Everything here is just like a simile, and almost completely alliterative.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Deathly Hallows: kid appropriate?

I had been hearing a lot about whether Deathly Hallows Part One was appropriate for kids or not, and wasn't sure what to think. Since I may be the world's laziest parent, and also just genetically disposed to a) dislike censorship and b) think kids are waaaay more mature than you have any idea they are, I tend to blow right past discussions like that, which are intensely boring anyway. Actually, I feel that way about most of parenthood. Kids themselves are never boring -- they are endlessly changeable, strange, mercurial, unpredictable, weird little things. It's just conversations about them that put me in a coma, and especially the people who have the conversations. But for those who are interested, my two cents below.

A kid under 10 is unlikely to be able to handle this flick. My 10 year old is on the squeamish side, and several times asked me to cover his eyes. After like the third time, I told him to do it himself, and used the opportunity to steal his slushie. Mmmm, blue raspberry. I did not take my 6 year old, because Strawberry Shortcake: the Journey to Peppermint-town gave her nightmares for weeks. Also, she has a bladder the size of a pine nut, and I wasn't about to spend half this movie in some skanky movie bathroom -- not least because the youngest Fabulette believes that public restrooms are a kind of spa, and avails herself of all their amenities, as many times as possible. She sniffs the soap and assesses its quality, rolls her sleeves up and lathers herself to the elbows, then scrubs her T-zone, her neck, and any other available skin. That's even before we get to hair arrangement and paper towel usage. Probably because the spa experience is intensely relaxing, her bowels never move as freely as when in a public restroom, which of course then requires her to start all over again with the lathering and cleansing routine. She also narrates every gastro-intestinal event through the stall door in excruciating detail, to the prostrate embarrassment of her preteen sister, who stands outside the restroom going oh my God oh my God I do not believe this I am not going in there why can't we go home oh my God I just want to die.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the movie. Yeah, too intense for younger fans, which is a shame. Though I'm not complaining; I already feel like they pulled some punches to make it as kid-friendly as possible, right down to making sure Dobby had no actual knife in his chest for the frontal shot, and the torture at Malfoy Manor wasn't TOO scary. No matter, I can forgive anything for the Three Brothers animation sequence.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

movie review: Deathly Hallows I

It's impossible to say anything definitive about a movie that is only half-finished -- if I had walked out feeling fulfilled, narratively speaking, I wouldn't have much motivation to drag myself to a movie theater next spring, I guess. So my main impression is of scenes and parts.

Things I thought were wonderful:

a) the Three Brothers animation. Oh WOW. I almost hated leaving that world to go back to real people world. Elegant, was the only word I could think of for that paper-cut animation. What a brilliant choice to portray a world of childhood fantasy and sinister mystery all at once.

b) interpersonal relationships among the Trio. Really well done. That dancing scene with Harry and Hermione really underscored what I've heard said before about their dynamic -- how in the books, you could buy how Harry and Hermione would not end up together, but movie!Harry and movie!Hermione have undoubtedly active chemistry. And it seemed plain to me in that scene that it was really a bit of a seduction on Harry's part -- not so much a "let me slip your knickers off now" kind of seduction, but a stab not just at making her happy for a few minutes but at maybe seeing if he could be, perhaps, the one to make her happy for longer than just a few minutes. And the sweetly regretful turn of her back -- to me that said it all. And reading the scene that way -- as I think the director clearly intended one to be able to take it -- means that Ron's fears were not entirely irrational, and thus the voice of the Horcrux not some fantasy, but a magnification and distortion of reality, and thus all the more threatening. So Ron's fears are off-base, but not entirely so; Harry would, if there were an opening, step in, but the point is there isn't one.

c) the whole decision to split this movie into two parts. It was wonderful not to feel rushed through any of the book's richness and detail. Knowing I could relax and sip my slushie and be treated to the movie experience anyone who enjoys a book might want, instead of wincing at elisions and missed scenes. . . that was fun.

