Friday, February 28, 2014

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

The problem is all inside your head she said to me
The answer is easy if you take it logically
I'd like to help you in your struggle to be free
There must be fifty ways to leave your lover

She said it's really not my habit to intrude
I hope my meaning won't be lost or misconstrued
But I'll repeat myself at the risk of being crude
There must be fifty ways to leave your lover
Fifty ways to leave your lover

You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free

She said it grieves me so
to see you in such pain
I wish there was something
I could do to make you smile again

I said I appreciate that and would you please explain
About the fifty ways

She said why don't we both
just sleep on it tonight
And I believe in the morning
you'll begin to see the light
And then she kissed me
and I realized she probably was right

There must be fifty ways to leave your lover
Fifty ways to leave your lover

You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free

Thursday, February 27, 2014

There Are Many Parts, But Only One Body

When I write about being Quaker, I frequently receive some version of the same response. A recent commentator remarked that the Religious Society of Friends is, in his words, the only faith who gets it right. Catholics have their well-documented problems and fundamentalist Protestants their own, but to some, we occupy rarefied air. Those raised in either tradition are usually the first to compliment my own. While my first response is to be proud to be held in such high esteem, upon further reflection, I wonder if it is fair for us to be the sole occupants of this adulation.

Centuries ago, Jesus continued onward with his ministry on Earth, making frequent stops along the way. He’d been performing a series of astonishing miracles, healing the sick and even raising the dead. His disciples were granted a degree of proficiency in this same task. The effect must have been thrilling to them, as nearly all of them had come from humble beginnings. But when they got wind that someone else was having similar success, they felt threatened.
John said to Jesus, "Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn't in our group." But Jesus said, "Don't stop him! Anyone who is not against you is for you."
It bothers me when people rank faiths, ascribing some to have great value and others to have none whatsoever. It shows how embittered and critical some are towards organized religion. It benefits my own work to see religion grow, not shrink, as has been the case the past several decades. That a person would feel that every other religion was worthless, in his or her eyes, does not sit well with me.

That kind of criticism could turn on my own faith. I’ve always used the story of Jesus as a graphic representation that the crowds singing your praises on Sunday might well choose a different tune by Friday. As is true with every house of worship, one finds problems everywhere, regardless of where you go. One might be insulated somewhat from imperfection at first, but taking leadership roles removes the scales from the eyes. As the saying goes, law and sausage are two things you do not want to see being made.

Legitimate criticism exists, of course, most notably with the Roman Catholic Church. A phrase once in frequent usage was “Go to the church of your choice.” We still have that decision open to us, if we derive comfort from it. While I strongly disagree with right-wing Christianity, I recognize that many people crave the certitude of absolute rules and laws. The litany and liturgy present have a soothing familiarity with many. My primary concern is attracting young adults to Worship. This problem exists nearly everywhere, but especially so with liberal faiths.

In more progressive houses of worship, a strong emphasis is frequently placed upon ecumenicism and interfaith efforts. It is an excellent opening to educate others about the particulars of one’s religious beliefs, but some are so cautious not to offend that the opportunity is lost. Liberals, religious or otherwise, bend over backwards to grant everyone a seat at the table, which is acceptable, but can be insufficient.

Sometimes, a desire to not silence anyone’s voice means that we are less than forthcoming in anything but surface niceties. Real conversation is what we need, even when it is intense and uncomfortable. One of the fallacies of liberal thought is to acknowledge every minority group that clamors for acceptance, but to not always actively incorporate the diversity. For some, diversity is a coalition affair, but not complete integration.
Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, "I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand," that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, "I am not part of the body because I am not an eye," would that make it any less a part of the body?
As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
I can find little fault with the Methodism of my boyhood. The service on Sunday with its rituals was satisfying to me, not burdensome. My only two criticisms were these. Firstly, I regarded the sermons I heard as usually boring. Secondly, I was provided a simplified understanding of Jesus and the Bible. Overtly controversial passages were never brought up. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized I’d been cheated. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I read the Scriptures with fresh eyes. Christ came to teach me himself, not through any intermediary.

Jesus himself can teach us in ways a priest, minister, vicar, or rector (to name but a few) cannot. Self-study is crucial to understanding. George Fox, the founder of our faith, memorized the entire Bible. By the standards of the day, he was uneducated, but his command of Scripture was vastly superior to those who had attended seminary. This was partially what saw him arrested and tossed into jail with frequency. In keeping with the practice of their leader, the Early Friends did not bring Bibles to Meeting for Worship. The implication was that each person had long since memorized it and had no need for the written text.

The reasons why people turn away from religion are multifarious. I don’t begin to understand them, though I comprehend a few things here and there. For some, the weariness of the same rituals and the sterility of worship is to blame. Those who came from blame and shame Evangelical churches never had the right to form their own spiritual interpretation beyond the hard line drawn for everyone. My father left the Southern Baptist church of his boyhood because of its attitudes towards sin and punishment. He was taught that a person could only sin a certain number of times before he or she was condemned to hell forever.

Having noted a few of the deterrents, let me propose a new strategy. Let’s not view most religions as inherently noxious. In addition, let’s not place a few others upon on pedestals. That approach is not fair to any group of imperfect seekers. I certainly would not mind if people tried out a Quaker Meeting to determine whether it was for them, before granting us high praise. There are only around 150,000 of us in North America and we are understandably worried about the future of our Religious Society. We do things very differently, and that difference might be an attractive quality for many.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Every Night

Every night I just wanna go out,
get out of my head
Every day I don't want to get up,
get out of my bed

Every night I want to play out
And every night I want to
do oo oo  oo  oo
But tonight I just want to stay in
and be with you

And be with you

Oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo
Oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Every day I lean on a lamp post,
I'm wasting my time
Every night I lay on a pillow,
I'm resting my mind

Every morning brings a new day
Every night that day is through oo oo oo oo

But tonight I just want stay in and be with you
And be with you

Oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo
Oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oo

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Sound of Silence

This past weekend, I spent time in Alexandria, Virginia, just over the Potomac River from the District of Columbia. While there, I visited a historic Anglican church that was home to both George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Though I was struck by the beauty of the sanctuary, its design was curious.

Each pew was walled off from those adjacent to it. They looked like monastic cells. To me, the effect was isolating. I’ve grown accustomed to sitting nearby others on the same wooden bench. Church attenders rented their pews. Those with more money contributed a large amount, those with less paid what they could. The money collected was used to feed the needy, specifically widows and orphaned children. It was what passed for public assistance in those days.

Our approach is vastly different, not just towards caring for our own, but in how we conduct ourselves. Quakers worship in silence, or should I say, the branch of Quaker I belong to does. This is a radical departure from most other forms of worship. In our American culture, we are often told that there is no value whatsoever in staying quiet for any reason.  I spend most of my day actively and energetically communicating with others. As a people, we aren’t always sure what to make of the total absence of verbosity. We tend to assign it to nothingness, but my religious expression shows that silence can be very meaningful.

Visitors to Quaker Meeting often view unprogramed worship as a kind of meditation. This is true to an extent, but I’ve always seen meditation as an exercise, not a spiritual practice. Put this way, the practice sounds New Agey, which it is not. Its roots go far deeper than that. I’ll admit that at first I did find it challenging to center into silence and remain that way for several minutes at a time. Newcomers often expect something to happen before their very eyes, be it a minister leading the congregation in a responsive reading or in standing to sing a hymn. Instead, the silence is spontaneously and somewhat abruptly broken by a voice providing vocal ministry, which could be located a bench behind us, or even at the very back of the room.

As a kind of discipline, I’ve tried to incorporate silence into my life beyond once-a-week worship. When I owned a car, I would sometimes drive to wherever I was going with the radio off and only my own thoughts as a companion. Long trips became avenues for greater enlightenment. Many people might grow bored or restless without noise as a distraction. I’ve known many people who keep their television on all the time as background white noise, because nothing makes them more uneasy than complete silence.

City dwellers become accustomed to the sounds of the streets and thoroughfares close by their residence. We are adaptable beings. There’s an old joke about living in New York City. The punch line is that you last heard complete silence in 1972 and when you did, it scared you to death. Nowadays, our lives are full of constant communication, constant noise. Even if we aren’t speaking over a phone or speaking face to face to someone else, we’re still communicating with text messages, e-mail, or on websites.

Silence is not a placeholder. With enough practice and introspection, it can become as meaningful as any spoken word. It was at odds with the prevailing culture 350 years ago, and it is even more at odds today. In poetry and in art, silence has been equated with alienation and loneliness. The Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni used ominous silence, with minimal dialogue, to sinister, foreboding effect. Horror films use the same tactic to frighten its audience.

Those who were told to stay quiet and deprived of the agency to speak their mind may think of silence in a very different way. In this context, I’m speaking specifically about a very active way to block out extraneous sound. Staying silent for oneself is what I mean. Doing so requires defying current trends and summoning an immense amount of inner strength. Swimming with the current is a temptation to which many succumb.

It grows more and more difficult to find silence. City dwellers retreat to mountains and rural areas to provide a respite to their noise-saturated daily lives. The Quaker Meeting I attend was built on a plot of land, away from a busy roadway, that provided a quieter setting. That was in 1931. Now, over eighty years later, the area surrounding it has been built up considerable. Noises from outside intrude routinely upon the silence. These include fire trucks, car stereos, and ambulances. I’d be willing to wager that noise pollution will continue to grow and swell with time, but we will grin and bear it.

Silence means different things to different people. Silence provides different things to different people. Starting out, I found nothing remotely interesting or inspiring in staying quiet. With years of practice, I’ve begun to respect it, even though I am always grateful when a voice breaks the silence. Ideally, a balance between spoken words and silence is what is desired. Without a called minister to provide a lengthy sermon, there is no way to control what might by said and how many might say it.

Many of us believe that nothing good in life comes without hard work. Embracing silence can be difficult, because we don’t usually view it as work. Introverts like me often gravitate to Quakerism because we are introspective by nature. Any ideas I communicate, including the words I’ve written here, start deep within me. Silence gives way to speaking, but speaking also gives way to silence. We might well be happier if we sought a balance between the two.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Quote of the Week

Saturday Video

Uptown got its hustlers
The bowery got its bums
42nd Street got big Jim Walker
He's a pool-shootin' son of a gun

Yeah, he big and dumb as a man can come
But he's stronger than a country hoss
And when the bad folks all get together at night
You know they all call Big Jim "boss", just because

And they say

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Jim

Well outta south Alabama came a country boy
He say I'm lookin' for a man named Jim
I am a pool-shootin' boy
My name Willie McCoy
But down home they call me Slim

Yeah I'm lookin' for the king of 42nd Street
He drivin' a drop top Cadillac
Last week he took all my money
And it may sound funny
But I come to get my money back

And everybody say jack
don't you know

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off the old lone ranger
And you don't mess around with Jim

Well a hush fell over the pool room
Jimmy come boppin' in off the street
And when the cuttin' was done
The only part that wasn't bloody
Was the soles of the big man's feet

Yeah he was cut in in about a hundred places
And he was shot in a couple more
And you better believe
They sung a different kind of story
When Big Jim hit the floor

now they say

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Slim

Yeah, Big Jim got his hat
Find out where it's at
And it's not hustlin' people strange to you
Even if you do got a two-piece custom-made pool cue

Yeah you don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Slim

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Washout Introspection

Regular readers may have noticed that I've been writing more frequently and posting fewer YouTube music videos. The reason for this is because I'm about to change antidepressants. The one I've been taking for around two years was once very effective, but its efficacy has decreased substantially over time. It's not uncommon for psychiatric medications to take this course, but it is no less frustrating when it does.

In a couple of weeks, I'll need to go through a period of what is known as wash out. By this I mean that I'll slowly taper down off of my current medication until there is none of it left in my system. One cannot have two antidepressants in the bloodstream at the same time, as that would produce what is known as serotonin syndrome, which can be dangerous. I've been through this process multiple times. The first couple of weeks are only mildly uncomfortable, deceptively so, but the final stages are very painful.

Wash out usually limits my productivity. I'm stuck in bed or on the couch for a couple weeks during the worst stage of the process. Cognizant of what is to follow, posting may be scarce for a little while. If I'm able to put together something passable, I will. If I can't, I won't. In the meantime, I'll try to compensate for what might be an extended absence.

Once my current antidepressant is entirely out of my system, then it will be time to introduce a new one. The drug I'm on, Zoloft, is one of the older selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors out there. Fortunately, there have been new medications in the same class developed in the past five or six years I have yet to try. It is in many ways unfortunate that the brain is as complicated and poorly understood as it is. To put it a different way, current medical understanding of the brain is like a map of the New World drawn up in the 1600's, full of inaccuracies, guesses, and uncharted regions.

When we say mental illness, what we really mean is a disease of the brain. It's more medically accurate to label manic depression as a disorder, but doing so makes it less understandable for the average person. I have a brain disease that is chronic, meaning it will never go away. I will need to take medication for the rest of my life. I may even have to go through wash out again, even multiple times. At last count, I've been through this five times before.

Some medications I take, like Lithium, will stay static, a part of my treatment forever. Antidepressants and augmenting agents are a different story. As research and development of new psych drugs progress, I may periodically need to come completely off of an older, less effective medication, and on to a newer one. In any case, none of this can be avoided. Though I do not expect it in my lifetime, I pray daily for a cure.  

I go into detail here, as I always do, to remove the secrecy and shame of chronic illness. Maybe a reader struggling with his or her own psychiatric problems will read this and seek treatment himself or herself. At times, I can almost forget how regimented my life is around the taking of pills, modification of my diet, all the while always scrutinizing myself for any evidence of imbalance or abnormality. It's work being disabled, but I've been at it this long and rarely feel the need to lick my wounds.

I've had medical problems since childhood, so I have no recollection of a time where they did not exist. That helps somewhat. In some ways, my current state is similar to people who are much older than myself, only now experiencing the onset of problems that are a result of the collective wear and tear of the aging process. We are biological machines that wear out eventually. One lifetime is all we receive. My body is wearing out much sooner. It does make me introspective, to wonder why we're completely wrapped up in a life that will conclude in the blink of an eye.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Religious Expression and House of Cards

The second season of the acclaimed television drama House of Cards was finally released at the end of last week. For those of you who have not seen it, I highly recommend the series. The entire season, all thirteen episodes, was available to view at one time. Like many, I binge watched over the weekend, though I’ve slowly been savoring each episode again with a second viewing. The series has many parallel story lines and interlocking characters. It’s easy to get confused.

I want to focus specifically on two minor characters. One of them is a former call girl who, under duress, was forced to leave the profession. She provided sexual services for an alcoholic and self-destructive congressman who was later tapped to run for governor of Pennsylvania. Because she knew too much, she found her movements constantly shadowed by the loyal henchman of a power-hungry politician. Her life was no longer her own. With time, as we all would in repressive circumstances like these, she began to resist her confinement.

The second character, also a young woman of about the same age, is a self-professed former heroin addict. As part of her recovery, she joined a small Christian church. The main draw is a self-consciously hip contemporary worship. She finds religion essential to her sanity and it gives her an opportunity to give back to the community. By chance, the two meet on a bus and strike up a fast friendship. The former addict asks the former sex worker if she would be willing to attend, placing literature into her hand. At first, the escort girl is skeptical but is reassured by the addict that she herself, at first, blanched at the very thought of attending church.

Despite her reservations, the former prostitute attends. She enjoys the beautiful music during the service and enjoys taking care of the children while their parents are in worship. The job gives her a kind of stability and grounding she has lacked her whole life. This interlude is by no means glowingly complementary of organized religion, but neither does it see a need to lampoon it. Its portrayal is decidedly neutral. For that, I am thankful.

What we don’t see are tearful confessions, or outright displays of religiosity. There are no scenes of altar calls, communion wafers, or earnest prayers. Scripture is quoted only on one or two occasions, and never for very long. One gets a feeling that this experience, for the two of them, might be somewhat superficial, or meant to fill an immediate need.

