Friday, March 31, 2006

Great Books: Anne And the Sand Dobbies

I just reread a favorite book from my childhood, Anne and the Sand Dobbies, written by John Coburn and published by Seabury Press in 1964.

It's the story of an eleven year-old boy whose baby sister dies, and then his beloved dog Bonnie dies.

Death is treated as a painful reality, but not something that totally incapacitates us or our families. The family in this story is real and lovely: they argue, they eat meals together, they talk in the car, they go to church. They summer on Cape Cod. The mother goes into the hospital for two weeks and the kids eat cereal every night, but they're fine. The community is a quiet and real support. Throughout all the sorrow, the narrator feels safe. He is treated as a human being for whom sorrow and death will be part of life, and is not coddled and protected by his parents. It's a very refreshing depiction of family life, or should I say, the way family life should be.

The language is a bit dated (e.g., the 16 year old son says, "Golly" and "Beats me" a lot) but the treatment of death and community is wonderful, refreshing, and emotionally moving without being the least bit sentimental.

I think this book had a huge influence on me as a child. It must have. I read it and re-read it but I hadn't remembered at all that this was a story about a Christian family who goes to church and talks about their beliefs and struggles with their skepticism. There are wonderful conversations in the book about what happens to the soul after we die, and it's all grounded in humanistic concerns and beautifully simple. The parents tell the kids that Anne will be cremated with a loving, no-nonsense honesty that a lot of today's parents might find inspiring. When the baby dies, there's just a family being very sad and questioning God together. No one has a nervous breakdown or an existential crisis. They are eminently decent to one another. the doctor makes house calls. Their minister gives an amazing homily during the interment of the ashes which goes, in part:

"Now I want to say just one word. This is a terrible thing -- for a lovely two-year-old girl to die. She never hurt anybody; she didn't do anything but bring pleasure to people; and she did it simply because she was...

"I don't like it. You don't like it. Nobody likes it. We all really hate it. We hate death. I'd like to tell God where to get off for letting this happen. Maybe you already have. I hope you have.

"But once you've done that, then what are you going to do next? You're not God. We're not God. You can tell him to go to the devil, but he's still God. God is God. He just is. Even if he didn't do anything, he is everything. He's the very ground we walk on and live in. He's the air we breathe. He's the height and the depths. Right down to the bottom of us, he is there. He is. ... Wherever we are, he is. Wherever life is, he is. And -- this is the point I want to make -- wherever death is, he is too.

"So what can you do -- the only thing you can do -- is to give him your life and to give him your death. So give him Anne -- her life and her death -- freely, willingly and gladly, if you can do it. She's with him. She is in him, and she is all right. Anybody with God is all right. So don't try to hang onto her. You don't own her. She's God's. You can't hold her. What you can do is to give her to God. And if you can do it gracefully, so much the better.

"And if you do, that's when somehow she comes back to live with you. I don't know why this is so, but she becomes a part of you and of life through her death, even more somehow than when she did things in her life here. So if you possibly can, give her freely to God. Then you'll be able to have her to live with you as you never had before.

"I think that this is simply the way life is. I'm not trying to argue; I'm not trying to persuade anybody; I'm just trying to describe the way things are. This is the way I see it."

"When we respond to love -- especially when we let it control us -- then we belong to that world where God is in absolute control. And the way he extends his control on the earth is as we love one another and offer ourselves to his control. So when we offer Anne to God, we can believe that Jesus says 'All is well with Anne' because we know that all is well with people who are with him. We then can get on with our primary business, which is living right here and being ourselves right here and trying to love a little bit better than we have before.... So let us get on with living and loving, which is the business of life, and thank God for everything. Especially Anne."

It's a honey of a book. I've found a few copies by googling it. You can, too.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

I'm embarrassed to admit that I get a lot of my news updates from the filthy-mouthed Rude Pundit:
The thing is, he has excellent links. I go for the links. It's a quick way to get hooked into the hot issues, like the immigration bill and protests in CA.

I used to think The Rude Pundit was a contemporary Marquis de Sade but now I don't. I get the point: he's pornographic because our leaders are obscene -- but it all winds up sounding filthy and juvenile and sometimes misogynist.

I'm so tired. Good night.

Anti-Hummer Rant

I'm too tired to read all of this now, but the first few paragraphs made me laugh out loud:

Horrible Clothes This Season

I went to the mall (the maul) tonight to scout some clothes and was amazed at how ugly everything was. Macy's: ugly. Lord & Taylor: ugly. Lane Bryant: ugly.
Not just ugly, depressing. The colors for spring seem to be something I would call Vomitous Autumnal Hues. It's even worse than two years ago's lime green trend.

There are these hideous capri pants everywhere, just the right length for oompa-loompas, and something they're calling GAUCHOS. This caused me great consternation as I recalled the last time gauchos came around it was the 70's and they even made my little sixth grade self look like something that could set sail with one stiff wind. Nowadays gauchos are short pants that flare mid-calf. They're rather entertaining, but I'm not sure that entertaining is a quality I seek in a pair of trousers.

Then there's this third offensive trend that I am calling Brokeback Mountain Girl, which features frilly shirts and vaguely cowboy-esque vests and lots and lots of lace. Lace on skirts, lace on t-shirts, lace on jeans. This stuff looked okay during the "Urban Cowboy" phase when we were young and dewy and looked like Debra Winger. Now we're old and tired and fat, and even though we love our cowboy boots, the bustiers just make us look like Miss Kitty wandered into the church office.

To the fashion designers out there, let me whisper this in your ear: Excuse me, sirs and madames. There is an obesity epidemic in this country, in case you hadn't heard. You could be helping motivate us to lose weight by designing items that are actually flattering, like well-tailored trousers and elegant blouses and smart blazers with defined waists. Would a modest sleeve be too much to ask? Something that isn't ruched and tied, for the love of Diana Vreeland?

I'm going to the hairdresser tomorrow morning, as I feel lately as though I've been hit hard with the ugly stick.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

For Your Light Lunch Reading

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Universalism and God's Forgiveness

So after I got home from my DATE last night...

...I opened my mail to find that a friend had sent me a passel of programs from recent cultural outings and among them was the Baltimore Opera Company's program of the new opera "Dead Man Walking," based on Sister Helen Prejean's book, and of course, you all saw the movie with Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, right? And you felt shattered by it? I know I did. I watched it with a church group and had to really fight myself not to be found in the fetal position on the floor when the lights came back up.

So this opera was composed by Jake Heggie and the libretto was written by the marvelous Terrence McNally, whose dialogue I have been delighted to speak on the stage (even though his character Chloe Haddock from "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" has one glaring inconsistency that makes for one very difficult actor's moment, but I digress).

This from the synopsis of the opera "Dead Man Walking:"

"On the night of his execution, Sister Helen and [convicted murderer] Joe make small talk as she tries to convince him to seek forgiveness. Joe's family arrives for a tearful farewell. Left alone, Sr. Helen ponders the situation. The victim's parents arrive to witness the execution and chastise Sr. Helen for siding with Joe... As Joe is prepared for execution, Sr. Helen continues to press Joe to confront his guilt. As she continues to probe, he breaks down and confesses, begging for forgiveness. Sr. Helen assures him that he has it -- not just hers, but God's."

I read this and every fibre of my being went WHOA! Wait a minute, Sister Helen! You may speak for yourself in forgiving Joseph DeRocher for brutally murdering two young people, but to deign to speak for GOD!?? I'm so sorry, but even though you are Joe's spiritual director, do you have the right to speak for the Almighty in this case? Even if it comforts a dying man?

This is really hard for me.

As I have said before, I am trying to be a Universalist. I think it's a far more complicated theological tradition than can be summed up in "all souls shall be restored to harmony with the Divine" (although I believe that to be true). But although I believe that God knows what to do with Joseph De Rocher's soul, and while I don't believe in Hell (and frankly, the concept of karma has never held much sway with me, unless you mean in the sense that we build our own spiritual fate in this lifetime by our behaviors here in this lifetime), I have no idea if God literally forgives us for murder.

I know the Lord's Prayer, and I believe that Jesus was certainly pointing toward a forgiving God, but let's not forget about that contingency clause "as we forgive those who trespass against us." In the case of a murderer who's going to the Death Room any minute, does he have the time to forgive the state for executing him? Does he have time to forgive himself for destroying so much life and causing so much pain?

In the Jewish tradition, forgiveness can only be granted by those who have been harmed. Therefore, a murderer holds the most profound guilt of any criminal: he can never be forgiven in this lifetime. I may be wrong about that, and I hope Jewish readers will correct me if I am, but if that's true, I'm more in step with Jewish tradition on forgiveness than with Sr. Helen Prejean.

My Unitarian sense of self-culture and responsibility leads me to say that there are moments that cannot be redeemed by a soft word, that there are deeds too terrible to be salved by promises of God's forgiveness. To me, it is much more an affirmation of Joe De Rocher's dignity to let him walk with full awareness the path of responsibility for his own actions. As Universalists we can say that God loves him, loves the creation that he is, and perhaps even grieves with him, but can we say that God forgives him?

I hope you'll comment.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Sound the Church Bells

Pardon me, but I can't blog any more right now because I HAVE A DATE.

Thanks and The Rabbi and the Kopeks

First of all, let me say that I'm so glad I took roll call yesterday, as it has been fascinating, rewarding and humbling to hear about ya'll out there in PeaceBang Land. For those who know me in Real Life and find the PB persona a bit irreverent and salty-tongued, I appreciate your understanding. I apologize for the cuss words. Believe me, I was just as surprised as you to find that God would call such a salty-tongued big-mouthed bad-tempered broad to the ministry. I yam what I am. In Real Life, I'm much more well-behaved (well, a little more).

THAT said, thank you all for reading PeaceBang. I had no idea you were out there. That's kewl. I am honored. I said that already. But I mean it.

We were talking the other day about asking for money in church. Jess posted a comment about what it was like being very short of cash in a generally wealthy congregation here:

She reminded me of a story about a rabbi whose congregant has no money to host a proper celebration for his son's bris (circumcision, which, believe it or not, is a big party). The rabbi pulls the man aside. He says, "Listen, Shmuel. I have 100 kopeks that I owe to a man in the city. I wondered if you might take it to him." Schmuel says, "Rabbi, I have no idea when I'll be in the city. I'm sorry, I can't help you." The rabbi puts his hand on the man's shoulder. "Shmuel, it would be such a help to me if you could take this 100 kopeks and, you know, when you get to the city you'll deliver it for me. If you shouldn't happen to be going to the city right away, that's fine. There's no rush at all. Whenever you get there." He puts the money in the man's pocket, and the man is able to throw his son a wonderful celebration. When Schmuel goes later to ask the rabbi where exactly the kopeks should be delivered, the rabbi says, "Shah, I have no idea what you're talking about!" The man understands, and one day he proudly goes to the rabbi and gives him 100 kopeks "to help others."

(Maybe it's rubles. Maybe it's not kopeks. I'm repeating this from memory. Also, the guy's name isn't necessary Schmuel. Maybe it's Moishe. Or Abe. I don't know.)

I love this story. I think that the minister has to keep her eye out for people who are struggling financially and won't say a thing about it. They're often the ones contributing in so many important ways and bringing cans of tuna to the food pantry, to boot. Who's to say that the minister can't send an anonymous contribution from the Minister's Discretionary Fund to such a person or family?
I sure have. We shouldn't be waiting for people to come to us. Spread it around, spread it around. When I'm giving my money to a charitable cause I'm giving my life force. I don't want it to sit in a bank account.

Plus, we shouldn't be nickle and dime-ing our congregations to death.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Roll Call!!

My "hit" counter is very misleading, and I have determined that very few people are actually reading this blog. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop using it as a healthy release for my mania, but it does make me think a bit.

These are the people I assume might be reading this blog on a fairly regular basis (in no particular order):

Boy In the Bands - Philocrites - Peregrinato - Chalice Chick - Fausto - H. Sofia (And Her Traveling Self) - Adam (Unity) - the UU Enforcer - Greenseagirl - Jaume - This Girl Remembers - Chutney - Kim - Jason - Jess - Paul W. - Steve Caldwell - Parisa - Sister of PeaceBang - Bex - Mel - David - Mikey H. - Dooner - Jess - Clyde - Roger (Cheerfully) O. Kuhrt - Slyypper -- Dame Olympia

That's 29 people. Let me know if you're #30. Who's out there? How many PeaceBang buttons should I order for GA? Who wants to design the logo?

Julian of Norwich's Cat

Julian of Norwich
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

Peregrinato posted this...

and I can't help but think this:


The mouth isn't white enough, but the toes are identical!

When Is It Creedal?

I discovered a very old conversation over at featuring some of my favorite UU bloggers. They were debating whether or not UUA President Bill Sinkford's statement on choice constitutes a creed or not.
It's from 2004 and it's here:
(not to open old wounds or anything)

It's actually a great conversation, and given that the public conversation on choice is heating up a lot lately, look to the Reverend Mr. Sinkford to be making a lot more announcements, pronouncements and issuing statements that begin, "we believe."

My personal take is that unless a statement is being used in a congregational setting as a theological test for membership, it's not a creed. Even if it begins, "We believe," it's not strictly a creed (although I'm hip to the Latin thing with "credo"). That's not to say that I discount Chalice Chick and others' objections, I just don't think they're quite on the mark, although close to it.

All I can say is, when I'm President of the UUA I'm hiring Fausto to be my official statement checker. Day-ang.

UU Worship: Legendary Moments

A legendary thing happened in church today. Well, I thought it was legendary.

The setting: a Union Service in a beautiful, historic New England church attended by five UU congregations and choirs and led by four of their ministers.
The theme: Justice Sunday. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee's focus this year is on Worker's Rights, and the Living Wage Campaign.

The time: Three-quarters of the way through the service.

Three of the ministers have given homilies highlighting some aspect of the worth and dignity of workers. One colleague speaks about sanitation workers at Ground Zero in New York. Another speaks of the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, using Martin Luther King, Jr.'s interpretation of the story to emphasize that the Rich Man didn't go to hell because he did the wrong thing, but because he did nothing-- because he walked by Lazarus every day and treated him as though he was invisible. The third colleague tells a story of laborers in India. He winds his compelling, morally complex story into an exhortation that we make our every day choices reflect our religious values. He uses Free Trade Coffee as an example.
A fourth colleague leads a prayer. The choir sings. The congregation sings. It is energetic and positive. People feel chagrined in a good way. They have been woven together.

The service has been designed to culminate in an Offering for the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.
The eldest of the colleagues gets up. He is retired and serving as an Interim Minister for one of the participating congregations. He is an eminence gris, with hearing aids in both ears and a gray beard. His reputation as a lion of social justice is well known. He is a fierce grandfather elder of our tribe.

Whereas all of the other ministers have spoken from the pulpit, he takes the microphone off its stand and walks directly in front of the first pews, speaking without notes. Every phrase is eloquent; every pause is dramatic without being contrived. His heart and soul are truly in every phrase. He is the real deal.

He begins by talking about Unitarians 150 years ago, "when giants walked on Beacon Hill." He talks about the Unitarian minister Samuel J. May, who met the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and said, "Sir, you're on fire!" To which Garrison replied, "I must be on fire. I have icebergs of indifference to melt" (Or maybe it was Garrison who said it to May. But that punch line is what matters).

"Fast forward," says the elder minister. He talks about "our great state senator, Ted Kennedy" who spoke at a prominent local UU church just two months ago about another kind of slavery: slavery to debt, slavery to poverty. Wage slavery.
People are sitting up in their pews. You can hear a pin drop.

The minister says, "Unitarian Universalists believe that in every human being there is a spark of the divine." He is really getting hot. "We ought to be in the business of fanning that flame. We are playing with fire. Yes we are. We are playing with fire!" He points to the chalice. He says it is our symbol because we believe that within every man, woman and child there is a spark of God. "And when any man, woman or child is oppressed, God is in chains. God is in chains." He says this, and his voice breaks.

People are really sitting up now. Eyes are misting.

The minister continues. "You've heard the stories. You've sung the songs," he says. "Now it's time to give the money." There are nervous titters around the church. The minister pauses and looks out over the congregation with fierce expectation and affection. "I want to know which one of you will be the first one to write a thousand dollar check to the Unitarian Universalist Association."

