Sunday, December 31, 2006

End of Year Round-Up

As 2006 ebbs and we prepare to celebrate the New Year, I have just a few things I’d like to bring to your attention.

First: Medea Benjamin has written an inspiring article in which she reminds us that 2006 “was a year of many positive gains for the progressive movement.” Her article, entitled “Let’s Toast to Ten Good Things About 2006,” can be found

Second: Of the many worthwhile blogsites I discovered this year (see “Recommended Blogsites” in sidebar),
Box Turtle Bulletin would have to be the one I’d most recommend.

Established and maintained by Jim Burroway, Box Turtle Bulletin
aims to provide “well documented and accurate information” with regards to the “many issues facing gays, lesbians, their families and friends.”

In addition, the site endeavors to “refute as much misinformation as possible” as disseminated by reactionary organizations such as
Focus on the Family. Box Turtle Bulletin also has a great “Useful Links” section, which can be found here.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how the site came to be named “Box Turtle Bulletin,” click

Third: A significant event that has taken place in the last days of 2006 has been the execution of former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. The editorial board of the
World Socialist Web Site has posted an insightful commentary on this event – one which provides indepth analysis on the rise of Hussein and the role played by successive US governments in supporting his brutal regime and its crimes. Such honest analysis is sorely lacking in the U.S. corporate media’s coverage of Saddam Hussein’s demise.

Also, if you visit the World Socialist Web Site be sure to check out it’s extensive selection of film reviews. You won’t be disappointed.

And finally: I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have offered support and feedback regarding my efforts to document via The Wild Reed, “one man’s progressive, gay, Catholic perspective on spirituality, politics and culture.”

Of course, no one’s perspective is ever totally their own. After all, each one of us is influenced and shaped by the insights and experiences of others as well as our own. One of the many positive things to come out of “planting and nurturing” the Wild Reed has been the ongoing challenge to practice and hone my writing skills. Through such skills I have endeavored to share the perspectives of gay people (myself included) who seek to be true to both the gift of our sexuality and our Catholic faith.

Such activity has been a welcome creative outlet during these past seven months that I’ve been in Australia awaiting the completion of the much longer-than-expected application process for green card status. The gaining of such status is thankfully within sight, and will allow me to return to the U.S. at the end of January so as to continue my work with the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities.

Of the many commentaries I’ve posted since launching The Wild Reed on May 5, 2006, the ones listed below are those I’ve most enjoyed researching and writing. I guess you could call them my personal “2006 Wild Reed highlights.” If you’ve yet to read them 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,



Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
The Sexuality of Jesus
Casanova-inspired Reflections on Papal Power at 30,000 Ft.
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
Reflections on The Da Vinci Code Controversy
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men
The New Superman: Not Necessarily Gay, but Definitely Queer
One of These Boys Is Not Like the Others
A Lesson from Play School
Blast from the Past
Alexander’s Great Love
Revisiting a Groovy Jesus (and a Dysfunctional Theology)
The Question of an “Informed” Catholic Conscience
Remnants of a Past Life
When “Guidelines” Lack Guidance
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
The Onward Call

Friday, December 29, 2006

CPCSM’s Year in Review

As executive coordinator of the Minnesota-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), I recently worked on the organization’s annual Christmas Appeal letter which was mailed to CPCSM members just prior to Cristmas.

The letter notes that, “Over the past twelve months, CPCSM and [its sister organization] Catholic Rainbow Parents have responded in many positive and proactive ways to the challenges of our times”.

As you’ll see from the following images and excerpts from this letter, it’s been a year of both highs and lows.

Above: Many were saddened by the passing of CPCSM co-founder Bill Kummer on January 29. Bill (pictured above with his beloved “Skipper”) was a compassionate and prophetic figure within the Catholic community and beyond. He was also a source of strength and inspiration for many. Bill always maintained that he would continue his work on the other side of this life, and many of us indeed believe this to be true. His spirit lives on with us in our ministry.

Above: Standing from left: Georgia Mueller, Theresa O’Brien, CSJ; and Brigid McDonald, CSJ, greet the Vatican inspectors to the St. Paul Seminary – February 2006.

Later in the year, as controversy deepened around the proposed “marriage amendment” to the Minnesota State Constitution (one which would ban not only same-gender marriage but “all legal equivalents”, such as civil unions and domestic partnerships), Georgia Mueller, along with Tom and Gretchen Murr, CPCSM president Mary Lynn Murphy, Paula Ruddy, Charlie and Maria Girsch, and a number of other Catholic Rainbow Parents and supporters, expended much time and energy sharing their experiences and insights as parents of LGBT persons with a significant number of Minnesota legislators. Their efforts paid off when the proposed amendment was defeated in May.

Above and below: On February 17-18, feminist theologian Mary Hunt shared her insights on a range of issues within the Catholic Church via two CPCSM-sponsored presentations at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church. One of these had the relevant title of “Catholic Is As Catholic Does: Strategies for Being Church in Challenging Times”. Pictured above with Mary (center) are Linda Taylor, CSJ, and Darlene White.

Above: Front from left: Michael Bayly; Paul Fleege; Dorothy Olinger, SSND; and Mary Cowden. Back row from left: Mary Hunt; David McCaffrey (holding a picture of Bill Kummer); Darlene White; Sue McDonald; Susan Lee; Rita O’Brien, CSJ; Linda Taylor, CSJ; and Theresa O’Brien, CSJ.

