Tuesday, June 30, 2015

In the Garden of Spirituality – Anthony de Mello


“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 The Way to Love: The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello.

Anthony "Tony" de Mello (1931–1987) was an Indian Jesuit priest, psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, writer and public speaker. In the excerpt below, he reminds us that holiness is not an achievement, but rather a grace; a grace called awareness.


Sooner or later there arises in every human heart the desire for holiness, spirituality, God, call it what you will. One hears mystics speak of a divinity all around them that is within our grasp, that would make our lives meaningful and beautiful and rich, if we could only discover it. People have some sort of a vague idea as to what this thing is and they read books and consult gurus, in the attempt to find out what it is that they must do to gain this elusive thing called Holiness or Spirituality. They pick methods, techniques, spiritual exercises, formulas; then after years of fruitless striving they become discouraged and confused and wonder what went wrong. Mostly they blame themselves. If they had been more fervent or more generous, they might have made it. But made what? They have no clear idea as to what exactly this holiness that they seek is, but they certainly know that their lives are still in a mess, they still become anxious and insecure and fearful, resentful and unforgiving, grasping and ambitious and manipulative of people. So once again they throw themselves with renewed vigor into the effort and labor that they think they need to attain their goal.

They never stopped to consider this simple fact: Their efforts are going to get them nowhere. Their efforts will only make things worse, as things become worse when you use fire to put out fire. Effort does not lead to growth; effort, whatever the form it may take, whether it be will-power or habit or a technique or a spiritual exercise, does not lead to change. At best it leads to repression and a covering over of the root disease.

Effort may change the behavior but it does not change the person. Just think what kind of a mentality it betrays when we ask, "What must I do to get holiness?" Isn't it like asking, How much money must I spend to buy something? What sacrifice must I make? What discipline must I undertake? What meditation must I practice in order to get it? Think of a person who wants to win the love of another and attempts to improve his/her appearance or build his/her body or change his/her behavior and practice techniques to charm the other person.

You truly win the love of others not by the practice of techniques but by being a certain kind of person. And that is never achieved through effort and techniques. And so it is with Spirituality and Holiness. Not what you do is what brings it to you. This is not a commodity that one can buy or a prize that one can win. What matters is what you are, what you become.

Holiness is not an achievement, it is a Grace. A Grace called Awareness, a grace called Looking, Observing, Understanding. If you would only switch on the light of awareness and observe yourself and everything around you throughout the day, if you would see yourself reflected in the mirror of awareness the way you see your face reflected in a looking glass, that is accurately, clearly, exactly as it is without the slightest distortion or addition, and if you observed this reflection without any judgment or condemnation, you would experience all sorts of marvelous changes coming about in you. Only you will not be in control of these changes, or be able to plan them in advance, or decide how and when they are to take place. It is this nonjudgmental awareness alone that heals and changes and makes one grow. But in its own way and at its own time.

What specifically are you to be aware of? Your reactions and your relationships. Each time you are in the presence of a person, any person, or with Nature or with any particular situation, you have all sorts of reactions, positive and negative. Study those reactions, observe what exactly they are and where they come from, without any sermonizing or guilt or even any desire, much less effort to change them. That is all that one needs for holiness to arise.

But isn't awareness itself an effort? Not if you have tasted it even once. For then you will understand that awareness is a delight, the delight of a little child moving out in wonder to discover the world. For even when awareness uncovers unpleasant things in you, it always brings liberation and joy. Then you will know that the unaware life if not worth living, it is too full of darkness and pain.

If at first there is a sluggishness in practicing awareness, don't force yourself. That would be an effort again. Just be aware of your sluggishness without any judgment or condemnation. You will then understand that awareness involves as much effort as a lover makes to the beloved . . . or a mountaineer to get to the top of his/her beloved mountain; so much energy expended, so much hardship even, but it isn't effort, it's fum! In other words, awareness is an effortless activity.

Will awareness bring you the holiness you so desire? Yes and no. The fact is you will never know. For true holiness, the type that is not achieved through techniques and efforts and repression, true holiness is completely unselfconscious. You wouldn't have the slightest awareness of its existence in you. Besides you will not care, for even the ambition to be holy will have dropped as you live from moment to moment a life made full and happy and transparent through awareness. It is enough to be watchful and awake.