Nervous laughter breaks out.
The minster says, dead serious but not condemnatory, "What's funny about that? Why are you laughing? There isn't anything funny about it. I know that here in this room, within hearing of my voice, there are people who can write a thousand dollar check. There are those who could write a five thousand dollar check. Which one of you will be the first to write a thousand dollar check?"

Silence. Whispering. Some angry faces, some in awe. Whispered consultations between couples.

The minister props his elbow on the pulpit. He has all day. He is totally comfortable with the silence. He waits. We all wait.

Then a man stands.
"BLESS YOUR HEART!" says the elder minister, and the man comes forward out of his pew to a burst of applause. He stands at the front of the church and the minister puts his arm around him. "I don't know this man," he says. "I don't know his name, and believe me, he isn't a plant. But I know he believes in justice. He believes in justice and mercy."

The minister goes and gets the flaming chalice and puts it in the man's hands. He says, "I want you to hold this." And the minister asks for another thousand dollar check, and damned if a woman doesn't come forward to applause, and yet another.

Then the minister calls up the ushers and says that they are going to "graciously and lovingly" collect the other offerings to the UU Service Committee. The choir sings a beautiful (believe it, it's true) version of "Kumbaya" and the four ministers in the pews are practically high fiving each other. They are saying, "I have NEVER seen anything like that before" and "People are going to be talking about this for YEARS!" They are wiping away tears and cracking up at the same time. They feel awful that they have left their checkbooks in the robing room back in the parish house.

After the service, there is a mighty buzz. When I find out how much money was raised for the UUSC I'll let you know.


So, what do you think?
I am guessing that some of you may be thinking that the elder minister was offensive for these reasons, all of which reflect Unitarian Universalist egalitarianism:
(1) Ministers should never tell people what to do.
(2) You never single out someone for special treatment, especially on the basis of financial generosity.
(3) You never coerce a group of people into giving money by holding them hostage and waiting until someone meets your demands.
(4) You never guilt people into doing things, especially when some of them may have already made contributions to the very organization you are touting, and others just as worthy.

I agree with you on every point.

Now, why was this a totally fantastic and thrilling moment?
For me,
(1) It's never a bad idea to speak from your passionate convictions and invite people to come along.
(2) Ministers are leaders and they need to lead, not always "invite" (P.S. I am relatively sure that this minister gives very generously to the UUSC, as he used to hold a very important leadership position in that organization).
(3) It's always powerful to state simply and clearly our ultimate commitments, and then to ask people to act on them. We DO believe that a spark of the divine resides in every human being. Why not put our money where our mouths are?
(4) A little tiny bit of shame isn't going to kill any of us. The first guy to stand and offer $1,000 is special, and he gets to hold the chalice. I don't. Too bad.
(5) Because it just was. It was AWE. SOME.

Tip to dear and reverend sirs and ma'ams who are thinking of trying this at home: I wouldn't unless you're the most sincere person in the world, unless you have not even one ounce of show-bizzy glad-handing persona about you, and until you have the years and experience to give you total street cred. Otherwise, you're just asking for a ride out of town on a rail, and don't say I didn't warn you.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Make-Up For Ministers 101

Oh wow!
PeaceBang is ecstatic!

I've had several e-mails off line asking for make-up tips for those women who never ever wear the stuff. I clap my hands with glee! I'm still waiting for the hate mail from women who will accuse me of being in league with the patriarchy, or at worst, with the ghost of Estee Lauder. But really, you have to understand that on rainy days when I was little, Mother of PeaceBang put out big shoeboxes of her old make-up (I shudder to think of the bacterial festival contained therein) and set up a little Hollywood-lit make-up table for my sister and me. We carefully made up our wee little faces and the glamour was thrilling! How could we go back to fresh-scrubbedness? (Although Sister of PeaceBang can get by to this day with a tiny brushing of bronzer, a light lick of black eyeliner and her favorite Clinique lipstick in something like Ballerina Pink. She is ageless, and although we argue about over-plucking eyebrows, she hasn't cut her own bangs since third grade and has looked smashing ever since. Even during the Perm Era). But I digress. You asked about make-up.

1. Start with the cheap stuff, but take your time choosing shades. Shop at a store with a good return policy, like Rite-Aid or CVS.

2. Listen up. These products are wonderful:

> Maybelline Express Make-up 3 In 1. It's less than $5, and it's a handy, blendable make-up stick that you can use to blend away ruddy spots and other blotchy skins sections, or use it lightly all over your face. Blend, blend, blend. It's very lightweight so you won't feel like you're wearing make-up at all.

> Covergirl Remarkable Washable Waterproof Mascara. In black. It washes off but it's waterproof! How genius is that? Safe for contact wearers. Also under $5. Best with an eyelash curler, which I have been using for 25 years with no mishaps, but I don't want to push you too far. Let me just say this: they totally open up the eye.

> Revlon Skinlights Face Illuminator. This is a light powder that is gorgeous and shimmery. You don't want to use it all over your face: get a basic pressed powder compact to blot away shine (for heaven's sake, you at LEAST have a powder compact, don't you?) and use this on your cheekbones and eyelids to create a dewy look. Good for those who don't want to graduate into eye shadow just yet. Makes you look rested and radiant, especially if you haven't exfoliated recently (which you should have, with something gentle. Throw away that nasty apricot scrub by St. Ives immediately, girlfriend, it's just like using sandpaper!).
Use a light touch with this product. You don't want to look like Reverend Disco Fever.

> I cannot LIVE without CoverGirl Outlast All-Day Lipcolor in Blush Pearl. It's a neutral color that I think would look great on any skin tone no matter how light or dark (but you'll have to write and tell me). You paint your lips with it, let it dry, and you're gorgeous for hours and hours and hours. It comes with a moisturizing topcoat that keeps things shiny and comfortable. It doesn't come off on your coffee cup, it doesn't come off on your lover, it doesn't come off through a morning of preaching and meetings although if you're like me, you have seventeen or eighteen lip glosses on your person and in your car that you layer over anyway. And speaking of which, Rimmel makes a FABULOUS $4 gloss that actually has a bit of lasting power (by which I mean maybe an hour, which is a long time for lip gloss). But the CoverGirl is a lip color that doesn't make you look like you're wearing lipstick. If you want to look like you're wearing lipstick, there are thousands of choices. But keep in mind that anything too purply will age you and bring attention to jowliness, and too waxy is very out of fashion. Sheer is a good bet, and save the bright bright red for either a very tailored suit look, or keep it away from church altogether unless you're a fairly dramatic type (and even then, you don't want anything too drippy and vampy).
Men should have a lip balm, too. Chapped kissers don't look nice on anyone.

3. When it comes to applying make-up, blend, blend, blend. Do invest in a nice powder brush, again available at the drugstore. When you buy blush, don't imagine that the cheap little brush in the package will be appropriate. And you should buy blush. Consider a creme blush that you dab on with your fingers, and blend, blend, blend. All of which does not mean that you should use so little that we can't even tell the difference. Play at home! Find your look!

4. You asked about eyebrow pencil. I admit that I spend $25 for a Lancome item called poudre something, which just means that it's powdery. It lasts for about five months, so at $5 a month or 16 cents a day, I'm willing to pay. The color matches my natural eyebrows perfectly, and to me it's worth it. The trick to eyebrow pencil is to get a good grip on the pencil, and with a LIGHT TOUCH, fill in your brows with feathery strokes. No drawing big, strong lines unless you want to look like an ancient eccentric drama teacher. You're just filling in, you're not trying to look like Nelson Eddy in one of those operettas with Jeanette McDonald.

5. Skin care is for everyone, boys and girls. Use SPF, for God's sake, or you'll look like my colleague with the bright pink honker and cheeks whose sunburnt skin comes off in big patches during the summer and makes you want to choke into your gin and tonic. Dandruff care is part of skin care: your scalp is skin. Take care of it.
Exfoliate, gently. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Kiehl's makes a fabulous undereye gel with SPF. Pat it on gently and it will give you a dewy glow after it dries (but it will smear your eyeliner if you're wearing it on your lower lid, which I mostly don't). Don't be afraid of bronzer, white people, which can warm up your whole face in the dead of winter and spare you from overdoing it with the blush. Bronzer is the new lipstick, and they make it even for the fairest of skin. I had my doubts but I now own a beautiful bronzer by Laura Mercier and it's wonderful stuff; you can hardly tell it's there but I don't look pasty anymore. Dust lightly over the cheeks, forehead and nose - everywhere the sun hits. And if you're a chubby and have two chins, I'll teach you a little shading trick I learned from Pam.

