Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Constructing the Diva: Virginia Rodrigues and the Commodification of Candomble

Virginia Rodrigues and Candomble:

“The people of nago sing/Their bodies will not remain inert,” Virginia Rodrigues sings in “Salvador Não Inerte,” or “Salvador is not Inert,” from her 2000 album Nos. This Bahian Carnaval song, transformed by Rodrigues into a lilting ballad that some have compared to European classical compositions (Cibula, Davies, Hollings), evokes movement. As its message is transported from the streets of Salvador de Bahia and into the stereos of discriminating “first-world” music connoisseurs, who comprise the majority of Rodrigues’s audience, multiple questions emerge. What sort of movement is evoked? Who is moving? In what direction are they moving? What is the intention of their movement?

Virginia Rodrigues and her practice of Candomblé are recorded commodities. As such, they are fundamentally products of the global capitalist marketplace. Candomblé has been appropriated by dominant power in Brazil in the construction of an “authentic” national culture. Relatedly, the legitimization of Candomblé has supported the “myth of racial democracy.” The export of Virginia Rodrigues’s recordings and performances through global capitalism supports these objectives. Rodrigues’s practice of Candomblé is presented paternalistically as “ethnic flavor” by critical media in the “developed” world, while her biographical narrative is employed to reinforce the American and global capitalist mythology of “rags to riches.” In contrast, Rodrigues’s own performance of Candomblé through her lyrics and press statements is more resistant. Rodrigues maintains commitments to the spiritual integrity of Candomblé, Afro-Brazilian identity and desires for racial justice. Rather than uncritically embracing global capitalism, she situates herself within the local cultures of Salvador de Bahia and the alternative global formations of the “Black Atlantic." These tensions between globalization/capitalism/commodification and Afro-diasporic resistance/spirituality/local culture characterize Virginia Rodrigues’s position as the “diva” of Candomblé.

The Commodification of Candomble and Virginia Rodrigues:

Candomblé is a syncretic Afro-diasporic religious tradition of Brazil, most heavily practiced in the state of Bahia where the Afro-Brazilian population is especially large. Candomblé involves a synthesis of Yoruba, Ewe-Fon, Bantu and Catholic customs, with the Yoruba influence emerging most potently. There are multiple “nations” of Candomblé with different emphases and ethnic histories. All emphasize the interconnectedness of “creation, power, wisdom and divinity” (Henry 110), with the relationship between humanity and the natural world prioritized. Initiates of Candomblé believe in a supreme deity named Olódúmaré who is beyond human comprehension. The Orixás, deities who possess more human characteristics, facilitate connections between humanity and Olódúmaré. Most Orixás possess both positive and negative qualities. Thus there is some emphasis on maintaining the balance of forces held in tension. Most initiates have a particular Orixá with whom they identify, and may channel through ecstatic trance. In general, the body emerges as a fundamental site of religious experience. Candomblé is not concerned with eternal salvation but with everyday reality. As Reginaldo Prandi describes, “ultimate concerns for Candomblé mean the concrete issues of life” (656).

The practice of Candomblé was for many years outlawed, and its followers were persecuted. Orixás were syncretized with Catholic saints to evade detection. More recently, this situation has shifted as Candomblé has been publicly legitimized. However, Candomblé now faces the threat of annihilation or devaluation through appropriation by “national culture.” Beginning in the 1960’s, middle-class Brazilian intellectuals embraced Candomblé as they “searched for what could be taken as the very original roots of Brazilian culture” (Prandi 644). Candomblé is now “implicated in Brazil’s national representations” (Johnson 315), as a symbol of “authentic” Brazilian culture for global consumption. This is in spite of the efforts of many Candomblé initiates to maintain Candomblé’s secrecy and specifically Afro-Brazilian character.

Through these nationalist appropriations, Candomblé reinforces the “myth of racial democracy” that constructs Brazil as a racial paradise where frequent miscegenation purportedly erases race as a cogent factor in social organization. This myth denies the reality that darker-skinned Afro-Brazilians remain at the bottom of most social hierarchies. The generation of the “myth of racial democracy” by sociologists such as Gilberto Freyre allowed for the validation of Afro-Brazilian practices such as Candomblé and their cooptation by “national culture.” As Dutch anthropologist Mattijs Van de Port describes, “the reimagination of the Brazilian nation as the unique mix of the white, Indian and black races allowed for a reevaluation of the African heritage on Brazilian soil” (447). This process had particular implications within the state of Bahia, where poverty and the large Afro-Brazilian population contributed to a predominantly negative popular image. In the interests of improving their reputation, “Bahia’s (largely white) cultural elite was particularly eager to profit from this renewed interest in Afro-Brazilian culture” (Van de Port 447).

