Monday, January 23, 2012

Seeking Balance

A Sufi tries to keep harmony in his surroundings,
the harmony which demands many sacrifices.
Harmony is that which makes beauty. The natural
tendency of every soul is towards harmony.

– Hazrat Inayat Khan
The Art of Being and Becoming

Let me preface this post by saying that I'll be taking a hiatus from blogging for the next month or so.

Part of the reason for this is straight forward enough: I have quite a number of work-related commitments to both CPCSM and Catholics for Marriage Equality MN that require my time and energy. In addition, I'll shortly be relocating to South Minneapolis after living for the past eight years across the river in St. Paul. As I'm sure many of my readers can attest, 'moving house' is never a simple undertaking.

I recently realized that since starting this blog in May 2006, the longest I've gone without posting is three days! Generally I post something every day and so it's going to feel very strange to not be devoting a good part of my time and energy on researching and writing. But I'm feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the above mentioned tasks and responsibilities, and so feel the need to take a break.

Also, as my good friend Joan recently reminded me, even though I've been working part-time since last June as a coordinator with a local meals-on-wheels program, I really haven't scaled back in other areas of my life – including my writing for this blog – so as to accommodate this particular change. This too is contributing, I believe, to my feeling overwhelmed. Hence the need to step back, take time out, and seek to create some balance, some harmony, in my life.

Now, as many of my readers would know, I often employ the image of a dancer as a metaphor for the spiritual life, or rather, my spiritual life. I have, after all, the "
soul of a dancer"!

Yet currently, every area of my life seems to be out-of-balance. For example, I lack discipline in working-out; I can't seem to find the time to meditate and pray; I haven't been eating healthily; and, as I mentioned above, I feel somewhat overwhelmed by the challenges of working to defeat the "marriage amendment" and by the prospect of my impending move. In short, if I was an actual dancer, I'd be an undisciplined and lousy one.

I actually began realizing the need for some time-out when, earlier this month, I made the conscious decision to attend a spiritual retreat hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. As most of you know, I'm a consociate member of this particular Catholic order.

This retreat was entitled "Stirring the Fire: A Midwinter Day of Reflection on Change," and it definitely served to begin getting this "soul dancer" back into shape!

For a start, the day's focus on change definitely challenged me. I have, after all, experienced a lot of changes this past year – including the aforementioned new part-time job, an
intensifying of focus and activity with my work with CPCSM, and the sudden death of a dear friend and colleague. In light of these and a number of other changes, I found the retreat's activities and prayers very helpful and affirming. They stretched me, strengthened me, and invigorated me.

For instance, one activity invited participants to reflect upon the changes in their lives and to discern a pattern. Here's how I responded to this invitation:

Hopefully, the ways in which I have chosen to respond to the recent and upcoming changes in my life contribute to an ever-expanding life of intentionality, meaning and service; of surrender and transformation. It's a life by which I continually seek to become an ever-truer embodiment of the sacred in the world; a "better person," in other words, by which I mean a more compassionate, less fearful pilgrim; a more trusting and loving dervish; a more flexible and graceful "soul dancer."

We were also asked to identify the daily and momentous "yeses" that challenge and inspire us. Mine are as follows:

"Yes" to being open to new opportunities and experiences that invite movement beyond the safe and comfortable and into the journey of transformation.

"Yes" to the paradigm shift that I believe God, at this time in humanity's journey, is calling us to communally and individually embody. It's a shift from greed to justice, from apathy to love, from war to peace, from mindless consumption to sustainability, from fear that keeps us imprisoned to trust that inspires us to action.

"Yes" to being very intentional in setting aside time and space to be in God's presence in a very conscious way.

"Yes" to remaining loving and hopeful in the midst of the many challenges and uncertainties of life, including others' opposition to change and transformation, to our evolution as people and as church.

Feeling as overwhelmed and out-of-balance as I currently do, it's difficult to respond to these challenges with the resounding "yes" that I feel I'm called to do. The remedy to this situation definitely seems to involve taking time out.

One last thought: As I embark on my hiatus from blogging so as to focus on specific tasks at hand and to seek balance in my life, I know I can't achieve anything of lasting value on my own. I'm going to need the support of family and friends – support I'm already receiving and for which I'm incredibly thankful. I also know that in seeking the balance I long for I must make time to feel and respond to the loving and guiding presence of God, my soul-dancing partner. I long to feel myself held, guided and lifted by his touch. This seems particularly important to me – essential, in fact – if I am to do all that I feel called to do. And that includes, at some future time, resuming this blog.

Heart of my heart, I call to You;
You hear my cry and support me.
Should You remain silent in me,
I walk as in a desert waste.
You heed the voice of my humble request
when I call your Holy name,
when I lift my hands,
O Holy One,
to acknowledge the power of Your love.

. . . Blessed are You, Heart of my heart!
for You heed the cry of my spirit.
You are my strength and my protection;
into your hands I commend my soul.

