Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Remembering the Romanovs

I first saw Franklin J. Schaffner's 1971 film Nicholas and Alexandra when I was a teenager. I remember it was shown on Australian television one Thursday night during the summer school holidays of 1981-82. It had quite the impact on me, not only because of its epic depiction of the downfall of Russia's Romanov dynasty, but because it movingly told a very intimate, very human story: the story of a loving family's attempt to deal with momentous circumstances and events, many of which were beyond their comprehension and control.

In particular, I'm thinking of the then-incurable haemophilia that inflicted Alexei, the couple's son and heir, and the consequences that flowed from the way Nicholas and Alexandra chose to respond to this tragedy of fate: their clinging stubbornly to the idea of absolute monarchy, their turning to Rasputin. Such responses ensured epic and tragic consequences for their family, the Russian empire, and, indeed, the world.

Right: The Russian Imperial family as depicted in Nicholas and Alexandra. From left: Grand Duchess Maria (Candace Glendenning), Empress Alexandra (Janet Suzman) Tsarevich Alexei (Roderic Noble) Grand Duchess Tatiana (Lynne Frederick), Grand Duchess Olga (Ania Marson), Tsar Nicholas II (Michael Jayston), and Grand Duchess Anastasia (Fiona Fullerton).The film also features Irene Worth as the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, Harry Andrews as Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, Tom Baker as Grigori Rasputin, Laurence Olivier as Count Witte, Michael Redgrave as Sergei Sazanov, Michael Byrant as Vladimir Lenin, Ian Holm as Commissar Yakovlev, Alan Webb as Bolshevik officer Yakov Yurovsky, Richard Warwick as Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich, and Jean-Claude Drouot as the tsarevich's Swiss tutor Pierre Gilliard.

Not long after, I found in the library of my high school the book upon which the film is based, Robert K. Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra. So began a fascination with the Romanov family that continues to this day.

Above: The Russian Imperial family pictured in 1913.

I found myself particularly drawn to the tsaritsa, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, compellingly portrayed by Janet Suzman (right) in Nicholas and Alexandra. Suzman was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, the BAFTA and the Golden Globe for her portrayal of the tragic Alexandra, a woman who in her anguish and guilt over passing on haemophilia to her son, turned to the mystic and faith-healer Grigori Rasputin. Encouraged by him, she increasingly urged her husband to resist any reforms that would undermine the autocracy, which she was convinced was their son's birthright. Her fatalistic outlook, reactionary politics, and meddling in the affairs of state did much to bring down the Russian empire.

I began reading extensively about Alexandra Feodorovna (left) when I was in my early twenties, a time when I was becoming increasingly aware of my sexuality – my homosexuality. I found myself drawn to and relating to her struggle against her son's affliction, one that caused her great anguish. You see, at that time that's exactly how I viewed my sexuality – as an affliction. Just as Alexandra prayed for a cure for her son, I often found myself praying that I would be "cured" of the thoughts and feelings that my (somewhat delayed) adolescent development was making known to me. I even made what amounted to a holy card that had on one side a picture of the empress (in full imperial regalia) and on the other a quote by her that read: "Have patience, and these days of suffering will end; we shall forget all the anguish and thank God. God help those who see only the bad, and don't try to understand that all this will pass. It cannot be otherwise."

Although there are definitely times and circumstances when such a prayer is wise and helpful, I've come to realize that it is unhelpful and unhealthy to apply it to one's self-understanding as a gay person. Arriving at and embodying this realization was quite the journey for me, and one that I'm sure many of my readers can relate to. Homosexuality is not an affliction or a disease requiring a cure; it's not a "cross" that must be borne. I've come to see that when, for example, the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church make people feel bad about their sexuality and label the loving expression of homosexuality as "sinful," they are doing exactly what Jesus condemned the pharisees of his day for doing: placing unnecessary burdens, false crosses, onto people.

Life presents us with enough actual "crosses," enough genuine hardships to deal with. We don't have to make up false ones. I think that just striving to live lovingly and authentically as a gay person is challenge enough. For most gay people, living this challenge does not lead them to view their sexual orientation as an "affliction;" it does not lead them to believe that any and all sexual expression of their orientation is sinful; it does not lead them to strive to live lives of sexual abstinence. Compelling people to do these things and to think in these ways indicates a lack compassion and an unmindfulness of God's presence in the lives and relationships of gay people.

Nicholas and Alexandra had to deal with a real disease that afflicted their son. And many of the ways they chose to deal with this tragedy had enormous and terrible consequences. For instance, on commenting on the tsar and tsaritsa's turning to Rasputin (left), Pierre Gilliard, the Swiss tutor to Tsarevich Alexei, said: "The fatal influence of that man was the principal cause of death of those who thought to find in him their salvation." And about the August 12, 1904 birth of the haemophilic Alexei, historian Bernard Pares wrote: "More than anything else [this event] determined the whole later course of Russian history."

