Were we worse than the KKK?

Today, I am grading student papers about Ava Duvernay's film Selma, Black Lives Matter, and the "Take a Knee" controversy.

My students get it better than many in the church of my evangelical upbringing did, where I so often heard, in response to African American protests, "Look at how loud and unruly they're being."

The sufferings of African Americans were, in my evangelical circles of the late '70s and early '80s, a subject for the occasional brow-furrowing. We were more likely to be spurred into action by an invitation to support missionaries in Africa, where our colored "neighbors" would remain far away, their needs something we could address at our convenience rather than something that was knocking on our doors or finding their way into our mostly white neighborhoods and pretty-much all-white churches and schools.

And we liked our art like we liked our protests — so innocuous and unchallenging that we could carry on untroubled by the ugly evidence of sin, by the idea that anything we were doing might be contributing to injustice, by the idea that anything costly or painful might be required of us to help the neighbors outside our front doors. (It was easier to toss money to faraway countries, like throwing pain-relief tablets into the ocean, and saying "I've done something.")

The cracking of my own heart's shell of ignorance and laziness, my slow awakening to my own responsibilities on these matters, is a fairly recent thing and it has only just begun. I've begun to see how, in my fear and shame, I was part — am still part — of the force causing the most disruption in God's order, while the protestors are those bringing evidence of the Kingdom of God. I'm still prone to error and to inaction. So it's best if I just hand the mic to my superior, my mentor, my teacher. Martin Luther King Jr. saw right through us, and he described our willful ignorance so well here, in Letter from a Birmingham Jail.


Spielberg invites you to Post dramatic stress

First came the big-screen commercials. One, promoting a TV show about a superhero determined to save good people from bad criminals, was such a steaming pile of cliches that it could have passed as a parody. Another promoted the latest Star Wars video game, impressively duplicating visuals from the film franchise, but completely misrepresenting the heart and soul of the series by promising players that they will achieve "greatness" by blasting away at enemies with wild abandon.

Oh, how we so stubbornly refuse to see what our artists reveal. How we refuse to give up our self-destructive fantasies.

Then came something so much better: The movie that followed this parade of appeals to our worst instincts was engaging, energetic, and downright inspiring — terrific entertainment that turns the day-to-day disciplines of journalism into nerve-rackingly thrilling drama. The Post is about achieving greatness through hard work and truth-telling for the greater good, at the risk of one's personal safety.

Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and his team navigate dangerous waters as journalists and patriots.

The latest (and, for my money, the best) in Steven Spielberg's recent string of films about American ideals is The Post, which celebrates the courage of Washington Post journalists — and, just outside of the spotlight, New York Times journalists — in defying government orders and publishing details of the Nixon administration's cover-up of truths about our inability to achieve victory in the Vietnam War. In this war, the soldiers are journalists, the cannons are typewriters, and the victory belongs to those who seek and find the truth of a matter

[This review is dedicated to my truth-telling friend
Claire Tanner, one of the Looking Closer Specialists.
I am grateful for Claire's ongoing support for this website.]

It stars America's most beloved leading lady and leading man — Meryl Streep as the Post's publisher, Kay Graham, and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, its snarly and principled editor. But they don't dominate the stage; a tremendous supporting cast of reliable character actors make this an impressive ensemble effort, especially like Bob Odenkirk (the film's most valuable player), Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, and Michael Stuhlbarg (who is everywhere this Oscar season). Every talk-heavy sequence is sewn together with threads of John Williams' somberly symphonic score, which serves as a sort of sonic yellow highlighter underlining moves and countermoves in the struggle.

It's a familiar, traditional sort of prestige picture, made unusually urgent by current and recent events involving alliances between politicians and journalists, attacks on freedom of the press, our current President's attempts to insulate himself from scrutiny, cover-ups that seek to whitewash our nation's transgressions, and the endangerment of American troops due to reckless leadership and unethical agendas.

Kay Graham — a real-world Wonder Woman marching into all-man's-land.

No — it's not subtle or poetic: While Spielberg could easily have gone for even more obvious S.O.S. messaging to the audience about present-day threats, The Post wears its convictions on both of Tom Hanks's sleeves, on his tie, and on his slacks. It's a sentimental, hagiographic history lesson in which certain lines, were they to appear onscreen as text, would be hyperlinked to current Washington Post news stories. (Hearing Meryl Streep make curt remarks about a President's belligerence is as "meta" as movies get in 2018.) In other words, the narrative is unlikely to surprise audiences who know their American history.