Above: Gary Schoener, internationally renowned expert on clergy sexual abuse, delivered an insightful presentation February 10, 2006, in which he emphasized seldom reported facts concerning the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal –including the range of victims, the different types of abusers, and the impact of the abuse on the victims and their families. Gary also explored the scape-goating of gay priests and the implications of the sex abuse scandal for the future of the institutional church.

Above: On World Marriage Day, February 12, 2006, close to 300 people gathered on the steps of the St. Paul Cathedral to call upon Archbishop Flynn to withdraw his support of the Minnesota marriage amendment. CPCSM played a crucial role in organizing this spirited rally - one which sent a clear message that not all Catholics supported this discriminatory amendment.

Above: Our March 20, 2006 event at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, entitled “Putting a Human Face to the Marriage Amendment Issue”, drew a record crowd for a CPCSM educational event.

Pictured from left: Bill Nolan (St. Thomas the Apostle); John Watkins and his partner Andrew Elfenben and their son, Dmitri; Carol Anderson and her partner Kathy Itzin; Michael Bayly (CPCSM executive coordinator); and Susan Lee (St. Thomas the Apostle). Thankfully, the amendment was defeated in the Minnesota Legislature on May 22, 2006.

Above: The inaugural Bill Kummer Forum on April 28-29, 2006 featured renowned theologian and author Daniel Helminiak, who offered a two-part presentation entitled “Gay Body, Gay Soul: A Catholic LGBTI Perspective on Sexuality, Spirituality and Marriage”.

Pictured from left: Rev. Paul Tucker (All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church), Daniel Helminiak, Paul Fleege (CPCSM treasurer), David McCaffrey (CPCSM co-founder), and Michael Bayly (CPCSM executive coordinator).

Above: Linda Taylor, CSJ, and Jacob Reitan (director of SoulForce’s groundbreaking Equality Ride) display the awards they received at this year’s CPCSM Annual Community Meeting. Linda and Fr. Mike Tegeder (who was not able to be present), were the recipients of this year’s Father Henry F. LeMay Award, while Jacob Reitan and Paula Ruddy (also unable to attend) received the 2006 Bishop Gumbleton Peace and Justice Award. (For more information about CPCSM’s awards, click here.)

Above: CPCSM’s long-awaited “safe staff training manual” (based on the groundbreaking work we accomplished in a number of Catholic high schools in the late-1990s) is due to be published as Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective by the Haworth Press in January 2007.

Finalizing of the manuscript has been the major focus of CPCSM’s work in the second half of 2006. The bulk of this work has been undertaken by our executive coordinator Michael Bayly who, because of his application for green card status, has been in Australia since the end of May. We look forward to the success of this longer-than-expected application process and to Michael’s return to Minnesota in January 2007.

The letter concludes, in part, with the following:

“Without doubt, it’s been a momentous year for both CPCSM and Catholic Rainbow Parents, and we are happy and proud to continue our role as one of a very few prominent GLBT-affirming progressive Catholic voices in both our church and wider society. Rest assured, we continue to plan educational events for 2007 – events which will enrich and empower the local Catholic community with regards to issues of human sexuality, and GLBT issues in particular.

“. . . Peace and every blessing of Christmas to you and your loved ones, from all of us at CPCSM.”

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Simple Yet Radical Act

Over at the Box Turtle Bulletin, Jim Burroway has posted a fascinating and informative commentary marking the 40th anniversary of the Los Angeles gay community’s response to a brutal display of state-sanctioned homophobia known as the Black Cat raid.

I knew nothing about this precursor to
Stonewall until I read Burroway’s commentary. Yet as he points out: “Two and one half years before the Stonewall rebellion in New York, there was another rebellion underway in Los Angeles as the gay community stood its ground in defense of a kiss.”

“In this case of do or die,” writes Burroway, “more than 200 activists gathered at the corner of Sanborn and Sunset to protest the arrests [of gay men who had dared kiss one another at midnight during the 1966 New Year’s Eve celebration at the Black Cat Bar] and the ongoing police brutality and intimidation. At a time when few would dare to publicly identify themselves as homosexual for fear of intimidation and arrest, this first open gay-rights protest in Los Angeles was a very bold step. It led to the formation of PRIDE, a gay rights group in Los Angeles, and it swelled the ranks of the Mattachine Society. Where previous raids drove gay men further underground, this time the reaction was different. Gay activism in Los Angeles came of age that night forty years ago.”

In commemorating this groundbreaking event, Burroway has the following recommendation for gay men: “Celebrate this New Year’s Eve with a radical act. Kiss him ‘on the mouth for three to five seconds.’”

Why “three to five seconds”? Well, to find out you’re just going to have to read Burroway’s post
“The Temerity of a Kiss” at the always insightful Box Turtle Bulletin.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

An Australian Christmas

Above: Our family’s Christmas Day lunch was hosted this year by my younger brother, his wife, and their two daughters. In attendance, along with Mum and Dad and I, were my sister-in-law’s sister, her husband, and their two children.

Above: My niece puts the finishing touches to the pavlova – a traditional Australian dessert – which (below) she and her sister and cousins eagerly await to sample!

