Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Wild Reed's Year in Review

Part 1: January - March 2009

Inspired by Thom over at Ad Dominum, who is summing up the activity on his blog over the past year, I thought I’d offer my take on what could be considered “the best” of The Wild Reed for 2009.

Accordingly, of the many commentaries I’ve posted this year, the ones that I begin listing today are those that I’ve most enjoyed researching and writing, and/or that have generated the most comments from readers. If you’ve yet to read these posts I hope you will take the time to do so, and that the experiences and insights they convey will resonate with you, and encourage and inspire you on your journey.

Peace and Happy New Year,



January 2009

Conclusion of the Wild Reed series “Perspectives on Natural Law” with Part 5: Gregory Baum and Part 6: William C. McDonough

Homosexuality in the Middle Ages

An Evening Stroll (and Theological Musings)

Dialoguing with the Archbishop on Natural Law

An Enlightened Exploration of Integrity and Obedience

A “Catholic Moment” in Brisbane

Paula Ruddy on “Spiritual Paternity”

The White Rooster

Conclusion of the Wild Reed series “Progressives and Obama” with Part 6: Colleen Kochivar-Baker and Patrick Martin

President Barack Obama

My “Bone Country”

“That Utterly Profound ‘In-Loveness’”

Competent Parenting Doesn’t Require “Traditional Marriage”

John Selby Spong: “Homosexuality is Not Unnatural”

Human Sex: Weird and Silly, Messy and Sublime

February 2009

The Sufi Way

Part 4 of “In the Footsteps of Spring”: Coming Out


Clearing Away the Debris

A Catholic Crisis and Opportunity in South Minneapolis

Where Milk Gets It Wrong

Of Mustard Seeds and Walled Gardens

Homophobia? It’s So Gay

March 2009

Remembering Dusty

Why Jesus is My Man

“This Light Breeze That Loves Me” - Theological Reflections on Ferzan Ozpetek’s film Hamam: The Turkish Bath)

Rome Falling

Too Wild?

Pasolini’s “Wrathful Christ”

Beginning of the Wild Reed series The Journal of James Curtis with Part 1: A “Bells and Smells” Kind of Guy and Part 2: A Quiet Visit and an Exhausting Conversation

One Fearless Kiss

The Gifts of Homosexuality

What the Notre Dame Controversy is Really About and What’s Really at Stake

NEXT: Part 2: April - June 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Anatole France's "The Ocean Christ" (Part 1)

Since I’m currently living by the sea, I thought I’d share a tale or two from the anthology Great Sea Stories of the World (Chancellor Press, 1990).

This special maritime-themed series begins with Part 1 of Anatole France’s short story, The Ocean Christ.


The Ocean Christ*

By Anatole France

That year many of the fishers of Saint-Valéry had been drowned at sea. Their bodies were found on the beach cast up by the waves with the wreckage of their boats; and for nine days, up the steep road leading to the church were to be seen coffins borne by hand and followed by widows, who were weeping beneath their great black-hooded cloaks, like women in the Bible.

Thus were the skipper Jean Lenoël and his son Désiré laid in the great nave, beneath the vaulted roof from which they had once hung a ship in full rigging as an offering to Our Lady. They were righteous men and God-fearing. Monsieur Guillaume Truphème, a priest of Saint-Valéry, having pronounced the Absolution, said in a tearful voice:

“Never were laid in consecrated ground, there to await the judgment of God, better men and better Christians than Jean Lenoël and his son Désiré.”

And while barques and their shippers perished near the coast, in the high seas great vessels foundered. Not a day passed that the ocean did not bring in some flotsam of wreak. Now one morning some children who were steering a boat saw a figure lying on the sea. It was a figure of Jesus Christ, life size, carved in wood, painted in natural colouring, and looking as if it were very old. The Good Lord was floating upon the sea with arms outstretched. The children towed the figure ashore and brought it up into Saint-Valéry. The head was encircled with the crown of thorns. The feet and hands were pierced. But the nails were missing as well as the cross. The arms were still outstretched ready for sacrifice and blessing, just as he appeared to Joseph of Arimathea and the holy women when they were burying him.

The children gave it to Monsieur le Curé Truphème, who said to them: “This image of the saviour is of ancient workmanship. He who made it must have died long ago. Although today in the shops of Amiens and Paris excellent statues are sold for a hundred francs and more, we must admit that the earlier sculptors were not without merit. But what delights me most is the thought that if Jesus Christ be thus come with open arms to Saint-Valéry, it is in order to bless the parish, which has been so cruelly tried, and in order to announce that He has compassion on the poor folk who go a-fishing at the risk of their lives. He is the God who walked upon the sea and blessed the nets of Cephas.”

And Monsieur le Curé Truphème, having had the Christ placed in the church on the cloth of the high altar, went off to order from the carpenter Lemerre a beautiful cross of oak.

