Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Holy Mother of God

By Peter Paul Rubens
So, I went to church the other day. I sat there....oh no, wait, I forgot that I'm Catholic...I kneeled there, praying. I was praying that God would make me all super holy and more Christian than others so that I can feel righteous in judging some awfully gnarly things in this world, like the anatomical features of my own womanly body that He created. I hadn't noticed much when I walked into the church because I was too busy feeling the Spirit, but after some  prayer, I opened my eyes and looked around. I noticed the most vile and crude things. There were paintings....painting that showed a woman's breasts! In church! Where Jesus lives! Oh my God, this woman who apparently has an affinity for blue robes modeled for a bunch of paintings showing her indecently breastfeeding an infant - and sometimes a grown toddler! Fucking hell, even one of the paintings showed this rather old-looking naked baby just clinging on to her exposed breast, nipple and all, while He looked outward, smiling. This woman, this floozy, obviously thinks she's all that because in some pictures she is wearing a fancy crown and she always has a halo. Oh, heavenly. And just to prove how immoral she is, she is almost always flanked by flying babies, who are also naked and flaunting their wings and penises. Oh my God. Who does she think she is, just sitting there in her regal robes acting like she is the Mother of God while forcing our young, impressionable children to look at her breasts? Have mercy! I started having heart palpitations, so I had to look elsewhere and I focused my attention on the Crucifix hanging from the ceiling. I focused on the bruised, beaten, pierced body of Our Lord and all the blood that trickled down from His wounds and I prayed that I never have to see anything as offensive as a painting of some woman breastfeeding in public again. I then looked at one of my favorite statues in the church - it depicts Jesus, wearing nothing but His underwear, tied to a post, being whipped, His back a bloody mess as He received the cruel punishment for being the Son of God. I focused on those bloody gashes on His back again and prayed that the children will not ever have to view the vile images seen in those paintings of the breastfeeding woman. Then I took out my rosary and prayed to Mary, the Mother of God for a little bit, though I was still distracted by the flaunting woman in those paintings. I think I may write a letter to the Pope, asking him to have all such images removed from Churches so our children do not have their innocence stolen from them. First, I'm going to follow the Stations of the Cross around the Church and focus on the depictions of Jesus dragging that cross across town, His body full of bruises and blood until He finally had nails driven into his wrists and feet...I think they need to take those paintings down and replace them with a nice, moral Saint. Saint Agatha comes to mind. I've seen paintings of her holding a plate with some sort of jell-o molds or something. Kids love jell-o.

St. Agatha

Seriously, people think like that. Recently, someone had an image of a Renaissance (or high medieval, I forget) painting of the Virgin nursing baby Jesus removed from her page for indecency. In Facebook's never-ending witch hunt for breastfeeding images, despite their claims of allowing such images, they even managed to insult God and His mom! Asinine! I then saw a lot of debates on Facebook in the last few weeks about the appropriateness of churches housing paintings of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding the wee little Jesus. I guess I didn't get the memo that we'd be returning to the Protestant Reformation, when great works of art were defiled in order to cover up any saucy bits of flesh exposed on the subjects. There are actual discussions as to whether it's okay for people to see Jesus and His mom doing what many babies and moms actually do. I have to say it's not surprising given the fact that this country has a problem with respecting the rights of mothers to nurse their babies in public. It's been a long battle since we decided that breasts were no longer for nurturing the babies and were now only to be used as objects of sexual lust. So, yeah, I'm used to it....but, Jesus' mom? Are we really going to ask God's mum to wear a Holy Hooter Hider (comes in a lovely pastel blue with a virginal white lily print or you can get a custom designed one from Etsy with the Vatican logo embroidered on it)? Let me frank - Jesus was breastfed. I know there are some Christian traditions which are all about telling women that they are the embodiment of sin because they are women and that their bodies are shameful, but that crap doesn't fly with me. Why would God have a problem with the body that He created? He designed boobs all by Himself. He knows they can serve more than one function - nourishment, a nice place to lay one's head, a good place to hide small toys or, for the adults, a little something nice to look at. Obviously, God didn't have a problem with boobies or any other part of the womanly body because He saw fit to send his Kid to reside in a human womb, shoot out of a human vagina and nurse at human breasts. Get the hell over it already! The body isn't sinful! The sin is in shaming our bodies so much that we don't even remember what's normal about their functions anymore.

