Wednesday, April 30, 2008


If someone offers you
their body
to love,
only cherish it.

Treat it with as much
passion and care
and tenderness

as you would have them
treat your own.

If someone shows you their scars
and offers you such vulnerability,
only ever touch them healingly:
We are all wounded
somewhere, somehow,
holding within this gentle flesh
signs of the body’s struggles.

If someone offers you their body to love,
they are giving you such a gift.
Cherish it with your life.

Rosie Miles

- Taken from Courage to Love: Liturgies for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community, edited by Geoffrey Duncan (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2002).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Grounded Angel
And Love is Lord of All
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
The Wisdom of the Body
Love is Love
Song of Songs: The Bible’s Gay Love Poem
The Road to Love
Alexander’s Great Love
Mmm, that Sweet Surrender

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Coming Out: An Act of Holiness

Recently I had the honor of being asked to write an endorsement for David Weiss’ soon-to-be published book, To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical Reflections on Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Wideness of God’s Welcome.

Weiss is a member of St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church and a steering committee member of the church’s Wingspan Ministry, a “ministry of pastoral care, education, advocacy and support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.” Wingspan Ministry will publish Weiss’ book of essays and hymn texts in June of this year.

In a media release, Wingspan Ministry notes that its partnership with Weiss is aimed at “foster[ing] change in the ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] policy concerning rostering of GLBT clergy and laity and performing services of blessing of relationship for GLBT couples.” The group wants to see that change happen at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly to be held in Minneapolis.

“For David,” the media release continues, “the partnership is an opportunity to carry his decade-long work as a thoughtful and eloquent Ally to a new level. [His] writings, which range from short essays and texts of public talks to hymn texts, are all ‘occasional’ in the same sense that most of Luther’s writings were occasional. That is, they were all written in response to specific events, invitations, and occasions. As such, and because each piece will carry a couple sentence description of its original context, the writings retain a certain intimacy and liveliness to them.”

In his book’s introduction, David Weiss notes: “I am, by vocation, a public theologian and poet, gifted with prophetic passion alongside a measure of pastoral sensitivity. I am committed to write accessibly to the ‘saints in the church at large,’ but am equally determined to do so with full theological integrity. This book brings to the discussion of welcome a balance of heart and mind, theological integrity and spiritual passion, that is all too rare in a text aimed at a general readership.”

According to Wingspan, To the Tune of a Welcoming God “puts lyric prose on the divisive question of whether and how the church might welcome the GLBT Christians at its doorstep, and the ones already in its pews. Teachers, students, pastors and laypersons, whether gay or straight, will find these short texts worthy of long reflection and conversation. For those whose own heart and mind have already been captivated by the tune of a welcoming God, these readings will help put clear words and images to the music already at play in their lives. At times whimsical, sobering, challenging, surprising, insightful, and subversive, To the Tune of a Welcoming God invites the church to sing a new song.”

Here’s the endorsement I wrote for David’s book, an endorsement that will appear either on the book’s back cover or on its inside front cover:

To the Tune of a Welcoming God is a heartfelt compilation of great beauty and honesty. To a church hungry for wisdom and grace, Weiss’s unwavering focus on God’s loving and welcoming embrace offers a veritable feast – one that both nourishes and delights.

Michael J. Bayly, MA
Executive Coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, editor of The Progressive Catholic Voice, and author of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective.

Following, with David’s permission, is an excerpt from To the Tune of a Welcoming God. This particular excerpt is from his essay “The Body as Burning Bush,” and focuses on the coming out experience as an act of holiness. Enjoy!


Coming Out is seldom simple or easy. And it usually a life-long process, because the closet keeps chasing after you as societal assumptions try to erase you again and again. The moment of coming out will need to occur again and again. So to move beyond Coming Out is not to put it behind you; it’s simply to add another act to the repertoire of holiness in your life, what I’m calling the act of Keeping Faith.

When I say that Coming Out is an act of holiness I am making a blunt theological statement. I am saying that in addition to whatever human presence you choose for your coming out there is also — and most fundamentally — a divine presence. Whether you come out to friend or family, to pastor or teacher, you come out foremost to God, because you dare to stand naked in the garden without shame.

Keeping faith, then, is about relating to others in a way that honors the divine presence at your coming out. It is about sexual ethics, and it has less to do with rules than with relationships. Keeping rules is not a holy act, keeping faith with your name and the name of God and the name of those around you — that is a holy act.

Sin is real. Whether you explain it by reference to a biblical fall or see it as the evolutionary baggage of our climb upward from a more brutal past, there is simply no use in denying that from the moment of our birth — or even before — we are exposed to forces that bend us into habits that are hurtful. We carry in ourselves, straight or gay, sexually active or celibate, transgendered or bisexual, the weight of distorted impulses and hungers that we are taught to meet with a taste for intimacy that is rarely intimate and more often oppressive. Whether you employ the word “sin” or not, there can be little argument that our best intentions seldom find the shortest line between two points.

Keeping faith, then, is about recognizing the potential for misuse of our sexual selves — but more importantly about recognizing the potential for moments of incarnation through our sexual selves. And I say “more importantly” not to be naïvely optimistic about this, but because this other side, this potential for incarnation, has been all but lost to us in our faith tradition. We have heard, explicitly and implicitly and through the subtlety of a silence that can deafen, that our sexual bodies can betray us. But we have too rarely heard that they can course with the gracious presence of God. And in the absence of that message, the best we have been able to hope for is a sexuality that is obedient to rules — while dwelling in bodies that hunger for grace. So the “more importantly” deserves the spotlight right now: keeping faith is about learning what you need to know so that sexuality can blossom in intimacy and incarnation rather than wither in alienation and hurt.

David Weiss
Excerpted from To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical Reflections on Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Wideness of God’s Welcome (Wingspan Ministry, 2008).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
Real Holiness
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
Song of Songs: The Bible’s Gay Love Poem
Love is Love
And Love is Lord of All

Image: Arizona State University LGBT Coalition

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Declaration of Utrecht

On Saturday, some friends and I attended Mass at Spirit of Hope Catholic Community, a newly formed parish within the Old Catholic Church diocese (or jurisdiction) known as the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Community (ACOC). The pastor of Spirit of Hope is Fr. Marty Shanahan, a former Roman Catholic deacon. The head of the ACOC is Bishop Diana Dale, who is based in Houston, TX.

Regular visitors to The Wild Reed may recall that last year I published an extensive interview with Rev. Robert Caruso of Cornerstone Catholic Community in St. Paul, MN, which is part of the Heartland Old Catholic Diocese. In this interview Rev. Caruso discusses the history of Old Catholicism, its points of similarity and difference to Roman Catholicism, and its affirming and accepting stance on women and gay people in all areas of church life. As Fr. Marty Shanahan reminded folks on Saturday night, Old Catholicism is a way of being Catholic that doesn’t exclude anybody.