But let's face it — it's getting harder to believe that many moviegoers do know such things. I learned quite a bit from this film —and if I'm a good citizen, I'll go fact-check what I've seen. (The heroes in this film would endorse such verification.)

And while the narrative is predictable, Spielberg's craftsmanship makes it compelling. I doubt anybody will hail this as the finest, most imaginative work from the man who gave us Raiders of the Lost Ark and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But film students would do well to study how a slow current of dramatic electricity builds and builds, scene by scene, in a way we rarely experience at the movies anymore, primarily because Spielberg has the patience to accommodate detailed and nuanced conversations from actors who value silences as much as dialogue.

Bradlee and company get their hands on #RealNews.

Nor will anyone call this Streep's or Hanks' finest hour. Streep's too fidgety and tic-busy, constantly underlining Graham's struggle to preserve her family legacy, protect her employees from the government's punitive action, and proclaim the truth to the public against the President's wishes. I found her twitchiness distracting. And was it just me or was Hanks trying inconsistently to affect a slight accent?

Still, both actors give admirably restrained, modest, and cooperative performances. Nobody's trying to command our attention, and everyone seems to be serving the greater good of the film's themes. If The Post goes home empty-handed from award ceremonies this year, it will be, in part, because of its strengths: With the exception of a few moments that aim for iconic status (Graham walking down courthouse steps through a crowd of reverent young women, for example), the film is built out of understated, unglamorous scenes.

After enduring that noisy consumer-culture onslaught of glorified violence that preceded the movie, I can't help but feel grateful for The Post's reminder of what true "greatness" looks like in truly American terms.

The Washington Post's hard-working truth-tellers wait to learn if America is still America or not.

Go see it with a big audience. If your kids are teenagers or older, take them too. This is one to see with a community and discuss it afterwards. I was glad to share this experience in a huge, packed theater, where cheers erupted from the audience during affirmations of the free press, and during shows of courage from ordinary men and women in defending democracy against duplicitous leaders.

It's easy for cinephiles to decide, as their appreciation of this art form deepens, that crowd-pleasing commercial fare is worthy of contempt. I can remember developing an allergy to straightforward history lessons like this as I was waking up to the richer, more poetic capacities of cinema. (I still have a hard time stomaching the heavy-handedness and oversimplifications of Spielberg's Amistad, and I still wince at certain sentimental notes in Schindler's List.) But I've come to appreciate that, while our imaginations need the challenge that art can give us through suggestion and subtlety, and our hearts and minds need the awakenings brought by new ideas, our communities need occasions for assembling to meditate on our common stories, where we can commit (or, in this case, recommit) to serving each other and acknowledging foundational truths. When artists and entertainers work together to achieve that in a way that doesn't alienate or insult anybody, the result can be a kindling of unity, courage, and hope.

The Post is — thank God — an accessible film.

I usually cringe at the idea of movies that play like rallying cries, but I never felt that The Post was devolving into 'liberal propaganda.' Kay Graham, insofar as this film testifies to the truth, deserves a tribute of this kind; here, she becomes an gutsy icon who, surrounded by fearful men accustomed to manipulating women, lets her conscience be her guide. Ben Bradley, too, emerges as a champion of excellence in journalism, and thus stands tall as a man of integrity. The Post's newsroom team risk futures in prison in order to do their jobs and bear witness to the truth, and they deserve to be honored more than any in the administration who sought to silence them.

This is a movie that American minds and American hearts need. I could say it's the movie we need "right now," but it would be more honest to say that we need movies like this frequently — as insurance against moments like, well, right now.

If we can't find a sense of consensus and community celebrating The Post, then we are in deeper trouble than we know.


Your favorite song of 2017?

What was your favorite song of 2017? Feel free to post details and a link in the Comments.

It would have been easy for me to pick a politically charged song, since the year has been overwhelmed by an uprising of art and imagination voicing anguish, rage, and protest against the hijacking of American democracy by white supremacists and fascists. But I experienced such daily heartbreak at the cruelty being carried out in the name of my country that I tended to find sweet (if only occasional) relief in music that provided escape, energy, encouragement, and a sense of play. Play, after all, is only possible within a context of freedom and security.

