Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Come, Spirit . . .

. . . help us sing the story of our land.

Recently my friend Pete and I watched Terrence Malick's 2005 film The New World. It's a beautifully rendered historical drama depicting the founding of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia and inspired by the historical figures Captain John Smith (played by Colin Farrell), Pocahontas (Q'orianka Kilcher), Captain Christopher Newport (Christopher Plummer), and John Rolfe (Christian Bale).

I first saw the film back in 2006, on a flight from the U.S. to Australia. I was quite mesmerized by its beauty and moved by its story. Awareness and gratitude are two important themes running through The New World, and so with today being Thanksgiving here in the U.S., I thought I'd share some images and words from the film, along with what others have said about it.

Allan Fish, for instance, notes the following in his review of the film for Wonders in the Dark:

All the images are beautiful, as one might expect, the juxtaposition thereof majestic to the point of divinity, and the sound texture enough to make one feel at one with nature. It’s an odyssey into the sensory delights of pure philosophical cinema, subliminal cinema, and as such it is one of the visionary works of the last decade. What Milton called “the sum of earthly bliss” is here for all to see and at its most fluid, if you have eyes to see it.

In his review of The New World for, an online "journal of scholarship in the humanities," Richard Neer writes:

The New World is not just a narrative of exploration and discovery, but also one of conversion. During its course both Smith and Pocahontas undergo ceremonies of rebirth: the former after Powhatan spares his life, the latter in her baptism under the name Rebecca. Neither ceremony has much effect; Smith reverts to his former ways, and “Rebecca” continues to pray to a Mother Spirit even after she becomes a Protestant. Matching POV shots of a Puritan fanatic and an Indian priestess – each tightly framed, facing the camera with palms forward, threatening – rule out any sentimentalization of either Christian or Native American spirituality. What might seem to be needed is some sort of inner rebirth, a “true” conversion, and yet the whole film has militated against any simple myth of the inner. The language of spirituality seems inapt – yet more hawking of ineffability – yet . . . the final minutes of the film do narrate a conversion and, moreover, they do so in order to effect a similar conversion in viewers.

. . . The whole film is preparation for this ending, in which the intelligibility of a New World simply ceases to be a question, because a myth of newness – perhaps the American myth – has been renounced. No photograph, no film, can ever lay claim to radical newness thus conceived, anymore than mere philosophy can render intelligible the absolutely new. Malick’s film stages various hungers for that sort of newness, everyday yearnings to know the ineffable – political, erotic, operatic, cinematic, philosophical – that is taken to lie on the far side of things. In staging them, the film shows their attraction and their danger, for both historical actors (Smith, Pocahontas, Rolfe) and contemporary ones (“us,” or “we”).

Come, Spirit, help us sing
the story of our land.
You are our mother;
we your field of corn.
We rise from out of the soul of you.

– Pocahontas
(as played by Q'orianka Kilcher in The New World)

How many lands behind me?
How many seas?
What blows and dangers?
Fortune ever my friend.
Who are you, whom I so faintly hear?
Who urges me ever on?
What voice is this that speaks within me,
guides me towards the best?
We shall make a new beginning.
Here the blessings of the earth
are bestowed upon all;
none need grow poor.
Here there is good ground for all.
. . . We shall build a true commonwealth.
Men shall not make each other their spoil.

– John Smith
(as played by Colin Farrell in The New World)

Shall we deny it when it visits us?
Shall we not take what we are given?
There is only this.
All else is unreal.

– John Smith
(as played by Colin Farrell in The New World)

I close with an excerpt from Matthew Wilder's insightful City Pages review of The New World, originally published January 11, 2006.

. . . Malick's script follows the outward-flying, all-embracing shape of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, sometimes very literally; Malick is the first artist in movies who has managed to translate Whitman's ecstasy – the bliss of connectedness to all creatures and things – into sound, music, and images. He returns movies to the poetic essence of silent cinema – and essence is, in fact, the theme of this work. In 19th-century fashion, Malick is an essentialist, a believer that Nature and Woman and Country have cores that can be identified and photographed. But that essence can't be too easily quantified, because a thing's essence is, for Malick, its soul. The transmission of spirit through cinema: Haven't thought about that much lately, have you? Malick seeks to return movies to their essence by traveling backward in time to a period before their invention.

The movie is structured around three ecstatic montages: the arrival of the tall ships in the New World, the consummation of the love between John Smith (Colin Farrell) and the girl usually known as Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher), and a third that I can't divulge to those who haven't seen the film. Each section uses a passage from Wagner's "Das Rheingold" that focuses on a single rising and falling arpeggio that musically mimes Malick's trademark image, the rippling of wind through tall fields of grass; and in each, the natural world cascades over us, imminent and omnipresent, its embrace at once sexual, intoxicating, menacing, and ennobling. It is a sign of The New World's towering ambition that, in these three sequences, those cascading images of nature are meant to encompass the blending of many kinds of oppositions: the "technological" and the "primitive," male and female, innocence and experience.

Are Malick's images of a fecund virgin-child-mother and her tribe "naive"? The PC police will find their arrest warrants rescinded by the totalizing power of Malick's vision. In the penultimate sequence, the heroine is brought to the British court and has the red carpet rolled out for her: His Majesty the King delights her with all the creatures of his menagerie and with the animal skins and plumage worn by his baroquely attired courtiers. It is as if the genes of the dowdy British and the florid American aborigines met once again in the future – peaceably recombining to re-create the image of the garden in heaven.

No contemporary filmmaker, not even Robert Bresson (who died nursing a dream of a film based on the book of Genesis), has removed everyday psychology from movie acting as Malick has here. By creating often wordless scenes in which his actors are focused on arduous physical tasks, Malick moves us back to a place discovered by the pilgrims of Christian portraiture: the revelation of the soul as the unselfconscious subject. In the magical alchemy between editing, music, and the guileless faces of his performers, Malick finds an inner light.

