Saturday, April 25, 2015

Gay News of the Week

Gay News of the Week - some cheering and uplifting, some not so much.

First, a charming and inspiring incident from a Las Vegas high school:

Jacob Lescenski, a Las Vegas, Nevada high school student, is straight. His best friend, Anthony Martinez, is gay.
As you can see from the photo above and this tweet, Jacob asked his buddy Anthony to the prom, because, why not?

“He’s a real man,” Anthony said of Jacob in a post, “given that he has the guts to fulfill my gay student council dream of always helping out planning dances, and never getting asked. I couldn’t ask for a better person in my life.”
In a follow up piece, NewNowNext chatted with the two friends.
“I decided on going to prom alone because my original date idea didn’t work out so well,” explained Jacob. “Then one night I saw Anthony, who is my best friend, Tweeting about wanting a date. I then thought about how amazing of a guy he is and that he deserved a date. So, I came up with the poster idea, asked my friend Mia to make it and asked him that next day. No one knew about it except for me, my friend Jamie, and Mia (who made the poster). Therefore it was a giant surprise to everyone, especially Anthony!
“I just always wanted a date,” says Anthony, “but I knew being gay, and knowing I’m too busy for guys, no gay guy would ask me to a dance, let alone prom. So like any teen I complained about it on Twitter. On April 21 I was down at lunch selling prom tickets and I went upstairs to go to class and saw this giant poster and assumed it was for another person… until I read ‘You’re hella gay.'”

Read the whole story here at The New Civil Rights Movement. 

Next on the list, an event that is both negative and positive, but I prefer to 'accentuate the positive'.

The Pope finally met with the French government's candidate for ambassador to the Vatican, Laurent Stefanini,  and told him politely to his face that he was not acceptable because (horrors) he might get married to another man while serving in the Vatican. The Pope apparently expressed his disapproval of France's same sex marriage law and resented being forced to accept a gay man as ambassador. Why do I present this as a positive thing? Because the Franch government is not backing down. They are, in the words of one commentator, 'forcing the Pope to own his bias'. Awkward!

I have to say, however, I loved this comment from -

Bernard Kouchner, France’s former foreign minister, has been more outspoken.
“The Vatican seems badly placed to refuse homosexuals,” Kouchner told RTL Radio this week, adding, “but apart from that, I adore Pope Francis.”
Read the whole story here at Crux Now.

The last story is from my very own alma mater, Marin Catholic High School in Kentfield, California. The 5 nuns in the school walked out of their classrooms last Friday in protest against a day of silence designed to call attention to the plight of bullied gay teens. The nuns said a gay group 'with an agenda' was on campus handing out fliers calling for the teaching of 'gay issues' to grammar school children and this made the sisters uncomfortable.

It's a very disturbing story on the surface, because the sisters walked out of their classes leaving their students unattended and because students were hurt at such an action on a day designed to support gay teens and their friends. This  has occasioned a fair amount of outrage and criticism, yet it also has its silver lining for revealing that the Marin Catholic High School community is divided over the issue of gay rights, but not evenly so. The majority are on the side of LGBT people and simple fairness and justice, while the admin - sympathetic and seeking to accommodate diversity - strains to walk the narrow razors edge between official Catholic teaching and simple ethical decency. It's a hard walk to make without tripping.

I posted this comment at the  San Francisco Chronicle article

I'm an alumni of Marin Catholic, but despite having received a superb education here many years ago, at this point in history - sadly - I would not send any of my children to a Catholic institution. Undoubtedly there are sincere, good Catholic educators among the staff, but the challenge of having to toe the 'official' Catholic line on issues such as this only results in ethical compromise and tortuous casuistry. Needless to say, the position of most pew Catholics regarding LGBT people and their relationships and rights is fundamentally at odds with the hierarchy that sets the official position. "God forbid" we should be perceived as promoting in even the slightest way the 'homosexual agenda', even through a day of silence designed to call attention to the plight of bullied teens, a plight that would be so much less severe without the explicit agenda of a sinfully homophobic church. My first lesson in the painful requirement of standing up against injustice meted out by corrupt institutions, even the most revered, came from my civics and religion teacher at Marin Cathoic, Father Bernard Cummins.

Despite the bad press, even this kind of event presages changes in the future. The Church's official bias against gay people is being exposed for all the world to see and religious like the nuns are running for cover in panic. I pity the poor Catholic administrators trying to hold all of these tensions in balance, but it was clear from comments by the Principal and Vice Principal that neither of them felt the nuns' behavior was 'constructive'. Indeed.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Franciscan (Pope Francis): A Book Review

Partly because of my theological background, I was asked by the publishers to provide an honest review of The Franciscan, a religious suspense thriller by WR. Park. Written some fourteen years ago, the plot revolves around a fictional Pope Francis (from the Franciscan order) who attempts to introduce revolutionary reforms into the Catholic Church and who faces numerous death threats and assassination attempts as a result. Of course, the coincidence of naming his protagonist Pope Francis some ten years before the present Pope Francis' election is striking and noteworthy, especially since the present Pope, an amiable and charismatic man on the surface, raised many expectations of genuine reform at the beginning of his tenure. Sadly, those expectations have failed to be realized by now, as Francis has sought the support of billionaire oligarchs (particularly those circling round Jeb Bush for the upcoming US presidential race), continues to oppose any meaningful discussion of lifting the ban on birth control, continues to firmly oppose any discussion of women being admitted to priestly orders, continues to oppose any meaningful inclusion of gay people into the church or to prohibit the Church's attacks on civil liberties for LGBT persons, and most importantly continues to protect his bishops from any meaningful accountability for the sex abuse scandal, even to the extent of appointing a notorious priest/pedophile protector, Juan Barros, as Bishop of Osnoro Chile.  Any hopes of good Pope Francis introducing genuine reforms into the Catholic church have been pretty much shattered by now. But that is another story.

WR. Park's book was written with the best of intentions and a kind of boyish enthusiasm and naivete, and I respect his intentions and found many of his proposals for reforms and the effective means of carrying them out to be quite refreshing and original. Unfortunately, he has incorporated his ideas into the format of a suspense thriller and as a thriller it doesn't really succeed. We know right from the beginning pages who the villain is (a dastardly, evil conservative Cardinal), his motives and several of his assassination plots. The only suspense in the novel is whether the villain will succeed in his attempts to do the Pope in, and I'm afraid that's not really very suspenseful at all. I found the numerous sub plots revolving around this theme to be amateurish and unconvincing and quite tedious to read. This part of the plot rushes at breakneck speed in an attempt to mimic an action thriller, but it doesn't convince. However, what tickled me no end was the sight of prelates and cardinals engaged in feats of 'daring-do' and even engaging in fisticuffs with one another. Even the Pope storms into a room and slaps his opponent in the face and breaks his jaw! That got a guffaw out of me. It was a very refreshing, iconoclastic picture of Catholic prelates at variance with the controlled gravitas so many of them exhibit. But the suspense thriller? Not suspenseful at all, I'm sorry to say.

The best parts of the book, in my opinion, were the brief forays into past history, displaying many highly fallible (and quite monstrous) decisions made by these supposedly 'infallible' Popes. Park does a good job summarizing them, so that reading them provides the most effective wallop when dismantling the myth of papal infallibility. Also, his proposals for reform of the Church are intelligent and thoughtful and the means by which they might be carried out, especially the democratizing of the church's governing structures, are refreshingly original and breathtaking. This is indeed how it should be done, I thought,  if there were a Pope with the courage to undertake it. Some of the proposals were naive, particularly regarding the speed with which they were announced and carried out (the Pope simply announces from the balcony of St. Peter's that he is not infallible), but I found this aspect acceptable in a work of fiction, unlike the sorry lack of suspense in the thriller dimension of the novel. The proposals for democratizing the church's governing structures - really interesting, thoughtful, and provocative. Park shows a commendable balance between respect for the sacredness and need for the "Petrine office" and the pressing need to 'put the Pope in his place," because of the false idolization of the papacy. All well and good.Book Publicity Services WR PARK
In the end, however, this is still a man's novel with a bunch of men running around saving the world and the church, and a charismatic male hero at the helm, good Pope Francis. Park is highly selective in the reforms he wishes to focus upon, mainly papal infallibility, Vatican finances, church governance. Sexual issues are pretty much ignored, particularly the sex abuse scandal which gets nary a mention, birth control, LGBT people in the Church, and women's ordination and sharing in governance. There is one mention at the beginning that women should be accepted for priestly ordination, and then it is pretty much forgotten. Even worse,  there is no single outstanding woman leader/fictional character helping the pope and all of his male accomplices in saving the church. It's all men engaged in acts of spying, espionage, plotting, saving the world. The only significant female character in the whole book is a vicious female assassin towards the end. Ouch! I thought. Not a good way to go about fictionalizing the issue of reform of the Catholic Church - by mirroring the Church's  own male misogyny and distrust of women and gays.

Gays? One reference to 'homosexuals,' spoken by our evil cardinal when slandering Pope Francis behind his back by suggesting he and his co-friars engaged in disgusting, immoral 'homosexual orgies' when they were together in a remote Franciscan monastery. That's it? That's the only mention of the issue of gay people in the Church and the clergy? Of course, we all know that when gay people gather together, they turn into 'homosexuals' engaged in "disgusting orgies". What else are they to do?

Coupled with this are a number of references to the robust heterosexual lustiness of a number of the hero cardinals and prelates assisting the pope, including one triumphant bello  from a sexy femme fatale about an aging Cardinal. " He's straight," she announces with evident glee after succeeding in arousing him. Gee, really? How weird. I let the first one slide and the second, but after the third reference to an elderly prelate getting turned on by a sexy female, I thought - Hmmm, seems to be a bit of defensiveness here about the image of male clericals. 'We need to counteract the gay image that has so tarnished the church,' the author seems to be saying.  Not a good way to deal with the issue of gay people in the clergy, whom reliable estimates put at 20 to 25%. The systematic attack by the church on the civil rights of gay people in civil society is one of the most egregious practices now underway in the Catholic Church, completely at variance with the gospel message of Jesus the Nazarene,  and any book dealing with reform must face it head on and honestly. This is a defensive reaction on the part of a profoundly homophobic church. "Please don't think we're gay, see how much we hate gay people." This Park does not do, quite the contrary. Coupled with the absence of any significant, empowered female character, and the inclusion of a vicious female assassin, one can only conclude that the author himself has some serious 'issues' of his own to deal with regarding women and gays. Best to clear those up before engaging in a work of fiction.