6. And this is very important: Have a Booger Patrol. When I was installed, I gathered my Search Committee around me and said, "Your job is over, but I have a sacred trust to extend to you now. You were the Search Committee that got me here to this church, and from now on, I need you to be my Booger Patrol. If I have sand in my eyes or toilet paper sticking on my shoe or my skirt tucked into my pantyhose or my perfume is too strong or I have something crusty in my nose or spinach on my tooth, you've got to tell me."
They solemnly agreed. Everyone in public leadership needs a Booger Patrol. Mine has told me more than once that my slip is showing or I have a glob of hair product in the back of my head that didn't get worked in enough. They are the ones who will tell me honestly if I have garlic breath.

Don't read this and groan, "how much time does she think I HAVE in the morning?" Once you get the hang of it, this is a five minute operation. I, of course, take about 25 minutes to do it all (including hair) on Sundays because it's a form of meditation and preparation for me. On other days, it's a quick brush and curl and paint and I'm done.

Embrace the possibilities! Go forth and make-up!

Ministerial Attire

I had occasion to talk about dressing for the ministry with a group of seminarians recently, which was a kind of fulfillment of my secret desire to host a show like "What Not To Wear." You've seen it, right? You trust and love Stacy and Clinton, right?

I was a bit nervous about leading this session because I did not want to come across as hopelessly shallow and/or judgmental, because who am I? Just a little fat chick with a penchant for Franco Sarto shoes and liquid black eyeliner.

But they LOVED it, and we had such fun analyzing outfits, talking about the necessity of a good tailor, the comfort in having some classic, timeless pieces in the closet, why not to wear casual sandals while officiating weddings or funerals, and why not to preach in drippy sleeves (you might set yourself on fire during some chalice ritual). We talked about hair and make-up and panty hose and the Norelco nose hair trimmer, which is your friend.

We determined the following truths:

1. If you insist on wearing sandals, have a pedicure. Men, too. Feet are intimate. We do not want your hairy fungus toes near us at a meeting, and we do not want to see them peeking out of the bottom of your vestments. We know Jesus wore sandals. He probably also bathed once a month, and you wouldn't do that to us, would you? Also, he is Jesus. You are not.
P.S. This does not give you permission to simply add socks to your sandals.

2. Don't be afraid to accessorize!
P.S. Don't over-accessorize. And don't get too matchy-matchy. Your necklace does not need to match your earrings and shoes. Gentlemen, what do I have to do to make you stop wearing bolero ties? Nothing says "Hey, what's your sign?" like a bolero tie. If you don't live in the Southwest, we should not be seeing any bolero ties on you, unless you're wearing them ironically with an otherwise very spiffy outfit from the 21st century. [They're called bolo ties. Sorry. - P.B.]

3. We are living in an extremely beauty and body-conscious culture. You do not need to dress like a sexless, shapeless being. You can be a human being with a body and not go overboard into "sexy." Ladies, it's high time to lose the long, shapeless A-line skirts. They've been OUT since 1985. Anything above the knee, however, is too short.

4. Church going is an entirely voluntary option in today's society. In most parts of the country, no one will look askance at you if you do not attend church. So clergy can no longer slide by assuming their and their congregation's relevance to today's world. If clergypeople believe their ministries are hip and relevant to today's world, they should look hip and relevant. Even if you wear a collar, you should have a hair style of some kind, and there's no need to persist with those aviator frames you bought in 1972 because they looked so good on Lee Majors or the guy on "Welcome Back, Kotter."

5. If you wear a chalice necklace, there's no need to wear chalice earrings. And vice versa.
P.S. Sticking a chalice around your neck does not mean you're "dressed." Did you shine your shoes? Are your pants appropriately hemmed? Did you check that your blouse isn't gaping at the bosom? Are there sweat stains at your armpits? Have you asked anyone you trust if your perfume is too strong? Have you trimmed your beard and if necessary, your eyebrows? (Milo O'Shea can get away with crazy stickin' out eyebrows. It just makes you look eccentric and distracts from your eyes). Have you cleaned your spectacles and gotten off the smudges? You know you were up 'til 3:00 a.m. working on your sermon. Your congregation shouldn't be able to tell. That's why God made ice packs and concealer (which works just as well on male skin as on female).

6. Just because you're on your feet a lot does not mean you need to move into Cobbie Cuddlers. Women, heels are not just a torture implement designed by the patriarchy. They are also elegant as hell and very much in fashion. A little 1" heel won't kill you. I can stand around all day and run for the bus in my 2" pointy-toed Franco Sarto cowboy boots. They look smokin' and they're comfortable. My personal rule is: I don't get into orthopedic shoes (or the rough facsimile thereof) until I'm eligible for Medicare.

7. Eyebrows! According to my very small sampling, 50% of female ministers over 40 have invisible eyebrows due to gray or just fading. Eyebrows frame the face. Invest in a $1.99 Maybelline eye pencil and experiment. You'll be glad you did. Men, see my above point about Milo O'Shea.

8. I know we're feminists who believe everyone is beautiful without make-up and facials. I agree wholeheartedly. However, without make-up, my beauty resembles that of Ernest Borgnine. As Sister of PeaceBang says, "You don't have to wear your political convictions." If you look fresh, vibrant and camera-ready from the pulpit with nothing on your face but Ivory soap, God bless you. I require a bit of concealer, a luminizing powder from Revlon on the cheekbones and eyelids, blush, lipstick/gloss, mascara and eyeliner. I also pencil in my brows (see #7). You know why? I am a PUBLIC leader. Which means that PEOPLE need to look at me. If only *I* (or my mother) have to look at me, I'm gorgeous with a freshly scrubbed face.
Wait, scratch that. Even my mother would say, "Sweetie, you need a little lipstick."

9. T-shirts are OUT. Again, you don't need to wear your political convictions. If you're 22 and have a great figure, maybe you can rock that "Free Leonard Peltier" shirt under a fitted blazer with a pair of bootcut black trousers, but if not, then not. Unless you're meeting with the youth group, in which case they don't know who Leonard Peltier is. Get with it.

10. If you're clothes-phobic and you have no idea what looks good on you, or what basics to shop for, take a friend. Take PeaceBang. That's what she's here for.

11. So, would it kill you to look at a fashion magazine once in awhile?

"Original Sin"

I came home last night after class and a sushi dinner and bombed out on the couch. Too tired to even read.

So I watched about ten minutes of "Will and Grace" (lame, and what happened to Deborah Messing's looks? They're coasting by on famous guest stars but listen, they could have Jesus of Nazareth on as Jack's new boyfriend and I still wouldn't watch) and then happened upon the most wonderful, trashy, stupid, gorgeous movie I've seen in a long time: "Original Sin" with Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie. It's a 2001 production set in 19th century Cuba and was billed, when it came out, as one of the biggest turkeys ever made.

Having seen it on the WE channel, I can't attest to the hotness of the reportedly "semi-pornographic" sex scene (I also missed the first twenty minutes of the film, and the biggest romp apparently comes within the first ten minutes. Damn my eyes!), but I can attest to the entertainment factor, which is high. This film took me back to about 8th grade when I used to adore bodice-ripping novels like "The Thorn Birds" and all of the Judith Krantz and Sidney Sheldon ouevre (I can't spell it and it's not in the dictionary, sorry). Great fun, insipid dialogue you can't help but love, and Angelina Jolie's lips get bigger with every scene, I swear. The director doesn't even try to get her to act anything remotely like a 19th century woman and she flips in and out of a kind of British-ish accent but she does smolder and she does do justice to a great big dark brown wig, so all is forgiven. Antonio Banderas is so cute he can just stand there and I'm happy.

