Its probably a smart idea to wear dark pants

Okay, so, like Malt Viquor's last post, I don't think this has much to do with the crap in the church, but who knows...maybe it all comes back to it in the end.

With the obsession most Americans have with diet and weight loss, it is surprising there are so many fat people around. Not that I am really all that thin...and I (as most people) have undergone my fair share of diet plans. Some of them are just insane.

A few years back when Olestra came out, I was scared out of even trying those potato chips (I even went without eating at one particular party when I realized the only thing there were those kind of chips) because I might find myself with "greasy, oily discharge." I mean, why wouldn't I be afraid? That seriously put me off to any kind of chips for a long time. If you look up "olestra" in wikipedia it describes my chilling fear as "anal leakage". (Shudder)

Now there is Alli (pronounced "ally" like those we join forces with in a war). I first discovered this product when trying to keep my son occupied while I waited for a prescription. The display is very colorful and kept him entertained for almost a minute (nearly a record). During that minute, I found myself reading some the claim - "The pill works by preventing your body from absorbing some of the fat you eat". Sound familiar? I had awful flashbacks to those WOW chips and hurried away, grateful for the distraction my son caused by pulling half of the kits off the shelf.

I forgot all about it until, while watching my favorite pundit, Stephen Colbert, he mentioned it. Once again, such wonderful side-effects as "gas with oily spotting, loose stools, and more frequent stools that may be hard to control." Now, I ask you is it worth it to be skinny if you smell like ass all the time? I recommend you read the "treatment effects" (because "side effects" is too negative??) section listed on the website. It is too funny to believe. I am reminded of the SNL skit that made fun of Jerry Seinfeld, where Adam Sandler says "Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?!"

Quoting: "The excess fat that passes out of your body is not harmful. In fact, you may recognize it as something that looks like the oil on top of a pizza." Okay, I am never eating pizza again. Or the thoughtful, insightful, and helpful advice: "You may not usually get gassy, but it's a possibility when you take Alli. The bathroom is really the best place to go when that happens." (As if someone has never farted in their lives before.) But, by far the best advice by these people (who are trying to sell this product) is (and I am directly quoting from the website) "You may feel an urgent need to go to the bathroom. Until you have a sense of any treatment effects, it's probably a smart idea to wear dark pants, and bring a change of clothes with you to work." I always thought dark pants were slimming, but now I know they also hide skid marks and stool pools. You can learn ANYTHING on the internet.

Okay, so why am I going off about all of this? Because I am constantly amazed at what things we will tolerate (anal leakage) and the things we refuse to tolerate (Billy has two mommies). How many times have I found myself behind an family of obese people in the McDonald's drive-thru, looking at their "Vote YES for Marriage" and "Family Values = 1 Man and 1 Woman" and their American flag decal right next to their Jesus fish and yellow ribbon. Okay, so that happened once - me in my little hybrid and them in their fat-ass Hummer-but it was enough. But seriously, we will expect a pill to make us thin, and we will tolerate pooping our pants with the hope that it might work. And yet, many of those same people, unhappy as they are, find the love between two women or two men disgusting. What happened to us? Why do we place our hope on a pill that causes anal leakage rather than trust in the goodness of those around us? Why do we seek a saviour in a bottle rather than the one that is always with us? I don't know. While I have never been the thinnest person in the world, I will still never eat those damn WOW chips or take Alli. I'd rather be fat...

And now for something a little different...

The man on the left, the one wearing a fabulous vintage chiffon-lined Christian Dior gold lame gown over a silk Vera Wang empire-waist tulle cocktail dress, accessorized with a 3-foot beaded peaked House of Whoville hat and the rubyslippers Judy Garland wore in the Wizard of Oz, believes that the Episcopal Church has injured ecumenical talks because of the election of the first "openly gay" bishop in the Christian Church... did I mention that he looks fabulous?


$5 bargain bin DVD review: The Proposition

“I was a believer, but I came to this … land, and the Garden of Eden dried up.” –Jellon Lamb, bounty hunter (played by John Hurt).

I found this gem sitting in the $5 bargain bin at a Movie Starz. I knew I had picked a winner when the bloodshot-eyed clerk exclaimed, “Dude. That movie is awesome. Dude.” When I went home to shelve this DVD (in alphabetical order, thanks to my well-organized wife), I realized that I own more than my fair share of little-known movies—each with round red stickers that read, “$5.99 – Previously Owned.” If you pull off that sticker, there is another round red sticker that reads, “$7.99 – Previously Owned.” So, almost half of my DVD collection is composed of twice-rejected DVDs.

