Episcopal General Convention Rejects Moratorium on Gay Clergy, Supports Transgender Inclusion

I’m proud to be an Episcopalian today.

The 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church USA is meeting this week in Anaheim, CA. You can follow all the news about General Convention at our official website, EpiscopalChurch.org. (Stop by and say thanks to St. John’s parish member Solange De Santis who edits Episcopal Life Online.)

Yesterday the House of Bishops approved Resolution D025, which affirms that “any ordained ministry” is open to gays and lesbians. The amended resolution now returns to the House of Deputies for approval, defeat, or further revision. D025 was first introduced in the House of Deputies as an apparent response to the last Convention’s Resolution B033, which recommended “restraint” in consecrating bishops whose “manner of life” challenged other churches in the Anglican Communion.

Read the full story at Episcopal Life Online.

In other news, General Convention is also discussing various resolutions to make the Episcopal Church more welcoming to transgender Christians. Today, the House of Deputies voted by a large margin to add “gender identity and expression” to the ministry canons regarding non-discrimination. This year marks the first time that General Convention has conducted such an in-depth study of trans issues. Follow Rev. Cameron Partridge’s TransEpiscopal blog for detailed updates.

When we say “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”, we mean it!

Francine Witte: “Alien Story”

Francine Witte’s First Rain won the 2009 Pecan Grove Press National Chapbook Competition. Her poems are spare yet filled with longing, like the empty rooms in an Edward Hopper painting. Their narrators reach for the unsentimental wisdom to be found on the far side of divorce, aging, and other losses. Thanks to Francine and publisher H. Palmer Hall at Pecan Grove for permission to reprint the excerpt below.

Alien Story

Last night, it was
late, and this morning she points
where the earth sunk
in like a breakfast bowl.
A shape nothing human could have made.

No way to explain
how it filled itself
in like a love story.
The cops have heard
it all before, these open fields
and the lies they’d tell a woman.

How real it must have seemed
to her, the flashing lights,
the creatures
with their bumped, green skin.

Real as the dent
her last man left in the sofa. A space
carved out
as he sat and sat
explaining his way
towards the door.

A space she sees
even now, sometimes,
when she’s cleaning,
careful not to touch.

Six months gone,
each evening she’s by the window
framing the darkness.

Her eyes sweep
the sky like a searchlight.
She’s looking for something
that never heard of love.

Sunday Random Song: Charles Trenet, “Y’a d’la joie”

I’m not sure why I’m suddenly fascinated with Charles Trenet. The record-store clerk described him as a “French Sinatra”. That describes the genre of music pretty well, but where Sinatra always took his persona as a suave crooner quite seriously, Trenet seems to be laughing at the affectations of his own style. He’s having so much fun that he’d rather be part of the joke than pretend to be cool.

Y’a d’la joie! Bonjour, bonjour les hirondelles
Y’a d’la joie! Dans le ciel par dessus les toits
Y’a d’la joie! Et du soleil dans les ruelles
Y’a d’la joie! Partout, y’a d’la joie!

Tout le jour, mon coeur bat, chavire et chancelle
C’est l’amour qui vient avec “je ne sais quoi”
C’est l’amour… Bonjour, bonjour les demoiselles
Y’a d’la joie! Partout, y’a d’la joie!

Le gris boulanger bat la pâte à pleins bras
Il fait du bon pain, du pain si fin que j’ai faim
On voit le facteur qui s’envole là-bas
Comme un ange bleu portant ses lettres au Bon Dieu
Miracle sans nom à la station Javelle
On voit le métro qui sort de son tunnel
Grisé de soleil, de chansons et de fleurs
Il court vers le bois, il court à toute vapeur

Y’a d’la joie! La tour Eiffel part en ballade
Comme une folle, elle saute la Seine à pieds joints
Puis elle dit: « Tant pis pour moi si j’suis malade
J’m’embêtais tout’ seule dans mon coin… »

Y’a d’la joie! Le percepteur met sa jaquette
Plie boutique et dit d’un air très doux, très doux
« Bien l’bonjour! pour aujourd’hui fini la quête
Gardez tout Messieurs, gardez tout! »

Mais voilà soudain qu’je m’éveille dans mon lit
Donc, j’avais rêvé, oui car le ciel est gris
Il faut se lever, se laver, se vêtir
Et ne plus chanter si l’on n’a plus rien à dire
Mais je crois pourtant que ce rêve a du bon
Car il m’a permis de faire une chanson
Chanson de printemps, chansonnette d’amour
Chanson de 20 ans, chanson de toujours

Y’a d’la joie! Bonjour, bonjour les hirondelles
Y’a d’la joie! Dans le ciel par dessus les toits
Y’a d’la joie! Et du soleil dans les ruelles
Y’a d’la joie! Partout, y’a d’la joie!

