Monday, April 25, 2011

What the Vatican & American bishops DO NOT want you (and Politicians) to know.

At a New Year’s Eve party in 1999/2000 a woman exclaimed, “You are gay and you are a priest! How can that be?!” I asked her if she had ever visited Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. “Yes, I have,” she answered. “Well, let me let you in on a little secret, if straight boys had built that church, it would be an “A-frame” with cottage cheese on the ceiling.” Edgar Allen Poe quipped, “The best way to conceal something is by putting it in plain sight, no one would ever think of looking for it there.”

Lest I be accused of speaking anecdotally, let me cite some published proof for the truth conveyed in the forgoing encounter:

"The exact number of gay priests worldwide is unknown. A study conducted in 2000 by Father Donald Cozzens for his book The Changing Face of Priesthood suggests that as many as 60 percent of all American Catholic priests were gay, but those numbers varied greatly depending on geographical location. “At issue at the beginning of the 21st century is the growing perception that the priesthood is, or is becoming, a gay profession,” Newsweek

Donald Cozzens, Ph.D. a psychologist and former Rector [President] of Saint Mary’s Major Seminary in Cleveland, Ohio, states,

“An NBC [National Bishop’s Conference] report on celibacy and the clergy found that ‘anywhere from 23 percent to 58 percent’ of the Catholic clergy have a homosexual orientation. Other studies find that approximately half of American priests and seminarians are homosexually oriented. Sociologists James G. Wolf in his book Gay Priests concludes that 48.5 percent of priests and 55.1 percent of seminarians were gay. The percentage appears to be highest among priests under forty years of age. Moreover, the percentage of gay men among religious congregations of priests is believed to be even higher. Beyond these estimates, of course, are priests who remain confused about their orientation and men who have so successfully denied their orientation, that in spite of predominantly same-sex erotic fantasies, they insist that they are heterosexual.”

“The Changing face of the Priesthood” (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 2000) page 99

“Equally disturbing is the tendency of bishops to overlook the fact that a disproportionate number of homosexuals are being recruited into our seminaries. I know of one seminary where, two years ago, 60 percent of the students identified themselves as “gay,” 20 percent were confused about their sexual identity, and only 20 percent considered themselves to be heterosexual.” “What Are We Advertising?” The Tablet, April 24, 1999. (553)

“Andrew Greeley believes that U.S. bishops, unclear on how to address the issue of expanding numbers of gay priests, have simply resorted to denial. Among the effects of this psychological defense mechanism is the toleration of lavender rectories and seminaries. ‘Bishops Paralyzed Over Heavily Gay Priesthood,’ National Catholic Reporter (November 10, 1989) 13-14”

“Trappist monk and author Matthew Kelty states,

"Since most men have a woman to love, whom is the gay man to love? God, surely, in the context of community and a noble, celibate service. This is the pattern of history, for then the sexual is absorbed in the loving communion with God and community.
‘The Land I Love In,’ Homosexuality in the Priesthood and Religious Life, ed. Jeannine Gramick (New York: Crossroads, 1989) p. 148.”

Father David Trosch, said the following in a published letter,

“Perhaps a year later in a conversation with a highly placed priest of the archdiocese he stated that approximately 35% of priests were homosexuals. It was most disconcerting to read the following article in which Fr. Cozzens, the head of a Catholic seminary, says that estimates range as high as 60% of American priests are homosexual.

Unfortunately the article states that, "Cozzens is not against ordaining gay men, and concedes some effective bishops and even some popes may have been gay."

I totally disagree with his position of not being against ordaining gay men. I personally believe that it should be incorporated into the Code of Canon Law that homosexual orientation invalidates ordination, that is, makes homosexual orientation a diriment impediment to ordination.”

All of this data might only be of interest to academics, psychologists, sociologists and Church officials; were it not for the fact that those responsible for this state of affairs (no pun intended) in the Catholic Church are themselves promoting an anti-LGBTQ social and political agenda. New York state will be the next battleground for an intense lobbying effort by Catholic bishops (led by Dolan of NYC) of elected officials. This will be an effort by Archbishop Dolan & Co. to defeat Marriage Equality legislation from becoming a reality in New York State.

The fact that many of these Catholic bishops are themselves gay, as the statistics clearly suggest, is something that many of us in the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ community already know. Some of the most homophobic people in the world, are repressed homosexuals.

More bad news for Catholic bishops come from an unexpected source, Catholic theologians.

