Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thomas Kinkade, or Why I like Paintings of Houses

"Clearing Storms by Thomas Kinkade"

I've read a couple of well-written essays on Thomas Kinkade by Catholic writers recently in First Things and NCRegister.

People got kind of angry at Simcha Fisher, particularly when she said Kinkade was "anti-incarnational" because his prettied up houses and landscapes lack the mess of reality.

First, I would say that Kinkade is attempting, in his work,to be transfigurational. Whether or not he succeeds is another matter! I will just say that I think this is a fine goal for an artist to have, and that the Transfiguration is also an important feast in the Church calendar.

Second, I would say that I think most of Kinkade's paintings are kind of ugly and garish. However, some of them are well-composed and restrained. The one up top is one of the few I like. There is a nearly perfect circle formed from the clouds and rocks that leads the eye through the painting, while the lighthouse & house are the clear focus. The dark rocks and sea contrast with the brighter colors, and the lights are appropriately bright. Lighthouses are classically picturesque, possibly overdone, but they truly are beautiful. They were designed to be pretty as well as functional, and I'm just sorry we stopped bothering. If air-traffic control towers looked as nice, maybe traveling would be less of a chore. This is a pretty, charming painting with a bit of drama, and I like it.

Third, I would say that critiques of his paintings that focus on the choice of subject matter are probably what is most irritating to fans and indifferent bystanders alike. Neither of the two essays I linked to make that mistake, but I've heard it before.

I have heard criticism of him because he leaves people out of his paintings, because his paintings are too bucolic, because his paintings are of country houses rather than people/cities/slums/something else. These critiques make my hackles rise because they are missing out on a major portion of art, art history, and the human experience. They also fail to understand what it is about Kinkade's paintings that has made him so popular -- he has been able to capture feelings that people have already felt, but didn't know how to visualize.

When I used to go on long road trips with my family, I loved driving down a dark highway and seeing far-off houses with their lights on. It was both a lonely and comforting feeling. It was comforting to know that there was someone else in the world, and lonely to know we would never meet. I got the same feeling when I would look outside my childhood bedroom window and see houses miles away from my mountain view. These lights are alienating while at the same time reminding us of a common humanity. A lit house is mysterious and is a great subject for paintings. I wish there were loads more of them. The people who complain that the viewer of a Kinkade painting is shut out of the family life of the people in the house have entirely missed the romance of that very feeling. You are shut out, looking in, wondering.

When I saw a Kinkade for the first time, I was a college freshman. I thought "At last! Someone who knows how I feel about houses!" Then I noticed the mawkish coloring and I didn't like it as much. I think the Kinkade fans have latched onto that feeling and that recognition of kinship. When Kinkade is criticized, particularly when he is criticized for the subject matter instead of execution, they feel criticized too.

The most tone-deaf criticism, of course, is that of someone complaining that the scenes are too country. Great, thanks, pal. I grew up in the country. Our houses don't really look like that, but if they did, they would totally sell at high prices. That's another thing I want to say. Kinkade isn't selling to a nostalgia, he's selling to a market whose architecture is generally void of beauty. The pre-fab homes, bland stuccoed developments, and strip malls in most American cities are drab chunks of ugly. Or you can get a lovely brick building from the 1910's that's falling down around your ears. Boo. A Kinkade cottage is unique, it is made of serious things like rocks, not plastic siding, and it looks like it could last more than a decade *please to ignore improbably architecture*. If it's shown with other cottages nearby, they don't all look the same. The gardens are lush and overgrown; no neighborhood authorities to tell you to trim your dang bushes or force you to mow the lawn around the edges. It's a dream house, but not like any dream-house you can actually buy. For a few million, you could get a McMansion, but you can't get a house made of rocks. I want a house made of rocks. Always have.

But remember, I said I didn't actually like most of Kinkade's cottage paintings. So I looked up ten paintings of houses that I like better.

Number 10
House by Edward Jones" This a painting found in an auction, and was done by a high school student. I love the color scheme and style, but the compositional issues typical of young artists take a lot away from it. The house is too big for the canvas, and it ends up looking scrunched. The trees are too small as well; they may have been that size in real life, but the artist would have done better if he'd made them a bit larger. They end up getting lost.

Number 9

Baba Yaga's House by Steve Dismukes

Any list of my top house paintings has to include a picture of Baba Yaga's house. When I first came across Russian folktales when I was 11 years old, she and her house took up residence in my imagination and never really left. The most entertaining and frightening witch of all time. A haunted house that lets you know immediately just how bad it really is, but it won't do you any good. By the time you see the chicken legs, Baba Yaga has got you already. I like this painting because of the contrast between the greyed-out landscape, the glowing, cheerful windows, and the small sinister details. I think the painting would have been stronger without the ring of skulls -- it would be better if the chicken legs were the only "off" detail in an otherwise charming scene. This artist is really into illustration and comic-style art, though, so he would want to put those extra details in.

Number 8
Burning House by Lois Dodd

This is not the first burning house you will see here! Simcha Fisher had joked that Kinkade's bright windows look like the house is on fire. If you just look at the bottom windows of this house, you will see a strong resemblance to the Kinkade windows. Hmm. I like this one for the strong colors and movement, especially in the top left flames. What really sells it for me is that stream of water from the firehose that looks like another jet of flame. The way it cuts across the painting is so interesting. I'm not so wild about the olive trees in the background. But ultimately, the contrast between the organic flames and the straight lines of the house and the water stream are gripping and powerful.

Number 7
"Country House by Vyacheslav Tsay

You ask for incarnational? I give you the Vyacheslav Tsay. So faithful to details of reality there is a satellite dish at the apex of the hill. I love this painting for its attention to detail and to the dizzying steepness of this village on a hill. He plays a lot with the disorientation one feels at night when the colors all fade into one blue/green mess punctuated by white. I really like the chaotic sweep of dark trees. I only wish he had left out a bit more -- after exploring all these details, the eye does not have somewhere to rest.

Number 6
House on Fire by Paul Keysar

Okay, forget all that stuff I said about the lonely mystery of seeing a lit window and just take in this drama. The triangles from the smoke and from the late afternoon sun in the foreground make a perfect composition. The ominous shadows in the forest set off the glowing white house about to be consumed. The balance -- or tension, however you want to see it -- of rough and smooth textures, peaceful nature and raging inferno in a gorgeous, stately house are so intelligent, and more importantly, true. September 11 happened on one of the most beautiful fall mornings I've ever seen. Heartbreak and beauty sometimes coincide.

Number 5
House at Essoyes by Renoir.

So whenever I seen Kinkades, I'm reminded of Renoir's use of speckled light and saturated color. We usually think of his crowd scenes, though, and I wanted to find out what he did when he wasn't painting people. Well, he's still got some people in there, but they're not recognizable, and they're great for giving the scale of this quite large house. More like a mansion. I'd love to see this one in person -- at this scale on my computer screen, I'm sure I'm missing out on the textures and subtleties I could see in the real thing. These hazy days do happen in France, and the softness of the trees captures that warm summer feeling that's just shy of oppressive. The light source is a little confusing, though based on the direction of the tree shadows, I'd say it's mostly coming from the upper right. The focus of the painting is so clear. The eye is immediately drawn to the glowing, creamy surface of the house tower, flanked by dark trees. It's a restful painting. I would love to be able to sit for a long while in front of this one. That's what happens when a painting is well-balanced; it has all the detail you might want to explore, but it is still enough to invite contemplation.

