Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Spiritual Experience: Doug's Forgiveness

This isn't the first time I've written about this, and it won't be the last. It is probably the central event of my life.

Most of my spiritual have been visions and dreams.

At age 11 my friend was crossing a street, was hit by a drunk driver,
and his body flew a block away. He went into a week-long coma that
ended in death. As that week progressed I started hoping he would
die. I wanted to know what it would be like for him to die. I am
also impatient in general and dislike uncertainty. (I'm working to
get past that these days...have been for some time). Of course, when
he did die, it was a relief and I also felt guilty that I had hoped
for it.

I didn't understand it this way, but when I first met Doug, at age 8
or so, it was love at first sight, at least for me. It was my first
experience of being physically and emotionally attracted to someone.
I remember the feeling when I first met him as if it was yesterday.
He was a personal friend in many ways. He would confront me if he was
angry with me. I cannot say WE were best friends necessarily, because
that has always been a somewhat artificial construct to me, but
HE was extremely important to me, possibly the most important friend I
had at the time.

I used to pray to him after he died. Confessed to him how I had felt
when he was in the coma, and how I had wanted him to just go ahead and
die. At some point later, I had a dream in which I was sitting at the
foot of a hill at night, and a light came over that hill, and he appeared and forgave me.

To this day, more than 25 years later, I still miss him and my heart
is still broken, but at the same time, I feel a certain peace from
that dream.

Do I know if that was more than just a psychological need that my
subconscious created for me? I don't know. And in some way, it
probably doesn't matter.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Movies!

Movies!
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities
I watched a ton of movies this weekend.

The Bubble (aka Ha-Buah). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0476643/
Israeli film from 2006. An Israeli soldier meets his future boyfriend at a Palestinian checkpoint. It shows the good and the bad on both sides of that phenomenon, if too simplistically in my opinion. Well-acted, lovely film with a frustrating ending and the unfortunate inclusion of the typical "funny gay roommate" and "funny straight woman roommate" which is just done waaaay too much in gay flicks. But I did enjoy watching it in spite of all of that and nudged my vote up a bit due to the experience of it. (4/5)

Hellraiser. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093177/
Finally saw this. An extra point for creativity. But really very badly acted and incredibly pointless. (2/5)

Criminal. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0362526/
Yep, pretty much just another heist movie. FANTASTIC cast with great performances all around. John C. Reilly, Diego Luna (probably my biggest movie star crush right now), and Maggie Gyllenhaal. So yeah, totally worth watching for the pure enjoyment. Reilly is great as a bad guy (not evil, just bad). (3/5)

Manhunter. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091474/
I liked this very much. Tom Noonan is a fantastic creepy serial killer actor...he almost reprised this by playing John La Roche in the freaky X-Files episodes "Paper Hearts." And after the big finale, I simply have to love Inna Gada De Vida again.

Walk on Water. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0352994/
A joint Israeli-Swedish film that takes place in both Israel and in Germany. Young gay German man comes to visit his sister in Israel. Israeli intelligence agent doubles as the gay guy's tour guide because it turns out that the German's grandfather was a particularly horrible Nazi leader back during the third reich, and has been hiding out in Argentina. Different reasons to really love this: it's not a movie about gayness--it's a movie about friendship; the acting is fantastic all the way around; it's got a nice untidy plotline; the actors get to go from speaking Hebrew to English to German -- which I find very impressive. Really great film. (5/5)

Time to Leave (aka Le temps qui reste). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0417189/
Of course I had to watch a French film! Especially with a gay lead character. Rather snotty gay fashion photographer finds out he has terminal cancer with a couple months to live. So he reacts by being nasty to people, then mellows out. I won't give too much away...no point anyway, as it's more a character film than a big ole plot film. Really nice, and I loved the ending. (4.5/5)

Metroland. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119665/
Late 90s film starring Christian Bale and Emily Watson with lots of nudity. But it's fun too. Film about entering your thirties wondering if you've made the right choices so far. Is it too late to give up the typical adult lifestyle and be a kid again? It's a Spanish/French movie but the primary language is English. In fact, there were no subtitles for the brief scenes that were spoken in French, but it was pretty easy to guss what they were saying. A bit universal in theme. Lovely scenery. Good acting. (4/5)