I can handle that. In fact, I have decided to subject the readers to a series of reviews (through a Christian lens) of all of the twice-rejected, indie DVDs on my bookcase.

I have a notion to start with the Proposition. (2005, Autonomous)

Put as simply as possible, The Proposition is a Western set in Australia. Instead of cowboys, there are Irish range riders. Instead of Indians, there are Aborigines. Screenwriter Nick Cave (more on him below) and Director John Hillcoat spare us all of the clichés that made Saturday Westerns so boring. The Proposition is (like a lot of Cave’s music) laden with Biblical imagery and themes; it is also (like a lot of Cave’s music) chaotic, violent, and beautiful.

“Australia. What fresh hell is this?” muses Captain Stanley, as he takes in the harsh landscape. Actually, Dorothy Parker wrote these words much later than the late 19th century, when this movie is set. Yet, the quote fits perfectly. The entire cast of characters have been cast out of Eden (read: Britain) into a fresh hell. Here, the consequences of the Fall are quite evident. The flies swarm thicker than in a Hieronymus Bosch painting; dirt cakes clothes and hair, and smiles are rare treats. By the end of the movie, no one (who is still alive) has any claim to innocence. But a few might find redemption.

As I mentioned above, Biblical themes abound. The most obvious is Cain and Abel; Charlie Burns (a sweaty, filthy, shirtless Guy Pearce) faces the possibility of killing his brother, Arthur. The youngest brother Mikey, in turn, is a prisoner who is frequently taunted, mocked, and beaten by his captors, yet he remains silent in the face of all their accusations. (I may be drawing the Christ-figure thing too strongly—Mikey spends the majority of the film whimpering, and he actually has very few lines). Mikey’s clothes are torn; he is flogged while tied to a cross (he receives something on the order of 39 lashes). Even Captain Stanley believes Mikey “is not responsible for his actions,” yet he must suffer for his brothers’ sins. Captain Stanley himself is part Satan, part Pilate: his manipulation of Charlie would have done Satan proud. Yet, when the mob comes to demand that Mikey be flogged/crucified, (“Give him to us,” demands the imperious Mr. Fletcher), Stanley plays Pilate to the hilt. (Pilate/Stanley’s wife even has a recurring dream). If there were any water in that arid land, Stanley would have washed his hands of the affair.

Mikey doesn’t have the monopoly on Christ imagery; his brother Charlie is pierced by a spear and spends the rest of the film with a hole in his side. “Holy mother of mercy!” exclaims Sam, “Look who’s raised himself from the dead!” Charlie is also the focus through which redemption becomes a possibility in this fallen land. At the risk of spoiling the plot for you, I won’t say any more on that front.

The Proposition does not pull any punches. The film is violent, brutal, and beautiful, set against a land with the same characteristics. Some have criticized The Proposition for its violence. If you can handle Platoon (which, at 13, I couldn’t), then you can handle The Proposition. In fact, the violence in this movie is so strongly tied to the plot that it does not seem gratuitous. Contrast Mikey’s flogging (which, I’ll elaborate below, is more tragic than violent) with Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ (in which the violence is so gratuitous, it might as well be pornography). The usual Western clichés are turned on their heads; there are no heroic shootouts; only brutal deaths and firearms that misfire, injuring their owners. At one point, Jellon Lamb exclaims, “We are white men, sir! Not beasts!” Yet the whites in the movie are brutal and uncivilized (no matter how much poetry they recite).

I have to give Cave and Hillcoat credit: they never sugarcoat Australia’s history of dealing with its Aboriginal peoples. The Australian natives are slaves at best; at worst, they are hunted and slaughtered. One of the most chilling scenes in the film is a field of freshly-slaughtered Aborigines (men, women, and children). You can hear the white soldiers who killed them drunkenly singing “Rule, Britannia” in the nearby cabin.

The music in The Proposition is very well done—probably because Nick Cave also wrote the screenplay. (Nick Cave’s music just keeps getting better; I strongly encourage you to check out the Lyre of Orpheus). As the soldiers drink and sing, we see the blood on their hands (in most cases, their right hands. Is this possibly a reference to Cave’s song, “Red Right Hand?”) In another scene, young misanthrope Samuel Stote’s haunting rendition of “O, Peggy Gordon” is juxtaposed against Mikey’s flogging. Samuel sings this song once more in the film, and this second rendition is creepy and horrifying. It’s a neat (if shocking) twist.

The two songs above are actually performed by actors in the film. The music Cave performs himself flows more through the background, serving to focus attention on this strange, eerie land. Cave’s music is haunting and melancholy; like Australia’s landscape itself, the soundtrack is somewhat detached from the awful events that transpire in The Proposition. Cave’s voice occasionally supports the soundtrack, whispering the notes as the wind howls through the Australian desert. The opening music (yes, I know I’m going backwards here) sets the stage perfectly: a child singing a hymn. Meanwhile, ancient daguerreotypes appear and disappear. These depict actual settlers, “civilized” Aborigines, and well-dressed governors. As the credits come to a close, there are a few aged, weathered photos of some of the major characters in the film. The last images we see before the movie starts depict the aftermath of the Burns gang’s unspeakable crime.

The best performance (in a film full of excellent performances) comes from Emily Watson (Martha Stanley). She is proper, clean, puritanical, and beautiful (in a land that is anything but). The most touching scenes in the film are the all-too-brief exchanges between Martha and Captain Stanley. Martha clearly loves her husband very deeply; she appears as if she is about to explode with barely-controlled passion at just the right moments in the film. Martha Stanley here brings to mind Watson’s heartbreaking, loving (and occasionally, oddly comic) performance in Breaking the Waves. It’s a shame we don’t see more of her.

Danny Huston (yes, descended from Hollywood royalty) comes in at a close second. Arthur Burns, the “villain” and object of all the fuss, comes in late in the film after he’s been built up. (“He sits up in those melancholy hills … slumbers deep like a kraken,” drones Jellon Lamb. Is Arthur Burns the white whale?) Arthur is wild and brutal, yet he is also well-read and fatherly. Huston’s performance is subtle, never overdoing the near-hour of rumor and buildup that is used to create his character. Arthur Burns is part of the most amusing exchange the film:

Samuel Stote: What’s a misanthrope?
Two Bob: A misanthrope’s a bugger that hates every other bugger.
Samuel Stote: Are we misanthropes?
Arthur Burns: Lord, no! We’re a family!

In The Proposition, no one’s hands are clean. Everyone is Fallen. Yet, loyalty and honor might be found in strange places, and the moviegoer might witness redemption. I leave it to you to find out.

Watch The Proposition if you are in a Blade Runner or Unforgiven kind of mood. This is very much a “guy film” (no pun on Guy Pearce). I wouldn’t take a date (although, if you find a date who will actually call you back after you take her to see it, kudos to you!). In short, The Proposition is definitely not a film for your Youth Group movie night, but it gives a good image of what redemption might look like, if that divine gift came to a fresh hell.

Trust vs. Mistrust: Can we find a way through?

There is an interesting (slightly) controversy brewing over the election of a bishop for the Diocese of South Carolina (see Episcopal Life Online) In brief, the convention of the diocese has re-elected Mark Lawrence after his first election failed to garner the required approvals of a majority of standing committees and bishops exercising jurisdiction. In March of this year, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori declared the first election "null and void," saying that a number of the consent responses did not adhere to canonical requirements. His second election was unopposed.

In their defense, many dioceses claim to reject Lawrence because of his "right" leaning, conservative theology. In this day and age of parish splits, property disputes, flying bishops, and bishops violating the juridical authority of one another, the question on everybody's mind is (to badly quote The Clash) "will he stay or will he go?" Will Mark lead his diocese further into CANA, or will he remain faithful to the Episcopal Church?

Why do we even have to ask these questions? We are suffering from a serious trust issue in the Episcopal Church... and for good reason. This is not the first time that this issue has come up.

At the 210th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia (2005), what should have been a pro-forma approval of Parish Status for then-mission Church of the Word in Gainesville, VA turned into a heated debate due to the uncertainty of the intentions of the church and it's vicar, Robin Adams. Robin claimed that he had no "intention" of leading Church of the Word out of the Episcopal Church, and despite the many delegates who stood and voiced opposition to the change in status, the majority of council believed the emotional pleas and promises and voted to approve the move. (See The Virginia Episcopalian for more details).

I'm sure that you have already guessed, but in January of this year Robin lead Church of the Word out of the Episcopal Church and into the hands of CANA - against his pledges and promises otherwise. Apparently, when someone says that they have no "intention" of doing something, it probably means that they don't "want" to do it, but will do it if they "have" to. I suspect the same to be true here in the case of Mark Lawrence.

