Mar 16, 2014

Bishop Gene Robinson prays for Pope Francis

I lifted this article whole (and shamelessly) from The Daily Beast.
For any readers not familiar with Bishop Gene Robinson he is the first openly gay Anglican bishop in the US. 
I love this new pope. I pray for him every day—for his ministry, his safety, and the daunting tasks that lay before him. I like all the connotations of “Francis,” the papal name he took, conjuring the saint whose humility, sympathy for the fragile condition of humankind, and his commitment to the poor still are both exemplary and legendary.
But I am under no illusions that the journey ahead will be easy for this new pope, assuming that he continues to move in the directions he has thus far signaled.  And let’s be clear:  Pope Francis has, so far, only changed the tenor and tone of the voice of the Church he leads. That is no small thing, of course, when most Catholics and non-Catholics alike experienced his predecessor as aloof, hierarchical, and pretentious.
Perhaps most dramatic in that change of tone came in his question, after he was asked about gay priests: “Who am I to judge?” Who indeed?  His immediate predecessors seemed not to hesitate in heaping judgment on homosexuals, women (especially those who made the excruciating decision to have an abortion), the divorced, and a vast array of people who fell short of the Vatican’s moral ideal (exempting at times, of course, members of the Church’s own clergy and hierarchy from those same ideals).
How odd that the leader of the Catholic Church would make big news, espousing an attitude promoted by Jesus of Nazareth himself. Jesus dramatically lived out the command to “judge not,” so why would it be such news when his followers (not to mention the Pope!) would follow in his humble, non-judgmental footsteps?!  It is only a newsworthy development because there had been little evidence of non-judgmental and loving acceptance by his predecessors.
In other words, so far, so good—but it is only a good beginning. The hard work lies ahead: There is more to the Christian enterprise than merely being more kind, more sympathetic.
One of my favorite old sayings goes like this:  “It’s not enough to pull drowning people out of a raging stream; we must walk back upstream, and see who is throwing them in in the first place!”  Charity (pulling people out of whatever raging stream they’re in, like poverty, disease, discrimination, hunger) is a great and cherished tradition. Nothing wrong with it—as far as it goes. In addition to rescue and charity work, people of faith—indeed all who long for justice—must also do the hard, systemic work of changing the systems that cause and trap people in demeaning, dehumanizing conditions in the first place.  Some of those oppressive systems are found in the Church itself! Not just the pope’s church, but my church and every religious community of believers.
If Pope Francis is to be believed in all the kindly pronouncements of his first year (and I do), his good tone should be followed by the tough work of changing the systems of belief, doctrine and religious practice which perpetuate the victimization of those he seeks to serve. It is a small step forward to say of homosexuals, “Who am I to judge?”  Yet the official teaching of the Catholic Church is that homosexuals are “intrinsically disordered.”  Not a lot of wriggle room in that, is there?  That judgment and teaching about LGBT people is the basis for discrimination, rejection and violence the world over. It is fine to verbally decry the ecclesial “circle the wagons” approach to the child sexual abuse exposed in the last two decades, but real commitment to the safety of vulnerable children will require the Church to take steps to value and protect those children over the careers and reputations of its abusing priests.  Positive comments about the contributions of women in and to the Church sound fine, but what is needed is a long, hard look at its entire approach to human sexuality and gender which still treats its female adherents as “less than.”
I do not mean to be uncharitable here, nor naive. Such systemic overhaul of an institution that has existed for the better part of two millennia cannot and will not happen overnight, if it is seriously tried at all. Under the leadership of Pope Francis, the Church may have the best chance at giving it a serious try since the Second Vatican Council under Pope John XXIII.  But the Vatican Curia was there before he was elected pope, and it will be there long after his ministry ends.  There will be resistance to any change, much less the kind of change to which Francis’s humble ways point.  Over the years, we have learned what happens to people who are just too good for us!  But this pope seems to know that sacrifice is part of the deal of living with God.
I hope this pope keeps surprising and delighting us, sitting a boy in his papal chair and allegedly sneaking out of the Vatican at night to work with the homeless!  I hope he continues to show us the mind of Christ by his acts of humility and compassion. I pray that he persists in eschewing luxury and pretension. And I pray that he will stay close to the Son of God he is supposed to represent on earth, despite the institution’s every effort to tame their new leader and rob him of his pizazz.
The Catholic Church is a mighty big ship to turn around, even with a beautiful, charismatic, and inspiring captain at the helm. But God is good, and God will be at Francis’ side as he challenges the Church to live up to its lofty, humble, servant values. Like I said, I pray for him every day.

Mar 14, 2014

Czech Catholic priest Tomas Halik wins $1.83 million Templeton Prize

Well, there is much rejoicing in the Czech Catholic Church today (and yesterday when the news first broke).

Father Tomas Halik, ordained a Catholic priest secretly by the underground Church during the Communist years, has been awarded the prestigious (and quite lucrative) Templeton Prize "for his work affirming the spiritual dimension of life." He joins company with the likes of the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. Not bad company indeed. 

