Thursday, August 31, 2006

Uber Allis

Rating: SL, V

Update: For a shot of moral courage, read Phobic Nation over at Shakespeare's Sister. Preach, girl!
Associated Press
Updated: 11:32 a.m. PT Aug 31, 2006

SALT LAKE CITY - President Bush on Thursday predicted victory in the war on terror at a time of increasing public anxiety at home, likening the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism with the fight against Nazis and communists.

With just over two months until Election Day, Bush said opponents of the war in Iraq who are calling for a plan to bring home troops would create a disaster in the Middle East.

"Many of these folks are sincere and they're patriotic but they could be -- they could not be more wrong," the president said. "If America were to pull out before Iraq could defend itself, the consequences would be absolutely predictable, and absolutely disastrous. We would be handing Iraq over to our worst enemies -- Saddam's former henchmen, armed groups with ties to Iran, and al-Qaida terrorists from all over the world who would suddenly have a base of operations far more valuable than Afghanistan under the Taliban." (You can read the whole story here.)


We're over there helping Iraq to defend itself? From what? Invasion? wait a minute... I know that there was some large wealthy superpower nation invading Iraq... who was it? ... wait, don't tell me...

Oh! Right! That would be the United States of America! Well, golly, I'm glad President Bush is committed to defending Iraq against them. That's an incredibly powerful military force. Iraq can't possibly defend itself alone against the U.S. Wow. I guess the people really did know what they were doing when they elected Mr. Bush president of... wait. What country is Mr. Bush president of? wait, don't tell me... I know this one...

Oh! Right! That would be the United States of America.

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If America were to pull out before Iraq could defend itself...

I was in downtown Washington, DC on September 11, 2001. I was working in an office that dealt with national and international events. The televisions that were always tuned to the news were playing in people's offices. I saw the smoke from the Pentagon billowing past our eighth-story windows. With about 200 or so other employees, I watched on an enormous movie screen in the lecture hall as the second tower fell.

When they finally sent us home, Dupont Circle looked like an anthill that some marauding giant had stepped in. I walked two miles before I could board a bus that would take me home, because it had been reported that there was a bomb somewhere in the Metro subway system. Much later, this rumor proved false, as well as the one about a car bomb being driven into the OEOB. But we didn't know that then. We didn't know if our friends in New York City were hurt or dead, we didn't know how many were hurt or killed at the Pentagon. We didn't know what would happen next, where the next attack would land, if this was just the point of the knife that would eviscerate us.

I am more horrified today than I was then.

How is it possible that my president--and he is my president, regardless of the fact that I voted for the other guy--my president, weeks before the five-year anniversary of that day, can stand up before God and everyone and say such a thing? The terrorist attacks on this country did not come from Iraq, yet we have been told over and over again that our invasion of Iraq is the front line of the war on terrorism. We have been told over and over again that Iraq is a critical threat to our very lives, that they have or might have or could have weapons of mass destruction, that Iraq could annihilate our entire way of life.

Mr. President, if Iran is incapable of even defending itself against enemies, how the bloody hell could they have ever posed an invasion-necessitating threat to the greatest military power on the planet? If they do not have the military power and the devastating weapons--which some of your people are still insisting really were there and probably still are, since we never managed to find them--to wage a war, what the hell were we doing when we invaded Iraq in the first place?

I don't know. I don't know what will happen next, how many more American men and women will be maimed and killed, how much more of our liberty will be curtailed, how much devastation to our way of life we will suffer. But this time, the unpredictable power from which these horrors issue is my own government. The lies are coming from men and women whose salaries I pay, in whose hands the collective "we" have placed the power to determine the future of this nation.

I shit you not, dear reader, I am scared. My whole defiant "refuse to be terrorized" 'tude is losing altitude fast. I cannot rid my brain of the image of an ambitious and driven paperhanger from Vienna who preached patriotism, national pride, and hard work, who led a frightened and bewildered nation from despair to a desperate kind of bravado, who implemented bold plans to strengthen national security by curtailing personal liberty and weeding out citizens whose ethnic background, political beliefs, and alternative lifestyles marked them as potential internal risks, who took the fight "there" so to make the people safe "here" and commanded the invasion and occupation of one country after another, all in the name of strength, security, and safety. It is less and less difficult for me to imagine how it all happened. And I am well and truly scared.
Almighty God, we humbly beseech you that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought here out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to your law, we may show forth your praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in you to fail; all which we ask through your Son our savior Jesus Christ. [Book of Common Prayer, p. 820]

O God, the Father and Mother of all, whose holy Child commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through your Word made flesh, our savior Jesus Christ. [Book of Common Prayer, p. 816]


yours in the struggle,

The Results Are In

Rating: SL, QT

You Are Big Bird

Talented, smart, and friendly... you're also one of the sanest people around.

