Archive for April, 2011

Favorite Movies

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything about my likes or tastes or preferences in media, but I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately with my friend Elise, who is half my age and has thus missed out on many of the films that have profoundly touched my life. At least, I hope she sees it this way; it could be that finds me hopelessly stuck in the last couple of decades of the 1900s — a charge to which I would gladly plead guilty.

But one’s personal canon of film or literature reveals much, and reveals things far beyond that of genre or subject matter. It’s not, this list of films I love, a statement of faith — but like all things, it is spiritual, and adds to my autobiography in revealing and perhaps unexpected ways. So here is my current list of Top Ten Films, with brief commentary on why they’ve stayed with me long after the popcorn has settled:

1. The Color Purple. Never have I seen a more truthful, soul-stirring story of repentance, redemption, reconciliation, and renewal, and while it’s a difficult, heart-breaking film to watch, it will deepen both your faith in Christ as well as your faith in the power of truth in setting people free. This ought to be required viewing for all believers, and especially for those more than comfortable with their positions of privilege.

2. Jesus Christ Superstar. More than three decades after its release, this rock opera based on Luke’s Gospel offers the most sensitive, reverent portrayal of the Lord Jesus I’ve ever seen on the screen, and the music is some of the best rock and roll you’ll ever hear. But its continued relevance is grounded in its faithfulness to the story of Christ’s ministry and passion, and if it offers us an Incarnate Jesus more wounded, more intimately involved with his disciples, than we’re comfortable with, this is good. And it’s much better than the dashing, wild-at-heart rogue or kick-ass conqueror too often applauded these days by an undiscerning, culturally-compromised Church.

3. Lone Star. In two hours, this gem by John Sayles offers a Western, a mystery, a love story, social commentary, and an overview of post-World War II Texas history. And while the ending would be hard to justify Biblically, as if I were ever required to, it appears in a context that refuses to settle for easy answers and pat conclusions. You will not forget this film.

4. True Grit — the Coen Brothers’ version, not the original (in which Kim Garvey looks remarkably like teen idol Justin Bieber, which I find distressing). I’ve seen it twice and was in awe both times at the maturity and insight of the young protagonist. The actress is 15 in real life and plays a 14-year-old; I wasn’t that composed and resourceful last Tuesday, much less as a young teen. Iris DeMent’s version of “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” is flat-out astonishing.

5. Waiting For Guffman. The funniest movie I’ve ever seen, ever, without question, and in its own way, one of the sweetest. Christopher Guest’s “mockumentaries” are brilliant, and this one is head of the class.

6. Broadcast News. People who knew me way back when have commented on my former resemblance to the over-achieving, high-strung, ineffably passionate and consummately professional network news producer Jane Craig, played by Holly Hunter. I tend to think I just used to be bossy, opinionated, and demanding, with very little of Jane’s charm. But the movie offers the most poignant picture of platonic friendship I’ve ever seen on screen, and it’s all about news, politics, and a dumbed-down culture. What’s not to like?

7. This Is England. Heavy on first-wave ska, non-racist British skinhead culture, and punk-era social problems. That, and more “F” bombs than you’ve ever heard in a single movie. Get over it, though, and you’ll be moved to tears. Long live Milk!

8. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Cecily Tyson was a legend, and this look through one African-American woman’s life from post-Reconstruction to the Civil Rights movement illustrates not just one woman’s story, but the astonishing depth and versatility of the best actress you’ve never heard of. A favorite from my slightly-less-than-conventional childhood.

9. Arlington Road. A political thriller from the late ’90s that never really took off at the box office, very likely, I think, because of its unflinching look at right-wing separatism and its links to domestic terrorism. A decade or so later, the questions it asks and the warnings it provokes are still relevant.

