1. Supporters at Dublin Castle
    I’ve been listening to Irish music all day.  Volume at full blast.  Dancing around my room.  With the shades up.  Don’t care who knows I’ve gone out of my mind with joy.  

    Ah, Ireland.  How could I have ever doubted you?  Ever said a bad word?  Ever failed to note the charms of the Emerald Isle?

    It’s called getting carried away.  You don’t get to do it that often anymore.  So much bad news out there.  ISIS.  The Republican Party.  The collapse of American democracy.  Name your reason for feeling blue, and we’ll put it on the long list.  But not today.  Today, the Irish have made the world a much better place.  It’s the first time a nation has voted to extend full rights to its oppressed lesbian and gay minority.  By referendum. Not by forcing the tyrannizing majority to live up to its constitution.  Not by getting its legislature off their bums and doing the right thing.  But by popular vote.  By going to the polls in record numbers and making equality happen.  It just doesn’t get any better than this.

    It was a nail biter there for a while.  It wasn’t that long ago we had great hopes that Proposition 8 would fail.*   Polls indicated it would.   And then the Catholic Church came in and pissed in the soup.  Got together with their Mormon and evangelical friends and pointed us back toward the Middle Ages for a while until we could get that decision overturned in the courts and get marriage rights back for same-sex couples in California.

    I thought this would be the season of waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to make a decision next month.  That we would all hold our breaths until the U.S. goes one way or the other on federal protections for LGBT people.  But then this Irish Referendum came along and snatched our focus away and made us all realize we were maybe too focused on the U.S.  We needed to watch what was going on in the larger world as it moved, slowly but surely, toward full implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The tension will build again, as the U.S. Supreme Court decision gets closer.  But this decision in Ireland today somehow makes the wait seem bearable.  The trend is clear.  And there is hope.

    I was in Ireland only once.  I travelled through England, Scotland and Ireland on my way home from a junior year abroad in college.  I was 21, I didn’t have much money, but since I was already east of the pond, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to take in all I could before heading back to finish college.  I had no plans, but the name Galway Bay had stuck in my head from songs I had heard as a child. I found my way to the western edge of Dublin, stuck out my finger and left my itinerary and my schedule to fate.  It was 1962, and once out in the country cars were few and far between.  The upside of that, though, was that most cars would stop.

    My first ride of any length (it seemed people were only going from one town to the next) was a man who saw immediately that I was American.  “From what part of the States?” he asked.  “I’m from Winsted, Connecticut,” I said.  “Ah, St. Joseph’s!” he responded.  “Did you go to St. Anthony’s?”  I don’t know what was more bizarre, the coincidence that this Irishman should know my home town of 7000 people, or that he should immediately associate it with the single Catholic Church and its parochial school.  I hated to disappoint him, but he didn’t wait for an answer anyway.  “Ah, yes,” he said.  “The church is the soul of life!”

    I assumed I had happened upon a religious fanatic.  But that same night, after finding my way to a youth hostel outside of Galway, I found myself in a dorm room with several men of all ages, most of whom got down on their knees before going to bed.  One continued to pray the rosary after retiring. What is it about this country? I asked myself.

    The morning after I arrived in Galway it started to rain.  So hard that the power went off and we found ourselves cut off.  There were no provisions and I ended up going from house to house with members of the IRA (a story for another day) begging potatoes for a soup to keep the ten or so of us in the youth hostel going until the roads cleared.  By the time they did, we were one happy family and so when somebody suggested we go to church, I went along.  The homily was given in Irish, but I didn’t care.   I was 21 and I was at the edge of the civilized world, and this was an extraordinarily good adventure.

    That experience colored my view of Ireland for years afterwards.  Only Poland gave it a run for its money when it came to Catholicism.  To be Irish was to be Catholic.  Or so I thought.  And with good reason.  The Irish constitution opens with the words, "In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority..." and makes reference to "obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial."    The Irish church, not the state, has virtual control over the entire education system.   As late as 1984, nearly 90 percent of Irish Catholics still went to Mass every week.  And that meant, of course, that the Irish had regular instruction on the importance of being anti-gay, anti-divorce, anti-birth control, anti-just about everything. 

    Then the church began its decline.  By 2011, only 18 percent still went to mass. 

    But there was always another Ireland.  I grew up in New England and there were Irish everywhere – mostly cops and priests, it seemed – and when I wore orange one St. Patrick’s Day to mark my Scottish Protestant roots, the message backfired.  Everybody, Irish or not, thought I was a bad sport.  Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, I learned.  “It’s a great day to be Irish,” they said.  Whether you were actually Irish or not.  The Irish were the underdogs, associated with poverty and a stifling addiction to religion, and people of good will stressed their contribution to music and poetry.   I’ll take you home again, Kathleen,  My Wild Irish Rose, – these were as familiar as any American folk songs, part of everyday life.  And who doesn’t love an Irish tenor doing Danny Boy?  

    So Ireland has always had much going for it.  Despite the weight of British rule, despite the dead hand of the church, it grew and maintained a vibrant culture, full of life and art and talent and imagination, full of poetry and song.  Once noted for potato blights and grand famines, loss of almost half its population to starvation and emigration in the early 20th century, partition and civil war, by the 1990s it had acquired the reputation of being “The Celtic Tiger,” so great were its successes in developing its industry.

    Socially, the church held onto tremendous power.  On April 19, 1908 a decree issued by Pope Pius X went into effect known by its Latin name, Ne Temere.  It declared that marriages not properly performed and registered by the church were invalid, i.e., all non-Catholic marriages.  If a Catholic married a non-Catholic, children must be baptized and raised Catholic.  Ne Temere was in force in Ireland until 1970.   

    But as the above figures related to mass attendance by 2011 indicate, it became clear that the Irish people were moving away from Catholic church teachings.  Polls on the issue of abortion, also, demonstrate the change.  Despite strict insistence that abortion would never be permitted under any circumstances according to church doctrine, polls showed in 1997 that 77% of the population thought it should be permitted under certain circumstances such as the health of the mother.  By 2004, 51% of people under age 45 supported abortion on demand.   By January 2010 60% of those under 35 thought it should be legalized, and 75% thought the morning-after pill should be made available as an over-the-counter drug (i.e., not just by prescription).    

    And now, the Irish have demonstrated with their overwhelming approval of same-sex marriage that the Church really has lost its hold on the country.  As Ronan Mullen, an opponent of “gay marriage,” put it, in a lovely example of the Irish way with the English language, “Some Yes campaigners might be tempted to say Catholic Ireland was executed today and will be buried in a humanist ceremony on Monday.” 

    Ireland’s vote was stunning.  Of 43 parliamentary districts, 42 voted yes.  And the one single hold-out kept it from being unanimous by a no-vote of only 51.42% to 48.58% yesses.  Even in the very rural county of Roscommon almost half the people voted in favor of equality.  To be fair, the vote was close in many districts.  Only in Dublin did it go as high as 84% in some parts of the urban area.  But as one writer in the Irish Times put it, “Dublin needed to push hard, we thought, to carry the rest of the country home. Rubbish. The rest of the country did that themselves.” 

    “The decency of the Irish people,” she continued, “was not limited to the liberal leafy suburbs of Dublin, nor the solidarity from the flats, but that decency came from the cliffs of Donegal, the lakes of Cavan, the farmyards of Kildare, the lanes of Kerry."

    People more knowledgeable about Irish society than I will debate whether the still mostly Catholic people of Ireland won this battle or whether the Church lost it.  There are ready explanations for the official Roman Catholic Church’s tail-spin.  The world learned the story of the 30,000 women confined to Irish asylums when a mass grave of 155 corpses was discovered at a former convent in Dublin in 1993, largely from the film, The Magdalene Sisters, based on the events.  Astonishingly, the church is still fighting against having to pay restitution in the courts despite demands from the Irish government, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee Against Torture.    A 2009 article in the Guardian makes the case that “rape and sexual molestation were ‘endemic’ in Irish Catholic church-run industrial schools and orphanages.”   It’s hardly a secret anymore that the moral authority of the church has gone up in smoke.  I would prefer some evidence that people came to their senses on the importance of seeing gay people as no better and no worse than anybody else, but I suspect it took the hypocrisy and arrogance of the Irish Catholic Church to shake people out of apathy and blind obedience to doctrine hostile to the human spirit.  That and the breadth and depth of unspeakable abuse.  If you’re not familiar with the Ryan Report, have a look.  It’s a mind-blower.

    On the other hand, to say that it was the church’s corruption and hunger for power and control that made this happen sidesteps the possibility that it simply made itself irrelevant.  People didn’t vote out of anger at the church.  They voted without regard to the church.

