Friday, October 21, 2011

Sorry for my Ignorance!



I found the above photo of a sculpture last Monday when I was net-surfing.  It had a caption:  "Why?  WTF?"  I posted it to my FaceBook wall with my own caption:  "Art is an amazing part of life, but some artists need to learn to keep their mistakes to themsleves. . ."
 
There was a fair number of comments about the sculpture.  Several of them dealt with the issue of body image among young women.  Others were thoughtful.  Some were as facile as my own.
 
Coming back to my own post of this photo time after time to read the comments, I spent a good bit of time just looking at the sculpture.  And you know what?  I came to like it.  In its own way, it's really beautiful!

I'm not sure what the sculptor had in mind when (s)he created it, but I came to see it as an expression of the female nature:  strong, fertile, proud, sexy.  That it doesn't conform to the skinny type of female form usually used to depict the generic 21st century female is part of its statement, obviously.  What the artist probably is saying is that beauty comes in all forms and in each form there is something to enjoy, to think about, to be edified by.

So, I am a fan of this sculpture.  I like it.  It made me feel and think in ways that I don't usually take the time or make the effort to think and feel.

And that's almost a definition of art, isn't it?  Something that depicts reality in a way that makes me stop and feel and then think.
 
By that definition - by any definition - this piece is really and truly and essentially art!  So I know "why."  I don't have to ask "WTF?".

And I know for sure that the artist knew precisely what (s)he was doing.

One thing (s)he was doing was reminding this old fart what beauty means and what art is.

My apologies to those who saw my original remarks.  As usual, I was full of shit!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

For Matthew Shepard


13 years ago today, Matthew Shepard died in a hospital in Colorado.  He had been tortured by 3 homophobic bullies and left to die on a fence in a remote area near Laramie Wyoming.  His death affected me at the time and Matt, and the memory of his murder, are with me every single day.  For years, I had a photo of Matt on my office wall.  I lost it in a move, but I'm going to put a new one up in my home office today.

On Justin Rosario's FaceBook wall, there was a discussion today on the efficacy of hate crimes laws.  Lots of views were expressed, with most of which I agree.  One view, however, was missing:  the viewpoint of a victim of gay bashing.  Here is that view.

When I was 14 years old, I was walking to the public library  in Alexandria, Virginia, with my straight friend, Bill.  We were walking along Washington Street, one of the main streets through Alexandria, the street that eventually ends at Mount Vernon, George Washington's home.  Bill and I often studied together, and we were going to the library to do research for papers that we had to write for English class.

Right across from the old Woodward and Lothrop store on the street, two older guys came walking toward us.  Bill recognized them from school, but I had no idea who they were.  About half a block away from us, they started yelling at me, identifying me by the sweatshirt I was wearing.  They said they had noticed me at school and that they knew I was "queer."  They kept up this line of chatter as they approached us.  I tried to run across the street to the other side, but it was Saturday, and all the shoppers were out going to downtown Alexandria in those says before shopping centers.  The traffic was too heavy for me to cross.  The two bullies got me by the hood on my sweatshirt and pulled me back to the sidewalk.  They started hitting me in the head and face, and, when I fell, they kicked me.  Bill tried to stop them, and they hot him, too.  Bill went out to the curb and stopped a passing car.  The guy in the car got out and told the bullies to stop.  They gave me a few more hits, then stomped on my glasses, ruining them, and then ran away.  I wound up with two black eyes and some bruises on my back, but other than that, I was physically ok.

I'll never ever forget that afternoon.  I have never been as afraid as I was then, nor have I ever felt as powerless.  After it all was over, I felt ashamed.  Ashamed that I was gay and had caused this horrible incident.  I pleaded with Bill not to tell his parents or anyone.  I was afraid that, were his parents to suspect I was gay, and so prone to being attacked, they wouldn't let Bill hang around with me any more.  I told my parents that two kids had stolen my glasses and that I had gotten into a fight with them to try to get them back.  My dad was proud of me when I told him that story.  Had I told him the truth, he probably would have told me to man up and stop being a sissy.

The whole incident reinforced my low opinion of my young gay self.  In those days, it never occurred to me that I was in the right and the bullies were in the wrong.  I felt I deserved the bad treatment.  It also never occurred to me that there were other people who had experienced the same kind of treatment - that there really were other gay people in the world.

I never have told this story to my friends or family.  I posted it a few months ago in a discussion on FaceBook (a closed group where posts are protected) in reply to a question about the incidence of gay bashing among the group's members.  This is the first time, though, after 50 years, that I'm telling this story in public, so to speak.  50 years!
What happened to Matthew Shepard 13 years ago, and what happened to me 50 years ago last March, are crimes with greater impact than murder or assault.  Such crimes send a huge message to all those who hear about them or witness them.  They say that gay people are nothing.  Worse than nothing.  Gay people are dirty, despicable nobodies whose hunting is always open season because society is better off without them.  It sends a message to every gay kid that their life isn't worth shit, and, if they persist in being who they are, violence and harm are their only true future.  It reinforces the conviction of those people who don't accept gay people to continue their own form of violence, expressed by their rejection, hatred, and oppression.

Hate crimes are a separate class of crime.  I know this for a fact.  The crime is two-pronged.  First, it's the physical attack and its physical repercussions.  More lasting, it is a psychological form of terror that haunts not only the immediate victim, but also those who are like the victim.
This piece was very difficult for me to write because, 50 years later, the feelings of powerlessness, vulnerability, worthlessness, and fear all still are inside me and they hurt.

