Monday, June 30, 2008

Monday Photo Blogging: Cats & Sunsets

After a weekend of unusually hot weather, Sunday evening cooled down with an impressive thunderstorm followed by a brilliant sunset.

Okay, but...check it out. Is it just me, or is there TOTALLY a cat face in the clouds?

In other news, I continue to be an incredibly bad influence on my cats.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

It's Nice to See You, Too

When I showed up at the restaurant this afternoon to meet my father for lunch, he didn't say "Hello."

He said, "Nice comb-over."

Okay, now...wait a second. I know I'm a little thin right up front. It's kind of fluffy. But this is not a comb-over. And my hair has not changed since I was 23. That year, suddenly my hair got a LOT thinner, and I was pretty worried. But then it stopped, and my hair has looked exactly the same for eleven years.

Still, I've been thinking: maybe it's time to shave it. Just to see. What do you think?

I won't do it for at least a couple of weeks, after my stepfather's memorial.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

I Was Thinking Someplace with a Menu

With all that's been going on in the past couple of weeks, I haven't had a chance to get together with my father to celebrate either my birthday, which was last Monday, or Father's Day, which was the day before and which I observed by marching in the Gay Pride Parade, aka, not my father's sort of thing. What with my stepfather's recent passing, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen my grandmother -- who's lingering in a nursing home on the other side of town -- in quite a while. I proposed that the two of us go have lunch for father's day/my birthday and then go visit her. Kill three birds with one stone, as it were.

I called him up and suggested that we meet somewhere for lunch tomorrow at 12:30, after I get done with church, and then go over to the home.

My father says, completely serious: "Well, they serve lunch at the home at 11:45."

Yes, because for my birthday I want applesauce and creamed corn on a tray with a side of tapioca in a plastic dish and a glass of grape juice to wash it down. Not.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Sacrament of Chicken a L'Orange

Today I stood and watched a box containing my stepfather's body get lowered into the ground, where it will remain forever ( long as the concrete liner lasts), and then we threw some dirt on it. It was one of the strangest experiences of my life.

Up until this point, Death has not had a major impact on my life. Almost nine years ago we lost my grandfather, but he lived in California and had suffered from Alzheimer's; in a way, "Gramps" had already been gone for a while, and frankly we were all relieved because we hated the idea of him lingering in a facility. But this is the first time Death has come right into my home, so to speak, and deprived me of someone I am accustomed to seeing and talking with frequently, someone whose absence now is bizarre. In a cerebral way, I recognize that he is dead. But on a more fundamental plane, I don't think I have accepted that he is gone.

Because of my faith, I think I am in a pretty good place about Death. I am less and less sure of the existence of Hell; if it exists, I think one has to try hard to get there. Many would insist that's where my stepfather is right now; of Quaker origins, he was unbaptized, and not a churchgoer. He and I never spoke about God, but I have the sense he was agnostic leaning ever so slightly toward "possibly." A natural skeptic -- I recall him scoffing at the suggestion that there might be any such thing as a UFO -- I'm not sure he would have been on board with the Virgin Birth and the Bodily Resurrection. And yet I can think of few other people I have encountered in my life who truly lived the Gospel. He gave to everyone and anyone, without expecting anything in return. He loved to help people. I never heard him gossip or say anything unkind or unfair. He was, genuinely, slow to speak and slow to anger. He was one of the least materialistic people imaginable. His was a life of care and, in a way, ministry. He was truly remarkable. Here was a man who didn't need to study the Bible, because God's law was written deeply into his heart and His Grace interwoven throughout the fabric of his being.

What awaits us when we die? As a Christian, I believe in the notion of Heaven, that it is a dimension in which we experience joy, peace and reconciliation, a state of being where all is made known and injuries, regrets and disappointments vanish into bliss. As Peter Jackson's -- not Tolkien's -- Gandalf put it to Pippin, "The journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise." Paradise is nice, right?

And yet, nothing so far has hit me harder than this from CS Lewis' A Grief Observed: "I look up at the night sky. Is anything more certain than that in all those vast times and spaces, if I were allowed to search them, I should nowhere find her face, her voice, her touch?" If Heaven exists -- and I believe it does -- it is not a place. Dan is not "somewhere else." We can't get to him by hopping on a boat with some elves. He is dead, whatever that means.