    And it bears repeating that we still do ourselves no favors by allowing the clerical authorities from the pope down to the bishops to think they speak for the church.  One doesn’t stop being Catholic necessarily when one stops going to church.  One source states that 80% still define themselves as Catholic.  They simply take responsibility for defining religion outside the grasp of the clericals.  Or, as those within the church tend to see it, the problem is not with the church or with the Christian message; it’s a problem of a demonstrably toxic clericalism, and with an institution seriously lacking in credibility.

    That’s not my issue, however.  Not today, anyway.  Today, I simply want to listen to the Clancy Brothers, put on some green socks, and wear my Celtic family name with pride, knowing that most people think it’s Irish.

    Today, that’s more than OK with me.


    photo credit: supporters at Dublin Castle


    *On May 15,  2008, the California Supreme Court struck down Proposition 22, which had declared marriage in California could only be between a man and a woman.  That enabled same-sex couples to marry.  A new proposition, Proposition 8, was put together with money from the Knights of Columbus, the Mormon Church and others, including right-winger Howard Ahmanson, opponent of evolution and promoter of intelligent design.  It was supported by 85% of those who identified themselves as evangelical or born-again.  To LGBT people's dismay, the Proposition passed, and the right to marry was taken away.  After a long battle in the courts, that right was restored on June 26, 2013.





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  2.  
    Kevin Wallin
    "accomplished priest"
    A friend just sent me a link to the news in this morning’s paper that Kevin Wallin has been sentenced to five years and five months in jail for being a meth dealer. 

    Meth dealers go to jail all the time, so this would hardly be news but for the fact that this 63-year old man from Bridgeport, Connecticut was a priest.  The papers are referring to him as “Monsignor Meth.”  He was also an addict, himself.  And a cross-dressing party-loving man known for his love of Broadway musicals.  And apparently a capable secretary to two bishops, and described by his own colleagues as a "gifted, compassionate and accomplished priest."

    I know only what I read in the papers, of course, and am not in a position to judge the man, even if I wanted to – I don’t.  But this man appears to have two characteristics which, in the long run, were bound to cause his downfall.  He was able to live a double life like some character out of Breaking Bad.  And he lacked the strength of character to ride out some serious financial challenges.  The Catholic Church is up against a loss of membership, for reasons that remain speculative.  But it is also suffering from the collapse of the financial markets in 2008.  Wallin was a fundraiser and this hit him hard.  So he turned to drugs.

    My first response to the news story of his sentencing was Schadenfreude.  Every example of hypocrisy in the Catholic Church brings out the “sock it to’em” impulse that lurks in some corner of my mind.  Try as I may to separate the good that is in the church from the bad, there is a part of me which is still a church basher, so intense is the loathing I have built up over the years over the church’s efforts to keep women dependent on men and to guilt gays and lesbians into a life of sexual denial and indignity.  And, more recently, its willingness to throw its weight behind Republican causes, closing its eyes to how often it represents the interests of the moneyed classes at the expense of the rest of us.

    Stories like this one keep popping up.  Inevitably, I am reminded of the claims of people like David Berger, that up to half of the priesthood is made up of homosexually inclined men, most of whom live lives of denial, and many of whom channel their resentment into sexual aggression and project their self-loathing into ardent support for its anti-gay policies.  Nothing is more characteristic of the Roman Catholic Church (and they are not alone in this among Christian groups, obviously) than repressed sexuality.  The consequences of that mindset have been deadly.  Over and over, again and again, opportunities for healthy growth are denied as the alleged virtues of sexual denial and suppression are touted as the will of God.

    This story captured my attention this morning because I had been discussing the ramifications of the Pew Research Group report the past couple of days  on how many people are falling away from organized religion in America.  I celebrate this fact, but at the same time I realize this spells heartbreak for religious friends and members of my family.

    It’s an old old story, and things are not likely to change, no matter how many more cases like this one will come to our attention.  People with messed up sexualities find their way into the church, hide behind the rule of celibacy without recognizing the long-term cost of denial.  The moral code some Christians claim is the strongest selling-point for being Christian in the first place - (“Without the church, what would keep us all from killing each other!?”) – has been twisted.  Instead of focusing on the virtues of compassion and generosity and love and forgiveness, the church has made morality all about sex.  About not touching yourself down there.  About not having sex unless you are generating future souls.  About constructing a society that argues it is protecting women when it is more interested in controlling them and keeping them dependent on men.

    Kevin Wallin is easy to ridicule.  A priest wearing a dress and high heels.  Singing and dancing to Broadway show tunes.  What a clown.  What a joke.  What an obscenity.  Let’s laugh and make fun of this hypocrite.  This weakling.  One Spanish-language blog even describes his fall as "La caída de la bestia" - the fall of the beast.  

    Then again, let’s not.  Let’s recognize what happens when an autocratic institution grabs hold of a weak man like Kevin Wallin and makes him do its bidding.  Makes him hide his doubts about his beliefs.  Makes him hide his true sexual nature.

    In the long run, you will take sides on the basis of your own personal and political philosophy.  Do you tend to form your own sense of morality by moving from the individual to the collective?  Or the other way around?  Are you a law and order type who believes the individual must, in most cases, surrender to the good of the collective?  Or are you a staunch individualist who believes one of the great aspects of the American political system is having a Supreme Court that judges cases on the basis of the rights of the individual, and overturns the will of the majority on occasion, when they judge the individual to have been wronged?  I’m oversimplifying greatly, obviously, to make a point.

    But I’ve reached my own penchant for stressing individual rights over collective ones because I’ve been on the business end of abusive laws and customs of a tyrannical, unjust, and ungenerous majority.

    same guy as above - demonized
    This is a philosophical issue.  Do you blame Kevin?  Stress his personal weakness?  Focus on the harm he has caused himself and other victims of drug addiction?  Kevin Wallin is easy to demonize.
    It's easy to frame this story as being about a man who has sinned and who has to pick himself up, make restitution, get right with the Lord again.

    Or do you focus on the misguided institution to which he has devoted his life?  Apparently he is seeking forgiveness and seeking to reenter the church as a member in good standing.  If he is reinstated – and I think he will be – his contrition appears to be genuine – it will be because he acknowledges his wrongdoing and throws himself on the mercy of the institution.  He may then go back to denying his sexual nature and live a life of celibacy.  

    If he pays that price, the church will have won out.  And the harm that generated the worldview that brought him down will continue.

    And that will be a great pity.


    Photo credits:


    1. Kevin Wallin, priest

    2. Kevin Wallin, beast
    3. Kevin Wallin, demonized




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  3. For reasons I can't explain, I've been feeling the need to grouse about the evolution of the English language lately.  As a trained linguist, I know (or maybe I just ought to say I buy into the fact) that language standards are largely impotent attempts by power structures to maintain control, and language evolves on the basis of actual usage.  Language is, in the long run, what people say, not what somebody says they ought to say.

    Language use conservatives may wail all they (we) like.  Sooner or later most of the “breakdown” in rules becomes a new standard.  In high school my English teachers were ruthless in not allowing me to split infinitives.  I don’t think young people today can even tell you what that means.  Teachers may still try to really convince you you ought to never split an infinitive, but they are fighting a losing battle.

    And remember the sentence, “That is a situation up with which I will not put,” making fun of the rule that you never “use a preposition to end a sentence with”?  That, too, illustrates a rule that has fallen by the wayside.

    At my local supermarket there are two fast lanes with signs declaring they are for people who have “Fewer than 12 items.”  I actually made a point of thanking the manager.  The fewer/less distinction seems to be falling by the wayside.  I am delighted some are holding on to tradition.

    There is no logical or esthetic reason we should maintain the count/non-count distinction.  No reason we shouldn’t say “less people” and “amount of people” instead of “fewer people” and “number of people” respectively.  But I feel a twinge of sadness, a sense that the world is going to hell when people misuse words, whether in spelling – like discrete for discreet or pour over for  pore over (a mistake I made not so long ago in a blog) ­– or in word choice – like using the non-words like irregardless and firstly or choosing to say point in time when time is perfectly adequate.  Some insist firstly is simply more formal than first when used as an adverb, but what the hell does that mean? 

    Why is it I have become so conservative about language use, I wonder.  I really care about the its/it's distinction and the placement of commas (and I always take criticism seriously from people who tell me I am an over-user) and about using lie-lay-lain as an intransitive verb and lay-laid-laid as its transitive equivalent, another rule apparently on its last legs.  I’m not only conservative; I’m chauvinistic when it comes to regionalisms.  In the part of the country where I grew up nobody would think of saying, “If you would have come, you would have had a good time.”  But in huge sections of the country, the sentence appears to be quite acceptable. 


