(Image Source: NewsWorks)
I first heard the name "Father Divine" as a child from my mom, musing over her grandmother's occasional penchant for following (via correspondence, radio or TV) some rather interesting ministerial leaders. Her mom, my Nana, was no stranger to church hopping. She was a "spiritual seeker" decades before it became a thing. Raised Baptist, Nana left and checked out Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholicism and even Christian Scientists before settling on Holiness Pentecostal. BUT... Father Divine was way too much for her, and scoffed at her mom's interest in a man who would deign himself the Lord God incarnate. She needn't had worried; my great-grandmother's attention quickly flamed out for Reverend Major Jealous Divine.
More recently, I came across Divine's name last month when his widow, Mother Divine, passed away at the age of 91. The NY Times euologized:...
(Image via Buzzfeed; Evan Hurd Photography / Getty Images)
Remember how I talked about the Missing Richard Simmons podcast last month? Well, it wrapped, and while it did make me think, it won't hold too much space in my personal pop culture collective. Maybe it would've had more room if I hadn't listened to the very powerful S-Town last week. Still, there IS a there- there, and Pier Dominguez, writing at Buzzfeed, expounds on it. Namely, the very peculiar religiosity within Simmons:
But the real problem with Missing Richard Simmons is that the show’s narrative added to the confusion around Richard Simmons the cultural persona and Richard Simmons the person. The fascination with his disappearance is ultimately a cultural conundrum that can be traced through a consideration of the way Simmons’ celebrity evolved, especially the persona that emerged in the ’80s and ’90s as a kind of Mother Teresa of fitness. That image worked — apparently too well — by disrupting gendered boundaries between personal and professional, between commercial and spiritual, between camp and sincerity. And it is by understanding how that image functioned — and how it was received — that the fascination with his retirement makes a different kind of sense....
My latest Audible book streaming through my headphones is "Marilyn Monroe: The Biography" by Donald Spoto and narrated by Anna Fields.
Since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by stars who, despite talent, money, fame and beauty, were downed by the suffocating weight of their own inner psyches. Perhaps it was a weird fascination for an elementary school student, but it was there, and only grew as I got older.
If I had to guess as to why, it probably had something to do with my mother's severe depression. She was (and is) my first exemplar of femininity and beauty. She was a star in my mind, gifted with a lovely soprano singing voice that at times verged on the operatic. She drew, painted, sketched and did calligraphy. She made music and art. That was beauty. She was beauty.
She was also acutely depressed, and at other times, quite anxious. Before giving birth to any of us kids, she had to be hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital after a breakdown that left her hearing an array of voices that so frightened her she stayed in bed with fits of tears and screams interspersed with prayers to God for relief.
I learned of this episode in my mom's life fifteen years later, when I was 8, from her mom during a summer visit. It scared me. So horribly scared me that I had reoccurring nightmares about it for years. It also launched in me a desire to understand why. Why had Mommy, with a speaking voice not too different from the soft, childlike one Marilyn affected in many of her films, lose it? And how did she regain it, enough to have us three and become the neighborhood Kool Aid mom? Would she crack again? Would I, one day, also suffer a similar fate?
I read about Dorothy Dandridge, Judy Garland, and of course, the patron saint of the troubled star, Marilyn Monroe. There was a lot to sift through about the Blonde Bombshell- the affairs, the failed marriages, the glamour and the barbiturates. Beyond that, there was a very sad childhood with an absentee mother, an unknown father and foster homes.
While listening to "Marilyn Monroe: The Biography" this week, I learned something about her early years with her first foster family that I hadn't known before. Something that my mom had in common... something that I had in common.
We all spent some of our most formative years belonging to Pentecostal Holiness churches.
Let me pause here to say, most definitively, that growing up a Penny Pentecostal is NOT a one way ticket to Crazytown. Millions of people have and are fine.
This information sticks out to me because it's like I found another former member of the club that shaped me so- my childhood, adolescence and even on into adulthood. What makes this information ever more startling is how Marilyn came to embody so much that many Pentecostals stridently abhor- the makeup, the cut and dyed platinum coiffure, the tight clothes, and all that jewelry. All that unGodly glamour in a shapely 5'5 package.