– Anthony de Mello
Excerpted from The Way to Love:
The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello

pp. 191-196

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Sufism: A Call to Awaken
The Source is Within You
The Soul Within the Soul
Clarity, Hope and Courage
"Joined at the Heart": Robert Thompson on Christianity and Sufism
As the Last Walls Dissolve . . . Everything is Possible
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All

Opening image: Michael J. Bayly.

Standing with Jennicet Gutiérrez, "the Mother of Our Newest Stonewall Movement"

The Wild Reed's 2015 Queer Appreciation series continues with an open letter by Pat Cordova-Goff about the incident last week at the White House involving Jennicet Gutiérrez.

Jennicet who?, some of you reading this may be asking.

Well, at a White House reception last Wednesday hosted by President Obama for LGBTQ+ Pride Month, trans Latina activist Jennicet Gutiérrez (right) interrupted the tightly-controlled political agenda of both our ally-president as well as the marriage-equality advocates in the room with her plea for Obama to end the detention and abuse of undocumented queer people, trans women in particular. Gutiérrez is a founding member of Familia: TQLM, established to advocate for LGBTQ immigrants who are often excluded in the immigration debate.

Many present at the White House, along with others within the wider LGBT and allied communities, criticized Gutiérrez, saying that her interruption was "inappropriate." In a similar vein, the corporate mainstream media dismissed her as a "heckler."

Pat Cordova-Goff is an 18-year-old community college student, working to bring visibility to low/no-income, queer and non-binary trans communities of color. She wrote the following open letter "for everyone who dismissed Jennicet as a heckler, as an 'interruption' to the queer movement.

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn, located in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York, became our nation's first physical battleground in what would later become the movement for LGBTQ+ justice. Having been victims of continuous police brutality and unfair treatment, the guests of the inn fought back against the police presence that night. Contrary to what I was taught, and what so many still believe, this riot for justice was lead by trans women of color and gender non-conforming folks.

In other words, the wave of political unrest and movement of the queer population, which began at Stonewall, comes back to the resilience and power of trans women of color.

Fast-forward 40+ years. Numerous legal protections shield LGB people from discrimination, queer-identified representatives fill some seats in government, pride parades march through countless American cities and the Supreme Court of the United States upheld marriage equality. Yet, one theme is woven through the last four and a half decades: The focus of our movement fails to recognize the work and issues of transgender people, especially trans women of color.

This was highlighted when, as the nation's LGBTQ+ leaders gathering in front of our president, Jennicet Gutiérrez was booed and sneered at. As President Obama spoke of "trans women being targeted," Jennicet raised her voice to question why an administration would admit trans women are targeted, but still be responsible for the incarceration of undocumented trans women. The "heckler" noted that "transgender immigrants make up one out of every 500 people in detention, but account for one out of five confirmed sexual abuse cases in ICE custody."

In an op-ed, she said, "In the tradition of how Pride started, I interrupted his speech because it is time for our issues and struggles to be heard."

This is what needs to be heard.

While the cisgender gay men in that room booed the trans activist, they seemed to be more concerned with the support of their marriage than the lives of their trans sisters. While President Obama claimed, "You're in my house," he seemed to be more comfortable with reading a speech about trans issues than listening to a trans women speak of her own issues.

While people can argue that this was not the right time or place for Jennicet to raise her voice, I ask, when is the right time and place? Is the right time after every gay man can marry his partner in this nation? Is the right place at the court proceedings when a judge decides X-amount of trans women will be deported?

The beginning of our entire movement took place after midnight at a local bar; note all the progress we've made from that point, from that time and place. The history of social movements stem from the roots of radical activists who take control of a calm setting and turn attention to what is needed.

In 2015, a undocumented trans women of color stood feet from the "most powerful man in the world" and demanded transparency and justice. She stood among satisfied LGBTQ+ leaders, still angry.

While she is being called a heckler and an interruption, I cannot find any other words to describe her except these: the mother of our newest Stonewall movement. A movement in which trans women will begin and will remain at the forefront.

As we celebrate SCOTUS's decision on recognizing marriage equality, I encourage cisgender queer people to recognize the life-threatening issues your trans brothers, sisters and siblings are facing. As trans people, when we open our mouths and demand to be heard, it is not because we wish to devalue the issues at the top of your agenda. But we raise our voices because, after 45 years, the movement that our mothers began needs to bring the 'T' back into the LGB conversation. In the same fashion as Sylvia Rivera and other Stonewall patrons, we will raise our voices until we not only have a seat at the table, but a voice and a vote in where our movement goes from here.

I stand with Jennicet Gutiérrez, and so should every LGBTQ+ person who truly is in the movement for the liberation of our entire community.

– Pat Cordova-Goff

Related Off-site Links:
Undocumented Trans Activist Jennicet Gutiérrez Challenges Obama on Deportations at White House EventDemocracy Now! (June 25, 2015).
The Supreme Court's Marriage Equality Ruling, Though Expected, is Still Shocking — Especially for Those Who Grew Up LGBT in the U.S. – Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept, June 26, 2015).
With Marriage Equality Won, LGBTQ Activism Continues for Bias Protections and Overlooked Trans IssuesDemocracy Now! (June 29, 2015).
Transgender and Catholic — Nick Stevens (The New York Times via The Progressive Catholic Voice, May 24, 2015).

For previous installments in the 2015 Wild Reed Queer Appreciation series, see:
Vittorio Lingiardi on the Limits of the Hetero/Homo Dichotomy
Reclaiming and Re-Queering Pride

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The "Incident" in the Temple
Lisa Leff on Five Things to Know About Transgender People
Putting a Human Face on the 'T' of 'GLBT'
Shannon Kearns' Transgender Day of Remembrance Message: "We Are Beloved Children of the Universe"
Living Lives of Principle
Signs and Wonders Continue
Something to Think About – June 3, 2015

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Something to Celebrate . . .



Related Off-site Links:

No, You Need a History Lesson: The Confederate Flag is a Symbol of Hate – Benjamin O'Keefe (The Huffington Post, June 22, 2015).
The Surprisingly Uncomplicated Racist History of the Confederate Flag – Marc Ambinder (The Week, June 22, 2015).
The Confederate Flag Was Always Racist – Bruce Levine (Politico Magazine, June 27, 2015).
Heritage of Hate: Dylann Roof, White Supremacy and the Truth About the Confederacy – Tim Wise (TimWise.com, June 20, 2015).
White Terrorism is as Old as America – Brit Bennett (The New York Times, June 19, 2015).
Confederate Battle Flag Quietly Removed from Alabama State Capitol – Jessica Chasmar (The Washington Times, June 24, 2015).
Why the Confederate Banner Must Come Down – Douglas Blackmon (Slavery By Another Name via BillMoyers.org, June 26, 2015).
"We Can't Wait Any Longer": Activist Bree Newsome Removes Confederate Flag from South Carolina Statehouse – Nadia Prupis (Common Dreams, June 27, 2015).
Egalitarianism is On the March – David Cay Johnston (Aljazeera America, June 26, 2015).

Supreme Court Rules Gay Couples Nationwide Have a Right to Marry – Robert Barnes (The Washington Post, June 26, 2015).
Landmarks Nationwide Lit Up the Night in Beautiful Support of Marriage EqualityAddictingInfo.org (June 27, 2015).
Marriage Equality is the Law of the Land. Now What? – Tara Culp-Ressler (Think Progress, June 26, 2015).
"Love Supreme": How Newspapers Played the Landmark Gay Marriage Decision – J. Freedom du Lac (The Washington Post, June 27, 2015).
It's No Longer 'Gay Marriage.' It's 'Marriage.' And We're Better For It – Editorial (PennLive.com, June 26, 2015).
Next Fight for Gay Rights: Bias in Housing and Jobs – Erik Eckholm (The New York Times, June 27, 2015).
Celebrating the Arc of the Moral Universe – Steve Benen (MSNBC, June 26, 2015).
A Week That Lived Up to America’s Great Declaration – Jerry Adler (Yahoo! Politics, June 28, 2015).

UPDATES: The Month That Changed America? – Nick Bryant (BBC News, June 29, 2015).
Illegal Defiance on Same-Sex Marriage – The Editorial Board (The New York Times, July 10, 2015).
After 54 Years, Confederate Flag Removed from Statehouse – Jeffrey Collins and Meg Kinnard (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, July 10, 2015).
Obama: Confederate Flag Removal a "Symbol of Good Will and Healing" – Paige Lavender (The Huffington Post, July 10, 2015).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Quote of the Day – June 19, 2015
Breaking News: U.S. Supreme Court Legalizes Marriage for Same-Sex Couples Across the Nation

Out and About – Spring 2015 (Part II)

With summer now officially underway, I best get moving and share the second part of the spring installment of my Out and About 2015 series! (For Part I, click here.)

Of course, regular readers of The Wild Reed will 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 this latest installment . . .

Above: My good friend Raul, standing beside a part of Minnehaha Creek that's walking distance from my home in south Minneapolis – Sunday, May 31, 2015. Raul took the opening image of me by Minnehaha Creek that same afternoon.

Above and right: On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 29, I joined with approximately 1500 other people in a solidarity rally and march for the people of Baltimore and in memory of Freddie Gray, who died of spinal injuries while in police custody in Baltimore. The rally was held at Minneapolis' Gold Medal Park and was organized by Black Lives Matter Minneapolis.

For more commentary and images, along with updates on the investigation into Freddie Gray's death, click here.

Above: Minnehaha Creek – May 2015. I was definitely in the right place at the right time when I snapped this picture!

Lots of times spent this past spring with good friends enjoying delicious food, good conversation . . . and great wine! Pictured in the photo above are my friends (from left) Joan, Steve, Carla and Raul. Pictured at right, friends Carol, Ken, Kathleen, Sue Ann and Brigit. Pictured seated around the table below are (from left) Tim, Noelle, Val, Phil, Brittany, John, Jenny and Jacob.

Above: On Sunday, May 3, my friends Tim and Raul and I attended the 41st annual In the Heart of the Beast Theatre's MayDay parade in south Minneapolis. This year's theme was "And Still We Rise." It was inspired by Maya Angelou's poem, "Still I Rise," and by the local and national work of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Section One of MayDay 2015's parade story was entitled "Ecstatic Origins" and celebrated the diverse "fruits" of the Tree of Life – animal and plant life in all its wondrous and beautiful diversity – including the kangaroo, energetically embodied by the young man at right.

For more images and commentary on this year's MayDay parade, click here and here.

Above: A group of young spectators at this year's MayDay parade – May 3, 2015.

In early May I traveled to Georgia to visit my good friend Phil (right), who lives in Augusta. As well as spending time in "the Garden City" (as Augusta is known), we also visited Savannah and Atlanta (above).

For more images and commentary on my visit to Georgia, click here.

I really do believe that my friend Raul has one of the best views in Minneapolis! I mean, just look at the beautiful vista (above) from his apartment in Uptown.

Raul lives right on the shores of Lake Calhoun, and on the evening of Tuesday, June 9 (left) I visited him and took some amazing photographs at sunset. To view these images and to learn why that day was special in Twin Cities meteorological history, click here.

Above and below: Early, mid and late spring in Minnesota.

Right: With my good friends Kathleen and Cheryl. We're pictured at the season premiere concert of the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) – May 17, 2015.

The occasion was also the first MPO concert with new Music Director and Conductor, Alexander Platt (pictured below).

My good friend Kathleen (right) is the MPO's Principal Second Violinist.

The Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra 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.

Above: Spring time fun!

Above: Darling little Amelia – May 2015.

Above: Breakfast with my good friend Pete. It's a regular Thursday morning tradition, you know!

Above: Eddie!

Above: The big news for Minnesota Catholics this spring was the June 15 resignation of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt.

Nienstedt, along with Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché, resigned in the wake of clergy sex abuse coverup charges filed against the archdiocese.

For the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform's response to the archbishop's resignation, click here.

For the latest updates (as of June 19) on the investigation into Archbishop Nienstedt's alleged "sexual improprieties" with priests and seminaries, click here.

Above: On June 19 my housemate Tim and I hosted a "Welcome Back to Minnesota" party for our friend Phil (pictured with me at left).

For the past two years Phil has been living and working in Georgia, where as I noted previously, I visited him at the beginning of May.

Above: Phil's mum Noelle and my friend Pete – June 19, 2015.

Right: Phil and his girlfriend Brittany.

Above: Phil and his childhood friend Jacob.

Above: Phil, Brent, Tim, Pete, Lisa and Phil's dad John – June 19, 2015.

Above: Tim and Colleen – June 2015.

Above and below: The last day of spring in Minneapolis' Loring Park – June 20, 2015.