And if you listen closely, the song rings a chime of hope: As pending "change" approaches, the singer asserts that the change inspires a renewed unity among us. Sometimes, hard realities are what prompt into a state of "once was lost" into "now I'm found."

So my favorite track of 2017 is "Moonshine Freeze" from the band This is the Kit. I can't explain the song, but I love what it does for my spirits, how it achieves an inspired sense of play:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=435SDzZYz0E

I've asked the Looking Closer Specialists to share some of the tracks that meant the most to them in the past year. I wouldn't want to miss out on something beautiful, artful, and true.

Here are some of their picks:

Ken: 

Offa Rex — "The Old Churchyard"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLodKmSoTU0

John:

The Killers — "Rut"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_ANcJi8eBw&feature=youtu.be

Thomas:

The National — "Day I Die"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwZvip416NU

Deborah:

Chris Pureka — "Back in the Ring"

https://soundcloud.com/chrispureka/back-in-the-ring-mastered

Laure:

Chris Muvahill — "The Lord is Coming"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aL1LQrBap3M&feature=youtu.be


The Last Jedi's Disney punchline

Thanks to everyone who has written to me asking about my review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. No, I haven't written one. There are just too many hastily written considerations online right now, and I would rather wait, watch the movie a few times, read a lot, write a lot, and then share whatever rises to the top, whatever seems worthwhile and, as yet, unsaid. For what it's worth: I haven't enjoyed a Star Wars film so much since The Empire Strikes Back. But I'll leave my review for later.

I will mention one thing because I haven't seen it discussed elsewhere... yet.

Caution: This might be considered vaguely spoiler-ish when it comes to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

So, if you haven't seen the movie, steer clear.

Got it?

Okay.

One thing I haven't yet found anybody talking about: the character of the Stable Boy at the end of the movie.

His name is Temiri Blagg (apparently).

And while he plays only a small part in the movie, he makes a powerful impression. And if you remember why, then you'll appreciate what I'm going to suggest.

Sure, people are mentioning the stable boy and talking about what he represents. The Last Jedi makes some powerful moves when it comes to our understanding of the Force. And this moment reminds me of those world-expanding moments in the Scriptures when Christ's apostles began to realize that God's grace extends not only to the Jews but the Gentiles. It's a bold affirmation that a person's value in the cosmic drama of good and evil has nothing to do with his bloodline. As the Pixar classic Ratatouille demonstrated, powerful gifts can be found in anybody, anywhere. You never know where the next cook, or the next hero, will come from.

I've found others talking about all of this.

But has anyone been talking about how Temiri Blagg's big moment is also a not-so-subtle celebration of Disney's takeover of the Star Wars universe at the end of The Last Jedi?

Think about it. This is the picture that filled my mind as that final image filled the screen:


The 25 best films about "waking up"

What do the movies Spirited Away, Joe Versus the Volcano, Arrival, and The Truman Show have in common?

They appear on a new list of films that are...

specifically about characters who “wake up,” who learn not to be one-sided, who cast aside busy habits of inattention, or who learn to see past the initial blindness of their own unquestioned assumptions.

That's from Part One of J. A. Purves's two-part introduction to the latest Arts and Faith film list for adventurous moviegoers. Arts and Faith is a discussion board where lively conversations about art and faith have been going on for more than a decade. (The board is hosted by Image.)

I've had the privilege of participating in the voting on these lists over several years now, and for this list in particular I contributed two of the perspectives on particular films: one by director Wim Wenders and one by director Paul Harrill.

Read Part One, Part Two, and then... discover the full list of 25 films about "waking up"!


A Christmas movie I'll never forget

On my way out of the theater, I noticed a toddler pull away from his mother's grip so that he could stare up at the poster for The Breadwinner. "It's Mary, Mom!" She picked him up and carried him off, saying, "No, that's not a Christmas movie."

I think they were on their way to see The LEGO Ninjago Movie. If so, good move, Mom. The Breadwinner is not for five-year-olds. (Director Nora Twomey confirms this.) Nor is it a movie about Mary — although the young woman on the poster, her green eyes gazing out from her loosened blue hijab, does remind me of Nativity images I've seen in Sunday school lessons and Christmas decorations.

