Sunday, August 26, 2007

sort-of the book and movie post for this summer

Last week I did something I've never done before: I went to see two movies in one day. I normally see 4-5 movies a year. But it was a cool, cloudy day (although unfortunately not much rain fell). My son went to a birthday party in the afternoon, so Nell and I went to see "Becoming Jane." It's a beautifully made movie, and to my surprise, Anne Hathaway did a creditable job as Jane Austen. It's an absorbing account of what happens to two young people who fall in love in a restrictive society. But I didn't find it very convincing as a biographical account of Austen's formative years (about which not all that much is known, as I understand it). I don't know much about Austen besides what you learn in college, but I've read her work fairly avidly, and I've never picked up much sympathy for young, passionate, ill-considered love. I think if she had been through what the movie describes, she would have been quite a bit more sympathetic to the Mariannes of the world.

Then that night we packed up the whole crew, including the neighbor kids, and went to see Stardust. I loved Stardust. That's as much fun as I've had sitting in a theater since the Lord of the Rings movies came out. It's not a great movie, and you can pick at it, it's true. but it was great entertainment. Everybody I had with me, ranging in age from nine to 46 (me), agreed. I might even go see it again.

So that brought me to spend my birthday Borders gift card on the hardback version of Stardust written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess, which was also good, but maybe slightly less fun than the movie (my favorite characters in the movie, the chorus line of ghosts, play a far more minor role in the book). That makes several times in the past few years now that I've seen movies that I enjoyed more than the books-- it seems like that never used to happen. But the book is well worth perusing. The illustrations are wonderful and add a completely different element to the story-- I believe it was a collaboration, rather than a book that had a few illustrations done for it after the story was finished.

And this week (finally, finally, after months of chipping away at it), I finished The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton's autobiographical account of his early years and decision to enter a Trappist monastery. I'm not sure why it took me so long; I liked it well enough and found it very absorbing while I was reading it, but then I'd put it down and weeks would go by before I'd pick it up again. It is beautifully written and as heartfelt as anything I've read in a long time. Although there is no question that Merton feels he has found the Ultimate Truth in his Catholica faith, I didn't find that opinion offensive here the way I did in Blue Like Jazz, which I tried to read this summer and finally gave up a couple of weeks ago. More about this in another post.

Off to take my son fishing. He is a fanatic. I don't fish, I don't have the patience for it. but I can take a book and sit in a lawn chair and we are both happy.

Aunt BeaN

Friday, August 17, 2007

So, after you decide you're not going to take the Bible literally as if God dictated it, the next question is: how do you read the Bible? The simple answer, and the one I used for years, is: seriously. You read it seriously, but not literally. It turns out to be much more complex than that, but it is the answer I keep coming back to. (someday I'm going to quit apologizing for dangling prepositions, but not yet: sorry about that one.)

Early on, I went through a number of moments of panic about this, because it is inevitable that you will hear derisive comments made by those who are still literalists and it's hard not to take them personally. My favorite is: "It must be nice to be able to cherry-pick which verses you're going to pay attention to." (do I have to apologize for other people's dangling prepositions?) And the only advice I have is: you just have to let that stuff roll off your back. Because all Christians cherry pick verses. You can't give equal weight to all the thousands and thousands of verses in the bible. It's just that literalists don't admit this, even to themselves-- they hide under the banner of "God wrote it, I believe it, that settles it," often without really being clear about what that means.

this is going off in a direction "on which I had not planned" when I sat down to write this post, so maybe I will stop there and re-start in the next. Which may have to be Monday since the rest of today and the weekend are dang busy. We're taking 15 high school seniors camping tonight. No, I'm not making that up. I have cooler full of hamburger fixings and a case of Red Bull.

It's pretty smoky here-- there are three major and a half-dozen smaller forest fires near the town where I live, and some sort of inversion is holding all the smoke in where we can breathe it more deeply. I should post a picture. Maybe I will for once. If you can see blue sky where you live, appreciate it.............

Have a great weekend and be good.

Aunt BeaN

p.s. (posted later) the case of Red Bull wasn't nearly enough. ack.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Creation Report, Part 3: what WAS said

I'm getting tired of writing about Creation so this will be short. I told you I have ADD, right?

