Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Five Months From Now, Outside the Whirlwind

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

It's crazy to start thinking about the summer already but of course one must if one doesn't want to get booked into a thousand little commitments that eat time that should be largely devoted to rest and renewal.

Last summer I thought I wasn't making big commitments by agreeing to preach two Sunday services in neighboring churches and an ordination out of town, lead a workshop at a local seminary and take a summer intensive at said seminary. I thought writing one paper wouldn't be a big deal. Yo ho ho.

This year by July 1st I will have buried an uncle, started serious coursework for my D.Min., joined a new music group(we're recording a CD this weekend), traveled to Lousiana, turned 40, organized a concert, traveled to Spain, taught a semester-long seminary course (!), led a GA workshop for my district, and been a full-time parish minister for a vibrant and growing congregation. I tell you, I have said a pleasant "NO THANKS" to every request to teach, preach, preside, and travel this summer. I want to do nothing but visit with friends and family, do serious hammock time, and read.

My housesitter took this photo of the parsonage while I was away. I think to myself, "These are the good years. This is home. Finally."

I deeply believe that every minister serves at the pleasure of the congregation, and sometimes its whim, and should never entirely relax or make assumptions of job security. But for now... for now... I believe I am home.

It may be that I am looking at June/July of 2006 as a time to finally relax the hyper vigilance and extreme productivity of the past five or so years. Why? Because while it may be exciting to live at this pace, it's probably not spiritually healthy. I know this because even as I keep the summer calendar open, I find myself developing slightly manic home improvement obsessions for the summer.

I don't *really* need to re-do the living room. I don't *really* need to do more than my usual slapdash gardening. I don't *really* need to organize all my books alphabetically.

What I *really* need to do is learn how to listen to the early mornings, learn to live with myself outside of the busy, buzzy constant affirmations of the church and seminary beehive, and to confront the silence of my own soul.

It's only February 1st but I'm craving it with all my heart, even knowing how lonesome and hard it will be at times to just stop and step outside the whirlwind.

I am praying tonight for two colleagues who are on sabbatical in India. One went without plan, map or itinerary! Brave or crazy!

Semi-Senior Moment

Before I head to the office, I have to ask all of you if anyone remembers mentioning that they would be coming to Boston and asking me if I was available to get together.
I remember either getting an e-mail or a blog comment to this effect before I went on my trip, and I don't think I replied, but I certainly meant to.
I just have this vague recollection that someone cool from the blogosphere was coming to my area and I missed them, and I never told them I wasn't able to visit with them.

Did I dream this?

Chris Penn Dies

Did you ever have one of those nights when you eat a really-too-big meal and you feel remorse as you lie in bed, thinking of how hard your body must be working to digest all those meatballs and all that pasta? And you really shouldn't have had the tiramisu, and you think "I know I had a good workout today but my heart would be so much better off if I took off some of this lard, but god I love food just so much?"

Well, this story should bother you just as much as it bothered me. And it bothered me *that* much more since Penn and I are the exact same age:


Monday, January 30, 2006

Salut y Forca!

For those of you following the correct pronunciation of the Barcelona toast, it's here:


Because of the origins of the name "PeaceBang," we're very devoted to toasts around here.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

I Wish They Knew How To Quit It

I read the latest issue of Premiere magazine while in Barcelona (a guilty pleasure at 6 euros) and just have to say this:

Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, ya'll can stop giving interviews about how gay you AREN'T since the great, smashing success of "Brokeback Mountain," 'kay?

I mean, did Daniel Day Lewis need to keep giving interviews about how able-bodied he is in real life when "My Left Foot" was released? Did Al Pacino feel the need to constantly re-affirm that he can, in fact, see, when he played a blind man in the acclaimed "Scent of a Woman?" And how about Sissy Spacek? She's not really a coal miner's daughter, but she didn't have to keep reminding interviewers of the fact when she played one in the movies.

Boys, enough is enough. We know ya'll are actors. Actors play humans. Some male humans fall in love with, and like to make out with, other male humans. We know you're not really in true life wild for each other's mojos. You did a great job acting like it, though, which you should have, 'cause that's your job and you get well paid for it.

Ladies, you doth protest too much. To gently misquote one of the finest lines in your film, I wish you knew how to quit it.

Passion Facade

Passion Facade
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

Sculptor Josep M. Subirachs got a lot of flak for his (I think) brilliant work on the Passion Facade of La Sagrada Familia. He felt that it was impossible to try to follow Gaudi's style after Gaudi's death, so why try? What he created is, I think, an amazing and harrowing counterpoint to Gaudi's own Nativity Facade on the other side of the temple.

There is an inscription on one of the bronze doors from the contemporary poet Salvador Espriu's poem, "La pell de brau," which begins,
"Sometimes it is necessary and right
for a man to die for a people.
But a whole people must never die
for a single man:
remember this, Sepharad.
Keep the bridge of dialogue secured
and try to understand and love
the different minds and tongues of all your children.
Let the rain fall drop by drop on the fields
and the air cross the ample fields
like a soft, benevolent hand.
Let Sepharad live forever
in order and in peace, in work,
and in difficult, hard won

(Sephared is Espriu's name for Spain, after the old Sephardic Jewish word)

How could I not love a church with an inscription to tolerance on its own doors?

