Friday, December 21, 2007

where are we going? and why are we in this handbasket?

I read author Neil Gaiman's blog pretty regularly. He posts about his life, his travels, and frequently interesting and challenging links. Today he posted a link to this festering thing.

I honestly don't know where to start. With the entire heretical and unbiblical concept that God hates Creation? With the obvious joy the singers have for the music? With the upsidedown Canadian flag they're waving? I'm so shocked, I'm not even angry.

It's just...bizarre.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Golden Compass thoughts

I enjoyed it. It was good, though not great. I suspect that many who've read and loved the books will be disappointed with the movie. The Magisterium (which many believe to be a thinly-veiled and sadistic Catholic Church but which reads more like an all-powerful Presbyterian/Calvinist Church) is entirely secular--no theocracy, no commentary on Original Sin, nothing. This alone is frustrating; the movie no longer has teeth.

As I'm sure you've heard, there's been much-publicized protest over the movie and the books. Some Christians believe it's too athiest (author Pullman has said some very negative things about the Church) and some athiests believe it doesn't go far enough in its criticism. I think the teens and pre-teens at whom this movie is aimed get it. It's about doubt and struggle and the world not being as clean and hopeful as we want it to be. Teens are often in the midst of figuring out who they are, what they believe, and who this God is; a movie or book that challenges them to think through these things is a win.

I've just started reading Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren. He's a big name in emergent church circles and this book is a classic of the genre. In his introduction to the book he writes,

A friend of mine tells me it is a mistake to challenge readers to think because most readers simply want to hear what they already know and agree with, expressed with minimum personality and maximum blandness. I would probably do this if I could because those books seem to sell best, and I have kids in colleges with high tuitions. But another friend told me that learning is not the consequence of teaching or writing, but rather of thinking. So a playful, provocative, unclear, but stimulating book could actually be more worth your money than a serious, clear book that tells you what to think but doesn't make you think. (27)

We become better, more thoughtful people when challenged to think on our own rather than told what is truth. The Magisterium characters in the movie and the book talk quite a bit about how people can't be expected to know for themselves what's right and must be told. They say that the entire system (or Church) will fall apart if people thought for themselves and came to their own conclusions. Interestingly, this is precisely the argument put forth by people who were opposed to The Da Vinci Code and The Golden Compass.

Let's be clear--certainly there are dangerous ideas out in the world and certainly a large number of folks are willing to just accept them without thinking--we don't have to accept things at face value. Our own discomfort can tell us something about the world and our relationships. When we try to protect our brothers and sisters from challenging and upsetting fiction, we do them a disservice in not allowing them to think through the question themselves. One reviewer of the movie quoted the Catholic News Service: "rather than banning the movie or books, parents might instead take the opportunity to talk through any thorny philosophical issues with their teens." And I suggest starting with the books.

EDIT: A parishioner sent me this link to a beliefnet article on the positive aspects of The Golden Compass.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

what's style got to do with it?

I have loved menswear from an early age. In high school, most of my dressy clothes were suits, shirts, vests and sweater-vests. I bought a pair of brown wing-tips when I was in 10th grade. And it's not about looking like a boy--look at Marlene Dietrich and then tell me menswear has to look boyish. No, it's about style. There's an authority present in a suit, no matter how boxy or tailored. More to the point, there's a crisp grace in the look. If you've seen a well-made (and expensive) suit, you know what I mean. It looks right. And it looks beautiful.

If you know me at all, you know I'm all about what's beautiful. I've been quoted saying that the theological concept of the Trinity never made sense to me until a professor suggested that 3 persons was elegant. What something looks like is, for me, at least half of its meaning. Thus, though Across the Universe is not the most brilliant plot, it is beautiful and therefore I loved it. Guernica or The Sparrow are powerful and transformative precisely because of their beauty.

Sometime in high school, I saw Annie Lennox on MTV wearing a brown and cream pinstriped suit with burgundy velvet collar and red Chucks. I immediately went to Salvation Army and bought myself a brown and cream pinstriped suit. One of the guys I had a crush on my senior year wore orange Chucks with his tux to prom. I've noticed Ellen DeGeneres wearing sneakers with her tailored jackets and slacks. The current Doctor Who does the same and is based on Jamie Oliver's ensemble on the BBC. Knowing all this, is it any surprise that I wore red Chucks to preach in for several years?

I've been struggling with my look as a priest for some time now. I don't like neutrals, I don't like pastels, I don't even like jewel tones. I love bright colors and contrasting patterns and textures. I'm an artist and I see my daily wardrobe as a kind of canvas. As a priest, however, my look says something completely different. If I go into a meeting or hospital room in purple gingham palazzo pants, a fitted brown turtleneck, and a green bucket hat, people don't see "priest," they see "funky clothes" or similar. More to the point, the clothes become a barrier and the encounter becomes about me. There's a reason the black shirt and white collar is a classic.

I have accepted that I need to look more professional, more polished. I have pushed against this concept, called it boring. As I look back at my sartorial history, however, it seems that I've always had that crisp grace, always wanted it. I like to tweak it a bit, but the suit, the vests, the cufflinks--they're awesome.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


"Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy."
--Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel

We talk a lot about slowing down, seeing the signs that God and the kingdom are breaking through to this life of ours. Because I’ve constantly got songs running through my head, all I can think about is this song. You've already heard me talking ad nauseum about Sabbath and time apart, and this is kind of the theme song. This world we live in is beautiful in so many ways and yet, with the internet, telephones, cars, businesses which just don't stop, we go through it in a blur. When was the last time you or I really appreciated what we work for?
I realized this summer (as I have almost every summer) that, though I love working in my garden and it gives me a sense of peace and accomplishment, all I did was work in it. I never sat down in a chair and enjoyed what I'd done. So I began doing just that—I made myself a drink, picked up a trashy novel, and sat in the sun and was just in the garden. That was some of the most meaningful and spiritual time I've ever spent. See, it's all about the moment we're in—what do you do with it? Do you make the choice to see that God made that moment? Do you see that God gave us the ability to choose to see God?
Slow down, we move too fast—we've got to make the morning last…