Boxing Day was spent learning, playing, and enjoying the games my nieces received as Christmas gifts, including Cranium (above) and Pass the Bomb (below).

No Australian summer would be complete without the sport of
cricket, which can be seen being televised in the photo above.

Above: In the days after Christmas, many take advantage of the summer weather to enjoy some time at the beach. During the summer, coastal towns like Port Macquarie are popular destination spots for holidaying families.

Below: My elder brother and his family are currently in London. Although they couldn’t share in our Australian Christmas, they were able to send us a great Christmas family snapshot.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Bayly Family
Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents
My Brother, the Drummer
Like Father, Like Daughter
Remembering Nanna Smith
One of These Boys is Not Like the Others.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Christmas Reflection by James Carroll


The following Christmas reflection by
James Carroll was first published in the Boston Globe in December 2004.

Carroll’s exploration of the “politics of the Christmas story” is insightful and continues to be relevant to current events.

The images that accompany this exploration are from the film
The Nativity Story, which is currently showing in cinemas in Australia, and which I saw recently with a priest friend in Port Macquarie.




The Politics of the Christmas Story
By James Carroll
The Boston Globe
December 21, 2004

The single most important fact about the birth of Jesus, as recounted in the Gospels, is one that receives almost no emphasis in the American festival of Christmas.

The child who was born in Bethlehem represented a drastic political challenge to the imperial power of Rome. The nativity story is told to make the point that Rome – and all it represents – is the enemy of God, and in Jesus, Rome’s day is over.

The Gospel of Matthew builds its nativity narrative around Herod’s determination to kill the baby, whom he recognizes as a threat to his own political sway. The Romans were an occupation force in Palestine, and Herod was their puppet-king. To the people of Israel, the Roman occupation, which preceded the birth of Jesus by at least 50 years, was a defilement, and Jewish resistance was steady. (The historian Josephus says that after an uprising in Jerusalem around the time of the birth of Jesus, the Romans crucified 2,000 Jewish rebels.)

Herod was right to feel insecure on his throne. In order to preempt any challenge from the rumored newborn “king of the Jews,” Herod murdered “all the male children who were 2 years old or younger.” Joseph, warned in a dream, slipped out of Herod’s reach with Mary and Jesus. Thus, right from his birth, the child was marked as a political fugitive.

The Gospel of Luke puts an even more political cast on the story. The narrative begins with the decree of Caesar Augustus calling for a world census – a creation of tax rolls that will tighten the empire’s grip on its subject peoples. It was Caesar Augustus who turned the Roman republic into a dictatorship, a power-grab he reinforced by proclaiming himself divine.

His census decree is what requires the journey of Joseph and the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem, but it also defines the context of their child’s nativity as one of political resistance. When the angel announces to shepherds that a “savior has been born,” as scholars like Richard Horsley point out, those hearing the story would immediately understand that the blasphemous claim by Caesar Augustus to be “savior of the world” was being repudiated.

When Jesus was murdered by Rome as a political criminal – crucifixion was the way such rebels were executed – the story’s beginning was fulfilled in its end. But for contingent historical reasons (the savage Roman war against the Jews in the late first century, the gradual domination of the Jesus movement by Gentiles, the conversion of Constantine in the early fourth century) the Christian memory de-emphasized the anti-Roman character of the Jesus story.

Eventually, Roman imperialism would be sanctified by the church, with Jews replacing Romans as the main antagonists of Jesus, as if he were not Jewish himself. (Thus, Herod is remembered more for being part-Jewish than for being a Roman puppet.)

In modern times, religion and politics began to be understood as occupying separate spheres, and the nativity story became spiritualized and sentimentalized, losing its political edge altogether. “Peace” replaced resistance as the main motif. The baby Jesus was universalized, removed from his decidedly Jewish context, and the narrative’s explicit critiques of imperial dominance and of wealth were blunted.

This is how it came to be that Christmas in America has turned the nativity of Jesus on its head. No surprise there, for if the story were told with Roman imperialism at its center, questions might arise about America’s new self-understanding as an imperial power.

A story of Jesus born into a land oppressed by a hated military occupation might prompt an examination of the American occupation of Iraq.

A story of Jesus come decidedly to the poor might cast a pall over the festival of consumption.

A story of the Jewishness of Jesus might undercut the Christian theology of replacement.

Today the Roman empire is recalled mainly as a force for good – those roads, language, laws, civic magnificence, “order” everywhere. The United States of America also understands itself as acting in the world with good intentions, aiming at order. “New world order,” as George H.W. Bush put it.

That we have this in common with Rome is caught by the Latin motto that appears just below the engraved pyramid on each American dollar bill, “Novus Ordo Seculorum.” But as Iraq reminds us, such “order” comes at a cost, far more than a dollar. The price is always paid in blood and suffering by unseen “nobodies” at the bottom of the imperial pyramid.

It is their story, for once, that is being told this week.

James Carroll’s column appears regularly in the Boston Globe. His most recent book is Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War.

For a 2005 interview with James Carroll, click

See also the previous Wild Reed post,
Revisiting a Groovy Jesus (and a Dysfunctional Theology).

This Time Last Year

. . . I was preparing to celebrate Christmas in a much colder clime!

Although my longer-than-expected sojourn in Australia with family and friends has certainly been enjoyable, I'm definitely looking forward to returning to my life, friends, and
work in the States.