Over in the Entertainment section of "How Stuff Works", Susan Doll recounts: "
Norma Jeane's mother, who most often used the name Gladys Baker, placed the infant Norma Jeane in the care of Ida and Wayne Bolender of Hawthorne, California. Life had not been particularly kind to Gladys. She had had two children -- Berniece and Hermitt Jack -- by her first marriage to Jack Baker, but he had taken the children away from her and moved to Kentucky prior to her marriage to Edward Mortenson. Supposedly, Baker had left a note for Gladys that read, "I have taken the children, and you will never see them again." The absence of her first two children caused Gladys great pain, and her inability to take care of Norma Jeane added to that heartache and stress. Gladys's family had a history of mental instability. Both of her parents, Otis and Delia Monroe, finished out their lives in mental institutions, and Gladys's brother, Marion Monroe, suffered from a problem diagnosed at the time as paranoid schizophrenia. Gladys battled demons of her own and spent much of her adult life in institutions. ... Ironically, perhaps, when Gladys boarded out Norma Jeane to the Bolenders 12 days after the baby's birth, it was because of financial difficulties -- not mental ones. Gladys went back to work at Consolidated Film Industries, paying the Bolenders five dollars per week to look after her baby. Each Saturday, Gladys would take the trolley to Hawthorne to visit Norma Jeane, who remembered Gladys as "the lady with red hair" rather than as her mother. A devoutly religious couple, Wayne and Ida Bolender lived a comfortable existence in Hawthorne, a less-than-fashionable suburb of Los Angeles. Wayne worked as a postal carrier and was fortunate enough to remain employed throughout the Depression. In his spare time, he printed religious tracts.Here comes that Old Time Religion...:
Marilyn would later remember the couple's devotion to their religion as one that approached zealousness. She claimed that as the young Norma Jeane, she had to promise never to drink or swear, she had to attend church several times a week, and she was repeatedly told that she was going to Hell. Norma Jeane quickly learned to hide from the Bolenders if she wanted to sing, dance, or act out a fantasy life "more interesting than the one I had." Though Norma Jeane regularly attended church with the Bolenders, she was taken by her grandmother, Della Monroe, to the Foursquare Gospel Church to be baptized by the flamboyant evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Della, a devout follower of Sister Aimee, had her granddaughter christened "Norma Jeane Baker."By the way, if you're unfamiliar with Aimee Semple McPherson, who had an altogether fascinating career that mixed Hollywood theatrics with preaching the Good News, check out this "American Masters" episode:
Spoto takes great pains to link Marilyn's early upbringing in holiness- which demanded a certain form of outward perfection to exemplify supposed inner godliness- to her later years spent chasing a level of flawlessness that fed her anxiety and depression. Of course, only Marilyn knew if that was true, but it's an interesting thought to ponder.
Happy Sunday, All. I've been to church and Starbucks, the forecast for today and the next couple days is above freezing, so I'm feeling pretty optimistic.
In pondering what I'd post about today, I considered the big pop culture story of the week: the downfall of Bill Cosby. I linked to a few stories about him on the blog's Facebook page and wound up reaching over a thousand people, which I believe is the best numbers I've ever received there. Comparatively, the story I did a week ago marking the anniversary of my sister's death hit just under 200, while my random stuff hovers around 30 to 40.
Despite the huge uptick in views, I just don't want to go into it here. Primarily because I don't have anything of consequence to add to ever-increasing list of alleged victims, the possible years of coverup, or even constructive criticism of how the media is covering it. You know the old saying about if you have nothing good to say? I don't have good, bad and the story is already ugly. I'll just recommend Ta-nahesi Coates's "The Cosby Show" piece at The Atlantic, and a follow-up interview he did with On the Media about it. And if, for some bizarre reason Mr. Coates ever lands here, I want to say, please do not carry any burden about how you chose to handle the Cosby story those many years ago. Forgive yourself.
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus....
Happy Saturday. I can't believe we're into August already. Time really does fly, and pretty independent of how much fun a person is having.
I wanted to start this post off with links that I shared on the blog's Facebook page throughout the week (if you haven't already done so, go ahead and "Like" it, if you're on Facebook; while I don't blog everyday, or even every week, I usually post links to interesting stories over there with some regularity).
I posted to a story by Eric Metaxas (author of the excellent "Bonhoeffer") at the Christian Post about young atheists who are former Christians. They shared what actually turned them off to their former faith. An excerpt:
Iraqi Christian women at church in June. (Source)
Over the last few days, things have grown dire for Christians in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq. From a July 18th New York Times story:
Happy Sunday, All. Tomorrow is Zoe's third (!) birthday, but we started celebrating early. K will be at work all day tomorrow, so after a trip to the Carteret Waterfront Park (we were going to hit up a beach, but with the temp around 75 and plenty of clouds, we skipped it), we did a little celebrating at home. There was a surprisingly sturdy pinata (K had to crack it open) and candles on chocalate cupcakes made by me. On Thursday night I hung a bunch of paper lanterns from twine- I was trying to give it a summer/outdoor party feel. I lit the lanterns with tiny LED lights.