Saturday, December 31, 2005
I resent that notion because it takes a perfectly reasonable proposition, i.e., we are a holistic mechanism, and reduces the complexity of this reality to a smug, New Age motto which goes roughly like this: "If you think the right thoughts, you'll be physically healthy."
The assumption here is that (a) it's even possible to think all the right thoughts, all the time and (b) that it is a sign of advanced spiritual maturity to do so.
I am a Jungian, and respect the deep powers of the unconscious. To try to think all the right thoughts is, in my opinion, nothing but a grand exercise in egotism and control. People who try to think all the right thoughts all the time scare me. By willing themselves to jump immediately from, say, anger or jealousy or fear right to acceptance or compassion, they are not honoring their humanity but controlling it. They are not enlightened. They are tight-clenched control freaks.
Even the greatest teachers of peace and compassion never counsel such discipline. They say, rather (and it's a fine distinction), that we should observe our humanity with compassion, meditate in order to clear our minds of its constant and grievous chatter, and that we should not react out of a base survival instinct but out of our compassionate nature. In other words, we don't eradicate neurotic, typically human reactions but gain the maturity to observe and respect their origins, and to allow a higher, subsequent understanding to inform our actions and responses.
I am speaking mostly from my small store of knowledge of Buddhism here, but it seems to me that Jesus had some pretty snappy, judgmental first responses to people, too, but then inevitably put out his hands for the healing and blessing that was requested. He was far from being the ethereal bliss-ninny he is often depicted as being. When he said, "Your faith has made you well," he was not rewarding "thinking the right thoughts," but, in fact, overcoming the prevalent attitude toward disease in ancient times, which was that affliction is caused by sin as a punishment from God. To me, "your faith has made you well" is a congratulations similar to the one delivered in the beatitudes: "Blessed are those who, despite the ignorant teachings of their culture, know themselves to be deserving of healing and will seek it."
As far as sick thoughts and sick bodies go, it strikes me as appallingly unfair to hold cancer patients (as one example) responsible for their condition. While it may be that a lifetime of resentment and rage and keeping poisonous secrets damage the body's strength and immunity, to fail to factor in environmental toxins and genetic predisposition to such diseases is beyond irresponsible, it is hateful.
That said, I have been dealing with a very painful out-of-wack lower back for a few days now and while I know that the obvious factor is the overloading of my weights two weeks ago (my trainer accidentally loaded an extra 65 lbs. on the lower back circuit weight), I also resonate with an idea I think Wally Nut suggested, which is that lower back problems might flare up when we don't feel supported.
Sure there are other factors: bad muscle tone and overweightness, too many hours sitting at the computer, flinging around of 20-lb. kitty litter canisters, hefting full laundry baskets up the stairs in bad form, and having a 1.5 hour work-out without stretching or warming up first. But the timing of such a thing is unmistakably emotionally-connected, too.
As a result, I'm not at all trying to think the right thoughts, but to move slowly through the days as actively as possible, seeking support where I need it, assuming I'll be perfectly fine in a matter of days, and above all, holding myself and my creaky self with compassion rather than blame.
Friday, December 30, 2005
I heart Sweden.
(thanks to Mikey H. for the link)
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Just a Cheap Laugh
"Wilie Wonka" Review
In my opinion, this is the biggest Hollywood failure in a long time, and Johnny Depp's performance is as bad as any I've ever seen. It's amazing he still has a career. I mean, I love the guy and I love his gutsy choices, but his performance is just obnoxious, inconsistent and pointlessly eccentric. His face never ceases to be beautiful to watch, but all of his line readings seem to be designed as a private joke between himself and his director.
The device of using one digitally multiplied Oompa Loompa to represent minions is more insulting than director Tim Burton intended. Perhaps if he had not chosen an Indian actor to play the obsequious, ubiquitous little servants, I would have been less uncomfortable. As it is, though, with the strong British presence (Charlie Bucket and his family, the imperious Veruca Salt, the unseen narrator, Willie Wonka's father), I couldn't help but see the Oompa Loompa as a symbol of colonization and slavery. I hated the stupid Bollywood dance numbers, which are sure to date the movie in a way that I'm sure Tim Burton will regret in very short order. One of the saddest things about this film, in fact, is how much of it is so squarely located in the early 21st century, especially the jarringly "hip" expressions used by Wonka's character. Contrast that with the timeless appeal of the original, which is going to be just as fresh for my nephews as it was for me, despite the lack of CGI effects.
This film seems to represent everything wrong with our society today: unnecessarily over-technologized, soulless, jejeune, and substituting treacly sentimentalism for warmth and whining self-indulgence for undertanding. The character of Willie Wonka -- so wonderfully and charismatically incarnated by Gene Wilder in the original -- has gone from a wise madman with an industry and personal legacy to protect, to a spaced-out wackjob who just needs his daddy's love in order to keep making great candy. I couldn't have been left colder by Depp's choices.
