Sed Contra

 

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Saturday, February 22, 2003

Free Catholic Stuff!
 
In this time of smaller paychecks and longer employment lines, what could be better than a source of free Catholic Stuff? Over 400 apostolates, organizations and businesses have stuff they want to hand out for free. Why not let them send some to you? Check it out.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Donations fall sharply
 
The Chronicle's third annual survey of America's most-generous donors shows that gifts and pledges by the 60 largest contributors in 2002 totaled $4.6-billion, compared with $12.7-billion in 2001. The median giving total, including pledges, among donors was $25-million in 2002 and 2001. Pledges last year totaled $2.1-billion, compared with $1.5-billion the year before.

Groups of all kinds, from educational institutions to arts organizations, are feeling the deceleration in million-dollar giving, including pledges.


Tuesday, February 18, 2003

There are worse things to be
 
You know, there are worse things to be than a “peacenik.” On various blogs and in my email the invective flows hot and fast against the Europeans, particularly the French, against the Vatican, against the Holy Father, all because they have opposed the determination of this Administration to go to war just now. One friend even announced that he was taking his portrait of John Paul II down from the wall, so ashamed had he become of the Holy Father’s attempts to forestall a war between the U.S. and Iraq.

I have remained almost entirely silent on the matter, for a number of reasons. I don’t know enough about the situation to feel confidently for or against a potential war. Supporters and opponents of aggression share a great certitude about their positions that I cannot. I lack the cynicism of the opponents who find nothing worth believing in the Administration’s position in favor of attacking Iraq more sooner than later, yet I also lack the conviction of the war supporters that freedom in the world would fail if we waited six months, nine months, or a year, before attacking.

One thing I am certain of, however. If someone claimed to lead Christ’s Church, His Body on Earth, I would expect him to do no less than everything he could reasonably do to forestall war. I acknowledge that war is sometimes necessary. I lack the faith of the true pacifist, who would demand a saintly reaction from the frailest of men when attacked. But I think, as a Christian, war should be the choice only when it is clear that there are no other choices. Only after the reasonable, or even beyond reasonable, has been shown to be a failure, should a Christian support taking up arms.

Because war is never neat. The U.S. and its allies will try not to do so but they will drop bombs that will miss their military targets and instead hit civilians and some, likely the weakest and most helpless and most innocent, will be killed. Or the Iraqi regime will hide gun emplacements in civilian areas in order to use those same weak, helpless and innocent people as human shields. More of the same people will be killed. And the U.S. and its allies will express regret the loss of innocent life, and genuinely feel regretful, but the life will be lost nonetheless.

It doesn’t seem to me to be unreasonable to ask that both parties explore every option and opportunity to avoid killing before they resort to ending those lives, and on that hangs the heart of the matter. The forces supporting war against Iraq believe everything reasonable has been done, and the forces opposing war disagree and want to try others, or try harder what has been tried already. As I mentioned before, I don’t know which side is right.

I do know what I hope. I hope that every single Christian, whether American or European, whether a war opponent or proponent, whether civilian or military, keeps in their mind’s eye the blasted house with the newly orphaned toddler howling for her now dead mom. I hope we keep in our minds every step of the way the burning villages, shattered wedding parties, blasted cars and, always, the innocent dead who had as much right to life before the bullet crashed into them as we do. War against Iraq may be the necessary evil the proponents believe it to be, but never, ever let us forget that if it is the lesser of the evils it remains a profoundly horrible evil, one to be avoided unless it is absolutely, dreadfully, necessary.

Monday, February 17, 2003

News of my former communion
 
The Episcopal Church of the U.S., my former communion, will meet in General Convention from 30 July through August 8, 2003. I expect there will be the usual run of resolutions on the environment, on the poor, and on war and on peace. There will also be, if organizers succeed, the following “Resolution On Rites Supporting Relationships Of Mutuality And Fidelity:”

Resolved, the House of __________ concurring, that this 74th General Convention, desiring to support relationships of mutuality and fidelity which mediate the grace of God between those persons for whom the celebration and blessing of a marriage is not available, directs the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to prepare for study and consideration by the 75th General Convention rites for inclusion in the Book of Occasional Services by means of which the Church may express that support; and be it further Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music submit a report on its progress to the Executive Council no later than September 2004, and publish rites for discussion no later than September 2005.

In short, in this resolution the Episcopal Church of the USA will be asked to start the process for blessing sexually active same sex relationships.