* * * * * *
As an adolescent, I went through a period of years where I was something of a terror. It took me a very long time to accept my new stepfather, and for a time I was spiteful and cruel toward him. He loved to cook -- and, fortunately, was a very good cook -- but I can recall being dissatisfied with what I felt was his rather limited repertoire. One of his favorite dishes -- presumably because of ease; you just throw a chicken breast in a dish with three tablespoons of frozen orange juice concentrate, two tablespoons of soy sauce, a teaspoon of ginger and a half-teaspoon of salt and bake for 30 minutes -- was chicken a l'orange. I can recall complaining, "Are we having chicken l'orange again? Doesn't he know how to cook anything else?"

What a little bastard I was.

So here I am, many years later, heartbroken by this man's absence. And for dinner I cooked up chicken a l'orange.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A. Daniel Feller, 1935-2008

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.

- Isaiah 40:5

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Untold Story of Gay Pride

This year's theme for Portland's Gay Pride Parade was, "Pride: Bring It!"

I'm pleased to say, my parish brought it. Here I was afraid that our group would be pitifully small, so I had us join up with the largest parish in the state, Trinity Cathedral, so we wouldn't be lonely. Well, Trinity sent two people and we sent eighteen, which included our entire clergy staff, three members of the Vestry, and straight allies with children. I think that's pretty dang good for our first appearance! We're already talking about what to do differently (better, more) next year.

I mean, look at these people. This is the untold story of Gay Pride, folks. The media and the conservatives like to focus on the scantily or otherwise outrageously clad. What they don't show you is a group of devout Christians, gay and straight, who came directly to the parade from the Eucharist. A couple of local columnists remarked that the endless welcoming religious groups are kinda dull because our outfits aren't especially interesting. (Well, come to an Episcopal church on a Feast Day and behold the fabulousness.) But in a way, aren't we the crucial part?

In his speech at the Lambda Legal Liberty Awards in Manhattan in 2006, Bishop Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire remarked, "Religion is the source of our oppression." Well, the good people at my church and in congregations across the country and around the world aim to make religion the source of our liberation. As the Reverend Canon Mary Haddad of Grace Cathedral put it once, "If it's not good news for everybody, it's not good news."

* * * * * *

Rocky will kill me for including this picture, but I couldn't resist.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rhymes With Dirty Whore

Rumor has it that a certain blogger is having a birthday today. Whee!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Review: BSG "Revelations"


Well, I hate to say it, but I found last night's "cliffhanger" disappointing. Battlestar Galactica has an amazing track record of putting on thrilling, surprising, revelatory finales. Think back to "Kobol's Last Gleaming: Pt. 2" or Admiral Cain launching alert fighters or Baltar surrendering to the Cylon occupiers. I had high hopes for last night; maybe that was my problem.

Those great episodes all share two things: a breakneck, exhilarating pace and a last-minute plot twist that leaves you infuriated that you have to wait for months to see the resolution. Last night wasn't fast-paced so much as it was rushed. Moments they have been setting up for years passed by quite perfunctorily. Honestly, I was more moved when Aidan found out Carrie was smoking again than when Starbuck learned Anders was a Cylon.

I didn't buy Adama's reaction to Tigh's "coming out" scene, either; it looked like he'd gotten dumped. I would have had a lot more questions for the Colonel, and would have felt incredulity more than rage and grief. The idea that a battle-traumatized and grief-stricken old man was going cuckoo is far more plausible than, "I'm a 60 year old robot," and I would have pressed to be convinced. Starbuck should have had Adama's blow-up scene, and vice versa.

Poor Tyrol! No one even cared that he's a Cylon. You'd think Athena, at least, would have something to say about that. The whole fleet seemed to adjust pretty easily to the discovery that the XO, the deck chief, the Caprican Pyramid star and the president's aide-de-camp have been Cylon agents the entire time. For a moment I thought we were getting somewhere when Tory snapped at Roslin, but she, too, seemed to recover from her petulance quickly.

Admittedly, I have a bias in favor of religion, and a large part of what fascinated me in the early episodes was the overtly evangelical language of Number Six and the unfolding colonial prophecies. The writers tried to return to prophecy and religion this season, but it has been altogether less coherent and relevant. That whole Kobol/Arrow of Apollo/Map to Earth thing from Season 1 was wicked cool. Last night we got a Viper with a GPS system. Instead of unlikely coincidences that suddenly appear to have been preordained, we got maybe one of the laziest deus ex machina moments since baroque opera went out of fashion.

And, alas, the final plot twist? I'm afraid I saw that coming, and not because I was feeling particularly intuitive. It just seemed obvious that this wasn't going to be what they were expecting. Of course, questions remain: who did it? Did the other Cylons get there first, or did the 13th tribe annihilate itself, as we ourselves seem on the brink of doing? And what do they do now? And maybe more importantly, do I still care?

