Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Power of the WORD

23 Oct 2013

This "Lion of Juda" [sic] cart patrols the market in Port Antonio, Jamaica. "Jah Live," yes indeed.

This “Lion of Juda” [sic] higgler’s cart patrols the market in Port Antonio, Jamaica. “Jah Live,” yes, indeed.

“Each is given a bag of tools,

A shapeless mask, and a book of rules”

— The Heptones, “Book of Rules”

When the Heptones slice through the glittery facade of those “clown-addled capers in sawdust rings” that so draw our attention, what they find are the core elements with which each human is equipped: the tools, the mask . . . and that book of rules.

Forget the surface exoticism of Jamaica’s Rastafarians, or the frenzied allure of the island’s traveling sound system Dance Hall slackness. The Heptones are pointing straight at the Bible: the Book of Rules. They may view its pronouncements from a different vantage point than you or me, but there is no question of its power or centrality to the works of Jah. And the power they’re calling forth is the power of the Word.

Check it: “Wordsound is Power,” say the Rastas. “In the beginning was the Word,” starts the Gospel of John, “and the Word was with God. And the Word was God.” Sam Brown, the Rasta poet, says, “To me poetry is the inner voice of God speaking.”

Along Jamaica's North Coast, near Cooper's Pen, this stall holder proclaims "It is not I live, it is Christ by me," as well as "Jah is love."

Along Jamaica’s North Coast, near Cooper’s Pen, this stall holder proclaims “I am save. It’s not I live, it’s Christ by me,” as well as the ubiquitous “Jah is love.”

At the heart of language—and by extension, all communication—is something very powerful. It is the making of worlds; the calling forth of deity; the shaping of the experience of life itself. Words are our access to each other.

Likewise, poverty of language means poverty of imagination and, ultimately, poverty of spirit. Jorge Luis Borges (the Argentine poet, essayist and fabulist), in “The Library of Babel,” describes a world in which there is nothing new to write, in which all that needs to be known has already been catalogued. He says, “the certitude that everything has been written negates us or turns us into phantoms.” It is our knowledge that not everything has been written that keeps us from that fate.

And so the Rastas rework the language: “Oppressor” becomes “downpresser.” (More apt, right?) “System” becomes “shitstem.” The late Peter Tosh called Island Records label head Chris Blackwell “Chris Whitewell,” implying his lack of bona fides. Language is both malleable and meaningful.

In my novel Twice a False Messiah I attempted to transform language in much the same way. Section III (“In the Tombs of the Nobles”) begins with a straight quote from John 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God. That’s what they told us the night in Vienna . . .” The core search throughout the book is for a specific word—the sounding of the True Name of God. Can it be found? And if so, what happens to its power when spoken aloud?

The Psalmist speaks, on Port Antonio's Titchfield Peninsula, set along Jamaica's East Coast.

The Psalmist speaks, on Port Antonio’s Titchfield Peninsula, overlooking Jamaica’s East Coast.

Make no mistake. The power of the Word is not limited to the page, or to the volume of the human voice. Hebrews 4:12 says it well: “For the Word of God is alive and active. It cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the place where life and spirit, joints and marrow, divide. It sifts the purposes and thoughts of the heart.”

In concert with my Rasta bredren I can say: Jah live. Jah love protect us.

Exit Sandman: Mariano Rivera Departs

2 October 2013

October baseball is in the air—but the Yankees are nowhere to be found. Worse yet, we’ll never see Andy Pettitte or Mariano Rivera on the mound again. Half of the legendary Core Four has just ridden off into the sunset, carrying a generation of memories and a few trophy cases worth of World Series hardware.

Rivera walks off the mound at Yankee Stadium for the last time, given the hook by fellow Yankee icons Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter.Losing Pettitte (one of the most clutch pitchers of his era, and the all-time leader in post-season wins) is bad enough. Losing the Greatest Closer Ever means even more. For nearly two decades, Yankee fans have been able to sit back in the late innings and let their stomachs settle when Rivera came out of the bullpen to the strains of “Enter Sandman.” That was the first tune in the set, followed by the slicing hum of his cutter and the sounds of splintering bats. Then the encore—Sinatra singing “New York, New York” as the team gathered around Mo, slapping hands over another victory.

Recalcitrant Red Sox fans might consider the above paragraph hyperbole, but Mo’s entire career reads like fiction. Can anybody really have done all this:

Buster Olney’s research suggests that Rivera broken about 800 bats in the course of his career. (His best retirement gift was the “chair of broken dreams”—made completely of broken bats—given to him by the Minnesota Twins.)

Over 900 times in the regular season, the Yanks turned the lead over to Mo. A full 95% of the time, he held it. 95%! The team’s record in post-season play—filled with pressure, facing the best of the best, spotlight shining bright—when giving the lead to Mariano? 64-4.

Jayson Stark tells us that Rivera has 11 seasons with an ERA under 2.00 and at least 20 saves. No other closer in history has more than 4 such seasons.

Mo’s 652 regular season saves stand as the all-time record. That alone makes him one of the greats. But one of the key features of his career which sets him apart is his work in the post-season, where he towers over everybody else. He pitched over 140 innings (the equivalent of two seasons’ work for a closer) and notched a full 42 saves, with a microscopic 0.70 ERA.

Yes, I can still see him in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, turning and throwing a double play ball into the outfield, which meant ruin for the Yankees, but that was an ultra-rare stumble. Consider: Rivera appeared in 32 post-season series, and faced 527 hitters. He gave up a total of 2 HR, the last in the year 2000. (Fellow closer Byung-Hyun Kim gave up 3 HRs in 24 hours; it can happen fast.) And get this: more men have walked on the moon (12) than scored on Mariano in the post-season (11).

None of this (and we’ve barely scratched the surface of discussing his place in hitters’ memories) is even the most impressive thing about the man, at least to me. Rather it is his composure, his dignity, his empathy for others; all of which translates into his deep and abiding Christian faith. Like Andy Pettitte (the Yankee pitchers are two of the most dedicated Christians in the Show), Mariano lives his spirituality away from the spotlight. It’s there, as an essential part of him, but with no fanfare or glib pronouncements. Just deep, rock-solid faith.

Playing stickball in the streets of Panama, Rivera is a shining beacon for the youth of his country.

Playing stickball in the streets of Panama, Rivera is a shining beacon for the youth of his country.

If you’re a Hall of Fame acolyte, book your Cooperstown lodging now for the summer of 2019. Mariano Rivera will be standing at the podium thanking his teammates—and I predict he’ll be the first player ever to be chosen unanimously.

One of the most memorable moments in Yankee history. Exit Sandman.

One of the most memorable moments in Yankee history. Exit Sandman.