– An excerpt from Psalm 28
From Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness
by Nan C. Merrill

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Soul of a Dancer
"More Lovely Than the Dawn": God as Divine Lover
Something We Dare Call Hope
Clarity, Hope and Courage
One Thousand!

Opening image and images 3-5: From Men in Motion: The Art and Passion of the Male Dancer by François Rousseau.
Image 2: Tom Long in
The Book of Revelation.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


It was his eyes that drew me.

The day had become too severe
– the glaring heat, the jostling crowds,
my empty wine glass coated in dust.

I hastened toward the shade of the trees and the juggler's hut.
"Free Juggling Lessons," a sign proclaimed,
and a thought rose within my weary mind.

Ah, to juggle! Not objects, but the vagaries of one's life
– the disappointments, the fears, the regrets;
to send them all skyward and blur them into transcendental colors!
to balance them and view them anew in their motion
as realities from which I can learn,
as realities that indeed hold meaning.

"Would you like to learn?"
The young juggler's rapid movements and focused expression ceased
as he calmly looked toward me and awaited my response.
Yes, it was his eyes that drew me,
that beckoned me to accept;
his eyes that conveyed patient and sincere encouragement
as I fumbled and dropped the balls again and again.

I may not have juggled the physical objects
for more than a moment,
but already my spirits were soaring,
my hopes revived.

Before departing I asked if I could take his photograph.
He smiled, lay down his juggling balls and fetched the pins.
"These look more dramatic," he explained
with a wry and enthusiastic grin.

He juggled.

And his photograph I took.

Image: "Ben" by Michael J. Bayly (Minnesota Renaissance Festival, August 1996).

Saturday, January 21, 2012

An Inspiring Event

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking at a very inspiring event. It was a day-long conference entitled "Cultivating Respect: Creating Safe Schools for All Students." Geared for teachers, social workers, administrators, counselors, parents of GLBTQ individuals, students, GLBTQ youth and allies, and Gay/Straight Alliance leaders, the "Cultivating Respect" conference was organized and sponsored by PFLAG Twin Cities and held at Hamline University in St. Paul.

Along with three others I spoke on a panel entitled "How Religion Can Help (Since We’ve Mainly Done the Opposite)." I shared my insights and experiences as a Catholic educator, author and reformer. Here's how the panel was described in the conference program:

Breck chaplain and GSA adviser John Bellaimey moderates this panel which debunks religious myths and shows how people of different religious backgrounds can advocate for LGBT students. The panel features Protestant Mark Osler, head of the Association of Religious Law Schools; Michael Bayly, educator and author of Creating Safe Schools for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective; Muslim Blake student Asma Haidara; and Rabbi Melissa Simon, Director of Lifelong Learning at Shir Tivkah Synagogue in Minneapolis.

During my presentation I noted that in writing and compiling Creating Safe Schools for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective, I consciously made a point of highlighting those aspects of Catholic teaching that affirm and support the creating of an informed, respectful and safe environment for LGBT students in Catholic schools. For instance, in their 1981 document Education in Human Sexuality for Christians, the U.S. Catholic Bishops note that:

[Teenagers] need basic information regarding homosexuality. . . . They should be helped to integrate their developing sexuality into their relational lives in ways that reflect respect for themselves and others and foster mutual personal growth. . . . Knowledge, in itself, is not harmful. Therefore, every major facet of knowledge and values in relation to sexuality should be covered at some point . . . including such subjects as homosexuality. . . . To withhold knowledge or to answer questions dishonestly can only lead to misinformation and a warped set of values.

Since 1981, however, the bishops' wise call for knowledge and the honest answering of questions (i.e., dialogue) has been ignored in favor of a demand for unquestioning obedience to the clerical caste's understanding and teaching on human sexuality.

Not surprisingly, then, when Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective was published in 2007, the Vatican response to it was one of denouncement. Archbishop Angelo Amato of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote to then-Archbishop Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis and informed him that the book was “not suitable to be used in Catholic schools” as it “calls into question the teaching of the Church on homosexuality.” Clearly, unquestioning obedience to the church's erroneous and dysfunctional sexual theology trumps efforts to create safe and respectful environments for students. This is a great tragedy as the demand for unquestioning obedience cancels out any need for listening. And without listening there can be no true respect for others.

Of course, during my presentation I also highlighted positive aspects of the Catholic tradition. In particular, I talked about Catholicism's sacramental nature from which we discern that the hallmark of the faith isn't unquestioning obedience but openness to God throughout creation – including within the lives and relationships of LGBT people. I also talked about the
primacy of conscience and the church's teachings on social justice. As I've noted elsewhere, the social justice teachings of the Church are clearly rooted in Jesus’ life and preaching. Not so the church’s teaching on homosexuality. For many Catholics the call for social justice supersedes certain teachings of the church that reflect a medieval and inadequate understanding of human sexuality – teachings that, accordingly, are unresponsive to the presence and movement of the Spirit in the lives of LGBT people.

