Tag Archives: Rachel

Serena’s Wedding Toast




I can’t tell you how excited I am about this wedding! Actually, I (like many of you here) may be able to claim the dubious honor of being excited about this wedding before it was for sure going to happen. Actually before there was a couple. Oh dear, possibly before I was technically friends with either party?


This is because this marriage has been a while in the making. I remember when I was just getting to know Serena freshman year at UD. Several of us were sitting in that cozy tea filled dorm room in Catherine Hall. I asked “So… you and Anthony…?” And of course she said… “Oh god, no! Why does everybody think that?!”


Well, part of why everybody thought that is because (I am pretty sure) that Anthony knew that. But he also knew the value of patience, but we will get back to that.


You frequently hear the phrase “Opposites attract.” And it is sometimes true. For instance, Anthony is capable of being ON TIME. However, I have also developed a theory from watching my friends fall in love: the most beautiful couples work because (even when they are radically different in superficial things) at a deeper level, God has blessed them both with one or two of the same gifts. A blessing so rare that only the other person can really appreciate the value of that virtue. There are two gifts I have seen running through every part of Anthony and Serena’s beautiful relationship.


Let’s start with the virtue of Patience. Anthony, here’s to you. From O’Hara before Freshman year (when, I’m guessing, you knew that this girl was the one?) to Mike Lococo’s 21st birthday party Junior year when y’all actually started dating for real is a long time to wait for a date. And you spent every minute of it being the best possible friend. Never pressuring, always caring for her. Amid the difficult times that came over those 2 years, you were a rock and the picture of true generous patience.


Serena, here’s to you. From the end of Senior year until this August is a LONG TIME of long-distance relationships, train schedules, bus schedules, and negotiating the rival demands of grad school, work and endless labs. And you managed it, quietly trying to adapt your plans so that when the time came, you would both be ready. That is patience the like of which I cannot even fathom.


The other virtue that both Anthony and Serena have in spades is care. I am not sure that is quite the right word. I want to call it present-ness too, but that isn’t exactly it either. Let me explain:


You may have noticed a tea theme in the room tonight? Maybe? Remember that beautiful tea and pillow-filled room I mentioned from Serena’s freshman year? Serena’s room is ALWAYS like that. When you come in with a problem, she has the gift of knowing that so many of the problems we face can actually be fixed by a cup of tea. Or (once she moved into an apartment with a kitchen) something delicious and artery clogging. Even when we didn’t have tea readily available on our Rome, Serena was blessed with the ability to be present and care, not in an abstract way, but in a solid way for those around her. I came to value this gift all the more when we moved to different states after college and I realized that my best friend’s caring and present-ness can miraculously extend across at least 1,425.8 miles. By the way, that is how far our houses have been apart for the past couple years. And it sucked.

And against all odds, Anthony has the same gift, though not in the same way. (Anthony, I am sorry, you will never be quite as awesome at tea-and-oxytocin as your wife… you might be able to give her a run for her money in the cooking delicious things department. )However, Anthony also takes care of people. I remember figuring this out on a trip to Cinque Terra with 16 BILLION people. Maybe it was only 10… but still. While most of us were fighting the urge to strangle each other, Anthony quietly took care of us. While most of us whined, were indecisive, snapped at each other, and generally made each other miserable, Anthony printed schedules, looked up maps, and figured out our actual options so that when the rest of us calmed down, we could make a choice. (Incidentally, this quality of taking care of people is what earned him the endless envy from his junior year roommates who called this type of behavior “Just being The Sig”. I am pretty sure Anthony has never met a problem he couldn’t eventually work out. From traveling to camping to Serena. Boy did we girls love him for that! And, MAN were those boys jealous!)


So, those are the qualities. Patience pretty obviously played into Anthony and Serena’s relationship. But actually I have to tell you a little more about how that “care-taking” gift that they share has become to me the emblem of a beautiful and equal relationship.


As some of you may know, UD has a Rome semester, which can be miraculous. What very few people will tell you is that the semester after our Rome semester is not exactly a walk in the park, and it certainly wasn’t for Serena and I. When you come back, having learned more about yourself than you thought possible or really… necessary, figuring out how to live a normal life in Irving can be difficult. I lived with Serena that semester, and what I remember most (aside from her perpetual snooze-button-routine every single morning) was Anthony. (Remember, this is before they were dating). Anthony was always there. Always ready to reorganize his schedule so that he could bring her food, or study with her, or sit with her, or just be normal with her when being normal was difficult. Anthony took care of her.


