Wednesday, September 29, 2010


The other day I was introduced to a lesbian activist at an event. She took me aside and confided to me that she is an atheist and then, proceeded to ask me about spirituality. She chuckled and said, “you know you’re going to get questions like this because you’re a priest.”

That encountered backlit a recurring theme that I have encountered in contemporary society and especially in the LGBTQ community. One constantly hears the statement “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” This young atheist woman was prompted to ask about spirituality due to the death of her neighbor. The neighbor died at home and several days passed before the decomposing body prompted someone to search the house.

There are moments like that in life. Life operates on “auto-pilot” until one day our routine is unexpectedly interrupted by the death of a love one, a health issue, etc. Suddenly, we find ourselves confronted with one of life’s great existential questions. We seek answers as we attempt to orient ourselves as we reappraise the meaning and purpose of our life.

At such moments many contemporary people shun traditional religions and any insights, or wisdom they might be able to share. LGBTQ people have often been the victims of clergy who have intervened to alienate them from their parents and family. One needs only to visit the gay section of any American city during the holidays. You will find children who are not welcome at family gatherings huddled with other LGBTQ friends. Together they celebrate holiday meals and gatherings “friends are the new family.”

Beyond the LGBTQ community many Americans scratched their head in wonderment when pope Benedict XVI visited Africa in the middle of an AIDS epidemic and advised people to not use condoms. Even though such irresponsible advise will result in the infection and death of untold numbers. Even though such advise will result in countless children being made orphans.

Speaking of children, I was left speechless when I witnessed the pope cry into his handkerchief while visiting England. He was so moved by the plight of pedophilia victims. As I gazed at the photo I wondered how the same hand that held that handkerchief could sign an order to maintain such acts secret. Perpetuating injustice and creating new cases of pedophilia is a legitimate cause for remorse. However, is it remorse for having caused such injustices, or for having been connected to such injustices? Frankly, I am not amazed that Americans have become so skeptical of organized religion.

Yesterday I heard a report on the BBC. I love the BBC because they actually objectively report the news and leave it to the listener to draw his/her own conclusions. It is a refreshing and informative contrast to the “infotainment” that has replaced journalism in the USA. The BBC reported on the effects of drone bombs that were hitting targets within Pakistan.

Since the drones are unmanned, they often hit children and non-combatants. The resultant deaths and mutilations can have one of two effects on the population. It can either terrorize them into submission, or it can awaken within them a desire for revenge. The latter seems the more probable in the current reality; however, this raises a question regarding the morality of our nation’s actions.

Morality is a word that has lost its meaning in contemporary America. When the word is spoken, people usually think of sex. That Congress would impeach President Bill Clinton for a sexual encounter with Monica Lewinsky while taking no action at the war crimes committed under the watch of Presidents George W. Bush or Obama is the real scandal. That should cause all Americans to pause and reevaluate our values.

This is a twisted understanding of morality and ethics. Organized religion is largely responsible for these corrupt standards. Why such a distorted emphasis on sex? Quite simply, if you can control what people do in their bedrooms you can control what they do in the voting booth and with their checkbooks. While all of that makes great economic and political sense, it represents a failure and a betrayal by religious leaders of their people and the principles presented by the Prophets and the Gospel.

So, what did I say to the atheist about spirituality/morality? The choices you make when you entertain thoughts, speak words, and do deeds, shape who you become. They affect not only you, but also others and society in general.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Broken Promises

"Because the only way that you bring about change is if the American People are holding the people in office accountable. And right now, I think so many of us have become cynical and we've tuned out of the process in Washington that folks are getting away with murder."

-President Obama

Please remember the President's words when you go to vote this fall. Write him and the Democratic Party a letter stating your concerns and how you voted.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A strange morality and lackluster leadership

A group of tea party people stood at an intersection in Studio City holding signs protesting “Big Government” and “Socialism.” The strange thing was many of them were retirees and judging by their attire, not that well off. Most of them rely on their monthly Social Security check and on Medicare. If the tea party actually succeeds in their political agenda, many of these elderly tea party supporters would find themselves destitute and without medical care in the old age.

