A little message of hope.

It’s summer.

Summer is hard… hard as winter is for some of my friends. The long, long days bear down and the blocks of sunshine crush me.

Work and school have carried  me through thus far, but work is ending this week and I just handed in the final project for one of my classes. (I have the final exam for the other one on Thursday.)

The world does not seem to be going to hell in a handbasket; it’s already there. Ripping sobbing children away from the arms of their parents sounds like something from Ceaușescu’s Romania, not the “home of the brave and the land of the free.”

Australia and Canada both had histories of tearing native children away from their homes and having them be fostered in white families. They came to see the error of their ways — I had thought we were beyond that.

And so on… life is getting worse for the people who can least afford it. And in a coversation with a family member yesterday, I learned that other family members were boycotting Disney because “they have gay days and things like that.” I can’t figure out if I am more sad (not suprised, given the family members involved) or furious.

And I can’t help feeling like I spent twenty-five years of my life in a job, only to be downsized. Or turfed out due to mandatory retirement.

And then, today.

Killing time between when I dropped Railfan off for his exam and when I had to drop off my project (we go to different schools) I saw the trees. I saw the crape myrtles: white and pale lavender, the very first crape myrtles blossoms of the year.

These were early.  Crape myrtles usually don’t start blooming until the end of July. They’re late summer blossoms, signalling with hope the changing of the seasons. I love them because they are beautiful, all lacy gentility, but I also love them because they whisper to me.

Their message?

“Hold on…. Hold on…. Hold on…. Change is coming.”

Maybe I should listen to them more closely.

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Not here.

I’ve not been here much, lately. That’s because work and school are keeping me busy. Also, working for an elections office where we are strongly encouraged to keep our politics to ourselves becomes easier when I am not sitting mentally writing my next post about why Judge Aaron Persky should not be recalled.

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Black and white is a good color for a catskin rug, right? I’m asking for an, uh, friend, whose bed got bombed last night.

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Goddamnit.

I just came back from Avengers: Infinity War.

I am not happy.

Not. Happy. At. ALL.

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Only it’s 57, not 51.

Eh.

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I wonder who’s doing their programming.

On Sunday, April 1, NBC showed a live version of Jesus Christ Superstar, I suppose to celebrate Easter. While I have no quibbles with the performance — it was quite good, with Alice Cooper and Sara Bareilles being standouts (for Herod and Mary Magdelene, respectively) — I am puzzled about this choice of entertainment.

Jesus Christ Superstar is not an Easter musical. For one thing, it ends with the crucifixion, and ignores the resurrection, thus leaving the question of Jesus’s divinity open. (According to Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber, this was a deliberate choice on the part of him and Tim Rice, the lyricist.) If anything, this is a musical for Good Friday, following as it does the liturgy of the Passion.

The musical is dark and cynical. Jesus, an ineffectual messiah, is overwhelmed not merely by the burden of his impending death but also by the demands made of him by people needing healing. The segment of the last supper which has found its way into Catholic and Anglican liturgy (“this is my body, when you eat it remember me”) comes across less as a profound statement of his status as the Son of God than as as an annoyed rebuke to his empty-headed apostles.

Where are his teachings? Where are his parables? Jesus is not only not divine in this musical, he is only marginally anything other than a cipher.

The apostles are more interested in their public image (“When we retire we can write the gospels/and they’ll all talk about us when we’ve died”) than actually listening to Jesus. Judas, through whose eyes the story is told, is a frustrated revolutionary angry at a man he viewed as a friend but who is not following him down the road of overthrowing Rome.  Judas’s betrayal seems inevitable, but his remorse seems unmoving, as though he was more invested in not being blamed than what he actually did.

Judas’s clearly doesn’t believe in Christ’s divinity: in the first song, “Heaven on Their Minds,” he sings of the followers of Jesus looking skyward rather than at Rome. Not all of them, though, an apostle gets up on a table and calls for rebellion against Rome, a call which Jesus repudiates.

I find both Herod and Pilate interesting, but they are villians. The only thing this musical has approaching a fleshed-out and sympathetic character is Mary Magdelene. Of course, Sarah Bareilles is both a wonderful singer, and an adept actress, so that helped.

The final song, “Superstar” puts the cynical exclamation point on the whole enterprise. Not a paeon to Jesus, it is instead a pointed commentary on his life and death.  “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ/who are you/what have you sacrificed?” and even more “Jesus Christ, Superstar/Do you think you are what they say you are?” The unspoken question is “And does it matter?”

Don’t get me wrong: I think Superstar the best thing Lloyd Weber has ever done. It is the only musical of his that I like wholeheartedly. I’m  just unsure how it was received by people unfamiliar with the show, who have a theology that views Jesus as a “Superstar” instead of a man of the people.

A musical exists which would have been wonderful Easter fare: Godspell. Steven Schwartz’s* musical telling of the Gospel of Matthew covers Jesus’s entire ministry, not merely the last week.  No, it doesn’t name its Christ-like figure Jesus, and whether or not it musically covers the resurrection remains an open question, but its songs call people to justice, love and community, not darkness.

I love songs from both these musicals: “Everything’s All Right” and “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” from Superstar, and oh, about six different songs from Godspell are in heavy rotation on my iTunes. Both present profound questions of how we view the Christ.

But I know which one draws people towards God, and it’s not the one they showed on Sunday.

*Best thing that Schwartz has ever done, for that matter, and I include Wicked in there.

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Geeking out.

At some point in my life, I became a Marvel superhero geek. Not the comics, but the movies. In the last year I have had extensive discussions (with people other than my children) about the Black Panther, and Dr. Strange, and how the events in Captain America: Civil War will lead into what’s going to happen in The Avengers: Infinity War (including who’s likely to die), and why Marvel movies are so much better than DC movies, with the exception of Wonder Woman (short answer: they’re better written), and so on. I have also discussed how relieved I was that Wonder Woman didn’t suck (a very low bar indeed, which it greatly exceeded), and that Black Panther was as exceptional as it was, and that the person who did the visual design for Black Panther needs to win an Oscar. (I also discussed who was hotter, Chadwick Boseman or Michael B. Jordan, although really the answer is Danai Gurira Okoye.)

I even saw several of the movies before my kids did — Captain America: Civil War, Dr. Strange, and Spiderman: Homecoming, for example. I would say that I felt not the least bit smug about this, but I’d be lying. For once, not spoiling movies became kind of difficult. I usually see Disney movies before they do, but they generally don’t care.

So, just a few observations:

The Black Panther is as phenomenal as it is not because it is a great superhero movie, but because it is a great movie, period. You can watch it having not seen any other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie, and be totally engrossed.  In fact, you’re better off if you haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War, because it contains the one major logical and chronological inconsistency that I have seen in the movies.

Possibly the best thing about Black Panther is the amazing women of Wakanda. Forget settling for passing the Bechdel test, they steal every scene they’re in. Given that the male leads are Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, that’s pretty impressive.

As much as I love Black Panther, and I do, my favorite of the MCU movies has to be Dr. Strange, for three reasons: 1) Benedict Cumberbatch; 2) street origami! and 3) one of the major heroic characters is … the librarian. I feel I should be more troubled about the whitewashing of the source material, though. There are a large number of Asian actors who could play The Ancient One — they didn’t need to hire Tilda Swinton. The director’s argument that there was a lot of Asian stereotyping in the comics (which was what they were trying to avoid by casting Swinton) rings hollow — is he saying they could not have rewritten the part so it wasn’t objectionable?

Having just rewatched Iron Man 2 and Captain America: Civil War, I remembered exactly why I started watching the movies in the first place. I was talked into going to see the first Iron Man movie because I love Robert Downey, Jr. What I love about him is simple: he is a very attractive man who nonetheless does not try to appear younger than he is. Downey is proof that people can still stay sexy after they pass their 30th birthday. After that, I was hooked.

Having suffered through three different Spidermen (Andrew Garfield, Tobey McGuire, and the guy who played him in the television show in the 70s), I am both relieved and happy that somebody  finally got it right. Tom Holland looks like a teenager, and moves like one, and swings through the air with grace and power. Of course, I am sure that Holland was one of the leads in the West End production of Billy Elliot doesn’t hurt.

Speaking of that, Holland falls into the “actors we never realized were British (or Welsh, or Aussie) until we saw them at the Oscars” category.

Speaking of the Oscars, or awards in general, at the Independent Spirit awards I heard actress make a cutting comment about “action movies starring guys named Chris.” Which I guess covers Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth, (Thor), Chris Pratt (Star Lord in the Guardians of the Galaxy) and Chris Pine (James T. Kirk). If you stretched your definitions, that would also include Christian Bale (Batman). The next MCU movies has three Chrises in it: Evans, Pine, and Pratt.  I am looking forward to it, nonetheless.

Only six weeks to go.

 

 

 

 

 

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