Friday, June 16, 2006

What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men

As a gay man watching X-Men 3: The Last Stand, I couldn’t help but notice some obvious parallels between the film’s story of mutants with special yet feared qualities, and the reality of homosexuals living in our contemporary world.

Like the various mutants in the film, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) persons are considered by many as not only “different,” but freakish and potentially dangerous.

Gerard Jones, author of the book
Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, observes that when the X-Men first rose to popularity in the late 1970s (interestingly, the same decade as “gay liberation”), they set a new precedent with regards to how superheroes interacted with the world around them. For one thing, comic book superheroes were no longer compelled to uphold “protective dualities of public and private selves” – as in the case of, say, Superman and Clark Kent.

Yet not only did the X-Men not have secret identities, says Jones, “they wrestled openly with the challenges of their mutant ‘otherness.’ Their stories were not about keeping secrets, but about creating family and identity with the help of other oddballs.”

The three X-Men films of recent years have admirably conveyed this struggle to create family and identity in a hostile world – something to which many GLBT people can readily relate.

Many of the young mutants who find their way to the boarding school established by the X-Men to help them accept and integrate their unique gifts, are reminiscent of GLBT youth living and struggling with questions related to sexual orientation and identity. Like the young mutants in the film, many GLBT young people are also feared and ridiculed by family and friends, and many are either kicked out of or run away from home.

In X-Men 3: The Last Stand, the need for places of refuge is brought into question when a “cure” is developed for the “mutant gene.” The mutant community is divided. Some, weary of being viewed and treated as outcasts, are eager to be “cured.” Yet others, including many of the X-Men, along with their nemesis, Magneto, angrily denounce the need for a cure and all that it implies about who they are. “We’re not a mistake,” says the character Storm, echoing the very real sentiment that GLBT people hold of their sexual orientation.

In the film, both the US government and Magneto’s actions conjure images of the rise of Nazi fascism; both desire their own brand of conformity – the government by imposing a “cure” of mutant “otherness”, Magneto by attempting to incite a war that would ensure the eradication of all non-mutants. The X-Men – true to form – valiantly struggle against both of these extremes as they attempt to build bridges of respect and understanding between the mutant and non-mutant worlds.

At the end of the film, this “bridge-building” is appropriately symbolized by an angel-winged mutant soaring above the rebuilding of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge – which earlier had been spectacularly hijacked and wrecked by Magneto and his mutant army.

Watching X-Men 3: The Last Stand, I couldn’t help but marvel (no pun intended) at how this work of filmmaking can readily be perceived as eclipsing the leadership of the Catholic Church in understanding and articulating Jesus’ message of radical hospitality as it relates to GLBT people.

Without doubt, the Vatican speaks of such people as if we were mutated freaks; victims to unnatural passions, and incapable of contributing to what is said and taught about us.

Indeed, as gay British theologian
James Alison has observed, “[In Vatican documents], we are only a ‘they’ – objects referred to. . . We are not capable of being subjects by virtue of our having ‘come out,’ our having come to regard being gay or lesbian as part of our lives to be welcomed. The only ‘homosexual’ persons who might be subjects in such discourse are those who accept that [in the language of the Vatican] their inclination is a more or less strong tendency towards acts which are intrinsically evil, and must therefore itself be considered objectively disordered.”

Such language, of course, ensures incidents like those at the Cathedral of St. Paul, where GLBT Catholics were recently denied communion. Obviously, it will take more than their viewing of the X-Men before Vatican officials recognize how untenable their language is in light of the life and message of Jesus. Ultimately what’s needed is for these same officials to open themselves to God’s presence in the lives and relationships of GLBT people.

And if this were to happen, they wouldn’t need to watch the X-Men. For in a world plagued by injustice, elitism, and irrational fears of “the other,” their joining with us in the courageous, dare I say, super-heroic embodiment of such a welcoming and compassionate spirit would make X-Men of us all.

See also the related Wild Reed post:
The New Superman: Not Necessarily Gay, but Definitely Queer.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents

Last month, Brokeback Mountain premièred in my hometown of Gunnedah. At least one resident, Judith Law, found the film objectionable and shared her views via a letter to the town’s newspaper, the Namoi Valley Independent. Another resident, Rebecca Ryan, wrote a supportive letter about the film and the issue of homosexuality.

My parents, now living in Port Macquarie, receive the Namoi Valley Independent via subscription. They chose to respond to the negative reaction to the issue of homosexuality published in the paper in a way that, initially, took me aback.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never doubted my parents’ love and support, but their decision to write and have published the type of letter they did has broken new ground with regards their own “coming out” journey as parents of a gay child. They’ve truly joined the ranks of Catholic Rainbow Parents, and are helping the movement go international!

Mum spent many hours drafting the following letter, one which both she and Dad signed and e-mailed last Sunday to the Namoi Valley Independent. It was published two days latter, on Tuesday, June 13.

I’m just so proud and happy that they took the stand they did, and that they’ve already began receiving a number of supportive phone calls from relatives and friends back in Gunnedah.


Informed Understanding of Struggle for Justice

Namoi Valley Independent
June 13, 2006

Thank you Rebecca Ryan for your caring words (NVI, May 30 ’06). We would like to take this opportunity to share our family’s experience of homosexuality.

We have three sons who were raised in a loving Christian home. Two of our sons are happily married and have blessed us with six grandchildren. Our middle son, Michael, is gay and has lived in Minneapolis, USA since 1994. He is at present holidaying with us and is happy for us to share with others part of his story.

As a Catholic, Michael had struggled for many years to come to terms with his sexuality. He “came out” to us via a letter in 1996. In part he wrote:

“It’s been one of my biggest regrets and most painful burdens that I haven’t had the courage to date to be honest with those I love the most – namely, both of you and my brothers. I’m really sorry for the hurt that my lack of trust must mean to you. I don’t want us to drift apart. I hope and pray that my writing to you doesn’t cause you great distress or worry. I am who I’ve always been.”

We have all moved on since that memorable day. Michael has taught us so much and we’re grateful that he made the decision to share his life with us. Some children find it too difficult and as a result their lives are shrouded in secrecy and guilt.

Homosexuality is not a “lifestyle” that people choose, it is an “orientation” they are born with. Michael has seen sad situations where gay people have been driven to suicide and where marriages have been entered into in the hope that somehow it will make things “right” or “normal.”

This was evident in the movie Brokeback Mountain. We were touched and saddened by the ending of the movie – the gentleness and acceptance of the mother in contrast to the hostility and hardness of the father.

