Jan 14, 2019

'Boy Erased' Star Lucas Hedges Comes Out as 'Not Totally Straight'

This story is about four months old, so I'm a little late coming to it. But I feel it is quite significant. I've borrowed the title straight from Out MagazineA young up-and-coming American actor, Lucas Hedges, star of the 'gay conversion therapy' film, Boy Erased, with Nicole Kidman, came 'out of the closet', according to reports, by admitting that he was not totally 100% straight.   He explained that during his high school years, he was primarily sexually attracted to his own  male friends. Not till his early twenties, did he discover that he really preferred women. He further clarified that he was neither gay nor bisexual, but some where in between bisexual and straight. 

A health teacher in his high school had explained to his class that human sexuality exists on a continuum, with human beings spread out along the continuum, not simply placed in one of three boxes, gay, straight,, and bisexual. In other words, there are infinite variations in human sexuality, with groups of people clustered around the main poles of 'gay, straight and bi' with subtle differences in degree between one person and another. Well, this has been common knowledge among psychologists for years, so it's surprising it has taken so long for this common insight to reach the mainstream.

Lucas explained that since he had taken on the role of a young gay boy subjected to gay coversion by his fundamentalist Christian parents, it was important for him as an actor and a public figure to be as honest as possible about his human sexuality. I can't help thinking this is a reference to last year's 'gay hit', Call
Me By Your Name, in which the two 'straight' actors of the film, Arnie Hammer and the remarkable young actor, Timothee Chalament were continually asked about their own sexuality and whether working together on the film revealed anything to them about their own sexual natures. Given the nature of the film and it's cultural importance for gay people, I felt the quesiton was entirely fair. Yet, both actors -with immense charm - deflected the question every time. This highlights my point above. Culturally, we are still at that point where it is extremely difficult for public figures to admit they might have some small degree of bisexuality in their natures. Its either one or the other, gay or straight - with the bisexuality category sitting there designed to include everyone else. Lucas seems to be referencing the behavior of these two actors last year. He is acknowledging that there is a certain responsibility an actor should take on when assuming a role of this nature. Honesty and openness. 

Needless to say, the story of Lucas's admission caused a lot of comment, and I'm not sure why, except to say there are still a lot of cultural controls in place about what we may and may not say, and may and may not think in our culture about human sexuality. . I was a high school teacher for over thirty years, and for five of those years (in the 1990's), I was part of a sex education team and we also taught our students about the continuum of human sexuality. So there is really nothing novel about young Lucas' revelation. What is novel is that it is a public comment, because even now, in 2019, some people are shocked by the suggestion that straight males can have within them some element of same-sex attraction that doesn't
change their predominantly heterosexual nature. And now here we are - finally - with a young Hollywood movie star (nominated for two academy awards already in his young career) bringing the subject up and out into the open. What young Lucas has done here is out himself as a perfectly average, healthy young heterosexual male. The significance of this for young adolescents, especially gay teens, can't be exaggerated. A young 'straight' celebrity has admitted to having some element of gayness in his nature - thereby normalizing gay inclinations as powerfully as any gay celebrity 'coming  out'. 

Judging by the petty gay-bitchy comments under the article in Out Magazine, there are still people within the gay community who don't get the point. This is a  victory for us, and Lesbian American talk show host, Ellen Degeneres, was quick to recognize this fact and invite young Lucas onto her show. Fortunately, the comments under the YouTube video were much more enlightened than those in Out Magazine. We should all be grateful for Lucas' candor and honesty. 

Feb 21, 2018

Mystical Czech artist, Marie Brozova

About Life, Universe and All…

The luminous Czech artist, Marie Brozova, creator of the wonderful 'Forest Shaman' painting featured on my blog, lives with her husband and seven cats deep in a Czech forest - without electricity or running water. No computers, no cell phones, no TV. Only the silence and the sounds of nature and the spirits. 

