When a Stranger Brings a Duffle-Bag to Church

Yesterday, at church, a stranger in military fatigues sat in the front pew with a zipped duffle-bag beside him. He was enthusiastic in his participation. He might have been homeless. And God help me, I kept an eye on that bag. Just as we finished the hymn before the sermon, the man grabbed his bag and walked toward the back of the church. Was he headed out, maybe? Or into the balcony that overlooks the congregation? It turns out that he wandered downstairs, to what I call the mingle bin, where he waited to visit with us over coffee and donut holes.

I didn’t talk to him, but he seemed to be a lovely man—a Vietnam vet. I hope he enjoyed our music, and our quiet, or at least our air conditioning. I hope he didn’t notice that at least some of us imagined scenarios of our diving under the pews, or shielding the children, or even jumping on top of the guy from our vantage in the choir loft. It’s all laughable—we altos of vengeance—until it’s not.

Now a church must be a welcoming place. By definition, it’s a sanctuary. It must especially welcome the stranger. It should certainly welcome the homeless. But according to Business Insider, we’ve had 158 mass shootings* in 2018 alone, where (as of June 28) we have gone 177 days into the year.  According to MassShootingTracker.org, 338 US mass shootings had occurred in 2017, by the start of October. There are, of course, only 365 days in a year.  On top of that, we can all remember the church shooting in Texas, and the one in South Carolina, and the one that killed members of a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. So, yeah, I kept an eye on the guy’s duffle-bag.

We liberal churchy types are in an odd spot. Now, more than ever, we want to keep our doors open to those whom society has sought to remove. A few years ago, my own denomination featured a national television ad where we showed conservative churches ejecting undesirables from their pews—the way Trumpers now seek to eject certain people from our border and our military. The liberal church, now more than ever, must declare that because all people enjoy extreme human dignity, all people** enjoy a place before God.

But in the meantime, we say, please don’t shoot us. In the meantime, my church has devised a crisis plan that involves calling police when most necessary, and not calling them at any other point, so that people in our church who are afraid of police can feel that much safer. In the meantime, my church has to stand publicly for the causes we believe in, while we know our stance is at cross purposes with the demographic that has the most guns (and committed the most shootings).

We have to think about all of this—how to become both wise as serpents and gentle as doves. And as I confronted these things in the time it takes to go from prelude to postlude, I decided on a few points:

1.We can make a plan, but it has to stay defensive. Church safety does not involve ushers who are packing heat. I don’ have space to get into this argument, other than to urge you to look into reasons why few (if any) armed civilians have been able to stop a mass shooting, even in a state where guns are plentiful. A man with a pistol and a MAGA hat tried to help at the Texas high school shooting. Police tackled him, and called him a “slap in the face.”

2. A defensive plan is reactive, but not reactionary. The worst thing that could happen with a stranger in church is a mass shooting. That’s probably true. But the second worse thing is a false alarm. A false alarm is also far more likely to occur—and it can damage Christianity almost as badly as a massacre.  Can you imagine a church calling the police on a homeless veteran, or on a couple of Latinos, or on an unfamiliar black man? That one move would ratify every prejudice our opponents say we have. And as for us liberals who work hard—but not hard enough—to differentiate ourselves from the Bible thumper, one mistake like that will throw us right back onto the pile of BS whose stink we have tried for years to remove.

3. This is all to say that we can have a defensive plan, sure–but it can’t displace our cause. As I sat in the sanctuary with the man with the duffle-bag, our minister preached against worry. He was talking about the lilies and their toiling and spinning; it had nothing to do with who had come to church that day. But as these things do, the scripture settled on me until it got under my skin. These days, much of the country’s most appalling behavior comes from fear. We fear the Muslim; we fear the “illegal;” we fear the black man as he reaches for his cellphone. We fear that our enemies take advantage of us; we fear that they plot a war on “American values” (whatever those are). We tremble ourselves toward committing atrocity. And once we become party to that cruelty—to that sin—I believe we’ll have suffered a fate worse than death. It’s a fate that damages our entire line. It’s a fate that damages our souls.

Really. That’s what I thought about while I watched Mr. Duffle-Bag wave at the kids during the children sermon.  There are fates worse than death. Am I going to be foolish about my safety? No. Of course not. But I’m also not going to be predatory about yours. If the Trump era has taught me anything it’s that there exists a group of people who would love for the US to become its own shooting match. In fact there exists other people who would love to see it all break out in a church.