I mourn Matthew Shepard.  I so respect Judy Shepard, his Mom, for her work to end the freedom with which bullies prowl the streets looking for people they think are gay and terrorizing us.  I hope that Matt's death, and our collective memory of it, will put an end to this horrible American pass time.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

More on Silent Christians

Yesterday, Dan Savage posted this video by John Shore on Slog.  The video makes it very simple. . .  Christians who insist on shoving their hatred down others' throats are guilty of the deaths of these young gay people who kill themselves.  Period.  If Christians believe that being made gay by their god (and that's the ONLY way anybody becomes gay) is evil, then they need to keep that sick, false belief to themselves.  And "good" Christians who know the truth about being gay are just as guilty as long as they don't yell their beliefs as loudly as the bigots yell their condemnation.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Silence Equals Assent: I've Had it with Christians



Troy Davis, RIP
My brother and sister–in–law live in a town in Northwest Georgia called Mount Airy.  It’s fairly remote, about 90 minutes from Atlanta, but it has had some development in the years before the Shrub took office.  It’s pretty country there, not far from mountains and lakes.  It’s also very religious, in a born–again, fundamentalist Christian sense.  There are many more churches in the area than there are stores or movie theaters.  The churches preach that old–time religion that so appeals to the teabaggers.  Alcohol was only recently allowed in the county, and still may not be sold on Sundays, although alcohol sales are allowed on the Jewish and Muslim Sabbaths.  The population of the county in the 2000 Census was almost 93% Caucasian.

My brother is progressive, even liberal.  He loves Keith Olbermann and the pundits on MS–NBC.  He enjoys arguing on line with his neighbors, discussing politics and baiting members of the ultra–conservative, Bible–believing, Tea Bag Party–loving populace of the county.

Habersham County, in which Mount Airy is situated, is demographically typical of much of the State of Georgia: a State of “Good ole boys” trying to live life as their ancestors lived it, believing in the same god, holding pretty much the same political views, and seeing life in a much different way than either my brother does, or I.

From this population tonight comes the execution of Troy Davis, a possibly innocent African–American man, convicted of killing a white policeman.  Christians throughout the State of Georgia, I am sure, are feeling satisfied that the justice called for in the law of Moses has been exacted from Mr. Davis.  “An eye for an eye,” their “good book” says.

The State of Georgia, and all its citizens who supported this execution, have sinned tonight, in my opinion, and should repent.  Whether or not Mr. Davis was guilty, his death does nothing to improve our culture, our ethos, or our political peace.  Rather, it drags all of us down to the level of those people who kill and rape and maim.  It makes barbarians of all of us in this country.

Jamey Rodemeyer, RIP
I don’t mean to belittle the State of Georgia.  The residents of the State who supported this murder tonight are no different from the residents of the State of New York who sat by and watched while Jamey Rodemeyer, a gay 14–year–old boy from Buffalo, was bullied to the point that he killed himself over the weekend.

I’m not angry at the States of Georgia and New York, or at any of the other parts of this country.  I am angry at the Christian Church.  How can these hypocrites sit back and allow capital punishment?  How can these homophobic assholes sit silent while beautiful and gifted gay youth are bullied, bashed, abused, disowned, and persecuted to the point of suicide?

I am beginning to hate Christians.  All Christians.  The vast majority, if not endorsing capital punishment and homophobia, watch while this country murders its citizens and allows homophobic bullies to roam free throughout the land.

Jesus was a man of peace.  Read the Gospels.  Until “good” “sensible” Christians understand their lord and savior and live their political lives according to that understanding, I am, from now on, including them with the rabid, dominionist fundamentalists.  They all bear the guilt.  Silence equals assent, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught us from Nazi Germany.  Unless and until Christians condemn, in word and solid action, these horrors committed by self–professed Christians, then all of them, in my view, are guilty.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Rev is a Satanic Asshole



Yesterday, a FaceBook friend posted a video showing a fundamentalist/pentacostal preacher in Arizona, Pastor Steve Anderson.  The video presents two separate diatribes by this ignoramus:  the first is a virulent, hate-filled, hysterical diatribe against “faggots,” a word he uses purposefully.  Among other things, this dangerous man says that gay people should be put to death because God hates them and God’s word (in Leviticus) calls for that punishment.  He also says that all gay men (he doesn’t seem interested in Lesbians) are pedophiles and recruiters for the gay cause.  As proof of his recruitment theory, he notes that every day there are more and more people announcing that they are gay.  Coming out, then, has its downside, apparently:  every time some gay person has the immense courage to leave the closet, this satan uses that courage against us.  He says we are sick and spreaders of sickness.

The second diatribe is against the President.  He hates President Obama almost as much as he hates gay people.  He says that he prays that President Obama either will be killed or will get brain cancer and die.

At first, I didn’t listen to the entire video.  I was so upset by the first few minutes that I just stopped it and went on my friend’s FB page and ranted.  After a few minutes, I deleted my rant and went back to listen to the entire filthy mess.  If you have the stomach for it, and if you – like me – suffer from self-destructive impulses, then you can find the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_im7wh2Hz7U&feature=youtu.be.

I was awake until about 5 am this morning, tossing and turning and thinking about that man and this question:  Why does this man upset me so much?  Other gay men listened to the video and saw the hate and the man for what they are:  irrelevant, hate–filled, and obsessed.  One or two believe that the depth of this man’s hatred hints at the possibility that the asshole himself is gay.  So why was I so upset?

These are the images that flooded my mind after listening to this bucket of sleaze:

I remembered being 4 or 5 years old and at the home of the woman who watched my brother and me after school.  Her husband came home from work and emptied his lunch pail.  He hadn’t eaten his banana.  He gave the banana to my brother.  I asked if I could have part of it, because I loved (and still love) bananas.  The man told me that he wasn’t going to give anything to a sissy.

I remembered my good childhood friend, Roberta.  She and I shared a love of books and dolls.  She used to invite me to her house to play dolls with her, something I really enjoyed.  One day, when I was about 8 or 9, we were playing dolls and her father came in the back door and walked through to the living room where we were playing.  I looked up and greeted him, as did Roberta.  He said hello to Roberta and then gave me a mean look, which he held for what seemed like 5 minutes, and then shook his head and left the room.  I remember Roberta said that her father didn’t like it that I played with her dolls.

I remember being 11 or 12, and walking down the street to a friend’s house after dark one night.  The man who lived across the street from us was working in his yard as I walked on the sidewalk next to his yard.  He called my name, and I stopped.  He said, “You know, Eddie, you’re turning out to be a goddamned queer.”  I didn’t say anything back to him.  Instead, I walked around the block and back to my house.  I told my mother what the man had said, and she said, “You shouldn’t be such a sissy.  That’s why he said what he said.  He just wants to help you.”

I remember being 12 or 13.  During the summer, we visited my mother’s family in Western Pennsylvania near Erie.  My cousin, Carol, and I were in her bedroom listening to and lip-synching with “Cry Me a River,” by Julie London, and our performances were full of drama.  Carol’s father, my mother’s brother, came into the room to tell us it was time to go to bed.  He then told me that I should be outside playing with the boys, not in the house playing around with “girlie music.”  He said I was a big sissy and that, when I got to high school, the other boys were going to beat the shit out of me.  I had learned by this time not to tell my mother when people, even her own brother, said these things to me.

Throughout my young years, I don’t remember really caring what adults thought about me.  My brother, my playmates in the neighborhood, and my cousins, seem to accept me as I was, and I had a good old flamboyant time of it.  When I got to be 12 or 13, however, and started to have sexual thoughts about boys, what other people said bothered me a lot.  I remember looking forward every week to going to Mass on Sunday.  Kids were supposed to go to the kids’ Mass at 8:15.  That was a High Mass, with beautiful music, chanting, pretty vestments, Latin, and God.  As I became more and more convinced that there was something about me that made people not like me, I came more and more to rely on God as my “shelter and refuge.”  At Mass on Sunday, and when I said my rosary at night, I was fine, and loved, and accepted for what I was.  Sexuality wasn’t preached about in my parish.  No one said to me that God hates fags.  God remained my best friend until. . .

I had to confess “sins” having to do with other boys.  Then, I found out from the confessors that God also didn’t like what I was.  I remember the day and the hour when I made up my mind that I hated what I was and wanted not to be that way any more.  It was during the 8:15 Mass on January 1, 1961.  I made a vow that I kept for a long, long time:  I promised God after Communion that I would try always to be like the other boys and that I wouldn’t “do those things” anymore.  I went into my closet, and didn’t come out for almost 30 years.

When I heard that asshole preacher yesterday, I remembered all that.  These memories flooded my mind as they do now and then when I encounter anti-gay hatred.  I’m not sure why this particular asshole made a stronger impression on me than other assholes like Fred Phelps and Pope Benedict.  But he did.  It hurt to hear that hatred.

Can you imagine a young gay boy in that pastor’s church?  He doesn’t have a choice about being there; his parents choose the church and make him go.  He sits in the pew and hears this man’s rabid hatred of faggots, and he knows that the “Reverend” is talking about him.  He hears the preacher say that God hates gay people and that God’s instructions are that gay people should be killed.  He hears the pastor say all those horrible things about gay people – about him – and his hope of a loving, accepting God vanishes.

This “pastor” is evil.  He is endangering the lives of kids who are supposed to be under his “pastoral care.”  He is giving the parents of gay kids ammunition to use when they want to scare their kids straight.  This “pastor” is sick, but far worse, he is a serious danger to others.  If God exists, I hope God will deal with the pastor who does such horrible things in God’s name.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Religious Superstition and Blame


WARNING: The following is a RANT filled with OBSCENITY!!!!

I HAVE HAD IT!!!!  Hurricane Katrina caused by tolerance of gays.  Disney World’s Gay Days will cause hurricanes and destruction.  9/11 caused not by insane zealots but by tolerance of gays.  Now comes a post on FaceBook—with instructions to pass the post along—that attributes Hurricane Irene, the Virginia earthquake, the drought and heat in Texas, and–probably–every night spent tending to a baby with colic to this:   “. . .people are fighting to take God out of everything, [and] seems to me God is sending an awfully loud message!!!!!”

FUCKING BULLSHIT.

IF those who believe this nonsense also believe that they are Christians, then I refer them to 1 John 4/16: “God is love.”  Period.  Love.

I don’t agree with Richard Dawkins on some issues, but I do agree with him on this: the cruel god described in the Jewish scripture, and in Paul’s letters, is a monster, an evil and sadistic monster who is the antithesis of love.

Any parent who loves her or his children will know that this attribution of mass destruction to a loving parental god is false.  Any lover who cherishes a beloved will know that no part of love wishes death, destruction, and misery for the beloved.

What are these people thinking?  How full of ignorance are they?  What makes them attribute to god what, in my opinion, would have to be attributed to an evil spirit—i.e., Satan—IF all these things were caused by some spiritual power.

As it happens, none of these things is a spiritual phenomenon.  All of them are natural phenomena.  Some of them are demonstrably caused by global warming, a FACT that these same religionists deny.  Global warming makes the oceans hotter and hot water in the oceans is one of the prime causes of hurricanes.  Global warming causes hotter weather and disrupts rain patterns.  Nothing mystical is going on here.  Scientists have warned us that such things would happen and—guess what?—they’re happening.  In the face of this REALITY, these idiots continue to drive their SUV’s, continue to insist that global warming is a liberal/socialist fantasy meant to ruin their comfort levels, and blame all the RESULTS of global warming on a failure to be superstitious enough, a failure to be homophobic enough, a failure to be intolerant enough.

I was an extremely challenged science student in high school and college.  I worked my ass off for B’s and C’s in my science classes.  But I learned enough to understand the discipline of science and the scientific method.  Did all these religious idiots not take science in their home–schools?  Or is it just easier for them to blame gay people and keep on doing those things that ruin the planet?

Fuck them all.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Different Love Story



My friend, Jamie Petello, told me about a movie that I should watch, Bear City-The Movie.  Jamie, a man whose patience is as large as his waistline, suggested the movie about two years ago.  In an email to me last Sunday, he asked if I had yet watched it.  I hadn't.  He found it for me on Amazon Instant Video, and sent me another email with the link on Thursday.  Being home alone (sob!) tonight, I decided to watch it, thinking that I can always turn the TV off.  I couldn't imagine a story about bears (hairy, large-ish gay men) that would hold my interest for 90 minutes.

I was so wrong!  This is a beautiful movie.  Not a soft-porn flick, as I imagined, nor a vacuous bit of fluff as are so many gay-themed movies, Bear City-The Movie has a heart and soul, along with a cast, that captured me in the first few minutes and held me til the end.  It's an old-fashioned love story. . . not just one love story, actually, but a whole bunch, all peopled by men whose physical types are so out of the mainstream that it took me a while to adjust.

