Monday, June 30, 2014

Quote of the Day

If disagreement disqualifies us from contributing to the discussion – if our beliefs and experiences are considered relevant only to the extent that they support what the magisterium already teaches – then what shall we make of the importance attributed [in the International Theological Commission document "Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church"] to "due consideration" and "sufficient consultation of the faithful"?

"Consideration" and "consultation," it seems, are useful insofar as they help institutional church leaders more effectively explain our lives to us. Listening to laypeople isn't about learning anything substantively new, then. It's about learning how to talk differently about the same teachings. A way for church leaders to repackage widely rejected ideas and go on explaining gender to women, homosexuality to gays and lesbians, and marriage to married couples – whether or not they know what they're talking about.

– Kelly Stewart
Excerpted from "Church Leaders' Condescension
An Affront to Catholic Laity's Intelligence
National Catholic Reporter
June 30, 2014

Related Off-site Links:
Don't Agree With the Church? We Can Set You Straight – Ken Briggs (National Catholic Reporter, June 23, 2014).
The Results Are In . . .Questions from a Ewe (June 30, 2014).
Vatican Admits Most Catholics Reject Its Teachings on Sex – Nicole Winfield (Associated Press via HuffPost Religion, June 27, 2014).
Catholic LGBT Advocates Respond to ‘Disappointing’ Synod Working Paper – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, June 29, 2014).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Quote of the Day – June 27, 2014
"If the People Don't Believe It, It's Not True"
A Clerical Leadership Unresponsive to Voices of Reason
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 1)
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 2)
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an "Informed" Catholic Conscience
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology!
Will We See Change?
Roger Haight on the Church We Need
Quote of the Day – April 14, 2010
Paul Lakeland in Minneapolis
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
Robert McClory on Humanae Vitae
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 1)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 2)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 3)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 4)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Chris Mason Johnson's Test: A Film that "Illuminates Why Queer Cinema Still Matters"

The Wild Reed's 2014 series for Queer Appreciation Month continues with a post that brings together two areas of special interest to me: dance and film. This is because I highlight today Chris Mason Johnson's award-winning film Test, about a young dancer in mid-1980s San Francisco. The film includes dance sequences choreographed by acclaimed U.S. choreographer Sidra Bell.

Although I've yet to see this film in its entirety, I've been reading quite a bit about it – and have been impressed by what I've read. One critic, for instance, declares that Test "illuminates why queer cinema still matters."

The second feature-length film of writer-director Chris Mason Johnson, Test won two Grand Jury Awards at last year's Outfest Film Festival – one for Outstanding Screenwriting and one for Outstanding U.S. Dramatic Feature Film.

Here is how the film's plot is summarized by

Set in the free-spirited San Francisco of 1985, Chris Mason Johnson’s Test lovingly portrays this exciting and harrowing era as young Frankie (dancer Scott Marlowe in a breakout acting debut) confronts the challenges of being an understudy in a modern dance company where he’s taunted to “dance like a man!” Frankie embarks on a budding relationship with hunky Todd (Matthew Risch, HBO’s Looking), a veteran dancer in the same company and the bad boy to Frankie’s naiveté.

As Frankie and Todd’s friendship deepens, they navigate a world of risk — it’s the early years of the epidemic — but also a world of hope, humor, visual beauty and musical relief. The captivating dance sequences were especially choreographed for the film by acclaimed U.S. choreographer Sidra Bell. The film’s vibrant soundtrack includes work by ‘80s icons Jimmy Somerville (Bronski Beat), Klaus Nomi, Romeo Void, Laurie Anderson, Martha and the Muffins, Cocteau Twins and Sylvester.

"Test isn't about getting sick or being sick; it's about the fear of disease," director Chris Mason Johnson told The Huffington Post. "It's a universal theme but heightened because the early AIDS epidemic was insane. And while the shift to fear may sound like a small thing, it’s actually big when you consider every other AIDS movie has focused on death and dying. Maybe that's one of the reasons audiences seem happy after Test. They don't expect the genuine hope that comes out of it."

Says Johnson about the dancing in Test:

As a former dancer – and ‘former’ is kind of silly because it never leaves you – I have strong feelings about how dance is done on film. My favorite dance sequences all have this balance between respecting the fully framed body but also cutting the image for dynamic punch, which is what we tried do in Test. I like the way dance is shot and cut in Cabaret, Hair, The Red Shoes, Pina, Pennies From Heaven, Swing Time, Saturday Night Fever and the Lindy Hop sequence from Helzapoppinn'. I want to do more with dance on film, that's for sure!

Speaking earlier this month to Omar Rosales of GLAAD, Johnson discussed how the film's dance performances speak to its greater story.

The dance functions in several ways within the story. On the most obvious level of plot, it’s the classic understudy-goes-on trope, which we know from 42nd Street to The Red Shoes to The Turning Point to Black Swan — although notice there’s not a male lead in any of those, because men in tights are either “straight” or worthy of sniggering contempt in our cinematic history.