Tout le jour, mon coeur bat, chavire et chancelle
C’est l’amour qui vient avec “je ne sais quoi”
C’est l’amour… Bonjour, bonjour les demoiselles
Y’a d’la joie! Partout, y’a d’la joie!…

(Lyrics courtesy of lyricsmode.com)

Other Sheep Memo on Gay Marriage and Religious Liberty

The tireless Rev. Steve Parelli and Jose Ortiz of the GLBT Christian outreach ministry Other Sheep are touring Southeast Asia this month, with stops in Nepal and Thailand. Earlier this week, they held a seminar in Kathmandu for 26 pastors, where representatives from Nepal’s Blue Diamond Society also spoke. This resource web page is aimed at Nepali pastors but will be useful to GLBT-affirming religious leaders in other cultures as well.

One of the resources I found especially interesting was Steve’s paper titled “How Baptist Doctrine May Obligate the Evangelical to View Same-Sex Marriage as Primarily a Civil Matter and a Matter of Individual Conscience”.
This paper was first presented at the 2006 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

Steve discusses American Baptists’ history of support for religious freedom and church-state separation, a point on which Roger Williams split with the Puritans in colonial times. The American Baptist tradition emerged in opposition to their European forebears, including Luther and Calvin, who were more comfortable with using civil authority to enforce obedience to doctrine. Steve then argues that since legalizing gay marriage does not infringe on the liberty of conscience of those who oppose it, evangelicals should not seek to write their Bible-based views into law. Excerpts:

…In a written statement to his congregation on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2006, Ted Haggard, who recently resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said of his same-sex relations with a gay escort, “I am guilty of sexual immorality.

“There is a part of my life,” he says, “that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all my adult life. … From time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach. . . . the darkness increased and finally dominated me. As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe. … the deception and sensuality that was in my life . . . need to be dealt with harshly” (New Life Church, Colorado Springs, Colorado, website).

Ted Haggard’s remarks are timely and relevant. First, he tells us that his same-sex attraction existed for the duration of his adult life, increasing more and more and finally dominating. Secondly, he tells us, twice, that his homosexual desires and acts are contrary to everything he believes and teaches, and that – on the basis of his belief system – his homosexuality is repulsive, dark and dirty. Thus, his views on homosexuality are sectarian and his sectarian views must trump his own personal life-long homosexual experiences. While this may be true for Ted Haggard and the evangelical Religious Right he represents, this does not hold true for other gays and lesbians (whether evangelical or not) who have reexamined the church’s teachings in light of their life-long adult homosexual experiences and have, in contrast to Ted Haggard’s faith and practice, submitted scripture to reason, experience and re-interpretation.

The question this paper addresses is this: can Ted Haggard vote his conscience in a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage without wrongly violating the conscience and liberties of others who according to the dictates of their conscience do not find homosexual love repulsive, nor dark, and neither contrary to or dependent upon scripture. Ted Haggard can judge himself according to the dictates of his conscience. But, can he impose the same standard upon the conscience of others through the use of civil law? The 17th century Boston Puritan, Rev. John Cotton would answer, “Yes.” Roger Williams, his contemporary and theological opponent would answer, “No.”


…In the matter of gay marriage, the question, for a democracy, is not “What is right?” but rather, “Who should determine what is right: the church, the state, or the individual?”

Today’s evangelicals are bringing the wrong question to the public square. Evangelicals are addressing the question, “What is right?” When Robert Gagnon says “for any given homosexual person hope exists for forming a heterosexual union” – that directive addresses the question “What is right?” and belongs in the pulpit not in the capital (Myers & Scanzoni 2005: 126.)

