To More Risks!

Hi Joel,

My oldest leaves for camp on Monday. He heads to Wyoming to a camp that’s just 4 miles north of Grand Teton National Park and 2 miles south of Yellowstone. It could reasonably snow there in early August, and the water in the lake hovers around 30 degrees. But it’s the bears that scare me.

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Above, Camp Loll in Wyoming.


My daughter spent two weeks at camp this summer, once in a lovely camp located deep in Provo Canyon and another at a camp high in the mountains–To get there, you drove past the bottom of the ski lift, then up, up, up, past the top of it, then past the cloud line–in the Wasatch Range on the western edge of the Rockies. She’s a happy camper but not the most risk-taking girl. So I was surprised to find that, during her time at camp, she volunteered to go on a lengthy hike that ended in a camp-out far from the center of camp. During their adventure, they got to put their moose protocol into action when a family of moose entered the lake where they were swimming. Carefully, they all moved to the boathouse and stayed inside until the moose were done with their dip.

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Above, Camp Cloud Rim. Below, en route to Provo Canyon.

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I am not a camper. When friends invite me to go camping, it makes me sad because I realize they don’t know me very well. I love nature and the wild–and I prefer to keep it natural and wild by keeping me OUT of it. I respect nature by staying in hotels. As a child, my family once took a vacation in nature, and I sneakily packed my whole suitcase with books because I knew I’d rather sneak off to read rather than build a fort or climb rocks. (It did not occur to 12-year-old Rebecca that this would leave me without clothing for the week–or that it would be very, very difficult to pretend that a suitcase with 20 books in it was only as heavy as a suitcase with clothes.)

Still, I try to keep this to myself because I don’t want my kids to think that camping isn’t fun. They seem to love it–the dirt, the danger, the chance to take a few risks and do things we don’t do at home (Archery? Yes!), and, I think, the distance between them and their parents. Just like little kids like to pretend they are orphans, not because they don’t love us but because they want to imagine the world on their own, my older children like camp. It’s as close to a grown-up free world as they can get.

I’m inspired by them–not to dig a cave in the snow and sleep it in while 10 inches of snow blows in, not to get so close to a moose than I need to implement moose safety procedures, but to take some new risks. It’s my theme for the fall, and if readers would like to join me, I’d love to hear what they’re doing that is risky.


That sexy scene on your favorite show? It might just be an actress working under coercion.


Escapism isn’t so escapist these days.

Let’s start with Evangeline Lilly:

It’s a well known fact at this point that Evangeline Lilly considered quitting acting after her tenure on the ABC scifi drama Lost, only deciding not to quit after her experience on Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films.

“In Season 3, I’d had a bad experience on set with being basically cornered into doing a scene partially naked, and I felt had no choice in the matter,” she said, as transcribed by Variety. “And I was mortified and I was trembling when it finished. I was crying my eyes out, and I had to go and do a very formidable, very strong scene thereafter.”

The producers apologized after this story emerged, for what it’s worth.

Lilly’s story reminded me of what happened to Selma Hayek:

Halfway through shooting, Harvey turned up on set and complained about Frida’s “unibrow.” He insisted that I eliminate the limp and berated my performance. Then he asked everyone in the room to step out except for me. He told me that the only thing I had going for me was my sex appeal and that there was none of that in this movie. So he told me he was going to shut down the film because no one would want to see me in that role.

He offered me one option to continue. He would let me finish the film if I agreed to do a sex scene with another woman. And he demanded full-frontal nudity.

I arrived on the set the day we were to shoot the scene that I believed would save the movie. And for the first and last time in my career, I had a nervous breakdown: My body began to shake uncontrollably, my breath was short and I began to cry and cry, unable to stop, as if I were throwing up tears.

Since those around me had no knowledge of my history of Harvey, they were very surprised by my struggle that morning. It was not because I would be naked with another woman. It was because I would be naked with her for Harvey Weinstein. But I could not tell them then.

