Sunday, May 20, 2007

Oh Mary!

Last Sunday was Mother's Day. As a dutiful son, I made sure my card was in the mail and flowers were delivered. As a dutiful Christian, I made sure that my seat got a seat at the afternoon Mass of Our Lady of Lourdes.

During the service, we honoured another mother. I was surprised to learn that not only was Mary the mother of Jesus Christ (and by extention God) but she had also been given the titles Mother of the Church and Queen of the Universe. Children went down the aisle holding roses high and presented them to a small statue of Mary. A young woman followed, holding aloft a pillow with a tiny rose garland that was placed on the head of the Blessed Virgin Mary. All this adoration led me to do some thinking about this woman.

The first thing that of course came to my mind was the cartoon I had just read that morning. Two elderly women were sitting at a table looking curiously at two men at the table next to them. One said to the other "I don't understand. Their names are both Mary?" Like the names Nelly and Nancy, Mary has been also used by gay people to playfully refer to each other.

Then my mind went to a book I had been given by my cousin that I've blogged about before twice. That book started me thinking about Mary, not as the Blessed Virgin, but as a person, a human being. Now this line of thinking may be blasphemous to some readers but I believe if Mary is strong enough to handle it, you and your faith shouldn't feel threatened!

Thinking about how hard I try to please my mom and regret disappointing her, I have to wonder if Jesus was ever a disappointment to his mother. Mary probably had high hopes for her son, expecting (given the whole immaculate conception and wonderous birth bit) that He'd go farther in life than He did. Perhaps she dreamed He would become a politician or a king. Here her son was over thirty, certainly not getting any younger! Maybe she wished He would find a nice Jewish girl, settle down and have some grandkids. Maybe she told Him to get a good job, stop being homeless and wandering around from town to town acting like a crazy person. It probably was a bit embarrassing for her when her son was in jail like a common criminal and all her friends and neighbours knew about it. I can imagine the shame and/or outrage she must have felt when He was unfairly given the death penalty.

On the other hand, I suspect that Mary loved her son enough to be proud of Him. It couldn't have been difficult as He had so many good qualities and touched so many people's lives. Mary was probably around long enough to see the fruits of His labours and maybe she even played a more active role in the early church than we have been told. What I can say with certainty is that the Bible shows us that Jesus loved His mother very much and tried to please her, even when He didn't want to. Jesus very well might have gotten frustrated with His mother as well. I also like how while He was dying, Jesus brought together the two people the Bible tells us He loved most: his mother and his closest friend. This union is also something I deeply desire to bring about in my life. But for now, I'll appreciate the cards and presents that my mother and partner exchange.

Happy (Belated) Mother's Day everyone!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Man in the Mirror

Recently my partner and I just got around to watching a Woody Allen movie that we found on sale in Seoul for the equivalent of $3 (US). Bullets Over Broadway had Korean subtitles and John Cusack (who will play the part of me in the cinematic adaptation of my life and times) and those two factors tipped the balance of the scales enough that we said "what the heck?" and added it to our collection.

This reviewer really wanted to like it more. The only redeeming part that stuck with me was the reoccurring discussion of this question: "Who do you love more, the artist or the man?" This reminded me of one of conversations my cousin and I keep having over the many years we've known each other. From my point of view, it is entirely possible to love the artist but not the man (or woman). For example, I was so glad I was able to see the "Godfather of Soul" in Seoul before he died at the end of last year. His concert was simply amazing- despite the fact he thought he was in Beijing!

The other side is that the personal life of James Brown is nothing to be proud about. Rather than going into a long litany of his other failings and sounding pompous and judgemental, I'll just note that he physically abused his various wives repeatedly but served no jail time and paid only minimal fines.

My coworker also had a similar conversation with his partner. Given the latest about yet another Boy George scandal, my coworker asserted the man really wasn't worth bothering over. However his partner strongly disagreed, asserting the amazing career of Boy George made him worthy of celebrity.

In 1999, Elia Kazan received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. This caused a dilema for many in attendance. Some could not overlook Kazan's cooperation with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the 1950's where he "named names" of those belonging to the Communist Party. Others felt that enough time had passed that it was appropriate to bury the hatchet and recognize Kazan's great artistic accomplishments.

These men are just a few examples of such contradictions between the public work and personal lives of the famous. Michael Jackson, Gérard Depardieu, Bill Clinton and Woody Allen are others that spring to my mind. A part of us wants to honour them for their work and the good that they did but another part of us has to weigh that against their less than perfect personal lives.

I've pondered on this question over this past week. My feeling is that it really depends on the gravity of the crimes committed and the genius of their work. For example, Adolf Hitler was an artist but his work was really quite negligible compared to all the harm he put into the world. In the movie, Amadeus, Salieri was forced to admit that, despite all of Mozart's many failings, his musical talent was inspired. At the end of the movie that inspired this post, the main character asks his wife "Could you love a man who wasn't an artist?" His wife carefully replies "I could love a man who was an artist but I couldn't love an artist who wasn't a man."

And that leads me to my final thought. At the end of the day, what's our review? Does the good that we have worked toward outweigh the missteps we have made? I personally believe that the Big Guy in the Sky cuts us some slack in this department. It's called grace and we all get it regardless of whether we deserve it or not. Should I extend this grace to others and if so, in what ways?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Let's (not) Twist Again

Because I've been so "out and proud" about being from Kansas, I've gotten a great deal of questions regarding the safety of my family and friends there. I am happy to report that all is well. There have been some close calls, namely the K-5 tornado that hit Greensburg last week. It was the first one the US has had in five years. We should be thankful that the death toll is much lower this time around (Hooray for the advanced warnings). Of course the town itself is much smaller this time (1,574) ! But the tornado was HUGE. Meteorologists of the National Weather Service said "Friday night's tornado had wind estimated at 205mph, and carved a track 1.7 miles wide and 22 miles long (source)."

That the same "super-cell" storm system traveled northeast by my parents' town (Great Bend) and then continued on up to Concordia (near the Nebraska border). A cancelled 2004 check from Greensburg was found in their town! The following night, my folks had three tornado alarms in one single night. This means a tornado has been spotted on the ground nearby and to take cover. Since neither my parents or grandmother have basements, they had to slosh across the flooded streets to a neighbour's home. The third time, my grandmother refused to go and I really can't say I blame her. Instead she sat in her closet. Many farmers are still without electricity and roads all over are flooded from the heavy rains accompanying the storm.

It is tragic about Greensburg. As you can see, there really is nothing left of that town. I've been there before but all I can remember is that it held the World's Largest Hand-Dug Well. I wonder if people took shelter there? I also wonder where the meteorite from the museum went? At 1,000 lbs, it shouldn't be too hard to find! At any rate, my prayers go out to those affected and hope they can put their lives back together somehow.