In the end, I was rather disappointed with the book, after starting with high expectations. I appreciated the author's sincere suggestions about reforms, as far as they went, I chuckled at the image of elderly cardinals running about engaging in feats of daring do, I thought some of his suggestions about practical means of effecting reforms to be breathtakingly original. But the tone of misogyny regarding women and gays was quite disturbing. However, I would have been willing to overlook these faults (somewhat) if the darn suspense thriller part of the book, had been, well....suspenseful. Unfortunately, I wasn't gripped by the story nor particularly worried for the characters. Suspense and tension seemed to be missing, and that is a serious flaw in a 'suspense thriller.' Park is proposing this book as part of a three part series. Let us hope that in subsequent volumes, he conceals the villain's identity until the very end. And please - throw in some truly empowered women leaders and a decent gay character or two.

★ ★ ★ for good intentions

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Fifth Gospel - a Vatican thriller

Book review of The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell

This was an intelligent, erudite thriller that held me in suspense for the first 80% of the book. However, I was quite disappointed with the left turn it took towards the end and the final denouement. I will try to avoid major spoilers in this short review - at least until the final paragraphs.

As a religious thriller, I thought it was professionally done and succeeded in engaging my sympathies with the characters, especially the narrator, a Greek Catholic priest and his six year old son. Because both are threatened by the turn of events, the narrative was really quite moving and genuinely suspenseful. And using a Greek Catholic priest who is able to marry as the central narrator also offered a window into reform of the moribund Catholic system, without having to belabor the point. A very clever move, because the overall tone of the book is reverential (too much so) towards the hierarchical male system of both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. There is also reverential awe displayed towards the 'saintly' John Paul II and respect for his closest theological advisor (and future pope) Cardinal Ratzinger. So any Catholics of a conservative bent would be reassured, while more progressive readers would be appeased by the use of a married priest. Very interesting interplay.

The interplay between the Catholic and Orthodox worlds was also fascinating for anyone interested in arcane religious lore. Beyond this, however, the early parts of the book formed a superb crash course in biblical exegesis and the 'critical-historical method' of reading the gospels. I went through all of this during five years of theological graduate studies. This short summary was really brilliantly done, engaging, interesting, and to the point as far as the plot was concerned.

More importantly, the author shows himself conversant with the latest scientific discoveries regarding the controversial relic, The Shroud of Turin. It is true that a seminal article was published in 2004 in the world's leading peer reviewed scientific journal. Thermochimica Acta by chemist Ray Rogers of Los Alamos Laboratories that seriously called into question the 1985 carbon dating of the shroud. As of this point in history, no respected scientist accepts the 1985 carbon dating as reliable. So the author of the Fifth Gospel knows his stuff and this makes for a compelling and exciting read.

My problem with the book (spoiler alert) comes towards the end in the uses the author makes of his biblical exegesis to 'prove a point' about the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. Having led us in one direction about the Shroud's authenticity, he then makes an abrupt turn in the opposite direction - without having sufficiently come to terms with or explained the implications of the discrediting of the carbon dating. He uses a simplistic 'critical historical' approach to John's gospel to prove his point, namely that the discrepancies between John's gospel and the other three 'synoptic' gospels rests with John's penchant for symbolization over factual accuracy. He implies that details found in john's gospel about the final passion of Jesus which are not found in the synoptics must therefore be imaginative inventions added for symbolic theological reasons - namely the wound in the side and the discovery of burial 'cloths' in the tomb rather than a single cloth. Unfortunately, this is an extreme oversimplification that robs his conclusion of any reliability.

Now he is writing a work of fiction, not a scientific treatise, so he is free to arrange, edit, invent and imagine as he pleases for fictional purposes - but within certain limits. He mentions, for example, that John's gospel says herbs and spices were used in preparing Jesus' body for burial, but evidence of such spices were not found during the scientific examination of the shroud. Therefore - wala - we see how John invents and adds. By implication, therefore, because John alone of the four gospels mentions the wound in Jesus' side, the Shroud of Turin, which includes a side wound, must be inauthentic or a 'fake,' based solely on John's imaginative invention. However, he fails to inform his readers that there is spectacular forensic evidence on the shroud that supports John's gospel and completely contradicts his own thesis. (I leave it to the interested reader to research what this might be, but forensic scientists have confirmed that the evidence is not apparent to the naked eye, but only detectable under microscopic examination under ultraviolet light. Therefore, in no way could it have been 'faked' by a medieval forger.). There is also equally spectacular forensic evidence coming from another source about the possibility of multiple cloths in the tomb (The Sindona in Spain, bloodstains of which form a perfect match when superimposed on the Shroud of Turin). Taken together, these two pieces of 'evidence' support the alternative theory that the author of the Gospel of John had access to a stream of authentic tradition, including eyewitness reports of the final hours of Jesus, which was not accessible to the synoptic gospel authors. Too complex a subject to go into detail here.

