Monday, October 29, 2007

It's All Because (The Gays Are Getting Married)

As one astute friend pointed out, they forgot to blame Canada...still, this is freaking genius.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Brain: Full

The GRE is over, and I don't have to take it again, thank God. I was proud of my writing (I totally lucked out and got to write about art for one essay, so that went straight to my interest/expertise) and as far as the other goes, I beat the minimums most of my schools require (600s) so I can rest easy knowing that at least my scores won't get my app thrown in the circular file. They're also not going to knock anybody out of their chair, which I'm dealing with (perfectionist side rearing ugly head: I far exceeded my real score on a practice test) as well as can be expected, for me. And hey, in the test environment you're of course going to do worse, because it's not your home couch. Plus I was sick and tired. And I swear the real test was way way harder than any of the practice stuff I'd taken, or the books I'd used for studying. At least the math was - but they gave me one of those annoying experimental sections, which was traumatizing, because I swear I didn't know even what they were asking on most of the questions. I'm pretty sure the first one they gave was the nonscored one, and it was horrible, so I was all shaken when it came time for the verbal (on which I was hoping to shine). But geez, I still cracked the 90th percentile, so I really shouldn't bitch and moan. Yeah, I could have done better, but I did well enough. The rest of the app is way more important anyway.

Speaking of applying places, I'll be visiting GTU and CDSP in a couple weeks, Nov. 8-10. So if any fellow feminarians are there I'd love to meet you. And I'll be at AAR too, checking out that scene for the first time. Woo hoo.

OK I have to do Hebrew now. This week it suddenly turned hard. I am sooooo miserable with it now. I don't know why - I guess my brain hit the full point and cramming more in just hurts. But that doesn't stop the exams coming. Bleh. Still, it will not defeat me. I just have to find the fun in it again. And put in a lot of time that I have neglected.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More on BSM

So I've been telling everyone I can about Black Snake Moan and how awesome it was and how surprising and all that. And I realized something else about it that's super meaningful: it takes an instrument of torture and abuse - the chain - and turns it into a lifeline, a symbol of hope and redemption.

Not unlike a cross.

Woooooo! How's that, Hollywood Jesus?! (he gets it too - as he usually does, these films)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Last night I dreamed that I was taking practice GRE tests and I looked up and it was 5 mins until I was supposed to start the real GRE. I ran out in my pajamas with John in tow, and he's like, "We don't even know where the test center is!" (which is a throwback to the time he was supposed to take the GRE and forgot to check where he was going and missed the test entirely - not a dream, in real life) but I had checked enough times that I had an idea where we were going. And I was watching the clock anxiously as we drove (it's about 2 towns over) and miraculously it wasn't moving, but then it was like 1 minute until I was supposed to be there and we were parking and....

I don't quite know what happened, but then I was taking the GRE, and there was tons of Hebrew on it! And I was sucking at the Hebrew!! I've reached a bad place in that class - have fallen behind somehow, we're moving too quickly now - and I guess it's really stressing me out.

Imagine not only having to take the GRE, but having a bunch of Hebrew grammar show up on it! BLEH!!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

2 films worth your while

We had the pleasure, this weekend, of watching two excellent films that – while they could not have had more different subject matter – were moving, important, fascinating, and worth every moment of the time we spent watching them (these days, with our busy schedules, that is about the highest compliment I can give a movie – I didn’t feel like I should really have been doing homework!). They elevate the medium to that level of art that is at times disturbing and always polarizing. They are both stories told using heightened reality but that reveal truth about the human condition. OK, no more suspense: here are my mini-reviews.

The first is Across the Universe, which we saw in the theater yesterday. I’ve been excited about this film since we first saw the trailer and our eyes bugged out. It looked so similar to Moulin Rouge!, my favorite flick of all time – plus, it was Julie Taymor, whose “Lion King” blew my mind. Well Universe does not disappoint, if these are to your taste. It is a full-blown musical, with definitely more singing than speaking, and a new song every few seconds. Of course, they are all Beatles songs, which is about the most genius thing ever. I am not as much of a Beatles fan as J, so he was catching lots of little references that I missed (e.g. the character named Max banging with a silver hammer, another character trying to draw a half an apple – the logo from their label, and more we keep tracking down and/or remembering), but I tell you, it made me appreciate their music all the more. You really realize how truly masterful their melodies and words are, because they can be sped up, slowed down, and completely rearranged and still make beautiful music. J even preferred several of the movie arrangements to the originals, because he “finally understood some of the lyrics.” Yes, many people are complaining about covers of Beatles songs never living up to the originals; I am glad that the band is not so sacred to me that I can’t see the genius in many of these arrangements. It made me like the Beatles more than I previously did, and gain a new respect for their songwriting abilities. I understand it’s doing the same for a new generation never exposed to their music.

