Sunday, July 31, 2011

Quote of the Week

"The trouble with the world is that the good people get tired of being good before the bad people get tired of being bad"- Anonymous

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Spiritual Journey, Part Two

The more juicy bits to follow in this passage. Nothing like a coming-of-age story crossed with a confession. To introduce this section, my parents left a liberal Methodist church and my sisters and I began attending something completely different.


This was a church full of exceptionally polite but unapologetic conservatives. Though technically labeled non-denominational, its true orientation was Southern Baptist. Along with frequent reference to Satan as a real, living, breathing being were also sprinkled right-wing political statements. Abortion was murder. We were living in a fallen world and owed it to ourselves to live in an isolating bubble to escape the sinfulness of our neighbors. Virginity was romanticized as some state of purity between two innocent beings. One person my age became engaged at a young age and talked with rapturous zeal about the purity of two virgins on their wedding night. But he wrote a 'zine the same as any scene kid, just that this scene was based on conservative Christianity. Hipsters come in all forms, I suppose.

By now, I had completely rejected absolutely everything I had once held dear, except a belief in God. I was also depressed and misunderstood, beginning to descend into the fetid air of my own private Bell Jar. My parents stayed members because the outreach was superior. Methodists have a leave-alone belief about reaching out to members, but even the Non-Denominational Baptists know how to prepare meals, visit the sick in the hospital, and do not shy in embracing those in need. After I made it through the worst time in my entire life, somehow I managed to make it through a couple years’ worth of teaching that I didn’t believe and found absolutely worthless. I began reading about Unitarian Universalists, but assumed that Birmingham wasn't a large enough city to have an actual church. I got lost over by the Zoo one day on my way back from a coffee shop, I think, and found that I was entirely wrong. Birmingham did, in fact, have a UU church.

I told the Baptist minister that I was considering the Unitarian Universalists, and he nervously conceded that this might be the best thing for me. He was too polite to say what he really thought, but I knew enough by then to understand. I started attending UU service at 17 and joined six months later. It was small and not especially friendly to newcomers. Breaking in was difficult. By the time I joined, I was a senior in high school, just old enough to qualify for one last year of RE. The ten or so other high schoolers in my class had known each other since they were small children and weren’t eager to accept a new person. Most people might have never come back after such treatment, but I'm stubborn about things like this. Those ten people never came back to church after it was time to leave for college, anyway.

As I have been many times before in my life, I was the one young person in a room of much older adults. Many times I was the only person under the age of 40. Despite the personality problems, I always told myself that I believed in the UU principles and the framework of belief, not necessarily the people seated around me. I took church seriously there, too. Even when I was in college and engaging in fairly regular late night bouts of drinking and cigarette smoking with friends, I would still make sure I never missed a Sunday. It embarrasses me to think about the times I went to church with a hangover. One time, a woman my age, someone who infrequently attended, offered me pot prior to service, so we drove around in her car and smoked it right before it began. So far as UUs are concerned, this is not altogether unusual behavior, but I remember feeling still ashamed of myself for being stoned in church. Had they known, I am sure most in the congregation would have forgiven me.

With time, which is usually how it happens, I became more and more accepted. I developed a close friendship with the minister, whose reserved persona made her a bit of an enigma to most of her flock. She would allow me to routinely play my guitar and sing for the offering. That guitar opened more doors for me than anything else. There were always a few people who kept their distance, but I had to learn church history to understand why. Back in the 1950's, two specific families had been primarily responsible for establishing the church. They acted like they owned the place and this washed over into fights as to who had primary say in church decisions. But they were like that to everyone. You just had to learn where to tread lightly.

After two or three years of this sort of thing, I learned that there were national cons of Young Adults to attend. Some regional Districts (roughly analogous to Quaker Yearly Meetings) had their own conferences, but there were too few UU Young Adults in mine to organize anything on that scale. The South has relatively few UU Churches, or Quaker Meetings, for that matter. But it seems like everyone, regardless of location, managed the national gatherings. After frantically e-mailing the proper people, I managed to get my trip paid for in full and flew out to Toronto. That's where my eyes were opened wide. Having grown up pretty conservative in some ways, this was my first time to observe radical politics. This was my first time to meet someone who identified as transgender. This was my first time to eat all vegan food, whether I wanted to or not. There wasn't there much that qualified as religion. It was more a protest rally or collection of activists.

