Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A "Useful Marriage" for Morwenna

A storyline in a popular work
of historical fiction illustrates how marriage
has (thankfully) already been "redefined."

Yesterday's Wild Reed post contained some insightful examples by Peg Helminski of how marriage, contrary to what opponents of same-sex marriage may assert, has already been "redefined" in numerous ways throughout human history.

It just so happens that I'm currently reading The Black Moon, the fifth novel in Winston Graham's Poldark series. An example of historical fiction at its finest, the twelve Poldark novels are set in Cornwall at the turn of the nineteenth century (1783-1820). You may recall that the first seven novels in this saga were made into a highly successful BBC television series in the mid-1970s.

The series' protagonist is the non-conformist, near-rebel Ross Poldark. In the first novel of the series he is introduced as a young, battle-scarred veteran of the American Revolutionary War returning to his derelict family estate on the windswept coastline of Cornwall. Here he finds his widowed father dead and the woman he loves, Elizabeth Chynoweth, engaged to his cousin Francis. Bitterly disappointed, Ross nevertheless vows to move on with his life. He restores his family's estate, reopens the family copper and tin mines, and scandalizes his fellow gentry folk by marrying a miner's daughter named Demelza. After the tragic death of Francis in book four, Elizabeth marries George Warleggan who, for a number of reasons, has become a bitter rival of Ross.

One of the storylines in The Black Moon involves the arranged marriage of the shy and gentle Morwenna Chynoweth to the odious Rev. Osbourne Whitworth. Morwenna is Elizabeth's cousin and the governess of Geoffrey Charles, Elizabeth's son by her marriage to Francis Poldark. It is, however, Elizabeth's second husband, the extremely wealthy and ambitious George Warleggan, who is the driving force behind the arranging of a "useful marriage" for Morwenna. (In the popular Poldark television series, Morwenna is played by Jane Wymark, pictured above.)

I offer this background information so as to set the stage for the following excerpt from The Black Moon, one that entertainingly though disturbingly illustrates a once common way of perceiving and undertaking marriage. In so doing, it strikingly brings to life Peg Helminski's observation that for centuries in the West, and still today in many parts of the world, marriage was rooted in patriarchy and thus primarily about the securing of property and heirs, and the forging of alliances, and not about mutual love. I don't know about you, but I'm certainly glad that this way of defining marriage is not as dominant in our world as it once was.


. . . Elizabeth was still not sure whether George really approved of Morwenna. He was unfailingly polite to her, but Elizabeth, skilled as she was becoming in reading his far from communicative face, thought him extra guarded in Morwenna’s presence. It was as if he thought, here is another of them, another of the Chynoweths, highly bred in spite of her modest looks, listening with sharp ears and downcast eyes for some error of taste that I may make, showing up my vulgar origins. One is enough; one is my wife. Must there be two?

“I have been thinking of Morwenna,” George said, stretching his strong legs in his fashionable but uncomfortable chair.

When it was clear that he intended to add nothing more, Elizabeth said: “And what have you been thinking of her? Does she not please you?”

“Do you think the experiment has succeeded?” When he met Elizabeth’s eyes he said: “I mean, do you think she has been successful as a governess for Geoffrey Charles?”

“Yes. I think so. Indeed. Do you not?”

“I think she is a woman and would be suitable to teach a girl. A boy needs a man.”

“Well . . . that may be true. In the long run that may be true. But I think he is very happy with her. Indeed sometimes I feel jealous, for I believe he has been happier this last summer than I have ever in my life seen him. He made little demur at being left behind [for the summer at Trenwith House].”

“And his studies?”

“Summer is not the best time for learning. We shall know better when he comes next week. But on the whole I would have thought there was good progress. Perhaps that is saying little, since before he depended on me for what he could learn!”

“No mother could have done more. Few would have done as much. But I think if he is to go away to school he will need a man’s care. In any case, Morwenna’s stay with us was agreed only for a year, wasn’t it?”

Elizabeth said: “I feel sure she would be very upset to be sent home in March.”

“Of course there is no hurry. At least not that sort of hurry. And I was not thinking necessarily that she would need to be sent home.”

“Do you mean she would stay with us as an additional companion to me – and you would engage someone else for Geoffrey Charles?”

“That might be so. But my mind was running more on the thought that she is now of marriageable age. She is well-bred, well-mannered, and not at all uncomely. Some useful marriage might be found.”

Elizabeth’s mind went quickly over this; what he said came as a complete surprise to her; she had had no idea he had ever considered such a thing, or could be bothered to consider such a thing. She looked at him with slight suspicion, but he was idly tapping at his snuff-box.

“I have no doubt she will marry in due course, George. She’s – as you say she is not uncomely, and she has a gentle and sweet nature. But I think you may have forgot the big stumbling stone – she has no money.”

“No I had not forgot that. But there are some who would be glad of a young wife. Older men, I mean. Widowers and the like. Or some young men would be glad enough to ally themselves with us if only by marriage.”

“Well, no doubt it will happen in due course, and without our assistance.”

“In certain circumstances,” said George, putting his snuff-box away without having taken any, “our assistance could be had. I would be prepared to give her a small marriage dowry – that is if she were to marry someone of our choice.”

Elizabeth smiled. “You surprise me, my dear! I had not thought of you as an arranger of marriages, especially on behalf of my little cousin! In twenty years, perhaps, we shall be considering other and more important marriage prospects – for Valentine; but until –”

“Ah, well, that is a long road ahead. And your cousin is not little, by the way. She is tall and, properly dressed, would draw a few eyes. I see no reason why if a suitable marriage were arranged it would not turn out to everyone’s benefit.”

The general direction of George’s thinking, instead of being mysterious, was now perfectly plain to Elizabeth.

“Had you a suitable marriage in view?”

“No. Oh, no, I had not got as far as that.”

“But you have thoughts.”