d) Bellatrix Lestrange. Honestly, HBC, is that hair getting bigger with every film? Work it, girl. Way to make very single other actor on the screen with you look like they're reading off a teleprompter -- Jason Isaacs is about the only one who can even hold on next to her, and that only with fingernails and teeth.

e) Lucius Malfoy the Broken. Oh my. Oh my my my. He's always been interesting in a kind of chilly, remote way -- not so much my taste as other people's, but I appreciate the principle. But this. . . from the very first shot of his angular spottily-shaven face and haunted bloodshot eyes, every cell in my body sat up and said WHY HULLO THAR LUCIUS MALFOY.

f) the Polyjuice Ministry scene. Bravo to those three actors, because they put in serious work following their young counterparts around to get it right. It would bother me, were I those kids, to see myself so caricatured, but it made the scene completely alive.

g) beginning from Snape's perspective. A sop to the fans, but a great choice, to see that opening scene through his eyes as he arrives. Rickman's shuttered face looked less sallow and puffy than it has, and his hair much more tousled and Snapish; his impassivity in that scene, and the horror and distaste pulsating behind it, were powerful to watch. I felt like I could see his quick calculation in his eyes -- can I get away with killing Charity Burbage and shortening her suffering? No? Then I won't look away.

Things that bothered me:

a) The movie was based on the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling. Which means that as awesome as parts of the movie were, the book it's based on was still kind of a jumble of stuff. We were still going endlessly camping without really offering an explanation for it -- are we looking for something? trying to escape someone chasing us? just trying to throw people off our trail, or stay safe? who knows! -- and that got kind of wearing.

b) Killing off pets and servants is quite the emotional cheat. Again, a problem with the book, not so much the film, but if the death of Hedwig gave me an "aww, that's too bad" moment, Dobby's death had me checking my watch. I am an easy cry on the best of days, and I'm so hormonal right now (full disclosure: gestating) that I literally cried at an effing Kahlil Gibran poem the other day, so if you can't get me to choke up after knifing a midget* in the chest, you know it's bad. Honestly, I did not so much give a shit. (P.S. Mad-Eye's death was off-screen and totally did not count. And by the way, did we have to make sure that knife was out of Dobby's chest before the frontal shot in order to preserve the PG-13 rating? Can you keep your rating with chest wound as long as the knife isn't actually sticking out of it? Again, kind of a cheat -- didn't they know this was exactly the audience that would yell flesh-wound jokes?)

c) Suspending my disbelief that these broad-chested, shadow-jawed, deep-voiced males in front of me are 17 is getting a bit tough. I mean, yeah, of course they've always been a bit older, for obvious reasons, but I'm sure glad they've already got Part II in the can so I don't have to worry about Ron Weasley sprouting ear-hair between now and then. Yes, I'm around teenagers quite a lot, and yes, I am perfectly aware that some of them do indeed look like that by 17, but there's a particular deepness and dimensionality of face that males only develop in their early 20s. Seriously, Draco looked like he was mainly worried about getting home in time to tuck his kids in bed.

d) Okay, the Weasleys moved, right? Right? Because that is NOT the house they were living in back whenever it was we first visited the Burrow, or the times since then -- it seriously wasn't! In the very first scene we see Ron, and he's standing outside a house, I thought, oh my! I didn't remember that the Weasleys had had to flee to a safe house! But that must be what has happened! So I was quite confused. Am I crazy? Is that the same house? IT'S NOT THE SAME HOUSE, RIGHT?

e) I'm not sure if this bothers me, or if I agree with it, but I notice how both screenwriter and director have just washed their hands of making us believe Harry/Ginny in any particular way. It's incredible that a young man who's gone through so much would end up with someone he hasn't shared any of that with -- I mean, his connection with Luna has actual chemistry, for God's sake. I would believe that he was in love with Molly before I would believe he gave a shit about Ginny, other than as the only fuckable Weasley. Those two are just like repelling magnets when onscreen together, so I'm appreciative of the minimization of her frankly annoying presence. Sorry this perfectly nice young actor got stuck with such an irredeemable role, but maybe she'll get better work after this.