"Creighton University professors Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler are the latest voices on the Catholic circuit. Their 2008 book, "The Sexual Person," just earned a rebuke from the U.S. bishops' doctrine committee.

Salzman and Lawler's dense academic argument turns traditional Catholic teaching on natural law on its head. They redefine natural law, saying "nature" is personal and individual, and that sexual activity need not be directed at procreation (contrary to what the Catholic Church has always said).

Salzman and Lawler argue that what is "natural" for a heterosexual is not "natural" for a homosexual, and therefore homosexuals and heterosexuals must act in accord with their personal "natures".

In other words, if it's "natural" for a homosexual to perform homosexual acts, then--for that person--heterosexual acts would be "unnatural" and immoral. For the two professors, homosexual activity is only immoral for the heterosexual acting against his or her nature.

Bottom line: Salzman and Lawler are arguing that homosexuality is a status, not a choice. If that's the case, then everyone--including the Catholic Church--should line up in support of an entire rainbow of gay-related arguments and ideas."

Ever increasing numbers of ordinary Catholics are disregarding the Pope and bishops on Same-sex orientation and Marriage Equality. They have already done this with regards to divorce and remarriage, artificial contraception and the role of women in society.

I wonder how long it will take U.S. Elected officials to connect the dots and discover that Catholic bishops do not speak on behalf of Catholic Voters. In fact, listening to Catholic bishops on social issues, is likely to infuriate (Catholic and Non-Catholic) voters and could cost Elected officials reelection.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Spring Cleaning in NYC's Saint Patrick's Cathedral

This Sunday 24 April 2011 is Easter Sunday. A group of LGBTQ people, both Catholics and non-Catholics, intend to meet in front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Why? In their own words,

“Right here in New York, Archbishop Timothy Dolan and other Bishops and other Catholics of New York State will travel to Albany to lobby state leaders on March 8 to, among other things, ‘’oppose efforts to redefine marriage.’’ It should come as no surprise, but the Pope recently said that no one has an absolute right to be married. More laws or doctrines that discriminate can only contribute to a culture of hate and violence.”

Some will attempt to depict this peaceful protest in support of LGBTQ Civil Rights as “an anti-Catholic attack” targeting Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on the Holiest Day in the Catholic calendar.

The reality is that it is Archbishop Dolan and other Catholic bishops who are out of step with the vast majority of Catholics. It is their relentless and unjust attacks on members of their own flocks, that constitute an “anti-Catholic and anti-human attack.” It is they who blaspheme the Holy Day, as Jesus said, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or evil? To preserve life or destroy it?” [Luke 6: 9]

These homophobic attacks on the Civil Rights of LGBTQ Catholics, their dependents and their loved ones, are what are truly anti-Catholic and anti-human. Denying people with same-sex orientation the right to a Civil Marriage, not only robs them of over 1,000 legal protections, rights and obligations associated with Civil Marriage. Dolan and American bishops are supporting a system of Apartheid laws that effectively condone bigotry and stigmatization of people with same-sex orientation in American culture. The Center for Disease Control “Youth as Risk Study” of 1999 states that 33% of gay adolescents attempt suicide, Last years spate of suicides by LGBTQ students was a chilling reminder of the power of hate in our society. Jesus’ words about taking a life on the Sabbath are not mere hyperbole in this matter.

Archbishop Dolan and many of America’s bishops are accomplices to this hatred. Polls demonstrate that they do not speak for the vast majority of American Catholics on this issue. Dolan & Co. attempt to further the cause of bigotry by attempting to unduly influence elected officials, they support hate organizations like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) headed by Maggie Gallagher.

As Jesus said of religious officials of his day, “Their words are bold but their deeds are few. They bind up heavy loads, hard to carry, to lay on other men’s shoulders, while they themselves will not lift a finger to budge them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and wear huge tassels. They are fond of places of honor at banquets and the front seats in synagogues.” [Matthew 23: 4-6]

Archbishop Dolan knows all too well, that if he wants to become “Cardinal” Dolan, then he must “persuade” New York’s State Elected Officials to legislate what Benedict XVI wants as law for the citizens of New York State.

