Saturday, March 31, 2007

A New Body

Someone I simply loved died last weekend of cancer.

I say I "simply" loved her because it was simple. I loved her the first moment I saw her come to church on her husband's arm. I had an immediate reaction in my heart, kind of a shy recognition of real beauty, the way you feel as a little girl when you see a woman who strikes awe in your heart because she's just so pretty, she is the most beautiful lady you have ever seen, and you want to be just like her when you grow up.

But this was more than prettiness.
It was purity of spirit clothed in kindness and bright, humorous presence-- the kind of loveliness that you just don't see very often.

(One of my colleagues has this kind of loveliness. Her initials are PP. I feel the same way when I see her)

This lovely woman died last week, and she was in agonizing pain for much of her final days. Her hospital room was full of people who wrung their hands with grief and helplessness as the medical team tried to find some combination of drugs that would give her some relief. We wanted so badly to help her.

Her sister said yesterday at her memorial service that her suffering assaulted our faith.
I shuddered at the words, so there must have been great truth in them for me.

Last week I was reminded -- we are were -- that all the love in the world, even surrounding you in the tiny boat of your dying bed, even pouring in as God's holy spirit -- cannot endure the sufferings of your body for you, and cannot make the journey of the soul for you. We struggle alone no matter how held we are in care; no matter how surrounded we are by compassion. God abides with us, God does not live our lives for us.

But yesterday at the memorial service, as people queued up for Communion, I understood something for the first time. By becoming the body of Christ (or the Beloved Community), we can make whole what is torn asunder by violence, pain, the natural limitations of the body, human sin and fear.
I looked at the long line of patient people standing in line to receive the bread and the cup (and many who were there who chose not to partake, but were no less part of the Body) and I thought, "Sweetheart, here's your new body. Here's your new body."

And now the tears finally come.

Guatemala Trip 2007 041

Friday, March 30, 2007

Single Men: Yo!!

Great article in the NY Times, "It's Not You, It's Your Apartment."

I can't TELL you how many times I have dated someone I thought was a decent guy and been totally grossed out by his living standards.

Some questions I have asked myself on dates over the past 20 or so years:

> If you don't have any furniture, where am I supposed to sit? Or is that a ploy to get women into the bedroom, to the one flat surface in the whole place? Lame.

> Eau de Frat House is one of the most depressing smells on earth. I was already in college. I don't want to go back there. Nor do I want to be reminded, as I sit chatting with you, of all the babysitting gigs I had in 8th grade and all the elementary school boys I cared for on those nights whose bedrooms smelled exactly like your entire apartment.

> If you can't pick up your own dirty (and clean) laundry that you've flung all over your dwelling place, does that mean you'll expect me to do it if we should ever decide to co-habitate?

> Your filth-encrusted bath mat : is one supposed to shower oneself clean and then actually step on that? How about the lack of soap at the sink, and towel? I think I just figured out something about your personal hygiene, and I'll be saying "night-night" now! Thanks for a lovely evening!

> When you're over-40, we should be seeing something in your fridge besides beer and milk for cereal. Nothing screams, "I can't nurture myself" like a kitchen full of disposable dishes and utensils, mismatched plastic mugs and a pantry full of canned food dating from the Carter Administration.

> Dear guy on who has the stuffed animal collection on the couch behind him: that is so so creepy. Please believe me when I tell you: that is so creepy. Ditto, 50-year old single male friend with "Star Wars" pillowcases. It's not ironically hip and youthful, and I don't care if you got them for fifty cents on sale. It's creepy. Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi.

> Dude whose tiny condo I could barely walk through because of the extreme filth and mess caused by your "home improvement" projects, I commend your efforts! You're a cool DIY type!
However, when you told me that you had been working on the dining room for about two years, I saw my future if I got involved with you, and in my mind, I backed slowly out of the room. A little bit of chaos, fine. Eternal chaos at home because of your perfectionism and inability to complete a project: not okay.

> Men: frugality is admirable. Living amidst broken, rusting, rotting, crumbling items is not a testament to frugality, independence of spirit, individuality or "character." Is is testament to your total inability or lack of desire to create a home in the truest sense of the word, which is a place not just for the harboring of you and your secret, unconscious desire to be alone forever (!), but a place of hospitality and welcome, of beauty and comfort.

A hot tip for hetero single guys from the perennially single PeaceBang: you know how you guys always say in your ads that you want a woman who "takes care of herself," and that's a euphemism for "should have a hot bod?" Well, when we say we want a man who isn't a slob, we don't just mean that you should clean your ears, wash your socks and use mouthwash occasionally. We're talking about your home, too.

Some of us don't care so much if you don't make much money, or if you live with family or roommates or if you don't have a nice car or if you aren't the best dresser or if you don't pay for dinner. Those things don't reveal anything particularly disturbing or upsetting. Living in a borderline or downright disgusting home... that's disturbing.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Papa to "Kraut"

Thirty letters between star-crossed hotties Marlene Dietrich and Ernest Hemingway are being released by the JFK Library today and I, for one, can't wait to read them. They include beauts like this, written from him to her on June 19, 1950:

"What do you really want to do for a life work?Break everybody's heart for a dime? You could always break mine for a nickel and I'd bring the nickel."

When I tell you they don't make 'em like that anymore, they don't make 'em like that anymore.

They don't make 'em like Marlene, and they don't make 'em like Hemingway.


And what do we have now for female movie icons? Reese Witherspoon? Or, like, Julia Roberts?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fasting, Or Eating Well By 2/3 World Standards?

