Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Catholic High Mass - Beautiful and Inherently Gay?

Although Andrew Sullivan’s politics suck (he supports the so-called “War on Terror”, and considers Michael Moore anti-American and Noam Chomsky a “liar”), he can occasionally offer humorous, though not entirely convincing, insights into the state of the Catholic Church.

Here’s an excerpt from Sullivan’s
latest offering:

I've often wondered how many straight Catholics fully appreciate how gay their church has always been. Especially in the old days. High Mass was, in its heyday, more elaborate and choreographed than a very melodramatic Broadway musical. Do people really believe that gay priests and religious had nothing to do with it? They had everything to do with it.

The first time I walked into a gay disco, with all those lights, music, ritual and smoke, my immediate thought was: church! . . . It's theater, sweetie, theater. And the Church once understood that – which was part of its beautiful Catholicity. Gone, now, alas. But Benedict is helping nudge it back. And although I tease him about it, it's a wonderful thing. More incense, please. And lace.

Hmm . . . I can't say that my first experience of a gay disco (the Saloon in downtown Minneapolis in February 1994!) brought to mind for me a Catholic liturgy - High Mass or otherwise. Then again, I'm a bit of a failure in terms of embracing those supposedly typical gay things like Broadway musicals, Madonna, and, er, lace.

That being said, I do think that gay people, like many others who have undergone long and difficult struggles to find and embody what is most true and beautiful within themselves, are often attuned to seeking and revealing beauty around them. I think that's why a lot of gay men, for instance, do indeed excel at bringing beauty to church liturgies - whether via contributions to ritual, music, and/or the actual physical space of a given place of worship.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism

.
Pope convenes the Council of Istanbul!

First task: the eradication of clericalism and the building of an authentically “catholic” community of spiritual seekers!



Yes, I know, these are headlines that are yet to appear. But, ever the optimist, I remain hopeful, and here’s why . . .

Pope Benedict XVI is currently conducting his historic visit to
Istanbul, the cultural heart of Turkey; and, I must say, I am somewhat envious. The beautiful and ancient city of Istanbul, situated midway between East and West, is a place I’ve long desired to visit.*

Interestingly, Loreena McKennit’s
latest album, released here in Australia just prior to the Pope’s visit to Istanbul, contains a number of songs inspired by the singer/songwriter's own visits to various Turkish locales – including Istanbul, Gordion, Ephesus, and Cappodocia.

In the liner notes for one of these songs, “The Gates of Istanbul”, McKinnett notes that the reign of
Mehmed II (1432-1481) was “a time of creative renaissance as well as religious tolerance, when people were invited to repopulate the city now known as Istanbul, bringing with them their hopes and aspirations”.


Time for the Council of Istanbul

As Benedict XVI breathes the air and walks the ancient streets of Istanbul, my hope is that he may be similarly moved and inspired to usher in a “renaissance” within the Catholic Church – a new era marked by creativity, tolerance, and the inclusion of the experiences and insights, hopes and aspirations of all.

Just as Mehmed II revitalized Istanbul, may Benedict XVI facilitate a renewal within Catholicism. This “renewal” could be initiated by the Pope’s convening of a truly ecumenical council –perhaps in Istanbul!


On various levels I envision this council being attended by representatives from the entire human race. After all, we are all infused by - and thus part of - that ultimately mysterious and unbound reality of the sacred. The understanding of the Mystical Body of Christ can be seen as one way that Catholics have grappled with this wondrous awareness of the sacred's pervasive presence within and beyond humanity and creation.

Accordingly, the Council of Istanbul would be attended not just by Catholics, and not just by Christians; not just by bishops, and not just by men; not just by heterosexuals, and not just by celibates. Rather, all would be included in discerning the calling of God's spirit in our world today.

Does this sound like a logistical nightmare? Well, then let us utilize the wonders of the internet and other forms of contemporary communications technology for this ecumenical council centered in Istanbul. Creativity, after all, is one of the values this council would be dedicated to fostering!

One of no doubt many issues that would need to be rigorously and honestly addressed by the Council of Istanbul would be clericalism – an obvious obstacle for any hoped for renaissance within the Church.

For as theologian
Diarmuid Ó Murchú notes in his book, Rediscovering Spirituality (Gill and Macmillan, 1997): “The Catholic Church universally consists of 1.1 billion members, 99 per cent of whom are lay people of non-clerical status. Yet anywhere and everywhere [the] church is both defined and activated primarily according to the rules and expectations of its governing clerical body. Ultimately, whether in the North, South or Far East, it is clericalism that runs and controls the Catholic Church.”

Yet what exactly is clericalism? And why is its control of the Catholic Church such a bad thing?


“A Diseased System”

In his book, Between the Rock and a Hard Place: Being Catholic Today (ABC Books, 2004), theologian Paul Collins provides an insightful analysis of the meaning and historical development of the Catholic Church’s celibate clerical system. It’s a system, writes Collins, “which has developed a kind of moral immunity over the centuries. While it existed before the time of Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), it was he who imposed celibacy universally on the clergy of the Western Catholic Church, and the development of a distinct clerical caste can be roughly dated back to then. Over the centuries, clerics have gradually gained a kind of extraterritoriality by which some of them see themselves as exempt from the usual constraints that govern human behavior.”

“What happens”, says Collins, himself a
former priest, “is that everyone who works in the system, no matter how generous, saintly, and virtuous they are, has to struggle to avoid being inexorably caught up in a clericalism that misuses power and that is essentially deceitful and corrupt.”

Collins is quick to point out that he doesn’t believe that priests themselves are necessarily corrupt. Many, he notes, are “men of considerable integrity”. Nevertheless, “they work in a diseased system and it is very difficult for them to avoid the consequences of clericalism.”

Ó Murchú offers a similar analysis, observing that, “Innate to clericalism is a patriarchal, subconscious driving force which is much more about power in the name of religion, rather than about service in the name of spirituality.”


An Antidote

Like Ó Murchú, Collins, and the vast majority of Catholics, I don’t belong in the closed world of clerical domination. I concur whole-heartedly with Ó Murchú when he declares: “I am weary of power games, ritualism, moralism, and all the empty rhetoric” of clericalism, and am much more interested in “egalitarianism, vulnerability, prophetic contestation, engaging with the God of flesh, the God of passion, the God of real personal, interpersonal, and earthly incarnation”.

The shift from clericalism to authentic Catholicism, and thus to a “renaissance” based on the compassion and radical (and thus subversive) inclusiveness of Jesus, won’t, of course, be achieved by a single church council – even if it is the one in Istanbul I envision. But such a council would be a start, and Benedict XVI could make it happen.

Until he does, rest assured that a significant number of non-clerical Catholics will continue doing what they’ve always done: embody a catholicity of life; a way of being unfettered by trappings of imperial power; a way dedicated to seeking, discerning, and celebrating the presence of God in the lives and relationships of all.

It’s a “way” exemplified by Jesus, who, Ó Murchú reminds us, “proffered a counter-cultural view: a new world order, marked by right relationship of justice, love, peace, and liberation”.

It’s also a “way” that increasing numbers of Catholics are recognizing is simply
not being embodied by the “official” Catholic Church, burdened as it is by clericalism.

For the sake of all of us, but especially those mired in the corrupting influence of clericalism, the Council of Istanbul can’t come soon enough.


So now, if our hearts be true
And like a pool reflect the sun
We will find honor there
And keep us safe and lead us from all harm.