Promiscuity and irresponsible behaviour is evident in both gay and straight people. This cannot be condoned. Most distressing for us is when it is assumed, by some, that all gays are paedophiles. This is inaccurate.

Michael gained his Masters in Theology from the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is an advocate for gay and lesbian people and their families. He is employed as an educator and events coordinator for the
Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities. He is compassionate, caring and is involved in the peace and justice movement.

We love equally each of our children and they continue to provide us with pride and joy. Our family embraces and supports Michael as he continues his struggle for acceptance in a society which doesn’t always have an informed understanding of homosexuality. As a result, we the parents of a gay son have experienced a range of reactions from others. However, we remain hopeful that attitudes will continue to change for the better.

– Margaret and Gordon Bayly

8/14/19 Postscript:
Remembering and Celebrating Dad

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Taking on Friedman

Yesterday I shared the opinion of Thomas Friedman that people who draw attention to the political and economic realities that fuel terrorism, are themselves “one notch less despicable than the terrorists.” Friedman labels such people, “excuse-makers.”

One of the books I’m currently reading while in Australia is John Pilger’s Freedom Next Time. In the chapter entitled “The Last Tabbo,” Pilger examines the Israeli/Palestinian issue. This particular chapter is based on his recent documentary film, Palestine is Still the Issue. One of those Pilger interviewed for this film was Israeli graphic designer Rami Elhanan.

On September 4, 1997, Rami and his wife Nurit lost their fourteen-year-old daughter, Smadar, to a Palestinian suicide bomber. Without doubt, the actions of this and other suicide bombers can be called terrorism. I’m sure Thomas Friedman wouldn’t argue with this definition.

Yet according to Friedman, Rami Elhanan is “one notch less despicable” than the terrorist who killed his daughter. Why? Because Rami isn’t afraid to identify and examine the underlying reality of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands – an occupation that compel some young Palestinian men and women to engage in acts of terrorism.

As a result, Rami declares that “there is no basic moral difference between the [Israeli] soldier at the checkpoint who prevents a [Palestinian] woman who is having a baby from going through, causing her to lose the baby, and the man who killed my daughter.”

Rami and his wife Nurit, writes Pilger, “are among the founders of the Parents’ Circle, or Bereaved Families for Peace, which brings together Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones. They include the families of suicide bombers. They jointly organize educational campaigns and lobby politicians to begin serious negotiations [to end the conflict]”.

Following are excerpts from John Pilger’s conversation with Rami Elhanan, taken from his book Freedom Next Time (pp. 98-100), re-formatted as an interview.

Judge for yourself if Rami is one of Friedman’s “despicable excuse-makers.”


John Pilger: [As an Israeli] how do you distinguish the feelings of anger you must have felt as a father at losing your daughter, from the feeling of wanting to reach out [to the Palestinian people in order to find a way of living together]?

Rami Elhanan: Very simple. I am a human being; I am not an animal. I lost my child, but I didn’t lose my head. Thinking and acting from the guts only increases an endless circle of blood. You have to think: our two peoples are here to stay; neither will evaporate. We have to compromise in some way. And you do that by the head, not by the guts.

John Pilger: Have you made contact with the parents of the suicide bomber who killed [your daughter] Smadar?

Rami Elhanan: That was tried once; someone wanted to make a film about it, but I wasn’t interested. I am not crazy; I don’t forget, I don’t forgive. Someone who murders little girls is a criminal and should be punished, and to be in personal contact with those who did me wrong, it’s not the point. So you see, I sometimes have to fight myself to do what I’m doing. But I’m sure what I’m doing is right. I certainly understand that the suicide bomber was a victim the same as my girl was. Of that, I’m sure.

John Pilger: Have you made contact with the parents of other suicide bombers?

Rami Elhanan: Yes. Very warm and encouraging contacts.

John Pilger: What is the point of that?

Rami Elhanan: The point is to make peace, and not to ask questions. I have blood on my hands, too. I was a soldier in the Israeli army . . . if you are digging into the personal history of each and every one of us, you won’t make peace, you’ll make more arguments and more blame. Tomorrow, I am going to Hebron to meet bereaved Palestinian families. They are living proof of the willingness of the other side to make peace with us.

John Pilger: Isn’t the public mood in Israel quite different?

Rami Elhanan: I have a friend who says that what I am doing is like taking water out of the ocean with a spoon. We [in the Parents’ Circle] are very few, it’s true, and the world is being led by very stupid people: that’s also true. I’m talking about the American President and my own Prime Minister.

To take this word “terrorism” and build everything around it, as they do, you only make more misery, more war, more casualties, more suicide bombers, more revenge, more punishment. Where does that go? Nowhere.

Our task is to point out the obvious. George Washington was a terrorist, Jomo Kenyatta was a terrorist, Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Terrorism only has meaning for those who are weak and who have no other choice, and no other means.

John Pilger: What has to be done to end this suffering?

Rami Elhanan: We have to start by fighting ignorance. I go to schools and give lectures. I tell the children how the conflict began by asking them to imagine a house with ten rooms where Mohammed and his family are living in peace. Then, one stormy night, there’s a knock at the door, and outside stands Moshe and his family. They are sick, beaten, broken. “Excuse me,” he says, “but I once lived in this house.”

This is the whole Arab-Israeli conflict in a snap; and I tell the kids that the Palestinians gave up seventy-eight percent of the country which they are sure is theirs, so the Israelis should give up the twenty-two percent that was left [following the 1967 war].

John Pilger: What kind of reaction do you get?

Rami Elhanan: I watch the faces of the kids when I show them the maps [of the offer Prime Minister Ehud Barak made to Yasser Arafat at Camp David before the “peace process” broke down. These maps reveal that swathes of the West Bank were held back from the Palestinians and kept for Jewish settlers]. And I tell them that we had seventy-eight percent, and the Palestinians had twenty-two percent, and that’s all the Palestinians want now, and I see ignorance lift.

You know, in Israel, the bereaved are said to be sacred. People give them respect because they have paid the price. I am due that respect, but of course there are people who don’t want to hear what I say.

John Pilger: What is the price that a society pays when it runs a military occupation?

Rami Elhanan: It’s an unbearable price. The list begins with moral corruption. When we don’t let pregnant women through checkpoints, and their babies die, we have reduced ourselves to animals and we are no different from the suicide bombers.