The Holy Family By Joos Van Cleve - is she mom enough?

It especially pisses me off because these are typically debates held about images seen in Catholic churches...by non-Catholic people. Dude, this art is our tradition and it's sacred. Respect that. Why are the breastfeeding pictures so hotly debated? Have you seen the imagery of Jesus on the day He died? It ain't pretty. In fact, you are more likely to walk into a Catholic church and see a variety of images of Jesus getting the crap kicked out of Him and, of course, nailed to the Cross. There's usually blood. There is no uproar over the Pieta, an image of the Virgin Mary holding her adult son, Jesus, dead and slumped over in her lap, yet we whine about an image of the same pair, only 30 years before that when Jesus was a baby at His mother's breast. Really? Where is the uproar over images of St. Agatha? She was martyred for her faith and they cut off her breasts. She is most often depicted in two ways - either in the moment of torture as they cut her breasts from her body or in her more Saintly form (fully clothed and, you know, alive) holding a plate with her own two breasts on it. Oh, but St. Agatha art gets a pass because her breasts are being removed, they are not nursing an infant. Art depicting violence towards a woman's breasts is ok. Art depicting the natural function of breasts is sinful and shameful. The hypocrisy is astounding.

Michelangelo's Pieta at St. Peter's Basilica

I guess people are getting weary over the whole breastfeeding in public argument because they keep getting beaten down by logic and reason. So, they do the natural thing when you cannot reasonably argue and discriminate against something - hide behind religion. Eyeroll. It's not going to work folks. You can stop harassing moms in malls when they feed their children. You can also lay off the Mother of God. There are other problems in the world and the sight of a mother nursing her child is not one of them. It's time to move on. Your religion doesn't give you the right to harass and judge any mother for nursing in public, whether she is the Mother of God or a mom sitting behind you in your church pew. Nothing divine or earthly gives you that right.

"Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast." - Joel 2:16

...."God bless your mother--the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you!" - Luke 11:27

P.S. - a little fun trivia - an important component of Medieval and early Renaissance artwork was to communicate with worshippers back when the more common folk couldn't read. Paintings were loaded with symbolism that most people would have been able to understand. Baby Jesus nursing was a major symbol of His humanity. That's also why He was depicted nude. Let's have fun with the Van Cleve painting up there, just for a moment. Nude baby nursing = Jesus as a human. Knife = circumcision (booo) of Jesus. Old dude = it was commonly believed that Joseph was a really old guy when he married Mary. Mary's blue and white duds = her virginity, purity and motherhood. Mary's red duds = Passion of Christ and His blood that washes away all sins. Citrus fruits = weaning. It was believed Jesus was weaned onto citrus fruit. Enclosed window with garden/pastoral scene in the background = Mary's purity. Joesph is often seen at that window as a symbol of his protection of her purity. I think there is a sheep in the pastoral scene behind Joseph and that = Jesus as Lamb of God. There is a glass of wine which = Christ's blood and passion. There is a reflection of light in the shape of the cross in the glass. I'm not sure what St. Joe is reading here, but he is often depicted reading The Magnificat. Isn't that cool? The medieval paintings are treasure troves of symbolism.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Immaculate Detachment

Unless you are living under a rock - and what are you doing reading me, then? - you are very much aware of the senseless tragedy that destroyed lives and sent 26 Heavenward last week when a gunman opened fire inside a school.