Excerpted from “The Gates of Istanbul”
by Loreena McKennitt.




* One of my favorite films is Ferzan Ozpetek's Hamam: The Turkish Bath (1997) which is set in Istanbul. For my theological reflections on this film, click here.



See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Catholic’s Prayer for his Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
A Dangerous Medieval Conviction
Beyond a PC Pope
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal and Reform
A Not So "New" Catholic University
Casanova-inspired Reflections on Papal Power - at 30,000 Ft.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Vatican Considers the "Lesser of Two Evils"

There’s talk once again of a shift in thinking on the part of the Vatican with regards to condom use.

John Cooper of the Guardian of London, for instance, writes that, “the Roman Catholic church has taken the first step towards what could be a historic shift away from its total ban on the use of condoms”.

Elaborating, Cooper notes that, “Pope Benedict XVI's ‘health minister’ is understood to be urging him to accept that in restricted circumstances – specifically the prevention of AIDS – barrier contraception is the lesser of two evils. The recommendations, which have not been made public, still have to be reviewed by the traditionally conservative Vatican department responsible for safeguarding theological orthodoxy, and then by the Pope himself, before any decision is made.”

I’ve discussed this issue previously, noting that the “lesser evil” argument was insightfully explored by John Allen in the May 5 issue of the U.S.-based National Catholic Reporter.

“If the [expected Vatican] document simply asserts that a condom is a ‘lesser evil,’” wrote Allen, “experts say it would do little more than ratify what is already a broad consensus among Catholic moral theologians. Traditionally, confessors and pastors have long been permitted to counsel a ‘lesser evil’ to prevent greater harm . . . As applied to condoms, the ‘lesser evil’ argument [says that] if there’s a danger of HIV infection, a married couple should abstain from sex altogether. If they can’t be persuaded to do so, however, it’s better that they use the condom rather than endangering life.”

As I’ve previously observed, such an argument could be applied to the issue of homosexuality. For example, given the statistics on GLBT persons,
substance abuse, and suicide, a gay man could legitimately argue that it’s a “lesser evil” for him to seek and build a loving, sexual relationship than be in a lonely, potentially depressed state wherein he would be prone to self harm through alcohol abuse and/or suicide.

Of course, many people view the whole “lesser evil” argument as deeply flawed. After all, the Vatican’s deliberations and pontifications on many of the sexual matters to which the argument could be applied, stem from the dubious belief that the essential purpose of sex is procreation.

Such a contention, theologian Daniel Helminiak notes, emphasizes “the generically animal (biological), rather than the distinctively human (interpersonal)” dimension of human sexuality. In addition, the “sex = procreation” argument ignores contemporary research and personal experience with regards human sexual relationships.

Helminiak, and others, argue (the rather obvious reality) that in Church practice, procreation is not essential to sex.

“Stoic philosophy,” Helminiak writes, “held that conception of offspring is the only ethically acceptable reason for having sex. Especially through St. Augustine, early Christianity incorporated this notion, and some churches invoke it to condemn homosexual acts. Yet many Christian denominations allow the use of contraceptives and marry couples who plan to remain childless, and all [including the Catholic Church] allow marriage and sex between known sterile couples or between couples beyond childbearing age. Even the Catholic Church has recently emphasized the emotional bonding and loving sharing that are central to sexual intimacy and, while forbidding use of ‘artificial contraceptives,’ does allow the use of the ‘rhythm method’ to deliberately avoid conception – which distinction is questionable. Evidently, the churches do not really believe that the essential purpose of sexual sharing is procreation. Religious insistence on procreation is disingenuous.”

And thus so too are notions of “lesser evil” when contemplating and discussing non-procreative sex between loving couples - gay or straight.



See also the previous Wild Reed post, Those Europeans are at it Again.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Remembering Sister Rita

Yesterday afternoon, Tuesday, November 21, my friend Rita Steinhagen passed away in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Sister Rita was a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She was also a life-long justice and peace activist, an avid angler, the founder of both the Free Store and The Bridge for Runaway Youth in Minneapolis, an author, a “jailbird”, and an all round inspiration to countless people – myself included.

I first meet Rita in early 1997 at the weekly peace vigil outside the corporate headquarters of Alliant TechSystems – Minnesota’s largest military contractor. These weekly gatherings marked the genesis of my
life as a justice and peace activist. Of course, related to this was my coming into awareness of the crucial role that militarism plays in shaping and expanding US foreign policy.

It was due to the positive and consciousness-raising influence of Sister Rita and others that such a social and political awareness was possible. It was also due to Sister Rita and others that this awareness found expression in non-violent words and actions imbued with the spirit of the Gospel.

As a consequence of such awareness and activisn, I was able to write the following to my parents in Australia at the end of 1997: “I’m not sure where my involvement in such [justice and peace] issues will lead me. But I know that in the last year I've changed a lot - mainly in relation to the way I view [the U.S. government], militarism, and the economic system that we currently have and which is obviously not working in a just way for a vast number of people. I have no alternative to offer, yet know that there's no going back to the way I used to view things. Basically, I'm just trusting that the Spirit will lead me in right ways of thinking about such things and accordingly, in how I should live my life.”

One place to which such “involvement” did take me was the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia – home to the infamous School of the Americas (SOA).

And Rita Steinhagen – along with many other dedicated and inspiring advocates for justice and peace – was standing right there beside me.



It was at the annual protest of the SOA in November 1997 that I took the above photo of Sister Rita.

On my website, Faces of Resistance, the following words accompany this particular image: “Rita crossed the line onto the army base with 600 others in an act of civil disobedience to protest the SOA. The majority of the protesters were arrested and released with a warning. Yet for 22, including Rita, it was their second year of crossing the line. Accordingly they were trialed and sentenced to prison – in Rita’s case for six months. At her sentencing she declared to the judge: ‘When decent people get put in jail for six months for peaceful demonstration, I’m more scared of what's going on in our country than I am of going to prison’.”

Rita’s experience in the Federal Penitentiary in Perkin, Illinois was life-changing. “I was in with 300 women, all non-violent offenders” she would later say. “Most were convicted of some type of drug offence and given long sentences due to the mandatory sentences that many of them had. Five, ten, fifteen, even twenty years. Nearly 80% were mothers with small children, now being raised by others. Prisons do not rehabilitate. It is just plain warehousing of people.”

For those of us who knew Rita and her passionate commitment to social justice, it was not at all surprising that upon her release from Perkin, she became an informed and dedicated advocate for prison reform.

When I presented the performance/arts component of my thesis – one that explored the coming out process of gay men as a spiritual journey – I can vividly recall Rita sitting in the front row at St. Martin’s Table, her good friend Marv Davidov beside her. I recall that I felt very nervous as I began sharing my story in this very public way, yet all fear dissipated when I saw the encouraging look on Rita’s face. Like so many of the Sisters of St. Joseph, she was supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people – their lives and their loving relationships. I sensed that for Rita, who we loved was irrelevant. The important thing is that we love.

Rita loved in great abundance – and her love was embodied in her activism, her writing, and her genuine concern and advocacy efforts with and for all who were marginalized, oppressed, and forgotten.

I can’t be with my friends in the Twin Cities for Rita’s funeral on Friday. But my thoughts and prayers are with them as togther we grieve the loss of our dear friend Rita, and celebrate and remember her inspiring life.

__________________________

Following is columnist Doug Grow’s reflection on Rita, published in today's Star Tribune.