In addition to showing the love these men have for one another, the movie has a huge message of acceptance:  acceptance of self  and acceptance of others.  It shows large men who not only are comfortable with their bodies, but whose bodies are desired just as they are.  It shows a man who is fighting to reconcile the reality of his body with the fantasy of mainstream straight and gay expectations of beauty.  It shows young gay men having deeply to examine the prejudices all us gay men seem to have that make us look to the toned, handsome, and young among us as our models.

I'm not sure how wide an audience this movie would have.  I doubt that straight people of either sex will find in it the messages I did.  I'm not sure that even some gay men will like it.  But I liked it very much.  I have it for seven days, and I certainly will watch it again.  It is an unexpectedly beautiful movie that has done damage to my long-held real definition of beauty (my real, deep-down definition, not the politically correct definition I show to others).  It also gave an electric shock to the way I look at my own body at my age.

Who would have thought?

Jamie thought.  Now I know why he's been on my case about this movie.  He wants me to love myself better.  Thank you, Jamie, and huge luvin, my friend!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sister Saint Anthony




Sister and I, Dallas, July, 1963
My great aunt (my mother’s aunt), Margaret Kennedy, was born in Buffalo, New York on July 3, 1890.  Her mother and father were first–generation Americans, both children of immigrants who came here from Ireland during the “potato famine” in the mid–1800's.  She was one of five children; she had two brothers and two sisters, including my grandmother, Mary.

In 1906, when Margaret was 16 years old, she entered the convent of the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur, a Belgian religious congregation of women.  The Eastern Province of the Congregation had its motherhouse at Mount Saint Mary in Buffalo, so Margaret was at least geographically close to her family during her time as a postulant and novice.  When she entered the Congregation as a novice in about 1908, she was given the religious name, Sister Saint Anthony, after the Franciscan Saint Anthony of Padua.  After she made her profession of temporary vows around 1911, she went back to school for two years to prepare to be an elementary school teacher.   She made her perpetual vows in the Buffalo motherhouse about 1916, after which she was sent to the Congregation’s Western Province, whose motherhouse was Our Lady of Victory Convent in Fort Worth, Texas.  The Sisters had been in Texas since the 1870's when Texas was considered a mission territory.  They followed the railroad as it was built through the Northern part of the State, building convents and schools along the way.

The habit Sister wore when she went to Texas
When Sister Saint Anthony got to Fort Worth, she found a large and busy convent that not only was the Provincial motherhouse, but also the residence for Sisters who taught at Our Lady of Victory Academy, a high school for girls that the Sisters still run.  Sister Saint Anthony wasn’t qualified or prepared to teach at the high school level, so she was assigned to work in the laundry of the large house.  Sister told me that this was her very first experience of life outside of Buffalo.  She felt as if she were a world away from her family and all that was familiar to her.  The weather in Texas was so hot and humid during the summer that, for the first several years there, Sister suffered greatly from the heat.  Born and raised in Buffalo, her experience of summer was that a heat wave was two or three days of 80–degree weather, so the long, hot  Texas summers were a shock to her.  She told me that the habit that the Sisters wore at the time (see photo) was extremely uncomfortable in the heat, and that she and some of the other Sisters suffered from frequent headaches because of the tight–fitting bonnet they wore at the time.  Sister suffered also from homesickness and had a generally difficult time adjusting to life as a laundress in the large house.  I asked her if, during that adjustment period, she ever thought about chucking it all and leaving the convent to return home.  She said that she never thought that.  For one thing, she had made perpetual vows, and those vows were the central focus of her life.  For another thing, she said, Sisters in 1920 just never thought about “abandoning” their vocation.  So Sister sweated and missed her family and the cool Buffalo summers and went about her washing and ironing.

In 1926, the Sisters were asked to staff a school in Saint Anne’s Parish in Porterville, California, a town in California’s San Joaquin Valley.  Sister Saint Anthony was chosen as a member of the founding faculty and, during the Summer of 1926, traveled to Porterville to establish the convent and the school.  Sister taught first, second and third grades at various times during her years in Porterville, and discovered to her delight that she loved teaching and loved her pupils.

In the 1930's, Sister was ordered back to Texas, where she spent the rest of her life.  She was assigned to teach third grade at Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Dallas.  The convent for that school at the time she was assigned there was a great mansion that the Marsellis family had donated to the Church.  In the 1930's it was one of the grandest homes in Dallas.  Sister taught third grade at that school through the early 1960's.  She retired from teaching when she was about 75 years old.  She stayed at Our Lady of Good Counsel after her retirement until her deteriorating vision (she had severe cataracts in both eyes in the days before cataract surgery) made it impossible for her to get around.  She then moved back to the house where her life in Texas had begun, Our Lady of Victory motherhouse in Fort Worth.  Sister lived there, lovingly cared for by her Sisters, until her death on January 18, 1993.  Sister was 103 years old at the time of her death, and less than six months away from her 104th birthday.

Sister Saint Anthony's 100th Birthday, July, 1990
Sister had various health problems in her later life.  In the 1940's and 50's, she suffered from bleeding ulcers and was hospitalized four or five times.  Twice she was thought to be near death and was given Extreme Unction, “the last rites.”  She recovered both times and outlived her ulcers.  In the 1970's and 80's, she was found to have breast cancer in two separate instances.  She had radical mastectomies in both cases and recovered well after both.  In the mid-1970's, she found an ophthomologist who was able to restore some of her sight by doing an early version of cataract surgery on both her eyes.  Sister had to wear thick darkened lenses, but she was able to read and watch television, and she was able clearly to see the people and things around her.

I met Sister Saint Anthony only twice: in July of 1963, on a family vacation, we visited with her for several days in Our Lady of Good Counsel convent in Dallas.  In 1975, I flew to Fort Worth and spent a week with her in Our Lady of Victory motherhouse.  Throughout my growing–up years, into my life as a husband and father, Sister and I exchanged long and fascinating letters.  I learned about her life from these letters and from my visits.  I also got to know the woman who was the Sister.  She was an indescribably gentle person.  She also had the gift of simplicity, a trait much valued in religious life.  Having taught first, second, and third grades for almost fifty years, her manner of speech was child–like, but her thoughts and sentiments were anything but child–like.  She was a woman of prayer and of faith.  She and I talked a lot about prayer and she gave me a few “tips” that I found especially helpful when I was learning to pray as a Franciscan.  She told me always to remember that the Jesus to whom I prayed loves me more than anyone else ever could, that He understands all my problems without my having to bore Him with the details, and that, like all men (she said this with a smile), He likes to hear how great He is!  I loved this woman!