John Pilger: What do you say to Jewish people in other countries, like Britain [and the US]: people who support Israel because they feel they must?

Rami Elhanan: I say they should be loyal to real Jewish values, and support the peace movement in Israel, not the state at all costs. It’s only pressure from outside – from Jews, from governments, from public opinion – that will end this nightmare.

While there is this silence, this looking away, this profane abuse of our critics as anti-Jew, we are no different from those who stood aside during the days of the Holocaust. We are not only complicit in a crime, we ensure that we ourselves never know peace, and our surviving children never know peace. I ask you: does that make any sense?

John Pilger: But they might say the Jews are in danger of being pushed into the sea by the Arabs, that Israel must stand firm.

Rami Elhanan: Pushed into the sea by whom? We are the most powerful power in the Middle East. We have one of the greatest armies in the world. In this last operation [Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s attack on the West Bank in April 2002], we sent four armoured divisions against some five hundred armed people. It’s a laugh. Who will push us into the sea? Who can push us into the sea?

The real issue is played out every day at the checkpoints. The Palestinian boy whose mother is humiliated in the morning will be a suicide bomber in the evening. There is no way that Israelis can sit in their coffee houses and eat and drink while two hundred metres away desperate people are humiliated and Palestinian children are beginning to starve. The suicide bomber is no more than a mosquito. The occupation is the swamp.

Update: Brothers in Peace New Internationalist (January 1, 2010).

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Exception to the Rulers

Although the media in Australia is generally better at providing in-depth and balanced coverage of events than the media in the US, I still find myself missing Pacifica Radio’s New York-based Democracy Now! program.

While in Australia, I’ve been periodically checking the Democracy Now!
website which offers audio streams and transcripts of all the show’s programs. Two segments from last Tuesday’s program particularly caught my eye.

In one of these segments, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman interviewed journalist Eric Boehlertand, author of the recently published book, Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush. Boehlert argues that the corporate, mainstream media in the US has essentially given up its role as defenders of the public interest and instead succumbed to pressure from the Bush White House and the conservative right.

Bohelert writes that the reasons for this are many, including a “consolidated media landscape in which owners are increasingly – almost exclusively – multi-national corporations; the same corporations anxious to win approval from the Republican-controlled federal government to allow further ownership consolidation. The press timidity is also fuelled by the Republicans’ ‘tight grip on Congress . . . and the mainstream media’s natural tendency to revere beltway power . . . This timidity is also driven by beltway careerism; by media insiders who understood that despite the cliché about the liberal media, advancement to senior positions is actually made doubly difficult for anyone with a reputation for being too far left, or too caustic towards Republicans.”

Boehlert also argues that the Bush administration uses a variety of tactics to undermine and control the media, including curbing access, bullying reporters, hyping terror alerts, paying off pundits, and producing fake newsreels.

To read the transcript of Democracy Now!’s interview with Eric Boehlertand, click here.

The second segment of last Tuesday’s program that caught my attention was Amy Goodman’s conversation with Pulitzer Prize winning author and popular political columnist, Thomas Friedman.

As Amy notes in her introduction, “Thomas Friedman is one of most widely-read political commentators. His books include the award-winning From Beirut to Jerusalem and The Lexus and the Olive Tree. His latest book is The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century. Later this month, he will host Addicted to Oil: Thomas Friedman Reporting, a television special on the politics on this country’s reliance on oil, or what he calls ‘petropolitics’.”

Now, I have to say that I’m not a big fan of Thomas Friedman, so I was very interested by the prospect of this avid proponent of corporate globalization (and the might of the American military which he says is needed to protect and expand it), being interviewed by the host of a program that claims to be “the exceptions to the rulers.”

Reading the transcript, I wasn’t disappointed. One part that particularly interested me was when Goodman questioned Friedman on his belief that “excuse makers” for terrorism are “one notch less despicable than the terrorists” and should be placed on a US State Department list.

Friedman criticizes anyone who attempts to explain how US actions abroad might fuel terrorism. Personally, I don’t consider such attempts to be “despicable.” Nor do I believe that seeking to identify and explain the motivations of terrorists is the same as “making excuses” for these same people’s deplorable acts.

Following is the exchange between Goodman and Friedman regarding this issue:

Amy Goodman: Last July you wrote a controversial column calling on the state department to monitor and publicly identify excuse makers and hate mongers.

Thomas Friedman: Yes.

Amy Goodman: You wrote, “After every major terrorist incident the excuse makers come out to tell us why imperialism, Zionism, colonialism or Iraq explains why the terrorists acted. These excuse makers are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists and also deserve to be exposed. Every quarter the State Department should identify the top ten hate mongers, excuse makers and truth tellers in the world.” That's your quote.

Thomas Friedman: Absolutely. I believe that.

Amy Goodman: To make an enemy's list, the state department –

Thomas Friedman: People who make excuses for terrorism should be exposed and identified. I also use my own pen to expose and identify people in Israel who explore hate mongering as well toward Palestinians, among the settlers. I’ve been probably one of their biggest critics and enemies in The New York Times referring to them as fanatics and lunatics.

Amy Goodman: For people who say we have to understand why others in the world are angry, do you think they belong on the State Department list?

Thomas Friedman: [There’s a difference between] understanding why people are angry and understanding why people tell you that 9/11 happened, and no Jews were in the twin towers at that time because they were all warned ahead of time. So, let's be clear about what I was saying. I was very focused on people who want to justify the murder of innocent women and children, innocent civilians, and I very much believed then and I very much believe now that they should be exposed. I think Jewish hate mongers should be exposed as well as I believe I made clear in that column, too.

Amy Goodman: Are you concerned today in this country about people who are fiercely critical of the war in Iraq, the occupation, being called unpatriotic, being called hate mongers, being put on government lists?

Thomas Friedman: Amy, if you read my column, one of the biggest critics of the war is the woman I live with, and I’ve probably mentioned – I don't know how many times, in my column – my wife's criticism of the war. I believe it's honorable. I believe it's a perfectly moral position. I would be disgusted by anyone calling them traitors.

Amy Goodman: And why do you trust the State Department to make the determination on who they would call terrorists for being critical of the invasion?

Thomas Friedman: We clearly know what hate speech is and we know what legitimate opposition is. I know the difference.

Amy Goodman: And do you think the State Department knows the difference? The Bush administration, President Bush?