Though not discussed openly, a hookup culture flourished there. And it was accommodated. As part of group responsibilities, I was asked to fully stock the canteen. It included male condoms, female condoms, lube, and dental dams. And yes, I partook of it myself. I wish I had not, because it turned into needless emotional chaos. The woman I chose to sleep with rather dramatically broke it off with me halfway through, only to end up bedding a close friend of mine by the end of the proceedings. I very nearly started another sexual relationship with a woman who kept talking about this mysterious concept called polyamory, which I didn’t understand until it was explained to me by someone else. This wasn’t culture shock for me. This was electrocution.

I went to two or three of these gatherings before I started having serious doubts about UUism. I’ve discussed a few of them in some detail here on this blog. There's no need to repeat myself. Mostly, as Gertrude Stein put it, with UUism there’s no there there. And aside from my beliefs, I felt that I was moving towards a new path regarding faith and practice. Previous ideas once cast aside were looking more and more sensible. I began to pick up the Bible every now and then. I’d read some Parable of Jesus and realize the truth in it. And with time, I moved farther and farther away from UUism. I knew what I wanted was more substantive.

When I moved to Atlanta, I thought I’d give it one more go. They had enough visionaries in place to have established a solid 20s/30s group and had the right attitude to make it grow. My only issue with it was that it turned out to be a hook up church of a different sort. Several women in their early to mid thirties acted desperate for relationship partners, if not husbands. I made the mistake of dating a woman who had been divorced two or three years before and very evidently wished to be remarried, the sooner the better. Before realizing this for myself, we very briefly went out, but I broke up with her after a month or so. She was not especially mature about the whole thing, which created friction within the group.

But what really created problems occurred when I dated another woman within the group. At 43, she was technically too old to be a part of a Young Adult group, but enjoyed feeling younger than her age in years. We developed an almost immediate attraction and began a relationship far too quickly than we should have. As I look back on it now, with the benefit of hindsight, I note several warning signs. The first was how obsessed we became with each other. We were even talking marriage in a month. She had our entire relationship scripted from start to finish, so when I had a manic episode, her dreams came crashing down to earth. She hadn't fallen in love with me, she'd instead fallen in love with a fantasy.

Shortly thereafter, and after two back to back hospitalizations, I left Atlanta to return to Birmingham. I was feeling disheartened and demoralized. A Friend from grad school encouraged me to attend Quaker Meeting. Still healing, I figured that this was going to be my last experiment in organized religion for a while. If I was greeted respectfully and kindly, I would stay. But if not, then I probably would worship God in my own way. Maybe I’d try something else, but not for a while. Fortunately, they were more loving and ingratiating than I had ever dreamed. And finally something seemed to fit. I can understand why George Fox wanted to leap for joy. That’s how I felt, too. And I swear I heard a voice say, “You can stop searching now, Kevin. You’re home.”

Saturday Video

In the summertime
When the weather is hot

You can stretch right up
An' touch the sky

When the weather's fine
You got women, you got women on your mind
Have a drink, have a drive

Go out an' see what you can find

If her daddy's rich
Take her out for a meal

If her daddy's poor
Just do as you feel

Speed along the lane
Do a ton, or a ton an' twenty five

When the sun goes down
You can make it, make it good in a lay-by

We're not grey people
We're not dirty, we're not mean

We love everybody but we
Do as we please

When the weather's fine
We go fishing, or go swimming in the sea
We're always happy
Life's for living, yeah, that's our philosophy

When the winter's here
Yeah, it's party time
Bring a bottle, wear your bright clothes

It'll soon be summertime
And we'll sing again
We'll go driving, or maybe we'll settle down

If she's rich, if she's nice
Bring your friends, an' we'll all go into town

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Spiritual Journey

A Friend asked me to write about my spiritual journey. Naturally, it wouldn't fit inside one e-mail and ballooned to over four pages. I'm not going to share the whole thing here, for that reason, but I might post a section at a time. It's best to start at the beginning and so we begin in fair Verona, where we lay our scene.