Now a few observations cry out to be made about this. First, in typical Episcopal fashion, the resolution, if it passed, would begin a very slow train indeed. The resolution asks the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to prepare for study and consideration a rite that the 75th General Convention, three year’s hence, might – but might not – approve. There is something tremendously….lulling about a process which measures radical change in tiny increments and that can mask the destructive nature of the change. After all, as another former Episcopalian observed, slow moving lava is no less hot or dangerous for being slow-moving.

Second, supporters of the measure have shrewdly calculated that the only hope it has will be to draw a curtain, chastely no doubt, over what they ask the Episcopal Church to bless. A “theology committee” of resolution supporters has prepared statements and positions in favor of it. In one, prepared under the category of “clearing up some questions” notes:

Just what are we blessing when we bless a same-sex relationship? We are blessing the persons in relationship to one another and the world in which they live. We are blessing the ongoing promise of fidelity and mutuality. We are neither blessing orientation or "lifestyle," nor blessing particular sexual behaviors. "Orientation" and "lifestyle" are theoretical constructs that cannot possibly be descriptive of any couples’ commitment to one another. And every couple works out their own sexual behaviors that sustain and enhance their commitment. We don’t prescribe that behavior, whether the couple is heterosexual or homosexual, except to say that it must be within the context of mutuality and fidelity.

Now this is misdirection at its finest! If these same sex relationships were committed to “mutuality and fidelity” within the context of chaste commitment, there would be no question at all about blessing them. I mean, after all, my former “lover” and I have continued our friendship for a decade since we last shared a bed and, while our friendship is certainly not perfect, it does not have any sexual sin. Make no mistake, the Episcopal Church in the U.S. is being asked to bless sexually active same sex relationships. And, in doing so, she will be asked to affirm, if only by her silence, some very disturbing notions about creation, the human body, the meaning and purpose of human sexual relations and what it means to be Christ’s.

Third, Episcopalians should note that the resolution at no point defines “mutuality” and “fidelity,” and without such definitions the terms remain extremely malleable. For example on a number of occasions, when I was still sexually active, I ran into same sex couples who were apparently deeply devoted to “fidelity and mutuality” and who had no trouble at all participating in threesomes, foursomes, orgies and sadomasochism. Does the Episcopal Church really mean to suggest that God blesses friendships where “fidelity” can mean having sex with other people only when both partners or present, or where each individual encounter has to be confessed (and “punished”) at a later date? Sadly, I have known both intimately and personally. I don’t think God blessed them, nor do I think any church should do so.

Fourth, the resolution shares the same sort of “Alice and Wonderland” quality that underpins many of Dignity’s positions. Both Dignity and the resolution supporters seem to believe that if a body of Christians can get together and decide that something is right, it will be right. But just as 1000 bishops meeting for 1000 years would fail to render homosexual sex moral, neither would 100 General Conventions of the Episcopal Church be able do so. It’s like a belief that Congress, through statute, should be able to repeal the Law of Gravity.

Finally, as in so many of these things, those who seek to have the Episcopal Church bless homosexually active relationships appear to have lost the forest in their quest for the trees. The business of Christian churches, all Christian churches not just the Catholic, is to help their members attain heaven; to steadily become the people God created them to be from the beginning. And we know from Christ’s speaking and passion and bloody death, as well as from the writings of St. Paul and many others, that this is not easy. Living chastely is often a pain. When I was first moving into chastity I wondered if it were even possible. Just like I wonder if it’s really possible to live with the degree of charity, patience, temperance, gentleness and humility that the Gospel calls us to live. But just I would not be helped now by “Christians” who would argue, somehow, that I need not work on other aspects of discipleship, neither was I helped then by arguments in favor of sexual disobedience. The context of our lives as Christian is the Kingdom of God and I hope, when its General Convention meets in August, the Episcopal Church will remember this.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

A post for the Mass I missed
 
Fr. Jim Tucker over at Dappled Things offers a good homily for the Mass I, and I believe many others in the Washington DC area, may have missed today.

If we should identify ourselves, as sinners, with the leper, it is also true that we should identify ourselves, as disciples, with Christ. Leprosy abounds in the world, and we are called to be the presence of the healing Christ in its midst. Can we reach out and touch the lepers? We're often quick to hold our noses, shield our eyes from the scabs and lesions, and consider ourselves set apart from the lepers of the world. We forget that we've borne within ourselves that same disease. The Lord sends us out as His presence in the midst of a world that is not eager to accept Him, although it stands in great need of Him. If we truly live the Gospel and make its values our values, if our hearts are animated by that double love of God and neighbor, we'll find that we are saving more than our own souls.

