Monday, April 14, 2014

Jimmy Fallon: from altar boy to priest (Picking up where Teri Gross left off….)

If you have any interest in late-night TV or comedy or SNL or just good (mostly) clean fun,  you probably know that Jimmy Fallon took over the Tonight Show from Jay Leno recently (February 17, to be exact). There was some fanfare and, for a few days after his opening night, there was some particular interest in Catholic circles, stemming from the fact that Jimmy Fallon was raised Catholic, went to Catholic schools (included his college experience at St. Rose where he majored in Communications before dropping out), and (at least according to his interview with Teri Gross), tried going back to church while he was out in LA but got discouraged by what he saw there.

(no this video has nothing to do with post. I just like it.)



Teri Gross is a great interviewer and has a wonderfully wide repertoire and rapport with her guests. But I felt like she couldn’t quite get what Jimmy Fallon was saying in his interview—there is a real (albeit surprising) connection between what he does and being a priest. If you look at Fallon’s comments, he is letting Teri lead him to calling himself the priest-performer at church, but what he relates most to is the altar boy role. He loved the way people felt at the end of mass. Either way, what it gets at (and which Teri, understandably, didn’t seem to get) is the unusual nature of the priest’s role: he’s central to the mass, he is the principal agent, but the mass is not really about him: it’s about Someone Else. Fallon is very much like this as the Tonight Show’s host: he’s funny, but he doesn’t really make the show about him. This was particularly obvious on his opening night of the Tonight Show, where there was a lot of very sincere thanking on Fallon’s part and a sort of glad surprise that he had gotten to this place. Fallon is funny, but he’s not that witty. He’s a great comic actor and imitator, but he’s not a verbal jabber.  There is a gentleness, a charity in his dealings that makes the show fun: he wants people to feel good at the end of a show, just like he saw people feeling good after going to church. If I were a celebrity, that would be very appealing to me: a show where I get to have fun and look good to boot. What’s not to like?  Jimmy’s years spent as an altar boy must serve him well: years mirroring the priest at mass, even imitating him, but not really mocking him. That’s obvious in the funny but somewhat wistful nature of Fallon’s remarks to Teri Gross, and it’s exactly what makes him such a great host: he seems to genuinely like and be excited by the people on his show. There is a warmth and humility and generosity of spirit that in his approach that might seem just naïve if he weren’t such a natural. He’s not there to bring them down, he’s there to lift them up. And if he gets to go along for the ride, that’s even better.  No wonder he is so good at it.

Here is the “Catholic” portion of Fallon’s interview on NPR in 2010 with Teri Gross. The entire transcript is available at: http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=136462013

