There’s much to admire, but not much to enjoy, in Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest film from the Coen brothers. Joel and Ethan Coen, two Minnesota boys, have won great acclaim over 30 years of filmmaking, sharing a dozen Oscar nominations for writing, directing, and best picture. Their films cover an amazing range of genres, from dark and violent, like best-picture winner No Country for Old Men (2007), to quirky-funny, like The Big Lebowski (1998). You could say that, with Raising Arizona (1987), the Coens invented quirky-funny. A longtime favorite in my family is O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), the comic odyssey of a trio of chain-gang escapees in 1937 Mississippi.
Updated on Friday, December 6, 2013 by Frederica
For children, Christmas is a time of wonder, if not outright bafflement, because of the archaic vocabulary and syntax of Christmas carols. This produces interpretations that our devout ancestors never had in mind. Here are some of my childhood mishearings of these songs. How about yours?
* “For in thy Dock Street shineth…”
(“Little Town of Bethlehem”)
I knew what “Dock Street” meant, because my home town was a seaport. But if something was shining there, it was a little creepy.
Surprisingly, the Bible treats the heart as the place where we do our thinking—we think in our hearts, not our heads. And, as Matthew 15:19 shows, those thoughts are not always noble. In our culture we regard our ability to reason as one of the highest aspects of human personhood, but forget how often we employ that faculty in less-than-noble pursuits. The biblical Greek word for thinking actively, like when you’re thinking something through, is dianoia, and it includes selfish fantasies, plotting, and scheming:
“The imagination [dianoia] of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21)
“He has scattered the proud in the imagination [dianoia] of their hearts” (Lk 1:51)
Well, we’ve about exhausted that topic, haven’t we? Sometimes I have to talk something out completely before I understand what I actually think.
I could sum it up: 1, I haven’t spoken out against gay marriage because I don’t see it damaging marriage any more than straight people have already done.
2, my spiritual tradition has found by experience, over millennia,
In the wake of my “Why Speak Out on Gay Marriage?” post I received some thought-provoking comments and emails, which led me to think further about the situation of people who support traditional marriage, but live in communities where that opinion is socially disapproved. Here’s an email I sent to a correspondent living in the Pacific Northwest:
Thanks for writing. I am realizing that I live in a bubble. People who are involved in their communities on the ground level are in more of a bind about this. Current opinion has become the “new normal,” and to resist it is to send up flares, designating yourself a bad, untrustworthy person. For my part, I’m a grandma so have no kids in public schools, I worship in a traditional local congregation, and in my work-life engage mostly with thoughtful, intelligent people who agree or disagree in a civil way. I understand that many people are in more of a bind, not free to hold their own private opinions, but socially pressured to demonstrate allegiance to the new opinion.
Today I read a blog post praising an Orthodox bishop for speaking out on gay marriage, and I wondered if the time will come when someone scolds me for not speaking out. Well, here’s how it looks to me, as a member of the Orthodox Church.
The Church’s ancient wisdom on transformation in Christ, called theosis, includes the spiritual discipline of fasting. We fast in a number of ways: from sex outside hetero marriage, from anger, gossip, unforgiveness, and other negative impulses, and (about half the days of the year) from meat, dairy, and some other foods. Christianity isn’t the only religion to recognize that self-control in the face of strong desires enables deeper union with God. The spiritual discipline of fasting keeps appearing in religions around the world and throughout history. It’s been tested and proved again and again.
[Further thoughts on the feminism of yesteryear, following “Enough of Anger,” National Review 9/30/2013]
The chapter on sexuality in Our Bodies Ourselves is not so bad; it’s actually refreshing. “We are all so oppressed by sexual images, formulas, goals and rules that it is almost impossible to even think about sex outside the context of success and failure. The sexual revolution—liberated orgiastic women, groupies, communal [sex], homosexuality—have all made us feel that we must be able to [have sex] with impunity, with no anxiety, under any conditions and with anyone, or we’re some kind of uptight freak.” These “alienating inhuman expectations” are “destructive and degrading.” The authors of this communal chapter quote Robin Morgan (“a Women’s Liberationist in New York”): “Goodbye to Hip Culture and the so-called Sexual Revolution which has functioned toward women’s freedom as did the Reconstruction toward former slaves—reinstituted oppression by another name.” In short, “We must destroy the myth that we have to be groovy, free chicks.”
You have to wonder what might have happened if feminists had continued to proclaim women’s freedom from the sexual revolution.
The authors observe that the contemporary assumption is that “‘Sex’ is about being a ‘real woman’—being that ridiculous caricature of a person that this society tells us we had better become if we are to extract even the smallest amount of security, pleasure, and self-esteem from the world. It’s a sexual achievement exam.” So it’s no wonder we feel confused. “First we’re supposed to set the sexual limits, deny our responses, and hate our looks. Then, within a few years we’re supposed to be experimental and libertine. The more [sex] we have the closer we are to being ‘real’ women. That’s a lot of confusion, and it’s no wonder that many of us still have serious questions about who we are and what we want.”
Here’s some clear thinking: “Part of the reason so many people have problems about sex is because sexual feelings are considered separate or different from other kinds of feelings we have. Sex has got to do with the body—that alien part of us residing below the neck that has needs and responses we don’t understand.” But all our feelings affect the body, whether the rapid heartbeat of fear or the headache of anger. “It’s all part of the same body that we live in every day… It can’t be mysterious or alien because it’s our own familiar house….To make sex special, different, better is to disown our bodies…[O]ur bodies are us all the time.”
Indeed, the authors say, sexuality deserves its own chapter in the book only because it is “permeated with myths and preconceptions that put the woman down, and not because sexual relations are an absolutely necessary part of a fulfilled woman’s life.” Subsequent chapters on Celibacy and Monogamy treat them as reasonable choices. But if the goal had been merely increasing sexual pleasure, “it would have been a waste of time to write this paper.” Sexual fireworks “are not that important. What is important is loving, giving, free relationships between people.”
It’s a pretty good chapter; you could clean up the four-letter words and print it in a pro-family newsletter.
Sorting through some old boxes in the basement, I ran across a manila envelope stuffed with 40-year-old women’s lib literature. It was right under the Earth Shoes. Back then, I was a mother-earth-type hippie, and an enthusiastic “women’s libber” (then the prevailing term of choice). In the envelope I found an assortment of leaflets protesting the nuclear family (inherently oppressive) and warning against “female hygiene deodorant,” “the myth of the vaginal orgasm,” and other threats to womankind. There were some huffy letters I’d written to the campus newspaper, and mimeographed flyers for the campus women’s group. The pride of the collection was a 1971 copy of the classic feminist guide to health and sexuality, Our Bodies Ourselves. This was the pre-mainstream edition, published by the New England Free Press, stapled together and priced at 40 cents.
Yesterday I wrote on “What is Worship For?”, but I forgot to answer the question. I said that it is not the time for evangelism, and shouldn’t be designed with non-believers in mind. But what is it for?
Worship is for God; we could expand that and say worship is for believers to offer to God. But even once we’re clear that worship is the work of the believing community, there’s a possible confusion. We might think the purpose of worship is to give believers a good worship experience.
A pastor in the UK wrote me asking, “What is worship for?” He said that his denomination was encouraging pastors to make worship more “user-friendly” in order to attract new members, and that this initially seemed to him a reasonable evangelistic strategy. A scripture cited in support of this approach was Acts 15:19, “We should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.” But as he read this scripture in context, it looked to him like it was written of people who were already Christian believers, and would not be required to accept Jewish practices. It didn’t address the case of people entirely outside the faith. He wrote to ask, “Who are church services for? Believers or unbelievers?”