Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Barracuda - a Young Gay Teen Novel

A significant contribution to gay teen literature, but not without its exasperating flaws.

I had to struggle to finish this book, but I persevered to the end because I respected the author's intentions and his deliberate efforts to integrate the gay sexuality of his central character into the narrative without making it a central issue. We are still in dire need of gay fictional treatments of the difficulties of coming out and dealing with homophobia and gay bashing - witness the continuing spate of young gay teen suicides or the most recent draconian legal attacks on gay people in Uganda. Nonetheless, there is a countervailing need to see gay characters integrated into quite  ordinary life stories, dealing with the commonplace conflicts and challenges of simply being human. Barracuda fits into this latter category. Never once is the sexuality of his central character made an issue in his ongoing struggles with profound shame, inferiority, humiliation and the concomitant explosions of rage and violence that result. This is a story of a young teen male struggling with a profound insecurity which he seeks to heal by striving to be an Olympic level swimmer. When he fails miserably at his attempts, his own inner world collapses, and he is filled with rage and fury, which he seeks to exorcise throughout the remainder of the book. I could never quite get a handle on the ultimate source of his profound emptiness - other than some sketches of his difficult relationship with his father, and his humiliation at being a wog (of  Greek ancestry) on scholarship among his upper class peers and the 'golden boys' of his school swimming team. Nonetheless, while it was refreshing that his sexuality was never made a central issue, this omission was very strange in a character dealing with profound humiliation and shame. Had it been another set of conflicts, it would have been understandable. But for this reader, it didn't quite work. It was a clever attempt, however, on the part of Christos Tsiolkas. Why not present a gay character who has deep conflicts of inferiority and shame quite unrelated to his 'alternative' sexuality - which he simply accepts as an unremarkable part of his nature and not a contributing factor to his psychic dilemma. There is one very refreshing, bold 'coming out' admission on the part of Christ to his cousin that is not a 'coming out' at all, simply an admission that, just as his cousin misses contacts with girls, Chris misses sexual contact with males. And that is that.

My problem with the book, which other readers share, is that the focus on Chris' inner turmoil is so relentless, repetitive and intense it eventually wears the reader down. It is simply repeated again and again and again, and the end result is to make the character - for much, but not all of the book - a very unattractive person to be with.

What I found to be a great narrative strength, however, is the alternating time spans - covering four phases in the young man's life, from the traumatic early teens, through young adulthood with a male partner. We are switched from one to another and back again, for no readily apparent reason, but this worked for me. Other readers have stated they would have preferred to have grown along with the character. But I couldn't have stood his constant raging and fuming without some respite and without the very clear insight the future flash forwards provide us of a young man who eventually through many painful trials manages to rescue himself from his debilitating neurosis. I thought it was a fascinating look at the way a character can, quite simply, grow up, and it added to the mystery of human development. There were also some remarkable surprises in these flash forwards (no spoilers here).

Lastly, the physicality of the character - which some more genteel readers found offensive - I found refreshing, because it grounded the character in the very real gritty experience of the average teenage boy, acutely conscious of the workings of his body, including pissing, shitting, farting, ejaculating. The incidents in which these bodily functions were described were very sparse and few and far between, just enough to give a believable sense of the sensitivities of an ordinary adolescent. This is a part of being human and part of the 'shame' all of us must come to accept about being ensconced in an animal body. Kudos to Tsiolkas for not shirking from it.

In the end, this is a tortuous, arduous journey of redemption, but I found the end result to be believable and true. I just wish it hadn't been so exhausting to get there.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Religion of the Gypsies

I am very pleased that my first book review at Crime Scene Reviews is the sweeping historical saga, Dosha, Flight of the Russian Gypsies, by Sonia Meyer (Author Interview here) which I’ve selected from Book Club Reading List. 
This deeply DoshaCover_Page_1moving account of the tragic plight of Russian Romany gypsies is an appropriate choice for this site because it deals with a horrific crime of state against a persecuted minority, the Romany. This event was all the more poignant because in the past Russia was the one European country that most welcomed, appreciated and loved its Gypsy communities. They were loved for their unique music and dance, their rich culture, the freedom of their lives, and their passionate loyalty to one another. Gypsies felt safe in Russia for centuries. Sadly, after 1956, this protective haven was destroyed and the Romany were forced to flee for their lives, including many who had fought for Russia as loyal partisans in World Word II. Those who could not escape were herded into starvation camps in Siberia and left to die.
In 1956 – one year after Dosha’s mother, Azra, daughter of the king of thousands of traveling Lovara, had died -the Red net began, without warning, to entrap nomadic Gypsies into the grinding mill of Soviet Standardization.
However, Sonia Meyer has not simply written an historical tract or a sociological essay. She has crafted a richly detailed, deeply moving fictional account of Gypsy life, both within the forests and plains of Russia and during their flight to freedom in the West.  She has personalized the tragedy of an entire people by taking us into the lived experience of a remarkable young Gypsy girl,  Dosha, granddaughter of Khantchi,  the King of her Lovara tribe.  We follow Dosha through a series of harrowing adventures as she seeks to escape to freedom in the West, together with her beloved stallion Rus. For Dosha is a highly gifted rider of horses, and through the training of her father, she is transformed into a master of the horse. This mastery, together with her magnificent stallion,  will catch the eye of Russian agents recruiting for the renowned Leningrad dressage team. Because of this fortuitous event, Dosha will discover her pathway to freedom, and map out a path of escape for the rest of her tribe.
Read the full review here at Crime Scene Reviews

