Saturday, June 30, 2012

Brave -- The First Princess Tale Good for Mothers

I took my daughter to see Brave this week, and really loved it.  As I reflected on what I loved so much, I realized that this was almost the first "princess movie" I had seen with a positive (and living) mother figure.  The movie is the first animated movie I've seen with my daughter which is really a mother/daughter movie.  There are good father/son movies - Up! is an example of a father-stand-in and boy movie.  How to Train Your Dragon and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs both figure heroes who have strained relationships with fathers who don't understand them which get resolved through the events of the movie.  If you look to animal characters, you quickly see a strong father/son relationship in The Lion King and Finding Nemo.  But stories that tell about mother/daughter relationships are exceedingly rare in the animated film category.  First of all, as has been pointed out, this is Pixar's first animated film with a female star.  But there are plenty of Disney princesses, right?  However, if you think about it, the average movie princess has a mother who is dead and a step-mother who is evil..  It's the staple of Grimms' fairy tales, and nothing new.  But even while the Disney movies change up the Grimm Brothers' tales in many ways, they don't, by and large, introduce princesses with wonderful and living mothers.  Here's the list of Disney Princesses (including some that they don't always list):

Princess (Movie) - mother status
Cinderella - Dead, evil step-mother.
Snow White - Dead, evil step-mother.
Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) - Honestly, I can't remember.  Probably alive, but asleep the whole time?
Ariel (The Little Mermaid) - Presumed dead.  I don't think she's ever mentioned.
Jasmine (Aladdin) - Presumed dead.  Again, I think she's not mentioned.
Tiana (The Princess and the Frog) - ALIVE, and a positive figure, but not in most of the movie, as, well, she spends most of her time as a frog.
Pocahontas - Presumed dead.
Belle (Beauty and the Beast) - Dead.
Rapunzel (Tangled) - Mother alive, but Rapunzel abducted and raised by evil witch.
Mulan - Mother alive, but Mulan is away for most of the movie.

As you can see, only one of these princesses was raised by a loving mother who is still alive when the movie's storyline takes place, unless you count Sleeping Beauty.  And, again, aren't they all asleep for the most part?  And the two movies where we really see the loving and caring mother, the girls are away from their family setting for most of the movie. Tiana in The Princess and the Frog spends most of the time removed from her family setting and wandering as, well, a frog.  Mulan bravely goes off to war, and has some strong feminist elements, but her primary relationship even when she's with her family seems to be with her father.  My husband loves Mulan, because he sees it as a father/daughter relationship movie, so I don't think I'm exaggerating this.

And while a lot of the fathers are dead, too, in princess movies, we do have strong father/daughter relationships with Ariel, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Belle, and Mulan.  Not all of these daughters are removed from their father's care through the whole movie, notably Jasmine and Pocahontas.

For bad examples of mother/daughter relationships, Disney's Tangled really takes the prize.  Here we have a daughter raised by a woman/witch who keeps her locked in the tower and apparently just wanted her because the girl's magic hair keeps the witch young.  The mother/witch figure is truly disturbing here, because it is portrayed as a twisted version of real affection.  Whereas the evil stepmothers in Snow White and Cinderella are just flat-out mean and nasty, the witch in Tangled is not directly so for most of the film. 

Brave is so very different in that it tells the story of a girl asserting her independence and developing her own identity, but it does so while having her deal with a loving, caring, and living mother.  And, even more unusual, the heart of the story is really about the relationship between Merida, the daughter, and Elinor, her mother.  They want different things for Merida's life, and the tension develops from this.  They love each other, but they don't understand each other, and they don't know how to communicate and regain the closeness they had when Merida was younger.  In one heart-breaking moment, they each, in anger, destroy an object that is precious to the other.  Elinor realizes immediately what she has done; Merida takes much of the movie to understand what she needs to do to repair things, literally and figuratively. 

