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Mysterious Religion, Mysterious Solutions

Awesome religious artwork whose history eludes me.

Awesome religious artwork whose history eludes me.

For the past few weeks at church the gospel readings have come from the “Bread Chapter” of the gospel according to St. John.  It’s the sixth chapter, incidentally.

Oh, I have fond memories of this chapter!  Particularly of my rather squeamish brother turning pale when we first read about Jesus telling the disciples how they must eat his flesh and drink his blood.  It all sounds rather cannibalistic, doesn’t it?  Maybe vampiric.  That might be one of the more mysterious aspects of an already deeply mysterious religion.  Right before communion, after all, we even proclaim “the mystery of faith” which is that Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

Amen.

But I’m not here to preach a sermon.  Actually, my purpose is a little more vague.  But I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a Christian today.  I’ve laughed heartily at John Oliver and Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption, while hoping that the churches he’s spoofing get audited (hey, the IRS got Al Capone).  I’ve rolled my eyes at headlines like “Another Professional Christian Caught in Cheating Scandal” and flinched at Facebook comments such as, “Exactly why I’m better off without that religion.”  And in fairness, that person may be better off without organized Christianity.  I am not… I thrive on communities of faith.  Without my brothers and sisters at St. Giles in Oxford, my time in England would have been quite unpleasant.

But far be it from me to deny that Christianity has serious problems.  In fact, pointing out serious problems is more or less how my brand of faith came to be (Thank you, Dr. Luther!).  In my political science today, my fellow students were pretty eager to dump all Christians into bed with the religious right, which is by no means the case.  Or forgetting that state religions favoring one denomination don’t just hurt non-Christians.  There’s so many divisions that just saying “Christian” doesn’t give one much information, and tends to arouse suspicion.

This is a problem.  And it needs to be solved.  First of all, I think, fire-eaters need to shut up.  Jesus had rather harsh words for James and John (whom he called the thunderbolts) after they asked to smite someone who refused to give them shelter for the night.  And if the fire-eaters aren’t talking, the media might actually pick a more reasonable perspective when asking for the Christian response to whatever just happened…. Anyway, once everyone has shut up, shutting up, there should be civil discussion, debate, learning, and understanding.

A house divided cannot stand against itself, and there is a lot of division.  And I’m guilty of that as much as anyone else.  There are denominations I just don’t get and tend to regard with apprehension.  Oops.  But once we admit our problems and start talking instead of shouting, we might strengthen the house and not see the bride of Christ sore oppressed.  Because as Christ was resurrected, we know anything is possible.

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Controversy

There’s  been so much going on lately… how can I pick one current event to comment on?  But one that keeps popping up (aren’t we in volume 7 at this point?) are the Planned Parenthood videos.  If I were a shark, I’d be on a feeding frenzy for all the online blood getting spilled while people argue.  But thankfully, I’m a mammal, so I’ll go about this in a civilized manner.

I stand with Planned Parenthood.  Here are a few thoughts.

Medical procedures of all kinds are yucky.  Death is a tricky subject to deal with, so everyone who deals with it on a regular basis (or even on an irregular basis) develop coping mechanisms.  They’ll probably seem strange to everyone else.

A relative of mine suffered through two miscarriages, a stillbirth, and the death of a baby born live.  She wouldn’t talk about the children she’d lost, at least not explicitly, for years, and would cry during the prayer for the departed at Mass.  Yet she would laugh very hard at dead baby jokes.  (What do you call a dead baby on the wall?  Art.)  That’s coping.  I don’t understand the logic behind it, but I have never been pregnant (and as such have never lost either a pregnancy or a child), so I can’t begin to empathize with her feelings.

And obviously her feelings run very deep.  Which brings me to my second objection to what people criticize in the damned videos… the detached, clinical tone of the conversations.  Doctors talk in clinical terms.  Have you ever read a medical text?  Or listened to any professional speak in their day-to-day jargon?  Odds are, it’s not what you expect, and it doesn’t mean that the person in question is evil or “spiritually deprived.”

And the detachment when discussing body parts is by no means new.  Think about where infant mortality is today as opposed to a hundred years ago, and more.  One of the more hair-raising things I’ve read is a letter from Georgian England describing a doctor treating a woman whose baby had died in utero, but did not necessarily miscarry.  The dead baby (I think they said she was about seven months along) stayed put and started to rot.  To put it plainly, the doctor had to roll up his sleeves and pull every piece out by hand.  Without anesthesia of course, as A) it hadn’t really been invented yet and B) probably wouldn’t have been permitted anyway because doctors thought it sinful.

The letter-writer was the patient’s husband, and he goes on to admit that the experience caused his wife much suffering, although she took it all quite bravely.  The book is The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England.  I highly recommend reading it.

There’s volumes I could fill, but I want to keep this post a reasonable length, so I’ll leave with the gruesome historical document.  I won’t go into how investigations of Planned Parenthood are failing to detect any wrongdoing, or how the whole expose is probably criminal fraud.  Or how most people support the organization already.

