Monday, August 31, 2009

Out and About - August 2009

Above and left: The weekly vigil outside the corporate headquarters of Alliant Techsystems in Eden Prairie - Wednesday, August 5, 2009.

Alliant Techsystems is the largest Minnesota-based weapons manufacturer and the primary supplier of landmines, cluster bombs, nuclear missile rocket motors, and depleted uranium munitions to the U.S. Department of Defense. In addition, the corporation has sales representatives in over 60 countries. For more information about this weekly vigil, click here.

Above: My friend Jeanne with one of the Mohandas Gandhi puppets that she and others are making for a special peace event to which will take place October 2 on the 140th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth.

Above: Standing with (from left) Roy Bourgeois, MM, and Paula Ruddy and Mary Beckfeld of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).

This photo was taken a few hours before CCCR’s “An ‘Evening in the Park’ Fundraiser with Roy Bourgeois” at Lake Elmo Park Reserve, MN on Thursday, August 13.

Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest and founder of SOA Watch, is a nationally recognized advocate for peace and justice.

Above and right: CCCR’s August 13 “Evening in the Park” fundraiser with Roy Bourgeois, MM.

Over 200 people gathered at Lake Elmo Reserve’s Park Pavilion to hear Fr. Roy share his perspective on the social injustices within Roman Catholicism, and offer a clear and hopeful vision of what has been termed the “emerging church” – a growing grassroots expression of church that is participatory, collaborative, and valuing of dialogue and diversity.

(NOTE: I’m currently writing an article about this event - and the insights Fr. Roy shared - for the Progressive Catholic Voice.)

“An Evening in the Park with Roy Bourgeois” served as a major fundraiser for CCCR’s September 2010 Synod of the Baptized (entitled “Claiming Our Place at the Table”).

Above and below: On August 18 some friends and I gathered at my home in St. Paul for a “dinner and movie night.” Pictured above, from left: Bob, Rick, Brian, John, and (Bob’s younger brother) Chris.

Last month we gathered to watch the camp classic, Valley of the Dolls. This month we opted for more serious fare: director Otto Preminger’s 1962 political drama, Advise and Consent.

As Glenn Erickson notes over at DVD Savant, the film is noteworthy in gay movie history:

“Advise and Consent” has what might be the first fully-realized, out in the open, real and true homosexual subplot in a major Hollywood feature (post-1934). Gays aren’t likely to be all that impressed, as all we see is the interior of one gay bar, the 605 Club. It looks civilized enough; a Frank Sinatra song is playing. But the incident involves a man with a gay episode in his past, and just the possibility of the truth coming out panics him into taking drastic measures. . . .

Above: Chris, Bob, and John.

Above and below: Roman Catholic Womenpriests' Sixth Midwest Region Ordination in Minneapolis - Sunday, August 16, 2009.

Approximately 500 people gathered to witness the ordination of Mary Katherine Kusner to the deaconate, and Mary Frances Smith, Linda Ann Wilcox, and Mary Suzanne Styne to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican does not recognize such ordinations and last year declared that those ordained within the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement are excommunicated “in latae sententiae” - a type of excommunication which church officials say occurs automatically upon certain actions.

Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP), however, reject this penalty of excommunication, claiming that they are “loyal members of the church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy disobedience to an unjust law that discriminates against women.” Accordingly, they see their ordinations moving the Church forward “in prophetic obedience to the Spirit.” RCWP’s ultimate goal is “a new model of ordained ministry in a renewed Roman Catholic Church.”

To read more about this event, see the August 19 article I wrote for the Progressive Catholic Voice, “Ordination of Women in Minneapolis Reflects Emerging Renewal of Priesthood and Church”.”

Above: Blooming fantastic! One of the many summer blooms in my garden.

For more images, see here and here.

Above: My friends Bob and Brian share a birthday on August 30. Brian’s been my housemate for the summer, and so on the evening of the 30th we had some of our mutual friends - including Bob and his partner John, over for a party.

Right:The party on the 30th also served as a “garden party” - a chance for me to share the beauty and color of my backyard!

Pictured above (from left): Greg, Kathleen, and Rita.

Above: Bernie, Eileen, and Connie.

I’m honored to work with these three folks and others as part of the leadership of the Twin Cities-based
Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).

Above: Standing (second from left) with Eileen, Bernie, and Paula.

Paula is also part of the leadership of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR). She’s also part of the editorial team of the Progressive Catholic Voice, and a regular contributor to this important online journal. To read Paula’s latest article, click

Above: Brian, John, and Rick.

Above: Kate, David, and Michael.

David is co-founder of the organization I work for as executive coordinator, the
Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM).

Above: Kathleen, Connie, Kate, and Brigid.

Above: Bob talks Old Catholicism with Roman Catholics (and founding members of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform) Eileen and Paula.

