Sunday, April 30, 2006


You find chalice logos in the most unlikely and confusing places!

"Liza With A 'Z'"

Originally uploaded by Peacebang.

My Inner Gay Male went into paroxysms of excitement when I heard that the 1972 concert, "Liza With A 'Z'" had been restored and released on Showtime last month. I knew I'd want to see all the DVD extras, so I ordered it from Netflix and watched it last night.

Good God Awmighty, Liza was a force of nature. She is without question one of the greatest entertainers of the last many decades (I'm not going to say "of the century" because, you know, I bet Sophie Tucker and Bessie Smith and Fanny Brice and Al Jolsen were thrilling, too), and she is at the top of her game in this special.

Let me just rave a bit more specifically about what makes Miss Minnelli so absolutely magnificent.
First, she combines astonishing raw talent with murderously hard work. Bob Fosse directs and choreographs her, and she just plain KILLS on the dance numbers. Fosse, of course, is notorious for the sexy, knock-kneed, tushie-out contortions he puts his dancers through, and Liza executes every number not only with panache but with an attention to character and meaning that renders every one of them a tiny epic of comedy or drama.

That's the thing about Liza, and young singers, you need to learn this: she's an ACTOR FIRST.
Whether she's singing or dancing -- and sweet Jesus, her stamina is simply outrageous -- she goes from full-out dance numbers to full-out vocals with barely a break -- Liza pours forth her entire life force into each number as if her life depends on it. Unlike a Britney or a Christina or a Celine, she isn't just putting out a come-hither-buy-my-ticket parody of emotional involvement (a crime for which Ms Dion, Queen of Egregious Overemoting, should be publicly whacked in the head with a CD single of "My Heart Will Go On"), she is genuinely involved. She's got her guts in it, and she gets you in the guts.

Sure, her voice is crazy and she's histrionic and she's wearing ridiculously long false eyelashes but she's beautiful, she's raw, she's young, she has a real face and a real body and real uncapped crooked teeth and the best haircut that you've ever seen in your life and fabulous Halston costumes.

Her DVD commentary track is a master class in itself, and charming.

I happen to think that Judy Garland was the best singer that popular music has ever known. I don't love her repertoire that much, and I only have a few of her recordings, but that's because listening to Judy isn't so much listening as witnessing. When Judy sang, she got naked in her soul and she put it out there vocally for you to have. It's painful to hear sometimes. Her daughter did the same thing; she has the same talent for ripping your heart out. She lives for the audience. It's as simple as that. The love is absolutely and completely real.

(Note to performers: check out how she walks right up to the footlights to take her bows. I SO love that! I am SO going to steal that! Is that not fabulous?)

I think you should see "Liza With a 'Z'." See it for the amazing Fosse choreography (He himself considered "Bye, Bye Blackbird" one of his very best numbers ever). See it for the funny 1970's people in the audience. See it for the electrifying, star-making performance by a bona fide show business legend -- the riveting, adorable, achingly honest and shockingly talented 26-year old Miss Liza Minnelli.

Liza, I love you. You are a glorious lady.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

PeaceBang's Little Helper

I take back every bad thing I ever said about the i-Pod:

Yes, it can be used to tune out life, block out other people, and to provide a steady stream of blissful memories that can help us avoid our current reality. But I don't use it that way.

I got mine in January and not only did it get me to and from Spain without a panic attack on the plane, it has made exercising something I look forward to.

Before the i-Pod, I got to the gym every once in awhile. I started getting more serious last October as I began to feel the stress-relieving benefits of regular exercise.

Then I got my i-Pod. I created several work-out playlists, and a cool-down list. I have started to think of the gym as my playground, and of exercise as something I just have to do, like brushing my teeth.
I started to enjoy my times at the gym more. I never socialized there in the first place, aside from friendly nods and some casual chat at the weights. I'm breathing too hard to chat, man.
Then I started downloading podcasts and now I kind of love going to the gym.
I subscribe to the following free podcast services:
The New York Times headlines
NY Times Worldview
NY Times movie reviews
Siskel and Ebert movie reviews (or whoever that new guy is)
WGBH Classical Performances
The Washington Post Politics On Air
A weird thing called Dublab (not sure what this is yet)
Open Source with Christopher Leyden Gabfest
American Experience (everything from Jesse James to the San Francisco earthquake to The Boy In the Bubble)

I am better informed now than ever. As a nice side effect, my blood pressure is down, my blood sugar is down, my cholesterol is down and my weight is down (not much, but down). I went out for a 30-minute walk today and stayed out for an hour. Why? My podcasts were really good.

I'm just really grateful for the damn thing.

PB's "American Idol" Pick

Oh, and if you care...

Chris Daughtry. All the way.

