Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: The Hero we need.

On 07/19/2012,  I was one of the lucky ones who was able to enjoy "The Dark Knight Rises". I actually went for the trilogy marathon, and I was able to gain perspective on the film series as a whole before partaking of the final offering from Christopher Nolan and his vision of Batman. 

I watched the trilogy, got home around 4:30a.m. happy and exhausted, and went to bed dreaming of a world where a hero like Batman could exist, an incorruptible symbol of justice and good. 

Then I woke up. While I had been at my theater totally unaware, at about 15 minutes til midnight in Aurora, CO a 24 year old man named James Holmes walked in to a crowed movie theater, threw tear gas canisters in to the audience that promptly exploded, and then started to fire at random in to a crowd of men, women, and children. [Source,]

While I enjoyed my TDKR(The Dark Knght Rises) experience, there were people suffering and dying, just trying to enjoy small moments of their live in Colorado, and of course in all parts of the world. My review of TDKR is inextricably bound to the events of last night in Aurora because there is no other way I can see to tell it. 

Watching the trilogy together was a great treat and it heightened my anticipation and love for Batman, until I was so excited I was jumping in my seat for the final film. 

The movie did not disappoint. I went in knowing that it was NEVER going to be better than "The Dark Knight" seeing as how that movie is so much about the performance and relationship of Christian Bale as Batman and Heath Ledger as the Joker. TDK(The Dark Knight) was a big movie with a rather intimate and tense story. It was the story of two immovable forces, one for justice and order, one for chaos, clashing together fighting to see who can win. Harvey Dent became the symbol of all  of Batman's great failings, Joker's biggest triumph, and all of Batman's greatest moments. He rose to the challenge to become the "hero Gotham needs, not the one it wants," when he took the fall for Harvey, because he realized that Harvey Dent was more than what he was at the end, he had to be a symbo elven if he could not be saved as a man. 

So when TDKR began, the shadow of Harvey Dent still loomed over all who were involved in the tragedy of his fall and his death. 

*****NOTE***** I am going to try to be light on the spoilers, but yeah I saw the movie, I know what happens, use your discretion. I'm trying to process both the movie and the tragedy that occurred at the same time so...yeah. ******END NOTE******

Commissioner  Gordon(Gary Oldman) is grappling with the truth, he feels that he has betrayed himself by letting Dent become a symbol of justice while he himself was a victim of his mental break, however he is afraid to let the the truth out, afraid to undo the great work that has come from using his name. I'm reminded of the episode of Joss Whedon's show "Firefly" and the episode "Jaynestown" where the aforementioned character of Jayne, a hard headed and simple minded mercenary type who would kill for money and probably a little less than that when it suits him, is idolized by a small town for a mistake that he made and nothing more. At the end of the episode he reaches out to his captain, Mal Reynolds, to make sense of the role that he knows he has no right to play, Mal tells him: 
"It's my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sommbitch or another. Ain't about you, Jayne. It's about what they need."

Jayne does not understand, and that is fine, because there is nothing to understand about it. It is simple, humans are willing to take a lot on faith if someone or something can inspire us to better action, if it can help them combat the  very difficult and hazy ethical choices that we feel bound to make every day, we want to rise above our baser nature, to that higher place that we see we are sometimes capable of. 

So Gordon keeps the truth close to his chest, quite literally, while Bruce Wayne is holed up in his mansion, battered and tired, feeling that he can do no more good when every one sees Batman as a murderous thug. He is drawn in to the world by Selina Kyle of all people, who helps to him to see that the world still needs him, that there is always work to be done. All those who know Bruce Wayne is Batman, and there are quite a few, yearn for him to come back, yearn for his symbol, even if Gotham appears to be in peacetime. John Blake, played well by Joseph Gordon Levitt, is a boy who became an orphan, then a cop, who states that he saw Batman in Bruce Wayne the minute he met him, that he recognized the anger inside him that he constantly tries to mask, and that he knows that feeling all too well. He asks Bruce Wayne to be Batman for boys like him, children like him, who need a hero, someone to let them know that all hope isn't lost. 

Alfred(Michael Caine) in the TDKR wants nothing more than for Bruce Wayne to get back in to the world but NOT as Batman, he laments that he ever went along with the madness of what it means to be an anonymous hero, he seeks for Bruce to live his life without his ghosts, without obsession, to just live as a man. One of the actions of TDK comes back to haunt Alfred and it causes great tension between him and Bruce, it is for this reason that Alfred is NOT in a large portion of the movie, and we have to see Bruce survive on his own, he cannot rely on anyone until he can rely on himself. Every scene with Alfred is heartbreaking, his love for his ward, Bruce Wayne, echoes in his choices in the film, in his regret and his sadness, he wants him to live in a world with out Batman and Bruce is unsure he ever can. 

The rest of the movie progresses as an overwhelming and powerful spectacle, the messages of which are open to interpretation, and I don't think Nolan would or ever SHOULD pin down exactly what he was trying to say, if anything. 