It's great. You gotta see it, but when you do, lower the blinds so no one knows what you're watching.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Messing With My Cat's Mind

I have done something terrible to my cat.

Yesterday we were in the kitchen and I brought out her carrying case in preparation for a trip to the vet. I know she hates being in it and makes the most terrible noises when I put her in it, as though I'm poking her with hot pincers and cutting off her tail in little slices. So I said this to her and started imitating her terrible Tortured Kitty noises.

I didn't know I was so good at imitating cat noises.

Her tail puffed up and she hissed at me.

I thought this was hilarious so I let her calm down and then I quietly made the noise again. Again, her tail puffed up.

So call me a terrible, cruel sadist, but I thought this was so outrageously funny that I kept testing her. I'd talk to her in a normal voice and then switch into "cat" to see if she would finally get that it was Human Lady making those noises and there was not, in fact, another feline in the house.

She finally got it, and I thought we had made up. Even if she did come up behind me as I was washing dishes and wap me with her paw, I still thought it was all peace, love and understanding in the parsonage.

But her behavior seems to have changed. She is nervous when I pet her belly, clasping my hand in her paws, gnawing on my hand and kicking with her hind thumpers. She brought me a (toy) mouse with much fanfare in the middle of the night. She wrapped herself around my head in bed this morning and bit my hair (very unusual for her), and she keeps flinging her entire body at me for full contact cuddling. She's sticking her butt in my face a lot, as though she thinks I'm a boy kitty. I said to her "NO, Ermengarde, I am not going to have incestuous lesbian inter-species sex with you. We're not THAT liberal around here."

Cat behavioralists, have I messed up my cat's mind in some permanent way? How can I tame this striped menace and get my sweet little buddy back?

Miss Erm

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

New Orleans Only Need Apply

Once again, like I sez,
a respected outlet of the American media does a story on Hurricane Katrina and acts like New Orleans is the only place affected:

Let me analyze this a minute. The media, often accused of having the attention span of a first grader, is showing us that it's not gonna let this one go. It's gonna keep writing articles and keeping the issues before the people. Sounds like a mighty heap of integrity, until you realize that what really happened is that the media went down to New Orleans right after Katrina, produced a bushel of shocking images, pumped us full of hurt and horror, and is now capitalizing on that hurt and horror every time they stick the words "New" and "Orleans" in a headline. I read every single thing about New Orleans, don't you? I mean, how can we not?

Meanwhile, they're ignoring 60% of the real story. So it's not really responsible journalism so much as keeping a very profitable (for them) national wound open.

Hey New York Times, what the hell about Alabama and Mississippi? How about Biloxi and Gulfport and Slidell?? For God's sake!!?
Or maybe the fault lies with, which picks the tastiest headlines from the news media to feature on my home page. Either way, if I was from Biloxi I'd be fuming. That is, if I had time to fume in between trying to pick up the pieces of my life.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Courtney Loves Lips (A Lot)

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
An addict is an addict is an addict.
It could be booze. It could be crack cocaine. It could be attention or love or sex or buffalo wings.

Or it could be lip collagen.

Another casualty in the great Hollywood lip dysmorphia pandemic.

Courtesy of the Go Fug Yourself girls.

Stop With the Musical Instruments, Already

Oh, come on. It was cool and inventive when director John Doyle staged a production of "Sweeney Todd" that involved all the major players doubling as orchestra members, but this is getting a little bit precious, don't you think?
It's a Cincinnati production of Sondheim's "Company" using the same gimmick.

The Times reviewer, Charles Isherwood, seems to think this contrivance works on behalf of the musical's power, but this fish ain't bitin'. I'm sorry, you can wax poetic about how all married couples communicate in modalities other than speech, and that's groovy and everything and I believe you, and you can tell me that watching the couples in "Company" play their tubas and clarinets at each other is deeply symbolic of marriage and everything, but I think it's just cheap.

Hire an orchestra and let them play the score. Let the actors act, sing and dance. For pity's sake, they've got enough to do, and musicians have a hard enough time keeping bread on their tables. Hey Mr. Reviewer, when you off-handedly mention that none of the actors manage to find really memorable specificity in their characters, ya wanna know why? Because they're blowing a freaking trumpet or banging a drum through the show, and it's hard to create a memorable character when you're playing in the pit at the same time.

"Company" is a beautiful show. Everyone should see it. Single people should see it. Married people should especially see it. Everyone should have heard Bernadette Peters singing "Being Alive" off of her Carnegie Hall album (not the bombastic, mushmouthed Patti LuPone version off the "Sondheim at Carnegie Hall" album, and there's a difference). Everyone should have had the chance to see a corps of goofy adults sing "Side By Side" and find themselves cheering with total abandon because it's so wonderful. And everyone, everyone should know all the lyrics to "The Ladies Who Lunch." Everyone, everyone should have had the chance to see Elaine Stritch perform this number with a glass in her hand.

And no one should have to see April the stewardess leave for Barcelona with a tuba over her shoulder, no matter what Charles Isherwood says.

Man, I have so many dream roles I want to play yet. Now I live in fear that I'll finally get cast as the Old Lady in "Candide" and I'll have to drag a bassoon around the whole time. Stop the madness.

P.S. If anyone owns the DVD of the documentary that was made of the recording of the "Company" Original Cast Album, please oh please loan it to me. I will make you dinner.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Banjo Fantasy Fulfilled

Today was my day off and after wasting most of it at the Superior Court (believe me, it was hardly even good, let alone superior) on jury duty I drove past the music store where I had been told they sell BANJOS.

I decided to stop in.

I asked to see their BANJOS. The guy brought out the one they had left from the back, a simple Washburn model. He opened the box for me and I touched it and plucked it a little bit. Then I asked to see dobros and ukeleles and Spanish guitars (which I thought were different than regular acoustic guitars, but they ain't) to compare them, and to make sure I wasn't somehow called to learn the ukelele (which I think is downright adorable).

But I just knew the first time I touched that BANJO that this was going to be my new buddy. It's the prettiest thing you ever saw, and just broadcasts a spirit of fun. I signed up for BANJO lessons, too, so please don't think I can meet you on Saturday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. I can't. I have BANJO!! I'll meet you after BANJO!

The best part was that the owner of the store sometimes goes to my church (which has so many new people that I didn't know that -- I thought he looked familiar but from somewhere else) and he just quietly gave me a really nice discount.

The store was all filled with cute men: young men checking out guitars, older guys buying guitar stuff for themselves. I thought, "GEEZ, I guess this is the place to meet men!" Because a couple of them were very sweet and had advice and were very encouraging.

Now the BANJO is home and I'm going to sit with it a little bit tonight just to see how it feels. It came with something called a gig bag, which is one of those little knapsacks you put it in so you can go to gigs, which just made me so happy I couldn't believe it. I get a free GIG BAG, too!!??

Also entirely fabulous is the fact that my group, Sweet the Sound, cut a CD and it sounds lovely and the cover design is delicious and I'm really proud of it, and we have many gigs coming up.

So all is pretty well in PeaceBang land, as soon as I take one more night off to relax, as I burned the candle at both ends so bad last week I was truly dragging in my soul.

Love, BANJOBang

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Alien Madonna!

Alien Madonna!
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
How has this not made the headlines in every celebrity trash mag in America, and even in the world?

It's evidence that the Scientologists are right! Thetans are among us!

Dear Out magazine,
Worst. cover. Ever.

Dear Madonna,
I refuse to believe that you are a snaggle-toothed alien with a flat Farrah 'do and scaly white skin and diamonds on your eyelashes. I know this was a Thetan pod person sitting in for you. Come back soon.

Friday, March 17, 2006

"Bill W. And Dr. Bob" At the New Rep

I attended the theatre tonight at the New Rep in Watertown, MA, with high hopes for the show "Bill W. and Dr. Bob" a dramatization of the early relationship between the two founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.

My hopes were dashed early on.

This show is a triple threat: badly written, badly directed and badly acted.

First of all, it's just a stinker of a script, featuring groanably bad 1930's dialogue and a schmaltzy jazz piano (pronounced pie-anna) soundtrack provided by an actual guy playing the actual pie-anna through the entire actual show. I have a a feeling this eye-rollingly corny concept came with the script, not with the director, but I could be wrong. The co-playwrights never met a cliche they didn't like. Bill W.'s long-suffering wife, played by a thoroughly unwinsome Rachel Harker in two bad wigs, actually has seven or eight scenes where she is either reading aloud her diary entries or letters written to or from her husband.