– Matthew Wilder
Excerpted from "The End of the Innocence"
City Pages
January 11, 2006

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Michael Greyeyes on Temperance as a Philosophy for Surviving
Something to Think About – November 24, 2011
Something to Think About – November 28, 2014

Recommended Off-site Links:
Terrence Malick’s New World – Richard Neer (, June 12, 2011).
The Miracle of Squanto’s Path to Plymouth – Eric Metaxas (The Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2015).
No Thanks: How Thanksgiving Narratives Erase the Genocide of Native Peoples – Joanne Barker (, November 26, 2015).
The Thanksgiving Myth: Reflecting on Land Theft, Betrayal and Genocide – Sarah Sunshine Manning, (, November 25, 2015).
Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier – Arthur C. Brooks (The New York Times, November 21, 2015).
Gratitude: One of the Most Important Virtues – Marcus Borg (Patheos, November 24, 2013).
Thanksgiving Thoughts on the Children of War – William Rivers Pitt (, November 26, 2015).
Why I'm Grateful to Be Gay This Thanksgiving – Allison Hope (HuffPost Gay Voices, November 25, 2015).
For What Are YOU Thankful This Year?Bondings 2.0 (November 26, 2015).>

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Recognizing and Embracing the Fullness of Life

A Sermon by Michael J. Bayly

Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ
August 3, 2003

Contemporary Reading from The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

The days in the House of Change passed, and it was still summer. . . . In the evening Bastion and Dame Eyola had long talks. He told her about all his adventures in Fantastica, about Perilin and Grograman, about Xayide and Atreyu, whom he had wounded so cruelly and perhaps even killed.

“I did everything wrong,” he said. “I misunderstood everything. Moon Child gave me so much, and all I did with it was harm, harm to myself and harm to Fantastica.”

Dame Eyola gave him a long look.

“No,” she said. “I don’t believe so. You went the way of wishes, and that is never straight. You went the long way around, but that was your way. And do you know why? Because you are one of those who can’t go back until they have found the fountain from which springs the Water of Life. And that’s the most secret place in Fantastica. There’s no simple way of getting there.”

After a short silence she added: “But every way that leads there is the right one.”

Suddenly Bastian began to cry. He didn’t know why. He felt as if a knot in his heart had come open and dissolved into tears. He sobbed and he sobbed and couldn’t stop. Dame Eyola took him on her lap and stroked him. He buried his face in the flowers on her bosom and wept until he was too tired to weep anymore.

That evening they talked no more.

Scriptural Reading (John 10:10)

Jesus said to them, “I have come so that you may have life, life in all its fullness.”


As a child, whenever I heard Jesus’ words about the fullness of life, I always thought it was a reference to an abundance of only good things. I thought it meant that if we followed Jesus we would know only good and positive experiences in life, and that these good things would be our reward for being faithful followers.

Adulthood, of course, brings the realization that none of us are spared from unpleasant, unsettling, or even devastating experiences.

We’ve all had experiences that have forced us, like Bastian in The Neverending Story, to reevaluate our journey, to lament that which has befallen us, and perhaps, as a result, to contemplate and articulate new ways of speaking about God and God’s presence in our life.

I’d like to share with you this morning one such experience in my life. It’s not an earth-shattering political experience or a personal tragedy involving the loss of a loved one – though I concede that such things for many of us can and have facilitated transformation. Still, perhaps you’ll find yourself relating in some ways to my experience, or at least resonate with the ways I responded and continue to respond to it.

At a certain time when I was living in Australia prior to my coming to the United States in 1994, I found myself physically and emotionally drawn to a young man named Ahmed. I have many meaningful and happy memories of Ahmed and our time together. We were and remain good friends. We spent a lot of time in the Australian wilderness; we swam in rivers and the sea, explored forgotten trails and ruins, and climbed rocky, sunlit peaks. We had many adventures – adventures through which we shared our dreams, fears, and desires. It was to Ahmed that I first came out as a gay man.

Our time together sometimes feels like the fragments of a dream. Yet certain events remain like vivid watermarks upon my memory. I remember, for instance, the night Ahmed and I slept beneath the stars on the sandy bank of a river. A dying fire crackled and smoked beside us, and at one point during the night a fine misty rain descended from a suddenly overcast sky. Roused into action, I pulled a tarpaulin over us and we drifted back to sleep to the gentle sound of falling rain.

And then in the night sky appeared an amazing sight. Was it a meteor? A comet? Was it even real or did Ahmed and I share the same dream? We still wonder about what it was we saw. I recall a great ball of flame tumbling in slow motion through the cloudy sky. I gazed upon it sleepily and without fear. For I had the one I loved beside me and all felt wondrous and right.

But of course it wasn’t. You see, I did love Ahmed but he, being straight, could not love me in the way I desired him to. For months I avoided this reality until it hit me like a cold sea wave. I was shocked and numbed. How could this be? It seemed I had done everything wrong. Misunderstood everything. Suddenly I felt incredibly foolish and alone.

I also felt anger and frustration – much of which was directed toward God. It just wasn’t fair. For years I had kept putting off coming out to family and friends as I was convinced that God would bring into my life someone with whom I could be in relationship. And the strength and love I would gain from this “someone” and our relationship would give me the courage to “come out.” I was waiting for a savior, I realize now.

In time, however, I came to realize that one cannot always depend on others when it comes to the taking of certain steps so as to embody an authentic life. I had to let go of the idea that someone “out there” would save me. Yet it went further. I also realized that I had to let go of an image of a controlling God – a God who from a distance would oversee and orchestrate the appearance of this “savior” in my life.