But what the heck, I'm going to disagree.

Let's call The Breadwinner a Christmas movie.

Parvana the Brave, a rabbit slipping through a world of wolves.  (© Cartoon Saloon)

It's not intended to be. This latest Cartoon Saloon tapestry of history, religion, and mythology makes no explicit references to Christianity, introduces no talking animals (you can go see The Star for that... but don't), and offers its endangered central character no magical advantages — unlike the studio's last two features. You won't see a single falling snowflake or hear a song about dreams. This is an Afghanistan story, set within a recent wartime context. Don't pin your hopes on miracles. And yet — bear with me — The Breadwinner offers us a vision that aligns with the fundamental ideals of Christmas. I'll explain.

Set in Kabul in the early 2000s, before the city was bombed by British and American forces, The Breadwinner is a rare theatrical release that never steps outside of a Muslim perspective on history and culture. Adapted by for the screen by Deborah Ellis and Anita Doron, from Ellis's  own Breadwinner trilogy of young-adult novels, the movie's authenticity is informed by Ellis's interviews with women in refugee camps. And yet, the movie fuses history and folk tales with a grace that is becoming the signature of this studio's productions.

Cartoon Saloon's last two feature films were celebrations of faith, storytelling, empathy, and redemption. 2009's The Secret of Kells — one of my favorite films — braids threads of Christian history and Celtic mythology together with extravagant imagery. Director Tomm Moore doesn't flinch at portraying the barbarism of a Viking horde besieging the monastery of Kells, and the movie concludes not with the vanquishing of an enemy but the salvation of a single soul through the beauty of an illuminated Gospel. Moore did it again with 2014's Song of the Sea, offering a stark, sobering portrait of loss and grief, with glimmers of solace found in beauty, music, and childlike faith. Both films could have taken their taglines from Dostoyevsky: "Beauty will save the world."

But The Breadwinner is the most suspenseful, frightening, and — for me, at least — haunting of Cartoon Saloon's achievements so far. Why? I'm inclined to credit Twomey, Ellis, Doron, and their creative team for showing remarkable fidelity to real-world details. Here's that rare animated film — like Watership Down and Grave of the Fireflies — devoted to the idea that realism can be as wondrous and as compelling as fantasy.

Here are five reasons why The Breadwinner's commitment to its character, cultures, and context is so powerful:

First — the realism of Parvana herself.

Parvana is not Katniss Everdeen. Voiced by Saara Chaudry, she's a feisty 11-year-old with a temper that can flare up at injustice. She's eager to take risks with her life to serve her ailing mother Fattema, her older sister Soraya, and her baby brother. But, as we learn in the opening scenes, while she helps her father Nurullah sell wares at the marketplace, very little separates her from the dangerous and hateful men around her.

The deck is stacked against her in ways that no Disney princess has ever faced. We can feel Parvana's peril, and it's hard to know what to hope for. If any ignorant Jiminy Cricket came along preaching that all she needs to do is wish upon a star, she'd have every right to squash him. Her life is never glamorous — not at the beginning, not in her breathless escapes from the Taliban, and not at the end. I can't imagine this movie as a musical; it begins in desperate circumstances and it ends there too.

Still, Parvana is as compelling for what she does as she is for what she suffers.

Parvana goes undercover — as a boy — in The Breadwinner. © Cartoon Saloon

And when things go wrong, she makes a dangerous decision. You know that familiar adventure-movie convention of seeing the hero don a disguise, hoping to sneak unnoticed through an enemy camp? That's Parvana's plight, except that the enemy camp is her everyday reality, and she's not carrying any weapons, nor is she reliant on any sidekicks to rescue her. Her only hope for surviving this scenario without her father is to dress as a boy and pass unnoticed under the Taliban's watchful, hateful eyes.

It's her against the world.

Second — the realism of Islamic extremism.

It's clear that the crises facing Parvana and her family are not some extraordinary circumstances; they are the heart-sickening realities commonplace to women in Muslim culture when fundamentalists are in power.

Nurullah, asking a wrathful young zealot to allow Parvana to help him work, has his request thrown back in his face — which is an astonishing show of disrespect, considering that he is a war veteran who lost his leg fighting for his people against the Russians. Soon afterward Parvana watches her father hauled off to prison, accused of teaching his wife and daughters to read.