So much so that even knowing how gifted she is at caring for people, I wondered how she would ever be able to be as present to him. But she was! The December after they started dating, Anthony came down with what I can only describe as the plague. Technically it was just mono, but it was awful and (over-acheiver that he is) ANTHONY WOULD NOT JUST SLOW DOWN AND SLEEP. So he got worse and ended up dehydrated and sick in the hospital, and I got to see just how much Serena could take care of Anthony. Sitting in those waiting rooms, I was blown away by the lists of questions Serena had written down to ask the nurses and doctors. (Later she told me she got them from her wonderful mother). Every free moment she was at the hospital. She kept the most organized log of what and when Anthony ate, what he drank, which medicines he needed, etc. etc. When they got out of the hospital, she lovingly force-fed him every vitamin and homeopathic cure known to man until he went home to St. Louis. Serena took care of him.


I remember looking at them and thinking – as I have done on many occasions before and since – “So this is what a relationship looks like.” They have been an example to me. Not only of a good relationship, but of the virtues that make a good marriage possible.


So, without further ado, let me propose a toast: to Anthony and my best friend Serena. I can think of no better people to set out on this adventure, and no better virtues on which to build. Be patient with each other. Take care of each other. And thank you.  







This is kind of awkward.

I know we haven’t talked in a while, but I just wanted to say that I missed you. And that I think about you often, but when I come right down to it, I don’t know what to say anymore. Not because I don’t have rings to say, just because I can’t seem to decide which to say first. Here is a list of things that I want to say or talk about.

1. Sorry for being a bad blogger.

2. Second year teaching is so much less stressful, but comes with a much less potent buzz. Which makes it oddly harder.

3. Theater is wonderful and crazy and crazy-making… and sometimes I wonder if it is good or bad for my soul to be involved. Because there are pretty powerful cases for both.

4. Serena got married and I gave a speech and stuff.

5. So, dating is a thing…?

6. Is dating non-Catholics a thing?

7. Why do I have such a profoundly hard time trusting God?

8. “Sure!” is a 4-letter word. Especially when followed by: “I don’t mind helping with that!”

9. I haven’t watched ANY movies. No really. None. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

10. I have succumbed to so many technological things. I have an iPhone. And a Snapchat. And I love them. My moral technophobia is losing all of its righteous fury. Is this a good thing?

All of these could be blogposts if I were more coherent. But right now they are just rants. I am almost to the point where I am going to start posting them. Let me know if any sound like they might be more interesting. And I will try to make the thoughts clearer on those before I just post.


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



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


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.


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.


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



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…


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.


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!



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?

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”)


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


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:


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!, 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?


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

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.


(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.



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.

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



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.

MOVIE THOUGHTS: Romeo + Juliet



Guess Who’s Back… back again… Rachel’s back. Tell your friends!

From this you should be able to tell several things:

1 I have been listening to too much Eminem…
3. I have started watching movies again.

Specifically Baz Luhrman-y things. My excuse is that my 9th and 10th graders finished out the year with two books (semi)recently adapted by Baz Luhrman into melodramatic and overblown, but (occasionally) well-acted misinterpretations: Romeo and Juliet and The Great Gatsby.

I suppose I should get several things out of the way. I do not hate either of these movies. I don’t mind updating Shakespeare with modern settings and cut lines, so long as the themes remain intact. I like anachronistic soundtracks. I think Luhrman’s interpretation of Mercutio’s “Queen Mab” speech as a statement that Romeo’s type of love is a drug (pre-Ke$ha) is interesting. I think that Gatsby is spectacularly well-acted. I adore the complete lack of the shaky camera that keeps invading movies that I otherwise enjoy. I even kindof like the fact that Luhrman’s movies tend follow this sequence:

1. Cool-filtered and melancholic opening scene foreshadowing the DEPRESSING end of the story by having an angsty narrator look back on the events of the movie.
3. Sudden shift to the sentimental love-story, marked by slow motion eye-contact and suddenly gentle soundtrack (R and J: Kissing You; Gatsby: Young and Beautiful).
4. Hour and a half of escalating sentimentality, which can only mean Doomed Love (Note the capitalization!)
5. Sad ending, endeavoring to leave the audience somber but not requiring any alteration in their actions, behavior, or lives.

(By the by, just a reminder, I am writing for people who have seen the movies and/or read the books. If you haven’t, either stop reading or prepare to be thoroughly spoiled. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!) This brings me to my actual problems with the movies.

MOVIE THOUGHTS: Romeo + Juliet

At first I was going to write one monster post on both of these, after all: both movies are by Baz Luhrman, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, underscored by interesting/poppy soundtracks and guilty of parallel misinterpretations! However, I found I had too many thoughts. Sorry!