Sister Rita was activist, writer --and a jailbird
By Doug Grow
Star Tribune
November 22, 2006


Sister Rita Steinhagen was a little giant. Not to mention a medical technologist. And a founder of a place called the Bridge, which served runaway youth. And a founder of the Free Store, which served the poor for decades. And a resilient peace activist. And a woman who served in war-torn Latin American countries as well as the Twin Cities. And an angler, who wore a cap, “I Fish, Therefore I Lie.” And a poet and a writer and . . .

An ex-con, federal prisoner No. 88119-02.

On Tuesday afternoon, this gentle soul died at a St. Paul hospice. In 1998, this gentle but powerful soul was sentenced to serve six months in the federal pen in Pekin, Ill. She had trespassed at Fort Benning, Ga., during a protest of U.S. policies in Latin America.

The sister didn’t take this business lightly, telling the sentencing judge: “Your honor, I'm 70 years old today and I’ve never been in prison and I’m scared. I tell you, when decent people get put in jail for six months for peaceful demonstration, I’m more scared of what's going on in our country than I am of going to prison.”

The judge’s response?

“He didn’t say anything,” she recalled. “He couldn’t care less.”

The nun served her time – and her fellow prisoners.

“Don't forget us,” pleaded women who were serving long drug-related sentences when Rita was released.

And, of course, she didn't.

Even in her last days, as old friends came for final visits, the 77-year-old nun, whose health had been failing for months, offered encouragement.

For example, last week, Marv Davidov, a longtime peace activist and Rita’s fishing buddy, stopped to visit.

“What am I going to do next summer?” Davidov asked, tears in his eyes.

“Fish,” the nun said.

They both laughed.

Born in Waconia, raised in Walker, Steinhagen never set out to be a nun. But, at age 23, she went to visit a pal who had joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul. While Rita waited for her pal, she got into a conversation with the nun who directed the novices.

“Do you think I belong here?” Rita asked the nun.

“I certainly do,” was the response.

A few months later she showed up at the convent, ready to begin her new life.

In Hooked by the Spirit, the autobiography she completed last year, she wrote, “I believe that everyone is begotten of the Spirit but we are blown in many directions. In trying to capture the reason for my many wanderings, I can only surmise that the Spirit assigned to me had an extra wandering gene, which at times caused Her to push, lead or entice me to places I never dreamed of going. She has been a faithful traveling companion, and I am so grateful She was assigned to me.”

In a classic bit of twinkle-in-the-eye Rita-ese, she added: “Please don’t try to figure this out theologically. Relax. Go with it. Enjoy.”

Services for Sister Rita will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at the Presentation of Our Lady Chapel, 1880 Randolph Av., St. Paul.



To read the Sisters of St. Joseph's tribute to Rita, click here.

To view a wonderful collection of images of Rita, visit the Remembering Rita galleries at CircleVision.org.

To read Rita’s article, “Federal Prison Has Changed My Life Forever”, click
here.

To read “Sister Soldier”, City Pages’ extensive 1998 article about Rita, click
here.

For information about Rita’s autobiography, Hooked By the Spirit: Journey of a Peaceful Activist, and to read an excerpt, click
here.

The Thorpedo’s “Difficult Decision”


Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, winner of five Olympic, eleven World Championship, and ten Commonwealth gold medals, has announced that he is “discontinuing” his professional swimming career.

Ian Thorpe is quite an amazing young man – thoughtful, articulate, and honest. At his press conference in Sydney where he made his announcement, the 24-year-old Thorpe appeared equal parts calm, grateful, and relieved as he talked about his illustrious swimming career and his “difficult decision” to end it.

Listening to him speak, I was reminded in many ways of the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people (myself included) and our choice to leave behind previous lives, relationships, and/or careers in order to “come out” and be true to our deepest, truest selves.

I need to say from the outset that I’m not suggesting that Ian Thorpe is gay. Though it’s true that others have speculated on his sexuality – primarily in response to his quiet, mild-manner, and his long-standing interest in fashion and the development of his own line of designer jewellery and underwear – I’m not particularly concerned about his sexual orientation.

Instead, I’m simply intrigued with how the way he described his decision to quit swimming so closely matches the words and experiences of GLBT people’s decision to “quit” previous modes of being so as to live more authentically.

For instance, Thorpe talked about his swimming career as providing a “safety blanket”, one that in many ways prevented him from living a more “balanced” life.

How many GLBT people have hidden “safely” behind the straight personas demanded of them by their careers and/or their standing in the social status quo? I know I certainly did.

Thorpe also noted that even though it would have been “easy to follow the status quo”, he would have been “dishonest” to himself if he had continued swimming for the sake of others’ expectations and dreams.

How many GLBT people have stayed painfully closeted for the sake of others’ expectations and dreams for them? Some have even ignored their inner calling to the extent that they go through marriages with people of the opposite gender – all for the sake of satisfying others’ and societal expectations.

Like GLBT individuals on the verge of “coming out”, Thorpe acknowledged that in considering giving up swimming his first reaction was one of fear, followed by excitement about the ways his life would open up once the decision was made. He is now “proud”of making his “difficult decision”, and is looking forward to now being able to pursue the things that will make him a “better” person.

Like many GLBT people, I can strongly attest to the myriad of ways my life expanded and opened up as a result of “coming out”. Energies that had been employed in maintaining and safeguarding a secret, hidden life were now able to be directed into much more creative and life-giving endeavours. Since coming out I have blossomed in many ways. My relationships with self, God, and others have deepened and become more fulfilling.

I'm sure that now Ian Thorpe has abandoned a way of life no longer either satisfying or inspiring, he too will experience a blossoming of new and renewed energies.

As I said earlier, I’m not concerned about Thorpe’s sexuality. I don’t know if the guy’s gay, and I don’t particular care. However, even though I can’t say that Ian Thorpe is gay, I can say he’s queer. And I use this term in its most fundamental and positive sense: to be queer is to be “different”, or, according to the Collins Australian Dictionary, “not normal or usual”. Thus one doesn’t have to be gay to be queer.

In 2002, Thorpe himself acknowledged as much, saying that, “I’m a little different to what most people would consider being an Australia male. That doesn’t make me gay.”

So what does it mean to be queer? Well, as I’ve noted in a
previous post, to be queer is to be open and willing to go beyond (in thought, word or deed) the parameters of gender, race, heterosexality, patriarchy, and other socially-constructed (or manipulated) concepts.

My sense is that many young men of Ian Thorpe’s generation are ditching the narrow and destructive “macho” understanding of what it means to be a man. In its place, they have embraced and embodied something quite different - a “queer” spirit of openness, inclusiveness, sensuality, and vulnerability.



Gay, straight, or somewhere in between, Ian Thorpe embodies this queer spirit. And we’re all the better for it.


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The New Superman: Not Necessarily Gay, but Definitely Queer
A Fresh Take on Masculinity


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Bishops’ “Guidelines”: A Parent’s Response

I’ve long maintained that the most effective advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are these same people's parents and family members.

Whereas those opposed to the reality of LGBT people and rights frequently dismiss people like myself as “gay activists” and “militant secularists” determined to promote an anti-family “gay agenda”, it’s much more difficult for them to dismiss the loving and affirming words and actions of parents of LGBT people.

I was once again reminded of this when my friend Georgia had a letter published in the November 17 edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (see below). This letter was in response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ recent document, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination.

Georgia and her husband Conrad are the proud and happy parents of two children – one gay and one straight. Georgia and Conrad are also members of Catholic Rainbow Parents.