10. Miss Firecracker. Holly Hunter again, this time as a striving young woman living in the shadow of her Southern Beauty Queen older sister, the wonderful Mary Steenburgen. The movie is as moving as it is funny, and Steenburgen’s take on “a thing of beauty is a joy forever” is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Bonus: It also features Alfre Woodard, who, along with Hunter, is my favorite actress. Coincidentally, Tim Robbins stars in both “Firecracker” and “Arlington,” and you won’t believe it’s the same guy. Delmont may have his problems, but he ain’t no Oliver Lang.

Check these out and let me know what you think! And if you were expecting “The Passion of the Christ,” “Left Behind 2,” “Fireproof,” or anything from the Lifetime network, perhaps, well, we’ve really not managed, you and I, to become terribly well-acquainted, then, have we????

The Prophet, Johnny Cash

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

I’ve been watching a documentary about Johnny Cash’s performance at Folsom Prison, and it reminds me what an icon, musical and spiritual, we lost when he died in 2003. The depth of Cash’s Christian faith is beyond dispute, as was his ability to grasp some Biblical truths that evidently have eluded others who take the name of Christ on the public stage. Here he is, defending in song and in an interview, why he wore black:

“We’re doing mighty fine I do suppose
In our streak of lightning cars and fancy clothes
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back
Up front there ought to be a man in black.”

Later, he offered this explanation of his sartorial choices, which he clothed in a demonstrated, lifelong concern for “the least of these,” the ones our Lord spoke about so annoyingly often:

“(I wear black) on behalf of the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, and on behalf of those who have been betrayed by age or drugs. And with the Vietnam War as painful in my mind as it was in most other Americans’, I wore it ‘in mournin’ for the lives that could have been. Apart from the Vietnam War being over, I don’t see much reason to change my position … The old are still neglected, the poor are still poor, the young are still dying before their time, and we’re not making many moves to make things right. There’s still plenty of darkness to carry off.”

There is, and it’s funny how a TV show has led me to praise God for the Light that so illumined the life of this great brother.

TIME Magazine’s "Letters" Section — Mining A Rich Vein

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

The editor’s desk was peppered with reaction to TIME’s story on the lamentably selective memory of those who blithely proclaim that “Northern aggression,” not slavery, was the significant factor leading to the Civil War. It seems that others appreciated David Von Drehle’s article as much as I did, and from their letters, I’d like to offer the following comments — with a hearty “Amen!” after each one:

“. . . The historic flaw of slavery does not diminish but accentuates the greatness of our relatively young country. In 235 years, we have gone from slaveholding President George Washington to African-American President Barack Obama, who incidentally carried the former Confederate states of Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia.”

“. . . I was disappointed . . . by (Von Drehle’s) failure to draw a more explicit connection to the contemporary Tea party, birther and antigovernment movements. The dotted line from the Lost Cause apologists for the Confederacy to the “take my country back” fanatics of today is direct and insidious.”

And, finally,

“One omission: W.E.B. DuBois wrote an important corrective to the Lost Cause view, titled Black Reconstruction in America, in 1935 . . . but as a black scholar, he was ignored.”

DuBois’ book would be a valuable source in addressing the arguments of today’s neo- and paleo-Confederates. But most of us don’t have a copy, whereas as the very best and most complete book arguing against the Confederate, “Anglo-Celt” homeland delusion is widely available; I’m sure every person reading this has a copy.

That would be the Bible, whose Gospel message of truth, reconciliation, mutual submission, and equality stanches the flow of racist, neo-Confederate bile better than anything I could ever recommend. Oddly enough, though, the South has more Bibles per home than any region in the nation, with what appears to be correspondingly less interest in actually taking its message to heart.

The Civil War, And The Incivility Of Memories Thereof

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Really, now. Did you expect that, living as I do in a place whose ecclesiastical stamp of distinction is a church community dedicated to promoting the benevolence and bravery of the Confederate South, I would let pass the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War?