Sagrada Familia

I've been googling images for the past fifteen minutes and I just don't think there's a photograph of this place that captures the sense of being there. When I looked up from the bus and caught my first glimpse of La Sagrada Familia, I just couldn't catch my believe my eyes, but the photos all make it seem like some kind of tripped out religious version of Cinderella's Castle at Disneyworld. It's not like that at all. It... breathes. It has a pulse.

The Cathedral and the Temple

Cathedral, Seville
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

Now, why is it that this cathedral in Seville should leave me so cold, while La Sagrada Familia Temple in Barcelona should cause me to break out into tears?

As I've said, I felt the spirit of Seville was not a good one. I got my Jewish dander up pretty high while there, and very liberal, muttering to myself about "well financed marauders" as I skirted the enormous, gold tomb of Christopher Columbus.

"Didn't discover anything.

Conquered it, didn't discover it."

Mutter, mutter.

I thought it very humorous that my first efforts to visit the Seville Cathedral took me straight to the Exit sign. "Salida." I also think it's funny that on my first night in Cordoba, I got instantly lost on my way to a recommended restaurant and wound up stumbling about the twisting streets of La Juderia, the site of the old Jewish ghetto.

Yet when I caught my first glance of La Sagrada Familia, I felt it was a work of love, not of conquest. I felt it was the expression of an artistic vision rather than a monument to dominance, a beautifully insane explosion signifying creation itself, not just the Christian story.

If you google La Sagrada Familia, it will point you to all kinds of sites, which I encourage you to peruse. You will learn how Antoni Gaudi was entirely inspired by the natural world in all of his designs. I cannot begin to express to you how this orientation shapes the experience of La Sagrada Familia Temple, and how much of a difference there is in the spirit of a Cathedral --which is financed by compulsory taxes -- and in the spirit of a Temple, which relies on independent gifts and contributions for its construction.

La Sagrada Familia

How often do you actually get to see a temple like this being built? It's apparently going to take at least 25 more years, which gives me a great trip to look forward to in my 60's. I want to see La Sagrada Familia when it's completed. It will be a life goal.

Squirming on Sunday Mornings

ChaliceChick is hosting a really epic conversation about how to fix the UUA over at her blog, and when I'm done with this bout of jet lag I intend to read every posting and every comment, 'cause it's fascinating stuff.

Tonight I just read this little bit about the old "too much politics" issue among us:


I heartily agree that there's too much politics in our worship services, a fact which CSO says keeps him out of church (aside from the fact that he's not a big institutionalist in the first place). And I know that Republicans have often been made to feel unwelcome among us.

But there's something here that no one is saying and it's beginning to smell like an elephant in the living room, and that is that because there's so little understanding of what Unitarian Universalist worship should be among us -- or perhaps so little consensus -- what could (or perhaps should) be a deep encounter with moral issues in our worship services winds up not so much a deep encounter but a partisan tirade. I've talked about this a lot but here it is again, I guess.

UUs aren't the only religious group possessing a glorious and complex theological tradition that gets ignored or trotted out in convenient sound bites during partisan sermons, of course. Conservative Christians cheapen their own theological traditions in the same way, hammering home the same exclusionary messages from their pulpits and propping them up with the same, tired Biblical passages and exegeses of those passages week after week. We could all be doing better.

When Chalice Chick says that we make Republicans feel unwelcome by demonizing their political commitments, I want to say, "yes... but." Yes, but although it's wrong to attack Republicans wholesale, it's not at all wrong for liberal religionists to preach a firm and clear message about justice, God's love, and other issues of ultimate meaning, and to use real life political issues as examples of how those values are or are not being promoted in the public realm. If people wind up squirming on Sunday mornings because their personal political commitments have not squared with the ideals of justice, love and peace taught by our liberal tradition, that's okay. That's not the same as being insulted. That's having your conscience pricked, and it should be happening for all of us all the time in our worship services. It should be happening from the moment we gather and light the chalice and make some communal expression of reconciliation and hope; that return us to the "moment of high resolve," as Howard Thurman so beautifully put it.

As far as the overly-political sermon goes, though, the only way to avoid speaking to issues of social conscience without descending into partisan haranagues is to fearlessly and unapologetically center ourselves in our theological tradition. One of the reasons the average seeker ends up thinking we're not very religious is because our preachers use the NY Times to say what is all there in the pages of the Bible -- in the OT and the NT, baby. Which, of course, I'm not allowed to say. I mean, I love Jonathan Kozol a lot, but it would be so great if I could quote him AND Jesus on occasion. Or how about Maimonedes? Again, I am thinking of the average seeker who would like to have some help getting how this groovy Sunday experience is a religious gathering.