At a more thematic level, the dance sequences are a way to eroticize the male body in a morbid, almost creepy but still sexy way. They’re an externalization of the intersection of sexuality and disease. Usually AIDS movies vet out the eroticism of the gay male body because it’s just too uncomfortable to think of sex while you think of disease. But I wanted to put the sensual body back into the story and the dance gave me a perfect way to do that. I worked very closely with my gifted choreographer Sidra Bell to tease out those twisted, almost horror-movie-like gestures embedded in the dances. We used the paintings of Egon Schiele for gestural inspiration.

Also, the group male dances in the movie are a way of reminding the audience that these other men are going through the same experience at the same time. The group of male dancers may be mute and abstract, but they’re there. A presence. Hard to ignore.

Finally, here is Matthew Connolly's insightful review of Test from the September 2013 issue of Film Comment.

A film of rare electricity and intelligence, Chris Mason Johnson’s Test, a chronicle of the AIDS crisis in 1985 San Francisco, eschews both radical-chic hagiography and after-the-fact moralizing in its richly stylized take on the era’s physical and emotional dislocation. Test follows Frankie (the superb Scott Marlowe), a member of a contemporary dance company whose professional aspirations and erotic appetites intersect with ever-present reports from the front lines of the AIDS epidemic. Frankie refuses to forego sex, but every encounter becomes increasingly fraught with fear, suspicion, and an almost-existential anxiety about just how one contracts the virus, how long does it take to show signs, and who has it amongst his social circle.

The male body—beautiful, graceful, and stalked by an invisible monster—is front and center here. Johnson and DP Daniel Marks film the dance performances (brilliantly choreographed by Sidra Bell) with a thrilling combination of cinematic vivacity and restraint. They know when the camera should be the dancer’s partner, and when it should be a rapturous spectator. This dichotomy of acute observation and expressionistic abandon shapes the entirety of Test, in which existing every day with the possibility of randomly assigned death transforms the world into an unstable and occasionally exhilarating space.

Politics rarely come to the foreground in Test, but they are never far from it either. A late-film conversation between Frankie and Todd (Matthew Risch)—a cocksure fellow dancer with whom Frankie shares a tempestuous chemistry—offers one of the film’s only direct comments upon the AIDS crisis in a larger sense, as Frankie considers how such widespread sickness will affect the levels of monogamy and sexual freedom within the gay world. This exchange might have been a little too on the nose if such questions weren’t already explored with such elegance throughout the film, and it might have felt a touch dated if such discussions didn’t still happen within the LGBT community, even as the AIDS crisis changes and other cultural factors come to the fore. In short, Test manages to illuminate our shared past even as it poses thorny questions for our future. If there was ever a contemporary film that illuminates why queer cinema still matters, this is it.

– Matthew Connolly
Excerpted from "Festivals: NewFest 2013"
Film Comment
September 5, 2013

Test opened in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles on June 13. To watch the film on demand, click here. To purchase the film on DVD, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
Exclusive Interview with Director Chris Mason Johnson for Test – Gig Patta (Latino Review, June 10, 2014).
Test: The Official Website

UPDATE: Why I Chose Gay Dancers to Tell the Story of the AIDS Crisis, Says Film Director – Liam Johnson (Gay Star News, August 5, 2014).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Soul of a Dancer
Gay Men and Modern Dance
The Premise of All Forms of Dance
The Trouble with the Male Dancer (Part 1: Redefining Notions of Masculinity)
The Trouble with the Male Dancer (Part 2: Homophobia and the Male Dancer)
The Trouble with the Male Dancer (Part 3: Homosexuality and the Male Dancer)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Quote of the Day

Read in conjunction with the recent document by the International Theological Commission on interpreting the sensus fidelium, the attitude [of the bishops as expressed in their recent instrumentum laboris] seems to be, if Catholics disagree with Church teaching, it’s because they don’t understand it. A more reasonable conclusion, would be that if people in real-world loving relationships don’t agree with church teaching, it’s because celibate bishops and theologians don’t understand sexuality, relationships or marriage.

– Terence Weldon
"Bishops’ Depressing Document on Marriage: Glimmers of Hope"
Queering the Church
June 27, 2014

Catholic LGBT Advocates Respond to ‘Disappointing’ Synod Working Paper – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, June 29, 2014).
Church Leaders' Condescension An Affront to Catholic Laity's Intelligence – Kelly Stewart (National Catholic Reporter, June 30, 2014).