Impossible. And, to underscore my commitment to expressing nothing but contempt for the idea that the Antebellum South was a bastion of Biblical righteousness and the horror of slavery nothing but a benign picture of harmonious Christian patriarchy, I will not only recommend the April 18 issue of TIME magazine, but will, after quoting from it, reimburse the first ten local readers for their purchase of it. Contact me at my email address, kjajmix1@msn.com, and I’ll exchange your proof of purchase for the money you spent.

Why? Because the article, by TIME staffer David Von Drehle, captures perfectly the importance of understanding the inextricable significance of slavery, of a Southern economy rooted in racism and inhumanity, in grasping the reasons why the nation was ripped apart during the Civil War. His work reveals the truth behind false defenses of Antebellum South virtue and, in revealing the agenda behind such historic revisionism, deftly dispels the self-serving and privilege-preserving “Northern aggression” argument that allows “Anglo-Celt” supremacists, faux-Libertarians, “states’ rights” advocates, and those choked with plantation nostalgia to continue to protest that the War was simply the most egregious example in American history of godless elitists victimizing God-fearing agrarian men and their families.

Von Drehle is quick to acknowledge, as he should, the reality that the Northern states were also involved in the slave trade and that virtue was not the prime motivator of the Union Army. But no one today argues that the North was, to paraphrase Doug Wilson’s friend and collaborator Steve Wilkins, the greatest and most Biblically righteous fighting force ever assembled. That Wilkins, Wilson, and other neo- and paleo-Confederates defend the Confederate Army in those terms is beyond tragic — it represents a perversion of scholarship and epistemology that ought to shame even the sub-literate and unbelieving, but, instead, and in the guise of “classical Christian education” and a Godly pursuit of historical analysis, has found an audience among hundreds in Moscow and thousands throughout the nation.

“Southern Slavery As It Was,” by Wilson and Wilkins, was an execrable piece of shoddy scholarship and racism-affirming hermeneutics that proclaimed that slavery in the American South was not only Biblical, but a pleasant, protective, harmonious, and family-strengthening experience for Black slaves as well. There is no amount of re-packaging, spin, or attempts at distancing oneself from the Confederacy by employing “neo-” and “paleo-” modifiers that can redeem Wilson and Wilkins. Only a public, specific, strong, and heartfelt apology with evidence of repentance can accomplish that. The controversy around “Southern Slavery As It Was” is not a bias against Christians, conservatives, or amateur historians, as Wilson, et al, insist. No, the firestorm was evidence of a bias toward intelligence, truth, humility, and compassion. That train has left the station, and there’s no evidence that Wilson and Wilkins have any particular interest in hopping aboard.

The One who is all truth is not well served, nor was He a century and a half ago, by those who, in His name, defend their sinful oppression of others by appealing to the perverted use of Scripture and a presumed “social order” that, perhaps not astonishingly, always favored them and their rule over others. The words of Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens are as ugly now as they were then in describing the guiding principle of the Confederacy in its response to the however-imperfect promise of “equality for all” in the United States Constitution:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

This is a crucial, if exceedingly obvious, point to be grasped — while the South may have felt that federal intervention in its commerce and culture, as well as Lincoln’s efforts to halt the drive toward secession, represented an unjust display of power of Southern “sovereignty,” the argument is deeply flawed. It’s not altogether different from arguing that a man who jumps into the fray to rescue a woman being sexually assaulted is guilty of not minding his own business, as Paul’s pastoral epistles counsel, and perhaps using nasty language in the process. Secession and slavery were prospering; dialogue and diplomacy weren’t enough to halt the former nor provide relief from the latter. The North, just as the hero in my example, may well have been grossly imperfect — but the result of the intervention in both was the direct alleviation of suffering and injustice. Those who oppressed others, and who prospered in doing so, ought to have examined and repented of their conduct rather than decry the motivation and means of those who sought to aid those suffering under it.