Fascinating, isn't it? . . . how the personal and the epic are so momentously intertwined in the story of the Romanovs!

I find aspects of their story moving and inspiring to this day. And I devote the rest of this post to explaining why . . .

The photograph above depicts the consecration of the Church on Blood in Honor of All Saints in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg, Russia. The church (pictured at right) is built upon the site of the infamous Ipatiev House – the place of imprisonment and execution of the Romanovs.

After Tsar Nicholas II's abdication in March 1917, the imperial family were held captive in Russia – first by the Provisional Government and then, after the October Revolution, by the Bolshevik regime. The family included Nicholas, his wife Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, and their five children – the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, and the Tsarevich Alexei.

Above: The Romanov's arrival at Yekaterinburg as depicted
in Nicholas and Alexandra. In reality, only Nicholas, Alexandra and Maria
arrived together at the Ipatiev House; Olga, Alexei, Tatiana and Anastasia
arrived later due to Alexei's illness in Tobolsk.

The experience of Yekaterinburg would be for the family one of both darkness and light. They were imprisoned in three upstairs rooms of the Ipatiev House (left) – ominously termed by the Bolsheviks, "The House of Special Purpose." Here they were subjected to all manner of deprivation and insult.

Yet even in this mire of darkness, the light of love defied extinction.

The dining room is dark . . . There is dust everywhere, we can't figure it out, since there aren't any carpets . . . Even this paper is dirty . . . Everyone who comes into the house inspects our rooms . . . It's difficult to write about anything cheerful, because there's all too little cheerfulness here. On the other hand, God doesn't abandon us. The sun shines, the birds sing, and this morning we heard the bells sounding matins . . .

– Maria

Soon spring is coming to rejoice our hearts. The way of the cross first – then joy and gladness. It will soon be a year since we parted, but what is time? Life here is nothing, eternity is everything, and what we are doing is preparing our souls for the kingdom of Heaven. Thus nothing, after all, is terrible, and if they do take everything from us, they cannot take our souls . . .

– Alexandra

Father asks to have it passed on to all that they are not to avenge him. He has forgiven and prays for everyone. They are not to avenge but to remember that the evil which is in the world will become yet more powerful, and that it is not evil which conquers evil, but only love.

– Olga

The atmosphere around us is electrified. We feel that a storm is approaching, but we know that God is merciful – our souls are at peace. Whatever happens He will look after us.

– Alexandra

On the night of July 16-17, 1918, the family was awakened and told to dress. They were led into a basement room and ordered to wait for vehicles which would evacuate them from the city. For days Yekaterinburg had been under threat by an advancing counter-revolutionary army, so the family no doubt accepted the reason given for their hasty departure.

Above: The final moments of the Romanovs as depicted
in Nicholas and Alexandra. The family was executed together with four
faithful servants: Doctor Eugene Botkin, chambermaid Anna Demidova,
cook Ivan Kharitonov, and footman Alexei Trupp. Only Doctor Botkin,
however, is depicted in the film. He is played by Timothy West.

Minutes passed. In time the guards re-entered the room. As revolvers were raised and directed at the family, Nicholas was heard to murmer Jesus' words: "They know not what they do." Within seconds he was shot dead.

A volley of bullets followed. Alexandra's last action was to make the sign of the cross, as was her daughter Olga's. Those that survived this first onslaught were brutally dealt with. Maria and Anastasia were bayoneted and clubbed to death on the floor of the cellar. The fourteen-year-old Alexei was shot in the head as he lay semi-conscious on the floor clutching his dead father's coat.

In the gray light of dawn the bodies were removed by truck to a deserted area of forest outside the city where they were stripped and thrown down a mine shaft. Days later, a group of Bolsheviks returned, retrieved the bodies, and loaded them again onto a truck. Fearing that the remains of the Romanovs would be discovered, they planned to take them to another abandoned mine shaft deeper into the forest. Enroute, the truck became stuck on a muddy forest track. A decision was quickly made to bury the bodies in a shallow grave by the road.

For reasons that remain unknown, two of the bodies were burned – Alexei's and Anastasia's. The remaining bodies were doused in sulfuric acid and buried. Logs were placed across the grave and later driven over by a heavy vehicle. After the gruesome task of the disposal of the bodies had been completed, a Bolshevik official boasted, "The world will never know what we did with them."

For sixty years this was indeed the case, as the bodies of the Romanovs and the four faithful servants killed with them in the cellar of the Ipatiev House, remained undiscovered in their forest grave. For a further ten years, the bodies' location had to be kept secret for fear of reprisals from the Communist regime. Only in 1991, after the collapse of Communist Russia, was it possible to excavate and begin the long process of identifying the remains of the Romanov family.

In 1995 author Peter Kurth noted that:

Through all the years since the death of the Russian Imperial family, two images have remained in the public mind. One is the famous formal group photograph taken during the 1913 tercentenary [celebrations of the Romanov dynasty]. In it Alexandra is seated next to Nicholas, Alexei sits in front in his sailor suit and the four Grand Duchesses, in their white silk and pearls, stand protectively behind their parents.