“Well, the choice is not extensive, is it? It is limited, as I said, to an older man seeking a fresh young wife or a younger man of good birth but little fortune.”

“So surely some names will have come to your mind. Should we not make a list?”

“No, we should not. You find this amusing?”

“I do a little. I think Morwenna would be flattered to know you spare her so much attention. And now you cannot leave me in suspense.”

He looked at her, not liking to be laughed at. “One idly turns thoughts over. No more. One I had considered was John Trevaunance.”

Elizabeth stared at him. The laughter had quite gone from her eyes. “Sir John! But . . . what gave you such an idea? A confirmed bachelor. And he is old. He must be sixty!”

“Fifty-eight. I asked him in September.”

“Do you mean you have discussed this with him?”

“Indeed not,” said George restively. “Of course not. But did you notice the day he came to dinner he appeared to pay special attention to Geoffrey Charles after, while the others were at tea? It occurred to me that it was not likely to be Geoffrey Charles of whom he was taking this sudden notice.”

“Now you mention it . . . But why should it not be Geoffrey Charles?”

“Because they have several times met before without any such interest. This was the first time the boy had a governess.”

Elizabeth got up and went to the window to give herself time to think. She drew back the lace curtain and looked out at a farmer’s gig lurching over the cobbles below.

“I do not believe Morwenna would tolerate such an idea.”

“She would if it were put to her as her duty. And to be Lady Trevaunance would be a big enticement. Mind you I know nothing certain of his thoughts; but if at this ball he were to show her some preference I think it would not be unseemly to make him a proposal. He cannot relish leaving his possessions to his spendthrift brother. She could bear him a son. Also, he is a kindly man but acquisitive of money, and his affairs have not been going too well since the failure of the copper smelting scheme. For such a marriage I would be prepared to be exceptionally generous . . . And, of course, the thought of an eighteen-year-old girl can be a considerable attraction to an old man.”

Elizabeth shivered. “And your other thoughts?”

“I did think once of Sir Hugh Bodrugan, who is a year younger than Sir John, but I am not so greatly taken with an alliance between his family and ours, and as he is such a lecher I did not think you would like him for your cousin.”

“I certainly would not!”

“Then there is his nephew, Robert Bodrugan, who presumably one day will inherit whatever is left of that estate. But at present he is penniless, and one does not know how the money is left. Constance Bodrugan is still a young woman.

Elizabeth let the curtain fall. “Go on.”

“I think I tire you.”

“On the contrary.”

“Well, who knows what is bred of idle speculation? . . . There is Frederick Treneglos. He is twenty-three and had more than a little time for your cousin at that same party. It’s a good family – nearly as old as yours – but he is a younger son, and the Navy is a dubious paymaster. A few make rich prizes but most remain poor.”

“I think I would like him better than any of the others so far. He is young – and boisterous – and has enthusiasm.”

“I also noticed at that party,” said George, “that he had more than a little time for you.”

“Well . . . he has manners. Which cannot be said of all the young. Yes, I like him. Are there others on your list?”

“You still find this a jest?”

“Far from it. But I must have some concern for Morwenna’s happiness. That must be of account too.”

“Morwenna’s happiness must be our chief concern. The only other two I have considered are both widowers. One is Ephraim Hick . . .”

“You mean William Hick.”

“No, Ephraim, the father. William is married.”

“But Ephraim is a drunkard! He is never sober after midday any day of his life!”

“But he is rich. And I do not like William Hick. It would be agreeable to see his father spawn another family and deprive William of his expectations. And Ephraim will not live long. As a rich widow Morwenna would be far more valuable prize than she is today.”

Elizabeth looked at him. As usual when thinking he sat quite still, his shoulders a little hunched, the big hands clasped together. She wondered why she was not more afraid of him.

“And your last choice?”

“Oh, there may be others. You may well think of others. The last I had in mind was Osborne Whitworth. He is young, a cleric, which might please your cousin –”

“He is married, with two young children!”

“His wife died in childbirth last week. You will notice I have added him to our list of guests. By the end of this month he should be sufficiently out of mourning to accompany his mother. I believe he is just thirty, and as you know recently installed at St. Margaret’s, Truro. With two young children to manage and considerably in debt, he must seek another marriage soon. One which provided him with a dean’s daughter and at the same time cancelled his debts would I think attract him not a little.”

“But what,” said Elizabeth curiously, “attracts you?”

George got up and stood a moment, idly turning the money in his fob. “The Whitworths were nothing, Sir Augustus a highly ineffectual judge. But Lady Whitworth was a Godolphin.”

So that was it. An alliance with a family now in decline but itself allied with half a dozen of the great families of England, and in particular the Marlboroughs.

“Yes,” said Elizabeth presently, “Yes.” She came back from the window and patted George’s shoulder lightly as she passed. “It is all a very interesting speculation, my dear, and I am still surprised that your thoughts should have gone so far. For my part I still think of Morwenna as a child hardly old enough for ideas of matrimony. I still think it premature. I am sure she is very happy with us and would like to continue with us for a while. Let us make haste slowly, shall we?”

“There is no haste,” said George. “But I do not think the question should be shelved.”

– Excerpted from The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795 (1972)
by Winston Graham

UPDATE: Poldark Returns!

Poldark, a new BBC adaptation of Winston Graham's acclaimed novels, premiered March 8, 2015 on BBC One. It has since been broadcast in many other countries. This new adaptation is written by Debbie Horsfield and features (above, from left) Jack Farthing as George Warleggan, Heida Reed as Elizabeth Poldark Warleggan (née Chynoweth), Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark, Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza Poldark (née Carne), Luke Norris as Dr Dwight Enys, Gabriella Wilde as Caroline Penvenen, and (at right) Ellise Chappell as Morwenna Chynoweth.

For more about the new Poldark, see The Wild Reed posts:
Return of the (Cornish) Native
Poldark: Unfurling in Perfect Form
Thoughts on the PBS Premiere of Poldark
The Renegade Returns
He's Back!

Related Off-site Link:
Winston Graham’s The Black Moon: Violence the Basis of Order; Coerced Marriage as Continual Rape – Ellen Moody (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, September 30, 2010).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Stephanie Coontz on the Changing Face of "Traditional Marriage"
John Corvino on the "Always and Everywhere" Argument Against Marriage Equality
Patrick Ryan on the "Defense of Traditional Marriage" Argument
Nathanial Frank on the "Natural Law" Argument
Marriage: "Part of What is Best in Human Nature"
God Weighs In on the Gay Marriage Debate
Lisa Cressman's Concise, Reasonable Answers to Marriage Equality Questions
Steve Chapman: "Time is On the Side of Gay Marriage"
Rediscovering What Has Been Written on Our Hearts from the Very Beginning

Images: Jane Wymark as Morwenna, Jill Townsend as Elizabeth, and Ralph Bates as George in the BBC television series Poldark (1975-77).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rediscovering What Has Been Written on Our Hearts from the Very Beginning

A recent remark by Archbishop Nienstedt could be interpreted
as encouraging us to rediscover the sacred call to seek, discern
and lovingly respond to all expressions and experiences
of God's transforming love – including those within
the lives and relationships of gay people.

It's been two weeks since Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed multiple copies of the bill passed May 13 by the Minnesota Senate that makes civil marriage for same-sex couples legal in Minnesota beginning August 1. The Governor's signature makes Minnesota the 12th U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Left: Governor Mark Dayton with Senator Scott Dibble, principle sponsor of the Senate version of the Minnesota marriage equality bill.

In describing the historic events of May 14, MinnPost journalist Beth Hawkins wrote:

. . . Despite blistering heat, the crowd blanketed the lawn and covered the broad expanse of stairs leading into the Capitol, where some of the senators who orchestrated Monday’s vote were still hard at work bringing the session to a close.

Flanked by dozens of state officials, LGBT activists, faith community leaders and other supporters, Dayton asked the crowd to thank the lawmakers for taking a risk.

“Thank you! Thank you!” the throng chanted in unison. And later, in what became the unofficial rallying cry of the week, “We’ve got your back, we’ve got your back.”

Even as the governor and lawmakers wrapped up their remarks, people continued to flow into the Capitol area waving American flags and rainbow banners.

Forty-five minutes after he picked up a pen, the governor sent the crowd on its way to a party planned for downtown St. Paul. “Go have fun,” he said. “Love is the law!”

Left: Sen. Scott Dibbe and his husband Richard Leyva – May 14 2013.

In 2011 Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, an initiative of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), created a series of five video vignettes on faith, marriage and family from the perspective of LGBT Catholics and supportive family members. Scott and Richard feature in this series. (To view their vignette, click here. For photos and commentary on the September 29, 2011 premiere of the series at Minneapolis' Riverview Theater, click here.)

Archbishop Nienstedt responds

As executive coordinator of CPCSM/Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, I was honored to be invited to join other faith community leaders in a special area at the foot of the Capitol steps for the May 14 marriage equality bill signing. (Hence the photos that accompany this post!)

There were representatives from many faith traditions present – though, as usual, I was representing the one Christian faith tradition that officially worked against the marriage equality victory that we were celebrating. Indeed, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church continues to work against marriage equality at the national level. Here in Minnesota, the MN Catholic Conference has expressed "disappointment" in the movement toward equality, while Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, one of the most vocal opponents of marriage equality, declared that May 14 was "a dark, sad day for Catholics in the state of Minnesota as well as for all faith-filled people who believe in traditional marriage."

"If marriage was only ever about love between consenting adults and their desires," wrote Nienstedt, "it would have been changed centuries ago."

Well, actually, marriage has "been changed" – both centuries ago and more recently. Just within the past 100 years, the abolishing of the ban on inter-racial marriages here in the U.S. served to "redefine" marriage. Looking further back, author Ken O'Neill is able to remind us that: "The fact that you can't sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we've already redefined marriage."

Unmindful of such changes and developments, Archbishop Nienstedt insists that:

Marriage reflects truths about the human person that no human being, advocacy group or popular trend can mute or change, no matter how much one wishes reality to be shaped according to one’s own making. The traditional understanding of something is often considered as such because tradition reflects unchanging truth.

I find this statement troubling as it appears Archbishop Nienstedt is appealing to claims of "unchanging truth" so as to avoid not only the duty of reading the 'signs of the times' but also the possibility of encountering God in people and relationships that he's uncomfortable with.

I appreciate fellow Catholic blogger Terence Weldon's thoughts on the clinging by many within the church hierarchy to notions of "unchanging truth." Writes Terence:

The institutional Catholic Church often boasts proudly of its “constant and unchanging tradition” in its teaching, insisting not only that it does not change, but that, being God’s revealed truth, it simply cannot change. This is errant nonsense – any examination of Church history soon reveals examples of the very many ways that teaching has changed over the centuries, and continues to adapt in the present day. This is particularly frustrating for lesbian and gay Catholics, for whom the abundant internal contradictions and inconsistencies in the doctrine are only too obvious – and who are far too aware of the deep hurt, anguish and suffering that are caused by a dangerous and destructive disordered doctrine, For them, it is obvious that even in terms of its own logic, the doctrine simply must change . . .

I should also note that my friend Peg Helminski does an excellent job at refuting "unchanging truth" claims concerning so-called traditional marriage. In her 2009 article, "Redefining Marriage?," for instance, she writes that:

In the beginning, marriage was a relationship between two men. A man exchanged goods or services with a girl’s father to procure a virgin bride – a bride who likely became one of several wives. This way, he could assure himself that any children he supported held valid claim to his property. Yes, marriage began as a business transaction to assure male property rights. Often, marriage provided other benefits; increasing the family labor force, acquiring a trade agreement or securing a political alliance.