Friday, June 13, 2008

BSG: Will All Be Revealed?

Tonight is the last episode of Battlestar Galactica before the show goes on a "mid-season" hiatus until 2009. Will we learn the identity of the Last Cylon?

For a long time -- ever since her disappearance at the end of Season 3 -- I've been worried that Kara Thrace/Starbuck was the last Cylon, but that storyline seems to be going in a different direction. The hybrid's pronouncement that she is "the Harbinger of Death" notwithstanding, I recently remembered the Season 1 episode when Leoben told Roslin, "Adama is a Cylon." Hmm. So I've been watching Season 4 trying to figure out if I can determine whether it's Lee or Bill. For a long time I was convinced it was Lee, I'm not sure, again.

While Googling around today looking for clues, I landed on a site with a complicated theory that there are clues in the Season 4 Galactica/Last Supper spoof, with a rumor that the final cylon is not depicted in the picture, which would rule out Starbuck, Baltar, both Adamas and Roslin. They draw parallels between each character's position in the photo and the apostle they stand in for, noting that in the BSG version, "Judas" is conspicuously absent, thus concluding the empty seat is for the Final Cylon.

But they lost me when they said Caprica Six is Jesus (even though she's in his place) "because she is the one who is telling Baltar to spread the word of the one true God." Well, that's faulty, because Jesus was the one true God, and Jesus wasn't harping on the monotheistic angle because he came from a one-God tradition, i.e., the Jewish apostles. If that's the explanation they're offering, Caprica Six would be Paul, bringing the notion of one God to the polytheistic Greeks and Romans (and, pointedly, those are the gods of the Colonials).

But then I realized I was probably putting too much thought into it.

Anyway, Season 4 has dragged in places for my taste, but I thought last week was one of the best ever and I can't wait for tonight!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Changing Face of Gay Pride

In last week’s edition of Portland’s gay paper JustOut, friend and columnist SMB suggested that this year we demonstrate our pride by skipping the parade. He laments the crass commercialization of the event by mega-corporations hoping to cash in on our patronage. He recalls the cold, rainy night on which thousands of Oregonians (myself notably excluded, mea culpa) gathered downtown to protest the delay of the state’s brand-new domestic partnership law by a judge who agreed to hear a challenge from an out-of-state conservative activist group, and essentially asks of the marketers, drag-queens, glitter-smeared party boys and shirtless lesbians, “Where were you when it mattered?”

Good points, all.

However, I would propose that we take a step back and re-assess what the annual pride celebrations are all about these days.

Two years ago, I wrote a long, personal, provocative (and much commented-on) post about what pride meant to me, and while I think those points still resonate, I also think now we might be allowed to celebrate as well as protest.

Let’s take a look at where things stand in the present moment. John McCain may not be the LGBT community’s best friend, but just a few weeks ago he appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and, while saying he believed marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman, expressed support for some limited forms of recognition for same-sex couples. Compare this to 2004, when Howard Dean was labeled a hopeless left-wing extremist because Vermont permitted civil unions. This is a massive shift in public attitudes, when what was radically progressive just four years ago has become the default stance of the Republican nominee. On the Libertarian ticket, nominee Bob Barr has declared that the odious 1996 Defense of Marriage Act should be repealed; and he wrote it!

While Barack Obama has publicly drawn the line at civil unions, he also supports the full repeal of DOMA and DADT. He and Senator Clinton actively courted the support of GLBT voters in their primary campaigns. We used to be ignored and invisible, and after that we were vilified and made scapegoats. Now we’re pandered to. I call that progress.

Portland’s Pride Festival is this Sunday; just two days after that, California – the nation’s most populous state and the fifth-largest economy in the world – will start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, following a protracted court battle that ended in the groundbreaking recognition that gay people are a suspect class. The Republican governor openly opposes amending the state constitution to repeal that right. The proposed amendment faces an uphill battle: recent polls now show a slim majority of Californians in favor of marriage equality, and the November ballot includes a Republican candidate who is unpopular with the family-values crowd and a Democratic candidate with fervent support among younger voters, who are overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality (68% of 18-29 year-olds).

Back here in Oregon, today’s breaking news is that the petition effort to put the new domestic partnership laws on the November ballot has failed. Meanwhile, New York has determined that nothing in state law prevents them from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts, California or other jurisdictions where they are legal.

Obviously, there are still battles to be fought, and we’re not home-free yet, but when Republican presidential candidates sit down for cordial chats with out-lesbian talk-show hosts, we're in a completely different world.

