Seeing can be believing in History’s ‘The Bible’

If you’ve missed “The Bible,” airing on the History Channel, you’ve missed something worth watching. The miniseries, co-produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, is well done. The premiere episode drew a record audience of 13.1 million viewers.

Meanwhile, Hollywood movers and shakers are shaking their collective heads, confounded by the popularity of an “overtly religious program.”

While the immense subject matter has been condensed, is fast-paced and subject to artistic license, the casting, filming and special effects are impressive. One of the most intriguing depictions has been the angels. These are no Hallmark cherubs or Precious Moments figurines. These angels are large, muscular and mysterious, brandishing swords and possessing a presence that does not lend itself to fragile porcelain. They take the wimp factor out of faith.

The Old Testament stories are brutal and violent, each one connecting to the next with a running theme of man’s fickleness toward God – faithful one moment, unfaithful the next.

When stories move from words on a page to visuals on a screen, it is always surprising how a familiar story, retold in a different medium, can bring new dimensions of understanding.

As the story of Abraham and Isaac was about to unfold, there was a knot in my stomach. The celebrated story of Abraham’s faith is uncomfortable at best.

Abraham, childless for years, was promised a son by God. This son would produce descendants that would populate “a multitude of nations.” Abraham’s wife Sarah, well past her childbearing years, miraculously conceives and gives birth to a son. A few chapters later, God instructs Abraham to take his only son, now a child, to the mountain top and offer him as a sacrifice.

It is a difficult story to teach in Sunday school classes. A boy once asked, “What did Isaac do to make his dad so mad?”

Seeing Abraham and Isaac on screen makes the story even more gut wrenching. As an aging Abraham prepares to sacrifice his terrified son, God intercedes and points Abraham to a ram caught in a thicket to use as the sacrifice instead.

In a way that was never so real when the words were on a page, the cinematic version made clear. Yes, it was a demonstration of Abraham’s faith in God’s deliverance, but it was also a foretelling of another father who one day would indeed sacrifice his son. It was an Old Testament glimpse of Good Friday. Of course, the New Testament narrative did not end with Christ on the cross. The real climax was the empty tomb three days later, the event Christians around the world celebrate and commemorate as Resurrection Sunday and Easter morning.

How refreshing to see someone use their wealth and good fortune to produce a series like “The Bible.” What a wise use of resources. Naturally, there are critics and detractors, those for whom nothing is ever good enough. That said, it is always good when truth comes to life and even better when truth comes to the heart.

The softer side of Jersey

A branch on our family tree has stretched to New Jersey for the second time. One of the silver linings of grown children moving far away is that you discover places you might not otherwise visit.

Jersey is a difficult place to describe to those who have never been there.

There is the Jersey you see on the news with the boardwalk, the crime, the hurricane fury and the big and bold and popular governor, Chris Christie. There is the Newark airport, a cramped, gerbil-tunnel sort of affair that sits across the street from a prison. There is the Jersey that is old brick, shipping ports, box cars and towering cranes.

And then there is the other side of Jersey. It is the unexpected Jersey, the quiet Jersey.

Borough after borough, small town after small town seamlessly fold into one another. The very old blends with the mildly old and the new. A third-generation Italian bakery sits sandwiched between two new storefronts with crisp awnings. A pizzeria with a 93-year-old oven is next to a house built in the 1700s and adjacent to a mini-mart with a fresh facelift.

Sidewalks serve pedestrians, restaurants, delis, small shops and professional offices. A jumble of above-ground power lines border the streets, dipping to homes and businesses and linking each utility pole to the next.

Wander a half mile or so off one of these main thoroughfares and you are suddenly on winding roads that hug the rivers and creeks. These two-lanes weave through woods, dappled sunlight and over rolling hills. This is the Garden State, so named for lush fields and good soil. Farmers markets and produce stands punctuate the countryside.

Deer are thick in these parts. They bound across fields and roads and leap fences, their white tails held high like the feather plumes of can-can dancers. In Central Jersey skunks are the opossums of the Midwest, mighty in number but frequently flattened.

Stately colonial homes sit precariously close to the road, while others are back a stretch, down a gravel lane or behind a low stone wall. It is easy to picture a rider on horseback clip clopping from one place to another.

Horse barns and dairy barns and homes in their shadows have a gracious amount of space between them, but there are few wide expanses of open land. They’ve been building for centuries in this neck of the woods.

Old and crumbling buildings are undisturbed. They just stand there, slouching, sighing, boards buckling. Nothing appears subject to the wrecking ball. Someone just sticks a plaque in front of a dilapidated structure and declares it history.

May we humans fare as well in old age.

It is always a pleasure to have reason to travel an unfamiliar road. Most of us are partial to the place we are from and, consequently, reluctant to leave. It is good to be jarred loose, tugged from the familiar and led somewhere new. There is a satisfying enjoyment in seeing that no nook or cranny has escaped the beauty of God’s brush.

How about some coffee, Sugar?

New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to ban sugary sodas fizzled when a judge struck down the ban. Bloomberg’s restrictions were so detailed that some establishments had already created colorful posters with graphics and pictures to explain to the children, I mean the customers, what they could and could not do.

Mommy Bloomberg, I mean Mayor Bloomberg, planned to institute regulations that would jolt morning coffee drinkers. Servers would no longer have been able to add sugar to large or extra large coffee for customers. Customers would have to add the poison themselves. After adding the sugar, perps would then sit in the time-out corner for 15 minutes, or until they were willing to look Mommy Bloomberg in the eye and say they were sorry.

I’m just kidding about the time-out corner. How ridiculous. A far better idea would have been for offenders to write “Sugar is bad for me” 100 times on a smart phone or a tablet. Perhaps photos of repeat offenders, along with their name, weight, waist size, BMI and home address could be distributed to news outlets.

In addition to banning sugary sodas over 16 ounces and forcing customers to sweeten their own hot beverages, the new regulations further decreed that New Yorkers would be forced to add their own sugar to their iced beverages as well. The same would have been true for sweet artificial flavors. If you wanted a shot of coconut, orange, cherry, hazelnut, mocha or caramel in your drink, it would be by your own hand and of your own doing, or undoing, according to the Mayor’s perspective.

On the up side, potty breaks would still be allowed at the top and bottom of the hour. Rest time would be from 2 until 2:20. Bring your own towel or mat from home.

Many establishments have been forced to change the sizes of their beverages in anticipation of the new regulations. One can only imagine the chaos this would create at Starbucks, where a tall is already a small, a grande is really a medium, and a venti may get you five-to-life.

One thing that would not change? All New Yorkers would still be encouraged to wash their hands after using the lavatory, cover their mouths when coughing, and say please and thank you.

It is hard to fathom where the Mayor might strike next. Alcohol sales restricted to those little bottles the airlines sell? Rationing pizza? Selling carb credits to the golden arches? Labeling chocolate as a controlled substance?

My deepest red, white and blue condolences to freedom-loving, coffee-slurping, soda-craving Americans being treated like imbeciles. It is a nanny state—as well as a very sorry state—when citizens are forced to give up the fundamental liberty of determining what they eat and drink.

Think long and hard before waving the white paper napkin of surrender.

Pajama pants need a wake-up call

For an advanced people, we sure have a lot of problems with our pants. You wouldn’t think pants would be that big of a challenge. You put your right leg in, you put your left leg in, and you shake it all about — no wait, that’s the Hokey Pokey.

Pants: You put one leg in, you put the other leg in, zip, snap, you’re done. Yet we struggle.

In January, a small eclectic band of subway riders indulged themselves in No Pants Subway Day. They rode the subway without pants.

Is it wrong to hope they got frostbite? For years we have endured the mystery of young men whose pants kept sliding down their backsides. Fortunately, that trend has faded and you don’t see as much of those fellas anymore. Literally.

Now the prevailing confusion is over which pants do you wear to sleep in and which pants do you wear in public.

The first time I saw pajama pants in public was at a hotel with a breakfast bar. Three kids shuffled into the dining room wearing pajamas. A small odiferous cloud trailed behind them. I wondered what their mother was thinking. Seconds later she appeared wearing pajama pants, too. A medium odiferous cloud trailed behind her.

One of the boys went over to the waffle maker, started a waffle, stood there while it cooked, picked a sleeper from his eye, and then vigorously scratched his backside. Just like that, the dining area cleared. They had the waffle maker and entire breakfast bar to themselves.

Today you can go to the grocery, the mall or a fast food place and see people in pajama pants. It used to be you never saw anyone in their pj’s unless you were 8 years old and at a slumber party.

It is more likely to be females than males wearing pj’s in public, but every once in awhile you see a grown man wearing his jammie pants, too.

“Love your SpongeBob ‘jamma pants, sir!”

I understand there may be unseen circumstances that compel people to wear their jammies out of the house. Some may have sleep disorders and need to lie down with little notice. Others may be lacking opposable thumbs that enable them to maneuver zippers and snaps.

Still, pajama pants draw attention. The implication is that you have slept in them, perhaps even night after night. Which means you just rolled out of bed, didn’t bathe, shower, shampoo, or use deodorant and now here you are at Dunkin’ Donuts. All I’m saying is this: That’s a pretty thin piece of cotton between you, me, and everything God gave you.

Of course, when it’s all said and done, there’s a silver lining to every cloud. Or in this case, flannel. At least people in pajama pants are wearing pants. Thank you.