Spring 2015 Wild Reed posts of note:
Remembering and Reclaiming a Wise, Spacious, and Holy Understanding of Homosexuality
Happy Birthday, Dad!
Earth Day 2015
Poldark: Unfurling in Perfect Form
In Minneapolis, Rallying in Solidarity with Black Lives in Baltimore
Buffy Sainte-Marie and That "Human-Being Magic"
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Lesson from the Cutting Edge: "Go Where You Must to Grow"
Buffy Sainte-Marie: "Sometimes You Have to Be Content to Plant Good Seeds and Be Patient"
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Power in the Blood
"And Still We Rise!" – MayDay 2015 (Part I)
"And Still We Rise!" – MayDay 2015 (Part II)
Long-Weekend in Georgia
An Afternoon at Taylors Falls and the Franconia Sculpture Park
LGBTQ+ Catholic Youth Summit to Proceed Despite Chancery's Misstep
Singing Their Own Song in Ireland
Progressive Thoughts on Recent Developments in Ireland, El Salvador and the U.S.
More Progressive Catholic Perspectives on Ireland's Historic Gay Marriage Vote
Thoughts on the Australian Catholic Bishops' Latest Ploy in Their "Struggle for the Very Soul of Marriage"
Season of the Witch
CCCR Responds to Archbishop Nienstedt's Resignation
And What of the Investigation into Archbishop Nienstedt's Alleged "Sexual Improprieties"?
Laudato Si' and the Question That Needs to Be Asked
Dance and Photography: Two Entwined Histories
Reclaiming and Re-Queering Pride
Thoughts on the PBS Premiere of Poldark

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Out and About – Spring 2015 (Part I)
Australian Sojourn – March 2015
Out and About – Winter 2014-2015
Out and About – Autumn 2014
Out and About – Summer 2014
Out and About – Spring 2014

Friday, June 26, 2015

Quote of the Day

Right-wing logic: a Supreme Court decision that expands liberty, and takes rights away from no one – it does not force anyone to perform a "gay wedding," let alone to have one, nor does it diminish the rights of heterosexual couples by one iota (other than the "right" to feel superior and special) – is being criticized as "tyrannical" and "oppressive" and compared to Nazism. The hysteria and victimology of conservative Christians is astounding, breathtaking in its scope. Only reactionary bigots could believe that expanding liberty = tyranny, or that not having their narrow minded prejudices ratified in law, and not being allowed to define morality for everyone else was equal to being oppressed. They can continue to believe as they wish, practice their beliefs as they wish. Nothing in this decision changes that. But they will not be able to impose their religious view of marriage on a non-theocratic society any longer. They will not be allowed the special privilege of hegemony . . . a privilege to which they were never entitled.

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Breaking News: U.S. Supreme Court Legalizes Marriage for Same-Sex Couples Across the Nation

Related Off-site Links:
Same-Sex Marriage is a Right, Supreme Court Rules, 5-4 – Adam Liptak (The New York Times, June 26, 2015).
Gay Marriage Declared Legal Across the US in Historic Supreme Court Ruling – Dan Roberts and Sabrina Siddiqui (The Guardian, June 26, 2015).
New Ways Ministry and U.S. Catholics Rejoice at Supreme Court Marriage Equality Decision – Francis D. DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, June 26, 2015).
A New Right Grounded in the Long History of Marriage – David M. Perry (The Atlantic, June 26, 2015).
What Should the U.S. Bishops Do Now That All 50 States Will Have Marriage Equality? – Francis DeBernardo (Crux, June 26, 2015).
Catholic Responses to the Supreme Court Ruling on Marriage: Everything from "a Win for Love" to "a Tragic Error" – Vinnie Rotondaro (National Catholic Reporter, June 26, 2015).
'Satan Dancing With Delight': The Religious Right Reacts to the Legalization of Gay Marriage – Kyle Mantyla (RightWingWatch.org, June 26, 2015).

UPDATE: Questions for Archbishop Kurtz re. the U.S. Bishops' Response to the Supreme Court's Marriage Equality Ruling – The Editorial Board (The Progressive Catholic Voice, June 27, 2015).

Breaking News: U.S. Supreme Court Legalizes Marriage for Same-Sex Couples Across the Nation

The [U.S.] Supreme Court has found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, striking down bans in 14 states and handing a historic victory to the gay rights movement that would have been unthinkable just 10 years ago.

Anthony Kennedy, a conservative [and Catholic] justice who has broken with his ideological colleagues to author several decisions expanding rights for LGBT people, again sided with the court’s four liberals to strike down the state bans. The majority ruled that preventing same-sex people from marrying violated their constitutional right to equal protection under the law and that the states were unable to put forth a compelling reason to withhold that right from people.

The United States is now just the 21st country in the world to allow same-sex marriage in every jurisdiction.

. . . Friday’s ruling also could have a big effect on religious institutions that have maintained their opposition to same-sex marriage. Religious schools that refuse to provide housing for same-sex couples couldface lawsuits and lose their tax-exempt status, for example. (Religious clergy will not have to marry same-sex couples, however.) Some states will most likely respond to this ruling by attempting to pass legislation to exempt people who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds, such as the controversial Indiana law that passed in March.

