Why Straight, Christian Men Should Listen to Lesbian, Agnostic Songwriters

When I bought the Indigo Girls’ Retrospective, I endured some awkward questions from the cashier. 

“Is this a gift?” she asked. 

“No, it’s for me.” 

“I thought most of their fans were… you know….” 

I shrugged.  “They’re amazing lyricists and musicians.” 

And it’s true.  Whatever criticism one might have of their views, one cannot deny that Amy Ray and Emily Saliers speak with great clarity and beauty.  To be sure, in their protest songs they may shout at you.  But, in their love songs and life songs, they warmly invite you to walk in their shoes.

What is the nature of love, as expressed by the Indigo Girls?  With shocking Biblical imagery, Amy Ray presents it as “Strange Fire.”  This is a reference to Leviticuts 10, when two priests gave an unauthorized offering to God and were destroyed by his wrath.  But here, that fire is love, which is offered to each other, not to God, and forms a “refuge from the wrath.”  The poet then lashes out against those who oppose that love, with “haughty eyes and lying tongues and hands that shed innocent blood” (Proverbs 6:17, quoted verbatim in the song).  At the very least, the song illuminates the greatest transgression of Christians toward those experiencing homosexual desires: by stigmatizing the struggle and “casting stones,” we have committed greater sins than the sin we sought to oppose.  (“Is it a sin?” is a conversation for another day.)

It is not my place to attempt to summarize the entire body of the Indigo Girls’ work, but I would be amiss not to at least mention “Ghost.”  Emily Saliers captures the utter bitter-sweetness of unrequited love: “I burn up in your presence and I know now how it feels to be weakened like Achilles with you always at my heels….  I can’t swim free the river is too deep, though I’m baptized by your touch, I am no worse than most…. in love with your ghost.”  Is this unrequited love the same as that between a man and a woman?  How can you know if you don’t listen?

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Second-hand Tragedy

Sometimes I think I feel too much. A skyscraper crashes or a friend of a friend dies, and I take it personally. I didn’t know anyone in the Towers, and I don’t even know my friend’s friend’s name, but I know that I have lost something.

It’s a bright, cool summer’s day, all the more bitter for its beauty. Like the spring day when I visited Auschwitz. Why is the grass so green? To taunt me, to distract me, to give me hope? Or is it just there?

Life is beautiful, but this life is full of death, and that is something that I will always take personally.

What the hell is wrong with me? Am I the only one who’s sane? Or is this just a small taste of how the heart of God feels all the time?

R.I.P. Michael Corleone

Reflections on the Life and Death of America’s Most Influential Man

What people look for reveals a lot about what matters to them.  I have posted about everything from Mayan death rituals to Spider-Man, from Buddha to Jesus.  But more sought after than Jesus, Buddha, or God: the Godfather.  Every day since my first post, some random soul has stumbled across my blog because they were searching for Michael Corleone.  Well, here he is.

Don Corleone

(I’m about to ruin all of the movies, so if you haven’t seen them, please go do watch them now.  Yes, even III.) 

In an age of weaklings (Fredo and all of Connie’s husbands), Michael is the presence of strength; not of brute, physical strength (Luca Brasi), but of pure mental power and the will to act.  In an age of two-bit pimps and pushers (too many to name), Michael is the image of class and integrity; he never compromises his values, however unbiblical they may be.  In an age of hot-heads (Sonny), Michael is a man of cool composure and calculation; for this reason, he smokes but does not drink, other than the ocassional glass of wine.  When other men drag their feet, Michael is ready for action.  He keeps all his promises.  No price is too great.  He is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals.  And he always finds a way. 

Other men (Tom Hagen) might be willing to go to great lengths, but lack the vision to see all the possibilities.  He makes even his dad (Vito) look soft.  Thus saith Michael: “If history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.  Anyone.”

From his armchair, he can unleash more fury than the all the hounds of hell.  He says the word, and his men obey.  Why do they obey?  Because he pays them well, sure.  But they are willing to die for him.  They owe their alliegiance because they belong to an unspoken code of honor, of loyalty, of tradition, and of action for the sake of the greater good, for the good of the Family.

Don Corleone is a badass of the mind, the likes of which the world has never seen.  He suceeds so well at getting down with his bad self, that we all loved the Godfather I and II.  We see Michael first become the Don, then ascend to true criminal greatness, moral depravity, and selfish sacrifice.  Yet few people enjoyed the Godfather III.  Did Coppola and Puzo drop the ball?  Or did most of us simply misunderstand the movie?

Don’t get me wrong.  I and II could stand alone as movies in their own right.  III could not stand alone, but does serve to frame I and II as a Greek (or Sicilian) tragedy.  But in that it succeeds swimmingly.  The Corleones are the ultimate dysfunctional family and none of us knew how much until III.  All the Don ever really wanted was to protect his family.  He killed to save the life of his father.  He kept on killing to protect his wife and children, even if it meant killing his own brother.  He realized, before it was almost too late, that he must stop and swore on the lives of his two children that he would redeem himself.  Yet he failed and the sins of the Godfather were visited upon his children.  By doing everything in his power to protect them, Michael ultimately destroyed everyone he had ever loved, leaving him to die alone.  There could be nothing more tragic than that. 

Still, we love Michael Corleone.  It should be no surprise that Barak Obama’s favorite movie is the Godfather.  Sure, it’s about power and action, but its also about family, relationship, and spiritual and cultural identity.  Emulated by everyone from Snoop Dogg to the Muppets, the Godfather is here to stay.  God, help us to value the good in him, but to see the rest for what it is, for the road to hell is littered with bad-ass intentions.

Muppet Dogfather Snoop Dogg the Doggfather