But what I continue to find disturbing and problematic is the insistence that only Christians are OK. There was less talk about converting people from other religions than I expected, I admit, but there was all kinds of talk about how only Christians can have good marriages, only Christian teens will survive with their morals intact, only Christians can withstand the temptation to use drugs and alcohol and so on.

This is the Fear Factor, nothing else. If you don't become a Christian, you'll be a failure. If you don't become a Christian, you'll never be happy. (this was not from the musicians, mind you-- except a couple of the more conservative ones-- it was from the speakers). Since a I know a number of people from a variety of religious backgrounds (and also some who have no religious preference at all) who have happy marriages, healthy teenagers, and well-rounded lives, this is just ludicrous to me. Not to mention that I know plenty of Christians who have difficult marriages and difficult teenagers. I think this is one of the main reasons that conservative Christians tend to hang out with each other and avoid close friendships with non-Christians-- because their prejudices just wouldn't hold up to reality. We all have similar struggles. There's no magic pill/religious belief that buys you an easy ride.

Oh, wait, I'm up on my soapbox again.

But I'm only getting started, because the thing that really got me going was the haranguing about female sexuality. Or the smothering thereof. Not everyone brought this up, but it was a constant theme. Modesty. Abstinence. Virginity. I'm not opposed to any of those things. In fact, since my daughter was in the 10-12 year old range in the midst of the Britney Spears rage, I would have been happy to hear a little more of it than was being said at that time. As part of a range of healthy sexual options for teens, abstinence works just great for me. BUT what mystifies me is why it's all directed at GIRLS. OK, in order for them to be sexually active, there is usually a guy involved. These people may be opposed to sex education, but there's no way I'm believing they don't know that. How come NONE of it was directed at the guys? Nothing to the guys: keep your mind out of the gutter, keep your pants up above your crack, keep it in your pants (excuse me for being blunt).

I think I've made my point. Packing up soapbox and moving on. I guess this wasn't exactly short but it was short-ER.

Love and kisses,
Aunt BeaN

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Creation Report, Part 2: what WASN'T said

Part two in a series of posts about my recent experience at Creation Festival West, a four-day Christian music festival that was held the last bit of July at the Gorge Ampitheater in George, WA:

One of my biggest fears going into Creation was that there would be a lot of anti-gay, anti-abortion rhetoric. I could write separate posts about why I am not opposed to either of those things, and maybe I will someday, but for now suffice it to say that I'm offended by the Religious Right's stance on those (and many other) issues. Well, I can very quickly in one sentence sum up why I'm not opposed to gays, and that's because I know a bunch of gay people and they are just fine, thank you very much. My opinion about abortion is much more complicated than that, but one way to state it briefly would be: I would never want someone else, especially the government, to make that decision for me or anyone else.

But back to Creation. I was assuming there would be lots of posturing about those two hot topics. But you know, I have to say it: there wasn't. The only discussion I hard about abortion was within our own group. And I didn't hear a word about gays, either pro or con. Which I suppose you could complain makes them into an invisible population, but still the point remains that nothing was said, either by any of the musicians or any of the speakers (that I heard, I didn't hear them all). I was surprised. As someone who has for more than twenty years now considered herself a liberal (at least politically speaking), it made me wonder about liberal paranoia. The numbers show, in poll after poll, that most Americans disagree with conservatives on those issues. All the noise is made by a very vocal, very powerful minority. Maybe we should just drop the paranoia and ignore them. They're very quickly falling out of favor anyway.

You could of course argue that the spokespeople at Creation are savvy enough to stay away from hot-button issues until they lure kids in with great music and inspirational talk about the love of God. Maybe the indoctrination into conservative opinions will take place after they return to their home churches. But then again, our church was there with 20 kids, and when those kids show up at our church, they won't hear anything like that. Opinions in our church range from extremely liberal to extremely conservative (that's one of the reasons I love our church, lots of diversity on theological issues), so they will be exposed to a wide variety of opinions and they will see that all of those opinions are acceptable at a Christian church.