Anyone trying to say Bane was a symbol of the Occupy movement is wrong, if he does have any comparisons to that movement it is of the most extreme fringes, the same could be said for other side of the coin and extreme libertarians. The truth is Bane,or rather what Bane represents as he is not the hand of control in the movie, rather just the hammer, is total and abject destruction of the system and the people in it, he does not believe in saving anyone, he believes that you must simply purge the world of any decay in the most extreme fashion, until somehow you can put parts of the anatomy not hacked away together in some better form. 

Everyone is haunted by their past in this movie, everyone seeks to do justice to those memories they are plagued with by reforming or cleansing themselves. 

I walked away from TDKR feeling that the message is, you cannot tear down the brick and mortar and expect to make the world better, nor can you expect to live in the broken system perpetuating the same tired ideas, living in the same sort of compliance and have things change. You have to fix the system from inside, you have to fight  with diligence against those who seek to pervert the better ideals of humanity. Total destruction just breeds the dark ages, total compliance breeds the opportunity for the system to crash down around itself, you have to keep fighting and that is what Bruce Wayne does, that is what Batman does. He sacrifices himself, he stays our great symbol, he tells us you must always strive to do what is right, to seek justice, not vengeance, to aid others when they cannot help themselves, to inspire them to rise to greater heights. 

Which brings me back to Aurora, CO. What happened last night was senseless murder, what happened COULD happen in Batman's world, but at least we would have Batman, we would have an incorruptible symbol to inspire us all. But it happened in our reality and our greatest heroes, apart from the few brave souls in our world, are fiction. The ones who falter, but stand up, the ones who suffer, but rise above, are made up. That isn't to say that they aren't out there, and that even in our own lives we have representations of them, but they are never held in such esteem the way that less deserving members of our society are elevated. We look to fictional heroes to understand ourselves, to feel that we can do something, to feel that good can win. 

That is why it breaks my heart to already see the circus of opinions. "We need better gun control." "This is due to media violence." "What about others suffering around the world all the time, why do not throw our hands up for them?" "This is the fault of our culture." 

These things may be true. These things may be important. But what I see is that none of them MATTER right now. People DIED, the end, they suffered for NO reason. And yes people all over the world suffer for no reason, because of bad policy and human failings but this is NOT a contest. It is not a matter of who can win the world of suffering, who deserves more attention for their pain. This man came in to that theater and decided that none of these people mattered. That their lives, their enjoyment,  their small happy moments didn't matter. All that mattered was him. It would not have mattered WHAT movie was playing, it could have been Ice Age 3, all that mattered to him was that people were happy, they were gathered, and they were united in excitement, and he had to take that away from them. I don't care about his motivations, I don't care about his ideals, he is a murderer. He should be brought to justice, nothing he says could justify or excuse, or explain his actions. 

And in this moment how I WISH Batman were real, how I wish that someone who has seen suffering and pain in their own lives, someone with unlimited resources to do as they see fit,, CHOOSES to do right as much as they can, to do what they can with what they have, to fight for something better because it is the right thing to do. I wish we could ALL be Batman, I wish we could all rise. I'm hoping we can, I'm hoping we can let the good in us win. The world is not black and white, the world is a full spectrum of grey, it is never easy to be a hero, and those who are identified as such are often "sommbitches or other," to someone. But Batman shows us that we can be more, we can eschew the past to recreate ourselves, we can ALWAYS change. Let us change just a little bit today, let's not fight or bicker, let's just be sad, be grateful, be DILIGENT, and be better. 

Love to those in Aurora. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Unitarian Universalism blog rebranding

Well, it seems a lot has happened since the last time I wrote in here.

I've decided that from this point on, this will be a blog on all things Unitarian Universalism (though I suppose as broad a theme as that is, it's still limiting in some ways--perhaps it would be better to refer to this as a "liberal religion blog"; not quite as catchy though).  With that in mind I suppose I should sort of reintroduce myself.

I'm Derrick.  I'm 27 years old.  I am from Miami, FL and I am an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami (UUCM); our minister is the lovely Rev. Wendy Pantoja.  I go to Florida International University and I'm majoring in Political Science and International Relations with a minor in Philosophy.  I am currently co-chairing (and essentially reinstating and reinvigorating) my congregation's Denominational Affairs committee and have also served on the Social Justice Committee as co-chair as well as the Membership Committee and Worship Committee all of which I continue to serve.  I was part of the Search Committee that called Rev. Wendy and I have also attended the last two UUA General Assemblies as a delegate, am on the steering committee of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Florida (UULMF), and have been active in trying to lead our congregation's Young Adult group to grow and flourish.