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mystical Same Sex Marriage with Jesus = at Jesus in Love Blog

There is a beautiful posting up at Jesus in Love Blog about Spanish Jesuit priest, Blessed Bernardo Francisco de Hoyos y de Seña, and his mystical marriage to Jesus.

The entire reflection is very moving and informative, but I was especially touched by these closing words, as the young 24 year old priest lay dying:

His dying words indicate that he felt the presence of his Spouse Jesus at the end. Bernardo’s last words were, “Oh, how good it is to dwell in the Heart of Jesus!”
Here is another account of the young saint at the fascinating blog, Good Jesuit, Bad Jesuit, but as Kittredge Cherry points out at Jesus in Love, the 'gay' mystical marriage of Blessed Bernardo is played down (not even mentioned) in favor of upholding him as an apostle of the Sacred Heart.



Just one more example of how gay lives and experiences are expunged from the public record in subtle ways - too hot to handle. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Cross of Garabandal and the death of Joey Lomangino


Garabandal seen from the Pines

A little bit late, but I just heard of the death of Joey Lomangino, the blind man who became one of the principal apostles of the apparitions of Garabandal, Spain (1961-1965). Joey passed away on June 18th of this year, and shortly thereafter his New York Garabandal Center was closed. Only a tiny remnant of true believers still remain from those long ago days, still waiting for the expected Warning and Miracle. Joey, however, was special, a genuinely holy man of profound faith and deep surrender to the Divine Will. 

This is very moving news and quite sad in its implications, but only of possible interest to Garabandal devotees and enthusiasts, of which, I confess, I am one. I first visited Garabandal in August 1976, shortly before the death of Pope Paul VI and the election of Albino Luciani as the saintly John Paul I. I was profoundly moved by the visit and have never doubted the spiritual authenticity of the Garabandal charism, though I've kept myself distant from its more spectacular elements and all of the attendant speculation about future events. Garabandal is simply one more sacred space on earth where one encounters the Divine Feminine, calling us to a life of prayer, mortification, sacrifice - and above all, forgiveness and love. And in fact the sacrifices most dear to the Heavenly Mother's heart are those moments of forgiveness that sometimes cost us such a struggle of soul. Love and forgiveness, and after them a loving practice of self denial. 

Joey had a now well known visit with stigmatist, Padre Pio, shortly after the accident that left Joey blind and without his sense of smell. This visit with Padre Pio restored his sense of smell and healed his soul as well. Planning a visit to Garabandal, Joey, not wanting to jeopardize his newly restored spiritual state,  asked the renowned holy man if this was all right, and Padre Pio said it was and gave Joey his blessing for the trip. Once he arrived, he heard a heavenly womanly voice comforting and advising him. This was only a very brief epiphany, but it marked Joey for life and embarked him upon his new vocation as an apostle of Mary. However, Conchita, the head visionary (now in her sixties) told Joey she had been told by the Blessed Mother to tell Joey that the voice he heard was her own and that on the day of the great miracle, he would 'receive new eyes.' This prophecy has been one of the mainstays of Garabandal belief and certitude over the past forty plus years, so Joey's passing is indeed a blow, a sign of contradiction and a heavy cross to bear. However, he died peacefully surrounded by his family on the very anniversary of the first apparition at Garabandal, and that does not seem like a coincidence to me. Joey was a holy man and his holiness and humility are the greatest testimony to the vocation given him to spread the message of Garabandal. That in itself is enough of a holy sign. Joey's heartfelt surrender to his Holy Mother and all she asked of him is more of a miracle of grace than the restoration of his sight, however spectacular such an event might have been. There is a mystery at work here. Let us contemplate it in silence and with respect. 