If all goes to plan, I’ll return to snowy Minnesota from sunny Australia at the end of next month.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Summer Afternoon

Back in Minnesota, my friend Victor has lamented that I “no longer post anything on Australia.”

So this one’s for Victor – and for all my friends currently experiencing a wintry December back in the States!

Yesterday (Friday, December 22, Australian time) started out overcast, but by mid-afternoon it was a perfect day to go exploring among the rock pools and platforms at the southern end of Port Macquarie’s Town Beach. The photo above was taken looking north from this southern end of the beach.

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.

In the homily I shared earlier this year with the community of St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis, I noted the following:

“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.”

Returning from the beach to my parents’ apartment, I discovered I had a visitor on the balcony of my room. It was a little hawk!

Although it eyed me inquisitively and cautiously, it nevertheless let me come quite close so as to take a number of photographs. I felt blessed by this hawk’s visit.

Alone there in a sea of blue
It circles every afternoon
A single hawk in God's great sky
Looking down with God's own eyes.

He soars above Reunion Hill
I pray he spiral higher still
As if from such an altitude
He might just keep my love in view.

From “Reunion Hill” by Richard Shindell.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts: Boorganna, Flynns Beach, Rocky Beach, A Spring Swim, Pacific Skies, Afternoon, Bago Bluff, Coastal Views, and A Solitary Ramble.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Real Holiness

“Christopher” has recently posted yet another great reflection on his blogsite Bending the Rule.

This one is entitled “Secular and Christian” and, in many ways, serves as a great antidote to the legalistic, judgmental, and life-denying theology of fundamentalism, both biblical and doctrinal, previously explored
here, here, and here, and the related notion of “theological imperialism” discussed here and here.

Christopher's commentary also reminds us all of the liberating and sanctifying power of “coming out.”

Following are some excerpts from Christopher’s recent “Secular and Christian” reflection.


I distrust piety. I distrust piety because I was once extremeley pious. And in the name of piety, could be really judgmental, world denying, self-loathing, and a real no-fun pain in the ass in my quiet pursed lips way. And too many of the pious I hung around with were likewise thus. You could almost feel our assholes pucker (insert stick) whenever we encountered someone laughing and enjoying life and committing sins (as we so judged). Like more than one saint (including some of the canonized) with a docetic bent, I wanted to throw off this veil of flesh, with all the mess, ambiguity, struggle, sinning, and those temptations to joy and delight and fun because they were messy, ambiguous, filled with struggle, and always likely to be a mixture of virtue and sinning. I wanted to divorce the Incarnation from the Creation, Salvation from Ordinary Life. And the Church’s stance on sexuality encouraged just that type of rules-keeping, flesh-fleeing thinking as what is meant by holiness – at the heart of such teaching is a flesh-hating vision that suggests theologically that the earth is wicked and God is out to get us. So flee from the very ooomph! of life. No fusses, no musses, no squirts and puddles and messes.

But I also loved beer, loved to dance, loved to cook, loved sex, and it is here that I began to see that something was wrong with my piety and with elements of Churchy thinking. I can praise God with a good beer in hand, and my heart soars to God in dancing with my partner or Br. Puppy; setting a table for others reminds me of God's generosity, and the messy fun and re-creation of sex renews my sense of wonder at God's good Creation.

Only my “coming out” really saved me from a life of piety, and I discovered how quickly the pious can turn on their own when one begins to find reverence/awe/fear of the LORD in the everyday. And eversince, revisioning what praying, practicing, living, and being a follower of Christ might be has been a journey in having my piety stripped away piece by piece, slowly but surely until I find myself left with the daily. . . Sooner or later you realize that real holiness is quite human.


See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Somewhere In Between.

Image 1: Michael K. Williams (in The Wire, season 3, 2004).
Image 2: Anthony Mackie (in She Hate Me, 2004).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Onward Call

We woke that morning at the onward call
Our camels bridled up, our howdahs full
The sun was rising in the eastern sky
Just as we set out to the desert’s cry
Calling, yearning, pulling, home to you.

– From “Caravanseri” by Loreena McKennitt
(An Ancient Muse, 2006)

As perhaps you’ve discerned from a previous post, I’ve been recently enjoying Loreena McKennitt’s new album, An Ancient Muse.

It’s a rich and accomplished musical document – and one which, as McKennitt herself notes, explores “the universal human themes of life and love, conquest and death; of home, identity, the migrations of people and the resulting evolution of cultures.”

Rest assured, Loreena McKennitt is well-equipped to offer heartfelt, though never cloying, illuminations on such weighty topics. In lesser hands, approaching topics such as these could yield results both boring and pretentious. Yet unlike, for example, the more recent works of Enya, the music of Loreena McKennitt cannot be dismissed as the product of a New Age songstress, one who dispenses platitudes in multi-track vocals over synthesized music.

McKennitt’s lyrics are much more literate (she often sets classic texts to music), her vocals and music much more earthy, much more real. Whereas, for instance, Enya’s sound would be virtually impossible to perform live, Loreena McKennit, as I discovered in Minneapolis in 1995, is more than capable of delivering a spirited live performance, complete with a myriad of instruments perhaps not familiar to most people – instruments such as the Turkish clarinet, Celtic bauzouki, hurdy gurdy, nyckelharpa, lyra, and my personal favourite, the uilleann pipes.