An intestinal infection of some kind hit me on Sunday and I really haven't been able to tolerate solid foods since then. I've had the odd bagel, I've had a few sticks of pretzels, I had three chocolate chip cookies today (what a risk!), and on Monday I remember having some soup and crackers.

Nothing digests. I'm like that cartoon car they showed you in elementary school when they were trying to teach you to eat breakfast every morning, because your body needs fuel!

The car is chugging along and driving erratically all over the road by this point. Man, am I draggin'.

I drink as much water and Gatorade as I can get down, as the doctor makes dire threats that if I don't stay hydrated I'll have to go into the hospital, which as we know is THE place of rest and healing. Just like Grand Central Station is a place of rest and healing -- although come to think of it, I'd be a lot more happily engaged and stimulated at GCS than I would be in any typical American hospital.

I start on the drug Flagyl tomorrow (now isn't that a name for a drug?). If this is a little parasitic friend I brought back from Guatemala, the Flagyl will keell it. I imagine the Flagyl like Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill -- " this awesome drug dressed in a yellow track suit that will kick the butt of any icky things floating around in my body trying to get a free ride on my guts.

I have high hopes.

This is the third time this year that I've been taken down with some kind of vile bug -- this after going for years and years without anything of the sort.

So I was thinking to myself, "Geez, I'm kind of fasting."

And then it occurred to me that I'm still -- with my drastically reduced and limited diet -- eating more every day than a whole lot of people on this planet.

Sobering thought, that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

An Honest Mistake

I was just sending my Music Director an e-mail listing hymns for an upcoming memorial service and I wrote "'Tis a Gift To Be Single" by mistake.

Heh heh.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Grace Note: A Liturgical Moment Of Salvation

On Sunday I gave an unexpectedly intense sermon on the commandment "thou shalt not kill," and chose a truly unsingable hymn for the closing hymn. Big mistake; bigger than usual. Because of a very sad loss we had announced earlier in Joys and Concerns, and because the sermon itself mentioned the loss and went on to be emotionally rougher in the delivery than it had sounded inside my head, there was a lack of flow between the end of the sermon and the closing hymn. I allowed for a pretty long moment of silence as the congregation and I shared the heaviness and thought, well, preacher lady, nothing's coming to you, so let's have at the closing hymn.

I had chosen #289 in the grey hymnal, "Creative Love, Our Thanks We Give" which has fantastic words but a truly awful tune. I can sight-read pretty darn well and even into the second and third verse was totally failing to pick it up. What a helpless feeling, standing up there with this beloved community gamely plowing through this complicated tune.

Then I noticed something wonderful. The song ends on an F, which is the same note on which our earlier hymn, "There is More Love Somewhere," begins.

We all know "There Is More Love Somewhere," and we sing it without the hymnal now. We had just sung it with great feeling earlier in the service.

So after we concluded our death march through "Creative Love, Our Thanks We Give," I just continued to sing... but the first verse of "There is More Love Somewhere." Everyone picked it up right away -- what a relief to be able to sing freely together after such a hard topic!! -- and I saw some of the choir members in the back of the meetinghouse join hands.

I'm ten years into this liturgical business, and man, you cannot let down your guard for a moment.


Originally uploaded by Peacebang.
She's sneezing and stuffy again. I can hear her snoring a bit when she dozes.

I'm worried, and I have her back on prednisone.

Jesus as Trickster

I am preaching this coming Sunday on Jesus as a Trickster figure, and as Holy Fool.

Does anyone have favorite readings on the subject?

Thanks for helps. Kiss of peace.

"Eat, Pray, Love" A PeaceBang Review

One of the nice things about being confined to bed is that you get to actually read uninterrupted.
I was taken down a nasty stealth flu bug on Sunday afternoon -- one of those bugs that comes on like the character Cato in the Pink Panther movies, where you walk through the door with your bag and coat and it jumps out from behind the couch going HI-YAH!

So I finished Elizabeth Gilbert's much-celebrated travelogue memoir, Eat, Pray, Love: One Women's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia in bed this afternoon, and I must say I have very mixed feelings about it.

The book is divided into three main sections named for the countries Gilbert fled to in search of healing and spiritual growth following a harrowing divorce. Her 108 chapters are a secondary organizational device chosen in honor of the 108 beads of the japa mala, or the beads used in prayer by devout Hindus and Buddhists, and which were adapted by Europeans as the rosary.

I loved the first two chapters of this book. Gilbert is an honest, warm and engaging narrator, and although she initially seemed to me to be over-dramatic and self-indulgent about her man woes, she dresses up her very common pains and fears in beautiful prose and appealing earnestness. I could easily forgive the excessive processing and wailing; haven't we all been there?

Gilbert decided to take a year off and to travel. She clearly understands the privilege that allows her to do this and goes to great pains to say how lucky she is, which kept this reader, at least, from bitter envy.

First, Gilbert goes to Italy for four months to experience the pure joy of learning Italian (a language she loves but has no practical use for), to eat a lot of pasta and fill out her heartbroken-starved body, and to soak up sun and la dolce via. I enjoyed reading about her enjoying herself.

Then, Liz goes to India to enter into four months of extremely rigorous spiritual practice at an ashram of a spiritual teacher she refers to only as her Guru. In this chapter, she takes on the very difficult task of sharing the path to enlightenment -- and actually tries to describe a bona fide mystical experience of pure transcendence. It was approximately at this point in the book that I decided that I didn't genuinely like Liz Gilbert as a person, but that I appreciated both her desire to write about her spiritual work and her talent in communicating the inner struggle of the yogic path. While remaining emotionally distanced from her as a narrator, I could still cheer her on and say, Right on, kid, when she wrote of her highs and lows in meditation and in the difficulty of peeling away the ego. Without being fond of her, I was eminently interested in her and her terrific writing.