(Lest we forget: The young Garabandal visionaries in ecstasy and the event that rocked the Catholic world in the 1960's long before Medjugorje)

One of the other more significant prophecies of Garabandal, however,  is that as we approach the 'end times' and the moment of the 'Great Miracle,' an event would occur that would cause many to doubt. This has now taken place with the unexpected death of Joey Lamargino, and the naysayers were not long in voicing their gladful responses. However, many sincere persons of faith have been troubled by this event and it leaves them saddened and perplexed.  Personally, this is how I view the fact of Joey's passing, as a paradoxical mystery and a moment of grace. Above all, it is a moment to 'let go' of all expectations of spectacular fulfillments of prophecies. . It is just such paradoxical reversals, so painful and difficult to fathom, that challenge our faith all of the time. The message behind them is peaceful acceptance and detachment in a spirit of deep faith. In faith, we have everything. 

In light of this reversal, those who feel spiritually connected to Garabandal must resort to prayer and discernment to understand the significance of this event - and part of this prayer must be a request for the grace of detachment from any expectations of spectacular events or prophetic fulfillments of Garabandal.

Till the end of my days, I will continue to believe that for one brief moment of time, the veil concealing Eternity was gently pulled aside on a hillside in Spain between the years of 1961 and 1965 and the Heavenly Mother of us all revealed her glorious, loving and compassionate presence. Yet this is a presence that can still be discerned, intuited, deeply felt in our own hearts and well as on the hillsides of this still remote Spanish village.

The story of Garabandal is still not over and the death of Joey Lamangino is one of those sacrifices that will bear much fruit. 

Blessings on you Joey and may you rejoice in your new life of heavenly joy and with your newly bestowed eyes of the Spirit. Joey pray for us.

Joey's Garabandal Website here

A Quick summary of the major events of the apparitions

Interesting discussion group about Joey's passing (many conservatives and true believers in view, but not all)

The range of people who feel some connection with Garabandal is wide and broad, though most sites dealing with the apparitions are dominated by Catholics of the most traditional kind. Some of us - myself included - feel called to right the balance of this equation, however. Mary is calling many of us, including this aging happily queer gay Catholic man, who believes in all things liberal in the Church, from women priests (please soon) to gay marriage (a little bit later). I stop at abortion, however, a social phenomenon mentioned in the visions at Garabandal - to the shock and consternation of the then 14 year old visionary, Conchita Gonzalez. Since this was long before the time abortions became legal in many countries, the simple village girl could not comprehend the Heavenly Mother's description of the procedure. "How can a baby be killed in its mother's womb without also killing the mother,'asked the young visionary. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Still alive and kicking



Prague Noir on a Wintery Night

I'm still alive and kicking, as the saying goes. But I've been putting a lot of time into my new book review blog, Crime Scene Reviews. Check it out if crime novels are your cup of arsenic laced tea. And if you want to help out, please vote in the book poll on the site. Both books up for a vote are based on true life individuals who lived and survived at the heart of some harrowing periods of injustice. 











Sunday, November 2, 2014

GAY MYSTIC CONNECTICUT

Pequot Woods Park
And now for a bit of whimsy:

One of the results that pops up for Gay Mystic on Google is one called Gay Mystic Map Listings.

I-95 Rest Area
And here we can find all of the gay cruising areas in Mystic, Connecticut. I never knew there was such a place. Who knew?  To be honest, I've never indulged in this kind of naturistic activity, though I know friends who have.

??? Secrets in the Woods???


1. Pequot Woods Park

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MysticUnited States
1 Ratings
1676 Views
My photo, just for fun. Guy on the right doesn't look very comfortable. 
This little civic park offers great daytime cruising. Guys wait in or near the parking area or on the first trail to the left. Lots of secluded areas for activity.
Crowd: Good mix of ages.



2. I-95 Rest Area

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Between exits 89 and 90,
MysticUnited States
1967 Views

Between exits 89 and 90,
MysticUnited States
1967 Views
I-95 Rest AreaThis rest area attracts a good crowd of mixed ages after dark. Activity continues until wee hours, though probably best just after dark as police 
do make rounds late at night.
Crowd: Good mix of all ages. (How nice)




No Description for this one, but 1623 views!

3. I-95 Scenic Overlook

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MysticUnited States


1623 View
Mystic County Tourist Guide (What to do in Mystic)



Saturday, November 1, 2014

New Blog Site/Gay Mystic is Mysteriously Expropriated




Mystical Prague Noir

Been distracted for the past few weeks and neglected to post on the Czech films, as promised. Instead, I've been working on a new blogsite of mine that focuses exclusively on reviewing (and writing) crime fiction, with a special emphasis on gay mysteries and works for LGBT teens. So without further ado, here it is (and for those hackers and lurkers out there who appropriated the domain name of GayMystic, this new blogsite has been properly registered, along with similiar names, so no piggybacking will occur.)


