Posts Tagged ‘Religion’


Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!

Lewis Carroll (who of course was really Charles Lutwidge Dodson)

I was reading the New York Times the other day. It was a story about a new place to see and be seen in, in L.A. I was reading it because of the title, which said something about ‘Mrs. Guggenheim’. Oh well. I thought it would be about art, or philanthropy, or any number of things – but it turned out to be about none of those things. It was her name that it was about, and it was not a whole lot about that, even. Just the usual pulling out of a hat of a name drenched in celebrity for the attention-getting of it all.

This was a ‘hey this club is cool’ article. And in the article there was a phrase that caught my attention.

Chef Jared Simon delivered small plates of steak tartare and seared scallops, nibbles he calls “promiscuous dining,” while a bartender, James Bobby, mixed delicate yet potent drinks with names like Peacock’s Breath and the Jezebel Blanc.

I bet you thought it was ‘Peacock’s Breath’ that made me sit up and take notice.

No. The only thing I thought when reading ‘Peacock’s Breath’ was that I really did not want to get that up close and personal to any peacock that I could smell his breath.

What stunned me into attention were the words ‘promiscuous dining’. Well, really. Wouldn’t it you?

I wanted to know all about this thing. What was it? Who did it? How often did they do it? And all the other little details, at great length please.

In 1990 the phrase was used at a meeting of the Jane Austen Society of America (in Oronto, Maine of all places). Here is the phrase, in context of the report:

Obviously our speaker had thoroughly researched the subject of food and drink in the time of Jane Austen, and her address was replete with odd and charming details – “quirky lore,” my wife says – like the fact that the great houses of Austen’s time knew nothing of afternoons. Their mornings lasted until dinner time. I like that. Here’s another one: residents of the great houses discovered the pleasures of “promiscuous dining” at this time. Heretofore ladies had been seated on one side of the table; gentlemen on the other. Now they alternated around the table: a lady beside a gentleman. Thus the promiscuity.

Well well well. What have we here. Daring, that. But still I wanted more. In 2006, and again in the city of Los Angeles, there is a report on a restaurant that was a “Best Date Spot” for the year. Since then it has closed.

Lest you forget that this Pico Boulevard boite is built on the idea of “promiscuous dining”–where you’re never forced to marry just one entree–sexy (and uber-tatted) Chef Jared Simons will remind you when he’s walking around greeting guests like some unassuming rock star.

Now we’re getting somewhere! But yet there is something wrong. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Oh. I know. Did that just actually say ‘unassuming rock star’? Oh. I guess it can happen . . . maybe . . .

There was only one other reference online I could find on this promiscuous dining thing that offered any food for thought. It was in a story titled ‘The Man Who Wouldn’t Be King’ and this time the location was not Los Angeles, the story did not mention Peggy Guggenheim, nor did it mention any unassuming rock stars.

Jesus was also a religious reformer. His religiously promiscuous dining practice was both visionary and confrontational. The encouragement for anyone to come in off the streets to his table breached the purity codes that were deemed essential for personal holiness. What food you ate, who you touched or were in close proximity with, who you spoke to, was believed to affect not just your health and social standing but also your relationship with God. To dine with say a woman was to lower you to her inferior spiritual status. It was similar with a leper, or child, or tax collector. Jesus was challenging the rules about holiness.

The frumious Bandersnatch has always been shunned.

But times change, and apparently so does the shape the frumious Bandersnatch takes.

Will the frumious Bandersnatch ever completely disappear? Or will he/she/it always be with us?
Who are the Bandersnatches in your life? (That is, of course, if you know any. It’s possible though not probable that there exists someone who has never met a Bandersnatch.)

Promiscuous dining.
(It’s not what I thought it was.)

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Images and stories. How they do shape how we think of the world – what it is to us, even when the stories or images may not be true or real.