Indigo Girls - Live at the Roxy. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1206480/
I had recorded this off of Logo. They cut off the encore so they could fill up space with commercials and teasers for other shows...actually this is very common for Logo. It's a cable channel but they censor the heck out of the films they play. And waaaay too many commercials. But some good programming now and then, particularly the music-oriented shows (why bother watching Queer as Folk or The L Word on a gay channel that won't show nudity?). This concert was from a year or two ago, and they had some other musical guests on there, including Brandi Carlile, who fits right in, and is really into the music. And yep, I danced around during "Closer to Fine." (5/5)


Started to watch, but gave up pretty quickly:

The Embalmer (aka L'imbalsamatore). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0322725/
Italian. A middle-aged gay man (I believe he is a dwarf actually), a taxidermist, strikes a conversation with a fashion-model type young guy who expresses interest in learning the trade. Reading the synopsis, it's about a guy with an unrequited obsession over the young man, who is not gay. It looked good, but I had trouble with all the dead stuffed animals. Too much for me at a gut level.

An American Tail. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090633/
That cartoon from the mid-80s. I hadn't seen it. I think I'm not in the right frame-of-mind for these kinds of films. I need an adult element. Maybe this had it, but the way it started was a bit sickly sweet for me, and then of course the cats are totally pure evil. Yeah, wasn't in the mood. Zzzzzz. You know how it goes.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The absurdity of third-party salvation

Playing with some thoughts here...

I've long been bugged by the teaching that Jesus "died for our sins." I hope this blog entry is not too scattered.

First, a bunch of ground questions:

1. We need to be saved?
--- From what? Damnation? Why? Why are we damned? Why is damnation bad?

2. Why is THIS the way we are to be saved?
--- A couple of possibilities come to mind:

2a. God had to become a person so God would know what it is like to be human and then die in order to have empathy with us. Otherwise, God would not be of the right mind to do so. (This certainly seems to limit God to an absurd, if somewhat poetic, predicament.)

2b. God has always required sacrifice for salvation. Hence, the murder of animals on altars throughout history were necessary until Jesus took their place (Seems to put God in an even more absurd position)

3. A non-literalist approach could be something like this:
---We are saved in the sense that we are taught by an avatar (God as man, i.e.: Jesus) how to be in the Kingdom of Heaven here and now, where we stand, in what we stand, and no longer in need of such an avatar once we learn from Jesus' example. Death was necessary; otherwise, we could easily assume that Jesus was not a man, and therefore not accept that we ourselves could reach salvation.
-----Jesus' resurrection was to show us that death was an illusion. Because we are to follow Jesus' example, we too are immortal, and are beyond the bounds of mortality.

#3 is the only one that makes sense to me.

The literal notion that Jesus' death, spilling his blood all over our sins (and all of that imagery), really was a physical necessity to keep us from damnation.

This in turn implies that we need a third party (God) to actually save us.

And I find all of that absurd.

It makes more sense to me that we are who we are and can move at our own pace, of our own free will, into enlightenment / salvation.

I think of it like this:

You live in a house in which everyone drinks too much alcohol, eats too many Twinkies, and always seems to be on crack.

You decide that you would like to be healthy, so you do not participate in the same habits.

You did this. It wasn't, "I chose to refrain from these activities and suddenly a bunch of Jesus' blood poured all over me and I was miraculously prevented from having liver disease, diabetes, and whatever happens to people when they use crack."

It was something purely natural: you did this and as a result you -- YOU -- avoided those side effects.

It's the same thing with salvation. Sure, I could say the sinner's prayer and claim to be saved (whatever that might mean) by God and do, basically, nothing else and remain in a cloudy place of doing whatever the rest of the people in my (hypothetical) church are doing. Dum-dee-dum. Twiddling my thumbs here.

Or I could follow Jesus into the Kingdom of Heaven right now, experience salvation now, because it's already there, and I can do what it takes to wake up to it. You know, the whole letting go of everything and following. More than words, more than faith. Action.

Caveat: I have no idea what that action looks like.

But: I think perhaps I will be able to find out when I stop asking permission from people who claim to know more than I do about God, about spirituality, about that which is invisible, about that which is difficult to explain.

I keep on giving my power away. By doing so, it seems like I'm giving my salvation away too.

Peace and all good,
Andrew

Friday, November 20, 2009

Why the word "Christian" doesn't really work for me

The Bible, as a source of spiritual truth, I find to be pretty much useless, outside of the gospels, which I don't find to be containing the fullness of said truth.