Speaking of Words
 
I need a word for the phenomenon of posting something to your website and realizing, as soon as you posted it, that you have included a typo or other error. (Such as earlier this morning spelling “Iraq” with a “g” in the title of a blog item). I don’t know why this is, but I am terrible at proofreading my own writing before I post it!

Wordsmiths with suggestions for this term can place them in the comment box below, assuming that haloscan finishes it’s tinkering and actually let’s me take comments again.

My own inability to proofread my own material prior to posting makes me all the more grateful for Nihil Obstat who recently caught my misspelling (which I believe N.O. described as a “mangling” ouch!) of Rep. Charlie Rangel’s (spelled correctly now) name. Thanks to the venerable N.O. for helping keep us all to the proper spelling and punctuation.

Goodbye eggheads, fairies and duffers
 
What do eggheads, fairies and duffers have in common with the blind, the deaf and the elderly? They are among the lengthy list of terms and names that book publishers and state agencies have decreed writers, editors and illustrators cannot use when preparing the texts our children use to learn about the world. The Atlantic Monthly has excerpted a long list of these terms from a book called The Language Police that an historian and researcher named Diane Ravitch that Knopf plans to publish in April. The list is not yet online so I can’t link to it. But there are some things about this that just deserve comment.

First, English is an extremely rich language, crammed jammed full of all sorts of wonderfully descriptive terms and words. Many of which we have gotten, frankly, by swiping them from other tongues. For example, in my very first mountain bike accident I managed to bend the rim of both my bike’s wheels. As I carried the bike out on my shoulder a guy I met took one look and asked, “whoa dude, how’d you taco those” referring to their having come to resemble a popular Tex-Mex lunch item. But to use "taco" in this way publishers or agencies probably would have thought offensive somehow to Hispanic-Americans and they might have banned it from a text.

Anyway, banning words robs English of some of this richness and diversity. Some publishers and agencies have banned egghead, for example, because it is “offensive” and suggest replacing it with “intellectual.” But intellectual and egghead are not necessarily synonyms. Calling someone an intellectual connotes that they have some degree of natural smarts upon which they might have built, rightly or wrongly, a superstructure of academic training. The word egghead brings to mind the image of someone who may or may not have the smarts but who has allowed learning from books, rather than perhaps from practical experience, to dominate their life; think reading about backpacking versus actually backpacking. Not the same word at all.

Likewise fairy is banned because it “suggests homosexuality” and the eggheads that ban these words suggest “elf” instead. Now they are just showing their ignorance of fantastic literature. Call an elf a fairy and vice versa and you are liable to find yourself with the body of a salamander or able to speak only backwards or something.

Second, the existence of this list gives more evidence that these believe that if we don’t talk about a phenomenon, it will just go away. For example, when picturing men and women and boys and girls illustrators are not to draw anything that suggests that men and boys are larger and heavier than girls and women. So, I guess by not picturing these differences in textbooks, our kids will somehow start thinking of everyone as 5’8, the men having lost four inches off their height and the women having added four inches to theirs. And I am not even going to go into the whole weight question (oops, the notion that women are more preoccupied with weight and appearance is another one of the images that writers, editors and illustrators are meant to avoid).

Every year, it seems, the numbers of parents educating their children at home appears to grow. Nothing about the existence of these bans makes me think the trend is in any danger of slowing down.

What the Iraq thing is about....
 
It seems to me, that the current situation with Iraq is about Saddam. Yes, it's about oil, but only in terms of Saddam. Yes, its about Weapons of Mass Destruction, but again, only in terms of Saddam. If there were someone else sitting astride the world's oil jugular, even if they were not ideal (as, for example, the government of Venezuala appears not to be now) I don't think free nations would care a whole lot. But Saddam, in our memory, has attacked his neighbors, gassed his own people, tried to build one nuclear weapon (the Israelis stopped that effort) and has not proven himself trustworthy to either use the revenues from the oil resources in a responsible way nor to live at peace with his neighbors. Getting rid of Saddam is what this is about.

By the way, the International Energy Commission in Paris reports that of the $1.1 trillion Iraq has in oil contracts, 69% are with French or Russian firms (figure first cited in Harpers Index for January, 2003). So, instead of their position being one of principal for peace, isn't it just a little bit likely that both countries are practicing appeasement for oil? Or, in other words, why should American and other European cities be at risk from the weapons a well-financed Middle Eastern meglomaniac could put into the hands of terrorists? So the French and Russians can keep their oil revenue flowing?
No Mass today....
 