When it was made, the Saviour was nailed to it with brand new nails, and it was erected in the nave above the churchwarden’s pew.

Then it was noticed that His eyes were filled with mercy and seemed to glisten with tears of heavenly pity. One of the churchwardens, who was present at the putting up of the crucifix, fancied he saw tears streaming down the divine face.

The next morning when Monsieur le Curé with a choir boy entered the church to say his mass, he was astonished to find the cross above the churchwarden’s pew empty and the Christ lying upon the altar.

NEXT: Part 2

* From Winifred Stephen’s translation of Crainquebille and Other Tales.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
On the Rocks . . .
A Solitary Ramble
Coastal Views
Alva Beach
Rocky Beach
Flynns Beach
A Spring Swim
A Summer Afternoon

Image: Michael Bayly.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Why This Gay Man Takes Heart from the Feast of the Holy Family

Yesterday, Mum and I attended Mass at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church in Port Macquarie. It was the Feast of the Holy Family, and as I sat waiting for the homily to begin I braced myself for a diatribe against perceived threats to the family – such as gay marriage. But I need not have worried.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some members of the clerical leadership in the Australian church who would choose to use such a feast day to malign the lives and relationships of gay people. But, by-and-large, I've discovered, the Australian Catholic Church reflects the wider “live and let live” ethos of Australian society. That, of course, is a far cry from the current
case in the United States.

What the priest at yesterday’s Mass did talk about actually resonated with me as a gay Catholic man. He noted that, contrary to the rosy, holy card images we’re so often presented with, the reality is that Jesus’ family knew conflict and misunderstanding – just like any other family. Of course, nowhere is this more evident than in the story of the finding of the boy Jesus in the Temple.

This story served as yesterday’s Gospel reading, and in it we are presented with a young Jesus disobeying his parents; confusing, perhaps even disappointing them – all so that he can be true to the person he knew God had called him to be. As I listened to the priest describe this popular story of the Holy Family in this way, I realized that it is something to which many gay people can relate. Accordingly, it’s something to which many families can relate.

Like Jesus, young people coming into awareness of who they are sexually often have to retreat from their families so as to attune themselves to and embrace what’s awakening within them. For many gay people, answers and support are initially found outside the family. Parents are seldom the first to know that their child is gay.

These were my thoughts as I reflected upon yesterday the young Jesus leaving his family and the caravan bound for Nazareth so as to seek out the wisdom and insights of those in the Temple. I’m sure that as they busily prepared to leave Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph had instructed Jesus “not to wander off.” And yet that’s exactly what he did. He required answers and experiences beyond those which his family could provide, and so he went in search of them. This to me seems a healthy thing; a sacred journey or quest, if you like.

Once found by his parents, Jesus, in a way, “comes out” to them. He’s not the boy they thought he was. There’s definitely something different about him. He challenges them, confuses them, and, no doubt, disappoints them. Yet despite all of this they accept him as he is and, as a family, they resume their journey home together.

Sound familiar? I hope it resonates with you - especially if you’re gay, because here’s the bottom line: God calls gay people to something very special; something very sacred. God calls us to journeys of faith and consciousness that often compel us to “wander off” and seek answers elsewhere, despite the disapproval of others - even our parents, even “Mother Church.” And, no, this “something” is not a life of sexual abstinence – as the clerical leadership of the Roman expression of Catholicism would have us believe. Rather it’s a life of abundance as the relational beings that God created us to be. And, yes, God created some of us with relational capacities that are gay in orientation. Accordingly, for most gay people, a life of abundance means seeking, building, and maintaining a loving relationship with another of the same gender – a relationship that is experienced and expressed as something that is both sacred and sexual. I’ve come to believe that the seeking, building, and maintaining of such a relationship is always about “doing God’s work.”

I take to heart and am nourished and encouraged by the journeys in consciousness and compassion conveyed in the trusting, loving and accepting relational dynamics of Jesus and his family. They are journeys in and of faith. And, for me, they are what make this family – and so many others – holy.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Clarity and Hope: A Christmas Reflection
A Story of Searching and Discovery
What We Can Learn from the Story of the Magi
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
The Gifts of Homosexuality
The Challenge to Become Ourselves
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Gay People and the Spiritual Life
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
A Parent’s Prayer

Image 1: William Holman Hunt.
Image 2: Artist unknown.

CPCSM's Year in Review

Following are excerpts from the Christmas letter of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), the 29-year-old organization that I’ve had the honor of serving as executive coordinator since the spring of 2003.

Many of the events mentioned in this letter have been highlighted, in one way or another, at The Wild Reed. Accordingly, many of the links within the following version of the letter will take you to previous Wild Reed posts.