Bob is a priest in the Old Catholic tradition. Regular Wild Reed readers would know that I interviewed Bob about Old Catholicism in September 2007. This interview can be read here. Also, for a review of Bob’s recently released book on the origin, essence, and theology of the Old Catholic Church, click here.

Above: Later that evening, a group of us - including Greg (center) and young Joey - watched the season 4 Doctor Who episode, “The Fires of Pompeii,” on DVD.

Of this particular episode Wikipedia notes:

[“The Fires of Pompeii”] takes place during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. In the episode, the Doctor is faced with a moral dilemma: whether to save any of the population of Pompeii. The Doctor’s activities in Pompeii are impeded by the rock-like Pyrovile, and their allies, the Sybilline Sisterhood, who are using the volcano to convert the humans to Pyroviles.

Donna [the Doctor’s time traveling companion] continually argues with him over the moral issue of whether or not he should save the inhabitants of Pompeii. Ultimately, they are forced to cause the eruption to happen, weighing the destruction of the city against the fate of the whole world. When they escape in the TARDIS and leave behind a family they had befriended beforehand, Donna eventually manages to persuade the Doctor to return and save them. The Doctor later admits to Donna that she was right about his needing someone.

The episode was filmed in Rome’s Cinecittà studios, and was the first time the “Doctor Who” production team took cast abroad for filming since its [2005] revival.

Bishop Gumbleton: It Isn’t the Church You’re Being Asked to Say Yes To . . . It’s Jesus

I find the following from Bishop Thomas Gumbleton to be both wise and compassionate. It’s excerpted from a homily posted August 28 on the website of the National Catholic Reporter. I particularly appreciate Gumbleton’s focus on Jesus. Not the institutional church . . . but Jesus.

And when Bishop Gumbleton says: “Those of us who stay have to keep on working for that change to make our church the institution more faithful to the way of Jesus,” I think of the important work being done by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform – a group within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis of which I’m honored to be a part. That’s exactly what we’re dedicated to: identifying and working to reform those areas of church life that many people have long recognized as being at odds with the Gospel message of love proclaimed by Jesus.


Sometimes people will say to me, “Why do you stay?” Maybe people say that to you sometimes: “Why do you stay?” When you look at the church, sometimes you become disappointed. I’m talking about what we think of as the institution of the church. . . . especially the leadership of our church, the leadership that refuses to really probe the problems that are going on in our church:

Why are people leaving?

Why do we have so few who are willing to enter into religious life, or especially into the priesthood?

Why do the bishops not look for other people who can serve in our parishes so we don't have to close them, as we're doing all over this country?

Or why now is the Vatican, under the auspices of the pope, doing an investigation of religious orders of women? Why should they be investigated? For what? They’ve been the most faithful ministers in our church, especially here in the church in the United States for hundreds of years now.

Maybe there should have been an investigation of the bishops. Why did they continue to hide those who were predators against little children? No investigation of that has ever been made; no bishop has ever been held accountable for sending a priest from one parish to another.

So we could be discouraged with the church, but you know, it isn’t the church that you’re being asked to say yes to.

Oh yes, we want to belong to a community and it’s important that we share our faith with one another – that’s how we strengthen our faith, grow in our faith, when we come together like this as believing people and declare together, “Yes, I do believe. I will follow the way of Jesus.” So we do want to belong to a community, but there has always been the problem that human institutions, which the institutional church is, can become deficient or even corrupt.

So when you are asked, “Who will you follow?” it’s not a question about really the institutional church or not. The deeper question is, “Will you follow Jesus?” Will you really become a disciple of Jesus? That’s the challenge that’s being presented to us today.

Certainly, we can respond to that challenge within the Catholic church, and my hope is that we would not have so many people leaving the church, but if they find Jesus in another way, that’s what they must do. If the institutional church is unwilling to reform itself, then perhaps more people will leave, but those of us who stay have to keep on working for that change to make our church the institution more faithful to the way of Jesus.

Above: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton at the inaugural Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice in St. Paul, MN – Friday, June 29, 2007.

Organized by a coalition of Twin Cities Catholic justice and peace groups – including Call to Action MN, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), and Pax Christi Twin Cities – the June 29 Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice saw over 100 people gather in St. Paul for a Eucharistic liturgy followed by a continental breakfast and a round table discussion – the focus of which was on ways of finding and sustaining hope in the context of both the contemporary Catholic Church and wider society.

Since that first prayer breakfast in 2007, two others have been held in the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis. The 2008 Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice featured award-winning Catholic author and historian Robert McClory, while this year’s event launched the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and featured Janet Hauter of the American Catholic Council as keynote speaker.

Above: At the inaugural Prayer Breakfast for Hope and Justice in 2007, Bishop Gumbleton was presented with a “Lifetime Achievement Award for Justice and Peace.”