_________________________

Learn to Accept

The Catholic bishops’ latest regressive statement on homosexuality is a sad commentary. It betrays unprecedented levels of institutionalized self-rejection. It is no secret to Catholics or non-Catholics that significant numbers of Catholic priests, bishops and beyond are homosexual persons. Their persistent inability to fundamentally love themselves lies at the heart of their twisted policies regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) persons.

But we will not allow their problem to become our problem. We Catholic families of well-adjusted, functional, out-of-the-closet GLBT adult children and grandchildren reject out of hand the bishops’ notion that any human person is automatically called to celibacy and silence by virtue of his or her sexual orientation.

We know from real-life experience that homosexuality is a normal variation of the God-given gift of human sexuality. It is a gift that our adult children are called to express lovingly and responsibly.

We hope that the church can eventually learn to love and accept itself on this issue, and be open to the wisdom and love we have gained as parents of GLBT persons.

Georgia Mueller



See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Making Sure All Families Matter
Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents
Grandma Knows Best
When "Guidelines" Lack Guidance
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay.

For more Catholic responses to Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination, visit the CPCSM website.

More Remnants of a Life Past

Following is a second selection of photographs taken during my six years of teaching at Sts Peter and Paul’s Primary School in Goulburn, New South Wales (1988-1993).

To view the first selection, click
here.



Above: Jason and the Argonauts set sail on the Argo! From left: Anthony Hutchins, Robert Elder, Stephen Polzin, Jason Kelly, and James Stephens.



Above: Jason and the Argonauts do battle with the Skeleton Warriors!

Here’s what I had to say about this particular play in the school newsletter:

5B’s dramatic interpretation of Jason and the Argonauts owed much of its success to the children of 5B, who worked hard to stage this Greek legend concerned with the quest for the Golden Fleece. A big thank you and congratulations is due to Danielle Lewin who, at extremely short notice, took on the lead role of Jason.


Following are comments from the cast on their characters and the performance:

“It was a real challenge learning and acting out the part of Jason. I enjoyed playing the hero of the play.” – Danielle Lewin (Jason).

“It was a hard role, but fun. I tried hard to put as much feeling into the character as I could.” – Linda Coady (Medea).

“It was good to play the role of a king. I had no difficulty learning my lines.” – Adam Bush (King Aietes).

“It was exciting to rip the paper that we were pretending was the ground we were hiding underneath. It took a long time to make and paint the ground but only a few seconds to destroy it.” – Ryan Robson, Angus Peden, and Matthew Bugden (Skeleton Warriors).

“It was really fun. The best part was squirting the boy sitting in the front row in the eye.” – Alice Connor (Head of Dragon).




Above: James Baird as the Australian bushranger, Captain Midnite, with his clever Siamese cat, Khat, played by James Condylios.

5B’s play was based on Randolph Stow’s children’s novel, Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy, and was performed for the school community in 1993.




Above: At one point in 1992, we had the bedroom of the young son of the last Russian tsar set up at the front of the classroom! Pictured sitting from left: Briody Connor, Bernice Wolford, Tess McGowan, and Sharnee Fleming. Standing from left: Nicole Guthrie, Amy Gerard, Lauren Shinfield, Jodie Glanville, Rachael Gordon, and Joanne Graham.

I first starting developing and teaching a unit of work on Russian culture and history in 1988 – my first year of teaching. Of course back then, the Soviet Union was still in existence. The momentous events of the following year meant major changes had to be made to this particular unit of work. Yet the part of it that always held the most interest and fascination for the students remained the same – the life and tragedy of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.

We would watch excerpts from the 1971 film Nicholas and Alexandra and role play the tragedy of the imperial rulers’ young son, Alexei, who suffered from haemophilia, and his seemingly miraculous healing at the hands of Rasputin.

The girls in the class particularly enjoyed setting up the bedroom of Alexei – complete with framed photographs of the imperial Romanov family, candles, and Russian icons. The students of 5B would stage their re-enactment of Alexei’s mishap, confinement to bed, and subsequent recovery (based on the real life events at the Polish hunting lodge of Spala) several times, as different students wanted a turn at playing the coveted roles of the ailing Alexei, the haughty yet desperate Tsaritsa Alexandra, and her four young and beautiful daughters, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia.




Above: The Goulburn Post’s report on 5B’s 1992 construction of Spook City from Michael Ende’s classic book, The Neverending Story. As the newspaper notes, “Students used extracts from the novel as well as Gothic architecture to plan and build their model of the crooked and eerie city of spooks.”



Above: Bastian (Chris Hogan) and Atreyu (Ben Smith) do battle in the play I wrote based on Chapter XXII (“The Battle for the Ivory Tower”) of The Neverending Story, and which 5B performed for the school community in 1991.

For the school’s newsletter, numerous children were asked to comment on this production. Here are some of their responses:

“It was a great play. The best part was when I kicked the throne off the platform.” – Chris Hogan (Bastian), 5B.

“It was spectacular. I especially liked the painted backdrops and the characters.” – Clint Bopping, 6B.

“I thought the person who played Bastian was good.” – Jamie Moran, 3B.

“It was very well done. The monsters were a bit gruesome with the blood on their swords.” – Graham James, 6L.

“It was exciting and enjoyable. The best part was when the giants carried the throne down the aisle.” – Lisa Moore and Melissa Clements, 6B.

“It was a very good play, especially how they memorised their lines.” – Brooke Fielding, 6B.




Above: Easter 1993. We’re at St. Michael’s Noviciate performing Sara’s Gift, an Easter play I wrote and which a number of 5B classes performed over the years.



Above: Adrian Zantis as the resurrected Jesus in Sara’s Gift – 1993.



Above: “Mr. Bayly” – in typical late ’80s/early ’90s attire.


See also the Wild Reed posts:
Goulburn Revisited
Goulburn Landmarks
Goulburn Reunion

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declare their recent document, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination, to be “positive, pastoral, and welcoming”. In it they also praise those gay Catholics who are “ardently striving”, by means of chasity, “not to fall into the lifestyle and values of a ‘gay subculture’”.

Of course, this “lifestyle” and these “values” are never defined – nor is there any indication of awareness, on the part of the bishops, that just as there are diverse attitudes and behaviours among heterosexuals towards all aspects of life, including sexual relationships, so too is there a wide range of perspectives and behaviours among homosexuals. Indeed, I think it’s misleading to talk about a “gay community” or “subculture” as, in reality, there are many and varied groups and communities of gay people. As a result, sweeping generalizations that effectively lump all gay people into a “lifestyle” or “subculture”, do not resonate with most people.

Yet in typical broad brush strokes, the bishops paint gay people as either suffering celibates or promiscuous deviants. (Someone please direct them to
Somewhere In Between.)

Of course, the extremes do exist, and I was reminded of this when I read an excellent
commentary written by Leonard Pitts Jr. and published recently in the Miami Herald.

Entitled “A Twisted View on ‘Flaunting’ Gay Identity”, Pitts’ commentary contrasts the recent coming out of actor Neil Patrick Harris (of Doogie Howser, M.D. fame) and the ignoble goings-on of disgraced Christian evangelical Ted Haggard.

Pitts notes that Harris, in talking about his homosexuality, has declared: “I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest.” Pitts also notes that for some people, such calm acknowledgement amounts to “flaunting” one’s homosexuality.

