can remain friends those he has betrayed. The Revolution's brutality is underscored by the fragility of Washington's army, and the desperation with which he wages war, on the verge of collapse.

Hamilton's own affair with Maria Reynolds, and his effort to salvage his reputation as a public servant by confessing that sin in public reduce him to a laughing stock, cost him Eliza's love (for a time), and, indirectly, lead to his eldest son's death. Other friends die (Laurens), fail him (Washington retires, showing us how to say good-bye, and peacefully transition power, but leaving Hamilton at the mercy of his enemies), or are abandoned by Alexander himself (Lafayette).

So, no. This is not an epic of easy optimism. It is, to use a term I learned from Herman Wouk, idealism dafka--despite expectations, ironically, or paradoxically. It's a portrayal, with wonderful music, lyrics, choreography, and story--of idealism in the face of the odds. In the face of loss, in the face of the possibility of loss so devastating as to be called simply "the unimaginable."

It's a reminder that America is an ideal that has never been fulfilled, but that is nonetheless vital. The mixed race cast, with people of color playing the Founding Fathers, the confluence of rap, jazz, with traditional American musical theater forms reinforce that this story is all of ours. And, as Hamilton and Lafayette remind us: "Immigrants. We get the job done."

Langston Hughes said it beautifully, but Lin-Manuel Miranda is a helluva lot more fun.


But how is it, o Anglocat, as a play?

The answer is simple: excellent. Now, the production I saw was a matinee, with two of the leads--Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Hamilton--portrayed by standbys. If not for the slip setting this out in the program, I would never have guessed.
Tré Frazier
brought a strong presence, a powerful voice, and a honed intelligence to the part of Alexander, and Stephanie Jae Park brought a range from fragility to steel to Eliza. Stephanie Umoh was a standout as the strong, witty, flirtatious, but fiercely loyal Angelica Schuyler, as was Peter Matthew Smith, by turns foppish, menacing, lubricious (his delivery of "my sweet, submissive subject" is only marginally less creepy than the 50 Shades series), and petulant as King George.

I can't improve on the Albany Times-Union's praise for "Josh Tower as a complex, sympathetic Aaron Burr; Paul Oakley Stovall playing an imposing George Washington; Bryson Bruce, foppishly flamboyant in different ways as the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson; and Jon Viktor Corpuz as the antislavery activist John Laurens and Hamilton's eldest son, Philip, whose death by duel predated his father's similar fate by three years."

The Ensemble is almost always in motion, the dancers playing parts (Redcoats and rebels, audiences to street oratory and presidential cabinet meetings (Epic rap battles!); they give the scenes a depth and complexity that textures the experience--we are watching symbolic living history, not a diorama.

How is Hamilton in 2019?


Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Forum on John’s Gospel

Between the 9:00 and the 11:00 services at St. Bart’s We have an event, known as the Rector’s Forum, where various speakers address issues relating to the Church, its mission, or the issues of interest to members of our parish. This summer, the clergy at St. Barts were given the opportunity to speak about various books of the New Testament. I spoke today, on the subject of the Fourth Gospel. Unlike a sermon, this wasn’t pre-scripted, but here, with some slight elaborations, are my bullet point notes:

The Outlier: Gospel According to John:

* What is its Claim to Historicity:

1. Author: Other than John’s Gospel, only Luke’s has some claim to identifying its author, by retrojecting Acts. The attribution requires (not unrealistically) assuming the “I” of Luke in Acts is the author of the Gospel (which is linked ). Mark is anonymous, linked to “John Mark” by tradition, and Matthew to Matthew the Levite by quotations from older works only found in Eusebius’s History of the Church (4th Century CE). The latter fits with the serious engagement with law that is throughout Matthew.

2. The Fourth Gospel claims to be the work of an eye-witness, and tries to prevent against the rumor of its author’s death as an impediment to faith. Jn. 20:2, 21: 20:

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” 23 So the rumor spread in the community[c] that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

See Matt 16:28; Mark 9:1. Luke 9:27 (“But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of GOD.’)

See Browning, A Death in the Desert,

What happens when “there is left on earth
"No one alive who knew (consider this!)
"—Saw with his eyes and handled with his hands
"That which was from the first, the Word of Life.
"How will it be when none more saith 'I saw'?”

(According to Abp Temple, at xvii Browning’s poem was “the most penetrating interpretation of St. John which exists in the English language.” See his Readings in St. John’s Gospel)

24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Antisemitism: Address the Wm McD Tully line that John’s Gospel reflects the “divorce between the nascent Christian movement” and Judaism; NB: from Oxford Annotated Bible that the “Jews” referred to were the authorities, not all Jews. But call out harm done; see Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword.

*How about the lengthy discourses?
As both Temple and John A.T. Robinson argue, judging the Gosepls by the standards of modern biography—quotes are exact, everything fully sourced—is imposing a 21st Century standard on a 1st Century document, one that was handwritten and hand-copied, too.
More applicable standard that of ancient biography, under whic, as Temple notes “the convention of historical writing in the ancient world approved the attribution to leading personages of speeches expressing what was known to be there view in a form which is due to the historian. In such compositions, key-words actually spoken would naturally be spoken.” (Readings, xvii) ; See also John A.T. Robinson, The Priority of John (1985) at 31.

*Different from the outset:

(a) Matt: The genealogy of Jesus, from Adam to Joseph;

(b) Mark: Isaiah on the Messenger, and John the Baptist;

(c) Luke: Refers to other narratives by “many” and writes an orderly account to the “Most Excellent Theophilus” (Aareal person of high rank? Or an ideal Christian?)

