Thursday, September 18, 2008

One Man, Twice


Due to a ridiculous comedy of errors I won’t be able to visit my beloved Madison this weekend. This is a triple-crushing blow, as there are three wonderful events in which I can no longer participate. Tonight is the monthly Theology on Tap at the Essen Haus, one of my favorite bars in Madison. Thomas Peters of the American Papist will be speaking and I’ll be missing both his talk and a chance to grab a beer and catch up with many dear friends. Tomorrow evening several of my girlfriends are heading out on the town to celebrate life, and more specifically, how one of our friends rocked the Praxis II last week; I'll no longer be joining them. And most crushing of all, Friday afternoon is the final recording session for The Garden demo album and I can’t be there.

I’ve been trying to avoid writing about personal things here, and The Garden is such an important part of me that I’m sort of breaking that rule right now. But alas.

About ten years ago, an amazing woman named Sandra K. Kruse began playing with the idea of a musical telling the story of salvation history. Sandy and her husband Tim are beloved members of the Madison Catholic community, and Sandy is a busy mother of eleven beautiful children. Consequently, it took her a while to get all her ideas on paper. The result of this hard work was The Garden, a three-hour rock opera which tells the story of fall, redemption, love, temptation, and salvation from the time of Lucifer's heavenly rebellion through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Last year James Carrano, a choral conducting graduate student and my former boss at St. Paul's University Catholic Center, began putting Sandy's beautiful libretto to music with some input from brothers Mike and Charles Jadin and Jason Gantzer. The result was an intense rock opera performed for the first time this past April. As a Peer Minister and Director of Theatre Arts at the time, I was privileged to participate in the show as both a cast member and member of the production team. The four-ish months of rehearsal, set construction, frantic costume sewing, and papier-m√Ęche-ing the golden calf came to a beautiful climax for six performances that form some of my best college memories.

As wonderful as the show was, Sandy and James are both evangelists at heart and The Garden is more than music and lyrics. It's meant to convey a message, and uses the theatre medium to do so. God willing, the show will not remain a memory of a few splendid days in April, but will take on a life of its own as more colleges, theatres, and companies produce it. The long-term goal is performing the show at World Youth Day in Madrid, 2011, or Houston, 2014, but lots of things need to happen first. One of those things was the demo CD being produced right now. This CD, an eight-song sampler of The Garden's most heart-stopping numbers, is what Sandy and James can send to people interested in the show. It's a big deal. Last weekend I spent many hours with a half dozen friends in the cavernous music room singing and recording and listening as Mike coordinated things. The day might have been tedious, but I had so much fun seeing friends and reliving the show that I barely noticed.

I think what makes The Garden so special is that is focuses on the Great Story rather than just the smaller vignettes that contribute to it. As fun as it was to do Joseph... and Jesus Christ Superstar, neither story goes as deep as The Garden. Granted, JCS is wrought with Judas' inner conflicts and is still a good show, but it's not a good vs. evil saga. Joseph is even weaker, story-wise; after all, the show is essentially Joe's biography. Obviously, the guy had more than a few rough spots in his life, but every really good story needs a really good villain. There just isn't one in Joseph. Most Bible stories have the same problem. If ripped out of context and taken as just quaint tales of long ago it's nearly impossible to understand their significance. What's the deal with Issac's near-death, David's selection as king, or even Jesus' temptation? They fit together like fragments of an immensely complex puzzle, and don't do much for us standing alone. I'll leave the specifics to Jeff Cavins and Scott Hahn, but overall, the saga of salvation begins in Genesis and isn't over until Revelation.

In its own way The Garden tries to show the connectedness of big events in salvation history, such as Lucifer's rebellion, Adam and Eve's Fall, the chaos of the pre-Flood world, Abraham's Covenant, Moses's liberation, and Jesus' perfect fulfillment of the Law and Prophets and His ultimate victory over Satan. Whew! That's a lot to cover in less than three hours, especially singing and dancing! Some aspects of the Great Story are skipped or glossed over for time's sake, but the gist of the show is the overwhelming love the Trinity has for humanity and Lucifer's overwhelming hate for us. Every time humans are at a crossroads and make poor decisions, it's Lucifer who eggs them on. Sometimes his influence is obvious, such as in Eden, and other times it's more subtle, like the violence that Lamech's tribe wreaks. Regardless, The Garden makes it very obvious that evil events and tragedies are not random happenstances but casualties of a War that has been raging since before time began and will continue until Jesus finally wins at the end of time.

A musical might seem an odd format for such a message, but sometimes music does what other media can't. For instance, theologians have written about Jesus as the New Adam and Mary as the New Eve for centuries, but this theological reality is delicately conveyed through music. The music playing while Lucifer convinces Eve to eat the fruit ("Seduction") is hauntingly familiar to the song playing as he tempts Jesus in the desert ("Temptation"). The theme weaving through the music as humans are created ("The Big Bang") repeats when Gabriel visits Mary and the Incarnation brings Jesus to earth ("Emmanuel"). When Jesus sings to his followers about the coming Kingdom ("I AM II"), his song echoes strains that played as the Trinity gave the Ten Commandments to Moses ("I AM"). And on and on. Through music, The Garden, like St. Augustine, reminds us that, "God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New."

This is crucial. As humans, our time is linear, and it's hard for us to step out of that paradigm. But God transcends time. He's outside of it. Thus, it's not unexpected that the first explicit reference to Jesus (Genesis 3:15) occurs before any mention of the multiple pre-figurations of Christ elsewhere in the Old Testament. I'd take it back further. Since humans were created in the image of God-- a Trinitarian God who is Father, Son, and Spirit-- the Son is a crucial part of the story before humans are even aware of him. Humans fell from perfect communion with God because Adam and Eve chose to defy God (note, however, that the Fall doesn't happen until *Adam* eats. Eve makes it possible; she is the vessel for the fall, but not the perpetrator herself). It is a perfect mirror, then that Mary and Jesus are the new Adam and Eve who redeem humanity. Mary doesn't do the redeeming, just like Eve didn't do the falling. Adam did the falling, so Christ did the saving. However, Mary's "Yes" in her Fiat made such redemption possible. She is the vessel in which salvation arrives. This, of course, is why Mary is given the oft-controversial title of Co-Redemptrix.

The most rocking-out-awesome song in The Garden is most certainly "War," in which Lucifer taunts Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and the two lay the cards out about spiritual warfare. However, I think the most beautiful and theologically significant is "One Man, Twice," a duet Mary and Eve sing while Jesus is being buried. The text is lifted almost exactly from Romans 5:12-18 but Mary and Eve's lines overlap and weave together so beautifully I nearly cry each time I hear it.

One of my novena intentions is for the growth and success of The Garden in whatever way is best for God's plan. The demo CD seems to be an answer to that, and I hope that things continue to move forward. I won't be there to record tomorrow, so the tract of War will be short a soprano, but such is life. I'll do my darndest to be there (and maybe on stage?!) when we perform in Madrid. Until then, I'll try to remember Act II scene viii when Jesus sings,

"Look at all the lilies of the valley
Look at all the birds of the air
Are not you worth more than they?
But for them, look how your father cares.

The birds do not sow nor do they reap
Nor put food into barns to keep.
Yet your Father feeds them every day.
And are you not worth more than they?

Can any of you by worrying add to your life even a single hour?
Does it have that power?"



Tuesday, September 16, 2008

There's the rub

I really didn't want to write about the election again. I detest election season, where very little real work is accomplished and horrible things are said about various people (in both parties) in the interest of stimulating enough tabloid-style press to swing votes one way or another. But November 4th is fifty days away and things are starting (starting?) to get ridiculous.

When McCain first announced that his running mate would be Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, I was initially pleased. I love that she's a woman, but it's more than that. I love that she's a Christian woman, a mother of five, and is fiercely pro-life. I love that she shatters the modern feminist stereotype of what a successful 21st-century woman ought to be (pro-choice, against large families, liberal, etc.) I also love the irony of a woman from the Republican party making it to the White House before Hillary. I really don't like McCain at all, but I said to myself, "Hey, he's old. He might not survive the first term or run for a second. She could be president!" This line of thinking would have had me voting not for McCain per se, but more for Sarah.

However, my enthusiasm quickly dampened when reports came about her alleged nepotism and other unpleastantries starting creeping up. I personally couldn't care less about her daughter's pregnancy, and I'm glad that the Palin family is being so supportive of Bristol and her boyfriend Levi. I'm glad she supports traditional marriage and opposes embryonic stem-cell research. But I'm incredibly uncomfortable that she wants creationism to have equal billing in science classrooms alongside evolution. "Drill, baby, drill" makes me want to tear my hair out, or at the very least crawl over to GM headquarters and beg that they release the Chevy Volt tomorrow instead of in 2010.

So I'm just as uncomfortable voting for McCain as I was a few weeks ago. Where does that leave me? I can't vote for Obama. Both cadidates support intrinsic evils: Obama on abortion/infantacide, ESCR, redefinition of marriage (possibly); McCain on ESCR, war, and torture, poor stewardship of the earth, and uncharity toward the poor (possibly).

This excerpt is from a quite excellent post over at Erin Manning's Red Cardigan blog.

"The formulation which seems to be developing among those who think that Catholics should not vote this way might be stated as follows:
Catholics must never support intrinsic evil
  • Catholics must never vote for someone who supports intrinsic evil
  • Catholics must especially not vote for someone who supports killing innocent humans
  • Obama supports this intrinsic evil (abortion, infanticide, etc.)
  • McCain supports this intrinsic evil (ESCR)
  • Therefore, Catholics must not, from a moral perspective, vote for either of these candidates.

I'm sympathetic to this viewpoint, but unfortunately, my mind working in the odd way it does, I soon came up with a dilemma, which is this:

  • If Catholics must never vote for someone who supports intrinsic evil, and
  • If contraception is intrinsic evil, and
  • If Catholics must especially never vote for someone who supports killing innocent humans, and
  • If many if not most forms of contraception are abortifacient, and
  • If every candidate running for President, including 3rd party candidates, supports the continued federal government funding of abortifacient contraceptives through Medicaid and other federal programs, then
  • Catholics may not morally now vote for any person who is running for President, and
  • Catholics will be unlikely for the foreseeable future to be able to vote for any person who is running for President without objectively doing that which is immoral."

And there's the rub. Of course, as Erin points out in the rest of her post, the USCCB has given us this guideline: "When all candidates hold a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods."

In 2008, the second case is relevant. Catholics ought to vote for the candidate who is less likely to advance a morally flawed position. Obama promised the NOW and other pro-abortion agencies that he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act into law. FOCA would supercede all state restrictions on abortion, making it available to everyone regardless of age, marital status, circumstance of conception, and would deny legal protection to doctors and nurses who refuse to perform abortions.

Whoa. Scary stuff.

I hate American politics. If it weren't for the abortion and marriage issues, I'd be a solid Democrat, no question. How would Jesus vote? On the side of the disenfranchised, the less fortunate, the marginalized, the maligned, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the disabled. The Prince of Peace probably wouldn't support invading countries without reason. Clearly, given the GOP's history favoring businesses and lobbyists and war hawks rather than the poor, I'm willing to bet Jesus would be a blue state supporter on most issues. Why, oh why, did the Democrats decide that the only way to be a true liberal was to support the murder of 40 million unborn children and try to mess with marriage and family, the building blocks of society? Given the monumental importance of both issues, so-called values voters are almost guilted to support Republican candidates, despite the fact that apart from the defense of life and marriage the Republican party platform is not very Christian at all.

Both candidates support or have supported things that directly defy Catholic Social Teaching, specifically provisions about upholding the dignity of the human person. What am I to do? Cast a blank ballot? I still don't know. I have fifty days to figure it out. However, I'll probably end up voting McCain-Palin, even if it makes me sad and fiercely uncomfortable.

No matter what happens, I'm going to be disappointed. Thank heaven I still have Melissa Anelli's book to look forward to on November 4th.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"...not to win but to take part..."

The 29th Olympiad is over. Ho-hum. To be honest, I wasn’t all too excited when the Games were going on. This is partially because I don’t have my TV hooked up in my new apartment yet, so I only watched Olympic events at friends’ houses or online. However, it's more than that. Last week I was at dinner with a friend and I explained why I really don’t like the Olympics all that much. Just like everyone else, I cheered for Michael Phelps (eight times!) and watched in anguish as the U.S. women’s gymnastics team lost the gold by 2.375 points. But beyond that, I shrugged. I don’t hate the Olympics; I don’t want them to stop. But I’m not a big fan. I have three main objections to the Olympics: gratuitous displays of puffed-up nationalism, an epidemic of corporate sponsorship, and magnified hero-worship of sports stars.

Mission Accomplished Failed
The IOC’s mission statement includes the phrase, "to promote a positive legacy from the Olympic Games to the host cities and host countries.” The Olympics are supposed to accomplish a few things. First, the Olympics ought to help citizens of the world appreciate the diversity and strengths of other cultures. The Games also (supposedly) foster sportsmanship and the appreciation of athletic achievements and help close spatial and cultural chasms between countries. These are all admirable goals. I would argue that the modern Olympics, especially these Beijing Games, did little to accomplish any of them. The opening ceremony was undeniably very cool (except for the poor little girl whose self esteem was probably irreparably damaged….more on that later). There was a feeling of hope in the air, maybe from all the fireworks. But it didn’t last. Some of the comments traded back and forth in Internet forums and TV commentaries in the last two and a half weeks are hardly the sort of nice things that foster cooperation among countries. Rather, I detect fierce streaks of hyper-nationalism, we Americans included. Some of that’s natural; people usually cheer for their neighborhood team, Alma mater, or home country. But trying to prove that one country is better than another because of its superior medal count is ridiculous. This is where we cross the line from honoring fellow countrymen to being disdainful of others. Sportsmanship is another big problem. True, I loved seeing the broken-hearted American women’s gymnastics team giving congratulatory hugs to the Chinese women, and many other stories of sportsmanship are just as positive. But overall, I don’t think the Olympics encourage sportsmanship. The last several Games have been plagued by doping scandals, cheating, judge tampering, and now the gymnastics age question. These instances hardly celebrate to a world where athletes just want to give it their best shot and see what happens. My perspective is tad limited (I’ve been alive for twelve Games, though only old enough to appreciate maybe six or seven of them), but it seems like this sort of cheating is only getting worse. Not a very encouraging thought. I wonder, too: how much of it comes from nationalistic pressure? We all heard the stories on NBC about various Chinese athletes and how the pressure on them was unbelievable. This isn’t unlike the medal-winning machine of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, and it was probably worse for the Chinese men and women because they were on their home court this year. If your personal worth is determined by how much metal hangs around your neck, you’re pretty vulnerable to exploitation. I still can’t get over the stories of young children taken from their families at three and four years old to be trained for sports. There’s so much more to life! Governments and athletes obsessed with demonstrating their worth and advancement by winning medals have some serious issues. Ugh. And speaking of "ugh"...
Sing, sweet nightingale?
Time for the opening ceremony rant. I was utterly incredulous when I read that the “Ode to the Motherland” hymn from the ceremony had been lip-synced. And not just lip-synced; "totally falsified" might be a better way of describing it. The things that were done to achieve a picture-perfect moment make photoshopping Emma Watson last year seem like nothing at all. I'm not naive; I know that film directors and marketing representatives make decisions like this all the time. There's a reason there aren't that many frumpy people in commercials (except maybe those awful Geico cavemen). But the government made the call. What they said, essentially, was, "Yang Peiyi, you may be only seven years old and your self-image may still be forming, but we've decided that you're not attractive enough to appear on international television representing China. Your voice is great though, so we're going to let the far cuter Lin Miaoke stand in front of the cameras and dub your voice for hers." What lessons does this teach? "If you're not a beauty pageant type girl, you're not beautiful. And if you are a stereotypically "pretty" girl, we'll exploit your physical appearance but keep you un-mic-ed so no one will hear you." Fabulous. (this is similar to why I abhor beauty pageants... I'll rant about that some other day).
Brought to you by...
Corporate sponsorship: another necessary evil when it comes to professional, college, Olympic sports. Obviously, without money from Nike, AT&T, or Raymond James, many athletes wouldn’t have the resources to invest in expensive coaches, equipment, and facilities. It’s been that way for a long time. But it still makes me crazy. I’m not sure why, but I hate that so much of the Olympics seems to have an incredibly manufactured, false feel to it. However, it does seem to be getting worse; that corporate sponsorship is encroaching on even more aspects of modern life. I don't know what the answer is for this one. One the one hand, I don't like all the corporate money being poured into Olympic sports, but the alternatives are to either not be competitive on the international level or use government money for Olympic training as China does. Neither of those is really an option, so I guess we're stuck. But I don't have to like it.

You’re my hero!
I grew up in Green Bay, WI, where church services are shorter (or cancelled) when there’s a Packer home game and little kids dream of becoming the next Brett Favre. I get it. Sports stars are cool. But I’ve always been uncomfortable with the degree of admiration we heap on men and women who achieve athletic success. No doubt- they’ve worked hard. They deserve their props and applause and maybe a promotion deal with Wheaties. But it’s a little ridiculous to me that an Olympic superstar or pro football player has more heroic appeal to people than, say, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta or St. Maximilian Kolbe. Why is an athletic star a hero? If it’s because he or she worked hard and sacrificed a lot to achieve goals, that’s fair. If it’s because he or she is famous, earns ridiculous amounts of money and can get away with things others can’t (ahem, OJ Simpson), that’s not as fair. Olympic athletes work hard, no question. I feel a little sorry for the athletes who earn medals in unpopular sports, though. Who won this year’s gold for badminton? Anyone? Rhythmic gymnastics? Didn’t think so. I don’t know, either.

This summer has been chock-full of media spectacles, the Olympics and Democratic National Convention among them. But for me, I’m glad the summer’s TV dry spell is over and soon we can back to watching Reaper and How I Met Your Mother.