Marriage provided the basic economic unit of society. In choosing a bride, a man considered whatever skills a woman possessed that could contribute to his business. “Queen” or “tinker’s wife” were job descriptions, not relationships rooted in affection.

Although only required of bishops, the nascent Christian Church defined the ideal marriage as lifelong monogamy. This was, however, the ideal, not the reality.

Whereas fidelity was usually expected of a woman, and insured by various cultures through the use of chastity belts, veiling and foot binding, it was long excused if men expressed their affections outside marriage. Men owed nothing to children produced in these amorous liaisons: no support while alive, no inheritance after death. Such children were “illegitimate” because they held no legitimate claim to their father’s property. Only legitimate children had a claim to property rights.

Even a sacramental, Christian marriage (not instituted until 1215), had a long way to evolve before it reached today’s loving paradigm. Women seldom held rights of mate-selection or even a right to reject a choice made by a father or matchmaker. Until the 20th century, wives had no option to leave men who subjected them or their children to cruelty. Marriage for women was about duty: primarily the duty to produce a male heir to a husband’s possessions.

A threat to patriarchy

It would seem that the Roman Catholic hierarchy's real issue with same-sex marriage is how it undermines patriarchy, which, of course, is the basis for the power and privilege enjoyed by the males who comprise this hierarchy. Explains Peg Helminski:

[I]f we define marriage in the terms to which it has already evolved; if we eliminate unfair restrictions of gender-defined roles, economic dependence and subservience of one spouse to the other; if we name freely-chosen, committed love between respected equals as the purpose of marriage, we open the possibility of marriage to same sex couples.

And, gay marriage poses a threat – not, as detractors claim, to marriage as it is currently lived in Western culture, but to the repressive structures of patriarchy upon which marriage was founded.

You see, Western marriage is still transforming itself. We have not yet realized spousal equality. We remain locked in behavioral patterns formed in an age of male privilege. It is well documented, for example, that even in two career households; women still perform the overwhelming majority of childcare and routine household chores.

If society sanctions life-long, loving commitments between persons of the same sex, we will face daily examples of equality in marriage. We will see a living model for marriage that those in relationships stunted by ill-fitting, stereotypical expectations will learn from – and emulate. For, there simply is no clearer vision of a marriage of equals than the freely chosen, mutual love of two members of the same sex.

. . . The priesthood represents itself as the image of Christ on earth. In this metaphor, the faithful, united as one, are the bride of Christ. Historically, this image served to teach men the level of loyalty expected of them. The Church hierarchy demanded nothing less of men than the absolute fidelity and unquestioning subordination they, in turn, expected of their wives. Men accepted the absolute authority of the priesthood because they commanded similar power at home.

Yet, it is the absolute power of that unquestioned authority that allowed widespread abuse within the Church. If the laity should see how well a marriage of true equals can work; they might clearly understand just how dysfunctional their Church has become. They might recall to consciousness a time in our collective past wherein the vox populi (the voice of the people – the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, alive and moving in the hearts of the faithful) was a driving force, directing the formation of doctrine and Tradition – as well as Papal pronouncements.

With such a guiding model of equality in marriage, we might reclaim our dignity as children of God and, like a newly empowered, long battered wife, collectively say to the hierarchy, “We won’t accept your abuse for ourselves or our children any more! If you wish to remain one with us, you will respect the voice of the Bride of Christ as co-equal with your own.” The last vestiges of ecclesial patriarchy would crumble. . . .

How then might we understand and define marriage if not as the patriarchally-rooted "union between a man and a woman"? Here's what Peg suggests:

Marriage should be defined as a freely chosen, exclusive partnership of respected, adult equals; a joyous union of two minds and hearts, souls and bodies; a strong physical, spiritual and emotional bond; a commitment to deepest intimacy and profound mutual caring that provides an harmonious environment for the personal growth of both individuals and a foundation upon which to nurture others the couple enfolds in their celebration of love.

Although children remain one of the greatest blessings of marriage, we should defend childless marriages as valid marriages none-the-less, for it is the strength and union of committed love infusing life with vibrancy and outreaching purpose that reflects a spiritual truth about the life-giving nature of God, not the mere animal-function of producing offspring. Defined this way, marriage remains an icon of the sacrificial Love of Christ for His people and an enduring bond of stability; enhancing the entire community that affirms the couple’s commitment.

"What God has written on our hearts . . ."

Ever the valiant optimist, I believe that Archbishop Nienstedt is capable of recognizing and embracing such a beautiful and inclusive understanding of marriage. I glean support for this hope by the following which Archbishop wrote in the preface to the special Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis edition of Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion and Purpose.

Wherever you are on your faith journey, know that the community of faith is on that journey with you and that in the Church you will always have a place at the table . . . God's ocean of love and mercy give us all we need to rediscover what He has written on our hearts from the very beginning.

These words of Archbishop Nienstedt speak of journey and discovery, of openness to and trust in God's ongoing revelation in human life. It seems to me that Peg Helminski's articulation of the meaning and purpose of marriage is beautifully aligned to God's presence and transforming love witnessed in gay people's lives, relationships and families. I believe that what is "written on our hearts from the very beginning" is God's call to seek, discern and lovingly respond to all expressions and experiences of God's transforming love. Accordingly, I think we should give thanks and praise for the evolution in human awareness and understanding that has helped bring us to the point where we can and do witness such love in the lives and relationships of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. And, of course, we should also give thanks and praise to the courageous gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who, in living lives of integrity and love, have served as midwives for such evolution.

My hope and prayer is that Archbishop Nienstedt and all the members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy will one day soon join their many fellow Catholics in expressing such thanks and praise.


Following are more of my photos from the May 14 signing
of the Minnesota marriage equality bill.

Above: Before a crowd of more than 7,000 people, Governor Mark Dayton signs into law the bill that makes civil marriage for same-sex couples legal in Minnesota beginning August 1.