The news shook me to my core. I do not do well when I hear about harm to children. Whether it's children in this country or another country, it hurts my heart to think of them suffering in any way. Furthermore, I have a 6 year old son - the same age as many of the children who were ... killed. He goes to school, too. My mind has not been off of this tragedy for more than a few moments since it happened. So many things have floated in and out of my brainspace since then - sorrow, hatred, anger, fear, hope, compassion, empathy, more fear, shock, more sorrow, more sorrow and more sorrow. My heart grieves so much for all the lives lost and the families and friends who are missing their loved ones.

As usual, when you have a mass shooting - - - Wait...wait. Can I just say that it is completely FUCKED UP that I just wrote, "as usual, when you have a mass shooting?" Why is it usual? Stop the world, I want to jump off. - - - Anyway, when these tragedies happen, you can expect the usual reactions and debates over guns. Obviously, when crimes of this nature happen with guns, it's reasonable people are going engage in a discussion about them. That's not a surprise. That's something I expected. I also expected people to raise the issue of how we deal (or don't deal) with mental illness in this country. Of course we're going to talk about that.

But there is something I didn't expect from a source that really should know better.

It was Friday, just hours after the shooting. I had taken my son and daughter to a local mall with my mom to visit Santa and have a picture taken. Afterward, my kids played in a little play zone full of things to climb on and kids with germs to share. My mom wandered around, keeping an eye on my kids, while I played bad mom and sat on the corner of a cushioned bench and looked at my phone. I wasn't truly paying attention to my phone. I always have an eye on my kids. I was mindlessly letting my Facebook feed scroll on by, not really noticing the words on the screen. I fought back tears as I kept thinking of those children and the adults who tried to protect them. I went to my own Facebook page for this blog. The last thing I had posted was from the previous night when I advised people to run outside and check out the meteor shower. I thought of how I lifted my son from his slumber, bundled him up and took him outside where he saw 5 shooting stars slowly flash across the sky. I then wondered if any of the children who passed away had spent their last night alive doing the same thing...stay up late, bundling up to go outside and watch the skies. Not know that the Heaven they stared out would be waiting for them. I fought to keep more tears back as I watched both of my kids slide backwards on a slide in their fancy Santa picture clothes.

I needed something to take my mind someplace else, so I clicked back to my news feed, in search of some other news or maybe some silly cat meme.Instead, I found something to make me angry. It was from well-known natural childbirth advocate and educator, Suzanne Arms. She is the author of Immaculate Deception, which has been read by many birth advocates over the decades. That book was one of the first books I had ever read on the subject and it provided me with a little bit of inspiration when I was a teenage birth activist. She is currently working on some film project in which she wants to relate the experiences within the womb and the experience of birth to our psyches. In essence, she believes that your life as an unborn baby and the way you are born will have lasting effects on your mental state for the rest of your life. She also believes in the importance of the mother-child bond and that this can be altered by birth experience. Ok. I can get behind that somewhat. I sure do believe that birth is extremely important, which is why I believe it's essential to make sure we are respecting women during pregnancy and birth and that we empower them to make decisions regarding their pregnancy and birth. Of course I believe a strong bond between mom and child is important for a healthy mental state. Duh. However, I believe that these things make up a few pieces of a billion piece puzzle. I believe a good, gentle birth, breastfeeding and attachment type parenting are very important, but I know that other variables may come into play during a person's childhood that can alter their mental and emotional well-being. It's not exactly black and white. As it is, Suzanne Arms is focusing on how the pre-birth period and birth itself affects a person because that's her scope of interest. She has been working on getting her film funded and relies heavily on donations. What does any of this have to do with the horror that happened in Connecticut. Oh, I'll tell you.

Within hours after the shooting...before the sun set...Suzanne Arms posted twice to her Facebook page. And it's what she posted that caught my attention as I sat in that playzone trying to fight tears. Oh Suzanne, you helped me fight those tears, just not in the way I expected. She posted that a horrible tragedy unfolded in Connecticut and that it made her sad. Well, that's a reasonable response. She stated that the shooter had killed his own mother (she also incorrectly reported that the mother was teaching a room of kindergarteners) and that was tragic. Of course.  Her next sentence is where any sensibility that she possessed went to die. She said that this incident was "clearly" (her word) and example of the importance of that mother-child bond and attachment. She then spewed a little bit about the importance of a good womb environment and birth. Yes, folks, she actually made the leap from some soulless piece of shit slaughtering children and adults to the act being a clear example of what goes wrong when a mom isn't happy in pregnancy, doesn't have the perfect natural birth and doesn't establish the correct kind of bond with her child. Are you furious? Do you want to get more furious? Her next spewing of sentences was to tell us that THIS - this motherfucking senseless horror - was a perfect reason to DONATE to her motherfucking film! And then she went on and on about what amount you can donate.

Let's sum this up. All in one status up, Suzanne Arms briefly mentioned the school shooting was sad. She then hitched the shooting to her theory that bad pregnancies and births lead to psycho killers. She then asked people to donate to her so she can continue to make her film about this theory.

Of course, most people responded to tell her she was an ass. That prompted her to write a follow up status update. Did she apologize for attempting to co-opt this tragedy to fund her film? No, because that's what people with hearts would do. She merely asked her fans if her words were upsetting and wanted to know if they agreed with her colleague who said she was out of line. She made no admittance of feeling the slightest bit guilty. Again, many people responded that she was, in fact, a cold-hearted opportunistic bitch idiot. There were a few people who defended her. Some even said that their FIRST thought was what kind of birth the killer's mother had. I shit you not. Their first thought wasn't about those slaughtered children...it was whether or not his mother had a serene hypnobirth or an intervention cascade into a c-section. And we wonder why people think natural birth advocates are insane. Another person said we are "stupid" to not make the connection between birth trauma and mass murdering gunmen. And then we had the typical folks coming out of the woodwork to say, "see? This is what's wrong with all of you natural birth nuts. You people are the crazy ones." Suzanne Arms managed to offend to senses of reasonable people with her use of the tragedy to make a buck, she laid the blame of this on the feet of the killer's mother and she also helped to further isolate the natural birth movement and have all of us birth activists lumped into the same category of insanity. Thanks, Suzanne.

Now, I have to relay all of this to you based on my memory. I cannot provide links. Without a word, Suzanne removed those status updates. That was two days ago and she has not posted since. A compassionate person with some semblance of a heart would have issued an apology. Two days is too long for me and the small amount of respect I used to have for her has been flushed down the toilet. She is a thoughtless coward.

Does she realize the pressure she just put on mothers who didn't have her optimal kind of birth when she stated that this tragedy was a "clear example" of her theory? If you didn't give birth, orgasmically and in water under your backyard honeysuckle bush while some chickadees and robins serenaded you as you softly hummed your baby out of your vagina (which was previously anointed with unicorn breastmilk and fairy tears by your midwife as she sang ancient tribal hymns) then your baby will grow up to be a mass murderer. If you had the misfortune of having your birth plan ripped to shreds by the hospital staff and you end up with pitocin, and epidural and a c-section, then your baby will be a serial killer. If you stressed for one moment during your pregnancy and disturbed your unborn baby's daily yoga meditation because you had the audacity to worry about your creeping blood pressure....well, you might as well just hand that baby a gun and tell him to go to town right after birth because there's no hope. It's that kind of talk that helps widen the divide between mothers in this society. Rather working towards this common goal of empowering women and educating them so that we can improve birth experiences and outcomes, blind statements such as the ones made by Suzanne Arms end up placing blame on those mothers who didn't have the "perfect" experience and it turns people off to what could be a good message. Statements like that do more harm than good, no matter the intention.