Beyond (and related to) this appropriation by “national culture” and the “myth of racial democracy,” Candomblé is now a product of global capitalism through tourism and mass media. Because of its symbolic value as an arbiter of Brazilian and Bahian authenticity, Candomblé is now marketed by “tourist entrepreneurs” (Van de Port 447), and is “under siege…by cameras” (Van de Port 447). Legitimate fears exist that “the media will reduce Candomblé to mere folklore” (Van de Port 447). As U.S. anthropologist Sheila S. Walker describes, “this commercialization and, to some believers, profanation of their sacred symbols, music, dances, and costumes further contributes…to making them a pervasive part of the everyday reality of nonmembers as well as members” (105). Candomblé is appropriated by “national culture” and the “myth of racial democracy,” then commodified and exported through global capitalism and the mass media.

It is within this context of appropriation and commodification that Virginia Rodrigues emerges. Her recordings are themselves commodities, purchased by her patrons who are predominately “first world” elites. Rodrigues is an initiate of Candomble, and the majority of her material references these experiences. Music has special value within Candomble as a mechanism for communication with the Orixas and a primary vehicle of religious experience. As anthropologist Brian Brazeal notes, “music is not just an accompaniment; it is the means by which ritual work is done” (640). Clarence Bernard Henry further clarifies that “music is one of the most important vehicles of religious expression” (110). Because of the value ascribed to music, the commodification of Virginia Rodrigues’s songs, many of which are invocations of Candomble’s deities, is especially relevant to the commodification of Candomble as a whole.

Virginia Rodrigues’s reception by critical media abroad highlights the construction of Candomble as “authentic” Brazilian culture exported through global capitalism. When Rodrigues made her debut, the New York Times immediately dubbed her “the new voice of Brazilian music,” a title that is repeatedly referenced in forthcoming media. Rodrigues becomes the carrier of authenticity, with Ink Blot Magazine’s Matt Cibula enthusiastically declaring “this album IS Candomble, it IS black Bahian Brazil, it IS dignity and soul.” But it becomes immediately clear that Cibula and his cohort are not entirely certain what this means; although Rodrigues’s practice of Candomble is referenced in nearly every article written, Candomble is never contextualized, and its value for Rodrigues is never elaborated. Rather, Rodrigues is continually described in “othering” terms; “a big, black, smiling sun; her voice…polished by the sea, weathered by the wind” (Church), Rodrigues is a “poised mountain of a woman” (Berson).
Critics gravitate toward Rodrigues’s biography. After living in poverty for many years, Rodrigues was “discovered” by singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso and began her career relatively late in life (she was in her 30’s). The critical press repeatedly re-deploys this narrative. As Wellington, New Zealand’s Evening Post tells it, “it is a fairytale story - the poor girl from the slums of Bahia…toiling unrewarded in humble church choirs, apparently destined through cruel circumstance to be denied the opportunity to develop her God-given gift” (Hollings), while the San Diego Union Tribune declares that “the story of Rodrigues’ discovery…is straight out of a Hollywood melodrama” (Gilbert). Whether Rodrigues’s experience is a “fairytale” or a “Hollywood melodrama,” critics remain intent on romanticizing her life story. These romantic narratives emphasize Rodrigues’s ascent from poverty into praise by “first world” elites; in so doing, they appropriate Rodrigues’s biography to reinforce capitalist ideologies of upward mobility as manifested in the classic concept of “rags to riches.” Through her participation in her own commodification, Virginia Rodrigues is complicit in the commodification of Candomble.