The big problem that began to emerge for me in this chapter is that Gilbert relies heavily on the use of dialogue spoken by other people, and that dialogue read to me as increasingly inauthentic as the book wore on. This is a memoir, and therefore, we are asked to believe that all the dialogue is a fair report of actual conversations between actual people. In the character of Richard From Texas at the ashram, though, I lost the sense of "actual people" and began to feel that the conversations reported were really more Liz Gilbert's literary take on conversations rather than the words of real people. Does anyone really go around speaking totally in folksy aphorisms? Do golden nuggets of wisdom really fall out every time anyone opens his or her mouth? This, Liz Gilbert would have me believe, and I don't buy it.

It also occurred to me in this chapter that Liz Gilbert had an awfully easy time being befriended by intensely attentive men on every leg of her journey and yet for all her self-awareness, never seems to intuit that her being a great-looking, young American blonde has anything to do with that. I read a lot of travelogues and can't help but notice that global harmony is apparently a lot easier to personally experience when you're not a short, chunky Jewish professor with frizzy hair, or a middle-aged British man with a beer gut and a walking stick, or a Puerto Rican lesbian with a bad leg.

Gilbert seems not to be able to get through one day of her spiritual search without the promise of male attention at some point during, or at the conclusion of it. I couldn't help it -- I soon began to smirkingly think of this book as "How I Re-Affirmed My Addiction To Male Attention Across Two Continents And Three Countries!"

By the time she gets to Bali, Indonesia, Gilbert is personally happy and serene, but -- bad news for her readers!! -- her prose has degenerated into something precious and treacly. She finds a perfect house and moves in! She becomes reacquainted with the darling medicine man who read her palm two years ago and prophecied that she would come back and tutor him in English! She wins the heart of the medicine man's ornery wife! She ... gets a hot Brazilian boyfriend!!

What a surprise! Here's a woman who started out her year of travel with the intense desire to free herself from love-addiction (her own characterization of her overwrought style of being in relationships), and who winds up back in love just in time for the end of the story. This is where the writing gets really bad*, and where Gilbert's fine sense of perspective and context gets sloppy and clueless.

It's one thing to share with a western audience the genuinely interesting and rare journey to conquering inner demons and being able to comply with ancient yogic disciplines. It is another thing entirely to write about sex after a time of celibacy with the same sense of gee-whiz-folks uniqueness. Any reader who has had a rapturous sexual experience can only read Chapter 99 with a sense of embarrassed humility, yes, Liz, we know. We remember. It's great. We get it. Yes, sex can be a transcendent experience. We're glad you and Felipe are so very, very special. Can we please stop hearing about how exquisitely beautiful you are now?

I can't imagine how these chapters read to someone who hasn't ever had a rapturous sexual experience. I suspect one would need either a barf bag or a bullet to bite. Or perhaps a tomato to throw.

Reading the final pages of this saga, I had to laugh at the lack of self-awareness from this woman who has just spent 250+ pages proving to us how self-aware she is. When her Brazilian lover Felipe describes seeing Liz from the back at a party and thinking to himself, "That's it. That's my woman. I must have that woman," it doesn't occur to Gilbert to add, "Yes, what a surprise. The only tall American blonde at the party, and one of the few white women on the entire island of Bali. It's amazing, is it not, that this man from the most macho of nations would be immediately drawn to a woman who looks just like the ideal of femininity peddled across the globe by the unbiquitous forces of American capitalism and cultural hegemony."

I'm sorry to keep harping on this point, but I think it's the great blind spot of the memoir. Any writer who wants to write about cultural differences then fails to locate herself culturally should be prepared to be taken to task for it.

But there's an even worse, and more clueless blooper in this chapter, which is also, to my ears, rife with inauthentic and overly-precious dialogue that makes the Balinese natives sound like characters from the "It's a Small World After All" ride.** In this chapter, Liz Gilbert sets herself up as a saint, the Great White Savior of a poor Balinese women she befriends, and then has the nerve to viciously dish that friend when she fails to accept Gilbert's great, magnanimous gift in a manner appropriate to American cultural values.

There is something extraordinarily ugly in the way that Gilbert uses the story as a way to cement her own position as a Spiritually Advanced Person at the expense of her friend, the far more delightful, real and likeable medicine woman Wayan. Gilbert frets and fumes and fusses prettily, and shows us how she and her boyfriend Felipe totally have the goods on these backasswards Balinese (but all the while making soft liberal protestations that that's not really what she's doing at all), but never for one minute takes her harsh journalistic lens off the characters (ostensibly friends!) she's exploiting for the purpose of writing an interesting book.

Yes, Gilbert raises $18,000 for her friend and provides a home for Wayan and her three children. That's wonderful. And yet, how much more wonderful if Gilbert hadn't used the complexities and the misunderstandings of the transaction as further evidence of how enlightened and mature she has become, all at the expense of a real person who is fully capable of reading-- or hearing about-- her book.

Gilbert has been compared to Anne Lamott, and I'm afraid it's true. As Lamott never hesitates to exploit her own son by airing his personal business all over her books and articles -- she's the favorite literary Mother Vampire writing in America today -- Gilbert similarly sucks the life blood out of all the lovely people in her path in order to serve them up as side dishes for our consumption, always with herself as the clever, delicious main course.