Recommended Off-site Links:
Bishop Gumbleton: “For Gay Catholics, Conscience is the Key”
The Peace Pulpit: Homilies by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Stamping Out the Light
What It Means to Be Catholic
To Whom the Future of the Catholic Church Belongs
The “Underground Church”

Sunday, August 30, 2009

"More Lovely Than the Dawn"

God as Divine Lover

A Sermon by Michael J. Bayly

Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ

August 30, 2009

I had the honor of delivering the “message” this morning at Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ. As regular readers will recognize, in writing this sermon I borrowed extensively from two previous Wild Reed posts: Song of Songs: The Bible’s Gay Love Poem and Sometimes I Wonder. I also wrote the “Acknowledging Our Humaness” reading (which the community says together) before the gospel reading, which I always find a beautiful and meaningful experience.


First Reading: Song of Songs 2: 8-13

The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountain, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me: arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

Contemporary Reading: Jean Houston (from her book The Search for the Beloved)

Eros has a mission with the soul. Without Eros, the soul cannot grow; the psyche remains infantile. Eros gives psyche its yearning, its impetus, its desire for the fullness of life. The lure of Eros may not necessarily be sexual, but it is often a lure of “muchness,” a lure into deep gestating patterns of reality where you see the great forms of things, the Patterns that Connect. This lure call you to the places of re-creation in the soul where you are seeded, spiced, excited, stimulated, evoked into becoming. You become much, much more than you were, and you create much, much more than you could have before. Eros connects the personal to something beyond, and brings the beyond into personal experience. . . . Without Eros in some form, creativity suffocates; the soul does not grow. . . . Creativity is grounded in the longing for the beloved, the extended archetype of the self within the soul.

Acknowledging Our Humaness: Lover God, we give thanks and praise for the gifts, responsibilities, and challenges of embodiment. Through this wondrous experience you call us to places of re-creation within and among us. Sometimes we hesitate in journeying to such places and experiencing the fullness of life they offer. Instead, we prefer the comfort and safety of stagnation. Yet still you call us into becoming all we can be as embodied, relational individuals and communities. We thank you for this call, Beloved One, and seek your guidance and strength as we strive to lovingly respond to it.

Gospel Reading: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him: “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written:

This people honors me with their lips,
But their hearts are far from me;
In vain do they worship me,
Teaching human precepts as doctrines.

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that be going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”


Homily: “More Lovely Than the Dawn”: God as Divine Lover

During my college years in Australia in the mid-1980s, there was a popular song called “You I Know.” Written by Neil Finn and performed by Jenny Morris, this particular song includes the following lyrics:

Sometimes I wonder if I know myself
as well as I know you.
But it’s you I know
and no one else will do.
Yes, it’s you I know,
with all you put me through.
When I was drifting down,
you pulled me up again.
And it’s you I know,
you’ll love me to the end.

I’ve been very much aware of this song as it features on a Jenny Morris greatest hits CD that’s currently serving as my workout music. And when I hear “You I Know” I not only hear the words of a love song between two people, but also a spiritual ode, a psalm, if you like – one that could be sung by any one of us to our own deep sacred core, that presence within that Viktor Frankl calls the “partner of [our] most intimate soliloquies.”

There’s a sense of trust and joy in the awareness and embracing of this sacred presence. And as a gay man this is something I don’t find surprising in the least. After all, gay people by nature possess, I believe, a unique aptitude for ecstatic, joyful approaches to spirituality. Thus I find it both natural and helpful to image God, that sacred partner of my most intimate soliloquies, as a lover – an enthusiastic lover who yearns for me to feel his loving touch, his transforming embrace. In the language of the mystics, such an ecstatic image serves as the “Beloved of the soul” – and as a potential mirror image of God, the Divine Lover.

Some may find such an image shocking. But it’s really not that outlandish. After all, throughout Christian history there have always been mystics and saints who have embodied highly erotic experiences of the sacred.

We heard in our contemporary reading Jean Houston’s contention that the source of such erotic experiences, Eros, has a “mission with the soul.” And that “without Eros in some form, creativity suffocates; [and] the soul does not grow.” This is because Eros gives us the “desire for the fullness of life” – something our brother Jesus talked about and yearns for us to embody.

But what exactly is Eros?

For theologian Diarmuid Ó Murchú, Eros is the foundational energy or force that brings everything in creation into being. In their book Holy Eros, James and Evelyn Whitehead describe Eros as the “mysterious Presence at the heart of the world.” It’s a presence that’s known “through and beyond sexual arousal,” and the “vital energy” of this presence “courses through the world, enlivening and healing hearts.” The Whiteheads note that this presence “comes as gift, with a power that creates, sustains, reconciles, and heals. It is a presence that engages us personally, leading humanity beyond narrow self-interest into fuller participation in life.” In short, Eros is a presence that defies simple definition, but as theologian Michael Himes reminds us, the “least inadequate” way we have to describe it is as radical love.