I lived most of my life in and around Washington, D. C.  Whenever any of Sister’s fellow Sisters, former students, or friends would come to the D. C. area, Sister would ask me to get in touch with them.  I met a dozen or so of her former students, all of them priests or Sisters themselves.  They all spent the time of my visits with them telling me about the “real” Sister Saint Anthony.  I think all the people I met had her as their third grade teacher, but her impact on them was lasting.  All of them talked about her impish sense of humor.  She loved to play practical jokes on her Sisters and on her students.  She got in trouble frequently with her superiors for playing such jokes.  One time, during the Second World War, it was her turn to answer the convent telephone in the house in Dallas.  One night, the phone rang, and a soldier asked to speak with his sister, who was a Sister just recently assigned to the Dallas convent.  Sister Saint Anthony went into the recreation room, where all the Sisters were listening to the radio, reading, sewing, or playing board games.  She called out that Sister So–and–So had a phone call from a man claiming to be her husband.  The whole room—about 25 Sisters—erupted in confusion and concern.  Poor Sister So–and–So almost fainted.  She protested to Sister Saint Anthony that she had never been married.  Sister Saint Anthony said, “Oh, did I say husband?  I’m so sorry, Sister, it’s your brother on the line.”  This is one of the times that Sister was reprimanded by the superior.

Her former students also told me what a great teacher she was.  One of them, a Sister herself, told me that her second grade teacher, another Sister, had been a holy terror, cuffing students when they gave the wrong answer, using her ruler to get a day–dreaming student’s attention, and frequently screaming at the class.  When this Sister started third grade with Sister Saint Anthony, she was shell–shocked and lived in fear of Sister Saint Anthony’s first temper tantrum.  That tantrum never happened.  This former student told me that, of all the Sisters with whom she had studied, Sister Saint Anthony was the kindest, the most light–hearted, and the most effective.

Sister Saint Anthony has always been one of my heroes.  She lived her life for others.  She gave or herself to a cause greater than her own comfort.  She walked the walk of religious life as a woman of faith and, most importantly, prayer.  When I was getting ready to enter the novitiate, Sister sent me a book of Gospel meditations.  In her letter that came with the gift, she wished me well, told me to leave if ever I came to know I shouldn’t be in religious life, and said her only rule for me was that I was to pray all the time.  She wrote on June 13, 1966 (her feast day):  “Don’t use other people’s words when you pray, Eddie.  God will know they’re not your words.  Use your own words, and go through your day just telling God how much you love Him.  Tell Him how grateful you are for the life He has given you as a Franciscan.  Tell Him how beautiful His world is.  Just talk to Him, but do it all the time.”

I come from some really good people, and Sister Saint Anthony was at the top of the list!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Politics. . . Where Has All the Fun Gone?


I used to think that politics are fun.  Back in the Summer of 1973, I would rush home from work every night, grab dinner, then turn on PBS for a replay of the day’s Senate Watergate Hearings.  I though for a while that I was the only nerdy person to be doing this until, one day, I was invited to a “gavel–to–gavel” party after work, at which a whole bunch of 20–somethings would have dinner together and watch the Hearings.  It was a blast.  Alone or with the group, the Hearings were more fun than anything else I could have done.

The characters!!!  Sam Ervin, the Chairman and an old country lawyer from North Carolina who seemed to know the entire Bible by heart.  John Dean, the whistle–blower, nervously giving his testimony while his gorgeous wife, Maureen, watched in a chair nearby.  Howard Baker, the senior Republican, who coined the phrase that has been copied frequently since: “What did the President know and when did he know it?”  Alexander Butterfield, the retired military officer who calmly told the Senate Watergate Committee and the country that President Nixon taped all his meetings and phone calls.  Sam Dash and Fred Thompson, the Committee’s counselors, who quietly but effectively kept things going and who seemed to work together so well.

The Senate Watergate Hearings, which led to the Nixon Impeachment Hearings, were amazing.  They were generally bipartisan and always well–run.  Senators Ervin and Baker made a seamless leadership.  For me, at the age of 25, this was political theater in the raw and politics working for the greater good.  As dangerous and deluded as I thought President Nixon was, the Senate Watergate Committee showed me what the U.S. really was like, what the U.S. stood for, and what the U.S. just would not tolerate.  Naive as I was, I thought this was what politics always are:  the eventual triumph of the good over the bad.

Now comes the Summer of 2011 and the Debt Limit Crisis.  What a difference 38 years have made!!!

Evil seems to be winning out over the good.  Admitted ignorance is valued highly, much more highly than hard–gained knowledge and understanding.  Racism is barely hidden.  Religion is trumpeted from the housetops by know–nothings who claim a love of Jesus but who seem never to have studied his teachings.  Sam Ervin quoted the Bible, but applied the Constitution.  Michelle Bachmann and others quote the Constitution incorrectly, but apply their skewed and inaccurate understanding of the Bible.  The federal government is being held hostage by people who were elected with the belief, and on the basis of the belief, that any federal government is evil, except the part of the federal government that goes to war.

Nixon was a dangerous president, even, in the end, the arch–conservative Barry Goldwater admitted this fact.  President Obama is a good, decent, psychologically healthy, and highly intelligent President whom the Republicans want to get out of office regardless of the damage his removal might cause the country overall.  Tea Party members, in my opinion, see this President as the most egregious sign of the waning of the straight, white, male majority.  By eliminating him, they hope to return the country to its rightful owners:  straight, white, males. . . themselves.

I grew up valuing education, learning, and knowledge as the most important attainments for me as a person.  I have lived, and live today, a life based on the conviction that learning and knowledge free human beings of superstition, error, prejudice, and intolerance.  I value the diversity of American life because that diversity has so enriched my life—in music, in films, in literature, in religious practice, in food, in language, and in patriotism.  Seeing a political playing field in which a significant and powerful percentage of the players value none of these things—hate them, even—makes politics something that depresses me, saps my energy, erodes my hope for the future.

