Friday, June 30, 2006

Movie Review: Superman Returns

This week I went to see Superman Returns with one of my younger brothers. I enjoyed the Superman movies with Christopher Reeve when I was growing up, but I wasn't a huge fan or anything. My brother, however, has a passion for all movies superhero, and he'd been counting down the days til the opening, and was annoyed that other plans prevented him from going to see the midnight showing the night before.

I wasn't sure what to expect. While not a huge fan, I still couldn't imagine not-Christopher-Reeve as Superman. I actually had a brief chance to meet Reeve and his wife Dana Reeve while working as a work-study student during seminary at the
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Dana Reeve acted in some productions while I was working in house management. Christopher came to see her perform. Very surreal. A little star-struck. Hey, it was Superman!

I was very pleasantly surprised. Brandon Routh as Superman was excellent. His mannerisms, his similarities to Christopher Reeve are uncanny. He has the same smirk, the same awareness of the absurdity of the Clark 'disguise', and, thanks to technological help, the same piercing look with his blue eyes. Since Superman Returns is meant to be a continuation of the series (following I and II, pretending III and IV never happened) and not a remake, I thought the continuity with Reeve's portrayal was very appropriate. Kevin Spacey made an ideal Lex Luthor, and Parker Posey, who I've grown to love from her work in Christopher Guest Films (like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind), was fine as Kitty, if, as called for, mostly one-dimensional. Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane was really the weakest link. I think Bosworth is a decent actress, but I thought she was 1) too young for this fole 2) missing that humor and sarcasm so present in Margot Kidder's portrayal 3) too dark/serious in her role (though that's part script too. This is not a quirky Lois Lane.

Perhaps most interesting is the savior theology/symbolism that is extremely near to surface in the film. I think all the Superman movies had this symbolism as an undercurrent, but in Superman Returns, the theological references are frequent and obvious. I'm not sure what to think of this - it was maybe a little much, but asks some intriguing questions. A disenchanted Lois Lane argues that the world doesn't need a savior. But Superman responds by saying something like "you say the world doesn't need a savior. But I hear them crying for one." Certainly Superman saves in a more literal way than does Jesus. But I think we're perhaps as ambivalent about needing a savior. In our independent and private culture, we certainly don't like needing things, unless we know where we can buy it from. We definitely don't like needing other people for things. We don't want to need someone to save us, physically or emotionally or spiritually or eternally. But out loud or in our hearts, are we crying out?

Go see it!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Two More Reviews: Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Lorna wondered on my last post which review # I was on in my 52-books-this-year resolution. I, like my big brother, had figured I was never going to make 52, so I stopped posting which number I was on. But I didn't figure anyone else was paying attention. So, here are (short)reviews #12 and #13.

You might remember me reviewing the movie In Her Shoes, which was first a novel by Jennifer Weiner. I eventually listened to the book on tape, enjoyed that even more, and so looked up one of her other novels - Little Earthquakes. This book follows three women who are pregnant and one who lost her son at 10 weeks old. The story follows the three women through a year - the month or two before delivery, and the first months of motherhood (all three are first time mothers) and how the fourth mother becomes part of their lives in her grieving for her son. Weiner does a great job of creating three different expecting mothers, who have different expectations about what motherhood should and will bring. For all of them, of course, their struggles are put into perspective as they build a relationship with the mother whose infant has died. Weiner has succeeded in two books now in bringing me to tears and having me laugh out loud. Recommended for light but fun and quality reading.

Another quick read: Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. Looking for some good fiction to read, I found this on my brother's shelf. I read The DaVinci Code last year, and enjoyed it, without having to swallow shady (or outright wrong) presentations of history. The same holds true for Angels and Demons, which was actually written first and also features Robert Langdon as symbologist-detective. This book centers around the election of a new pope, and though I'm not sure how much of the process described is factual, anything even close to the details given is certainly interesting. But the heart of the book is the intersection between faith and science. Compatible or not? For me personally, it is a no-brainer - of course faith and science can and should be complementary. Learning about how the world works has always strengthened my faith, even when challenging my assumptions. But I know this isn't the case for everyone, and apparently not for Brown, or at least for his intended audience.

Most intriguing, though, is how the carmelengo tries to restore hope in the Church. He certainly is right in seeing how people return (if briefly) to faith and church and community after a time of devastation and destruction - look, of course, at post-September 11 church attendance. His "Hope and Horror" theory seems quite contemporary and plausible. Actually, too often, the church uses a "scare people to faith" mentality to win souls. In the end, such faith doesn't have a very solid foundation.

Friday, June 23, 2006

What is the Kingdom?

I just took this quiz, after Jay pointed it out in his blog:

You scored as The Kingdom as Earthly Utopia. This utopianism is found in the extremes of Liberation Theology and some early radical Anabaptism. It recognises the importance of the social and political aspects of the Kingdom but perhaps doesn't take the reality of human sinfulness into account.

The Kingdom as Earthly Utopia


Kingdom as a Christianised Society


The Kingdom is mystical communion


The Kingdom as a counter-system


The Kingdom as Institutional Church


The Kingdom as a political state


Inner spiritual experience


The Kingdom is a Future Hope


What is the Kingdom of God?
created with

Hmm. I'm not sure I'd agree with that assessment! I think most of my responses to the quiz were in the middle. Don't agree, don't disagree exactly. I'm not sure I think the Kingdom is only any of the viewpoints listed. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Pointing to Profound

I haven't been in the writing mood lately. Too hot, too tired, too something. I have a book review waiting (Dan Brown's Angels and Demons) and some other thoughts jostling around, but not coming out yet.
Meanwhile, my big brother keeps churning out really awesome posts. Especially check out this one, and the couple before it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Review: A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren

I just finished reading A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren. I know, I know, I'm way behind the buzz on this book, and Brian McLaren in general. It took me a while to get interested, and then a while to get to reading it.

I wasn't sure what to think about the half-story, half-non-fiction approach to the book. I guess I liked it better than I might reading all of these ideas in a straight non-fiction book, but it was weird to read a not-novel masquerading as novel. I can't help investing in the characters when I'm reading a novel, and these weren't exactly regular characters. At the end of the book, I can't help but think: What happened to Neo? Also, Neo was a little "too cool" for me. A little too messiah-figure-esque. But, I guess when you are talking about systems and paradigms, modernism and post-modernism and beyond, if you actually talk to much about the thing, you miss the point, if that makes sense. So maybe the style of the book helps not miss the point!?!

As for content, I agreed with a lot of what McLaren had to say. McLaren is upfront in his introduction about his probably audience, and as what is classified definitely more as a "liberal Protestant" (his label) than evangelical, I'm not it. I did indeed sometimes feel like McLaren was making arguments/propositions that I feel are already widely accepted in "liberal Protestant" circles. But he still challenges, and I mostly enjoyed the read. For starters, I think many pastors (at least myself) can relate to the character Daniel's sense of being overwhelmed, feeling like he has no new avenues to explore in ministry, fed up with some of the day to day details, etc. His 'burn out' factor is easy to relate to (eek, perhaps I shouldn't say that only two weeks after ordination!!)

I loved the imagery, even if overused in the book, about the line on the ground, but Jesus seeking to bring things to a level higher up than "this side" or "that side" of the line, a level in the space, the sphere, above the rest of it. (pg. 47) I loved Ruth's comment about having to switch between modern and post-modern existence depending on where you are. (pg. 44) I liked McLaren's understanding of the Bible, woven throughout the book, especially his analogy of the math book: "Think of a math book . . . is it valuable because it has the answers in the back? No, it's valuable because by working through it, by doing the problems, by struggling with it, you become a wiser person, a person capable of solving problems and building bridges . . ." (pg. 53) I loved the passage where Neo says that we often act as if the verse from John says "Jesus is in they way" instead of "Jesus is the way." (pg. 65) And I'm with Brian/Neo on the fact that for Jesus, "gospel" or "good news" didn't mean "accept[ing] Christ as your personal savior" but "The Kingdom of God is at hand." (pg. 105-106) For the most part, though, these were things that I thought already, pre-reading.

The challenge, I think, which McLaren addresses somewhat in the last section of the book, in e-mails between Neo and a young pastor, is how to put these ideas into practice. These ideas, these thoughts, this movement - once you say, "but give me an example!" - it's hard to say, "do it like this," without boxing it in and missing the point. But without examples, it's hard to imagine what a "new kind of Christian" community might actually look like. How do you live into it? How can a whole community of people live into it?

Worth a read. Now I can finally get to McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus, which has been sitting around for a bit...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Annual Conference Reflections: Women in Ministry

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the privilege at Annual Conference this year of being part of a panel-discussion workshop with my own Bishop Fisher, conference preacher Bishop Judy Craig, and Rev. Betsye Mowry. Betsye, who is appointed to the other UMC in the town where I serve, Oneida. Betsye is the oldest female elder in our conference with the most years of service, and I am the youngest elder.

We spent a couple of hours answering questions about women in ministry and what our experiences have been, how are experiences have changed. Bishop Craig talked about being accepted as the 'exception' - churches that would not accept female pastor "except her," as if somehow she didn't really fit into that category.

A dear friend of mine, Rev. Carlton VanOrnum, pastor emeritus at the church where I grew up, was in attendance - he is in his eighties, and had been a DS at one point in his (retired-but-still-in-ministry) ministry. He was called on to give insights about his thoughts about what it was like when women were first entering the ordained ministry - he responded that his father was a pastor, and when unable to serve for a year, his mother served as the pastor of his father's charge for the interim. He said "I have to say, she was a better preacher than he was!" Obviously, his remarks delighted the audience!

All three of the other women strongly encouraged the importance of clergy women being supportive of one another, networking, encouraging, and lifting up. Bishop Craig was especially clear in encouraging women to be advocates for one another in their careers, and both Bishops mentioned that sometimes women have been suprisingly hard on other women - lay women hard on women as clergy, clergy women hard on female bishops. If you are a clergy woman, do you have ways of networking/supporting/having conversations with other clergy women? In my own district, we have a monthly lunch together for clergy women. It is one of my favorite things - ministry can be so isolating, and I really love out get together. Informal, but fun, and nurturing.

Someone asked about issues that women face today in ministry. I said that I think we can figure "we've arrived, we're here, we're finished, we've reached our goal," and thus become too complacent about our status. I think discrimination, sexism, can become more subtle, less overt, and so very dangerous. If no one thinks it is a problem anymore, no one pays attention to it, and keeps watch. I've been curious, after looking at the latest set of Judicial Council decisions - I want to do a little research - do female bishops have their decisions questioned more frequently than do male bishops? Is their authority questioned more regularly?

Also mentioned, of course, is the continuing problem of salary inequality, the "stained-glass ceiling" of size of appointments, etc. Someone asked about "reverse sexism." Has the tide turned and are clergy men now discriminated against? Bishop Craig responded to say that questions about "reverse ____ism" usually happen at about 15-20% of whatever issue - 15-20% of ordained clergy are women - and now the backlash begins. Still a long way, she said, from a minority becoming a majority. (Think of recent hoopla over the growing Hispanic population. 2004 statistics say that the US population is about 14% Hispanic - 67% White non-Hispanic. And yet, such fear of the majority losing 'status'.)

Personally, I've had few overt experiences of sexism - some people wondering, at my charge, what a woman would be like, since they'd never had one before. Some less excited than others to have me coming to them, but upon meeting me, were completely welcoming and supportive. I've experienced more often sexism from those not in the UMC - those from other faith traditions where women as pastors are not accepted. I actually had two people walk out of a soup kitchen once because I, the female pastor, was going to say grace. But perhaps today it is not at the beginning of ministry when female clergy face the most challenges. Maybe today women find more opposition (from men, from women) when they push at the upper levels, push for places of power that are still so often occupied by men.

What do you think?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Annual Conference Reflections: Bishop Judy Craig

I'm still recovery from Annual Conference last weekend, but I do have more I want to write about. I must say, even though Josh Tinley has pointed out that 50 years of clergy rights for women in the UMC is a somewhat muddled way of looking at our history, being a woman getting ordained when you are celebrating 50 years is nonetheless an ideal and fun time to be ordained. To celebrate, all clergy women elders were asked to turn in some biographical info, which was then turned into "clergy women trading cards." We each got a pack of 50 cards with our own info to trade with our clergy women friends. I haven't managed to get all 49 of the others yet, but I got a good start, and did make sure to get Bishop Fisher's, and Bishop Judy Craig's who was our guest preacher.

Bishop Judith Craig is a retired bishop. When I went to Ohio Wesleyan (which, intriguingly, has part of campus in the East Ohio AC, and part in the West Ohio AC), she was the bishop in West Ohio. I got to hear her speak at a United Methodist Student Movement event. I've since had the opportunity to hear her preach in other settings, and wow - she is a preacher. She's excellent, funny, smart, and inspiring. I particularly like her sermon last weekend on the Exodus 16:9-21 passage, where the Israelites complain, so God sends manna to them. She said, "God who led them also fed them," but that being fed by God is something we need daily, not something that "keeps", not something that you can put into canning jars and just store up for later. She argued that for them, and for people today, a food crisis can cause a faith crisis, because if you can't see God in the ordinary - if there is a denial of faith in the ordinary, how can one have faith in the extraordinary? So, God cheerfully is presence in the daily-ness of life. "What we need today is not for tomorrow," she said.

Another sermon was on Isaiah 43, where she spoke of God's justice coming in "due time." Also excellent - wish I'd taken more notes. Her third sermon was on the gospel story of the women bent over - and Bishop Craig concluded, "there's a little temple ruler in everyone of us," not always ready for God to break in on what we've got planned.

I also had the privilege of being part of a panel-discussion workshop with Bishop Fisher, Bishop Craig, and Rev. Betsye Mowry. Betsye, appointed to the other UMC in the town where I serve, Oneida, is the oldest female elder in our conference with the most years of service. (She's been a pastor since before I was born!) I am the youngest female elder in the conference, the youngest elder of any kind! The four of us answered questions from the audience about our experiences as women in ministry. It was awesome to be among such company. Betsye - some of the stories she shared of her early days in ministry were so painful, so heart-breaking. I can't believe the courage and strength she must have had to continue on, so sure of her call, so unwilling to be turned away. Anyway, I have more to say about the suggestions made in particular by Bishop Craig, but I'll save that for another post!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

from Bloglet to FeedBlitz

For those of you who subscribe to receive my blog posts by email, you'll notice that they will now come from FeedBlitz instead of bloglet - bloglet is closing down. Served me well, but has sort of outgrown itself. Just a heads up! The email should come into your box from Beth Quick with my email, but I'm not positive yet!

Annual Conference Reflections: Ordination

I'm still recovering from Annual Conference and ordination and everything. Wow. I was so wound up leading up to Friday, the day of my ordination. I knew I was excited, but I didn't realize how high my energy level was, the stress/anxiety that was tied up with it, the fatigue that would follow, the Spirit that would move, the everything.

Wednesday was clergy session - the last vote. We were asked to share "something we'd like them to know about us." I was pacing outside as I was waiting for my turn to speak. The clergy session voted to elect the five of us who were there. I didn't have doubts about this, really, but still, nerves were shared as we waited. Thursday night was the rehearsal. Getting all the details worked out. Who sits where. Who processes when. Who gets what section of Hendricks Chapel to serve communion in.

Friday, the big day. Following a day of Annual Conference session, of course. Everything was wonderful. As we processed in during the opening hymn, I was almost to the front before I realized I wasn't actually singing. I tried, but didn't work. Hard to sing with a huge grin interrupting. Heart racing. Excellent sermon by Bishop Fisher: "Being the Word." Then the big event. I walked up onto stage with my two sponsors - my mentor, Rev. Marilyn Baissa, and my pastor for eleven years, Rev. Bruce Webster. The bishop also called onto stage my uncle, Rev. Bill Mudge, which was awesome. As soon as a knelt down, I lost the composure I had been struggling to maintain.

If you know me, or have been reading my blog long enough, perhaps you've sensed an edge of sarcasm. I was worried that my sarcasm would get in the way of my ability to be 100% in the moment of ordination. Worried that I wouldn't feel it somehow, if that makes sense. But I had no such problems. Very powerful. The weight of hands - the bishop's, my sponsors', my DS's. "Take thou authority." My mother and a dear woman from my congregation presented my stole, which my mother had special ordered. It was made up of stoles from special people in my life - my uncle, my great uncles, a former candidacy mentor, the pastor emeritus where I grew up, etc. Then turning and facing the congregation, which had about five rows of people from my church in the front pews, all smiling and supporting, and lots of family too.

I got to serve communion with my Uncle, and serve all those who had come to support me. Especially sweet was that several of my youth from CCYM had come several hours just to see more ordained. I was very touched by that.

Sunday night, after annual conferernce, my congregation threw me a party and showered me with beautiful gifts, including a scrapbook filled with thoughts and wishes and prayers. What a weekend.

Oh yeah, and we had some annual conference business too. ;) More on that later.
Ordination actually made the Syracuse paper twice. I had my picture in for rehearsal, and then there was this full story the next day. Not bad!

Thanks, too, for all of your kind words!

Monday, June 05, 2006

United Methodist Reporter article on blogging

I was recently interviewed for an article on blogging by Robin Russell of The United Methodist Reporter. You can check out the article here, which also features John of Locusts and Honey, Theresa Coleman, Wes Magruder, and mentions of some others in the Methoblogosphere. Sounds like those of us interviewed are in large part on the same page about the possible impacts, benefits, and implications of blogging. Cool.

Saturday, June 03, 2006