I was HORRIFIED by that Pickler girl's atrocious vocals and zombie eyes last week. Thank you for voting her off, America. We just can't have that.

Friday, April 28, 2006

How To Feel Calm and Sweet Before Bed

I am addicted to looking at this eagle:

I like to talk to it.

"Hi Eagle! Your feathers are so pretty right now."

"If you only knew how famous you were. You're a very famous eagle."

"Look at me! Look at me, eagle!" (tapping computer screen)

"Goodnight, Eagle. I love you."

Beauty Tips For Ministers

Don't forget about my new blog, Beauty Tips for Ministers!

EVERYone can enjoy it!

GA Blogger Dinner

Folks, it looks like "Si! Por Favor!" for a tapas meal together at GA in St. Louis. I don't think the restaurant will be near the convention center but let's just be glamorous and take cabs.

Does anyone remember the name of the blogger who put together the wonderful list of St. Louis restaurants and resources? He recommended a couple of tapas joints and I want to look them up but I've plumb forgotten who he is.

Looking at my GA schedule thus far, Friday looks pretty good, but if I recall correctly, lots of people have seminary reunion dinners that night. How about Thursday as a preliminary suggestion and we'll get a gander of the program on Monday and make it firm then?

Stay tuned...


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Our Father

I was in a group of 13 UUs today doing an exercise during which we were pretending to lead part of a funeral service. At one point the worship leader told us to join hands and recite the Lord's Prayer together. Without hesitation, we all did.

It wasn't until hours later when I realized, oh my god, everyone there (including several life-long UUs) knew the Lord's Prayer by heart!

So for the UU Mom who was worried that her kids would never learn any prayer by heart,

don't worry! They might soak one up by osmosis.

"On the Latest Form of Infidelity"

I went to the Andover-Newton library today to obtain a copy of Henry Ware, Jr.'s famous essay on the connection (or, as he writes, "connexion") between the pulpit and the pastoral role. After the library assistant handed me the ancient book and I flipped through it, I realized to my great and hysterical delight that it contained the entire pamphlet war between Andrews Norton and George Ripley following Emerson's Divinity School Address of 1838!!!

I have been wanting to read those slap-downs for YEARS and as of next week, after the library copies the pages for me, I can.

I'm sure some of you wonks out there will tell me that I could have found all these documents in some really accessible place, like on the coffee table in the Harvard Div School Library or something, but I don't want to hear it. pooh.
I finished reading The State Boys' Rebellion tonight at dinner and then drove to see Freddie in the nursing home. He was really lucid for awhile and was just as lovely and gracious as can be. He gave me two cute stuffed puppies from his carnival concession: prizes he won't be able to use now since he'll never be back on the circuit again.

I am so sad sad sad sad sad.

Fred had the worst childhood I have ever heard of. Oliver Twist had nothing on this guy. I look at his sweet face and I believe deep in my heart that his death will be his release into a bliss and peace beyond comprehending. I just know that God will make this right. I believe it, even though I have no idea how that happens. I believe it, yet I want so much to give him another lifetime to make up for the outrageous assaults and cruelty of this one. When a man says, "Feeding us radioactive oatmeal was the least of it!" it's evidence of a really really bad life.

Please God, just let him not be afraid and not suffer.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Eugenics in America

I'm almost finished reading The State Boys' Rebellion by Michael D'Antonio and just sick about it:

Its protaganist, Freddie Boyce, is in the end stages of colon cancer. I had the honor of meeting him last week. I cannot urge you passionately enough to read his story.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Happy Earth Day!

I blessed about thirty dogs today, sometimes by the armful (e.g., two placid mini dachsunds with the brownest eyes you ever saw).
I blessed a fat, peach-colored hamster, and two white mice (whose little boy solemnly told me, "If you want to take the mice out of the cage to bless them, um, you shouldn't because they always poop on your finger!" I said I would just touch them on the top of their heads, and I appreciated the warning.)
Also up for a blessing: two tadpoles (no kidding) and a beautiful blue fighting fish named Nemo.
I blessed a traumatized cat who cowered in her carrying case, and was presented with a horseshoe from a new horse.
I fell in love with a rat terrier named Boo-Boo who came to church in a little argyle sweater.

I shared the service with an eminent visiting colleague, the Reverend Doggone Mather:


The final benediction ended, "Amen, Woof, Meow."

And they said it couldn't be done.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Why I'm Getting More Calvinistic, Part Deux

First of all, if you're interested in this issue you should read all the smarty-pants comments and recommendations in the previous post.

I've got a lot of good summer reading to add to the pile, including Dorrien's essay.

