Where I spray-paint my thoughts…


I Refuse to Call it a “Faceversary”

facebook_10One day late in April 2007, one of my students uttered four fateful words. “Are you on Facebook?”

I snorted my disdain. “No, because I’m an adult.”

I was pretty internet-savvy: I had had a personal website since 1995; I’d started this blog in 2006; I spent a good bit of my spare time back then on internet discussion boards (the late lamented ParentsPlace and Television Without Pity, and the still-going-strong Ship of Fools).

But Facebook? I’d heard of it, of course — heard that it was going to be the new MySpace and that all the college-aged kids and some of the high schoolers were hanging out there. It just didn’t seem like something I’d be interested in.

Just a couple of days after my snarky comeback to my student, I had coffee with a few other adults — my friends the Strident Women, also still going strong 10 years later — and found that a couple of them were on Facebook. And we agreed that if we all joined, and created a private discussion group, we could use Facebook to carry on the kind of snarky conversations we usually had over once-a-month Sunday coffee.

So I did it. I joined Facebook, and the rest, as they say, is history. So much history that yesterday, Facebook attempted to wish me a happy 10-year “Faceversary.”

No. Just no. I am not going to say that word.

But it’s probably worth a few moments’ reflection to think about the impact of a website that has played such a big part in my life, and the lives of others, over the past 10 years.

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We Need to Talk About Patrick


Yes, I realize this is my second blog post in just over a week dealing with deep lessons learned from a fictional character in a young-adult novel. Don’t say that like it’s a bad thing, OK?

The movie version of The Fault in Our Stars comes out today, and I sincerely hope it’s as good as people are saying it will be, good enough to do justice to the book that young people like my kids and adults like myself have fallen in love with. There’s so much to be said about this book, about Hazel and Gus and the whole idea of living and falling in love against the backdrop of certain death — which of course we’re all doing, all the time, except that teenagers with terminal cancer are actually forced to recognize that fact. But my need to write a TFiOS-related blog post has come down to one thing: I want to talk about the character of Patrick, who appears in only one scene in the novel.

Patrick, an adult cancer survivor, is the leader of the support group for young cancer patients at which Hazel Grace Lancaster, a reluctant attendee, meets Augustus Waters. Patrick’s ineffectual leadership of the group gives the reader a great glimpse of narrator Hazel’s sarcasm as she describes Patrick in her internal monologue.

“[We] listened to Patrick recount for the thousandth time his depressingly miserable life story — how he had cancer in his balls and they thought he was going to die but he didn’t die and now here he is, a full-grown adult in a church basement in the 137th nicest city in America, divorced, addicted to video games, mostly friendless, eking out a meager living by exploiting his cancertastic past, slowly working his way toward a master’s degree that will not improve his career prospects, waiting, as we all do, for the sword of Damocles to give him the relief that he escaped lo those many years ago when cancer took both of his nuts but spared what only the most generous soul would call his life. AND YOU TOO MIGHT BE SO LUCKY!”

Patrick’s small role in the book looks like it’s going to be played beautifully by comedian Mike Birbiglia, as you can see in a short segment of the trailer below (the “support group” scene is about 25 seconds into the trailer).

While the support group is a plot device that allows Hazel and Gus to meet, it’s a lot more than that, despite the fact that neither the group nor its leader plays a major role in the book. To understand why I think Patrick is so key to understanding a major theme of this novel, it helps to know a little about the author.

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Unrepressed Childhood Trauma and Sandwich-Making

wonderbread There’s a real feeling of what I can only describe as smug virtue when you get to say that you dislike something most people like, that also happens to be bad for you. Or, conversely, when you like something many people dislike, that happens to be good for you. And people are suspicious of this. For example, when I tell people that I really prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate, or that I actually hate McDonald’s burgers, I get this shady look, as if people are thinking, “Sure, you say that because it makes you sound all lofty and noble and healthy, but I know you’re faking it.” I recognize this because I give people the same look when they claim to genuinely love kale or quinoa. Or, for that matter, when people insist that they actually love winter and really enjoy shovelling the driveway because it’s such great exercise. When some insists that their natural inclinations happen to line up with the good, the virtuous and the true, the rest of us harbour secret doubts.

But of course, we all have these quirks. We all have things that are supposedly “good for us” that we’re fortunate enough to actually like without effort, just because of our natural tastes and inclinations. I actually prefer the taste of dark chocolate; the fact that it’s supposedly healthier (or, at least, less unhealthy) is pure bonus. There are plenty of things I like — sugary, creamy Starbucks coffee drinks, for example — that are demonstrably not good for me, so it’s not that I’m just naturally virtuous. I know what I like; I don’t usually know why.