I just found myself going along for a completely enjoyable ride. I’m not at all surprised that teenage girls are seeing this movie in packs – I kept thinking, if I were in high school, this would be my favorite film. It plays wonderfully to the teenager in me, but that’s not to say that it lacks deep resonance (the teenager in me is smart, anyway). The comparisons between the war in Viet Nam and our present conflict are unmistakable, and the climate of the film feels eerily familiar. A scene in which men are marching across the fields, carrying the Statue of Liberty, and singing “She’s so heavy,” was extremely poignant. The song “Let it Be” is also used to tremendous effect as a gospel funeral dirge – it was possibly the most moving moment of the film.

The characters are all, as is well known by now, named for persons in Beatles songs, and many of their anthems are sung (but not all, so some of the mystery is retained). The singing overall was outstanding (perhaps with the exception of Evan Rachel Wood who was a bit weaker than the rest but certainly adequate). It is a terrific cast, but of course, the direction and the overall mood of the piece really steal the show. I am a sucker for bright colors and psychedelic situations – I love a heightened reality, something that can’t be done in any other medium than a motion picture. It is unexpected to see something so strange as masks and androgynous white-painted bodies floating in the water and find your heart breaking. But that’s Taymor’s gift – she uses unusual materials – including the songs – to create an artwork unlike anything you’ve seen that is both surprising and moving.

If it’s not apparent, I heartily recommend this film, especially as something to see with teenage daughters. It’s even PG-13 (there’s some brief nudity, mostly from the side – and less nipple than Titanic – and there’s as much male as female!).

OK, moving on. This next one is going to be a surprise. But I can’t deny that it’s among the best films I’ve seen in recent years.

The movie is called Black Snake Moan. You may remember its ad campaign, prominently featuring a scantily-clad Christina Ricci tied with a chain to Samuel L. Jackson. Hm. What was I thinking?

Well I am not sure why I rented it, but I am so glad I saw this movie. I don’t know who I can really recommend it to – it is too much for most people I know. The nudity and sex offends conservatives, and the misogyny offends liberals. Why did I love such a piece of trash?

Because this movie drags you through the filth and the mud to arrive at a point. It is not gratuitously chaining up characters or beating the hell out of them. It is a film about personal hell, about exorcising demons. Every character has their pain to work through. And it will take us to the deepest darkness of each before it lets us into the light (and the light does come, at precisely the right moment).

The situations are heightened reality, not of the happy break-into-song variety (although it is a musical of sorts, with ingenious use of blues music), but of the fairy tale or fable sort that make their mark by showing us something that makes us extremely uncomfortable, makes us think, makes us hate or root for characters. There are characters of light and of dark, and some that journey between.

The main characters – Ricci and Jackson – are purposely paired to make us uncomfortable and disapproving at every turn. She’s young, he’s old. She’s white, he’s black. She’s tiny, he’s large. She’s like a cat in heat, he’s full of anger. She’s been abandoned and betrayed by everyone who should love her and…so has he. Or so he thinks (his wife, at least, has left him for his brother).

They save each other. She gives him a purpose, something to love and to care for, someone who he – at first – can dominate, but later learns to let go. Exactly what he needs. And she gains someone she fears and is required to mind (which she actually needs), and eventually a guardian who protects her and accepts her even in her damaged state.

