Saturday, November 26, 2011

JUST TO REMIND YOU, BEFORE ADVENT: Daniel Mitsui's November series on Christian artwork of death continues. Click here for the front page, but don't miss this requiem chasuble, these souls in purgatory, this death's-head rosary, and this ossuary (one of several he's posted).
I would say that those men are beasts rather than human beings who declare that a man ought to live in such a way as to be to no one a source of consolation, to no one a source even of grief or burden; to take no delight in the good fortune of another, or impart to others no bitterness because of their own misfortune, caring to cherish no one and to be cherished by no one.
--Aelred (the character) in St. Aelred, Spiritual Friendship. I have been thinking about the spiritual harm done when I am too proud to be a burden on others.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

There might be another way. Maybe I could pay to get this done, pay someone to pack up and empty this place out. There must be companies you can call, the way you do when you move, companies that come with cartons, with padded wrap, and do it for you.

There must be a way to get it done, without doing it yourself.

--I Look Divine

Friday, November 18, 2011

"FOR AS LONG AS SPINOZA IS A JEW, HE SPEAKS AS A JEW, EVEN IF WHAT HE SAYS IS FAR FROM JEWISH." Fantastic blog post from The Groom's Family (Soviet Russia->Israeli Jewish->Orthodox Christian convert, you should be reading her already!) about David Ives's play about the trial of Baruch Spinoza. I wrote about it here. Ah, the interplay between control and powerlessness (in the face of the state, and in the face of the community) is so well-described in this post, and her closing thought is so ferocious. Fantastic stuff.
He used to pretend that pencils were long cigarette holders and would glide around rooms flicking ashes into flowerpots, saying things like, "Daddy, don't be droll."
--Christopher Coe, I Look Divine

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

UP THY CHIMNEYS, ENGLAND, ENGLAND: The Cigarette Smoking Blog on Sir Roger Casement.
A FOUR-LETTER WORD: [edited to correct spelling!] I just got back from "Oriented to Love," a pretty intense retreat dedicated to exploring issues in gay Christian life. It was organized by Kristyn Komarnicki of PRISM magazine, and it found what I thought was an unexpectedly necessary balance of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual work. So here's a series of one-liners, the punchlines I took away from our time together. Misreadings are mine, as always. In chronological order. Your thoughts always more than welcome! Filling may be hot.

* Sexual wholeness is more a property of communities or churches than it is of individuals.

* This is third-hand, so bear with me, but one reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that when the story is finished and Jesus asks, "Who was his neighbor?" and the Pharisee says, "The one who showed him mercy"... the Pharisee is placed in the role of the wounded man. The one who thought of himself in the powerful role, the role of the man extending his hand in charity, instead sees himself as the wounded man in need of mercy. And Jesus not only acknowledges his wounds and dirtiness and pledges to cleanse, heal, and forgive him, but also gives him the task of going and doing likewise--now from a position of gratitude and humility, rather than a never-sullied position of privilege and power.

* We were asked to think of three concrete ways God has shown us mercy. I had a few in mind, but after hearing from several of the other participants I realized that I had only identified places where I have been lucky. Privilege, basic health, good work, and financial security are things I'm immensely grateful for, but God's mercy is a fiercer thing.

* We were supposed to read slips of paper and react in some way to the words or sentences on the slips. One woman read out, "I don't believe people are born gay because the Bible says homosexuality is a sin." And she got this blunt matter-of-fact look on her face and said, basically, that this was clearly illogical because she was born with the inclinations to envy, to covet, and to many other sins.

There are at least two readings of this response, and I think it speaks so much to the good will of the retreats' participants (and organizer!) that I don't think any of us took the uncharitable one. But it wouldn't be hard, in a less open, vulnerable, and trusting group, to assume that she was cordoning herself off into the logical sphere where actual gay people's actual experiences are kind of irrelevant, in the same way that you don't ask about love or emotions when you're trying to solve a math problem.

Instead, it was obvious that her head and her heart were pulling in tandem. And what I at least was able to take away from her explanation was that we very often support what might even be accurate conclusions with premises and forms of argument which undermine our own spiritual practice. In attempting to explain an opposition to gay sex, which I share, we might unwittingly deny our own reverse heliotropism, our own longing for sin, in a way which can warp our self-understanding and ability to discern our own vocations.

* One guy noted, with terrific insight, that our culture defines maturity by the possession and exercise of power. This gets at what I was trying to say to the Yale Political Union; it's pretty obviously un-Christian.