So I'm puzzling through this, and I suspect some of the recommended readings will help me. It also helps me to consider what both Philocrites and Fausto have said: namely, that what's missing from UUism is careful discernment of theological claims we've been fairly casually making for a long time (too long, really), and realism in our religion. What I see in contemporary UUism is this kind of pushing back the night with our humanist will, i.e., "we know it's terrible but you and I can make a difference!"
And we can, and of course we need to keep preaching and living that.

But we're I'm coming down is that while I believe in natural religion and an instinctual sense of the Moral Law (because,as Channing so beautifully posited, we're possessed of God's own nature), what I'm coming down to is a personal conviction that --whether within religious communities OR left to our own devices -- we're more prone to delusion and justification, sin and erring, than to virtue.

Why? Not necessarily because that's how we were made (a la the Puritans' idea) but because our age is so fraught with toxins of body, mind and spirit that we are functioning less well morally as a species because of them.

Many of our daily practices (like spending hours on the internet, for instance, gathering points of view, articles and conversation) subject us to such an onslaught of perspectives, while our lack of sleep and sabbath rest, overstimulation, environmental and dietary poisons, goods and services to feed our myriad addictions available 24 hours a day (a new thing under the sun, indeed!) and rampant materialism -- not to mention the dozens of other temptations and anxieties to which our age is prone -- have what I am certain is a highly deleterious effect on our moral sense.

As a modern gal, I do believe that a lot of our moral sense is developed along with our cerebral cortex, and I think that not only are our children's attention spans shrinking due to Electronic Childhood, but their moral reasoning also suffers. Meanwhile, their parents are spinning out on life lived the speed of light, with constant media buzzing in their brain, every possible entertainment, pleasure, distraction and indulgence available to them in either fact or in fantasy, and daily evidence that the seven deadly sins aren't so much deadly as just great fodder for consumption over the Stairmaster via Dr. Phil.

I suppose every age believes it's especially corrupt. Don't think that while I'm writing this I don't feel like a 21st century Cotton Mather. Which I'm not sure is such a bad thing.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Why I'm Getting More Calvinistic

As I was watching a PBS special on Dietrich Bonhoeffer last night, followed by a special about Auschwitz (or perhaps documentary would be a better word, as the terms "special" and "Auschwitz" should never appear in the same sentence together), it occurred to me why my theology has become more and more Calvinistic over the years: I just don't think we can't be trusted with just plain Self-Culture in the manner that Emerson preached it, and toward which Channing and Henry Ware, Jr.'s optimistic Christianity pointed us.

Left to our own conscience without the instructive influence of authority and tradition, and a sense of obedience to a Moral Reality beyond our own conscience, we're just too prone to delusions and justified cruelty, and insanity.

This isn't to say that religion doesn't prompt humans to some insane cruelty and delusions. Duh. I know that. I'm not proposing a religious solution to humankind's innate depravity, I'm just saying that more and more, I believe we ARE innately depraved. My own personal solution is a serious Christian life, but I don't believe that's the universal solution for anything.

For such an Emersonian as myself, it's been terribly sad to read some of his late sermons and to think, "Oh buddy, you've really got your idealistic head up your posterior."

Obviously I have to think about this a lot more (I've been thinking more this week about why I came out and said that I believe Jesus was dead, dead, dead, and why he made a later JESUS: LIVE AND IN PERSON! appearance to his disciples).

For a bit of comic relief: As I was watching the Bonhoeffer special I thought of a minister I know who fancies himself quite the saint and savior of humankind, and quite the exemplary Christian. I snorted to myself, "He thinks he's Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but he's not even Marlene Dietrich."

Okay, it was funny to me at the time.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Somewhere Xenu Is Laughing

Brooke Shields and Katie Holmes had their baby girls on the same day.

Reportedly, Suri means "princess" in Hebrew and "red rose" in Persian. It apparently means "pickpocket" in Japanese. (Betcha Tom didn't think of that!) sez it's not a Hebrew name at all, but means "Lord Krishna." I'm all confused, but that's how TomKat wants it, so Katie can sneak out to the garbage can and throw out the fake pregnancy pillow she's been wearing for like a year while I scratch my head and google the name "Suri."

Grier means "little privileged white girl whose mommy was a child star."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Reviewing the Principles and Purposes

Philocrites and Boy In the Bands and all kinds of UU bloggers are talking about it and commenting on it.

I will too, as soon as I get some time.

I grew up in a Unitarian Universalism without the Seven Principles. I think they've been a help to us in the past ten years, and have become a hindrance in the past five or six. Why? Because too many overly-earnest UUs have adopted them as a quasi-creed, and because we generally grossly misinterpret the first principle and use it in a disturbingly, narcissistic "Don't Tell Me I Can't Say/Do That Cuz I Got Inherent Worth And Dignity" way that violates its original intent.
And because they lack poetry and they're comically verbose (ever tried to memorize the first Source? I always start with the "transcending mystery and wonder, known in many cultures... bla bla bla" and just say, "In other words, GOD." Which always gets a big laugh, and we move on).

