Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Smokey Mary's

"We're the longest running show on Broadway!" quips the rector of Saint Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church about their worship services. The church was founded in 1868 and had its first building where Longacre Theater now stands. In 1895, it opened the doors of its current incarnation along West 46th Street in Manhattan. In 1904, the area was baptized Times Square.

While Saint Mary's might be at the center of the Great White Way, its performances are nothing like the musicals and other productions available in the vicinity. Rather, the drama and music are from another time and place - when church was theater and worship time was grand and mysterious, designed to inspire awe and point to the divine.

Saint Mary's Times Square was created to be the Anglo-Catholic cathedral in the United States. During the mid-19th century, the Oxford Movement formed within the Church of England to reclaim Anglicanism's catholic roots. It brought back liturgical practices, ornaments, vestments and other accoutrements more Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox than Protestant. The movement readily found its way and followers in America.

Since then, Saint Mary's has kept its sublimeness. Walk through its doors and you are transported away from the din and bustle to peace and expansiveness. You are left speechless by the space before you, a French Gothic edifice, a city block deep and 80 feet high, hidden in midtown Manhattan. Statues and images of Mary, Jesus, saints and angels inspire reverence or at least respectful silence.

Walk into a service and the East facing liturgy replete with stunning vestments, towering candlesticks, exploding floral arrangements, and solemn ministers leaves you thunderstruck. Strains of Tomas Luis de Victoria, Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina, William Byrd and Maurice Durufle struck by a massive pipe organ and sung by a professional choir render you speechless. Thick, thick incense smoke takes your breath away. It is this that earned the church its moniker Smokey Mary's. In a humid August day, the smoke hangs like a veil above all. It floats and lingers throughout. On other days, the smoke takes its time languidly undulating to a ceiling painted royal blue and speckled with gold stars.

In what appears anachronistic is a real church very much present and urgently needed in our day. Amidst all this splendor is down to earth Christianity and community.

While still new and unwelcome, especially among Anglo-Catholic parishes, women priests were invited to celebrate mass at Saint Mary's. This cost the favor of many Anglo-Catholics to put it mildly. In 2003, the rector hired an openly gay and partnered priest as curate and without much thought announced the appointment in a newsletter read all over the world. This brought tears to the eyes of many gay men and women who continue to seek recognition and acceptance within the church.

On any given day, rank and file employees that inhabit the skyscrapers retreat to Saint Mary's for a moment's peace and solace. They are joined by the cleaning ladies and doormen of nearby boutique hotels along with dumbstruck tourists who chanced upon the place, make the sign of the cross then reach for their cameras. Resting undisturbed are a handful of homeless men catching much needed sleep and rest.

Saint Mary's Times Square might at first glance be from another time and place, perhaps even out of touch, but look closely. At the altar and in the pews are men and women, white, black, Asian, Latino, young, old, gay, straight, rich and poor. Everyone is welcome. Everyone has a place at the table.

Bravo! May the longest running show in Broadway live on.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Better America

The first presidential debate, in my opinion, did not have a clear winner. There were no "defining moments" and neither candidate knocked the other one out. However, seeing them next to each other articulate their policies and philosophies made me realize that each offers a very different vision of and future for America. McCain will perpetuate the past 8 years while Obama will usher in real change.

Under McCain, the yawning gap between the affluent and the rest of us will widen. Even though his persona du jour is populist, he will continue catering to corporations and to his set - the rich and powerful. Under Obama, the country's gini coefficient will go down as income and wealth distribution is improved. The middle class will recover and more will join its ranks. He will accomplish this by providing tax relief to 95% of Americans; by insisting on fair trade with other countries; by investing in the manufacturing sector and its workers; by rebuilding national infrastructure; by championing science and technology; by uplifting small business and labor; and by securing home ownership.

Under McCain, the 36.5 million poor men, women and children will be ignored and many more will join them. Under Obama, poverty will no longer be dismissed. He will address the dire situation faced by 1 in 8 Americans by expanding access to jobs; increasing the minimum wage to a realistic level; by strengthening families; and by providing affordable housing.