The other is the grisly snapshot of the cellar at Yekaterinburg after the White Army had driven the Bolsheviks out of the city. This photograph shows the pitted wall from which the murderer's bullets had already been dug and the floor where the victims had stood, scattered with debris.

The events in Yekaterinburg during the summer of 1918 embody, I believe, a definite spiritual perspective. The Yekaterinburg experience liberated the Romanov family from the privileges that had tended to unrealistically taint their view of life and the human condition. Free from such burdens, their spirituality grew and blossomed in the pit of suffering and brutality that was for them Yekaterinburg.

In Yekaterinburg the Romanovs were no longer exalted royalty, but an abandoned and frightened family who, through their response to the chaos and negativity around them, came to perceive more clearly the strengthening and transforming presence of God in their midst.

Virginia Cowles in her book The Romanovs, encapsulates this period of the family's life beautifully and succinctly when she writes:

The sixteen months that followed the overthrow of the monarchy revealed a new and noble Nicholas and Alexandra. These lamentable rulers, these tragic, misguided autocrats, who possessed not an inkling of understanding of the swift currents swirling around them, endured the trial and humiliation to which they were submitted with such rare dignity and courage that none but the coldest heart can fail to admire them. Their love for each other, their unquestioning faith in God, gave them a nobility that shines through the mists of time. The vacillating monarch became a man of strength; the censorious consort, a woman of compassion . . .

Above: Michael Jayston and Janet Suzman as the imprisoned
Tsar and Tsaritsa in Nicholas and Alexandra.

The flowering of this love, strength and compassion might never had occurred had the Romanovs remained enthroned, or had they escaped Russia and lived safely and comfortably as exiles elsewhere in Europe. Such is the potential mystery and paradox of crisis and suffering.

The Romanov's experience in Yekaterinburg confirms, I believe, a basic spiritual truth: the sacred force we commonly term God may not always be able to direct or alter our external, physical circumstances. Yet if we open ourselves to its presence – in the depths of our own being, in those around us, and in creation – we can be transformed inwardly. Even the Yekaterinburg experiences of our lives can be radically transformed into events of transcendent beauty – the light of which can not only warm and strengthen us, but guide, comfort and strengthen others.

Give patience, Lord, to us Thy children
In these dark, stormy days to bear
The persecution of our people,
The torture falling to our share.

Give strength, Just God, to us who need it,
The persecutors to forgive,
Our heavy, painful cross to carry
And thy great meekness to achieve.

When we are plundered and insulted
In days of mutinous unrest
We turn for help to thee, Christ-Saviour,
That we may stand the bitter test.

Lord of the world, God of Creation,
Give us Thy blessing through our prayer
Give peace of heart to us, O Master,
This hour of utmost dread to bear.

And on the threshold of the grave
Breathe power divine into our clay
That we, Thy children, may find strength
In meekness for our foes to pray.

– A poem found in the Ipatiev House
inserted in one of Olga's books
and written in her own hand.

Above: The Romanov family in a 1913 portrait.

Above: Nicholas and Alexandra on board the
imperial yacht Standart, 1914.

Left: Grand Duchess Olga.

Right: Grand Duchess Tatiana.

Left: Grand Duchess Maria.

Right: Grand Duchess Anastasia.

Left: Tsarevich Alexei.

Above: Nicholas and Alexandra, 1912.

Above: Alexandra and her daughters, 1913.
(From left: Olga, Tatiana, Alexandra, Anastasia and Maria).

Above: During World War One, Alexandra and her two
eldest daughters, Olga and Tatiana, trained and worked as nurses.

Above: The Romanov family in 1915.

Above: Alexandra and Alexei, 1912.

Above: Nicholas and his children in captivity
at Tobolsk in the winter of 1917.

Above: The last known photograph of Nicholas and Alexandra,
taken at the Governor's House in Tobolsk, late summer 1917.

Left: One of the last photographs of Empress Alexandra, pictured center with her daughters Tatiana and Olga in captivity in Tobolsk, 1917.

Above: The last known picture of Alexei and Olga – May 1918.
They are on board the riverboat Rus, being transported
from Tobolsk to Yekaterinburg.

NEXT: Remembering Olga Nikolaevna and Her Sisters

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
More Remnants of a Life Past

Quote of the Day

Catholics continue to be the key supporters of marriage equality in the United States and are driving the positive direction for LGBT human rights. This new survey by the Pew Forum is a very detailed report of the latest public opinion polling on attitudes toward LGBT people. With these numbers it is little wonder that the Vatican is taking a hardline against LGBT human rights and appointing fundamentalist bishops like Archbishop-elect Cordileone in San Francisco.