And because worst of all, congregations don't think they need their own covenant becuase "we have the Seven Principles!" Which are part of the covenant between member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, possums, not your own congregation's covenant.

And PeaceBang is a big believer in the power of the congregational covenant, and not a behavioral covenant, either, which is a whole 'nuther thing.

Well, I guess I found the time. That's that.

Easter Sermon Excerpt

I’m sorry that we won’t be having any sheep this morning. Just us, and I’m so glad to see you all.

We’ve just heard [our DRE] read the story of the original Easter morning, when Jesus’ dear friend Mary of Magdala, and another friend named Mary, went to his tomb where they had the sad task of burying him. That was woman’s work back in the ancient times. But, as you know, they found the tomb empty, and an angel announcing that Jesus was alive. The best way to describe their reaction in today’s language, children, would be to say that they “totally freaked out” and ran to tell the other followers of Jesus, or the disciples.

Now, it doesn’t say this in the gospel of Matthew, but it does say it in several other versions of the same story that the other disciples thought that the women who came running to them with this news were absolutely crazy. They didn’t believe them at all. I suppose they figured that the women were suffering from being over-tired and they had cried so much their eyes were playing tricks on them. They brushed the women off. The gospel of Luke says, “These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”
It wasn’t until the other disciples experienced the living presence of Jesus themselves that they were able to enter into this miracle and believe.

And that’s really how miracles work.

One person may experience something tremendous, life-changing, even seemingly supernatural, but it’s when a community of people hears the story and chooses to enter into it with full faith that a miracle occurs.

I bet some people here today are experiencing the miracle of resurrection in their own lives. In fact, I know they are. The rest of us can share their joy and when we do, some of that resurrection rubs off on us. I know, and you do too, that it’s one thing to have a wonderful blessing happen in your life, but when you bring it to your community, it can take on miraculous proportions.

Maybe a baby is born. The parents hold that baby and they think, my god, this is beyond belief! We have made ourselves a baby, or we have got ourselves our very own baby! But when they bring that baby to the community, the community knows that this is more than just their baby; this is a new person who needs to be loved and nurtured and urged into being a good member of the human race. Everyone who sees that baby sits up a little taller in their seat, feeling the responsibility of making a good example for that child, thinking about what they have to teach him or her, what values they will pass on to him or her. When this happens, a very personal miracle becomes everyone’s miracle.

Maybe someone get news from the doctor that their latest tests show no signs of a disease they’ve been struggling with for a long time. It’s amazing, they sit in wonder and awe that this could have happened. They are so grateful. Then they bring this news to the community, and others who care about them feel the joy and wonder with them. Everyone who hears the news has their heart opened in relief and gratitude. Their news isn’t so personal any more, it’s everyone’s miracle.

Or maybe the news from the doctor isn’t good. Someone is going to be facing a very difficult time, health-wise. They are worried. They bring that worry to the community and everyone who hears it puts that person in their heart, holds them there, worries with them, thinks about ways they can share their strength with that person. Some do it silently, with prayers or loving thoughts, and some do it out loud and in tangible ways. They write cards or they bring soup or they make a phone call or they give backrubs. Either way, that person’s spirit gathers all this in, and they have moments where they just know they can endure whatever comes. They know that they are not alone and they are not forsaken.
There is a Spirit of Life and Love that is with them even as they lie in the hospital bed recovering from surgery, or enduring some other painful trial. How do they know they are not alone and not forsaken? They know it because they’re a part of a community, and because they are, their own body is just a smaller part of one bigger body. That’s a miracle, too.

We just don’t think of it that way, because we’re the ones who make it happen.

The Bible is full of ancient stories about God making miracles happen. Some of them are quiet miracles that happen to one person, and some of them are big Cecil B. DeMille productions like the parting of the Red Sea, where a whole community of people experience the miracle together. The thing is, though, even those little miracles that occur to just one person always – and I mean always– have an impact on a community of people.

If the miracle is, for instance, God speaking to one person, that you can bet that that one person is going to go on to be a great leader of a larger group of people. If the miracle is one woman praying for a baby late in life, and getting pregnant, that child is going to be a real gift to humanity. That’s how it works in the Bible, and I think I’ve finally figured something out about miracles, something that the Bible means to teach, and it’s this: the miraculous thing isn’t God doing some big supernatural magic trick. The miraculous thing is how a community of people changes for the better because of something that happens to all of them together. A miracle is something that cracks us open so more love can get in.