The irony about the Church’s overt homophobia is illustrated in Tim Unsworth’s book, “The Last Priests in America” (New York: Crossroad, 1991) on page 248, Unsworth states,

“An NBC report on celibacy out of Chicago stated ‘anywhere from 23 percent to 58 percent’ of the Catholic clergy have a homosexual orientation. A newly ordained priest from a large, multidiocesean seminary believes that at least half his classmates were gay, and a gay Catholic layman, who frequents gay bars in his city stated, ‘I just can’t go into a gay bar without meeting at least one priest….I’m told that the diocese punishes its diocesan priests if they’re seen in a gay bar. That’s terribly ironic since some of the ones meting out the punishments are gay themselves.’ A.W. Richard Sipe’s estimate is that by the year 2010, if the present trend continues, the majority of the clergy will be homosexual.”

Speaking the truth is never an offense against God, or authentic spirituality. Not speaking the truth, especially on Easter Sunday, does constitute such an offense.

What can you do?

1. If you are in, or near New York City on this Easter Sunday join in this peaceful demonstration for Civil Rights and Human Dignity.

2. Write a letter to the Editor in your local newspaper expressing your support for this action.

3. Encourage family and friends who live in the NYC area to participate in this Action.

4. Publicize this Action.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Beyond Death

This week both Passover and Easter are commemorated by observant Jews and Christians throughout the world. What meaning do these “Holy Days” have for contemporary people who do not share the theological beliefs of orthodox believers?

Passover is the commemoration of the liberation of the Jewish slaves from tyranny. While that sounds wonderful, the story as related in the Torah (Bible) contains implications that make this less and less of a fantastic story and bears a strong resemblance to the human reality even today. The freed slaves find themselves in the middle of a desert facing a lifetime of uncertainty and difficulties, sound familiar? I have written on this subject before, if you wish to revisit those thoughts, follow this jump.

Christian Holy Week is bookended by Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. It is connected to the Passover, since the young Rabbi Jesus was visiting Jerusalem to observe the Passover with his disciples. There is a layering of new significance onto the older significance of the Passover.

The crowds jubilantly welcome Jesus as a Liberator/King on Palm Sunday. The popular opinion/understanding was that he would eject the Roman occupiers of Jerusalem and restore the Davidic Kingdom. Through this Kingdom and its expansion, Israel would fulfill her role in Salvation history by imposing the Covenant on the pagans (at the point of the sword).

This, was never the divine plan, according to the Prophet Isaiah (42: 43) and to Luke (2: 34), the Messiah of God would invite inner spiritual conversion and not impose external conformity. Not a crowd-pleasing plan, as the elderly priest Simeon prophesied in Luke’s Gospel, this was not the Messiah the crowds expected (or wanted). He still is not, people want the “Shell Answer Man and Julius Caesar” all rolled up in a neat package. Evil should be defined as people elsewhere, someone not like us (me). Evil should never be defined as something we each have to personally face and overcome within ourselves. That requires something of me, far too much work and highly disquieting.

In the course of the week, Jesus fails to deliver, 1) what people want, 2) how they want it, and of course, 3) on their timetable. The religious and political authorities of the day seize this golden opportunity to eliminate Jesus and maintain the status quo, along with their power, wealth and social status. The same crowds that shouted praise at Jesus on Palm Sunday shout jeers at him on Good Friday. This resonates with a truth about popular opinion; it is fickle and more often driven by emotion than by reason.

Another truth about human life revealed on Good Friday, is when Jesus is stripped of his garments. Life does that to each of us. Everything we think is essential for our life and happiness is slowly stripped away from us with the passage of years. Our youth, friends, loved ones, health, mobility, independence and in many cases our other half. We, like Jesus, are left naked and in that nakedness discover what is truly essential. What no thief or time can steal from us, the love we have generously received and given. If you doubt this, or consider it emotional hyperbole, spend a day in the local oncology ward of your closest hospital.

Then there is Easter Sunday. All the chocolate and jelly bean Easter eggs, pale in comparison to the syrupy diabetes inducing nineteenth century “spirituality” that swirls like Katrina around popular American “Easter Day” celebrations and “piety.” The shorter (original) conclusion of the Gospel of Mark [16: 1-8] ends simply with “an empty tomb.” The women leave that tomb, “bewildered and trembling; and because of their great fear, they said nothing to anyone.” What Mark suggests is not so much a “declarative” as a “question.”

That question is as valid today as it was thousands of years ago. The empty tomb suggests that death is not the end of human life. It suggests that there is something beyond death, something beyond this immediate physical existence. The work of Kubler Ross and Dr. Brian Weiss confirm this truth. If Ross & Weiss’ research and work are correct, then the question implied by Mark’s empty tomb is also raised by their research. What is the value and meaning of human (my) life?