Dear Friends of CPCSM, Progressive Catholic Voice, and Catholic Rainbow Parents,

It’s once again that time of year when we thank you for your past support of CPCSM and request your support for the year ahead. All of us at CPCSM are acutely aware of the difficult economic times we are living through, yet the need for an organization like CPCSM remains. This is especially true as we continue to witness a sustained backlash within the church against any type of theological discourse and/or pastoral practice that is sensitive to and informed by the experiences of LGBT persons and their loved ones.

Despite this, we remain hopeful and dedicated to being the change we long to see in the church. Accordingly, we remain committed to coalition building and the taking of proactive measures so as to counter the reactionary and regressive efforts within our local Catholic community. In doing this, we believe we’re contributing to a global movement that’s bringing about renewal and reform – and thus hope and justice – to the Catholic Church.

Recently, an anonymous donor made a generous contribution to CPCSM – one that will ensure that we will be able to pay Michael Bayly his modest stipend as executive coordinator into the first quarter of the new year. We would, however, like to see the funding for Michael’s position secured for all of next year. This means we are hoping to raise $8,000. Anything that you can give to ensure the meeting of this goal would be greatly appreciated.

Our hope is that this one anonymous person’s generous gift, coupled with the following images and descriptions of some of the coalition-building and proactive measures we’ve engaged in during the past year [since November 2008], will inspire you in your continued support of the work of CPCSM.


Above: CPCSM co-founder David McCaffrey and CPCSM executive coordinator Michael Bayly hold a banner (provided by Mike and Mary Lynn Murphy) on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol during a November 15, 2008 rally to protest the passage of California’s Proposition 8, as well as the passage of amendments banning same-gender marriage in Arizona and Florida.

Above: CPCSM executive coordinator Michael Bayly (right) stands with the four guest speakers at the second session of CPCSM’s 2009 Bill Kummer Forum – Monday, March 30, 2009 – who shared about their long-term committed relationships. From left: Jacqueline White, a Catholic bisexual woman married to a transgender man; Rob Dingmann and Brian Miller, parishioners at St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis who have been together for 15 years and who exchanged their vows at a commitment service 13 years ago; and Beth Hentges, a member of Dignity Twin Cities, who, with her same-gender partner of 15 years, is raising two children.

This year’s Bill Kummer Forum was a three-part series entitled “Catholic and LGBT,” and was specifically directed to priests and pastoral care professionals within the local church.

Above: Members of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) board – including, at far right, outgoing CPCSM president Mary Beckfeld and CPCSM executive coordinator Michael Bayly. CCCR is a coalition of reform-minded organizations within the local church dedicated to the building of a church “fully alive, locally and universally, that radiates Jesus’ core teaching of radical equality, unabashed inclusivity, and transforming love.”

Other members of the CCCR board featured in this photo include (clockwise from left) Connie Aligada, Bernie Rodel, Dan DeWan, Eileen Rodel, Dorothy Irvin, and Paula Ruddy. Organizations within the coalition include CPCSM, Call to Action-MN, Roman Catholic Womenpriests-MN, Dignity Twin Cities, CORPUS, and MN St. Joan’s Community.

Above: The third annual CPCSM Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice - Saturday, April 18, 2009. This year's breakfast also served to launch the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and as an opportunity to begin planning a series of “Synods of the Baptized” within the local church of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The first of these synods will take place on September 18, 2010.

Entitled “Many Voices, One Church,” the April 18 prayer breakfast at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Minneapolis featured Janet Hauter, vice-president of Voice of the Faithful (national) and co-chair of the American Catholic Council, as keynote speaker.

Above: Minnesota Senator John Marty, who was this year’s recipient of CPCSM’s Bishop Thomas Gumbleton Peace and Justice Award. Sen. Marty was presented with his award at CPCSM’s 29th Annual Community Meeting, held June 22 at St. Martin’s Table Restaurant and Bookstore.

Sen. Marty, also the keynote speaker at the annual gathering, spoke eloquently about his ongoing efforts to achieve marriage equality for all Minnesotans.

Above: Young visitors to the CPCSM booth at the Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival – June 27-28, 2009. We definitely had many more young people come and visit our booth this year than in previous years – something that we find to be quite hopeful.

These young visitors were very happy to find a Catholic presence at Gay Pride. They were especially excited to see the information we had about the Catholic Rainbow Parents. It’s clear that these young Catholics are looking for alternative theological thinking on the issue of homosexuality than that offered by the Vatican - thinking that actually reflects and is informed by the lived experience of LGBT people. They are also looking for positive information and insights on the issue that they can pass on to their parents – some of whom continue to struggle with the news of their child’s “coming out” as gay. Not surprisingly, the Catholic Rainbow Parents’ 2005 Declaration remains a source of great hope and inspiration for many.

Above: On October 8, 2009, CPCSM executive coordinator Michae Bayly was part of a group of local religious leaders that gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol to speak out in support of marriage equality for same-gender couples.