It’s true that history is written by the victors, and it’s equally true that the defeated will always proclaim the injustice of their defeat. But Christian men who esteem states’ rights, their privileged positions, and the culture of their own kin at the expense of true Biblical righteousness are unfit to teach, unfit to pastor, and unfit to be called scholars. In the name of Christ, they join with those with conveniently occluded memories and a knack for pretzel logic to defend the indefensible, extending and applying arguments in favor of the Confederacy then to their finely-wrought theologies of indifference to the poor now. As Von Drehle concludes, only the academic fringe defends the nobility of the South’s Lost Cause; its other defenders, those who discount the importance of slavery, racism, and gross social injustice in the events leading to the Civil War, are a motley crew of political thinkers adept in snatching whatever slivers of personal justification can be found in the jaws of historically verifiable truth. He writes,

“What energy exists in the modern version comes from a clique of libertarians who view the Union cause as a fearsome example of authoritarian central government crushing individual dissent. Slave owners make odd libertarian heroes, but by keeping the focus narrowly on Big Government, this school uses the secession cause to dramatize issues of today.” (TIME Magazine, April 18, 2011)

It would be hard to think of a greater and more grotesque idol erected in the public square than a love of individual social “liberty” so intense, so profound, that it places a man’s autonomy above the very lives of those in need around him — particularly when love of that social and political liberty neglects the starkly obvious denial of personal freedom to the ones historically enslaved by its most passionate defenders. Slave owners do, indeed, make odd Libertarian heroes, which reveals to me that the contemporary embrace of “liberty” often is entirely selfish and self-serving. But slave owners, and particularly those slave owners who appealed to Jesus Christ in defense of their manstealing and slaveholding, make for more than odd recipients of a Christian apologetic. They and the institution they developed, nurtured, and profited from are worthy of nothing less than utter and complete condemnation.

So, too, are those Christians today who would defend them and then, wiping their mouths and putting down their filthy, ink-stained hands, insist that their defense of slavery is all about . . . the Gospel that frees and redeems men, women, and children created in the image of a loving God.

I believe the classical, pedagogical Latin term for that is “Excretio.”

Celebrating A Half-Century Of The Guy I’ve Loved For More Than A Quarter-Century

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Today is my beloved husband’s birthday and my eldest son’s last day home from break, a nicely harmonic convergence that could result in a day trip to Spokane or a day tripping around in our jammies amidst wads of wrapping paper and the last few dishes from last night’s birthday dinner.

How a guy who has never drunk java and doesn’t touch a drop of alcohol can consistently make an outstanding cup of coffee and bring home the perfect bottle of Viognier never ceases to amaze me. I’m sipping the coffee he made me; it’s as strong and as sweet as I like it — five measured cups, four scoops, two sugars and a dash of cream. He makes my coffee most weekend mornings, evidently not considering that he ought not have to play barista on his birthday. I’ve promised him a falafel-and-yogurt brunch and an omelette for dinner, and I’ll have a bottle of macadamia nuts tucked under his pillow to round out his birthday caloric intake. I struggle with baking cupcakes or anything else from a box, but if there’s a spiritual gift of omelette-making, the Lord has blessed me with it in abundance. Unfortunately, it’s right up there with Third-Grade Gerbil Monitor on my onionskin-thin resume, but my guy likes it, and today, like every other day, that’s what’s important.

It saddens me that a statement like that might cause dismay from my non-Christian friends while surprising the falafel out of my conservative Christian readers. After all, I am a convinced and committed feminist; I’m not “supposed to” say things like that, because it looks like I’m squishy in my feminism, to the dismay of my sisters in the struggle or the delight of my sisters in the faith. But I love my husband, and just as he enjoys freely and lovingly doing things for me, I enjoy blessing him with little things, especially on his birthday. That’s love, which, coming from me, makes my Christian sisters happy to hear. And that’s mutuality in submission, which I hope illustrates true Biblical marriage to my secular feminist sisters.

