Category Archives: Rachel

We are all incarnate babies (or I need a freaking nap)

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BY RACHEL

Remember my posts on humility? Yeah, this is going to be kindof one of those. But with BABIES!

First, I would like to tell you a story. Once upon a this summer, I spent three weeks traveling with a 15 month old baby (and a group of sixteen 16year olds) through Italy. Aside from complete admiration for the parenting style of the 15month old’s mom and dad, I found myself learning or being reminded of something: humans are incarnate.

So freaking incarnate. I have been known to comment joyfully on this to my friends, for instance: “Gee isn’t it awesome that we get to eat and enjoy food for nourishment! We could be photosythethic! Isn’t incarnation grand!”

Cookie goodness? Thank Incarnation!  ... You don't have to taste these babies. BE GRATEFUL!

Cookie goodness? Thank Incarnation!
… Aren’t you glad to taste these babies? BE GRATEFUL!

This particular realization comes from a less joyful place and it progresses through three stages.

  1. Baby Stage.
  2. Teenager Stage
  3. Me Stage

BABY STAGE!

Being a baby ain't to bad! Right?

Being a baby ain’t too bad! Right?

OK, so watching this baby through the 3 week trip, I started noticing. When she was hungry, tired, or had been sitting still for too long – we knew it. (I have to qualify this a little because this experience of “knowing” when a baby is cranky has got to be the most mild version of the experience I have ever had. Because her parents are traveling/parenting rockstars.) Nonetheless, when when baby was incarnationaly upset, her ability to be happy, good, calm, and otherwise Gerber-Baby-Like was hampered.

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Basically she needed a freaking nap.

The good thing was that whenever this happened, her rockstar parents dealt with it. They fed her. Let her sleep. Let her toddle around the Roman forum showing them every possible variety of old rocking thing. And then she got better. I will come back to this.

TEENAGER STAGE.

Much as my brilliant, inquisitive, charming teenage students were determined to be grownups (and they really did mostly succeed), on the LONGEST TRAVELLING DAY EVER* that status as intellectually impressive Shakespeare prodigies slipped a little. (*When I say longest day ever, believe me. They woke up at 6, crammed to stand on a packed train for an hour, hiked up a hill in no shade for 2 hours, hiked back down, listened to 4 lectures, walked 3 more miles to cram onto another train, picked up their bags, got on a 4 hour train ride back to Rome Termini, negotiated through pickpockets for 15 minutes, and then sat in traffic without dinner until 10 pm.)

I don’t say this to make fun of them, but sincerely, in the most mature way possible, they were just cranky

SHUTTUP! YOUR PHONE TIME ENDED 3 MINUTES AGO!

SHUTUP! YOUR PHONE TIME ENDED 3 MINUTES AGO!

They were hungry, over-tired, stubborn, getting into fights over whether someone had been on the phone too long, picking at each other over really dumb things, etc. I walked around campus watching these teenagers refuse to go to bed, I couldn’t help thinking: You just need a freaking nap.

Only, I couldn’t tell them that. I just had to watch them drive themselves nuts for a few hours. Next day, (LO AND BEHOLD!) after breakfast they were the brilliant students I had come to know.

Which brings me to…

ME!

I made all of these brilliant observations about how teenagers are just like babies. Then, on a 12 hour driving day on a road trip with my parents, I just about threw a temper tantrum.

Let me get my excuses out of the way: I hadn’t slept well the night before because I was too tired (yes, I mean that), the room was too warm, and my muscles were too sore. My legs hurt from sitting behind my 6’7” father. My stomach hurt from vitamins. I had a toothache. I had a headache. I couldn’t drive or be helpful because I had too many incidents on my record for my parents’ insurance. I was tired of my dad’s music choices. I needed a shower. I needed to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t write blog posts because my brain wasn’t working. I am a bad person. I sucked at praying. Why couldn’t I offer up this pain? I was hungry. I wasn’t hungry for that food. I hate road food.

Basically. I was cranky and needed a freaking nap.

How do I know this? Because the next morning, when I woke up after a long night of climate controlled sleep, ate a breakfast containing both carbs and protein, which also tasted delicious, and sat in exactly the same place I was in a fabulous mood. I LOVE road trips. Kentucky and Tennessee are gorgeous. I love classical music. I get to talk to my parents who I won’t see for a month or so. Praying is so easy! I can see God at work in the hills we are driving past!

All of this is to say: I am a baby. Or more specifically, I am incarnate.

woohoo

I am not supposed to be a pure spirit or mind. I have a body, and sometimes that means that I have bodily needs that I cannot ignore. Babies have it so good because they have parents to make sure that their incarnational needs are met. Whether they like it or not.

But we are all babies. On one side, that means we get cranky when we are hungry or tired. On the other, we have a super convenient way to start fixing “existential crises”. And these I borrow from Reesa (who I believe was quoting her mother when she first told me this):

1. Eat something.

2. Go for a walk.

3. Take a nap.

Then think again. Then pray again. Because we an incarnate people with a God who became not only incarnate, but an incarnate baby to remind us that the needs of our incarnate bodies are not something to be purely shunned for the sake of higher spiritual pursuits. We are not angels. We are men! … who occasionally need to take a freaking nap.

SONG THOUGHTS: Sara Bareilles’ “Chasing the Sun” on MORTALITY!

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BY RACHEL

For the past few weeks I have seriously wanted to do a quick post on the new Sara Bareilles album – specifically the song “Chasing the Sun.” First order of business: I think you need to listen to the song as you read this post. So. Go ahead.

You are listening , right?
Good.

I may be over reading this song, but I don’t think so. In the tradition of Homer’s Iliad, Sara Bareilles joyfully reminds us that both that human excellence and human community are based on the knowledge that we will die.

I actually started talking to someone about… well not exactly this song, but bear with me. He said something to the effect of “Western tradition of literature is built on the shoulders of Achilles.” As UD English major, I was thrilled to agree (provided that we also acknowledge that we need an Odysseus… and possibly an Aeneas) and will now probably start saying this to my students ad nauseam. Nonetheless, because agreeing immediately is rarely entertainment enough for either literature teachers or UD grads, we then embarked on a long debate about what exactly Achilles does that grounds a Western Tradition concerned with excellence, free will, philosophy, poetry, and eventually Christianity.

He held that Achilles is crucial because of his mēnis – his god-like wrath – that takes him to a plane of thought, even philosophy, previously unknown. (My father, the UD classics and literature professor, interjects that we could just have easily be founded for this principle on Odysseus’ “mind like Zeus”.) Achilles, not only in his physical and martial excellence but in his god-like thought – thanks to the Shield made for him by Hephaestos – is able to see the on a plane unhampered by death and its sorrows. My counterpart in the conversation emphasized not the wrath, but the godliness of it. His claim (so far as I understood it) was that in order to really have a tradition concerned with universals (ala Plato), we needed a hero who ascended to a god-like state, seeing the cyclical nature of mortal reality. Yes, men die; but they are replaced by much the same sort of men. Which is to say, that when Achilles looks at the shield of Book XVIII, he is founding Western Thought. (Apologies if I am oversimplifying a very long debate. I am trying to be as accurate to his argument as possible, but any abridgment will have its bias. Mine is that I think I am right.)

I could and can acknowledge the necessity of moving beyond grief and the limitations of a human life in order to achieve excellence of thought. Those who are focused on the day to day of life to the exclusion of the larger patterns in which they participate are probably much less likely to think philosophical thoughts. (By the way, I’m pretty sure that this is not a bad thing. It is just a thing.)
Our argument arose from my conviction that the real foundation for Western thought is not located ONLY in Achilles eccentric movement into mēnis, but also in his return to his mortality, when he is finally able to eat, sleep, and mourn for Patroklos alongside Priam who mourns for Hektor in Book XXIV. I think that the uniquely western emphasis not only on free will and excellence, but also a community not withstanding those virtues requires a hero who is excellent because of his mortality.

A god’s eye view that sees primarily the cyclical nature of life and death does allow for philosophical thoughts concerning the universals that are true and beautiful and important all humans; yet, we are also a tradition that revels in individual achievement (be it artistic, athletic, philosophical etc.) and a god-like vision, I would argue, does not result in the pressure to be excellent, but the pressure to be at one with everything else. That is not particularly western.

If death and life don’t really mean anythingeither through  in their suffering or their grandeur, then a real community and communion of excellent individuals becomes at least irrelevant and and possibly non-existent.

To achieve excellence and participate in the community of the excellent dead that have gone before, we must first embrace the fact that we die. Then the achievements of the past become more than history, but rather a call that lends urgency and weight to our individual actions.  Homer, in Achilles but also in every single foot soldier we see die in the Iliad, founds our notion that the manner of our death (and really, we could describe our entire life as as slow death) gives us identity, memory, and meaning. Even athletic achievement in Homer’s universe is located in the funeral games. The message becomes: because we die, you must strive to excel.

All of which brings me back to this song. I’m not saying that Sara Bareilles is talking about the Iliad, but I think that her bouncy song about “a Cemetary in the center of Queens” perfectly falls into a Western Tradition of striving for excellence (Chasing the Sun, if you will) because of death.

Those of you who have heard me talk about poems, my Junior poet, or my Senior Novel know that I am a little pronoun obsessed. Bear with me.

I love what Bareilles does with pronouns in this song! The refrain – “We should always be chasing the sun” – has the communal “we.” She emphasizes the common bonds of the 3 million dead in the cemetery; yet, she also emphasizes from the first verse the singularity of each – a different story, a different name, different dates, etc.  Further more, the introduction of the refrain – “You said, remember that life is not meant to be wasted.” Each of these individuals enters into an “I-Thou” relationship with Bareilles, and by extension with us, the listeners. Because we (the dead and the living) die, each individual you can relate to, chastise, and encourage.

I would say that Bareilles particularly understands this community of the dead and its call to excellence by the two artistic forms she discusses: the city of Manhattan itself and her own song.

Manhattan: Basically, my favorite line in the whole song sums it up: “the Skyscrapers’ little tombstone brothers.” The Skyscrapers exist because of the eventuality of the tombstones, and the tombstones are little skyscrapers in and of themselves: little imperative reminders that life is finite and not meant to be wasted.

Music: This awareness of her community of mortality demands a participation. Bareilles’ needs to do it through her music and  must figure out how to rise to the challenge. We see this in her series of questions? How do we really participate in mortality?

So how do you do it?
With just words and just music, capture the feeling
That my earth is somebody’s ceiling?
Can I deliver in sound, the weight of the ground
Of a cemetery in the center of Queens?

We strive to be excellent. 


MOVIE THOUGHTS: The Great Gatsby (or “A Fundamental Misunderstanding of Hope and Love”)

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It’s probably not good that I am proud of myself for having ONLY a week and a half between this post and the last one. Mental Note: Aim HIGHER, Rach!

Since I started at the end of the last movie, this time I am going to start at the …TITLE! (I’m going to cheat a little because Luhrman closes the movie with a shot about the title.) The Great Gatsby. The operative word here is “great” and it poses the central question of the book and movie: Is Gatsby actually “Great”?

Luhrman seems to be convinced that he is. So, my favorite starting point: after Nick finished typing the last iconic line of the book on his proto-hipster typewriter, he flips all his papers back to the title page which says only


GATSBY.

Above this he writes in painfully sincere handwritten script: “The Great”.
Again, Luhrman gives us his moral judgement on the movie and the characters: GATSBY IS GREAT, GUYS!

The problem is that he’s not. Not that I’m saying any of the other characters are either:

Cast

Daisy is a beautiful and weak-willed fool, who becomes a beautiful and weak-willed adulteress, and finally a beautiful and weak-willed murderess. Tom is a “cruel bodied” philandering, racist misogynist. Jordan is a bored liar. Myrtle is a tramp. Wilson is a dupe then a murderer. Wolfsheim is a gangster. The party goers are users attempting to anesthetize themselves to life. Nick is the guy who prides himself on reserving judgment on people, yet narrates one of the most snidely judgmental books of all time. BUT their frailties do not make Gatsby great by comparison! This is the point that Luhrman seems to miss in his rush to help us sympathize with the DiCaprio character (just like in R and J!)

The funny difference here is that DiCaprio has become a better and a smarter actor – he plays Gatsby exactly as Fitzgerald wrote him: Charismatic. Attractive. False, and in that falseness- subtly, but profoundly unsettling. I should give Luhrman some credit. The screen play he uses is rigidly accurate to the characters’ dialogue from the novel. Even the scenes are picture perfect.The problems come in his additions to narration of Nick Carraway. Henceforth I will distinguish Luhrman’s narrator as Narrator Nick!

NARRATOR NICK!

NARRATOR NICK!

Narrator Nick!, after seeing Gatsby hide the truth of Daisy’s crime, casts Gastby’s life in the following light: He loved Daisy so much that he imagined and hoped the perfect world into existence for her. “Gatsby was a Son of God and as such must be about his father’s business.” Narrator Nick seems to view this business of world-making by imagination and power of will. Gatsby, coming from from nothing, through his colossal HOPE creates the perfect world. The fact that Gatsby (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!) dies alone is mostly because Daisy and Tom suck a whole bunch. Gatsby is Great because he is the Patron Saint of and Martyr to HOPE! 

It's alarming how charming he feels!!!

It’s alarming how charming he feels!!!

If that were true, then we could really take the title “The Great Gatsby” un-ironically. He never let the world, or reality, or Daisy’s rejection get him down. He hoped eternally. Isn’t that great?

angry-no

The problem is that hope is not real hope which denies reality.

I offer this alternate interpretation of Gatsby’s life: He is a man who creates the Platonic ideal of who he should be at the age of 17 and never allows it to change. He manipulates, lies, and steals in order to bring it all to pass. He does not participate in or take over God’s work in world making. Rather, (here I finish the Fitzgerald fragment that I think Luhrman based his interpretation of the novel on) “Gatsby is a son of God and as such must be about his Father’s business – the service of a vast and meretricious beauty.”

Definition of MERETRICIOUS 1: of or relating to a prostitute. 2: tawdrily and falsely attractive Sound FAMILIAR?

Definition of MERETRICIOUS
1: of or relating to a prostitute.
2: tawdrily and falsely attractive
Sound FAMILIAR?

Put bluntly: Gatsby creates a falsely perfect world – an attractive whore of a world, which he props up and protects by never allowing the invasion of anything real. He cannot bear the threat posed by any part of the world that does not fall into his delusion because reality and its attendants – Alteration, Change, and Growth – all must stand as enemies of Gatsby’s world. Gatsby is not a patron saint of Hope because there is no need for hope in a complete world. It is done. Finished. Perfect. Not for one moment does Gatsby allow himself to truly dwell in the dirty, changing, imperfect, beautiful world of reality.  

This brings us to Daisy.

Daisy

(AGAIN, I must congratulate DiCaprio again on the scene I am about to describe because it is beautiful … and frightening.) After Daisy and Gatsby’s whirlwind rekindled romance, Gatsby begins to pressure Daisy to leave Tom, her husband,  but not just to leave Tom: to leave him, saying that she loves Gatsby, has always loved only Gatsby, and has never loved Tom.  When she is unable to do so, he flies at her – wide-eyed, shaking her, shouting – and tries to force the words from her.

Whose charming now?

Who’s charming now?

He cannot, and she abandons him and his world. Even then, he does not see this or her. He is utterly convinced that she is his and only his. 

This is not hope. This is delusion. This is closing his eyes to the real woman in front of him in favor of the Imaginary Daisy who would never have married Tom. Real love is seeing another person rightly and willing and hoping for the best for them. Gatsby does not love Daisy because he cannot see her.

Notice that he DOES NOT EVEN LOOK AT HER.

Notice that he DOES NOT EVEN LOOK AT HER.

Somewhere along the line, his service to and protection of “the vast and meretricious beauty” he has imagined has superseded any love he has for the real, weak, frail, fallible, beautiful woman he avowedly seeks. As such, he cannot hope for her. He cannot will the best for her because that would be to admit that his creation is not the best.

I would argue that Fitzgerald understood this. He leaves Nick’s trustworthiness as a judge of character and sincerity as a narrator enough in question that we must watch Gatsby’s actions. In DiCaprio’s performance, we are still afforded that opportunity to see through Gatsby’s charm to the 17-year-old boy who refused to grow up. Gatsby is “Great” only in his own imagination, which he refuses to leave.

The problem with Luhrman’s interpretation, built on the additions he has made to Narrator Nick! proclaiming Gatsby’s greatness as rooted in  love and hope, is that he once again undervalues the heroism of real love and real hope by using those words to describe paltry imitations. 

 

So, to counter balance him, I will leave you with a man who understood the true nature of Love as seeing rightly (flaws and dignity, frailties and beauties) and Hope as ceaselessly working to carry the beloved to the BEST world and love’s completion.

SONNET 116
By William Shakespeare.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Taking out the Trash: A Single Girl’s Meditation on the Salvific Vocation of Marriage

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BY RACHEL

This is a tricky blog post because part of me feels like I don’t actually have the right to say these things. (Reesa, you will have to stand as arbiter, OK?)

I’ve posted a couple of times this year about my Junior class’ study of Pride and Prejudice. From some combination of Jane Austening for three months and the amazing insights shared by my recently married friends, I have come to (and/or shamelessly poached) some thoughts. Most of these revelations may be really obvious to people who are not me. If that is the case, I’m sorry!

1. Marriage is a vocation. (No. Duh.) Vocation is not about what makes you feel good, but about God calling you closer to Him. The point of marriage is for each spouse to help the other to get to heaven.

This much I kind of already knew. The new part came in when talking to my many recently married friends. Suddenly I was given a brand new picture about how one person can bring another to God. In P&P, Darcy brings Lizzy closer to heaven by correcting her vision of other people; Lizzy does the same by correcting Darcy’s behavior. (This much seemed to totally justify the Rom Com cliché of “fixing” another person.) Because of these corrections they fall in love and get married. The End! Right? The part that I, and I think possibly many others, have forgotten is that even in the book, Lizzy and Darcy are not done. The real correction happens within the marriage, and we as readers don’t get to see very much. Because it is kind of none of our business.

2. In marriage, man and woman become one flesh. I was thinking about that colossal statement…. and this is where my brain gets tangent-y, pseudoscientific, and hard to follow, so bear with me:

So far as I understand it, our habits actually shape our brain. By performing actions, we help our neurons to shape pathways that we will use as our basis of operating. We get used to actions by repeating them. Discomfort that exists the first few times we do anything new becomes less as we perform the action over and over. This much is true of both good habits and sins. In our habitual sins, we physically (because our brain is physical) get used to it. We get mental calluses.

However, if my future husband and I are becoming one flesh, then on my wedding day, I am handing him all the habits I have formed. Into that bargain come the gifts and wonderful things probably signed up for in the lovey dovey dating stage, but also ALL THE SINS. Now he gets to care for and carry them too.

Except that Future Spouse Man (That is, of course, his superhero name… I haven’t figured out his secret identity just yet) doesn’t have the right calluses. He has the calluses from his own sins, but at the wedding I am handing him a whole new basket full of sins that he may never have struggled with before. Happy Wedding Day, Darling!

3. I am pretty sure that this very cruel process is exactly how spouses get each other to heaven. Not just by chastising or preaching, but by loving, being loved, and suffering. (Not having yet experienced this, I can really only talk about it in theory and from observation, but I think I can see a little of this in how my students helped me this year.)

Because I loved them and I knew how much my anger and impatience could (and occasionally did) hurt them, I made greater efforts than I ever have in the realm of patience. It is not that my anger and impatience weren’t hurting my soul before. I had simply become used to it. My students were a blessing precisely because they were raw little nerve endings.

I think that marriage might work the same way on a much greater scale, because at the wedding, we hand over our every sin in one go to a person whom we love and cherish. Then we spend a lifetime watching our sins hurt them. I cannot think of a stronger motivator to STOP SINNING!

4. This idea has actually been the most helpful thing to my spiritual life in a really long time. I know that I will be handing over a Hefty bag of spiky, painful, heavy sins to my husband on my wedding day. 24-years of habits have pretty much guaranteed that.

However, I can start taking out the trash RIGHT NOW. I may not feel the burden of my sins anymore, but I can at least imagine what it would feel like to see him feel their weight for the first time.

So, Dear Future Spouse Man, a few things: (1) I am sorry in advance, but these suckers are gonna hurt. (2) I’m working on it! (3) Thank You.

Temptations of Teaching: STOP BEING WRONG AND LISTEN TO ME!

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By Rachel

Today, I had the extrovert’s greatest joy: a day full of meaningful connections after a FREAKING DESERT OF AT HOME ALONE SICKLINESS.

It was awesome.

Anyways, this brought me to a few observations about teen dating practices, based on the comments some of my students were making about Pride and Prejudice in relation to their lives. Here are my observations:

  1. Girls do this stupid thing where we imagine things into existence until forced to acknowledge the passive rejection that is “He is not asking me out.” This is bad.
  2. Boys do this stupid thing where they pretend that things didn’t exist in order to side-step the sensation of actual rejection that is “No. I do not want to date you.” This is also bad.

So what do you (or as it happens, I, their teacher) tell teenagers who are participating in or are victimized by one  of these two very stupid things…besides: stop doing that, it’s dumb.

I ask because I really don’t know. On the girl side, I have an easier time imagining what to say. I could say, “Oooh. I’ve done that. And you won’t believe me, but the just imagining thing is not only a bad and unhealthy thing to do. It is also kindof a sin. No really.”

On the guy side, I mostly want to say, “Stoppit. This does not make you look cool or mature. It makes you look like a 5-year-old throwing a temper-tantrum. Or an ostrich (head in the sand and all that jazz).”

Neither of these is particularly teacher-y. Nor does either respect the prerogative of teenagers to do stupid (and hopefully harmless) stuff and (DEAR GOD, I REALLY HOPE!) learn from it. This is the problem with teaching. Freaking boundaries and freaking knowing that some of the crap that your students do is idiotic… and or damaging.

Right now I am settling for vague statements about literary figures: “Look, isn’t it stupid when Mr. Collins won’t take no for an answer, and then tries to think of Lizzy as less worthy to convince himself that the rejection isn’t that bad. Doesn’t he seem immature!” or “Look, isn’t Caroline Bingley, by reading the second half-of Mr. Darcy’s novel in order to make it seem like they are on the same page, a little bit pathetic and begging for a heartbreak. ISN’T SHE!?!”

Not that these behaviors are limited to teenagers. Nope. No, they are not. So, I can tell you (and through this, my future self) that both of these behaviors are BAD. Reality is good. And difficult. And good… That’s what I am sticking with.

Spiritual Warfare of Valentine’s Day: The Lie of Specialness

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BY Rachel

Does anyone remember that Drew Barrymore movie, Never Been Kissed? In it, she plays (apparently) the ONLY fully grown adult who has ever made it to maturity with the crippling deformity of never being kissed. This (of course) means that she becomes a crazy, grammar-obsessed, crocheting, cat-lady with bad hair, who is weirdly interested in the lives of teenagers.

For the visual confirmation of loserdom

For the visual confirmation of her specialness.

I freaking hate that movie. It is a parade of awkwardness from start to finish, complete with 90s fashion. And in my weaker moments, I become convinced that it will be my life… MINUS the Romantic Comedy ending. 

I become absolutely certain that I will be the ONE PERSON IN THE UNIVERSE who will NEVER be in a serious, long-term, marriage-destinationed relationship. (Fortunately for me I have been kissed. In my most psychotic moments, that convinces me that I won’t be a cat-lady or have bad hair. That leaves me with crazy, grammar-obsessed, crocheting, and being too aware of the teenaged relationships around me.)

Three down. Just need to learn to crochet.

Anyways, why am I sharing this?

Here is the list:

  1. Because this week is Valentine’s Day.
  2. Because a statistically improbable percentage of my friends are dating, engaged, married, pregnant, and/or have babies.
  3. Because I am teaching Pride and Prejudice to a group of 11th graders who are simultaneously relationship hyper-active and relationship challenged.
  4. Because ALL of my students are obsessed with my relationship status and ask about it weekly.
  5. Because today was World Marriage Day, so the homily centered on that particular vocation.
  6. Because my roommate has taken to sharing (frequently and in alternation) a list of her prospective suitors and her extreme romantic woe.

  7. Because I am lonely.
  8. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Because I am pattern obsessed and convinced that all of these things are some combination of God’s will and the devil screwing with me via Spiritual Warfare.(I never really used to think about Spiritual Warfare. Until Reesa. And Jennifer Fulwiller. I really like the idea. It means that when I am a raging psycho, there are actual evil things attacking my psyche, and apparently I am confrontational enough that this idea gives me a reason to fight back.)My current battle is the battle of Special Loneliness and Suffering. Basically, the devil tries to convince me that I am alone. That I need to lie so that people don’t discover the awful truth. That I am the one  broken never-dating girl in the world. That NO ONE has ever been as lonely as I am. That NO ONE has ever been as pathetic and undateable. That NO ONE can understand. That I am Specially Doomed.

If it sounds dumb, that is because it is. As an antidote to this ham-handed but wildly effective assault on my soul, here is some “Fight Club”:

Fight Club

Listen up, maggots. You are not special.

You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.

You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.”

Harsh? Yes. But I am pretty sure that the principle holds. I think that one of the greatest lies that the Devil has come up with is that suffering makes us special. 

 I wrote this post, because I am not. AND I AM SO GLAD! My loneliness is not special. My sinfulness is not special. My suffering is NOT SPECIAL. 

Crucifixion

Christ died on the Cross, saying:

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

In that moment suffering and loneliness were transfigured into the great and beautiful points of connection between people. Even if I am the only person in the world who never has a date on Valentine’s Day. Even if God’s will is for me to spend the rest of my life teaching high school students about healthy relationships without ever having one myself. Even if I watch every last one of my friends and roommates fall in love, while I do not. Even IF…

My suffering is still not special.

He shared every moment of it. I am not alone and neither are you.

Happy Valentine’s Week, y’all! If there is someone who is fighting the same spiritual battle as I am: REMEMBER, not dating does not necessarily lead to lonely cat-lady-hood.  We can be crazy dog-ladies together! 

MOVIE THOUGHTS: Les Miserables

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For all my promises that I would be “Movie Thoughts” Girl, I have been posting a whole bunch about not movies. Sorry! Part of that is because mostly I have be watching and re-watching rubbish TV shows on Netflix Instant. Because I am cheap. And super busy. (By the way, this is Rachel, as have been the past 4 posts.)

However, it is now CHRISTMAS BREAK! This is just the best thing ever. It means that I have watched movies, specifically the new movie-fied version of the musical Les Miserables!

Les Miserables

FIRST, (I need to get this out of the way so that my music-person soul doesn’t devour me) I was really disappointed by the singing. The exceptions to this rule were Colm Wilkinson (Bishop) briefly, Eddie Redmayne (Marius) always, Anne Hathaway (Fantine) sometimes, and Samantha Barks (Eponine) in one of her songs. Russel Crowe was better than I anticipated he would be, but my basis for comparison on the role of Javert is operatically trained baritones, the depth and warmth of whose intonation makes you want to weep when you hear them sing warm-ups. So he lost.

As for the rest, for some reason the presence of microphones and close-ups has made several people who should be able so sing for real forget that part of singing is carrying through a phrase. For those of you who are not super interested in the emotional ideas behind different techniques of singing, feel free to skip down to the bolded and underlined  word “SECOND.”

As for the rest of you: part of what makes singing work is that when sustaining a note you are not “holding” a note. It isn’t your thing that you hold onto until you are done playing with it. Rather, you keep your breath, and body, and emotions so completely open that the sound can continue without you getting in the way. What this means is that you “feel” an emotion for a note in a different way than if you were  to feel it normally. If you try to sing feelings exactly the way you feel them, somehow it becomes self-indulgent.When you are sad (I’m talking ugly-cry sad), you are not attempting to let others into your suffering.

WHY ME?!

WHY ME?!

That is why the tenseness, shaking, series of gasps, sighs, and hiccups make sense for that emotion in real life. However, if someone were to ugly-cry a note, while the audience might pity the performer,  it is almost impossible for the audience to enter into that emotion with the performer .  The point of singing is to feel things not for yourself, but in such a way as to allow other people to enter into that feeling.

This mini-treatise on singing effectively is mostly to say that the trick of “singing more naturally” or “with more rawness” that is allowed by microphones is actually terrible for conveying the original intent and emotion of the songs. Hugh Jackman, by sighing, cutting the lines off in weird places, and refusing to sustain notes that are meant to be powerful, open, and vulnerable seriously detracts from his performance. He refuses to let the audience in. What should be a painfully vulnerable moment shared with the audience becomes about Hugh Jackman and all of his feels. This is safer, less human, and  ultimately less interesting.

You can see this distinction between feeling for the audience and allowing the audience to share in the feeling by comparing any of Jackman’s songs to Eddie Redmayne’s performance of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”. The openness, honesty and vulnerability is undeniable.

Now that I have had my little singing rant…

SECOND , this movie was so close to being faithful to considerations of Victor Hugo’s book… but they just couldn’t let it be.

Basically, the idea we are meant to examine is: How ought we, as human beings, to respond to “Les Miserables”-  the miserable ones? What is the right human response to suffering?  Hugo  (and the creators of the musical) give us a number of alternatives, and show us the fruits of each.

1.) Marius and Cosette: The Romantic Impulse

mariuscosette-4_3_r560

The Romantic Impulse, which sees nothing but the beloved and seeks to simply be away and happy is absolutely a response to human misery and suffering. It is the recognition of and desire to escape suffering. This is (quite simply) a young response to misery, and there is there is a certain validity to it. It is rooted in love, that much is certain. Yet, it also results in or requires a blindness to all but the beloved. As we see in Marius and Cosette at the end of the story (once they have matured and truly opened their eyes), both are left with the realization of how much they have benefitted by the sacrifice of others. Romantic love, while it can anesthetize us to the suffering of the world, does not actually make it go away. Sooner or later, we must grow into a deeper love that allows us to do more than escape suffering.

2.) The Thernardiers: Opportunism

Thernardiers

Oddly, this is likely the oldest human response to misery, and the hardest to eradicate. Actually, one of my favorite (and least favorite) aspects of Les Mis is that the Thernardiers keep showing up. They are like cockroaches after the bomb. Nothing kills them, and they always have a new way to take advantage of the suffering of others. Much as we may wish to ignore this aspect of humanity, Hugo does not allow us to. At the end, when idealism and justice are dead and real love is at best a miraculous memory, opportunism is alive and kicking. (Side Note: Helena Bonham-Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen were PERFECT for this!)

3.) Javert: Absolute Justice and Judgment (THE LAW)

Javert

Javert is the ubiquitous man-of-the-law. Oddly similar to Thernardiers, Javert is always there, but always in a new uniform. He is more than a legalistic man; he is The Law. He is Every Law. From jailer, to parole officer, to town constable, to Parisian officer – he is human law, which in every form aspires to divinity it its absoluteness. Except that he is also so human! When faced with suffering, misery, sin and squalor, we WANT to stand beside and become the law. The law seems safe.

My favorite parts of this movie were both of Javert’s major soliloquy songs. Both perfectly illustrate the problem of the “Absolute Judgment” approach. Each is performed with him walking along an impossibly high ledge looking out at a beautiful and cold view of a Paris night. The director, Tom Hooper, does a brilliant visual refrain in each song. As Javert sings about the perfect and unflinching justice of God, which casts men down even as He cast out Lucifer, Javert’s feet are shown teetering, barely staying on this impossibly high ledge.

Hugo uses the character of Javert illustrates the problem of perfect justice. As Javert realizes: we are imperfect. If the response to misery is justice untempered by mercy then at some point we will ALL fall. And so he does. Judgment is not enough, or rather it is too much. For a human being to attempt to maintain perfect justice is  ultimately suicidal.

4.) Enjorlas and the Students: Revolution

Enjolas

Hugo gives us yet another young approach to suffering. Revolution. The good intention is undeniable: make the world better for the oppressed poor. However, it is not an accident that when Hugo depicts this it is a failed revolution. These passionate young students whose idealism keeps them painfully awaiting the uprising of the poor whom they defend…. they die.

This is a problem. This is a young approach to suffering, like the Romantic impulse, because it also is predicated on a sort of blindness.  While the revolutionaries see all of the evil and weakness in the world in the oppressors, they are blind to the evil and weakness in the oppressed. The correct approach to human suffering cannot be blindness to its effects, or blindness to God in those who persecute. In order to respond rightly, we must see rightly every aspect and still love, give, and sacrifice – whether or not it is deserved.

This does not make the deaths of Enjorlas and the students less tragic. It does, however, make Hugo’s opinion on the Revolutionary approach to suffering more clear. Which brings us to….

5.) Jean Valjean, Fantine, Eponine, and the Bishop: Christian Charity and Self-Sacrifice

The essential differences between the students’ self-sacrifice for the people who never come, and Jean Valjean’s sacrifice and submission to Javert is this: the students EXPECT the people to rise, and they fight for that anticipated utopian ideal. Valjean expects nothing, except perhaps for follow after him and arrest him once he has been set free. Valjean performs his sacrifice with no notion of recompense. Every act of self-gift is a perfect and FREE gift. That is Christian charity.

This same charity is demonstrated in EACH of the characters listed above. I defy you to look at Fantine, Eponine, and Valjean and say that they are in any way blind to the misery that can exist in this world. Yet each gives their love unflinchingly.

Fantine, the abandoned, broken, prostitute gives her dignity, honor, and life for the future of her daughter.

I dreamed a dream... so different from this hell I'm living.

Eponine, the ill-parented, unloved young girl gives her friendship, her love and her life for the future happiness of a man who does not love her back.

I love him... but only on my own.

Valjean, the wrongly imprisoned,accursed, hunted convict gives his freedom, money, safety, future, EVERYTHING for everyone he meets.

valjean

They perfectly see the corruption and misery and suffering of the world. They live it. They do not expect it to wipe it away by their individual actions. They are not so proud. Nonethe less, they give love in perfect gift and humble hope, in participation with the love of God. This perfect sacrifice and gift is why these characters make a final appearance at the end of the stage musical. They are each permitted to sing in beautiful and heavenly harmony the moral of the story:

To love another person is to see the face of God.

 “To love another person is to see the face of God!”

This is my gripe: the movie makers could not let that moral stand. Even before the last note of that refrain finishes echoing in the Parisian chapel where it is set,  the camera zooms out to a heavenly…. BARRICADE?! On this utopian barricade that spans all Paris, the final refrain is given to the Revolutionaries, and the refrain becomes “Do you hear the people sing?”

 Having seen this musical before, somehow I have never minded the refrain of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” as the finale of the show. The ghostly revolutionaries standing and marching in the background of heaven has never bothered me until now. However, the visual jump in the movie from the chapel to heaven as a barricade struck me violently with the sense that they missed the point.

 The cinematographic decision to set that final song on a barricade  (US AGAINST THE WORLD!) completely undercuts that message. “To love another person is the see the face of God.” That emphasis on love as seeing rightly seems to me essential, and the revolutionaries do not see rightly. They fail to see God in their adversaries. They fail to see the effects of sin and suffering in their compatriots. I absolutely believe that Victor Hugo issues a call to action. However, that action is not to battle. It is to Love – to see the face of God in other people. 

This is what makes Valjean the hero: he sees God even and especially in his persecutors. If that ain’t an attempt to be like Christ, I don’t know what is.