Friday, February 27, 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

Quote of the Day

. . . in response to The Imitation Game winning for Best Adapted Screenplay at last night's Oscars.

In perhaps the most bitter irony of all, the filmmakers have managed to transform the real Alan Turing, vivacious and forceful, into just the sort of mythological gay man, whiney and weak, that homophobes love to hate. This is indicative of the bad faith underlying the whole enterprise, which is desperate to put Turing in the role of a gay liberation totem but can’t bring itself to show him kissing another man—something he did frequently, and with gusto. . . . The Imitation Game is a film that prefers its gay men decorously disembodied.

– Christian Caryl
Excerpted from "A Poor Imitation of Alan Turing"
The New York Review
December 19, 2014

Related Off-site Links:
Accuracy of The Imitation GameWikipedia.
The Imitation Game: Inventing a New Slander to Insult Alan Turing – Alex von Tunzelmann (The Guardian, November 20, 2014).
The Imitation Game Screenwriter Graham Moore: Stay Weird, Stay DifferentThe Advocate (February 23, 2015).
Is It “Weird” to Be Gay? What Graham Moore’s Speech Really Means – J. Bryan Lowder (Salon, February 23, 2015).
The Murky Gay Politics Surrounding the 'Stay Weird' Oscars Speech – Spencer Kornhaber (The Atlantic, February 24, 2015).
Half-Million Supporters Demand Pardon for Persecuted Gay Men Day After Graham Moore's Oscar Speech – Robbie Couch (The Huffington Post, February 23, 2015).
This Year's Oscars Unmasked Hollywood's Most Dubious Views – Steven W. Thrasher (The Guardian, February 23, 2015).
Patricia Arquette’s Equal Pay Message Needs a Drastic Rewrite – Dave Zirin (The Nation, February 23, 2015).
The Problem With Making Celebrities Like Patricia Arquette the Face of Feminism – Tara Culp-Ressler (Think Progress, February 23, 2015).
The Oscars and Awards-season Devalue and Pervert Art – Steve Almond (Salon, February 22, 2015).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Whether Christian or Muslim, James Foley Remains a "Symbol of Faith Under the Most Brutal of Conditions"

Some Catholic Christians are apparently upset by news that photo-journalist James Foley converted to Islam during his months of harsh imprisonment by ISIS, an imprisonment that tragically ended last August with his beheading by the extremist Islamic group.

In a recent New York Times piece Jim Yardley notes that:

[F]or many of his fellow Roman Catholics, Mr. Foley’s death in Syria transformed him into a symbol of faith under the most brutal of conditions.

One Catholic essayist compared him to St. Bartholomew, who died for his Christian faith. Others were drawn to Mr. Foley’s account of praying the rosary during an earlier captivity in Libya. Even Pope Francis, in a condolence call to Mr. Foley’s parents, described him as a martyr, according to the family.

Then came an unexpected twist: It turned out that Mr. Foley was among several hostages in Syria who had converted to Islam in captivity, according to some freed captives. What had been among some Catholics a theological discussion of faith and heroic resistance quickly shifted to a different set of questions:

Is any conversion under such duress a legitimate one? Why would a man who had spoken so openly about his Catholic faith turn to Islam? Given his circumstances, is it even surprising if he did?

Hmm, I can't say these were the questions that came to my mind when, as a Catholic, I first heard news of Foley's "conversion." From its earliest days, the debate about whether this conversion was "genuine" or "legitimate" failed, in my opinion, to acknowledge the most crucial reality: that regardless of whether he identified as "Catholic" or "Muslim," James Foley was (and remains) an inspiring symbol of faith under brutal, dehumanizing conditions.

From my reading of his months in captivity, James was sustained by a faith in the Divine Presence that not only gave him hope and strength to endure hardship, but also connected him in a deeply spiritual way to many of those around him and to his family in the U.S.

Yet clearly for many people it's important that James "died a Christian." For me, the more important thing is that he died knowing he was one with the loving and sustaining Divine Presence, however one labels it or oneself.

I'll talk about this further in a moment, but first I share another excerpt from Jim Yardley's New York Times article.

The issue [of Foley's conversion first] arose after Mr. Foley’s [2011] captivity in Libya. In a series of articles in Global Post, as well as during an appearance at Marquette [University], Mr. Foley described how he had agreed to pray with his Muslim cellmates, jailed as enemies of the Qaddafi government. He was surprised when, after he had washed himself, they declared him converted.

“So, from then on out, I prayed with them five times a day,” he said at Marquette. “It was so powerful, and it was something I needed to do to commune with these guys who were relying on their faith in Allah. But it was difficult. I was thinking, ‘Jesus, am I praying to Allah? Am I violating my belief in you?’ ”

“I don’t have an answer to that,” he continued. “I just know that I was authentically with them, and I was authentically praying to Jesus. I don’t know theologically. But I thought I was being authentic.”

His family said his Syrian captivity was much the same.

Actually, "Allah" is an Arabic word for God used by both Christians and Muslims in the Middle East. I also think it's rather sad that the different religions instill in people the kind of doubts that James expressed: the idea that a different name implies a different God. This is especially unfortunate when one recalls that members of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all acknowledge and pray to the same "God" – the "God of Abraham."

From my perspective, it's the same Divine Presence we all pray to, regardless of the names we give to it or to ourselves. It's a presence bigger that us – or our theologies, religions and dogmas.

In his experience of the sustaining love of this Divine Presence, I like to think that in the last months of his life James Foley transcended the religious boundaries that so many people feel they need to emphasize and enforce so as to justify the perceived uniqueness or superiority of their particular faith tradition. In this transcendence, I like to think that James became, or at least was beginning to become, an embodiment of that level of consciousness and stage of faith development known as universalizing faith.

I've come to find hope in the possibility that this stage of faith is one to which we're all ultimately called. It's a faith embodied by people like Mahatma Gandhi (who famously responded to those disturbed by his praying as a Hindu with those of other faiths: "Yes, I am [a Hindu]. I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew") and by mystics of all faith traditions. For as Andrew Harvey imparts, a mystic is "someone who has a direct and naked perception of God, beyond dogma, beyond ideas, beyond any possible formulation in words of any kind."