Right: Retired Bishop Lowell Erdahl of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), Pastor Doug Donley of University Baptist Church of Minneapolis, and Michael Bayly.

For more images and commentary about this special event, click here and here.

Above: CPCSM executive coordinator Michael Bayly (left) and CPCSM co-founder David McCaffrey (right) stand with guest speakers (from left) Philip Lowe, Jr. and Dr. Simon Rosser at the November 17 CPCSM event “Holding the Courage Apostolate Accountable: The Catholic Church, Homosexuality, and Reparative Therapy.”

This event garnered coverage in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Aspects of this coverage, however, were unfortunately erroneous and problematic. (See the previous Wild Reed posts: For the Record and My Response to Archbishop Flynn.)


Friends, as you can see it’s been a very eventful year for all of us – a year that’s been both challenging and rewarding. We are happy and proud to continue our role as one of a very few prominent LGBT-affirming progressive Catholic voices in both our church and the wider society.

Rest assured, we plan on hosting a range of proactive events in 2010 (see enclosed flyers) – events that will enrich and empower the local Catholic community to participate in the evolving life of the Church.

None of this could be accomplished, however, without the support of each of you, our dear and valued friends. As 2009 ebbs, CPCSM needs your help to stay financially afloat. We continue to institute various cost-saving measures and to participate as a member group in the Community Shares Minnesota fund. We also continue to maintain a very modest budget, relying on many volunteer hours. As always, we greatly appreciate the many members of CPCSM who support us with their prayers, donations, and volunteer time and energy. Your financial and moral support as ministry partners remains a critical lifeline for us.

Given the current times and the chancery’s current dismissive stance on CPCSM and its ministry, there has been a marked chilling effect within many parishes that previously had supported us. Foundations are also experiencing difficult times as the number of organizations requesting funding increases. The specific focus of our ministry also limits the funding opportunities that are available to us.

Needless to say, our ministry is completely independent of the Archdiocese and we receive no financial support from it. All of our operating support comes from small grants and individual donations. It may be helpful to recall that the Minnesota Tax Code now provides a 50% income deduction for charitable contributions over $500.

Friends, we are incredibly grateful for your past support, and hope that we can continue to rely on your generosity and kindness as we continue to live out our ministry under difficult financial conditions and an increasingly reactionary climate within the church. We thus ask you again for your support as together we work for justice and compassion for LGBT people within our church and society.

Peace and every blessing of Christmas
to you and your loved ones,
from all of us at CPCSM, Progressive Catholic Voice,
and Catholic Rainbow Parents.

Mary Beckfeld
Outgoing President

David McCaffrey
Co-founder and Incoming President

Michael Bayly
Executive Coordinator

Rick Notch

Paul Fleege

Susan Kramp

Tom Murr

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
CPCSM’s Year in Review (2008)
CPCSM’s Year in Review (2007)
CPCSM’s Year in Review (2006)
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 1)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Robert McClory Remembers Edward Schillebeeckx

Author Robert McClory, whom I know and greatly respect, has written the obituary for world-renowned theologian Edward Schillebeeckx (pictured at right) in the latest issue of the National Catholic Reporter. Schillebeeckx died on December 23 of natural causes. He was 95.

NCR's McClory-penned obituary for Schillebeeckx is reprinted in its entirety below.


The Belgian-born Dutch Dominican theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx, died December 23 at the age of 95 in Nijmegen, where he lived and taught for more than five decades. He wrote well into his nineties.

He died of natural causes.

Fr. Robert Schreiter of the Congregation of the Precious Blood, considered the leading U.S. expert on Schillebeeckx, said his legacy will live on, principally for several major contributions. He was the first Catholic scholar to take seriously all the historical research on Jesus that had been done in the 19th and 20th centuries and present it in an intelligible way.

“Anyone who ignores that will not be taken seriously today,” said Schreiter, a professor of theology at the Chicago theological union. Schillebeeckx also pioneered the idea of examining “the historical backgrounds of what seemed to be infallible truths and relating their real meaning” in an intelligible way, he said. “He insisted that normal people ought to be able to see a measure of reasonableness in Catholic teaching and be able to link their experiences with the revelation traditions of the Christian faith.”

From the time of his appointment to the theological faculty at Nijmegen in 1958, Schilebeeckx was a tireless advocate of a more pastoral, personal theology, one that would also take into consideration the experiences of people rather than base conclusions exclusively on abstract, intellectual concepts. His first major book, Christ, the Sacrament of the Encounter with God, published in English in 1963, represented a serious attempt to apply this thinking to sacramental theology. It sharply challenged the more mechanistic approach to the sacraments as mere dispensers of grace and stressed them instead as interactive meetings with Jesus; the book became a near best seller, especially in the U.S.

