28 February 2005

The culture wars are really a movie advertisement

I’ll bet you have never heard this before:

To those who seek removal of the displays – a six-foot red granite
monument that has sat since 1961 on the grounds of the Texas Capitol,
and framed copies of the Ten Commandments that were hung five years ago
on the walls of two Kentucky courthouses – the meaning is as obvious as
it is impermissibly sectarian.

“There is no secular purpose in
placing on government property a monument declaring ‘I am the Lord thy
God,’ ” Prof. Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke University Law School wrote in
his brief for Thomas Van Orden, an Austin resident who has so far been
unsuccessful in his challenge to the Texas monument. It is one of
thousands placed around the country in the 1950’s and 1960’s by the
Fraternal Order of Eagles with the support of Cecil B. DeMille, the
director, who was promoting his movie “The Ten Commandments.”

Let me get this straight.  These “religious” monuments were put
up, at least in part, to publicize a movie?  How utterly ironic….

You’ve gotta love America, where we serve God, insofar as He helps us to serve Mammon.

Posted in Politicks on 28 February 2005 at 10:44 am by Nate
25 February 2005

Kicked out of the Anglican Communion?

Some of the news reports that you can read online right now make it sound as such.  One, from the AP, said,

Anglican Church Asks U.S., Canada to
Leave

ASSOCIATED PRESS
LONDON (AP) –
Leaders of the global Anglican
Communion declared Thursday that they want the U.S. Episcopal Church and the
Anglican Church of Canada to withdraw from the communion’s councils temporarily,
and to explain their attitudes toward gays which have split the
church.

The statement was issued by primates a day earlier than planned,
following their meetings this week at a Roman Catholic retreat in Northern
Ireland.

The U.S. church precipitated the most serious rift in the
communion’s history when it affirmed the election of V. Gene Robinson, who
openly lives with a male partner, as bishop of New Hampshire. Both churches have
been criticized by conservatives for sanctioning blessings of gay
unions.

The statement emerged a day earlier than planned from a meeting
of church primates in Northern Ireland. It called for the U.S. and Canadian
churches to explain their thinking at a meeting in Nottingham, England in
June.

“In the meantime, we ask our fellow primates to use their best
influence to persuade their brothers and sisters to exercise a moratorium on
public rites of blessing for same-sex unions and on the consecration of any
bishop living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage,” the
statement said.

A non-Anglican friend of mine was understandably pissed about this, as
it makes it sound like it’s our (LGBTIQ people) fault for the whole
mess.  I responded:

Well, it’s getting interesting, but not for the reasons that
this article indicates. 

Let an Anglican explain
it.

That quote was ensconced in a very long
statement discussing how the Anglican Communion can deal with the crisis.  And
the long statement was in some sense a commentary on a dense theological
document that came out five months ago.  And, on some level, gays are not the
crisis, but the catalyst for a larger crisis for us Anglicans — what does it
mean to be an episcopal (bishop-centered) church without being Roman (i.e.,
hierarchical and top-down)?  If some churches (like the US and Canadian
churches) go ahead and do something that the rest of the Anglican Churches find
wrong, how do we as a larger group of churches address that, without having a
centralized authority (like a pope) to order some people to stop/start doing
something they believe to be right and good?

For
the conservatives, it’s not gays who have split the church, but radical, sinful
Americans and Westerners (because this is very much a North-South,
developed-developing world issue).

The
overwhelming majority of American and Canadian bishops support the consecration
of LGBT people to the episcopacy and the blessing of same-sex covenantal
relationships.  Best guess numbers indicate that it’s only about five percent of
Episcopalians nationwide who align with the conservative position.  Mostly, it’s
several very outspoken American bishops, and bishops of the West Indies,
Nigeria, Kenya, Singapore, and a few other African and Asian nations. 
Archbishop Tutu and his successor, Archbishop Ndungane, have endorsed the cause
of justice for LGBT people.  And nowhere is it as simple as a
liberal-conservative paradigm might indicate, because those are not good labels
in this context.

Yes, it’s about the gays, and no,
it’s not about the gays.  As Anglicans, we have a tough polity, and if it
hadn’t been issues of justice for LGBT issues, it would have been something else
down the road one or two decades from now that would have precipitated this. 
That said, LGBT issues (and the “ick-factor” along with the course of Western
history for the last 1500 years) and our push for full recognition and inclusion
in the Body of Christ have played a significant role in pushing this crisis to
where it is, and this is partially a fight about our rights.  And those of us in
the church can’t and won’t give up that fight.

The
quote in the article was way decontextualized (as it was a single sentence from
a document of several pages of text), in that it’s the same continued request to
the American and Canadian churches to slow down — at least for the present —
and give everyone some time.  They might have cherry-picked this quote (“We also
wish to make it quite clear that in our discussion and assessment of the moral
appropriateness of specific human behaviours, we continue unreservedly to be
committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people.  The
victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be
ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us.  We assure homosexual
people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of
the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship.”) or this one (“We as a
body continue to address the situations which have arisen in North America with
the utmost seriousness.  Whilst there remains a very real question about whether
the North American churches are willing to accept the same teaching on matters
of sexual morality as is generally accepted elsewhere in the Communion, the
underlying reality of our communion in God the Holy Trinity is obscured, and the
effectiveness of our common mission severely hindered.”) Neither makes any real
sense out of context.

Furthermore, the head of the
Episcopal Church (USA) has not yet issued a statement in reaction to this (just
a news bulletin that he’ll issue one soon), but if the past is any
indication, he’ll probably throw lots of support behind LGBT people in the
church and voice his continued support for the consecration of the Bishop of New
Hampshire.  He himself was the chief consecrator at the Bishop of New
Hampshire’s ordination and consecration. 

All
right.  Enough said.  Now you know the beginnings of enough to make sense of
that AP wire story.

I find myself on the slow and gradual side of unity.  Being an
ex-evangelical, I still look for dramatic conversion experiences more
than I look for gradual transformations.  As one of BF’s advisors
is fond of pointing out, “We’ve only been at this for 2000 years; we’ve
hardly begun to figure it out.”  And that’s the operative thing I
tell myself much of the time as we work through this — there’s a good
chance I will not see this resolved in my earthly life.  It’s not
about any of us particularly, no matter what the cost.  It’s about living
together in righteousness and love, and accepting those costs.

Posted in Rayleejun on 25 February 2005 at 11:04 am by Nate
24 February 2005

Suit lust

The blog of Thomas Mahon, a Savile Row tailor, who tells us all about handmade suits.

One of the few material desires (pun acknowledged) that makes me wish I were in a higher-paying career bracket….

Posted in OnTheWeb on 24 February 2005 at 9:37 am by Nate
23 February 2005

“Born Again”

This week’s lectionary reading from the Gospel was the famous passage
containing the phrase “born again” and John 3.16 (which is the verse
that guy at sporting events is always holding up a sign for).

The phrase comes, of
course, from a scene in John’s Gospel where Jesus tells a Pharisee named
Nicodemus that he will never see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again. 
Somewhat testily prodded by Nicodemus to make himself clearer, Jesus says, “That
which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is
spirit.”? In other words, spiritual rebirth by the power of the Holy Spirit is
what Jesus is talking about.

He then goes one step
further, playing on the word pneuma, which means both “spirit” and “wind” in Greek.  “The wind blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it, but you
do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is
born of the Spirit,”? he says (John 3:1-8).  The implication seems to be that the
kind of rebirth he has in mind is (a) elusive and mysterious and (b) entirely
God’s doing.  There’s no telling when it will happen or to whom.

Presumably those to whom it does happen feel themselves
filled, as a sheer gift, with that love, joy, peace which Saint Paul singles out
as the principal fruits of the experience.  In some measure, however fleetingly,
it is to be hoped that most Christians have had at least a taste of them.

Some of those who specifically refer to themselves as “Born Again
Christians,”? however, seem to use the term in a different sense. 
You get the feeling that to them it means Super Christians.  They
are apt to have the relentless cheerfulness of car salesmen.  They
tend to be a little too friendly a little too soon and the women to
wear more make-up than they need.  You can’t imagine any of them
ever having had a bad moment or a lascivious thought or used a nasty
word when they bumped their head getting out of the car.  They
speak a great deal about “the Lord”? as if they have him in their hip
pocket and seem to feel that it’s no harder to figure out what he wants
them to do in any given situation than to look up in Fanny Farmer how to make
brownies.  The whole shadow side of human existence– the suffering, the doubt,
the frustration, the ambiguity– appears as absent from their view of things as
litter from the streets of Disneyland.  To hear them speak of God, he seems
about as elusive and mysterious as a Billy Graham rally at Madison Square
Garden, and on their lips the Born Again experience often sounds like something
we can all make happen any time we want to, like fudge, if only we follow their
recipe.

It is not for anybody to judge the authenticity
of the Born Again’s spiritual rebirth or anybody else’s, but my guess is that by
the style and substance of their witnessing to it, the souls they turn on to
Christ are apt to be fewer in number than the ones they turn off.

[This
meditation is taken from Frederick Buechner’s Whistling in the Dark:  A
Doubter’s Dictionary
, p. 23-24]

I’m not willing to judge the authenticity of the “born again”
experience–I’d even hesitantly say that I have had this experience
myself–but I think that Buechner may be right, in one sense.  For
too many people, religion is a comfort, a palliative, an “opiate” as
Marx described it.  True religion tries one’s soul, and while it
may offer a bulwark in life, it is probably more unsettling than it is
not.

Buechner’s criticism can apply equally to born-agains, Buddhists, or
liturgical people.  But we probably see it and hear it and have it
offered as justification most often from those who claim to be
“born-again.”  They are, after all, numerous, influential, and “loud” in our society.

Posted in Rayleejun on 23 February 2005 at 7:58 am by Nate

“Just in case you wondered why I had disappeared”

Now there’s Raptureletters, a
service to send an e-mail to your friends and family to tell them what
happened when the Rapture occurs and you are caught up in the clouds.

The rapture: When all the believers in Jesus Christ, who have been born again, are
taken up to heaven.

After the rapture, there will be a lot of speculation as to why millions of people have
just disappeared. Unfortunately, after the rapture, only non believers
will be left to come up with answers. You probably have family and
friends that you have witnessed to and they just won’t listen. After
the rapture they probably will, but who will tell them?

We have written a computer program to do just that. It will send an
Electronic Message (e-mail) to whomever you want after the rapture has
taken place, and you and I have been taken to heaven.

Posted in Rayleejun on 23 February 2005 at 7:51 am by Nate
20 February 2005

Gay Simpsons!

And so it happened.

BF and I can marry, here in Massachusetts, and also in Springfield, U.S.A!

A few cheers and jeers:

  • Hooray: Homer looks for his online ordination so that he can make
    dough off of the crowds of gays that Rev. Lovejoy won’t marry. 
    (Lovejoy says the Bible forbids gay marriage, Marge asks which book,
    Lovejoy says, “The Bible!”, Marge tries to talk further, Lovejoy rings
    the church bells to drown her out.)  One of the churches Homer
    almost gets his ordination from is the “e-Piscopal Church.”  If the
    Simpsons make fun of you, you’ve come around.
  • Boo! Hiss!:
    Fox runs from the FCC.  Before the episode began, we were advised
    that “Due to mature themes discussing gay marriage, viewer discretion
    is advised.”  For God’s sake, it’s the Simpsons.  If
    anything, this show’ll probably deal with it with more maturity and
    good sense than anything else on the airwaves.  Which says
    something about the discourse around this in our country right
    now.  Actually, it doesn’t really, because the Simpsons continues
    to prove one of the most insightful and intelligent pieces of popular
    culture that our society produces. 
  • Yay!: When Homer runs out
    of gay couples to marry, $200 short of the $14,800 he needs for a 62″
    TV, he wonders aloud if he could get Lenny and Carl to marry. 
    Marge: “You leave them alone to figure that out themselves!” 
    Lenny and Carl — not just potentially gay, but interracially
    gay.  (As Homer’s hand note once said, “Lenny=white, Carl=black.”)
  • Cheer: Why do the people of Springfield decide to legalize gay marriage?  Because they offend a Southern bumpkiny television host,
    who declares Springfield the worst town he’s ever visited, and it
    destroys their tourist industry.  So to make quick money off “all
    the disposable income” gays have, they legalize marriage.

Later, he read aloud an aide’s report from a convention of the
Christian Coalition, a conservative political group: “This crowd uses
gays as the enemy. It’s hard to distinguish between fear of the
homosexual political agenda and fear of homosexuality, however.”

“This is an issue I have been trying to downplay,” Mr. Bush said. “I think it is bad for Republicans to be kicking gays.”

Told that one conservative supporter was saying Mr. Bush had pledged
not to hire gay people, Mr. Bush said sharply: “No, what I said was, I
wouldn’t fire gays.”

I’m sure that plenty of the culture-protectors of the “Christian” right
will critique and bash the show without having seen it, claiming that
we shouldn’t put such divisive moral issues on a show that entertains
children.  (They’re only like this because they know they cannot
win this “battle”, that history has shown up many of the right’s “moral” stands as cloaked bigotry.) 

But the Simpsons has always been more than
entertainment.  In putting the mirror of humor up to fear and
hatred and stupidity, it defuses it more effectively than almost
anything else. 
In making fun of all of us, it puts us in perspective and in our
place.  If Homer, an uber anti-hero, can deal with it — whatever
“it” is this week — then what are we making such a fuss about?

If you’ll permit a slight Anglican intrusion (other than that above),
the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, a pretty hefty
intellectual himself, has called the show “one of the most subtle
pieces of propaganda around in the cause of sense, humility and
virtue.”  He also said, “It’s generally on the side of the angels
and on the side of sense. It
punctures lots of pompous fictions about how the world works.” 

And it did that tonight.  It portrayed our national “debate”
accurately, in some sense, and we look pretty much like the fools that
we are.  But you can only really be a fool when you take yourself seriously.

BTW, check out this quiz on “Religion in ‘The Simpsons.'”

Posted in Day2Day on 20 February 2005 at 10:41 pm by Nate
18 February 2005

In need of education

We’ve (BF and I) been interviewing for positions in the undergrad
residences here at Harvard over the last week.  Each interview is
about half an hour, and the questions are generally pretty standard.

But there are a few curveballs here and there:

  • “If you could choose any picture of yourself to display on The Facebook, which would it be and why?”
  • A set of questions in Spanish (because I indicated I had studied for about five years in secondary school and college)
  • BF
    got asked if he spoke any Irish (possibly because his three names are
    all stereotypical Irish ones, e.g., Brendan Sean O’Donovan [which are
    not his names])

And then there was the question, which in essence asked what we
would do if we encountered people in the house who might not like us
because of the fact that we’re gay.  The question concerned me for
two reasons. 

First, it implies/forgets/lacks knowledge of the fact that that’s a
daily part of both of our lives, probably in larger ways that the
questioner imagined.  BF responded essentially by saying that he’s
Roman Catholic, and he runs into it all the time.  I did not
mention the fact that my family and I do not have good relations, due
to the fact that I’m queer.

Second, although I am not trying to equate the queer push for civil
rights with that of various racial and ethnic groups (not because I
think there’s necessarily a difference in magnitude but because I just
am not sure how comparable they are), one wonders whether the
questioner would have asked it if we substituted most other minority
groups in the sentence.  My guess is “No.”

Posted in Day2Day on 18 February 2005 at 5:27 pm by Nate
11 February 2005

More Moleskine worship

They really are wonderful little notebooks.

Here’s one of a number of sites devoted to the Moleskine notebook.

It’s the paper and the way it feels when you push a good pen across it.

Posted in OnTheWeb on 11 February 2005 at 10:45 am by Nate

Tenure and free speech

This, of course, is why we have security of employment in the university
Otherwise, the conservative political masters of many state and private
universities and the liberal orthodoxy of many campuses would stifle
free inquiry.  It protects radical liberal Ward Churchill in the
same way it protects neo-conservative Harvey Mansfield.

And, as is true with most free speech debates, the people who object
most strenuously to the ideas expressed forget that they benefit from
the protections they object to when they say things unpopular.

Posted in IvoryTower on 11 February 2005 at 10:37 am by Nate
9 February 2005

Ash Wednesday

From “Ash Wednesday” by Thomas Stearns Eliot:

…And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death….

Posted in Day2Day on 9 February 2005 at 12:22 am by Nate