Universalizing faith is catholic in the most profound and meaningful sense of the word. For as theologian Ilia Delio reminds us, originally "the word catholic literally meant an active process of making whole." In her book The Emergent Christ: Exploring the Meaning of Catholic in an Evolutionary Universe, Delio also notes that the reign of God preached by Jesus "meant a new consciousness of being in the world, a consciousness of relatedness, inclusivity, non-duality, and community. Jesus ushered in a new presence of God . . . [and] the good news that emerged in the life of Jesus was the news of God's healing love; the binding of wounds; the reconciling of relationships torn apart by anger, hurt, jealousy, or vengeance; the revelation that love is stronger than death and that forgiveness is the act of love that creates a new future."

In his words and actions, James Foley embodied so much of what's conveyed within these beautiful insights articulated by Ilia Delio. And it's an embodiment independent of any label.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
James Foley: "Prayer Was the Glue That Enabled My Freedom, An Inner Freedom"
"Even in This Darkness"
Prayer of the Week – February 16, 2015
Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence
Thoughts on Prayer in a "Summer of Strife"
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All
The Source is Within You
In the Garden of Spirituality – L. Patrick Carroll, S.J.

Related Off-site Links:
Life on the Front Lines: A View from James Foley’s CameraGlobalPost (August 8, 2015).
Beheaded Journalist James Foley’s Mother Says He’d Be 'Devastated' by Revenge Killing of 'Jihadi John' – Jordan Chariton (The Wrap, November 13, 2015).
Covering War to End War: New Film Recounts Life and Legacy of James Foley, Journalist Killed by ISISDemocracy Now! (January 28, 2016).

Image: James Foley outside Aleppo, Syria, in July 2012, a few months before his abduction. (Photo: Nicole Tung)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Daniel Helminiak on the Lesson of Jesus: "We Will Be True to God by Being True to Our Deepest and Best Selves"

I have no doubt that there will come a time – hopefully sooner rather than later – when the clerical leadership of the Roman church, realizing that their understanding of issues relating to gender and sexuality is so far behind the insights and wisdom of the Catholic people, will call for a special gathering so as to make matters right. And what a joyous day that will be!

Unfortunately, last year's Synod on the Family, along with the one scheduled for later this year, don't really count. Why? Because it's been made very clear that the hierarchy's actual teaching is not up for negotiation, let alone change. Rather, the way this teaching is articulated seems to be the only thing under consideration and review. What a killjoy of an agenda that is!

Of course, part of the problem is that those in positions of clerical leadership have forgotten that in Catholic thinking they're just one of three sources of wisdom or, if we want to be grandiose about it, "truth." The other two sources are the insights of theologians and the experiences and wisdom of the Catholic people.

The journey to ever-deepening understanding and, yes, truth, about complex human realities such as gender and sexuality requires all of us to be at the table – or at least informed and respected representatives from the above three identified groups or magisteria: bishops, theologians, and the people.

If such a gathering is shepherded into being by our bishops any time soon, than I have no doubt that among the theologians represented will be Daniel Helminiak, whom I had the honor of meeting and interviewing in 2006. (He even gifted me with his own winter cap, after observing that I wasn't wearing one and instructing me on how best to stylishly wear it!)

Today I share an excerpt from Daniel's excellent and, to my mind, essential book, Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth. This particular excerpt deals with Jesus as a model for all types of "coming out" to our deepest and truest selves. Why is this important? Because as Daniel reminds us, "As Jesus' experience shows, we know God and God's will only in probing our own hearts; we will be true to God by being true to our deepest and best selves. [And] our being ourselves is our best possible contribution to others."


Thinking about Jesus, we are led to think also about ourselves. Jesus and us, we go together. We live in unknowing, as he did. Our lives follow a mysterious path, as his did. For him and for us, good living takes courage, faith, honesty, and love. For all of us, life holds misunderstanding and uncertainty. For some, life may even bring outright persecution. For all, life inevitably brings death in one form or another, and similar to Jesus, most of us will know that death is coming, and we will have to come to grips with it.

If we really identify with Jesus, the unfolding of life also brings increased light. If we live with honesty and goodwill, the challenges of life give way to victories. Death brings resurrection.

Anyone who has faced a crisis in life knows that pain is the cost of the growth. Anyone who has gone through any coming out knows how much better things are after that step – the teenage (or middle-aged person) who names his or her homosexuality before self, family, and friends; the beleaguered wife and mother who finally says, "No more," and files for divorce; the spiritually repressed congregant who joins another church or another religion or, for salvation's sake, gives up on religion altogether; the graduate student who drops out of medical school and breaks the family tradition to pursue a career in art, business, education, or whatever; the American who finds that life in the States is simply insane and pulls up roots to become an expatriate in some far-off land; the university professor who gives up tenure to become an Albert Schweitzer. Life is always better after a daunting coming out. Materially and financially one may be worse off, but overall life is always better.

The image of Jesus that Mark's gospel portrays is that of the suffering Messiah, and Jesus suffered precisely because he dared to be true to himself: In his own soul he found authority. Mark portrayed Jesus in this way to encourage the early Christians in Rome who were just then beginning to face persecution. Though suffering is an inevitable part of life, especially when we are determined to make our unique contribution, the achievement is worth the cost. Even death gives way to new life. Such is the courageous lesson that Mark sees in Jesus and commends to us.

Mark wrote specifically for the disciples of Jesus, but what Mark and Jesus have to teach is wisdom for anyone, believer and non-believer alike. The lesson of Jesus is a lesson about human living. The lesson is that fulfillment in life must come from our being ourselves. Whether "being ourselves" is understood in the religious sense of being what God made us to be or in the secular sense of merely being ourselves, if the project is honest and genuine, the practical result must be the same. As Jesus' experience shows, we know God and God's will only in probing our own hearts; we will be true to God by being true to our deepest and best selves.