About that infamous chaining up of the woman. It’s grotesque, yes. It’s inappropriate. Of course it is – that is the point. I believe it is more about the abductor’s issues than those of the one who is chained. And in a very strange way, it becomes a safety net for Ricci’s character, who begins to see it as her lifeline – her only chance at escaping a life of abuse and error. This is so important to her that it becomes her symbol of redemption, something she embraces fully as her salvation. This is not a case of a woman falling wrongly for her kidnapper or abuser – the film comes out strongly against abuse, and their relationship remains strictly on the level of a true father-figure. Jackson is not harming her – he saves her. And she knows it.

The greatest compliment to the movie was that my husband didn’t think it was too long. He thinks everything is too long – even films he enjoys watching (like Universe). But every single scene was germane, every shot carefully planned, and they all added together to tell a precise story that was pitch-perfect in tone and pacing. The music – oh! the music! – was a revelation. Not unlike my new appreciation for the Beatles, I now also feel I’ve had a little glimpse into the depth of the blues. The director mentioned in one of the interviews on the disc that the blues is about “sex, God, and the relationships between a man and a woman,” and that’s pretty much a sum of the film too.

So if you can handle pretty raunchy stuff, I can’t recommend this film highly enough. It is probably going on my top ten list. I think the best descriptor we came up with was to think of it as Pulp Fiction – with all that film’s darkness, over-the-top sadism, and discomfort – meets Tender Mercies (a film with a wonderful redemption story but is pretty inaccessible to present audiences – it’s just too slow). Yes, it skewers the South; it skewers racial relations; it skewers relationships between men and women. It holds nothing sacred. Or so you think – until you realize that forgiveness and redemption are possible. And guess who helps with that? Yep, the preacher. God’s love wins over these seemingly unforgiveable sinners. In the end it is God to whom they turn (represented by his man in the church), who encourages them to bring their pain into the light so they can move past it.

The greatest thing is that the film does not neatly wrap up – there is a happy ending, but the demons are still there, lurking. The depths of the abuse and trauma suffered by these characters is not going to be wiped away in one happy day. They will still deal with it. But they learn to deal with it. They learn how to keep living – and more importantly, how to keep it from destroying their lives.

It’s simply one of the best redemption fables ever told. Keep in mind that it’s not supposed to be literal – and you will find yourself drawn in and, ultimately, deeply moved.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Happy World Food Day!

It's a two-for-one because today is a very special day - World Food Day! The theme this year is the right to food. Boy, what an obvious yet ignored issue.

Here's a great article about it, and a preview to whet your whistle:

That simple truth explains what otherwise is of course mind-boggling: Though the planet produces enough calories to make every one of us chubby, 854 million are hungry, up from 830 million six years ago according to the United Nations. Here at home where 13,000 calories a day are produced in grain alone for each of us, market dogma leaves millions hungry: 36 million Americans are food insecure -- that's more than the entire population of Canada.
And, because the poor can't exert "market demand," 70 percent of the world's agricultural land is devoted to grazing and crops that become feed for factory-farmed animals -- all to produce meat priced beyond the affordability of the poor and hungry.
Economists generally agree that once four companies control 40 percent or more of a market, real competition -- what consumers and farmers rely on for fair prices and practices -- is shot.
Consider that today the four largest beef processors control 81 percent of the market or that the four largest grain processors control 80 percent of the soybean market. One company -- Monsanto -- controls more than 90 percent of the market for genetically modified seeds and Wal-Mart collects an estimated one in four food dollars spent in the United States.

And well it goes on but you probably know if you want to read it by now - it does end on a hopeful note with stories of success in developing countries. I love the Lappes' writing - always inspirational and challenging.

My friends, today is a day to be thankful if we have full bellies and to chastise ourselves if we are eating crap (case in point: I am eating overcooked (but organic!) ramen noodles at the moment. I shall roundly self-chastise and go find something much more wholesome). Go eat something delicious and thank the provider for it! And then, consider moving towards buying more organic food, and buying food locally or fair trade if it's from far away, and check out Bread for the World if you want to get ideas for shaping national food policies.

We are blessed with wonderful provision, especially in our bodies that can smell, taste, and use what we eat to keep us going! How marvelous that our simple daily act of eating can remind us of the love of our creator.