There are a vast number of proposed answers to this question, ranging from Aristotle, Plato on one end of the spectrum to Aquinas and Marx on the other end. My experience of working with people on their death beds suggest that these vast collective answers are not the primary concern of someone who is facing death. Rather, how one has interacted with other real people (spouse, friends, family) is what is most pressing at that moment. If what near death experiences suggest is accurate, then how we chose to live our lives is what is of paramount importance.

Specifically, you are the product of your deeds and words. These, be they conscious or unconscious choices, shape who we become. I believe that the “acid test” of the worth of our life is, “Have I done what I honestly believed was right in my life?” and “How have I expanded love in the world?”

Passover suggests that freedom is the beginning of a life long journey, from enslavement towards fulfillment. Easter suggests that death is not the end of our being, but simply a completion and transition. How we use our freedom determines who we are today and the peace/happiness (or lack thereof) both now and at the completion of/transition from/ this life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

If Gay is the New Black, then Trans is the New Gay.

I am privileged to serve on the Board of GetEQUAL along with Autumn Sandeen, a veteran of the U.S. Navy and a transgender American. She contacted me this week for help on an upcoming project. Happily, I was able to oblige her request. I wrote Autumn the following response. I share it with you here, because I believe that as a community, we need to stand in greater solidarity with the “T’s” in LGBTQ.

Dearest Autumn,

A very dear friend of mine Allison Annalora recently completed her final surgery in her transition process. The actual physical transition process was far less difficult than the psychological and emotional part of her transition. Allison told me of gay friends who suddenly stopped speaking to her when she announced her intent to transition. She faced hostile attempts from some people at her work place and from some clients to force her out of her job. All of this, as difficult and painful as it was, pales in comparison to a lifetime of bigotry and induced self-doubt. It is a testament to her spirit that she is still with us today sadly, many others are not. You think that would be it and a happy conclusion would follow, like a sunburst after a terrible storm. However, Allison still faces the pain of rejection each time she goes on a date with someone. She uncompromisingly insists on telling her truth to anyone she dates, before going out. As a result, she has suffered many painful moments. I reassure her that dating is shopping for a mate and you would not want someone who will not love you for who you are. Allison agrees, but still wrestles with much heartache because of her honesty.

All of this illustrates the reality that "coming-out" is not an event, but a life long process and the most difficult person to come-out to is ultimately yourself. I hope that because of the uncompromising honesty and courage of people like Allison and Autumn Sandeen, the next generation will not have to endure these pains. I hope that because young people today can see people like themselves they will not feel alone, or that they have no options in life. These benefits for Trans-veterans are much more than they appear, they constitute a public acknowledgment of the human dignity not only of Trans-veterans, but also of every human being that is struggling with gender identity. As such, legal recognition is an important first step towards social acceptance and ultimately to the inner peace we all desire for ourselves.

It is an honor to stand with you against injustice and bigotry.


Friday, April 15, 2011

DOMA is Cruel, Discriminatory, and Unconstitutional

Here’s Rep. Jerry Nadler’s opening statement. Nadler has introduced the “Respect for Marriage Act,” a bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

DOMA is immoral, because it is (as is all bigotry against LGBTQ people) based on irrational hatred of a minority group within society. It is immoral because it unjustly targets, stigmatizes and penalizes same sex couples. It does this with an obstinate and cavalier disregard for both the findings of science and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Representative succinctly drives home this point as he quotes from the Congressional Record and explains the bigotry that motivated legislators to enact this law. As Rep. Nadler said,

“The Congressional record makes perfectly clear, that DOMA is intended to express moral disapproval of gay men, lesbians and their families. Representative Henry Hyde, then Chairman of this Committee, for example declared, “Most people do not approve of homosexual conduct and they express their disapprobation through [enactment of] the law [DOMA].” During floor debate of the law representatives expressed disapproval of homosexuality as being immoral, or depraved and argued that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry would demean and trivialize heterosexual marriage and might prove to be, “The final blow against the American family.”

This evidence of the intent of the law being to discriminate against a specific group of people, based on prejudice against them, or disapproval of that group, on pure animus [hatred against them] is presumptive evidence of denial of Equal Protection [the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution] and of the need for Heightened Scrutiny. The Administration so concluded and that conclusion compelled the determination that the law [DOMA] could never survive Heightened Scrutiny and therefore could not be defended as to its constitutionality.”