You are usually feeling: Happy. From riding a unicycle to writing poetry, you have plenty of hobbies to keep you busy.

You are famous for: Being a friend to everyone. Even the grumpiest person gets along with you.

How you live your life: Joyfully. "Super. Duper. Flooper."

Well! I am a complete and total disdainer of the personality profile. I fart in the general direction of Myers-Briggs alphabet soup. And don't even get me started on the ludicrosity of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (aka MMPI), which in my opinion reveals much more about the truly freaked-up crazy-ass childhoods of the people who wrote that so-called "measure" than it ever can about anyone subjected to it.

But I bow before the truly astonishing accuracy of the Sesame Street Personality Quiz. Big Bird is absolutely the most gender-ambiguous resident of Sesame Street. Plus, just last night I dreamed I was riding a unicycle. I was also naked, which even in the dream was fairly disturbing to me...but hey--the only clothing Big Bird ever wears is that long neck scarf. And I did have a backpack in the dream, which is not the same as a neck scarf, but they're both accessories.

I swear I took the quiz honestly and this is the one and only result.

Big Bird! How utterly divine.

yours in the struggle,

Meanwhile, In Another Part Of The Forest

Rating: GT

Chuck at CrossLeft has a terrific piece on the use/misuse of Scripture as proof-text entitled Insert Bible Verse Here. Check it out.

yours in the struggle,

Beer and Cookies

Rating: GT

Related posts: Milk and Cookies, Fully Human

"Hey! What Happened To My Beer?": Women's Enlightenment, Men's Romanticism, and the Ramifications of Giving A Mouse A Cookie in Nineteenth-Century America
The conversation was miles beyond Jo's comprehension, but she enjoyed it, though Kant and Hegel were unknown gods, the Subjective and Objective unintelligible terms; and the only thing 'evolved from her inner consciousness,' was a bad headache after it was all over. It dawned upon her gradually that ... religion was in a fair way to be reasoned into nothingness, and intellect was to be the only God. .... [B]ut she was fascinated, just then, by the freedom of Speculative Philosophy...trying to find out what the wise gentlemen intended to rely upon after they had annihilated all the old beliefs....
[Mr. Bhaer] bore it as long as he could; but when he was appealed to for an opinion, he blazed up with honest indignation, and defended religion with all the eloquence of truth.... Somehow, as he talked, the world got right again to Jo; the old beliefs, that had lasted so long, seemed better than the new; God was not a blind force, and immortality was not a pretty fable, but a blessed fact. She felt as if she had solid ground under her feet again; and when Mr. Bhaer paused, out-talked, but not one whit convinced, Jo wanted to clap her hands and thank him.

What in the world are Kant and Hegel doing in a nineteenth-century "girls' book"?2 American women writers of fiction like Augusta Jane Evans, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Louisa May Alcott captured an enormous shift in the role of women in private and public life in the nineteenth century. Within the emerging American ethos of independence, hard work and self-sacrifice, in which burgeoning industrialization placed a high priority on efficiency and economy of effort, women, recently released from the label of "potentially disorderly and dangerous,"3 and fueled by the rise of individualism and the fall of dogma as expressed by philosophers and theologians such as Kant, Hegel, and Emerson, by the last decades of the nineteenth century were rolling up their sleeves, eliminating the middleman, and getting much, much more directly involved in bringing their moral vision to the forefront of American life.

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Little Women was first published in 1868, Good Wives in 1869. Nearly a century before, Immanuel Kant was urging people to think for themselves, to throw off the mental and therefore spiritual tyranny of "the guardians," to question everything and embrace true intellectual and religious freedom.4 Ralph Waldo Emerson was a minister who, like Kant, called upon people to think for themselves; in an address to the Harvard Divinity School graduating class of 1838, he urged the "newborn bard[s] of the Holy Ghost" to "cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with Deity," to throw off the tyranny of the ossified institution of Christian dogma, and to experience themselves as incarnations of God,5 an end which one could imagine might have caused Herr Kant to experience an aneurysm. Wiser folk than I have observed that the trouble with encouraging people to think for themselves is that some few individuals will actually take it into their heads to do it, and of course one century's rebel is the next century's authority. Kant's insistence that individuals think for themselves opened the door for Emerson's insistence that individuals experience God for themselves, which in turn pried open the floodgate for women who believed it was high time to take what Elizabeth Fox-Genovese describes as their "special responsibility to uphold and spread Christian belief and to live a model Christian life,"6 into the larger world.

