Monday, March 31, 2008

Go, Hillary!

There's a phrase you probably didn't expect to hear from me. But I mean it, I'm serious: go, Hillary, go! As in, go away. We have some lovely parting gifts for you.

It's time for the media to give Clinton the Ron Paul treatment: play her for laughs, but recognize that the nomination is not and cannot be hers and stop giving her credence she has not earned. She is not a viable candidate for the White House.

Her campaign could be quirkily quixotic, a la Huckabee, but she is neither gracious nor charming nor apparently hanging in for the sake of principle while acknowledging the writing is on the wall. She seems to be fueled by an unnerving combination of of ambition and delusion.

Hillary Clinton is the new Joe Lieberman. The Democrats of Connecticut spoke and told Joe he was done; but he wouldn't take "go away" for an answer, and now he's standing beside John McCain, correcting his foreign policy gaffes. Hillary, America has spoken.

She claims the opposite; she's arguing it's anti-democratic to call a candidate out while there are still votes to count. Tell that to Edwards, Richardson, Kucinich, Dodd, Biden, Giuliani, Huckabee, Brown, Tancredo, and Romney. (Did I leave anyone out?) Sure, Hillary's closer in numbers to Obama than sideshows like Giuliani ever came to McCain, but that's academic. The result is the same: she cannot win the nomination.

Okay, well, sure, she could, if the superdelegates got together and decided to thwart the expressed will of the voters. But let's take a look at the trend. Since Super Tuesday, Obama has won more than twice as many superdelegates as Clinton. The tide is not in her favor. Any way you want to slice this, by any metric, Hillary has lost and cannot win.

Hillary seems to think that the fact that she is "close" (she trails by 700,000 votes and nearly 200 pledged delegates) entitles her to...well, I'm not sure what, exactly. The nomination? John Kerry was "close" to Bush in 2004, but what did that matter? Second place is second place.

Bill Clinton called the media coverage of Obama's anti-war position "the biggest fairy tale I've ever heard." That must mean he'd never heard Hillary's tale of landing in Bosnia under sniper-fire. Meantime, following the Reverend Wright dust-up, Gallup discovers that Obama leads Clinton nationally by a margin-of-error-proof 10%.

Why is anyone still supporting her? She invented the Bosnia story out of whole cloth -- and repeated it on multiple occasions -- to buttress the myth that she has significant foreign policy experience. As one wag put it, "Saying that Hillary has Executive Branch experience is like saying Yoko Ono was a Beatle." She either has a poor memory, is delusional, or is mendacity incarnate. Which of these qualities becomes a president?

Barack Obama was a relative newcomer on the national stage; he came from more than 20 percentage points behind to overcome and surpass a candidate who truly was inevitable, and we are supposed to believe that she's the one with superior judgment and administrative capacity? Did I mention that her campaign has $8.7 million in unpaid bills? I don't understand. What do people see in her?

Last week it was reported that 28% of Clinton supporters said they would vote for McCain instead if when Obama gets the nomination. This is, I think, more than coincidentally close to the 27% threshhold of the Theory of Crazification. I know; in the past, I myself have entertained the thought -- and may even have spoken aloud the threat -- of voting for McCain if Hillary is the nominee. But then I thought about it. I thought about who would get to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court. I thought about who would appoint the next Attorney General while we have innocent people languishing in undisclosed locations around the world. I thought about the war in Iraq. I thought about universal healthcare and the housing crisis and the environment and civil rights and tax cuts.

And so, while I may believe that Hillary deserves to lose, I believe America does not. America needs to win. America needs to firmly reject the Bush Administration and its supporters and apologists and reclaim its moral standing in the world.

All things considered, Hillary Clinton would probably make a good president. Certainly a better one than John McCain. But Barack Obama is a better choice yet; and the voters have already chosen him. It's time for Senator Clinton to step aside and support the people's decision.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

McCain Courts the Gay Vote

The sad thing is, the production values here far outstrip the original.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Road to Confirmation: Part III

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore....And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

* * * * *

So having learned that the Book of Revelation is not terrible, but rather, wonderful, and having found that no, it is not in conflict with the gentle, welcoming, forgiving, compassionate Christ of the Gospels, I was ready to say, yes. Unreservedly, completely, yes. I wanted to reaffirm the vows of my baptism and commit myself not just to God, as I had already done long ago, but to the church itself.

