Israel (1): First sojourn in Israel – Who’s a Jew?

Continued from In Search of French Past (8)…

French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, said that we tell stories because human lives need and merit to be told. Writing stories is one of the noblest employments of the mind and soul. Most good stories should aim at knowledge and wisdom. This aim is most evident in life stories – biographies. There is more. We all need to be valued and praised. There’s one problem, though. We all have something to hide, something we want to keep secret. It’s called “sins.” We want to be admired and loved, but to achieve this goal we have to hide our sins.

Whereas an autobiography is often more restrained – we hide our many sins – a novel often throws all caution to the wind. It is in the novel that many bare all their sins, where, in their role of author, they transpose the evil thoughts, intentions and acts of their lives onto their characters, wallowing in a cesspool of unlimited freedom. This self-indulgence makes the writing of a novel, in contrast to an autobiography, very gratifying. You can vicariously let it all hang out through the characters you create: you stole, you lied, you were unfaithful, you were involved in an abortion (there are some today who are ashamed of such an act) – the list only stops growing the day we die. Thank God we don’t live as long as the generation of Noah, who dragged centuries of personal sins down into the roiling deeps.

Yet, dirty washing just ain’t dirty anymore, so you don’t need to write a hard thing like a novel to tittilate, to excite to flash your wares? Forgive if I don’t do as Zorba advises: to be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.

Zorba-the-Greek

I continue my story.

After graduating with a B.A. Philosophy (1963) at the University of Cape Town, I returned to France a few weeks later. I traveled in Europe with Louis-Albert (My Dominican priest friend), where we stayed at different Catholic “religious” houses. In Belgrade, Yugoslavia, we spent ten days in a religious house. We then took the long train trip over the mountains to Thessaloniki, Greece, where we stayed with the Marist Brothers. It was nearing the end of our travels together. He accompanied me to the port of Piraeus in Athens where I took a ship to Haifa. I joined my brother Benny on Kibbutz Ein Hashofet (“Judge’s Spring”), where he had been living for a while.

The Kibbutz was founded in 1937 and is named in honour of Louis D. Brandeis, the US Supreme Court judge. It is situated about 30 kms from Haifa and 100 kms north of Tel Aviv. I stayed there for three months working in the orchards, and draining and cleaning out the steamy slime of the fish ponds. I attended Ulpan (Hebrew classes) where I brushed up on my Hebrew that I had learned in South Africa in Chaida (Hebrew school) and in my Hebrew course at the University of Cape Town (1960). I remember the time I embarrassed Benny. At breakfast we had to queue in a line. When you reached the a la carte table, you had a choice between three olives and an egg. I grumbled more than inwardly. Benny, close to me in the queue, huffed and puffed: pioneers don’t complain.

After three months, Benny and I went to Kibbutz Gonen, which in 1964 was on the Northern Israel-Syria border. On the Northern side was the Golan Heights, which Israel would occupy after the 1967 six-day war. I stayed on Kibbutz Gonen for 9 months, where I did apple-picking , and later worked in the chicken runs. In the apple season when it was very hot, I got up at 4 a.m., had a breakfast of several fried eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers and leben (fermented milk then churned and butter removed). We then traveled in a truck for about 20 minutes to the orchards. At about 8 am we returned to the kibbutz for (another) breakfast, and then back to the orchards until about noon. Then back to the Kibbutz for lunch and rest until about 3 pm, and back to the orchards for a few more hours.

I loved working with the chickens. In the morning I greeted my little friends: hullo Shmuel’ you’re up early Obadiah! Every morning, I would find a few dead on the straw floor. I took them outside, walked to a mound opposite the row of chicken runs, lifted the milk-can lid covering a deep hole, and dropped them in. Some mornings, before light, the trucks would come to collect the white birds for slaughter. The birds would panic, and so were difficult to catch. A good catcher could do eight at a time, four in each hand, one foot between two fingers. We lifted them up to the catcher on the truck, who stooped and scooped up the eight chickens between his fingers, depositing them into one of the cages on the truck.

We were close to Mount Hermon, and sometimes there were dog fights in the area between Syrian and Israeli jets. When this happened we had to scramble into shelters. Once, Benny and I. Wearing our blue worker’s overalls, went in the tractor outside the Kibbutz – Benny in the driver’s seat– and travel on the narrow path, which was the border between Syria and Israel. Benny was usually very cautious but for some reason he took me with him on this dangerous route. On the Israeli side of us, about 100 metres away was a U.N. observation post, and on the left was a hill with what looked like a Syrian fortification atop. It seemed vacated. We thought that the Syrians wouldn’t dare to fire on us in full view of the U.N. post. On reflection, it was a stupid. We trundled on the tractor, Benny as confident as ever, back to the Kibbutz.

A group of us from Kibbutz Gonen went on a tiyul (trip) in two jeeps through Israel down to Masada.

In Hebron we visited a shrine that was said to contain the massive catafalques (caskets) of Adam, and I think Eve and Abraham. I recall that one of the catafalques was draped in green. According to Sir Richard Burton, Muslims believed Adam and Eve to be buried in Mecca. They also claim that Abraham and his son, Ishmael built the Kaaba in Mecca.

israel map use.png

One of the highlights for me – a Roman catholic convert – if not my fellow Jews, was the view of 4th century, St Georges Greek Orthodox monastery, hugging a cliff in the Judean desert.

georges monas-of-st-geh

The close-up above was not possible from my vantage point, which was the road on the other side of the valley. Along the road ran a disused aqueduct, perhaps ancient. We went on to Masada (Hebrew metzada “fortress”), the last Jewish stronghold against the Romans, and the most visited tourist site in Israel. Most of our information about Masada comes from Josephus, the Jewish historian. In 73-74 BC, the Romans led by the governor of Judea, Lucius Flavius Silva, laid siege to Masada for three months. When the Romans breached the walls, they found that the occupants had committed suicide.

After Masada, we returned to our kibbutz.

On some of my days off from the kibbutz, I went to Tel Aviv and spent many hours in cafes in Dizengoff Street. There was a particular cafe in Tel Aviv that I visited often with my Russian Jewish girlfriend, Rivka. On one occasion, I was alone in the cafe when a beautiful North African Jewish girl came to my table and burst out words to the effect “where have you been all this time, I’ve been searching a long time for you?” I said I didn’t know who she was. She yelled out loud: “What are you talking about, we were together all that time and you don’t know who I am!” She shouted “my name.” I said that this was not my name. I repeated that I had never met her. She persisted. The tables around were all eyes and ears. She began to cry. Should I bring down the curtain on the big scene by relenting and saying “Oh, of course, now I remember.” And then? Go to her place, get into bed with her? See I have no calves? (See The calves wil dance for joy: Malachi 4:2 (First Year University 2). “Who are you? It’s your face, but how did you get so skinny in two months?” Maybe she didn’t know me, and was a professional who conned lonely men. How many had she duped and robbed in the past. I couldn’t imagine her being a fraud. When she ran off crying, I felt a rotten scum; I broke her heart. I often wonder what happened to her. There are so many events in life with no closure: the victims of crimes, and the perpetrators who are never caught or disclosed. The events could be very personal such as the disappearance or murder of a love one, or on a larger scale, the 9/11 “false flag” operation. (“False flag” describes covert operations that are designed to deceive in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by entities, groups, or nations other than those who actually planned and executed them”).

My parents, Fanny and Issy came on holiday to Israel. I saw them twice, both times towards the end of their stay. The first time I went to see them was with my Russian Jewish girlfriend, Rivka. She had very blue eyes and unblemished light brown skin. I thought a Jewish girlfriend, and Russian to boot would make my parents happy, but no. I felt as if the Siberian winter had come over me. Why didn’t Fanny take to her, who was Jewish and from the Russian Empire like her? Was it because she wasn’t white like the Jewish girls in South Africa?

daddy mommy

Issy and Fanny (Feiga)  15 years earlier

Here is an story of an Ashkenazi (white-skinned) who married a Sephardi (dark-skinned) Jew:

Our Marriage Created Problems The marriage ceremony was held in the Sephardic Synagogue. The ceremony was simple but beautiful. Ziva and I were happy, but our marriage created serious problems. You see, Ziva is a Sephardi Jewess and I am an Ashkenazi Jew. For an Ashkenazi Jew to marry a Sephardi Jew is frowned upon in Israel by the ruling Ashkenazi’s. To understand why this is the case, you must realize the difference between the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews. The powerful Zionist propaganda machine has led the American people to believe that a Jew is a Jew — one race of people and that they are “God’s Chosen People,”… it is important for you to understand that Jews are NOT one race of people. There are two distinct groups of Jews in the world and they come from two different areas of the world — the Sephardi Jews from the Middle East and North Africa and the Ashkenazi Jews come from Eastern Europe. The Sephardi is the oldest group and it is they, if any, who are the Jews described in the Bible because they lived in the area described in the Bible. They are blood relatives to the Arabs — the only difference between them is the religion.”

The Ashkenazi Jews, Bernstein continues, now compromise 90% of the Jews in the world, had a rather strange beginning. According to historians, many of them Jewish, the Ashkenazi Jews came into existence about 1200 years ago. It happened this way: At the eastern edge of Europe, there lived a tribe of people known as the Khazars. About the year 740 A.D., the Khazar king and his court decided they should adopt a religion for their people. So, representatives of the three major religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, were invited to present their religious doctrines. The Khazars chose Judaism, but it wasn’t for religious reasons. If the Khazars had chosen Islam, they would have angered the strong Christian world. If they had chosen Christianity, they would have angered the strong Islamic world. So, they played it safe — they chose Judaism. It wasn’t for religious reasons the Khazars chose Judaism; it was for political reasons. Sometime during the 13th century, the Khazars were driven from their land and they migrated westward with most of them settling in Poland and Russia. These Khazars are now known as Ashkenazi Jews. Because these Khazar Ashkenazi Jews merely chose Judaism, they are not really Jews — at least not blood Jews.” (Jack Bernstein,“The life of an American Jew in racist Marxist Israel).

Blood Jews” (Bernstein) refers to “race.” Bernstein is saying that Ashkenazi Jews are ethnic Jews not racial Jews. What is the difference between “race” and “ethnicity?”

What is “race?” Here are definitions of “race”and “ethnicity.”The traditional definition of race and ethnicity is related to biological and sociological factors respectively. Race refers to a person’s physical characteristics, such as bone structure and skin, hair, or eye color. Ethnicity, however, refers to cultural factors, including nationality, regional culture, ancestry, and language. An example of race is brown, white, or black skin (all from various parts of the world), while an example of ethnicity is German or Spanish ancestry (regardless of race). (Source).

So “race” refers to “biological factors” such as a person’s physical characteristics such as bone structure and skin, hair, or eye color.” No mention of (invisible to the naked eye) DNA, which is also biological. Is the reason why there is no mention because it is assumed that visible biological factors always reflect invisible genetic factors? The fact is that genes do not only condition external physical features but also internal ones. Is it possible, for example, for a Sephardi Jew, who looks more like a North African, to share genes with an Ashkenazi Jew, where many look European? Indeed is it possible for an Ashkenazi who looks like a Swede (or a Turnip) to be genetically related to a black African – a black African Jew?

There are indeed some Jewish Africans. Here is moi [time past in a Lemba synagogue; and they ARE Jewish: they have the genes to prove it. (The origins of the Lemba ‘Black Jews’ of southern Africa: evidence from p12F2 and other Y-chromosome markers).

lemba-use-new.png

(In passing, I’m an inset). I haven’t had my DNA checked for Jewish genes, but the Rabbinate in Jerusalem and my family, including my two Israeli brothers say I’m a Jew– a biological Jew. (See The blond and the black: Jews of South Africa and The invention of Shlomo Sand – a thousand “Jews” make one Palestinian).

Some Jews might say that the moment I was baptised (at the age of 20), God (quasi-)removed my Jewish DNA, and replaced it with a goyish single-helix.  Michael Wyschogrod, admired by many “Messianic Jews” (they believe that Jesus/Yeshua is the Messiah) wrote:

It is therefore important for Jews to know that a Jew who believes that Jesus was God in the sense asserted by the Nicene Creed commits idolatry as defined by Jewish law.”

Now say a Christian (or any Gentile) converts to Judaism, God replaces his/her idolatrous DNA. Wyschogrod, in his “The Body of Faith,” maintains that when a gentile converts to Judaism, he or she does not merely share the beliefs of the new religion – as would be the case of a Jew converting to Christianity – but that the convert miraculously, and therefore literally, becomes the seed of Abraham and Sarah. The miracle is not totally biological but “quasi-biological.” How does this quasi-biological miracle occur? By immersion in a mikve (ritual bath), which “symbolizes” (is that why the miracle is only quasi?) the mother’s womb through which a person is born. I suppose it follows that if a Jew chooses to be immersed (Greek – baptismo) in baptism, God cuts him off from the seed of Abraham and Sarah. God would only do that, though, if the Jew becomes a Christian; not a Buddhist, a Hindu, an atheist, a Satanist, or a fluid. (I’m not male or female; I’m fluid).

The belief that Ashkenazi Jews are converted Khazars is widespread. It is probable that some Ashkenazis (European Jews) are Khazars, but I think that the numbers are not as large as many believe. Most historians agree that after the Bar Kochba revolt (132-136), the Romans exiled the Jews from Judea, after which they dispersed across Asia Minor, North Africa and Eastern Europe (SeeAshkenazi Economic and Social History” in Cochrane et al.). 

DNA research provides contrary evidence to the Khazar theory. Some examples of this DNA research are Behar et al.’s. “Multiple Origins of Ashkenazi Levites: Y Chromosome Evidence for Both Near Eastern and European Ancestries” in American Journal of Human Genetics and Kevin Brooks’ “Jews of Khazaria” especially the chapter Are Russian Jews Descended from the Khazars.

In When is an “ex-Jew” not a Jew? Once (your mother’s) a Jew Oiveys a Jew, I referred to Jon Entine’s book “Abraham’s children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People”. Entine explains why most Jews shy away from genetic research:

Discussing the genetic distinctiveness of populations, Jews or any other group, is a hot- button issue for many news outlets. “Abraham’s Children” suggests that there exist meaningful differences between populations, maybe even “races,” and that’s a taboo subject. It’s on the edge of acceptable popular discourse, although scientists discuss this all the time. I think a high percentage of reviewers are Jewish and liberal, and liberal dogma is that we don’t talk about racial differences. I understand that there is a traditional Jewish commitment to egalitarianism and identification with the underdog, which comes out of the Jews having been discriminated against throughout so much of their history. Many Jews carry that torch of fighting against discrimination, I do myself, and that’s a wonderful aspect of Jewishness.”

Several genetic studies (I mentioned a few above) provide reliable evidence that can establish whether a person is (more or less) Jewish. Yet most Jews eschew genetics of any kind in the evaluation of human beings; for example, measurements of intelligence between groups or races. These Jews are generally Ashkenazi Jews. But the facts are plain to see. North American Ashkenazi Jews, who make up three percent of the population, won 27 percent of North America’s Nobel prizes, and half the world chess champions are Jewish. They have reason to boast   of a bodily descent, but not of the power of an indestructible life (Hebrews 7:15).

There are “liberal Jews” (Entine above) who don’t believe that the Torah is from God – which is the vast majority of Jews, This vast majority comprise atheists-humanists, Reform Jews and Reconstructionist Jews. All these Jews have a deep respect for their Talmud (the “Oral Torah” – see The Written and the Oral Torah – which is primary?).

I don’t agree that “there is a traditional Jewish commitment to egalitarianism and identification with the underdog, which comes out of the Jews having been discriminated against throughout so much of their history” (Entine). It is true that they – the majority – “have a commitment to egalitarianism” but only insofar as it applies to Gentiles. Most Jews are Zionists and atheists/humanists. Zionism – whose key text is the Talmud – teaches that the Jew is superior to Gentiles, that Jews should remain racially uncontaminated by intermarriage. The Zionist” lobby (not all Jews are Zionists) in the US runs the government, the banks and the mass media. Yet they encourage (and often legislate) “interculturalism,” same-sex marriage, homosexuality, pornography between the Gentile races, while generally, eschewing these (publicly) themselves. The Jewish lobby in the US – which runs the government, the banks and the mass media. One of their main objectives is to destroy Christianity. Yet many Christians are Zionists. If only they understood the Jewish – with exceptions hatred of Christ. Oh the insanity of it all! (See The insanity of Christian Zionism).

A thousand Jews make one Palestinian,” in other words, that a Palestinian is much more Jewish than those who call themselves Jews. (Shlomo Sand – See my The invention of Shlomo Sand: A thousand Jews m ake one Palestinian). There are, however, many Palestinians that do have Jewish genes. Also, in some of the old houses in Palestinian towns today, the Star of David can still be seen above the entrance. When the Star of David appeared on the Israeli flag in 1948, Palestinians effaced and defaced many of the Stars of David above their houses. Some Stars of David still remain. (See the short Israeli movie Palestinians are Jews not Arabs – Hebrew with English subtitles). The picture is from the video.

star of david.png

I return to my parent’s visit to in Israel. They invited me for breakfast at their hotel in Tel Aviv, where we had a Jewish favourite – cheese and cream. After breakfast, we went to the lounge. Issy went to sit at one of the tables, hauled out a pocketful of coins and swooned into his favourite routine, the highlight of his working day at his bottles-bones-scrap metal business in South Africa, which I described here. Here is an excerpt:

At the end of the day, Issy would cash up. There was always a high pile of silver and copper coins left over at the end of the day. Issy lays all the coins in the middle of the big table in his office. He separates the silver and coppers into two piles in the middle of the table. The silver coins consisted of tickeys (threepence), sixpences, shillings, two-shillings, and half-crown (two shillings and sixpence). The coppers were farthings (quarter of a penny), ha’pennies (half pennies) and pennies. He stacks the coins into neat little towers. He adds up the towers and writes the total in his A4 hardcover notebook. He then coaxes the coins into different linen bags, and pulls the string shut. He will take the bags to the bank. The day is complete: the bottles are packed in bags, ready to be loaded onto trucks first thing tomorrow morning, the floor of the store has been swept, the workers have gone home. Time to lock up and go home to Fanny’s nice supper. Or if she is not feeling well, Issy will step in and cook supper, as he did on so many occasions. Sammy (my brother, who worked in the business) and Issy lock up and go home.”

While he was counting the coins in the hotel in Tel Aviv, he said to me that the success of a holiday was determined by the amount of money you managed not to spend. One should not immediately think “Shylock”; my father’s generation in the Russian Empire and later as immigrants to the West was initially very poor and had to work very hard to make ends meet. Yes indeed, the Jew loves money, but so do you. It is true, though, that many Jews have given money a worse name – it’s bad enough that it is the root of all evil – especially the Jewish banksters, who have been ruling the world for centuries and are the main power for centuries behind many wars; WWI and WWII, for example.

I care not what puppet is placed upon the throne of England to rule the Empire on which the sun never sets. The man that controls Britain’s money supply controls the British Empire, and I control the British money supply” (Jewish Baron Nathan Mayer Rothschild). 

The Jewish magazine Sentinel of Chicago printed in its issue of 8 October 1940:
‘When the National Socialists and their friends cry or whisper that this [the war] is brought about by Jews, they are perfectly right.’ (
Why Hitler hated Jews). When Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Jews declared war on Germany. (See Ashkenazis declare war on Nazis and The Nameless War by Archbald Maule Rams).

My parents had come to the end of their visit to Israel. They were about to go through customs to the departure lounge. I wanted so much to ask my father for some money; I earned a pittance on the kibbutz, and had no other source of income. Eyes pleaded with him to realise my sorry state. I squirmed and made all kinds of forlorn gestures, hoping against hope to raise his consciousness. I thought: how about a little donation, if not a raise. Issy looked at me and asked if anything was wrong. I couldn’t get the words out: “Daddy, could I have a few of those coins?” They left for the departure lounge. What was that little jingle I heard as I embraced my Dad! It was the beginning of 1965. I departed Israel for South Africa.

Always departing, never arriving. “We’re in “a sort of diabolical trance, wherein the soul traverses the world; feeds itself with a thousand airy nothings ; snatches at this and the other created excellency, in imagination and desire ; goes here and there, and every where, except where it should go” (Thomas Boston). Towards the Messiah. Always pursued. Always arriving always departing; or rather never arriving always departing. When will the Messiah come? Is the point of about having a messiah the promise, the hope, the aspiration, not that he comes. What’s the deal, says the humanist, with having a messiah who’s arrived? Where is the mystery once he’s exposed and had his say?” (See The postmodern pursuit: always departing, never arriving). Much mystery remains; the great mystery, the overwhelming mystery, the aweful mystery, the mysterium tremendum (Rudolf Otto):

Otto was one of the most influential thinkers about religion in the first half of the twentieth century. He is best known for his analysis of the experience that, in his view, underlies all religion. He calls this experience “numinous,” and says it has three components. These are often designated with a Latin phrase: mysterium tremendum et fascinans. As mysterium, the numinous is “wholly other”– entirely different from anything we experience in ordinary life. It evokes a reaction of silence. But the numinous is also a mysterium tremendum. It provokes terror because it presents itself as overwhelming power. Finally, the numinous presents itself as fascinans, as merciful and gracious.”

My greatest discovery, which can never be surpassed in this life is the discovery of God’s mercy and grace – through the Son of God, the Messiah, who died that I may live.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

Our fatalism paralyzes us as muslims: the divine decree and human free will

A Muslim who calls himself “an activist, a change agent and a social commentator who reflects upon reality,” finds it difficult to reconcile the sovereignty of God in Islam and Christianity – who decrees all events and actions –  with human freedom and responsibility.  In “Our fatalism pacifies us as Muslims” (Weekend Post, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, December 5, 2015), Imraahn Ismail Mukkaddam writes:

[My words appear in square brackets].

“Whenever I speak to people of faith – Muslim and others – about the condition of humanity and the planet, I am confronted by the Qur’anic and Biblical  revelations that all of this is prescribed and described and that all of this mess we find ourselves in  is God’s will. [I’m not sure what the writer means by “described”]. As believers in a Supreme Being we affirm and attest to Taqdeer [fate/destiny], Qadr, Karma, God’s will, predestination and divine decree, but to what extent are we allowing ourselves to be pacified into sheepish acceptance of what we perceive as inevitable without questioning if this is really predestined…“Is the chaos and the havoc and the injustice we witness on a daily basis really the manifestation of a divine divine decree? Is the Allah who we worship really such a cruel creator that He contradicts His foremost attributes – that of being Most Merciful and Most Beneficent?”

Definition of Taqdeer (fate/destiny)

“The concept of destiny may further be explained by understanding destiny to be Allah’s knowledge of how the individual is going to use his free-will rather than a pre-decided factor being enforced upon him without giving him a fair chance. Consider the following example:

An appointment is arranged between two individuals. The first arrives before time and waits for the second; he then comments that the second will arrive late as always. He bases his prediction on previous experience and the lax nature of the second individual. This statement does not restrict or bound the latter’s ability to attend on time in any way, it is merely an assertion. Similarly, when Allah the Almighty informs us, through his infinite knowledge, of his knowledge of our precise actions and our consequent abode it should not be perceived to be a compelling decision against our free will, but rather only his knowledge of our decisions. To summarise, every individual has been given free-will and should use it to work towards attaining the pleasure of Allah and that Allah has full knowledge of the individual’s actions; past, present and future.” (Taqdeer, Inter-Islam.org)

The above passage does not make a distinction between “fate” (random forces) and “destiny” (God’s plan).

Definition of Qadr: Predestination, God’s eternal decree.

Mukkaddam, asks: “Is the chaos and the havoc and the injustice we witness on a daily basis really the manifestation of a divine divine decree? Is the Allah who we worship really such a cruel creator that He contradicts His foremost attributes – that of being Most Merciful and Most Beneficent?”

Bertrand Russell, in his article “A Free man’s worship” (1903), concludes: “Brief and powerless is man’s life; on him and all his race the slow sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way.”

A theist does not believe that human freedom is caught up in the chance intrigues (fate) of “omnipotent matter.” So, how can we reconcile a most merciful, most beneficent God with evil – natural calamities and the worship of self manifested  in acts such as lying, calumny, stealing, and murder?

Philosophers and others have written billions of words on the problem without any solution. So should we give up on God, as so many have done? No.

Human  reason – as is true of so many questions of human origins and destiny/fate, cannot produce truth; it has to be discovered; uncovered, by a divine hand. This does not mean that all our questions on such matters as evil can be answered to our satisfaction. And if I can’t, that is a perverse and silly reason to reject the answers.

Jews, Christians and Muslims trust their texts come from God, they believe in divine revelation. The psalmist writes, “Show me Your ways, O Lord;
Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation (Psalm 25:4-5).

The Muslim should also believe in the divine origin of this psalm, for the Qur’an says “We have sent down the Torah,* containing guidance and light. Ruling in accordance with it were the Jewish prophets, as well as the rabbis and the priests, as dictated to them in GOD’s scripture, and as witnessed by them. Therefore, do not reverence human beings; you shall reverence Me instead. And do not trade away My revelations for a cheap price. Those who do not rule in accordance with GOD’s revelations, are the disbelievers” (Surah 5:44).

I believe that the Bible, not human philosophy or human indignation, provides a satisfactory, if partial answer. Partial because “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law/Torah/teaching (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Here is one thing revealed: “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’” (Isaiah 46:10).

Compare the above verse with the definition of  taqdeer (fate/destiny) in the Islamic definition given above: “every individual has been given free-will and should use it to work towards attaining the pleasure of Allah and that Allah has full knowledge of the individual’s actions; past, present and future.”

With regard to free will, most Christians – for example, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Methodists, and Word of Faith movements agree with Islamic theology, namely that the human will is a neutral entity – it can choose either to love God or not – and that God knows all things, past present and future; and God will be pleased if people use their free will to love Him, but can do nothing about it if they choose not to. How does the Muslim reconcile this view with his understanding of qadr?

“Predestination/predetermination” (see above), which states that “the outcome of all affairs is determined by God’s decree…from it you cannot flee.” If God makes known the end from the beginning (prophecy), he obviously (fore)knows what he makes known. What, however, do we make of the line in Isaiah 46:10, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please?”

According to most Christians and all Muslims and orthodox Jews, this sentence means that God’s purpose is to know everything in eternity and in time-space. And knowing all this pleases him. But, I ask, isn’t the reason why God knows the end from the beginning because he decreed it, purposed it, ordained it, as in Isaiah 46:10?

How to reconcile  the divine decree with human free will? The Muslim is caught between the rock of taqdeer (God’s foreknowledge of human free acts) and the hard place of qadr (God’s decree/predestination/predetermination), a quandary driving our writer, Mukkaddam, nuts; with good reason.

Can human free will be compatible with the biblical truth that God decrees everything, and that includes, must include, evil, where human beings are free agents AND God decrees their acts. Plato, the Greek philosopher, and Augustine of Hippo say that God is the author of good only. What then to make of Isaiah 45:7? “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil (Hebrew ra); I am the LORD, that doeth all these things.” How can God be infinitely good and create evil?

The Bible juxtaposes human causality and divine causality in this remarkable verse in scripture on the crucifixion of Christ, which could help Mukkaddam in his difficulty. Ironically, he, being a Muslim, rejects one of the most reliable of all historical facts, that Christ died on the cross. The Qur’an says “They killed him not” (Surah 4:57). The Bible says they did kill him: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23).

We see in the above verse that God’s deliberate plan (which is the reason why he foreknows it), which is his decree to have Jesus, the Son of God crucified (planned from eternity by both the Father and the Son) is, therefore, compatible with the free agency of man to do this evil deed. Do we reject the scripture because we cannot reconcile a wholly good God – there is no evil in him – with his decree, or do we bow to the divine counsel?

Our confusion is caused by our limited understanding of the relationship between the finite and the infinite, the temporal [Latin tempus “time”] and the eternal. We can only  have a finite, temporal concept of divine causality, of divine authorship, of divine creativity. “The concatenation of all his counsels is not intelligible to us; for he is as essentially and necessarily wise, as he is essentially and necessarily good and righteous.” (Stephen Charnock, 1632 -1680. “A discourse on the wisdom of God”).

Finally, Mukkaddam has difficulty reconciling the “chaos and havoc” of the world with a loving God. What example does he give of this chaos and havoc? He exclaims “global warming,” which is the central focus of his problem with the relationship between the evil acts of man (pollution) and predestination? I am reminded of Barack Hussein Obama, Bernie Sanders ( a US democratic presidential candidate) and Prince Charles. Obama and Sanders say ISIS is not the problem; global warming is. For Prince Charles, the reason why there are so many refugees flooding Europe is because they are fleeing global warming. Floods?

Global warming, man-made or not, is not the most pressing problem. There are greater problems: poverty, national debt, and Islamic terrorism particularly ISIS and its supporters in the US, Europe and the Middle East. The most (de)pressing problem is ISIS, because although poverty can kill, and one can die from a swollen tummy,  there is little fear that it will blow up in your face. And where does ISIS find its inspiration? In the Qur’an; in its explicit blanket directives to kill idolators and apostates, and to subjugate or kill the people of the Book (Jews and Christians).

Question: did God decree ISIS to kill and destroy, does God decree the vile acts of man, did God decree sin? Yes. Yet man is guilty; he loves his sin; ISIS wallows in it.

Now we know why most people in the world including religious ones hate a God who decrees evil. The thrice holy God will not allow any rogue force to control the world without His decree, without fulfilling His purpose.

In short, the difference between the Islamic and New Testament notions of Allah’s and God’s decree is this:

Islam

In Islam, even if you believe in Allah and his prophet, and are an obedient Muslim, this is irrelevant to where you end, because Allah has already decreed your destiny – in your father’s loins or in your mother’s tummy or many years before your birth; all three are cited in contradictory hadiths.

New Testament

Here is a key verse: John 6 – 39 This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day…44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day...64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. 65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

How do the above verses fit with New Testament “predestination?” Answer: God decrees that if you are predestined to be saved (eternal ife), you will believe. In Islam, qadr  and belief in and obedience to Allah are unrelated.

P.S. Mukkaddam is obviously living in the West, for if he wrote this article in a Muslim land (under Sharia), he’d be toast.

See here – from beginning to 43rd minute –  for “Christian Prince’s”  attempt to refute the the concept of qadr, where he seems to conflate qadr with the Christian concept of “predestination/election.” He does this, as all Arminians do, because they believe, like Christian Prince, that election means selection, which is based on you opening the door to your heart and letting Christ in; and on the idea that  if you get sick of Christ, you can show him door.

 

The Christian Mind: Sapientia and Scientia

DR. RELUCTANT

In 1994 the evangelical historian Mark Noll published The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.[1]The book is not much more than a sustained lambast against two conservative subtraditions, Young Earth Creationism and Dispensational Premillennialism.Howbeit, Noll rightly laments “the generations-long failure of the evangelical community to nurture the life of the mind.”[2]In fact, he admonishes his peers because, “fidelity to Jesus Christ demands from evangelicals a more responsible intellectual existence than we have practiced throughout much of our history.”[3]This is because “the gospel properly belongs to the whole person”[4]

A.The Need for Wisdom and Knowledge

Noll’s prime example of a Christian intellect is the great American philosopher-theologian Jonathan Edwards.For Edwards, he writes, “True knowledge was rather ‘the consistency and agreement of our ideas with the ideas of God.’”[5]One is reminded of Edwards’ words in his great sermon entitled “Christian…

View original post 3,783 more words

Zakir Naik, the artful dodger


Naik says to the christian questioner, “If you say that Jesus is God because he had no father then Adam must be a greater God than Jesus because Adam had no father and no mother.”

Amused applause from the crowd.

Naik is right IF the question had said that. Not only did she not say that but there is nothing in her question to even hint at that.

In his desire to parade around on his hobby horse of knocking the divinity of Christ, Naik continues to exhibit no understanding of the incarnation. The Son of God exists eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit, three persons-one God. The Son took on flesh from the line of Judah, which, obviously goes back to Adam. Jesus is called the God-man. In the latter condition He is referred to as the Son of man. He took on human nature to serve.

Seven “according to the form of a servant/according to the form of God” affirmations:

1. on existence and essence
a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord’s existence is not co-extensive with his essence;
b. according to the form of God, our Lord’s existence is his essence
2. on creature and Creator
a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord is creature;
b. according to the form of God, our Lord is Creator
3. on created being and divine being
a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord came into temporal or creaturely being;
b. according to the form of God, our Lord is I AM
4. on creaturely knowing and divine knowing
a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord grew in his understanding of the Old Testament;
b. according to the form of God, our Lord predates and is the source of the Old Testament
5. on creaturely composition and divine non-composition
a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord is composed of parts and faculties;
b. according to the form of God, our Lord is without body, parts, or passions
6. on beginning and without beginning
a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord began;
b. according to the form of God, our Lord is without beginning
7. on finitude and infinity
a. according to the form of a servant, our Lord is no way infinite;
b. according to the form of God, our Lord is every way infinite

The “according to . . .” formula is borrowed from Augustine.

Richard C. Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA

Jews and the Eternal Self: It all unfolds

“And this is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is, on the promises and truth of God, which cannot deceive.” LUTHER’S WORKS, American Edition, 55 vols. Eds. Pelikan and Lehmann (St Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia and fortress.) 45:70–71.

My sister Sonia is 84, and has been living in a Jewish old-age home for more than 20 years. She like all the Jews discussed here do not align themselves with the Bible or any branch of Judaism: they are “cultural” Jews. Sonia cannot do much for herself. Her favourite is chocolate which, if allowed, she would snarf all day. My second sister visits her always bearing chocs. She does not give it directly to Sonia but to the nurses, who, to Sonia’s chagrin, dole out a few morsels a day, because, they say, too much sugar is bad for her health. I told my second sister that she should let Sonia eat as much chocolate as she could afford to buy for Sonia. “But, she said, Sonia might die.” I replied, “So, she lives an extra few months – deprived.” I asked my second sister, “What do you think happens to you when you die?” She said she will rejoin Mommy and Daddy. I asked, “Will you see Jesus there?” She replied, “Of course not, he’s on a much higher plane.”

Although Christians believe that they will meet Jesus when they die, “higher planes” is not a Christian term. Christians (should) believe that it’s the work, the finished work of Christ, faith in Him, faith in His works, not ours, that reconciles us to God, that brings us into God’s presence on earth, and, in a much more intimate way, in heaven. Sonia also used to talk of higher planes. Years ago I asked Sonia whether she ever read the Bible. She said she had moved far beyond that.

In July 2006, when on holiday from Oman, where I was teaching at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, I visited Sonia at Highlands House, the Jewish home for the elderly situated in the “City Bowl” area of Cape Town. Cape Town seems to be quite small and neatly arranged. This is because of “Table Mountain” that surrounds the town centre and seems to hold the city in a bowl. For this reason, the terrain between Table mountain and the harbour is called the City Bowl. Highlands House is situated a stone’s throw from the mountain.

It was often difficult to get Sonia to talk about the past, but on this occasion, she was more relaxed. I wrote down our conversation verbatim.

Sonia’s words are in italics.

What school did you go to? She doesn’t answer the question. She gives me the name of five of her classmates who became doctors (medical doctors). For Yiddish Jews, you’re not a real doctor unless you’re a medical doctor. If you were thinking of visiting a certain place, my mother, Fanny (Yiddish, Feigele “little swallow”) would settle the issue with: “Die greste dokteirim geit dottern” (The greatest doctors go there).

I’m going to tell you how I became enlightened. I studied mysticism, the mystical way of life, since 1963, Goldsmith, a Jewish mystic.

In our family, Sonia threw out words like “infinite “divine”, “mystical.” They thought she was mad. She was an embarassment. What lay behind Goldsmith’s “Infinite way.”

Joel S. Goldsmith is described as one of the “great modern mystics – the American teacher, healer and lecturer.” Goldsmith’s “Infinite Way” is also called the “Circle of Christhood.” Here is an except from his book:

The day is coming when there will be a band of Christhood around the world, a circle of Christhood. Not persons, not people – I’m not speaking of that. I’m speaking of a band of spiritual consciousness around the world. You know how it will get there? By these realizations of Christ. The Christ, as Browning tells us, is within ourselves, bottled up there, corked up. We must open out a way for that imprisoned splendor to escape.”

Sonia:

My whole life expanded. I don’t know where to begin. It’s not a thing you can study intellectually. The pupil is ready; the teacher appears. Who we are, our function on earth; can’t talk anymore; it just enfolds(unfolds?).” “Enfolds?” A spark of gnostic genius, perhaps.

Sonia shows me a poem she wrote.

It’s from the soul. Can’t snatch from outside, or hear about it, or copy it. I always loved writing. I’m waiting for the right time. My thoughts become potent and real, become colourful.

You have a fantastic way of expressing yourself.

The scriptures.

Did you read the scriptures?

Didn’t need to, it just unfolded. I see things with such depth. I had an elocution teacher at Maitland High (School), Valda Adams, who went to Hollywood. I also wanted to help. I wrote a letter for Blanche in my class who was absent. I signed her father’s name. I was meant to be queen in a play. The teacher found out and I lost the part. The principal put me on his lap and said: “You’re a good girl but you must learn.”

I wrote an essay: “Good will and cooperation in South Africa.” The teachers thought it too advanced, but I wrote it from my heart. I left school to help Daddy in his business (See Bags, scrap metal, bottles and bare bones). I went, Sonia continues, to extramural lectures (in psychology).

Sonia then relates the time – more than 30 years later – when she went to Avrom, our nephew’s place for supper. Avrom is my brother Joe’s son. Avrom left South Africa more than 30 years ago for Australia, and is in the organic fruit business as well as being the Regional Director of the Jewish Defence League of Australia. Sonia describes Avrom’s cooking.

Black mushrooms grilled in garlic butter filled with delicious creamed spinach and topped with garlic white sauce. Peri-peri livers or plain and onions finished off in a delicious fresh tomato sauce.

Sonia then talked about our father, Issy:

I want to write a book about Daddy. Fantastic chef. He bought, he cooked, he presented.

Then about life at home:

Too full of sorrow. Daddy was not a thinker. Mommy was. He liked good food and getting his way. Gave her lots of babies.

I remembered the comment (in an official memo written in 1951) made by the Principal of the Cape Jewish Orphanage who said that my parents had “14 or 15 children.” My parents were described as people who have had 14 or 15 children, and are so brutish and self-centred that they are totally unable to care for their numerous progeny. The principal went on to say that the Orphanage had five of the Gamaroff offspring until 1949 (I was one of these). They did not have 15 children; thet had 9 or 10. I think one died in early chldhood. See Cape Jewish Orphanage (8): And then there were fifteen).

Sonia then talked about her ex-husband, Israel. They divorced in the 1970s. He got sick in the late 1980s. Sonia went to stay with him and cared for him. Sonia continues:

I stayed with him to make him well. There was dust in his lungs. I loved to cook and heal. Nothing was too hard for me. Made him chicken and salads. He got better and better. He was healed. He was living in his air cocoon (in a lung machine? in his own world?).

There’s a chakra in your breast that protects you. Thank you Father (God), you know better. I won’t retaliate. I went through the university of life. I studied 40 years – and you can’t buy it for money. But now we are purified with God’s love. I’m all because of You. He is perfect. So are we. And any less than that, throw out.

If Sonia thinks she is perfect, then she is God, and thus, she exists on the highest plane. Recall my second sister who said that because of her imperfections, when she dies it will take a long time to reach the realm where Jesus lives. When I was in my teens my father told me that if he had to change, it could only be for worse. Divine perfection was my father.

What were these religious outpourings and unfoldings from Sonia? Was there method in Sonia’s theosophical mishmash? Theosophy is a religious philosophy originating with Helena Blavatsky. Theosophy teaches that all religions are attempts by the “Spiritual Hierarchy”, the “One Mind”, the “Overself” to help humanity evolve to greater perfection, where all religions have a measure of the truth.

The source of love, for the Jewish psychologist, Gerald Jampolsky, is within the eternal inner man. When you discover that source – through transforming your consciousness – you will discover that your fear was groundless. Here is Jampolsky in his “Love is letting go of fear”:

“…wouldn’t our lives be more meaningful if we looked at what has no beginning and no ending as our reality. Only love fits this definition of the eternal. Everything else is transitory and therefore meaningless…..fear can offer us nothing because it is nothing (p. 17)…all minds are joined…we share a common Self, and that inner peace and Love are in fact all that are real…Love is letting go of fear (.p.18)…we can choose our own reality. Because our will is free, we can choose to see and experience the truth (p. 21).”

Jampolsky’s God is the “Eternal common Self,” which is an Eastern metaphysic. “We can learn to receive direction from our inner intuitive voice, which is our guide to knowing (p. 28). The “inner intuitive voice” is the voice of the eternal common Self.

When I was a devout Catholic, I read the great Catholic mystics such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. I was still wet behind the mystical ears, and didn’t know that you could be a good Catholic and a good Buddhist at the same time. According to Thomas Merton, Buddhism and Catholicism were two sides of the same coin, of the same Koinona (communion); they participate, according to Merton, in the same communion of divine fellowship. Each is a different door to human solidarity and brotherhood. The present Pope, Francis, says the same thing.

Buddha’s final words to his disciples were:

“Make of yourself a light. Rely upon yourself; do not rely upon anyone else. Make my teachings your light. Rely upon them; do not depend upon any other teaching.”

Contrast that with the words of John the Baptist:

“He was not himself the light, but was to bear witness to the light” (John, 1:8). John the Baptist continued to proclaim that Christ “is the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world” (John, 1:9).

Christ says “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). Christ is the light. No human being has any light IN himself waiting to shine forth.

Here is an excerpt of an ABC-TV interview featuring Shirley Maclaine:

During an oceanside conversation, David presses her to stand up and assert the presence of the “God-truth” within. After suggesting several affirmations, he selects a powerful one for Shirley: “I am God.”
Timidly, she stands at the Pacific. Stretching out her arms, she mouths the words half-heartedly.

“Say it louder.”

Shirley blusters about this statement being a little too pompous. For him to make her chant those words is — well, it sounds so insufferably arrogant.

David’s answer cuts to the quick: “See how little you think of yourself?”

This deep insight embarrasses MacLaine into holy boldness. Intuitively, she comes to feel he’s right. Lifting both arms to the sky, she pumps it out — “I am God! I am God!” — as the ocean laps at her feet.

It didn’t come naturally to Maclaine. But to stand up in public and declaim it; that takes supernatural chutzpa.

I read much of Paul Brunton. I was surprised – but why should someone who is alert to the uncanny be surprised by anything – to discover that Paul Brunton was not only Jewish, but his original name was Raphael – Raphael Hurst. He was born in London from Jewish parents who had emigrated to England from Eastern Europe. His parents were part of the same wave of emigrants from Eastern Europe as my two sets of grandparents. Brunton’s parents stayed in England permanently. My grandparents came via England to South Africa.

Earlier we met the Jew, Joel Goldsmith, heading East on his “Infinite way” towards enlightenment. Now, we meet Raphael Hurst, another Wandering Jew wondering among the esoterica (Esoteric knowledge is knowledge only known to a few) of East and West. He was, if not the first, among the first to tailor Eastern philosophy to a Western audience. He said you don’t have to be a monk to be enlightened.

Why did Raphael Hurst change his name to Paul Brunton? Let me answer with another question? Who is going to read books about yogis, holy men and ancient Egyptian priests written by Raphael Hurst, unmistakably a Jewish boy? Although, in recent years it is has become respectable to be a “Jubu”: a Jewish Buddhist, as it has become chi-chi to be a “Cabu”: a Catholic Buddhist (Thomas Merton). Perhaps it had little to do with Raphael’s desire to hide his Jewishness and more to do with finding a name that is better suited to selling books. They do it in the movie business, so why not in the publishing business? For example, what kind of a name is David Kaminsky or Stewart Konigsberg if you want to be a great Jewish actor? Danny Kaye and Woody Allen would fit the bill. Imagine a Yiddishe mama saying to her gentile neighbour: my son de hekter Stewart Konigsberg. Compare that with: my son de hekter Voody Ellern.

What unites religions? “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” What divides religions: “I am God” (waiting to unfold in me) versus “I am a creature of God”. The one view is: “God is inside me; my spirit is eternal”. The opposite view is: “God, who is outside me, created me – both body and spirit, and I don’t find God; He finds me. I don’t look for God; He looks for me. I’m unable to look for God because I’m dead to the things of God.” That’s the New Testament view of the difference between the God inside waiting to unfold and the God outside taking up residence in you. How God comes to abide in you is the question that divides the monotheistic-creator religions. This “how” also is one of the major divisive points within Christianity, itself. (See Arminianism versus Calvinism).

In no domain other than religion do the prepositions “inside” and “outside” take on such great significance, eternal significance. What is considered as just another grammatical element of language – two prepositions among many others – is in reality of vast import. Language – every word that proceeds from the mouth of God – is of crucial import.

So, most religions and metaphysical systems such as Gnoticism fit into the “I am God” category. The three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam fit into the “I am a creature of God” category. For many in the monotheistic camp, this view of man as mere creature is too simplistic. For example, much of Christian and Jewish mysticism is about discovering that I and God are “ONE”. The quest is for ecstatic experiences, to BE, to be oneself, One Self, the One Self, the Overself (Brunton).

But what’s this I read in this papal encyclical?

In Hinduism, men…seek release from the trials of the present life by ascetical practices, profound meditation and recourse to God in confidence and love. Buddhism…proposes a way of life by which man can, with confidence and trust, attain a state of perfect liberation and reach supreme illumination either through their own efforts or by the aid of divine help…. The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions.” (No.56, Nostra Aetate, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”, Oct 28, 1965, in Documents of Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, Ed., New Revised Ed.(Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1975, 1984) Para. 2.).

The Vatican seems to be emerging from its dogmatic stupor by recognising the divine in me. I feel a new energy rising in me. I leap across the boundaries that divide and cause so much strife.

My sister Sonia said she has gone far beyond the Bible. “It all unfolds.” Soon she will be standing before that terrifying majesty. “Out of the North He comes in golden splendour in his terrifying majesty” (Job 37:22).

James White’s eternal doctorate: And what’s yours worth?

Here is a large extract from James White’s “Of doctorates and and Eternity.” http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php/1998/06/01/of-doctorates-and-eternity-2/

God srengthen you, dear James. I have learnt much from you.

Here is White:

Many are not familiar with the fact that most Christian schools are desperate to obtain what is known as “accreditation,” the almost magical “acceptance” by a recognized “body” that allows them to attract the largest body of students. The cost of becoming “accredited” is high, often running into the millions of dollars just to be able to offer the most basic courses. Accrediting criteria are pretty much the same for all schools in the United States, whether religious or secular. These have included, for years, the size and location of the library, classroom building availability, staff qualifications, etc. Obviously, new or small schools cannot obtain accreditation very quickly, and any school that wishes to keep its tuition low either has to forgo the privilege, or receive some extremely large donations that can offset the cost.

Obtaining accreditation also allows schools to participate in government loan programs. Education is a high-competition area, and without such programs, many schools are simply unable to compete.

I was raised to believe that “accreditation” equaled “quality,” so that “non-accreditation” meant “no quality.” It was so much a part of the fabric of my thought that it never entered my mind to look outside the established “traditional” accredited schools as far as my own education was concerned. No, I had never really thought about what it meant that some “accrediting” body was, in the final analysis, determining how Christian education should be done. I had never been challenged to think about such things.

After completing a B.A. and an M.A., with honors, in accredited institutions, I entered into fruitful and important ministry. My ministry did not allow for a large amount of remuneration—in other words, we were, like many who seek to honor the Lord in consistently giving an answer for the hope within us, without a lot of monetary support. As I looked into doing doctoral work, I began to put more and more thought into the how’s and why’s of Christian education. While I had been in seminary, I had noted that many of my fellow students were tremendously confused about what they believed, why they were attending seminary, and what they were going to do after they got out. Yet, even in this state of utter confusion, they graduated, now with “degrees” telling the world that they were proficient in….what? I discovered, as any other serious student has discovered, that you get out of a program of study what you put into it. Even when I had professors who truly struggled to communicate, if I would try to understand, and put forth extra effort, I would be rewarded with understanding and growth. I also learned, as many others can testify, that I profited the most when I studied on my own, branching out from class discussions or readings. Many, many vital areas of Christian thought were not addressed at all in my core classes, despite my acquiring over 100 hours of graduate study.

——————-
——————-

Detractors Galore

I recognized, when I enrolled with Columbia, that given the nature of my work in apologetics, I’d undoubtedly hear attacks upon my school and my scholarship because Columbia is too young to be “accredited.” Such ad-hominem argumentation is the norm for many of those with whom I have dealings. It wouldn’t matter where I go, or what school I attend, that kind of attack will follow. I have experience teaching in accredited schools, and a Master’s degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. That hasn’t stopped such folks from using ad-hominem argumentation against me. And any person that would be impressed by such argumentation isn’t going to be giving me a fair hearing anyway, and I can’t worry about that. Instead, the person I’m concerned about is the person who will understand the following statement: A person’s scholarship is not determined by the name of the school he or she attended, but by the quality of that person’s writing, speaking, and teaching. Anyone who thinks that just because you went to Yale you must be a real scholar hasn’t put much thought into the subject. I ask only one thing: look at what I have written, all that I have written, and ask yourself one question: does the nature of the writing, the depth of the research, and the understanding of the subject, indicate a doctoral level of education? As I said above, anyone who wishes to question my degree need only stack up his or her published works against mine and demonstrate that I just haven’t done the work. If they can’t, they are reduced to saying that scholarship is determined by how much you spend in tuition. And anyone who believes that isn’t going to be listening very carefully to what I say anyway.

OneDaring Jew

James White’s blog aomin.org is my favourite, especially his podcast “The Dividing Line.” Alas, owing to the haaaalidays, there have been no podcasts, and so I’ve been feeling rather forlorn.

What I want to talk about here is White’s Doctorate obtained from the unaccredited “Columbia Evangelical Seminary.” (See “Of Doctorates and eternity”

Before I talk about the besmirching of White’s degree, let me say something about degrees in general. Did you know that some accredited universities in the US accept doctoral students from certain countries and when they graduate their degree contains the stipulation that it is not valid in the US?

When I was teaching at Fort Hare University (Nelson Mandela studied there – whoopee), one of the junior lecturers in the (English) Department said he was going to the US for 18 months to do an M.A. I said to him: “Eighteen months! Why don’t you do…

View original post 427 more words

Considering Adam, by Hans Madueme

The prevalent Western view is that we arose out of the slime, which is the reason we are all , except cute little kiddies – though they would not admit it – slimy creatures. This view is so ngrained nto the Western-enlightened-Darwinian psyche that the idea that homo SAPiens originated from a perfect human pair created by God out if the dust of the ground very silly.

beliefspeak2

THE HISTORICAL ADAM: HANS MADUEME

Death of God by Poison

“Adam, where art thou?” The Lord’s rhetorical question in Eden is now the intense cry of incredulous Christians in a post-Darwinian world. Influential evangelicals are urging the church to jettison the doctrine of an original couple who fell into sin. Most believers in the world today would find this fact astonishing; they would never think to question that sin’s origin with Adam lies at the foundation of the entire biblical story (Gen 2-3). If you pressed them for scriptural support, they might invoke Adam’s integral role in the genealogies ofGen 1-11 and Luke 3:23-38, and in a biblical theology of marriage (Matt 19:1-11;Mark 10:1-9; 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31); his existence is declared or implied throughout the canon (see Jack Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?[Crossway, 2011]). Without…

View original post 1,009 more words

Answering “I don’t believe in the Trinity because the Word Trinity is not in the Bible”

The author of this reblogged article writes:

“While teaching Christology overseas a student asked me how does one handle the following objection: ‘I don’t believe in the Trinity because the Word Trinity is not in the Bible.'”

I am reminded of James White in his debate “Sola Scriptura” minute 1h30 min http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=530151041410 The Jehovah’s witnesses say “show us the word ‘trinity’ in the Bible.” And I say, well, the Bible teaches that there is one true and God and three persons. “No, no, no, says the Jehovah’s witness, show me the word.” I am not saying that the word is in the Bible, but the Bible teaches us that there is one true…”No, no, no, show me where the word…”

The Domain for Truth

trinity

While teaching Christology overseas a student asked me how does one handle the following objection: “I don’t believe in the Trinity because the Word Trinity is not in the Bible.”

Here’s my take on the objection.

First, more important than the term is whether or not the concept of the Trinity is found in the Bible.  We must be more concern about the concept more than a specific theological terminology that Christians later use as a handle for the various truth claims about God.  If the concept of the Trinity is found in the Bible, it is enough to establish the doctrine of the Trinity.

I know my first point often don’t satisfy cultists and heretics. Hence the following points:

Secondly, just because you use biblical terminology doesn’t mean the concept behind the term you are using is faithful to the Bible.  I bring this point to illustrate that…

View original post 468 more words

Guest Post: Abortion – a Worldview Approach

The Domain for Truth

Note: I just got back from overseas.  This is a guest post that somehow got stuck on our WordPress.  It is by Nate Sonner  who is co-founder of Christian Worldview Discipleship. He and his wife live in Dumaguete City, Philippines.
His website can be found here and his Twitter account here

baby

Abortion is arguably the religious and social issue of our day. Since it became legal in the United States, around 56 million children have been killed. To ignore such an issue, as a Christian, would be unfaithful to God who made man in His image. We as believers must be equipped to discuss and offer a defense. Also, the devaluation of human beings in the womb is not a view held in isolation. Many fail to realize that the fundamental beliefs behind modern bioethics don’t merely affect the unborn, but human beings at all stages of life. If…

View original post 6,881 more words

Thoughts on Doctrine of Total Depravity and the Syrian War

The Domain for Truth

syria-ruins-depravity

We don’t touch on politics as much on our blog as much as we use back in the first few years here but I’ll venture on this topic just a little bit.

I deliberately titled the post the Syrian War instead of the Syrian Civil War.  It’s not a Civil War.  It might have started as one but it’s now quite international in character.  Just today the news mentioned Iran is sending 15,000 troops made up of Iranians, Iraqis and Afghanis to support Assad.  ISIS has many foreign fighters.  Foreign Fighters are also among the Coalition of Anti-Assad Forces that has recently been successful against Assad.  And we haven’t even describe other State players behind this proxy war.

This is the breakdown according to Wikipedia:

Main belligerents
Government

Allied militias

 Iran

View original post 743 more words

John 6 and the Eucharist: The deception of perception

A Roman Catholic asks http://teilhard.com/about-me/comment-page-1/#comment-21641

“WHAT DOES JESUS DEMAND OF YOU TO FOLLOW HIM INTO THE KINGDOM? (hint – many were sickened in the stomach and turned away as this was more than they could handle).”

I ask: “What was it exactly that made them want to throw up and in the towel?

Here is the relevant passage.

John 6
53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. 60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”

61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. 65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. 67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”

The following verses are crucial in understanding the passage.

63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” 65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” 66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.

The last thing a person says in a conversation – that is how verbal communication works – has much bearing on understanding reactions. Jesus told them that no one can come to (believe in) Him unless the Father enables them to believe, frees them from their natural state of unbelief that Jesus is the Messiah. That was, if not the only straw, the final straw that made them sick to their stomach and walk with him no more.

Now if only God had enabled me to notice verse 65 much earlier in my life! But then that’s what God does; he has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy.

Verse 65 got swallowed up by the fleshy bits..

OneDaring Jew

 

Transubstantiation (the change from one substance to another) is the Roman Catholic observation that if it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, indeed, tastes like a duck, this does not mean it is a duck, that is, is “substantially” a duck but simply that it is “accidentally” a duck. Roman Catholic theology (Thomas Aquinas) uses the Aristotelian concepts of “substance” (essence – independent of the senses) and “accidents” (how things appear physically – to the senses) to explain transubstantiation. So, to get back to our duck, say you transmute duck substance into human substance, the latter won’t taste, smell, feel human, but will still taste, smell, feel duck.

The distinction between “sensation” and “perception” is useful: the former relates to one or more of the fives senses, the latter to how the mind-brain processes this sensation to create understanding. For example, I’m typing this on my Ipad…

View original post 1,816 more words

Isaiah 53: The Suffering and Insufferable Servant

The insufferable servant revealed: Why did Moses yearn to enter the land of Israel? To bare the sins of many, says the Talmud

The Babylonian Talmud is regarded by religious Jews as “Oral Torah.” Here is the Tractate Sotah.

Folio 14a

“R. Simlai expounded: Why did Moses our teacher yearn to enter the land of Israel? Did he want to eat of its fruits or satisfy himself from its bounty? But thus spake Moses, ‘Many precepts were commanded to Israel which can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel. I wish to enter the land so that they may all be fulfilled by me’. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, ‘Is it only to receive the reward [for obeying the commandments] that thou seekest? I ascribe it to thee as if thou didst perform them’; as it is said: Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bare the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.13  ‘Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great’ — it is possible [to think that his portion will be] with the [great of] later generations and not former generations; therefore there is a text to declare, ‘And he shall divide with the strong’, i.e., with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who were strong in Torah and the commandments. ‘Because he poured out his soul unto death’ — because he surrendered himself to die, as it is said: And if not, blot me, I pray thee etc.14  ‘And was numbered with the transgressors’ — because he was numbered with them who were condemned to die in the wilderness. ‘Yet he bare the sins of many’ — because he secured atonement for the making of the Golden Calf. ‘And made intercession for the transgressors’ — because he begged for mercy on behalf of the sinners in Israel that they should turn in penitence.”

OneDaring Jew

In the book of Isaiah there are four “servant songs.” The exegetical problem is that sometimes the servant refers to Israel and other times not. The Jewish argument is that the servant always refers to Israel. There does, however, seem to be two servants, one of which is Israel. Consider the following passage (Isaiah 49:3-6):

[3] And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
[4] But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the LORD,
and my recompense with my God.”

It is clear, the servant is Israel. Now read on (Isaiah 49:5):

[5] And now the LORD says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am…

View original post 1,765 more words

For fear of the Jews: Closet Jews for Jesus

In Spain, many Jews “converted” under pressure to Roman Catholicism but retained their faith and practice in secret. Similarly, when the Muslims conquered Christian countries, many Christians who had “converted” to Islam continued to practice in secret. In modern times, there are Muslims in Muslim-controlled areas, Hindus in India, and Jews in Israel who continue this multiple loyalties tradition. These Insider movements have received much criticism lately. See http://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/faulty-ecclesiology-in-two-insider-movement-case-studies/

Here is an excerpt from Philip Jenkins’ excellent “The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died.” http://www.amazon.com/Lost-History-Christianity-Thousand-Year-Asia/dp/

“Often, such multiple loyalty made
good practical sense for communities that remembered just
how often borders changed and territories changed hands. In
the case of the Balkans, these hopes would be justified in the
long term, although the time span would be several
centuries. Cyprus’s Linovamvakoi had to maintain their
disguise from the 1570’s to the 1870’s.”

“The churches responded ambiguously to such clandestine
practice, and some authorities pointed to the stern New
Testament passages demanding the open proclamation of
faith, at whatever cost. As Jesus warned, anyone who failed
to acknowledge him in this world could expect no
recognition on the Day of Judgment. Yet as ever more
Christians fell under Muslim authority, the desperate
situation demanded accommodation. As early as the 13305,
the patriarch of Constantinople unofficially sanctioned
“double faith,” promising that the church would work for the
salvation of Anatolian believers who dared not assert their
faith openly for fear of punishment, provided that they tried
to observe Christian laws. After the fall of Crete in the
seventeenth century, the patriarch of Jerusalem similarly
permitted surface conversion to Islam on grounds of
“inescapable need.”5 Generally, Catholic authorities adopted
a much harder line than the Orthodox, presumably because
their hierarchy did not live under Muslim rule, while most of
their Orthodox counterparts did. Nevertheless, throughout
Ottoman times, Catholic clergy ministered to secret
Christian communities in the Balkans.”

With the above in mind, I reblog this post.

OneDaring Jew

There is a discussion at the RoshPinaProject on rabbis who followed Jesus/Yeshua. I paraphrase the conversation:

Matt asked why there wasn’t a single modern-day orthodox rabbi (or as far as he know even liberal rabbi) who has accepted Jesus as the messiah. He also mentioned many modern-day evangelical Christians (including Christian pastors) who have converted to Judaism. Gev replied that the reason was probably because if they came out of the closet, they would get serious grief and probably lose their job. Matt thought that it was absurd that rabbis are not converting today to Jesus because they might lose their “high paying pulpit jobs.” This, Matt, retorted, was a pretty lame reason, because most orthodox rabbis and scholars are not well funded by their congregations or donors, whereas an orthodox rabbi who accepted Jesus as his messiah would soon have access to a nice share of the millions of…

View original post 2,274 more words

Of funerals, homilies and having no train to catch

Yesterday, I said to my wife, Cathy, “When I die, I want 1 Corinthians 15 read at my funeral. The whole chapter might be a bit too long.” Cathy said, “They don’t have a train to catch.”

Do you?

1 Corinthians 15

1  Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

The Resurrection of the Dead

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”

33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

The Resurrection Body

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we[g] bear the image of the heavenly man.

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

The Baptist ‘Covenant of Grace’: The New Covenant

The Westminister definition of “Covent of grace,” which the infant-baptism types espouse always bothered me. Spurgeon’s view makes more sense.

Scripture Thoughts

Something that was previously unclear to me, that I had wondered about especially in reference to my Spurgeon sermon reading: what is meant by the term ‘covenant of grace’? The common idea, in reference to Presbyterian-type infant baptism, is of one continuous covenant throughout the Old and New Testament, “under two administrations” such that the Old (Mosaic) covenant was also part of the “covenant of grace.”  This idea blends and confuses Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church, to come up with a “new testament” equivalent of circumcision, namely, infant baptism.  Yet this Westminster-style Covenant Theology is better known, and commonly presented as the only type of CT — such as at the local church several years ago, which briefly presented this form, followed by the (only other choice) favorable presentation of “New Covenant Theology” such that NCT “must” be the correct choice.

Yet whenever Spurgeon mentioned…

View original post 882 more words

Surprised by Suffering — Free eBook during August 2014

A very good – and free – ebook by RC Sproul on suffering.

The Domain for Truth

free-ebook_620_08Aug2014-SurprisedBySufferingLigoner Ministry has made available for free R. C. Sproul’s book on Suffering for the month of August!  Here is the book’s description from their website:

In Surprised by Suffering, R.C. Sproul argues that we should expect pain and sorrow in this life. Some are actually called to a “vocation” of suffering, and all of us are called to undergo the ultimate suffering of death. God promises in His Word that difficult times will come upon us, but He also promises that He allows suffering for our good and His glory, and He will never give us more than we can bear with His help.

Surprised by Suffering offers biblical counsel and comfort for those undergoing suffering and for those who minister to the suffering, counsel that can help believers stand in times of trial with faith in a God who is both loving and good.

You can get…

View original post 20 more words

In search of French Past (8): Pope John XXiii and other homos

 

In In Search of French (7): the hermit, the poet and the clown,  I described my visit to Lourdes and a hermitage, and some of the books that Louis-Albert Lassus, my traveling companion had written on the hermitic life. I continue our travels with our visit to Rome (1962). 

It was the early days of the Second Vatican Council, which was opened by Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962. We took a taxi to St Peter’s square, red and scarlet hats bobbing all around us in vehicles heading in the same direction. At St Peter’s Square we were met by a sea of red and purple, as in the picture.

 

st peters square vatican 2

Louis-Albert and I went to one of the Pope John’s audiences of about 100 people in one of the rooms of the Vatican. I shall never forget Pope John’s eyes flashing with what seemed to be joy. No, not at seeing me. Here is an excerpt from an entry in his diary when he was 20 years old  (Pope John-xxiii. Journal of a Soul. London:Geoffrey Chapman, 1965, p. 64).

Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? I am nothing. Everything I possess, my being, life, understanding, will and memory – all were given me by God, so all belong to him. Twenty short years ago all that I see around me was already here; the same sun, moon and stars…..Everything was being done without me, nobody was thinking of me….because I did not exist. And you, O God….drew me forth from the nothingness, you gave me being, life, a soul, in fact all the faculties of my body and spirit…you created me.”

A “traditional” Catholic website relates: Just before his death, John XXIII composed the following prayer for the Jews. This prayer was confirmed by the Vatican as being the work of John XXIII.(73) “We realize today how blind we have been throughout the centuries and how we did not appreciate the beauty of the Chosen People nor the features of our favored brothers. We are aware of the divine mark of Cain placed upon our forehead. In the course of centuries our brother, Abel, has been lying bleeding and in tears on the ground through our fault, only because we had forgotten thy love. Forgive us our unjustified condemnation of the Jews. Forgive us that by crucifying them we have crucified You for the second time. Forgive us. We did not know what we were doing.” Catholic magazine The Reign of Mary, “John XXIII and the Jews,” Spring, 1986, p. 11.

Besides the fact that the crucifixion of Jesus is a unique unrepeatable event, it is wrong for the pope to identify Jesus, in any way, with those who rejected him and continue to do so to this day, even when Jesus was also a Jew. Although it is right that not every Jew should be blamed for the crucifixion, it would not be right to say that some Jews were not responsible for it. And it would also be wrong for a Christian to call the Jew – or any one who does not believe that the Son of God came in the flesh to die for sinners – his spiritual brother.

With regard to Christ’s sacrifice, this time unrelated to the Jewish Holocaust, is it ever possible that Jesus could be crucified again. Absolutely not. And, when it comes to such a crucial event, literally so, let us not reduce it to metaphor, for any reason. (See  Pope John XXIII and the “crucifixion” of the Jew). 

Besides my visits to the usual tourist sites such as Michelangelo’s Pietà, the Mona Lisa and the Sistine chapel, I accompanied Louis-Albert on his visits to various religious orders. I met the Abbot General of the Cistercian Order, who was very kind.

After Rome, I left Louis-Albert and returned to Paris, where I rented a room in a narrow side street, Rue Senlis, off Rue Soufflot. At the top of Rue Soufflot loomed the Pantheon, where famous French people are buried, among them the architect of the Pantheon, Jacques-Germain Soufflot, of course, writers such as Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo) Victor Hugo (Les Miserables) and Voltaire (Candide), and scientists such as Pierre and Marie Curie. I’ve been back to Paris a few more times since this first sojourn in 1962. On my last visit in 1993, I searched for Rue Senlis, but it seemed to have vanished.

My room contained a single bed, a chair, a little table big enough to hold my primus stove, and a tiny space on either side of the bed. The foot of the bed almost touched the door, which opened onto the pavement. It’s dinner time. Lying on the bed, primus stove on the table, fumes of paraffin mixing with the steam from the pot of boiling water heating the tin of bully beef. I got a clerical job in an ice-cream factory. I went to the Comédie-Française theatre a few times to see plays by Molière and other famous French playwrights. Although I sat in the cheapest seats (the “gods” – at the back, the top circle in the picture), the acoustics was very good. (“Acoustics” is not a countable noun so it is grammatically singular. Hence “the acoustics was very good.”).

Molière

Molière

 

co

Comédie-Française

 

 

Although Notre Dame was close by, I never attended Sunday Mass there. I preferred my usual church of St Julien the Pauvre, a stone’s throw from Notre Dame. It is a Roman Catholic
Church of the Melchite Greek rite, a branch of the Byzantine church. I met Louis-Albert for the first time at this church. (See
In Search of French Past (5): Why are you so downcast, oh my soul?).

Most of my days back in Paris were filled checking pink ice-cream slips and eating free ice-cream lollies. After about two months of bully beef and ice-cream, my bowels locked down. I went to hospital for an enema. A short time later (January 1963), I left Paris and returned to London to take a Union-Castle liner home to Cape Town. I described in an earlier chapter my train-airplane journey from Cape Town to London. At the end of my second-year B.A. I had booked to fly to London (From Maputo, Mozambique) and was to return to Cape Town on a Union-Castle liner from Southampton, the port that generally served the Cape Town route. (See In search of French Past (1). The British Union-Castle fleet operated between Europe and Africa from 1900 to 1977. My grandfather (mother’s side), Mendel Gilinsky and his children, one of which was my mother, Feiga (Fanny), arrived in Cape Town in 1912 on one of these Union-Castles, the Galway castle, a new addition to the fleet. it was sunk a few years later by a U-boat (See Russia and the Jew). I arrived home in January 1963. I had been in France for more than a year.

Union Castle

Union Castle  The mountains in the distance are the “Twelve Apostles” a few miles from the centre of Cape Town.

 

Before I left Cape Town for my first trip to France, I had already completed two years of my B.A. at the University of Cape Town (1960-61). On my return from France I registered for my final year of philosophy (Ethics, Logic and Metaphysics, and Political philosophy). In 1961 I had completed a course in “French Elementary,” which was a misnomer; it included enough complicated grammar to give you subjunctivitus (to wit, the imperfect subjunctive Il eût fallu que nous allassions; so simple in English “We had to go”). I wanted to do a further course in French in this my final B.A. year. I went to see the Head of French, Professor Shackleton, and asked to skip French 1 (which followed French Elementary) because in my humble opinion my French, after my studies at the University of Strasbourg had reached at least the French 1 level. (See In Search of French Past (4): Student at the University of Strasbourg). He said my French language wasn’t the issue. (We were talking in French). He asked me, “What do you know about French literature?” My French courses in Strasbourg focused only on language. My knowledge of French literature was scanty. I mentioned Moliere. The Professor wanted something less dated. I went numb. Then a flotilla of billboards floated out of the fog festooned with titles of various plays that were on during my stay in Paris. I had little idea what these plays were about. I chanced a few titles. The upshot: I sailed into French 2. I graduated at the end of 1963 with majors in Ethics, Logic and Metaphysics (one course) and Political Philosophy, and French 2.

Here would be a good place relate how I got into the B.A. French Honours programme (the next degree after the B.A.) at the University of South Africa. In South Africa, I had completed my French major, Course 3 (1971) as an external student at the University of Cape Town. In 1983. I was teaching French at Mmabatho High School, South Africa. I wanted to do a B.A. Honours in French so I went to visit Professor Haeffner, the Head of Modern Languages at the University of South Africa in Pretoria. It was our first meeting. I met him in the corridor outside his office. He said that he was not taken in by bits of paper (B.A. ShmeeA). He didn’t invite me into his office. He proceeded to interrogate me then and there – in the corridor – to establish whether I was Honours matériel. Now what could this scabrous man ask me in a corridor that would convince him I was up to scratch? As it turned out, it was what I asked him that convinced him that he had taken on more than he could spew. Here is our conversation. My comments are in italics:

Prof – What is a “military parade” in French?

He’s trying to stymie me with one of the many English-French “false friends” faux amis, in this instance the French parade, cannot be used to translate “military parade.”

Me – Un défilé militaire.

He wasn’t expecting the right answer. Before he could ask me another, I shot back with my question.

Me – “What does de fond en comble mean?”

This means “from top to bottom” or one could say “from top to toe.”

Prof – “From top to bottom.”

Me – Wrong. That’s only half-way (I twist my arm behind me and pointed down to my derrière; in Yiddish, toches, and said: It means all the way down: from top to toe.

And that’s how I switched off Professor Bok Drol (Afrikaans for “Buck Poo”) and got to do the B.A. French Honours. It was the hardest studies I had ever done. I completed the degree two years later (See my “A Jewish view of a French bottom).

After my B.A. Graduation in December 1963, I longed to return to France. I wrote to Louis-Albert and he invited me to accompany him on more of his travels. On my first trip to France, my father paid for a return fare and gave me a monthly allowance of 25 British pounds. This time I had a little more difficulty convincing him to pay for me to go back to France so soon after my first trip. I told my father that he need only pay for a one-way ticket and I would fend for myself. I planned to go on to Israel to join my brother Bennie on a kibbutz. I had very little money. I returned to Paris late in the evening. My bed for the night was a sleeping bag on the bank of the Seine.

I spent the night  in my sleeping bag a few metres from the steps on the other side

I spent the night in my sleeping bag a few metres from the steps on the other side

 

Before sunrise I was awakened by a tap-tap on my head; a gendarme’s boot. I had the address of a fellow philosophy student, Rick Turner, who had also graduated in 1963; Me with a B.A. In philosophy and him with a B.A. Honours in philosophy. He was doing a doctorate at the Sorbonne on the political philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre. I visited Rick and his wife, Barbara and baby girl, Jann, in their little flat. Barbara was also a student at the University of Cape Town. Barbara later remarried and is known today as Barbara Follett, who became a Labour MP in the UK. I was surprised that Rick was doing a doctorate at a French university. I had no idea that he knew French well enough to write a thesis in French. Jean Paul Sartre wrote the foreword to his thesis.

I told Rick I was going to the South of France. He gave me some money to buy a book for him that was unavailable in Paris but was available at a bookshop down South. I said I would post the book to him. I never did; instead I used the money to buy a train ticket to Bordeaux where I was to rejoin Louis-Albert. A few years later, I was visiting the University of Cape Town where I bumped into Rick. He yelled “Where’s my money?” I gave it to him. In today’s money it was about £7. And that was the end of our meeting. I never saw him again. Rick is well known as an anti-Apartheid activist. In 1974, He was shot dead through the window of his house, and died in the arms of his daughter Jann, who was that sweet little baby I saw in her mother’s arms in Paris exactly 50 years ago.

From the Daily Maverick, 15 July, 2014:

“Four months after Steve Biko was beaten to death in police custody in 1977, fellow activist, academic and philosopher, Rick Turner, was assassinated in his Durban home. Both men offered South Africans – black and white – transformative new ways of thinking about and framing themselves and society. Their ideas were such a threat that authorities at the time tried to wipe both men off the face of the earth. MARIANNE THAMM revisits Turner’s legacy and what it might offer contemporary South Africa.”

A short biography of Rick can be found here.

Louis-Albert and I went by train Belgrade, Yugoslavia where we spent ten days in a religious house. I think it was the Augustinian fathers. We then took the long train trip over the mountains to Thessaloniki where we stayed with the Marist Brothers. I enjoyed walking along the pier where Paul, the Apostle, must have walked. I accumulated a large amount of luggage on this second trip. I asked the Marist Brothers to store most of it in their loft, which I would retrieve on my way back to London, where I intended to fly home. Louis-Albert accompanied me to the port of Piraeus in Athens where I took a boat to Haifa.

I visited Paris again in 1973 for a few days. At the time I was a French teacher at the Jesuit St George’s College in Harare (Salisbury in 1973) and it was the July-August holidays. I did not see Louis-Albert on this occasion. From Paris I went to Florence and then on to Istanbul. Istanbul is more hilly than Rome. I walked everywhere. My most memorable experience of my ten days in Istanbul was not the Topkapi museum or the mosaics in the Hagia Sofia but the savage images of Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” I had no idea what the movie was about. Here is a description of the movie:

A Clockwork Orange is a 1971 British film written, produced, and directed by Stanley Kubrick, adapted from Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novella A Clockwork Orange. It employs disturbing, violent images to comment on psychiatry, juvenile delinquency, youth gangs, and other social, political, and economic subjects in a dystopian future Britain.

Alex (Malcolm McDowell), the main character, is a charismatic, sociopathic delinquent whose interests include classical music (especially Beethoven), rape, and what is termed “ultra-violence”. He leads a small gang of thugs (Pete, Georgie, and Dim), whom he calls his droogs (from the Russian друг, “friend”, “buddy”). The film chronicles the horrific crime spree of his gang, his capture, and attempted rehabilitation via controversial psychological conditioning. Alex narrates most of the film in Nadsat, a fractured adolescent slang composed of Slavic (especially Russian), English, and Cockney rhyming slang. (Wikipedia).

I walked out of the derelict stone movie house into the fresh summer light. A great depression came over me. I began the long walk back to my hotel gulping in the fresh sweet air trying to drive out the darkness that saturated my soul; a darkness endemic to our human condition – “man’s estate,” from which there is no earthly rescue. This morning I was reading Paul’s letter to the Colossians 1:12-14:

[Give] joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”

I visited Albert for the third and last time three decades later in 1993 at the Dominican priory in Nice. I was on my way home to my university (Fort Hare) in South Africa from Moscow where I had attended the XIX World Congress of Philosophy and presented a paper entitled “Multiculturalism in Education: An African view.” (My paper appears here). Louis-Albert had just returned home from one of his monastic retreats. I stayed a few days in an hotel opposite his priory. He gave me a French Pilot’s leather fleece-lined jacket from World War II, a raincoat and a large painted hand-carved wooden crucifix. The leather jacket would have added at least five kilos excess to my baggage so I carried it onto the plane.

I flew from Nice to Heathrow for my return flight to Johannesburg. Before boarding the plane, I stuck the foot of the crucifix into a tog bag on my back. Most of it protruded out of the top. I was wearing a blue T-shirt that was given to delegates at the Moscow Congress. The front of the blue T-shirt was decorated wit the emblem for the Congress: HOMO with the globe of the world in place of the first “O”. Here is a picture of the T-Shirt selling on Ebay for $39. Change the world, bro.

Emblem of XIX Congress of  Philosophy, Moscow, 1993.

Emblem of XIX Congress of Philosophy, Moscow, 1993.

 

How meanings have morphed! “Homo” is also Latin for “Man.” Philosophy is about Homo’s wishto be Sapiens. Nowadays, homo just wantsto be homo. Many of the passengers were Afrikaners. I walked down the aisle to my seat to the tune oftitters and gasps. I could swear I heard: “Man, wat diefok’s met dié ou!” (Man, waht the f-k’s with this bloke).

I gave the crucifix to my daughter. A few years ago, the heavy thick leather jacket later saved me from great injury. I was riding my scooter in a busy section of my home city, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, when the scooter slipped on a section of road under repair. The scooter fell over on its right side and slid along the ground. I was not badly hurt. I noticed that the leather on the right elbow side of my jacket had been shaved away. If not for the thick leather, I would have no more elbow room.

In search of French past (7): The hermit, the poet and the clown

 

In In search of French past (6): To a monastery you will go,” I described my stay at several monasteries in France. The last one was the Abbey of Lérins on the island of St Honorat off the coast of Cannes.

I don’t remember when we went to Lourdes, but this is as good a place as any to say something about it. This market town in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains is famous for the apparitions of Mary, the mother of Jesus. These apparitions were reported to have been seen by Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. Lourdes is the most famous of all Marian shrines. It has the second most hotels per square kilometre after Paris. Mass pilgrimages, many for physical healing, take place from March to September. The water in the grotto is said to have healing properties. Whether it is the clear water that heals or the faith poured into it, is not clear. With regard to miraculous cures, the big difference between the Roman Catholic Church and many of the modern “Charismatic” churches, for example, the “Word of Faith” prosperity movement (Benny Hinn, TBN, God TV) is that whereas the Roman Catholic Church is very cautious about miraculous cures – only about 70 have been declared authentic since 1858 – the Word of Faith “miracles,” in contrast, are legion, and some of their names may be legion too (Mark 5:9). Here is a picture of Lourdes with the Rosary Basilica towering over the landscape.

lourdes

When I was at Lourdes in 1962, the sides of the walkway down to the basilica (in the picture) were festooned with booths marketing their wares: statues of Mary and rosaries of all shapes, colours and sizes, and other objects of veneration. During the pilgrimage months, you couldn’t see the lawn for the market. Several decades later, when I had left the Roman Catholic Church for Protestantism and, consequently, read my Bible, I found a striking comparison between a passage in the book of Acts and the booths at Lourdes.

About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”

If you want to search for other photos of Lourdes on the internet, you’ll need to search for more than Lourdes, otherwise you’ll end up with photos of Madonna – the other Madonna, and her daughter, Lourdes, in the mix.

After France, we visited a few monasteries in Italy and then on to Rome. The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) had begun the previous month. One of the monasteries was a hermitage whose name I was only able to recall with recent help. I sent two photos, one of Louis-Albert and I standing on a hill to Frère Laurent Béthoux at the Dominican priory (couvent) in Nice, France. Louis-Albert had been moved from Bordeaux to the Dominican priory in Nice, where he lived for many years until his death in 1992. I asked Frère Laurent whether he recognised the background in the photos. As there were many details lost in the fog of time past, I also asked him whether there was any record of Louis-Albert’s peregrinations for the years that I had travelled with him.

Louis-Albert and Raphael. I m wearing L-A's cape.

Louis-Albert and Raphael. I’m wearing L-A’s cape.

 

 

Louis-Albert Lassus

Louis-Albert Lassus

Frère Laurent said he thought the background in the photos was the hermitage of San Girolamo in Italy. He sent me an aerial view of the hermitage.

ermitage

Here is the translation of his email to me followed by the French original in brackets:

Hello! Nothing, alas, in the papers of Father Lassus about his peregrinations. Thank you very much for these beautiful photos of the young Father Lassus. It seems to me that they were taken near the hermitage of San Girolamo in Italy. I am sending you these aerial pictures of the hermitage. Best wishes. Fr. Laurent Béthoux).

(Bonjour!  rien, hélas, dans les papiers laissés par le Père Lassus concernant ses pérégrinations. Grand merci pour ces belles photos du jeune P. Lassus : ont été prises me semble-t-il, près de l’ermitage de San Girolamo en Italie dont je vous envoie ces vues aériennes. Avec mes sentiments les meilleurs. fr. Laurent Béthoux).

Louis-Albert wrote about a dozen books, most of them on hermits; for example, Romuald of Ravenna, the hermits of Camaldoli (Les Camaldules) , Denys of Chartreux, Séraphim of Sarov, and Nazarena.

Louis-Albert never created the impression that he wanted to become a hermit. He seemed content with his life in community, not only in the Priory but also socializing with other people. On several occasions we visited his friends, sometimes spending a few days. There was an artist whose house was his studio, which he shared with his wife and several children. Finished and half-finished paintings covered the walls. Easels, brushes and twisted tubes of paint were scattered everywhere. A scruffy sofa and other soft furnishings hinted that the room was once a lounge. The artist had a son called Jean-Baptiste. He was about 14 years old. Jean-Baptiste and I went to visit the Rodin Museum. When we came upon Le Penseur “The Thinker,” Jean-Baptiste stood very still in front of the marvelous sculpture. I asked him what he was thinking. What else would you ask somebody gazing in rapture at “The Thinker”? Jean-Baptiste replied in a quivering voice: Ça me donne le cafard “It gives me the blues.” I was surprised that such a young person could be so affected by this kind of art. But I was forgetting that Jean-Baptiste was from an artist family. We walked around the museum and looked at other Rodin sculptures.  Jean-Baptiste limbered along. I tried to cheer him up, but it was no use.  He had, it seemed, lost all hope, all belief; in retrospect, he had – already at 14 years of age -lost the desire to live. I was also quite down in the dumps. Years later, I heard that he had killed himself. He was in his early twenties. I thought back to the cluttered “salon” that was his home. Did it mirror Jean-Baptiste’s turbulent soul? I often think of him. Why are you so downcast, o my John the Baptist? (See THE PASTOR, THE PENSEUR AND THE INFIDEL).

Le Penseur (The thinker) -Auguste Rodin

Le Penseur (The thinker) -Auguste Rodin

On our travels through Southern France, Louis-Albert and I stayed the night with his friends in several towns such as Narbonne and Arles, who regaled us with gourmet dinners, the finest vintage. Conviviality good food and wine and being together was good.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is

    when brothers dwell in unity!

 It is like the precious oil upon the head,

    running down upon the beard,

upon the beard of Aaron,

    running down on the collar of his robes!

It is like the dew of Hermon,

    which falls on the mountains of Zion!

For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,

    life for evermore (Psalm 133).

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,

there’s dancing, laughter & good red wine;

at least I have always found it so,

Benedicamus Domino!

(Hilaire Belloc)

Here is a description of the hermitage of San Girolamo and the daily life of the hermits, which shows not only the stark contrast between the “world” and the monastic life, but also a radical difference between the monastic life and the communal life of the Dominican Order to which Louis-Albert belonged. This is a general description of all hermitages in the West.

THE HERMITAGE

The phenomenon of hermitic life was prevalent in the years between 900-1000 AD and 1100. At that time, there were many men who sought to flee the world, dedicating themselves to voluntary solitude, silence and converse with God. These were the solitary Christians, anchorites and hermits typical of the time, for whom, in accordance with the teaching of St Girolamo: “The city is a prison; solitude is paradise”. This was a particular phenomenon within the Church, which began after the fall of the Roman Empire and flourished conspicuously in around 1000 AD. The mountains of Italy were widely inhabited by these solitary hermits. They lived in wild, inaccessible places, either in caves, or in huts made of stones and wood.

A collection of these cells together formed the Hermitage. Some individuals, however, felt the need to have a common base, and so the Monastery came into existence: a place where they could live together, with adjacent cells, an oratory, a church and sometimes a cloister, a refectory, a chapter-house, a library and a scriptorium.

THE LIFE OF THE HERMITS

They always lived a solitary life within the hermitage, even though they shared the roof over their heads. They could never enter each others’ cells: at most they could walk to the confines of the cells. They could talk to each other twice a week, when they went outside the cloister, but within the restricted area they could only converse in whispers. They had an inviolable rule of silence, which always had to be obeyed. On days of abstinence, they took their meals sitting on the floor, with bare feet. Meat was never eaten in the Hermitage, and during Lent the monks abstained from dairy produce (eggs, milk, cheese etc.). The consumption of meat was only permitted when someone was ill, or going on a journey. The monks always slept in their habits, either on wooden palettes or on hard straw mattresses. They dedicated themselves to manual labour, according to their individual capacities: they dug the ground, hoed, pruned, built walls, carried stones and dressed them, made bread, cooked, made clothes, did repairs, wrote and composed. They were very charitable towards guests and to the poor. When they fell ill, they were taken to the infirmary. The dead were interred in the church, in the cemetery next to the Hermitage, or in the graveyard at Paracelsus.

I continue:

In 2002, the year of his death, Louis-Albert’s ELoge de l”enfouissement (“In praise of reclusion by a hermit of Camaldoli”) was published. It was on the spirituality of the Camaldoli hermits of Monte Corona in Italy. The English term “reclusion” does not capture the connotations of total abandonment contained in the French “enfouissement.” Fouiller means to dig deep into something. Here are some examples of how fouiller is used:

  1. Archaeological dig – fouille archéologique.

  2. To search a place thoroughly, say, for something lost. “They (fouillé) searched (fouillé) the whole house but couldn’t find him.

  3. To meditate deeply on a problem before coming to a conclusion.

The prefix en (in) added to fouiller means to dig deep into hole and bury something in it – (enfouiller). Enfouissement in the hermitic life embraces all the meanings listed above, which is to bury oneself deep below the surface of the world into the mystical sedimentations of the soul, in search of the priceless treasure.

 

Here is my abridgement in English of the French review of the Eloge de l’enfouissement d’un Ermite Calmaldule(“In praise of reclusion by a hermit of Camaldoli”).

Enfouissement

The  front cover of “In praise of reclusion.

Mount Corona has a Dominican friend, Fr. Louis-Louis-Albert Lassus. He published these notes for the benefit of others. The author focuses on the key values of the hermitic life, which, above all, is his cell, the “parlour of the Holy Spirit” (“parlour” derives from French parler “to speak”). With astonishing acuity he reminds us of some of the indispensable requirements of the ordinary Christian life, namely, to accept failure and not idolise success, self-effacement, unceasing prayer, mourn our sins, not to be idle, search for God and his truth by abandoning our spiritual selfishness, serve one’s brothers with alacrity, etc. Much advice on how these will also help us to remain in the love of God. The author leaves no ambiguity about the true nature of the reclusion (“burial” enfouissement) he extols: it is a burial in God alone. Heed his call.”

(Monte Corona à un ami dominicain, le Fr. Louis-Louis-Albert Lassus. Le Fr. Lassus eut le projet de publier ces notes pour que d’autres âmes en profitent. L’auteur veut souligner les valeurs fondamentales de la vie d’ermite. Avant tout la garde de la cellule, « parloir du Saint-Esprit ». Avec une acuité qui nous étonnera, il nous rappelle par la même occasion certaines exigences incontournables de toute vie chrétienne ordinaire : savoir accepter l’échec et ne pas idolâtrer le succès, veiller au recueillement, à la prière continuelle, pleurer ses péchés, ne pas rester dans l’oisiveté, chercher Dieu en vérité en abandonnant son égoïsme spirituel, servir ses frères avec disponibilité, etc. Autant de conseils qui nous aideront à demeurer aussi dans l’amour de Dieu. L’auteur ne laisse pas d’ambiguïté sur la véritable nature de l’enfouissement dont il fait l’éloge : c’est un enfouissement en Dieu seul. Un appel à suivre).

Being a devout and freshly baptised Roman Catholic, I was in awe of mystics, hermits and the like. Many decades later, I have changed my view. “Hermitic” for me now evokes “hermetic.” “Hermetic” means literally, completely sealed, especially against the escape or entry of air, and figuratively, impervious to outside interference or influence. We speak of the hermetic confines of an isolated life.

Historical linguistics teaches us that meanings of words often change over time. One must, therefore, take care not to ascribe past meanings of words to their contemporary meanings. For example, “hermetic” originates from Hermes Trismegistus (thrice great), a name attributed to an Egyptian priest or to the Egyptian god Thoth, who in some attributes is identified with the Greek god Hermes. Various alchemical, mystical, astrological, and writings were ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus . Although, we should take care not to conflate past meanings with modern meanings – I’m sure that no one in the packing business is thinking of Hermes or alchemy when they hermetically seal an item, there are occasions when such conflation may provide new insights into the modern meaning of a word. The literary technique of “deconstruction” (fathered by Jacques Derrida) digs, playfully and seriously, into the hidden sedimentations (etymologies) of language, which reminds me of the extreme hermitic forms of purifying oneself of the dross of the world and of self, striving like the alchemist, to transmute base metals into gold. The alchemist in the material realm – divination, the hermit in the spiritual domain – divinisation.

Although Louis-Albert was passionate about the hermitic way of life, this passion didn’t express itself in the desire to abandon his Dominican life for a hermitage. A reader of his books might be forgiven for inferring that his passion about the hermitic life was a yearning for reclusion. “Nomad,” not “hermit” sums him up best. He writes in his Les nomades de Dieu (1974, “The nomades of God”:

“I have been and am nothing more than a nomad, the man with a suitcase. I have run all over the world, never ceasing to encourage those of my kind, monks and nuns, and sometimes tramps and the unstable of every kind. I told them never to stop because it is they who yank the church out of its sluggish complacency.”

(Je n’ai été et ne suis qu’un nomade, l’homme à la valise. J’ai couru le monde, ne cessant d’encourager ceux et celles de ma race, moines et moniales, et parfois clochards et instables de toute sorte. Je leur ai dit de ne jamais s’arrêter car ils arrachent l’Église et le monde à l’installation et à la torpeur).

If you can’t imagine tramps (les clochards) and the unstable rattling the Church’s complacency, if you think tramps are not famous for getting off their bums, and would, therefore, not be in a position to inspire the Roman Curia to pull their fingers out of their own bums, then you can’t be French or a Francophile. Charlot (Charlie Chaplin) the tramp, the clown (pronounced “cloon” in French) means much more to French than to English speakers. Louis-Albert often talked about the sadness of clowns. In his room, Rouault’s clown hung on his wall.

George Rouault; The clown.

George Rouault; The clown.

 

 And then there’s the vagabond, Arthur Rimbaud, the French symbolist poet, another nomad. Rimbaud’s biography, in brief, can be found hereHere is one of Rimbaud’s poems, Ma Bohème (Fantaisie) “My Bohemian life (A fantasy).” The original French follows the English translation:

I went off with my hands in my torn coat pockets;

My overcoat too was becoming ideal;

I travelled beneath the sky, Muse! and I was your vassal;

Oh dear me! what marvelous loves I dreamed of!

My only pair of breeches had a big hole in them.

Stargazing Tom Thumb, I sowed rhymes along my way.

My tavern was at the Sign of the Great Bear.

My stars in the sky rustled softly.

And I listened to them, sitting on the road-sides

On those pleasant September evenings while I felt drops

Of dew on my forehead like vigorous wine;

And while, rhyming among the fantastical shadows,

I plucked like the strings of a lyre the elastics

Of my tattered boots, one foot close to my heart!

Je m’en allais, les poings dans mes poches crevées ;

Mon paletot aussi devenait idéal;

J’allais sous le ciel, Muse ! et j’étais ton féal ;

Oh ! là là ! que d’amours splendides j’ai rêvées !

Mon unique culotte avait un large trou.

– Petit-Poucet rêveur, j’égrenais dans ma course

Des rimes. Mon auberge était à la Grande Ourse.

– Mes étoiles au ciel avaient un doux frou-frou

Et je les écoutais, assis au bord des routes,

Ces bons soirs de septembre où je sentais des gouttes

De rosée à mon front, comme un vin de vigueur ;

Où, rimant au milieu des ombres fantastiques,

Comme des lyres, je tirais les élastiques

De mes souliers blessés, un pied près de mon coeur !

We saw earlier that Louis-Albert extols the hermit’s cell le parloir de Dieu, the parlour of God, where God speaks (French parler) in the silence; the only sound the flicker of the candle flame. Yet, the tramp, the vagabond, the nomad – if only in their mind or their poetry – rebels against incarceration; of both body and mind. They must always be on the move. Space offers vistas of opportunity. Rimbaud’s nature speaking to him alone: sky, stars, the Great Bear, the open road. Always departing, never arriving, yet wanting to possess – oneself most of all. “Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it?” (André Gide). Rimbaud’s “nature,” as with most poets, is his spiritual milk, his substitute mother. Louis-Albert’s mother, in contrast, is not nature, fallen nature (corrupted by sin) but the sinless “Mother of God.”’

Jesus said “Unless you become as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Louis-Albert said “Unless you become as an owl….” Si tu ne deviens comme un hibou (the title of chapter 1 of Louis-Albert’s La prière est une fête “Prayer is a celebration,” 1978). He writes (I translate):

I’ve always loved owls and I can’t understand why they are regarded as birds of ill omen…you have to become an owl yourself to cease to be afraid of themselves… I love their eyes, those enormous eyes, those eyes like icons. They fascinated the Byzantines long before me. For them, owls became the eyes of Christ Pantocrator (Greek pan “all”; cratos power), of the All Pure, of the angels and the saints. Is this blasphemy, a sacrilege? Come on now! Can’t you see, you who are wise, don’t you see, you with your rational rheumy (chassieux) eyes, you, men and women, with small half-closed eyes that God made the owls eyes so enormous to see in the night, when things are what they are and nothing else? To plumb (fouiller) the darkness…Then the darkness becomes light.” (Fouiller – ferret, pry, frisk, scan, examine, dig into, investigate, explore, plumb).

Earlier in the discussion of Louis-Albert’s “In praise of reclusion by a hermit of Camaldoli” Eloge de l’enfouissement d’un Ermite Calmaldule, I said more about fouiller).

owl

 

Pantocrator

Pantocrator

I am reminded of an incident at boarding school in my final school year. One evening we went to a hall in town to see a Billy Graham film. I was overcome. I “made a decision” for Christ. A few weeks later, I was preaching to the boys at the Homestead. We used one of the dormitories. No standing room. They were standing in rows on the beds, supporting themselves against the dormitory walls. They were sitting on the floor between the beds. On one occasion, Jan Malan, lumbered into the hushed dorm with his owl in a cage, tight shorts hugging his  khaki crack.  This photo captures the feathery camouflage, eyes lost in shadow of Jan’s owl.

The grey  of the owl’s feathers  matched the dim-wit glaze in Jan eyes.  The focus shifted from spiritual things to the owl, from one spiritual thing to another spiritual thing, from the revealed Word of God to omens. It’s very important, for what is to follow – to know whether the omen was Greek or Roman. For the Greek, the owl augurs good fortune – the “wise old owl”, the messenger of Athene, the goddess of wisdom. If an owl flew over the Greek army before a battle, it foretold victory. The Romans borrowed the owl –as they did most things – from the Greeks. The Romans were not sure whether the owl was Arthur or Martha. On the one hand, they made the owl the companion of their own goddess of wisdom, Minerva. On the other hand, the hoot of an owl meant imminent disaster. The hoot of an owl predicted the murder of Julius Caesar. The only way to thwart the owl was to kill  it.

I told everyone to close their eyes – “not one eye open” was one of the phrases I picked up somewhere in my very short exposure to preaching. If I had known the whole altar call speech it would have gone like this:

At this time, I’m going to ask those of you who have a need in your life for God’s touch to slip up your hand, with every head bowed and every eye closed. No one will see you. We’re not here to embarrass you in any way. If you’d like us to pray withyou, I’d like you to slip out of your seats while every head is bowed and come to the front, where our team of counsellors will meet with you. This is YOUR special time, it’s just between you and God. No one is peeking. As the choir very softly sings “Just As I AM”, I’d like you to search your heart. If you feel God calling you, get up out of your seats right now and come to this altar, and our specially trained counsellors will be happy to pray with you and give you some helpful literature to guide you in your new Christian walk.”

I couldn’t see the owl, because of the press. Had he one eye closed? I was too ignorant to understand that this type of altar call – perhaps any kind of altar call – is not the way to evangelise. Many evangelists and preachers use this instant coffee approach.

In the dormitory, there was no standing room. Everyone was standing, including on the beds. You could have heard a feather drop. How was anyone to know that it was not only one of the owl’s feathers that would drop? It happened so suddenly . Where a moment before, everything was rapturous attentive, suddenly a flurry of feathers and a wild surge of screaming and shouting boys jumping over one another making for the dormitory door. Jan’s owl had fled the cage.   The terrified bird was trying to find its way between the forest of stampeding legs. It got swallowed up in the crush of the fleeing  mob. The dorm was now empty; except for Jan, the feathers and me; and the poor owl dead on the floor.

At the time I never asked God why this strange thing happened. I can’t understand to this day, what I was doing preaching to crowds so soon after “giving my heart” to Jesus. Many decades later I learnt that you can’t give your heart to Jesus; he takes it, your heart of stone, and gives you a new heart, a heart of soft warm flesh. (See THE RABBI, THE EVANGELIST AND COMING “HOME.”).

——————————————————————————-

Appendix

What I am going to say now about the monastic, contemplative and hermitic life, and Roman Catholicism in general would probably have hurt my dear friend Louis-Albert with whom I had shared so much.

For about two decades, Catholicism was not only intellectually impressive to me, it also appealed to the “deeper” spiritual side. Not only could you theologise and philosophise about God, you could also become one with Him. I read the mystics. The two outstanding ones are St John of Cross (I wrote about his “Dark night of the senses” whom I wrote about here) and Teresa of Avila.

The mystical kind of spirituality is very popular today among all kinds of religions and non-religions. Those who get tired of the world yearn for an experiential connection to God. But, this yearning downplays the place of faith and Scripture. It exalts “transcendental” experiences that propel the person out of the mundane into a higher “spiritual” plane. But this talking with God is not Biblical prayer. If any practice – be it prayer, or some other contemplative practice – does not square with the Bible, it is not of God. For this reason, mystical meditation and “centering” (Richard Foster, Abbot Thomas Keating) is more a flight of fancy than Biblical Christianity. Biblical spirituality involves the study and meditation upon the literal truth of the Scripture; mystical spirituality, in contrast, looks for a “deeper meaning”, where scripture is regarded as allegorical rather than literal (the normal meaning of grammar, meaning and context, where history does not become allegory).

Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein” (Jeremiah 6:16).

Jesus, the Son God, writes Andrew Murray, is our High Priest. Our boldness of access is not a state we produce in ourselves by meditation or effort. No, the living, loving High Priest, who is able to sympathise and gives grace for timely help, He breathes and works this boldness in the soul that is willing to lose itself in Him. Jesus, found and felt within our heart by faith, is our boldness. As the Son, whose house we are, He will dwell within us, and by His Spirit’s working, Himself be our boldness and our entrance to the Father. Let us, therefore, draw near with boldness!” (Andrew Murray, “The Holiest of All,” Oliphants, 1960, p. 174).

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), we read:

No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). The Church invites us to invoke the Holy Spirit as the interior Teacher of Christian prayer” (CCC 2681).

It is not the (Catholic) Church who invites us (Christians), but Christ. He invites us (who is His body, the “church”)  through his Word (the scriptures) to invoke the Holy Spirit to dwell in us in a deeper way.  “He breathes and works this boldness in the soul that is willing to lose itself in Him” (Murray above).

Here is a response I received from a Catholic with regard to my argument that if prayer (for example, what I described as “transcendental” prayer) does not  square with the biblical kind of prayer, then this non-biblical kind of prayer is not talking to God, the God of the Bible.

My respondent says: “How can you say that …But this talking with God is not Biblical prayer…’ Your narrow minded, prescriptive view of the world is really sad. The sadness is that you really believe the nonsense you sprout. God is infinite – to limit him to one narrow written tradition, and to damn all other prayer is arrogance which is breath taking.”

Yes, I do limit valid prayer to one “narrow written tradition.” That is the difference between many Catholics, for example, Thomas Merton (whom I wrote about here) and Carlo Carretto (whom I wrote about here).

In Newsweek, Sept 2005, appeared a feature article  “Spirituality in America.” It said: “Americans are looking for personal, ecstatic experiences of God.” The article went on to describe the Catholic use of Buddhist’s teachings. For example, Father Thomas Keating, the abbot of St. Joseph’s Abbey, noticed how attracted Roman Catholics were to the Eastern religious practices As a Trappist monk, meditation was second nature to the Abbot. Americans, like everybody else, is looking for transcendental prayer, transcendental meditation (TM), which could, it seems, also stand for “Trappist Meditation.”

The contemplative life. Here again, people left the world to pray for the world and to be closer to God. “The act of contemplation, imperfect as it needs be, is of all human acts one of the most sublime, one of those which render the greatest honor to God, bring the greatest good to the soul, and enable it most efficaciously to become a means of salvation and manifold blessing to others.” (NewAdvent).

In the last decade, contemplation as a fruitful pursuit is gaining in popularity. A popular modern author on this topic is Richard Foster. He says:

The apostle Paul withdrew for thirteen years from the time of his conversion until he began his ministry at Antioch. He probably spent three years in the desert and then approximately ten years in his home town of Tarsus. During that time he no doubt experienced a lot of solitude. This was followed by a period of very intense activity as Paul carried out his mission to the Gentiles. Paul needed both solitude and activity, and so do we. (Richard Foster, “Solitude” in Practical Christianity. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1986), 305.”

I gather from the Apostle Paul’s life that he did very little withdrawing, but was continually in the thick of people. Having said that, it is true that “time spent in quiet prostration of soul before the Lord is most invigorating. . . . Quietude, which some men cannot abide, because it reveals their inner poverty, is as a palace of cedar to the wise, for along its hallowed courts the King in his beauty designs to walk. . . . Priceless as the gift of utterance may be, the practice of silence in some aspects far excels it” (Charles Spurgeon in his “Lectures to students”).

The Bible advocates time for solitary devotion, prayer and adoration of God, but not the kind of sustained and continuous withdrawal from life. Why does the Bible not contain any pattern of isolation? One might respond that an argument from silence is no argument at all, that is, just because the Bible doesn’t say anything explicit about leaving the world for a hermitage, this does not mean that it is wrong to do so. My response: the Bible stresses in many places the importance of community, how Christians are knitted together in the Body of Christ, that I should not be an Island; as much as I often wish I was.

“Let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water [the “water” of the Holy Spirit] let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised: 24 and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day drawing nigh” (Hebrews 10:22-25).

“Be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-21).

This does not mean you can never have a pious tipple – even if you are a Calvinist. But it does mean that the melodies you sing be sincere and true; for example, if you are going to sing “I wanna be with you-hoo-hoo, Lord,” don’t add “but not yet.”

 

In search of French past (6): To a monastery you will go

At the end of  In search of French past (5): Why are you so downcast, oh my soul?  I described how Albert-Louis and I met. One Sunday after Mass at St Julien le Pauvre in Paris, I was sitting on a bench in the courtyard when a Dominican priest, sat down next to me. He said he was sitting close to me during the Mass and was struck by my fervor. His name was Louis-Albert Lassus, an itinerant retreat master serving the monasteries of Europe. His birth name was Louis and his priest name, given at ordination, was Albert. I admired the monastic life very much; most Roman Catholics do, especially recent converts like me. I found Roman Catholicism not only intellectually impressive, it also appealed to the “deeper” mystical side, the nectar of the soul. Louis-Albert invited me to his priory in Bordeaux. This was the beginning of many journeys and retreats with Louis-Albert in different monasteries in France and other parts of Europe. A few weeks later, I quit my job at the food depot and joined Louis-Albert in Bordeaux whence we departed on our peregrinations “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10).

Before Louis-Albert and I leave Bordeaux on our journey, I say something briefly about the rationale, or rather mysticale, for the monastic life. In brief, monasticism in all religions is the struggle to overcome concupiscence (lust, inordinate desire): the lust of the flesh, of the eyes and of the pride of life for the soul and sole purpose of uniting with God. The most conducive environment for this purpose is generally considered to be reclusion (permanent seclusion) – in a monastery or hermitage. A key verse for such aspirations in Christendom is 1 John 2:15-17: Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides forever.

Here is the Haydock Roman Catholic Commentary on 1 John 2:16:

All that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, under which is comprehended all that pleases the senses, or the concupiscence of the eyes; i.e. a longing after such things which enter by the eyes, as of riches in gold and silver, in apparel, in houses and palaces, train and equipage, &c. curiosity as to vain arts and sciences; or, the pride of life, as to honours, dignities, and preferments. But the world passes away, and all these things that belong to it. — He that doth the will of God, abides for ever, with God in heaven.”

Matthew Henry’s Protestant commentary below says practically the same thing. Protestants, though, would would not seclude yourself away from world to be close to God.

The things of the world are classed according to the three ruling inclinations of depraved nature. 1. The lust of the flesh, of the body: wrong desires of the heart, the appetite of indulging all things that excite and inflame sensual pleasures. 2. The lust of the eyes: the eyes are delighted with riches and rich possessions; this is the lust of covetousness. 3. The pride of life: a vain man craves the grandeur and pomp of a vain-glorious life; this includes thirst after honour and applause. The things of the world quickly fade and die away; desire itself will ere long fail and cease, but holy affection is not like the lust that passes away. The love of God shall never fail.”

These three concupiscences incite the corruption of morals, indifference, unbelief, pride; in sum, the rejection of Christ. The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the divinely appointed guardian and restorer of the virtues. Here is Pope Gregory XIV in the introduction to the first volume of the works of Bernard of Clairvaux, describing the strides that the Church has made in controlling concupiscence. I translate from the French, which follows in brackets:

“Societies and their institutions have undergone essential modifications: polygamy is eschewed, divorce abolished, monogamy uplifts ennobles marriage and defines the family; the wife is liberated and rediscovers her dignity as encouraged in the Gospel; chastity purifies morals; celibacy, embraced by a multitude of Christians, becomes the yardstick of higher vocations; maternity is given due honour and respect; and, above maternity, hovers the angelic virtue of virginity, which elevates the soul to a heavenly perfection. (Italics added). All these facts attest to the tempering of the flesh (the “law of he flesh”) and the beginning of a return to the unity of the spirit.

(French: Les sociétés et leurs institutions subissent des modifications essentielles; la polygamie est réprouvée, le divorce aboli; la monogamie ennoblit le mariage et constitue la famille; la femme, affranchie, reprend sa dignité avec la liberté que l’Évangile lui présente; la chasteté purifie les mœurs; le célibat, embrassé par une multitude de chrétiens, devient la condition des vocations supérieures; la maternité est entourée d’honneur et de respect; et, au dessus de la maternité, plane une vertu angélique : la virginité, qui élève les âmes à la perfection du ciel. Tous ces faits attestent l’affaiblissement de la loi charnelle et le commencement du retour à l’unité de l’esprit).

It’s very hard for most to remain celibate or virginal in this world, and consequently to rise to the virtuous heights of angelic beings, who, by nature, are sexless. Is the solution a monastery? Much more, of course, goes on in a monastery than the mortification of the body. I describe monastic life as I go along on my journey.

I stayed with Louis-Albert in the residence of the Dominican Order in Bordeaux for a few days.

We left Bordeaux for several monasteries where Louis-Albert would lead retreats for the monks and nuns. Our first monastery was a Carmelite monastery for nuns deep in the hills. I don’t recall its name. We spent about a week there. The Roman Catholic Church has decreed that The Carmelite Order is under the special protection of the Virgin Mary, and therefore it has a strong devotion to her. But then, all monastic orders, in fact all Roman Catholic priests, indeed all Catholics have a special devotion to Mary, regarding her as the mother of all graces and the way to Jesus, “the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus, the head, Mary, the neck, the conduit between the head and the Body of Christ – the Church. The “Church” for Romans Catholics means the Pope and his Magisterium in Rome; for Protestants it means believers.

Newly converted Roman Catholics often acquire very quickly a strong devotion to Mary. When I was a student at the University of Cape Town, there was another Jewish student Andrew (not his real name), who was taking instruction with me in the Catholic faith at Kolbe House, the university residence and chaplaincy. Father Peter Paul Feeney was the chaplain and our instructor in the faith. At the end of our instruction, Fr Peter Paul baptised us together. During our year of Catholic instruction together at Kolbe House, Andrew and I used to spend time sharing our joy in our new found faith – two wondering Jews wandering no more. I had rented a room in a quiet part of Rondebosch near Kolbe House. Andrew lived in the main residence on campus. Whenever Andrew talked about Catholic things, his voice quivered, his eyes shone; he was in love. I was not too far behind him. He had a special love for the mother of Jesus. Many Catholics tend to gravitate to the mother of Jesus more than to her Son. This is generally true not only of born Catholics but also of converts. There’s just something special about “Mother”, Ma-me-le (Yiddish). If you can have a heavenly father, why can’t you have a heavenly mother. Sometimes your father can be so “other.” That’s why you need mother. Mary’s role for Catholics, though, is far more than that, as several papal encyclicals make clear. For example: “Mary places herself between her Son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings. She puts herself “in the middle,” that is to say she acts as a mediatrix not as an outsider, but in her position as mother. She knows that as such she can point out to her Son the needs of mankind, and in fact, she “has the right” to do so. Her mediation is thus in the nature of intercession: Mary “intercedes” for mankind. And that is not all. As a mother she also wishes the messianic power of her Son to be manifested, that salvific power of his which is meant to help man in his misfortunes, to free him from the evil which in various forms and degrees weighs heavily upon his life. (Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater: On the Blessed Virgin Mary in the life of the Pilgrim Church, 1987.03.25). (See Enough already with serving the Mass, have to get home to recite why this night is different from other nights – the Passover).

As with most of the monastic orders dating from medieval times, the First Order of the Carmelites consists of the friars , who combine activity and contemplation, the Second Order is the nuns, who are cloistered, and the Third Order consists of lay people who live in the world, who can be married, and who participate in the liturgical prayers, the propagation of religion or doctrine (the apostolates), comtemplation and prayer. There are also Carmelite sisters who are active in the world such as schools, hospitals and other social institutions.

Louis-Albert told the nuns I was Jewish and knew Hebrew. The mother superior asked me to sing for the nuns a few of the Psalms in Hebrew. She led me into an alcove, drew open a curtain in the centre of the wall opposite to reveal a grill behind which sat rows of sisters seated on tiered benches. The original tunes of the Psalms is unknown, so I made up my own, adapted from the tunes and “davening” (Yiddish for recital of prescribed prayers of the synagogue), which I was familiar with from the synagogue. “Daven” is probably derived from the church Latin divin, as in “divine service.”

I couldn’t have been closer to a mystic, if not to mysticism, than Louis-Albert, who, in his lifetime, published about a dozen books on the great hermits (solitaires, recluses) among them Romuald of Ravenna, the hermits of Camaldoli (Les Camaldules) , Denys of Chartreux, Séraphim of Sarov, and Nazarena, the recluse. He also had been leading retreats (prédicateur de retraites “retreat preacher”) in monasteries for many years. Monks on retreat – retreating deeper into reclusion (long-term seclusion).

Not all monks are hermits. Hermits hardly speak to anyone; neither do they seek one another’s company. Thomas Keating, the Trappist monk (Trappists are Cistercians who hold to a stricter observance) relates that he only spoke to another human being twice in six years. Keeping mum for such a long time does not mean that he was a hermit, that is, seldom in human company, because Trappists gather in the church several times a day for the liturgies. Don’t you want to be a monk? a Cistercian? Haven’t you had enough of the vanities of this world? The ideal life is possible. Here is a phantasmagorical version of the peace you’ve been looking for written by the Cistercian Fr. Raphael in his “The Praise of Bells.”

A call from God is how a Cistercian vocation is born. Throughout the course of a monk’s or nun’s day, this divine call finds expression in the sound of bells that call us to prayer, to spiritual reading, to manual labor, or to simple enjoyment of the company of our brothers and sisters. When night falls, the heart of a Cistercian savors the impressions of a day in which body, mind, and spirit have been formed by Christ whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. We remember the gentle rhythms of prayer chants, the scent of a well oiled tractor rolling through fresh cut fields, the way aged wooden floorboards retain the smell of burnt incense, the heaviness of weary legs stretched out on a simple hardwood bed prepared with fresh laundered sheets. It is remarkable how swiftly the days pass in a monastery. At days end, a last bell is heard whose music delights for a moment and passes away — like a life given to God.  (In “A Monk’s Diary”, March 24, Fr. Raphael )

The real picture is not so rosy. Truth gives the low-down as well as the highlights; blurbs, in contrast, highlights only.

In the monasteries where I stayed, I spent much time alone, reading theology, the saints, the mystics, trying to pray. If I don’t pray and dwell on what I read on these topics, it remains nothing more than information (notitia) and mental assent (assensus). There would be no divine sap coming up the vine to feed the dry branches. “I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Knowing stuff is not abiding. According to the world’s most famous and dangerous “theologian,” Oprah Winfrey, all that matters is to believe in a higher force (fortz, in Yiddish ). Knowing who God is, however, is crucial; our eternal destiny depends on this knowledge. Knowing who or what God is, is only the beginning. In Christianity we learn who God is through Christ, and in Christ. To know Christ in a personal way cannot be done without information about him, without learning who he is. This knowledge is found in divine revelation, which, for Protestants, is found in scripture alone, but for Roman Catholics in scripture and post-biblical tradition.

Like most Roman Catholics, I didn’t read much scripture outside the missal – the book of instructions and texts used for the Mass. “Mass” is the English for the Latin missa from the phrase Ite, missa est (“Go, it is the dismissal/sending”), which came to mean the ceremony of the Mass itself. Far was it from me to know that my missal was to revert to revert to dismissal two decades later when I left the Roman Catholic Church. They say, once a Catholic always a Catholic. They also say once Jew oiveys a Jew (See When is an “ex-Jew” not a Jew? Once (your mother’s) a Jew Oiveys a Jew . And once a Catholic Jew always a Catholic Jew.

Louis-Albert and I never discussed mysticism. Although my French was still more effluent than fluent – effluent French is good enough to pass at many universities in the English-speaking world – I could still understand quite a lot on philosophical and religious topics in French. The reason why I could understand was, firstly, because I had some knowledge of the subject matter, and secondly, French and English have many words in common with regard to mysticism, philosophy and theology. For example, here is the French translation of the italicised portion of the previous sentence, which even Peter Sellars’ English minkey would understand: “Le français et anglais ont beaucoup de mots en commun à l’egard du mysticisme, la philosophie et la théologie.” From a teacher’s view, one of the main reasons for the failure of learners who use a second or foreign language as a medium of instruction is not only poor knowledge of the language but also a lack of knowledge of the subject matter and of mental – I have to politically correct – energy. (See my Language, Content and Skills in the Testing of English for Academic Purposes).

Having joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1960, I had only been a Roman Catholic for two years. In 1961, I started my philosophy courses at my university (Cape Town). I didn’t get high marks in philosophy partly because I neglected the secular philosophy of my courses in favour of the Scholastics, the “schoolmen” of the Middle Ages such as Anselm, Abelard and Aquinas, and partly perhaps – though my children will vehemently deny this (love you Dad) – because I was not as mentally energetic as the others in my class. There were six of us majoring in philosophy. One, his surname was Cobban, went “up” to Oxford University (is Oxford on a hill?); another, Heard was his surname, became an editor of a prominent newspaper in Cape Town, and another, Rick Turner, went to the Sorbonne in Paris to do a doctorate on Jean Paul Sartre. I shall say more about Turner later on.

After the Carmelite monastery we went for the day to visit a a Cistercian monk, one of Louis-Albert’s friends, at the Cistercian monastery of Senanque. The monastery was founded in 1148. In 1544, it was badly damaged during the Wars of Religion, and was vacated. The state bought it during the French Revolution in 1791. It was restored in 1854, and the Cistercian monks returned, but in 1903 new laws against religious congregations forced the monks to leave. When Louis-Albert and I visited the place in 1962, there were hardly any monks – a skeleton staff; skeleton in more ways than one, which will become clear shortly

Before we went to this monastery, Louis-Albert and I spent the previous night with a well-to-do friend. The next day, the three of us went to visit the monk at the monastery. We didn’t enter the grounds of the monastery. It seemed we weren’t allowed to do so. We stopped on the gravel path that sloped down to the gate of the monastery. We waited for while. Two moving figures in the distance, one quite far in front of the other. As they came nearer, we saw that the one in front was dressed in normal worker’s clothes, and the one behind, the monk, was wearing a “habit” consisting of a black strip over a white robe. “Habit” is derived from the French habillement “clothes.”

 

cistercian habit

Senanque Abbey

Senanque Abbey

It was close to sunset and chilly outside. The monk approached Louis-Albert and knelt down before him. Louis-Albert said, “No, no, it is I that should kneel before you.” Next to Albert and the kneeling skeletal soul stood Louis-Albert’s ruddy-faced friend, puffing a cigar, swathed in a beige coat of pure wool. I think of another skeleton, this time without a soul or flesh sitting in a cage above the altar of the church in Mondsee, Austria, orbiting the extravagant wedding Mass for the dashing Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews, his bride. The hills are alive. (See The Bishop under the Bell Jar – and the food!).

skeleton konrad_basilika_mondsee

Louis-Albert and I went to Barcelona to spend 10 days with Jaime Torres (“Jaime” pronounced like the Jewish name, Hymie – add the guttural ch) – James Bull in English. Wh en it came to Spanish I knew as much as Edith Piaff’s “Non, rien de rien” (no, nothing of nothing). Louis-Albert spoke Spanish fluently because he had been a missionary in Argentina for many years. There was much festivity in Jaime’s house over those ten days.

On the train journey back to Bordeaux, France, we broke our journey at Miranda. I had previously asked Louis-Albert if I could spend some time at a hermitage. He arranged for me to spend a solitary night, in both senses of the word, at a hermitage. I left Louis-Albert behind and took a tatty taxi with bad shocks. We travelled about14 kms on a narrow pot-holed road into the winding hills. It was dark and very cold when I arrived at the hermitage. I knocked on the front door, a little panel in the door opened. I couldn’t see the face behind it. I pushed the note Louis-Albert had given me through the opening. The big door opened. A hooded smile greeted me and with few words, which is less than a few words, the monk came outside and led me to a very large building with many windows and several storeys. We entered the building and climbed a few flights of stairs. My host led me, candle in hand, down the passage into one of the rooms. He lit another candle from his own, left one on the table, turned round and left, closing the door behind him. In the morning I learnt that this building had been abandoned for many decades; the few hermits that remained occupied the part of the monastery whose door I had knocked on the previous night.

A thin quilt covered the hard mattress on the iron bed. The candle flame threw flickers of shadow and light across the ceiling and stone walls. It was freezing. I lay on the bed, covered myself, and thought of Edmond Dantès in the dungeons of the island fortress of the Chateau d’If, the first prisoner to escape from the island. I heard a scratching sound coming from the bottom of my door. A hatch I had not noticed, opened and a tin plate slithered into the room. The hatch flopped back. I heard no footsteps coming or going. Hungry as I was, I couldn’t eat the mess of pottage.

I crept back under the quilt and tried to sleep. I was alone in this giant deserted building that use to house thousands of monks over the centuries. Shadows skated up and down the window. No angels for comfort. The wind howled. I had a “madeleine” moment; a remembrance of time past, of time lost. Marcel Proust wrote a gigantic novel called “A la recherche du temps perdu (In remembrance of time past). The most famous passage in Proust’s novel is “La petite Madeleine” (a small cake):

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?”

My “madeleine” moment, in contrast, was more of a maudlin moment. I’m seven years old, in the Cape Jewish Orphanage’s holiday camp at the beach town of Muizenberg, South Africa. I have a cough. They’ve left me all alone after lights out; the other children are in the hall doing nice things. It’s so windy. Something is scraping at the window. Please come back quickly, please! I shivered myself to sleep. The scraping against the window was the unsurprising branch of a tree.

After Toulouse that we went to stay at the Cistercian Abbey of Lérins on the island of Saint-Honorat (Lerina in Roman times) very close to Cannes in Southern France. In 410 Saint Honoratus, a disciple of a local hermit,Caprasius of Lérins built a monastery on the uninhabited island. Saint Honoras intended to live alone as a hermit, but before he could say “peace” was ambushed by disciples, who formed a monastic community around him, which, 17 years later was bursting, it seems, at the you know what.

One of the greatest leaders of this monastic community, the famous Vincent of Lérins, a semi-Pelagian, attacked Augustine’s theology of grace.Two of Augustine’s most popular sayings are, the more know, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” and “Grant what You command, and command what You desire” – both his “Confessions”. It was the second that got Vincent of Lérins’s goat. For most Christians and all Jews, “Grant what You command…,” evokes dismay, outrage and total contempt. That was Pelagius’s reaction, the famous rival of Augustine, in their dispute of the role of God’s grace and human will in salvation. For Pelagius, as for Judaism, the role of grace is highly exaggerated and leaves little play for man’s free willy. Nilly, says Augustine. When an Augustinian (we say Calvinist today) reads the Bible, he sees man freely following his heart. The man thinks, he desires, and his mind directs that desire to its object. The will is not a noun, it is a verb, a present continuous, always willing, moving, in its natural state, away from God (of the Bible). Man is dead, totally dead, totally deprived of the love for God; in other words, totally depraved. And that includes his willing. And that is the original Bible doctrine of ”original” sin; willy-nilly. (See The pith of ”It’s not he who willeth.” Romans 9 and free will).
One morning at passed a cadaverous monk shuffling his way to one of the daily liturgies in the chapel. His pallor melded into the marble hue of his robe. It w
as all sunshine and green outside. When I went to Rome a few weeks later and saw Michaelangelo’s Pietà’, I thought of the white marble face of the monk wafting past me in the corridor of the church in Lérins.

 

 

Island of St Honorat and monastery

Island of St Honorat and monastery

Lerins Abbey

Lerins Abbey

Coastline of St Honorat

Coastline of St Honorat

I left Louis-Albert to spend 10 days at the Dominican priory in Toulouse, which served as a training centre for priests. Here is an abridged description of the Dominican vocation to the priesthood.

“The 7-year process of becoming a Dominican priest or brother (known as “friars”) is called “formation”. The first year is called the novitiate. Novices engage in prayer, study, and various ministries. The Dominican formation process is both rigorous and balanced to ensure that candidates are well-adjusted and suited to this special calling. By offering a unique combination of tradition and contemplative life (wearing a “habit”, engaging in common daily prayer) balanced against preaching, teaching, and ministry in the greater community, the Order seeks to produce well-rounded, spiritually mature men who will provide outstanding leadership and genuine pastoral care to the People of God. The second step of formation occurs after the novice completes his year-long process of study, discernment and ministry in Denver. After taking first vows at St. Dominic Church in a ceremony called “Profession of Vows,” the novice becomes a professed student brother. The student brother engages in philosophical and theological graduate studies for approximately six more years before his ordination to the diaconate and priesthood.”

In Catholic seminaries, three of the first four years of study are devoted to Greek philosophy, mainly Aristotle. Aristotle is central to Catholic theology because Thomas Aquinas ((1225 – 1274) built much of his theology on Aristotle.  The bulk of Catholic theology derives from the dazzling intellect  of Aquinas whose Summa Theologiae/Theologica covers almost the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped working on it the year before he died in 1274 . (Thomas Aquinas: Philosophy and Education in the Middle ages)..

I aped the student priests’ routines. At meal-times, the only voice heard was that of the reader at his lectern. The books he read were not always of a religious nature, which is a good thing, because most Dominican priests work with people, and need to know what’s going on in the world. Although Christians are not meant to be of this world, they are meant to be in this world, which the Bible says applies to every Christian.

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:14-16).

I asked one of the senior priests to observe me during my stay and tell me, not whether I was following the rules of the place, but when I was being selfish. He raised his eyebrows, said nothing and walked off. Now, how on earth could he or would he want to spend time filching through the trough of my soul? Monsieur Raphael you took too much butter at lunch and poured too much olive oil on your salad. Plus (de plus) you flare your nostrils at others. He didn’t understand: I often got a blocked nose. How else was I too breathe?

After dinner, I joined the student priests in an alcove outside the dining room, where they were allowed to socialise. The ceiling of the alcove was very low. Two close rows of stooping young men facing each other, walking in the same direction. When we reach the one end of the alcove, it’s the turn of the row that walked forwards to walk backwards. Backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards. One of the students told of a good laugh he had one time. What amused me was not what he was amused about, which escapes me, but how he expressed himself. J’ai vachement ri, he said. This means “I laughed my head off” or “I was in stitches.” Allow me to translate“I laughed my head off in French” into French: J’ai ri (I laughed) matête (my head)… shucks French has no word for “off.” “Erf” should do it: J’ai rima tête erf. Wonder what’s the French for “Gamar off.”

The literal French of J’ai vachement ri is “I laughed cowly.” Turning a noun into an adverb ”cow” to “cowly,” that was funny. There is a French processed cheese called La vache qui rit “The cow that laughs.” A laughing cow is a happy cow; a happy cow is a healthy cow. The same with people, including monks. There is the French insult: Vous parlez français comme une vache espagnole “You speak French like a Spanish cow.”

La vache qui rit

La vache qui rit

It was October 1962, the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. Louis-Albert and I were off to Rome. Home?

 

 

In search of French past (5): Why are you so downcast, oh my soul?

In the previous chapter, I described my student days at the University of Strasbourg and my sojourn in Perugia, Italy. After three weeks in Perugia, I hitch-hiked to Rotterdam to collect a letter from my father that contained my monthly allowance. A Belgian gave me a lift all the way from Strasbourg to Brussels, a distance of 431 km. As he was a Flemish-speaking Belgian, not a French-speaking one, and didn’t know French, I spoke Afrikaans to him, a South African language, which I learnt at school. My first language is English and I speak Afrikaans well because not only did I take Afrikaans as a school subject – which was compulsory in South Africa at the time – now no longer so but I also attended a dual-medium school for five years where all subjects except languages was taught in both languages, where the teacher would switch between English and Afrikaans in the same lesson. Afrikaans originated from Dutch. The Flemish consider their language to be Dutch as well, but the Dutch think of it as “ a funny little lingo.” There are many Dutch and Flemish variants. The variant of Flemish my Belgian spoke was very similar to Afrikaans: his funny little lingo and my kitchen Dutch.

Rotterdam

When I arrived in Brussels, I took the train to Rotterdam and went to the Post Office to collect my letter. It wan’t there. I didn’t think that in 1962 you could phone South Africa from a public phone in Europe. I no longer had any strength to carry my heavy brown bag. I saw a man standing outside his house near the river bank who let me store my bag in his garage. I walked to the centre of the small river bridge close by, leaned over the barrier. ”Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” (Psalm 43:5a).

I backed away from the the barrier, crossed the bridge, came to a stone church and entered the poorly lit dank interior; a Protestant church because there were no statues. I knelt down in one of the pews prayed. What I prayed, I cannot recall. The rest of Psalm 43:5 I quoted above would have been appropriate: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” I left the church and aim for the centre of the city. I was walking along eyes on the pavement when I nearly crashed into a young “couple” (which in 1962 still could only mean a man and a woman) walking in the opposite direction. I must have looked wretched because they asked me whether I would like something to eat. They led me into a restaurant where they treated me to a ham omelette, toast and coffee. My hands quivered so much from hunger and fatigue that my fork battled to find its destination. The good Samaritans pretended not to notice. This pretense had, of course, the opposite motivation of the priest and the Levite of the parable , who “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:25-37).

The couple contacted the authorities who retrieved my bag and put me up in a youth hostel, where I was told to stay until they had contacted my home in South Africa. After four days, they informed me that they had phoned my father who said that he had posted the money not to Rotterdam but to Amsterdam. I was given the train fare to Amsterdam. The letter was there with my monthly allowance of £25.

Paris

My student card from the University of Strasbourg was valid for all French universities, which meant that I could eat lunch at any university restaurant in France at a cost of £14 a month, which though cheap in absolute terms was expensive for me, because I only had £25 allowance. I needed a job. I took the train to Paris where I found accommodation in a university residence close to the Jardin du Luxembourg, which was not difficult to find because the students were on long vacation.

jardin du luxembour

 

“Regrets, I had a few, too few to mention.” A familiar line from the song “I did it my way,” and a big lie. One of my regrets was making an appointment with someone but letting him down. At the university residence I met Luc, a Quebecois, who was studying cinematography. We had arranged that he would fetch me from my room and we would go out to a restaurant. When Luc arrived to fetch me, I was in conversation with an English-speaking student, and had forgotten all about my arrangement with Luc. He knocked on my door. I opened, and for some reason, I looked surprised to see him. He said he was sorry to intrude and left. I was stricken. My thought was that Luc felt that I preferred someone someone who shared my mother tongue to him. The truth was that the Englishman was a big yawn. What is more, although English is my mother tongue (not my mother’s tongue, which was Yiddish), I wasn’t “English.” I felt much more comfortable with the folks from Calais than from Folkstone.  

After a few days, I registered with the tourist bureau as a French-to-English interpreter. My first job was a trip to the Palace of Versailles. I was the guide’s interpreter on the bus. After the tour, the group asked me where they could spend a good night out. This was my chance to return to the small restaurant in the Latin Quarter where I had been a few days earlier and had fallen in love with the Spanish dancer in the band. My first visit to this restaurant was at the invitation of a two North American students. When the boy went to the bathroom, I asked her if he was her boyfriend. Not at all, she said. She seemed to take to me. I wanted to ask whether I could see her again. She gave me her address but I didn’t contact her again. What I did instead was slip a postcard into the post box at her university residence wishing her a good life. And rode off into the night like the man of La Mancha – on my ass. “O! that ye would read [the scriptures] oftener, and ponder them better, how there is nothing in this world,—which may seem to fall out by chance to you, that you know not how it is to come to pass, and can see no cause nor reason of it,—but it falls out by the holy will of our blessed Father. Be it of greater or less moment,—or be it a hair of thy head fallen, or thy head cut off,—the most casual and contingent thing,—though it surprised the whole world of men and angels, that they wonder from whence it did proceed” (Hugh Binning). In short,  “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33).

I took the Versailles tour group to the restaurant. The meal was very expensive and second-rate. I couldn’t eat the black inky paella. They were shocked at the bill. They paid my share. An elderly American in the group was furious for wasting his last precious night in such a tacky, expensive place. What I could have pointed out to him was that the Folies Bergère would have been much more expensive if not less tacky. Besides, all that matters in this life is to see the Spanish girl again, which I did, boxed in by her extended family.

The job at the tourist bureau was not well paid – the guide gets all the tips (“tip” in French is pourboire; “for drinking” – what else?). I got a job as an interpreter at a big food supply depot. Trains delivered the supplies and workers would unpack them from the trains and load them on to trollies that transported them to the hangars. The workers would rip open random boxes and help themselves to some of the contents. Chocolate bars were popular because they could be wolfed down quickly. I don’t recall participating. I lunched with the workers. A morass of red faces – not because caught red-handed, but because of all the bottles of red plonk they drank at, or more accurately, for lunch. On rainy days, I brought my umbrella to work, which caused much merriment. My nickname was “parapluie” (umbrella).

I attended Sunday Mass in the small church of Saint Julien le Pauvre situated near Notre Dame Cathedral. The church was first mentioned in the 6th century in Gregory of Tours “History of the Franks,” which makes it the oldest church in Paris. It is now a Roman Catholic Church of the Melchite Greek rite, a branch of the Byzantine church. Its interior is like a Greek Orthodox church, embroidered with icons and frescoes. There are no statues as would be customary in Roman Catholic churches of the Latin rite (the vast majority of Roman Catholic churches). Since Vatican II, the Mass in most churches is no longer celebrated in Latin. I felt the same Byzantine ambience in Saint Julien le Pauvre as I felt in the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral in London, which also has a Byzantine interior. I preferred icons to statues because, they were less physical, and therefore, more “spiritual.” I never liked that song “Let’s get physical, physical, I wanna get physical, let’s get into physical, Let me hear your body talk, your body talk, let me hear your body talk.” Talk about what? What not.

st julien le pauvre

One Sunday after Mass, I was sitting on a bench in the courtyard (behind the trees on the left of the picture) when a Dominican priest, sat down next to me. He said he was sitting close to me during the Mass and was struck by my fervor. His name was Louis-Albert Lassus, an itinerant retreat master serving the monasteries of Europe. His birth name was Louis and his priest name, given at ordination, was Albert. Here is a photo of Louis-Albert, which he gave me.

 

Louis-Albert Lassus

Louis-Albert Lassus

 

 I admired the monastic life very much; most Roman Catholics do, especially recent converts like me. I found Roman Catholicism not only intellectually impressive, it also appealed to the “deeper” mystical side, the nectar of the soul. Louis-Albert invited me to his priory in Bordeaux. This was the beginning of many journeys and retreats with Louis-Albert in different monasteries in France and other parts of Europe. I describe some of these in the next chapter. A few weeks later, I quit my job at the food depot and joined Albert in Bordeaux whence we departed on our peregrinations “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10).

 

In search of French Past (4): Student at the University of Strasbourg – and much ado about lying

Most people either cannot write, are too lazy to write or don’t have the time to write, or all three. Some who can write, and have time to write and are energetic enough to write will do so but avoid writing about their own lives – an autobiography. The reason why some shy away from autobiography is because there are thoughts and actions in their lives that are either too painful or too shameful to disclose. Many – probably most – people, though, take a less dim view of their lives. Where some feel failure and shame, they see the “courage to be.” to let it all hang out- spill the beans if not your seed. Yet no matter how great the courage “to be”, there always remain things many prefer to hide – not because they are coy, but because they know that it would shatter their image. Secretly they are proud of the dirty linen they would be ashamed to hang out in public. They can’t resist keeping it to themselves; so, they reveal it vicariously; they write novels in which they create a surrogate through whom they can not only exhibit themselves with impunity, but also get paid to do it.

In autobiography, there is a nobler reason for not revealing all – “all” invariably means “all the evil we do”. Often, the evil involves an accomplice. As long as the evil is not a “crime”, we have no right to make public the evil deeds of others. For example, if a couple decided to abort their child, and one of them wanted to write about this in an autobiography, it would be wrong to do so unless the other approved, for, not only will the other partner be adversely affected, his or her relatives and friends will also be affected. Some sins are between you and God alone; that is, if you believe in God or in sin more than being (in)famous at any cost. (See OneDaringJew: An AutobiogRaphy).

At the beginning of 1962, after the second year of my B.A., I decided to go to Europe, especially France. I would finish my B.A. on my return the following year. My father offered to pay for my ticket and gave me an allowance of 25 British pounds. After three months in London (See In search of French past (1)), I took the ferry to France. In search of French past (3): French philosophy, Paris and fleeing the OAS, I described my brief sojourn in Paris and hasty “escape” to Strasbourg.

 

france germany map use

My father sent me an allowance of 25 British pounds a month. It barely covered the basics. I loved the French banknotes, surely the most beautiful in the world. Cardinal Richelieu (10 New Francs) on the left; the playwright, Molière, on the right, worth 50 Richelieus. Talk about the “Purpose-driven life”: what can be more fulfilling than crumpling a Richelieu, not even to mention a Molière, in your pocket.

 

Ten New Francs 1960s500 New Francs

I rented a room in the Avenue de la Forêt Noire (Black Forest Avenue) close to the main campus of the University of Strasbourg where I registered as a full-time student. Tuition was free with a small fee for registration. My main subject was French for foreigners. I also attended a few philosophy lectures where students translated from Greek and Latin texts. How far did my £25 British stretch? Monthly rent was £10 and meal tickets £14. The shortfall I “borrowed” from students and took a job during the university vacation for three weeks in a furniture factory in Wissembourg on the Northern French-German border, and one day in a canning factory in Strasbourg, where I stamped the rubber seal onto can lids whizzing past on a conveyor belt – and didn’t get paid. Why only one day? I could’ve taken the boredom for a little longer. I was in the staff bathroom washing my hands, had just picked up a bar of soap when one of the ladies snatched it away. “Get your own.” Not something you should tell a lonely sensitive Jewish Catholic boy, so abruptly. I fled the factory.

On Sundays and several times a week, I attended Mass in the crypt of Strasbourg Cathedral, and sometimes at one of the small university residences close to the cathedral. Some of us would gather in a prefab student residence in the grounds of the Chateau de Pourtalès. Only rich students could afford to stay in the chateau itself.

You wish

You wish

How I envied the ruddy well-fed chap playing classical guitar surrounded by an adoring crowd. Westerners are losing their wonder at the staggering contrast between men and women. This guitar episode came to mind five years later, when I started to learn the classical guitar. I still play and practice regularly.

A Dutch student friend, more than twice my age, had been doing French for a few years. I asked him why he never said a single French word. He said that when he was ready to speak he would do so (it’ll all pour out, will it!). That is not how you learn a language; your mother tongue or an extra language.

A Catholic student friend lived on a farm in the Vosges mountains. He was lame (boiteux) in one leg. He invited me to his farm for a weekend. As we climbed up the hill to his farmhouse, a man, also lame in one leg, hobbled down to meet us – his father. Their farmhouse could be this very one I found on the internet.

vosges as i remembered he farm

Strasbourg is in Alsace and is part of France. Besides French, the indigenous language, “Alsatien,” a Germanic language, is spoken. I overheard my friend’s father ask him whether I was “katolische” (a catholic). Very much so, his son nodded. On Sunday we walked through the woods to a little chapel where we attended Mass.

For breakfast, the father brought down from the loft a slab of smoked fat interlaced with filigrees of bacon. Decades later travelling on a train from Moscow to Kiev, a portly occupant in my compartment offered me at daybreak a slab of pure lard. It went down, well, not so well with her, because, I turned down her offer. I’m not a “Messianic Jew” who balks at bacon, but rather like Jack Sprat, who could eat no fat. “Messianic Jews” are followers of Yeshua (they don’t like saying “Jesus”); many of them observe the Jewish dietary laws. But then what about Peter’s vision of the sheet descending from heaven?

“The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, [Simon] Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour [12 noon – lunch time] to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven” (Acts 10:9-16).

One of the landmarks of Strasbourg is the Goethe statue at the entrance to the main campus of the University. I passed many a quiet moment on a bench close reading French Catholic philosophers like Jean Guitton and Etienne Gilson in French. The previous year (1961) I had registered at the University of Cape Town for courses in philosophy where one of my philosophy professors, Martin Versfeld, had inspired my interest in modern Catholic philosophers, many of whom are French. Now, if only Goethe were French, that would make it all picture perfect. Alas, Goethé looks silly. Anyone for a cuppà thé.

 

Statue of Goethe

Statue of Goethe

Why did French grip me so. It all began the previous year (1961) at Cape Town University. I was lunching with some friends in the cafeteria. One of them was studying French Elementary. His French textbook (Brooks and Cook) was lying (French gisait) on the table in front of him like a dead thing. Something stirred within me. I picked up his book, opened it at random and began to declame. “Very good,” he said. I knew less French than Peter Sellars. And he only knew “minkey” and hotel phrases like “Have you got a rhume?” A room where the previous occupants had flu. Was some kind of anamnesis (remembrance of things past) going on? It was the Greek philosopher, Plato, who said you don’t learn anything new; you knew it all the time. So, not only, as the Preacher said, is there nothing new under the sun, neither is there anything new in your noggin.

During A short university vacation I was hitchhiking with a German student around France. We almost came to blows over who was the greater – Goethe or Shakespeare. I knew very little Shakespeare, and less about him.

There was Roberta, who was 10 years older than me. We went to a river bank café where I serenaded her with a Johnny Mathis version of “A Certain Smile.”  When the song ended, she told me off. I had to do hard rethink on the meaning of romance, if not of languages. One of my failings in later life is equating sentimentality   with romantic love – between husband and wife. There’s a saying, Les Français, toujours les sentiments “The French, always feelings.” Sentiments (feelings) in French is not equivalent to sentiments in English. I remember how much the girls at school in Wellington, South Africa used to swoon when I serenaded them. As the advert goes for some lotion or other, “It’s not just about feeling but about feeling.” How much I was appreciated the year before when I performed  “A certain smile” for the University of Cape Town Catholic students at our Kolbe House concerts. With Roberta, Romance was in the air, choked by the rancid smoke of the omnipresent Gauloise. (Gauloise is a popular cigarette in France). One weekend, Roberta and I cycled to Freibourg in Germany, 86 kilometres from Strasbourg.

 

Route from Strasbourg to Freibourg

On the way home in the cold drizzle, we stopped off an an inn where we mulled over wine. I couldn’t understand why Roberta was so shortshrift, why she paid me scant affection. She, ten years my senior, was wiser than I. After leaving the inn, I got so miffed with her that I rode on ahead and left her behind to ride home on her own. I bought a huge slab of cheap dark chocolate, went back to my lodgings, got into bed and wolfed down the whole slab. I got very sick. A few hours later she came to see me and asked me why I had left her behind. I didn’t know what to say; I did a bad thing.

I loved my navy blue duffel coat that was my second skin in England. It was getting warm in Strasbourg, so before class one day, I hung it on one of the dozens of hooks in the foyer. After class I returned to retrieve my coat. It was gone. So that’s why all the other students carried their coats.

The academic year at the end of June. I went to Wissembourg for three weeks where I got a job in a furniture factory.

 

Wissembourg (French-German border)

Wissembourg (French-German border)

On the outskirts of town, I rented a room in a modest double-storey house alongside the railway line. The landlady dressed in black every day. I never asked the reason why she did so. I assumed that this was her custom. At the time I was too dense to consider that she might be in mourning – over a deceased husband, perhaps, and that was why she was taking in a lodger.

When I arrived, she was very kind and asked me whether I was hungry. She offered me a bowl of rissoto (creamy rice). Afterward she said: That’ll be (so much) for the rent plus (so much) for the rice. I don’t remember the exact amount. Something snapped inside of me. After the previous few months of self-pity, Now this phony kindness, the greedy eyes set in the parchment face framed by spindly black hair.

To exit the house, I had to pass her room, the door was always open. There she is lying on her bed, staring at the doorway. Go. Do it. Into the room; hands round her neck. I had been going after work to the empty church to pray: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:43-44).

At the furniture factory, I spent my three-week vacation removing freshly varnished sheets of hardboard from conveyor belts, which others stapled onto the back of wardrobes. The alcohol in the varnish made me dizzy and my lungs burned.

In my lodgings on my last day in Wissembourg, I slipped off my precious embossed leather cover from my “The Imitation of Christ” – and went to her room. She was lying on the bed. The French gisait [giZe] (from Latin iacere “to throw, cast down”) captures the moment. Gisait (was lying) often refers to the dead or dying. I wanted her one or the other. The sound gisait also evokes ooZing lifeblood. Never before or since had I wanted to strangle someone to death. She leapt off her bed. I held out the leather book cover and thanked her for being so nice to me. I turned and walked out of the room and out of her life.

“I want to strangle you” is generally a harmless outburst; no more than a venting frustration. But it’s more serious when you don’t say it but think it, feed it, sleep it. Should such homicidal inclinations be accepted as part of the human story, part of life, of the evil inclination (Hebrew: yetser hara) of our human frame? No, for such thoughts, indeed hatred, which is their source, can send you to hell: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22a). Jesus says, following on: “… anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Who, then, can be saved; who is able to avoid damnation? Here is what Jesus says about the rich man. “And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:23-26).

Few believe in hell anymore. And heaven? We all end up there; except Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Hmmm.

A few weeks later I celebrated my 21st birthday in the Black Forest. I rode my bicycle down the Avenue de la Forêt Noire (Avenue of the Black Forest) out of the city into the Black Forest along the narrow beaten tar road that borders the Maginot line. I rested at one of the crumbling bunkers along the way.

 

The Maginot Line

The Maginot Line

The Maginot Line was a gigantic fortification stretching the length of the French-German border. Maginot, Minister of War between 1922 and 1924, pushed for its construction. General de Gaulle  preferred military mobility to fortications, proaction to reaction, but others argued that Germany might feel less threatened by fortifications. When Germany made its move in 1940, it bypassed the Maginot line and attacked France through neural Belgium, and this vast, intricate Maginot defence just lay (gisait) there to be crumble and get ingested by the living wood.

In July, I left France and  went to Perugia, Italy, to visit a friend, Gerard, from my Cape Town University days with whom I stayed for three weeks. Gerard had a bursary from Italy to study, surprise, Italian. I had learned a little Italian, which is easier than French. Italian is a phontic language – spoken as it is written – like African languages, for example Tswana, a language of South Africa. Dumela is Tswana for “Hello.” The stress in Tswana and Italian falls on on the second-last syllable. Tswana – “duMEla.” The e is pronounced as in “egg” and lengthened “du-MEEE-la.” Tswana speakers can pronounce perfectly the Italian word doMAni (“tomorrow”). When, however, it comes to the French equivalent, demain, that’s different. What makes academic Italian relatively easy to understand is that its vocabulary has much in common with English. After all, half of the English vocabulary comes indirectly from Latin. Latin is a phonetic language, which developed into the Latin languages – also called Romance languages – like Italian, French and Spanish. These are also called “Romance” languages, not because knights went weak at the knees everytime their “Dulcineas” sighed, but because these languages originated from the Romans. Dulcinea is the lady of Don Quixote’s impossible dream. (Seventeen years later I was to be Don Quixote. See In search of French past (2): English Effluence).

I attended art history classes, Italian, at the Summer school of the University of Perugia. I understood quite a bit. It also helped to have some background in the history of art. Here is an Italian sentence. How much do you understand? Michelangelo era uno dei più talentuosi artisti in italia. No, “era” doesn’t mean “era,” “dei” doesn’t mean “deist,” and piu doesn’t mean “poo.” It means “Michelangelo was (era) one (uno) of the (dei) most (piu)…the rest – talentuosi artisti in italia – you should know.

During my stay, I visited Assisi several times. Many art historians believe the Basilica of Assisi to be the cradle of Italian art. Giotto’s frescoes adorn the Basilica. Thirty five years (1997) after my sojourn in Italy, many of Giotto’s paintings as well as those by Cimabue and others were destroyed in an earthquake. I left the Basilica, climbed down the valley, sat down on the grass, opened my knapsack and spread out the cheddar, rye bread, black olives and bottle of red. My déjeuner sur l’herbe (luncheon on the grass). Why – this is for those who want more juicy bits to my story – did I get the feeling I hadn’t really had lunch?

Manet's Le dejeuner sur l'herbe

Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe

After three weeks with Gerard in Perugia, I made for Holland where my father had posted my monthly allowance. Gerard lent me a few pounds. He never got it back.

How much shopping can you fit on your scooter?

Here is my scooter. As the first three pictures show, there is a compartment on the back and one under the seat. I went to the food market with my knapsack.

DSC02711

DSC02712

DSC02713

Here is my medium-size knapsack

DSC02714

Here in the next two pictures is the food I bought

DSC02715

DSC02717

Here is the cash slip listing what I bought. Ten South African rands are quivalent to one American dollar.

shopping new new

Buy a scooter with a box at the back and a bucket under your seat. How do South African prices compare with your  state/country?

In search of French past (3): French philosophy, Paris and fleeing the OAS

In “In search of French past (2), I described the English “effluent” in my life. I never took to things English but was drawn more to the continent. Why antipathy to English culture when my first language (the language I knew best) was English. I say English was my first language, which is not the same as mother tongue. Children of immigrants, – my parents were Yiddish-speakers – often do not speak their mother’s tongue, which is what we mean by a “mother tongue.” I can think of two reasons for my dislike of English culture.

The first reason originated during my school years at Wellington High School (Grades 10-12).  I was doing poorly at school but began to improve in the middle of Grade 10. I remained poor at English literature. I had spent my early childhood in an orphanage (ages 4 to 9) where there was no story time, and no books that I was aware of. I don’t remember ever being read a story, or reading one. The Orphanage started out as a home for orphans, but ended up as a refuge for children from broken homes. Here is an excerpt from Professor Abrahams message in Eric Rosenthal’s out-of print ”The Story of the Cape Jewish Orphanage: Golden Jubilee 1910 – 1961”. The Orphanage was demolished two or three decades ago:

“Jewish standards of philanthropic endeavour generally and the loving care lavished on orphans in particular are proverbially praiseworthy. Of Oranjia it can be said that it has maintained that tradition at the highest level.  The very name is characteristic: we do not speak of the “Orphanage,” with all the unhappy Dickensian nuances attaching to such a name. We call it “Our Children’s Home” or simply Oranjia (the name of the original house); because the little inmates are our children and their dwelling-place a home in the noblest sense of the term….it is eloquence of the Jewish spirit and influence of Oranjia that throughout the fifty years, very few of our children have gone astray.”

If only Professor Abrahams  had remembered his Bible: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way (Isaiah 53:6a). That is why we need a mediator, as we read in the rest of the verse: and the Lord has laid on him (the Messiah, the suffering Servant)  the iniquity of us all. (See The Cape Jewish Orphanage (5) – Chief Rabbi Abrahams and Dr Verwoerd: the not-so-odd couple).

When I was at home (ages 9 to 12), it was the same story; no stories, no books. In my senior school years (15-17), I preferred pubescent adventure stories like Biggles, eventually graduating to Jeffery Farnol’s “The amateur gentleman” and Rafael Sabatini’s “Shame of motley.” Swinging down from masts, swinging a cutlass; action, acting a part, to escape being; being cut off. The story of the Suffering Servant, the Lamb who was cut off (Isaiah 53 above), that’s the story of all stories, in whose radiance all other stories pale. God has redeemed and transformed my lost stories into the image of the Son he loves – and written me into the Lamb’s book of life. His story has become my story.

Cutlass

Cutlass

The second reason for my growing aversion to English culture was my early Catholicism. I entered the Catholic Church in 1960 at the age of 19, during my second year at university (see here). Most Catholics – in the 1960s at least – considered Anglicans to be heretics. Therefore, I reasoned, Englishmen are heretics. Today, of course, most Englishmen are either agnostics or “ignostics.”  [1]

The continent, especially France, was very Catholic. But wasn’t Italy (in the 1960s) just as Catholic as France, even more so? What did France have that Italy didn’t?  France was more appealing because during my First Year Philosophy, my Catholic professor of philosophy Martin Versfeld introduced me to French Catholic philosophers such as Jean Guitton, Gabriel Marcel, Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson. Gilson’s philosophy was in the Thomas Aquinas tradition. In my first few years of Catholic fervour,
Etienne Gilson

Etienne Gilson

I, like any sensitive Jewish intellectual convert to Rome, spent many hours reading Thomas Aquinas. In Catholic seminaries, three of the first four years of study are devoted to Greek philosophy, mainly Aristotle. Aristotle is central to Catholic theology because Thomas Aquinas ((1225 – 1274) built much of his theology on Aristotle.  The bulk of Catholic theology derives from the dazzling intellect  of Aquinas whose Summa Theologiae/Theologica covers almost the whole of Catholic theology. He stopped working on it the year before he died in 1274. (Thomas Aquinas: Philosophy and Education in the Middle ages).
The fifth of Thomas Aquinas' proofs of God's e...

Thomas Aquinas

I so wished I could read these French writers in the original, a wish that came true when I renounced the intense desire for friends, but never for neighbours, when I caught the French fever. “Grammaire” gave me goose bumps. With French and neighbours, I was the richest man in town. There’s a  hit song of the  1950s called “Friends and neighbours.” Mine was “French and neighbours.” Here are my lyrics adapted from “Friends and neighbours.”

When you’ve got French and neighbours

All the world is a happier place

French and neighbours

Put a smile on the gloomiest face

Here is Billy Cotton’s version.

Besides philosophy, Professor Versfeld also knew what was cooking. One of his memorable stories was how to make a seafood chowder. In his Food for thought – a philosopher’s Cookbook, we learn all about “the art of slow cooking, thinking about what you are cooking, and—most importantly—thinking while you are cooking:

“The art of preparing and eating food is inextricably intertwined with the meaning of life. There is nothing better than preparing, talking about, philosophizing over, and finally partaking in a slow and languorous meal, especially once the the mind set is adopted that making time for something is an expression of love. The Philosopher’s Cookbook is the manifesto of one of the great minds of today: a cookbook, a philosophical enquiry, and an essay on the human predicament.” (The blurb of the book).

versveld

Another cookbook that had a big influence on my life was a French one: Brooks and Cook’s “French Elementary,”  my first French grammar. There were two of these books: the green, volume 1, and the red, volume 2. The green was for “go; you can do it,” the red for “hmmm, are you sure French is for you? Both books had to be completed in a single year. At the beginning of 1962, after the second year of my B.A., I decided to go to Europe, especially France. I would finish my B.A. when I returned. My father offered to pay for my ticket and give me an allowance of 25 pounds. After three months in London I took the ferry to France (See In search of French past (1).

I arrived in Paris in February, 1962.  and booked in at a youth hostel. Paris was in turmoil because of the mayhem caused by the “OAS”  Organisation de l’armée secrète –Secret Army Organisation,” who were planting bombs all over Paris.

The bombing campaign was a reaction to President Charles de Gaulle’s declaration that Algerians had a right to decide their own destiny. As a result, he proposed a referendum for the Algerians. Algeria had been a French colony since 1830 and became independent in 1962.

A few days after my arrival at the Youth Hostel, several cafes were bombed and people were killed.  After watching the TV of one of these incidents, I pulled out my map of France looking for a safe haven far from Paris. I chose Strasbourg, in Alsace, on the Eastern border with Germany. I don’t know why I chose to go East; it may have had something to do with the name “Alsace,” which I associated with the Alsatian dog of my childhood. My brother, Sammy called him Mannetjies (little man) after the Springbok rugby player of the 1950s, Mannetjies Roux. I was fleeing the centre of French language and culture, Paris-Isle-of-France, for a region where the locals’ cultural language was, it seemed to me, a  Yiddish patois, but was in fact a low Alemannic German called Alsatian German – Elsässerditsch ; French – Alsacien. Alsace has switched between French and German control several times.

I enrolled at the University of Strasbourg in a French course for foreigners.


[1]   Here is a comment from a Jewish admirer of her rabbi. “Why is what is definitely not a new story “a big deal”? Not only has Humanistic Judaism been around for quite some time, but I remember decades ago a hooraw [a commotion] about a self-proclaimed “ignostic” rabbi .. He refuses to call himself “agnostic” because he thinks it is IN PRINCPLE possible to know whether or not God exists, just that we do not know. (A distinction constantly elided in the sacrosanct Popular Usage of “agnostic”).” I thought that the “agnostic” simply believes that he doesn’t know; not that he claims that it is not possible to know. Most atheists claim there is no God because they claim to know that they can never know. If they go up in a space ship, will they find God! NOOOO. Zilch. That settles it.

Enough already with serving the Mass, have to get home to recite why this night is different from other nights – the Passover

In My conversion to Roman Catholicism and why I left, I explained why I converted to Roman Catholicism. During my second year at the University of Cape Town, at the age of 19, I was baptised into the Catholic Church. Kolbe house, the Cape Town University Catholic Society and Residence, became my new heimKolbe House is located on a small estate about 200 metres from the Main Road, Rondebosch.

Walk up the steps across the veranda and straight into the big lounge, behind which is a small library, which could be separated by a curtain because the library also served as a stage for Kolbe student concerts in which I sang favourites such as “A certain smile” (Johnny Mathis version) and “Love is a many splendid thing” (Nat King Cole). On the right of the lounge is a set of folding doors that opened on to the little chapel. After lectures, I would spend many afternoons at Kolbe House, browsing through the books in the library that nobody else read, while waiting for other students to arrive on whom I could impress myself. Most of my peers, like most students, were more interested in bonding over a beer, not necessarily in that order.

Isn’t that what much conversation is about; bonding – and beering? According to Naom Chomsky and Gilbert Ryle, the primordial function of language is self expression – pressing yourself on to others. Chomsky suggests that expression, not communication, is the central function of language (Chomsky, Language and Responsibility, 1979:88). Ryle (1959), in a similar vein (at the end of his introduction to “The concept of mind”), states: “Primarily I am trying to get some disorders out of my own system. Only secondarily do I hope to help other theorists to recognise our malady and to benefit from my medicine.”The “purgative” (“suppository”) function of language is one function that did not occur to Chomsky – I suppose. (Theological Aphasia and Language as Communion).

There was another Jewish student Andrew (not his real name), who was taking instruction with me in the Catholic faith at Kolbe House, the university residence and chaplaincy. Father Peter Paul Feeney was the chaplain and our instructor in the faith. At the end of our instruction, Fr Peter Paul baptised us together.

Andrew was my physical antithesis. I was blond and lanky; he, dark hair and short. Don Quixote and Sancho. During our year of Catholic instruction together at Kolbe House, Andrew and I used to spend time sharing our joy in our new found faith – two wondering Jews wandering no more. I had rented a room in a quiet part of Rondebosch near Kolbe House. Andrew lived in the main residence on campus. Whenever Andrew talked about Catholic things, his voice quivered, his eyes shone; he was in love. I was not too far behind him. He had a special love for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Many Catholics tend to gravitate to the mother of Jesus more than to her Son. This is generally true not only of born Catholics but also of converts. There’s just something special about “Mother”, Ma-me-le (Yiddish). If you can have a heavenly father, why can’t you have a heavenly mother. Mary’s role for Catholics, though, is far more than that, as several papal encyclicals make clear. For example:Mary places herself between her Son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs and sufferings. She puts herself “in the middle,” that is to say she acts as a mediatrix not as an outsider, but in her position as mother. She knows that as such she can point out to her Son the needs of mankind, and in fact, she “has the right” to do so. Her mediation is thus in the nature of intercession: Mary “intercedes” for mankind. And that is not all. As a mother she also wishes the messianic power of her Son to be manifested, that salvific power of his which is meant to help man in his misfortunes, to free him from the evil which in various forms and degrees weighs heavily upon his life. (Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater: On the Blessed Virgin Mary in the life of the Pilgrim Church, 1987.03.25).

A man knows about courage, truth, strength, wrath, but what does he understand about gentleness, lovingness, virgin purity and affection? That’s the woman’s domain, isn’t it? Mary, the meek, loving, obedient highly favoured woman, pierced by sorrow becomes the Mother of God, “Can we not feel that it must have been so right…a living object of devotion, faith and hope” (F.W. Robertson, 1924. “The Glory of the Virgin Mother” in Sermons on Bible Subjects, p. 224. Everyman’s Library). Bernard of Clairvaux brought a new emphasis to the mother of Jesus, exalting her to “Queen of Heaven” and intercessor between Christ and the Church. Here is Bernard: “The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die.” So, only if the mother of Jesus gives his Son permission to save, can he do so. When I was a devout Catholic, I used to feel that it was so. I never cared about biblical exegesis. Like most Catholics, I didn’t read the Bible much. There was no need to; the Church said it was so, and that was that. Besides, the mother of Jesus had that feminine touch that no man – not even Jesus – could match. But is this true? The Son of Man was a perfect embodiment of both the masculine and the feminine of humanness.

There is also, of course, the Mother tongue. Language teachers, translators, and linguistic scientists (linguists) are especially interested in the “syntactic joints and “semantic flesh” of the Mother tongue (Johnson, Barbara. 1985 Taking Fidelity Philosophically. In: Difference in Translation In: Graham, J.F. (ed.). Ithaca: Cornell University Press).Of particular interest to Bible translators are the problems in translation of biblical texts from the original (Mother) tongue.

But Mary is more than a tongue; “she is the neck of Our Head [Christ], by which He communicates to His mystical body all spiritual gifts” (Bernadine of Sienna, (Quadrag. de Evangel. aetern. Serm. x., a. 3, c. iii.).quoted in the encyclical AD DIEM ILLUM LAETISSIMUM (English: Until that Joyful Day) on the Immaculate Conception, of Pope Pius X, Feb 1904). In the Catholic order of mediation between God and man, if Christ the Head is the Mediator between the Father and man, Mary, the neck, is the mediatrix between the Head (Christ) and man. (I discuss the mother of Jesus in more detail in Mary highly-favoured mother of the Son of God.

After my baptism, I attended Mass every evening at the little chapel of Kolbe House. As far as I knew, my parents had no idea of, or interest in, my personal life. We never discussed religious matters. A few months after my baptism, I was elected to the Kolbe committee as member in charge of “spiritual activities.” The role involved being available at daily mass. Quite a logical appointment seeing that I was one of the few Kolbe-ites who attended daily mass.

I was also Father Peter Paul Feeney’s altar boy for the three holy days of Easter. The Last Supper was probably Jesus’ last Passover meal. He ate it on the first day of the Passover, “the day of Unleavened Bread on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed’” (Luke 22:7). Christ was crucified a few hours before the first evening of Passover. It’s not certain on which day of the week the Passover fell for that particular year. The evidence seems to indicate a Thursday. But it’s not so important to know the exact day. What is important is, firstly, the historical and religious fact that Jesus died – was born to die – on a cross; and rose from the dead; and, secondly, to know why He died. I consider those two facts to be the most crucial facts in human history questions, and consequently of my history.

My parents expected me to attend the Passover seder (ritual feast). On one of these Holy Week days, my parents’ were waiting for me to arrive at the family seder to recite the first portion of the Haggadah, the “Ma Nishtana” – a set of four questions sung during the Passover seder. It is sung by the youngest available male member of the family. As the youngest male in the family – my brother, Benny, was living in Israel – I had to start the festivities.(The Haggadah (Hebrew: הַגָּדָה‎, “telling”) sets forth the order of the Passover service (seder). Reading the Haggadah fulfills the Scriptural commandment to the Jew to “tell your son” of the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt as related in the Book of Exodus. The family had moved from Claremont to Sea Point.

Sea Point is a bus ride of at least three quarters of an hour from Kolbe House in Rondebosch. So, if I leave in 15 minutes I’ll only get to Sea Point at about 8 pm.

Why was Fr Peter Paul taking so long to finish everything! After all it was a Low Mass. In a Low Mass, the priest reads, but doesn’t sing, and the ritual is much simpler and shorter. “The Low Mass, explains the Catholic Forum, was a basic Mass, with the bare (no, not bear) necessities. The High Mass was a more solemn Mass, and it had music, and all the other “smells, bells, and whistles” as they say. It also requires more servers and deacons assisting the priest saying the Mass. It was basically a more ceremonious way of saying the Mass.”

Mass and Passover; I was in a real Passover pickle at Kolbe House. Alphonse Daudet’s “The three low masses” comes to mind. It is about a priest whose enthusiasm (en theos “in God”) for gourmet dishes brings him into confrontation with Satan. The story begins with the priest reverend dom Balaguère (if he was a Jewish priest, he would be reverend dom Bagelère) enquiring of his clerk Garrigou (Satan in disguise) about the preparations for the after-Mass feast.

“Two truffled turkeys, Garrigou?” “Yes, reverend Father, two magnificent turkeys stuffed with truffles. There’s no mistake, for I helped to stuff them myself. The flesh almost cracked as they roasted, it was so tight–so—-” “Holy Virgin! and I, who love truffles as—-Hurry; give me my surplice, Garrigou. And what else besides the turkeys; what else did you see in the kitchen?” “Oh! all sorts of good things. Since noon we’ve done nothing but pluck pheasants, pewits, wood-hens, and heath-cocks. Feathers are scattered thick. Then from the pond they’ve brought eels and golden carp and trout, and—-” “What size are the trout, Garrigou?” “Oh, as big as that! reverend Father. Enormous!” “Heavens, I seem to see them! Have you put the wine in the flasks?” “Yes, reverend Father, I’ve put the wine in the flasks. But what’s a mouthful or two as you go to midnight Mass! The priest rushes throughout the three Masses. “But how can he go any faster? He scarcely moves his lips, he pronounces fully not a single word. He tries to cheat the good God altogether of His Mass, and that is what brings his ruin. By temptation upon temptation, he begins to jump one verse, then two. Then the epistle is too long–he does not finish it; skims the Gospel, passes by the creed without even entering, skips the pater, salutes from afar the preface, and by bounds and jumps precipitates himself into eternal damnation, always following the infamous Garrigou (_vade retro, Satanas_[“Get behind me Satan”]), who seconds him with marvellous skill; tucks up his chasuble, turns the leaves two by two, disarranges the music-desk, reverses the flagons, and unceasingly rings the bell more and more vigorously, more and more quickly.”

At the Kolbe House Mass, my churning brain was not thinking at all of that other altar, the laden passover table anxiously fixed on the front door waiting for its alter ego to arrive. Priest: Benedìcat vos omnipotens Deus, Pater, et Filius et Spìritus Sanctus. (May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit). All: Amen.

The Mass is ended, go in peace. Ite Missa est, which means “Go, you are sent forth.” Missa does not mean “Mass,” but “sent forth” as in missive, missile. I was flying out of there like one. But, no it was not to be. The Mass was over, but like all altar boys, I had no pass; I had to remain to put things away. Done. I leaped down the steps of Kolbe House (see photo; for the steps, not the leaping), took the short cut through a gap in the copse, and dashed down the road to wait for the bus to Sea Point.

I opened the door of the flat. Fanny, my mother: “Where have you been, the food is getting cold.” I installed the Yamulke on my head, opened the Haggadah and sang:

Ma nishtana ha-laila ha-zeh mi-kol ha-leilot? Why is this night different from all other nights?

Indeed, very different.

I made only one tape recording of the voices of my parents; it was of this passover night. I still have the tape in my possession. I listened to a snatch of it about five decades ago. I can’t bring myself to listen to more of it – yet. The bit I listened to brought painfully home to me my snivelling deportment in the presence of Issy, my father.

No one read my blog today. Woe is me.

Do you feel that few care a toss? Pastors, bloggers, this is for you, from Paul Levy

“You can’t argue with the numbers” by Paul Levy.

Numbers, numbers, numbers, It’s our favourite book of the Bible as conservative evangelicals. We all love numbers: “How many people go to your church? How many people are on your team? How many downloads have you had on your sermons?”

My brother says, when people ask him how many go to his church, he replies, ”evang-elastically speaking”, and bumps up the number. It’s not a new thing. Who could forget, having read Whitefield’s biography, the little footnote basically saying you can divide these numbers in half. A good friend of mine who worked in missions in Romania said if you added up all the number of responses of the various campaigns of evangelists who visited Romania in the immediate aftermath of Communism. The number of converts in Romania was over twice the population of the country.

Anyway, what made me think of this is being sent the link to the Resurgence conference where you can hear a speaker who has sold 30 million books, one whose got a church of 4,405,000 (don’t forget the 5,000 extra over 4 million 400 thousand), somebody who had a top 10 hit on the itunes chart, someone with over 13,000 people in 6 different locations, plus the pastor of one of the fastest growing churches in America (but where are the numbers?).

I’d like to point out we are now at 115 members and I think are still ahead of Carl in the numbers game. Carl will be attending the conference at Resurgence in the hope he can get his church to ‘the next level’.

It is great that these brothers are having so much influence for the gospel but you wonder if the Apostle Paul would have made the list at the end of his life: Church planting failure: “You are aware that all who are in Asia have turned away from me” (2 Tim. 1.15).”

In search of French past (2): English Effluence

Elizabeth Browning
Elizabeth Browning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the second chapter in which I relate the French influences in my life. In the first chapter, I described my “amniotic” gift for French revealed to me in a student’s mess. I also described my journey from Cape Town via Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) in Mozambique, Chad and London on my way to my intended destination, France. In this chapter, I describe my three-month interlude in London: the English effluences in my life. I must say, though, that these effluences in my early life were far less effluential than my experiences in England four decades later  as a supply teacher in their horrrendous schools.

The peccable priest

I went from the airport straight to the Overseas Visitors Club, which catered for visitors from the British Commonwealth; mostly South Africans, New Zealanders and Australians. In the foyer, a large billboard dominated one of the walls. I scanned the “accommodation offered” and found a room to let. After a few nights at the Overseas Visitors Club, I moved in to the Hostel. Being a recent and devout convert to Roman Catholicism, my new accommodation was a Catholic student hostel for foreigners. Most of the lodgers were English-speaking West Africans. My room was only big enough for a narrow built-in cupboard, a bed, a compact table, a chair, and a little perverse coin-operated gas heater that was not partial to coins. Enter clammy room, pull up chair to heater, slip off soggy coat, shoes and socks, insert coin in the slot, splay toes, and Bob’s your carbuncle.

The chaplain of the hostel was a middle-aged Irishman, slightly built with black hair, black eyes and black cassock. When people, especially students, congregate indoors during cold, snowy winters, the air can become rather ripe. It was February, so taking a bath is not for faint-hearted Africans – black or white ones (moi). On one of those bleak wintry days, I visited the priest in his office. Screwing up his swarthy countenance, he said that black students were rather redolent. Now you might asked why would the priest say such an olfactory thing to me; surely, few (in Britain, at least) would countenance such a thing. Ah, he thought that as I was a South African, I would have a sympathetic ear, if not nose, for his olfactory malaise. Catholics are taught that just because the Catholic Church is infallible, this doesn’t mean that its leaders are impeccable. The priest was not infallible.

 

Laugh the beloved country

One cold rainy evening, I went to watch a “classic” movie in the hostel’s auditorium. It was jam-packed with residents ripe for some good entertainment. “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” was showing; the 1934 black and white version with Norma Shearer, Frederic March and Charles Laughton. The film is about the real life romance between Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. Elizabeth’s father is very opposed to their relationship. Elizabeth has a mysterious illness that makes her too weak to stand or walk properly. The father continually reminds Elizabeth that she will die if she exerts herself. Robert Browning arrives at the house and they share their passion for literature. They fall in love. Elizabeth gets stronger, but her father tries to persuade her that this is merely a short remission, and therefore needs to remain confined to her wheelchair. Her father behaves very cruelly to his other children.

The reaction of the African audience to this film is my most vivid memory of my stay at the hostel. They laughed at all the “wrong” moments; for example, when the father (Edward Barrett) brutally grabs Elizabeth’s sister’s wrists and compels her to confess that she had been seeing a man (Surtees) without his permission, the hall erupted in titters, chuckles and chortles. There were several other tender exchanges between Elizabeth and Robert that generated peals of unbridled mirth.

Don Quixote

Sixteen years later, I had a similar experience, but much closer to home. I was teaching French at Westerford High School in South Africa. The school put on the musical “Man of La Mancha.” I was Don Quixote (“x” pronounced as the guttural “ch” in Scottish or Yiddish, or Scottish Yiddish). We had a special performance for black pensioners.

In the last scene, an old man lies dying. He once believed that he was the great knight, Don Quixote of La Mancha. Sancho, his devoted manservant, tries to cheer him up. Aldonza (the servant girl, whom Quixote transformed in his imagination into Dulcinea, a princess) pleads with him to remember just once more his former glory. I begin to stir as she helps me remember. I try to rise, the old fire returning. But in that moment, I crumple and breathe my last. Aldonza will not accept my death. When Sancho addresses her as Aldonza, she flashes back, “My name is Dulcinea”.

Don Quixote by Pablo Picasso

Throughout the whole death scene, Sancho was drenching my shoulders with his tears soaking my violet silk shirt that I had bought in Old Jerusalem six years earlier (1973). It was indeed the end for my dear talented supporting actor, for whom the tragedy was too much to bear. And the audience? My dying moments were swallowed up in a rhapsodic hilarity reverberating through the hall.

The Albert Hall: fluent interlude

I bought a “portable” tape recorder, which required a mini-trolley to lug around. One evening, I put it into a canvas carry bag with a long strap and slung it over my shoulder and took the tube to the Albert Hall. Benno Moisevitch was playing Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, the “Emperor.” I bought a cheap ticket in the “gods” (the upper balcony). It was illegal to record performances but I did anyway. I held the bag on my lap, with one flap open on the microphone side.

Although I was, like most teenagers of the late 1950s, a great fan of Elvis Presley, I also loved Mario Lanza, whose songs I used to sing outside the window of the girls’ boarding school in Wellington, South Africa where I went to school. Being from a Jewish home, where most of us either sang opera or played the piano or violin, nothing, not even Elvis could erase my “classical” roots. Music in my home – making music – was our main recourse and source of joy. Izzy (my father) played the violin, Minnie, Sonia and Rachel (my sisters) played the piano, and Fanny (my mother) and Sonia sang. Most of the songs, whether opera, “Your tiny hand is frozen” (La Boheme, Puccini) or “Mein Yiddishe Mama,” were in a minor key. When the music was playing, everything was warm; when it stopped, it was mostly sad.

And now Beethoven in the Albert Hall. I felt the effluent of my lonely London life pouring out the sluice gates of my wretched soul. As I was so far away from the orchestra and soloist I wondered how the recording would turn out. I returned to my rhuemy room at the Catholic Hostel, removed my clammy duffle coat, placed a coin into the heater box, sat on the bed, rewound the tape recorder. The recording was excellent.

Of coffins and trolleys

In London I found a job in a clothing distribution firm delivering parcels of clothing to the shops in the London city centre – the same brands to different shops. Some of the shops were in posh areas such as Regent and Oxford Streets and Piccadilly Circus; others were in the back streets of Soho square. On my return visits to these shops, I noticed that the price of the same pair of socks cost double in Oxford Street compared to Soho Square.

Sometimes the consignments were too big to be delivered by hand and when this occurred I used a porter’s trolley. In the 1960s, British Rail sold off many of its old trolleys. They came in useful for the hand-delivery of coffins. I couldn’t find a picture of the trolley I used, but I found a similar one. my one, however, was one long oblong without a front rest, and long enough to transport a whole coffinful of parcels.

 Place a long oblong box on the trolley. Pack it full with parcels. It’s cold outside. I pull the cape of my duffle coat down over my eyes, hunch up against the icy wind and push the trolley down the very busy pavements of Oxford and Regent Streets, carving a path through crowds of death-hating shoppers.

Often there was no need to manoeuvre through the crowd; at the sight of the coffin wheeling towards them, bodies stepped aside in courteous obeisance. A policeman is staring at me. I pass him, I push back my cape to uncover my innocence, and smile.

During my three months stay at the “firm” I had delivered a small graveyard of coffins. I deserved a raise. The boss explained he was already paying me almost as much as his permanent staff.

English Prime beef

After few weeks at the Catholic student hostel in Manor House, I moved into a room in Parsons Green. The Landlord was a young Puerto Rican, who rented out some of the rooms in his house. I once overheard him shouting at his little skinny wife that if it wasn’t for him, she would still be grovelling in the slums of Puerto Rico. She was crying because her husband had moved his wedding furniture into the room of his nimble nubile tenant. The puny pock-marked wife pitted against a juicy piece of prime British beef.

Sunken in the Cathedral

I often sought refuge from the city in the Catholic “Westminster Cathedral” near Victoria station, where I also frequently attended mass. I came upon the Cathedral by accident. I was wandering around the environs of Victoria station when I came across what I took to be a Greek or Russian Orthodox cathedral because of its Byzantine architecture; a strange sight next to the other typical grey London office blocks. The interior of the Cathedral is decorated in mosaics.

The Catholic church conducts its services according to the Roman rite (which is the majority rite) and the Eastern rite. Eastern Orthodox churches such as the Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox churches practice the Eastern rite but they are not in union with Rome. Westminster Cathedral uses the Roman rite.

In London there is also the Westminster Chapel (a misnomer, because it is very big), a Protestant church where Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones (formerly a Harley Street specialist), arguably the greatest preacher and Bible commentator of the 20th century was pastor (1939 to 1968), who had and continues to have such a great influence on so many, including myself. Many decades ago, Westminster Cathedral (1962; Martin Lloyd Jones at Westminster Chapel was close by) was my refuge; today, it would be – if I lived in London – Westminster Chapel. From Jew to Catholic to Protestant; from a Catholic Jew to a a a Calvinist Jew! What is the world coming to? No, a better question is, where is the world going to?

After three months in London and the coffin business, I crossed the channel (with help from train and ferry) and arrived in Paris in February (1962).

In search of French past (1)

Marcel Proust in 1900

Marcel Proust

In this part of my story, I focus on the French influences in my life.   In “Of Hebrew Remnants and Greek Republics,” I mentioned that after failing my medical supplementary exams in February 1960, I registered for a B.A. I wanted to start “pure” philosophy courses straight away, but these could only be taken in the second year of the B.A. My first year subjects were Psychology I, Sociology I, Hebrew Special, Greek, and Roman Literature-and-Philosophy.   I was having lunch with some friends in the cafeteria. The cafeteria was on the ground floor of the distant building in the picture. Its windows faced the side with the white pillars. Jameson hall is the large building on the left.

 

Jammie steps (Jameson Hall)

Jammie steps (Jameson Hall)

 

English: A la recherche du temps perdu In Sear...

English: A la recherche du temps perdu In Search of Lost Time. My thoughts went to that great work by Marcel Proust when I came across this scene. One wonders what hopes and ambitions went into this place, now gone for ever, lost on the edge of a modern housing estate. People have to live somewhere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the students at the table was studying French Elementary. His French textbook (Brooks and Cook) was lying (French gisait) on the table in front of him like a dead thing. Something stirred within the bowels of my being. I picked it up, opened it at random and began to declame in francais (?). I was amazed when someone said, “very good.” Comment est-ce possible! (“How was that possible!” Comment if you think that is possible).I knew less French than Peter Sellars. And he only knew “minkey” and hotel phrases like “Have you got a rhume?” Flu?). Was some kind of anamnesis (remembrance of things past) going on. It was the Greek philosopher, Plato, who said you don’t learn anything new; you knew it all the time. It’s all recall.  I am reminded of living Jews who believe that in some mysterious way they were also present with Moses at Sinai. If they were not brought up in this tradition, this does not mean, according to this view, that they were not “at” Sinai but merely that they have no recollection of being there; they have merely forgotten and need to recollect. Is some kind of reincarnation involved? (Reincarnation and Anamnesis (recollection) in Judaism).

The following year (1961) – my second year BA – I registered for courses in pure philosophy: ethics I, logic and metaphysics I (which went together) and political philosophy I. The second-year courses in these subjects were regarded as Majors (where the usual Major consisted of three courses). I added Hebrew “Special” (see here) and French Elementary to the academic year.

In the 1960s, foreign language courses were grammar based as they had been in the past. In the grammar approach you learn the elements of the language to build up sentences and progressively bigger chunks of language. Nowadays, foreign language courses are much more communicative where you start with using the language and then home in on the grammatical elements. The grammar approach is a much quicker way to learn a language but it has a major drawback: you have to learn lots of rules, which – without a well-oiled noggin – can be taxing. If, however, you’ve got a high EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) you can still learn a foreign language – if not as well with a high IQ; it may just take a little longer, which is fine, because if you have a high EQ, you won’t mind waiting a little longer for your sweeties. 

I threw myself into Brooks and Cook’s  two French books for beginners; the green, volume 1, and the red, volume 2. The green was for “go; you can do it,” the red for “hmmm, are you sure French is your thing? Both books had to be completed in a single year.

Because my focus is on the French influences in my life, I shall omit unrelated events.  At the end of 1961, having passed all my courses and the second year of the B.A. (I write about my first-year medicine here), I decided to go to Europe for a year. I would finish my B.A. when I returned in 1963. My parents, Issy and Fanny, were baffled about what I was doing the previous two years. But Issy kindly continued to pay my fees. They knew I was doing “Feeloshofie”. So, they possibly reasoned, maybe it’s possible to get a qualification in the philosophy of life at university, and work myself up, and maybe own the university one day. But isn’t it a bit meshugah (crazy) to have to pay for such a qualification? Issy put up with my meshugas. At least his son was at university. Issy did many kind things for me that I never appreciated enough. For one thing, he let me change my university course from Medicine to Philosophy, he not having much idea what Philosophy was except that it didn’t sound like you could make a good living from it. And now, he was paying – asking no questions – for me to go to Europe. I planned to spend six months in England and nine months in France. Issy would pay for the fare and give me a small monthly allowance of 25 British pounds, which I would need to supplement with jobs in Europe. I departed in December.

The South African Airways fare from Johannesburg to London was expensive. The Overseas Visitors Club was offering a much cheaper fare. There was also the option of returning home by ship on the Union Castle Line. There was a snag though. In the Overseas Visitors Club option, you couldn’t fly Cape Town-Johannesburg-London but had to take a much more round-about route from Lourenço Marques (now called Maputo) in Mozambique to London. Included in the fare was a two-day train trip from Cape Town via Johannesburg to Lourenço Marques (Maputo) a distance of about 1800 kms The plane to London was medium-size grey propeller plane. The cabin was much narrower than modern planes with two seats on either side of the passageway. We made a stopover in Chad.

In the Chad airport terminal, I saw a Chadian in flowing robes with two women in tow, who could have been his wives or daughters. I’d never been to a Muslim country before, or been out of South Africa. I was warned that one thing you never do is stare at the women. The two “wives” were covered from head to foot in flowing peacock blue. Only their eyes were showing. One of them had the most beautiful eyes I’d ever seen. I couldn’t stop staring at her. She was also staring at me; pleading for me to whisk her on to my white horse to escape her cruel husband – who was too busy to notice. It must have been a fleeting moment but seemed forever. Suddenly I swept her into my arms and onto my Arab stallion and made a dash for the exit, her father/husband in pursuit, slicing the air with his pearl-handle scimitar. We wrenched our eyes away from each other. 

After a few hours wandering like a Jew round the markets outside the airport feeling blue, peacock blue, I boarded the plane for the next stage from Chad to London. The flight over the Sahara took half a day. I arrived in London in the middle of a very cold winter. The first thing I did was buy a dark blue duffle coat. 

 

Related:  In search of French past (2): English Effluence

 

 

Thank you for the moonshine: A prayer

When I was about 15 years old, I was at boarding school in Wellington, South Africa, the base of the great missionary and Bible teacher, Andrew Murray Jr.

 

After evening studies, we had “bid uur” (prayer time) in the 12-bed dormitory.

 

 There were never more than three-four Jews at the boarding school in any specific year, and only a small resident Jewish community in the town of about 30-40 families. I joined in the evening prayers before dinner. One evening, about six of us were kneeling on either side of the bed, facing one another.

One of the Afrikaner boys prayed: “Thank you for the sunshine and the moonshine” (Dankie vir die sonskyn en die maanskyn). Trying to preserve decorum, I almost split both gullet and groin. For years after, I told the story of the silly boy who thanked God for the moonshine because he didn’t know what to thank God for after the sunshine.

Blessed of the Lord be his land. . .

for the precious fruits brought forth

by the sun, and for the precious things

put forth by the moon. Deut. 33:13—14

Hmmm.

(See School years after the Orphanage: Wellington)

 

The Bishop under the Bell Jar – and the food!

In the Northern Libau port district of Karosta stands the stunningly beautiful Byzantine-style Cathedral of St Nicholas.

Lets move across to the Great Synagogue in Libau. During the German occupation of WWII, all Jewish males between 16-65 had to come every morning to the “Hauptwachplatz”, where they were escorted to work in various work stations, accompanied by beatings. Many did not return home at night. They were ordered to dismantle the Great Synagogue, the “Chor-Schul”, brick by brick, and to destroy the Torah scrolls.Here is a picture of the Great Synagogue of Libau. See my The Holocaust in Latvia.

 The contrast between the Great Synagogue of Libau and St Nicholas Cathedral is evident. Yet one does find synagogues that try to emulate the Russian Orthodox Church; for example, the very Byzantine-looking synagogue below. It’s not in Latvia, or anywhere in the Russian Empire, or anywhere in Europe. It’s in Pretoria, South Africa.

The Pretoria Synagogue became the new Supreme Court and was used for security-related cases such as the treason trial in 1962 of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and 26 others . The inquest into the death of Steve Biko was also held in the Old Synagogue. Who is that figure at the entrance staring at me. Prominent forehead, deep set eyes and whimsical little smile. St Nicholas! (See The Holocaust in Latvia). Perception is seeing, while imagination is seeing things, so if I was seeing St Nicholas in the doorway of a synagogue, then, no matter how much the synagogue looked like a Russian Orthodox cathedral, I was, of course, not really seeing but seeing things. Seeing is where cognition and reality meet. So if my eye picked up an image of something I merely imagined what was out there (reality), this would not be a perception but a deception; I’d be out of my cognition (mind). I leave St Nicholas staring after me from the doorway of the Great Synagogue in Pretoria, South Africa and fly off to Vienna. It is the summer of 1997. I was on a conference trip to Hungary, Russia, Bulgaria and where I presented papers on language and cognition. As I was using Austrian Airlines, and had a few days break between presentations, I stopped over in Vienna on several occasions, spending a few days there each time. On one of these Viennese interludes I wanted to see one of Mozart’s operas. It was, alas, 10 times more expensive than a train ticket to Mondsee and a CD of the “Sound of Music,” so the next morning, Sunday, I took the train to Mondsee to visit the “Sound of Music”cathedral in which Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews got married. The town is located next to a large lake, hence the name Mondsee (“(Mond)see,” which is pronounced zee, is German for “sea,” see?).

The Cathedral, as is a cathedral’s wont, dominates the town. I walked through the elegant streets and arrived at the Cathedral of St Michael.

It was about 10.30. On the right summery side of the cathedral a small market was in full swing. And the food!; tables festooned with a great variety of cheeses, wines, smoked meats, wursts, poultry and fresh whole grain and rye breads. Sellers and buyers, ruddy in cheek and portly in carriage were quaffing and shnapssing at full throatle. I was not, however, in Mondsee to indulge the flesh, but on a spiritual mission. I was not going to go all the way to Mondsee merely to mingle with Österreichers in feather caps, worshipping outside at the altar of plenty, but to stand before the altar inside the Cathedral to visualise the poignant moment when Christopher Plummer whispered to Julie Andrews “I do.” Here is a picture of the interior of the Cathedral.

When I entered the cathedral, there were only about three or four people kneeling or sitting. Mass must have finished earlier. For some reason, I didn’t walk immediately to the altar at the front but sat down for a while in one of the back pews, as in the picture, but when I was there the interior church was much darker. I don’t recall what I was thinking at that moment. I might have been reminiscing (with nostalgia, a Catholic will tell me) about my former Catholic days; or about the delicious spread outside. I moved forward about five rows from the front to get a good view of the massive baroque altar piece above the tabernacle and the stained glass windows on either side.

I shift my gaze to the golden tabernacle (in which the Eucharist is stored), on either side of which stand the four candlesticks. My eyes move upwards to what looks like a glass cage in the shape of a bell jar. There seated was a robed statue, mitre on its head holding a Bishop’s crook in its left hand. 

If you have better eyesight than I, you may be able to make out the crook in the statue’s left hand. I can’t find a clearer picture on the web. I move right to the front. There’s the face, but I can’t make out the features. That’s because the “face” was a skull. I found out later that the skeleton in the cage was Abbot Conrad II, who was abbot of Mondsee, and later Bishop, from 1127 until the year he was murdered ( 1145) by a group of jealous nobles. He was venerated as a martyr and, therefore, declared Blessed; one level below “Saint.”

Here is a clear picture of St Konrad (sent to me by kind Thomas Ebner; see his comment below):

Thomas also sent me the following information from the trustees of the basilica:

“… In a raised position in the centre, it contains the bones of the blessed abbot Konrad II., whose skeleton was formed into a seated figure in Passau in 1732. At the sides there are the reclining skeletons of four catacomb saints: below the female martyrs Acatemera and Praejectitia, whose names are even attested by tomb inscriptions (1731) and above them the martyrs Liberatus and Castus (1736)…” quoted from the Mondsee Basilica St. Michael official guide

What is this gnawing feeling buffeting at my bowels; bouffe, bouffe, bouffe (Bouffer is French slang for “eating,” “wolfing down”). I could eat a w…. I leave the church and return to the buffet. A man in leather breeches is holding out his foot-long wurst. He mumbles. (My Austrian Cherman is not as good as my German Cherman): “Fumpf schilling ein fuss” – Five bob, no fuss?

I’m starving, but besides the fact that I would never spend five Austrian bob on a foot of anything, I just can’t eat anything – now; well, perhaps I could chew on a bone.

I leave the man swinging his wares, say goodbye to the Cathedral, vacate the square, and wander in the direction of the pier. I need to get away to the “zee” (spelled “see”). I wait for the next boat. There are only three of us on this trip. The young couple are gasping and tittering; from ill-concealed amusement or nervous embarassment, I’ll never know.

There are two levels on the boat; the lower deck is enclosed and the upper deck is open to the sky. The giggly couple go upstairs, and I choose to remain on the lower deck. After the trip I was cross with myself for not sitting atop, where I would have had a much better view. But then, as always, I was more interested in concepts than percepts – I see clearer with my mind’s eye. Someone who did have a better view was the Buddha, not on a boat, but atop another Catholic altar.

The skeleton atop the altar reminds me of Pope John Paul II’s multi-faith service in Assisi, Italy.

In October, 1986, Pope John Paul II convened and led a multi-faith service at Assisi. leaders of non-Christian religions participated and publicly prayed to their gods. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, and Zoroastrians participated in this service. So did an Orthodox patriarch and some Protestant leaders. The video “Catholicism: Crisis of Faith” has film footage of this service. You can see and hear the Dalai Lama chanting, African shamans calling on their gods, and Muslims chanting from the Koran.

The altar that was used for the service had a statue of Buddha on top of the Tabernacle (an ornate container for consecrated bread). Catholics believe that consecrated bread is literally the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. Putting a statue of Buddha on top of the Tabernacle is, in effect, elevating Buddha above Jesus Christ. Here is the picture of the Buddha on the altar.

But I must to return to Mondsee cathedral and the food. Outside, the market tables are dressed with good things. The people are ruddy-cheeked, plump, urbane. Money and choice viands change hands. The sellers are doing well. Inside, sits the majestic robed skeleton of Bishop Konrad on his throne waiting, perhaps, – together with St Nicholas of Karosta and the rabbi of the Great Synagogue of Pretoria – for that great day when they will be reinvested with flesh.

A Jewish view of a French Bottom

In When is a Hebrew youth not a Yiddishe fool?, I mentioned that one of the perils of translation is “false friends” (faux amis), which is the idea that a word in the target language ( the language you are translating into) may look like the word of the source language (the language you are translating from) but does not share a common meaning. For example, the Yiddish naar/nar originates from Hebrew na-ar, but Yiddish naar and Hebrew na-ar have different meanings. The Hebrew na-armeans“lad, young boy,” whereas the Yiddish naar, means “fool.”

Translation between languages, though not as demanding as translating translators from one place to another, bristles with problems. In the 1980s, I was teaching French at Mmabatho High School, South Africa. I went to visit Professor Haeffner, the Head of Modern Languages at the distance university, the University of South Africa. The occasion was my desire to do a B.A. Honours in French (which is done after the B.A., which I had obtained from the University of Cape Town).

I met Professor Haeffner in the corridor outside his office. He was very bristly and discouraging; but not as much as a rabbi accosted by a gentile who wanted to become, not merely one of the “sons of Noah” (bnei Noach), but wanted to go the whole hog – be a Jew. The Prof was not taken in by bits of paper (B.A. ShmeeA). He wanted to test me then and there – in the corridor – whether I was Honours matériel. Now what can you ask someone in a corridor that will convince you that he will be able to do “French Honours.”

Prof – What is a “military parade” in French (Aside – “I’ve got the Yiddishe fool; watch him say “parade militaire”).

BogRaphy (moi) – un défilé militaire. (Aside –Who’s laughing inside now!).

Before Prof could ask me another, I shot back:

BogRaphy: “What does de fond en comble mean?” (BogRaphy’s ghost voice: de fond en comble means “from top to bottom” OR “from top to toe”).

Prof: (bristling – this time with confidence): “From top to bottom.”

Bography: Wrong. That’s only half-way (I twist my arm behind me and, like a onederringjew, index myderrière – for those who don’t know French – toches).It means top to toe.

A mutual hee hee hee. And that’s how I laughed my way into B.A. Honours (French). I returned to our little house in Mmabatho, built a make-shift wood and green fibre-glass lean-to on the side of the house, and spent many gutsy gusty night hours agonising over J.-P. Vinay and J. Darbelnet’s contrastive analysis of French and English. If a Frenchman had to stagger into this conversation and groan – that in his English Honours translation class – he was (also?) “agonisant” over Vinay and Darbelnet, it would mean something completely different: he didn’t survive the course. Another “false friend” faux ami.

Agonie (French) refers to death pangs or mortal agony.
Agony (English) means severe physical pain or mental anguish.

In When is a Hebrew youth not a Yiddishe fool?, I mentioned that one of the perils of translation is “false friends” (faux amis), which is the idea that a word in the target language ( the language you are translating into) may look like the word of the source language (the language you are translating from) but does not share a common meaning. For example, the Yiddish naar/nar originates from Hebrew na-ar, but Yiddish naar and Hebrew na-ar have different meanings. The Hebrew na-armeans“lad, young boy,” whereas the Yiddish naar, means “fool.”

Translation between languages, though not as demanding as translating translators from one place to another, bristles with problems. In the 1980s, I was teaching French at Mmabatho High School, South Africa. I went to visit Professor Haeffner, the Head of Modern Languages at the distance university, the University of South Africa. The occasion was my desire to do a B.A. Honours in French (which is done after the B.A., which I had obtained from the University of Cape Town).

I met Professor Haeffner in the corridor outside his office. He was very bristly and discouraging; but not as much as a rabbi accosted by a gentile who wanted to become, not merely one of the “sons of Noah” (bnei Noach), but wanted to go the whole hog – be a Jew. The Prof was not taken in by bits of paper (B.A. ShmeeA). He wanted to test me then and there – in the corridor – whether I was Honours matériel. Now what can you ask someone in a corridor that will convince you that he will be able to do “French Honours.”

Prof – What is a “military parade” in French (Aside – “I’ve got the Yiddishe fool; watch him say “parade militaire”).

BogRaphy (moi) – un défilé militaire. (Aside –Who’s laughing inside now!).

Before Prof could ask me another, I shot back:

BogRaphy: “What does de fond en comble mean?” (BogRaphy’s ghost voice: de fond en comble means “from top to bottom/from top to toe”).

Prof: (bristling – this time with confidence): “From top to bottom.”

Bography: Wrong. That’s only half-way (I twist my arm behind me and, like a onederringjew, index my derrière – for those who don’t know French – toches).It means top to toe.

A mutual hee hee hee. And that’s how I laughed my way into B.A. Honours (French). I returned to our little house in Mmabatho, built a make-shift wood and green fibre-glass lean-to on the side of the house, and spend many gutsy gusty night hours agonising over J.-P. Vinay and J. Darbelnet’s contrastive analysis of French and English. If a Frenchman had to stagger into this conversation and groan – that in his English Honours translation class – he was (also?) “agonisant” over Vinay and Darbelnet, it would mean something completely different: he didn’t survive the course. Another “false friend” faux ami.

Agonie (French) refers to death pangs or mortal agony.
Agony (English) means severe physical pain or mental anguish.

Santa and the Christmas Spirit: A Jew sneaks a peak into a Catholic Church

In his Confessions of a Jewish Christmas, Dan Goldberg writes:

SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — It’s 9 a.m. Christmas morning and I am standing in a queue in a rather ornate, grandiose building in Sydney. I am among the many worshipers at the Church of Mary Immaculate. And I am about to receive Communion. Except I’m a Jew, a traditional Jew who only weeks prior had a candelabra flickering in my window for eight nights in celebration of the miracle of Chanukah, when the Greeks tried, but failed, to annihilate the Jews more than 2,000 years ago.

“The queue shortens quickly and I only have a fleeting moment to consider an exit strategy, a nanosecond to cut and run. But before I can even try to rationalize religion, or ponder the fact that Jesus was in fact a Jew, I am standing face to face with the elderly priest, who is holding out a wafer that I’m told represents the body of Jesus Christ.”

“No, I’m not reneging on my religion, severing ties to my ancient heritage or converting to Christianity. I’m reciprocating a favor to an old mate that dates back to 2004 when my twin girls were named in a synagogue in Melbourne. He’s an Irish Catholic from a small town near Dublin who grew up in a school run by Carmelite monks. He and his wife came to our baby-naming ceremony and, because they were seated alongside us, the Gabbai assumed it would be reasonable to ask him to hold the Torah. Before he could utter a syllable in his thick Irish accent, he was up on stage embracing the parchment scroll of the Old Testament. (“A Gabbai (Hebrew: גבאי‎) (or sometimes: Shamash שמש) is a person who assists in the running of a synagogue and ensures that the needs are met, for example the Jewish prayer services run smoothly, or an assistant to a rabbi (particularly the secretary or personal assistant to a Hassidic Rebbe). A gabbai’s obligations might also include maintaining a Jewish cemetery” (Wikipedia).

“So when he asked me on Christmas morning to take him to church, I figured this was my moment of truth — time to see if I would be prepared to do what he had done for me. He’s not religious per se, but religion enveloped his upbringing and people across the globe — especially in Ireland — had been saying prayers for him over the past seven months since he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Those prayers were answered just three days before Christmas when a neurosurgeon in Sydney removed what he described as a tumor the size of an avocado from the back of his head. His wife and kids were staying at my place. They prayed he’d survive the surgery and be with his family for Christmas. Santa played his part.”

Dan Goldberg’s main message is NOT that Santa ( Spirit) should be glorified and praised but rather a tribute to the glory of the human spirit, in this example, the Irish and Australian spirit.

If both these men were true believers in their respective faiths, their faithfulness and fear of God would have given them pause. But then, if Pope John Paul II can kiss a Koran and celebrate mass with a Buddha  planted atop the “tabernacle,” which the Catholic Church teaches contains the flesh, bones, nerves and sinews, and the rest of the body of Yeshua/Jesus – not of Santa, then the Irish antics in the synagogue and the Jewish antics in the church should NOT be any cause for alarm. Surely Santa (Claus) –  a Catholic Saint, according to legend – and not  Buddha, the atheist, is more deserving of  top spot. It all depends, though,  whether it is theologically more sound to prefer a legendary saint to a real atheist.

Dan Goldberg continues from where we left him above at “…Santa played his part.”

“Now I was being asked to play mine (my part). But I wanted to bow out. I knew intrinsically this was not a place for a Jew, let alone one who can trace his lineage back to an Orthodox rabbi in Europe centuries ago. “Just say ‘body of Christ,’ ” my mate advised me. I shuffled toward the priest. “Body of Christ,” I muttered. In return I received a wafer that wasn’t dissimilar to Passover matzah. I put it in my mouth and managed to avoid the second priest offering sips of wine — the blood of Jesus. “What does the wafer mean?” I asked. “The body of Christ is in you,” my mate answered. My throat tightened. My brain scrambled momentarily, incapable of computing such a sentence.”

In the second paragraph (above), Dan says: “I am standing face to face with the elderly priest, who is holding out a wafer that I’m told represents the body of Jesus Christ.” The Catholic fact of the matter is that the wafer does not merely “represent” the body of Christ; it IS the body of the crucified Christ.

In his teaching on the sacrifice of the Mass, Pope John Paul II writes:

. . . the Church is the instrument of man’s salvation. It both contains and continually (my italics) draws upon the mystery of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. Through the shedding of His own blood, Jesus Christ constantly (my italics) “enters into God’s sanctuary thus obtaining eternal redemption” (cf. Heb 9:12). (Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (New York: Knopf, 1995, p. 139). The underlined section is the Pope’s rendition of Hebrews 9:12.).

The Pope’s “constantly enters” is in agreement with the Council of Trent’s declaration that the Mass is not merely a “re-enactment”, but a real propitiatory sacrifice, which is repeated at every consecration of the wafer and the wine.2

The first part of John Paul’s statement – “continually draws upon the mystery of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice” – does not conflict with the Bible. However, just because the Church “continually draws upon the…sacrifice” this does not mean that the Jesus Christ is constantly sacrificed.

“Neither by the blood of goats, or of calves, but by his own blood, entered ONCE into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption.”(My emphasis).

Here is the Pope’s rendition: Through the shedding of His own blood, Jesus Christ constantly “enters into God’s sanctuary thus obtaining eternal redemption” (cf. Heb 9:12). See my The Constant Thirst and Constant Sacrifice of Jesus Christ: The Charism of Mother Teresa.

I read the following from a catechumen (someone taking instruction in the Catholic catechism):

“When I realized what the Mass really is, I went daily while I waited for another year to complete the process. I learned that in time I would finally be in full communion but until then, once I realized what the miracle of Transubstantiation is, I knew I couldn’t stay away even if it only meant I got to be in His presence. That presence means something. That presence IS Catholic identity.” (End of the catechumen’s comment). On the same website, I clicked an internal link, which brought me to more on the “real presence.”

For the Roman Catholic, the highest experience of Christ’s “ISNESS” on earth is, as Thomas Aquinas says (see below) eating “not only His flesh, but also His bones, and sinews, and other things.”

I was once a Catholic (converted from Judaism at 19 years old). After 22 years in the Catholic Church I left. One issue was the Mass that all devout Catholics hold so dear. After studying the book of Hebrews, I understood that Jesus died once for all time. There are no priests (who sacrifice) in the NT or in the early Church. The NT speaks of believers being a holy priesthood. The Catholic Church teaches that every Mass is a real sacrifice (that’s why the Catholic Church has priests, because that is what a priest does – he sacrifices). I accepted anything the Catholic Church taught because I believed that the Pope had the “keys” to the Holy Spirit. My main point is that if the Mass is not a real sacrifice, then what is on the altar cannot be – as Aquinas says: “It is not only His flesh, but also His bones, and sinews, and other things.”

Besides the fluffy stuff in his Confessions of a Jewish Christmas, Dan said something interesting: “I got a sneak peak inside a religion (he’s talking about Catholicism) that frankly isn’t so far removed from mine. The prayers and penitence, rites and rituals are virtually the same.”

Roman Catholicism has much in common with the rituals in Leviticus, and nowhere is this more evident that in the priesthood. If an ancient Levitical priest had to miraculously wander into a Catholic Church, he would think – if only for a few moments, at the sight of the flamboyance and the  priest robed in splendour preparing the sacrifice on the altar – that he was among his kin. The ritual may be one reason, among many others, why a Jew (like me) became a Catholic .When you’re in a Catholic church, you feel that you’re in a real church; for, what is “church” without ritual? Much. For one thing, Jesus inhabits his church, which is built out of living, not dead, stones. Surely, Jesus is right when he says that he will come to dwell in those who believe in Him. Period. Faith “in” Him, of course, includes his Lordship.

Dan Goldberg wrote see beginning of this blog):

“The queue shortens quickly and I only have a fleeting moment to consider an exit strategy, a nanosecond to cut and run. But before I can even try to rationalize religion, or ponder the fact that Jesus was in fact a Jew, I am standing face to face with the elderly priest, who is holding out a wafer that I’m told represents the body of Jesus Christ.”  We read in John 6:

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Many Disciples Desert Jesus

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.

Plato says that there are at least three degrees of reality: the real, the really really and the really really real. Plato’s context is degrees of knowledge. Allow me to apply his schema to the “real” presence. There are several views on what “real” presence means, ranging from the Roman Catholic view, which is the “really really real” PRESENCE to the Zwinglian view, which is the “really really real ABSENCE”. But hey, as I said above, if Christ sacrificed Himself once for all time, this means that the Mass cannot be a sacrifice; and Jewish priests knew and Catholic priests know, you can’t have a sacrifice without a body. The Bible is clear: there was one Body, and crucially, only one sacrifice of that Body (for all time).

Now I’m waiting to hear that God doesn’t exist in time and so a temporal once ( tempo “time”) for man means something different  to an eternal once for God. But  that is noncesense.

 

A b(i)ography of Truth

Truth interests me more than feelings. Perhaps that is why someone said my writing needs to be “more rich and human”. By “truth” I mean something that doesn’t depend on how I feel about it; something that really exists.  But aren’t feelings also real, and therefore true? Aren’t my feelings part of who I really am? Yes they are, but the question is whether what I am is what I ought to be. And is what I feel what I ought to feel? For many, “ought” is at best a figment, at worst, pointing a finger. I once had a phone conversation with one of my nieces. She was having a bad time where everything seemed to be going wrong. I broached the topic of the Christian faith.  She responded, “It’s not MY truth”. She was using “truth” to mean the way she feels. I didn’t pursue the matter because it’s very hard to convince someone – especially over the phone – that there is meaning outside the “I”, that, indeed, it is the meaning outside the “I” that gives the “I” meaning.

Doesn’t there exist, though, in every person a bundle of different feelings that clash, that  brood, that quiver, that prickle, that harass, that swarm? Without feelings, there would be no poetry, no art, no music, and no love. But more important, who’d want to be near someone who felt nothing? Who would want to read a biography that was no more than a catalogue of colourful events? The event itself may be of interest, but if the writer does not describe feelings, the biography won’t be about bio “life” but merely a history textbook. Historical novels are more popular than history books because they attempt to describe feelings and thoughts where the event itself serves as the scaffold on which these thoughts and feelings hang – and be hanged if you don’t get it right; no one will read you.

In an autobiography, feelings have “I” as the centre; not only the “I” of the writer, but also the “I” of the reader. There’s good reason, therefore, for retaining the “I” in (auto)biography. Why then do I call my story a “bography”; why did I cut out  “I” from my (auto)biography? In “Onedaringjew: a bography” – the very beginning of this autobiography – I wrote: “When i becomes the self-obsessed I, the biog turns to bog.” This is correct, but obsession with “I” in an autobiography is the exception rather than the rule. “So, if what I say is true – and not merely “my” truth – I should explain why I call my (auto)biography a “bography”? Is it just a language game?

I do enjoy playing with language. Play is crucial to learning and discovery, for when we play, we enjoy; and the more we enjoy, the more we learn. What is learning mainly about? It’s the creative act of discovery, of discovering the hidden connections between things.

For those who appreciate language – writers, poets, theologians, philosophers – language play is enmeshed in creativity. Playing with words may be foolery, at worst, wit, at best. But playing with language can also mean serious digging into the hidden sediments of language and thought. Language and thought are two sides of the same coin.

I have given several reasons why I changed “biography” to “bography”. There may be a deeper reason –  related to feelings. I said that truth interests me more than feelings do. There’s the rub. Perhaps that is the main reason why I’m  anxious – even obsessed – to rub out the “I”. The opposition between “truth” and “feelings” only holds if you reject objective Truth and accept only the subjective “my truth”. In such a view (of rejecting objective truth in favouR of subjective truth), Truth appears cold and remote, whereas “my truth” feels close and personal. If Truth, however, does exist, and the “I” is opened to receive it, it becomes a consuming fire.

“My truth”, in contrast to Truth, is a muddy thing. I suppose, though, if you believe you emerged out of the slime, then “my truth” would be the only way to go. If, however, Truth did not spontaneously generate from the mud, but rather generated the mud in the first place, then the Truth can indeed be found, unless you believe that though there may be such an entity as the Truth, no one can be sure when they have found it. Is this what André Gide  meant by:  “Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it?”   I don’t think so, because those who doubt that Truth can be found are also the ones that don’t believe it exists. So, I am saying that Gide’s words tell me that he doesn’t believe that there is such a thing as Truth. What Gide meant by “doubt”, therefore,  is that he didn’t believe that objective truth exists at all. But this is really silly, for without any coherent reality, there can be no science,  no discourse;  Scientists seek to know what’s going on not only in their heads, but outside, and mostly outside, their heads – theologians too. But what if  “inside” and “outside” do not really exist, as the pantheists say. According to J.C. Ryle it is not atheism but pantheism that is the great enemy of truth. He says:

I feel it a duty to bear my solemn testimony against the spirit of the day we live in, to warn men against its infection. It is not Atheism I fear so much, in the present times, as Pantheism. It is not the system which says nothing is true, so much as the system which says everything is true. It is not the system which says there is no Savior, so much as the system which says there are many saviors, and many ways to peace! It is the system which is so liberal, that it dares not say anything is false. It is the system which is so charitable, that it will allow everything to be true. It is the system which seems ready to honor others as well as our Lord Jesus Christ, to class them all together, and to think well of all.

It is the system which is so careful about the feelings of others, that we are never to say they are wrong. It is the system which is so liberal that it calls a man a bigot, if he dares to say, “I know my views are right.” This is the system, this is the tone of feeling which I fear in this day, and this is the system which I desire emphatically to testify against and denounce. From the liberality which says everybody is right, from the charity which forbids us to say anybody is wrong, from the peace which is bought at the expense of truth – may the good Lord deliver us!

~ J.C. Ryle

Knots Untied, “Only One Way of Salvation” [Cambridge, England: James Clarke & Co., 1977], pp. 30 -31.

Ryle wrote the above more than 100 years ago. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

The Bible says the Truth does exist. It also says that Truth is not an “it” but a Person – Jesus, the Person, called the Christ. Twenty or so years ago Alvin Plantinga, the philosopher spoke of “self-referential incoherence.” I like very much C. Baxter Kruger’s explanation of this concept:

“…‘self-referential incoherence’ is a profound insight into the problem of ‘the fall.’ For the most part we have been taught to think of sin as primarily a moral problem. I think sin is fundamentally a reference problem, followed, of course, by all manner of other rippling relational, social and moral issues. In the fall, Adam’s reference point moved from God to himself. He became self-referential, and thus developed a perception of himself, God and the world from a center in himself and his terrible fear. From that point the human race was trapped in its own way of seeing. If it does not ‘make sense to us’ it cannot be true. Our way of perceiving a person or a situation is the way it is. And that is the problem fraught with utter impossibility. Even the Lord’s presence and self-revelation, and indeed his way of thinking and saving, has to pass through Adam—and our—way of thinking, and thus the Lord himself and all his ways are subject to our judgment. He must make sense to us, or He is not correct, and thus dismissed. So we invent a god in the image of our own self-reference—which, of course, from the Lord’s perspective is utterly incoherent—and judge God’s presence and action by it.”

I mentioned that Alvin Plantinga used the term “self-referential incoherence.” The term, however,  comes from Sextus Empiricus (circa 160-210 AD). The irony is clear. The empirical (experimental) method of modern science relies on observation, yet is largely ignorant of  the epistemological underpinnings of “I,” the one who observes. And who do we have to thank for this original insight? Empiricus. He could, naturally, only go so far. The Christian looks further –  to the revelation of Jesus the Christ, who said,  “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Raphy’s “I” is baptised into the eternal, invisible, infinite, unfathomable, rich Bog of Truth. (“Bog” in Russian is “God”).

(My user name is “bography”. How did this name come to be? Rapha-el in Hebrew means “doctor/healer of God.” But I am not literally a rapha (a medical doctor) not even a linguistic doctor of el; so I have opted for a more modest user name “bography” (Dr bog). What is the Russian for God? Bog. What is the Russian for doctor of God? Raphabog. In changing from Rapha-el to Rapha-bog, all I’ve done is change the Hebrew “El” to the Russian “Bog”. 

 

 

 

 

My conversion to Roman Catholicism and why I left

Before I talk about myself, I think it would be helpful if I present a key difference between Roman Catholicism and those who believe in scripture alone (Sola Scriptura). Here is Keith Mathieson:

“A person who believes that the Roman Catholic Magisterium has special divine authority naturally looks at evidence for the claims of Rome in a much different way than a person who does not believe that the Roman Catholic Magisterium has divine authority. If a person firmly believes that the Roman Magisterium is infallible (i.e. incapable of error) under certain conditions; in short, if that is his basic theological axiom, then by definition he cannot at the same time believe that there is any real evidence of error. This is the reason that for faithful Roman Catholics, the very possibility of there being evidence contradicting the claims of the Roman Church is non-existent. Any alleged evidence of error offered by Protestants or others must be explainable in some other way.”

“Those who do not begin with the basic theological axiom of Roman Catholicism see abundant evidence against the claims of Rome in Scripture, the writings of the Church Fathers, and the documented events of church history. This evidence prevents them from believing that the Roman Catholic Magisterium has divine authority. For those who adopt the basic theological axiom of Roman Catholicism, all of this “alleged” evidence essentially ceases to exist. From the perspective of the non-Roman Catholic, the Roman Catholic is doing something comparable to reading a red-letter Bible with red tinted glasses. If he sets aside the glasses, he can see all the words printed in red. If he puts the glasses on, all the words printed in red disappear from his sight. From the Roman Catholic perspective, it is non-Roman Catholics who are reading the evidence with a distorted lens.”

During my second year at the University of Cape Town, I was baptised into the Catholic Church at the age of 19.  Within a few months, I was the University Catholic Society’s (Kolbe House) committee member for spiritual activities. I attended Mass most days of the week. Part of my duties was to help the chaplain prepare for Mass. I often served at Mass as well.

Why was I attracted to Roman Catholicism? There are so many captivating reasons:

1.       I was studying philosophy. I was also interested in religion. What a great delight to discover that   Roman Catholicism – contrary to Protestantism did not only embrace philosophy – especially Greek philosophy – but made it the foundation of its theology. Thomas Aquinas, the great “Doctor,” in his Summa Theologica, builds much of Catholic doctrine on Aristotle. For example, he explains “transubstantiation” (where the bread changes into the actual flesh and blood of Christ in communion) in terms of Aristotle’s concepts of  “accidents” (the colour, the taste of the wafer and of the wine) and “substance” (the flesh and blood of Christ). Although, the senses can only detect the “accidents,”  the communicant is really – claims the dogma – eating the flesh and blood of the living Christ who is sitting at the right hand of the Father:

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:3; see Psalm 110:1)

In my French and philosophy courses, I studied many Catholic philosophers, especially the French ones; Etienne Gilson, Jean Guitton, and Jacques Maritain come to mind. There was G K Chesterton. There was Professor Martin Versfeld, my professor of philosophy, who was a Catholic. He was a great influence. Later in my life, I realized that many Catholic philosophers were greatly influenced by Eastern Philosophy. Lately, I have become acquainted with the Catholic philosopher, Peter Kreeft. In his book “Ecumenical Jihad” against “moral decay”, he says that Catholicism is one among many valid religions. His ideas on tolerance and truth are very attractive to some if not many Catholics. No Papal anathemas in Kreeft.

2.  There were the great “Doctors” and “Fathers” of the Church such as St Augustine and St Anselm. As my mother always used to say – in Yiddish – about a place she admired: “The greatest doctors go there (In Yiddish, “Die greste Dokteirim geit dottern”).

3.       The great saints. Who is not impressed by St Francis, giving up his rich life for rags and the poor. And so many others who turned their back on the world to become a servant to mankind.

4.       The mystics. Catholicism was not only intellectually impressive to me, it also appealed to the “deeper” spiritual side. Not only could you theologise and philosophise about God, you could also become “one” with Him. I read the mystics. The two outstanding ones are St John of Cross and St Teresa of Avila.

The mystical kind of spirituality is very popular today among all kinds of religions and non-religions. Those who get tired of the “world” yearn for an experiential connection to God. But, this yearning downplays the place of faith and Scripture. It exalts “transcendental” experiences that propel the person out of the mundane into a higher “spiritual” plane. But this talking with God is not Biblical prayer. If any practice – be it prayer, or some other contemplative practice – does not square with the Bible, it is not of God. For this reason, mystical meditation and “centering” (Richard Foster, Abbot Thomas Keating) is more a flight of fancy than Biblical Christianity. Biblical spirituality involves the study and meditation upon the literal truth of the Scripture; mystical spirituality, in contrast, looks for a “deeper meaning”, where scripture is regarded as allegorical rather than literal (the normal meaning of grammar, meaning and context, where history does not become allegory).

“Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein” (Jeremiah 6:16).

“Jesus the Son God is our High Priest. Our boldness of access is not a state we produce in ourselves by meditation or effort. No, the living, loving High Priest, who is able to sympathise and gives grace for timely help, He breathes and works this boldness in the soul that is willing to lose itself in Him. Jesus, found and felt within our heart by faith, is our boldness. As the Son, whose house we are, He will dwell within us, and by His Spirit’s working, Himself be our boldness and our entrance to the Father. Let us, therefore, draw near with boldness!” (Andrew Murray, “The Holiest of All,” Oliphants, 1960, p. 174).

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), we read:

“No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). The Church invites us to invoke the Holy Spirit as the interior Teacher of Christian prayer” (CCC 2681).

It is not the (Catholic) Church who invites us (Christians), but Christ. He invites us (who is His body, the “church”)  through his Word (the scriptures) to invoke the Holy Spirit to dwell in us in a deeper way.  “He breathes and works this boldness in the soul that is willing to lose itself in Him” (Murray above).

Here is a response I received from a Catholic with regard to my argument that if prayer (for example, what I described as “transcendental” prayer) does not  square with the biblical kind of prayer, then this non-biblical kind of prayer is not talking to God, the God of the Bible.

My respondent says: “How can you say that …But this talking with God is not Biblical prayer…’ Your narrow minded, prescriptive view of the world is really sad. The sadness is that you really believe the nonsense you sprout. God is infinite – to limit him to one narrow written tradition, and to damn all other prayer is arrogance which is breath taking.”

Yes, I do limit valid prayer to one “narrow written tradition.” That is the difference between many Catholics, for example, Thomas Merton (whom I wrote about here) and Carlo Carretto (whom I wrote about here).

In Newsweek, Sept 2005, appeared a feature article  “Spirituality in America.” It said: “Americans are looking for personal, ecstatic experiences of God.” The article went on to describe the Catholic use of Buddhist’s teachings. For example, Father Thomas Keating, the abbot of St. Joseph’s Abbey, noticed how attracted Roman Catholics were to the Eastern religious practices As a Trappist monk, meditation was second nature to the Abbot. Americans, like everybody else, is looking for transcendental prayer, transcendental meditation (TM), which could, it seems, also stand for “Trappist Meditation.”

5.       The contemplative life. Here again, people left the world to pray for the world and to be closer to God. “The act of contemplation, imperfect as it needs be, is of all human acts one of the most sublime, one of those which render the greatest honor to God, bring the greatest good to the soul, and enable it most efficaciously to become a means of salvation and manifold blessing to others.” (NewAdvent).

In the last decade, contemplation as a fruitful pursuit is gaining in popularity. A popular modern author on this topic is Richard Foster. He says:

“The apostle Paul withdrew for thirteen years from the time of his conversion until he began his ministry at Antioch. He probably spent three years in the desert and then approximately ten years in his
home town of Tarsus. During that time he no doubt experienced a lot of solitude. This was followed by a period of very intense activity as Paul carried out his mission to the Gentiles. Paul needed both solitude and activity, and so do we. (Richard Foster, “Solitude” in Practical Christianity. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1986), 305.”

As far as I gather from the Apostle Paul’s life, he did very little withdrawing, but was continually in the thick of people. Having said that, it is true that “time spent in quiet prostration of soul before the Lord is most invigorating. . . . Quietude, which some men cannot abide, because it reveals their inner poverty, is as a palace of cedar to the wise, for along its hallowed courts the King in his beauty designs to walk. . . . Priceless as the gift of utterance may be, the practice of silence in some aspects far excels it” (Charles Spurgeon in his “Lectures to students”).

The Bible advocates time for solitary devotion, prayer and adoration of God, but not the kind of sustained and continuous withdrawal from “life”.
Why does the Bible not contain any pattern of isolation? Let me answer by shooting off a mouthful of questions?

How do you learn to love if no one else is around to love? How do you learn humility on your lonesome ownsome? How can you be good, kind and gentle, patient on your own. Do you want  to be holy (sanctified)? Go and tell someone something he doesn’t want to hear. And it would be nice if it was a Bible verse.

6.       Penance and sacrifice. You could “mortify the flesh,” deny yourself and come closer to the sufferings of Christ and of others.

Penance and sacrifice are biblical doctrines, but what I reject is the notion that the works of penance and sacrifice are more than the fruit of faith, where faith alone, Protestants believe, is what justifies/saves.

Canon 24.  If anyone says that justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely fruits and signs of justification obtained, not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema. (Council of Trent sixth session, celebrated on the thirteenth day of January, 1547, Decree concerning Justification)

7.       Sacraments and rituals. The sacraments are the vehicles of God’s grace. The more you partake of them, the more the grace you receive. That is why I went to Mass and took communion daily at university. The greatest source of grace is eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ.

The “sacrifice of the mass” is not biblical. According to Roman Catholicism, Christ was not sacrificed once for all, but is, in the Mass, sacrificed constantly.

The term “constant” is from Pope John Paul II. In his teaching of the sacrifice of the Mass, Pope John Paul II writes:

. . . the Church is the instrument of man’s salvation. It both contains and continually (my italics) draws upon the mystery of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. Through the shedding of His own blood, Jesus Christ constantly (my italics) “enters into God’s sanctuary thus obtaining eternal redemption” (cf. Heb 9:12). (Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (New York: Knopf, 1995, p. 139). The underlined section is the Pope’s rendition of Hebrews 9:12).

The Pope’s “constantly enters” resonates with the Council of Trent’s declaration that the Mass is not merely a “re-enactment”, but a real propitiatory sacrifice, which is repeated at every consecration of the wafer and the wine.2 (For further discussion see(The Constant Thirst and Constant Sacrifice of Jesus Christ: The Charism of Mother Teresa).

8.       Confession. If I committed a sin – a mortal sin – I confessed it to the Priest, did a penance and thus was reconciled to God. I wasn’t sure which sins were mortal or not (I don’t think many Catholics are sure), so I confessed them all.

9.       Then there was the unsurpassed European culture: music, literature and art, and architecture.  I saw the Sistine Chapel before they cleaned up the paintings. It was still magnificent. There is also Gregorian chant and Mozart’s requiem, and many other fine works of music and art.. Here is Carl Trueman’s impression of his first visit to St Peter’s Basilica and one major reason why evangelicals “cross the Tiber.”

I am not particularly impressed by size or age; but St. Peter’s is on a different scale. As I turned the corner and came to the square, the colonnades seemed to be sweeping out to greet me like giant arms about to embrace the world, an intentional vision of Catholic aspirations, I am sure; and as I walked into the building itself. I was cowed into complete and awesome silence. The only other experience I have had that came remotely close was my first trip to New York when I stepped down from the coach and looked up-and up and up and up
-at buildings that seemed almost to disappear into the sky. I felt small. And I felt even
more so as I entered the great basilica at the heart of Vatican City. The scale of the place, the paintings, the beauty, the statues, the faces of popes gazing at me, the good, the bad, but not (at least as portrayed by the artists) particularly ugly. The overwhelming power of the place pulled me in different directions. It was both terrifying and attractive. I suddenly realized why so many American evangelicals are attracted to the institution: it has everything American evangelicalism lacks-history, beauty, self-conscious identity, and, quite frankly, class. I also realized that such a vast organization simply does not need anybody else.” (Carl Trueman, “Where monkeys fear to tread.”)

10.  l not only had two Holy Fathers (God and the Pope), I also had a Mother, Mary. I went to Lourdes during my studies in France.

11.  The unity. Catholics all believed the same things. I have since learnt that this is not so at all.

12.  The Catholic Church is built on the rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. This is not true. The Rock Jesus is talking about is Himself – the foundation stone.

13.  The Pope was infallible. The doctrines of faith and morals were infallible. As long as I obeyed the rules of the Catholic Church, I would be assured of salvation. Convince someone that the Pope is infallible, and he’ll believe anything: purgatory, the treasury of merit, Jesus suffers every time we sin, the immaculate conception of Mary, and on and on.

What does the Reformation have to compete with that? The scriptures. How can the scriptures compete with:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
there’s dancing, laughter & good red wine;
at least I have always found it so,
Benedicamus Domino!
Hilaire Belloc

There was of course GK Chesterton, who has been a great influence on many of us who “crossed the Tiber.” Not in my wildest could I have imagined that I would give all this  “Orthodoxy” up – for a solo book – 66 “books,” actually – Sola Scriptura. Late in life, I’ve come to understand that Roman Catholicism is a travesty of Christianity. Jesus teaches that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6″44). This is why no matter how much I talk about what made me see the light – for example, such things as my study of scripture and the history and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church – ultimately, the only reason why someone comes to the Christ is because God raised the person from the dead:

I was dead in the trespasses and sins in which I once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that was at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom I once lived, carrying out the desires of the body  and the mind, and  was by nature a child of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved me, even when I was dead in my sins, made me alive together with Christ— by grace I have been saved— and raised me up with him and seated me with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward me in Christ Jesus. For by grace I have been saved through faith. And this is not my own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that I can’t boast. For I am his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that I should walk in them (adapted from Ephesians 2:1-10).

I now bring together the core differences that separates the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church. Here is James White:

When I rise in the morning I don’t fear the wrath of God. Why? Because I never thought about it, because I take it for granted? No. I do not fear the wrath of God because I know what has been done in my behalf will avail before that holy God each and very day. And I don’t have to say, ‘I have to get to Jesus today. I need to go and get in the car where Jesus is and get some more grace, get a little more propitiation because you see I approached what supposed to be the sacrifice of Christ just the day before yesterday. And the priest said hoc est corpus meam, this is my body. But according to Rome I can do that 10 times, 100 times, 1000 times, 10000 times, 25000 times in my life and still die in fear. I could die in mortal sin, not avail myself of the sacramental forgiveness and still go to hell. Same sacrifice allegedly. So I have to get in the car and go and visit Jesus again because I am not perfected by his one sacrifice. I have to go stand in front of an alter christus, another Christ [a priest]. He has to sacramentally bring Christ down from heaven and render him present, body, blood, soul and divinity upon the Roman altar, and this is how I am to somehow improve my relationship with God.

The reason, continues White, why I could never become a Roman catholic is because I am absolutely dependent upon the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, the perfect righteousness of another. I have nothing else to give. I know God is holy and if I do not have the righteousness of Jesus Christ, nothing else will avail. But you see Rome cannot give me the righteousness of Jesus Christ; it has no finished sacrifice, it has no finished work. You see the whole argument, Mr Reed and those of you who are planning of going across the Tiber river, if you’ve never read it, let me introduce it to you. The whole argument of the book of Hebrews is that the one-time finished sacrifice of Jesus Christ, perfects those for whom it is made. That is therefore is nothing to go back to. And one of the main arguments that the writer [of Hebrews] uses is that in the repetitive sacrifice of the old covenant there is a reminder of sin. You see, the high priest when he would go into the holiest place with the warm bowl of blood would see that he had been there before, that the blood was still dried upon the place of mercy, and that was a reminder that this blood of a goat, a bull is not going ever to cleanse anybody.

It was, adds White, pointing to something greater. The fact that it had to be repeated over and over again meant that it was imperfect and that is why there is only one sacrifice of Christ. It’s not re-presented so that you’re never perfected. It’s one time, singular, finished done. It is finished Jesus said. And what’s really really interesting is that when the writer to the Hebrews speaks of that repetitive sacrifice, there is a yearly anamnesis of sins, a reminder. A repetitive sacrifice, which is what you are limited to in Rome. The mass is an anamnesis of sin, because if you have to come back, you are not perfected. So all it does is remind you of the continuing presence of sin. But that word[anamnesis] is used elsewhere in the New Testament, and I’m so thankful that it is. Because that is the word that is used when Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” in anamnesis of me. Christians have a new covenant, and that covenant has a single perfecting sacrifice. And so you see I don’t have a reminder of my sins; I have a reminder of my sin bearer, and that is why I have peace with God. Now if that was not taught to you in seminary or in your churches, I’m sorry. But you can’t blame your seminary or your churches because you [don’t] possess the word of God.

I could never, says White, go to Rome because Rome has nothing to offer but a treadmill of penances, sacraments, and never being able to know have you done everything that’s necessary to attain justification. In the words of the Word of God, I have justification, not because of who I am, but because of who Jesus Christ is…if these words meant something to you, you could never go there, because anyone who has actually, truly bowed the knee to Jesus Christ and understands [their] absolute dependence upon him can never give that up, can never trade that in. I pray for Mr Reed. By his own testimony, he never understood what the issues where. I hope these words will be taken the the way they were intended.  (See How green is my Tiber: James White’s impassioned plea to Jason Reed to come home from Rome).

The Reformers of the 16th Century divided true saving faith into three parts: notitia, assensus and fiducia.

Notitia comprises knowledge, such as belief in one God, in the humanity (1 John 4:3) and deity of Christ (John 8:24), His crucifixion for sinners (1 Cor. 15:3), His bodily resurrection from the dead, and some understanding of God’s grace in salvation.

Assensus is belief, a mental assent. This belief hasn’t yet penetrated the heart; it is still on the mental level – a mental assent.

Fiducia is full trust and commitment. This is faith proper; it’s the heart knowledge of Jesus’ prayer to His Father:

John 17

24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Without the regenerative life of fiducia, one is no better off than the devils, who, having enough notitia and assensus to burst, still tremble. (See further discussion here).

As the scriptures I quoted above have shown, the only way one comes to fiducia faith is through a supernatural work of God, who raises the dead to life through and in Christ. The Bible teaches that it is not necessary to have (much) notitia or assensus to receive the gift of fiducia. The Bible also teaches (as in Ephesians 2, which I quoted above) that by grace I have been saved through faith. And this grace AND this faith is not my own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works – my cooperating with God – so that I can’t boast.

The Roman Catholic Church has a radically different view of salvation and faith, which I believe is at best a distortion. For example, the “sacrifice” of the mass, the sacraments (seven of them) as the only means of grace, and on and on. But as I described above, there is so much that is captivating – like a kid let loose in a chocolate cathedral. Having said that, whether you’re a Catholic, Protestant or atheist, when you enter a Gothic Cathedral like Chartres or Notre Dame in Paris, you would be a liar – or a prig – if you said you didn’t feel a deep sense of awe at the beautiful forms of glass and stone.

The overarching stumbling block of the Roman Catholic view of salvation is decisionism. The following excerpt from the Vatican II document “The Church in the Modern World” explains what I mean:

“…Nevertheless man has been wounded by sin… When he is drawn to think about his real self he turns to those deep recesses of his being where God who probes the heart awaits him, and where he himself decides his own destiny in the sight of God”(paragraph 14).

That is what most Protestants believe as well. But not those Protestants – the Protestants faithful to the “Reformation” – who remained faithful to the original “catholic” doctrine of St Augustine’s era.

Catholicism, as with most non-Reformation Christianity, is “Arminian,” that is, the believer has the final vote in his salvation; he makes the final decision. The “Reformed Christian” position is that salvation is not man’s decision; instead salvation is an invasion of God’s grace that raises the dead to life, which then enables the raised person to willingly come to Christ; in other words he feels impelled from within (his heart) – therefore, not forced from without – to receive Christ.

William Webster, does a great job of proving that Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) – contrary to Rome’s  teaching that Sola Scriptura was a fabrication of  the Protestant Reformation – was in fact the central belief of the early Church for more than six centuries. Download the series here).

Moses came and recited all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he and Joshua the son of Nun. [45] And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word (no vain thing) for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 32:44-47).

Here is Charles Spurgeon preaching on the words in bold of the Deuteronomy passage above, namely:

For it is no empty word (no vain thing) for you, but your very life

“… much of the religion which is abroad in the world is a vain thing. The religion of ceremonies is vain. If a man shall trust in the gorgeous pomp of uncommanded mysteries, if he shall consider that there resides some mystic efficacy in a priest, and that by uttering certain words a blessing is infallibly received, we tell him that his religion is a vain thing. You might as well go to the Witch of Endor for grace as to a priest; and if you rely upon words, the “Abracadabra” of a magician will as certainly raise you to heaven, or rather sink you to hell, as the performances of the best ordained minister under heaven. Ceremonies in themselves are vain, futile, empty. There are but two of God’s ordaining, they are most simple, and neither of them pretend to have any efficacy in themselves. They only set forth an inward and spiritual grace, not necessarily tied to them, but only given to those who by faith perceive their teachings. All ceremonial religion, no matter how sincere, if it consist in relying upon forms and observances, is a vain thing. So with creed-religion—by which I mean not to speak against creeds, for I love “the form of sound words,” but that religion which lies in believing with the intellect a set of dogmas, without partaking of the life of God; all this is a vain thing (Charles Spurgeon’s “Religion – A Reality“).

I wrote the following reply to one of my readers who is thinking of becoming a Catholic:

Have you read/heard any of Martyn Lloyd-Jones? I haven’t found a deeper or truer teacher than him. You can download some of his podcasts at http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/living-grace/subscribe/podcast.xml. There are many more than those you see on this site. Once you’ve subscribed to the podcast, I think all the others will be available to you, such as “Christ in the heart” (3 parts). If you can get hold of his books on Romans and Ephesians, please read them. We both know that we should not neglect such a great salvation. This might hurt you and maybe you’ll give up on me, but I have to say this: Roman Catholicism is at best a dead-end. You don’t need all that stuff to experience Christ in your heart and be a faithful witness. What is dangerous in the RCC is that their doctrines such faith plus works (for salvation- Council of Trent), Mary as mediatrix, purgatory, the so-called “sacrifice” of the mass, and many more accretions contradict the Bible.

Related article:

How green is my Tiber: James White’s impassioned plea to Jason Reed to come home from Rome

Of Hebrew Remnants and Greek Republics (Second year university 1)

After failing my medical supplementary exams in February 1960, I registered for a B.A.  I wanted to start “pure” philosophy courses straight away, but these  could only be taken in the second year of the B.A. My first year subjects were Psychology I, Sociology I, Hebrew Special, Greek and Roman Literature and Philosophy, and French Elementary. I hated Psychology. It was all about rats and reflexes. Sociology introduced me to the premier attribute of man: he was a “socius”; a social animal. The other thing I remember about the Sociology course was Professor Batson. Not his lectures, because he didn’t lecture the first-year students. What I do remember is his ebullient shock of wavy silver hair as he wafted down the passage. He started the University of Cape Town chair of Social Science at the young age of 29 where he introduced sampling techniques in the measurement of poverty that made his department famous throughout South Africa. He was later made a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa. Isn’t that just human all too human  to be so obtuse in the perception and evaluation of others: I focused on gloss and ignored the essence. But if we weren’t so unaware, there would be no advertising industry – or teachers.

The Hebrew Special course was quite easy because it was a basic course, and also because I had learnt some Hebrew at Chaida (Hebrew School). We didn’t understand much of the Hebrew we learnt in Chaida. Hebrew classes at Chaida were more like parrot races. I described what we did in Chaida in “Letters of Hebrew fire – the depth and death of meaning”. We had to learn long bits of the Tanakh by heart. No one in the class understood what they were reading. Stuppel was the star of the show: he vomited large chunks of writ at full speed, and without dropping a single fiery letter. He was stupplefying.

In the University Hebrew course, I remember the Genesis passage where Abraham tries to persuade the LORD not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Here is the last part of the passsage:

Then Abraham said, “I don’t have any right to ask you, LORD, but what would you do if you find only twenty?” “Because of them, I won’t destroy the city,” was the LORD’s answer. Finally, Abraham said, “Please don’t get angry, LORD, if I speak just once more. Suppose you find only ten good people there.” “For the sake of ten good people,” the LORD told him, “I still won’t destroy the city.” After speaking with Abraham, the LORD left, and Abraham went back home.

