Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost: The Red and Black Go To Church

Today we celebrate Pentecost, the religious commemoration of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit to the early church. Most Lutherans wear red on Pentecost (I don't know if other denominations do this or not), a reference to the flames of fire said to dance over the head of those early believers. When I was donning my scarlet shirt, I realized that I was dressing as if I was going to a May Day parade as much as church.

The parallels between this holy day of the Church and the high holy day of the labor movement do not end with their color coordination. For Pentecost is also a day about work, about equality, and about our radical calling to move the world towards justice and peace. On this day, we remember the early church beginning to reach out to Gentiles. The apostles affirm that Christ's message includes everyone, even and especially those marginalized by society. As the lesson from Acts chapter 1 affirms:

No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

The spirit of life and light does not speak through the wealthy or through those in situations of privilege (or at least not only through these). No, this God calls us to honor the prophesy and the testimony of the slaves and the women and all flesh. The sacred memories of Pentecost call us to honor those who speak different languages and, dare I say, take different faith journeys, than we are used to.

Christ previews the Holy Spirit's flamboyant appearance at Pentecost in today's Gospel lesson, from John 14:

I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

This is a radical transfer of authority, a move from faith's top-down dictation from the powers that be (not that the prophets ever fit those restrictions in their own time and place) to the authority placed in Christ's body on earth, the church and all that seek to follow Christ's example of love. All humans seeking to connect with the other humans in the world can participate in this love, in this divine presence.

We can and must practice solidarity across race and class and linguistic and gender lines, in recognition of our equality before Christ. For He took the slave's vision and the despised Samaritan's position and the adulterous woman's shame, and declared them part of the human condition, part of the saved and liberated people of God who have but to acknowledge and claim our power to remake the world in the image of holy justice.

On a side note, the psalm for today (Psalm 104) was a beautiful meditation on the abundance God has created and which we are intended to enjoy, and it contains this glorious verse:

There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

The rest of the passage leaves no doubt as to humans's place alongside other animals as creatures, and that God provides them and us both with food, that humans are not the only vessels of the sacred, that animals too have rights and are glorious.

And so on this Pentecost, may the spirit of the sacred accompany you throughout your week. May you prophesy and listen to the prophecy and wisdom of those around you. May you honor the creation around you, and the creature that you are. May we all seize the power granted to us to proclaim the gospel of love and dignity and respect for all life.

Happy Pentecost!

Star Trek Into Alienation: A New Standard for Action Movies

Recently I attended Star Trek Into Darkness, the newest film in the franchise. I knew that there would be aliens, and I appreciate aliens as much as the next sci-fi fan. But I did not appreciate the alienation I felt throughout the film. Not only was this not a feminist movie (in contrast with the TV show's revolutionary opposition to traditional gender roles), but it actively sought to alienate women in the audience.

Now, I felt like I didn't have unrealistic expectations for the movie. I just was looking forward to a fun action comedy with the typical feel-good values of acceptance and inclusion that Star Trek led me to anticipate. I didn't expect it to depict a feminist utopia or take on colonialism or do anything too progressive or awesome. Heck, I didn't necessarily expect it to pass the Bechdel test.

It certainly didn't do any of those things, but instead took every available opportunity to remind the women in the audience that their only purpose in life is to be sexually attractive and available to men. From the threesome that Kirk takes on near the beginning of the meeting, to the totally random and unnecessary disrobing of an attractive scientist, to the way that every woman in the film is defined in relationship to men and all major leadership roles are given to men, just about every choice in the film notifies women, "Not welcome here."

I like action movies. I like them better if they have amazing politics, to be sure, and feature women. Machete, for example, has many strong women and amazing politics (although I am a little unclear why women must go into firefights without shirts on). Kill Bill, Looper and Fight Club are not unambiguously feminist films, but they make it clear that women are part of their target audiences and also discuss intriguing politics.

Further afield, films like the last Mission Impossible movie or RED or The Italian Job don't portray anything amazing. They hardly change the landscape of gender definition. But they avoid insulting the women in their audience. I enjoyed all of those movies, not because they sent great messages about liberation but because they fulfilled their generic promise--good guys winning of bad guys with lots of explosions and vaguely witty dialogue.

This is the basic standard, for me: could I overlook or applaud the film's representations of gender? If, at least, the stereotypes are understated enough to avoid active repulsion, the makers have acknowledged that women will see their movie and expect to make that a pleasant experience.

But then you have Star Trek Into Darkness, which made sure that women were shuffled out of the way except for as prizes for men to claim. Gone were the women scientists, women leaders, women of non-standard body types. The sexism was so overt that I could not enjoy the action. This makes me furious. When women pay for movie tickets, we deserve to be acknowledged as part of the potential audience. I will be very, very hesitant to venture into another Star Trek or JJ Adams movie for some time.