I have Renoir lower on my personal list because I think this is a bit too sweet for my taste. The die-hard Kinkade fans should check out Renoir. Good luck trying to buy an original, but affordable reproductions are fairly easy to find.

Number 4
"East End Sunlight by Cooper Dragonette
Here's a lovely painting by a Maine artist that does the opposite of the lit window -- the light in the room is all coming from a sunset. This was a small painting, 6x8", so it's just a little detail from a beautiful moment. He's caught some of the nice architectural details in an old house. I think it is well composed and an unusual close-up, but what I really love is how the warm rosy sunlight on the inside punctuates that dark room and that beige-yellow house. It takes something I generally dislike -- the dull colors of most houses I see, the coldness of blank glass -- and adds the warmth and vitality of sunlight. Nature here is softening and beautifying the manmade. It's simple, and I really do dislike that ugly beige color of paint that is everywhere, but I have this up high on the list because I think this is showing me something special. I like noticing those little moments that are easy to miss. A grace moment, when something we take for granted is made beautiful. It earns its number 4 spot because it challenged and excited me.

Number 3
Country House by Viktor Safronov
Okay, finally back on the topic of houses at night with a window lit. Here's another Russian artist, Viktor Safronov. Dang, Russia looks cold. This isn't even one of the coldest paintings of his work. That house is kind of shabby and probably leaks, but I'd rather be in there than out here in this chilly, muddy foreground. Maybe this theme is popular in cold places, where the only thing on your mind when you are outside is "How do I get back in???" The foreground shows why people built houses in the first place. I like the way the sky looks scratched up with paint, as if the artist was attacking the canvas. The twisted trees with their sharp branches, the murky colors, the interposition of the snow between the viewer and the warm house, the lit window in the very far edge of the painting, the way the house is set so you don't get to see a door, all add up to a feeling of homelessness and longing. This house, small as it is, is a true refuge from a hostile world.

Number 2
Tallinn at Night by Eva-Maria von Nerling.

This painting, wow. Check out the link, because what this German artist does with color is just mindblowing and so much fun. One of the defenses of Kinkade is that he is pretty and decorative, and why shouldn't people get to enjoy happy, pretty things instead of misery? Fair enough, but I say von Nerling does it better. Her art ranges from symbolic to abstract, and the vivacity and joy shines through better, I think, than most of Kinkade's ultimately placid paintings. She also does textile arts, and one can see the influence of quilting in her geometric work and willingness to mix bright colors. In this painting, we see a rainbow of colors that would fit in any gallery in the American Southwest. I have no idea if Tallinn really looks like this at night -- I rather doubt the trees are purple and blue -- but why shouldn't it in a painting? This is a point I will always defend for Kinkade fans: an artist's imagination should not be restricted. Fantasy need not be only dragons/unicorns/obvious surrealism. If you want to paint a purple tree next to a blue tree, even though trees look grey at night, go right ahead. In von Nerling's painting, the variety of color is prevented from chaos by the stark black night sky punctuated by tiny white stars and moon. Looking closer, I started to notice more detail -- the washes of paint on the houses blur in and out, and each house has a different set of windows and doors. The blurring effect is interesting, and I think it does a good job symbolizing the loss of color saturation at night while letting us still enjoy some serious color. The tiny purple house helps break the symmetry imposed by the four tall buildings, and along with the moon and trees, it gives a simple composition movement and life. It also gives the exact opposite feeling from the loneliness and longing I'd said I wanted from a painting of houses -- but I don't care. My list, my rules, my breaking of rules. It goes at Number 2. This artist could single-handedly destroy Germany's reputation for grey solemnity. I want her to come decorate my life, seriously.

Night, Blue House on Clydesdale" by Paul Keysar

Yes. Perfect. This tiny painting (5x7") is so simple but so well executed. This is finally showing what my heart has felt about other people's houses since I was a very small child. The austerity of the yard -- a few trees and a phone line -- makes the homeowners seem poorer, more isolated themselves. Maybe they are lonely too. The darkness, the glow in just two windows, one darker than the other, as if the light source is just in one room but bleeds over into the next, is oppressive and beautiful at once. The brushstrokes are gentle and varied. I appreciate the inclusion of telephone poles & lines, which could easily have been left out. The presence of poles in rural areas has always given me hope; someone else has cared enough to drag some metal and wood somewhere so people could have electricity and a connection to the rest of the country. Just like the lit window off in the distance, they let us know we are not alone. You will notice this is the 2nd Paul Keysar painting I've listed. I really like this guy. He's an artist in Charlotte, NC and has a whole series of night landscapes.

There is so much more to contemporary art than the shock-art we hear about in the news. There are fantastic, joyful, talented artists painting their vision of the world. Have fun checking out their work for yourself.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Remember Your Chocolate - corrected and expanded!

We sang "Remember Your Love" by Darryl Ducote and Gary Daigle as the Communion hymn at Mass yesterday.

I rather like the first bit of the song because it sounds kind of like chant.

But the hook always makes me think of Willy Wonka, and I really want to know the back story there.

Had Darryl been battling a 3-day fever with nothing but Gene Wilder movies in the house to watch? I like to watch G movies when I am sick. Maybe he does too.

Were Gary's kids playing it all the time in the background? "DADDY! Can we please watch Willy Wonka for the 47th time?" "Yeah, yeah, just let me write this hymn and I'll be right there!"

Did it inspire one or both of them so deeply that, after seeing it only once, it floated to his conscious mind years later as the perfect hook for his song about Our Lord and his Mercy?

I like to think they woke up, hungover, to find the following version on a cocktail napkin, and then edited out all the chocolate references they could, leaving only the tune as a reminder of one crazy night in Hershey, PA.

"Remember Your Lo-ove
And Your faithfulness, O Lord!
Remember Your Fact'ry
and make chocolate for us, Lord!

V1. In a world of pure imagination
The Lord is ne-ear!
Though others turn into blueberries,
I shall not fe-ear!

V2. Don't get too close to chocolate rivers;
Shun gluttony-y!
Don't constantly demand more presents
So brattily-y!

V3. The prophets who will give you warnings
Will show the wa-ay
Their orange faces may be scary
But they're oka-ay!

V4. Avoid unhealthily obsessing
About TV-ee!
Obey all rules and regulations
And you'll go fre-ee!"

Hymnals could be so much more entertaining if they included tracknotes. Alert GIA!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Trolley Problems, or A Great Way to Spend My Time

DarwinCatholiclinked to a great Trolley Problem that I just had to draw in Paint.

On Twin Earth, a brain in a vat is at the wheel of a runaway trolley. There are only two options that the brain can take: the right side of the fork in the track or the left side of the fork. There is no way in sight of derailing or stopping the trolley and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows trolleys. The brain is causally hooked up to the trolley such that the brain can determine the course which the trolley will take.

