Of Mysticism and Social Justice: Christ Casting Avarice From The Temple

Christ Casting Avarice From The Temple ©Alfred Eaker 2018

“I came into the world.  Free by nature, in the image of God. I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born.  That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers.”

Thomas Merton, excerpt from Seven Storey Mountain (read by Pope Francis in his address to congress)

“THE KING” (2017) AND “POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD” (2018)

Eugene Jarecki is an intelligent documentary filmmaker who earned his reputation with Why We Fight(2005), Reagan(2011) and The House I Live In(2012). His latest, The King, focuses on as a symbol of the profligate American dream: a xenophobic pop culture phenomenon that remains as potent a seed today in Trump’s ‘Murica as it was in 1956, perhaps even more so. The original title of Jarecki’s film was “Promised Land” and, unwisely, distributors forced a name change. Apparently it was misleading to an audience believing (and hoping) it to be a straightforward biography of the late rock star. The American box office resulted in a whimper (although it has done well overseas). That’s unfortunate, as it’s a compelling, insightful and necessary film. As a contemporary artist, Jarecki is a provocateur. Before we get into that, here’s an insight from a filmmaker who has the pulse of contemporary art, and its audience:

“I like art that challenges you and makes a lot of people angry because they don’t get it. Because they refuse to look at it properly. Rather than open their mind to the possibility of seeing something, they just resist. A lot of people think contemporary art makes them feel stupid. Because they are stupid. They’re right. If you have contempt about contemporary art, you are stupid. You can be the most uneducated person in the world and completely appreciate contemporary art, because you see the rebellion. You see that it’s trying to change things.”–

Damn right. This is ambitious, highly charged, demanding contemporary art as documentary filmmaking. While we might concede that it overreaches, isn’t that better than a spoon-fed, orthodox approach? Some critics have complained that its premise is simplistic and yet paradoxically complicated. One might argue that, given the subject, and ultimately it’s also overly simplistic to dismiss it as simplistic. A thesis simply wouldn’t do, and Jarecki’s aesthetics are grisly and lurid, akin to what Albert Goldman did so brilliantly in his infamous biography of Presley. Like Goldman, Jarecki parallels the Presley phenomenon with the decline of America; but in the era of Donald Trump, Jarecki’s drive ultimately proves even more visceral than that slice of Americana written by Goldman in 1981.

Jarecki gets behind the wheels of Presley’s 1963 Rolls Royce and takes a cross-country tour from Tupelo, Mississippi (Presley’s birthplace and childhood home) and Memphis, Tennessee (home of Graceland) to Hollywood and Vegas (the dual cities that killed him— along with the Army, Presley’s first peddler that neutered him). Along the way, Jarecki picks up commentators such as James Carville, Emmylou Harris, D.J. Fontana (Presley’s drummer), Jerry Schilling (Presley’s best friend), (a certified Elvis fan and the film’s producer), Alec Baldwin, Mike Meyers (startlingly lucid), Ashton Kutcher (the most misplaced), and church folk. The last viewpoint is important, because they’re the very same evangelicals that sacrificed their ethics to vote for Trump (and other morally bankrupt characters, e.g. Roy Moore) to secure their white bread system. We can, of course, succumb to condescending platitudes that the low-informed are easy targets; but it was underestimating their numbers that secured Trump’s ‘Murica.

Yes, The King is devastatingly political. It damn well should be, because we can’t accept the (borrowed) excuse of  someone like the WWII-era Berlin Philharmonic conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler, who feebly spin-doctored sitting on his hands with the justification of avoiding politics. Rather, he avoided an ethical backbone. Jarecki’s politicizing of American culture is justified because now, more than ever—in an age where some restaurants require a college degree and 3-4 years experience to get into management—we elected a blatantly misogynistic, racially pandering, trash TV host, with no previous governing experience, to the highest office in the land. We did so in adulation of his (inherited, not earned) money and pop celebrity status. When Jarecki paints a connection between the fat Elvis of casino excess dying on a toilet to the fat blowhard and pornstar-lubbin’ casino baron, in way over his head, retreating to the golf course, it’s done so with the subtlety of a Batman KAPOW!

