Friday, October 31, 2008

Role Playing

One thing in particular stood out for me during my cousin's nuptials last weekend - how traditional gender roles were emphasized and celebrated. Not that there is anything wrong with such roles, as we all have the freedom to abide by them or not. But I did find the language and ritual jarring and anachronistic, my cousin's choice to include such rubrics surprising. It is 2008. Is a woman still expected to subsume herself to her husband?

That might not have been her intention. Perhaps, she simply wanted to continue and honor traditions important to her immigrant Filipino parents and to her husband's immigrant Chinese parents. She just might be proud of her heritage.

During the wedding service, the coin bearer (a little boy), brought forth arrhae, "earnest money" in the form of 13 coins. For Filipinos, it signifies the groom's "pledge of his dedication to the welfare of his wife and children (source:" Man as provider.

After, attendants or "sponsors" flanked the kneeling couple and lit a candle on each side. A second set of sponsors then draped and pinned a veil of white tulle over the bride's head and groom's shoulder. Finally, another couple laid a cord in the form of a figure eight on the couple's shoulders. While the veil (and cord) symbolizes the bond of marriage, the presiding deacon* emphasized the bride's vow to be be faithful, pure and obedient to her husband. Woman as chattel.

During the reception, the couple had the Chinese wedding tea ceremony where they served the groom's elders. The elders, beginning with the oldest, were "invited" to drink tea. They sat on chairs while the bride and groom, bowing, offered them cups. In exchange, the couple was rewarded with red envelopes stuffed with cash. A relative or two gave the bride jewelry.**

It may very well be the case that my cousin is simply proud of her heritage. Judging by the toasts, it became apparent that those closest to the couple knew who wore the pants in the relationship. Clearly, her husband does not own her.

However, there is power in ritual and language in that it perpetuates roles and rules that may no longer be appropriate for our time. Moreover, such traditions enshrine inequity and power within relationships. These proscriptions stifle and stunt individuals.

A few years ago, I was sitting in church when it occurred to me that I was nearly forty, not married, gay, heavily in debt (student loans), with no house in the suburbs or 2.5 kids - thank you Jesus! I was and am grateful that somewhere along the line I realized that I did not have to be or follow a certain way. That I was free to choose how my life would unfold. Free to be happy.

How many people regret not having pursued their dreams, not listening to their call, not being true to themselves because they bought into roles and rules imposed upon them? The photographer who became a doctor because it had been his parents' dream. The traveler who is tied at home because her pastor says that is her place. The woman who remains biologically male because she had married.

A day after the wedding, I was surprised again by people's adherence to traditional roles and rules. Even by gay individuals. Over brunch, an older gay priest was taken aback that I did not drop everything and "support" my partner. That I did not play the perfect minister's wife, serving tea and standing behind him. I think he expected this more from me as I am Asian.

I don't think so.

*Since the groom refused to convert to Roman Catholicism, the catholic service did not include holy eucharist and a deacon was assigned to officiate.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Public Discourse

In an op-ed piece, George Will wrote:
The Episcopal Church once was America's upper crust at prayer. Today it is "progressive" politics cloaked -- very thinly -- in piety. Episcopalians' discontents tell a cautionary tale for political as well as religious associations. As the church's doctrines have become more elastic, the church has contracted. It celebrates an "inclusiveness" that includes fewer and fewer members.
He was doing his bit as a pundit, expressing his opinion. As a well-known conservative columnist, journalist and author, he is able to influence the minds of many, indirectly sway public policy, and affect our very lives. In this case for instance, he questions the value of tolerance and inclusivity.

In my post about the place of politics in the pulpit, I expressed my opinion that a priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, or any kind of religious minister should not attribute any policy or candidate as God's. However, they are free to lend their voice to public discourse particularly when their church or religion is the topic of discussion. Especially when they do know, more than most of us, what they are talking about.

Responding to Will's piece, the leader of my congregation (and my partner), wrote:
After a wonderful and typical 16-hour Sunday workday, I came home from church and read George F. Will's baffling op-ed, "A Faith's Dwindling Following."

Will's impressions of the Episcopal Church are very different from my own, perhaps because he has chosen to view my church through the complaints of a former bishop who has led his diocese out of the mainstream and into a place of fear and fanaticism.

Mine is a "typical" Episcopal parish, filled with old and young, rich and poor, with several races, and with heterosexuals, lesbians, gay men, bisexual persons and transgender persons. I spend much of my time explaining the basics of the Christian faith, coordinating programs and visiting those who are planning baptisms, marriages and funerals. I pray with those undergoing knee replacements, mastectomies and just about every other surgery or procedure one might imagine.