But one of my apparently “virtuous” preferences has a clear source in my childhood traumas, though it took me years to remember it (kind of a Recovered Memory Syndrome thing). If you give me two loaves of bread to make a sandwich, and one of them is sliced white bread in a plastic bag, I will always, always, always choose the other bread — whole wheat, multigrain, even if it’s freakin’ quinoa bread, rather than use sliced white bread.

I’d love to claim that I feel this way because I understand how white flour is stripped of all its nutrients and then the bread is pumped full of additives and preservatives, but no. The truth is there are lots of other things you can make with white flour that I will fall upon like a famished savage. Give me french bread, sourdough bread, any kind of buns or rolls or, oh bliss — croissants!! — and I will tear into them regardless of the nutritional content. I can even eat homemade white bread if it’s fresh out of the oven and has a bit of molasses on it. But store-bought sliced white bread makes me queasy, and I can sum up the reason in two words: BREAD POULTICE.

Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever used a bread poultice, or had one used on you. Likely not many of you, especially if you’re under 40. Despite the fact that my mother was the office manager of a medical practice and a keen believer in modern medicine, my childhood was peppered with good old-fashioned patent medicines and home remedies — I remember swallowing Milk of Magnesium, and having Merchurochrome dabbed on injuries where I would now put a little Polysporin. Minard’s Linament was used for aches and pains (though that was more something you’d see older folks put on themselves since kids weren’t expected to have those kind of aches and pains). Administering these things was mostly the territory of my Aunt Gertie, in whose house we lived until I was seven and who was my after-school caregiver for years after that. But nothing beat Aunt Gertie’s most memorable remedy: the bread poultice.

I don’t recall all the details of how or why the bread poultice was used, and I’m not about to Google it because I’m afraid that Google Images might bring up something that will scar me for life even further and perhaps put me off all bread products. What I remember is having an ugly gash or scrape on my knee — this happened to me a lot as a kid, not being particularly graceful. Aunt Gertie (with, it seems, the willing collusion of my mother, who presumably would have put a stop to it if there was anything shady about the process) administered a slice of white sliced bread to my knee and taped it on there to — and this is the phrase that’s run in my memory for forty years — “draw out the infection.” In my memory, the bread is damp. But was it damp when it was taped to my knee (with adhesive tape? Possibly…) or did it become damp as the sweat and blood and pus and … eww, I can’t even think about this anymore. I just remember going around for the rest of that day with that hot, damp, doughy mess adhered to my knee, all the infection presumably being drawn out of my innocent young body and into what was swiftly becoming the Bread of Disease and Nastiness. 

This may have only happened once in my childhood. Once may have been enough. What was the defining factor that determined, “This is an injury serious enough to treat with a slice of bread rather than just a band-aid, but not serious enough to seek medical attention”? I have no idea. I only know that while the scar on my knee faded with time, the scars on my psyche burn to this day —  usually when anyone presents me with a sandwich made with store-bought sliced white bread.

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Bible Movies: Why Is It So Hard?

Over the last few days, about 75% of my social media newsfeed seems to be taken up with reactions to the new “Noah” epic starring Russell Crowe. Do Christians like it? Do non-Christians like it? Do people who like well-made movies like it? (For the most part the answers seems to be no, no and no; the best analysis of the movie I’ve seen, and one of the few with anything positive to say, is here). A couple of weeks ago it was a barrage of posts by people telling me that I either must see, or absolutely must not see, the new “Son of God” movie.

Making movies about the great stories of the Bible is tricky. It’s rarely done well. Religious people get upset if you deviate too much from the text. Other viewers don’t like the movies if they stick too woodenly to a literal interpretation of the text. And no matter which audience you’re trying to target it towards, the mere fact that you’re dramatizing one of our culture’s most famous stories, stories that millions of believers hold dear, stories in which your characters have unironic conversations with God or may even BE the Son of God … well, it tends to produce uninspired scriptwriting and wooden acting, as if everyone involved in the film is overwhelmed by the great seriousness of what they’re doing.

In all the years of keeping my Adventist kids appropriately occupied on rainy, snowy, cold and windy Sabbath afternoons, I have seen a LOT of “religious” movies and “Christian” movies and “Bible” movies. I am convinced there are only two really good movies based on Bible stories, and they are these two:

Prince of Egypt (1998) and The Miracle Maker (2000) have several things in common. Both were made, as I understand it, with the consultation of a lot of Biblical scholars (mostly Jewish scholars in the case of Prince of Egyptwhich is how it should be done in adapting any story from the Hebrew Scriptures. Both taken some liberties with the storyline to heighten dramatic effect (in the case of Prince of Egypt) or to create a relatable viewpoint character for young viewers (in the case of The Miracle Maker). Yet both remain true enough to the original story that all but the most nit-picky believers recognize the beloved Biblical tale and find it familiar. Both are made for kids, or at least for “family entertainment,” but aren’t cloying or annoying for adult viewers. Both tell the story well enough and have enough artistic merit (the high points being the beautiful claymation-style puppets in The Miracle Maker, and the soaring musical numbers in Prince of Egyptthat even those who aren’t believers can appreciate them as great stories, they way I might appreciate a terrific adaptation of a Hindu epic (and by the way, you should also check out the movie Sita Sings the Blues).