But here is my not-so-humble opinion, and my sincere hope that this whole, ugly incident will die down without too much collateral damage.  With so many politicians striving to suck up to voters with the presidentials next year… anything could happen at state and federal levels.  But I think without much doubt that everyone wants good sense and sober thought adopted.

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Sorry, Eva… I’m Weeping

EvitaRecently I came across the soundtrack for the movie Evita at Goodwill for $.075 (it was on cassette).  I bought it and have listened to it in my car a few times.  About eight years ago I saw the musical performed live onstage and loved it.  I rented the movie, and… I didn’t hate it (like I wound up ultimately disliking the movie made of the musical Phantom of the Opera), but I certainly didn’t like it as much.  At first, it was a mystery as to why.

Aside from the way the movie handles “Oh, What a Circus” that is.  Che… you’re reasoning with a painting!  That just doesn’t look good.  Stop it.

But basically, the stage production and the movie have ultimately two very different agendas.  The stage production makes Eva Peron a more ambiguous figure.  She has qualities of a femme fatale, but she’s very sincere about her work, and has very few illusions about what she is.  She also kept working while on her deathbed from ovarian cancer (a detail both the movie and the play leave out).  The movie makes her more sympathetic, such as by having her sing the downer-song “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” instead of Peron’s ousted, teenage mistress.  The movie also has a faceless bureaucrat skimming funds from the Eva Peron Foundation treasury instead of Eva herself.  These are huge differences, and without them, Che Guevara’s (if anyone even recognizes him) unrelenting criticism of her through his narration comes off as remarkably petty, and one can brush him aside as easily as the nagging upper class chorus, or the disgusting military chorus calling for Eva to get back on her back and stay out of politics.

And speaking of which… this has nothing to do with the quality of either the movie or the show.  But when my old music teacher first told us about the movie/musical she described Pryce’s Peron as “a sweet ol’ grandpa.”  My eyes did a variation of the Tex Avery thing when I first got an eyeful of him in the movie.  “Sweet ol’ grandpa?”  Just what sort of litmus test are you using, Mrs. Dearborn?  And I’m not all that shot with either Peron or Pryce, but I sure wouldn’t call him a sweet old grandpa.

Anyway, back to actual critiques.  I’ve mentioned before that I found that Antonio Banderas’ Che is basically unrecognizable as the historical figure.  That may have been deliberate on the part of the filmmakers– to avoid controversy– but it doesn’t work.  We don’t know who this guy is, or why he’s there, or what his schtick is.  He needs to be a clear radical leftist (in contrast to Peron), and more importantly separate from the action.  It gives him a better standpoint as the omniscent narrator than being a waiter in one scene, an obnoxious journalist in the next, celebrating the arrival as a result of the Foundation even as he criticizes it… something’s just missing.  And then there’s the tango.  It’s a beautiful scene where Banderas and Madonna dance together, but it just doesn’t work.  These are people who, it seems, despise each other, so having them do a sexy tango (even if it’s just a hallucination while Eva is under anesthetic) doesn’t make sense.  In the stage production, they tango– but they never touch.  In fact, they barely get close at all.  It’s eerie, and it still feels in character.

So I’ve said my piece.  I may be whining, but I still like the musical.  Tim Rice is a great lyricist (although I still don’t understand the song “The Lady’s Got Potential”), and Webber writes lovely music.  Everyone has a stinker in their resume, but Evita is not it.  That would be Love Never Dies.

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Left-Leaning Barbies

I didn't mean literally leaning left, but close enough.

I didn’t mean literally leaning left, but close enough.

My fiance visited me this past weekend for my birthday, and a discussion of politics came up.  So, we wound up talking about how I turned up as the family leftist.  And really there’s no logical explanation for that.  I honestly think I was born that way.

Here’s my proof.

Like many young girls, I played with Barbie dolls, but as my mother noted, they didn’t just get new clothes and marry Ken.  They lived under a complex political system and went on adventures.  I called the country in which they lived Hazel (lame, I know), and were ruled by a queen (usually Rapunzel Barbie). However, they also had a legislative body and a President.  The queen was unmarried and had no children, so there was talk of dissolving the monarchy after her death, but the Barbies could go either way on that.

The queen had political power.  For instance, she decided that too many of the Barbies under her rule lived in poverty (all the dolls I couldn’t fit into the dollhouse my mother made, for instance), so she decreed that they would all be given small sums of money with which to start businesses and better their lives.  This game turned out to be very involved, so I only played it out with two families of dolls.  One started a crayon-making business, and the other one operated a flower-stall in the market.  I was six or seven.  It wasn’t until later, when I was nearly finished with high-school that I realized this practice had a name– micro-credit.  For more information look at Kiva.org.

It doesn’t make sense.  My parents are a liberal Republican and a conservative Democrat.  I ignored NPR reports because they were boring, and at school we hadn’t even covered the three branches of government yet.  Maybe politics are like handedness… or maybe I just never had a chance to be a normal kid.  That may be more possible than the former option.  Either way, I had fond memories and healthier games than people tend to associate with Barbie dolls.  All the better not to dismiss them out of hand!

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