But, above all, she did a terrible disservice to the victims of the shooting. Capitalizing on their deaths to further your own agenda for your birth film is despicable at best. I said on my Facebook page that I no not believe in the devil, but if I did I would say that he was with Suzanne when she decided to write those statuses within hours of children being shot to death. Other people mentioned and I agree - perhaps we should have a discussion with Suzanne about the way she came into the world. Was it her own birth that caused her to be so detached  and callous when speaking about this incident just hours after it happened? Perhaps her own mother didn't give birth the "right way," which has caused Suzanne to believe it is perfectly fine to mention murdered children as an afterthought when trying to get funding for an unrelated birth film. I am bothered by the notion that it's possible a family member of one of the slain could be a birth advocate who follows Suzanne on Facebook. What if she came across that status update and a knife pierced her heart as she viewed that opportunism?

I won't harp on Ms. Arms for much longer. I wanted to get this out there. I needed to vent about it. I'm not going to wish harm or failure to Ms. Arms for what she did, other than the natural consequences that occur when you make dumb statements ( i.e. people like me blogging about what an ass you are). I can say that I'll never recommend her works. I'll never promote her film. I'll leave this here to be seen and people can decide for themselves if it's something that bothers them. I'm releasing this energy and it's done.

Of course, now that I have your attention, I am going to ask you to do something before you "X" out of this little post. Just stay there for a moment and be silent. Pray. Do whatever it is that you do to put good energy out into the world. First, pray for the sweet souls of those who were killed. Then, pray for peace and comfort for their loved ones. Lastly, pray for peace for all of us - an end to this senseless violence would be a wonderful thing. Much love.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Scrooge vs. The Elf: A Tale of Christmas Compromise

It's the most wonderful time of the year. A time when we celebrate the birth of Baby God by standing in line for 17 hours on Thanksgiving so we can push ourselves through store doorways, elbow one another, threaten to cut a bitch and stuff our carts full of cheap plastic crap made by Chinese slaves children workers for $0.09 cents an hour. And God forbid the 16 year old cashier who has been standing on her feet since last Tuesday wishes us a "Happy Holiday"... because she will be solely responsible for waging a war on Christmas, the little heathen. It's beautiful traditions like this that make December (and the September, October and November preceding it) so warm, fuzzy and wonderful. Sure, sure - there are other traditions such as lighting Advent candles on a wreath, singing carols about some impoverished baby born in a stable - what he has to do with Christmas is anyone's guess - and stringing up thousands of lights on your windows despite warnings from your Homeowners Association.

Different families have various traditions for this time of year. My family always goes to a certain Christmas display in the area. We have gone since I was a teeny EarthBabe. In my own home, we celebrate Hanukkah, St. Nicolas Day, Yule and Christmas and there are lights, foods, crafts, treats, decorations, prayers and traditions that go along with those four.  One newly manufactured  and super trendy tradition that I have been avoiding for the past few years is anything involving that mother-fucking Elf on the mother-fucking Shelf. It's true - I have not been a fan. My eyes have rolled numerous times reading status updates from mothers worried that their Elf on the Shelf won't be in as cool a location as their neighbor's Elf on the fucking Shelf. Deep sighs escape my throat as I see one more Pinterest photo of some creative ways to stuff your Elf into precarious situations around the house. My head has hit the desk on more than one occasion as yet another terribly over-saturated Instagram photo with too much blue filter shows an Elf getting into all sorts of silly hijinks. The mother-fucking Elf on the mother-fucking Shelf with his little prissy sideways eyeroll and unfortunate case of rosacea (or is it? I personally think he drinks too much) was not going to be welcomed into my home. I am comfortable being judgmental about the damn Elf as I sit at my computer, in my Christmas penguin fleece pajama bottoms while sipping my iced coffee from a wine glass. I even made fun of the thing on my Facebook page:

"Got one of those Elf on the Shelf dolls. I set him up in a kitchen cabinet last night. Woke up to find him with a dead hooker and a bag of blow. Decided he was in no position to judge my kid and make reports to Santa and sent him to Blitzen's Home For Wayward Holiday Helpers. Hope he makes a good recovery." - Me

That was as close to my home that any Elf on the MF Shelf was going to get - a fake scenario in a status update. 

Until I went to Target with my son. 