PFLAG's "Cultivating Respect" conference facilitated and modeled the type of knowledge-sharing, listening and dialogue that is sadly lacking in the Catholic Church, at least at the official level. It should be noted that such respect-cultivating activities are definitely taking place at the grassroots, as evidenced locally by the "home church" gatherings currently being facilitated by Catholics for Marriage Equality MN.

We have a long way to go, however, before topics like the following ones covered by the "Cultivating Respect" conference are openly discussed and explored at all levels of the Catholic Church.

A Place at the Whiteboard: Diverse Educational Professionals Collaborating to Create Safe Schools for LGBTQ Youths

Impact on Physical and Mental Health: The Chronic and Acute Trauma of Bullying in LGBT Youth

How to Create Safe Spaces for Transgender Students: Language and Practices to Ensure a Safe and Nurturing Environment for Students on the Transgender Spectrum

Creating Safe Spaces Beyond the GSA: How Students Can Create Positive Change in Their Schools

The Minnesota Marriage Amendment: Is it Government-Sanctioned Bullying?

I should also mention that the conference's keynote speaker was Jamie Nabozny who, after years of harassment and abuse as a student, won a landmark lawsuit in federal court that established that young people deserve a safe educational experience. His story is told in Bullied, a short documentary film produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center. I can remember hearing Nabozny speak in 2002, when he was the featured speaker at a Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) event at St. Albert the Great Church in South Minneapolis.

Following is Minnesota Public Radio's coverage of the "Cultivating Respect" conference.


Gay and Lesbian Issues
on Tap at Bullying Summit

By Tom Weber

Minnesota Public Radio
January 20, 2012

Organizers of an anti-bullying summit in St. Paul Friday say they're glad the issue is getting wider attention, but schools still have more to do.

The Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays-hosted event at Hamline University focuses specifically on the bullying of gay and lesbian school students.

Board member Gretchen Murr said the need for more information has been evident when she speaks in schools.

"We were finding teachers begging for information," Murr said. "We decided that we were going to try to put it together."

Speakers included Jamie Nabozny, who won a landmark LGBT harassment lawsuit in the 1990s.

He said some schools and students are doing great work to raise awareness, but there are still stigmas to overcome. He cited the example that physical bullying is treated as more severe than verbal bullying.

"The words that were spoken to me and the things that were said to me will stick in my head forever," he said. "But I don't remember the physical pain I endured from the beatings, when people hit me. I don't remember that. And so it bothers me when kids, but even adults, will downplay the impact that verbal harassment has."

Nabozny said prevention efforts must include all three people involved in bullying: the bully, the victim and the bystander.

The Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center is planning an anti-bullying event in March.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Bullied Gay Teen Finds Purpose
-- Maria Elena Baca (Star Tribune, January 19, 2012).
Students in Blake's Justice League to Be Honored at Hamline Anti-Bullying Conference
-- Beth Hawkins (, January 17, 2012).

For more about CPCSM's role in safe staff training in the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese, see the following Wild Reed posts:
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 3)
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 4)

Also, for reviews of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective, see here, here and here.

Quote of the Day

A Minneapolis priest confessed this week that for the first time since he started parish ministry over 30 years ago, people are telling him they're embarrassed to be Catholic. The Archbishop's letter to priests, leaked to the Minneapolis Star Tribune last Sunday by The Progressive Catholic Voice, has apparently raised great alarm among the faithful. His demand for priestly silence and his egregious distortion of intention held by those who wish to vote "NO" on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment have inspired humiliation among rank and file Catholics.

We say, don't be embarrassed. Be angry.

Love your church. Remember all the good that flows from so many ecclesial corners and times. Love even those within the Church who attempt to bring hierarchical authority to distorted, destructive levels.

But be angry. . . .

– Jim Smith
"Gospel Anger"
Sensus Fidelium
January 21, 2012

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
PCV Publishes Archbishop Nienstedt's Marriage Amendment Directives to Priests
What Part of Jesus' Invitation to "Be Not Afraid" Don't the Bishops Get?
A Head and Heart Response to the Catholic Hierarchy's Opposition to Marriage Equality
A Catholic Statement of Support for Marriage Equality
Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality

Recommended Off-site Links:
Archbishop Nienstedt Tells Priests Not to Voice Dissent – Rose French (Star Tribune, January 18, 2012).
Archbishop in Minnesota Opposes Marriage Equaliy, Dissent in Equal Measure (January 17, 2012).
Catholics for Marriage Equality MN

Friday, January 20, 2012

St. Sebastian: "The Most Frequently Renewed Archetype of Modern Gay Identity"

Well, modern gay male identity, perhaps.

The quote in the title of this post is from Richard Kaye's scholarly article about St. Sebastian and his iconography through the ages. This article is from, the world's largest encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer culture. Kaye is Assistant Professor of English at Hunter College, and is currently working on a book about St. Sebastian in nineteenth-century art and literature.