In comparing Haggard and Harris, Pitt’s commentary does an excellent job at exposing the destructiveness wrought to self and others by living a lie, as opposed to accepting and integrating one’s homosexuality, and thus getting on with happily living life to the fullest – even if such living is considered by some as “flauting it”.

“Wouldn’t you much rather be Neil Patrick Harris than Ted Haggard?” asks Pitts. “In other words, wouldn’t you rather be a content gay man living life to the fullest, than a closeted gay hypocrite living lies to the fullest?”

Pitts then goes on to make some incisive observations: He maintains that what social conservatives (and I would add Catholic bishops) miss is that “in a culture that allows gay people room to be gay people, there is no need of lies. In a culture that does not – i.e., theirs – lies are rampant. And that’s unfortunate, not simply for the person in question, but for all the people in his or her life. And here, I'm thinking of Gayle Alcorn. She and Haggard have five children. They’ve been married 28 years. That’s a long time to sleep next to a lie. I bet she wishes he had ‘flaunted’ his homosexuality a long time ago.”

In reading Pitts’ insightful analysis of Ted Haggard’s life of lies and the destruction it has wrought, I was reminded once again of the similar parallel that exists between the horrendous sexual scandals that have plagued the Catholic church for decades, and this same church’s deeply dysfunctional sexual theology – one that “lives a lie” in its ignoring of the experiences and insights of gay people who have accepted their sexuality and are committed to living their lives to the fullest.

Also, when Pitts ponders, “Can’t we now safely assume that any conservative who rants about the homosexual agenda is a lying hypocrite gayer than a Castro Street bar?”, I was reminded of Richard Sipes’ “preliminary review of sexual orientation of some American bishops” on his extensive and insightful website, Priests, Celibacy, and Sexuality.

In posting names of bishops in his “review”, Sipes makes it clear that there is no accusation of sexual activity on their part. Rather, listed are “opinions of sexual orientation”. “Each name”, says Sipes, “has been closely vetted based on some – usually public – facts that can lead to a reasonable opinion”.

Collectively, these “reasonable” opinions on the sexual orientation of U.S. Catholic bishops leads to the equally “reasonable” conclusion that the majority of these men are themselves gay, or in the language of the Vatican, “objectively disordered”. Not surprisingly, the bishops' guidelines discourage “general public self-disclosures” of sexual orientation. How convenient for them.


Richard Sipes, a well-respected researcher, lecturer, and author, is adamant that in light of such a situation, to “neglect open and honest dialogue leaves the church and clergy open to ridicule, and worse, hypocrisy”.

Sipes is also critical of the Vatican’s teaching on homosexuality: “I do not believe – in fact, I emphatically reject – the Vatican statements that declare that homosexual orientation is an ‘objective disorder’”, he says. “This opinion has no scientific merit, it is not a position of ‘human reason illuminated by faith’. It is simply false. It is wrong-headed. Homosexual orientation is not an objective disorder.”

In reality, gay people participate in the very human process of being true to themselves and to the God they discern in such journeys of integrity. As a result of such journeys, many are compelled to courageously seek, build and sustain a loving, committed relationship with another of the same gender – a relationship that is experienced and expressed in a myriad of ways, including sexually.

All such endeavours of integrity and love are undertaken with a purity of heart – making them embodiments of the God of Love proclaimed by the Catholic Church.

Interestingly, this “purity of heart” is the real meaning of chastity. As the bishops correctly point out, “Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of [each person] in [their] bodily and spiritual being”.

Accordingly, when the U.S. Catholic bishops praise gay Catholics who are “ardently striving” to live lives of “chasity”, they’re actually praising many of the people they’re simultaneously condemning! After all, for the vast majority of LGBT people, integration of their sexuality and the subsequent experiencing of bodily and spiritual well-being, are facilitated through a loving, committed (and sexual) relationship with another of the same gender.

Chaste living, the bishops remind us, is an affirmation of all that is human. Accordingly, when LGBT people violate the dictates of their own human nature, they will suffer. Of course, the bishops are not meaning to affirm LGBT people, their sexual orientation, and such orientation's sexual expression. Nor do they mean to warn against the suffering that comes from denying one's orientation and living a closeted life. I'm therefore left dumbfounded that they can say such words yet totally misunderstand and distort their meaning in relation to the lives of LGBT people.

It’s up to us, to Catholics of informed conscience and generous compassion to be the prophets and teachers within our church. It is up to us to provide enlightenment and guidance to those who are in positions of authority yet who so clearly lack authority in matters of human sexuality.

“To be a Catholic requires a certain choice,” said Bishop Arthur Serratelli, chairman of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Doctrine Committee. It does indeed, but it’s not a choice of blind obedience to church doctrine, but rather compassionate engagement with others.

After all, each and every one of us is a living, breathing, spirit-infused vessel within which God’s “good news” can be found. And collectively, we embody a living, growing, spirit-infused church. As lay Catholics we must never tire of inviting our clergy to see and treat themselves and us as such bearers of good news. We must encourage one another in the engagement necessary to reveal such liberating and healing good news. And when some refuse to join in the dance, we must joyfully perseverve and model this engagement wherever we find ourselves to be within the church.

Through such holy work we will contribute to, and one day witness, the emergence of a church document on ministering with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons – a church document that will be truly “positive, pastoral, and welcoming.”

And I say we name it: Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay!


See also the previous Wild Reed post, When “Guidelines” Lack Guidance.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

When “Guidelines” Lack Guidance

Yesterday the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a set of “pastoral care guidelines” for those ministering to “persons with a homosexual inclination”.

The bishops, however, fail to offer an authentic pastoral approach for two fundamental reasons.

First, they fail to reflect a credible understanding of the reality of the homosexual orientation, referring to it, as they do, as a “disordered inclination”, and insisting that it “does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc”.

Science and human experience, however, totally undermine the bishops’ flawed terminology and presuppositions.

Second, the bishops fail to reflect any semblance of awareness concerning the faith journeys of the vast majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics. This is hardly surprising given the fact the LGBT Catholics were not consulted during the lengthy writing process of the “guidelines”.

In their document, the bishops discourage announcements of one’s sexual orientation – outside, that is, of a close circle of friends and supporters within the church. Given the people I know who are championing this document, any “support” will be given, first and foremost, to the official teaching of the church (considered the final word), and not to the actual individual coming into awareness of their homosexuality.

Such awareness, like homosexuality itself, is something to be kept hidden away from public view, according to the bishops. You can be sure that participation in National Coming Out Day celebrations is not encouraged. It seems that the bishops would rather promote the psychologically destructive existence of the closet.

The guidelines also warn those in Catholic ministry not to advocate against church teachings or adopt a position of “distant neutrality” toward them. So much for the Catholic teaching of the primacy of conscience. Indeed, this important tenet of Catholicism is not even mentioned in the guidelines.

Writing in the New York Times, Sam Sinnett, president of DignityUSA, the nation’s largest Catholic LGBT organization, notes that while some language in the guidelines “sounds welcoming”, the document repeats “all the spiritually violent things [the Vatican has] been saying about gay and lesbian Catholics for decades – that we are ‘objectively disordered’ and our relationships are intrinsically evil”.

Sinnett and others are also critical of the bishops’ failure to consult with LGBT people while drawing up their “pastoral” guidelines.

As both a gay man and a lay pastoral minister within the Catholic community of the Twin Cities, I’ve come to recognize that a truly pastoral approach is one that helps LGBT people recognize and celebrate their own God-given truth, primarily by discerning God’s loving presence in their lives and relationships. Listening is crucial in such a holy process.