You may recall that Jean Houston refers to the “lure of Eros,” which is another way of talking about the call of radical love to places within our lives and relationships that evoke and facilitate transformation – both personal and communal.

For some of our spiritual ancestors, this “lure of Eros” was indeed sexual. And in the case of St. John of the Cross, it was homosexual. Take for instance John’s beautiful poem, “On a Dark Night.” In setting this poem to music in 1994, singer/songwriter Loreena McKennitt observed that it is “an exquisite, richly metaphoric love poem between [John] and his god. It could pass as a love poem between any two, at any time.”

Of course as a gay man, the thing that appeals to me most about John’s poem is that it depicts his lover as another man.

On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings
– oh, happy chance! –
I went forth without being observed

. . . Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined
Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping,
and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand
He caressed my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

Toby Johnson writes that the allegorical explanation of John’s beautiful “On a Dark Night” is that it is about the stage of depression in the religious life, the so-called ‘dark night of the soul.’ Yet he is adamant that there is nothing in the poem about depression or spiritual suffering. Rather, it’s about sexual passion. Perhaps the lover and beloved represent the soul and Christ, says Johnson, but it’s still a homoerotic image.

Believe it or not, the Bible too has its share of homoerotic imagery. There’s the “beloved disciple” resting his head upon the breast of Jesus; there’s David and Jonathan; and there’s the Song of Songs – a book from the Hebrew scriptures that biblical scholar Paul Johnson describes as the “Bible’s gay love poem.” We heard as our first reading this morning an excerpt from Song of Songs, which is sometimes erroneously called the Song of Solomon.

Sadly, although there are male homoerotic texts, to be unearthed, there seem to be no female ones. There may have been a time when the Hebrews were not totally homophobic, but they appear to have always been totally patriarchal and thus sexist. As a result, female encounters of the divine mediated and expressed through female perspectives and experiences – including lesbian perspectives and experiences – are not part of the Hebrew tradition. This is indeed tragic.

Of course, some are outraged by the suggestion that anything in the Bible may actually have been inspired by God’s transforming presence within the loving and sexual relationship between two men. The attempts to obscure this reality are just another example of people’s fear not only of homosexuality but also of homoeroticism in human life – including the spiritual life.

But isn’t the idea of homoeroticism and, by extension, homosexual relations condemned by Jesus as “fornication”? No. The exact meaning of the word that’s translated as “fornication” is still unclear. What we can say is that it’s basically concerned with exploitive sexual relations, such as prostitution. And as Jeremiah Bartram points out in his commentary on today’s gospel reading, the “sexual evils that [Jesus] includes in his catalogue of perversity can apply equally to heterosexuals or to gays: fornication, adultery, and licentiousness. These three vices are orientation-neutral.”

I’d like to conclude by saying that in any discussion of the erotic in one’s spiritual life it’s important to remember that the ultimate goal is union with the Divine. I may visualize a handsome man when thinking of my “Beloved,” but I know full well that if I stay focused solely on the physical than that becomes problematic, spiritually. Any image of the “Beloved of the Soul” should serve as a focal point, an icon, if you will; and, like all icons, its purpose is to attract us so as to direct and encourage us ever further into the mystery that is Divine Love. Staying forever at the surface level doesn’t facilitate that wondrous transformation spoken about by St. John of the Cross, as well as by many other mystics across time, cultures, and religions.

I guess it’s like one’s relationship with one’s earthly beloved – one’s husband or wife or partner. For the record, I’m not in a relationship. But if I were I would like to think that as the years go by and both my beloved and I age, our love will have deepened to the point where we wouldn’t be seeking to satisfy our physical needs with others whose looks have yet to fade. We would have gone beyond surface things, while still being open to acknowledging and appreciating them.

Catholic author John McNeill once wrote: “Gay people constantly are in a process of discernment on how to integrate their growth in intimacy with God with their search to live out human intimacy in its fullness.”

How true! And how exhausting this process can be. I mean, it really is never-ending, isn’t it? And not just for gay people, of course, but for everyone. Still, it is more of a challenge for gay folks, I believe, as within so many secular and ecclesial institutions, homo-negativity and homophobia remain rife. Accordingly, our experiences of God in our lives and relationships are frequently dismissed and maligned. We’re told to distrust and view as life-denying our discernment of God’s call to seek and experience fullness of life – a fullness that for most of us involves seeking and building relationships that are lovingly and sexually expressed.

Yet Matthew Fox reminds us that as gay people we have a “keen awareness that . . . a healthy spiritual life must be holistic; it cannot be based on a denial and rejection of the necessary sexual component in our search for intimacy with God.”

For many people – past and present, male and female, gay and straight – this journey toward intimacy with God, and by extension with self and others, has been reflected through and enhanced by the image of God as Divine Lover.

Yes, God the Divine Lover: the constant companion, the Beloved; always present deep within and all around us – guiding, accompanying, supporting, loving.

. . . Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined
Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

May each one of us know the touch and embrace of the Beloved, of God our Divine Lover. Amen.

Michael J. Bayly
Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ
August 30, 2009

For other homilies I’ve delivered, see the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany
Praying for George W. Bush
On the Road with Punk Rockers and Homeless Mothers
Something We Dare Call Hope
Soul Deep
Disarming the Weapons Within
The Harvest Within the Heart
Somewhere in Between
Dispatches from the Periphery

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
God is Love
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Getting It Right
Making Love, Giving Life
Relationship: The Crucial Factor in Sexual Morality
The Sacrament of . . . Relationships
Jesus and the Centurion (Part 1)
Jesus and the Centurion (Part 2)
Compassion, Christian Community, and Homosexuality
Love is Love
And Love is Lord of All
Lover of Us All
Just Now and Then
One Fearless Kiss
The Holy Pleasure of Intimacy
The Gifts of Homosexuality
The Challenge to Become Ourselves

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Helianthus annuus

The sunflowers in my backyard are blooming! And they’re a beautiful sight.

Accompanying these pictures of my sunflowers are some interesting facts (courtesy of Wikipedia) about this particular plant.


Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are annual plants native to the Americas, that possess a large inflorescence (flowering head). Sunflower stems can grow as high as 3m (10 ft), and the flower head can reach 30 cm (11.8 in) in diameter with large edible seeds. The term “sunflower” is also used to refer to all plants of the genus Helianthus, many of which are perennial plants.

What is usually called the flower is actually a head (formally composite flower) of numerous florets (small flowers) crowded together. The outer florets are the sterile ray florets and can be yellow, maroon, orange, or other colors. The florets inside the circular head are called disc florets, which mature into what are traditionally called “sunflower seeds,” but are actually the fruit (an achene) of the plant. The inedible husk is the wall of the fruit and the true seed lies within the kernel. The florets within the sunflower’s cluster are arranged in a spiral pattern.

Sunflowers in the bud stage exhibit heliotropism. At sunrise, the faces of most sunflowers are turned towards the east. Over the course of the day, they follow the sun from east to west, while at night they return to an eastward orientation. This motion is performed by motor cells in the pulvinus, a flexible segment of the stem just below the bud. As the bud stage ends, the stem stiffens and the blooming stage is reached.

Sunflowers in their blooming stage lose their heliotropic capacity. The stem becomes “frozen,” typically in an eastward orientation. The stem and leaves lose their green color.

The wild sunflower typically does not turn toward the sun; its flowering heads may face many directions when mature. However, the leaves typically exhibit some heliotropism.

The sunflower is native to the Americas. The evidence thus far is that it was first domesticated in Mexico, by at least 2600 BC. It may have been domesticated a second time in the middle Mississippi Valley, or been introduced there from Mexico at an early date, as maize was. The earliest known examples of a fully domesticated sunflower north of Mexico have been found in Tennessee and date to around 2300 BC. Many indigenous American peoples used the sunflower as the symbol of their solar deity, including the Aztecs and the Otomi of Mexico and the Incas in South America. Francisco Pizarro was the first European to encounter the sunflower in Tahuantinsuyo, Peru. Gold images of the flower, as well as seeds, were taken back to Spain early in the 16th century.

During the 18th century, the use of sunflower oil became very popular in Europe, particularly with members of the Russian Orthodox Church because sunflower oil was one of the few oils that was not prohibited during Lent.

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Celebrating Two Pioneers

Today is the 184th anniversary of the birth of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (pictured at right), whom academic Les Wright declares, “arguably the first modern theorist of sexual orientation and advocate for equality before the law for sexual minorities.” (For more about this courageous pioneer of the modern gay movement, see last year’s Wild Reed post, Remembering Karl Heinrich Ulrichs.

People all around the world today are celebrating the anniversary of Ulrich’s birth, and I thought I’d do my bit by sharing the music video below and dedicating it to Ulrichs. As you’ll see, this video is composed of a montage of scenes from the 1987 film Maurice – scenes that depict the love between the aristocratic Maurice Hall (played by James Wilby) and gamekeeper Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves). The film is an adaptation of E. M. Forster’s novel of the same name.

Of this landmark novel Wikipedia notes:

A tale of homosexual love in early 20th century England, it follows Maurice Hall from his schooldays, through university and beyond. It was written from 1913 onwards. Although it was shown to selected friends, such as Christopher Isherwood, it was only published in 1971 after Forster’s death.

The novel is remarkable for its time in describing same-sex love in a non-condemnatory way. Forster resisted publication because of public and legal attitudes to homosexuality — a note found on the manuscript read: “Publishable, but worth it?” Forster was particularly keen that his novel should have a happy ending, but knew that this would make the book too controversial. However, by the time he died, British attitudes and law had changed.