Alcott's father Bronson was a Transcendentalist who was deeply admired by Emerson. As a small child, Louisa May along with her parents and older sister participated in an experiment in collective living called "Fruitlands," at which Emerson was a frequent visitor.7 Emerson's ideas are reflected in Alcott's novels in a number of remarkable ways: There is a great deal of personal piety and discussion of God's providence, and some few brief mentions of specific saints (St. Martin of Tours, for example), but no reference to Jesus as the Son of God, or to the Holy Ghost; the four girls receive books for Christmas in the opening chapter described as "that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived," but the words "Jesus" and "Christ" never appear; and although the character of Mr. March is a minister, there is no mention anywhere of anyone in the family ever going to church.8 Emerson's Romanticism seems clearly apparent in the episode related above, with Mr. Bhaer riding valiantly into battle in which "[h]e had a hard fight, for the wise men argued well; but he didn't know when he was beaten, and stood to his colours like a man."9 Oh my. Be still my heart.

The marriage of Jo, the quintessential all-American girl,10 to Mr. Bhaer, the German absent-minded professor with a heart of gold, may reflect a desire to marry off American independence and pragmatism to European tradition and scholarship: if America is the red balloon, Europe is the string. Without Europe, America drifts away into the ozone; without America, Europe just lies there in an incomprehensible tangle on the floor. One of the many interesting possibilities this presents is that, in Alcott's model, pragmatism and scholarship are opposites which, for the good of the species, must be brought together in mutual cooperation. Also interesting is that in this model, pragmatism is the feminine half of the partnership.11 Yet the character of Mr. Bhaer as initially introduced and developed is the champion of those things which in the latter half of the nineteenth century, according to Fox-Genovese, had come to be seen as the eminent domain of women, namely religion, morality, and children.12 Alcott's "perfect man" for Jo, it seems, is essentially a nineteenth-century woman.

It could be suggested that Alcott assigns these qualities to a man in order to give them legitimacy and retain the image of dominant male/submissive female; it may be more likely, on the other hand, that she was indulging in some fantasy fulfillment in which a man takes responsibility for his own religious and moral life instead of always relying on a woman to provide it. Little Women and Good Wives are rife with examples of women's obligation to do exactly that. Alcott reflects this dichotomy in an exchange between Jo and her much more "society"-savvy sister Amy, in which Jo declares,
"But I think girls ought to show when they disapprove of young men; and how can they do it except by their manners? Preaching does not do any good, as I know to my sorrow, as I've had Teddy [Laurie] to manage; but there are many little ways in which I can influence him without a word, and I say we ought to do it to others if we can."
Amy responds that
"...If we were belles, or women of wealth and position, we might do something, perhaps..."
but concludes that such a scheme
"wouldn't have a particle of effect, and we should only be considered odd and puritanical."
"So we are to countenance things and people which we detest, merely because we are not belles and millionaires, are we? That's a nice sort of morality."
"I can't argue about it, I only know that it's the way of the world; and people who set themselves against it only get laughed at for their pains. I don't like reformers, and I hope you will never try to be one."
"I do like them, and I shall be one if I can; for in spite of the laughing, the world would never get on without them. We can't agree about that, for you belong to the old set, and I to the new: you will get on the best, but I shall have the liveliest time of it. I should rather enjoy the brickbats and hooting, I think."

Notwithstanding, Alcott's subsequent refusal to marry Jo to Laurie14 in preference for a man who can carry his own water, thank you very much, speaks of what may have been a growing impatience with the "special responsibility" that allowed boys and men to do as they liked and saddled girls and women with the task of policing not only themselves but everyone else. Certain "reformers" who endured a great deal of "brickbats and hooting" had already expressed their own dissatisfaction with the double standard: in the "Declaration of Sentiments" from the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848--the year Alcott turned sixteen, twenty years before the publication of Little Women--the authors wrote of man, "He has created a false public sentiment by giving the world a different code of morals for men and women..."15

The subversive quality of these episodes in Alcott's fiction is striking. Jo's endorsement of "reformers" is as clear a call to action as Samuel Clemens's depiction of Huck's moral struggle which ends in his declaration of willingness to suffer hell rather than treat Jim as less than fully human; yet Alcott's is tucked safely away in a "girls' book," amidst object lessons about duty and family and womanly virtues, where it may whisper in the ears of the world's "little women" until they are grown enough to take up the challenge.