Related Off-site Links:
Synod Document is First, Not Last, Word on Marriage and Family Issues – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, June 27, 2014).
Synod Working Paper is Boring and Joyless – Thomas Reese (National Catholic Reporter, June 27, 2014).
Vatican Document's “Value of the Family” Applicable to ALL Families – Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, June 27, 2014).
Vatican Document for Synod on Family Balances Mercy and Cultural Blame – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, June 26, 2014).
Vatican Admits Most Catholics Reject Its Teachings on Sex – Nicole Winfield (Associated Press via HuffPost Religion, June 27, 2014).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
"If the People Don't Believe It, It's Not True"
A Clerical Leadership Unresponsive to Voices of Reason
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology!
Will We See Change?
The Catholic Challenge
A Time to Re-think the Basis and Repair the Damage
Roger Haight on the Church We Need
Quote of the Day – April 14, 2010
Paul Lakeland in Minneapolis
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
Robert McClory on Humanae Vitae
Rosemary Haughton and the "True Catholic Enterprise"
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 1)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 2)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 3)
James Carroll on Catholic Understandings of Truth (Part 4)
Getting It Right
God is Love

Photo of the Day

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Photo(s) of the Day – December 7, 2012
Photo of the Day – October 27, 2012
Photo of the Day – April 4, 2012

Image: "Ziggy" by Michael Bayly.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Steven W. Thrasher on the Bland and Misleading "Gay Inc" Treatment of the Struggle to Overturn Prop 8

The Wild Reed's 2014 Queer Appreciation Month series continues with an excerpt from Steven W. Thrasher's critique of the documentary film, The Case Against 8. (To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)

Thrasher's critique was first published June 24, 2014 by The Guardian.

. . . The Case Against 8 – a documentary about the fight to overturn California's voter referendum that prohibited same-sex marriage for five years – leaves viewers with the unmitigated impression that Proposition 8 was overturned by a small group of very rich white people, the Great White Hope of Marriage Equality. It's a difficult conclusion to avoid when two of the biggest heroes of the film are actually two straight men: liberal attorney David Boies and conservative attorney (and former US solicitor general) Ted Olson, who famously faced off in the Bush v Gore recount decision.

Seeing white men – and straight white men – as the face of queer life in American film is not exactly new: Tom Hanks won an Oscar for Philadelphia; Al Pacino got an Emmy for Angels in America; Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey took home the golden statuettes this year for their work in Dallas Buyers Club. And HBO's own queer programming – The Laramie Project, Looking, The Normal Heart, Angels in America – has never been especially concerned with people of color. Even documentaries like How to Survive a Plague never evinced much interest in showing people who aren't white who are advancing LGBT progress.

And yet one of the ugliest flashpoints in the Prop 8 fight came when "backwards" black people were framed as the major roadblock to the advancement of gay rights – most infamously in noted columnist and LGBT rights activist Dan Savage's November 2008 blog post, Black Homophobia, which was thoroughly debunked.

People of color did play major roles in the events spanning the 2008 referendum to last year's US Supreme Court ruling, though you wouldn't know unless you watched to the very end of The Case Against 8: California attorney general Kamala Harris ordered marriages to begin immediately after the case was decided, and she and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa married the two sets of plaintiffs. I was glad they were included in the film, but it was frustrating to sit through a two-hour prime time documentary about gay rights – Sundance-screened, HBO-produced – in which the only prominent black person shown before the last few scenes is President Obama.

. . . In failing to deal with the issues of race endemic in the LGBT rights movement and the Prop 8 story in particular, The Case Against 8 doesn't just lose a mass-audience opportunity to give a fuller picture of history: in only showing the white plaintiffs, white lawyers and white politicos who eventually moved the case along, the film furthers the narrative that the advance of gay rights is the sole doing of enlightened white saviors.

Of course, that might have been the point. Directors Ryan White and Ben Cotner have created little more than a work of Hallmark kitsch, intentionally devoid of conflict – and their access to the subjects of the film appears to come at the cost of ever allowing the audience to see disagreement or tension, in or outside the case. Everyone interviewed in the film – including David Blankenhorn, the anti-gay witness for Prop 8 who famously changed his position during the case – agrees that gay marriage should be legal.

Much less than resembling a documentary depicting the gray area of a political campaign like DA Pennebaker's The War Room or even some of HBO's great documentaries, The Case Against 8 makes for a film that smells suspiciously like the work of a public relations firm. Where this "balanced" film succeeds – perhaps inadvertently – is in showing just how skillful "Gay Inc" is at that sort of bland PR.

The four plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case were not random folks but well-groomed and carefully-selected spokespeople chosen by American Foundation for Equal Rights (Afer). In one of The Case Against 8's most revealing moments, Boies says Afer needed plaintiffs to be "people who were just like everybody else and who were obviously just like everybody else" – i.e., not too queer, colorful or poor. For that, the team picked two white, financially well-off couples who wanted to get married – and then hired private investigators to do opposition research on their own clients, much like a political campaign would.

The lionized lawyers also made a lot of bank off their clients: Afer paid out over $6m in legal bills for their services. That lies in stark contrast to historic civil rights cases like Brown v Board of Education, or even to the other big gay marriage case of last year, Windsor v US – both of those were backed by pro-bono counsel.

Politically, The Case Against 8 underscores a major tenet of the marriage equality movement: that the sole civil rights issue of our time centers around middle-class homosexuals who want to get married. The racial myopia of this view is revealed in The Case Against 8 when attorney Ted Boutrous asks this on camera: "Is there any other identity group required to fight for fundamental civil rights? Other than gay and lesbian individuals, in terms of the law?"

Mining the racial soul-searching undergone by LGBT activists after Prop 8 would have made for great drama – the stuff films ought to be made of – but once again it's been politely ignored by the very Hollywood insiders running the high-profile arm of that activism. Also left ignored in the film is any direct mention of the Human Rights Campaign, which initially did not approve of using its considerable lobbying firepower to overturn Prop 8.

What about the thousands of people, of all colors and economic classes, who did the hard work on the ground of changing hearts and minds during those interminable five years? It was all of those people, as much as any pair of hot-shot constitutional lawyers, who changed public opinion – because you can't build a new majority view without minorities. Without all the poor, working class, black, Latino and gay people from outside of Hollywood or San Francisco or Washington, the strategy of winning over straight and mostly white people by appealing to their middle-class values never would have worked. And it wouldn't have worked on federal judges either.

But that is a messier history, filled with messy, complex people whose lives wouldn't have withstood the scrutiny of opposition research – as, realistically, most of our lives would not. As the effect of this film's central storyline winds its way through state legislatures and courthouses en route back to the supreme court for full-on equality, maybe we'll see more than two of the 18,000 married California couples held in legal limbo by Prop 8, or the thousands more waiting for the next big decision. Public relations tends to eschew the complexity of experience and, especially right now, the complexity of the queer experience. A good documentary, however, should not.

To read Steven W. Thrasher's commentary in its entirety, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
How The Case Against 8 and Forcing the Spring Distort Gay Rights History – Alyssa Rosenberg (The Washington Post, June 24, 2014).
Prop 8 Plaintiffs Put Andrew Sullivan in His Place – John M. Becker (The Bilerico Project, June 25, 2014).
The Case Against 8: Lights, Camera, Equality – Hank Stuever (The Washington Post, June 22, 2014).

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Quote of the Day – April 2, 2013

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe

Some time back I let go of the idea of a God who intervenes in human affairs. Such letting go liberated me to explore and develop alternative ways of thinking about God present and active in our lives and the world. Yet I have to admit that when I hear about tragic events in people's lives or terrible developments on the world stage (the current situation in Iraq, for example) I can find myself wanting to believe in a puppet-master God, a God who will intervene and make things right.

Of course, what's "right" often depends on different people's perspectives, which I think highlights the reality that a puppet-master God is a tribal God, a God of and for only a certain group of people and thus of their perspective only. I have to believe that humanity has, by and large, evolved beyond belief in such a God.

A loving and transforming energy

I've come to experience God not as a puppet master but as a loving and transforming energy deeply embedded within all aspects of creation. As humans we have the ability, and the choice, to open ourselves to this sacred energy, thereby becoming conduits of divine love and transformation in our own lives, in the lives of others, and in the wider world.

Such embodiment takes discipline and work, of course; a lot of work. I liken it to the discipline and dedication of a dancer, especially the dancer's striving for the balance and grace that comes from developing one's core. Indeed, it helps me to think of myself as a soul dancer, one dedicated to living from a well-developed and maintained spiritual core.

Of course, none of us can undergo and endure the rigors of spiritual development alone; we need to be part of a community of faith. At their best, such communities open us to and teach us about humanity's long history of wisdom with regards to recognizing and responding to the sacred within and beyond us. They also guide us in our discernment of the sacred and provide support and strength in our efforts to be communal and individual embodiments of divine love in a world often hostile to this love and its implications. These implications are to do with important and often interrelated realities, the grappling with which can cause polarization and division. These realities include social and economic arrangements and all kinds of often complex relationships we have with aspects of one's self, with others, and with the environment. Yet deal with all of these we must, while all the while remaining open to the guiding presence of the sacred within and among us.


This way of understanding God that I'm describing isn't new; it's always been with us – most clearly within the various mystical paths within the world's religions. Indeed, what many people understand to be "traditional religion," i.e., various forms of pietism and dogmatism, is actually a relatively recent development, and one that some would argue can obscure our true purpose, which is to be ever-unfolding and growing embodiments of God’s transforming love in the world. As Pope John XXIII famously said, “We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.” And, yes, we're all part of that garden.

I appreciate Andrew Harvey's definition of the word "mystical." In an interview he gave to Mark Thompson for the book Gay Soul: Finding the Heart of Gay Spirit and Nature, Harvey says:

I mean by the word mystical entering into conscious direct relationship with the divine. It must be conscious and it must be direct to be mystical. Mystical is not theological; it's not having a series of ideas about God, however lucid or wonderful. It's not emotional; it's not having a series of feelings, however deep and adoring, about God. And it's not intellectual, in any sense, even in the most refined sense.