The lesson is also that our being ourselves is our best possible contribution to others. Jesus "saved us" precisely by his fidelity to himself (and thereby to God) even in the face of death on the cross. In the flow of the universe, in which we are truly ourselves and in which the creative work of God is advanced, the affirmation of self and the salvation of others coincide. In authentic humanity and accurate theology, self and others are opposite sides of the same coin. The religious advice that we sacrifice our genuine selves for the sake of others is misguided and dangerous and, simplistically formulated, is diabolical. Lacking in faith, suspicious of creation, mistrusting the flow of the universe expressed in our guts, this advice deserves the response that Jesus gave Peter at Caesarea Philippi: "Get behind me, Satan!" (Mark 8:33). As Jesus resisted social pressure toward corrupt conformity, so must all of us who would be whole. We do our best for others by being our own very best.

If acceptance of religion could ever bring salvation, this religious lesson from Mark and Jesus surely presents one instance. It tells us to be ourselves. To follow it is to follow ourselves. In our common humanity, commitment to Jesus is commitment to ourselves. Being truly Christian, being a true disciple of Jesus, is a matter of being a genuine human being – and being genuinely human always requires some kind of coming out.

– Daniel Helminiak
Excerpted from chapter 9, "Jesus: A Model for Coming Out"
in Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth
Harrington Park Press, 2006
pp. 126-128

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Challenge to Become Ourselves
David Whyte: "To Be Courageous is to Stay Close to the Way We Are Made"
The Gifts of Homosexuality
Why Jesus is My Man
Jesus: Path-blazer of Radical Transformation
Jesus: The Upside-down Messiah
"Who is This Man?
The Passion: "A Sacred Path of Liberation"
Good News on the Road to Emmaus
On the Feast of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, Thoughts on Marriage Equality in the U.S. and the Vatican's Synod on the Family

For more of Daniel Helminiak's insights at The Wild Reed, see:
Spirituality and the Gay Experience
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Daniel Helminiak on the Vatican's Natural Law Mistake
Quote of the Day – May 16, 2012
Beyond the Hierarchy (Part 1)
In the Garden of Spirituality – Daniel Helminiak

Opening Image: "Behold the Joy of Jesus" by Lindena Robb.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Ashes of Our Martyrs

Today on Ash Wednesday queer martyrs rise from the ashes as we recall the thousands who were executed for homosexuality throughout history. This is not just a historical issue. The death penalty for homosexuality continues today in ten countries (Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and United Arab Emirates). Christians traditionally put ashes on their foreheads as a sign of repentance on Ash Wednesday. It is an appropriate time to reflect on the sins of the church and state against queer people, including the burning of “sodomites” and thousands of executions for homosexuality over the past 800 years.

– Kittredge Cherry
Excerpted from "Ash Wednesday: Queer Martyrs Rise from the Ashes"
Jesus in Love Blog
February 18, 2015

Lest We Forget: Remember the Ashes of Our Martyrs – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, February 13, 2013).
"Burned for Sodomy": A Chronological List of All Those Killed for Homosexuality in Church- or State-Sanctioned Executions – Terence Weldon (Queer Saints and Martyrs).
War on LGBT Community: ISIS Executes Five "Gay Men" in One Month – CBS San Francisco (February 5, 2015).
Lenten Reflection Series: Our Daily CrossMillennial (February 19, 2015).
Giving Up Homophobia for Lent: Queering the Christian "Way of Sorrows" – H. Adam Ackley (The Huffington Post, February 24, 2015).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Blood-Soaked Thread
Louis Crompton on the "Theological Assault" of the Ulpianic-Thomistic Conception of Natural Law (Part I)
Louis Crompton on the "Theological Assault" of the Ulpianic-Thomistic Conception of Natural Law (Part II)
Liberated to Be Together
Ash Wednesday Reflections
Lent: "A Summons to Live Anew"
"Here I Am!" - The Lenten Response
Lent: A Time to Fast and Feast
Lent with Henri
Waking Dagobert

Image: The knight of Hohenberg and his servant, accused of sodomy, were executed by burning in Zürich in 1482. (Wikimedia Commons).

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Church of Both Roots and Branches

Yesterday I shared on Facebook a link to an article by "former fundie" Benjamin L. Corey on "Five Reasons Why Many American Christians Wouldn't Like the First Ones."

These reasons include the fact that the first Christians rejected personal ownership of property and engaged in a redistribution of wealth; that they didn’t like big, show-y church stuff; didn’t warn anyone about hell; weren’t patriotic; and were universally pacifists.

My friend James responded and asked: "Interesting article. I found it helpful. I'm interested, though, in how this works with your progressive Christian views. As in, who decides what areas the church should change with the times and which things should remain the same?"

Here (with added links) is my response to James:

Great question! I think the church is a community of both seekers and believers. In other words, it needs to be both conservative (in the best sense of the word) and progressive. Accordingly, I think of it as being like a tree, one which in order to be alive and healthy needs both roots and branches; needs to be both grounded and capable of reaching out and growing. Which brings us, of course, to your crucial question: who gets to decide the issues and areas that are part of the roots and those that are part of the branches.

I think the answer is connected to human flourishing – individual and communal. I think we are better off when we honor those ways of thinking and behaving that the author of this article identifies as being foundational to the early church. Yet in other areas, such as those around gender and sexuality, I think people have and continue to flourish (i.e., live more happily and productively) when we, as both a church and society, question, dialogue, and take into consideration the insights of science and people's lived experiences. In other words, I think issues around gender and sexuality are among those issues that are part of the "branches," and thus in relation to them, it's okay to live in ways that are open to change and development as such change and development have been shown to help people flourish. I think there's less need – or even no need – for change when it comes to issues like living simply, sharing resources, welcoming all, and striving to be non-violent. I think it's pretty clear that when we, as individuals and as a community, embody these ways of being then we are all better off and we flourish. They are issues that are part of our "roots," things that are foundational. I hope this makes sense and, again, I appreciate your question.

In reply to the above, James wrote:

Thanks for your response. A lot of your answer is tied up in "human flourishing" as being key or a goal. Whilst I think that's good, and I agree totally with the premise of sharing and caring and being non-violent, I wonder if Jesus was all about human flourishing? I think he (and Peter and Paul) don't focus on this. This earth is not our home. There is an eternal focus rather than an earthly. I think that was more important to them than human flourishing. But I love challenging my thinking in this area.