Related Off-site Links:
Catholics More Supportive of Gay Rights Than General Public, Other Christians – Michael Sean Winters (National Catholic Reporter, March 22, 2011 – via The Progressive Catholic Voice).
Most U.S. Catholics Back Civil Marriage for Gays – Lou Chibbaro Jr. (The Washington Blade, March 31, 2011).
U.S. Catholics Break with Church Hierarchy on Gay Relationships – Cathy Lynn Grossman (USA Today, March 23, 2011).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Catholic Attitudes on Gay and Lesbian Issues: An Overview
Jonathan Capehart: "Catholics Lead the Way on Same-Sex Marriage"
A Catholic Rationale for Opposing the 'Marriage Amendment'
Catholic Q&A on the 'Marriage Amendment'
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride (2012)
The Minneapolis (and Online) Premiere of Catholics for Marriage Equality
Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality
A Catholic Statement of Support for Marriage Equality
A Message to NOM (and the Catholic Hierarchy)
Responding to Bishop Tobin's Remarks on Gay Marriage

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Catholic Q&A on the 'Marriage Amendment'

By Michael Bayly and Florence Steichen

NOTE: Following is the draft text of a flyer that my friend Florence and I are currently working on. Our goal is to create a resource that provides short, accessible answers to frequently asked questions about the Minnesota 'marriage amendment.' We hope this flyer will serve as an additional resource to "Tips for Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality, a previously published resource that offers more in-depth responses. We welcome any and all feedback from readers of The Wild Reed on this new resource.

1. What is the ‘marriage amendment’?

The 'marriage amendment' refers to the November 6, 2012 ballot initiative that will ask Minnesotans to vote on whether or not the state constitution should be amended so as to define marriage as “solely between one man and one woman.”

2. If the amendment is passed, how will it affect Minnesota law?

It will have no effect as Minnesota already bans civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. It will, however, make it virtually impossible to pass legislation or allow the courts to grant civil marriage rights to same-sex couples in the future.

3. If the amendment is defeated, how will it affect the Roman Catholic Church?

There would be no effect whatsoever. If the ‘marriage amendment’ is defeated in November, same-sex civil marriage will still be illegal in Minnesota. And if civil marriage rights were one day extended to same-sex couples, our nation’s separation of church and state would guarantee that churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, would always have the freedom to choose whom they marry.

4. Since the bishops are strongly urging a ‘yes’ vote, can a faithful Catholic vote ‘no’?

Yes, a faithful Catholic can vote ‘no.’ This is because our tradition teaches that conscience is the highest norm and that we are to follow our conscience even in opposition to official church authority. In 1968, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) expressed the Church’s understanding of the primacy of conscience: “Above the pope as an expression of the binding claim of church authority stands one’s own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of church authority.”

5. Why are the bishops telling Catholics to vote ‘yes’?

The bishops see the granting of civil marriage rights to same-sex couples as a threat to the meaning of marriage and to the church’s religious liberty. In truth, however, in their support of the ‘marriage amendment,’ the bishops have made numerous unsubstantiated claims and provoked false fears. They warn, for instance, that if civil marriage rights are extended to same-sex couples, churches will be forced to perform sacramental marriage for a gay couple. This is untrue. (See response to Q. 3)

6. Why are many Catholics conflicted or committed to voting ‘no’?

The reasons are numerous. Many are torn between the urgings of the hierarchy to support the amendment and their wanting to support the gay people they know and, in many cases, lovingly accept. Many are unconvinced by the arguments of the bishops, recognizing instead that supporting legal recognition of adult, same-sex unions as marriages does not go against any church teaching. It is a prudential decision regarding what is best for the common good in a pluralistic society. For example, Catholic teaching opposes divorce, but this does not translate into an obligation to work for the repeal of secular divorce laws or prevention of their passage by a constitutional amendment banning civil divorce.

7. Doesn’t the Bible condemn homosexual relations?

Modern biblical scholarship approved by the Church shows that passages in Leviticus and elsewhere condemn homosexual rape and pagan worship involving sexual rituals. Since the biblical writers had no concept of homosexual orientation, the Bible does not condemn loving, committed same-sex relationships.

8. Why use the word ‘marriage’ to describe same-sex unions?

In our society it is only the word ‘marriage’ that conveys the joy, connection, and deep commitment that is made between two people who love one another. In addition, civil marriage automatically provides the rights and responsibilities of 515 statutes in Minnesota law to opposite-sex couples and families. That these are denied to same-sex couples and families strikes many as hurtful and unfair.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
People of Faith Are on Both Sides of the 'Marriage Amendment'
A Catholic Rationale for Opposing the 'Marriage Amendment'
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride (2012)
In Minnesota, Catholics Sing Their Support for Marriage Equality
Casey Michel on Archbishop Nienstedt's "Crusade Against Gay Marriage"
Palm Sunday at the Chancery
The Minneapolis (and Online) Premiere of Catholics for Marriage Equality
Sharing the Good News of Marriage Equality at the Basilica Block Party
At UST, a Rousing and Very Catholic Show of Support for Marriage Equality
A Head and Heart Response to the Catholic Hierarchy's Opposition to Marriage Equality
From Northern Minnesota, Two Excellent Rebuttals to the "Convoluted Logic" of the Bishops' Pro-Amendment Argument
A Catholic Statement of Support for Marriage Equality
Tips for Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality

In the Garden of Spirituality – Hazrat Inayat Khan

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

– Pope John XXIII

The Wild Reed’s series of reflections on religion and spirituality continues with an excerpt from Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan's essay, "The Object of the Journey." It's one of several of his writings that can be found in the 1997 book, The Inner Life.