At the time Alcott was writing, women's sphere of influence was still generally understood to be restricted to the home, and possibly to the "many little ways [women] can influence [men] without a word," but how long can one expect to make one group of people responsible for everyone's private behavior and still expect that group to remain submissive in terms of the public transmission of religion? Women were responsible for leading their husbands and children to church, where the women were then obliged to keep their mouths shut because they were morally culpable for the Fall. Into this logic gap leapt women like Frances Willard, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Did someone say "dangerous and disorderly"? Disordering patriarchal society and endangering the status quo were these women's bread and butter. It is ironic that their ideological lineage can be traced straight back to Immanuel Kant, who eight years after the American Declaration of Independence claimed that "the freedom of mind of the people" could not possibly occur in a republic, because the "greater degree of civil freedom...places inescapable limitations upon it; a lower degree of civil freedom, on the contrary, provides the mind with room for each man to extend himself to his full capacity."16 Kant advocated "man's release from self-incurred tutelage" and saw as its chief obstacle "That the step to competence is held [to] be very dangerous by the far greater portion of mankind (and by the entire fair sex)" but that this obstacle could be overcome by means of leadership by example (the mode of leadership, a century later, deemed suitable for women): "For there will always be some independent thinkers...who...will disseminate the spirit of the rational appreciation of both their own worth and every man's vocation of thinking for himself."17

Emerson made the same claims to the right and even obligation of self-determination in the realm of the spiritual that Kant made in the realm of the intellectual, and Henry David Thoreau's ongoing paean to civil disobedience, although interminably irritating to Emerson,18 forged a mighty link between the practical (i.e., that which is practiced) and the romantic. Enter the women, who were expected to lead by example, to "disseminate the spirit" of morality and Christianity; but once released, the genie of women's direct influence was not going back in the bottle. Willard, Stanton and Mott rejected the notion that women needed men to oversee the overt expression of their religious lives in church, an attitude succinctly summarized in Sojourner Truth's declaration that Christ came "[f]rom God and a woman! Man had nothin' to do wid Him."19

It is significant that Alcott references but never quite articulates the "old beliefs, that had lasted so long..." A woman could get away with writing fiction--especially fiction for children, and most especially for girl children--but articulation of doctrine was not "women's work." By barring women from the exercise of their moral and religious vision in terms of what Catherine Albanese calls "extraordinary" religion--"beyond the boundaries of the everyday world"--church authorities left women with only one field in which to work: that of "ordinary" religion,20 wherein lies the realm of politics and social reform. Lucretia Mott, speaking to a gathering of women in 1854 (the year before Alcott's first book, Flower Fables, was published), had taken up Emerson's call and made it something personal to herself and to her audience: "We have been so long pinning our faith on other people's sleeves that we ought to begin examining these things daily for ourselves.... How many women are there now immolated upon the shrine of superstition and the assumption that man only has a right to the pulpit.... We too often bind ourselves by authorities rather than by the truth."21 Thirty-five years later, Frances Willard, writing in 1889, gave to this personalized call arms and legs and teeth:
It is men who have taken the simple, loving, tender Gospel of the New Testament, so suited to be the proclamation of a woman's lips, and translated it in terms of sacerdotalism, dogma, and martyrdom. It is men who have given us the dead letter rather than the living Gospel.... Men preach a creed; women will declare a life.... The Greek bishop who said, "My creed is faultless, with my life you have nothing to do," condensed into a sentence two thousand years of priestly dogma. Men reason in the abstract, women in the concrete.22
And Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1895, "Others say it is not politic to rouse religious opposition. This much-lauded policy is but another word for cowardice.... For so far-reaching and momentous a reform as [woman's] complete independence, an entire revolution in all existing institutions is inevitable."23 Whoa there! Them's fightin' words, missy!

