Monday, December 27, 2010

Glenn Gould: Queerly Normal

Glenn Gould was the wizard of my adolescent years.

His playing first blazed into my imagination through a rebroadcast on CBC's "Sunday Arts Entertainment" of his performance from the 60s of Beethoven's Tempest Sonata, which I was then learning, which he played without notes and so crisply, cleanly, and inexorably that I grabbed a VHS tape and got about 2/3rds of the first movement and the rest of the second and third. On the same program, perhaps, or soon after, his performance of Beethoven's Op. 69 Cello and Piano Sonata in A major with Leonard Rose was aired, again with him playing from memory, somewhat involved in theatrics, and playing with a deep passion that seemed to reach beyond the music. This reaching has inspired in me a life-long search for what it was he saw, what any true artist sees, just beyond the edge of our perception, yet firmly grounded in our abilities and capacities as humans.

I don't know at which point Gould crossed the line in my life from a performer to something akin to a soulmate, a personality preserved in film and recording and written and spoken words, which seemed more alive to me than some people who actually were alive.

In his projection of alienation there was intimacy, an intimacy of the kind that I was denied through the social convention that said boys had to date girls and vice-versa that was prevalent when and where I grew up. Gould transcended the need for such relationships by bringing you so close to the center of music that it was like opening a beating heart and seeing a level of reality that was astonishing, ugly yet enticingly beautiful, different from conventional representation, and life-changing in its realization.

The artificiality of his playing was yet honest, deeply probing, and provoking in a way that merely another lovely, let alone a so-called "correct," performance could never have been. Music lived for him and through him in a way that bewitched some, enraged others, and cheered still many more.

The ecstasy of his playing, so clear in even his latest recordings, seems to rise to a new, reaching level just as his star was eclipsing (listen to the Brahms Ballades Op. 10, recorded in February of his last year, 1982, especially the middle section of Op. 10 #3).

And yet his personality was paramount for me.


Perhaps for years I figured that Glenn Gould was gay too. There was little evidence to the contrary, and those who knew him best guarded his privacy like good friends would, denying any such rumors that he was gay. The reality of Gould's relationships came out to the broader public only very recently, in the last few years, and most recently in a recent broadcast of a fairly new documentary about him, Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould.

I first saw this documentary in a theater a few months ago, and many things were revelatory, such as his relationship with Cornelia Foss, not something that was part of the broadcasts on Sunday Arts Entertainment years ago.

Yet the reality of Gould's sexuality does not detract from his fundamental queerness, or his fundamental normality--he was a man whose eccentricities got the better of some of his relationships, and yet was one who, surprise!, craved human connection despite his growing need for electronic space.

Yet see, nearly 30 years after his death, just how much electronic space has come to define our relationships? This medium of self-publishing random thoughts to random people, the connection to social media that was never even a glint in Glenn's eye during his lifetime, yet would have served his lifestyle well, have become the norm. Electronic space, via computer platforms, social media, Skype and other modern versions of telephony, gives each of our lives a distance and an intimacy that now defines a new, perhaps queer, normality.

Perhaps our whole era has attained a level of eccentricity through all of these new means of communication and social organization that makes each of us queerly normal in relation to those who have gone before.


Another element of Gould's personality was the power of it to bring me through what easily could have been a time of extended despondency in those dark and frustrating teenage years; this seems to be something that he also unwittingly did for many. During my sophomore year of high school, when I was most frightened about people in my class, home, and elsewhere finding out that I was gay, and most frustrated that nobody else seemed to be like me, I listened to Gould's 1981 recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations nearly every night, it offering me 50 minutes of peace and structure in a life that felt chaotic and uncertain, the Variations beginning, growing, changing, and coming back to home base at the end.

Anyone who knew me in those years would recall my obsession with Gould, which I had hoped at the time might play out into a biography, as there was only one available in those years, Otto Friedeich's "Glenn Gould: A Life and Variations," which, though extensive, still left me wanting to know more. I voraciously ingested every fact, anecdote, or even reference to Glenn Gould that I could get my hands on. The biography never materialized, but others followed, both biographies and more creative works based on Gould and his personality and musical life.

During my senior year of high school, I used the proximity of Christmas and my birthday, as well as my graduation from high school, to wrangle a trip to Toronto in September 1992 as a "student delegate" to the Glenn Gould Conference, one of the most amazing weeks of those years and one of the more memorable weeks of my life. Not only was it my first time all on my own in a city, but it also put me in contact with dozens of people who knew, worked with, studied with, and even were related to Gould.