Under McCain, racial and gender minorities will remain marginalized. Women will continue to make less than men. Lesbians, gays and transgendered people will not move towards parity. African Americans and Latinos will not see any justice under the criminal and judicial systems. Under Obama, women will finally earn their due. Gay and trans women and men will find themselves in a more favorable and open atmosphere. People of color will see justice. He will achieve this by combating employment discrimination; by expanding hate crimes statutes and strengthening civil rights; and by ending racial profiling, reducing recidivism, and eliminating sentencing disparities.

There is no doubt that John McCain and Barack Obama are both ready to be president. The question is, what kind of America do we want?

Related posts:
Democratic Impressions
Little Brown Americans

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Comments on Previous Posts

On Buddhiscopalianism, a gentleman emailed:
Subject: Dogma

Zen Buddhism and Christianity are irreconcileable. I visited the link and read it, and the authors understanding of Buddhism is seriously lacking.

For starters, Buddhism acknowledges no God as the creator of the universe. Nor is there a "soul." There is no such thing as sin (as Christianity would define such) or eternal damanation. Jesus as the son of God? Impossible. Prayer is useless. Getting to heaven is a waste of time.

I will refain from continuing, I am sure I have said enough. What you are doing is toy zazen, not real zazen.

I wish you the best in finding your answers.
He is correct in that Buddhism does not believe in a god, soul or an afterlife. In fact, the historic Buddha was reported to have refrained from commenting, much less pronouncing, on such matters, since he believed that ultimate truth and enlightenment comes from within. Buddhism in its purest form does not espouse any dogma.

I thank him for his insight and would like to clarify that I adhere to Buddhism as a philosophy or way of life, precisely because I do not believe that I or any other human can know the absolute with certainty and confidence due to our limited nature.

From the ardor and certitude of his words, he is undoubtedly a practicing and learned Zen Buddhist. I can thus see how he judges my way as mere play - much as hardcore fundamentalist evangelicals do not consider other Christians as true believers and followers.

I wish him peace and happiness.

On Little Brown Americans, a friend wrote:
You are right even though a change is really what we need, a lot of people not just little brown americans are not ready to vote for Obama.

Like you I was a Hilary supporter and would have voted for her in a heartbeat. It is not so much the color of his skin (Obama) but rather certain issues that still has me undecided. We have been having these discussions too with family around dinner time and we have agreed to disagree and understand each others point of view.(amid a lot of shouting) I will be watching the debates closely...I have not decided on who to vote yet, but I am leaning towards Obama. The choice of Palin for vp for McCain tips the scales towards Obama, I cannot see her as our president, not in a million years.

I would have loved to vote for a woman, but not Sarah Palin.
Enlightenment is attainable, at least in politics!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Relative Misery

After a particularly exhausting week working at think tanks, I decided to skip the gym, go home and crash. As I entered the Metro still dealing with residual guilt over not having worked out in quite a while but nonetheless inching closer to forgiveness, my musing was interrupted."Do you have any change?"

It was a smiling middle-aged* white woman by the ticket machine. I assumed her homeless, based on her dishevelment and unabashed request. "Sorry, I have no change," I managed to mutter. "That's okay, thanks for talking to me! Nice sweater!" "Thanks it's Polo and I got it discounted at." I caught and squelched that thought just in time.

As I sat waiting for the Shady Grove train, I wondered how many people will be rendered homeless by the current financial meltdown. Statistics indicate that there are more than 14,000 homeless men, women and children in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, part of the 3.5 million people living in America's streets in a given year. How many more will join their ranks? Moreover, how will social service agencies, food pantries, homeless shelters and other nonprofits keep up with growing demand for their services? Government will tighten its budget while foundations and philanthropists will give less as their own endowments and investments shrink. Ordinary citizens will have less to spare as they struggle to meet their own needs.

These are tough times, most likely nothing new to the woman who asked for help. But for many in the United States and worldwide, it will be unfamiliar and unsettling at best
, traumatic and life altering at worst.

My brother called to let me know that a schoolmate of ours has been indicted in the Philippines for being one of the "local dummies of bankrupt investment bank Lehman Brothers." He forwarded another friend's email which asks "
First in AHS Batch 1981 to go to jail?" AHS stands for Ateneo de Manila High School, a private boy's school we had attended. A place where we were made to believe we were cream of the crop, could do anything we set our minds to, and were chosen to lead. Where we imbibed Jesuit idealism, were taught Marian devotion, and trained to be "men for others."