    Nothing new hear here.  Language is in flux.  The world is changing.  Sometimes you go with the flow, and sometimes you try to channel that flow or even damn dam it up entirely.  Usually you fail.  The flow’s the thing.

    Like this article I just came across which inspired this rant:

    A new survey from the  Pew Research Center indicates that the amount [sic] of American Christians is declining, while the amount [sic] of Americans who don't identify with any organized religion is increasing.

    Oh well.  Lose a little here, win a little there.







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  4. The Supreme Court’s decision this past week to take up the case of the right of same-sex couples to marry has brought the homophobes out of the woodwork. Most people will simply want to turn and walk away from these folk with their limited knowledge of the Bible who nonetheless want to make their understanding of scripture the law of the land.  Fortunately, the tide has turned and most Americans no longer feel the need to demonize others for their sexuality.  But the ignorance persists and is getting quite aggressive in places. In Michigan there's a group now putting their ignorance on billboards.  "Homosexuality is a behavior," they tell you.  "Not a civil right."

    Straight out of the Middle Ages.

    These guys make me think of my dog Miki who brings me her rope toy every morning and wants me to play tug with her.  Not the best of comparisons, given I love that little girl almost beyond endurance, and don't actually want to engage with the god salesmen.

    But OK.  I’ll play.

    Not with all of them.  I won't play with Matt McLaughlin, the guy who has California State Attorney Kamala Harris’s office tied up with legislation he is proposing that would impost the death penalty on gay people.  No kidding.  It’s called the Sodomite Suppression Act.  You can read about him and his proposal here

    I don’t want to play with him.

    But let's have a go with restrainthejudges.com in Michigan (photo above) who see the civil rights of LGBT people as a line in the sand.  They compare same-sex marriage to Roe v. Wade and insist God wants them to stop it.  They are drumming up a rush of mail to the Supreme Court urging them to "remove jurisdiction from the Federal Courts and appellate jurisdiction from the Supreme Court on all cases regarding the issue of marriage."  And their source of authority? Genesis 2:24.  The book that tells us the world was made in six days.  This from the folk who conclude that Noah must have had dinosaurs on his arc.

    And with Minister Charles Williams of the Church of Christ on Nashville Road in Gallatin, Tennessee (photo right).  He’s posted a notice in front of his church informing locals (and the whole world with access to the internet, of course) that “People who practice homosexual acts will not inherit heaven.”  And he quotes one of the clobber passages homophobes love to cite from the bible.  This one is 1 Corinthians 6, verse 9.

    In the King James version, 1 Corinthians 6:9 reads:

    Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.

    Inheriting heaven is not on my shopping list.  I decided years ago that if Jerry Falwell was there, I was taking my business elsewhere.  But for the sake of those really nice Christian gay people for whom such things matter, I feel obliged to speak up.  They deserve so much better than people like the Catholic Bishops and the Charles Williams of Gallatin, Tennessee types. 

    Once again it's time for that rule of thumb.  Want to distinguish between good religion and bad religion?  Check out its followers.  Where you find charity, integrity, compassion and humility, you're likely to find decent religion.  When you spot people telling you they know the mind of God, beware. Be especially careful of people with signs.

    I blogged recently about one of those Christians at the Supreme Court with a sign claiming that “God Hates Fags” who believes for all the world that the Bible is backing him up.  You know he does because he gives you a biblical reference for his assertion.  This wacko makes it easy by using a word from the list which also includes kike, wop, spic and nigger.

    Not all homophobes are that open about their bigotry.  The nice folks from Gallatin, Tennessee, for example.  I doubt any of them use hate words like “fag.”  At the same time, though, they show little understanding of the biblical passages they throw at you.

    For starters, somebody needs to tell the Reverend William and his flock that homosexual does not actually appear in the biblical passage of the English Bible most evangelicals show a preference for.  The King James version of the English bible came out in 1611, two hundred years before the word homosexual was coined in 1869 by the German psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert.  The word homosexual as we understand it today didn’t exist because the concept as we understand it today didn’t exist.  That’s why Benkert had to invent it.  Words get invented as new notions are conceptualized and we feel the need for a new word to express them. 

    When Benkert came up with the term, he wanted to convey what he saw as a medical model for same-sex behavior as being inherent.  This was a whole new way to go, a major departure from the old view of “sodomy” as a behavior any person might engage in if feeling wicked.  Any person, of course, being male.  It's not just that you stop using the old word sodomy and start using the new word homosexuality.  You also change all the connotations around the new word. Sodomy was used at a time when one didn't much care what your "nature" was.  Anybody could engage in acts of sodomy.  It was a sin of choice.  But a homosexual - at least as the coiner of the word understood it, was somebody inclined by nature to desire members of his or her own sex.

    So back in the pre-Benkert days - when the King James Bible was written, for example, one finds two terms for what in post-Benkert days has come to be called homosexual, one more infelicitous than the other:  “Effeminate” and (this one needs a drum roll, I think) “abusers of mankind.”

    (I hear Miki tugging and growling in pure delight.)

    Now does anyone in his right mind really think the Apostle Paul (or whoever wrote that letter to the good people of Corinth in his name) actually thought that if you were not good at catching a ball or cried while watching soap operas or could correctly identify the colors mauve, cerise, puce and fandango pink, that there was no place in heaven for you?

    You can’t condemn with the word “effeminate” today as you could in 1611.  People may be amused by flaming queens and Liberace types, but nobody is going to be persuaded they’re all going to hell.  Nobody who doesn't hang on to a medieval mindset, that is.  But note what happens if you take the word effeminate out and put in the word homosexual.  Notice how much easier it is to get behind the notion that we’re on the side of the Lord in condemning their behavior.  God won’t send you to hell for being effeminate, maybe, but he sure will for having sex with somebody of your own sex.  Male, that is.  Women aren’t important enough to worry about when determining who is too wretched to merit heavenly reward. 

    Paul used the Greek word malakoi here.  It means “something soft.”  You know, the way women are soft.  More on that in a minute.

    Right after malakoi, Paul condemns people he calls arsenokoitai.  That's the word that got translated in the King James version as “abusers of mankind” and in more recent translations as “homosexual.”

    Consider the 17th century expression “abusers of mankind” for a minute.  Some monk really had to pore over his thesaurus to come up with that one.  What does it mean, anyway, to “abuse” mankind?  Just think of how erotophobic you have to be to define bringing somebody to sexual ecstasy as sexual “abuse.”  Unless, of course, what’s being referred to is forcing a minor into an activity that causes pain or humiliation.  That’s a horse of a different color.  What exactly did Paul mean by arsenokoitai? 

    Luther’s translation comes in handy here.  Martin Luther, remember, was the guy who gave Protestantism its first real start when he translated the New Testament from the original Greek into language the people of his day could actually understand.  Not exactly; he was making a standard for the German language up as he went along, since there were so many dialects to contend with.  Today he is considered the great unifier of the German language for his efforts.  But I digress.

    Here’s how Luther translated 1 Corinthians 6:9:  The word-by-word gloss is mine:

         Wisset ihr nicht, daß die Ungerechten das Reich Gottes nicht ererben werden?
         know    ye  not   that  the  unjust        the kingdom of God not inherit will? 

         Lasset euch nicht verführen! Weder die Hurer noch die Abgöttischen                          
         Let yourselves not be misled!  Neither the fornicators nor the idolaters

         noch die Ehebrecher noch die Weichlinge noch die Knabenschänder
         nor the adulterers nor the “sissies” nor the boy-abusers…

    Aha.  The “abusers of boys.”  Not the same thing as “abusers of mankind” at all, is it?

    And if you think this 16th century German is too unreliable a text to take literally, check out the modern German translation by Schlacher from1905, revised in 2003:

        Wisst ihr denn nicht, dass Ungerechte das Reich Gottes nicht erben werden?
         Irrt euch nicht: Weder Unzüchtige noch Götzendiener, weder Ehebrecher
         noch Weichlinge, noch Knabenschänder 

    Note that the crucial terms – Weichlinge – sissies, and Knabenschänder – abusers of boys - are unchanged.  Modern German readers of Greek think Luther got it right.