Virginia Rodrigues and Afro-Brazilian Consciousness

Within her own statements and recordings, Virginia Rodrigues at times displays a resistant Afro-Brazilian identity that challenges the very discourses of “national culture” and “racial democracy” and processes of global capitalism in which her own work is implicated. Rodrigues is conscious of her own social location, having once stated, “I’m a woman, I’m black, I’m poor” (Church). Rodrigues understands her own work as a mechanism for highlighting and improving the conditions of Black Brazilians, declaring, “it may seem like I'm singing with anger sometimes and that's because some songs talk about the situation of black people in Brazil. As a black person, I've felt racism and still feel it”; Rodrigues goes on to identify Brazilian racism as “a big problem” (Nazareth). Because of its emphasis on individuals’ everyday experiences, many have claimed that Candomble is a religion devoid of political intent. As Reginaldo Prandi says, “Candomble has no message for the world: it would not know what to do with the world if it was given the chance of transforming it” (656). But in a national context where race and racism are explicitly denied, declarations of Afro-Brazilian consciousness, including self-conscious affiliations with Candomble, are themselves political acts.

Furthermore, we cannot assume that Candomble and the mass media are inherently antithetical. Although global capitalism’s profit motivation and institutional power complicate the issue, mass media may be a “necessary evil” in struggles for recognition. Mattijs Van de Port notes that “religion has always depended upon practices of mediation in its attempts to render present the transcendental realm to which it refers” (445). Thus the question is not whether a relationship exists between religion and media, but rather how and toward what ends religion is mediated in a given context. As Candomble is appropriated and commodified, Afro-Brazilians may attempt to utilize the mass media on their own terms. Italian anthropologist Livio Sansone reminds us that globalization, although powerful, is not as totalizing or all-encompassing as we sometimes imagine it to be. He says, “locals reinterpret the global and…certain aspects of globalizing forces, rather than creating homogeneity, end up being instrumental in the creation of local varieties of…culture” (140). This complex relationship between the local and the global creates spaces for Virginia Rodrigues to resist commodification, or to frame her commodification in more resistant terms.

On her sophomore album Nos, Rodrigues interprets songs from the Bahian Carnaval, several written during the Black Brazilian consciousness-raising movements of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Many are invocations of Orixas and other deities of Candomble. Most are rooted in Afro-Brazilian identity and grounded in the experiences of Salvador de Bahia. In “Salvador Nao Inerte,” (Salvador is not Inert), Rodrigues sings, “the spirit of Olodum is Negritude/Overwhelming in its magnitude/The masses are swept up in its song/And fill the square with emotion.” Elsewhere, this Afro-Brazilian consciousness takes on more combative qualities: “And the idealism spreads itself/From the sacred throne made right/by the sun/History reveals for the good/The revolt of the Adja people/That installed themselves in the spirit” (“Reino de Daome," Nos). In contrast to her commodification in mainstream critical media, Virginia Rodrigues at times exhibits an oppositional consciousness.

Virginia Rodrigues and the Black Atlantic

Virginia Rodrigues’s recorded work also situates her within alternative global formations. Paul Gilroy’s concept of the “Black Atlantic” highlights the transmission and exchange of cultural forms and patterns of resistance within the African diaspora. Gilroy describes the Black Atlantic as “the suggestion that cultural historians could take the Atlantic as one single, complex unit of analysis in their discussions of the modern world and use it to produce an explicitly transnational and intercultural perspective.” (15) As they travel across and within borders, the creations of Afro-diasporic artists in different nation-states may resonate as much with one another as with those of fellow citizens. The Black Atlantic isn’t so much a particular historical narrative or theory as it is a lens, a “unit of analysis” that enables us to recognize previously unidentified connections across and between cultures.

Candomblé is linked with other Afro-diasporic religious communities originating in Yoruba and Ewe-Fon traditions, including Cuban Santería and Haitian Voudoun. Rodrigues’s religious practice itself connects her to Black populations in Africa and the Caribbean. Many of the Bahian Carnaval songs that Rodrigues performs on Nos were produced within the context of transnational Afrocentric consciousness-building movements of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Brazilian scholar Antonio J.V. dos Santos Godi, in his history of the development of samba-reggae, traces the “constructions of an Afrocentric aesthetic in the Carnival of Salvador” (213) to this era, noting that “from the outset, [this] local phenomenon…was related to Afro-diasporic musical forms with global projection” (213). The Salvadoran Carnaval song “Afrekete,” interpreted by Rodrigues on Nos and written by Edil Pacheco and Paulo Cesar Pinheiro, was copyrighted in 1987, locating it within this era. The figure of Afrekete is difficult to identify. Although she is not one of the primary Orixás, Afrekete is likely an Ewe-Fon deity and trickster figure connected with the sea (Provost 46-47). It has been suggested that she might also be linked with the Orixá Eshu, another trickster figure who facilitates communication between humans and deities. In Rodrigues’s song, Afrekete is empowered by Xango, the Orixá of thunder and justice.

