PeaceBang Reviews “In The Heart Of The Sea: The Musical!”



(What is that thing, Jay?)

Okay, it wasn’t a musical. It was a film by Ron Howard, starring Chris Hemsworth as the steely-eyed first mate of the whaling ship Essex that left Nantucket harbor in 1819 and got STOVE BY A WHALE, which is the greatest 19th century phrase I can think of.

I like to use it whenever my car won’t start or I’m late for any reason: I WAS STOVE BY A WHALE, I say. “Where’s your boyfriend?” “Oh, he couldn’t come, he was stove by a whale.” 

I have lived in eastern Massachusetts for seventeen years now, so while I’m a mere newcomer to these parts by New England standards, I’m a huge fan of New England history. Nathaniel Philbrick’s riveting book In The Heart of The Sea: The True Story of The Whaleship Essex was the first one I bought when I moved back to area in 2002, and I sat among my half-unpacked boxes in front of a fan chewing my nails and shivering with terror and suspense as I devoured Philbrick’s tale of the terrible fate of the Essex and its crew. It’s a fantastic book. You should probably just go read the book right now.

Better yet (or certainly just as good), read Moby Dick, Melville’s epic American novel based on the true story of the Essex!

I can’t recommend seeing the movie, though.

It’s just not dramatically good. The biggest problem is that Chris Hemsworth is the most boring actor imaginable. All he does with this role is stand around looking hunky and determined, and when he gets angry, worried, upset, he squints. He gets wet, he stomps around and climbs rigging and yells all the important lines like “Thar she blows!” and “Land! LAND!” and “I guess we should eat that guy because we’re all starving to death in these little rowboats because our ship was STOVE BY A WHALE” and all, but he’s very, very boring. Boring and squinty.

Cillian Murphy would have been way better. He plays a member of the crew and Chris Hemsworth’s best childhood friend. They have a very touching scene where you can see the desperate sadness in Murphy’s eyes as he considers not only the dramatic content of the scene, but how much better the whole movie would have been if he had been cast in Hemsworth’s role. I agreed with him. It brought a true tear to my own eye.

The CGI effects are so bad! How did that happen, Opie? There’s a very pretty animated backdrop of Nantucket that they use at the beginning of the film that looks like it was painted by Thomas Kincaid, Painter of Light.

The whales are visually awesome, of course, but even they swim around and breach and slam their flukes with no real sense of dramatic intensity. You can feel them thinking, “What’s my MOTIVATION in this scene?”

Brendan Gleeson is corny as the old sailor who was once that young man who survived the shipwreck after the Essex was STOVE BY A WHALE. He has a wife who loves him even though he “committed abominations” by which he means that he ate some guys while adrift on the sea for ninety days being baked alive under the hot sun. It’s very hard to watch Brendan Gleeson spin his “whale of a tale” to a guy playing Herman Melville, because the dialogue is anachronistic and the actor playing Melville, Ben Whishaw, looks like he knows his scenes are pure rubbish. To me he looked a little sore that he hadn’t gotten cast as Kylo Ren, but I could be projecting.

There are precisely two women in this movie. The other one is Chris Hemsworth’s wife, played by Charlotte Riley, who cries when he leaves and Waits Faithfully For Him To Come Home. I wasn’t sure if she was crying because she had a foreboding of the tragedy that awaited his voyage or because of his super, super bad Massachusetts dialect.

I am not exactly sure of this but it feels possible to me that some of Chris Hemsworth’s dialogue was dubbed by Mark Wahlberg using his voice for the character Ted, the foul-mouthed teddy bear.

I also felt that this film really suffered the absence of one my favorite actors, Bruce Davison, who excels at playing stern 19th century men of authority. He would have KILLED as the owner of the Essex.

You do know what I’m hoping for, though, don’t you? It would make my life complete if someone would make a mash-up of video footage from In The Heart of the Whale with this.

It’s a tuner, bro!







Posted in Cultural Commentary, movie reviews, book reviews, advertising & pop culture | 1 Comment

UU Humanists At The Holidays

Oh, this seems like such a throwback.

We have this conversation every year, it seems. In fact, as a colleague wearily pointed out, the president of the UU Humanist Association wrote pretty much this same column two years ago. I didn’t look it up, though, because I’m lazy and tired and going out of town in the morning.  I’m taking a very quick two-night jaunt to New York City not only to see family but to fill my eyes and ears and nose and mind with the fabulousness of Manhattan at the magical Rockettes time of year.  There is nothing like window shopping along the Upper West Side to fill me with the joy of God’s wonder and the coming of the Christ child.

I kid, of course, but did you happen to know that I am perishing of liberal religious over-earnestness just about now? You, too? Lord almighty, we’re a creatively impoverished lot. I’ve been whingeing about this lately (and what could bring PeaceBang back to her main blog but a good UU rant?), but it seems that the mad, bloody crisis of the human and the planetary condition has made us even primmer and more comically unself-aware than we usually are. If I read one more kitchen sink prayer full of cliched pieties, I won’t be able to leave my bedchamber. My kingdom for an original voice or thought!

And so it was with a sense of exhaustion and deja-vu Dr. Gleb Tsipursky’s column on the Call And Response blog, informing us that Humanists find it very hard to tolerate the irrationalities of the religious seasonal observances, saving special digs for “nativity” references. He specifically mentions only Christmas and Hanukah.

Let me switch to sarcasm font and say, who WOULD support the re-telling of a myth that is centered around a persecuted ethnic minority in a military superpower empire? Why would that be relevant to today? Who would find it worthy to tell a story of a refugee family in peril, endangered in one place and finding no welcome in another?

So silly. So irrational. One could never follow that story and manage to simultaneously appreciate the “scientific” winter solstice!

(I admit that I loved that line. I imagined a group of earnest UUs leading a Sunday morning service on the astronomical event, complete with readings about solar longitudes.)

I have been a Unitarian Universalist for fifty years — a minister for almost twenty — and I have rarely known a congregation that did not heartily celebrate the symbolic and planetary significance of the solstice. It’s not a creative stretch. It’s not an either-or proposition, either.  What Dr. Tsipursky suggests as a new, creative alternative (Secular Solstice), is actually an fairly exact description of dozens of solstice services I have led or participated in for years in UU congregations. What is new here is the subtle threat that if UUs do not create this kind of programming, “Humanists will leave the congregation …also makes humanists less inclined to support congregational programs, projects, and priorities.”

This is institutional blackmail, however mildly expressed as a “concern.” Many Humanist Unitarian Universalists I know would be insulted to be implicated in this kind of veiled fear-mongering among a small religious group already anxious about its survival, let alone growth.  I feel that Unitarian Universalists who refuse to support the congregation’s mission or leave the congregation over holiday program are not in the right community to begin with.  Unitarian Universalists aim to transform souls harmed by the narcissistic consumers culture into covenanted community, with all its attendant demands and expectations to “move beyond our littleness,” as A. Powell Davies so beautifully put it.

As far as Christmas itself goes, I am bone weary of explaining to so-called secular humanists* that even Christian Unitarian Universalists are well aware of the amazing coincidence between the Jesus Christ sacred mythos and that of the sun god, Mithras, whose birthday he shares. I am tired of being embarrassed by the irrationality of “rationalist” rejection of the poetic, the mystical and the metaphorical.

(*Humanists who worship in congregations are not secular humanists. They are by virtue of their involvement with congregational life and religious community, religious humanists. For those who want to argue that Unitarian Universalism is not a religion, I suggest that you start paying taxes to your local and federal government. Feel free.)

Unitarian Universalism is changing, thank the good Lord. It is transforming from a collection of “I better get mine” individuals to a community of people who yearn for unity amid diversity and who actually want to grow spiritually. We are pulling down the circus tent and creating meaningful bonds across theological orientations.

Growing spiritually means that we learn about — and learn to actually appreciate — perspectives that are not our own.  Growing spiritually means taking responsibility for our emotions and not using them as a way to hijack or divert resources from programming in the name of inclusivity.

The high expectations of the winter holiday season crush everyone,  Gleb.  Every minister knows that ’tis the season for a lot of pastoral counseling, as the darkness, the cold (in many regions), the manic consumerism and social forced gaiety, the horrible traffic, the suddenly visible gnarled roots of family trees, the strained bank accounts, fragile new sobrieties and &%*$ tangled lights wear patience, nerves and relationships.

I do understand the pain of feeling estranged from religious holidays, which is why I launched a program at my own congregation called A Peaceful Place, which is an open sanctuary for quiet meditation and supportive conversation during three Sundays in December. But I am a full time minister who has a very supportive professional staff. I am willing to spend my Sunday afternoons in December offering this alternative to traditional holiday observances because my Communications Director was able to design and distribute a flier, we were able to purchase a little Facebook boost, we have a Sexton who will help set up anything that the sanctuary needs, a Music Director who has offered to do some music if we want to, and a full time Director of Faith Development who is on board through the season to carry a share of the burden of ministry.

Most congregations do not have these resources. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect them to develop multiple programs at what is already a demanding time of year. Why not rather create an online resource that Humanists can access and lead themselves in their congregations?

We are in covenanted community as UUs, as I said, and we are all also people who are capable of seeking ways to get our spiritual and emotional needs met outside of our mostly small and mostly very limited congregations. I will be attending sing-along “Messiahs,” concerts of sacred music, Advent services, and reading works of Christian spirituality that feed my soul. I’ll also be attending a reading of “A Christmas Carol,” watching all the Rankin-Bass specials about animatronic reindeer, haunting shopping malls in my guise as elf Winterwynd Scarlettgardenberri (it’s a yearly tradition), putting up a tree in my living room, and singing along with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. On Christmas Day, I will be very tired from leading the Christmas Eve service and pastoring my community through the season. It may be a lonely and difficult day for me, too, as it always is, even though I am a Christian. It will be difficult because I will not be with family and want to be, but I work on Christmas Eve and they’re all far away. It will be tinged with sadness because I miss my father, who died decades ago.

Theological orientation is no guarantor of happiness at the holidays. It is the human condition, not a Humanist condition.

Very  likely, I will spend Christmas Day dinner with atheist friends who do not participate at all in religious community, but some of whom will have attended Christmas Eve services because they appreciate the beauty of the story, the person of Jesus, the music from their childhood, and the warmth of community. They understand that religion’s job is not to worship science, but to help human beings cultivate the necessary sense of reverence, awe, hope and meaning that permits us to not kill ourselves when we consider the profound evil of many of the systems in which we are mired and complicit.

Religion does not need to be science. Science is science.

Perhaps my sermon about “second naivetee” will be of some use to Humanists or anyone who feels put upon by Unitarian Universalist churches doing what Unitarian and Universalist churches have done for hundreds of years at the Christmas season.

As far as secular holidays go, there are a few that are generally given attention in our congregations. I have myself led worship services with New Year’s Day, Columbus (Indigenous People’s) Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Mother’s Day, and United Nations Day themes.

I’d like to thank everyone who sent me the article and asked me to respond. I hope that you, too, will respond in the comments.















Posted in Unitarian Universalism, Worship and Liturgy | 7 Comments

If It’s Not About You, It’s Not About You – But It’s Really Not About You (On White Fragility)

When I wrote The Intellectual Condescension of White Liberals in response to white liberal response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the post generated hundreds of comments (256), many of which took me to task for the title of the piece. It confused people. What did I mean? Did I really mean that?

Yes, I meant precisely that. I meant it as a challenge to white liberals who distance themselves from the harrowing reality of systemic racism and their place in those beneficial systems of oppression by intellectual opining.  Several white people pointedly wrote, “I don’t get it. You must mean conservatives. All of my friends are devastated by what happened in Ferguson.”

Well, okay, then I’m not talking about you and your friends then. Do we have to stop the conversation, or can white people learn that not everything applies to them personally?

Part of white privilege, if I may jump right into the point of this post, is that white people expect to be treated as unique individuals while people of color endure being treated as a collective, anonymous stereotype and threat.

What this means is that white people easily take offense at any generalizations about their race — however fair and accurate — and divert the conversation when they hear critiques that might erroneously include them in the broader analysis of white (in this case, liberal) failure. It’s a diversion we can no longer afford and should not oblige.

My good friend the Rev. Tom Schade says no white leaders have the authority to be angry at white folks who aren’t caught up on Racism 101.  I disagree.  Emotions do not require authority — and who would get to grant that authority, anyway? At any rate, white people tone-policing each other doesn’t seem like a particularly productive approach, although it certainly is a popular one among liberals, whose lexicon for such conversations is sophisticated and complex. So complex that when we descend into the spiral of bickering amongst ourselves about tone and emotional style, we may actually feel we’re accomplishing something.

(My own observations about tone policing, concern trolling and emotional control among Unitarian Universalists would require another separate post on WASP Emotional Culture, but I won’t write that here!)

There are some things that shouldn’t have to be carefully spelled out, and one of them is that white folks shouldn’t need attention paid to their wounded pride while black lives are being threatened and extinguished around them. White people — many of them self-identified as liberal and progressive or simpley “not-racist” — still too often hear the conversation about race in entirely personal terms, and we have to grow up and grow out of that.

On Black Twitter, I believe the hashtag would be #WhiteTears or #NotAllWhitePeople. White liberals need to keep up. Part of doing our work is to be grown-ups who do not protest at every generalization we read and hear about white people and to need hand-holding because conversations about white privilege and racism make us feel defensive or uncomfortable.

For white folks who still don’t have a basic working definition of White Privilege, it would be good to start here with Peggy McIntosh’s 1988 seminal essay explaining what it is.

Rev. Jake Morrill just published this article called “Racism 101 For White People.”  It repeats the salient points of McIntosh’s essay and also includes resources for anti-racism activism.

Unitarian Universalists are gathering in Portland, Oregon this week for our General Assembly.  Do we assume that this space is safe for African-Americans at this precise moment in America? I think a lot of UUs assume it is. I think we may be very wrong about that.

It is very hard to talk about this because white UUs pride ourselves on being welcoming, affirming of everyone’s inherent worth and dignity, color-blind, anti-racist and supportive of people of color. We pride ourselves on our willingness to listen and include all voices in our movement.

We have a lot of pride.

What we don’t have is a whole lot of humility. We don’t really do humility. We do not have a confession tradition in our liturgy. We do not have an assurance of pardon — too Calvinist.

Okay, so that is what it is. I admit that I am far more Calvinistic than the vast majority of UUs. But we can reject a guilt and sin-centric theology and still acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do on humility and non-defensiveness.

In “The Intellectual Condescension of White Liberals,” I wrote about the Unitarian Univeralist tendency to engage in “analysis paralysis” as a way of distancing from the harrowing emotional reality of what is happening in America and has been happening for over 200 years. That was about six months ago and of course we haven’t solved that problem yet.

We could start, though, with setting down our heavy burden of needing everything to be accurate about us personally when engaging in anti-racism work. Continue reading

Posted in Social Justice, Theological Reflection, Unitarian Universalism | 2 Comments