It makes me wonder who has it worse. The homeless lady or our high school chum? A middle class American family that worries about its mortgage or a wealthy family in a class-bound Asian society that has lost face?

I sympathize with all that are adversely affected by unfettered market greed - I am one of the millions. I empathize with the families and friends of those accused - I know them well.

Related posts
Local Food, Local Hunger
Homeless Asians

Image: The Problem of Anxiety, T. Shortell, 2001.

*The concept of "middle age" was discussed over beer the other night. I was encouraged to learn that someone else in their forties believes that she is middle-aged. After all, if the National Center for Health Statistics has average life expectancy at 77.8, then we make good sense. We think that what most consider middle-aged is really three-quarters-aged.

More on Little Brown Americans

A college friend in California emailed:

My most immediate experience with someone black is my son's friend (they are in middle school, both 12 years old). As an Asian mom (stereotype) I tend to be quite overprotective, so when I question the influence that each of his friends brings, I have to question my own reasons, i.e. am I concerned about someone because they are black or because my concerns are legitimate? I can toot my horn and tell the world my beliefs, but it is only when it hits close to home that I find myself confronting my own biases. Having said all that, I WILL vote for Obama...more chat on this, but for now...have to go to work...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


What's your religious views about? The person was referring to my Facebook profile which has my religious views as "informed by Christianity and Buddhism." If I had to go sectarian, it would be "informed by the Episcopal Church and Zen Buddhism." Call me a Buddhiscopalian.

How does my being gay square with both? Snugly I'd say. There is no conflict within me, and neither the Episcopal Church nor Buddhism has a singular doctrine or overarching dogma about homosexuality. This is not to say that either gives wholehearted blessing to what is still considered an aberration and abomination by many people. The Anglican Communion to which the Episcopal Church belongs has been riven by greater acceptance of gay people within the Western churches. The Dalai Lama had to soften his official homophobic stance after realizing how this alienated his greatest fans and allies, North American and European Buddhists.

However, the Episcopal Church is courageous enough to challenge a prejudice born of another time and culture, and ossified by tradition. It has been honest enough to acknowledge lesbians and gays among its ranks. Most of all, it has been Christian enough to welcome everyone to its table.

Buddhism to a lesser degree has its own version of Northern and Southern hemispheral conflict. ReligiousTolerance.org notes: "In the West, there appears to be a growing acceptance of same-sex sexual activity as moral; in Asia, cultural influences result in same-sex behavior being considered sexual misconduct." The tension is less than that of Anglicans partly because there is no "communion" of Buddhists or an equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Moreover, as with many issues, Siddharta Gautama was not explicit about homosexuality (or the afterlife for that matter). Rather, the historic Buddha extolled gaining enlightenment through one's self, by examining ideas critically and by meditating regularly. As such the saying, "If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him." Stop looking outside for salvation, look for the buddha within. His dying words to his followers were "be a lamp onto yourself."

The Buddhist Channel explains the primacy of intention in Buddhist morality.
With its emphasis on psychology and cause and effect, Buddhism judges acts, including sexual acts, primarily by the intention (cetana) behind them and the effect they have.

A sexual act motivated by love, mutuality and the desire to give and share would be judged positive no matter what the gender of the two persons involved. Therefore, homosexuality as such is not considered immoral in Buddhism or against the third precept*, although this is not always understood in traditional Buddhist countries.

If a homosexual avoids the sensuality and licence of the so-called 'gay scene' and enters into a loving relationship with another person, there is no reason why he or she cannot be a sincere practising Buddhist and enjoy all the blessings of the Buddhist life.

Thus I embrace Buddha and Christ.

*The third precept encourages Buddhists to refrain from sexual misconduct

Related Articles:
Homosexual Killers
What would Buddha Do?

Monday, September 15, 2008

On Little Brown Americans

Three responses to Little Brown Americans stood out for me. All are from expatriate Filipinos.

George G., an associate Biology professor at a Jesuit University wrote:
I can understand how people seek the familiar. The essence of the phrase "birds of a feather flock together" lies deep in our biological roots as social animals: we tend to seek the familiar because it offers us a safe and comfortable environment amenable to survival. And as visual creatures, humans do tend to favor visual features as a primary determinant of familiarity (Humans are not the only creatures in the world to do this). So in situations such as elections, people who do not think carefully about the issues (or who are not educated about them) tend to make decisions based on this familiarity.

