Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Discovering BCAM

I spent a pleasant afternoon visiting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), including the new Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM), designed by Renzo Piano. It's a cool new addition to LA's architectural scene. The basic form of the building is large and rectangular, with sand-colored stone walls, making it coherent with the adjacent Ahmanson Building (the original part of the evolving LACMA campus), but the walls are dramatically sliced by the diagonal lines of exterior staircases and the vertical lines of their steel girder supports, all painted a bright orange-red. These are visually complimented by the greens and organic lines of palm trees and ferns. The extrusion of the structural forms made me think of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, where the stairs, plumbing and venting are all exposed on the exterior. But the Pompidou Centre is gritty and industrial looking, while BCAM's whimsical colors and architectural lines render the idea with beauty and charm. (I didn't realize until later that the Pompidou Centre was a much older project by the same architect.)

An escalator leads from the entry plaza right up to the top floor, inviting you to enter the building in an unconventional way, preparing you to expect something different. Upon entering, one of the first things you see is a kind of graphic mural lining a large shaft from the top of the tall ceiling dropping below the floor. When looking down and seeing an orange metal platform way below us rising up, we realized with a small shock of revelation that we were looking at an elevator shaft. The glass-doored elevator car is monumental (21 feet tall and wider than tall), and moves through that artwork. (As my friend Kraig remarked, it's almost worth the price of admission to see the elevator.) The galleries on the top floor were generously large, open, and well-lit, and nicely presented an collection of modern sculpture and paintings. (Many of the works themselves are quite sizeable, so it is helpful to have such an ample space to view them in.) Some of them are amusingly whimsical (like the giant blue balloon dog and the giant cracked red egg shell), some are just odd (a bust of Louis XIV in chrome), some are classic (the Warhols and Lichtensteins), and some are just not my thing (like the blank canvas with plain block letters that said something like "There are no ideas in this painting", to which I thought, "clearly true"). The middle floor of the museum is not open yet, and the bottom floor contained a pair of monumental sculptures by Richard Serra called "Band" and "Sequence". While it may seem extravagant to have a 20,000 square foot gallery dedicated to just two sculptures, they are seriously cool. The sculptures are giant ribbons of brown steel that wind around and in upon themselves, creating surreal spaces and corridors. The curving flow of the steel walls invites you to follow them around to see where they will lead, and the walls lean in at times and out at others, playing with your sense of space. (The curved and leaning walls are reminiscent of the Disney Hall, but on a more intimate scale, and with a softer more organic color and texture rather than gleaming shiny aluminum.) With "Sequence" especially, the continuously curvy corridors were surprisingly long, making us feel like we were walking on some kind of hyper-Moebius strip. That was definitely worth the admission.

The BCAM is connected via a promenade to the old Ahmanson Building, creating a new entry plaza. The plaza is graced by an art installation by Chris Burden called "Urban Light", an arrangement of streetlamps placed unusually close together to form colonnades by their repetition and variation. The Ahmanson Building has been reconfigured to facilitate movement between a new west entrance (from the new campus) to the old east entrance (to the Times Courtyard) on a higher floor. The central atrium now has a grand staircase between those two, and the open multi-floor atrium is now dominated by a cool monumental Tony Smith sculpture called "Smoke". One thing I do miss is that where the upper floors used to all open onto the atrium, they are now closed off. But overall, I'm liking the new additions to LACMA.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tackling the Pope on the Proper Ecology of Man

Earlier this week, the Pope delivered a Christmas meditation on joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. But as is becoming a Christmas tradition with him, he couldn't pass an opportunity to scold against homosexuality as a sign of all the world's ills. Last year, we were an obstacle to world peace. This year, we're an ecological disaster, akin to the destruction of the rainforests. Like last year, the Pope's blind spot about gays leads him astray from the proper implications of his own words.

He starts from a graceful exposition of Natural Law doctrine:
The ultimate foundation for our responsibility towards the earth rests on our beliefs about creation. The earth is not simply our possession which we can plunder according to our interests and desires. It is rather a gift of the Creator who has designed its intrinsic laws and with this has given us the basic directions for us to adhere as stewards of his creation. The fact that the earth, the cosmos, mirror the Creator Spirit, clearly means that their rational structures which, transcending the mathematical order, become almost palpable in our experience, bear within themselves an ethical orientation. The Spirit which has formed them, is more than mathematics, he is the Good in person, using the language of creation, and points us to the way of right living.

Since faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Credo, the Church cannot and should not confine itself to passing on the message of salvation alone. It has a responsibility for the created order and ought to make this responsibility prevail, even in public. And in so doing, it ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. It ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself. What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense.
Unfortunately, that's where Benedict takes the traditional wrong turn, with the overly simplistic claim that bonding in heterosexual matrimony is a universal moral imperative. His analogy to forest conservation calls to mind the evolution of that science. Where we once approached conservation with the idea that we should protect the trees from all threats, we have since come to realize that some "threats", including fires, are actually a part of the natural process, essential to the long-term maintenance of the forest ecosystem. If we were to apply Benedict's philosophy to forest conservation, we would take every possible step to put out forest fires (including naturally caused ones), and we would do all we could to ensure that every acorn that fell had the opportunity to germinate into a full-grown tree. But this would be completely unnatural. In the delicately balanced complex ecosystem, undergrowth keeps too many acorns from sprouting too densely, while occasional fires keep the undergrowth from getting out of hand and allow certain other plants to germinate. We understand this now.

With such an understanding in mind, the more rational approach for a "proper ecology of man" would be to recognize that man thrives in a complex society where different people make different contributions using their different talents, and not all people are called to the same end. With regard to the propagation of a societal species like ours, there is no justification for the claim that each and every individual has a duty to mate and reproduce. Many mate and reproduce, but some make other contributions to the furtherance of humankind, like teaching, caring for the sick and infirm, creating works of art, progressing science, and otherwise supporting families and society. Need I mention priests? It is really the height of blind arrogance that a celibate man addressing a curia composed entirely of celibate men could pontificate so obtusely about the moral call of all humans to mate, with such a glaring counterexample right in front of him. And as if this weren't enough, Benedict, in his 4th point of this very speech, cites 1 Corinthians 12. That whole chapter is an eloquent conceit on the Church as the body of Christ, with each member working with different gifts, just as each part of a body contributes differently to the whole:
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
It defies reason how Benedict can cite this very scripture in a speech insisting that all parts of the body should be reproductive organs.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

BOOKS: The Wordy Shipmates

I'd always enjoyed Sarah Vowell's segments on This American Life, so I expected I would enjoy her books as well. Reading her latest, The Wordy Shipmates, I was as delighted as I hoped to be. Vowell has a deep appreciation for history, a keen eye for irony, and a sharp wit. Her distinctive charm is her voice, both figuratively and literally. Her speaking voice has the innocent earnestness of a Peanuts character, while her "voice" is incisively sardonic commentary, rich with wacky metaphors and ironic juxtapositions. The combination is masterful deadpan. My only worry was that even great deadpan, unbroken, would get monotonous, but it was not so. Her wry observations were leavened with sincere ones, and her passion for the subjects of her study was all the more contagious for her truly earnest moments.

The subject of this book was the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts, a subject made quite fascinating by her expositions of different facets of their story. I learned much (for instance, I never before appreciated the differences between the Pilgrims and the Puritans), and was introduced to great characters -- John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson -- of whom I had known little more than their names. Vowell's sketches, while sardonic, are also well-grounded in source material, which is often quoted. In the audio book, read by Vowell herself, the quoted parts are read by actors, an interesting effect, as you get to recognize the voices after a while. Rather than a strictly chronological sequence, she presents a series of expositions on different characters and themes, which interlock and reinforce one another to paint a full history by the end. Unlike most historians who endeavor to be objective and detached, Vowell wears her distinctive point of view on her sleeve. She relates personal anecdotes and sentiments reflecting her subject, and at times makes ironic juxtapositions with more modern events with an unabashed subjectivity. For instance, her meditations on the theme of a "city on a hill", articulated in a famous sermon by John Winthrop, recur in accounts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but also jump to Reagan and Kennedy and other brief excursions into American exceptionalism. I don't see this as detracting from the history at all, in fact, it makes it more memorable. Just as a columnist with an explicit viewpoint can be just as illuminating and credible as an "objective" journalist, so is Vowell's style of history as illuminating and credible as a drier scholarly history. Her distinctive retelling of their stories brings these historical characters to life. A greatly entertaining and educational read.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Boycotts, Betrayal, and Business

Over the weekend, LA Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote about Margie Christofferson, the unfortunate longtime manager and hostess at El Coyote Café on Beverly. Following the instruction of her Mormon church, she donated $100 toward the Yes on 8 campaign. When her name was discovered on a donor list, a disproportionate barrage of gay outrage was directed at her and at El Coyote, leading to email and website calls to boycott the restaurant, and protest demonstrations outside the landmark venue. I have a variety of mixed feelings about this.

For one, I think it's clearly disproportionate. While any donation toward injustice is regrettable, a great many people gave much larger donations than Christofferson's $100, and few if any have received the same focused wrath. Moreover, her donation was personal and not made on behalf of El Coyote. True, she is the daughter of the owner, and the public face of the restaurant. But the restaurant, as Lopez notes, has 89 employees, many of them gay. A couple of other managers pooled together a several hundred dollar donation to Equality California, and the donations of other employees to No on 8 may well have outweighed Christofferson's $100 for Yes. Because business is down 30%, likely the result of the boycott, many employees have had their hours cut and may be laid off. So this boycott has unjustly caused harm much more widely than its intended target.

I can sympathize with those who are angry at El Coyote, and can understand why this particular donation incurred such wrath. A friend recently noted that there's a strong sense of betrayal, because for so many gay people, El Coyote has seemed to be a safe and welcoming place for us, a part of "our neighborhood". And El Coyote has certainly done a significant share of its business from its gay clientele. Thus, this particular donation came with a sense of betrayal. We expected people like Howard Ahmanson and Rick Warren to be donating heavily to Proposition 8, and donations from people in Kern and Orange counties were expected. But here, in a gay-friendly restaurant, in the gay-friendliest part of town, where we always thought we were among friends, even a modest donation was an unexpected betrayal. It was a violation of an unspoken trust, and shattered the feeling of comfort and safety that many gay people felt at El Coyote. And for gay people, that can hit especially hard. Many gay people have been estranged or kicked out of their natural homes and families, which makes their feeling of adopted "home" in gay-friendly neighborhoods and venues like El Coyote have much greater import. I don't think this justifies the harsh response, but I think it explains the emotional logic of it. It was a betrayal that cut especially deep and close to home.

On the other hand, Christofferson seems oblivious to the injustice she has helped to perpetrate. It's one thing for people who claim not to know anybody gay (or who disown those they know) to advocate such things. But these people, like Sarah Palin and apparently like Margie Christofferson, who claim to have gay friends, yet still advocate against our equal rights, that's just galling. How can you claim to be someone's friend, and then vote to infringe their rights? That's as nonsensical as saying "Oh, I have lots of black friends, but I just don't think they should be allowed to drink out of the same drinking fountain as white people." Sorry, Sarah, sorry Margie, but you're not our friend. We've gone on too long letting you get away with pretending that you are. Are we just supposed to roll over and say, "oh well, you helped pass the revocation of my civil rights, but let's let it go, and pour me another margarita?" I don't think so.

Philosophically, I have a bit of discomfort with the fairness of a boycott, given the asymmetry in our laws. In "libertopia", everyone would have unfettered choice about who they do business with. But here in America (and especially in California), we recognize the power of a majority to economically tyrannize a minority, and so we have created laws against discrimination in public accommodations. Businesses are generally not allowed to discriminate (at least based on a variety of protected classes like race, religion, etc.) in choosing their customers. But customers, on the other hand, are allowed to choose their businesses. For instance, while it would be illegal for a restaurant to refuse to serve black people, it is not illegal for black people to organize a boycott of a restaurant. There's just something asymmetrical and unfair about that. As evidenced by El Coyote's empty tables, boycotts can have a powerful effect. The freedom of businesses to serve or refuse to serve whoever they choose has been sacrificed for the good of keeping economic cudgels from pummeling unpopular minorities, thus preserving liberty across the board for a diverse society where it might otherwise be practically infringed. It would seem a fair bargain that organized consumers not pick up that same economic cudgel, for the same reasons. Obviously, there's no practical way to legislate such a thing. But it is a philosophical qualm I have about boycotts in general.

On the other hand, Christofferson made a choice that had obvious ramifications for the business that she manages (and that her mother owns). One of El Coyote's significant assets was the "good will" that it had cultivated over the years in the gay community. It would be impossible for Christofferson to be oblivious to the value of gay good will to her business, and foolish to think that her position on Prop 8 wouldn't put that asset in jeopardy. And any businessperson ought to understand the value and the fragility of that intangible asset. While she has every right to her own political views and donations, when her advocacy goes against a constituency prominent among the clientele of her business, she has no right not to be responsible for the consequences. She has the right to insult any customer she pleases, but not the right to expect that customer to come back.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Change We Can Subscribe To

During his historic campaign, President-Elect Obama broke new ground in his use of new media -- social networking, YouTube videos, web-based organizing. Since the election, the execution of his transition has been impressive, and has been documented and even conducted through an Internet presence called He's been giving public addresses at least weekly, which are being published on YouTube (the 21st century equivalent of "fireside chats"), and can be subscribed to via RSS in audio or video. (Me, I've added Obama's weekly address to my podcast subscriptions via iTunes, so I can get it on my iPod during my commute to work.) And they're exploring ways to make a place not just for dissemination but for engagement. Obama will be our first truly 21st century president.

FOOD: Cobras y Matadors

After the movie on Sunday, we checked out a longtime trendy eatery that we'd never tried: Cobras y Matadors, a tapas bar on Beverly at Curson (near The Grove). We had a great meal there and would definitely go back. They had traditional Spanish tapas as well as some trendy creations. (Think AOC: Spain edition.) It's all tapas (appetizers), so you just start ordering plates for the table and take things as they come. We started with "lomo embuchado", stuffed dates, and an assortment of Spanish cheeses (properly served with quince, marcona almonds, and tapenade). The "lomo embuchado" was a thinly sliced Spanish ham with slices of a mild tres leches cheese, served with raisin toast, and a tomato/caper salsa that just made my tongue stand up and applaud. (Even though the large proportion of tapas are served on bread, our waiter and the kitchen did a nice job of bringing us things with the bread on the side so my gluten-intolerant husband could enjoy them too.) The dates were stuffed with almonds and cheese, and wrapped in bacon, delicious morsels. We added a skirt steak, perfectly cooked in orange juice and paprika, a mushroom and asparagus paella (really more like a risotto, but an impeccable flavor), and "pintxos" -- lamb/beef meatballs covered in a piquant red pepper sauce, toothpick-skewered together with a small double-bent green pepper. Everything was a delight to eat. We finished with a flan, which was rich and firm, like the flans we had when we were in Spain. The place has its quirks -- it gets noisy (it's a small place and they fill it up), there's an open-fire oven in the back corner which is charming but occasionally a bit smoky, and they don't have their liquor license. However, they happen to own a wine shop next door that sells a selection of Spanish wines, which we wandered over to, purchased a charming bottle of Bierzo Mencia (young and fruity, something like a Beaujolais) for $21, and were charged no corkage fee. Not a bad compromise set-up. The whole meal for three people, tax tip wine and all, was $125. All in all, it was a delightful meal.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

FILM: Doubt

I had doubts about whether even Meryl Streep could live up to Cherry Jones' galvanic stage perfomance as Sister Aloysius in John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, but we saw the film version today, and my doubts on that score were dispelled. Streep was really terrific, creating her own ferocious version of the rock-of-certainty nun, paying tribute to the character created by Cherry Jones, but making it her own. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn (the new priest with new ideas), and Amy Adams as Sister James (the young innocent nun) also gave strong performances, as did Viola Davis as the mother of the school's first black student. The film adaptation was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, so it is not surprising that it tracks the play very closely, and Shanley does a nice job of exploiting the new medium. There are some nice visuals unique to the film -- the repeated theme of the blustery winds, Father Flynn stopping to regard an "all-seeing eye" in a stained glass window, the parable of the slashed pillow (sermon on gossip), a bit more of the neighborhood and the parishioners. But there were some surprising differences from the stage play too. While I can't put my finger exactly on it, I left with the strong impression that the stage play was somehow more delicately balanced. With the play, I left truly uncertain even at the end whether Father Flynn was guilty or not, a result of the masterful finesse of Chris McGarry's stage performance and the role Shanley created. In the film, it somehow didn't seem as balanced, and I can't put my finger on whether the play gave Father Flynn just a bit more chance to voice his side, or whether it was just that Hoffman was just a bit more suspicious and overcome by Streep's certainty, but none of us left the film with much doubt about Father Flynn's guilt. The other surprising difference is the very end. (*** spoiler alert ***) The film ends with the same line as the play, but I took it completely differently. When I saw the play, the final line seemed (to me at least) to refer to Sister Aloysius's doubts about whether she rightly accused Father Flynn. In the film, I didn't think she seemed at all uncertain about Father Flynn, and the final line seemed to refer to a more general crisis of faith. A close shot of her cross being pulled to her chest seemed to reinforce that interpretation. A friend we saw the film with had the same impression, and further saw it as a reference back to Father Flynn's first sermon on doubt, and a kind of bond between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn. I also think Sister James came across differently in the final scene. In the play, I recall her being more critical of Sister Aloysius, while in the film she seems more supportive and admiring. On stage, I also remember the confrontation between Sister Aloysius and Ronald Miller's mother being much more powerful and critical of Sister Aloysius. Perhaps the criticism of Mrs. Miller and questioning of Sister James were part of the more successful counterbalance to Sister Aloysius's certainty in the stage version.

The movie is well worth seeing for its powerful performances and provocative story, especially for those who did not see the play. But the film is not as powerful and provocative as the play. This is especially surprising to me since the playwright did his own adaptation and directed it too. I'm wondering whether Shanley has changed his mind about the sorts of questions he wants to challenge his audience with, or whether he just balked at being so provocative to a wider audience. In any event, the film adaptation subtly but profoundly alters the play.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tapping the Zeitgeist

When writing the online version of our annual holiday newsletter, I've often added a little bit on new technologies that have affected our lives in the past year. This year, I cited two technologies: the iPhone and social networking. The iPhone has been a big part of our life this past year. That was my gift to my husband last Christmas, and as my Mom often says, that was the best Christmas gift ever. With social networking, while that's been around for many years, I opined that it seemed to have reached a tipping point this year. However, I cautioned that that may just be my own skewed perspective. I only just joined Facebook a few weeks ago (careful, it's addictive!), and have been running into all sorts of friends there, most of whom are also relatively recent. I think the kids have been onto it for quite a while, but perhaps it's just opened up for the over-forty crowd. Well, it turns out I do in fact have my finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist, at least according to Google, who just released their 2008 Year-End Google Zeitgeist report, showing "iphone" and "facebook" as #2 and #4 fastest rising search terms. Social networking is called out on their "top trends". I guess I'm not so late to the party after all.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

FILM: Milk

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a group of us saw Milk, and we're betting on Sean Penn to win an Oscar. He did an amazing job of absolutely transforming himself into Harvey Milk. You know how sometimes with big star actors, you can't ever quite stop seeing the actor as opposed to the character. Not here. I didn't see Sean Penn at all, I only saw Harvey Milk. And now I feel as if I knew him. And lost him. It was a powerful film with strong resonance especially given the recent Prop 8 battle. (The battle against the Briggs Initiative was a signal event in Milk's career.) The whole film was very well made, a great biopic. An opening montage of actual 1970s film of men in gay bars being busted and harrassed by police establishes the context, and the use of actual film footage from events spliced into the film helps establish a documentary credibility. An emotional verisimilitude is created by the device of framing the film with scenes of Milk reflecting on his life, talking into a dictaphone, in contemplation of the possibility of his imminent death. I learned a lot of things I didn't know (I was oblivious to the gay world and being gay myself in 1978), and what a moving history lesson it was. It's inspirational to see the impact of a man who made a life-changing decision at age 40, and changed so much for so many in the eight remaining years of his life.

One nice touch that really hit home with me was a scene where a scared gay teenager, about to be sent by his parents to some horrific anti-gay deprogramming camp, calls up Harvey Milk just because he'd seen him on TV, and Milk was the only gay person that boy knew. And Milk gave him the self-confidence to run away (quite possibly saving his life, given the high gay teen suicide rates). Fortunately, I have wonderful parents and I never had to deal with that nightmare, but I can remember a similar experience. When I was just coming out senior year in college, I read in the newspapers about a guy who was an engineer working for TRW, who was gay, lost his security clearance, sued, and won. Since I had already accepted an offer at TRW, when I read that, I was fearful and wanted to talk to that guy. I called that total stranger, my voice trembling (especially over the "I'm gay" part), and thankfully got some good advice and reassurance about my future as a gay man working at an aerospace-defense contractor. Seeing that scene in the film took me right back to the memory of that phone call, the scene rang so true to me, and in that moment I appreciated even more deeply how much Harvey Milk meant to a whole generation of gay men and women just a couple years older than me. How much he changed everything.

I also didn't know anything about the Briggs Initiative at the time (I was sixteen). The film did a great job of building up the wave of anti-gay ballot initiatives that was sweeping the country then, with Anita Bryant as the spokesperson, and the feeling of embattlement that created in the gay community. It was such an eerie resonance between those events and the events of the past couple months, us feeling embattled by sign-waving protesters wanting to vote down our marriage.

The cast in this film were uniformly excellent, and there are surely Oscars in its future. Sean Penn, for sure, is getting Best Actor. But Josh Brolin, another actor who completely melted into his character, also did an impeccable job as Dan White, the traditional working class guy with a psychopathic undercurrent. And James Franco gave a solid performance as Milk's boyfriend (despite all the "eww, what was it like?" brouhaha over whether two straight boys could convincingly kiss), and Emile Hirsch really brought Cleve Jones to life. Kudos to director Gus Van Sant for finding the ideal balance of documentary factuality and emotional genuineness, both elements required for a masterful portrait of a hero.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Anglican Splinters

My friend Mark forwarded me the latest news on the Episcopal schism. For the past few years, a patchwork of restless conservative priests and bishops in the Episcopal Church have been more and more boldly cutting their ties with the Episcopal Church USA, ever since that church ordained an openly gay bishop and won't renounce him. Four dioceses and a number of other parishes have "broken communion" with the Episcopal Church, while still trying to claim the mantle of "true Anglicans", by claiming to be ecclesiastical exclaves of Uganda or Nigeria, where they find archbishops more to their liking. The renegades and their African abettors have also been cool to the Archbishop of Canterbury (traditionally, the leader of the worldwide Anglican communion), as Canterbury has been desperately trying to hold the communion together and not take sides. Today comes an announcement that they are forming the "Anglican Church of North America", to peel off their remnant 100,000 members from the 2.3 million member Episcopal Church. This is sad because of the strife it will cause. There are divided congregations, and there will be inevitable legal battles over whether church property belongs to the denomination or the individual church congregations. But it takes a mighty summoning of Christian charity not to simply say "good riddance" to those who would prefer to divide the church, and line up with the thugs who call themselves Christian archbishops in Nigeria and Uganda.

A couple of things in the NY Times article about this latest announcement jumped out at me. The breakaway denomination would like to be embraced by Canterbury as part of the Anglican communion, but apparently they've decided that they'll go with him or without him. "Bishop" Martyn Minns, of the Falls Church in Virginia, was quoted saying, "One of the questions a number of the primates are asking is why do we still need to be operating under the rules of an English charity, which is what the Anglican Consultative Council does. Why is England still considered the center of the universe?" What does he suppose that "Anglican" means, if not that England is at the historical and ecclesiastical heart? That's like asking why Roman Catholics think everything revolves around the Bishop of Rome (a.k.a. the Pope). Moreover, that is the long-established tradition, how it's been since the beginning of Anglicanism. Hypocritically, "tradition" and "that's how it's always been" are their favorite argument against same-sex marriage, but when they're the ones making a radical ecclesiastical change, tradition is no longer compulsory.

The article also noted that this splinter movement, which has only a handful of bishops, can't all agree on just how conservative they want to be. At least one of the splinter dioceses has ordained women priests, but a couple of the others have said they refuse to recognize women priests. You've got to see where that leads. Without the constraint of reasonable moderate leaders in this new denomination, there will be a rush to the right to see who can out-conservative whom, alienating more and more people in their wake, and the splinter will dwindle or split into smaller splinters. In a few years, look for the announcement about Dallas and San Joaquin splitting off to form the True Anglican Church of North America Except Pittsburgh and Canada, leaving behind the Anglican But Not Anglo-Centric Church of the Northern Part of North America.

Monday, December 01, 2008

STAGE: Spring Awakening

We heard about Spring Awakening when it splashed across last year's Tony Awards so prominently, so we were eager to see it now it's come to LA. It's an intriguing concept, taking a 110-year old play and adding a contemporary musical score to it. But then again, Rent (perhaps my alltime favorite play) was the same notion. The notion works because some themes -- love, loss, and in this case, teenage angst and burgeoning sexuality -- are timeless. In this instance, the play's timeframe and characters are not modernized. The students are drilled in Latin lessons in their conservative academy, the costumes are period 1890s, and the characters' names reflect their small German village. All that contrasts with how remarkably identifiable these characters and their young passions are. Like an arc of electricity linking 19th century Germany to America 2008, these quaintly clad characters grab microphones and belt out rocking tunes by Duncan Sheik. (And those tunes were totally rocking. Both at intermision and at the finale, I left with the music continuing to pump in my head.) I expect those of late teens and twenties will connect directly with the feelings of the characters presented, while us older folks have memories of those years vividly recalled by the emotional authenticity of the play. The visual aesthetic was in the style of Rent, a spare set with few props and a few things to climb on, and unabashed use of microphones rock-band-style. Some scenes were minimally but movingly visualized (a funeral scene in particular), some explicitly visualized, while others left tastefully to the imagination. The use of one male and one female actor to play all of the adult roles was brilliant. The adult women are variations on the same template (though with emotional differentiation), while all the adult men seemed indistinguishable, a strict emotion-repressed Teutonic authority figure, "the man", as they say. It was the theatrical equivalent of the adults in the Peanuts comic strip who all go "wah, wah, wah" to the kids' ears. There were a couple of minor detractions. The choreography is rock-band-style rocking, jumping, and climbing, except for a couple of puzzling exceptions, where one of the main characters breaks into these odd frantic arm movements looking something like Village People semaphore, except I couldn't tell what he was trying to spell out. The other detraction is the final number. The haunting emo number suits musically, but the lyrics fail. Just where an anthem of emotional summation is needed, we're given some incoherent abstraction about "purple summer". Fortunately, the dramatic arc was essentially closed in the song before, and the finale is just an excuse to get the whole cast on stage and send the audience out in the right mood. Overall, the whole production is so strong that I'm more than happy to overlook those two minor detractions, and we came away moved and humming. This is a great play for those who are young (but not too young -- high school and up) and those who remember being young. Parents taking their high school children should have some interesting conversation after the play.