Saturday, January 20, 2018

Lady Bird Review

I chose to go to a 11:25 showing of Lady Bird this morning.  Yes, this morning.  I was one of three viewers in the audience, all women.  That always makes movie watching a solitary experience, but I can handle 1:30 in the darkness for art. 

I went because of the reviews and because I write relational, realistic fiction and wanted to see how it was done in this film.  It did not disappoint.  The reviews are correct, overall.  Some might call it a "chick flick," but it's far better than that.

While I don't imagine everyone would be interested in this film (no explosions, no intrigue), I recommend it.  I don't like to pay $8.00 for a movie, but I was ok with this one.

It is excellent for the acting, the sense of place, and the respectfulness toward Christian faith (specifically Catholicism).  It is also unflinching in portraying very human characters, even if you don't like them.

And to be honest, as for the character herself, Lady Bird McPherson, I didn't much like her.  At least I wouldn't much like her if I knew her.  She's a brat, and sometimes the other b- word.  She lies and treats her friends badly.  She is hormonally driven in many of her actions.  She's ashamed of her family and their economic condition (her father has lost his job but she insists on going to college in New York).  She's disrespectful to her teachers, steals, and sometimes acts more like a 12-year-old than a high school senior. She wants to be the center of attention. Nothing's good enough for her.  She's not appreciative of her family's sacrifices to let her go to parochial school.  She thinks she has to escape her home of Sacramento, even though in the end she realizes the truth--she can't escape her home, even in New York.  So in the end her growth arc makes you feel like yes, you could eventually like her as a person, in a few years when she stops lying about who she is.

If it sounds like, "Why would I go to a movie about such a character," well, that's the beauty of it.  For all her "sins," she is human.  Who of us has not been all those things, at some point (just not maybe all at once in our senior years!)  I think the success of this portrayal is due as much to the writing as the style of the cinematography (not that I'm an expert, but it's not glossy, just lifelike) and the superb acting.  I have rarely ever seen acting that was without artifice.  Laurie Metcalf, she of the old "Roseanne" series, is so real, so frustrated with her daughter whom she loves but doesn't quite get and maybe doesn't really like as a person, not yet, even though she wants to and will do anything for her.  However, all the actors are very good (except maybe the fart she has her first sex with; I couldn't understand his mumbling and he was one of the characters who took me out of the story).  The chubby friend, the depressed priest, the old nun, the snotty rich girl, and the boy-who-turns-out-as-gay (that was a little but of a cliche) all do well. 

Throughout the film Lady Bird wants to get out of Sacramento, especially the "other side of the tracks" where she says her family lives, yet she doesn't see how it is deeply a part of her.  One of her teachers, an old nun, tells Lady Bird how much her writing shows her love for Sacramento.  How much do we think our home is just a place we occupy and not part of our being?  I grew up in Maryland but have lived here in the Tennessee Valley for 40 some years.  I went home to Maryland twice in 2017 for short visits.  Cords were struck that I forgot were in me.

Finally, the movie is respectful of Catholicism even if the character is not.  In the end, she knows she needs and misses it.  The teachers, priests, and nuns are good people--no crazy people, no fanatics, no pervs, no pedophiles, just adults concerned about the lives and souls of their charges.  The atmosphere of a parochial school is well portrayed.  The football coach priest who has to direct the play is a nice touch, quite funny, as is the elderly nun who tells the dancers to "leave six inches for the Holy Spirit." This is why some have called it a faith-based movie.  I don't know if I would, since it's not exactly PG, but it is a movie that takes Christian spirituality and redemption seriously. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Let's see how ofensive we can be, Mr. Trump

*hole.  Yep.  From the mouth of the POTUS.

Unfortunately, I would venture to say that most Americans have felt that way when contemplating some of the living conditions in other cultures.  They may not use the tacky language and may not voice the view, but we are appalled by how people live, and have to live.

The reasons for poverty--and for the conditions in these *hole countries--are complicated.  Everything from natural disasters, to cultural practices, to evil dictators, to climate change (yes, it exists, sorry; the reason is still up for grabs), to religious beliefs. 

If these places weren't *holes, would millions be trying to get to the U.S.?

 Did he say it?  If he did, why did the participants of the meeting feel the need to come out and tell on him?  What snitches!

 However, if he said this, it's egregious and offensive. You won't catch me defending the POTUS.  I can see why those who do not have eternal hope sit and bite their nails that he might causes big international problems. 

Addendum on Jan. 19.  Is the president a racist?  I doubt he has enough self awareness to have a worldview that is racist.  I think his multitudinous comments that seem racist are more indicative that he is a jerk.  But I don't know his heart.  Nowadays, anybody can be called racist and there is no defense because the definition of racist is fluid. 

Monk and the paradox of mental illness

My husband likes to watch the reruns of the TV show Monk.  In fact, they are on quite frequently at our house. The Randy Newman theme song is deeply imprinted on my soul.  It was clever and they are a good way to waste an hour after a debilitating day at work.

However, I have a lot of problems with Mr. Monk (or the writers) and you people are going to hear about them.  (to quote Mr. Costanza on Festivus day).

The main issue is the portrayal of his mental illness, which seems to be extreme OCD and anxiety.  First, he is called the "defective detective," which is about as insulting to people with mental illness as you can get. Second, the illness is played for laughs and scorn, not for compassion.  His friends have compassion, most of the time (OCD people can be frustrating) but the audience is given permission to laugh.  Third, his OCD is selective and only shows up when it helps the plot. Fourth, he doesn't take medication, because it changes his personality.  This is not always true and misrepresents medications and how they can help. 

Fifth, and what is most telling, is that he is a jerk with no compassion for anyone else.  Absolutely no empathy or concern, even for the people who care for him the most.  No social filters, just like Jack Nicholson's character in As Good as It Gets.

This pattern in Hollywood of portraying people with mental illness as jerks, and as jerks as people with mental illness, is particularly disturbing for me.  Just like Hollywood writers and producers and directors have proven they are incapable of understanding the psychological pain of sexually abused through their longstanding practice of it, and just like this same group is incapable of understanding many Americans reject their extreme leftist ideologies, Hollywood does not understand mental illness and rarely gets it right. It is a plot device; it is Oscar bait; these "characters" are irredeemable, they are stock; they are tropes, not people.   

On the subject of autism, I suggest this article: https://aeon.co/essays/the-intriguing-history-of-the-autism-diagnosis. 

I have done a good bit of research on autism (my brother and great nephew are on the spectrum, and the child of a colleague) and unless one deals with it in a close family member, one really doesn't "get it."  Yes, they, or should I say, their behaviors, can be incredibly frustrating, and there are many gradations and iterations of the "disorder" if it is such.  But their minds are not defective in the sense of being unable to function or learn.  They are advocating for themselves now, and we are seeing more and more in college (something academia is trying to ignore, trust me.)  I end with this quote from the article linked above:

Is there really an autism paradox? Or is this actually a paradox of human difference, and of what it means to delineate human types while also offering people the best opportunity to thrive. If we are to think creatively about how to identify difference without stigmatising it, it pays to think historically about how autism research got us to this point. Such history offers a rather humbling lesson: that it might very well be impossible to measure, classify and quantify an aspect of human psychology, without also muting attempts to tell the story differently.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Acts 10: Peter and Cornelius


This is a story passage.  Not a lot of direct doctrinal teaching, but a very powerful and important message. 

BIG IDEA:  GOD is teaching them that the Jesus faith is not the Jewish faith.  He’s taking it slowly because God knows how entrenched in our bodies, our cultures, our families, and our experiences we are.

Context: Everything in the book of Acts up to now.

Acts 2:  Gospel preached in several different languages, not Hebrew.
Acts 5:  Ananias and Saphira judged—we are not the synagogue and won’t be doing things that way
Acts 6:  We have a responsibility to all members of the church regardless of status.  And the leaders are not all from Jerusalem; Jerusalem is not going to run the show.  (Hellenistic Jews vs. Hebrew Jews, one of them from Antioch)
Acts 7-8 – There will be lots of persecution.  You won’t be able to hide behind your ethnicity.  The Jewish leaders and the Romans are going after you.
Acts 8 – the Ethiopian eunuch (eunuch were not accepted in the temple, and he is a black man)
Acts 9 – God may even save the person who was trying to destroy his work—and he must be accepted, too. 

However, all the converts up to this time had either been born Jewish or became Jewish at some point in their lives before becoming Christians.  That is going to change. This should not surprise them, since Jesus said to go to all the world with the gospel (not just to the Jews in all the world) and ministered to Gentiles himself (centurion’s daughter healed, Matthew 8:5)

Acts 10.  As we read this long passage, think about this:  Let’s say you have never ever had interaction with an Asian person.  You had on top of that been told all your life by everyone you knew and trusted that the only way an Asian person could become a Christian would be to have plastic surgery so they had different eyes and didn’t look Asian anymore.  They could become a Christian but couldn’t have anything to do with their Asian heritage or culture or past. 
And then God say, “All you’ve been taught about Asians is wrong.  It was a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian, and you have to stop believing and practicing that because it’s wrong and we’re not going to do it that way anymore.  I won’t stand for it.  Asians are just like you before me. And you don’t get special treatment anymore because of who your ancestors were.”  And to make it worse, God tells you to tell everyone else this. 

This is exactly what happens to Peter, in essence.  (Read text.)

God is in the business of exploding our mindsets when they are wrong, when they harm the body of Christ, when the go against his gospel, and when they keep people from coming to grace.  The book of Acts is basically about this.  It’s not just about a quantitative change in the church (more people) but qualitative at the deepest, DNA cellular level.  For Jews to accept Gentiles who had formerly been idolators, and also had enslaved their own people, and done worse must have been very difficult, and many probably balked at it.  It might have even been a stumbling block to faith for some Jews who couldn’t get past their prejudices. 

The story of Cornelius and Peter means for us that we must embrace people of cultural differences when asked to, which has already happened.  I’m not talking about pop cultural trends or even all their cultural practices (some of that would be impossible) but to embrace the people. 

Granted, this expectation is hard.  How do we connect with persons of other cultures?  It is time consuming and we (I) will (do) fail, and many of us will decide it’s not worth it, or just not our thing.  When I started teaching ESL class, I assumed I would be working with Latinos.  That was fine—I teach at a college with 27% Hispanic population and I speak Spanish.  Well, I am dealing with Arabic speakers, for the most part.  Fascinating, but uncomfortable.  I don’t know a word of their language! They are Muslims!  Their world views are not Western!  But there they are, in my class, trying to learn English.  They are refugees, and I am learning about U.S. policies toward refugees and immigrants (a complex subject). Ironically, the Latinos might have been undocumented, but I am used to that. 

Challenge:  Who in the church is different and you must get out of your comfort zone to connect with them?  Our church has ministries to Hispanics, Russians, Arabic speakers, and Cambodians as well as black and white people.  We are like the church in the book of Acts, and I am proud of that every time I walk in the doors. 

Big Question:  When was a time you had to get out of your comfort zone?  Peter was way out of his comfort zone when he went to Cornelius.  What about us?

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Creating Fictional Names

Creating names for characters is a big part of writing fiction.  I tend toward the realistic; as much as I love Dickens, he went out of his way to create onomatopoeic names.  I think names should be memorable but not metaphorical.

So I was scrolling through my Twitter feed (instead of writing) and came across a post from one of many indie authors who advertise on Twitter.  The character of the novel's name was "Buck McDivit." Oh, my.  This being a paranormal romance novel (is that an oxymoron?) the character was depicted as a cowboy, shirtless, with massive six-pack chest/abs.

I was reminded of  Dash Riprock and Bolt Upright of The Beverly Hillbillies, and of this great clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFHlJ2voJHY.  Dirk Hardpeck!

Monday, January 08, 2018

On Writing Books in a Glutted Market

I am reading Clay Shirkey's book Here Comes Everybody.  Although it's a little out of date, the theory about what is happening in Web 2.0 is on point.

Without the traditional gatekeeper, we can all self-publish, or self-compose and produce.  Most of it is garbahge.  I hope mine is not.  But even if it's not, there are too many books being published and therefore it is harder and harder and harder to be noticed.

So traditional publishers have an advantage still, and those of us who choose to bypass them have a huge disadvantage.  Case in point:  My most recent book on Daniel.

I saw that there is a "bestseller" (in terms of books on Prophets in OT) out now by a pastor of a large church in Birmingham, and it's published by Thomas Nelson. His appears on the surface to be the same content as mine, although I think my message is quite different.  Plus, I'm a woman, plus, I actually have worked in the secular professional world.  Mine is more about leadership ethics; his appears to be more about personal evangelism.  (The book is called The Daniel Dilemma.)

But how do I get mine out there and read?  I was elated that I sold two copies this weekend.

Even more, I'm getting ready to publish my first mystery novel by spring (still a lot of work to do on it).  That might be more of a draw, although I think the Daniel book has more personal value to people.

Frustrating. 

Lady Bird Review

I chose to go to a 11:25 showing of Lady Bird this morning.  Yes, this morning.  I was one of three viewers in the audience, all women.  Th...