Any depiction of my religious past must first begin with my parents. My father was raised by the child of a Charismatic minister, that being my grandmother. Praying in tongues, laying on hands, and faith healing all were active elements of worship. She suffered from a variety of chronic illnesses that often left her bedridden. Her sisters often said that, due to the intensity and longevity of her suffering, starting early in life, it might have been better if Florence had never been born. In keeping with her upbringing, she believed that faith alone would be sufficient for health. She never lost hope that eventually some pastor somewhere could heal her, so she wandered from church to church.

My father was dragged along with her, getting to see the hypocrisies and theological complexities of organized religion from a very young age. He spoke often about witnessing participants of a tent revival who seemed pious, flawless, and Godly while playing their parts but who engaged in dirty jokes offstage. The experience and others like it made him highly suspicious of "church". He would later dabble in it for short periods of time, but had no patience for the power struggles and petty squabbling that often transpire inside places of worship. Dad didn't really care how we were raised, just as long as it wasn't Charismatic.

My mother was raised a gauzy, vague kind of Methodist. Her family went to church every Sunday and largely went through the motions. My mother was confirmed at 12, the same age I was, and sprinkle baptized (as opposed to full immersal, like the Baptists) same as me. I received a handful of water to the crown of my head from the baptismal font. Due to the hairspray I applied in slightly excessive quantity to look my best before God and the Congregation, the water did not soak in, instead rolling immediately off of my head. But I am getting ahead of myself. My mother also went through periods of religious observance, but like my father retained that same kind of suspicion of organized religion. When it came time for having children, both of my parents agreed that raising me and my two younger sisters in church was a good idea. We would learn morality and basic ethical conduct there, and if we also achieved a burning love for Jesus, that would be okay, too. And the free childcare was also a plus. So it was agreed that we would be brought up Methodist.

I was by far the most religiously devout of my siblings. For some reason, religion left a powerful impression on me, even as a small child. I enjoyed the pomp and circumstance. I anxiously awaited the changing holidays of the Christian season, illustrated dramatically in color everywhere. Purple was Lent. Red was Pentecost. White was Easter. Green was Advent. I enjoyed chanting the Apostles Creed every Sunday. I can still say it from start to finish. ("I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord...) I timidly sang hymns with words I had long since memorized, but I lacked the courage to sing loudly. My mother's mother would chide me gently when she attended service with us, but I still couldn't do it. Sometimes the sermons bored me, but even then I found a comfort in the ritual.

Often I donned a black robe as an acolyte and lit both candles that sat upon the altar. I took my responsibility very seriously. When it came time for the offering to be collected, I held two large brass collection plates in either hand, walking to the edge of a raised platform, at which point both ushers came to collect them from me. When I hit my first major growth spurt, a larger robe was purchased specifically for me, because it was well known how much I enjoyed my duties.

Even at 6 and 7 years old I attended every service during Holy Week. Having accepted the remnants of the palm fronds of last year's Palm Sunday, I piously received a cross of ash upon my forehead on Ash Wednesday. Two months later, I would attend Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday. I was a precocious child, albeit a shy, quiet, and reserved one. That precocity would ensure that I began to entertain doubts early in life. Reading the Bible and listening to the words of the minister raised theological doubts over perceived inconsistencies. These only increased in time. When I entered my awkward teens, I was in full out questioning mode, which would eventually grow to complete rebellion. But by now we were attending a different church, one with a deliberately modern and
unconventional strategy for believers.

I was more concerned those days with acne and not God. A blonde haired and stunningly attractive girl a year older than me was strongly attracted to me. It is one of those quirks of human development that girls have a head start here in the romance department. She made frequent overtures for a time. I knew why she acted so silly in my company, but I lacked the confidence to reciprocate. I failed to understand why I was appealing and had nowhere near the courage to make a move. I had such a severe case of acne that it took nine months solid with a dermatologist to resolve it. This only added an additional layer of self-consciousness. Instead, I just stared at her at odd moments. She moved on after a time, but it is kind of humiliating when overtures are so blatant that my own mother picked up on it, encouraging me to ask her out.