Sure, as a preacher I can find some philosopher or social theorist to back up my claim that pre-emptive war is a moral disgrace, but then George Bush will bring out the big God-guns and fan the flames of hellfire and damnation about infidels, and my argument will seem pretty milquetoast by comparison. I'm a UU, though,* so I'm not allowed to bring on my own hellfire and damnation about how we're all one people under God -- I've got to keep it reasonable and intellectual and non-theistic so as not to seem anything like the crazy uber-conservatives -- so again, I'll be carefully citing some 20th century theorist while my conservative evangelical neighbor down the street gets to use the wildly gripping language of the psalms to give voice to his people's anguish and desire for vengeance and domination.

So the seeker comes to the UU church and although she thinks she doesn't want anything like that old Southern Baptist experience she came from, she just doesn't feel from Annie Dillard and George Lakoff and Amitai Ezioni the same visceral punch she got from the ancient cadences of St. Paul. I wanted a new church that felt as powerful as my old church but for better reasons, she thinks, but I'm definitely not going to find it here.

This isn't to say that UU preachers have to rely on the Bible. But we need more passion, more swing, more cadence, more straight shot can you feel it
gathering storm God is listening life is now are you in it or are you half dead get you in the guts musical don't distance yourself uncross your arms set those feet to marching get those hearts to thumping stop quoting and start witnessing to the divine truth that you know you feel but you so carefully avoid claiming experiences in church.

In case I've been totally incoherent (and I'm very jet lagged, so I probably am), my major point here is that we should all feel stung and confronted and corrected in worship services, not for our politics but for our humanity, and for our many sins of commission and ommission. The whole point of growing a congregation of loving, warm, welcoming, supportive, humorous, compassionate and forbearing people is that we build a spiritual edifice strong enough to contain all that sin and guilt, to look at it wisely and bravely together at least every Sunday, and to hold faith for one another (and in one another)that we are nevertheless good and strong enough to get better at the project of being humans, onward and upward, forward through the ages.

*- as Jeff's comment below reminds me to explain, my "I" in this posting isn't about me, PeaceBang, but a hypothetical "I" UU minister or lay worship leader.

Isn't This Nice

You can check out the nominees for the Second Annual UU Blogs Awards Contest here:


Will there be a red carpet walk? Will I be accosted by Star Jones or Joan Rivers and her harpyesque daughter?

How fun!

Friday, January 27, 2006

My Last Day in Spain

I´m in Barcelona at an internet cafe right near the famous ¨La Boqueria¨market, and you can look forward (or not) to my posting thousands of photos of it when I get back, because I´m just saying that it´s paradise for foodies, and even if you´re not a foodie it´s still paradise, only with sheep heads and entire dead piglets in cases. It is the wonder of the food chain writ large, and with great beauty.
I just sat at a little bar with a naughty name (did you know that ¨Quim¨is a name in Catalan?)and had the most tasty, wonderful breakfast of fried artichoke hearts, some garlicky potatoes and two meatballs. All around me was the din of Catalunians shopping amidst miles of gorgeous produce and butcher stalls, and fish monger stands. I want to get one of those enormous cleavers so I can WHACK the hell out of my dinner preparations every night. It´s very satisfying. *whack!*

I had such a nice night last night meeting JAUME DE MARCOS of UU blogger fame. We met with another American UU (who has lived in Barcelona for 23 years now) and had tapas near the Cathedral, and drank cava and Jaume is just as cute and charming as you would imagine. We had a very interesting talk about the international Unitarian Universalist scene and I encourage you to learn all about it through the organization ICUU (I´ve got that wrong, right, Jaume? I hope you will comment and correct me).

Jaume is so much a gentleman that he won´t even tell you when you´ve got black eyeliner all smeared under your eyes and look like a very friendly raccoon. Muy simpatico.

I learned the traditional Catalan toast, which goes ¨Santa, forza y al canut!¨or something like that, which means, roughly, ¨Health, strength, and to the erection!¨ It´s a reference muy antigua to the time when people had their ¨canuts¨by their side, something like a horn, for protection. Or they kept their money in it. Again, Jaume will have to comment and clear this up for you. I intend to learn this by heart and use it all the time, as I think it´s the best toast I´ve heard yet.

Speaking of being by cathedrals, I visited the famous La Sagrada Familia temple yesterday and although I´m not in the habit of bursting into tears at the sight of enormous religious edifices, viewing this one for the first time was overwhelmingly emotional and I stood in front of it for the longest time, just wiping away tears and marveling. This may be the origin of the aforementioned racoon eyes (a girl sometimes forgets to look in the mirror when she´s traveling) and I promise to write more about it when I get home and can post photos. Let me just say that (1) it was a monumental shock to be so emotionally moved, because I just trotted off to see the thing with the attitude that, ¨oh, this is a big important site, can´t miss it¨and (2) Antoni Gaudi is my new hero.

I think that will have to be it for now, PeaceBangers. Love from Barcelona.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Celebrity Sighting

I forgot to tell you that I saw Owen Wilson at JFK airport on the way out of town!

Cordoba, Spain, Sunday

Hoy es Domingo! Y el lavandaria esta cerrado!
Today is Sunday! And the laundrymat is closed!