Below (with added links) is an excerpt from Kaye's article, followed by links to previous Wild Reed posts about St. Sebastian, whose feast is celebrated today in the Roman Catholic tradition.

. . . Sebastian's extraordinary success as a "gay saint" is related to his status as an updated replacement for other culturally resonant "homosexual legends" – Hadrian and Antinous, Jonathan and David, Ganymede – whose narratives were reducible to narratives of love.

But the essence of Sebastian's tale resists such sentimentalization, standing as a modern emblem of radical isolationism, both a homoerotically charged object of desire and a source of solace for the rejected homosexual.

Since the advent of AIDS, St. Sebastian's historical position as a saint with the power to ward off the plague has been given a new sustenance, inspiring artists, such as the late David Wojnarowicz, to incorporate the martyr into their works. In painting, literature, film, music, theater, performance art, and recently, a video for the rock group R.E.M., St. Sebastian remains the most frequently renewed archetype of modern gay identity.

For more on St. Sebastian at The Wild Reed, see:
The Allure of St. Sebastian
"From Byzantine Daddy to Baroque Twink" – Charles Darwent on the Journey of St. Sebastian
Sebastian: Saint, Martyr, Gay Icon

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Inherent Sensuality of Roman Catholicism
Sergius and Bacchus: Martyrs, Saints, Lovers
Honoring (and Learning from) the Passion of Saints Sergius and Bacchus
The Archangel Michael as Gay Icon
St. Michael the Archangel: Perspectives and Portraits
Song of Songs: The Bible's Gay Love Poem
Officially Homophobic, Intensely Homoerotic
Let's Face It: The Catholic Church is a Gay Institution
Gay People and the Spiritual Life

Image 1: "Saint Sebastian and his Executioners" (1870) by Gustave Moreau.
Image 2: "Saint Sebastian" by Onorio Marinari (1627-1715).
Image 3: Gustave Moreau.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lisa Cressman's Concise, Reasonable Answers to Marriage Equality Questions

Last Saturday the Minneapolis Star Tribune published an op-ed by Dan Nye entitled "Why Should I Accept Same-Sex Couples?," in which Nye posed "six questions for supporters of same-sex marriage to answer – forthrightly."

Local Episcopalian priest Lisa Cressman responded to Nye's challenge, and the editors of the Star Tribune selected her rebuttal as representative of the many others they received.

Cressman's responses stand in stark contrast to the bizarre claims recently made by Minneapolis-St. Paul Roman Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt, including the claim that "the end game of those who oppose the marriage amendment that we [the Catholic bishops of Minnesota] support is not just to secure certain benefits for a particular minority, but, I believe, to eliminate the need for marriage altogether." (For my friend Jim Smith's thoughts on this particular contention of Archbishop Nienstedt's, click here.)

Published in yesterday's edition of the paper, Lisa Cressman's refreshingly calm, reasonable and concise answers to Dan Nye's questions on marriage equality are reprinted in their entirety below.


Marriage Questions, Asked and Answered

By Lisa Cressman

Star Tribune
January 18, 2012

1. Where our ancestors all dumb and bigoted?

Our ancestors knew many truths, but not all. A common example of what our ancestors held to be self-evident, biblically sanctioned truth, which we now hold in abhorrence, is slavery. It's appropriate to ask ourselves whether a particular societal tradition is the best way for us to continue.

2. Don't our sexual organs exist for reproduction?

Reproduction is one of their purposes, but so is intimacy. If our sexual organs existed solely for reproduction, couples would have sex only at the times necessary for procreation. Moreover, if this were the case, physical fulfillment in marriage wouldn't be enjoyed by couples who cannot have children (for medical reasons or by virtue of advanced age) or who choose not to do so. [And as Catholic theologian Tina Beattie points out, "[Catholic] Church teaching now acknowledges that the unitive dimension of sexuality is valid even when a marriage is infertile, but this defeats any appeal [on the part of the bishops] to natural law to defend [their] opposition to gay relationships." See also Catholic theologian Daniel Helminiak's "Non-Negotiables of Human Sex," and his thoughts and insights on the Vatican's narrow identification of sexuality with procreation.]

3. Do we just give in to our sexual desires?

Our sexual desires have been channeled through the worthy tradition that people choose one mate and make a promise of fidelity through marriage. A mutual, joyful and public commitment, permanently held, one to another, is the healthiest way to build stable families and a stable society. This would argue for encouraging members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community likewise to make a commitment of marriage as the appropriate avenue for their sexuality.

4. Adultery, pedophilia and bestiality are wrong. So homosexuality?

Adultery is a problem because of the trust shattered when marriage vows are broken. Pedophilia and bestiality are anathema because there cannot be mutual consent – an adult always holds power over a child or an animal. Homosexual commitment is mutual between consenting adults.

5. Changes in norms require universal acceptance. Prevalent homosexuality will not work.

Many changes in our country have taken place without universal acceptance. Indeed, many laws in our country were designed to protect the very people who do not receive universal acceptance.