Yet as has been noted, the bishops’ so-called guidelines fail to even invite and encourage LGBT people to name and proclaim their own reality. Not only do the bishops not want to listen to LGBT people, they don’t even want LGBT people to listen to themselves!

Listening, however, is a life-giving act. Religious educator and author Maria Harris also reminds us that, “Genuine wisdom involves learning from the wisdoms of other forgotten or overlooked people”.

Like LGBT persons, women within the Catholic community are also often “forgotten” and “overlooked”. Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister, has written eloquently of “the value of being listened to” when marginalized within an institution like the Catholic Church.

“No set of rules,” she writes, “no prescriptions from on high, ever carried me through the dark or gave me courage for the heights. It was the people who took time to listen to me who gave me something more important than the rules to live by. They gave me back a sense of myself, of my own convictions, of the law of God within my heart.”

It seems certain that the US bishops’ guidelines for ministering to “persons with a homosexual inclination” are not interested in giving people a sense of self; not interested in helping them discern and celebrate the loving and transforming presence of the sacred within themselves.

Instead, the guidelines seem to be all about repression, denial, and unquestioning obedience to an outside authority unreceptive to the presence of God within the lives of LGBT persons.

Accordingly, the bishops’ guidelines will fail to resonate with LGBT people of faith as our journeys of faith have taken us beyond the false god worshipped by cults of unquestioning obedience and promulgated in doctrines, statements and guidelines written about us by those who “have ears but do not hear”. This failure to listen undermines Jesus’ message of liberation, radical inclusiveness, and compassion.

My hope is that all Catholic ministers who seek a genuine pastoral approach for ministry with LGBT people will first listen to these same peoples’ experiences and insights before considering the Catholic bishops’ “guidelines”.

In doing so, they may well discover that it is the members of the church hierarchy who are in more need of help and “pastoral care” with regards the issue of homosexuality, than are the majority of LGBT Catholics and their loved ones.


See also the Wild Reed posts:
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
A Catholic's Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
“Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality is Complex and Nuanced”, says Theologian
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
On Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
This “Militant Secularist” Wants to Marry a Man
The Sexuality of Jesus
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an "Informed" Catholic Conscience
The Bible and Homosexuality

Richard Flanagan Wants a "Gentler, More Generous" Australia

In a recent post, I shared a number of insights expressed by Irene Khan, the Secretary General of Amnesty International.

She has been one of two people I’ve recently seen interviewed on Australian T.V. whom I would call “inspiring.” The other has been Australian author
Richard Flanagan, who was interviewed by Kerry O’Brien on the ABC program, The 7.30 Report.


Notes O’Brien: “Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan has to be Australia’s most unlikely Rhodes Scholar and looking at his life before and after Oxford, it is no surprise that he hated the experience. Something of an iconoclast, whose award winning books have the opportunity to polarise critics but nonetheless win him awards, Flanagan started his adult life as a daredevil kayaker who has survived near-death experiences on previously unexplored rapids and trying to row Bass Strait to become one of his country’s most celebrated authors. He also wrote and directed the film version of his early book The Sound of One Hand Clapping. A subsequent novel, Gould’s Book of Fish won the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize for what the judges described as “a touch of genius”. His work has been published in 25 countries and he is currently working on a script for Baz Luhrmann’s latest film on Australia. But [his latest novel] The Unknown Terrorist could be the most contentious for his harsh critique of what he believes modern Australia has become.”

Indeed, when sharing his perspective on contemporary Australia, Flanagan notes: “We’re materially rich, but spiritually impoverished. . . .I’m tired of hearing about how to invest our super and about rising property prices. There is something else that’s going on in Australia, a sort of spiritual malaise that I find sickening, in a word. At the end of the day it is our Australia, too, and a lot of people want it back. They want a gentler, more generous, kinder Australia”.

Following are excerpts from The 7.30 Report’s interview with Richard Flanagan.

____________________________________

Kerry O’Brien: When you started [your new novel] The Unknown Terrorist, did you really intend to write such a bleak book?

Richard Flanagan: I wanted to write a book that was a mirror to these times and a book that I hoped might be a warning to people about what I feel are a series of frightening tendencies in our society.

Kerry O’Brien: You describe two thugs beating up an old vagrant in Sydney’s King’s Cross: “They kept on for a few minutes more, kicking him as if he were to blame for everything in that dirty, dead decade they were all condemned to live through. A sack of shit that had once been a man in a place that had once been a community in a country that had once been a society.” Is that what Australia has become for you?

Richard Flanagan: I think it’s become that for many people. We are more frightened, we are more frightening; we are less free, we are more unjust; we are more callous; there’s a greater divide of wealth and power. And the truth gets ever harder to get out. So, that was very much how I felt, and that story sort of captured it in a few sentences.

Kerry O’Brien: That’s a pretty grim view.

Richard O’Flanagan: It is, but it is hard to have any other view at this point in time. But I think there are always sources for hope, and I try and take my compass from the hope. . . . There’s been too much faked jubilation about our prosperity and I’m tired of hearing about how to invest our super and about rising property prices. There is something else that’s going on in Australia, a sort of spiritual malaise that I find sickening, in a word. At the end of the day it is our Australia, too, and a lot of people want it back. They want a gentler, more generous, kinder Australia, not the kind of Australia they are getting presented with every day at the moment.

Kerry O’Brien: Not possible to have both: your Australia and an Australia where people do care about super for retirement and do care about a comfortable lifestyle?

Richard Flanagan: Of course it is possible to have both, but I think when this period is judged by historians it will be seen that we had a moment of great prosperity when we could have done so much to build a better, stronger, more democratic society and, because of fear, we went the other way.

Kerry O’Brien: Your book has a drug mule named Tariq who is mistaken for a terrorist and a rather sad pole dancer who couldn’t be further from the terrorist stereotype but who gets sucked into the vortex anyway. What are you saying? That the whole terrorist fear in Australia is a myth, that there is no real threat of terrorism?

Richard Flanagan: There is a threat of terrorism. There is obviously a very real threat of terrorism, but I think as a society we ought be fearful when that is used to attack our freedoms and to attack the truth. And really, we’ve gone from reds under the bed to tea towels under the table, and it’s been used to subvert our democracy and that frightens me just as much as a terrorist attack, because we now have a society that’s capable of doing quite horrific things to innocent people and it is very difficult for those people to get justice.

Kerry O’Brien: And, yet, I mean, that’s a subjective view and I know it is shared by some others, but government in these circumstances does find itself having to walk a fine line, doesn’t it, between protecting its citizens and going a step too far?

Richard Flanagan: Of course it does, but I don’t think we achieve it by constantly using fear to subvert what we ought be defending, our principles of freedom and truth telling.

Kerry O’Brien: At the beginning and the end of the The Unknown Terrorist, you said that love is not enough, but it is all we have. You talk of the hopelessness and failure of human love. Yet, in the family you grew up in, and your own family now, it seems there’s been a lot of love at the centre of your life. How do you explain that apparent contradiction?

Richard Flanagan: All of my books have been about love. But when I started writing this book I realised that we lived in a world where it was ever harder to manifest love, where people were increasingly isolated from the things that really fed their spirit in a positive way: family, friends, land and so on. We live in a world where we are ever more divorced from what makes us spiritually rich and of course we’re materially rich, but spiritually impoverished. I wanted to have a character who wants to love, but is denied the chance to love and in the end is presented as simply an object of hate. Look at what that person might do in those circumstances. Because I think as a society this epidemic of loneliness, of sadness, is really related to the way in so many ways, we’re stopped from being able to show love, express love and be love to one another.