The story [our DRE] told us earlier is so right: the messiah is one of you. If we can hear that and take that in, how much that can change us! What a miracle that would be, to live every day as though the messiah was one of us. It could be you. It could be your irritating neighbor or co-worker. It could be your child. It could be your mother-in-law. What if we treated one another as if one of us was the most blessed and holy person this broken world was waiting for? What would our communities look like? Our nations? Our planet?

Here is another story, also told by my friend Carl Scovel in Never Far From Home: Stories From the Radio Pulpit:

You remember that El Salvador was a nation on the verge of civil war in 1980. This is a story of one of the major events of that time.

On March 24, in 1980, the Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, was celebrating mass in the small Chapel of Divine Providence attached to a small hospital. He had just finished reading the Words of the Institution: ‘This is my body, which will be given for you…’ when a man waiting in the back of the church shot and killed him. Those were terribly dangerous times. He knew he might be assassinated. But Bishop Romero believed in resurrection. He believed in the miracle of community. He said, “If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.”

At that time of his death, there was a traditional crucifix hanging in the Chapel oDivine Providence where he said his last mass. It was a carved figure of Jesus with a crown of thorns. But at some point after Romero died, the crucifix was taken down. In its place the nuns in the hospital put up a cross, and at the intersection of the crossbar and the vertical, they set in a frame of golden rays flaming out from the center, where we usually see the figure of Jesus, a mirror.

When the people saw the cross and reflected on the triumph of love over violence, they didn’t see Jesus. They saw themselves.

A miracle doesn’t have to be a big supernatural production to be a true miracle. A true miracle is something that cracks us open so that more love can get in. A miracle happens when a community of people hears the sacred, ancient call to love our God with all our hearts and souls, all our minds and all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, and chooses to enter into that sacred story with full faith, letting it change them for the better.

You want to know how God works the greatest miracles?
[here I held up a mirror to the congregation]
It has never been any other way.

My friends, believe me when I tell you that truly, you are the resurrection and the life. Take that good news with you. Believe it, share it, and live it, today and all the days of your lives. Happy Easter, alleluia, and amen!


I just finished my doctoral project proposal. I have been working on it since September and I am so relieved to have it done I could either jump out of my skin or crawl into bed and stay there 'til Pentecost. Off to the gym.

Peace. Bang.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Friday, April 14, 2006

Empty Tomb, Empty Pew

I was sad to see the posting on UU Easter at Ethan's blog, "Jehovah's Fitness:"

I'm afraid many people think the way he does, and as a minister who pours heart and soul into composing a relevant resurrection-themed Easter message every year, I'm sorry that it may irritate anyone.

I don't think that the problem is that Ethan's not listening carefully enough, nor is it that he's an occasional drop-in to his UU congregation and couldn't possibly be expected to engage deeply in an Easter observance. Both of those things may be factors in why the people I call "God's All-Stars" only appear at Christmas and Easter and then go away making snarky remarks about the cliched nature of the service (I don't know if they do: I assume that some of them do. My family and I were occasional drop-ins to UU services for years, and that's what we did). It obviously isn't the case for Ethan.

I think it may be that Ethan is hearing sermons by ministers who are afraid to bring the fire of personal conviction into their Easter sermons because of potential criticism by disaffected Christians who have yet to gain a mature, affirmative faith of their own and so sneer at anything that smacks of their past experience. The flip side of that coin, of course, is that there are plenty of ministers who find no thrilling spiritual meaning at ALL in Easter and nevertheless feel compelled to mount a big production on that day. Neither reality makes for a great experience for either clergy or laity.

I agree with Ethan that to render Easter just Wow, Stuff is Growing Again Day is lame. To celebrate it as such year after year is inexcusably lame. There's a reason that every mystery religion in the Western world had a dead and resurrected god or goddess at its center, and that those mystery religions had so many devotees for hundreds, or even thousands, of years. And it ain't just because the daffodils pushed back up through the soil again. And it ain't just 'cause people are credulous simpletons. I love how UU ministers will discount Christians as superstitious ninnies and then speak of Plato and Sophocles in hushed, reverent tones, conveniently ignoring the fact that both those great geniuses of western civilization believed in, and worshiped, gods and supernatural beings.

It may be that Ethan is hearing messages watered down by worship committees who think Easter should be one thing and a minister who wishes it could be something else. It may be that Ethan is feeling the tensions of a congregation gathered on the holiest day of the Christian calendar, who have a wide variety of expectations, wounds and anxieties about what Easter is or should be. Perhaps that tension is negatively affecting the energy of the worshiping community.

I don't know. Perhaps Ethan will tell us more.

And meanwhile, plenty of UUs fly the coop for Holy Week observances elsewhere:

May Easter fill your heart with resurrection faith wherever you are.

PeaceBang's New Blog!

