Thursday, August 19, 2010

To get them thinking...

Out front weeding the other day with Willie the blessing daschund supervising; one of my neighbours stopped to chat on his way home . The first time we’d ever really talked; he’s in his early thirties and until that day it’s been little more than a cordial but rushed 'Bonjour' or 'Salut'. This happens with a lot of the people on our charmed little street when we're working in the front garden.

As my grandfather would have said, my neighbour's a tall drink of water, with thick 60’s sideburns down either side & a pencil-thin line of dark hair bracketing each side of his chin. Definitely a slightly homely original. When not dressed retro, he’s usually in what I've probably assumed were ‘medical whites-’ perhaps on staff at one of the medical facilities or seniors’ residences within easy distance of our little street. Turns out however he’s a kitchen aid at one of those same facilities, and his irregular hours account for his mid-afternoon return home. Six-a.m. ‘till three p.m. means he’s usually leaving home just before five-thirty in the morning.

It’s when we were speaking of his working hours that the conversation got really interesting. Talking about how his schedule can complicate relationships- out of sync with family, friends or a partner. And here it’s important to remember we were speaking in French where words have a qualifying gender association. Specifically, I’d referred to ‘ton partenaire- elle ou lui devrais...’ ‘your partner, he or she must..’.

In his very next sentence- without making an issue of it- he made it clear the partner was she- 'ma blonde' the girlfriend- and the ease of the clarification as much as anything was a reflection of the very civil reality of living in a country where gender is not a qualifying consideratin for marriage; where the rights of my LGBT tribe has been fully protected under the Canadian Human Rights Charter for decades (Merci encore Pierre Trudeau), and where gay men and women serve with full human dignity in our armed forces. We went on to speak of other things...

He’d already stepped away, and I was back on my knees just about to resume weeding when he hesitated and turned back. 'Est ce que je peut tu demander un question?’ Can I ask you something?

Mais oui..

'Did you really think I might be gay?' Not the slightest hint of anything but amused curiosity in his voice.

I couldn’t help it- I chuckled, and went on to explain that for me referring to the possibility of his partner being of either gender was a courtesy more than speculation about his gender. How, after living as an out gay may for more than a couple decades now, I’ve learned to never under-estimate the wondrous diversity of my LGBT tribe. And besides which, it got him thinking didn’t it?

It took him a moment, but he also laughed. 'You’re right... Growing up, one of my best friends was gay, and he works in construction now. A contractor with his own company. ‘Mais, j’ai jamais pensé que quel q’un pourrais me tromper pour un gaie..’ But I never thought...

Another chuckle, and he headed off for a quick nap and then to prepare supper for his ‘girlfriend’ who doesn’t get home until shortly before six.

And then last evening, a call from F and his partner who live in a state with none of the protection or rights offered to LGBT Canadians. F is in his early eighties. He, and M, his spouse of more than thirty years are both retired academics and apparently the other day heading out to do the groceries, F was stopped in the parking lot by one of his neighbours.

‘All this stuff, going on in California, about gay marriage... If it were possible, would the two of you, at your age even bother?’ Probably nothing more than idle curiosity on her part, F assured me, but I didn’t miss a beat- in reassuring her of course we would. 'The whole nine yards-' he told me, 'you know how M and I love to dress up.'

Apparently, just over a year ago, when invited to attended the black tie wedding of M’s niece ‘up north,’ the two of them had given a lot of thought to rental or purchase of new tuxedos. They’d ended up buying- ‘just in case it ever becomes possible’ F explained.

‘A civil marriage- sure- for the longer overdue legal rights and protections- to help create a new statistical reality...'

'Been married for twenty-eight years,’ F told his neighbour, ‘in the eyes of God at least- which is the only party who really matters.’

F & M were married by an Episcopal priest- a convert himself, he was also responsible for both mens’ encounter with the Episcopal Church- their baptism & confirmation. F & M are also godfathers to one of that priest’s grandsons. Now that's what I call the radical welcome of real mission!

‘You know what really gets me though-’ F told me with a hint of frustration, ‘when they insist on calling it same-sex marriage, as if our bits and pieces are the most important thing about us. ’

M was on their second phone and shared how he still loves confusing folks when he refers to F as his husband. ‘Of course, in the right company, I might also call him my wife...’ he chortled.

Things really got wild when I shared with both men the slight linguistic shift I resorted to several times recently. 'Gender-discordant couples-' and even that’s a little more reactive than I generally like to be. It doesn’t exactly disarm the prejudice and assumption of certain gender-discondantly-inclined individuals to try to impose their definitions what’s normal and acceptable in the eyes of God- but at least sometimes it gets folks thinking- or rethinking, and that’s got to be some sort of progress.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Prophetic Voices

Still early here, when I write this, but already the day has been nailed down in a larger awareness of our sacred vocation by three living prophets speaking truth to... our wounded, larger world.

First Mark+ Harris, a priest who- from all that I know of the dear man- is a living blessing of impecable integrity, prophetic courage and a wondrous gift to our Church. Mark is writing of 'Mission' specifically, but it sounded to me as one of the clearest expressions of our vocation to meet the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of our daily lives to live and labour- to dance towards becoming the healing, transformative- prophetic Church we are called to be. Mark writes:

Mission is on some important level a natural outgrowth of the Incarnation. If God is present in the world in Jesus, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and if Jesus was just as we are (yet without sin) then in some way, even in the sin and various small deaths in our lives we ought to be able to find God present, Jesus present, in all we meet. Finding God in new places and living with Jesus Christ present in the stranger is mission... being sent out to see where God is now.

Once we have seen Jesus, God present with us, we are doomed to going out and seeing the face of Jesus in those we meet and come to know. And, in that context - the context of knowing and meeting and caring - the Good News is realized. The Good News is that God has already been there and love those people, and therefore we too can go there and love them, and somehow in the mutuality of that encounter, God's saving Grace is realized.

And while we're still within the sacred process of the Church God is calling us all to be, I'd draw your attention to another post by blessed Elizabeth+ Kaeton at The challenging days Elizabeth and her spouse, the blessed Ms. Conroy are living through together has large, prophetic resonances for the vocation and future of our Church. Elizabeth is yet another living blessing and radiant gift to our Church and a deeply cherished friend. I'd not only refer you to this morning's post but would suggest you keep in touch with Elizabeth's blog in the weeks ahead.

The third prophetic voice is equally powerful and challenging. It's Chris Hedges- a man with whom I may often disagree over his read on details or degree, but whose intelligence, spiritual huger and humanity I greatly respect. I refer you to Chris' latest post 'The Tears of Gaza'

The Tears of Gaza Must Be Our Tears
Posted on Aug 9, 2010
By Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges made these remarks Thursday night in New York City at a fundraiser for sponsoring a U.S. boat to break the blockade of Gaza. More information can be found at

When I lived in Jerusalem I had a friend who confided in me that as a college student in the United States she attended events like these, wrote up reports and submitted them to the Israel consulate for money. It would be naive to assume this Israeli practice has ended. So, I want first tonight to address that person, or those persons, who may have come to this event for the purpose of reporting on it to the Israeli government.

I would like to remind them that it is they who hide in darkness. It is we who stand in the light. It is they who deceive. It is we who openly proclaim our compassion and demand justice for those who suffer in Gaza. We are not afraid to name our names. We are not afraid to name our beliefs. And we know something you perhaps sense with a kind of dread. As Martin Luther King said, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, and that arc is descending with a righteous fury that is thundering down upon the Israeli government.

You may have the bulldozers, planes and helicopters that smash houses to rubble, the commandos who descend from ropes on ships and kill unarmed civilians on the high seas as well as in Gaza, the vast power of the state behind you. We have only our hands and our hearts and our voices. But note this. Note this well. It is you who are afraid of us. We are not afraid of you. We will keep working and praying, keep protesting and denouncing, keep pushing up against your navy and your army, with nothing but our bodies, until we prove that the force of morality and justice is greater than hate and violence. And then, when there is freedom in Gaza, we will forgive ... you. We will ask you to break bread with us. We will bless your children even if you did not find it in your heart to bless the children of those you occupied. And maybe it is this forgiveness, maybe it is the final, insurmountable power of love, which unsettles you the most.

And so tonight, a night when some seek to name names and others seek to hide names, let me do some naming. Let me call things by their proper names. Let me cut through the jargon, the euphemisms we use to mask human suffering and war crimes. “Closures” mean heavily armed soldiers who ring Palestinian ghettos, deny those trapped inside food or basic amenities—including toys, razors, chocolate, fishing rods and musical instruments—and carry out a brutal policy of collective punishment, which is a crime under international law. “Disputed land” means land stolen from the Palestinians. “Clashes” mean, almost always, the killing or wounding of unarmed Palestinians, including children. “Jewish neighborhoods in the West Bank” mean fortress-like compounds that serve as military outposts in the campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. “Targeted assassinations” mean extrajudicial murder. “Air strikes on militant bomb-making posts” mean the dropping of huge iron fragmentation bombs from fighter jets on densely crowded neighborhoods that always leaves scores of dead and wounded, whose only contact with a bomb was the one manufactured in the United States and given to the Israeli Air Force as part of our complicity in the occupation. “The peace process” means the cynical, one-way route to the crushing of the Palestinians as a people.

These are some names. There are others. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish in the late afternoon of Jan. 16, 2009, had a pair of Israeli tank shells rip through a bedroom in his Gaza apartment, killing three of his daughters—Bessan, Mayar and Aya—along with a niece, Noor.

“I have the right to feel angry,” says Abuelaish. “But I ask, ‘Is this the right way?’ So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate.”

“Whom to hate?” asks the 55-year-old gynecologist, who was born a Palestinian refugee and raised in poverty. “My Israeli friends? My Israeli colleagues? The Israeli babies I have delivered?”

The Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali wrote this in his poem “Revenge”:

At times ... I wish

I could meet in a duel

the man who killed my father

and razed our home,

expelling me


a narrow country.

And if he killed me,

I’d rest at last,

and if I were ready—

I would take my revenge!


But if it came to light,

when my rival appeared,

that he had a mother

waiting for him,

or a father who’d put

his right hand over

the heart’s place in his chest

whenever his son was late

even by just a quarter-hour

for a meeting they’d set—

then I would not kill him,

even if I could.


Likewise ... I

would not murder him

if it were soon made clear

that he had a brother or sisters

who loved him and constantly longed to see him.

Or if he had a wife to greet him

and children who

couldn’t bear his absence

and whom his gifts would thrill.

Or if he had

friends or companions,

neighbors he knew

or allies from prison

or a hospital room,

or classmates from his school …

asking about him

and sending him regards.


But if he turned

out to be on his own—

cut off like a branch from a tree—

without a mother or father,

with neither a brother nor sister,

wifeless, without a child,

and without kin or neighbors or friends,

colleagues or companions,

then I’d add not a thing to his pain

within that aloneness—

not the torment of death,

and not the sorrow of passing away.

Instead I’d be content

to ignore him when I passed him by

on the street—as I

convinced myself

that paying him no attention

in itself was a kind of revenge.

And if these words are what it means to be a Muslim, and I believe it does, name me too a Muslim, a follower of the prophet, peace be upon him.

The boat to Gaza will be named “The Audacity of Hope.” But these are not Barack Obama’s words. These are the words of my friend the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. They are borrowed words. And Jerry Wright is not afraid to speak the truth, not afraid to tell us to stop confusing God with America. “We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands [killed] in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye,” Rev. Wright said. “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”

Or the words of Edward Said:

Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship.

For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life it is the internalization of such habits. Personally I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual.

And some of the last words of Rachel Corrie to her parents:

I’m witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore. I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my coworkers. But I also want this to stop. Disbelief and horror is what I feel. Disappointment. I am disappointed that this is the base reality of our world and that we, in fact, participate in it. This is not at all what I asked for when I came into this world. This is not at all what the people here asked for when they came into this world. This is not the world you and Dad wanted me to come into when you decided to have me. This is not what I meant when I looked at Capital Lake and said: “This is the wide world and I’m coming to it.” I did not mean that I was coming into a world where I could live a comfortable life and possibly, with no effort at all, exist in complete unawareness of my participation in genocide. More big explosions somewhere in the distance outside. When I come back from Palestine, I probably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty for not being here, but I can channel that into more work. Coming here is one of the better things I’ve ever done. So when I sound crazy, or if the Israeli military should break with their racist tendency not to injure white people, please pin the reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largely responsible.

And if this is what it means to be a Christian, and I believe it does, to speak in the voice of Jeremiah Wright, Edward Said or Rachel Corrie, to remember and take upon us the pain and injustice of others, then name me a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.

And what of the long line of Jewish prophets that run from Jeremiah, Isaiah and Amos to Hannah Arendt, who reminded the world when the state of Israel was founded that the injustice meted out to the Jews could not be rectified by an injustice meted out to the Palestinians, what of our own prophets, Noam Chomsky or Norman Finkelstein, outcasts like all prophets, what of Uri Avnery or the Israeli poet Aharon Shabtai, who writes in his poem “Rypin,” the Polish town his father escaped from during the Holocaust, these words:

These creatures in helmets and khakis,

I say to myself, aren’t Jews,

In the truest sense of the word. A Jew

Doesn’t dress himself up with weapons like jewelry,

Doesn’t believe in the barrel of a gun aimed at a target,

But in the thumb of the child who was shot at—

In the house through which he comes and goes,

Not in the charge that blows it apart.

The coarse soul and iron first

He scorns by nature.

He lifts his eyes not to the officer, or the soldier

With his finger on the trigger—but to justice,

And he cries out for compassion.

Therefore, he won’t steal land from its people

And will not starve them in camps.

The voice calling for expulsion

Is heard from the hoarse throat of the oppressor—

A sure sign that the Jew has entered a foreign country

And, like Umberto Saba, gone into hiding within his own city.

Because of voices like these, father

At age sixteen, with your family, you fled Rypin;

Now here Rypin is your son.

And if to be Jew means this, and I believe it does, name me a Jew. Name us all Muslims and Christians and Jews. Name us as human beings who believe that when one of us suffers all of us suffer, that we never have to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for us all, that the tears of the mother in Gaza are our tears, that the wails of the bloodied children in Al Shifa Hospital are the wails of our own children.

Let me close tonight with one last name. Let me name those who send these tanks and fighter jets to bomb the concrete hovels in Gaza with families crouching, helpless, inside, let me name those who deny children the right to a childhood and the sick a right to care, those who torture, those who carry out assassinations in hotel rooms in Dubai and on the streets of Gaza City, those who deny the hungry food, the oppressed justice and foul the truth with official propaganda and state lies. Let me call them, not by their honorific titles and positions of power, but by the name they have earned for themselves by draining the blood of the innocent into the sands of Gaza. Let me name them for who they are: terrorists

Difficult and challenging times though they be, there has never been any possible doubt of the acting, caring, transformative presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst, and of Her unfaltering invitation to us- heart and arms open wide- for us to join Her in the sacred dance of healing this world- and this morning I give heartfelt thanks for each of these three voices and their prophetic courage.