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.