My memories of these times are not especially pleasurable. I instead am reminded of smothering adolescent anxiety and paranoia. My parents became dissatisfied with this church too after a time. I think the final clincher to leave was my mother's discomfort at seeing gays and lesbians in attendance who had no desire to stick to the closet. The church may have been welcoming of LGBTs, but they weren't. There was an additional issue with my rebellious sister as well. At age 13 she was experimenting with smoking pot while displaying overt interest in both boys and girls. I have already used the word precocious, but I am tempted to use it here, though the circumstances are very different. With those two factors combined, next came an abrupt change in where the family attended on Sunday morning.

I end the narrative here for now.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


We are increasingly consumed with pessimism and worry in these times. Indeed, it is easy to believe that some end is near, regardless of what form it should take. Or if some end does not face us, we ought not to expect any positive outcome. The threat of continued decline and uncertainty is omnipresent in the minds of many. A certain doom and gloom scenario has long rested in the back of the liberal mind. Yet in such circumstances, I return to one of the most vivid and inspiring passages I have ever read. It promises no easy solution, but it does provide needed hope.

The prophet Ezekiel was born, lived, and worked during an immensely trying time in Israel's history. God's purpose for his life was to turn the people of his nation away from sin, back to religious observance, and his land to its former prominence. In what follows below, he experiences a vision, one which is meant to be taken symbolically and also to have many applications. It seems especially appropriate for these times.


The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, "Son of man, can these bones become living people again?" "O Sovereign LORD," I replied, "you alone know the answer to that."

Then he said to me, "Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, 'Dry bones, listen to the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'"

So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons.

Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.'" So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet--a great army. Then he said to me, "Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, 'We have become old, dry bones--all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.'

So prophesy. Tell them, 'This is what the Almighty LORD says: My people, I will open your graves and take you out of them. I will bring you to Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!'"


Even when things seem hopeless, God can breathe life into dry bones. Perhaps we are led to the same service as Ezekiel, to a task that seems impossible at first. It has been my experience that with God, absolutely nothing is impossible. These bones represent spiritual death, either of an individual or a group of people. Observant Jew that he was, Ezekiel could have griped that his very presence among these bones had made him unclean. These dead have not been properly buried. They lie strewn about in a mass grave of a sort. But his very fate lie with these bones and whatever physical discomfort he might have felt was subordinate to the task at hand.

In the whole of my own ministry, regardless of where I am or what I am called to do, at the outset I often feel as though I am encountering Ezekiel's Valley of Dry Bones. The task may seem daunting at first, but careful discernment and listening to God has produced such satisfying results. The same may have been true for you. But God is always willing to breathe life into these old bones, whatever they may be, or whatever form they may take.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Life as an Introvert

Also, if you're familiar with Enneagram of Personality, this song goes out to all my fellow 4's out there. Am I poking fun at myself? Yes.

Gilbert O'sullivan - Alone again by mozart-luc

In a little while from now
If I'm not feeling any less sour
I promise myself to treat myself
And visit a nearby tower

And climbing to the top will throw myself off
In an effort to make it clear to who
Ever what it's like when you're shattered
Left standing in the lurch at a church

Where people saying: "My god, that's tough
She's stood him up"
No point in us remaining

We may as well go home
As I did on my own
Alone again, naturally

To think that only yesterday
I was cheerful, bright, and gay
Looking forward to well wouldn't do
The role I was about to play
But as if to knock me down

Reality came around
And without so much, as a mere touch
Cut me into little pieces
Leaving me in doubt

Talk about God and His mercy
Or if He really does exist
Why did He desert me?

In my hour of need
I truly am indeed
Alone again, naturally

It seems to me that there are more hearts
Broken in the world that can't be mended
Left unattended
What do we do? What do we do?