The composer Gustav Mahler once said, “A symphony, like the world, should contain everything.” That is the inherent, authentic spirituality of Jarecki’s The King. Admittedly, by encompassing everything, it occasionally gets away from the filmmaker, but there is also a refreshingly idiosyncratic sprawling quality that renders it unforgettable.

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RED MEAT THEATER: THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST, OUR MOTHER (featuring Cheryl Townsend as Christ, and Donald Trump, his Admin, and the Alt-Right as her murderers) opening October 14th, 2017 at Thunder-Sky Gallery

Thunder-Sky Inc Gallery

4573 Hamilton Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45223

Opens Oct 14, 6-10 pm

Alfred Eaker artist statement on Red Meat Theater

Christ, Our Mother, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Christ, Our Mother is a reworking of the Good Shepherd theme and is best summarized by Andrew Harvey. “The Future of the world depends on the full restoration of the Sacred Feminine in all its tenderness, passion, divine ferocity, and surrendered persistence.”

Magnificat, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Magnificat, of course is the Lukian discourse attributed to Our Lady. It’s a precursor to “The Beatitudes.” Historicity not being a concern, the character of the Beatitudes reads as coming from the womb of the Magnificat’s author (hence, I use Cheryl Townsend as model for both Christ and Mary). The titled proclamation is an entry point into a nativity setting with Bing, Bowie, and the Little Drummer Boy as wise men paying homage. Burl Ives’ snowman, a skinny misfit Santa, and Diana Ross as an angel further announce the Christmas setting while a threatened, Trumpian/Herodian Goblin of Banality fumes in the landscape.

The Baptism of Christ, Our Mother, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

The Temptation of Christ, Our Mother, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

After her baptism, Christ is tempted by Old Nick himself, Lord Trump (and his 4-million-dollar golden toilet) in The Temptation of Christ, Our Mother.

Christ, our Mother and the Wedding at Cana, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Christ Our Mother celebrates the first SSM with Joe Biden in The Wedding at Cana. The Couple is based off men I knew who may not have ended as tragically as they did if laws had been more accepting at the time. This is my homage to Bud and Jeff (AKA Pee Wee).

Christ Our Mother and the adulteress, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Christ, Our Mother casting the demons into the swine, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Christ, Our Mother and the Samaritan woman, according to St. John acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Christ, Our Mother and the Samaritan woman, according to St. John depicts parallel myths. In the first, St. John (modeled after Antonio Adams) pens the narrative of Christ befriending an immigrant outsider. Meanwhile, three men are in hell, lamenting their state and questioning why they cannot leave this place. However, each wails loudly and in frustration complains that his neighbor is hell (this was a homily I heard in adolescence, told by Bishop Fulton Sheen).

Good Samaritan (A parable, as told by Christ, Our Mother), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Good Samaritan (A parable, as told by Christ, Our Mother) is an overly familiar one, but composed here under the teaching of the Christ figure: “In addition to giving your cloak, give you tunic as well,” and like St. Francis, Christ strips down to model what she preaches: “When you welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend to the ill, you do this to me.” The Mother of the Conquered, she puts her strength into those who have been deeply stunned and staggered, harmfully shocked and pulled down, painfully intruded and left for dead. Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

Lazarus & The Rich Man (A parable, as told by Christ, Our Mother), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Lazarus & The Rich Man (A parable, as told by Christ, Our Mother) depicts Bernie Sanders as Father Abraham. Lazarus is modeled after the son of a friend, and Trump, as the rich man, throws a temper tantrum. Christ haughtily tells the tale to St. John, who will be inspired. David Ross and James Mannan are models for saints James and Peter.

Christ, our Mother healing the Leper, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Lenny Bernstein breaks a sweat conducting the whirling dervish in an Ode To Freedom as Christ, our Mother healing the Leper. Adorned in a three-sided Hindu mask is the Trump demon mocking the less fortunate.

Christ, Our Mother heals the faithful Centurion’s pais, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Christ, Our Mother heals the faithful Centurion’s pais is a well-known sacred narrative, which here pays tribute to a war hero and maverick who has the courage to stand against the Trump regime.

Christ, Our Mother and the Sermon On The Mount, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Ted Nugent contemplates assassinating Our Mother during the Sermon On The Mount. The late Greg Brown as St. Thomas, Denny Stevens as St. Luke, and Jimmy Carter as St. Matthew are among the attendees.

