The ad showed up on my Tumblr account. At once I cringed and my heart fell and my soul sighed, “Oh no.” it was an ad for the movie: Black or White, starring Kevin Costner. The summary of the plot: white guy and black woman have a custody battle over biracial girl.
Then my cynical self kicked in and started to predict which memes the film would go for. Based on the plot I figured the black female lead will be some version of the sassy angry black woman (there must be a Hollywood rule somewhere that you can’t have a “black” film without this character). I suspect there somewhere in the film there will be a black man on drugs. White man taking care of biracial girl sets the film up for the typical comic hair stuff (how original). Somewhere along the line there will be the “needs to have a black experience” moment which will probably involve musical black people (because we all have rhythm). I further suspect that the white man will win the custody case and come through the whole experience as a wiser and more enlightened white man.
I have seen nothing but the ad photo and the short plot summary. I have no desire to see anything more about it. My hope is that I’m wrong about everything I’ve said in the above paragraph. My fear is that I’m closer to right than wrong.
I walked into my local Fred Meyer this evening. As I entered three men followed and by their conduct and appearance I concluded that they were developmentally disabled. Having reached my conclusion I paid them no further attention. Then I noticed that they were always in the same ailse with me. Still, I made nothing of it.
Then after the fourth time of noticing them, one of the men said to me, “You’re very pretty for an old woman.” For a moment I was offended at being called old. Then I heard the teenager standing behind me laugh. Clearly it amused her at some guy “coming on” to an old woman. I stifled my offendedness and cringed a bit but I conceded to myself that this culture now considers me old, grey hair and all, I managed a smile and said, “Thank you.”
I turned to go on with my shopping and a few minutes later, there they were again. The same man said to me, “You remind me of my mom. She was old and pretty too.”
Again part of me was offended. I could not have possibly reminded him of his mom. This man was blond haired and blue eyed. His mom could not have possibly borne a resemblance to me. But then I thought, “What if he was adopted? Or what if he is talking about a grandmother who was black? Or what if he’s remembering a woman who cared for him who was black?”
Then I was a little embarrassed. The voice of reason (the voice of God) in my head said, “Don’t be so quick to take offence. Don’t be so quick to judge. This was not an insult.” Sometimes I get what God is doing in a moment of my life. Sometimes I am given the grace of just letting a moment be.
There is a beauty to hip-hop. However this beauty has little to do with it as an art form. As an art form I find it boring, narrow, irrelevant and lacking in virtuosity. As music it is utterly simplistic. As lyric it is at best average poetry.
In what way then do I find it beautiful? At its best it is a lively expression of a slice of the American experience. As such I find it beautiful as I would find a flower growing in the dessert beautiful. Hip-hop speaks powerfully to its own culture and people. It has created its own sensibility and vocabulary and style. I find that beautiful. I want to acknowledge that beauty.
At the same time hip-hop is failing as an art form (IMHO). It speaks only to itself and to its own. It has failed (thus far) to transcend itself which is what art does. I can both see its beauty and ignore it because it doesn’t speak to me at all and has no intention to do so. Therefore it is not compelling because it doesn’t speak to the universal within the particular, which is what a great art form does.
Let me back up and be honest. I don’t like most of what I hear in hip-hop: violent, misogynist, homophobic, stunningly patriarchal, politically unsophisticated, and lacking in subtly. At the same time I admire the way it articulates anger and rage at the status quo. I admire its desire for word play and I hope it leads more young people into poetry and the literary arts. Still hip-hop dismisses me without challenging me. It assumes, “You don’t love hip-hop? You’re out of it. You don’t matter. You’re old anyway so who cares about your opinion. Our music will forever be current.”
Good luck on that one, hip-hop. We tried that route when we were young. It didn’t work then. I doubt that it will work this time either. I predict that you will end up like us: approaching 50 and wondering why the revolution hasn’t happened. You’ll wake up one day to find your music being used to sell you family cars, vitamins and life insurance. But don’t worry about that now. Until then, fill the air with your words and raps, your beats and scratches. Say what you have to say. Enjoy the ride because it’s a short one.
Today is January 19th. It’s our anniversary. It would have been number two for us. I remember our first anniversary. I was sick, in bed, recovering from pneumonia. We didn’t celebrate. Five weeks later you were gone. As I’ve said to you every time I’ve written and every time I’ve visited your final resting place, so I say again today; I miss you. There’s a big empty space in my life without you.
You show up in my dreams all the time. The most recent was night before last. I had moved to Cleveland because Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and St Phillip Lutheran Church had both called me to do ordained ministry at both places. The beauty of dreams is that the impossible happens routinely. In the real world an Episcopal parish and a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod congregation could never call the same person to ordained ministry at both places. Anyway, when I got to Cleveland you met me at our new home. I seemed to be the only person who knew that were dead and your reply to your presence was, “Even in science some things can’t be explained.” Then the dream wandered on into other territory.
I am recalling our wedding day. I remember the moment that it all came home to me. My sister had walked on ahead of me and I was about to follow. I took a couple of steps when I saw everyone stand up. I was shocked by this. There was no cross or gospel book or anything that imaged the presence of God. There was only me, a one person procession that brought people to their feet. I stopped in my tracks and a voice in my head asked, “Why are they doing this?” Another voice answered, “Because it is the custom to stand when the bride walks down the aisle.” Part of me wanted to object but the conversation in my head went on. “This is not the time to judge. This is not the time to theologize. This is the time to experience. You will reflect later.”