The first and principal thing in the inner life is to establish a relationship with God, making God the object which we relate to, such as the Creator, Sustainer, Forgiver, Judge, Friend, Father, Mother and Beloved. In every relation we must place God before us, and become conscious of that relation so that it will remain an imagination, for the first thing a believer does is to imagine. He imagines that God is the Creator and tries to believe that God is the Sustainer; he makes an effort to think that God is a Friend, and an attempt to feel that he loves God. But if this imagination is to become reality, then exactly as one feels sympathy, love and attachment for one's earthly beloved, so one must feel the same for God.

. . . The work of the inner life is to make God a reality, so that He is no more an imagination; that this relation that a person has with God may seem to them more real than any other relation in this world. And when this happens then all relationships, however near and dear, become less binding. But at the same time a person does not thus become cold, he becomes more loving. It is the godless person who is cold, impressed by the selfishness and lovelessness of this world, because he partakes of those conditions in which he lives. But the one who is in love with God, the one who has established his relationship with God, his love becomes living, he is no more cold; he fulfils his duties to those related to him in this world much more than does the godless man.

Now, as to the way in which a person establishes this relationship, which is the most desirable to establish with God, what should he image? God as Father, as Creator, as Judge, as Forgiver, as Friend, or as Beloved? The answer is that in every capacity of life we must give God the place that is demanded by the moment. When, crushed by the injustice, the coldness of the world, we look to God, the perfection of justice, and no more remain agitated, our hearts are no more disturbed, we console ourselves with the justice of God. We place the just God before us, and by this we learn justice. The sense of justice awakens in our hearts, and we see things in quite a different light.

. . . The person who realizes God as a friend is never lonely in the world, neither in this world nor in the hereafter. There is always a friend, a friend in the crowd, a friend in the solitude, or while he is asleep, unconscious of this outer world, and when he is awake and conscious of it; in both cases the friend is there in his thought, in his imagination, in his heart, in his soul.

The person who makes God his Beloved, what more does he want? His heart becomes awakened to all the beauty there is within and without. To him all things appeal, everything unfolds itself, and it is beauty to his eyes, because God is all-pervading, in all names and all forms; therefore his Beloved is never absent. How happy therefore is the one whose Beloved is never absent, because the whole tragedy of life is the absence of the Beloved, and to one whose Beloved is always there, when he has closed his eyes the Beloved is within, when he has opened his eyes the Beloved is without. His every sense perceives the Beloved; his eyes see Him, his ears hear His voice. When a person arrives at this realization, then he, so to speak, lives in the presence of God; then to him the different forms and beliefs, faiths and communities do not count. To him God is all-in-all; to him God is everywhere. If he goes to the Christian church or to the synagogue, to the Buddhist temple, to the Hindu shrine, or to the mosque of the Muslim, there is God. In the wilderness, in the forest, in the crowd, everywhere he sees God.

This shows that the inner life does not consist in closing the eyes and looking inward. The inner life is to look outwardly and inwardly and to find one's Beloved everywhere. But God cannot be made a Beloved unless the love element is awakened sufficiently. The one who hates his enemy and loves his friend cannot call God his Beloved, for he does not know God. When love comes to its fullness, then one looks at the friend with affection, on the enemy with forgiveness, on the stranger with sympathy. There is love in all its aspects expressed when love rises to its fullness, and it is the fullness of love which is worth offering to God. It is then that man recognizes in God his Beloved, his Ideal, and by that, although he rises above the narrow affection of this world, in reality he is one who knows how to love even his enemy. It is the lover of God who knows love when he rises to that stage of the fullness of love.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
"There Must Be Balance . . ."
The Sufi Way
Sufism: A Call to Awaken
A Living Twenty-First Century Tradition
Clarity, Hope and Courage
As the Last Walls Dissolve . . . Everything is Possible
The Winged Heart
A Dance of Divine Light
It Happens All the Time in Heaven
Never Say It Is Not God
Rumi and Shams: A Love of Another Kind
In the Garden of Spirituality – Doris Lessing
Keeping the Spark Alive: Conversing with “Modern Mystic” Chuck Lofy

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan
Books, Papers, Music and Photos of Hazrat Inayat Khan
The Way of the Heart: The Life and Legacy of Hazrat Inayat Khan
The International Sufi Movement

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Let the Games Begin!