Thomas Friedman: I think they could. I know the difference between hate speech and people who oppose a policy on legitimate grounds, and opposing the Iraq war is not hate speech, I'm sorry. Basically justifying the bombing of the World Trade Center is hate speech. I know the difference. If you don't, that's your problem.

Amy Goodman: Do you think the State Department does?

Thomas Friedman: I'm not going to get into this silliness.

To read the full transcript of Democracy Now!'s interview with Thomas Friedman, click

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!

I’ve never been a big soccer fan. In fact, I’m not really into sports at all. Yet last night I found myself sitting up late to watch the first Australian soccer team to play in the World Cup in 32 years.

Ever since arriving in Australia last month, I’ve observed a lot of media attention and public support for the Socceroos. So at 10:30 last night, I tuned into SBS to watch the big game: Australia vs. Japan.

Well into the second half I thought to myself, “What’s the point? Go to bed, Michael.”

But I’m glad I stayed up. What a comeback!

Trailing 0-1, the Socceroos scored three goals in the last eight minutes!

It was a very exciting end to the Socceroos first game at the World Cup in Germany. Next they play the world’s number one team, Brazil.

It will be another late night.

Monday, June 12, 2006

San Franciscophobia

In his recent opinion piece, “With Ineptitude on Full Display, the Party's Over for Republicans” (Baltimore Sun, June 8, 2006), Garrison Keillor not only lampoons the Republican Party’s latest attack on “g-a-y-s”, but also offers some timely reflections on the link between creativity and tolerance.

He notes, for instance, that “creative people thrive in a climate of openness and tolerance.” Conversely, “authoritarianism is stifling” – a reality that has consequences for all aspects of our society, including, says Keillor, society’s economic well-being.

Following are excerpts:

I see by the papers that the Republicans want to make an issue of Nancy Pelosi in the congressional races this fall: Would you want a San Francisco woman to be speaker of the House?

Will the podium be repainted in lavender stripes with a disco ball overhead? Will she be borne into the chamber by male dancers with glistening torsos and wearing pink tutus? After all, in the unique worldview of old elephants, "San Francisco" is a code word for "g-a-y," and after assembling a record of government lies, incompetence and disaster, the party in power hopes that the fear of g-a-y-s will pull it through in November.

Running against Ms. Pelosi, a woman who comes from a district where there are known gay persons, is a nice trick, but it does draw attention to the large shambling galoot who is speaker now, Tom DeLay's enabler for years . . . Dennis Hastert.

[Hastert] has been two heartbeats from the presidency. He is a man who seems content just to have a car and driver and three square meals a day. He has no apparent vision beyond the urge to hang onto power. He has succeeded in turning Congress into a branch of the executive branch. If Mr. Hastert becomes the poster boy for the Republican Party, this does not speak well for them as the Party of Ideas.

People who want to take a swing at San Francisco should think twice. Yes, the Irish coffee at Fisherman's Wharf is overpriced, and the bus tour of Haight-Ashbury is disappointing (where are the hippies?), but the Bay Area is the cradle of the computer and software industry, which continues to create jobs for our children.

The iPod was not developed by Baptists in Waco. There may be a reason for this. Creative people thrive in a climate of openness and tolerance, since some great ideas start out sounding ridiculous.

Creativity is a key to economic progress. Authoritarianism is stifling. I don't believe that Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard were gay, but what's important is: In San Francisco, it doesn't matter so much. When the cultural Sturmbannfuhrers try to marshal everyone into straight lines, it has consequences for the economic future of this country.

. . . So here we are at an uneasy point in our history, mired in a costly war and getting nowhere, a supine Congress granting absolute power to a president who seems to get smaller and dimmer, and the best the GOP can offer is San Franciscophobia? This is beyond pitiful. This is violently stupid.

To read in full Garrison Keillor's piece, “With Ineptitude on Full Display, the Party's Over for Republicans,” click here.

Thanks to James O’Leary for alerting me to this article.

Garden Gate

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience

Last Sunday’s Pentecost Mass in St. Paul, Minnesota, was not the first time that Catholics have been denied communion because they were wearing, in good conscience, a Rainbow Sash – a symbol that says that the wearer is (or knows and/or supports someone who is) accepting of their homosexuality. In fact, the first instance of this denial occurred in Australia in 1998.

Who Is Worthy?

In the late Fr. Ted Kennedy’s 2000 book, Who Is Worthy? The Role of Conscience in Restoring Hope to the Church, David McKenna, president of the Australian Rainbow Sash Movement, contributed a brief “perspective” in which he wrote:

“On Pentecost Sunday in 1998 and 1999, gay and lesbian Catholics and their friends, families and supporters, wearing rainbow sashes, presented themselves for Communion to Archbishop George Pell at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. The proclamation of their purpose was set out in their ‘Letter to the Church’: In wearing the ‘rainbow sash’ we proclaim that we are gay and lesbian people who embrace and celebrate our sexuality as a sacred gift. In wearing it we call on the Church to honour the experience and wisdom of lesbian and gay people; to enter into open dialogue with us; and to work with us for justice and understanding. Let us seek a new appreciation of human sexuality in all of its diversity and beauty.” (1)

At both Pentecost Masses, “Dr. Pell refused the Eucharist to all those wearing the sash,” writes McKenna. “On the first occasion, he delivered a statement from the altar, notable for its harsh tone and lack of pastoral dimension. On the second occasion, Dr. Pell announced to an astonished media group that homosexuality was a greater health hazard than smoking. He also suggested that discouraging homosexuality amongst the young might reduce the number of youth suicides.” (2)

McKenna also offers his views on the current state of the wider Church in relation to the issue of homosexuality, noting that there is “an extraordinary level of fear amongst Catholics, especially those employed by or closely associated with the Church, about offering any public support for the Rainbow Sash Movement or, indeed, the cause of gay and lesbian people generally. It also shows just how constricted and apprehensive these people are. Given the claims made by the Catholic Church about itself, this is a scandal.” (3)

David McKenna concludes his contribution to Ted Kennedy’s book by observing that “the Catholic Church is in a highly authoritarian and repressive phase. Its restoration to what it should be – a genuinely open, growing and tolerant community – depends on honest discourse and critical but constructive comment.” (4)

Such qualities are reflected in Fr. Ted’s prophetic book, Who Is Worthy? The Role of Conscience in Restoring Hope to the Church. Fueled by the author’s outrage at the Australian Catholic hierarchy’s treatment of both the aboriginal and the gay communities, much of Who Is Worthy? is devoted to taking to task Archbishop (now Cardinal) George Pell’s controversial stance on the Catholic teaching of the primacy of conscience.

