Monday, May 31, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
this is a video mashup for my theology and film course on which I spent last weekend working. I ought to warn you that its theme is violence and thus its imagery, much of which is devoted to films we studied in class, is violent (including a scene from m.i.a.'s "born free," on which I've written). also below is the short theological statement I wrote for it.
this is the sort of thing I do nowadays, consider the mashup of theology and reality. tonight I begin work on an essay about the mestizaje future of american religion. all this is very different from any of the scenes I ever imagined in my life over the past half century. that is a plus.
A MUSTARD SEED OF VIOLENCE
A Theological Statement to Accompany
A Multi Media Statement
By Bob Bledsoe
Americans are less a people of violence than we are a people who love violence. Especially when it is done by or to our factotums. Like the mustard seed of Luke 13:18-19, violence “is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.” It is this tendency toward metastasizing rather than a love for violence itself that betrays something uniquely American.
From the beginning, Americans enjoyed violence. The Great Train Robbery (1903) features a lethal gun battle at midway; similarly, D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) often speeds up its plotline with war battles and gunplay, including a reenactment of Lincoln’s assassination. What may be noted about both is their lack of realism: in Train Robbery the actor who is shot throws up his hands as if in frustration and spins several times before falling; Lincoln is shot at close range from behind but there is no blood and no observable damage to the actor himself beyond his slumping. If Griffith’s take on violence is accepted, being shot in the back of the head merely leads to poor posture. This neatened violence reaches its apex in the epic but apparently harmless kung fu battle between Neo and hundreds of Agents Smith in Matrix Reloaded (2003).
Spiritually more honest is the violence of movies like Kids (1995), Transamerica (2005), and Hustle and Flow (2005). The violence is short, spontaneous, and people bleed. Their violence has consequences. Whether the violence is directed outward at strangers, as in these films or allegorized against an ape in The Hunger (1983), or in the direction of loved ones, personally as in Brokeback Mountain (2005) or the representational Daughters of the Dust (1991), or in the direction of the self, as during Virgil’s nightwalk with The Brother From Another Planet (1984) or the recitation of Venus Xtraveganza’s suicidal behavior in Paris is Burning (1991), it is not inconsequential. Quotations from the Psalms and Micah suggest the same thing: violence is real and expressed not for our entertainment but against us (the video “Born Free”  and American History X ).
The violence need not be physical. It can be social, systemic, and endemic, against a class of people (as shown in The Soloist  and Addressless ). We cannot dissociate from it: the violence is in the best and the most innocent of us (for instance the children in the opening to The Wild Bunch ).
• Addressless: Homelessness, Problems, and Solutions. [Documentary] (2007) Directed by Gino Salerno.
• American History X. [Film] (1998) Directed by Tony Kaye.
• Birth of a Nation. [Film] (1915) Directed by W.D. Griffith.
• “Born Free.” [Video] (2010) Directed by Romain Gavras.
• Brokeback Mountain. [Film] (2005). Directed by Ang Lee.
• Brother From Another Planet. [Film] (1984) Directed by John Sayles.
• Daughters of the Dust. [Film] (1991) Directed by Julie Dash.
• Great Train Robbery. [Film] (1903) Directed by Edwin S. Porter.
• Hunger. [Film] (1983) Directed by Tony Scott.
• Hustle and Flow. [Film] (2005) Directed by Craig Brewer.
• Kids. [Film] (1995) Directed by Larry Clark.
• King of Jazz. [Film] (1930) Directed by John Murray Anderson.
• Matrix Reloaded. [Film] (2003) Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski.
• New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha. NRSV. (2007) Oxford University Press.
• Paris is Burning. [Documentary] (1991) Directed by Jennie Livingston.
• Skins. [Film] (2002) Directed by Chris Eyre.
• Soloist. [Film] (2009) Directed by Joe Wright.
• Transamerica. [Film] (2005) Directed by Duncan Tucker.
• Wild Bunch. [Film] (1969) Directed by Sam Peckinpaugh.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Friday, May 14, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Sunday, May 9, 2010
that's in my head today because I opted not to go to church but to stay at home and mow the lawn instead. this has got me thinking, of course, because it's the sabbath, or the day I regularly celebrate as the sabbath (as well as its being mother's day), and my practice is to do as little as possible on the sabbath. but here I am, sweetly smelly and sweaty with the odor of cut grass and dandelions and a trifle burnt from the sun, and feeling very, very good about it.
this has been a long, eventful week, and it has rained a lot, so the grass has gotten tall and I like to keep it at a length at which I can see things in my path. that's not to say I couldn't wait until tomorrow, presuming it doesn't rain, to mow, or later in the week for that matter. but I opt to mow on this day not in spite of the sabbath but because of it. I'm as in favor as the next guy of keeping my sabbath idle, but work is a holy activity too. when I am teaching or listening to someone or planting or walking dogs or mowing I am taking an active part in the universe, thanking it by paying attention to it. zen masters say that when one mows the lawn, one should mow with one's whole being. well, they should say that.
but when I am doing something as trivial as mowing and I am in my groove, it is an act as delightful to reality and god as any words of contrition or praise. I am in the place I ought to be in and doing the thing I ought to do. we must take heed, after all, of jesus when he reminds us "the sabbath was made for people, and not people for the sabbath."
