Archives for category: Christ and Culture

It is January; a new year. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about bodies, and relationships with one’s own body. And I have a lot of questions.

For example, how often do men see their own blood? When a man bleeds, it isn’t natural. Something else had to pierce his skin and cause him to bleed. An object violated his epidermis and tissue, drawing the blood to the surface. Force. Violence. Yet, for women, it is the key signifier of womanhood to bleed according to the body’s own natural processes. Our lives are sometimes dictated by this cyclical visitor. Irregular bleeding can be an indicator of dis-order in the body. When women speak of blood, we talk about hue, consistency, viscidity, duration, frequency. We bleed for decades.

But the blood seen in film, television, and relayed through novels and memoirs is almost always that which was drawn out by force. Men’s blood is glorified, while women’s blood is merely a means to an end, or a nuisance. The closest thing to a public rendering of menstruation comes in the form of tampon ads, when the tampon is immersed in clear water. When a woman no longer bleeds, she no longer has the capacity for new life. Is she still fully a woman?

gianni-zanato-465463 If men’s blood is the stuff of legends, what do we make of women’s blood? “Menses” simply means month. Monthly blood. So ordinary. Men’s blood depletes life when it flows. Women’s blood is the signifier of life and, as such, must flow, every month. Which is not to say that women’s blood does not also take its toll. There is a cost: loss of energy, hormonal shifts, vulnerability. For some women, the cost is much greater, and difficult decisions need to be made. But most of us are left to make peace with the fact that our bodies function like a tidal gate, containing and releasing blood with the phases of the moon.

So then, what do we make of the hypermasculinity portrayed in film, television and narrated daily, weekly–sometimes in sermons–that communicates a semiotics of ‘endurance’ through pain, sweat, and blood? Is this truly feeling alive, as many would call it? Is blood taken by force always more significant, more heroic, than that which flows through women regularly? In light of normalized sexual assault and “domestic” abuse, whose blood, sweat, and tears will we continue to valorize?

At the center of the Christian salvation history is the blood of Jesus Christ, a Palestinian Jew; conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate. He was crucified, buried, and resurrected. His blood flowed under a crown of thorns, and from a spear that pierced his side. We remember his blood with every Eucharist, and every Good Friday. Like men’s blood, it was drawn out by force. Like women’s blood, it is the ultimate source of new life and new birth. How we render the passion of Jesus Christ informs our narratives on suffering, abuse, and the non/necessity of shedding blood.

The blood of Jesus is a witness to the cost of corrupt power and fear of those who desire to maintain such power. Suffering is neither necessary nor good when inflicted by another person(s) who wield power through violence. Women, especially, are not offering themselves up to be crucified with Christ simply by existing. The suffering of Jesus was at the hands of political and religious collusion. God turned death on its head, and used his particular suffering for redemption, healing, salvation. To remember his blood is to remember that humanity spills blood to deplete life, while God pours out new life with every menses. And let us not forget, the blood of Mary flows there, too, as she witnesses the death of her firstborn child.

The U.S. is showing itself to be worn at the seams, the bright muslin florals have faded. Cushions once springy and round are flattened with irregular wave patterns. The large coffee table can no longer be trusted to hold so much as a feather. Newer furniture scattered along the edges has yet to be intermingled and arranged within the space, it seems it doesn’t fit. These bold new styles and exotic finishes show some wear and tear themselves, though not necessarily from the ravages of time. A petition is going around for all new furnishings, but no one can agree on the details.

Inauguration Reflections
I witnessed the “peaceful transition of power” on Friday from a man who taught courses in Constitutional Law, to a man who uses Twitter as a primary communication channel for his rants; from one who is exemplary in family life to a man who abuses women; from a man who believes there is such a thing as the “common good,” to a man who, ultimately, only considers what is good for him and his sycophants. I watched the ceremony, and listened to that man set forth his “new vision [of] America First.” It seems that every presidential transition is a reaction to the previous administration, but this, this feels different.

The inaugural speech was as brutish as I expected, with all the fear-mongering imagery that raised this man to power. But from his bleak vision of a burned-out middle America, I heard one thing of interest. Apparently, ‘we the people’ have been granted permission to take ‘our’ country back. In other words, it is up to us to make this country as much for our Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, even atheist neighbors as it is for ourselves. Not every citizen is a Christian, so let’s drop the pretense. And while the men who delineated independence from England’s crown perhaps never imagined the diversity of population, nor the size of territory the United States would become, they nonetheless placed certain rights in writing. It has been and will continue to be up to we, the people, to affirm and reaffirm those rights for every person who lives from sea to shining sea, not just landholding white males.

The stated “new vision” for the nation is deceptive because it is not new at all. It is the same vision that men have desired and profited from for centuries; circle the wagons, keep the goods for ourselves, let them take care of themselves. Trump’s claim that ‘American’ wealth has been stripped from middle class homes and redistributed around the world leaves him and his ilk untouched. Blame is laid at government’s feet for somehow allowing all this wealth to fly away, when the mechanisms and means for money moving around the world lies squarely within large businesses and multinational corporations–all friends of the new administration. Who gets the goods when the wagons are circled?

What is most obvious and most disturbing for its power to occlude is the attack on free speech and the press that we are witnessing. There are numerous headlines about reductions in staff from newspapers around the country, the New York Times being among the most high profile. Journalism at a national level relies upon critical investigation from local sources. It is time to pay for our newspaper subscriptions again, especially if we’re reading online. News sources are no more free than they are unbiased, and the ads one sees speak volumes. And, let’s face it, if we’re going to “take our country back,” we need reliable information. Personally, while I deeply respect the writers of Mother Jones, Sojourners, and the Nation, I tend to read news more often from NPR, the Guardian, and BBC. I have, in the last year, added Indian Country Media Network to my list of sources as well.

This nation has been schlepping democracy around the world for some time now, using it as a weapon to enter conflicts abroad since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. It is time for us, the people, to understand a little better just how our democratic republic functions. Let’s start with a quick refresher from Schoolhouse Rock. Three branches of government, working together in a system of checks and balances. Will that continue with this administration? I don’t believe so, which means this is now becoming more of an audience participation kind of spectacle.

So, here are my initial thoughts on a brief survival guide for the next four years, or until someone torches the government curtains.

  • Read the news. As in, the critically vetted news that comes from the AP and Reuters. – Focus on the issues you care about–not just one, but at least a couple. Let’s not perpetuate the single-issue voter cop-out.
  • Read U.S. history. My personal favorite is Howard Zinn. Perhaps start with the period of “yellow journalism,” or, leading up to the first world war.
  • Read Scripture together. Read your own holy book and the holy books of others.
  • Do not do this on your own. Do not attempt to process the state of the world alone. Just don’t.
  • Add your local representatives to your contact list and moisten those pen tips.
  • Gather together regularly to do stuff for one another, for your community, for your city.

Where is God in our current context? God will be found when we meet with those who are cast outside the gates of ‘normal’ society. Let us go and meet God. Then, while we still can, let’s work to make this country as much for ‘them’ as for ‘us.’

I have nearly finished reading the Hunger Games in three days. There’s nothing quite like a dystopian narrative to start the new year just right. And there are any number to choose from these days.

My husband and I recently watched the film Divergent: also with a post-cataclysmic setting, segregated society, and female protagonist. Those three elements I find particularly intriguing. In both Divergent and the Hunger Games, the main characters’ self-understanding is closely linked with a connection to others. In the former, she is part of a naturally occurring subset of humanity that encompasses all the personality types and who cannot be categorized, which is also to say, contained. In the latter, she is always aware that survival requires strategic partnerships, and she exists indebted to the knowledge, kindness, and sacrifice of others. This connection to others hearkens back (oddly enough) to the film that initiated our zombie craze of recent years, Night of the Living Dead. In 1968, George Romero used religious lore to construct a horror film about race relations. For the living, staying together means staying alive regardless of where the person next to you originally came from or the color of their skin. In film, extreme situations burn off the superfluous like dross leaving “what really matters” exposed and purified for the viewer to see.

The uptick in post-apocalyptic and post-cataclysmic storylines makes me wonder: what is it our society is trying to burn off, and for whose eyes to see?

2014 was among the most turbulent in terms of social unrest that we’ve seen in a while. Lines on graphs display a growing discrepancy between the household incomes of CEOs and corporate stakeholders, and those who either make their money for them or consume their goods. As our society becomes further polarized, the class system that seemed to offer some stability and cache to the dream of Horatio Algers, is beginning to falter. In our present setting, narratives like Divergent and the Hunger Games are attempting to cast a vision for a way out–but, for whom? Those who are truly Other (as in Divergent), or those who are oppressed by the ruling center? What makes them different?

Before I can begin to address any of these questions, I feel the need to read more, to see how the authors resolve the narratives. There is a lot going on, both in the stories themselves, and the resonances held in our present situation–and then there is the not unbiased mediator of film. I will attempt in future posts to address questions individually, even as they interrelate and inform one another. I hear echoes of a prophetic voice in these post-cataclysmic narratives, and I hope to find out if there is a vision of hope that lies underneath, or if these are simply the first blaze of warning signals.

To be continued…