GROSS: So you went to Catholic school when you were young.
Mr. FALLON: Oh yeah.
GROSS: Did you have..
Mr. FALLON: I wanted to be a priest.
GROSS: Did you really?
Mr. FALLON: Yeah. I loved it.
GROSS: Why?
Mr. FALLON: I just, I loved the church. I loved the idea of it. I loved the smell of the incense. I loved the feeling you get when you left church. I loved like how this priest can make people feel this good. I just thought it was, I loved the whole idea of it. My grandfather was very religious, so I used to go to mass with him at like 6:45 in the morning serve mass and then you made money too if you did weddings and funerals. They'd give you, you'd get like five bucks. And so I go okay, I can make money too. I go this could be a good deal for me. I thought I had the calling.
GROSS: Do you think part of that calling was really show business? 'Cause like the priest is the performer at church.
Mr. FALLON: Yeah. You know what - I really Terry, I'm, I recently thought about this. Again, I've never been to therapy but I guess that would be, it's being on stage. It's my first experience on stage is as an altar boy. You're on stage next to the priest, I'm a co-star.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLON: I'm, I've got...
GROSS: Also starring Jimmy Fallon.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLON: Yeah, I have no lines but I ring bells. I ring bells and I swing the incense around. But it was my - and you know, you are performing. You enter through a curtain, you exit through the, I mean you're backstage. I mean have you ever seen backstage behind an altar? It's kind of fascinating.
GROSS: Right.
Mr. FALLON: So I think it was, I think it was my first taste of show business and I think - or acting or something.
GROSS: And there are comparisons, I think, between a theater and a church. There are just kind of places that are separated from outside reality.
Mr. FALLON: Yeah. And I remember I had a hard time keeping a straight face at church as well.
GROSS: Did you?
Mr. FALLON: Which - yeah...
GROSS: Did you do imitations of the priest?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLON: Oh, of course. Yeah. I used to do Father McFadden all the time. He's the fastest talking priest ever. He's be like...
(Soundbite of mumbling)
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLON: And then you leave and you go, that - what was that?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLON: That guy's the best. I mean that was church? Sign me up. I'll do church I'll do it 10 times a day if that's church. He was great.
GROSS: Do you still go to church?
Mr. FALLON: I don't go to - I tried to go back. When I was out in L.A. and I was like kind of struggling for a bit I went to church for a while, but it's kind of, it's gotten gigantic now for me. It's like too, there's a band. There's a band there now and you got to, you have to hold hands with people through the whole mass now, and I don't like doing that. You know, I mean it used to be the shaking hands piece was the only time you touched each other.
GROSS: Mm-hmm.
Mr. FALLON: Now I'm holding now I'm lifting people. Like Simba.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FALLON: I'm holding them (Singing) ha nah hey nah ho.
(Speaking) I'm I'm doing too much. I don't want - there's Frisbees being thrown, there's beach balls going around, people waving lighters, and I go this is too much for me. I want the old way. I want to hang out with the, you know, with the nuns, you know, that was my favorite type of mass, and the Grotto and just like straight up, just mass-mass.





Thursday, April 3, 2014

Do you ever think how needy YOU are?

http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/04/jesus-blood-never-failed-me-yet

(Embarrassingly, it took this First Things piece to make me realize I'd never posted this blog entry...But honest, I was thinking about that piece of music in mid-February, though not as thoughtfully as Stephen Webb).

A few years ago, I happened to be sitting next to my favorite Catholic Communist at a university event. One of the speakers was a young woman who shared her experience doing service work in Central America and noted how very, very lucky she felt when she got home and got in her hot shower—a sharp contrast with the reality of the people she’d met. My friend and I looked at each other and sighed --and then had a vigorous discussion about the problem with her attitude. Because it is the thing we both hate about service work. To be clear: I think service work is a good thing; even a great thing. I’d dare say even a necessary thing. Many people do it beautifully and sincerely. But too often, it is undertaken or encouraged in a spirit that is antithetical to the task: It easily becomes a sort of Post-Modern neocolonialism. Oh, look at these poor people! They have nothing. We, on the other hand, are fat and rich and happy. We will go and help these poor people with all our money and talents: they will learn from us. And we will remember how good we have it back home when we return. A win-win: how good we are, and enlightened, too! At the end, we get to come home and live our regular lives, feeling even more smug and self-contented. (Though this recent post really took down the voluntourism phenomenon, in a pretty rough way:  http://pippabiddle.com/2014/02/18/the-problem-with-little-white-girls-and-boys/. She’s on to something, though I’d say Pippa misses something, too).

Another story:   When I was living at home about fifteen years ago, my father got hold of a CD. It’s Gavin Bryars’ recording of “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” and it features a recording of a homeless man singing that line repeatedly to instrumentation. It moves me to sobbing tears every time I listen to it. Music has a power to touch the soul that is impossible to explain, and I won’t try to penetrate its mystery fully. But I know that part of what moved me was the fact of this poor homeless man singing this song of praise and gratitude—a praise and gratitude that is and was much rarer to find coming out of my lips. This man wasn’t grateful for his home or his clothes or his accomplishments or his talents. His gratitude was more elemental: he was grateful for his very being.