Co-authors Stephen Bergman and Janet Surrey have all kinds of admirable medical credentials between them, but none so impressive that kept them from writing lines like, "When there's a silence like that in the evening, mother used to say that angels are flying by" and "Bill, ya big galoot."

In my opinion, only Patrick Husted and Kathleen Doyle as Dr. and Mrs. Bob Smith managed to get some real pathos out of their roles. Marc Carver mugs terribly in a series of small roles and Deanna Dunmeyr is right there with him in Mugsville, using cute dialects, wigs and hats to create a series of forgettable cameos. Here's a story about true human suffering, but all the humans on stage are caricatures. You just don't care if they get sober or stay sober or if they all fall under a train.
The moments of real acting are few and far between, and director Rick Lombardo seems to have little or no affection for the story he's telling. With that script, who can blame him? But Rick, it wouldn't have hurt to bring in a real, live alcoholic to advise on the drunk stuff. Take it from a girl who's lived with a drunk : it's way more than gripping the gut, groaning and bumping into set pieces.

Robert Krakovski has a thankless job, if you ask me. In an interesting actorly choice, he decides not to even try to swim against the tide of the thoroughly obnoxious, one-dimensional characterization provided by Bergman and Surrey and allows Bill W. to come across as an egotistical fanatic from the very first scene, eyes glinting and all. Here's the character you're supposed to be totally rooting for, but by the end of the show I absolutely hated the guy and couldn't even appreciate his pioneering efforts on behalf of serenity and sobriety the world over. I wanted to crack him over the head with a bottle of Thunderbird.

By the time the whole melodrama wrapped up at three+ hours we all sorely needed a drink.

If you want to encounter the spirit of Bill W., I'd just recommend that you go to an AA meeting. The audience was full of 12-steppers tonight and I had more fun watching them emotionally engage with the story than keeping track of what was going on onstage.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

(1) This is the book I most want right now:

(2) I just about plotzed a bissle when I read a letter to Martha in Martha Stewart Living magazine asking how to make the Passover seder more appealing for children.
What, are you completely meshugenah? That shikse doesn't know from Pesach! Better you should ask your rabbi! Oy gevalt!

(3) Why did NPR name one of its shows "Open Source?" Every time I hear it, I wince because it sounds like "open sores." Ick. Get a Band-Aid and some Merthiolate already.

Americans And the Tragic Sense

I was listening to NPR tonight and heard the host of "On Point" make reference to 9/11 and to Ground Zero with the implication that the destruction of the Twin Towers was the sum and total of that day's horrors.
I murmured to myself, "There were THREE Ground Zeroes."

Which reminded me of my growing awareness that talk of Hurricane Katrina is almost entirely limited to grieving the loss of New Orleans. When was the last time you saw a special about the Gulf Coast of Texas, or about Biloxi? This concerns me. Hurricane Katrina did a lot more than just smack the bejeezus out of New Orleans levees.

Americans don't have a sense of the tragic and therefore can't contain the tragic. They like tragedy to be something they can see and undrerstand and limit, preferably with a logo and a theme song. It is this limitation, I think, that makes Americans diminish enormous tragedies by re-membering them as occuring in one location which can be reduced to one iconic image. This is exactly what we've done with 9.11 and with Katrina. Twin Towers falling, ash everywhere. People being taken off a roof by a helicopter. Boom, we're done.
If we can pinpoint the one place It happened, we can tell when It's all better and fixed.

That's all I can say now, although I wish I could flesh this thought out more. Perhaps you'd like to do so for me in the comments?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


I saw "Kinsey" last night, a 2004 flick by Bill Condon starring Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. I was hating it for the first fifteen minutes and then it kicked into high gear, and I wound up enjoying it immensely, even if the filmmaker makes the character of Al Kinsey much too saintly.

I listened to some of the director's commentary and heard something about how opponents of Kinsey tried to block the making of the film, and that "Dr." Laura Schlesinger was among them. Something about Kinsey being a pedophile?
A bit of Googling this morning turned up some very dishy critiques of Kinsey, his methods, and the film. For example,

Interesting stuff, and I must agree with the conservative Christians who mope about yet another unnuanced Hollywood treatment of traditional religious mores and another jeavily caricatured Preacher Man role (in this case played by John Lithgow. Didn't he do this routine in already in "Footloose?" Papa, don't preach.)

I thought that Laura Linney was particularly good as Mac Kinsey, "Prok's" steadfast life mate. I liked Liam Neeson very much, too, but I thought the strength and beauty of the film was in the subjects Kinsey interviewed for his sexual histories. There were several cameos -- Lynn Redgrave's chief among them -- that hit the heart pretty hard. Even if occasionally a bit too actorly, I found that these scenes brought vividly to mind the millions of real people whose own sexual histories are every bit as harrowing and hysterical and astonishing and tender and atrocious as those depicted in the film.

Watch for the scene with sexual omnivore and pervert Rex King. Very disturbing and riveting acting.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Best Possible Care?

I just heard a report on NPR that some people are wondering whether or not Slobodan Milosevic got "the best possible care" while he was in prison awaiting the verdict on his war crimes trial.

I have to wonder why you deserve "the best possible care" when you're a marauding savage. I should think that being fed and sheltered and kept safe from the people who want to chop you into tiny pieces and make you into shark chum would be an acceptable level of care.

I'm sorry, but learning that an 8-hour autopsy determined that Milosevic had an unexplained antibiotic in his system doesn't exactly alarm me. If he had an unexplained ice pick in his back, well, that might be a little bit interesting.

"Really Rosie"

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

I was doing a mic check yesterday in church and singing "There Once Was a Boy Named Pierre" so that the choir could respond at the appropriate time, ("Who only could say, I DON'T CARE"). To my shock and horror, none of my peeps knew "Really Rosie!"
Not even the usher that morning who has a six year old daughter knows "Really Rosie!"
I thought this was most terrible and determined to tell everyone about the wonderful album that is "Really Rosie," which was produced in 1975, way before Girl Power was a big deal. It features the songs of Carole King and a lead character named Rosie who's a real diva and wears a feather boa.

I'm really Rosie/And I'm Rosie real.

You better believe me/I'm a great big deal/Believe me (Beleeeeeeive me).

I'm a star from afar off the golden coast

Beat that drum, make that toast to Rosie the most!

Believe me (Belieeeeeeeeeeeve me).

I can sing tea for two, and two for tea.

I can act 'to be or not to be.'

I can tap across the Tapanzee

Hey can't ya see? I'm terrific at everything.

No star shines as bright as me! Rosie!

(belieeeeeeve me!)"

The songs are tuneful and funny and easily memorized, and really great stuff to go belting around the house with your elementary school age kids.

I can't recommend highly enough that you throw the Yanni in the trash as fast as possible and hook up with some Rosie.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Things Making Us Laugh

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

For some reason, this is making Sister of PeaceBang and PeaceBang very happy and making us laugh very hard. It's not like we don't know how terrible it is to stuff those puppies into those little outfits, it's just that it's still very funny. I cannot wait to see the rest of the book.

Please don't protest; it was done decades and decades ago, like way back in the "Little Rascals" era.

We are also pretty ecstatic that one of S.O.P.B's favorite weird movies, "Grey Gardens," has been made into a Broadway show. I see a trip to NYC in my future.

I saw a Dixieland Jazz band tonight and was so happy dancing around that I am determined to follow through on my fantasy of many years to learn to play the BANJO!!

My summer goal is to learn to play the BANJO. You can help by calling me BANJO, as in "Hey Banjo, what are your summer plans?" Me: "Nothin' much, just learning to play the BANJO!"

Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday Nephew Blogging

My eldest nephew, about 27 months old, has become an absolutely terrific little boy. He's friendly and enthusiastic and extra adorable with a kind of casino greeter swaggering quality that draws people to him. He already has an excellent sense of humor and a keen ear for mimicry. He sings and dances. He has eyes like chocolate chips, a sweet smile, and he's a good phone date. The other day I was on the phone with his father, my little brother, and my brother asked him to sing his ABC's to me.
I loved that there was no hesitation or coy shyness, he just took the phone and belted out a really on-tune, excellent rendition of his ABC's.
My favorite part of the ABC's is the inevitable train wreck around the "LMNOP" section, and Nicholas did not disappoint, especially since he can't pronounce his L's yet. But there he went on without hesitation, absolutely good-natured, right through to the end. What a trooper.

I hope we never let him forget that one of his first phrases was "I love you," but pronounced "I yee yoo!"

I am going to see them in two weeks and just can't wait to get them both in my lap. They are so worth a five hour train ride and it kills me that I haven't seen them since September.

Okay, sorry for making you barf. As you were.

Mr. Movie

My gravel-voiced stepfather, who never stays up past 10 p.m. unless he's out on the town at some cabaret or show, walks into the kitchen the morning after the Oscars. "How were the Academy Awards, babe?" he asks my mother.
She says, "They were pretty good, but we were really disappointed that Crash won for Best Picture."

He pours himself a cup of coffee.
"Oh, Crash. Was that that picture about Johnny Crash?"

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Get Thee Behind Me, Conde Nast!

I just got an e-mail offer for a year's subscription to both Allure and Glamour for only TWENNY BUCKS!!!

I am so tempted.

I love the photos. I love that I can get lost in serious, serious discernment about face creams for thirty minutes when one of those things comes in the mail. I love the ridiculous outfits and the inspiration for my own fashionable-fat-girl sartorial efforts. I love that I actually tear out pages and bring them to Sephora to get products, thereby proving that I am a first class suckah consumer and hypocrite, too, since I constantly deride consumerism.

I love the vapid articles.

But I just don't think I can allow this to happen. I currently get Martha Stewart Living and Self (a huge disappointment) and Lucky (a magazine about shopping! How debauched!) and Real Simple and the UU World and the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin and the Christian Century for serious reads and I pick up celeb trash mags on occasion at the supermarket check-out. I read Allure and Glamour while my nails are drying at the manicurist. I buy Harper's and the New Yorker on occasion.

I recycle two or three Trader Joe's paper bags worth of paper products every two weeks; not too bad.

Aw geez. Someone environmentally conscious talk me out of this, willya?

Church Fires "A Joke"

What fresh hell is this?
A couple of college buddies from the University of Alabama set five church fires as A JOKE?
And then that "joke" got kinda out of hand?
I suppose the next thing I'm going to hear is how these sociopaths are "really great kids."
Lord have mercy. Hold me back.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What Tired Pro-Choice Rhetoric Hath Wrought

So the South Dakota guv has signed a bill effectively outlawing abortion in his state.

The Chicago Tribune writes about it here:

I've heard an awful lot of hand-wringing and conservative-hating and doom forecast by women of my acquaintance over this one. And I say to all of them, "Yes, and what have you done in the past ten years to stem this tide, aside from tsk-tsking about it over your skim lattes? Did you write checks to NARAL or other legislative advocacy groups? Did you encourage your clergyperson to speak on behalf of safe, legal abortion and reproductive choice? Did you write letters to legislators and editors making an ethical case for reproductive choice? Did you testify anywhere, or attend a rally? Did you talk to young men and women about the urgency of this issue? Did you make a case for abortion whenever possible: a morally reasoned, ethical argument that goes beyond the old slogans and cliches? Because obviously, not enough of us did."

We all knew this was coming, didn't we?
We saw again and again the failure of our own outdated rhetoric and pro-choice slogans -- we had to have seen it, as reproductive technologies made it impossible not to notice the hypocrisy of getting excited about "the baby" as soon as we viewed it on an ultrasound (4-8 weeks), but then to insist that it's a "fetus" when we didn't want to carry it to term. We kept chanting, "Get your rosaries out of my ovaries" and "If you can't trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child," and "Just say 'no' to sex with pro-lifers" and other phrases that eventually lost their sting (like fifteen years ago) and began to sound merely defensive and petulant. Meanwhile, young women rejected the label "feminist" and, never knowing a time before Roe V Wade, took up the "pro-life" mantle with self-righteous vigor.
They had no idea, none at all, what it would cost us all to lose the right to seek a safe abortion. It has slipped away little by little, state by state, clinic bombing by clinic bombing, and while we were getting fired up by the lawsuit against the pharmacist who refused to dispense the Morning After Pill, one governor was getting ready to consign every pregnant South Dakotan woman to government-enforced motherhood.

It's easy to accuse lawmakers who outlaw safe, legal abortion as misogynist, and I truly believe they are. But the people elect the legislators. We elect them. Until those who frame the pro-choice message start abandoning the slogans and speaking truth about how women sometimes choose to make a human sacrifice to poverty, fear, rampant male immaturity and their own personal life goals, we're going to keep losing this, state by state.

Not to say that speaking truth will persuade the opponents. But it might impress the younger ones coming up behind us who have never heard honest and frank, unvarnished talk about the many possible interpretations of "saving the life of the mother." We've sentimentalized motherhood so much we're terrified of what will happen when Mommy sits us down and explains that along with her great big mushy love for us, she's got rage and wildness and freedom, and that sometimes she just does not have it in her to be consumed by the needs of another life. And that God created Woman, and only Woman, with a womb to grow a baby in and a vagina to deliver a baby out of, and that if Woman doesn't want to grow a baby and deliver it, she will assure that she doesn't have to, even risking her life to assure that she doesn't have to.
Woman who doesn't want to bring another life into this world has always known how to make arrangements to prevent that, and has done so since the beginning of time.

We can be realistic and make it possible for Woman to terminate a pregnancy in a safe and legal way, or we can decide as a society that if she gets pregnant, she has two realistic choices: she can be a mother at whatever cost to her (and her children), or she can be dead of a botched abortion.

And meanwhile, Men make laws to decide these things. And their Mamas are right proud of them.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar AfterThoughts

I just hope we've seen the end of the geriatric hair do's among Hollywood starlets. I don't think I can take another year of Charlize Theron and Reese Witherspoon in demure granny buns.

Jon Stewart, thank you for mercilessly mocking the Hollywood hypocrites, even though they'll never ask you back. Best lines:

(after a series of clips showing big moments from social justice-themed films):
"And none of those things were ever an issue again after those films came out."

(about halfway through the interiminable telecast after about the fourth montage of film clips):
"Good God. I'm waiting for the tribute to montages.... We're out of clips! We have no more clips! People send in your clips... even if they're on Beta!"

(referring to the illegal practice of bootlegging films):
"Do not pirate tapes, America. These are the people you're stealing from. Some of these women hardly had enough money to cover their breasts!"

Puncture away, Jon Stewart. We love you!

I still can't believe "Crash" won.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Christian Century

For awhile there I was devouring the Christian Century from cover to cover the minute it arrived. Of late, though, the issues have been very uninteresting. I'm so disappointed.

Are others feeling the same way?
I can't tell you how pleasant it is, and how great for my bronchitis, that my heat went out 24 hours ago.

I do have heat in the kitchen and in the two guest bedrooms, so the cat and I will be bunking down on a twin bed tonight. Oh joy.

P.S. The Albuterol isn't really working that well at all. I'm going to have to do Nyquil tonight.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Movie Mash-Ups

Very clever, although the comments section is lame:

Huffington was cute on the Stephen Colbert Report, and he was in rare form. Did you catch it?

Hollywood Update And Other Random Nothings

To think that dreck like "Crash" gets nominated for Best Picture while something like "The 40-Year Old Virgin" gets bupkus just confirms my sense that Hollywood people are impossibly self-important schmucks who have no appreciation for the art of comedy.

Speaking of which, I am so afraid of the new "Pink Panther" remake with Steve Martin that I shudder to think it might end up in my Netflix queue by accident, and I don't think I could bear it. I love Steve Martin, I honor Steve Martin. Steve, what hast thou done? And why?