On balance, the wonderful outweighed the annoying in this film, which is not really a film per se since it's only half of one, so I don't really know how to respond to it. I wouldn't have given my opinion of the book halfway through, so I don't see how I can for a film either.

*Yes, I said midget. Get over it. Dobby's not an actual person, so I figure I'm allowed.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Popes, Inquisitions, and Chametz

I'm supposed to be scouring my house for chametz and getting ready for Monday's ‎seder (10 people! in my house! ack!) and all I can do is sit among the piles of laundry ‎and moan about the stupid Pope. Who isn't even coming to my seder, for that matter. ‎Stupid Pope! Stupid chametz! Grrrr.‎

I suppose it's genetically impossible for me to examine any issue from a non-‎theological point of view. I'm just not capable of it, I guess, and if it's a failing of mine I ‎don't know how to fix it. But I've started collecting articles and links and documents -- ‎I've read the relevant selections of both Crimen sollicitationis, the 1962 ‎document detailing how sexual crimes relating to priests are to be dealt with, and ‎‎De Delictis gravioribus, the 2001 emendation to that document, and I’ve studied ‎them in the Latin. I've combed through articles about the abusing priests, testimony ‎from the abused, documentaries about the systemic nature of it, and I've sifted all of ‎this like I'm trying to find a reason. Because there must be a reason, right? A ‎reason why the culture of the Church is particularly prone to this?‎

It could be as simple as what Andrew Sullivan suggests:

‎"Has it occurred to Versaldi [Bishop Giuseppe Versaldi, emeritus professor of canon law and ‎psychology at the Pontifical Gregorian University] that the repressed, contorted sexual teaching ‎of the church leads so many priests, gay and straight, directly into dysfunctional and, ‎yes, disordered sex lives, alone or with others? Does he realize that forcing gay Catholic ‎kids to hate themselves and then to seek refuge in a celibate priesthood as a cover for ‎their unconquerable nature is just asking for later breakdowns and acting out, with ‎teens and kids as the victims?" ‎

But the oppression/repression tells you just half the equation -- maybe, maybe it ‎tells you why these men wanted to do what they did, why their dicks needed that ‎particular thing to get off. It doesn't explain the compulsion to compound the abuse ‎with silence -- why? Why would so many men engage in that kind of conspiracy of ‎shame? Why didn't they recoil in horror, call the cops, kick the offending scum away ‎from them like dog shit they had stepped in on their way to Matins?‎

My hypothesis is a little different from Sully's. I think the answer to that latter question ‎lies in ecclesiology -- that is, the theology of the Church qua Church. "Tu es Petrus," ‎proclaim the words emblazoned around the interior of St. Peter's. "You are Peter, and ‎upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." ‎These words (a wildly fantastical insertion, if ever there was one) establish an ‎institution known as The Church(TM), Ecclesia, and at the same time endow that ‎institution with divine favor and protection. Indeed, according to the Church's vision of ‎itself, the Church becomes the Body of Christ Himself: the institution becomes, in a ‎very real sense, God. ‎

And here Catholic theology goes the Supreme Court one better, because in their ‎landmark Citizens United ruling in January, the justices ruled that a corporation, an ‎organization of people, could be an individual endowed with the same rights and ‎liberties as other individuals. Catholic ecclesiology does better than that, though, ‎because the Church (since it literally IS God) is a sort of Super-person, with MORE ‎rights than you (as individual church member) could ever possibly have. By investing ‎an organization with personhood -- and even with Personhood -- Catholic ecclesiology ‎made it possible to look at ordinary people and say, look. It's very sad what happened ‎to you, and of course we all regret it a great deal, but the important thing here is that ‎we must protect the Church, because she is Holy, she is Our Mother, she is the Very ‎Presence of Christ on earth. And next to something like that - well, what could the ‎needs of a puny 9-year-old kid possibly mean? What could a tiny little boy's sobs ‎possibly mean, next to the Presence of God on earth?‎