My writing pen name is Richard Demma, in honor of my mother, who taught me at an early age to love reading passionately. Thanks mom, Mary Jane Demma. 

Given my naivete, I never bothered to register the domain name, Gay Mystic.com, so someone (we know who and where you are) has bought the rights to gaymystic, gaymystics and mysticgay, the three original titles of this blog. The coincidence is simply ...well, too much of a coincidence to be accidental. Someone wanted to limit the accessibility of this blog, so I may be shifting the url and name shortly. Google has politely transferred my url to Gaymystic.blogspot.cz, thereby indeed limiting its accessibility on internet search sites. 

Onwards we go and I'm having so much fun at the new blog site, reading reading reading and hopefully one day publishing my own LGBT teen novel.

Richard Jayden Demma




Sunday, October 19, 2014

Faith, Doubt and Sexual Abuse in Film and Fiction = Amended Reviews

This is an amendation and extension of my previous posting.

In this posting, I deal with three cinematic and fictional treatments of practicing Catholic priests whose faith is profoundly challenged by the revelations of the sex abuse scandal in the Church. I haven't forgotten the Synod on the Family, just finished in Rome. I continue to believe the vacillations over language dealing with LGBT persons was a moment of grace, one of those rare moments when we are given a glimmer of light and (hopefully) the grace to continue onwards in faith and trust in the Lord, who guides the Church in ways far beyond our comprehension. That doesn't take away from or diminish the scandalous fact that the abuse crisis was sidestepped by a Synod dealing with "The Family," and by implication the threats to its integrity in these days. What could be a greater threat than the abuse of its children? And all those men in the Synod hall - some of whom are criminal abusers because of their participation in the coverup and the rest - who may remain 'innocent,' in degree -are nonetheless tolerating, accepting and protecting the criminals in their midst.  This is the nature of the Catholic Church today as its institutional leaders quibble over English words like "Welcome." Yes, the Spirit is truly among us, but so are the criminals. They are us and we are them and that fact must not be forgotten. 

I just finished watching the very interesting, absorbing crime film, The Calling, with Susan Sarandon (the lead) and Donald Sutherland (in a supporting role). Ms. Sarandon is the local police investigator charged with tracking down a serial killer, who appears to be dispatching his victims for religious reasons. As it turns out, his victims are all terminally ill and are willingly surrendering to his 'final treatment,' much like Dr. Kevorkian.  But there is more to the story than just that, much more in this very contemplative examination of faith, death and dying. Donald Sutherland has a brief, but memorable cameo as a kindly, wise Catholic priest who helps Sarandon decipher a Latin clue in the case. As it turns out, however, Sutherland is at the heart of the case. In the past he ran an orphanage for young boys and tried to find them homes. In one particular case, two orphan brothers were sent to his care. He could only find a home for one of the brothers and the other he kept and raised at the orphanage until his maturity. Father Sutherland and his staff didn't ask too many questions of the prospective parents in those days. In other words, they didn't require a very extensive background check. The result of their lack of scrutiny in this particular case was that the boy was sexually abused for years by his adopted parents and eventually committed suicide. The surviving brother? Well, I'll leave that unclear, because I've already given too many spoilers. But it's a very interesting take on the abuse crisis, because I'm sure most viewers would expect Father Sutherland or one of his fellow priests to be the abusers. Not in this case. The film has other fish to fry and does so with an adroit combination of harrowing suspense and deep contemplative calm - which will put off most impatient blockbuster saturated viewers.

At one point, Sarandon asks 'Father' Sutherland "And do you really believe this stuff?" He replies wistfully after a thoughtful pause, with a slightly wearied smile, "I did....yes.....once. But times are different now.  Unwavering faith in the Church is ... difficult to sustain. Perhaps...um...I think quite possibly... with good reason." Sutherland's portrayal is nuanced, gentle, wise and sad and through his character's flickering faith we see glimmers of a deeper hope, if only for brief moments. Towards the end of the film, however, Sutherland recites the Lord's Prayer with the kind of heartfelt sincerity and profound faith that only a great actor can deliver. There is a depth of belief here, and love for the divine mystery, that is all the more mysterious for existing in such a dark night. He tells Sarandon, "Back then, people had a deeper faith." She replies, "Blind faith." He answers, "Profound faith." I should have known that Susan Sarandon would not take a part in an ordinary slasher film. Sutherland is only on the screen for a short ten minutes, but it is one of the most profound characterizations of priestly service and faith in recent cinema history. 



