I am moving all my efforts into a single umbrella called Third Ten Million Years. The feature column will continue at Hothouse, and as extension I will be writing for a new blog of the same name, Third Ten Million Years.
I hope you will accompany me over there. There are quite a few followers who have joined up here, folks who have made their way to This Earth one way or another, and your readership means a great deal to me. So please, if you like what’s here, go there for more.
Its just a change in location and organization. No big whoop.
The New Blog: Third Ten Million Years. See you there. And thanks.
It wasn’t 10 years ago that I was a likely candidate to join the Catholic Church. For many years my own faith leaned towards the liturgical, rite-oriented worship that seemed most embodied in Catholicism. And I tried hard to work it out and become a full-fledged member of the faithful. I attended Mass with a certain regularity, until 2006 or so, even after I had lost any semblance of Christianity. I loved the Church, Mary, the martyrs, the nuns, the saints. Actually I still hold all that dear to my heart. I care greatly for religion and Christ, and cannot separate who I am now from the time in my life in which religion was paramount.
Two of the greatest intellectual and spiritual influences on my life have been Catholics who struggled mightily to maintain their faith in the Church. They are Sinead O’Connor and Thomas Merton. Their intellectual efforts and spiritual guidance has made me the person I am, and I still regularly seek out their work as help in making sense of the world. I do this despite my own rejection of their Church, because their endeavor to stick with this thing despite knowing what it is capable of deserves admiration.
They struggled to make sense of the world as Catholics, and they came out at odds. Merton supplicated himself before his Pope while O’Connor tore her Pope apart on live television. Somewhere in that chasm is a recipe for Catholics to grasp their Church out of the clutches of those who would continue on evil’s path. As a non-religious, humanist, using the word evil at all feels ridiculous. But for some things, there is no other word.
It’s no longer possible for me to make sense of the world through the lens of Christ and church and god. I have no ill will towards any who do, other than to say: it just no longer makes sense to me. Likewise, I am lost these days on theology: conservative, progressive, liberationist, it isn’t for me to worry about such distinctions and I don’t care. What I care about is how one answers this question: What did you do in response to a massive, endemic, global network of rapists who were using the Church as a weapon to find children to abuse and rape?
For a long, long time now, the Church’s reply to such a query has been sadly wanting.
There are a whole host of reasons that the Catholic Church is in trouble, and I’ve got little insight into them. Frankly, I don’t give a shit about them. What I care about is the institutional cover-up of rapists. I know I’m ranting. I know I just wrote about this last week and have no new unique insight to add. And I know that there is Catholic outrage enough to fill the world’s blogs, Catholics who are working every day to see the end of the evil in its own body. Still.
Today Pope Benedict resigned. Once again the Church will find an opportunity to slowly start righting the ship, a ship that has sailed far, far, far afield of its purpose to represent Christ on Earth. And once again, I’m afraid, such an opportunity will pass unseized.
(I guess there are spoilers here, though, that doesn’t really make sense on this one)
I have been married for seven wonderful years. My wife and I are still happy together, it seems so to me at least, and looking forward to a child and many years to come. We have, for the most part, a happy home. I say this because we recently watched Blue Valentine, a film we both wanted to see upon its release, but never did. Well we finally got around to it, and it has made me ever more aware that these simple things need not be so.
We watched it a few days ago, and it will not release me from its cold grasp. Blue Valentine, subtitled, “A Love Story”, is Derek Cianfrance’s expertly written and directed 2010
debut. Acted with bravura by its leading couple, Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, the story details the rock-hard trials of marriage, interlaced with a budding relationship beginning six years earlier. It is nearly perfect in its execution, and thus worth all the effort it demands. Also, I hated it. Not hate in the terrible movie* way, but in the much more complicated way that great movies can conjure. I hated it in the way that I hated The Master: I can’t stand what I saw, and still can’t break free from the power it contained. Blue Valentine has consumed my week. Nothing in Cindy and Dean’s relationship reminds me of my own, except the very pedestrian details–met in early 20s, married, etc. They were together about five or six years, and the film doesn’t really tell us why. We see how, but not really why. Maybe they did love each other, maybe it was the right thing to do. Fear or circumstance or relative ease. Regardless, watching the start of this relationship makes the end of the film nearly impossible to avoid. And without flinching, that ending is tough to behold.