    Luther isn’t the only guy who had to come up with words to describe the original Greek ρσενοκοται – arsenokoitai, and, like everybody else, he ended up giving it a twist that reflected the notions of his age.  Arsenokoitai, it has been argued, is a word which Paul made up.  There is no evidence of its having been used before this reference in Paul’s letter to the Corinthinians, so in trying to figure out what he was conceptualizing by the coinage there is bound to be uncertainty.  People were certainly familiar with same-sex activity.  The Greek word for people who engaged in it was paiderasste, from which our word “pederast” is derived – and note the word identifies a “lover”  ραστής (erastēs) of πας (pais) "boys."  Prepubescent or adolescent. If he meant what we mean today by homosexual, or pederast, why did he coin a new word instead?  Why didn’t he just use the words available at the time?

    Scholars have speculated over this question.  Was Paul referring to sexual “offenders” – i.e., people (of whatever sexuality – remember sexuality was not considered a static identity) who manipulated others, raped them or otherwise coerced them into sex?  Male prostitutes with female customers?   Pimps – people who lived off sex, whether homosexual or heterosexual?  One source suggests malakoi and arsenokoitai should be taken as a pair, meaning “passive” (bottom, “insertee”) and “active” (top, “inserter”), respectively, but that is a dead give-away that it comes from somebody with no idea of how gay men have sex, an ivory tower assumption that gay men determine among themselves who is going to "play the man" and who is going to "play the woman."

    Others have suggested that the two words together represent a person with “soft morals,” i.e., anybody who does any number of bad things, sexual or otherwise. 

    You can keep this going.  A French translation gives arsenokoitai as infâmes, i.e., vile, nefarious, villainous, sordid.   The Castilian Standard gives it as los pervertidos sexuales (sexual perverts). A look at the many attempts across different languages and across time in the English language to guess what Paul meant by arsenokoitai only reveal the fact that we simply do not know exactly and are filling in with the version of the moment.

    Here are some other examples of English translations.  As I mentioned above, the other pre-Benkert (i.e., pre-1869 coining of “homosexual”) translation we have available to us beside the King James version, Young’s literal translation of 1862 also uses sodomite as the predecessor of homosexual. “Malakoi oute arsenokoitai” is rendered “nor effeminate, nor sodomites.”   Even after the word reached some currency, not all translators jumped to homosexual. The Darby Bible Translation of 1890 reads: “…nor those who make women of themselves, nor who abuse themselves with men” – again putting the notion of men acting like women into the category of sin, and suggesting it is not merely unbecoming, but enough to cause one to spend an eternity in hell.  Then there's the Weymouth New Testament of 1903, which uses the circumlocution “…nor any who are guilty of unnatural crime….” mixing the notions of “sin” and “crime,” although it hardly matters, since both are clearly worthy of the death penalty.

    Few know to ask any more what Paul intended to say in this letter to the Corinthians.  They don’t ask because they think they know.  Modern people – in the English-speaking world, at least – have taken the notion of homosexuality as we conceive of it nowadays and run with it, putting the word homosexual into Paul’s mouth to condemn gay men to death.  Never mind that Paul might well have been referring to same-sex behavior associated with the temple prostitution, the worship of false gods.  By putting the word in his mouth that we use for sodomite today, we make him out to be saying anybody with a non-vanilla sexual nature deserves eternal damnation.  

    It's not surprising that the modern word with all its baggage has worked its way into several modern New Testament translations.  There's the World English Bible (1901) – “…nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals…”; the NET Bible – “passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals”; the International Standard Version (1998) – “male prostitutes, homosexuals.”  If once there was room for the possibility that Paul was talking about temple prostitutes, or simply people behaving lasciviously, today we simply sweep it all together under the rubric of homosexual and believe we know what we are talking about – men and women whose entire identity can be reduced to their sexual natures.  I say men and women because modern-day lesbians are swept into this category, although it is clear Paul was paying little attention to them at the time he was writing.  It doesn’t matter what he intended.  It only matters what we want him to have intended.  Never mind that few words have one single meaning for all time.  Never mind that social and cultural attitudes change, even within a single generation. 

    For a more complete list of English translations of this passage in Corinthians, click here

    Now when you look at the bible translation overseen by the authorities in the Roman Catholic Church, you note something else interesting.  They are aware of the evolution of the term from sodomite to homosexual, including the switch from focus on behavior to focus on identity, and they make use of that distinction.  Evolution does not occur all at once and you can still see the concept being fought out in America’s culture wars – between those who insist one “chooses” to do gay things and those who understand gays are born with an established sexual nature (which includes, in many cases, a great deal of fluidity).  The official Roman Catholic position has changed with that evolution.  Today, the church tells you it’s all right to be gay.  You just can’t do gay.  Your homosexual nature will be tolerated as long as it is stifled.  The split is complete.  Note the footnotes:
    Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral,[a] nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[b][c]
    Footnotes:a       the immoral: Literally, “fornicators.”
    b      Two Greek words are rendered by this expression
    c    homosexuals: Greek has “effeminate nor sodomites.” The apostle condemns, not the inherent tendencies of such, but the indulgence of them.
    Come again?  The apostle condemns not the tendencies but the indulgence?  Where the hell is that in the text?  That’s current Roman Catholic doctrine, updated for the new catechism.  Nowadays we should hate the sin but love the sinner, and the sinner who has gay tendencies can live with them as long as he lives a life of celibacy.  (Once again, note that women aren’t important here.)  That’s nowhere in the Greek text.  It’s simply the latest church teaching of the day,  the interpretation du jour.  Just as Luther’s understanding of arsenokoitai was that it referred to “abusers of boys” ­­– i.e., what today we would label pederasts and consider a subset of homosexual.  Or, depending on your political orientation, not a subset, but something else entirely.

    Words reflect the environment in which they originate.  If you read the biblical story of Onan,  the guy who was supposed to "plant his seed" in his sister-in-law following his brother's death, it’s clear God killed him for practicing coitus interruptus.  Once your imagination spends a little time with the notion of “spitting your seed into the sand,” though, it’s ready to stretch this act that offends God to include masturbation, as well.  Start with one notion, and in time a living culture will modify it and make it work for another age.  Onanieren is German for “to masturbate,” and cognates exist in virtually all other European languages as well.

    Homosexuality has travelled a similar path.  Where one society finds having sex with boys acceptable so long as the boys are slaves but condemns it with boys of noble birth, another society extends condemnation to sex between any two persons of the same sex, even consenting adults.  The term then evolves to remove that condemnation provided it is freely engaged in, and society battles over how fast that evolution ought to be allowed to take place.  Which gives us the absurd reality that some conservative religious groups read a text which tells us of a belief that a man who refuses to impregnate his sister-in-law should be put to death and conclude that lesbians should not be allowed to marry.

    But I've spent all this time fussing over the evolution of the understanding of arsenokoitai, and a couple of curious assumptions - that we know what it means, and that Paul speaks for God.  And in doing so, I've ignored something even more mind-blowing, the ability of Rev. Williams to prioritize which sins God will excuse and which ones he won't.

    Unless the good reverend Charles Williams of  Gallatin, Tennessee intends to post a sign next Sunday declaring that adulterers too cannot enter heaven, any more than gays and lesbians can, and reminds his flock the week after that that divorced people too have no chance of heaven, and the week after that reminds them that the price of having a party with their weewees is millions of years in hell, the reverend is nothing more than a man who wears his bigotry on his sleeve for all the world to see. Somebody picking the parts his internal homophobia dictates he should emphasize and excusing, or at least overlooking the rest of the text.

     Seriously.  You have to wonder how he can read:

    neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

    then skip the first few words, and get all hot and bothered about the last.

    On the Gallatin, Tennessee Church of Christ website, you read:
    “Historically, our church has sought to ground its faith and practice in the Bible as the written word of God,”

    What’s missing, unfortunately, is the admission that "sometimes we really mean it and sometimes, not so much."


    picture credits:

    Billboard
    Church sign (partial selection grab)







    Here, by the way, is 1 Corinthians 6:9 in the original Greek (in the SBLGNT version): οκ οδατε τι δικοι θεο βασιλείαν ο κληρονομήσουσιν; μ πλανσθε· οτε πόρνοι οτε εδωλολάτραι οτε μοιχο οτε μαλακο οτε ρσενοκοται – in case you’re interested.


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  5. “What’s in a name,” the question goes.  That question Juliet asks when she ponders the consequences of the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues.  All the fuss over the name of the new princess, fourth in line to the British throne.  Sneer, sneer.  Gets my republican shackles up.  Who gives a damn, says I.

    And then I read this little girl is going to be called Charlotte, and I am charmed.  Turn into a sentimental old man and say to myself, “What a lovely name.  Oh, I’m so glad.”

    Where the hell did that come from?  What is it about some of us who get caught up in the British Royal Family.  Us colonials, no less.  Why should we care?

    But it’s a little girl.  A baby.  What’s not to love about a baby?  Why shouldn’t you care about a new-born baby?