Does this matter in a work of fiction? Well, I think it does when the early treatment/instruction about the historical/critical method of reading the gospels has been so responsibly and seriously done. This raises expectations of trust in the reader - that the author, while fictionalizing the investigations surrounding the shroud, is also being responsible in his treatment of the subject and will not lead the reader astray. Not leading the reader astray does not mean espousing one position or another about the shroud's authenticity. It means warning the reader IF one is carefully selecting and editing/ excluding evidence to suit a fictional point of view. He includes what supports his thesis, he excludes what does not. Anyone familiar with the present state of Shroud research will feel quite deflated by this subterfuge. The ending feels dishonest to me, partly because I can't quite figure out his fictional purposes, and partly because it doesn't square with current research. There is even a bit of a snide, condescending comment aimed at viewers of the shroud exhibition (in the novel) thinking, "Ah yes, we always knew (the Shroud was authentic), when in fact they have all been fooled. But he hasn't presented a plausible argument, fictional or otherwise, as to how they have been fooled. If you want to suggest a bit of iconoclasm, that we shouldn't take such sacred relics so seriously, but focus instead on the substance of the gospels and you fictionalize that approach by questioning the Shroud's authenticity, well and good. But the author's approach seems so 'scientific' when in fact it is highly selective and, to this reader at least, more than a little dishonest. I felt quite let down at the end. What was the point of all that effort? 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Boston Marathon Bombing Verdict/Revised

In a state of mourning today over the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty verdict in the Boston Marathon Bombing trial - though the verdict was certainly expected and no surprise. I've followed this case meticulously in exact detail from the first day (the only way to make sense of it). Living as I am in the Czech Republic, the site of one of the most notorious, infamous Soviet show trials of the 50's (the Rudolf Slansky Trial), it is disheartening in the extreme to witness something so similar in one's own country. During the Slansky trial, the teenage son of one of the defendants wrote an open letter to the government calling for the execution of his father for his heinous 'crimes against the state'. After the Slansky trial victims were cleared of all charges in 1963 and exonerated and rehabilitated in 1968, the young man committed suicide. Will such a moment ever come for us and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?
73% of Americans polled are calling for his execution, 24% for life imprisonment without possibility of parole, 2% for neither, and 1% "don't know". I am firmly with the 2%. At this point in American history, it is a good place to be. If you question the verdict in any way or suggest the possibility of a 'set-up' or black ops conspiracy, you are immediately branded a 'truther' and 'conspiracy theorist'. But I will not belabor the point here. 
The prosecution has just released the full set of evidence exhibited on line. 
Not a single backpack has been admitted into evidence. Those of us who have followed the case closely over these past three years know why. Those who are interested can do their own research. 

For those who wish a more objective, alternative news source for the Boston Bombings, the one of the best sights on line is here: WhoWhatWhy.Org. Cautious, responsible, muted, but critical. 

Tom Fontaine also has a website devoted to the case, packed with vital information. I might have wished he had showed more restraint in its design and colors, because the lurid appearance only sensationalizes the issue and plays into the hands of "Conspiracy Theory Debunkers."

However, the most extensive database of critical articles from investigative journalists is here at The Boston Marathon Bombings: What Happened? Five minutes on this site should convince an objective reader that these are sober, responsible, critical people, not crazies, tin hat conspiracy theorists, frothers or trolls. There is so much psychological denial in American culture which makes it so difficult for alternative positions to get a hearing. 

Here is an example: From their most recent opinion piece on the verdict:

Opinion Tsarnaev:  The Fallacy of Justice in a Death Penalty Trial

by O.L.Coach  April 10, 2015

For all intents and purposes, the trial on the evidence is over. The next phase will be focused on saving the life of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But before anyone moves to suggest Judy Clark and the Defense team should be hung in effigy for "losing" this case, I recommend we step back and take a moment to give some consideration to why they might have taken the path they are on.  Granted, this is fraught with peril, as I am seeing through a glass darkly, but let us at least consider other explanations that move beyond what we are reading in the media.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Gay Passion of Christ Envisioned and Attacked

Kittredge Cherry, author of the wonderful Jesus in Love Blog, has just recently published an article at Huffington Post about her remarkable book, The Passion of Christ, A Gay Vision, with paintings done by the extraordinary artist, Doug Blanchard. There is no more fitting source for inspiration during this Holy Week than the images and texts of this truly unique work, re-envisioning Jesus as a gay man, persecuted and despised. 

The article itself has received over 4,000 likes (correction, it's now gone up to nearly 8,000 likes in less than 24 hours), which is gratifying. Unfortunately, the 1800 comments to the article are filled with such un Christian vitriol, bigotry and hate that it is probably harmful to the soul to read too many of them. However, Kittredge is asking for support from any friends of her work. So if you have a free moment, please drop by Huffington Post and add a supportive comment of your own. 

For those readers not familiar with the book, here is it's website:

Kittredge Cherry's Facebook Page - with her latest commentary below:

Jesus acted up when he saw something wrong. Nothing made him angrier than religious hypocrisy. He turned over the tables where unholy profits were made. Churches can raise big money by claiming that some other group is an unholy threat: lepers, immigrants, queers. They call LGBT love an abomination, but such fundraising tactics are the real abomination! 

