The Rise of the Evangelical Liberal

PopeFrancis

As I listened to Pastor Bill Tvedt on the radio this morning, my spirit was moved.

The conservative evangelical told NPR’s David Greene that all members of the Jubilee Family Church in Oskaloosa, Iowa, vote. It is part of their religious mission and platform, Tvedt said. It is the way to best represent their faith. He added that he encourages his members to vote for the candidate that reflects ‘biblical values.’

This last statement piqued my interest. I know exactly what ‘biblical values’ are. The Christian Right has long supported candidates who are anti-abortion, against same sex marriage, and who will govern with the Bible’s teachings in mind. Yet this definition of values, in my view, is the thing that has always contradicted itself. Who are Evangelical, right-wing Christians to define God’s values?

Apparently this is a question more and more Republicans are now asking. Pastor Tvedt told NPR that ever since the George W. Bush administration made Christian Evangelism a major factor in its decision making (and thus, launched a very unpopular and costly war against Islamic fundamentalists in in Iraq and Afghanistan), the Republican party has been quietly moving away from the traditional evangelical platform.

Other tenets of conservatism are falling by the wayside as well. Gay marriage is the No. 1 factor driving traditional Republicans away from the Christian Right. The law of the land simply does not make the rights of married heterosexuals more important than that of gays.

Immigration may eventually become the next factor. Many of these immigrant children and their parents are not being treated the way Jesus would do. Additionally, the American economy needs this labor source to keep food and clothing costs low, as well as to pay social security taxes. And let’s not forget Latino Catholic voters. They may believe in Jesus’ teachings, and even be pro-life, but they still want their families to be united and have safe passage across the border.

Artist: Matt Wuerker, Cartoonstock.com

Artist: Matt Wuerker, Cartoonstock.com

It’s as if someone (perhaps a divine entity?) has untied the strings that once secured Ronald Reagan’s Big Tent GOP platform. Those ties were fragile to begin with. Still the canvas is coming down hard on traditional evangelicals.

So which political party best considers the values of right-wing Christians in America? One could argue that the Tea Party does this. However, I suspect there is division between the Christian and Libertarian factions of the party itself.

Christian Evangelicals want to do whatever is needed to protect the US relationship with Israel, even if that means continued war with the Islamic State. Libertarians, I suspect, have a more of an isolationist view of foreign policy. As a result, the big tent of the Tea Party will likely never be raised off the ground either.

Does this mean that Evangelism is losing influence? No. I would argue that it is the definition of an Evangelical that is actually being evolved. People like Bill Tvedt can no longer define what is of value in our global society. There are simply too many people, a silent majority, who have values too. Strong ones at that.

The biggest headline from the pulpit this week was not how God is (barely) giving America Ebola as punishment for gay marriage, etc. Rather, Pope Francis told his billions of followers that Evolution and the Big Bang were real. God does not have a magic wand, the Pope said.

Even to the least devout believer, this is the very definition of heresy.
Or is it?

Pope Francis represents the rise of what I call the Evangelical Liberal. They may not have a cable channel or even a headcount. They don’t have a university in Virginia. Nor do they boycott the funerals of Conservative Christians to bring awareness to their cause. What Evangelical Liberals share, however, is a passion for peace and quality of life.

The Guardian

The Guardian

Evangelical Liberals quietly, and pragmatically study their spiritual paths, meditate, contemplate, and listen to the opinions and beliefs of God and others. They also, most importantly, respect the findings of science that has evolved. These findings, they conclude, are part of the extensive miracle works provided on earth by God.

When I google the phrase Evangelical Liberal, more than a million results pop up. Some references are simply the Evangelical Left.

A well established and very popular blog by writer Harvey Cox clearly defines The Evangelical Liberal:

“Doctrinal statements aren’t really what it’s all about,” Cox writes. “What counts, to paraphrase the apostle Paul, is a changed life – a life of commitment to reality and to love.

“It doesn’t really matter a hill of beans whether you accept a particular theory of the atonement or favor a particular version of End Times theology, so long as you have love.”

It is an absolutely perfect and beautiful sentiment. If a political action committee or lobbying group existed to conduct a poll, I suspect Mr. Cox’s creed would wildly supported.

As evidenced by the rabid debate between HBO host Bill Mahrer, actor Ben Affleck, and former Christian-now Muslim scholar Reza Aslan, the murderous nature of religious fundamentalists among Arab and Muslim nations is simply not sustainable. Whether we like it or not, it is up to secular Muslims and even Western Liberals, to take a stand and rise against this horrific outlier.

At the same time, Evangelical Liberals must continue to speak out against the oppressive, intolerant, and extremely harmful nature of traditional Christian Evangelicals, and the politicians, and fringe groups they support. The Right to Life, and others, movement has lobbied for laws and policies that deprive middle-class and poor Americans healthcare. The National Rifle Association upports a massive lobbying campaign that has allowed public school children to be massacred 87 times since the Sandy Hook shootings. Like it or not, these aspects the traditional Evangelical are violent and horrific outliers as well.

Respectful and spiritual people can embrace a life purpose that supports all of God’s hopes for mankind. To care for our world and its environment. To respect and protect each other. To give each child a healthy, loving and well-informed life. To hold one another accountable with a firm, but kind heart. To treat ourselves and others with the same love, respect and admiration defined by Christ, Buddha, Allah, and Yahwey, among others.

To embrace a peaceful, and sustainable quality of life. This is a Evangelical rise I hope you, and I, can pray for. Amen.

iPad’s Big Day Out

Earlier this week, I spent an entire day trying to find my daughter’s missing Mini iPad. If you have ever lost an iPhone or other mobile device, you know it has an internal GPS function that you can track online. So in theory, how hard could this recovery be?

Now, these days I’m a stay-at-home mom. Fifteen years prior, however, I was a producer at CNN. I’m also a smart ass. Thus, out of sheer boredom and a natural inclination, I reported my search for “iPad” to my friends on FaceBook. Naturally, it included quasi-witty commentary.

To my surprise, and apparently their delight, most of my FaceBook friends found this very intriguing. I daresay they were entertained. Perhaps I was simple Friday fodder? Maybe they liked my sense of humor? Maybe they were like me: Intrigued as hell watching the virtual pin drop known as “iPad” as it moved across my current home town, Atlanta.

By the end of the day however, “iPad’s Big Day Out” became a sort of sociological experiment. When last I posted, it was about 3:30p Friday afternoon. I was about to confront the iPad occupier in the parking lot of a Kroger grocery store, south of my neighborhood. I literally left my audience hanging.

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As promised, here is the conclusion. For those of you new to the adventure, I’ve added a summary.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday night: Peter and No. 2 are commiserating over my own iPad right as he is about to leave for a business trip. We all say goodbye, then I head into Child No. 2’s room.

“I don’t think I’ll be taking my iPad to school anymore,” she says cautiously. “Someone got their iPad stolen at school.”

I congratulate her on the revelation. I repeat oft-said mantra: Don’t take iPad to school. Don’t take it in the car.

Within seconds she cracks. “It’s my iPad that’s missing,” she says. When she pouts, she looks like Grumpy Cat.

She then shows me my own larger, traditional iPad. My husband has found her iPad by using the Find My Friends App. On the screen, a red pin drop indicates that an Apple device under my daughter’s Apple ID is hanging out in the warehouse/club district of Westside Atlanta. I went there. Once. Before children. Fifteen years ago.

I open the pinned location in Google Maps. I then use Google Earth to help me a full 360 street view of the building. Suddenly this otherwise intrusive Google Earth thing ain’t so bad.

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I’m ready for No. 2’s inevitable meltdown. Instead, we spend the next five minutes discussing the pros and cons of attending a diverse public school. We talk about the various motives one might have to actually want steal a device. She wonders why said kids would spend their money on “KDs” (costly branded sports shoes) and not on their own iPad. I don’t judge. I explain that often self-confidence is often all about the external packaging.