Because of extensive prodding and egging on by Sister Of PeaceBang, PeaceBang would like to announce the presence of her new blog,

Beauty Tips for Ministers

And now I'm going to have a pious Good Friday, and wish you one as well.

The First Cut Is The Deepest

Scene: A bedroom in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

My brother puts his two baby sons down to sleep in their cribs. He tells them to go to sleep, it's bedtime.
As soon as he closes the door he hears them giggling and chirping to each other in their little baby language (and what I wouldn't give for a recording!).
He opens the door. Stern. "Boys, go. to. sleep. Nicholas, you go to sleep."

As he softly shuts the door he hears from one of the cribs, just as stern,
"YOU go seep, Dada!"


I finally saw "Capote" a couple of weeks ago and was disappointed. I don't know why. Maybe I'm too old and have seen too many movies. Maybe I wanted Harper Lee to be more fabulously Southern than the wan Catherine Keener managed to make her (and I LOVE Catherine Keener!). Maybe I was too distracted by the technicality of Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance (I LOVE PSH! But I would have voted for Heath Ledger, whose "Brokeback Mountain" performance was, I thought, so much more wrenching and less Inside-the-Actor's-Studio-crafty).

I suppose, in the end, pretty much all the characters were either dull or irredeemably unethical. I don't know why they had to drag even Wallace Shawn (played by Bob Balaban) through the mud: his own children protested that the New Yorker editor never went out to Kansas to witness the execution or anything as intimately involved as that.

One thing bothered me a lot about the screenplay: how come the other guy, Dick Hickock -- the one who didn't end up a kind of weird crush/alter ego/pawn for Truman Capote, also got executed? According to the film, he didn't murder anyone. Perry Smith killed the entire family. True, Hickock said, "We shouldn't leave any witnesses!" but that's not the same as slashing someone's throat or shooting them in the head.

I know this wasn't meant to be a courtroom drama -- it was intended to be an examination of the way that an author got drawn into a dangerous subject, and what it did to him. But still, I thought a scene that let us understand that there was never any clear evidence which of the men actually murdered the Clutter family (Perry Smith confessed to all four, but I guess the jury didn't buy it) would have helped. As it was, I was left with a much more negative opinion of the whole question of justice, and Truman Capote's interference with it, than was perhaps warranted.

Oh well. That's Hollywood.

Review of "Wicked"

I saw the tour of "Wicked" tonight and found it to be a disappointment. The most heartening thing about the show wasn't the production, but the presence of thousands of young theatre-goers in the audience who were clearly in love with the show and adored every bit of it. I'm happy for them. I had Endora; they have Elphaba. She's even more cool because she sings. And she's green.

I'm sorry I walked out without my program so I can't tell you the names of the leading ladies, who did a terrific job with the roles of Elphaba and Glinda. They had a lot of fun out there, were great singers, and brought heart and wonderful comic timing to all their bits. They were also game for a load of special effects and it wasn't their faults that most of those were just clumsy enough to be distracting. I hadn't realized how wonderful a role Glinda is: I think it goes down in the annals of theatre as one of the great comedic soprano roles for pretty blonde dingbats with a killer range. Delicious part.

The problem is the script: it's a mess. Unlike Sondheim's "Into the Woods," which had the wonderful James Lapine to weave dramatic gold out of a mishmash of well-loved old fairy tales and legends (and some believe that that second act isn't so much gold as dreck), "Wicked," which takes its source from Gregory Maguire's celebrated novel of the same name, just doesn't manage to make a coherent tale out of this new, sympathetic take on the Wicked Witch of the West.
Therefore, the plot contrivances are often embarrassing and insulting to the audience's intelligence.

The biggest problem is the show's constant veering from light comedy to super heavy-handed "issue" drama. It maintains a fairly consistent darkness, and some of Stephen Schwartz's score has some great moments, but only moments and never lyrically. The musical numbers are nothing special, except for the vocal pyrotechnics required by Elphaba that make "Defying Gravity" the closest thing to thrilling the production manages to deliver. Otherwise, the numbers are entertaining without ever being gripping, and effective without ever being truly moving. Again, in my opinion this isn't the fault of the performances but of the piece itself, which simply gets too dark and deep but undercuts itself with the silly, unnecessary need to cram in every recognizable aspect of "The Wizard of Oz" into the story. The flying monkeys sort of make sense (although it's a rather cheap contrivance that gets them that way), but only sort of. There's a Mr. Tumnus figure stolen right out of The Lion, The Witch And the Wardrobe that just doesn't work, and the way the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion get crammed into the plot is so poorly done it's positively cringe-worthy, and should have been fixed out of town.

