My struggle with Wonder Woman (the movie)

img_0458So.  A friend and I went to see Wonder Woman on Saturday.  I had high hopes – so many folks I knew who saw it loved it.  Women felt empowered and seen.  Finally, we have our superhero!  I was there with them, ready to buy my faux golden bracelets and appropriate t-shirt.

I thought the movie was good.  The production was great, the scenes, the acting, the casting.  I love her badass musical theme. I was not crazy about the high-heeled wedges she wears in her big fight scene, but whatever.  If I hadn’t gone with such high expectations, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog. But I walked away wondering about women’s empowerment, and if women’s empowerment means only getting to act like men, and more specifically, if the message of the movie is that women’s empowerment means that women get to be as violent as men.

Bear with me, fans of Diana Prince, and allow me to offer some vignettes in my defense.

– A few years ago I was at an event at my daughter’s school, and (long story short) a “what would you do if” situation came up.  It had to do with non-violence, which I’m usually for.  Except the scenario was my daughter got pinned down or pinched or otherwise harassed by a boy.  I told my conversation partner that I would teach my daughter to hit back.  She was a bit aghast.  “You’re teaching her to love war,” she said.  No, I countered, I’m teaching her to defend herself and to let that boy know he can’t do that to her.  I was thinking down the line, when she got older, and the hypothetical boy (or man) got older and the situation was worse.  I want her to be ready.  I hate that there’s something she has to be ready for.

-This past weekend same daughter was riding her bike with a friend.  A man in a truck took their picture.  My daughter remembered most of his license plate number, and she and her friend told us parents what happened.  The friend’s mom let the police know.  My daughter and her friend did the right thing, but I HATE that this happened.  I hate that there are creepy men who take pictures of kids riding their bikes.

-I’m a little sensitive to violence.  When I was 16, my family was held up at gunpoint in our home.  At one point the intruder was standing behind me and cocked his gun.  I thought I might die.  I’ve never like real or pretend guns pointed at me since.

-I’m a little sensitive to violence.  A few weeks ago, in Portland where I live, a crazy white supremacist stabbed three men in their throats, killing two, when they tried to stop his harassing two young women on a light rail train.  It was sudden and vicious.

-If my daughter were threatened, I would do whatever I had to – including act with violence – to protect her.  But I have learned that rarely do things work out the way they do in the movies.  If someone has a gun on me, I’m going to do what they say.  I’m not Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, or Wonder Woman.

I wish that women’s empowerment looked like women leading the way in non-violent resistance.  Yes, I know that Wonder Woman decides she will save the world through love and not war.  But that’s not what happened in the movie.  Maybe there’s some character development waiting for us.

Most of the time I’m a pragmatist and not an idealist.  But when my hopes for Wonder Woman were dashed, I awoke to the deep realization that I am so tired of testosterone-fueled violence.  Weary to the ends of my toes.  Weary to the core of my being.

Of course, I could be overacting.  It was just a movie, after all.  And as my wise daughter reminded me, no one would go see a movie where an empowered woman wins the day with reason and a commitment to non-violent resistance.

No one would see that movie.

What does that say about us?

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Words that break our hearts, again

On Friday, May 26, a white supremacist began threatening two teenage girls -one African American, one Muslim, wearing a hijab – on the Max train in Northeast Portland.  Three men came to their defense, and were stabbed.  Two died, Rick John Best and Taliesen Namkai-Meche; the third, Micah Fletcher, was wounded but survived.

The first inkling that something had happened showed up on Facebook, as friends wondered why there were so many sirens, why so many police were racing down Broadway.  Then a post that there may have been a stabbing at the Max station.  Then the news.  Then the disbelief.  Then the tears.

What do you even say?  That the violence was so sudden and vicious?  That hate is ever present, and love is too?  The words of my sermon on Sunday felt flimsy; I’m not sure there are even the right words to say.