    Next thing I know, I’m staring at the pictures of Charlotte’s mum.  Kate.  Beautiful woman.  And she is looking terribly happy.  And the lunk standing next to her too.  Prince William, who just a few short years ago was the bachelor to die for.  Super handsome.  Today he’s losing his hair, is beginning to show some royal jowls, not at all the movie star type.  Beginning to look real ordinary.  And then I think, well isn’t that special.  I’m looking at the heir to the throne and feeling good that he is looking ordinary.  And happy.  And I’m feeling happy for them.  Good on’em.  So if they drain the British treasury to look regal.  Doesn’t mean I can’t be charmed by baby Charlotte.  (Of course, I don’t pay British taxes.)

    Charlotte is common in France and in English-speaking countries, but I think of it as a German name.  It was Sophia Charlotte of Hannover, Frederick the Great’s grams that Charlottenburg was named after, my favorite area in Berlin, the area where my friends live and I got to know up close and personal when I house-sat for six weeks a couple years ago.  My Aunt Frieda had a companion she called “Lottchen” which is short for Charlotte.  I’m guessing the name stuck in Prussian heritage places like Brandenburg and Berlin.  I seem to remember meeting lots of Charlottes.  “Charly” for short.  Or Lottie or Lotte, as in Lotte Lenya.

    I’m rambling on about the name, looking for a reason to justify the pleasure I felt when reading of the new smile-maker of the kingdom who will carry that name.  Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Covers all the bases.  Both paternal grandparents, Charles and Diana, and her great-grandmother Elizabeth (note the proper order, if you please.) That’s Elizabeth Regina, ruling monarch, of course.  And, speaking of connections, Regina is one of the names of the little girl born yesterday to one of my chosen family nephews – Hailey Regina. The Regina comes from her mother's sister, not the Queen of England. She’s not in line for any throne that I know of.  But thinking of her makes me smile, too.


    Ah, the power of new-born babies.  Welcome to the world, little girls born in May.  May you both live long and prosper.

    photo credit - AP photo from the Wall Street Journal





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  6. It’s a never-ending job reminding the “Jesus Hates You” crowd that what the Supreme Court is up to these days is deciding a constitutional question, not enforcing a biblical notion.  They are out in full force in front of the Court steps with their “Jesus Hates Fags” signs.  The Advocate, the gay magazine of record, has a wonderful collection of photos juxtaposing earnest and terribly ordinary looking gay couples standing together in the midst of signs blaring rightwing truth messages.  Satan’s gonna get you!

    Some of these photos really capture the circus nature of our culture war for the rights of LGBT people in this land of demons and wackos.  My favorite has to be the one above: a drag queen with rainbows shooting out of her eyes having a conversation with an over-the-hill (read: pot belly) guy in a camouflage jacket and cap with neon-red-orange letters demanding that she “turn or burn.” But the one that caught my eye was a quotation from 2 Peter 2:12 which tells us that “Fags are Beasts.”   Hmm, I says to myself.  Doesn’t sound like the Simon Peter I know.  You know, the guy who insisted on being crucified upside down because he didn’t deserve to be crucified the way Jesus was.  The guy the Catholics call their first pope.  That guy.

    So I read his two letters written to “the strangers scattered throughout Pontus (Black Sea coast, NE Anatolia), Galatia (Central Anatolia), Cappadocia (next to Galatia), Asia and Bithynia (NW Anatolia).”   It came as no surprise that the sign carrier seems not to know the conventions for attributing quotations.  Simon, better known as St. Peter, doesn’t say that fags are beasts.  What the sign carrier has done, of course, is read the verse to suit his own purposes.  The verse reads: “But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption…”  It's not so much about beasts who put their naughty parts in the wrong places as it is about beastly people who worship the wrong gods. 

    To know what Peter is talking about, you have to go back to the beginning of the chapter.  “There were false prophets also among the people,” he writes, “who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”  It’s the folk who deny Jesus, he’s talking about.  Non-believers.

    The two letters turn out to be really interesting.   Here’s a man writing at a time and in a place where the Hebrew myths are in full bloom.  Noah, whom he identifies as “the eighth man” (who needs ancestry.com?), was saved because he was a “preacher of righteousness.”  The rest, of course, aka “the ungodly,” had to endure the flood.  Getting rid of the whole world except for Noah, his Mrs. and his boys, didn't assuage God's anger.  Not long after he went on to turn the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes to make an example of them, this time delivering only Lot (like Mrs. Noah, Mrs. Lot has no moral value of her own and gets a free ride at first until she is stupid enough to get turned into a pillar of salt, as I'm sure you remember.  It’s an all-or-nothing world of total obedience or death.  

    Peter goes on to tell us more about these people he’s going to punish.  “But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government.  Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.”   Didn't quite understand what it means to “speak evil of dignities” so I checked a modern translation, which gives that verse (2 Peter 2:10) as "But specially those who go after the unclean desires of the flesh, and make sport of authority. Ready to take chances, uncontrolled, they have no fear of saying evil of those in high places."

    So that's the crime.  Not just "unclean desires" but resisting authority.  Peter goes on.  “Having eyes full of adultery,” Peter writes of these sinners, “…a heart of covetous practices.”  Adultery?  Fags are beasts whose eyes are “full of adultery?”  Who would have imagined?  You mean the fags got married and cheated on their same-sex spouses?   Hmmm.

    Peter finally gets specific about who it is he’s talking about.  “Cursed children,” he calls them, “which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of Unrighteousness.”  Balaam, I understand, was the guy who met the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land and tempted them astray – astray, meaning, of course, to carry on with the local women, the Moabites and the Midianites, and to worship the local gods and eat things sacrificed to them. 

    It’s quite a journey getting from the worship of a god other than the god of the Hebrews to same-sex marriage, but I guess one should never underestimate a bible thumper who has his heart and soul in his work.

    If this motivates you to haul out the family bible and check my references, take note of some the other interesting stuff that is in this letter Peter wrote to the faithful.  Because I've been reading around in the comparative religion literature and pondering the fact that Islam lacks the impetus for dividing the worlds of politics and religion into two separate camps, this too jumped out at me.  As history of religion scholars like to point out, Jesus was a working class slob who earned his bread as a carpenter and died young, while Mohammad married a wealthy business woman and became a general.  Which helps to explain that while Christ's message is about "render(ing) unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's (Mark 12:17)", Islamists have no such orders, but are commanded to establish a religious-run caliphate on earth instead.  Well, here's Peter saying the same thing in this epistle.  "Submit yourselves," he says (1 Peter 2:13), "to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him..."  He continues, "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward."  "Froward," by the way, is King Jamesian for "pain in the ass."

    Hard to justify the American Revolution here, it would seem to me.  Wonder what the Patriots have to say about that.   And not just slaves should obey their masters "with all fear," but women too. 1 Peter 3:1 reads, "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands."  Forget braiding your hair, he tells them, or wearing gold, or gussying up in fancy clothes.  Be plain, meek and of quiet spirit."

    Nice.  

    And don't tell me the ladies of Cappadocia didn't pick and choose the parts of this letter they wanted to live by and the parts they wanted to attribute to some אַלטער קאַקער (alter Kaker) too old now to appreciate how much fun one can get out of life.  OK, so he was present at the crucifixion.  But really, girls!

    But I digress.  I just wanted to make the point that sometimes when you see a Bible verse quoted, it may be a quotation the sign carrier would wish the Almighty had actually said, making it easier to project his fear and loathing of homosexuality onto some poor guy simply trying to get through life with a minimum of pain and discomfort like the rest of us, instead of what he (apparently) actually did say, which is stop whoring after false gods.  I doubt he actually said that either, since if there is an invisible force named Jehovah making the world go round, he/she/it probably doesn't give a fart whether you acknowledge him/her/it as its creator or not.

    Judging from the picture, though, I can see why Jehovah might get ticked off having to watch a fat man dancing in a tutu.

    But what do I know about these things?



    both photos from the Advocate article mentioned above




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  7. clockwise from far left: Viktor, Wilhelm, Charly
    Friedhelm, Greta
    A friend called to my attention the other day the German three-part television miniseries called Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter (Our Mothers, Our Fathers) from two years ago.  It’s now out as a two-part film, available with English subtitles, under the clumsy English title, Generation War.   I saw it the other night on Netflix streaming.

    I see no way to write a review of the film without taking into account the critical reviews I have read on Rotten Tomatoes and in Netflix commentaries and wondering how broadly their views are shared by the general American moviegoer.  So let me start with that.