The gay rights movement, meanwhile, will move on to employment discrimination. Activists want a federal law that forbids discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation.

– Liz Goodwin and Meredith Shiner
Excerpted from "Supreme Court Affirms Right to Gay Marriage"
Yahoo! News
June 26, 2015

Related Off-site Links:
Same-Sex Marriage is a Right, Supreme Court Rules, 5-4 – Adam Liptak (The New York Times, June 26, 2015).
Read the 7 Most Memorable Passages in the Gay Marriage Decision – Ryan Teague Beckwith (Time, June 26, 2015).
Supreme Court Declares Same-Sex Marriage Legal In All 50 States – Bill Chappell (National Public Radio News, June 26, 2015).
Supreme Court Rules Gay Couples Nationwide Have a Right to Marry – Robert Barnes (The Washington Post, June 26, 2015).
Gay Marriage Declared Legal Across the US in Historic Supreme Court Ruling – Dan Roberts and Sabrina Siddiqui (The Guardian, June 26, 2015).
Supreme Court Legalizes Marriage for Same-Sex Couples Nationwide – Dana Liebelson and Amanda Terkel (The Huffington Post, June 26, 2015).
New Ways Ministry and U.S. Catholics Rejoice at Supreme Court Marriage Equality Decision – Francis D. DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, June 26, 2015).
Rejoicing the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision on Marriage Equality – Muslims for Progressive Values (PRLog, June 26, 2015).
Same-Sex Couples Flood Marriage Offices Around the Country – Neal Broverman (The Advocate, June 26, 2015).
Hey America, Great Job on Gay Marriage, Now How About Gay Adoption? – Sanjeev K. Sriram (The Huffington Post, June 26, 2015).
What Should the U.S. Bishops Do Now That All 50 States Will Have Marriage Equality? – Francis DeBernardo (Crux, June 26, 2015).
Catholic Responses to the Supreme Court Ruling on Marriage: Everything from "a Win for Love" to "a Tragic Error" – Vinnie Rotondaro (National Catholic Reporter, June 26, 2015).
When Love Wins Everywhere Except the Church – David R. Henson (Patheos, June 26, 2015).
Celebrating the Arc of the Moral Universe – Steve Benen (MSNBC, June 26, 2015).

UPDATE: Questions for Archbishop Kurtz re. the U.S. Bishops' Response to the Supreme Court's Marriage Equality Ruling – The Editorial Board (The Progressive Catholic Voice, June 27, 2015).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thoughts on the PBS Premiere of Poldark

As happy as I am to finally see BBC One's rebooted Poldark on American TV via PBS's Masterpiece series, I was disappointed and annoyed to discover that PBS is editing the show, presumably for time.

Poldark debuted this past Sunday night. My friend Joan recorded it and she and I are hosting a party this Sunday to which we're inviting a number of friends to watch both the premiere episode and the second episode back-to-back. My friend Phil and I, however, caught a glimpse last Sunday of the opening scenes of Poldark, episode one. I realized it had been edited as, back in March, which was when Poldark premiered in the United Kingdom, my friend Karen in the UK shared with me this first episode via an mp3 file on the Internet.

So what's been edited? Well, in the stagecoach scene immediately after the opening credits, part of the dialogue between the young woman and Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner) has been cut. In the original version shown in the UK, the young woman, whom we later come to know as Ruth Teague (Harriet Ballard), asks Ross: "How was the war, sir?" To which he replies, "As all wars, ma'am, a waste of good men."

It's a brief exchange, I know, but it tells us much about the character of Ross Poldark and his experiences as a British soldier in America's revolutionary war. How many more small but telling scenes will be cut by PBS? And what a pity that a so-called public broadcaster has to cut its programs to appease its corporate "sponsors."

Still, edited or not, Poldark is Stateside! And remember, there is always the "Poldark collection" DVD which, according to the PBS website, is the "U.K. edition" of the series, meaning all eight original, i.e., complete, episodes of the first series (or season, as they say in the U.S.).


I've made no secret on this blog of my great admiration for Winston Graham's Poldark series of historical novels, upon which the TV series Poldark is based. This admiration dates back to when I read the Poldark novels as a teenager. I've revisited them over the years and they've undoubtedly had a marked impact on how I've come to understand many important aspects of life and love (as I explain here and here).