With the appearance of some 75 new dissertations on Schilllebeeckx’s work in the past year, Schreiter said he believes Schillebeeckx’s theology may be on the verge of a comeback. “Younger scholars are showing interest in his approach ,” he said. Schreiter said he is working with the Schillebeeckx Foundation in the Netherlands to produce an 11-volume English translation of all the theologian’s writings, including some that have never before been available in English. Among these is Schillebeeckx’s 1984 Theological Testament, which said Schreiter, is the best unified presentation of his overall thinking.

Anyone interested in a sense of how the man aproached his work should first read his serrmons , said Schreiter, three volumes of which are available in English. Schreiter himself had planned to visit Schillebeeckx at his home in Nejmegen in early January.

When plans for the Second Vatican Council were announced, Schillebeeckx responded as co-author of statement signed by the seven Dutch bishops, which anticipated virtually all the progressive changes that would come out of Vatican II on issues like liturgy, ecumenism, and openness to other faiths and the encouragement of lay initiative. Although he was not a peritus (expert) at the council, he worked closely with Cardinal Bernard Alfrink and others to emphasize the collegial nature of the episcopacy (as a balance to papal infallibility pronounced at Vatican I). The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church reflected his views on the subject. Also during the council Schillebeeckx joined with Hans Kung, Kark Rahner and Yves Congar in launching the theological journal Concilium.

After the council the Netherlands became the most progressive country in the world in implementing Vatican II initiatives, and Schilebeeckx, often behind the scenes, was at the center of this movement. Perhaps the most ambitious was the effort to form a Dutch National Pastoral Council, an ongoing body with 56 members (some clergy, some laity) elected by diocesan pastoral councils and another 28 members chosen by the council itself.

Despite a lengthy, elaborate, nationwide preparation, the council never got off the ground after the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy declared that council members should be appointed by the bishops, not elected, that the council should not have a permanent character and should not present itself as in any way representing the body of the faithful. The congregation said, “All believers have the right and duty to take an active part in the mission given to the church…but they do not have either the right or duty to give advice to the hierarchy in their exercise of their pastoral task.”

Schilebeeckx’s personalist thinking was very much a part of the New Dutch Catechism, which became a worldwide Catholic best seller in the mid-1960s, but the book failed after the Vatican persuaded bishops not to grant an imprimatur to translations of the catechism and suggested much of its content was suspect.

Over the years, Schillebeeckx continued to produce volumes, largely on the Scripture, history and doctrine. His most influential work, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology, was considered questionably orthodox by the Vatican in 1984 and he was summoned to Rome. He was questioned again in 1985 regarding his views on the Resurrection of Jesus and again the following year for his understanding of ministry in the church. But he was never officially charged or found guilty.

The international buzz that accompanied a booklet sent to all Catholic parishes in Holland in 2007 was not directly linked to Schillebeeckx, although it clearly contained his theological reasoning. The booklet, approved by the country’s Dominican province, stated that, with the scarcity of priests today, Catholic parishes should begin selecting members who would preside over the Eucharist, as was the approved method in the early church. The Dominicans were aware that such a practice would be illegal, but they were undoubtedly basing their approach on something Schillebeeckx wrote in his 1980 book on ministry:

Against the background of the existing Church order then, new and sometimes urgently required possibilities are often only to be seen through the medium of what is bound to be regarded as at least temporarily illegal. This is not a new phenomenon in the Church – it has always been the case. I am bound to say that an alternative praxis of critical Christian communities is both dogmatically and apostolically possible. It is, in my opinion, a legitimate alternative Christian possibility which is demanded by our present needs. Given the existing canonical order of the Church, this alternative praxis is not even contra (against) the order but praeter (alongside) the order, that is, it is not in accordance with the letter of the Church’s order, but it is in accordance with what (in earlier situations) that Church order really wanted to safeguard.

When I visited him in Nijmegen in 2007 I was impressed with his calm demeanor. It came, I think from his confidence in God and in Christ. He knew the story was not over, though he was keenly aware of the hierarchical church today and had no misapprehensions about the direction in which it seemed to be heading. This is what he said in 1990:

My concern is that the further we move away in history from Vatican II, the more some people begin to interpret unity as uniformity. They seem to want to go back to the monolithic church which must form a bulwark on the one hand against communism and on the other hand against the Western liberal consumer society. I think that above all in the West, with its pluralist society such an ideal of a monolith church is out of date and runs into a blind alley. And there is the danger that in that case, people with that ideal before their eyes will begin to force the church in the direction of a ghetto church, a church of the little flock, the holy remnant. But though the church is not of this world, it is of men and women. Men and women who are believing subjects of the church.

McClory is an author and frequent contributor to NCR.

Recommended Off-site Link:
The Schillebeeckx Foundation

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 2)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Bush Christmas

Bush: the hinterland, the Outback, anywhere that isn’t in town.

My younger brother Tim’s property is located outside of Port Macquarie and set amongst beautiful Australian bushland.