On the right side of the track there is a single railroad worker, Jones, who will definitely be killed if the brain steers the trolley to the right. If the railman on the right lives, he will go on to kill five men for the sake of killing them, but in doing so will inadvertently save the lives of thirty orphans (one of the five men he will kill is planning to destroy a bridge that the orphans’ bus will be crossing later that night). One of the orphans that will be killed would have grown up to become a tyrant who would make good utilitarian men do bad things. Another of the orphans would grow up to become G.E.M. Anscombe, while a third would invent the pop-top can.

If the brain in the vat chooses the left side of the track, the trolley will definitely hit and kill a railman on the left side of the track, ‘Leftie,’ and will hit and destroy ten beating hearts on the track that could (and would) have been transplanted into ten patients in the local hospital that will die without donor hearts. These are the only hearts available, and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows hearts. If the railman on the left side of the track lives, he too will kill five men, in fact the same five that the railman on the right would kill. However, ‘Leftie’ will kill the five as an unintended consequence of saving ten men: he will inadvertently kill the five men rushing the ten hearts to the local hospital for transplantation. A further result of ‘Leftie’s’ act would be that the busload of orphans will be spared. Among the five men killed by ‘Leftie’ are both the man responsible for putting the brain at the controls of the trolley, and the author of this example. If the ten hearts and ‘Leftie’ are killed by the trolley, the ten prospective heart-transplant patients will die and their kidneys will be used to save the lives of twenty kidney-transplant patients, one of whom will grow up to cure cancer, and one of whom will grow up to be Hitler. There are other kidneys and dialysis machines available; however, the brain does not know kidneys, and this is not a factor.

Assume that the brain’s choice, whatever it turns out to be, will serve as an example to other brains-in-vats and so the effects of his decision will be amplified. Also assume that if the brain chooses the right side of the fork, an unjust war free of war crimes will ensue, while if the brain chooses the left fork, a just war fraught with war crimes will result. Furthermore, there is an intermittently active Cartesian demon deceiving the brain in such a manner that the brain is never sure if it is being deceived.

What should the brain do?
Excerpted from:
– Michael F. Patton Jr., “Tissues in the Profession: Can Bad Men Make Good Brains Do Bad Things?”, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, January 1988

I think that drawing diagrams is a great way to work through complex problems.

When I drew this crazy thing out, I noticed right away that the 5 people are doomed and the orphans will be saved in either scenario. Thank goodness, the author of the problem and the idiot who put a brain in charge of a trolley are doomed along with an orphan murderer (too bad for you, 2 other nameless victims). We're now guaranteed to have a tyrant queen Orphan Annie, a GEM Anscombe Orphan, and an Inventor-of-the-Pop-Tab Orphan grow to maturity.

So, I blocked out that whole section.

What if the brain KNEW about the extra 20 kidneys outside the scenario? It could block out that whole section, like this...

Then there's an unjust war with no war crimes, a just war with war crimes, 10 people who will or won't receive heart transplants, a nice man and a mean man. Under a strictly utilitarian scenario, the justness or unjustness of the wars may not matter if they kill different numbers of people or render them unhappy or if the "wrong" side wins. Outcomes, not justifications, are important. The war crimes sound really bad, but if the war crimes are committed against fewer people than the regular waging of the other war happens to kill, then a purely utilitarian brain would favor the criminal war. Since the brain doesn't know the numbers, it can't make a decision, and would ignore that section of the problem.

In this case, we can see that sending the trolley down the right side of the tracks will kill only one man and save 11.

HOWEVER, remember that I said that the brain is actually ignorant of kidneys, so it would NOT ignore the kidney patient problem.

I used the World Health Organization estimation of cancer deaths in 2008 to factor the worth of a cure for cancer. For Hitler, I used 12,000,000 deaths from the Holocaust (6 million Jews + 6 million others-- Gypsies, political prisoners, disabled people, etc), a number I may have underestimated, especially if you put in all the millions killed in combat in WWII. In 2 years, according to a utilitarian brain in a vat, a cure for cancer would "balance out" the Holocaust, so it would send the trolley down the LEFT side, killing the nice man, destroying the hearts, and allowing the 20 kidney patients to be saved. The brain was ignorant and made the "wrong" choice.

All this, of course, ignores both the Cartesian demon confusing the brain intermittently and the unknown ultimate effects of the brain's choice on the other brains.


I just realized the brain may be ignorant of all future outcomes of the people involved in these scenarios (from the car crashes on). If so, one might think it would kill the man on the right to save the 10 heart patients and the man on the left. If the brain is a strict utilitarian ignorant of kidneys (other than that each person has 2), though, it will destroy the hearts of 10 (plus the man on the left) so that the kidneys of 20 might be saved. So it will send the trolley down the left.

Friday, July 1, 2011

25,000,000,000 flavors

It seems that whenever someone wants to make a plug for adultery -- or to at least knock monogamy -- he asks "What if you could only have one flavor of ice cream for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE???!!!"

There are so many stupid things about this metaphor, I thought I'd write up a few approaches to answer this.

1) Holding out for better

If we did courtship like we do ice cream, it just wouldn't work for me. Internet dating sites are kind of like that. You see a bunch of guys' pictures and get a little info, and you can pick which one you want to write to. Naturally, it's up to both of you to decide whether you meet, and whether you keep dating, but the initial process seems more like choosing an ice cream flavor or pair of shoes online. When I go in an ice cream store, I never leave because the flavors on offer aren't as thrilling as I'd hoped. I have frequently left online dating sites because the men just didn't interest me.

2) Too many choices actually kind of sucks
I have been eating ice cream for 28 years, since I was weaned off formula.
I've tasted a lot of flavors. I've eaten at local ice creameries that make up flavors each week. I've explored the multiple variants of gelato, yogurt, ice cream, and custard.

I've probably had about 25 flavors in my life, and I probably won't add much more to that.

I like the mint, I like the chocolate, I really like pistachio and butter pecan if I can get them, I like berry flavors and sometimes mango or watermelon.

I've probably sampled over half of the possible flavors. I don't know if I will sample the full range, and I don't care. It's not really a top goal of my life.

I have found that when I visit an ice cream store that offers only two flavors, I don't really care. I pick the one that sounds good, I eat it, I find it cool and delicious. When I visit a place that offers 50 flavors, I actually get kind of annoyed because it is so hard to choose. I only spend about 30 seconds deciding, and about 10 minutes eating it. But when I eat it, I find it cool and delicious, and I don't wish I had actually gone with another flavor.

I have not treated men the same way. There are billions of people in the world, so there are billions of men, and I definitely don't want to sample them all. Ugh. It would be impossible. I actually want to spend more than 15 seconds deciding which one I want. People aren't products.

3) Do you take this ice cream company and flavor?