Parvana (front right) and her family before the Taliban shatter their peace. © Cartoon Saloon

So, Parvana is left housebound with her mother and sister, starving, the laws forbidding them to appear in public. Her brother, a toddler, is too young to speak or know that he's the only family member valued by their community as anything other than property.

Parvana will have to muster the courage to strike out — against her family's wishes — and find her father, taking him his walking stick and hoping to bring him back.

Third — the realism of Kabul and its Taliban oppressors.

Almost photorealistic in its landscapes and cityscapes, the movie's manifestation of Kabul reveals it as a place crowded with, dominated by, and available only to men. The timeliness of a movie about this living nightmare might give Western viewers pause about voices in their own leadership that seek to silence women who testify of abuse and oppression. More importantly, it might help us see Afghanistan not as a civilization that should be bombed until the sand glows, but as a world of prisons whose prisoners need help.

Even The Breadwinner's scenery is a remarkable departure from what audiences are used to seeing. © Cartoon Saloon

The threat in this movie is doubly alarming in that members of the Taliban are both one-dimensional and realistic: They are not supervillains — they're real-world religious fanatics whose ignorance manifests in ugly acts of hypocrisy, arrogance,  and misogyny. Parvana's mother will suffer a hard beating before the film is over. Watching, I felt the blows of Taliban violence like gut punches because I could not stand at a safe, skeptical distance from the movie. I was caught by its authenticity.

We're not in the land of Make-Believe anymore, moviegoer.

Fourth — the realism of storytelling and its role in guiding heroes.

Our green-eyed protagonist is heartened by her father's folk tales and legends — and they are brought to life in a dazzlingly distinct paper-cutout style.

But they stay where they are, bound by imagination. Parvana must ultimately strive to save her family without any assistance from magical cats or faeries — agents that participated in the "real worlds" of Cartoon Saloon's earlier features. This may unsettle viewers accustomed to the availability of supernatural relief at the movies.

The stories that inform Parvana's imagination are brought to life in distinct cut-out style. © Cartoon Saloon

Finally — the film's refusal to perpetuate hero fantasies.

The Breadwinner isn't interested in the reassuring delusion that good guys can, through cleverness and action, save the world by blowing up bad guys.

Twomey, Ellis, and Doron model responsible storytelling by rejecting the ugly Western stereotype of a Muslim culture made up of villains, moving on a mission of love for the oppressed rather than zeal the destruction of the oppressor. While the movie does not hold back in depicting the Taliban's evils, it also shows us that extremism is a disease that destroys the body it governs.

The Breadwinner attends, in loving detail, to a quiet traditional family that longs for liberation from tyranny. They are the body that needs saving, not the disease.

It's not just true — it's personal

For all of these good reasons why The Breadwinner's realism makes it such a distinct and compelling achievement in animation, the film moves me for far more personal reasons.

I may not relate to Parvana's peril and trouble — I have never lived within a misogynistic police state (although the possibility seems increasingly likely, these days). Nevertheless, I feel a deep connection to her story in other ways.

Like Parvana, I rely on stories I learned in childhood — Bible stories, fairy tales, and more — for hope and understanding. As the storm of Parvana's worst fears bears down on her, she draws strength and wisdom from a story her father told her. As America's resolve to be a nation of "liberty and justice for all" crumbles around us, I find that my best hopes come from the truth that resonates within stories beyond the American frame of reference — stories that foretell the inevitable fall of tyrants, that remind me of God's promises that the vain and the cruel will fail, that assure me of how the sufferings of this present time are nothing compared to the glory that awaits God's weary children.

But I am drawn more directly to the fact that The Breadwinner is a movie made by women to lift up, speak for, and honor women whose existence is too often ignored by the world outside of their cultural imprisonment. That's why this film grabs me by the heart and never lets go.

While I never had a sister, I've been blessed with more influential women in my life than men. My mother taught me to read and write. I flourished in my elementary and middle school classes because my teachers were resourceful, educated women. In high school, my closest friend was a pastor's daughter and an A-student who was a leader in her church and in our class. In college, several of my closest friends were women who have become leaders in the military, in journalism, and in education. For 21 years I have been married to a woman whose intelligence and artistry constantly inspire me.