Bless our hearts to hear
in the breaking of bread
the song of the universe

Father John Giuliani
The Benedictine Grace
West Redding, CN
From "100 Graces" by Marcia & Jack Kelly


Well I got my hit counter for last week and I dropped by half! Geez! I guess that's what I deserve for ignoring the blog. It's not that I have nothing to say, it's just that some things can't be talked about in this forum (most of what's on my mind these days, actually), and I'm so busy trying to get ready for the GRE and get applications put together, plus there's that little matter of the 12 hours of classes I'm taking. So the blog suffers. But I hate to see such a drop in readership so I cave and write when I should study.

Read an excellent book by Jana Childers called Performing the Word. It's an examination of preaching (and eventually worship) as theater, how to use the tools of the actor to improve sermons. It's a lot of stuff I already did without realizing it, thanks to my theater training. A fun read. Plus, she seems to have been trained by the same person I had at Wheaton - Jim Young. Ah, Jimma. Those are some memories.

Anyway, she's up at GTU, which is presently tops on my list of grad schools primarily because I met Louis Weil who is a complete darling. Unfortunately he's retiring soon, so I have to find some other people to like up there. Am planning to visit Nov. 8-9 (maybe stick around for the weekend, we'll see). My preaching prof actually did his PhD there, in (get this): Theology and the Arts with an Emphasis in Worship and Proclamation. Whew. That's a whole lotta degree. They don't do it anymore, either, which is a shame since it would probably be great for me too. But hopefully I can cobble something together that's similar.

My ideas for the PhD are becoming more sacramental and Christian (focused on Eucharistic theology) and less interfaith these days. At least, that's my approach with the GTU and the Catholic schools. There's still this wonderful guy in Canada who does exactly what I want to do, and if I get in with him, then all's good. But J keeps pointing out that the interfaith/food things might not keep my attention and/or be what I want to study for many years. I don't really know. I'm not entirely sure taht what I enter thinking I'll study will be what I wind up studying! Some people say that's OK - I don't have to know yet. I'm listening to those people. GTU seems to want me to know exactly what I'm doing - they even ask for a plan for my doctorate already! But I'm like, let's be open to seeing what I might discover in preliminary research, and go from there. Some places like that (I'm certainly "teachable") but others not so much. Ah, it's all quite confusing.

On the plus side, zeroing in on Eucharistic theology has opened up a few more places - such as the Holy Grail of Notre Dame (tho I really don't expect to get in there!). But it does put me more in the line of eventually teaching at seminary instead of secular university. And maybe that's ok. I just love the work I did at USC so much, and I still want to do religious life stuff that's interfaith, if at all possible. My mentors in that field say that it doesn't much matter what my PhD is in, as long as I have one. So it still might work out.

And anyway I'm not sure I'm that opposed to teaching at seminary. Taking this creative preaching class - and the feedback from my prof - is really convincing me that homiletics is a special area for me. I'm incredibly blessed with gifts in it. Now a big part of it is that theater background, which makes me "perform" differently than almost every preacher at my school. But I am also blessed with the writing ability, and, of all things, that natural curiosity about texts and situations from which good exegesis and application are born.

I have no idea if I could teach preaching - sometimes the best actors make bad directors, and the same may hold true in this field. Rarely is someone very gifted at doing an art form as well as teaching it. But I gotta say, I love it so much. It is really one of the most fun things I get to do - especially when they let me run with it like in this creativity class. My prof of course would be thrilled if I wanted to study proclamation - he'd send me to Childers, or to Bartow at Princeton, or preferably keep me for himself (which is something he's been talking about since my first year at Fuller!) - but I just don't know. I can see a future teaching ritual and religion & culture; I don't know about teaching preaching. I don't know about sitting through all those bad sermons!! Oh, I am naughty.

Anyway, the morning is getting away from me, so I should close. If you are one of those blessed readers who prays for me, I need support on the GRE prep and getting all the rest done (the next month is just insane) for applications, and then there's the wait for the answer! And I'm also really tired and feeling flu-ey, which I'm trying to ignore, but it's difficult. Pray I'll feel 100% again soon. I don't think it will happen overnight, but hopefully I'll pull out of this slump in a few weeks. The church situation continues to be confusing and upsetting - J has now reached the point of being very sad about the whole thing, and I feel bad about that. Looks like we are probably going to pull way back and spend some time at our old church. I'm hoping, if they need it, to maybe help out with some stuff up front - like the MC or verger stuff. I think if this whole ordination thing never works out, I might be really happy serving as a verger. Yeah. So if they have room for me in that, then I'll probably just go back there full time, at least until whatever happens in the next stage of life............