With Gov. Dayton are the bill's two chief sponsors, Rep. Karen Clark, with her partner Jacquelyn Zita, and Sen. Scott Dibble, with his husband Richard Leyva.

“By your political courage you join that pantheon of exceptional leaders who did something extraordinary,” Gov. Dayton told the crowd. “You changed the course of history for our state and our nation. . . . [This] progress has often been difficult, controversial and initially divisive. However, it has always been the next step ahead to fulfilling this country’s promise to every American.”

Above (from left): MN House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, Speaker of the MN House of Representatives Paul Thissen, Gov. Mark Dayton, Richard Leyva, Rep. Karen Clark, and Jacquelyn Zita.

Above: Sen. Scott Dibble acknowledges and thanks those gathered at the State Capitol for the May 14 marriage equality bill signing.

Above and right: One of the most inspiring speakers was Paul Melchert, a Twin Cities-based pediatric physician, who was present at the May 14 bill signing with his partner James Zimmerman and the couple's twin boys Emmett and Gabriel.

"This is all about the children and it is all about us as families," said Melchert as he thanked the crowd. "This is a beautiful victory for everyone. This is a victory of justice and equality in which everybody wins. We are all winners, there are no losers."

Over the past two years, as Minnesotans debated (and ultimately defeated) the anti-marriage equality 'marriage amendment' and moved toward legalized same-sex marriage, opponents would often argue that same-sex marriage would hurt children and families. The Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, however, issued a statement in October 2012 that said bans on gay marriage would do more harm than good for children with same-sex parents.

Standing with Paul and James in the picture above is Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families.

Related Off-site Links:
Minnesota Legalizes Gay Marriage; Gov. Dayton Signs Bill Into Law – Megan Boldt and Christopher Snowbeck (St. Paul Pioneer Press via Denver Post, May 15, 2013).
The Catholics, Other Faith Groups Behind Minnesota Marriage Victory – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, May 9, 2013).
The Top 10 Arguments Against Gay Marriage: All Receive Failing Grades! – Murray Lipp (The Huffington Post, May 28, 2013.

Richard Carlbom to Lead National Same-Sex Marriage Effort – Baird Helgeson (Star Tribune, July 9, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Acknowledging, Celebrating, and Learning from Marriage Equality's 'Triumphs of Faith'
"It'll Be Legal August 1st"
At the Minnesota State Capitol, Two Big Steps Forward for Marriage Equality
Drawing the Circle Wide
Two of the Most Inspiring Speeches from Today's Historic MN House Hearing and Vote on Marriage Equality
Karen Clark's Revolutionary Act: "Daring to Believe That People Can Change Their Hearts and Minds"
Photo of the Day – May 13, 2013
Marriage Equality Comes to Minnesota
Photo of the Day – May 14, 2013
Tongues and Souls on Fire
Marriage: "Part of What is Best in Human Nature"
God Weighs In on the Gay Marriage Debate
Lisa Cressman's Concise, Reasonable Answers to Marriage Equality Questions
Steve Chapman: "Time is On the Side of Gay Marriage"
Stephanie Coontz on the Changing Face of "Traditional Marriage"
John Corvino on the "Always and Everywhere" Argument Against Marriage Equality
Patrick Ryan on the "Defense of Traditional Marriage" Argument
Nathanial Frank on the "Natural Law" Argument
Quote of the Day – January 21, 2013
Quote of the Day – November 19, 2012

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Then I Shall Leap Into Love . . ."

I cannot dance, Lord, unless you lead me.
If you want me to leap with abandon,
You must intone the song.
Then I shall leap into love,
From love into knowledge,
From knowledge into enjoyment,
And from enjoyment beyond all human sensations.
There I want to remain,
yet want also to circle higher still.

– Excerpted from "Visions of God"

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
"More Lovely Than the Dawn": God as Divine Lover
The Many Manifestations of God's Loving Embrace
The Soul of a Dancer
Seeking Balance
A Dance of Divine Light

Image: Shane Collard and Lazaro Cuervo as featured in Men in Motion: The Art and Passion of the Male Dancer by François Rousseau.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Trinity Sunday Message from the Equally Blessed Coalition . . .

To contact Equally Blessed, click here.

UPDATES: America's Top Catholic Hierarch Calls for Renewed Wave of Anti-LGBT Sentiment – Stephen C. Webster (, May 26, 2013).
Cardinal Dolan Calls for Anti-LGBT Sermons in Shadow of Violent Anti-Gay Hate Crime Wave – David Badash (The New Civil Rights Movement, May 26, 2013).
The Trinity is NOT a Nuclear Family – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, May 26, 2013).
A Brief, Queer Glance at God: A Reflection for the Feast of the Trinity – Joseph N. Goh (Queer Eye for God's World, May 25, 2013).

Related Off-site Links:
Equally Blessed – Faithful Catholics Committed to Full Equality for LGBT People in the Church and Civil Society.
Social Media Counteracts U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Trinity Sunday Campaign Against Marriage Equality – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, May 25, 2013).
Can Gay Catholics Find a Home in the Catholic Church? – David Gibson (Religion News Service, May 23, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Knowing What to Do, Knowing Why to Stay
Catholic Attitudes on Gay and Lesbian Issues: An Overview
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
Our Catholic "Stonewall Moment"
LGBT Catholics Celebrate Being "Wonderfully Made"
Catholic Hierarchy Can Overcome Fear of LGBT People
Gay Men in the Vatican Are Giving the Rest of Us a Bad Name
The Gifts of Homosexuality
The Many Manifestations of God's Loving Embrace
Gay People and the Spiritual Life
A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride
Truth-Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
Getting It Right

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Quote of the Day

There’s so much in the media . . . about the progress of gay rights, especially on the marriage front. But in the republic of Georgia just days ago, Orthodox priests led thousands of people in an anti-gay attack. In Greenwich Village, a young gay man was fatally shot in what’s been deemed a hate crime.