If I swore an oath and signed a legal document saying I would only eat Blue Bunny Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream for the rest of my life, munching on no other flavor, whether in cold weather or hot, on holidays or Tuesdays, with bananas, toppings or plain, in a cone or a bowl, until my tongue crumbled unto the dust from whence it came,

And if all of my religious upbringing had emphasized the importance of fidelity unto ice cream flavors,

And if Hollywood films for the last hundred, and novels for the last several hundred years, and legends and tales of the last several millenia, had explored the wonders of finding the perfect ice cream flavor and the tragedy of ice cream infidelity,

And if one was traditionally supposed to discern this flavor -- not on tasting it -- but on sight, smell and nutritional packet information alone, because it was gravely improper to eat the flavor without having first sworn the Lifelong Consumer oath, so that a person would not only commit to an ice cream for life, but would have tasted no other ice cream previously,

And if I knew that other ice creams could be tainted, that if I strayed I might get food poisoning because other flavors were not as carefully preserved and other ice cream companies were not as scrupulous about testing,

And if -- should I break my vow and be discovered -- the Blue Bunny Ice Cream company could kick me out of my home, take my children from me, run about trashing me to all my friends and family, keep me in court for months, and send a representative mascot dressed as a mint chocolate chip cone to weep, curse, and throw things at me,

I might occasionally wonder about the other flavors, but I don't know how other ice cream flavors could possibly be so attractive to me that I would throw away my life for a couple of seconds of taste. And in such a society, a person who did would be considered a freak, someone with no foresight or self-control, who lived purely for their tastebuds and was pitifully selfish and foolish.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I am become ScienceGirl, Destroyer of Liturgies, Part the Second

The hot summer weather we are experiencing makes me flash back to my good old days as an altar girl in my small town church that had poor air conditioning.

Me being an altar girl -- or "acolyte" as I was called -- may have wrecked the liturgy, but it's a tough call.

The liturgy was broken on arrival, pre-wrecked by King Henry VIII, the late, of England.

Yes, I was a Catholic altar girl at the local Episcopal church. When I went to confirmation classes in college, I learned that this was all kinds of messed up, but back in my teenage years, I thought it was pretty great.

I was enlisted as acolyte by the lady in charge of all things liturgical at this tiny parish. I was one of the 9 kids over the age of 12, and since she wanted 3 altar servers at each Mass? Service? JESUS-TYPE THINGIE?, we were all signed up to help. I was a very bad Catholic at this time, and an even worse Episcopalian -- we only went because we thought it was basically the same as the Catholic church, only with a less boring priest. Each member of the tiny parish also took turns reading, or in most cases painfully mumbling, the readings. Looking back, I am surprised we were all trained by her instead of by the priest, but she did a pretty good job. I have no idea how to judge whether I was a good altar girl or not. I seem to recall playing with the rope belt a lot. That can't have been too helpful in creating an atmosphere of reverent prayer. I also could NOT MANAGE to snuff the candles after it was all over. I would put the snuffer on, then remove it. The flame would shoot up. On went the snuffer. Up flared the resilient flame. Snuffer. Flame. Snuffer. Flame. After the first JTT, I got fed up and just blew out the pesky flame, while pretending to snuff it by cleverly holding the snuffer near the candle. How I longed to be as brave as the altar boy who licked his fingers and reached right into the flame to snuff the wick. He did this way before Aragorn's candle-pinching scene in "Fellowship of the Ring," and it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Each week, I would think "This is the week to put out a flame with my fingers," but each week, I chickened out.

The detailed rubrics combined with my equal and opposite penchants for daydreaming and mortification in the face of error made the JTT's at which I served rather nerve-wracking. But stressful though it was, I loved being an altar server, and was always a bit sad when it wasn't my turn on the schedule.

I liked it when it was my turn to ring the bell, though since I had only been trained once and had no written script, I was always worried I would ring it at the wrong times. If I was a candle-bearer, I would need to haul the candles around the church at different times, and what if I was 15 seconds behind noticing when the priest needed me and my sister had to nudge me? HUMILIATION!!! These were the beginnings of what I deem liturgi-phobia: irrational fear of Wrecking the Liturgy. 5 years later, I experience liturgi-phobia in my (Catholic) Confirmation Mass, when I Wrecked the Liturgy by starting to turn the wrong way after being anointed. My awe of the Holy Spirit had me in a bit of a daze, and it's a good thing for me that my Confirmation Sponsor was there to turn me around and set me back on course for my pew.

Anyway, I think I should tell you why I loved being an altar server so very much.

Tragically, it was not due to a deep love of the Eucharist (at the time I didn't know that Episcopalians don't necessarily have the Transubstantiation or believe in it). I did have a deep love of the Eucharist, and I hope God doesn't think it too idolatrous that I received the Episcopalian sacrament fully thinking it was the same Eucharist I'd learned about from the nice nuns in my First Communion prep.

Happily, it was not because I had any jealousy toward boys or desire to wreck their fun. I hadn't even known altar girls weren't de rigeur in even the Catholic church, and since I'd been enlisted by the sacristan, I thought it was just another job everyone needed to do and had always done from time immemorial.

No, my reason for loving serving at the altar was something much more simple and more worldly:

I was not sitting in a pew with my family.

Therefore, I was not sitting with my younger brother.

Therefore, I did not have to hold his hand at the Our Father or shake it at the Sign of Peace.

Therefore, I did not have to see him wipe his hand disgustedly afterward and glare at me for having sweaty palms.

Even when my brother and I were serving together, we didn't have to hold hands.

It made going to church so much nicer and less humiliating.

As a teenager, I generally felt humilitated most of the time when I was around other people, so I was happy with anything that decreased it. As an altar girl, I was actually sweatier because I had to wear the robe thingie over my clothes, but nobody could tell.

Look, it was really hot in that church, and I had all these adolescent hormones going.

Combined with the irregular periods typical for teenage girls, my numerous "hot flashes" caused by the 100+ degree weather made me fret that I probably had the medical condition called "Early Onset Menopause."

Early Onset Menopause was a condition that existed only in my brain.

You may wonder why I did not consult a doctor or my mom about my self-diagnosis.

I did not consult a doctor because I never really went to one unless I was horribly ill, what with our lack of health insurance and all.

I did not ask my mom because well, what would she know about the functioning of the uterus???

Also, I couldn't decide whether or not I dreaded or desired to confirm my EOM. On the one hand, BOO! No babies. On the other, HOORAY! No more period, ever.

My period always showed up eventually, so the thought of EOM gradually disappeared.

I stopped going to the Episcopal church, too.

My liturgical wreckage and attendance at that church may appall some nice Catholics out there, but it actually gave me a great benefit: I started praying again. The measly "Our Father" I would say after Communion in that church was for a time my only prayer for the whole week. Eventually, I got to thinking maybe I should pray more frequently. So I started saying the "Our Father" every night, and kept adding "Hail Mary's" until I ended up saying the Rosary. Actually, I started saying the Rosary as a way to fight insomnia, and my usual prayer was that I would fall asleep halfway through. I would feel so irritated if I got to the "Salve Regina" and was still wide awake! "Hey God, why are you not answering my prayer that I will not be able to finish my prayers to you???" As soon as I thought this, I realized I was being kind of dumb.

God worked a lot on me during those years.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I am become ScienceGirl, Destroyer of Liturgies, Part the First

Ah, liturgical abuse.