So that is what underlies Papa Nazi's insistence, in "De delictis gravioribus" (the ‎document written by him and issued when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the ‎Propagation of the Faith, otherwise known as the Holy Office, otherwise known as, ‎yeah, THAT Holy Office, back before the Inquisition got re-branded) when he clarified ‎some points in "Crimen sollicitationis." In DDG he specifically insisted that ALL ‎instances of sexual abuse involving minors be remanded to the Holy Office, and the ‎Holy Office would instruct the tribunals how to proceed from there. The only possible ‎reason for this is to keep a tighter rein on things, and to squelch any whisper of scandal ‎before it could even draw a good firm breath. And it's this 2001 document, I believe, ‎that was the real impetus behind Papa Nazi's 2005 elevation to the papacy. His election ‎was an act of acclamation for the one who had protected the Church, the one all these ‎other little boy-fuckers (and I think it's likely that the preponderance of Cardinals have ‎either engaged in or been party to boy-fucking) knew they could turn to for protection ‎in the future. The one who would always put God first -- which is to say, the one who ‎would always put the Church's interests above petty human interests, and whose heart ‎would not be swayed by the anguished clamor of mere mortals. ‎

And even if I'm right, and it's a flawed ecclesiology that led them there, that doesn't ‎answer the real question, which is why do I give a bleeding monkeyfuck? I'm not a ‎Catholic. But of course, behind that statement lurks the whispered any more, and ‎it's that any more I'm so afraid of, that clutches at my chest and makes me think, ‎will I never be free? Will I never stop caring so desperately? What must be wrong with ‎me that I can't stop caring, can't stop obsessing over this? Why can't I be like other ‎people, and shrug and step around this like it's something messy and unfortunate on ‎the sidewalk?‎

In my better moments, I think, maybe I don't have to stop caring. Proud Jew though I ‎am, I don't have to pretend that I didn't come from, well, where I come from. Though no ‎documentary attribution of this can be found, there's a saying of St. Augustine's* that’s ‎circulated for hundreds of years: "The Church is a whore," he is reported to have said, ‎‎"but she is my mother." Just because I've moved away, doesn't mean I don’t still phone ‎home now and again, and worry about how things are going -- especially when things ‎are tough at the home place. As I get ready for Pesach, I expect I’ll still be thinking ‎about these things as I’m chopping the apples for my charoset and nibbling the maror. ‎Maybe next year. . . in Jerusalem, for all of us. ‎

*did not fuck little boys.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

U.S. Conference of Catholic Douchebags

The Catholic bishops are mightily concerned that it is "participation in a grave moral evil" for your money to fund abortion, however indirectly. That's why all the convoluted language in the recent health care bill to ensure separate funding for abortion and (as a side benefit) the almost complete elimination of abortion services for middle class women. But don't get me wrong: the bishops and I might be on opposite sides of this issue, but I think their reasoning is inspired. Brilliant, in fact. So brilliant, I propose its broader application.

Tithing is participation in a grave moral evil.

I guess this would only apply if you think institutionalized child rape and virulent homophobia are moral evils; I can see how the bishops would probably disagree with me, since if there's anything they love more than boy-fucking it's gay-bashing. Disagree as they might, I'm sure they wouldn't fault the purity of my reasoning, because if there's anything those bishops love more than boy-fucking and gay-bashing, it's intellectual purity. The clean logic of an argument, that's what appeals to them, and who cares if that knife slices right through the body of a suffering woman or a sobbing little boy? It's the knife of purity, damn it, wielded by the Alteri Christi here to teach you a thing or two about the power of redemptive suffering.

Catholic friends out there, what do you think? A little snapping-shut of the pocketbook, maybe? Or maybe some redirect of your funds here, to an organization cut off from Catholic funding because of its support for Maine's No on 1?