So be still—be still. That’s what faith is. Do what you’re told and love your neighbor. A nation panicked is a national mob. But discipline is what makes it an army, or a team–or a resistance. Be still. And as we stay calm, we can show that every person is made for things greater than fear.

*While still up for debate, the average definition of a mass shooting involves four or more victims, other than the shooter.

**And it’s easy to say, “Wait! The disenfranchised aren’t the people doing the shooting.” And any statistic would show that you’re right. But welcome, if genuine, also must involve the white guy in the army fatigues. And that’s the crux of my problem.

How to Organize an Effective March

The Fourth festivities have left me thinking of protest. And this leads me to think of last week’s Keep Families Together march—and this, dearies, leaves me thinking of things we activists have started to do well. I don’t know about you, but in my (admittedly narrow) neck of the woods, our protest marches started off a bit… limpy. We had tons of folks for the Women’s March and the Science March; critical mass was never a problem. But the programs themselves were somewhat lacking. I think this was because, in part, if we had a sound system at all, it functioned about as well as the Barbie karaoke machine that someone could fish from their tweenage daughter’s closet. Beyond that, the speakers themselves—while erudite—didn’t always know how to fire up a crowd, in terms of either immediate call and response or post-march action. Don’t get me wrong; I thank the activists who have gone out of their way to stage a march. You’ll notice that I’m not up there with the Barbie Bullhorn. But I’m especially grateful for the people who led last week’s march, because honestly, they organized a great one. Here’s how:

1. THEY DIRECTED THE CROWD. We started at Iowa City’s Old Capital building, and we walked about half a mile, through the downtown, to College Green Park, where we gathered for a rally. As we assembled for the march, one of the organizers told us where we would go. Then, as we walked, we met organizers who had posted themselves at specific corners to feed us chants that we could holler until we got to the next waypoint. Our queue of demonstrators was almost as long as the route itself; there was no way that we could hear ourselves well enough to maintain a homogenous chorus. The waypoints kept us shouting, while also plugging what we would chant into a kind of iMarch playlist.

2. THEY SET UP CROSSING GUARDS. It surprised me to see one of our pre-eminent computer scientists wearing an orange vest, while he commanded us to stop at a streetlight. I thought a march was supposed to disrupt traffic. But this arrangement was actually a shrewd move. First of all, we marched through a town that was friendly to our cause. We had nothing to gain by keeping like-minded folks from, say, their dentist appointments. Secondly, while we stopped, passing cars honked their support. I don’t know if they’d have done such a thing if we’d gotten in their way. But I do know that by letting them pass, more of them got to see us than if we’d just cut off the head of the line. Now I do believe that some causes—and some locations—require marchers to disrupt traffic, say, outside the ICE building’s parking lot. But let’s be discerning here. Choose the tactic that fits the audience.

3. THEY PREPARED THE POST-MARCH, DEMONSTRATION VENUE. God love them, the organizers chose a park with a gazebo. Better yet, they chose a park with lots of trees. Both features granted the courtesy of shade. Better yet, they positioned us next to a playground, so that the children had something to do. Better still, they chose a park with an electrical service that supported a concert-grade sound system. While we leaned against the oak trees, we could hear the rally’s every word.

4. THEY FOUND GOOD SPEAKERS. Not only could we hear the speakers, but we wanted to listen. This wasn’t open-mic day. This demonstration featured a program lineup that consisted of: preachers who could use rhythm and litany to engage the crowd; experts who could use statistics and other details to inform the crowd; and volunteer coordinators who could present engagement opportunities to direct the crowd. The gazebo posted a community-action sign-up sheet. It also had a table that accepted financial donations. In short, the demonstration generated energy and then released it toward the good. The march, that is, became a dynamo.

5. THEY GAVE US POPSICLES. I know I sound as if I’m just a little too happy to be unfettered from my diet—but really. Have you endured a midwestern summer? The heat index was over a hundred. The shade helped, but after a walk in that kind of heat, we also needed hydration. Churches (I think) brought the popsicles. And they set out pallets of water. And this not only made us very well disposed toward the organizations that set up the march, but it also allowed us to stay at the demonstration. If people get too hot (or too cold) they’ll go home. Regardless of what kind of weather you’ve got, it might be worth the few hundred bucks to give refreshment to a few hundred folks.

These are my observations, at any rate. Feel free to add what you’ve gathered yourself. One thing that heartens me is that, in his own horrible way, Trump is teaching us how to become better activists. I watch the news, and I can despair over how his agenda is making progress. But when I consider our work—our education, our efforts, and our expertise—I think we’re evolving too.