Representative Nadler specifically used the term “immoral” in describing DOMA and by implication, the intent of legislators who enacted this immoral law. I believe that Rep. Nadler is both correct and temperate in his statements regarding DOMA. Nadler joins Federal Judges, such Walker, Senators, members of Congress, and even Republican former California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in their opposition to bigoted laws like DOMA and Prop 8.

Proponents of such bigoted laws are unable to offer any compelling reason for denying military service, marriage, and employment non-discrimination protection to LGBTQ people. Their political obstruction of such Civil Rights for LGBTQ human beings stem not from reason, but from hatred, ignorance and fear. Their segregation of LGBTQ people is not, as they claim, motivated out of a desire to “protect marriage, or children,” but out of hatred for a minority group who they intensely dislike and which they want to force to be like them, or at least invisible.

Post Script: Life, Spirituality and Religion

Further thoughts on "Delivery Salvation" and "Life, Spirituality and Religion."

The parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke suggests a paradox that we instinctively knew as small children. It is when I decide, motivated by selfless love of another, to generously move beyond myself that I am most fully alive. It is in that very act, when I lift up and help someone else that I myself am lifted up and helped.

Each of us, on this life’s journey, has encountered luminous and loving people (e.g. a parent, a true friend, teacher, professor, supervisor, co-worker, etc) who have shown us mercy, extended us patience, kindness and love. Each of us has been that broken wounded person on the road who was helped by another. Implied in that story is, of course, the mugger who, motivated by selfish desires, visited evil upon the person and left their victim to die alone on the road. Each of us can become either the Good Samaritan or the unnamed mugger. Truthfully, each of us has been both at different moments in this life’s journey. The question in life is who do I wish to become. My words and actions NOW determine who I am; they are the hammer and chisel that sculpt me. Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art."

My choices have both personal and collective resonance. Whom I chose to be affects both me and everyone I encounter today. My words and actions have a ripple effect on me and other individuals and on society that I will probably never fully appreciate in this life. The parable of the Good Samaritan underscores the trans-formative personal and collective power of human decisions to be indifferent/removed (safe) and to choose to love (and become vulnerable).

The spiritual crisis in contemporary life stems from the false belief that meaning/happiness is externally conferred upon me and the fear of being abused by others. The counter-intuitive truth is that meaning/happiness are like water; the only way to hold it is with open hands. Clenched fists create the illusion of invulnerability; however, the cost is isolation. Clenched fists will leave others bruised and will leave me to die of thirst.

In the passage from the Gospel of Luke, the initial question asked by the lawyer is, “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” In the rabbinic tradition, life answers with another question, “What have you done to expand love in this world?”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Life, Spirituality and Religion

A reader wrote the following in response to my last post, "Delivery Salvation." I thought his comments touch on several important points, and so I have decided to respond in this format.

"Father Geoff,

Your anecdote illustrates one of the fundamental differences b/t Catholicism & Protestantism - as you surely know, the former believes that faith + good works leads to salvation, whereas the latter believes that faith alone is enough. Perhaps I'm biased, being a Cradle Catholic, but I always found the latter's approach to be empty, as well as intellectually & most importantly, morally lazy.

Unfortunately, our own church hierarchy has done very little if anything in the way of good works. Sure, there are lay people & religious who are doing so, but I don't see the institutional Church tackling poverty, injustice, etc. with nowhere near the same vigor as it does with opposing LGBT rights."

My response,

The differences you cite between Catholic theology and Reformation [Protestant] theology have their foundation in the sixteenth century grace controversies. Essentially, those controversies sought to resolve the apparent contradiction of God’s omnipotence and simultaneously, humanity’s freedom. A more contemporary treatment of this question (1981) and its implications can be found a book by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”

In fairness, the thrust of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke, is not addressing that particular theological question, since it would still be fifteen centuries before it arose. Moreover, neither Catholicism nor Protestantism existed formally as we now know them today. Christianity at that time bore little resemblance to the post Pauline and Constantinian Christianity that developed between the forth century and the present. Luke is addressing the question of personal spirituality.

While I agree with your assertion regarding the contemporary hierarchy of the Catholic Church. The most scandalous and egregious of these faults has been the implication of the Pope and bishops in the Pedophilia Cover-Up Scandal. Not only was this cover-up a deliberate obstruction of justice, it also created new incidences of abuse by priests who were transferred from assignment to assignment by their bishops.