In the place of this controlling, puppet-master God I’ve discerned a companion, lover God – a Sacred Presence that journeys with me; a loving, sustaining, and ultimately mysterious presence who dwells both deep within me and beyond me.

Accordingly, my images and metaphors for God are now ones that reflect fluidity. I think of God as a current of loving and transforming energy, a flowing river that invites me to be immersed in and embraced by, to be carried and refreshed by. I see my life as a boat upon this river. And though at times I know I am called to proactively navigate and propel myself, at other times I must let go of the oars, jettison excess baggage, and wait upon the breath of the spirit and the flow of the sacred to guide me.

Some might say that my experience of unrequited love was all part of a plan by God to facilitate my spiritual growth. Such a way of thinking could lead some to declare that everything in life happens for a reason or that our soul, prior to birth, chooses the various experiences of our life in order to advance its spiritual progress.

Although I realize that for many people this type of theology is meaningful, I have to admit that I cannot embrace a theology that does not acknowledge mishap, missed boats and missed opportunities, accidents and tragedy. Although I accept that good can indeed sometimes come from these types of experiences I can’t make that leap and declare that these things were meant to happen or that we chose on some level for them to happen.

I still believe in tragedy – in senseless deaths; painful, inexplicable losses; and acts of unfathomable evil. I don’t believe, for instance, that the torture victim chose before his/her birth to be tortured in order to advance his/her spiritual journey. Such a theology, to my mind at least, absolves us – as individuals and as a society – from taking responsibility for much of the injustice and suffering in our world.

No, I believe that any good that comes from injustice and tragedy, from mishap and just plain bad luck comes from our response to such experiences, not the experiences themselves.

Another way of saying this is that it doesn’t have to be the events of our life that define us but how we choose to respond to these events.

So how does any of this relate to Jesus and his words about the fullness of life?

Well, Jesus was clearly someone who was conscious and open to the complexity of the human condition. Yet he also recognized the presence of God within each of us as we struggle together with these complexities. He didn’t avoid life but modeled or exemplified for us ways to respond to life that are affirming, liberating, and which reveal the transforming love of God.

According to theologian John Sanford, it is this profound depth of awareness and Jesus' way of responding to life that enables us to recognize and declare Jesus divine.

Sanford also notes that throughout his life and ministry, Jesus called others to likewise cultivate this depth of consciousness – to recognize and claim, in other words, the sacred within themselves and within their relationships with others.

Thus for me, to be Christian, to be a follower of the Christ way that Jesus so powerfully and beautifully embodied, is to be a fully conscious entity in the world. Jesus calls us to consciousness, to awareness – about ourselves and about our world. And through such consciousness we’re going to know and experience life in all its complexity, in all its fullness.

Being conscious means being aware of all sorts of things – both life-affirming and life-denying. It means acknowledging tragedy as an inescapable part of the human condition. It means sharing with others both the joy and pain of life. And in our compassionate and proactive responses to this range of experience, this fullness of life, we get the opportunity to build community and to learn what it means to be a loving and relational human being. We get to learn and experience all that relationship entails – free will, responsibility, journey, trust, love, transformation.

With all this in mind (and in heart) perhaps one could say that God desires to be in relationship with us and so created a universe wherein finiteness, process, and unpredictability exist, and accordingly the potential for engagement and relationship through which we experience the loving and transforming presence of God.

This type of theology, this way of thinking and talking about God is very different to one that demands submission to a puppet-master God who causes and directs every single detail of our lives and thus all manner of mishap and disaster. I’ve journeyed beyond that type of theology, partly as a result of how I’ve chosen to reflect upon and respond to difficult and challenging times in my life. They have been responses that have attuned me to God’s loving presence.

I could have so easily allowed my experience of Ahmed to embitter and harden me. At the other extreme I could have held on for years to the fantasy of a sexual relationship with him. My chosen response – one that I continue to live daily – has been one of letting go, one of gratitude, and one of openness to new possibilities.

It’s a response that is best illustrated by the following prayer – one that I wrote in the form of a letter to Ahmed after a visit with him a few years back.

Ahmed, Did you know that when I’m with you my life seems to take on a new dimension? I actually notice it more when we’ve parted – things seem duller, less alive when I’m not in your presence. I’m not sure what it is about you, I just know you possess something very special which a very deep part of me – perhaps the deepest part of me – is moved by, enlivened by, turned on by.

I’m slowly learning that perhaps it’s just enough to experience and to be thankful. Part of me would love to hold on to the experience, capture it, express it with you in a very outward and physical way. But because of who you are and how you’re orientated at a very deep level, I can’t. And there’s the frustration, the paradox, the mystery.

So all I can do is thank you for being you. And thank God that you’re part of my life; that I’ve known you, that my life has been made richer and fuller because of your presence in it.

That’s ultimately all I can hold onto – that gratitude. And even this I offer to God with a fuller and happier heart for knowing you.

My words of long ago remind me of Chilean author Isabelle Allende’s contention that life is all about letting go. She certainly would know, having lost her father to an early death, her adult daughter to hospital negligence, and her country to a military coup backed by the CIA. I agree with Allende that life is about learning to deal with loss, learning to let go. Yet it’s also about learning to be and stay open and hopeful in the wake of such loss.

For as Bastian discovers in The Neverending Story, the way to the “Water of Life,” a beautiful metaphor for the fullness of life, is indeed one that is long, varied, and winding. Yet rather than blame or rail against a God who sets the course, let us follow the example of Jesus and consciously seek to recognize and celebrate the God who walks beside us as we discover, and at times forge the paths that lead to the fullness of human and thus sacred life.