My daughter concludes, on her own, that someone would be compelled to take an iPad because they, themselves, don’t have such a nice thing. “Perhaps the kid who stole needs it more than I do,” my daughter says. At this point, I’m very proud of Daughter No. 2.

When I go to bed that night, I check iPad’s status. It remains inside a warehouse in Westside Atlanta. I can see a ramp leading up the outside of the building onto the roof.

In my mind, iPad is surrounded by empty bottles of Cristal amid a giant rave. She’s taking a LOT of selfies surrounded by numerous clubbing women. Perhaps her new host is some guy in the center of those pictures? Perhaps the face of one of those women is tattooed to his neck? Perhaps she is wearing a gold grill?

The next morning I wake up and check my email. My husband has left me with details about where iPad is this morning. She’s at a specific address in just northeast of Atlanta. It is a sleepy little suburb really. With that, the conversation begins.

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Pete has provided me with a non-emergency phone number to the DeKalb County police so that I can report iPad as being stolen. He also sends me a link to the exact address.

After I take Daughter No. 2 to school, I drive toward iPad’s flophouse. I want to see what I’m up against as I decide how to pursue this issue. First, I stop for a breakfast bagel and a mocha. If I’m going down over an iPad, I’m going to be well fueled and fed. I contemplate my lack of a shower, and the yoga pants. Not the best choice for a modern-day crimefighter.

iPad spent the night in a simple, somewhat dull cottage surrounded by the usual brick ranch houses. Except whomever was there is now clearly no longer home. iPad’s new owner has a job, I deduce. I begin to wonder if iPad was stolen by a student and already sold to some oblivious schmuck. My FaceBook friends tend to agree.

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Because I am in my car, I don’t have wireless. Thus, I cannot track iPad on my own Mama iPad if you will. I have a pre-existing appointment to get my car detailed, so I hunker down at the car wash, and log on to their Wifi.

Mini iPad has already returned to the Westside. It is very close to the location it was the previous night.

Sometimes the locator moves on its own. Sometimes I have to refresh it. Either way, iPad seems to move around the building. It’s in the parking lot, then into the building. It stays long enough for me to track the building location on Google Earth.

iPad is at an auto shop on the Westside. Is iPad now property of an auto mechanic? Or is iPad just in the back of someone’s car that is getting repaired? Every time I take a few moments to think, iPad moves around again.

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During this down time, I contact the DeKalb County Police. I cannot file a police report because iPad was clearly stolen in the area served by the Atlanta Police Department. The 911 operator tells me that I’m going to have to drive in the vicinity of iPad, then call 911 so that an Atlanta police officer can meet me to retrieve iPad. Ohh…..Kay…..

I spend the next hour blogging about iPad’s actions. It leaves the auto shop. It grabs lunch to go at a nearby BBQ. It heads a few other places and then ends up at Arby’s.

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“iPad either works now as a carrier service, a drug dealer, or a binge eater,” I post. iPad’s audience is mounting.

“Doesn’t everyone agree that Pam’s iPad is the best thing to happen on FaceBook in like two or three years!?!” asks a Facebook friend I have not seen in long time. “iPad doesn’t get out much and is clearly  making up for lost time,” adds another.

While iPad is at Arby’s, I spot two police officers at the auto detailing place. I double check my instructions with them. Yes, I have to find it, and call 911. However, I’ll also need to file an incident report at my daughter’s middle school where we think it was stolen. This will give the situation a case number that will allow Atlanta police and DeKalb police the link they need to work together and retrieve it.

For some reason, my bullshit detector is not raging as highly as usual. I’m also unusually patient. When my own car is ready, I proceed to the middle school and ask to meet with the officer on campus to file an incident report.

Campus Cop is a five-year APD veteran. He was a beat cop in Southwest Atlanta before being assigned to the school earlier in the year. He’s literally gone from one extreme to the other. He doesn’t admit it, but he has to be bored. Clearly he’s frustrated. Someone stole an iPhone just yesterday, he says. He’s really limited as to what he can do about it. We sit off at a table in the hall way together to discuss.

Campus Cop is an Android user. He is wholly unimpressed with the fact that I cannot remotely order iPad to “Scream.” This would allow it to emit an actual siren. He also wonders why iPad can’t be ordered to take a photo of its captor remotely.

Though I am not one to suffer fools gladly, I call Apple Support to see if any of this is possible. Meanwhile, iPad gets BUSY. We watch it go to Arthur’s Dress Shop. It later moves up Northside Avenue toward Interstate 75. It seems to pull into the parking lot that I know to have retail and a Starbucks.

“That’s a Verizon store,” Campus Cop theorizes. We both start to panic. “Can he change the carrier and wireless service this easily?” I ask, adding that my carrier is not Verizon, but AT&T. Campus Cop begins to look up the number of the Verizon location on Northside Avenue.

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As if it knows what we are both thinking, iPad suddenly jumps onto I-75 heading south. Within minutes, it’s headed toward Interstate 20 east.

“If he heads out of Atlanta we’re screwed,” Campus Cop says. We watch iPad exit an off ramp onto a southeast Atlanta neighborhood. Campus Cop notes: if iPad heads into someone’s residence, no police officer can get it out without a warrant. This will come in handy later as it is the answer to a question from one of my FaceBook friends.

iPad stops at a residence in a neighborhood. I know this place. Or at least I think I do.

“iPad has now ventured into a neighborhood known as The Land Where Soccer Mom’s Need Not Venture Alone,” I tell my Facebook followers. Two of my ultra-conservative Facebook friends “Like” this. This is another post I will later delete.

After 25 minutes on hold with Apple support, I’m told what I already know. iPad cannot be ordered to take photos remotely. I thank Campus Cop for his service, take my newly assigned case number, and head on my way.

Because I am now driving, I can no longer monitor iPad without wireless. I need a wing girl. An expert. I head home to recruit Daughter No. 1. She is a teenager. She’s been off school for the day. She likes intrigue. She digs crime. This should be fun.

How wrong I am.

The first five minutes, Daughter No. 1 is enthused. “This is kind of like a game,” she says.  She knows how to load the wireless hot spot off my iPhone. Mama iPad is not perfectly tracking Baby iPad. We. Are. On.

Mini iPad has now moved from the neighborhood residence to a nearby Kroger Grocery Store. I know this neighborhood as well. It has a Kroger’s, but it also has Dollar stores and struggling real estate developments amid older run down homes. The neighborhood appears to resist the urge to gentrify.

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I make a crack on Facebook that I’m am initially reluctant to do. Maybe it is sheer exasperation. I should have showered this morning. I look ridiculous in these yoga pants. Also, I’m clearly playing to my audience. “iPad is stopping at Kroger,” I post. “I wonder if it will choose fried or rotisserie?”

I am as amused as I am ashamed. I don’t know why, but I leave the comment anyway. Later I will delete this.

Daughter No. 1 and I approach the Kroger parking lot. Suddenly it occurs to her that she’d really rather be home, straightening her hair. She has a big dance at her school in three hours. She has other things she needs to do. She begins to throw a tantrum. More than anything she does NOT WANT ME POSTING UPDATES TO FACEBOOK!

My Facebook audience, however, is upping its demands. “What’s the plan?” asks a high school classmate I’ve known since 1976. “Do you think you can get it back?” asks a guy I’ve known since kindergarten who is writing from his home in Japan.

I explain to my friends that my objective is to just hang until the pin drop moves on the iPad. By then, I assure them, I’ll know the car, and get the license plate and will be able to notify authorities.

“Be careful Pamela Sellers!” posts a former friend/colleague/producer from my days at CNN. She’s the producer who has worked in war zones for years.

This is beginning to take too long. Maybe iPad’s new occupier actually works at Kroger? I DO have to return Daughter No. 1 to her hair session. Daughter No. 2 will need to be picked up at her bus stop within the hour. I establish a new strategy. I leave whining teenager in my car with radio and air conditioning running. I begin taking photos with my iPhone of the license plates of the 20-or-so cars in the lot.

