December 2010



This December 8th will mark the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death. He would have been 70 years old. As the story of his life and death has been well documented, and there will undoubtedly be many retrospectives on that date, there is no need for any biographical notes here. Rather we choose to reflect on Imagine, an anthem of wish for a utopian world. What Lennon imagined to be necessary in the achievement of that goal, is clearly stated in the lyrics:


Imagine there’s no Heaven,
It's easy if you try
No hell below us,
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries,
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

(repeat refrain)


With all due respects to Lennon, of whom we are a big fan, he was a victim of none of the above— countries, religion or possessions. And so we would like to add our own stanza and a few questions and considerations that might follow:


Imagine no deranged people
Nor the misguided too
No assassinations
And all that might ensue


John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 -             ) What would have become of the Viet Nam war? Campus unrest? The 60’s? What would have become of Lyndon Johnson? Where might the space program have gone if JFK would have continued to be an advocate for further exploration?


Martin Luther King (January 15, 1929 -            ) How would the Civil Rights movement have proceeded? What role would he have played in other movements that followed? Feminist? Gay? His POV on Gay Marriage? What influence would he have had in Clarence Thomas hearings for nomination to the Supreme Court? Would a black president have come sooner? What would he have said on the election of Obama? Did he have another “I Have a Dream” speech in him?


Robert Francis Kennedy (November 20, 1925 -            ) Would he have beaten Nixon? If so… what direction would the War have taken? If so… no Watergate. No Gerald Ford. No Chappaquiddick? Would Carter have ever been president? Teddy? How would this have affected Ronald Reagan’s path?


John Winston Ono Lennon (October 9, 1940-            ) What songs would have followed?
What social movements would he have been involved in and had impact? How would the new technologies have stimulated his creativity and “imagining?” A reunion of the Beatles (or with McCartney) for some great cause or event? How big would that have been, given this age of “Super Hype?” What would he have had to say about Mark Chapman had he survived?



You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one






A Pilgrimage to Israel; New Testament Version: Part I


We had the good fortune to make a pilgrimage to Israel last month. When is a trip a “pilgrimage” and not just a trip? It seems to us, that when you come to participate and not just observe… when you come with an agenda… when you pray and sing hymns aloud on the bus … we’re talking pilgrimage. As a church group from St. Monica’s parish (in Santa Monica), the mission was to follow the life of Jesus via the geography of the bible.


No there were no miracles along the way. Unable to walk on water upon reaching the Sea of Galilee, we opted to walk humbly and gently across the rounded stones at the shore; the warm water just above our ankles. Later on a boat designed to look as if St. Peter might be aboard, one of us cast his net three times in hopes of some miraculous catch. He came up empty as we laughed beneath the American flag that had been hoisted aloft in our honor. Fish dinner on this night would have to come in Tabgha, scene of the miracle of the Fishes and Loaves.


Speaking of bread, it seemed to us this was more a “Land of Baked Goods,” rather than one of Milk and Honey. That good, was every crust we devoured. But we digress and digest.


The River Jordan frankly was no day at the beach. Here to renew our baptism in the actual waters where John the Baptist made his name, God’s creatures did not get the email. The catfish swirled about our feet… the littler fish tickled our toes…the river rats, curious and all teeth, came over to have a peek. Expressions of “Eek!” and “Yuk!” can dampen the most spiritual of moments.


At Cana, scene of a wedding feast at which water was turned into wine… the wine left much to be desired. At the startling low price of $4 a bottle, we suggested it had been turned back into water, with a food dye added to resemble a cabernet.


The trip to Bethlehem, where Christ was born, was wonderful. Though as it situated in the West Bank, we had to show our passports to five Palestinian soldiers who boarded our bus armed with machine guns. Cute. As they looked all of 15 years of age, we dared not even sneeze lest that set off some trigger happy kid itching to lose his combat virginity.


To remove tongue from cheek for a moment, we were moved by all the Masses our group was privileged to celebrate up close—often with other tourists looking on from beyond the altar rails. Especially at such venerated places as Christ’s Tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at 5AM, while the Old City streets were empty; the town still asleep… Mt. Beatitudes: site of the Sermon on the Mount … Basilica of the Annunciation where Mary lived and learned that she was to become the Mother of Jesus…Church of the Nativity…where a star beneath a small altar, marks the birthplace of Jesus.





And last but not least, the Church of the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss. The olive trees in that garden, so thick and gnarled in almost grotesque fashion, seem to suggest their own pain, here where Christ agonized over his fate. And as some olive trees have been documented to live for over 2,000 years, is it possible that one of these was present on that fateful night?



“My Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me;

                                                                            - Matthew 26:39


It is hard to describe the emotions one can feel when touchstones have been transported from a revered text, to the ground beneath your feet. In an attempt at a secular translation, be we so trite as to resort to the clichéd cinematic line: Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.


We did not however opt to make the trip to the Dead Sea for an hour and a half swim with the rest of the group on the next to last day of the pilgrimage. Rather we spent an afternoon at the fabulous Israel Museum, which only opened last January. It is here, ironically, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed. (Miss the swim…catch the Scrolls).


While there were many moments of spiritual solemnity and breathtaking awe, the evenings were given over to some indulgences of the flesh: cocktail parties…an impromptu Halloween party in the Pope’s suite at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, (the hotel at which we stayed which is owned by the Vatican) wherein one woman came dressed as…




There were drinks at the King David (the most famous hotel in Israel)… a great dinner at a restaurant in the hip German Colony neighborhood in West Jerusalem … brandy and fine cigars to cap an evening before departure… for one does not live by bread alone, (Matthew 4.4).


We all have narratives that govern or shape our lives. Some include chapters on faith, others do not. Whatever the stories, we believe in the need whenever possible, to try to bring them to life. And in this case, if we may coin a phrase once uttered in a far different context, “Mission Accomplished!”






"Show Me A Sign!"


                                                                                     Mt. Tabor, Israel; Ron Vazzano 2010 ©





"Heads, Count" in Jerusalem: Part II


We have seen people who are said to “wear their hearts on their sleeves.” A wonderful metaphor for describing those who tend to be transparent in their emotions. In Jerusalem last month, we could not help but be struck by perhaps a variation on that metaphor: wearing one’s faith on one’s head. Not so poetic, but seemingly so apt. At every turn there is assertive headgear that proclaims one’s religious and—by extension— cultural beliefs.

In a city that is 2/3’s Jewish, one shouldn’t be surprised to see many citizens wearing yarmulkes. And then of course there are the many rabbis in their classic round black hats, which don’t seem to have a formal name as far as we can tell. And they are not to be confused we learn, with the shtofener or shtreimal. Though also round, these are hats of fur and are donned more for religious rites, than casual street wear.


At the Western Wall, some add the tefillin which is a small black box worn attached to the head with a strap that contains inscriptions of prayers. Go to the other side of the wall and you suddenly find Muslims wearing kufis on heads bowed deeply in prayer. As an aside, only those of that faith are allowed inside a Mosque. With all the controversy regarding the building of a Mosque at Ground Zero in our country, it would be interesting to see what actually goes on in these places of worship.



                 Western Wall, Jerusalem, Ron Vazzano, 2010©


Suddenly a Greek Orthodox priest might appear on the street, in a hat tall enough, cylindrical enough and black enough, called a kamelaukion, as if to trump all previous headgear.


On the women’s side there are in all sorts of variations on a theme. They range from the full-on burqa—which we found an uncomfortable sight to behold— to the more relaxed scarves about the head called al-amiras and shaylas, or simply hijabs. And then of course here we are, the visiting Catholics: bare of head though bold of moves. Watch how we cut through all the headwear on Via Delorosa, in a very public display of the Stations of the Cross. Only two percent of the population are Christians (according to our guide) but the Christian Quarter, what with the pilgrimage trade, is the most visited part of the Old City.

Given the tumultuous history of the region, we found the effect of all of this a bit unsettling. This is a pot which hasn’t melted, if we might mix metaphors. We saw no coming together of head coverings in the ten days we visited; heard no singing of Kumbaya. Rather the messages woven into the various fabrics seemed to be: I can out-pray you. My way is better than yours. We found the contrast between our essentially secular country—all fervent atheist contentions aside—and this faith-on-the-head world really striking.


And as if to punctuate this last point, we ran across an article in the New York Post as we were concluding this piece, highlighted by this excerpt:

Muslim woman says roller-skating rink discriminated against her

The venue’s rules, posted at the entrance read: “No Hats. No Headwear. No Exceptions.”

Colon said her religious hijab shouldn’t count under that policy—and tried to appeal to a rink manager.

“We wear this for religious reasons, Colon said. “But they didn’t want to hear that.”






Winter Morning on the West Coast


The lascivious clouds
smoky, plush
with Botticelli thighs


roll atop the mountain range
for a morning’s tryst;
each smothering her prone
compliant mate.


The earth enraptured
and now the rain
the sweat of their passion—
the day postponed.


Then back to sleep.


There’ll be no sign of light between them
at least until noon.
If that.

—Ron Vazzano






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