His assistant, Ray Roberts, was there, along with some of his fellow piano students from the Toronto Conservatory, some musicians with whom he'd made music, and, perhaps most poignantly, his father Herbert, then 90 years old. I will never forget, in particular, the day that we all went to Glenn's grave in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto. I had the opportunity there to pay my respects to Mr. Gould, and he graciously accepted my condolences on the death of his son 10 years earlier.

Later that year, I submitted a series of questions to Mr. Gould through Ray Roberts & Glenn Gould's lawyer, Stephen Posen, which related to Gould's childhood and experience in school. I've never shared these answers with anyone, not out of a sense of privacy, but because I never thought they would particularly interest anyone. If they might interest you, please let me know.


I don't know if Glenn Gould was conservative or liberal when it came to sexuality. One story related by one of his friends remembers some random stranger showing him porn in a restaurant once, and Glenn being quite undone by the experience. Who knows. I can imagine that his confidants, who denied that he was gay long before this recent documentary came out, might not want him to be labeled "queer," even though, in a very extended way, he was.

But at the same time, he was not quite in the same way "normal" as society still somewhat expects people to be. He could not become legal brothers with a close co-worker and collaborator. Yet why not, but for social convention not reaching that point of realizing that we're all cousins at some distant point in the past, and if cousins, why not brothers and sisters?

Perhaps "queerly normal" goes as far towards describing Glenn Gould as can be done. He didn't have to be eccentric, or distant, or isolated, or ecstatic to be who he was, yet all of those things contributed to who he was and became even as his problems with things that he did not want to state were problems grew in his last decade. Some have said, notably the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, that if he had married like most people do, and taken some of the energy he put into music and thought into a family, he might have lived longer. Who's to say?

I'm still turned on by Gould's playing, by the personality that made it what it was, which still in its strange way makes for a feeling of home.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Ideas Should Not Depend on Yours for Their Validity

Another nocturnal walk brings another epiphany: My ideas should not have to depend on your believing them as I do in order for them to have validity, and vice-versa. It seems so simple, something that I have heard countless times, but tonight it is clicking in a new way for me.

A friend of mine, Matt, helped me to realize this today when he wrote in his blog about why he does not, shall we say, see religion in the same way I do. Check him out at We agreed, however, that we can respectfully agree to disagree, and remain friends, indeed are even more respectful as a result.

We live in a time, of which we are reminded every 9/11, indeed every day, of extremely dysfunctional political, philosophical, and theological relationships. The red states (counties, cities) are getting redder, and the blue states are getting bluer, and I think that makes all of us both red and blue in our own way. The culture wars ratchet up, and only seem to be getting more intractable day by day and year by year. Congress deadlocks, court decisions are discounted as "activist," families are torn apart, and friendships seem impossible to form with those who don't believe exactly as we do.

It hasn't always been this way, and it doesn't have to be this way.


Here is the epiphany: 1. Ideas (religious, political, or otherwise) become dangerous when we have to force them on others to validate them for ourselves; 2. If my beliefs do not depend on your believing them in order to gain their validity, and vice-versa, we can respect each others' independence of thought.

Let's play with this a bit. Suppose you are a Bible-believing Christian who does not allow for homosexuality as a variation of human sexuality because the Bible disapproves of it in at least seven passages (more, according to our friends at the Westboro Baptist Church). The Bible clearly states that a man who lies with a man as with a woman commits to'evah, an abomination, and the blood of the both shall be upon them; they shall both be put to death.

Short of actually working to carry out that rather horrific scene, what is wrong with believing this? As it turns out, plenty, if this belief is, as it often is, forced on others. Because this belief has had countless political consequences as a result of being "forced on" those who do not believe in this way. Parents have disowned their children, or rejected them, students have beaten and sexually abused other students, school districts, the military, churches, and other institutions have imposed a strangling code silence, and states have prevented marriage, all in the name of upholding the beliefs of some.

What would it look like to be truly "neutral" with regard to these beliefs?

It would look neutral if, and only if, I say to you that I believe this, but I am not going to impose this belief on you through curtailing your civil rights, insulting your personhood, tearing apart your families, firing you from your jobs, and preventing you from voicing your views. Why? Because you let me do the same as I let you: speak the truth as you see it.

Many things in the Bible are to'evah, not least of which is what comes almost immediately before Leviticus 20:13, the verse quoted above about men lying with men as being an act punishable by death. The act of which I am thinking is quoted more often throughout the Bible than "a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman."

Here it is in Exodus (21:7): "Anyone who curses his father or mother shall be put to death." Again, in Leviticus (20:9), "If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head (NIV)." Again in Proverbs (20:20): "If a man curses his father or mother, his lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness."