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Deep down inside, I’m beginning to think that my behavior should no longer be encouraged.

After my photo session, I go back to the car. No. 1 is PISSED. I also notice she’s so self-obsessed she has not updated the Find a Friend Ap in a long time. iPad, it seems, has not just left the building. It has left the parking lot altogether and gone back to the nearby home.

We follow the route into the neighborhood. This is an older housing tract, filled with the similar brick ranch houses and front lawns of that North DeKalb suburb I visited earlier. Children are exiting their school buses. Older American-made sedans line the drive ways. It’s clean. It’s quiet.

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Older men are tending to their yards. Younger men are loitering on the occasional corner. All of them are making eye contact with me. They are not saying hello. They look rather surprised. They are working- and middle-class middle black folk and they are wondering what in the HELL am I doing doing in THEIR neighborhood?”

My daughter is taking all of this in. “Is this the hood?” she asks. “Well, it’s a black neighborhood,” I respond. I try to tell her the difference between what is clearly just a neighborhood and what is one when it is urban, and surrounded by blight. She then asks me questions like, “What’s a crack house?”

She starts to tell me that I am a stalker. This isn’t right she says. She insists that we leave. I nearly do what she says. Then I realize that I am so close to iPad’s final pin drop, I would be a fool to give up now.

I drive down the long street toward iPad’s final stop. It’s ten houses on the left according to Google Maps. I begin to drive slowly down the street, counting…one…two….three….

It’s in that red car,” my oldest insists, pointing to a vehicle in the driveway. “It’s in that car, right there!”

“How do you know that?” I ask.

“Because that’s Dad’s rental car!” she says.

With absolute mortification, I see that she’s probably right. In the driveway of a lovely little ranch house is a bright red Ford Focus. It’s the exact car my husband had rented the weekend before when we had to be three places all at the same time. I snap a photo of the car’s license place and get out of the neighborhood immediately.

Daughter No. 1 is now calm and rather righteous. I return her home for well-deserved primping. I then head to the bus stop to pick up child No. 2.

Within two seconds of getting into the car from the bus, No.2 asks me in her sweet little voice: “Did you find it?” Of course I should know exactly what ‘it’ is.

“Did you, by chance, take your iPad in the car that Daddy rented last weekend?” I ask.

“Well….” she ponders. No. 2 is a thoughtful child. A little too thoughtful sometimes. We often call her “3G.” About twenty seconds late it hits her.

“Oops.”

Ten more seconds later she’s starting to it all together.

“I guess you didn’t need to contact the police, did you Mommy?”

Without prodding she suddenly says: “Mommy, I’m sorry.”

Upon contacting Enterprise Rental Car, they confirm that the Ford Focus was the same vehicle we rented. It’s now in the possession of a “Ms. Sams.” After notifying her, they tell me that Ms. Sams will gladly meet up to return the device.

I am as mortified as my youngest was contrite. I spent the day chasing down a ghost in my imagination. An opportunistic, yet jealous middle schooler. A raver/drug dealer who must have been on a booty call to wind up sleeping in THAT part of DeKalb County. A professional criminal clearly peddling stolen wares for cash.

Using the cell number given to me by the Enterprise service rep, I dial Ms. Sams. I’ve lived in Atlanta for 20 years. I know its natives. I’ve driven around this particular neighborhood and the westside of Atlanta enough to know there is a whole other kind of demographic who dwells here.

I explain to Ms. Sams how I was able to find her. I apologize for intruding. I then admit that I know exactly where she lives.

“Oh it’s not my home,” she says kindly. The imaginary sword I’ve impaled myself with goes down deeper. It twists to the right. “It’s my mother’s house.”

I have spent the day stalking a woman who was most likely to be my daughter’s elementary school teacher. My victim spent the tending to her elderly mother. I think I need to cry.

In addition to all the societal wrongs I know I have committed, I am equally terrified about how I’m going to update my Facebook friends. I am so embarrassed I offer this simple update to my hungry Facebook crowd:

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Not knowing about Ms. Sams, the Facebook crowd immediately begins to theorize and empathize. ‘Your daughters realizes she never really lost iPad, one friend suggests. “Once my brother faked his own kidnapping…” confesses another.

Eventually, they will wait for nearly two days for my update while I process what I have done. I realize that no matter how long it has been since I have seen them, my Facebook friends would still be the greatest group of people to have a beer with.

Our penance is for Child No. 2 and I to sit at the intersection of Flat Shoals Highway and Bouldercrest for 30 minutes while we wait for Ms. Sams to arrive. It’s Friday afternoon traffic. As I sit in this gas station parking lot, there are no other soccer moms waiting around in their electric cars. There are men wondering around talking to one another. There are women waiting for the bus. People are lining up at the gas station window.

It’s Friday. It is pay day. They are cashing their checks.

I want to be concerned about the neighborhood I am parked in. My daughter does too. But I don’t and I won’t let her. “These are just folks and this is their neighborhood,” I explain. “They are folks like you and me. They’re just hanging with their friends. They’re just taking the bus. They’re filling up their gas tanks.”

I think silently in my head: And one of them spent the day running errands in a rental car.

When Ms. Sams pulls up in the now recognizable rental car, she is exactly who I thought she would be. She is a pleasant African-American woman in her early 60s. Her gold hoop earrings and lipstick complement her smoothed-back hair. She’s wearing embellished black track suit.

I have my daughter greet her, and express her thanks. Ms. Sams has a southern drawl. She asks my daughter how old she is. She notes how tall and beautiful my child is. She calls my daughter “Sugar.”

I touch Ms. Sams’ shoulder in gratitude. I tell her how sweet and wonderful she is. We thank her again and get on our way.

My daughter immediately hops onto her device like nothing has happened. I think I’m going to be sick. Fortunately, the Gods ARE crazy because within minutes we pull up in traffic behind THIS.

google_street_view_car

When my husband returns from his business trip and we talk the next day, he tells me how he tracked iPad most of his day as well. His work colleagues were equally curious. They want updates too.

After I tell my husband the whole story, he, too sympathizes. He, too, is a smart ass. It’s why I married him.

“My wife wanted to catch a street thug,” he writes to his work friends, “instead, she got a sweet little old lady.”

Yes. I. Did.

Boardwalk Empire: Where Astonishing Performances Go to Die

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

As the series-finale of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire approaches, the bodies in Atlantic City are being stacked higher than the crates of smuggled liquor. It’s HBO cousin Game of Thrones has mastered the art of sudden death. Yet, King’s Landing is the land of awkward thugs compared to the murderous finesse executed by those along the Atlantic Seaboard.

In GOT, one tends to die because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, or they are the deserved targets of a premeditated, admittedly gleeful spree. Boardwalk’s fallen, however, cease amid a horrific sense of injustice, despite their own heinous crimes, and often because of their own very human choices.

While viewers will mourn the loss of the Boardwalk characters, the Screen Actors Guild must be in tatters over the end of the show itself. An untold number of actors have appeared over its five seasons. I stopped counting beyond the 500-plus listed on IMDb. Still, nary a performance, set, or costume has been anything less than superb. Boardwalk has become a snack-sized Martin Scorsese masterpiece. (The director is an executive producer who oversaw the show’s pilot.)

If you don’t have HBO, HBO Go or HBO on Demand, pray for a quick Netflix release soon or ask Santa to bring you the box set. Boardwalk is the most delectable combination of early 20th century history/crime drama. You do not need to look carefully to see nearly every iconic emblem of the show’s 50-year era (The Gilded Age, The Flapper, the Harlem Renaissance, and of course, the Wise Guy). What’s unique to Boardwalk is the rise and fall of prohibition, and the birth of organized crimes. It is America at its best–and its worst.

Still, the success of Boardwalk rests entirely on its writing, direction, and ultimately, its performances. Thus, without hindering the binge-worthy pursuits of any latecomer, the following is a tribute to the supporting cast of Boardwalk Empire, and their astonishing, ultimately deathly performances.