In his review for the film, Roger Ebert said that “It is easier for an actor to play the same character at 24 and 60 than at 24 and 30. Though some bodily change occurs, what really happens is a transformation of inner certainty.” I read to make sense of Blue Valentine and this thought was most able to penetrate why I think the film has so pricked my sensibility. When I remember the instances of the film’s past that are beautiful, filled with exuberance and joy–awkward attempts to impress or nervous but wonderful sex– it is all the more difficult to conceive that the present occurs only a few years later. This difficulty is made even more so by these performances, of a rare caliber even for such gifted actors, terrifying and simple and tragic. In our movies we are used to seeing successful or failed lovers flash-back to their origins for clues about the future; but rarely do we see such intimate transformations, as Ebert calls them, of inner certainty, and over such a brief time lapse. It’s not that they’ve gotten old; they haven’t. They’ve just gotten to know each other, perhaps, or found resentment that early intimacy can hide.
Blue Valentine is a difficult film to watch. The more so once I realized that its outcome was so likely. You see a tough marriage, you see the dog lost, you find out about the ex, you find out about the child, the assault, the parents, you find out about med-school and high school, and all the tangled elements that complicate the task of making two lives into one marriage. Still, I thought: it must have been worth it at some point, even at some time in the past six years, or why would Dean and Cindy even try? I was left thinking that it should not have been. I longed for Eternal Sunshine, where, despite the decay that occurs in the love of Clem and Joel, with all the knowledge of how it all could fall apart, they still do it. Because the romantics of film and love and youth tell us all: the effort at love was worth it, in itself, regardless of the outcome. What makes Blue Valentine different is that it does not seem to think so.
The story unfolds, the inevitability starts to leak into the cracks. And my shock became lessened at the climax, the difficult, hard-felt, near manic iciness that exists in the movie starts to look like something that is necessary, the only outcome one would imagine if such a chance as this were taken. We found no tears at the story’s conclusion, only a hardened acknowledgment of reality. The kind of reality from which we generally seek out cinema to escape from.
If for nothing else, despite how much it messed me up, and it did, I’m glad to have watched Blue Valentine. It reminds me how lucky I am that I’m happy. That is to say, I loved Blue Valentine.
*I’ve never seen Jack and Jill. I’m just confidently guessing it was bad enough to hate in the terrible movie way.
(this post has been updated to remove the designation of Blue Valentine as Cianfrance’s debut film, and to addend the final paragraph. Also, this interview is very interesting).
About every six months I go through a tw0 week period where I constantly have the Doomtree cry for solidarity and good things track Bangarang stuck in my skull, from 2011′s No Kings. No Kings was one of the best running albums during last year’s marathon training, and as such I’ve come to know it inside and out, and love just about every second of it.
Perhaps too much. These last few days have been Bangarang days, and this time I’ve had Sim’s lyrics running through my mind grapes (They say: we too heady too heavy too many too much punk too much drunk too much luck love too much. Yup). I thought, fucking Fridays man, why not share the love. Maybe it’ll help break through the Bangarangs occupying my head. (mind you, not the Skrillex Bangarangs, which has little in common with the Doomtree).
Anyway. This is the Twin Cities; everyone here already knows Doomtree is a treasure. But in case you’re not familiar, as a bunch, or collective as they say, I would boil Doomtree down thusly: they are heavy on the lyrical side (teeth with fangs) and wild as the night, and hyper-talented. And apparently the fan-base is mostly high-school kids? Who knew? Also, strange in the manner we always admire even after its gets so cool you have act like its not cool. But it is. This is among the catchiest choruses you’ll ever hear. Sorry.
I wrote this bit of rant on the great social network, recently.
You know what’s irritating to me about (some) of the conservative writers in the US? They look at something like sexiness and can’t see anything else. Like Beyonce. Conservatives should love Beyonce. Beyonce is a completely admirable role-model for the Obama girls, and everyone else.
She’s totally uncontroversial in her private life, pretty much boring actually, a model of traditional family values. She dated a guy for a few years, then she married him (out of the public eye), then had a baby together. No ugly allegations have followed her, her art is about empowerment and strength (really). She’s a powerful and successful woman in control of her own business interests and life (she owns every picture of her ever taken), she has incredible dignity and stature, works her ass off and gets rewarded for her efforts. She runs an actual charity that helps individual people. She is a model for any aspiring young woman (or man). The kind that conservatives should hold up as a example of American Success.
but, she’s also sexy, and she wears tights, so….she’s an “example of cultural surrender”? a little burlesque fun never hurt anyone. Jesus.
It was in response to this, which pissed me off. Anyway, Beyonce certainly doesn’t need me to linger about the internet and defend what is clearly a successful and respectable career and life. But still, I read this at Grantland, and wanted to add it to This Earth, because of late, This Earth is as much about pop culture as it is, well, this earth.