Let’s get the ball rolling: ROMEO AND JULIET IS A TRAGEDY! Not just because the main characters die. Tragedy is NOT EQUAL to sad. Tragedy is a single unified drama in which we are invited to consider the nature of human character and fate by witnessing the fall of a noble character because of a fundamental ignorance which leads to a transgression act. It is sad, but the goal of the story is not just to have all of the sad feels. We, as an audience, are to purge ourselves of the toxic emotions in order to better consider the moral implications of our choices.

The great danger, to which most modern interpretations of Romeo and Juliet have fallen prey, is taking this as Shakespeare prefiguring Nicholas Sparks.

 i.e. He wrote about “perfect” but depressing love between teenagers whose story ends in death but only because of the general badness of the world (be that badness cancer, mean people, Alzheimers, or feuding parents.)

i.e. He wrote about “perfect” but depressing love between teenagers whose story ends in death but only because of the general badness of the world (be that badness cancer, mean people, Alzheimers, or feuding parents.)

Pardon my french in advance: This is a load of horse shit. Let Shakespeare be the new Sophocles or Aeschylus. LET HIM NEVER BE BLASPHEMED AS THE OLD NICHOLAS SPARKS! Alright, I am calming down. But seriously folks, we must not think of Romeo and Juliet this way. Not to contradict Taylor Swift, but this is NOT a Love Story.

To explain this, I am going to start at the very end. A very weird place to start.

In Shakespeare’s version, we do not have the return of a chorus to tell us the social significance of the play or how we ought to feel. The final lines of the play are the Prince, the civil authority, saying:

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for sorrow will not show his head:
Go hence and have more talk of these things;
Some shall be pardoned, some punished:
For never was a tale of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

This closing is a command: Go. Think. Talk. Judge. We are asked not simply to say “Gee, that was really sad,” but rather to consider who deserves pity or scorn (pardon or punishment) for the horror at the end of this play. Moreover,  we are pushed to consider the degree to which they deserve pity or scorn. Sorrow is not the object of this lesson; it is the means by which we are pushed to judge – not only the choices of the characters but our own.

That’s Shakespeare.

You fabulous genius, you!

You fabulous genius, you!

Then there is Baz Luhrman.

Tragedy.... I do not think that means what you think it means...

Tragedy…. I do not think that means what you think it means…

Superficially,  we might say that the ending of the movie is the same. Except it isn’t. And if you have read the book, YOU SHOULD NOT STOP THINKING AT LUHRMAN’S INTERPRETATION. GO. TALK. THINK. JUDGE.

So. What is different?

1. Paris doesn’t die. Specifically Romeo does not commit that much less pardonable murder. We’ll come back to that.
2. The Prince has the penultimate, not the final, line. And it is changed. Instead, he screams into the camera:


3. The actual last two lines are delivered by the televised talking head who serves as Luhrman’s chorus.

What effect is brought about by these TINY alterations? 

1. Romeo (and Juliet) are more pitiable. I will come back to that.
2. The civil authority does not judge each according to their actions, rather ALL are punished. Consequently, we as the audience have no homework. The characters have been weighed and EVERY single one of those still living has been found wanting. Case closed.
3. The chorus (who first gives us the idea of the “star crossed lovers” … I.e the poor but idealized teenagers whose “perfect love” was just RUINED by fate and their families) has the last words. And those words are…

“Be sad.”


This is the problem with Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet. He takes away the moral power of a tragedy by presuming the goal of a tragedy is simply sorrow, when in fact, the goal of a tragedy with all of it’s dramatic irony, emotion, transgression, failing, (and yes, even sadness) – is to MAKE US ABLE TO SEE RIGHTLY AND MORALLY.

So, because you are all super nice (if you have read this far) I am going to list (hopefully quickly) my observations as to the actual moral problem presented by Shakespeare.

The transgressions in Romeo and Juliet can be condensed into the failure of understanding the role and responsibilities of vocations.

Vocational Duties in R+J and how they are ABANDONED!

1. Civil/ Political Vocation



The Prince, as civil authority,  should have stopped and seriously punished this feuding long before this point. Failure to punish and protect is failure indeed. His vocation calls him to the care of his city and its citizens. Because he fails in his civil vocation, there is a vacuum. Someone must restore civil order, presenting an occasion of sin for Friar Laurence.

2. Religious Vocation



Friar Laurence is a priest, specifically he serves as confessor and pastor to the entire town of Verona. His vocation is the care of souls. Yet, because of the “civil strife making civil hands unclean” he abandons this responsibility, starting with his very first scene.

After meeting Juliet, in Act III, Romeo comes tearing into Friar Laurence’s cell gushing about this NEW perfect beloved – Juliet. (This entire act, by the way is Shakespeare calling attention to the fact that Romeo is falling so fast that everyone he meets spends the first have of the interaction assuming that he is gushing about his former infatuation, Rosaline.) Friar Laurence at first says EXACTLY what he ought to. He instructs Romeo in the correct ordering of affections, the fact that his love for both Rosaline and Juliet are mere idolatrous imitations of love. He counsels and counsels well.

Then, he says the following fateful lines:

But come, young waverer, come, go with me,
In one respect I’ll thy assistant be;
For this alliance may so happy prove,
To turn your households’ rancor to pure love.

On the face of this, it is easy to see the good in this. Friar Laurence will use Romeo and Juliet’s loving infatuation to form an alliance between these two warring families and restore peace to Verona.

Did it bother anyone that I just said a priest is going to use (coughSTUPIDcough) teenage infatuation rather than reorder and heal it?

It is a PROBLEM that a Friar is setting aside his vocation to the pastoral care of soul. This failure and abandonment is made more concrete in the last act when Friar Laurence (for fear of the fast approaching civil authorities) abandons a drugged, distraught Juliet in a tomb, pinned down by the corpse of her husband.  To some degree, the blood  and soul of this child is on his hands.

3. Parental Vocation



He is not alone in his act of abandonment. All of the parental figures of this play similarly abandon – morally and/or physically. Their vocation to the care and guidance of children, protecting and restraining when necessary.

First, Juliet’s Nurse, in her hurry to approve of everyone, encourages Juliet not only to imprudence, but even to bigamy. She calls everyone she meets “good and wise and virtuous.” Again, this is not in and of itself a problem. After all, isn’t it good to see the best in people?

Except that her want of right judgment deprives Juliet, a 13-year-old girl, of any guidance. Much as we may want all choices to be equal and equally good and wise and virtuous, they are not. In failing to guide Juliet, she essentially morally abandons her.

Second, Juliet’s parents do more than essentially abandon her. They actually do it. When she is reluctant to marry Paris (because she is already married.) Her father vows that he will give her to his friend or cast her out into what ever form of harlotry she wishes. Her mother then refuses to even speak to her.

While I am not saying that Juliet is purely innocent of her suicide, I will say that Shakeapre makes an awfully big deal about how young she is – even for “the olden days.” She is still clearly in need of love, protection, and judicious guidance. This is what parents and guardians are CALLED to provide. She receives none. 

4. Marital Vocation.



This brings me back to my initial point. Romeo and Juliet is not a Love Story. It is an Idolatry Story.  By idolizing one another, Romeo and Juliet fail in the vocation of marriage — the care of the soul of the beloved .

Marriage is not eternal. It has a finish line: Till death do us part. This should not be a sad statement. The point of marriage is not the forever fluffy feelings. Marriage is the vow (of man, wife, and God ) that you will push, pull, and carry your beloved to the perfection and completion of Love Himself in heaven. Marriage is not necessary in heaven.

In the romance of these two children, Shakespeare provides a reminder that our world needs more than ever, showing what this idolatrous erotic love looks like from origin to symptom to inevitable result.

How does it happen?
Juliet falls into idolatry (as teenager girls are wont to do) for the lack of protection. Romeo, on the other hand, arrives at idolatry by refusing wise counsel.

In short, the problem with idolatry is that it makes the universe too small. Instead of a universe created by and governed by an infinite and eternal Love, idolatry limits the world to whatever can be governed by something smaller.

Making an idol of another person begins with limiting our vision of reality and ignoring any signs or counsel that calls to and indicates a higher and wider world.

What does it look like?
Idolatry, because of the blinders it requires, looks like infatuation. It is the exact “us agains the world” mentality. Because of this, I would argue that the only thing that comes close to the religious wars our world has witnessed is the emotional war between a besotted teenager and his or her parent. This is because this love is not rightly ordered. It is not leading toward God and eventually family.

Where does it end?
In suicide. Heaven is abiding in the complete presence of and union with God. If Juliet is god, then Verona (specifically marriage to Juliet in Verona) is heaven. Hell is irrevocable separation from God. If Romeo is banished from the presence of his god, Juliet, then he is in hell.

In making a mortal person into God, suicide is the only logical conclusion. If you are already in hell, why should death and subsequent separation from a God in whom you do not actively believe make any difference?

Ok. That was really long. SORRY!

Basically, here is what I got. Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet is dangerous, not because he is willfully leading children astray into idolatrous and unhealthy loves. However, this movie is guilty of the very same transgression as the adults in Shakespeare’s play: a failure to care for the formation of the loves and souls of the young. Similarly, under the supposed guidance of this, more children are guilty of confusing idolatry with love. (TWILIGHT. TAYLOR SWIFT. ETC. ETC. ETC.)