I have become well acquainted with it. But can I truly complain, in all fairness?


For all the messed up stuff I've seen priests do over the years, I know that I have Destroyed the Liturgy uncountable times myself.

1. I Have Committed Liturgical Dance

Yes. Oh, but yes.

During Christmas Eve Mass, no less.

And it was spontaneous liturgical dance, at that!

I remember how beautiful the candles were, flickering all over the altar and near the side altar. The changing lights made me think of the angels someone was droning on about, and I had to dance. And sing.

The joy and uplifting beauty of this Mass moved me quite literally.

I lurched about. I waved my arms. I chanted words understood only by myself and the Lord.

It was 1984.

George Orwell got it just slightly wrong.

Big Brother was not watching me, but the priest and most of the congregation were.

Congregational Reverence: TERMINATED!

And thus began, at the age of two years, my path of Liturgical Destruction.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Throwing Cliches Under the Bus

The yahoo headlines have angered me yet again.

Mitt Romney is quoted as allegedly saying that Obama has thrown Israel under the bus.

I sincerely hope he said "Obama has betrayed Israel" or "Obama has really let Israel down" or "Obama has hurt US-Israel relations in a shocking yet also somehow entirely predictable way," and that the reporter just got clever.

Because, you see, Obama can't possibly have thrown Israel under the bus.

I say this not just because an entire country can't really be thrown, like a person, under a bus. I get that the metaphor could be extended, though tortuously, to a nation. I guess.


I say this because the bus has had so many people "thrown under" it in the last few years that it can no longer run.

It is piled on a pile of thrown corpses.

Its gears are jammed with blood and guts.

Now, when anyone tries to throw anyone under the bus, they can only throw the person in front of the bus, and since the bus is no longer moving, what with being on all the other people, the thrown person just gets up and walks away unscathed.

If Anna Karenina wandered by all sad and wanted to end her life, she would find the bus no decent substitute for the Russian railway.

Even if the bus -- driven, let us suppose by an undead Ms Frizzle bent on vengeance -- even if this bus had the magical ability to expand itself to enormous size or to rear up to crush its victims like an angry steed, it still would only end up propped on the prone bodies of so many -- from Jeremiah Wright to the middle school girl whose sister refused to lend her favorite sweater -- that it would have no power left to cover Israel.

So when Obama, using his mighty arms, gathered into one the nation of Israel and tossed them/it toward the reddened tires of the DeathBus, he just threw out his back for nothing.

Mitt, Mitt, Mitt.

Be true to yourself.

"Betray" is a good, old word. It is powerful. It is serious. You are a bland, serious man. Middle English suits you. Trying to talk like you are hip and urbane will fool no one.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Celebrity Dream: True Story

About two years ago, I had an amazing dream that I was dating a celebrity.

I had never had a dream involving a celebrity before, and this could have been a pretty fun dream. It was more weird and nightmarish than anything else.

I dreamed that Seth Rogen was my boyfriend and that I convinced him to go to Easter Vigil with me because it was so important to me. I did not at the time, nor do I now, feel a conscious attraction toward Seth Rogen.

Easter Vigil is normally about 2.5 hours because of all the readings. In my dream, it was much longer. I was feeling very guilty because my nice Jewish boyfriend Seth had finally agreed to come to Mass with me and here it was taking forever. The readings kept going on and on, and there were numerous songs between each, complete with tambourines, trumpets and drums. We sang all the verses, all the time.

Seth Rogen shifted uncomfortably on the hard pew. "Sorry," I whispered, "it's not usually like this." I was certain he would never come to Mass with me again, and I was kind of scared that he would take this chance to be witty and rude. But he was perfectly polite, in stark contrast to the oafish characters he usually plays.

I fell asleep on Seth Rogen's shoulder, and only woke up when the sunlight hit me on the face. I mean I woke up in the dream thanks to dream sunlight. The dream/nightmare Mass was still going on. "They haven't even got to the liturgy of the Eucharist," I thought miserably. "This is taking forever!" Seth Rogen had gamely stayed awake the entire night, listening to what must have been the entire Old Testament and every verse of every song ever written by Haugen, Hass, and company for Easter. Maybe they'd even run out and had to bring in the Ordinary Time stuff. I don't know because I had dreamed that I was asleep. Seth Rogen looked at me with tolerance and love.

Then I either woke up or my subconscious moved on to less memorable fare.

Why did I dream I was dating Seth Rogen, whose movies I barely like?
Why did I dream I was stressed and bored by Easter Vigil, my favorite night of the year?

Was an enemy hacking into my brain to cause an inception?

What on earth did they accomplish?

Is Seth Rogen the symbol of Jesus? Was I like the disciples falling asleep in the garden? What would that mean?

Some questions will never be answered.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Confiteor and Fight Club

At Mass recently, I've been in the habit of hitting myself during the Confiteor and whenever we ask for God's mercy. I found out this is a thing we traditionally have done because when I went to the Extraordinary Form Mass, I read in the red guidebook (Little Red Massbook, lol) that we are supposed to. I started doing it in the OF too and may have gotten carried away.

One day, when I was participating in this ancient gesture of humility and repentance, I thought "If we were REALLY hardcore, we would punch each ourselves in the face." Naturally, this led me to thinking about Fight Club, which I saw for the first time a couple months ago. I go to Mass each day, and every day I hit myself, and every day I think about Fight Club. My time would have been better spent actually working up some real sorrow over my sins. In that effort, I have stopped beating my chest like an angry gorilla and have tried to do a more slow, pressing motion.

This always happens to me when I try to do nice liturgical gestures. Taking communion on the tongue leaves me terrified like I'm at the dentist. I so much prefer receiving in the hand, but the hosts we use here are crumbly and I got tired of licking them up.

If I had tassels on my cloak, I would so totally lengthen them. I would then think about the bell-pull scene with Eeyore's tail in Winnie-the-Pooh. Good thing I don't have a cloak.

On one level, my idiotic thought about "improving" the ancient gesture by having us all imitate the totally awesome scene where The Narrator sends himself through a glass bookshelf is just one more example of me failing to concentrate well during the liturgy.

I could blame others. I could say that the lack of holy images for me to look at during Mass means I have to make up my own images in my head, and my head is mostly full of pop culture, and whatever mess floats up from my subconscious is not likely to lead to holy reflection. It is true that my local churches don't have much in the way of sacred eye candy, and it is also true that when my attention wanders and I can actually look at something like an icon or statue, it really helps bring my focus back. Speaking of which, I really think my Magnificat subscription is maybe the best thing I've ever bought. I can focus better on the readings if I get to actually see the dang words, and I like looking at the cover picture and the extra art in the booklet! Whenever there is a lull, like during the Collection, during the bit where the readers have to get up to the mic, during the bit where the announcers have to drone on about what I'm going to read anyway in the bulletin, during the bit where everyone else gets communion or the priest washes up, or any of the other numerous bits where nothing much is going on, I can read a prayer, look at a picture, or read an alternative homily. It is so great and it basically solves 95% of my concentration problems at Mass. The remaining 5% are for things like the Fight Club notion that just pop into my brain.

