Monday, April 26, 2004

He Who Is Without Sin

Yesterday, I came home from church, switched on my computer, and scanned the headlines. One in particular caught my attention: Kerry Takes Communion. I was shocked and appalled that this had become headline news. I was furious with the Catholic Church for abusing Her power to attack Kerry. I decided right then and there that my next posting would be a scathing critique of the Church’s judgmental, un-Christ-like behavior. I would pull from the Bible and from the Church’s own documents to show how wrong they are to behave like this.

But, I had other obligations and couldn’t write my post at that moment, which gave me time to think through the issue a little more. Something tickled the back of my brain and it took a couple of long walks and a train ride to the suburbs of Rome for it to materialize: There was a picture of Kerry taking communion. It wasn’t some paparazzi shot. It wasn’t a surprise. It was a well-posed Reuters photo. Then it hit me smack in the frontal lobe: I should be just as angry with Kerry as I am with the Church.

Kerry has made clear his position of supporting separation of Church and State. He says that he wants to a president who happens to be Catholic, not a Catholic President. Fine. I wholeheartedly agree with all that.

What I don’t agree with is taking these positions and then inviting the press in for a Eucharistic photo-op. I doubt the photographer crashed the church doors or snuck up on the candidate. The photographer was told where Kerry would be and given permission to be there, if not invited even. This was a well-staged event.

And Kerry knew that having a photo of himself taking Communion would inflame the Church. He willingly made his private faith a public political issue.

If Kerry wants to say that he supports the separation of Church and State, then he needs to act that way, which means he shouldn’t use Catholic mass as a campaign stop. Sure, someone would have leaked the story anyway, a parishioner or a journalist who had snuck in the back pew. But let them do it. If Kerry wants me to believe that his presidency and his faith are separate, then he needs to keep his campaign and his faith separate.

So here it stands: I am angry and disappointed with both my Church and my preferred candidate for President. Both have made a mockery of faith by using it for political ends.

Both need to practice a little more of that faith: seeking to understand, not to judge; spreading the fire of love, not inflaming anger; and spending some time in conversation with God rather than the media.

I conclude with the wisdom of St. Frances:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying
that we are born to eternal life.

Friday, April 23, 2004

I *heart* Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen always says exactly what I want to say, but much better than I could ever say it. As the headlines blast yet another newspaper scandal, read what she has to say in her column about ethics in journalism.

My own thoughts on the subject:
Before we start doling out judgments, we should take a moment to reflect on whether our own lives would stand up to the scrutiny of the front page. How ethical are we in our own work? Can we truthfully say that we’ve never done anything deceptive and unethical to get ahead at work? Have we never been less than truthful to impress someone? Have we never embellished on your resume or in an interview?

Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley were wrong to do what they did. And, depending on your point of view, either very daring or very stupid for doing it at such prominent newspapers. And, yes, the editors probably should have caught onto the scam sooner than they did. But probably most of us have something we are hiding from our supervisors. I hope that mine doesn’t find out that I spend most my day surfing the Internet and posting to this blog.

But is the furor over Blair's and Kelley's actions really in proportion to the crime? I read somewhere (wish I could remember where to give proper credit) that the trait you most despise in your enemy is the trait you most despise in yourself. Perhaps we are making such a fuss over these reporters because we see the same tendency in ourselves---to use deceit as a way to get ahead---and want to draw a line in the sand between us and them. I might tell a white lie, but I would never do that! That’s just too much.

But that is just moral relativism.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Links! Links! Links!

Personal turmoil and a lack of inspiration have left me with nothing to say. So instead I updated my list of links (look to the right). Some of my favorites, in no particular order. Enjoy. And don't let your boss catch you.

Monday, April 19, 2004

In Defense of Chick Lit

Today I read an article from Utne on the perils of Chick Lit, books written by women on women-centered topics. The article brings up the usual criticisms of this genre---that it is isn’t serious literature, that it overshadows and dumbs down ‘real’ writing by women, that it threatens the very fiber of feminism.

I, for one, would like to stand up for Chick Lit. Why?

It’s fun. Chick Lit is, at its most surface level, fun. And does that have to be a bad thing? Does reading have to be a painful, tortuous task? I say, No! I say, It is okay to read for the sake of laughter, for the sake of enjoyment, for the sake of escaping from this hectic, stressful, depressing world if only for a moments on the metro or a few hours on a rainy, dateless Friday night. And, really, most of the great works of literature are fun, despite academia’s best efforts to render them joyless through endless dissection involving complicated theories laid out in the most artless prose possible. Shakespeare’s plays, when we stop analyzing their historical contexts, are often goofy romps. Austen and the Brontes wrote romantic comedies.

Literature can---and should---be enlightening, educational, moving, inspiring, radical, informative, and documentary. It also can---and should---be enjoyable. When did fun become a four-letter word?