Mary and Martha, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

The complex Mary and Martha: It is Mary in the first narrative who sits at the feet of a teaching Christ while Martha complains, wanting help with the dinner (or whatever). Christ lets poor Martha know that Mary has the better priority. Later, it is Mary who complains when Christ arrives after her brother has died, but it is Martha who trusts Christ and has faith.

The Transfiguration of Christ, Our Mother, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

A Cher-like Christ leaps for joy with dancing Obamas as Yukon Cornelius celebrates their rainbow for misfits in The Transfiguration of Christ, Our Mother.

Vipers, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Vipers depicts a fast food crowned, wife beater Trump stalking Hillary while Gingrich and Palin egg the misogynist on. True to form, Christ calls them out.

Christ, Our mother throwing out the Moneychangers, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Karen Handel, Trump, and Mitch McConnell are The Moneychangers thrown out of the temple by Christ, Our Mother.

Red Meat Theater: Stations of the Cross  (Christ, Our Mother in the Garden of Agony), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Red Meat Theater: Stations of the Cross (The betrayal and arrest of Christ, Our Mother), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Betsy Devos, adorned in all her avarice as the Judas that she is, accompanied by alt-right thugs in The betrayal and arrest of Christ, Our Mother.

Red Meat Theater: Stations of the Cross (The trial of Christ, our Mother), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Red Meat Theater: Stations of the Cross (The Passion of Christ, Our Mother), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Mike Pence cheers his lord and master Trump on in The Passion of Christ, Our Mother.

Red Meat Theater: Stations of the Cross (Christ, our mother before Pilate), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Paul Ryan as Pilate, washes his hands (with water given him by Steve Bannon) in Christ before Pilate.

Red Meat Theater: Stations of the Cross (Christ, Our Mother falls ), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Jerry Falwell Jr and David Duke fly their true Trumpian colors in Stations: Christ falls.

Red Meat Theater: Stations of the Cross (Christ meets her Mother on the way to the cross), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Red Meat Theater: Stations of the Cross (Christ, our Mother meets the women of Jerusalem), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Red Meat Theater: Stations of the Cross (Mary and the beloved disciple at the foot of the cross), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Red Meat Theater: Stations of the Cross (The Gospel of Contempt), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Red Meat Theater: Stations of the Cross (The Murder of Christ, Our Mother), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Kim Davis, Mike Huckabee, and Ted Cruz are among the bloody supporters of Trump in The Murder of Christ, Our Mother.

RED MEAT THEATER-Stations of the cross (Yellow Resurrection), acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

BlueMahler, endless narrator that he always is, accompanies Mary and Martha for a Yellow Resurrection. “No demure little cabbage, that woman. No paltry, well-behaved carbon dot. No follower of world orders. She has dirty hands from growing earthly things, and from her day and night work alongside her hard-working sons and daughters. The thugs of the world try to erase her and erase her people, to un-mother them and while, yes, she is calm, but she is not without the will to rise again and again. She is pure, but not as in never going dark, never having doubt, never taking a wrong turn for a time. Holy Mother is not meant to be a fence. Holy Mother is a gate. All are mine, she says, whether they know me or not, whether they practice devotion or not.” Estes.

Peter and John racing to the tomb of Christ, Our Mother, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

The Ascension Of Christ, Our Mother, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

Poor Donald gets eclipsed again in The Ascension Of Christ, Our Mother. If he could only learn that changing from bad to good is as easy as Winter Warlock’s first step. Still, Pope Francis and St. John are having a good old time enjoying the show.

The Apocalypse of Christ our Mother, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

After the Trump boys appeared at The trial of Christ, Our Mother (with big daddy Ciaphas Trump) they show up again as black-hatted Voldemort and Lash Larue in The Apocalypse of Christ our Mother. Per the norm, Melania is ignored while Bunker Trump plays with Ivanka as the world falls apart. Still Christ, (Cheryl as a Dorothy Parker type) hitches a ride to something better with St. John and King Moonracer.

 A Woman clothed in the sun, acrylic on canvas ©2017 Alfred Eaker

The Trump administration shows up as The Beast in A Woman clothed in the sun. Ok yeah, it’s stating the obvious, but subtlety is kinda boring these days.