And after the first two chapters, I could no longer swallow it.

* from page 288,

"What I mostly remember about that night is the billowy white mosquito netting that surrounded us. How it looked to me like a parachute. And how I felt like I was now deploying this parachute to escort me out the side exit of the solid, disciplined airplane which had been flying me during these few years out of A Very Hard Time in My Life. But now my sturdy flying machine had become obsolete right there in midair, so I stepped out of that single-minded single-engine airplane and let this fluttering white parachute swing me down through the strange empty atmosphere between my past and my future, and land me safely on this small, bed-shaped island, inhabited only by this handsome shipwrecked Brazilian sailor..."

** According to reviews on, it appears that Gilbert's rendering of various dialects in the book-on-tape version of Eat, Pray, Love is extremely offensive. I am not surprised.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Hostile New Age Takeover of Yoga

Here's a great article in Slate (thanks, Chris) that articulates some of my squicky feelings about the narcissistic yoga culture that's been oozing out of control among American spiritual seekers over the past few years...

I'd love to be able to do yoga. I've tried many times, and my too-short limbs and meatball-shaped body have resulted in failed efforts and giggling through class, which I don't think is conducive to other people achieving the deep peace they're looking for. I have lots of people in my life that are serious aficionados and whose yoga practice obviously contribute to their physical health, emotional groundedness and spiritual loveliness. They're not the strivers I see zooming around Whole Foods in flared pants and exasperated expressions chugging on Fruit Water by Glaceau and making dagger-eyes at me for lingering too long over the artisanal cheeses and getting in their way. True confessions, time, yoga people: I don't so much shop at Whole Foods as use it as free therapy. I shop at Trader Joe's and Stop & Shop. I stroll through Whole Foods to fill my nose and eyes with aesthetic ideals of beauty and health. Because seriously, their pears cost like $3 each.

A lot of today's yoga culture seems to me to be about the re-inscribing of upper middle class values: competetiveness, acquisitiveness, materialism and humorless self-importance, and my very favorite -- Just Making Up My Own Religion As I Go Along.

Of course if the liberal church was doing its job and showing people a deep, meaningful spiritual path and giving them unapologetically directive teachings on how to transform their inner lives through prayer, study and service, yoga people might be able to keep their Thursday morning class in better perspective. That is, those yoga people who attend liberal churches might. Hey, if the liberal church was doing its job better, I have to think that more people -- including yoga people -- would be attending.

Or maybe not. Maybe the idea of disciplined religion is so ruined in the eyes of spiritually liberal seekers that they'll never embrace it, and those of us in the liberal churches are presiding over a funeral. There's never going to be anything but a tiny market for floppy, "Gee-I-dunno-what-do-YOU-think" religion, no matter how much it dresses itself up in prophet's clothes and claims to be the Truth-Telling Group.

One Truth the liberal church has been telling for years is that conservative folks Just Want To Be Told What To Believe. That's so easy, so dismissive, so snotty and so mostly wrong. All people want a religious life that actually shakes them, demands something of them and transforms them. Liberals, unfortunately, join the effort with the attitude that while this process is occurring, they should be comfortable and even indulged. They join the project with the attitude that there are no rockbound truths, so everything is relative. Who can really be transformed with a permanent orientation of skepticism and self-preservation?

My understanding is that real yoga requires a guru. Some nice guy teaching "Hot Yoga" at your health club is not a guru. A guru makes demands on us and teaches us a path to enlightenment that requires sacrifice and the painful dissolving of ego.

My guru is named Jesus, and his form of yoga was about achieving personal and social change through healing. I kind of wish he taught some form of physical practice beyond walking around, preaching, healing people and eating with people, but he didn't. He also would be very against spending $3 on one pear.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Did You See "300?"

Maybe it's just because there's been a lot of suffering in my church this week, but I laffed and laffed at this PG version of the "300" trailer, the original of which I found startlingly violent:

Who knew that Sparta could be so hot? It's been the #1 flick for weeks, I think. Which means that I have a pretty good excuse to see it.

Best line: "FROSTING!"

I Look Like Betty Butterfield!!

...someone wrote it to say, "I'm sorry, but you look like Betty Butterfield,"

and having investigated the matter, I have to say that I DO!
betty butterfield
(PB and BB= Separated at Birth)

I can totally be Betty Butterfield for Halloween, so thank you to whoever it was that wrote in anonymously to tell me about my rat-haired red-headed doppelganger out in cyberspace... I had never heard of "her" 'til today:

I just need to smear my lipstick all over my mouth a little more.

I Heart Betty Butterfield! Let's go on the road together!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

NIGHTLINE Segment, Just For You!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Church Search: Wilton,CT

Christian peeps in the Fairfield County area, this is for you.

An old college buddy with a lovely wife and two kids and a great sense of humor, loads of creative talent and a liberal sensibility is looking for a church home.

I don't think they're sect-specific so much as ISO a loving and vital congregation.

Write in if you can hook my boo up.

PeaceBang, all lamely hip-hop for some reason

Monday, March 19, 2007

"Grey Gardens"

MotherBang and SisterBang and I saw "Grey Gardens" on Broadway last week and loved it, but now I can't stop talking like Edie Beale.