Also, in planning and composing her music, McKennitt engages in extensive travel and research in relation to specific subjects and locales. To date, such research has formed the basis and general concept of each of her eight studio albums.

As Wikipedia notes: “Before creating Elemental (1985) and Parallel Dreams (1989), [McKennitt] traveled to Ireland for inspiration from the country’s history, geography and culture. The album The Mask and the Mirror (1994) was preceded by research in Spain where she engaged in studying Galicia, a Celtic section of Spain, along with the country’s abundant Arabic roots . . . Her latest album, An Ancient Muse was inspired primarily by travels among and reading about the various cultures along the Silk Road.”

Commenting on her travels to journalist Tim Wilson in 2000, McKinnett said: “I agree . . . with the Sufi perspective that you should not remove yourself from the world, but participate in it; that the opportunities we experience in life are the things that cause us to grow.” observes that An Ancient Muse “incorporates melodies and instrumentation from cultures as diverse as Greece, Turkey and China, strung together with intoxicating melodies and lush compositions, resulting in a surprisingly cohesive and truly beautiful album. The songs are not upbeat or danceable, but rather meditative and quietly atmospheric.”

What is this life that pulls me far away?
What is that home where we cannot reside?
What is that quest that pulls me onward?
My heart is full when you are by my side
Calling, yearning, pulling, home to you.

– From “Caravanseri” by Loreena McKennitt
(An Ancient Muse, 2006)

McKennitt’s work has always reflected a deeply spiritual dimension, a spirituality that’s shaped and embodied by “those who [have] travelled far and wide . . .” – not only geographically, but spiritually as well.

Writer Christine Valters Painter notes that a quote from the ancient philosopher Lao Tzu opens McKennitt’s 1997 album The Book of Secrets: “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”

“McKennitt herself,” says Painter, “is a true philosopher, in that her questioning brings only more questions. Her music is not an attempt to provide answers. Rather, it tries to lift us for the moment above our own journey, which can become bogged down by seeking only the end goals, rather than marveling at the myriad moments along the way.”

Painter also muses on McKennitt’s contention that perhaps “the most important step on our journey is the one in which we throw away the map.”

“Perhaps,” says Painter, “we could each enjoy the wonder of our own journeys more if we put away our own maps and trusted the Spirit to guide us.”

For some, however, the thought of such mapless travels and the expansion in awareness which they inevitably invite, can be disconcerting. After all, as Chuck Lofy has observed, many of us “don’t want to be conscious but simply safe.”

Accordingly, we’ve allowed for the creation and maintenance of “monolithic, rigid forms or systems” of religion wherein we hide from “doing what conscious people do,” namely, trust in the Spirit as we seek to experience for ourselves the mystical origin of our religious heritage and thus facilitate an authentic human and spiritual life.

In the liner notes of An Ancient Muse, McKennitt shares her own understanding of (and hopes for) such travels and the authenticity which they can foster. In doing so, she eloquently allays any fears of potential chaos some may harbour about such journeys.

“Our paths may differ,” says the wise McKennitt, “but our quests are shared: our desire to love and to be loved, our thirst for liberty and our need to be appreciated as unique individuals within the collectivity of our society. . . I have not wavered in my conviction that . . . there should be more to bind us together than tear us apart. Nor have I ceased to hope that in striving toward harmonious, integrated diversity, we will be guided by collective beliefs that will be life affirming at their core.”

I’ve come to learn that the space of our shared quests, far from being a place where “anything goes,” is a place where we allow our convictions and beliefs the opportunity to be informed and shaped, not only by our collective beliefs, but also by new insights born of our experiences and the experiences of others. In short, it’s a place where we get to discover the light of God in unexpected places and faces.

And now all around me
I feel you still here.
Such is the journey
No mystery to fear.

– From “Never-Ending Road (Amhrán Duit)
by Loreena McKennitt (An Ancient Muse, 2006)

These pathways of common pilgrimage comprise the realm of authentic human experience, and therefore authentic religious experience. On this spiritual Silk Road (building on the thematic imagery of McKennitt’s An Ancient Muse) we are all on the same level and can look into one another’s eyes as we share the reality and truth of our experiences. In this sacred space we can walk and journey with each other, we can be in relationship and collectively live and embody that fullness of life and truth that Jesus spoke about and which our church claims to possess.

A passionate “striving toward harmonious, integrated diversity” has been and remains the “onward call” of McKennitt’s music. And as you’ve probably noticed, it’s also an important aspect of my own spirituality. I’ve long been drawn to what I call, a “theology of journey,” or to what Benedictine sister Joan Chittister refers to as a “spirituality of search.” I think that even as a child I was somehow aware that the creative, loving, and sustaining force in the universe which we call God, is bigger than any one religious tradition – my own Roman Catholic tradition included.

As I’ve opened myself to God’s loving presence in my life and the lives of others, I’ve come to the liberating (and at times, uncomfortable) awareness that we are a pilgrim people very much still on the road, very much still discerning and learning what it means to be fully human incarnations of a God of unfathomable love – a love which, as Loreena McKennitt sings . . .

. . . now leads onward, I know not where
I feel in my heart that you will be there
Whenever a storm comes, whatever our fears
The journey goes on as your love ever nears.

