Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pinhead Evangelists

On Tuesday, a group of religious extremists who call themselves Pinpoint Evangelists is going to be at Volunteer State Community College, preaching a gospel of hell and damnation in front of the library.  They claim to have been called to save lost souls who will be cast into the deepest pits of hell if they don't repent.  Who are these lost souls?  These are equal opportunity bigots.  They are targeting Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Jews, single mothers, divorcees, homosexuals, fornicators, drunkards, rape victims...   

Rape victims? Yes.  According to this group, every one of them caused it themselves.  I suppose in their eyes, that includes little children, too.  The victim is always at fault, they say.  Especially if they're female.  Women are to be silent and subservient, especially in church. 

Vol  State has to let them do this because the campus is public property.  They will not be allowed to use bull horns or loudspeakers.  People who witnessed this group's performance at MTSU recently said they were  very noisy.  They probably don't even need a sound system. 

There is great consternation about this at Vol State, especially in light of all the recent gay teen suicides.  It seems outrageous.  It greatly violates the school's diversity policy.  It may be free speech,  but when "free speech" actually puts someone's life in danger, I think a line must be drawn.  Inciting a riot and yelling fire in a a crowded theater are not "free speech." 

At first we were planning to go to VSCC to protest, but as people thought about it, the best course seemed to be to give this group as little attention as possible. Protesting will only focus a spotlight on them which is want they want.  They are looking for attention and giving them what they want is counterproductive.   The plan now is to simply ignore them. 

I was thinking about the obnoxiousness of this group and the Fred Phelps "God Hates Fags" people and it dawned on me that their hate messages are actually self-canceling.  Their extremist ranting is so repugnant to most people that it renders their words impotent.  Their extremism has the opposite effect from what they hope for: it exposes their bigotry for what it is.  People see their own irrational prejudices reflected in the warped fun house mirror these groups provide, and as a result, they leave those prejudices behind. Their evangelism works -- just not the way they hoped it would. 

Photo image: Pinpoint Evangelists

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Twisted History

A high school teacher put a question on a test -- I'm guessing Social Studies -- asking for the name of America's newest political party.  The hint she gave was that it was "left-leaning and closer to the Democrats."  Amazingly, the answer was "the Tea Party."  This caused such consternation that the mother of one of the children posted about it on Facebook.  I commented that the Tea Party convention people who met in Nashville were slightly to the right of Hitler. One woman piped up that "Hitler was a left-leaning Socialist -- hence the NAZI (National Socialist) party -- who galvanized the (dumb) masses against a common enemy.  Sound familiar?"

No, it surely doesn't, since Hitler was so ultra-right that he absolutely defines fascism -- right-wing extremism -- to this day.  I was astounded that the woman could imagine such a thing to be true.  Hitler a socialist?  Did she not know the U.S.and the U.K. allied themselves with Joseph Stalin, the murderous far-left Russian dictator, to fight off Hitler, the murderous fascist dictator?  That the word National, not Socialist, was the operative word in National Socialism, which has no resemblance at all to socialism as we know it?  Hitler was a nationalist, trying to create a "master race" of Germans by getting rid of all those who were not blonde, blue-eyed "Aryans".  Was she unaware of how he rounded up Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, Gypsies, cripples, trade unionists, political dissidents, Social Democrats (that's the actual German socialist party), Communists, the mentally ill,  developmentally disabled people and anyone else he found less than ideal, packed them off to concentration camps and killed about 12 million of them? Two out of every three European Jews perished in the Holocaust.  Something like 1.5 million Gypsies died in the camps. Did she not know that the Catholic Church secretly backed Hitler the right-wing fascist because they were less fearful of him than they were of the left-wing Russian Communists?   

And it dawned on me -- those images they carry on signs at the Tea Party rallies -- images of President Obama in whiteface, made up with a Hitler mustache -- the ones I have never been able to figure out -- whatever source of information this woman was operating on, calling Hitler a "left-leaning socialist" -- is the same idea that informs those hideous posters.  Apparently a whole group has swallowed this twisted take on history.  I was dumbfounded at this realization.  This indicates a degree of deliberate poisoning of the political well that exceeds my most paranoid political fantasies.  And these people truly believe that in opposing Obama, they are fighting against another Hitler!  That they imagine the very centrist Obama is a socialist is equally appalling, but that deserves a blog all its own.  The right has a propaganda machine that works very, very well.   I was able to write off the Rush Limbaughs and Glen Becks as media clowns not to be taken seriously before, but I now have to seriously consider their impact on otherwise reasonable people. 

That people so easily swallow this twisted history also indicates a lack of basic education that is appalling in a democracy, the future of which depends on our being well-educated and able to make informed decisions.  I skimmed through a high school history text one evening when I had gone with Laura to the class she was teaching, a college level class which met in the evening at a high school.  I was amazed at how dumbed-down it was, and how very little information there was in it.  There were only two pages to cover all of Hitler's rise and World War II -- and those were limited in text because of large print and about a third of each page taken up with  illustrations.  Two pages!  No wonder people so easily swallow such lies.  They are clueless about history, through no particular fault of their own. 

If I was not afraid for this country before, I am terrified now. 

Photo credit: the Washington Independent

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fear and Trembling in the Voting Booth

The  mid-term elections scare me this year.  I don't scare easily.  I've been around through Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama.  I've seen 'em come and go, congressmen, political machines, governors, senators, Republicans, Democrats and every other thing imaginable.  If I could live through Reagan, whose election to Governor of California made even my father, a die-hard Republican all his life, register as a Democrat, and who even my friend Glenna, who proudly displayed a framed photo of herself with Richard Nixon, called "the vegetable," (he had Alzheimer's while actually in office...) there is not much too scary for me in politics.  Honey, I lived through the 50s!  It was a hell-time with the country given over to McCarthy and his better dead than red HUAC horror hearings.  People's lives were completely destroyed, and it's a wonder the country survived at all, we were sunk so far into paranoia and fear.  And we have all just survived George W. Bush, surely one of the most stupid men to ever hold the office of the presidency and whose administration not only completely trashed the economy but almost literally succeeded in overthrowing the constitution. You'd think I would take a laissez-faire attitude toward it all, wouldn't you? 

What seriously scares me now is the hard right turn this country is taking into territory we have not entered before.  There is a serious movement to turn our democracy into a theocratic oligarchy.  It's not new; this began a long time ago and has quietly gained strength through something called men's prayer breakfasts and some larger gatherings (Promise Keepers, etc.).  It is based in fundamentalist Christianity, dating back to Jonathan Edwards. This movement has people in high positions in its ranks and not only in this country, but all over the world. The expert on this is Jeff Sharlet, who has written two books I cannot urge you enough to read: The Family, and C-Street.  They will (or should) nearly scare you to death, but you seriously need to read them.

The Tea Party, sometimes referred to as the tea baggers, have taken a prominent role in the current mid-term elections.  The movement seems to  be based on a number of things -- partly spurred by Republican operatives and partly a grass roots movement of mostly older white people who seem at odds with the 21st century.  It has evolved from a group wanting less government into a sort of anti-everything group with all kinds of agendas and with flavors from Ayn Rand to Glenn Beck to the KKK.  It has been described as a religious movement, and it is largely fundamentalist Christian.  It would seem to have many of the same aims as the Family.  And that's where it gets  scary.

By themselves, the Tea Party would self-destruct much as Ross Perot's party did years ago.   A leadership vacuum sucks everybody into the trash bag.  This has not happened so far, though their candidates are often, forgive my language, batshit crazy.  In fact, the craziness keeps them in the headlines and may well do their campaigning for them.  Christine O'Donnell comes up with some new amazing gaffe daily, from her "I'm not a witch" ads to not knowing the First Amendment to the constitution forbid establishment of a state religion, something she seriously wants to do.  Joe Miller in Alaska is equally astonishing, having his goons handcuff a reporter for asking him questions.  There is the woman in Nevada who wants us to trade chickens for medical care...there is Rand Paul embarrassing himself in Kentucky -- one of his volunteers recently stomped on a liberal activist's head at a rally...the list goes on.  While these people give lip service to wanting less government, they are, in fact, showing signs of extreme fascism and seem to actually want a dictatorship.

What they don't want is any regulation on business or banking or oil companies.  They want to make social security the responsibility of the states, which are now so broke they can barely pay their employees, let alone start supporting all their senior citizens!  They want to get rid of medicare, all social safety nets, and make it hard for you to sue any company that might have done you harm.  But they do want the right to legislate your religion and who you can love.

Some of them are going to be elected, and they will be part of a majority.  And that scares me.

Photo credit: Google images

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Gay "Lifestyle"

This is a really bad picture Of Laura and me living the "gay lifestyle."  Does that sound silly enough?  It is.  I hadn't heard that one -- a great favorite of the religious right -- in a long while, until yesterday when someone I know to be open and accepting of us said it: "the gay lifestyle."  Even though I know he does not understand the negative connotations of it -- he used it openly in front of us and I know for a fact he's not a homophobe -- it still shocked me to hear those words.  That phrase makes it sound like all gay people have the same "lifestyle" -- maybe like going out to dance bars and circuit parties all the time and having a lot of indiscriminate sexual encounters.  That's what the fundamentalists hope it will sound like to you.  That is not what our friend meant at all. 

The word "lifestyle" doesn't even vaguely go with the word "gay."  I think of the Jet Set lifestyle, the Bohemian lifestyle, maybe even the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Lifestyle is what one chooses to do, not what one is at the core of their being.  Our friend gets it that it is innate, something inborn that can't be changed.  He even mentioned genetic components, yet he still came out with a stunner like "gay lifestyle."  It jarred me to my very soul -- so much so that here I am still wallowing in it more than 24 hours after the fact.  He said it not once, but several times.  Each time, the words made me flinch, even though I knew he didn't realize they were offensive.     

When I was little, I more or less ignored boys and stuck with the girls at school.  Boys seemed like aliens to me, and about as nonexistent.  I always came in dead last running races, but one day in 1947 -- I was about 9 -- a boy named Tommy sneaked up behind me and tried to kiss me.  My friends said they had never seen me run so fast in my life.  I ran straight to the girls. That should have been a revelation, but I was only 9 years old.  I didn't realize the truth until I was about 13.

It was 1951.  It was against the law to be gay then.  It was considered a mental illness and a perversion, sort of like the conservative Christians, who actually seem to still be living in 1951, see it now.  Very few people were out.  They didn't dare.  You could be locked up and given shock treatments for it!  Another girl had a crush on my best friend.  She was open about it, which shocked me.  People seemed pretty tolerant of the girl, though they called her "Queera" (her name was Kara).  One afternoon, one of Kara's posse stopped us to give my friend a love note from her as we were walking home from school.  My immediate thoughts were "That's really stupid!  You NEVER tell anybody! And anyhow, she's already mine!"  This interior revelation shocked me worse than Kara's openness.  I was stunned and horrified.  I had buried my homosexuality and my attraction to my best friend so deeply that I wasn't even aware of it myself.  Of course I followed my own advice and never told anybody about it.  I pushed it back down so deep that it didn't fully resurface in my consciousness again until the early 1980s, though there were plenty of covert signs it was in there, and I had a big crush on a girl in college.  I read someplace that teenagers normally have homosexual crushes.  I don't really believe that now, but it soothed my fears a little back then.   

My first husband occasionally used to say "I think you might be a lesbian."  He said it gently, quietly, without any negative connotation, just trying to see if I was aware of the possibility.  "Of course not!" I'd tell him.  "I'm married and have children!"  as if that were proof of my heterosexuality.  As if!  All that was proof of was that I was hiding from myself.

Over the years, I had been an active and vocal supporter of gay rights.  I had a lot of gay male friends and had no trouble understanding that they were who they were and had been the same way all their lives and that they were not mentally ill or perverted in the least -- just gay.  I knew, also, that they could not change or be otherwise even if they wanted to.  Somehow, I did not apply that same logic to my own condition.  When it resurfaced unbidden when I was in my mid-thirties, I was horrified again, almost to the point of wanting to hide in the house and never come out again.  I had realized that my feelings for my best female friend were not in the least way platonic.  But I had 5 children and I could not hide myself away.  I had to keep going.  They were also the reason I was so horrified.  What would finding out their mother was queer do to their lives?  They would be teased and bullied at school.  I vowed never to act on it so that they would not have to know. 

After both husbands had died and my kids were in their 30s and 40s and safe from the playground bullies, I finally could not keep it pushed down any longer.  I was 61 years old.  I had tried all my life not to be who I am at the core of my being.  Circumstances arose -- the death of a dear friend -- that made my hiding it seem too dishonest to bear any longer.  I will never forget what it felt like to look at myself in the mirror and say out loud "I am a lesbian."  I burst into tears, not of shame but of joyful self-acceptance.  I can still feel what that felt like.  It gave me a sense of health and wholeness I had never experienced before.  Memories I had suppressed for a lifetime began resurfacing -- things my kids had done and said, things from my own childhood.  For a long, long, time, I had not been able to remember much of my life at all, and it all came flooding happily back. 

Gay for 61 years, and never once acted on it.  I assumed it would continue that way -- who would want me at this age?  I was happily wrong.  My beloved Laura had loved me for years and never said a word.  When she found out I had come out, she emailed me instantly -- "Is it true?" and I answered with a long story.  The truth was, I had a crush on her for years, too.  We have been together more than 10 years now.  Now I know what "and the two shall be as one" means.  When I was married to a man, that was never the case.  And that's the crux of being gay: you cannot bond in a true way, soul to soul, with a mate of the opposite sex, however hard you try.  It simply is not possible.   

So the real "gay lifestyle" is just ordinary people living, learning, raising families, working, loving each other, learning to accept themselves when others won't, living with uncertainty like everybody else.  Living with what God dealt us -- an unusual hand that takes some strategy to "make it work," as one of my very favorite gays, Tim Gunn, says.  And make it work we do. 

Photo credit: Laura's Macbook web cam

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are You Ready For Some Football?

I'm not sure when I became a die-hard football fan.  I have no sports ability and not much interest in participating as a spectator or otherwise.  I had been to a bunch of college games and even a Forty Niners game, which scared the living daylights out of me.  I had never been surrounded with so much testosterone-driven aggression in my life.  Not on the field -- in the stands!  In those days, I didn't understand the game and was probably more interested in watching the cheerleaders.  I think I may have become hooked on it when the Niners were winning Super Bowls on a regular basis.  It would have been un-San Franciscan not to run out into the street and cheer with the neighbors when the Niners won a game, or not to go down to Market Street and cheer them in their post-Super Bowl victory parades!   Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and my all time favorite, Jerry Rice worked their spectacular magic and I have been a fan ever since.  Watching it all on TV where I was not surrounded by scary fans helped! 

I still love my Niners, but when I moved to Nashville ten years ago, I began to be a Titans fan.  This was against my partner Laura's best advice.  She is still annoyed about the stadium being built with taxpayer's money and the owner given all kinds of breaks.  I wasn't here for that part, so I just root for the home team,
unless they are playing the Niners, which can only happen in the pre-season or at the Super Bowl, since the Titans are an AFC team and the Niners are in the NFC. 

Every year, the Titans fans hope they'll make it to the Super Bowl.  Every year, something happens at the last minute to knock them out of the competition.  In the past ten years, I have learned the one consistent thing about the Titans is that they are inconsistent.  Two years ago, with a record of 16 games and no losses, they were knocked out of the competition in the very first game of the playoffs.  Last year, they lost the first six games, won all the rest and still lost in the playoffs.  So far this year, they are 4-2 and in a three way tie for the division championship.  Who knows what they will do?  Their defense is one of the best in the league and their offense is fairly spectacular this year.  They're a young team and they just keep getting better. 

The Titans have a serious rivalry with the Jacksonville Jaguars because one of the Jacksonville players once spit on the Titan's coach's wife.  That created some bad blood that only grows worse as time passes.  Last night, the Titans beat the Jaguars 30-3 on the Jaguars own home field.  The Jacksonville fans looked stunned.  The coach was grim-faced. It was a sweet victory. 

Maybe this year...


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

To NaNo or not to NaNo?

It's the middle of October, and November, National Novel Writing Month,  is rapidly approaching.  My email inbox has daily messages from the NaNoWriMo people.  I have still not finished polishing up last year's novel, and I remember how obsessive I was about getting in so many words a day in a fever pitch of creativity heretofore never experienced.  I may even have been even more impossible to live with than usual. 

Am I really crazy enough to go for it again?  I can't even imagine characters or a plot,  but then at this time last year, I couldn't do that either.  Then the characters began introducing themselves, and the story unfolded and the next thing I knew, it was November 30th and I had written more than 50,000 words and the first draft of The Lucy Redfish was finished.  Even though I have not finished polishing it up or looked into getting it into print, I am proud of that book.  If someone else had written it, I would download that book to my Kindle.   The process of writing it was one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced.  I really felt fully alive and engaged, the way I used to feel when I was young and connecting a paintbrush to a responsive canvas.   

So do I give it another go or not?  Do I fire up the creative juices and have at it again?  I should ask Laura if she is up for my disappearing into the computer for a month again.  Really, writing a novel in a month doesn't take all your time.  You have to get in an average of 1700 words a day.  I actually got ahead on my word count after a very short while. Once you get into the rhythm of it, those 1700 words roll out in a couple of hours and the rest of your time is your own.  Except for the obsession.  Except that your whole mind is wrapped around this process and you find you are even writing in your sleep.  Except that you eat, drink, breathe and live your novel for that entire month.  And who can stop at 1700 words? 

Except for that. 

So I am still sitting on the fence about this one.  I feel a little guilty turning my attention to a new book and leaving Lucy incomplete and abandoned, like a stepchild after the new baby has arrived.  Who knows, if I give her a little sister, maybe I will roll my enthusiasm over to doing the finishing touches on Lucy herself. Or maybe I could do that now and not feel guilty if I start another book.

Then there is the discipline of having to write every day, which is very, very good for me.  

To NaNo or not to NaNo: that is the question.  But NaNoWriMo is so much fun...

photo credit: NaNoWriMo

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Come out, come out, whoever you are!

Forty years ago, on March 10, 1970, my partner Laura kicked down the closet door and has been out ever since.  Monday October 11 is National Coming Out Day.  On Monday, Laura, an English professor, is coming out again, this time to her classes.

Our very dear friend counseled her not to do it, saying it's too risky.  What if you lose your job?  But her school has a diversity policy that would prevent that, and there are other out teachers on campus.  Because of the number of gay teen suicides in the past week alone, she really feels compelled to come out to her students.  Five gay teens committed suicide last week, in the kind of total anguish and despair that only teens can feel -- the hopelessness that nothing will ever get better, that their lives are over because of one event.  They chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  We are all responsible that this happened, every one of us, by our apathy, by our inattention, by our jaded tolerance of intolerance.

I have always believed that if everyone who was gay came out, there would be no more discrimination, because people would finally see we are not the stereotypes, the subjects of jokes, the weirdos and perverts that many straight people think we are.  These are the images that shame gay kids and make them kill themselves, that make other kids think that being gay is bad and empowers them to tease and torment and terrorize, and sometimes even kill.  Being gay is neither bad nor good;  it is simply a condition of existence, like having blue eyes, or skin that freckles instead of tans in the sun.  If we all came out, maybe people would see for once and for all that we are just ordinary people -- their teachers and doctors and grocery clerks and coworkers and coreligionists and favorite entertainers and their family members and maybe even that nice person who smiled at them on the way to work this morning and let them into their lane of traffic.  Maybe they would see that we have long-term loving relationships just as they do, and families and jobs and perfectly ordinary interests just like theirs.  Maybe then they would allow these kids to grow up healthy and proud and whole instead of self-loathing and scared and suicidal. 

So I am very proud of Laura for coming out to her students.  If her doing so saves even one kid, it is worth all the risk our friend fears she is exposing herself to.  It took me 60 years to do what she did with pride 40 years ago.  I know what those kids go through.  I want them to be whole and proud and healthy and have good, productive lives. And live to be very, very old. 

photo credit: Essygie

Friday, October 1, 2010

Health Insurance Outrage

Like the logo?  It is incredibly cynical, considering the reality of United Healthcare's behavior.  

Like too many other American families, though both were employed full time at good jobs, my son and daughter-in-law did not have have health insurance for a long time.  My daughter-in-law changed jobs and with the new employer, at last, came health care coverage.  What a relief!  Though everyone had been amazingly healthy while they were uninsured, it was comforting to know they had coverage if they needed it. 

A few weeks after the coverage with United Healthcare took effect, they noticed a lesion on 4-year-old Emma Alice's scalp and discovered that the lymph nodes on her neck were swollen.  Neither of these things is particularly scary -- there are many reasons for either thing to occur and kids' lymph nodes often swell up for very minor reasons, but they made an appointment with a pediatrician, and it was discovered that Emma had ALL, a common form of childhood leukemia.  I remember that my shock and sadness at the diagnosis was tempered slightly by knowing that at least they now had health insurance and she could get good care! 

Thanks to their good and observant parenting, they actually caught the leukemia so early that her original blood work was completely normal.  The ALL was at the very earliest stage, and she immediately began an aggressive treatment regimen at the wonderful Children's Hospital of Orange County in southern California.  After two weeks, her lab work showed that the leukemia was already in remission.  Her prognosis is excellent.  Seven months later, she is now completing the last intensive phase of her chemotherapy and will soon go on maintenance.  She has been a trouper through it all: lost hair, painfully bad reaction to a chemo drug, having to sit out kindergarten with a home tutor, times in isolation at home when her blood counts were very low, and all the other discomforts and indignities of being a kid with a serious illness.  None of this should ever happen to any kid, let alone a 4-year-old warrior princess. 

Today, my son and daughter-in-law got the news that United Healthcare, their insurance company, has decided not only NOT to cover Emma Alice's medical bills prior to the day federal law prevents them doing this,  but to demand the doctors and hospital return the fees they have already been paid!!!  They say Emma is being treated for a "preexisting condition."  I guess they think "preexisting" means having begun before Emma originally saw the pediatrician.  Doesn't every illness begin before we seek treatment for it?  By that definition, they could refuse to pay for any and all medical services. You would have to be clairvoyant and go to a doctor for an illness you might get in the future, before you had any symptoms at all.

United Heathcare is the villain in this case.  The company itself is a big, soulless entity, but the employees who carry out its policies are presumably humans with beating hearts.  I wonder what kind of bonus the pencil pusher who made this decision got for cutting off coverage for the care for a now 5-year-old leukemia patient?  I hope it was worth it.  I also hope his or her child never gets leukemia -- especially if their insurance is with United Healthcare.

Judge Judy always says that people better be careful because the bad stuff they do is going to come back and seriously bite them or someone near and dear to them in the butt.  There is the law of three in witchcraft that states whatever you do to others will return to you times three.  I wish I believed in these maxims, but I'm afraid it's just wishful thinking.  The bad guys nearly always get away with it, and make out like the bandits they are. 

What I would really like is for people to bombard United Healthcare with phone calls and emails and letters protesting what they have done to Emma Alice Marchesi and her mother and father and her brother Nate.  It is, I think, a criminal act, what they have done.  It may be marginally legal in whatever slimy universe they inhabit, but it is morally incomprehensible and evil beyond belief.  I also wish the media would pick it up and investigate this, not only for Emma, but for the thousands of other little girls and boys who have had their insurance cut off for similarly crooked  reasons.  I started to say unfathomable reasons, but it seems perfectly clear that the reason is the enrichment of the executives and shareholders of United Healthcare. 

I really, really hope Judge Judy is right.

Contact information: 
Web site:
(note-- it is nearly impossible to contact them through this website, so far as I can see)

United Healthcare Corporate Headquarters 
5901 Lincoln Dr 
Minneapolis, MN 55436 

United Healthcare Customer Service
California - Customer Service
Toll Free Phone: 800-357-0978

photo credit: Google images

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Son of Remembrance of Zaniness Past, part B, Episcopal version

Sometime in the mid-1970s, Bishop of California C. Kilmer Myers had to go to New York on business.  He instructed his staff that nothing in his office was to be changed while he was gone, which they agreed to...but with tongue in cheek.  They knew that the phone system was due to be replaced while he was away, and that all the locks in Cathedral House where the bishop's office was located were going to be changed.  They smiled to themselves and did not tell their boss about these things.

They had a plan to pull a really good joke on the bishop, and it was my good fortune to get to be in on it.

My best friend, Alice Sea, an elegant, gracious woman then about 80 years old, had a special relationship with Bishop Myers.  He had given her the Bishop's Cross, an award for outstanding service. They genuinely enjoyed each other's company.  Both Alice and the bishop were fond of the Franciscans, who had opened a friary in San Francisco at his request.  In fact, the bishop's chaplain was Br. John George, who was up to his neck in the plot.

The plan was to have Alice take over the bishop's office in his absence and "depose" him.  On the night he was due to return from New York, we arrived at the Cathedral and saw that the staff had taped a sign that read "Bishop Sea" over the bishop's parking place.  The entire office had been turned backwards -- all the furniture moved to the place opposite where he had left it.  On the door of his office was a letter of instruction saying his office had been moved to the cathedral basement and would now be located in the men's room.

Having the new keys, we went into the office, and Alice, wearing a long purple flowered dress,  proceeded to remove his family photos and replace them with hers.  She then sprayed the room with her cologne, sat down and put her feet up on his desk.  I was at her side, dressed in an alb and holding a crozier, acting as her chaplain.  Our parish priest, not at all sure this was really OK, was hiding behind the drapes.  The priest's housemate, a church musician, was seated out at the secretary's desk, waiting.

John George picked the bishop up at the airport, and when they arrived at Cathedral House, he took the luggage upstairs and suggested the bishop go into his office to check the mail.  When the bishop tried his key on the office door, it didn't work, since the locks had been changed.  He then saw the note about his office being moved and began to feel seriously confused.  About that time, John George came down and opened the door with his new key.  There sat not his own secretary Binnie, but a smiling young man who said, "Oh, hello, Mr. Myers.  Would you like to see the bishop?"

About that time, he really thought he had lost it.  What we didn't know was that he was having problems with the diocese and seriously thought he might have been removed while he was away!  When John George opened the door to his office and he saw Alice at the desk, he laughed so hard, our priest knew it was OK to come out from behind the drapes.  Bishop Myers walked over to "Bishop Sea" and kissed her ring.

The following summer, at the annual Adult Conference at the Bishop's Ranch in Healdsburg, Alice was holding sway one evening in her long purple dress, wearing a paper miter and announcing herself as the first lady bishop, when in marched Kilmer Meyers in full Episcopal regalia, complete with real Chaplain in real vestments, and deposed her on the spot.  We hadn't even known he was there, and it was a total hoot.  At the end of the evening, he presented Alice with a real white silk miter. 

What fun to have been able to take part in that silly plot.  We adored Bishop Myers or we would never have had the chutzpah to do such a thing.  "Bishop Sea" outlived Bishop Myers by many years.  He passed away in 1981 at only 65.  She died at age 99.  I will never forget either of them.  They were both very dear to me and remain among my heroes.

Photo: Google images

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Remembrance of Zaniness Past

 Some silly thing I saw on TV the other day awakened a long-buried memory of a moment of truly inspired silliness.

Back in the day, we were amazingly poor.  A jazz musician in those days did not make much money.  They were exploited by club owners, underpaid, not aware of what they were worth and often scorned by the Union when they went there seeking work.  We couldn't afford to go anywhere, so we took walks.  Living in San Francisco, any place we walked was probably written up in a tourist guide.  At the time, we were living in a Victorian four-plex on Octavia Street in Hayes Valley, a stone's throw from City Hall, the Modern Art Museum and the Opera House.  Behind City Hall was a park with a long reflecting pool, some well-manicured trees and long stretches of lawn.  At the end of this and across the street was the main branch of the Public Library.  It was a nice walk at any time, but this particular evening was especially tasty. 

It was one of those amazing warm San Francisco Indian Sumner evenings.  It was the magical hour just before dusk.  Bob and I took our usual route up the street toward City Hall.  It was not until we approached the Opera House that we realized it was opening night!  The limos were lined up and the opera-goers were arriving in all their glittering finery, each trying to out-do the other.  While some actually were there for the opera, many were there because it was an annual ritual --a de rigeur fashion throw-down of epic proportions, one of the High Holy Days of San Francisco Society.  The absurd contrast to our own circumstances struck us as hysterically funny, and by some  divinely naughty inspiration, we both spontaneously began dancing and burst into song. 

"Who wants to be a millionaire?"
"I don't!"

We sang at the top of our voices, a duet from the Frank Sinatra-Grace Kelley film, High Society.  We continued singing, dancing and laughing the entire length of the opera house, onward across Van Ness Avenue and down the side of City Hall, then the length of the park and pool, dancing sometimes on the sidewalk, sometimes up on the rim of the pool as we went.

As we approached the end of the park, a deep male voice announced firmly, "Stop!  Don't come any closer!"

We stopped dead in our tracks, wide-eyed and startled, then fell onto the grass laughing so hard we could barely breathe.  We had both simultaneously recognized the source of that stern command: a man, parked at the end of the park, had set a small TV set on the hood of his car and was watching it through the windshield.  It was a voice from the TV that had told us to stop.

That is one of the  mental video clips of my life I will always cherish.  I am really delighted to have experienced it.  I can't remember ever spontaneously bursting into song and dance again, but I highly recommend it. 

*** Here is the original duet with Celeste Holm and Frank Sinatra instead of Bob and MaryAnn  Marchesi...

Photo:  Google images.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Last night I started to watch David Letterman.  He came out in his impeccably tailored suit and jarring white socks and announced it was Dave Pride week.  He then began his routine, announcing that the NY Gay Pride parade was this weekend. "Because nothing says pride like a 40-year-old fat guy in chiffon," he sneered. 

Click! That was the last time David Letterman's show will be seen in this house.   A man well known for having sex with his staff while his wife and child wait at home had reduced a hundred years of progress in gay rights issues to the old stereotype of an aging queen in a dress.  I felt as if I had been punched in the gut.  Every time someone reduces us to a tired old joke, we are diminished in ways a straight person probably could not understand.   It dehumanizes us.  It feeds the latent homophobe in everybody and keeps us in our place as freaks and weirdos.  Every time this happens, it moves the human rights clock a few hours back in time. 

A very small percentage of gay people are cross dressers -- probably no greater than the percentage of straight men who like to dress up in their wives' underwear.  Probably no greater percentage of gay people are leather queens than straight people are, yet that's what gets spotlighted by the media at Pride every year.  Never mind the rest of us who work and pray and raise families and look like anybody else you've ever known. 

But Gay Pride began with drag queens!  On June 28, 1969, the police began to raid the Stonewall Inn, a New York gay bar.  For years, gay people had accepted as a given that this would happen as a fact of life, but this was one of those "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" moments.  Instead of passively climbing into the paddy wagons, those glorious queens decided to fight back, and thus began the famous Stonewall Riots and the gay rights movement was born.  And those queens won!  Bless their aging chiffon-clad out of shape bodies, they held their own and brought those routine police raids to an end.

I was so deep in the closet in those days, nobody knew who was in there.   Even I wasn't always sure, but what happened at Stonewall made a huge difference in my life and these days I am nowhere near a closet.  I am a whole human being, for the most part.  Thanks to those chiffon-clad guys at Stonewall, I don't have horrifying anxiety attacks anymore when I felt like I was suffocating and my heart was bursting out of my chest.

So Dave, you're right: nothing does say pride like a 40-year-old fat guy in chiffon.  If not for that guy and his buddies we would not have marriage equality in several states and a lot more acceptance and rights than we ever dreamed possible before Stonewall.  And it's getting better every day. 

That's a lot to be proud of.

photo credit: Google pics

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Pork Store Mystery

All these years, about 50 of them altogether, I have pondered a strange fact of our family's life.  Aunt Hennie's Pork Store.  This picture is not their store, but looks very similar.  I don't remember them having so many sausages hanging, but the counter is almost identical.  It was in a market space on Market Street in San Francisco.  I can't remember if it was in the old Crystal Palace complex or just near it, but it was similar to that arrangement of food merchants' spaces in a shared building. Every day, rain or shine, Aunt Hennie and Uncle Charlie went to work in their store.  They sold the best pork, catered to local restaurants and hotels, and as far as I know, did very well for themselves.  Hennie used to bring us beautiful center cut loin roasts, so perfect they could have been an illustration in a cookbook.  They knew their pork.  But it left me shaking my head.

The thing that puzzles me to this day is that Hennie also kept kosher and never ate a single bite of pork in her life.  What was an Orthodox Jewish couple doing running a pork store?

No one ever explained it, or even questioned it.  it simply was. 

Her kosher kitchen daunted me.  I could never pull it off.  It was like having two kitchens in one.  She was fastidious about it, and yet, off she went to her pork store every day.  This sounds like fiction, I know, but it is absolutely true.

During the war (that's WWII, guys), Hennie and Charlie took in two Jewish children whose lives were in danger from the Nazis in their native Europe.  They had no children, and these two were raised as their own.  The boy grew up to be a rabbi.

Hennie had a fragile heart, and one day, when she was still relatively young, she had a heart attack.  She did not recover from it.  Today, they probably could have saved her, but that was in the mid 1960s, and Hennie slipped away.  We were all heartbroken.  The world had lost someone very loving and generous and dear.  We attended her services at the funeral home and went to the graveyard with her.  We wore black ribbons, which the rabbi snipped to show we had rent our garments.  We were careful to wash our hands outdoors before re-entering our homes. 

A year later, we went back to the graveyard for her unveiling.  We were gathered around the cloth-draped gravestone waiting for their adopted son the rabbi to return with Uncle Charlie for the services.  When he returned, he was stricken and alone.  He had found Charlie in the basement of his home, hanged.  Charlie could not face life without his beloved Hennie.  Unveiling her gravestone put the final period on her life and he could not face it.

The next day we were back at the graveyard for Charlie, who was denied services because he was a suicide.  But his adopted son the rabbi came to his rescue and did what Charlie needed.  He said that Charlie had not committed suicide; he had really died of love. 

I have no idea what ever became of the pork store.  I hadn't thought of it for years, though I often think of Hennie and Charlie. May their memory be for a blessing. 

Yit-gadal v'yit-kadash sh'may raba b'alma dee-v'ra che-ru-tay, ve'yam-lich mal-chutay b'chai-yay-chon uv'yo-may-chon uv-cha-yay d'chol beit Yisrael, ba-agala u'vitze-man ka-riv, ve'imru amen.
Y'hay sh'may raba me'varach le-alam uleh-almay alma-ya.
Yit-barach v'yish-tabach, v'yit-pa-ar v'yit-romam v'yit-nasay, v'yit-hadar v'yit-aleh v'yit-halal sh'may d'koo-d'shah, b'rich hoo. layla (ool-ayla)* meen kol beer-chata v'she-rata, toosh-b'chata v'nay-ch'mata, da-a meran b'alma, ve'imru amen.
Y'hay sh'lama raba meen sh'maya v'cha-yim aleynu v'al kol Yisrael, ve'imru amen.
O'seh shalom beem-romav, hoo ya'ah-seh shalom aleynu v'al kol Yisrael, ve'imru amen.

Photo credit: Google photos  Pork Store in Brooklyn, NY

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I was listening to a White House spokesperson being interviewed about how they really feel about Karzai and the Afghan situation.   Do we really believe him to be an ally?  The spokesperson used a number of diplomatic weasel words, one of which I had never heard before.  He said the situation in Afghanistan was "contiguous." 

So I Googled it, and could only find it in context of statements about Quantum physics.  At first I had trouble making any sense of the definitions, but it gradually dawned on me they were talking about multiple realities.  He was telling the interviewer that there is more than one reality in Afghanistan, and that made a great deal of sense to me.  Contiguous was exactly the right word.  English is like that -- it has a precise word for nearly every situation.  (If not, we just rip off the nearest foreign one that fits.) 

I understand multiple realities.  I'm a Libra.  We tend to see all sides of everything at the same time.  There is virtually no situation that is not contiguous to a Libra.  This makes decision-making a nightmare, but I have no problem understanding that light can simultaneously be a particle and a wave.  I have no problem seeing that there are many realities in Afghanistan.  I do wish it were possible to just pick one and stick to it, but that's not how it works. 

I think the failure to understand that the situation in the U.S. is also contiguous may be at the heart of much of the nearly violent political upheaval we are experiencing.  We are a huge country with many points of view and many realities.  When we try to force our views as the only reality on others whose views may be very different from our own, we run into a mess.  We are not a melting pot, we are an multicultural tossed salad.  We have textures and colors and flavors from all over the map, and that's what makes us great.  It also livens up the dinner plate. 

Now if we could just accept and embrace the broad variety of realities that this country represents, maybe people would all get along and we would finally have shalom bayit in this big, unruly, contiguous family.  Please? 

photo credit: Google

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shabbat, the Day of Unplugging

There was a recent article suggesting a "day of unplugging" based more or less on the Jewish practice of Shabbat.  The non-Jewish people who read it probably missed this part, not being familiar with the practice, and consequently took it to mean disengaging from the cell phone and from electronic communication in general -- an almost reactionary response to the proliferation of wired contemporary life.

OK, *goyim.  Here's the deal.. We do Shabbat.  Not as a one day rebellion against the cell phone and the computer, but as a lifestyle.  

My first experience of Shabbat was as a young wife.  We were visiting our parents in Santa Cruz and my musician husband happened to pick up an unexpected Saturday night gig at a local club.  He had a white shirt with him, but it was wrinkled and he needed to iron it. I say he needed to iron it.  No one who has seen my work has ever allowed me near a shirt with an iron a second time.  For this, I am grateful.  Meanwhile, since my mother was a professional seamstress and consequently would not have needles or pins or an ironing board in the house, we went across town to his mother's house to iron the shirt.

She was sitting in her chair with a copy of Reader's Digest when we arrived, and when Bob suggested he needed his shirt ironed, she smiled and said, "NO.  It's Shabbat."  How could he have forgotten?   Were we not just there the night before for Friday dinner?  But I was new to the idea of Shabbat itself.  I thought Friday night supper and light the candles, go to temple, and on with our lives.  It seemed she did not lift a finger on Shabbat, regardless of dire emergency.  They finally worked out he could do it himself, out of her presence, so long as she was not involved in it in any way.  So he did.  I was astonished at her steadfastness.  If you think about it, not doing any work at all is really, really hard.  For a Jewish mother NOT to do something for her own son is really amazing.  Clara Marchesi was an amazing woman. 

There's always something that needs attention -- something falls on the floor, the dishes pile up, empty soda cans collect, just a little bit of laundry to do... sorry.  None of the above can be addressed until three stars are visible in the night sky.   Doing dishes is plowing.  What if, when you let the water out, some leaks out of a pipe and accidently gets into the soil and moistens a sleeping seed and a plant grows as a result?  You see?  Plowing.  Get over yourself.  The dishes can wait.  Clara, an otherwise fastidious woman, could turn her back on all of it on Shabbat without mussing a hair.  That was just stunning to me. 

That was 50 years ago. In our present day of electronic living, Shabbat is even more difficult.  It isn't hard at all to avoid running out to the Mall or the supermarket, or doing the ironing, but there is so much online commerce that it's not that hard to forget yourself and open up to see if that book is as good as they say or take a look at this yarn or that computer, or just take a quick look your bank balance or pay that bill...  so Shabbat unplugging is not such a bad idea.   

But again, by looking at the surface we're missing the point of the exercise.  So we can't do a lot of stuff -- we are unpplugged at some levels -- on Shabbat, but what can we do?  Shabbat vayenafash.  (This literally means we become ensouled (nefesh).)  On Shabbat we are rested and refreshed.  We can read, take naps, do things that bring pleasure, like making love, eating good food, having pleasant conversations.  When we light those candles on Friday, twently minutes before sunset, we can actually feel the Sabbath Bride enter.  I swear, it's a tangible thing.  You can feel the Presence enter your home and settle in around you as a welcome guest.  She's there!  The Shekinah just comes right in the front door and makes Herself right at home.   Gives you a hug in greeting.  Visits for a little bit.  Bring out the best ever homemade Challah.  She deserves only the best.  Make that two loaves!  Wouldn't want her to think we're cheap! 

She brings with her a deep peace, Shabbat Shalom.  On Saturday night, 25 hours after it all began, we say Havdallah, lighting the many wicks of the braided candle, passing around the container of spice to remember the sweet scent of Shabbat, sharing the cup of wine, and then, with reluctance and determination, extinguishing the candle in its dregs.  You can feel her leave as profoundly as you felt her arrive.  Someone with real presence has gone out of the room.  There is a tangible emptiness. 

She'll be back! 

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam

asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu

l'had'lik ner shel Shabbat. (Amein)

  * n.b. -- meant to be affectionate, not offensive.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pants on Fire

In 1992, a couple of years after we retired to the Oregon Coast from San Francisco, this litle bit of politics popped up and hit me right in the solar plexus.  It felt like being kicked by a mule.  These things always do: 

“ All governments in Oregon may not use their monies or properties to promote, encourage or facilitate homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism. All levels of government, including public education systems, must assist in setting a standard for Oregon's youth which recognizes that these behaviors are abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and they are to be discouraged and avoided. ”

There was only one thing to do -- get involved in seeing that the thing failed at the ballot box. What a panorama of accusation. Is homosexuality really the equivalent of pedophilia? Are any of these things equivalents? Does having a gay teacher or hiring a gay worker in your office or renting an apartment to a gay tenant really "facilitate homosexuality?" Basically, it outlawed anything that would allow a gay person to survive. This was a nightmare of a ballot measure.

Then they sent in the troops.  Little old ladies with blued hair and sweet smiles, who spewed forth filth and misinformation with shocking disregard for either truth or profanity.  I heard one woman inform the crowd from a Methodist pulpit that since gays can't reproduce, they must recruit, and they are after your children.  She said they rarely live to be more than 30 because of all the sexually transmitted diseases they get since each one has more than1000 sexual partners over a lifetime.  She also went into detail about what they all did in the privacy of their boudoirs, which included things I would never have even imagined.  It took a pretty good (and filthy) imagination to come up with all that stuff, and probably a lot of porn to help it along.  Just stunning!  They had pamphlets with all of it in print so we could take it home and ponder the horrors of such a "lifestyle choice." 

As if.  After this event, a great many bumper stickers showed up around town that read "One recruit short of a toaster oven."   She left out the part about gay people having a great sense of humor in the face of adversity. 

We defeated the stupid thing by something like 630,000 to 430,000.  That was very heartening.  That 430,000 people fell for those heinous lies is a little scary.  The rural areas voteds for it and the urban areas voted against. 

The chief method they used to push this was lies to instill fear, loathing and hatred.  They did probably manage to work people up to the point where some guy came up from California and murdered two lesbian real estate agents simply for existing.  He thought they were monsters.   I have a different opinion about who the monster was.

Now I see these same tactics being used again, but this time the fear, loathing and hatred are directed toward our elected government, and specifically at our president.  It is also directed again the passage of a health care bill which, though not anywhere near good enough, is a lot better than anything we have now.  I don't think it's really health care they're after.  They want anything and everything this government attemps to fail.  It's Rush Limbaugh's strategy, and they are following it with vigor and malice.  It's appalling to me, but it's the same old poison-the-well tactics that extremists seem to prefer. 

The appalling racial and anti-gay name-calling and spitting behavior of the so-called tea baggers during their rally last week reminds me very much of the behavior of Lon Maybon and the other carpetbaggers who came up to Oregon from southern California to push their agenda of hate back in 1992.  He was eventually exposed for what he was and lost his near-cult following.  I can only hope the current batch comes to the same inevitable end.  Lies don't hold up very well in the bright daylight of reality.

photo credit: Google

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Discovering the Path

A friend of mine is exploring his spirituality and opening himself to finding his own path, free of dogma and definition.  This is leading him to explore a wide variety of religious expression and ideas as well as what he has learned in his own journey over the years.  He is searching for an authentic expression that fits his own soul and not something prescribed by someone else with other experiences and needs.  He is wisely not only looking into different traditions, he is using dreaming to explore this. 

Discovering that you have to forge your own path is awesome. Somewhere in the formation materials that I created years ago for The Third Order, Society of St. Francis, I wrote that there are as many paths to God as there are people.  Now, 25 years later, I would say there are many, many more. It's like solving for pi -- you can go on working on it for a lifetime and never finish or repeat the same sequence twice. I believe those paths are infinite. There is not only not just one way; we can't even conceive of the limitless possibilities. The unique possibilities of finding God are as multitudinous as the aspects of God's existence.  And יהוה, the unpronounceable Hebrew name of God, is a form of the Hebrew verb "to be" -- it actually translates as "existence."  God is existence itself! 

And your path changes all the time.  As you grow and progress along your way, more unfolds for you and your possibilities broaden.  There is a limitless spectrum, like many parallel worlds unfolding before you.  God is present in all of it.  There is nowhere you can go where God is not.   By God, I'm not talking about some old guy with a long white beard, wearing a nightgown, perched on a cloud.  I'm talking about the numinous, the holy other, the more-than, that permeates all that is.  I can't define it or describe it better than that.  What I call God is too huge to shrink to fit my comprehension, or yours, though people attempt that all the time.   People point to "scripture" to justify this, but scripture is not God.  It is stories we have written to try to explain the incomprehensible to each other -- to lessen our fear of the storm and the earthquake, to give ourselves a false sense of security in a very insecure world.  If we adhere to these magic formulae, the bad thing won't happen.  If we go to the right church, wear the right head-covering, believe the right thing, do or forbid the right things, eat or avoid the right foods, we will not be cast into the depths of whatever passes as hell for us.  Those are very child-like ways of approaching spirituality.  (I define spirituality as our ways of looking at God.)  They probably will not hold up under much scrutiny, and they will not bring us any closer to God.  In fact, many times people use them to avoid encountering God altogether. 

A lifelong friend of mine is a Tibetan Buddhist.  He writes brilliantly about it and shares his writing with me via Google docs.  We met while waiting to go to confession in a very high church Episcopal parish in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco about 40 years ago.   Now I'm a Jew and he's a Buddhist.  The things he teaches about Buddhism are mostly no less true of Judaism.  While I know I do not understand the deep intricacies of it as he does, the broader themes resonate with me and translate to my own experiences over the years.  There are some basic themes that run through all religious expression and experience. 

I watched a short segment on CNN today with Christiane Amanpour interviewing Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, who is also an Anglican priest.  They were speaking about the Truth and Reconciliation councils that Tutu headed in South Africa.  They said coming to peace after apartheid was a matter of listening to and accepting one another's stories.  "You don't have to accept that my story is right," she said.  "Only that it is right for me."  How profound that is.  How much peace in the world, and in our personal and spiritual lives, there would be if only we accepted that as a guide.

Photo Credit: mrsaxon's photostream on Flickr

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Things That Should Never Happen

Emma Alice loves princess outfits and parties.  Here she is with a flower painted on her cheek -- gilding the lily -- at a friend's birthday.  Emma is four.  Something has befallen Emma that no four-year-old should ever have to experience.  She has just been diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. 

Emma is our next-to-youngest grandchild and she is very precious.  She has left an imprint on my heart that I can call up any time -- the feel of her solid little body on my lap and my arms around her.  I am conjuring that up now and holding her in my arms for all I'm worth, tethering her to this world and the family and life.  I am doing it in my sleep and while I am awake.  Oh, Emma, how we all love you and want you whole! 

And Emma is a fighter.  Someone called her a warrior goddess, and she is.  She is tough as nails in that four-year-old's body and is fighting this like a tiger.  Her beautiful mother calls her Chuck Norris because of the way she is responding.  She did not cry during horribly painful things like bone marrow draws or spinal taps, but only once because she missed her brother Nate so much.  Now she gets to see him and they can play together in the hospital playroom.  It's a very good hospital, created especially for children, and they understand what a four-year-old needs. 

The worst of this is that nobody four years old should ever have to go through the medical stuff Emma is going through.  It's hard to imagine an adult going through it, let alone a child.  Her mother and father love each other very much and cherish their children and share in their parenting beautifully.  Their situation is strong and stable and eminently functional and they are united in this completely.  Even so, it is going to be rough on everybody -- most of all Emma. 

Some would say they will be "challenged," as if some supernatural force is playing with their lives.  That's just wrong.  They are in a difficult situation, but God is not challenging them to see if they're up to it.  Some would ask why this has happened.  There is no reason.  It's random.  Some genetic bit mutated and Emma's bone marrow started producing too many white cells too quickly and some of them are immature and messing up her immune system.  No one knows why that happens -- could be a virus, something in the air, a random accident of nature.  Nobody knows for sure, and nobody pissed off God to provoke it.   It just happened.

Though God did not cause this, God is very much present in her care: not as an intervening puppet-master, but as the stuff of life itself.  God is in all the interstitial spaces between the atoms and quarks of our existence.  God is in the energy of our breathing and our healing.  When we pray for Emma, we focus that God-energy on her and and on her family, adding some of ours to their own, and we hold them up and help her overcome this monster that has come out from the dakrness under the bed and attacked her.  That's how I believe it works. 

The princess Emma, warrior goddess, will prevail..  Of this, I am sure. 

May the One who blessed our fathers,
May the One who blessed our mothers
Hear our prayer, hear our prayer
And bless us as well.
--Mi Sheberach, a Jewish prayer for healing

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Toyota's Goose is Cooked

For years, car buyers in the U.S. worshipped Toyota.  It was hyped as the most reliable, most trustworthy, safest, requiring the least maintenance, happiest car around.  The Consumer's magazines rated it through the roof.  Miles of column inches of hyperbole praised Toyota's high technology and standards and the absolute trustworthiness of the Japanese manafacturers.  It was almost an article of religion that they were beyond reproach when it came to integrity.  If they failed, legend had it, they would lose face and be forced to eviscerate themselves, so they adhered to a strict policy of high ethics. 

Because we largely believed that line, Americans bought Toyotas when Fords or Chevys might have actually been better -- to the point that we almost put the American car-makers out of business.  Some of them did go under.  So what if the Japanese models were more expensive?  So what if we were putting our own people out of work?  It was a matter of integrity.  We trusted the Japanese cars.  We believed Detroit made drek.  We bought accordingly. 

I read the reviews when I finally learned to drive at age 44.  I needed a reliable car, and Toyota seemed to be the best and safest bet.  I checked the consumer's journals for the best reviewed car and found the exact model and year they said would have the fewest problems of any car ever made.  A Toyota, of course.  In two years, it was totally rusted out and ready for the scrap heap.  It got decent gas mileage, but the electrical problems they told me would never happen happened all the time.  It was a disaster.  Went straight to a Ford and never looked back.  I would never buy a Toyota again if it meant having to ride a bicycle.

Toyota's ticket to ride in the U.S. was its impeccable reputation.  Maybe there was a reason for it at one time, though I am skeptical, given my experience in the early1980s.  Now that the nasty underbelly has been revealed, with Toyota's attempt to cover up a massive and dangerous design failure by blaming it on floor mats, that impeccable reputation is tarnished beyond repair.  Who will ever believe the hype again? 

Once we've seen the wizard, Oz no longer glistens in our eyes.  There's no place like home, and Detroit is looking very homey, these disillusioned days.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

T'ain't funny, McGee!

I used to love listening to Fibber McGee and Molly on the radio.  Fibber sometimes make bad jokes and Molly would tell him, "T'ain't funny, McGee."   I loved Molly. 

I got a joke from a friend yesterday which involved racism, gay-bashing, violence and race baiting.  This came from a man I suspect has not a racist nor a homophobic bone in him, yet he was passing this really repugnant thing along as a good joke he had really enjoyed.  It was really stunning to realize that he had no clue whatsoever that there was anything wrong with it.

After all, he said, we laugh at Road Runner cartoons, and they are as violent as it gets.  He also argued that he could have substituted any ethnicity for what was described as a "huge black man" in the joke.  "If it had been a big lazy white hillbilly would it have been OK?" he asked. 

Stunning.  He was missing the point on so many levels. 

Gay jokes are always popping up, and people don't seem to realize that it hurts when you tell them to gay people.  A comedian I saw on Logo expressed how it feels really well -- he said something like "Oh, right! I forgot -- I'm a joke. Thanks for reminding me."  They don't seem to realize that reducing someone to joke status seriously diminishes their personhood, not to mention self-esteem and general confidence.

It hurts when you tell gay jokes to straight people, too --it reinforces stereotypes in people's minds, and promotes the marginalization of those who are different.  It helps people justify prejudice, which in turn further alienates gay people.  It may even feed into gay-bashing in a more violent way.  The joke my friend sent could really do that, as the gay man in it is beaten to a pulp in a bar parking lot as part of the joke.  Imagine that my friend didn't realize there was anything wrong with that!  What part of Matthew Shepherd's death was funny? 

When you make fun of someone for who they born or who they are at the core of their being, it isn't funny, it's just wrong. 

I'm Jewish, and there are a lot of good Jewish jokes that emphasize the strong points of Jewishness.  They are ethnic, but not negative, like this one:
A Jew drove at 100 mph so a policeman stopped him. The officer asked him "Excuse me but where's the fire?"

So the Jew answered "I'm hurrying to smuggle drugs and kalachnikovs."

The policeman ordered backup quickly. When more squad cars arrived the vehicle was inspected and they found neither drugs nor kalachnikovs.

The comander was furious at the officer for such a false alarm, went to the Jewish driver and apologized. The Jew replied "Yeah, and I suppose he also said I was going 100 mph."
Jokes like this don't belittle or objectify.  The Jew in the joke is clever.  It's when we start portraying Jews as cheap or Polish people (or blondes!) as dumb and Irishmen as drunks that we are in trouble.  The phrase "huge black man" in my friend's joke was meant to conjure up a lazy drunk.  I missed that completely, since I don't even vaguely have a stereotype in my mind that would match that. 

Before you pass a joke along, think about what it really says and what kind of message it carries.  You could even save a life. 

photo credit: mousetracksonline

Friday, January 22, 2010

Flying while Jewish

A plane was recently diverted because a flight atttendant became frightened when a young Jewish man -- a 17-year-old kid, really -- began to lay Tefillin, to put on these probably odd-looking leather boxes with long straps, in order to say his prayers.  The flight attendant was convinced he was a dangerous bomber.   I suppose Tefillin, sometimes known as phylacteries, do look strange to someone who has not come across them before.  Those little leather boxes which contain the Shemah, the most sacred prayer in Judaism, could be thought of as very dangerous, I suppose.  Anything directly involving God is bound to be powerful, if not dangerous, in some way. 

Use of them stems from this prayer, a part of the Shema, in which we are instructed to bind the commandments as a sign upon our arms and let them be ornaments between our eyes, and this is just what the young man was doing. 

"V’ahavta et YHWH…” “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all
your soul, and with all your resources. And these matters which I command you today
shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children and you shall
speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and
when you arise. Bind them as a sign upon your arm and let them be ornaments between
your eyes. And write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.”
Reform Jews generally don't use Tefillin (but some certainly do); the more orthodox among us use them.  Women don't generally use them (but some certainly do!).  They have a very loose parallel in the Catholic use of a rosary, though the rosary is more a matter of personal style than something Catholics feel commanded by God to do, I think.  Male Orthodox Jews feel comanded to use these when they pray.   That kid on the plane was probably scared of flying and needed to pray, and this is how he prayed, with Tefillin. 

The plane was diverted.  He was taken off the plane and questioned by the FBI.  Of course they let him go and he continued on the flight and eventually got where he was going,.  All this because a flight attendant had such limited experience of the world that she failed to recognize someone else's prayer style.  Shouldn't there be a course, in these dangerous flying times, that enlightens the people who serve on flights to prayer  and cultural differences of others?  That would surely prevent such a huge and insulting waste of FBI time and passenger inconvenience. 

OK, so the flight attendant was possibly an ignorant dolt.  Was there no one on the plane who recognized what they were, who could have said something to enlighten the frightened flight attendant?  Wouldn't you think?  Next time, if you're on a flight and this happens, you'll know.  Say something to the stewardess.  Somebody ought to.  Maybe there ought to be a sensitivity training course given in all the churches to enlighten members of the majority religion about the rest of us.  Hello?  We're out here, and don't do things the same way you do, but that doesn't make us mad bombers. 

Here's a link to a good take on it from Jewcy:

Photo Credit:  Bachsphotostream on Flickr

Monday, January 18, 2010

Plate Techtonics, Magical Thinking and Pat Robertson

Yesterday one of my Facebook friends posted an interesting pop-psychology article on Magical Thinking from Psychology Today.  It meshed neatly with another article I had recently read on the religion of Haiti and how pentecostalism had grown as a result of multiple natural disasters there and the feeling that God was punishing the people for their "sinfulness."  That's an excellent example of Magical Thinking. 

The recent 7.0 earthquake in Haiti has brought this to an apparent fever pitch, with hundreds of people parading in the streets singing and praying.  It is reminiscent to me of the Dark Ages in Europe when the bubonic plague pandemic hit and people behaved similarly.  Rather than a rat-flea bourne bacterial disease, they imagined it was God's punishment for whatever they felt they were doing to displease God.   Pat Robertson proclaimed the Haitian earthquake was God's punishment for Haiti's "pact with the Devil" -- a fanciful twist on the slave revolt which successfully overthrew the French occupation in 1803.  An imaginary pact with an imaginary personification of evil.  Makes perfect sense, huh?  Especially since the people in question were practicing Voudoun, an African pagan expression of religion, and "Satan" is a Christian idea not present in any pagan faith.

But the earthquake was not caused by God's wrath against some of the poorest people on the face of the earth,  it was caused by plate techtonics.

There was originally just one land mass on the earth -- Pangea -- which split apart and spread around the earth to form the continents.  The parts -- plates -- of that original land mass are still moving.  Nothing is static on earth or in life.  The jarring movement of the edges of these plates against or over each other is what causes earthquakes. 

Haiti lies on the northern edge of the Caribbean plate, which is a complex oceanic plate that is denser and acts more like a continental plate.  In fact, Haiti -- or Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and Santo Domingo, was created when the edge of the plate was thrust up.  The 7.0 earthquake was caused by slippage with the North American plate.  

That's not to say God doesn't have plenty of reason to be pissed at us -- can you imagine how God feels about Pat Robertson's tiresome bearing of false witness against his neighbors day in and day out?  And he seems so happy to see others suffering!  It's a wonder he doesn't get a magnitude 9.8 all to himself.  There's some magical thinking I can get behind. 

Further reading: