Friday, April 27, 2007

Steve Scott's "This Sad Music" as a Meditation

Many years ago as a young pup writer, I was music reviewer for Cornerstone magazine. And I reviewed many, many albums which I might or might not have liked that well. There were only a few, maybe as many as four or five, which I still today believe stand the test.

One of those came in 1982 or 1983, an intriguing looking album entitled "Love in the Western World." (Yes, the title was borrowed from Denis de Rougemont's book of that name.) Exit Records in California, an ultimately ill-fated label, nonetheless gave us such bands as the 77s, Vector, Charlie Peacock, and Steve Scott, the odd Brit responsible for LitWW. Scott, a sort of mix of Os Guinness and Lou Reed with a side order of Japan and existentialism / Lamentations thrown in, had created an album guaranteed not to sell in the cheesy contemporary Christian marketplace. In fact, CCM magazine at the time panned it as a disaster. (Intriguingly, Larry Norman's Solid Rock label had a Scott album recorded, but never apparently released it. But that's another story...)

I listened to "Love in the Western World," was awed by the lyrics as well as Scott's wierd musical sensibilities (he's backed by the 77s), and panned CCM mag while pumping "Love in the Western World" as an absolute gem. The starkly haunting musical / lyrical marriage of his unique new wave / spoken word sensibilities and an almost grimly realistic view of human agony, touched me deeply.

One song in particular, "This Sad Music," still best signifies to me Steve Scott's complete originality. (I may dedicate another blog entry to "Safety in Numbers," my close second-place Scott offering from LitWW.) I've looked now and again to see if the song's lyrics are on line. Apparently, they are not. So, I finally have typed them in myself while listening (hopefully accurately).

Here's the thing, though... I would like anyone else who remembers this album or lyric to please read the lyrics below and tell me what they got out of it. As I have listened, some 25 years after it was written and recorded, I find "This Sad Music" as riveting, painful, and troubling as it was to me way back when.

What I most noticed as I listened recently was the compassion -- an element so central to the work that it left me wondering how I'd missed it. I guess we all get a little more fragile, sad of heart, and so (prayerfully and hopefully) more aware of compassion / empathy when we see it than perhaps we were before such lessons came our way. Or, perhaps I speak only personally. Whatever... here is the lyrical portion of "This Sad Music" from the superlative album (now on CD w/ additional "live" cuts). I have formatted it in a manner which attempts to communicate a little of its aural impact, but will change or even delete it if Steve yells at me.


This Sad Music

The whales are dying now,
hurling themselves upon the beaches
black dice reckoned under the sun's watchful gaze

There's sweat on the preacher's brow
as he talks about damnation.
The whales are in love with no one
They wanted to die without explanation

He mops his brow and quotes Malcolm Muggeridge
on - quote -
"the collapse of western civilization"
- end quote -
and the book he waves in the air
is as black as whaleskin

He urges people to "make their decision"
and the whales have made their decision

An awful silence surrounds them
Like a ruined castle they lie
still, passive, beyond explanations

Beads of sweat on the preacher's brow
like small clear animals clinging to a rock face
or like tiny transparent whales
flinging themselves from the boiling seas of his eyes
into a slow, certain dying

The sad music in their brains, a piper's lament
from that old castle in the mist-thickened night

THE HUMAN IMAGINATION!" shouts the preacher

His voice is a door slamming shut
the sea's noise is a vast intake of breath
a gesture in a room to break the silence
now the whales have broken the silence

They are the color of the preacher's harsh words

The white foam rushes to embrace them
like mother and father
The whales do not want to know, and now

There are people sprawled on the beaches
chained together by "HUMAN IMAGINATION"
All the music has bled out of them,
drained from the ends of their fingers
splashed from the loudspeakers of their wallets

And at the end of the service, people walk forward
Perhaps it is "the collapse of western civilization"
that moves them
or the sad music of their slow, certain dying
that guides their feet

And at the end of this poem
a strange light comes off the bodies of the whales
gathering up the shadows like driftwood
and splashing them against the far walls

you would think the shadows would make
the words there hard to read
However, I find it's at a time like this
I see the writing clearest of all

(c) Steve Scott 1983

Thoughts, anyone? Meditations?

More on Steve Scott:
Wikipedia entry on Mr. Scott (a.k.a., "The Duke of Drone")

I will attempt to review a book of Steve's soon, and should have done it in tandem with this. But one must write when the muse strikes what the muse would have one write.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

First Democratic Debate Shows Candidate Strength

There have rarely been as many strong candidates for one party's presidential nomination as the Democrats have this election cycle. The MSNBC-broadcast debate between (alphabetically) Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kusinich, Barack Obama, and Bill Richardson. Sure, the names that lead the pack, Clinton, Obama, and maybe Edwards, look to be building their lead as opposed to the rest of the field. But what surprised me -- aside from the fantastic entertainment value of Mike Gravel (and he did say some true stuff regarding "politics as usual") -- was how unified the field was. It will be interesting to see how that unity does as the campaign wears on, considering that (after all) the candidates are trying to defeat one another while not being so mean about it that they leave potential Dem voters sick of the whole thing.

For this bluechristian, I found the big plus to be their relentless focus on Bush's stubborn, ill-advised, and lethal (for Americans and Iraqis) policies in Iraq and the so-called "war on terror."

The big minus? It is unavoidable, of course, but the chest-thumping by everyone (except Kucinich and Gravel) about how they'd be so willing to be manly men about pursing lethal means in response to any "terrorism" on American soil. Even my man Obama's worst moment was the one where he, too, joined the overall fray to be sufficiently warlike to achieve manhood. I groan.

My second beef? The Dems on abortion sound like a broken record. Once again, a complete lack of imagination on their part collectively. Heck, as Feminists for Life observed recently, a technological advance that allowed a pregnant woman to very early on become "unpregnant" yet also created an artificial womb-like environment to safegard the human fetus in question would completely reshape the abortion controversy. Pro-lifers -- the ones at least that, like their pro-choice counterparts, are without imagination -- would probably refuse to recognize the fact, much as many among them also fail to realize the fact of global warming. But pro-choicers, those who (quite properly!) often also promote solar energy, wind power, and other alternatives to the nasty petroleum / carbon nexus, seem completely unable to leave their "womens' choice equals legalized infanticide" box. Come on, people! As I say, a complete failure of imagination.

My third beef? This was provoked by MSNBC's commentators blabbing after the debate. I am SICK of hearing how Hillary Clinton comes off "sharply" in comparison to the other (MALE!) candidates. We have a serious double-standard here, folks. If she was a man, who would call her "sharp"? No one. What sexist idiocy. She has to play along of course, and the MSNBC commentators graded her performance sufficiently behaved "until near the end." Look, if someone wants to compare Obama's ease, communication skills, and overall "presence" to Hillary, fair enough. I think he is a magnificent orator as well as very fast on his feet. Hillary is also quick, but without that startling -- even to someone who as a Chicagoan is somewhat used to him -- Obama articulation. But lay off the sexism. Really.

It's early. And we'll soon get a look at the Republican crew, who I suspect will take a page from the Democratic playbook to target the Dems instead of one another...

, , , , ,

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Chicago Reader on Helen Shiller

Sorry, if all politics is local, I sure make sure my readers keep up with Uptown, Chicago's. After responding to Helen Shiller's March 2007 aldermanic opponent (James Cappleman) just yesterday, I today ran across in the pile of trash on my desk the March 30 Chicago Reader. An article there, "Helen's Voters: Democracy at work in the 46th Ward," pretty much said what I tried to say in my response to Mr. Cappleman regarding his loss to Helen in the election. There is a predictable (if painful) history here of a class struggle:

At the risk of generating dozens of screechy e-mails, I think it all comes down to good old-fashioned class warfare. Shiller’s made it clear there will always be a place for the poor in Uptown and some people can’t abide that. She says her cause is justice; her foes say she keeps the poor in Uptown so she can control their votes. “Shiller’s main motive was that she was building a political power base which included as many winos as she could drag to the voting booth,” columnist Mike Royko once wrote.