Sutherland's portrayal is matched, if not surpassed by Brendan Gleeson, in one of the outstanding films of the year, Cavalry.  Gleeson portrays a wearied but stalwart Catholic priest in a small Irish village. It is an outstanding  characterization of a Catholic priest of profound, unwavering faith in the Divine, but very little faith at all in the institutional Church he serves.  Gleeson encounters a myriad set of problems in his small village, including the despair of his own daughter whom he fathered as a married man before his wife's death and his entrance into the priesthood. Gleeson also must deal with the scandal of the sex abuse crisis right within his own parish, and the full horror of the Irish scandal hits home. For Gleeson is being stalked by a victim of priestly sexual abuse, who is seeking vengeance upon any priest chosen at random, since, he believes, most victims of priestly sexual abuse were chosen randomly by the abusers. His intent is to kill the priest.  Gleeson turns in a staggering performance  of a man of faith struggling through dark times when God is silent and the lights  in the Church seem to have been extinguished. Yet something remains out of the emptiness and the silence, something that gives Gleeson's character the inner strength to make the necessary and final sacrifice. He goes down to the beach to meet his 'accuser' head on. So good I saw it twice and will see it again. To date, the definitive cinematic treatment of the clerical sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church - in Ireland or anywhere else for that matter. 



And that in turn leads me to John Boyle's deeply affecting novel examining the Irish Catholic sex abuse scandal through the life of one Irish priest - A History of Loneliness. It is a beautiful, sad book written with exquisite simplicity, economy and grace. I was hoping it would treat the abuse scandal through the eyes of a man of faith similar to the above two examples of Donald Sutherland and Brendan Gleeson. However, Boyle takes an entirely different tack. His narrator, Father Odran,  is a shy, retiring, passive soul, with no real evidence of a genuinely living faith at all. The incidents of abuse Father Odran Yates encounters in his priestly ministry are seamlessly interwoven into all the other aspects of his life, and that is the book's great strength, because it makes the abuse incidents all that more shocking. We follow Odran's struggles to deal with his mother dying of cancer, his sister stricken with premature dementia, his seminary roommate accused of endless crimes of sexual molestation of young boys - while being moved from parish to parish. Most horrifying of all - in a scene that is actually not described, but only hinted at - Father Yates' own priestly vocation began after a moment of sexual abuse. After catching him in his bedroom lying on top of a local girl, Odran's mother invites the local parish priest to have a talk with the boy. The priest asks him, "Are you a dirty, dirty, boy, Odran, are you, are you?" with a lascivious prurient interest that is chilling. He asks him if he has been lying with those 'slutty girls, those slutty slutty girls." Have they been tempting him to abandon his boyish innocence. Then the priest places one hand on Odran's knee with the words, "It's just a bit of fun," and the scene fades out. We don't need to know what follows, but it is all the more horrible for not being described.

Next we see Odran walking downstairs and into his kitchen after the priest has left. His mother, who had recently lost her husband and Odran's father, when he committed suicide, taking his younger brother with him as both of them drown in the sea. greets him with glowing joy, She recounts the news, "Oh thank the Lord, Odran. Father has confirmed my deepest belief. You do have a vocation to the priesthood." Odran understands that his mother needs some 'supernatural sign,' to sustain her religious faith after the terrible suicide of her husband and murder of her youngest son.  And Odran simply accepts the judgement in a rather passive manner and goes off to the seminary, where he discovers the routine life suits him. He becomes ordained and lives a quiet life as a librarian in a boys boarding school, until the bishop one day transfers him to a parish, much to his dislike. There he encounters a young gay boy who comes out in front of his mother in the priests' parlor. He also has several run ins with parents who are outraged that he is found 'alone' with one of their children. HOw times have changed and the priest can no longer be trusted. Occasionally, Odran as the narrator returns to the scene of his early abuse, but only to reiterate that it is too horrible for him to either contemplate ir or describe it. And yet it formed part of the foundation of his vocation - a vocation, as his roommate points out to him at the end of the book - is no vocation at all, but only an escape. This incident of abuse occurs early in the book and the reader is haunted by it all throughout the remainder of the story.  Odran has never developed a mature religious faith in anything, he has simply accepted his life and it's routine passively without question, all the moral decisions having been made for him.

I found this novel, in its understated elegance, to be one of the most devastating indictments of the abuse scandal in the Church one could hope to read, and certainly the most outstanding treatment of the abuse scandal in the Irish Church. I have to say, though, I remained somewhat puzzled by Boyne's authorial choice to use a passive narrator, one who does not act decisively in his own life, but simply lets events and other persons decide for him. This leaves a certain emptiness at the core of the book which I don't think is very satisfying fictionally. Possibly the author is making some sort of statement about the immaturity of faith of a number of practicing Catholic priests. 

One interesting segment of the book, however, deals with Odran's years in Rome as a student, when he is assigned the very prestigious job of serving evening tea to none other than the Pope himself. At first it is Paul IV (just beatified today). And during his term of service, Odran becomes infatuated with a young waitress at a cafe near the Vatican and faces the first real crisis of his vocation. He visits her nearly everyday and there encounters the Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Albino Luciani. Boyne is at pains to depict Luciani as a genuinely saintly, friendly, wise and compassionate man, who befriends the young seminarian and advises him on his struggles. When Paul IV dies and Luciani is elected as Pope John Paul I, Odran continues his duties of serving the Pope his evening hot drink....until one fateful evening, having an emotional crisis of faith, Odran misses his duties - for the only time in his tenure. And it is that very night that Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I,  is poisoned, as many of us believe. I found this a very interesting aspect of Boyne's novel, that he subscribes to the 'theory' that Luciani was indeed murdered and makes this such a central event in his young protagonist's life. Father Luciani, John Paul I, is the only decent, genuinely spiritual Catholic figure in the entire book. What is Boyne's message there, I wonder? That the genuinely holy are murdered? Or that genuine holiness cannot long survive within the institution?  Luciani is the only light Boyne as author allows to shine within the Roman Catholic Church of his novel. Interesting. A strange and troubling book, as it indeed should be, given its subject matter. What makes it so impressive is that the incidents and stories of sexual abuse, as I noted above, are woven so seamlessly and naturally into the tapestry of a whole human life, the life of Odran Yates, a boy who never quite grew up into a man and who's path in life was set by a horrific moment of priestly sexual abuse. The finest fictional treatment of the sex abuse crisis I've read, sobering, disturbing and profoundly sad. Unlike the two previous film treatments, there is no profound faith to sustain the priest, Odran Yates, only the memories of the past and thoughts of a life that might have been. Devastating.

We've seen a fair number of films (and books) to date that deal with the abuse crisis from the point of view of the abused, but these three treatments above look at it from the point of view of practicing Catholic priests, whose faith is challenged by the magnitude of evil subsisting within the church. Very interesting treatments. Take a look at this list (as of 2013) of the most memorable films on the subject. I've seen them all. Silence in the House of God must be added to the list. 

More reviews tomorrow of the images of the Blessed Mother in the recent Czech films, Divided We Fall and Muj Pes Killer (My Dog Killer).





Thursday, October 16, 2014

Synecdotal Ruminations and Reviews


The Road Through the Wilderness

It's been a month since my last posting at this blog, and I've been busy immersing myself in Czech culture on a deeper level, especially its past religiosity and its present seemingly atheistic present. I've been plowing through some classic films of the Czech New Wave and some more recent ones that deal with our Nazi and Communist past in Bohemia and Moravia. In these later films, religious iconography feature in striking ways, especially icons of the Virgin and Child and the occasional technicolor print of the vibrant Sacred Heart of Jesus. These images are used to moving effect, evocative, suggestive and a little sad - suggesting as they do aspirations of hope that have never been fulfilled. 

The title of this posting, besides containing a sly wink at the Synod in Rome just over,  is meant to discourage any random internet searchers from 'wasting their time' on my own reflections, which are primarily designed to help clarify my own feelings and thoughts about things. My apologies for being so solipsistic. 

I did read some of the blog coverage of the 'Synod on the Family,' just held in Rome. Much ado was recently made about an interim report using positive and accepting language about LGBT people, including the fact they have much to offer the Church and respect should be paid to their partners and the benefits of a long term relationship. There was a broad range of reactions, from the cynical to the euphoric, with more modest, balanced, cautious views in the middle - such as, from William Lindsey at his blog Bilgrimage, reminding us that such tolerant language has been used before and was in fact the instigating factor for Cardinal Ratzinger's infamous letter on Homosexuality in the '80's, responding to what he deemed a 'too benign' attitude towards homosexuality. Skimming over these views, I found myself feeling interiorly that this 'event' at the Synod was a moment of grace, however partial and slight, and should be welcomed as such with some modest hope and always with the question, "Lord, what must we do?" What is being asked of us as Christians/Catholics in these difficult times as the Church faces a kind of disintegration.

I was struck by Jerry Slevin's remarks that the positive report's language on LGBT was "too little too late," and that a collapse of the leadership structure of the Church was imminent and no amount of window dressing or 'nicey nicey' talk could forestall it (my paraphrase). And I felt that Jerry is essentially right, yet my own intuition is that a 'collapse' is meant to happen in the providential order of things, though let us hope and pray it is not total, surely not. Yet failure in the light of the cross seems the only way to heal the sickness at the heart of the leadership of the church. Failure of a kind must come before the church can be reborn, so for me both the synod's positive comments on gays, however slight, and what seems to be an imminent collapse of some kind are both moments of grace to be welcomed with courageous faith and trust. However, I'm reminded of an amusing comment Dostoevsky puts into the mouth of his protagonist, Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment, "Well, if you're going to drag Providence into it, then there's no getting anywhere (in the discussion at hand)." Indeed, Providence and the Spirit can be used as words to justify almost anything. Yet should that prevent us from making these kind of discerning decisions and statements. 

I look with admiration upon all of those stalwart devoted Catholic activists, such as the great Sister Fonseca of Spain or Terry Weldon at Queering the Church, who manage to survive as active participating Catholics within the Church's structures and who feel called to fight the good fight, on behalf of women and gays. But then I think of all of those equally inspiring, prayerful, devoted Christians who have felt 'called in the Spirit' to walk out the door, as their own particular kind of witness. Surely "the Spirit" (there we go again with that word) is gathering all of these disparate movements and currents together and directing them towards some good end we cannot as yet foresee = those who remain to keep the fires burning, those who leave to forge new paths for Catholic/Christian witnesss. Somehow the 'impending collapse,' which I do feel is in some sense inevitable, will be met by all of these positive spiritual currents.

I'm reminded of my aunt Gini, mother of eleven children and grandmother of over 20, a leader in her parish of the Old Mission in Santa Barbara, and a Eucharistic minister for almost forty years. In 2002, she announced to her friends, family, fellow parishioners that she was entering a year of silence and prayer - and would have to drastically cut down on all of her social contacts. At the end of this year of prayer and contemplation, Gini announced (at a meeting of religious women in Santa Barbara in a speech that made it onto the pages of the National Catholic Reporter) that at the end of her year of prayer, she was 'led kicking and screaming out of the Catholic Church.' I'm sure many of her friends and fellow parishioners were deeply shocked and her family surprised. Gini had been such a stalwart support of the Church for so many years that this 'leaving' was a truly spectacular event. It remains the single, most powerful witness in my experience of  an outstanding, prayerful, discerning Catholic walking out the door because she felt 'called,' and not out of pique, anger or frustration or because "I just can't stand it anymore." She felt led in the Spirit to make this most painful sacrifice and to give up an aspect of her religious soul that felt like her own flesh and blood. She made the sacrifice in obedience to the same burning divine Love she had discovered through the Church, that burning Love that was now asking her to walk as a witness against the evils of the Church. She listed three reasons, 1) the Church does not protect Children, 2) the Church does not respect women, 3) the Church is attacking gay and lesbian people. Yet she wanted it made clear that these were not 'reasons' for her decisions, they were simply concrete supports for a decision that was essentially a response to an interior call. Many of us are being so called - to meet the face of the beloved Crucified Savior and the  future of the church on that wilderness road outside the formal structures of the Church itself. If there is a collapse of some sort coming, these are the people preparing the way for the future of the church, in new kinds of witnesses and new forms of community. So we must ask, not only "O Lord, what must we do?" but also, "What do these signs of the times mean?" that so many devout and prayerful Christians are leaving the formal fold of the RCC after prayerful discernment in response to a call. This is not at all the same thing as walking away in disgust or fatigue or despair, giving up and walking out. These people are walking away with both pain and joy in their hearts, doing peacefully what they know they are being asked to do. And that means something profoundly significant.

Part Two of these reflections:


I recently attended a concert at Old Town Square in Prague - at the beautiful baroque Church of the Czech Brethren,  St. Nicholas. The Czech Brethren were founded by a group of reformist Catholic priests in 1920, lead by the very learned and devout Father Karel Farsky. This group had been actively seeking reforms within the Czech Catholic Church for several decades and they petitioned Rome for permission for two simple things: to be able to celebrate the Eucharist in the vernacular language and to allow all 'laypersons' at the services to receive the Eucharistic elements under both species of bread and wine. Needless to say, the Vatican refused their request in the most vivirulenterms. In a way it was more the ruthless manner of the rejection than the simple fact of refusal which decided these priests, after prayer and discernment, that they were being called to break away. On January 19th, 1920, they celebrated the first public mass in Czech and the response from their fellow Catholics was overwhelming. I've always been so moved by this story, as an example of the many ways the Spirit moves and acts in so many surprising ways. A hundred years ago this story unfolded and here we are still dealing with an intransigent Vatican structure. It is time for it to go. I've always felt the holiness of the Czech Brethren Church every time I've visited it or attended services there, though personally I don't feel called to join them. However, they stand as a positive example (over an against the negative signs of disintegration - I guess that caveat is necessary), of the many ways the Spirit is messaging us that the old tribal boundaries are dissolving and are simply not so important anymore. One of the core elements of the Czech Brethren's Statement of Faith, is their belief in the integrity and holiness of ALL the Christian churches, who each give their own particular witness to the mystery of faith in Jesus the Christ.



In 1947, the Czech Brethren began ordaining women to the ministry. 1947! Think about it.



More thoughts to come: time for dinner. 



Saturday, September 13, 2014

Back from the "Dead"/Book Reviews

Just getting back on my feet after eight weeks of very intense interactions with Czech kids in summer camp in the mountains. The experience was so intense I felt cut off from my own spirit from time to time, but worth every minute.  What great kids.


I'm getting ready to review two books, John Boyne's magnificent fictional treatment of the sex abuse scandal in the Irish Church, The History of Loneliness. Here are the endorsements from three of Ireland's finest contemporary writers:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Loneliness-John-Boyne/dp/0857520946/ref=sr_1_sc_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1410608714&sr=1-2-spell&keywords=Jon+Boyne


"An urgently compelling story of power, corruption, lies and self-deceits, the damage that happens when we turn our eyes from wrong. Anyone who wants to know what happened in the Irish Catholic Church needs to read this brave, righteously angry and stunning book. Some of us have long wondered what it would be like if a master storyteller turned his powers to this theme. Now we know." (Joseph O'Connor)

"John Boyne has plunged into the dark and troubled history of the Catholic Church in our time and come up with a novel to treasure. Unflinching, moving and true" (John Banville)

"The complex architecture of this haunting novel is seamlessly constructed. The path to the priesthood that Odran Yates follows is both understandable and sympathetic. And Father Yates is a good man; he is innocent of the false accusations made against him (he's not a pedophile). But as this author accomplished, so masterfully, in The Absolutist, John Boyne has created a character who holds himself accountable -- in the case of Father Yates, for the sins of others. No writer today handles guilt with as much depth and sadness as John Boyne. As Father Yates takes himself to task for all he didn't do, no less than the sexual duplicity and cover-ups of the Catholic Church are indicted. This is John Boyne's most important novel, and of vital importance to Irish history; it is also a gripping story, one no reader can put down until its devastating ending." (John Irving)

The second book I've been asked to review by the publishers: Robert Blair Kaiser's Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis is Changing the Church and the World. Both RB Kaiser and myself spent sometime in the California Province of the Society of Jesus, so we share some of the same old friends and mentors.

As a brief preview of my reactions: Kaiser's book takes us up to January of 2014 when many of us were still in the full flush of Francis' honeymoon, without reality having a chance to intrude into our idealised conception of this pope (though Betty Clemont over at Open Tabernacle was as usual far ahead of the rest of us). So Kaiser's glowing optimism seems already terribly outdated.

More damning in an otherwise illuminating book on the endeavors of Jesuit ministries world wide - is Kaiser's chapter on former Jesuits who are still doing outstanding humanitarian and religious work in the world - whom he dubs 'still a Jesuit' Jesuits. Many outstanding former Jesuits are listed together with their inspiring ministries - with one glaring omission. Not a hint of the great gay theologian and former Jesuit, John McNeil. Not a whiff, not a suggestion. Once again, as with Elizabeth Johnson's Quest for the Living God,  we are presented with a sweeping survey of many significant movements  and individuals that does not include a single hint of LGBT people and their struggles, not to mention the outstanding activists and theologians working on their behalf. In a way, the failure to mention John McNeil in Kaiser's book is a greater lacunae than our absence in Johnson's book. It is as if we simply don't exist, not even a blimp on the radar screen, and certainly we are not invited to the conversation, as Bill Lindsey never tires of pointing out at Bilgrimage.  I suspect that these writers would both be quite surprised to have this omission pointed out to them: "Oh dear, I never thought of that," blinked the deer in the headlights. I don't think it's done with ill intent. I suspect it really doesn't occur to these thinkers that LGBT are of any importance in the theological conversation. LGBT who?

So anyway...after a glorious summer, it's back to reality and work and writing and dealing with the world. But life seems good, and the Holy and the Sacred are all around us leading us by the heart to new forms of spiritual community. I simply have no time for dealing with the manifold scandals of crumbling religious institutions which have outlived their time. My beloved students deserve more from life and from my own paltry efforts on their behalf. No time or energy to spend on fools in high places. The Crucified and Risen Lord calls to us on the byways of the world among the lost and marginalized, far from the purple carpeted hallways of religious elitism. I run to him where he is truly found and leave all else behind.