Jean-Ralphio Saperstein is my favorite TV character ever to get run over by a Lexus.
When I go jet skiing, I become Jean-Ralphio.
(Also found myself singing a lot of Springsteen and Blur’s Song #2.)
Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), for instance, spoke of God as the non aliud: the “not other” or “not something else.” For the Neoplatonist Plotinus (c. 204-270), the divine is that which is no particular thing, or even “no-thing.” The same is true for Christians such as John Scotus Eriugena (c. 815-c. 877) or Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-c. 1327). Angelus Silesius, precisely in order to affirm that God is the omnipotent creator of all things, described God as “ein lauter Nichts”—“a pure nothingness”—and even (a touch of neologistic panache here) “ein Übernichts.” If this all sounds either perilously blasphemous or preciously paradoxical, this is because language of this sort is meant to give us pause, or even offense, in order to remind us as forcefully as possible that, as the great Muslim philosopher Mulla Sadra (c. 1572-1640) insisted, God is not to be found within the realm of beings, for he is the being of all realms. Or, as the Anglican E.L. Mascall put it, God is not “just one item, albeit the supreme one, in a class of beings” but is rather “the source from which their being is derived.”
David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Bliss, Consciousness
I’m sympathetic more and more to understanding God as unpronounceable, as YAHWEH. The more imaginatively and humbly we do so, I think, the more we’ll see that the line dividing atheism and theism is thinner than we imagined.
This is an anchor of a book.
Why is it that of all the billions and billions of strange objects in the Cosmos–novas, quasars, pulsars, black holes–you are beyond doubt the strangest?
— Walker Percy (via qcq)
I saw John Hodgman at The Bottletree Cafe in Birmingham Sunday night. His performance was hypnotic and funny, and slightly subversive. And not a cocky, “Man, this art project is gonna CHANGE things” subversive. But he did manage to produce a charge that left me lighter, more alive.
Hodgman began by undressing before us. He was winter-ready. He shed swag from a previous jobs in the entertainment business (a Bored to Death jacket, Daily Show zip up, a Delocated hoodie). As he did, he visited a common Hodgman trope, commenting on the ridiculousness of celebrity culture while expressing constant bafflement at his own “minor celebrity.”
In this undressing he signaled a change. This would not be a show about the moment of celebrity, but about its aftermath. Once his clothes/artifices were off, he transformed into a man ready to talk about 43, and what life feels like after the bright shining moment. What’s left, post Ragnarok? What’s left when there’s no big moment of truth, and you’re left with just you?
It was all very vulnerable, though in a purposeful, stoic Massachuttes manner (is that possible?). He managed to talk about himself without being emotionally lewd.
A change of costume came at the end. This time, he stood almost naked before us, in nothing but his boxer briefs and socks.
Then he began to dress up as Ayn Rand.
I mean, I cannot stress this enough: he dressed as Ayn Rand. Then, he proceeded to imagine what it would be like if she wrote articles for Parade magazine. Interestingly, he chose to portray Rand as close to death. 81 Rand. He managed to soften her, somehow, even when keeping the harsh accent.
At the very end of the show, Hodgman sang a duet with Jason Simms, a man whom Hodgman described as practicing a brand of “esoteric Catholicism.” So for the finale Simms, a southern Catholic (and a great opening act!), sang along to “Resist the Tide" with this Northeastern, atheistic Hodgman-Rand hybrid creature. Here’s what Hodgkin says of the song in this AV Club Interview:
“Resist The Tide”…is a song about beginnings and baptism and death and endings, and also electricity, just because, you know, throw that in there as well. It really is a song that has provided a lot of solace for me, in that there is a hopelessness to the song, but it outlines a way to be hopeful.
In the song [link], things fall apart. Everything tends to decay, and it takes a lot of work to combine atoms in a way such that they resist the lure of the darkness that lurks around the edges of every day. And that so utterly describes the feeling I have when I contemplate mortality, or think, “There is a darkness that lurks around every day, no matter how happy it is.” Unless you are lucky enough to have such profound faith that you know you are going someplace better when you die, there is a darkness that colors the corners of even the brightest days. If you contemplate it, you will fall apart. So that song is about not falling apart in the contemplation of the hard things we have to contemplate, resisting that tide and not going under with it. It is a weird form of solace, in that it makes no promises that there’s something better beyond what we see here in front of us, but it encourages you to grab hold of what is in front of you very firmly and not let go.”
Ernest Becker said that the point of religion is to make man heroic. I believe that’s pretty on point, with the added caveat that this heroism should transform the practitioner. (This usually involves being bound (i.e. religion). The Kierkegaard parable about the master who knew just how hard to drive the horse comes to mind. [By the way—here are some of my religious beliefs in parentheticals. Hello!]) This song made me feel heroic in that resistance.
"Now all I know is it’s a pity life / Can’t be simple again."
Hodgkin would have played this song earlier, to evoke Eden, I think. It would have been beautiful, but we were in ALABAMA, and even in a refuge such as The BottleTree Cafe, you apparently cannot play Rocky Top. The RedTide is everywhere. It’s cool. I’m fine with it.
BUT, I still got the point. The magic of the song still worked. Even more so, I think, because Jason Simms was on stage, representing a different take on “all this,” but still singing out against the darkness nonetheless. Still believing the words he sang.
Worship is thanks; worship is sharing with people your nakedness, sometimes accompanies by ukulele music. And jokes, and stories.
So thanks, Mr. Hodgman. (And The BottleTree Cafe!)
EDIT: Forgot to mention David Rees. That’s man is magic. The Confessions of St. Augustine, son! YouTube him, watch his show…all that. Smoochies D. Rees.