Additionally, the focusing of material resources, social and political influence to prevent and strip LGBTQ people of fundamental civil rights and human dignity; constitutes a betrayal of the people that the hierarchy is supposed to serve. Not only LGBTQ people and their loved ones, but also workers who attempt to organize to protect themselves and their families well being, and the many people in our society who suffer unnecessary illness and death due to a lack of universal health care. Since these, other pressing issues of social justice have been ignored to advance social injustice towards LGBTQ persons.

That was not the question addressed by Jesus in the passage cited from Luke. In that particular passage, the question is not “collective,” that is, “What must we do to inherit everlasting life?” It is personal, “What must I do to inherit everlasting life?”

Luke who cites the exchange between Jesus and the lawyer treats that particular question. The question treated by Luke also incorporates various other subtleties of the ancient world, specifically juxtaposition between the Semitic and Hellenistic understanding of the person. The word “Amen” is one of the few Hebrew words to survive in the contemporary Christian vocabulary. Its basic translation from the Hebrew is, “I believe this and I live it.” Most contemporary Christians, since ours is a Hellenistic culture believe “Amen” means, I intellectually accept a set of propositions, e.g., The Holy Trinity, the Hypostatic Union (Jesus is fully human & Divine), etc.

Spirituality in the Semitic understanding was the assent of the entire person, mind and life, to a truth that was not a concept, but a living reality, “Truth” is not a concept but “God.” Hellenistic thought differentiated between an intellectual understanding/agreement and one’s life. For example, I can read Marx and Lenin and agree with them on various points, I can be illuminated on various questions by them, and yet not be a Marxist-Leninist.

As written in Luke the question, “What must I do to inherit everlasting life?” Translates as, “How must I live my life?” That question is still valid twenty centuries later. It touches on the personal quest for meaning and purpose in life. Dr. Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s search for Meaning” addresses this existential question specifically, as does Maslow’s work.

The inherent spiritual danger of a fundamentalist/traditionalist (Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or other) approach to religion is that it separates the believer from dealing with this core issue. The believer is simply told how to live and in exchange promised everlasting life. This is a seductive trap both for the believer and for those in positions of religious authority, since neither is authentically engaged in the spiritual life. The former is placed in spiritual stasis (autopilot) and the latter make an idol of the text/institution, of which they become the official custodians. The religious text/institution rather than being an aid to spiritual development becomes a substitute for such development. Hence, the importance of Jesus’ question, “How do you read it?”

Regardless of one’s intellectual understandings/beliefs, each of us must live our lives. Although we may elect to live without reflection on life and its ultimate meaning, Socrates wrote long ago that, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates made that assertion, because it was true then and sadly, there are many today who still prefer to live an unexamined life, hence the ageless popularity of wine, drugs and gluttony, to name but a few.

Even so, life continually taps each of us on the shoulder and attempts to move us to consider its (and our) greater meaning. The death of a loved one, the loss of material wealth or of our health, the betrayal of a friend, spouse, or lover; all of these create a tectonic spiritual crisis in our life. Each such crisis is an opportunity to reassess, or to borrow from Socrates, to examine our life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Delivery "Salvation."

We live in a marvelous time, not only can one get Chinese and Pizza delivered to one’s door, but you can also get delivery “Salvation.” The doorbell rang early this afternoon and, of course, the dogs went berserk. Fortunately, the front door has a glass door that opens permitting me to speak to people without the dogs leaping up all over them.

Two young men stood at the door and my first thought was that they were collecting for their college fund. I have had a few young people come by for that express purpose. They politely greeted me and asked if I would not mind answering a few survey questions regarding religion. “Sure” I said, relieved that they were not asking for money since that is in short supply these days.

“Are you Jewish?” the spokesperson of the two young men asked. “No” I answered, at first I thought this question odd; however, I quickly recalled that many of my neighbors are Jewish.

“At death, there are two possibilities heaven or hell and only Jesus can save you from hell.” I now appreciated why they had asked if I was Jewish. “That is an interesting take on God,” I said. “In the sixteenth century Teresa of Avila wrote, ‘If there was no reward of heaven, I would still serve thee and if there was no pain of hell, I would still fear thee. The hope of reward or the fear of punishment denotes an immature relationship, at best. Just apply that to any other relationship in life, e.g. friendship, family, or romantic relationship. How would you feel if someone close to you viewed your relationship in terms of obtaining a reward or fearing retribution? That attitude itself would constitute an offense and serve to undermine the relationship.