– From “Never-Ending Road (Amhrán Duit)
by Loreena McKennitt (An Ancient Muse, 2006)

To visit Loreena McKennitt’s official website, click here.

To read “Journey Into Mystery,” Christine Valters Painter’s 1997 article about Loreena and her music,
click here.

To read “From a Prairie Spark to a Global Flame,” a 2003 article about Loreena,
click here.

And in closing, here is a clip of Loreena performing “Caravanseri” in Alhambra, Spain earlier this year.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Rich Laugh Fit for a Dame

Frank Rich is one astute social commentator.

He can also be very funny.

He’s December 17 New York Times op-ed, entitled “Mary Cheney’s Bundle of Joy”, provides well-deserved Christmas cheer to all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) folks, along with their families, friends and allies.

Why? Because it succinctly (and at times, humorously) documents the recent and rapid decline of the neo-conservative agenda against GLBT people in the face of what Rich describes as “the inexorable march of social history”.

Maybe it’s the holiday season, maybe it’s the relaxed atmosphere I’m enjoying here on the Australian coast, but if I had to describe my response to the (welcome) decline of the neo-conservatives back in the States, I’d have to defer to the response Dame Edna Everage usually displays when discussing the fall from grace of those whom she finds objectionable: “We really shouldn’t laugh, should we, possums?” the good Dame asks, while making no attempt whatsoever to surpress her trademark chortle.

Anyway, feel free to respond as you will to Frank Rich’s latest op-ed, from which the following is excerpted:

The 2006 midterms left Karl Rove’s supposedly foolproof playbook in tatters. It was hard for the Republicans to deal the gay card one more time after the Mark Foly and Ted Haggard scandals revealed that today’s conservative hierarchy is much like Roy Cohn’s mileu in Angels in America, minus the wit and pathos.

This time around, ballot initiatives banning same-sex marriage drew markedly less support than in 2004; the draconian one endorsed by [John] McCain in Arizona was voted down altogether. Two national politicians who had kowtowed egregiously to their party’s fringe, Rick Santorum and George Allen, were defeated, joining their ideological fellow travelers Tom DeLay and Ralph Reed in the political junkyard. To further confirm the inexorable march of social history, the only Christmas miracle to lift the beleaguered Bush administration this year has been the announcement that Mary Cheney, the vice president’s gay daughter, is pregnant. Her growing family is the living rejoinder to those in her father’s party who would relegate gay American couples and their children to second-class legal or human status.

. . . A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week found that among Republicans voters, Rudy Giuliani, an unabashed liberal on gay civil rights and abortion, leads Mr. McCain 34 percent to 26 percent. [Mitt] Romney [the Republican Massachusetts governor who flip-flopped to the right on both gay civil rights and abortion] brought up the rear, at 5 percent. That does, however, put him nominally ahead of another presidential wannabe, the religious-right favorite Sam Brownback, who has held up a federal judicial nomination in the Senate because the nominee had attended a lesbian neighbor’s commitment ceremony.

For those who are cheered by seeing the Rovian politics of wedge issues start to fade, the good news does not end with the growing evidence that gay-baiting may do candidates who traffic in it more harm than good. It’s not only centrist American voters of both parties who reject divisive demagoguery but also conservative evangelicals themselves. Some of them are at last standing up to the extremists in their own camp.

. . . The axis of family jihadis – Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association – is feeling the heat; its positions get more extreme by the day. A Concerned Women for America mouthpiece called Mary Cheney’s pregnancy “unconscionable,” condemning her for having “injured her child” and “acted in a way that denies everything that the Bush administration has worked for.” (That last statement, thankfully, is true.) This overkill reeks of desperation. So does these zealots’ recent assault on the supposedly feminizing “medical” properties of soy baby formula (which deserves the “blame for today’s rise in homosexuality,” according to the chairman of Megashift Ministries), and penguins.

Yes penguins. These fine birds have now joined the Teletubbies and SpongeBob SquarePants in the pantheon of cuddly secret agents for “the gay agenda.” Schools are being forced to defend And Tango Makes Three, an acclaimed children’s picture book based on the true story of two Central Park Zoo male penguins who adopted a chick from a fertilized egg. The hit penguin movie Happy Feet has been outed for an “anti-religious bias” and its endorsement of gay identity” by Michael Medved, the commentator who sets the tone for the religious right’s strictly enforced code of cultural political correctness.”

“Such censoriousness is increasing the stuff of comedy,” notes Rich towards the end of his op-ed.

We really shouldn’t laugh, I know. But for now, at least, in this festive holiday season, let’s take a brief break from the good fight and share at least a smile, if not a chuckle, at the sorry state of affairs of the neo-conservative movement in the States.

I’m sure that given half the chance, even Dame Edna wouldn't hesitant joining us in such revelry. Would she now, possums!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts, The Gay Old Party Comes Out and Actually, I Do Feel Like Dancing.

Recommended Off-site Link: End of the Neo-con Dream by Paul Reynolds (BBC World Affairs correspondent).

Friday, December 15, 2006

In the Garden of Spirituality: Joan Chittister

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

- Pope John XXIII

Continuing with a series of reflections on spirituality, I offer today the thoughts of Benedictine sister Joan Chittister on the difference between religion and spirituality.


It is God that religion must be about, not itself. When religion makes itself God, it ceases to be religion.