After scouring my memory, I still cannot recall a time when some "weather event" has been enough to keep me from Sunday Mass. Well, this proves there is a first time for everything. Outside my window the world has gone as white as an overexposed negative. The street outside my building is gone, the bike path is gone, the trees have become twisted forms of white. Parked cars form mere lumps in the white and, while the radio says trucks are out clearing the roads, I don't believe any has been down my road in a long time....

So, morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours and...I might fall back asleep and take advantage of the enforced lie in. :)


Saturday, February 15, 2003

Buddhists in the Bible Buckle
 
Sometimes geography has a real impact on how we see things. My sister, 36, earthy in an urban sort of way, sort of becoming a Crunchy Conservative but probably not comfortable self-identifying with that tag yet, and her forty-something, ex-New York, ex-Catholic, wisecracking, dramatic, Buddhist fiancé have moved down to my Dad's hometown in North Louisiana, where they are helping my Dad, part time, in a barbeque restaurant.

"You would not believe how much of the day I am up to my elbows in meat," My sister, the former vegetarian intimated to me the other day. "Some days I come in right after the delivery guy and there is a good sized carcass or two bleeding onto newspaper on top of the freezer and I think, 'you know, if someone were to look into window right now they could really get the wrong idea.'"

Talking to her regularly has really opened up a window on how the South has changed since even when I was a boy. For example, prior to their moving down there, I would have thought a Buddhist in North Louisiana would have been about as common as sushi at a tractor pull. But no, he has found a community of Buddhists the Bible Belt and they are active enough to get together regularly to chant and share what sort of passes for a Buddhist pot-luck.

“What’s that,” I asked, “Tofu soup and salad?”
“Well, it is mostly vegetarian,” my sister said, “but they have been adapting. They make a chicken fried tofu that’s really pretty good.” She also reported that they are not at all doctrinaire about being vegetarian and the Buddhist musicians her fiancé has met will come to the Barbeque place for open mic night to jam with him. They will be able to get together more easily, she said, after they have raised the money to build a temple in Shreveport.

Anyway, terrorism down there just doesn’t have the immediacy it does for those of us living close to the corridors of power. I told her about the trip I took to Costco recently, where I saw forklifts moving pallets of bottled water the size of small boxcars to where people were pulling them apart like ants on a dead beetle.

“That’s so bizarre,’” she said. “Down here the terrorism alert change made page 14 of the local paper.”

She said the possible terrorism did not generate nearly the degree of interest the possibility pieces of Columbia, and maybe a body part or two, night have come raining down into the parishes pine forests or soybean fields after the tragedy. “Yeah, they closed the reservoir over in Manny, a nearby town, and were draining it because they Found Something.”

She said the biggest news about terrorism were the lists of people who were being called up from reserve status into active duty from the nearest Air Force base. “David, its just so sad. These are guys who have spent years when their only commitment to the army has been a weekend a month and two weeks a year. Now they have to say goodbye to their wives and kids to go off overseas and the kids just don’t understand.” She doesn’t understand either, she said and, when she asked me to explain it to her, I told her I didn’t understand either. “That’s what really scares me,” she said. “I feel like we are being asked to do something which could change our lives forever and no one is really confident of just why.”

Friday, February 14, 2003

A message of Love
 
And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he answered, "What is it, Teacher?" "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more." And he said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little." And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." (The Gospel according to St. Luke, Chapter 7, Verses 37-48).

If we are honest we will admit that a part of us rankles, and fails to understand, such freely given mercy. Our own pathetic desire to see ourselves as “all right” or “doing our best” or “not that bad” often translates into “well, at least I am not as bad as THAT one.” And so we let ourselves feel just a little bit better about ourselves and our own entries into God’s Big Book and feel relieved that we are not among the ones who will likely not make it.

For the longest time the ones with the “really bad” sins were those living with a degree of Same Sex Attraction and acting on it. Maybe they self-defined as gay. Maybe they even promoted active homosexuality as a good, or at least a moral, option. Now maybe the “really bad” ones are clerics who have lost their faith, or adults attracted to teens and molest them, or other clerics who are more concerned about their position in the world or before their fellow men. The definitions of “really bad” ones tend to shift over time.

But the thing is that God doesn’t have a Really Big Book that He uses to keep track of our every sin. In fact, He wants us with Him in heaven! He desires our company. As someone wrote once, if God has a refrigerator in His kitchen, our picture is the one on it, us. And our picture remains there no matter what we do. Nothing we can do can make Him take our picture down. WE can take it down, but He will not.