That´s the way it goes when you´re a stupid tourist who just walked about a mile along the river with her clothes all stuffed in a bag, chomping on a bocadillo (sandwich) and looking like a huge, bundled up dork, only to have to turn right around again and walk back the other way along the river, taking photos of the Mosque and looking like a huge, bundled up dork.

The women aren´t really pink complexioned here, which is why I am getting stared at by middle aged men and called ¨guapa.¨This is the explanation given by the cute little concierge of my hotel, who walked me part way to the laundry and bought me an orange juice. I thought ¨guapa¨might mean ¨funny, chubby tourist¨but it means handsome, only the feminine form. How nice.

Hi Again, PeaceBangers!
This internet cafe is very smoky and I have a slight cold, so let me just give you a few more highlights.

I went from Madrid to Seville and immediately felt like, oh no, I can find tons of drunken American college students in downtown Boston, as I can also find a bunch of rude waiters and shopkeepers. As for huge cathedrals, I´ve already seen many of the best. This place don´t feel so good to me. So I decided to tour the Alcazar (worth the overnight stay, will post photos when I get back) and get the hell out of Dodge. One thing you learn as a traveler is to trust your instincts. My instincts told me that I would find the Andalucian charm and Moorish/Jewish/Catholic spiritual and artistic convergence I sought in Cordoba, and here it is, along with all the charming people and architectural beauty you could ask for. So let´s strike Sevilla as a major disappointment, and move on.

Can we please start a food revolution in America and eat tapas all the time? Tapas is a brilliant thing. Imagine that you go to a great restaurant and they have two dozen delicious items on the menu and you can´t decide between them. So you say, ¨listen, how about give me a taste of these four things?¨ And they go and bring you four little dishes of wonderful items and you wind up paying about ten bucks for the whole thing, including a glass of wine. Sign me up for the Tapas Revolution!

I fell in love with a little boy at a tapas bar last night, who was busting out some MTV dance moves while his mama chatted at the bar and had a beer. He was about four years old and looked just like my brother did at that age, with curly locks and the most sparkling, naughty brown eyes, and an irrepresible expression on his punim.
We spoke the international language of Cracking Each Other Up with peek-a-boo and general flirtation for about a half an hour, and then I saw him in the bathroom. ¨My boyfriend!¨ said, in Spanish. He explained that he was waiting for his mama. ¨You´re a good boy,¨I said, in Spanish and then asked in English, ¨How did you learn all those hot dance moves?¨ He stared in awe. ¨You´re English!¨he said. ¨No, American,¨I said. ¨Like Madonna.¨

People are so lovely with their children here. They take them around as though they were just people, and there´s a wonderful family feeling. Spaniards are particularly good at strolling. It´s a whole art form called el paseo, and it´s a wonderfully stress free pasttime.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Madrid, Jan 19

Even though my luggage has yet to make it to me, I am just totally happy. This isn´t the most beautiful city at first glance, until you peek around a bit and spend some time with the people who are the most gracious and friendly I´ve ever encountered in Europe.

I heart Madrid.
You have never seen more charming businesses. More on that later, and I love the touches of Muslim culture everywhere.

The food far surpasses anything I ever found in Italy.
I love that I could venture out for dinner at 11:00 p.m.
And I love that the men are the most scrumptious I´ve ever seen.

Off to the Prado!
Loving on you from Spain!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Leaving For Spain

I'm packing for Spain, and leave in a few hours. Will try to blog from the road.

Being a Russian melancholic, I have to say this:

If my plane goes down or
a bomb goes off
a sudden attack of la grippe should slay me
Basque separatists decide to grab me
a bad mussels tapas doubles me over with such
pain I can't remember my name
and am lost in the Spanish medical system forever

Just think
that it happens in one way or another to all mortals
and as far as violence goes and broken planes and such things
well, that's mortal, too
and we live in a broken world
And what can you do about it but get out of bed in the morning and just keep the conga line going.

Can't wait to tell you about the Hieronymous Bosch and Pieter Brueghel paintings at the Prado.

Stay tuned.
Zoom, zoom.

Peace. Bang.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Golden Globes Semi-Live Blogging

It's Martin Luther King Day, and what better way to honor our prophet than by a big, stupid awards show?

Well, PeaceBangers, I couldn't let you down. I preached my heart out yesterday about Martin's legacy, and tonight it's all about packing for Spain (I'm just taking a little duffel and a bigger roll-on duffel). I'm taking minimal clothes and maximum electronics, including my i-Pod in case I get lonesome for home tunes. Also four small bags of cosmetics. We have the hair stuff bag, the face stuff bag, the on-plane comfort bag (with aromatherapy wands, rosewater face spray, anxiety meds, etc.), and the make-up bag. But I did manage to cut my lipstick supply down to three.

Back to the GG's:

Terribly directed. Just awful. The camera work is not just loopy, but the ceilings look low and the interior dark, and we're getting lots of shots of boring, unknown people. When there's no one in the house representing for the nominated work, keep it on Johnny Depp, for the love of God!

