Fear and Hockey (or fear and the power for change)

My plan, here, is to combine hockey, Rush Limbaugh, and the Vatican all into one cultural musings post. Yeah, I know. Tricky. But stay with me.

Hockey’s the easiest, so I’ll start there. The NFL, National Hockey League for those of you who don’t have hockey fanatics in your house, is in its end of year playoff schedule. Right now, the first round of playoff games is coming to an end.

What’s remarkable in this year’s tally, and why it’s landing in this post, is that the old powerhouse teams are losing: Detroit, down; Vancouver, down; Chicago, down, Pittsburgh, down; and the Boston Bruins barely keeping their hopes alive. The upstart, younger teams, like Nashville and Phoenix, and Los Angeles, for goodness sake, are moving into the next round. We could have a Sunbelt Stanley Cup finals! As hockey champions?

Rush Limbaugh is old power too. And he’s in the process of being dumped from his throne because of a 20-something female college student testifying before Congress on the need for insurance to cover women’s contraceptives. Now, keep in mind that most insurance plans cover Viagra.

And keep in mind that this 20-something isn’t going to let this incident die a graceful and quiet death. She’s been empowered by it. She may be busy with semester finals right now, but I expect we’ll hear from her again.

And the Vatican. Well, they’ve decided after a four-year study that nuns are out of control and need to be reined in. The nuns have been entirely too liberal in birth control teachings and support of gays and lesbians. In addition, they have been promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” Read women’s ordination.

I know a few nuns. They aren’t likely to go quietly into full-cover habit again.

And then, along with that, we have various state legislatures, and the Republican front-runner, wanting to shut down Planned Parenthood; Kansas legislators wanting to ban abortions in the entire state; Virginia GOP legislators wanting to probe women’s bodies with transvaginal sonograms; and Arizona legislators wanting to legislate a requirement that women prove they have a medical need, beyond contraception, for oral contraceptives.

This isn’t just a “war against women.” Or even a war against people of color although civil rights has been raising the banner again, too. This is a fear based war.

Fear of freedom, of liberality, of thinking (god forbid we educate all kids!!), and fear of anything not white and not male in power. Except for hockey, of course, that’s still white guys being powerful. Except they are young white guys (and young black and young multi-racial) and those young guys on young teams are upsetting the established power base.

We are in a revolution, as in turning things upside down, and most of the time we’re just trying to keep up.  Often, I’m reminded of the 60’s song line, “We want a revolution. Now!” Beatles, wasn’t it? Willy will know.

So there’s the cultural musings of a woman old enough to have participated in the 60’s cultural movements and anti-war movements and women’s liberation and civil rights and whatever was going on movement. And I see the same topics coming up now in a new format.

My students are talking about civil rights and Treyvon Martin and women’s rights – and civilly. Not shouting. And even listening to each other. And thinking through ideas.

Is it time for all of us to be talking about these changes? To think aloud in civil discourse? I know lots of people are afraid of one thing or another, but what does fear accomplish?

What do you see? Granted, because of my history, I see radical change occurring. And its backlash. But what do you see? Let’s discuss. Civilly.


Taxing the Brain

The Taxman Cometh

Today, the state taxes went into the mail; yesterday the federal. My brain is taking a day off.I’ve hand washed some clothes; went for a walk; worked out and stretched. Watched the sky to see if I needed to somehow go out and protect my newly blooming roses from possible hail. So far I haven’t. So far, the worst storms are to the west. But none of that takes much brain power.

I began working on the taxes more than a week ago. Printing the spreadsheets was first. Second was pulling up the electronic copy of our last year’s taxes to see what all I needed. Downloading forms.

The thing that happened between last year’s taxes and this years, and a huge loss for another family, was that our accountant died. She was fun to visit in her upstairs airy office with a big wall-sized window and two dogs, miniature shepherds, I believe although I’m not so good with dog breeds. They’d greet us, lie on the floor and watch. Nap. Dogs like naps.

But there never came a time when I could bring myself to hunt down and interview another tax preparer. We’d found our previous one through friends who were artists. It’s helpful, when one is an artist of whatever ilk, to have an accountant who understands the complexities of people whose earnings aren’t exactly normal. She understood.

I used to do my taxes. Before. Before marriage and a house and investments, however slim they are, and I understood how to do artists’ deductions. Professional actors, for example, and which I’ve been for many years, can deduct things like hair care and photos and going to movies for research. It’s a strange business. And writers, which I am too, can deduct books. So there you are. Complexities.

So I pulled up forms and pieces of information and instructions to each of the many forms needed and put them in a file on the desktop. And began. One day at a time. One piece at a time until needing to stop for whichever reason, including going to class and teaching, or becoming head-weary.

But I also remembered something. I like doing this. There’s something clean and simple about numbers and moving them from here to there and adding columns and balancing figures and totaling. And the forms all have prompts: “after completing this worksheet, put the total on Form 1040A on line 23a.” Or words to that effect. Okay. I’d have several files open at the same time and move between them.

Numbers exercise a part of my brain that doesn’t get used in the same way when I’m writing or preaching or teaching. The nice thing was when that part of my brain, the part that’s intuitive or spiritual or right brain or whatever it’s called, would work on the taxes while the rest of me was off doing something else, like driving or listening to students in class, and suddenly, I’d realize what I had to do or change or add together. Or go back and redo.

Now the part of my brain that added and changed and played with numbers and forms, the left brain, is empty. It doesn’t quite know what to do with white noise and shapelessness.

Perhaps we’ll go together and just finish the hand washing.


Mary Magdalene Revisited

Titian's Magdalen

Having just passed through Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, and hearing and seeing many images of Mary Magdalene in movies or in the readings from the pulpit, I thought it might be an interesting and necessary time to post a section of an essay I published a few years ago called The Three Marys.

The section I’m posting has to do with Mary Magdalene, repentent prostitute, as she is portrayed in any movie about Jesus, humble, tears flowing, loving. She is never presented as a woman of means who was an early disciple and who likely financially supported Jesus’ travels and ministry. Likely a business woman, no evidence supports the idea that her business was prostitution.

Here’s the section:

One of the things scholars say is that the Gospel of Luke was written by a second or third-generation Christian who probably did not personally know any of the first disciples. The dates of the writing are considered to be in the early 80s ACE, in other words, approximately fifty years after Jesus died.

Luke’s Gospel is often called a “friend of women” because women are written about more often than in any other gospel.  However, a careful reading might offer a different interpretation than that of “friend.”  Jane Schaberg, author of The Illegitimacy of Jesus, writes:

“The Gospel [of Luke] attempts to meet various needs, such as instructing and edifying women converts, appeasing the detractors of Christianity, and controlling women who practice or aspire to practice a prophetic ministry in the church. One of the strategies of this Gospel is to provide female readers with female characters as role models: prayerful, quiet, grateful women, supportive of male leadership…”

Luke never names the women in this Gospel “apostles” or “disciples”; rather the women are portrayed as listeners, pondering what they don’t understand. Who would benefit from this image of women as “prayerful, quiet,” and “supportive of male leadership”?  As Schaberg says, “Luke restricts the roles of women to what is acceptable to the conventions of the imperial world.”

Mary Magdalene

Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisees. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.

                                                                                    Luke 7:37-38

The name “Mary Magdalene” evokes a very particular kind of image: red-haired, voluptuous, the repentant prostitute who washes the feet of Jesus with her tears, wipes them with her hair, and anoints them with the costly ointment she has carried in an “alabaster jar.”

Interestingly, all four gospels have an account of a woman anointing Jesus with a costly ointment: Matt 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12: 1-8.  In Matthew and Mark, the woman brings an alabaster jar filled with costly ointment and pours it on the head of Jesus; in John’s Gospel, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, “took a liter of costly perfumed oil…and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair.” Only Luke describes the woman as a “sinner.”

How then, and even why, did the account evolve from a woman anointing Jesus to one of a repentant prostitute named Mary Magdalene wiping his feet with her hair?  Who would benefit from such a story?

Mary Magdalene, scholars now say, was probably a cherished disciple of Jesus. From the information on early Christianity gleaned from the fragments of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, she was likely vocal, smart, and a leader in the early community.  She also challenged the leadership of Peter.

From Luke’s Gospel we know she followed Jesus from town to town, along with “the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities,” and that Jesus had driven “seven demons” from Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:1-2).  She was also a woman of resources; she helped bankroll the ministry of Jesus, says Professor Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt Divinity School.  “Women,” Levine goes on to say, “paid his bills”(Luke 8:3).  If Mary Magdalene wasn’t a poor prostitute, where did she get her money?

In fact, says Jane Schaberg, first-century Judaism contained great diversity: “Inscriptions, papyri, and archaeological data as well as literary sources indicate that…some Jewish women were leaders in synagogues, were financially
independent landowners and businesswomen, and acquired religious education.”

Why then do we have this consummate image of Mary Magdalene, repentant prostitute, washing the feet of Jesus with her hair?

We have that image because Pope Gregory VIII, at the end of the 6th Century, wrote a sermon connecting Chapter 7’s woman with the alabaster jar, a woman who is called a “sinner” (nowhere in that passage is she called a prostitute), with the woman Mary Magdalene at the beginning of Chapter 8. Gregory’s sermon effectively revised history, changing Mary Magdalene from the woman who financially and emotionally supported the ministry of Jesus, the first one to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection, from a disciple to a prostitute.

Gregory’s view held sway for fourteen hundred years and gave artists a rich palette of feminine imagery to complement and contrast to the virginal mother.

The Vatican officially rescind that view in 1969, but the damage to women was done.  In the intervening centuries, the image of a woman repentant and humble before the Lord became an overriding symbol for the way women ought to act. A woman, in the image of Eve, was the original sinner; now, before the Lord, Mary Magdalene was given the chance to be saved, repentent and humble.



Enter Spring

A Black Hole may have swallowed me these past couple of weeks. It’s hard to tell for sure though since spring is throwing itself pretty forcefully in all directions, sucking up oxygen and energy.

While not completely understood, certainly by me, Black Holes absorb everything around them with a gravitational pull that allows nothing to escape. Sluuuurrrp. Gone. And Spring. Well. It explodes out rather than in – the opposite really from a gravitational pull into nothing.

And yes, the photo is my spring garden. I’m inordinately proud of having a plot of Texas  Bluebonnets – true, no Indian Paintbrush, but the red tulips will have to do.

It doesn’t feel like Lent anymore. It just feels like living.

It’s not that nothing is getting done. Along with spring exploding all around a big box arrived from Spring Hill Nursery with more plants that needed planting in wet ground right away.

So while my body was physically, although slowly, planting and bending and doing, my head was pretty empty of thinking or words. A Black Hole head and a Spring body??? Well. Something like that.

My Lenten discipline to avoid abruptness has survived mostly because I was sick for a couple of weeks and even after couldn’t move very fast anyway, but my head and my Lenten reflections? Gone. Pulled into a gravational field that will not give them back.

So how’s your nine-day-old springtime going? And your Lenten resolve? Did you lose March, too? And where did it go to?

Maybe Cancun.

Lent’s here

It’s 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday, so it’s officially Lent. I didn’t mean to be up in the middle of the night, reading, catching up on the news sites, but I am. It’s quiet. I always appreciate the quiet of the Lenten season, the withdrawal to an interior space.

Shortly after I decided to live in Mexico some years back, Lent arrived. I remember being awake then, too, in the middle of the night, several nights in a row, as a matter of fact. I’d rented a house in the village of Tepotzlan, outside of Mexico City, a village famous for its cohete factory I’d learned after paying rent – a cohete being a very large, approximately three to four feet long bottle rocket about five inches in diameter. It made a very loud bang right over the house, the house being near the center of town.

Every night until eleven or so, for the few days I’d lived in the house, cohetes went off and every day dancers danced to a constant drumming in the market square. Brinca, they called it: the dance of jump, straight up and down. And they wore masks of the conquistadores. And capes. But closing down festivities at eleven at night was manageable. You can still sleep after eleven o’clock. But on Tuesday night, Fat Tuesday, the explosions went on. It will all stop on midnight on Tuesday, I kept telling myself.

I lied. It didn’t stop.

At two a.m. cohetes still exploded over the house; at three, four, five, erupting overhead in a frenzy of celebration. Finally, as dawn began to break in the east and tinge the tops of the trees, the explosions fell silent. Suddenly. Sun equaled silent.

It was an experience, as they say. By the next Lenten season, I’d left the village and moved to Mexico City. Oddly enough, a quieter environment with church bells replacing cohetes, but I will never forget the entry of Lent into the village life of Tepotzlan.

May you have some quiet time, this Lenten season. We all need it; life’s been ratcheting along again, we lose track of way too many things/moments/ideas. A friend asked what I was giving up for Lent this year, and I finally figured it out: I’m giving up abruptness and moving too fast.

And cohetes. Yes, I will give them up, too.