* One of those words on the slips was "lifestyle." And this made me think about why "style" is a compliment, "way of life" is a neutral term, "vocation" is a Christian term... and yet "lifestyle" is a shallow consumer-culture term, a product demographic. So then I imagined someone confiding in a friend, "Man, that guy really lives out his vocation with such panache! He really has a lifestyle."

* As at the Fordham conference, I think this conversation was hobbled by a crisis of authority. All of us need a source of authority outside the self, both so that we can communicate with one another and so that we can become bigger than our preexisting selves. But when we radically disagree not only on the specific identity of that authority but on how She might be found, of course philosophical dialogue will necessarily falter.

Your thoughts? Comments, wild fancies, howls of fury?
The most reliable callings are born from reflecting on a situation that is more or less imposed on us. A vocation is nearly always a way of accepting a situation that was first of all considered a limitation.
--Roger Mehl, Love and Society

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fasting is not dieting. Fasting is not about keeping a Christian version of kosher. Fasting is about hunger and humility (which is increased as we allow ourselves to become weak). Fasting is about allowing our heart to break.
--from here; via... somebody on Facebook

Saturday, November 12, 2011

COUNTERCULTURE, AND THE COUNTERTOPS: Last night I saw Martha Marcy May Marlene, and I have exactly two points to make about this movie.

1. She is a canvas. The lead actress is all giant eyes and vulnerability, and she lets you read her, she lets you turn her into a giant projection screen for anything you really wanted to see played out with long lashes. Her entire character is "I am who you need me to be!" and she doesn't let go of it for more than five seconds at a stretch.

2. Not everyone can live/like millionaires. Wow, I thought the bourgeois perfection in which Martha was trapped was presented with such terrifying balance. We could easily see exactly where her sister was coming from, even as we also saw the vertiginous superiority/inferiority Martha/Marcy May felt. Your house is too big = You are better than me at doing what I have always been told I should do. Your husband doesn't yell until he has to = You think giving in just because a man yells is really shameful.

Their relationship is sketchy and yet realistic, believable. You don't blame the older sister for not "saving" Martha. You don't blame Martha for wanting to get away from the nice people.
THIS IS BEAUTIFUL. Soulful, well-choreographed, heart-wrenching. I could watch this every day.
...As throughout the review, Gray is being a little unfair to Pinker here. (The book isn’t quite so blithe about mass incarceration as Gray makes it sound.) But his example gets at an important point about what you might call the hiddenness of contemporary violence, and the extent to which modern people can afford to recoil at various forms of cruelty not because they’ve completely gone away, but because they take place offstage, behind society’s scenes, in forms that most people don’t experience directly and therefore don’t need to reconcile themselves to.

So we regard public executions as an anachronistic barbarity, to say nothing of flogging, the stocks, and other pre-modern forms of punishment. But we’re kept safe from crime by a penal system that locks lawbreakers away in a self-enclosed world pervaded by hidden cruelties and unacknowledged forms of torture. We have a growing distaste for cruelty to animals, manifest in polls, pop culture, foxhunting bans, you name it. But the vegetarian minority notwithstanding, our daily meals come from factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses where animals are treated in ways that would make our gorges rise if we ever actually confronted them. And more provocatively, of course, there’s the case of infanticide: Common in premodern societies, abhorred in our more civilized age … unless, of course, you count the million-plus abortions in America every year, perhaps the most common and the most concealed form of violence that our society accepts.

EVERY YEAR, Daniel Mitsui dedicates the month of November to memento moris (mementos mori?) and other Christian artistry of death. Every year, I forget to tell you guys until it's been a couple weeks! But definitely check out his typically stark and sublime collection of death masks, dances of death, Outside Over There-style tombs, and even an alphabet of death.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

NEVER FORGET WHAT IT FELT LIKE TO LIVE IN ROOMS LIKE THESE: GetReligion excerpts the discussion of faith from an NPR interview with David Carr, former Washington City Paper editor-in-chief and the author of one of the very best books I've read this year, The Night of the Gun. I'll write more about his book when I do my year-end roundup, but for now I'll just say that I found his comments on NPR characteristically relatable and down-to-earth and humbled.
If a composition has no strangeness, there is no virtue in its stability. Stability without strangeness is the work of a commonplace hand; strangeness without stability, of an immature hand.
--Gong Xian

(from the wall caption to a really haunting ink painting in this terrific exhibit--there's a hut in the foreground, all soft brushstrokes for the thatch roof and the surrounding trees and wooden bridge, but in the distance there are dark mountains--and behind the tall dark mountains, an even taller one, pale, elusive.)