Sandra Oh just won for "Grey's Anatomy." She's deliriously happy but she can't find her way to the stage. She looks like a rat dashing through the maze for the cheese. This is most inelegant. Poor thing. Her speech approaches the overwroughtness quotient of Halle Berry's for "Monster's Ball." Sweetie, it's an acting award from the Hollywood Foreign Press. There's no need to feel as though you've been set on fire. Unless you're in the middle of a hot flash.

I don't know what happened, but there are worms slithering out of Tim Robbin's hairpiece onto his forehead. He ought to see a dermatologist about that.

Mary Louise Parker looks great in a poufy 50's shaped dress with fabulous sky-high black pumps. She was just on the verge of making me officially insane with her excessively cute, rambling, "um" filled speech for "Weeds" (Best Actress in a Comedy) when she managed to whip out three or four totally coherent phrases honoring the memory of recently deceased actor John Spencer. Good save, Ms. Parker. You can explain the comment about wanting to make out with your co-star Elizabeth Perkins some other time. Way to go beating out the entire cast of "Desperate Housewives."

Pamela Anderson looks atrocious and sounds atrocious. She's totally out of her element, and can barely pronounce anything. Ick. Double ick. Actually, Double D ick. I'm sure the Go Fug Yourself girls will have cruel words about her black and white frock.

Emmy Rossum and Penelope Cruz are wearing flesh-colored gowns that just confuse me. Such beautiful creations, but you can't tell where the dress leaves off and the girl begins, which creates the unfortunate effect that they have cowl-necked skin. And shouldn't Penelope Cruz's English be just a little bit better by now? She sounds like the Newest Discovery off the most recent flight from Madrid, for heaven's sake. I love the sexy Spanish accent theeng, but I can't understand a word she's saying.

Emma Thompson looks smashing and glowy, but just bombed with a silly bit about "Pride and Prejudice" being young. Or something.

The co-writers of "Brokeback Mountain" won something, and the woman gave a gooey, written speech. Larry McMurtry actually pushed her to the side before thanking his typewriter, which has kept him out of the "dry clutch of the computer" for thirty years. Eloquent, Larry, but don't think we didn't see you push your colleague. I hope she throws her drink in your face later.

What's with the pushing? Ryan Phillippe just pushed his wife Reese Witherspoon to the stage where she's picking up an award for playing June Carter Cash in "Walk The Line." (Update: Joaquin Phoenix just won for playing Johnny Cash) I hope Reese throws her drink in his face later.

Gwyneth Paltrow is gorgeous. My God, she's femininity itself dipped in starlight. I stand shamed in my red flannel jammie bottoms and t-shirt before her pregnant luminosity, even if I mostly hate her dress.

Cynthia Nixon wins "Most Improved" for a beautiful hair-do and glammy make-up.

S. Epatha Merkerer, who stole my heart last year when she lost her acceptance speech down the front of her dress, stole my heart again just now by saying that she's 53 years old and her role in "Lackawanna Blues" is the first starring role she's had in a movie. Then she said that she was in the middle of a big hot flash, and thanked NBC for employing her for 16 years. Cut to nominee Cynthia Nixon making snarky side-long glance to date.

Mr. Ang Lee + Red Vines = Crazy Delicious!!

The cat is in love with me. She won't stop patting me with her paw and gazing into my eyes. She's so happy to be rid of the dog she's beside her little striped self. Also, her diet is working and she's looking very svelte. We'll definitely have her in a bikini by June.

Virginia Madsen is a dish, but I hate it when an accomplished, veteran actress (who happens to have a smashing pair of golden globes of her own) feels that she has to comport herself like a Playboy bunny while she's on stage with an accomplished, veteran actor like Harrison Ford, just because he's a male and looks grizzled and patriarchal in a beard. Where's the dignity, Ginny? Why are you holding his cocktail and posing like one of those girls on "The Price is Right?"

Catherine Deneuve is very beautiful. I'm saying that because you can get arrested anywhere in the western world for saying otherwise. She is so legendarily beautiful that the very sight of her champagne tresses brings men to their knees. Except that she looks really bloated tonight and her dress is too long and the sheer puffy sleeves aren't fooling this chunky sister, who knows exactly what those puffs are meant to do: hide upper arm flab.

Isn't it nice that John Williams won an award for his score for "Memoirs of a Geisha?" Because I'm sure that he doesn't have about eleventy billion others.

Ooops. It was bound to happen: Bernie Taupin just dedicated his award for Best Song to Martin Luther King, who I'm sure would have been totally DOWN with a hillbilly rip-off of "My Heart Will Go On" theme song for a gay cowboy movie.

Anthony Hopkins just gave a swell speech after having been given the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. Gwyneth Paltrow introduced him as "the greatest actor of our generation" and people like Will Ferrell looked all reverent as they gave him a standing ovation. Listen and learn, Will.

Jumpin' Jehosaphat! What happened to Mandy Moore's hair!!? Looks like she was making out in the bathroom with Zach Braff and forgot to primp afterwards.