  • What did you want to be, when you were a child?I wanted to become an astronomer. Even before I went to school, I was able to find the main constellations in the sky, I knew the names of the biggest stars and I memorized the names of all the satellites of planets in the Solar system. I read in ecstasy, difficult books on astronomy – not that I undestood much, but I intoxicated myself with the exotic terminology. I had long debates with my grandpa about the infinity of the universe and the big bang. But at last I had to go to school and enormous disappointments awaited me – I discovered that I couldn’t think in numbers. Years later, I even failed math in high school. But astronomy has been my passionate hobby. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than spending the night on the roof with a telescope, watching the starlit sky – looking into the windows of the universe.
  • What influence did your childhood have on your work?The influence was deep and profound. I was raised in love and acceptance. No idea was impossible to carry out and, what is more, my family helped me whatever it might be. My childhood gave me absolute confidenc, that whatever I did was right. Without this confidence, it’s almost impossible to perform art in public.
    My childhood was full of imagination. I had many friends among various ghosts and pixies and, naturally, I felt very a close connection to nature. I saw a smal fairy behind every flower, a faun in every tree that I could talk to. My Mum helped me to discover the world and she taught me to perceive it sensitively and in colors. She managed not only to read fairy-tales from books to me, but she was able to make up a fairy-story about anything interesting I had seen, and she illustrated these stories very skilfully. The drawings we made together comprise my most beauiful childhood memories.
  • Are you human, or an elf?I get this question surprisingly often. People tell me, that I look like an Irish fairy. I admit that, even as a child, I often felt more like an unconcerned onlooker than like a participant among all the swarming and vanity-fair. Since early childhood, I easily plunged into the world of my imagination and completely lost all connection with reality – especially at school. Even now I feel much more comfortable among trees, flowers and stones than among people.
  • What is your zodiac sign?I was born on the the exact moment of the new moon, which means Sun and Moon in conjunction, in the sign of Taurus. That gives a true drawing of my character. I love to discover the beauty of the world with all my senses. I am creative, determined, a stubborn plodder and nothing can discourage me.
  • What do you do when you are not working on your drawings?I´m strollin in woods and across meadows, meeting my friends among trees and stones. I listen to the water in brooks. I fly a kites in strong wind, look into the flames in the camp-fire, cross snow fields, pass across the horizon. Every spring, before the fields and weeds grow, I wake up with my husband early in the morning and we set out on a journey before the sunrise. We follow the sun all day and we always find many beautiful hidden places. And, when it is ugly outside, I like to read books.
  • What books do you like?I prefer strong stories bringing wisdom, told in rich literary language. I love Russian classics, Turgenev, Gogol, Pasternak. And my favorite books? Doctor Zhivago by Pasternak, A Hunter´s Sketches by Turgenev, Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka by Gogol, but also East of Eden by John Steinbeck. In poetry I feel close to old Chinese Poetry, especially the painter-poet Wang Wei and the hermit Han Shan. But there are many other books. Recently I really enjoyed Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smila’s Sense For Snow, or Angela’s Ashes by Francis McCourt.
  • And what music do you listen to?I prefer silence most of all. I never listen to music as a background, it must have some meaning or message. I prefer classical music (Borodin, Tschaikovski), but I also admire exceptional creative personalities, who never repeat themselves, like Paul Simon, Sting, Suzanne Vega. Among Czech musicians, Jaromir Nohavica, Jiri Pavlica, Iva Bittova, Jan Burian.
  • For a number of years you lived with your husband, more or less like hermits in the forest. What has this experience brought to your life?First of all, it gave me the time to find myself. These days people hurry too much, the results of any activity are required too soon. Young people are forced to conform to these requirements before they have the chance to decid, what they would really like to do in their lives. I believe that the most important thing is to learn is to listen to the compass of your heart and then dream a lot about the best journey in your life. Only when you dream something in detail, can you make a dream come true. Following this path, all your activities are full of joy, no matter if the results come as soon as other people expect.
  • Ecology: What does it meant to you?Ecology and enviromentalism are frequently misused terms, because anything can be hidden in it, from militant fanaticism to advertising propaganda. For me, ecology means to live in harmony with nature, not waste, not polute – learn to enjoy a modest life style. When you are overeating and sated with information, you get sleepy and feel no need to create anything.
  • Do you still live without TV?We do and for ten years haven´t missed it. The thread that connects me with the world of my imagination is very thin and fragile. I don´t want to break it by deliberately consuming negative and destructive information about things I have no chance to alter. Awareness, being informed, is one of the great illusions worshipped by modern society.
  • You look optimistic, are you worried sometimes?I am often worried about the arrogant attitudes towards nature taken by so many people. They destroy something which is more valuable and more important than their fleeting lives. I look with a certain amount of desperation at how beautiful countryside is ruined forever by tasteless suburban sprawl.
  • Do you have any role-models in art?I don´t have any leader I would like to follow, but I admire the omnipotent creative talent of architect, ecologist and painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser; the honest love for wood of sculptor Martin Patricny, or drawingsque illustrations of Roberto Innocenti. My heart breaks at the sight of Egon Schiele’s drawings. And I remember from my childhood, ilustrations and animated films by Jiri Trnka. His films The Old Czech Legends and The Midsummer Night were the most wonderful artistic experience when I was small.
  • What conditions do you need for creating your art?Silence, space and peace. And if possible the scenery of my childhood memories – the surroundings of Velke Popovice – where I feel the close connection of earth under my feet and the sky above my head, likean open window to the universe.
  • What is the most important thing for you?Staying sane in the middle of the madness of our times.
  • Are you as patient in other aspects of your life as in your art?Not at all. I am an outrageousdisaster as a housekeeper. It makes me very angry when I cannot handle something, as easily as I do with my coloured pencils. In general I can make things up in my mind better than bring them into reality. But fortunately, my husband is very clever and practical.
  • What is your husband´s attitude towards your artistic profession?He enjoys telling stories about how it is when I wake up in the morning with the idea of a new drawing in my head. He describes vividly how he must feed me and look after me, so I don´t forget to drink. Actually, he prevents me from total exhaustion caused by creative zeal. I am very glad that he helps me with the whole project and supports my creative work in all respects.
  • Do you think that imagination is natural to all the children?Yes, but it must be cultivated from the very beginning. If parents regard imagination as something foolish or tiresome, it withers away and dies very soon. The gift of imagination has become very rare in this world. I often meet mothers who complain about their inability to imagine fairy stories for their children, when they are asked. They are very sad about it.
  • What do you believe in?I am not a religious person. I view all kinds of religions as a symbol of human desire to overcome the fact of death. I can´t see any reasons why one religion should be better than the others. If I believe in anything, then it is the power of a nature that doesn´t need mankind, nor its notions about good and evil.
  • If you met a fairy goldfish who would promise to make your three wishes true, what would they be?
    1. I wish that my beloved land was not destroyed by expanding Prague.
    2. I wish that all people could do what they really wanted to do, because in that case the world would be much more hospitable place for living.
    3. I wish me and my husband could stay sound in body and mind.
  • Do you think that people lack imagination these days?People are bombarded by an avalanche of unwanted information everyday. No wonder that the inner space of a human being is often overloaded and filled with debris. There is no empty room inside inviting the imagination or inspiration. This problem does not afflict only adult overworked people. I am very often visited by children alarmed by their own inability to dream or invent things. Sometimes they are not even able to read a book because they cannot imagine anything beyond the words. The world they are growing up is too perfect, their toys are perfect, and they do not have to dream anything up, to improve anything. They can also have whatever they wish, but stil,l they often feel some longing, they crave for something that was left denied to them. This void seems to be the miraculous gift of imagination that can change even the most ordinary life into an exciting original story.
  • Why do you think the kitsch is so commercially successful?If people could find more harmony and beauty in modern art, they would not have to seek salvation in kitsch. Modern art is beyond grasp of ordinary people, qualities like harmony and beauty are viewed by art experts as something embarrassing and undesirable. Most people think that they do not understand modern art, and I am not surprised, when the art pretends to be a science. Our age is concentrated on technical and scientific progress. In spite of all that I think that viewing art is the matter of human soul, far from logic and reason. When somebody claims to be an art expert understanding everything modern, I cannot help feeling that he is a snob.

Feb 14, 2018


Here is the website of the wonderful meeting group for gay Christians in the Czech republic, Logos. And below is their position statement. Check them out. 

Logos – Gay Christians 
in the Czech Republic

We are an ecumenical fellowship of gay and lesbian Christians and their friends, in which we share our faith in all its diverse manifestations, and try to support participation of our people in their home churches.

Our stance on homosexuality

We are not trying to “cure” sexual and emotional orientation of gays and lesbians. We believe that God accepts us as we are. In the spirit of the gospel of Christ we are trying to bridge the chasm that separates gay and lesbian people from God, and re-establish their severed relationship with Christian churches and religious communities.

We have no ideology

We do not have any binding ideology, nor do we blindly succumb to external ideological influences. In our fellowship, some believe in the legitimacy of homosexual partnership, while others are not convinced about it, and still others sincerely pray in their helplessness to find answers. Our fellowship remains open to all these groups. 

Jan 18, 2018

Call Me By Your Name: Film of the Year

An exquisite love story that defies explanation and refuses to judge or label its characters. Why did they fall in love, why were these two men able to cross the gender lines and love another member of the same sex. The film doesn't answer that question and even challenges us not to ask it. Simply to accept the beautify and power of love where ever and how so ever it manifests itself between human beings. Love is a mystery and all the rest is silence. 

Dec 29, 2016

Christmas at Litmanova

The Marian Shrine of Litmanova, Slovakia.
Christmas 2017

A forest chapel at the Slovakian Marian shrine of Litmanova.

Stunning painting of the Sacred Heart inside the forest chapel.

Nov 5, 2016

Conclave by Robert Harris

Capsule Review:

I've just finished reading Robert Harris' very stylish, sophisticated thriller, Conclave, the story of the struggle to elect the next pope in the post-Francis era. The time period is 2018. I have to say I was quite impressed on many levels. The author exhibits a superb understanding of internal Church politics, no simple matter,  and the difficulty of juggling so many conflicting factions in the RMC. He actually succeeds in making this strange, secret world comprehensible. I've read quite a few of this author's previous works and didn't expect this level of expertise and insight. Nor did I expect such spiritual insight, though given the maturity of his work in such novels as The Ghost Writer, perhaps I shouldn't have been completely surprised. Is Harris himself a Catholic, albeit a postmodern one?

All the major issues are handled adroitly through carefully drawn characters (change versus tradition, gays, women, divorced, the preferential option for the poor), from the brilliant, liberal 'periti' Cardinal Berlini to the fiercely homophobic African Cardinal, Adeyemi,  who believes that all 'homosexuals should be in jail on this earth and rot in hell for eternity.' Adeyemi is a major player in the politicking for the papacy, but he has a dark secret to hide. So do several other leading contenders for the papal throne and therein lies the suspense in this very balanced and mature thriller. There is none of the silliness and sensationalism of a Dan Brown here (think Angels and Demons -  which also deals with a papal conclave). The story is balanced, complex, and gripping and makes an arcane, peculiar, highly secretive world humanly comprehensible. Because looked at from the outside, the college of Cardinals - processing into the Vatican's Sistine Chapel to engage in a centuries old ritual of election - is bizarre in the extreme to any ordinary post-modern Christian.

Herein lies the benefit of Ron Howard's quite dazzling film adaptation of Angels & Demons - the sight of these elderly scarlet gentlemen processing in is beyond the weird. First of all because they are all male (and seem to think there is nothing peculiar about this), secondly those costumes, and thirdly all that color enveloping these tottering aged gentlemen. What is this all about a secularist observer wonders, and how could anyone take it seriously. And in what way could it possibly be relevant to the modern world. Harris has succeeded in humanizing the whole affair from an enlightened point of view, and that is much appreciated by this reader here. He makes us understand - particularly the dilemma - and the anguish - of open minded, mature clerics who love the Church and are struggling against such insurmountable odds to move it forward.

The first half of the book is taken up with a detailed description of the mechanics of any conclave and may prove daunting - if not boring - to any non-Catholic. However, Harris uses this mechanism to develop character, especially the character of the major players. Chief among them is the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Lomeli, who is a genuine man of prayer, and a person of unshakeable rectitude and conscience. This characterization is what stunned me. Robert Harris has succeeded in imaginatively expressing Lomeli's interior states of prayer, the darkness and the light, the surges of peace and interior conviction, followed by moments of doubt when "God" seems to be absent. The ebb and flow of the interior life. This is a poor depiction on my part of a very subtle and profound piece of characterization, and it led me to the question: is this Harris' own experience, is he also a man of genuine interior experience, knowledgeable  in the ways of the spiritual life (whether Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or-) . Or - as I suspect - did he have help in writing this book from prayerful, spiritual consultants, because some very high up individuals offered their input.

This spiritual dimension is what sets this book off from every other thriller I have ever read about Vatican scandals, corruption and intrigue. Finally, an author with genuine insight into the life of the spirit, without which all of this ceremony and ritual make no sense.  True, the prayerful individuals in this story seem to be in the minority - but they are there and they drive the narrative, and that is what makes all the difference.

Once past the half way mark, the thriller takes off with a number of interconnected plots and scandals, and the book becomes gripping and intense. . The ending is a slam-bang surprise that finally reveals the author's theological hand - exactly where he is situated on the left-liberal spectrum. Some readers have expressed their disbelief at the surprise shock of the ending, but it seemed plausible enough for me. This is partly because I have lived in Asia for some thirty years (no spoiler here) and am familiar with the ethnicity of the character who figures in the surprise ending. Keep that in mind, any readers who decide to take this on.

A class act all the way, the most mature Vatican thriller I have ever read, intriguing, informative and - a rarity - genuinely inspiring.

Cross-posted at my crime novel book review blog: CRIME SCENE REVIEWS.

Oct 28, 2016

New Look for Gay Mystic

(Cathedral of Maria del Mar)

I Just downloaded this new template for Gay Mystic = from New Blogger Themes, and I haven't had time to adjust the menus yet....which I hope to do tonight.

I intend to get back to blogging in a serious fashion at this blog, particularly book reviews of pertinent gay literature I've read recently.

Peace Joy

p.s. the background photo is one I took myself of Park Guell in Barcelona = a very gay city if ever there was one - and a staunchly Catholic one as well, at least in terms of a visible presence. The great basilica of Maria del Mar is one of my favorites churches in the world, Church of the poor - fishermen in particular.

(ooops since writing this, I changed the background image to a sunset over the sea. )

Ildefonso Falcones wrote his bestseller, Cathedral of the Sea, about the history and construction of this great church.

May 15, 2016

Pentecost in Prague

Attended Pentecost services today at the beautiful Catholic Church of St. Thomas in Mala Strana (something I rarely do). Surprised to see that the papal nuncio, Bishop Giuseppe Leanza was presiding - over a confirmation ceremony of 4 young teens, two boys and two girls, and one adult male. Bishop Leanza has just recently been elevated to the red hat, Cardinal Leanza now.
Why was this of interest? Well, the holy, much loved and open minded pastor of St. Thomas, Fr. William, was presiding with the Bishop over the ceremony. So??? Father William is accustomed to ending all Sunday masses with this warm announcement: "All Catholics are welcomed here in the family of St. Thomas, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation". And occasionally he will add, "All are welcomed to the banquet table of the Lord, no one is judging you here at St. Thomas".
Wow. For those not familiar with the arcane, murky and very dark world of Roman Catholicism at this point in history, these announcements could not be more contrary to directives from the Holy See. And if any irate conservative Catholics were to complain, to whom would they voice their ire? To the Papal Nuncio - a very warm, unassuming and amiable man whom I met at the coffee klatch in the sanctuary afterwards, together with Father William. Both men seemed on very good terms.
How long has Father William been getting away with this "outrageous" behavior without being silenced (behavior that should seem perfectly normal in a healthy religious community)? For the past eight years I've been in Prague at least. A truly good and admirable priest, Father William recently suffered a stroke and now walks with a cane.
Signs of Grace and the workings of the Spirit on this feast of Pentecost. In dark times, even small rays of light are like water in the desert. (Something of interest for William D. Lindsey).
Of course, there's more here than meets the eye. Bishop (now Cardinal) Leanza was the apostolic nuncio in Ireland at the time of the publication of the damning Cloyne Report, examining the child abuse crisis in within the Catholic Church - which prompted a searing indictment from Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who had spoken harsh words at the Vatican, holding that "the rape and torture of children were found to be understated and managed with the aim of protecting the Church". Shortly thereafter, in 2011, Bishop Leanza was recalled to Rome for 'consultations', and shortly after that he was reassigned to the Czech Republic. 

(Photo header is of Father William giving marriage instructions. Photo below. Father William and Cardinal Leanza.)

May 9, 2016

RISEN: Film Review

Yet again - I've been neglecting this blog, despite my best intentions. I had hoped to comment on the Easter visit to Catholic Slovakia and the Marian shrine of Litmanova. A deeply moving event for me - going from secular, cynical Czechia (Czech Republic's new nickname) to staunchly, vibrantly Catholic Slovakia (with its dark history of collusion with the Nazi's in the deportation of Slovakia's Jews), but that will have to wait for a later time.

Then Francis the Papa of the Roman Christian Communion released his 'exhortation' on the family, with it's warm accommodating language of primacy of conscience - for everyone except Gay folks.  I followed that closely for a while, mainly at William Lindsey's wonderful blog, Bilgrimage. Where would we be without Bill's brilliant, incisive coverage of these events = and his staggering number of links for us to follow, aided by his own summations. Francis' exhortation was a blessing (in disguise?) in that the exact sentiments of this pope towards LGBT people have finally been laid bare - with no room for ambiguity, no more guessing. The only harsh language in this document - reserved for us. No room for us in this Innkeeper's hostel, and no mercy either. But there is a light shining in the stable amongst the simple creatures of the earth where we can find refuge in the night. It is up to us to gravitate towards that light. For some gay Catholics, light still shines within chosen alcoves within the institutional structure, but for most of us post LGBT Catholics, the light only shines outside the door. I have long left active participation in Catholic affairs, though the mystical connection remains strong and I continue to feel an interior calling to reflect and witness to the faith.

What prompted me to return to this blog today was my viewing of the recently released biblical film Risen - the first time the resurrection story of Jeshua and his post mortem appearances has been treated in a mainstream film, at least to my knowledge.

The film was surprisingly revelatory and new, in my opinion,  despite a very rocky beginning. It's technique (CGI and soldiers with jerky overly masculinized body movements and bulging, unrealistic muscles) mirrored that of such cheap macho war epics as 300 Spartans. In other words, a technique geared to the psychological level of 13 year old boys - and other older immature males. I was actually bitterly disappointed with the opening scenes, but managed to stick with the film - and was very glad I did. By the end, I thought, well, why not imitate cheap macho historical war epics if you want to draw in a bigger audience and maintain their interest in what is a very esoteric and subtle story.

What I found so new and surprising = and for which I'm very grateful:

For the first time, a film has succeeded in conveying graphically and viscerally the horror of the whole practice of crucifixion. I was shocked by the fact that Jerusalemites had to accustomed themselves to viewing dying criminals hanging from these instruments of torture every day and in plain view. It was a part of everyday life - particularly when traveling the roads into and out of the city. Death and torture and psychological warfare techniques of the most harrowing kind - visible always. Imagine walking outside your door every morning on the way to school or work and seeing bleeding agonized bodies hanging against the skyline. This was the reality of Roman occupation, the horror of the times into which Jesus was born. Secondly, the open pits - which biblical scholars have told us was the common practice for disposing of the bodies of the crucified. Again, right out in the open, mases of putrefying corpses in full view of the general public. The horror, the horror. This was the chaotic world into which Jeshua was born. As the film makes clear, Jesus was just one of many, and in the days after his own crucifixion, other criminals were suspended from these racks of torture on the skyline of the city - in full view of the population going about their business. An atmosphere of violence, cruelty and blood for all to see.

Secondly (in no particular order), finally an Aramaic looking Jesus ( played with wonderful simplicity and a total lack of pretension by Maori New Zealand actor Cliff Curtis). And a number of the disciples also succeeded in looking reasonably Middle Eastern and Jewish.

A rock solid performance from British actor, Joseph Fiennes ( brother of the more famous Ralph Fiennes) as the Roman Centurion/official Clavius, who's stolid world-weariness and disbelief cracks with the full force of the event he witnessed. When Fiennes doubts, this man of hardened practicality and cynicism,  he carries us all with him. Through his eyes we see the impact of the Resurrection upon a decent man at heart who never thought himself religious. And when he puts down his sword and embraces the ethic of the Christians (no more killing on this day) we put down our swords with him - precisely because even when doing so, Fiennes has not yet 'become' a Christian.  Through the attitude of Pilot (played by another distinguished British actor, Peter Firth), we see the hardened cynic's attitude. "He's alive again? Well then, I'll kill him again."

A note for the young, Tom Felton of Harry Potter fame plays the young Roman soldier Flavius in a strong supporting role.

The genuine confusion of the disciples - not simply immediately after the crucifixion itself, but also after the 'resurrection appearances', themselves - however these are to be understood. They were in a state of stupefaction and joy - and confusion. Astounded by the events and not knowing quite what to make of them and what to do next. Simply following the signs given them each day. The film does a superb job conveying the painstaking process of spiritual discernment the disciples underwent. For the first time, far beyond the sentimental piety of the 1950-60's biblical epics, we really experience the confused state of the early Christians - and the bleak, harrowing backdrop of their conversion experience - in a land under brutal occupation. For the first time in a film, I caught the mystery and the fear and the confusion and the joy of this infinitely small band of men and women called to witness to all nations. Such a tiny, fragile beginning - founded on such an inexplicable event with no clear explanations as to what and how and why. Only an overwhelming sense of spiritual profundity and peace. So weak and obscure and fragile a beginning. The film really conveyed to me the terrible threat these very insignificant people were under, the terrible risks, the fear, set over against their newly found courage and inexplicalbe joy.

The Resurrection Appearances themselves - the film opts for a realistic portrayal, as if Jesus were actually among the disciples eating fish, drinking wine - though most biblical scholars think these are creative fictional metaphors for an essentially ethereal spiritual encounter of great power. The most that can be said with confidence is that the early Christians themselves believed something very strange had happened to the body. And the manifestations of the Risen Lord - whatever the manner of these appearances - it was not the corporal body of their crucified Master. According to the stories, every time he 'appears' they at first do not recognize him. Again, something very strange and mysterious about the body.

Finally, through the words of one of the Roman guards, the film offers quite a 'plausible' account of the Resurrection event itself -at least as witnessed by someone outside the tomb. It is very moving and - quite possibly - near to the 'truth,' though I don't think we are supposed to have anything like certitude in this matter. And finally again, through one camera shot of Roman Centurian Joseph Fiennes holding the burial cloths, we see a reverent acknowledgement of  the Shroud of Turin - pointing so eloquently to the depths of this great mystery that is the Resurrection.

Though I feel the 3 out of 5 star rating the film is receiving is fair - I also feel it should be highly recommended to thoughtful Christians. Look beyond the ' macho shit' of the early scenes and you will be uplifted and inspired. I was deeply moved.

May 1, 2016

Daniel Berrigan dead at 94

A day for prayers, a day for mourning and remembering, and a day for rejoicing that for a time - so brief - we were graced with the presence of such a gifted prophet. Not without his human flaws, but then aren't we all, yet how few of us have his courage. The great Daniel Berrigan - who helped to awaken and forge the consciences of so many of my generation  -has passed over the River of Life into the Great Beyond.

Tributes are already pouring in from far and wide - from the New York Times to Huffington Post - to conservative/progressive Catholic blog sites to social justice sites.

Here is Common Dreams initial report. 

I need time to absorb the impact of this news, an event as moving for us old Catholics as the death of Thomas Merton, who was also a great friend of Berrigan's - but I'm reminded of one of his books I found most moving - his dialogue with Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn,

The Raft is Not the Shore. 

Apr 30, 2016

Two LGBT activists marytred in Bangladesh

Photo taken from Jesus in Love Blog

A very sad story just posted at Kittredge Cherry's Jesus in Love Blog:

Two outstanding gay activists, seen above, were hacked to death for"being pioneers of practicing and promoting homosexuality in Bangladesh" on April 25 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. That was just five days ago!

Read the full account at Jesus in Love Blog. I'm familiar with both men, having seen their photos before - but I can't remember where, unless it was also in a previous posting at Jesus in Love. Not sure.

Yet another sad story of LGBT oppression in the name of 'religion,' and another two saints added to the Communion of Saints interceding for us struggling gay folks here on Planet Earth. Saints Xulhaz and Tanay pray for us. 

Apr 8, 2016

Quote of the Day re: Pope Francis' 'exhortation' on the family, released today.

Couldn't have said it better. 

Very mixed feelings about the Pope's latest pronouncement this morning. 

It is so very little. There is no real doctrinal change anywhere in Roman Catholic dogma about family life. What has changed is the tone, and it is worth noting that even that tiny little crumb met with fierce opposition from much of the Roman hierarchy. It is very little, but it is something, an incremental shift away from the rigid legalism that dominated Roman Catholic teaching on family life for decades, at least since Paul VI. The current Pope seems less willing to force the complicated mess of individual relationships into an iron template of dogmatic idea.

The Pope's perceived shift on homosexual relations would have more credibility with me if the Roman Catholic Church dropped their opposition to all civil rights legislation for LGBTQs and stopped their resistance to local and international efforts to decriminalize same sexuality. Rome would have more credibility with me if they publicly opposed the violence and persecution directed at gays and lesbians in Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Muslim world. To do so would cost them nothing. They would not have to change any of their doctrines on marriage or family. The Roman Church might even gain a little of the credibility that it lost after decades of crime and scandal, that it might once again look like a moral authority and less like an international pedophile protection ring.

Douglas Blanchard - artist of The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision

Douglas' depiction of the encounter at Emmaus - or an alternative vision of Christian family.

Mar 26, 2016

Mar 23, 2016

Easter blessings in Litmanova

Tomorrow I leave for the little mountain village of Litmanova in Slovakia on the Polish border, site of the 1990-95 Marian apparitions to two village girls. A very peaceful, quiet place without tourists or fanfare - or souvenir stands or Italian style bistro's. In fact, there isn't a single restaurant in the entire village, though there are several small pensions and one small village store.

I've always loved this minor, little known apparition because the Blessed Lady in white came down from her heavenly cloud, walked across the small storeroom where she had appeared to the two shocked young girls of 12 and sat down on a little wooden bench and spoke with them. The bench is still there, covered in plastic, and pilgrims can kiss it. The utter simplicity of the place is so beautiful, and the peace is lasting and profound. There is even a sacred spring with crystal clear water. I've been here a number of times and became friends with the local Greek Orthodox priest who administers the site, a kindly, good man without complications or pretensions. I even contributed the English translation to the official site, which interested readers can access here: Litmanova-Zvir and here at The Byzantine Forum.  No fanaticism here at Litmanova, only simple faith in 'the Lady,' and pious devotion of the old school. Remarkable and inspiring.

In preparation for this triduum of Easter at Litmanova, I started reading Matthew Fox's most recent book, Letters to Pope Francis. It is a book imbued with hope and the promise of a new dawn, as Fox was responding - as we all were - to Pope Francis's warmly human, humble and accessible side in those early days of the springtime of his papacy. The book is well worth reading for its deep, prophetic insights into the possibility of a new Christianity and it offers healing for any of Fox's readers who also read his searing indictment of the Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI years, the powerful, brilliant, indispensable, The Pope's War. 

Sadly, we have all learned since the early days of Francis' tenure as Pope that hope does not reside in the figure of a Pope or in the institution itself. Matthew Fox's dissillusion with Pope Francis, which is profound,  has been most eloquently expressed in his articles on the canonization of Junipero Serra, which can be accessed here at his blog: Matthew Fox. 

It is sad that a reforming pope who has actively sought the perspectives of the faithful would be so blind to the history of indigenous peoples on two continents, and deaf to the protests of indigenous and non-indigenous Christians alike.  And it is sad that, as many nations and peoples await Pope Francis’ encyclical on Eco-theology and Climate Change, he would follow his predecessors’ example in favoring the perpetrators of colonization and genocide over the indigenous peoples of this hemisphere and their living legacy of respect for nature…a legacy that is vital to the survival of the life on Earth as we know it today.
This is a severe blow to the hopes of people looking to a reformed papacy. Granted, Pope Francis is only human like the rest of us and humans err—as he says, he himself is a sinner.  And this decision is a grave sin indeed.
Powerful words for this Easter as we prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of the Crucified and Risen One and as all of us connected to the Resurrected Savior await a new dawn. 
But to end these random thoughts on a note of rebirth, here is a beautiful image sent me by a student today, witnessing to the profound interconnectedness of life and all living things, bound by compassion:

Mar 17, 2016

Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age

Bedridden with a touch of the flu, at the moment, but thought I would post this brief book review of Italian historian Sergio Luzzatto, Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age.  This is actually a very short, incomplete review I posted at Amazon and Goodnreads. In fact, I have much more to say about this fascinating study and all of the controversy swirling about it - at least when it was first published.

Fascinating anthropological study of the development of the cult surrounding Padre Pio, with most of the focus not on the holy friar himself but on the many cultural currents swirling around him, including and especially the rise of Fascism in pre WWII Italy. At one point two ''miraculous' bodies" dominated Italy's cultural scene: Il Duce's and 'the Saint's'. This study is not for the faint of heart or the overly pious, since it includes the suggestion of many scandals involving the cult and even (possibly) some deviltry on the part of Padre Pio himself. (I've been a devotee of Padre Pio for over 50 years and this book did little to change my attitude to the man himself) At first reading, it seemed to me that Luzzatto was fairly balanced and professional and true to his word that his intent was not to pass judgement on the authenticity of the wounds of this famous 20th century Catholic stigmatist, but simply to take a more critical and objective look at the cult surrounding him, without rose colored glasses. And at first reading, I found the book to be a blast of very fresh air, with many invaluable pieces of information not found in the hagiographical studies. However, one of his fiercest Italian critics, Andrea Tornielli,had this to say about his methodology:

(Taken from Zenit: The World Seen From Rome - The Polemics of Padre Pio)

"Luzzatto raised suspicions without getting to the bottom of any of them. He cast the stone and then hid his hand. He read only parts of documents; he made huge mistakes and errors. He cited documents in which it is inferred that Padre Pio asked a pharmacist for carbolic acid and veratrine but he did not explain that on the basis of other documents, it is quite clear what Padre Pio used these things for."

Just for the record, Ms. Tornielli is  a little too traditional for my taste - or perspective. I would have more faith in her judgements if she wasn't referenced so often in neo fascist, Catholic websites like Tradition, Family, Property.

Since I don't wish to make this review too lengthy, suffice it to say this wasn't my take on Luzzatto, casting stones and hiding his hand (he does recount Padre Pio's own explanations for the use of the carbolic acid), but then I'm not a professional scholar and don't have access to the documentation. However, towards the very end of the book, the author devotes some pages to the most salacious accusations of all - the alleged evidence of secret microphones planted in various places, which 'seemed' to suggest some impropriety on Pio's part with his female followers. The content of these tapes apparently shocked Pope John XXIII (who didn't actually listen to them) and resulted in the final Vatican investigation, headed by Monsignor Carlo Maccari, who would later suggest that Pio may have been enjoying carnal relations with some of his female devotees as much as twice a week. Now the Maccari affair (grotesque and repellent, in my opinion- letting my own biases show) is something I know a little about, having researched it some years ago. And here is where I can certainly fault Luzzatto and my suspicious began to tilt in Tornelli's direction. Luzzatto does not clarify that the microphones were not planted in Padre Pio's bedroom or the women's confessional, but only in the men's confessional  and various visitors rooms where Padre Pio would converse with pilgrims. So in other words, we are not dealing with tapes that actually record intimate private moments between Padre Poi and women but only public conversations and bits of gossip from visitors in the rooms awaiting his arrival. Now that is a vital omission in a historical work purporting to be objective. It is the one detail that changes everything. Instead, Luzzatto drops the general insinuation of 'secret tapes' and leaves it hanging, dripping with innuendo.  Furthermore,  'news' (from official Capuchin sources) stated that Msgr Maccari had recanted his accusations on his deathbed and asked for Padre Pio's forgiveness and blessing. And that would be a major story, in itself a deathbed recantation from Padre Pio's most recent official examiner. Is this an apocryphal story or can it be objectively verified? At the very least, if Luzzatto was as 'objective' as he claimed to be, then this incident should have been reported and explored - at least as to its plausibility.  But not a word from Luzzatto (unless I missed it in the footnotes). Unfortunately, these key omissions cast doubts on the reliability of the rest of the book, much of which does seem to me to be of great value. This leads me to believe that Tornelli may be right as to Luzzatto's ultimate intentions. So while the book did little to affect my own estimation of the great sanctity of Padre Pio, it did help me to understand the complexities of the human context within which he lived and worked - and it left me with some serious doubts as to Luzzatto's ultimate fairness and objectivity as a scholar.

Unfortunately, Tornelli's main book in rebuttal to Luzzatto's "accusations",  Padre Pio l’ultimo sospetto (Padre Pio: The Last Suspect), has not yet been translated into English, which would be a necessary read in reaching a balanced view of Luzzatto's book.

Final judgement: Really enjoyed Luzzatto's historical/anthropological study, fascinating material, a good deal of which I think is indisputable. But a significant amount of it is open to question and doubt, as well as Luzzatto's own motives. So I'm agnostic on that for the moment.

In any case, this is not the first book to recommend to any who are interested in the life of this remarkable Catholic saint. Bernard Ruffin's hagiographical work:Padre Pio: The True Story would be a more suitable choice, though it does gloss over many of the pertinent topics of Luzzatto's more historical/anthropological study.

Coming up soon: A book review of a fascinating gay priestly coming out story:

That Undeniable Longing.

Mar 12, 2016

Hans Kung and Brother Francis, and other bits of this and that

The National Catholic Reporter published an open letter from renowned theologian, Hans Kung, to Pope Francis three days ago (read it here), and it's a lovely letter, full of wisdom, courtesy and restraint - besides restating Kung's long held views on infallibility, the terrible harm the 'dogma' has caused the church, clogging up the process of reform.  and the need to completely rethink it. What struck me was the warm, sympathetic tone with which Kung addressed the Pope, whom he says has always responded to his letters as a brother. And that is the evidently good side of Francis that so impressed so many of us early on in his career as 'the Bishop of Rome.' Kung also reminded us of the enormous opposition Francis faces at almost every turn, no matter what decisions he might make. I found that comment helpful to me, as a timely reminder, in light of my own questions regarding some of his behavior and decisions, most recently the procession of Padre Pio's remains into St. Peters and his 'refusal' to meet the Australian abuse survivors. Two comments at NCR also were a help to me, and I paraphrase: "The poor man, if he makes any radical change the whole structure will come tumbling down like a house of cards" - and - "the curial forces have him right where they want him, to ensure he makes no decisions that disturb the peace of the family." And so, I felt it was good to be reminded of this reality, even though it does not completely excuse being silent in Uganda or vigorously interfering in the public, political marriage debates in various countries. But it did leave me wondering what mechanisms of control might be in place constraining this man.

Truth to tell, I'm not really a pope watcher or church watcher, nor do I feel called by vocation to be part of efforts 'to reform the Catholic Church'. I'm situated - by grace, by providence, by choice  - too far outside the boundaries of the institution for such actions. Yet I still feel connected on a mystical level to Holy Mother Church, with a felt sense of vocation to make a contribution in the areas of spirituality and mystical theology. So...when some things strike a chord, I take notice. Such was the case with the relics of Padre Pio, which stirred something very deep within and the event is still reverberating. 

I just started Italian Jewish scholar, Sergio Luzzatto's 2007 book, Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age, and its really fascinating reading, and seems so far to be fairly well balanced. I mention his Jewish heritage because it's just what is needed in Pio studies, a detached, critical, scholarly look from someone outside the circle of faith, both Christianity in general and Roman Catholicism in particular. Luzzatto takes a close look at social, cultural and political currents surrounding Southern Italy at the time which facilitated the Padre Pio culte. The book caused something of an uproar in Italy when first published - for revealing secret Vatican files from the Holy Office detailing allegations from two chemists that Padre Pio secretly requested small portions of carbolic acid. This turned out to be something of a tempest in a teapot. Be that as it may, the really fascinating side of the book is it's detailed accounting of the relationship between the Padre Pio cult and the local fascists of San Giovanni Rotondo. Sensational stuff there and I'm really enjoying it like a breath of fresh air - without in any way detracting from my own personal devotion to the holy friar.

But staunch Catholic traditionalists and Padre Pio supporters were up in arms over the book, publishing some rather nasty rants on the subject. I only glanced through a few of them and found them quite unfair - but then I haven't yet finished the book, so who knows. So far, Luzzatto doesn't seem to have an agenda and I take his word - stated at the beginning - that he was not intent on reaching a conclusion about the true origins of Padre Pio's wounds. However, it seems that just by mentioning certain suspicious 'facts' and examining them in a scholarly way puts one on the side of the opposition. Luzzatto has been accused of 'dropping scurrilous gossip' and then not following it up, as a way of tarnishing Padre Pio's reputation without actually engaging head on with the evidence. No, I don't think so. He's simply asking the hard questions. 

One does grow wearied by all the controversy and wading into the pools of thought of the religiously fundamental (to coin a phrase) is depressing in the extreme. The most succinct rebuttal to Sergio Luzzatto, apparently, comes from Sa­verio Gaeta and Andrea Torniell's book, not yet published in EnglishPadre Pio l’ultimo sospetto (Padre Pio: The Last Suspect .

Here is an interview with Andrea Tornielli, in which he takes Luzzatto to task for his many 'errors, distortions and omissions.' 

And the New Oxford Review's coverage of the book, which I found truly nasty and distorted in itself. 

The New Oxford Review's review mentions a second, recently published book, which most critics of Luzzatto's book are also referencing: Padre Pio Under Investigation: The Secret Vatican Files, published by St. Ignatius Press. 

Here is a selection from the introduction, written by Vittorio Messori, which features a very pointed critique of Luzzatto's work :

I suppose (sigh) there is much in Messori's position about the mystical tradition of the Roman Catholic Church that I might find myself in agreement with, it only it weren't accompanied by such unctuousness and tribal superiority, which mars the whole thing. 

To tell the truth, I'd be much more comfortable sharing a glass of wine with Sergio Luzzatto and discussing the case of Padre Pio than I would with Vittorio Messori, whose brand of Catholicism gives me the creeps. And yet - and yet - I see no contradiction in this attitude and my own heartfelt devotion to the stigmatized friar of San Giovanni Rotondo. It's all a question of balance and detachment. 

But it's precisely because phenomena like Padre Pio and Marian apparitions and bilocating saints attract such unctuous fundamentalists and weirdos and cranks that most well educated progressive thinking Catholics are turned off - and quickly flee the scene. I see their point.

Here, however, is a moving account of the scientific experiments conducted on Padre Pio's wounds to attempt to 'heal them'. 

And just to prove this point in a chilling way, while researching all of this I came across the blog of a New Hampshire priest, serving a 33 year prison sentence for molesting seven boys, Gordon MacRae. HIs blog site claims he was falsely accused, even though he pleaded guilty to molesting three of the boys ( a plea deal of dubious character). Apparently he balked at admitting he had molested one particular boy, and he says - refused a plea bargain that would have gotten him out in several years. What is shocking about this is that Gordon MacRae is also a passionate devotee of Padre Pio and identifies with his victimhood. Chilling. I glanced through the blog posts and read some of the comments from 'devout' Catholics praying for Father and hoping for his eventual vindication and also comparing him to a Christ Victim figure like Padre Pio. Don't know what to make of all this, but the Padre Pio connection is disturbing. There were a number of Wall Street Journal articles by Dorothy Rabinowitz:

OK, I glanced through some of this stuff and it looks fascinating in a highly disturbing way, and there may be something of substance here, though I'm dubious?  I'm just noting - with dismay - the Padre Pio connection, linked with a child abuse case = and a great deal of vitriol aimed at SNAP. No wonder 'rational' Catholics flee the scene when bilocating stigmatists are the subject of conversation. 

And here is Thomas Doyle's statement about Father Gordon MacRae:

Fr. Gordon McRae exemplifies this continuing policy at Via Coeli of giving power to former sexual perpetrators. He held an administrative post at the center in 1990. I was a teacher in his seminary in 1978 when he demonstrated psychological problems. In spite of early indications of problems he was ordained in 1982; he may have abused a boy already in 1983, but no action was taken. But he pleaded guilty in 1988 to paying a boy for sex and received a deferred jail term and instead was sent Via Coeli for treatment. In 1993 he was charged with eleven counts of molestation of at least 4 boys. He is now in a New Hampshire prison for 33 ½ to 67 years convicted in 1994 on the assault of one boy. This tradition of Via Coeli to hide and support abusers was repeated when Father Rudy Kos was “secreted” at Via Coeli for a time in 1995 before his extradition from San Diego and trial, conviction and imprisonment in Texas.

Finally, by a weird twist of fate - or providence - I was contacted by a former gay priests asking if I would be interested in reviewing his memoir. Mark Tedesco and the book is entitled, That Undeniable Longing, which refers to both the longing for the transcendent, for an infinite source of meaning in one's life as well as the very human longing for love, affection and connection. What is uncanny about this request/connection is that Mark Tedesco began his seminary training at San Vittorino outside Rome (in the 1970's) which was the residence of the once renowned, but since disgraced, "stigmatist', Father Gino Buresi. Father Buresi was forcibly retired by Pope Benedict amidst accusations of religious/mystical fraud and the sexual molestation of seminarians. He was also touted in his day as a Padre Pio wannabe. I've since finished the book and it's a fine 'gay coming-out' memoir which I hope to review within the week. 

So in a way, everything comes full circle - Papa Francis brings the relics of Padre Pio to Rome and St. Peters and all sorts of reverberations occur. There does seem to be something mysteriously fortuitous about this event, perhaps for reasons beyond the conscious understanding and control of Pope Francis or any of the handlers of the event. Who knows. God works through many means, some of which we may not approve of at first. Something, it seems, was 'intended' and something was set in motion by the mysterious, paradoxical, confounding ceremony of bringing the relics of Padre Pio into St. Peter's. Despite my many reservations, I suspect we are being given a message here, though probably not the one explicitly intended by the organizers of this event. 

I'm reminded of a remark by the spiritual writer China Gallard (Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna), when she visited the great monastery of Jasna Gora in Poland, which houses the renowned icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa (beloved of John Paul II).  

I paraphrase:

The many priests running about in their glistening black cassocks think they are controlling Her, when in fact, she is controlling them and using them to work Her own subversive purposes.