It's the perfect film for the Bush era: the tale of a son whose abusive father doesn't approve of him -- so he leaves home in a huff of rebellious rejection, builds an empire (apparently by the servitude of an oppressed underclass) and eventually lets bratty children destroy themselves under his watch, all tranq'd out on sugar, repressed hostility and ego. Note the difference between the line of dialogue in the original:"I was waiting for a child I could trust" and in the re-make: "I was looking for the least rotten child." Times sure have changed since 1970.
I know you'll think I'm over-analyzing but you have to understand that my lower back is in agony and that's what happens.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
King Kong Question
And can anyone explain the meaning of the whole King Kong thing to me? I mean, the love story part? Before I waste nine bucks and 3 hours of my time?
I'm hooked on magazines.
I noticed this year that, aside from working out, the most effective anti-anxiety drug for me is the consumption of magazines. Celebrity gossip rags. Beauty rags. Shopping rags. Martha Stewart's Living. Cooking magazines. At three and four bucks a pop, this is an expensive little addiction, so I've started subscribing. Trouble is, I can't stop. I've got a subscription to Martha Stewart's Living. And Williams-Sonoma signed me up for Food & Wine as a gift for making a purchase of over $75. I got Real Simple (because it came with a free gift subscription I gave to my sister-in-law) and then I just signed on for Self (as a reward to myself for working out three times a week since September). And since they were pimping Lucky, the shopping magazine (and a guilty pleasure I hide like porn), I got that too.
Then there's Entertainment Weekly, which is like heroin on paper. I gotta have it all, and I gotta have it right away. I've subscribed for years. Blame Mother of PeaceBang who started me off about five years ago with the comment, "You need to read more garbage and relax." It was the same sweet reason she used for gifting me with a television when I graduated from Div School.
Magazines help me get out of idea brain and into visual brain. They help me get through 30 minutes on the Stairmaster. They're the adult equivalent of Snack Time in kindergarten. I recycle them by bringing them to the club or the manicurists or the salon. So I shouldn't feel too guilty, right? Because I read enough other important and deep stuff, right?
"Hello, my name is PeaceBang and I'm a magazine addict."
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
So have at it, PeaceBangers. Weigh in. What kind of sermons would you like to hear preached? And what readings and hymns would go with that sermon? What sermons have you preached lately that were particularly meaningful for you?
I'm preaching on a series on "spiritual stumbling blocks" this winter, including the Fool archetype, jealousy (Cain and Abel, among others) and the problem of not being judgmental enough (ie, discerning).
I want to preach two sermons on on madness, enchantment, religion and psychology (using scenes from "Equus", and the young adult novel "Is That You, Miss Blue?"). And the Mother's Day's sermon may take a look at mothers in prison, a growing phenomenon in our country today.
I will preach about Tookie Williams and the death penalty, and the power of faithful outrage and indignation for Martin Luther King Sunday.
I'm sure that the trip to Spain will inform some nascent sermon ideas on art as an unintentional form of social protest ("Guernica") and on heaven and hell ("The Garden of Earthly Delights"). I'd like to learn more about the brief era in Spain when Christians, Jews and Muslims co-existed peacefully together, as I'm sure there's a sermon in there.
Waitstill and Martha Sharp, Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem, will no doubt be the subject of our Flower Communion Sunday, which I will try to coordinate with Yom Hashoah.
And the rest is... grace, the Holy Spirit and the Muse.
Ministers as Public Theologians
His movie reviews are fun, but I'd like to call your attention to his response to a conversation we're having in the comments section over at Philocrites.
In the original conversation, Philocrites posted about the Commission on Appraisal's study of theological unity within Unitarian Universalism, which led to a wider discussion of who might be able to, or called to, or empowered to, articulate such a unity. Should it be the staff at 25 Beacon Street leading the charge? The seminaries? Currently active ministers? Laymen and women?
And who finances such an effort? I know from personal experience that a $60K debt from my M.Div. leaves a Ph.D or Th.D impossible to pursue, unless I manage to hook some really rich guy who wants to support me and pay back the U.S. Dept. of Education while I study.
I'm not even sure I'd be able to quit the parish even if that happened -- I love it too much. And shouldn't a theologian be firmly located within the community of faith? IMHO, we don't need more academic theologians. We need living theology, worked out and tested against the realities of the church.
So you all know what I'm doing: I'm going at snail's pace for a D.Min., a much lighter-weight degree that will be earned in painful inches over late nights and early mornings between other ministerial duties. I hope to be able to make some small contribution to a richer Unitarian Universalist life through my doctoral project, but I certainly don't expect to add anything original or brilliant to the theological conversation.
In the comment section over at Philocrites, Fausto snottily charges that although our current crop of ministers are "wonderful and compassionate people," (talk about damning praise!) he doubts that our theological talent is wide or deep. From the sound of it, we're good at holding hands in the hospital and going to rallies, but our preaching is theologically vapid.