I’m sure you’d agree that both Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and E. M. Forster (pictured at right) were pioneers in their own ways.

All the more reason, then, to share on this 184th anniversary of Ulrichs’ birth, the following video that celebrates those scenes from the film version of Forster’s novel that beautifully depict the love that is possible between two men. Enjoy!

Note: This music video was created by Muttzrock777. The song featured is “Perfect” by PJ and Duncan (aka Ant and Dec).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Remembering Karl Heinrich Ulrichs
A Simple Yet Radical Act

Recommended Off-site Links:
A review by Les Wright of Hubert Kennedy’s Karl Heinrich Ulrichs: Pioneer of the Modern Gay Movement.
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs: An Early Advocate of Peace and Equality - Hubert Kennedy.
A website dedicated to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and to various efforts that keep his memory alive.
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ entry in the Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture.
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs T-shirt!

Musical artists previously featured at The Wild Reed”:
Cass Elliot, The Church, Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield, Wall of Voodoo, Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy, Pink Floyd, Kate Ceberano, Judith Durham, Wendy Matthews, Buffy Sainte-Marie, 1927, Mavis Staples, Maxwell, Joan Baez, Tee Set, Darren Hayes, Wet, Wet, Wet, Engelbert Humperdinck, The Cruel Sea, Shirley Bassey, Loretta Lynn & Jack White, Maria Callas, Foo Fighters, Jenny Morris, Scissor Sisters, Kate Bush, Rufus Wainwright, and Dusty Springfield.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Eugene Kennedy on Roman Catholicism's "Post-Hierarchical Blues"


Catholic author and psychologist Eugene Cullen Kennedy – whom I first became aware of when I discovered his excellent book, The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality - has an article in the latest issue of the National Catholic Reporter (NCR). Actually, “article” doesn’t do justice to Kennedy’s latest inspired, literate, and richly evocative work.

Yes, it really is that good! Take for instance this paragraph:

The sexual wounds in Catholicism can never be healed and the Sex Abuse Crisis never resolved in the unhealthy atmosphere, acknowledged or not, that prevails in the full court press to restore dead Old Church hierarchical practices and privileges to a Church that can only thrive collegially. The Vatican Blues are like New Orleans funeral music trailing off a lost procession wandering through a maze of side streets so that it jolts the moldering corpse of hierarchy along on its catafalque but never buries it.

Following are further excerpts from Kennedy’s NCR piece, “The Vatican Blues.”


The proposed investigation of American nuns is the latest riff in the Vatican Blues, better understood as the Post-Hierarchical Blues that now drift as dolefully as the Dies Irae once did across St. Peter’s Square. This Roman run on nuns is a transparent effort to restore high noon glory to the hierarchical style on which the sun of history set long ago. A sad but simple analysis reveals that this inquisition is a prime, but by no means singular, example of Virtual Sex Abuse that can be found in today’s Church.

Virtual Sex Abuse describes actions, often sprinkled with holy water and haloed with incense fumes that share genetic markers with physical and psychological violations of the Sex Abuse Crisis. In each, the powerful look down on the powerless as beneath and subject to them and exercise their power over them to control them by humiliating and demeaning them. This process is always swathed in the camouflage of pseudo-authority – how many times have you heard it? – this is “good for you,” we don’t take questions and you are never allowed to talk about this either. In short, and though it is infinitely subtler, it’s Father Maciel masquerading as Mother Superior.

Fever Spikes

This inquiry into the women who did nothing less than build the Catholic Church in the United States, is also related to other sacred sorrows, such as the self-satisfied efforts to repudiate and repeal Vatican II, as well as to other lesser embarrassments including Pope Benedict’s raising the Lazarus of the Latin Mass from the dead and his giving general absolution to heretical Lefevbrists while offering a particular scolding to loyal theologians as “dissenters.” On the hospital chart of history, however, these actions are not evidence of Roman triumphalism’s revived vigor; they are rather temperature spikes in the Roman fever to resurrect the long dead hierarchical form.

These febrile readings indicate that these restless assaults on good people, women religious and sound theologians are the symptoms of ecclesiastical necrophilia, the perverse public embrace of dead hierarchical methods to regain live control over the Church. The Church possesses the generative authority that flows from the word’s Latin root, augere, meaning to grow, to increase, to create, or to help others to develop fully. Bureaucrats corrupt this, however, into authoritarianism, a style of controlling or limiting persons, of stifling their growth to keep them as docile as children. Common sense, or the sense of the Catholic community, tells us that authority is healthy and authoritarianism is unhealthy. . .

Reading the Signs of the Times

At Vatican II, the oldest of institutions sensed and reacted to the newest of things a full generation before General Motors or General Electric, along with other industrial giants, realized that hierarchies no longer worked. Vatican II’s assembled bishops spoke of “something new coming into human experience” and, reading the signs of the times, grasped that the age of hierarchy had ended. In their clearest response to the inexorable change underway the Council Fathers returned to the concept of collegiality that recognized that bishops possessed authority by their ordination rather than by delegation from the Pope, and that they presided over local Churches rather than as pro-consuls carrying out the orders of a monarchical Pope.