It is the Baptists who have historically brought the right question to the public square. And so it must be now. In the matter of gay marriage, the question is, “Who should determine what is right: the church, the state, or the individual?” The historical, Baptist answer is the individual and therefore the state must defend liberty of conscience.

Why the individual? Because gay marriage “does not interfere with the rights of conscience.” That means, my right to a gay marriage does not interfere with your right to refrain from a gay marriage. So then, gay marriage compels no individual, whereas a ban on gay marriage is “compulsory heterosexuality” (Eskridge 1996: 143), and in the words of 17th century English Baptist John Murton: “The foulest of crimes is to force people’s bodies to a worship whereunto they cannot bring their spirits.”

Finally, gay marriage “does not violate the [civil] laws of morality and property” (Justice Samuel Miller) (Gaustad 1991: 44). Same-sex civil union in place of gay marriage is an expression of intolerance, discrimination and oppression. And according to Ted Jelen, professor of political science at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, “Identification of religious principles with political values can be considered a violation of the First Commandment as well as the First Amendment” (Jelen 2000: 94).

Testimony Needed by July 10 for Massachusetts Transgender Rights

The Interfaith Coalition for Transgender Equality, the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, and a number of Massachusetts faith communities are gathering testimony to present in support of the transgender anti-discrimination bill now pending before the state legislature. I just received this message from Rabbi Riqi Kosovske from Northampton’s Beit Ahavah synagogue:

There is a hearing for the bill called ‘An Act Relative To Gender-Based Discrimination & Hate Crimes’ (House Bill 1728 / Senate Bill 1687) before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, July 14th. What is most needed from transgender people and allies alike who support this bill is written testimony (in the form of letters)– especially from people and communities of faith such as clergy, congregations, lay leaders, individuals, and other groups.

We are encouraging people to please write a one-page letter and submit it to the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition at testimony@masstpc.org. If you are writing as a person or community of faith, please also send it to Orly Jacobovits, Community Organizer & Community Educator at Keshet, at orly@keshetonline.org. The Interfaith Coalition for Transgender Equality (ICTE) will submit a packet of faith-based testimony to the Judiciary Committee to show how much people and communities of faith support this vital civil rights bill.

All letters are needed by Friday, July 10 so they can be presented to the legislators. Feel free to forward the information in this letter if you know of friends, family or colleagues who would be able to write a testimony letter.

For more information about how to write and submit testimony, please visit www.masstpc.org/legislation/testifyinwriting.shtml.

Charlie Bondhus: “Epithalamium to Myself and Walt Whitman”

Charlie Bondhus is a poet, fiction writer and literary critic who is currently pursuing a Ph.D at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. The poem below is reprinted by permission from his new chapbook, What We Have Learned to Love, which won the 2008-09 Stonewall Competition from BrickHouse Books. Charlie’s full-length poetry book How the Boy Might See It will be out from Pecan Grove Press in October, and his novella Monsters and Victims will be published by Gothic Press in March 2010.

Epithalamium to Myself and Walt Whitman

As Adam early in the morning,
Walking forth from the bower refresh’d with sleep,
Behold me where I pass, hear my voice, approach,
Touch me, touch the palm of your hand to my
    body as I pass,
Be not afraid of my body.

                        -Walt Whitman

I found Walt Whitman–

native and slithering in the tall grasses
au naturel save for beard,
true and biological son of Adam and Father Time.

Yet undivorced from the solid world, I
considered averting my eyes and crying:
“Come up from the fields, father!
Show your face
scraped in dead leaves
smudged with herb juice
and streaming with the sweet, gentle dew
of buttercups.”
Thinking book deals and self-promotion I
considered calling
The Daily Sun
The Hanover Press
The New York Times
to report this
cleft of time and space
this bit of transcendental news.
But something about his eyes,
weary and reckless,
stopped me.
I knew he was ashamed
to go naked about the world, though
clothing only constrained
his meadow meanders.
What wisdom, I thought, could be learned from this
grizzled young gray man?
What childless adventures?
Sensing my hesitation, Walt,
by way of greeting,
spooled his body about my own:
wrinkled ligaments and hairy appendages
encircling my boy-shape,
like Lucifer to Eve
in classical painting.