Related Off-site Links:
Absolutely Fabulous' Eddy and Patsy Carry Olympic FlameYouTube (July 26, 2012).
Patsy and Eddy Have an Absolutely Fabulous Olympic Torch RelayThe Telegraph (July 26, 2012).
The 20 Openly Gay Athletes of the 2012 Olympics – Jack Moore (BuzzFeed.com, July 23, 2012).
Sport and Spectacle: The Queer Side of the Olympics – Gregory Woods (Pink News, July 26, 2012).

Queen Elizabeth and James Bond Parachute Into the Olympic Opening Ceremony — Sort Of – Chris Chase (Yahoo! Sports, July 27, 2012).
Olympic Flame Surprise – Chris Chase (Yahoo! Sports, July 27, 2012).
Highlights from the Opening CeremonyYahoo! Sports (July 27, 2012).
How London Pubs Watched 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony – Greg Wyshynski (Yahoo! Sports, July 27, 2012).
Opening Ceremony Mysteries Solved – Claudine Zap (Yahoo! Sports, July 27, 2012).
Olympic Male BeautyThe Leveret (August 1, 2012).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Quote of the Day

The leadership of the Catholic Church have sunk to a new low in their campaign against equal rights for LGBT people. They have chosen to pursue ignorant and offensive claims about the lives of loving same-sex couples. Thankfully, we know that the decent majority of people across Scotland want to see their LGBT friends, colleagues and family members treated as equals, with dignity and respect.

[The hierarchy's] baseless claims are not science – the so-called researchers [cited] simply read through obituaries in the American newspapers. The results have been repeatedly discredited and disowned by the worldwide health research community, and the Catholic Church should stop peddling this nonsense.

Tom French, Policy Coordinator for the Equality Network
Quoted in Stephen Gray' article,
"Catholic Church in Scotland: Society ‘Should Not Facilitate Gay Relationships’"
Pink News
July 26, 2012

Related Off-site Link:
Scotland: Catholic Church Calls Marriage an ‘Unhelpful’ Response to Gay Feelings – Stephen Gray (Pink News, July 25, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Something to Think About – June 4, 2012
Quote of the Day – May 20, 2012
Responding to Bishop Tobin's Remarks on Gay Marriage
Thoughts on Archbishop Nichols' Support for Civil Unions
Summer Vocation
Beyond the Hierarchy: The Blossoming of Liberating Catholic Insights on Sexuality
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Quote of the Day

. . . The warring factions that exist within Christianity have not been liberal vs. conservative, but Constantine Christianity vs. the teachings of Jesus.

Early Christianity was a rebellious underground movement until Roman Emperor Constantine made it his religious practice in A.D. 312. Constantine's conversion was based on what he viewed as a victorious sign from God prior to going into battle. His successor, Theodosius I, made it the official religion of Rome in A.D. 380. These events did more for the spread of Christianity than any proselytizing efforts conducted by the Apostle Paul.

But it was a religion that was subservient to the Roman Empire, bearing little resemblance to the radical teachings of Jesus. It has been this brand of Christianity, which has its roots in the Roman Empire, that has historically sided with some of the worst atrocities in human history. It is Constantine Christianity that stands as the self-appointed citadel in opposition to marriage equality.

It is the remnants of Constantine Christianity that serves as the most pervasive and influential strand of the church today be it mainline or otherwise. Constantine Christianity is void of self-reflective impulses, a prerequisite for humility.

Churches committed to the teachings of Jesus are rooted in what I define as inconvenient love. Inconvenient love represents the church at its best. It is the shared Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian belief about ultimate reality where these differing religious traditions coalesce into a harmonic symphony.

Inconvenient love is understood as a creative, redemptive good will for all. It is a love that is not dependent on liking the individual or agreeing with the position taken, but possesses an overriding commitment to affirm the humanity of others. It is much easier and less time consuming to offer a theological rule than to see value in others, especially those who are different.

Inconvenient love is reflected in the parables of the Good Samaritan and prodigal child, and it is the ultimate lesson offered in the gospel narratives that chronicle Jesus' death on the cross. . . .

– Byron Williams

Image: One of the earliest known depictions of Jesus, from the Roman Catacombs, mid Third Century A.D.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"An Icon For Our Century"

The reflection I share this evening is written by Joan Chittister, OSB, and marks the occasion of today's feast of St. Mary Magdalene. This beautiful and powerful reflection was shared this morning at Spirit of St. Stephen's Catholic Community, and can be found online on the website of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference's National Office for the Participation of Women.


An Icon For Our Century - Mary Magdalene

By Joan Chittister, OSB

It is Mary Magdalene, the evangelist John details, to whom Jesus first appears after the resurrection. It is Mary Magdalene who is instructed to proclaim the Easter message to the others. It is Mary Magdalene whom Jesus commissions to “tell Peter and the others that I have gone before them into Galilee.”