ETA: And now it has finally and fully reached the pope. Not that it will have much (if any) effect on his papacy; seriously, if "Nazi" doesn't disqualify you, "child abuser" isn't likely to.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Reform Jew's Hand-wringing

I’m a Reform Jew, and I have varying levels of discomfort with that fact. Sometimes the ‎discomfort is mild to unnoticeable, and sometimes it’s severe, but always it’s there, for ‎a number of reasons. But this weekend began to change that, for me. I sense a shifting of ‎things, inside of me – a realignment that begins to look, I think, like comfort, and will ‎look in time, I believe, like pride. So two things happened to me:‎

‎1) This week, the decision was made by the Education Director at my shul to scrap the ‎textbook curriculum for Sunday School and replace it with Haiti. Probably lots of ‎religious organizations meeting this weekend did the same, Jews and Christians and ‎everybody in between. But Sunday School, for Jews, is a little more intense than the ‎Christian variety – it’s three hours long, for one thing. That’s a long time to talk about ‎anything, and while it’s broken up with art! and music! and prayertime! it’s still a lot of ‎air to fill. ‎

When I drop my two youngest off at Sunday School, my oldest (the genial agnostic) and ‎I usually hang out in the shul’s library and read, work, do homework, grade papers, ‎etc. It’s quiet there, and lush, and there’s great stuff to look at when you get bored (and ‎also the gift shop ladies are always there on Sundays, so yay! shopping breaks) and all ‎in all it’s one of my favorite times of the week. This Sunday, it was a little hard to get ‎work done there; the teachers of the 4th and 5th graders had apparently decided it was ‎RESEARCH TIME. (You may count 4th grade research among sausage and politics as ‎something you Don’t Want To See.) There was much squabbling over maps and ‎websites and resource material, and much heated discussion over when, exactly, the ‎French government recognized Haiti (shut up Sam you don’t know anything) ‎and when, exactly, the US marine occupation ended (oh yeah why don’t you shut ‎up) and much pointless shushing by the teachers and the gimlet-eyed librarian. ‎

‎“I’ve seen Haiti!” one girl proudly announced. “Well, but I didn’t see much, since I was ‎just on the promenade deck.”‎

I hid my smile in my notes and kept my head down. So well-heeled, all of them; so ‎well-kept and well-scrubbed and well-fed and well, rich. And so earnest about learning ‎this stuff, even if it was just to do better than the person next to them. It was an exercise ‎in Reform Judaism, really – all that white-hot earnestness about living the voice ‎of the Prophets, and living the repair of the world, and living the mitzvot. ‎They might never really hear the voice of the Prophets; they might never repair the ‎world; they might never succeed in living the mitzvot. But God, I love them for trying, ‎for rubbing the sleeve of their size 12 Patagonia fleeces on the window of the world and ‎trying, haltingly, as well as they know how, to peer out at the great wide universe ‎beyond. ‎

God bless them, and God bless the country club hippies who teach them every week. ‎There’s a hackneyed old saying that Jews are the only group that earn like ‎Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans, and I was proud to see some of the reason ‎for that today. I was proud of my faith community, for its relentless focus on things that ‎are larger than ourselves, and proud of the way Reform Jews have been on the front ‎lines of engaging Judaism with these issues, from Selma to Darfur to Haiti to yes, Gaza. ‎Hand a Reform Jew a siddur and she might or might not know which end of it is up; ‎hand her a cause and stand the hell out of the way. I suspect I know which pleases ‎Hashem more. ‎

2) In a prosperous bedroom suburb of Tel Aviv there is a synagogue called Darchei ‎Noam. It’s one of 30 or so synagogues in this community, which would seem to say, it’s ‎nothing special. But it is. For one thing, it’s Reform, and if you know anything about ‎Israel, you know that makes you rare to begin with. I’m not going to go into Israeli ‎religious politics here, but suffice it to say they’re uglier and more disheartening than ‎‎4th grade research projects by an order of magnitude. And the upshot is, Reform ‎Judaism is not recognized as being any valid sort of religion by the state, which means ‎that Reform rabbis can’t marry or bury their congregants, and often can’t get permits ‎even to build their synagogues. It’s not an easy place to be a Reform Jew, basically.‎

