Marc Gellman

Stories by Marc Gellman

  • The Spiritual State: 'Partners'

    Mainly, I name babies. It's good work because there is always a fresh supply of babies and at the age I name them you just can't be disappointed with anything they've done. I also do bar and bat mitzvahs for 13-year-old Jewish kids. I marry brides and grooms when they ask me, and when they are both Jewish. I bury people old and young. Burying the old makes me want to keep my job. Burying the young does not. In my free time I play golf, help raise guide dogs for the blind, mess up my wife Betty's garden and go on TV and radio, usually after some catastrophe, to explain what God was thinking when He made us and our messed-up world. I can do this in two minutes which is why I get asked back a lot with my pal Tom Hartman. TV likes their theology in sound bites. However, my favorite use of my free time is writing stories for children. I have been writing kid stories, mostly stories about stories in the Bible (which are called midrashim in Judaism). I like writing modern midrash for...
  • The Spiritual State: A Perfect Priest

    The monumental pile of words and talk that have followed his death, like dry leaves skittering in the wind, have mostly missed the point. They are words for the death of a pope, and surely he was a pope. But Karol Wojtyla did not take up his vocation to be a pope, he took up his vocation to become a priest. Most of these cascading visual and verbal tributes have focused with the longest lenses on his transformative impact on the history of the world and the history of the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot gainsay any of those encomiums. Pope John Paul II was obviously one of the greatest world leaders of the past quarter century. But to me at least, the greatest achievement of Karol Wojtyla was that he was a perfect priest.Perhaps I feel this way because my best friend is a priest. His name is Tom Hartman. For 18 years we have been the God Squad. It is because of this friendship that I see and feel the death of Pope John Paul II in a different way than most of the commentators,...
  • The Spiritual State: RIP, Easter Bunny

    Palm Beach has become the Wittenberg of America. Now, in its most audacious act of spiritual correctness and mythical animal abuse, the Florida town is nailing the Easter Bunny to the doors of The Gardens mall.The minority attack on the most benign religious symbols in our culture recently crested in the Ten Commandments case now before the Supreme Court, a display which is supported by almost 80 percent of Americans surveyed, according to one poll. Apparently dissatisfied with taking a position that only 80 percent of the public detest, the enlightened owners of The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach County have apparently succeeded in finding a case which will rally 100 percent of Americans against them.They have now hunted down and killed, like a mangy dog ... the Easter bunny! This follows the bah humbug performance during Christmas time in which America's marketing geniuses demanded that their employees say "Season's Greetings" rather than the incendiary and divisive "Merry Christmas."...
  • The Spiritual State: Catching the Moon

    We are forced to face extraordinary moral issues mostly because ordinary people make their lives or deaths inescapable. The civil-rights struggle was always visible; but after the Mississippi murders of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman in the summer of 1964, the struggle was inescapable. Violence against gay people was always visible, but after the death of Matthew Shepherd in October 1998 that violence was inescapable. The moral dilemma of surrogate parenting was made inescapable by the decision of Mary Beth Whitehead in February 1988 not to surrender the child she had been paid to conceive. And now, Terri Schiavo has made inescapable the always-present moral issues of euthanasia--and, in doing so, has wordlessly reminded us that all the big issues are moral and personal and spiritual and ultimately never legal or political.The three facts all parties to the Schiavo case agree are true are that she is alive, she is innocent and she is mute. Everything else is in...
  • The Spiritual State: Pancakes With Real Butter

    Faith is the nitroglycerin of the world. In the right dose it can stop a heart attack, and in the wrong dose it can blow up a world. Recently, in two extraordinary and tragic events we saw the power of faith to kill and to make alive.Two weeks ago, Terry Ratzmann stormed out of his pastor's sermon at the Living Church of God, which meets at the Sheraton Hotel in Brookville, Wis. Last weekend, he returned and, without saying a word, shot and killed the pastor and six other congregants. Then he shot and killed himself. The same day, the killing rampage of Brian Nichols in Atlanta was brought to an end by Ashley Smith, a pious single mother who spent hours talking to him about God. She inspired him with her faith, then she made him pancakes with real butter, and he released her. Later, he surrendered without a fight.The two cases are separated in the papers and on the tube, but they are joined together in my tears and my heart. I spend way too much of my time defending religion from...
  • Spiritual State: The Lessons of Baby 81