Let us, like Bastian, come to understand that the range and complexity of our experiences – the fullness of our journey – is what ultimately brings us to an awareness of life, an awareness of what it means to be truly, fully, and divinely human.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Gravity of Love
In the Garden of Spirituality – Toby Johnson
Passion, Tide and Time

Other Homilies:
The Soul of a Dancer – Spirit of St. Stephen's Catholic Community, May 22, 2011.
Liberated to Be Together – Spirit of St. Stephen's Catholic Community, October 4, 2009.
"More Lovely Than the Dawn": God as Divine Lover – Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ, August 30, 2009.
Dispatches from the Periphery – Spirit of St. Stephen's Catholic Community, October 5, 2008.
The Harvest Within the Heart – Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ, July 17, 2005.
Disarming the Weapons Within – Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ, November 29, 2004.
Soul Deep – Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ, June 20, 2004.
Something We Dare Call Hope – Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ, November 9, 2003.
On the Road with Punk Rockers and Homeless Mothers – Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ, October 19, 2003.
Praying for George W. Bush – Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ, January 2003.
What We Learn from the Story of the Magi – St. Stephen's Catholic Church, January 2, 2000.

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Quote of the Day

Let me tell you: The facts are out. In Minneapolis, black people are almost nine times more likely to be arrested for minor offenses than white people. Black youth are almost six times more likely than their white peers to be arrested for low-level crimes. Black people consistently report bias in how they are treated by police, and the numbers support this. Tonight, as I write this, we observe the first anniversary of the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy with a toy gun who was shot and killed by police outside of his Cleveland recreation center. This happens again and again and we tell people of color to wait, to be patient with the investigation. To place their trust in a system that is failing them. Imprisoning them. Killing them.

As a white person, I won’t speak for people of color, I can only speak for myself. But I listen to people of color, and I believe them when they say that these are their experiences. As soon as Jamar Clark was shot, the reports of the bystanders who watched it happen were discounted and discredited, and I have to ask why. When the president of the police union calls for witnesses to be silenced, I am left to wonder, Who is he protecting? When we tell people of color to trust the system, we ignore their lived experiences. It’s insulting. We need to stop.

– Carin Mrotz
Excerpted from "The World is on Fire:
Standing in Solidarity with #Justice4Jamar
November 23, 2015

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
"We Are All One" – #Justice4Jamar and the 4th Precinct Occupation: Photos, Reflections and Links
Rallying in Solidarity with Eric Garner and Other Victims of Police Brutality
Quote of the Day – June 19, 2015
"Say Her Name" Solidarity Action for Sandra Bland
In Minneapolis, Rallying in Solidarity with Black Lives in Baltimore

Related Off-site Links:
To Be Black is to Never, Ever Feel Safe – Lilly Workneh (HuffPost Black Voices, November 24, 2015).
The Powder Keg – Charles P. Pierce (Esquire, November 24,2015).
Fox News Asked a Chicago Protester About Black-on-Black Crime. His Response Was Perfect – German Lopez (Vox, November 25, 2015).
"Unless Black Lives Matter, All Lives Can't Matter" Says NAACP Head – Bill Sorem and Michael McIntee (The Uptake, November 22, 2015).

New Ways Ministry Campaign Encourages Catholics to Ask Pope to "Save LGBT Lives"

Yesterday I shared the inspiring and hopeful story of Danny and Aamer, two gay Syrian men who found refuge in Canada from the potentially deadly homophobia of their homeland.

In highlighting their journey I noted that there are many parts of the world where, sadly, it's still very difficult and dangerous for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people to simply be themselves in the totality of their being, a being that includes, of course, their sexuality.

One such part of the world is Africa, where Pope Francis is currently visiting. Specifically, the pope is visiting Uganda, Kenya, and the Central African Republic. In all three countries homosexuality is culturally disapproved, and, in the first two, it remains illegal.

Right: An asylum seeker from Uganda during the Gay Pride Parade in Boston, Massachusetts – June 8, 2013. (Photo: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi)

The inspiring folks at New Ways Ministry are using the opportunity afforded by the Pope's visit to Africa to relaunch its #PopeSpeakOut campaign, one that encourages Catholics to ask the Pope to speak out for the lives of LGBTQI people and to publicly oppose the criminalization of, discrimination towards, and violence against LGBT communities.

Following is how New Ways Ministry's Bob Shine describes the campaign in a recent Bondings 2.0 post.

#PopeSpeakOut was initially launched in 2014, following Pope Francis’ appeal for solidarity in his World Day of Peace message, to save LGBT lives. This campaign uses Twitter to send messages (tweets) to the pope (his Twitter handle: @pontifex) to speak out for LGBT human rights. More information on how to send tweets and other electronic messages, with samples of what to say, can be found by clicking here.

Pope Francis’ voice and moral authority on a global level have only grown in the time since. A clear condemnation of social and legal structures which harm LGBT people across the world and especially in Uganda and Kenya which criminalize homosexual people, would send a clear message that the Catholic Church truly does not approve of or tolerate discrimination and violence against sexual and gender diverse minorities. The pope should affirm the following:

• Catholic teaching does not support the criminalization of sexual orientation/gender identity and all such laws should be repealed;

• Each and every instance of discrimination and violence against LGBTQI people is morally wrong and should be opposed vigorously;

• Western nations are not withholding foreign aid based on a recipient nation’s recognition of same-sex relationships, despite what the Synod on the Family’s final report claims.

Already, a multilingual petition has generated 100,000 signatures asking Pope Francis to condemn homophobia and transphobia. You can sign it at by clicking here.

Despite the dangers that being openly gay or lesbian entails in Uganda, and despite rumors that this nation’s Parliament is considering new legislation to stifle human rights work, a Pride celebration went on as planned there this summer. You can view images of it here.