Ang Lee just won Best Director for "Brokeback Mountain," cementing his reputation as Asian Man I'd Most Like To Date In the World Next To Chow Yun Fat. So talented, so cute, so modest.

These Lunesta commercials are making me sleepy. I'm going to climb into the sack. G' night in PeaceBang Land.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

It Was Amazing

Turning 40 was so fantastic I think I'll do it again next year!

We had a benefit concert for hurricane relief at church last night and imported three wonderful singers from Baton Rouge. The concert was so amazing: a happy, warm, mid-winter delight. People were just grinning from ear to ear, and nobody wanted to leave the reception, where we chowed on jambalya, gumbo, and a cake with my baby picture on it. We were hoping for about 50 people, and the church was packed with close to 200. My own group, Sweet the Sound, was described as "breathtaking" and the reporter said that the hair stood up on the back of her neck when we began our first song. So that's thrilling, and we're making our first CD in late January/February.

We raised $3,500 more for hurricane relief and had a blast doing it. I had dreamed of a birthday celebration that could be philanthropic, cultural, and involve both church and friends, and this fit the bill perfectly. Some of us came back to the house for champagne and I even got some sleep before leading this morning's very emotional service honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. A woman who came to last night's concert with her husband came back for church in the morning and thanked me for one of the most wonderful weekends of her life. All this with big tears in the eyes. So hey, when I'm in one of my inevitable depressions this summer, that's a memory to hold close.

Mom and sis helped me take down all my Christmas decorations this afternoon, and the Lousiana gals came over and I made an impromptu dinner that turned out to be a wonderful feast. I'm a little amazed because I'm usually a very uptight hostess worrying that dinner will suck, running out to shop at several different stores and planning recipes and cleaning days in advance. Tonight I just decided to start cooking with what I had in the fridge and didn't want to have go to waste while I'm in Spain for twelve days. So I threw together a kind of Cuban stew with pork, roman beans, sweet potatoes, green peppers and onion, with a spicy marinade I love. I made Spanish rice and skillet corn bread and my sister made sauteed cabbage, and we drank wine and had delicious dessert of vanilla ice cream drizzled with maple syrup and fresh fruit.

Mom and sis are still here padding around in the kitchen cleaning up, and Gordon the dog is here, too. It's very, very good. We laughed so hard at dinner our eyes popped out.

Mom gave me very grown up diamond earrings. They are the prettiest white gold small horseshoe shaped hoops with tiny diamonds all down the front. I feel so elegant in them.

I realize this isn't an interesting or eloquent post and I apologize, but it's been an incredible season, actually, leading up to all of this. The summer was overly busy, and with the fall came beginning a doctoral program, burying my uncle, traveling to Lousiana, hosting Thanksgiving, dealing with a very busy Christmas season, etc.

I'm wiped out. Will try to be thoughtful later.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Friday, January 13, 2006

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Could You Please Send Water?

I spoke at some length with Mrs. Belinda Williams of Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church in Baton Rouge tonight. She has just given birth to her thirteenth child, Malachi.

Belinda is as busy as ever, going every day to Rennaisance Village, a trailer park of 725 units set up right on top of each other and occupied by 2,122 people, a third of whom are children (and of that third, 235 of them are babies under the age of two).

She says that the psychological damage done by the hurricanes is becoming more and more apparent, with depression and despair rampant.

And yet she forges ahead, planning a summer program for teens to learn about fiscal responsibility, as well as a six-week program for single mothers, who drop their children off at no charge at the church at 7:30 a.m. and are free to seek a job until 4:30 p.m.
Last year, Belinda offered this program and 48 women participated. Out of that number, 39 of them obtained jobs and three began school programs (which they are all still enrolled in). I call that success. When I consider that Belinda and two of her daughters took care of over 70 children by themselves all day, I call that miraculous. Twenty-eight babies and 42 children between the ages of 9 and 17. I think to myself, "isn't it illegal to supervise that many children with so few adults?"
And then I remember, oh, this is Louisiana. Those mothers undoubtedly think of Belinda Williams as a saint. Who else is going to watch their kids and give them this chance?

If you have a week or two to devote to babysitting this summer (the program starts in mid-June), let me know. I can hook you up with great local hospitality in B.R. It will be hot, but it will be a very worthy way to spend your day. I'm sure that older teens would be very welcome.

This is what they really, really need at Allen Chapel (which is a major distribution center for the trailer parks):

Baby goods (they distributed 600 bottles the other day, and they can't get enough diapers and formula)
Medical supplies for the elderly (adult diapers, colostomy bags, diabetic supplies)
Water. Bottles of water. They can't get it, Belinda emphasized to me that it's a terrible, constant, pressing need. Can you believe that? I can hardly believe that. WATER? In the United States of America? This boggles my mind. Isn't there a better way to do this than to send thousands of plastic bottles south?

There is a 13 year old, wheelchair-bound girl who is hankering for Harry Potter books and Maya Angelou books (and any others, 'cause she loves to read). If you'd like to get them to her, please let me know or I'll do it when I get back from vacation.