The trick to getting past this whole issue of race and gender is to educate onesself, and/or to think about the issues very carefully. We have two primary job applicants that represent not only themselves as individuals, but two large political organizations that have different agendas and approaches to doing the job of running the country. I think it is important for people to think carefully about the job description of "President of the United States", what it entails, etc., and then see who is best suited for the job.

(On an unrelated note, I find it ironic that, due to the requirements of citizenship, most naturalized citizens know more about American government than many natural-born Americans do!)

While campaigning strategies and voting often becomes a practice in "gut feelings", familiarity with moral stances (abortion, gay marriage, etc.), or generation of negative feelings about the opposing candidate (see: all the TV ads now...), this cannot be the way we make a decision that has so much impact on our daily lives as a country. I think we have to look as this process as we would when we hire job candidates. Do we pick people who are nice, friendly, and of the same skin color as us (but who could potentially screw up your business), or do we select someone who can do the job? We have to take the same amount of care and consideration as we would if we were selecting someone to manage a multimillion dollar property (because in many ways, we are!).

That's my two cents...
Inge D., a doctoral candidate, shared the following thoughts:
Your post was provocative. A couple of thoughts came to mind:

1. We have never been formed as a people to think along the lines of party politics. I wonder how many Filipino immigrants have been able to attune to the distinctions. Our own brand of Filipino politics has been about personalities, about the attractiveness (and I do not just mean, but include, physical characteristics) of the politician running for office. Ours has also been about voting for status quo and whoever opposes status quo (even in word, not necessarily in structural action or change). I do not know if we as a people have had the opportunity to learn about democratic and republican philosophies, economics and values and how these will affect political decisions.

2. Because of our learning around such distinctions being in the possibly nascent stage, I wonder if we might make choices based on single issues or on what most affects us, or even on stereotypical labels, e.g. "pro-choice" means pro-abortion so I must vote Republican. I read a very emotional egroups post by someone campaigning for McCain because he is pro-life. Only later was that post responded to with a more nuanced argument that being pro-life extends also to other issues, such as opposition to the war, support for the needy via provision of greater social services (e.g. medicaid, public school education, health care for greater number of people), all of which are democratic issues and also signify that they are pro-life.

3. It takes much courage to say what you did -- but yes, I wonder about why folks shifted from Hillary Clinton to McCain. And I don't think this is something limited to Filipinos, although our culture might have its own dynamic around it. Like it or not, this is more a visceral and affect-bound factor than it is a purely intellectual choice and we need to acknowledge unconscious (yeah, okay, I had to put that in) motivations around preferring white over black, or even around gut-level feeling safer with white than with black.

Just some thoughts. And to validate and affirm your courage, I will dare sign my name!
And an individual who wishes to remain anonymous wrote:
... this might be a bit much for some folks, but ... there is also a piece around unverbalized associations to white and black, to purity and impurity, to cleanliness (translated: honesty) and to the unclean (sin), to light and dark, to resurrection (white) and to death and underworld. This is not an intellectual distinction but an unconscious one, one formed by symbolism and metaphor. I remember a theology lecture on creation, sin, eschatology, and the professor was, if I recall correctly, speaking from the perspective of hermeneutics and Paul Ricouer. But how also to explain the spontaneous anxiety and irrational fear we have when there is a black man on the street with us at night and we are alone, versus a, for example, white man walking his dog? Who feels less dangerous, less threatening?
The individual made it very clear that this is not a pejorative comment against people of color. He does not want anyone to misread this and think that he "just labeled black folks all the negative stuff attributed to the color and the metaphor."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Responses to Little Brown Americans

A Filipino friend who is into fashion and once designed mannequins emailed:
Does wanting a black mannequin count for me being a little less white-loving? Although I'll admit my aesthetics are sexualized - I love how black women look, but am not as sexually attracted to black men.

Oh, just one thing - and don't kill me for this: your opening sentence has two dangling modifiers.

Go, Elizabeth Ramsey!
A British friend of Asian descent emailed:
... so unfortunate that this election may well be decided solely based on the color of Obama's skin, but something we all knew could happen. Still, I am hopeful that enough americans will open their eyes and realize that they are not just voting for the POW vs the community worker, but that each candidate represents the beliefs and policies of their respective parties.