Here's the legendary Christine Ebersole doing a number at the Drama Desk Awards,

We saw her marvelous understudy, Maureen Moore, and were all freely weeping at the end. I know it's Broadway heresy to say it, but honestly, we all preferred Ms. Moore, whose voice is better, sounds more like the actual Edie, and who was more nuanced in her performance than I've seen in Ms. Ebersole's several clips of the performance.

Haven't you ever seen the documentary Grey Gardens?? Oh, for heaven's sake, get it from Netflix right away.

SisterBang has adored it for "years and years and years." She's so staunch.

Taking A Sabbath Day

This morning I decided to take a whole day of Sabbath, where I would actually do no work at all.

It's 5:40 pm now and I am doing pretty well at it.

I did do some dishes but I have refrained from putting away the laundry or cleaning up my desk or answering any church e-mail.

I have been reading, and lazing, and sleeping. I have been staring out the window and thinking. I have been petting the cat. And reading some more.

I have been breathing deeply and not having any adrenalin rushes, except for seeing one e-mail subject line that referenced "gossip" which made me think that someone was gossiping about me and that I'd have to go into upset/defense mode. But that wasn't it, so I was able to relax.

I am reading Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray, Love and although I enjoyed the section on Italy and really enjoy her very much as a writer, I am not sure that I like her as a person. The book seems to assume that I will, in fact, fall in love with the narrator, but so far I'm not there. This may impede my ability to read the rest of the book.

I am also reading something called How To Write a Book Proposal but it made my heart race with a sense that I should Get Right On It, so I put it away.

I am also reading Praying For Sheetrock, and the latest issue of Food & Wine magazine, which to tell you the truth, is the best sort of thing to read on a sabbath day.

It's very cold outside so I'm not going out there. I am not washing my hair or putting on make-up or arranging my face into anything but an expression of quiet and repose. I don't need to have anything to say, or anything to suggest. Just for 15 hours or so.

I am not even going to put a new ink cartridge into the printer. That would be work.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

When I Heard From The Bride

It had to have been seven or eight years ago, when I was the minister of a UU church in Maryland. I did a lot of weddings back then: our congregation didn't have a building of its own, so I got a lot of cold calls out of the book from people wanting to get married at home, or at country clubs, or at mansions-for-rent, or at beautiful little inns. I have all their names in my book of records, and sometimes I look over those names and wonder how all those lovely couples are doing.

One couple, I never forgot, because the groom died very shortly after the wedding. Just a freak thing. Went in for a nap after work and never woke up. I remember how flabbergasted I was by the news-- I had phoned them for some extraneous reason and his bride told me, in that kind of brittle voice that reveals too many nights up crying. She didn't live very close to my church and never attended, so we only had that tenuous connection of their wedding.

So now -- all these years later and about probably twenty or thirty more weddings in my book -- the bride and I are reconnected. As it turns out, she is now an active Episcopalian and was hanging out the other day at Mad Priest's blog with that group of rowdy, rude, PeaceBang-bashers I wrote about two posts ago. She sees the conversation going on and thinks, wait, I know her! And she drops me a line.
Of course I remember her right away and am thrilled. I am delighted that her spiritual search has led her to a place of serious engagement with a church and a tradition, and deeply gratified to know that she has remarried. Happy ending to a story that had long occupied a tiny, sad corner of my heart.

And then there's this: Again, evidence that the blogging community is a community. Which is why those insulting goofs at MadPriest so disappointed me, writing about me like the gossip columnist at The writes about Paris Hilton or Jennifer Lopez -- treating a clergy sister like so much fodder for trashtalk, forgetting that Christians are supposed to model interwovenness, not revealing -- and apparently reveling in -- the kind of jejeune dynamics that keeps so many people out of our churches. Yikes. If there has to be conflict, let there be conflict, but let it be about something real and worth caring about, not just doofusy insults for the sake of camaraderie and jackassed guffaws.

My note from Janis was the best thing that happened today, and it was a wonderful day already so hey, say amen somebody!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Year Of Banjo

The annual banjo festival is here again and I can't believe that I can really actually play the BANJO. Last year when I went, I could only watch in stupidly grinning admiration as these guys, the coolest ever, strummed away:

They sound a million times better in person. The video sound is all wangly.

This year I will bring my own BANJO to the festival and maybe will even JAM with some other musicians like a real BANJO player. Today someone at my music store where I take lessons off-handedly referred to me as a "musician"and I almost dropped my BANJO case.

But really, I am playing now. I am playing real songs and singing along. I can even switch up an octave and then another and get a tiny bit fancy.

If I could someday have my own red shirt and play with the Strutters I would die of happiness.

On "Nightline" And Achieving Extremely Minor Celebrity

I got to see my "Nightline" segment again last night with the Search Committee who brought me to my congregation in 2002. We have a reunion dinner every year and this was our fifth anniversary, which none of us can quite believe.
One of them brought over a DVD produced by her husband, who took all the promo spots and edited them together with the 3-minute segment. We watched it over appetizers and wine. Fun to have them there to hoot and holler about it with me.

My review is that is was Okay.
I definitely clenched my teeth when Martin Bashir started in with his typically handsome-ominous tone about my "secret identity" -- we all groaned with laughter -- and introduced the story in a cheezy and misleading manner, insinuating that I give fashion advice in the parish to my congregation!! Right, Marty. That's why it's called BEAUTY TIPS FOR MINISTERS. Augh!

The actual segment was done with what I thought was a nice blend of fun and seriousness, and although my main talking point did not make the cut ("The contemporary church is an exciting, relevant place to be, and American clergy are often not projecting a public image that communicates that fact."), I got in a couple of quotes that were fine, and on point.