    I don't know if in another life 3,000 years ago Judge M.P. Mohaideen was in fact King Solomon, but I was stunned by the similarity of the case he faced to the famous Biblical case brought before Ole King Sol. The differences tell us everything about what has changed in the past three millennia--and what has not changed at all.The solution of King Solomon to the case of the baby claimed by two different women is, of course, legendary and does not require retelling to anyone who ever went to religious school. (OK, if you missed that Sunday, King Solomon ordered that the baby be cut in half, with one half being given to each of the claimants. Then one of the women cried out, "Give the baby to her." King Solomon then ordered that the baby be given to that woman because only a real mother would rather see her child given away than killed.)In the case of a two-month-old baby found in the floating detritus of the Asian tsunami, Judge Mohaideen had a tool King Solomon obviously lacked, DNA...
  • The Spiritual State: 'We Hold These Truths to Be Sacred'

    The Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week about whether public displays of the Ten Commandments violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the American Constitution. I wish Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the amendment, were able to testify from Heaven or Boca Raton, whichever happens to be our appointed destination after death. (I'm betting on Boca.) I think he would have a few things to say.He might teach the court that there are only three ways human rights are accorded to citizens. Either they are the rational construct of people trying to avoid "the war of each against all" in what Rousseau called the "State of Nature." This way sees civil rights as a rational outgrowth of our fear of those who want to hurt us or steal our iPods. Thomas Hobbes stated the view of human nature underlying such theories of the social contract, homo homini lupis: "Each man is the wolf of his neighbor." Freedom in this theory is merely protection from the guy down the street. The...
  • The Spiritual State: Deep Gidget

    The Sandra Dee movies--or if you prefer the Doris Day movies, or if you prefer the Annette Funicello movies--all showed us the American version of a 400-year-old romantic cultural tradition in which sex and love were inextricably linked and then also linked to marriage and then also to procreation. At the heart of this linkage was a fundamental cultural, personal and religious belief that sex was not just another bodily function akin to burping, urinating, passing gas or scratching an itch but rather was something really special (for the secularists) or something sacred (for us religious folk). Sex was not just a way to self-pleasuring sensations but a way to self-transcending love and to an enduring cultural and religious context for that love--which is marriage, which builds society, children and the best parts of ourselves.All these movies told essentially the same story with different blondes (except for Annette). They told tales of young love blossoming into physical attraction...
  • The Spiritual State: Pimp My Faith

    However, I feel the stirrings of the saving radiant pixels of a new age. Who would have thought that the prophets for this generation of spiritually acceptable television would be a hip-hop rapper named Xzibit and an ex-J Crew model named Ty Pennington. I hereby proclaim the Gospel of "Pimp My Ride" and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." What I see in these two shows is a saving radiant glimmer of how television married to compassion (and a blown 450cc short block engine) can produce programs that are both hip and healing, both popular and profound.For those of you who have only just returned from Alpha Centauri and have not yet seen these shows, "Pimp" is on MTV. That in and of itself is astounding because MTV is the Mt. Sinai of the grave-disturbance theory. "Makeover" is on ABC, which in its own act of moral blindness brings us "Desperate Housewives" immediately following "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Anyway, both shows select poor, needy and worthy people, some of whom are...
  • The Spiritual State: Dialing for Dead People