The Church was meanwhile involved in an exciting but disordering renewal. In his recent memoir, Archbishop Rembert Weakland poignantly describes Pope Paul VI’s touching but personally exhausting efforts to preserve the collegial spirit of Vatican II against the massive efforts of curial officials to reinstate hierarchical control in their Vatican offices. To his successor, John Paul II, the Vatican Blues sounded like the Communist Internationale. He resolved to drown them out with the Gregorian Chant of a refurbished choir of complacent bishops who would loudly sing the one note scale of hierarchy. Pope Benedict XVI, despite demonstrating sensitivity to human personality in his first encyclical on love, has continued these policies with the mannered but nonetheless Teutonic rigor with which he presided over the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

That Old Time Religion

The Vatican Blues bewail the present widespread attempt to bring the Church into the second decade of the 21st century by returning to the first decade of the 20th century. The hierarchical presumptions about divided personality that placed enmity between the spirit and the flesh, relentlessly subordinated the married to the celibate, and condescendingly claimed superiority and protected status for clerics: these were the necessary and sufficient conditions for the steady, tangled, largely hidden but widely seeded growth that led to the bitter harvest of the Sex Abuse Scandal. This scandal was not, as is often superficially charged, a result of Vatican II’s new “liberal” Church but rather of Vatican I’s old, controlling, secretive, conservative and clerically top heavy Church. That long unreformed sexually conflicted ecclesiastical culture that preyed upon immature seminarians, stunting their psycho-sexual growth, before they preyed in turn on the children placed in their care.

Bringing back that old Church re-energizes the hierarchical ethos that generated and rationalized the modern slaughter of the innocents known as sex abuse. The resolution of the Sex Abuse Crisis has not been blocked by the massive legal actions pending against the official Church. The latter are the bitter fruits of the late hierarchical culture’s expectation that the police, the professionals, and their own people would give it cover from publicity, public inquiry, or public humiliation in the justice system. Clearing up the Sex Abuse Crisis is stalled at the intersection shut down long ago by the hierarchical truck that lumbered out of the past to collide with the future, stopping traffic in all directions.

One of the most familiar strains of the Vatican Blues is played by the street musicians who watch one of the most common and painful examples of the conflicts engendered by the efforts to restore an Old Church in New Times. That is the clash reported almost every day between lay Catholics who believe in the Church of Vatican II and bishops who have been told to restore the old hierarchical Church of Vatican I. . . .

The Sexual Sub-Text

As traditional Blues music is saturated with sexual longing, frustration, and the risky gambles of love, so the Vatican Blues are drenched with conflicted and suppressed sexuality. Its signature theme can be felt in the irregular rhythms of hearts numbed by the hierarchical denial of ordinary people’s simple hunger to be human. This commonplace sexual restiveness is no less real for its being regarded with the hierarchical condescension expressed by Pope John Paul II. His attitude was as hard to read as his Slavic half smile because, although he championed the person in abstract philosophical writing, he urged an idealized sexuality that transcended the human condition.

In this well remembered pope’s view from on high, personality was divided into superior and inferior areas whose borders were as volatile as those between Israel and Palestine. For John Paul II, the good elements were the intellect and the soul and the suspect elements were the body and the flesh. John Paul II believed that, even for the married, foregoing sex was, as classic hierarchical thinking expresses it, a higher good.

It was this long false and painful hierarchical structuring of the person by Church leaders that inflicted a sexual wound on believers who were thereby made to feel guilty for the alleged crime of being human and being sexual. Church officials closed the great bronze doors of St. Peter’s, leaving the cries of the sexually wounded to be swallowed up by the cheers of the pilgrims crowding the square outside. Such misunderstanding and mismanagement of the sexually violated set off the weeping beat of the Vatican Blues, that plangent lament rising from the tumbled and telescoped cars of the Hierarchical crash scene.

A swift sad current of conflicted sexuality sweeps through the major issues in contemporary Catholicism from birth control and celibacy to resurgent clericalism’s ambivalence toward homosexuals and its allergic reaction to women. Their common elements are found in the Sex Abuse Crisis. The latter symbolizes the boxes within boxes of ecclesiastical structures and presumptions that are functions of the very hierarchical form that, following the intransigent convictions of his never-quite-pleased-with-us predecessor, the present we-never-quite-know-what-he-thinks-of-us Pope is determined to restore in the Church. It is impossible to imagine that John Paul II was or that Benedict XVI is aware of how an old Church hierarchical dynamic played a role in fostering this indefensible sex abuse, prompted its formal but profoundly flawed ecclesiastical defense, its lingering insensitivity to its victims and its inherent resistance to attempts to resolve it. . . .