What was it like seeing myself on camera?
It was... Okay. I hated the angle they shot me at for the close-up interview because it showed a very flat part of my hair (which drooped badly under the hot lights). I watched my own talking face with critical fascination : "Wow, my lips are really lopsided, wow, I have three chins, wow, look at how weird my blinking is, wow, I have really aged, wow, I wonder how much it would cost to get liposuction on my chin(s) and jowls? hey, my make-up looks good, hey, that outfit works pretty well..." and so on, and thusly. Overall, I decided that the image and the message went together fairly effectively, and that's the most important thing.

I was glad that producer and interviewer Nancy Cordes featured shots of us laughing together, and that she included my remark to Tim Jensen that he was weary holey clothes "and not holy in a good way!" I was sorry that you didn't get to see seminarian Donna Collins speak eloquently of how she's a student of all things ministerial, including how to dress like one, and that they were unable to show her preaching from the pulpit and my giving her feedback about how well her face "reads" from the back pew. That's the kind of work I am most interested in doing with ministers.

One of my parishioners pointed out something that I hadn't noticed on the first viewing -- that they intercut an image of a cross with the story -- which irritated us all because there are no crosses anywhere on or in our building, and we're not a specifically Christian congregation in this generation. Where did they get that cross? We're guessing at the cemetery across the street. :::cue rolling of eyes::::

Another groaner of a moment was when the story closed with a shot of a mall and a voice-over saying that in her spare time, Rev. Weinstein "cruises the mall" for ideas... and looks at fashion magazines.
That latter point is fair to make-- since I started BeautyTipsForMinisters I do spend time seriously perusing Allure, Glamour, Lucky, In Style, Out and various clothing catalogues. This is new for me. But cruising the mall? Listen, honey, in my "spare time" I'm working on a doctoral degree!

I'm looking forward to being on the Sunday With Liz Walker Show at 11:00 AM next Sunday on WBZ. We're shooting the segment on Wednesday and I expect that it will have much more substance to it than the "Nightline" offering.

Now. On achieving very minor fame in the clergy community.

Mostly it has been a total delight, a grand opening of my sense of clergy as a worldwide community of friends, sisters and brothers, mutually supportive, funny, wise, affectionate and deeply connected at the level of the soul beyond denominational differences. Since I started Beauty Tips, I have had hundreds of lovely, loving, often -hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking e-mails from ministers all over the country introducing themselves, thanking me for blogging on the subject, asking me for support or advice which I promptly give to the best of my ability, and expressing appreciation for the outrageous persona of PeaceBang, "stage mother to the clergy" who wants "all her babies to be stars."

As I have discussed before on this original blog, it became clear to me very soon after starting the Beauty Tips blog that I wanted to make PeaceBang's voice more flamboyantly dramatic than the one I adopted for this first blog, feeling that the topic warranted it. I wanted the blog to feel like a fabulous salon where, when you entered it, you would feel enveloped and almost overwhelmed by this grand diva who would pull you over to a full-length mirror and say, "DARLING! HOW CAN WE MAKE YOU SHINE, SHINE, SHINE!!??" I pictured myself in a pair of satin pajamas with maribou-covered mules and a huge feather boa, kind of a Rev. Auntie Mame.

It has been received well. The vast majority of readers "get it."

While I had a vague idea that I would really like to help ministers find a more appropriate, confidence-promoting image for themselves, I figured most of that would happen on-line. It never occurred to me that I would get media attention that would give me the opportunity to blend my PeaceBang persona with my real ministry as Vicki Weinstein. Interesting! How to do it? My conclusion: continue to write as the outrageous PeaceBang on the blog and be myself on camera, or anywhere else. Not that there's a universe of difference between the two, of course -- just several degrees of flamboyance and insistence!

This has all been a really interesting exercise in identity and public image, much like the journey from laywoman to minister but with far more personal detachment and neutral curiosity, whereas my journey to ministry was rife with (clergy, do you remember?) drama, a sense of thrill and vague crisis, projection and worry. Since my blogging happens as a pleasant hobby within the context of a profoundly fulfilling and totally happy life in parish ministry with a congregation I adore (but made a decision right away not to discuss in detail on any of my blogs), it has just been FUN.

There has been heartache in this work, too: I've received a number of letters from incredibly insecure ministers who pour out their hearts to me confessing their fears and hurts about how bad they think they look and/or how helpless they feel in choosing what to wear. I never realized how much of 8th grade stays with us, and I'm surprised and saddened by it. I never wanted the blog to invoke rampant insecurity among any of my readers; frankly, I would have imagined we were beyond that level of fragility. I was wrong, and apparently naive. But what some folks need isn't fashion advice but support in working through some serious emotional issues. I hope they get that support. At best, maybe my blog can make them aware of their low self-esteem and encourage them to investigate it with courage and care.

The blog has generated some controversy, and I think that's great.
After Michael Paulson's article ran in the Boston Globe and was subsequently syndicated around the country, many clergypeople addressed it in newsletters and sermons. I have read about a dozen of these reflections and appreciate all of them, even when the writer vehemently disagrees with me. They have many excellent points.

There is a group of women ministers who blog together and who are still tsking about me based on an ugly cat fight we had last summer. That's okay, too.
I stand by my argument, however harshly made, that there is no reason whatsoever to preside over a religious ceremony looking disheveled and sloppy. What began as a conversation in July became a shrieking accusation that I don't understand because I'm not a Mom. And when that happens, I know enough to leave the room. No one needs to engage in a Fight Of the Screaming Archetypes, and especially not me, because I'm a single woman with no one at home to love and support me emotionally or financially and you have the comfort of children and partners not to mention the approval of a society that still sees motherhood as the apotheosis of feminine identity and...see what I mean? Non-productive.
I deleted the exchange because I think that female clergy need to present a unified front to a world that is still not accustomed to our existence.