Today Senator John McCain successfully stopped the repeal of DADT. Countless of members of the armed forces and their loved ones will continue to suffer as a direct result of his efforts. He and his allies will doubtlessly make various “fag” jokes discreetly in their private conversations. They will speak of a “victory for morality.” Yet, by strict scriptural standards [Mark 10: 11] John McCain is an adulterer, since he divorced his first wife and took another.

Looming on the horizon are the Mid-term Elections and it seems that the Democratic Party stands to suffer substantial losses. Political analysts offer various insights why this is the case. The state of the economy and high unemployment figures are identified by most as the principle reason for the anger of voters. Democrats are quick to identify “obstructionist Republicans” as the culprits for their inability to govern. There is an element of truth to that charge; however, it does not excuse the fact that the President has simply failed to lead.

If President Johnson had assumed the same attitude towards Civil Rights legislation that President Obama has assumed towards Health Care legislation, then Obama would probably never have been a Senator, let alone the President. Corporate interests and the senators they bought off effectively torpedoed a national Health Care Plan. Realize that this is an issue that directly affects all Americans and was the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s agenda.

Only at the eleventh hour did Obama become directly visibly involved when it appeared as though any Health Care legislation might fail. What we got was a modest Health Care Reform bill. I am grateful for that; however, it was much less than what we could have obtained. Even now there are legal initiatives and legislative threats to destroy that modest reform, before Americans realize it actually is to their benefit in 2014 when the Reforms take full effect.

When I was in High School I read a novel by Alexander Solzhenitsyn entitled “August 1914.” It was set during the First World War and included a conversation between two Russian soldiers. A young soldier was lamenting that when a Russian soldier was wounded that there was no medical attention whereas, the German soldier was transported via ambulance to a fully staffed field hospital. The old soldier nodded his head in agreement and said “good, good.”

Exasperated the young soldier blurted out, “Why do you keep saying ‘good, good’ things are terrible and getting worse.” The old soldier smiled and quietly answered, “The worse things get, the sooner they’ll change.”

Friday, September 17, 2010

Universal prescription?

I was lucky today. I was able to get a last minute appointment for a haircut on a Friday afternoon. Usually, my barber is booked weeks in advance, but I thought I’d try calling even though the odds were stacked against me. I arrived thirty minutes before my scheduled appointment. I have learned that LA traffic can be mercilessly fickle. What is a ten-minute drive one day can inexplicably become a thirty-five minute drive the next day.

The small shop was full of people. I found a seat on a bench and picked up the October issue of Automotive magazine. I’ve loved cars since I was a boy. I settled in and began reading an article about the BMW 3 series. My reading was interrupted by a discussion between two young men seated next to me on the bench.

One of them said to the others Happy Yom Kippur. A young dark haired man asked his friend "are you going to Temple?" "No" came the annoyed response. "Why not?" "I don’t want to, it’s a waste of time," the blonde man stated curtly. The dark haired man pressed his friend further and asked "are you going to fast tomorrow?" "No" answered the tall blonde young man. The dark haired man insisted saying "it is only for one day!"

The blonde man quipped, "then you fast." The dark haired man said "I will, but you should too." "Why?" Asked the blonde man pointedly. "It helps you appreciate food and your other blessings." The blonde man said "I already appreciate food. I’ll eat tonight like I’m going to fast tomorrow."

The dark haired man asked "why wouldn’t you fast?" The blonde man said, "I don’t believe in religion. There, are you happy now? I don’t want anything to do with religion. It has no meaning, or value for me."

The discussion continued on like this for most of the thirty minutes while the barber cut their friend’s hair. The barber corrected the young men three times, asking them to lower their voices. “There are other people in the shop!” he said with the authority of a High School Gym coach.

At one point, the dark haired man pressed his blonde friend on the value of fasting; “It helps you understand what those who are hungry feel like.” The blonde young man quipped, “So, I should give up girls for a year so that I know what you feel like.” The other guys burst into laughter and the dark haired guy became quiet and crestfallen.