The biggest difference between Old Catholicism and Roman Catholicism is governance. In Old Catholicism, it is the people, not the bishops, who are the primary discerners of how the faith is to be most authentically lived out. Put another way, leadership in the Old Catholic Church is local, open to democratic processes, and shared by the bishop in council with the clergy and laity. The Bishop of Rome (the pope) is honored as first among equals of the world’s bishops, but not accorded universal jurisdiction. Papal Infallibility (meaning the pope is ascribed personal infallibility when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals) is rejected in favor of the scriptural idea of indefectibility – meaning when the Church speaks in Ecumenical Council, it does so without defect from the truth.

A foundational document of the Old Catholic tradition is the Declaration of Utrecht of 1889, a document written in response to the First Vatican Council’s dogma of Papal Infallibility. Of course, the Old Catholic tradition traces its roots back further than the late 1800s. Via the See of Utrecht (i.e., the ancient Catholic Church of the Netherlands founded by St. Willibrord in the seventh century and which traditionally oversaw the expansion of the Catholic faith into northern Europe), Old Catholicism traces its roots back to the early and unified Catholic Church of 1 – 451 C.E.

I hope to write more about Old Catholicism in future Wild Reed posts. Today, however, I’ll simply share a translation of the Declaration (or Profession of Faith) of Utrecht, as in future posts I’ll no doubt make references to this important document.


The Declaration of Utrecht
A translation of the Profession of Faith, or Declaration,
formulated by the Old Catholic Bishops assembled
at Utrecht – September 24, 1889.

1. We adhere faithfully to the Rule of Faith laid down by St. Vincent of Lerins in these terms: “Id teneamus, ubique quod simper, quod ab omnibus creditum est; hoc est etenim vere pro- prieque catholicum.” For this reason we persevere in professing the faith of the primitive [early and unified] Church, as formulated in the ecumenical symbols and specified precisely by the unanimously accepted decisions of the Ecumenical Councils held in the undivided Church of the first thousand years.

2. We therefore reject the decrees of the so-called Council of the Vatican, which were promulgated on July 18, 1870 concerning the infallibility and the universal Episcopate of the Bishop of Rome, decrees which contradict the faith of the ancient canonical constitution by attributing to the Pope the plenitude of ecclesiastical powers over all Dioceses and over all the faithful. By denial of his primatial jurisdiction, we do not wish to deny the historic primacy which several Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers of the ancient Church have attributed to the Bishop of Rome by recognizing him as the Primus inter pares [First among equals].

3. We reject the dogma of the Immaculate Conception promulgated by Pius IX in 1854 in defiance of the Holy Scriptures and the contradiction to the tradition of the first centuries.

4. As for other Encyclicals published by the Bishops of Rome in recent times; for example, the Bulls Unigenitus and Auctorem fidei, and the Syllabus of 1864, we reject them on all such points as are in the contradiction of the doctrine of the primitive Church, and we do not recognize them as binding on the conscience of the faithful. We also renew the ancient protest of the Catholic Church of Holland against the errors of Roman Curia, and against its attacks upon the rights of national Churchs.

5. We refuse to accept the decrees of the Council of Trent in matters of discipline, and as for the dogmatic decisions of that Council, accept them only as far as they are in harmony with the teaching of the primitive Church.

6. Considering that the Holy Eucharist has always been the true central point of Catholic worship, we consider it our duty to declare that we maintain with perfect fidelity the ancient Catholic doctrine concerning the Sacrament of the Altar, by believing that we receive the Body and Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ under the species of bread and wine. The Eucharistic celebration in the church is neither a continual repetition nor a renewal of the expiatory sacrifice which Jesus offered once for all upon the Cross, and it is the act by which we represent upon earth and appropriate to ourselves the one offering which Jesus Christ makes in Heaven, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews ix. 11, 12 for the salvation of redeemed humanity, by appearing for us in the presence of God (Heb. Ix. 24). The character of the Holy Eucharist being thus understood, it is, at the same time, a sacrificial feast, by means of which the faithful, in receiving the Body and Blood of our Savior, enter into communion with one another (I Cor. X. 17).

7. We hope that Catholic theologians, in maintaining the faith of the undivided Church, will succeed in establishing an agreement upon all such questions as caused controversy ever since the Churches became divided. We exhort the priests under our jurisdiction to teach, both by preaching and by instruction of the young, especially the essential Christian truths professed by all Christian confessions, to avoid, in discussing controversial doctrines, any violation of truth or charity, and in word and deed to set an example to the members of our churches in accordance with the spirit of Jesus Christ our Savior.

8. By maintaining and professing faithfully the doctrine of Jesus Christ, by refusing to admit those errors which by the fault of men have crept into the Catholic Churches, by laying aside the abuses in ecclesiastical matters, together with the worldly tendencies of hierarchy, we believe that we shall be able to combat efficaciously the great evils of our day, which are unbelief and indifference in matters of religion.

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
The Old Catholic Church: Catholicism Beyond Rome
(my September 2007 interview with Rev. Robert Caruso of Cornerstone Old Catholic Church, St. Paul, MN).
Casanova-inspired Reflections on Papal Power – at 30,000 Ft.
Beyond Papalism
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
It’s Time We Moved Beyond Theological Imperialism
“Uncle Vince” is at it Again
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
What It Means to be Catholic
The “Underground Church”
Cornerstone Catholic Community

Recommended Off-site Links:
New Leaders for Old Catholic Church
Spirit of Hope Catholic Community
Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Community (ACOC)
Heartland Old Catholic Church
Old Catholic Church of Great Britain

Image: St. Willibrord. The website of the Old Catholic Church of Great Britain notes: “The area of Europe known as the Low Countries was evangelised by St. Willibrord in the Seventh Century firmly establishing the Catholic Faith and Tradition in the Netherlands and other countries in that region. Early on, three principal dioceses were established in the cities of Utrecht , Deventer and Haarlem to administer the affairs of the Church in the territory. Utrecht eventually became the archiepiscopal see with supervision over Deventer and Haarlem . Assenting to a petition made by the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III and Bishop Heribert of Utrecht , Blessed Pope Eugene III, in 1145 A.D. granted the Cathedral Chapter of Utrecht the right to elect successors to the See in times of vacancy. This privilege was confirmed by the fourth Council of the Laterian in 1215. The autonomous character of the Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands was further demonstrated when a second grant by Pope Leo X, Debitum Pastoralis, conceded to Philip of Burgundy, 57th Bishop of Utrecht, that neither he nor his successors, nor any of their clergy or laity, should ever, in the first instance, have his cause evoked to any external tribunal, not even under pretence of any apostolic letters whatever; and that all such proceedings should be, ipso facto, null and void. This papal concession, in 1520, was of the greatest importance in defense of the rights of the Church.”