Just today, I read a blog exchange about me that was the only outright disturbing thing I have ever read, because it sounded like dialogue out of some teen drama like the "OC" rather than a conversation happening between mature adults, let alone self-professed spiritual leaders. In reaction to my article in the Boston Globe, a retired Lutheran minister (!) in England, snidely wrote that I looked like I was wearing a wig hat. (What's a wig hat? Where can I get one?) Others on the same blog chimed in insulting my hair, and yet another wrote that he was slightly disappointed to find that I am a woman (I suppose he thought I was a gay man -- and he wouldn't be the first). The group cheered their own clergy image maven and boo'd me with all the maturity reserved for a bitter prom queen fight at Saxe Junior High. I can't tell you how depressing I find this. Religious leaders actually stooping to the level of schoolbus bullies, picking on the popular girl and teasing her about her hair. Hey kids, this is a relationship. If you can read me, I can read you. And I do, in the hopes that you'll have something substantive to offer, not to hear you make snotty little remarks about my hair, which by the way, is great hair (and is that color in honor of Agnes Moorehead's character Endora on "Bewitched" --which shows just how hard I'm trying for your idea of a "class act").

I started BeautyTipsForMinisters because my sister kept noodging me to. The response has been amazing. I keep writing Beauty Tips because hundreds of clergy and others appreciate it. Everything I said, do, write and suggest is for them. If they hadn't anointed me in this unique role of Minister to Ministers, I wouldn't be in the newspaper or on television. I've never been a fashion plate and never said I was. I have said nothing but the truth: that I'm a very chubby, short female minister who tries to look her very best to communicate the vibrancy of contemporary religious life every time she appears in public. I'm not a model. I'm a pastor and a writer.
[This just in: it appears that the blogger, Mad Priest, is actually charming and funny -- but his commenters --who apparently think of themselves as a merry, irreverent and hilarious little band of Anglican rebels -- just aren't funny, and they really want to be. That doesn't bother me so much as the fact that they haven't got the sense God gave a schnauzer, because they keep writing about me as though I can't see them. Hey kids: Boo! I'm here!-- PB]

Finally, for the reader who worries about what to wear when we meet at the Festival Of Homiletics in May, believe me, darling -- I'M the one who should worry. After all, I've gone from being an anonymous dispenser of fashion advice to clergy to being very much out in the world as ministerial image consultant. I hadn't bargained on that, but I'm glad it happened.

To be continued!
How I looked:
Vicki On Nightline 2007
How I felt:Nightline Appearance 2007 001

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hello, My Name is Ben And I'll Be Your Waiter This Evening

I am just about to prepare a chicken recipe for a dinner party this evening, which is why this article is making me laugh in a particularly wicked way:

Ya gotta love a guy who defends the presence of RATS in restaurants.

As far as my own kitchen safety at home goes, honey, I'm about to put on some disposable surgical gloves and get that chicken in the oven, after which I will obsessively scrub every surface with bleachy hot water and soap.

One of the reasons I can't stand watching Rachael Ray cook is that she flings around fresh vegetables with the same icky hands she just handled raw meat with. Yeeeeeech.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Testosterone-Drenched Movies

In the past week I've seen Scorcese's celebrated film "The Departed" and David Fincher's just-released serial killer crime drama "Zodiac."

"The Departed" was entertaining, but I'm so sorry Scorcese didn't win the Oscar for "Goodfellas," which is by far a superior film. I don't know what to say about "The Departed." Jack Nicholson works hard for his paycheck, Matt Damon is typically earnest and does his best Bah-stahn accent (he's one of the only Hollywood actors who gets it right every time-- even local son Mark Wahlberg seems to waffle in his), and Leo DiCaprio gives a fantastic performance.

There's lots of music. Opera, rock-and-roll, very atmospheric, va-va voom. There's a dull, sexy female character who plays the old gangster's moll kind of role but dressed up in a modern-girl career mode. The only thing missing was for her to either have to run down an alley in a pair of high heels, sobbing all the while, or slapping her lover across the face and calling him a "big galoot."
Lordy, I'm tired of movies that have no female characters in them but this type of broad.

Lots of people get shot. The end of the movie is the kind of bloodbath Thomas Kydd would have loved. You turn off the tv, stretch, yawn, and forget you've seen the flick by the time you're brushing your teeth.

"Zodiac" was so much better. I loved Mark Ruffalo, I loved the integrity of the story, the characters, the fact that something mattered, which I was never motivated to feel by "The Departed."

I'm tired, it's late, I have to go write a church newsletter column now. Seen any good movies lately?

Friday, March 09, 2007

More On Poverty and Sustainability

Scott lovingly wails on me here:

And it's great, because he totally knows what he's talking about.

::::stomp, stomp, stomp, SLAM::::

Just kiddin'. I'm going to make some tofu and veggie buffalo wings (really) and to watch "The Departed."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

That Purpose-Driven Scandal And a Ghost Story

I tried to go to sleep early last night, but I thought it very possible that my segment would air on "Nightline" so I gave up around 11:00 and turned the light back on.

I saw immediately that I wouldn't be on, as they were featuring some scandal about Rick Warren called "The Purpose-Driven STRIFE" (cue ominous music).