Unlike the Rev. Robert Duncan, I don't spend my time forming alliances with those who agree with me; rather, I try to follow the hard way of Jesus Christ, welcoming all people and perspectives.

Will should visit our church, All Souls. Shame on him for stepping into territory about which he seems to know very little. Shame on Duncan for refusing to do the hard work of a faith that welcomes and frees.

His comment is published in the Washington Post.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Response to Separation of Church and State

A co-parishioner emailed:
Thanks, Erwin. I’m not sure I agree with you about keeping things completely apolitical. I think it is incumbent upon churches and synagogues to encourage people to support government programs like Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, housing assistance, and one day (please God) universal health care. I get very tired of the notion that people who are in need should rely on charity (primarily from faith-based groups). When there is nothing else, charity, is I suppose, defensible. But when it takes the place of income redistribution in the richest country in the world, then I have a real problem.

The offensive thing about charity is that it too often feels good to those who have their wallets out and terrible for those with their hands out. And for those with their hands out because their (supposedly marvelous) capitalist country has provided them with job loss, elimination of health insurance, stagnant wages, etc. they should not feel guilty if they need to rely on government programs. The economic dysfunction of capitalism needs to be tempered with government redistribution of wealth – whether that’s accomplished through programs or tax policy changes.

If faithful people aren’t taught to appreciate and support government programs which redistribute wealth, and yet we are taught that we are responsible for the poor, then it puts us in the ridiculous position of being the ones solely responsible for the poor, while others who practice no religion get off with no obligations.

So while I don’t need my priest to tell me which party to support, it would be nice, occasionally, if we were urged to understand and support government programs which redistribute wealth. Now we’re just urged to help Christ House, the Heifer Project, the Apartment-Furnishing Project and the Christmas Tree Giving Project (all of which I contribute to, for what it’s worth).

I think the Diocese probably understands this, and articulates it better than I do. But for the last twenty years the only public policy position anyone knows about the Episcopal Church is that we believe gays should be ordained. Telling the public (and the diocese’s parishioners) that it’s in the church’s self-interest to support progressive government programs would be just as meaningful and ultimately address the legitimate concerns of a great many people.

Poor thing. I bet you’re sorry you sent me your blog….
I am not sorry I sent the post to her as this is the kind of discourse I hope to foster. Moreover, I actually agree with her that it is obscene for a wealthy and powerful nation to have so much poverty and inequity. I likewise believe that government should take an active role in redistributing wealth and providing services rather than leaving the latter to nonprofits and other charities. However, I still question how involved the church should be in government and the policymaking process.

I also pointed out to my friend that the Episcopal Church has advocated for policy beyond lifting up gays. The home page of Episcopal Public Policy Network reads:
We represent the social policies of the church established by the General Convention and Executive Council, including issues of international peace and justice, human rights, immigration, welfare, poverty, hunger, health care, violence, civil rights, the environment, racism and issues involving women and children.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Separation of Church & State

It has not been easy resisting the temptation to wear my Obama for President lapel pin to church this past couple of Sundays, but resist I have. It is not the right time or place to declare my leanings.

My church, All Souls Woodley Park, declares that all are welcome. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, even those who still dream of a Nader presidency. As an Episcopal congregation, we strongly believe that there is a place at the table for ALL God's children - Liberals, Conservatives, Black, White, Gay, Straight and Transgender. It is unfortunate and contrary to the spirit of Christianity that there are people at both extremes who exclude their sisters and brothers just because they happen to disagree with their own political, social and religious ideas (yes, it is their thoughts not God's mandates much as they'd like to fool themselves).

While All Souls' membership appears mostly progressive, it actually has a good number of Republicans and conservatives. There is an economic adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign, a former staffer on George H.W. Bush's presidential campaign, an ex-publicist of a Republican senator, fiscal conservatives, libertarians and dyed in the wool, lifelong Republicans. There is even a hawkish Log Cabin Republican employed by the War Industry!

Yet somehow, everyone gets along, respecting differences which ordinarily seem irreconcilable and insurmountable. There is even a strong sense of community. There is genuine affection for one another. McCain's economic adviser laughs, prays and serves alongside an LBJ Democrat and labor organizer.

At a discussion group this summer, a member voiced his desire to hear more "political" language at the pulpit. He believed that the minister ought to be explicit about how we are to respond to poverty, suffering and inequity. I suspect he hoped his priest would outrightly endorse liberal actions and openly take sides, his in particular.

Surprisingly, the more progressive folk were alarmed at the suggestion. I was one of them. I responded that while I feel strongly about social and economic justice issues, I do not think it is the minister's job to proclaim which public policies and candidates are God's. Rather it is the pastor's job to articulate, and ours to learn, core Christian values. How we each choose to live them out is up to us and our conscience.