As to prevalent homosexuality, the long-held estimate is that roughly 10 percent of the population is homosexual. No law has the ability to increase or decrease those numbers.

6. The religious question: Shouldn't we be trying to encourage others to repent of a wrong?

The assumption is that homosexuality is wrong. Assumptions are fair to question, even religious ones. We understand now, in a way our biblical ancestors could not, that medically and psychologically, homosexuals are born, not made. Would a loving God deliberately create someone who is fundamentally a mistake?

If it's a question about "love the sinner but hate the sin," the way we discern whether something is, in fact, sinful, is to look at its consequences. The consequences that result from committed homosexual relationships are as positive as they are for committed heterosexual relationships: stable, tax-paying, caring-for-one-another-through-thick-and-thin families. These are the kinds of consequences that benefit all of society.

Marriage matters to the GLBT among us as much as it does to the rest of us. Surrounded by family and friends, to make a promise to cherish that one other person until parted by death, matters.

This is a big change, surely. I am persuaded, however, that change based on a commitment, a lifelong commitment of mutual joy, will benefit us all.

Lisa Cressman, of Lake Elmo, is assistant priest at St. Mary's Episcopal Church-Basswood Grove.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Head and Heart Response to the Catholic Hierarchy's Opposition to Marriage Equality
Responding to Bishop Tobin's Remarks on Gay Marriage
Progressive Perspectives on Archbishop Nienstedt's Anti-Gay Activism
Joseph O'Leary Responds to Carson Holloway's Arguments Against Gay Marriage
Marriage Equality: Simple Answers to NOM's Complicated Lies
Marriage: "Part of What is Best in Human Nature"
A Catholic Statement of Support for Marriage Equality
Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality

Recommended Off-site Links:
Archbishop in Minnesota Opposes Marriage Equality, Dissent in Equal Measure (January 17, 2012).
Catholics for Marriage Equality MN

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quote of the Day

We have been married Catholics for 45 years, but the desire of gays and lesbians to marry does not threaten us.

What threatens us is the archbishop's alliance with a political movement bent on amending the state Constitution to restrict the right of other Minnesotans to seek the same legal recognition we have.

We are also outraged at the archbishop's dictator-like orders to silence dissent among priests and force parishes to organize committees to promote a divisive political agenda.

There is little enthusiasm for turning parishes into precinct caucuses – and even less enthusiasm for turning Roman Catholics into Roman soldiers.

We have looked at the merits of the proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage, and we plan to vote "no."

We also continue to vote "no" on Archbishop Nienstedt's priorities as a spiritual leader.

– Mary Bader and Joel Papa
Letter to the Editor
Star Tribune
January 17, 2012

Recommended Off-site Links:
Archbishop Nienstedt's Marriage Amendment Message to Priests: "The Stakes Could Not Be Higher" The Progressive Catholic Voice (January 5, 2012).
Archbishop in Minnesota Opposes Marriage Equality, Dissent in Equal Measure – Editorial (, January 17, 2012).
Catholics for Marriage Equality MN

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Progressive Perspectives on Archbishop Nienstedt's Anti-Gay Activism
What Part of Jesus' Invitation to "Be Not Afraid" Don't the Bishops Get?
Doug Mataconis on the Bishops, Religious Freedom, and Living in a Civil Society
Responding to Bishop Tobin's Remarks on Gay Marriage
The Minneapolis (and Online) Premiere of Catholics for Marriage Equality

Monday, January 16, 2012

Our "Unrepeatable and Inviolable Uniqueness"


. . . The human person must always be understood in his[/her] unrepeatable and inviolable uniqueness. In fact, [he/she] exists above all as a subjective entity, as a center of consciousness and freedom, whose unique life experiences, comparable to those of no one else, underlie the inadmissibility of any attempt to reduce his[/her] status by forcing him[/her] into preconceived categories or power systems, whether ideological or otherwise. This entails above all the requirement not only of simple respect on the part of others, especially political and social institutions and their leaders with regard to every man and woman on the earth, but even more, this means that the primary commitment of each person towards others, and particularly of these same institutions, must be for the promotion and integral development of the person.

– Pope John Paul II
Excerpted from the "Compendium of the the Social Doctrine of the Church"

Recommended Off-site Links:
Amendment Campaign Contrary to Church Moral Teaching – Paula Ruddy (The Progressive Catholic Voice, March 3, 2011).
“Marriage and the Common Good”: Washington Bishops, Washington Catholics – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, January 17, 2012).
Catholics for Marriage Equality MN

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Getting It Right
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Be Not Afraid, You Can Be Happy and Gay
Quote of the Day – June 23, 2011
Marriage: "Part of What is Best in Human Nature"
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
A Head and Heart Response to the Catholic Hierarchy's Opposition to Marriage Equality
Making Love, Giving Life
Catholic Church Can Overcome Fear of LGBT People
A Catholic Statement of Support for Marriage Equality
Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality

Image: Subjects and photographer unknown.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Marv Davidov, 1931-2012

My friend Marv died yesterday morning. He was 81 years old and had been in poor health for some time. Still, I and many others feel his loss greatly.