We arrived at our local Target with the simple task of getting a present for a birthday party. That was all. I had a coupon for $3.00 of my purchase. It was going to be an easy and happy and cheap trip. Of course, I can't just walk into Target and go to my targeted (giggle) aisle and pick out the one thing I needed. Noooooo. I have to walk to perimeter of the whole store. If I don't, the world will spin off it's axis and things will suck. True story. I wheeled my cart through the store, with my 6 year old laying on the very bottom rack of the cart and my 15 month old standing in the part where little kids should be sitting - pretty much everything that the warnings on the cart tell you not to do - and passed display after display of crap I don't need. I saw a display of the mother-fucking Elf on the motherfucking Shelf ('twas only one plush Elf left, surrounded by EOTS books, CDs and other overpriced elven do-dads) and proceeded to smugly walk right by it, happily glowing with my sense of pride that we don't do that. The squeaking of the cart wheels was met with another high-pitched noise - my little boy shrieking, "Mama! Stop! Stop!" I, of course, have a heart attack and immediately think this is what I get for being that bad mom who lets her kids ride on carts in unsafe ways. I thought I must have run over his hand, or his nose or something. No. He continued, "It's the ELF! Oh my God! It's really the ELF! They come alive at night and run around your house while your sleeping! Oh my God! I never thought I would ever see one!" He jumped up and grabbed that last little Elf and asked, "Mama, please, can I have him? Please? I've never had a real Elf before!" His gorgeous brown-green-brown eyes were lit up like the finale of the Wanamaker's light display in downtown Philadelphia. He was glowing - actually glowing - with excitement. You know how they talk about the Christmas Spirit and all that magic? You know, the magic that we have forgotten as we grew up and stopped believing? It was right there - emanating in all of it's red and green glory from my son.

This is the part where I could have educated him about our culture of consumption. I could have lectured him on advertising and it's sinister effect on children like him. I could have made a grand speech about how he didn't need to have an Elf of his own just because other kids have one - be yourself, kid. Stand out in the crowd! I could have told him that the Elf isn't real. 

Or course, I said, "Wow! I think this little Elf was waiting here just for you." More light and sparkle in his eyes. "What shall we name your Elf?"

"Golly!" he said. (pronounced like "jolly") This is not the typical EOTS. It's plush and it has a kinder gaze, not that sarcastic sideways creepy killer clown look. It comes with a removable skirt, so your Elf can conform to gender roles and be either a boy or a girl. I asked my son if Golly was a boy or girl. "A boy!" he said. I pointed out that we could take the skirt off when we got home. "Why would I want to take his skirt off? That's his skirt. He needs it and you can tell he likes it." Well played, little man. 

And he was a happy little boy. And I was a happy little mom. I couldn't take that moment of magic away from him - even if I don't believe (or do I?). It was a beautiful moment and I think I may have even heard an angel sing....until I heard more shrieking. This time, it was from the little baby girl in my cart who was trying to furiously rip the Elf from my son's hands. "No! No! He's for BOTH of us, but he wants ME to carry him. You stay in the cart." Cue crying from the little girl. Ahhh...the beautiful sounds of the season. 

Bonus: the Elf was on sale. We did not get the book. My son does not seem to know the "official" story. To him, this elf is a magical little dude who just shows up in different places when he wakes up in the morning. We do not say the Elf is spying and making reports back to the North Pol-ice. There is no pressure to "be good" in front of the Elf. The Elf simply finds a new place to plop his little skirted ass each night. There is no pressure for mama, either. I have a few tricks up my sleeve for Golly's nightly maneuvers, but I don't worry about being Pinterest perfect. When my son wakes up each morning and sees that Golly has moved and may or may not being doing something silly or helpful (we found him with a screwdriver and my son's new Ikea chair fully assembled), he laughs and is happy and excited. He lets his child imagination take over and basks in that wonder of the Christmas season that so many of us secretly wish we could get back.

Here's to Christmas magic and compromise - and to the hope that the little Elf really will do something magical, such as organize my pantry or put the laundry away.

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