Now I am not suggesting some sort of universalism, some notion that everyone is going to get to heaven just like that, automatically. I don’t think that everybody’s tunnel inevitably ends up in the White Light. Instead I suggest that heaven is ours to lose rather than a goal to attain. We don’t have to earn God’s Love. We already have it! What we do have to do is cooperate with God’s Grace to become the people we need to be in heaven.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce a bus travels daily from hell to heaven and the residents of hell can, if they choose, board the bus and ride it to the very anteroom of heaven, which Lewis depicts as a beautiful landscape. The problem is that, for the residents of hell, nothing in heaven works. The glorious apples, even the smallest of them, weigh hundreds of pounds and cannot be carried. The grass hurts their feet because it will not bend beneath them. They cannot wade in the bubbling brooks; the flowing water throws them off balances and the clumps of foam bruise their shins. In order have heaven work for them, the residents of hell have to change their minds about something, and to let themselves become the people God meant them to be from the beginning. In Christian terms, they have to repent.

That’s our task. To turn away from whatever temptations or actions which twist us, distort us, confuse us, pervert us and otherwise keep us from being the men and women God had in mind we would be from the beginning. Are there wicked actions? Absolutely. Scripture describes the devil as a prowling lion searching for souls to devour, and it’s the devil’s business to convince us to actions that draw us away from making progress toward being the people we need to be. To molest a child is a wicked, wicked thing to do. For that matter to use another adult person, or oneself, as a means to an end of sexual release, whether that person is same sex or opposite sex, is also wicked. But in God’s eyes there are no wicked PEOPLE. There are people who, for a huge variety of reasons, have lost sight of who God is and who they are. There are people in love with every sort of thing in their lives that is not God. Heck, a lot of times, WE are those people! But the message of the Gospel, at its heart, is that God does not give up on us and that, the more we realize, understand and own how much God loves and forgives us, the more progress we will be able to make toward seeing God face to face.

Now, I know there are a lot of people out there who believe what God asks of us can be too hard. The notion of living chastely, living without “a sex life,” at least in an actively genital way, can seem impossible. So can forgiving those people who piss us off and seeing past a person’s sins and into the person themselves and seeking to treat others with charity and mercy. All those things are impossible for us by our selves. All God asks of us is that we TRY, that we set our face towards His and that we commit to understanding how much he forgives and loves us so that we, in turn, can let our love of Him guide our actions.

In the Gospel above we are not assured that the woman does not sin again. Unlike the woman taken in adultery, Christ does not even tell her to “go and sin no more.” What he told her is that her sins are forgiven, for she has responded luxuriously and abundantly to the love he has shown her.

There can be 1000 excuses not to act as the woman has acted. “The Church is too hierarchical. The Church just doesn’t like sex. The Church is prejudiced. The Church doesn’t understand us. We believe in our consciences that we are doing rightly, so how can we be judged?” But the problem with all these excuses is that God does not judge us by them, we judge ourselves! The Doctor stands at the feet of our sickbeds with the very love and medicine that can save us, but we shut our mouths and refuse to take it. God will not keep us from heaven. We can refuse to enter. What our response and fate will be is up to us. What will we decide?

Valentines Day
 
Let's see, a day dedicated to honoring and showing love. How nice. Someone ought to start one! Sorry to be a grumpus but I think the contemporary Valentines Day celebrates what Peter Kreeft calls Luv and not what is genuinely LOVE. Luv is sentimental, and cloying, and self-seeking, and superficial. Luv crafts marriage vows with lines like "as long as we both shall luv" and seeks to justify all sorts of hare-brained schemes on the grounds that "I love him/her." In Luv we find the dreadful line "if you really loved me you would...." Yeah, right.

Genuine Love is bigger than words. It is bigger than the world. Genuine love is beautiful and terrible at the same time. It calls us to come and die for the sake of the beloved. It puts the other person first. It does not seek itself - in fact, far from that perversion, genuine love gives itself away! Genuine love disciplines the heart from mere affection and seeks what is truly good and not merely what feels good. The world, or at least our small part of it, could do better with a whole lot more genuine LOVE, and maybe a Day dedicated to Genuine Love (I recommend Good Friday) than stagger as it does under the thousands of hothouse roses, pounds of chocolate and lines of pretty dreadful verse. Yes, I am the Valentines Grinch. The Scrooge of the Cellophane Heart. Let all the Whos in Whoville give up anything that merely plays at love, any sentiment which would cease at the edge of the sickbed or fade with the color in the hair. After all, as St. John noted, God is Love. It has been up to us in our foolishness to decide that Love is God.