In Reply to Jeff Sessions Citing Paul

“But in that obedience which we hold to be due to the commands of rulers, we must always make the exception, nay, must be particularly careful that it is not incompatible with obedience to Him to whose will the wishes of all kings should be subject, to whose decrees their commands must yield, to whose majesty their scepters must bow. And indeed, how preposterous were it, in pleasing men, to incur the offense of Him for whose sake you obey men! We are subject to the men who rule over us, but subject only in the Lord. If they command anything against Him let us not pay the least regard to it, nor be moved by all the dignity which they possess as magistrates–a dignity to which no injury is done when it is subordinated to the special and truly supreme power of God. On this ground Daniel denies that he had sinned in any respect against the king when he refused to obey his impious decree, (Dan. 6.22) because the king had exceeded his limits, and not only been injurious to men but, by raising his horn against God, had virtually abrogated his own power. On the other hand, the Israelites are condemned for having too readily obeyed the impious edict of the king. For, when Jeroboam made the golden calf, they forsook the temple of God, and in submissiveness to him, revolted to new superstitions (1 Kings 12.28). With the same facility posterity had bowed before the decrees of their kings. For this they are severely upbraided by the Prophet (Hosea. 5.11). So far is the praise of modesty from being due to that pretense by which flattering courtiers cloak themselves and deceive the simple, when they deny the lawfulness of declining anything imposed by their kings, as if the Lord had resigned his own rights to mortals by appointing them to rule over their fellows, or as if earthy power diminished when it is subjected to its author, before whom even the principalities of heaven tremble as suppliants. I know the imminent peril to which subjects expose themselves by this firmness, kings being most indignant when they are contemned. As Solomon says, “The wrath of a king is as messengers of death” (Prov. 16.14). But since Peter, one of heaven’s heralds, has published the edict, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5.29), let us console ourselves with the thought, that we are rendering the obedience which the Lord requires, when we endure anything rather than turn aside from piety. And that our courage may not fail, Paul stimulates us by the additional considerations (1 Cor. 7.23), that we are redeemed by Christ at the great price which our redemption cost him, in order that we might not yield a slavish obedience to the depraved wishes of men, far less do homage to their impiety.”

So ends the Institutes of the Christian Religion, which John Calvin dedicated to King Francis I of France in 1536. Calvin championed the separation of church and state. His Geneva, with its democracy and focus on literacy, directly informed the Pilgrims, who then deeply influenced the establishment of the United States.

(Originally posted June 15, 2018)

What a Lovely Place

This morning I dreamed that I rode my bike home from downtown Iowa City. The trouble was that between downtown and my house sprang up mountains. When I got to my neighborhood, everything was so jagged that I had to carry my bike. But there, cutting across the face of the steepest mountain, was a semi-private path. I figured a little semi-trespass was appropriate when a person had to carry a bicycle, so down the trail I went–until I realized I had entered somebody’s arbored garden. Well, mush, Meggie. Act like you know what you’re doing. The arbors turned into a tunnel, and the tunnel turned into a passage that branched into three cinderblock paths that were clearly now, under the house. I was in these people’s cellar. I turned to go back, but of course I’d lost track of the entrance.

So there I was, standing next to a me-sized pile of dusty shoeboxes. A prong from a young deer’s antler stuck from a hole in one of them. I wandered. I heard footsteps overhead. I found a clutch of weathervanes in a corner, pointing every which way. I stepped over a knee-high wall that comprised of the connected feet of several beds, where along the front, someone had tacked old album jackets of The Mamas and the Papas. I entered a room full of stacked cathode televisions, which glowed softly with their green. I kicked a matchbox car, and found a floor of hundreds of them, all arranged in as if in parking lot. 

Every now and then I came to a locked door. Some were glass, and the light came in. Others said, KEEP CLOSED, or NOT AN EXIT. I opened one unlocked door, and a stuffed horse head met me on the other side.

I left that door, and pried open a glass one that led to the outside. I entered a garden. I’d find somebody. I’d apologize. I’d get the hell out.

A stick-thin woman with brittle hair lay in one of those 1970s chaise lounges. 

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I tried a shortcut. And I know I shouldn’t have, and I got lost.”

“Sure thing.” She lay back, and splayed her arms at her sides.

“I just don’t know how to get out, is all.”

“No problem.” She closed her eyes.

I looked around. The yards had knee-high weeds. It had clothes on the line that looked as if they had hung there for months.

I went back inside. I found a scatter of basket-weaving reeds that leaned against the wall and curled away in a sort of wave. Somebody strummed a guitar.