So this weekend we hosted the rabbi of Darchei Noam, Rabbi Stacey Blank. She’s young ‎‎(or do people just look that way to me now?) and pretty and blond and pregnant and ‎all the things that tend to get you dismissed in a room full of Orthodox rabbis. What ‎else is she? Well, intensely learned, for one thing. Midrashically brilliant. Passionate ‎about Torah, and passionate about her congregation, and passionate about Israel, and ‎passionate about Reform Judaism. It’s that last that brought me up a little short, ‎because really? I suppose to me that's a bit like being passionate about Presbyterianism ‎‎– you could be, but why? ‎

Well, she made the case for why. Without getting up from her chair, with an easy smile ‎and deft words, she showed me why. We began as is usual in Torah stody: zeroing in ‎on a few verses of Torah and mining, delving, digging, arguing, hypothesizing, ‎arguing, all in one exhilarating hour. This week it was Exodus chapter 12, when God ‎tells Moses and Aaron, “Speak to the people.” (This is where God has come up with the ‎whole lamb-on-the-doorpost with jazz hands thing, plus the showgirls and feather ‎boas. Though that last may have been edited out, in later redactions.) So yeah: SPEAK ‎to the people, in the plural imperative, dabru. And she posed the question, why ‎does God tell both Moses and Aaron to speak now, as opposed to all the singular ‎imperatives before, where God had just told Moses alone to speak, diber?‎

Obviously there’s lots of midrash on this, as there is on, well, just about anything. She ‎presented us with a sampler platter of midrashim on the subject and largely stood back ‎to let us hash it out. And the midrash she kept gently drawing us back to was this one:‎

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: Moses would share the honor with Aaron and would ‎say to him, ‘Teach me.’ And Aaron would share the honor with Moses and would say to ‎him, ‘Teach me.’ And the speech went out from between them as if they were both ‎speaking.

‎“You see,” she said quietly. “Reform Judaism, what we subscribe to, it’s not a 19th ‎century invention. It is a living, breathing, ancient voice in our tradition—the voice of ‎mutuality. The voice that says, ‘let us learn together.’ The voice that does not worship ‎hierarchy and authority, the voice that does not silence women. Reform Judaism is ‎here, in our texts and in our tradition, and it’s a voice that was slowly choked out, over ‎the centuries, as we grew more afraid, more insular. And now we are renewing that ‎voice, and all of us here in this room are engaged in that project. We will make that ‎voice powerful again, the voice of Rav Shimon bar Yochai and others like him. In their ‎name we teach.”‎

I sat there, stunned, not sure what to make of it. Of her. I am at all times impatient with ‎Reform’s lack of what I would call backbone on halakhic issues – as a friend regularly and patiently reminds me, Reform Judaism is not a halakhic movement – and ‎I think I was in danger of losing sight of the larger issues at stake, which is the ‎reclamation of Israel (in all senses of that word) for plural voices. So I suppose I am ‎starting to think of myself—thanks to Rabbi Blank and to Rav Shimon and to the ‎harried 4th grade Sunday School teachers—as a Reform Jew. A Reform Jew with ‎Orthodox tendencies in my practice, sure. But it’s a better fit, I think, than an Orthodox ‎Jew with Reform tendencies in my thinking. All I know is, when she spoke, I wanted to ‎be part of the world she was working to weave. She made me believe that in time, she ‎and voices like hers will prevail, and that my tradition in all its glorious parts and ‎pieces will embrace the lives and contributions and voices of women, of gays, of the ‎other and the outcast. She made me breathless for the World To Come, that could ‎almost—maybe, perhaps—be this world too. A world where women stand on the ‎bimah with their sons, a world where young girls raise their voices in song at the Wall, ‎a world where grandmothers read and teach Torah, a world where one Jew turns to ‎another and says, teach me. Where two women—or two men—stand together under a ‎chupah, and the only shrieking is that of joy. Where no Jew—where no person—is ‎made to feel less than, or smaller than, and where the word of Hashem goes forth from ‎Jerusalem. ‎

In the words of Yehuda Amichai: Amen, amen, and may it come to pass. ‎