What you may have experienced as hesitation on my part (since I stopped walking) was actually that moment of conversation in my head. Then I relaxed and soaked in the moment. I let myself look around and acknowledge those who were there. I saw your brothers and my sister—representatives of those who have known us since day one. I saw the crowd of people who have come to know us in adulthood. I delighted in their presence. And when I reached your sided it was powerful and reassuring to feel you hold me tight. It was easy for me to make the promise that Andrea called me to make. It was thrilling to hear you make that same promise. It was the most natural thing in my life to walk down that aisle with you, arm and arm, as husband and wife. You were in the role of priest that day as you called our family and friends to eat together with us and celebrate unexpected and unpredictable love.
As I look back on that day, how can I do anything but smile and give thanks. I wish that we could be together this day. I wish that we had been given the gift of many years together as husband and wife. Yet I am thankful for the many years of being friends and lovers. In you I knew that gift of love in a way that I never expected to experience. And if I live to be a hundred and never find that gift again, I will be thankful to the end of my days for the grace of your love.
Tonight I raise a glass to you and me. We go down in the tradition of lovers who never got to fulfill the years of their love. Some would see in us a tragedy. I get that and I sometimes feel that way. However in the end words that I once thought of as ridiculous have proven to be true: “It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.”
A few years back I learned about Tona Brown. She is an African-American woman who is a violinist and mezzo-soprano. She has several recordings, has preformed at Carnegie Hall and has sung for President Obama. As a classical musician she has brought that sensibility to her expression of what it means to be black in America. As a black person who loves classical music, I deeply admire her and appreciate her as someone who embodies the diversity that is often ignored but is nonetheless present throughout the black communities. Oh, she also happens to be transgender.
I’ve been listening to classical music since I was in the womb. However it wasn’t until I was in third grade that I realized music came in categories and that these categories had social implications.
It was the practice of the Cleveland Public Schools to take third graders to hear the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall. To this day I remember my trip with my class. I recall how impressed I was at the grandeur of the hall. It was the largest and most ornate place I had ever seen. It was the first time I had ever seen and heard an orchestra play. I was captivated from the very start. I loved the sights and the sounds of the whole event. It was incredible. It was like something out of a beautiful dream. When it ended I wanted more.
However on the bus ride back to Moses Cleaveland Elementary School I learned that something was amiss. The reviews from my peers came in and the performance was universally panned. There was agreement on the bus that the music was boring and a waste of time. The players were mercilessly mocked. Everyone joined in except me. When I was finally asked for my opinion I didn’t say much but I pretended to share the prevailing point of view.
I have always regretted that I didn’t stand up for my opinion that day. I was hiding my gender identity from my peers because I had already seen what happens to boys who don’t fit the mold of boyhood. Now music that I liked was being mocked and I was afraid to go against the grain of my peers’ opinion.
Still I pursued my love of classical music. The classical music radio station in Cleveland became a favorite of mine. I checked out records from the public library. I was trained in music theory and played the clarinet. I found joy in the music and companions who shared the same joy. And to this day, classical music and I are fast friends.
I had planned to ween myself from my antidepressant after the holidays. I figured that if I could get through that season then I could back off of the meds. I now realize that was a poor plan. I tried backing off on the meds and the depression symptoms roared back to life. So I have returned to taking full dose.
I am disappointed that I can’t go off this med but I’m coming to grips with the fact that I need them, at least for now. Maybe I’ll try again after I pass through the one year anniversaries of the three deaths that have changed my life. Maybe I’ll try again in the summer. However for now prozac stays in the pill box with my other meds.
I have to admit that prozac works for me. When I’m taking it regularly I feel like my old self. I have energy. I feel focused. It doesn’t take me two hours just to get out of bed. I have experienced no particular side effects. Well, dry mouth, but maybe that will help me to drink more water. I also have noticed that I have to work harder to lose weight. Yet on the whole prozac and I are OK.
The Season of Celebration technically ends with the Feast of the Epiphany. However this year I’m shutting down the season early. I’ve decided that today is the last day of the Season of Celebration this year. I observed less than half of the days that I usually mark. I only kept about a quarter of the traditions that I usually keep. It’s been a terrible season this time around. My heart just hasn’t been in it. I knew it was going to be tough but I didn’t think it was going to be this tough.
Now that I’ve declared the season to be over, I’m ready to move on. Although liturgically the church and I are in the Christmas season, in my heart I’m going back to ordinary time. I’ve made the pilgrimage to Cleveland and and back (more on that later). I’ve just taken down the one decoration that I hung. I’ve de-commissioned the jingle socks. It’s over. I usually look back and reflect on the Season of Celebration and write about what I experienced. I may at some point do that but right now I just want to move on.
What does “moving on” look like?
- The resumption of a regular schedule. Print Center two to three days a week and Ascension three days a week.
- The return to routines that were intentionally set aside for the Season. Tracking points, Weight Watchers meetings, exercise, regular study, regular sleep, writing, house-keeping, car maintenance, normal spending patterns, Church School, two liturgies each Sunday and the like.
- Renewing relationships. I’ve done a particularly poor job since the deaths of Howard, my mom and my dad at maintaining relationships. I’ve left too many friends out in the cold–too many unanswered emails, too many un-returned phone calls, too many messages to which I didn’t reply. It’s time to begin turning that tide.
That’s what “moving on” looks like to me. And now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s almost 7am. That means it’s time for my breakfast, my usual breakfast; ahh, routine!