I loved "The 40-Year Old Virgin." It was silly and the chest waxing scene went on way too long, but it was a film about male friendship and the comedy performances were terrific. I don't know if people have any idea how hard it is to sustain an entire picture with such broad comedic performances, all of which managed to be human and tender and loveable as well. Major accomplishment, and it was a real ensemble piece where most of the characters were in most of the scenes m-- unlike "Crash," which was touted as an ensemble piece, but was really a pastiche of two and three-person scenes. Please. Don Cheadle's dialogue -- in fact, his entire role -- could not have been more cheezy and contrived. Kudos to him for managing to get away with his actorly dignity intact. There was some bad acting going on in "Crash," people, and one gag-inducing bit of dialogue after the next.

File under "How Americans Get So Fat": I bought these things called "Sun Snacks" -- doesn't that sound healthy? -- because the package is all warm and golden and it says, "NATURAL: no preservatives, no artificial flavor, no artificial colors, 0 grams trans fat." You know what these things are? They're just potato chips. Yes, they're (and I quote) "thick cut sea salted potato chips" but they're just plain old chips and I bought them because they said, "Come into the sun" on the back, and I figured, "Well, I can't get to St. Bart's right now but, I mean, this could be just as good."
Come into the fat is more like it. I was so sick yesterday, hacking my way around Whole Foods Market. I did get a bunch of juice oranges and some other healthy items but look what I'm digging into first.

I'm reading a wonderful book about the Yiddish language called Born To Kvetch. It's the first book I've ever read that gives an unvarnished, insider's perspective on what old world Jews really think /thought of Christians, and I love it. Fascinating anecdotes and great linguistics. Recommended.


Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
So I sez to the doc, "Doc, ya gotta help me. All I do is cough. I cough so hard my eyeballs pop out. I cough all night long. My coughing keeps all the dogs in the neighborhood up. I'm shaking loose my guts, doc. I get no rest. I'm like an old lady now. I can't put on my eyeliner straight, I'm coughing so much."

So the doc says, "You got bronchitis. You got to breathe this asthma medicine and it will give you a kick, like you just drank sixteen cups of coffee, but you won't be coughing. At least I think you won't."

So I go to the pharmacist, the cute red haired guy at the Stop & Shop, and he says, "Hey, I like your haircut," and he gives me this magical little canister of Albuterol and I shoot myself in the mouth with it and bam, the coughing stops -- mostly -- and I take a five hour nap and now I feel like a new woman.

Thanks gods.

God is Gonna Getchya

I was in Trader Joe's the other night when I heard one of the workers complain that he had been called up for jury duty. I thought to myself, "Boy am I glad that's not ME!" and then wondered if I would finally get summonsed (not "summoned," but "summonsed") since I never have had that honor before.

The next day I got the bloody summonses in the mail.


That's just how I want to spend my day off in a few weeks: getting up way earlier than usual, driving to a really skanky city, and biding my time in a courthouse. Psyched.

I'm off to the doctor to see if we can find some solution to this horrific, chronic cough. I just want to lay down and die.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Lessons From Ash Wednesday

(1) Memorize the words of thanksgiving over the ashes. I was so glad I did, and I took them from our own King's Chapel Prayerbook, which says something like,

"Almighty God, who maketh us to know that dust we are, and to dust we shall return, make us also to know that we are temples of thy holy Spirit, and recipients of thy grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

(2) You will have to use your left hand to sweep the hair off many people's foreheads in order to impose the ashes. It is very tender and unexpectedly emotional. If a woman is wearing a wig, be especially gentle.

(3) As in a kiss, most people will not look into your eyes when you impose the ashes. But when they do, don't be afraid to look back. It is powerfully bonding and beautiful.

(4) Really get your thumb into the ashes and smoosh it around a bit, but tap it off before you impose the ashes or you might drop soot in someone's eye.

(5) Take your time. Speak clearly (even if softly) when you give the blessing. Don't just smear at them like you want to get it over with. Really draw that vertical and that horizontal line. Feel free to put your left hand on their shoulder if you need to balance yourself. You can't be touch-phobic and do this with full pastoral presence.

(6) When imposing ashes on a child, step down from the chancel and onto the floor with them to get the best angle.

(7) Be prepared to be a little spooked out when you look out at the congregation for the rest of the service and see all those ashy foreheads. Nothing else says "Hey! We're totally mortal and going to die someday!" quite as obviously as that, and I'd never seen it from the pastor's vantage point before.

More About The Third Place

I appreciate all the comments on the notion of "the third place," an expression coined by Ray Oldenburg. We're talking about it here:

Kim asks, if there was a third place, would we know what to do there?

It's a legitimate question: do we know how to sit around and strike up conversations with strangers anymore -- strangers who might hold diametrically opposed political views, religious views, and notions of what is Right and Good? Are you capable of going into a comfortable community tavern where the Fox News is on the television set, and not making an instant character assessment of all the people in the bar?
I'm not, which is why I don't ever, ever go to the local tavern across the street from my own church, which I suspect is very much a "third place" in my town. Shame on me! It's across the street, it's safe, it's a little bit seedy but not overly much, and I could probably easily go over every day with a book and have a Diet Coke, hang out on a stool at the bar and see who shows up.
Of course I'd probably get a reputation as the minister who hangs out at "that bar," but I'd probably also get a really good sense of what's going on in town.

I notice with pleasure that the new Panera Bread nearby is becoming a third place for kids -- if I go for a late lunch there's invariably a big table of high school kids giggling and hacking around, and no one hassles them a bit. They buy a cup of soup or a hot chocolate and they've got a hang-out for as long as they want it. I'm glad to see it, and some of the kids are beginning to be familiar. We strike up a little conversation sometimes.

Oldenburg says that third places are places where people can go and become regulars and carry on the kind of stress-relieving conversations that are somewhere between vulgar and prosaic but not required to be deep or productive. While a third place can promote very high-brow political conversation (think a cafe in Prague during the Revolution), it is more likely to be be Homer Simpson and his buddies throwing back some brew at Moe's and just shooting the breeze. Or, as Chalice Chick points out, a group of guys playing cards in the back of a store every week (a PERFECT third place). The point is that the third place is unsterile, uncommercial, ungeared to sell you something, and becomes a gathering place that allows a sense of community to form between highly unlikely people.

Why can't our churches be a "third place?" What do you think?

Baptize Your Cat

This brought on a fit of laughing so hard that now I have to go collect bits of my lungs from all over the room:

Mr. Twinkles and Oliver, omg.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"I'm Sorry, Our Time Is Up"

Miss Erm
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
Aside from the fact that you can see all the junk in the mud room behind her, have you ever seen a more beautiful and understanding creature?

When I walked, or rather shuffled miserably, into the kitchen this morning it looked to me like she was ready to offer total emotional support.

But I know her.

She was actually thinking, "Excuse me, Lady. I ordered bacon with that."

Guess what I'd rather be doing now than being all dressed up and going off to lead an Ash Wednesday service?

Answer: Anything at all, even sticking pins in my eyes.

The Third Place

I've been reading this wonderful book by Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place:

Have any of you ever read it?

I'm sorry I don't feel well enough to write much about it, but it's main premise is that we don't have "third places" anymore in society, places that people can congregate in a relaxed atmosphere with no pressure to buy anything, to engage in stress-reducing conversation and to create impromptu community.

Since I often find myself pacing around at home wishing for such a place (Barnes & Noble? well yea, but no one strikes up a conversation. The local lunch counter? Well yea, but the locals are all construction worker type guys and it would be very weird for me to suddenly try to participate. The gym? No, too utilitarian and everyone's sweating too much to exchange more than a friendly grunt -- although sadly, the gym comes closest). Oldenburg's theory is that modern urban planning has worked so assiduously to get the kids and old folks off the stoops and out of the doorways and off the streets, urban and suburban America has become very sterile and has no more remaining informal public gathering places.

I think this book would preach, big time. It clarified for me why I crave time in Europe, where every city has dozens of "third places" for me to slip into and join the human race. Here, if I don't make plans with friends, my options for getting out of the house are either inherently solitary or consumeristic: go for a walk, go shopping, go to a movie, go to the library, get a massage or for some kind of beauty treatment.

That's why I used to like karaoke when I lived in Maryland, it was a "third place" that sprang up several nights a week that brought together a totally disparate crowd in the easy camaraderie of singing together, sharing a few beers, and engaging in a harmless, inexpensive communal activity unaffected by educational levels or economic status.

The book is four-star recommended.