I find it interesting that Reuter's report on this bestowal includes a photo of Father Halik in clerical collar, but we in the Czech lands rarely see him so clothed, since he prefers secular garb. In fact he looks far more like an existential philosopher than a cleric and his writings reflect a distinctly non clerical embrace of currents of religious - and atheistic - though far removed from the churchly mentality. For Father Halik, atheism in its current twenty-first century form is to be embraced as the locus of the 'hidden God,' who calls us to discover his Face in the dark places of doubt and unknowing. The unknowable God is not to be found among the smug certitudes of ideologues, whether of the religious right or the atheistic left. Rather the Hidden God is discovered within the anguish of sincere doubters and searchers, who struggle to find the light and for whom the organized institutions of religion obfuscate more than illuminate this search. The secular 'atheist' criticism of organized religion should be seen as a valuable resource in the dialogue over faith, not as an adversary.

Here is a nice short theological summary of his work at FAITH AND THEOLOGY. 

I think Tomáš Halík has produced one of the best and most beautiful responses to the new atheism, in his recent book Patience with God(Doubleday 2009). His argument is that the real difference between faith and atheism is patience. Atheists are not wrong, only impatient. They want to resolve doubt instead of enduring it. Their insistence that the natural world doesn't point to God (or to any necessary meaning) is correct. Their experience of God's absence is a truthful experience, shared also by believers. Faith is not a denial of all this: it is a patient endurance of the ambiguity of the world and the experience of God's absence. Faith is patience with God. Or as Adel Bestavros puts it (in the book's epigraph): patience with others is love, patience with self is hope, patience with God is faith. 

There are currently two of Father Halik's books available in English translation at the moment, Patience with God being his first and Night of the Confessor its successor. Both are profound and inspiring reads, and their intended readership are those in the shadows on the edge of faith, living more in doubt than in certitude and suffering heartache and confusion over the darkness of institutional religion - which Father Halik describes as one of the paradoxical masks that conceal the 'Hidden God,' the God who hides his face from us in those places where we would most hope to find him.

A few of his most salient remarks, which speak for themselves:

Faith - unlike 'natural religiosity' and 'happy-go-lucky' religiosity - is resurrected faith, faith that has to die on the cross, be buried, and rise again - in a new form. This faith is a process - and it is possible for people to find themselves at different phases of this process at different moments of their lives. 

What atheism, religious fundamentalism, and the enthusiasm of a too-facile faith have in common is how quickly they can ride roughshod over the mystery we call God - and that is why I find all three approaches equally unacceptable. 

But there are also people - and the author of this book is one of them - for whom the experience of God's silence and God's hiddenness in this world is the starting point and one of the basic factors of faith itself. (And God seems to be most hidden these days by the crimes and sins of the institutional church, which has become - on the surface at least - far more of an obstacle to be overcome than a conduit of grace or a  facilitator of a living faith.)

We should not ask for the body of Christianity to be freed from the thorn of atheism. That thorn should instead constantly awaken our faith from the complacency of false certainties.

At the very moment of "rift," at that moment of shaken and collapsing certainties, at the very moment of more and more questions and doubts, he showed me his face more clearly than ever before.

If we can understand those who are confronted with a silent, hidden, or distant God - including those who have been led to reject religion because of that experience - it can help us achieve a more mature form of faith than the naive and vulgar theism that is rightly criticized by atheists.

To show atheism not as a lie, but as an incomplete truth? To show living faith not as a set of dusty precepts, but as a path of maturation that even includes valleys of "the silence of God" - but that, unlike the purveyors of "certainties," does not circumvent them or abandon any further research but patiently moves on. 

Faith and atheism are two views of that reality - the hiddenness of God, His transcendence, and His impenetrable mystery; they are two possible interpretations of the same reality, seen from two opposite sides.

When I reflect on the Czech culture of the past two centuries, I find that what is most lively and interesting exists beyond the traditional, official, and institutional ambit of the church. It is possible - particularly among the poets - to find individuals with a considerable spiritual sensibility, but even that tends to have only a tenuous connection with a classical religious tradition. 

The reasons for that detachment (of his Czech culture from traditional religiosity) are clearly deeply rooted in the religious history of our country....The old confession (traditional Catholicism before the advent of the reformist 'protestant, Christianity of Jan Hus) was replanted by means of enthusiastic missionaries, the educational activity of the Jesuits, and the allure of Baroque culture, but also by violence, oppression, and the merciless banishment of those who refused to subscribe to the faith of the victors. (Not to mention the burning at the stake of prominent reformists, the most saintly of whom was the charismatic Jan Has, a man living the Spirit within his being in a manor that rivals Catholicism's greatest heroic saints. To believe in peace and joy - even to the point of being destroyed by the leaders of one's own faith. Much like Joan of Arc. Yet he has yet to receive his due recognition, though John Paul II took a small step in his apology.)

Human pain, even when it is clothed in the armor of militant atheism, is something that Christians must take seriously and treat with respect, because it is "hallowed ground."

And my favorite quote of all:

Many people these days, as we mentioned earlier, try to foist responsibility for the weakness of their own faith onto the church (i.e., the hierarchy, the institution) and become its bitterest critics or frantic reformers of its institutional structures, or alternatively, withdraw from it in frustration. I have already devoted an entire chapter to the church - I really do not underrate it. But I get the impression that its radical critics and its equally agitated apologists resemble each other insofar as they somewhat overrate its importance, particularly of its visible, institutional aspect. If someone "wearies of the church" - which I fully understand sometimes - must this weariness develop into weariness with their faith?

In contraposition to this (the legalized framework of dogmatic systems) are the theologians, mystics, and saints, who demonstrate that following Christ and fulfilling God's will as was illustrated in Christ is not a matter of observing a system of commandments and proscriptions but of the foolishness of love. And they, of course, "collide," as Jesus did, with the defenders of the Law and as Paul did with the founding generation of Christian conservatives and Pharisees. 

In short, God's logic is different from human logic, and people have to experience it as paradox - and paradoxes abound in Jesus' parables and Paul's theology of the cross, faith, and grace. The first will be last and last first; whoever loses his life will find it, to anyone who has more will be given, and from anyone who has not even what he has will be taken away....But there were also many who found  the wide-open door of love and the spirit that wafted through it too risky, and they slowly started to close it by means of legal thinking. 

Mar 11, 2014

The Divinity of Eroticized Masculinity: A South Florida Art Show

Better late than never, as the saying goes. I was asked by Joe Limez of the inspiring News Travels Fast to advertise this very intriguing art show opening tomorrow evening, Wednesday, MARCH 12, at The Art Center, South Florida - USA (of course). But since I've been so tardy in getting to this posting, perhaps the old adage doesn't apply. 

For those who might actually be in South Florida tomorrow evening at 7pm, here is the news article with info from the Miami Herald

What is most interesting about this  conversation, especially for readers of this blog, is that the focus is on divinized images of the Male, with conversations being led by feminist scholars about gender, power and divinity. The images alone are provocative and intriguing, combining traditional Christian iconography = the Crucified, the Sacred Heart, the Wounded Savior = with potent male sexuality. I'd be really interested to hear what feminist and queer theory woman scholars have to say about this exhibition, given the long history of oppression of women at the hands of men deeply attached to their own exclusive image of desexualized divinity. This looks like quite a different take on the divinization of the male, doing what traditional Catholicism has found next to impossible - the open, honest fusion of the sexual and the mystical. No obfuscation, no repression, no denial. 

See the full article below:

In His Own Likeness:
ArtCenter Provokes Examination of Gender, Power and Divinity
with Images of Eroticized Masculinity
ArtCenter’s new exhibition, In His Own Likeness, showcases diverse media (photography, sculpture, painting and video) of four Latin American artists who illuminate  the subject matter of gender and its relationship with power and divinity.

The artists are from Guatemala, Mexico and Cuba and include ArtCenter/South Florida resident artist Othón Castañeda, visiting artist Eny Roland with Rocío García and Mario Santizo.  The exhibition is currently on view through March 16 at the Richard Shack Gallery, 800 Lincoln Road. A conversation about gender with the curator Marivi Véliz and special guests will be presented onsite on March 12, at 7:00 p.m.
Eny Roland (Guatemala), La Resureccion from Fabrica de Santos series, 2013

To curate this exhibition, ArtCenter invited Marivi Véliz, a contemporary art lecturer specializing in Central and Latin American Art who moved to Miami last year. This is her first exhibition in the United States. Véliz is originally from Santa Clara, Cuba with experience curating and lecturing throughout Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, El Salvador and Honduras. In recent years, her focus has been gender studies.  

The show aims to reaffirm existence as equally divine through its diversity and its complexities. The images of eroticized men allude to the tradition of defining God as masculine and thereby associating power to the male gender. This in turn addresses how masculinity can unfold, how it can express itself, and even lose all meaning through sex. 
Mario Santizo (Guatemala), La Venganza series, 2013

"With this new exhibition I wanted to address eroticism and masculinity from my own perspective - as a woman," said Marivi Véliz. "I wanted to create a platform to view gender complexities through male sexual expression."

