Monday, June 20, 2005

Mother’s Many Children

Is there any institution past or present which has inspired such a range of responses, from undying loyalty despite all its faults – the Crusades, the Inquisition, Mel Gibson, Indulgences (forgiveness for the sins you will commit in the future), on the one hand – to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence on the other.

The Church has lost its way. I know, I know. Some of you ill-willed Protestants think they never had the way. But give a little here.

When I say lost, I’m thinking of how you’re supposed to figure out how this Cardinal Law creep who for twenty years allows molester priests to skip town to molest again then gets kicked up to Rome to participate in John Paul II’s funeral. When my father refused to vote for John F. Kennedy because he “didn’t want America ruled from Rome” he guessed wrong. Catholic JFK was a president for all Americans, not just the catholic ones like himself, not just the white ones like himself, not just the rich ones like himself. And I wonder what my father would have said if he were alive to learn the Church was telling catholics to vote against the second rich, white, catholic from Boston with the initials JFK, and vote for George “What would Jesus do” Bush instead?

Hard to keep track of this religious comedy sometimes, it’s gotten so muddy.

Today, I just read the hierarchy have unleashed a mass demonstration against Spain’s plans to be the third country in Europe, after Holland and Belgium, to recognize gay marriages. Twenty senior bishops and apparently a cardinal here and there are taking to the streets to lead a “protest of the faithful” against Spain’s putting things right that should have been put right years ago. OK, Benedict, you’re so fond of scolding your liberation theology brethern for forgetting their duty lies in “prayer, not politics!” If you have any integrity, you’ll send these guys back to chapel as well.

I was in Rome for Easter in 1961 and ran into an American priest who got me tickets to see John XXIII say mass only a few feet away from me. It was a moment I’ll always treasure. Shouts like olé, Irish nuns swooning, waves of applause. Nobody does theatre like Mother Church. I almost came away catholic. Given the new ecumenical focus, there was less reason not to be than when I was growing up and my best catholic friend told me that he worried the only reason he masturbated was so he’d have something to tell father in confession.

That’s long gone now, those good old aggiornamento days of opening up the church and letting the sun shine in. Since John XXIII died the Church has fallen back into the hands of the rightists, and freethinkers are having a hell of a time of it. Hans Küng, one of Roman Catholicism’s most lucid theologians, is not permitted to teach at a catholic university. Tissa Balasuriya, Asia’s most prominent catholic theologian is on the edge of excommunication because he thinks there is something Europeans can learn from Asian religions; liberation theologists are expected to say they’re sorry for spending too much time trying to focus government attention on the poor. What a sad and ridiculous institution! All dressed up in silks and satins and nowhere to go but backwards.

Just when you’re about to lose heart, though, and give up on religious institutions entirely, along comes one that restores your faith in the power of the imagination to do good. I’m talking about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Unless you live in a place like San Francisco, Toronto, Sydney, Berlin, and (are you ready for this?) Montevideo, Uruguay, where the gay community is big and proud and loud, you may not be aware of the work of this religious order given not to piety, chastity and obedience, but to doing away with piety, chastity and obedience to the rotten status quo where the rich get richer and the poor get AIDS.

Call it blasphemy, if you like. I prefer counterculture.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Sisters, check out the Sydney, Australia site: It does as well as any to give you a flavor of their purpose in life: the “promulgation of universal joy,” the expiation of “stigmatic guilt” (shedding centuries of scapegoating of gay people), “habitual manifestation” (basically showing up when and where you least expect them) and, of course, “perpetual indulgence,” a fine catholic tradition, freeing members of “temporal punishment of sin.” The order, they tell us, is collective in its decision-making and anarchist in its practice. The members are diverse. “There are radical faeries, marxists, christians, atheists, haute couture, and gourmet members, and members that don't listen.”

The Mother House of the MOPI (Missionary Order of Perpetual Indulgence) is still in San Francisco, where it was founded in 1979. It is the home of, among others, Sister Bella De Ball, S.P.I., Sister Edith Myflesh S.P.I., Sister Hellen Weels S.P.I., and Sister Mary Mae Himm S.P.I. But since their founding in 1979, they’ve branched out: Seattle has Sister Glo Euro N’Wei.

Manchester, England has Sister Anorak of the Cheap Day Return. In France, Soeur Raquelle Surprise of the Soeurs de la Perpétuelle Indulgence, last I heard, was attached to the Couvent de Paname, Paris, but there are several more at the Couvent d'Oc, the Couvent d'Ouil, the Couvent d'Alor and the Couvent des Aubépines.

Die Schwestern der Perpetuellen Indulgenz (Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne) has Sr. Daphne Maria Sanguina Mensis. The Convent of Dunn Eideann (Edinburgh) has Sister Athletica de la Bain, and there are sister houses in Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow as well. One of my favorite characters (this will make sense only if you know the Japanese “Hello Kitty” idiocy) in Edinburgh is Sister Hello Sissy. Check out her site at .

Most of the Sisters’ efforts are focused on AIDS education, in recognition of the fact that somebody has to right the wrongs of the Church. I mean really, girls, what can you say about an organization which bases its entire approach to the pandemic on the conviction that if you don’t know how to put on a condom you won’t want to play hide the salami with the girl next door?

Sometimes, as with the Hermanas de la Perpetua Indulgencia (Montevideo, Uruguay) they branch out. Opus Gay and all that. They played a part recently in getting a monument to diversity in their city.