I signed up for the confirmation class led by the Rector of St. Bartholomew's on Park Avenue, the Rev. Bill Tully. What a gracious, solemn, wise, marvelous preacher, teacher and leader he is. Though I already knew that I was going to be moving to Oregon, St. Bart's had become an extremely special place in a relatively short time, and I wanted to be confirmed there, in that beautiful space, surrounded by my new friends, so that I would always have a unique spiritual tie.

But, it was not to be. As chance would have it, an opportunity opened up that made April 22nd, 2007, the best possible day for me to hit the road and start the long drive to Oregon.

My confirmation had been scheduled for April 29.

In an odd, convenient coincidence, the rental car place was just one block from St. Bart's, so on the morning of the 22nd I attended one last service there before picking up the van. I was so full of so many emotions, I could barely stand. I was excited and terrified, optimistic and worried, relieved and panicked, all at the same time. I looked out across the sanctuary, I wondered how long it would be before I saw it again and I prayed, "God, when I get to Oregon, just lead me to the right place. Lead me to a place just like this. Lead me to a place with a passion for liturgy and a prophetic voice. Lead me to a place with a diverse, active community, a place where my being gay is simply a non-issue. Lead me to a place that will pull me in the directions I need to go, and a place that will hold me, just as I am."

And He did.

So, here I am, eleven months later, ready for confirmation. Tonight's the night.

Still, having come around to the idea that Revelation is about reconciliation, I realized there was one thing I needed to do: I invited my father to my confirmation, and he's coming.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thoughts from a Vigil

Last night for the first time I participated in the tradition of maintaining an all-night vigil in the chapel following the Maundy Thursday service. The church had a sign-up sheet for hourly shifts beginning every half-hour, with the idea that there would always be at least two people there. My slot was 1:30 - 2:30 a.m.

The alarm clock went off at 1:00. There was, predictably, that fuzzy moment of, "What the...?" I got up to splash some water on my face, but the cats stayed in bed. I grabbed a Bible, threw on a hoodie, and drove down to the church.

At the conclusion of the somber, solemn evening service that commemorates the Last Supper, our tradition is to wash and strip the altar, leaving the church completely bare. The leftover consecrated communion wafers, the Body of Christ, are kept covered in the chapel surrounded by candles, and we sit with them through the night, in remembrance of the time Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane praying before his arrest, when he took Peter, James and John with him and said, "So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?"

The church was dark except for the candles in the chapel. When I arrived, there were two people praying, a fellow catechumen preparing for his baptism and an older woman. There was just silence, only the subtlest nod of the head in greeting. I still felt bleary-eyed and confused and cold, so I just sat and stared at the candles and thought pretty much nothing at all for several minutes.

After a time I opened my Bible, and decided I would read all four Gospel accounts of the Last Supper and the arrest in the garden. In my body and mind I still felt foggy and sluggish, yet I was amazed at the clarity of the thoughts that came to me as I read. I had known, in a kind of "Bible Trivia" way, that what we call "the institution of the Eucharist" -- the sharing of bread and wine, done in remembrance of Christ, as begun at the Last Supper -- is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but not in John; similarly, the scene on this last evening of Christ's life where he washes the feet of his disciples is found only in John. I had known that, but never really noticed it before, if that makes any sense.

I read about Judas, and contemplated all the many ways I betray Christ every day for money.

I didn't read straight through; a word or phrase would jump out at me, and my mind would ponder it as I continued to stare at the candles, occasionally tilting my head back to gaze up toward the ceiling lost in the darkness. I noticed that the beautiful stained glass window behind the altar had gone completely black, so that the outlines of the figures could be seen, but not their faces.

I noticed the variations between the accounts, small and enormous. I noticed that in all the Gospels after the meal Christ talks to his disciples about what is coming next, about the kingdom of God, etc. But in John, this discussion is long. (And amazing.)