I then responded with the following:

I think Jesus was very much about human flourishing, i.e., people experiencing, as he said, "life to the full" in the here and now. And I base this, in part, on his emphasis on the "corporal works of mercy" (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those imprisoned, etc.) and on his comparing of God's love to that of a parent. I'm not a parent, but if I was, I would want my child/children to flourish in this life in every way possible – physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. It seems to me that Jesus' life and teaching on compassion and justice was very much all about calling each of us to embody a way of life (the Reign or Kingdom of God) in the here and now so that all may flourish as sons and daughters of God. I don't emphasize a distinct separation between the earthly and the eternal. For me they're intimately connected. ("The Kingdom of God is within you.") I think losing sight of this connection and an overt focus on "the earth is not our home" has brought about much of the environmental problems we and future generations are now facing. Again, I look to the historical Jesus as a guide in this. He clearly loved and felt connected to people and the earth. I mean, look at all his beautiful nature parables and the ways he reached out and connected with all different types of people. Paul, on the other hand, definitely shifted things and did bring more of an earth vs. heaven, matter vs. spirit division. And then, of course, some later church theologians and doctrines really went overboard with it. But I question if such a division was a major component of Jesus' life and teaching. Of course, there are passages and sayings that can be lifted up to counter what I'm saying, but they seem at odds with his overall message, and some biblical scholars even believe that these passages could well be later additions to the gospels, inserted to support later ways of thinking.

Finally, my good friend Paula chimed in with, as usual, words of wisdom:

I'm thinking that evolutionary change takes place just the way you two are doing it here – discourse in the public sphere. Divine power driving the whole project through you. Somehow the good ideas get sorted out and inspire communities moving forward. Lifting up ideas from the early Christians, struggling with the dualisms of heaven/earth, country/globe, and also valuing the institutional forms our ancestors have created for human flourishing – all good. I guess being as intentional and caring as we can be in every moment is the best we can do. It's those darn dualisms that give us most trouble.

Related Upcoming Event:
"Many Places at the Table: The Contemporary Roman Catholic Church in the USA" with Fr. Michael Joncas (Tuesday, February 24, 2015).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
Paul Lakeland on the Church as a Model of Divine Mutuality
Message to a Young Man if Integrity
Answer to a Troubled Liberal Catholic
The Roots of My Progressive Catholicism
Quote of the Day – December 1, 2014
What It Means to Be Catholic
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 1)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 2)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 3)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 4)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 5)
Truth About “Spirit of Vatican II” Finally Revealed!
Reading the Documents of Vatican II (Part 1)
Reading the Documents of Vatican II (Part 2)
Reading the Documents of Vatican II (Part 3)
Good News on the Road to Emmaus
The Living Tree

Related Off-site Links:
Could Pope Francis Be Any Clearer About His Vision for the Church? – Robert Mickens (National Catholic Reporter, February 16, 2015).
At Mardi Gras, God Dwells Among the Motley Crowds – Alex Mikulich (National Catholic Reporter, February 7, 2015).
Take the Catholic Church to Mardi Gras! – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, February 17, 2015).
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1) – Rosemary Radford Ruether (The Progressive Catholic Voice, July 15, 2010).
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2) – Rosemary Radford Ruether (The Progressive Catholic Voice, July 19, 2010).
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3) – Rosemary Radford Ruether (The Progressive Catholic Voice, July 28, 2010).

Monday, February 16, 2015

Prayer of the Week

You, O Comforter, are ever near,
. . . Come! Melt every heart;
the appointed time is nigh.
Those who trust in You
find solace for their souls;
tears soon turn to joy.
All who reverence and honor the Beloved
are nourished and held by Love.

For you, O Healer, invite us to be wholeness,
to be co-creators along Love's way.
You hear the cries of the afflicted,
and answer their prayer.
You beware! Our thoughts are also our prayers.
May they be for the well-being of all!

Let this be recorded for generations to come,
so that a people yet unborn
may praise the Beloved:
That you come down from the Holy Mountain,
to live in every receptive heart.

You hear the groans of the prisoners,
liberating those doomed to die.
Let all nations declare the glory
of your Holy Name
and gather together in peace
to honor the Creator of All.

Though my strength be broken in mid-course
and my days shortened,
I cry to You, "Would that this cup
be taken away from me,
You who are everlasting;
Yet, into your Hands
will I commend my soul."

– Excerpted from Psalm 102
as translated by Nan C. Merrill
in Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness

Related Off-site Links:
ISIS Video Purports to Show Mass Beheading of 21 Coptic Christians – Scott Neuman (NPR News, February 15, 2015).
Pope Francis Condemns Islamic State's Executions of Christians in Libya – David Gibson (Religion News Service via The National Catholic Reporter, February 16, 2015).
What ISIS Really Wants – Graeme Wood (The Atlantic, March 2015).
The Atlantic’s Big Islam Lie: What Muslims Really Believe About ISIS – Haroon Moghul (Salon, February 19, 2015).
The Quran Isn’t the Problem: Violent extremism is About More Than Just Sacred Texts – Murray Watson (Salon, February 23, 2015).
Terrorize, Mobilize, Polarize: ISIS Follows the Age-old Strategy of Rulers – Jason Burke (The Guardian, February 7, 2015).
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Condemns "Heinous" Killings of Egyptian Christians, Deadly Attacks in Denmark – CAIR via Common Dreams (February 16, 2015).
Top Islamic Authority: Extremists Are No "Islamic State" – Sarah El Deeb (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, August 24, 2014).
ISIS is Cruel But So Are Bombs and Drones – Dave Hepworth and Ian Sinclair (The Guardian, February 8, 2015).
When It Comes to Good or Evil, Says Pope, "We Have to Choose Even in the Small Things" – Carol Glatz (Religion News Service via National Catholic Reporter, February 17, 2015).
Lenten Reflection Series: Our Daily CrossMillennial (February 19, 2015).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
"Even in This Darkness"
James Foley: "Prayer Was the Glue That Enabled My Freedom, An Inner Freedom"
Michael Morwood on the Divine Presence
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
Thoughts on Prayer in a "Summer of Strife"
Karl Rahner on the Need for Prayer
Prayer: Both a Consolation and a Demand
Sufism: A Tradition of Enlightenment, the Way of Love, and an Antidote to Fanaticism
Be Just in My Heart
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All