Yesterday my parents and I enjoyed a delicious Christmas Day lunch with Tim, his wife Ros, and their two daughters Layne and Sami.

Above (from left): Layne, Sami, Tim, Ros, me and Mum.

Above (from left): Mum, me, Ros, Dad, Sami, and Layne.

Above: Tim and Ros.

Tim’s holding up a piece of toffee - homemade by my friend Noelle in St. Paul, Minnesota. She made a whole batch of this delicious toffee (which I brought with me to Australia) as a gift from her family to mine. Thanks, Noelle!

Above: Layne - giving us a tune on the ol’ piano.

Above: Sami - displaying all her wonderful (and colourful)
fashion accessories!

Above (from left): Sami, Tim, Mum, and me.

Above: Tim and Sami.

Above: Mum at the piano.

Above: Tim’s backyard!

Yes, it was a great Christmas Day for us - and the good times will continue in January with the visit from Melbourne of my older brother and his family.

See also the previous Wild Reed Christmas posts:
A Story of Searching
Clarity and Hope: A Christmas Reflection
What We Can Learn from the Story of the Magi
A Christmas Reflection by James Carroll
The Christmas Truce of 1914
An Australian Christmas (2006)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

(Australian) Summer Round-Up II

Here's the third summer round-up for 2009.

Yes, I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced three summers this year - an American summer and two Australian summers.

For the uninitiated, a Wild Reed round-up is simply a periodic sharing of favourite websites and recent online articles that I consider particularly insightful, interesting, and/or inspiring. Enjoy the latest round-up . . . and Happy Christmas!


One of the many aspects that I appreciate about Terence Weldon’s Queering the Church blogsite is its attention to “gay church history.” Recently, for instance, Terence focused on the “Medieval flowering” of “homoerotic Christianity.”

Terence notes that this period saw “the most visible, most public ‘gay’ sub-culture in Europe before the late twentieth century. . . . Although the official line at the time was that same sex relationships were sinful, this was not taken very seriously. Instead, the evidence from actual practice, was that such relationships were at worst tolerated, at best celebrated.”

And celebrated even by certain bishops. Writes Terence: “From literature, we have the example of bishops and other clergy writing verse with frankly homoerotic themes: Marbod of Rennes, Baudri of Bourgueil, and Hildebert of Lavardin wrote poems which, while superficially orthodox, also treat frankly homoerotic themes with remarkable frankness and authenticity.”

Terence also regularly highlights historical figures significant to gay Christians. These have included St. John of the Cross, St. Venantius Fortunatus, and (as was noted in a previous Wild Reed round-up) St. Paulinus of Nola.


The New Catholic Times is a great online publication based in Canada. Recently it posted a commentary by author James Carroll (pictured at right) in which he argues that the Roman Catholic clerical leadership is “holding American politics hostage.” Writes Carroll:

The Catholic Church is more than its hierarchy. Polls show that most Catholic laity dissent on multiple moral questions. But the bishops define the public face of Catholicism-and that face is now marked by a scowling moralism. In days past, the immigrant Church was defined by its core commitment to serve workers, the poor, and the marginal. Catholicism was a powerful partner in the New Deal, Labor, War-on-Poverty, and Civil Rights coalitions, and though there were always conservative bishops (like Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York), the Church did not make doctrinal or ethical conformity a precondition of its participation in the struggle for equal justice. That is why, across the 20th century, it was a force for progressive social change. That is over.

For the first time in its history, the American Catholic hierarchy is solidly right wing. There is not one liberal voice among its members. The bishops are at home with the heirs of a know-nothing fundamentalism that once, by every measure of theology and social policy, embodied the Church's opposite. This realignment is the consequence, within Catholicism, of the conservative appointments made to the episcopate over 27 years by Pope John Paul II, but it also reflects the broader, post-Ronald Reagan phenomenon of the arrival of the Religious Right as an establishment force in American politics.

To read Carroll’s commentary in its entirety, click here.


What with all the activity (and drama) around planning last month’s CPCSM’s “Holding the Courage Apostolate Accountable” event and preparing and actually returning to Australia for two months, I must admit being somewhat out of touch with some rather important news stories. Case in point: the anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Thankfully, others have been watching and insightfully analyzing the situation.

Over at the indispensable Box Turtle Bulletin, for instance, one can find numerous in-depth articles on this particular story. For the website’s ongoing comprehensive coverage, see Slouching Toward Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate.

Another excellent source of analysis – one that offers a progressive Catholic perspective – is provided by William D. Lindsey via his informed Bilgrimage blogsite.

For three recent posts by William on the situation in Uganda, click here, here, and here.

Another excellent resource is National Catholic Reporter correspondent John Allen, Jr’s piece, Why Catholics Aren’t Speaking Up in Uganda About Anti-Gay Bill.