This gets to the heart of what service truly is: something I do because I need it. Selfish me, I need to be reminded of my need to give myself by giving of myself. I need to see people who are truly needy and aren’t spending all day faking it so I can remember that I’m needy.  Then, I get a chance to understand who I really am. And my experience with service can become solidarity, self-realization, and true self-giving, rather than naïve and patronizing work which may or may not really help the people I set out to serve.  The more deeply I realize my need, the more I can give myself truly.


The most extreme and beautiful case of this awareness is a place in Kampala, where women afflicted with AIDS live with a tremendous hope: a hope that is visible in their approach to life. I learned that these women, sick with HIV and poor themselves, had taken on extra work to make money to send to the Katrina Victims. And I thought, how lucky these women are! To see the world through the lens of their own need and their own gratitude without polluting influences. I’d like to go there and learn to live like that. Because it’s what I need

Here’s the trailer to a documentary made on the life and hope of these women in Kampala: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfhAGscOam0


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman with Simon Critchley on Happiness

Since what a man seeks in his pleasures is that they should be infinite, and no one would ever give up hope of attaining that infinity, you see why all pleasures end in disgust. It is nature's device for tearing us away from them.  (Cesare Pavese, This Business of Living)
  Amazing video--especially, but not only-- in light of Hoffman's recent death: 
http://explore.noodle.org/post/76982293225/i-dont-know-what-it-means-to-be-happy-pleasure?utm_content=buffer15f34&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

The immediate distinction Hoffman makes between happiness and pleasure reminded me of Pavese. 


 What Hoffman says about acting also echoes Terence's great quote, "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto", ("I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.") The greatness of Hoffman's acting seems to come from this tremendous inner humanity and willingness to self-identify with whatever is human, without holding back any of himself. R.I.P.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Marriage *is* for you….just maybe not the way you think...


“Love consists of not looking each other in the eye, but of looking outwardly in the same direction.”
                                                                                       Antoine de Saint Exupéry



Like many people, I first read Seth Adam Smith’s “Marriage isn’t for you” when it went viral last fall.  Every so often, it pops up again as another friend discovers it and passes it on, admiringly.  Every time the piece surfaces I look a little longer at the comments. Some of the feedback is surprisingly negative (though I guess that shouldn’t surprise; there are haters for everything on the Internet it seems—I’m sure there’s someone  out there yelling “Puppies—Boo!!!” on some site somewhere). But the piece is so positive, so generous, so….sweet that I haven’t wanted to criticize without thinking things through. It’s taken me a while to put my finger on the problem as I see it.

Smith’s piece is great because it starts from a selfish point of view: Smith worries about his own marital satisfaction and hopes his wife will make him happy—but thanks to his dad’s advice and his wife’s actions, he realizes that’s not what marriage is about. He concludes that it’s about the person you marry and her (or his) happiness, that it’s about family, “It’s about others….”  I admire his honestly and humility in telling his story. I love the way he stresses the kind and gentle way his wife treated him and the realization and transformation it prompted in him—and I think he’s totally right that a loving response often transforms a hardening heart.

But here’s the problem: you can’t make someone else happy. No, really, you can’t. When you are first in love you think you can because of the intensely blissful feelings of new love. But even those feelings aren’t full happiness. And your happiness is bigger than any person—no matter how spectacularly wonderful and well-matched—could possibly fill.

Smith has been married only a year and a half, and I’ve been married for twelve and a half. He has no kids (yet, anyway);  I have five.  But I’m not saying this because I’m old and cynical and tired. I’m saying it because I want love and openness and goodness like his to last and deepen.  I worry that thinking you can make someone else happy will become just as big a trap as the focus on your own happiness. Worrying only about your own satisfaction isn’t good, but it’s dangerous to think you’re going to make someone else happy. Growing up, my mom would occasionally tell me, “It’s not your job to make your parents happy.” My grandmother had been the clear favorite in her family, and had labored under the burden of that for many years, believing that—as the favorite—it was also her job to do what her parents wanted and “make them happy.” I know that’s a parent-child relationship, but similar things can happen to married people.  You start doing all the things you think should make your spouse happy. You put their needs before yours. And then if they aren’t satisfied, you get angry. “Why the heck isn’t s/he happy? With all I do for him/her?” Or, alternately you get depressed, “What’s wrong with me?  