How truth is discerned is a personal matter. I go with my intuition and my heart. Others go with the Bible itself, but I see no reason for it personally. Still others go with a churchly authority, which I've tried time and again and I just can't fit in that box.

Most define Christianity in some way in relation to the Bible. Me, I'll take the four Gospels, but I won't take them 100% literally, because I don't believe Jesus tossed demons into pigs (for example). I'll also consider the non-canonical gospels. And Tarot cards. And the Qu'ran. And the Tao te Ching. And and and ...

The church is the candle before me, the books beside me, the heart within me, and you, and me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rambling about the media and Sarah Palin, and the interactions between them

A friend online stated that he thought the attacks on Sarah Palin have been over-the-top. I'm not sure, but he may be right. She has certainly said some outrageous things, and her constant associating of Obama with Ayers was also over the top (not to mention part of a larger tendency among the members of the right wing to associate Obama with anti-Americanism, which I do consider a dangerous set of accusations). If she wasn't such a spotlight monger, she certainly wouldn't be receiving so much negative attention.

The problem I really see is that both sides are too eager to turn off their brains and feed on these media hogs. Because I am more familiar with what I see on the left, there are tons of stories on shows such as Keith Olbermann's which focus on the outrageous antics of Glenn Beck, Palin, Rush Limbaugh, with little attention paid to whether or not these people are actually influential in the way things turn out.

In the end, the attention is warranted, but it's too circusy. Rather than have a field day with every silly rant that Beck makes on TV, the serious matter is that not only to thousands of people take his word as solid truth, but our national, state, and local lawmakers often use similar arguments in their decision making. It affects politics, which means it affects us.

I have yet to hear a truly unreasonable negative comment aimed at Sarah Palin. However, I think such things are sucking up too much energy, both in terms of those who really wish to make change in the state of things, and probably the national ethos in general. To extend that to its inevitable conclusion, it affects the whole world.

The people with the power to change public policy and foreign affairs activities are the ones we should be concerned with. Media clowns didn't start the war on Iraq or cause 9/11. People with weapons or people with governmental powers did. That's where the focus should be.

Animal Rights Activism and "Terrorism"

I'll come out first by saying I'm not willing to endorse bombing or destroying animal testing facilities or the automobiles or homes of those who commit animal testing.

Aside #1: Yes, I used the word "commit."
Aside #2: Let's not forget the probable irrelevance of Andrew Werling's endorsement or lack thereof.

Paul Finkelman, a professor at Albany Law School's Law and Public Policy, recently gave a lecture on the question of whether or not John Brown was the nation's first terrorist. You can watch it here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/289567-1

This blog entry is not about that exact topic, but about Finkelman's definition of terrorists.

"Terrorists are willing to take lives, destroy property, without regard for the guilt or innocence of the people they are harming, without regard for whether innocent bystanders are harmed by these things."

In addiction to car bombings in the Middle East, he includes certain similar acts by anti-abortion activists and animal rights activists.

Now, as this was just a way to create a definition of a "terrorist," I'm not certain that his goal was to editorialize on these matters, though I do have to wonder why he chose to let out his own astonishment that, say, a car bomb in Los Angeles set off by a member of the extreme end of the "animal liberation front" (a misunderstood group too often blamed for such things) will destroy wildlife as collateral damage.

Moving away from Professor Finkelman's speech, I'd like to delve into this topic on my own. I don't want to suggest that anything I write from here on in this entry is something that Finkelman would disagree with. I don't know that, and that is not my concern in writing. Rather, impressions on animal rights activists are often colored by perceptions of the more extreme actions, and so that is what I would like to address. In briefly searching to discover how frequent such acts of violence committed by animal rights activists actually are, I couldn't find anything. I also don't know how common are similar actions by anti-abortion activists.

In debates on both topics, it is too common to point to such incidents as indicative of the nature of the respective movements. While I do not have statistics, I think it is fair to say that these are the extreme elements who engage themselves in such activities, and not anywhere near the majority. We see the same thing in arguments over religion, and censorship, and pornography, and drugs.

Not only is this dishonest, it's a way of denying the humanity of people who have heartfelt convictions. I see more power and harmony in trying to understand each other's passions and perspectives than in demonizing. As I am an animal rights believer, I can tell you my reasons are based on compassion, strong emotion, and logical reasoning. All mixed together. I am not a demon.

