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Archive for July, 2010

THE REV. M.C. HAMMER: A DANCIN' JESSE

One of the coolest, rockinest, funniest music videos ever made in my book.

M.C. Hammer is a jitterbuggin’ jesse. . . .

Actually, that would be the Rev. Hammer. . . .

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SULLIVAN: A great writer and a force for libruls and conservatives alike to contend with

Andrew Sullivan, the world’s preeminent blogger on all things political, cultural and theological, has always maintained that Mel Gibson’s Christ movie was a form of pornography.

Andrew, a devout Catholic (Librul, Homosexual Div.) who is fiercely independent but conservative in his politics, has been on Mel Gibson’s case and revisiting Gibson’s twisted psyche a good bit lately, like everybody else.

Andrew and I, and a lot of other people who have always discerned from Gibson’s rants and interviews and a few of his other movies a sick obsession with violence of the sort that is way beyond any redeeming social or artistic or theological value, were not at all surprised or shocked by his latest troubles.
At the risk of sounding contradictory, I’ve seen most Mel Gibson movies and enjoyed some of them, even though he is an atrociously bad actor but able director. But I never saw “The Passion of the Christ” and doubt I ever will. I generally read all the reviews and articles I can get my hands on before and after seeing a movie to get different perspectives and insights. And I learned enough about Gibson’s near total emphasis on the crucifixion and neglect of the resurrection and the teaching of Christ in his film that I didn’t want to spend time or money on the Mr. Mel’s twisted vision.
I’ve known Christians who have a ghoulish and creepy obsession, it seems, with the crucifixion (and much of the misunderstood and misinterpreted violence in Revelation, for that matter). The Good News is not about torture. The Good News is about the meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. I think that’s why the Gospel writers provide such scant detail of the crucifixion.

Me, if I want violence for illumination or even for perverse entertainment that forces me to let my dark side out or to face my dark side down–and we all have what Carl Jung pegged as our shadow sides–there’s always Quentin Tarantino, or Clint Eastwood.

Here’s some of the mail Andrew Sullivan got to his blog postings on Mel Gibson and the movie–and his latest response:

A reader writes (to Andrew):

I am as far from Mel Gibson’s theological and political world as one can get. He is quite obviously a deeply troubled man with extreme views. But I think calling the Passion of the Christ an “attack on the Gospels” {which is Andrew’s opinion of it} goes a little far. For one thing, I’m pretty sure you would never refer to “The Last Temptation of Christ” that way, even though that film takes far more liberties with the Gospels than Gibson does. And let’s not forget it is the Gospels themselves that contain lines like “His blood be on us and on our children.” A director should be allowed to make whatever interpretation of Jesus they want without being lynched, from the Left in Gibson’s case and from the Right in Scorsese’s.

And let’s be totally frank here: the Passion’s depiction of a Roman crucifixion was spot on.
I majored in Latin so I feel fairly qualified to speak on this. People on the outer reaches of the Empire condemned to execution by the Romans were not treated nicely. Roman guards flogged their victims senselessly before putting them on the cross. It was a sport to them, similar to the cruelty shown by the Nazis in the camps.

I think you can question making a film about several sentences in the Gospels. You can question whether God wants us to live that horror of the crucifixion in such a visceral way. But you can’t say that Gibson is inaccurate in depicting a barbarism that occurred millions of times over throughout the outer edges of the Roman Empire.

Another {of Andrew’s readers} writes:
Should we re-evaluate the Passion now that we see the person who made it in a more revealing light? Maybe, but maybe not. You never cared for it, but two of the more decent, caring and yes, liberal Christians I know saw it and were deeply moved (I never saw it myself). Separating the art from the person is always a tricky business at best and impossible at worst.

Another {reader wrote to Sullivan}

When I first read your description of the Passion, I just assumed that you didn’t like it because it depicted the torture and execution of Christ too graphically. But then I thought about all of the depictions of other forms of torture that you have posted on your blog, and now I’m at a loss as to why you hate the film so much. If the crucifixion really was that bloody and violent, then isn’t re-creating it as Gibson did the most honest way of driving home the message of the cross? I honestly don’t see it being any different from you publishing pictures from Abu-Ghraib (or photos of dead children in Gaza, which you continue to post over reader objections). Is there some other reason you seem to despise the film?

