Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Unlike a story I blogged about earlier this week, the report that follows is not an April Fool’s joke. Instead, it’s one of the most interesting stories I’ve covered in the past four years, one that blurs the line between myth and miracle.
SAN BERNARDINO—If Jesus could turn water into wine, why wouldn’t God turn teeth into gold?
A growing number of people at Highland House of Prayer are claiming he has. It began with a series of religious revivals in October. Now, much of the congregation is opening wide and pointing to shiny dots on their teeth.
That was gray, they say, but now it’s gold. Others have crowns and caps that appear to be wholly gold or maybe holy gold.
“The Lord spoke to me and said, ‘It didn’t have anything to do with faith. I did it to increase your faith.’’ said the church’s pastor, Larry Baker. “It has done so for me and this church tremendously.’
God only knows what’s really going on, but about 15 of the church’s 70 members say their teeth or fillings have turned to gold during the past three weeks. Some are now on a mission to get their dental records and prove their claims are true.
Across the world, Pentecostal Christians like those at House of Prayer claim teeth have changed, the disabled have been healed and the dead have been raised.
For now, the spirit is moving at House of Prayer. The congregation meets in the Church of Yahweh, a blue and white building in a dark Base Line strip mall, a few blocks west of the Highland city limits.
Since October, Baker and visiting evangelists have asked church members to show their faith by giving money “sacrificially.’ Youths responded by selling their video games and basketball-card collections, a church bulletin reports, and adults sold second vehicles and wedding rings.
The church offering, which averages about $3,500 per month, surpassed $25,000, Baker said. An unspecified amount went to the evangelists; the remainder was earmarked to help build their own church, the pastor said.
Then God began paying through their teeth.
I learned of this revival when one of my then-colleagues at The Sun found an odd message on her voicemail. Journalists get a lot of crack-pot “tips,” and this seemed like just that. Happy to share, my colleague, laughing, forwarded the message.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this story at the time, and, looking back two and a half years later, I am none the more enlightened. I wanted to believe then, as I do now, that God could welcome a religious awakening by turning his worshipers teeth to gold. But I had, and still have, a difficult time understanding why He would.
The pastor argued that amalgam fillings contained mercury and that by turning their teeth to gold, God was protecting them from danger. (The ADA would disagree.) Theologians I talked to said, quite obviously, that they could find no precedent for such a miracle. Believe it or not, though, this phenomena has been reported at other Pentecostal churches amidst revivals.
To me, what seemed most apparent was that a groupthink had taken over the small Highland House of Prayer. Maybe one or two worshipers there really had their fillings turned to gold, even if I couldn’t confirm it when they used their index fingers to open their mouths wide. But once a few people believed it had happened at all, others seemed primed to believe it was happening to them too.
Whether the fillings are safe or not gold or gild they have energized Baker’s small congregation.
“In the Bible, you read about it, people raising from the dead, people being made to walk, but today you don’t see it, except some televangelist twenty-nine, ninety-five for a healing handkerchief,’ said James Wynn, 18, of San Bernardino. “But that’s not real. Then you see it happen to your friends and family. It’s amazing.’
And what’s in Wynn’s mouth?
“I have a filling that hasn’t turned to gold yet,’ he said optimistically.
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April 3, 2008 | 11:04 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
âTheyâre way past stripping the paper to the bone,â said Joe Segura, of the Long Beach Press-Telegram. âTheyâre digging for marrow now.â
I wrote last month about the bloodletting at my last paper, the LA Daily News—which appears to have received a final, fatal blow this week—but the Weekly also discusses the pain being felt at the papers where I started my career, the two-for-one Sun in San Bernardino and Daily Bulletin in Ontario.
WHEN SINGLETON BOUGHT a controlling interest in the Bulletin in 1997, it was part of a blitzkrieg that before long led him to own every daily in the region, outside of the Times, the Register in Orange County and the Press Enterprise in Riverside. The Times became part of that story when it was revealed that its thenâparent company, Times-Mirror, had helped to finance Singletonâs purchase of the Daily News, arguably in order to prevent a serious journalistic competitor from moving into town to challenge it.
For Daily News staffers like Mariel Garza, who covered Los Angeles City Hall for two years and has been a Daily News editorial writer for the past four years, the slow bleed in Woodland Hills has been akin to watching a friend succumb to a terminal illness.
Garza said the recent layoffs, coupled with a long period of attrition, have left the San Fernando Valley newsroom demoralized and fearing the paperâs demise.
âItâs like watching a loved one thatâs wasting away from Alzheimerâs,â Garza said. âItâs tragic to watch.â
April 2, 2008 | 3:59 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
No single element of American Jewish power is more tangled in myth and mystery than the relationship between Jews and the media. Nowhere is the gulf wider between the way Jews see themselves and the way their neighbors see them.