It's a shame, really, because the concept is so marvelous and rich for a really brilliant interpretation, but we don't get that here. Instead we get dreadfully inconsistent secondary characters, and a frantic ensemble who changes costumes so often and so fast, and who dance with such frenzied energy you can't help but feel they're trying to distract you from the show's real deficiencies. The singing is good, the sound is good, the orchestra is good, the costumes are a delight, and the staging is mostly fine (with the exception of one monumental blooper that ruins the magic at a really important moment at the end of the show -- all I can say is, why a sheet? Why not a SCRIM? For the love of Oz, a scrim!). The singing is terrific and the performances very committed. The audience loved it, and you probably will too.

Don't listen to this old witch.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

All Our Talented Exes

Congratulations to my super talented Ex, who just won a hugely competitive $48,000 Bush grant for artists!! He's going to do a one-man show about FAITH!

And who do you think helped him develop THAT idea!?

Just because you don't marry a guy doesn't mean you can't stay on his staff as Muse.

SO proud of ya, Davy Wavy.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Give Me Lip

So I go to the church in town to give my big lecture and one of the minister hosts comes up to me and tells me about the pulpit and the microphones and all that jazz, and then she says, "How do you do your lips? They're so great." And of course I am BEYOND thrilled -- I figure now even if my lecture stinks I will have brought the Good News of CoverGirl to yet another colleague, and I say, "It's this CoverGirl thing in Blush Pearl or Nude Blush and it stays like mad!" And then I whip it out of my bag and show her, along with the new MAC lipgloss I just purchased today, and we giggle over it and it was just so fun.

And then I saw in the rearview mirror on the way home that the MAC top coat has glitter in it. Glitter, for the love of Zeus!
How can I be taken seriously in glittery lips!
I hope it wasn't noticeable.

Anyway, the lecture went terrifically well and I am going to sleep so hard tonight. It wound up being a 17-page paper and man, what a relief. Oh, there's Mom. Gotta go.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

New Sexy Repressed Gospel Scandal!

Probably half a dozen people told me about this in church. They were so excited!

Although I have my cynicism and doubts (, I always love it when laypeople get into any religion story. When they say, "HEY, would you preach on this!?" so much the better. Speaking of which, why oh why can't ministers understand the power of the catchy sermon title? Sure it may be cheap marketing, but darn it, it gets people through the door! As for those righteous preachers who say, "Sermon title? I don't publish sermon titles! They shouldn't be choosing which services to attend the way they choose a movie to go to on Saturday night!" I couldn't agree with you more. You are absolutely right. They should, and I am a cheap huckster for luring them through the church doors with sexy titles and quippy descriptions. It's just that... it works.

Sunday night TV date, right here, baby:

Strangely Grateful

I got into bed last night at 10:00 p.m. with my beloved friend Carl Scovel's lovely little book, Never Far From Home. I read it for about half an hour and then fell asleep until 7 a.m. at which hour the cat threw herself full length against my side, which she only does when I'm having an anxiety attack. I woke up and felt the familiar tingle starting at my legs, and the sensation I refer to as "the breathing thing." I reassured her. "This is going to be a short one, my little Psych Nurse. It's Sunday morning and we have to get ready for church."

So I sat up and let the little waves of anxiety crest and break, and talked to the cat about how it was likely to be like this until after Easter, and summer vacation was coming and we would lounge around a lot and watch movies and read books and play the banjo. She stayed pressed against me until the discomfort passed. It was very minor. There is a curious part of me that always finds these episodes strangely fascinating.

But I just want to say that I RESENT this. I deeply resent that I have this physical reaction to simply over-doing what I love most (lately, studying and writing and thinking Deep Thoughts). I resent the sensation that millions and millions of little ants are swarming around inside my legs. I resent that what feels best and most truly anxiety-reducing is a hard work-out at the gym, because I happily existed for years as the Girl Who Hated To Sweat. I was determined to maintain my exercise phobia! Now I'm one of those people who has to go to the gym all the time. NB: this is not making me svelte and muscular. It is just making me sweaty. So far.

My maternal grandmother, who died some years ago, had anxiety. She frequently referred to "her nerves." We were not close. I judged her as being querulous, negative and petty, even though she loved us as best she was able. She was a great cook-- the best pierogies ever-- and although she watched her own figure carefully, she pushed food on everyone else (even plumpster moi).

I find myself reaching back to her these days and understanding her better. When anxiety symptoms start it helps so much to know that these things are genetic, I inherit them from my Type A father (who was a zoomy, wired guy if there ever was one) and from my Baba. I compare my life with theirs: freedom, comfort, privilege, wonderful education, love and support from all sides, a terrific family, healthy food on the table every night (well, okay, it COULD be healthy every night! and it COULD be on the table and not eaten on the run), a totally thrilling and fulfilling professional life, the joy of living in beloved community with a congregation I adore, a lovely home, a good manicurist and hairdresser (c'mon, we have to count ALL our blessings).