At one point it began to rain, and what started as a soft gentle murmur quickly became a roar as water pelted the chapel roof; it was so loud, I found myself unable to read, so I sat and listened to the rain instead, and then recalled Revelation 1:15, "and his voice was like the sound of many waters."

* * * * * *

May the peace of God, which surpasses understanding, be with you today and always.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama and the Race Speech

I think we need to cut Senator Obama some slack.

After all, for the past seven years our nation has been led by a gifted, silver-tongued orator of unparalleled abilities. President Bush has combined a gift for eloquent rhetoric capable of soaring high above pedantic realities with a folksy, approachable, down-to-earth charm. I mean, even after all this time, whenever I hear the man speak I think, "Gosh, I'd like to have a beer with him."

The voters have gotten spoiled. We've just grown unrealistically accustomed to a chief executive able to grapple with immensely complicated subjects and deftly deflate them to sound-bite length talking points. We've been so blessed to have a President who can just dispense with the kind of confusing, obfuscative nuance that makes it hard to know when we're being pandered to or demonized for political gain. He reassures us that he's sustained by his faith, without boring us with details about just what it is he believes. He never has to defend his pastor, because he doesn't go to church. He doesn't get bogged down in wonky grammar, wasting energy making sure of his verb agreement; no, that kind of intellectual elitism sends the wrong message and emboldens the terrorists. Bush knows that his job is to tell us whom to fear today.

And so Americans, naturally, are a bit bewildered by the spectacle of a politician offering up single sentences containing as many as 73 words. (Yes, I counted.) What to make of a presidential candidate who gives a lengthy address on divisive issues during which he never once utters either the word "Republican" or "Democrat"? I mean, how are we even supposed to know where this man stands?

Yes, we've been lucky to have George W. Bush as our president. Who knows how the primaries and the general election will turn out? We may just have to resign ourselves to the prospect of being led by a circumspect, diplomatic legal scholar, one who doesn't even own a ranch.

The Road to Confirmation: Part II

So, fast-forward about twenty years.

I ended up in the Episcopal Church, and while there still remain for me questions and uncertainties on issues relating to sex and sexuality, I've at least progressed as far as discarding the silly notion that church isn't for sinners. After all, to paraphrase Jesus, healthy people don't need a doctor.

Lent, the traditional six-week liturgical season of repentance and introspection, begins with Ash Wednesday, at which time many Christians choose to observe a fast. But last year, as I listened to the homily, the priest encouraged us to try something different. "Instead of giving something up," he said, "try taking something on." One thing he suggested was going to the Bible or the creeds and spending the season wrestling with a concept, passage or idea that had always given us trouble.

I decided it was time to confront Revelation.

Part of what made that possible was the felicitous discovery of my favorite blog, Slacktivist. I don't remember how I stumbled across it, but I became addicted immediately. Written by a progressive evangelical Baptist who grew up indoctrinated in the literalist Rapture-believing wing of American Christendom, among many other delights the blog contains a weekly Friday column wherein he painstakingly -- and hilariously -- dismantles both the artless hackery and the theological inanity of the best-selling Left Behind novels, page by page.

Thus it dawned on me that the reason neither the Lutheran nor the Episcopal Church had bothered to explain "the Rapture" to me was that they don't believe in it. This was shocking to me; I had always assumed that we avoided it because it was scary and unpleasant, and so we'd rather concentrate on the Social Gospel. But no, we avoided it because it's not there.

Slacktivist whet my appetite to dig deeper, and I was pleased to come across the book The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, by the Lutheran pastor Barbara Rossing.

Talk about a "revelation."

The "literal" reading of Revelation that "predicts" an imminent tribulation period of death, disease, destruction, natural disaster and ultimately nuclear holocaust isn't literal at all. Moreover, it's not the orthodox, historical understanding of the Christian faith. If you want to take Scripture literally, you can't believe in "the Antichrist" because John's epistles speak of "Antichrists" and categorically state that they are "already in the world." Not "already" as of 1985 or 2008, but "already" as of the first century. And as for "the Rapture"? We are not going up, up and away to meet Jesus; rather, Jesus is coming down to us, bringing Heaven with him. We stay where we are. (Revelation 21:1-5.)