Despite the bleak picture, there are some signs of progress , too. A Ugandan presidential candidate, while clearly opposing same-sex marriage, did attack homophobia as wrong earlier this year. Advocates like Dr. Frank Mugisha [right], a Catholic who is executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda whose work you can read about in a Pink News article, are continuing to seek justice and equality. International allies must add our voices to these efforts by encouraging Pope Francis’ to speak out against repression.

Pope Francis’ agenda during his first African excursion is packed. Central African Republic is engulfed in a brutal civil war, and a refugee camp is on the pope’s itinerary, which will surely be a moving experience to witness. Questions of inter-religious cooperation, regional security, and human development will be at the forefront of discussion since they strongly affect a continent where Christianity is growing rapidly.

That said, for a pope exhorting the church to go to the margins, LGBT lives should not be negligible. Even a brief remark during his several planned speeches would go a long way to doing some good. Even better would be a call for sexual and gender human rights during a homily at Mass. Most importantly, he needs to educate the bishops in these countries that it is their obligation as pastors and leaders to protect the rights and lives of LGBT people. Anything the pope says positively would reverberate around the globe. Francis has been too silent on this issues. It is time for the pope to speak out!

[We ask] you, other Catholics, and others concerned with LGBT human rights to appeal to Pope Francis for a message of solidarity – and more than that, an appeal to save LGBT lives. To take action with #PopeSpeakOut and add your voice, click here.

To read Bob Shine's follow-up article, "LGBT Africans Ask Pope Francis to Preach Tolerance," click here.

To read New Ways Ministry's Executive Director Francis DeBernardo's November 25 article, "Addressing LGBT Issues Other Than Criminalization on African Papal Visit," click here.

Above: A photo from Rachel Adams' exhibition "Uganda Pride," which was part of the Homotopia Festival of 2012. Uganda's first Pride event was held that year in Entebbe, on the shores of Lake Victoria, despite the fact that homosexuality is a punishable offence. Adams' exhibition documents this groundbreaking event.

Related Off-site Links and Updates:
African Gays Make Simple Request to Pope: Preach Tolerance – Edith Honan and Elias Biryabarema (Reuters, November 22, 2015).
Uganda's Gay Community Has High Hopes For Pope Francis's Visit – Rodney Muhumuza (Associated Press via HuffPost Gay Voices, November 23, 2015).
"Church is for Love": Gay Ugandans Send Message to Pope – Priyanka Gupta (Aljazeera, November 27, 2015).
Ugandan Catholics Not Troubled by Papal Restraint on Gay Rights – Inés San Martín (Crux, November 28, 2015).
Pope Francis Forgoes LGBT Human Rights During First Visit to Africa – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, December 1, 2015).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Kittredge Cherry on the "Tough Questions" Raised by the Uganda Martyrs
Coming Out in Africa and the Middle East
Sanctuary for Gay Syrians Danny and Aamer
The Scourge of Homophobia in Economically Impoverished Countries
Quote of the Day – March 10, 2014
In Uganda, a “Fearless Voice” for Gay Rights is Brutally Silenced
The Blood-Soaked Thread
A Prayer for International Day Against Homophobia
A Christmas Message of Hope from Uganda
Why I Take Hope in Pope Francis' Statement on Gay Priests

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sanctuary for Gay Syrians Danny and Aamer

Above: Ahmed Danny Ramadan (right) and his partner Aamer – September 2014. Aamer's face is obscured because he is not out to his family in Syria.

This adventure has left me reeling;
There's no expression for what I'm feeling.
I see a lantern in the distance,
Lights the pathway of least resistance.
In you I have faith,
We'll make our escape.

Somewhere there's a guiding star;
Somewhere there's a safe retreat.
Close your eyes and there you are.
Somewhere there is sanctuary,
We can find some peace.

Neil Finn
Excerpted from "Guiding Star"
(as recorded by Jenny Morris
for her 2002 album Hit and Myth)

Okay, this isn't exactly recent news, but it's an important story and one about which I don't think many people have heard. On one level, it's the story of two gay Syrians, Danny and Aamer, and their finding of sanctuary last year in Canada from the homophobic and potentially deadly atmosphere of their homeland. On another level, Danny and Aamer's journey is a reminder of both the horrendous situation being faced by Syrian refugees and the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people in many parts of the world where simply being yourself remains an extremely difficult and dangerous undertaking. For instance, just this past September ISIS executed nine men and a boy accused of being gay in Syria and have claimed responsibility for the killings of at least 30 other gay men. In many cases, those accused of being gay are thrown to their death from rooftops. It's sobering to think that such a terrible fate may well have been Danny and Aamer's, if not for their escape from Syria.

In researching Danny and Aamer's story I discovered that Danny Ramadan (left), who also goes by Ahmed Danny Ramadan, is quite an inspiring figure. Currently the volunteer coordinator for Qmunity, a queer resource center in British Columbia, Danny also serves as DailyXtra's "Arab world correspondent." In this position he has written a number of insightful and moving pieces about his life in Syria as a gay man. (Some of these articles are listed at the end of this post, while Ramadan's complete DailyXtra archive can be accessed here.) He's also written for The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and Egypt Independent, and has translated into English 1000 Lashes by imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. Also, since finding sanctuary with his partner in Canada, Danny has said that it's "time to pay it forward." He and his partner are doing just that by sponsoring their lesbian friend Rory to come to Canada. "I cannot think of a person who is more suitable for this sponsorship," says Danny. "She is an educated, well-deserving woman facing the harsh life of being a Syrian lesbian refugee stuck in Turkey." Like I said, Danny's quite the inspiring fellow.

Following is the full text of Danny and Aamer's story as published by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ( last September.