Do we ever count so-called disorders among our blessings? How about when they lead us into better stewardship of our bodies, a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of how we are "fearfully and wonderfully made," and a closer, more compassionate relationship to a long-dead grandmother?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Got Hybrid?

Does anyone out there own a hybrid car? I'm thinking of buying a used one for my next vehicle.

My questions:

(1) Do they feel fast and safe enough to zip around in treacherous Boston traffic, where everyone rides up high and fantasizes that they're in their own private NASCAR?

(2) Are they user-friendly, or am I going to wind up leaving my lights on all the time by accident?

(3) Is it impossible to find a mechanic who can service them?

(4) So are you Honda or Toyota?
Easter Bunnies

Your Laugh Of the Day

Friday, April 07, 2006

Gallery of Bad Punctuation

As anyone who has used the on-line personal ads knows, the sites are a goldmine of superfluous quotation marks and misplaced apostophes. Some guy just contacted me, but because he's a gentleman who seek's a special lady, I just can't get excited about his blurry photos and cliched self-description. I can't help it -- inappropriate apostrophes chill me. I am a former English teacher, after all. A girl has to have some standard's.

[This just in: an ad for a guy who says his eye's are bright. Stop the madness! - P.B.]
[This just in, 4/9, man from neighboring community writes, "sharing a bottle of wine... lot's of kisses" - Lord, will it never end? - P.B.]

Please enjoy this while I return to the literary and sermonic salt mines:

Real Estate Porn

Taking a break this afternoon I read an article in the recent Boston magazine about a family who bought an old elementary school in Cambridge, MA and tricked it out as a private home. This after the locals protested the construction of condos in the space and it stood empty for six years when development offer after offer fell through.

As a result, a family of five -- three of whom are teenagers who are ostensibly soon to leave the nest -- resides in a four story house with its own full-size basketball court and art studio. The author of the article cheers that the family and their contractor have breathed new life into the space.

I'm sorry, but I don't see new life. I see a nightmare of conspicuous consumption, rampant narcissism and NIMBYism taken to practically criminal extremes. I blame not the family for their creative vision (although I certainly criticize their need to use up so much space) but the community for its hostility to the idea of dozens of people being able to live in a space now used by five. What was it about, parking? I'm sure a more creative solution might have been found than vetoing the idea of condos.

How about a co-op for people committed to using local transportation? Applications for residency would determine the residents' ability to get along without a car. As it is, I can't help but think of the many people who would have loved to live in that neighborhood, walk to the T and ride into the city to get to work. Who knows what kind of commute they have now?

Of course the irony is that because of attitudes like those displayed by the local community in Cambridge, real estate prices in the greater Boston area are so prohibitively expensive that the Lander's children probably won't be able to afford to live anywhere near Mom and Dad once they graduate from college. I hope Mr. and Mrs. count on all their chicks returning to the nest, and staying there for a very long time.

Can you imagine? A whole, full length basketball court on your fourth floor. Just for the kids and their buddies.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


I attended the first of a three-part lecture series last night in town and was very impressed. There was a nice crowd present and the speakers were excellent.

This all filled me with abject terror, as I am one of the speakers at next Tuesday's second part of the lecture series. So you won't be hearing much from me until then.

Today is the 23rd anniversary of my father's death. Of blessed memory.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Orange Is the New Black

Orange Is the New Black
Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
I want to think that Hollywood's penchant for orange skin is a form of anti-racist activism, as in "If we can't get along as different races, maybe we can find the middle ground in a new race -- the ORANGE race! A commitment which I myself am boldy prepared to make!"

But I somehow don't think so.

Photo courtesy of
The chick is Nicky Hilton, in case you needed to know. cf Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, et al.

"Non-Drowsy" Formula???

I awoke this morning at 6:00 a.m. to find myself in the throes of BAD springtime allergies.
I grabbed a Kleenex and headed off to find last year's Claritin in the medicine cabinet.

I took one (NON-DROWSY, they said. NON-DROWSY!) and returned to bed to read Carl Scovel's lovely little book of essays, Never Far From Home, hoping to relax and get drowsy enough to go back to sleep. Success! I got drowsy and went back to sleep.

I awoke at ten minutes past noon.

Total shock. Jaw-dropping horror. I pulled the clock to me, wondering if the cat had figured out how to push it ahead for an April Fool's joke. I think the last time this happened was about ten years ago, and it was just as terrifying then. Where did those hours go? I dreamed a lot, I drooled a lot, and cripes, I must have needed the sleep.

Now I'm (not so frantically) working on my sermon and I have BANJO at 4:30.
It's warm and the daffodils are up.