As many of my Minnesota readers would know, Marv Davidov was an icon within the local justice and peace community. He was the founder of the Honeywell Project, a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, and a participant in the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride of 2003. For over 50 years he was a tireless non-violent revolutionary, dedicated to facilitating positive social transformation through organizing and activism.

Marv played an important role in my political and social awakening; my "radicalization," if you like. He was a true friend and mentor, and he no doubt played this dual role for many others.

I first met Marv in 1997 when I began participating in the weekly vigil outside the corporate headquarters of Alliant TechSystems. At the time, Alliant was 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. It also had sales representatives in over 60 countries.

My involvement in this vigil (left) introduced me to a wonderful community of people – a community that, rain or shine, faithfully gathered every Wednesday morning to protest war and the profiting from war.

My involvement with this issue not only made me aware of dysfunctional aspects of U.S. foreign and economic policy but also of creative and nonviolent responses and alternatives to them.
Such awareness soon led to my active participation in a range of social justice issues. It was a very energizing period of my life; a time of learning and of forging lasting friendships with many interesting and inspiring individuals.

In November 1997 I wrote to my parents in Australia and shared with them my new found interests and activities.

I'm not sure where my involvement in such issues will lead me. But I know that in the last year I've changed a lot - mainly in relation to the way I view this country, militarism, and the economic system that we currently have and which is obviously not working in a just way for a vast number of people. I have no alternative to offer, yet know that there's no going back to the way I used to view things. Basically, I'm just trusting that the Spirit will lead me in right ways of thinking about such things and accordingly, in how I should live my life.

Marv was by far one of the most influential and colorful characters I encountered in the Minnesota justice and peace community. And make no mistake, he could be difficult to work with at times. Yet more often than not he'd be the first to tell you he was far from perfect. He was well aware of his shortcomings and tried his best to overcome them.

Through Marv and others I was introduced to the writings of
Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Vandana Shiva, David Korten , Arundati Roy and Amy Goodman; and to alternative news sources such as Democracy Now!, The Nation, Z Magazine, The Progressive and In These Times. Yes, my radicalization was assured! And I'm so thankful for that.

Although Marv was a self-professed non-believer, I always sensed a profoundly spiritual dimension to his activism. His concern for the dispossessed and marginalized, and his deep commitment to justice for all, reflected aspects of the liberating social justice teachings of the Catholic Church. Many of Marv's friends were social justice-oriented Catholics, including priests and nuns, and he often jokingly referred to himself as a honorary member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

Marv was always very supportive of my gay rights activism with Queers United for Radical Action (QURA), the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) and, more recently, Catholics for Marriage Equality MN (C4ME-MN). He would often remind me that gay people have always been at the forefront of social change movements, including the Civil Rights Movement. James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin and Margaret Randall were three influential LGBT figures he would often cite.

Above: I feel very fortunate to have spent time with Marv during the last days of his life. For one thing, it gave me the opportunity to let him know how grateful I am for his presence in my life and for all his many years of work to bring about positive social change.

I was actually visiting Marv when he was interviewed by veteran Star Tribune reporter Randy Furst for the article reprinted below. My friend Barbara Mishler (right) was also present. Throughout Marv's long illness, and especially during the last weeks of his life, Barb was an inspiring provider of loving care, support and strength.

NOTE: More photos of Marv follow Randy Furst's reprinted article.


Longtime Peace Activist Marv Davidov Dies

By Randy Furst

Star Tribune
January 14, 2012

Marv Davidov (right), December 12, 1969.
Fred Carey of Honeywell security reads to Davidov and other protesters
a statement
restricting them from trespassing on Honeywell property.
(Photo: Jack Gillis)

Marv Davidov, an iconic figure of the Minnesota peace movement who founded and led the Honeywell Project in a decades-long campaign to halt the production of anti-personnel weapons by Honeywell Inc., died Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis. He was 81, and had suffered from a number of health problems.

During one protest in 1983, nearly 600 protesters were arrested outside Honeywell's Minneapolis headquarters in a civil disobedience action, the type of demonstration that Davidov and his allies had organized so many times that it was honed to a fine art.

A chain smoker until recent years, he was an immediately recognizable figure at protests, with his large moustache, blue skipper's cap, almost always wearing a T-shirt with a protest slogan on it.

For years during the Vietnam War era, Davidov carried around a deactivated cluster bomb, the size of a softball, to show anyone who would listen that Honeywell was creating weapons being used by the U.S. military. He said the weapons indiscriminately killed innocent civilians in southeast Asia.

Honeywell eventually spun off its defense contract work to Alliant Techsystems.

Davidov estimated that he was arrested 40 or 50 times, mainly in antiwar and civil rights demonstrations.