I cried the night the President Obama was elected.  I never thought I would see the day.  An accomplished, intelligent, and eloquent African American was President of the United States.  All my optimism for this country was affirmed by that election.  Then it started.  Even before he was inaugurated, Rush Limbaugh and others were hoping that Mr. Obama’s presidency would be a failure.  The racism, the cynicism, the hatred. . . it’s evil.  Where is Senator Ervin’s idealism (“God will not be mocked,” he told one of Nixon’s young henchmen, “that which you sow, that also shall you reap.”) Where is Senator Baker’s collaborative and conciliatory spirit?  Where is John Dean’s bravery?  I hate to think that the best politics were practiced in 1973, and that all we have left is the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, Michele and Marcus Bachmann, and Rush Limbaugh.

Politics are no longer fun.  They are deadly and depressing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Federal Debt Ceiling and Me


I went to work for the Federal Government in 1970.  I worked as a Federal civil servant until 2010—40 years.  By the standards of my family, I did very well.  Only one of my generation in the family—my cousin Dan—had a higher salary than I did, and that was only before his conviction as a cocaine dealer.  I generally have been able to have vacations with my family, provide nice homes, and allow my family and myself some, but not all, of the nice things that life at the end of the 20th century afforded Americans.

How times have changed.

I retired in 2010.  When I retired, my income was reduced by 40%, a fact that I had included in my retirement planning.  In the past year, however, one of our two real estate holdings—holdings I had used as an investment—tanked, and I am now stuck with a significant monthly cost I never expected.  Gas and food prices have increased beyond anything I imagined.  Utility costs—once really low here in West Virginia—have increased significantly.  The cost of main–stream books for my Kindle has increased by $3 a pop.  Everything costs more, it seems.

I rely solely on my Federal annuity for monthly expenses.  It’s a good annuity and I’m lucky to have it.  Given what’s happened over the past year, though, it is hardly luxurious.  Beni relies on my annuity, too, plus a small social security payment she receives each month.  Over the past several years, there have been no increases either in my annuity or in Beni’s social security.  The possibility of increases next year is slim.

Now, along come the Tea Baggers to make my life a possible living hell.  Unwilling or unable to grasp the impact of not raising the debt ceiling, they spout their childish and totally incorrect economic and historical theories.  Unwilling to accept the fact that their refusal to pass a debt ceiling increase will destroy our economy and the economies of other countries, they instead fight to outlaw abortion and allow the teaching of creationism as science.  That such fools hold my well being in their hands is something that makes me really unhappy with each and every person who voted these idiots into office.

My annuity is paid from Federal funds.  It’s paid on the first of each month, so I’m hoping I will get my August annuity payment on schedule.  Beni’s social security payment is made on the 7th of the month, so it’s very possible she won’t be paid in August.  As small as her social security payment is, it still makes a big impact on our combined budget.

If I don’t get my annuity check, I have no idea what I’ll do.  I have some cash available that should get me through one month, and probably two months, but that’s it.  That’s all I have, and all Beni has.  And we are relatively lucky for people our age.  There are many people in our town who, if social security and medicare are unfunded in August, will not be able to pay their rent, buy food, or get their needed and usual medical care.

I have heard all my life about middle–class people who were destroyed in the Great Depression.  My parents came of age during the Depression and told my brother and me these stories as cautionary tales.  I always thought that such people must have done something wrong.  They must have planned badly.  They must have lived way beyond their means.  Now I’m beginning to see their experience from another point of view.

Beni and I didn’t live a lavish life.  We stayed together after I came out for one main reason: we had four daughters to put through college.  We did that.  But tuition and related costs for four kids, plus other costs of raising a family, took most of our savings.  I don’t regret it one bit.  Our kids were able to have an education without having to take out loans that would burden them for years to come.  (Three of them took out loans anyway, but that was their choice.)  My thought at the time, as I used our savings for education and other kid–related expenses, was that Beni and I would be fine because of my annuity.

Now that safety net—a net that each month seems to provide less and less safety—is in jeopardy, as is Beni’s smaller net.  And why?  Because we have 60–some tea bagger idiots in the House of Representatives who are willing to ruin the lives of millions in this country because of their ignorance, their foolishness, and their bigotry.  I never thought I would write a piece like this.  I’ve always been comfortable enough not to have to discuss my finances.  That’s just one more part of my American dream that the bigoted and intolerant rednecks are taking away from me.  I am very pissed.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fear of God?



I was 12 or 13 years old.  I had had yet another sexual experience with my best friend, Bobby, who was a year older than I was.  I was scheduled to serve Mass the next morning, so I went to confession that Saturday night.  I wanted to receive Communion at Mass, so I had to confess the mortal sin of my sex act.  The young priest, Fr. John Foley, to whom I usually confessed wasn’t hearing confessions that night.  The only priest there was the old pastor, Fr. Leo Massey.  As I stood in the long line waiting my turn, I got more and more afraid.  I felt like I was going to have an attack of diarrhea while I stood there.  Finally, it was my turn, and the screen slid back and there was Fr. Massey.  I confessed my horrible sin.  Fr. Massey asked me a lot of questions.  How often had I done such things?  Was it with one boy or several?  Had I ever confessed such a sin before?  Did I enter the body of the other boy, or did he enter mine?  After I answered all his questions, Fr. Massey, speaking for the Holy Trinity, the Forgiver of sins, told me I was a disgusting person and that I was surely headed for a life of “dissipation” (I remember that word). Then he said what I have always remembered, throughout the more than 50 years since that confession: “If you don’t love God, at least fear Him.”

Fear God.  That was easy for me to do.  My father was a fearful man.  He had some internal problem with me that made me his whipping boy.  I lived in a constant tension whenever my father was at home, never knowing when he might feel the need to attack me in his strange anger.  So, when Fr. Massey advised me to fear God, I had absolutely no problem transferring the fear I knew every day with my father to the heavenly Parent, God.

I left home at 14 to be a Franciscan friar.  I know now that part of the reason I was so anxious to start my vocation at such an early age was to get away from my father, and from the toxic family life in our home.  I did manage to get away from all that.  My life improved a thousand times over from that point on.  My father never touched me again.  What stayed with me, though, was the fear of God that was every bit as debilitating to me as had been the fear of my father.