We need more of this sort of movie--stories that tell of girls developing their identity and individuality--and we need more with mothers who aren't dead or evil who are a part of these girls lives.  So while there's much to critique in this movie, my bottom line is thankfulness.  I think this is a story that will stand up as my own daughter reaches those ages where she needs to pull away more from mom.  It will be something that I can refer back to as a metaphor for our real lives.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

No Mas Muertes

I bought this pendant from a booth in the exhibit hall at General Assembly today.  This year the exhibit hall is different, in that they've invited some local groups to come and share their wares.  This pendant benefits the Hogar de Esperanza y Paz (Home of Hope and Peace), which provides food for children, adult education classes, and children's camps.  The Hogar Women's Cooperative makes these medallions.  One of the artists was kind enough to tell me the story.  I had her tell it to me twice on two different days (and bought a pendant each time), through an interpreter, to get some of the details, although I'm sure I've lost some of them already.  The second time I asked about the process of making the medallions, which I was told on the first day is a two day process.  After hearing all the many steps it takes to make these, I can see why it takes so long.  It was really complicated, and I couldn't possibly repeat the information, unfortunately.  I thanked her for the information, and with my limited Spanish explained that my husband is an artist, and would have many questions.

The woman pictured is Antonia.  She was a young woman, and the mother of a young son--a toddler or infant.  She didn't like having her picture taken, and so this is created from one of the only pictures of her as a young woman.  She was from Central America (my memory is saying Guatemala, but I'm not positive) and walked across all of Mexico and into the Arizona desert.  At some point, she couldn't keep up, and was left behind by the "coyote," the guide.  When they found her body, her son was still alive, staying alive by licking the last of her tears.  And this is all I know of Antonia's short story--all I know is this and her image on the medallion.

No mas muertes. 
No mas muertes.

Tent City

I'm outside "tent city" in Phoenix with about 2000 Unitarian Universalists and allies.   It is 99 degrees now that it is night time, down from 109 today.  In tent city, people who are rounded up for deportation are imprisoned out in this heat without  relief.  We are told that they can hear us in the tent city, as we chant and sing and cheer.

It is wonderful to have the UCC president (his title is different but I don't have it handy) with us tonight and telling us the UCC is with us in this fight.

Friday, June 22, 2012

GA Off the Grid

In the last two years, I've known some ministers who attend GA without attending GA.  That is, they come to the city of the General Assembly, but don't register for General Assembly.  In doing so, they save registration costs, but are still able to have lunch and dinner meetings with colleagues, or churches, if they're in search, or meet with denominational committees if necessary.  There are a few GA events that are open to the public, as well -- Sunday morning worship, and the Service of the Living Tradition, and the exhibit hall on Sunday.  This year there are even more, since any person can attend the witness events that are held outside of the convention center, and that includes more events this year.

There are always good UU events to be found outside of the General Assembly programming, too, and this year I find myself, although registered for GA, interested in attending more of it.  One high-profile example is an event hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee at the Hyatt tomorrow: a conversation with Bill Schulz (UUSC president, and former UUA president, and former Amnesty International president or director or whatever the top title is there) and Anita Hill (yes, that Anita Hill!). (3:30-5:00, Hyatt Ballroom AB)

Another interesting opportunity is the ability to see The Minister's War tonight, tomorrow, or Sunday evening, or screenings of the shorter version throughout the days. (Full screenings at 6, 8, and 10pm at 222 E. Monroe St.)  There's a suggested donation of $5 for this.

All this means is it's a good year to be even around GA, and there's plenty to do without registering.  But that opportunity to hear Michelle Alexander alone was worth the registration, in my opinion.  And, of course, I get to vote in the plenaries, which is important, although you can do that as an off-site delegate, but there was still a $100 fee for that. 

Still, I can see the possibility of saving money in future years by coming to the GA city, attending some events electronically and some events off-site, and just making the most of what's available.  I might actually get to see something of the city, too, if I did that.  Many years at GA there are suggested sight-seeing things to do in these interesting locations, and I've never taken the time off or added time on to do those things.  To take one day off in a full day of meetings is reasonable by work standards, but it's harder to justify when I've paid money to be at the things that are offered that day.  So, this is definitely something to think about more for future years as a viable option.

The New Jim Crow

Yesterday I went to hear Michelle Alexander speak about her book, The New Jim Crow.  I also went to a follow-up session with the author of a UU study guide. Sadly, Alexander.had time for only two or three questions, and I was about eighth in line.

I think to read this book, no matter how progressive already, is to have a great awakening--at least it was for me.

And hearing her speak here in Arizona, it became clear to me that our immigration system is also part of the new Jim Crow.  It is so similar in effect on a people to our prison system.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Study/Action Issues & Vaginas

Tomorrow we vote on what Study/Action issue to adopt for 2012-2016, and I haven't made up my mind yet which one I'm voting for.  I talked with a proponent of "CSAI 1 - Climate Action and Adaptation Plans: Why Greenhouse Gases and their Effects Matter to Us" today, who points out that if we don't save the earth, none of these other issues will matter.  Well, yeah.  That's a point.  And he also points out that some of the other issues are related to this one, particularly "CSAI 2 - Families, Population, and the Environment."  I've also seen that a lot of people I know are walking around wearing anti-slavery buttons and that there seems to be a lot of support for "CSAI 5 - Ending Slavery."  The advocate for CSAI 1 asked me, "Well, what is your congregation engaged in?"  We're engaged in all these issues to some extent.  Our JXN Community Forum series has often engaged in environmental issues.  Our members are individually involved in the Occupy movement, and might be very interested in "CSAI 4 - Exploring Class Barriers."  But what immediately came to mind is that our church has voted for Planned Parenthood every year for the last several years as one of the local agencies to donate to, and I've seen our members be strong advocates for that organization.  And it's going to be hard to convince this feminist that, with everything going on in my home state, that I shouldn't vote for, "CSAI 3 - Reproductive Justice: Expanding Our Social Justice Calling."  I stopped at the booth for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice today.  I said to the woman there, "I'm from Michigan."  And she gave me a look of pity and said, "Vagina! Vagina!"  (This may be a somewhat exaggerated story, induced by heat, but that's the way I remember it right now.  My apologies to the lovely RCRC woman if I've exaggerated her response.)

Things are going crazy in Michigan, folks.  Our legislators are considering severe anti-abortion legislation.  Our women representatives are being barred from speaking in the house because of saying things like the word "vagina."   This issue is alive and serious in the state of Michigan.  We're turning anatomical terms into dirty words that can't be spoken aloud, and the effect is the silencing of women on women's issues.  How many women got to speak to the House Health Policy Committee at their hearing of the bill?  None--three men only, although Rev. Jeff Liebmann did a fabulous job.

This morning at the Meadville/Lombard alumni breakfast, we heard, as always, memories from ministers who graduated 25 and 50 years ago.  The minister from 50 years ago couldn't be there in person, but sent his memories in writing.  He talked about creating an organization of ministers to help pastor to women and help them connect to illegal abortion providers, so that they could have safe abortions in the time before Roe vs. Wade.

I don't want to have to do that ministry--but I might have to in Michigan soon, if this trend holds.

So my mind isn't made up about the CSAIs--but I sure know what's resonating right now.  We're here talking about immigration, but for the first part of the week, my heart was still on the Michigan capitol steps, where the Vagina Monologues were taking place Monday evening. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A New Era in Ethics -- Finally

The UU Ministers Association voted today to pass new language for a year of study. This language would change our code of professional ethics from language that basically outlawed specific actions to a much simpler and straight-forward "19 words."  The new language reads:

"I will not engage in sexual contact, sexualized behavior, or a sexual relationship with any person I serve professionally."

Previously, the guidelines forbade sexual relationships with people one counsels, interns, married congregants, staff, minors, and, if married, anyone one serves professionally except one's partner.

The new language passed by a majority this year and must pass by two-thirds next year.  (This, incidentally, means it is harder to change the UUMA code of conduct than it is to change the state of Michigan's constitution--which is certainly more a problem for Michigan.)

I voted for this, although I was torn, as I have known colleagues who have met their spouse in their congregations, and have pursued those relationships is in ways that were non-exploitative.  Universalist fore-father John Murray met Judith Sargent Murray as a member of his congregation.  But times have changed.  And while we know there are significant differences between ministers and counselors, we now hold ourselves accountable in ways much more similar to other professions.