Alone again, naturally
Now looking back over the years
And whatever else that appears
I remember I cried when my father died
Never wishing to hide the tears

And at sixty-five years old
My mother, God rest her soul,
Couldn't understand why the only man
She had ever loved had been taken

Leaving her to start with a heart so badly broken
Despite encouragement from me
No words were ever spoken

And when she passed away
I cried and cried all day
Alone again, naturally

Alone again, naturally

Recession Woes Require Direct Action

Recent news based on last year's census data reported on how severely the recession has impacted different ethnic groups in the United States. The report speaks in opposition to one of our longest-held cultural myths. Specifically, it refutes the capitalist, often conservative belief in the bootstrap mentality. As the legend goes, success and wealth go hand in hand with hard work and self-reliance. This current economic downturn has proven it untrue yet again. If all things were equal, which they are not and have never been, that old myth might have some validity. But the issue here is a question of starting points. They are not and never have been the same. Whites have long had more capital to begin with, and those non-white have had to make do with much less.

Seeking to put the matter in a broader context, I’ll take a different tact altogether. For an analogy, I'll reach back into our nation’s past. As a native Southerner, I’ve seen the results of economic inequality for years. The antebellum South was in many ways a wealthy region, but most of its money was concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy planters. The majority of whites were poor subsistence farmers. Some participated directly in the plantation system. Others had no connection to it at all. African slaves had no power or money at all, of course. The elites at the top of the food chain ran the show. Ironically enough, on paper, the Southern states were the wealthiest, but only a small amount of what they made ever trickled down. No middle ground existed in between those who had everything and those who had not much at all. A middle class had begun to coalesce in the North, but not so for its Southern cousins.

The Civil War utterly destroyed the South. The top heavy distribution of wealth which in many ways rivals our own today is part of the reason why the devastation was so intense and long lasting. With the growth and spread of industrialization in the North, the South slipped further behind the rest of the country in the years following the conflict. Its fate would be cruel enough if another catastrophic event were not to arrive. This time, it took the form of the Great Depression. Whatever income the South was able to accumulate was then wiped out by the Depression. And it wasn’t until the Post-World War II economic boom that a phenomenon called the Bulldozer Revolution brought the beginnings of modernization to the South.

Even with that effort, the South has always lagged behind when it comes down to progressive ideas and basic infrastructure. Concentrated wealth and education in one spot usually does facilitate innovation. Evening the score is a bit like asking someone to run a race when another runner has been given a thirty second head start. But to return to the column that provoked my reply, racism, if not overt, then certainly institutionalized is to blame, in part. But essentially the system's failing is that that so many of us place full faith in a system designed to concentrate wealth in small pockets and disinclined to assist those who do not have the privilege of favorable birth. Capitalism provides no incentive to do anything more than make money and to hang on to what it already has. I think constantly about how lucky I am to have been born middle class. Having some degree of income that carries over from generation to generation influences everything: our basic physical health, our standard of living, how satisfied we are with our life, our level of education, what jobs are available to us, and many others crucial factors.

Income disparities create the ills that confound us as a society. Instead of fixing them fully, we devise band-aid solutions which sound effective but only treat the effects of a problem, not the causes. The way to solve a crime wave is not to build more jails. The way to address unwanted pregnancies is not to shame, guilt, and otherwise seek to humiliate young women. The way to get children and adults to eat healthily is to provide the resources needed to buy healthy products, not condemn them for being overweight. We can no longer wash our hands of the problem, or worse yet, outsource it to someone else. This is no longer somebody else’s riddle to solve. Should we be unwilling to act, we should never be allowed to complain about the aftereffects. It's easy enough to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, but impossible when someone steals your boots.

Article first published as Recession Woes Require Direct Action on Blogcritics.

An Update

Apparently I was somewhat mistaken in describing the new publication site. It is possible to cross-post, but they get first dibs. And first dibs, if yesterday is any indication, means a six to eight hour lag between posting, approval, and publishing. This puts it completely behind the news cycle, but I suppose it's up to them how they choose to run it.