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Horror of Horrors! Worse than Bunnies!

As Marti Noxon sang...

"I'm asking you please no...
It isn't right, it isn't fair..."

Where do we go from here?

The Buffy Musical has had its plug pulled. And I HAD TICKETS - 6, in fact, because I rock - for the super-sold-out Dec. 7 show in LA. OH, I am SO disappointed! I was really really looking forward to this!

If you are a fan of the show, please sign this petition ( asking Fox to get the rights stuff straightened out soon so the show can go on!

Please, Fox, Give Me Something to Sing About!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I am easily amused

(click on the images for purchase info!)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ups and Downs (in sermon form)

So today was another preaching day - in class, "Creative Preaching" to be exact, which is like "pour on the pressure" to really knock one out of the park. Plus I'm trying to find a sermon to submit for the preaching awards here - a petty and silly desire to be noticed, but I still want to try. I'm trying not to put any stock in it. But I want to put forth a worthy effort. So that's in the back of my mind as I write each now.

Anyway, there is one annoying thing we do in the preaching classes: we give all the good feedback first and then the constructive (eh-hem) feedback at the end. So you leave class feeling sour about what you just did, no matter how many positive comments came your way first. Yucko. And my criticism was a particularly annoying one, because it was based on most of the class completely mishearing something I said (I was so thrown at the time that I didn't even have the presence of mind to figure out that's what had happened).

While I don’t think that their actual critique is justified (being based on a mishearing of my words), it is an important lesson that whatever we preach can always be twisted around to mean something we didn’t intend. I am not sure how we avoid that as preachers – except to never say anything controversial, but I don’t believe that is biblical! Still, it is good to be aware of this problem. I think it would be helped by having more history with the audience so that I knew how to speak to them and not be misunderstood. They don't know me well and I don't know them, and we all have our own issues! :)

Another thought is that preaching in a creative style opens our words up to more risks like this. If I had said the statement straightforwardly, it would have been understood; putting it in poetic language made it more fluid and open to misunderstanding. This is something to remain aware of. I don’t think it will stop me from preaching poetically, but I have to know in advance that miscommunication is more possible.

Anyway I know I need to let this go. But right now I'm hurt. I just hate being misunderstood. It's one thing if I say something sassy and piss people off knowingly. It's quite different to be accused of something you didn't intend. But that's what I learned about this summer, isn't it? That the intent of the Author is Dead. Damn. Stupid postmodern hermeneutics.

OK, I will now get to the good stuff, which is the sermon. This is quite possibly my favorite one I ever did. I loved writing it and even more loved performing it. It took tons of rehearsal to get it just right and I covered huge amounts of emotional terrain. I can't really even express it to you correctly in this format, but I love sharing my sermons so I'm going to put it up anyway. Plus, now you can play the fun game of trying to figure out what people misunderstood! Yay!

But in all seriousness, if you have a nice feeling or thought reading it, or it moves you in some way, I would really really covet that feedback. Yes, covet it, in the sad breaking-the-commandment way. Just because this one had my heart and soul in it. Not only that, but it made me cry nearly every time I read it - because the words in it were such a gift. I felt humbled that God gave me these things to say. And yeah, I guess I'm just saying I am proud of it. I'm usually more reticent about tooting my horn. But this time, God provided, and I was there to write it down and later speak it. Thanks be to God.

So here it is (now that I've built it up you're expecting Barbara Brown Taylor - yikes!). Hope it speaks to you like it has to me. But even if not, hey, it's spoken pretty awesomely to me. And that's a gift.

How Do You Preach with a Broken Heart?
A Sermon based upon Psalm 73 (click on "Psalter" and scroll down to 73. or don't. whatever.)

How do you preach with a broken heart?
When all you taste is salty tears
All you see is inky gloom
All you hear is a slamming door,
And a bolt sliding to.

Or maybe I am overstating the case...
(I can be a bit dramatic)
But we mustn’t pretend that we are somehow safe
That just because we are Proclaimers of the Word of God
We’ll have an easy go of it.