This kind of stuff has been going on forever.

They engage in some steamy clinches, the most famous involving Schneider face down on the apartment floor while Brando applies butter to her nether regions and performs a sex act on her.

“That scene wasn’t in the original script. The truth is it was Marlon who came up with the idea,” she says.

“They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry.

“I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can’t force someone to do something that isn’t in the script, but at the time, I didn’t know that.

“Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie,’ but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears.

“I felt humiliated and to be honest that it’s hard to sit through any such scene, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologise. Thankfully, there was just one take.”

Now. I don’t think that every nude or partially nude scene with a beautiful actress is always the product of coercion. (And coercion in such matters is wrong, wrong, wrong.) But it happens often enough that when you see such a scene, tiny alarm bells should be going off in the back of your mind.

The actors unions have rules for how nudity and sex are to be depicted, but it’s easy to see that they’re maybe not strictly enforced. It’s possible that animals are better protected on movie and TV sets than women.

I’m not sure what advice to give viewers here, except maybe: Trust your gut. If it seems gratuitous and exploitative, it might be exactly that. You might want to adjust your viewing accordingly.

Unfuck civility


I took a little heat from friends a few weeks back when I suggested Maxine Waters’ call to “surround” Trump Administration officials might prove to cross a line.

I wrote:

If you’re intent on surrounding somebody with angry people, you’re going to make them fearful for their life. I’m not down with that. The congresswoman goes too far for my tastes.

Rebecca disagreed with me:

Black men and women, in particular, are frequently seen as angry, even when they’re not. When they are, they are seen as racist, no matter how justifiable their anger is.

Which is fair enough as far as it goes. But sometimes anger really is anger, and it really is threatening.

Which brings me to this story from my old stomping grounds in Philadelphia, where a pair of conservative activists were confronted over breakfast at Green Eggs Cafe this morning.

The pair being harassed was conservative commentators Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk, who were in Philadelphia for a board meeting of Turning Point USA, the pro-Trump youth organization they head.

In a video posted to Twitter by Owens, the protesters can be heard shouting: “They’re not Nazis, they’re soft fascists!,” “Fuck the bourgeoisie,” “Fuck white supremacy,” and “Cops and Klan, hand in hand.”

Unpleasant, but you might argue still well within bounds. Here, I think, is where events definitively crossed a line:

Local activist groups Abolish ICE Philly and Antifa Philly have not responded to Billy Penn’srequest for comment, but both organizations also posted photos of the Monday morning meleeon their respective Twitter accounts, depicting a liquid being thrown on Kirk (presumedly water flung by a protester)

I can hear objections already: “It’s just water!” No. Having an unknown fluid flung at you counts as assault in my books — it’s a violation of the person. Yes, it’s relatively minor as far as these things go. That’s why now is the time to draw lines: Before things get worse.

Which, ahem, is where I was trying to draw the line with Waters’ comments.

I’m not an “ends justify the means” person. Mennonites are not “ends justify the means people.” If they were, so many people we know would be living in Russia or Germany. Or they would’ve gone off to fight in World War II. They didn’t. So that informs my perspective.

But what was accomplished today anyway. The protesters feel good about themselves. The protested feel good about themselves, too — they were made martyrs for the cause today. Was anybody persuaded of anything? Was anything like justice done?

No? Then the whole event was what old-timers call a “circle jerk.”

If you think I’m overreacting, think about how — if you saw it — you reacted when you saw this video tweet from CNN’s Jim Acosta last week.

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Screenshot from Jim Acosta’s video at a Donald Trump rally.

Did you think:

Those people are angry! Probably righteously so! I want to join their crusade and critique of US media!

Or did you think:

What assholes.

Me? I came down on the latter side. I’m guessing most of the people reading this did too. As I do with whomever threw water at Charlie Kirk this morning.

We have to live with the standards we apply to other people, or we’re just opportunists and hypocrites. That’s no less true no matter how convinced we are that we’re the good guys.