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

ANGELA DARMODY: Mrs. James Darmody’s death in Season Two was as tragic as it was violent. Screenwriters have historically killed off gay and lesbian characters on screen as a form of implied social judgement. Seeing this long-tormented mother (played gorgeously by Aleksa Palladino) as she finally finds bliss and intimacy with her lesbian lover was enlightening. Her death via one of her husband’s most vicious foes was so disturbing and unfair, I cried.

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

JIMMY DARMODY: He survived an incestuous relationship with his mother, a paralyzing war injury, and a stint working as a rough in Chicago for Al Capone. Yet Darmody (Michael Pitt) foolishly chose to double-cross Nucky, the only person who ever really had his back. He wises and begs for Nucky’s forgiveness. So when Nucky suddenly turns on his and kills Jimmy himself, you, like Darmody, are stunned.

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

GYP ROSETTI: Perhaps the greatest character performance to appear on the series was that of the volatile Italian mobster. The sadistic (and equally masochistic) Gyp earned actor Bobby Cannavale a well-deserved Emmy. When Rosetti finally was whacked, I was incredulous simply because Gyp has survived so many previous attempts, like the one shown above.

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

OWEN SLEATER: The message behind Owen’s shocking death was for Nucky to think outside the box. He was so devoted to Margaret (Kelly McDonald), so sexy and so patient. You were sured they’d have a happy ending. I overlooked the fact that Owen (Charlie Cox) was a vicious IRA assassin. I should have seen his end coming.

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

RICHARD HARROW: Gyp Rosetti and another Boardwalk mobster Al Capone have Sicilian rage down. Perhaps that is why Jack Huston’s turn as the pensive and mangled sharpshooter was so effective? His passing is the ultimate example of Boardwalkian sacrifice. It also gives new meaning to the phrase “Under the Boardwalk.”

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

CHALKY WHITE: Like Nucky Thompson, Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) just wanted to rise from his impoverished youth to properly provide for his proper family. He did so regardless of social taboos, and under naturally suspicious circumstances. Vice, the wrong woman, and the ultimate sacrifice lead to Chalky’s death. Who will cast Williams next? His appearance, like a similar turn on HBO’s Oz, is scathing.

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

GEORGE MÜLLER: Michael Shannon’s Nelson Van Alden transitioned from the seemingly puritanical federal agent into the fugitive Müller. With his hapless and extremely bad choices, Müller is the epitome of a the Depression-era survivalist. Cast of late alongside the equally great Shea Wiggham (who plays Nucky’s banished brother Eli), the two form a rapport akin to that of a drunken Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre.  In George’s final moment, however, Nelson Van Alden was exorcised in all his glorious righteousness.

Academy, can you spare either of these men–and the entire show–the Emmy?

What Tony Dungy Could Learn from Branch Rickey, History, the Bible and Himself

Former NFL Coach Tony Dungy; AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Former NFL Coach Tony Dungy in Somewhat Less Controversial Days                                      AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Tony Dungy is a good man who deserves to have his comments expressed in context. When he was asked by the Tampa Tribune if he would have drafted Michael Sam in the NFL, the former head coach was honest: I wouldn’t have taken him. Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. …It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.’’

In this day and age when even the most tolerant of internet liberals will turn into a pitchfork-wielding bigot, you can bet Dungy’s comments earned him some smack. He made the rounds on television that also didn’t go so well. Things got so bad,  he released a precise statement.

What Dungy doesn’t realize is that his explanation is not logical. It is one based on an antiquated sense of fear. It is a fear that has been disproven time and time again.

The St. Louis Rams are the first NFL team to draft an openly gay player, Michael Sams. Courtesy: ESPN

The St. Louis Rams are the first NFL team to draft an openly gay player, Michael Sam Courtesy: ESPN

 

In his original comments, Dungy explained that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam because it would have negatively affected his team and its cohesion, and ultimately its performance. This was the same argument used to delay integration of both gays and women in combat. As we now know, gays have been in the military for decades, if no millennia. Women first entered combat unofficially as frequently attacked patrol units in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Now their role is official thanks to a 2013 order made by then Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta. 

There is an excellent saying that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Tony Dungy could due to brush up on sports history to view how tolerance in sport has actually improved professional games.

Jackie Robinson signs a contract in 1947 to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Source: Unknown, possibly Baseball Hall of Fame

Jackie Robinson, with Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey, faced death threats after he signed a contract to integrate Major League Baseball in 1947.                                                         Source: The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame

When Branch Rickey brought Jackie Robinson to MLB and the Brooklyn Dodgers from the segregated Negro Leagues, his intent was not just to shake social convention, but to up the standard of play, as well as grow the audience and the league. On Robinson’s first day in 1947, nearly 14,000 of the Dodger’s 23,000 spectators were African American. Robinson was mentored by another icon, Jewish player Hank Greenberg. Robinson, himself, mentored another player named Larry Doby. Like Robinson, Doby faced discrimination and hazing as the first black to play in the American League.

Did Robinson’s presence hurt the cohesion of his team? When an opposing manager called Robinson a nigger and urged him ‘to go back to the cotton fields,’ Branch Rickey said the offending manager “did more than anybody to unite the Brooklyn Dodgers. When he poured out that string of unconscionable abuse, he solidified and united thirty men.”

Did Robinson’s presence, the harassment, and media attention, hamper the Dodgers’ performance? Hardly, in 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers won the National League Title.

Oh and Robinson? Despite constant harassment, and threats to his life and safety, Robinson was named 1947’s National League Rookie of the Year.

Now there are Christians out there who claim that Dungy, devout himself, is being “crucified,” even “Tebowed” for the comments because of his religion. Three reasons why this is bogus. First, Tony Dungy is in the business of motivational speaking and building character. If a man is going to use his brand to influence others, he’d better be open to criticism, especially when it tests his faith.

Second, Dungy never once claims that his spiritual belief is the reason for his comments. He bases the comments on the fear and reaction of others, including the press, and the team.

Finally, even if he did attribute the decision to religion, Dungy himself is contradicting himself. As he writes in his book Quiet Strength “If God has given you a lot of ability, I believe you should be held to a higher level of expectation.”  Oh, then this: “I needed to do my current job well, keep preparing, and wait on God’s timing.  I needed to trust His leadership rather than try to force an outcome I wanted.”

Which brings us to the times when people have used their Christianity to force an outcome. The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition are two that can never be mentioned enough. Did I mention that both the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and of course, the Westboro Baptist Church? All are all made up of Christians who condemned others for their own desired outcome. The reality is this: for a group of people who taught never to judge, Christians sure are quick to hop on the bench and condemn.

To be perfectly clear, Tony Dungy is neither a Nazi or a fascist. He is, however, influential. And saying, “I love you, but I don’t accept your lifestyle,” is plain and simple judgement. Don’t throw stones at glass houses, Coach. Jesus never would.

Christianity Could Lighten Up on the Bigotry. Here, the Bishop of Dresden salutes the Third Reich in 1933. Even Hitler attended a Christian Church Source: Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand)

History shows us that Christians have used religion as an excuse to condemn others. Here, the Bishop of Dresden salutes the Third Reich in 1933. Even Hitler prayed and attended a Christian Church
Source: Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand

The KKK began burning crosses in the 1915 to revive a Medieval ritual used to motive the Scottish Crusaders against their enemies. Source: UPI

The KKK began burning crosses in the 1915 to revive a Medieval ritual used to motivate the Scottish Christian Crusaders against their enemies. Source: UPI

The only thing the Evangelicals of Westboro Baptist have succeeded at doing with their interpretation of Christianity is unite the world against Christians.