Meanwhile over at, Peter Laarman writes on a new report on the increased levels of loneliness and isolation experienced by many during the Christmas season.

. . . [L]onely individuals, already lacking strong social connections, tend to feel their isolation much more keenly during a time characterized by heavy socialization and “cheer.” The run of Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s holidays also occur during the time of least available daylight in North America, which means that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) also plays a role in making Yuletide anything but bright for those whom Herman Melville appropriately labeled isolatoes.

And now we know, thanks to new research, that loneliness is growing more widespread—indeed, that loneliness is contagious. According to a paper published by James Fowler, Nicholas Christakis, and John Cacioppio in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, lonely people tend to spread it around. They alienate others and weird them out, making those others in turn feel more isolated and lonely.

. . . The three scholars who wrote about contagious loneliness did not suggest what might be done about the spreading contagion, apart from proposing “interventions.” But it is not easy to imagine what kinds of interventions might be able to counter a trend that has so many things going for it: alienating workplaces with more and more temp workers drifting in an out on variable shifts, the economic stress that drives more and more people into such socially bleak workplaces, the dissolution of strong family ties, the solipsistic lure of online living.

Religiously literate and religiously committed people could help here. They know, in the first instance, that humans were made for community—that there is no “I” unless there is also a “Thou”—indeed that, according to some creation accounts, we ended up here because (a) God was lonely, and (b) God saw that Adam was lonely. They know that there is no godly gift quite like the living, breathing presence of another person.

Healthy religion can also help to create the kinds of communities that are inviting but not intrusive—communities where one is accepted but not interrogated or manipulated.

Laarman then proceeds to discuss a “theology of friendship.” It’s a fascinatingly insightful article – one that can be read in its entirety here.

Oh, and while over at, be sure to check out Dan Archer’s “graphic primer” on the “politics of the apocalypse.” Notes Archer: “Whether it’s the Mayan prediction of the 2012 cataclysm or the theology of the rapture, predictions of the end of the world tell us as much about ourselves as about the coming apocalypse.”


Maureen Gaffney ‘s December 2 Irish Times’ op-ed, entitled “Church’s View of Sex the Root of Its Troubles,” is definitely worth reading. Here’s just a snippet:

. . . [T]idying up corporate governance and instituting a more transparent culture is not going to resolve the scandal of clerical sexual abuse. That will require the church to face up to a much more profound problem – the church’s own teaching on sexuality.

Consider the list of issues the church has failed to deal with credibly since the 1960s: premarital and extramarital sex; remarriage; contraception; divorce; homosexuality; the role of women in ministry and women’s ordination; and the celibacy of the clergy. All have to do with sexuality.

Very few Catholics are looking to the church for moral guidelines in relation to any of these questions anymore. And why would they? After all, the church’s teaching on sexuality continues to insist that all intentionally sought sexual pleasure outside marriage is gravely sinful, and that every act of sexual intercourse within marriage must remain open to the transmission of life. The last pope, and most probably the present, took the view that intercourse, even in marriage, is not only “incomplete”, but even ceases to be an act of love, if contraception is used. Such pronouncements are so much at variance with the lived experience of most people as to undermine terminally the church’s credibility in the area of intimate relationships.

. . . To [to respond effectively to the church’s crisis of sexuality, the clerical leadership] must confront the root cause of the problem – that the Catholic Church is a powerful homo-social institution, where men are submissive to a hierarchical authority and where women are incidental and dispensable. It’s the purest form of a male hierarchy, reflected in the striking fact that we all collectively refer it to as “the Hierarchy”.

It has all the characteristics of the worst kind of such an institution: rigid in social structure; preoccupied by power; ruthless in suppressing internal dissent; in thrall to status, titles, and insignia, with an accompanying culture of narcissism and entitlement; and at a great psychological distance from human intimacy and suffering.

To read Gaffney’s commentary in its entirety, click here.

(NOTE: The image accompanying this part of the round-up is by David LaChapelle.)


Colleen Kochivar-Baker’s Enlightened Catholicism is one of my “must-read” blogsites. (Others include Karen Doherty’s Nihil Obstat, Jayden Cameron’s Gay Mystic, Marty Kurylowski’s Thalamus Center, Prickiest Pear’s Far From Rome, Crystal’s Perspective, Joseph O’Leary’s homepage, and the aforementioned Queering the Church by Terence Weldon, and Bilgrimage by William Lindsey.)

Recently, Colleen highlighted an article by Sydney-based priest Dan Donovan in which two spiritual paths (and the communities they engender) are contrasted by using the examples of St. Mary’s in Brisbane and Opus Dei. As Colleen notes, “one represents the concept of emerging church which is far more responsive to the needs of individuals within the social/worldly community in which it operates. The other is focused on the maintenance of the Institutional Church irrespective of the social/worldly community in which it operates.”