The two most important similarities these two movies share, though, are 1) They are both animated movies. Different styles of animation, but both animated movies. I really think this matters. Human actors often seem bowed down by the weight of the importance of the characters they’re portraying. As soon as you see an animated movie you’re freed from the restraint of thinking this actor “is” Jesus, or Moses, or whoever. Even if the voice actor is really well-known, the fact that you’re looking at a cartoon or a puppet somehow eases the pressure of having to imagine that actor in such a portentous role. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my two favourite Biblical movies are animated.

And finally, 2) They both feature Ralph Fiennes. He’s Ramses in The Prince of Egypt and Jesus in The Miracle Maker, and he’s equally velvety-voiced and wonderful as the good guy or the bad guy. Need I say more?

So if the idea of Noah and Son of God both leave you cold for various reasons, and you’ve missed either of the above-mentioned movies, check ’em out!


I may take up reviewing movies …

… but it’s unlikely. I don’t even go to that many movies, and I have a full-time hobby just reading and reviewing books. So it’s unlikely I’ll branch out into movie reviews anytime soon.

But occasionally I see a film and think, “More people should see this!” and want to share about it on my blog. One such film is Seventh-Gay Adventists: A Film About Faith on the Margins. Check out the trailer, below, and then I’ll tell you why I think you should see it:

1. If (like many of my friends) you’re a Christian who believes in the traditional view of marriage and you’re worried about the growing trend in society to accept gays and lesbians and same-sex marriage as normal, you should see this movie. Why? Not because it will change your mind; it almost certainly won’t. It’s not an argument or debate-type movie. You should see it because it tells the stories of gay and lesbian Christians whose lives have been affected by traditional church teachings and beliefs about homosexuality. It puts a human face on what might otherwise just be the “Other Side” in an intellectual or theological debate. Since your religion (and mine) calls us to love, we owe it to ourselves and others to think hard about how to love those with whom we disagree. You can’t love people theoretically. You have to see their faces, hear their voices and stories, before you can grapple with what love looks like in a particular context.

2. If (like many of my other friends) you’re a completely secular person who takes it for granted that LGBT people have the same rights as straight people, and can’t understand why religious people are dragging their heels, you should see this movie. Even if (perhaps especially if?) you’re gay or lesbian yourself, and have no ties to organized religion — maybe even have a great deal of contempt for it. Yes, religions (all religions!) have a pretty bad track record with the LGBT community. Watching this film may give you a different perspective, might help you understand why some people choose to cling to their faith, what an important cornerstone of life it is for them, even when it brings them into conflict over their sexuality.

3. If (like me) you are a Christian who questions the traditional definition of marriage (or at least the often hypocritical way in which it’s applied in the church), and you want to be an ally for your LGBT brothers and sisters, you should see this movie. Especially if your LGBT brothers and sisters are literally your brother or your sister — or your uncle, or your mom, or your best friend, or anyone you care about. Maybe you’ve heard stories like the ones in this movie many times. Or maybe you haven’t, because the people you love haven’t talked to you about their experiences. Hearing these stories will open your heart even further, and make you realize how important this struggle really is. Maybe, like me, you’ll emerge from the experience realizing that you need to be more outspoken, more pro-active, in supporting those who are truly “the least of these” in our congregations and church fellowship halls, or on our missing-member lists.

While it’s a film set firmly within the context of the Seventh-day Adventist community (and there are definitely some SDA in-group references, like “What’s not to love about haystacks?”) this film is relevant to everyone who’s ever been part of any faith community, because gay and lesbian people exist in every church and temple and gathering place, and as this film clearly shows, ignoring “the problem” in hopes that it’ll go away, isn’t enough. 

Particularly if you’re in Category #1 above, I urge you to see this movie — not because I expect it to change the way you read Scripture — it doesn’t even attempt to do that. But because I believe listening is so important, and love is impossible without it. It’s possible to love people and sincerely disagree with them, about lots of issues. It’s not possible to love people while ignoring them and refusing to hear their stories.

There are lots of ways to get hold of this movie. If all else fails, I have a copy. Borrow mine.