But when religion becomes the bridge that leads to God, it stretches us to live to the limits of human possibility. It requires us to be everything we can possibly be: kind, generous, honest, loving, compassionate, just. It defines the standards of the human condition. It sets the parameters within which we direct our institutions. It provides the basis for the ethics that guide our human relationships. It sets out to enable us to be fully human beings.

. . . Religion at its best gives substance to life. Most of all, it enables us to find meaning in life. It gives purpose to the human condition. It sets the human compass toward home. It requires us to be more than we ever thought we could become. It raises our sights beyond ourselves. It sets standards for us that are above the lowest level of the self.

. . . Religion, this great treasure-house of the faith, is the history of our family heroes. It presents us with an historic stream of witnesses from every people on earth who chose the holy, in the face of rejection and ridicule, whatever the cost to themselves. They dared courage, rather than cooperation with evil. They chose love, rather than law. They stood for justice, rather than self-interest. They sought the transcendent, rather than the immediate.

. . . At the same time, no doubt about it, religion is often religion’s own worst enemy. The tension between religion at its best and religion at its worst drives people from church to church, searching for authenticity. It drives them, as well, from the God of the institution to the God of the spirit within. When religion makes itself God, when religion gets between the soul and God, when religion demands what the spirit deplores – a division of peoples, diminishment of the self, and closed-mindedness – religion becomes the problem.

Then, spirituality is the only valid answer to the cry of the soul for the kind of life that makes life possible.

. . . There is a difference between religion and spirituality. There is a link between them, of course, but one is not meant to be the other.

Religion is about what we believe and why we believe it. It is about tradition, the institution, the system. Constructed over centuries . . . religion draws for the world a portrait of creation and relationships. It gives us creeds and dogmas and definitions of God. It gathers us in worship and reminds us of a world to come.

Spirituality is about the hunger in the human heart. It seeks not only a way to exist, but a reason to exist that is beyond the biological or the institutional or even the traditional. It lifts religion up from the level of the theoretical or the mechanical to the personal. It seeks to make real the things of the spirit. It transcends rules and rituals to a concentration on meaning. It pursues in depth the mystical dimension of life that religion purports to promote.

When we develop a spiritual life that is beyond some kind of simple, unthinking attachment to an inherited canon of behaviors, the soul goes beyond adherence to a system to the growth of the soul. Spirituality seeks to transcend the functionaries of religion to achieve an intimacy of its own with the mystery of the universe. Spirituality takes religion into its own hands.

. . . Ironically, we often forget the very attitude most essential to the spiritual search: God is greater than religion. God is the spirit within us that calls us to deep, conscious living of a spiritual life. God is the question that drives us beyond facile answers. God is the invisible vision that drives us to the immersion of the self in God.

Religion is the mooring of the soul. Spirituality is its lodestone. Religion is, at best, external. Spirituality is the internal distillation of this externalized witness to the divine. Spirituality is what galvanizes us to do more than go through the motions. It spurs us to fill up the lack we feel within us. It is the desire for wholeness that evades us. It is the burning need to find the more.

. . . Spirituality is a commitment to immersion in God, to the seeking that has no end. It is a consciousness of engrossment in God that defies convention, that lives beyond convention, that eclipses convention. Religion, the finger pointing at the moon, is not the moon. Simply keeping the rules, accepting the conventions, and loving the pomp that comes with religion will not get us there. For that we need a spirituality of search.

Excerpted from Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir by Joan Chittister (Sheed and Ward, Oxford, 2004).

Image: Gordon Bayly.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In the Garden of Spirituality: Zainab Salbi
In the Garden of Spirituality: Rod Cameron
In the Garden of Spirituality: Daniel Helminiak
In the Garden of Spirituality: Paul Collins

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bless Me, Father

Over at At Home in Rome, an intriguing calendar has been the topic of recent discussion.

In the
Roman Priest Calendar*, the blogsite observes, “there’s not one ugly priest in the bunch. It’s not like they got a shot of some 90-year old . . . or tried to represent the entire spectrum. These priests are in their prime and they are all fairly or very good-looking.”

All of which begs the types of questions posed by At Home in Rome: “Who makes this calendar and why? Where do the profits go? Charity? What is the target market for this calendar? I mean, who really buys it?”

Well, judging from the looks of Mr., er, Father July (pictured below), or indeed any of the calendar's subjects, I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out either the target audience of this particular calendar, or the sexual orientation of the man behind the camera.

After all, as Christopher astutely notes over at
Bending the Rule, “Underneath . . . the surface of so much muscular Christianity” is “homolove . . . The love of the male by some other males . . . Is it really any wonder that some of the best images of men were by Michelangelo? I think not.”

Perhaps Andrew Sullivan is onto something after all.

* At Home in Rome’s investigation (documented here) reveals among other things, that the photographer behind the “hot priest” calendar is one Piero Pazzi, and that 2007 will be the “fifth year running that Pazzi, a gondolier, has made the calendar.” There's been talk that the photos are fake, meaning in other words, that the calendar's subjects are not really priests. Yet At Home in Rome believes this not to be the case, and according to Pazzi, “the photos are all taken during public services and on the streets, in Seville, Rome, and Venice.”

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Legacy of Pinochet

Over at the World Socialist Web Site, Bill Van Auken has written an insightful article entitled “Mourning for Pinochet – U.S. Establishment Shows Its Affinity for Fascism”, in which he observes that the recent death of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was for “the most influential layers of America’s corporate and financial elite . . . [an] occasion for both mourning and tributes”.