Fighting words, indeed. After the Civil War, many women seeking to enact a moral vision founded in their own faith experience tackled what they perceived as the chief threat to social stability: alcoholic beverages. The consumption of alcohol was perceived as a great threat to the morality of their brothers, sons, and husbands; and drunken men were a great threat to the safety of women and children. Fox-Genovese notes that the Women's Christian Temperance Union grew to around 200,000 members in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and that "over time [many members] came to believe that their cause required them to defend women's right to participate in politics in order to accomplish their goals."24 One might imagine that the enactment of Prohibition in 1919 made more than one man wish that his father had just let the women preach in church; as Kant noted, "so harmful is it to implant prejudices, for they later take vengeance on their cultivators or on their descendants."

Those implanted prejudices continued to bear their nasty poisonous fruit throughout the following century, and the descendants of their cultivators continued to wrestle with the effects. Following in the footsteps of F.D. Maurice in England, as well as the American reformers of the nineteenth century, Walter Rauschenbusch articulated a theology of Christian social justice, picking up where the previous generation had left off, "summon[ing] Christian men singly and collectively to put their hands to the plough and not to look back till public morality shall be at least as much Christianized as private morality now is."25 It sounds terrific; it is terrific--until some maniac gets his psychotic hands on it and produces the horrors of Laramie...not to mention Auschwitz. The work goes on.

The work goes on, because the one constant in organized "extraordinary" religion, expressed in the institutional church, is that it is relentlessly human. It would appear that the human tendency to huddle and exclude is not going away anytime soon. One denomination says, yes, by all means women can teach Sunday School, but only to children under sixteen. Another, at another time, says, yes, black and brown folk can be ordained, but only for black and brown congregations. Still another says, yes, we can ordain women, but they should all be associate rectors and deal mostly with youth ministry and Christian Education; yes, gays and lesbians can be full (i.e., pledging) members of the church, and yes, our catechism says the ministers of the church are "lay people, bishops, priests, and deacons," so technically yes, they can be ministers, but only as lay people; so all right, if you want a heterosexual woman bishop in your diocese, we can't stop you, but she's not coming into our diocese. Within the same denomination, another group says, well, okay, gays and lesbians can be ordained as deacons and priests, but not as bishops ... The work goes on.

Give a mouse a cookie... well, you know. (And if you're joining us for the first time and have no earthly idea what the hell I'm talking about, check out Milk and Cookies.)
The work goes on.

yours in the struggle,

1 Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women and Good Wives. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 313-314.
2 Thwaite, Ann (citing Alcott's personal journal). Introduction to Little Women and Good Wives, xv.
3 Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. "Religion and Women in America" in World Religions in America: An Introduction, ed. Jacob Neusner (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 226.
4 Kant, Immanuel. "What Is Enlightenment?" in Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (MacMillan, 1990).
5 Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Divinity School Address. Harvard Divinity School, July 15, 1838.
6 Fox-Genovese, 224.
7 Sears, Clara Endicott. Bronson Alcott's Fruitlands. Philadelphia: Porcupine Press, Inc., 1975, 5-8.
8 Meg's wedding takes place outdoors, performed by Mr. March; Amy and Laurie are married at the American consulate in Paris; and after the emotionally torturous episode of Beth's last days has left the reader sobbing through an entire case of Kleenex, the author relents and spares us the agony of a funeral.
9 Alcott, 314.
10 Jo longs to visit Europe but never manages to get there; Amy gets to go instead because she's a much nicer girl. Amy winds up marrying the boy next door; Jo never leaves the northeastern United States, but she marries the European genius. Hmmmm...
11 See Sears for a description of Alcott's childhood experience of Fruitlands, in which Mrs. Alcott is clearly the pragmatic partner. The parallel to the fictional "Plumfield" of Good Wives (the boarding school-cum-farming collective started and run by Jo and Mr. Bhaer after their marriage) is pretty apparent.
12 Fox-Genovese, 223-226.
13 Alcott, 264.
14 Thwaite, xviii. Quoting Alcott, "I won't marry Jo and Laurie to please anyone."
15 From History of Woman Suffrage vol. 1, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Cage, in Wogaman and Strong (eds.), Readings in Christian Ethics, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 219.
16 Kant, 88-89.
17 Kant, 83-84.
18 Madden, Edward H. Civil Disobedience and Moral Law in Nineteenth Century American Philosophy. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1968, 90-98.
19 Truth, Sojourner. Ain't I A Woman? From Wogaman and Strong, 224.
20 Albanese, Catherine. America: Religions and Religion. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1992, 98.
21 Mott, Lucretia, in History of Woman Suffrage vol. 1, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Cage, in Wogaman and Strong, 221-222.
22 Willard, Frances E. Woman in the Pulpit in Wogaman and Strong, 227.
23 Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. The Woman's Bible: Comments on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, in Wogaman and Strong, 229.
24 Fox-Genovese, 230-231.
25 Rauschenbusch, Walter. Christianity and the Social Crisis, in Wogaman and Strong, 235.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Viral Haiku