Rodrigues elevates her Afro-Brazilian racial identity through identification with Afrekete, declaring, “because I am the color of Afrekete/This way I am full of emotion with/Afrekete in my heart.” As in her other work, Rodrigues’s song for Afrekete is explicitly rooted in the local context of Salvador de Bahia. She sings, “It was on the ground of Salvador, Bahia/That I risked my path.” At the same time, “Afrekete” is linked with the transnational exchange of cultures within the African diaspora. In her “biomythography” Zami, Black American writer Audre Lorde reclaims and resignifies her mother’s Afro-Caribbean heritage to construct a history of Afro-diasporic lesbianism and Black women-loving-women. At the conclusion of her narrative, Lorde describes a transformative sexual encounter with a woman named Afrekete. Lorde and Afrekete are bonded through their mutual experiences of American racism. Lorde’s momentary connection with another woman of the diaspora heals her, leaving a “print…upon [her] life with the resonance and power of an emotional tattoo” (253). Afrekete’s name is an intentional reference to the (for Lorde) Afro-Caribbean deity, whom Lorde describes as “the mischievous linguist, trickster, best-beloved, whom we must all become” (255).

Virginia Rodrigues and Audre Lorde are connected across the Black Atlantic, from Africa to Brazil to the Caribbean to the United States, by their invocations of Afrekete. Disenfrachised by race, class and gender, they are empowered by their identification with the Black female divine. It is of further importance to note that the particular female deity in question is understood to be a trickster, a figure of subversion reappearing in multiple forms throughout the African diaspora as Eshu, Legba, the Signifying Monkey or Brer Rabbit. Rodrigues becomes the trickster when she claims agency to direct her own commodification. As literary scholar Kara Provost describes Lorde’s relationship with the trickster, “the power of the trickster’s heterogeneous identity and ability to communicate, connect and survive despite (and because of) difference” (47), creates a model for resistance.

Constructing the Diva:

Virginia Rodrigues is often described as a “diva,” as when the Independent’s Michael Church dubs her “the diva of the Favelas.” Divas are themselves contested figures. As powerful and autonomous female performers, divas provide models for female empowerment as they “get away with” non-normative lifestyles in the public eye. At the same time, divas’ singularity and exceptionality may foreclose possibilities for collective mobilization. The contradictions of diva-dom take on particular relevance with relation to Virginia Rodrigues, who is not only a powerful woman performer, but also a Black, poor and “third world” performer. Rodrigues’s singularity and the related commodification of her work implicates her in Brazilian “national culture,” the “myth of racial democracy” and global capitalism. At the same time, Rodrigues often exhibits an oppositional consciousness that connects her with movements for Afro-Brazilian recognition and situates her within the alternative global formations of the Black Atlantic. Like the Orixás of Candomblé, who possess constructive and destructive impulses, Virginia Rodrigues embodies tensions.

Works Cited

Berson, Misha. “Rodrigues: Her Voice will Melt your Heart.” The Seattle Times 12 April 2001. E3.

Brazeal, Brian. “The Music of the Bahian Caboclos.” Anthropological Quarterly 76.4 (2003): 639-669.

Church, Michael. “The Diva of the Favelas.” The Independent (London) 12 March, 2004. 18.

Cibula, Matt. “Virginia Rodrigues: Nos.” Ink Blot Magazine 2002. 3 March 2007

Davies, Ellen. “Singing from the Heart of Brazil.” The Evening Post (Wellington) 1 March 2002, 22.

Gilbert, Andrew. “Church Background Helps Define her Style.” The San Diego Union Tribune 1 November 2001, 15.

Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic. ?

Godi, Antonio J.V. dos Santos. “Reggae and Samba-Reggae in Bahia: A Case of Long-Distance Belonging.” ?

Henry, Clarence Bernard. “Music and Female Imagery in the Candomble Religion of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.” Journal of Latin American Lore 22:1 (2004), 109-136.

Hollings, James. “A Voice of Raw Beauty with Power to Surprise.” The Evening Post (Wellington) 4 March 2002, 13.