But of course, The Revelation of Jesus Christ According to John wasn't meant to be taken literally; not even at the dawn of the second century. It is full of symbols and metaphors. Some dismiss metaphorical readings of Scripture as a cowardly, modern, "liberal" way of tap-dancing around what's actually written. On the contrary: reading these words and recognizing them for the style of literature they were intended to be yields what's really there.

John's Revelation isn't a one-off; indeed, there is an entire genre of apocalyptic literature, most of it Jewish, dating from the same period, the awful days of Roman occupation, especially after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Modern "tribulation" theology has led many people to conceive of "apocalypse" as a synonym for "cataclysm," and to assume "the apocalypse" is the final disaster. But no; it's from the Greek word that means, simply, "unveiling" or "revealing," i.e., "Revelation." Not disaster. Like any literary genre, these different works utilize a common language, especially a repertoire of common symbols.

This is kind of a lame example, but if I say to you, "The Big Apple," you know I'm not referring to an unusually large fruit, but rather the City of New York. But imagine, if you will, some future civilization coming across a reference to "The Big Apple" without knowing its widely understood meaning. They might draw some odd conclusions about what this "Big Apple" is. In the same way, the recurring images in first-century apocalyptic literature all point to another city: Rome. [I may have borrowed this example from another writer but I couldn't find it again to give credit. Or, I could just be brilliant.]

The Book of Revelation isn't some secret code detailing the countdown to the end of Time. It seems inscrutable now because we aren't familiar with what at the time was very common imagery. But to early Christians, it wasn't such a mystery. Essentially it was a fantastic vision of divine retribution against Rome.

When you stop to consider that within just a couple of centuries the pacifist cult of Jesus became the official religion of the empire that executed him, you begin to see the amazing prescience of Revelation and the true power of the Lamb over the Beast.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Road to Confirmation: Part I

I was born into a non-religious household. My parents, however, wanted me to have some exposure to religion so that I could make up my own mind about it, but they didn't feel qualified to offer that on their own.

My first brush with organized Christianity came when I was about 4 or 5, when our kindly elderly next-door neighbors offered to take me to visit their church. That ended pretty quickly after I reported to my family that during the sermon the minister had pointed directly at me and said (I still remember it clearly), "Children are as black with sin as the inside of a pumpkin after Halloween." My atheist grandmother promptly raced me over to the World Book Encyclopedia and showed me the pictures of the inside of the human body on those transparent, overlapping sheets of plastic. "See," she said firmly, "no black, no sin."

A couple years later, my mom was willing to try again, so she sent me to church with a good friend of hers from work. Now, at 7, I was a painfully shy, socially maladjusted child. I was really uncomfortable around other kids -- I greatly preferred adults -- and hated new social situations where everyone and everything was unfamiliar. And yet, when this kind woman left me in the Sunday School classroom with a bunch of strangers, even though I remember feeling awkward, I felt welcomed. So at the end of the day when my mother asked me if I thought I'd like to go again, I said, "Yes."

Three years later, my Sunday School class was preparing for first communion, but when I revealed to the pastor that I had never been baptized he said, "Uh-oh, that's a problem." So on April 3, 1985, four days before Easter, my recently-divorced parents and I awkwardly gathered in the church with my sponsors (the parents of my best friend, who on that date gave me a Bible that I still treasure) for a private ceremony.

In the Lutheran church -- or at least, in that particular church -- Confirmation was usually part of the Sunday School curriculum for graduating high-schoolers. (For you non-churchy types, confirmation is basically the re-affirmation of your baptismal vows done when you are old enough both to understand them and to personally make the decision. [Oh, no, I just split an infinitive, Faustus is going to send me an email.] I decided I was not ready.

You see, following my parents' divorce, my father found himself led to the Baptist church, his paternal family's faith. (My great-grandfather was a minister.) He was born-again, big time. The Southern Baptists and the Lutherans have pretty different eschatologies; I had a vague notion that we expected Jesus to drop in again someday, but my father was convinced that the Rapture Clock was ticking. I had never even heard of "the Rapture," so on a camping trip in eastern Oregon my father sat me down with the Book of Revelation and explained it all to me, that all these "prophecies" had already been fulfilled and that Jesus was coming again any second to take away all the good Christians and lift them straight up to heaven. Everyone else was going to be left behind to deal with the Beast, seven years of literal Hell on Earth, culminating in Armageddon.

