Rodalena Recipes: Apple Pie

It’s quiet now.

We’ve eaten our way through a ridiculous amount of sugary fattening things we attempt to avoid religiously the rest of the year, and had a marvelous feast on top of that, which included homemade apple pie.   All Okay, fine, most of the mess has been cleaned up, the washing machine is humming its way through the spin cycle, and my son is lying quietly beside me. Our small Christmas is almost done.

This year, my two younger sisters’ families joined us for Christmas Eve, which doesn’t sound like anything noteworthy until I point out that this has never happened during our adult lives. Our children were all together for the first time yesterday (the oldest cousins are nearly twenty). As they sat on the patio making ornaments, laughing like they hung out all the time, and getting to know each other better, the adults just smiled: this was the epitome of Christmas.

The best part of Christmas was not the giving and receiving of gifts, although that was truly wonderful. The best part was the togetherness. The precious fleeting time with children, my sisters, and their families. Some people measure the value of their Christmas in the tangible worth of what they spend or what others spend on them. Giving and receiving gifts is an important way to show love and appreciation to those one cares for, but for me, the holidays are best measured in the making of a good apple pie, because…

…a good Christmas is like good apple pie:

It’s deceptively small, but incredibly deep. Its ingredients are humble; its construction nothing special, except for the cooperation of the team of hands that make it. It comes from a decades-old handwritten recipe. It requires some effort to make, and there’s gonna be a mess to clean up. When you try to fancy it up with a bunch of weird Pinterest-y add-ins, it won’t turn out right. It’s full of things good for you and good to you, and it warms you down deep. To make it, you need thoughtfulness, hard work, attention, help, and good timing. And, an incredible amount of patience.

My gift to you, dear readers, is this simple recipe for apple pie that was my grandmother’s, and this secret: it doesn’t come out right unless children you love measure the ingredients, help peel the apples, and stir the sauce. Happy holidays, love rodalena

To me, pie is poetry that makes the world a better place. -Ken Haedrich

To me, pie is poetry that makes the world a better place. -Ken Haedrich

Apple Pie

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Turn on Celtic Women singing “Carol of the Bells.”

Ingredients:

2 refrigerated pie crusts (It’s okay. Those things are nearly as good as you can make yourself, and allow more time for building Star Wars Lego sets with young boys.)

1 egg white

1/2 C unsalted butter

3 T flour

1/4 C water

1/2 C granulated sugar

1/2 C brown sugar, packed

8 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced.

Melt butter in a pan; add flour to form a paste. Stir in water and sugars, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Place bottom crust in pie pan; brush with egg white and then fill with apples. Add 2/3 butter mixture then top pie with second crust (making sure to have cut pretty decorative holes for venting steam). Pour the rest of the butter mixture carefully over the top of the pie. Bake on the bottom rack for 45 minutes.

Yeah. 45 minutes. It’s almost worse than waiting for Santa to arrive. But, like a simple family Christmas, it’s so worth it.

 

Posted in Apple Pie, Christmas, comfort, family, holidays, Pie, Recipes, Rodalena Recipes | Tagged , | 1 Comment

On Gun Violence in America

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933 Inaugural Address

Note: this post started as a response to this gracious and thoughtful blog post by Kim Tackett.

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear."  -C. S. Lewis

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
-C. S. Lewis

Our flags are at half-staff again. Our national heart is broken again, and people are angry, scared, and frustrated. Again.

The gun issue in America is (yet another thing) polarizing our country. It has become a fundamentalist issue on both sides: it seems one can’t be pro-gun enough, and for that matter, one can’t be anti-gun enough these days. It’s nearly impossible to find anyone with moderate views on this issue.

For me, a weird gun centrist (they do exist), it’s something I hear about almost daily: my boyfriend writes about 2nd amendment issues and guns for a living. As you might imagine, he is seeped in all aspects of this issue, better informed than most, and he is pro-gun. On the other hand, many of my close friends are decidedly anti-gun, and also well-informed, thoughtful, intelligent people.

Both sides make good points.

Both sides don’t communicate with the other enough. (That means having real conversations, not just waiting for their turn to talk.)

What we need now in this country is not the fevered doubling-down of our respective opinions on this issue. What we need is education, empathy, and effective enforcement of our current laws.

On the pro side, many people believe the 2nd amendment gives law-abiding Americans the right to keep and bear arms for personal protection and protection from tyranny. There are nearly as many lawfully registered guns in this country as there are people. Statistically, one’s chances of being killed by one of them in a given year is somewhere around 0.006%. Responsible gun owners I know are deeply concerned with things like education on proper gun use, personal safety, and leveling the field and empowering those who would otherwise be helpless against violent criminals and terrorists who intend them harm. (There is a big market for gun accessories like holsters and stocks built for the disabled and for women.)