He was one of the original Freedom Riders, young people who rode on buses through the South in 1961 to desegregate bus transportation and bus terminals.

He and five other white youths from the Twin Cities were arrested at a black-only lunch counter in a Greyhound bus station in Jackson, Miss., when they refused to comply with police orders to move on.

In an interview at Walker Methodist Health Center on Thursday, although sedated with pain medication for a worsening circulatory problem, Davidov spoke with animation about being locked up for 40 days with other civil rights demonstrators at a Mississippi prison farm. He said the black and white protesters were incarcerated together.

"We were the first group of integrated prisoners in Mississippi state prison history," Davidov said with a smile.

'An inspiration to many'

He described himself as a "nonviolent revolutionary" in an autobiography he wrote with Carol Masters.

One of Davidov's admirers was Daniel Ellsberg, a White House consultant, who leaked the Pentagon Papers about U.S. military decision-making in Vietnam to the media. Ellsberg, who later became a peace activist, helped raise money for the Honeywell Project at Davidov's invitation.

"Thanks to people like him, we're still hanging on as a species," Ellsberg said. "His nonviolence and his indefatigability and energy are an inspiration to many people.

"He's lived a good life, and I told him so" when he spoke to Davidov by phone on Friday, Ellsberg said.

This week, as Davidov's medical condition worsened, a number of peace activist friends stayed near him daily or sat in a waiting room outside his door.

'Solidarity and love'

"It's one of those great things that happens," Davidov said. "This kind of solidarity and love and support that people give one another."

John LaForge, an antiwar activist friend, had brought a small refrigerator to his room with a bumper sticker on it that read, "No more war."

Bill Tilton, a St. Paul attorney, said he first met Davidov in 1969 when they were staging a sit-in at the University of Minnesota in support of the African American Action Committee, which was demanding more scholarships for blacks.

"Marv is one of my heroes," Tilton said. "He never took his eye off the ball of advocating for the rights of the underprivileged and accountability of government. He told me, 'I am not going to have a regular job. I am always going to be part of the movement.' He was always going to be an organizer and he succeeded."

For years Davidov taught a class on "active nonviolence" at the University of St. Thomas. Jack Nelson Pallmeyer who taught the class with him, said "there was a warmth that came across when he related to students, a deeply respectful interaction in which Marv would share parts of his life story that awakened within students a possibility that they too could impact society."

Barbara Mishler said she got to know Davidov when she took a class of his at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in south Minneapolis 30 years ago.

"When I first met him, I was so terrified of nuclear war," she recalls. "He said, 'Settle down and read and inform yourself, before you hit the streets.' "

Lying in bed, barely able to sit up on Thursday, Davidov welcomed a reporter.

Nothing to say? Hardly

Asked if he had any thoughts that he'd like to pass on to young people, Davidov thought for a moment, smiled and said, "I've been waiting for this interview my entire life, and now I've got nothing to say."

But as anyone who has ever known Davidov, or heard him address a rally, Davidov was never at a loss for words, including on Thursday.

On the current presidential election campaign: "It reminds me of one of the books that Paul Goodman wrote in the 1950s, Growing Up Absurd. Once again the needs of the people who have most everything are satisfied first."

On advice to people in this election year: "Find the people in your community who are probing reality and talking about how to fundamentally change it and work at a local level on these problems, creating peace, freedom and justice."

On the Occupy protests against Wall Street that spread nationwide last year: "I thought it was great. The people were locating what their needs were and going out in the streets without compromise."

On the kind of memorial gathering he'd like: "I want people to remember and tell funny stories about me and the struggle, and try to create a deeper, more profound movement and build the numbers."

He is survived by his brother Jerry Davidov, a retired Minneapolis firefighter.


Following is a selection of photographs of Marv that I've taken over the years. If you didn't have the good fortune to know Marv, I hope these images give you a sense of the very special man he was and the many justice and peace activities he was dedicated to and involved in.

Above: Marv being arrested with Dave Dellinger (1915-2004) for trespassing at Alliant TechSystems corporate headquarters - May 7, 1997. Dave was a good friend of Marv's and, like him, was a pacifist and activist for nonviolent social change.

Not being a citizen of the U.S. I couldn't risk arrest at the periodic "actions" at Alliant and elsewhere. So I dedicated myself to documenting through photography the activities of the Twin Cities' justice and peace community. In time I established a website that brought together many of my photographs. I called this website Faces of Resistance: Images and Stories of Progressive Activism at the Turn of the Millennium (1997-2006). Marv was definitely a "face" of resistance.

Above: Marv with Polly Mann, another important figure in my development as a politically- and socially-aware and active person.

Above: Standing at right with Marv and other members of the Minnesota War Resisters League (Sister Rita Steinhagen Chapter) in April 2007.

Standing in the back row, third from right, is Frida Berrigan, daughter of Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister. Frida, a research associate at the World Policy Institute, was a special guest at our April 2007 meeting.