Submission as Mission

The Vatican Blues can be heard in the spinning wheels of the overturned Hierarchical truck, its fuel bleeding across the pavement strewn with contents taken from ancient tombs. Papal orders for bishops to right the vehicle and to get it running again are destined to fail. The bishops are dutiful but are not ennobled by and are minimally appreciated for making daily efforts to carry out these orders. The hierarchical imperative traps them in a Faustian bargain in which they are commissioned with power over others in exchange for their submission to the power of the institution.

Submission is the lost chord in the Vatican variations of the Blues; nobody wants to admit how it haunts the melancholy music. Bishops accept submission as an aspect of their roles without understanding how much or what they must surrender of themselves to its veiled dictates.

Through their trusting submission they make themselves vulnerable, never suspecting that, in the exchange, power will be used against them. Their resulting wound is secret and they bear silently what the Code Hierarchical demands of them. This parallels exactly the experience of the victims of sex abuse who make themselves vulnerable by submitting trustingly, never suspecting that clergymen will use their power in an unhealthy way against them. These latter victims are typically told to bear their wounds in secret and in silence following the frayed but familiar phrase, “for the good of the Church.”

The bishops are therefore victims in what only seems to be a bloodless or sexless transaction in which they must submit themselves completely not to the Church of Jesus but to the arbitrary Mayan gods of hierarchy. The essence of the experience is the same for all victims: Somebody with power exercises it over somebody who lacks countervailing power or possesses no power at all. Victims, be they boys surrendering to the needs a controlling priest or bishops yielding to the demands of a controlling curia, submit to an unmistakably unhealthy transaction that yields satisfaction to those wielding power but takes something that can never be retrieved from those on whom it is exercised.

The Sex Abuse Scandal grew out of the hierarchical soil that is rich in the minerals of unchecked power that always corrupts by distorting healthy authority into unhealthy authoritarianism. The latter’s presumption to privileged control of other persons recapitulates the essence of sex abuse. Hardly any bishops are hard at heart hierarchs and, as the Sheehan-Kobler research at Chicago’s Loyola University shows, most of them are actually uneasy about exercising the power of their office. They are victims of the hierarchical culture to which they sacrifice themselves, “over-committing” themselves, as Erik Erickson wrote of youth’s vulnerability to great causes, to the hierarchical system that may not ask them for a down payment on entrance but forecloses swiftly once they are inside its pseudo-sacred confines.

Bishops may often feel but cannot express the sting and throb of submitting themselves to Roman commands because the latter are always presented as tests of their loyalty to the Pope and of their absolute acceptance of his teaching authority or Magisterium. Like soldiers carrying out orders to charge in the foggy heat of battle, many bishops may not even know how seriously they have been wounded until afterward, perhaps only after they are transferred, retired, or find themselves left, without hope of further advancement, to wait for death, wondering why they were not fully rewarded for a life of loyalty, everything is fine, they say, smiling weakly for a last photo for the diocesan paper as the hierarchical procession passes by without them. . . .

Burying the Dead

The sexual wound in the lives of Catholics remains so because Church officials are themselves caught in hierarchical pressures whose unhealthy aspects they do not recognize. Dedicated hierarchical bureaucrats will not examine the negative and damaging aspects of this dead process because for them it is an elixir, the Vatican Viagra by which they maintain their potency.

That explains why they have rejected Vatican II with its renewal of the collegiality that would disturb lives whose snug arrangements depend on hierarchy’s survival. The Vatican II Deniers among the clergy are less enamored of so-called doctrinal purity than that of the less than pure enjoyment of exaggerated hierarchical privileges. Often self-absorbed, such clergy offer, in their frequently condescending treatment of their people, further examples of the virtual domination/submission sex abuse that lies at the chilled heart of the elaborately rationalized this-is-good-for-you investigation of American women religious.

The sexual wounds in Catholicism can never be healed and the Sex Abuse Crisis never resolved in the unhealthy atmosphere, acknowledged or not, that prevails in the full court press to restore dead Old Church hierarchical practices and privileges to a Church that can only thrive collegially. The Vatican Blues are like New Orleans funeral music trailing off a lost procession wandering through a maze of side streets so that it jolts the moldering corpse of hierarchy along on its catafalque but never buries it. Perhaps now, however, we finally understand those once puzzling words of Jesus, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

- Eugene Cullen Kennedy
National Catholic Reporter
August 25, 2009

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
No Patriarchal Hierarchy, No Rigid Conformity
The Holarchical Church: Not a Pyramid But a Web of Relationships
Genuine Authority
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Trading with Frozen Truths
Rome Falling
What Is It That Ails You?

Image 1: Photographer unknown.
Image 2: “Return to Old and New Orleans” by Drue Kataoka.
Image 3: “Funeral March” by Charles Coleman.