We can, on the other hand, help each other find happiness. We can accompany each other on this long road; we can love each other madly, passionately, truly. We can walk together, sustaining each other,  encouraging each other, making the journey much more fun--but we can’t be the road.  That way lies madness, not happiness. 

In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke:
“Here is the paradox of the love between man and woman: two infinites meet two limits: two infinite needs to be loved find two fragile and limited capacities to love. Only within the horizon of a greater Love will they not devour themselves in pretension, nor give up, but walk together towards that fullness of which the other is a sign.”

Happy, Happy Valentine’s Day!


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Wind Beneath Those Wings



A year ago today, my brother Dan—who’s in the seminary—got a phone call very early in the morning. You see, he was working in a cardinal’s office at the time. “Forgive us for calling so early,” the caller said, “but it’s not every day that a pope resigns!” “What?!?!?” my brother sputtered. 

We all know what that was about, though at this point in time, the singularity of Benedict’s resignation is pretty deeply buried under the media reporting on Pope Francis. I’ve been wanting to write a post on Pope Francis for a while.  He’s blowing me away –and killing me at the same time (this kind of killing:    http://catholicstand.com/pope-francis-is-killing-me/). I love Pope Francis, and I am deeply inspired by him.  
But anyone paying any attention knows that he is usually contrasted sharply with his predecessor. 

Naturally—the narrative is much more interesting that way. Though I recently saw a great little video on Patheos, comparing the two men and suggesting that they exemplify two different traditions within the Church (the priestly and the prophetic respectively : http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2014/02/do-the-pope-benedict-and-francis-clash.html), the spin is not usually so positive. 

Today, Pope Francis asked that we pray for former Pope Benedict--which seems like a good moment to note some of the surprising similarities between the two men. Most particularly, their humility.  I remember when Benedict was first elected. Initially, people were all over him, complaining about him being “God’s Rottweiler” and all that. What was the first encyclical he issued?  Deus Caritas Est. All about God’s love and charity, where he even addressed erotic desire, venturing rather substantially into the eros category, and defended erotic love against some heavy-weight detractors in the Christian tradition--and lingered significantly on social concerns as well. (Note that my understanding of this is wholly indebted to brilliant theologian friends and former colleagues. I read papal encyclicals with lots of help). The historical revisionists are already out there trying to dismantle Benedict’s legacy, but those of us who remember his pontificate know better. The man was orthodox, yes. But his orthodoxy already was pushing the limits. He was so confident in his tradition, and so prayerfully certain of his relationship with Christ, that he did deeply radical things. Like resigning. I mean, really, who does that? Benedict was not a splashy kind of guy, and so his dramatic gestures  get dismissed easily. But let’s remember, this was a man who bucked centuries of tradition to resign.  Yes, yes, now that we look back we can cite historical precedent and comments that Benedict had made and  in hindsight it’s understandable and acceptable and what have you-- but it is and was a deeply radical gesture. Benedict was orthodox—but radically so. And so is Francis (pace Rolling Stone).  But while the emphasis during Benedict’s pontificate was on the orthodox, with Francis it’s on the radical part of the equation.