The only thing the evangelicals of Westboro Baptist Church have succeeded at doing with their interpretation of Christianity is unite the world against Christians.          AP/Paul Connors

Now in fairness, these are uneasy times for many Christians. There’s lots of war, strife, famine, greed, funky weather events and other Biblically foretold oddities. This red river in China is enough to make any devotee of Revelations go bat shit. Yet I’ll never understand how homosexuals and sexually liberated (or rather, responsible) women scare the beJesus out of born agains. Which brings me to conclude one very important fact: For a group that is supposed to be trusting and faithful, Christians are deeply distrustful and afraid.

As a believer myself, I’m not looking forward to the End of Times either. I’m not loving the possible methods. And I certainly don’t want to hang out with these types of Christians for the rest of eternity.  Still, there’s a heck of a lot of scripture out there for people like myself, Tony Dungy and even the furthest extremist to find comforting during these anxious times. From Psalm 118:6  “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Particularly a gay man in the NFL?)

Again, this is not the case of Tony Dungy’s religion getting in the way of his reason. Deep down even Coach Dungy knows this himself. To quote another winner from his book Quiet Strength: “God’s definition of success is really one of significance – the significant difference our lives can make in the lives of others.”

The Complicated Life, and Beautiful Death, of Roger Ebert

A new documentary by Steve James ("Hoop Dreams) suggests that the only thing critic Roger Ebert loved more than films was... Life itself. Kartemquin Films

The late film critic Roger Ebert is the subject of  Steve James’ latest documentary. Photo: Kartemquin Films

Anyone over 35 is familiar with Roger Ebert. The film critic’s iconic “Thumbs Up” rating system determined for nearly four decades which films we’d see in theaters, which ones we saved for cable, and which ones we’d probably never see at all.  This familiarity makes it easy to assume that a documentary would teach us nothing about the bespectacled and once-rotund Chicago Sun-Times columnist. Yet “Life itself” does just the opposite.

The film begins as a collaboration between two of Chicago’s favorite sons. Ebert was born in nearby Urbana, and was editor-in-chief of the University of Illinois’ Daily Illini during the Civil Rights era. Documentarian Steve James produced one of Ebert’s favorite films, the 1994 classic “Hoop Dreams.” In 2012, many would say, James was robbed of an Academy Award for his account of inner-city Chicago’s bold citizen crime-fighting force, “The Interrupters.” 

While “Life, itself” begins initially as a collaboration between James, Ebert and his wife, Chaz, its path alters swiftly when Ebert is hospitalized due cancer complications caused by his cancer treatment. From here we see a dual narrative develop with recollections of Ebert’s past, based largely on his 2011 best-selling memoir of the same name (and voiced by a spot-on Ebert impersonator) interwoven with the latter-day Ebert who stunned America by appearing on the the cover of Esquire magazine in 2010, a cancer-survivor who was emaciated beyond recognition and missing his jaw.

We learn quickly of Ebert’s accomplishments: An only child and writing prodigy, Ebert would go on to become the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. He’d spend 46 years at the Chicago Sun-Times, where he would review thousands of films and cover, according to Time Magazine’s Richard Corliss, ‘one half of the film industry’s entire existence.’  All of this coincided with his 30-year television collaboration with the Chicago Tribune’s Gene Siskel, and the  “Thumbs Up” ideology. More on that later.

When cancer robbed Ebert of his voice and his jaw in the late 2000s, Ebert proved ever resilient. His eponymous blog became the standard for journalists in transition, and his Twitter fan base was surpassed only by pop stars. The greatest transition however, was Ebert’s persona. Without the lower portion of his face, Ebert’s razor wit was verbally dulled. Now, his smile was a seemingly constant, if unintentional, grin. Post cancer, “Thumbs Up” did not determine a film’s destiny. Instead Ebert used it often to empower and extend his own.

The 2013 Esquire Cover Featuring Roger Ebert turned America's impression of the rotund, witty critic on its head. Photo: Ethan Hill

The 2013 Esquire cover of Roger Ebert turned America’s impression of the rotund, witty critic on its head. Photo: Ethan Hill

It’s difficult to say which of Ebert’s life paths are more illuminating in this film. His Illinois upbringing formed his pro-labor, Democratic views and established him as an empathetic populist. This temperament caused Ebert to literally bellying up to the bar of the Chicago’s infamous Old Towne Ale House, where he shared stories with many of the city’s finest newsmen, as well as some of its more unfortunate characters.

By the time Ebert launched a second career in the mid 1970s as a televised film critic alongside counterpart Siskel, alcoholism, arrogance, and even success made Ebert ruthless, and downright cantankerous. He and Siskel were television’s warring Jack Spratts. Ebert was the portly, verbose bon vivant who didn’t hesitate to slum with prostitutes. Siskel was the lean Yale intellectual, who spent his off hours chumming with Hugh Hefner and scoring Playboy bunnies.

As their program moved from public television to national syndication, Siskel and Ebert became immensely powerful, and subsequently miserable.  “Two Thumbs Up” was nearly as important to filmmakers as winning an Academy Award itself. Yet the two critics felt little respect toward each other. They were paid an immense amount of money to slug it out on national television, and slug it out, they did.

Though both were recognized for their writing and eloquence, Siskel and Ebert's "Thumb's Up" meant the end of modern film critique, says Time Magazine's Richard Corliss Credit: Tribune Television

Siskel and Ebert’s “Two Thumb’s Up” was nearly as important to filmmakers winning an Academy Award.              Credit: Tribune Television

Siskel was a highly competitive and relentless film reporter. He aggressively stole Ebert’s interviews, and harangued the “At the Movies” staff. Conversely, Ebert was equal parts non chalance and perfectionism. He schmoozed, sans Siskel, at Cannes with celebrities, and counted Martin Scorsese, among others, as his close friends.

The head games by Ebert made Siskel deeply resentful and extremely paranoid. He feared that Ebert would walk away from their lucrative television deal so Siskel tolerated the arrogance and threw back what he could. “‘He’s an asshole,” Siskel told his wife of Ebert, “but he’s my asshole.”

While Ebert mastered belligerence on the set and often in his reviews, he remained a deeply generous man elsewhere. He valued his friends, as much as he loved a good movie and the filmmakers who made them. In the early 1980s, Ebert asked Martin Scorsese to allow him and Siskel to publicly honor Scorsese’s career. Unknown to Ebert, Scorsese at the time was broke, addicted to cocaine, and ending his third marriage. He hardly felt like the  “American Fellini” Ebert originally called him back in 1967. The accolade deeply affected Scorsese. “I wanted to start my life again,” he says.

Peers A.O. Scott of the New York Times, and Time’s Richard Corliss also testify of Ebert’s brilliant analysis, fierce devotion, and equally astute criticism. Ironically, it was Corliss who publicly argued that Siskel and Ebert’s concise “Thumbs Up” rating system was destroying the written art of film critique.

Roger and Chaz Ebert married in 1992. Ebert was 50 years old, and weighed 300 pounds when he met the love of his life, his wife says, but his self-confidence was sexy. Photo: Chaz Ebert

Roger and Chaz Ebert married in 1992. Ebert was 50 years old, and weighed 300 pounds when he met his “angel.”  Photo: Chaz Ebert

The true emotional and intellectual turning point came when Ebert, at 50, met and married civil rights attorney and activist Chaz Hammel-Smith. Ebert enthusiastically embraced his new personae, “Grandpa Roger” to Chaz’s three grandchildren. His new bliss was to travel abroad with the children, taking them on garden walks where they’d discuss the view, great books and cinema. The shift in Ebert’s demeanor so apparent, Gene Siskel embraced it eagerly. Ebert himself called the marriage the perfect antidote to what would have otherwise become a very lonely, miserable life.

Which brings the other key transformations within this film. When Gene Siskel chose to keep his own terminal brain cancer a secret until his seemingly sudden death in 1998, a shocked and saddened Ebert swore to Chaz that he would never deprive his family and friends of such information should he face a similar fate. When Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer around 2007, Chaz, despite her own fears, upheld that pledge.