Friday, April 25, 2008

Ma Belle Amie

Above: The Dutch band Tee Set in 1971: (From left) Peter Tetteroo
Ferry Lever (guitar), Max Spangenberg (drums),
Hans van Eijck (keyboards),
and Franklin Madjid (bass).

It’s been far too long since a Friday “music night” here at The Wild Reed!

To remedy this situation I present tonight the pop song that was probably one of the first to leave an impression on me as a child growing up in Australia. It’s the song “Ma Belle Amie” by (believe it or not) a Dutch group that went by the name of Tee Set.

This particular song was the opening track of a 1970 compilation of pop songs entitled 20 Dynamic Hits. I remember this particular album very well, as it’s cover featured a picture of a guy who was probably responsible for my first stirring of male intrigue/attraction.

For years I mistakenly associated the face of this particular guy with the voice of the male singer of “Ma Belle Amie.” In retrospect, this distinctly male voice (one that I now, as an adult, define as sexy) probably awakened things within me as a child in much the same way as did the image of the good-looking guy on the record cover, who for a long time remained nameless to me. (In fact, it was only quite recently that I
discovered the identity of this “mystery man.”)

Mind you, if Tee Set had been pictured on the album cover, I have a feeling that the band’s dark–haired bass player Franklin Madjid (pictured at left) I would have had much the same impact on me as my “mystery man”!

Hello boys! Could I please have the number of your interior decorator?
Above: Tee Set in October 1970: (From left) Ferry Lever,
Franklin Madjid, Hans van Eijck, Max Spangenberg,
and Peter Tetteroo.

Recorded in 1969, “Ma Belle Amie” was a huge hit for Tee Set in a number of countries in 1970, and it remains the band’s signature tune. It has an unmistakable (and cool) Sixties vibe, thanks in large part to the jabbing sounds of the electric organ that punctuate the song’s catchy melody! In addition, lead singer Peter Tetteroo has a great voice and, as you’ll see, is a bit of a groover; well, in an endearingly awkward kind of way. Sadly, he passed away in 2002.

As far as I can gather, the French lyrics in the song (“Ma belle amie, apres tous les beaux jours Je te dis merci merci”) translate as: “My beautiful friend, after all the beautiful days I say to you, thank you, thank you.”

So here it is . . . “Ma Belle Amie”! Enjoy.

Ma Belle Amie,
You were a child of the sun and the sky
And the deep blue sea.
Ma Belle Amie,
Apres’ tous les beaux jours je te dis merci merci.
You were the answer to all my questions,
Before we’re through,
I want to tell you that I adore you
And always do.
That you amaze me by leaving me now to start anew.
Ma Belle Amie,
I’m in love with you.

Let the bells ring,
Let the birds sing.
Let’s all give my substitute a big cheer.
Let the bells ring,
Let the birds sing.
For the man after him waits here.

For a good introduction to the music of Tee Set, I recommend The Best of Tee Set. Stand out tracks (apart from, of course, “Ma Belle Amie”) include “Early in the Morning,” “Believe What I Say,” “Long Ago,” “Finally in Love,” “In Your Eyes,” “If You Do Believe in Love,” “Please Call Me,” “She Likes Weeds” (which was banned from radio play lists in the U.S.) and a beautiful rendition of “Red, Red Wine.”

To learn more about the band, its history, and musical output, visit The Official Tee Set Home Page

For more music on The Wild Reed, visit:
Time and the River
Darren Hayes
The Wild Ones
Saturday Night
Engelbert Humperdinck: Not That Easy to Forget
Yeah, Baby, Yeah!
Rules and Regulations – Rufus Style
The Man I Love
Fleetwood Mac’s “Seven Wonders” – My Theme Song for 1987
Crackerjack Man
All at Sea
The Beauty and Wisdom of Rosanne Cash
Actually, I Do Feel Like Dancing
“And A Pitcher to Go”
Classic Dusty
Soul Deep

Catholic Democrats

On Monday, two friends of mine were in downtown Minneapolis to greet Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi (left), who was at the Graves 601 Hotel for a fundraising event for Tim Walz.

One of these friends, Mary, was inside, while the other, Marv, was outside with several other people holding a banner that read: “Impeach Both of Them Now!” – a plea for Pelosi and the Democratic Party leadership to show some backbone and begin impeachment proceedings against both President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.

It just so happened that at the same time that Pelosi was in downtown Minneapolis, a group of friends and I were meeting at my home in St. Paul with Pat Schafer (right, center) of Catholic Democrats, a grassroots organization of Catholic laity “dedicated to making the link between Catholic values and the choices facing us as citizens.”

Aware that there are some who contend that it isn’t possible to be both Catholic and Democrat,* I was curious to hear from Pat about a group boldly calling itself Catholic Democrats.

Yet like many progressives, I’m also aware of my frustration with the Democratic Party. Indeed, I resonate with Chris Hedges when, in writing in the April 21 issue of the Philadelphia Enquirer about the failure of the American Left, he notes that such failure:

. . . is a failure of nerve. [The American Left] has been neutralized and rendered ineffectual as a political force because of its refusal to hold fast on core issues, from universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care for all Americans, to the steadfast protection of workers’ rights, to an immediate withdrawal from the failed occupation of Iraq, to a fight against a militarized economy that is hollowing the country out from the inside.

Let the politicians compromise. This is their job. It is not ours. If the left wants to regain influence in the nation’s political life, it must be willing to walk away from the Democratic Party, even if Barack Obama is the nominee, and back progressive, third-party candidates until the Democrats feel enough heat to adopt our agenda. We must be willing to say no. If not, we become slaves.

Political and social change, as the radical Christian right and the array of corporate-funded neo-con think tanks have demonstrated, are created by the building of movements. This is a lesson American progressives have forgotten. The object of a movement is not to achieve political power at any price. It is to create pressure and mobilize citizens around core issues of justice. It is to force politicians and parties to respond to our demands. It is about rewarding, through support and votes, those who champion progressive ideals and punishing those who refuse. And the current Democratic Party, as any worker in a former manufacturing town in Pennsylvania can tell you, has betrayed us.

Well, as true as all this may be, part of me (begrudgingly) recognizes the need for pragmatism. I mean, the reality is that since the U.S. is yet to achieve either a parliamentary system of government and/or proportional representation, then, come November, Americans will have no choice but to chose between either a Republican or a Democrat for president. And as spineless and compromised as the Democratic candidate may be, the bottom line for progressives is that he or she isn't a Republican. Are pissed-off progressives really going to vote for anyone but a Democrat?

But back to Catholic Democrats. What exactly is this group all about, you may well be wondering.

Well, according to Pat, those who align with Catholic Democrats are fully aware that no single political program or party “embodies the entire Christian law of love and justice.” Nevertheless, Pat believes that the platform of the Democratic Party more “nearly reflects the totality of Catholic concern for the common good.”

“As Catholics and Democrats,” says Pat, “we seek to put our faith into practice by supporting policies that will enable more Americans to make a decent living, provide for genuine national security without entangling our military in immoral and unnecessary conflicts, ensure dignity and a path to citizenship to immigrants and their families, reduce abortions by helping women avoid unwanted pregnancies, provide meaningful support for all families and children, and restore honor and integrity to our government.”

Pat is attempting to establish a Minnesota chapter of Catholic Democrats, the mission of which would be threefold:

1. To support Democratic and other progressive politicians in Minnesota and encourage their efforts to enact policies that further social justice and the common good.

2. To promote Catholic teachings concerning social justice and to increase awareness in the media and the electorate of the breadth of the Catholic vision of a just society, resisting efforts to reduce Catholic teaching to one or two issues.

3. To facilitate communication among Catholic organizations, the DFL Party, and other advocates of progressive and moderate values, both by finding common ground and by finding new ways to approach issues on which views diverge.

For more information about Catholic Democrats, click here.


* A contention seemingly refuted by Pope Benedict XVI himself during his recent visit to the U.S. After all, Pelosi and other pro-choice Catholic members of Congress were not denied Communion by the pope at the Papal Mass in Washington, D.C.

Pelosi, who has been described as the government’s highest-ranking Catholic, said she felt very comfortable taking Communion during the Mass celebrated by the pope, who has said in the past that supporters of abortion rights should not receive Communion.

“Communion is the body of the people of the church coming together,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference after returning from the Mass. “I feel very much a part of that.”

Later, she spoke glowingly on the House floor about the pope’s commitment to truth, justice and freedom.

Opening Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a public veterans forum at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Center - Monday, April 21, 2008. (Star Tribune)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Bishop to the Poor" Elected President of Paraguay

Fernando Lugo (left), a former Roman Catholic priest once known as the “Bishop to the Poor,” has been elected president in the Latin American country of Paraguay. He is the first Paraguayan president since 1946 not from the conservative Colorado Party.

In his victory speech Lugo said: “May we never again . . . base our politics on clientism and enticements, because it has done so much to damage our national politics.”

Following are excerpts from an insightful April 22 Democracy Now! segment in which host Amy Goodman interviews Michael Fox, a freelance journalist based in Latin America, on the significance of Lugo’s win. Fox also explains how “Iraq saved Latin America,” and discusses the leftward shift in politics that is taking place across Latin America.


Amy Goodman: . . . Lugo won 41 percent of the vote, beating Blanca Ovelar, who received 31 percent. Lugo has pledged to crack down on corruption and channel Paraguay’s wealth into social programs. . . . Election officials said Sunday’s voting had the highest turnout, about 66 percent, of any presidential election since 1993.

Lugo is the first bishop ever to become president of a country. Both Paraguay and the Vatican ban clergy from seeking political office, so Lugo resigned in December 2006. Lugo says he was influenced by the liberation theology of the ’60s. He told the Associated Press he would not move to the presidential palace, remaining instead in his modest house in a middle-class suburb. He said the first lady would be his eldest sister.

Washington has signaled a willingness to work with Lugo and hailed his election as a “step forward” in Paraguay, but a State Department official told the Los Angeles Times his victory had left Washington worried about its waning influence in Latin America.

In a pre-election interview with the Los Angeles Times, Lugo noted Washington’s sometimes-contradictory role in Latin America, saying, “The United States…has sustained the great dictatorships, but afterward lifted the banner of democracy.” He went on to say Washington must acknowledge a new scenario in which Latin American governments “won’t accept any type of intervention from any country, no matter how big it is.”

For more, we turn to Michael Fox, a freelance journalist based in Latin America, joining us now on the telephone from the Paraguayan capital Asunción, where is he reporting for Free Speech Radio News and [the] Upside Down World [website].

We welcome you, Michael Fox, to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance and the background of the priest who has won the presidency.

Michael Fox: You know, this is — it’s one of these really, really amazing moments here in Paraguay. Before I go onto Lugo, I just want to kind of put this into perspective. For listeners, imagine — it’s almost as if, for many Lugo supporters, as if the dictatorship, from the longtime Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship that fell in 1989, is finally coming to an end, because in 1989, when Stroessner fell, basically it was just a kind of a party share, the powers passed over to the Colorado Party, and they’ve been in power until now. So, literally, I was in the streets for the victory celebration just a few nights ago, and, you know, grandmothers, ages sixty, sixty-two, sixty-three, saying, “This is the first time in my life, you know, we’re actually—we’ve won. We can’t even believe that we’ve won. This is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Lugo is one of these people that’s kind of just jumped onto the political scene. As you said, Amy, he’s, you know, the Bishop of the Poor. He worked for many years in San Pedro, which is the northernmost and poorest province of Paraguay, working with campesino movements and in indigenous communities. He kind of came on the scene about a year and a half ago, and it’s been this movement of social movements, campesinos, political parties, that’s kind of all joined together and really supported his campaign. And it’s been extremely powerful, and people across Asunción are—you know, can’t believe he actually won.

Amy Goodman: Michael Fox, some say Iraq saved Latin America, that with the Bush administration’s focus on Iraq, that the Latin American governments have much more reflected the base, the people in their countries, rather than pressure from the United States. Can you talk about the leftward shift of the governments of Latin America and how Father Lugo, the priest, now president, fits into that?

Michael Fox: You know, it’s really interesting . . . I’m glad you brought this point up, because across Latin America you have had this huge leftward shift. I mean, some of them, it’s more progressive, such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, who, you know, are trying to create the new constitutions. They’re really trying to bring power and give power down to the base and flip the whole system upside-down. Now, you have other countries, like Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Tabare Vazquez in Uruguay, who are more kind of liberal democrat, but still on the left.

You know, it’s really difficult to say exactly where Lugo is going to stand. Paraguay itself is extremely, extremely important within the whole geopolitical structure of Latin America. Why? Because it’s just on the southern border of Bolivia, it’s on the western border of Brazil, the northern border of Argentina, it’s very close to Uruguay. It’s kind of the center of what is Latin America. And especially within the past couple of years, there was reports that came out a couple years ago that the United States was sending—had sent 500 troops to a military base here close to the Bolivian border. Now, it’s difficult to say what in these—what these changes—what will actually happen once Lugo comes into power on August 15th, whether, you know, he’ll follow along more in the lines of the footsteps of Hugo Chavez or whether he’ll line up a little bit more with Tabare Vazquez of Uruguay.

Regardless, geopolitically speaking, it’s a huge victory and especially really interesting for this country of, you know, six million people. You’re talking about a country almost the size of California, that’s tiny. And the people here, they’re not used to having—being inundated by international press. There’s like a hundred press agencies that sent people down here for the elections. And so, really, this is a huge win for the left in Latin America, and it’s going to be interesting to see how things develop in the coming months.