A modern-day Christ figure disrupts business and distracts church-goers on Day 2 of Holy Week reflections on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” at the Jesus in Love Blog.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Secret Scandalous World of Gay Jesuits

I just came across this superb expose of the secret world of gay Jesuits - written by former gay Jesuit, Ben Brenkert, who at the age of 35 left both the Jesuits and the Roman Catholic Church in protest against it's treatment of LGBTQ people. This is really powerful stuff and resonates so much with my own experience in the 80's, when I was doing theological studies at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. I was quite shocked at the time by the number of young gay Jesuits going over to San Francisco's Castro District on the weekends to 'pick up tricks'. There were also numerous affairs among the seminarians themselves and distinguished faculty members living openly with their partners with the full knowledge of their superiors. One of my closest gay Jesuit friends, a few months short of ordination, accepted a dinner invitation from his Provincial (of the California Province) to discuss his doubts about his vocation. The invite was at the Provincial's private apartment with spacious views of San Francisco Bay. After dinner, the provincial attempted to seduce my friend, which was a decisive moment of awakening for him. He left the order shortly thereafter. At the same time, I also put all aspirations for the Roman Catholic priesthood behind me and walked away. I just could not see myself living a double life of duplicity and deceit, just as  much as I knew I was not called to celibacy. Priesthood - in some fashion - yes, to that I had felt called all my life, but celibacy and a closeted existence - as the church demanded of all gay persons - this I felt was immoral. And so I walked and never looked back. The peace and joy of this refusal have been with me ever since.

What is most moving about Brenkert's expose is his heartfelt call to his fellow gay Jesuits to 'come out,' and to stop enjoying the comforts of a privileged existence in exchange for their silence and passive support for injustice. He also has some rather trenchant comments about the 'Francis defect', in contrast to the much touted 'Francis effect'. 

Read the full article and accompanying comments here at the Daily Beast.  Warning: Some of the comments below the article are profoundly ignorant and hate filled, just as some are warmly supportive. 

At every new stage of formation, I met more and more gay Jesuits who were happier sipping scotch, ordering cigars, opera tickets, and shoes, publishing books or holding secret masses with LGBTQ sympathizers (that followed unsanctioned liturgical rubrics) than publicly confronting the injustice experienced by members of their community. Their silence pained me. Why won’t these gay priests just come out?

I believe these gay Jesuits won’t come out because they live comfortable lives, with access to so many things, like the latest technology or villas abroad or tenured positions at universities, not to mention the unlimited gas cards that make domestic travel really easy.

Confessions of a Gay Jesuit: How I Was Forced To Leave My Church—And Calling
Ben Brenkert wanted to be a priest, but confronted by the hypocrisy and prejudice of the Catholic Church he had to quit. Here, in a powerful, heartfelt essay, he explains why.

Today, at 35, I am a gay seminarian who still needs human touch. For me the best place is the Episcopal Church. Some day I will be a priest, hopefully married with children. That’s what I’m looking for, love; it falls under the rubric of modern love. I am a modern gay Christian in search of love, one who still wants to become a priest.
From 2004 to 2014 I was a Jesuit, a member of the Society of Jesus in good standing, an order gone global by the election of Pope Francis I. I left the Jesuits because I left the Roman Catholic Church. I would not be an openly gay priest in a Church that fires LGBTQ employees and volunteers. I left in protest: How could I be an openly gay priest who fires LGBTQ employees and volunteers?
Here’s my story; it is an experiment with truth telling, as much as it is about justice for LGBTQ Christians and non-Christians, men, women and children who have been deeply affected by the millennia of anti-gay theology and hate speech espoused by the Roman Catholic Church. The effects of this violence linger today.
My story takes on closeted gay priests, Jesuits or not, and tells them to come out. My story ends by radically calling upon Pope Francis I and his brother Jesuits, indeed anyone who has fired an LGBTQ employee or volunteer, to reinstate them today.
Since I was a teenager, 15 years old, I longed to be a priest as seriously as others dream of a vocation or a career: to become a doctor, a teacher, a writer. Just because I was gay, I felt it was no reason for me not to pursue my dream.
I grew up in Valley Stream, a suburban village on Long Island, the son of an FDNY fire inspector and a mom that worked for Nassau Downs Off Track Betting. More than anything else we were a Roman Catholic family who ordered our lives around the life of the Church, as much as we did big Italian meals and Broadway shows.
Mine was a decent childhood, but at home I could never fully be myself, the Church’s teaching on homosexuality burdened any genuine relationship between my parents and me and my four siblings and me. This is still true today. 
In 2002, at 22, after seven years of happily discerning a call to become a Roman Catholic priest, I almost threw in the towel. I’d had enough dinner meetings with bishops and priests from the Diocese of Long Island and the Society of Mary (the Marists) to know that I could not be an openly gay man in their course of study. No one ever spoke to me about the subject of sex or sexuality: This drew enough red flags for me.
“I’ll never ever go back into the closet. I’ll never again be a scapegoat for anyone’s war with culture, not nature.”

