Signs of the Apocalypse: Unusual Materials Challenge

Lady Gaga may look fashionable in a dress made of meat, but certain images don’t translate well into every medium. Exhibit A: this collection of balloon-sculpture crucifixions at Matthew Paul Turner’s showcase of Christian absurdities, Jesus Needs New PR.

I’m sure glad they included that loincloth – wouldn’t want to risk any phallic symbols here.

Integrity USA: Update on Blessing Same-Sex Relationships in the Episcopal Church

Integrity USA is the main group that advocates for GLBT inclusiveness in the Episcopal Church. The Western Massachusetts chapter has been holding a series of discussion forums throughout our diocese, to foster dialogue and educate parishes about where we are in the process of creating official blessings for same-sex couples.

At the 2009 General Convention (the most recent policy-setting conclave of the entire national church) the bishops and lay deputies approved a sort of “local option” for dioceses to develop official rites for same-sex couples. Though nothing was mandated, some gesture in that direction was particularly encouraged for dioceses where gay marriage or civil unions are legal (e.g. Massachusetts). Ordination of GLBT candidates was similarly permitted but not required.

The next decision point for Western Mass churches will occur at the annual Diocesan Convention in October. The local chapter of Integrity is sponsoring a resolution that our diocese “initiate a process to develop pastoral and clergy resources that would accompany and support the forthcoming national church SCLM-authorized liturgies for the Blessing of Same-Gender Relationships”. (SCLM is the national church’s Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music.)

However, it’s up to us to make sure this resolution doesn’t die in committee, but is brought to a floor vote. Integrity chapter chairman Steve Symes needs affirming Episcopalians to register as delegates and sign on in support of the resolution. If you live in Western Mass and can attend the convention in Springfield, email him at

I’d like to share two excerpts from the materials Steve gave us at our workshop at St. John’s last weekend. These are taken from the report of the Task Force on the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts.

Legal and Cultural Considerations:

The church has rightly been reluctant to discuss marriage, for either straight or gay couples,
using the language of rights such as is employed in legal discourse. Like the discussion of
ordination of women in the 1970s, we have held to the language of vocation. A couple is
“called” to the estate of marriage, and this calling is first heard by the couple. When the blessing
of the Church is desired, this calling is tested by the community, in the representative of the
priest, and then, more broadly, if “banns” are published. The publishing of banns invites the
community to affirm and pray for the couple as they prepare for their vows and also allows the
community to assert concerns if one’s history would indicate that marriage is unadvisable.

In the
view of the Church, Christian marriage is not a right in the sense that civil rights are understood.
Rather, in the Church, marriage is seen as a particular calling, discerned initially by two persons
and then confirmed and supported by the prayers, material and emotional support of the church.
Marriage is understood as one means by which a person pursues a course toward holiness — as
one learns to live together in times of both prosperity and adversity, sickness and health,
harmony and conflict, one has the opportunity to grow more and more into the full stature of

We find the deliberation of the marriage or blessing of partners of the same sex tends to devolve
into the contentiousness of the society at large when we forsake the language of the Spirit’s
calling two persons to a holy covenant for the language of two persons demanding their rights in
the church. Such language is foreign both to the scriptures and the tradition of the Church.
Consequently, we have come to an awareness that marriage between two people is a gift from
God bestowed in order to further the mission of the church: to restore us to unity with God and
each other in Christ. Seen in this light, Christian marriage is a powerful and effective “school for
Christian holiness” where unity can overcome estrangement, shame, isolation so pervasive our


On the Care and Nurture of Children:

The rite of Holy Matrimony states as one of the purposes of marriage “the procreation of
children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.” The modern social situation
and advances in technologies related to reproduction extend the concept of “procreation” well
beyond the fruit of sexual union between a man and a woman. We have also come to see
families created by adoption and remarriage as more prevalent. We therefore hold that the
nurturing of children in the knowledge and love of the Lord is a calling open to all couples called
to marriage. Furthermore, it is a calling in which the Church has great interest. Not only we
must always preferentially protect the weak and innocent, we desire to support parents in their
challenging calling to raise children, and to help especially in their spiritual nurture and care of
their souls. The Church, through her clergy and trained laity, stands ready to assist all couples
in discerning their call to parenthood, and to support couples as they nurture their children to the
abundant life promised them in Jesus Christ.