I followed the sound past empty gerbil and bird cages. A young man with long, brown hair sat on a red velour bed with his shirt off. He played an Alvarez, and looked up without stopping.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I’m trying to get out.”

He looked at me. He stood. “Capo, capo.” He rummaged the sheets.

Then I awoke to James’s alarm. 

I lay there. I scruffled the cat. I told James the dream, and he sat up.

“Whoa,” he said. “You found the Hotel California.”

(Originally posted May 20, 2018)

Iowa’s Fetal Heartbeat Law

I will turn 43 this month, and James and I are still talking about whether to have children. We haven’t decided yet, because we’ve let things grow so late. We know the odds of our having a child have decreased; many women my age have at least one miscarriage. Beyond that, we also know the odds of our having an unhealthy child have increased to something between 2 and 3 percent. (The risk of our having a Down’s baby are a bit higher, but that doesn’t worry me as much.) 

Now the reason I share all of this personal information is that the Iowa legislature just passed what’s called the fetal heartbeat bill. My old pal, Gov. Reynolds, has indicated she will sign the bill into law. And when that happens, this legislation will become the most restrictive abortion measure in the country. It will make all abortions illegal after doctors detect the fetal heartbeat. The law does make some provisos for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest, and it allows an escape measure for conditions that pose grave threats to a pregnant woman’s physical life. That said, however, fetal heartbeats generally present at around six weeks. At that point, some women aren’t even aware they’re pregnant.

So here’s more personal information: Although I do support a woman’s right to a safe abortion, I see it as a lesser evil (to, say, a botched abortion) and I can think of almost no circumstance when I would have one myself. But the outlier for me is severe deformation of the fetus that would result in a life of agony for the child. I’m not talking about cerebral palsy here. I’m talking about cephalic disorders, progressive bone disorders, and ailments that I don’t even know about. I don’t know how many of these disorders you can detect in utero–or when. But I believe you can determine some–at some point. James and I also haven’t gone through the grim work of determining when we would (and wouldn’t) consider euthanasia—but I think part of that decision will now hinge on whether we’d be willing to take a trip out of state.

Let me remind you: I worked in a group home with adults who have developmental disabilities. I knew a twenty-five-year-old woman who had the mind of a six-month-old. I knew of a man who was so habitually violent that he gave his caregiver a concussion. I knew a woman who would try to drown herself in the bathtub, because she was aware that she would never have a husband and a family. And still, I don’t recommend euthanasia for fetuses with the disorders that afflicted these folks. I studied the Nazi T-4 euthanasia program for Germany’s so-called “useless eaters.” I know the evils of preventive killing. But I’m also not in the business of bringing a child a life of physical suffering, in the name of God. This is especially true considering that each case is so very different. That’s what this law will overlook: Each case is different. And the agony of choosing what to spare your afflicted fetus is only exacerbated by a law that claims to know the right decision in every situation.

If the state really wants to love its children, it can sponsor better health care for pregnant women. It can provide better relief for families who have children with special needs. (I can’t tell you how many clients we cared for on major holidays, because their families just dumped them at the facilities and never came back.) In fact, if the state really wants to help, it can pump funds into facilities that try to provide good environments for people who have to live with these disabilities. I know a woman who slumped all day, because she didn’t have the physical ability to hold herself up, and because we didn’t have the funds to give her a wheelchair that would let her recline. I know horrible cases of burn-out turned to neglect, because the care facility didn’t have the resources to attract enough caregivers who would afford their current workers time off. I know of sexual predation that occurred to a paralyzed woman who couldn’t speak, because, although each facility runs a background check, the employment bar is just so low.

Look. This isn’t a tidy post, because it isn’t a tidy issue. But that’s my point: You can’t flatten the wilderness of birth defects with a single, rubber stamp. The reality is too rife with terrors and complications. Today I am terrified–and I’m not even pregnant. But I’ll tell you this: The heartbeat law pushes me that much closer to my decision not to get pregnant. And that in itself is a loss.

(Originally posted May 2, 2018)

We Have to Get Better

Gov. Kim Reynolds is a short person. In fact, she’s nearly as short as I am. And I can tell you this, because I just got in her face. I did. I found her at the Coralville Hyvee, talking in the dining room, to a standing-room only group of folks about how Iowa is Number One. I belonged to a group of activists who squeezed in to challenge her about the Sanctuary bill, which KCRG reported as her saying she’d sign. Reynolds left little room for questions*—so after her spiel, a local Muslim started to ask Reynolds about the sanctuary measure. Reynolds said she’d look into the bill. I stepped in front of Reynolds, and asked how she could reconcile the Constitutionality of the bill—and she repeated that she’d look into it. The first woman stalked away. Some other people took her place. They started talking too. I said to Reynolds, “Last night, the news reported how you said you would sign the bill.” And then Reynolds got a look of disgust, turned her back on all of us, and walked away. 