Put more starkly, the gap in perception is this: non-Jews commonly see the mass media as a key stronghold of Jewish power, a major source of whatever influence Jews wield in American society. Jews, by contrast—especially affiliated, activist Jews—commonly describe the media as a major source of anti-Israel bias.
The two views seem like polar opposites, either-or propositions, thesis and antithesis. They cannot both be true. And yet, to a great degree, they are.
This is how J.J. Goldberg begins the 11th chapter of his phenomenal book, “Jewish Power.” He notes that in 1989, at the start of the Intifada, 79 percent of American Jews felt the news media applied a double standard in judging Israel more harshly than its Arab neighbors.
Today, many still believe mainstream magazines and newspapers and radio stations are anti-Israel. They point to the “Protocols of Christiane Amanpour” on CNN, the phony footage of a murdered Palestinian boy from France 2, and, my favorite, the reportage of “National Palestinian Radio.”
I have agreed on specific occasions, though in hindsight I’m not convinced the bias is deliberate. Neither is Jeff Jacoby, an op-ed writer for the Boston Globe, who speaking last night at Syracuse University said the phenomenon has more to do with ignorance than malevolence.
Jacoby read excerpts from two New York Times editorials about the deaths of terrorists. He showed a picture that’s caption described an Israeli police officer standing over a beaten Palestinian youth. In reality, the youth was a Jewish boy from Chicago who had just been mugged. He was running to the police officer for protection.
“Nobody in news media questioned the storyline of Israeli brutality and a Palestinian victim,” Jacoby said.
Jacoby said one factor that contributes to this bias is ignorance. A good journalist is expected to be able to cover a story with no prior knowledge of the situation, Jacoby said. Too often, these inexperienced reporters “get bamboozled.”
“If they go in with ignorance, very often they will get the story wrong,” he said.
An over-emphasis on Israel in the news is another factor in coverage bias, he said. Many reporters are based in Jerusalem because Israel defends the right to a free press. Thus, more investigative stories about Israel are produced because there is no fear of the government harming reporters.
“Where journalists are concentrated, coverage tends to be negative,” he said.
April 2, 2008 | 12:14 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
You’ve probably noticed that publishing has been a bit less frequent at The God Blog the past two weeks. That’s because I’ve been having a lot of problems with Blogger. Fortunately, The Jewish Journal is a few weeks away, I’m told, from launching a new Website, complete with a much, much, much—much—friendlier blogging platform.
The new site should go live right around the beginning of the NBA playoffs. Speaking of which, there is a dogfight in the West for that final playoff spot, pitting my man B. Diddy and his Warriors against the Mavericks and Allen Iverson’s Nuggets. The few degrees of separation gives me a great excuse to embed this video of my favorite press conference of all time.
April 1, 2008 | 2:20 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
The phenomenon the three young batters faced, and about whom only Reynolds, Stottlemyre and a few members of the Mets’ front office know, is a 28-year-old, somewhat eccentric mystic named Hayden (Sidd) Finch. He may well change the course of baseball history. On St. Patrick’s Day, to make sure they were not all victims of a crazy hallucination, the Mets brought in a radar gun to measure the speed of Finch’s fastball. The model used was a JUGS Supergun II. It looks like a black space gun with a big snout, weighs about five pounds and is usually pointed at the pitcher from behind the catcher. A glass plate in the back of the gun shows the pitch’s velocityâaccurate, so the manufacturer claims, to within plus or minus 1 mph. The figure at the top of the gauge is 200 mph. The fastest projectile ever measured by the JUGS (which is named after the oldtimer’s descriptiveâthe “jug-handled” curveball) was a Roscoe Tanner serve that registered 153 mph. The highest number that the JUGS had ever turned for a baseball was 103 mph, which it did, curiously, twice on one day, July 11, at the 1978 All-Star game when both Goose Gossage and Nolan Ryan threw the ball at that speed. On March 17, the gun was handled by Stottlemyre. He heard the pop of the ball in Reynolds’s mitt and the little squeak of pain from the catcher. Then the astonishing figure 168 appeared on the glass plate. Stottlemyre remembers whistling in amazement, and then he heard Reynolds say, “Don’t tell me, Mel, I don’t want to know….”
Finch was almost surely a disciple of Tibet’s great poet-saint Lama Milaraspa, who was born in the 11th century and died in the shadow of Mount Everest. Burns told them that Milaraspa was a great yogi who could manifest an astonishing phenomenon: He could produce “internal heat,” which allowed him to survive snowstorms and intense cold, wearing only a thin robe of white cotton. Finch does something similarâan apparent deflection of the huge forces of the universe into throwing a baseball with bewildering accuracy and speed through the process of siddhi, namely the yogic mastery of mind-body. He mentioned that The Book of Changes, the I Ching, suggests that all acts (even throwing a baseball) are connected with the highest spiritual yearnings. Utilizing the Tantric principle of body and mind, Finch has decided to pitch baseballsâat least for a while.
So why have you never heard of the young pitcher the New York Mets kept secret two decades ago? Because Finch was an April Fool’s joke in grand fashion, complete with a massive profile in Sports Illustrated written by the legendary George Plimpton. Maybe you remember this, but I was a bit young.
The subhead of the article read: “He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga â and his future in baseball.” The first letters of these words (through “yoga”) spell out “Happy April Fools Day.” Despite this clue and the obvious absurdity of the article, many people believed Finch actually existed. The magazine printed a much smaller article in the following April 8 issue announcing Finch’s retirement. It then announced it was a hoax on April 15.
April 1, 2008 | 1:11 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is said to be the only unforgivable sin. I’ve never understood exactly what that looks like, or met anyone who could explain it to me, but I’m fairly certain that if you were the unfortunate, you wouldn’t pay the price until death.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for those who blaspheme Islam in the Muslim world. Just ask Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, the 23-year-old Afghan journalist, sentenced to death for his words, of which the exact nature I can’t find online. He’s appealing, and Reporters Without Borders said he caught a break yesterday when his case was moved to Kabul.
“His request for transfer to Kabul has finally succeeded, allowing Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh to be separated from other detainees in the vast Pul-i-Charki jail, in the east of the capital. His transfer to Kabul has given rise to hopes that his appeal will not be influenced by religious fundamentalists, as was the case when he was sentenced to death for âblasphemyâ by a court in Mazar-i-Sharif, on 22 January 2008.â
April 1, 2008 | 10:55 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Jonah Goldberg, who I have been prudent enough to never quote here, watched that anti-Islam film I mentioned Friday, “Fitna,” and found himself fixated on fish. He, who in most other cases is very close to crazy in his logic, explains:
During a 1991 visit to Istanbul, a buddy and I found ourselves in a small restaurant drinking, dancing and singing with a bunch of middle-class Turkish businessmen, mostly shop owners. It was a hilariously joyful evening, even though they spoke nearly no English and we spoke considerably less Turkish.
At the end of the night, after imbibing unquantifiable quantities of raki, an ouzo-like Turkish liquor, one of the men came up to me and gave me a worn-out business card. On the back, he’d scribbled an image. It was little more than a curlicue, but he seemed intent on showing it to me (and nobody else). It was, I realized, a Jesus fish.
It was an eye-opening moment for me, though obviously trivial compared with the experiences of others. Here in this cosmopolitan and self-styled European city, this fellow felt the need to surreptitiously clue me in that he was a Christian just like me (or so he thought).
Traditionally, the fish pictogram conjures the miracle of the loaves and fishes as well as the Greek word IXOYE, which not only means fish but serves as an acronym, in Greek, for “Jesus Christ the Son of God [Is] Savior.” Christians persecuted by the Romans used to draw the Jesus fish in the dirt with a stick or a finger as a way to tip off fellow Christians that they weren’t alone.
In America, the easiest place to find this ancient symbol is on the back of cars. Recently, however, it seems as if Jesus fish have become outnumbered by Darwin fish. No doubt you’ve seen these too. The fish symbol is “updated” with little feet coming off the bottom, and “IXOYE” or “Jesus” is replaced with either “Darwin” or “Evolve.”
I find Darwin fish offensive. First, there’s the smugness. The undeniable message: Those Jesus fish people are less evolved, less sophisticated than we Darwin fishers.
The hypocrisy is even more glaring. Darwin fish are often stuck next to bumper stickers promoting tolerance or admonishing random motorists that “hate is not a family value.” But the whole point of the Darwin fish is intolerance; similar mockery of a cherished symbol would rightly be condemned as bigoted if aimed at blacks or women or, yes, Muslims.
As Christopher Caldwell once observed in the Weekly Standard, Darwin fish flout the agreed-on etiquette of identity politics. “Namely: It’s acceptable to assert identity and abhorrent to attack it. A plaque with ‘Shalom’ written inside a Star of David would hardly attract notice; a plaque with ‘Usury’ written inside the same symbol would be an outrage.”
But the most annoying aspect of the Darwin fish is the false bravado it represents. It’s a courageous pose without consequence. Like so much other Christian-baiting in American popular culture, sporting your Darwin fish is a way to speak truth to power on the cheap.
Whatever the faults of “Fitna,” it ain’t no Darwin fish.