(d) John: Begins with poetry, or, rather a hymn.

I. Per Ed L. Miller--a complete hymn by the same author of the Gospel and the Epistles , with internal aesthetic literary coherence and internal theological logic. 4 sets of couplets, “suitable for antiphonal recitation and bearing a carefully ordered theological point.” [1]

Miller: use of Logos, “Word,” as a Christological title from the body of the Gospel through the ambiguity of the Prologue of the First Epistle to the clear identification of the λόγος with Jesus Christ in the Gospel Prologue. According to this proposed trajectory, λόγος and (perhaps) ῥῆμα are already used “in a theologically and christologically suggestive manner” in the body of the Gospel,3 where the two terms refer to the preaching and teaching of Jesus. [2]

The Logos Hymn makes multiple theological points, which the rest of the Gospel unpacks.

The Logos Hymn, verses 1-5:

1 In the beginning was the Word,/ and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 He was in the beginning with God.

3 All things came into being through him/, and without him not one thing came into being./ What has come into being

4 in him was life,[a]/ and the life was the light of all people.

5 The light shines in the darkness/ and the darkness did not overcome it.

Verses 6-8 describe the role of John, the “witness to the Light.”

Verse 9 makes the first major theological claim: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

Verses 10-13: The Mission of Christ, the Rejection, the Faithful

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him.

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

Verses 14, 16-18:

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us/ and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth. . . . 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. /

17 The law indeed was given through Moses/ grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

18 No one has ever seen God/ It is God the only Son,[e]who is close to the Father’s heart,[f] who has made him known.
Even in the NRSV bland, accuracy over euphony translation, you can hear that verses 1-5 are more rhythmic, though the later verses retain some poetic drive.

Paul Anderson notes the theological positions being staked out in the prologue, and elaborated on in the narrative:

Throughout the rest of the Johannine narrative, these three themes are displayed in dramatic ways.

1. While Jesus as the Christ came into the world, some received him, but others did not; they preferred darkness over light ( Jn 3:18–21), they claimed “we see” (while being blind, 9:41), and they loved the praise of humans rather than the glory of God (12:43).

2. On the other hand, Jesus’ disciples come to follow him (1:37–51), the Samaritans and Galileans believe—including the royal official and his household (4:1–54), and so do many of the Jews (or Judeans?)—as do also the Greeks that had come to Jerusalem for the festival (8:31; 11:45; 12:20–21). In that sense, Jesus reaches out to sheep within his fold but also beyond it, gathering those who receive him into a new community of fellowship and love.

3. On the cross, however, the full glory of the Son of Man is revealed, and as he is lifted up, all are drawn to him (12:32). And, in the presence of Jesus, something of the divine presence is encountered—an experience that continues on in post-resurrection consciousness (20:16–28). Encountering the glory of the flesh-becoming-Word is thus not only attested in the Prologue; it is documented in the narrative. [3]
II. “The Charter of Christian Mysticism” or “Anti-Mystical”

W.R. Inge, Christian Mysticism (1899): The first three gospels are not written in the language of mysticicsm….The Gospel of St. John. . . is the charter of Christian Mysticism. Indeed, Christian Mysticism, as I understand it might almost be called Johannine Christianity.” (P. 44)

Abp William Temple: Readings in St. John’s Gospel, First and Second Series (1945): “In the proper sense of the word ‘mystical’, as signifying a direct apprehension of God by the human mind St. John is strongly anti-mystical. But he is even more strongly sacramental.” Matter is the vehicle and instrument of the Spirit, and a reverence for the sacramental without the ethical and material component ;eads toward magical thinking.

III. Different Timeline & Different Ethics:

Temple: Synoptics appear to take place over 1 year; John describes 3 separate Passovers.

The Synoptics weight ethics more highly, John emphasizes, again and again, belief in Jesus as the Christ.

IV. The human touch: Jesus as put upon son at the Wedding at Cana; Mary as confident, slightly bossy, Mother. The Woman Taken in Adultery/The Samaritan Woman

V GBS—explain the Preface to Preface to Androcles and the Lion, GBS’s familiarity with form-criticism, well-read commentary of each Gospel and its concerns—an easy in to biblical scholarship.


[1] The Logic of the Logos Hymn: A New View, 29 New Test. Studies, pp 552-561 (1983).

[2] Ed. L. Miller, “The Johannine Origins of the Johannine Logos,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 112/3 (1993) ; see also Latham, Joseph Michael, "Word of Life, Word of God: An Examination of the Use of the Term Logos in the Johannine Literature" (2013). Dissertations, 528.

[3] The Logic of the Logos Hymn: A New View, 29 New Test. Studies, pp 552-561 (1983).
Ed. L. Miller, “The Johannine Origins of the Johannine Logos,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 112/3 (1993) ; see also Latham, Joseph Michael, "Word of Life, Word of God: An Examination of the Use of the Term Logos in the Johannine Literature" (2013). Dissertations. 528.

[4] Paul N. Anderson, "The Johannine Logos-Hymn: A Cross-Cultural Celebration of God’s Creative-Redemptive Work," in Creation Stories in Dialogue: The Bible, Science, and Folk Traditions (Radboud Prestige Lecture Series by Alan Culpepper), eds. R. Alan Culpepper and Jan van der Watt, BINS 139 (Leiden: E.J. Brill 2016)--uncorrected proofs.