Some other poobah with salt and pepper hair was telling the Muslim woman that she was blowing things out of proportion. The Muslim woman said that she’s a person too. The poobah said he didn’t dispute that. The Muslim woman, losing composure, strode off. And the poobah called after her about what a great activist *she’d* turn out to be. Nice. So I said to him that the Sanctuary bill violated Fourth Amendment Rights. He said that Reynolds would not sign the bill. I said that she indicated to our local news that she would. He said that today she promised to look into it. I said that maybe politicians say different things in different venues. He said Iowa City would not see sanctuary interference. I said I hope he was right. And he *patted me on the hand.*

P-I-S-S-A-N-T.

James took me out of the store, and brought me to a bar. And I couldn’t order anything, because my stomach was upset. I’m sitting on our couch now, Facebooking my fingers off.

Now for some qualifications and a puzzlement:

Q1. I was not as eloquent as I’d liked to have been. My voice shook. And in this post, I admit I’m assembling my dialogue with an editor’s eye. Q2. I don’t know what other people were doing around me, so my focus on myself is more on account of the fog of war than any sort of ballad of Meggie Disgusts the Governor. 

But now for the puzzlement: I’m not sure we activists handled this moment all that well. For one thing, the event was designed to keep us from handling it well. We didn’t have time to ask our questions. We certainly didn’t have time to press our questions. The people who answered our questions were able to resort to dismissive sidesteppery. This enraged us, and that caused us to lose at least part of our composure, and this allowed people like Poobah Pissant to pretend he was taking the mature stance by staying calm. This pattern allows our opponents to further control the conversation, by using this event as an example of how Iowa City is full of hysterical liberals. We have the moral advantage. Oh, we do. But at the moment, they have the rhetorical high ground.

The question is how the heck to handle this. The fact is that we average resistors aren’t a group of politicians who make a career out of appearing rational, even while saying the most hair-raising things. More to the point, we have way more skin in the game than they do. For instance: I’m betting that Muslim woman lost her composure, because she (or someone she knows) could probably lose her family to deportation. I lost part of my composure, because I wanted to defend something, but didn’t know how. This brings me to the next point. We activists need to decide what our role is when we engage with somebody like the governor. Are we there to protest, or enter a dialogue? Each of these calls for some very different tactics. A protest doesn’t require you truly to engage the other side. You can chant, and proclaim, and disrupt if need be. It’s all pretty one-sided. But a dialogue requires that you listen. It requires that you depart from your speaking points, and actually adapt to what the other side is telling you. Reynolds gave me a BS answer. But I was expecting her to. And what I should have said was, “You’re looking into it? Tell me how you’re looking into it.” Instead I insinuated she was lying.

She probably was. I quoted the news. And she may have turned away because I called her on it. But at that moment, I was so angry that I didn’t let myself choose whether to protest or converse. Protest was all I had. 

And this brings me to the major point that I’m going to make in this whole, rambly post. As activists, we have to work to stay calm. We have to. And let me tell you, it is so hard to do that. It is hard not to yell when you’re getting BS answers. It is hard not to accuse, when the Muslim next to you has begun to cry. But when we get angry, we don’t listen—which means we don’t argue well—which means we leave our opponents rolling their eyes. God forbid we get angry enough to throw a punch. To control our side of the engagement—and our choice about that engagement—we have to control ourselves. And although I’m focused mostly on the dialogue kind of encounter that I saw today, this goes doubly for the protest stance. When people spit on you, you have to stay calm. When cameras are rolling, your whole cause can depend on how well you hold your temper.

I request that we activists find someone who can teach us how to keep our composure. I don’t know who that is. Albus Dumbledore and Ben Kenobi are dead (and, uh, not real). But we have to find someone—an old Freedom Rider, a hostage negotiator, a suicide hotliner–someone. The difference between a mob and an army is discipline. And we need that discipline. We need Obama’s discipline. Otherwise, we might run the governor out of town, sure. We might even cheer a little when we see her flee. But this just leaves her all the more willing to say that no reason, no compassion, and no truly effective resistance, can come from Iowa City.