To vote for McCain and believe he is "Maverick" seems absurd to me....he is still ultimately a Republican, now backed up by a staunch conservative (who, incredibly, doesn't even know what the Bush doctrine is). What people should realize is that you cannot divorce McCain and Palin from the party they represent, the party they have supported over the last 8 years....the party, whose record over that time should speak for itself.

Of course, as a Brit, I cannot vote in these elections, but as a resident of this nation, I will still be affected by its outcome.
A high school classmate shared:
... I've always maintained that a real democracy requires an educated public that's aware of and can actually think through important issues all the way to the other end. In that regard, I don't think America is a true democracy either. It might have been, at one point in time, but is becoming more like the Philippines as the widening gap between the rich and the poor and the educated and uneducated has considerably widened over the past 4 decades. I believe this trend was triggered in the '60's by JFK's still controversial assassination (whom I believe was the last truly GREAT US President) and the Vietnam War (which, for the record, Lyndon Johnson, not JFK, started). The cynicism which it spawned ushered in the advent of the hippie movement and sexual revolution (which stressed emotion, feelings, drugs, and faux spiritualism over rational thought, responsibility, and accountability. It also germinated the first "me" generation with its focus on the self -- without regard to how one's actions affect others.).

The American political climate has always been characterized by a political pendulum, swinging from extreme to another. Let's just hope that America (or most of it) has had enough of doesn't make the mistake of what would turn out to be the continuation of the Bush Presidency (who actually lost the popular vote in 2000 by half-a-million votes and has made a mockery of democracy), and elect someone who, if actuarial tables are to be believed, will probably die in office if elected and leave us with a President Palin (the horror scenario!). If that happens, history will mark the year 2000 as the beginning of the decline of America's world leadership.

Cheers, P.

PS -- And yes, I'm voting for Obama. We need another Columbia alum in the White House -- the last two Columbia men who were elected were two of the greatest Presidents -- Teddy Roosevelt (whose bust is etched into Mt. Rushmore), and his distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only US Prez who was elected 4 times in a row and might have been elected to a 5th term had he not died in office. But that's just my own personal bias as a fellow alum :-)
Another had this to say:
Dude, You have not seen Elizabeth Ramsey's daughter have you? I bet you haven't even heard her voice either!
I searched for a photo of Elizabeth and Jaya Ramsey and stumbled on this:

From the West Coast:
interesting article...your kababayan is only one of the many filipinos torn between obama & mccain. i'm an ardent hillary supporter. to this day i have not gotten over the shock of losing the nomination to obama. i'm not completely sold to an obama presidency. make no mistake, it's not about color but experience and that alone. however, i feel there is no way for change if mccain wins. where does this leave me? the undecided i must say... needless to say, the racial divide remains throughout the nation. from where i stand i dont think we are prepared for a black president that why i feel obama is running on the strength of "change" and economic issues...

Little Brown Americans

Reclining on a dental chair, waiting for my oral health to be assessed, a tiny lady shuffled in. You're not my dentist I thought. You must be the hygienist. I also figured out, though two thirds of her face was concealed by a surgical mask, she was a kababayan, a fellow Filipino expatriate. I reckoned by her hair, skin tone and eyes; by her body and movement; by that distinct accent - she could very well be a tita, an aunt.

After outing myself as Filipino, she became chattier. She had noticed that I knew the receptionist and was curious how I knew him. Church connections, I explained. Which church do you go to? When I said All Souls Woodley Park, she gave a puzzled look. It's Episcopal. Oh. Her disappointment was apparent.

We managed a conversation between rinses and she eventually, invariably, inquired which presidential candidate I favored. Obama, though I had been an ardent Hillary supporter. She nodded, adding she too had been for Hillary. But now I will vote for McCain, she declared. Why, considering the Bush regime had crippled our economy and McCain would not help it any? Moreover, as immigrants, how could we support a party that is not exactly known for its hospitality towards people of color?

She had no beef with Republicans since Reagan welcomed her to the United States. Daniel T. Griswold of Cato Institute writes:
Reagan's vision of an America open to commerce and peaceful, hardworking immigrants contradicts the anti-trade and anti-immigration views espoused by Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, Pat Buchanan, Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, and many others who claim to speak for the conservative causes Reagan largely defined ...

Reagan's words and deeds regarding immigration were equally expansive. At a ceremony at Ellis Island in 1982, he spoke movingly of immigrants who "possessed a determination that with hard work and freedom, they would live a better life and their children even more so." As with trade, Reagan's record on immigration was mixed. He signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which included stepped up border enforcement and sanctions against employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. But that legislation also legalized 2.8 million undocumented workers. More immigrants entered the United States legally under President Reagan's watch than under any previous U.S. president since Teddy Roosevelt.
I was about to deliver my speech about the need for people of color and other marginalized and oppressed groups to stick together and vote for change when I realized it was futile. She has already been assimilated.

Aside from being grateful for Reagan's immigration policies, my kababayan is socially and economically secure. As a Filipino Roman Catholic, her conservative social values align with Republican "traditional" values. As an older female voter, she is more comfortable with McCain.

However, I can't help but think that race has something to do with it.

We both come from a culture that places a premium on fair and mestizo features, a by-product of Spanish and American colonization. We had laughed at the looks and antics of Elizabeth Ramsey, daughter of a Filipina and African American G.I. We shopped at department stores that touted skin whitening products and displayed clothes on Caucasian mannequins. We applauded celebrities and beauty queens who were lighter hued and had prominent nose bridges. We devoured Hollywood, PX goods and everything state-side. We avoided the sun.

I can still see me and my brother making fun of our nanny, singing "Negritoes of the mountain, what do you eat ..." likening our caretaker to the aborigines that once inhabited most of Southeast Asia. Yaya Estring might not have been from the mountains but she was darker skinned and from the provinces. I am still familiar with the insecure little boy who felt ugly, constantly reminded how he was not as tall or as mestizo as his kuya, his big brother. I can still hear my mom pointing out my flared nose, inherited from her father, and assuring me that one day we can have it fixed.

After Barack Obama won the Democratic primaries, I asked a high school buddy and kababayan in New York if he was ready for a Black president. I don't think so, he courageously admitted.

It looks like Little Brown Americans might not be ready for a Black American president.

Photo from Kapisanan Philippine Centre.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Conflict Resolution

Last Sunday, I heard some pretty sound advice on how to deal with a recalcitrant colleague. First, pull the person aside and in private, talk about your issues. Don't lambast, criticize or embarrass the person in front of others. Don't default to gossiping or bad mouthing either. If she listens and you are able to hash out your differences, great! You might even win her respect and future cooperation. If not, then bring in your immediate supervisor and have the three of you discuss the situation. If that still does not work, then go straight to HR or the boss.

Come to think of it, this methodology works as well with families, among friends and neighbors, possibly even co-op boards. Good stuff.

This nugget did not come from a $150 an hour consultant or life coach, but from a former bureaucrat named Levi, who lived a couple millennia ago. He is better known as Saint Matthew or Matthew the Evangelist, credited as author of the eponymous Gospel. The book is believed to have been written sometime between the first and second centuries C.E.

It had been some time since Jesus of Nazareth died and the Christian community had expanded to include non-Jews. Moreover, Jesus had made it very clear that all were welcome including the poor, prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, outcasts - all manner of riff raff and flotsam. What had began as a loyal band of women and men grew into an established church, a large organization. As with any burgeoning group or system, conflicts arose and Matthew, through his gospel, had Jesus saying:
If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you a Gentile and tax collector.
Living in community always presents challenges. Knowing how to treat each other fairly and respectfully helps.

Photo source:

Monday, September 08, 2008

Whose Choice?

All the drama around Sarah Palin and her brood led to a discussion about Choice. A buddy asked me where I stood on abortion. Readily I responded women have the right to choose. However I paused, then admitted I am not comfortable with late term abortions.

It is commonly held that a fetus is viable sometime during the last trimester, when it might be capable of surviving outside the uterus. At that point, it is a human being to me. After all, I was born two months premature.

But viability is open to debate. As an article in Slate reminds us "viability" has been a focus of the abortion debate for some time now. When is a fetus viable?
Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 case legalizing abortion, made fetal viability an important legal concept. The Supreme Court ruled that states cannot put the interests of a fetus ahead of the interests of the pregnant woman until the fetus is "viable." The court defined viable to mean capable of prolonged life outside the mother's womb ...

Because the point of viability varies, the court ruled, it could only be determined case by case and by the woman's own doctor...

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor argued in a 1983 decision that Roe was on a "collision course with itself." She said that improvements in technology would continually push the point of fetal viability closer to the beginning of the pregnancy, allowing states greater opportunity to regulate the right to an abortion ...

Some medical ethicists and constitutional scholars say that the Supreme Court was wrong to create the pre-viability/post-viability distinction in the first place. Why, they ask, does the fact that a fetus can survive outside the womb with the help of vast medical technology change either of the interests at war in the abortion debate: the fetus's own claim to "human-ness" and a woman's right to control her body? Even if viability is an important moral line, is it drawn in the right place?

When does life begin? When a sperm penetrates an egg? During the first trimester? The second?

My friend, allowing for the sake of argument my opinion that life begins at viability, asked what about the case in which the mother's life in is danger? Case by case was my easy answer.

But who gets to play Solomon? Who decides to cut a baby in half or in this case favor one person's life over another? The mother? Male religious leaders? Politicians and judges?

I can still remember the pain and anguish of a young woman very dear to me, who confided that she had an abortion. She was alone in a big city and could not tell her staunch Roman Catholic family about the choice she felt was her only option. She now has another child but continues to mourn the one she lost.

The debate over abortion is fraught with emotion, understandably so. However, at issue is a woman's right to her own body - not her father's, not her brother's, not her pastor's, not society's right to her body. This is not simply about abortion. It is also about female genital mutilation and honor killings and the treatment of human beings as chattel.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Responses to Happy Unniversary!

A straight female friend emailed:
I enjoyed reading your blog on marriage, but it always makes me sad and guilty to know that Tom and I can be married while other couples, just as committed, are being excluded due to bigotry.

You are right on about church/state. I believe that marriage is a civil liberty and the government cannot limit that civil liberty to straight couples. Everyone should be allowed a civil marriage. What the churches want to endorse privately is another matter. If we had a system of civil marriage and church marriage, personally I would not get a church marriage in a church that did not permit gays to marry. How Christian is that to arbitrarily excluding a segment of the congregation from receiving a sacrament? I digress...

The really sad part is explaining this to the kids. I always tell them that your are Fr John's* husband and vice versa. I do this, not to hide the injustice of the situation, but so that they don't grow up thinking that "straight" people are more committed than gay people are. Sooner or later I guess I will have to explain the legal facts, although I wish this nation would quickly stop the hypocrisy and institute civil marriage so I don't have to.
Another straight friend emailed:
And there are so many of us who don't see what harm allowing people who love each to marry can bring. What amazes me is the "family values" excuse: Two people love each other and want to be a family, maybe even to bring children into that family -- and a group of clueless people say this is a harm to family values ... Family values are what people who want to get married have. Family values are what people who want to bring children into their lives have. Family values are not a gay or straight prerogative; they have to do with families. WHY this is so threatening to some people is amazing.
*John is an Episcopal priest.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Funnies

For some reason, this Washington Post strip reminds me of those who actually want four more years of McCain-Bush even though it will cost many, many more military & civilian lives, jobs, homes and burden the next generation with gargantuan debt; be a continued source of embarrassment and alienation from the rest of the world; and be ugly in its promotion of inequity, divisiveness, and partisanship.
But as Cheney once said with a smirk, so?

And Prickly City points out that McCain ain't the unwavering straight talking maverick he insists he is ...

... then again it looks like some good folk are buying into vintage Rove propaganda ordered by Johnny McCain and spewed by Sarah Barracuda.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Happy Unniversary!

While a boy can marry, or be forced to marry, a pregnant girl from a powerful family, my partner and I cannot. While straight people can marry without much thought or deliberation, my partner and I cannot, even though we had thought, talked and prayed seriously before moving in together ten years ago. While heterosexuals can marry for convenience and expedience, for power, money or a green card, for whatever reason or none at all, my partner and I cannot, much as we love each other and look forward to growing old together. While the majority can wed then divorce, we do not have the option.