The two young men were processing all of this and I decided to illustrate what God wanted from us, and so I cited from the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus was asked about the afterlife in the Luke 10: 23-37. “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?” The question, by a lawyer, was prompted because there were 614 laws that an observant Jewish person was expected to keep. To break one law, was to break them all. In the rabbinic tradition of questioning/discussion this question was posited, “What does God expect of me?” “What is essential, or central?”
This question is applicable to contemporary people as well, regardless of one’s religion (or lack thereof), “What must I do to achieve my full potential, to be truly whole and at peace?”

In the rabbinic tradition, Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with two other questions. “What is written in the law [Torah/Bible]?” In addition, “How do you read it?” Incidentally, that second question is of critical importance, because our motive in reading any spiritual text, will determine its spiritual value/harm in our life.
The lawyer responded by citing a passage from Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 “Hear, Oh Israel!” that is prayed by observant Jewish people to this day, as Christians pray the “Our Father.” And Leviticus 19: 18, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus approves the lawyer’s quotes and says, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you shall live.”
Luke notes that the lawyer, “because he wished to justify himself” asked, “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells the story of the Good Samaritan.

Interestingly, Samaritans were regard as being beyond any hope of eternal life since; they had comingled Judaism with pagan beliefs and practices. Their theological beliefs and religious practices were seen as flawed, heretical and impious. Jesus deliberately selects a suspect minority group who were believed beyond hope of eternal life to illustrate what God expects from us. I suppose that if Jesus told this parable in the USA today, it would be the story of the Good Faggot.

The Samaritan is “good” not because of what he believes, but because of how he treats others. He encounters a man who was mugged and left to die, unlike his “pious” contemporaries; the Samaritan compassionately tends the victim’s wounds and provides for his practical needs. To underscore the importance of practical love, Jesus concludes by directing the lawyer, “Go and do the same.” In essence, this is what God wants, bottom line, from each person.

God does not demand that we learn a dozen dead languages, obtain a doctorate degree in dogmatic, or moral theology. God does not expect that we follow a set of laws with unerring precision. God does expect that our relationships (with God, others and self) have as their hallmark practical love.

The two young men at my door thanked me politely, even though I could sense that they did not appreciate what I had said. I smiled as they walked on to the next-door and recalled a time in my youth when I, like they, had all the answers. The answer is not as important as the question. “What must I do?” Not what must I believe and how many people can I manage to impose my beliefs on.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

God Save the President?

The British system of government distinguishes between a Head of State and a Head of Government. The Queen is the Head of State and as such, she presides at State banquets, receives foreign dignitaries, and officiates at ribbon cutting ceremonies, generally smiles, and waves at the masses. The Prime Minister is the Head of Government and as such sets budget priorities, decides foreign policy, directs the Armed Forces and leads Great Britain on a practical level. The Prime Minister has to role his/her sleeves up and does the dirty work of politics, the dirty work of governing. Unlike the Queen, who is above all that and simply presides graciously and serenely as a paternal/neutral mascot.

In the United States of America, the President is BOTH the Head of State and the Head of Government, at least until Barack Obama assumed the office of President. Take the current budget crisis that threatens to shut down the federal government for example. Democrats on Capitol Hill are frustrated that the President only became directly involved in budget negotiations this week. Democratic members of Congress feel that he needed to be in the fight a few weeks ago.

All of this is déjà vu with Obama; remember the Health Care Public Option fight? In his State of the Union address before both houses of Congress, Obama gave away “Single Payor” even before the battle for Universal Health Care began. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to do the dirty and hard work of governing, i.e. pushing the legislation forward. Only at the last-minute after the idea of a Public Option had been scraped and even modest Health Insurance Reform seemed doomed, did Obama deign to become directly involved and get his hands dirty.

The same can be said of DADT, ENDA and now DOMA. ENDA could have been passed and become the law of the land by the 111th Congress, if Obama had pushed for it. DADT could have been repealed last summer, if Obama had pushed for it. Instead, his subordinate, Secretary of Defense Gates argued before the Senate Armed Services Committee to postpone repeal until another redundant report on repeal was issued on 1 December 2010. Conveniently, that report would come out one month after Mid-Term Elections in November. DOMA was declared unconstitutional by Judge Virginia Phillips, yet Obama (until very recently) directed his subordinates at the Department of Justice to fight to defend DOMA in the courts. Obama would prefer to appear for a cameo shot at a signing ceremony after all the “politicians” have hammered out a “done deal,” a deal that is politically popular in the polls and “safe.”