For now, at least, we still live in a country where you have to persuade people to go along with your ideas for them to have a chance to succeed. Mostly, we’re abandoning such quaint notions of democracy. We shouldn’t. Before we give ourselves license to keep going just a little bit further in the name of justice, we should pause and ask ourselves: Is this the right thing to do? And what supporters will I win to the cause. If the answers are “no” and “none,” it’s a bad idea.

The ‘religious liberties’ con, Jay Sekulow version

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Give until it hurts, right? Photo by Pixabay on

A few weeks ago, I wrote for The Week that the GOP push for “religious liberties” is a con — because it doesn’t really apply to religious people so much as it does conservative Christians. It’s a “liberties for me, not for thee” approach that I find hypocritical and off-putting.

Turns out, the word “con” might be more appropriate than I realized. The Guardian on Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, also know for his work for the righty American Center for Law & Justice:

Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow that month approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60m to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.

Telemarketers for the nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case), were instructed in contracts signed by Sekulow to urge people who pleaded poverty or said they were out of work to dig deep for a “sacrificial gift”.

“I can certainly understand how that would make it difficult for you to share a gift like that right now,” they told retirees who said they were on fixed incomes and had “no extra money” – before asking if they could spare “even $20 within the next three weeks”.

In addition to using tens of millions of dollars in donations to pay Sekulow, his wife, his sons, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephew and their firms, Case has also been used to provide a series of unusual loans and property deals to the Sekulow family.

It’s a long story, but worth reading. It’s weird how often evangelical leaders turn out to be ripping off and abusing the people they’re supposed to lead and represent. It’s a tragedy.

Casualties in the Culture War

I recently discovered a new church in the town where I live. It’s a full gospel type of place–where they say “We do not teach man’s philosophy or our own ideas. We simply teach the Bible as it was originally written.” That aside, they seem to be doing some good things: prison ministry and a spoken commitment to fight racism right on the website (It probably helps that the church is led by two black pastors who are married to each other.) And it’s located in a neighborhood that needs the resources that a church can offer. The group meets in what looks like a small abandoned apartment building or the kind of motel where you are likely to get murdered. Many of the businesses nearby–a barber, a plumbing supply company–are missing windows. Not exactly an upscale place, but a place where there is need and where a church can make on-the-ground changes in people’s lives. I was pretty heartened when I saw it there.

Then I turned the corner and saw a series of banners on the side of the building, including this one:

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Above, a banner with the words “Legalize Jesus” written in white on a red background. A clenched fist rises from the bottom, a bloody hole in the wrist suggesting that it belongs to a crucified Jesus. The URLs at the bottom direct us to and Other banners on the church wall promote the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation and that, only by honoring God publicly, can we thrive as a nation, typical themes in conservative Christian churches. 

It’s a product of an organization that promotes the public display of the 10 Commandments. Of course, displaying the 10 Commandments is not “illegal,” as the banner suggests. Battles over displays of Christianity on tax-payer supported property, though, are really battles for Christian supremacy in the US.

What struck me about this sign on this particular church, though, is that the church really is on a battlefield. All around it, there is poverty, homelessness, addiction, violence, and sadness. Instead of keeping its focus narrowly on meeting the needs of those right in front of it, it turns its attention–and makes it entire visual identity about–the promotion of Christian nationalism. It enters a pretend war with “liberals” and “the government” rather than caring for actual victims of real oppression who are actually going hungry, thirsty, and naked. To be explicit: I don’t think anyone this church could be reaching would be better off if we had more displays of the 10 Commandments in town. 

I don’t mean to pick on this congregation, which I’m sure has many good-hearted people doing important work. It’s just a particularly visually striking example of so many churches’ decision to prioritize a culture war over the needs of the people they could be serving.


Mennonites have fled war and persecution. Now they’re trying to get away from gentrification.