Grinding white teeth he
hissed affectionately:

To-day I go consort with Nature’s darlings, to-night too,
I am for those who believe in loose delights

Bowing then my head
to the priest of nature
unvested save for crabgrass and pinecones
I reverently uttered the responsorial:

For who but you or I understand lovers and all
    their sorrow and joy?
And who but you and I, dear grandpapa, ought
    be poets of comrades?

Much to do, needless to say.
Job had to be quit.
Buses had to be boarded.
Messages had to be left
on lovers’ answering machines.

I admit I initially judged Walt’s value
in terms of brand recognition.
Considering my new companion
a muscle for my rhetoric, I
dragged him on board a Greyhound
and bore him south.

Watching the 6 o’clock news in a D.C. hostel’s
    common room
I learned that we were in no way unique;
Melville was giving a lecture entitled “I am
    not Ishmael” in Boston,
Emerson was alive and well, already booked
    to speak at Dartmouth’s commencement,
and the Enquirer reported that Isherwood and Auden
    had gotten a civil union
in Los Angeles.

Appointing himself captain and helmsman
of brotherly mayhem, Walt drew up blueprints
of the White House, shared his plan
to invade the Oval Office
and recite “The Song of the Broad Axe”
interpolated with “I Hear America Singing”
to protest outsourcing, encored
by a brideless wedding march.

But, as it turned out, Walt had been
too long in the ground
to remember his own words.

Later that night at the hostel, lying awake
back-to-back in a twin bed, I
heard him singing in his sleep
reimagined refrains about New York City.

Next day on the plane he
pried open my lap-top
with a butter knife he had somehow gotten past
found the porn,
and spent the whole flight in the bathroom,
revising every poem in Calamus
to assimilate bears and twinks.

Approaching the gray and brown skyline,
noses and beards pointed towards JFK, I
described the violent rise and sudden crash of
    the towers,
the significance of which he appreciated,
though not the stark irony of 9-1-1.

That night at CBGB’s he got in for free
just for having the gumption
to say he was Walt Whitman
later corroborated
by an NYU adjunct
who happened to be standing near the door.

Wiggling like Mick Jagger
to the rhythm of an all girl rock band
(called, I think, “The Flaming Cunts”)
he danced his hips into my crotch and,
diving from the stage, cried:

I am Walt Whitman! Liberal and lusty as nature!

After the set and two rounds of cosmopolitans,
the moment splintered away as Walt
sustained an unfortunate groin injury
after propositioning the drummer—
a pink haired girl in zebra halter top.

There was also a moment of jealousy
when my companion fell
fascinated in love
with a leather queen
named Boddi Elektrique.
The divine nimbus of the female form, he proclaimed
    in amazement,
wedded to the action and power of the male…

Grabbing his freckled arm, I
assured a miffed Ms. Elektrique that
yes his words were complimentary and
yes she could’ve fooled me.

(Privately got revenge later
by making out with a poet of lesser talent
while Walt was in the bathroom.)

Tired of the East Coast and low on provisions we
    went shopping,
arm in arm at a supermarket in California.
Naturally, we ran into Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady,
just out of hell and trying to be domestic.
We chatted about their new home in P-Town and
graciously declined an offer of mescaline and a four way.

At a poetry slam in San Francisco I
introduced him as a cousin to Dodie B.
and later caught him in the bathroom
peeking at Dennis Cooper
on the other side of the divider.

Faced with expository verse
self-serving metaphor
and the slack-jawed applause of tongue-pierced
Walt didn’t need to be cajoled
into reciting “Whoever You are Holding Me Now
    in Hand.”

The reigning champion, a
heavy girl in black jeans named Rain
(spelled “R-A-Y-N-E”)
was surprisingly fine with losing,
dutifully informed me that she’d “SO do” me if I
    wasn’t gay,
thought it was cool that I hung out with Walt
and asked us if we knew Poe’s number.