Thus, the pivotal Esquire profile and the launch, with Chaz’s help, of RogerEbert.com. It is said contain some of Ebert’s finest written works, including essays outside of film criticism on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as America’s preoccupation with firearms.

When Ebert’s body continues to falter on film, Chaz is cast in one of life’s greatest and yet oft-unseen roles: the caregiver. Through setback after setback, Chaz is the tireless advocate. Yet when an exhausted and faltering Ebert asks her, she accepts his wish to die and creates an bedside environment full of peace, music and family.

To hear Mrs. Ebert recall it on film, that final transition was as beautiful as Ebert’s “Life, itself.”

Two Thumbs WAY UP. “Life Itself” is opening throughout the month in various theaters nationwide. It is also available immediately on iTunes. http://www.kartemquin.com/films/life-itselffilms

Should Your Kid See “Noah?”

Russell Crowe Plays the Builder of the Ark

Russell Crowe Plays the Builder of the Ark Photo: Regency

As I sat between my 12- and 10-year old during a screening of the Darren Aronofsky film “Noah,” I was having a VERY hard time justifying why I had put them through the experience. The film topped $45 million in its opening weekend despite fierce criticism, particularly from those who’d never even seen it.

I walked out of the theater honestly perplexed. Was this an excellent film? Was it even a very good one? I couldn’t decide because I was too busy comforting my youngest daughter. She was crying in the theater lobby because she “preferred the preschool version of the story.” The film had caused her to lose all faith in people, she said. “And you didn’t even buy us snacks!”

Let it be said that nothing counters the destruction of mankind in IMAX like a jumbo tub of popcorn.

My older daughter also has a terrible time watching these kinds of films. Still, I didn’t walk into this blindly. “You know this has a happy ending,” I said to the girls amid their protests en route to the theater.

My oldest was telling me five minutes into the film: “I don’t like this movie, Mom!” She eventually settled in, and occasionally asked questions. When I asked her how she got through it without her usual meltdown, she said proudly: “I just told myself “This isn’t real.” Once I let my Catholic guilt subside, I had to applaud her coping strategy.

Daughter No. 2, however, required more than just a spiritual pep talk. She needed hours to decompress. A full night’s sleep in my bed definitely kept the cannibals at bay. By the next morning, after she’d woken up her happy, cuddly self, we talked about what troubled her most.

Yes, cannibals were a BIG factor. She’d just had a nightmare about them the night before, after all. Are there real cannibals in the world, she asked? I couldn’t answer with total certainty, but could assure her of one thing. Even though we live in Atlanta (home of  “The Walking Dead”) no cannibals, or zombies, were ever getting into her house.

Then she wanted to know why the people in the film were so horrible? How could they attack each other? Capture women? Trample innocents? I had to go for the throat with this one. “Of course they’re horrible,” I told her. “Why do you think God had to take them out?”

Then she asked the $50 million question: “Well then how do you even know that God is real? I never hear him?”

Now things were actually getting easier. The men throughout the film asked themselves that same question. “God rarely speaks to us in words,” I said. “His presence is in his gift of goodness, nature, animals, and the existence of our friends and family.” Fortunately, she is still at that age where this kind of logic, quite a few stuffed animals and a lot of hugs can solve an existential crisis.

For the parent considering a family outing to the film, take heed: “Noah,” is a firm reminder of how God often goes “Old Testament” on mankind. It also does not hesitate to state the long-term effects all of this have on our society.

How about the time Eve took the apple and convinced Adam to take a bite? That led to the world’s first eviction, the birth of misogyny, PMS, and our unhealthy obsession with clothing. Then, Cain kills Abel. The precursor to the cottage industry that is now “Law and Order.” Sibling rivalry is also born. Carnivores and herbivores never look at each other the same.

Renaissance Era or "The Family Guy" Abraham's Near Killing of Isaac Continues to Prevail

When I watch this film, I am reminded of the greatest mind game God ever played.  That was the time God insisted that his faithful servant Abraham sacrifice his young son Isaac. When I was a kid, I simply dismissed God as petty and mean. I didn’t tell my daughter this as I reminded all theses tests. It was pretty cool to be able to show her all the artist accounts of this crazy story, via Google, to literally illustrate my point.

Each one interpreted images of anguish. Terror. Assault. Power. Then I had a thought: Artists have been helping us visualize images from the Bible for millennia. “Noah,” the film, I told my daughter, was simply one artist’s interpretation.

Turns out I was actually on to something.  “Not to compare me to Michelangelo in any way, I’m in awe of him,” Aronofsky recently told The Atlantic, “but you look at the Sistine Chapel and there’s the moment of the fingers almost about to touch the moment of creation—and that’s not described in the Bible that way. There was no finger-to-finger, E.T. moment in the Bible. But that’s how Michelangelo decided to draw it.”

So “Noah,” the film, is simply how Darren Aronofsky and his co-writer, Ari Handel, decided to draw it. In that context, as a parent, you should realize that “Noah” is a very powerful, paradoxical piece of art.

The film is both maddening, and mystifying. Like any bible story, you must suspend your disbelief for the story to have any meaning. When you do that, however, the film teeters on the verge of science fiction. For some of you, that may be exactly why you, and your kid, should see it.

Anthony Hopkins Plays a White Wizard/Grandfather in "Noah"

Anthony Hopkins Plays the Yoda/White Wizard/Grandfather role in the film “Noah” Photo: Regency

There’s the White -Wizard-Meets-Yoda Motif offered by Anthony Hopkins. The film also makes reference to “The Watchers.” In the Bible, they were giants who once roamed the earth. Here, they are covered in lava-rock. They look and sound like Transformers.

Also, if you’re one of the five people, like me, who have seen “Cloud Atlas” more than once, you also detect a certain replicated aesthetic in “Noah.” Dread locks on white girls never looked so fashionable, and Noah and his family definitely took a spin past the Urban Outfitters’ sale bin.

In all seriousness, the film also does a masterful job of adhering to Biblical text and honoring ancient culture. This—to me—is where “Noah” maintains its cred. The creationism story depicted in “Noah” relies on the words of Genesis. Yet it’s not afraid to scientifically correct the assertion that the earth and the moon came before the sun.

Dear Creationists: Debate what you want, but the notion that the earth came before the sun is simply not true. Without the sun, there would just be water on earth. No land and no plants. There’s no way Earth, let alone the teeny tiny Moon, predated the Sun. It. Just. Didn’t. Happen.

Listening to Russell Crowe’s Noah retelling the story of Creation to his family one night is a gorgeous ode to oral traditions. The corresponding images throughout Noah’s tale masterfully echo Evolution. The dust becomes the planets and the stars. The water and land then form. Animals transcend from cells to marine life that ultimately moves onto land. Oh, and then Adam and Eve arrive, in God’s image, to defy and eat the apple. The Original Sin, with flourishes of Darwinian theory, begins.

Aronofsky also incorporates aspects of ritualism that based on Jewish traditions. Noah IS after all, the forefather of Abraham. Thus, when Noah’s own father emulates a rite of passage in the film, it is similar to the Jewish wearing of a Telfillin.

The Jewish practice of wearing the Telfillin plays a central role in "Noah."

The Jewish practice of wearing the Telfillin plays a central role in “Noah.”

In modern custom, Jewish rabbis bound a black leather band–snakelike–around their own arm, and do the same to a 13-year-old boys joining manhood. The gesture indicates a promise, tying God and Jews to their heritage forever. In the film, the Tefillin is an actual snakeskin. Whether it’s true or not, the symbolism a poignant throwback to the Original Sin.

Is all this scifi and allegory enough to expose your kid to a time when God would be so heartless? Aronofsky has said that his “Noah” is the “least Biblical of Bible films.” After viewing the film, I’d say, actually…. It’s not.

“Noah” demands that believers acknowledge the ancient methods of suffering and the patterns of redemption commonly found in the Bible. Modern society has simply sanitized them over the generations to please the Sunday-School crowd. After all, Passover is not about good brisket, my friends. It’s a time to celebrate that God—and no one else—spared the life of your first-born son. The environmental attacks and pestilence that happen when the Pharaoh ignores Moses’ demands in the book of Exodus are Hurricanes Camille, Sandy and Katrina combined. Don’t even get me started on the crucifiction of Jesus. All of these destructive events are acts of God.

They're lava-coated, fallen angels here that sound and act like "Transformers."

The Watchers of “Noah” are lava-coated, fallen angels that sound and act like “Transformers.”

In realize that, I had what I call “the Transformer Moment.” Remember those giant Watchers I told you about? In this film, they are fallen angels who redeem themselves by helping Noah build, and protect, the Ark. A bit of a stretch from the original text, but the intent still applies. Once the prophetic rains begin to fall in the film, mankind realizes that Noah’s ark is their only salvation. The battle scene that erupts is on par with that of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. Return of the King, indeed.

Seeing those Watchers swat the desperate masses like polo balls made me realize that people let their kids experience this kind of violence every day. Why should we shy away from the fact that Bible stories are ruthless and deadly? The difference between these action films and the Biblical story is that “Noah” is actually a film about devotion, forgiveness and even redemption. Could I just add that unlike every other action movie in existence, many of us have yet to experience the Bible’s blockbuster sequel?

As a clear counter to the male-dominated destruction in the Biblical text, the women of “Noah” who actually save the world. Noah’s wife, played by Jennifer Connelly, has a very Eve-like scene where she demands that Noah punish her because their son Shem has impregnated his wife, Ila. Later, post-flood, when Noah is left drunk, depressed, and naked on a beach because he failed God and did not eliminate the entire human race, it’s not God who lifts Noah from his misery. It’s Ila, played by Emma Watson.

In the film, Ila becomes its heroine. In the Bible, she is minimized and nameless. Ila braves wrath, injury and war, as well as family and sexual politics to be part of Noah’s family. When she nearly loses her twin daughters during one of Noah’s crazed, fundamentalist moments, it is Ila, not God, who grants Noah forgiveness.  Maybe, Ila says to Noah, the reason for the flood was not so that Noah would not have to destroy all of humanity. Maybe God’s message is that we need is to create a world built on mercy, and love?

This may be Darren Aronofsky’s interpretation of Noah and his ark, but it is an lesson every child–over 12–should experience.

The Only Thing Worse Than a Naked Lena Dunham is One Wearing Clothes

The "Girls" Star "works" the red carpet at the 2013 Emmys

The “Girls” Star “works” the red carpet at the 2013 Emmys

So much has been written and said about the creative prowess and fashion freedom of multi-hyphenate power girl Lena Dunham. During her three-year stint as creator, writer, director, actor and executive producer of the HBO hit “Girls” Dunham has gone where no non-prostituting woman has dared to go before.  

Many critics bemoan her nude scenes. I don’t have a problem with that. Nudity is an HBO staple. Besides, Dunham’s aim is true. As a  pudgy, hefty, perhaps better said, fleshy woman of influence, Dunham is right when she says that the purpose of Hannah Horvath’s often zaftig-in-the-raw moments is to help female viewers get over their body hang ups. Recently, The schtick was featured in what will likely become an SNL Classic. 

I’m right out of Botticelli, so personally, I embrace it. I often intentionally go commando in my majority-female household to send a message that I am Who I am thus, Be Who You Be.

Glamour Magazine

Glamour Magazine

Where Dunham, and her character confound me, however, are the clothes. Sure Lena’s scrubbed up right for the covers of Vogue, and Glamour and Marie Claire. Though I suspect that a distant Rolling Stone cover was more her personal style.  There are just times, however, that I cannot help but feel that Hannah Horvath’s millennial narcissism is enhanced by the fact that she regularly rolls through the consignment bin at the 99 Cent Store, and clearly doesn’t care,

Let’s start with the now infamous “Coke Tank,” below. It has a definite seventies-Warhol vibe. Which is fine as Hannah wore it while raving, coked out, at a Factory-like all nighter.  Thus, for artistic purposes only, I’ll let this one slide. P.S.  I can’t show you the whole look because, well, I can’t stand to write the word t-i-t-s.

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

Then there was the Romper stage. These items were horrendous in the era they arrived, largely because they were made of a suffocating polyester blend. I look at these and I get a yeast infection. The prints, naturally, speak for themselves. To be fair, the second outfit scored Hannah 48-hours of casual sex with a character played by Patrick Wilson. Perhaps I need to rethink it?

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

No.

LenaRomper2

And in case I wasn’t convinced…

HBO Pictures

HBO Pictures

Picking on Hannah has become such a cottage industry! Our friends at Hollywood.com established that Season Two deserved special attention.  PortableTV gives us the best–and the worst–of Season Three. 

Fortunately, there’s  method to the madness. Read this interview by “Girls” costume designer Jenn Rogien. Dear Lena and Hannah Horvath, please forgive me for shaming a fellow wonder woman. It’s just my aversion to cheap fabric and awful prints. Also, I confess, everything about “Girls” reminds me of my 20s, when I was so bold, so stupid and  tended to dress rather horribly!

Having said that I don’t understand the times when your red carpet moments are not up to snuff. Are trying to help Lady Gaga lower her game? Let me remind you, THAT is not an easy thing to do!

Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Playbuzz suggested earlier this year that this is a problem that actually breaks the fourth wall for all of the cast of “Girls.”  Glamour UK comes to their defense.  There are some good looks there–and you “Girls” are clearly now working with stylists. However, Lena, for me, THIS photo says it all.

f5e17bde-8736-4c42-879b-08cc96539250

Is there a middle ground where Lena/Hannah and I can meet? Actually, there is. Season 3 introduced a look that for all of us was the perfect way in which Dunham, and thus, Hannah, could be equal parts liberating, hysterical, and mortifying. I not only burst out laughing when I saw this, I breathed a sigh of relief! Thus, on behalf of all pudgy/chubby/hefty girls who refuse to buy the matching $80 sarong, I say: “Thank you, Lena Dunham. Thank you!”

Credit HBO Pictures

Credit HBO Pictures

You Think You Don’t Know Pete Seeger?

Credit: Unknown

Pete Seeger’ and His Original Five-String Banjo

Perhaps You said to yourself today: “I didn’t really know Pete Seeger.”

The name sounds familiar. The news headlines have your interest. You have learned that he’s a singer and songwriter.  You hear people call him “An American Troubadour.” He apparently influenced many people. He performed a number of public sing-alongs.

Someone has gone so far as to say that Pete Seeger is the most influential American singer and songwriter of the 20th century. That someone is actually right.

You probably paid particular attention to the fact that he had the good fortune of dying at 94 years of age, in his sleep, surrounded by friends. His wife of 60 years, Toshi, passed in 2013. You are likely to conclude that Pete Seeger’s life, while unknown to you, was truly idyllic.

I am here to tell you that you have known Pete Seeger all of your life.

Karl Rabe, Poughkeepsie Journal

Karl Rabe, Poughkeepsie Journal

If you sang “I Had a Hammer” in nursery school, then you knew Pete Seeger.

If you have ever thought, heard, or sung the phrase “We Shall Overcome,” then you knew Pete Seeger.

If you have an appreciation for Woody and Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, T. Bone Burnett, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and any subsequent guitar-strumming singer songwriter, you knew Pete Seeger.

It was Pete Seeger who, along with a group of minstrel singers that included Woody Guthrie, formed the Almanac Singers in the 1940s. From the Almanacs , Guthrie and Seeger influenced a young songwriter named Bob Dylan. This led to New York City’s Greenwich Village folk singing movement of the 1960s. The same era was captured by the Coen Brothers in their critically acclaimed film “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

If you know of the 1950s politician Joseph McCarthy, and his House Un-American Activities Committee, then you also knew Pete Seeger. Seeger was found guilty of contempt in the 1950s for refusing to disclose the actions and identities of other American Communists. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Seeger was the first person to tell the U.S. government that vegetarians were not anti American.