I had a few things to say about that, which you can read here:
But really. Not only is this assessment bone-headed because of its broad and unkind generalization (I immediately wondered how many sermons Fausto could possibly have heard or even read by a great sampling of our ministers), it shows a remarkable lack of acquaintance with the expectations placed on ministers which actively interfere with their ability to act as serious theologians.
I know dozens and dozens of ministers who have so much more theological erudition than is ever revealed in their sermons, or in their conversation. Whether Unitarian Universalist or other, I can say for sure that the ministers of my acquaintance barely dare reveal how much they know, how much they understand, how deeply they resonate with particular theological concepts, how hard they've thought about it, how much they think about it, and where they specifically locate themselves within their various traditions. Again and again, ministers find that to do so opens them to risks of accusation that they are elitist, that they are just showing off their "book larnin'," and that all this deep thinking is of no use to the everyday arts of ministry. So most ministers I know find two or three laymen or women they know also treasure theological rumination and go deeply into such exploration with them or with colleagues, while otherwise hiding their theological lights under the bushel of professional survival.
I doubt that this is true for rabbis, which may be exactly why Judaism manages to survive despite the world's ardent efforts to violently eradicate it, and Jews themselves.
Monday, December 26, 2005
Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal play Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, two cowboys who meet working for a sheep rancher in 1963 and fall in love. What begins as easy companionship and unspoken attraction leads to a consummation that is infused with as much mutual accusation, anger and violence as it is lust. It is as honest a sex scene as you'll ever see, and I was amazed that there was not one snicker in the movie house throughout.
Aside from the marvelous acting and the gorgeous scenery (and SHEEP! lots of SHEEP!), the story is just a simple, quietly harrowing gem.
Above all, it struck me that this is a story about everyone's life that you know, not just about these two characters. To me, Jack and Ennis's secret suffering, the pain they inflicted on themselves and their families, and the poverty of spirit they endured because of their predicament, all spoke of the ordinary ways men and women make sacrifices with terrible consequences to their entire lives. It spoke of the ways we don't see those consequences unfolding until its too late, and too many years have passed.
So as tragic as this film was, its briliance, for me, was its ability to transcend the "tormented gay love story" genre and to speak to the human condition. I credit director Ang Lee for telling the story in such a way that I was able not only to grieve for Ennis and Jack, but for all the characters, and by extension, all of us.
I came away from "Brokeback Mountain" with fresh appreciation for my denomination's work for gay rights and marriage equality. It is a totally unpolitical movie that nevertheless dramatically illustrates the truth that when people are not permitted to love freely, the subsequent suffering extends into families and communities.
Look for an Oscar nom for Heath Ledger, who gives an absolutely amazing performance. I would count Ennis Del Mar among the most real, memorable and loveable characters I have ever met on film.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
PeaceBang Turns One Today, Dec. 26th!
I had no idea what a blog was until Rebecca told me about hers, which she began on Blogspot.com as a way of keeping friends in touch with her baby (then known as Baby Sparkle, as she wasn't yet born).
We were out for ice cream following dinner, and as pal Steve and I were waiting in line I said to the cashier, "He's paying." Steve, ever swift on the uptake, said, "PeaceBang!" I repeated, as to a dunce, "HE'S PAYING," and he repeated, ever more cheerily, "PEACEBANG!"
"WHAT are you talking about?" I asked him. "I thought that's what you were saying!" he responded. I said, "No, you big blonde fool! You. are. paying. He's Paying. Get it? Get out your wallet. And what's PeaceBang, anyway?" "I don't know," he said. "I thought it was some kind of toast, like you would clink your glasses together and say 'PeaceBang!'"
We both had a huge laugh, I got a free ice cream cone and a great name for my blog, and Rebecca got a great new baby, so everyone made out very well in the end.
Thanks for reading, PeaceBangers.
Merry Christmas, PeaceBangers
In 1996, I was in my seminary internship and had Christmas Eve duties at church that prevented me from going home to Mom's for Christmas. By now, Christmas alone has become a regular thing, not nearly as painful and often quite enjoyable. But in that first year, I knew I would be in an awful way if I did not try to do something radically different; something that let my heart and my head know that the old traditions were over, I had a new role to play in the world, and I was giving my Christmases to the Lord, not to Lord & Taylor.
So I went on a silent retreat at a Cistercian Abbey in western Massachusetts.
Before I left, I got a package from home. In it, Mom included a letter from Santa that she said he had sent along early. It was rolled into a scroll and tied with a red ribbon. When I saw the curlicue writing, my eyes filled with tears. It said:
My Dear [PeaceBang],
It is becoming far too difficult to fill your Christmas Stocking, for you already are Blessed with your own rare natural gifts: intelligence, charm, wit, fortitude, determination, talent, loyalty, to name a very few.
Your spirit shines as bright as the Christmas Star, reaching out to those near and dear to you, and soon its rays will warm and nourish and heal many, many more of those who will need your strength and wisdom. I can only fill Stockings, so I need you to fill Hearts.