Of course, there is always an option to publish exclusive content. I may try that once to see if one's content goes up sooner. My contribution today will go up later in the afternoon. Yesterday's post went live at 4 pm Eastern. Expect my posts later than usual from now on.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


O God
High in your fields above earth
Come and be real for us
You with your mind
Oh yes you are
Beautifully fine

O Girl
Electric witch you are
Limp in society's ditch you are
Visually fine
Oh yes you are
But mentally dying

O boy
Just like a boat you are
Sunk but somehow you float you do
Mentally weak
Oh yes you are
But so much you speak

Monday, July 25, 2011

Women in Revolt: A Review

In 1970, famed pop artist, dabbler, and amateur film producer Andy Warhol embarked upon his latest project. Entitled Women in Revolt, it was a deliberate counter-attack on radical feminist Valerie Solanas, Warhol’s would-be-assassin, whose assault with a handgun nearly killed its intended target. A parody of the hot button issue of its time, Women’s Liberation, the film gets in a few digs at its expense. Members of the movement endlessly rake men over the coals, advancing lesbianism as the only sensible alternative. Yet, they still backslide routinely, engaging in sexual relationships with men. Each abandons her career for the sake of the movement, but can’t seem to abandon old habits, either.

Women in Revolt, like most movies bankrolled by Warhol, is more interesting in concept than in reality. The primary players are painfully bad actors and actresses with not even an ounce of formal training. Its dialogue is campy at best and the plot is over-the-top. The sound quality and cinematography is typically abysmal. What is interesting, however, is that the film’s three starring roles are all played by transwomen: Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis, and Holly Woodlawn. This would be novel casting even today. In so doing, Director Paul Morrissey sought to make a statement—this small, but motivated group of radical feminists had all been born biologically male. To Morrissey, their anger at men is grounded internally and has little to do with outward political ideology or stated purpose.

It is worth examining the strange bedfellows arrangement between producer and director. Warhol was nominally liberal, but largely apolitical. Morrissey, however, was a self-professed political conservative and right-wing activist. Uniting the two together was their shared Roman Catholicism, which both regularly observed. Director Morrissey may have intended to show Feminism as amoral and dangerous, while Warhol might simply have been bitter at the woman who nearly killed him. Regardless of motive, with time each major character will be shown as hypocritical, shrill, and self-destructive. Some will achieve greater success in their lives and some will not. None will escape unscathed.

To the women of PIG (Politically Involved Girls), an obvious reference to Solanas and her infamous SCUM Manifesto, men are to be treated with repugnance and hatred. Jackie Curtis sprays her clothesless male conquest with air freshener, seeking to counteract the filth, a look of repulsion on her face. Candy Darling has earlier engaged in an incestuous relationship with her brother, a negative experience that has led her towards female empowerment. Holly Woodlawn is nominally along for the ride, but her nymphomaniac tendencies are graphically and frequently on display during group meetings. One sees much furious condemnation at men and past abuse, but not much action. The only exception to this constant verbal hyperbole is when two group members attempt to perform an unwanted and rather invasive posterior cleansing procedure on a nearby workman.

Underneath the action on screen is a significant amount of subtext. The openly gay Warhol eroticses the male body in his choice of camera shots. A movie apparently intended to de-emphasize and even denigrate the male form instead is filmed to resemble lurid, sexualized voyeurism. Each protagonist by her very identity blurs the lines between male behavior and female behavior, male desires and female desires. Are we to believe that Women’s Liberation is penis envy writ large? If so, then the screenplay and the presence of its three main characters dump further irony on top of it. Women in Revolt becomes an unintentional study in queer identity and its confusing contrasts. Straightforward narrative and political viewpoint is neither simple, nor even possible here. Though it may always cater to a very specific audience, the film showcases the paradoxes and conundrums of its day and ours. We may all not be what we appear.

Article first published as Movie Review: Women in Revolt on Blogcritics.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Quote of the Week

Returning to London from a holiday, Queen Victoria summoned her Prime Minister and asked: "Tell me sir, what has Parliament passed in my absence?"

He replied, "Parliament, your majesty, has passed seven weeks, nothing more."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Here Are the News

I've been offered the ability to make some income and boost my writing profile in the process. The major issue at play is that of rights and ownership. Any content I submit for publication that their editors approve will no longer be mine. They'll have sole rights to it from then on. This also means I won't be able to cross-post content here or at other places online. I'm not sure whether hyperlinks are acceptable or not, but I will ask.

This could be a break of sorts, but I'm a little uncomfortable signing everything away. Still, I am strongly leaning towards this option. Money is a powerful incentive. Should I proceed forward, this blog may look a little sparse from now going forward. Until this moment, I've used this site as a repository for almost everything I write. That's likely going to change.