Indeed, another straight ally at our St. John’s meeting said she welcomed the same-sex blessings debate as an occasion for the church to rethink and modernize the theology of all marriages. How can Christians reclaim the meaning of marriage from its chauvinistic origins as a transfer of female “property” from father to husband, and also from the crass materialism and sentimentality of contemporary weddings? For personal reasons, I also welcome the notion that a nonprocreative marriage can bear spiritual fruit in other equally valuable ways.

Not to forget the “T” in GLBT, we also discussed the need for strengthening nondiscrimination provisions at the local level. This past May, in response to pressure from Integrity, our diocese added “gender identity and expression” to the protected categories in their human resources manual. However…this only applies to hiring by the diocese itself, and is not binding on individual parishes, which seriously limits the rule’s usefulness.

Similarly, at the parish level, nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is merely encouraged, not mandated, by the diocese. Integrity argued that Massachusetts civil rights protections for gays and lesbians override this policy, but the diocese does not believe that these laws apply. At least with respect to non-clergy hires, I personally think the state law should control.

Contact Steve to find out how you can help.

Attendees from the Integrity W. Mass. meeting at St. John’s in Northampton

My Poems “Inheriting a House Fire” and “touching story” in Solstice Literary Magazine

Solstice Literary Magazine, an online quarterly, selected two of my poems as the “Editor’s Pick” from their contest submissions this year. “Inheriting a House Fire” and “touching story” appear in their Summer 2011 issue. Launched in 2009, Solstice has published such authors as Kathleen Aguero, DeWitt Henry, Leslea Newman, and Dzvinia Orlowsky. Enjoy (if that’s the right word?) “touching story” below.

touching story

not the turn to gold but touch he
wanted most, no object that
flesh of his
supper gelled to shining
ore lumps when he bit, that sepals
stiffened on the rose
like nipples bared to frost. not
the lark that lasted but the scar
its moneyed weight peeled
down the tree. not the trophy
hound, that sudden andiron
dropped from his lap,
but the fox, stinking, invisible,
myth to asses’ ears,
no nodding velveted clefts
named his errata, not a page
or armed barber kissed the riverbed
to scandalize the reeds
into singing true. and when his
as he’d tell it, sprang
into his transmuting arms, and after,
there was no god to take the
   hardening gift away.

Poemize the Patriarchy!

I’ve just begun reading Kathryn Joyce’s expose of evangelical doctrines about female submission, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Simultaneously, I discovered the Random Poem Generator. The “poemized” ad copy for Vision Forum’s Heroines of Christ’s Kingdom Paper Doll Set reveals some interesting subtexts:

Doll voices inside list,
catalog mullins site bluebehemoth!
jackson two switch wrist,
an adams as behemoth.

Christ stock adelina six,
daughters stock older paper.
eliza shopping women fix,
calvin paper for taper.

Online god online six,
retail outlet reviews stock.
dolls wives anne fix,
regular jackson vision cock.

Christian Wiman on the Spiritual Messages of Our Anxiety

I frequently quote Poetry editor Christian Wiman on this blog because he is a Christian writer in the true, thorny, mysterious, raptured and tormented senses of the phrase, and on top of that, an eloquent observer of his own mental processes. His recent article from The American Scholar, “Hive of Nerves”, is one example. Reflecting on the constant internal and external noise that pervades modern consciousness, and our attendant anxiety, Wiman proposes that this is a spiritual problem, not merely one of scheduling more “down time” into our days.”How does one remember God, reach for God, realize God in the midst of one’s life if one is constantly being overwhelmed by that life?” he asks:

…Christ speaks in stories as a way of preparing his followers to stake their lives on a story, because existence is not a puzzle to be solved but a narrative to be inherited, and undergone, and transformed person by person. He uses metaphors because something essential about the nature of reality—its mercurial solidity, its mathematical mystery and sacred plainness—is disclosed within them. He speaks the language of reality—speaks in terms of the physical world—because he is reality’s culmination and code, and because “this people’s mind has become dull; they have stopped their ears and shut their eyes. Otherwise, their eyes might see, their ears hear, and their mind understand, and then they might turn to me, and I would heal them.”

I don’t think the “answer” to the anxiety felt by everyone at that dinner party is Christianity. In fact I’m pretty sure that is not the case, as we represented several different traditions (including no tradition)—and anyway Christ is not an answer to existence but a means of existing, and I am convinced that there is no permutation of man or mind in which he is not, in some form, present. (This from the Catholic nun, Sara Grant, speaking about, and quoting from, the Kena Upanishad: “Brahman is not ‘that which one knows,’ but that by which one knows, as though a crystal bowl were aware of the sun shining through it. ‘When he is known through all cognitions, he is rightly known.’” But it seems to me you could quote Christ himself in support of this idea: “To believe in me, is not to believe in me but in him who sent me; to see me, is to see him who sent me.”)