Except when I read that Taliesen’s last words were about love, his love for everyone on that train.  Except when I read that Micah is a poet, and he has spoken since the attack, words that I find encouraging and courageous and challenging.  Maybe words do matter.

Later that same evening I learned that one of my favorite crafter of words, author, prose-poet, essayist Brian Doyle, died, having succumbed to the ravages of a brain tumor.  I wish I could have read what he might have written about the Max train and the girls and the men.

I went to bed that night with my heart broken in new places.  I woke up Saturday and worked on setting aside all the feeling and thinking about all of it.  Oregon has a terrible history when it comes to welcoming people who aren’t white.  Portland does too, from red-lining to KKK presence to new threats.  While researching how to pronounce Taliesen’s name, I ended up on a white supremacist blog, which I quickly exited but not before reading part of a ghastly post.

The president, by his thrown-off, impetuous words, has opened the door to freedom of hate speech, which took the form of harassing two young women who were sitting on a train, doing nothing more than that.  Haters are emboldened.  Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will terrify us.

Words led to actions.  Words of hate led to a knife being brandished.  Words of love led to quick courage.  Words led to death.  Words led to fear.

And now words are bringing our community together and tearing at it too.  The mayor tried to limit a free speech rally.  The ACLU said he couldn’t.  Words of sympathy are pouring out, as are donations for the families of the victims.  Words of blame, words of being afraid are heard and printed.

What would happen if there was silence?  What would happen if all the words written in chalk at the Max station were erased?  What if there were only our tears, and the flowers, and quiet?  Would our silence be understood as cowardice or defeat or acquiescence?  Would silence be healing or hiding?

Are words hollow, or all they full?

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος

Adulting

My child, who is a pretty terrific kid, has no interest in growing up, getting a job, living on her own, learning to drive, or any of things I associate with maturing and becoming an adult.  She is reluctant to learn how to cook, and when I ask her what she’ll do when she lives on her own, she says she’ll have a really nice roommate who will do all the cooking.

Which has got me to thinking: have my husband and I made adulting look so awful and tedious that she wants nothing of it?

We, like many, have jobs that get pretty serious pretty fast, especially in the Death and Dying Department.  We get the occasional call in middle of the night or too early in the morning.  We talk about memorial services over dinner (until she reminds us of the “no work talk at dinner” rule.)

We pay the bills together so she hears us talking about whether we’re ahead or behind for the month.  She knows how much vacation costs, and hears us admit with some guilt and resignation that maybe we spent a little too much on getting away this year.

When I was a little older than she is now, I could not wait to be on my own, to get my driver’s license, to imagine my first apartment and my own dishes and my very own vacuum cleaner.  My first year after college I shared a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan with two of my college roommates.  We’d put on our suits and tennis shoes in the morning and walk to work, and walk back home, and we’d have pasta carbonara for dinner and watch “Flame Trees of Thika” on PBS.  It was as glorious as I imagined growing up would be.

Since then life has intervened.  There have been lean years, and job disappointments and failures, and debt.  There have been illnesses and deaths that still shake me.  There have been more moves than I would like, and goodbyes to dear friends.  But I still love being an adult, with all the responsibility and burden; with all the freedom and agency, too.

This morning on my short drive to work I heard on NPR the last bit of an interview with Senator Ben Sass of Nebraska, who has written the book “The Vanishing American Adult.”  I can’t comment on its content, but the two minutes of the interview intrigued me.  He spoke about making kids work, making them do hard work that isn’t much fun so they will build up “scar tissue on the soul.”

Adulting is hard.  Moving from adolescence to adulthood can be pretty painful.  It’s not all fun and entertainment; I’ll admit that.  But I wonder, almost every day, as a parent, if I’m doing enough to help my child build some of those muscles, acquire some of that scar tissue on her soul, so that by the time she’s 22 and looking for her first apartment with friends and buying dishes at the resale shop – so that by then, she’ll walk nervously and hopefully into the next part of her life.

We’ll see.

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Elusive Joy

Truth be told, I would rather conduct a memorial service than a wedding (but for those of you whose weddings I officiated, you were the exception!)  I also find planning the Good Friday service much more interesting, fun, and worthwhile than planning the Easter service.

This is not new information to me. I have been ruminating on it for a while, as this year’s Good Friday service flowed out of me so easily and elegantly, while getting Easter off the ground felt like wading through lime jello dotted with shredded carrots and crushed pineapple – colorful, but not so good.  I think it may have to do with joy and grief, with the elusive nature of joy in this life, and the immediacy and intimacy of grief in this life.

Grief bombards us all the time – grief in death, grief in horrible diagnoses, grief in all the tiny losses that add up, grief that is the constant companion of change.  Joy seems more sparing.  Every since I became a mother, which is one of the greatest joys of my life, I’ve been aware that joy, at least for me, is always tinged with fear: there is this person I love with the depth of my being and to lose her might kill me.  It is the fear of joy being taken away, or the crush of joy evaporating. Grief being taken away is a good thing, a sign of healing, a reprieve from that emotional pain.  Grief evaporating is something wished for, but not always attained.

The shared joy at a wedding is tinged with what might happen as the years unfurl: a fight, a divorce, job frustrations, children frustrations.  But I think my hesitation about weddings is about something else: they can become productions, and petri dishes of family systems theory, and studies in excess.  The true joy that is there can be overshadowed by all the stuff.

Then again, memorial services have as much joy as they do grief – joy for a life well lived, for love that was poured out, joy for having known this person.

And Good Friday and Easter – what about those?

Good Friday pierces me, in the way that it gets to the reality of injustice then and now; violence then and now; anguish then and now.  We have Good Friday experiences all the time, whether we want to or not.  We don’t have Easter experiences very often, or at least I don’t.  The small resurrections we know – remission, healing, reconciliation –  they are good and great, but still tinged with impermanence.

And really, the Easter service can be a bit of a production too.  There are a lot of moving parts: eggs, flowers, trumpets, Handel’s messiah, banners, extra bulletins, extra people, and hats.

This side of the door (to borrow C.S. Lewis’ image) maybe impermanent joy is all we get, joy that is elusive and fleeting.  I suppose fleeting joy is better than no joy at all.  But I do wonder what joy is like on the other side of the threshold.  Tangible and permanent, maybe.

Hopefully.

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The quick and the dead

Today I paid a visit at our local retirement high rise.  Here at church we refer to it as our south campus, what with a few dozen of our members living there.  In the past five years I’ve come to think of it as the place where people I love have died.  It’s a holy place, a sacred space.

It’s full of the quick and the dead, that place – our living saints (and a few curmudgeonly types) and ghosts, too, for me and I suspect for others.  I walk by an apartment that used to belong to someone else.  I take communion to folks on the nursing floor, and remember the overheated room where a saint experienced hospice care and left his earthly body.

I remember another saint whose husband died there, and her dismay when his body was taken out the back via the service elevator.  When she died, in the same building but a different room, the gurney holding her mortal remains was wheeled proudly through the lobby and out the front while her children sang “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.”  I never hear that hymn without thinking of her.

My parents live in such a place in another state, and have long referred to it as “the last stop.”  I am glad they are there, taken care of by staff as needs arise, since none of us kids lives anywhere near them.  I remember when they first moved in how surprised they were that people kept dying.  I did remind them, gently (I hope), that it is the last stop.

In those places there is often a fine line between the quick and the dead.  Perhaps those places are thin, in the Celtic way, liminal places that contain both life and death.

I’m preaching this week about the story that took place on the road to Emmaus; that seven mile path was a thin place, liminal, a place of life and death.  The resurrected Jesus appears to be both quick and dead.  It’s a marvelous little story, and weird too, and there’s much to say about it and yet I find I want to say nothing about it, but simply to sit with it.  Maybe hovering between life and death and hanging out with the saints will do that to you.