The Meaning of Conscience

The Latin word for conscience is conscientia, “knowing with, knowing within oneself” (Gk, syneidēsis). Theologian Christine Firer Hinze notes that within Christian tradition, conscience “denotes a multi-dimensional, uniquely human capacity for perceiving, judging, and deciding in relation to moral value. (5) Hinze also observes that “in Jewish scriptures the equivalent term (translated into Greek) is kardia, “heart.” In the New Testament, syneidēsis is used frequently by Paul, the Greek philosophical term synthesized with the Jewish idea of kardia to forge a distinctive Christian moral concept.” (6)

“Christian ethicists,” writes Hinze, “understand conscience in three senses: 1) most fundamentally, as an aspect of personhood experienced as an interior “law . . . written on [the] heart” (Rom. 2:15), a personal dynamism and response toward moral value; 2) as the process of analysis and deliberation concerning the right, or good, in particular cases, requiring honest, receptive dialogue with sources of moral wisdom (scripture, religious traditions, other funds of descriptive and normative insight); 3) as the event of moral judgment and decision in the concrete.”

In this third sense, notes Hinze, “conscience has been considered an absolute subjective guide: one must always follow it, and external authorities may not force a person to violate it.” (7)

The Primacy of Conscience: A Dangerous and Misleading Myth?

According to George Pell, however, “the doctrine of the primacy of conscience should be quietly ditched . . . because too many Catholic youngsters have concluded that values are personal inventions.” (8) Furthermore, the primacy of conscience is “a dangerous and misleading myth.” In fact, according to Pell, “in the Catholic scheme of things, there’s no such thing as primacy of conscience.” (9)

One can only wonder if Dr. Pell is familiar with how Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) expressed the Church’s understanding of the primacy of conscience – an understanding which he eloquently expressed while serving as Chair of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Tübingen in 1968.

“Above the pope as an expression of the binding claim of church authority,” writes Ratzinger, “stands one’s own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of church authority.” (10)

I’ve never met George Pell, but have seen him interviewed on various Australian television news and current affairs programs. The little I have seen and heard has nevertheless ensured that I concur with Ted Kennedy’s observation that “the thinking of [Cardinal] Pell is undoubtedly marked by the intransigence of Ultramontanism, which historian Eamon Duffy describes as a ‘form of absolutism revelling in what Cardinal Manning called “the beauty of inflexibility”.’ Denial of the primacy of conscience, which has become a permanent fixture in the ecclesiastical wardrobe of [Pell’s] mind, is . . . it seems, a cloak that hides insecurity and fear of loss.” (11)

“Up, Let Us Go Forward!”

In my work with the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (
CPCSM), I’ve often been challenged by people uncomfortable and threatened by CPCSM’s mission of creating environments of respect, acceptance, and safety for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersexual (GLBTI) persons and their families. Some critics are quick to share their view that an informed conscience can never contradict church teaching. What they’re advocating, of course, is what is known theologically as the “seated conscience” of “seated persons”.

Yet as one of Catholicism’s most respected moral theologians, Bernard Häring, CSsR, has noted: “Christ bids us rest but does not require us to become seated persons, i.e. those men and women who are forever tired, devoid of ideals and inspiration, who are unable to enlist the power of the Spirit to encourage others.” (12)

Häring goes on to observe that: “The seated person is the one who is incapable of internalizing Jesus’ invitation, ‘Up, let us go forward’. Most especially if going forward implies the risk of potential suffering, change and temporary insecurity. The seated person is static and self-satisfied, ever confident to celebrate past triumphs and achievements while ever avoiding the courageous responsibility that risk-taking involves. In a word, the seated person is cowardly.” (13)

“Ordinarily,” says Häring, “the self-satisfied are fundamentalist in their thinking, eschewing new and creative formulations of doctrine while ever clinging to the norms and imperatives of the past. They are hard-and-fast traditionalists, and, if gifted with energies, they use them strenuously to promote the restorations of a past order. Seated persons are those perched on self-made thrones, unwilling to move forward with the times because such a move would mean renouncing the glamour and privilege of clericalism in all its forms at every level.” (14)

Creative Conscience

In Who Is Worthy? The Role of Conscience in Restoring Hope to the Church, Ted Kennedy recalls how in 1989 the 77-year-old Häring wrote an article appealing for a “recognition of ‘consensus seeking’ which rests on the mystery of love and life, which is written in the heart and echoes in the core of conscience.” (15) In the same article, Häring, notes Kennedy, “appealed for a recognition of the concept of ‘creative conscience’ . . . that exists for all who have understood what Paul said in the Baptismal lesson: ‘You are not subjects of a rule of law, but rather are of grace’(Romans 6:14).” (16)

Kennedy goes on to describe an understanding of human conscience in light of this grace: “Creative conscience,” he writes, involves the discovery of an authentic, open ecumenical base which gathers in the consciences of many who have grown through struggle to embrace the non-violence of the Beatitudes, including the best representatives of Protestantism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam. Such people are Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Nugget Coombs, Simon Weil (none of them Catholic) and so many Aborigines who hold depths of Aboriginal spirituality. Each of these has been able to provide a releasing of spiritual insight, which the Church so sorely needs. And of course, such a reservoir can hold the voice of women unconstricted by the multi-shaped forms of gender bias with which the Church is loaded.” (17)

“Father Häring,” continues Kennedy, “tried patiently to explain to his bureaucratic, clerical detractors that his notion of creative conscience . . . is not the entering into an academic dispute over fine points of methodology in ethics, but rather has to do with basic attitudes towards the world and the very meaning of human life. Such a comprehensive notion of creative conscience has the enormous advantage of relying on the initiative and insights of both men and women, regardless of gender, denomination or non-denomination.” (18)

Creative conscience also has the “advantage of relying on the initiative and insights of both men and women” regardless of their sexual orientation. Such initiative and insights can be discerned through the words and actions of a range of Catholic organizations and individuals working to reveal the presence of God in the lives and relationships of GLBTI people.

The Hallmark of Our Living Faith

In light of this discussion on the primacy of conscience, what can we say is the hallmark of our living faith as Catholic Christians?

Is it unquestioning obedience to the Pope and the Magisterium? Is it openness to God present solely in the Church as Institution?

Or is it a trusting openness and response to the presence and action of God within the Church as People of God and thus the vast and diverse arena of human life and relationships?