It’s real. Honesty check: What do you spend more time thinking about during the day---the war in Iraq or the wretched betrayal of your best friend making out with your crush at the bar on Saturday night? What conversation comes up more often over lunch---the subjugation of women by the Supreme Court or the psychotic rants of your high-strung boss? Chick Lit is about the real stuff of our every day lives, only with a lot more humor and way better dialogue. If we are to believe the Ivory Tower crowd---that Chick Lit is shallow and meaningless---then we have to believe that we ourselves are shallow and meaningless. That our lives are worthless and trashy. Because Chick Lit is about our modern lives: stretching paycheck to paycheck, fighting with parents, fighting with siblings, fighting with roommates, negotiating office politics, falling in love, getting hurt, picking ourselves back up again, finding our way through all the complexities of life. This is the stuff of real life, and the Ivories need to pull their noses out of their navels long enough to see the real world around them.

It’s feminist. Chick Lit heroines aren’t the swooning maidens of fairy tales and Harlequins. Nor are they the shrill, bitter, sexless victims of feminist literature. They are independent, intelligent, and fully human women coping with the real issues of being women. They have jobs, homes, families, friends. They have sexist bosses and tradition-bound mothers---and they have supportive friends and loving if imperfect boyfriends and husbands. They struggle with the ideals of beauty and the demands of balancing work and home. They seek the middle ground between their need for independence and their desire for companionship. They are feminists for the real world, which means that sometimes they fall short of the ideal. Or the Ivory Tower ideal, in any case. And they are feminists for the modern world, which means that sometimes they make choices that go against the traditional feminist doctrine. They choose love instead of independence. They decide to have children instead of an executive career. They buy the Jimmy Choos even though high heels are repressive bindings of slavery because, gosh darn it, they look good in them. But these are always their choices---not dictates from men or Ivory Towers.

So let’s hear it for Chick Lit: the literature of real women. Of modern women. Of women who defy simple stereotypes and instead embrace the beautiful, complex world around them with intelligence, strength, and a sense of humor.

And so what if Chick Lit comes wrapped in pretty pastel covers. Isn’t one of the tenets of feminism that we should judge a person by what is inside of her, not by her packaging?

Saturday, April 17, 2004

On the Nightstand

Greene on Capri by Shirley Hazzard
Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
Transforming Suffering: Reflections on Finding Peace in Troubled Times ed. by Donald W. Mitchell and James Wiseman
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Friday, April 16, 2004

The Passion of the Christ

Okay. I admit. My main impetus for creating this blog was to self-publish my review of "The Passion of the Christ." With the exception of the Village Voice, none of the reviews I read of the movie got at the central point---that this is a poorly made film hiding behind the scrim of 'importance.' So here is my take on it:

With “The Passion of the Christ,” Mel Gibson has created a masterpiece. A work that will be studied and admired for years to come. No, not the film. I’m talking about the genius of Gibson’s marketing plan. By focusing the world’s attention on the flashpoints of violence and anti-Semitism, Gibson has averted all attention away from the fact that this movie is just plain bad. Forget historical and biblical accuracy (Gibson certainly did). Forget political correctness (ditto). This is just another case of an over-inflated Hollywood ego believing that box-office returns equal actual talent. Indeed, if it weren’t for the media-fueled controversy preceding the film’s release, “The Passion” would have been quickly shuttled out of theaters and filed under ‘Ill-Conceived Vanity Projects’ along with “Waterworld.” Because the movie is just bad.

We start the film with an agonized Jesus in the garden. And just in case James Caviezel’s overwrought anguish and sweat-soaked brow don’t convey enough of the drama of the film, Gibson films the scene in murky blue and grey tones and splices it with multiple shots of a foreboding night sky of the sort you would expect to see in a B-level horror flick. From there, the movie quickly descends into action so chaotic that I struggled to follow the plot---and I think I know the story well from 27 years as an active Catholic. I pity the poor agnostic who hasn’t heard the story twice a year (Palm Sunday and Good Friday), every year for his entire life and therefore doesn’t know what is supposed to be happening.

The key word with this film is ‘over’---overwrought, overdone, overemphasized, overplayed. Why drop a meaningful look after five seconds when holding it for ten will make it just so much more meaningful? And why show it only once when you can repeat it over and over again? Why use regular speed when you have slow motion which makes the action so much more dramatic? Why stick to biblical or historical record when making it up is so much more fun? Every cinematic cliché is used and abused---dramatic sky shots, sweeping crowd shots, slow-motion heroics, a sweeping orchestral soundtrack. And just in case you are too dense to pick up from these production cues that this is a dramatic story about good triumphing over evil, Gibson packs in the symbolism---a snake getting squashed under Christ’s sandal; a ghoulish, Gollum-esque Satan sliding through the shadows; a white dove hovering overhead; a black crow descending on a non-believer. Again, why limit yourself to yourself to one or two powerful yet subtle motifs when you can use so many obvious and shallow ones?

This isn’t a movie about good and evil; it is about ego and excess. What this film could really use is some restraint and originality (although Gibson’s interpretation of the Passion story is certainly creative). Unfortunately, once again, ego triumphs over art and marketing overshadows merit.