That is why I implore you to stay healthy, listen to your body and respect its demands.
You continue to be a fine young woman I continue to praise to the Mrs. and my Staff. We have watched you graduate from little [P.B.] to the proud [PeaceBang] that you wear so well.
May God, the Goddesses, the Earth's winds, the Loving Spirits of the Waters, Earth, Sky and Beyond, ever protect and cradle you from all Harm.
I am sending you my love,
This Christmas I wish you all the gift of love: love that pays attention, love that encourages, love that goads, love that understands, love that cradles, love that blesses you with all the strength you need to meet all the challenges of this life.
"Love one another as I have loved you."
Merry Christmas. Peace on Earth.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Monday, December 19, 2005
whattya say, old friend,
are you okay, old friend,
are we or aren't we unique?
New friends pour
through the revolving door
maybe there's one that's more
maybe there's one that will do
but us old friend
what's to discuss, old friend
Here's to us,
Who's like us?
-- Stephen Sondheim, "Old Friend" from Merrily We Roll Along
Jud and I met in the first grade and fell in love. He was my best friend and romantic interest from first through sixth grade, and gave me my first maple-syrup tasting kiss in fifth grade, standing in the street on under the dogwoods. When he tried to put his tongue in my mouth I thought that was the most perverted thing anyone had ever thought of and figured it was just Jud's own unique invention.
He went off to private school in 7th grade and we kept in sporadic, torturous touch over the next six or seven years.
I tracked him down about 7 or 8 years ago when I lived in Maryland and we had long, crazy phone conversations, and then we stopped talking again for a few years.
He just called from Florida and we talked for about an hour. He's still nuts, he still remembers far too many details of things I've said and done, and he still feels like someone I can trust with my soul. And he's just as emphatically single as I am. We figure we should have married back when we were six and we'd be a comfortable old couple by now, and not so sot in our ways that we're probably unfit for cohabitation with anyone ever again.
I'm so glad he called. Now I don't have to have bad dreams anymore where I can't find Jud and wander around crying. I don't like not knowing where he is. I always have to know where Jud is in the world.
"Once Upon A Mattress"
Speaking of which, the 2005 version of "Mattress" that aired last night on ABC, was a big Disney disappointment. The cast did their best (Zooey Deschanel was just miscast) but the director, although accomplished on Broadway, had no idea how to make the piece funny or charming.
Carol Burnett, so wonderfully Grand Guignol as the dastardly Miss Hannigan in the film version of "Annie," looked hilarious in big Bob Mackie costumes but was directed to be so subdued that it killed all the humor of her role, or most of it. Tommy Smothers, as the silent king Sextimus, was also misdirected -- especially in the final moment of the show during the reversal of the curse. In the show he's a devoted skirt-chaser and clown; in this version, just a pleasant, mild-mannered mute. Not funny, and what a waste of the great Smothers!
Other important secondary roles were cut to bits, and Tracy Ullman, doing her frenetic best to make Winnifred the Woebegon into a loveable madcap heroine, was just okay.
The evening was not at all a waste, though, as I got to sit up with one of my oldest and best pals in the world and wrap Christmas and Hanukah gifts. That was very much fun, and hard to believe, since it seems only yesterday that we were buying each other Lip Smackers and starter stud earrings for Christmas.
I went into gales of laughter remembering some of the faces the year we forgot to snip out the third verse of "Joy To The World:"
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found!
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Random Advent Musings
During coffee hour I sat with some kids and was gravely informed that "Santa Claus has bad knees so you can't sit on his lap," which made me snarf into my sleeve. Santa is one of our big wonderful church men who sings in the choir and is involved in everything. He dresses up in the full Santa regalia every year and he looks REALLY LIKE SANTA.
Then one of my tots came up to show me the beautiful decorative boxes Santa was passing out (I got one too -- swanky cloisinee dealies) and we talked for awhile about what we might put in the box. Maybe a very tiny teddy bear? Maybe our piggy toe, if we were brave enough to bite it off? Maybe one piece of secret candy? I suggested a worm. Erdine, the 91 year old sitting next to me, nodded in agreement and said, "A worm is always good." We winked at each other. She's a beautiful shining gem of an elder.
Then the three-year old sang "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" to me, and I thought back to when he was just a growing pod in his mama's belly, and how he squirmed the day I dedicated him. He remembered every word of the song and sang it to me very earnestly, maintaining eye contact the whole time, and on key. I said to him, "That was so great. That's just my favorite." I resisted the temptation to steal him and take him home.
One of my parishioners gave me a bright red lipstick. What a great gift. I always admire hers and ask her where she gets it and she went out and GOT ME SOME. It's an obscure make called "Niko" and the shade is "Vibe Red" and I don't think that could be any more cool.