*That said, my hat is way off to the teenager who managed to ask what Reynolds would do to keep kids from getting shot. Reynolds gave the line about “walking up and not out.” Some gun nuts started hollering at the kid. The kid persisted, and then Reynolds called off the Q&A.

(Originally posted April 5, 2018)

My Review of Call Me by Your Name

This week, I watched Call Me by Your Name. I’m going to write a review of it here. And this may say something about how the film has stuck with me, as the only other movies I’ve reviewed on fb have been Star Wars flics. I recommend Call Me by Your Name to anyone. It’s a beautiful, challenging film. I most especially recommend it to parents. 

(The following contains spoilers, but I don’t think they go much beyond what the movie’s preview implies.)

First off, the movie makes you want to live in it. Call Me by Your Name situates itself in an Italian vineyard, in 1983, where a Jewish-American professor of archeology lives with his vineyard-owning wife and their precocious son, Elio. Most of the movie takes place over a summer. And as a result, you have the Italian countryside, and the post-wars ruins, and the spring-fed ponds, and an old guy carrying a fresh-caught fish. And then there’s the food and the wine. And on top of that, you’ve got this villa, which has a piano (which Elio plays), and old books in multiple languages, and Roman artifacts, such as sculptural arms and heads. And it’s all sort of funky and in use, so it’s not at all pretentious. And on top of that, you’ve got the Walkmans and the bicycles and the Orangina bottles of 1980s Europe, plus a cast of characters who speak Italian, English, and French at will. This is a place where artists and scholars drink limonade and do what they love. Who wouldn’t want to visit?

So the complication is that the professor-father has an American, post-doc student come to live on the vineyard. Elio falls in love with him, and after some resistance, the post-doc (Oliver) loves him right back (and forth, and up, and down). This is a movie that portrays a lot sex. The cinematography is too deft and realistic to qualify as soft-core porn, but if you watch the film for your kid, it might be more comfortable if you don’t watch it with your kid. Before all the sex, Oliver just appears out of the blue—and it took me forever to figure out why he was there. Maybe I missed something that flew by in a subtitle, but until the middle of story, I wondered if he was supposed to be Elio’s tutor, or his father’s colleague, or just an erudite boarder. From the book the film plays from, you learn he’s supposed to be 24. (Because there are so many 24-year-old post-docs.) In the movie, he looks like he could be 34. Elio is supposed to be 17 (and he’s played by an actor who is 21), but he looks like he could be around 15. 

The age difference is something that troubles Oliver (who is quite scrupulous), and it has also enraged some of the movie’s viewers. I think the age problem is something worth talking about. I admit that, in the middle of the movie, I shouted, “He’s just a boy!” But I also admit that the age of consent in Italy is 14, and that Elio is by far the aggressor in this relationship, and that maybe back in the European eighties, before people openly discussed either homosexuality or legal age of maturity, this sort of thing just happened. Beyond that, this movie is not at all about predation. Oliver lets Elio take the lead. And all of this lends a touching realism to such moments as when Elio throws himself into Oliver’s arms, and just dangles there, mid-air, while Oliver wears this expression of affection, yes, but also fear. And by this time, you gather that this fear is not of breaking a taboo, but of breaking Elio’s heart. I did wonder, every once in a while, why the filmmaker (James Ivory) didn’t just make Elio eighteen. That would have been an easy fix that avoided some sticky difficulties. But he didn’t, which means he chose not to. Just as he chose to show sculptures of naked men from the classical era, and he chose to make Elio look like a boy and Oliver look like a man. There’s something going on here that I’m not sure I entirely “get.” There’s a kind of master/protege thing that bubbles up—but only in the most loving sense. And I’m left feeling not so much offended but, as I said before, somehow challenged. 

I will contend, however, that this is not the only love story in the movie. And the second one is why I recommend it to parents. Elio’s mom and dad know far more than Elio thinks. And without giving too much away, I’ll say that the point where I broke down and wept is not during the crowning moment in the gay love affair, but when Elio’s father talks to him about goodness and love. I wish I could tell you more without spoiling the movie. (For one thing, it would make this article more proportional). But that moment between a father and son is a speech worth memorizing. In a way, I think all of the movie was leading there. And it is so effective that I sometimes wonder if this is what offends the gay-rights opponents more than any seven-year age difference. The parents—and the movie—aren’t just compassionate with Elio. They understand Elio. There’s a huge difference between the two. They recognize the great thing that has come upon him—and they call it by its name, which is love.

(Originally posted March 16, 2018)