To read the transcript of Democracy Now!’s interview with Michael Fox in its entirety, click here.

Image: Luis Magán.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Lugo Has Heart - Nilil Obstat, April 24, 2008.
Paraguay: Election Ends Six Decades of One-Party Rule - Bill Van Auken (World Socialist Web Site, April 23, 2008).
Democracy Now!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
John Allen on the Censuring of Jon Sobrino
Amy Goodman and the “Sacred Responsibility” of Listening
John Pilger on Resisting Empire
In Search of a Global Ethic
Let’s Also Honor the “Expendables”

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mitch

In the United Kingdom today, my nephew Mitchell celebrates his 12th birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mitch!

These first two photos were taken when Mitch and his family returned to Australia for a visit during my longer-than-expected sojourn back home in Australia (May 2006-January 2007) as I awaited the completion of my application for U.S. green card status.

Above: Mitch (right) with his Dad (my older brother, Chris) and his younger brother Brendan - July 2006.

Above and below: Mitch on the trampoline. These photos were taken when I visited Mitch and his family in the United Kingdom during the summer of 2005.

Above: Mitch - December 2000.

Above: Another one from the archives! This photo from 1998 shows my parents and I with Mitch and his brothers. From left: Brendan, Mitch, Ryan, and Liam. It was taken in my hometown of Gunnedah.

Above: The last time I saw Mitch in July 2006 I snapped this memorable image!

In August of this year, Mitch and his family will visit me in Minnesota, an event that I’m greatly looking forward to!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Happy Birthday, Ryan
Happy Birthday, Sami
Happy Birthday, Layne
Happy Birthday, Brendan
My Brother, the Drummer
Like Father, Like Daughter
A Rabbit’s Tale
The Bayly Family - July 2006
Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents
Remembering Nanna Smith

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

In the Garden of Spirituality: Paulo Coelho


“We are not on earth to guard a museum,
but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.”

- Pope John XXIII

The Wild Reed’s series of reflections on spirituality continues with an excerpt from the “Author’s Note” in the book, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept: A Novel of Forgiveness by Paulo Coelho.

I chose this particular reflection in response to the recent brouhaha over the “correct” baptismal formula and the rise within Roman Catholicism of the so-called new evangelization.


A Spanish missionary was visiting an island when he came across three Aztec priests.

“How do you pray?” the missionary asked.

“We have only one prayer,” answered one of the Aztecs. “We say, ‘God, you are three, we are three. Have pity on us.’”

“A beautiful prayer,” said the missionary. “But it is not exactly the one that God heeds. I’m going to teach you one that’s much better.”

The padre taught them a Catholic prayer and then continued on his path of evangelism. Years later, when he was returning to Spain, his ship stopped again at the island. From the deck, the missionary saw the three priests on the shore and waved to them.

Just then, the three men began to walk across the water toward him.

“Padre! Padre!” one of them called, approaching the ship. “Teach us again that prayer that God heeds. We’ve forgotten how it goes.”

“It doesn’t matter,” responded the missionary, witnessing the miracle. And he promptly asked God’s forgiveness for failing to recognize that He speaks all languages.

This story illustrates just what this book [By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept: A Novel of Forgiveness] is all about. Rarely do we realize that we are in the midst of the extraordinary. Miracles occur all around us, signs from God show us the way, angels plead to be heard, but we pay little attention to them because we have been taught that we must follow certain formulas and rules if we want to find God. We do not recognize that God is wherever we allow Him/Her to enter.

Traditional religious practices are important: they allow us to share with others the communal experience of adoration and prayer. But we must never forget that spiritual experience is above all a practical experience of love . . . The more we love, the closer we come to spiritual experience. Those who are truly enlightened, those whose souls are illuminated by love, have been able to overcome all of the inhibitions and preconceptions of their era. They have been able to sing, to laugh, and to pray out loud; they have danced and shared what Saint Paul called “the madness of saintliness.” They have been joyful – because those who love conquer the world and have no fear of loss. True love is an act of total surrender.

. . . Sooner or later, we have to overcome our fears, because the spiritual path can only be traveled through the daily experience of love.

Thomas Merton once said that the spiritual life is essentially to love. One doesn’t love in order to do what is good or to help or to protect someone. If we act that way, we are perceiving the other as a simple object, and we are seeing ourselves as wise and generous persons. This has nothing to do with love. To love is to be in communion with the other and to discover in that other the spark of God.

– Excerpted from By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept: A Novel of Forgiveness by Paulo Coelho (English translation by Alan R. Clarke), HarperCollins, 1996.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In the Garden of Spirituality: Zainab Salbi
In the Garden of Spirituality: Daniel Helminiak
In the Garden of Spirituality: Rod Cameron
In the Garden of Spirituality: Paul Collins
In the Garden of Spirituality: Joan Chittister
In the Garden of Spirituality: Toby Johnson
In the Garden of Spirituality: Joan Timmerman
In the Garden of Spirituality: Uta Ranke-Heinemanm
In the Garden of Spirituality: Caroline Jones
In the Garden of Spirituality: Ron Rolheiser
In the Garden of Spirituality: James C. Howell

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Lost Opportunity and Much Unfinished Work

Despite the pope’s apology for the “pain” caused by the
sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, the complicity
of the Roman hierarchy in the sex abuse crime/scandal
has largely gone unacknowledged, and the church’s
“pedophilic theology” remains unchallenged.

Some have been rhapsodizing about Pope Benedict’s public apology for the decades-long Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal, and his private meeting with six people (three of whom are pictured at left) who, as children, were victims of clergy sexual abuse.

I’m not so impressed, however, as I’ve yet to hear from the pope an apology for his own and other members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s complicity in the sex abuse scandal.

In October 2006 I had a commentary published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in which I discussed who was to blame for the church’s sex abuse crimes, and who should be held accountable.

Part of my commentary reads as follows:

Pedophile priests must be brought to justice, that’s a given, as must members of the church hierarchy who knowingly ignore such priests’ criminal activity and simply transfer them to other parishes or dioceses.

Yet what of the structures and attitudes that surround, enable, and even encourage and reward such deplorable actions?

Could it be that the scandal is so overwhelming because of the church’s dysfunctional hierarchical culture – one more reflective of imperial hubris than of the egalitarian model of community offered by Jesus? It is a culture clearly prone to face-saving silence and conspiratorial efforts at covering up and scapegoating rather than acknowledging and reporting long-term abuse of children and youth.

It is clear that the Vatican has failed in many ways. It has failed in promoting a teaching that reflects the diverse reality of human sexuality; it has failed in encouraging GLBT people, in particular, to celebrate and integrate their God-given gift of sexuality, preferring instead to promote through groups such as Courage, a shame-based preoccupation with sexual repression; it has failed to protect children from sexual abuse by pedophile priests; and it has failed to hold itself fully accountable for its own complicity in this abuse.