And at a kitchen table here in central Ohio, [Carla Hale], a typically cheerful woman, dabbed her eyes and wondered aloud what she’d done wrong.

The answer is in one sense simple: she made a life with another woman. While the Catholic Church doesn’t condemn homosexuality per se, it considers any physical expression of it sinful. And Carla’s “public declaration of an extramarital relationship,” [in her mother's obituary], indicated that she was flouting Catholic tenets and thus breaching her contract [with the Ohio Catholic high school where she'd worked as a gym teacher for 18 years], according to a statement the diocese e-mailed me.

But things get complicated when you consider the selectiveness of the church’s outrage, the capriciousness of its mercy.

Until public exposure shamed them, many church leaders protected priests whose sexual transgressions involved minors and were criminal.

Church leaders tolerate teachers at Catholic schools who are married with no kids or with few. Some are surely using artificial birth control, which the church officially opposes.

Besides which, Carla was guiding students through sit-ups, not psalms. The school hired her though she’s Methodist, not Catholic.

. . . “A lot of people want me to be bitter and go after the Catholic Church,” she said, adding that others want to cast her as a lesbian heroine. She just wants her job back, a recognition, she said, “that I’m a moral individual who happens to be gay.”

– Frank Bruni
"One School's Catholic Teaching"
New York Times
May 20, 2013

Related Off-site Links:
Carla Hale Story Goes National Through Frank Bruni Column in New York Times: "Consider the Selectiveness of the Church's Outrage" – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, May 21, 2013).
Ohio Catholic High School Fires Gay Teacher For Naming Partner In Mother’s Obituary – Zack Ford (, April 18, 2013).
U.S. Catholics Break with Hierarchy on Gay Relationships – Cathy Lynn Grossman, (USA Today, March 23, 2011).
Why Do So Many Catholics Support Marriage Equality? Blame the Catholic Imagination – Jamie L. Manson (National Catholic Reporter, October 10, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Truth-Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
Our Catholic "Stonewall Moment"
Catholic Hierarchy Can Overcome Fear of LGBT People
Catholic Attitudes on Gay and Lesbian Issues: An Overview

Image: Kristen Solberg.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tongues and Souls on Fire

For many people of faith in Minnesota,
last Tuesday's signing into law of marriage equality legislation
involved a pouring forth of the Spirit of Pentecost.

When you joined with thousands
standing side by side,
Tell me was your soul on fire?

When you knew you'd won
what so long was denied,
Tell me was your soul on fire?

Was your soul on fire like mine?
Was your heart on fire like mine?

We gathered in the sunshine, spoke the truth in love.
We with tongues and souls on fire.

– Adapted from "Hearts on Fire"
by Bret Hesla.
Available on What We Do: Good Time Songs
for Peace and Change

According to a recent article in the National Catholic Reporter, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who chairs the U.S. Bishops' Conference Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, finds it "ironic" that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill making same-sex marriage legal in the state the day after Mother's Day.

In Cordileone's view granting civil marriage rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples makes mothers and fathers "superfluous." He also believes that:

The Minnesota legislature's decision to redefine marriage weakens motherhood and fatherhood, and so strikes a blow to all children who deserve both a mother and father.

Of course, given that the Vatican has been summoned before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child over its ongoing worldwide sex abuse crisis, it's highly questionable if a member of the Vatican's ruling class, such as Cordileone, is in any position to be lecturing on the rights and safety of children.

Furthermore, how exactly does granting civil marriage rights to same-sex couples deprive children of their mother and father? That's something that, to my knowledge, has never been adequately explained. Is it because some gay couples adopt children? Do the bishops think unwanted children should only be adopted and raised by heterosexual couples? If this is the case, why all the focus on gay marriage? Shouldn't they be pushing for constitutional amendments against gay adoptions? That would be the logical step given their concern for the safety, welfare, and "rights" of children. Another logical measure would be their advocating for children to be removed from families headed by same-sex couples. Yet on such matters the bishops remain silent. Why is that?

I think one of the best responses to the bishops' fear-mongering about children being raised by same-sex parents was offered last year by comedian and writer Jim David:

As far as the [fallacy] that children are best served by a mother and a father, we all know a lot of really screwed-up people who came from a mother and a father. The adoption and foster-care agencies of the world are jam-packed with babies discarded by mothers and fathers. A same-sex couple I know recently adopted a son who was thrown into foster care like a piece of trash, abandoned by every heterosexual parent he had. The child was a wreck when he arrived, and now he's a happy boy in the second grade, on the softball team, with a quality of life he did not know before age five. This scenario has been repeated thousands of times in thousands of other same-sex families. The only problem that children of same-sex couples routinely report is dealing with the bigotry of children whose parents believe the lies told by organizations like NOM.

. . . and by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, unfortunately.

As for the bishops' complaint about "redefining marriage" . . . well, as far as I know the Roman Catholic hierarchy is still calling the shots on who can and cannot marry in the church. Thus nothing can be said to have been changed or "redefined" within their domain. This is because, as Jay Michaelson so succinctly puts it: "We’re not changing religious definitions; we’re expanding secular domains of equality."

A Spirit-filled event

The presence of the sacred, however, is not absent from individuals and families that live and operate within any number of "secular domains." Mother's Day is a secular holiday. Yet that fact did not prevent Archbishop Cordileone from using it to make a theological point.

I'd like to take this opportunity to make a theological point of my own. And that is this: For many, if not the majority of the 7,000+ people who gathered last Tuesday at the Minnesota State Capitol to witness the signing into law of marriage equality, the occasion was a Spirit-filled event. This is not surprising given the significant role that people of faith – including Catholics – played in defeating last year's anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment and in advocating this year for marriage equality as a social justice and faith issue.

