Sunday, September 30, 2012

Infinitely diverse star-stuff

I am an incurable follower of science fiction. I find great inspiration and great hope in science fiction, and I find much of my personal faith reinforced by science-fact and science-fiction.

One example of this is when I hear the opening of the TV series Star Trek speaking of "Space...the final frontier....", and I hear both Scripture and music echoed in my mind.  First, I hear Psalm 19:1:  "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of God's hands." Then I am carried back to a church-choir performance of "The Heavens Are Telling" from Hayden's oratorio "The Creation" (here performed by the King's College Singers of Cambridge). Each, in their own way, speaks to me of the grandeur, the beauty and majesty of creation.

Another concept that I have stolen and incorporated into my faith journey is that of the IDIC - the Vulcan concept of "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations" also first introduced in Star Trek. I saw this image come to life in my faith experience very early on - trusting that the same Creative Spirit that brought us the massive face of Mount Everest also brought us the microscopic beauty of snowflakes and crystalline lattices; and that the immense, lumbering mass of whales and the unbelievable grace and speed of the hummingbirds feeding outside our kitchen window were both the product of the same Creator.

The Catholic priests and nuns of my early childhood told me what the Genesis stories said about creation. But my first real concepts of the infinity of creation came not from religious folks, but from a French oceanographer while watching  The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, as well as the visions of space which came from coverage of the early Mercury and Gemini spaceflights. 

So when Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry's 1966 science-fiction classic, showed us a starship filled with people of every land and race, both on Earth and  alien worlds, I could see on that black-and-white screen the truth of Psalm 133:1 - "How good and pleasant it is when brothers (and even sisters!) live together in unity."

But listening to Matthew Gallion's sermon today on the fecundity and fertility of God, I was struck not only by how amazingly filled-with-life Creation is, but how the stunning fertility and diversity of life is built out of the same simple ingredients. Ninety-nine percent of living matter is made of six elements. Throw in another dozen elements, and you have 99.99 percent of our solar system! Only twenty amino acids, dancing in infinite strands of RNA and DNA, decide whether we are going to become humans or hummingbirds or whales. Out of a very small pantry, Creation has served us an infinite banquet.

As I listened to Matthew this morning, it brought me this last sci-fi metaphor, from the TV series Babylon 5.  This series is the story of a space-station, home to dozens of space-faring races who come together in a kind of interstellar United Nations. In one scene, the Earth-born commander of the station, John Sheridan, talks with a member of another race, Delenn of Mimbar, about the deaths of several members of the station's team.  In the ensuing discussion, Delenn makes the declaration that "The universe knows what it is doing."  Sheridan replies, "I wish I had your faith in the universe. I just don't see it sometimes. "

Delenn continues, "Then I will tell you a great secret, Captain. Perhaps the greatest of all time. The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up this station, and the nebula outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are 'star stuff.' We are the universe, made manifest - trying to figure itself out."

In these few words, once again, I hear the Creator reaching out just as Humanity reaches out, and a Divine truth is re-revealed to me through the power of what-is and what-might-be. Matthew's words were working for me in "the thin places" -  not between "the sacred and the profane," but between the reality which I can see and the Reality of which I can only dream.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What I wish I'd written about Chik-Fil-A

I have been responding to a variety of people about the whole Chik-Fil-A drama. And then, via my GCN friend Peterson Toscano, comes a post from their friend's blog which really kind of ties it all together.  This fellow says it so much better than I could, so I'll give you his link, and then paste in his post here. 

For the record: no, I won't un-friend people who treat me (and My Guy) well, even if they still eat at That Restaurant. No, I really am unimpressed with same-sex couples who go to That Restaurant and kiss/make out - it only scares the straight folk who are already scared of us. But yes, this is a bigger deal than you may think.
Comments from flamers, and especially people who want to point me to Those Seven Bible Passages, will be deleted. I understand if someone reading this despises (a) my opinions, (b) my sexuality or (c) anything else. That's OK. I just don't have to tolerate it here. That free-speech thing goes for me/us, too.
The words that follow in italics are not mine, but I wish they were, and I affirm them, and thank God for his clarity.

This post is all I have to say about the Chick-Fil-A controversy. It sums up various posts on the issue and various points made by my friends and I. From now own, rather than spend time debating this issue person by person, I’m going to point people here.

My hope here is to find common ground with those who have disagreed with me on the issue, and maybe to persuade. It’s not to ridicule or to best.

So, in the interest of common ground, let’s start here:  I acknowledge the absurdity of all this debate.

It’s definitely strange to have days-long Facebook debates flare up everywhere over a chicken sandwich. The anger, sarcasm, and hurt feelings on display seem strange or even laughable because most people have seen Chick-Fil-A as just a restaurant with a funny ad campaign. I’ll get into some of the whys and wherefores of that later. But, for now, let’s just say that, yes. It can seem ridiculous to get all worked up over fast-food chicken.

Let’s also agree that this isn’t about curtailing anyone’s rights under First Amendment. The Constitution is a legal document. This is not a legal argument. No one is arguing that Chik-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy should be put in prison, or silenced, or censored by the government. This has nothing to do with government censorship or government abridgment of Freedom of Speech. So don’t worry: the ability of this millionaire to legally spend his millions as he sees fit is not in jeopardy. You need not defend it.

Now, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of things. Please read carefully. These things have been said before, but not by me, and not all in one place. Please read with an open mind. If you can’t read with an open mind, please leave, take a minute, come back, and try again. If you can’t do that, then please don’t bother. Please read all of the words here, rather than just reading half of the argument and assuming you know what I’m saying. Read these words as they are written. Again, if you don’t want to read my words, then don’t continue.

So here goes:

1. This isn’t simply about marriage. Shocker, right? It’s extremely frustrating that same-sex marriage is the great continental divide. People are judged according to how they stand on this issue, as if no other issue matters. Did you know that a person can be for same-sex marriage and still be homophobic? Did you know that a person can be against same-sex marriage and be gay? We all get categorized very quickly based on the marriage issue and maybe that’s not fair. But here’s what you should know:
- In 29 states in America today, my partner of 18 years, Cody, or I could be fired for being gay. Period. No questions asked. One of those states is Louisiana, our home state. We live in self-imposed exile from beloved homeland, family, and friends, in part, because of this legal restriction on our ability to live our lives together.
- In 75 countries in the world, being gay is illegal. In many, the penalty is life in prison. These are countries we can’t openly visit. In 9 countries, being gay is punishable by death. In many others, violence against gays is tacitly accepted by the authorities. These are countries where we would be killed. Killed.
- Two organizations that work very hard to maintain this status quo and roll back any protections that we may have are the Family Research Council and the Marriage & Family Foundation. For example, the Family Research council leadership has officially stated that same-gender-loving behavior should be criminalized in this country. They draw their pay, in part, from the donations of companies like Chick-Fil-A. Both groups have also done “missionary” work abroad that served to strengthen and promote criminalization of same-sex relations.
- Chick-Fil-A has given roughly $5M to these organizations to support their work.
- Chick-Fil-A’s money comes from the profits they make when you purchase their products.
2. This isn’t about mutual tolerance because there’s nothing mutual about it. If we agree to disagree on this issue, you walk away a full member of this society and I don’t. There is no “live and let live” on this issue because Dan Cathy is spending millions to very specifically NOT let me live. I’m not trying to do that to him.

Asking for “mutual tolerance” on this like running up to a bully beating a kid to death on the playground and scolding them both for not getting along. I’m not trying to dissolve Mr. Cathy’s marriage or make his sex illegal. I’m not trying to make him a second-class citizen, or get him killed. He’s doing that to me, folks; I’m just fighting back.

All your life, you’re told to stand up to bullies, but when WE do it, we’re told WE are the ones being intolerant? Well, okay. Yes. I refuse to tolerate getting my ass kicked. “Guilty as charged.”

But what are you guilty of? When you see a bully beating up a smaller kid and you don’t take a side, then you ARE taking a side. You’re siding with the bully. And when you cheer him on, you’re revealing something about your own character that really is a shame.

3. This isn’t about Jesus. I have a lot of Christian friends. Most of them are of the liberal variety, it’s true, but even this concept seems lost on some of you. Most of them are pro-LGBT rights. Pro-gay and Pro-Christ are NOT mutually exclusive. They never have been, in the history of Christianity, though it’s been difficult at times. It’s not impossible to be both.

If someone is telling you it is, then maybe you should wonder why they’d do that. I see divorced Christians, remarried Christians, drug addict Christians. I see people with WWJD bracelets bumping and grinding on TV and raking in millions to do it. I see greedy, rapacious, vengeful people who are Christians. And these people are accepted in the Church, and the Church does very little to combat them. Sometimes it seems like being gay is the ONLY thing certain modern Christian movements won’t allow. Why’s that, I wonder?

Jesus had almost nothing to say about sexual behavior of any kind. He was too busy teaching more important things. Empathy is at the heart of his teachings. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Remember that? It’s in red. So let’s examine that:

4. If things were reversed, I’d stand up for you.

Please think about this: How would you feel if KFC came out tomorrow and said they were spending money against equality for Asian Americans, or African Americans, or religious people? Really. Think about it. What would you do? How would you feel? How would you feel if, after their announcement, there was a big increase in KFC sales and I was all over Facebook supporting KFC. 

Please stop reading right now and imagine this. I’m serious.

You can stop now because it’s ludicrous. It would never happen.

Oh, I don’t mean the part about KFC being against some group. That COULD happen. I mean the part about me supporting them. Let me tell you something, and you can damn well believe it: I’d sign on for the boycott IMMEDIATELY.

Why? Well, because I believe in equality for all people, that’s why. But also, personally, from the bottom of my heart: because you are my friend, and I don’t willingly support people who harm you for just being you. How could I? How could I, really? But, more importantly for our purposes, how could you?

Seriously, how could you? What has Chick-Fil-A ever done for you? Sold you some fatty chicken at a ridiculous mark-up? Made you chuckle at semi-literate cartoon cows? You mean more to me than KFC possibly could. If I, in turn, don’t mean more to you than a chicken sandwich from Chik-Fil-A–if my life, my quality of life, and my dignity are such afterthoughts to you that you’d not only refuse the boycott, but go out of your way to support someone who was hurting me? if I let this stand, if I don’t stand up to the bullies and if I let my friends egg the bullies on, what does that make me?

Well, it makes me a Chikin.

Yeah, so suddenly it is cause for anger, ridiculous or not.

But I’m not going to stop being Facebook friends with anyone over this issue.

Instead, I will remain. And, when you see my face with my partner’s in my profile, maybe you will examine not simply what your opinions are about gay people, or gay marriage, or the first amendment, even; maybe you’ll  examine not merely your opinions but your values. What is friendship to you? What is loyalty? How important are human life and dignity to you? Are they more important than fitting in with your social group? Are they more important than loyalty to a corporate brand, or a political party, or some misguided church teaching?

That’s why we’re so angry. This is personal for us. There are times in your life when you have the opportunity to stand up for your friends. When you let that opportunity pass, your friends notice. It doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, but it diminishes you, and it diminishes the friendship. That’s how it is, no matter what the issue or what the venue.

So stand up. Stand up for us. Do the right thing. You don’t have to agree with us on everything, but repudiate Chick-Fil-A. Unlike them on Facebook. Withdraw your support for them. Join us in the boycott. If you can’t do that, then please ask yourself whether I’m your friend. In fact, ask yourself whether anyone is.

This is all I have to say. If you’d like to debate the issue further, I’ll do it, but I’m not going to go around and around on the same points. If you’re just going to repeat yourself, save us both some time. If you haven’t taken the time to actually read this carefully and actually consider carefully what I’ve said, then I see no reason to waste further words.

The ball is in your court. Again, I urge you to do the right thing.

- Wayne Self
Twitter: @owldolatrous

Follow-up: Just to bring it all home: right now - today - my partner could be fired from his job simply for being gay, here in Missouri. And we could, very easily, be evicted from our rented duplex simply because we are gay. Not "they're gay and they're noisy, or messy, or attract illegal behavior." We could be evicted, as good, quiet, peaceful, rent-paid-on-time tenants, just for being homosexual in Missouri. No justification needed; no appeal allowed. 

It's not just about same-sex marriage.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The real issue: "married" versus "family"

On Sunday, my friend Ted sent me a link to this article titled "The Catholic Church and Gay Marriage," by Father Timothy Radcliffe OP.

Ted, a former Catholic monk, retired University employee and a full-time thinker, philosopher and metaphysician, has been a dear friend of mine for four decades - through marriage and divorce, rich and poor, tragedy and triumph. He has also known me before and after I came out as gay - and both my partner Chris and I count him as a very good friend.

But he likes to make me think...hence the link. (And it worked, as you can see, Ted...)

I have to admit that, as a statement of Catholic belief, the tone of the article is generally gentle and conciliatory. Father Radcliffe clearly says of his profession about gay marriage, "This is not to denigrate committed love of people of the same sex. This too should be cherished and supported, which is why church leaders are slowly coming to support same sex civil unions." I appreciate that - if only because it's rarely said by Catholics publicly. And so for this reason alone, I celebrate Fr. Radcliffe's writing.

But the article contains a well-known theme that always guarantees to annoy me:  "Marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility." While I appreciate Fr. Radcliffe's tone in his writing, I have to admit that this particular argument really offends my sense of fairness.

Fr. Radcliffe professes, essentially, that God created man and woman in order to make babies. This is why Catholics seem to believe, to be crude, that we were made with "tab-A" and "slot-B" in the Grand Design Of The Universe: because "the purpose of marriage is fertility."  (This is, as I understand it, a variation on the reason why the Church opposes birth-control; birth-control interferes with the supposed "natural order" of Creation's procreation and fertility, and is therefore an unnatural and un-doctrinal selection.)

If you accept this premise, then I admit that the rest of the argument is easy. By definition, gay couples aren't fertile, of and by themselves. And since fertility is the professed root of marriage, gay marriage is therefore logically and doctrinally impossible. It's like the square root of (-1): null, empty, nothingness. A ridiculous concept.

Using their logic, I can see how this would make sense.

However, I can't let this pass without pointing out the gaping hole in this argument in practice. The Church Universal insists that marriage is about "potential fertility;" yet it still allows, endorses, and encourages marriage of people who are patently infertile (or at the very least, desiring to remain childless).

There are men and women who do not want to be parents; men and women past child-bearing years; men and women who are medically infertile - and despite all the emphasis on marriage being founded in fertility, loads of these folks are married in the Catholic Church every single day.

So there's something wrong here. Either fertility is the Church's key rule and guide for marriage, or it's not. As Mark 5:37 says, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." Anything less is hypocrisy - something else of which Jesus didn't think much. As a twist on the old saw goes, if the sauce is good for the goose, it should be good for the gander as well. (Or two ganders, for that matter.)

Now, to be fair: it may well be that the Church may actually give more scrutiny to the union of infertile couples than it might to those who are eager and able to expand the flock. I have no experience or testimony on this topic. That scrutiny, or the lack thereof, is only between the Church and those who choose to be part of that community; I actually have no argument with them on what they choose to do amongst themselves.

However, I do have a problem when the weight of the Catholic pulpit and the resources of every Catholic organization are brought in force into the political landscape to affect those outside their community. The well-documented push by Catholic agencies, priests and their hierarchy against California's Proposition 8 clearly demonstrates that the Church desires to influence and direct much more than just Her own flock. And many gay men and women find this to be unacceptable, Father Radcliffe.

Here's where I land in this great debate. In the tradition of Martin Luther, if I had a hammer, I would nail this treatise to the door of my local Catholic Church, and every church I happened to pass by.

Dear Catholic Church and followers universal:

Keep your religious marriage.

I want no part of it. I, a gay man, do not wish to sully the perceived holiness of your practice with our base and unacceptable involvement. As such, I desire neither your criticism nor your evaluation of the loving bond between my life-partner and myself.

The treatment of "marriage" as a sacrament of the Catholic Church seems to imply that when Her priests say certain words, hold their hands above a couple in just a certain manner, and lead a congregation in certain prayers and scriptural readings, these actions somehow change the relationship between those two persons and their God. The relationship is perceived as sanctified in some special way as a result of these actions and ceremonies.

However, in my belief and practice (as my former seminary worship professor Mark Bangert was fond of saying), "There is no 'zapping' involved" - which is to say that I perceive no fundamental change in the relationship itself as a result of the ritual and practice. I do not perceive any magic that occurs in the marriage ceremony that poofs those-being-married into a heightened state of holiness (no pun intended).

What occurs in religious marriage, I believe, is the acknowledgement and celebration of the relationship in the presence of a loving, caring and accepting God, and the acceptance of that relationship as a committed entity by both the community of faith and the greater community. (I am not saying that my belief should be anyone elses religious doctrine or dogma. This is mine alone.)

Because of this (and many other) differences in belief, I fled the confines of the Roman Catholic community decades ago. In our congregation of the Disciples of Christ, I already have a faith community which would happily perform a ceremony which would affirm and celebrate the loving, caring, committed, monogamous relationship my partner and I enjoy. So we do not need your "marriage," and I am more than happy to leave "marriage" as a religious sacrament to the confines of religious folks.

(Those gay and lesbian folk who are within your religious communities, sadly, have their own much more difficult choices to make.)

Neither Chris nor I could possibly care less about "gay weddings." We have no desire for elaborate ceremonies, ecstasies of floral arrangements, preponderance of tuxedos or taffeta or elegantly-plated canapes or thousand-dollar salmon plates with bits of gold-leaf adorning them. For those who try to justify "gay marriage" based on the economic benefit of the orgy of consumerism that such ceremonies would provide, my thoughts devolve to something just above Gag me with a spoon.  The last things this world needs are programs like Gay Groomzillas or Gay Wedding Disasters airing five nights a week on The Lifetime Network. Spare me. Spare us all, please.

So keep your marriage. I want nothing to do with it.

Here's what I do want, however.

I want a family.

I do not desire to be seen by God-as-I-misunderstand-God, my church, my friends, and my legal/cultural community as just two anchor-less individuals who happen to share the same address, let alone the same bed. I want the relationship I have with my partner to be perceived as a union of individuals of the same sex, which is treated by the law and the community identically to those headed by individuals of opposite sexes.

And here's why.
Because no matter what you, or The Church, or The Law, or The Supposedly-Decent Folk Of This Supposedly God-Loving Community about us may think or say.... Chris is my family. He is heart of my heart, and spirit of my spirit. Period. Paragraph.
Your book of Ruth, chapter one, describes our relationship, Father Radcliffe: But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me." (Ruth 1:16-17, NIV)
(As an aside...please don't try to imply that these words are spoken in The Book of Holy Writ by two "friends" about their "friendship," either. These words were happily quoted during traditional wedding ceremonies for decades, until someone finally noticed the supposedly-disturbing status of their matching genders. We all know what was being written about, here...)

When I have a life-threatening illness, I want my partner to be able to make life decisions for me - not waiting helplessly until a decision arrives from one of my supposedly "real family" members in Ohio. I want him in the emergency-room or critical-care-unit with me, just like Ted's wife would be if he were hospitalized. I do not want him sitting in the waiting room while I suffer alone, because in the eyes of the law and the health-care industry he does not qualify as family.

When Chris and I go to a lawyer to draw up wills, I do not want to have to go through all kinds of extra effort to ensure that we can actually be executors of each others' estate. I do not want to have arguments between my sisters and Chris, or between Chris' parents and blood family and I, over who really deserves to make those kinds of decisions. I don't want to have to jump through hoops to ensure or prove that we are each others' family-by-choice, and not some kind of second-class pseudo-relationship.

I want Chris to be able to be covered by my employers' group health and life insurance. I want him to be able to benefit from our status as committed partners in the same way that traditional married folk do - with tax benefits, survivor benefits, estate law. The 70-year-old man who marries the 72-year-old woman both get these things automatically, despite the fact that it is a very rare Abraham and Sarah who give birth to an Isaac at those ages.

Chris and I do not desire children; neither one of us have ever had that "tug" or desire. But for those of our friends who do desire children, we would like them to be perceived as a family looking to adopt those children, and giving those children the right to be part of a complete and legitimate family unit. And we would like the force of law to support this - not just in the few situations where one might find a quiet corner with one or two quietly-supportive judges to make this possible on a case-by-case basis.

Sadly, Chris and I moved from Illinois to Missouri in April of 2011 - three months before Illinois enacted civil partnerships that would guarantee these civil rights to us. Now that we are residents of Missouri, Chris and I (as committed, faithful and believing followers of Christ) look forward to the day of His return - for it seems that only then (about four hours after Jesus comes back) that any kind of civil partnership will ever have any chance of being enacted in our fair state.

Keep your "religious sacrament of marriage," O most powerful and pervasive Church. Your ritual and ceremonies cannot add a jot or a tittle to our relationship - for it has already been blessed in public and private by God, our family and friends. What I seek is civil rights and equal treatment under the law, which is separate and worlds apart from the religious sacrament of marriage. (The whole topic of "civil union versus civil marriage" and the separate-but-equal legal issues involved will have to be another topic entirely.)

Please, please, please, O brothers and sisters in Christ: just step aside, and let us be a family. For in the end, that's what we really want. It's really what we already are. We'd just like the courts, the lawyers, the hospitals, the doctors, and the banks to know it too, and act upon it accordingly.

As another former Catholic supposedly said, "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."

Your brother in Christ,
Steve Flower