A lot of gun advocates believe an armed citizenry can help deter violent crimes and acts of terror, as well as offer people a precious few seconds with which to attempt an escape in the event they find themselves in the clutches of a shooter intent on inflicting mass mayhem. They point out that no one, including the police who first responded, during the recent terrorist attack in Paris was armed. No one there could try to stop the terrorists with anything but their physical presence, and the result was heart-breaking.

They also know that choosing to be a lawfully-armed citizen means that as a hidden first responder, they will likely be risking their own life if they ever have to draw their weapon to try to stop a criminal intent on murder in a violent situation. (Most first responders to situations like San Bernadino are given shoot-to-kill orders to anyone who is armed.) Knowing this, reasonable and thoughtful gun-owners (they do exist) are not looking for any excuse to go all Doc Holliday. They are looking to protect themselves and their loved ones, as well as their unarmed neighbors, from the evil that seems to be coming from every direction at once these days, and it is a sober and weighty decision they make.

I am a single mom. I own a gun for personal protection. To legally purchase it, I went through a federal and state background check and was fingerprinted. To be lawfully allowed to carry it if I so choose, I took a course that I had to pay for, which required me to both prove I was proficient at safely using my gun and that I understand the laws of my state. (I spent time at gun ranges to learn to handle my gun, just like I spent time learning to drive a car before I applied for a license.) I then had to pay to apply for a concealed carry permit in my state, be fingerprinted again, and wait 6-8 weeks for the license.

There is no way to legally buy and carry a gun in this country without waiting and spending a lot of money. In fact, there are few ways to actually try the exact gun one is thinking of buying before you buy it, which is actually very important: this is a tool with which one must be comfortable and proficient because if it is ever used (except in the case of hunting), it will be used under extreme stress. Buyers need to know the gun they choose is suited to their body and their mind. In our fear-based legislation of gun purchases, we have created an ignorance: it’s very difficult to “test-drive” the gun you want to purchase. Can you imagine if one couldn’t test drive a car before they bought it? It is reasonable to assume accidents could increase. Many gun deaths in this country are the result of accidental shootings by people who do not know how to handle a gun.

I share the opinions of many of my anti-gun friends: the level of gun violence in America is reason for deep concern. Mass shootings, be they acts of domestic or foreign terror, are far becoming rampant and horrifying. However, I think the real problem is the heart, not the amount of laws we have. Comparing our nation to others on this issue is apples to oranges though: other nations are sovereign; they are not bound by our Constitution.

We are a nation of laws, and we write and pass them in bulk, but our enforcement of them is woefully poor. Why should we need more laws if our laws against murder, assault, and rape were being effectively enforced as they should? Ladling impotent legislation upon impotent bureaucracy upon impotent local, state, and federal law is what we have been doing for years, and repeating this pattern will only continue us on our road to national insanity. The maniacs who commit the atrocities that have us shaking with rage and blurry-eyed with tears can and will find loopholes in and ways around any law we pass. These people are often under the influence of radical ideologies, mental illness, and forced or chosen ignorance.

As I see it, education, empathy, and enforcement of current law is the key. If you choose to exercise your 2nd amendment rights, approach it like you would approach learning to drive a car: learn the law, learn your chosen vehicle, and be patient with yourself and the process.

We know we live in a world of many religions, many world views, and many terrible burdens, and people following many ideologies walk around together in this wonderful melting pot we call home. Everyone you see, be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, or Agnostic, is carrying something heavy. One of the most powerful ways to fight the hate that fuels these attacks is with simple kindness and genuine empathy.

As for the state of our government and our laws, we have the government we choose. Take elections seriously. We must stop fear-based legislation and fear-based action. If we as a nation demand better enforcement of current law, that would help. Seek leaders who are committed to enforcing good laws and repealing bad ones. Seek leaders who are motivated by the desire to make our nation a force for good in this world instead of those who are motivated by fear. In a free land, when we pay lip-service to the law we render good laws useless, and that has proven to be deadly. Nothing we do will be fool-proof, but we are not powerless unless we choose to be.

The best way to eliminate fear is through education. Be brave enough to talk to your friends who have an opposite viewpoint than your own on this issue, and more importantly, be brave enough to listen, to question your own viewpoint, and to learn. Learn about and teach your children about worldviews that are different from your own, about gun safety, and about what to do in a gun emergency.

We live in a free country, and that freedom we value so highly invites danger because our collective safety is largely dependent on our individual responsibility, education, and temperament.

Fear is the enemy of freedom and fear is born of ignorance and hatred. This is the home of the brave. We need to start acting like it.