To read Kerry O’Brien’s interview of Richard Flanagan in its entirety, click here.

To read the Sydney Morning Herald’s review of The Unknown Terrorist, click
here.


See also the previous Wild Reed post,
Irene Khan: Shaking Things Up Down Under.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Rhythm Divine

.


I love this song. And its accompanying video matches perfectly its haunting lyrics and rich, elegant sound.


You know that my tears
Have kept me awake.
The longer you're gone
I'll hunger and shake.
From Warsaw to Rome
I'll wait out of time.
With you in my heart
the Rhythm Divine.


It's by the Swiss techo duo, Yello, and features the legendary Shirley Bassey on vocals. Released in 1987, the song was a minor hit in several European countries.




Friday, November 10, 2006

The Bible and Homosexuality

On Monday I shared Catholic theologian William Hunt’s insightful commentary on the Christian tradition and same-sex marriage.

My friend William’s commentary reminded me of another excellent reflection on this issue – one written by Vincent Smiles and published last November in the St. Cloud Times (see below).

Note: The constitutional amendment which Smiles refers to and if passed would have banned same-sex marriage and all legal equivalents in Minnesota, was defeated earlier this year. The Minnesota Pastors Summit was an event aimed at encouraging religious leaders to support the proposed Minnesota “marriage amendment”. The summit, held one year ago today, November 10, saw the rare and unusual collaboration of Christian fundamentalists and the Catholic hierarchy in an unsavory effort to support the enshrinement of discrimination into the Minnesota state constitution.

_______________________________________

Bible’s Views on Homosexuality Aren’t so Easy for Us to Decipher
By Vincent M. Smiles
College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University

St. Cloud Times
November 27, 2005


The Minnesota Pastors Summit has thrown its religious weight behind a state constitutional amendment that would ban not only same-sex marriage but even same-sex civil unions and thus deny health and other benefits to the lifelong partners of gays and lesbians.

Hopefully, the pastors will back away at least from this latter aspect of the amendment. Although, whether they ought to support such an amendment at all is open to considerable question. Using the state constitution to legislate morality is a dubious procedure at best.

The logical next step would seem to be an amendment that will curtail the rights of those found guilty of adultery or other immoral acts.

They have not so far proposed any such ideas, but the logic of this campaign suggests that they ought to do so. After all, adultery is a proven threat to marriage, whereas homosexuality is not.

Speaking as a Catholic theologian, I find the pastors moral certainty about homosexuality quite puzzling.

Informed theological debates in recent years have demonstrated only one thing clearly: There is no basis for absolute certainty on this issue. To be sure, the Vatican has made an amazing number of pronouncements on homosexuality in recent years, all of them condemning homosexual acts while emphasizing the obligation of compassion toward homosexuals.

Nevertheless, careful theological analyses, whether examining the biblical texts or wider issues, have been far less dogmatic than either the Vatican or the pastors.

In 1977, for instance, the Catholic Theological Society of America, responding to the Vatican’s text Persona Humana, which dealt with various sexual matters (premarital sex, masturbation and homosexuality), published a lengthy study
(Human Sexuality: New Direction in American Catholic Thought, Paulist Press), which far from fully endorsed all of the Vaticans conclusions.

On homosexuality the study said, for instance: “It is difficult to say anything about homosexuality that is not of a provisional nature. ... Simply citing verses from the Bible outside of their historical context and then blithely applying them to homosexuals today does grave injustice both to Scripture and to people who have already suffered a great deal from the travesty of biblical interpretation.”

When they turn to pastoral guidelines, the authors warn that persons involved in pastoral ministry need to examine their own attitudes toward homosexuals, because unconscious prejudices resulting from biased education or societal attitudes do serious injustice.

Given the long-standing ignorance about homosexuality and negative attitudes toward it, which of us can claim to be totally free of such prejudices?

The study goes on to suggest that homosexuals in stable, loving relationships should be left in peace by pastors.

This is recommended not simply as a lesser of two evils but as a positive good. The study even goes on to say that prayer, even communal prayer, for two (homosexual) people striving to live Christian lives, incarnating the values of fidelity, truth and love, is not beyond the pastoral possibilities of a Church whose ritual tradition includes a rich variety of blessings.

The study is well aware, however, that social repercussions might make such blessings inadvisable.

Perhaps the pastors might profitably read this and other studies before they deliver their promised sermons to their congregations about this issue. Such a lengthy and careful study, endorsed by a large number of thoughtful theologians, ought to give pause to those — whether the pastors, the Vatican or anyone else — who proclaim the truth on this matter.

For most people, the Bible constitutes the primary source, and the text that almost everyone imagines as settling the matter is Genesis 19, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Unfortunately, very few people examine the text carefully.

It is clearly not a story about homosexuality in the sense of same-sex couples being lovingly committed to one another. It tells of the men of Sodom wanting to force themselves on Lot’s divine visitors — in other words, it is a story about attempted gang rape.

If stories about rape could truly provide divine teaching about human sexuality, then what lessons should be drawn from Shechem’s rape of Dinah (Genesis 34) or Amnon’s rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13)?

Do these stories teach that there is something wrong with men being attracted to women? Surely not! No more can any conclusions about homosexuality be drawn from the Sodom story of violent rape.

When Jesus referred to Sodom, he interpreted its sin as a refusal to accept visitors sent by God (Matthew 10:15); there is no word from Jesus condemning homosexuality.

The usual interpretations of Genesis 19 bespeak not accurate reading of Scripture, but prejudice against homosexuals. As voters decide whether they wish to support the pastors’ campaign, hopefully they will examine all sides of the issue.

This is the opinion of Vincent M. Smiles, who teaches theology courses at CSB/SJU that include study of the issue of homosexuality. He is married with three children.


______________________________

Above: Michael Bayly (executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities) and Randi Reitan (of SoulForce Minnesota) at the November 10, 2005 rally to support equal civil marriage rights for all Minnesotans.

The Minnesota Pastors Summit – an event aimed at encouraging religious leaders to support the proposed “marriage amendment” banning same-gender marriage and all legal equivalents – did not go unopposed by people of faith in Minnesota.

Although both the summit and the proposed “marriage amendment” were actively supported by the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, a number of Catholic groups – including the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), Dignity/Twin Cities, Catholics for Equality, and Catholic Rainbow Parents – played a key role in organizing a coalition of Christian churches, groups, and individuals to challenge the Pastors Summit.

In October 2005, CPCSM and Catholic Rainbow Parents initiated efforts to protest the Pastors Summit. A coalition called People of Faith for Equal Civil Marriage Rights was formed which organized a rally on November 10 outside the Pastors Summit’s venue, Grace Church in Eden Prairie.

Such organizing efforts involved the collaboration of a number of ecumenically diverse faith communities dedicated to defeating the proposed amendment. From this proactive and ecumenical dialogue and action emerged the
Faith Family Fairness Alliance, of which a number of Catholic organizations and individuals are members.


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
On Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
This “Militant Secularist” Wants to Marry a Man
“Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality is Complex and Nuanced”, says Theologian
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Good News from Minnesota
The Non-negotiables of Human Sex
The Sexuality of Jesus

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Irene Khan: Shaking Things Up Down Under

In the past week I’ve had the good fortune to see two inspiring people being interviewed on Australian T.V.