Our 27th anniversary is September 8; I’ll write more then about this. But for now I want to say, and Jeff, also a feminist, would want me to point out, that the ONLY Biblical submission to anyone under ANY circumstance is a volitional, mutual offering that comes from a position of strength — a strength that enables either of us to say “no” when “no” is appropriate. I don’t submit to Jeff because he’s a man, or even because he’s my husband. I submit to Jeff — honoring him, wanting to bless him, encouraging his betterment — because he’s a human being who bears the image of God. And while the love he and I have is uniquely, ummmmm, “marital,” it makes me just as joyful to submit to my friends, my sons, and anyone else when I have the opportunity to give to them.

For now, though, it’s Jeff’s 51st birthday, and I thank my God that he’s blessed me with a man who’s enriched my life enormously, and who, by his kindness and patience, has taught me more about the love of God than I could ever have imagined.

Happy Birthday, Ziff. Te quiero mucho!

Ed and Dale And A Welcome Show Of Integrity

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

I have rarely been more delighted to write a post.

A few days ago, I wrote a long, pointed screed against New St. Andrews librarian Ed Iverson’s verdict that Moscow’s antiwar protesters were hypocrites for failing to protest in Friendship Square the Friday after Obama-led air strikes against Libya. I took Ed to task — severely — for what I believed to be his sinful judgment of people he didn’t know and motives he was unqualified to assess. A further problem was that, as I had thought, the protesters were there, as they’ve been every Friday since November, 2001. You can read my post about Ed’s original Right-Mind article below; I have no desire to go over it again, because I have something else to say about Ed, and even about Dale Courtney, Christ Church elder and Right-Mind blog proprietor.

They’ve both shown a much-appreciated measure of integrity, for which I’ve already personally thanked Ed and for which I am commending him, and Dale, here.

As you know, I believe that when a minister or other public representative of Christian faith says or writes something publicly, and those words are false, in error, or inflammatory, they ought to be called out publicly. But when I got confirmation that my own observations that Friday were correct — the anti-war liberals were there, protesting Obama’s actions in Libya after all — I left a phone message with Ed, encouraging him to acknowledge his error and apologize for it in the same forum in which his charges originally made. I assured him that I would, on my own forum here, continue to confront him if he didn’t. And then I prayed.

God is good, and Ed did the right thing. This man, with whom I have a multitude of disagreements over all manner of theology and politics, has never met me and likely isn’t eager to pencil me into his DayTimer anytime soon. On the other hand, Dale Courtney and I have had a long and rancorous history, and I wondered if Ed’s response to a rebuke by me would be of any interest to Dale. But Ed both acknowledged his error and apologized for his portrayal of local protesters in a Right-Mind post yesterday, and it’s only right that I publicly acknowledge here that he did the right thing. Ed Iverson did not demonstrate the righteousness that he did here because of me, but because the Holy Spirit touched his conscience. Dale dislikes me intensely, but in posting Ed’s apology, he showed clear integrity as well, for which he, too, deserves public commendation.

My disagreements with Dale, Ed, and the rest of the Kirk/NSA/Anselm House men will no doubt continue, very likely until Christ returns. I’ve been very critical of them in the past and I have little confidence that the reasons for my criticisms will disappear in a Spirit-blown wind that prevails in the turmoil of their thinking. Nonetheless, Ed and Dale did the right thing, and I sincerely, publicly, and as near-to-immediately-as-possible thank them.

While talking with Ed yesterday, I mentioned that I was elbow-deep in cake mix, a salmon marinade, and a Caribbean black bean soup in preparation for my husband’s birthday dinner last night. My son is home on his spring break from student teaching in Snohomish County, and I had a blessedly loud, wonderfully boisterous evening with my sons and Jeff. That, as well as a few re-writes to make sure my tone properly expresses my thankfulness for Ed’s and Dale’s correction, accounts for my relative tardiness in posting this. But here it is.

Thanks, Ed.