Virtue is brave and kindness is never afraid.  -William Shakespeare

Virtue is brave and kindness is never afraid.
-William Shakespeare

Posted in America, Communication, Community, compassion, Controversy, courage, current events, Debate, Education, Empathy, fear, Freedom, Fundamentalism, Guns, Kindness, Personal Responsibility, politics | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Seeing Red: Starbucks, the Evangelical Fringe, and Ephesians 4:32

Marketing, which is essentially communicating a message effectively, is an ever-evolving artistic science, especially at this time of year. (Y’all noticing that “this time of year” seems to sneak up on us faster every year? Me too, but I don’t wish to turn this post into a full-on rant.) For many companies, it seems you just can’t win during the holiday season when it comes to marketing your products and services to the fickle American masses.

Take Starbucks, for instance. Since their marketing efforts are largely sheer genius, you’ve probably heard about the brouhaha that erupted over their…wait for it…plain red cups. The linked article above (from Breitbart.com) actually captions the photo of Starbuck’s holiday cup thusly: “And behold, Starbucks did conceive and bear a red cup, and called his name blasphemy.”

Blasphemy? Seriously?

If this cup offendeth thee, cast it out.

If this cup offendeth thee, cast it out.

It’s a red paper cup. It’s not a freakin’ Roman Emperor hauling all the male toddlers in the land to the executioner. Methinks a small cranky fringe element of Christendom circles November 1 on the calendar in a black sharpie and wakes up that day ready to stand their post against the whole wide world in The War on Christmas.

This small but shrill fringe element wars loudly, and quickly makes the vast majority of Christians look like loons. Trust me when I tell you that most people who celebrate Christmas could care less what Starbuck’s cups look like and should not be lumped into this loud-mouthed wack-a-doo group of morons.

But this cup thing begs the question:  how should companies market their products during the religious holidays? Many companies seek to operate by Christian principles year-round; should they Take a Stand For Christ at Christmas? What should that look like? Honestly, one could see how Jesus may not even want anything to do with corporate America at all, but if He did, I think maybe the following ideas about effectively communicating a holiday message might please Him:

1. Give thanks. News flash: the only purely Christian holiday there is falls on the last Thursday in November. Madison Avenue, the Food Network, and even the NFL have been unable to corrupt it because it is centered around gratitude. When we focus our attention, both individually and corporately, on giving thanks, we become grateful for red cups full of hot salted caramel mochas, people who make them, customers who buy them, warm places in which to drink them, and the jobs we have that enable us to occasionally afford such ridiculous luxuries.

Corporations that embrace gratitude by closing on Thanksgiving are choosing to follow this good advice:

1 Thessalonians 5:18In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

 

...I was naked and you clothed me

…I was naked and you clothed me.

2. Be kind. It’s only two words, but it’s harder than it sounds, especially in the corporate world. Business is cut-throat and largely unmerciful, which probably explains why it’s hard to find evidence of the tenets of Christianity in it.

Kindness boils down to being considerate of the needs and feelings of others, which, believe it or not, includes not beating them over the head with one’s faith or lack thereof. When people find the effort it takes to be genuinely kind too costly or irritating, they tend to refer to it as “political correctness”, which typically only pays lip-service to actual dirt-under-the-fingernails kindness.

Real kindness is hard. It is often found in quiet gestures, anonymous donations, and the considerate and fair treatment of employees, customers, vendors, and even people on the other side of the world.

In my opinion, the red Starbucks cup is a lovely demonstration of corporate kindness. According to Jeffrey Fields, the company’s Vice President of Design and Content, “In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs. This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories. Starbucks has become a place of sanctuary during the holidays. We’re embracing the simplicity and the quietness of it. It’s [a] more open way to usher in the holiday.”

What a lovely way to embrace this simple teaching:

Ephesians 4:32a Be ye kind to one another

3. Let others praise you. Never is tooting one’s own corporate horn more unwelcome than during the holidays. Many companies know that third party reporting, referrals, and word-of-mouth hold far more sway than any other form advertising. Solomon figured this out a long time ago:

Proverbs 27:2 Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.

4. Help the poor. Corporate generosity can be a powerful thing. Many corporations have set aside a significant portion of their profits for philanthropic endeavors, and the benefits are many: employee loyalty and pride in the company rises, press (especially from other sources than the company itself) is largely positive, and often, profits rise. Helping the least of these is a wonderful way to serve the community, and become a more involved part of it.

Proverbs 28:27 He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.

Oddly enough, Starbucks actually embodies these attributes. Their success is evidence that kindness-based marketing programs work. In fact, I do believe I’ll stop in tomorrow morning for a salted caramel latte in a snazzy red cup, and I may even buy some of their coffee, since part of the proceeds from sales of the Christmas blend coffee bought there through Veteran’s Day goes to the USO…as part of Starbuck’s efforts to express their gratitude to our military.

It's not complicated.

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 1 John 4:7

 

Posted in 1 John, America, capitalism, Christianity, Christmas, Coffee, Controversy, cups, current events, faith, gratitude, holidays, Jesus, Kindness, Marketing, pop culture, religion, Starbucks, Thanksgiving | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Obligatory Controversial Halloween Post

It’s Halloween, and the letters have been pouring in:

#thestruggleisreal

#thestruggleisreal

“Would you look at this? They want me to wear this…thing! Did they even ask me if *I* want to wear this? Hay-ull no. How am I ever going to be taken seriously when they are posting pictures like this all over the interwebs? I am not a Chia-Pet, dammit!” -signed Mortified Mutt

“You gotta do something to raise awareness about our struggle. We don’t get to go house-to-house panhandling for milk-bones! We don’t even have a hashtag!” Signed, Suffering in St. Louis

“Dad hasn’t laughed all year. When he saw the cat dressed as a pirate, I could swear he almost cracked a smile. It was beautiful. I teared up a bit.”

Amused I am not.

Amused I am not.

“They dressed me as Yoda. No, I am not kidding.” -Anonymous

“I knew I wanted to change the world; I just didn’t know how. Then, one rainy Saturday, I tied a pillowcase to the cat and spray-painted an S on her chest, and viola! It just snowballed from there. Costumes for pets!”

“I swear to God, if that woman tries to Trump me, I’m gonna lose my freakin’ mind.”

“I’m gonna change the world when I grow up! My new line is for iguanas. You should see the Disney Princess iguana line. Bob Mackie designed the gowns.”

“There’s a youtube of my girlfriend dressed as a minion. 400,000 views. She refuses to come out from under the couch.”

I can't even.“I’ve never seen mama so happy. Seeing our Pixie in that tutu has her giggling like a dern fool. This is the most wonderful invention ever!” Signed, Happy in Hokoken

“These people are sadists. My only consolation is that kid’s dressing up as a hipster youth pastor and is stuck going to a ‘Fall Festival’ tonight. I hope it rains.”

Posted in Halloween, humor, just for fun, pets | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Chainsaws

Let us not consider today’s
Terrifying lack of empathy,

Or why we are so concerned with
Why we are here

Or why our “here” has to be better than
Everybody else’s.

Or the fact that we can’t seem to view any moment
Except through the wall of a phone camera.

We certainly should never consider why we avoid important questions by devoting our attention to
Such small things

Like gossip and food and social media
And bud light and noise and email
And stuff and ceaseless mundane tasks.

Despite our silly clutter, the fury and depth of life still cuts us with
The silent chainsaw of poetry.

image

"The art of living... is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive." -Alan Watts

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | 4 Comments

Rodalena Rants: Homecoming Mums

Honey, it’s Fall in Texas, and ’round these parts that means

  • The temperature may dip below 90°. Grab a sweater and brace yourselves.
  • It’s High School Football time.

Now, that second thing may seem obvious, however, there’s more to it here than you realize. Texas high school football is Serious. Each school’s Homecoming Game as important locally as a Papal visit is internationally, which is fortunate because Romo’s injured, the entirety of the Texans roster (save J. J. Watt) is asleep, so NFL-weary Texans are focusing their attention on their high schools.

Now, in Texas, we like our football tough and our women bedazzled. The big brains ’round here have figured out a way to combine those two desires into something truly remarkable: the truly weird Texas tradition of The Homecoming Mum. As I never went to homecoming during my high school years, and haven’t had a child of mine in public high school until this year, this tradition slipped my mind, but a week or so ago, as I walked into my local H. E. B, it all flooded back. It all started sometime back in the sixties when a chivalrous young Texan gave his Homecoming date a lovely mum to wear to the homecoming game. He decorated it with a ribbon or two, and a new Texas tradition was born. Here in Texas, all young gentlemen present their homecoming dates with a mum to wear to the game and the dance. On the surface, that doesn’t sound all that odd. But you haven’t seen the mums.

photo courtesy the The Domestic Curator

What? It’s only about 4 feet long and ten pounds.

They now look like this:

As my son informed me this weekend that he is planning to ask a (truly lucky) young lady to the dance, we need to either purchase or make one of these…things. As I had no clue where to begin, I went to Pinterest where mothers of young men all over the Lone Star State have pinned helpful pictures, blog articles and youtube instructional videos to help me turn my son’s date into a living school-colored Christmas tree, complete with jingling bells and twinkle lights.

Luckily, all of this bedazzled finery should only take several hours of shopping to find the perfect few miles of ribbon and assorted useless plastic decorations, some cowbells, stickers, fake flowers, stuffed teddy bears, LED lights and an electrical permits, counterweights, several more hours of prep time, roughly a gallon of hot glue, an industrial strength stapler, some glittery jewels, and three or four feather boas.

Shouldn’t cost more than a car payment if I budget carefully.

Everything’s gaudier in Texas.

Now, my research (via Facebook: “Help! I need to make a mum!”) has revealed there are certain mum traditions which should be adhered to: freshmen and sophomore mums are school colors; juniors add silver, and seniors are gold. Freshmen get one actual flower on their contraption, sophomores get two, juniors get three, and seniors apparently can cram as many on theirs as possible.