I guess the reason I'm doing this is because Unitarian Universalism has really emerged as one of the best avenues for my creativity and passion in my life and I think it's good to have a place to let things spill out of my head for others to read and discuss.  Here are just a few of the things I'm very excited to be working on within the realm of Unitarian Universalism:

-Florida District/Southern Region Young Adult networking and growth initiatives (conference? committee? blog network?)
-Responding to the UUAGA's call to Reproductive Justice within UUCM
-Congregations and Beyond (getting services posted online, Campus Ministry, eventually getting a camera that can livestream worship services)
-Campaign Finance Reform coalition/group
-UULMF (facilitating individual and congregational membership, working on Amendments 6 and 8)

UU Miami
-7/22 -- Children's RE presentation with my mom on our trip to Italy for our congregation's "Oh the Places We'll Go" summer series of lay-led classes on vacations people have taken)
-8/5 -- Seventh Principle service
-8/17 -- Soulful Sundown (meeting with Rev. Wendy Wednesday)
-9/2 -- Economic Justice service (might be about Ninian Smart's "Dimensions of the Sacred" instead)
-9/30 -- Opportunity Fair
-Small Group Ministry (Cultivating Creativity group?)
-Adult RE (Our UU Story, Building Your Own Theology, Poetry workshops?)

I've also begun to experience what many refer to as the call to ministry as of late.  I've coordinated five Sunday services in the last year and as you can see, I've got two more coming up plus a Soulful Sundown.  I almost feel like I should be referred to as "worship chaplain" of UUCM at this point.  I can't help it, though; it's what I love to do.  In addition to this, I firmly believe that one of the main reasons I was put here (as in the universe) was to help people--be it by talking to them or merely by listening to them.  I considered majoring in Psychology because of this but it seems like it's leading me to UU ministry now.  Seminary is expensive but I've talked to Rev. Wendy and she expressed willingness to let me shadow her to learn more about what being a minister looks and feels like.

(and just so this entry has something more substantive than an introduction to me, after the cut you'll find my Justice General Assembly wrap-up!)

Justice General Assembly (June 20th-24th, 2012 in Phoenix, AZ)

Overall Impressions: 

So, for this year’s Justice GA, I made a covenant with myself.  Last year’s GA was incredibly transformative and life-changing for me, as many of you know, but I also felt like I could have done more networking and connecting with fellow UUs on a more personal level.  So this year I decided that no matter what I had planned, I would not interrupt any of the quality personal time I spent with fellow UU brothers, sisters, and cousins in order to attend any workshops, worship services, or other events.  And I’m sure glad I did because there is no doubt in my mind that I accomplished more on the balconies, in the breezeways, in the food court, and even down the street at Steve’s Grill than I did in any workshop or Plenary session.

Of course I did attend many workshops, events, and worship services that were incredibly stimulating in their own way. As much as I appreciated the social justice focus and action orientation of this GA, I did miss having the wider selection of workshops and events that I had when I attended last year's GA. But the most exciting part of Justice GA for me personally was networking with Young Adults and making grand plans for the future of our movement and our faith. Not only that but just connecting and sharing ideas and feelings with fellow UU brothers, sisters, and cousins was the greatest thrill I experienced this summer in Phoenix.

The work that was done denominationally was also very inspiring. Seeing all the community partners making the rounds and truly being a big part of the event was wonderful. It's always exciting for me being part of our democratic governance as a Political Science/International Relations major; I was pretty bummed that Exploring Class Barriers wasn't chosen for the next Congregational Study/Action Issue (CS/AI) but I accept the call to Reproductive Justice made by the General Assembly and look forward to UU Miami and UU Legislative Ministry of Florida helping to fight Amendment 6 outlawing public funding for abortions. It was also a privilege to be part of the overwhelming repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery by the Assembly.

The only witness event I attended was the rally at Tent City which was incredible. Thousands of UUs and community partners descended on Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Tent City Jail where detainees that can no longer be squeezed into Maricopa County's jail are taken to be kept in outdoor tents in 100+ degree heat (it can reach over 130 degrees inside the tents!) and are also made to wear humiliating pink underwear and pink flip-flops. Our protest, if nothing else, was able to shut down Tent City at least for the day. One of the most powerful moments was the reading of the names of all those who had died in Tent City. Truly heartbreaking.

Sunday morning worship was the perfect end to a perfect GA (although there was still Plenary after that). The music and the energy was incredibly inspiring and Rev. John Crestwell gave a spectacular sermon. It left many buzzing that UUs had finally gone Southern Baptist--in fact a former Southern Baptist friend of mine said the service took him back to his Southern Baptist roots. Definitely made up for missing Synergy and the Service of the Living Tradition.

-Tent City protest
-Conversations and Connections
-Sunday morning worship

Workshops (Grades):
-Foundations of Young Adult Justice Work (A-)
-Getting Unstuck: New Directions In Catalytic Leadership (B+)
-Economic Justice and "Occupy Wall Street" (C-)
-The UU Path From Thoreau to Occupy (C)
-Congregational-Based Community Organizing: Raising Our Prophetic Voice (B-)
GPA: 2.67 (B-/C+ [borderline])
Summary: Missed a few I wanted to go to and regretted going to a few. Very grateful that mp3s of almost all workshops are posted. Looking forward to a 2013 GA in Louisville chock full of wonderful programming.