Wikipedia, in its article on the fear of God, writes: “Throughout the Bible it [the fear of God] is said to bring many rewards. Conversely, not fearing God is said to result in Divine retribution.”  Proverbs 9/10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. . .”  In theology, I was taught that fear of God was one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  In the Summa Theologica, I studied Question19, “The Gift of Fear,” where I learned from Thomas Aquinas that the highest kind of fear of God, “filial” fear (fear that a child might feel in the presence of an awe–inspiring parent) would persist even into eternal life with God in heaven.  As an habitual sinner, therefore, I was taught to have all kinds of fear of God, of God’s punishment, and of God’s eventual rejection of my sinful self.  Not only was I taught these things for my own spiritual “good,” I was taught that, as a priest, one of my jobs would be to inspire the fear of God into the people I sought to help.

Starting at age 19, when I was a Franciscan novice, I gradually formed my own idea of God.  St. Francis called his friars to know and live the Gospel, so it was from the Gospel that my personal knowledge of God developed.  I began to see God as a mystery, not a God made in man’s image, and certainly not a God made in the image of my father.  Over the years, I condensed my understanding of God to what is in the scripture at 1 John 4/16, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”  Because I knew I was gay, I left the friars, but I took with me this understanding of God.

My understanding of God, though, is just that: understanding.  It is a grasp of the concept of God by my mind.  It’s intellectual.  Deeper down, where the emotions and the indelible emotional memories live, I have always feared God, just as the little boy I used to be feared his father.  Coming to understand that dichotomy of psychological structure, by myself and with a therapist, has helped me start to move away from the residual fear.  But some of it remains.

For many reasons, I have come to a point where I have to say that I don’t know whether a god exists.  How much my uncertainty depends on my residual fear, I don’t know for sure.  I am certain, however, that fear is a part of my inability fully to believe.

I wonder about little kids and religious instruction.  Are they still being taught to fear their God?  Does the fear of God mean something different to kids who are not physically abused?  Is a life lived in fear of eternal punishment really a religious life?  Shouldn’t Christian kids be taught that the essence of the God that Jesus preached is love?  Is a life spent trying to do good not worth anything, ultimately, if the person doing the good hasn’t been taught to fear, hasn’t been taught that original sin is damning from the get–go?

As it stands now, I don’t have a whole lot of fear of god.  I do, though, have a great deal of fear of the godly. . . those who believe that fear is holy and a holy motivator.  I have a friend who is an expert dog trainer.  He can get the wildest, most undisciplined dogs to behave almost perfectly.  He tells me that the secret of teaching good behavior to dogs is two–fold: (1) overwhelm them with kindness; and (2) never make them afraid of you.  Shouldn’t the churches adopt a similar philosophy in teaching kids about god?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Accessory to Murder: RIP Ryan Skipper


I am not au courant.  It takes me a year or two or three to catch up with our culture, even my own gay culture.  So I wasn’t at all surprised when a lesbian friend told me in March that I had to see a movie, made in 2008, entitled, Accessory to Murder: Our Culture's Complicity in the Death of Ryan Skipper.  Typical of me, I just this week sat down to watch it.  Today I finished my third viewing of this painful and remarkable documentary.

Ryan Skipper, 1981-2007
Ryan Skipper was a 25–year–old gay man who lived in Polk County, Florida, a rural “redneck” part of that State.  On March 14, 2007, after having dinner with a friend, Ryan was murdered.  Two local men, William Brown, Jr. (20 years old when he murdered Ryan), and Joseph Bearden (21 years old when he murdered Ryan) were convicted of the murder in 2009 and both of them are serving life sentences.

Almost from the time Ryan’s body was discovered, his murder has been treated as a hate crime.  The two murderers told people before the murder that they were going out to “get” a gay man.  After the murder, neither man tried to hide the murder; both of them practically bragged about it.  They were arrested soon after the murder.

The Polk County Sheriff, Grady Judd, an obvious good ole boy born and reared in Polk County, saw Ryan’s murder and its status as a gay hate crime as his ticket to national fame.  As soon as the two murderers were arrested and gave their statements, Sheriff Judd was holding press conferences telling the press as facts the version of the crime that the murderers had set forth in their statements.  No investigation had been done.  No sheriff’s deputies had attempted to verify the murderers’ accounts.  No one had spoken with Ryan’s family or his friends.  As a result, the press reported as fact the version of events that Sheriff Judd—and the murderers—had put forth: they said that Ryan had gone “cruising for sex” and had just “picked the wrong people.”  The murderers further accused Ryan of complicity in drug dealing and a plan to forge checks, lies that the Sheriff reported to the press as fact.  Later, officials of Polk County, but not Sheriff Judd, withdrew this version of events invented by the murderers and said outright that the two felons had invented this story to try to ameliorate their guilt.

In a rural, inhospitable environment, then, Ryan Skipper not only was the victim of a hate murder, he also was the victim of a hateful homophobic Sheriff who clearly identified with the murderers and easily thought the worst of the victim.  The film makes the point that wide–spread hatred of gay people is very common in rural communities all across the country and that our whole country, because of the way in which we view gay people, is an accessory to such crimes.

The experts in the film—psychologists, law enforcement officials, media experts, government administrators, religious ministers, and gay rights activists—all point to three aspects of our common American culture that creates the environment where this kind of crime can occur:

1.  Parents.  Parents teach their children to hate gay people.  Little kids aren’t born with this hatred, nor is such hatred automatic as kids grow up.  This hatred is taught!!!

2.  Churches.  In Ryan’s neighborhood, as in neighborhoods throughout the country, there are “Christian” churches that teach that gay people are an abomination, that their “chosen lifestyle” is satanic, and that practitioners of this “lifestyle” are evil and headed straight to hell.

3.  The Republican Party.  I was astounded that the careful “talking heads” in this film actually named the Republican Party as an accessory to anti–gay hate crimes in this country.  It’s true, of course, but I was surprised that these experts had the balls to say it.  One woman, a think tank person, quoted George W. Bush’s views of gay people in remarks he made during his second term, the time during which Ryan was murdered.  Gay people have no “special rights,” Bush said, as he promised to veto the Matthew Shepherd Act that would extend federal hate crime protection to gay people.  Marriage cannot include unions between gay people, Bush said, so the Constitution would have to be amended to prevent this travesty.  When the President of the United States over and over again marginalizes, demeans, and insults gay people, then two young rednecks in Florida have the highest authority in the land on their side.