I want to focus on this last point. In short, it appears to me to remain true. Members of the hierarchy have yet to hold themselves fully accountable and thus apologize for their role in various aspects of the sexual abuse scandal - a scandal that not only saw minors abused by members of the Roman Catholic clergy, but known offending clergy shuffled around from parish to parish, and survivors of the abuse, when they courageously step forth and seek justice, still often being treated more like criminals than the abusing priests.

As far as I can gather, the only thing the pope has said about the hierarchy’s complicity in the sexual abuse crime/scandal during his visit to the U.S. is that this scandal was “very badly handled.” I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough.

LaLonne Murphy, who was one of a number of Catholics featured in a recent Minnesota Monthly story about the “Fate of the Faithful,” had a powerful letter in yesterday’s Star Tribune in which she offered a much more just and healing way by which the pope could acknowledge and apologize for the hierarchy’s role in the sex abuse crime/scandal.

Murphy’s letter reads as follows:

Say more, please

Aboard “Shepherd I” on his way to the United States, Pope Benedict said he is ashamed of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Ashamed? That is the vocabulary of a victim. When the perpetrator speaks and acts as a victim, beware! It appears the Vatican continues to proceed as if this sexual-abuse scandal is more the fault of the media than abusive priests and complicit bishops and cardinals.

As a political and religious figure, the pope is obliged to offer a sincere apology to the families and victims of clergy sexual abuse. His predecessor, John Paul II, apologized to Muslims for the Crusades, Jews for anti-Semitism, Orthodox Christians for the sacking of Constantinople, Italians for the Vatican’s associations with the Mafia and to scientists for the persecution of Galileo. John Paul II issued 90 statements of contrition.

Why can’t this pope say, “I am deeply sorry for the wounds so many of you have suffered at the hands of your trusted pastors, teachers and religious leaders and the ensuing cover-ups and denials by church officials. I humbly ask forgiveness?” Does he not know that amends for grave sin and moral failures are required before harmony can be reestablished? I believe his failure to admit wrong-doing and apologize for this injustice from within the organization renders the pope impotent to call for justice and moral order in the world.

From the first sighting of the white smoke indicating a pope had been chosen, Vatican spokespersons were telling people to give Benedict a chance. Well, here’s another chance for His Holiness.

LaLonne Murphy

And then there’s the perspective of Barbara Blaine (right), a survivor of clergy sexual abuse and the president of the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Yesterday, she told Newsweek that “the enablers — the church leaders who engage in the cover up and enabling of perpetrators — should be punished.”

“Bishops or church leaders who are found to knowingly lead a cover-up should be fired,” she said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to remain as bishops. The religious superiors around the world who are harboring fugitive priests and giving them sanctuary should be forced to resign, as well.”

Of course, there are some within the church who refute the idea that members of the hierarchy “aided and abetted” priest-abusers by not acting to remove them.

At a news conference yesterday, Cardinal William Levada (left), the former San Francisco archbishop who Joseph Ratzinger named to replace himself at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) when Ratzinger was elected pope, responded to such a suggestion by declaring: “I don’t believe that [was the case].”

He added, “I know bishops who have said to me, if I had known then what I know now, I would have acted differently.” He insisted that bishops who moved abusers around to other parishes or did not remove them from ministry were acting on bad advice from experts and psychiatrists.

“[This scandal] has been a learning experience for bishops,” he said. “I personally do not accept that there has been a broad base of bishops guilty of aiding and abetting pedophiles . . . If I thought there were, I would certainly want to talk to them about that.”

The cardinal’s words don’t convince everyone, of course. Thomas Doyle (right), for instance, posted the following on a BeliefNet message board:

Bishops have been shifting the blame to psychologists for a decade. This . . . is grossly dishonest. I have seen scores of reports wherein psychologists said that priests were not fit for ministry. Some bishops just ignored them and many others twisted them to interpret them in a way that would be favorable to their needs. The bottom line is that bishop were intentionally negligent. Any adult male leader of anything who claims that he did not know that grown men having sex with minors is wrong and insidiously harmful to minors, is either an idiot or a liar or both. Levada’s arrogant line is the same as everyone else in the Vatican and most bishops. Basically they are saying its someone else's fault and in reality, its their fault.

On the same message board, Augusta Wynn writes:

More than any other bishop, [Levada] and Cardinal Law knew all about the sex abuse crisis in 1985. His arrogance has caused the church billions and now he whimpers about psychologists being responsible. . . . Levada placed a known pedophile as his chancellor in San Francisco and put him in charge of creating sex abuse policies for the dioceses all over the U.S. Levada admitted under oath that he knew Rev. Gregory Ingels was a pedophile since 1996. Might someone want to mention this to him?

Meanwhile, Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether notes the following in a current blog discussion hosted by the New York Times:

Declaring himself to be “deeply ashamed” by the misbehavior of Catholic priests in the sexual abuse cases, the Pope said it “is more important to have good priests than many priests” . . . [However] when a church recruits its leadership exclusively from those who repress their sexuality and are taught to view sex as the opposite of sacredness, it is inevitable that some of those who take such vows have an immature sexuality that will be acted out secretly in sexual abuse of the vulnerable, young boys and girls. Until the Catholic Church faces up to the way its negative views of sexuality are connected with sexual abuse, it will continue to be faced with the problem of priests who are both not “good” and also not “many.”

Ruether’s remarks remind me of the observations and comments made by Simon Rosser, PhD, renowned researcher on sexuality and sexual health, during an interview I conducted with him in 2004 for CPCSM’s Rainbow Spirit journal.

As you’ll see from the following excerpts, Rosser has some interesting things to say about, among other things, the “pedophilic theology” of the Roman Catholic Church.

The theology of human sexuality that the church is teaching is seriously disturbed. [. . .] Part of the problem is that as the scientific world advanced, the church first didn’t keep pace with change, and then became a refuge for those frightened of change, including the psychosexually underdeveloped. I don’t think it’s fair to expect the church to be ahead of science, but when it lags so far behind, it loses credibility and starts becoming extremist.

Fundamentalists of various varieties – Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Christian – appear to perceive science and medicine as a threat, and seem to confuse their particular brand of God’s Revelation with ultra-conservatism. They all interpret their special brand of ‘truth’ to condemn homosexuality. Curiously, all of them are simultaneously displaying the scandals you get when ultra-orthodoxy runs amok – scandals of power, pedophilia, and abuse. What do the Taliban, Catholic clergy, and the ex-gay movement have in common? All of them are mired in sex abuse scandals – the Taliban in gang rape of Afghani boys, Catholic priests in child molestation of boys, and the ex-gay ministers in orgies and abuse of clients. Clearly, we Catholic don’t have a monopoly on abuse, but sadly, our sexual theology is very impoverished.

