Saturday, August 29, 2009

"They were just so salt-of-the-earth, what's falafel, you know?"

I've decided, at least for now, that the titles for these entries will be my favorite quote of the day behind me. They may be funny, or not, but they will not be explained or contextualized. I think this gives the blog an air of whimsy, which is more fun than an air of sophistication anyway.

Today was another strangely free-form, purely blessed day. I hung out with my friend Molly, who is one of the funniest women I have ever met, and who I hadn't seen in what felt like forever. Someone once told us they liked listening to our conversations because it was like a constant battle of wits, and it's true. It's never a competitive battle, but I love talking with her because she consistently matches me and makes me want to be more creative. We've both been in weddings in the last couple weeks, she as a bridesmaid for her cousin and me as maid of honor for my friend Robin, and post-wedding stories are always fun to swap.

Plus, where I am mainly creative with words, Molly is creative with everything, and she always has fun projects she's been doing that she can't wait to show me. Most recently, she's made a kind of shadowbox-y kind of homage to Portland, and has transformed a picture of her boyfriend into one of those magnet games where you drag the metal shavings around to give a face hair and a beard and stuff. Would I have ever thought to do that? Afraid not.

Molly's been telling me for months, if not longer, that I have to see the movie Quills. Where she is usually a treasure trove of unique, complex observations, she has always been honest about the simple reason to watch this film: Joaquin Phoenix makes a hot priest.

And I'll admit it, that was enough to draw me in (I even watched Ladder 49, for goodness sake. I have since forgiven myself and begun the long process of moving on.).

Anyone who knows me knows I love movies, and more specifically, I love really good movies. And of course, like every other snob on the planet, I think that my taste is the most refined around, and anyone who doesn't like what I do, or worse, who likes things I think are terrible, clearly needs a lesson in why they are wrong.

But I will say that I don't limit myself only to what I like, and while I try to remain discerning, if you can make your point of why you think I should see something, and make it well, I will probably give it a look. In this case, "Joaquin Phoenix makes a hot priest" is a flawless argument, and one that would cause me to willingly sit down to a movie about the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush!).

The film isn't great--besides the admittedly kind of squeamish material, the actors (apart from the leads) are all kind of kookily wooden, like they tried to do a decent acting job and then were told, "No, really, we're looking for something a little weirder, a little less like normal human beings." Plus Geoffrey Rush is naked for the last half hour and Joaquin Phoenix keeps his priestly vestments on throughout, which proves there is no justice in this world, cinematically speaking. But here's the thing that caught my attention.

A movie about, in part, a tenuous, semi-friendship between the Marquis de Sade and the priest who runs the asylum holding him is utterly stuffed with opportunities for things to go horribly, horribly wrong. And if you have watched any movies at all, or even watched any news at all in the last twenty years or more, you will probably have noticed that when priests come into the picture, something bad is going to happen, and the man of God is going to have a precipitous fall from grace, and more often than not, the viewers are supposed to cheer.

We never said it aloud, but Molly was also clearly aware of this stereotype, and so everytime Joaquin-the-priest appeared on screen and treated the Marquis de Sade (or anyone else) with grace, Molly would say, "See, he's a good man. He's so good!" And it was true.

I have no idea how true-to-life the movie is (I'm assuming it's highly fictionalized, though I know it's based off a play by the same name), but it got me thinking about the depiction of members of clergy, and people of faith in general, in film and in life. There has certainly been a backlash, though I hate calling it that at this point, especially against people in leadership of faith communities, and this is seen most clearly, and very often, in film.

There's no denying that many, many people have been deeply wounded, on multiple levels, by the leaders they were told to entrust with their spiritual health. I in no way mean to diminish the pain there. But I also think that now, especially in film, the desire to get those stories told, stories that have been pushed under the rug for years and years and years, has left us with a vacuum of positive portrayals of people of faith. Combine that with the real-life news of money scandals, sex scandals and any other kind of indiscretion you can imagine in all different kinds of churches, and it's not surprising that many people (especially in a city like Portland) view "The Church" (ie, at large) with a hypercautious eye.

The easy answer to this, and I've heard it before, is for Christians and other people of faith to simply create media that presents them in a positive light. Unfortunately, all too often, these attempts end up coming across as shallow, obvious, and simplistic, and can drive people away faster and more effectively than it draws them in.

I firmly believe that if people of faith want to change how they are viewed by the rest of the world, or even by their local communities, that change has to come from deep within the church itself. There is an open, sometimes vocal assumption that all people of faith are struggling with demons, and as a result, have plenty of skeletons in their closets. While the struggle is undoubtedly true, the skeletons don't have to be. If we, as the church, are willing to allow God to illuminate our darkness, if we are willing to show that there may have been skeletons, but they have been cleaned out by the piercing honesty of the gospel, then perhaps we can begin to move beyond the skepticism and mistrust that so often taints the view of faith in our city and our world.

In another opportunity to try to present the gospel for what it is and not what it is perceived to be, Emmaus is putting on a free hip hop concert tomorrow. I'm pretty excited about it, to be honest, and I hope the turnout is good. There are always free concerts in Portland in the summer, but there's hardly anything for the hip hop fans of the city. And I love that, since it's free, we're able to give something to people without asking for anything in return. Also, selfishly, I am excited because Courtney, my old roommate and one of my best friends, is coming up for it, which means she'll finally get to meet all these Emmaus people she's been hearing about for the last year and a half.

Tomorrow is also my standing weekly friend date with Robin, and that's always a good time. We call it a coffee date, but more often it's beer and fries or gelato. I have a deep love for the standing scheduled dates, where you meet up and hang out whether you have anything to talk about or not. I don't know if it's because of a love of routine, a total lack of spontenaity or what. Personally. I really love the idea that someone would want to see me not just when the mood struck them, but on a regular, committed basis. And I don't think Robin and I have ever actually had a day where we didn't have things to talk about.

Lastly, and here's your "Portland, you are so strange" moment, tomorrow is Christina's birthday, and she really wants to go see this live-action classic Star Trek episode re-enactment. Apparently, the episode we're going to see is something about Spock studying Vulcan mating rituals. Christina and Courtney are excited. I am wondering how I got dragged into this, with my staunch refusal to watch Star Trek, or to even allow myself to be associated with anything vaguely resembling science fiction.

But one thing's for sure: I know I will laugh.

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