Rating: SL, V, B (also way gross)

snort snort hawk gack spit
this cold sucks stagnant pondscum
cough choke hawk gack spit

all life is precious
viruses part of God's world
wish God had asked me

hatred is evil
murderous--but i don't care
die, virus! die! DIE!!

mountains of kleenex
colors not found in nature
that was in my lungs?????

important meeting
halfway there, wracked by coughing
peed my pants. went home.

make me tired and flatulent
"wonder drug," my ass

yours in the struggle,

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hitchin' a Free Ride on The Salty Vicar's Coattails

Rating: (see below)
I have a wretched cold (in August, fa cryin' out loud!) and a very naughty dog to deal with, so this post is complete Freeloading Off Someone Else's Blog. And mustering the chutzpah to assign a rating to the postings of My Betters is just more than I can handle at the moment.
Please, I beg you, read this post from The Salty Vicar.
I laughed so hard I just about coughed up a lung.

yours in the struggle,

NB, if I were to assign a rating, I'd have to invent an entirely new category. Something along the lines of Pure Genius Satire.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Milk and Cookies

Rating: General Audiences

Related Post: Fully Human

If you give a mouse a cookie, she’s going to want a glass of milk.

And oh! the shock, the outrage, the sense of betrayal, when the mouse dares to reach for a glass of milk. We never agreed to that! This is how you repay our generosity? Wait! …what if that’s MY milk you’re drinking? Well, no, I’m not drinking it now, but I might want to later…maybe…

You may be able to deny the mouse her milk for a while, but eventually she’s going to get some because that’s what goes with cookies. She may sneak it or buy it or take it by force or just harass you until you fall down from sheer exhaustion and she can scurry over your prone body to it, but she will have her milk. The only question is, how much are you willing to give up in order to delay the inevitable? How much are you willing to spend on locking up the milk or incarcerating the mouse? How much blood are you willing to spill, how many lives are you willing to destroy, how much milk are you willing to lose in the battle?

Read whole post

So we keep at it. We reason, we argue, we march. We work by direct action and subversion and education and the daily demolition of embedded assumptions. We find strength in numbers, in the stories of those who have gone before and in the hope we tend, like a garden, for our children.

At best, we get slow but steady change, a stirring of the stew, the chance to live through the legendary Chinese curse of “interesting times”; at worst we get Laramie and Kent State and Auschwitz and Wounded Knee, and the resumption of the ancient determined litany of “Never forget” and “Never again.”

Ursula K. LeGuin, whose subversiveness seems safely tucked away in books categorized as “fantasy” and “science fiction,” tells us this:
Freedom is a heavy load, a strange and terrible burden for the soul to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made; and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward toward the light; but the laden traveler may never reach the end of it. (The Tombs of Atuan)

It is a dangerous undertaking, this enterprise of the enfranchisement of the human race, this proposition that Christ calls us to treat everyone as a neighbor, a friend, a brother, a sister. It means giving up the comfort and safety of being “inside” while those who are “less than” are “outside.” It means letting go of the whole idea of “inside” and “outside,” of self-definition by exclusion, of the categories that are so nicely sliced and packaged and handed to us like so many Oscar Meyer Lunchables. It means taking responsibility for ourselves. Danger, danger, Will Robinson!

I leave you with these words from people much, much smarter than I:

“Actually…the danger is not so great, for by falling a few times they would finally learn to walk alone.” --Immanuel Kant

“So what if your coat is torn, and you get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again; you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do things you think you cannot.” -- Eleanor Roosevelt

yours in the struggle,

Thursday, August 17, 2006

"I Do Not Know This Man"

Rating: GT

Mark 14:66-71

"I do not know this man you are talking about."

I believe I may have said these words when I was in graduate school, taking an oral final exam for some history class or other. If I did not actually speak them aloud I was certainly shrieking them silently to myself. The experience was excruciating. I had studied REALLY HARD for this exam, and it wasn't all last minute cramming either. I enjoyed that class, I was engaged with the material, I knew this stuff. And I choked in the clutch.