But the LORD couldn’t even find ten good people, and so destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

This passage consists of many repetitious phrases, and so it was easy to learn;  ideal for Chaida. And that’s how we were also treated in Hebrew “lectures”; like Chaida kids. But, we weren’t much better than kids because we were doing the Hebrew Special course, which was for beginners. As Churchill would have said if he had gone to synagogue instead of church: the university Hebrew Special course wasn’t the beginning of the beginning of my Hebrew knowledge, nor was it the beginning of the end; it was the end of the beginning.

To return to where I began: Genesis. When I now consider this Genesis passage (quoted above), I’m struck by its devastating significance.Who would think repetition was anything but a bore. The repetition of phrases about destruction may be a bore, but when you’re being destroyed yourself – that’s no bore.

This passage sets the mood for the whole history of Israel as well as its destiny and the destiny of all mankind. The term “remnant” is not used in this passage, but it is used over the rest of the Older Testament as well as the  Newer Testament. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, very few were saved. In Isaiah, God says that even “though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste;” only a remnant of a remnant will remain. But God promises that “as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

“Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you (Psalm 9:10).”

“The Lord may hide His face for a season from His people, but He never has utterly, finally, really, or angrily, forsaken them that seek him.”[1]

I enjoyed the Greek and Roman Literature-and-Philosophy course best. In this course, I got deeper into Plato’s “Republic”, which I had begun to read on the beach in Gordon’s Bay during the previous vacation. (See The Cave of Ignorance: In Concert with a Frog (First year University 3)

Plato’s “Republic” also featured large in all my other six philosophy courses of the following two years. Alfred North Whitehead said that all the general ideas of European philosophy are footnotes to Plato. Plato, unlike modern philosophers, was not obsessively obsessed with being recognised as an original thinker. He goes out of his way to stand back and let Socrates – the main character in all his writings – get all the glory. Socrates was Plato’s teacher. It might very well be true that Plato didn’t have many original bones in his body; he didn’t seem, though. to lose any sleep over  that.

Which reminds me of Isaac Newton. I’m getting a new spring in my step. That’s what someone’s shoulders does for me. My autobiography up to this point has been one long intermittent slouch. It must be the loftiness of the thoughts that are deliciously percolating through the sloth of self preoccupation. But, an expert on biography – like Plato – might argue  that I’ve got the wrong end of the candle, or rather, that there is nothing wrong with burning two candles at the same time; the one to shed light on eventful incidents that make for a real story, the other candle, to light up the unlit corners of the mind, where the really real story  is conceived and unfolds.

Plato, the philosopher, reminds me of Isaac Newton, the “mechanic”. It was Newton who formulated the foundational laws of modern mechanics. Newton can’t help you much if you’re fixing your car, but he could be of great help – he might even save your life – if you’re in the grave situation of being trapped below a cliff with a wayward car gravitating down on you.  Only a giant can save you, not Newton, even if you think he deserves the tag. He would have been the first to say: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Alexander Pope, the English poet, was less coy about Newton. Pope wrote: Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night; God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.” Newton, the father of modern physics; Plato, the father of modern (western) philosophy. In Newton’s world as well as Plato’s, God doesn’t intervene in the ready-made world. For both Plato and Newton, the universe was designed along rational and universal principles. Newton and Plato had a different take on the “Principal Architect” of the universe. For Newton, God created the world out of nothing – the Judeo-Christian view. In Greek philosophy, as in Plato, there is no creator, but a hierarchy of interconnected being, ranging from the highest, which is spirit, to the lowest, which is gross matter. The “demiurge”[2] the supreme architect, brings cosmos (order) to the chaos.

When we get to the Kabbalah, things really get complicated. But that’s for another time, and for another place like my “deep” discussions on Judaism found elsewhere on this site.


[1] Charles  H. Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass., Vol.1, pp. 98-99.

 

[2] Demiurge from Greek: demi – people, ergon – work. Hence “artisan”

The Cave of Ignorance: In Concert with a Frog (First year University 3)

The Cave of ignorance in concert with a frog

Follow on from The Calves will dance for joy: Malachi 4:2 (First year university 2)

At school, I was never taught how to take notes or any other language skills like making summaries or scanning a text. State schools in the 1950s and 1960s didn’t teach these language skills. Thus, in my first year at university, I had no idea how to take lecture notes. In biology lectures I took notes loose sheets of paper with very narrow lines, and I wrote very small. I was trying to squash the notes into a small space to make them more accessible for revision. My writing is hardly legible, and so when it came to revising the notes, I had to trawl through the scrawl. I gave up taking notes and stuck to the textbook. In the second year, my notetaking improved, but I have still struggled to read my own handwriting.

The first year of Medicine was done on the main campus and not at Medical School, because none of the first-year subjects were medical subjects but the same as Bachelor of  Science. first year. I seldom visited the Medical School. I once visited the anatomy room. There were cadavers  on slabs at different stages of dissection. I hated the smell. The budding doctor took a quick peek and fled.

The Med students at  the University of Cape Town seemed to know nothing but medicine. There were exceptions like Stanley Sagov, whom I met a few years later. He had so many varied interests and was a very talented musician. After qualiying as a doctor, he moved to the United States. In 2002, Stanley received the Doctor of the Year award by the Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians.

I hated being uneducated. By “educated”, I mean knowledge of such things as literature, music, philosophy, history. I began to read books on philosophy. Up to the age of seventeen, my reading repertoire consisted of Biggles, the Hardy Boys, Jeffery Farnol, Rafael Sabatini, Cathy’s glass-topped coffin (was it glass?) in Wuthering Heights, and some Afrikaans books like “Skankwan van die Duine” (Skankwan of the dunes – about a pigmy in the Kalahari).

In the final exam, I passed Chemistry and Physics, and failed Zoology and Botany. Botany was a half course (a semester course). I was allowed to write supplementary exams in these failed subjects.

I got a vacation job as a waiter in the main hotel in Gordon’s Bay, a seaside village with narrow streets and a small beachfront. The beach was across the road.

I brought Plato’s “Republic” with me, a softcopy Penguin Edition. Plato is the seminal philosopher of the ages. And the Republic is his most influential book. Alfred North Whitehead is famous for his quip, “the European philosophical tradition… consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. (Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 39 [Free Press, 1979

Between waitering shifts, I read Plato on the beach (in the photo). The sea air got into the pages. They gradually lost their smooth crispy sheen, and the book swelled to twice its size. My head hadn’t felt so swollen with wisdom since my Biggles days.

After three weeks reading Plato – time that should have been spent on my zoology and botany supplementary exams – I realized  that I had been living in a cave of ignorance all my life. The material world was no longer the real world. Or rather, there were other worlds more real. As my prospective Professor of Political Philosophy, Andrew Murray, used to say in his “rooms” to his little band of students: there are many levels of reality: there’s the real, the really real, the really really real, and so forth. The material world – the domain of zoology and botany – belonged to the gross level, Plato’s level of ignorance. The“allegory of the cave” (also called “simile”, or “analogy” of the cave) in Plato’s “Republic” is about ignorant men who take the shadow for the real thing, but eventually – through progressive steps in learning – arrive at true knowledge.

So what if the greatest doctors study it. What about the greatest philosophers. Do I have to be a great doctor. What’s wrong with being a great philosopher?  A great Jewish philosopher.

After three weeks at the hotel in Gordon’s Bay I came back home to Claremont. I went to see the Dean of the Medical School and asked him whether I could take off a year to do a year of philosophy. He consented on condition that I passed my supplementary exams. If I didn’t, I would have to repeat zoology and botany. Instead of studying hard for the sup exams, and immersing myself in the “real”, I continued on from where I’d left off on the beach at Gordon’s Bay. I  “plunged deeper”  into the really really really real.

The exams arrived. The zoology practical. The candidates stood in a queue at the entrance to the laboratory. I was about half way down the queue. They were handing out specimens for dissection: dogfish, frog, dogfish, frog, dogfish frog. Let me see: every second person is getting a frog. How many are in front of me. Let me see: there’re 11 in front of me. If I stay where I am in the queue, I’ll end up with a frog. Please don’t give me a frog. Anything with blood in my hands will end up a mess. I try and jump a place in the queue. It doesn’t work. I’m done for.Hey, they’ve changed the order; frog, dogfish, frog dogfish. I’ll be ok, I’ll get a dogfish. Hey, what’s that! Frog, frog, dogfish, frog, dogfish, dogfish, – I hold out my hand – FROG!

I sliced open the frog along its midriff and pinned it on the board. I had to expose it’s veins and muscles and draw what I saw. My scalpeI “deftly” slashed the aorta. My trilling fingers couldn’t stanch the bloodflow. The frog’s innards turned to pulp. The concert was over. I failed the practical. In the botany practical, I had to dissect some plant stems. I failed the botany practical as well. I couldn’t put the blame on blood for this one.

One reason why I did so badly in my science practicals might have been the dismal lack of training at school. As I pointed out, I never once in all my schooling – at Wynberg, Wellington, and Herzlia in Cape Town, even got to touch a test tube or a scalpel. Another reason might have been – and which could be closer to the facts – that my fingers were more adept at playing the guitar than at playing “doctor doctor.” With regard to the classical guitar, it was only six years later that I began to learn the guitar.

I notified the Dean that I was giving up medicine – for philosophy. Such a move was uncommon, and, for most, perhaps a crazy one. To give up medicine for philosophy? It was hard to get into Medicine. Not very sensible at all. What can you earn as a philosopher? Can you “work yourself up” – Issy’s favourite question – not up into a frenzy, but up the ladder? Can you eventually own the place where you do the philosophy?

The following year (1960), I registered for the first year B.A.

The Calves will dance for joy: Malachi 4:2 (First year university 2)

And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall

(Malachi, 4:2b).

I continue my chronological “bography” from where I left off at “My son the doctor.”

I felt aggrieved. I had no calves. The Cape Jewish Orphanage (in their report – I entered the Orphanage at the age of three and half years) blamed Fanny and Izzy, my parents, for my condition. Even if I was underfed during my first few years, what parent would give their child a stone even if he was not old enough to ask for bread?

I had to do something. I joined the university weightlifting club. But while my torso took on muscle, the petrified calves huddled in their stall. The German word for “legs” is beine. In Afrikaans (a Germanic language), the same word bene is used for both “legs” and “bones.”  There is the German expression das neugeborene Kalb schien nur aus Beinen zu bestehen “the new-born calf seems to be all legs.” The new-born Raphy seems to be all bones.

When I was  in the police during the Rhodesian war in 1976, at the age of 35, I was known in the camp as “pullthrough” (a device used to clean a  weapon or any instrument with a barrel or a tube by pulling the device through the barrel/tube). The dirt stuck to the pullthrough leaving a clean barrel. When I was a small boy I was a noise with a piece of dirt on it. Thirty five years later, the noise had transnostrilled into a pull-through. The dirt, though, was still there; la condition humaine.

The weightlifting society operated from the “Sports Centre,” which in the 1950-60s was a little hall behind the cafeteria (the building on the right side of the Jameson (Jammie) Hall. All big functions were held in the Jammie Hall like exams, graduation ceremonies and social functions.


The Jammie (Jameson Hall) steps is a famous landmark. Every UCT student has spent many hours sunning and preening on this central vantage point from which he or she has “lunched a thousand chips” (a famous UCT quip). The original Jagger library is on the left. The big addition to the library buildings (in the top left of the bottom photo) was added many years the year of my B.A. graduation (1963).  Rhodes Memorial is behind the university, and behind that is Devil’s Peak.

One of the weightlifters at the club said that I had a good frame. I was tall and no longer needed  matriculating.

(In “A nose of any other form smells as sweet,” I mentioned that when I was close to matriculating (Grade 12), Sonia, my sister, was buying a suit for me. She said to the Jewish shopkeeper, “He’s tall and he’s matriculating.” What had matriculating got to do with being tall? More sense to a tailor would have been “He’s tall and he’s metriculating”).

If I boast,I do it sparingly: I had a great looking frame. After a few months,  the mice under my skin began to  ripple into abs and lats and lats of muscle. [1] I no longer needed  to write to Charles Atlas and tell him how much I enjoyed his course, and ask him “now will you please send me the muscles.” [2] As the months passed, the mirror told a top-heavy story. While the top half began to bulge, the calves remained in their stall.  I lost interest in weights and took up rugby. Once,  I practised with the first team; they didn’t have a centre, and I happened to be lolling on the field. I played for the 4th team. My first match was against Stellenbosch University. The match was held on  the UCT sportsfields that were situated on the lowest level of the university.


I was on the left wing, which was the position I played at school. My opposite number in the match against Stellenbosch was the son of Awie Retief, who was my principal at Huguenot High School, Wellington. (See “The rabbi, the evangelist and coming home)” Awie Retief was a big heavy man with jowls to match. His nickname was Awie Bull. His son was an Awie Bullock. One of my team rashly threw me the ball. The bullock charged after me and dived into my long shanks. I came down like a ton of match sticks. I hobbled for the rest of the match.  I limped home to my digs in Rondebosch a few kilometres away. Rugby is not a game for long skinny people. I resolved to devote more time to the pursuit of knowledge, a rare decision for a first-year university student.

At the beginning of this piece i quoted the second half of Malachi 4:2. Here is the complete verse:

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.”

I do revere the LORD’s name, and I receive the promise that righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And I shall also leap like calves released from the stall.” For if the calveless calves can leap with joy so can this oxymoron.

[1] The Latin for mouse is “musculus”

[2] This quip is from a movie  of my youth.

I had no calves. The Cape Jewish Orphanage (in their report – I entered the Orphanage at the age of three and half years) blamed Fanny and Izzy for my condition. Even if I was underfed during my first few years, what parent would give their child a stone even if he was not old enough to ask for bread?

I had do something. I joined the university weightlifting club. But while my torso took on muscle, the petrified calves huddled in their stall. The German word for “legs” is beine

In Afrikaans (a Germanic language), the same word bene is used for both “legs” and “bones.”  There is the German expression das neugeborene Kalb schien nur aus Beinen zu bestehen “the new-born calf seems to be all legs.” The new-born Raphy seems to be all bones.

When I was  in the police during the Rhodesian war in 1976, at the age of 35, I was known in the camp as “pullthrough” (a device used to clean a  weapon or any instrument with a barrel or a tube by pulling the device through the barrel/tube). The dirt stuck to the pullthrough leaving a clean barrel. When I was a small boy I was a noise with a piece of dirt on it. Thirty five years later, the noise had transmuted into a pull-through. The dirt, though, was still there; la condition humaine.

Listening to Chassid Fm in a Minor key feeling sorry for myself

In the Gamarorphans I described what music meant to us. Music – making music – was our main recourse and source of joy. Izzy played the violin, Minnie, Sonia and Rachel played the piano, and Fanny and Sonia sang. Most of the songs were in a minor key, whether Opera “Your tiny hand is frozen” (La Boheme, Puccini) or “Mein Yiddishe Mama”. When the music was playing, everything was warm; when it stopped, it was mostly sad.

The minor key for Jews is the “sorry for myself” key. Most Jews of my generation who live in the West have had it very good compared to the Jews of previous generations. Of all ethnic groups in the West, the Jews have indeed never had it so good. But play a bit of violin, especially in a minor key, things suddenly change. We become all weepy and “remember” the sufferings of our people. Now, if you’re Jewish, you’ll probably get very angry. You’ll probably ask: “What do you mean ‘WE become all weepy.’ You’re no longer a Jew, so, who are you to speak for us?” I reply: “What do you mean ‘no longer a Jew?’ According to the most Orthodox authority in Israel (although only 10% of all Jews) if my mother was a Jew – and Feige/Fanny certainly was that, once a Jew oiveys a Jew. And let me tell you, we would not be having this argument if I was anything but a believer in Jesus Christ, or Yeshua HaMashiach, which is less jarring on Jewish ears. “Many families even consider such a conversion (to Jesus), says Mark Eastman, the equivalent of death! However, if one becomes an atheist, Buddhist, Muslim or an agnostic, you are still accepted as Jewish with open arms!”  A Muslim? Hmmm.

Now to get back to what I was trying to say before being interrupted by one of my kith; we Jews are a sentimental bunch, and much of it consists of that sorry for myself stuff, which a key in E minor only intensifies. Forgive my incoherence, I’m listening to Chassid Fm, and guess what key the music is in?

Sorry for Myself in a Minor Key

In the Gamarorphans I described what music meant to us. Music – making music – was our main recourse and source of joy. Izzy played the violin, Minnie, Sonia and Rachel played the piano, and Fanny and Sonia sang. Most of the songs were in a minor key, whether Opera “Your tiny hand is frozen” (La Boheme, Puccini) or “Mein Yiddishe Mama”. When the music was playing, everything was warm; when it stopped, it was mostly sad.

The minor key for Jews is the “sorry for myself” key. Most Jews of my generation who live in the West have had it very good compared to the Jews of previous generations. Of all ethnic groups in the West, the Jews have never had it so good. But play a bit of violin, especially in a minor key, things suddenly change. We become all weepy and “remember” the sufferings of our people. Now, if you’re Jewish, you’ll probably get very angry. You’ll probably ask: “What do you mean ‘WE become all weepy.’ You’re no longer a Jew, so you who are you to speak for us?” I’ll reply: “What do you mean ‘no longer a Jew?’ According to the most Orthodox authority in Israel (although only 10% of all Jews) if my mother was a Jew – and Feige/Fanny certainly was that, once a Jew oiveys a Jew. And let me tell you we would not be having this argument if I was anything but a believer in Jesus Christ, or Yeshua HaMashiach, which is less jarring on Jewish ears. “Many families even consider such a conversion (to Jesus) the equivalent of death! However, if

one becomes an atheist, Buddhist, Muslim or an agnostic, you are still accepted as Jewish with open arms!,” says Mark Eastman. A Muslim? Hmmm.

Now to get back to what I was saying before I was interrupted by one of my kithing cousins, we Jews are a sentimental bunch, and much of it is that sorry for myself stuff, which a key in E minor can only intensify. Forgive y incoherence, I’m listening to Chassid Fm, and guess what key the music is in?

A Jewish volunteer after the Israeli six-day “war”: memoir of a lapsed catholic

When I was a young man, I was living in Cape Town in June 1967, when the six-day war began. There were a few hundred Jews in South Africa who went to Israel as volunteers (mitnadev “volunteer”). We couldn’t get into Israel during the war because the Israeli air space was a war zone. So, the 50 or so anti-heroes from Cape Town arrived in Israel a few days after the war was over. I went to Kibbutz Nachshon.

While at university (1960), I joined the Catholic Church. By 1967, I was a lapsed Catholic. Now, in a relatively small Jewish communities in countries like South Africa, everybody knows everybody else’s business. So, when, in June 1967, I went to the Cape Town offices of the Zionist Federation to offer my services as a mitnadev, they said they’d heard that I was a Christian. I said, not any more. My conscious pricked a bit but remember it was a lapsed conscience. A few days later about June 9-10, I was on the plane to Israel. I worked on Kibbutz Nachshon, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for about seven months, I wanted to settle in Israel, but events at home prevented this, and so I returned to Cape Town.

What if I had NOT lapsed from the Catholic church and yet still wanted to get accepted as a mitnadev (volonteer)? I would have had to deny the DIVINE Saviour before men. What would I have done? I’ll leave it there, because there are probably some (many?) who were allowed to make Aliyah because they made the painfully hard choice that I was – ironically – “saved” from making.

I made the following comment on the RoshPinaProject site, where I had also posted the above piece:

The outworkings and inwormings of a writer.

The editing process is very laborious, and if you don’t get it exactly right, you could puncture friendships and make enemies. Consider the use of punctuation marks as in the example below. I wrote above:

A Jewish volunteer after the Israeli six-day “war” ….

WHAT! He thinks it wasn’t a real war?

Or

Whose side is he on!

None of these.

My title was meant to be:

A Jewish volunteer OF the Israeli six-day “war”…..

Your anti-hero wasn’t IN the war, but came after the war. So the inverted commas were to indicate that I was not in the war but in the (wink wink) “war”.

My brother Benny was a different cup of tea. He was a paratrooper in the six-day war and other wars. But, unlike me, he remains Jewish, which is the same as saying he didn’t become a Muslim or a Christian. He very well could be a Jewish Buddhist, though. By the way, there’s nothing to stop a confessing Buddhist from doing Aliyah. On the contrary, much of the Kabbalah – and the Talmud? – finds its (secret) inwormings and outworkings in Buddhism, and its more snaky form, Hinduism.

The term “inworming” (textual subversion) is a term used in “deconstruction,” which is not – intentionally – “destructing” anything. If you want to know more about what deworm.. I mean “inworming” is, here is a source (1o lines from the bottom of p. 148), but don’t think you’re ignorant if you can’t understand it. After all, it’s all in the mind.

Lost marble in translation

 

Before I say what I am about to say, I need to warn that what you are going to read here was used (in 1991) as evidence by one of my colleagues to try and convince the Dean of Arts at the University of Fort Hare (South Africa) that I was insane. Six years later the article was eventually published after being rejected the first time for publication in 1995. On that first occasion, there were three referees; one said, publish without changes, the second said, trash it, the third said he didn’t know what to do with it. Remarkable, especially as the article was a lot of BILBOOL (“confusion”) from which we get “BABEL;” or is it the other way round, that is, BABEL causing a lot of BILBOOL . Oh well that’s what the article – and the confusion at the university – was all about.

————–

It’s truly remarkable the kind of internet searches that are directed to my site. Today a search on the words “marble scattering down pyramid” found my “Mind your marbles” post. That’s not what is remarkable; after all, the words “marbles” – “scattering” – “down” – “pyramid” all come together in my post. What is indeed remarmable is that in 1997 I published an article on Derrida’s Babel and the problems in translating (languages – not people; into heaven).. The remarkable thing is that the whole piece is filled with allusions to marble, yet the word “marble” is not mentioned once. The searcher who typed the words “marble scattering down pyramid” into the search engine found my marbles pyramid in my “Mind your marbles” post, but not the marble pyramid in my Babel post, which would have been much more relevant than my description of marbles cascading down a pyramid in the school yard. I know; there are no pyramids, only ziggurats, in Babylon, but at least Babylon is closer to Egypt than Wynberg School, Cape Town. It’s a pity we can’t just have thoughts without the clutter of words. If we can have empathy, why can’t we have telepathy? The only difference is the one is near – very near – the other, far. As a chassid would say: “feel your thoughts, don’t (just?) think them.

Here is an excerpt from the article. It is a parable about the difficulties of translation. When I say “translation”, I don’t just mean translating from one language like English to another language like French, or Hebrew to Greek, but translating from English to English, French to French. The problem is not the words, which the same language shares, but the thoughts that we intend by those same words. For instance, you probably know all the words I’ve used so far in this post – except perhaps “deconstruction” and “remarmable,”  You still need, however, to “translate” – INTERPRET – my thoughts into your thoughts. Enough. Here’s the parable, which I think the internet searcher would have found more relevant to his search than “Mind your marbles,” but not necessarily more gripping. The parable is all about marble, but nowhere is “marble” to be found! Exactement.

The parable (On the difficulties of translation; start with a pyramid and end up with a mosque).

Like Leonardo chipping away at the white stone, the translator/interpreter endlessly chips away at the articulations between the cladding stones, seeking entry into the sacred tetrahedron (pyramid). After each disappointment he gapes in bewilderment at the bavel of bevelled tiles below. Reluctantly, he abandons the hope of ever finding the entrance which would lead him to the tomb of priceless treasures. But he cannot return empty-handed. Exhausted, he sits down on a heap of tiles. The limestone feels cool to the ruptured hot skin. Bemused, he strokes the smooth surface with bruised fingers, fondling its subtle textures. He arises, refreshed, packs his camel high with claddings, and returns home to build a mosque out of past failures. And so, our translator, although he couldn’t move the right stone, is happy; after all, he did save face. (During the previous centuries no one managed to find the inner chamber of the Great Pyramid until Caliph Al Moumon, who upon finding no treasure, planted his own in order to placate his crew of weary diggers. About the year 1000 A.D. the Caliphs of Egypt stripped the polished white casings of the Great Pyramid, which were then used to build mosques and palaces. What made the stripping easier was a great earthquake that shook the casings loose).

You might say that there’s nothing mad about this piece, and ask why my colleague at Fort Hare thought I was insane. Hang on. Here is another excerpt from the beginning of my Babel article:

An expected surprise is not a surprise. The same applies to rhetorical journeys. If one is not all pumped up and ready for a tour (tour in French = “trip”, “excursion”, “tower”, “trick”, “turn”), but instead merely wants to get from point B to point B – Babel to Bethel, the journey that we are about to take will turn out to be merely yet another well-trodden and tedious detour of Babel and its limitrop(h)es.

The journey begins on p.5 of Derrida’s (1984) Signsponge: Consider the translation of the following sentence: Francis Ponge se sera remarqué; “Francis Ponge will be self-remarked.” Is Rand’s translation a good one? Compare the original French with the English translation. The dictionary meaning of the verb remarquer is “to notice”, “to observe”.

Se remarquer “to notice oneself”, “to observe oneself”. Derrida’s object, however, is different to the dictionary meaning. Marque is also the mark, the margin, the step (the step in marching, and the step in ladder, stairway; marche “step”). Se remarquer contains at least the following deconstructable signifieds: 1. The doubling (re-) up of one’s self in the margin-text. 2. The double self in the double mark. The self in this context belongs, it seems, to Francis Ponge.

The title of the article is “Babel: can Derrida’s tour surprisingly translate us anywhere.” You can see why my colleague wanted to translate me out the University.

(marmar – Central Asian for “marble” as in Iran)

A Jewish Nose of any other form smells as sweet

As far as I am aware, very few, including my children,  know I had a nose job except those who knew me at school and during my first year in the Medical Faculty of the University of Cape Town. I mention my nose change for the first time here. I boasted an Adrien Brody bridge if not the cliffhanger nostrils. 

I think a lot of people (writes a female admirer of Brody’s nose) would say that Adrien Brody’s nose is his one handicap. It’s so large it makes it hard to concentrate on anything else when you look at him…When Adrien Brody kisses or kind of nuzzles a woman’s cheek, his nose sort of bends. Folds over a little bit… that fold-over is just the most damnably sexy thing I have ever seen.”http://megwood.com/archive/adrienbrody.html. At school.

Now, the closest I ever got to a nuzzle was my nozzle.

It was towards the end of my matric year that I had the first good – if that is the right word – look at my profile. Previously, I spent most of my leisure time between learning masquerades like Mario Lanza’s “Beloved” from “The Student Prince” and sideswiping my profile whenever I came near a bank of mirrors in a shop or school bathroom. Here is the first verse of “Beloved.”

Tonight was just a masquerade
Tomorrow just another day
Let come whatever
Tonight or never
I’ll through the mask away

(First verse of “Beloved”)

When I was at boarding school in Wellington, I used to sing this song outside the girls’ residence of Huguenot School, Wellington. I forgot all about my nose. I was Mario Lanza’s voice and Edmond Purdom’s nose.

(For more on  the Cape Jewish orphanage days see here; and the Huguenot High School, Wellington days here).

The last line is intriguing: “I’ll through the mask away.” At first blush, it seems that “through” should be “throw” – as in “throw the mask away” (something I couldn’t do because my mask was my face). It seems that “away” in “I’ll through the mask away” is used as a verb as in “I must away from my mask by breaking through it.”

I never planned to see the world as it really was, but, as Don Quixote and Cyrano de Bergerac discovered, it is difficult to avoid doing so. It happened when I was in a clothes shop on the corner of Strand and Adderley Street, Cape Town. Sonia, my sister, was buying a suit for me. She said to the Jewish shopkeeper, “He’s tall and he’s matriculating.” What had matriculating got to do with being tall? More sense to a tailor would have been “He’s tall and he’s metriculating.” Sonia was so proud that one of the nine Gamaroff children was matriculating. I was given a bottle green woollen suit with black flecks and escorted to a cubicle to try it on. I poked my foremost appendage through the curtains and stumbled into my recurring nightmare: a close coop with mirrors all around. Wherever my eyes turned, I was felled by my profile; all demonic angles of it – the nose wagging the face, wagging the whole body. I piece by piece removed my outer garments to fit on the suit. Lanky calveless limbs, hunched shoulders, bounteous Adam’s apple, loose vest and lax underpants. At any moment, I expect to hear Julio Iglesias and Willy Nelson piping into the cubicle: “Of all the girls I’ve loved before….” If only I could shatter those implacable romantic effigies gloating over me.

I loved the suit. A few years later, I left it behind together with a suitcase including other precious items such as my rebound leather French bible in the loft of Marist Brothers School in Salonike, Greece. I was on my way to Israel and thought I would return to Greece to retrieve the suitcase. I never did.

Here is photo of someone in the Jewish Chronicle with my pre-op nose: Howard – the son of my father, Izzy’s half brother, David – at his wedding.

At the beginning of the post “Bags, bottles and bones”, I mentioned that Golda, Izzy’s mother, died in the 1920s when Izzy was in his twenties. Shaul, his father, married Bertha. They had a son called David.

Howard, unlike Adrien Brody who is purported to have broken his nose several times, is a natural. But I may be wrong. The nose is the most defining characteristic of Howard’s face, not only because it is so prominent, but because it’s a nose. The slightest alteration of your nose radically changes your appearance.

Here is the only existing post-op photo of me, taken a few months after my 18th birthday, at the end of my first university year.

The “before” photos have been lost. I might have thrown them away, but don’t remember doing so.

Adrien Brody has done very well by his nose. If he was around in 1958, he could have been by role model, instead of Elvis, and I wouldn’t have been so frantic to remodel my “Jewish” shnozzel to look like Elvis. Is there, though, really such a thing as a typical Jewish nose? The stereotype of a typical Jewish nose did not match the latest studies in physical anthropology, which “showed that Jews displayed a full range of hair colors, facial shapes, and, most important, noses” (Andrew R. Heinze, “Jews and the American Soul,” p. 151). Only a small percentage sported “the well-defined beaks that comic papers attribute to the entire race, while “nearly sixty per cent of both Jews and Jewesses had that finely shaped staright nose that is commonly found in Greek sculpture” (McClure’s Magazine, quoted in Heinze, p. 151). Perhaps – I’m being perverse now but also cautious – many American and European Jews originate not from the Israelites but from the Khazars. (see my “The invention of Shlomo Sand – a thousand “Jews” make one Palestinian”).

No one is sure when the “typically Jewish” nose became a scientific object of study. Two scientists have been credited with initiating such a study: The German, Blumenbach and the Scot, Knox, two 19th century scientists. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach claimed that Jews had a prominent nasal bone. Robert Knox, a prominent surgeon and zoologist with a nose as prominent as his reputation, described the Jewish nose as “a large, massive, club-shaped, hooked nose, three or four times larger than suits the face. . . . Thus it is that the Jewish face never can [be], and never is, perfectly beautiful.” Is that the prominent scot calling the shtetl black?

Robert Knox said that human races were different species of the human “genus”. For example, the Anglo-Saxon race was a distinct human “species”. Also, within species (races) there existed “sub-species” (sub-races), which could be identified by national type. For Knox, the English Anglo-Saxon sub-species was the most superior of all. That superiority logically extends to the English nose as well. What, though, is so superior about Robert Knox’s nose? He’s not English but Scottish. Perhaps Knox meant the “British”, not the English,  race, because Scots are British, not English.

In 1914, Audrey Scott, a young North American woman hated her nose. Beth Preminger, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reported that the woman sought the advice of a surgeon who described the nose as “fairly long, has a very slight hump, is somewhat broad near and the tip bends down, giving somewhat the appearance of a Jewish nose.” On the basis of this race-based “deformity”, he recommended a nose job.

A 1996 plastic surgery manual stated that the “Jewish nose” requires “a classic rhinoplasty with lowering of the dorsum, narrowing of the bony pyramid, refinement and elevation of the excessively long hanging tip.” (Rhinoplasty – Greek: Rhinos, “Nose” + Plassein, “to shape”). More than half a million people in Europe and the US consult plastic surgeons about changing the shape of their noses.

What did the surgeon, Dr Davis, do to my nose? First, he made incisions inside the nose to gain access to the bone and cartilage support system. Next, he removed, added to, rearranged underlying bone and cartilage. There was no problem with the tip of the nose or the nostrils, so he didn’t have to sculpt in this area. The problem lay with the hump on my nasal bone. He sawed off the hump, made a new frame and then redraped the tissue and skin over the new frame, and closed off the incisions. He then applied a splint to the outside of the nose to help retain the new shape while the nose healed. Some soft, absorbent material was placed inside the nose to maintain stability along the dividing wall (the septum) of the air passages. This is removed the morning after surgery. I was in the hospital for a few days. On the day I was to leave the hospital, I leaned towards tmy attractive nurse with (my) swollen purple eyes and mummy face to kiss her goodbye. My first kiss! She shrieked and clouted me on my raw bandaged nose. I was hurt. So did my nose. I would have to wait another six months for my first kiss. Here is something: I had never heard the words “I love you” addressed to me in any shape or form. The first time I heard it was from the girl to (from?) whom I gave (received) my first romantic kiss – Karen. But the kiss only came months after Karen’s “I love you.”  I can’t say how much my new nose had to do with it; what is certain is that with the old nose, the only creatures that were attracted to me were the  flies hovering around my sticky toffee lips. I wonder to this day whether I really had a Jewish nose, or a Roman nose, or a Greek nose –  or a a a Palestinian nose.

When I was teaching French at Westerford High School in Newlands, Cape Town (1977 – 1979), I taught Cyrano de Bergerac, who everyone nose. I jumped on the table in front of the class brandishing my imaginary sword. There was something in my demeanor that just didn’t cut it. I don’t think any of the matrics noticed – except maybe the tall one, who, naturellement, was also matriculating.

What really matters is what you are, and not what you look like, which is what Shakespeare means by “A Rose by Any Other Name would Smell as Sweet.” But it’s all very well saying that with my nice newish – and arguably non- Jewish – nose. But I think that some of the Jewish has over the last 50 years been progressively growing back. You just can’t keep a good Jewish nose down.

My father, Issy, didn’t only not object, he paid for the op.  Business was improving, but he wasn’t that flush in 1959. Thank you Izzy.

I changed my biggish nose. The biggisher question is: “Did I change inside; did I “behave” differently? If  John Watson, the Behaviourist was right, “we can change the personality as easily as we can change the nose.” I can’t say whether my new did change me radically. What I do know is that I felt much happier; and, oh, not long after the post op swelling came down, the girls at varsity started chasing me. What I’m sure didn’t change though, was my total obliviousness to what was going on around me, for  many decades later, someone, who was at varsity with me told me about the girls. “Why didn’t anybody tell me!”

At the beginning of the post “Bags, bottles and bones”, I mentioned that Golda, Izzy’s mother, died in the 1920s when Izzy was in his twenties. Shaul, his father, married Bertha. They had a son called David.

Siblings – The Unsentimental Education

Gustave Flaubert’s last novel published during his lifetime was L’Éducation Sentimentale. Of the book he wrote, “I want to write the moral history of the men of my generation– or, more accurately, the history of their feelings. The French title is predictably and unably translated as “Sentimental Education.” The pair sentimental (French) – sentimental (English) is one of the common false friends faux amis of translation. In my post “When is a Hebrew youth not a Yiddishe fool?” , I mentioned that one of the dangers of translation is “false friends” (faux amis). I gave two examples:

French Joli translates as pretty or attractive in English.
English Jolly translates as joyeux, jovial, or amusant in French

French Agonie refers to death pangs or mortal agony.
English Agony refers to severe physical or mental pain: angoisse, supplice.

“Sentimental” in English has the negative meaning of inanely (innately? insanely?) gushy. The French “sentimental” does not have this meaning at all. In French, it means “feelings” – often positive feelings like love and joy – in contrast to “pure reason”. GK Chesterton said that the insane are not those who have lost their mind, but those who have lost everything but their mind – their feelings.

The term sibling is the generic term for brother and sister. There is something very impersonal and unhappy about this generic term sibling. In some families, there is much joy between brothers and sisters. In other families, there is very little love, compassion and joy shared between siblings. Hence my title: “Siblings: “Unsentimental Eduction.” I am using unsentimental in the French sense of the term – no (positive) feeling. What I mean by unsentimental – which is noticeable throughout my relationship with several of my siblings – is the poverty of love, joy and compassiont between us.

My eldest sister, Edie, was 15 years older than I. By the time my siblings (Bennie, Gerry and Minnie) and I had left the Orphanage in 1951, Edie (24 years old) was married to Aaron Hayman, and was living in Maitland. She had four children: Manuel, Michael, Selwyn and Jennifer. The three boys now live in Cape Town. Manual and Michael are well-to-do horse racing bookies. I lost track of Selwyn. Jennifer lives in Canada. All Edie’s children are less than 10 years older than I.

When Edie’s children were very young (Jennifer was then a baby),  Aaron, her husband, was involved in a head-on car crash. He suffered severe brain damage. After a long convalescence, he came home. Soon after, I was in a car with Aaron and Edie. Edie was driving. Aaron was in the front passenger seat. Edie was trying to negotiate through the heavy traffic but got stuck. Suddenly, Aaron exploded; his face blood red. “Fort Fort”(Yiddish for “go on”) he yelled. Edie was crying and all of us in the car were shaking. Aaron had not only lost his mind, but also control of his emotions. He was no longer able to live a normal life. He was admitted to Highlands house, Cape Town, the Jewish Home for the elderly.

A few years later, Edie divorced Aaron and married a Polish non-Jew, Michael Kay. Mike slotted well into our family. It wasso good between Mike and Izzy that Izzy spoke Yiddish to Mike; and Mike nodded in Yiddish –  with a Polish accent. For Rachel, my youngest sister, there was something deep and spiritual about Mike: she once commented to me while Mike was involved in a card game with Izzy (I think it was Rummy)  that Mike doesn’t just play cards for the sake of it – for him it was something spiritual. For the life of me, I couldn’t see more than an avuncular urbanity, unless she was referring to his opalescent orbs. But wasn’t that just the whiskey shining through?

Aaron’s mental condition deteriorated over the years. Whenever Edie’s children celebrated a big function such as a Bar Mitzvah or a wedding, Aaron was brought out of the Highlands House woodwork to attend the function. I attended Manuel’s Bar Mitzvah (in the early 1960s) and Jennifer’s wedding about ten years later. At these functions, Aaron (as father of the children) sat next to Edie. Mike (Michael Kay), Edie’s second husband, who had also brought up Aaron’s children, didn’t get a place at the main table. At Jennifer’s wedding reception, Michael Kay was standing close to me at the opposite end of the hall from the main table, both of us entranced if not transfixed as various toasts were given at the main table. He had a smile on his face, but there was also pain. I thought: what a gracious man, and wondered how many knew that it was Michael who had been Jennifer’s father for all but a year of her just-married life. So, perhaps, Rachel was right after all. Mike had something deep about him.

Edie was always very moody. In the 1970s, I was on holiday from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), visiting  my parent’s flat in Sea Point. Edie, who was also living in Sea Point, came to visit and was trying to park in the road outside. I had gone to meet her outside. I stood on the pavement  while she tried to park between two cars. The gap between the two cars left little room for manoeuvre. She twisted every which way, but  nothing worked. In the end, she jerked on the steering wheel and sped off. I went back upstairs. Edie phoned a little later to say that she couldn’t visit because there was nowhere to park. I could hear her yelling over the phone.