Bivouacing the next afternoon on Newport Beach,
we witnessed no solemn and slow procession
no halting army
save that of surfer boys, comrades to be,
capped in hair gel and highlights (which I patiently
and garbed in soft herbages of chest bristle
that sprang forth from breasts
like joyous leaves.
All the while
a pink umbrella grew,
as a lone oak in Louisiana,
behind and above us, as I wondered,

what could I, poet who has come,
do to justify his one or two indicative words?

Leaning over, Walt slipped a ring on my finger, then

All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d

Overcome by the passionate surreality of it all
I fell back crying:

“Dear father graybeard! Lonely old courage teacher!
I ride tonight and every night with you,
in ecstasy
with the evening star on my lips
the thrush warbling in my breast pocket
and lilacs spread across my trembling hand,
inside a wooden box across the open roads of
    sombre America!”

Makoto Fujimura: Beauty and Justice as Companions

The Christian magazine Relevant has posted a short interview with visual artist Makoto Fujimura, founder of the International Arts Movement. About the genesis of this movement, which seeks to create a dialogue between the worlds of faith and avant-garde art, Fujimura says, “I found myself isolated from the creative communities as a Christian and from the Church as an artist. But I became convinced that the ‘gap’ I fell into was actually a culturally significant arena (some call it the ‘critical zone’), a kind of an estuary, a rich mixture of faith-infected cultural waters with many strange, beautiful creatures swimming about.”

I especially liked this exchange toward the end of the interview, where Fujimura responds to the oft-stated objection that art’s traditional concern with beauty is a frivolity that we can’t afford in a world full of injustice:

Relevant: Reading your essay “Why Art?”, I was reminded of Zbigniew Herbert’s poem “Five Men,” about five men executed by firing squad. Herbert says at the end of the poem, basically, “I am aware of the men’s execution, so how can I justify writing poems about flowers?” His answer is that the night before the execution, the men under death’s sentence talked about prophetic dreams, automobile parts, girls, vodka—in other words, the everyday things of life. Herbert concludes his poem: “thus one can use in poetry/names of Greek shepherds/one can attempt to catch the colour of the morning sky/write of love/and also/once again/in dead earnest/offer to the betrayed world/a rose.” What is your response to those who have trouble justifying artistic pursuits in a world with so much inequality and injustice?

Fujimura: Art does not necessarily provide answers to inequality and injustice, but provides a vision of the world beyond them. Giving a rose in rebellion against de-humanization is a simple act, but repeated by the thousands, like in the case of Princess Diana’s death, it can be a powerful demonstration of humanity. I do not believe there is a strict dichotomy between artistic pursuits, or of beauty, with justice issues. Both beauty and justice require a foundation of the ethics of love, and are the twin pillars of the City of God. When Mary anointed Jesus with the expensive jar of nard, she was intuitively recognizing, with her act of beauty, the injustice Jesus is about to suffer. The extravagant gesture, and the disciples’ response “what a waste,” was met with Jesus’ commendation that “wherever the gospel is told, what she has done will be told.” Both beauty and justice must be practiced together to truthfully engage in human conflicts, because it is not just about the “rights” of a person only, but about the possibility of human flourishing in general.

I blogged about another interview with Fujimura at Image Journal last year, here. Visit the artist’s own blog here.

An Affirming 4th of July Message from State Sen. Stan Rosenberg

Massachusetts State Sen. Stan Rosenberg (D) represents Hampshire and Franklin counties, including our hometown of Northampton. He sent this July 4th message yesterday to the members of his email list. It also ran as a column in today’s local newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

At the State House, in the House of Representatives chamber, hangs a mural entitled “Milestones on the Road to Freedom in Massachusetts.”

This painting, by Albert Herter, depicts five scenes from our state’s history. For me, the most poignant of these is the image of Judge Samuel Sewall, his head bowed in shame as he seeks forgiveness for his role in the Salem Witch Trials and the execution of 19 innocent people in 1692.

The caption beneath this panel of Herter’s mural reads: “Dawn of Tolerance in Massachusetts.”

We have indeed come a long way since those days, when fear and superstition held sway over our system of justice. But over the centuries many people, far too many, have suffered as our society struggled to fulfill its noblest, yet apparently most vexing, promise – the promise of equality. Our history is replete with examples of how certain groups of people have been defined by the majority and then vilified and subjugated because of their differences. From the execution of “witches” in Salem, to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, from the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of Native Americans, to the stinging discrimination felt at one time or another by all minorities – blacks, Jews, women, gay men and lesbians, Hispanics, the poor, the list goes on – our efforts to achieve equality have all too often collapsed before the notion that it is somehow permissible to deny justice and equality to those perceived as “the other.”