Even Jesus finds this verse important enough to repeat verbatim in Matthew (15:4) and Mark (7:10): "For God [or Moses, in Mark] said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.'" Jesus says this!! Nice, good Jesus.

How many children have cursed their fathers or mothers for any number of reasons? And how many of those children have we put to death, or driven to death by saying that we must hate their sin of cursing their father or mother, while loving them as sinners?

How many preachers are advocating that children, or adult children, be put to death for this cursing? How many "ministries" exist to "cure" children of cursing their fathers or mothers?

How many children are thrown out in the street for cursing their fathers or their mothers? And how many schools impose strict policies on their students and staff never to curse their fathers or their mothers?

I imagine the number is pretty low.

I wouldn't hate you for believing that your children should be put to death for cursing you. I'd think it an awfully strange thing to think, and I would oppose your imposing that thought on your children in a way that would damage them. I'd probably even say it's a good thing my Mom or Dad didn't toss me off a bridge at numerous points during my growing up. And I'm sure your Mom and/or Dad, or Mom & Mom, or Dad & Dad, would say the same thing about you.


Why, I ask, must we force our views on others? Must we insist that if you do not believe as I do, that we should have nothing to discuss further? Must we insist that everyone throughout the world should live as we do, and should believe the same beliefs in the same way? Because there are indeed a large variety of beliefs, which, as long as they do not end up building walls of shame, walls of isolation, and literal walls around others, as long as they do not lead us to fly into towers or start wars, as long as they do not lead us to codify laws and policies to restrict others from expressing their own beliefs, as long as they do not lead us to think ourselves better people or more worthy of living than others, as long as they can be spoken in a way that do not start riots throughout the world, why not speak them?

I respect you, and you respect me, when we can agree to disagree on some things.

Building conversations on this basis, rather than on the basis of forcing each other to believe as we do, can build relationships, tear down walls, and save lives.

I cannot believe that my ideas are so weak that they must depend on your assent to them for validity, or vice-versa. I believe what I believe, from my experience, from what faith has been given me, from what my own human mind has been able to reason out, and there you have it: a thoughtful conclusion.


I can see many ways in which people would disagree with me, or see this stance as being naive or untenable.

For one, people do, out of both fear and a will to dominate, impose their beliefs on others in countless ways. Whether it be through weakness of character or joy in domination, people seem invariably to fight to be right. I myself like being right and being agreed with when it comes to something that I find important. But, for example, because my friend Matt does not believe that this bread and this wine is the body and blood of Christ, that does not prevent me from believing that the elements are the real presence of Jesus Christ, the son of God, the savior.

For another, particularly from a religious point of view, those who do not believe as we do transgress, indeed break the law, that we ourselves must live by in order to have the kind of life that we feel we must live. But, for example, are heterosexual marriages so inherently weak that they cannot tolerate people living in same-sex marriages? Are same-sex relationships so inherently desirable that they will entice those who would otherwise be out making babies to stay home and make whoopee instead? Are your children so weak of mind and character that they will glom on to every view expressed to them, and try out every possibility floated in their direction?

It seems to me asinine, not to mention disproven by experience, that people will try everything and become anything to which they are exposed. If this were the case, we'd have a nation of rapists, drug addicts, and especially murderers, given the amount of this activity that is shown on television, let alone video games. I worry about how certain song lyrics and video games that extol violence against women give young people the impression that it is OK to rape. But I also fear the stance that mentioning a fun weekend at Valley Fair with your gay boyfriend will have any impact on a whole class of children's sexual development.

This is not merely a plea for tolerance, but for allowing others to live the lives that are given them, and trusting that, given plenty of lessons in respecting others, they will carry out that respect themselves.

"Leverage the Voice of Love"


Nocturnal walks have always been helpful to me. Walking out in the rain tonight, just now, a phrase came to me, I have no idea from where, but it is something that quivers with possibility: "Leverage the voice of love."

What does this mean? What is the "voice of love," and how is it to be leveraged?

The need for the voice of love today is greater than ever. On this 9th anniversary of 9/11, we seem to be threatened from so many corners: terrorism, extremism, racism, homophobia, sexism, overpopulation, environmental disaster, natural disaster, and the list goes on.

And I hear: "Leverage the voice of love."

What a concept! The voice of love, which seems to have been drowned out by voices of fear and hate, needs help. It needs each of us who hear it to say that we're hearing it, and that it must be brought out from its closet of fear, from underneath its bushel, and placed where it will shine as a beacon in the night to all who live in despair.

"Leverage the voice of love." Don't let it go out. Don't let it get so quiet that it is no longer heard. Don't assume that it will speak for itself. Don't assume that it is not your voice, or that someone else will say what is in your heart to say.