Meanwhile, send water. I'm sure you can buy it online and have it shipped:


Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church
6175 Scenic Highway
Baton Rouge, LA 70807

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

My New False Idol

I got an i-Pod.

I'm sorry, what did you say? Be with you in a minute... I'm downloading songs onto my i-Pod.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bad Theology, Part I

Somehow I doubt that the one survivor of the Sago mining disaster has got a private, sound-proofed room in the hospital. So this ostensibly heart-warming story isn't so charming when you think about the fact that he's probably in ICU where other people are lying in extremis with their own distressed families keeping vigil:


I'm sorry, but this kind of thing exemplifies the incivility of our society. You can't blame the man's wife for thinking like this: she's in grief and doing whatever she can. It's the hospital administration's responsibility to say, "We're so sorry, ma'am, but there are other people and their suffering families in this facility and they'll be greatly disturbed by this racket. How about headphones?"

I cannot under any circumstances imagine "blasting" any kind of music for a loved one, even if their life hangs in the balance. Not when others are struggling for their own lives nearby. I hope the story is inaccurate. It hurts me to think of someone trying to recover from surgery or some other medical trauma to the sound of a thrash band. I even get upset in the ICU when nurses and doctors talk in loud, insensitive voices about their fun weekend when some one is struggling to die three feet away.

Meanwhile, Pat Robertson has decided that Ariel Sharon's stroke was a lightning bolt from the Big Guy:

Explain this to me, Pat. You people like to talk about the one surving miner as a "miracle" case. You remain silent about God's purpose for the 12 miners who died. But you're real confident that it was God's wrath that caused Ariel Sharon's current condition. How does this work? Really harsh stuffjust randomly goes down for some people, like --*whoops!* -- while the harsh stuff that goes down for others is the wrath of God? And you just magically know which is which?

If the 13th miner dies, will it be because his family didn't pray hard enough, or because God hates Metallica? Or will it just be random really bad luck or fate?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Triumph The Insult Comic Dog Takes On "Star Wars" Nerds

From Brother of PeaceBang:


I made the mistake of taking a sip of water halfway through, thinking it couldn't possibly get any funnier.


Unconditional Welcome

Boy In the Bands writes a thoughtful entry about the "Forever Congregation,"
to which I have contributed a lengthy comment (& now that I see it online, far too lengthy! Sorry, Scott!):


The church's job is to incarnate God's unconditional love, certainly. But in churches we too often mistake pastoral welcome with institutional permeability (a phrase I seem to have coined tonight). To clarify what I said on Scott's post:
Fate will provide enough challenging and potentially uneducable people to any congregation. The congregation should therefore not expend its energies trying to accomodate the exhausting demands of those who can fully well understand and grasp the implications of their dysfunctional behaviors , but who refuse to.

(This goes for clergy, too!)

Pastoral welcome should be extended to all comers; it is an authentic way the church expresses fellowship and hospitality. Institutional permeability, however, is not hospitality; it is an indiscriminate offer of authority, power and (oftentimes) leadership to anyone who happens to walk through the door, without inviting them into a process of discernment, integration or instruction in how to responsibly participate in the community.

In the contemporary liberal church's often sloppy, sentimental way of welcoming the seeker, it too often mistakes institutional permeability with authentic hospitality, claiming that the first is more loving and inclusive than the second. In fact, welcoming seekers indiscriminately is not nearly as loving as authentic pastoral welcome, which requires deep attention to the guest, a conscious effort to help them find a ministry within the church, and an invitation for them to become a living steward and incarnation of the church's highest ideals.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Preacher's Corner

Since I always get so much great help from PeaceBangers, I hope this is a little bit of "giving back:"

I just came up with the idea to include a little column called "Preacher's Corner" in my church newsletter, which says:

"The following works of art, literature, contemporary non-fiction, film and Scripture are likely to be referenced at length in upcoming sermons."
And then I list them. They include Amadeus, Equus, "Brokeback Mountain," Antigone, the Gospel of Matthew, the book of Genesis (4:1-16), King Lear, The Cambridge Platform, of 1648 Picasso's "Guernica" and Michaelangelo's "Pieta." I think, gee, this is kind of cool. I might like to hear these sermons myself.

Now, I can do this because I actually have planned a bunch of sermons for the spring. I don't know how far in advance I'll be able to do this in the future. But I think my church will dig it for a few reasons: first, it might get a few more people reading the newsletter, second, it gives them a chance to think about things before I use them in sermons, and third, it shows in black & white that there's a whole world out there for your serious religious reflection, so go ye and theologize!

Gay Propaganda??

A very dear, very old friend disagrees with my December 26th review of "Brokeback Mountain," which she refers to as (ha ha) "Bareback Mounthim."
She says she found it slow, the Ennis Del Mar character maddeningly passive, and Michelle Williams as his wife pouty and irritating.

Okay, that's cool. Everyone sees films differently.

But then she says that 2-3 days after having seen the flick, she agrees with those who call it gay propaganda.