Compare/contrast with how Republicans govern when they control the Presidency, e.g. “W” and the invasion of Iraq, Gitmo, the Patriot Act, etc. After his Election in 2004 “W” famously said, “I have political capital and I intend to use it.” Obama prefers to remain serenely above it all, the great reasonable compromiser who will listen to both sides and negotiate a “reasonable settlement” acceptable to both parties.

Obama is, like Queen Elizabeth II, an outstanding Head of State. He delivers inspirational and moving speeches. He possesses a commanding public presence that projects confidence, strength and poise. He, like a young Elizabeth II, is attractive and, like the present day Elizabeth II, is dignified. Like the Queen, Obama fills the room and fills hearts with hope in the face of adversity.

The problem for both Obama and for the Americans that voted for him is that in the United States, being the Head of State is only half the job. On a practical level, it seems that in the 2012 Election Americans will have a choice between a Centrist Republican and a Right-wing Republican for President. Now, who benefits from such a voter choice?

The real winners, yet again, will be the Corporations that fund (bribe) politicians. These Corporations view social issues as an entertaining distraction meant to draw voter attention away from the need for an effective energy policy, finance reform, universal health care and a foreign/military policy that represents the interests of the American people and not of Multi-national Corporations.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Civil Disobedience for Full Marriage Equality

"We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal."

~Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Why We Can't Wait, 1963

A Trio of Actions for Marriage Equality from David Wallace on Vimeo.

Meditation on Friendships

In April of 1994 a classmate and friend of mine died in a car crash. Terry left instructions
that the following passage from the Hebrew Scriptures be read at his funeral. The passage is taken from the Book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) and was written between 200 to 175 BCE. The ancient date and radically different culture reveal how much human beings share in common, despite cultural and historical differences.

“A pleasant voice multiplies friends, and a gracious tongue multiplies courtesies. Let those that are at peace with you be many, but let your advisers be one in a thousand.

When you gain a friend, gain him through testing, and do not trust him hastily. For there is a friend who is such at his own convenience, but will not stand by you in your day of trouble.

And there is a friend who changes into an enemy, and will disclose a quarrel to your disgrace.

And there is a friend who is a table companion, but will not stand by you in your day of trouble. In your prosperity he will make himself your equal, and be bold with your servants; but if you are brought low he will turn against you, and will hide himself from your presence.

Keep yourself far from your enemies, and be on guard towards your friends.

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he that has found one has found a treasure. There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend, and no scales can measure his excellence.”

[Sirach 6: 5-15]

Friday, April 1, 2011

Myth & Truth about America

The following is a letter to the editor that I wrote in response to a comment by "HardTruth2011"

Dear “HardTruth2011,”

You state,
“The heritage and the patriotic foundation of this country is based upon a strong belief in God, prayer in schools and in every public gathering, and using the Bible as the standard textbook in all public schools, colleges, and universities.”

I can think of no better rejoinder to your statement than the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The USA was the world’s first Secular State, since it had no established State Religion.

Your views about the founding of this nation are non-historical and highly romanticized, at best. Here are a few quotes from famous Americans regarding religion:

Thomas Jefferson:

"I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature."

"Christianity...(has become) the most perverted system that ever shone on man. ...Rogueries, absurdities and untruths were perpetrated upon the teachings of Jesus by a large band of dupes and importers led by Paul, the first great corrupter of the teaching of Jesus."

John Adams:

"As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?"
..........To F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816

Benjamin Franklin:

"If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. They found it wrong in Bishops, but fell into the practice themselves both here (England) and in New England."

"As to Jesus of Nazareth...I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity."

James Madison:

"Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."
..........."A Memorial and Remonstrance", 1785

Thomas Paine:

"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church."

"All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."

Abraham Lincoln:

"The bible is not my book and Christianity is not my religion. I could never give assent to the long complicated statements of Christian dogma."

"My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them."

As for your theological views, suffice it to say that, a considerable number of theologians and various denominations would disagree strongly with your exegesis of scripture. However, that is the beauty of the First Amendment it protects both your right to “free exercise” of religion and everyone else’s.

The spiritual truth of authentic religion is practical love of God, neighbor and self. This is much more difficult to accomplish than forcing ideas on others involuntarily. That is why we had Good Friday, the Crusades, and the Inquisition, burning at the stake, State religions, heresy trials, pillories, and sadly too few saints.