On another level, I think that Fight Club is actually a pretty good movie for one aspect of my approach to the faith, if you ignore all the violence, swearing, and graphic sex. And ladies, there is a lot of all 3, so don't go watch it with your Rosary group thinking it's going to bring you closer to Jesus. It will probably just gross you out. It's rated "R" for a Reason!

Spoiler alert! The movie is about dudes hitting each other because they feel stifled by a society that crafts status and identity out of material goods. The main character explodes his own apartment and goes and lives in a filthy, abandoned home that becomes an oasis for disturbed men looking to find masculinity through aggression. The obviously crazy person is their hero and they put all their confidence in him. There's a lot here that ladies won't necessarily relate to, but I did relate to the anti-materialism message of the (wildly successful) film, as described by its (rich) main actors. Buy your Fight Club poster today!

From the wikipedia article:

Edward Norton said, "I feel that Fight Club really, in a way ... probed into the despair and paralysis that people feel in the face of having inherited this value system out of advertising."[12] Brad Pitt said, "Fight Club is a metaphor for the need to push through the walls we put around ourselves and just go for it, so for the first time we can experience the pain."[14] Fight Club also parallels the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause; both probe the frustrations of the people that live in the system.[12] The characters, having undergone societal emasculation, are reduced to "a generation of spectators".[15] A culture of advertising defines society's "external signifiers of happiness", causing an unnecessary chase for material goods that replaces the more essential pursuit of spiritual happiness. The film references Calvin Klein, IKEA, and the Volkswagen New Beetle. Norton said of the Beetle, "We smash it ... because it seemed like the classic example of a Baby Boomer generation marketing plan that sold culture back to us."[16] His character also walks through his apartment while visual effects identify his many IKEA possessions. Fincher described the narrator's immersion, "It was just the idea of living in this fraudulent idea of happiness."[17] Pitt explained the dissonance, "I think there's a self-defense mechanism that keeps my generation from having any real honest connection or commitment with our true feelings. We're rooting for ball teams, but we're not getting in there to play. We're so concerned with failure and success—like these two things are all that's going to sum you up at the end."[14]

Got all that?

This stuff, this idea that our identities and characters have been crafted in large part by vendors, hit me like a ton of bricks 7 years ago. And I hadn't even seen the movie! I was contemplating various things about the Church that drove me crazy. I had been confirmed in college, and while I believed in the teaching power of the Magisterium and had decided I would obey all that the Church teaches regardless of whether it made sense to me, there was still a lot that I found distasteful. But I read a lot in the hopes of better understanding. It occurred to me, however, to question where I had gained the idea that (for instance) it was horribly unfair for women not to be priests. I realized that it was just from television. Every kiddie show that had said "You can be anything you want to be!" as its main message left Catholics like me feeling frustrated because obviously if a girl wanted to be a Catholic priest, she couldn't be. I already understood intellectually the historical arguments that Jesus established the priesthood the way he had, but this emotional side, which had been established in me at an early age, was still getting in the way of full acceptance. Not that it really mattered, because I have never felt a call to any sort of ministry, but ideas do itch at me. What I realized was that the nice kiddie shows about self-esteem and fairness, etc, may or may not be true, but that they were designed mostly to get kids to bother their parents for toys. The makers of the shows may love children, but they love the parents' money just as much. I felt like the man who built his house on sand. My moral foundation had been a mix of Catholic piety AND a mix of secular piety, and some of it had to go. You can't be anything you want to be, or in the words of Tyler Durden, "You are not a special snowflake."

I am not a PC. I just own one.

Of course, Tyler Durden gets it wrong too. The Christian view is that we are beloved in God's eyes and that He died for our sins and rose again to redeem us. The brutal truth is only this, that by his stripes we are healed.

Confrontation with our sins actually makes us want to beat ourselves up. Accepting God's mercy and forgiveness can be so much harder and more humbling. Taking emotional distress and turning it into physical pain makes the emotional pain temporarily go away. "Rend your hearts and not your garments," says the Lord. In conclusion, I was wrong. It would not be more hardcore to give ourselves concussions every Mass, because it is actually more hardcore to limit ourselves to a couple of gentle taps and prepare our hearts for the mercy and love of the Lord.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Weddingses!!! Royal Edition

Wedding season is upon us, but for the first time in 5 years, I have no wedding to attend this summer!

It is to laugh (with joy) because no wedding attendance means more money in my pocket. All but one of the 7 weddings I have attended during grad school have been out of state. Thus requiring plane fare.

The weddings were each different and each a true joy to attend. Some were in church, some were outdoors, some were huge, some were tiny. Morning, noon, evening receptions. Breakfasts, luncheons, dinners. Dancing, no dancing. Music, no music. In the wedding party, not in the wedding party.

I loved them all.

And I am so happy I don't need to go to one this year!

But I am also kind of in wedding withdrawal because my summers have usually involved hearing about other people's exciting plans for an exciting party that I was attending wearing an exciting dress.

So it was a perk today to hear about the Royal Wedding.

It had three things I really loved.

1) Uniforms. They looked nice. Not as nice as USMC uniforms, and no saber salute, but decent for foreign military (hee hee)! It actually makes me kind of happy that incredibly poorly paid US Marines and Seamen have snazzier weddings in one respect than the heir to the British throne.




Go Navy!

2) Hats:

I'd like to see bossy ignoramuses get the Queen to remove HER hat in church! I know this isn't the hat she wore today, but I thought it was adorable, so feast your eyes on TEH FLOWERIE!

The hat the Queen wore today wasn't so exciting. The Queen is a real class act! No way would she upstage the bride by busting out a hat from crazytown. And gorgeous as Kate was today, I think we all know that if Her Majesty had decided to truly rock some wild hat, all eyes would be on her! So way to show restraint, Your Majesty. Would that your subjects would imitate you in that regard!

I liked the pink hat on this Spanish princess best of all:

I have had my summer church hat for 4 years and want a new one for Pentecost. This hat would be perfect if the turban part were a lighter color instead of black:

3) Wedding gown with sleeves (not white ballgown)
I have not been so happy with Miss Vera Wang ever since I heard about her in high school. Look, every girl's idea of a proper wedding is shaped by her childhood. I grew up in the post-princess Di years. My mom and she were the same age and married the same year. Lucky for me my mom and dad were actually madly in love, put Christ at the center of their relationship, and were a model of faithful Christian marriage! They are still together and about to celebrate their 30th anniversary this summer! YAY :) One thing Charles & Diana did have over my parents was loads of cash, so Diana's dress was way fancier. But my mom had a sewing machine, knowledge, and money for cloth. She made her wedding dress and wore her mom's veil. Looking through my parents' wedding album, I admired the love in their eyes, and was amazed at how young and good-looking they were back then. They looked so much less stressed and tired than in the photos where they were holding me and my siblings as babies! Anyway, one thing I wasn't admiring was my mom's decolletage/cleavage/entire back/shoulders, because they WEREN'T VISIBLE!

Lots of other women of my mom's generation, and all the brides in the movies, wore dresses with long sleeves. They looked graceful and elegant, and formed my image of a bride.