Johnson, Paul Christopher. “Migrating Bodies, Circulating Signs: Brazilian Candomblé, the Garifuna of the Caribbean, and the Category of Indigenous Religions.” History of Religions 41.4 (2002): 301-327.

Lorde, Audre. Zami: A New Spelling of my Name. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1982.

Nazareth, Errol. “Brazilian Singer Explores her Roots.” The Toronto Sun 14 April 2000, 81.

Prandi, Reginaldo. “African Gods in Contemporary Brazil.” International Sociology 15.4 (2000): 641-663.

Provost, Kara. “Becoming Afrekete: The Trickster in the Work of Audre Lorde.” MELUS 20:4 (1995), 45-59.

Rodrigues, Virginia. Nos. Natasha Records, 2000.

Sansone, Livio. Blackness without Ethnicity. ?

Van de Port, Mattijs. “Visualizing the Sacred: Video Technology, “Televisual” Style, and the Religious Imagination in Bahian Candomblé.” American Ethnologist 33.3 (2006): 444-461.

Walker, Sheila S. “Everyday and Esoteric Reality in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé.” History of Religions 30.2 (1990) 103-128.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Death of Kara "Starbuck" Thrace Destroyed me in the Most Fantastic of Ways, or Why Battlestar Gallactica is still Utterly Fantastic

warning: contains crazy spoilers.

Generally, I tend not to post my responses to television unless they engage the material from the perspective of a "cultural critic," examining cultural products as texts where various social hierarchies are either challenged or reaffirmed, and/or where categories of identity are produced and managed. But after the controversy that has erupted following Sunday night's killing of Kara "Starbuck" Thrace on Battlestar Gallactica, I've decided to change my tune. What follows is written more as a fan than as an intellectual activist. ...or at least it's as non-intellectual as I'm currently capable of being.

I've avoided polluting my experience of Battlestar Gallactica with involvement in fan communities. I find this series to be so shockingly fantastic that I can't bear to interact with "fans" who do not understand the depth and integrity of what they are watching. I know this sounds pretentious as all frack. I'm ordinarily very pro-fandom as a healthy manifestation of agency, a way of "talking back" to mass culture. But where Battlestar is concerned, this ceases to work for me. My stomach literally churns when I hear this series referred to as entertainment. I believe Battlestar Gallactica to be a work of art that is mythological, biblical and Shakespearian in scope, while simultaneously grounded in the visceral, the human and the everyday. It's expanded my understanding of what the format of television is capable of producing.

The other night, distraught by the death of Starbuck, I broke my own rule and sought solace from the internet fan-base. What I encountered disturbed me more than I ever could've expected. Fans' responses to the third season in general and to this episode specifically are truly disheartening. It seems as though many experience this series solely as an action/adventure epic about kicking bad-guy ass, and do not know what to make of the increasingly blurred boundary between humans and Cylons, a progression that I believe to be one of the series' central themes. They are bored by "overly dark" episodes about the subtle tensions, differences and inequalities that divide humanity from within. Perhaps they should re-evaluate their fandom. Episodes like "The Woman King" and "Dirty Hands" are what Battlestar is all about. In a recent TV Guide interview, Mary McDonnell characterized the series' mission more effectively than in anything else I've ever read:

"We keep having to return to our main thrust, which is the survival of the fleet and the definition of the enemy. I think that's where the core of the show lies, is continuing to push, push, push at how we perceive the enemy, and what is the root of our perception and how in the world can we redefine what that means, so that we could respond differently? And I think that's what the Cylons represent. They represent the enemy as ourselves. But when are we going to evolve on the planet to the point where we see that we have to bridge the gap between ourselves and our perceived enemies, rather than go to war with them and continue to destroy? I think that's what the show is really about. What does it mean to survive? What if we didn't? A lot of the reason that people really enjoy watching the show is because it's not just dealing with terrorism and war and the idea of being an occupied nation and insurgency, but it constantly elevates those ideas and says, "What if there was another dimension at which we were beginning to perceive it?"

I believe this "elevation" to "another dimension" is only going to become more prominent in the episodes to come. The question of the meaning and value of "survival" is central. If viewers can't appreciate this complexity, perhaps it's actually good that they jump ship.

And with regard to Sunday night--
In all of the hullabaloo over Starbuck's death, no one seems to be acknowledging that "Maelstrom" was an absolutely fantastic episode. The exploration of Starbuck's relationship with her mother was wrenching; whoever penned the drecktastic ep several weeks ago about Adama's ex-wife should take lessons from "Maelstrom's" writer on how to "show not tell" when establishing a character's backstory. The transition from Leoben-the-creepfest to not-Leoben-the-spiritual-guide was fascinating and in keeping with that "character's" mystical and cosmologically-inclined backbone. Adama's destruction of his model ship was one of the strongest moments Edward James Olmos has given us all season. The episode's lack of resolution is intentional. It's called storytelling.

Perhaps Starbuck's "destiny" still waits to be unfurled. Perhaps she pulled the ejection lever and went through "the eye of Jupiter," or perhaps she is one of "the final five." Personally, I suspect there is something far more mystical and radical coming down the pipeline, something having to do with this "space between life and death," something that will more fundamentally question "human" and "Cylon" as separate and oppositional categories. ...Or perhaps Starbuck's obsession with her destiny was a manifestation of her inner turmoil. Perhaps her final act was indeed fueled by desperation. Perhaps she committed what amounts to suicide. Perhaps some of us remain permanently thwarted and haunted, our redemption withheld; perhaps we erupt in balls of flame without meaning or purpose. I believe this is a very intentional move on the part of Ronald Moore and David Eick to force us to sit with this possibility before revealing their "master plan." If viewers cannot handle this ambiguity, if they cannot face this darkness, if they require neat-and-tidy narratives where all lives have a purpose that is predictably and reassuringly revealed in the denouement, then they do not deserve to be watching this series.

As I believe Katee Sackhoff was herself quoted as saying on some message board (this was reiterated elsewhere, so I have no confirmation)... Let them finish the fracking story.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Me & the Universe/The Universe & Me

"We believe that the Universe itself is conscious in a way we can never truly understand. It is engaged in a search for meaning, so it breaks itself apart, investing its own consciousness in every form of life. We are the Universe, trying to explain itself."

"The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make this station and the nebula outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are star-stuff. We are the Universe, made manifest, trying to figure itself out. And, as we have both learned, sometimes the Universe needs a change of perspective."
--Delenn, "Babylon 5"

Recently, I've been reconsidering religion.

In my religious ethics course on creating sustainable communities within the context of globalization, I'm learning to embrace the rejection of andocentrism, a concept that previously felt anathema. I feared there was a slippery slope from letting go of our beliefs in human beings as the most valuable form of life to the devaluation of particular human beings on the basis of race, gender, class, sexuality. In part because of the frequent scapegoating of poor people of color for environmental degradation, I felt it was important to emphasize human rights as a higher priority than environmental health. But increasingly, I find myself understanding biodiversity as a prerequisite for human justice. To understand advocacy for environmental sustainability as somehow opposed to the welfare of marginalized human communities is but another manifestation of "divide and conquer." Environmental wholeness facilitates diversity in human communities. I am claiming new concepts of "relationality." Until now, I've embraced intersectionality in relation to systems of domination and oppression, yet have not considered myself intertwined with creation at a more individual and embodied level.

I found the above quotes, delivered by the Minbari Ambassador Delenn on the sci-fi series "Babylon 5," to be deeply resonant. It is mildly embarrassing to find inspiration in a television character. Posting this dialogue here, I am afraid it sounds like new-age drivel. Even before my disconnect from institutionalized religious practice, when I was still involved as an activist within the United Methodist Church, I avoided all expressions of belief that did not highlight justice, liberation and resistance to oppression; they seemed to me to be hollow and sentimental. But at their best, professions of faith are cosmological. They situate us, clarifying our relationship to creation and to one another. This is far from sentimental.

I am the universe, trying to explain itself.

Last year, as Diversity Outreach Consultant for DePaul University's Queer student organization, I screwed up royally by intellectualizing religion as "cultural systems" for meaning-making, forgetting the extent to which individuals' identities are emotionally embedded in religion. Seeking a more grounded experience of myself within community, I find myself wanting to re-embrace the emotionality of religious practice through tradition and ritual. I want to humble myself to mystery and the unknowable, to consider my body a loaner whose stewardship I'm entrusted rather than an object that I own. I do not know where this development will lead me... but as Delenn says, "faith manages."