(I’m starting to think Hobby Lobby is behind this. What better way to clear out last year’s entire leftover ribbon inventory?)

Mums are personalized with the year of graduation, the names of the guy and girl, and her interests. It is the gaudiest most bizarre high school tradition I have ever heard of, and so absolutely Texan. Of course, these things are getting bigger and bigger every year, as all things in Texas do. I wouldn’t be surprised if the girls haul their mums around in ribbon-covered little red wagons by the time my son is a senior.

I have discovered that girls wear these things to school the Friday of Homecoming weekend. Please note that there are 3,000+ students racing through the halls of the typical Class A high school in this state and many of these monstrosities barely fit through the average door. Hell, no one can even see the girl wearing them! Come to think of it, the logistical difficulties of walking around while wearing the mum are probably an issue. I mean, look at these things! (Seriously, click that link and scroll through the pictures: they’re hilarious.) Who can walk with ten to twenty pounds of bedazzled ribbons and fluffery hanging from their neck? (My spell-check insists that “fluffery is not a word. It is now. So there.)

High school memories are important, and my son is even more important, so, armed with my hot glue gun, I plan to brave Hobby Lobby in search of the perfect mum. I wonder, though, as I rework my budget to find the extra cash for this thing (that’s used for one weekend, and then put in a gigantic box somewhere) how low-income Texas high-schoolers afford all this. The dress, the hair, the mum, the tickets to the dance (which are $25/each at my son’s school), and the pictures all add up to a pretty penny.

People know private school is crazy-expensive, but many don’t realize public high school isn’t cheap either. Every activity, sport, and elective comes with a price, as does every social event. Many times, kids won’t even mention extra curricular events or activities they’re interested in because they are simply out of the question financially. We’re pricing kids out of their own memories with our insistence on turning everything into an occasion to one-up and out-do each other. Now that I think about it, there may be a market for used mums…discounted and re-purposed for next year…hmm

Whatever the extra cost, though, good kids should have wonderful experiences, and these are special years. It will be a blast to gather a bunch of silly girly ribbon and make a mum with my boy for his date. He actually seems a bit stunned by the whole mum thing, as he spent most of his educational career as a home-schooled Michigander. The world of the modern big-city Texas high school (student body population: 3,440) is quite a culture shock, so I also looked into alternatives I could offer him and his date.

There is one. Students who would rather not wear $200 around their necks have a choice now. Enterprising Texas high school students in South Dallas started a charity in 2013 called Mumz4Kidz which takes donations equal to the average cost of a mum and spends that money on feeding a needy families a full Thanksgiving dinner. How cool is that? Last year they raised over $13,000.

What can I say? Texans are all in, devoted to their traditions, to their state, to their neighborhoods, and to their teams, and they are also thoughtful compassionate people. This is a special place, and it’s true what they say: everything is bigger in Texas.

Posted in football, High School, Homecoming, Mums, teenagers, Traditions | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Focus

Defiant, she opens up
Staring at the polluted sky

As the snarling F-150s
Race by

Having fossil-fueled
Temper tantrums

Even on lazy Saurdays
In the newborn autumn.

Focused on the quiet sky above
The suburban noise,

She understands how precious
Silence is.

image

Hibiscus means "delicate beauty."

Posted in Hibiscus, Poetry | Tagged | 1 Comment

Rodalena Reviews: War Room

Oops...wrong War Room.

Oops…wrong War Room.

As I sat in the theater watching the (predominantly faith-based) film previews before War Room started, the couples nearest to me could be heard commenting. “Well, it looks like they messed up the doctrine on that one,” one said, referring to the upcoming film, Risen. Another patron said, “Oh! That’s another one we need to see!” As the film opened to a grainy Vietnam scene (a well-intentioned but poorly executed attempt to explain the metaphor of prayer and spiritual warfare) and the title appeared, all I could think of was Peter Sellers yelling, “Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here! This is the war room!”

Parental Caveats: There is no bad language, no violence aside from an attempted mugging, nothing at which the MPAA would bat an eyelash. (The film is rated PG.) That said, I wouldn’t take children to see it. I base this decision on the message of a film rather than the number of bad words, barroom brawls, or boobs that appear, because for me the value and message of the story itself is what determines if it’s appropriate for my kids.  I think the message of this movie could be extremely confusing and potentially harmful to kids. I’ll explain as the review proceeds.

This review contains spoilers.

War Room is a Typical Christian Film. This is not a compliment.

Typical Christian Films are visual sermons that blur the line between entertainment (the telling of a story visually) and telling people how to best live their lives, according to the film maker’s understanding of their beliefs about how God wants us to live. This is done the same as preachers do every week: with an outline, some illustrations, some bible, and the giving of the Plan of Salvation.