Preachers’ hearts break too.
Preachers’ parents die.
Preachers’ children get trapped in addiction.
Preachers’ spouses are diagnosed with cancer.
Preachers miscarry.

Sometimes it’s not personal.
Our vision for the church shatters to pieces.
Our ordination is blocked at every turn.
Our denomination splits.
And no matter how many times we preach the basics of the faith
Our congregants still don’t seem to get it.

(more energy)
And why, oh, why, are those preachers
with their false Jesus
pushing self-help feel-good nonsense
have they even read the gospels?
Why does everybody follow them?
Why are they on TV and we’re struggling to inspire a congregation of 15 eighty-year-olds?
Why do they have bestselling books and we barely have time to scribble down a sermon?

(rise to peak)
Lord I try and I try my very best to follow your will!
But there are all these…people
People around me, messing everything up!
How can they be so self-absorbed, so mean-spirited, so…stupid??
Where’s that wrath I hear about? Can we get some lightning bolts down here??

We don’t really want God to hurt anyone.
But we don’t get why God lets us get hurt.
Why God lets people – and pain – get in the way.
Stopping us short.
Robbing us blind.
Of whatever faith and hope
We might have had left.

But as for me, my feet had nearly slipped;
I had almost tripped and fallen.
Because I envied the proud
And saw the prosperity of the wicked:
For they suffer no pain and their bodies are sleek and sound.

In the misfortunes of others they have no share – they are not afflicted as others are!
They wear their pride like a necklace
And wrap their violence about them like a cloak.
Their iniquity comes from gross minds
And their hearts overflow with wicked thoughts.
They scoff and speak maliciously
Out of their haughtiness they plan oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
And their evil speech runs through the world.

And so
The people turn to them
And find in them no fault.

And they say,
“How should God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

So then, these are the wicked;
Always at ease, they increase their wealth.

Why do we bother?
In a world so broken
Loneliness lurking in every corner
Emptiness filling every crevice
Despair dangling every creature
from puppet-strings
in an unending parody of real life.

In vain have I kept my heart clean!
In vain, washed my hands in innocence!
I have been afflicted all day long!
And punished every morning!!

(BEAT; collect self)
I can’t say these things.
Not out loud.
Not to you…not to those to whom I preach.
How could they bear it?
How could I let anyone know
That I am human too?
That I hurt and I doubt and I question and I have really really bad days.
That sometimes it all seems like a big cosmic joke
And we
You and me, friends,
We are the biggest fools of all.

The truth is:
We are human first
And artists afterwards.[1]

Had I gone on speaking this way
I should have betrayed the generation of your children.

When I tried to understand these things,
It was too hard for me.

(a ray of light)
Until I entered the sanctuary of God…
Until I entered the sanctuary of God…
Until I entered the sanctuary of God

Until I entered
The Real.

There is a real world.
It is here.
It is at hand.
And from it, we can see forever.

In the sanctuary of God
The world turns rightside-up.
When we go to worship
That is Real.

God reaches out and offers Godself for our taking.
We hear the Word in the scriptures, in proclamation.
We enact the Word, in prayer, forgiveness, reconciliation, passing peace.
We see the Word, we touch it, we feast upon it, at the Table of Jesus.

(rise to peak)
I entered the sanctuary of God
And joined the heavenly banquet
And I held God’s love
– God’s deep, abiding, undying, unfathomable, unbreakable love –
I held it in the palm of my hand.
And I ate. And I
was Filled.

I discerned the end of the wicked –
Surely, you set them in slippery places!
You cast them down in ruin!
Oh, how suddenly do they come to destruction!
Come to an end, and perish from terror!
Like a dream when one awakens, O Lord,
When you arise, you will make their image vanish.

When my mind became embittered,
I was sorely wounded in my heart.
I was stupid and had no understanding; I was like a brute beast in your presence.

(more energy – duh!)
Oh, I’ve been so off base.
I am not alone in my frustration! I am not alone in my pain!
Who faced more ignorance than you, Lord, when you sojourned on the earth?
What could be more disheartening than thrusting
the Divine dance of Love
into the midst of insulated, boorish humanity?