I’m not religious in any formal way, but darn it all if I can shake off the image in my mind that God is some big vague-looking guy hanging around way up high in the sky somewhere beyond the clouds – no matter how hard I try. In the same manner, just push my Thanksgiving Button and regardless of any intellectual knowledge of what it actually was to start with, up pops turkey and Pilgrims in black clothes with huge hats and buckles on their odd shoes.

I think then of the Shakers, who were of the same ilk. Then the Quakers who fit in there with all this. A song comes into my head somewhere along here and it refuses to stop. I have to hear it over and over again for goodness knows how long.

Simple Gifts

Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,

To turn, turn will be our delight

‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Somehow I’ve known that song since nursery school. I still love it.

But it’s not what I thought it was as a four-year old – there’s more to it that that. There’s the fact that usually people know the words as ’tis a gift’ rather than as ’tis the gift’. This adds a very different meaning to the song – one that is pointed and sharp. ‘The gift’ is one thing and one thing only, not open to interpretation by those who sang of it. It was the core point of the song that ‘the gift’ was something to be desired (and worked for and suffered for) – and this was the only ‘gift’ that should matter. And that gift of ecstasy, of bonding with their God, was sought through dance.

A beautiful simple song with a passion wrapped so quietly within it.

There are four Shakers left in the last Shaker Community existing in Sabbathday, Maine. Only four Shakers. Their religion is a fascinating one. But then it comes to mind that the ‘Pilgrims’ associated with our Thanksgiving holiday – with their funny hats and shoes with buckles – did not come here seeking turkeys (though of course turkeys are a good thing to have if one wants to continue living rather than dying of starvation in a new land where grocery stores don’t exist and where one has not been trained in the actually-rather-knowledgable-art of farming . . . ever tried to even keep a plant already grown in a pot alive if you don’t have a ‘green thumb’?) but from what I understand – unless I missed something – our Pilgrims came to these shores to escape religious persecution. They just plain didn’t fit in, where they came from, and it was time to move – that is, if they wanted to follow their deep passion, a passion which was not about what buckle to put on their shoes or what stuffing to serve with the turkey but rather a passion which centered around who they as human beings were and what their relationship was to their God and how they would live to express this.

Not small potatoes. That is, if one believes that in some way  human beings are more than a bag of bones tossed together with other ingredients to make an animal of sorts that ‘thinks’ and who has been lucky enough to have these opposable thumbs that help us build things of all sorts.


Funny, the shapes seeking for ‘higher truth’ can take.

Several years ago I visited a church located within several hours of where I live. The church is one where snake-handling is the core participatory ritual that brings its followers a sense that they have found a way to experience the higher truth that the Christian Bible offers. This is not the only church in the country of this sort – though it is against the law in many states for these churches to exist.

I remember sitting in a pew near the back taking it all in. The women did not cut their hair – it was against the church laws . . . and they wore dresses and stockings and were all covered up. The men did not seem to have any rules of dress but they were all very conservative. I remember looking at the people of the church, this church that existed in a small covert hollow of poverty along a grim winding road in a tiny sad broken-down converted house, and I remember my first reaction. It was a visceral one rather than an intellectual one. To be honest, an initial sense of repulsion rose from within me.

What those Pilgrims must have put up with, before coming to our shores! What any Pilgrim must put up with, really – if they have a strong path to follow that does not merge and support the usual way of things.

But thereby hangs the tale.

The faux-Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner is just the tip of it all. But oh, where it can lead to, just the stories of interest as one follows the winding path around it!

“Oh the Places You’ll Go!” as Dr. Seuss (who of course was Theodor Geisel) wrote.

Happy Pilgrim Day!

Maybe I’ll bake a cake and frost it black with a big silver buckle. I love that image.


No photo header today but instead something better: Jordi Busque is allowing me to link to his wonderful photos of the Mennonite in Bolivia.

More on ‘Simple Gifts’ at the American Music Preservation site.

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Evangelism in a bowl of spaghetti-o’s.

I hate to say it but mostly I just want to wipe the sides of the bowl.

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