So on the whole, in this particular area, I found that Creation was surprisingly OK. It seemed to me that if a teenager with no religious inclinations at all had come with friends, they would leave having been exposed to the parts of Christianity that I would want them to be exposed to: the importance of service-- ie., helping fellow human beings who need help; the importance of supporting each other; the nature of love and forgiveness.

in the next post: what WAS said, the good, the bad, and the ugly

Aunt BeaN
Intrepid Grammatically-Challenged Reporter
(with apologies for dangling prepositions and all other grammatical sins)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Creation music festival report, part I

Well, I'll try and get some of this down before it's so far in my rear view mirror that I can't remember anymore.

Before we left to go to Creation (a huge, multi-day Christian music festival at an outdoor ampitheater in central Washington state), I was sure I was going to have to just grit my teeth and get through it. My spouse and daughter have been going for years, some years with our church youth group, some years with just the two of them plus a few of our daughter's friends. They would come back glowing, and both of them have wanted me to go for a long time. I kept begging off because it sounded so awful-- miserably hot, primitive camping conditions, and lots of conservative Christian rhetoric floating around. But unfortunately I used as my excuse that our son wasn't old enough yet. I had randomly picked ten as the age when he would be old enough to go, and guess who turned ten last month??

So I had no excuses left, and I was kind of curious how it would go, given that I'm working through my conservative Christian background anyway. This year we went with our church youth group and a bunch of various friends, so it ended up being a group of about 25 of us. All of them that know me thought it would be a brand new experience for me since it's not the type of thing that I do these days, but honestly, I grew up going to this kind of stuff. I've been to stadium revivals, Christian music concerts, and smaller church revivals; I've heard Billy Graham, Luis Pulau, Leighton Ford, Hal Lindsey... well, I could go on, but you get the idea. I even went with my family to a huge thing called Explo '72 (short for Evangelism Explosion) that was held in Dallas in June, 1972 (I honestly don't remember that much about it since I was only 11 at the time but OF COURSE there is a wikipedia entry about it that I just found-- apparently 80,000 students showed up for it and at the final concert, there were more than 100,000).

I find these days that I distrust emotionalism in religious practice. Cynicism, again, I confess. But you would not believe how many times I've been to retreats, meetings, seminars, camps, conferences, concerts, etc (not just Christian) and seen people (myself included) get on a so-called "spiritual high" that just doesn't have much to do with living life in the trenches: the everyday grind. But as reported last week, I'm discovering that maybe I've taken my own cynicism a little too seriously. Plus, it was obvious within twenty minutes of arriving that if I was going to dismiss the "spiritual high" phenomenon, there was going to be little to nothing for me to experience at Creation. So I threw caution to the wind and decided to just let myself experience it as if I were a lot more naive than I really am. Or maybe that is an illusion, too.

So I found myself there, the first night, listening to a speaker whose agenda was clearly to convert as many as possible. Normally I would just tune this guy out, because to me, conversion is the least useful spiritual experience (maybe because I was raised in a religious tradition so I've never had a conversion experience?). But I was trying to allow myself to get into the spirit of the thing, so I listened. As I said, I'm fairly adept at re-writing things in my head on the fly, so it ended up being pretty interesting. Toward the end, he was addressing the fears that people might have that keep them from God. So in the spirit of the thing, I was examining my own fears. And I discovered to my own surprise that my biggest fear was that the conservative evangelical thinking of my youth might actually be true. I don't like the person I was then. I don't like the opinions I held as if they were Ultimate Truth. I don't want to be like that again. But here I am twenty years later, so afraid that it might be true that I don't even want to think about it, or let any of those types of thoughts into my head. Possibly what it would feel like to have been brainwashed by some cult and have to go back into it-- what if I get sucked back in? I believed this once, what if I end up believing it again? what if, just what if, it turns out to be true, and-- as someone who professes to want to know what is true -- I have to believe it?

But the cool thing was that the act of discovering and articulating this fear seems to have been all that was required to let it go. I don't think I knew it was there, although I've felt some of it before (what if it's true? what if I get sucked back in?). And as soon as I let it go, I knew it had lost its power over me. It was a very cool feeling. So I was able to experience the rest of the three-day festival as a curious observer: taking in some of it, letting some of it pass me by, watching the people around me, listening to the artists, and just not worrying about whether or not some awful thing was going to happen as a result of having participated. It was very freeing. Just that one experience the very first night made it worth going.

to be continued....
Aunt BeaN