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Near Death and the Afterlife in Crime Novels

I recently posted a review at my other blogsite of a delightful crime novel entitled, First Grave on the Right, by author Darynda Jones. This book was the first in a series that numbers eight novels by now and still counting.

The central character is a young woman detective with psychic abilities named Charley, who can 'see dead people'. These are usually wandering souls who have recently suffered some grisly end and come to Charley to appeal to her to find and catch their killers - whom they usually know. It's quite a witty, entertaining plot device, but Ms. Jones has imbued this gimmick with a certain subliminal spiritual world view - which is why I liked the book and chose to review it. Imagine the convenience when the victims of a murder can tell you 'who dun it.' 

The review can be read here at Crime Scene Reviews/

Jones calls upon many of the insights gleaned from Near Death Experiences over the years, including a loving light that draws souls into its embrace. Her post-deathly friends, who come to her with various problems, are first attracted to Charley's own light, which is a reflection of the more Infinite Light that awaits them when their final tasks on this earthly plane have been completed. And it is Charley who helps them make the transition to the infinite beyond, to let go and surrender to the Light. It's a lovely spiritual world view and it's presented gently, unobtrusively and with a good deal of humor and romance thrown into the bargain. One can take this spiritual perspective or leave it, the author leaves you free. Wisely, she has made it non-sectarian. There are no angles or Sacred Hearts in sight - or iconography from any other known religion. But the sense of an unconditional love pervading the universe - breathing its presence just behind the terrible events of a violent and unjust world - gives a unique perspective to this crime novel. It is a vision of hope beyond suffering and despair, and though lightly done, it makes these crime novels a unique contribution to the genre. Suffering is not the end. Beyond all contradictions, there is the Light, lovingly calling us into its embrace. 

Don't judge these books by their lurid covers. They are more than empty 'chic-lit' romances. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

PRIDE DVD Straightwashed for US market

Two postings ago, I offered my brief review and recommendation of Pride, as the best gay film of the year. In fact, it won the British Independent Film award a month ago for best overall British film of the year.

I wasn't aware at the time of posting that the DVD cover of the film for US markets had removed all references to 'gay' and 'gay activists' from both the cover and the write up blurb. Yet again another sign of just how backward parts of US culture remain. There were, of course, a number of attempted rationalizations - to the effect that if the gay references were left in, the film would be back shelved and out of reach. By cleansing the product, it makes it more accessible, ete etc. Here's the director trying to put a positive spin on it (He was clearly taken by surprise)

"Pride" is a film which plays incredibly well to a global mainstream audience of any political or sexual persuasion. It’s a film about two groups of people forming an unlikely alliance and fighting each others’ corners rather than just their own. It is probably one of the most political films ever to hit the mainstream and it is certainly one of the most loved films of the year (even by people who hate politics). I don’t consider it a "gay film" or a "straight film." I’m not interested in those labels. It is an honest film about compassion, tolerance, and courage.
Marketing "Pride" has proved an interesting challenge from day one, and there are many people in the mainstream who have yet to see the film. My guess is some of those people are imagining that the film is maybe "too political" for them, and some others are imagining it could possibly be "too gay." As it happens, these concerns completely evaporate in the presence of the movie itself, but they are important when attempting to manage potential audience perceptions through marketing. Since the day I first read the script I have felt passionately that this film, of all films, deserves to find a fully diverse audience from all walks of life. Indeed its very meaning and message is diminished the more "niche" it becomes. I look forward to living in a world where these kinds of marketing negotiations are neither valid nor necessary -- but we're not there yet. In a sense, that's why I made the film.
For these reasons I don’t automatically condemn any attempt to prevent the movie being misunderstood as an exclusively “gay film." I certainly don’t regard such attempts as homophobic.

Quite a difference, I must say, and a shameful one.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A World of Shadows: CITIZEN FOUR, Edward Snowden, and Charlie Hebdo

(These reflections were taken from previous posting, which was a little too long with too many themes.)

The world is not in a good state at the moment at this beginning of 2015, and I certainly don't wish to be a prophet of doom. I trust as always in the deeply hidden mystery of Divine Providence, ever there, ever watching, always guiding, always supporting - in the shadows, in the silences, in our doubts and fears - the loving face of the Divine leading us through darkness into the glorious light. 

I just watched Citizen Four, the extraordinary, chilling documentary about Edward Snowden by Loira Poitras.This one is also not to be missed. Scary and horrifying to see it all layed out there, the full extent of the surveillance machine aimed against us. The film helped me immeasurably to come to terms with the enigma of Edward Snowden, and as I feel about good Pope Francis, I continue to believe in Snowden's integrity and courage, despite some very alarming red flags! There are suspicions in some quarters that he was a CIA plant from the get go, dishing out carefully controlled and selected revelations as a way of protecting the truly damaging secrets. A disinformation agent engaging in 'controlled dissent.' Hard to believe, however, than any one human being would make such a sacrifice, forced to hide away in a foreign country, cut off from family and friends with little hope of returning home. Why has this radical point of view gained any credibility? Because of the strange linkage of journalist Glen Greenwald and documentary filmmaker, Laura Poitras with billionare owner of Ebay (and Pay Pal), Pierre Omidyar. This was all the more disturbing when it was revealed that Omidyar has close ties with the NSA, the very institution that Snowden was supposedly exposing. Furthermore, Omidyar was funding some of the same Ukrainian NGO's the US was funding in its (successful) attempt to overthrow  the pro Russian Ukrainian government. This has led to suspicions that he was funding on behalf of the US government and not simply acting independently.  Suspicious indeed. Now this billionaire business man with close ties to US intelligence, surveillance and government essentially owns the 'secrets of Edward Snowden'. Not a propitious ending to this story at all and it leaves a very sour taste in the mouth. The subsequent posturings and rationalizations of Greenwald have not helped the case either. The documentary, however,  takes us right into that famous Hong Kong hotel room two years ago when Greenwald and Poitras first met Snowden, recording history in the making. I felt the film revealed a genuine, honest, thoughtful idealist, who seemed truly pressured and in fear for his own safety.  This was not an acting performance we were treated to, the man seemed really under threat - no matter how the affair has ended up - and it is certainly not ended yet. But the mystery and enigma is shrouded in shadows. Who is the real Edward Snowden, living in exile in Moscow - with no uncertain future ahead of him, 'the most wanted man in the world'? Let the reader decide. 

Here's a worthwhile article asking the right questions:

Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks.

Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg,Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.

Here is FBI whistleblower, Sibel Edmonds, website, BOILING FROGS:, which contains the most searching critique of the Edward Snowden affair available online. Since Sibel is a noteworthy whistle blower herself, her criticism has considerable merit and deserves to be taken seriously. I just can't go quite as far as she does in dismissing Snowden as as a fake from the get go. Sorry, Sibel, he seems like the real thing to me (but then what do I know), but he handed over all controls and documents to Greenwald and Poitras. Are they the 'villains' in this story? 

In the interests of fairness, here is Laura Poitras explaining her own motivations and the many grave risks she took in making the documentary. It is stirring stuff.

My own intuitions are with Edward Snowden as a genuine hero for the age. 

I see I've babbled on enough in this posting about too many disparate subjects, but for any readers interesting in exploring the background investigations going on about the horrendous Paris shootings, here is the website of former secretary of the Treasury under President Ronald Reagan, Paul Craig Roberts (Paul Craig Roberts:Institute for Public Policy), who is now a fierce critic of US foreign policy. He frequently publishes updates from his French contacts on the Charlie Hebdo affair - and the number of alarming red flags surrounding it and the glaring holes in the official story. I kept my distance from all of the mass hysteria, the marching in the streets, the arms joined by some of the worst offenders of free speech in the political world. It just seemed too suspicious to me. However, I was moved by the solidarity of the 'masses' in the streets of Paris, joining hands across religious and ideological lines. Was this, indeed,  a false flag event, as many are suggesting? Circumstantial evidence seems to point as much in this direction, and to various security agencies (unnamed),  as it does towards the two (conveniently) assassinated radical Islamic brothers. Were they set up as patsies beforehand, with a trail of incriminating actions they might have been led into by double agents? Fodder for a great spy novel. I would say it's about 50/50 at the moment, but it does all have a very fishy smell. However,  this is food for a future posting. 

Not a very happy or uplifting way to end a new year posting, but then it has been a shocking beginning to 2015. So here is a great photo of our favorite, gay friendly Super Model, River Viiperi! Looking very sexy and sassy in white! 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Gay Culture and Films for the New Year

This stunning painting of gay love surviving in the shadows of a hostile world is by the wonderful artist, Doug Blanchard, who is responsible for the extraordinary gay stations of the Cross, The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision, with text by Kittredge Cherry! Check out her Jesus in Love site, devoted to LGBT spirituality. 

This painting captures so many dimensions which words cannot adequately express - the dingy hotel room with the cracked grey walls, the shattered window pane, the broken coffee cups. It looks very much like a refuge, a place of hiding and escape. The two men's bodies glow with a life giving warmth, but the look of yearning and sorrow on the young man's face is both passionate and mournful. Together at last, yet for how long, for only this brief moment? When will the shadows disperse and when can we be open and free.

On a similar note, I recently went through what are probably the three most noteworthy gay films of the past year, in order of my preferences:

The wonderfully heartwarming, Pride, nominated for a Golden Globe for best picture and for several Bafta's, including Best British Film of the Year, which I hope it wins - though the award will probably go to one of the biops The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything. The film tells the story of "U.K. gay activists working to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984." A deeply moving study of how tenacity and passion can eventually overcome the barriers of homophobia, the ending brings tears to the eyes. The largest contingent of marchers in the fledgling London's Gay Pride Parade of 1984 - was composed of seven tour buses of Welsh miners come to support their friends.  Their numbers were so great, they were put at the head of the parade, banners and all! In those long ago days, there were few communities more homophobic than the Welsh miners and their wives. The motley group of young gay activists, passionate and idealistic, broke through all barriers `and won the miners' hearts and respect, but not before suffering much misunderstanding, ridicule and rejection.  Deeply moving and powerfully political, and as one reviewer noted - and I paraphrase - "with no disrespect intended, this would make a great musical." The best gay film of the year in my humble opinion! Not to be missed. 

My second favorite film of the year was the tender, poignant and very timely love story, Love in Strange, the story of a gay teacher (Alfred Molina) who loses his position as choir director at a Catholic high school when he marries his partner (John Lithgow) of many years. This couldn't be more relevant, as numerous gay employees of Catholic institutions are fired right and left for marrying their partners or coming out as married in any public way.  We the viewers suffer with heartache as the couple in the film deals with the devastating consequences of the Church's intransigence - the loss of their security, their own apartment, health insurance = all the consequences of a deeply homophobic church, unable to face its own dark shadow or practice the virtues it preaches. Devastating. Molina and Lithgow deliver such tender, true performances, with all the wrinkles of such a relationship on display, warts and all. Yet what remains is the haunting image of their lasting love throughout it all -  including bouts of infidelity. Some gay reviewers at IMDB objected to the ending, the long lingering look at Lithgow's young teen nephew, riding his bike alongside his new girlfriend, a bittersweet, sad smile on his face as he thinks with affectionate nostalgia of the uncle he recently lost and whom he deeply misses. In the previous scene, we had seen him sobbing on the stairway, overcome with grief.  "See, he's not gay, thank god," was the cynical response of quite a few of these (younger) gay reviewers, incensed that this seemed to be a film for straight people, reassuring them that the younger boy would not turn out gay (whew! sigh of relief). I'm not sure what to make of that. A bit of truth to it, I suppose, a final note of reassurance for straight viewers that 'even' a gay uncle can have a loving, positive influence of a young male gay teen. "Thank god he was not a pedophile," seems to be the subliminal message some of these viewers read into the film. Yet I found the ending quite positive and affirming. After all, life goes on and what are the statistical chances of the young man being gay? Had he been gay, I would have found the story a bit contrived. Instead, we are presented with a picture of an average straight boy starting out in life, discovering love for himself - after his loving gay uncle gave him the necessary push in the right direction. The gay uncle understands the power of love and what the young man needs to do to find it. In the end sexual orientation matters not a wit. What matters is love and the power of affectionate commitment and loyalty to the end. A beautiful film, not to be missed. 

Alan Turning being arrested on charges of indecency.

The last film, The Imitation Game, chronicles the true life story of Cambridge mathematician, Alan Turning who successfully cracked the German Enigma spy code, helping to shorten the war by at least several years and saving several million lives in the process. He was of course, 'tortured' for his homosexuality when it was discovered in the 1950's (a tryst in a toilet with an undercover policeman). He was forced to undergo chemical therapy to inhibit his gay libidinous tendencies. He committed suicide a year after the treatment began. He was posthumously pardoned by the Queen on December 24th, 2013, a little over a year ago. It is a sad and shameful tale of an extraordinary  man, a hero by any accounts, who made an inestimable contribution to his community, but who was persecuted for his sexual orientation which he had to keep secret for most of his life. The film takes quite a close look at this dimension of his character, including his loving relationship with one of his female colleagues on the Enigma team (the lovely Kiera Knightley) who wants to marry him, sexual orientation be damned. "We can be companions,' she tells him. Benedict Cumberbatch is nominated for both an Oscar and a Bafta for his performance. Another unmissable film. 

Other news:

I Have been watching 'poor' Pope Francis stumble his way through the contraception, birth control debacle, trying to find his way out without compromising the reputation of his office and authority in general in the church - on the one hand, wanting to ensure more Catholic babies, on the other assuring us we don't need "to breed like rabbits." Poor man, trapped by his own preconceptions, priorities, intellectual and theological formation and the heavy pressures of his inflated office. I continue to like him as a sincere, spiritual man, and unlike the cynics, I do not think he is simply lying or playing a propaganda game. Yet it is difficult not to become cynical when - in the words of Jerry Slevin - we see the Pope kissing babies on the one hand, and hobnobbing with billionaire right wing extremists (heavy donors to the church) on the other He seems really and truly trapped by too many restrictions coming from too many directions, not least of which is the pressure from his fellow cardinals seeking to shore up their own authority and escape prosecution for crimes against children. The message I get from this - apart from the obvious one, that we need to stop relying upon authority figures to solve our problems for us or reform anything - is that even a good and spiritual man with the best intentions in the world can be compromised and even corrupted by this system of authority in the Church. It's too easy now to paint him as a hypocritical villain, slyly playing a double game, talking nicey nicey while dealing deviously behind the scenes, shoring up the financial pillars of the institution, protecting the criminals, propping up its tottering public image and authority by trying every which way to continue the contraception ban. I can't quite accept this scenario, though I might simply be naive myself. There seems to be  an authentic decency in the man, genuine and true, and therein lies the paradox. Decency is simply not enough these days! This is a much more subtle, complex picture of a human being than the simple caricature being parroted about here and there. One wonders if John Paul I, Albino Luciani, wouldn't have been somewhat the same.  Caring, decent, saintly - and yet also a man of the church who would have moved very slowly. But given his history of comments about birth control, one also suspects that on this one issue he would have been ahead of his successor + 2.

From The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision by Doub Blanchard (artist) and Kittredge Cherry (author).