The recommended soundtrack for this post is provided by Kiss, “New York Groove“.
I arrived in Newark at 11 PM. I was booked into the Econolodge, and it certainly lived up to that “Econo” bit. The shuttle arrived with the paper letters for “Econolodge” scotch taped in the window of the van. Very professional. The motel was dingy and rundown. And the room had no clock radio. (?) But it did have a grimy, rust-stained shower, and an already opened micro-bottle of shampoo. Nice touch. I guess they were aiming for that homey, lived in feel.
Caught the shuttle into New York in the morning. I think “concrete jungle” was coined for this city. The streets were surprisingly narrow when compared to Toronto, London, Paris, Vancouver or most of the other major cities I’ve spent time in. After an hour we arrived at my hotel, the stately Empire. A block off Broadway, two blocks from Central Park, and a fifteen minute walk from Times Square, it was ideally situated to take in the vibrant surroundings of the city. Newly refurbished, it also looked pretty much like the Dolphin Hotel in the horror suspense film “1408” (which was based on a Stephen King short story).
The Society of Christian Philosophers conference was nearby at Fordham University, but I skipped the first couple sessions so that I could work up a nice sweat walking down to Times Square (it was 70 F that day!) and then come to the conference sessions smelling nice and ripe. Brilliant move, I must say. Anyway, Times Square is impressive, kind of like London’s Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square rolled into one roiling urban sensory overload.
Now on to Fordham where I took in a couple afternoon sessions leading up to N.T. Wright’s “anti-dualism” paper. (For those of you who may not know, Wright is currently among the most eminent New Testament scholars in the world.) The irony is that the paper really wasn’t against dualism at all. It came out that Wright is in fact a dualist in the way that philosophers standardly define the term since he believes a human being continues to survive the demise of their body in an intermediate state prior to resurrection. However, his paper was a salutary warning to theologians and philosophers everywhere that many of the passages standardly cited in the New Testament in favor of dualism do not in fact provide support for the position. (E.g. we cannot assume that psyche = soul.)
Footnote: Although Wright has written somewhere north of sixty books, he is not slowing down. He mentioned at the conference that his own translation of the New Testament is coming out this fall!
Saturday dawned sunny but much cooler than the day before. Regardless, most of the day was spent indoors taking in papers on a range of topics. The two plenary speakers this day were Dean Zimmerman, a stellar metaphysician at Rutgers (not to be confused with the Deepak Chopra type of metaphysician) and Peter van Inwagen. Zimmerman’s paper was a mind-bending exercise explaining how to reconcile materialism qua human persons with bodily survival / immortality / resurrection. Van Inwagen’s paper was an extended critique of Bertrand Russell’s famous (or infamous) teapot argument. Reactions to van Inwagen’s paper were mixed. Van Inwagen is a brilliant philosopher but all this time and effort into attacking an argument which has only marginally more substance than a bumper sticker? That’s like rolling out the bulldozer to clear two inches of snow off your driveway.
After the banquet Dean Zimmerman (who was described at the conference as the “coolest dualist”) suggested we walk over a few blocks to “Christ For All Nations Church”, a gorgeous setting, to catch the last half of a Bill Mallonee concert. Who, you may be wondering, is Bill Mallonee? I was wondering too. It turns out he is a brilliant Christian singer and songwriter who shares my general distate for the milquetoast output of the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) mainstream. His songs are earthy indie/country rock. Anyone who loves Mellencamp’s “Lonesome Jubilee” (a seminal album for me) would really like Bill Mallonee.
Bill’s been recording and touring for over twenty years and his talents have been lauded in such venues as “Rolling Stone” and “Paste” magazines (both solo and with his old band “Vigilantes of Love”). So why are there only about thirty people in this free concert in New York? How much shlock tops out the Billboard charts while brilliant artists are left hawking their CDs in the back of churches on a Saturday night.
The apparent happenstance of so many careers reminds me of the story of little known Canadian band “Sheriff”. They recorded their only album in 1982 and it included the ballad “When I’m with you”. Then they sunk back into obscurity … until a Las Vegas DJ discovered the track in 1989 and started playing it. That single move (Get it? Single move? It’s a pun!) set off a chain of events that led to “When I’m with you” going number 1 in the USA seven years after it was released. I wish a DJ somewhere would play a Mallonee song that might set off a similar chain of events…
Here’s an example of a Mallonee/VOL song, “Goes without Saying“, which was recorded in somebody’s backyard. These days Mallonee is reduced to touring like this, without a backup band, for financial reasons. And he will indeed play your backyard for a modest fee! (Believe me, I’d rather watch a Mallonee show in somebody’s backyard than a Nellie Furtado show on Gadaffi’s yacht.) Even if it ain’t your cup of tea, I hope you can see how much more substance there is here than in most of the bubblegum pop being sold today.
Anyway, that’s it for now. I’ll wrap this autobiographical vanity project up next time and get back to the pressing issues of God, revelation, and the fate of the universe.