This also was controversial with some (but not all) of our gay members, who argue that for a gay minister in a small town, this is a much bigger burden, as all eligible single gay people might be in their congregation. The answer is simple but sad. Ministry involves sacrifice, and it is lonely, and for some of us more than others. There are expectations on ministers that affect us all, and yet for some that is especially difficult. We can sympathize, but it does not change the ethics of the situation.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Doing the Work of Social Justice

The thought shared today in ministry days is that doing social justice without having the models and training is like doing the work of religious education without renaissance modules and trained religious education professionals.

We do have models and structures out there that we can tap into, though.  In Michigan we have the Michigan UU Social Justice Network (MUUSJN), which recently brought a workshop on healthcare to Jackson.  We can network with other local (non-UU) congregations, and with other Michigan UU churches.  We need something like what we had in Jackson with the Jackson Interfaith Peacekeepers, but with a broader social justice platform.

I think one of the questions is: What do we want from our faith?  Are we looking for our religion to be a place from which we do social justice?  If so, let's start working on putting the structures in place to do that ministry.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Importance of Friendship

When I was a child, I went to a UU church that was a larger-sized church for a church in our movement.  The church religious education program was large enough to have paid staff, and a different classroom for every two grade levels through 7th grade, an eight-grade class of its own for coming of age, and an active high school group.  But a church that size often comes in a larger metro area, as was the case with Birmingham Unitarian Church in Bloomfield Hills, MI.  And so, in my school, I was one of only a small hand-full of families with Unitarian Universalist children in our school district of Ferndale, and in my grade there was only one other UU.  I was lucky--I think my two sisters had no other UUs in their grade in our school.  When I got to High School as a freshman, there were still the two of us UUs in a graduating class of over 300, and three UUs that I knew of in the school, although I later found that there were two sisters who went to another one of the metro area UU churches.

Now I'm in a smaller church and a smaller city, and the situation is very much the same.  We have a smaller church school, with K-5 in one class.  As I think about our UU children and youth, I don't think we have any two families with grade-school children in the same school.  I think we have children in Jackson schools, Columbia schools, Hanover-Horton schools, Grass Lake schools, and a couple more school districts further north of Jackson, but no two children in the same school from different families.  At the High School level, it's possible that we have more than two families with children in the same school district, if we count members who are not active in the church and whose children don't come to religious education classes, but our few active teens are all, I think, in separate school districts.

What these two examples tell me is that the vast majority of UU children and youth grow up fairly religiously isolated in their school lives.  Before we get to college, where we're in educational systems with thousands of students, we don't have enough critical mass to, for example, form high-school-based religious club.  And it also means that our children in religious education classes pretty much only see each other once a week.  Occasionally strong friendships can form--some of my daughter's best friends are her church friends--but it's harder for our children to make friends with children from their own religion.

There are positive things about this, of course.  It means we raise flexible, tolerant children, who are good at being allies and bridge-builders.  It means our children learn quickly and early how to relate to people of other religions and appreciate and embrace that diversity.

But it has its drawbacks in terms of support for our children when they face religious intolerance, which they sometimes do.  And I think it's also a factor in retention.  My child wants to go to church so often for the primary reason that she loves the other children there and doesn't get to see them any other time of the week.  But if she hadn't made those strong bonds there, there would be much less drive from her to go to church.  And, as we see, our teens often start to get to be reluctant to go to church, and we lose them.  I continued to go to church as a teen despite any strong friends who were active in my youth group, because we had a strong program--it had a sizable group, it was fun, and it was engaging. But if you have a small group, and no strong friendships, it's a rare UU youth who will prioritize religious education in a busy teen schedule.

Unfortunately, this means rocky roads for most UU religious education programs -- there's simply no magic formula to making friendships happen so that children will want to come to church. The best answer I have is this: One of the primary reasons someone comes to a UU church for the first time is because the person has been invited by someone that person knows.  What better person to invite than the parent(s) of your child's best friend?  If it works, you gain a friend at church, your church gains a member, and your child gains a reason to want to go to church. 

I can think of no better way to help our children be less religiously isolated, to help grow our religious education programs and churches, and to build the drive in our children and youth to want to come to church.