Saturday Video

The song starts at 0:21.

Avec ce grand amour
Qui nous rassemble
Un peu plus chaque jour
On se ressemble
Avec nos chansons et nos joies
On se ressemble toi et moi

This great love
looks like us
a little more every day

we're receiving the same
our songs and our joys
we're receiving the same, you and me

Ainsi que deux enfants
Aux yeux trop tendres
Trop longtemps séparés
Que l'on rassemble
Depuis que nous sommes ensemble
On se ressemble toi et moi

We're two children
eyes too tender
too long divided

one must acknowledge
since we're together
we're getting the same

Chaque geste, chaque rire, chaque mot
Le cœur de l'autre bat
Comme dans un écho
Et lorsqu'on dort tous deux
Chacun dort avec la seule image
De l'autre au fond des yeux

Every gesture, every smile, every word
the heart of one beats
like an echo

and when we both sleep
we sleep with the same image
of the other

Chaque jour, chaque nuit
Le soleil nous fait plus frères
Et toujours nous fait plus pareil
Un jour nos cœurs
Ne feront plus qu'un
On ne pourra plus reconnaître
Le tien du mien

Every day, every night
the sun makes us feel more closed off
and yet still more similar

someday our hearts
will form just one
we won't be able to recognize
yours from mine

Si l'un de nous venait
À disparaître
On ne saura jamais
Celui qui reste
Tellement qu'on s'aime
Toi et moi

On se ressemble toi et moi
On se ressemble toi et moi
On se ressemble toi et moi
On se ressemble toi et moi
Toiiiiiiiiiiiiii et moiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

If one of us
would disappear
One can never know
Who will remain

So as we love each other
We're becoming the same,
you and me

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oh Lonesome Me

I have been recovering from a severe head cold, and haven't had the ability to record a song in a while. The song was recorded deliberately rough and herky-jerky at times to try to emotionally mimic the lyrics and subject matter.


Everybody's going out and having fun
I'm a fool for staying home and having none
I can't get over how she set me free
Oh, oh, lonesome me


There must be some way that I can
Lose these lonesome blues
Forget about the past,
Find someone new

I've thought of everything
From A to Zee
Oh, oh, lonesome me


I'll bet she's not like me
She's out and fancy free
Flirting with the boys with all her charms

But I still love her so
And brother don't you know
I'd welcome her right back here in my arms


There must be some way that I can
Lose these lonesome blues
Forget about the past,

Find someone new
I can't get over how
She set me free
Oh, oh, lonesome me

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Progressive Attitudes and Misplaced Piety

A recent series of posts written by a blogging friend of mine raises some serious questions. In it, he discusses ways in which many of us who mean well go completely wrong. We live in a post-Christian society, but we carry over aspects of religiosity of which we may not even be consciously aware. In seeking to be Good Liberals™, we reveal our indebtedness to the same relative framework, one held also by our ancestors. Before I introduce my larger point, I need to assert here that I am not arguing that anyone ought to hold racist ideas or that doing so is acceptable. Rather, I’m critiquing the means by which we often resort to eradicate them. Here is the first.

You need an impossible standard. This can be complete personal holiness, as with the historical pietists. Or it can be becoming completely unracist, for multicultural pietists, to name one example. Whatever it is, this goal that can never be reached should be held up as a goal everyone should meet. Both the failure to meet it and the failure to want to meet it are held up as grave sins, even if “sin” language is never used. Finding new sins to detect, or new ways to detect sins already known, are viewed as especially helpful.

It is tempting to believe that with enough vigilance, we might lose all aspects of racism within us, or wasteful consumerism, or attitudes that harm the planet. We can work on ourselves, but it might be better for us to acknowledge that we will all carry some imperfection with us, probably forever. I myself strongly dislike childhood imprinting regarding certain racist beliefs and have worked hard to reverse them. But, flawed being that I am, some will always be present. Perhaps I need to stop trying to reach this impossible standard. The reality that takes account of where I’m at in the present may be more realistic and healthy than insisting upon a damaging standard that can never be fulfilled. If we all came to this realization, maybe we’d be less inclined to be so hard not just on ourselves, but on those with whom we closely identify.