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
The most popular and, I presume effective, youth leader I’ve ever known is my friend Bill who used to be the director of religious education for the congregation I served. Bill wasn’t interested in what he could teach youth about Unitarian Universalism or anything handed down in the UU OWL program as much as he was interested in simply being what Mark Yaconelli describes as being “prayerfully present to young people.” He had few lessons—every once in a while he’d lead them on a hike or a garbage pickup around town or a foraging expedition—but just went outside with them for an hour during services to the park nearby or, if the weather was bad, down into the basement where he’d teach them to play flutes or let them talk about their week.
By all criteria that I can think of Bill’s tenure was successful—the youth group bloomed under his leadership, the kids genuinely looked forward to spending time with him, I’ve heard from parents that they’d often talk the rest of the day about the things Bill had said or shown them, and even years after he’d left if one of them heard that Bill was appearing at a service she’d show up, just to sit next to him or talk with him afterward. He left eventually for the local Methodist church which has a large choir, singing being his second obsession (his own native spirituality being the first). After he left, the youth just dribbled away.
I’m of two minds about Yaconelli’s book. There are parts, especially those that make me think of what Bill was to those kids and the effect he had on them, that I really stand up and cheer for. There are other parts that I take serious issue with.
I’ll take the latter first. There are occasional spots in which Yaconelli seems blind to the effect some his ideas might have on other people—I’m thinking especially of the story he tells in chapter 3 about his epiphany concerning his youth ministry and how it changed after he realized it was up to god and not to him, which sounds wonderful for Yaconelli, but since we never hear how it affected the youth program under him or even if it did, a less charitable reading might suggest he just got comfortable with his own mediocrity—but one story sticks out for all the rest, and that’s the one on pages 117-19 about the young man from the Redwoods Group Home.
Yaconelli’s description of this incident in a local mall is pretty affecting, and I really liked the end of the first part: the man with Down Syndrome ordering and enjoying his own coffee. That’s a good story and an important lesson. Folks with Down Syndrome deserve the respect afforded by making their own, sometimes unhealthy, decisions. But it’s when Yaconelli continues that it’s obvious he can’t see beyond his own experiences.
The sad fact is that the young woman who sat in the puddle with the man and let him cry on her shoulder probably is no longer in that profession. On her return to the Home she would have come up against the rules once an administrator or manager saw the man in soaking wet, stained clothes. Her explanation that she had “participated in the power of God’s healing love through [a] gentle act of solidarity and kindness” (to use Yaconelli’s words), would not cut the mustard with someone who simply wants to know why she let him stay in the rain. At the very least, she was probably reprimanded for not having convinced him sooner to get up and into the van. (Clients putting themselves at risk is one of the few times staff are empowered to use Personal Restraint Techniques if the home was state-run; a private facility makes its own rules, but the staff have fewer safeguards against being fired.) And if he’d gotten sick, as residents living in a facility with other people whose hygiene may not extend beyond the two or three times a day staff can coax them into washing their hands are prone to do, she might even be open to personal financial responsibility by the client’s family because she obviously did not follow procedure or policy. (And before we argue that the policy should be more reflective of the ethics Yaconelli espouses how would we feel is that was our son or brother or father and he was struck with pneumonia?)
What I’m trying to get at is not that the woman was wrong to sit in the puddle with the man and share his grief or that Yaconelli is wrong to point it out as a model for us. What I’m trying to get at is that our response to it is as people outside the event who have no stake in it and we do not take into account the persons immediately involved who might have other responsibilities and who might suffer for their decisions.
Monday, May 3, 2010
the usual complaint against public education, that there are too many people making too much money for doing too little work, has been proved false over and over. of course there are individual mediocre teachers and professors--and I've no doubt most of us would end up on other people's lists--but certainly there are statistically fewer than there are, say, mediocre ballplayers or professional poker players or politicians. but mediocre teachers are an aspect of a broken system we think we can do something about, except it almost never happens that way. bad educators have been the bugaboo of taxpayers for a long, long time; by now, if they were the problem, this system would be nearer to ideal. no one thinks it is.
teaching is an honor and most teachers look on it that way. it's time for american communities to catch up with that conviction.