Good luck finding a dress like that now! My friend from college had but one request from her fiance: please find a non-strapless dress. He was tired of photographing weddings and editing out photos of brides tugging at their gowns all evening. He did not want to watch his wife do that all through their reception. I went shopping with her. She found a lovely gown that was not strapless. It was Not Easy, though. Three different stores, and a full weekend. And she wasn't a picky girl! She just wanted...something. Something to anchor the dress to her chest. She wanted to make her fiance happy, so she worked very hard to find a non-strapless dress that made her look lovely. Without that commitment, I'm sure she'd have been sold a strapless dress because that's what most of them are.

Another friend of mine really wanted bell gauze sleeves & had them added to a spaghetti strap dress. That was a real hassle, too. And by hassle I mean: extra time, thought, research, and money.

All the other brides (7 if you count the ones pre-grad school) wore strapless dresses. Because they didn't like bare shoulders or were cold, they also then had to buy white wraps or tiny jackets for a high sum. And special bras. Ugh. You are getting less of a dress and being forced to spend money for it while the dress company has an easier time not fitting the sleeves.

Thanks to Kate Middleton, maybe the next decade of brides will be spared all this. Though I notice the lacy shoulders mean she probably had to wear a special bra. Boo. At least there were sleeves, though. I hope this summer the Bridezillas will rise up and demand Long, Lacy Sleeves. People like to knock demanding brides, but I secretly love them, because I hope that if I ever get married, I can coast on their reputation and get nice stuff because of the power these other, more organized women have wielded.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Anthem! Parody

"Anthem!" by Tom Conry is another fave from the Gather hymnal that we sing a lot at my church. The words alone are odd: there's really nothing like a homage to both Marty Haugen's "Gather Us In," and Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Light". The tune, though, really puts the thing over the top. It's worth some effort to find it on the Youtube if you've never heard it before. It made me a bit mental when we sang it on the 4th Sunday of Lent, and I've not really successfully got it out of my head since. So here's my parody. Enjoy!

Anthem! Only slightly more accurate in describing the Catholic congregation

We are fun, we are special,
We will later get some doughnuts,
We all like to read the bulletin throughout the homily.
We are bored, we are restless,
We are paper, scissors, clay,
And this song may not make sense, but
We must sing it anyway!


Let's think of random poems
That can teach theology --
Maybe something nice by Coleridge --
That's supposed to be religious.
We're the ancient mariner
Jesus is the albatross*
And He died for sinful sailors
on the Cross.

(Even truer version of chorus)

We are lost, we are tone-deaf
We are sadly lacking rhythm
We are singing gamely onward through the verses here today.
We add wrong syncopations
We're in 7 different keys
We're made breathless by the tempo;
St Cecilia, help us please!

And what is all this coming to
These hymns and poetry?
I just want to get Communion.
How long must we all keep singing?
There are 20 verses more**
We'll be singing til the night
For to sing this song forever
Is our plight.***

(LotR Version, after the mental stability of the congregation breaks down totally):

We are nice, we are precious
We are very good at riddles
We are nice to nassty hobbitses who lead us on the way
We are good, we are tricksy
We are wanting to be free
We are Gollum, we are Smeagol
We are plotting victory!

* Except, lucky for us, Jesus' death meant not a curse but salvation!
** There are not 20 verses, but the verses are SO LONG it kind of seems that way.
*** Patience is a virtue. Just not one I we have. We will only spend 3 minutes singing this song. Even the Beatles gave more time to "Hey, Jude."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Vanity Veil

I like to call my mantilla my "vanity veil." I started calling that when I bought it, after scouring halo-works for the prettiest one I could find, and then spent an embarrassing amount of time in the mirror adjusting it to find the cutest effects. Whee! Head accessories are the greatest.

When I first bought the V.V., I only wore it in private prayer. I've noticed on a few other blogs / comment threads that a lot of women do this. Why is the mantilla like the Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, making its purchasers steel themselves before wearing it in public?

Women are weird about clothes. We care about them, we like to pick ones that are flattering, and we more or less stay aware of fashion trends. Alternatively, we brag that we do none of the previous items. And this too, is vanity, spoke ScienceGirl.

So far, that's not so weird.

What is weird is the policing and psychological mazes that surround clothing choices -- and what other women might be thinking of one's choices. Does the woman with the 4 inch heels and Gucci handbag think that I, in my torn shoes and science conference baggy T-shirt, am a slob rather than a fetching young lady in field-appropriate garb? Is she *gasp* judging me???

Ok, so now what if I wear 4 inch heels and a pretend Gucci handbag and go on a date? Will the women in the baggy t-shirts think "Ew, that snob?" Are they *gasp* thinking that I am judging them and are they judging me for my perceived snobbery? Notice how disinterested I am in the opinions of the men around me, including my hapless date. No, no. It's just about the ladies! Of course, if my date is charming enough, my ego grows uncontrollably and I (in my head) tread ruthlessly on the egos of the women. Why, yes, I am the hottest girl in the room. Yes, my date is the most charming man here. Why, I do believe my literal milkshake does indeed bring all the boys to the yard, for chaste reasons only. I have a smoothie machine with a metal cup like in a diner. That's why it's literal, and not a disturbing metaphor.

Ahem. Anyway. Mantillas. Yes. Women don't hide their mantillas in their rooms because of what men might think! When men weigh in saying "I think mantillas are charming / weird / old-fashioned / teh sexie!" I hear -- if I listen carefully, in my deranged way -- I hear around the blogosphere the sound of a million feminine eyeballs rolling in 500 000 lovely heads.

Sometimes people say "I wore my mantilla! No one attacked me :) Hooray!" I am happy for these naive women who do not understand true ClothingJudgment Paranoia. Meanwhile, poor Sam has been hiding in the kitchen from MantillaRaptor, who is oblivious to the effect of her terrifying fashion choices! MantillaRaptor thinks Sam is scared of her deadly claws and reptile cunning, but no. It's the mantilla.

And so we buy mantillas we wear for our own private rosaries in our rooms. But whom do we have to blame for our fear of TEH JUDGE-MINT! Well, I can't speak for all of the Catholic ladies, but I can speak for myself when I say I have no one but myself to blame! Yes, the first time I saw a mantilla, I thought it was weird, but maybe the person was from Eastern Europe or something. The next several times, I thought it was lame that Americans were obsessed with a Spanish tradition. I also thought they were a bit creepy, because from profile, you can't see the person's face. They don't creep me out if I can see the woman's face. I have this fear of cloaked, hooded figures, possibly because of all the movies I watch. If you see a hooded profile in a movie, and can't see the nose or anything, expect to see a corpse or screaming pre-corpse in the very next scene. When I went on retreat at a Benedictine monastery, the monks were lovely, kind men filled with the light of Christ. In the day. At night, with their hoods drawn up -- ugh! I had to tell myself, "It's okay! They don't have hooks or knives or saws! They are just praying! They won't kill you!" Even a lacy hood is still a hood, ladies! We all know it!