As with almost any documentary like this one, at the end the experts try to give advice on how things can improve.  In this film though, the advice was the best I have heard in any of the films having to do with anti–gay hate crimes, bullying, or bashing.  The psychologist, an expert in hate crimes from Rollins College in Polk County, said that, when asked, residents of rural communities almost to a person say that they do not know anyone who is gay.  They know gay people, of course, they just don’t know that some of the people they know are gay.  The psychologist said that this distance from gay people does several things: it makes it easier to demonize gay people because gay people are an abstract concept similar to an ogre in a childrens’ fairy tale; it makes it easier to do harm to a gay person when one is discovered because such a person really isn’t a person, he or she is just an idea; and it makes it easier to continue to hate gay people because the haters aren’t really hating people, they’re hating evil itself.  The way to change this, the psychologist said, is for gay people to have the courage to identify themselves to their families, friends, and coworkers.  Coming out in this way gives being gay a human face and a textured personality that in all ways conflicts with the evil stereotypes the haters have been taught by their parents, their Churches, and the Republican Party.

I have seen a number of films about anti–gay hate crimes, and I have read a number of books on the subject.  Accessory to Murder: Our Culture's Complicity in the Death of Ryan Skipper is only 70 minutes long, but I believe that—in its understated, factual, calm way—it is the best of all of them.

One final word about Ryan Skipper.  He came from a loving and accepting family.  His parents and his brother loved him, and told him they loved him.  He had many, many friends and was by all accounts a generous and loving friend.  Like so many victims of anti–gay crimes, he seems to have been a sweet, somewhat naive and trusting young man.  One friend said of him, “Ryan was tender.  Some people think that being tender isn’t manly.  Actually, being tender makes a man a very special man.”

Rest in peace, tender Ryan.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

An Idea about Christian Fundamentalism

This is probably stating the obvious, but it was a new thought for me. . .  Happy 4th to all!!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Helpmates


About seven years ago, I went to the Borders Book Store in Sterling, Virginia, to buy a book on gay history.  I had ordered the book through the store in those days before Amazon.  I got in line at the store, and, by the rules of chaos that rule the universe, I was waited on by a male college student.  The kid asked me whether the book was for me, or whether I was giving it as a gift.  I told him it was for me.  He made a show of turning the book every which way and examining it (it was wrapped in cellophane and in pristine condition).  “Oh,” he said, “it’s been damaged in transit.  I’ll have to take 20% off the sales price.”  Nice kid.

I took my book and went to the coffee bar to get coffee and a pastry.  As I was sitting there leafing through my new book, the guy who waited on me came to my table with his own coffee and asked if he could sit with me.  We had a great conversation, lasting about half an hour, in which we found out the basics of each other’s gay lives.  Will, as I found out he was called, was then a sophomore at George Mason University.  We exchanged e–mail addresses, and I’ve been in touch with him ever since.  He’s now almost 27 years old and lives and is social worker in Pennsylvania.

Will’s recently fallen in love.  Every week, I get a different photo of the object of his affections.  This is the first time that Will has felt the emotions that now overwhelm him.  He is as happy as he’s ever been, and I believe he has found a good guy in his boyfriend, Jeff.  He and I have been e–mailing back and forth all afternoon, discussing just what it is that’s happening to him.

I heard or saw, somewhere this past week, a guy say that the best sex is sex you have with the person you love.   Will enthusiastically affirmed that statement this afternoon, then asked me why that is.  Jeff, he reports, isn’t the most accomplished lover he’s ever had, but the sex the two of them have is the best either has ever experienced.  How come?  I am not Dan Savage.  I have no idea, most of the time, why people do what they do sexually.  But to this question I happen to have given a lot of thought, so I was able to share my thoughts with Will.

Once, when one of my daughters was in a romantic relationship, she and I talked about the nature of the good feelings that such a relationship engenders.  We talked for several hours, in the abstract, about why some relationships are so much more exciting than others.  We came to the conclusion that important romantic relationships cause people to feel so good because they represent reciprocated attraction.  How amazing it is to come to know that the person about whom you are so obsessed is equally obsessed with you!  How sexy it is to realize that the one person who so turns you on is equally attracted to you sexually!  That is one contributing factor, I believe, to the amazing sexual feelings that Will now enjoys.  He and Jeff are bound up in a mutual attraction that neither has ever felt before and that neither can really believe.  It’s amazing to read the notes that Will sends.  Half of a note is a declaration of fact, while the other half is a statement of disbelief that such a thing really could be happening to him.

There is more to it than this reciprocal attraction, though.  I’m not a believer in the divine authorship, or the inerrancy, of the Bible.  But I do believe in the truth of one of the lines in Genesis (Genesis 2/18): “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”  Will and Jeff have found in one another possible life–time helpmates.  Both of them believe that their relationship is meant for the long term.  Part of the joy and wonder that comes from their sex, I believe, comes from the delight at possibly having found “the One.”  Not having to face life all on your own, and the prospect of facing it with someone you love, are powerful aphrodisiacs.

There is so much nastiness from the fundamentalists about gay marriage, and that’s especially true now after the great events in Albany.  After going back and forth all day with this 27–year–old gay man, I am more convinced than ever that there is nothing that gay marriage can do to diminish straight marriage.  There is nothing gay marriage can do to hurt our society.  There is nothing gay marriage can do in and of itself to harm children who might be raised by a gay couple.  What gay marriage will do is give Will and Jeff, and all the millions like them around the world, the right not to be alone in life, to have a legal helpmate, to have the dignity of being recognized as loving and responsible human beings.

I don’t know if Will and Jeff will marry, but today I did offer to play the organ for their wedding should they decide to do it (and I absolutely hate playing for weddings).  Regardless of what they decide to do, I am so happy that, if they want, they can get married either in Will’s hometown of Washington, D. C., or Jeff’s little hometown on the Hudson River in New York.  Mazel tov. . . maybe!