Image: Three of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians executed by ISIS last week. Reports Reuters: "In the [ISIS-released] video, militants in black marched the captives, dressed in orange jump suits, to a beach. They were forced down onto their knees, then beheaded." Reuters says a caption on the five-minute video reads: "The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church." Egypt's MENA news agency quotes the spokesman for the Coptic Church as confirming that the 21 are believed to be dead. The video follows another from the extremist group that showed the immolation death of a Jordanian pilot shot down over Syria and videos showing the execution of two Japanese hostages.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ross Poldark: Renegade of Principle

BBC One has released an official trailer for Poldark, its "epic eight-part adaptation of Winston Graham’s acclaimed saga" . . .

Poldark will premiere on Sunday, March 8 in the UK. Here in the US, the series will be presented by PBS Masterpiece and debut on the evening of Sunday, June 21. I intend hosting a "Poldark party," to which my guests will be encouraged to come in eighteenth-century garb! Won't that be fun?

But seriously, I'm very excited about this new adaptation of a series of novels I've long respected and enjoyed. New editions of the first two Poldark novels, Ross Poldark and Demelza, are set to be published, and the thought of them being prominently displayed in bookstores and libraries everywhere is something I look forward to. For me, it really is all about the books, and I'm very much hoping that the BBC's adaptation brings people to experience and recognize them as the beautiful and powerful works of literature that they are.

The books' publisher, Pan Macmillan, notes that Andrew Graham, Winston Graham's son, says that his father "was deeply attached to Cornwall [the setting of the novels]. He loved the ever-changing sea, Cornwall’s mining tradition, its people and the Poldark characters he created. Most writers wish for a lasting legacy and here we see his – in wonderful new editions of the Poldark novels, their fresh adaptation for television by Mammoth Screen, and in the reissue of Poldark’s Cornwall with brilliant new photos. He would be thrilled."

The twelve Poldark novels and the first TV adaptation in the 1970s remain immensely beloved by many people, and when in 2008 he was asked why this was the case, Richard Morant, who played Dr. Dwight Enys in the 1970s series, offered the following as an explanation.

It's about love; it's about betrayal – the things that hurt us, the things that give us joy. Like any kind of creation where people are going through their emotions, expressing their feelings of love, life and death, it evokes strong attachments, strong passion. And you love it! You love them, you love the people, you cherish them, you honor them, you respect them.

Above: Aidan Turner as Ross, the "dark Poldark."

Notes series writer Debbie Horsfield:

Ross Poldark is one of literature's great heroes: a gentleman who is also a rebel, who has a keen sense of morality and social justice but without any priggishness or moralizing. He's also a great romantic figure – caught between two women from two completely different backgrounds. A gentleman who marries his kitchen maid. A man who doesn't stand on ceremony, who doesn't play by the rules and often falls foul of authority.

Adds series executive producer Karen Thrussell:

Cornwall is a massive part of the books and our adaptation. Nowhere else looks like it: the huge skies, four seasons in one day climate, the quality of light, it's rugged beauty scarred with mines, the powerful surging sea and the wind beaten moors. The elemental passion of the landscape and changeable nature of the place has echoes of Ross Poldark's personality.

His scar was very noticeable this morning. Often it was as if that chance sword-thrust in Pennsylvania remained with him and had become a symbol of the nonconformity of his nature, the unabiding renegade.

– Winston Graham
Excerpted from Warleggan (the fourth Poldark novel)

Says Aidan Turner about his character:

Ross Poldark is very fair and honest but he's not just this benevolent saint; he's quite lawless and he doesn't have much respect for authority. He's a bit of a renegade . . . [but also] a man of principle, a man of real moral code – a proper sort of old school hero.

Above: Ross and Elizabeth (Aidan Turner and Heida Reed).

Says Reed about her role in Poldark:

Elizabeth is fundamentally a nice, genuinely warm person and [series writer] Debbie [Horsfield] has done an amazing job at bringing her alive and making my job so easy!

I think she is very much a lady of her time, trapped in her own world. It is important for Elizabeth to know her place in society and be respected by those around her. She could follow her heart more but she feels morally she must do the right thing even if she suffers for it. Elizabeth never voices regret but I think her predicament will strike a chord with people today.

Above: Ruby Bentall (left) as Verity and Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza.

Says Tomlinson of her chararcter:

Demelza starts off as an urchin [who Ross] mistakes for a boy. Poldark decides to take her under his wing and almost brings her up [as] she's pretty much a child when he first meets her. . . . She gets very lucky and she can't quite believe her situation, but she never loses sight of where she's come from. She's a good person through and through.

About the series, Tominson says: "It's about love, about passion, and about people working together. Above all it's this fantastic romance, this love triangle between Poldark, Demelza and Elizabeth."

Above: Jack Farthing as the ruthlessly ambitious banker George Warleggan.

Says Farthing about his role in Poldark:

George is a layered and elaborate character. Some people would call him a villain but I shy away from that description. What makes him so exciting is that he is like any one of us; full of jealousy and resentment, he motivates himself and has this vast ambition and inability to decide what he wants. It has been very satisfying to get my teeth into the character.

Ross and George haven’t seen eye to eye since they were at school and it hasn’t been explained why, which is really interesting as it could be any number of things and we talk through all these different alternatives. When we find them at the beginning of the series, there have been years of simmering resentment and it's grown into something bigger. They absolutely are pitched against each other.

Above: Ross and Demelza – passion, tide and time!

I close with an excerpt from The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795, Winston Graham's fifth Poldark novel, first published in 1973. In this excerpt, Ross shares with Demelza his thoughts on religion. This sharing is prompted by a request by Demelza's two brothers, Sam and Drake, for a corner of Ross' land to build a meeting house for their small Methodist community.