I don't find it ironic that Tuesday's bill signing took place so close to Mother's Day, I find it appropriate – appropriate for all mothers, including those who are partnered with another woman. I also find it fitting that Minnesota's marriage equality law was signed just five days before Pentecost – the feast of the great outpouring of God's Spirit of love, clarity, and courage.

Traditionally, Pentecost is the "birthday of the Church." But what do we actually mean by this? Well, as I've noted previously, Pentecost signifies our recognition of the gift of God’s spirit of transformation within and among us. It’s a recognition that, time and again, births community, births “the church.” On the feast of Pentecost we recall how at some point early in the life of the community of followers of Jesus, those beyond this community came to recognize something wondrously transformative and inspiring about the things that this community was saying and doing. Regardless of where they came from or what language they spoke, people recognized and responded to the sacred that they experienced as present and active in this community that we now call the early church. People where amazed, inspired and changed by this sacred presence embodied by and mediated through this community.

I contend that last Tuesday's event on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol was the culmination of a similar experience. Over the course of the past two years, thanks to the whole 'marriage amendment' issue, gay couples and families, along with the people who know and love them, awakened to the need to share the reality of their lives, and thus potentially change the hearts and minds of others. Thousands upon thousands of Minnesotans undertook this endeavor in a myriad of ways. And, as a result, something quite beautiful and wondrous happened: For those attuned to the presence and action of the sacred, it became clear that in the lives and experiences of same-sex individuals, couples and families God is present.

Yes, for many of us who are people of faith, Pentecost came early this year in Minnesota. And last Tuesday it was the same-sex families who stood on the steps of the Capitol with Governor Mark Dayton who most powerfully embodied and channeled God's spirit of love and justice to the thousands gathered before them. One of those family is pictured above, and is comprised of Paul Melchert (right), his partner James Zimmerman, and their twin boys Emmett and Gabriel.

It was because of families like this, and the love and commitment they embody, that there were, in the words of Bret Hesla, "tongues and souls on fire" last Tuesday.

When you joined with thousands
standing side by side,
Tell me was your soul on fire?

We gathered in the sunshine, spoke the truth in love.
We with tongues and souls on fire.

I'm truly sorry for those unable or unwilling to see and lovingly respond to the presence of God in the lives, relationships, and families of gay and lesbian people, and who instead seek to find ways to deny, dismiss, or disparage such lives, relationships, and families. And make no mistake, that was the unspoken intention of Archbishop Cordileone's quip about the "irony" of the timing of last Tuesday's bill signing to Mother's Day, an intention that speaks volumes to the limited understanding of both "mothers" and "family" that this day represents for him.

If Archbishop Cordileone wants an example of irony (not to mention the wondrously mysterious ways of the Spirit!), he need look no further than to the role that his brother archbishop, the anti-marriage equality John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis, played in ensuring marriage equality in Minnesota. You see, Archbishop Nienstedt made the passage of the 'marriage amendment' something of a personal crusade. Yet it was a crusade that served to galvanize people in their commitment to stand up and speak their truth. What followed was a transforming outpouring of truth and love that first helped defeat last year's 'marriage amendment' and then preceded to help win marriage equality this year.

For many of us, such an outpouring was and continues to be experienced as the work of the Spirit.

When you knew you'd won
what so long was denied,
Tell me was your soul on fire?

Is your soul on fire like mine?
Is your heart on fire like mine?

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Prayer for Pentecost
The Spirit and the Faithful
The Spirit of Pentecost is Very Much Present and Active in the Church of Minneapolis/St. Paul
Marriage Equality Comes to Minnesota
Karen Clark's Revolutionary Act: "Daring to Believe That People Can Change Their Hearts and Minds"
Strange Tongues

Recommended Off-site Links:
If This Video Doesn't Convince You to Support Marriage Equality, Nothing Will – Neetzan Zimmerman (Gawker, February 28, 2013).
Dayton Signs Marriage Equality Law on Capitol Steps – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, May 14, 2013).
Minnesota Ushers in Gay Marriage – Baird Helgeson (Star Tribune, May 14, 2013).
For Minnesota Gay Marriage Sponsors, It's Personal – Patrick Condon (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, May 14, 2013).
Marriage Equality Bill Signing: History in the MakingCity Pages (May 15, 2013).

Image 1: Photographer unknown.
Image 2: Michael J. Bayly.

How Did They Know?

By Joyce Rupp

How did they know
it was time to push up
through the long-wintered soil?

How did they know
it was the moment to resurrect
while thick layers of stubborn ice
still pressed the bleak ground flat?

But the tulips knew.
They came, rising strongly,
a day after the ice died.

There's a hope-filled place in me
that also knows when to rise.
It is urged by the strong sun
warming my wintered heart.
It is nudged by the Secret One,
calling, calling, calling,
"Arise, my love, and come."

Like the dormant tulips
my heart stirs,
and hope comes dancing forth.
Not unlike the Holy One
kissing the morning sun,
waving a final farewell
to a tomb emptied of its treasure.

For more of Joyce Rupp at The Wild Reed, see:
A Springtime Prayer
Prayer of the Week – October 30, 2012
In the Garden of Spirituality – Joyce Rupp

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The End of a Very Long Winter
Springtime by the Creek
A Springtime Walk Along Minnehaha Creek (March 2012)
Waiting in Repose for Spring's Awakening Kiss
In the Footsteps of Spring
The Onward Call
"More Lovely Than the Dawn": God as Divine Lover

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Bobbie's Motown Moment

For 'music night' this evening at The Wild Reed I share a track from revered singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry's 1971 album Patchwork. It's "Somebody Like Me," about which one commentator has observed: "The great Bobbie Gentry takes a page from Motown and burns rubber in the recording studio." Indeed!

Below is the audio of "Somebody Like Me," courtesy of "tenda berry" and YouTube. It's followed by excerpts from an appreciation of Patchwork written by John Dowler for Raven Records' 2007 CD release containing both this album and Gentry's previous album Fancy.