Tonight I'm going to Mel's house to watch "Once Upon a Mattress" starring Carol Burnett. She and I were the stars of the 6th grade play -- she played Winifred the Woebegone (Tracy Ullman) and I played Carol Burnett's role, Queen Agravaine. The fun part will be watching it with her 4 year old daughter.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
There's a bloody long debate about its accuracies and so on over at IMDB.com:
I thought the film was okay, with a few bits of embarrassing nonsense like the Hollywoodized, boy-meets-girlization of what was really the fairly unsexy, monk-meets-nun relationship of Martin Luther and his wife, Katie.
Ialso couldn't help but smirk at the film's suggestion that them German peasants were just dying to get their hands on a Bible written in their own language!
They were? Even when the vast majority of them were illiterate?
But you must see Sir Peter Ustinov chew the scenery as Frederic the Wise. His lips are the most memorable part of the whole production.
I thought it was a little bit sad that poor Martin Luther had to start the whole Reformation without ever having anything to eat or drink. From the looks of it, all he did was pray, talk, and write the Bible in German. Sometimes rode a horse. Never once allowed liquid or solid refreshment to pass his lips.
Not one wienerschnitzel. Poor guy.
Friday, December 16, 2005
Liturgy As Politics
He's cute, no?
"We try to 'read' the liturgy for symbols and meanings that we take out and apply in the 'real world' -- the offering means we should give of our wealth, the kiss of peace means we should seek peace in international relations, and so on. This is fine, but it doesn't address the liturgy as an action that forms the body of Christ."
"The church is more than just a Moose Lodge for Christians. The church is a social space in its own right, an enactment of the politics of Jesus. This does not mean that the church should become a political party or interject party politics into the liturgy. It means the church should help create -- in collaboration with non-Christians, too -- spaces of peace, charity, and just economic exchange."
"The modern nation-state is founded on violence. If the church is going to resist violence, it has to emerge from its privatization and have a political voice, one that seeks not to regain state power but to speak truthfully about it."
You have to get this article for what he says about the myths of religious violence... let me quote at length here:
"I worry, however, about the way that the great myth of religious violence serves to justify certain kinds of violence: 'Those people over there are crazy religious fanatics; their violence is irrational, absolutist and divisive. We live in a democratic, secular state; our violence is rational, modest and unitive. They have not learned the lesson we learned: religion should be kept out of the public sphere. So we need to help them by bombing them into the higher rationality.' This way of thinking is, I think, one of the subtexts of the Iraq war...
This myth helps us to think of ourselves as the most peace-loving nation on earth at the same time that our military budget exceeds those of all other nations combined. Our violence doesn't count as violence, because we are just trying to spread democracy, rationality, and peace."
Look for it online at ChristianCentury.org in a week or so. I can't promise it will be up there, but he has a book Theopolitical Imagination: Discovering the Liturgy As A Political Act In An Age of Global Consumerism (T.& T.Clarke).
Feel free to get it for me for Christmas.
A Great Line For My Fellow Crankies
"You're Not Okay, and I'm Not Okay With You" as an amendment. And we cracked up.
I Accidentally Stood Up Christopher Kimball
It's the saddest thing ever! I thought I was going to an America's Test Kitchen event at Brookline Booksmith, because they always send me Event Notice e-mails, but it turns out that the event was at the ACTUAL AMERICA's TEST KITCHEN in Brookline. I went to the wrong place. Worse yet, I met my date at the wrong place.
I am a big frowny face about missing Christopher Kimball. But I did go on a date, so that was one new year's resolution accomplished, and just in the nick of time! Only 15 or so days to spare!
Meanwhile, I caught this pic of Kelly Osbourne on gofugyourself.com and wondered if anyone would mind if I used it as a professional headshot:
I just thought that would be kind of funny. I used to wear piles of make-up like that, when I was about 15 and the theatre-vampire look was all the rage. If I slapped on bunch of pancake make-up and blood red lipstick, she could definitely pass for my demon spawn.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I was just asked by the local Methodist church to lead their Ash Wednesday service.
The reason I think that's so cool is that first of all, it's a tiny town here and I'm friends with their pastor and I love that they went across denominational borders to make this invitation. I have spent the past three Ash Wednesdays worshiping with them, which makes it even more of a kind of fellowship experience. I'm shocked that they think a Unitarian Universalist is worthy to do this for them. And I'm grateful. We tried to plan a pulpit swap with the UCC church and one of their pastors (the other one is a delightful, non-sectarian person) had a problem with it, because my folks are just too heathenish. I was fit to be tied, and I don't mean in fun way.
Secondly, I've never presided over an Ash Wednesday service and I look forward to the stress of it. I like that kind of stress; it forces me to study a lot, and to learn.
But most of all, it's just so neighborly and possibly a little bit scandalous, and as I said, that just rocks.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
The News of the Year In Religion
I am going to focus on the hurricanes and on Tookie Williams.