Funny, but not really fair: in a city notorious for its corruption, neither Shiller nor anyone in her organization has ever been indicted, much less convicted, for the sort of illegal electioneering alluded to by Royko. She’s not a lawyer; she doesn’t run an insurance or real estate business on the side. Clearly she’s not in politics to make money, although it looks as though her son, Brendan Shiller, is carrying on that great Chicago tradition in which the relatives of powerful politicians become zoning lawyers.

Some of the animosity against her is a remnant of the culture wars of the 1960s and 1970s. Born and raised in New York City and educated at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Shiller came to Uptown in the early 70s as part of a vanguard of shaggy-haired radicals looking to change the world. Within a few years she and her comrades had created the Heart of Uptown Coalition, which oversaw health and legal clinics, distributed clothes and meals to the poor, and freaked out older white residents by aligning itself with the Black Panthers. In 1977 the group officially moved into local politics by running Shiller for alderman. In those days the ward was controlled by hard-nosed Democratic operatives who’d started in politics under the first Mayor Daley and were not about to let this crowd take over without a fight. She lost by 1,000 votes.

I’ve witnessed eight 46th Ward aldermanic campaigns since then, and though Shiller has won every one since 1987, when she ousted incumbent Jerry Orbach by 498 votes, they’ve all been pretty much the same.

Imaginarium at Cornerstone Festival 2007

Really, I'm just posting this because of the awesome Undead Elvis artwork. But you might want to check out the program as well as have your mind blown by the home page. 'Nuff said.

SmuloSpace Interviews Trott

John Smulo, a co-conspirator with John Morehead, Philip Johnson, and myself on the Sacred Tribes Journal website, decided for reasons wholly his own to interview me. The results of that interview, in three parts, can be perused on his Smulo Space. I talk about the usual bla bla -- life in community, sex and feminism, and my past investigative reporting on the frenzy surrounding so-called "Satanic Ritual Abuse," Mike Warnke, Lauren Stratford, and all that jazz.

Monday, April 23, 2007

An after-election response to me from former aldermanic candidate James Cappleman, and my response back

I was surprised, though not unpleasantly, when former political candidate James Cappleman posted a comment last week to one of a handful of posts I did on the 46th Aldermanic elections here in Chicago. His post in turn led to me writing one of my interminably long responses, long enough that I'm posting it as a front pager instead of a comment. Background: Mr. Cappleman challenged incumbent Helen Shiller in the March elections, and lost. As the election progressed I, as someone who finds in Alderman Shiller the rarest of commodities (a politician with integrity), did give her challenger and supporters a fairly hard time. The election, for the majority of those voting for both candidates, had as subtext the class struggle between more wealthy, invested interests vs. those struggling to make ends meet.

Again, here is what James wrote (along with the contested article itself as well as about 20 other comments). My response to his comments follows:

== + ==

James, I am glad to see you responding to my post here, but sad you couldn’t have responded during the election. Nonetheless, thanks again for posting. Allow me to initially respond to your concerns. After I do that, I’ll try to add some comments reflecting more on what lies ahead for our 46thWard, and Uptown in particular, than focusing on the election now behind us.
I honestly don’t think we’ll get anywhere meaningful by debating as if the election is still underway. Nor, probably, will we get anywhere debating my opinion about your platform and presentation vs. yours. You write that I accused you of being a “fan” of George Bush. I did not. I did suggest that your presentation on PBS Channel 11 as well as your comments in the debate with Helen Shiller at Uptown’s Disney Magnet School offered a rhetorically heavy and content-light approach quite similar to President Bush’s.

What was offered instead seemed to be mostly an assault on Ms. Shiller rooted in character assassination, coupled with your own insistence that, unlike her, you would be a good alderman.
This failed to impress me. Again, that was my take, and I’m the first to admit my perspective is only that of one very limited human being. But can we move on to greener pastures? You list five points, which I will attempt to respond to in what will probably be too long for many and not long (explanatory enough) for others:

First you say: "I am a liberal Democrat." Perhaps you are on many issues. But somehow, on the set of issues consistently facing Uptown (and I’m talking as someone who’s lived here for the past 30 years) you have drawn around you a group of very conservative-leaning (one might even say reactionary) folks on key issues for our community. If a politician’s appeal can be known through his followers, then I would have to say you don’t appear at all progressive on the interlinked issues of homeless, housing, and poverty. Nor did I personally detect anything progressive in your platform on these subjects. You signaled you'd worked with the homeless, which I applaud. But you also seemed highly resistant to more low-income and affordable housing being built in Uptown, a fact reflected by your hostility toward the Wilson Yards low-income housing component engineered by Helen Shiller.

What I suggest, if you want the votes of progressives in the Ward (should Helen not run again), is to interview folks ward-wide about the history of what many call -- fairly accurately -- a “class war” in our Uptown. A growing number of folks would love to see this class war resolved, but I don’t think anyone will respond to rhetoric alone. You would need a platform filled with very specific, well-informed, and worked out plans to actually CREATE low income housing, more jobs for the very poor, and more help in particular for homeless men, who appear very unwelcome in the “new” Uptown some of your supporters would seemingly like to build.

Second, you say: “I have always remained a strong advocate for people who live in poverty.”James, this just doesn’t ring true. Perhaps you believe it; that’s not the question. All I can do is point to those who voted for you in this last election.

Why did the same interests gather around you as gathered around every challenger of Helen Shiller for the past twenty years? Those interests have always focused on stopping any further low-income housing in Uptown, and where possible, eliminating some or all social services in Uptown for the poor. For us long-time watchers, nothing has changed. This seems true also of your supporters, many of whom repeated the exact same anti-poor rhetoric we’ve been hearing since 1985 or ’86.

If, once again, you want the votes of a majority of progressives, you have to fight consistently for the poor, for more low-income housing, rather than against it on the very dubious grounds that it doesn’t meet HUD’s guidelines. The trouble with such narrowly defined “proper ways” of doing things creates a probable death of a thousand pin-pricks for any truly creative plans for low-income housing.

You go get HUD dollars if you think you want HUD housing. Otherwise, that housing has to be created via other plans and other specifications. Helen Shiller did go get housing dollars via one of the most innovative plans we’ve seen in this or any Chicago ward in recent memory. The Wilson Yard TIF plan created something for everyone, including the large retail outlet we’ll all use, but also created low income housing. If you wanted to appear sincere in your claims above, you would have supported this plan unreservedly. Frankly, for my own two cents, I had hoped for more affordable housing out of it than we actually got. But I do think Helen did about as well as she could considering the lack of HUD or any other government funding for housing. (Guess it is all being spent in Iraqthese days. If you don’t believe me about HUD, take a look at post-Katrina New Orleans, where up to 60 percent of their housing other than downtown is still vacant due to flood damage!)

Third, you say “I have always sought efforts to eliminate racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, and sexism. That comes with being a liberal Democrat. That comes from being a Christian with strong humanist leanings.” These are good words, Mr. Cappleman. But in order to actually deal with such issues you have to become engaged with the history of these matters. Uptown’s history is particularly painful, as there has been an unrelenting class struggle here for at least four decades (and actually since the 1930s). At first Uptown was indeed the North Side’s main “ghetto” area, a place where poor southern whites, blacks, and various other racial and ethnic groups could find low-income (but also horrendously dangerous and unhealthy) housing.

Then, as speculators realized Uptown was located near Lake Michigan and had easy access to public transportation (among other things), the area became victimto selfish developers. We watched as mass evictions of (for instance) Cambodianrefugees took place via a developer who bought their building in order to turnit into high-rent apartments. The condo boom made things even worse. (I’m greatlycompacting a story which is fairly horrendous.)

So… your words are good. I applaud them. But I’d need specific plans for the future where such noble sentiments are fleshed out in hard, cash-savvy, people-savvy terms. Otherwise, you and your supporters remain vulnerable to charges of NIMBYism** regarding the poorest of the poor who are your neighbors.

Fourth, you say “I abhor the polarization that exists in Uptown. At the WTTW interview, I brought up the What the Helen* blog to demonstrate that there are deep divisions within this ward in order to confront Ald. Shiller's attempts to gloss over the anger that is present in the community.”

Sigh. Again, you must honestly believe this. But I just don’t see it. In fact, by far the most divisive campaign I saw was your own. Part of that is just good politics, in the pragmatic sense at least. That is, you were the underdog to an established favorite. Discontent is a political necessity for an underdog, otherwise the underdog will be basically unelectable. So I don’t even particularly hold it against you that you used division in order to try to build and strengthen your beachhead of voters. Where you ran into trouble, however, was in what kind of voters – and how incredibly shrill and hateful – the most public voices among them ended up being. The whatthehelen folks, as your very worst expression of support, should NEVER have been mentioned by you even strategically. That is, unless you thought their site would be helpful to your cause. I assure you it was not.

You make the same mistake in your post here to you made on the WTTW broadcast. That is, you blame Helen Shiller for the rantings of extremists, while (it could be argued) you yourself are fueling the extremists' rage. And the “blame game,” even in good ol’ Bushite America, is beginning to wear thin. Extremists are extremists, angry people are often simply angry people, and will find some target to vent at.

Most of my post, actually, was directed more at the whatthehelen dot com folks than at you. But your verbal endorsement of them – because that is what it was for the viewers, whether you meant it that way or not – does implicate you. Never did you distance yourself from either them or even the more extreme voices on sites such as (a site where moderate, thoughtful voices do also post). The deeply offensive comments made their about Helen, about the religious community I am a part of, and about others, were passed on by you in silence.

In retrospect, and for the future, I think if you really mean it when you say “I abhor… polarization,” you should promptly and publically reject hateful and knowingly inaccurate websites supporting your cause as being divisive. Not only would that show integrity, but it would also quite possibly lose you a few votes and gain you some votes.

Fifth, you write what appears to be a reiteration of your campaign rhetoric. In fact, I think some of that sounds like the very wording you used at the Disney school debate and on WTTW. I’m not going to respond point by point (collective sigh of relief from readers here—Trott’s already windy enough!). The election is over, and if anything perhaps I can aid you (to one degree or another) in finding lessons in the whole process. Or perhaps I won't be of use to you in that regard. If so, I'm sorry. I do realize that you are at least pondering another aldermanic run in a few years, so polishing one's rhetoric is no less important for you, a political hopeful, than it is for me, a writer.

Speaking of my writing, you said this: “Jon, there's a spirit of meanness that pervades your writing. You might see as sarcasm and dismiss the seriousness of it, but it's there. You would benefit from searching your own conscience. In the meantime, I will not sink to your level. We don't agree with one another on politics. I don't and never will agree that the end justifies the means. I also embrace a spirituality that sees an element of God's truth in all religions, including yours. I expect you to be truthful. I would think your God expects the same.”

James, when it comes to me and my motives, my voice as “sarcastic,” and many more matters of personal ambiguity, I always plead guilty. Only God knows my heart for sure; I don’t. But as for “meanness,” I don’t think I ever called you anything like your followers have called me and/or the religious community to whom I belong. Re-read what I wrote, or peruse some of the threads on Buena Park Neighbors' message board regarding us, Helen, or other supporters / employees of Helen.

The business about Denice, who works with Helen, was very Imus-ish in my opinion and the opinions of others who read it (again, I referenced it in my post to which you responded). All of that was nasty character assassination, without basis in fact. And I did hear you directly attack the integrity of Helen Shiller as a person, not merely a politician. That line is a fine one, I understand. But in my humble opinion, you crossed it early and often during the campaign.

And re sarcasm, I don’t think my comparison between you and President Bush was meant to be mean. It was meant quite literally. I did feel somewhat angry as I wrote it. If you felt that sense of indignation from me, I plead (again) guilty. Again, I would absolutely love it if you proved me wrong by your future actions. I mean that in 100% sincerety. You will find in me a solid ally if you in turn ally yourself – in action – with the poorest of the poor. You were a Franciscan once, so I know you are familiar with his way of life and not just his words. And I don’t doubt that in your personal life, you attempt to do many good, gracious, and noble things that might reflect his spirit as well as the Spirit of his Master.

But politically and socially, you ended up supporting ideas that I don’t think St. Francis would have supported. And lest we forget, N. T. Wright (a great Anglican theologian) reminds us that Jesus Christ wasn't just a feel-good guru. No one would have killed him for that. Jesus’gospel was (and is) political at its heart, and Christ died for political reasons at the hands of both religious and secular authorities. How have we ended up, as Christians, supporting the powers-that-be over against the poor and dispossessed? None of us are innocent, James. I do indeed, as you suggest, try to plumb my own conscience before the God of Love and Justice.

A few philosophical threads to tie off, and I’m done. Not because I really have given an adequate response – even though it is as long as a Helen Shiller response (joke!) – but because I think these issues are the hear of what makes us human, or our political end results humane or non-humane…

You mention the end justifying the means and seemingly direct that comment toward me. Without a referent to something I said or wrote, I'm baffled by it. It was a strange sentiment, seemingly reflecting the very thing you are accusing me of doing.

You write: “I also embrace a spirituality that sees an element of God’s truth in all religions, including yours.” Um, my religion is Christianity. If yours is also Christianity – defined normally by one’s belief in the historic life, death, and resurrection of Christ as portrayed in the gospels, and its personal application to us individually and corporately as human beings, then you and I are both of the same faith. We may (and likely do) disagree on other issues, sub-sets if you will of the gospel’s core, but that doesn’t necessarily make either of us an unbeliever. As the Apostle James said, in words that burn whenever I ponder them, "faith without works is dead."

But back to the "elements of truth in all religions" sentence of yours. There is a very superficial way this expression can be read -- as a sort of fluffy Hallmark card sentimentalist sound-bite. Scrape at it with a fingernail and the meaning vanishes away, leaving only a thin sugary crust.

But on a deeper level I agree, depending on what we mean by “elements,” I suppose. Every religion that exists points to the yearning in each individual heart for meaning, for hope beyond death, for love (both as lover and for a Beloved). All the great religions have at their heart an idea of mutuality, or as Martin Buber calls it, an “I – Thou” relationship between human beings as well as between human beings and God.

And all great monotheistic religions have at their heart the idea that God, at heart, cares for us and is concerned for us each personally, that he reveals himself to us through general and specific revelation. C. S. Lewis deals with some of this on the popular level with his Mere Christianity.

The problem with that sentiment, however, is when it is taken too far. For instance, neither you nor I would agree with much that many religions have to offer. The law of non-contradiction indicates that if I say God is a Sentient, Personal, Perfect Being, and that what he created materially is “good,” I cannot also believe that God is an impersonal “it,” or “stuff” that creation is made of, and that creation in its material form is actually an imperfection or even evil. These two ideas, from western monotheistic and eastern Hindu-based religious traditions respectively, come into logical conflict. They may both be wrong, but they can’t both be right.

There are a number of other core issues of faith which likewise demand intellectually that we choose between them. That does not, however, necessitate a dehumanization of others who do not see reality as we do. All human beings -- not just Christians -- are made in the Image of God. Christ died not for some, but for all men. The fact some humans reject that sacrifice is one of those terrible mysteries I don't pretend to understand.

Finally, you say "I won't sink to your level." Well, knowing me as well as I do, I’m glad for you! All of us are pretty low on the morality scale. God didn’t really become human to make us into good moral, decent citizens. Most of us already think we are good people, not really in desperate and needy straights. He came to rescue those of us realizing our predicament, and to make us into His disciples. The very first step of that process is to discover that we are sinful, selfish, lustful, and unloving, even in the midst of our most altruistic, "good" by human standards acts and words.

In short, any politician really wanting to be a "good" politician must begin with the self-project, what AA calls a "fearless self-inventory."

Redemption of a world begins with the smallest world, my own.

Or, as St. Francis put it, “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”

So, as one sinner to another, can we get started?

Jon Trott

* The "whatthehelen" blog site was pulled down within hours of the election ending. Another site has since taken the URL, but is missing most of the content the first site had.