Typical Christian Films have budgets based on The Ministry Rate, which means, since you’re doing this as a ministry unto the Lord, you cut corners to be a good steward of your resources. I’ll just say that the writers/directors Alex and Stephen Kendrick  were very good stewards: they stretched a paltry (by Hollywood standards) budget as far as they could, and viewers get what the Kendricks paid for.

First, the script is horrible. The writing is tedious and forced; there is little plotting or tension-building and no character development. The proselytizing is relentless and done with a hammer. The dialogue is unrealistic and clunky.  Simply put, people don’t talk that way. The pursuit of humor and tension is rarely successful, and moments that are not supposed to be funny are. It tries to convey spiritual conviction, marital difficulty, pressure, and pain, but it is a poorly crafted attempt in need of serious editing.

As this is a Typical Christian Movie script, everything is black and white, however what makes many films about human relationships compelling are the grey areas, and the struggles people have to work through together in order to come to a compromise that all parties can live with, and even thrive in, when the dust settles. This usually involves hilarious or tragic misunderstandings, and one or both of the main characters making a complete fool of themselves for the sake of love. If that’s what you want to see, grab Kate & Leopold, As Good as It Gets, or An Officer and a Gentleman. You’re not getting any of that in War Room.

Few actors could have done much with this script, and only Karen Abercrombie’s portrayal of Clara, the loveable-if-abrasive and over-zealous mentor to the main character, Elizabeth, is interesting to watch at all: Abercrombie’s Clara is All In, which makes her both scary and fascinating. She pushes her way right into Elizabeth’s personal life after a very superficial initial business encounter, tell her exactly how she’s screwing it up, and swiftly takes it over. Clara belongs in a Stephen King film. Hmm…I wonder if they’re making Revival into a movie…

The main characters, Elizabeth and Tony Jordan, played by Priscilla Shirer and T. C. Stallings, have no chemistry whatsoever. It’s honestly difficult to see them as a couple based on their acting: it’s wooden and nearly android-like; there is very little passion at all. Imagine Data from Star Trek TNG playing both roles, and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. When the scene calls for any emotional response, they yell or cry and figure that’s all that’s required to portray their part well. In fact, it would seem the main criteria for earning a role in this film was the ability to cry at the drop of a hat, which all of the principles do so well it’s creepy.

This is not Janet From Another Planet.

This is not Janet From Another Planet.

The directing is unimaginative and predictable. It is reminiscent of a far-too-long episode of All My children circa 1986 (and not one of the sweeps episodes, either).

The Kendricks seem to forgotten how to use the musical score to enhance a film. Instead, they bludgeon the viewer with the music: when they want you to respond, they use the score bluntly with no subtlety whatsoever. As far as the expected audience reactions go, if the use of the music is an indicator, they aren’t asking us, they’re telling us.

Which brings us back to the story itself. 

The main problem with Typical Christian Films isn’t the preaching. That can and should be expected from people of serious religious convictions and faith because they want everyone to receive the peace and eternal life they believe they have, as well as avoid eternal punishment. The main problem with Typical Christian Films is the refusal to show life as it really is.

We are supposed to assume that Tony is an ass, but no one’s allowed to say ass, not even Tony. These characters would have been far more compelling had the audience been given some clue as to why Tony cheated his company or his wife. If we knew what motivated him to make those decisions , we may have had a reason to care about him. If Elizabeth would have reacted to the revelation of her husband’s possible infidelity with any passion at all, it would have been easier to relate to her and care how the movie ended. Instead, Tony considers cheating on his wife, and he keeps some pharmaceutical samples, for reasons the writers feel the audience does not need to know. His wife reacts with quiet looks and questions such as, “Can we please just sit down and eat now?” Riveting.

What actually was riveting to me was this: after being mentored for an hour or two by Clara, Elizabeth seems to assume the problems in her marriage are solely her fault: she has not been praying for and submitting to her husband enough (even though she asks permission from him before doing nearly anything). This is clearly the reason he treats her like shi….er, real bad. Who knew she had so much power? Taking on that guilt and the sole responsibility for getting God to fix the situation gives her a bit of control over her life, and this is a dangerous message to send to women. Google Anna Duggar for details.

Prayer is a powerful thing. I’ve seen people deeply and permanently changed partially as a result of their own prayers as well as the prayers of others. Prayer has an important place in my own life. The thing about prayer that War Room misses is that it changes the attitude of the person praying. That change affects those with whom they interact, which changes events and circumstances.

The film takes a different view of prayer, however. In War Room, prayer is both a battle plan and a means to an end. It’s more-or-less a to-do list for God. If you pray fervently and correctly (focusing solely on God and His word in a small private place), God does what you want.

But, that’s not biblical. That’s not even logical.

In spite of itself, War Room shows us how prayer can work: Elizabeth’s prayers were fervent and addressed to God, but that is not the only reason they began to have an effect. They took her focus from herself and put them on others. Through the mental and spiritual exercise of prayer, Elizabeth learned empathy, and that, in my opinion, is why things changed. Please note, however, your mileage may vary: people make their own decisions.

Elizabeth is led to believe that even though she is the wife, she controls her husband with her bad attitude. Tony, apparently, is a puppet on a string. This is an awful message to send to both women and men. In fact, it could be worse than the message sent by extreme Christian fundamentalist gender roles: the man is the head of the home period, and the wife is to submit to him. From Clara’s teachings, those roles are lies: the real power is the woman-she just can’t let anyone know that, and the men are just marionettes under their control. (Equality in these relationships doesn’t seem to be an option.)

Another disturbing thing Elizabeth learns, under the instruction of Clara, is that husbands and wives own one another. Phrases like this pepper the film: “Men don’t like it when their women…” and, “If my man….” Call me odd, but I don’t think couples should own each other; they should partner with each other.

The plot (such as it is) has the following Tense Moments:

  • Elizabeth and Clara nearly get mugged. Clara stuns the mugger by rebuking him “in the name of Jesus” and he runs off. No, really.
  • Tony’s out of town fling is halted by a sudden need to hurl.
  • Tony gets fired for skimming and selling pharmaceutical samples, but avoids jail, and changes his former mean boss’s tire. Sidebar: things only “nearly” happen in this movie.
  • Danielle, their daughter played by the adorable Alena Pitts (who delivers a nice performance), and her dad compete in a double-dutch jump rope contest.
  • Elizabeth declares to Satan that he no longer has an power over her family or her home. By yelling at him. In the yard. Twice. This adds to the unintentional hilarity and creepiness.

I’m sure this was all supposed to be very intense plotting.

This is where the action is.

This is where the action is.

By emptying her closet, posting her requests and relevant handwritten scriptures on the wall, and asking God to make her husband the man He wanted him to be, Elizabeth effects a change in Tony. Or God does. One of those. Tony has no control over himself whatsoever.

The movie lumbers on for over two hours like a summer baptist tent meeting, culminating with the double-dutch contest, an ice cream sundae and a foot rub. Clara drives home the message with fundamental fervor as a bunch of folks are seen praying and the music tells you this is The Invitation, and you need to Make a Decision for Christ.

"I have no control over myself whatsoever."

“I have no control over myself whatsoever.”

It’s concerning to me how this film portrays the roles of men and women. Women need to appear powerless, but control everything behind the scenes and men need to appear to control everything, but are not responsible for any of their actions until the prayers of their wives (if done correctly) cause God to change them.

I’d much rather have spent my two hours watching Adam Chandler, Erica Kane, and Janet From Another Planet.

Posted in Christianity, Empathy, Evangelicalism, faith, Fundamentalism, God, movies, Obedience, pop culture, prayer, religion, Rodalena Reviews, Stephen King, Typical Christian Film, War Room | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Josh and Anna, or Jacob and Leah

Anna Duggar is the Leah of our time. To quote the poetic Rich Mullins for those unfamiliar with the story:

Jacob and Two Women

Jacob, he loved Rachel and Rachel, she loved him
And Leah was just there for dramatic effect
Well it’s right there in the Bible, so it must not be a sin
But it sure does seem like an awful dirty trick
And her sky is just a petal pressed in a book of a memory
Of the time he thought he loved her and they kissed
And her friends say, “Ah, he’s a devil”
But she says, “No, he is a dream”
This is the world as best as I can remember it

“The Way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason.” — Benjamin Franklin

Anna is the mother of four children ages five and younger. Her youngest child is barely a month old. That bears repeating:

her youngest child is barely a month old.

She is in a marriage more-or-less arranged by her father and Jim Bob Duggar to a man she knows to be something of a con-artist (much like Jacob), and even worse, a sexual deviant and predator of girls. If actions are any indicator, Josh doesn’t care about Anna’s needs; he may never have. He possibly entered into the whole charade as a means to some other end. (In Jacob’s case, the deception was so he could win Rachel; in Josh’s it may have been to further a political career.)

Anna, however, entered into her marriage out of a very serious and sacred sense of trust in God and of the men in authority over her based on her understanding of God. She was taught her role from a child, and had very few other influences. She did not attend college. In Anna’s world, her father and her husband and her pastor represent God-on-the-Earth to her, and she is to obey them as such as an act of trust and faith in God.

This trust would be blessed by God, according to what her faith teaches, and God woud use her example of submissive faithfulness to bring others to Christ, bless her life with children, and bring her love, joy, fulfillment, honor among her peers and her family, and a peace that passes understanding. Anna Duggar had been chosen. She has been blessed with the opportunity to be Used by God.

But, reality hasn’t wrought the promised results of obedience she was given, in fact, quite the opposite has occured. She’s the butt of the joke. She is now one of (in my opinion) the worst things a woman can become: an object of pity, like the biblical Leah. There is no greater heartache than to offer your life, your heart, and your eternity to God, only to have Him allow you, either passively or by His direct involvement (who knows for sure?), to be subjected to humiliation like Anna Duggar is going through. Awful questions may plague her mind: is this God’s perfect will for my life? And if it is, how sick is that? (Oddly enough, some people don’t think hell exists. Anna’s in a black hell; make no mistake about that.)

Now Jacob got two women and a whole house full of kids
And he schemed his way back to the promised land
And he finds it’s one thing to win ‘em
And it’s another to keep ‘em content
When he knows that he is only just one man
And his sky’s an empty bottle and when he’s drunk the ocean dry
Well he sails off three sheets to some reckless wind
And his friends say, “Ain’t it awful”
And he says, “No, I think it’s fine”
And this is the world as best as I can remember it

Top all of that spiritual turmoil with the economic and practical struggles Anna now faces: Josh had to quit his job. He’s virtually unemployable, and now it appears he’s been shipped off to Jesus Jail for “treatment”, even though the whole Christian-work-camp option was obviously ineffective when his parents tried it before.

Anna has no college education, no work experience, and four children under the age of five. Where the hell is the money for diapers going to come from? Her one option for income is to betray her faith and her moral code and write a tell-all book. What sort of option is that for a woman whose self-worth is based on absolute loyalty to her husband and obeying God as she understands Him? Anna Duggar can not win.

Now Rachel’s weeping for the children
That she thought she could not bear
And she bears a sorrow that she cannot hide
And she wishes she was with them
But she just looks and they’re not there
Seems that love comes for just a moment
And then it passes on by

Anna did everything a Good Christian Girl should. And now, her marriage has been revealed to be far less than what she was promised and conditioned to expect. Her husband made an absolute mockery of the vows he took before a huge crowd of witnesses, and used not only her, but an untold number of other women. A typical instinct for women in her shoes is to blame oneself: maybe she wasn’t doing enough to satisfy or submit to her husband. Maybe she wasn’t this, that, or the other thing. This reaction is baffling to people who can’t rationalize the connection between a husband and God that women in Bill Gothard-esque religious environs are made to believe. You see, if Anna wasn’t good enough for her husband, then she’s not good enough for God either. So, she’ll double down and try all the harder to save her life as she knows it.

It’s a sick, sick way to live.

And her sky is just a bandit
Swinging at the end of a hangman’s noose
‘Cause he stole the moon and must be made to pay for it
And her friends say, “My, that’s tragic”
She says, “Especially for the moon”
And this is the world as best as I can remember it
And this is the world as best as I can remember it.

Anna has two options: either she is to blame, or everything she has been taught, and everything she believes to be true about God and eternity is complete b.s. The former is likely easier to choke down, and she will try to keep it down as long as possible. The latter is like learning the law of gravity is a total sham, and that is terrifying in ways the secular world simply cannot fathom.

When the World-at-Large gets a glimpse at the World-that’s-Small–the isolated world of women in extreme fundamental environs–it sort of freaks out and forgets that real human beings are trying to live their lives and meet the needs of their kids in that strange place. I don’t know if Anna has internet access, but I hope she sees some of the kindness and truly empathetic responses to her situation. In the midst of the thoughtless memes there are decent people; I hope they continue to speak up if for no other reason than to drown out the cruel ones.

I like to think that Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent gets the end of Leah’s story correct, and that she took back control of her life. The Leah in that re-telling of the tale had a righteous anger. She was fierce and determined, a powerful matriarch, a woman who taught her children strength and dignity, and a force to be reckoned with. The thing I hope Anna can discover is this: she is the Leah of our time. She can, and should, control her own destiny.

Posted in Book of Genesis, Christianity, compassion, current events, Dignity, Duggars, Empathy, Evangelicalism, faith, Fundamentalism, God, Hell, King James Bible, Leah, Obedience, pain, pop culture, religion, Rich Mullins, Separation, Suffering, The Red Tent, Women | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

4:30

4:30 comes so early.

Record high today: 106°.
An email came through at work: a co-worker died.
Another co-worker will be off next week: a trip to Paris.
Productive meetings today;
Lunch at my desk.
School starts in two weeks.
Laughter, a small celebration, and commiserating with co-workers.
It took an hour and a half to get home.
Melancholy evening: no kids tonight.
A frog found refuge from the heat in my black-eyed Susans.
Delicious leftovers and a good book.
A light rain.
The news is the same:
Trump and Megyn will never be friends.
Friends and loved ones call and text.
More laughing, more commiserating.
Heavy-eyed, I close the book:

4:30 comes so early.

image

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | 1 Comment