I don't endorse acts of violence or even necessarily acts of destruction of "property." If an activist knows what s/he is doing, however, the liberation of animals from factory farms, laboratories, and similar facilities, I am in full support of. If an animal is suffering in a lab or farm, then even euthanasia is better for them. They cannot free themselves, so they do need the help.

It's also true that, in a world so strongly based on profit-building, one of the best acts of change can be economically based. But such things are difficult to activate at a large scale. Certainly, if tons of people refused to buy any animal-tested product, animal testing might wither away as an accepted practice.

Changing social attitudes are frequently only semi-effective. While we have laws regarding civil rights, there are still significant numbers of people still opposed to them for various reasons. Sometimes its on the merits (or lack thereof) of specific policies, but sometimes it is still based on an -ism, a prejudice, even a hatred (we use that word too often). That's why direct action is frequently necessary. We are committing and supposedly benefiting from atrocious actions, and without a mass animal revolt, we are the only ones who can stop it.

Most of us - I would say a massive majority of us - do not seek these ends through violent means. Please stop associating the entire movement on those who do.

Peace and all good.
Andrew

Monday, November 16, 2009

Transition (not noun, verb, adjective, but something more than all of these)

Photobucket

Image found here: http://tarotbyarwen.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/wheeloffortune.jpg

Maybe it was ten years ago when a group of friends and I did a tarot exercise in which this was "my card." I don't remember if we drew these cards at random from the major arcana, or if we determined them in some other way. Heck, I remember very little about that experience, except we had fun.

What I do remember is this: there is a stage at which one is at the end of something and at the beginning of something new.

Supposedly my soul is at that place.

I was telling my mother recently that I wasn't sure if I was an "old soul" or a "young soul." A palm reader a long time ago told me I was a young soul, because I didn't have lots of lines on my palm. Well, I was 13 or so, so I could be wrong about that.

Maybe more accurately, as I often feel old and naive at the same time (in a spiritual way), I am in both places.

I don't know what I'm ending and what I'm beginning. It's not physical death, but perhaps this lifetime, or epoch, or whatever, is a transitional time.

It's very uncomfortable.

I saw "Where the Wild Things Are" yesterday. It's not a simple kid's movie. Max, the young star, is in a stage of growing up...definitely still a kid (eight or nine perhaps?), still full of imagination, but also full of that energy that doesn't know where to go. Kind of a frustrated mania. The world doesn't respond according to the wizardly wimsy of a child's mind. Max goes into another world in which the creatures he encounters are easy to subdue, and they are excited about his strange, stream-of-conscious dictates. They eagerly agree to build a complicated city with tunnels and magical powers, and participate in a rumpus, and a dirt-clod fight.

But the creatures are not puppets. They have emotions - they are in many ways like kids. They don't always act the way Max might want them too.

Max is struggling with reality vs. fantasy, with growing up, with pent-up volcanic oozing kid-ness. It's not a moralistic movie, a predictable formula movie, a condescending or patronizing movie. It's primal and real, real, real.

I had a tear-duct geyser at several points while experiencing this masterpiece. Where the Wild Things Are is about transition...no, not "about"...it IS transition. There is no thesis or metaphor, even though it applies to leaving one's parents on the way to life in adulthood, to encountering middle age, to changing a career, to breaking up with (or falling in love with) someone, to getting seriously ill, to dying.

I know this crisis mode. I am Max. Max did not remind me of myself, or illuminate my self. He unlocked my heart and crawled inside and we adventured and raged and cried and laughed together.

The postscript is that I felt moved to go to Mass today for lunch, and I went back and forth between the Episcopal Mass that starts at noon and the Catholic one that starts at ten minutes after. I'm fortunate that I work so close to two different traditions who have daily Mass.

I decided that I didn't have to stick to my promise not to return to the Catholics, so I started down the street to the cathedral. Then I was easily deterred. I had no money in my pocket for the collection plate, and walking a few blocks to church might wear me out for the walk from the bus stop to home later, and besides, why the heck do I want to sit through a Mass anyway? The money machine was closer, so I went there, got some cash out for the next couple weeks, and turned back to work. I remembered the childish lecture about the proper way to receive Communion. I remembered how easy it is to turn on the "I'm so sorry, Lord" faucet whenever I participate in Christianity. How every prayer must include contrition. I used to fall asleep at night trying to get the whole prayer formula down...acknowledgment (thou art great), contrition (I'm so sorry), thanksgiving (for this and for that), and supplication (please give me this and that). ACTS is the abbreviation.

They don't want you to forget anything I guess.

I rarely even got to the thanksgiving part. I guess I see the point in the formula (though contrition is an odd thing...perhaps for another blog entry).

So, hey, church, my first instinct in the choice to go to Mass was - guess what? - that I should go to confession and be oh-so-sorrowful that my anger with the pope and the church leaders has led me astray or something.

But, see, I'm not sorry, and I'm not going to force sorrow onto myself so I feel worthy to take Communion.

Not gonna do it.

And that's when I remembered the Tarot.

Peace and all good.
Andrew

Monday, November 9, 2009

New Book - St. Basil the Great's "On Social Justice"

This book looks great.

Whenever I see things like this I feel Orthodox. Arg.

http://www.svspress.com/product_info.php?products_id=4154

Homosexuality in Saudi Arabia

I came in to work this morning to find out that the company I work for, a large international architectural/engineering firm, is going to assist in building a skyscraper in Saudi Arabia.

My first reaction is, great, we're getting our profits from a country that executes queers.

So I decided to look into that subject, and found this:

http://atheism.about.com/b/2004/03/13/homosexuality-in-saudi-arabia.htm

Yes, it's an atheism blog, but it links elsewhere as well. Even though the danger of arrest and prosecution is always there, apparently things are changing. And in a country wherein the law is so fluid, and contrasted to the strange approach the U.S. is taking towards equality, indeed things could go in many directions.

Now, that blog entry was written in 2004. In 2007, this article appeared in The Atlantic:

tp://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200705/gay-saudi-arabia

I don't know if a United Statesian could adjust to the closeted lifestyle of a gay person in Saudi Arabia. It's kind of "don't flaunt, don't get arrested" there. Sort of. It's also a place that considers the homosexual act, rather than the identity, at least at the time of the article I just referenced. Sex is rampant, while a focus on identity (gay orientation) is discouraged. What to make of the attitude towards women as described in the article, I'm not sure. But as someone whose spiritual path always seems to have strong roots in the Middle East (I've never been there, but Jesus, Nazareth, spirituality of the desert), learning about life there seems to be a magnet for my attention.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What's the difference?

What is the difference between following the party line of the Roman Catholic church, and "100% faithfulness to Jesus Christ and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church"?

(That's a quote from someone replying to a comment I made about people following the party line regarding gay marriage).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hell, Purgatory, and Other Means of Hating Ourselves

I don't believe in an eternal place that is impossible to escape.

I also think that the whole Purgatory hellish sin-purge thing is outdated and totally negates the power of God.

God CAN handle "impurity." It's not what goes in, it's what comes out. Jesus said so himself. We don't need to be cleansed for a billion years just so we can be in the presence of God. What, did Jesus only feel safe to be around imperfect unbathed humans because he had the human flesh barrier between him and his godliness?

Do we presume to assert that his skin and muscles and fingernails and organs and blood vessels and bodily fluids were not also in some way "God"?

Seriously?

If we must be purged, I think we do it here. For me, it's pretty literal. When I'm letting go of something rather toxic in my psyche, or going through a big transition, I tend to have at least one rather horribly violent vomit session.

I see neither a logical nor intuitive connection between the loving, perfect God, and the need for us to be squeaky clean in order to achieve "salvation" (another term with all sorts of interesting definitions).

Peace and all good.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Roman Catholic Church - Ta-Ta Bitch!

I'm watching the results trickle in on Question 1 in Maine, which would trash gay marriage and take away equal rights from my queer brothers and sisters in that state.

It's very close, but as I write this, the margin has gone up from 50-50 to 51-49, in favor of the people who want to spit in our face.

I don't live in Maine, but I take this personally.

I take this personally because my church, the Roman Catholic Church, fought for this to happen.

I take this personally, no matter what the outcome, because it can still be this close, in spite of everything.

I take this personally because I'm gay and I am supposedly an equal citizen in this country.

I don't think I'll be able to forgive my church for this. No more.

Put your money into the basket, it can go to crap like this.

Fuck you, church. I'm done with you, for the very last time.
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