Which brings me to what inspires me so much in both popes: their humility and boldness in listening to the promptings of the Spirit. And man, do they listen!  Benedict, with his entirely unexpected decision, opened the way for Francis. So to those who would reject Benedict, I would like to recall that without him there would be no Francis. And for those who are having a hard time with Francis, it was Benedict’s decision that made this happen. If we have issues, I think we need to take it straight to the top.  For my part, I feel radically blessed in both men. And excited about where the Spirit will take us from here.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Gift of the Middle Years: Thoughts from Anne Morrow Lindbergh




There is a gentle and enduring wisdom in Anne Morrow Lindbergh's thought that speaks to me.  Now that I'm in my 40s, I was particularly struck by this bit and wanted to pass it on (Taken from her Gift from the Sea, pages 81-82)



For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth, even a kind of second adolescence? It is true that society in general does not help one accept his interpretation of the second half of life. And therefore this period of expanding is often tragically misunderstood. Many people never climb above the plateau of forty-to-fifty. The signs that presage growth, so similar, it seems to me, to those in early adolescence: discontent, restlessness, doubt, despair, longing, are interpreted falsely as signs of decay. In youth one does not as often misinterpret the signs: one accepts them, quite rightly, as growing pains. One takes them seriously, listens to them, follows where they lead. One is afraid. Naturally. Who is not afraid of pure space—that breath-taking empty space of an open door? But despite fear, one goes through to the room beyond.
But in middle age, because of the false assumption that it is a period of decline, one interprets these life-signs, paradoxically, as signs of approaching death. Instead of facing them, one runs away, one escapes—into depressions, nervous breakdowns, drink, love affairs, or frantic, thoughtless, fruitless overwork. Anything, anything rather than face them. Anything, rather than stand still and learn from them. One tries to cure the signs of growth, to exorcise them, as if they were devils, when really they might be angels of annunciation.
Angels of annunciation of what? Of a new stage of living when, having shed many of the physical struggles, the worldly ambitions, the material encumbrances of active life, one might be free to fulfill the neglected side of one’s self. One might be free for growth of mind, heart, and talent, free at last for spiritual growth…


http://uploads0.wikipaintings.org/images/lorenzo-lotto/the-angel-of-the-annunciation-1527.jpg!xlMedium.jpg




Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Discovery of Hot Water: Enter the Dark Playground, Sherlock.




My first year teaching high school was tough. Very tough, actually, since I’m ridiculously sensitive, not naturally organized or strict, and not exactly physically intimidating. It got to the point where I was crying most days…occasionally during class. One day, a well-meaning friend and colleague took me aside, and said, “You know, Rebecca, you’ve really got to stop crying in class.” I looked at him incredulously and said, “C, do you really think I find myself standing in front of 38 unruly fourteen-year-old boys and think, ‘Hey, this would be a great moment to cry?!?’ I cry because I can’t help it.” (In my defense, these boys were pretty tough Brooklyn kids even if it was a Catholic school, and class size was big—but yeah, I know it wasn’t good).  

Italians have a term for when someone discovers something obvious. They call it “la scoperta dell’acqua calda”—the discovery of hot water.  Hot water is awesome—but it’s not exactly news.  The more vulgar neighborhood I grew up in might have called it the “No s*%#, Sherlock” category. But it’s funny how  easy it would be to fix other people’s problems. No biggie:  they should just stop doing what they’re doing. Change. Quit. Be different. Their difficulties are easily resolved. Our own problems, on the other hand, aren’t so easy. If you suffer from any kind of emotional or psychological challenge, you know it’s not so easy to change.  If you get angry easily, other people may tell you to just count to ten or to try other simple strategies that work for people who don’t have major anger problems.  Likewise, if you procrastinate, people will tell you to start your work early. Gee, thanks. It’s not that easy, Sherlock.
All this is to say that I really loved this post on procrastination.  Because it helps you get inside the procrastinator’s brain, and really understand what’s going on. Which is actually kind of fun, even if you’re a procrastinator and looking into your own brain makes you feel a little sick.  And if you’re not, well, welcome! 

http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html

And lest I get tempted to linger too long in the dark playground it describes so well, there is a follow up:

http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/11/how-to-beat-procrastination.html


There is hope, after all!