In my own life, I’ve observed a man about my own age who briefly attended the young adult group of which I am a member. In the middle of Worship Sharing, he confessed to being an alcoholic in recovery. He was certainly welcome to attend again as often as he liked, but he felt far too internally conflicted to feel a part of any group. He hated himself for his past transgressions, even though we did not judge him for them. Shame is what led him away from religion.

Jesus got a lot of criticism from the so-called keepers of the law based on the company he kept.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with such scum?" When Jesus heard this, he said, "Healthy people don't need a doctor--sick people do."Then he added, "Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: 'I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.' For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners."

I return to the lives of two such sinners. In a series of rapidly building scenes, the lesbian subtext grows ever more potent. The two becomes lovers. And yet, much remains unseen and unexplained. How did others in the church respond to them? They must have been entrusted with great responsibility to take care of the kids. This is especially true nowadays with the possibility of an incident happening and the equal risk of potential legal repercussions to follow.

In my Meeting, those who have any contact at all with children must undergo a background check and have others vouch for their character. Everyone’s paranoid now about sex offenders and no one wants to take any chances. Both of these characters have skeletons in their closet and I find it likely that they also have criminal records.

This is what really struck me. My judgmental side believes that everyone ought to take their responsibilities seriously, and adopt a more substantial role within a house of worship. By that exacting standard, these two women do not fit the profile, even assisting with childcare and in regularly attending worship. A brief scene shows one of them reading the Bible aloud to the other, but their conduct is mostly unchanged. The language they use is of their past, and I see no application of moral lessons in months of attending church.

Before I come down too harshly, I must also admit that their loneliness and need for stable social interaction has been enough for many to embrace religion. Any twelve-step program emphasizes a belief in a higher power. For those who have struggled and fought to stay clean, religion can be a soothing salve to heal cuts to the psyche. Many formerly successful musicians and those in the public eye have become Christians when their popularity waned and the money for drugs ran out.

Yet once again we ask for answers and receive few of them. How would the members of the church or the minister think about this same-sex relationship? We hear their praise songs, tastefully underscored by softly lilting guitars and a group sing-along. We see the cross hanging on the wall, in a brief pan that takes in the Butler Building that houses the small sanctuary. Theology is never expressed and the other worshipers are static figures. We never see their faces in profile, only from behind. The director wants the focus to be on two fallen women with substantial baggage.

There is a passage in the Gospel of John I return to frequently. It regards an encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Jews and Samaritans did not associate with each other. Jews saw Samaritans as bastard half-breeds and Samaritans saw Jews as cold-hearted elitists.

So Jesus came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?"
The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, "You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?"

"Go and get your husband," Jesus told her. "I have no husband," she replied. Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true." "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet.

But the time is coming--indeed it's here now--when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth."

Though I would have preferred more detail, I am satisfied with what I’ve observed. If it had been my screenplay to write, I would have seen skepticism of religion fall away. I would have shown a great comfort in belief. And I would have seen a wedding between two women ordained by God and all who were present. That being said, I recognize that this doesn’t fit the tone of a very dark, malevolent series where favorable outcomes are few, and short-lived if they exist at all.

I’m happy that Christianity was treated with dignity, because I honestly believe in its redemptive power for each of us, regardless of our past conduct. Few faiths give us the ability to be forgiven and make a fresh start. And by forgiveness, I mean an internal sort of exercise for our own benefit, not someone else’s. The inner work comes first. Exteriors are the reasons why many of us find ourselves being unduly scrutinized, but real redemption starts the moment we listen to the truth.


A goddess on the mountain top
Was burning like a silver flame
The summit of beauty and love
And Venus was her name

She's got it
Yeah, baby, she's got it
I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire

Well, I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire

Her weapons were her crystal eyes
Making every man a man
Black as the dark night she was
Got what no-one else had

She's got it
Yeah, baby, she's got it
I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire

Well, I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire
A goddess on the mountain top
Was burning like a silver flame

The summit of beauty and love
And Venus was her name
She's got it

Yeah, baby, she's got it
I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire

Well, I'm your Venus, I'm your fire
At your desire

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Unseen Complexities of Class Identity

When I was still living in the Deep South, I attended a small church. By small, I mean that by megachurch standards it was tiny. Within easy driving distance of my childhood home, one could find several such institutions. I used to dismissively call them “Six Flags over Jesus.” Speaking for myself, I’m more comfortable in relatively small religious settings. The Methodist church where I attended with my family until shortly before high school fit that profile, which is why I suppose I’ve always felt like one of many zeros elsewhere.  

I church shopped for a while, but eventually landed somewhere reasonably soft and comfortable. It was a Unitarian Universalist church full of non-natives who congregated together because they didn’t necessarily fit seamlessly into the prevailing culture. But there were many Southerners like myself who appreciated the company of those who were liberal and unapologetic. The church had attracted a large cross-section of the creative class of the city, the artists, musicians, and dancers. This was their blue oasis and for a while, I appreciated the dramatic change in scenery.

A regular attender brought a very different perspective. His strong southern accent was undeniable. By contrast, I tried to lose my own and mainly succeeded. He sold, among other things, fully automatic coffee makers to be used in industrial settings. They were the sort usually installed in break rooms so that workers could enjoy a cup of coffee while not on the clock. For free, the man provided and installed himself one of these contraptions in the church kitchen. It made quick work of what could be a trying task. Preparing coffee for close to a hundred people was no small feat.

I began to drift away from the philosophy of the church and become openly critical of the entire faith itself. Because I’d been an active member, people periodically asked me why I’d had this sudden change of heart. One of them was the man I’ve introduced. My criticisms stung and he felt that I was somehow rejecting him in the process.

“I enjoy where I go to church,” he said. “At work, I’m always among bubbas. I just don’t have much in common with them.”

I related to his plight. My father worked in similarly blue collar settings, but those never seemed to bother him much. He knew where he came from and never once denied his identity. Dad leased trucks to companies and corporations who needed to ship products across the country. When I was very young, he competed for the account of a company that was fast expanding beyond its home base in Arkansas. It was called Wal-Mart. Had he landed it, he would have become a millionaire overnight. It was the big fish that got away, but he never lost sleep over it.

Since I’ve become an adult, I’ve noticed that my father’s choice in friends and acquaintances reflected who he was and how he saw himself. They were usually highly educated, middle class men made good. They almost always worked in the same industry as he did, but somehow he was magnanimous enough never see them as competitors. Each of these businessmen had learned to work within the dichotomy of class identity, keeping a foot firmly planted in both camps. They knew they would need to code switch and modify their choice of words depending on their audience.

My father grew up dirt poor. Through hard work and luck he became middle class, but he has always retained a kind of class guilt. I’ve always ascribed it to something like survivor’s guilt. He got out of East Alabama, but many of his classmates at school and teammates on the baseball diamond never have. Dad was a home run hitter in his day, the batter no pitcher wanted to face. Those days are long gone. Unemployment in the rural county where he grew up has remained fixed at 15% ever since the textile mills shuttered and headed elsewhere. It's the same effect as the Rust Belt of the Midwest and Northeast.

My mother’s story is similar, but very different. Her family owned its own small business, a well drilling company. In more remote areas of the region, where city water wasn’t an option, water wells were the only source of potable water. It was a filthy, laborious profession, but it gave my mother’s family a sense of autonomy that my father’s family never did. The lowest of the low were worker bees with little control over their own finances. Having experienced significant poverty earlier, my mother's folks made sure to prevent it from ever happening again.

Mom only needed to climb one rung to reach respectable middle class status. Her mother and father always had an inferiority complex for never having attended college. They’d looked forward to the societal advancement and the opportunity to learn, but the Great Depression wiped out the money that had been saved for tuition. It was expected in her family that one ought to make good and that high achievement was not optional. They acted the part and hoped in time the role would be given to them.   

In my father’s family, the expectation was that one would learn a trade after high school. His mother and father had, at most, an eighth grade education between them. They never once considered college or any other vocation beyond what they saw, without much reservation, as their lot in life. For them, this was just what one did. My father had to scale two massive class constructs, which is why his feelings towards his roots have always been conflicted. My mother’s path to respectability was much easier.

Class is an important topic within the Religious Society of Friends. While we seek common purpose with others and delight in the similarities of our life story, we at times overlook other perspectives. Don’t get me wrong. Few faith groups like ours have ever succeeded in attracting members and attenders from a social strata below our own. Some of this is our responsibility, but to simplify this issue and place the burden upon only one party isn’t realistic.

The same is true when it comes to appealing to African-Americans and those of other racial minorities. I’m not arguing that it’s all a simple matter of greater inclusiveness, because that leaves out personal choice. We may not be for everyone, but nonetheless we are for someone. Class is complicated and multi-layered. It cannot be easily unraveled and explained. What I do know is that every one of us has a story to tell. That may be the only way we can really communicate effectively, beyond the limitations of process and the sterility of terminology. Let’s dare to see everyone as a child of God.      

Monday, February 17, 2014

Leaving Room for Levity in Activism

As a person often frustrated with the pacing and progress of reform, I have to say that the increased tolerance towards LGBTs exceeds my expectations. I never felt entirely alone, but I always believed myself to be a member of a hopeless, forever excluded minority. Fifteen years ago, I never doubted that most people of my generation were solidly in my corner. But as is often the case, I felt that those older than myself, raised in very different times, would not be receptive. I am pleased to be proven wrong on more than one occasion. They've been the ones to shape the legislation and seize the initiative, because those my own age are only now beginning to gain in influence.

The last remaining hurdle to jump is that of transgender equality. Marriage equality between two men or two women is now comprehensible to the average American. The next step is to increase visibility for everyone who falls under the transgender umbrella. Correcting years of misinformation and an inaccurate understanding of transsexuals is the next step. It may come sooner than expected, or it may not.

And though the work so nobly advanced has made a great difference, we must also get our own house in order. To some, even partial ignorance of the terminology and narrative of trans issues automatically must be destructive. The focus shifts from an altruistic desire to aid and assist to a desire to be right at all cost. Some people think that one interaction and exchange of ideas with a transgender person speaks for everyone. We become focused on being a perfect ally, however we define it individually. We ourselves have flaws and shortcomings in more areas than one. The only fair move is to grant others the right to the same imperfection. The unwritten rules of orthodoxy hold us back the same way certain religious groups have to some.

I’m not speaking about the transphobic and deliberately hurtful voices, the Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church hatemongers. These are extreme examples, but sometimes anything that smells even faintly like this sort of intolerance is treated as though no distinction exists. These reactionary voices must be refuted, even though I wonder at times whether their vituperative banter is meant more to produce a reaction than to win anyone's support. They may have been the original trolls, well before the internet. And if they were, what does that say about the kind of anger and venom now thrown about casually in the comment section of multiple websites?

Say something transphobic in a feminist or gender studies forum and the response can be swift and cutting. There’s something more than a little self-righteous about this attitude, as though a few are the keepers of ultimate reality and the one true reform. I would take a step back, if I were they. I've known Atheists who have been rejected from Christian faiths and have called some of them my friend. They sometimes structure their new identity and organization in ways that are as restrictive, exclusionary, and even similar from where they started out.

I’m a person of faith, which is why I often use Scriptural passages to underscore my argument. Here I am referencing the Pharisees, the priestly, elite class of Jews whose hypocrisy and hubris made them a frequent target of Jesus.

They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

For the whole of my life, I have known that I wasn’t entirely male. Outside of small groups of sympathetic people, I usually don’t talk about such things. Here's why. Among some, gender identity is rigid and unchanging. To them, my views are automatically invalid and suspect. Among others, I am simply playing with labels in an irresponsible fashion. In reality, my gender identity has changed over time, partially through introspection on my part and also in hearing the distinct stories of others who feel the way I do. Who I am at this moment may well change to my dying day, as I change and as my insights change. Our knowledge and understanding is always in a state of flux.

A year ago, I attended an LGBT conference. Even years after I’ve come out as bisexual and genderqueer, the thought of being around that much commonality is enough to throw me into a fit of anxiety. It was the best of times and the worst of times. I bunked with a man who I presumed was some flavor of queer, though I had no need, nor any desire to ask. We chatted pleasantly because he reminded me of my long-dead Grandparents. But when the talk turned heavy, he noted that he’d never really been able to understand how he ought to identify or how he turned out the way that he was.

He wore a woman’s slip to bed and no one breathed a word of complaint or offense. I found the next morning, when it was time for a shower, that he was hardly the only one to wear some item of women’s clothing. In that regard, I fit in completely and no one judged me. Usually, in situations like these, I resort to slight of hand and paranoia to conceal how I dress. 99.9% of the time, I insist upon strictest secrecy. That wasn’t necessary in this setting and I breathed several great sighs of relief.

Another man the age of my father had been born Mormon and had only recently accepted himself as he was. He harbored lots of resentment towards the church that had insisted he stay closeted. But even so, he showed up every morning for Bible study and usually sat next to me. His behavior at times overreached. Or to put it another way, he tried too hard.

He lived in a rural, conservative small town and took it upon himself as his personal crusade to protect queer youth from violence and suicide. He was obsessed in attracting attention to his cause. I wondered if his motives stemmed entirely from a genuine desire to help or an equally genuine desire to call attention to himself.

In my opinion, it was probably a bit of both. I’ve always challenged myself in Worship or beyond the four walls of the Meetinghouse to get to the seed (a good Quaker term) that pushes me towards God and away from self. For Friends, Worship is an ongoing event, one that does not conclude at 11:30 am on Sunday morning. Using that example, I’ve sought to take every available opportunity to commune with God.

Commune with your own motivations, but don't become shackled to them. For activists and reformers, don’t lose sight of your core initiatives, regardless of your cause. Don’t lose your temper or your composure. Leave room for the unexpected, even as you draw up your battle plans in ways that anticipate no surprises. Don’t let your frustration trick you into confusing allies with adversaries. Know that any hard line stance leaves no room for irony or spontaneity, both of which are essential for levity, sanity, and maybe even a few moments of mirthful laughter here and there.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Quote of the Week

"You might very well think that. You know I couldn't possibly comment."-Francis Underwood, House of Cards 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

These Hit a Little Close to Home

Click to embiggen. Source here.

Saturday Video

Darlin' Companion
Come on and give me understanding
And let me be your champion
The hand to hold your pretty hand in

Darlin' Companion
Now you know you'll never be abandoned
Love will always light our landing
I can depend on you

Darlin' Companion
Heaven knows where we'll be landing
Just as long as we keep laughing
Keep in mind just what's worth having

Darlin' Companion
I'll tell the mountains and the canyons
As long as I got legs to stand on
I'm gonna run to you

Darlin' Companion
Come on and give me understanding
And let me be your champion
The hand to hold your pretty hand in

Darlin' Companion
Now you know you'll never be abandoned
Love will always light our landing
I can depend on you

Friday, February 14, 2014

Transition Beyond Surgery

Some fiction, some fact

Twenty Years Ago

It is the mid Nineties. Before the internet. Before cellular telephones. Before DVDs and Blu-ray players. Before live streaming. Before blogs. Before Tumblr and Facebook and Instagram. Before $4 a gallon gasoline and $10 a pack cigarettes. Before the legalization of same-sex marriage.

9:55 am. While waiting for Blockbuster to open, I look up to find my history professor. He’s rolled down the window and calls out to me. It seems he’s dropping off his daughter for her shift at work. He happens to spy me waiting patiently on the sidewalk for the store to open. It appears he had a second mission to accomplish before driving away.

You know that Jamie Davis really likes you. I thanked him for the news, though I’d mostly figured it out for myself. We were in the same class and I’d expressed my interest in her with great purpose and forcefulness. Success is always welcome news. It’s always good to know that one’s efforts in attracting a partner do occasionally have promise.

When I informed her myself what our professor had reported, she wished she’d been the messenger herself. At the time, I still lived with my parents, tucked inside a recently vacated apartment that had been built into the basement to provide my grandparents, who were in failing health, with a place to live. Both of them had passed on, leaving this fairly spacious space all to myself. A few days later, following class, I coaxed her to take a drive to my abode. I made sure that no one was around, and that my folks were at work.

We moved quickly to my bedroom, but at her insistence, my sweet talk stopped cold. After the buildup, I couldn’t understand why she balked at the last minute. From the first time that I so much as embraced her, she threw up boundaries and defenses. She wasn’t comfortable even in kissing me, which I thought was peculiar. No woman before had ever acted quite this way.

I could sense her discomfort. Don’t say, oh baby, baby. She could barely make eye contact. No other woman I had ever taken to bed had protested when I’d said that very same thing. I realized within a few awkward minutes that this pairing would never work. She pushed me aside, though not meanly. Was it my fault? What had I done wrong?

Instead, she requested that we reconvene at a nearby fast food restaurant, which seemed to please her in ways I never could. And yet, strangely, her attraction to me never subsided. This wasn’t the end, only the first encounter of many. With time, she returned to me as though the earlier experience had never happened. Together, we took tremendously impulsive risks, having cybersex inside very public computer terminals. That was all she wanted for now. Provided our intimacy never reached beyond safe fantasy, she had few objections. For a long while, I never understood why face to face interactions with me made her so uncomfortable.

Ten Years Ago

Jamie told me last week that she’s a lesbian. That would explain the earlier behavior. I have to say that I feel a little foolish, but her resistance earlier makes sense now in context. She’s even found a long-term partner, a woman she snagged off of MySpace. We still talk, but I’ve begun to have doubts and confusion about what she thinks about me. She certainly acts as though I am appealing to her, but these sentiments are always predicated on her own terms and at her own pace. To an extent, it's always been like that, but this is new territory for me.

Eight Years Ago

I have to say that I didn’t understand what transgender was until It was explained to me. Jamie now goes by Johnny and is saving up money for top surgery. But in the meantime, it makes sense now that the feelings of desire that the she I knew held towards me were authentic and not imaginary. Before, the label “lesbian” confused me. It connoted a lack of interest beyond friendship. He always had a desire to keep me close at hand, in a way most people do not. When most would have peeled away and eliminated contact altogether, he thought of me romantically and with great, heartfelt desire.

He posted a series of YouTube videos to show a visual representation of his progress on testosterone. I watched all of these, posted once a week, unsure what to expect next. It takes forever for facial hair to grow and it didn't come in as well as he liked. I observe his disappointment and am sorry for him. Not every transman experiences the same results from hormones. I learn this alongside Johnny, though at my own safe distance this time.

Six Years Ago

Having finally saved up the money for surgery, Johnny goes under the knife. He opts for top surgery, though he remarks with some sadness that he will always be a man with a vagina. He continues to take testosterone regularly and his clitoris grows considerably. He refers to it as a cock or a micro-dick, while nevertheless retaining large portions of female genitalia present in the body into which he was born. If he is viewed as a pre-pubescent boy, or called “sir”, he considers the money spent a success.

Five Years Ago

We swap pornography. His desire for me has not changed. Though he has a certain fondness for me, it’s not like I’m the only one waiting in the wings. He’s built up a network of kinky queers who satisfy his insatiable desires. Some female to male transsexuals born as biological women do not have sex like men, but he most certainly does. It’s one of the ways that I realize that, though he might have been born a woman, he’s the epitome of genderqueer. He's a blending between male and female, and I accept it even if it causes me to push away, as he did in the beginning.

Two Days Ago

Johnny only comes around for me every now and again. I am expected to provide him the necessary palette of emotions and erotic images necessary to produce an orgasm. Because I want to be anyone’s object of desire, even if I don’t have much enthusiasm for the task at hand, I go through the motions. I say what he wants me to tell him, and I’ve never failed in eventually producing what he’s really after. Sometimes, I have to admit, I feel that he’s using me for a sexual outlet. His feelings for me have never been stronger, but mine have waned over the years.

It’s if gender expectations have been reversed. He’s the sex-crazed man in constant search of a sexual outlet, and I’m the woman who doesn’t want to deny him the pleasure, in spite of my own doubts. When he appears online and initiates conversation, I know it won't be long before he lies all his cards down on the table.

A modicum of chitchat gives way to what he really wants from me. I wish I could get into the mood on command, but I’m just not wired that way. I sometimes feel that I am wanted only to produce a consistent, desired effect and pleasurable outcome. He is always in the mood, and I’d prefer a little foreplay beforehand. Maybe this is how straight women feel all the time.

I concede I am somewhere between male and female myself. Johnny reflects back at me how I am, and sometimes that image is too intense to produce much beyond insecurity and neurosis. I already scrutinize myself excessively. Viewing my body in the mirror is at times too painful to observe. Until I end it with Johnny, the cycle will continue. I could talk to him about my conflicted feelings, but I fear separation from anyone for any reason.

I’m afraid of having no one left in my life, which is why I’ve tolerated more than a few leeches and energy drains over the course of my life. I fear losing every last one of my friends or acquaintances. I expect them to desert me, which is why I never tell Johnny to cool it.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?

Did you ever have to make up your mind?
Pick up on one and leave the other behind
It's not often easy and not often kind
Did you ever have to make up your mind?

Did you ever have to finally decide?
Say yes to one and let the other one ride
There's so many changes and tears you must hide
Did you ever have to finally decide?

Sometimes there's one with big blue eyes, cute as a bunny
With hair down to here, and plenty of money
And just when you think she's that one in the world
You heart gets stolen by some mousy little girl

And then you know you'd better make up your mind

Sometimes you really dig a girl the moment you kiss her
And then you get distracted by her older sister
When in walks her father and takes you a line
And says, "You better go home, son, and make up your mind"

And then you bet you'd better finally decide
Pick up on one and leave the other behind
It's not often easy and not often kind
Did you ever have to make up your mind?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Last Thoughts on Woody Allen

When I was a freshman in college, I took a history class that has forever influenced my thinking. During the first week of coursework, we watched the classic Akira Kurosawa film, Rashomon. Rashomon retells the story of a mysterious murder and a rape in 12th Century Japan. Four men, stuck in the middle of a violent rainstorm, tell their version of what happened three days prior.

The account is masterfully presented through the perspectives of four different witnesses to the crimes. Each first-person account is plausible, though it frequently contradicts every other witness’s prior testimony. Personal bias factors in strongly to every retelling, at times overt, at times less so. The movie concludes by insisting that while objective truth may be impossible, the virtues of hope, love, and compassion never desert us. Our deeds are more important than our justifications.

In a historical context, this was an important lesson for my classmates and me to learn. History is a study of the past, and since we are only well-versed in relatively recent history, we must place our trust in the records and accounts left by others. Historians like to believe that they write strictly non-fiction, but this is only partially true. With time, enough voices have muddied fact from fantasy that scholarship becomes something of a game of telephone.

Every writer of truth puts pen to paper with an automatic kind of bias. It is sometimes subliminal and sometimes not, much like when we relate an anecdote to a friend. Should I write about a particular event in history, I pick the commentators who agree with my own views. Today, in my own written discourse, I find I place less emphasis upon a strict account and more upon the concepts and analysis birthed by those who share my ideological views. When enough people ascribe to this same thinking, these same patterns, it’s called a narrative.

I wrote last week about the Woody Allen debate. Due to recent developments, I’d like to respond with a second post. Some feminists writers are contradicting Allen’s recent op-ed in The New York Times that ran over the weekend. As was the case in 1992, they’ve critiqued the dynamics of the director’s relationship with third wife Soon Yi-Previn, several years his junior. A nearly ten-year old interview in Vanity Fair has been dusted off and presented anew. In it, Allen is quoted as saying:
The very inequality of me being older and much more accomplished, much more experienced, takes away any real meaningful conflict. So when there’s disagreement, it’s never an adversarial thing. I don’t ever feel that I’m with a hostile or threatening person. It’s got a more paternal feeling to it.
Here, my own bias in action. I do not understand intimate romantic relationships between two people that are described as paternal. Chalk me up as one of those hopeless romantics who, when it came his time, always dreamed of an egalitarian partnership. I’ve learned, with no small discomfort, that these parent-child pairings among consenting adults exist in numbers more than occasional. Much of the time, they take the form of an older man and a much younger woman. Other May-December romances have blossomed and showed sustaining power.

Returning to my college days, one of my former professors took a similar path. He married one of his students, a woman in her twenties who was more than half his age. I couldn’t help but notice that she was not much older than me. His wife was quietly deferential, shy, and reticent. I suppose that’s the way he’d always wanted it. He was always the one in charge and she knew when to get out of his way. They have remained married for several years.

A second example, for the sake of greater inclusion, involves a long-time partnership between two gay men. One of them is a psychologist. The other is severely mentally ill and disabled. If I had to wager a guess, I’d say that the therapist has some deep-seeded issues with dependency. Many people would not stay for over twenty years with someone that high maintenance unless they craved being wanted and needed. At first glance, dysfunction within partnerships may be complementary and even seem to be strangely unifying, when in actuality they are far from stable or healthy.

I can’t vouch for the whole of Woody Allen’s baggage, but I do know that prior girlfriends and wives many times had more problems than he did. Allen’s shtick is that of the socially awkward neurotic, but who he really is off-stage has always been a mystery to me. According to at least one reputable biography, an examination of the details of Allen’s life show a challenging upbringing and lots of self-inflicted injury.

Allen was born to distant, uncaring parents. Some of the memories of those times found his way into his early standup. In one routine, he stated, fictionally, that he was kidnapped at a young age. Instead of having concern for his well-being, the first thing his parents did was rent out his room. Allen cracked cruel jokes about his first wife and divorced his second wife because of her incestuous desire for her father, drug addiction, and general emotional instability. As is the case with any famous person, one reads a series of biographies and media articles, then seeks to put together an account of him or her that best fits our preferences.

The charges against Woody Allen this go round are serious, far more serious than they were twenty-two years ago. I want to accept the account of the adopted daughter of his long-time partner on its face, but once again I am bringing my own bias into the matter. Broken marriages, bitter divorces, and their fallout often create bile and nastiness. Allen hasn’t helped himself by inserting jokes into film screenplays that involve the desirability and the sexuality of underage girls. The circumstantial evidence in this case is damaging, but it is not enough to separate guilt from innocence.

Though the two were never formally married, Allen isn’t the first ex-husband to be accused of a shocking crime by a spiteful former wife. Every new voice added to the debate adds a different layer of meaning. As long as this controversy stays in he said/she said form, our individual personal experiences will fill in the gaps. When we don’t know who committed the rape in the metaphorical Japanese wilderness, our emotions will lead the way. If we think Allen is a creepy child predator, we may well always. If we never really found his movies and life story that appealing, now is as good a time as any to say so.

I’ll always have a fondness for Woody Allen’s films. I discovered them at a young age. I believe I saw Bananas first. I’m a fan of wit and satire and so I appreciated his cerebral, but very silly sense of humor as found in the first few cinematic releases. My favorite Woody Allen movie is probably Love and Death, the last of the slapstick, one-liner movies before the emergence of the new seriousness and art house pretensions of Annie Hall and beyond. In the meantime, I’ve observed once more that Allen films, like their creator, are either beloved or disliked. Now audience are split again, but for a very different reason.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Day of Rest

Some days all one can do is the minimum. I'm always disappointed when I have to spend most of a day in bed. Looks can be deceptive. Many people see me as I try to appear, energetic and healthy. In reality, I have to balance several chronic illnesses simultaneously. If resting is what my body needs, I'm willing to do it.

Look for me tomorrow and later in the week.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Quote of the Week

Too often critics seem more intent on seeking new ways to alter Congress than to truly learn how it functions. They might well profit from the advice of Thomas Huxley, who said a century ago: "Sit down before facts as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion — or you shall learn nothing."-Gerald Ford

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Saturday Video

Laisse tomber les filles
Laisse tomber les filles
Un jour c'est toi qu'on laissera

Laisse tomber les filles
Laisse tomber les filles
Un jour c'est toi qui pleureras

Oui j'ai pleuré mais ce jour-là
Non je ne pleurerai pas
Non je ne pleurerai pas

Je dirai c'est bien fait pour toi
Je dirai ça t'apprendra
Je dirai ça t'apprendra
Laisse tomber les filles
Laisse tomber les filles

Ça te jouera un mauvais tour
Laisse tomber les filles
Laisse tomber les filles

Tu le paieras un de ces jours
On ne joue pas impunément

Avec un coeur innocent
Avec un coeur innocent

Tu verras ce que je ressens
Avant qu'il ne soit longtemps
Avant qu'il ne soit longtemps

La chance abandonne
Celui qui ne sait
Que laisser les coeurs blessés

Tu n'auras personne
Pour te consoler
Tu ne l'auras pas volé

Laisse tomber les filles
Laisse tomber les filles
Un jour c'est toi qu'on laissera
Laisse tomber les filles
Laisse tomber les filles

Un jour c'est toi qui pleureras
Non pour te plaindre il n'y aura
Personne d'autre que toi
Personne d'autre que toi

Alors tu te rappelleras
Tout ce que je te dis là
Tout ce que je te dis là
Alors tu te rappelleras

Tout ce que je te dis là
Tout ce que je te dis là

Alors tu te rappelleras
Tout ce que je te dis là
Tout ce que je te dis là

Friday, February 07, 2014

Prosecuting Woody Allen

In the past several days, Woody Allen has been accused of child molestation by one of his ex-wife's adopted daughters. Many have taken a hard line stance that he most assuredly must be guilty. I see their argument. It is far too commonplace for instances of sexual assault to never be reported, nor to ever be prosecuted. On college campuses, at parties, and in the company of acquaintances, women have been raped and assaulted. Their trust and boundaries have been violated. They must now try to cope with what happened. Few see justice in any form.

Those pushing strongly for Allen to face some sort of consequence see another instance of an evil man beating the rap. As is always the case in circumstances like these, feminists are some of the loudest beating the war drum. They wish to make an example out of him, using these lurid allegations as proof of his reprehensible deeds. Feminists see rapes and sexual trauma against women as epidemic. They ascribe to a view of guilty until proven innocent, even though our criminal justice system works in reverse.

Those who have been abused themselves have a very natural inclination to do all they can to bring offenders to trial. In this situation, the criminal justice system has little to offer survivors. The statute of limitations in this matter has long since expired. Woody Allen cannot be tried in anything more than a court of public opinion. Now, what is left of his reputation is under attack. Those with an ax to grind will not let up until he faces some negative consequence. Character assassination is the only avenue remaining. Many women have never forgiven him for the first set of similar allegations twenty years ago and subsequently his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, who was substantially younger than he was.

I myself think there is ample evidence that Woody Allen resorted to sexual abuse. These, I should say, are my personal, private views. But I feel that the famed director has a right to the benefit of the doubt until all the facts have arrived. Those who would deny him that much are believers in a sort of groupthink justice, even if their motivations cannot be faulted. They will never be satisfied until violence against women ceases to exist, and while I certainly support the sentiment, this problem is large and all-encompassing. It dates back to the instant our mammalian ancestors crawled out of the slime.    

A comparison or two is needed. Propaganda aside, the so-called Boston Massacre of March 1770 was little more than a skirmish. It was a glorified street fight between a hostile, taunting mob and the British soldiers in place to enforce authority. Pelting the British sentries with snowballs and small objects for some time, the combined impact was enough to coerce some of the troops to fire haphazardly into the crowd. Five colonists died, three instantly, and six were wounded.

What history has always responsibly noted about this event is the American commitment to equal justice under the law. Opting for vigilantism was the most popular sentiment of the time, but not the fairest one. One of our founding fathers, John Adams, later President, insisted upon granting the British soldiers accused of murder a fair trial and the right to defend themselves in court. He made an unpopular decision to defend the accused, though it was the correct one.

Eight soldiers, one officer, and four civilians were arrested and charged with murder. Six of the soldiers were acquitted, while the other two were convicted of manslaughter and given reduced sentences. The men found guilty of manslaughter were sentenced to branding on their hand.  

Feminists have called for a boycott of Woody Allen’s films, encouraging others to avoid seeing or purchasing them, whether they are shown at the theater or at a person’s residence. This kind of approach might be more successful, but it, too, has its limitations. Quakers participated in ethical consumerism many years before it was popular or even had a term assigned to it. They avoided buying cloth and dyes that were the product of slave labor. At times, they made their own garments, not unlike the actions of the colonists prior to the American Revolution. These new Americans did not wish to support Great Britain monetarily by any means.

Quakers are well-known for their embrace of abolition and their competent management of the Underground Railroad. But this is only part of the story. Once, believe it or not, Friends did own slaves. Slowly, but with time, slave owners gave up the practice, though some heavily resisted to the end. Within ourselves, we made great headway. I should note that we were, and are today, a small minority of the population. If only it had been that easy for the millions of others living in the United States. The country as a whole required a civil war to end the practice that we had concluded ourselves in relative peace.

I’m not sure how the Woody Allen affair will finish. Usually these sorts of controversies have their time in the sun. If no further charges surface, the issue will likely die out. As I said, popular opinion is where this battle will be fought. I do recognize the importance of defying the code of silence that keeps victims from reporting crimes. Yet, I’m not sure we’ve found the right tactic upon which to hang our hat. Prosecuting child molesters and violent offenders deserves new strategies. I never doubt the ingenuity of activists, but now is the time for new approaches.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

First Steps

Mostly true, but names changed.

I tried my hand at dating men for the first time when I was 19. I was a live wire in those days, exploring a part of myself I knew I had to conceal from many. My friends, with the exception of two or three, were accepting of my sexual orientation. Every rejection hurt, even though they were small in number. One particularly close friend had been raised by homophobic parents and he quickly sought separation from me once I confessed my bisexuality to him.

The Neil Young album Harvest contains a song called “A Man Needs a Maid.” When I presented the plastic case to her, his mother looked at the song title on the cassette wrongly, interpreting it to mean “A Man Needs a Man.” This was not acceptable to her by the way she phrased her response, though she quickly corrected herself when she recognized she was mistaken. That was how I knew what I was up against on that issue. My friend did whatever his parents told him to, no cautious rebel the way that I was. This is why he rejected me, though he has since thought better of his banishment. I hold a lasting grudge and have ignored his request to renew our friendship, though I wonder if I should let bygones be bygones.

Back then, I was in the middle of my own personal, highly motivated crusade towards greater self-awareness. It was a fight I went into alone. The process would have proceeded much better if I’d had other queer friends to use as ballast, but that would have taken me out of my comfort zone. They would have reminded me of a part of myself I found compelling and enticing, but also frightening.

At first, I admit I had nothing resembling courage around men. Once, while out at the club, a lesbian friend tried to hook me up with a shirtless boy fresh from the dance floor, dripping with sweat. She’d arranged an impromptu lap dance. As it began, I sat there, immobile, too aroused to move, too scared to act. He gave me a stiff little hug after a few minutes and resumed his place on the dance floor.

When I did finally enter the dating scene, my choice was far different from anyone who spent nights gyrating underneath blaring music, flashing lights, and a disco ball. For starters, my first choice was twice my age. Generational differences, I have found, are vastly different among queer men. The AIDS epidemic consigned many of that era to the caretaker role, whether they wanted to or not. His first long-time partner following college sadly contracted the disease. Tom instantly became a nurse and served unselfishly.

It was fortunate that Tom hadn’t taken put himself in a position to contract the disease. His timidity paid off, at least in this situation. The effort, complete with night sweats and frequent visits to the hospital, took five years from start to finish. In the meanwhile, he’d become another martyr among martyrs. Tom had even gone without sex, quite willingly, for years on end. I could never consent or agree to that, but then again, I was much younger and had very different tastes. Everyone my age was after the same goal, even if the rules and the vernacular were slightly different from surrounding to surrounding.

Shortly after his partner died, Tom began a relationship with James. James worked at the local health food store as a clerk. I could never understand the appeal. James was whiny, demanding, and acted about sixteen, even though he was well into his thirties. Knowing Tom the way I do, I could only surmise that his dysfunctional childhood had been a factor in his choice of partners.

He’d grown up an army brat, constantly on the move, hesitant to put down roots. His mother was an alcoholic and his father was distant, neither affectionate, nor particularly easy to please. Even then, I conceded that there was a lot of emotional need present, a need he had not received from his upbringing. Tom needed to be needed, but he went about it in an unhealthy way.

For me, Tom was safe. I’d started with heterosexual relationships a few years prior, but swiftly decided to see what the opposite side of the fence was like. He was gentle and kind, but a little too nice for his own good. I had to browbeat him to get him to take me to bed, a process which took months. I’d began my courting of him auspiciously, making an impromptu trip to his house under the guise of watching a movie, but I ended up giving him fellatio by the night’s conclusion. It was my first time ever and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

He made sure that such excursions would never happen again, but he did not put an end to our relationship. I teased him shamefully and he loved the attention, but he would never commit to the kind of robust sexual relationship I’d always wanted. His fantasies were full of carnal experiences involving me that he would tell me during long walks. They never progressed beyond talking. After several months of this treatment, I knew to expect nothing aside from the occasional.

He would sometimes assent to one or two dalliances, in spite of his severe reservations. He knew James was a drain upon his energy and his sanity, but he would never leave him. That was more his frustration than mine. I’m not sure if I wanted Tom all to myself, since I was by then actively cruising the gay scene and being reasonably successful with it. I'd learned quite a bit in a short period of time.

Tom was a person I could return to periodically and knew I would never be judged for anything I said or for my behavior. He continues to reach out to me, but I have conspicuously placed less of an emotional priority upon him in the same way he has with me. I called him my boyfriend because we told each other every last, intimate detail. Though I find it difficult to feel true love for men in any context, I came the closest with him.

We both opened up to each other completely as lovers do. He fell head over heels in love with me, and I always felt bad that I couldn’t reciprocate those feelings. Nowadays, Tom calls me his friend, never his lover. He still lives in the world of unconsummated fantasy. Even when I threw myself at him, more than once, he was too scared to do what I was asking of him. Now he feels too old to be anyone's object of desire.

Tom was a sweet guy, but a man without much of a backbone. I fantasized myself from time to time about a surefire scheme to force him to make love to me, but did not put the plan in action. I had too much respect for him and wasn't sure it would work, in any case. My peccadilloes involved a take charge sort of man who wouldn’t need to be asked twice to perform. This was too much to ask of him. He was much too passive and hesitant, but I do retain a fondness for him, even if my affection can be distant.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Brain Damage

The lunatic is on the grass
The lunatic is on the grass
remembering games and daisy chains and laughs
got to keep the loonies on the path

The lunatic is in the hall
the lunatics are in the hall
the paper holds their folded faces to the floor
and every day the paper boy brings more

And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
and if there is no room upon the hill
and if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon

The lunatic is in my head
The lunatic is in my head
you raise the blade, you make the change
you rearrange me ' till I'm sane

you lock the door
and throw away the key
there's someone in my head but it's not me

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
you shout and no one seems to hear
and if the band you're in starts playing different tunes
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Christianity Versus Non-Theism: The Great Divide

This will be a controversial post, which is why I've introduced it as such. My reason for writing is not to be right, only to express my own views. I have respect for the varied beliefs of Friends, especially those who will no doubt take liberty with what is to follow. I have no patience with another protracted, contentious debate, as I have observed more than my fair share over time. My hope is that we might open a dialogue, not give birth to a flame war.

I try to be a tolerant person, within reason. When it comes to religious expression, I see value in many faiths. Unlike some, I do not believe in exclusivity. Though I am a Christian, I ignore a routinely-cited passage in the Gospel of John. It reads, to certain Christians, that the only path to the Father is through Jesus Christ. This segment has been interpreted over time by certain groups to mean that Christ is the only way to salvation.

Though it was an extremely influential book to the Early Friends, I sometimes question John's total veracity. I am mostly inclined to believe that it was written under the guise of shoring up substantial details omitted in other books. John includes an elaborate back story that was earlier left out about the life and ministry of Jesus. The first three Gospels are more or less in agreement with each other, but John is something of anomaly.  

My Meeting's Ministry and Worship committee has proposed a new initiative. I'm told this approach has been successful at other Meetings with similar dynamics. Where I worship, both Christian Friends like myself and Non-Theist Friends are minority views. Most members and attenders, at minimum, believe in God. These sentiments are particularly true with many FGC Meetings, especially those located in large cities. Though my Meeting has a dual affiliation with FUM, most are more comfortable with FGC's take on Quakerism.

The workshop is a worthwhile proposal, one we've needed for a while. Christians and Non-Theists have long felt excluded from the greater dialogue. Sometimes we've argued, but I'd say most of the time we've held our tongues. Though Non-Theism doesn't necessarily imply Atheism, any deviation from Theism does trouble me. I believe in a God who takes an active, essential role in our lives. I have derived great comfort from the presence of a higher power. Though I do not see it my role to proselytize, I do believe that turning towards God gives life greater meaning.

I spent eight years as a Unitarian Universalist. While a member, I saw problem after problem arise when a human-centered approach was favored over a God-centered one. Most UUs, from my observation, are secular humanists. It was my experience that outright Atheists counted in the minority there as well. With a faith like theirs that does not make any pretenses about God or Christ, Atheism exists without fear of censure.

We, however, are different. Unlike the Unitarians, we did not purge away all mention of Christianity and most notions of organized religion. They took a much more radical step than we did. Some Quakers may have been taught more about William Penn and environmentalism than the Bible, but I've almost always seen a healthy respect for the faith of our fathers and mothers. UUs are beholden to a concept known as cross-cringe, whereby any religious sentiment that is Christian in nature makes its audience instantly uncomfortable.

Non-Theism, in my opinion, sends Friends down a similar path towards secular humanism. At times, I feel that my own leadings speak to the wounded. Non-Theists have, over time, rejected a faith tradition they found injurious or intolerant. With some, I believe that Non-Theism is a developmental step somewhere between belief and doubt. Our personal spiritual journey is capable of changing dramatically over time. It certainly has for me.

Frankly, my experience with the Divine has always been strong and undeniable. Even when I felt estranged from God, I never doubted his existence. It is my hope that, with God's help, I can lead others to the same satisfaction and contentment that I feel. Atheism appears hollow and lonely to me. God provides a richness to my life that my own brain and my own comprehension never could. I don't favor excluding Non-Theists, but I do always hope that they'll eventually reach their own understanding of the great mystery we call the Divine.

I am finite. I am fragile. I am imperfect. With the odds stacked against me, how can I ever place full faith in my own understanding, my own feeble abilities? It is impossible to look inside anyone's heart and anyone's head, but I think I've learned a few things here and there. It is difficult for me to be fully tolerant of those who reject our tradition, a tradition and history that sent men and women to jail and sometimes even to their death.

In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln talks about similar sacrifice.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

George Fox, Margaret Fell, William Penn, the Valiant Sixty. These are our elders. If in life they had any inkling of where the religion they founded would have drifted, I doubt they would be pleased. I concede that we live in changing times, but I do not wish to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I know that some will disagree vociferously with this post, and that is entirely within their rights. They may have a well-reasoned argument of their own to contradict my own personal convictions.

The Non-Theists I encounter at Meeting are not faceless opponents. I know them as fellow beings. This understanding is what makes it difficult for me to let loose with hurtful invective and hyperbole. They have a right to their own opinion, but I suppose I do not understand why anyone would want to question the existence of God within a religious movement and a Religious Society. I've always wanted to belong. The older I get, the less I want to be an outlier.

Our culture has grown increasingly secular. This is especially the case with East Coast urban liberals. I enjoy Worship because it's a respite from the outside world, a place where my religious beliefs are validated and not challenged. When asked by others, many Friends, even those who do not identify as Christian, routinely answer that the Religious Society of Friends is a Christian faith. In different surroundings, I have had to convince the skeptical that my Christianity is not like the Christianity they fear.

In the meantime, it can't hurt for Christians and Non-Theists to meet. I'm sure there is common ground between us. Though I believe that Non-Theists have a right to Worship with us, I will never hold their view. To my dying day, I'll question why those who do not believe in God want to be surrounded by religious language and a religious practice they themselves may reject. My desire to hold Quakers accountable is at least backed up by hundreds of years of Spirit-led guidance. The Non-Theists have to make way open themselves.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Equality Mostly Arrives in Hindsight

For the sake of a greater understanding, this weekend I watched history unfold before me. The television networks are notoriously covetous of their broadcasts, rarely digging into their archives for any reason. I’ve always found that decision extremely unfortunate, because records of the past are not merely a time capsule, nor a potential loss of revenue. They are primary sources that reveal much about how we got to where we are today.

An especially generous person has posted a series of YouTube videos that have been copied from the original source. Each one features full election night coverage of several Presidential elections, as the results unfolded. In an effort to observe progress from the vantage point of hindsight, I made a mental note of the trends I observed. In particular, I wanted to see how gender representation has evolved. Memory alone fails many who were alive at the time. We believe our own hazy embellishments, sometimes without meaning to do it, at times to further our purpose.

I began nearly a half-century ago with the 1968 election, the nail-biter, three-way race between Democrat Hubert Humphrey, Republican Richard Nixon, and Independent George Wallace. In eight hours of live broadcast, I noticed that every commentator was a white male. Women were seen absolutely nowhere. They were not found anywhere throughout the buzzing, busy newsroom, nor were they mentioned in more than one or two token election returns.

Black voters, as a bloc, were described as “the Negro ghetto vote.” If anyone used that phrase today, they’d find themselves in the middle of a controversy. Blacks were only mentioned when it benefited Humphrey, the Democrat, and were otherwise mostly invisible. No African-Americans were interviewed on camera. Instead, every analyst was a white male of middle age or older. In a different era, there were fewer cutaways from the newsroom. Interviews with multiple politicians and persons of interest are routine now, but this was not so back then.  

Eight years later, the 1976 race between Democrat Jimmy Carter and the incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford showed substantial progress. Half of the talking heads were female, and they shared more or less equal screen time with men. Specific segments that took into account how women voted and how women were represented in Congress were introduced. Considerable work was still required, of course. Two female politicians interviewed on camera noted sadly that while a handful of women were included in the House, the Senate would remain exclusively male.

Today, thirty-eight years later, there are 82 women in the House and 20 in the Senate. Progress has been made, but real parity remains elusive. In some ways, how we define parity is the most important aspect of this comparison. We’ve had two female Vice-Presidential candidates, neither of which was elected. As for the office of President, Hillary Clinton came close to capturing the Democratic nomination in 2008, but fell short. This begs the question. If we do elect a woman to be President next time around, what kind of lasting result towards equality will we achieve?

Barack Obama is the first black President, but I don’t see another black politician, male or female, waiting in the wings to succeed him. Hillary Clinton is the only female politician with enough name recognition and experience to be seriously considered to serve as Chief Executive. Merely electing or appointing minorities or those historically marginalized is not enough. It might well be years before we see substantial gains. Either we accept the status quo, trusting that progress is slow but inevitable, or we fight for greater representation.

Real leaders are in short supply regardless of where one looks. The wheels seem to have come off the bus with Chris Christie, negating what might have been a formidable GOP challenger in 2016. Successful candidates have been known to appear out of nowhere, but none have yet. Hillary Clinton was fond of noting the numerous cracks in the glass ceiling her candidacy created, but I don’t think the glass has been shattered. I’m not even sure if she wins two terms that it will be.

This country once tried a radical step towards increasing greater representation among minorities and those regularly marginalized. It was called Reconstruction. Black men were for the first time given representation in Congress, but the white backlash in the South was immediate and intense. As long as Union troops enforced order, these men remained in power, but once Reconstruction ended, whites resumed their once-dominant place. Though its intentions were good, this grand plan could not sustain its lofty goals.

One might say that too much change is a bad thing. When it is rejected wholesale, people wish to return to the way things used to be. The North grew weary of extended occupation, treating the South like a conquered province. And even if it had kept troops in the former Confederacy, resistance would have been especially heavy. The Union was never greeted as liberators by anyone except for former slaves. Only a few years later, Jim Crow became the law of the land for most Southern states.

Jacobin efforts to force the hand of the unwilling opposition may not be a tenable solution. Though many reformers grow weary with the American public, I think we must concede that steadily moving forward is our best approach. The gridlock we have now, however, is the absence of change. Liberals have a laundry-list of programs they would like to see enacted, and the Presidency of Barack Obama has shown that we may only receive a fraction of them. What we will receive in the years to come remains to be seen.