And — I can't deny it — the undergraduate women I teach are, more often than not, better students than the men.

So, visiting this day-to-day reality in which women are routinely abused, punished, and treated like animals, I feel sick at heart. I can't think of a higher compliment to pay this movie than this: It makes me want to pray. It makes me long for the liberation of the countless women I have never seen or known, who are made of the same stuff as those who mean so much to me, but who will never be allowed to read, to walk free, to bless the world with their gifts and voices.

A tribute to women in trouble. © Cartoon Saloon

A Christmas movie?

I wish I could say that The Breadwinner concludes with triumph and transformation. Instead, it stands as a lament sung to honor the oppressed.

This movie invites us to see our Middle Eastern neighbors with our imaginations, and that experience can spark meaningful questions. It can reveal the ignorance at work in anti-Muslim propaganda. It might even cultivate understanding and empathy, and — perhaps (I'm dreaming big here) — inspire American viewers to question the wisdom of responding to Islamic extremism by bombing cities. It's hard to shake the fact that one of the film's most unnervingly realistic images depicts Northern Alliance warplanes screaming through the skies like dragons readying to incinerate Kabul. Nobody resembling Gal Gadot in body armor ever marches into Kabul to save the oppressed from America's war on the "axis of evil."

In bringing this story to the big screen, Cartoon Saloon sets a bar for courage, conscience, and conviction that rivals anything produced by Pixar, Laika, or Studio Ghibli. The filmmakers don't prioritize bedazzlement (although they're clearly capable of it) — there are no 3D or IMAX versions of this movie. And they don't give in to the temptation to go for a crowdpleasing, feel-good conclusion. Twomey and company prefer to tell the truth — truth that can burn down walls of ignorance and help disrupt those ongoing cycles of violence and hatred within which we perpetuate the sufferings of so many children of God.

So, could we call this movie about Muslims persecuting Muslims...  a Christmas movie?

I think so. You won't hear Jesus' name spoken, but you will sense his call for us to love our neighbors who "beneath life's crushing load" (as the Christmas carol goes) are "bending low." Like the Nativity story, here's another story of a young woman disrespected and hunted, desiring safety for her family, blessed by small acts of mercy, and hunted by predatory male authority figures. Like the Nativity story, this movie calls us to make room for vulnerable refugees and bring hope to neighbors who suffer under tyranny. And, like the Nativity story, The Breadwinner does not conclude neatly with a happily-ever-after, but rather with an affirmation of hope in the midst of ongoing chaos, bloodshed, and trouble.

Remember: Christmas doesn't exist to comfort the comfortable, but to offer hope to the desperate, and to move the rest of us to follow God's example in closing the distance between "us" and "them." The Breadwinner is a movie that gives us an extraordinary occasion to care by paying attention. And, as we hear a kindly nun say in the movie Lady Bird, "Love is attention."

This is the world that breaks God's heart, that he so loved. The Breadwinner isn't the Christmas story, but it is a story that reminds us why the world needs Christmas.


Lady Bird for Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Here is my Thanksgiving post for this year: a recording of my own gratitude for many blessings, and a recording of my reflections on Greta Gerwig's directorial debut: Lady Bird.

Does that sound like a strange combination? It isn't really. Lady Bird is, in a significant way, a film about the slow dawning of gratitude for complicated blessings,

Listen here:


U2 Rangarok?

"Asgard is not a place. It is a people."

So sayeth Odin in Thor: Ragnarok.

"It's not a place / This country is to me a sound..."

So sayeth Bono in "American Soul."

"As long as the foundations are still strong, we can rebuild this place. ... Oof! Now those foundations are gone. Sorry."

These are the words of Korg in Thor: Ragnarok. 

"Statues fall, democracy is flat on its back, Jack / We had it all, and what we had is not coming back, Zach..."

These are lines sung by Bono in "Blackout."

Gee. It's almost like the words of the prophets are written on the subway wall... and cineplex halls.


Reflectors

I think

the poet who didn’t feel the pressure

at a politically difficult time

would be either

stupid or

insensitive. …

Debate doesn’t really change things.

It gets you bogged in deeper.

If you can address or reopen the subject with something new, something from a different angle,

then there is some hope.

People are suddenly gazing

at something else and

pausing

for a moment.

And for the duration of that gaze and pause,

they are like

reflectors

of the totality

of their own knowledge

and/or ignorance.

That’s something poetry can do for you,

it can

entrance you

for a moment

above the pool

of your own consciousness and

your own

possibilities.

(Seamus Heaney in an interview in The Paris Review)


Show me your hands

Regarding this week, in which so many men in positions of power and authority — whether in Hollywood or politics — are in trouble for how they've used their hands inappropriately, well, I have very little to say. I'm sick, as any human being with a conscience must be, over the testimonies of sexual harassment, pedophilia, misogyny, and rape being exposed across America this week.

But I also know that nobody ever gets away with anything. All of this is in God's hands, and he promises that none of us will escape his justice. He also promises that the last shall be first, and that those who have been mistreated here will be consoled and blessed.

UPDATE: It took only a few moments, after I posted this, for me to get my first "But Hillary!" response. For those who don't know, "But Hillary" is a terrible brain disease. It drives people to irrationally ignore and excuse all manner of depravity by trying to redirect all moral outrage toward one human being whom they have decided is The Devil, and who lost the election over a year ago. Apparently, any evils anywhere else in the world are unworthy of attention; only those that might relate to a Clinton are worth considering. We need a cure for this embarrassing malady, but any attempt to show the afflicted BH sufferer that there is a problem can lead to volcanic eruptions of verbal violence. Also, I received a comment saying that Roy Moore is "innocent until proven guilty" and thus doesn't deserve to be treated this way. In response to that, I recommend this article by David French, who will explain why "due process" is not applicable in this case. I also recommend this one by Nancy French,which is essential reading on the subject. But I have also observed that those who suffer from "But Hillary" don't believe in reading testimonies of those reporting sexual abuse by a "Republican."

If you are troubled and confused by evangelical Christians who commit, excuse, or defend sexual impropriety in the name of politics, remember that Jesus himself told us that his name would be abused:

"Jesus replied: 'Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am Christ.' Do not follow them."

These days, when I read this verse, I am tempted to revise one word, because, frankly, I don't think it's really a revision — I think it's a clarification:

"Jesus replied: 'Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am Christian.' Do not follow them."

How different is it to say "I am Christ" and to say "I represent Christ"?

Who is telling the truth about following Christ? It is the integrity of the witness that counts: They'll know that we are Christians by our love, not by our political affiliation. Look for "the fruits of the Spirit":  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Where these are in evidence, Christ is alive and represented, whatever a person might say about themselves.

More and more, we need to look beyond the words of those who call themselves "Christians." People in power know how to exploit vocabulary and manipulate the gullible. We need to see what those who profess Christ do with their lives, their politics, their money, their bodies... and their hands.

So... since hands have been getting into trouble, let's do something useful with them, and try and wash some of the ugly news out of our ears.

Here's a playlist of great songs about hands, compiled today by me and my team of Looking Closer Specialists! Enjoy!

Here's U2 with a timely number:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sj15WP_tUoo

Here's the new Tune-Yards song, from their upcoming album with its timely title I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAadziqcQZw

Here's one of my favorite Sam Phillips songs, from the album Omnipop (It's Only a Flesh Wound Lambchop). Listen to the lyrics, and you might hear the influence of Rainer Maria Rilke on her work. These hands, I think, belong to the Great Mystery:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WldnvTFKd4

Here's Bruce Cockburn singing that great Mark Heard song "Strong Hand of Love" (recommended by John Barber):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xoz4N_exq3A

Here's one recommended by Martin Stillion that sounds like it was recorded for those who are testifying against abuse this week:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMFMf9cN64U

Here's My Brightest Diamond contemplating her own hands:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLpIk7Gw4Xo

Lindsay Marshall comes up with a surprise: "Your Father's Son" from Ragtime, which features important lines about hands:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeAXnQg11q4

Deborah Bloom wants you to get motivated with Ben Harper: "With My Own Two Hands."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEnfy9qfdaU

Damian Arlyn invites Tom Jones to the mic:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OE3K-mi2LUw

Ken Priebe throws Bon Jovi into the mix:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsvHK4Bt1Y8

Here's one recommended by Peggy Harris. I've got to assume that they're singing about a respectful man with respectful hands.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMvUIClzHSs