December 25, 2020

The beginning, not the end

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 5:12 pm by chavisory

In some ways I started saying it as an excuse. For why I didn’t want to take my tree down yet, or for cards or presents that were almost certainly not going to arrive in the mail by December 25. “Christmas lasts until January 6. It’s still Christmas until then.” As long as a card or a letter or package arrives before then? It’s not late! It’s still Christmas!

And it’s true, even though that’s not really how most of us celebrate or think about it anymore, but Christmas is a 12-day festival that lasts from December 25 to January 6, when Epiphany commemorates the arrival of the Magi to greet the baby Jesus (which I think most of us had explained at some point after being confused for a portion of our childhoods at the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”).

But over the past several years, in all honesty, learning to think about Christmas this way has actually helped me appreciate it more for what I think it’s supposed to be, rather than always being overwhelmed and exhausted leading up to it and then having it be over before I know it while I was too tired to truly enjoy it.

I wish that as a society, we’d bend back towards a 12-day celebration of Christmas.

It’s helped me not feel like Christmas is just one more project or production that I’m not going to have done in time, another endpoint or deadline, rather than a period of time in which I get to exist in the world differently. It takes a lot of emotional pressure off the day to be the perfect fulfillment of the Christmas season, to be everything possible to everyone. It makes it a lot harder to “ruin” Christmas, if Christmas isn’t just one day. It’s harder for the entire preceding month’s work to feel like a waste if Christmas isn’t over at the stroke of midnight on December 25, but only beginning, if the day didn’t go as planned. It helps make room for large, scattered, blended, and messier families. Between divorced parents, grandparents, step-family, and siblings who now have their own and their spouses’ and partners’ families, it is virtually impossible that I get to see everyone on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. But Christmas gatherings spread out over the days after the 25th don’t have to be considered late or of diminished importance. Usually I wind up having Christmas with my mother and siblings on the 28th or so, after whatever traveling we’ve all had to do to see family elsewhere.

…And I think it could really, really cut down on the temptation of retailers and radio stations to start playing Christmas music a few days after Halloween. There is going to be plenty of time to actually enjoy that music–during Christmas. There’d be no need to keep pushing the commencement of the Christmas season earlier and earlier into the year to make sure we wring every possible drop of enjoyment out of it, if we just took advantage of the holiday as it actually exists.

A longer celebration of Christmas says there will be time. To listen to all the damn Christmas music we want. To see everyone we need to see even if it can’t be all at once. To rest and enjoy everything we worked so hard for. It says things take as long as they take, and that’s okay. The doing is part of the celebration.

Writing Christmas cards, I took a deep breath to remember, busier this year than it should be possible to be without a job, isn’t about getting them done and in the mail “on time.” It’s something I’m spending my time leading up to Christmas doing because I appreciate my friends and family, and am deciding to spend this time this way because I wanted to and enjoy doing it. If they get there after Christmas Day, someone still knows I’m thinking of them and wishing them well.

And I wonder even if those realities of modern life–that Christmas likely means travel to multiple family gatherings over several days (at least, not in a pandemic year), and snarled mail delivery, might start leading us to expand how we think about Christmas again. There’s too much to do in one day. And there’s actually no reason at all that we have to.

The Christmas story didn’t unfold in one day and the celebration of it doesn’t need to. Jesus said “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.”

We don’t have to accept a false scarcity of time during Christmas. Christmas Day is the beginning of Christmas, not the end of it.

This year especially, I’m finding it reassuring to consider Christmas a period of time set aside for a reason, to find joy and rest, and not as an event that I’m missing out on. Christmas this year is going to be quieter and lonelier than I wanted, but it will also still be these things. I’m having dinner with my neighbor from across the hall, watching the Muppet Christmas Carol and The Lion in Winter. It turned out to be impossible to buy candied fruit mix anywhere in NYC this month (which honestly feels like a fitting end to a year in which it was at various times impossible to buy milk, bread, flour, breakfast sausage, frozen pizza, pasta, hand soap, or toilet paper) to make my great-grandmother’s fruit bars, a Christmas tradition in my mother’s family, so instead I’m taking some time to experiment with making Nantucket cranberry cake, and a friend’s lemon cookie recipe. I’m not going to get to go to church, but reading, writing, and hiking.

My present from my mother didn’t get here in the mail in time for this morning, but it’s fine, because it’ll still be Christmas tomorrow.

For those of us who are separated from our families and friends this year, who aren’t having the Christmas we wish we were, I hope we can at least find it a time of rest and restoration, today and over the next eleven days, and a way to see it as the beginning of a return to better ones.

Image is of a small rock, which someone has painted with yellow and white stripes and the word “joy” in red and green letters, and left amid fallen leaves, on the rocks by our waterfall in Central Park.

September 26, 2014

Signal-boosting post!

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 1:32 pm by chavisory

There are so, so many issues and projects and new art and fundraising campaigns out there right now that deserve time and attention and money, and I could almost write a post per day every day to get to all of them.  If I could I would just give the money to every project I like that needs it, but for the present moment I’ll have to settle for calling your attention to a few of my favorites:

1.  The deadline is coming up for submissions to Typed Words, Loud Voices!  This will be an anthology of writing by people who are non-speaking either some of the time or all of the time, who type to communicate.  The editors are Amy Sequenzia and Ibby Grace, two of my favorite advocates and bloggers.  Project description and submission guidelines are here!

2.  The Autism Women’s Network is planning an anthology on autism and race, and we have less than two days left in our fundraising campaign, with almost 50% of our goal to go!  This book is so important because the vast majority of discussion and visibility of autism centers on white autistic men, while autistic people of color suffer from an immense lack of recognition and understanding.

Project information and fundraiser are here.  If you are interested in submitting writing, guidelines are here.

3.  The WordPlay Shakespeare series, which I’ve been working on for about two years now with the New Book Press, has just released its third edition, Romeo & Juliet!  These are Shakespeare’s plays in dual text and video e-book format, and include both the full text and video of its performance by really stellar Broadway and Off-Broadway actors on every page, along with note-taking and study tools.

Almost every person, and teachers especially, who we show samples to, says that they wish they’d had these when they learned Shakespeare in high school.  I’m immensely proud of them, Romeo & Juliet is probably the play I’ve had the most fun working on so far as we’ve refined our understanding and process for this hybridized film/theater/new media format of production, and is available on iTunes and iBooks now.

4.  On Monday night, we had the CD release party and concert for the cast recording of Tamar of the River, a fantastically distinctive new musical that I stage managed last fall, the second original cast recording to be released for a show of mine.  If you have an interest in unique vocal music or storytelling technique, this is a piece you’ll probably love, and proceeds benefit Seeds of Peace, an organization that brings together young people from regions of seemingly intractable conflicts to work towards peaceful solutions.

5.  Out of Order is still fundraising!  This is a documentary about the journeys of LGBTQ candidates for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA), amidst evolving attitudes in the church about what it means to be both queer and a Christian.  I was excited for this to be out, like, yesterday, and the team (all of whom are working pro-bono out of belief in the importance of this film) is in a fundraising push to finish editing and post-production.

Please take a look at any or all of these that may be relevant to your interests. : )

September 5, 2014

[This is an automated message]

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 9:32 am by chavisory

I’m sorry, you appear to be trying to have an argument with a conservative evangelical and/or scriptural literalist or inerrantist variety of Christian.

As I am not one, I am unable to usefully participate further in this discussion with you on the essential nature of faith or religion, and/or the supposed conflict between faith and science, or between faith and critical thinking.

To continue this conversation in acknowledgement that progressive/non-literalist interpretations of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam exist and are equally authentic expressions of faith, press [1].

To continue this conversation in recognition that non-Western, non-Abrahamic, non-theistic, non-hierarchical belief systems exist, and are as fully valid religions as conservative fundamentalist Christianity, press [2].

To continue this conversation in recognition that heterogeneity of belief and practice exist and are accepted within most faith communities, press [3].

To attempt to locate a conservative/evangelical/literal fundamentalist with whom to continue this conversation as before, please hang up and try again.

Best of luck in your search.

Goodbye.

(I wrote this after feeling like I could have used something like it to copy/paste into most of the discussions I’ve seen lately about the nature of religious belief, and it would’ve been a better use of my time and energy than the arguments I participated in.)

March 7, 2014

This I don’t believe

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 2:21 pm by chavisory

Less often than I used to have the time for, but still on a fairly regular basis, I wind up in debates with atheists online, when I protest some ultra-generalized hysterical but maddening mischaracterization of Christianity or of religion in general.

Just for instance:  “But Christianity teaches that women are subordinate to men,” and I blink confusedly and go “…wait, what?”

Because mine didn’t, and doesn’t.

I ran across this graphic a while back….

I'm an atheist

[Graphic reads: “I’m an atheist.  I believe the existence of any deity has never been proven and is unlikely to ever be proven.  I believe that good can and should be done without worrying whether or not you’ve done sufficient good to be rewarded.”]

And the funny thing is, I could just as easily say the exact same thing as a Christian.

In fact, most of the time, most of the things that I’m presumed to believe by aggressive atheists, if I identify myself as a Christian, are not only not the case, but nonsensical to what I actually believe.

And while what I do believe in is more difficult to verbalize, what I actually don’t believe in is easy.

*

I don’t believe God is a bearded magical guy who lives in the sky.

I don’t believe the existence of God has been proven, or is likely to ever be.  I’m not even particularly sure that it should be, were it even possible.

I do not believe in doing good or being decent to other people only because some authority tells me to, or offers the reward of heaven or threatens the punishment of hell.

I probably don’t believe in heaven or hell as literal places at all.

I don’t believe that the way you get sent to either one is by sufficiently appeasing or pissing off God, or for believing or not believing in the right religion or the right deities.  I don’t believe that because I (obviously) think my beliefs are true, that other faith systems’ beliefs must necessarily be false.

I don’t believe in a God who particularly enjoys punishing people for normal experiences of being human, or who rejects people for who they are or who they love.  I don’t believe in a God who demands an unreasonable level of perfection or obedience to an archaic and unchanging system of rules.

I don’t believe in a God who demands that we not question or doubt or use our capacity for critical thinking.

I don’t all that much believe in what most people think of as magic or the supernatural.

I don’t believe the existence or action of God is necessary to explain what simply isn’t understood by science yet.  I don’t believe that the wonder or beauty of creation or the natural world is dependent on us just not understanding how it works.  I don’t believe that what we don’t understand yet is particularly strong evidence for the existence of God.

I don’t believe that the reality of evolution is in any way antithetical to anything truly important about my religious beliefs.  I really, really don’t.

(So I don’t believe, either, that the fact that neurological capacity for spiritual experiences can be shown to have evolved, in any way undermines or contradicts the authenticity or significance of that experience.)

I don’t believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God.  I don’t believe the Bible was written by anyone but people, who had historical and cultural contexts, histories, emotional lives, and agendas of their own.

I don’t believe that morality can only originate in religion.

I don’t rely on a pastor to tell me what to do or how to think.

I don’t need to believe in a heaven or an afterlife to escape fear of death.  (Which is not a particularly effective strategy anyway—I still fear death.)

I don’t need to believe in an all-powerful protector in order to not fear life.

*

So let’s go ahead and get past this part of the debate:  these are the things I really don’t believe.  If those are the only terms in which someone else can understand what religion is or what its significance might be to a person or to a culture, that’s not my fault or a weakness in my belief system.  I am not under any obligation to say “Oh, you’re right, of course, my faith system is what you say it is regardless of how little you understand about the actual experience of it.”

I’m not trying to convert anyone, to convince you to believe anything you have no genuine inclination to.  And I’m not arguing that religion shouldn’t be criticized when it exhibits real problems or when real harm is done in its name or under its influence, but relying on one-dimensional caricature to do that, insisting that religious belief by definition consists of things that for a lot of people it really doesn’t, is as unfair as it is unhelpful.

Describe the God you’ve rejected.  Describe the God you don’t believe in.  Maybe I don’t believe that God either.” —Timothy Keller

April 22, 2013

Just a thought

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 12:28 am by chavisory

I’ve heard it said often that the problem with the doctrine of reincarnation is that it encourages people to slack off about living life fully, giving the illusion that we have unlimited time to screw around or watch television.

From a common Christian point of view, the problem is the illusion that we have unlimited time to repent our sins and reconcile with God before we’re called to judgment.  That we can sin without limit or consequence because we’ll always have more time to get it right.

But I think it would mean something much, much better, if it were true in any way.

It would mean that all of the world’s greatest people, everyone we’ve loved, everyone who’s meant a great deal to us, everyone whose work has changed our lives…is still here with us.

But we can’t know who they are now.  They could be anyone and they could be anywhere.

And so every single chance you have to show goodness or kindness to another person, is a chance to show it to any person who’s ever lived and died.

Far from the idea of reincarnation being an excuse not to live life to the fullest, I think it’s an invitation to live as well as we can and show as much goodness as we can to everyone around us.

April 7, 2013

Out of Order new trailer!

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , , , at 1:40 am by chavisory

Really happy to see an update from the Out of Order team this week.  Seeing this film get made is a wish very dear to me.  It will come as no surprise to anyone, probably, that I treasure stories of people being told that they’re not supposed to exist, and then doing it anyway.

And also because I’ve had people who are not allies to the cause of equality tell me that they’re really and truly trying to understand the position of people who consider themselves both faithful Christians, and avowedly queer.  Being able to point them to this film would be a great place to start, but it has to get made first.

Earlier this year I shared the first trailer for this documentary project.  I know that everything and everyone is asking for your time or money for something, and I know that queer Presbyterian aspiring clergy might seem an obscure or marginally important topic for a documentary, but the filmmakers have this to say:

This important film is about people making a stand for what they believe in. It’s not merely about Christians or gay and transgender people. It’s about wider humanity and doing what’s right, despite institutions telling you you’re wrong, broken and don’t belong.

I know that’s something that probably a majority of my followers can identify with in some way.

They have an IndieGoGo campaign.  They’re just over halfway to their funding goal, and have four days left in the campaign.  Pledge levels start at only $5!

January 7, 2013

What everyone gets wrong about Susan

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:53 pm by chavisory

The Chronicles of Narnia have been some of the most formative books in my life, a situation in which I know I’m not alone.  I got my set as a Christmas present from my grandparents when I was 11 or 12.

There’s a common criticism of them, however, out of many quite reasonable ones, that’s irritated me for a long time.

He may not have been the first to think it or to say it, but author Philip Pullman’s articulation of what he finds wrong with the books, encapsulated in the problem of what happened to Susan Pevensie and why, when she does not return to aid Narnia in the final book of the series, may be most responsible for a now widespread interpretation that Susan is cast out of Heaven because she grew up and embraced her sexuality.  Indeed, I think I have hardly ever had a conversation about these books since college in which “The Problem of Susan” didn’t feature prominently in their criticism:

Susan isn’t allowed into the stable and the reason given is that she’s growing up. She’s become far too interested in lipstick, nylons and invitations. One character says rather primly: ‘She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown up.’ This seems to me on the part of Lewis to reveal very weird unconscious feelings about sexuality. Here’s a child whose body is changing and who’s naturally responding as everyone has ever done since the history of the world to the changes that are taking place in one’s body and one’s feelings. She’s doing what everyone has to do in order to grow up.

And it is a god who hates life because he denies children life. In the final Narnia book he gives the children the end-of-term treat of being killed in a railway accident so they can go to heaven. It’s a filthy thing to do. Susan is shut out from salvation because she is doing what every other child who has ever been born has done – she is beginning to sense the developing changes in her body and its effect on the opposite sex.

It’s tempting and convenient, because it echoes charges so commonly made against Christianity as a whole–that it’s intrinsically set up to punish natural human sexuality, among other things like critical thinking and self-determination.

It’s too bad that Pullman’s interpretation is practically unsupported by the text.  You’d have to take the passage in question completely out of context of the entire rest of the series for it to be even remotely plausible; indeed, even by quoting it incompletely, he leads his listeners in a nearly complete distortion of the reasoning behind Susan’s exile.

Here is the incident, from The Last Battle, which Pullman cites:

“Sir,” said Tirian, when he had greeted all these.  “If I have read the chronicles aright, there should be another.  Has not your Majesty two sisters?  Where is Queen Susan?”

“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”

“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says ‘What wonderful memories you have!  Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.'”

“Oh Susan!” said Jill, “she’s interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations.  She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”

“Grown-up, indeed,” said the Lady Polly.  “I wish she would grow up.  She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age.  Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

Susan is not just doing what she needs to do to grow up.  The reason given is not that she’s growing up; the text itself refutes this.  Lady Polly, the speaker after Lucy’s now-infamous line, denies that growing up is what Susan is doing at all.

She is pretending that her previous experiences in Narnia never happened.  She denies the people she knew there, who she loved and who loved her, people who died for her and what they meant to her, what she’s been through and everything she’s done up to this point.  She calls all of it a childish game.

Nor is there any defiance of the will of Aslan here, who has never in this entire story forced any of these people into any task or burden or mortal danger against their own free will.  Who has in fact, repeatedly, stood by and let them actively make bad choices.  She doesn’t hear an order from Aslan and say “no,” “I don’t want to,” “not this time,” or “fuck you, I’m not a plaything.”  She denies that she ever knew him.

Some other points of Narnian history further illuminate the absurdity of Pullman’s claims:

1. That time in Prince Caspian when Bacchus showed up for a romp…

The crowd and dance round Aslan (for it had become a dance once more) grew so thick and rapid that Lucy was confused.  She never saw where certain other people came from who were soon capering about among the trees.  One was a youth, dressed only in a fawn-skin, with vine-leaves wreathed in his curly hair.  His face would have been almost too pretty for a boy’s, if it had not looked so extremely wild.  You felt, as Edmund said when he saw him a few days later, “There’s a chap who might do anything–absolutely anything.”  He seemed to have a great many names–Bromios, Bassareus, and the Ram, were three of them.  There were a lot of girls with him, as wild as he….

“Is it a Romp, Aslan?” cried the youth.  And apparently it was.

And it’s a delightfully saucy good time, for a god who supposedly hates life and is into damning children for sensual exploration.

2.  Susan herself, in The Horse and His Boy, is described as having multiple suitors.  She’s being courted for marriage by Prince Rabadash of Calormen…

“Now, Madam,” the King was saying to Queen Susan (the lady who had kissed Shasta).  “What think you?  We have been in this city fully three weeks.  Have you yet settled in your mind whether you will marry this dark-faced lover of yours, this Prince Rabadash, or no?”

…but she’s awfully sweet on Corin, Prince of Archenland (though here she’s mistaken a runaway slave named Shasta for the prince)…

But he had no time to think of that before the most beautiful lady he had ever seen rose from her place and threw her arms around him and kissed him, saying:

“Oh Corin, Corin, how could you?  And thou and I such close friends ever since thy mother died.  And what should I have said to thy royal father if I came home without thee?  Would have been a cause almost of war between Archenland and Narnia which are friends time out of mind.  It was naught, playmate, very naught of thee to use us so.”

There is no condemnation whatsoever stated or implied for her romantic activities.

3. Lasaraleen

A minor character who also occurs in The Horse and His Boy, Lasaraleen is a childhood friend of Aravis, and perhaps unexpectedly, one of my favorite characters in the series.  She’s a party girl, socialite, and trophy wife…and perhaps the most totally and unabashedly herself of anyone in this world.  She loves luxury, being seen, and having a good time.

[Aravis] remembered now that Lasaraleen had always been like that, interested in clothes and parties and gossip.  Aravis had always been more interested in bows and arrows and horses and dogs and swimming.  You will guess that each thought the other silly.

We’re supposed to see Lasaraleen as doofy and shallow, but she’s also affectionate and loyal.  She helps her friend escape from being caught and returned to an arranged marriage at serious risk to herself, and no further particularly harsh criticism is made of her life choices.

4.  Other adults have come and returned to Narnia before.

-King Frank and Queen Helen

Former London cabbie Frank and washerwoman Nellie become Narnia’s first king and queen in The Magician’s Nephew.  They are already adults when brought to Narnia (albeit accidentally in Frank’s case).  Aslan treats them with trust and respect and is clearly not expecting chastity, but children and grandchildren from them.

“Rise up King and Queen of Narnia, father and mother of many kings that shall be in Narnia and the Isles and Archenland.”

-Digory Kirk and Polly Plummer

The first human children to stumble into Narnia, they return as adults (probably in their 60’s or 70’s) with the others for the Last Battle.  Peter and Edmund, wearing beards at their reappearance, are also young adult men by this point.  Presumably they’ve all done what they had to do to grow up, and it didn’t include betraying the memory of everyone they’ve ever loved.

Nothing in the world of this story indicates that any of the other protagonists who have grown up either in Narnia or out of it, did not go through “naturally responding as everyone has ever done since the history of the world to the changes that are taking place in one’s body and one’s feelings.”  Nothing.  Because, as Pullman correctly observes, these feelings and explorations are fairly universal.

The gravity of Susan’s sin is not in her embrace of superficial frippery, or in any normal adolescent desire on her part for adulthood, sexual experimentation, maturity, or self-determination.  It’s her betrayal of her true self.  It’s her denial of her own emotional history and experience, and what a lot of other people went through by her side.

And even for that, nobody bars the doors of the Stable to Susan as she begs to go through to eternal life.  She is not in Narnia, because she, for her own reasons, chose not to get on the train whose demise brought her siblings and former mentors back to Narnia for the Last Battle.  Susan may have saved her (earthly) life by not getting on that train, but at the ultimate cost of her own authenticity.

Ability to return to your true home requires acceptance of who you really are.  That’s not something that Aslan, or the Emperor Over the Sea, or all the forces of Deeper Magic are capable of doing for her.