Here’s an excerpt:

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, for example, carried an editorial Tuesday entitled “The Pinochet Paradox”. The paper’s editorial board, which generally reflects the right-wing views within the Bush White House itself, cautioned its readers that Pinochet’s “real story is more complicated” than that of a military dictator who abolished liberties.

The editorial is laced with gross distortions and outright lies. It claims, for example, “The popular notion that the US sanctioned the [1973] coup [which overthrew the democratically-elected Chilean socialist leader Salvador Allende] or condoned Pinochet’s torture hasn’t held up under historical scrutiny.” On the contrary, documents released by the Clinton administration (though the most incriminating evidence from the CIA and Pentagon still remains classified) make quite clear that the US government was fully informed of plans for the September 11, 1973 coup—as well as the killings and torture that followed—and fully supported it. Moreover, they confirmed the role of the Nixon and Ford administrations in seeking to quell international criticism of the barbaric regime established by Pinochet.

Similarly, the Washington Post carried a Tuesday editorial headlined “A Dictator’s Double Standard,” with the subtitle, “Augusto Pinochet tortured and murdered. His legacy is Latin America’s most successful country.”

This piece likewise seeks a “balanced” approach, while deriding the ex-dictator’s critics. “For some he was the epitome of an evil dictator,” the editorial states. “That was partly because he helped to overthrow, with US support, an elected president considered saintly by the international left: socialist Salvador Allende, whose responsibility for creating the conditions for the 1973 coup is usually overlooked.”

While acknowledging that thousands were killed, tens of thousands tortured and hundreds of thousands exiled, the Post quickly adds, “It’s hard not to notice, however, that the evil dictator leaves behind the most successful country in Latin America.” It credits Pinochet for “free market policies” that produced “the Chilean economic miracle.”

What is the nature of this “miracle” that they all celebrate? For the likes of the well-heeled and self-satisfied publishers and editors at the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, Chile is a miracle because they can stay at five-star hotels, eat at gourmet restaurants and visit upscale shopping malls in Santiago, while earning handsome returns on investments in Chilean stocks.

Conditions of life for the masses of workers and poor who inhabit the slums outside the circle of skyscrapers and luxury housing reserved for Chile’s rich and their foreign counterparts, as far as they are concerned, are beside the point.

This myth of the “Chilean miracle” and the supposed credit due Pinochet for laying foundations—built with the blood and bones of his tens of thousands of victims—for a free-market renaissance are repeated ad nauseam by virtually every section of the mass media.

According to government statistics, over 20 percent of Chile’s population lives in poverty. But this official count does not include retired workers and the disabled subsisting on woefully inadequate pensions; many think the real poverty rate is closer to 40 percent.

The country ranks as one of the most socially unequal in the world. This is the real legacy of the Pinochet regime and the reign of terror it unleashed against the Chilean working class. Between 1980 and 1989, the wealthiest 10 percent of the population saw its share of the national income climb from 36.5 percent to 46.8 percent. During the same period, the 50 percent of the population at the bottom of the income ladder saw their share plummet from 20.4 to 16.8 percent.

In the aftermath of the coup, Chile saw the steepest fall in real wages and sharpest increase in unemployment ever recorded in Latin America. The dictatorship ushered in social conditions for working people that can only be compared with those that prevailed during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

. . . The “miracle” was granted to the wealthiest layers of society along with the military and its political cronies. They enriched themselves through the plundering of the working class and state property. Wholesale privatizations were carried out without any rules or scrutiny, in what amounted to a vast robbery of social resources. Pinochet’s personal participation in this corrupt process has come to light in the form of some $27 million squirreled away in secret overseas bank accounts.

Under the constitution dictated by Pinochet, the government has been barred from even investigating this orgy of corporate criminality—what the Wall Street Journal sanctimoniously refers to as “the return of private property, the rule of law and a freer economy.”

To read Van Auken's article in its entirety, click here.

NOTE: The photograph accompanying this post depicts a street theater performance calling for the closure of the US Army School of the Americas. This photo was taken in Washington, DC, in 1998, and is part of my online photographic exhibit, Faces of Resistance.

The School of the Americas (SOA), now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia.

In marking General Pinochet’s death,
SOA Watch has documented the dictator’s links to the SOA:

“The Nixon administration and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger played a significant role in financing, supporting and preparing the scenario for a military coup in Chile. The U.S. government spent millions of dollars on arming right wing militias, financing the right wing press and paying off Chilean politicians as a means of preventing and then overthrowing Salvador Allende’s “Unidad Popular” government. During 1970-75, shortly before and after the coup, Chile sent over 1500 troops to the U.S. Army School of the Americas then located in Panama where Chilean soldiers attended courses in counter-insurgency, irregular warfare, psychological-operations, combat arms orientation.

“Although Augusto Pinochet himself did not attend the School of the Americas, a large number of his colleagues did. Many of the highest ranking officers involved in the coup attended the school and the institution held Pinochet in high esteem. For many years, a personal note and a ceremonial sword donated by the Chilean dictator were on display at the SOA’s commandant’s office.”

For more on Pinochet's links to the SOA, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed post, Remembering Sister Rita.