Here’s Andrew’s response to his dissenting readers:

The point is that the extreme violence that Gibson added is not in the Gospels, and the treatment of Jesus as depicted would have killed any human long before Gibson’s endless pornographic violence reached its conclusion. It was a sadistic fantasy, with barely a word about Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness. Here’s a link to my impressions immediately after seeing the movie in 2004. Money quote:

The whole movie is some kind of sick combination of the theology of Opus Dei and the film-making of Quentin Tarantino. There is nothing in the Gospels that indicates this level of extreme, endless savagery and there is no theological reason for it. It doesn’t even evoke emotion in the audience. It is designed to prompt the crudest human pity and emotional blackmail – which it obviously does. But then it seems to me designed to evoke a sick kind of fascination. Of over two hours, about half the movie is simple wordless sadism on a level and with a relentlessness that I have never witnessed in a movie before. And you have to ask yourself: why? The suffering of Christ is bad and gruesome enough without exaggerating it to this insane degree. Theologically, the point is not that Jesus suffered more than any human being ever has on a physical level. It is that his suffering was profound and voluntary and the culmination of a life and a teaching that Gibson essentially omits.

One more example. Toward the end, unsatisfied with showing a man flayed alive, nailed gruesomely to a cross, one eye shut from being smashed in, blood covering his entire body, Gibson has a large crow perch on the neighboring cross and peck another man’s eyes out. Why? Because the porn needed yet another money shot.

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CHURCH POLITICS: THE MOST BRUTAL

A couple days ago I posted a somewhat cynical* blurb here about the (disastrous) leadership of my beloved Lone Star State, in which I waxed a bit philosophical about the dynamics of politics in general.

I mentioned that we don’t hide our politics here because there’s no escaping politics in life and we’re all political animals. Some of us are just more blatanly and openly political than others. I begged your consideration in that posting that if you accept my admittedly oversimplified definition of politics as another name for the twin evils Power and Control, we’re all political by varying degrees.

I mentioned by way of illustration the fact that there’s office politics and family politics, which can be just as ugly and blatant or as good and beneficial as politics in a town hall or D.C. A colleague in the ordained life shot me an email saying, “Paul, I agree with you about the politics. Your point that it’s in families and offices is ‘right on.’ I can’t believe you didn’t even give a shout out to ‘church politics’ though.”

Oh my, church politics is the NFL of politics. It’s bruising. It’s brutal. How did I neglect to even mention it as an example of life as politics.

Talk about vying for power and control. The church is infected with nasty politics from the tops of churches down. It’s also blessed with politics from the top down. With power and control, a good church “politician,” whether he or she clergy or laity, can make great things happen and bring great blessings to bear. With power and control, a bad church “politician” can be the devil incarnate.

Everything in life comes down to the struggle for power and control over ourselves and others, and God is the ultimate in power and control. But we all want to be God, to be our own gods and goddesses, and that’s what puts distance between us and God, and the very definition of sin is separation from God.

Thank God that just as we are built win the stain of sin, we also are created with the capacity to “let go and let God.” We have the God-given freedom to relinquish our desperate need for power and control over others and yes, over God Herself/Himself.

Let it go.

(*When I first started hearing the small, still voice of God calling me to the ordained life, I had to spend the first year of the ordination process meeting frequently with a seasoned United Methodist minister who was my officially appointed mentor in helping me to discern if my calling was a true calling from God. I told him that I’d spent whole decades as a cynical reporter, as if there’s any other kind, and that I was concerned about my very cynical DNA. “Aw hell,” he said cynically. “We need cynical preachers too.” I’ll always have a nasty cynical side to me, but the trick is being what the great 20th century giant of theology Reinhold Niebhur referred to as “a tamed cynic.” He understood the dynamics of politics and cynicism better than most.)

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(In the photo: Texas National Flag.)

When it comes to politics and politicians, I don’t expect any politician alive to be sincere.

In fact, there’s a case to be made that politics is more the art of being insincere than the art of the possible.

That said, the reigning governor of my beloved Texas gives the art of the insincere a bad name.