We should think of the June pride celebrations as a commemoration of the Declaration of Independence that was thrown down by a bunch of drag queens at the Stonewall Riot 39 years ago this month. Just as the 4th of July is now a celebration born in struggle, I see no harm in partying on Pride. Yes, let’s still gather in the rain to protest injustice as it arises, but let’s acknowledge the amazing victories that have been won through our collective hard work over the last several decades.

So grab your cha-cha heels, dust yourself liberally with glitter, throw away your bra and let's march!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Friday, June 06, 2008

Holy...! Pt. 2

I just paid $4.16 for gas!

I hope this doesn't become a running series. :(

The New Racism

So, thanks to "Anonymous" and the links he posted, I've been given access to a whole new, scary world, an alternate universe of political reality. In the same way there are right-wing holdouts who insist that Saddam and Al Qaeda were in cahoots and that the WMD's are still there (or, as some versions go, were actually discovered and everyone knows it, but the "mainstream media" covered it up), it sadly appears there are "Democrats" who just know that the nomination was stolen from Hillary Clinton.

I'm not talking about disappointed Hillary supporters. I'm talking about people who hate Barack Obama.

Here's the theme that strikes me. In the minds of these folks, they're not racists. No, they are open-minded, genuine liberals and supporters of equality. It's Barack who's the racist.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Controversial Church

“Obama Resigns from Controversial Church” reads the headline on CNN today.

I’m not going to go into the article itself; I didn’t even read it. I’m just fascinated by the headline. I am struck by the subtle but clear implication that churches should not be “controversial.”

What would a “non-controversial” church look like? I imagine the closest we might come would be Joel Osteen’s Lakewood megachurch in Houston, where services come with insipid, saccharine Christian pop interspersed with neutered, vague messages of self-empowerment: embrace Jesus, and your life will get better. But even this is controversial; it may not be inflammatory, but within the broad Christian world, Osteen’s gentle pabulum is widely considered heresy because his “Prosperity Gospel Lite” message flatly contradicts Christ’s teachings.

Osteen, however, is not out there calling the Catholic Church “the Great Whore,” or insisting that Hitler was God’s messenger, herding the Jews into Israel so that we can get moving with Armageddon, or peddling a wildly re-imagined history wherein America was founded by literalist evangelicals intent on destroying Islam. He is not making an ass of himself protesting military funerals with ugly anti-gay language, or concocting conspiracy theories involving the U.S. government and AIDS. He’s soft-spoken and polite. He smiles. He’s the kind of pastor of which CNN might approve.

What we’re dancing around, though, is the indisputable fact that Jesus was and remains a pretty controversial guy. If I had to summarize the New Testament in a single theme, it might well be the overthrow of the established order, beginning with Mary’s thundering outburst at the Annunciation – “He has shown strength with his arm and has scattered the proud in their conceit, casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.”

Of course, there is comfort and solace to be found in the Holy Spirit, and churches and church communities have pastoral obligations to console the aggrieved, be companions to the lonely and encourage the frightened. But we are also called upon to stand up for the marginalized and the oppressed; we are called to be a voice for those who have none. It is, frankly, our Christian duty to be a little bit obnoxious. Shying away from controversy for the sake of appearance is not a Christian virtue, as convenient as it might be for a politician on the campaign trail.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Turning Intentions to Action

So...erm, I guess I'm "coming out" in church today.

I mean, no, obviously, it's not like I'm "closeted" there, but there are those for whom sexuality seems to be somewhat opaque, and I've never made a big deal or "announced" my orientation publicly. That's about to change.

I have formed a small group, and for the first time in our parish history, our church will be represented in the Portland Gay Pride Parade this year. I did receive permission to do this, but was encouraged to keep our group discrete because of pastoral concerns about some church members who may not be totally comfortable with the idea. It was a compromise I was willing to accept, because I think even appearing in the parade at all is a big first step.

So, speaking privately to people I knew would be supportive, I set up a small network and was delighted that everyone I invited was interested. That was that, I thought, until a member of our clergy staff said, "Do you think you should announce it to the congregation?"

I said, "Hrmmm...well, I thought we were keeping this discrete?" But the priest had wondered if maybe there would be people who would feel upset if we didn't tell them and open it up to everyone; people who will be unhappy that we are going are going to be unhappy either way.

We decided to run it by the vestry, at which point one member reminded us that we recently voted to become a "welcoming and affirming" congregation, and pointed out that we would hardly be living up to that if we had to secretly march in the parade.

So here I am. I can hardly believe that all these years after quietly disappearing from church because I felt unworthy to attend as a gay person until I got "fixed," I'm going to stand up during a service and invite people to a gay pride parade.