But lest my posting on this day not contain ANY homage to the romantic heart, I will grudgingly include my favorite Shakespearean Sonnet, Number 29. May everyone reading this find and know Genuine Love on this Valentines Day.

When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That I scorn to change my state with kings.



Thursday, February 13, 2003

Bug chasing is only a fringe. The candy store has gone cyber.
 
In his landmark work And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts, now deceased from the complications of HIV/AIDS, wrote about the phenomena of the “candy store” of the 1970’s and early 1980’s in New York and, particularly, San Francisco. He wrote about the frustration experienced by Dan William, a public health official and who tried to alert homosexually active men to some of the ways their behavior hurt them even before HIV/AIDS came on the scene:

But he had his ‘regulars’ who came in with infection after infection, waiting for the magic bullet that could put the back in the sack again. William began to feel like a parent as he admonished the boys ‘I have to tell you are being very unhealthy.’ Promiscuity, however, was central to the raucous gay movement of the 1970’s, and his advice was, as the Texans so charmingly put it, like pissing in the wind.

For a time concern about HIV/AIDS changed behavior on a pretty widespread scale. But there are indications that the skeletons of the recent past have lost their capacity to terrify, and that self-identified gay men are once again returning to promiscuity, albeit with a twist.

According a research paper presented at the 10th Conference on Retroviruses in Boston, 84% of self-identified gay men responding a survey offered on gay.com ("the largest gay media property in the world”) said that they had met sexual partners online, 66% said they had “recently” had anal sex without using a condom and that 25% said that they had more than 100 sexual partners in their lifetime so far.

Now, obviously there is some self-selection going on here. The folks who took the survey opted to do so rather than have researchers randomly choose them and ask them to. So it is reasonable to assume that folks whose behavior might have been unlike this, who are more restrained or even living chastely, would probably not show up. Still, 3000 men answered the survey, most of them white, most of the college educated, from all over the U.S. and half under the age of 30.

The Internet is a new venue associated with high-risk sex," said Sabina Hirshfield. "It is a quick and easy way to meet partners. Hirschfield’s firm, Medical and Health Research Association of New York City, didn’t have the survey on its site as of this morning, but might later.

While federal officials are not convinced that HIV is spreading more rampantly these days, several clues suggest it may be. The CDC's Dr. Ronald Valdiserri noted that in 2001, for the first time in eight years, the number of newly diagnosed AIDS cases rose a slight 1 percent. Furthermore, data gathered from 25 states found the number of newly diagnosed HIV infections increased 8 percent between 1999 and 2001.

"We are concerned, and we are looking very carefully at these trends for what they might do in the future," he said.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Bread? Naaaaaah. Have a stone or a snake instead.
 
Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? (The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 7, Verses 9-10).”

Sadly, Our Lord was expressing an optimism that seems hopelessly naïve 2000 years later. Plenty of the very folks who claim His name are more than willing to hand out stones and snakes in place of bread.

Recently a 42-year-old female member of Courage Online, I will call her Ann, wrote her fellow list members for support. Part of her struggle to live chastely, she said, involved her former sexually active relationship that she had hoped to move into one of more authentic emotional connection, and chastity. Sadly, a local group that claims to be Catholic has made her effort much more difficult. She writes:

I tried to talk to my significant other about living a life centered in mutual respect, support and love of God, and for a while all was great, but she has connected with a group called "RECLAIM" which has a priest and others telling her that there is nothing wrong with a "loving, monogamous relationship" and that it is a matter of conscience. Now she has decided that either a "full" relationship or none at all. At first my first instinct was to give in and go with it, but I just can't! I can’t see myself feeling like I can receive the holy Eucharist if I am not in compliance with the will of God. I need all the support and encouragement I can get, this is breaking my heart and I have been through so much already…

Now, when I first read this I thought, aha, another one of these dissident “gay and lesbian Catholic” groups has been up to some familiar mischief. But I have since discovered that the Reclaim group is, in fact, sanctioned by its diocese and part of a local parish that is, officially at least, in communion with its Bishop and with the Holy See.

According to the mission statement for Reclaim Reclaim, Reclaim exists to:

[D]eclare our support for gay and lesbian Catholics, their families and friends. We welcome sexual minorities, their families and friends into our community. We wish to ease the pain of alienation and rejection and to promote reconciliation between church and gay and lesbian people. We intend to educate ourselves, the church community, to the existence of unexamined prejudice and to the consequences of injustice. We will work to end discrimination toward gay and lesbian people within and outside of the church community.

The parish in question is St Bernadette’s in Severn, Maryland, a parish officially under the See of the Archbishop of Baltimore, Cardinal William Keeler.

Now, an observant reader will likely notice that nowhere in the mission statement does the name Christ appear. Nor do the notions of discipleship, chastity, obedience, holiness, heaven, hope, nor, for that matter, do the sacraments. Apparently, for Reclaim, experiencing same sex attraction as a Christian is a matter of justifying one’s temptations, not living for Christ, for heaven, for holiness or for spreading the gospel.

Reclaim is a part of St. Bernadette’s Gay and Lesbian Ministry . Visitors to the site dedicated to the ministry will not find a Cross, a Crucifix, or any other remotely Christian symbol. They will find, however, rainbow flags and rainbow triangles, leaving the visitor no reason to doubt of where the site’s allegiance rests, and it’s not with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In addition to Reclaim, the Gay and Lesbian Ministry includes “Beginnings” which the site describes as “a program for parents of gay and lesbian people. Beginnings offers outreach, pastoral care and opportunities for networking in a supportive and accepting atmosphere,” the site adds.

Further, the site also links not to Courage or to any authentic ministry to men and women living with same sex attraction, but to various chapters of the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, an unabashedly gay and lesbian rights organization.

Based on what I have been told, I believe St. Bernadette’s and “Reclaim” represents the rankest sort of betrayal. Who are these people to decide that men and women living with same sex attraction should not be given the full truth of what the Church teaches, of what Christ offers? How dare they? And how dare they do that in the name of the Roman Catholic Church? After all, if a ministry in the name of the Church and of Christ cannot completely protect the lambs from predation, is it too much to ask that they not align themselves with the wolves?

Remember Ann’s message from the beginning of this post? Let’s consider her situation in the light of an alternate universe, one in which ministries which claim allegiance to the Church of the Apostles actually strove to present the Gospel handed down from the Apostles. In this universe Ann’s former sexual partner finds her way to a ministry which reaffirms for her the reality that life can be lived without sex, that emotional and physical intimacy and support can be had as well, that in fact insisting on “sex or nothing” not only demeans her and her friend, it places her very soul in danger. Here Ann and her former partner begin a friendship as deep and lasting and generous and life giving as the one my former partner and I have. And here too the stones and snakes of ideology are not substituted for the Bread of Life.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

On Turning 40
 
In something like ten days, 12 and one half hours (but whose counting?!), I will enter my fourth decade of life, or of this life at least. Generally the birthdays between the decades haven’t carried much of an impact, but the decimal ones, at least the last two, have been big deals, and I am chagrinned to note that they have not always achieved that status for being better than they might have been.

At my 30th birthday, my Dad and his life provided the bugaboo. Or, to be more accurate, comparing my Dad’s life and accomplishments to mine got particularly under my skin. By the time my Dad was 30 he had a wife, a son (me) of four or five, and a daughter aged two or three. He had a job serving one of the more powerful politicians in the country at the time and was reasonably confident that what he did at the office had a direct impact on the world around him. In short, by at least a couple of measures, my Dad at 30 was something of success.

By comparison, at age 30, I seemed much less successful. A gay activist for the better part of a decade by my 30th birthday, I had a history of organizing, rabble rousing, sexual license and general uproar to my credit. But even in my most ideological moments I recognized that these accomplishments were not of the more lasting sort that I could one day look back on with accomplishment. True, I had “come out of the closet,” self-defined as gay and moved on down the Rainbow Highway, but it was not very clear what that had exactly earned me – other than a pretty self-righteous edge at times and one sobering trip to the free clinic – which fortunately I never had to repeat. Celebrating thirty resides in my memory as a bumping, grinding party flavored with a certain feeling of lack, an occasion to disregard more than treasure.

But now I am turning 40 and, where at least I have made peace with the notion that my life must match my Father’s, this milestone still does not find me entirely, or even mostly, satisfied. I still lack a wife and kids, whose friendships are among the more truly meaningful and lasting relationships and experiences this world offers. My words, to quote Dylan Thomas, have still “forked no lightning.”

But nonetheless, I am turning 40 and there is nothing I can do about that. Should I sit in sackcloth and ashes and mourn the day, focusing on things about it that disappoint? Or should I instead celebrate the good things that God has given me in my life, adopting instead what a friend of mind called “an attitude of gratitude.” I have so much for which I can and should be grateful.

First, my health and body. How bizarre that in this youth-obsessed culture a 40 year old would be grateful for his body, but I am. God has given me, thankfully, a very capable and healthy body – a body which lately has become able to do an awful lot more than it could, say, a year ago. I have lost over eighty pounds since May of last year, intentionally, and that has meant that I can run faster, lift more and look better in my clothes than I have since before I was 30. I thank God for my body at 40.

Second, my friends. If the foundation of a good marriage is a strong and lasting friendship, then should God allow a woman into my life, I think I may be ready. I have some amazingly strong and generous friends, first among them the man whose friendship with me initially began in a sexual relationship but who was willing to transition with me into something deeper, freer and more lasting. And he is but one! I thank God for the depth and breadth and strength of friendships I have at 40.

Third, Christ Himself. Nothing about me, about my life, about my successes or lack of them, about my faults and the full flow of them, either merited me His mercy nor kept Him from coming when I called. While I have rarely understood Him, sometimes mocked Him, occasionally cursed Him, often ignored Him and sometimes even buffeted Him, His life has become the context for my life. Even if, in only nearly imperceptible ways, I steadily no longer live my own life but live on in Him instead, I have achieved something through His Grace that no amount of purely worldly success can match. I thank God for gift of Christ with me at 40.

Yesterday, when my friend asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I merely grumbled, but should he ask me again I will try to have something ready to suggest. After all, as another friend reminded me, there was a time in my life when I didn’t expect to see 40. I thank God for just being here at 40 – and thanks to Him, being more fully here than I may have been on any other birthday so far.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

A neccesary distinction
 
Normally this is the sort of comment and distinction I would leave in someone's comment box, but since Andrew Sullivan doesn't appear to have a place for comments on his posts I will have to note it here. Briefly, in this post, Andrew takes issue with Rod Dreher's calling a DC judge's comments from the bench when deciding not to impose any sentence on some gay rights protestors "bigoted." Specifically, Andrew writes:

The three campaigners performed an act of civil disobedience at a recent gathering of Catholic bishops in a downtown hotel, by kneeling and asking for communion. The day before, all three had been denied communion at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception because the priests mistakenly believed they were members of the Sash movement, a group dedicated to the inclusion of gay people within the Catholic Church.

Unless my memory plays me false, that is not quite right. None of the Rainbow Sash folks have been denied communion because they are "dedicated to the inclusion of gay people within the Catholic Church." They have been denied communion because they made a point of telling the Church 1) that they have not lived chastely and that 2) they have advocated other people taking part in homosexual sex. In short, they have made sure the Church understood that they were asking for communion when in a state of mortal sin and, since in the Church's teaching to actually do so would have been have been manifestly uncharitable, they were denied. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1385, which cites in part St. Paul Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. (First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 11, verses 27-29).

Now, to Mr. Sullivan it may be that to experience Same Sex Attraction is to act upon it, but that is not the case for everyone. I am pretty much out there when it comes to folks knowing that I live with a degree of SSA, including priests where I participate in Mass. I have never been denied communion and would not expect to be, but not on the basis of what does or does not tempt me but on the basis of what I believe and how I live. Christ left us Himself in communion, as a sacrament meant to steadily further graft us into the Vine that is Himself, to enable us even further to live in Him and invite Him to live in us. Folks who willfully choose mortal sin and advocate it for others clearly indicate that they will have Christ on their terms only and will deny Him themselves on His terms. And, sorry guys, we don't get to define heaven - even in our fallen state we would even want to do so.

Andrew also says: According to the Church itself, openly gay people are not to be denied communion. They are part of the body of Christ. And this is true - as long as it is understood that people living with Same Sex Attraction are expected, called to, live the same lives aimed for holiness and heaven that everyone else is called to live. Folks like Andrew and the Rainbow Sash seem to have lost the point of the forest in the blur of the trees. The sacraments in and of themselves mean nothing, are nothing. The Eucharist nothing a bad cracker and some cheap often over sweet wine. Baptism a little splash splashing the kind that an infant might make in the bath. But with Christ behind them, with the power of Who He Is, the Second Person of the Trinity, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, Begotten Not Made...they are the world and more than they world. They are the roads to heaven - a road He will not deny us, but will not compel us to take either.

Finally, as to the judge herself. It's a free country with an independent judiaciary. She is free to say what she wants from the bench, no matter how misguided it may be. But I am also not sure I would have imposed any sentence either. After all, its not like they desecrated the Eucharist as folks did a while back at St. Patrick's in New York or, more recently, had sex there during Mass.