The BBC adapted the first seven novels into a highly successful television series in the mid-1970s. At the time, that's how many Poldark novels Winston Graham had written, starting in 1945. He would go on to write five more before his death in 2003. That's twelve novels over a period of 57 years. Quite an achievement, especially given the consistently high quality of his writing.

Above: Winston Graham on the set of the first Poldark with Angharad Rees (Demelza), Robin Ellis (Ross), and Paul Curran (Jud).

The new BBC adaptation, starring Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson (left), premiered earlier this year to overwhelmingly positive reviews in the U.K, Australia and elsewhere. The Telegraph's Allison Pearson even went so far as to declare Poldark "one of those rare occasions when a popular drama series delivers something that properly belongs to art."

It's been said that this new adaptation will eventually cover all twelve Poldark novels – Ross Poldark (1945), Demelza (1946), Jeremy Poldark (1950), Warleggan (1953), The Black Moon (1973), The Four Swans (1976), The Angry Tide (1977), The Stranger from the Sea (1981), The Miller's Dance (1982), The Loving Cup (1984), The Twisted Sword (1990), and Bella Poldark (2002). If this indeed happens then it will be quite the feat, as the novels cover a period of almost 40 years (1783-1820) and a number of major historical events, including the development of the steam engine and the Battle of Waterloo.

Beyond "swashbuckling"

So now that Poldark has premiered here in the U.S., what are the critics saying?

Well, overall, reviews have been positive, although I have to admit that in reading them I've discovered that the majority of American TV critics don't quite know how to take seriously anything set in the eighteenth century! Most seem to fall back on trite tropes such as "swashbuckling," "heaving bodices," and "brooding" to describe situations and characters that, in the case of Poldark, are much more layered and complex.

It's as if these critics' only reference point for an eighteenth/nineteenth century character or setting is a Harlequin romance novel or the artwork that once adorned tins of Quality Street chocolates!

Thankfully, there are critics who go beyond such limiting tropes. Sarah Seltzer, for instance, in her New York Times review, makes a good start in shifting and sorting by offering the following:

Poldark is here to upend your Downton Abbey-formed notions of trans-Atlantic costume dramas. A remake of the treasured show from the 1970s, based on the novels by Winston Graham, Poldark is far from typical fare. The servants are toothless and may have lice, the masters’ estates sit on ruined mining land and the childhood sweethearts are doomed. Brawls, dog-fighting and gambling prove key features of the first episode alone, and no one sits and discusses matters over tea. In short, it’s more Brontë than Austen.

Writing on her blog, Ellen Moody makes a similar observation:

[T]he eighteenth century here is not a world of elegance seen from an upper class Austen-ish point of view, but from below, a grimy, grim, brutal, desperate place of people living mostly a subsidence life, where they are hard to one another.

But best of all is Stephen Brumwell's informed and insightful Wall Street Journal review, one that gets to the heart of the TV series, which is, of course, its source material, the series of novels by master storyteller Winston Graham.

I'll close by sharing (with added images and links) the following excerpt from Brumwell's commentary/review.

Set in Cornwall—the rugged peninsula jutting into the Atlantic at England’s western tip—Poldark opens in 1783 when Captain Ross Poldark returns from America after fighting in the Revolutionary War. He finds his home in decay, his father dead, and his sweetheart Elizabeth betrothed to his cousin Francis. A chance encounter with teenaged urchin Demelza Carne leads to unexpected romance, while his efforts to resurrect the family copper-mine spark a bitter feud with a ruthless banking dynasty, the Warleggans.

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

Thanks to this robust formula, the original Poldark, broadcast on PBS back in 1977 and currently being streamed on Acorn TV, still stands up remarkably well. Although it is too soon to deliver a final verdict in North America, the revamped Poldark has already proved an unqualified success in the U.K., helping the BBC to achieve its highest first-quarter audience share for a decade, with ratings from the opening episodes impressive enough to prompt the commissioning of a second season.

Despite sharing key plots and characters, the rebooted Poldark (scripted by Debbie Horsfield) is distinct from its celebrated predecessor in several respects. It’s far more serious in tone, and places greater emphasis on establishing atmosphere, with screen-time previously devoted to extended dialogue or subsidiary plots instead used for moody close-ups of the leads (Aidan Turner as Ross, and Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza), or lingering views of the Cornish landscape.

Given their marked differences, that two such contrasting interpretations can both succeed testifies to the underlying strength of their common source material, the novels of Winston Graham. With compelling story-lines, well-defined characters, and meticulous research underpinning a convincing evocation of time and place, the Poldark novels form a quarry of raw material that is rich enough to sustain repeated excavation.

The powerful characterizations and strong narrative spine of the Poldark novels have also enabled them to withstand some major alterations at the hands of the scriptwriters. It was only after rereading the first two novels, Ross Poldark (1945) and Demelza (1946)—both now reissued in television tie-in editions—that I realized that some of the most memorable scenes from the original adaptation were wholly invented for the small screen. The latest version, while praised as more faithful to the novels, also deviates from them, axing characters and inserting new sequences.

Of course, both television dramas are adaptations, “based on” the books rather than using them as blueprints. Viewers inspired to pick up the novels will therefore discover a wealth of back-stories missing from the televised versions. The books also contain a strong strand of humor—a trait that featured prominently in the 1970s scripts, but which is largely absent from the latest incarnation.

Taken together, the dozen Poldark novels constitute an impressive body of work. The last was published in 2002, just a year before Graham’s death at age 93. The 29 episodes of the original two-season BBC Poldark drew upon the seven books then written, which spanned the years 1783 to 1799. Despite the show’s phenomenal popularity, Graham resisted pressure to prolong it by churning out fresh installments. Four years passed before the emergence of the eighth novel, The Stranger From the Sea. This jumped forward to 1810, allowing for a shift of focus to a younger generation of characters who propelled the saga to its conclusion in 1820. Should the revived Poldark prosper, there will be no dearth of material to adapt in future seasons.

Although best-known for his Poldark saga, Graham wrote many other books during his long career. Like his contemporary Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989), who also made Cornwall her adopted home, he deftly switched genres—from stories set in the past to modern thrillers—and his ability to inject a darker element of suspense added further depth to the Poldark novels. Rather than aspiring to high-brow “literary” status, both Graham and Du Maurier were born storytellers and unashamedly “popular” authors capable of attracting the attention of Hollywood, and of iconic director Alfred Hitchcock.

When Winston Graham embarked upon his Poldark novels, he was living at Perranporth on Cornwall’s northern coast. His abiding love for the county’s uniquely varied landscape, with its sweeping sandy beaches, rocky coves and granite-studded moors, permeates the Poldark novels so deeply that Cornwall becomes a character in its own right.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Who's Who in the First Episode of PoldarkPoldarked (June 20, 2015).
Poldark Mines a Reliable Literary Source – Robert Lloyd (The Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2015).
Seven Legit Reasons to Watch New PBS Series Poldark – Nina Terrero (Entertainment Weekly, June 21, 2015).
Poldark Rides Again on PBS – Brian Lowry (Variety, June 18, 2015).
PBS' Poldark: An Old 'Masterpiece' Hit Gets a Sumptuous UpdateThe Washington Post via Chron.com, June 23, 2015).
Another Poldark, and Once Again It's Scything the Fans – Susan King (The Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2015).
What Merits the Remake of TV's Poldark? – Stephen Brumwell (The Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2015).
Review: Poldark on PBS’s ‘Masterpiece’ – Mike Hale (The New York Times, June 19, 2015).
Poldark Season Premiere Recap: Woe v. Luck – Sarah Seltzer (The New York Times, June 21, 2015).
Poldark: Episode 1 – Anibundel (Anibundel: Pop Culturess, June 22, 2015).
Five Differences Between Poldark 2015 and Poldark 1975 – Trystan L. Bass (Frock Flicks, June 19, 2015).
The 1970s Poldark Was Way Darker Than the New One – Meghan O'Keefe (Decider, June 24, 2015).
Poldark: 2015, 1975 and Winston Graham’s Post-WWII Novel, Episode 1 – Ellen Moody (Ellen And Jim Have A Blog, Two, June 24, 2015).
Poldark 2015: Novel Re-conceived as Mining and Feminist Love Story, Episode 2 – Ellen Moody (Ellen And Jim Have A Blog, Two, June 24, 2015).

For more on the TV series Poldark, see the following Wild Reed posts:
Return of the (Cornish) Native
"A Token of Wildness and Intractability"
Ross Poldark: Renegade of Principle
Poldark Rides Again
Poldark: Unfurling in Perfect Form

For more on the Poldark novels, see:
"Hers Would Be the Perpetual Ache of Loss and Loneliness"
Passion, Tide and Time
Time and Remembrance in the Poldark Novels
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"