I knew I wasn't going, because I was gay.

As a teenager, I wasn't theologically sophisticated. I knew that my church and my father's church had different worship styles, but I didn't understand that we actually believed different things. And as my church had never broached the subject of Revelation with me, I had no basis for thinking there might be an alternate way of understanding these words, nor had I any tools to refute what my father told me. All I knew was that for the past several years, I'd been praying to God about a hundred thousand times a day to make me not gay anymore, because I didn't want to go to Hell. But now, for the first time, I "understood" that there was an imminent deadline. If I didn't de-gay myself in time for the Rapture, I'd have to sit and wait it out and be killed in the nuclear holocaust "foretold" by the Bible. And probably go to Hell anyway.

I couldn't talk to anyone at my chuch about it, because it would have meant coming out, and I'm not sure how that would have been received. So when the subject of confirmation came up, I just said I wasn't ready, because I was sure it must be some kind of horrible blasphemy for a homosexual to be confirmed; I was sure that far from making me a genuine member of the denomination, it would be signing my own ticket to damnation. And so I even left the church; not because I was thrown out, but because I felt like a fraud being there. A failure as a Christian, because despite all my prayers, I kept having those dirty thoughts. I felt so awful about myself that I decided it must make God angry to have people like me, dirty awful perverted sinners, showing up in church, pretending they're something that they're not. So I just quietly disappeared.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Isoldilocks and the Three Tristans

Oh, actually, wait, I think it's up to four Tristans now.

I miss opera. Most of you probably haven't been keeping up on the Metropolitan Opera's current Tristan und Isolde travails, so I'll fill you in.

Beloved diva Deborah Voigt (the soprano who made headlines a few years ago when she was released from her contract with the Royal Opera Covent Garden in London to sing Ariadne auf Naxos because the director wanted someone to fit in a slinky black cocktail dress; at the time Debbie was sort of a cocktail mu'umu'u size, but since then she's had gastric bypass surgery and has lost well over 100 pounds) was singing her first Isolde at the Met this season, and they'd paired her up with reigning heldentenor champ Ben Heppner.

Well, Ben came down with a viral infection, so he was replaced on opening night by some guy named John Mac Master, who apparently...well...wasn't quite up to the job, if the reviews are to be believed. So last night was the second performance, this time with tenor Gary Lehman, in his Met debut, singing the demanding role for the first time in his life. Then toward the beginning of Act II (it's three acts), Voigt reportedly "lurched forward" and ran off stage; the curtain was brought down and it was announced that she had suddenly taken ill. Within ten minutes (!), they had understudy Janice Baird -- also making her Met debut -- onstage in costume to launch into the famous love duet. They apparently received a rapturous standing ovation at the end of the long night (about 12:30 a.m., according to La Cieca).

Next Saturday is the Met's live Hi-Def broadcast of Tristan into movie theaters around the globe, for which tenor Robert Dean Smith has been engaged and presumably Ms. Voigt will recover in a week to sing....

Meantime, sadly I am missing today's Hi-Def broadcast of Britten's Peter Grimes. My car is back in the shop. Transmission again. Ugh.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Terrible Twos

Happy Birthday, Rocky & Starbuck!

I'd been thinking about getting a cat. A friend of mine told me about the Kitty Kind adoption program that was run out of the PetCo on Union Square and so one warm, sunny June Sunday after church, I strolled down just to take a look. You know, not to get a cat, just to look, and think about it some more.

They had some beautiful animals; some of the older cats looked so noble, sitting there calmly surveying the world. "If I get a cat," I thought, "I probably want one who's about two or three." But then I thought, "Oh...but wouldn't it be fun to have a kitten?"