Okay, so I got over my fear, and wore my V.V. to Mass quite a few times, and always when I go to the TLM (haha, all 5 times I've gone). But the thrill wore off, and I found the darn thing a pain, because if I didn't have bobby pins skewered in just right, the thing would slip down continuously and drive me InSaNe. So I stopped wearing it. For like 2 years or something ridiculous.

I am fickle, what can I say? Just look at the frequency of my blog posts. Good thing the Church has some rules, or I would never bother keeping up with going to Mass or praying or doing confession or being charitable or anything! It's like the Mean Old Catholic ChurchTM actually understands human nature or something. Yay for structure.

But then I thought, inspired mostly by Seraphic that it would be fun to do the tradition of covering my head in church. Yes, not prayerful. Not sacred. Fun. This is how I roll, ladies. Chant is fun, prayer is fun, covering my head out of respect for ancient tradition and scripture is fun. Chant and prayer are so much fun / and when they're not, they don't get done! Thomas a Kempis had a lot to say about this attitude toward the spiritual life, and most of it wasn't good. Maybe that's why I only have read half of the "Imitation of Christ," even though it's really short and I started it 5 years ago. Should have pepped it up more, Tommy! A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, dontcha know! You'll never make it in Hollywood!

Thing is, I didn't really want to be my Newman Center's MantillaRaptor because I already kind of am. It's like Skeletor. You're a living, surprisingly muscular skeleton. You yearn for power. You are evil. Did you really have to put on the creepy hood, too?

Well, maybe you did, Skeletor, maybe you did. But I don't have to complete the look! I, who strike people as a traddie because I say things like "People should wear nice clothes to church if they have them," instead of "It's what's on the inside that counts!" and stand up for the Magisterium (yay for hierarchy!) don't really want to complete the ensemble with a lovely lace mantilla that will send the undergrads running to wikipedia.

So I wear hats.

And I get loads of ego-boosting smiles and compliments.

The best such compliment was received when I wore my church hat out for brunch afterward and was told by a gallant, homeless man that I "look like Mary Poppins!"

Reader, in my charming hat, though I am not as cute as Julie Andrews or as poised or as good a singer, I do kind of look like Mary Poppins.

But there are times when a hat won't do, like when you're running late and want something small that can be shoved in a pocket or purse. That's when I become Modified MantillaRaptor! Instead of the blasted bobby pins, I knot the thing like a kerchief using a hairtie. It stays on so well! And I avoid the scary profile-blocking hoodie effect! I end up looking kind of like this girl, who has still managed to miss the boat on church-appropriate attire:

Close, but no see-gar, Miss KnottedWhiteScarf! Thanks for covering your head, now try wearing an entire shirt!

Anyway, I recommend the knotted mantilla, if you are crazy like me and/or are sick of pins. It is very secure that way, and you look ever so fashionable. Also, your peripheral vision will not be blocked. I know some really love that effect of the traditional style, but it drives me nuts. I wear glasses, so my peripheral vision ain't so hot in the first place, and blocking it more really bothers me sometimes. I also like the freedom to look around the church more, because even with pins, my slippery, fine hair caused the mantilla to slide around quite a bit.

Monday, April 11, 2011

In a Jerusalem! Far, far away.


Come and take your place at my side!
We'll rule throughout the galaxy!
Though you think it's bad that I'm your dad,
You know it to be true.
The dark side is calling your name.
Oh Luke, it is your destiny!
Too bad about your hand,
I hope you understand!

V1. Most impressive are your skills;
You fill me with fatherly pride.
There's but one thing that you lack:
The POWER of the Dark Side!

V2. Obi-Wan has taught you well.
That mentor I di-id slay!
But the master I have now,
I CANNOT disobey.

V3. The Force tells me you have a twin!
A sister liv-i-ng still;
If you won't turn to the Dark Side,
Then, perhaps she will!

V4. (Heavy, mechanical breathing)

Jerusalem! Far, far Away: prelude

So, it's Lent! It is my absolute favorite Liturgical season of all time. It is the Wednesday Addams of Liturgical Seasons. As a child, I was a cute, bespectacled blond with the heart and dreams of a scary brunette. Repentance? Fasting? Reflecting on the Passion and Death of Our Savior? BRING IT ON!

Thing is, as a Lent-loving child/teen, I was not going to Mass :( Long story. When I came back into full communion with the Church in college, Lent was still even more glorious than I remembered. Of course, I also liked learning about Advent and Easter season, etc, but I loved Lent most of all.

I actually like a lot of modern Lenten trimmings like cactus on the altar because they remind me of my home in the desert. Yay for desert! Other things, not so much, particularly hymns.

Lenten songs should be in a minor key.
Lenten songs should be about repentance or something grim and serious.
For crying out loud, the happy songs can happen any old other time of the year. Can the Wednesdays Addams in the room not get a break during the 40 days of Lent? Please, oh, please?

One of the many upbeat, uptempo songs we sing in Lent here is "Jerusalem!" At least I think that's its title.

Some Englishy types might think we mean the bit about transporting Jerusalem into England so it's prettier, greener, and more full of sheep, and all the Satanic mills can just go away forever, only not in the "moving to Bangladesh" kind of way. That is a weird song too, but not the one I mean. The one I mean sounds like the finale song of any given Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. It is a rollicking good tune that kind of, partially makes sense if you think about Scripture and are still in the liminal state because you almost overslept Mass and are using the homily to catch up on some REM.

Here is the Scriptural passage in question (butchered paraphrased by sciencegirl!):

Jesus is all "Hey, I have to go to Jerusalem to be sacrificed and die for your sins & everyone else's sins too, because I am the 2nd Person of the Trinity and this has been the Father's plan all along! Even from before you all totally screwed up."

The disciples are all like "No, we shouldn't go to Jerusalem because people just tried to kill you the last time you were there. Let's keep going around watching you do miracles and hearing you preach."

So Jesus goes "Um, did you not hear what I just said? Have you not even been paying attention at all to my prophetic statements about my mission? You are so missing the point, disciples (especially Peter, who really should be more with it)! O ye of little faith! I am so fed up, but I still love you so much I will die for you anyway! Shall I not do my Father's will?!?!?!"

Then the disciples are like "Yeah, but..."

And Jesus is like "I have set my face like flint!"

And finally some of the disciples (James? Andrew?) are like "Right on! Let us also go and die with Him!"

It is a pivotal moment in the Gospel. I love it! There is a song based on it! Hooray! Except the song is the following:

Chorus: I have set my eyes on your hills.
Jerusalem! My destiny!
Though I may not see the end for me
I cannot turn away!
I have set my heart on the way
The journey is our destiny!
Let no one walk alone!
The journey makes us one!

If my Revised Sciencegirl Version of the Scripture is butcheryTotally Awesome in Every Way, this song puts it in a blender with some yogurt, pollen and dubious vitamins to make a Scripture smoothie.

It is way fun to sing, though, because the tune is so much fun. The words do not make much sense to me, however.

The tune reminded me of the Imperial March from "Star Wars," and the overuse of "DESTINY!" made me think a lot of Darth Vader, so I rewrote the words and am putting them in a post all by themselves. The words will make sense if you have seen Star Wars IV-VI. Not so much if you haven't.