I turned on the television this morning to see if he had been executed and when I saw his face, I immediately felt sick. I have many mixed feelings about the death penalty -- I WANT to be totally against it on principle -- but in this case, I just felt in a very visceral sense that I didn't want to participate in pumping this man full of poison. That's all.
I'll work it out for the sermon. Meanwhile, what do you think merits the Story of the Year in Religion?
Monday, December 12, 2005
To Read The Impossible Book
I had only heard that this was the greatest novel ever written and based my expectations on that. I was so excited to start it this past summer.
It was slow going at first. My expectations were crushed immediately. Having been raised on the Broadway show version, I expected a sweetly insane protaganist, a loveable knight errant. But Cervantes didn't write that. He wrote a violent, deluded buffoon. It was hard to stay with it, but I stayed out of affection for Sancho Panza. I figured if Sancho could stay by Don Quixote's side, so could I.
Because I am studying the history and character of Spain now, the light is beginning to dawn. The Spanish are a hot, rebellious people. All their heroes are flouters of authority -- from Teresa of Avila to El Cid, they smack propriety in the face. And I love it. I am starting... slooooowly... to love the Knight of the Woeful Countenance himself. I am starting to get that he is more Charlie Chaplin than King Arthur.
Ya'll, can you IMAGINE reading Don Quixote on line!!??? Here, if you feel like ruining your eyes and spending the rest of your life scrolling. Be my guest.
I think it's time to take Don Quixote out of the car (it was my beach book) and into the house, into the reading room. Maybe I'll even take it to bed; the place of highest honor for books in the House of PeaceBang.
I'm reading Mary Lee Settle's book Spanish Recognitions right now in preparation for my trip to Spain, and following some of that great country's history of religious persecution (they were the pros, boy) and the cruelties of their 20th century Civil War.
This steady encounter with the history of persecution(s) leaves me very impatient with the way contemporary Unitarian Universalists cry "persecution!" at the slightest provocation.
Persecution is having your toenails ripped out and your skin flayed for failing to convert to Christianity. Persecution is to be hunted down, raped and murdered for the crime of having brown skin and having lived on the land someone else wants, first. Persecution is being rounded up in the public square and shot for being a member of the wrong political party, or being placed on house arrest for five years for speaking out against fascism at a rally.
You are not being persecuted when the hymns include lyrics that do not resonate with us. We are not being persecuted if our 4th grader's religious education curriculum is Jesus And His Kingdom of Equals, and we don't want anyone in our family to have to think or hear about Jesus. We are not being persecuted if your congregation fails to vote the way we want them to on the budget.
Unitarian Universalists will be so much stronger when we identify more with our freedom than with our terminal uniqueness as individuals, and when we stop making a mockery of the real human crime of persecution by accusing each other of committing it every time someone does something or has an idea that doesn't include us.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
A Heaven Joke
you finish it.
So I Flunked Science And I Need Your Help
In the beginning was the heaven and earth.
In the beginning was the great Turtle.
In the beginning was the first world, and it was red.
These are some phrases from creation myths. If you were writing a creation myth based on Darwin's insights, how would it begin?
In the beginning was the first .....
I'm so afraid of doing this wrong and having every science-brain in the congregation immediately tune me out as being a huge, uneducated moron.
I swear I understand the principles of evolutionary biology. I've been reading. I don't need help with that. I need help telling the beginnings of the story in language a child could understand.
Holy and Unholy Scripture
Having been raised in Unitarian Universalism, and never having belonged to a Scripturally-based tradition, I found myself thinking a lot about this. I know why the Bible (both Old and New Testament readings, and psalms) are included in Christian worship services. I certainly know why the Bible readings are the focus of Jewish worship. I am greatly disappointed by UUism's throwing out of the Bible in worship somewhere along the post-Transcendentalist era, and I do wish I could bring more Bible to my own congregation's worship today.
However, it has never occurred to me that by choosing, say, a poem by Wendell Berry or part of an article by Jim Wallis as readings that I am putting them in the place of Scripture, or elevating them to the status of the Bible. To me, the readings illuminate the theme of the service, and more particularly, help the congregation enter into the longer reflection and teaching moment of the sermon with a bit of context.
I am aware that in choosing those readings I am influencing the way the congregation thinks about the sermon topic, and that's perfectly acceptable to me. I have often felt grateful that I didn't have to contort my sermon around the lectionary readings for that week, although I respect the discipline the lectionary creates.
But Scott makes a great point, which is that preachers are not there to create, ex nihilo, the teachings of the religious tradition (which the choice of non-Scriptural sources might imply to some), but are there to have the religious tradition (represented in this conversation by Holy Scripture) create us.
I think of the readings in the worship service as an opportunity to illustrate for the worshipers that we can read anything in a religously meaningful way. I choose readings not only that provide a color to the sermon I may not be able to provide, but as a way of showing the congregation that we can approach all texts from a spiritual place. It is a way of modeling a religious reading of the world.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Friday Fashion Break
My god. If this is the new neckline, I'm in big trouble.