His pipe had gone out and he lit it again.

. . . "I suppose I have nothing really against the Wesleyans," he said. "And I know I should examine my prejudices from time to time to see if they should not be abandoned. But for one thing I mistrust folk who are always bringing God or Christ into their conversations. If it is not an actual blasphemy it is at least a presumption. It smacks of self-conceit, doesn't it?"

"Perhaps if you –"

"Oh, they always claim to be humble, I grant you; but their humility does not show in their opinions. They may be fully conscious of their own sins, but they always are more concerned with other people's. In their own view they have found salvation, and unless the rest of us follow in their path we are damned . . ."

Demelza put down the tiny pair of trousers and picked up a sock. "What are your religious views, Ross? Do you have any? I wish I knew."

"Oh – practically none, my love." He stared into the sulky fire. "I imbibed from my father a skeptical attitude to all religions; he considered them foolish fairy-tales. But I don't go so far as that. I have little use for religion as it is practiced, or for astrology, or for belief in witchcraft or omens of good or ill-luck. I think they all stem from some insufficiency in men's minds, perhaps from a lack of a willingness to feel themselves utterly alone. But now and then I feel that there is something beyond the material world, something we all feel intimations of but cannot explain. Underneath the religious vision there is the harsh fundamental reality of all our lives, because we know we must live and die as the animals we are. But sometimes I suspect that under that harsh reality there is a further vision, still deeper based, that comes nearer to true reality than the reality we know."

"Hm," said Demelza, rocking gently. "I am not sure that I know what you mean but I think I do."

"When you are fully conversant with it," Ross said, "pray explain it to me."

She laughed.

"My political views," he said, "are similarly substantial. This war [against France] is bringing out all the contradictions in them. I have always urged reform, even to the lengths of being considered a traitor to my birth and situation. I saw much that was good in this revolution in France; but as it has gone on I am as eager to fight it and destroy it as any man . . ." He blew out a thin trail of smoke. "Perhaps it is in my nature to be contrary, for I always see the opposite side from that of the company I am in. Even though I did not like the American war I went to fight the Americans!"

Silence fell. . . .

For my Wild Reed writings on Poldark, see the following posts:
Return of the (Cornish) Native
"A Token of Wildness and Intractability"
Passion, Tide and Time
A "Useful Marriage" for Morwenna
Time and Remembrance in the Poldark Novels
"Hers Would Be the Perpetual Ache of Loss and Loneliness"
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 1)
Demelza Takes a Chance (Part 2)
Captain Blamey Comes A-Calling
Rendezvous in Truro
A Fateful Reunion
Cornwall's – and Winston Graham's – Angry Tide
A Sea Dragon of an Emotion . . . "Causing Half the Trouble of the World, and Half the Joy"
Into the Greenwood
"I Want You to Become a Part of Me – Each to Become a Part of the Other"

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
The Gravity of Love

Recommended Off-site Links and Updates:
The Poldark Novels in Context: A Syllabus – Ellen Moody (Ellen And Jim Have A Blog, Two, February 15, 2015).
Poldark: An Adaptation of the First Two Novels in Winston Graham's Poldark Series – BBC One Media Center (February 17, 2015).
Aidan Turner Talks PoldarkPoldarked (February 17, 2015).
Eleanor Tomlinson Talks PoldarkPoldarked (February 17, 2015).
Jack Farthing Talks About Playing WarlegganPoldarked (February 18, 2015).
Heida Reed (Elizabeth) Talks PoldarkPoldarked (February 18, 2015).
Kyle Soller (Francis) Talks PoldarkPoldarked (February 18, 2015).
Ruby Bentall on Playing VerityPoldarked (February 18, 2015).
Poldark Fan? Why Not Visit the Top Seven Locations Used in New TV Adaptation?The Falmouth Packet (February 18, 2015).
PoldarkCornwall Today (2015).
New Poldark Series Not a Bodice Ripper – Chris Hastings (Daily Mail, February 21, 2015).
Poldark: The Return of Romance – Emily Hourican (The Independent, February 23, 2015).
BBC's Poldark Remake: Stars Speak of 'Pressure' of 1970s Hit – Tara Conlan (The Guardian, February 24, 2015).
Poldark's Back on TV! Now Find Out What Happened to the Stars of the '70s Drama – Sam Creighton (Daily Mail, February 25, 2015).
Can Poldark Recapture the Glory Days?BBC News: Entertainment and Arts (March 4, 2015).

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Out and About – Winter 2014-2015

UPDATED: 2/26/15

Regular readers of The Wild Reed will no doubt be familiar with my "Out and About" series, one that I began in April 2007 as a way of documenting my life as an “out” gay Catholic man, seeking to be all “about” the Spirit-inspired work of embodying God’s justice and compassion in the Church and the world. I've continued the series in one form or another every year since – in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and now into 2015. So let's get started with the latest installment . . .

Above: With friends Kathleen and Cheryl at the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra's 8th Annual Salon and Silent Auction, Saturday, January 31, 2015. As well as showcasing and raising funds for the MPO, this event also served to officially introduce and welcome to the wider community the orchestra's new Music Director, Alexander Platt.

Above: Friends, longtime and new, at the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra's Salon and Silent Auction. From left: Rita, Gregg, Paul, Rick, Tressa, and Matt.

The MPO was founded in 1993 by Kevin Ford, a gay man who had a vision of a gay and lesbian orchestra that would build community and fellowship through the performance of classical music. Notes the MPO website:

Although Kevin succumbed to complications from HIV-AIDS in 1995, the organization he created continues to grow and diversify today. The MPO includes players from a variety of backgrounds and orientations who share a commitment to inclusivity, non-discrimination, and to the performance of works by under-represented composers.

My good friend Kathleen (pictured with me in the opening image) is the orchestra's Principal Second Violinist.

Left: With my TRUST Meals on Wheels colleagues Julia and Betsy – December 18, 2014.