Edie was a champion bowls player. She looked very elegant and svelte in her bowls outfit. She won many tournaments.  A few years later, she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. When I heard the news, I thought back to the time she tried to park her car outside our parents’ flat, eating herself up with frustration. Was she literally churning up and contracting her bowels all those years, which brought on the cancer? Joe’s wife, Miriam, who had a miserable married life, and was perhaps more distraught and emotionally disturbed than Edie, also died of bowel cancer in her early 40s.

I went to visit Edie in hospital in Pinelands. She was in intensive care. I wasn’t allowed near her bedside but had to stand in the doorway of the ward, which she shared with several other critically ill patients. She was semiconscious, probably heavily drugged, and lying in a foetal position. She had little flesh. There was a full glass of orange juice on her side table. I said to the nurse that Edie was dying. Like most nurses, she rebuked me for thinking such a bizarre thing. Which reminds me of a nurse at a frail care centre that I visit in the suburb where I live (Lorraine Frail Care Centre). One of the residents was James Stander, who was 92 years old and very unhappy and often had choking fits. I told the nurse that he was at death’s door. I got that familiar puky positive-thinking rebuke: “What makes you think that!” A few weeks later he was dead. A few months after I had returned to St George’s College in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Edie died.

Minnie was the most highly strung of all the sisters. In 1949, when she was 15, she came home from the Orphanage (with Benny, Gerry and myself) to our “new” house in Claremont. The family had recently moved from Maitland. We used to call her “malla” (the first “a” pronounced as in cup), which means “mad” in Afrikaans. She never went to school after returning from the Orphanage. She was mentally “challenged”. Really so.  When we were young, we  thought that Sonia and Gerry were also mad.

Minnie could never look after herself, but Gerry and Sonia were very independent.  They were unusual, perhaps even a bit wacky, but not mad. If they were wacky then so am I,  a Ph.D.  wacky. Once at Cape Town University, my French lecturer Marie Whittaker suggested I seek psychological advice. How many since her, I wonder, have thought the same but not had the chutzpah (or lurv) to speak out. That reminds me of the time I was working at the University of Fort Hare when one of my colleagues told the Dean that I was insane. As evidence,  he showed the Dean my article on Derrida’s deconstruction entitled “Can the tour (unsurprisingly) lead us anywhere,”  later published in the Journal of Literary Studies. Now, when I read that article, I wonder whether I was sane. But then, that is what this bography is about – The wondering onedaring Jew.

Minnie would repeat whatever you said, especially if you were saying nice things about her. Here is one of my favourites, a recurrent “dialogue” between Minnie and myself.  Minnie’s words are in italics.

I got nice clothes.

I got nice clothes.

I go out

I go out.

Go to lovely restaurants

Go to lovely restaurants

Got lots of friends

Got lots of friends

Not lonely any more

Not Lonely any more.

Don’t need anybody

Don’t need anybody.

They can all voetsak (Afrikaans for “get lost”)

They can all Voetsek

Minnie quickly got the rhythm and enjoyed it as much as I.

Minnie suffered from deep depression for many years and was on sedation until the end of her life. She got very fat. Here she is in her early 50s with Sammy. The photo on the right is Minny in the Orphanage at 14 years of age (cut-out from the Orphanage photo in Eric Rosenthal’s book on the Cape Jewish Orphanage). On the left, Minnie is with Sammy my elder brother. The photo was taken about 15 ago.

Minnie lived at home for a few more years and then moved to a house under the auspices of the the Jewish centre of Sheltered Employment in upper Cape Town. In 1956, it moved from its old site in the Security Building in Exchange Place, Cape Town to its present house in the Gardens, Cape Town. The house was formerly used as a hostel for young Jewish women who came from the rural areas of South Africa and from Germany during the 1939 – 1945 war.

The criteria for admission to the residence were that all residents had to work, have a high level of independence, and require minimal supervision. A house-parent was responsible for overseeing the house and its residents. The residents each had their own room and shared the communal area. The house was situated close to the Sheltered Employment Centre. Here is a picture of the Centre:

The Jewish Sheltered Employment Centre gives employment to Jewish men and women who are unable to work in the open labour market. It provides employment for 60 people. They are taught how to make a large range of high quality craft goods. As is always the aim of such institutions, the focus is on ability rather than on disability. I visited Minnie there a few times. I never saw any of the things she made at the Centre.

On a visit to her at the Centre, Minnie pulled an old black comb from her bag and asked me to take it as a present. I said: “Are you sure, you want to give it to me.? Maybe later on you’ll be sorry you gave it to me because you’ll really need it.” Minnie’s eyes were racing. Will she or won’t she give me that comb that I need more than anything in the world? – and then said: “Ok”, and put the comb back in her bag.

Minnie married Max Poslinsky from Johannesburg. She went to Johannesburg with her new husband, but returned a year or two later, divorced. She had a baby that was put up for adoption. No one ever talked about it. But I remember her telling me much later in her life that she had had a baby that had been adopted. It was a very brief mention.

Minnie spent the last ten years or so of her life at Highlands House. My mother, Fanny, was there for a brief period after a stroke and died in 1979. Sonia lived with my father for a year after Fanny’s death. Izzy then died in 1980. Sonia then went to stay at Highlands House (“Old Age Home”). I think Sonia and Minnie entered Highlands House together. After more than 10 years at the Highlands House, Minnie started to  lose weight. She was diagnosed with bowel cancer. There was a giant tumour on her colon. The doctor said that unless the tumour was removed, Minnie would die. My sister, Rachel, who had the final say in this matter, thought that the operation would be too much for Minnie; and would probably only extend her life a little while longer. Minnie died peacefully in her sleep about a year later.

Sonia, who was a year younger than Edie, was also married and was living in Camps Bay with her husband Israel Hurwitz, who was about 20 years older than Sonia. Camps Bay has one of the most beautiful settings in the world, if not the best. Here is a photo.

Sonia lived in one of the apartment blocks close to the “Twelve Apostles”. The mountains behind her apartment consisted of 12 outcrops called “apostles”.  Sonia singled me out from her other young siblings. She took me under her wing, and was like a mother to me. When I visit her now, I sometimes remind her of this to her great delight.

When I was at the Orphanage, she came a few times to visit us. She came by bus. Once, she took me from the Orphanage to Cape Town on the bus. On the way back  to the Orphanage, I wanted to express myself very badly, and tried very hard to keep it in. The bus stopped at the bus stop at the back of the Orphanage. We got out, walked to the little back gate of the Orphanage, opened it. I was running a little ahead of Sonia, clasping and sweet-talking my “dardel”[1] (a dreydel is something different, of course) cajoling, bargaining, beseeching it not to tsunami the nice suit I was wearing. But a dardel’s got to do what a dardel’s got to do, and no plea bargaining is going to veer it off its implacable course. Halfway down the cement path at the back of the Orphanage, I froze. My body acquiesced  to the warm aqueous relief that slowly began to seep through my clothes, up my clothes, down my clothes, and expire in a trickle down my knobbly legs into my socks.

When I was about 11 years old, I was with Sonia in Camps Bay walking along the beach front. I got cross with her for some reason and sneaked off. And disappeared. I caught the bus and went home to Claremont. She found out that evening that I was at home. I anguished over this terrible deed for years afterwards. My anguish, of course, was nothing compared to the agony she must have gone through on that day. And loss of trust in me, which probably hurt the most. Since that day, it was never the same between us. Something in Sonia had broken. For many years, I resisted asking her for forgiveness. I wanted it to go away. To this day, I don’t remember whether I ever talked to her about it. I still carry the shame.

Not long after, Sonia and Israel moved to a flat in Kenilworth. These were the years that I was living at home and going to Wynberg Boys School (1953 – 1955). I often spend weekends at her flat. In the mornings, I’d see her husband, Israel, a hairy man, traipsing around in his floppy sandals and floppier underpants. He was a sportsman and loved horse-riding and motor bikes. He swam a lot and was very fit and solid. He owned a record and bric-a-brac shop in Station Road Salt River.

Before he left for work every morning, he would pull out a ten-shilling note and slap it on Sonia’s dressing table – her allowance for the day. You could do a lot with ten bob: return bus fare for two from Kenilworth to Cape Town. Lunch at Hildebrands: crayfish for two with lots of salads and thick creamy yoghurt. And change. The second unforgettable meal  was during the Van Riebeeck Festival[2] in Cape Town, in1952. Armed with her ten-bob note, Sonia took me for lunch at the railway café in the Victorian railway building.  Unlike the shabby dens that peppered Cape Town, the Railway café was was one of the smartest restaurants in town. The full menu cost three shillings and sixpence per person. That left Sonia with three bob over for the day.

Sonia’s purse was always chock full of silver coins.  When she came to visit the family home in Claremont, she left her handbag on the bed in our parents’ bedroom. I sneaked into the room, unfastened the clasp of her bag, and pinched a bob or two. If was feeling very bold, I’d also take a big coin: a two-and-sixpence.  We got one shilling and threepence pocket money a week. That was enough for bus fare from home and back ( fourpence), movies, which we used to call “bioscope” (ninepence), and tuppence left for two chappies bubble gums and two giant Norman’s toffees.

Once, I was almost caught with my hand in the till. I had just unclasped the handbag. I heard Sonia approaching my parents’ bedroom door. I had to flee and clamber up a a tree at the back of the house, leaving Sonia’s handbag gaping in confusion. Sonia came to the back veranda of the house and shouted to me in the tree: “I know what you have been doing.” Gerry was not the only thief in the family.[3]

When I lived at home for a continuous three-year period (January 1953- December 1955), Sonia would take me to the wholesalers in Adderley Street to buy me some new clothes. Izzy had an account  there. We took the lift to the men’s section. The shelves were arranged in rows of tiered pigeon holes, with clothes folded in cellophane packets inside the pigeon holes as well as displayed on the accessible flats tops. The assistant opens one of the packets and slides a yellow shirt with white buttons on to the palm of his hand. The musty air of the warehouse is lost, for a moment, in the fresh smell of new apparel. The assistant does the same with a few other shirts. A while later, Sonia gives the nod. That’s the shirt under our belt, now for the “sporting” jackets; a big item. Fanny called sports jackets, “sporting” jackets. When it came to clothes, the operative question was “Is it serviceable?” My wants had to play second piddle. The warehouse that day reverberated with “serviceable, serviceable, serviceable.” I ended up with a jacket bedecked in speckly squares of brown and cream. I loved the smell, and it was new. The sleeves drowned my fingers – there were the next few years of growing that had to be economically considered.

These clothes-buying episodes remind me of my brother, Joe. When Joe left school, Izzy set him up in a string of ventures. There was a shoe shop near the Bijou bioscope in Salt River. Later – I was about 15 years old – there was a clothes shop, an “outfitters” at the top of Junction Road Salt River, which was situated a few shops up from Israel’s (Sonia’s husband) record and bric-a-brac shop.  Plunked opposite Joe’s shop was one of the biggest clothing retailers, not only in Salt River, but in the whole of the Cape Peninsula: “Marx Brothers”, Jewish boys, naturally.  If you wanted a bargain, you went there. This big shop was always full of people.  Sometimes I would go and “help” Joe in his shop.

Look. There is someone stopping at our shop window. He’s not moving. His eyes are in slit mode. Could it be? Could he be the One. Joe, moves forward, and boldly goes where no one’s gone before. He steps out of the shop, and invites the man to enter. The man smiles. He stares. He sways. Joe beckons to me. He points to the shirt section. I open a draw and bring the shirt in its see-through wrap to Joe and the man. I hand Joe the shirt and pick up the whiff of plonk. That Saturday was arguably the closest Joe came to the smell of money. There the three of us were: Groucho, Harpo and Chico, namesakes of the rivals across the way. Another Saturday of human comedy goofs by.

In 1997, I was visiting Israel to do some research in the Tel Aviv University library. The last time I was in Israel was 25 years previously. On this latest visit in 1997, I stayed at Joe’s flat on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv. We were sitting in the lounge. I suggested we visit Haifa the following day. He nodded obliquely. Was that a yes or a no; or a yo? He said nothing and went to his bedroom. Were we going or were we not going to Haifa tomorrow? A few minutes later, I went to Joe’s room to clear up the matter. He was sitting on his bed wrapped in a large silky blue and white talit (prayer shawl).  It was Friday evening Shabbat (Sabbath). I asked Joe: “What do you think of it? I was referring to my suggestion to Joe of visiting Haifa the following day.  He didn’t answer. I returned to the lounge and sank back into my book. A page or two later,  Joe struts into the lounge sans talit. He explodes: “What do you mean ‘make the best of it’. I’m making the best of YOU here.” He turns on his heel and tears back to his room. Nonplussed, I follow, beseeching: “I didn’t say ‘make the best of it.’” I said “What do you think of it?” (See more on “make the best of it here). Joe on his bed, a rigid Jewish Buddha . A non-Jewish Buddhist might have shown me the futility of trying to get through to Joe.

Zen Buddhism teaches that when I gain enlightenment about how my mind works, I will inevitably learn how Joe’s mind works. Why’s that?   Only a Jewish Zen Buddhist  can explain it: “A convenient analogy is to a computer operating system: to understand Windows in your own computer is to understand it in everyone’s computer” (Leon Rappoport).[4]

This means if Joe sees through a window darkly, and, wretched as he is, reaches enlightenment, and if I see through my window darkly, and also get enlightened – to the same degree, this would mean we must be looking  through the same dark window.  So, what matters is not how darkly we see, but that we both see through the same window. Then, and only then will Joe and I see eye to eye, because his eye is actually – bogglemindedly – my eye. My eye!

Until I understand my own mind, it’s futile  trying to read Joe’s. A Zen Master’s solution would be: hit  them both with a big stick;  “not merely [as] an expression of anger, but [also] to halt [their]  meaningless or deluded stream of consciousness.”  I prefer the Bible’s concept of the self, which is: until I understand the rotten intentions in my soul, it’s futile trying to judge the rotten ones in Joe’s.

I cut short my visit to Israel, and took an earlier flight home to South Africa. When I told Joe I was leaving, he said in deepish and sheepish regret: “I didn’t know you were staying so short a time.” I didn’t enlighten him that I’d intended staying longer, but that his caring demeanour had dashed that prospect. Instead, I lied and told him he’d got the wrong end of the stick.  Joe had indeed heard correctly. I’d previously told Joe that I would stay ten days. I stayed seven. He helped me find a taxi to the airport. Was that a tear in his eye!  I haven’t seen Joe since. And probably never will again. Unless I live another 25 years and decide to go in my 90s (with a lot of help) to Israel to confess to by then one of the oldest living people in the world that I’d cheated him out of three whole days of brotherly affection:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! Like the precious oil upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, upon Aaron’s beard, that ran down to the hem of his garments; As the dew of Hermon that descendeth on the mountains of Zion; for there hath Jehovah commanded the blessing, life for evermore (Psalm 133).

We all knew how to cry –  especially to music – in a sad minor key. For a Jew, suffering and  sad  music were a  match made in heaven. It ignited the soul. But soon the fire expired and tsorres (sorrow) flooded the soul once more – and beware the sibling who encroached on that sorrow and self-pity. This inner-focused sorrowful state does not build up; it worldly sorrow that leads to death. “In fact, to be distressed in a godly way causes people to change the way they think and act and leads them to be saved. No one can regret that. But the distress that the world causes brings only death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Life’s song is in a major key, but when we suffer the major switches down to a minor key. We must listen “not as those who are affronted or resentful, but as those who understand. All bitterness has gone” (Leslie, Weatherhead (1935), “Why do men suffer?”, p.11. Student Movement Christian Press, London). Bitterness convulses the soul.


[1] “Dardel” has its origins in the sound cooing parents make when flicking their baby boy’s winkie up and down: dardelardel lardel lardel dardel.

[2] The festival was celebrating 300 years since the Dutch under Jan van Riebeeck – the forerunners of the Afrikaners – settled in Cape Town.

[3] I mentioned earlier the report of Gerry’s probation officer where he said “On several occasions it was proved that he stole money in the house.”

[4] Leon Rappoport’s “Constructivism, Zen Buddhism and the Individual Patterns of Communication Use in the Age of the Plural Self.” http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/papers/2002/pitasi-rappaport.pdf. Rappoport is Professor of Psychology at Kansas State University. He has also written with George Kren “The Holocaust and the crisis of human behavior.” http://www.amazon.com/Holocaust-Crisis-Human-Behavior/dp/0841913056

Raphy’s Bogology: The genetics of conversion – to Judaism

“What is a bogologist?” This question was inserted into a search engine by one of my readers. Here is the answer

Akira in his comment on my post on Shlomo Sand exclaimed: “Jewishness is in the genes? How Nazi!” I riposted (which I repost here):

“Yes it is, Akira – except Jewish converts, one would imagine; and so is the lion’s share of your and my intelligence and much more genetically based. How Zani! (you might exclaim); anagrammatiically speaking. By the way, Theodor Herzl, the “founder” of Zionism said: “We [Jews] are an historical unit, a nation, with anthropological diversities.” The context was a reaction to Israel Zangwill’s view that the Jews were a race. (See Desmond Stewart’s “Theodor Herzl”, 1981, Quartet Books, p.210). Having said all this, it depends what you mean by JewishNESS, n’est-ce pas?”

I said that Jewishness is in the genes. By “Jewishness” I, of course, mean more than having done the hora (in church? with reference to Christian converts to Judaism) and loving Sophie Tucker. I also said that converts to Judaism don’t genetically qualify as Jews, one would imagine. I need to change that to “I would imagine” because there is at least one person who does imagine that converts to Judaism undergo some kind of biological change (I assume genetic change, unless one can change biologically without changing genetically – in this context).

In an article in “The Jerusalem Post” (Jun. 25, 2008) Nathan Lopes Cardozo writes:

“As the State of Israel and its rabbinical courts head toward a large-scale showdown concerning conversion, it is remarkable that not one of the participants, including the Orthodox, has considered this major, crucial question: Is conversion at all possible? This may sound like a rhetorical question since the answer is in the affirmative. Yet, logically speaking, conversion to Judaism should not be possible. Just as it is impossible for a Jew whose father is not a Kohen to become a Kohen, similarly, it should be out of the question for a gentile to become a Jew. Either one is born into a family of Kohanim, or one is not. Presumably, then, either one is born a Jew, or one is not. Yet, conversion to Judaism is possible. How?”

Cardozo has found what he says to be “authoritative” evidence provided by Michael Wyschogrod, in his book The Body of Faith. Wyschogrod maintains that when a gentile converts to Judaism, he or she does not merely share the beliefs of the new religion – as would be the case of a Jew converting to Christianity – but that the convert miraculously, and therefore literally, becomes the seed of Abraham and Sarah. The miracle is not totally biological but “quasi-biological.” How does this quasi-biological miracle occur? By immersion in a mikve (ritual bath), which “symbolizes” (is that why the miracle is only quasi?) the mother’s womb through which a person is born. Wysh to grod that this were true, but it seems, if not unseemly, uncalled for; for God can call forth sons of Abraham from the very stones if he wished – which I would think is a greater -and more likely miracle – than Wyshogrod’s. It’s unwise to rely on one’s Jewishness: “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Luke 3:8).

“Some Jews had the mistaken notion that God’s promise to be faithful to the seed of Abraham guaranteed their salvation no matter what. But John (the Baptist) calls them sons of the devil (vipers, Luke 3: 7) instead of sons of Abraham and says: Yes God will be faithful to Abraham’s seed, but your pride has blinded you to who Abraham’s seed really are—they are not every single physical descendant, but are people who, like Abraham, repent and bear the fruits worthy of repentance. God can create people like that out of these stones and leave you to judgment, and yet still be faithful to his promises” (John Piper).

See related post “How do you prove you’re a Jew?”

My son, the Doctor (First year University 1)

University of Cape Town – “Medical” faculty

In a previous post, I related the episode when the Presbyterian minister’s wife came to my home to reclaim the Bible she had given me after my “conversion” during my last few months at school in Wellington. After I was taken out of boarding school in the middle of my final school year, I entered Herzlia High School, Cape Town where I finished the year. I matriculated at Herzlia High School in 1958. The next step: university, of course. What do Jewish boys become? Doctors, attorneys (not “lawyers”) and accountants. Of my 1958 class of about 15 boys, at least five became doctors; real doctors, not just PhDs but MB,CHBs.[1]

My grades were good enough for Medicine. The entrance qualifications to the Medical faculty in the late 1950s were much less stringent that they are today. Since the introduction of affirmative action in 1994, Medicine has become mostly closed to whites, no matter how high their grades. I enrolled at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in February 1959. UCT, South Africa’s oldest university was founded in 1829 as the South African College, a high school for boys. It also had a modest tertiary-education facility.

In the 1880s, when gold and diamonds were discovered in Kimberley and in the Witwatersrand in the North, mining students were sent to study at the College. The College grew rapidly, and by 1900, it became a university. The Medical School was established between 1902 (Izzy was being born in Belarus) and 1918 (the end of WW1). Engineering courses and a Department of Education were also established at this time. In 1928, the university moved most of its facilities to Groote Schuur on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, land that Cecil John Rhodes bequeathed to the nation. The following year, the university celebrated its centenary. During the period 1960 to 1990, UCT was given the nickname “Moscow on the Hill” because of its “leftist” opposition to apartheid. One of the most famous students in the 60s, when I was a student there, was the leftist Adrian Leftwitch, who was Jewish, of course. He is now a politics academic at the University of York.

A trickle of black students was admitted in the 1920s. Their number remained low until the 1980s-90s, when the political situation began to change. A black student, Elizabeth, who was a member of the UCT Catholic society, where I was also a member, became head girl of UCT when she was in her second or third year (1960-61). There are two kinds of university years: social years and academic years. If you failed a year, it was called a social year – a year in which you buggered around – metaphorically. “Metaphor” literally means “over” meta + “carry” pherein, so, “social” students carry over one or more of the courses they passed in the previous year. Often they pass none, which means that case all they carry over to the next year is a hang over. Elizabeth was one of those social students. After two (or three?) years, she had one course under her belt: “pol phil” (political philosophy). We both belonged to the same Catholic social circle at Kolbe House. I was very fond of her. But I didn’t appreciate the fact that on the basis of her paltry academic record she was made head girl of UCT. Her meteoric rise was obviously a political move; liberalism gone to pot; of which there was no dearth.

My first year courses in Medicine were science courses: chemistry, physics (which were called “science” at school), and botany and zoology (which were called “biology” at school). I hadn’t done any biology at school. Biology is regarded as less demanding than science because biology didn’t have much mathematics and physics. The “scientists” at school were regarded as higher in the intellectual hierarchy than the biologists. We grade academics in terms of two distinct ladders of abstraction the “science” ladder and the “arts” ladder (I leave out economics, engineering, technology and other courses because they are not required to make my point). The “science” ladder: climbing up from concrete to the more abstract, we have biology, chemistry, physics mathematics. Mathematicians are the most highly respected because mathematics is the furthest removed from matter; odd, ‘cause most mathematicians are crass materialists. The “arts” ladder: climbing up – I’m simplifying grossly – we have drama, history (geography is another one of those straddlers between the science and arts ladders), languages, philosophy. And theology? That had been demoted centuries ago by Auguste Comte, the father of Positivism, from the queen of the sciences to the charlady of psychology. And psychology?

I exclude psychologists (and sociologists) because they dangle between the science and arts ladders. That’s not an unuseful position to hold because the psychologist or psychiatrist is the one you think you should see when you don’t know whether you should be a scientist or an artist; or Arthur or Martha. But don’t ask the psychologist to tell you what you are or should be; his highly remunerative role is to listen, ruminate, and encourage: “Carry on, I’m listening”. He’s listening to your voice. If your voice is deeper than the norm, it doesn’t follow that you are Arthur; you could be Norman, but once again don’t expect anything more than your psychologist’s ear? What is a more vital commodity than a sympathetic ear? Why, the commodity of conversation. Why don’t psychologists and psychiatrists understand that talking with their patients is far better than just lending them an exorbitant ear? Patients get less out of talking to their therapists than talking to the armchair. When architects need a rethink, they go back to the drawing board. Similarly, therapists need a rethink and should go back to their armchair. The armchair is more prosaic than prozac, but far more effective. Molière, the great French Comedy playwright understood this verity centuries ago. He held the armchair (fauteuil) in great esteem, for without it no proper conversation could get off the ground. Listen to one of Molière’s characters speaking in his best prose.(Molière’s LES PRÉCIEUSES RIDICULES – scene 9).

CATHOS : Ma chère, il faudroit faire donner des sièges. (My dear, we need to get chairs).

MAGDELON : Holà, Almanzor!

ALMANZOR : Madame.

MAGDELON : Vite, voiturez-vous ici les commodités de la conversation. (Quick transport over here the conveniences of conversation.

University was very cheap in the 1960s. The courses at university each cost 250 rands. At school, I had very little practical science experience; not even within spitting distance of a pipette or a flask – because I was far from the front of the class. The teacher did the experiments in front of the class. So, I found the practicals at university very difficult. I watched the other students waltzing through their pracs. They looked so clever. I didn’t ask anyone to help because I didn’t know what to ask. In the chemistry practicals, I couldn’t stand the heavy smell of chemicals. I had to learn how to use a pipette from scratch. An ill omen if I ever nursed the desire of becoming a urologist. Perish the thought.

In the botany and zoology courses of the first year, I never mastered the basics of cutting a thin specimen for a slide. In zoology, we cut up earthworms, frogs and dogfish. Then we had to draw what we saw. I drew what I saw with a little help from the textbook. My drawn and quartered frog, it bore no relationship the textbook drawing. “Whatever happened to the frogs innards?” I asked myself. Smarting and feeling stupid, a lecturer approaches, grins and moves on to the genius next to me. Is there a psychologist in the house who will lend me an ear? Not if he wants it back in one piece.

In chemistry, we had to do different tests to identify the substance in the test tube. Sometimes a sugar would look exactly like a nitric compound. If you used your tongue in the initial stages, that would cut out a lot of other tests; for, if you tasted something sweet, you’ve narrowed your the search considerably. The tippy-tongue test, though, could be a dangerous short cut. In my end-of-year chemistry exam, I was running out of time. The compound looked very much like a sugar. I placed a tiny grain on the tip of my reticent tongue. A flaming needle shuddered through the slab of pink flesh. I muffled the pain. Must not attract the attention of the examiner, or the other students. There was a flask of liquid close by. Was it water? No time to find out. Grabbing the flask, I took a swig and flushed my mouth several times. I ran a finger over my tongue. There was a little rough spot. My tongue ached right down the gullet. At not too great a cost, the short cut worked. The compound was a nitric compound. I passed chemistry. I’ll never know whether it was my rash act that did it. What I do know now is that nitric acid on the tongue is very sore and the tiniest drop could – if you’re not careful – give you a permanent lishp.

I had jumped the first hurdle on my way to becoming what Fanny, my mother, would’ve been so proud of: a doctor, a real doctor; medical doctor.


[1] PhD – Doctor of Philosophy, which can be for many kinds of doctorates, not just philosophy; but never for medicine. In British Commonwealth countries, a medical doctor is a M.B.(Bachelor of medicine) and a CHB (Bachelor of Surgery). There is also the MD (Doctor of Medicine) degree, which, in Commonwealth countries like South Africa, is the equivalent of a PhD.

 

Bags, Scrap Metal, Bottles and the bare Bones

 In the Russian Empire. Jews were limited to professions such as tailoring, baking, shoemaking carpentry, tanning, tin-smithing and black-smithery. Some were permitted to have grocery storhaberdasheries, butcher’s shops, and tobacconists. My mother’s father, Mendel, was a shoemaker in a shtetl in Latvia. When my father’s father, Sha-ul came to South Africa he started an empty bottle business.

Golda, Izzy’s mother, died in the 1920s when Izzy was in his twenties. Shaul, his father, married Bertha. They had a son called David. When I visited David (Izzy’s half brother in Sea Point, Cape Town, in 2006), his wife was very bitter towards Izzy. She told me that when Shaul died, Izzy “stole” Shaul’s business in Maitland from under Bertha, his stepmother’s, nose. She didn’t say how this happened. I can only surmise that Izzy’s felt that he had more right to his father’s business than his stepmother. David was only eight years old at the time, while Izzy in his 30s. Izzy had various jobs. In the late 1940s he had gone into the empty bottle business, or, as David and his wife describe it, “taken over” Shaul’s business, lock, stock and bottle.

Until I had met David, I never knew that Shaul, my grandfather, had gone into the empty bottles business. When the Jews arrived in South Africa, they had very little, and I can see Shaul starting off early in the morning with his hand- drawn cart traipsing round the neighbourhood collecting empty bottles – either buying them from private homes or picking them up in dumps.

Izzy bought a small green van (bakkie) with an open back, the same one that Izzy used to transport my bicycle home from the Raleigh bike shop. He used the van to round up empty wine bottles. The bottles were recycled by the wineries. Izzy and the family moved from Maitland to Claremont in 1950, the year that I returned from the Orphanage.

Izzy rented the ground floor of a little V-shaped building in Claremont – a shtetler’s version of the the Flatiron building in Tmes Square – situated at a fork in the road. The one prong continued down Landsdowne Road; the other led into Rosmead Avenue and on to the Kenilworth Racecourse, where Gerry, my brother, must have spent many a heartstopping moments. His passion was betting on the horses. As I described earlier; I saw him in hospital after his heart operation a few days before he died at the age of 39. he talked about the horses and the race he almost won.

The store was very drafty. My mother helped Izzy in the store. Sometimes, I went there after school. When the hawkers arrived with cartloads of empty bottles, they offloaded them and placed on the cement floor. If the bottle whiffed of paraffin , it was rejected, because the bottle companies would not recycle them. When Fanny helped in the store, she did a lot of whiffing. I can still see her – with her marked limp because of her shortened left leg – leaning awkwardly over a motley array of green and blue topless bottles, supporting herself by her walking stick. She bends her head covered with a scarf to keep off the dust blowing everywhere, picks up a bottle by the neck between thumb and forefinger, raises it to her bent head and takes a whiff of the rank vapour . She moves rapidly through the ranks, bottle after bottle. When she smells paraffin, she earmarks it for rejection by placing it one side. The smell of stale wine filled the air. When she got home, she made supper. Izzy helped, especially with washing up the dishes. The children sometimes helped with the dishes, but only on condition that it was recorded in the Gamaroff Annals.

A few years later, Izzy was doing well enough to build a big store. He became the King of the bottle and scrap metal business in the Claremont-Landsdowne area. Sammy, my brother, left school at the age of about 15 and joined Izzy in the store. One day, Sammy came home from school (1955), and said that the Bookkeeping teacher “Bob” at Wynberg High had given him a few hundred lines to write out. He never went back to school. He joined the “Business.” Izzy obviously encouraged him because he wanted him to help in the business. My eldest brother Joe had, a few years earlier, gone into selling shoes; Izzy rented a little shoe store for Joe – so Sammy was the next best prospect, I suppose.

Izzy’s new big store, called “The Store”, employed about a dozen black workers who packed the bottles into bags, stacked them and loaded them into the big new truck that Izzy acquired for his new expansion. He employed a truck driver as well. Sammy got stuck into the heavy physical work and led from the front. He’d lift a bag of about 50 empty bottles on to his back, dashed to the truck, offload and run back for another, and another. The workers also did their share but found it very difficult to keep up with Sammy. For one thing, they didn’t have reason to be so motivated. Also, they didn’t seem to have the same energy, their lunch often consisting only of pepsi cola and a half loaf of white bread, which may have either been the cheapest they could afford or because they enjoyed it. The “Business” was too small to provide a canteen so they brought their own lunch. The way they rolled their eyes and sank their white teeth in the soft bread made it look like manner from heaven. We seldom ate white bread in our house, because Fanny was very health conscious. I remember seeing only one book in the house: Gaylord Hauser’s “Look younger, live longer.” Izzy’s favourite lunch at the “Store” was a tin of sardines and a fresh rye or brown bread. Afterwards, his mouth and bristly chin shone with the oily residue.

Allen Bennett said: “Life is rather like a tin of sardines. We are all looking for the key.” Someone commented on Bennett: “If I asked 10 people ‘What makes you happy?’ would it be the same thing?  Okay, I guess some would think, a million on the lottery and a yacht would make life a lot nicer, but really there is nothing better, nothing more satisfying than having time to yourself and doing something you’ve always wanted to do.” The way Izzy enjoyed his sardines, I came to think that the key to life was a tin of sardines.

At the end of the day, Izzy would cash up. There was always a huge pile of silver and copper coins left over at the end of the day. Izzy lays all the coins in the middle of the big table in his office. He separates the silver and coppers into two piles in the middle of the table. The silver coins consisted of tickeys (threepence), sixpences, shillings, two-shillings, and half-crown (two shillings and sixpence). The coppers were farthings (quarter of a penny), ha’pennies (half pennies) and pennies. He stacks the coins into neat little towers. He adds up the towers and writes the total in his A4 hardcover notebook.

He then coaxes the coins into different linen bag and pulls the string shut. He will take the bags to the bank. The day is complete: the bottles are packed in bags, ready to be loaded onto trucks first thing tomorrow morning, the floor of the store has been swept, the workers have gone home. Time to lock up and go home to Fanny’s nice supper. Or if she is not feeling well, Izzy will step in and cook supper, as he did on so many occasions. Sammy and Izzy lock up and go home.

Besides “empties”, there were also bones. The hawkers brought their bags of bones and these would be weighed on the scale. The bones in the bags had to be checked for foreign objects such as rocks and bits of metal. Once, a hawker rolled a handcart into the Store containing a fresh horse’s head. Izzy and Sammy were not experts on horse anatomy, so they made a rough guess as to the the gross weight minus the soft parts. No customer was turned away. Poor as these hawkers were, they didn’t eat horse’s heads.

There was a great famine in Samaria; and behold, the king of Aram besieged it, until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver” (2 Kings 6:25).

There was also scrap metal: steel, copper, brass, copper, aluminium. Throughout the ages, metals have been recycled. The scrap metal business thrives in all countries. When we think of a scrap yard we usually think of a site where the scrap is piled high, where cranes are lifting and sorting the metals, where trucks piled high haul the scrap metal in and out of wide gates. Recycling is not only good business; it also plays an important role in conservation. But Izzy was more occupied with his own conservation than the conservation of his whole species.

The profits on scrap metal were much bigger than on rags and bones. As the business prospered, scrap metal began to eclipse the rags, bones and bottles. The hawkers arrived with a cartload of metal: bed frames, door knobs, pipes, bicycle frames, roofing, toys, tools, sinks, bath tubs, metal offcuts, electric wire, door frames, playground equipment, cooking pots and eyeglass frames. The items are divided into two types: ferrous (iron and steel) and non-ferrous (all other metals).

Before it was weighed it had to be sorted into the different kinds of metals. Each metal had a different price; from cheapest to most expensive – steel, lead, zinc, chromium, brass, copper, aluminium. Steel, the heaviest was the cheapest, while aluminium, the lightest was the most expensive. Sometimes the parts of an item would contain different metals such as steel and aluminium, for example, a car radiator, which contains steel, copper and lead.

In large scrap metal enterprises, which deals with tons of scrap at a time, the metal is sorted and then put on to the scale and weighed. The operator then creates a cash slip/weight ticket. Izzy didn’t work with tons of metal. This was to come later when Sammy took over the business when Izzy died. Izzy’s scales were modest devices like the floor scales found in a vegetable market. Modern scales have electronic weight indicators. The scales of the 1950s were operated manually. The floor scale consisted of a platform on which the metal was placed. A vertical shaft connected a horizontal oscillating beam to the platform. The beam was marked from zero to 100 kilograms. A sliding indicator was attached to the beam.

There was always the temptation to fudge the scales. You tip the scrap onto the scale. Instead of moving the indicator slowly to obtain the exact weight, you undercompensate (the customer) and overcompensate (yourself) by spiritedly nudging the indicator to the left. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more, say no more. This blatant “sleight” of hand was not lost on the customer. But what could, or would he do about it? He probably stole the stuff in the first place. Most of the copper cable – cut up into short segments – was brand new, and was – like the horse’s head (cut off?) – probably stolen.I am reminded of the verses in Deuteronomy 25:13-16:

“You shall not have in your pouch alternate weights, larger and smaller. You shall not have in your house alternate measures, a
larger and a smaller. You must have completely honest weights and completely honest measures, if you are to endure long on the soil that the Lord your God is giving you. For everyone who does those things, everyone who deals dishonestly, is abhorrent to the Lord your God.”

There are many other places in the Bible that refer to dishonest weights and measures, for example, three places in Proverbs: 11:1, 16:11 and 20:10. Much more than dishonesty in business is mean here; all kinds of dishonesty, for example dishonesty in argument, as Michael  Brown points out in his riposte to anti-missionaries. But I don’t want to get into a religious scrap here. Where was I. Oh yes, I was talking scrap.

Sometimes precious objects were found among the scrap such as antique brass fittings and ornamental plates. You had to have a sharp eye to pick these out, because they were usually congealed by grime. Sammy found a coppery-bronze plate that looks like something out of an Egyptian tomb. He polished it with “brasso”.

There is Napoleon, the metal separator. His job is to break up objects that contain various non-ferrous metals, and “decompose” it into the different metals they contain; for example, a copper kettle with a brass handle. He is old and heavy. The coils of coir on his grey head glisten with toil. He is seated atop his empire of metal; an emperor on his throne. He heaves and grunts. His feet protrude from his ankle-length trousers, the bulbous toes in different stages of decay. He works his screwdriver into the gap between the brass and copper. He prises up and down and sideways. He’ll be busy for another hour on that one. By the end of the day, he would have made small dent in the pile that was his throne. He works slowly atop the pile. His breath reeks of mortality. He doesn’t want to come down in the world. Neither does he want to leave it, yet.

While I was doing my second stint at school in Wellington, my brother Bennie came home from the Orphanage. He joined the “business” soon after. There were many tensions between Izzy, Sammy and Benny. Izzy would keep Fanny awake at night worrying about the “business”. I was seldom at the Store, so I was not party to these heated exchanges.

Benny went to Israel when he was 20 years old. I went the following year and joined him on kibbutz In Hashofet (I say more about this in the chapter on Israel). Benny came back to South Africa and rejoined the “business”. He then married Shirley Kaplan.

Benny had lots of ideas for improving the “business” (My sister Rachel related these anecdotes to me). One was to acquire a huge desk for the office. There was a lot of dispute over this, but in the end Izzy forked out. Was this the desk on which I saw Izzy counting out his money?

There was one other bright proposal that, sadly, went awry. By this stage Izzy had acquired more than one truck. Benny suggested that they advertise the “business” with a sign on the doors of the truck: “Gamaroff Supply Store” with contact details. It would have to be done by a professional signwriter. Izzy would have none of it. He didn’t want to change his humble shtetl ways. He couldn’t see that the financial reward for the sign would more than cover the outlay. Izzy refused. That was the last straw. Benny didn’t only leave the “business” never to return, he didn’t only leave his family never to return, he also left South Africa never to return.

Shirley filled in some of the details for me. “In June 1976 (Shirley relates) Bennie participated in the Six Day War in a crack paratrooper unit. A few short weeks after that Fanny and Izzy came to Israel to be at our wedding. You were at our wedding too. Bennie came back to South Africa in 1968 at Izzy’s request. Within a year they had a fight about Izzy not being honest with Sammy about his share of the business, and Bennie left the business. We stayed in South Africa until 1972. During this time Bennie went into a furniture business. He has been a “furniture man” ever since and is in fact, one of the best furniture restorers in Israel today.”