John and I are celebrating what we consider our tenth anniversary. Someone recently asked what exactly we mark - good question. We met ten years ago, registered as domestic partners in New York City five years ago, and are now planning to do the same in Washington, DC. I jokingly remarked that our "wedding" bands should be engraved with all these and future dates. But really, it is not funny.

You can call it what you please - marriage, union - but we want and deserve our right to be together and recognized as a couple. We want the 1,138 federal benefits, rights and privileges heterosexual married people take for granted.

We want to know that should one of us end up in an emergency room, the other would not be turned away. We want to rest assured that if decisions over life and death had to be made, it would be one of us making hard choices. We want the guarantee that when one of us dies, the other would inherit property, valuables and memories we had worked hard for. We want to be eligible for social security, medicare and other benefits which we both have and will continue to pay for. Not just in New York or Washington, but anywhere we might be in the United States.

We want equality and justice.

It is argued that allowing gays to marry will destabilize society. How? On the contrary, millions of gay women and men in stable and mature relationships bolster their communities. John and I are in a committed and loving relationship that brings together our families and people we serve. In our imperfect way we give an alternative to young gays just as we have been deemed a good example by some straight cousins.

It is also disputed that same-sex marriage is against God's law. Really? What limited, imperfect, contingent mortal can truly say that they know God's mind? Nonetheless, fine. Then leave churches to elect who they'd like to marry and proclaim a family, but within their own walls. The principle of separation of church and state still stands and is foundational for a real democracy. As citizens, we fall under and follow secular laws we create.

I simply do not see what harm allowing two people to marry or form a union could bring. Sadly, what is clear is ignorance, hate and fear. Cheers.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Progressive Primer

Through The Power of Progress, former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta invokes the progressive spirit that made America great under the aegis of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Podesta believes that rediscovering progressive ideals and policies will help get us back on track. In the process, we also save our communal soul by doing what is right by all citizens, not just a favored few.

The book starts with the core beliefs of the progressive movement, describes how its values were woven into the Clinton administration, and ends with policy solutions to daunting problems that face us and the next generation. At times it reads like a think-tank policy paper and leaves one wanting more, considering the stories Podesta could tell. This comes as no surprise. Podesta is the president and chief executive officer of the Center of American Progress, a neophyte research and educational institution that has managed, within five years, to gain a voice in current discourse. The Center's senior fellows can be seen offering analysis and opinion on cable news shows and debating their more conservative counterparts in DC panel discussions.

The Power of Progress' chapter titles sum up the progressive credo: (1) Progressives Stand with People, not Privilege; (2) Progressives Believe in the Common Good, and a Government That Offers a Hand Up; (3) Progressives Hold That All People Are Equal in the Eyes of God and Under the Law; (4) Progressives Stand for Universal Human Rights and Cooperative Global Security. While Podesta considers progressivism and liberalism complementary, he points out that "they are not exactly the same in substance, emphasis, or origin." He is also candid about progressivism being a less developed political theory. It is more pragmatic.

A conversation with someone from the progressive movement admits that the debate about what progressivism is continues. Wikipedia lists as its most common tenets democracy; efficiency; regulation of large corporations and monopolies; social justice; and conservationism.

Podesta pens some lines that stand out and is worth highlighting as we listen to Democrats and Republicans plead their cases this election year. As operatives foment discord, we are reminded that:
If the heroism of King and others during the civil rights movement teaches us anything, it is that we must fight and stand up for our beliefs no matter how hard our opponents might hit back. We must fight efforts to divide Americans along lines of race, gender, or sexual orientation, and instead find common ground and engage in a unified struggle to improve lives across all boundaries. It is incumbent upon all of us to make Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of full economic and political equality a reality for all, rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight (p.83).
As we consider the party platforms and policy imperatives, it is worth emphasizing that:
We now live in a country where almost everyone is working harder but where tax cuts go almost exclusively to the very wealthiest. We live in a nation where forty years of efforts to protect the natural environment now have been shredded like trees into wood chips. Where the oil companies write the energy policy. Where the pharmaceutical companies determine which of their products are safe. Where the line between lobbyists and legislators has disappeared. Where the lessons of creationism are taught alongside those of evolution while the health insurance system becomes more Darwinian every day. And all this is presented to the American people live on Rupert Murdoch TV (pp. 104-5).
Yes, we are at another defining moment in history. Will Americans move forward or fester?