Bright Monday: Dusting Day

Yesterday was Easter and it was good but I will happily admit I’m always glad when Easter Day is over.  There’s a lot of pressure, more from the inside than the outside.  As I get older, I’m learning to have fewer expectations of myself (perfect sermon! amazing attendance! delicious Easter dinner!  joyful and kind 24/7!)  The sermon was okay, not amazing, but done was good.  The scalloped potatoes were too soupy and not quite soft enough, but no one died after eating them.  The chocolate cake made up for the potatoes, as I knew it would, and we may have a new tradition of watching “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” on Easter evening.

But now that Easter Day is done, I am excited about two things: sweets (my Lenten deprivation) and cleaning my office.  Truth be told, I’m more excited about the cleaning.

Things piled up during Lent.  Ashes, palm leaves, candles, bulletin drafts, sermon drafts, emails, coffee cups, commentaries on the Gospel of John, paper clips.  Papers didn’t get filed, or recycled, or shredded, committee meeting agendas and financial statements in particular.  The plants got watered, but the leaves did not get vacuumed up.  Books and notebooks of preaching materials lay scattered about, like dead toy soldiers on the battlefield of my office.

It’s was mess, and I did not clean up for the Risen Lord on Sunday.  I think he’s okay with that.  He got lilies and the Hallelujah Chorus and the Widor Toccato.  And life. That should be enough.

But Bright Monday!  Last night I started singing “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dusting Day” with great excitement.  And so it began this morning.  Cups and glasses and fake red carnations taken back to the kitchen.  Pillar candles to the candle closet.  Stoles in purple and green folded up and put neatly away.  Papers filed, shredded, and recycled.  Books put back where they belong.  A new paper for my blotter.

And then the wild rumpus of the dusting began.  I am telling you, dusting is good for the soul.  It’s an almost instant gratification and you have to do just enough work to be able to tell yourself you really put something into it.  Now the wood of my desk and shelves looks like new, and it appears that an adult occupies the office.

While I am always relieved and happy when Easter Day is over, I am also always glad that Eastertide has begun.  I wish we in the church did more with Eastertide, made it the mirror of Lent.  Commit to adding something good in Eastertide, for yourself or the world.  Examine not your sin but your joy.  Eat sumptuously.  Laugh a lot.  That’s why I wish all those Easter worshipers would come back – they just get the beginning of the good stuff, the amuse bouche of the faith and not the main course.  Easter is the appetizer, not the dessert.

Oh well.  As I get older, I let go of that expectation too, that folks will come back in droves.  It’s enough for me that they were here, and that we’ll see them next year.

Today Eastertide began and I dusted.  Life is good; there is joy, and my soul feels as clean as my office.

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A dalliance of daffodils

A dalliance of daffodils –
they would, of course, dally, with that ruffled collar all set out
like some Elizabethan earl
happy to be out of the cold dark of the earth
happy to have burst the bonds of the bulb

Then there’s the intoxication of the daphne –
Thymelaeaceae her proper name
A rose by any other name could never smell this sweet, this heady,
this alluring, this…
She is joy touched with poignant lemon
sad perhaps that she cannot flower for very long
But she’ll be back next year

The trees are all budded
Like middle schoolers waiting for their first dance
A little embarrassed to be there at all, at the ends of the limb
But when they burst open the fun begins

Spring is not my favorite season, but maybe it should be
there’s so much LIFE everywhere
And relief that soon enough the rains will end
And the bees will come pay a visit to the raspberry blossoms
And the crows will start moving acorns to the car’s path, instant dinner
And whatever attention span the kids once had is now so very gone

No matter what,
No matter the plagues, the politicians, the ploys,
Spring arrives, like your favorite cousin visiting again
Keeping you up late in the moonlight
Inviting you to her own world
Promising so much
Never growing old
The season that never dies
Immortal yet fleeting, she is

And worth every minutenarcissus-pseudonarcissus-324110_960_720