Interesting story from up north:

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Photo by Jahoo Clouseau on

Pushed out by large-scale farms, suburban encroachment and soaring land prices, Ontario’s Mennonite and Amish communities are making the migration from Canada’s largest province to its smallest. In PEI the land is cheap, and the province accepts their desire to live apart from mainstream Canadian society, rejecting things like government-run secular schools, voting, carrying drivers’ licences or paying insurance.

Small-scale farms in Ontario are increasingly out of reach. The province has lost 20% of its farmland in the past 40 years, much of it to a growing urban population, new residential developments, and industries such as aggregate extraction that have gobbled up huge swaths of farmland.

I don’t have anything smart to say about this, except to point out that gentrification always disrupts traditions. Sometimes, on balance, that’s actually a good thing. But oftentimes, it’s just richer people claiming what used to belong to poorer people. It can even happen to Mennonites.

The Religious Rights’ Co-Dependency Problem

My friend MC shared this excerpt from a memoir he’s reading: Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back (Carol & Graf, 2007).

Schaeffer is the son of Francis Schaeffer (note that this link is to The Gospel Coalition, which presents a particularly rosy view of Francis Schaeffer), an architect of the Christian Right. The memoir tells of his change of heart and politics.

From the book:

[A]fter 9/11, the public got a glimpse of the anti-American self-righteous venom that was always just under the surface of the evangelical right.

Schaeffer’s book was published more than a decade ago, and I see it now as an early entry into a new genre: religious and political “quit-lit.” George Will and Max Boot recently wrote publicly about their change of voter registration recently, and David Gushee’s memoir Still Christian: Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism asks the same questions many American Christians are asking themselves: if these people are Christians, how can I be?

Some of the authors of these pieces express sadness at how their party/religion has changed over time. They voted with pride for Barry Goldwater, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, Dole. Bush II, McCain, Romney. But now the party is something else.

Schaeffer, I think, is more insightful. It’s not that the “venom” is new: it’s always been there. Or, as Jonathan Chait wrote in The New Yorker this winter:

The insistence by conservative dissidents on treating Trump as an alien disease upon their movement prevents them from diagnosing, and therefore treating, the source of the infection. To restore the Republican Party to health, defined as being committed to some baseline relationship with reality and a commitment to democratic governing norms, requires freeing it from conservatism’s grip. It requires a break from decades of American right-wing tradition.

Both Obama  and Clinton agitated, by their race and gender rather than by their relatively moderate ideas, the bigotry that unites the most conservative in the right. The wilder the accusations against them got–birtherism, Pizzagate–the more those rightwing voters were willing to take a chance on a “chaos candidate.”

And conservative Christian voters don’t mind the chaos. In fact, they embrace it. Writes Schaeffer:

What began to bother me was that so many of our new ‘friends’ on the religious right began rooting for one form of apocalypse or another. In the crudest form, this was part of the evangelical fascination with the so-called end times. The worse things got, the sooner Jesus would come back. But there was another component: the worse everything got, the more it proved that America needed saving, by us!

A core tenet of the Religious Right is that Jesus will return–and that return will preceded by violence and suffering. (Check out the Rapture Index for more on this. It’s an online calculator that factors in the state of current affairs–peace in the Middle East (a bad thing in this framework), oil prices, immorality, the jobless rate, and more–to determine how fast we’re hurtling toward Armageddon.) Suffering is to be expected, which means it is welcomed and, in some perverse ways, encouraged.

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Above, people place their hands on Donald Trump as they pray for him after his electoral win. What, exactly, are they praying for? 

In the same way, the faults of Obama and Clinton were exaggerated (Socialism! Communism! Secret Muslim takeover of the US!) so that rightwing voters could justify what they already wanted to do: vote in man who would bring more violence. There is a kind of codependency, I think: Republican policies undermine our health, safety, and economic stability. Religious conservatives then respond to the crisis of their own creation by supporting candidates who promise to do worse.