Ye longtimer Jitterbuggers know that we here at JFJ.com endorsed former Houston Mayor and sensible Democrat Bill White for Texas Guv a long time ago–well before Hizzoner the former Mayor announced his decision to run for Guv instead of the U.S. Senate.

Now, we make no bones about our politics here at Jitterbugging, because everything in life is political. I’m very political, and you’re political, to some degree, whether you think so or not. Whether it’s family politics or office politics or the D.C. brand of politics, there’s no escaping politics and our being political animals, because politics is just another name for power and control, the twin evils we can’t ever quite shake from our sinful and broken nature.

But back to Texas politics.

Here’s a blurb from Mayor Bill’s Facebook page yesterday:

“Rick Perry announced six days ago his plan to cut the drop out rate–Texans 18 years and under should not get drivers licenses without certifying school attendance or enrollment in home school, private school or GED courses. Apparently Perry didn’t know–or doesn’t care–that this has been Texas law since 1989, and he has been responsible for enforcing it since 2001.”

Classic Perry. In his breathless and desperate bid to retain high office, he unveils a grand scheme to cut the shameful dropout rate in Texas schools (which has been one of the more shameful rates in the nation for more decades than I can remember) because, well . . . he’s so sincere in his desire to leave no Texas child behind.

Not.

I don’t expect Bill White, as much as I respect him and support him, to be the one gubernatorial candidate of Texas to fulfill the promise to cut the shameful dropout rate. I don’t think there’s much any politician can do to reform schools anyway, and if I were king of the U.S., my first act would be to eliminate the worthless U.S. Department of Education and its counterpart in the state of Texas and get all the politics out of our schools.

That said, I see a lot less insincerity in the political animal Bill White than I see in the dying and desperate political animal Rick Perry, whose degree of insincerity ranks right down there with Sarah Palin’s.

And when it comes to politics and education, it’s all about the degree.

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He’ll always be best known as the author of the novel Deliverance because of the 1972 classic movie, but James Dickey was one of the great American poets, 20th Century, Southern Fried Gritty Div.
And his life was a most interesting life, but, in the end, a tragic life because of his Faulkneresque weakness (speaking of great Southern writers) for strong drink.
This great poem puts you right in the house where the narrator listens as his mother, dying of emphysema in the next room, whistles an old fiddler’s tune.

Buckdancer’s Choice
by James L. Dickey

So I would hear out those lungs,
The air split into nine levels,
Some gift of tongues of the whistler

In the invalid’s bed: my mother,
Warbling all day to herself
The thousand variations of one song;

It is called Buckdancer’s Choice.
For years, they have all been dying
Out, the classic buck-and-wing men

Of traveling minstrel shows;
With them also an old woman
Was dying of breathless angina,

Yet still found breath enough
To whistle up in my head
A sight like a one-man band,

Freed black, with cymbals at heel,
An ex-slave who thrivingly danced
To the ring of his own clashing light

Through the thousand variations of one song
All day to my mother’s prone music,
The invalid’s warbler’s note,

While I crept close to the wall
Sock-footed, to hear the sounds alter,
Her tongue like a mockingbird’s break

Through stratum after stratum of a tone
Proclaiming what choices there are
For the last dancers of their kind,

For ill women and for all slaves
Of death, and children enchanted at walls
With a brass-beating glow underfoot,

Not dancing but nearly risen
Through barnlike, theatrelike houses
On the wings of the buck and wing.

James Dickey, “Buckdancer’s Choice” from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992. Copyright © 1992 by James Dickey. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press, http://www.wesleyan.edu/wespress.

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Justify my soul, O God, but also from Your fountains fill my will with fire. Shine in my mind. . . occupy my heart with Your tremendous Life. Let my eyes see nothing in the world but Your glory, and let my hands touch nothing that is not for Your service.

Let my tongue taste no bread that does not strengthen me to praise Your glory. I will hear Your voice and I will hear all harmonies You have created, singing Your hymns.

. . . . Give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and in peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love. Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity but for
God alone.

— From Thomas Merton’s Seeds of Contemplation

(Art at top, “Pentecost: Fire and Breath,” is by the artist, UM preacher and very creative person (and newlywed) Jan Richardson from her Web site “The Painted Prayerbook.”)

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