Above: At the April 2002 ReVisioning Conference in St. Paul, MN, Marv was part of a panel of speakers that addressed the topic "Militarism: Barrier to a Sustainable World." The other panelists were (from left) Fr. Gabriel Odima, Barbara Frey and Marie Braun.

Above: Standing center with (from left) John Braun, Mike Miles, Marie Braun and Marv. This photo was taken in May 2006 and shows us participating in one of the weekly vigils outside of the Alliant TechSystems corporate headquarters. "DU" refers to depleted uranium or Uranium 238, used in munitions produced by Alliant TechSystems.

Above: While visiting the Twin Cites from Australia in July 2005, my parents met Marv when they joined me in attending the weekly Alliant vigil. Pictured above from left: Marv, Marie Braun, Greg Corcoran, Dad, and Mary Vaughn.

Above: Marv with his friends Barb Mishler; Betty McKenzie, CSJ; Kate McDonald, CSJ; Rita McDonald, CSJ; and Brigid McDonald, CSJ.

Above: Marv with friends (from left) Kathleen Ruona, Ken Masters and Mary Ellen Trotter.

Left: Marv with Char Madigan, CSJ, founder of Hope Community in Minneapolis.

Right: Marv with friends Susu and Dee on the occasion of his 76th birthday – Saturday, August 25, 2007.

Above: Marv with Chris, one of the many young people who over the years have been inspired and moved to activism by Marv. This photo was taken at an Alliant TechSystem vigil in the summer of 2003.

Above: Marv in October 2002, protesting mainstream media bias, specifically the lack of coverage of the largest anti-war rally in Minnesota in 30 years that had taken place a few days earlier. Limited coverage of this event had been buried in the A section of both the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Above: Marv with (from left) Jane McDonald, CSJ, and poet Carol Masters.

My friend Carol collaborated with Marv on a book documenting his life of justice and peace activism. Entitled You Can’t Do That: Marv Davidov, Nonviolent Revolutionary, the book was published in 2010. For a review, click here.

Above: Marv with Kate McDonald, CSJ.

Left: Marv pictured in 1999 at Fort Benning, Georgia, for the annual protest of the U.S. Army School of the Americas.

Right: Marv being interviewed by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! during the 1997 Midwest Alternative Media Conference.

Above: Marv with Bill Barnett and his daughter Selina Rose. Bill is a Minneapolis resident and realtor and a tireless human rights and social justice activist. I'm honored to count him as a friend.

Above: Marv was quite renowned for the sunfish he caught and cooked up for his friends!

Above: Marv participates in the General Strike for Peace – Friday, September 21, 2007.

Above: My photo of Marv that is included in You Can't Do That. It shows Marv teaching a class on the history of nonviolence at the University of St. Thomas in April 2009.

Above: Marv at an anti-war event in 1999. Earlier that year I had invited Marv and others to speak to a social justice class that I was teaching at the College of St. Catherine-Minneapolis (left). Following is what one student wrote in response to the insights and experiences shared by Marv.

Marv was a very energized speaker describing his thoughts and beliefs in how our country is deeply, deeply dysfunctional. When he said that people are irrelevant compared to big business and money, I think he hit the nail right on the head . . . He brought a lot of new insights to me that made me question what is really going on around us. A lot of times I caught myself nodding my head in agreement to his points. Marv lives his life resisting [and] fighting for what he believes in. I found him very selfless. He resists not for himself, but for his community.

That's how I remember Marv, too.

When I said goodbye to Marv last Thursday afternoon, just two days before he died, he looked me in the eyes and said very calmly and deliberately, "I love you." I smiled back at him, rested my hand upon his shoulder and told him that I loved him too. My last words to him were, "I'll see you again, Marv."

Marv has left this life, but I truly believe I will see him again one day. Until then, rest in peace and power, my friend.

I conclude this tribute by sharing (in the following three segments) Lisa Joy LoMurray's 2007 documentary film Marv: Life of an Activist.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Marv Davidov, Twin Cities Peace Activist Dies – Tad Vezner (Pioneer Press, January 14, 2012).
Marv Davidov: 1931-2012 – Mary Turck (Twin Cities Daily Planet, January 14, 2012.
RIP, Marv Davidov
– Steve Clemens (Minnonista, January 14, 2012).
Memories of Marv – Chuck Turchick (Twin Cities Daily Planet, January 15, 2012).

Marv Davidov – A Drum Major for Justice – Gary Cunningham (Star Tribune, January 16, 2012).
Peace Activist Marv Davidov Dies – Rupa Shenoy (Minnesota Public Radio, January 15, 2012).
Twin Cities Anti-War Activist Marv Davidov Dies CBS Minnesota (January 14, 2012).
Marv Davidov, Lifelong Peace Activist, Dies – Mordecai Specktor (American Jewish World, January 18, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Marv Remembers
Alliant Action
It Sure Was Cold!
Award-winning "Hellraisers" at it Again
Walking Against Weapons

Images: Michael J. Bayly (except where noted otherwise).