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song

In 1963, Seeger traveled to Greenwood, Mississippi. There he and a group of African-American student activists peacefully protested the area’s racist crimes and Jim Crow laws. He taught them a song to pass the time. It was called “We Shall Overcome.” Seeger learned of the song, originally a gospel hymn, during his time working as a folklorist for the U.S. government archives. Since that introduction, the song is arguably the most well-known protest song of our global modern times.

If you have ever recognized the Bible’s book of Ecclesiastes, you will recognize the line: “To everything there is a season…” That is because Pete Seeger turned scripture into lyric. In the 1960s, The Byrds made “Turn, Turn, Turn” into a hit song.

If you have ever attended any Hollywood activist event that boasted a liberal cause, you can thank Pete Seeger. I would suggest that he was one of the founding fathers of the entertainment industry’s leftist movements.

Though blacklisted in the 1950s, Seeger was able to get a recording contract with Columbia Records. He used his influence to perform before union audiences, civil rights groups, and groups that protested every war from Korea to Iraq and Afghanistan. His work set the bar for generations of artists and entertainers who have ever taken on a cause.

Yet the man who sung about the roots of the common man was raised among the American Elite. Seeger was born the son of a Yale and Juilliard musicologist. He attended Northeastern boarding schools. In the 1930s, he dropped out of Harvard to play his banjo, and write his songs.

From Right: Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, and Seeger's Grandson Tao sing at the 2008 Presidential Inauguration Concert

From Right: Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, and Seeger’s Grandson Tao sing at the 2008 Presidential Inauguration Concert

Pete Seeger never had a Top 40 hit. It took a tragedy as horrible as 911 to revive Seeger’s influence on America’s collective conscious. And, it wasn’t until well into the second-half of his life that he even played a Presidential Inauguration.

Still, you knew him.

Watch: Bruce Springsteen & The Seeger Sessions Band 

Read:

Rolling Stone, 2014, David Browne Pete Seeger, Folk Legend, Dead at 94 

NPR, 2006, Melissa Block Bruce Springsteen Discusses his recording of “The Seeger Sessions.”

Pete Seeger Appreciation Page, 2013, The Late Jim Capaldi

My Kids Don’t Approve of Beyonce

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

My kids are having a really hard time with entertainers lately. First there was Miley Cyrus, who my ten-year-old says “ruined” her childhood.  Then the rehabbers: Lindsay Lohan, Zac Efron, Ke$ha  And, of course, Justin Bieber. 

This is not to say my girls (ages 10 and 12) are prudes or prone to judgment. It’s just that they still like to watch the Disney Channel. From Disney, we have Demi Lovato, Christina Aguilera, and Selena Gomez.  They really liked “The Parent Trap,” “Freaky Friday” and “Mean Girls”  and thus, for a while, they liked Lindsay Lohan. To them,  it makes sense that a girl who would sing about brushing her teeth ‘with a bottle of jack’ would end up in rehab.

Being a parent in my late 40s, I know that failure is an inevitable part of life. Having covered many a celeb crisis during my time at CNN, I was rarely surprised when they cracked under pressure.  So, I offer my kids perspective. For all the parental supervision she still requires, Britney Spears has gotten it together. A myriad of others have committed to reform.  I am REALLY not looking forward to discussing Tiger Woods.

As for what they see in media, I tell my kids that sometimes drugs, sex and even violence are inevitable. They provide conflict. These issues make you think. They help you make your own choices. Lately, however, it’s getting very hard to convince the kids that not every performer or thing they see in the media is there to either shock or disappoint them.

This week’s lesson is apparently Beyonce.  When she first opened the 2014 Grammys, the girls thought the vixen on stage was Rihanna. High heels. Fish nets. Sexy beat. It made sense. When I recognized Beyonce’s voice, I told them: “This is going to be good.”

That is when I learned it was time to let my kids to draw their own conclusions.

Initially, the girls offered a methodic assessment. They were perplexed as to how her hair looked wet. Her outfit was…interesting. They weren’t really listening to her lyrics. They just watched her dance and swing around the chair.

Next came the questions. Why was she doing that? Was she going to twerk, too? They started to squirm. I did, too. Finally one of them asked: What is this song about?

I try to be the kind of parent who  offers the truth—but only when it is requested. Even then, I just stick to the facts. So I listened to the lyrics for a moment. Thank God they didn’t ask me what Beyonce meant by “fatty.” Even I am not sure about that. In the end, I felt I had no choice but to tell the truth.

“She’s talking about seducing and having sex with her husband,” I said.

The expected groans and screams happened, but I didn’t immediately turn the TV off. It WAS Grammy night at 8:04p.m. on CBS. How much worse could this get?

The Hollywood Reporter described it best on Twitter. Beyonce was  “deflowering” the chair. The London Daily Mail, and apparently many parents on Twitter, tore the performance apart.

By the time Beyonce started crawling on the floor and singing about riding a surfboard (???),  my oldest apparently had had enough.

“Can you turn this OFF?” she said indignantly, to the cheers of her younger sister. I thought they were teasing me because normally it would be something I WOULD do. When I just laughed, they both looked at me, horrified.

“Oh….you mean really turn it off?” I asked.

“YES!”

With that my kids became the first people to ever fast-forward through a Beyonce performance.

Of course, I was proud of the kids’ decision. So were a vast majority of my FaceBook friends. However, I was disappointed with myself for not flipping the switch sooner. What was I thinking??

I thought about blaming CBS—this WAS 8 o’clock and we were not watching Showtime. Then I remembered that CBS prefers to apologize later rather than ask for permission.

So I considered slut shaming Beyonce Wasn’t she really no different than Miley??

That didn’t feel right either. Just a few days before, as I was having a discussion with a fellow parent about how I would talk to my kids about Justin Bieber’s latest exploits. My friend asked me if I felt Beyonce was a good role model.

“She is a powerhouse,” I said, “she can do it all.” I then endorsed Beyonce’s HBO documentary “Life is But a Dream.”  I hoped to show it to the girls someday.

In that film you learn that Beyonce personifies everything  an extremely successful woman can and should be. The artist shot much of the documentary, and narrated it herself. She can sing, dance, act, produce, write songs, design sets, choreograph, and fire her father. She can attribute her success to a higher power, be monogamous, happily married, and mother a child.

Oh yeah, and Beyonce likes to have sex with her husband.

This last talent, it turns out, is a very important example that apparently needs to be set. Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress writes that the Grammy performance is actually an argument for the virtues of marriage.   She believes it’s an example that conservative activists clearly cannot present simply because they wouldn’t dare to go there.

When you look at it that way, it’s makes sense that Beyonce and Jay Z could be role models. First, good sex is essential key to a healthy marriage, not to mention one’s own health. More important, apparently, is the message it sends to African Americans.

Between 1960-2011, the rate of marriage among African-American adults fell 40 percent. It’s estimated that only 31 percent of blacks are married. As a result,  52 percent of black children live in single-parent homesThe statistics indicate that homes with single-mothers have seen their income decline exponentially in the past 30 years. Obviously, a family with two earners is going to make more money than one, etc., etc., etc.

Please don’t think of me as Tipper Gore or Sarah Palin. I am not saying you have to get married, nor do you have to be in a heterosexual marriage.

Also, I am certainly not suggesting that Beyonce’s art needs censoring. Common sense does indicate, however, that if network censors have to bleep out words of your song more than once, you’re probably appearing in the wrong time slot. 

Thus, I think it’s going to take a while for my kids to believe that Beyonce is a strong role model.  They are not alone. They just think that “sex stuff” belongs behind closed doors. Where did they ever get that idea??

Eventually, I’ll get them to learn more about Beyonce and we’ll watch that documentary. Because as uninhibited as she is, Beyonce is an example of how a positive powerful female can be a successful, married mother, who is also sexy.

We just won’t discuss it before 8 o’clock. And certainly without network television.