    It’s not surprising that when Germans make a movie about the Second World War a lot of people are going to sit up and take notice.  But what is surprising is how many people seem to question their right to do so at all, or at least to do so without starting and ending with shame and contrition. Despite the fact that most Germans living today were born after war’s end and have no personal responsibility for the direction it took, much of the negative criticism of the film centers around the decision to make it about German victims of the war instead of making it about the Holocaust. 

    The warning is clear.  If you’re going to do history, you’d better do it from the victor’s perspective.  Otherwise you are bound to raise some shackles.  In a black-and-white world of good guys and bad guys, some folks appear to find it insulting to be presented with a nuanced view of Germans as something other than one giant collective of bad guys.  The least they could do, apparently, is to show them as good guys who enabled very bad things to happen.

    The movie is about the kind of college-age students who get into trouble because they listen to swing, knowing full well the Nazi state has declared the music decadent.  They are not Nazi thugs, in other words, but people you imagine your mothers and fathers might well have been.

    At the center of this group of five close friends who have grown up together are two brothers.  One of them, Friedhelm, is mistreated by his father because he is a “soft” mother’s boy.  Wilhelm, Friedhelm’s older brother and the narrator of the tale, is made to promise by his mother that he will bring his little brother home alive and by his father that he will bring honor to the family. Wilhelm is a dutiful son and takes his responsibilities to the Fatherland seriously at first.  Then there is Charlotte, who is in love with Wilhelm but afraid to let him know it.  “Charly” as she is called, volunteers enthusiastically “to represent the German woman” as a nurse at the front.  At one point, she learns a Ukrainian nurse she has hired is a Jew and turns her in.  The last two of the fivesome are a couple in love with each other, Greta and Victor.  Victor is a Jew, and Greta ends up is sleeping with a Gestapo officer to get papers to get Victor out of Germany.  These are people who buy into the cause at the start of the war.  The one pacifist in the bunch becomes a hardened killer, even of innocent civilians.  These are not pawns, as critics suggest, and this is most assuredly not a whitewash.  In fact, Generation War goes further than many treatments of the war have gone in portraying the extent to which the Wehrmacht, the regular German army (and not just the SS or the Gestapo), committed acts in defiance of the Geneva Conventions.

    Critics who suggest the movie should have centered on the holocaust might consider what Alice Walker said when criticized for her negative portrayal of black men in The Color Purple at a time when many in the struggle for black liberation thought she should have presented a common front against white racism.  “You tell your story,” she said, “and I’ll tell mine.” 

    Here’s a sample of the kind of criticism I’m taking issue with:

    Peter Keough of the Boston Globe sneers, “All sides of the German side in ‘Generation War…’”
    as if the film fails because it is not an objective textbook analysis of the war.  It’s a fictionalized imagining of what some people’s mothers and fathers went through.  A tale told in a German cultural space, not a litany of German transgressions. 

    Robert Denerstein puts into words what I think is on the minds of many.  “There are those,” he says, “who have insisted that the movie’s separation of characters into good and bad Germans tends to encourage a form of national absolution. Those voices shouldn’t be ignored.”  Maybe so.  But does this mean Denerstein thinks there were no “good Germans?”  And did he miss the fact that the characters we come to feel some sympathy for (i.e., the good Germans) include Charly, who betrays a Jewish colleague?  And Friedhelm, who shoots innocents when commanded to do so?  Their crimes don't make them Gestapo agents, but no one can dismiss them as "good Germans" tout court, either. They are complex human beings caught up in morally challenging times, and and they don't come off completely clean.

    The notion that if you’re German you have one task: to take on full collective responsibility for the war, or keep your mouth shut, is sophomoric and unworthy.   While evading responsibility by blaming the war on circumstance and the bad guys is also unworthy, there is no legitimate reason to deny the right of people swept up in Führer mania and war frenzy to cry out in pain when it becomes clear what price they are going to have to pay for their naïveté and for their inability to go against the tide.  

    Michael Philips acknowledges there is “occasional nuance” and some good acting, but he sees those merits lost in an “overall sea of whitewash.” 

    Not all critics take this stance, of course.  Ken Hanke, for example, disagrees with the notion the film is a whitewash.  “To me,” he says, “it has less to do with making the Germans look good than it’s about the perils of nationalism for its own sake, self-delusion, disillusionment and just plain getting sucked into something over which you have no control.”

    But then there's Marc Mohan, writing in The Oregonian, back on the same critical theme.  “While it's an effective memoriam for the well-meaning Germans whose lives were ruined by Hitler's mad dream,” he claims,  “the refusal of "Generation War" to focus on any other sort of German makes it both dramatically and historically suspect.”  There it is.  You don’t get to tell your story unless it’s my story.  

    Farran Smith Nehme,  freelance movie reviewer for the New York Post and blogger, characterizes the film as “Nazi Germany lite,” and suggests that the idea that a group of five friends might include a Jew, not one of whose pals was a true Hitler worshipper was “statistically unlikely,” leaving one to wonder if she actually thinks there were no well-integrated Jews living in Germany before Hitler, or if only majorities have the right to have their stories told. 

    Matt Prigge, of Metro, calls Generation War a “useless epic” about Nazi Germany which “spends four-and-a-half hours excusing the German populace for falling to Nazi rule.”  He, like other critics, objects to what he sees as a good German/bad German dichotomy:

    One commandant is introduced calmly shooting a Jewish girl in the back of the head. We know he’ll get his, and we will cheer when he does. But it’s a reassuring falsehood: We are trained as viewers to focus all our hatred on him while forgiving our lead characters, who are portrayed as mere pawns.

    Pawns.  Whitewash.  Did none of these guys actually sit and watch the film?

    Granted, virtually everyone who grew up with the Second World War and the Holocaust has struggled with the question of how civilized people could have sunk into the barbarity that Germany inflicted on the world under the Third Reich.  The question will never go away.  There will always be (at least I hope there will always be) someone demanding a critical new look at American slavery and the genocidal killing of the North American Indian, or of Pol Pot, or the war in Kosovo, or the slaughter in Rwanda.  Each time a new generation faces the fact that there is an ugly side to humanity that may stay buried for long periods of time but which can reveal itself anew, given the right kind of external pressures.  To this day, the Turks refuse to recognize the part they played in the wholesale slaughter of Armenians a hundred years ago, and the world’s apathy toward that even gave Hitler courage.  “Who remembers Armenia,” he famously asked, when starting out on his killing spree.

    I do not mean to suggest that the only culprit is war itself, or the human lust for war.  I still believe with the Simon Wiesenthals of the world that one should seek out and punish individual perpetrators of crimes against humanity.  Germans, Turks, Americans, Serbians – any individuals who have engaged in aggressive war – should be held responsible for their deeds.  But I also believe Germans, even those whose parents (or, more accurately, grandparents) were not totally innocent of complicity for the evils done in their name, get to imagine how these parents may have suffered as the war and the evil that goes with war eventually swept over them.  And imagine them not as monsters, but as people living at a terrible time.

    Which brings us, finally, to the standard film review question, “How well was the story told?”

    I, for one, found the tales of the paths traveled by these five young people to be totally engrossing.  I thought the acting was superb, the settings and the costumes first rate, the war scenes credible, the pacing just right, considering its length, and the tension at a high pitch.  Some have argued that since you know how the war is going to end, this makes the film predictable, but in fact, there are five separate narratives on display and you don't know how they will each turn out.  

    The only serious weakness I found was the sheer number of coincidences that had to be contrived to keep the five friends in touch with one another.  That pushed the story in the direction of soap opera and stretched credibility, although it also enabled a memorable final scene.

    Another possible weakness was the portrayal of Polish partisans as ardent anti-Semites.  I can’t be sure they weren’t, and in fact, there seems to be considerable evidence that Jews actually had as much or more to fear from the Polish Home Army (the Armia Krajowa) than they did from the Nazis. The problem, of course, is it does raise the question of whether this isn’t the pot calling the kettle black.

    There were a few minor flaws – a soldier given up for dead gets saved because a nurse gets a doctor to operate, and he’s up and about in no time; the Jewish Ukrainian nurse who is betrayed comes back as a deus ex machina.  All a bit too pat.

    Because I don’t like war movies, don’t like the violence and the focus on blood and guts, I’m not likely to want to see it again too soon.  But there is enough substance to the twists and turns of lost innocence that I expect I will come back for another viewing one day.







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  8. Many years ago I got into a discussion with a gay friend who said to me, “You are so lucky you live in San Francisco.  There are so many gay people there that you don’t have to worry about the kinds of things we have to worry about.  It's like when Jews like to live with other Jews.  One needs one’s own kind around for protection.”