    It all depends how I feel that day about what Harold said at the edge of Miriam's grave. Miriam died after 56 wonderful years of marriage to Harold. During that long time, they had become like one person with two bodies and one heart. Her death killed a big part of him. When I finished the funeral, Harold screamed into the grave, "Honey I'm coming soon!" The question about whether talking to dead people is possible or spiritually desirable depends on how you answer one single question: was Harold talking to Miriam at that grave, or was he just talking to himself? Both answers seem absolutely true to me on different days.So, I cannot resolve this issue of talking to dead people for you. The best I can do is suggest that you try sleeping in a dark basement and listen for voices (and I don't mean the voices of your family telling you to get the heck out of the basement). No, perhaps I can do more than that. I can give you the best spiritual arguments for and against talking to dead...
  • The Spiritual State: O Have You Seen the Mufti Man?

    In the wake of the commemorations last week of the liberation of Auschwitz 60 years ago, I am still trying to shake off the abiding sense of dread that consumes me whenever I think about the Holocaust. These are the lessons I have learned from the kingdom of night.Anything any survivor of the Holocaust says about anything is just fine with me. I know about evil mainly from the evening news and from New York cabbies. Survivors know about evil from seeing babies thrown up into the air and caught on the bayonets of laughing SS guards. Those are not two ways of knowing evil. It is one way--theirs! What they have lived through has broken or forged every single one of them. I will not degrade their wounds by either judging them or arrogantly trying to teach them what it all means. They were blessed to survive but cursed to have seen radical evil up close. Their sacred witness must remain pure. They can say whatever it is they have learned, and I will respectfully remain silent and let...
  • The Spiritual State: Like a Rolling Stone

    Note from Gellman: At the very last minute, I was informed by my all-knowing editor that Rolling Stone magazine has just decided to run the Bible ad that it had previously turned down. I am off to check the relevant sources to see if this qualifies as one of the signs of the coming of the Messiah.There must be room in the culture for people who believe in both God and Aretha Franklin. Right now we are perilously close to a world in which Rolling Stone owns all the good music (and all the bad music) and religion owns all the good ideas (and a few bad ideas). This cannot continue because, to paraphrase Kant, ideas without music are empty, and music without ideas is blind.All this came into focus when Rolling Stone magazine refused to print a Bible ad. The reasoning: that it "violated an unwritten rule against accepting ads containing religious messages." The ad shows a guy against background type claiming that the Bible is "real truth" in a world of "endless media noise and political...
  • The Spiritual State: Harry Windsor and the Prisoners of Ignorance

    Then the real terror hit me. It was a quiet terror I have felt in the presence of American 20-year-olds who are nowhere near to being the third in line to the British throne: Harry and many of the kids I see have no idea what they are doing, because they have no knowledge of history whatsoever. Their parents are better but not by much. It would be comforting in a sinister way to imagine that Harry was making an informed statement of agreement with Nietzsche, Goebbels and Himmler about the natural rights of the natural ruling class of Aryan white people. But the terrifying truth of this silly incident is that Harry probably put on the costume for no deeper reason than that it looked funny and cool. If pressed about its meaning he might have blurted out that it had something to do with some war, but he wasn't really sure beyond that what the whole thing was about.Much is made of our children's insufficient knowledge of science and math. However I believe the greatest casualty of this...
  • The Spiritual State: Catastrophology

    This is a mystery not a problem. The French existentialist (that's two strikes) Gabriel Marcel wrote that there are only two kinds of questions we human beings can ask: problems and mysteries. Problems are questions that have answers even if we don't know the answers now. Mysteries are questions that have no answers and never ever go away. Problems define something in the world. Mysteries define us. What is the cure for cancer and why does anyone care about Ashlee Simpson--these are problems. Why does an innocent mother have to sit on a beach surrounded by her dead babies--that is a mystery, and it will not go away with next week's news cycle. The tsunamis have forced us all to confront again the mystery of suffering. The waves have not only crashed into the coastal towns of 12 countries, they have crashed into the faith of every religion and every sensitive soul who believes that in the universe there is a force of goodness/life/enlightenment/liberation/release that will set right...