And, then, the scripture says pathetically, “But Peter and John and the others did not believe her and they went to the tomb to see for themselves.” It is two thousand years later and little or nothing has changed. The voice of women proclaiming the presence of Christ goes largely unconfirmed. The call of women to minister goes largely unnoted. The commission of women to the church goes largely disdained.

Mary Magdalene is, no doubt about it, an important icon for the twenty-first century.

She calls women to listen to the call of the Christ over the call of the church.

She calls men to listen for the call of the Christ in the messages of women.

She calls women to courage and men to humility.

She calls all of us to faith and fortitude, to unity and universalism, to a Christianity that rises above sexism, a religion that transcends the idolatry of maleness, and a commitment to the things of God that surmounts every obstacle and surpasses every system.

Mary Magdalene is a shining light of hope, a disciple of Christ, a model of the wholeness of life, in a world whose name is despair and in a church whose vision is yet, still, even now, partial.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Mary of Magdala
Apostle to the Apostles
Thoughts on The Da Vinci Code
Thoughts on Ordination, Intellectual Dishonesty, and the Holy Spirit of which the Prophet Joel Speaks
Tell Them, Mary

Related Off-site Links:
What Would Mary Magdalene Do? – Phyllis Zagano (National Catholic Reporter, July 18, 2012).
Controversy Energizes FutureChurch's Annual Magdala Celebration – Kate Oatis (National Catholic Reporter, July 23, 2012).
What Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan Teach the Church – Jamie L. Manson (National Catholic Reporter, July 24, 2012).
A Homily for the Feast of Mary Magdalene – Diana Culbertson, OP (The Progressive Catholic Voice, July 22, 2011).
The Woman from Magdala – James Martin, S.J. (America, July 22, 2009).

Image: "Apostle to the Apostles" by Janet McKenzie. Writes Janet McKenzie of her painting: "The Gospel of John tells us that the Risen Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and told her 'Go to my brothers and tell them I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God' (John 20:17). She is seen here as in medieval paintings of her as preacher with the characteristic gesture of forefinger raised toward the heavens, proclaiming the Resurrection to Peter and 'the one whom Jesus loved.' The Beloved Disciple, who is sometimes understood as a symbol for the Johannine community, is listening to her but Peter is not."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"There Must Be Balance . . ."

The following is excerpted from The Inner Life, a collection of writings by Hazrat Inayat Khan.

There must be balance, the balance of the head and the heart, the balance of power and wisdom, the balance of activity and repose. It is the balance which enables us to stand the strain of our journey and permits us to go forward, making our path easy. Never imagine for one moment that those who show lack of balance can ever proceed further on the spiritual journey, however greatly in appearance they may seem to be spiritually inclined. It is only the balanced ones who are capable of experiencing the external life as fully as the inner life, to enjoy thought as much as feeling, to rest as well as to act. The center of life is rhythm, and rhythm causes balance.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Seeking Balance
The Soul of a Dancer
Clarity, Hope and Courage
Sufism: A Call to Awaken
A Dance of Divine Light
The Sufi Way

Image: Balinese dancer. Photographer unknown.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Friday, July 13, 2012

Quote of the Day

The “Fortnight for Freedom” was a flop.

This was supposed to be a game-changer — the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ big display of political might. But instead it exposed the bishops as inept campaigners and as generals without an army.

. . . This two-week extravaganza was supposed to redefine the political conversation, but instead it went mostly unnoticed and unattended. It was supposed to show massive grassroots support for the bishops’ contention that allowing women to purchase comprehensive health insurance constitutes an intolerable threat to the religious liberty of employers who wish to prohibit that. But instead it showed, definitively, that there is no grassroots support for that strange argument.

The bishops declared themselves the grand marshals of what was to be a glorious parade, but no one showed up to march behind them and only a meager handful turned out to line the route as spectators.

It was pathetic, really. A bunch of nuns on a shoestring-budget bus tour drew more enthusiasm and more support for their polar-opposite message. For all the millions spent and all the weeks of elaborate, top-down fanfare, the Fortnight for Freedom came and went almost without notice. . . .

– Fred Clark

Something to Think About . . .

Related Off-site Links:
Miltary Suicides Rising, Even as Combat EasesAssociated Press via Politico.com (June 7, 2012).
One Death-a-Day: Military Suicides Reach Terrifying RateRT.com (June 8, 2012).
Study Reveals Top Reason Behind Soldiers' Suicides – Gregg Zoroya (USA Today, July 10, 2012).

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dark Matter: "An Intriguing Aspect of the Universe"

I greatly appreciate the following, shared recently as a letter to the editor of the Star Tribune by Barbara A. Holms, the new president of one of my alma maters, the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities .

The July 7 Letter of the Day ("Borrowing from Physics to Understand the World") asserted that dark matter "includes all those things that reek of darkness and negativity – wars, injustices, prejudice, poverty, murder, intolerance of differences, sickness and a lack of reverence for our earth."