** NIMBY = "Not In My Own Backyard" and refers to political liberals who suddenly become conservative when faced with the implications of progressive liberalism in their own neighborhoods.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Earth Day in Intentional Community

There is no doubt that living together as we do at JPUSA saves big on energy resources. In honor of Earth Day I'll list a few, which will sound like bragging, but will then confess ways we can do better.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that in community, the term "livin' large" is turned on its head. While our living space takes up seven floors (plus three more for Senior citizens, we as individuals are involved in surrendering space. By accepting, for instance, one room for a married couple and one room for two or three single individuals, one also accepts the blessing of huge energy savings.

This goes beyond just using less electricity and into more far-reaching energy savings, such as owning less overall. Those material items took energy to make; by not buying them we in our microcosmic way help lower manufacturers' energy consumption.

Cars, however, are a huge way energy is used in our society. JPUSA owns many cars, more than we used to in our beginning years. But even so, we are far, far below the American average of one car per person. Rather, we share cars as communal resources. We also tend not to travel alone, but ride-share as a matter of pragmatic practice. Again, the energy savings over the usual American practice of one person, one car, are obvious.

Further, in a city like Chicago, where population is dense and the city is built up as well as out, walking and biking are often-used means of travel. As someone a bit addicted to walking when and if I can, I push this option hard with friends and family here. (I admit if we lived in Los Angeles, we'd be challenged in the latter regards.)

Food preparation is done in our large community kitchens, though each floor also has its own smaller kitchen. This can't help but save energy-wise, as large amounts of food are made for many at one blow rather than many smaller meals being made over long periods of time for only one or two people.

I would think this is also true of our dish cleaning operations, which take place via large communal dishwashers and sinks rather than many small ones, again (in the end) perhaps saving in both heating water and in the gas it takes to do that heating.

This hurried list can likely be added significantly to... I've lived here too long (30 years in January '07) to not be blind to some of these energy-saving practices.


Nonetheless, we have areas in which we can do much better.

For one thing, our (by American standards) relative poverty prevents us from doing some things that would be highly intriguing to invest in. How about a set of solar panels on top of our 920 and 939 W. Wilson buildings? How about more solar and wind power on our festival grounds, Cornerstone Farm, near Bushnell, Illinois? We'd love to do it, but at present cannot due to financial costs involved in doing such upgrades initially (even though in the long run they would pay themselves off).

Then there are those things we are just starting to really get rolling... at least, conceptually (sigh!). For instance, changing out many older incandescent bulbs for the newer (but again, more expensive) micro flourescent bulbs: we're not there yet, though a few JPUSAns have done so.

Turning off lights in rooms not being used is also a struggle for us. Some do it consistently, but I confess personally I've had to consciously talk to myself (aloud, sometimes!) to remember to do this, and that only within the past year.

Electronic equipment may use less power than heating and most lighting sources, but it still sucks plenty. I am a bad offender here, often leaving my computers on (though with the "green" power-saver options enabled) and worse, leaving my cable box / DVD system on. (I use older equipment as a rule, which means turning stuff off often means waiting for some time to get it all back "up" again... such is my excuse.) But I can do some things, which I usually (blush) don't. Ask me again in a month what I've done about this.

As a community, there is a psychology that has to be made war on by individual community members. It is far too easy to walk into a lighted room and, because it is not our own living area but a "public" area, leave the lights on even if we turned them on when we entered that room.

Like all things having to do with energy consumption, each individual has to feel in her or his bones the burden to make a difference. And that idea of responsibility belonging to us individually is also one of the great lessons of community on levels going deeper than energy consumption...

technorati tags:, , , , , , , ,

Blogged with Flock

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Supreme Court's Ban on "Partial-Birth" Abortion: A Pro-Life Liberal's Take

Score one for the Bushites. I cannnot do anything but rejoice over the the Supreme Court's decision to ban "intact D & E" (partial birth) abortions. And to be sure, that would not have happened unless President Bush had appointed Samuel Alito, Jr., to the High Court.

I am certainly not going, however, to further praise President Bush, the Christian Right, or other forces which, though right on this issue are wrong on a spectrum of others.

Rather, I would only point out that without the pro-life issue, which properly and contextually belongs within a liberal political platform rather than that of the right, President Bush would never have been elected in the first place. We would not be fighting a fraudulent war in Iraq. We would be enjoying the presidency of the most pro-environmental voice presidential politics ever produced, that of Al Gore. We would be working on a terribly complex, but utterly worthy, set of domestic issues involving feminist concerns, poverty issues, health issues, and the liberal distinctive protecting all human life, first and especially those lives at greatest social and economic risk.

Instead, we are over and over again stuck with the right wing because they -- rather than liberals and progressives -- "get it" regarding unborn human life. They may "get it" for a web of bone-headed reasons, including a luddite worldview in which women are viewed as having "roles" they are "meant" to fulfill and other "roles" they are not allowed to participate in. They may "get it" (or think they get it) because they hate feminism and all it has to offer, seemingly being ignorant of womens' history.

But the issue for pro-lifers seems fairly simple. It is an extremely bad idea to abort unborn children, unless the life of the mother is involved. The High Court's decision makes for grim reading -- a medical description of D & E (dilation and evacuation) procedures including both the now-banned variety as well as the form still legal.

Here's the Court's description of a "standard" D & E:

After sufficient dilation the surgical operation can commence. The woman is placed under general anesthesia or conscious sedation. The doctor, often guided by ultrasound, inserts grasping forceps through the woman's cervix and into the uterus to grab the fetus. The doctor grips a fetal part with the forceps and pulls it back through the cervix and vagina, continuing to pull even after meeting resistance from the cervix. The friction causes the fetus to tear apart. For example, a leg might be ripped off the fetus as it is pulled through the cervix and out of the woman. The process of evacuating the fetus piece by piece continues until it has been completely removed. A doctor may make 10 to 15 passes with the forceps to evacuate the fetus in its entirety, though sometimes removal is completed with fewer passes. Once the fetus has been evacuated, the placenta and any remaining fetal material are suctioned or scraped out of the uterus. The doctor examines the different parts to ensure the entire fetal body has been removed. See, e.g., Nat. Abortion Federation, supra, at 465; Planned Parenthood, supra, at 962.

The Court describes the partial birth or intact D & E this way (WARNING - very graphic content):

Intact D&E gained public notoriety when, in 1992, Dr. Martin Haskell gave a presentation describing his method of performing the operation. Dilation and Extraction 110-111. In the usual intact D&E the fetus' head lodges in the cervix, and dilation is insufficient to allow it to pass. See, e.g., ibid.; App. in No. 05-380, at 577; App. in No. 05-1382, at 74, 282. Haskell explained the next step as

" 'At this point, the right-handed surgeon slides the fingers of the left [hand] along the back of the fetus and "hooks" the shoulders of the fetus with the index and ring fingers (palm down).

" 'While maintaining this tension, lifting the cervix and applying traction to the shoulders with the fingers of the left hand, the surgeon takes a pair of blunt curved Metzenbaum scissors in the right hand. He carefully advances the tip, curved down, along the spine and under his middle finger until he feels it contact the base of the skull under the tip of his middle finger.

" '[T]he surgeon then forces the scissors into the base of the skull or into the foramen magnum. Having safely entered the skull, he spreads the scissors to enlarge the opening.

" 'The surgeon removes the scissors and introduces a suction catheter into this hole and evacuates the skull contents. With the catheter still in place, he applies traction to the fetus, removing it completely from the patient.' " H. R. Rep. No. 108-58, p. 3 (2003).

This is an abortion doctor's clinical description. Here is another description from a nurse who witnessed the same method performed on a 26-week fetus and who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

" 'Dr. Haskell went in with forceps and grabbed the baby's legs and pulled them down into the birth canal. Then he delivered the baby's body and the arms--everything but the head. The doctor kept the head right inside the uterus... .

" 'The baby's little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his little feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors in the back of his head, and the baby's arms jerked out, like a startle reaction, like a flinch, like a baby does when he thinks he is going to fall.

" 'The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening, and sucked the baby's brains out. Now the baby went completely limp... .

" 'He cut the umbilical cord and delivered the placenta. He threw the baby in a pan, along with the placenta and the instruments he had just used.' " Ibid.

Dr. Haskell's approach is not the only method of killing the fetus once its head lodges in the cervix, and "the process has evolved" since his presentation. Planned Parenthood, 320 F. Supp. 2d, at 965. Another doctor, for example, squeezes the skull after it has been pierced "so that enough brain tissue exudes to allow the head to pass through." App. in No. 05-380, at 41; see also Carhart, supra, at 866-867, 874. Still other physicians reach into the cervix with their forceps and crush the fetus' skull. Carhart, supra, at 858, 881. Others continue to pull the fetus out of the woman until it disarticulates at the neck, in effect decapitating it. These doctors then grasp the head with forceps, crush it, and remove it. Id., at 864, 878; see also Planned Parenthood, supra, at 965.

Now. What portion of the above description sounds liberal? None of it does to me. It is about the taking of a human life which is often a fully viable one outside the womb.

I sometimes feel near-rage at being stuck in a country which has so littlle political or social imagination, which insists upon functioning within the same tired dichotomies. Why must the left be pro-choice even to the extreme that they would fight fiercely for the right to kill fully viable fetuses? And why must the right -- who for once gets it right at least in the narrow sense -- be so obtuse about feminism, the radical limiting effects upon one's future a single mother experiences, the increasing lack of housing for poorer women (Lord knows our Cornerstone Shelters make us all too aware of this disconnect), the gaps in health care for very poor women and children, and on and on?

I am sure this little broadside won't help much. But I believe I am a feminist, or if you will (being male) at least "pro-feminist," while also being consistently pro-life.

Sometimes, embracing ideals that cross the invisible politically accepted lines between blue and red will bring us to a point of great pain and stress. Frankly, the older I get as a human being and a Christian, the more I think it is at that point of pain and stress where the truth of things can often be discovered. We are where the reality of human pain, caused by our political over-simplifications, is most felt. We are with the poor mothers, the dispossessed non-sharers in the so-called "American dream," the unprotected unborn, the lives not reducable to political rhetoric. We are looking into the eyes of Christ.

Or so this hopelessly self-contradictory bluechristian sees it.

technorati tags:, , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Stomp on Imus: First Reaction May Not Be Right Reaction

Stomp the career of Don Imus. That was my instant gut reaction when I heard he'd called the Rutgers' womens basketball team "nappy headed ho's" during his April 4 Imus in the Morning broadcast. People didn't like Al Sharpton's rough treatment of Imus. Well too bad. I've not been a listener before now and gee, I'm so sorry I missed out. Al, on this one, speaks for me, honkified cracker freak flag flier though I be.

But then I made the mistake of listening to the Rutgers team addressing Imus' comments. And frankly, I was convicted by them. First by their coach, who as a black woman has encountered all this racial and sexist poop from the git go. But especially I was knocked out by their spokesperson, Essence Carson. The grace, candor, yet lack of rage from this powerful and ultra-articulate woman caused me to reassess my own response. The sorrow and pain and shame of Imus' remarks were her cross to bear, hers and her team mates. But I heard not one bitter word -- though some quite angry words -- from them. I also heard pain, sorrow, bewilderment, and an overwhelming sense of having been robbed of their precious golden moment in the limelight. And underneath it was the undertow of a willingnes to forgive.

I'm watching for that Essence Carson. I hope I get to vote for her one day, to see her on the national stage again, because at such a tremendously young age to have such powerful insight and wisdom bodes great things for her. And maybe, if we can hear her, us as well.

The team agreed to meet with Don Imus, trying to understand. He was fired before that meeting, we now know, but went to it anyway and, after apologizing and talking with the team for some time, was forgiven by them.

So. Where does that leave me and my initial "off with his head!" reaction? Well, Imus does have his pleasant side (he does a lot of charity stuff, beyond the call of duty). And he does make a living off being verbally outrageous. Did those carrying his program jump the gun in firing him? Would there have been a better road to take?

Heck, I think I know of one. Take Essence Carson on as co-host of the Imus show. Do a regular series of programs on hate speech, racism, anti-woman rhetoric and action, and even the overall phenomenon of meanness currently so popular among American comic performers, radio pundits, and their audiences. Stripping Don Imus of all his media power feels good right now, but could be less productive than keeping him on air yet demanding of him not only an apology but an apology that is very specific in how he will live it out and speak it out through his media megaphone.

Look. Don Imus' career is about living on the edge with his mouth. Like (to use an unrelated speaker) Benny Hinn or some other fairly wild preacher, Imus gives his audience the kind of show they want and reaps the benefits. While Hinn blows on people and makes them fall down (Holy Spirit breath? Whew!), Imus blows meanness on people and everyone (until now) digs it and gives him lots of money and media power. He was a golden boy until his tongue twisted around a phrase (actually started for him by his producer's "ho" comment) that suddenly transgressed the unseen boundary between harharhar and nonono...

I have ripped on Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter for their dehumanizing verbal assaults on others. (I'm not dehumanizing them -- they may be lovely people in the privacy of their own homes.) But apparently we Americans like this Limbaugh kind of humor, whether or not we like Limbaugh's politics. We think dehumanizing speech is okay, but not if it breaks down into racial catagories. Well, that (excuse me) sucks. Dehumanizing speech is just that... dehumanizing. And it conditions us all to see certain others as less than human.

I'm still not settled on whether or not Don Imus should or should not have been fired. In fact, every time I think of that phrase, then see Essence Carson's face, I get fairly frantic with anger and disgust. So okay, Don Imus broke the rules of insult, the rules of dehumanization. He's fired. I'm not crying over it. Good enough?

Not really. Who is "protected" and who is not protected from hateful speech? Can I, for instance, rant on Bush's policies and attempts at usurping Christianity to justify them, yet not dehumanize Bush the person? How we treat those we most vehemently disagree with on both opinion and action levels is how we find out whether or not we are really human ourselves. "Love your enemies," Jesus said. Oh sure.

Can we take stock of why Imus was so popular in the first place? What, exactly, is funny about hearing someone be cruel? Does it not mean that we ourselves are cruel? What if the target of cruelty is someone with no great gifts such as those so obviously possessed by the Rutgers team, and who cannot defend her or him self? Limbaugh, for instance, has targeted the homeless. Then there's his treatment of folks in the middle east. Is it any surprise that a relative who is a big Limbaugh fan recently told me, "I think if anything like 9/11 ever happens again, we should go over there and kill all those ragheads once and for all." Just rhetoric, right?

Even when those targeted are powerful people, is it right to dehumanize them for others' collective vindictive enjoyment? We seem at times to be a people who thrive on seeing people get what's coming to them, or what we imagine in our own small hearts and minds what is coming to them. But the terrible truth is that we are all here together, suffering together, hurting one another with words and actions or helping one another through humble acts of love and compassion. And maybe some things in between those two bookends...

Language does matter. And, whether we like it or not, it is unhealthy to subscribe to media where the language of dehumanization becomes entertainment. It is sick, it is wrong, it is sin. And it tells us way too much about ourselves.

technorati tags:, , , , , , ,

Friday, April 13, 2007

"I'm a Feminist": Self-Definition of a Group vs. Group Definition of a Self

Whew, wierd title for a blog entry. Bear with me, though.

Take the word "Feminist." Now, between you, me, and my laptop, I kinda think I am one. After all, people call me a goddess-worshipper and a heretic ("her"etic, get it?!) for my position on women in Church Leadership roles and women in marriage. And when I say I'm a Christian feminist, that often is the end of the discussion and the beginning of less group hugs.

But what about me really being a feminist? That is, what if I were to actually ask those women normally identified as feminists if I were a feminist?

I think they'd give me the left foot of fellowship.

Why? Well, I think the big thing is that I do not support abortion on demand (though would support it being legally a "choice" when a woman is raped). That would get me in trouble with some pro-lifers for sure. But among mainstream feminists, that simply isn't an acceptable position to hold. There is not now, and never can be apparently, a "Pro-life feminist."

I'm not in a strong position to argue here, in case anyone's not yet tumbled to that fact. I'm a white American male, financially poor only because some thirty years ago I chose to join these communal wierdos in Chicago, then forget to leave. Heck, I'm still in the catbird seat. In the right circumstances I could, sure enough, be raped. But I wouldn't end up pregnant. If my wife left me (wait a minute, my first one did!) I wouldn't be left pregnant (though I was left with two children as their sole provider). Nobody ever passed over me because I was not (in their eyes) "strong enough" to do the job, or because I "might get pregnant." And on and on.

So... who is right? Am I a feminist? What would all the post-moderns have to say about this mess?

I do know that the group Feminists for Life, which alone remains as a pro-life and (to their own minds, anyway) feminist group, traces back to the start of the modern feminist movement. They, along with other feminists, fought for the Equal Rights Amendment (while I, in those pre-enlightened days, did not and in fact resisted the ERA). Yet today, they are rejected by the mainstream feminists. And of course, as any sociologist probably would guess, Feminists for Life also seem to have drifted at least slightly toward folk who might be more open to them. Namely, toward the religious and political conservatives who have not been friendly with feminism -- EVER.

I particularly am made nervous by Feminists for Life irresolute position on birth control. At least, that is what it appears to me. They do not ringingly endorse birth control, which in my opinion is fairly stunning for a feminist group to avoid speaking on. But I also find in them hope that there is another way for those of us who want to be feminists yet also pro-life.

But really... am I a feminist in any real way outside the confines of my own self-perceptions? Or am I playing at being enlightened while in reality being a reactionary hypocrite?

I suppose, in the end, the vote up or down is not up to me. But I sure wish some feminists -- from all ports of faith, politics, and opinion -- would comment on this thorny issue of feminism and abortion. Can we separate abortion from the rest of the feminist agenda, or is it really at the heart of feminism's self-defined identity?

Finally, is there even such a thing as a "self-defined" identity? Or, to put it another way, should there be?

Just thinkin'....

technorati tags:, , , , , , , ,

Testing Flock Browser on my blog

Just a short note to blogging folk... I'm using the free download Flock browser (tweaked from Mozilla code to make blogging, photo posting, and the like easier). Initially I had trouble getting it to work with the newer software. But somehow (not sure how) I eventually succeeded in getting it to work right. In short, it has a blog editor of its own which one can cut and paste to from Flock itself, then create a final version which can be posted to any of whatever blogs one has.

This works best when web surfing on a certain topic you want to blog on. Just mark text, drag it to the bottom of the browser window, and drop it. It is pasted into the clipboard as its own file, which you then can at leisure paste into the flock blog editor window while working on your blog entry. Then, when quite finished editing the whole thing, a simple click sends it to the selected blog of your choice (as long as you are the blog owner or co-owner!).

It also allows for quick photo insertions and so on. Pretty useful, even in its pre-version 1 form. Guarded thumbs-up. Oh, it has a Linux version as well as a Winduhs one.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Talking Stage? Cstone Fest's Newest, uh, Attraction

Don't know if you've perused the Festival line-up of speakers and topics yet. If not, check CstoneXchange blog for the newest listings (along the right edge of the first page in short form, or for a longer and more thorough treatment, the Seminars page). I must say, even though I've been point man on the past few years' speaker line-ups, Mike "Herky" Hertenstein's efforts this year are truly exciting. And don't forget Flickerings, the Imaginarium, the CBE Tent (where this blue Christian will be speaking on "Manly Men & Mutuality" and "Mutuality in Bed"!) and all the other great Cstone venues. Sure, there's music there also, but we all knew that.

Anyway, there's also another new attraction you can link to from CstoneXchange, or here, called the Cornerstone Festival Talking Stage. Got the conversational yen, the gift of gab, the verbose virus? You'll want to check this out. And I hope all my myriad readers (in the millions, of course) will look me up at the fest and say "Hey, I really dig Blue Christian!" or perhaps "You goddess-worshipping commie feminazi!" If you call me the latter, you have to buy me a cup of coffee first.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pondering Gayness, Love, and Faith: A Self-Inflicted Interview

(This article originally appeared on Cornerstone magazine's online website, which at present and for quite a while has been broken -- inaccessible. So, as this article provoked significant feedback when first posted, and because I continue to think and feel pain over the whole issue, I'm reposting it here.)

What follows is a self-exploration of my thoughts and feelings on homosexuality, one which after re-reading I'd originally decided not to post. It seemed incomplete, fuzzy, and not a little presumptous. But recently, after seeing a very affecting, yet nonetheless one-sided, take on homosexuality and Christianity on PBS -- Family Fundamentals -- I once again reviewed the below and decided, "Hey, what the heck. At least we can start a discussion here on this extremely important topic...."

The questioner is, of course, fictional but his attitude comes, I suppose, from my own self-doubts....

Q: I can ask anything? Okay, let's weird jonboy out. What kinds of sex do gays have?

A: Sigh.... First, those with homosexual attractions usually go through the same sort of fondling, kissing, and so forth as those with heterosexual attractions. Such signs of affection aren't usually mentioned by Christian opponents of the gay lifestyle, but I'm mentioning them because they happen to be true. The initial and main differences between heterosexuality and homosexuality, of course, come down to penile-vaginal intercourse not being an option for homosexuals. Male homosexuals usually achieve orgasm via mutual masturbation or oral sex, contrary to the widespread belief that anal sex is the main method of gratification, though it does play a significant role among male gays. Orgasm in lesbian sex more often than not is achieved via mutual masturbation (tribadism). Oral sex also plays a significant role for lesbians, but the use of artificial penises and so forth (despite being a staple of male-oriented pornography about lesbians) are used very little. (See Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex, 1990.)

The AIDS crisis has obviously affected these practices, especially among men. Blood and semen are both potential carriers of the HIV/AIDS virus. Anal sex in particular is a high-risk activity, as nearly all sex researchers agree the anus is not constructed for the introduction of the penis or any other similar-sized objects. Thus anal sex is likely to cause small tears and abrasions, which of course make transmission of desease more likely, with the person recieving the penis being the one most at risk. Note that I don't say anal sex is immoral simply because it is risky medically; for this portion of our program, I'm trying to keep pragmatic issues such as health seperate from moral issues of ultimate 'right' and 'wrong,' assuming (as I do) that a moral absolute actually exists. Regarding AIDS and oral sex (mouth to penis or mouth to vagina intercourse) the 1990 Kinsey Report says, "[M]ost researchers currently think that the incidence of transmission of the AIDS virus from an infected parner by oral sex is low or practically impossible." Other more recent studies seem to indicate the same, though they also indicate oral sex is not risk-free.

The problem with descriptions such as those in the above two paragraphs -- and those in many if not most 'how to' sex manuals and published sex research -- is that they don't represent what goes on in the heart, soul, and mind of a person engaged in such practices. Neither love nor lust is really 'explained' by such biological exactitude. It's a bit like explaining prayer by describing the body positions, hand movements, and closed or opened eyes of those praying. There might be a certain value in such observations, but one doesn't learn much about prayer from them. Likewise with sex.

Q: Then let's get into the mind of a gay person. Is homosexuality something you're born with, or do people just choose to be gay?

A: Here's a reply that will make no one happy. Remember, I speak as an evangelical Christian and as a friend to some gays who know my attitudes toward their sexual practices. I love, however imperfectly, these people, and I love what I believe to be God's truth revealed in Scripture. The reader is now permitted to laugh at my attempts to balance these two loves. I myself have no great feeling of aversion for gay sex, though I have always found the female body more sexually desirable than the male body and thus would be called "straight." (I do admit to same-sex experiences as a teenager, which I suppose I should feel more guilt over than I do.)

Additionally, I admit that as a heterosexual white male, my perspective is of course limited, and anything I say will be viewed with great suspicion by those within the gay community or allied with it. And that's more than fair. My own goal would be to have no sexual desires whatever for anyone except my fair and wonderous Carol. The fact that sexual lust by "straight" males for women is not only encouraged, but celebrated, in American culture is disgusting to me and to any thinking Christian. When Jerry Kirk, in writing about homosexuality, spent the first half of his book going after the straight church for our own sexual hypocrisy, I thought it brilliant. Speaking personally, I think sexual temptation is not sin, and that sexual sin -- whether "gay" or "straight" -- is just that: sin.

Theology: From a Christian point of view, the biblical data indicates that homosexuality, or to be specific, homosexual practice, is not God's will for humankind. Homosexual practice would be men having sexual relations with men, women with women, and that specifically is rejected in both Old and New Testaments. Further, and much more importantly, man/woman monogamous marriage is the only model for sexual expression specifically blessed by God, from before the Genesis fall throughout the entirety of Scripture. Finally, since from this biblical viewpoint homosexual expression is wrong, fantasizing about homosexuality and gay encounters is also wrong, along the lines of mental adultery spelled out by Jesus: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" [Matthew 25:27,28 NRSV].

Despite some interesting attempts by pro-gay theologians at parsing the Hebrew and/or Greek differently to do away with the above, others (including homosexuals such as Pim Pronk) agree that, biblically at least, the evidence clearly rules out homosexuality for Christians. Pronk, for instance, suggests we ignore the biblical data as being no longer applicable, but he admits it is clear on homosexuality as sin. Voices from within the evangelical tradition, including those who are otherwise progressive on gender-related issues such as womens' equality, almost always draw a line at homosexuality. Linda Belleville, for instance, makes one of the clearer cases against homosexuailty being biblically permissible.

Traditional Christian theology suggests two paths for those struggling with homosexual desire, just as it does for those struggling with other forms of sexuality: one, the successful movement into a monogamous heterosexual marriage; the other, a sense of calling and/or commitment to celebacy. It must be said, however, that neither of these options is either 'instant' or easy. Marriage, for instance, may be the absolute worst option for a person who has failed to work through his/her same-sex desires and issues behind those desires. Many such marriages have ended in disaster.

Psychology/Biology: On the other hand, there is evidence that many homosexuals -- including those who percieved themselves solely as gay from their earliest days -- have successfully transitioned into monogamous heterosexual marriages. Though Masters and Johnson were blasted for their findings, they did limited studies that seem to support the idea that gays highly interested in change can succeed (this outside any religious context, apparently). Such studies merely add fuel to the ongoing debate within the medical and science fields regarding homosexuals' ability to 'change' or 'convert' (the latter was a term Newsweek used for a cover story on the subject). Elizabeth Moberly and, more recently, Joseph Nicolosi and other therapists use what has become known as 'reparative therapy' to deal with the issue of homosexuality, though only for those gays interested in changing their orientation. Exodus, International, an umbrella organization of 'ex-gays' and ministries to gays, also offers compelling though anecdotal evidence for the possiblity of change. John Money's twin studies, on the other hand, were said to 'prove' homosexuality was innate rather than learned behavior (they have, of course, been challenged!). I'm not going to further delve into the medical / psychological / scientific data, as it is quite daunting for the layman, and usually is 'spun' according to whatever position the spinner holds on homosexuality's correctness.

I would note, however, that homosexual change toward heterosexuality should not be expected to include complete cessation of all homosexual thoughts. Such an idea agrees with both therapeutic models and theological understanding of the nature of temptation. That is, even as Christians who successfully left life-dominating sinful lifestyles (particularly sexually immoral lifestyles), we are often reminded of them both by memories and by 'triggers' (a snatch of music from the 'old days' or even the smell of certain perfume). This is not the equivalent of being trapped in those desires still; it merely means we are still being sanctified, rather than the erroneous idea that we have been perfected (placed beyond temptation's reach) in this life.

Q: So you're saying gays decided to be gay, and now they need to stop it?!

No. One thing is certain: It is not true for the majority of gays that they simply woke up one day and said, "Hey, I've got a cool idea.... why not start having sex with my own gender?" Almost universally, human beings who percieve themselves as gay will state, "I think I've always been this way... I always knew there was something different about me." In many if not most cases, this realization is one the person greets with ambivalence, or even the wish that they could be delivered from it. Therefore, anti-gay activists such as the disgusting 'godhatesfags' are not only outside all loving contexts, they are also merely furthering the sense of alienation and rejection many individuals struggling with gay desires and orientation expect from the Church.

Non-christians, please bear with me for a couple paragraphs. Christians who approach homosexuality, and homosexuals, without some sort of understanding of this paradigm are doomed to alienate and (in my opinion) sin against gays. If a Christian wishes to 'minister' to gays, he/she must first learn to love gays. And by loving, I mean getting to know that person, becoming a friend whether or not the person 'responds' to Christ. The American evangelical church, often filled with sexual sin and gender bias (particularly in its debate over women taking roles of leadership), offers an overall poor role model for sexual purity and gender affirmation. Humility and friendship offered to the homosexual community, and more apropos, to individuals who define themselves as gay, will be a powerful statement.

This doesn't mean not telling the truth if asked what the Scriptures say regarding homosexual behavior and lifestyles. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." But it also means speaking into a gay person's life from one's own weakness and struggles sexually (or if one doesn't have sexual struggles, from other areas of sin, such as anger or covetousness or pride). God does, after all, reject all forms of sexual immorality, not just or primarily gay sexuality.

Homosexuality, like sexuality itself, is a matter reaching down into the very core of human personality. As such, it feels like the very essence of one's identity whether or not this is the case. Gays expect to be vilified and condemned by Christians as 'faggots,' 'perverts,' and 'sodomites.' When we instead affirm their humanity and even -- on one very real level -- the reality of love among gays, it at least will give us an opportunity to model Christ's love to them. Am I repeating myself? You bet I am!

Q: What do you mean, 'the reality of love among gays'?! I thought you just said it was a sin, now you're saying it is still 'love'?

A: Human love, like all things human, is transient and broken, touched by the power of sin. A man and woman, for instance, violate scriptural standards by living together outside of marriage. But some such couples do, in fact, share a real love that would if pressed cause them to lay down their own lives for the other. This isn't a defense of living together outside of marriage, by the way! What I'm aiming at is the reality, however, that love between human beings can exist even though in violation of God's perfect and loving plan for them.

In that light, then, there can be and in my understanding are gay couples who truly share a loving relationship with one another. The problem is that this relationship is outside God's plan, and cannot ultimately answer the deepest cries of each one's heart. God can teach them how to love truly and more completely, which will entail giving up (here's the tough part) their homosexual identities. But God also calls the couple living together to cease their relationship as it is defined, though of course, it could be technically redefined simply by the two marrying. (In reality, simply 'fixing' such a relationship by marrying is often not going to work--but that's another topic.) Such an option is not available for homosexuals, since marriage by biblical definition is between one man and one woman.

Anne Paulk, who once was a lesbian, wrote of her experiences in the co-authored book, 'Love Won Out.' She writes of deep friendships which became sexualized (her term). Yet as one reads, it becomes apparent the friendships were in fact real friendships. They weren't (from a Christian point of view) healthy. But they certainly were real, and did contain elements of beauty and tenderness and even altruistic love. John Paulk, Anne's husband, also writes movingly in his book, 'Not Afraid to Change,' of a gay relationship he had which did indeed include far more than genital sex; it was a relationship rooted in a real human love and (when it ended) real heartache.

To deny that homosexuality is often more than sex is to deny the natural human inclination toward, and hunger for, love. Thus the evangelical critique of homosexuality is often stunted and two-dimensional, because it leaves out this vital component.

Q: Now I'm more confused than ever. What are you saying? That gays can love one another, but that they will go to hell for hunting for and finding love? What are you playing at!?

A: Whew. I said no one would like this. To say a gay can love another person, whether or not he/she is engaged in sex with that person, is not compromising one bit of Scripture. The bible talks about human love, and about human love's limitations. "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend." I personally think someone could (and likely has) laid down his life for a gay lover. That requires a powerful form of love!

Love, however, is hierarchical in nature. C. S. Lewis discusses the four loves (friendship, affection, erotic love, and disinterested 'agape' love). His punchline is that without being submitted to and baptised in agape, the other loves will be incomplete and often dangerous. He cites, for instance, the erotic love that causes a man to leave his marriage and family for his beloved; he has been obedient to love, but it is not the highest love.

The definition of 'sin' biblically is that which misses the mark. Human love, due to our sinful condition, falls short. What we may think of as 'true love' may be rooted in nothing more than the physical appearance of the beloved, or her/his cleverness with words. Only those loves which are rooted in the Eternal Lover's love can bring us what we were created to experience.

Q: I've heard many Christians talk about how promiscuous and sex-centered homosexuals are compared to heterosexuals. Are you affirming that gay lovers show as much faithfulness to one lover as straights do?

A: No, I'm not. Secular researchers seem to agree that there is less stability, and more semi-anonymous sex, among the homosexual vs. heterosexual population. Not only Christians have noted this, particularly among gay men. As a so-called 'straight' man, I can testify that genital-based sexual proclivities seem rooted more in the male gender than they do among women; I would be nervous about making such a statement, except it seems supported in secular sexperts such as Masters & Johnson. Some have argued that (generalization alert!) a man and woman tend to balance out sexual experience for both, the man often energizing the woman's sexuality and the woman often tempering the man's sexuality with friendship/emotional companionship. Two men together would, if this idea has value, have a high-sex / low-commitment relationship. Two women, conversely, would likely be able to bond in a more permanent way, yet the amount of sexuality would dwindle radically compared to their male counterparts, and even heterosexually-involved female counterparts.

Randy Shilts, a gay journalist, wrote in his book 'And the Band Played On' about how indiscriminate promiscuity among gay males led to the eighties AIDS epidemic in this country. Currently, the practice known as 'bare-backing' (gay anal sex without condoms) is another expression of male-male sexuality. However, before anyone makes it into the current subject of a shrill anti-gay newsletter, I would also urge taking a hard look at just why someone would do this. If Christians aren't extremely careful, we end up doing the very thing we're accusing some gays of doing; making everything about sex! There is a powerful thread of despair regarding the future within this 'bare-back' community, many of whom are very young and very angry at the way society--even 'respectable' gay society--has attempted to say what is and is not appropriate sexual behavior for gays. I, for one, can't find any way to condemn them. I don't think that's my job... condemnation, that is. I would urge them, with all that is in me, to please, please wear a condom at least.... and then perhaps sit down over coffee and talk about what they expect from their relationships and lives.

Q: You're pretty good, though not all that good, at posturing as an enlightened soul. Now you're even advocating the use of condoms among gays. Is that a Christian position, or are you really just afraid to be identified with the other reactionary bigots?

A: Well, that's two questions. I do advocate the use of condoms for gays, because I don't want them struck down by AIDS or some of the other sexually-transmitted deseases out there. Not all gay men (and very few gay women!) report they engage in anal sex, which is the main method of HIV/AIDS exposure. Oral sex, though less risky, still carries a very real chance of HIV transmission. So, yes, part of being my brother's keeper is to warn him against the further risks he incurs by not using condoms. Condoms themselves, unfortunately, are not foolproof; the AIDS virus is far smaller than are individual sperm, and even sperm cells make their way out of condoms occasionally to impregnate a woman.

But in encouraging them (and the many 'straights' also at risk for AIDS) to wear condoms while engaging in unprotected sex of almost any kind, I feel I'm doing for them what Jesus would have me do. Also I would say there is a better way. How much I share about that way depends upon the interest of the person I'm talking to, but it is very unlikely that anyone will leave a talk with me not knowing my views on Scripture and gayness. To date, I've never had a gay person become angry or defensive with me. Dumb luck?

As far as 'reactionary bigots,' I still cringe at the newsletters coming from well-known evangelical ministries when the topic of homosexuality comes up. I perhaps become even more cynical than most, since what I wonder about is just how calculating the use of homosexuality is in garnering financial support amongst an audience already paranoid regarding gays. As to whether I myself am (a) reactionary, or (b) a bigot, I suppose others will have to make that evaluation. What it feels to me like is that there is a third way between the extremes.

Q: Why do you personally think homosexuality is wrong?

A: I believe that Christian theology is not abstract rules and regulations. It is about the real, that is, about relationships. If God's law is meant to guide us into everlasting relationships, not only to Him but to one anothers, I think that theology is life. I am a lover by nature, and when I was sixteen years old, I discovered what I believe to be the Ultimate Source of Love. If I am correct, and Jesus Christ is what the Bible says He is, my life must be about trying to get closer to Him.

Love is a lifelong pursuit, and any lesser love won't necessarily be good if I want the highest. Homosexuality is a form of love, sometimes barely recognizable as love, other times with many beautiful and even noble attributes. But it is a love God commands me, commands all who would follow him, to leave behind. "Has none condemned you?" he asked the prostitute, after having proven that the self-righteous condemners were themselves guilty. "Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more." He gave mercy, part of which was requiring repentance in heart and action.

Homosexuality is wrong because, in the end, God says it is wrong. God does not do so in order for Christians to have a group of people we can ridicule and hate. He does so because he loves all people including self-described 'gays', and has a better way, a love which will heal and confirm their humanity. Our job as Christians is to likewise show that love to gays. It will sometimes make them uncomfortable, especially when we tell them the truth regarding homosexuality being sinful, outside God's will. But context is everything. A gay friend, sitting at my kitchen table drinking coffee with me, is far different than a homosexual I do not know, hearing my words through a bullhorn. Preaching at people makes me feel powerful and them feel powerless; befriending people makes them feel respected and me feel vulnerable. The latter, despite my fear of it, is the right way.

Q: Looking at it from your knee-jerk point of view, I would start wondering if the word 'homosexual' really even means anything. That is, if all sexual desire is wrong except sex between one man and one woman in marriage, why differentiate between gay sex and straight sex outside of marriage?

A: Well, funny you should mention that. One thread feeding into that discussion is post-modernist: sex defined totally by the individual, and the borders of sexual 'correctness' being basically non-existent. Michael Foucault, if I understand him, seemed to lean heavily that direction. (He died of AIDS, a fact some use to discredit him... too easy, I'm thinking.)

A Christian ex-gay, John Smid, has explored that idea from a different angle, more along the lines of your question. According to his reasoning (quoted from a recent [June 2001] newsletter):

Our belief is based upon three foundational truths.

Truth One: There is no such thing as a "gay" or "homosexual" person -- only homosexual attraction/behavior. Accordingly, there can be no "change" from an identity that never existed in the first place.

Truth Two: The truth for most men and women who struggle with homosexual behavior is that they WILL, at times, continue to experience attractions or even struggle with those attractions in large and small ways for a lifetime. It is often misleading and harmful to share vaguely of "total" deliverance without mentioning the normal, on-going struggles with temptations ALL believers have.

Truth Three: God sees homosexuality as sin -- like any other -- and desires us to apply the same biblical model to it that we would to any other sin. His real solution for deliverance and healing is based on repentance and obedience -- finding freedom in Jesus Christ.

Q: Smid sounds as whacked as you are.

A: He's likely more normal than I am, at least I hope so. I know him well, and can say that his own story is no reactionary tale. For a printed version of it, see the new book edited by Bob Davies, Portraits of Freedom: 14 People Who Came Out of Homosexuality. His online 'testimony' can be found here as can the stories of others. These stories aren't pie in the sky, 'everything is wonderful now' stories. But they are encouraging for anyone currently wanting to find a different life outside the homosexual world.

Q Your morality seems hopelessly misinformed and out of date.

A: Ha! No doubt, it does seem out of date. But perhaps something being 'out of date' is a bad way to measure it. Hoop earrings were the rage among women when I was a kid, then went out of date for quite a time. Now, they're the rage again. Love, thank God, is never out of date. Misinformed, however, is even more subjective. If I am informed by biblical morality, I can ignore neither the fact that homosexuality is a sin, nor the the fact that the homosexual is my neighbor. My duty to bear witness to the truth in love is no simple job, but I'm commanded to do it.