    That got me thinking about the Jewish inclination to live in urban areas.  The stock explanation is that Jews need a minyan to have a religious service – a quorum of ten men.  But that is only a small part of the story.  It’s an understatement that birds flock together and there is safety in numbers.

    The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized we were missing the woods for the trees.  The reason San Francisco is a safe place for gays (and Jews and black people married to Chinese people) is that the straight people who live here tend to be welcoming.  It’s the straight people who make San Francisco a gay mecca.  It’s not just the fact that all the gay people from Kansas, Texas and Alabama running from the homophobes had reached the ocean and had no choice but to put down stakes; it’s that people moved over, took them in and made them feel at home.

    I came to San Francisco in 1965, a full half century ago come June, in time for the flower children revolution, smoked some pot, marched in anti-Vietnam war parades, and learned over and over that when I came out as gay to my straight friends their response would be, “Of course you are!”  End of story.

    Ad in San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, April 16, 2015
    (for a readable version, click here)
    You can imagine my pride in this city when I opened this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle to find a full page appeal to the pope to get rid of the Roman Catholic Archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone.  108 signatures (if I have counted them accurately) on a document which ends with, “The City of Saint Francis deserves an Archbishop true to our values and to your teachings.”

    I’ve watched this struggle within the Roman Catholic Church between the hierarchy and the folks in the pews up close for years.  It matches the political split in the United States, where one party represents the interests of corporate America and the wealthy classes and the other concerns itself, at least slightly more, with social welfare, fighting poverty and racism, voting rights, and social equity.  The Catholic Church took a big step away from its traditional focus on control and the accumulation of wealth and power centered in the hierarchy with Vatican II.  It’s worth noting that this appeal to the pope begins, “We are committed Catholics inspired by Vatican II.”

    Vatican I, remember, was the time when the pope of the day, Pius IX in 1868, frustrated over the loss of the Papal States, decided against great opposition to declare himself infallible.  It made the pope central to the faith, a curse the church has had to live with since.  (Another concern of Vatican I was to point out the dangers of rationalism.) To this day, however, folks who stress Vatican II over Vatican I believe "the church" should not be centered on the men in silks and satins who live in palaces but on the pastoral work of its ordinary clergy, with full participation by all of the followers of Christ, women as well as men. These "folks in the pews" have not stopped trying to pull the church back to its humble origins and center it on a man known for urging compassion and forgiveness.  You know.  The guy who once declared “Blessed are the Poor.”

    The self-identified Vatican II Christian signatories to this letter to the pope make my point for me that San Francisco is a welcoming place.  They specifically single out two pet projects of Cordileone's conservative wing of the Church as reasons why they no longer want this man as their spiritual leader – keeping women out of power positions and rejecting gay and lesbian people as people whose natural behavior it characterizes as “gravely evil.”

    How often, in the old days, when I had more fire to flame-throw at the Church for its homophobia, did I hear its defenders say, “But all those schools, all those hospitals – it isn’t all bad!”  And all I could think of was the number of children abused by the catholic message that they are born with sin, hate Jesus when they masturbate, can be gay as long as they give up sex for life, accept a patriarchal tradition as the will of God, and ought to pray for the conversion of their Jewish friends.  I still think it is a very sick institution.  And as a non-Catholic I deeply resent the obvious move by the official church to send here into the Bay Area, a traditionally warm and welcoming place to people outside the mold of the communities they come from, one arch conservative after another.  Cordileone is only the latest in a long list.  But he is a new low among those who unabashedly use the power of their faith community to affect the lives of non-Catholic Americans.   I can't begin to tell you how bitterly I resent that.  Cordileone intends to rally folks in Washington next week to urge the Supreme Court to reject the right of same-sex couples to marry - just before they meet to decide the issue on April 28.

    Make no mistake.  This letter is a red flag before the eyes of a bull.  The battle is engaged.  These people are not going away, as a Chronicle editorial reminds us    But neither is the archdiocese likely to cave.  It immediately responded by releasing a statement saying the ad was

    a misrepresentation of Catholic teaching, a misrepresentation of the nature of the teacher contract, and a misrepresentation of the spirit of the archbishop. The greatest misrepresentation of all is that the signers presume to speak for ‘the Catholic Community of San Francisco. They do not.”

    That’s the thing with religious communities.  There’s inevitably a squabble over who gets to be the voice of the people.  Is ISIS the voice of Islam?  - they cite chapter and verse from the Qur’an to justify their actions.  And all Cordileone was doing with his warning to the teachers at four Catholic High Schools – one of the primary motivators for these 108 signatories – was reminding them what was in the official Catholic catechism – the rule book for believers.

    If you are raised in one of those religious communities governed by harsh doctrines going back to the bronze age, you always have the option of using your eyes and your ears and your heart to form the kind of practical morality that comes from living side by side with people outside your faith.  San Franciscans know gay people – some of whom are Catholics themselves – and they know there is something foul in the doctrine that would teach them to internalize the view that their God-given sexual natures are “gravely evil.”

    My guess is the church will realize Cordileone’s power to win friends and influence people has waned enough to make him more trouble than he is worth, and will replace him, once enough time has passed so it will look like it’s simply time for a transfer.  The Church is much better at looking good than at actually being good.   I’m not Catholic, and I watch these goings-on from outside.  But I do appreciate the good Catholic folk of the San Francisco Diocese for having the courage to put their money where their mouth is – this full-page ad can’t be cheap.  And I’m sure plenty of Bay Area atheists, Buddhists, Jews, Chinese women married to black men, transgendered people and lovers of life in all its rich potential will join me in saying to them, “So glad you’re here, you Roman Catholic people.  Have a seat next to us.  There is plenty of room.”



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  9. Fito and Leo
    It is sad that the great majority of gay-themed films that come my way fall in the space between disappointing and just plain wretched.  It’s obvious gays are hungry to see themselves represented on the screen and will watch paint dry, as long as they are convinced there is a gay theme in there somewhere.  How else can one explain the run of gay films that come down the pike, one more amateurish, maudlin and trite than the next?  Click on the gay and lesbian category in Netflix, if you don’t believe me, and just look how many of them have a one or a two-star rating.

    All the more reason to celebrate when the occasional gem shows up.  A friend had just come across a Mexican film called Cuatro Lunas (Four  Moons), and urged me to have a look.  It made my day.

    Cuatro Lunas, strictly speaking, refers to four phases of the moon: the new moon, moon waxing (rising), full moon, and moon waning (falling).  Each phase is used to characterize one of four gay relationships in the film.    The new moon is Mauricio, an eleven-year-old boy discovering sexual desire for a male cousin who rejects him and later bullies him.    Moon rising is the story of Fito and Leo, two old friends from a small town who find each other in Mexico City, discover a sexual attraction for each other, and have to contend with the difference in the pace of each other’s coming out.  Moon waning is a couple, Hugo and Andrés, who have been together for ten years, and are challenged when one of them begins to stray.  And the full moon is the story of Joaquín, an elderly family man of considerable social standing, a poet and university professor who finds himself attracted to Gilberto, a male prostitute. 

    The four stories do not overlap, but they are narrated simultaneously, allowing for some tension to build as the scene shifts from one to the other.  Collectively, they lay out four distinct faces of the experience of being same-sex attracted in Mexico today.  Each character is fighting homophobia, sometimes external and harsh, sometimes internal and even harsher.  The stories are told not from a sociological perspective, however.  Each one is a very personal narrative and it is a testament to the writing of Sergio Tovar Velarde, who also directed the film, that you quickly find yourself rooting for each character in turn.  Their stories are told with warmth and a gentle touch and, despite some ugly reality, you are left with the sense that things will work out.

    Cuatro Lunas is Tovar Velarde’s second feature film.  Although it was not immediately picked up in Mexico, it made it to the screen ultimately with the aid of American and Canadian (Quebec) support and has already begun the rounds of gay film festivals, at Ft. Lauderdale and San Diego. The film will open the Latin and Queer Art and Film Festival in Los Angeles, this Friday, April 17th. One reviewer described Tovar Velarde’s work as “an outstanding analysis of the human soul of his generation, a sublime compendium of the new laws of desire of the 21st century.” 

    There are missteps in the plot line.  Problems are resolved a bit too quickly to be believable.  And Andrés’ tears get a bit too close for comfort to soap opera.  But the film has so much heart you are inclined to forgive those sins and much more.  And, ultimately, it's the honesty of the story-telling that makes you sit up at times in astonishment.  Some moments are agonizing, as when Mauricio takes his eleven-year-old homosexuality to a priest in confession only to be dismissed out of hand.  And some are downright hilarious, like watching two straight men learning how to “do the gay thing.”