The cadence catches my ear--the assonance, the meter, the symmetry. "Leverage the voice of love."

This is a call to act--and the action is one which does not take so much work or thought. It does not take a genius to be loving, or a master of divinity to realize that it is within our souls to speak at such a time that needs to hear the voice of love, reason, and grace. It only takes one to speak up and say, "I love."


In particular today I am thinking about the need for this voice leveraged strongly in the Anoka/Hennepin school district area, where the suicides of 7 students, some of whom were gay or perceived to be gay or lesbian, have bereft dear people of their loved ones, much like several thousand were bereft on a 9/11 many years ago.

Tonight, I was fortunate, indeed blessed, to share the table of Tammy and Shawn Aaberg, and their sons who remain, as they and I were interviewed on the death of their son, Justin, to suicide, and to some extent the relation of his death to the Anoka/Hennepin policy of "neutrality" on matters of sexual orientation within the curriculum of the District. I brought the voice of a concerned outsider to their lives and the district, but they shared what was rending their hearts at the most personal loss anyone can experience--the loss of a child.

Their hospitality to me and the interviewer was as moving to me as their story. I, a stranger in their home, was treated as a welcomed guest. It is hospitality that was given to us freely and gracefully and lovingly as the hospitality that Jesus offers to his own.

I did not know Justin, but I would have walked through fire for him, to stop those who were tormenting him. Never underestimate the voice of love within you, and know that there are those out there who would walk through fire for you, whom you do not even know. Never forget that your voice might be the one to save a life.

The story of Justin's loss will soon be known more widely within the gay community through this interview, and in the Minneapolis/St. Paul community through a report that will be broadcast on WCCO news in the Minneapolis metropolitan area this coming Monday night (9/13/10) at 10pm. More will rise up who would walk through fire for Justin, for Tammy, Shawn, and their remaining dear sons, for every student of Anoka/Hennepin who still lives in fear and abuse and for whom despair is a daily diet, for each person who hears that God hates "their sin," which is indeed a message in the case of many that God hates them. You, dear reader, may be one to rise up.

"Leverage the voice of love."

The voice of love, that which has touched my heart through so many voices in my life, starting with my own parents and sister, through so many family, friends, teachers, mentors, ministers, and even through people I have hardly known, this is the voice that we must raise to the highest rafters of torture and pain, the voice that cuts despair, the voice that destroys terrorism by transcending it, because the power of love is stronger than the power of hate.


The voice of love too is the voice that God speaks when God says, "This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well-pleased." This is the voice that God speaks to each of us, in our desolation and torment, the voice that God was quietly yet persistently speaking as Jesus, God's own son, was dying on the cross, lost, isolated, forgotten, and ashamed, in his own crucifixion.

"Leverage the voice of love."

This is the voice that my cinematic hero, Father Barry in "On the Waterfront," raised from the depths of a death ship in which one was killed for the cause of justice. Father Barry said of that death: "That is a crucifixion."

Anytime a policy takes precedence over peoples' lives, that is a crucifixion. Anytime people put their ideas over the lives of others, whether those ideas are religious or political, whether those voices are Christian, Muslim, Liberal, or Conservative, that is a crucifixion. Lives will always be more important than ideas or policies, which should only serve to protect lives and not help to end them, although sometimes lives must be lost to defend the ideas and principles of freedom that our country was founded on, that all were created equal, all.

By the account of his parents and those who knew him, Justin's was a voice of music, laughter, and love for his friends, his parents, his brothers, and many others. A voice any one of us would have been privileged to hear. A voice that none of us will hear again spoken alive in this life.

But as the voices of those who could have spoken for him in the place of his torment, in his school, were silenced, so was his. For the neutrality on sexual orientation with respect to curriculum that staff are required to follow extends far beyond what the staff may or may not say or do with respect to curriculum, and, I think, far beyond what the School Board may realize as its intended reach. The consequences of this policy impact the lives of its students.


I appreciate that the Anoka/Hennepin district has begun to take concrete measures to stop the violence against its LGBTQ students. It is to be commended on beginning to take these steps. My last blog entry elicited the response from the district that I was acting on misinformation, which could be true to some degree, but I am not mistaken about the effects of their policy, one which existed over a year ago when two teachers were called out on their torment of one of their students, based on their student's perceived (and not actual) sexual orientation.

The district paid out $25,000 a full year ago to this student because of their torment of him, but did not admit that there was a problem beyond this supposedly isolated case, and one of those teachers in fact sought compensation for being "outed" as a tormentor. My hope is that her outing did not subject her to the same treatment that she visited upon her own student.

By treating this harassment as an isolated incident and not the result of a systemic problem, caused in great part by the neutrality policy, the District enabled the harassment of others to continue, which it does to this day.

The real kicker with this policy is the sentence: "Staff are encouraged to take into consideration individual student needs and refer students to the appropriate social worker or licensed school counselor."

Although this sounds wise and professional, unfortunately conversations with social workers and counselors are subject to a higher degree of confidentiality, unless these conversations approach topics of harm to self or others, while conversations with teachers are at a lower degree of confidentiality. Teachers could inform parents of warning signs and bad experiences far ahead of the time that social workers and counselors could. This was the case with Justin, and may have been the case with many others.

As long as the policy of neutrality exists, no step the district might take will be able to topple the wall of abuse that meets many in the course of their daily lives. No action will be sufficient to allow people who are experiencing despair to reach out in trust to their teachers and speak the words that they must speak to stop the violence from happening to them.

For, let's be honest, what really is a policy that enjoins its staff to be neutral on matters of sexual orientation actually saying?

It is not telling staff or students that they cannot mention matters of heterosexual sexual orientation. Because if that were the case, they could not talk about anyone, gay or straight. Sexual orientation is a deep part of everyone, no matter the particularity of their sexual orientation.

Neutrality on "sexual orientation" is a polite euphemism for not saying anything about homosexuality.

Imagine if teachers could not mention their opposite-sex spouses, girlfriends, or boyfriends in class. Imagine if they could not display a picture or wear a ring on a prominent finger. Imagine if their sexual orientation were considered by parents as a disease that their kids could catch.

This is the real meaning of "neutrality"--silence on homosexuality. And, as was said in the 80s when thousands were dying from AIDS and the government was doing far less to stop it than Anoka/Hennepin is doing to combat bullying, silence = death.


"Leverage the voice of love." The phrase continues to sing in my mind's ear. Who are the voices of love in your life? What do they have to say at this time of crisis, which for many is a crisis of faith as well--faith in others, in God, and in a system that proclaims itself a protector of each of its students? How can we work together to bring these voices together, to leverage their love and the power they have to transcend hate?

We've all got work to do in getting these voices of love together, of focusing them at a problem that will not go away by mere dint of thought. At the very least, we can raise our voice, to let one other person know about what is going on in the Anoka/Hennepin school district, or in the district closer to you, to raise the voice of love that says "I do not hate you, my brother/sister," or to say "I will not burn your sacred book," or to say "I will walk through fire for you."

As another of my heroes of faith said, "Love must act as light must shine and fire must burn." Father James Otis Sargent Huntington's voice of love speaks clearly some 75 years after his death. And he is right: Love must act.

Leverage the voice of love--of your love, and of the love of all whom you know. Bring these voices together into one powerful tool of healing, that will not let terrorism, whether it be from without or within, have the final say.

For this is the time when the voices of love must come together and act.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Anoka/Hennepin: Tear Down That Wall (of Deadly Homophobia)!

In the last year, 7 young people in the Anoka/Hennepin School District have committed suicide, 3 directly related to being or being perceived as LGBTQ. The wall of silence, also known in the district as "neutrality," is creating some strange fruit hanging from the trees up there.

Because, although they say that these youth committed suicide, they were actually killed by those within their community, their schools, their churches, and in other contexts that should rather have held their tongues than spouted wounding words. It was merely a sleight of the District's hand that made it look like the young people killed themselves.

What a sleight of hand the Anoka/Hennepin School Board pulled by saying that the sexual orientation policy had to do only with curriculum, and not with bullying! As though they weren't able to see a connection between the wall of silence they created, the bullying by students, teachers, pastors, some family members, and other "concerned citizens," and the deaths that resulted.

The Anoka/Hennepin School Board had such a problem with hearing the truth about their policies in their August 23, 2010 meeting, that the recording of those proceedings was somehow glitched or lost. This was the meeting at which the mother and friends of Justin Aaberg, one of the gay youth who committed suicide in that district, spoke from their hearts about how his death affected them, and how the district is still a dangerous place for LGBTQ, and even hetero, youth.

This is a Berlin Wall moment.

The wall of homophobia that was built around these youth, the wall of hatred and bureaucratic nonsense that was built around those for whom sexual orientation was not the main factor in their deaths, must be toppled once and for all.

Anoka/Hennepin School Board, what is keeping you from saving the lives of your students? Is it the mis-named PAL, Parents Action League, which hides itself behind a wall of anonymity? Which cries about receiving hate mail, as though it has not been out to engender it? Which claims as its motto, "Education, not Indoctrination," when what is meant by indoctrination is enacting measures that will stop gay kids from killing themselves?

Anoka/Hennepin area Churches (of the variety that preach against homosexuality), is it your contention that God wants gay and lesbian kids dead? Do you believe that the heart of the Gospel is in Leviticus 20:13? Do you pride yourselves on the success of this message over that of the saving Gospel? Because the Gospel SAVES; it does not KILL.

To paraphrase Psalm 13, How Long, Anoka/Hennepin, will you lay waste to those who did you no wrong?

How long will you taunt, spit at, beat up, and terrorize young people who did nothing but get up and go to school?

How long will you preach that God is a super-terrorist, that the fulfillment of the Gospel is death of those you believe God would oppose, that Jesus was more concerned with where a person's penis was put than where a person's heart is?

How long will you justify yourselves with policies, when coffins continue to be draped in a sea of tears?

How long will you say that it is a "lifestyle choice" that leads to these deaths, when no different or discernible "lifestyle" was at the root of the hatred, terror, and brutality that actually led to these deaths?

How long will you seek your seat of power in a young man's coffin?

How long will you lose the evidence of your wrongs? (Update: video of the August 23, 2010, Anoka/Hennepin School Board Meeting, is now (9/12/10) available. See Tammy Aaberg at 15:20 here, and listen to subsequent explanation by the School Board Chair, and further testimony of abuse around the Neutrality policy.)

Consider, and answer me!

Answer for those who have fallen, and those who will continue to fall as long as your feet drag!

Answer for those families you have helped to tear apart, and those lives you have ended!

Answer for those careers you have threatened to end because your people have wanted to provide some small measure of support or solace!

Answer for those people who will hear the word "Jesus," and see a man with a gun!

Hear those, O God, who call out to you "Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, 'I have prevailed.'"

Hear those, Anoka/Hennepin School District, whose voices are still crying out in pain.

Hear those who want only to live their lives in peace.

Hear those who want only to live another day, to see another sun rise.

Hear those who want only to love those who are in their hearts to love.

It is time for you to choose:

Your policies, or your people.

Your ideas, or your youth.

Your bullies, or your innocent.

Choose wisely. God is watching.

Monday, August 23, 2010

ELCA Churchwide: One Year Later, and Still Waiting

Last Friday marked one year since last year's vote at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly on allowing open and partnered gay and lesbian persons to serve officially as pastors, without the fear of being witch-hunted out, put on trial, and defrocked ("derostered").

In reality, not a huge number of people or congregations have left the church, but although the laws of the ELCA have changed, the reality for gay and lesbian pastors, I'm guessing particularly for those awaiting their first calls like myself, is still "in process."

Today, Minnesota Public Radio's News-Q posted a series of reflections on what life is like in the ELCA now, at the One-year mark. It includes a brief piece on me, as I am three-and-a-half years into waiting for my first call, far longer than any of my seminary colleagues.

I will reflect more thoroughly in the next few days, but for now, here is the link to MPR's story. Each segment is worth a look:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Repost Riff on "Bless Me Anyway"

Recently, I had the chance to watch the HBO production of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” for the first time. It made me recall our Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus experience with some of Kushner’s most powerful words. This is a reposting from 2009, which also seems apt in these days that are hopefully gathering steam to overrule all of the divisive marriage laws, after Judge Vaughn Walker's masterly decision overturning Prop 8. Here it is:

So we in the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus have been singing a wonderful new setting by Michael Shaieb of some words by Tony Kushner from his play "Angels in America," centered around the phrase "bless me anyway." This phrase has affected me since we began singing it. It makes me think about those plucky figures in the Bible, Jacob and the Syrophoenecian woman, one in the Old Testament and one in the New, one going up against Godself, and the other against Jesus himself, who demand blessing in their beings from the deity who in some way created them, yet who have been told that they do not deserve such a blessing, or must fight to get it.

My life has been one in which I have both been the grateful and lucky recipient of unconditional love, from family and friends, as well as the need for years and years and years to defend my own being, sensitive, gay, or otherwise, against various people and institutions who have told me that I am deeply and existentially wrong. But, you know, bless me anyway, right?

The following are some words that came out after thinking about this phrase, "bless me anyway." This is yet a work in progress.

To the totality of the world's rejections:
The minor rejections of saying 'no' to liver and eggs;
the major rejections, hearing you say 'no' to me.

To the 'yous' who have told me who I am,
rather than letting me figure me out for myself.

Bless me anyway.

Even if you don't consider me worth it.
Even if my skin says "liar" to you.
Even if you think my dick should not go there.
Even if the folds of my skin obliterate
the smooth straight line
that you suppose would make me beautiful.

Bless me anyway.

What does a blessing cost you?

Does a blessing cost you your life?
Your job?
Your wife?

Does a blessing cost you your country?
Your place in the world?

Bless me anyway.

For I will have worth without it,
but with it,
we can love those we were meant to love,
in the open.
We can bless the skin that contains

our bones
our life
our blood,
if not our souls.

Bless me anyway.

It costs less than a tower,
less than a bomb,
less than a college education,
less even than an egg
from which life can come.

Bless me anyway.

But blessing is powerful.
Yes, blessing costs more than money,
more than position, power,
and all the water in the world.

Bless me anyway.

Bless the water that makes me more
than a pile of dust, more
than a pile of crap, more
than a pile of me that makes you weary,
that you wish would go away

Bless that shit machine
that embarrasses you.
Bless that $22.95 in basic elements,
not quite enough to buy Manhattan
four hundred and fifty years ago,
but enough to pay off the sum total
of a pile of humanity.

Bless me anyway.

More than the sum total,
more than the blue of my eyes,
more than the gnarled toenails,
the middling nipples,
the less-than-perfect hairline,
the zit on my left temple.

Bless me anyway.

The Jewish part of my heritage,
obscured by name-changes.
The happy sodomite that would do me, maybe.
The D-student wannabe.

Bless me anyway,
and I will bless you too.
I will bless your assumptions,
your experiences,
your attempts to reach out,
that get caught in your throat.

I will bless your struggle to live
in a world that kills us all,
that resolves as we do,
into a pile of minerals.

However it turns out,


I will bless you.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

An Open Letter to Gregg Steinhafel, CEO of Target Corp.: You've Lost a Customer

To Gregg Steinhafel, CEO of Target

Dear Mr. Steinhafel:

I wanted you to know that Target's move to support the far-right candidate for governor of Minnesota through a PAC has cost you a life-time customer.

Ever since I was a little kid, we went shopping at Target, first in the Columbia Mall up in Grand Forks, where I grew up, and then in several other places where I lived. When I moved to Minneapolis two years ago, I was really glad to see a Target downtown, because it was in a place I would be passing often, and indeed I have spent thousands of dollars there in the last couple of years buying everything from food to furnishings for my home. In fact, I've probably shopped at that Target on Nicollet Mall an average of twice a week for the last two years.

But Target's thinly-veiled support of Tom Emmer has ended my relationship with your store, probably for good.

It is not without a good deal of grief that I must end this relationship. Although your spokeswoman related that this move was purely for financial considerations, in order to elect the officials who were best for Target's business interests, you must know that any retail business earns most of its money from its customers.

We count.

And this action has told me that I, as a gay man, do not count anymore as far as Target is concerned. I, as a person, do not count more than your precious bottom line.

You, personally, have worked hard to make Target more than a corporation. You have stressed the "Gospel of Target," which has tried to encourage the "good news" that might be possible through yours sales philosophy, rather than supporting rapacious acquisition as so many retail companies do in their pursuit of the "bottom line."

Here's my bottom line, Mr. Steinhafel: You've lost me as a customer, and I hope that your action in supporting Tom Emmer has lost you hundreds, if not thousands of customers. Whether you care at all, or just laugh at our Quixotic antics, such decisions affect more than your bottom line. And eventually that bottom line will show it.


Chris _____________

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Reflections on the Word: from Readings for 5/30/10

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” –John 16: 12-13a

What won’t Jesus tell us, that we can’t bear? This question has always fascinated me. Are these things about God, about himself, about ourselves? Does Jesus not consider us strong enough to know this truth? We aren’t ready to know all truth, but we are ready for some. Opening to the Spirit means opening to this way of truth, but it is vital that that be the truth from God, and not from some other spirit.

Vibrant Spirit, blow through us the truth that can come only from God, and give us the discernment to know when it is you bringing that truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reflections on the Word: Readings of April 11, 2010

“[Jesus said,] If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” –John 21:23

In amongst Thomas’s doubting Jesus’ resurrection is this fascinating line: forgive (release) sins and you let go; hold on to them, and you keep your grip, on both the sins themselves and the person who has sinned. This word for “retained” relates to the Greek word for power, κρατέω, seen, for example, in the word “democracy.” Holding onto the sins of others gives you power, but also takes power from you. Releasing these sins gives freedom to you and to the sinner over whom you have power.

Forgiving God, give us the freedom to release our grip on the judgment of others, and on ourselves. Judge us alone with grace and understanding, in the light of the resurrection. Amen.

© 2010 CW

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wake Up and Smell the Spikenard!

Sermon on John 12: 1-8; Salem English Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, MN; March 21, 2010

[Note: the scent of spikenard was an essential part of this sermon as it was preached. It is available in essential oil form, or could be found cheaper in Indian groceries, as the plant is harvested mostly in India and China. I used essential oil and both diffused it throughout the worship space, as well as passed it around the congregation in its bottle for people to get a closer smell.]

Let us pray: Creating God, you have given us our five senses to appreciate your wondrous world around us. In this Lenten time, help us to walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering to you. Send now your Spirit into our midst, we pray, that we might come closer to that blessed and eternal mind of Christ. Through his name we pray, Amen.


It seems so basic to living, these five senses that we are given. Some live with challenges to them, some live without one or more of them. One constant throughout life is that we experience the world through the senses we have. And yet it seems rare that we stop to appreciate our senses in their relation to our faith lives and journeys.

Age may dull or sweeten some of our senses. Surgeries or other correctives may fix flaws and allow us to see or hear what we have been missing. We might lose one or another sense through illness or injury. The sight we might have relied on more as a young person may grow into deepened sense of hearing in later years as that sight fades. We might develop new tastes that we never thought we would have, or lose such basic abilities of sense that we always thought we would have. Senses, so basic, are yet vital and changing.

This week, one sensuous line from today’s reading particularly struck me: “and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.”

Here in the house of Lazarus, Jesus was being prepared for the last and most difficult leg of his journey to the cross. This moment in Jesus’ life is so important, that it appears in all four Gospels, although with some significant differences in each account. Indeed, only here in John do we get this detail: “And the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.”

In John’s telling of it, Jesus is being given a dinner party in his honor after raising Lazarus from the dead, which he had just done to the glory of God. Mary and Martha are there, and Lazarus himself, quite the greatest miracle of Jesus’ brief ministry. Those who mourned Lazarus have been comforted by his being raised from the dead, and many are now believing that Jesus is indeed the son of God through this very miracle.

Mary does what Mary does best—she immediately goes to sit at the feet of Jesus. But this time, she goes way overboard, and pours a whole jar of expensive perfumed oil on his feet—more than an extravagance—and something that probably made everyone present gasp in surprise. I can hear more than one of them saying “What is this woman doing??!?” Indeed, Judas feigns moral outrage at such an apparent waste. But no, this is no wasteful time: it is the time of anointing the “anointed one” with precious oil to prepare him for his ultimate, inexorable fate.


“And the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.”

Smell seems to me the most neglected of the senses. If you were given the choice of what sense to keep, your sight, hearing, or smell, I cannot imagine many would sacrifice sight or hearing for the ability to smell. And when have you ever heard of one who provided “nose-witness testimony” in a court of law? We can be just as mistaken in what we think we have seen, as in what we think we have smelled, so why is it not given equal status as eye-witness testimony? We know the geniuses of painting and sculpture, of music, of cooking and cuisine, but who are the smell geniuses? Where is their place in the pantheon of human greatness?

In contrast to the great importance placed on all other senses, I would say that smell is the most evocative and powerful of all our senses, reaching the deepest parts of ourselves, bypassing our rational understanding and going straight to the most elemental, animal part of ourselves, awakening deep memories, or opening up new worlds in our imaginations.

When I think of it, this last week was the first time I’ve ever gone out of my way to get a particular fragrance, when I ordered through the internet some essential oil of spikenard, the smell that you are smelling now, the one which filled the house that Jesus was in.

I got excited thinking about being able to make that deepest of sense connections with the place where Jesus was that night. Because, think about it: even though the house itself can no longer be seen, the voices of Jesus and his friends can never be heard, the dinner can never be eaten again, and the feeling of Mary’s hair wiping in the ointment can never be felt exactly in the same way, the two things that exist still about that night, besides the eternal living Christ, are what was written about it, and this particular scent. What we are smelling now is without any doubt the same scent that Jesus smelled that night, a smell that no doubt stayed with him through that last, memorable week of life as we know it. Through this scent, we enter into the mind of Christ in a way no other experience can bring us.


“And the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.” Smells can fill a space, in pleasant and unpleasant ways, much like light and sound, transmitting barely-visible particles from their origin to deep into our bodies. Smell transcends time and space with an immediacy that no other sense can match.

Take a moment in your imagination just to be with Jesus in this time and place, imagining what it would be like to be there with him, what the light, flickering low that evening, lighting less of the house than the smell would reach, with those surprised guests who thought they saw something wasteful, when actually they saw Jesus in life being prepared for death. Let the sense world of this scene come alive to you as I read this passage once again.

[Read John 12: 1-8]

Question: How does your sense of smell, or your other senses, help you on your journey of faith? What scents particularly make you come alive, or link you to other times and places?