Weekends in my neighborhood are festive, with Latino music and parties and grilling. I could do without the 2AM firecrackers going off right outside my bedroom window, and I need to learn how to say both “firecrackers” and “heart attack” in Spanish and chat with a few of my neighbors.
I happened to go out for Mexican food last night and see a flier — in both Spanish and one in English — advertising a vigil for the Orlando victims – in a park about .3 miles from me. My stomach is a mess and I dare not head out, but I can hear the sounds of a distant song or chant through a megaphone through my open study window that faces the street.
We read the names of the 49 murdered today in church. We lit candles for them. I said this:

Again, hateful violence has exploded out of one angry, deranged individual and shattered the lives of countless people in the murdering of 49 of them, and the wounding by bullets of many others.

In Orlando, at a gay club called Pulse, these men and women died. They were all unique individuals with names and stories and circles of love and relationship that extended far beyond each of them, just as all our lives extend. We name them now, in solidarity and sorrow.

Stanley Almodovar III
Amanda Alvear
Oscar A Aracena-Montero
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala
Antonio Davon Brown,
Darryl Roman Burt II
Angel L. Candelario-Padro
Juan Chevez-Martinez
Luis Daniel Conde
Cory James Connell

Tevin Eugene Crosby
Deonka Deidra Drayton
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez
Leroy Valentin Fernandez
Mercedez Marisol Flores
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz
Juan Ramon Guerrero
Paul Terrell Henry
Frank Hernandez
Miguel Angel Honorato

Javier Jorge-Reyes
Jason Benjamin Josaphat
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla
Christopher Andrew Leinonen
Alejandro Barrios Martinez
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez
Kimberly Morris
Akyra Monet Murray

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera
Joel Rayon Paniagua
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez
Enrique L. Rios, Jr.
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan

Edward Sotomayor Jr.
Shane Evan Tomlinson
Martin Benitez Torre
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez
Luis S. Vielma
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon
Jerald Arthur Wright

May we continue to affirm, unequivocally, that sexuality is a gift of pleasure and joy and that no bodies are sinful or created wrong. Consensual sexual attraction between people who are not hurting or exploiting anyone else, whether for the purposes of procreation or just for the expression of the joy in being alive, is a BLESSING.

We affirm the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people of any self-chosen label or no label at all in the life of the church and affirm their equal rights under the law.

Unitarian Universalists are committed to anti-racism, and therefore we respect the significance of the fact that the murderer chose Latino night at the club to target his victims, almost all of whom were people of color.

Unitarian Universalists are committed to inter-faith work and understanding, and do not hold any entire people – in this case the Muslim community – responsible for the acts of one of their members.

Let us pray.
God, grant us strength to endure these outrages and to be present to reality rather than shielded from it.

May we be steadfast in our commitment to challenge all of the factors that make this kind of violence possible.

May we pray peace upon the victims and upon all those who mourn, and for our nation in turmoil, divided by ideologies that create rancor and divide us from each other.

La paz sea con ellos. Peace be upon them.

May our work, our presence, our benevolent rage, be our steadfast prayer.

Concédenos tu paz , la paz que sobrepasa todo entendimiento.
Grant us your peace, the peace that passeth understanding.

– Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein 19 June 2016
Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn


[Please pardon any errors in my Spanish. – VW]

“Silver Linings Playbook” Doesn’t Play

***This review contains spoilers!***

This little film by David O. Russell has been wildly over-praised. I saw it tonight and was incredibly disappointed. The first half of the film had great promise as a beautifully rendered drama about mental illness and family life. But it veers off course by the second hour and drive right off the road. Let me break it down fast, because the Academy Awards are in 48 hours and this movie is up for a slew of awards including (incredibly), Best Picture.

Pat, beautifully played by the super hot Bradley Cooper, is bi-polar. The movie begins with his release from a mental institution after an 8-month stint for beating his wife’s lover to a bloody pulp after finding the man in the shower with Nikki (his wife). Pat is released into the custody of his nervous, loving parents, the wonderful Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver.

Pat wants to get back together with his wife. There is a restraining order against him, so that’s not likely — or at least not immediately.  In the meantime, he has to be saved by the love of a good woman, played by Jennifer Lawrence.

(We do meet the wife at the end of the film. She never speaks a word: the entire point of her character is to be an object of Pat’s obsessive affections and violent possessiveness, and then to be an object of his rejection. And that’s my major complaint: No female character in this movie has any reason to exist beyond reacting to what the male characters do.)

The plot of the movie’s second half is patently ridiculous and revolves around a bet on the outcome of a football game and a dance competition. You can predict the ending with your eyes closed and your popcorn bag over your head. It is as clichéd as “Rocky.” In fact, it takes place in Philadelphia so it shares a locale with “Rocky.”

The film is billed as a romantic comedy but it is neither romantic nor a comedy. That doesn’t bother me so much — I like films that transcend genre — but what does disturb me is the way the screenplay sets up Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat, as a kindred spirit to Tiffany, who is played by the very talented and appealing Jennifer Lawrence. What exactly makes them kindred spirits? The suggestion is that mental illness does. They are equally unbalanced and damaged and will be redeemed by mutual understanding and support and sexy quirkiness (and they’re both very sexy, no doubt about that). Also, dancing. Now there’s an original plot line: having the two leads fall in love through dancing together. That’s never been done before.

However, while Pat has a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder that has plagued him for years, Tiffany has a case of… female sexuality and outspokenness.  The “disordered behavior” that supposedly makes her the perfect girl for Pat is that after the tragic death of her husband, she acted out by having sex with eleven co-workers. Since there is no other explanation given for a more chronic struggle with mental illness, I was left with the justifiable impression that Tiffany just made a bunch of bad choices out of grief.

Do the screenwriters know that there is a very real history of women being demonized and labeled as “mad” for hypersexuality? They should research the medical history of “treatment” for hysteria (originally thought by male doctors to be the result of the womb wandering around the body)– including lobotomy, clitorectomy, hysterectomy and burning at the stake.

The film plays this revelation of manic sexual behavior (apparently entirely consensual) for laughs, taking Pat’s POV as he salivates over the information and begs Tiffany to reveal whether some of those co-workers were women.  Hot girl-on-girl action, right Pat? Even though Tiffany was obviously suffering, get your fap material! The subsequent dialogue is a parody of male pornographic imagination, and Tiffany later busts Pat on taking lascivious pleasure in her tale of sadness and degradation. It’s a good moment, and a self-aware one. But that’s all the deep back story we get from Tiffany, who never hesitates in her full-throttle seduction of a man who is demonstrably unstable. Her entire existence as a character is defined by the death of her husband, her promiscuity following his death, and her desire to have Pat as a boyfriend. I know the guy’s hot, but he’s also unemployed, mentally ill, and lives with his parents. I have the feeling Tiffany could probably do better but after all, this is Hollywood. And Hollywood scripts are written by men, for men.

Maybe I’m just a little touchy because of all the stories in the news right now about women being killed by their boyfriends and husbands. Pardon me for finding this movie’s premise more than a little disturbing. This guy’s a violent manic depressive just out of an institution with a restraining order against him. LOVE WILL MAKE IT ALL OKAY.

Julia Stiles plays the obligatory Emasculating Wife Character, Brea Ree the Icy Bitch Wife Character, Chris Tucker and John Ortiz play the Wacky Colored People Pals, and Anupan Kher plays the Clichéd Indian Character Who Gets To Shout An Obscenity And Make Everyone Laugh. All of the POC in the film exist to reflect the reality of the attractive white people at the center of the story. Yay, Hollywood!



On Hospitality

This column is online at Questformeaning.org, a ministry of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.

Dear PeaceBang,

I know that there are certain biases I have which keep me from being welcoming to everyone.   For instance, I don’t like people who prostelytize me.  But is that really a problem?  Isn’t being unwelcoming to them actually a mark of spiritual health?

Dear Biased,

Yea, it’s a problem. It’s a problem whenever we harden our hearts against any category of people because of their irritating behavior, or when we deride spiritual practices because they might make us feel personally awkward or uncomfortable.  I hear you asking me not only for permission to not welcome those people in your heart, but to applaud your rejection as a sign of spiritual well-being. Sorry, no cigar. Being open-minded and generous-hearted is at the core of our faith, and it’s not easy or comfortable. It requires us to genuinely appreciate diversity not only as a hypothetical, but as a lived and challenging reality.

When you’re out and about doing your thing and you meet someone who starts trying to save your soul, you’re completely within your rights to walk away. You’re not obliged to engage. You could say something like, “Thanks for your concern, but I have certain faith that my immortal soul is in the hands of a loving God (or benevolent Universe)” and move on.  Unless someone is proselytizing in a way that is abusive of you or the community and needs to be challenged, accept that they’re simply trying to share their good news with you, and respond politely. Remember that your response is just as much an expression of your faith as is their proselytizing.

I once saw a UU man at a General Assembly accept a pamphlet from a totally respectful Christian street evangelist, wave it over his head and say, “I got JEEEEZUS!” and then throw the pamphlet on the ground with a derisive snort. I consider his behavior a form of spiritual violence.

Since our theme in this column is hospitality, let’s define what we mean when we use that term. Hospitality isn’t about merely opening the door and saying, “You may come in, I permit you.” Our religious tradition calls us to something more mature and deeper than that. The moral virtue of hospitality asks that we provide food, drink and shelter to the stranger, even at a sacrifice to us and our kin.  In my family we had the expression “FHB,” which meant, “Family hold back” when someone stopped by unexpectedly for dinner. The idea was that you put less on your plate with an eye for making sure the guest got well fed. It is an ethic of deep generosity, and one that is practiced by many cultures the world over.

We are such individualists these days, and so accustomed to consider our comfort to be of paramount importance that we forget that community only works when we are willing to extend ourselves beyond the comfort zone, and to be present to people as they are. In the case of the proselyte, we must understand that winning converts is a religious imperative in many religious traditions and they’re just engaging in their spiritual practice when they witness to us. There is no need to take it as a personal insult, and there is no need to get angry and defensive while standing in our own truth. At best, we can guide the conversation to a place where we can find common ground.

If this little script is helpful to you, I hope you’ll use it:

Continue reading “On Hospitality”