. . . Baby, sorry it's only me
Don't want nobody stayin' up late at night
waitin' on me, waitin' on me, waitin' on me.

Can't seem to settle down,
maybe I'll just hang around.
But every time you pick me up
I guess I take you down.

But though I wonder why you want me,
somehow I just know if you stopped lovin' me
I'd crawl on off and die.

What's somebody like you
lovin' somebody like me for, baby?
What's somebody like you
lovin' somebody like me for, child?

Better go find somebody to love you;
Better go find somebody to love . . .

After a couple of years treading water creatively, during which she released two albums containing only three original compositions between them, Bobbie Gentry determined to up the ante with the release of Patchwork in 1971. Completely self-composed and self-produced, the album was a song cycle with the component tracks linked by a series of orchestral interludes, enabling it to be viewed and listened to as a seamless whole.

In much the same way as author Ray Bradbury used the tattooed body of a man as a device to shape a disparate collection of stories into a unified work in The Illustrated Man, Gentry utilised the panels of fabric in a patchwork skirt to provide the unifying principle for a diverse collection of songs. It was a creative conceit that would facilitate the production of what is undoubtedly her most sustained artistic statement. . . . [The track] "Somebody Like Me," a Motown-flavoured slice of rhythm and blues, neatly showcases Gentry's easy facility with the genre . . .

– John Dowler

Recommended Off-site Links:
Whatever Happened to Bobbie Gentry? – Miranda Sawyer (The Observer, May 19, 2012).
Ode to Bobbie Gentry – Kurt Wolff (CBS New York, July 27, 2012).
Bobbie Gentry: Rediscovering the Girl from Chickasaw County – Jeremy Roberts (Examiner, July 27, 2012).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

In the Garden of Spirituality – Kabir Helminski


“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 Kabir Helminski's 1992 book Living Presence: A Sufi Way to Mindfulness and the Essential Self. In this particular excerpt Helminski explores the state of consciousness that he calls presence and which he says is a "fundamental experience and requirement" in all the great spiritual traditions.


A common theme runs through all the great spiritual traditions. It goes by many names – awakening, recollection, mindfulness, dhyana, remembrance, zhikr, presence – and by no name at all. This state of consciousness adds further dimensions to being in this world. Beyond the narrow band of awareness that has come to be accepted as the conventional state of consciousness is a faculty that is the master key to unlocking our latent human potential.

In certain teachings, such as Buddhism, the practice of mindful presence is the central fact. In Islam remembrance is the qualifier of all activity. In Christianity we must look to the experience of its great mystics and to prayer of the heart. But in all authentic spiritual psychologies this state of consciousness is a fundamental experience and requirement. For the purposes of our reflection I shall call it presence.

Presence signifies the quality of consciously being here. It is the activation of a higher level of awareness that allows all our other human functions – such as thought, feeling, and action – to be known, developed, and harmonized. Presence is the way in which we occupy space, as well as how we flow and move. Presence shapes our self-image and emotional tone. Presence determines the degree of our alertness, openness, and warmth. Presence decides whether we leak and scatter our energy or embody and direct it.

Presence is the human self-awareness that is the end result of the evolution of life on this planet. Human presence is not merely quantitatively different from other forms of life; humanity represents a new form of life, of concentrated spiritual energy sufficient to produce will. With will, the power of conscious choice, human beings can formulate intentions, transcend their instincts and desires, educate themselves, and steward the natural world. Unfortunately, humans can also use this power to exploit nature and tyrannize other human beings. This potency of will, which on the one hand can connect us to conscious harmony, can also lead us in the direction of separation from that same harmony.

I have been speaking of presence as a human attribute, with the understanding that it is the presence of Absolute Being reflected through the human being. We can learn to activate this presence at will. Once activated, this presence can be found both within and without. Because we find it extending beyond the boundaries of what we thought was ourselves, we are freed from separation, from duality. We can then speak of being in this presence.

– Kabir Helminski

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Photo of the Day

Above: Before a crowd of more than 7,000 people, Governor Mark Dayton signs into law the bill that makes civil marriage for same-sex couples legal in Minnesota beginning August 1.

With Gov. Dayton are the bill's two chief sponsors, Rep. Karen Clark, with her partner Jacquelyn Zita, and Sen. Scott Dibble, with his husband Richard Leyva.

More images and commentary coming soon!

Related Off-site Links:
Minnesota Governor Signs Bill Legalizing Gay Marriage – David Bailey (Reuters via Yahoo! News, May 14, 2013).
Dayton Signs Marriage Equality Law on Capitol Steps – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, May 14, 2013).
Minnesota Ushers in Gay Marriage – Baird Helgeson (Star Tribune, May 14, 2013).
For Minnesota Gay Marriage Sponsors, It's Personal – Patrick Condon (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, May 14, 2013).
Marriage Equality Bill Signing: History in the MakingCity Pages (May 15, 2013).
Minnesota Marriage Equality: Top Ten Reasons this Victory is So Sweet – Rev. Meg Riley (HuffPost Religion, May 15, 2013).
Minnesota Just Passed Gay Marriage: What Now? – Alexander Abad-Santos (The Atlantic Wire via Yahoo! News, May 14, 2013).
Photos: Thousands Gather as Minnesota Same-Sex Marriage Bill Signed Into Law – Minnesota Public Radio (May 14, 2013).
Twin Cities Churches Prepare for Gay Weddings – Joe Mazan (KSTP, May 14, 2013).
Marriage Equality for Minnesota? You Betcha! – Christopher Zumski Finke (Yes!, May 16, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Marriage Equality Comes to Minnesota
Karen Clark's Revolutionary Act: "Daring to Believe That People Can Change Their Hearts and Minds"
Photo of the Day – May 13, 2013

Image: Michael J. Bayly.