Meanwhile, Gwen Stefani, you are not Frida Kahlo and you never will be no matter how many enormous flowers you wear in your hair. P.S. Get the right size shoes. I'm tired of looking at your toes hanging out the end of your sandals.
(thanks to the gofugyourself girls for the photos)
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Going Gently Into That Good Night
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
I'll tell you what I told her, which is that it's such a shame that Unitarian Universalism has become identified with such limiting, rejecting mentality as that. Instead of being known as the religious tradition where theologically diverse people can sincerely support one another in community, we've become defined as the perpetually suspicious, pre-offended people. She said to me, "The only time I've ever heard another religious tradition insulted in the UU church was when the minister made a nasty joke about Christians." She said it was so disappointing to her that she almost walked out. I told her that she should have, that it would be good for us as a movement if more people walked out in protest whenever we egregiously violated our own vaunted tolerance and acceptance. I told her that, in my opinion, Unitarian Universalist hypocrisy around tolerance and acceptance was as hurtful to the growth of our movement as the clergy sex scandal was damaging to the Catholic Church. I don't mean to compare the degree of immorality in both cases; my comparison is one of relative impact. I truly believe that for every one person who walks into a Unitarian Universalist congregation on a Sunday morning and feels immediately at home, there are three or four who say to themselves, "Oh, these people were great on paper but in person they're an incredibly close-minded, judgmental crowd."
Let me be clear: our "crimes" of hypocrisy are no more common or reprehensible than the hypocrisies committed by any religious group. The difference with Unitarian Universalism is that we have given ourselves a very high standard to live up to, and aligned our public identity with the very principles of tolerance and acceptance. Therefore, people come to us with very high expectations and are therefore, I think, doubly crushed when they observe that we are no better than anyone else at living up to our own PR.
We're just as fallen as any religious movement. We billed ourselves as the saviors, the reformers, the ones who would purify the church, and we failed. We just don't see it, because the ways we have tunnel vision are so in sync with so much of liberal, secular culture, we have no idea how deeply and regularly we violate our first principle.
I said to my seminarian friend, Look, in most houses of worship, a good number of people have no belief in God or Christ, don't see the value of the rituals, and don't like the lyrics to the hymns. The only difference between Unitarian Universalists and these other groups is that we're honest about those realities and don't attempt to bring everyone together in a conformity of faith. We just hang out in the open with our skepticism and difference and wondering. We make it a point of strength (on our good days, we do). Yet for all our eternal protestations of being something truly different and exotic in the religious landscape, we're incredibly similar to mainstream liberal Protestantism in almost all the important cultural ways. I hope your generation of ministers will help us get over our terminal uniqueness, I told her. And I hope your generation of ministers will help us find a way to truly grow up and grow beyond our blinders. Right now in our history I give us a C- on our report card and the comment, "Unitarian Unviersalism is not living up to his/her potential."
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Saturday, December 03, 2005
O Come Emanuel
(You thought I was going to say spiritual journey, didn't you? Well, I didn't because I made a pact with myself recently that I wasn't going to use the word "journey" or the word "dance" as a metaphor for the struggle for spiritual growth. I'm just tired of 'em both. Overdone to death.)
Miller tells a story that both he and I both suspect might be apocryphal, about a team of Navy SEALS busting through the door to save a group of American hostages, who were so traumatized that they could not trust the men enough to get up and leave with them. It wasn't until one of the Navy SEALS got down on the floor and curled up next to one of the hostages that they got the idea that this was their people, and that they were being rescued. Getting down on the floor and curling up next to them was something the hostages knew their captors would never have done.
Miller makes an analogy between the Navy SEAL and God (talk about strange bedfellows!) getting down next to us in a little curled up ball of compassion and empathy in the form of Jesus. I thought that worked pretty well for me as an Advent reflection, as I spend much of this season thinking about what the world would have been like if Jesus had not been born as he was, and if the ideals he incarnated had remained divine little flecks through the universe as they are now, without a sacred story and religious tradition to enact and remember and worship them again and again.
Would the world be a better, more peaceful place if these godly beings (and this One in particular) did not take on flesh and dwell among us? Without the life of Christ, would the world be a more whole, less divided and frightened, place? Have we failed so miserably to live faithfully to the vision of the Kingdom that Christians past and present have actually, in a hard, cold real sense, made the world less blessed and holy?
If so -- and of course it is something that could never be proved either way -- I hope we will not forget that crazy, locust-eater John, who leads us into the season of Advent with his raging call to repentance and awe, and his reminder of how desperately we need the one who comes to us at Christmas.
Friday, December 02, 2005
I remember those days Mom would say, "Come on, we're going to Meade Park!" and we'd pile into the car and drive over. We always fed the geese and then Mom would swing us on the cool, extra-big swings. She was great at it.
Man, I forgot how much I used to love swinging. It was an extreme sport back then. That and the monkey bars, which were serious because you pretended you were Olga Korbut, and the blisters were monumental.