So go ahead and march in the streets of Madrid, you twenty bishops from hell. The toothpaste is out of the tube and there ain’t no putting it back in. Sister Bea Attitude, Sister Ann R. Key, Sister Dana Van Iquity, Sister Flatulina Grande, Sister Lolita Me Into Temptation, Sister Roxanne Roles, Sister Saki Tumi, Sister Buffy, Sister Jezebel, Sister Dixie Wrecked, and Sister Justina Nickatime are all going to give you a run for your money.

And maybe save a few of those lives you would put at risk in the process.

June 20, 2005

Monday, June 13, 2005

Japanese Lesson

Japanese isn’t hard. It’s a language like any other. There are words and they have meaning.

Let me give you a little Japanese lesson.
  1. Here’s a little word. nen. Nen ( 年)means year.
  2. Here’s another little world. kin. Kin (金)means money.
  3. Put nen and kin together and you’ve got nenkin, (年金)which means pension.
That wasn’t hard, was it?

OK. Let’s do a little more.
  1. Koku  (国)means country.
  2. Min (民)means people.
  3. Put koku and min together and you’ve got kokumin, (国民)which means national.
  4. Put kokumin and nenkin together and you’ve got kokumin nenkin, (国民年金)which means National Pension.
I wasn’t kidding. The language is logical as any other, and therefore learnable, right?

OK, so you’re ready for the next level.
  1. Kou means thick. (厚)
  2. Sei means life. (生)
  3. Kousei means public welfare.
  4. Kousei nenkin (厚生年金)means public welfare pension, right? Well, kind of. Actually it refers to the pension given to employees of a large corporation.
OK. That was a little harder. But you’re still riding with me, right?

Just two more little words, and then I’m going to tell you a story. A nice about money and security in your old age and happiness and freedom from want. The kind of story that makes us all glad we live in modern civilization and not some jungle where the words don’t mean anything, for example.
  • Kousei nenkin is generally translated Employees Pension.
  • Kiso means basic.
  • Put these together with the words you now know and you can say things like tokubetsu nenkin (special pension) and kiso nenkin (basic pension). See? Cooking with gas here.
Now, armed with this vocabulary, if you should someday out of the blue get a letter which says to you…

  • You are a person who up till now has been receiving a tokubetsu shikyuu (special grant) no rourei (old person) kousei nenkin
  • Starting at 65, this tokubetsu shikyuu no rourei kousei nenkin (Special grant old person Employee Pension) will become a rourei (old person) kiso (basic) nenkin (pension) (Old person basic pension)…

“Keep talking. It’s your nickel,” you’d say, right?

That’s what I said.

But wait a minute. I haven’t been receiving any pension, no special grant. What are they talking about?

There’s more to the story, but it’s all too much for a Japanese lesson, so I’ll summarize in the English tongue, since I sense your eyes glazing over.

This letter is scolding me for not obeying the law. According to the law, by the end of the month in which I turned 65 (i.e., May 31st just past) I was supposed to have informed the Shakai Hoken Gyomu Sentaa (Social Insurance Management Center) whether I would like to receive this tokubetsu (special) pension now that it is no longer going to be called a special pension and is going to start being called a kiso (basic) pension. ("Just circle either wish or don’t wish, please.")

OK. It’s clear to me now that it’s time for a little help from my friends.

I have a couple questions, you see:
  1. What is the difference among the four pensions: national, employees, special and basic?
  2. What is this pension that I have been receiving since age 60 that will now go from “special” to “basic”?
And the answer is/answers are …
  1. There aren’t four pensions; there are only two: National and Employees. From 60 I became eligible for the National Pension and they started paying me. But since I continued working and collecting a salary, they reduced the payment level to zero. So they have been paying me; they have simply been paying me zero. That’s why when they said “Since 60 you have been collecting a special grant pension,” they weren’t lying. I was collecting a pension; it just happened to be zero. Special grant means it amounts to zero. Otherwise it wouldn’t be special.
  2. Now that I am 65, they can’t give me zero any more. Now they actually have to give me something more than zero. They can’t tell me what it is, because that would be too complicated. They’d have to calculate it all depending on my income, the length of time I’ve been paying in, and other criteria that only dogs can hear on a clear day, and so I just have to trust them. But do I want to postpone payments? Because if I do, they can do that. I just have to tell them. That’s what I didn’t do, and because I didn’t do that, now I will have to go to my city hall and get the mayor (no kidding – it says “mayor” even though somebody with a much lower salary actually stamps the form) to put his stamp on my card saying that I’ve been to the city hall – which has nothing whatsoever to do with the nenkin management office, of course. It’s just there to put stamps on people’s documents who don’t do as they’re told.
  3. This “ basic” pension, being the “national” pension used to be “special” but now it will just be “basic,” and has nothing to do with the Employees Pension, which I will start collecting once I actually retire and even though the letter said I had been receiving a special version of the Employees Pension, I hadn’t. It was a special version of the National Pension that I had been receiving (in the amount of zero). I had not actually been receiving any of my Employees Pension, but I had been receiving the “eligibility” of the Employees Pension, and that’s what they meant when they told me that up to age 64 I was receiving the “special” version of the Employees Pension.
Honjou to yukichiga to natta baai goyousha kudasai.
If our letters have crossed, please forgive us.

I forgive you. It's the least I could do.

July 13, 2005