    Another feature of the film which lifts it out of the amateur category, besides the honest story-telling and some very credible acting, is the theme music provided by two Argentine musicians and their now quite successful group called the Paté de Fuá (as in foie gras), which they formed after emigrating to Mexico.   Their music is a mix of  tarantelas, Dixieland, tango and jazz.  Their theme song, Cuatro Lunas, is available here, on YouTube, the words to which follow:

    No sé si he de mirar al firmamento;
    yo vivo entre la tierra y las estrellas.
    No sé cómo escapar de lo que siento,
    mi amor,
    no sé cómo dejar atrás tu huella.
    Me quema el corazón a fuego lento
    la triste realidad de no tenerte.
    Paté de Fuá
    Lucho con la culpa y el tormento al pensar
    que moriré queriéndote amar.
    Luna de pena,
    nueva y creciente.
    Luna valiente,
    menguante y llena.
    Cuatro lunas,
    cuatro lunas.
    No habrá una noche igual,
    no habrá ninguna.
    Será que de vivir mirando al cielo
    mi corazón se pierde en lo lejano.
    Será que cada noche en mi desvelo,
    mi amor,
    me alejo para no soltar tu mano
    “Dibújame un cordero”, me dijiste
    haciendome cosquillas en la boca.
    Tus labios me provocan otra forma de ser.
    Ya no seré el amado de ayer.
    Luna de pena
    nueva y creciente
    Luna valiente
    Menguante y llena
    Cuatro lunas
    Cuatro lunas
    No habrá una noche igual
    no habrá ninguna.

    An interview with Sergio Tovar Velarde, Alejandro Belmonte and Cesar Ramos (in Spanish) is available here.    And an interview with Gustavo Egelhaaf (Leo) (in Spanish) is available here.  

    And if you get hooked on Paté de Fuá, as I did, try these, as well:



    and you'll find many more on YouTube.

    picture credits:

    1. Fito and Leo (César Ramos and Gustavo Egelhaaf) from YouTube video trailer 
    2. Paté de Fuá poster also from a YouTube video


    "Te amo, chiquillo" - "I love you, kiddo!"




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  10. Cornel West
    I went with the family – Taku and Amy (we left the girls at home) – to hear Cornel West talk to a packed house last night at San Francisco’s Nourse Auditorium.  It was, for me, a thrilling experience.  It’s rare these days that people get up and talk in public and I find myself in agreement 100% of the time.  OK, so maybe thrilling is overstating it, but I was quite taken with his rhetorical skill.  Really quite bowled over with the power of his language.  Not just the words.  The smack-down power of his frank assessment of American shame.

    Amy thought it was worth hearing what he had to say, but in talking about him later, at an 11 p.m. Thai dinner after the show, she began her comments with some reservations.  Taku found the entire experience a disappointment.

    It was clear we were all processing the evening differently, and I was surprised that they would be anything but bowled over, like I was, so I decided it was time to just sit and listen. 

    At some point West made a comparison between Beyoncé and Aretha Franklin.  He had made much about the gradual decay of the black community and the fact that they were so easy to co-opt and his implication was clear that it had to do with the loss of soul – spirituality – and its replacement by sensuality.  Joy, he said, was what it is about.  Not pleasure.  Aretha, not Beyoncé.  I took to the comparison instantly.  Amy found something wrong with the patriarchal tendency to make pronouncements on women who are acceptable and women who are not.  She didn’t disagree with what he said.  She was just resonating with the feminist in the audience who challenged him on the comparison.

    Taku was disappointed for a number of reasons, not at all impressed with the fire and laser-beam intensity and the skill to rattle off thousands of bits of information with no notes in sight. If you know Cornel West at all, you know he fills his talks with references to the world of jazz, the blues and black musical greats of all stripes.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge and apparently a photographic memory and can run down lists of names, dates, song titles, event venues, tossing out references by the dozens.  If you stand outside that musical tradition, your head spins.  I think that talent of his makes your head spin if you’re inside the tradition even more, actually, but the key is whether or not you are lifted up by inclusion or left out and wondering what it’s all about.

    That was a talk by a black man to a black audience.  Primarily.  Not entirely.  He addressed the state of black men, particularly young black men in America and every American is affected by the social decay he describes.  But if you are not intimately familiar with the black cultural tradition, where music, according to West, has always been the only way to hang on to your last bit of integrity when all your dignity has been removed – by not being allowed to bury your dead, for example (he doesn’t shy away from the legacy of slavery) ­­– then you cannot connect as well with his message.  Taku complained, too, that there was so much applause he couldn’t hear the second half of half of West’s sentences.  Or so it seemed to him.  I was more interested in noting that he was used to this and always made his points clear by the time the applause started.  He really is a master orator.

    I too lack the musical knowledge he assumes his audience has, but I have a native speaker’s love of the language he uses to tell his story.   I can tell the difference between a clanging cymbal of a preacher and a man like West who has the rhetorical skills to lift you out of your seat because you are hearing somebody tell it like it is. It doesn’t bother me that he is not quietly analytical, or that he doesn’t produce a how-to manual in response to the dilemmas he ticks off.  West once said somewhere, “In these downbeat times, we need as much hope and courage as we do vision and analysis,” and last night was much more a pep-talk than a lecture, as I suspect most of West’s speeches are.

    Even so, his speech was riddled with words like catastrophe, decay and destruction.  Thoughtful people have a right to say that we don’t need more dwelling on the obvious – we live with serious social and political decay – what we need are solutions.  But sometimes thoughtful people miss the woods for the trees.  I think what Taku was missing was that West wasn’t teaching his audience the answers.  He was creating a space where the answers would be most likely to stick, once they were eventually identified.  And the answers are hard to swallow, because they involve personal transformation, the most difficult of all responses to any situation.  The answers are spiritual ones, and we live in a far too cynical age to know what to do with spiritual answers when we hear them.

    West didn’t need to set up the surface problems.  His audience knew we spend more money on incarcerating black youth than we do on educating them, that we spend more money killing people in foreign countries than we do creating jobs in America, that we have a policy of dividing and conquering those on the bottom of the ladder, that we can silence the would-be opposition to national policy by setting the poor against each other, persuading part of us that the rest of us are freeloaders.  He went right to work on underlying problems, using W.E.B. DuBois four questions:

    1. How does integrity face oppression?
    2. What does honesty do in the face of deception?
    3. What does decency do in the face of insult?
    4.  How does virtue meet brute force?

    This is a well-rehearsed show.  He has had years to put it together.  Call it a dog and pony show, if you want to be cynical.  I call it a rare moment of telling it like it is.  You can get a sense of the talk by clicking here, where he gives you some of the content.  Only the smallest taste of the fire of last night’s performance, however.  Watching him deliver his message to a select TV audience is like watching a movie on a small screen that belongs on a large one, the large screen analogy being a black audience who magnifies the rhetoric with call/response.

    "Justice is what love looks like in public spaces; tenderness is what love is like when you are alone."

    That and other quotes by Cornel West are available here.

    The word thrilling came to mind to describe my response to West’s address last night not merely because he is a stirring speaker and because his topics are justice, truth and love – although that’s a large part of it.  I was drawn in because I feel we are currently beset with devastatingly overwhelming challenges.  Racism, America’s national curse, has been exposed in the police killings of black men now being captured on our mobile phones, but also in the efforts of political leaders to take voting rights away from black folk so hard fought a generation ago.  Our culture is rotten to the core.  We are programmed to think the individual is all, and that leaves us prey to those who would buy us out.  Money now buys the media, it buys the Supreme Court, Congress, the White House.  Only those with real bucks can participate in the political process with any hope of having any effect.  And I think when all is said and done, how we answer W.E.B. DuBois’ four questions is all we really have left to work with.  Even if the will to repair could be found, the mechanisms of repair seem to have slipped out of our hands.

    I think we are treading water.  Waiting for a time when we may some day find the courage to distribute the wealth of the nation in a way that builds us all up.  Find the money for repairs to bridges and roads and the rest of the nation's infrastructure, find the will and the money to create free education from pre-school through university, with serious attention to those coming from gutted out places of illiteracy and despair.  Recognize that when our money goes into drones that kill children on the other side of the world we bear responsibility for it.  That when we think the mega-rich are entitled to their billions because they earned it on their own, we are wrong.

    Some day we will do more than talk about these things till the cows come home.  For now, we preach to the choir.  Not because the choir is going to get things done.  But because the choir will have to keep the songs alive until we figure out how to stop the violence we inflict on the world.  And begin to see ourselves as others see us.  



    photo credit




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