I'm going to another wine tasting in about an hour or so. I don't know why I'm so interested in wine now. I love reading about it and trying to connect the taste of wine with the florid descriptions of it in the pages of, say, Wine Spectator magazine.
I don't love wine madly, or at least not all the time. The best bottle I ever shared was in Canada, at the home of my friend P's in-laws in Montreal -- an inky, gorgeous red from France that had been given as a gift to the father-in-law, a doctor. It was just a glorious thing, that wine.
Most wine is just fine, that's all. It's okay. I'm not crazy about it. But then you'll get that one bottle that's just heavenly and go off again to understand what makes it so.
I have a hard time considering white wines real WINE. I like them fine with a nice meal and everything, and sometimes they're downright yummy, but to me the sexiness of wine always means reds. I was so disappointed when I bought a Croatian red for Thanksgiving that, when I tasted it, was totally masculine and leathery with side notes of cigar and horse. But when I uncorked it at home it was just a good red. Some of the notes never really appeared. I don't know why.
I can't really explain why cigars and horses are a good thing to taste in your wine, you just have to trust me.
So I'm going to another tasting to learn more and to hang out with other foodies for a warm moment in the midst of this cold, cold night.
P.S. I still loathed "Sideways" and always will: http://peacebang.blogspot.com/2005/02/dumb-and-dumber-go-to-wine-country.html
PeaceBang Pays "Rent"
Well, I finally dipped my toe in the "Rent" cult last night by finally seeing the flick, which friends have said is a faithful representation of the stage show, and in some regards even better.
I thought it was entertaining and sweet, and the performers -- most of whom had starred in the show in New York a decade ago -- were incredibly comfortable in their roles and with each other, and very assured as singers and dancers.
It's a re-telling of "La Boheme," of course, which is why I was greatly disappointed in the New Age White Light ending. When I attend the opera, I expect the diva to die a gorgeous death, dammit, not to pop her eyes open so that she can sing a reprise of her theme song and live for more sweaty romance with her blow-dried man love. I loved the incorporation of "Musetta's Waltz" into Larson's score, although the fact that Musetta is the healthy blonde comedic foil to Mimi's tragic consumptive makes the allusion confusion and artistically a bit sloppy. Mr. Larson died of an aneurysm immediately before the New York premier of "Rent," which makes it a bit hard to argue with him, or to expect revisions of the score for the film version.
It was nice to finally get a sense of why everyone worships Idina Menzel, currently of "Wicked" fame, who truly has monster pipes and a curiously angular bone structure that grants her that "She's-Not-Exactly Pretty-But-I-Can't-Look-Away" allure. I didn't believe in her as a lesbian, nor could I believe that two sets of conservative parents (one white, one African-American) would have thrown their daughters a lavish commitment ceremony at the country club in 1989, but I like Menzel a lot anyway (she has a really nutty peformance art number called "Over the Moon" to get through, which was an interesting failure). I also liked her girlfriend, Joanne, played by Tracie Thoms (and clearly an outsider to the original cast). The gay male relationship between Collins (the swoonable Jesse L. Martin, now of "Law and Order" fame) and Angel was likewise unconvincing to me, even if lovely and tender.
Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel moved me the most - he had the most heart and subtlety, and I was brought to tears by his demise from AIDS.
Adam Pascal, in the leading role of Roger, was so pretty whitey white white boy that I found his uber-soulful crooning just irritating in the end. He has a great voice, but there's no there there. Adam, a hint: when your facial expression remains empty and dissinterested as you screech with passion vocally, it makes us less likely to believe the voice.
Likewise Anthony Rapp as his best friend Mark Cohen couldn't have been more skinny blonde suburban Minnesotan if he tried, and his vehement insistence on living "la vie boheme" just struck me as ludicrous. A striped scarf that never leaves one's neck does not one a Boho make. I could say this of most of the cast, except for Rosario Dawson as Mimi: they were just so darned clean, shiny and well-fed. Everyone's skin was luminous. They looked well-rested, sleek, successful and as though, if you could stand near enough to smell them, they'd smell of Moulton & Brown soaps. *My* struggling artist friends who had AIDs never looked like they had daily facials and lived on an entirely organic diet.
Anyway, Chris Columbus did a nice job directing, even if I thought he used the whole "now everyone will stand to show their solidarity as the music changes keys" device two too many times. The only real clunker of a number, for me, wasn't his fault: it's the signature tune, "La Vie Boheme" which is such an egregious rip-off of "Hair" from (guess!) "Hair" that all a Broadway buff can do is scrub her toe on the movie theatre floor and try to remember that imitation is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery.
If you didn't know that the preppy villain character Benny (Taye Diggs) is married to rebellious bi-girl Maureen (Idina Menzel) in real life, well, now you know.
Should you see "Rent?" Probably only if you're a theatre person, or if you loved it on the stage. I really liked what Ebert had to say about it: