Friday, October 20, 2017

Amish vs. Everybody

End times: when clergy turn atheist

New movie about atheist pastors: “Losing Our Religion”

Losing Our Religion is a feature length documentary about preachers who are not believers, and what atheists do when they miss church. Allowed access to the 600 members of The Clergy Project – a safe haven for preachers from all faiths who no longer believe – the documentary follows ex-members and clergy who are still undercover.

They are not just losing their religion, for many they are losing their friends, community and even family. As well as their job.

As events unfold that change lives forever, their stories also connect with secular communities that are growing in surprising places. New groups are experimenting in ways to have church without god, and asking the same question as unbelieving clergy – “what’s next?”

Losing Our Religion is a documentary about community, acceptance, and a view inside the complicated lives of clergy who are stranded in the rising tide of non-believers.

Losing Our Religion is produced by Zoot Pictures Inc. in association with documentary Channel, the financial assistance of the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, the participation of the Canadian Media Fund, and the participation the Government of Manitoba - Manitoba Film and Video Production Tax Credit and financial investment from the Manitoba Film and Music Feature Film Production Fund.

I recorded this film which aired on the Documentary Channel, left it on my PVR a while, then watched it last night, kind of reluctantly. And it did turn out to be sort of depressing. (These films are always disappointing somehow, so I don’t know why I watch them). This wasn't so much about The Clergy Project as individual pastors who had “lost their faith” (in essence, become atheists) after a long period of spiritual disillusionment.

Through a lot of very talky interviews and not much else, the film traced their need to get out of the church, or even (in the case of one man) to stay put in it and continue to lead, and preach something he absolutely did not believe in. To my shock, Gretta Vosper (the woman who was asked to step down as a United Church minister because she was an atheist) was interviewed, and presented as something of a martyr. Her hurt and sense of rejection by the mean old church was obvious, though I don't see it that way at all. 

If you are clergy in any mainstream Christian denomination, it makes no sense to me to preach Communism or Buddhism or Scientology – there HAS to be a basic belief system based on the Bible and the teachings of Christ. That is what makes the Christian church Christian, but when Vosper spoke, the filmmaker's sense was, “How dare they persecute such a brilliant, sensitive spiritual leader?" This is what comes of telling five or ten per cent of a complex story.

The rest of it was quite sad. One couple, somewhere in the States, just battled and battled and twisted and turned, and it was extremely painful to watch. The wife's bitterness and even bafflement at what was going on was disturbing. The soon-to-be-ex-pastor husband was offered a juicy plum of a job that he knew he could do well and love, but his wife made him turn it down because she would “lose her support system”. Support system? This was completely gone already because everyone in the church had turned against her (she said) and wasn’t even speaking to her. It was strange to see her try to hang on to the shreds of what she only half-heartedly believed in, mainly in a desperate attempt to hang on to her identity and status in her religious community.

From sort of liking her, I came to actively dislike her and the way she had put herself in a box and was angry and self-pitying, often spitting venom at people she once loved (and even, nonsensically, at God, whom she called an asshole). Watching her face contort with anger and internal conflict was unsettling. But why did she think her friends would continue to support her? What did she think they’d say? “Oh, it's OK if you hate God now and call him an asshole! We still respect and accept you as the minister’s wife.” It was completely unrealistic. 

Never once did she seem to think of the fact that THEY might have felt hurt, angry and abandoned by someone who used to support them. The congregation's belief in a personal, all-loving and all-powerful God was being threatened by someone at the very heart of the church. The minister's wife is often the most accessible person in the area of pastoral care. It's possible and even likely that in their minds, SHE dumped THEM instead of the other way around.

In fact, it never seemed to occur to any of the disillusioned clergy in the documentary that they may have hurt and abandoned their flock, as they spoke only of how lonely and hurt and persecuted they felt because no one understood or empathized with their agonizing plight. The filmmakers did nothing to emphasize or even acknowledge this pastoral black hole. Or perhaps it was just edited out because it was too complicated.

Much of the tone of the film was atheistic in an antiseptic way, and one scene showed the crowd in one of these "alternate" groups singing “What a Feeling” from Flashdance (!!), self-consciously jumping up and down and trying to look un-embarrassed. Pep rallies for non-belief. These were utility halls, all-purpose rooms that may have been practical, but I sure didn't see any beauty or grace, or hear music that wasn't lame and devoid of real passion.

Of course there were standup comics for atheism, too, and a sick song at the end about different denominations, concluding that instead of all that, "all I have is a brain”, implying that no one who believes in this stuff does. It was hateful, but they ran it as a whimsical, funny, lighthearted way to end the documentary. Apparently, we were supposed to laugh.

I am something of a refugee from organized religion myself, so I did get a large part of it, or some of it, but I felt the need to write about the part of the film and its approach that turned me off.  I think religious leaders need to handle their loss of faith in God with extreme care, and with great sensitivity toward the people they are walking away from. But according to this film they are mostly concerned with themselves, with whether they'd still have a job and how they would support their families, and how this sudden lack of a loving God in their lives made them feel sad, alone and misunderstood. 

They seemed to be asking their people: why are you so upset with me?, as if unaware they were jerking the rug out from under them. But I kept thinking their people were justified. What would it have said about them if they had been completely indifferent to their minister's loss of faith? Anger and hurt is a more honest response than the phony pseudo-acceptance I constantly saw in the United Church. If anyone was angry about anything, they swallowed it and tried to be okay with everything that was going on, no matter how outrageous. Hypocrisy on toast.

I have a theory as to why this is. I call it the Titanic Theory. The United Church of Canada, like all mainstream Christian denominations, is a sinking ship. It's crucial to put asses in seats so that they can continue to exist (and, most especially, to hold on to those drafty old buildings with their outrageous upkeep), so they now have to be very, very careful what they say.

During my 15 years in the church, I was constantly being squeezed for money. Once a year, someone would come to my house to talk to me about how much I was going to give, laying on a subtle guilt trip if it wasn't enough. The annual meeting was an exercise in misery and depression, even doom, as once again we were told the church was failing financially, and it was basically our fault. One minister even resigned over it, claiming from the pulpit that our church would be thriving if we weren't all so stingy and selfish. Obviously, our priorities were all wrong.

I didn't find out for years and years that practically every United Church in the country had this same problem, and that in fact our givings were higher than the national average. My own offering, which by the way my family could not spare, was well above average, but who knew? No one told me that until much later - in fact, I found out by accident. Secrecy about money is the norm, as is the chronic isolation of individual churches. There was a sense we were better than the others, didn't need them, or at least had to figure out our problems on our own.

My beliefs are very hard to contain within an institution of any kind. My experiences of mysticism were feared and disapproved of, so I learned to keep them to myself. Love Jesus, but for God's sake don't really love him or at least express any of it, except in wheezy old hymns by John Wesley. I was seen as crazy and unstable for weeping in church, while at the same time the lack of expression of emotion on Sunday mornings was criticized.

To stop believing in God, become an atheist, lose faith, or however you want to say it, is not the same - at all - as becoming disillusioned by all the human bullshit that goes on in churches. True, my spirituality no longer fit, and I was tired of using a shoehorn to try to make it fit. But it was the sickness of the institution that made me sick, the sense of constantly bailing out the ship, of everything turning on money, of frantic attempts to modernize and be cool and "inclusive" (my ass!) while our rituals couldn't have been more wheezy and out of date, even irrelevant.

I was done with it, and was only sad about missing all the years when it was still good. It's the same (I hear) when a marriage breaks up. You mourn for and feel nostalgic for the years when it still worked. But having it end doesn't mean that it all meant nothing. 

As for these atheist clergy, the fact is that many people in many different fields become disillusioned with what they do. But what exactly does "disillusioned" mean? It means you had illusions in the first place. Perhaps the whole structure was built on illusion. If so, leaving is a bold step towards reality, wholeness and health. Remember how you preached forgiveness for all those years? Then forgive all those people who depended on you for being hurt, angry and pissed off at you for changing. Atheism is not what you signed on for, it's not what they expected or what they need, and to expect sympathy and understanding from them is  ludicrous. If your head is where I suspect it is, the view must be dark indeed.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The world has been waiting for this to STOP!

The World Has Been Waiting… The Unveiling Of A King!

By Nakashen Valaitham & Kristi Hopp

Do you believe in love at first sight? Something so magical it takes your breath away, leaves you speechless and captivates your attention? The time to fall in love is now. The wait is over. He was born in the heartland of America, bred by Jack & Elizabeth Milam of Regency Cove Farms in Oklahoma.

El Rey Magnum RCF has arrived.

For breeders, it is love at first sight when newborn foals struggle to their feet and takes those first steps. It is quite overwhelming to watch the birth of an exquisite gift after waiting 11+ plus months.

His name means greatness in Spanish; El Rey translates to “The King.” He had not been around long before The King became the most talked about colt in the world. Having a keen eye for a unique look, and an urge for hidden treasure, when David Boggs first met The King he was captivated. David acquired the colt and eventually brought him to his Midwest Training Center in Scottsdale, AZ.

Soon after that Doug Leadley heard about The King and scheduled a visit. Once he laid eyes on El Rey Magnum RCF, he urged the new owners to acquire this special young colt. “I travel all around and see several impressive young horses but rarely do I see one that stops me in my tracks. I simply could not believe my eyes and what I saw in front of me. Horses like this come by once in a decade. We must preserve Arabian type or we will loose the majestic look the separates us from other breeds.” Doug Leadley

2018 will be an exciting year for El Rey Magnum and the team behind him - he will be ready for his coronation.


Yes. The world has been waiting, all right - waiting for this sort of genetic abuse to go away.

This is not a horse. It's Michael Jackson. It's My Little Pony (I almost wrote "Phony"). It's an Arabian horse so genetically manipulated  for certain traits that it has become virtually deformed. Yet it's touted as God's gift to horses, the next generation of custom-made equines (and never mind if they can breathe or not).

I write about horses quite a lot, because I love them so, and never get to ride or even come near a horse. But I do know something from my horsy girlhood. And what I know is that THIS AIN'T IT: this isn't the standard for the breed, at all.

The standard is more like this:

This is a great example of the classic Arabian head: broad forehead, big dusky glamorous eyes, slightly concave profile, tapered muzzle and small nose with large nostrils. What is called the throatlatch (where the horse's head attaches to its neck) is quite defined, and the crest (top of the neck) is high and arched. The Arabian head exudes exoticism and gasping loveliness, and for many a little girl an "Arab" is the ideal horse, the horse of their dreams.

Never mind that the actual breed is a little flaky and skittish, a status horse that's not always too dependable to ride. Maybe they've been told they're beautiful once too often.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time mooning over "Arabs" in my horse books (some of which I still have). The Godolphin Arabian, whose story was fictionalized in Marguerite Henry's King of the Wind, looked something like this:

The Godolphin Arabian was quite literally a prototype, one of the foundational sires of the Thoroughbred horse breed. He was not just an Arab but a Super Arab. But there's no trace of My Little Pony here.

Of course we have no photos of what he really looked like, but since normal horses were being bred to normal horses back then, it's doubtful he looked freakish like poor El Ray Magnum. When his exotic looks were poured together with the war-horse strength and brawn of the horses of the day, magic happened: a sort of genetic explosion which is still echoing down the generations. Take any horse breed, add a dash of Arabian, and voila - you have a brawny or cobby or rangy creature who has the desert horse's beautiful sculpted head and neck, grace in its step and a spark of spirit. It's as if Arabian genes have a long memory.

               Cass Ole, horse actor and star of The Black Stallion

It interests me that of the many dozens of comments on this photo when it appeared on Facebook, probably 85% were negative. These are horse lovers speaking out, and hardly any of them think this look is appealing or even fair to the horse. He's close to having a mono-nostril, for one thing, since the breed's very large nostrils are stuck at the end of a teeny-tiny muzzle. To me, it looks like somebody squeezed his nose with pliers. I think this look is "in" now in the show ring, for some reason, and because human beings always take a good thing and ruin it with extremes, it has likely become a sort of competition to see who can breed the most exaggerated Arabian features.

More has to be better. Right? ( - ??)

Along with the horrid dressage practice of rollkur  - reining the horse's chin to its chest - and "soring" in Tennessee Walker competitions (a painful way of forcing the horse to step so high it looks ridiculous), this extreme inbreeding constitutes a form of abuse. The horse has lost his horseness. 

The fanfare around this Wonder Colt, as if they're unveiling a new Maserati or other fine piece of machinery, is chilling. Behold, a genetic freak! It makes me shudder because this is being promoted by some sort of international Arabian society, clearly more interested in money and status than the wellbeing of the horse (or the breed - you can't tell ME El Rey is the answer to preserving the "majestic look" of the Arabian "type").

So until the situation becomes so grotesque that one of these breeders looks at a newborn foal and keels over in horror, we'll end up with a line of Hapsburg horses which are  more bizarre than beautiful.

(OK, I have leftover pictures, too gorgeous NOT to share!)

World's first recorded sneeze!

An animation I made from frames of Fred Ott's Sneeze, a film made in 1894 by Thomas Edison. The original lasted two seconds and had no musical accompaniment. I've been experimenting with putting some of my animation experiments on YouTube so they will be easier to post here.

What a tortilla sounds like on a record player

Tuesday, October 17, 2017



Black beauties: ravens in the yard

Three ravens like to come sit on the back fence in our yard. They just hang out for a while, not doing much of anything. They don't go to the feeder. Once in a while, one of them lets out a croak. Sometimes, one or more of them sleeps with one foot up. We don't even know if they're the same three ravens, or if ravens just like to hang out in groups of three. One of them will leave, or two of them, or even three, then come back one at a time. Then, eventually, they fly away. (Note. Only two of them appear here. One of them flew away.)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Frida Kahlo: gleefully dabbling

(text) Something about the hilarious incongruity of a stuffed lion, a plaster-of-Paris horse, and a colored chromo of George Washington draped in garlands of red, white and blue crepe paper, all jumbled in the same shop window, proved to be too much for the sense of humor of Senora Diego Rivera, and so she simply had to do something about it. What she did was to go home and paint it, which may surprise people who think that Diego Rivera, the great mural painter now at work at the Detroit Institute of Arts, is the only artist in the family.

That, however, is all a mistake, since his wife, Carmen Rivera, or "Freda" (sic) as her friends call her, is a painter in her own right, though very few people know it.

"No," she explains. "I didn't study with Diego. I didn't study with anyone. I just started to paint."

Then her eyes begin to twinkle. "Of course," she explains, "he does pretty well for a little boy, but it is I who am the big artist." Then the twinkles in both black eyes fairly explode into a rippling laugh. And that is absolutely all that you can coax out of her about the matter. When you grow serious she mocks you and and laughs again. But Senora Rivera's painting is by no means a joke: because, however much she may laugh when you ask her about it, the fact remains that she has acquired a very skillful and beautiful style, painting in the small with miniature-like technique, which is as far removed from the heroic figures of Rivera as could well be imagined.

Thus, while her husband paints with large brushes on a huge wall surface, his wife, herself a miniature-like little person with her long black braids wound demurely about her head and a foolish little ruffled apron over her black silk dress in

And that's as far as it goes. As much of it as we can see, anyway, though the article probably goes on to provide us with "Freda's" favorite recipes, shoe styles and facial depilatories.  

The article is a strange one, in that it almost seems to be acknowledging that Mrs. Rivera has some talent, if only in miniature. Her claim that she "didn't study with anyone" is very Kahlo (and also very true), as is her bold statement, "it is I who am the big artist." The interviewer probably thought she was kidding, though the laughter might have been a little uneasy. 

I love the movie Frida and have seen it seven or eight times. The tango sequence is particularly excruciating. Alfred Molina nails it as Diego, though in truth he's too good-looking to play the dumpy, awkward-looking artist who wore his belt under his armpits. But like F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus, he's the salt in the recipe without which it would lose its savour and fall flat.

Bentley's mystic eyes

Ripped: William Shatner, shirtless

Friday, October 13, 2017

Being Alive

My relationship with this song is a strange one. Decades ago,  I used to watch Taxi, and I remembered an episode where Alex experiences an epiphany - has a near-death experience or something, and comes out the other side feeling superbly alive in every cell of his being. He sang a certain song - hell, I didn't even know what it was! But it recorded itself on my brain, stayed with me, until. . .

Then in the mid-'80s I was going through a Streisand phase, though I can barely stand her now, and the song seemed - it seemed - it seemed familiar, or did it? It may not have twigged at all that it was the same song Judd Hirsch sang on Taxi. It was later on, retroactively, that I made the connection. She sings the hell out of it, of course, but I've come to see her musical mannerisms as irritating.  Still. The power of the lyric was undeniable. Stephen Sondheim, for Christ's sake - it can't misfire altogether.

Tons of years had to go by, again, until I stumbled (again!) on this Dean Jones version. Dean freakin' JONES? The Disney guy, the wholesome goofier-version-of-Dick-Van-Dyke type of guy? I couldn't even imagine him singing a Broadway song like this one, singing it with haunted, even frightened eyes as Stephen (fucking!) Sondheim stood over him . . and singing it with such conviction and passion that I no longer want to hear anyone else sing it.


There has to be something good about the internet - there is, actually, but with a lot of scum on the top and sludge on the bottom. Rediscovering something like this, something buried, can be compelling, but it all started with Judd Hirsch on Taxi - and then I forgot all about it.

Interestingly enough - or, at least, I find it so - Stephen Sondheim wrote this musical, Company, with Anthony Perkins in mind. The two were close friends, perhaps lovers, and this song wraps around Perkins' sensibilities very well, both in the fairly limited vocal range and the spare and even laconic sentiments. Perkins ducked away, citing other commitments, but many thought the Bobby character (with its veiled homosexual references) cut too close. The Dean Jones video was filmed, I think, as part of a TV special to demonstrate how an original cast recording is made, though I don't know if it was ever aired. 

The Greek chorus of friends in the song seems to be pushing the character out of a birth canal of fear and inhibition. I wonder if it really was that way with Perkins (and I confess I still have a "thing" for him), for he stated in an interview with People magazine that he never really felt close to another human being until he met his wife, Berry Berenson. And yet, and yet, there were both real and manufactured complications about his sexual orientation, as if that negated all the love and experiences they shared. And then there was the soul-shattering ending, Perkins dying far too young of AIDS, and Berry on one of the planes on 9-11. It has the dimensions of an epic love story ending in towering tragedy.

As I copied and pasted these lyrics, I decided to centre them, because I felt like something was going to arise from it, some shape. And it did. The verses are like chalices to me, maybe even communion cups, but in some cases more like trees. Some of them seem to leap upwards like dancers, others like dolphins. Not many poems will do this, take life and move, even beyond the words themselves.

So, this is the song Tony Perkins never sang, that was written for him, and about him.

Someone to hold you too close.
Someone to hurt you too deep.
Someone to sit in your chair,
To ruin your sleep,


Someone to need you too much.
Someone to know you too well.
Someone to pull you up short,
And put you through hell,


Someone you have to let in,
Someone whose feelings you spare,
Someone who, like it or not,
Will want you to share
A little, a lot.


Someone to crowd you with love.
Someone to force you to care.
Someone to make you come through,
Who'll always be there,
As frightened as you,
Of being alive,
Being alive.
Being alive.
Being alive!


Somebody hold me too close.
Somebody hurt me too deep.
Somebody sit in my chair,
And ruin my sleep,
And make me aware,
Of being alive.
Being alive.

Somebody need me too much.
Somebody know me too well.
Somebody pull me up short,
And put me through hell,
And give me support,
For being alive.
Make me alive.
Make me alive.

Make me confused.
Mock me with praise.
Let me be used.
Vary my days.

But alone,
Is alone,
Not alive.

Somebody crowd me with love.
Somebody force me to care.
Somebody let me come through,
I'll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive,
Being alive.
Being alive.
Being alive!

And this, from the Broadway musical Greenwillow. This song is not like any of the others, so minimal it barely exists, with a glorious setting like a rich autumn day. Somehow he glides along it and does not mess with it or damage it, but lets it be gloriously whole.  And every time I hear it, I cry. Every time. I say, nah, not this time! I'm not going to cry this time. I just listened to it again, and my eyes are stinging and I sobbed again, and it was once more real, and alive.

Velveeta Goodness: animated jelly omelet