It's unfortunate that we continue to regard darkness as evil when there is nothing scientific or cultural to support the assumption. This belief is often reinforced by religious symbols and texts that emphasize the blessedness of light and the demonic potential of darkness.

Harboring such negativity makes it more difficult to embrace our darker neighbors in the world community. Dark matter is not evil; it is an intriguing aspect of the universe.

Discovered by Vera Rubin, it appears to be an invisible, cohesive and predominant force in the cosmos. It is fascinating to note that the night skies reveal only 10 percent of what is actually there. The rest is dark matter and dark energy.

In a culture that assumes that darkness is a harbinger of evil, a marker of inferiority, and the opposite of all things good and virtuous, the unveiling of dark matter holds out other possibilities.

In the beginning, there is darkness. It is the womb out of which we are born, a genesis space for light and nurture and creativity.

– Barbara A. Holms
Star Tribune
July 12, 2012

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Dark Matters

Related Off-site Links:
Dark Matter ‘Scaffolding’ of Universe Detected for First Time – Matt Roush (CBS, July 9, 2012).
Dark Matter Filaments Bind Galaxies TogetherUniverseToday.com (July 12, 2012).
CERN Turns LHC's Attention to Dark Matter – Brett Smith (RedOrbit.com, July 9, 2012).

After Loving

By Ethna McKiernan

We have no need of speech.
The spirit lives in the skin,
speaks from the pulse
in the neck,
glows from finger bones
like a private fire.

Bodies lose their plurality here.
Now we become the smallest atom,
incapable of breakage.
Anything we were fades
to another vision, a past life.

Again and again your face turns to me,
singing shut the distances.
It is more beautiful
than the naked moon.
I will not leave in the morning.

Source: Caravan by Ethna McKiernan (Midwest Villages & Voices, Minneapolis and The Dedalus Press, Dublin, 1989).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Never Say It Is Not God
Just Now and Then
It Happens All the Time in Heaven
Getting It Right

Image: Photographer unknown.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Remembering David McCaffrey, One Year On

Yesterday, July 9, was the first anniversary of the death of my friend, colleague, and confidante David McCaffrey, co-founder of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM).

To commemorate David's life and legacy I hosted a gathering of folks who knew David through CPCSM and its most recent initiative, Catholics for Marriage Equality MN. We created sacred time and space together, shared food and wine, reminisced about our journey with David, and celebrated his gifts and achievements that inspire us still.

At one point we took turns reading aloud our friend Mary Lynn's Murphy's wonderful piece, "Remembering David McCaffrey," which she originally wrote for The Progressive Catholic Voice the day after his passing. Following are excerpts from Mary Lynne's tribute to David.

. . . David McCaffrey was a passionate man. For sure he had a temper, but he gave you an honest answer when you needed it. He had you-know-whats of steel when it came to facing down conflict, and never backed away from a struggle. He spoke out loud against the bigotry of presenters at an Archdiocesan "Marriage Panel" at the University of St. Thomas. It was he who sanctioned the suggestion of a "Die-In" at the Cathedral, never fearful of "making a spectacle."

David embodied the deepest sense of justice. He was relentless. At initial Safe Staff meetings with Catholic school administrators, David laid out our objectives with the precision of a Church historian, backed up by solid psychological data, and empathy for kids who were suffering. His professionalism, comfort with Catholic administrators, and obvious good heart helped establish our credibility. His understanding of boundary limits in schools set a professional basis for our effectiveness. His written summaries of the work were impeccable and detailed to the max. That man could write!

David was a man on fire in many respects, and the flames burned bright until the very last minute. He had co-convened Catholics For Marriage Equality MN to fight the anti-gay marriage amendment, and valiantly kept up communication websites despite health that was fading faster than we knew.

. . . David should take so many bows for his work both during and before my tenure at CPCSM. Though change within the Church has stalled in recent years, (to David's enormous frustration!) it is coming on steady as a freight train in America at large. David has been an undeniable part of that. The Safe Schools Initiative (in addition to all of the other initiatives David helped launch) extended far beyond the Catholic school doors, and helped lay the tracks for the engines of societal change. . . .

– Mary Lynn Murphy
"Remembering David McCaffrey"
The Progressive Catholic Voice
July 12, 2011

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Sad News
"I Have Never Felt Closer to Anyone in My Entire Life Than to David" (David's partner Michael eulogizes his husband of 13-and-a-half years.)
God is in the Roses . . . (Photos and commentary from David's funeral Mass.)
Out and About – July 2011
CPCSM Co-founder Responds to "Not Catholic" Assertion
History Matters
Far from "Innocuous" (David's 2008 response to Stephen’s Heaney’s defense of Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt’s “innocuous” statements on homosexuality.)
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 1)
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 2)
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 3)
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 4)
How Times Have Changed
For the Record