ío García (Cuba), from her series Very Very Light ... and Very Oscuro: Un Policia con Alzheimer, 2009

 "The photographs, video, painting and sculpture work together - and individually - to show how male sexuality can be expressed beyond the hetero norm that has traditionally defined the 'rules' of gender roles," adds Véliz

Othón Castañeda (Mexico), Staging Desire (large-scale sculptural installation), 2014

"I really wanted to boldly open a dialogue about sex, to launch this issue onto the public sphere, and break old patterns by reinforcing images of men built around eroticism, since historically this process has usually been inverted." 
Eny Roland (Guatemala), Sangrado Corazon from Dulce Mortificacion series, 2013

About the Artists:
Othón Castañeda trained as an architect at Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí in México. His work explores sexuality and body references by removing common preconceptions and associations, and transforming them into semi-abstract shapes and forms. For In His Own Likeness, Castaneda premieresStaging Desire, a large-scale sculptural installation.
Rocío García was born in Santa Clara, Cuba. She received a Master in Fine Arts at the Repin Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Russia. Internationally acclaimed, Garcia began working with erotic themes in the early 90s and mostly paints men in sexual tensions. Her work for this exhibition is an acrylic on canvas, from her 2009 series Very, Very Light … and Very Oscurco: Un Policia con Alzheimer
Eny Roland is a self-taught artist who began his career in Guatemala City as a photojournalist and progressively found himself working with portraiture and urban photography. His photographs combine kitsch, pop, religion, and eroticism. For this exhibition, his 2012 video Blow Job en el Cinema is an homage to Andy Warhol’s 1964 underground film Blow Job. Additionally, Roland has three 2013 prints in the exhibition.

watch the video here:

Mario Santizo  was born in Zaragoza, Chimaltenango, Guatemala. He studied at La Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas “Rafael Rodriguez Padilla.” He has worked in staged photography since 2006 and is the subject of his own photos. His work focuses on masculinity, sexuality, religion and art history. For In His Own Likeness, Santizo’s six photographic prints are from his 2013 Vengeance series, a reinterpretation of theHierarchies of Intimacy photo series by Luis Gonzalez Palma.


Mario Santizo (Guatemala), from La Venganza series, 2013

Media Contacts:
News Travels Fast: Jose Lima & William Spring
► 305/910-7762  ►

About ArtCenter/South Florida
The cultural epicenter of South Beach's Lincoln Road, ArtCenter/South Florida welcomes more than 100,000 visitors every year and is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2014.

The mission of ArtCenter/South Florida is to support the artists and advance the knowledge and practice of contemporary arts and culture in South Florida.

ArtCenter creates opportunities for experimentation and innovation, and encourages the exchange of ideas across cultures through residencies, exhibitions, outreach and education.

Since its founding in 1984, ArtCenter has been home to more than 1,000 resident artists. ArtCenter also offers over 100 studio and artist development classes per year at its South Beach location and satellite venues. More information is available at 305/674-8278 and

Mar 8, 2014

From Catholic Nun to Worshipper of the Divine Feminine: The Journey of Meinrad Craighead

There's a very good reason why the male hierarchs of the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox Church) fear women and need to keep them in their place, as humble servants of the divine male, passive and submissive. Because if they let these uppity women get one foot in the door (women priests, Cardinals), they will not only dismantle the entire structure of male governance and control from top to bottom. They will also implode from within the entire mythos of the  Divine Male God as the only image of the divine, upon which sacral male superiority rests (no disrespect intended to the Mystery of the Divinized Jesus, one of us calling us to become one like him.) Hence, the significance of the remarkable spiritual journey of one of Catholicism's most interesting women mystics, artist Meinrad Craighead. See the preview below of the remarkable documentary video about her. Notice the spiritual/religious images throughout her house and on her little altar, none of them of the Man Jesus, many of them from different religious traditions and from nature herself. 

Meinrad has never disavowed her Catholic identity, though she has moved far beyond the worship of the Man Jesus and now embraces and worships the Divine Mother manifested throughout nature. It's an astonishing harmony she has managed to achieve, through prayer, reflection and life experience, between her traditional Catholic upbringing and training and the very special place to which she has been led in the Spirit.

As she says in the chapter devoted to her in the wonderful little book by Anne Bancroft, Weavers of Wisdom: Women Mystics of the Twentieth Century: (which is unfortunately out of print)

Throughout half a lifetime of Christian worship my secret worship of God the Mother has been the sure ground of my spirituality. The participation in her body, in the natural symbols and rhythms of all organic life, and the actualization of her symbols in my life as an artist, have been a steadfast protection against the negative patriarchal values of Christianity, the faith I still profess. Like many other women who choose to reinvest their Christian heritage rather than abandon it, my spirituality is sustained by a commitment to a personal vision that affirms woman as an authentic image of the Divine and enlightens, informs and enriches the orthodox image of the transcendent Father God. 

A woman sheds blood from her body and from her spirit. Memories stir and incubate; they are remembered, reformed and animated into imagery. Whether we are weaving tissue in the womb or imagery in the soul, our work is sexual; the work on conception, gestation and birth. Our spirituality should centre on the affirmation of our female sexuality in its seasons of cyclic change. Our feminine existence is connected to the metamorphoses of nature; the pure potential of water, the transformative power of blood, the seasonal rhythms of the earth, the cycles of lunar dark and light. 

In solitude our intuitions of an indwelling personal God Spirit are confirmed, the Mothergod who never withdraws from us and whose presence is our existence and the life of all that is. Her unveiled glory is too great for us to behold; she hides her face. But we find her face in reflection, in sacred guises, mediated through the natural, the desire to receive with animation those messages carried through our nervous senses and the will to focus their energy and transform it into worship. 

Taken from The Feminist Mystic (also, alas, out of print)

Although Meinrad is keen to avoid direct criticism of a patriarchal spiritual tradition, when questioned directly about its effect on our psyche, she replies: 'Of course, it has completely stolen our birthright. However, that leads to political talk. Obviously we live in the Western world and we know the paradigm of the patriarchal 'Father' who looks after everything. The priority of the males in the house crosses over into the East and will probably be with us for as long as we can imagine into the future, but there is a place where it doesn't matter. If you are following your intuition, if you are smart enough, silent enough and together enough, you are going to be OK because you can do that sifting and throwing out. Not a throwing out because of anger, as in "Oh, this has destroyed me", leaving you angry all the time, but a honing down of what is meaningful to you. I only speak from the point of view of an artist; if I were a politician, perhaps I would speak differently. I've never thought in terms of 'fixing' society. I've had this narrow road that I've been able to stay in and lead a holistic life. If you are following your intuition you will ipso facto lead a holistic life. The thread to follow is always ahead of you - if you are really following that in the deepest way, you're not going to get lost, you're going to get nearer and nearer to your own center.'

What's remarkable about this statement: Meinrad's avoidance of bitter anger and criticism of the Church, somewhat like Philomena of the now famous film. She simply and peacefully goes about her way, giving witness to a "place where it doesn't matter." What a wonderful phrase, which I'd like to use as a title of a book someday.

See NCR's 2008 article on Meinrad, Art and Spirituality: In The Name of the Mother

Also check out the Facebook page of The Meinrad Craighead Documentary Project for many interesting links.

"Instinctively I knew that this private vision needed protecting; my identity, my very life depended upon its integrity. But as she guided me as an artist, illuminating my imagination, her presence in my life could not really be veiled. She erupted in my imagery. And it is as an artist that I am compelled to reveal this secret life we have shared for nearly fifty years." --The Mother's Songs, Meinrad Craighead

Harry Potter's Hairy Bottom

Poor Daniel Radclilffe. He just can't escape the curse of the major franchise. As long as he continues in his present boyish phase, he will always be affectionately known to us as Harry Potter, no matter how many diverse roles he undertakes. His most accomplished acting performance to date is in the very interesting gay themed movie, Kill Your Darlings. It recounts the sexual awakening of the very young gay poet, Alan Ginsberg and the true life story of his relationship with young 18 year old, Lucien Carr, who would go on to 'murder' his homosexual friend and 'stalker,' David Kammerer. Carr would eventually be arrested for the murder and would plead 'honor killing' as his defense, the right of a 'straight man' to resist to the point of killing, the advances of any homosexual 'predator'. A heinous defense which is no longer accepted in the law courts (though the twinkie defense of Dan White in the killing of SF supervisor Harvey Milk comes close). The film is a very interesting exploration of gay sexual awakening and represents young Mr, Radcliffe's most mature acting work so far (I've never been impressed with his acting skills, but this film began to change my view). I know little about the real Lucien Carr (who spent a mere 18 months in a reformatory for the killing and went on to be married twice and fathered three children), but the film suggests at least (whether fairly or accurately or not) that he was dealing with some repressed homosexual tendencies of his own which were causing him considerable self-loathing and which eventually led to his murdering his gay friend. Interesting point of view that simply reflects the common opinion of psychologists - no, not that all people are partly gay - but that sexual orientation is a complex matter and human beings are spread all across the spectrum. Edmund White's protagonist, Will, is 'completely straight,' with nary a whisper of interest in another man. The film version of Lucien Carr less so, which leads to tragic consequences - only highlighting how destructive any repressed and unacknowledged sexual tendencies can be, particularly in a culture which fosters self-loathing through its own homophobia.

Daniel Radcliffe and his love interest in Kill Your Darlings. 

Yes, there is the much touted sex scene (how wearisome the hype), in which young Harry Potter raises his legs in the air to allow his hairy bottom to be penetrated by a casual pickup, thereby losing his virginity for the first time. Not a very romantic encounter, more's the pity for a first time. Fortunately for us and for young Mr. Radcliff, he positions his fingers adroitly so we are spared any view of his dangling participles. This may be a disappointment for some of Radcliffe's fans, but it was a relief to me. I had seen enough of Daniel's bouncing parts in his London stage debut in Equus. Sitting first row with a lesbian friend who had bought me the ticket as a birthday present, we both noticed that during the nude scenes, every time Radcliffe turned his back to us, he pulled on his willy, attempting no doubt to increase its diminutive size. Unfortunately, this action only served to make the Potter Penis ever more bashfully shy, withdrawing into the security of Radcliffe's groin, until it was the size of a modest mushroom. A lesson to be learned there, for as Daniel said in a subsequent interview, "Not one of my shining moments."

He's come a long way since then, and his recent film is a decent, valuable exploration of gay themes and the difficulties of coming out to oneself, let alone to others, though one does get tired of all of these straight boys playing gay characters. It simply doesn't quite work!

One final note, "Kill your darlings," is a line of advice from famed American writer, William Faulkner and it refers to the need to scrap from your writing all of those embellished purple passages of which you are most fond, but which only clog up the work and prevent it from being honest, direct and true. Kill your darlings. But this could just as well be a bit of spiritual advice, Buddhist first, Christian perhaps second. Kill all of those attachments and aversions that prevent you from centering yourself upon the interior peace of your inner being, the inner sanctum of joy, that can only be reached by radical but balanced self denial. Those darlings may be your penchant for sensual pleasures, but they may also be your addictions to institutions of power with which your ego has identified for its own self aggrandizement. And they may also be your addiction to hate this or that group of people you view as outside the pale of normalcy and beyond the sacrosanct boundaries of your tribe. Kill your darlings, that you may love freely and radically in peace and joy. 

Mar 7, 2014

Edmund White's New 'Catholic' Gay Novel/Elizabeth Gilbert Eats in Catholic Rome

(This was originally part of a long posting two days ago, which I've divided into two)

I've just finished reading Edmund White's fine new novel, Jack Holmes and His Friend, which chronicles the twenty year relationship of a young gay man and the straight friend with whom he remains hopelessly in love. It's a fine novel and an interesting one, because White uses the format of the dual friendship to view gay culture and practice (particularly of the pre AIDS era of the 1970's)  through the eyes of a straight man, and the insights are revealing by way of contrast and comparison. 

The book also has a Catholic dimension, as the straight man, Will, was raised Catholic yet comes to bitterly regret the effects of his religious upbringing:

I despised Catholicism, but I'd been so thoroughly catechized that I still half crossed myself when I passed a church. I still felt abashed when Christmas came and went without my attending mass.

Again, I blamed the Catholic Church. It had  taught me sin was a regular part of my life, that sex was a sin I had best contain. Now I contested everything about the Catholic solution, starting with the idea that 'sex' was an identifiable unit of human and animal activity, rather than an abstract word flung over disparate feelings and motions with only a spurious unity....

I thought of a new reason to hate Catholicism. It had robbed me of sophisticated, sensual adventures I might have written about.

And yet, Will still speaks out in some defense of his childhood faith, offering this limited defense:

There were no Baptist Dantes or Michelangelos or Palestrinas. Catholicism retained all of the authority of its great art, even the contemporary work of Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh and Flannery O' Connor, of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It was hard to throw over a religion that had been defined by such gestures. 

Very interesting comments to be sure, and fair and accurate as far as they go. Unfortunately, because this central character has so many affairs of his own, betraying and eventually leaving his own wife and children behind, it's difficult to wholly accept his criticism of Catholic sexual morality, without some reservations. There is an enormous difference between Moral theology as practiced by the very best and most enlightened theologians of today and the 'official' position of the centralized Vatican hierarchy. The Church is not simply to be equated with its power structure, and any Christian (or Buddhist or Muslim) sexual moral theology will have much to say about the need to curb one's propensity to engage in 'sophisticated, sensual adventures,' when such adventures threatened the integrity of one's primary personal relationships. Will turns out to be a bit too much of a hedonist, but his comments do highlight the problem of all of the major religious traditions over the past two millennia - they tend to denigrate and undervalue the simple joys and pleasures of the sensual life, making it all too easy to denigrate and dismiss their moral strictures. Balance is required, careful, sensitive discernment and balance, something not well practiced by hedonists on one extreme and rigid ideologues in centralized power positions on the other. 

This brings me to the gay character in the novel. Jack Holmes is a fascinating character, but White has chosen to depict him as well as a typical young gay hedonist of the 70's, who has no wish to settle down with a single partner, but simply hops about from one 'trick' to another (or rather has them hopping in and out of his bed from one day to the next). Eventually, this left me with a rather empty feeling. All of this exclusive emphasis upon sexual, sensual experience as the epitome of ecstasy and personal fulfillment. As my writing mentor at San Francisco State, Charlotte Painter, used to say, "Where is the transcendence? Where is the spiritual joy and fulfillment?" 

It is an ideology of present day Western fiction and cinema that sex and its pleasures are 'all there is' to human fulfillment and joy. This is 'as good as it gets," whereas the mystical life, for those who follow its disciplines and experience its profound fulfillments, sex as a good in itself, hardly compares to the extraordinary richness of the most intimate contact with the  presence of the life giving Spirit within. There is simply no comparison. True, sexual and spiritual fulfillment often go hand in hand, with the one leading to the other. However, when one follows this lead, one discovers that sexual intimacy is merely the palest reflection of the far more profound intimacy with the divine spirit within the depths of one's being, a Spirit that lives and moves within every breath you take and every beating of your heart. It becomes the ultimate and most intimate life companion.  But one will rarely find this spiritual truth expressed in contemporary fiction and cinema. Sex as sensual fulfillment is a dead end street in contemporary culture and "that's all you get." It's all quite wearisome and exasperating,  and this is how I felt about the sexual escapades of these two characters. "Wake up," I wanted to say to them, there is so much more 'beyond the door,' if you can only open it. Unfortunately, Catholicism's official rigidity regarding the positives of sexual and sensual experience do indeed make this difficult for many cradle Catholics, leading to the temptation to spurn it all.

I was struck by the fact that the character, Will, in defending Catholicism's rich artistic heritage, fails to mention the great mystics of the Church, such as the great Spanish mystics, Teresa of Avila (who once said, when it's time to fast I fast, when it's time to feast, I feast - while greedily gnawing on a chicken bone) and the sublime, Saint John of the Cross, considered the greatest poet in all of Spanish history. The mystics of the church and the  spriitual journeys they chronicled far surpass the achievements of all of the Dantes and Michelangelos of the Church's rich artistic heritage. 

Finally, the gay character's escapades only serve to reinforce the stereotype of the hedonistic, promiscuous gay character, living greedily for sexual fulfillment with multiple partners, bouncing from bed to bed (or back room to back room) and, sadly,  nothing more. Wake up, please, wake up.

As an addendum, the cover of the US edition of the book shows a young man passionately embracing a woman, whose glamorous, barebacked figure is turned to us. This is a complete misrepresentation of the book, deflecting it's gay emphasis. No doubt this was done to boost book sales and suggest the story is open to heterosexual interests as well, since the straight character does have passionate affairs with a number of women, but it's not the main focus.  Boosting book sales should not be a worry with Edmund White's world wide readership. 

And this brings me full circle again to Rome, Catholicism and sensual experience. I'm currently re-reading Elizabeth Gilbert's classic memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. The focus of her entire book is the felt need of contemporary spiritual seekers to find some way to integrate spiritual joy with sensual experience, rather than see a dichotomy or conflict between them, the bane of so many spiritual traditions up to this point. Catholicism and even Buddhism lead the way, I'm afraid, with their traditional mistrust of sensual experience, with many wise warnings and cautions about the dangers of unbridled sensual experience and attachments, but little in the way of wise counsel as to how to find a harmonious balance between the two. 

So I find it amusing that Gilbert's first phase of her spiritual, sensual search takes her to Rome, the center of Catholicism, because Rome and the Italians are known as masters of sensual pleasure. Gilbert comes to Rome, not for great art or Romance, but to eat! This is charming, amusing and inspiring all at once, because it shows how breezingly the Romans have blithely ignored the most strident prohibitions and strictures of it's traditional religious institution at the heart of the city. The Romans live to eat (and love, though Gilbert takes a temporary vow of celibacy for her duration in the city, in order to restore some balance to her weary soul.) It's quite amusing and healthy, but also very informative. When a religious institution veers into fanaticism regarding the ordinary human pleasures of life, and fails to achieve balance in it's teachings, watch out. Ordinary human beings will simply ignore the teachings and follow their common sense and innate good wisdom. What a contrast between the sensual, life loving Romans and the dour patriarchs of Vatican City, spuming forth against uppity women, hedonistic gays and all those folks out there having fun eating and making love. A pox on them all! 

JULIA ROBERTS enjoying her pizza in the film version of Eat Pray Love. 

However, there is another cautionary note to make about reading the book. Gilbert's next destination after Italy, was India where she stayed at an Ashram of a famous woman guru of the time, whom the author chooses to keep anonymous. Both the guru and the ashram experience effect a salutary change within Gilbert's spiritual being, and that's all to the good, and I have no wish to disrespect any aspect of her spiritual journey. However, we now know that Gilbert's guru was the controversialGuru Mai, who has since retired from public view because of the controversy. I don't wish to rehash the troubling accusations, they can be found on line easily enough. But mention should be made that her own Guru, Muktananda, who declared her his successor (at the shocking age of 22), had been accused by numerous women of having sexually abused them, some of them when they were very young teens. There are simply too many of these acquisitions not to credit them. So, alas, this only highlights how difficult it is for young people to find reliable guides in their spiritual search. It is disheartening in the extreme, yet ultimately not discouraging. A bit of careful discernment and caution are needed, and the wonderful mystic, Andrew Harvey, who went through the hell of Guru addiction, provides a wonderful cautionary guide. 

Guru Mai a wonderful follow up to Gilbert's guru experience, she does run into a genuine spiritual guide in Bali, Indonesia. A toothless, obscure, unfamous and unrich, 'medicine man,' with genuine spiritual and psychic gifts, who proves to be her true spiritual guide and master - for the moment, until she is free enough to stand on her own feet, which is the way it should be. Beware of Guru's with vast followings and oodels of money at their disposal. Real spiritual wisdom often has no shining, gold teeth.

Elizabeth Gilbert's Indonesian Medicine Man, Ketut Liyer

Mar 6, 2014

Gay Spirituality/ NEW WEBSITE

I've just been alerted to a wonderful, relatively new blog site devoted to gay spirituality, entitled, appropriately enough, "GAY SPIRITUALITY.COM." It was begun by spiritual author, Joe Perez, last July 2013 and simply the fact he was able to obtain the domain name Gay Spirituality tells you something about the real need for such sites. Obviously, there was not much competition and the name was freely available. 

The site seems extraordinarily rich and I've just started reading through the postings and intend to go through all of them within the next week or so. A truly remarkable resource.

For those of you familiar with Ken Wilbur's truly groundbreaking work in integral spirituality, here is Ken's endorsement of the site:

"The stuff of Joe’s art, the raw materials, can be found in his essays, his blogs,Soulfully Gay, delivered with urgency and lust and luminosity, the best and the worst, the glorious and the degraded-there is room for all of it in that resounding “Yes!,” for the secret is not that all of it is pretty, but that you tell the truth about it, converting even the grotesque into the sublime, if you tell the truth. Joe’s life is being artfully lived in the very fact of its truthfulness, its deep embrace, shadows and warts and all, woven unhesitatingly into the tapestry of a lustrous display, a deep peace, an abiding love. and therein, surely, a lesson for us all, this artwork that is a thing of beauty, this artwork that will never die, even when the frame around it perishes." - Ken Wilber

For an overview of the philosophy behind the site, I recommend downloading Joe's book, Gay Spirituality 101, which at 1.99  dollars is less than the price of a fancy caffe latte grande. 

Here is a description of the book:

Gay Spirituality 101 presents for the first time a concise explanation of Joe Perez's view of Homophilia in Human Nature and situates it within a philosophical system derived from pre-modern, modern, postmodern, and post-postmodern wisdom. In Perez's thought, Gay Spirituality is not what a previous generation of writers held it to be: a celebration of the gay self immersed in the neo-pagan Myth of a Gay Golden Age. Instead, Gay Spirituality is deemed to be the practice of Homophilia, inspiring and evocative of the deepest and most divine in human nature. It recognizes a deep level of unity between the relative self and a higher Self. Homophilia is identified with the love of God or the Divine or the Sacred. Forged from the suffering and unique gifts of the community of same-sex lovers, this vision suggests that gayness is a platform for a valid spiritual path. Moreover only by understanding homosexuality from a spiritual perspective is heterosexuality and straight love properly understood.

Toby Johnson, one of the grandfather pioneers of gay spirituality has endorsed the book in glowing terms:

Gay Spirituality 101 is far more than an "introduction"; indeed, if we're using college level identifiers, this is more like a 303 graduate seminar than 101. Joe Perez rises to a much higher perspective in his analysis of themes in gay spirituality than a 101 Intro. Using the evolutionary and consciousness-stage model of Ken Wilber, Perez places insights into the nature of reality itself gleaned from deep investigation of gay inner experience as the real heart of the gay spirituality movement. Just as in order to understand sexuality you have to include both heterosexuality and homosexuality, so in order to understand the human relationship to the Divine you have to include both what he calls heterophilia and homophilia, that is, the universe's love for complementary opposites and its love for itself in its own perfect reflection. A modern gay perspective on religion and spirituality transcends the styles and pop idioms of neo-pagan imitation. Moderns cannot go back to pre-Christian, pre-Patriarchal paganism if only because we know better. We understand these things as myth and symbol from a pre-scientific time. My whimsical complaint with the book is that it's too short. I wanted more of Perez's insights. This book isn't about being a religious gay man or lesbian seeking a welcoming church; it's about honoring and learning from the unusual—and sometimes queer—perspective that being gay can force upon one's soul and psyche. A quick read, but very packed and thoughtful.

Joe's bestselling memoir, Soulfully Gay, is available on Amazon as well, and I've just ordered it (not available for download unfortunately). Given his Catholic background, this is a must read for all of us post Catholic gay bloggers out there! I'm really excited to have made this discovery and many thanks to Joe for having contacted me. My only regret is that it took me so long to make public this discovery here at Gay Mystics (health issues, pathetic excuse).

Soulfully Gay is a personal memoir of an intellectually rigorous gay man wrestling with fundamental issues of meaning and self-acceptance. Joe Perez finds himself on a quest to understand what it means to be gay at the intersection of conflicts between homosexuality and Christianity, faith and skepticism, mysticism and madness. His journey unfolds amid challenges to his health as a recovering addict, a survivor of a psychotic episode, and a man living with AIDS. Joe is able to integrate seemingly contradictory elements—his Roman Catholic upbringing versus his openly gay lifestyle, his authentic mystical experiences versus the delusions for which he was hospitalized. With a solid understanding of theology and an ability to see through the veils of political correctness, Joe brings a new level of intellect and understanding to the challenges of being a gay man.

I'm really excited about this 'new' discovery and for adding such a rich resource to Gay Mystics. More to come soon!