What it means is having direct contact in the soul, the core of being, with the Source. That can take place in many different ways, but its primary ways are through an opening of what people call the third eye. Through devotion, mystical prayer, and the saying of mantras, all the senses of the subtle body – the spiritual senses, if you like – wake up and begin to see and interpret the world in a completely fresh way.

The world remains the same but appears now drenched in light and transparent and is experienced far more like a magical film than as something inherently real. The ego stops interpreting and deforming, and you begin to see the primal, divine world in its pain and beauty and to respond to it with love of the soul, which is one with the love that creates all things. . . . A mystic is someone who sees God in all things and all things in God.

I've come to recognize core aspects of the mystical path as comprising humanity's deepest and truest religious traditions. Interestingly, these aspects, along with the insights of many indigenous spiritualities, are hallmarks of what we call "evolutionary spirituality." (1) These hallmarks invite us to see the created world and be in the created world in a certain – and, perhaps for some – ‘new’ way. Such seeing and being changes our way of thinking and talking about God. It facilitates a movement, a journey towards a way of being in the world that is more mindful and loving. That's a good and hopeful thing, for as theologian Karl Rahner once said: “The Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic’ . . . or he[/she] will cease to be anything at all.”

Prayer in an evolutionary context

The invitation to embody such change has always been with us. I think of it as being embedded in our spiritual DNA. Our understanding of this invitation has been expanded and amplified in recent decades by what science is telling us about the evolving nature of the universe and the emergent complexity of all life. When we integrate such awareness and knowledge into our spiritual and religious worldview, we have the aforementioned type of spirituality known as evolutionary spirituality. (2)

How does this type of spirituality, one that recognizes we're part of an ever-unfolding universe and which thus is at odds with any type of puppet-master God, guide us in praying when we are confronted by violence and upheaval, such as we're witnessing in Iraq and elsewhere? Answers, or perhaps better yet, responses can be found in William Cleary's book Prayers to an Evolutionary God. This helpful resource, inspired by the spiritual and scientific teachings of Diarmuid O'Murchú and Teilhard de Chardin, offers "prayer that is relevant in a scientific world." It does this, according to John F. Haught, by bringing "the insights of science into contact with the very heart of religious experience."

Desiring to respond in a prayerful way to the situation in Iraq, I found myself recently paging through Cleary's book one sleepless night. I found the following prayer, one of a number of Cleary's "prayers of questioning," to be particularly helpful and meaningful.

Holy Spirit of Evolution,
creator of the cosmos and its wonders,
how shall we deal with the insidious evil
– epidemic in world cultures and societies –
of human egotism,
cruel in its delusional ignorance
and destructive of human life and its environments?

Egotism produces war, crime, cruelty,
disappointment, isolation,
impoverishment, ignorance, illusion:
we are all too familiar with these.

In the end, along with all spiritualities of the world,
we must trust you, Silent Mystery,
and your evolutionary plan for us
unfolding at every moment.

We will come together in our pain,
to pool our wisdom and our energies of hope,
convinced that in the end, the very end,
all shall somehow be well.

May it be so.

I'll close by sharing William Cleary's commentary on the above prayer, a prayer that he entitles "Unfolding at Every Moment."

Where evil comes from – with all its resulting failure and heartbreak – is not something we can understand. Some of it arises from human choice, some comes from the natural evolutionary way of things (3), but most seems beyond human comprehension. Our hearts cry out for reasons; we seldom find them. Some kind of surrender is called for in every spirituality. [Theologian Diarmuid] O'Murchú speaks of "God's mysterious but wise plan." There is certainly solid evidence of order beneath whatever chaos we may encounter. "God is subtle but not malicious," in Albert Einstein's memorable phrase. However, string theory and quantum mechanics now postulate a pervasive uncertainty beneath any orderliness. There seems to be mystery at every level of reality.

Ultimately, we have no choice but to trust in the world around us, in the marvelous processes of nature that we observe daily, in the forces of healing at work in our bodies and in the earth's apparent ability to govern itself and even heal its wounds, in the ingenuity and heroism of our own human companions. Mystics by and large have been optimists. They lead the way.


(1) Under the auspices of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform I recently developed a workshop entitled "Companions on a Sacred Journey: An Introduction to Evolutionary Spirituality." (To learn more about this workshop and/or to schedule a presentation of it to your faith community, click here.) In this workshop I outline the characteristics or hallmarks of evolutionary spirituality by noting that such a spirituality . . .

• Encompasses a “theology of the cosmos” and thus a “theology of evolution” – a way of thinking and talking about God that recognizes and celebrates God’s presence and action within and through creation.

• Is mindful of and attuned to mystery, in particular the mystery of the sacred within all things.

• Is open and responsive to the questions posed by science and the unfolding reality of the universe.

• Places emphasis on inter-connectivity, inter-dependence, and the oneness of all creation.