The good news is that America is, and will continue to be, a work in progress, much like the individuals we encounter everyday. The best news is that the forces for equality eventually, eventually, prevail.

Five years ago, Massachusetts stood alone as the birthplace of marriage equality in America. Today, five states have joined us in providing full marriage equality, while nine others allow some form of legally recognized same-sex union. Such victories have not come easily, or swiftly, or without sacrifice. But they have come, and more will follow if people of fair and open minds persevere. The forces for equality eventually prevail.

I am proud to have been a member of the Legislature that helped start this national movement, not just because it marks the beginning of the eventual end to another form of injustice, but because it marks what I consider to be another milestone on our road to freedom – the eventual end to identity politics. As a foster child who grew up as a ward of the state, as a gay man, as a Jew, I understand what it’s like to be cast as “the other.” I rarely discuss these facets of my character because I don’t practice identity politics. I practice policy politics. And I firmly believe that we will never fulfill our potential as a just society until we embrace the principle of equality for all and adhere to it as fundamental, immutable policy.

Eventually we will. Our past, I believe, is prologue.

When the debate over marriage equality began on Beacon Hill, only about a quarter of the state’s 200 legislators favored extending marriage rights to all adults. Given such a daunting task, the forces for equality might have been forgiven had they chosen to stay silent, to continue to live in the shadows. Instead, scores of non-traditional families, the courageous “others,” shared their lives and their stories and reminded us that any law that violated a person’s civil rights, that crushed a person’s dignity, that tarnished a person’s self respect, would be unworthy of the world’s oldest democratic institution. They reminded us, quite simply, that we’re not so different after all.

In the end, marriage equality won the support of 75 percent of lawmakers, a stunning and remarkable turnaround. The forces for equality eventually prevail.

As we celebrate this Fourth of July and all the freedoms we enjoy, we should pay special tribute to the people whose names are lost to history who helped make our Commonwealth a community, a work in progress, a welcoming place for all good people of good will. We once hanged “witches” in this state. From that injustice, at least according to Mr. Herter, we learned tolerance. Because of what began here five years ago, eventually, eventually, the time will come to add a new panel to his mural, maybe one entitled “Dawn of Equality in America.”

Christian Wiman on Art and Self-Transcendence

No one writes about the interplay of poetry and faith better than Christian Wiman, the editor of the acclaimed literary journal Poetry. In this essay from Image #60, “God’s Truth Is Life“, he explores the similarities between the devotion of the artist and that of the believer, and how they both point beyond the self, paradoxically through the act of expressing a vision that is unique to that person.

It was hard choosing just one passage to quote from his Image essay, since the whole piece is as rich and compact as a poem. Here are two samples to pique your interest:

…I once believed in some notion of a pure ambition, which I defined as an ambition for the work rather than for oneself, but I’m not sure I believe in that anymore. If a poet’s ambition were truly for the work and nothing else, he would write under a pseudonym, which would not only preserve that pure space of making but free him from the distractions of trying to forge a name for himself in the world. No, all ambition has the reek of disease about it, the relentless smell of the self—except for that terrible, blissful feeling at the heart of creation itself, when all thought of your name is obliterated and all you want is the poem, to be the means wherein something of reality, perhaps even something of eternity, realizes itself. That is noble ambition. But all that comes after—the need for approval, publication, self-promotion: isn’t this what usually goes under the name of “ambition”? The effort is to make ourselves more real to ourselves, to feel that we have selves, though the deepest moments of creation tell us that, in some fundamental way, we don’t. (What could be more desperate, more anxiously vain, than the ever-increasing tendency to Google oneself?) So long as your ambition is to stamp your existence upon existence, your nature on nature, then your ambition is corrupt and you are pursuing a ghost.

Still, there is something that any artist is in pursuit of, and is answerable to, some nexus of one’s being, one’s material, and Being itself. The work that emerges from this crisis of consciousness may be judged a failure or a success by the world, and that judgment will still sting or flatter your vanity. But it cannot speak to this crisis in which, for which, and of which the work was made. For any artist alert to his own soul, this crisis is the only call that matters. I know no name for it besides God, but people have other names, or no names.

This is why, ultimately, only the person who has made the work can judge it, which is liberating in one sense, because it frees an artist from the obsessive need for the world’s approval. In another sense, though, this truth places the artist under the most severe pressure, because if that original call, that crisis of consciousness, either has not been truly heard, or has not been answered with everything that is in you, then even the loudest clamors of acclaim will be tainted, and the wounds of rejection salted with your implacable self-knowledge. An artist who loses this internal arbiter is an artist who can no longer hear the call that first came to him. Better to be silent then. Better to go into the world and do good work, rather than to lick and cosset a canker of resentment or bask your vanity in hollow acclaim….


…The question of exactly which art is seeking God, and seeking to be in the service of God, is more complicated than it seems. There is clearly something in all original art that will not be made subject to God, if we mean by being made “subject to God” a kind of voluntary censorship or willed refusal of the mind’s spontaneous and sometimes dangerous intrusions into, and extensions of, reality. But that is not how that phrase ought to be understood. In fact we come closer to the truth of the artist’s relation to divinity if we think not of being made subject to God but of being subjected to God—our individual subjectivity being lost and rediscovered within the reality of God. Human imagination is not simply our means of reaching out to God but God’s means of manifesting himself to us. It follows that any notion of God that is static is not simply sterile but, since it asserts singular knowledge of God and seeks to limit his being to that knowledge, blasphemous. “God’s truth is life,” as Patrick Kavanagh says, “even the grotesque shapes of its foulest fire.”

Wiman is currently working on a nonfiction book titled My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer. Visit his Artist-of-the-Month page at Image here.

Tim Mayo: Poems from “The Kingdom of Possibilities”

Tim Mayo’s first full-length poetry book, The Kingdom of Possibilities, was published this April by Mayapple Press. It was also a finalist for the May Swenson Award. Mayapple Press is a small press established in 1978 by poet and editor Judith Kerman. Editors say, “We specialize in contemporary literature, especially poetry and works that straddle conventional categories: Great Lakes, women, Caribbean, translations, science fiction poetry, recent immigrant experience, Judaica.” Tim has kindly permitted me to reprint two poems from his collection below. His finalist poem from our 2007 Winning Writers War Poetry Contest can also be read here.

The Wild Boy of Aveyron

         (Paris, 1801)

I named him Victor to vanquish the animal in him.
I tried to teach him to name his own needs,
to have his words rise up from the core
of his body, ball up in his throat, then push out
in well formed vowels quelling the inarticulate.

But all he could gargle out was the word lait
as if somewhere between tongue and throat
the muscles that made his words had lost their way.

Lait became his insistent call for love
and the angry expression to all the words
neither my little briberies of milk nor
my punitions could ever make him say.

Later, I tired and returned to Paris,
but sometimes, in the dark non sequitur
of night, when dreams should take me away,
Victor comes and shakes me. I watch him
press his nose against the window,
confused by its impenetrable glass,

and I see the moon’s milk-glow fracture
down upon his face and the hills, caged
between the mullions, huddling outside.

Then grinning with a feral joy, he pulls
again at my sleeve saying his one word
over and over, until he turns back, and tilting
his head up, he opens his mouth wide and waits
for the moon to pour in…and I fall asleep.


The Beautiful Woman

You stare at the jagged tic-tac-toe of her scars
where once a downy peach fuzz grew, and you
how beauty is an emotion from which desire
like a prodigal. How it often burgeons, a sudden
from a dark and unexpected place where you
nothing grew.

                   But here…now…the livid white knots
of her skin seem to muscle into purple before your
all of that past pain which, to you, is only the
of what you see and the embarrassment of being
as you imagine the indignities she suffered for
    each mark.

So you glance up at her face hoping she hasn’t
    noticed how
the un-erasable remnants of her past have kept
    you transfixed.
You look into those eyes, dreading the wise, sad
    look back,
the dismissal of it all that will scar you, too, possibly
    for life.