I was stupid and had no understanding.
Help me understand, Lord.

(slowly, realizing)
I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me by your counsel, and afterwards receive me with glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
and having you I desire nothing upon earth.
Though my flesh and my heart should waste away,
God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

I only need God’s approval.
My deepest desire is for God.
It is not for ordination
It is not for a full church
It is not for health
It is not for wealth
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And having you I desire nothing upon earth.

(preach to them; rise to peak)
When we are suffering
And our path is dark
And the Light does not seem able to overcome it
When those around us hate us and mock us and thwart us
And the earth fights back against our abuse
And our relationships rip to shreds
In our confusion
In our frustration
In our anguish
We cry out,
“Abba! Let this cup pass from me!”

(pause, with quiet intensity) We are never closer to our Savior than in that moment.

Jesus faced the violence of this damaged planet
With no weapon but his weakness
With no bargain but his body
With no scheme but his sacrifice
With no directive but his divine definition
as Love incarnate.

What else could we expect to happen
To the ultimate self-Giver
Laid bare before the bitter disjointed shambles
of this world?


In this world, even as preachers,
- especially, perhaps -
We can’t help but be hurt
We can’t escape it

Maybe there is a reason
And maybe there is not
Maybe we are proven strong and trustworthy
In our trials and tribulations
Or maybe it’s just a hurricane
Stirred up by the wing
of a butterfly.

In the end, all we can do is choose
Between frustration
And formation.
Between shaking our fist at the heavens
And inviting the potter to mold us anew.

It is good for me to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge.
And I will never stop speaking
of the works of my Lord.

(rise to peak)
If we dive into Christ’s passion
We will form a seamless union
Of our soul’s deep longing for wholeness
With our God’s deep longing for closeness
And the world’s wounds will be soothed
By the balm of a Word of truth
Uttered from a silent cross and an empty tomb.

In that holy kinship
May we find ourselves inspired
To do as our Savior did
To absorb the violence
And grieve with the suffering
To be ignored with the powerless
And be stifled with the meek
For in this way, we will preach
Not only with our lips
But in our lives.

And that, my friends,
is how you preach
out of your broken heart.

[1] Paraphrase of a quote from Evelyn Underhill.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

For The Bible Tells Me So - Trailer

This film is playing at the Nuart in LA from Oct. 8-12. Other showings and DVD info available at the website (

Friday, October 05, 2007

Really not sticky sweet

Last night I was sitting in a theatre waiting for that magical moment when the lights go down, the chatter quiets, and a room holds its breath – not sure what will come next, not knowing if they will be challenged or changed, enlightened or disgusted. I love the seconds before a play starts. There are no commercials or trailers, there’s usually not popcorn munching, and most everyone has remembered to turn off their cell phones and leave their toddlers at home. But more than that, a live theatrical production offers something a film simply never could: the potential for spontaneity. What I was about to see had never before existed, and would never again happen, not exactly as it would that night. There is something deeply powerful in that awareness: something that causes us to keep giving theater a chance, no matter how much more it costs than movies or how difficult it is to find something of quality. We give in because we know that it is only we – those strangers gathered with us in the dark – who will ever, ever experience this piece of art in just this way. Giving over to this sort of event is risky. No matter how many reviews you may read (including this one), no one can prepare you for exactly what you will encounter, because no one will encounter exactly what you will.

I pondered these things as I watched Canned Peaches in Syrup, a world premiere production from the Furious Theatre Company (in residence at the Pasadena Playhouse’s Carrie Hamilton Theatre). Last fall, I fell hard for this company’s production of Grace, a beautiful work from a former seminary student about shallow faith, doubt, and truly finding God. In the spring, Furious presented An Impending Rupture of the Belly, which was one of the most disparaged works of art I’ve encountered – at least by the Fuller folks who saw it. Surprisingly, the show enjoyed an extended run, and was met with huge enthusiasm from most of its audiences. I began to wonder: what is the disconnect here? Are people “of the world” so mired in sin and anger that they can’t recognize something offensive or shocking-for-shock’s-sake? Or has Fuller entombed even its artists in a bubble of protection from challenge and the sometimes-ugly realities of the world? I don’t know the answer; I just know that Canned Peaches, should people from Fuller choose to see it, will likely evoke similarly divergent responses.