• Is accepting of paradox and emphasizes “both/and” rather than “either/or.”

• Recognizes and celebrates that we are all participants in a “divine journey,” one that urges us to ever more inclusive states of being.

• Recognizes that we are in a time of transition and transformation, often understood as a “paradigm shift” in human consciousness. Because it calls for a fundamental change in our thoughts, perceptions, and values, this shift challenges us in how we think about and relate to God, the planet, each other, and all forms of human institutions, including the church.

(2) Evolutionary spirituality has been in the news lately, what with Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), recently rebuking the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in the U.S. for its exploration and promoting of evolutionary spirituality. Yet as Jason Berry points out, evolutionary spirituality draws from sources of theological reflection grounded both in the mystical path that winds through Christianity and in the writings of French Jesuit and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. "Pope Francis's remarks have often sounded compatible with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's concept of 'conscious evolution,'" writes Berry. "So why are American nuns in trouble for supporting it?" Berry's article offers some insightful answers, and is well worth reading.

(3) This statement by Cleary brings to mind Andrew Harvey's thoughts on the "terrible aspects" of God. Writes Harvey:

Everything we see or live is for me a shining forth of God, a radiance of the beloved, a radiance that can be terrible as well as beautiful, and sometimes both at once. There is a terrible aspect of God that cannot be avoided. There are hurricanes and plagues, there are collapses of civilizations and stars exploding in the darkness of space. There is agony on every level of creation. There is no joy without pain, no life without death. A mystic comes to learn to dance not only for creation but also for destruction – knowing that life and death are inseparable and part of the same process that transcends both.

Recommended Off-site Links:
A Review of Prayers to an Evolutionary God – Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat (Spirituality and Practice, 2012).
An Introduction to Evolutionary Spirituality (Part 3 in the "Countdown to Synod 2013" series) – Michael Bayly (The Progressive Catholic Voice, August 27, 2013).
The Evolution of Consciousness, God, and Prayer – Mark Gilbert (, February 23, 2010).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
May Balance and Harmony Be Your Aim
A Dance of Divine Light
The Soul Within the Soul
Within the Mystery, a Strange and Empty State of Suspension

Image 1: "The Rise of the Sacred Masculine" (detail). Artist unknown.
Image 2: From Men in Motion: The Art and Passion of the Male Dancer by François Rousseau.
Image 3: Amy Giacomelli.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lisa Leff on Five Things to Know About Transgender People


The Wild Reed's 2014 Queer Appreciation Month series continues with the sharing of Vincent Sage Dixon's beautiful artwork "Transgender" (above) and the following informative Associated Press piece by Lisa Leff entitled "Five Things to Know About Transgender People." (To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)

President Barack Obama has quietly done more to advance rights for transgender people than any other president, but they remain among the nation's most misunderstood minorities. Here are five things to know about transgender America:

Who You Are Vs. Whom You Love

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing. The first refers to a person's physical and emotional attractions to another person. Gender identity is a person's strongly felt sense of being female, male or perhaps neither. That's why transgender rights advocates are pushing for nondiscrimination laws that cover both sexual orientation (gay, lesbian or bisexual) and gender identity (transgender). Some transgender people also identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Watch Your Words

Terminology is constantly evolving. Words once tossed around casually are now considered offensive. A recent campaign pushed TV show RuPaul's Drag Race to stop using the words "tranny" and "she-male." (Drag queens, such as RuPaul, are not usually considered transgender because their act is based on performance, not innate identity.) "Sex change" has fallen out of polite use for the medical treatments that some, but not all, transgender people undergo to bring their bodies into alignment with their identities. Until recently, "sex reassignment" was the favored alternative, but it is giving way to "gender reassignment" and "gender confirmation."

Manners Matter

Katie Couric was called out in January after she pressed model Carmen Carrera for details about her gender transition and "private parts." Such questions are considered rude and intrusive. As Washington Post etiquette columnist Steven Petrow has noted, "It wouldn't be appropriate to ask a non-transgender person about the appearance or status of their genitalia, so it isn't appropriate to ask a transgender person that question either." Asking transgender people what their names were before they transitioned is similarly considered ill-mannered, as is failing to make an effort to use the pronouns they prefer.

By the Numbers

Transgender people make up 0.3 percent of the U.S. adult population, according to estimates by The Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA. In a 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 11 percent of respondents reported having a close friend or relative who was transgender, compared with 58 percent who had a close relationship with someone who was gay or lesbian.

And transgender people, especially women, remain vulnerable to violence. Out of the 18 bias-related killings of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people documented by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs last year, 13 victims were transgender women.

"T" Time

Orange is the New Black co-star Laverne Cox's made history this month with her debut as the first transgender person to appear on the cover of Time magazine. But several other people who identify as transgender have been in the limelight because of affiliations with other Time cover subjects.

During his boyhood in Indonesia, Obama's nanny was a transgender woman who told the Associated Press two years ago that she did not dress as a woman around her young charge but that he "did see me trying on his mother's lipstick, sometimes."

When he was president, George W. Bush hosted a White House reunion for his former Yale classmates, including a transgender woman who had lived as a man when Bush knew her. Another guest told reporters that the president grabbed the classmate's hand and exclaimed fondly, "Now you've come back as yourself."

– Lisa Leff
"Five Things to Know About Transgender People"
Associated Press via ABC News
June 21, 2014

Related Off-site Links:
Without Fanfare, Obama Advances Transgender Rights – Lisa Leff (Associated Press via ABC News, June 21, 2014).
Is Obama the Most Trans-Friendly President Ever? – Diane Anderson-Minshall (The Advocate, June 21, 2014).
Trans Students Celebrate Openly During Catholic Graduations – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, June 22, 2014).
Transgender Priest Gives Sermon at Washington National Cathedral – Meredith Somers (The Washington Post, June 22, 2014).
Progress on Transgender Rights and Health – The Editorial Board (The New York Times, June 9, 2014).
Beyond Pope Francis: Georgetown University Welcoming Trans Students – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, September 22, 2013).
Transgender Issues Are More Complicated Than Some Christians Portray – Jonathan Merritt (Religion News Service, August 19, 2013).
Majority of American Catholics Support Transgender Rights – Jamie Manson (National Catholic Reporter, November 11, 2011).
Transgender Bible Heroes and Sheroes – Peterson Toscano (Peterson Toscano's A Musing, February 13, 2008).
Sub Secretum – Jacqueline White (The Progressive Catholic Voice, January 19, 2009).

UPDATE: 5 Things Not to Say to a Transgender Person (and 3 Things You Should) – Jennifer Finney Boylan (HuffPost Gay Voices, July 21, 2014).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Putting a Human Face on the 'T' of 'GLBT'
Living Lives of Principle
We Three . . . Queens
Shannon Kearns' Transgender Day of Remembrance Message: "We Are Beloved Children of the Universe"

Image: "Transgender" by Vincent Sage Dixon.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Out and About – Spring 2014

The photo above was taken in late April at Minnehaha Falls in south Minneapolis by my friend Brian. As you can see, there are emerging signs of spring all around me!

I was actually in Australia when the season began with the spring equinox on March 20. Accordingly, it was the autumnal equinox that I experienced in the "Great South Land."

Of course, early autumn in much of Australia is quite mild in terms of weather. How mild? Well, in Port Macquarie where I stayed with my parents for much of my time in Australia, I enjoyed a daily swim in the sea!  Even more enjoyable was the time spent catching up with family and friends, not only in Port Macquarie but in Sydney, Gunnedah and Melbourne. I document my month-long visit to Australia in the following Wild Reed posts:

A Surprise for Raph . . . Well, Somewhat
Return to Oz . . . Sydney to Be Exact!
On Sacred Ground
A Visit to Gunnedah
Diamond Head
A Visit to Melbourne, April 7-11, 2014
Port Macquarie Days
Photo of the Day – April 17, 2014
Last Days in Australia, April 15-18, 2014

Above: My home in south Minneapolis, where I've lived since January 2012. I share this house with my good friend Tim (right), who is absolutely the best housemate anyone could possibly want! He's just an all-round great guy.

I returned to Minnesota from my visit to Australia on April 17, Holy Thursday. (For The Wild Reed's 2014 Holy Week series, click here.)

When I had left a month earlier, there was still snow on the ground. Upon my return there was just one small patch in the back yard, which melted away within a few days. It had been such a long hard winter that I'm sure everyone was relieved when it was finally vanquished!

Above: Spring returns to Minnesota!

Above and below: With my good friends Curtis and Liana and their beautiful daughter Amelia. . . . Oh, and Eddie "the Wonder Dog," of course!

You may remember that I had the honor of officiating at Curtis and Liana's wedding last summer.

Above: A lovely photo of my dear friend Noelle with her granddaughter Amelia.

Left: Tim with Amelia – April 2014.

Above: My friends Joey and Kathleen at Joey's senior recital for the Northern Lights School for Violin – Sunday, April 27, 2014. Joey played Kreisler's Praeludium and Allegro.

Last spring I traveled with Kathleen, Joey, and another friend, Will, to Pahá Sápa (the Black Hills of South Dakota). It was a truly memorable experience.

Above: Theologian and author Paul Lakeland speaking at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on April 30, 2014.

To read the article I wrote about Lakeland's presentation on "Pope Francis and the Liberation of the Laity," click here.

Above: A participant in the 40th annual In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre's Mayday parade.

For more images and commentary, click here and here.

On the evening of Friday, May 2, 2014, I attended with my good friend Kathleen (left) the annual Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Ministries Foundation Gala. This year, the gala raised over $120,000 for the foundation's much needed work of providing free health care to the uninsured at their fourteen St. Mary's Healthcare clinics throughout the Twin Cities area.

In the photo above I'm pictured with my dear friends Rita McDonald, CSJ; Kathleen McDonald, CSJ, Brigid McDonald, CSJ; and Kathleen Olsen.

Above: With my friend Tom, who designed and maintains the Catholics for Marriage Equality MN (C4ME-MN) website.

Right: Kathleen with our mutual friends Tom and Darlene White.

You may recall that Tom and Darlene feature in the C4ME-MN produced DVD Catholics for Marriage Equality.

Speaking of marriage equality, this spring marked the first anniversary of Governor Mark Dayton's signing into law the bill that allows marriage equality for same-sex couples in Minnesota. To mark this special anniversary I posted at The Wild Reed a celebratory look back at the role Minnesota Catholics played in helping secure marriage equality in the civil sphere for same-sex couples.

Left: With some of the folks from a local Catholic parish who comprised the first group of participants in "Companions on a Sacred Journey," the workshop I've designed on evolutionary spirituality – May 7, 2014.

Here's how I describe the workshop over at The Progressive Catholic Voice:

Companions on a Sacred Journey is an interactive workshop that provides an opportunity to learn about, reflect upon, and respond to an expression of spirituality known as “evolutionary Christianity.”

As understood and expressed by Catholic theologians, scientists, and mystics such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Beatrice Bruteau, Brian Swimme, Ilia Delio, Diarmuid Ó Murchú, Thomas Berry, and Gail Worcelo, evolutionary Christianity is a meaningful way of thinking and talking about God in our lives, our church, and our world; a way of hope that addresses the important issues of our day by welcoming and honoring both the findings of science and the enduring spiritual wisdom of our Catholic tradition, especially its mystical tradition.

Companions on a Sacred Journey is a program that can be readily tailored to the needs of specific groups. For example, it can be presented as a two-hour workshop, an all-day retreat, or a series of four one-hour presentations. The program is facilitated by Michael Bayly.

Michael has a Masters in Theology from St. Catherine’s University and a Masters in Theology and the Arts from United Theological Seminary. He is the author of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective and the editor of the online forum, The Progressive Catholic Voice. Since 2003 he has served as the Executive Coordinator of the Twin Cities-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), which is a founding member organization of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).

For more on evolutionary spirituality, see the following Wild Reed posts:

In the Garden of Spirituality – Ilia Delio
In the Garden of Spirituality – Diarmuid Ó Murchú
Make Us Lovers, God of Love
Out and About – Autumn 2013
Threshold Musings
The Sufi Way

Above: On Sunday, May 11, 2014, I participated in a Mother’s Day march and rally in solidarity with the mothers of Chibok, Nigeria.

For more images and commentary, click here.

Above: My friends Bob and John (with Emmet) – May 2014.

My friend Bob is a priest in the Old Catholic tradition . . . and the author of the book on Old Catholicism. He married his longtime partner John last summer before being deployed to Kuwait for eight months as a U.S. Army chaplain. In many ways, Bob and John's journey exemplifies the incredible gains that have been made for LGBT people in the U.S. within a remarkably short period of time. I couldn't be happier for them!

Above: Standing at left with my friends Rick, John, Bob (holding Emmet), and Brian – May 18, 2014.

Above: John and Bob relaxing at my home by Minnehaha Creek and its beautiful parkway (below).

Above: Enjoying an outdoor dinner at the always welcoming home of my friends John and Noelle. Pictured (from left): Raul, Madeleine (holding Amelia), Noelle, John, Tim, Curtis, Liana, and Fred.

Left: Among the blossoming trees of Minnehaha Parkway.

Above: The view of Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis from the roof of my friend Raul's apartment complex.

Above: Sharing a meal with my friends George, Ian, and Joan.

Last summer Joan and I enjoyed a relaxing long weekend on the beautiful Bayfield Peninsula in Wisconsin. For images and commentary, click here.

Above: A night out with my friend Mike.

Above: With Kathleen (left), celebrating the birthday of our friend Mary.

Left: Friends Tim and Angela.

Above: In May, Tim and I hosted a "Welcome Back to Minnesota" party for our friend Angela. She had recently returned to Minnesota after a year in Texas.

Right: Standing beneath my photograph entitled "The Kiss," which was the recipient of the People's Choice Award at the June 13 opening of the Twin Cities Pride Art Exhibition at the Aloft Hotel in Minneapolis.

For more images and commentary, click here.

Above, left and below: On the last day of spring, June 20, 2014, Tim and I went walking along Minnehaha Creek. Due to recent record-breaking rainfall, the creek has overflowed its banks in many places.

For more images and commentary on Minnehaha Creek in flood, click here.

Above: The sky above our neighborhood on the eve of the summer solstice, June 20, 2014.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Out and About – Winter 2013-2014
Christmastide Approaches
Out and About – Autumn 2013
Out and About – Summer 2013
Out and About – Spring 2013