A gay Syrian couple seeking refuge from discrimination and war in their hometown are now able to live in Canada after local sponsors and supporters intervened on their behalf

“I want to ride a roller coaster for the first time,” Danny Ramadan told “I would also like to give back to the community that brought me here. It’s just beyond (my dreams).”

Ramadan and his partner, who has requested anonymity because he’s not out to his family, are are among the first refugees from the war in Syria to arrive in Vancouver, according to

The ongoing Syrian war has created over 3 million refugees with more than 100,000 Syrians having lost their lives in the escalating conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule. In the past year, Canada pledged to take in 1,300 before the end of 2014.

However, many gay men in Syria are threatened not only by the Syrian Army and Islamist organizations and rebels but also from family members, says Human Rights Watch.

Gay people even before the war have been the target of “honor killings” with family members viewing same-sex relations as a disgrace and the persecution is their bid to overcome that public disgrace.

Before coming to Canada last week, the couple had been living in Beirut, Lebanon. They are eager to start a new life in Vancouver with their rescue dog, Phoebe.

By coming to Canada, the couple hopes to escape the homophobia they faced in Syria and Lebanon.

“Here, I have the ability to be myself finally,” says Ramadan. “I have been gay-bashed in the Arab world. My family disowned me at times. But here, I feel like I have a family somehow,” he told

Their coming to Canada was made possible by a group from Vancouver who helped in bringing the couple by raising funds, working through the application process and lobbying MPs and MLAs.

Rainbow Refugee, an organization that advocates for refugees fleeing persecution because of sexual orientation, was also instrumental in bringing the couple to Canada.

Canada has identified gay men, children, religious minorities and women facing sexual violence as being particularly vulnerable among Syrian refugees.

For CBC News' September 2015 follow-up to this story, click here

Ahmed Danny Ramadan has written a number of articles for DailyXtra, as the site's "correspondent in the Arab world." These articles include the following:
Coming Out in Syria Was Difficult, But New Chosen Family Brings Joy – Ahmed Danny Ramadan (DailyXtra, December 6, 2013).
Why Must We Refer to Each Other as 'Sisters' and 'Mothers'? – Ahmed Danny Ramadan (DailyXtra, March 8, 2014).
How a Gay Couple and Their Dog Escaped Beirut for Vancouver – Ahmed Danny Ramadan (DailyXtra, October 4, 2014).
Gay Men Biggest Scapegoats of the Arab Spring – Ahmed Danny Ramadan (DailyXtra, March 2, 2015).
Gay Syrian Refugee to Canada Sponsors Lesbian Syrian Refugee – Ahmed Danny Ramadan (DailyXtra, September 11, 2015).

Other Related Off-site Links:
Gay Syrian Refugees Start New Lives in Vancouver – Margaret Gallagher (CBC News, September 10, 2014).
A Gay Syrian's Flight – Natasha Barsotti (DailyXtra, July 4, 2013).
The Danger of Being Openly Gay in Syria – Pat Johnson (DailyXtra, May 15, 2015).
Gay Men Face Horrors at the Hands of the Islamic State, But Few Can Resettle in the U.S. – Samuel Oakford (Vice News, August 25, 2015).
ISIS Throws Gay Couple to Their Deaths – Darren Wee (Gay Star News, October 29, 2015).
Uncertain Future for Gay Syrian Refugees – Dylan C. Robertson (DailyXtra, November 23, 2015).

UPDATES: Why Gays Under ISIS Rule Fear Isolation – And A Cruel Death – Bassem Mroue (Associated Press via HuffPost Gay Voices, December 2, 2015).
Gay Refugee Provides Facebook Lifeline Between Syrians and Vancouverites – Luiz Lopes (The Thunderbird, December 3, 2015).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Rallying in Solidarity with the Refugees of Syria and the World
Something to Think About – November 18, 2015
To Be Gay in Iraq is to Be a “Defenseless Target”
The Scourge of Homophobia in Economically Impoverished Countries
Quote of the Day – March 10, 2014
In Uganda, a “Fearless Voice” for Gay Rights is Brutally Silenced
The Vatican’s Actions at the UN: “Sickening, Depraved and Shameless”
The Blood-Soaked Thread
A Prayer for International Day Against Homophobia
A Christmas Message of Hope from Uganda
Omar Akersim: Muslim and Gay
Parvez Sharma on Islam and Homosexuality
Coming Out in Africa and the Middle East
Liberated to Be Together

Monday, November 23, 2015

Prayer of the Week

Image: Amy Goalen.

From the corners of creation
to the center where we stand,
let all things be blessed and holy,
all is fashioned by Your hand;
Brother wind and sister water,
mother earth and father sky,
sacred plants and sacred creatures,
sacred people of the land.

In the east, the place of dawning,
there is beauty in the morn,
here the seeker finds new visions
as each sacred day is born;
All who honor life around them,
all who honor life within,
they shall shine with light and glory
when the morning breaks again.

Marty Haugen
Excerpted from "Song at the Center" (1993)

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Source is Within You
Prayer of the Week – August 3, 2015
May Balance and Harmony Be Your Aim
Prayer of the Week – November 5, 2013
Quote of the Day – November 16, 2011
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All

Related Off-site Link:
The Body Is My Temple, Postures Are My PrayersThe Leveret (February 14, 2015).

Saturday, November 21, 2015

"We Are All One" – #Justice4Jamar and the 4th Precinct Occupation

Yesterday evening my friends Kathleen and Tim (left) and I attended the "Justice for Jamar" candlelight vigil outside the 4th precinct police station in north Minneapolis. The event, which drew around 1000 people (above) was a powerful embodiment of community and solidarity.

During the vigil a number of inspiring speeches were delivered by local and national civil rights leaders, including Cornell Brooks, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Nekima Levy-Pounds, the Minneapolis NAACP chapter president, and Mahmoud El-Kati, a former Macalester College professor and an African-American historian. The vigil also involved singing, chanting, and a march to the site a few blocks away where Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man, was fatally shot by police while in custody on November 15. A number of witnesses say Clark was laying on the ground and handcuffed at the moment he was shot by a police officer.

"We understand that all lives matter," Brooks told the crowd at one point, "[but] unless black lives matter, all lives can’t matter . . . We are in it for the long haul."

Following, with added images and links, is an excerpt from David Chanen's Star Tribune article on last night's vigil.

Hundreds of people of all races and backgrounds congregated Friday evening near police headquarters in north Minneapolis for an emotional rally and candlelight vigil that culminated a week of protests over officers’ fatal shooting of an unarmed black man.

The president of the national NAACP, who met with state and city leaders earlier in the day at Gov. Mark Dayton’s residence in St. Paul, was among those speaking at the peaceful rally, which many participants called the most significant and inspiring local civil rights gathering in years.

“We are not here to tell you what to do,” Cornell Brooks, head of the national NAACP, told the emotional crowd. “I believe in what’s happening in Minneapolis.”

The death of Jamar Clark, 24, shot in the head during a scuffle Sunday on the city’s North Side, has galvanized Minnesota activists — from North Side residents to Black Lives Matter activists to the NAACP — and garnered national attention. As protesters have camped outside Fourth Precinct headquarters on Plymouth Avenue N. and engaged in sometimes tense confrontations with officers, police and civic leaders have pleaded for time to thoroughly investigate the shooting, which is also being examined by federal officials and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).

Police have said that Clark lunged for an officer’s gun and interfered with officers and paramedics responding to a domestic dispute in which a woman had been injured. The officers involved in Clark’s death, Mark Ringgenberg, 30, and Dustin Schwarze, 28, are on paid leave.

After the rally, the group marched to the spot a few blocks away where Clark was shot. There, Nekima Levy-Pounds, the Minneapolis NAACP chapter president, said “it could have been any one of us who died.”

“This isn’t about demonizing the Police Department,” she said. “But we are going to get the truth one way or another.”

. . . Throughout Friday, the scene at precinct headquarters was peaceful, with some protesters warming themselves at campfires and donning donated hats and mittens. Among those dropping by to express support were clergy members and students from nearby Anwatin Middle School. Some protesters worked to clear the streets of debris, while others directed traffic.

Helen Williams, who has lived in north Minneapolis for more than 40 years, came to sweep the street and show her support for protesters.

Williams, who has long helped families bury their dead when they cannot afford it, said she is helping the Clark family plan for their son’s funeral. “I’m here to do my part to offer crowd control and hugs,” she said.

Several Minnesota progressive and labor groups issued statements urging a thorough and transparent investigation. State DFL Chair Ken Martin said, “It is hard to have hope for the future when it seems that our community has turned an indifferent eye to the very real and persistent issues facing communities of color in Minnesota. The DFL stands by everyone working peacefully for a transparent investigation and to bring the conversation of fairness and justice to the forefront.”

A coalition of leaders from African immigrant communities said at a news conference in Brooklyn Park that immigrant groups support protesters’ call for clarity and justice in the Clark case.

“The African community is united with our African-American brothers and sisters,” said Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of the group African Immigrant Services. “We are all one. A harm to one is a harm to all of us.”

. . . As Friday night drew to a close, protesters remained at the site, chanting and singing peacefully. Although it appeared that the rally had helped ease tensions, questions about Clark’s death were no closer to being answered.

To read David Chanen's article in its entirety, click here.


Following are more photographs that I took at last night's "Justice for Jamar"candlelight vigil.

Above: This image shows how protesters have "occupied" the space outside the police precinct. Along with sleeping tents, activists have set up a soup kitchen, a clothing stand, several banners, and a number of campfires on the sidewalk and in the street in front of the police station.

Following is how one young person from the Northside recently described on Facebook her experience of the ‎4th precinct occupation community.

Above and below: Many people are demanding the release of police and surveillance videos of the shooting of Jamar Clark. Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP says that there have been "so many false narratives spun by the Minneapolis Police Department as to what has happened. . . . Enough is enough."

"We're demanding release of the tapes," Levy-Pounds said. "We're demanding reform of the police department and we are demanding justice for Jamar Clark right now."

Authorities, however, have said that there was no video of the shooting from police dashboard or body cameras. Investigators are nevertheless reviewing video from business and security cameras in the area. They also are checking witnesses' cellphones but none of those videos captured the entire incident.

Levy-Pounds is also calling for grief counselors for those who witnessed the shooting, saying that Clark's case was "just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the abuse and harassment."

Related Off-site Links:
Hundreds Gather in North Minneapolis for Emotion-filled Vigil and MarchMinnesota Spokesman-Recorder (November 21, 2015).
Vigil for Jamar Clark Held at Minneapolis Police PrecinctKARE 11 News (November 20, 2015).
Emotional Candlelight Vigil Rallies Protesters – Judy Griesedieck and Doualy Xaykaothao (MPR News, November 20, 2015).
Armed White Supremacists Threaten Protesters at 4th Precinct Shutdown – Susan Du (City Pages, November 20, 2015).
The Shooting of Jamar Clark: What We Know – Andy Mannix (MinnPost, November 18, 2015).
Shooting Death of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis Police Officer Unearths Troubled Past, Efforts to Change – Kyle Potter (Associated Press via U.S. News and World Report, November 20, 2015).
Minneapolis NAACP chief demands release of video of Minnesota shooting – Brendan O'Brien (Reuters via Yahoo! News, November 19, 2015).
"We Do Want Justice," Says Sister of Unarmed Black Man Killed by Minneapolis Police – Matt Pearce (Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2015).
The Hard Truth of the Minneapolis Black Lives Matter Protests: Communities of Color Have No Trust in Their Police Force – Jana Kooren (American Civil Liberties Union, November 19, 2015).
Minneapolis Lacks Political Will to Provide Security for All – Marjaan Sirdar (Twin Cities Daily Planet, November 19, 2015).
Minnesota Governor Calls for Federal Review of Police Actions – Phil Helsel (NBC News, November 19, 2015).
13 Things You See At A Minneapolis Black Lives Matter Protest – Abrara Rageh (BuzzFeed, November 19, 2015).
Police and Protesters Clash in Minneapolis Over Fatal Shooting of Black Man – Mitch Smith (New York Times, November 19, 2015).
Fascinating Political Moment in Minneapolis Might Actually Change ThingsTwin Cities Sidewalks (November 20, 2015).
Nekima Levy-Pounds: Minneapolis Protest Leader Shakes Up Civil Rights Politics – Steve Karnowski (Associated Press via ABC News, November 21, 2015).
In Wake of Police Shooting, A Split Among Minneapolis Council Members – Peter Callaghan (MinnPost, November 20, 2015).
Photo Gallery: The Shooting of Jamar Clark Sparks a Turbulent Week in Minneapolis – Kristoffer Tigue (MinnPost, November 20, 2015).
Demonstrations Continue 7 Days After Jamar Clark Shooting – Scott Theisen and Brett Hoffland (KSTP News, November 21, 2015).
Meet the People of the Fourth Precinct Occupation – Michael Rietmulder (City Pages, November 20, 2015).

UPDATES: "Unless Black Lives Matter, All Lives Can't Matter" Says NAACP Head – Bill Sorem and Michael McIntee (The Uptake, November 22, 2015).
Department of Justice Lawyers Will Fly to Minneapolis to Probe Jamar Clark Shooting – Greg Moore (Associated Press via HuffPost Black Voices, November 22, 2015).
Governor Dayton: Video of Jamar Clark Shooting is InconclusiveKSTP News (November 23, 2015).

Shooting Near 4th Precinct Leaves Five Hospitalized (right, photo via Twitter) – WCCO News (November 24, 2015).
White Supremacists Shoot Five Black Lives Matters Protesters – Mike Mullen (City Pages, November 24, 2015).
Police Search for Suspects Who Fired Into Crowd at Black Lives Matter Protest in Minneapolis – Karen Zamora (Star Tribune, November 24, 2015).
The 4th Precinct Protest Shooting: The Photos You Haven't Seen MPR News (November 25, 2015).
The Men Who Shot at the Minneapolis Protesters Want to Scare All Black People – Steven W. Thrasher (The Guardian, November 24, 2015).
Why Minneapolis and Ferguson Are More Similar Than You Think – Jeff Guo (The Washington Post, November 24, 2015).
3 Arrested, 1 Released in 4th Precinct Shooting; #Justice4Jamar Demonstrations Continue – Peter Cox, Doualy Xaykaothao and Tim Nelson (MPR News, November 24, 2015).
Hundreds March Through Minneapolis Following Shooting Near 4th Precinct – Rachel Chazin (KMSP News, November 24, 2015).
Social Media Offering Clues Into Shooting Suspects' Motives – David Chanen (Star Tribune, November 24, 2015).
Accused Minneapolis Shooters Fascinated with Guns, Militia Groups and the Confederacy – Travis Gettys (Raw Story, November 25, 2015).
How Black Lives Matter Came Back Stronger After White Supremacist Attacks – Celia Kutz (, November 30, 2015).
Officials Call for End to 4th Precinct Occupation, Protesters Vow to Stay – Bill Hudson (WCCO News, November 30, 2015).
Protesters Say They Aren’t Leaving the 4th PrecinctWCCO News (November 30, 2015).
Rep. Keith Ellison Loses Influence on Police Shooting Protest – Bob Collins (MPR News, December 1, 2015).
Minnesota's 1st Black Congressman Comes Under Fire from Protesters Whose Cause He Supports – Steve Karnowski (Associated Press via U.S. News, December 2, 2015).
When Do We #SayHerName? Examining the Systems Behind the Death of Jamar Clark – Kari Mugo (Twin Cities Daily Planet, December 2, 2015).
Jamar Clark Case Highlights Quest for Transparency – Ruben Rosario (Pioneer Press, December 3, 2015).
Minneapolis Police Clear Out 4th Precinct Protest Site – Jon Collins and Tim Nelson (MPR News, December 3, 2015).
Black Lives Matter Protesters Evicted from 4th Precinct Occupation – Mike Mullen (City Pages, December 3, 2015).
Protesters Rally at City Hall After Minneapolis Police Clear Fourth Precinct Encampment – Erin Golden (Star Tribune, December 4, 2015).
Protests Highlight the Racism Behind "Minnesota Nice" – Mary Turck (Aljazeera America, December 4, 2015).
Minneapolis Protesters Signal Impatience with Civil Rights "Old Guard" – Laura Yuen (MPR News, December 7, 2015).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In Minneapolis, Rallying in Solidarity with Black Lives in Baltimore
At the Mall of America Today, a Necessary Disruption to "Business as Usual"
Rallying in Solidarity with Eric Garner and Other Victims of Police Brutality
Quote of the Day – June 19, 2015
"Say Her Name" Solidarity Action for Sandra Bland
Something to Think About – November 19, 2015
Quote of the Day – November 25, 2014
Thoughts on Prayer in a "Summer of Strife"
Quote of the Day – July 13, 2013

Images: Michael J. Bayly.