The dark haired guy regrouped and reinitiated his attempt to press his friend to observe Yom Kippur. His subsequent attempts were met with similar rebuffs. Finally, the blonde man got up along with the other friends and left the dark haired man sitting alone on the bench. The dark haired young man sat there quiet and hurt.

I felt for him; so, I leaned over and shared with him a rabbinical commentary about love. I stated, “that love is like water; the only way to hold it is with open hands.” Fasting is a conscious choice intended to open our spiritual selves by placing our own needs and gratifications aside. This spiritual practice open our hearts, our minds, our hands, and our very self to something greater than ourselves. Fasting is intended to ennoble the human spirit.

The barber finished with his friend and all the young men left the shop. The barber apologized to me for the loud discussion. “I’m not so old that I don’t remember being eighteen,” I said. “At eighteen, I knew all the answers.” The barber laughed in agreement adding, “it was just like people discussing politics.”

In both politics and religion, there are people who think they know what’s best for everyone else. “People are like that everywhere,” the barber said. “Yeah, but no one would try that at the pharmacy.” I retorted. What heals one person physically or spiritually can hurt someone else. What helped me seven years ago may not be what I need today, or what I will need in five years. If only folks could use the common sense of the pharmacy with politics and religion.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Change, or more of the same.

In January of 2010 the founding members of Catholics for Equality met in Washington, DC. Subsequent to that week of meetings, Catholic News Agency (CAN) published an article. The headline on the article read:

“Catholics for Equality demand changes from bishops on homosexuality.”

This past week Catholics for Equality launched as an organization. The National Catholic Reporter quoted Father Joseph Palacios, a priest from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Father Palacios said:

"We are not a church reform group," said Fr. Joseph Palacios, a founding board member and a sociologist and adjunct professor at Georgetown University. "We are not going to handle doctrine. We can't change that. That is the church's thing. We don't even have the illusion that we as Catholics can do that. …

Obviously, a change happened over the past nine months at Catholics for Equality. Father Palacios’ now states that doctrine is “the church’s thing.” His statement declares the idea that “the hierarchy” is “the church.” However, he forgets that WE, not just the hierarchy, are the Church. By its very nature, Catholics for Equality stands in opposition to the hierarchy's stance on LGBTQ equality laws. If Father Palacios believes that the Hierarchy should not change its position, then he should resign from Catholics for Equality and issue an apology to his bishop Cardinal Mahony for his role in founding this dissident organization.

Same-sex marriage is only one issue on a long list of issues that need to be considered, discussed and challenged within our church. The following video clip poignantly illustrates this point.

Admittedly people who love the church did not compose this clip; however, the points they make are very serious and a considered review and response is required by the faithful. The notion that fidelity should equal blind obedience is contrary to and undermines true faith.

The gifts of reason and free will require their recipients to employ them. “I was just following orders” was not a defense that worked at the Nuremberg Trials and it is not a defense that will work at our life’s review when we die. We, you and I, are each of us answerable for our actions and our inaction.

If we see an injustice and we chose to remain silent, we become an accomplice to that injustice. We are morally responsible and cannot delegate our moral responsibility to parents, a spouse, or religious leaders. Those people have an obligation to us, to help us form our conscience and to act uprightly; however, they can never act for us. In the end, each us must answer for our self.

Patriotism is not blindly approving every word and act of our government and piety is not blindly approving every word and act of our religious leaders. If our conscience informs us that something is morally wrong, we are obligated to try to right that wrong. We are obligated to try to effect change.

How to effect that change is a methodological question. Here media experts, political analysts, attorneys, journalists all can make great contributions. However, these individuals and their talents cannot compensate for the lack of a clear vision and just purpose. I write this in the hope that the Board of Directors of Catholics for Equality will not miss this historic opportunity to right a wrong.

Moving the movable middle requires clearly explaining to them why they should move. Make no mistake; this is calling the hierarchy to change their position. Anyone familiar with the history of the church knows the hierarchy has changed its position many times on moral questions ranging from slavery to marriage law.