In my opinion, several of the Church’s recent statements on sexuality read as if they were written by a 12-year-old, or someone attracted to 12-year-olds. This places bishops like Archbishop Flynn, who has one of the deepest commitments to addressing the problem of pedophilia in the priesthood, in an untenable position. He has publicly declared he will do whatever it takes to address the sexual abuse in our clergy; yet he is ordered to defend a sexual theology that experts predict will perpetuate another generation of abuse.

[We need to remember that] the same people who attempted to cover up clergy sex abuse are the one’s formulating the church’s current sexual theology condemning homosexuality and same-sex marriage. This isn’t a coincidence. The homophobia inherent in the current articulation of church policy mirrors the homophobia in pedophilic clients, pre-treatment.

Rosser sees hope in the fact that the situation is so bad that American Catholics “will be forced to think for themselves.” And that’s a good thing, he insists. “Whether it’s homosexuality, contraception, premarital sex, divorce, masturbation, or HIV prevention,” says Rosser, “the official church position is now so extreme, so negative, so ultra-conservative, and so ill-informed that I’m confident that less than five percent of Catholics actually believe or follow Catholic sexual teaching.”

In terms of remedying the sex abuse crisis and the overall impoverishment of Roman Catholicism’s sexual theology, Rosser suggests that “the first step is for the scientists and the bishops to sit down at the same table and talk. I spent over ten years treating pedophiles and incest families. Watching the church is like watching a giant incest family play out its dynamics. It’s deeply dysfunctional, it’s really sad, but it’s also fascinating. And it probably has to fall apart some more before real reform can be initiated.”

And what will “real reform” look like? According to Rosser, “signs of real reform, as opposed to cosmetic cover-up, include reform of the Vatican level – holding the Congregation of the Faith responsible for overseeing both the sexual abuse by clergy and the promotion of pedophilic theology, “mainstreaming” of Catholicism from ultra-conservative positions to more moderate ones, and the establishment of genuine dialog between scientists and bishops on this issue.”

Either the church will reform or it will die, says Rosser. Yet, “given the ability of the Catholic Church to survive, I’m confident it will reform,” he declares. “But,” he adds, “we have to do our part. American Catholics need to think for ourselves, to distinguish pedophilic propaganda from Catholic teaching, to support bishops and specifically to demand they reform or close down the Congregation of the Faith, and to commit to prioritizing a healthy adult-focused sexual theology. It has to happen. So, it’s a great time to be Catholic and, hopefully, to be part of the change that must come.”

Image 1: Three of the six survivors of the Roman Catholic sex abuse crime/scandal who met with the pope on Thursday, April 17, 2008. From left: Olan Horne, Faith Johnston and Bernie McDaid. (CNN)
Image 2: The Blade/Lisa Dutton.
Image 3: Source unknown.
Image 4: The Blade.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Why This Pope Doesn’t Connect - Lisa Miller (Newsweek, April 21, 2008).
Abuse Victims Warily Consider Pope’s Words - Richard G. Jones and Abby Goodnough (New York Times, April 18, 2008).
Empty Promises - Daniel Stone (Newsweek, April 18, 2008).
Archdiocese Blocks Bills to Help Sex Abuse Victims - Paula Ruddy (Progressive Catholic Voice, January 2008).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The “Perfect Papal Visit” Will Require a “Listening Pope”
Ghostwriting for the Pope
Assessing the U.S. Catholic Church
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
Agreeing with the Vatican
Uta Ranke-Heinemann on the Future of the Catholic Church
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Listen Up, Papa!
What it Means to be Catholic
The Two-Sided Catholic Crisis
Crisis? What Crisis?
The “Underground Church”
A Catholic’s Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI

Friday, April 18, 2008

She's So Lovely

Fans of the long-running British science fiction television program Doctor Who may be pleased to learn that the show’s second successful spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures, has been picked up by the Sci-fi Channel here in the U.S. (The “new” Doctor Who and its first spin-off, Torchwood, have been playing on both Sci-fi and BBC America since 2005.)

The character of investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith, played by Elisabeth Sladen, was a companion of the time and space traveling Doctor in the mid-1970s, during what’s now known as the “classic” or “original” Doctor Who series. It holds the record for the longest running science fiction TV show in the world – 26 years (1963-1989).

Above: Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and the
Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) in the 1973 story, The Time Warrior.
(The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey and, like all
Time Lords, has the ability to “regenerate” his body when near death.
This concept allows for the convenient re-casting of the show’s lead actor.
To date, ten actors have played the part of the Doctor for television.)

Doctor Who was revived in 2005, and Sarah Jane Smith, once again played by Sladen, made an appearance in an episode of the show’s second season (see the previous Wild Reed post, Blast From the Past: The Return of Doctor Who’s Sarah Jane Smith).

Above: Although she is yet to realize it, Sarah Jane is meeting
the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) in this scene from the episode of
the new Doctor Who series (2006) that reintroduced
the character of Sarah Jane Smith.

With Sarah Jane frequently considered by fans as the Doctor’s
most popular companion, it wasn’t that surprising when the series The Sarah Jane Adventures was launched in 2007 (see What Sarah Jane Did Next).

In both the United Kingdom and the U.S., the show has garnered positive reviews. Ellen Gray, writing for the Philadelphia Daily News, notes, for instance, that:

For anyone who’s shared a love of Doctor Who with their children, only to discover that [its] racy spin-off, BBC America’s Torchwood, might be just a bit too racy, one of the Doctor’s former companions comes to the rescue. The Sarah Jane Adventures stars Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, a journalist whose investigations are decidedly of the X-Files variety. Aided by her 13-year-old neighbor, Maria (Yasmin Paige), Sarah Jane faces down baddies every bit as big as those Torchwood takes on, but with (a lot) fewer sexual overtones. Could be just what The Doctor ordered.

The Chicago Times observes:

If Torchwood is Doctor Who’s sexy, irreverent cousin, then Sarah Jane is its plucky and earnest aunt. The show offers a satisfying dose of alien-flavored escapism, especially for younger fans of genre fare (Sarah Jane has a few hip and appealing teen companions) . . . [Sladen] projects an air of trustworthiness, courage and unapologetic independence, and though Sarah Jane’s attitude is brisk and unsentimental, it leaves room for plenty of wonder at the stranger things in the universe. And by the way, how many series feature a middle-aged woman as the lead – and even let her battle many-tentacled aliens? Score one for the Brits.

While declares:

This series has been nothing but a joy from start to finish, with the consensus being that it pisses all over Torchwood from a great height. And you don’t even have to stay up late to watch it. . . . Lis Sladen has been wonderful, Niki from This Life has been funny, the kids have been much less annoying than TV kids usually are, and [the] Hot Dad [from next door] has been, well, hot

A second series of The Sarah Jane Adventures is about to air in the United Kingdom, and the indomitable Sarah Jane Smith will also appear in the season four finale of Doctor Who – which, by all reports, promises to be a real humdinger, involving the return of the evil Davros, creator of the Doctor’s arch foes, the Daleks. (Davros was first encountered in the six-part 1975 story, Genesis of the Daleks, which is consistently ranked by fans as one of the all-time favorite stories of the original series.)