Then I thought about how I'm usually gone during the day and how lonely the cat might be, so I started to think maybe it would be better to have two. I asked the attendant if they had any kittens who could not be separated and was shown to a cage holding two of the cutest little babies I'd ever seen, a brother and sister: the boy was a dark, striped tabby and the girl was a fuzzy little ball of marmalade. They opened the door so that I could introduce myself. The boy arched his back and hissed, and when I picked up the girl, she slashed my ear with her claw.

"Hmmm...I'm not sure the chemistry is there, " I said politely, blood dripping onto my shoulder.

"Well, we do have one other pair," said the woman. "The girl has a cold so she doesn't look so good right now and you probably shouldn't handle her, but you can look." And indeed, she led me to a tiny dark grey and white kitten, with snot running out of her nose and thick, crusty gunk clogging her eyes. The boy looked fine, though, and when I picked him up he let out a tiny squeak of a meow, then buried his face in my neck and began to purr while he did that kneading thing with his claws. "Well, hello there, " I said.

"So, what do you think," asked the attendant. "Are you interested?"

The boy purred. I looked in his tiny yellow eyes and couldn't imagine saying to that sweet little face, "No, thank you." So instead I said, "Oh, yes, please."

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Still Here

I'm still around. All is well.

Frantic week at work; just haven't had anything on my mind worth blogging about. ("What else is new?" some might say.)

I'm off to a seven hour meditation today.


Monday, March 03, 2008

No Comment

The previous post has been deleted, never to return.

Just too much ugliness going on there, for no reason that I can see. I want to thank those of you who offered comments in my defense and the others of you who emailed me directly to express your support.

I felt I had to respond to the initial comment that set off the storm because it attacked my credibility, baldly laying out a claim that my blog is some kind of hoax, but in hindsight it was wasted effort and energy.

Going forward, I will have a new policy regarding comments. As always, differing opinions will be welcomed, but I will take advantage of my right to delete any comment that is off-topic or a personal attack.

I have decided to disable comments for this post; if you want to communicate with me about it, you can email me directly.

* * * * * * *

Last week's nastiness came at a bad time.

As regular readers know, I resolved at the start of the year to learn a new piece and sing it for my church, and was scheduled for this coming Sunday, March 9th.

I felt ready and excited. I had chosen the aria "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein" from Bach's St. Matthew Passion, which is ideally suited to me. It was memorized and I was just continuing to polish and perfect it, while my voice continued to re-align and strengthen and open up back to its old self.

It's been five years since I last sang in public; at 33, I am just hitting what should be my vocal prime as a baritone, and the new physical maturity I heard in the sound was encouraging; the top notes, especially, had a new luster and ease. I could not wait to get out there; this was going to be fun.

And then suddenly, about two weeks ago, it all started to fall apart. Once again, it seemed my voice couldn't quite warm up all the way, and it would tire quickly. Though my throat was open, my jaw relaxed and my breathing solid, the warm, round sound began to fade, becoming fuzzy, reedy or thin-sounding in various parts of my range. Intonation began to go off-kilter. There was no longer a smooth transition in the passaggio; instead, it was like driving a car with a bad transmission. At first I thought, "Oh, it's just one of those days," but it began to be persistent and I had to admit to myself that this is exactly what happened to my voice in 2002.

This was infuriating, because for the last several years, I have had no problems with acid reflux at all. I felt ready to try again, and I would never have asked if I could sing if I hadn't been 100% confident that I was okay. I immediately made some radical changes in my diet and started going through some of the routines that had been helpful the first time around, but after a few days I began to sense that I probably could not fully recover in time. It wasn't going to be enough to just "get through" the piece; I needed to triumph, I needed to nail it, or it wasn't going to be worth it.

So on Saturday I told the music director that I was having problems again and that I would temporarily need to withdraw my offer to sing.

I am going to kick this. I want to say a special word of thanks to two friends who have given me invaluable advice this week. I wasn't going to say anything, because it is too painful and, frankly, humiliating, but both of them are encouraging me in a new direction, toward being more in touch with my feelings and what's going on inside me and more willing to reach out and be honest and ask for help with things.

So, that's all, for now. I could just use your friendship and support, and if you're the praying sort, I would appreciate a word or two on my behalf.