This story gave me such a bad fit of the giggles I almost threw out my back. Here's what it was about: churches that are growing by leaps and bounds by using Warren's "purpose-driven" model are actually experiencing some conflict.

I'll give you a moment to get up off the floor. I know, I was amazed and astounded, too. Conflict in churches? Especially ones that go from an average of thirty worshipers to three hundred? The mind fairly boggles!

This was so great. The reporter was very earnest as he interviewed a man who left a "purpose-driven" congregation in North Carolina because -- please hold onto your coffee cups now -- they were hardly playing any traditional hymns anymore.

Just as I was reeling with this news -- what? Good church-going Americans are disagreeing about music??? --- they showed footage from purpose-driven church services where people responded enthusiastically to praise music and the minister preached with heartfelt intensity about applying gospel lessons to our actual lives. The critical man considered this "mixing psychology" into religion. My God, what's next!!?? Suggesting outright to church-goers that the ancient spiritual teachings of Christ might have direct relevance to their contemporary lives? This has to stop. Rick Warren, are you listening to me? How dare you grow the church by millions of people according to this nefarious method?

I finally quit my giggling and went back to sleep. An hour or so later, I was awakened by a deep thudding noise from downstairs. I figured it was the jacked-up bass from a sound system of a passing car on Main Street, and then I heard it again. A few more times.

Must be the cat. Just as I was about to call for her, I heard the sound of someone climbing the stairs. Heavy footsteps, but calm and sure, like a father coming to check on his sleeping child. As my neckhairs began to prickle ("Boy, Ermengarde sure sounds like a human climbing those stairs"), I saw that the cat was not coming up the stairs -- she was awake and listening at the foot of my bed. Instead of being terrified, I was flooded with the most amazing sense of blessing and protection I have had in years. Maybe ever. The cat didn't seem too disturbed, but she very quietly and stealthily padded across the mattress to curl up closer to me. When I woke up this morning, she was still there--sleeping in a little striped ball just inches from my nose.

This house has been occupied by the ministers of my church since 1875. I have always felt a lot of love from "my boys," -- I'm the first female pastor in the congregation's 365 year history -- and I wonder if one of them stopped by to minister to me.

Maybe it was my Dad "breaking on through from the other side," as Jim Morrison once sang. I've missed him a LOT lately.

Maybe it was a little episode of psychosis brought on by too much prayer and openness.

Whatever it was, I still felt like I was in the presence of angels when I woke up this morning, that "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

Hey ghost, thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Poverty and Sustainability

I'm just wondering this honestly, and with no sense of judgment (quelle surprise!), but honestly, as middle and upper-class Americans are running around trying to eat organic everything and grass-fed beef (if they eat beef) and full-moon harvested herbs and drinking biodynamic wine, isn't it true that most of the people in our country are still eating mostly crap?

Shouldn't we be working on justice issues that make basically, minimally healthful food available to more people before scurrying about trying to fill our own larders exclusively with organic and perfectly nutritious foodstuffs?

I get to go to Whole Foods in my car and read labels and purchase the best, best, best nutrients for my precious bod. Meanwhile, people in Boston nearby have trouble getting a regular old supermarket into their neighborhood, and have to subsist on convenience store fare.

Shouldn't we stop the presses, so to speak, when this is the case around us? I'm not saying I know how to, but I wonder sometimes if all this emphasis on sustainable, fabulously healthful, perfectly produced food is more about the fact that "I, Privileged and Educated White Woman, Deserve To Live Longer and Better Than The Average Joe" than "I Care Deeply About How the Earth Is Being Plundered To Feed Humans." If there was a special Food Gandhi among us, what would he say?
Would he say, "This is like the airplane scenario: use your oxygen mask on yourself first so you can assist someone else?" or would he say, "Hey, before you get to fill your own plates with impeccable offerings, make sure your sisters and brothers nearby at least get to have something better than Doritoes and McDonald's on theirs."

I really don't know. I understand that food is not just political, it is also cultural, and some people want to eat decidedly unsustainable items and want Miss GoodyTwoShoesPants over here to butt out.

I just thought about it yesterday when I was cruising through Whole Foods thinking wow, I have access to all of this. I could walk out of here with nothing but the finest and most healthful food available to any American. Meanwhile, 15 miles from here, I know they don't even have access to a grocery store. Is my shopping at Whole Foods so much about stewardship of the Earth as it is about my own ego-based survival instinct? And if it's the latter, isn't there a more egalitarian way to approach the greening of the food supply question?

Dear God,
In the dark of this Lenten season, I confront my own fear of death. I pray to be brought into deeper spiritual fellowship with all my brother and sister creatures, with a sense of our interconnectedness and mutuality.
Let my unquenchable desire for life not blind me to responsibility to those around me. Make my consciousness of the toxicity of our environment bind me more deeply to others, not flee to the false haven of imagined safety of purchased health. If my neighbor cannot be healthy, then neither can I be. Make us courageous, God, to make necessary sacrifices where we have heedlessly laid waste to Your creation. Amen.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Check Out 'Reverend Mother"

Reverend Mother is blogging about a lot of the things I would be blogging about here if I wasn't trying to take a hiatus for Lent.

And I don't mean the recent post about my beauty tips blog, I mean the entries about "The Secret" (a pop spirituality phenomenon that seems to me to be recycled Shakti Gawain), the theological underpinnings of UU memorial services, and other items of current interest.

Cheers, Rev Mom! Great stuff!