But that's the problem. I'm suspicious. I don't want to be. I want to give Mark and the Diocese of South Carolina the benefit of the doubt, just as the people of Virginia did with Robin and Church of the Word. But when people are lying through their teeth how can we believe each other? What does "mutual submission" (from the Windsor Report) mean when deceit and deception are more operative than fidelity and trust? Mark Lawrence may be the most trustworthy man in the Episcopal Church, and he really might be telling the truth, but it's too late - we've already headed well below the suspicion threshold.

I turn back to my freshman Psych 101 class - to the wisdom of Erik Erikson and Abraham Maslow.

Anyone who has ever seen or studied Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs knows that one of the most basic needs is that of safety and security. Likewise, Erikson claimed that the most basic dichotomy that systems have to conquer is "trust vs. mistrust". These two issues are similar in nature - trust and safety go hand-in-hand. The failure of the Episcopal Church, and here I include the dissident groups (CANA, AMiA, and the like) is to assume the "relationship" - meaning to assume that the relationship will continue despite our differences. The failure is akin to a marriage where the husband or wife threatens divorce every time the other bounces a check or forgets to pick up the dry cleaning. You can't assume that the relationship will continue under threats of schism, and without the assurance of relationship we are forced to be suspicious of the "other" for fear of being hurt. Safety, Security, Trust.

The response of the various dioceses and bishops to the first election of Mark Lawrence is symptomatic of our most basic needs, and we should not feel sorry for it.

It is my observation that the majority of Episcopalians would be willing to remain in relationship, no matter what. It isn’t because of some flaw in our theology, or because we value unity over orthodoxy. It’s because we recognize the importance of staying together and growing together in conversation. I don’t remember anything in the Gospel about conformity, and if you can point it out to me I’d be happy to see it. With all of the threats of divorce in the church, how can we have an honest conversation?

We can’t. And we won’t.

We must establish security before we can trust each other. Once we have established trust, we can begin to heal.

Assume the relationship.


Where did my church go?

The church has always been a second home to me. I used to take naps in the pews of the church when I was very young while my mom prepared the altar for Sunday services. I would smoosh my face in to the corner of the pew, inhale deeply, relax, and drift off to sleep. I can still smell the mix of candle wax, incense and aged wood when I close my eyes. Sometimes I even dream I am back in that church, peacefully sleeping on those hard wooden benches (in between the two-hour naps my son allows me take at night). The Church is part of me - probably contributing more toward my formation than any other institution - and I cannot imagine being without it. Sometimes, at night random hymns float through my brain. The beautiful prayers only found in the BCP roll off my tongue almost unconsciously. And yet, every Sunday as I pray the Eucharist, something new stands out to me. I find some word I never remembered saying before, some phrase that has new meaning on that Sunday. And I am never bored.

I have always felt so comfortable in this church. But recently, I just don't feel at home here. Some days I feel like the church as I thought it to be is being slowly pulled out from underneath me. I am tired of having to watch what I say (of course that's always the bane of the pastor). I am tired of hearing about "those people" or "the gays" or "HOMO-sex-U-als" (because we can never say it normally). I am tired the various sides shouting at each other. I am tired of money driving every decision, every fight, every ministry. I am tired of still, after 30 years, having to prove that I have any right to claim the ordination the church has bestowed on me. I am tired of feeling like what I believe (those things that were formed by this very church) is somehow wrong, somehow out of sync with the rest of the church. Some days I just wish I could go back to being that little girl asleep on the pew, comfortable and at home.

It wasn't until I was ordained in this church that I felt like I was less simply because I was a girl. All through college, it was the girls who were hailed as smarter, more creative, more dedicated. Professors actually listened to me, sometimes even sought out my opinion. But since my first clergy day, I found myself in this endlessly revolving scenario: Someone would ask for an opinion. I would offer mine. The rest of the clergy would stare at me, mouths wide open, with a dumbfounded look on each of their faces. Then, five minutes later, some GUY would repeat what I said, nearly word-for-word. And the crowd would ooh and aah over the depth and insight. And so, I just stopped saying things. What was the point?

What's the point of all this - I don't know. What's the point of having a blog? Mostly, what I mean to say is that I love this Church to which I have given my life. And yet, I just don't feel comfortable in it these days. And I think I am probably not alone. At least I know two others feel the same. That's why we've come together to have some fun, ponder, muse, and blab on and on about the stuff we can't say to our congregations. Things we just can't stuff down any more. And so, I have found myself blogging on the internet - somehow adrift from a church I spent my whole life in. And I want it back.