Which of these “hallmarks” is most catholic, most universal?

One of the goals of CPCSM is to build and celebrate an understanding of Church that is open and responsive to the presence and action of God in the lives and relationships of all.

We see this as a profoundly catholic endeavor. We work toward recognizing and celebrating a catholicity of life, by which is meant the discovery and celebration of God as creator and lover of all humanity, a God who desires all people to experience both personal and communal flourishing.

Other Catholic organizations share similar aims in relation to ministering with and for GLBTI persons and their families, and educating the wider Church and society about their unique gifts and challenges. Such organizations include the
National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries, Dignity, Catholic Rainbow Parents, Fortunate Families, numerous parish-based ministries, and, of course, both the Rainbow Sash Movement and the Rainbow Sash Alliance USA.

1-4. McKenna, D., in Kennedy, T. Who Is Worthy? The Role of Conscience in Restoring Hope to the Church (Pluto Press, Annandale, 2000), pp.23-26.
5-7. Hinze, Christine Firer, in Russell, L.M. & Clarkson, J.S. Dictionary of Feminist Theologies (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1994), p. 54.
8. Pell, George. Seminar on the Sociology of Culture, La Trobe University, May 12, 1988.
9. Pell, George. The Bulletin, April 27, 1999, p.29.
10. From a commentary on Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”) in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, Vorgrimler, Herbert (Ed.), Burns and Oats, 1969, p. 134.
11. Haring, Bernard. Priesthood Imperilled (Triumph Books, Missouri, 1995), p.56.
12-15. Haring, Bernard. “Building a Creative Conscience: Resisting Moral Rigor Mortis”, Commonweal, August 11, 1989.
16-18. Kennedy, T. Who Is Worthy? The Role of Conscience in Restoring Hope to the Church (Pluto Press, Annandale, 2000), pp. 84-85.

See also the related Wild Reed posts:

The Question of an “Informed” Catholic Conscience
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth

“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ”

My Rainbow Sash Experience

“Take, All of You, And Eat” – Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part I)
“Take, All of You, And Eat” – Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part II)
“Take, All of You, And Eat” – Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part III)
A Catholic’s Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI

Recommended Off-Site Links:
Understanding Conscience: Making the Right Choice by Richard Benson, C.M.
Bishop Misses Mark in Assault on Understanding Conscience by Max Charlesworth.
The Primacy of Conscience by Brian Lewis.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bago Bluff

Earlier this week, my sister-in-law, Ros, and I went on a quest to photograph Bago Bluff.

As an artist, Ros has been asked by an elderly resident of the area to paint a picture of the bluff, which is a well-known landmark.

Driving from Port Macquarie to the rural village of Brombin (via Wauchope and Beechwood), we discovered some beautiful views of Bago Bluff amidst picturesque farmland and eucalyptus forests.

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth

The refusal
last Sunday of communion to Catholics in St. Paul, Minnesota made national headlines in the US. The Washington Post, for instance, noted that over fifty Catholics were denied participation in their faith tradition’s ritualistic meal of remembrance and celebration of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection

Church authorities insist that this denial stemmed from the fact that the 50 or so Catholics were wearing a rainbow-colored sash, a symbol that authorities maintain is a sign of protest against Church teaching on homosexuality.

The Rainbow Sash, however, actually symbolizes acknowledgment and celebration of the diverse gift of human sexuality – a diversity that includes both heterosexuality and homosexuality.

As Brian McNeill, coordinator of the Twin Cities-based Rainbow Sash Alliance notes in the Washington Post article, “the premise of the sash is that gay people are part of the Catholic community, part of the people of God. We are proudly celebrating Mass.”

Of course, according to official Catholic teaching, it’s not being “gay” that’s the primary problem. Rather, it’s the “proudly celebrating” of one’s gayness that’s untenable.

In Catholicism’s official teaching, the homosexual orientation is understood as something an individual doesn’t choose. Nevertheless, homosexual persons, like myself and others, are told by orthodox Catholicism that we must view our sexual orientation not as a gift from God worthy of celebration and integration into our lives, but as a trial, as a cross to bear, as something loathsome that must be kept separate from our relational lives. Under no circumstances are we to express our sexuality, as such expression is considered a moral evil.

In practice, however, the majority of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Catholics, along with the people who know and love them, reject such a negative and life-denying understanding of homosexuality. Common sense, personal experience, and the findings of the social and medical sciences overwhelmingly support such a rejection.

As internationally renowned researcher on sexuality and sexual health, Dr. Simon Rosser, remarked in a 2004 interview I conducted for The Rainbow Spirit, the journal of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), “whether it’s homosexuality, contraception, premarital sex, divorce, masturbation, or HIV prevention, the official Church position is now so extreme, so negative, so ultra-conservative, and so ill-informed, that I’m confident that less than five percent of Catholics actually believe or follow Catholic sexual teaching. In this situation, either the Church reforms or it dies. Given the ability of the Catholic Church to survive, I’m confident it will reform. But we have to do our part . . .”

And GLBT Catholics are doing their part. Far from being immoral and separated from God, GLBT Catholics who are acting in good conscience and living fully human, relational lives, have gone to great lengths to attune themselves to the presence of God within all aspects of their Catholic tradition.

Yes, we’ve dutifully studied, reflected upon (and ultimately rejected) the ill-informed and homophobic rhetoric of the Vatican. Yet we’ve also reflected upon the words of prophets and theologians, studied the findings of the modern sciences, and cultivated prayerful interior lives wherein we’ve gone deep – soul deep – and heard the still small voice of God’s transforming love within. We’ve embarked on all of these endeavors while journeying through the pain and uncertainty of discovering we are gay in a predominantly straight world - one that is often hostile to the reality of our lives.

Yet throughout, that still small voice says, “Be not afraid!”

It says that we, as GLBT people, are created in God’s image.

It says that our homosexuality is a sacred gift – one that we are called to express lovingly and responsibly.

It says that our “cross to bear” isn’t our homosexuality, but rather the homophobia of our church and society.

This voice tells us that ultimately, love trumps tradition; that conscience, informed by God’s presence in the depths of our being, trumps doctrine developed by others unmindful of our reality and of God’s presence in our lives.

Dismissive of such a sacred presence and the journeys of faith that it compels GLBT people to courageously embark upon, some within our Church have declared that it is only “the way of chastity within the framework of prayer and the sacramental life” that will make GLBT people truly happy. Yet I and many others have experienced another “way” within this same framework – that being the way of conscious and compassionate living.