For me, Peaches fell somewhere in between the other productions on the scale of my preference. Where Grace was luminous, nudging softly towards faith, Peaches presents a hard-edge take on the extremes of religion: people are divided into sheep who blindly follow an antiquated faith and anarchists who revel in chaos and violence. Anyone who saw Belly will recall the coarse language, violence, and some crude moments; Peaches goes further with the language, crude subject matter, and fighting, yet it somehow feels more germane to the situation in this play. Written by Alex Jones and directed by Dámaso Rodriguez (who also directed the other two plays mentioned), Peaches is set in a post-apocalyptic future, sometime after global warming has destroyed most of creation, where people live in a state of constant fear and mistrust, unable to think beyond their next meal and soothing their sun-baked skin. It is probably what Deadwood would be like were it set in the (bad news) sequel to An Inconvenient Truth.

The characters are interesting and well-played. Great fun is had with Blind Bastard, a “holy man” who confidently preaches in a rhyming religious mashup like some foul-mouthed Lloyd Olgivie. Dana J. Kelly, Jr. gives a solid performance in the role, making you squirm and realize, at the same time, the power and responsibility that comes with having religious authority. Standout performances also include Ma (Laura Raynor) and Heather (Libby West), as polar opposite women both struggling to survive, manifesting their fear and faith in very different ways. In the final scenes of the play, we see how far they will go to stay alive, and how broken they have become as a result of the broken world around them.

Many of the situations are heightened explorations of life events: falling in love, craving connection, losing faith, betrayal, abuse, and jockeying for power and possessions. It is truly a glimpse of hell on earth – bleak and depressing, angry and dangerous. Yet there are signs of the positive: humor, love, family. You can’t help but want to see what happens – when people are at their worst, when their hope is gone, and when their faith has proved shallow and pointless, what will they choose? Will love conquer all? Will some kind of connection be made in this world that has “forgotten how to love”? Or will chaos win out, and evil reign?

Despite its raising interesting questions, I cannot recommend this play to most people at Fuller, especially after the response to Belly (which I thought went a little overboard - get over the swearing, for fuck's sake!). It even comes with an “Audience Advisory” on the first page of the program: “The advertised performance contains material likely to offend those sensitive to simulated cannibalism, crude human behavior, bad words and the coming apocalypse” (I almost wonder if the responses of previous Fuller groups inspired this warning label!). It is a true and fair warning. The audience must have a strong stomach – within the first moments there is simulated vomiting, and the characters discuss their excrement at length. But these are not glib additions: most of the people in this world are very sick, and their expulsions clue them in to their condition.

As I watched what was taking place, live, a few feet in front of me, I was reminded anew of the power of theater to pull us into another world – one from which we may desperately need to escape after two hours. There was nothing in this play that you wouldn’t see on an HBO show or in an R-rated movie. If you enjoy Deadwood or Six Feet Under or Sex and the City, you really can’t complain about the content. And yet, there is something different about it happening right before our eyes, and that is why it is not for everyone.

My main disappointment with the play was that, while it closed on a note of hope in human connection (if we can just love each other, the world will be healed!), it reinforced the idea that crossing group boundaries is not advisable. Those who attempt to relate outside their assigned box are punished, and in the end we find ourselves back in the same polarized world in which we began. Although some of the characters learn lessons about friendship and connection, others give in to fear and doubt, circling the wagon (literally) and refusing to trust. But even in that situation, there is evidence of influence from “the Other,” in the end. We cannot help but be touched – and likely changed – when we encounter those different from ourselves.

And that is the lesson that I think we Christians can take from exposure to difficult art. While we may not understand, can we find a way to relate – or at least listen – to a culture that believes and behaves quite differently from us? How can we bring the hope of the gospel into that world, if we know nothing of it? Art often reaches into the depths as well as the heights of what it means to be human. So I am willing to keep risking myself at the theatre, ready to be challenged and changed, enlightened and disgusted.


The world premiere of Canned Peaches in Syrup, presented by the Furious Theatre Company, is currently running through November 10 at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena (at Pasadena Playhouse).