Feminists have talked critically about being cautious of aiming for perfection, because the perfection trap is just as perilous and insufficient. We also have to be cautious not to assert some arbitrary standard as the litmus test for greater participation. We know that understanding basic Feminist 101 is necessary for the sake of basic literacy. However, we should be careful in how we apply the word should to someone else or the movement as a whole. Each of us has an idea of the greater goal and the greater good, but it need not necessarily be the same thing. We can preserve our individual leadings and not succumb to either self-loathing or overly critical attitudes. These do not honor related, fully valid, but also differing paths of others.

The New Testament contains multiple passages wherein Jesus implies that his followers need to attain spiritual perfection. To even be a Christian as regularly defined means seeking to act like God incarnate, which is not just an impossible standard, it is an impossible reality. We will fall short. We are only human. Somewhere in history, however, someone believed that works alone and the proper attitude towards them were sufficient for salvation. Being a tolerant person means an inward transformation, not a systematic series of hoops to jump through in precise sequence. Jesus focused on the heart, not on the act alone. He focused on the sentiment, not on the Law. Here he speaks about eating food that some believers considered unclean.

Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. "Listen," he said, "and try to understand.

It's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth."

In other words, being devout doesn’t mean working hard to follow all the steps and guidelines in the proper sequence. Instead, what one must do is transform his or her heart, not conduct. The emphasis is on the heart and the heart-felt. Forget the notion of Liberation through Works. In Jesus’ time, purity rituals and Laws regulating what made one clean or unclean ruled. With time, they became unruly and excessive. And they choked out the true purpose of religion. It’s not what you believe you must do to seem acceptable in front of your cohorts. Instead your inward convictions are the basis upon which you are truly judged.

Returning to the blog post with which I began this essay,

You could give the form of spirituality I was raised in a lot of names—charismatic, Pentecostal, or, since we were Methodists, Methodistecostal. (There are also Bapticostals.) But the one name that captures what it really felt like every night as I sat on my bed praying and reading my Bible is pietist. Because pietists search themselves endlessly for failure and find failure endlessly.

Pietism has come to mean excessive or just especially earnest spirituality, which is often also true. But it is the form of that rigidity, and the reason for it, that is so important about pietism.

The deepest-seeded human phobia might well be the fear of failure. I live in Washington, DC, a city full of well-educated perfectionists. Competence and high achievement are highly valued character traits. We would be well to take ourselves and our occupations much less seriously. And we might also consider revising our values system. Degrees, certifications, and an impressive resume are far less important than the competence and concern we hold in our own hearts. This does speak loudly against the prevailing winds, but sincerity is the only way for us to break the hold of Pietism.

But Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.

What follows below is an additional aspect of this idea that is often tenaciously difficult to overcome. If we strive not to walk into this trap, we would be wise to consider this.

You need constant self-surveillance. I do not mean simple introspection. I mean that at every moment, you must watch over yourself to make sure that you are not straying from the path, whatever that path is. When you do stray from the impossible standard—and you will, constantly—you must at every moment ask yourself how exactly you failed this time, what led to your failure, and how you will reorient your very self so that you do not fail again. And when you find that you have not been watching over yourself constantly—another impossible standard—you must question yourself about this latest of your many failures.

When we factor in self-policing, here we have a toxic stew. I’ve been privy to discussion threads on many websites, some Feminist, some Progressive, some Religious, and seen them all quickly degenerate into a contest to determine most observant or least observant. The intention, again, is without objection. But when an impossible, thus highly subjective ideal is in place, the rules reflect it. Controlled chaos reigns instead, and sometimes individual bias fills in what solid fact cannot.

As my friend points out, we seem to worship the form sometimes more than we do the stated purpose. If we do this, we are injuring ourselves and those around us by not speaking from within ourselves. If I were speaking in Quaker terms only, I would question whether the leadings we are responding to are from us or from the Holy Spirit. Even if we are not believers or religious people, we should consider conceding that we are not angry or discouraged at faith, but that rather we’re angry at a failed foundation. The first step to free ourselves is to completely remove self-defeating behaviors and language. We may hold fast to them, but they do little, if anything to help us.