For some GLBT people such living may indeed mean a celibate life. Yet for others, their conscious, compassionate lives will call for and be sustained by the sacramental experience of a loving, committed relationship with another of the same gender. This is our truth, our sanctifying truth, as baptized Catholics. It is thus part of the truth of the Catholic Church.

The time is long overdue for those in positions of official leadership to recognize and honor such truth. They could start by ceasing to exclude those wearing the Rainbow Sash from participating in the Eucharistic meal of our shared faith.

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
My Rainbow Sash Experience
“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ”
A Catholic's Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
“Take, All of You, and Eat”: Communion and the Rainbow Sash

Image: My friend David McCaffrey took this photo of me last year when we participated in the Pentecost Sunday mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Sydney Harbour

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Soul Deep

Two years ago I delivered the following sermon at Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ. In part by drawing on the life and music of British soul singer, Dusty Springfield (pictured at left in 1989), this sermon explores the deeper life that all people of conscience and compassion are called to cultivate and live so as to experience what John S. Dunne calls “an enduring life, a life that could last through and beyond death.” My sermon also explores how gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people often discern through unorthodox avenues (given that many traditional forms are denied them), God’s call to discover and embody this deeper life and the inclusive and transforming love of God that infuses it.

Contemporary Reading
From Time and Myth by John S. Dunne

An enduring life, a life that could last through and beyond death, would have to be a deeper life than the ordinary. It would have to be some life that people have without knowing it, some current that runs far beneath the surface. To find it would be like seeing something fiery in the depths of life; it would be like hearing a rhythm in life that is not ordinarily heard. The question is whether a person, if he/she found such a life could bear to live it . . . could live according to that rhythm.

The deeper life would be like an undertow, like a current that flows beneath the surface, a current that sets seaward or along the beach while the waves on the surface are breaking upon the shore.

To live in accord with the deeper rhythm might be to ignore the surface rhythm of life. It might mean missing the normal joys and cares of childhood, youth, adulthood, and age. It might mean plunging down into the depths of life to follow a light as elusive as sea fire.

Scriptural Reading
Jeremiah 29:11-14

Surely, I know the paths I have in mind for you, says God. [They serve as] plans for peace, not for disaster; [plans] to give you a future and a hope. When you call to me and come and pray to me, I shall listen to you. When you search for me with all your heart, you shall find me.

Soul Deep
A Sermon by Michael J. Bayly
Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ
June 20, 2004

As many of you perhaps know, I have a bit of a thing for Dusty Springfield.

You know Dusty – the British pop and soul vocalist remembered primarily for her 1960s’ hits such as “I Only Want To Be With You,” “Son Of A Preacher Man,” and “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.”

I guess in Britain and parts of the Commonwealth, Dusty’s somewhat of a gay icon. Certainly her 60’s look, complete with beehive hairdo, heavily mascaraed eyes, and dramatic hand movements, were and remain iconic images of high camp – even today, five years after her death from breast cancer. But it wasn’t the campy aspects of her sixties’ image that originally drew me to Dusty.

My interest in Dusty Springfield actually began long after her sixties’ heyday – at 7:00 a.m. on New Year’s Day 1991, to be exact! I was with a group of friends at a Queensland beach house where we had crashed on couches and on the floor after a night of festivities. The TV had been left on all night and as I began to stir I noticed that Rage, a popular Australian music program, was playing several video clips from a recently released Dusty Springfield album.

Now I knew of Dusty as a popular and successful singer from the 1960s. So I was somewhat intrigued by the thought of her still recording and by the fact that she was looking and sounding so contemporary, so with it.

So there I was: a 26-year-old closeted gay man, surrounded by my sleeping straight companions, awakening to the 1990s Dusty coming to me through the static and snow of an old beat-up TV.

As much as I may have wanted, I couldn’t bring myself to go back to sleep. I felt myself drawn to this woman who despite the obstacles of a male-dominated, youth-oriented music industry, was seeking to transcend the hits of the past and take the risk of finding her voice within the contemporary music world.

And so I stayed awake and focused on the flickering screen and this strange woman who, with a dismissive flick of the wrist, sang knowingly of the societal forces that attempt to thwart such risk-taking and smother that which is most creative, trusting, and true within an individual:

They don’t want the real you [Dusty sang]
They’re gonna steal you
They’re gonna take my dreams away
Well you try; you look for a way of keeping your face
But the reputation isn’t worth the patience
Who cares what they’re thinking?
Who cares what they’re whispering?

That particular song, I discovered later, was entitled “Reputation,” and served as the title track for Dusty’s new album – one that I soon acquired from a Brisbane record store.

With a mixture of surprise, dismay, and relief, I discovered that many of the songs on this album acknowledge and explore the feelings of regret and frustration so typical of a closeted, inauthentic life. Yet these songs also stress the absolute necessity of transcending such an existence through self-awareness, self-acceptance, and risk-taking.

Over the next few months, as I listened to and absorbed the music of Reputation, I found myself wondering about the woman behind the music. Who was she? What was her story, her journey? A quest was underway, and I soon began discovering some very interesting things about Dusty Springfield – things that spoke to my own situation as a closeted gay man.

Take for instance the observation of one music critic who upon listening to Dusty’s singing on Reputation, stated that she “still sings as if lost inside a world enclosed by both her headphones and her own private loneliness.”

Or this insight offered by another writer commenting on Dusty’s 1960s’ image: “Dusty Springfield was the object of an oddly furtive adolescent interest. She seemed too old for straight mod stardom, for mini-skirts and knee boots, for her black, black mascara and pale lipstick. Her image, like her hair, was brittle; the crack in her voice suggested a crack in her star masquerade. Her songs hinted at unspoken, desperate truths about sexuality that weren’t there for discussion by little boys.”

Now what closeted gay person wouldn’t resonate with observations like these?

Of course, the most significant piece of information I was to discern about Dusty Springfield was that she was the first artist in pop music to openly identify as bisexual. “I know that I’m perfectly capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy,” she famously told a reporter in 1970.

Up until that time, Dusty, like so many of us – myself included – had spent valuable time and energy building and hiding behind an elaborate persona. I guess for all of us, however, there comes a time when such personas, such facades, become just too much to bear. There comes a time when, as Dusty sings on Reputation, we have to . . .

Break away
And take the time and know your mind
And leave it all behind you and say
That’s the way I am
I was born this way

In recognizing and resonating with Dusty’s life and music, I was experiencing what writer Charles Taylor identifies as pop music’s ability to offer “a distilled and transcendent version of experience – [one] that can seem both shared and startlingly personal.”

Indeed, when Dusty sang Hey boy, it’s alright / Someone understands . . ., I had the unnerving yet exhilarating sense that she was singing directly to me – hiding fearfully as I was, behind the heterosexual persona that
my career in teaching had forced me to create and maintain.

But now, Dusty’s “songs of experience,” as one critic labeled the music of Reputation, were pushing me to question this closeted existence of mine – to the extent that I realized that it really wasn’t worth the patience. This discernment played a fundamental role in my coming out process and my decision to relocate to the United States. Perhaps you could say that in singing along with Dusty Springfield’s soulful “songs of experience,” I not only discerned a kindred spirit, but also began finding my own soul-deep voice.

In the years since, I’ve experienced first-hand just what a difficult and ongoing journey it is for GLBT people to find and lift up their unique voices within a homophobic society. It’s still a very scary endeavor to recognize, claim, and be who we truly are. In the face of a society that pushes false and inadequate life-images upon us, that demands, in other words, conformity to a heterosexual ideal, it can be difficult and dangerous to step out from behind our facades and envision and embody an alternative image – one that enables us to function from our deepest nature.

I don’t believe it is inaccurate or elitist to say that as GLBT people we are blessed with unique opportunities to live more deeply than perhaps those whose lives and experiences match the dominant heterosexual culture. Furthermore, I believe that responding to this deeper rhythm of life means that we often find ourselves on the margins.

Of course, it’s not just GLBT people who can find themselves marginalized. It’s also women, people of color, those at the lower end of our socio-economic system, and anyone who doesn’t quite fit into the mainstream. I also realize that not all people who are marginalized choose to respond to their situation in life-giving ways.

Yet I firmly believe that it we remain open and trusting of God’s love in and among us, our living on the margins can facilitate remarkable transformations – transformations not possible elsewhere; transformations that we can experience in our personal lives and which, I believe, we’re called to extend to the wider world: transformation from rigidity to openness, from external authority to personal integrity, from disconnection to interrelatedness, and from self-centeredness to generosity.

And are not these the types of transformation our world so desperately needs? Are not these the types of transformation that our brother Jesus modeled for us and calls us to embody?

Yet the paradox, the mystery, is that embodying such transformation requires long and difficult travels – soul deep travels. We all know this. Many of us have lived this truth – and continue to live it.

We know that this living can involve experiencing feelings of loss, regret, and even resentment about things we’ve missed or have had to sacrifice in order to take the time to discover who we are in a world hostile to our presence and to such self-discovery. A conscious life is not an easy one. Yet I believe that such a life is what Jesus meant when he said we are called to experience “the fullness of life.”

This “fullness” doesn’t mean experiencing an abundance of just good things. It means being open to the full spectrum of experiences that comprise the human condition. It means responding to whatever we may encounter with compassion and with a resilient confidence in the transforming power of God alive within and among us. And as I’ve said from this pulpit before, it is not the outward events and circumstances of our life that define us, that tell who and what we really are, but rather the ways in which we chose to respond to these events.

I know this to be true and yet, sometimes, I wish I could live always just on the surface – blissfully unaware of life’s depth and complexities. I wish I could just splash around in the warm safe shallows. But such places are not where I’m ultimately called to live; they’re not where I’m called to find myself, my deepest, truest self. They’re not where I can best discern how to respond to others and to the events of my life, in ways that reflect who I truly am.

And who am I? Like each one of us, I am a unique, living, relational embodiment of God’s transforming love.

I can’t deny that the deeper life can be lonely, difficult, and even dangerous – there’s always the risk of becoming embittered and judgmental. Yet I know that when I stay open to God within myself and mediated through communities of faith and intentionality, I can find what I need to lovingly undertake such a life. I can find the strength to journey on.

It’s this sense of journey, I’ve come to realize, to which I’m naturally attuned. It’s what I believe I sense and am drawn to in the life and music of Dusty Springfield and many other people who affirm and inspire me: that sense of quest, of never quite belonging yet nevertheless always striving to live and love as fully, as passionately as one can – despite the disappointments and setbacks.

It was once written of Dusty that she forged in the 1960s a “brand of pop [music] that was as steeped in the grown-up sophistication of singers like Sinatra and Peggy Lee as it was in love with the energy and vitality of rock ‘n’ roll and soul.” The result of this fusion was something quite unique: “A purveyor of young music who doesn’t sound young; a devastating chronicler of heartache who, in some essential way, knows how to protect herself.”

My friends, in our struggle to live authentically in a world often hostile to who we are and who we love, we too are chroniclers of sorrow and heartache. Yet we are also heralds of good news – for we have opened ourselves to wondrous transformations as a result of our journeys of consciousness. Let us celebrate and share the ways we have grown, the insights we’ve gained, and the circle of compassion we’ve forged and which we expand so as to include all – even those who would mean us harm.

Let us, like Dusty, share our songs of experience – songs of perception and insight, of the truth that waves of anguish and pain can serve to lift to higher, holy ground.

Let the gift of our sharing bridge the gap between seemingly separate worlds. And let the bridges we build serve to enable those on the surface who hunger for depth and meaning, to undertake their own unique journeys to God’s deep renewing places.

These qualities and efforts of ours comprise our essential way of protecting ourselves and each other. They are sacred undertakings that reflect the nature of our loving God and thus of our deepest self. And they gently remind us that our journeys are not in vain.

I know the paths I have in mind for you, says God. They serve as paths for peace, not for disaster. When you search for me with all your heart, you shall find me.


A Soul Deep Prayer

Loving God,

At times we can harbour grief and resentment for the long and difficult journeys we have undertaken. At times we can forget the ways we’ve been enriched by our immersion into “the deeper life.” We can forget the uniqueness of our experiences and the ways we’ve been empowered by them to reach out and connect with others. We can even fear hearing your call, fear going deep and finding and being who it is we truly are.

Yet still you call to us – from the depths of our hearts and through the experiences and insights of others. Your call invites us to live consciously and compassionately.

Encourage us, loving God, to trust rather than fear this call, and guide and affirm us as we continue to journey onwards in your love.


For more information about Dusty Springfield, visit Woman of Repute, my website dedicated to her life and music.

Also, for a Reputation-era interview with Dusty, click here.

See also the Wild Reed posts:
Classic Dusty
Remembering a Great Soul Singer