I've worked part-time as a Site Coordinator with this south Minneapolis-based 'meals on wheels' program since June 2011.

As I've previously noted, in a lot of the church reform work I've facilitated and engaged in – and, to some degree, am still part of – rarely is positive change something that happens immediately; it's very much future-oriented work. With my work with meal-on-wheels, however, I experience the satisfaction of knowing that every day – here and now – our work is making a very real difference in people's lives. These two very different types of work make for a good balance in my life. And for that I'm very grateful.

Above and right: My home in south Minneapolis. I share this lovely abode with Tim, the best housemate and friend anyone could possibly want.

Throughout this past winter I've enjoyed many quiet and restful evenings in the warm glow of what I call the parlour (above). I light the candles, pour myself a Scotch (or sometimes a brandy), curl up in a blanket on the couch, and enjoy the music of Claude Chalhoub, Moby & Co., Edgar Meyer, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Bobbie Gentry, Miloš Karadaglić, and/or Kate Bush.

It hasn't all been "quiet time," though. Early in the winter Tim and I hosted a Christmastide/Winter Solstice gathering for a number of our friends. We also celebrated the New Year with a party. Images from both these events can be found here.

More recently, our friends Brian and Kathleen (left) came by for coffee, conversation, and . . .

. . . a winter walk along Minnehaha Creek.

Above: from left: Tim, Kathleen and Brian – Sunday, January 18, 2015.

Right: On Friday, January 16, 2015, I joined with some really wonderful folks to celebrate our friend Ken Master's 91st birthday! Happy Birthday, Ken!

Above: My friend Joan hosted a lovely dinner party on the evening of January 16, 2015. From left: Katie, Joan, Ian, George, Raul, and Karl.

Back in the summer of 2013, Joan and I spent a great weekend in Bayfield, Wisconsin. It's an incredibly beautiful part of the country, as I hope I documented in the many photographs I took while there. Many of these photos can be viewed in the previous Wild Reed post, Days of Summer on the Bayfield Peninsula.

Left: On Sunday, January 11, my friends Liana and Curtis' daughter Amelia turned one! This special occasion was marked by a gathering of family and friends at the home of Amelia's grandparents, my friends John and Noelle.

Right: Amelia's first birthday celebration was made all that more special by the presence of Uncle Phil, visiting all the way from Georgia.

Above: From left: Phil, Curtis, John, Noelle, Carmen, and Mark – January 11, 2015.

My friend Phil was a guest writer at The Wild Reed back in 2012. To read his insightful op-ed on bisexuality, click here.

Left: The birthday girl with her parents, Curtis and Liana. I had the honor of officiating at Liana and Curtis' wedding in the summer of 2013. For images of this happy event, click here.

Also, in the summer of 2012 I spend a wonderful weekend in Chicago with Liana, Curtis, Phil, John, and Noelle. For images, click here.

Right: With Eddie, the Wonder Dog!

For more images of the lovable and very photogenic Eddie, click here, here, here, and here.

Above: Ziggy!

For more images of this handsome cat, click here, here, here, and here.

On the afternoon of Friday, January 30 I hosted a tea party for a number of the wise and inspiring women in my life. It was an event I've been meaning to do for years, as the last tea party I hosted was in my former residence in St. Paul in January 2012. Since then, my collection of tea cups and saucers has been languishing in boxes in the basement of my now not-so-new home in south Minneapolis.

Pictured above from left: Brigid McDonald, CSJ; Marguerite Corcoran, CSJ; Rita McDonald, CSJ; Theresa O'Brien, CSJ; Paula Ruddy; Rita Quigley; Florence Steichen, CSJ; and Kate McDonald, CSJ.

Back in 2007, Paula Ruddy, myself, and a number of other local Catholics launched The Progressive Catholic Voice online forum. It's still going strong!

Then in 2009 we worked with others to form the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR). We both still serve on the board of this organization and have, over the years, planned and organized many initiatives and events together. Recently, Paula and two other representatives from CCCR and the Council of the Baptized met with Archbishop John C. Nienstedt. To read Paula's account of this meeting, click here.

Above: My friend Kathleen Olsen with our mutual friends Brigid McDonald, CSJ, Marguerite Corcoran, CSJ; and Rita McDonald, CSJ.

Left: With Rita and Kate McDonald – January 30, 2015.

It won't surprise you to know that many of the "wise and inspiring" women who gathered at my home on January 30 are members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet – St. Paul Province.

My friends Kathleen Olsen and Rita Quigley and I are consociate members of this Catholic order. Marguerite Corcoran and Rita McDonald served as my companions during my two-year consociate candidancy (2006-2007).

To read "A Change of Habits," City Pages' 1999 cover story on Kate, Brigid, Rita and Jane McDonald, ckick here

Above: Friends (from left) Rita, Paula, Florence and Theresa – January 30, 2015.

And yes, I still had my Christmas tree up at the end of January! (For reasons that I explain here.)

Above: On the evening of Saturday, February 7, 2015, I attended with my friends (from left) Mark, Dan and Raul a performance of Contra-Tiempo's show "Full Still Hungry" at the Ordway.

About Contra-Tiempo, the following is noted in the show's program guide:

Contra-Tiempo is a bold multi-lingual Los Angeles-based company dedicated to transforming the world through dance. Its unique urban Latin dance theater brings to life voices not traditionally heard on the concert stage while building community, facilitating dialogue and moving audiences.

The company's work is rooted in salsa and Afro-Cuban and draws from hip-hop, urban and contemporary dance-theater. Contra-Tiempo creates performance work that pushes the boundaries of Latin dance as an expressive cultural and contemporary form, taking Salsa back to its roots as a mode of expression for the struggles of the working class.

Contra-Tiempo includes a rich tapestry of professional dancers and performers of varied styles, many of whom are immigrants or first generation North Americans, and exist within the complex political and personal landscapes addressed in the company's work.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the performance was its various portrayals of Carmen Miranda. Notes a review on the Ordway website:

Each of the three parts featured a version of Carmen Miranda the Portuguese-Brazilian singer/actress of the 1930s and 40s who became a stereotype of Latin American culture in American movies. In the first part she was “Full Carmen” wearing her signature fruit headdress and representing the over-the-top culture that eventually consumed her. In “Still” she was “Carmen Belebi,” still grounded and still rooted in the past and looking back to the way things used to be.