I have e-mailed her to ask her to explain, because I'm rather floored by this assessment, which I would not expect to be coming from a liberal, open-minded, unhomophobic pal.

I asked my friend this, and let me ask you, too:

Do you think that gay people will ever be able to have cinematic love stories that aren't about AIDS, that aren't de-sexed (i.e., fade to black before we see anything explicit), and that don't conform to a bunch of hetero stereotypes (which, in the case of "BBM," would have had required either Jack Twist or Ennis Del Mar to be fairly limp-wristed) without being accused of being gay propaganda?

People, the way our culture allows or disallows stories of people's real lives to be told is a justice issue.

When the majority population dictates the terms of the depictions of real life, we not only suffer for it artistically, we suffer for it morally. This is, perhaps, why Hollywood has seemed so spiritually bankrupt to me for so many years: the story they keep telling again and again reinscribes the Accepted Truth that macho men run the world, that love is a matter between beautiful men and beautiful (younger) women, and that the most interesting people on the planet are sociopathic torturer/murderers.

In fact, to answer my friend most distinctly, I would say, "No, I don't think that 'Brokeback Mountain' is gay propaganda. I think that the majority of films produced in Hollywood are white heterosexual male propaganda."

Friday, January 06, 2006

Best Herbal Tea

If you're an herbal tea person (and even if you're not) you should know about these:


I bought a bunch of them when I was in Montreal this summer and they're just wonderful in a 32 oz. container of plain old water, not even boiled. I get so dehydrated in the winter but I get bored of drinking water, so I pop a starfruit or blueberry tea bag in there, add three drops of stevia, and voila! a much better, much cheaper alternative to Vitamin Water (which has calories, too, and this doesn't).

Something is very wrong with me this evening in the tummy department and I am just praying, praying, praying that it's not the flu. I have such huge plans for the next week, a flu would be disastrous right now.

Hard to imagine that Ariel Sharon is lying in extremis in Israel right now. I can't remember a time when Sharon was not. O, Israel. You confuse me so very much.

My cousin's son makes his bar mitzvah on the day that I turn 40. I am sending him the lovely book The Sabbath, by Abraham Joshua Heschel. If I think of it, I also want to send him a collection of Heschel's works called
I Asked For Wonder, which I also love.
I loved Heschel's first anthology, too -- a reflection on secular life called
I Asked For the Check.

I'm kidding! I'm kidding already! Don't look it up on Amazon, what are you, meshugenah?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Coal Miner's Great Granddaughter

My great-grandfather, Stephen Billo, was a coal miner in Pennsylvania.

This just could not be sadder:


It seems that this coal mine had more than its share of violation. That's bad enough. But to allow a "miscommunication" that had the families of the 13 men believing that they had all survived is just inexcusably horrific.

May they rest in peace.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Monday, January 02, 2006

Was MLK Funny?

I'm thinking about the title "Humor and Outrage" for my January 15th sermon. My idea is that the most effective works for justice are often tinged with a sense of outrage that also carries with it an irrepresible love for the absurdity of human nature.

Think how Jesus occasionally used mockery to get his point across.
Think how Martin poked fun at committees and institutionalized do-gooding in his sermon "The Three Dimensions of Life" (in the section about the Good Samaritan).

I would like to share stories of the way the civil rights leaders and activists used humor and outrage and mockery in their tactics, but I don't have enough evidence that they did. PeaceBangers, can you help me (and I'm heading to the bookstore later today)...?

I begin to realize that one of the things that most deeply disgusts me about the Bush Administration is how bloody seriously they take themselves. I want to lift up the saving grace of humor within the realistic response of outrage when we deal with oppression(s).

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Sorry, Little Compton

Sorry, Little Compton
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

I was so proud when I made fabulous, restaurant-worthy lamb shanks last night.

They were utterly delicious. One of the best things I've ever made.

Then I remembered Little Compton.

Kitchen Lamb

Oh, I'm so sorry. The hooves! The hooves!

Commercials We Hate, 2006 Edition

Have you seen the ad for this product?

On the commercial that played about ten times already tonight on VH1 (I'm indulging in "I Love the 90's"),
a blonde guy of indeterminate European origin rides a city bus. He's got a little gadget in his hand. He says to two men in the back of the bus, "You two: fight." And a young black guy and an old white man start to mix it up.

He turns next to a cool-looking dark-skinned dude and says, "Turn up the music," and the guy docilely obeys by cranking up his boom box.

Next, the man turns to a young African-American woman. "Shake your junk," he commands, and she obligingly turns, grabs the bus pole, and shakes a juicy posterior.

The man looks satisfied and the tag line reads, "Entertain yourself."

I wrote to the company telling them what I thought of their concept of "entertainment." My God. How patently offensive, racist, sexist and despicable.

I'm also not impressed by the Temperpedic bed ads, but just for silly reasons: why do they think I care that their bed is endorsed by NASA, or whatever? They don't even have GRAVITY in space, so I don't think astronauts have the best sense of what kind of mattress I might like best here on planet Earth. Cheez.