Talent competitions have turned us judgmental. The nichefication of music has created neighborhoods we’re rarely required to leave. Beyoncé is one of the few stars with the power to take tweens, women, hipsters, queens, and dudes — of any age, race, nationality, political persuasion, and income bracket — and unite them all in one place. And that place is often at her feet.
The whole piece is excellent, and I recommend it, if you, like me, love Beyonce.
I’ve written a couple times about the decreasing moose population in Minnesota. Moose are Minnesota’s iconic megafauna, and their continued loss is a stark reminder of the costs of a changing climate. The cause of the decrease is difficult to pin down, and has to do with a variety of factors, including warmer winters, changing forests, and an increased presence of tick populations and diseases. It’s sad to see this dramatic decline in such a lovely animal.
The moose story is back in the news today, as the state’s DNR has released it’s population survey for the moose, and announced that it will be cancelling the moose hunt for the season due to the population decline. From today’s STrib:
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced that the northeast population declined 35 percent from last year. Since 2010, the moose population has declined 52 percent.
In response to the survey results, the DNR will not open a 2013 state moose hunting season or consider opening future seasons unless the population recovers.
“The state’s moose population has been in decline for years but never at the precipitous rate documented this winter,” said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. “This is further and definitive evidence the population is not healthy. It reaffirms the conservation community’s need to better understand why this iconic species of the north is disappearing from our state.
The canceled hunt is another step towards protecting the remaining moose population. Last year the DNR declared that moose should be considered a ‘species of concern’ on the endangered species list in Minnesota. The DNR is seeking to include 180 new plant and animal species to the list, including the canada lynx.
An endangered species distinction is only the first step in recovering a population, of course, but an important one. The results can and have been positive. As any Minnesotan who lives near the Mississippi River can tell you, our Bald Eagle population has soared back from the brink of extirpation.
Knowing what we know about the Catholic Church’s 70+ years of protecting child-rapists, I marvel that anyone is still a Catholic. I recognize that I am an outsider, so I understand that may be naive. And I have some nostalgia for the Church and recognize the good things over the centuries that the Catholic Church has done. But I truly hope that every individual believer in Christ who counts themselves as members of the Catholic Church can answer this question: “You know without question or doubt that your Church, your Pope protected, provided refuge and covered for men who raped children. So why are you still Catholic?”
There might be good answers to that. I’ll admit, I’m sure they wouldn’t satisfy me. But I appreciate the effort of Andrew Sullivan to face head on the horror and nightmare that has been the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse problem, and still maintain his faith in that most terrible of institutions. I highly recommend his long post today, Nostra Maxima Culpa.
I learned here that in the 1940s, the Catholic Chruch was operating a network of Psychiatric Clinics for serial rapist Priests. The man who ran these clinics wrote to his Bishop in 1957: “We are amazed to find how often a man who would be behind bars if he were not a priest is entrusted with the cura animarum (guardian of souls).” That was in 1957.
For decades afterward, some tried to break this problem in to the public, and The Church, the Vatican, the Pope prevented it. Men who would be behind bars were instead hidden from public recourse, kept from the law, allowed to serve, allowed to guard the souls of the children they raped. Eventually, the very Catholic Official who oversaw everything having to do with that pesky child-rape issue was selected to serve as Pope Benedict. And this is progress on the problem?
Hopefully every Catholic can answer: Why are you still Catholic?
Sullivan tries to answer that. He says this:
There was a slogan in the years of AIDS. It was Silence = Death. What is unforgettable about this documentary is that the loudest voices come from the most vulnerable of all – deaf children who are now deaf adults. The loudest voices were those who could not speak. If I have hope for my church – and I sincerely believe Jesus will never finally abandon us, however corrupt and sinful we become – it is because of this fact. The power of the powerless is what helped stop this mass violation of the souls of children. The change came not from the top, which remains foully corrupted, but from the very margins of the margins: the consciences and courage of those who could not hear evil until it was upon them, but who were surrounded by it. And spoke up. As children. And, then, as adults.
When will the rest of us do the same? When will we Catholics insist in the prosecution of this Pope and this hierarchy for what can only be called – given its duration and gravity and sheer scale – a crime against humanity. When will we lose the deference to a clerical elite that has become its own self-perpetuating clique of sexual dysfunction, that has lost even the most basic moral authority, that even now refuses to hold itself to account.
What, one wonders, would Jesus do? My answer to that ultimately unanswerable question is simple: listen to the survivors. Even those who can only speak in silence and sign:
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
It’s not satisfying to me, but at least he calls for the prosecution of the Pope, and the dismantling of a hierarchy for crimes unimaginable. I guess that would be a start.