Peter had spent three years learning from Jesus and we know he had a much better grasp of the material than his performance here indicates. We know this because earlier in the story, in the 8th chapter of this gospel account, Mark tells us that Jesus turned to his disciples and asked them, "But you, who do you say that I am?" and Peter answered him saying, "You are the Christ." Yet in that unexpected final exam in the courtyard, Peter choked in the clutch. And when he heard the cock crow for the second time, Peter broke down and wept.

Well. Peter got it wrong. He just got it wrong. That's the human condition, right? That's the experience that cuts across every conceivable line of class, race, age, sex, nationality, education, sexual orientation, political affiliation, Meyers-Briggs personality type....every human being who makes it past toddlerhood knows the horror of Getting It Wrong. It's a nightmare. Looking for the Single Unifying Principle of the human experience? Getting it wrong. Not Knowing that which You Should Know.

"I do not know this man you are talking about."

What if... What if these words were not a denial but a confession?
What if, standing in that courtyard with Jesus inside being slandered and mocked and spat on and beaten, standing in this cold, dark place surrounded by strangers and utterly powerless to do anything... What if, for Peter, standing there, in that moment, those words were true? and he was paralyzed by the devastating inescapable revelation that he did not know who Jesus was. That he had never known. At all. Ever.

Peter broke down and wept? You think?

It is an unspeakably terrible thing to realize that you do not know the One on whom you have based your entire life. To have all of your spiritual formation, all of your journey on the path toward God, all of your soul's life ripped away so you're left with nothing.

That unspeakably terrible moment was the beginning of Peter's ministry.

I want to take a moment to say that again, because I've been wrestling with this for a long time and it's still a challenge for me to get my head around, yet I am convinced of its importance for us: That unspeakably terrible moment was the beginning of Peter's ministry.

"In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind [Hebrew, ruah] from God swept over the face of the waters." (Genesis 1)
In that moment, Peter's soul became a formless void. His soul became tohu va bohu, a place of no place and no time, no past and no comprehension, over which the spirit of God moved. Peter became the chaos out of which God calls forth light.

A while back, I got onto a chaos theory kick. It's the one about a butterfly flapping its wings in Malaysia which stirs up tiny air currents that 5 or 50 or 100 years later result in a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Basically it says that the entire universe is all interconnected throughout all time and space, and so there are processes-"chaotic" processes-for which we cannot predict outcomes. As I understand it (and if you're a physicist or mathematician reading this, tearing your hair out because I've gotten it COMPLETELY WRONG [see above re: The Human Condition], please post a comment and enlighten me), the defining principle of "chaos" is "that which cannot be reliably predicted through any analysis of all known factors." Chaotic processes are unpredictable, not because they are random, but because we cannot possibly know all the factors throughout the universe that may be in play at any given moment. Chaos theory is curiously well-organized and I find it oddly comforting.

However. Theory and practice are two completely different animals. The reality of chaos fills me and surrounds me and drowns me in a fear that goes way, way beyond any emotion or feeling of being afraid of something or anxious about anything. I do not experience the reality of chaos as "good news."

But here's the thing: my experience is real but it does not define reality. And chaos, however I feel about it, is what is in the beginning. That beginning is possible for each of us at the heart of Who We Are: the ones who get it wrong. The possibility of Beginning, of becoming the tohu va bohu out of which God calls forth life-that is good news.

The fact that this story-of what I imagine to be the worst moment of Peter's life up to that point-comes down through the centuries to speak a word of hope and possibility to me, blows my mind. The idea that through the power of The Word, the most abject human failure is transformed into something that speaks to me right this minute about God's infinite grace and boundless creativity-that is good news.

So. I try to follow my Lord and Savior and from time to time I find myself standing in the courtyard. It's cold and it's dark and it's utterly futile. There are only strangers around me and ultimately all I am able to realize is that after all of this-after everything-I do not know who God is.
And in the heart of that chaos is The Beginning.
The beginning in which dwells The Word.
The beginning that allows me to stand here in the full flower of my humanity, knowing that every word I speak or write could be completely and totally wrong, but trusting in the One who made me, the One who redeems my life and who sanctifies my efforts which always, always fall short, trusting in that One to make all sufficient.

If one definition of a miracle is an event that inspires or strengthens faith, then Peter's story is miraculous because it instills in me the faith by which I am able to respond to God's call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ-regardless of how awkward or ignorant or wrong or even ashamed I might sometimes feel. Peter's story awakens and renews my faith in The Word, through whom all things were made, who is incarnate in a carpenter from Nazareth and in the bread we break together when we gather in his Name.

The Word will not be silenced. Not by fear, not by shame, not by anything devised by the mind of humankind. The Word will not be silenced.
How's that for good news?

yours in the struggle,

Monday, August 14, 2006

We Are Now Approaching Terminal Velocity

Rating: ? no idea. so sue me.
Oh, golly. The Dopeler effect (see earlier post "Duck and Cover!" for definition and provenance) continues to red-shift the international terror index.

Mostly it just wears me out to even try to write about it. It's not the constant threat of terrorism that is draining the life force out of me, it's horrorism. As in, "Oh--the horror!" Like Lily Tomlin, I used to be cynical, but I just couldn't keep up.

Happily, there are others out there to shoulder the burden. Check out rhetorically speaking. This writer makes my queer heart go pit-a-pat.

Refuse to be terrorized.

yours in the struggle,

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Utterly Fabulous: The Ten Best Queer Books Ever

Rating: QT

  1. The Bible, by God (et al)

  2. "Oh no (s)he DI-n't!"
    Oh--yes I did.
    I'm not talking about sex--although, kids, the Hebrew Bible is chock-full of the kind of nasty that makes even my queer hair stand on end--I'm talking queer. Reversal of power, the mighty brought low, the humble exalted, kings taken to school by prophets, burning bushes that don't burn, dead people coming to life, and--my personal favorite-of-the moment--the Son of God telling a guy, "Put your finger here." It's full-on Queer-O-Rama.

  3. The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

  4. Don't let the "science fiction" category fool you. This is out-beyond-the-edge social criticism, written so beautifully you won't feel a thing when the top of your head blows off.

  5. Gender Trouble, by Judith Butler

  6. Ok. Butler's writing style is not going to be everyone's bag o' crack. I happen to love it, because the ideas she's putting forth here are so challenging to wrap my head around that I have to read slowly anyway.

    Read whole post

  7. Gifted By Otherness, by L. William Countryman and M. R. Ritley

  8. Way past "tolerance" or "acceptance." We're here (in the Church), we're queer (in the Church), thanks be to God! Countryman and Ritley articulate, in clear and well-written prose, the importance of GLBTI Christians to the Christian community. We have gifts that the Church cannot afford to lose. Let the people say, "AMEN!"

  9. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore

  10. Hilarious and surprisingly moving when you least expect it. Very queer--again, not so much in sexual terms--in the way it blasts the life-breath (aka, ruah, for you Hebrew geeks) into the Jesus story. Truly. I laughed out loud and and felt closer to God.

  11. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

  12. Multiple narrators, one of whom tends to write in palindromes. Yipes stripes!

  13. Dancing With God, by Jay Emerson Johnson

  14. Queer-God-Talk at its finest. If God-talk makes you want to puke, go to a bookstore that lets you sit and read books that you have no intention of purchasing. Read the first ten pages. I dare you.

  15. Epistemology of the Closet, by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

  16. Same caveat as for Judith Butler, although Sedgwick is also funny.

  17. A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, by Ursula K. LeGuin

  18. Queer is as queer does. This collection of short stories queers everything. Physics, colonialism, mountain-climbing, marriage, name it, she queers it. If Judith Butler leaves you cold, just read these stories. You'll never be stumped by the term "performativity" again.

  19. A Player To Be Named Later

  20. Cop-out? Me? Never. Just keeping my Queer Options open. If you have a candidate, let me know.

yours in the struggle,

Duck And Cover!

Rating: ES

The Washington Post's Style Invitational asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

My very favorite?

Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

This effect is the one that my right-wing ultra-conservative brothers and sisters in Christ seem to count on the most as they continue to publicly flog their various agendae.

Build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to stem the tide of Mexicans currently flooding our job market? Great!
Who do you think is going to build it, Einstein? The DAR?

Strengthen heterosexual marriages by amending the U.S. Constitution to prevent gay people from ever being able to marry one another? Terrific!
Umm... wasn't the divorce rate up over 50% before any state allowed gay marriage? Do you imagine that all the married people in the country are just dying to bust out gay all over?

Let's get all the gay people out of the Church!
OK... hope you're not too attached to having music or flowers or being able to ever find anything in the sacristy...

We need religion back in the public schools!
You have to be certified to teach math or history or English, but let's not have any standards at all when it comes to what your kids are learning about God from the football coach.

The Dopeler Effect: Working to make America strong, scared, and stupid. Because every global village needs a bully.

yours in the struggle,

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