In “Hungry” there were two Carmens. The original Carmen now wore a headdress made of trash which symbolized the negative effects of consumption. She was confronted by the Hungry Carmen, a woman wearing simple clothing and a head scarf. The two mirrored each other and then partnered in a competitive duet. In a dramatic climax the Consumption Carmen overcame the Hungry Carmen and took her position on a high pedestal of chairs while the dead Hungry Carmen was carried off the stage and down the aisles.

To read an insightful interview with Ana Maria Alvarez, Artist Director of Contra-Tiempo, click here.

Above: My friend Raul in downtown St. Paul – Saturday, February 7, 2015.

Raul is pictured in Rice Park, which every year is transformed into a veritable winter wonderland thanks to the hundreds of lights strung throughout the park's numerous trees. It's quite the sight.

The Annual Rice Park Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony actually took place three months ago on Saturday, November 29, 2014.

Above: Breakfast with my friend Pete at Victor's 1959 Cafe in Minneapolis – Thursday, February 12, 2015.

Above: Winter beauty – February 2015.

Left: On the evening of Thursday, February 12, 2015 my friend Julia and I attended the James Sewell Ballet's "Ballet Works Project" at the TEK BOX Theater, one of a number of performance spaces at the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in downtown Minneapolis.

It was a great night of contemporary ballet. I particularly appreciated and enjoyed Shohei Iwahama's solo performance "Suspicious Fisherman," choreographed by Jane Weiner. Both Weiner and Iwahama are guest artists from Hope Stone Dance in Houston, Texas.

Above: A stunning image of dancer Shohei Iwahama by Lynn Lane. For Adam Castañeda's 2013 Houston Press profile on Iwahama, click here.

Right: Standing in the foyer of the TEK BOX Theater, which is home to several amazing dance portraits by photographer Erik Saulitis.

Notes Jenny Zhang of about Saulitis' work:

Dancers leap in the air, maintain perfect form, and contort their bodies gracefully in these stunning images by Minnesota-based photographer Erik Saulitis. Photographed against a plain, white background, the silhouetted figures stand out in elegant contrast as they strike dynamic poses or run through difficult routines, allowing Saulitis to capture the image at just the right moment.

The dancers' fluid movements appear effortless, despite the physical challenges of executing complicated pirouettes, arabesques, or standing on tip-toe. Whether the subjects flow with rippling cloth, soar through the air with sprays of water, or rely solely on their own bodies to capture the perfect photo, each spectacular shot expresses their joy and passion for the art of dance.

NOTE: For more on dance at the Wild Reed, see:
The Art of Dancing as the Supreme Symbol of the Spiritual Life
The Premise of All Forms of Dance
The Dancer and the Dance
The Soul of a Dancer
The Church and Dance
The Naked Truth . . . in Dance and in Life
Recovering the Queer Artistic Heritage
Gay Men and Modern Dance
The Trouble with the Male Dancer
A Beautiful Collaboration

Above: With the wonderful members of my Tuesday night yoga group – February 17, 2015.

Above: On the afternoon of Saturday, February 21, my dear friend Brigid hosted a bon voyage party for me at Carondelet Village, St. Paul. On Friday, February 27, I leave for a month-long visit to my homeland of Australia.

Pictured from left: Kathleen Rouna; Theresa O'Brien, CSJ; me, Kate McDonald, CSJ; Brigid McDonald, CSJ; Marguerite Corcoran, CSJ; Sue Ann Martinson; Rita McDonald, CSJ; and Mary O'Brien, CSJ.

A beautiful "Prayer for the Traveler" by John O'Donohue was shared by my friend Kathleen Olsen at one point during our gathering. Part of this prayer reads:

A journey can become a sacred thing: make sure, before you go, to take the time to bless your going forth, to free your heart of ballast so that the compass of your soul might direct you toward the territories of the spirit – where you will discover more of your hidden life and the urgencies that deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way, gathered wisely into your inner ground: that you may not waste the invitations which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed, and live your time away to its fullest; return more enriched, and free to balance the gift of days which call you.

Above and left: Celebrating my friend Joey's 19th birthday – February 23, 2015.

Pictured with me above from left: Joey's mother Kathleen, Will, and the birthday boy himself!

In June of 2013, all four of us had a memorable week in the Black Hills of South Dakota. For images and commentary of our adventure, click here.

Above: With my dear friends Ken and Carol Masters – February 24, 2015.

Right: A great photo of my friend Brian – February 22, 2015.

Above: Lunch with friends at one of my favorite resturants, Pizza Lucé in Uptown, Minneapolis – Thursday, February 26, 2015. From left: Me, Bobbi, John, Brian, and Rick.

Above and below: More scenes of winter beauty.

Above: Hey, let's just call this "Portrait of a Man in His Fiftieth Year"! It was taken on February 12, 2015 . . . And, yes, later this year I turn 50, a fact I'm still doing my best to get my head around!

Winter 2014-2015 Wild Reed posts of note:
At the Mall of America Today, a Necessary Disruption to "Business as Usual"
Vanessa Redgrave: "Almost a Kind of Jungian Actress"
Christmas 2014: Thoughts and Celebrations
20 Years Stateside
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Part 6)
The Gravity of Love
"A Token of Wildness and Intractability"
For 2015, Three "Generous Promises"
Five Takes on Five Dances
The Australian Roots of My Progressive Catholicism
No Altar More Sacred
A Beautiful Collaboration

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Out and About – Autumn 2014
Out and About – Summer 2014
Out and About – Spring 2014
Out and About – Winter 2013-2014
Out and About – Autumn 2013

Images: Michael J. Bayly; except for the two Contra-Tiempo images which are by the Adrienne Arsht Center (Miami-Dade County) and Brandt Brogen of the Richmond Family Magazine, and the image of Shohei Iwahama which is by Lynn Lane of The Houston Press).