I do think, though, that both the problem of, and the solution to, our individual anxiety is a metaphysical one. Some modern philosophers (Heidegger, Kierkegaard) have argued that existential anxiety proceeds from being unconscious of, or inadequately conscious of, death. True, I think, but I wonder if the emphasis might be placed differently, shifted from unconscious reaction to unrealized action: that is, our anxiety is less the mind shielding itself from death than the spirit’s need to be. It is as if each of us were always hearing some strange, complicated music in the background of our lives, music which, so long as it remains in the background, is not simply distracting but manifestly unpleasant, because it demands the attention we are giving to other things. It is not hard to hear this music, but it is very difficult indeed to learn to hear it as music.

Who is it that clasps and kneads my naked feet, till they unfold,
till all is well, till all is utterly well? the lotus-lilies of the feet!

I tell you it is no woman, it is no man, for I am alone.

And I fall asleep with the gods, the gods
that are not, or that are
according to the soul’s desire,
like a pool into which we plunge, or do not plunge.

The operative word in these lines from D. H. Lawrence, who wasn’t a conventionally religious person, is soul. It’s a word that has become almost embarrassing for many contemporary people, unless it is completely stripped of its religious meaning. Perhaps that’s just what it needs sometimes: to be stripped of its religious meaning, in the sense that faith itself sometimes needs to be stripped of its social and historical incrustations and returned to its first, churchless incarnation in the human heart. That’s what the 20th century was, a kind of windstorm-scouring of all we thought was knowledge and truth and ours—until it became too strong for us, or we too weak for it, and “the self replaced the soul with the fist of survival” (Fanny Howe). Anxiety comes from the self as ultimate concern, from the fact that the self cannot bear this ultimate concern: it buckles and wavers under the strain, and eventually, inevitably, it breaks….


…The meanings that God calls us to in our lives are never abstract. Though the call may ask us to redefine, or refine, what we know as life, it does not demand a renunciation of life in favor of something beyond it. Moreover, the call itself is always comprised of life. That is, it is not some hitherto unknown voice to which we respond; it is life calling to life. People think that diagnosing the apostle Paul with epilepsy or some related disorder nullifies any notion that God might truly have revealed something of himself on that road to Damascus. But God speaks to us by speaking through us, and any meaning we arrive at in this life is comprised of the irreducible details of the life that is around us at any moment. “I think there is no light in the world / but the world,” writes George Oppen. “And I think there is light.”

There is a distinction to be made between the anxiety of daily existence, which we talk about endlessly, and the anxiety of existence, which we rarely mention at all. The former fritters us into dithering, distracted creatures. The latter attests to—and, if attended to, discloses—our souls. And yet it is a distinction without a difference, perhaps, and as crucial to eventually overcome as it is to initially understand, for to be truly alive means to feel one’s ultimate existence within one’s daily existence, to feel one’s trivial, frittering anxieties acquiring a lightness, a rightness, a meaning. So long as anxiety is merely something to be alleviated, it is not life, or we are not alive enough to experience it as such.

Read the whole essay here.

Sponsor Me for the Soulforce Virtual Equality Ride

One of my favorite GLBT activist groups, Soulforce, counters religion-based homophobia through nonviolent activism in the tradition of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Their annual Equality Ride takes GLBT youth and straight allies on a bus tour of U.S. colleges whose official policies include discrimination against non-heterosexuals. The Riders initiate dialogue with school administrators and offer support to sexual minorities on campus. Since the first ride in 2006, several Christian schools (including Mormon heavy-hitter Brigham Young U.) have softened their anti-gay policies, and Gay-Straight Alliances have formed on a number of campuses.

Soulforce, a nonprofit, pays for all the expenses of the Equality Riders. Besides food, lodging, and transportation, the program includes training in nonviolent activism, so that the young people can remain peaceful and spiritually safe when confronted with hate speech during their silent vigils and sit-ins. The Riders raise money for their work through sponsorship pages on the Soulforce website.

This year, those of us who are too old to get on the bus can still be part of this courageous campaign as a Virtual Equality Rider. The sponsorship idea is the same, and the money goes to the general expenses of the ride.

Please visit my page and make a contribution! If I raise $1,000 by March 2012, they’ll put my name on the bus.