Monthly Archives: December 2009

Giving Nine a Ten

Maybe it’s because I’m Italian.  Maybe it’s because I saw 8 1/2 in college and some other Fellini movies, or Scenes from a Marriage by Bergman. Or loved All That Jazz about Bob Fosse. (“It’s Showtime!”) Maybe it’s because I miss Rome.  Not sure why, but I liked Nine.

And want to see it again.

The previews were intriguing and the hype on Oprah! was compelling. All those pretty stars in sexy outfits. Fergie. Nicole. Kate. Penelope. Marion. Sophia. And Dame Judith Dench. All that cleavage.  That’s when I realized that this was a man’s movie, not a chick flick.  A guy’s movie without action and guns and killing and sports and political intrigue.  What?

The audience is drawn into the head of a movie maker, Guido Contini (played by an unrecognizable Daniel Day-Lewis) as he hallucinates, dreams, pretends, lies, and places blame. The musical numbers are way over the top – because they come from his head, not reality. The way we all have the worst boss in the world, the most stubborn husband/wife, the meanest brother, the stupidest priest, the most forgiving dead mother…

And what a dead mother. Sophia Loren. What better icon can there be of Italy, home of the Madonna/Whore dichotomy that makes it O.K. for wives to be neglected and mistresses to be abused. Her part is perfection.

In turn, the failing Guido looks to the women in his life to inspire and rescue him. The triumph of the movie is that they all fail him. The affair turns into despair, the prostitute from his childhood grows up to be crude and sleazy, the seduction of the American fails to intrigue him, the movie star refuses to play the part of a rescuer, and the wife refuses to play the part of a fool. Marion Cotillard’s song excusing his behavior, “My husband makes movies…” takes the kind of dopey lyrics and turns them into the lament of every woman who believes the dopey lies of unfaithful husbands. The dopey excuses that we tell ourselves.

As Guido spins toward meltdown, he calls upon his mother and she says the truest line in the movie – “You have to figure it out for yourself.”

The scriptures say it another way – “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

I thought for years that it seemed to be saying that we could save ourselves. That salvation was something we accomplished. Guido fakes an 8×10 glossy photo autograph and kiss for the Cardinal who loves his movies, yet bans them. The perfect metaphor for taking salvation into our own hands.

It took a long time for me to figure out that if we could save ourselves, we wouldn’t need to be saved in the first place.

Now I know salvation to be personal, individual, humbling, and my only hope.

Fame, sex, money, beauty, love; Guido destroys those muses one by one with the kiss/slap precision of a man racing away from the paparazzi in a convertible.  He fails.  And no chirping forest animals come skipping to the rescue. Snow White is dead. There is no prince.

Like I said, it’s a guy movie. A complete fantasy that puts into sharp perspective the fact that real life is fantastically incomplete.

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The Song and Dance of the Dissident Daughter

Intro:  A few months ago I ran across a book by Sue Monk Kidd called The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.  Was this the book I’d been looking for, the one that would at last give me a sister in my own journey?  I asked on Facebook if I was the last woman on earth to discover this book and sassy Phyllis Mathis said, “Pretty much.” And Ellen Haroutunian said I should blog about it. Here goes.

I’ve done the dance of the dissident daughter.

In some cases it was a waltz around the expectations of my mother. In others, it was the dance of skipping around bullets shot at my feet. But I know this dance.

Back in my college-hippie years when long homemade skirts and earth shoes and finally letting my long hair curl was my liberating garb, she wanted me to join Campus Crusade for Christ as a career.

“They give you lessons in grooming and hair and make-up,” she explained. So much for a passion for souls.

I looked into it, nonetheless. I went to a Campus Crusade retreat at the lovely mansion in San Bernardino. There was a cute, bouncy counselor assigned to a room of five young women. I think it was during the “training” (indoctrination?) for beach evangelism that I slipped away from the auditorium to find solace on my bunk. My counselor was in the room, head in hands, shoulders shaking, sniffs muffled by Kleenex pulled from a long, tall box – the kind they don’t make anymore.

“What’s wrong?”

“I hate it here! We have no say in where we go and what we do! I’m in love with my co-leader and he doesn’t love me…he doesn’t love me…he doesn’t…” the rest dissolved in tears.

“Why would you love someone who doesn’t love you?” I was not a question that women had been taught to ask.

We talked for three hours. I heard about the practices of Campus Crusade and that when you work there, they decide for you what your gifts are, what your ministry is. As if they had a corner on the Holy Spirit. So, I guess, as if they were God. The next morning put my bag in the back of my Ford Falcon. A young man walked by.

“You aren’t going to stay for beach evangelism?”

“Hell, no.”

It wasn’t until later, in seminary, when I realized that there were a lot of men who thought they were God. Not only that, there were alot of men who thought God was them. White, male, judgmental, unforgiving. They actually believed that God was a man. In fact, I learned that ages of Christian tradition taught that God was actually a man – with a lot of ugly “God made me first!” stuff to go along with it. So, even though the scriptures are clear that God is genderless, men grabbed each masculine pronoun like a trophy and put it on a high shelf, beyond the reach of women. And I looked at the whole men as God thing and their disdain for a woman trying to become a minister and their implication that God hated women and asked the un-ask-able question again, “Why would I love someone who doesn’t love me?”

I took the required course on preaching and it was time for each of us to prepare a sermon. This made a few men in the class very nervous. Didn’t somewhere Paul said that women were not allowed to preach?  A some considered boycotting the class. A few did. I started my sermon with prayer. Then I got out a basin and cloth and knelt before each of them, made them take off their boots and heavy socks and washed their feet, one by one.  It was silent but I could sense the tension – was I being a submissive woman? Was I daring to be like Jesus? I ended with a benediction.

I got an “A.”

Later, a few years after marrying a seminarian, five years exactly, I had an affair with a fantastic Christian man. We worked in ministry together. Our love for each other was simple and complete and unconditional. He was the accepting friend, not the condemning “head” that my poor husband had been taught was his role and was slowly erasing me. This man saved my life.

Of course, it was a disaster – ruined our marriage, damaged our children, destroyed my ministry. Sin is sin is sin, even when it meets a desperate need.

But I learned a truth. The answer to the un-ask-able question, “Why would I love someone who doesn’t love me?” was, God DOES love me. God loves sinners, not strivers.

So, when I started to read Sue Monk Kidd’s book about her own revelation that God is not male, it was a great read. She really captured the thinking process she went through, the criticism she endured. Why not say God is She? Why not put the sandal on the other foot? I loved it and was right there with her as she discovered the fullness of God, at the same time masculine and feminine and neither and both. And beyond.

But then she had a shift in perspective and I couldn’t go with her there.

Because in finding the feminine in the divine, Sue Monk Kidd made the same mistake that the male seminarians did. The same mistake that Satan did before the beginning of creation. Instead of discovering that the Divine is Feminine, she decided that the Feminine is Divine.

Everything Feminine became sacred, it seemed. Feminine was at the root of spirituality; Feminine was in ancient sacred practices; There was divinity in breasts and wombs and power.

Just as men claimed there was divinity in a penis.

It was the same sin in reverse – women are God, men are not. And there are some who believe that God is an actual woman.

God is wholly other. It created the universe. It has personality and has revealed that personality through interaction with humankind, but is not human. It is it. “I am who I am,” the Holy Spirit had writers write down.

If I could rewrite scripture, God would be It, Jesus would be Him and the Holy Spirit would be Her. I hear that Zondervan has a genderless Bible – I’ll have to look into that.

So, to my Christian sisters, AND brothers, humble yourselves, no matter what your gender. Live in peace.


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