I always appreciate Colleen’s sharing of such insightful articles – and how she eruditely comments on them in that wonderful way of hers that makes connections and invites dialogue. To see what I mean, visit her post The Imperative of Growing Towards the Light.

I also highly recommend Colleen’s recent posts: What’s the Real Message in the Death of Mainline Christianity, A Sharper Divide Between Priests and Laity: The Rock Star Phenomenon, Two Views of Meaningful Vatican Responses for the Abuse Crisis, Science Says It’s Time We Board the Gender Peace Train, and Where in the World Are Vatican Priorities? Apparently in Rural Australia.


Dan Donovan’s piece highlighted by Colleen Kochivar-Baker reminds me of Prickiest Pear’s excellent series on James Fowler’s stages of faith. I’ve highlighted this series previously, but since then Prickiest Pear has concluded it.

Here, then, are the installments of the complete series:

Infancy and Undifferentiated Faith
Stage 1 – Intuitive-Projective Faith
Stage 2 – Mythic-Literal Faith
Stage 3 – Synthetic-Conventional Faith
Stage 4 – Individuative-Reflective Faith
Stage 5 – Conjunctive Faith
Stage 6 – Universalizing Faith


And finally, Jayden Cameron has an inspiring post on his blog Gay Mystic – a post prompted by something he read about Polly Teale’s play Brontë.

Here’s a little of what Jayden writes:

How much of our future liberation as Catholic gay and lesbian persons rest upon the shoulders of writers and activists today who are transforming our own deprivation into art – but at what human costs. The ‘inner joy’ of uniting with the Crucified in his prophetic, marginal status can sometimes be only a dimly felt presence in the soul, while fires and storms rage overhead. Sometimes the gift of being both Catholic and gay can be a heavy burden to bear, moving us to cry out, “How long, O Lord, how long?” Or like St. Teresa of Avila, we may express our deprivation in more witty terms by exclaiming, “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.” In the end, however, truth and justice will prevail because of the heroic ‘redemptive sacrifice’ of so many gay and lesbian witnesses today, becoming through their suffering and purification (to paraphrase an old Tibetan Buddhist saying) “centers of boundless compassion flooding itself upon the world.”

Amen to that!

To read Jayden’s commentary, “The Bronte Sisters and Us,” in its entirety, click

See also the previous Wild Reed Round-Ups:
End of Year (2006)
Spring 2007
Fall 2007
(Australian) Summer 2009 I
Spring 2009
Summer 2009

On the Rocks . . .

. . . but in a good way.

Yesterday afternoon I explored the rock platform at the southern end of Town Beach, just below Swallows’ Ledge.

For as long as I can remember I've always enjoyed clambouring around rocks and rocky formations - whether they be lonely outcrops in the hills around my hometown of Gunnedah (right), or the coastal rock platforms of Port Macquarie, teeming with aquatic life. Oh, and did I say that Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of my all-time favourite films?!

Three years ago - almost to the day - I spent an afternoon at the same spot on Town Beach. I wrote about that experience for The Wild Reed, and those words remain as true today as they did then. Here’s what I wrote:

I love the tidal zone of coastal areas. To some people they may appear as simply rocky and lifeless. But, in fact, tidal zones can be very colourful places, teeming with life. Whole worlds exist within the pools of water, wherein a myriad of fascinating lifeforms can be observed if one simply takes the time to sit quietly and watch.

And then one only has to look up from these worlds to observe the sweep and majesty of the sea! Seemingly, it’s another whole world entirely. And yet it’s amazing to me how the fleeting, fragile world of the rock pool co-exists, indeed, depends upon, the powerful surges of the ocean. As strange as it sounds, I find the natural rhythm of the sea’s ebb and flow very grounding.

And then there’s the following that I’ve shared more than once on these cyber pages. It’s from the homily I shared with the community of St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis in January of 2006.

I long for a searching life ‘somewhere in between.’ Not a desperately searching life, but one filled with hope and the joy of pilgrimage, one that is respectful of honest doubts, one that is open to authentic relationships and to God in many worlds.

I hope one day to marry the man I love – and I have a dream of holding our marriage ceremony within the tidal zone of a beach, in that place ‘somewhere in between’ the land and the sea.

. . . [in so many ways] I believe we’re called to stand and live in the messy middle between polarizing extremes. Such an ‘in-between’ place is like a valley – green and fertile – that lies between the mountains of extremism. It’s not a place of indecision or lukewarm commitments. It’s not a place where ‘anything goes.’ Rather it’s a place where we allow our convictions and beliefs the opportunity to be informed and shaped by new insights born of our experiences and the experiences of others; a place where we get to discover the light of God in unexpected faces and places.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Summer Afternoon
Somewhere In Between
A Solitary Ramble
Rocky Beach
Bago Bluff
Climbing Barn Bluff
A Delightful Summer’s Afternoon . . . and a Moving Tale

Images: Michael J. Bayly.