Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Institutional Inertia Rooted in Homophobia

Anglican Bishop Michael Ingham on blessing same-sex unions

Globe and Mail Update
June 26, 2007 at 12:16 PM EDT

Canada's only Anglican bishop to authorize the blessing of homosexual unions says the refusal by his fellow bishops to approve the rite for the national church is the product of institutional inertia rooted in homophobia, The Globe's Michael Valpy wrote today in his article Homophobia accepted in church, bishop says.

Bishop Michael Ingham of the Vancouver-area diocese of New Westminster says homophobia, hiding behind interpretations of scripture, remains an acceptable prejudice in Canadian Anglicanism.
"There are members of our church who staunchly defend that. In my view, [it] is a total misreading of scripture and a misuse of the Bible to oppress people. But they clearly want to continue to do that."
A recent motion before the church's triennial general synod — or governing body — to allow individual dioceses to permit blessings of same-sex unions was approved by clergy and laity, but vetoed by a slim majority of bishops, who voted 21-19 against it.

Earlier, however, the bishops had voted by the same margin in favour of a resolution stating that the blessings were not in conflict with the church's "core doctrine."


Truth and Myth

The story previously posted is most likely apocryphal--(these are embroidered and unverifiable stories which make up most of our world religious literature). Many good friends have written me about it and, suspecting this, I deleted the "This is a true story" from the end of the original E-mail.

Growing up in Appalachia my childhood was spent listening to stories--stories about family, stories about past history such as The Depression and World War II, stories about people in the town, stories about why things were they way they were. My conservative "Missionary Baptist" grandparents told me the stories of their conversion where one day they were one way and the next they were another.

I have always liked the Zen approach to objective truth---things happen, and immediately we make up a story about it to have power over it, control it, make it fit into our world view. The Zen masters loved stories and told many, but the truth behind them was the key element. They had no illusion that the stories were ever objective.

Jesus spoke in parables--he knew the power of myth and story to change lives. It doesn't matter one whit that he made them up. It doesn't matter one whit that the writers of the Old and New Testaments embroidered on an event in which they saw Divine power and working. I believe all of the stories because they contain deeply objective truth for my subjective life. Do I say they all have to have happened just the way they were written? No. Does this mean they are any less valid if they are embellished? No. Do I need to choose between Noah and Darwin? No.

Human beings are Meaning Mills, creating meaning out of almost nothing sometimes. Its what we do, we are hard wired for it. Its not bad or good---its just what we do. And we learn best that way--to hear a well worn story is truly the Balm of Gilead for the illusion of our seemingly objective and quantifiable lives.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Small Steps Achieve Freedom for us All

This was sent to me by a friend. Its a very good parable!

This scene took place on a British Airways flight betweenJohannesburg, South Africa & London.
A white woman, about 50 years old, was seated next to a black man.
Very disturbed by this, she called the air hostess. "Youobviously do not see it then?" she asked. "You placed menext to a black man.
I did not agree to sit next to someone from such a repugnant group. Give me an alternative seat."
"Be calm please," the hostess replied.
"Almost all the places on this flight are taken. I will go to see if another place is available."
The hostess went away & then came back a few minutes later.
"Madam, just as I thought, there are no other available seats in
Economy Class.
I spoke to the captain & he informed me that there is also no seat in Business Class. All the same, we still have one place in First Class."
Before the woman could say anything, the hostess continued."It is not usual for our company to permit someone from EconomyClass to sit in First Class. However, given the circumstances, the captain feels that it would be scandalous to make someone sit next to someone so disgusting."
She turned to the black man, & said, "Therefore, Sir, if you would like to, please collect your hand luggage, a seat awaits you in First Class."

At that moment, the other passengers, who'd been shocked bywhat they had just witnessed, stood up & applauded.
WELL DONE, British Airways

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Christ at the Gym

Yesterday I was doing my usual work out on the orbital running machine and I noticed a woman and a little old person (who's back was to me) in one of the corners. She was doing some light exercises and the older person was making a feeble attempt at imitating her. From the back the older person looked to be in his/her 70's had a very small form and narrow shoulders which made it unclear to me as whether this was a man or woman with the younger woman. To add to the mystery of the gender of the person he/she wore a baseball cap. Now in the real world usually only men wear baseball caps, but in "gymworld" its a unisex fashion accessory.

Eventually the older person turned around and was sporting a very bushy mustache. So now that this mystery was solved I looked at the old man---he was smiling the sweetest smile and had the body movements and demeanor of someone who had been developmentally challenged for quite some time. He patiently watched his teacher and made feeble attempts to imitate her but never with much passion or success. And she was very patient with him moving him along to different areas of the track room to try a new exercise.

At one point he looked at me and smiled. His face was purely without guile or malice and there was a compassion and wisdom about it. It was a worn face, yet full of joy and wonder. He had a kind of shuffle in the way he walked and followed his companion dutifully and without complaint.

As I watched him, I thought about images of Jesus. The images of Jesus whom the Orthodox say walks among us disguised as the poor and marginalized of this world. I thought of this man as an image of God in my pathway that day. An initially pitiful figure that radiated a simple joy, compassion and understanding. Unexpected, initially rejected, and who's absolution of my unwitting rejection drew me to him.

I imagined him at the Last Day standing before the nations of the world as Matthew 25 suggests. Looking at us sheep and goats. I imagined the surprise and shock of many who want a muscle man Jesus at seeing this man in his frailty and seeming mental defectiveness passing judgement on us (the so-called healthy who have all of our faculties). And in that typical way in which religious epiphanies occur it blessed me as I trudged on to complete my 40 minute sentence on the orbital runner.

I watched as the woman when to the stationary bicycle area and started peddling. He sat on the bike next to her and started pressing the buttons---seeming to delight in the "beep" the buttons made. My workout ended I wiped the sweat from my forehead as I passed them giving them one last look as the young woman caught my eye and gave me a knowing smile as if she knew that I knew who she was with.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Paul's Barber Shop---The Hair of the Dog of Memory


Recently I woke up and decided to cut my hair radically short from my past length. I am not sure what prompted such a rash decision, but I made it with all of the resolve of a Caesar on the banks of the Rubicon. I knew my usual hair stylist (a woman) loved my long hair and never cut it short enough, so I would have to go to another practitioner of the hair arts. I knew where I had to go.

Being gay, I usually avoided those barbershops with twisting barber poles out front with names like Hank’s, Joe’s and (name the town) Barbershop as they always seemed like bastions of heterosexual male culture. I gathered this from my experience as a child when my Mom took me to Mr. Blaker at the St. Albans Barbershop in West Virginia.

It was a stark white room with a geometrical mosaic tile floor which made it seem almost surgical to me. It had three chairs that had ironwork with fancy foot rests on them which reminded me of a New Orleans balcony. My memory includes barbers in white smocks, hair tonics and cologne’s of different colors in long necked glass bottles, combs soaking in blue solution, a price-list which included only two procedures “Haircut” and “Shave” (no highlights or shampooing) and the distinct scent of Pinaud talc and cologne. Leather seats (some with black tape repair on the leather) with chrome arms and legs which surrounded the vast open area between these waiting area seats and the barber chairs. Mismatched coffee tables were between these chairs with copies of the Charleston Gazette (the local daily paper) and The Sporting News piled onto them. Old guys (at least they seemed old to me) were seated in these chairs and in the corner a black and white TV with a snowy picture with an aluminum foil antenna and the current Cincinnati Reds game playing.

Mr. Blaker was somewhat sullen and after placing a board across the seat to elevate my young head higher invited me to scamper up and sit. He gave my head the once over walking around the chair working a big chaw of tobacco which made his cheek protrude. He then proceeded to wrap a piece of paper around my neck so tight I could feel the pulse of the blood in my jugular vein and secured it. A large cape came next and I, the hapless victim with mother looking on, was ready for the procedure. It took forever it seemed considering I was having a crew cut. But Mr. Blaker carefully clipped and sheared and clipped again. Hair always was down my shirt and he would slap the back of my neck with a horsehair brush full of talc every so often (I assume to whisk away some of the hair which thankfully did not get through the tight paper collar and cape and find its way down my shirt. After it was over Mr. Blaker always gave me a “cake” (we call it a “stick” now) of Juicy Fruit chewing gum for being a good boy. And I left in glee that this was over---scratching my torso on the way out due to all the hair which made it into my shirt.

In June of 2007 I decided to go into “Paul’s” Barber Shop which has been here in an almost imperceptible location on 4th Street near Five Points since I moved here in 1989. I also fugured that "Paul's" was a sign from God for an Episcopal Priest like me to patronize this barber shop. I walked into the same stark shop I remember from my childhood, stark white, mosaic tile floor and fancy ironwork on two Barber Chairs. Paul was a shorter man than Mr. Blaker and didn’t chew. He was friendly and put down his newspaper and greeted me when I walked in (no appointments, walk-ins only). This time he motioned me to the first chair and I sat down without the benefit of an elevation board. He asked me what I wanted.

Hmmm. I had not considered what kind of hair I wanted until that moment. Visions of South Pacific and Flying Leathernecks appeared in my mind and I blurted out “A Flattop”. “Do you like it high and tight on the sides?” he queried. And knowing what “high and tight” meant from gay hair cultures I said yes. At that moment I thanked God for my friendships and conversations with leather men, uniform fetishists and other over masculinized groups in gay society. They taught me “butch” hair slang.

Paul then proceeded to wrap that same piece of paper around my neck as tight as ever and securing it. A cloth cape went over me and away we went.
Paul was amazing. With scissors, an electric clipper and a razor he transformed my head from the haircut I have had since I was in High School to a new and bold military look. The hair flew and at my age I always wonder which dark ones will be replaced by lighter ones. There is a certain nostalgia that some of us with hair have when getting it cut at the half century mark. But I always sigh and secretly thank God that I still have a full head of hair and don’t have to fret over “Hair Club for Men” ads. At least I am saved that from that aspect of male vanity.

Paul whacked my neck with the horsehair brush and the full line of the green packaged Pinaud products lined his work-shelf. I reflected to him that Pinaud men’s grooming products had been around as long as I could recall and he chuckled and said something about it being “French”. Paul asked if I was from here and I said I lived only a few blocks away. I asked him about his life and career (which began in Allentown at a Hair Salon after he graduated from Beauty School in Philadelphia after returning from World War II) but decided to just do men’s hair which he has been doing for 40 years. A couple of other “older” gentlemen came in and proceeded to bury their noses in newspapers. Paul introduced me to them as two guys that have been coming to him for decades. He also told me his delight when four generations of males came in for haircuts bringing in a toddler grandson for his first haircut in this obviously patriarchal initiation into the masculine traditions of the family.

When he was nearing completion he filled his hand with hot shave cream from a little stainless steel machine and dabbed from behind one ear, down around my back hairline and up behind the opposite ear. Out came a sinister looking straight razor which he scraped back and forth across the leather “strop” which hung from the side of the chair. And in quick, surgical “chips” he made a perfect line using the razor around the base of my hair and up behind my ears. He spun the chair around and “Voila!” I seemed to be peering at a new person! Paul had given me a killer (and classic) flattop.

I gave Paul his $9.50 for the haircut and some extra for a tip and asked “You don’t have a stick of Juicy Fruit gum do you?” He smiled and said he didn’t. I said goodbye to Paul and his customers and stepped back into the reality of my own life with shorter hair but with a nostalgic flashback to my childhood to warm the journey.


Its Time To Let Gay Men Give Blood

June 06, 2006

It's Time to Let Gay Men Give Blood
Art Caplan writes on MSNBC:
If you are in a car crash or have a C-section and need a blood transfusion, will the hospital be able to supply the blood you need? Maybe not. If you are a hemophiliac, have certain genetic diseases or are a child with an immune disease and use treatments made from blood to survive, can you get the life-saving products you need? Don't count on it.
Yet, despite the fact that there is a simple change in public policy that could help solve these problems, old fears about AIDS are standing in the way.
At different times during the year, blood banks and hospitals find themselves unable to meet the demand for blood. And the shortage is growing worse. Demand for blood continues to skyrocket as more Americans undergo bypass operations, organ transplants, C-sections, hip and joint replacements and other treatments that require the use of blood. And as more and more people live with immune disorders or diseases that hamper their ability to make blood, the demand escalates.
We also need blood for other reasons. Sadly, the reality of terrorism and violence has become all too real in American life. This means that the chance of not having enough blood on hand in a particular city on any given day is a risk that each one of us faces.
So what is one simple way to get more blood? Let gay men donate it.
A primary source of blood donation that is currently not being used are men who have had sexual relations with other men. After the AIDS epidemic exploded in 1985, the Food and Drug Administration banned blood donations from any man who had sex with another man even once since 1977.
At one time, that policy made sense. But it no longer does. Testing for HIV and other infectious diseases has improved enormously since 1985. We don’t worry about heterosexuals who engage in risky behavior and might acquire HIV because we know the strict testing of today will screen out their blood if it is infected with the virus. Yet the FDA has not changed its policy about gay men despite the fact that there are people who will die in the United States or have to postpone elective surgery because of periodic shortages of rare blood types and blood products.
Current technology, which screens for the presence of viral DNA, can detect the presence of HIV at the very earliest stages of infection with uncanny accuracy. Admittedly there is a "window period" during which someone can be infected with HIV and not test positive even with the best of tests. But this window can be measured in terms of days not years and certainly not the decades that are currently reflected in the FDA policy.
The policy of forever excluding people who had male-to-male sex at some point during the past 30 years should have been changed a long time ago. The accuracy of the latest technology for screening blood means that there is no reason to exclude anyone as a donor in any risk group for more than a month.
The question now is whether the FDA and Congress will act or simply let old prejudices, biases and fears stand in the way of supplying the nation with more badly needed blood.
The AIDS epidemic has been with us for 25 years. The policy currently governing blood donation in the United States has been with us for 22 years. Given our ability to guarantee an exceedingly safe blood supply, it is time to revisit the policy and accept blood from all Americans willing to donate. Fear and prejudice should not be allowed to kill people.