Today I’d like to share the insights of one of these people,
Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International and the 2006 recipient of the Sydney Peace Prize. On October 31, Khan was interviewed by Tony Jones on the ABC’s Lateline program.


In this interview, Khan discusses the recent controversial remarks about women made by Australian Muslim leader Sheik Hilaly. She also talks about the problems she sees in contemporary Australian society – especially in relation to the treatment of refugees and the Australian government’s failure to sign a series of protocols including the optional protocol on torture, along with the government’s failure to criticize the United States for human rights abuses.

“[It’s from my] sense of admiration for Australia,” says Khan, “that I’m trying to shake things up here. The world needs Australia, an engaged Australia, and not an Australia that’s turning away from the international system”.

Following are excerpts from Lateline’s interview with Irene Khan.

___________________________________

Tony Jones: You’ve arrived [in Australia] just in time for this fierce debate on Sheik Hilaly’s Ramadan sermon which clearly states that women are Satan’s soldiers wielding the weapons of seduction. . . . Is this a particularly Islamic perversion, these kinds of comments?

Irene Khan: I wouldn’t put it [as] Islamic. What it does reflect is a kind of patriarchal authoritarian society where women are seen as sexual objects, a society where the whole emphasis is on woman’s body as a piece of property that is owned by others and therefore women cannot control their lives, cannot control their bodies. What he’s reflecting is that kind of thinking which is, in my view, medieval because things have moved on.

Tony Jones: You’re a visitor here and it’s a hard question to ask you but what do you think should happen to [Sheik Hilaly]?

Irene Khan: Well, I think people like him should not be given the privilege of being considered as leaders because . . . I think there’s a question on the part of the Muslim community and there is a question on the part of the larger community as to how much space do you give to views that reflect only a very narrow part of the community. The Muslim community is a very large community with many diverse points of views, very diverse history from Morocco to Indonesia. To have a single voice like this to be seen representing the community I think is actually to create a situation where your religious identity takes over all other identities and you’re seen as this Muslim person with this kind of a very narrow point of view.

Tony Jones: You’ve seen in Britain where you live a similar phenomenon but does it worry you looking at what’s happening here, to see how much the debate about what’s Australian and un-Australian in terms of cultural values has crept into this whole debate?

Irene Khan: Well, I think there are a few red herrings in this debate. One is the issue of what women wear because that’s an issue of freedom of expression, and women should be free to wear what they want to wear, whether they want to wear a veil or not. The second issue here I think is this sort of identifying people by their religion only and not through multiple identities that everyone has. And the third one, and this is a very important one, is to try to find out what are the global values on which you want to build multiculturalism. You cannot build multiculturalism only on your cultural values or on my cultural values. We have to have something that’s broader and common and universal. Here as a human rights activist, of course, I believe human rights provide that type of values because it’s universal. It applies to everyone and there needs to be more recognition of what it is that we have together, not just as Australians, or British, but as human beings. And from that perspective, learning to respect each other.

Tony Jones: Here in Australia, of course, the very idea of multiculturalism has itself entered the debate. People from the Prime Minister on down are questioning whether multiculturalism is, in a fact, a good thing.

Irene Khan: I would say multiculturalism is not a choice for government policy anymore. Multiculturalism is an aspect of global society. We live in a globalised world where we expect to have a free market and free flowing goods and ideas and we want to retain our own culture and have a single culture. I'm sorry, it doesn’t work that way. The challenge for political leaders and other leaders is how do you manage that multiculturalism. It’s not a question of putting into place something else.

Tony Jones: It’s very hard, isn’t it, because how do you manage it in a situation like this where someone is saying things which are clearly outside of the values of the mainstream of the country which distort those values so clearly that people are upset and worried that that is now ingrained in Islam.

Irene Khan: I think the first thing is education. There needs to be a lot more education of what is universal and what is peculiar. I think women’s rights and equality of women and respect for women is, for me, a universal value. It’s not something peculiar to Australia and it’s not something that is denied in Muslim societies either. So it’s, in my view, what [Sheik Hilaly] says is an aberration of even his own culture and religion. So there are fundamental and common ideas of justice and equality and respect that exist and one has to start from that point of view and begin the conversation of what is it that’s common about us rather than what [are] different shades of us and to move away from the extremes to the middle ground to give space to [a] plurality of voices, different people speaking . . . including women themselves.

Tony Jones: In your speech accepting [the Sydney] Peace Prize you make some pretty harsh observations about Australia generally and its reputation as a country of “the fair go”. What is the main problem that you see?

Irene Khan: Well, what I see is that Australia is a country with a very rich culture and history of engagement at the international level of being generous to refugees, of participating on human rights debates. But in recent years, Australia has been withdrawing from that, turning inwards. Its policy on refugees, particularly with mandatory detention is a very harsh one, it has rejected Kyoto protocol, for example, on environment and so on, turning away from that and that's very dangerous because I think the world needs an Australia that is engaged and open and willing to play its part as a member of the international community.

Tony Jones: You don't see the Kyoto protocol as some sort of human rights issue, do you?

Irene Khan: It’s not a human rights issue but it's a very important issue of international cooperation.

Tony Jones: You’ve been very critical of the Government for failing to sign a series of other protocols including the optional protocol on torture, and also for not criticising the United States for human rights abuses. Now, those comments are going to play into a political debate here, you must be aware of that.

Irene Khan: Well, I think issues like torture, prohibition against torture is not politics, it’s a fundamental principle of humanity and Australia as a member of the international community, should speak out against it. Australian citizens have complained of being tortured. [David] Hicks is one of them. There’s another case of Mamdouh Habib. These are Australian citizens who claim to have been tortured and it’s Australia’s responsibility to speak out . . . because Australia was one of those countries that actually participated in the international convention that banned torture. So it has this history, this contribution it has made to develop international standards, and it should now not only live by them but make sure others live by [them] too.

Tony Jones: You ironically link all of these criticisms to the key Australian value of mateship. Tell us why you chose to do that?

Irene Khan: Well, I think it’s a very powerful sentiment [and] principle that you have here in Australia about mateship which is about solidarity . . . about sticking together. And in the international world today, there are problems from refugees to terrorism, to environment to human rights where you need that kind of international solidarity and that is where I find that the Howard Government while pushing forward mateship as a key value, [as an] Australian value, does not itself show that same degree of mateship at the international level.

Tony Jones: It's a pretty bold strategy for a visitor who’s won a peace prize to come here and lecture Australians on how to deal with its own values like mateship, you’ve done that deliberately, obviously?

Irene Khan: Well, I believe Australians like straight talking. I mean you guys talk straight from the shoulder, you say how things are and you like to hear how things are. I’m sure you will take it in that spirit.

Tony Jones: You’re prepared for a torrent of not only support, in some quarters, but angry responses in other quarters, and the normal pieces and editorials and so on, saying: who is this woman coming here to Australia and telling us what to do?

Irene Khan: Actually I admire Australia. I've worked here in South-East Asia on refugee cases in the 1980s and I saw how generous Australia was, how many refugees have made their homes here. I’ve seen the way in which Australian diplomats negotiated at an international level and brought into place a human rights principle and the contribution they made to international law and international system. And so it is from that sense of admiration for Australia that I’m trying to shake things up here because we need – the world needs – Australia, an engaged Australia, and not an Australia that’s turning away from the international system.


To read Tony Jones’ interview with Irene Khan in its entirety, click here


See also the Wild Reed post, Richard Flanagan Wants a Gentler Australia.