Thursday, September 25, 2008

And Colombia Makes 17

That’s 17 countries where Madonna of the Toast-related stories have originated, a figure that says quite a bit about the human fascination with the image. In the US, 26 states have hosted various visual manifestations of religious and secular icons. From Jesus and the Virgin Mary showing up on an smorgasbord of substrates to the Arabic for Allah in gristle, the Star of David in oatmeal and Elvis and Yogi Bear in all sorts of places, people see forms they want to recognize all over the world for a host of reasons.

I’ve been meaning to tally all of this geographic data for a while, but news of this Colombian Jesus spotting on the shriveled leaf of a plant that needs watering has spurred me into action, and allowed me to rationalize not having a great image to show you, though you can watch a broadcast in Spanish here, which does have footage of the plant in question. This Jesus image hails from the northern city of Riohacha and has apparently brought the faithful out in droves. Local church officials have yet to confirm the sighting but the owner of the plant is convinced it is divine by virtue of how many people have witnessed Jesus on this leaf.

And that’s what so many of these occurrences are about, really: seeing is believing. Some may believe what they see is utter rubbish, delusional. But others see shapes and shadings that they find inspirational, poignant and life-affirming.

No matter where you stand on the issue, it cannot be denied that these events reveal humanity’s intimate connection with the image, which is perhaps the greatest lesson to take away from these stories. Just ask the folks in England, Wales, Poland, Canada, Argentina, Germany, Scotland, India, Italy, New Zealand, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine and, of course, the US (where California, Texas and Florida rule the roost for the greatest number of these stories). These phenomena are inescapable!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Is Toast More Important Than Politics?

Judging by this, some people would clearly prefer to think about toast over politics. Remember how last post I commented about the media’s propensity to sensationalize Jesus images and the US election? Well, it’s not only the media that’s in on it – though doubtless they have inspired the public. Above, a piece of toast currently being auctioned on eBay. Yes, that’s supposed to be Sarah Palin’s face. The seller writes: “You get this piece of toast with the image of Sarah Palin. Miraculous? You be the judge. Not sponsored by any political party.” According to this Reuters article, Palin memorabilia is all the rage on eBay these days.

A fan of this here blog tipped me off about this absurdity via

The current bid on this item is $12,000! How much do you think people would pay for an Obama toast?

UPDATE: It seems that rogue bidders were responsible for raising the price on this item. So, after weeding them out, the toast sold for $31.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chronicle of a Demise

Greetings. It’s been quiet on the Madonna of the Toast front. It would be better for all of us if the media stuck with trying to sensationalize the latest Jesus image, as opposed to how it is attempting to sensationalize more pressing issues, issues that deserve serious and sober reporting and consideration: the election, economy, health care, war(s).

And then, as if some apocalyptic convergence of all the big, scary, impossible ideas that propel those issues – election, economy, health care, war(s) – writer extraordinaire David Foster Wallace hanged himself. You’ve probably heard. If you’ve never read him, you should, a short story or an article. Worthwhile memorials at The Millions and McSweeney’s.

So, I’ve been thinking about writing and writers, America, not that different from normal I suppose, but over the last few days tinged by melancholy. But is has yielded something, after returning to a seldom-read collection of Tennessee Williams stories. There are some true gems, but the story I felt drawn to the other day was “Chronicle of a Demise,” the title an ode to my mood. Guess what? It’s a short story that could have been reported here, a perfect accompaniment to these random, and questionable, eBay objects: Jesus (or an ogre) on a wood panel, Mary on a candle. (Where’s the wick?)

The story’s first person narrator belongs to an Order, which has a Saint who spends her days on a cot, up on the roof of an apartment building. Her charge: she tends to the Order’s articles of faith. They are cataloged in an old Valentine’s Day heart-shaped candy box. The items “were collected at random, in subway stations and under the seats of trains, in gutters and alleys of many different towns, even by theft.” After inspection by the Saint, a new item was either put in the candy box or a “Possible” box. As any regular reader knows, articles of faith can be subjective.

The demise in question is that of the Saint’s and her growing misgivings about the Order’s behavior. The “purple tinfoil” and the “wad of peppermint gum that Hannibal Weems had picked up on the steps of an escalator in Gimbel’s department store” revealed the truth to the Saint: “Matter is not what matters!”

With five simple words, the Saint's epiphany conjoins the two poles of belief – religious devotion and agnosticism – as they come around from opposite directions and become the same. The deeply religious can say it, and believe it, knowing that the divine is all that matters, that this physical, temporal world is but a corridor, a threshold, to something greater, something that is part of the Master Plan. But the overly-educated post-modern cynic can say it, committed to just how unnecessary the day-to-day can be, and view it as the proof of an ontological truth: the impossibility of ultimate or complete knowledge.

I bet it would have been fun to sit with DFW, discussing Tennessee Williams, Jesus stains and the media.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

If Wine Can Be the Blood of Christ . . .

What does that make the grape? Answer: The Virgin Mary.

This past Friday, The Dallas Morning News reported that Becky Ginn of Arlington, Texas, discovered this image of the Virgin Mary on a rotting grape. Ginn, a 24-yeard-old makeup artist and devout Baptist, noticed the image just as she was about to throw out the bunch of grapes, all of them had gone bad.

In the brief article, Ginn comes off as serious about her faith, dubbing the event “pretty ironic.” She says: “I'm all for showing that God sometimes does have a sense of humor.” She is considering selling the grape on eBay, but proceeds will go to her church.

While some have been “energized” by the image on the grape, others have “questioned its authenticity.” Ginn denies having created the image: “I can Photoshop a zit off someone’s face . . . I can’t Photoshop the Virgin Mary onto a grape.”

But can she Photoshop this Virgin Mary image onto someone’s face?