Of course, this is all probably a load of old rubbish for anyone not into Doctor Who. Regardless, I want to celebrate the recent U.S. premiere of The Sarah Jane Adventures on the Sci-fi Channel by sharing the following compilation of clips, artfully put together by Leathertuscadero, from Season 1 of the show, and set to the song, “She’s So Lovely.” How appropriate! It’s followed by excerpts from Jason Arnopp’s interview with Elisabeth Sladen from the November 2007 issue of the Doctor Who Magazine. Enjoy!

Jason Arnopp: How do you like being a leading lady?

Elisabeth Sladen: Oh, lots! But I never think about it. I just go to work and enjoy it. It’s nice to have a little more say, but as Sarah Jane I would always pipe up. When I met Russell [T. Davis, the show’s creator] and Phil [Collinson, esecutive producer] for the first time, I didn’t presume it would be the same at all, but it’s important for me to have some say in Sarah Jane. I’ve lived with her for 30 years.

Jason Arnopp: Sarah Jane does share the Doctor’s loneliness.

Elisabeth Sladen: Yes. When Russell first suggested The Sarah Jane Adventures, I wondered where they could take her, but she’s just opened up and I absolutely relished that. I loved that period of finding things in Sarah Jane, and it’s all come back. I’m so pleased. . . . During a lunch, to talk about where we thought [the first series] should be going, I said, “She’s used to handling aliens, but she’s not used to handling the normality of school.” She’ trying to give [her adopted son] Luke as normal a life as possible, so ignores things she should have picked up on. She decides that she can’t jump before she thinks any more, because she’s now responsible for someone. It’s nice that she tries to be over-protective, but he’s not a normal boy so doesn’t know what things are supposed to be like.

. . . I love those scripts for [the first series’] Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane [story]. So different! It gives you a little insight into why she used to place so much stock in the Doctor, and why she traveled with him. I worked with Graeme Harper on that story . . . I hadn’t worked with the man for 30 years since The Seeds of Doom! The man has not changed. He’s a bouncing ball! The energy and the enthusiasm and the sheer love of it.

Then, of course, there’s the final story, The Lost Boy. All hell breaks loose!

Above: The cast of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
From left: Yasmin Paige (Maria Jackson), Thomas Knight
(Sarah Jane's adopted son Luke), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith),
and Daniel Anthony (Clyde Langer).

Jason Arnopp: There are few characters on television who we’ve seen growing up, almost in real time. Isn’t it nice that Sarah Jane has developed so well?

Elisabeth Sladen: I had a message from Russell that said, “Who would believe it? Still more to find in Sarah Jane!” That was so lovely, because it gave me confidence. I’m quite happy treading new water because I feel very sound in what I have. There’s no other thing I’ve ever played, where I can think “yes” or “no” so quickly, in terms of what she would or wouldn’t do. Which cuts out a lot of shilly-shallying.

Jason Arnopp: [During the early years] you once wrote some core character details for Sarah Jane. How have those values changed?

Elisabeth Sladen: She’s not so petulant, maybe. But she still has the whole thing of never giving up!

Jason Arnopp: Do you envy any of Sarah Jane’s traits?

Elisabeth Sladen: Her absolute honesty. It’s almost a ruthless honesty, I think. She’s so brave, too.

Jason Arnopp: Your run of 1970s Doctor Who was one of the finest hours in the show’s history, wasn’t it?

Elisabeth Sladen: Oh, I was so lucky. Stories like Genesis of the Daleks . . . I’m amazed that we managed to do that one as we did. It’s a great one, with a fantastic moral dilemma. There’s also the odd story which I think people don’t talk about enough. For instance, Death to the Daleks, the first Dalek story I did. I’ve never really spoken about it, but it’s an amazingly well-pieced-together story, and could perhaps do with being re-evaluated. Sometimes you can let your perception of a story be tainted by how you felt while shooting it. But when you look back, you realize its merits.

Left: Traveling back in time to the Edwardian era, Sarah Jane does her bit to help the Doctor defeat an alien menace named Sutekh and his robotic mummies! (Pyramids of Mars, 1975).

Jason Arnopp: Which of your stories would you show a “new” fan, in order to introduce them to your era?

Elisabeth Sladen: I love the energy of The Time Warrior. It totally clarifies where Sarah Jane came from and why she’s like she is. It gives you a lot of information about her, before she takes on the Doctor’s responsibilities. I love that story for letting Sarah Jane be so strong. Perhaps Terror of the Zygons and Seeds of Doom, too?

Above: The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah flee from
the carnivorous Krynoid in Seeds of Doom (1976).

Jason Arnopp: Which do you consider the most frightening story from your era?

Elisabeth Sladen: I got the most goosebumps from seeing Davros for the first time. And Genesis of the Daleks also earnt us the most flak, from Mary Whitehouse. There’s a lot of near-the-knuckle stuff in The Brain of Morbius, too. Oh, and The Hand of Fear. That’s more squeamish and unpleasant. [Producer] Philip Hinchliffe was very concerned about some of the things in that one.

Jason Arnopp: Which classic Doctor Who foe would you choose to appear in The Sarah Jane Adventures?

Elisabeth Sladen: I don’t know. They’re all marching towards me, in my head, as I think! Ooh, Sontarans! I’ve got quite a history with them, after The Time Warrior and The Sontaran Experiment. I loved the way you’ve got the [oversized] helmet, then the head’s the same shape underneath! I also loved the Judoon in [the new] Doctor Who – they just don’t stop, they’re like locusts! They made a very scary marching noise.

Above: The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Sarah
take on a Sontaran in The Time Warrior (1973).

Jason Arnopp: How does it feel to be part of so many fans’ childhoods? Is that a weird feeling and/or nice?

Elisabeth Sladen: It’s very nice! Because I never went into this profession to be known or applauded, excerpt for what I did. I’m just so grateful to have a job, and one which I love. I didn’t go back into these Sarah Jane Adventures as part of a career thing – it was for the sheer joy of being part of a crew again. You feel so cared-for, you really do. I have my liveliness in Russell, Julie [Gardner, executive producer] and Phil, but I never even have to use them. It’s very special that I’m allowed to do this now, because I never saw it coming.

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Sarah Jane Adventures (Sci-fi Channel website)
A 2006 interview with Elisabeth Sladen
The Life of a Doctor’s Assistant

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Blast from the Past
What Sarah Jane Did Next
Impossible! . . . It Can’t Be!
She’s Back!
London Calling