Recently, the neocon gay man expressed his relief at having found All Souls and not hearing political exhortations thinly veiled as sermons. It had been challenging for him to find a congregation within the District where he could take a break from toxic partisanship and where he would feel welcome in spite of his party affiliation. I suspect that it had been impossible for him to find a place among conservative parishes that not only agree with his politics but his sexual orientation as well.

There is enough division, partisanship and rancor in the world. We need the respite offered by places like All Souls. Difficult as it is, I'll remove my lapel pin at the door.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Obama's Flips

I didn't know we are currently celebrating Filipino American History Month. Then again no United States Congress has resolved to recognize it. But apparently Barack Obama and his people knew that October has been set aside for little brown Americans by little brown Americans.

In his statement to the community, he acknowledges these citizens as an integral part of American life and society:
Filipino Americans have participated in the triumphs and struggles along our road to a more perfect union, from farm workers who helped found the United Farmworkers Union, to the soldiers who fought bravely in World War II, to the thousands of nurses who have saved and improved countless lives, Filipino Americans are an integral part of our country.
His sensitivity to the issues and concerns of Filipino Americans and other Asian Americans stem from his own experiences in Hawaii and Indonesia. And from being a person of color with Asian kin.

He thus promises policies important to the group:
As President, I will work to ensure that you have access to affordable, accessible healthcare that will also reduce the language and cultural barriers that limit access to our medical system. We will make sure the economy works for you by fixing our financial system, rebuilding public education, and making sure that schools have the resources they need to educate all of our children, regardless of the languages they speak or their family’s income. And we will provide a path to employment by creating a $4,000 annual college tax credit, a new Community College Partnership Program and new training opportunities for workers, and helping minority-owned small businesses.

Many Filipino families rely on family reunification policies to help them build better lives in the United States. However, AAPI families have some of the longest immigration backlogs. That’s why I’ve fought to improve and pass a comprehensive immigration bill. I introduced amendments to put greater emphasis on keeping immigrant families together and to revisit a controversial new points system that would dramatically alter U.S. immigration policy.

While it might seem pretty obvious that Obama is the better candidate for Filipino Americans, there are those who still can't come around to voting for him. Referring to an earlier post, Little Brown Americans, a friend emailed:

I thought of it again yesterday because my hairdresser, a young Flipino born in Chicago, told me his parents are disgruntled that he's for Obama. Their reason: "If you vote for McCain, your stimulus check this year will be doubled!" It's sad how short-sighted some people can be about the economy. But you know what else, other intelligent (Asian-American) parents I've met refuse to admit the failed economy is Bush's fault. They say it began to decline even during the Clinton era. I think there is something called selective forgetting. We've seen it at work in the Philippines too.

This is not at all surprising, especially for older and immigrant Filipinos who tend to be conservative, not only on economic issues but social ones as well. An Indonesian buddy told me about his Filipino colleague's fear that if Obama wins, there would be more abortions. The woman is a highly educated World Bank employee. So is she a staunch Roman Catholic.

John McCain has not issued a statement acknowledging Filipino Americans.

P.S. Flips is supposed to be a derogatory term for Filipinos, of the same ilk as the N-word. Personally, I am not offended. I find it funny ... and flippant.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Human Rites

Yesterday, my friends Joe and Billy tied the knot and it was a beautiful celebration. Both Italian American families - parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and nieces - were present, as were friends and colleagues. Immediately after the blessing, exchanging of rings and kiss, the party started. Food and drink were abundant. The grooms danced with their moms and the guests did the Electric Slide. Love and laughter reigned.

Their program includes a section cleverly entitled Human Rites and it reads:
"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves."
-Abraham Lincoln

Today is a special day in many ways. Not only is it the day that we celebrate our love and commitment to each other with our family and friends, it's National Coming Out Day. So while we're saying "I Do," others still say "You Can't" and "You Won't." (... and when has that ever stopped either one of us!)

We'd like to thank you for your unconditional love and support that empowers us with the courage to stand before you today and begin our life together. For many, we realize that this is taking you a little out of your 'comfort zone' - we respect that, and appreciate your willingness to open your heart and your mind on our behalf.

The flowers in the ceremony, reminiscent of an Italian countryside are in loving memory of two special people ~ Rosalia Dentici, Joe's Nana, who died on this day fourteen years ago. Though she spoke no English, she truly demonstrated that love knows no language or boundaries. And Tony Sparacino, Joe's cousin, who unexpectedly passed away last year before having the opportunity to share this amazing experience to share this amazing experience with the love of his life - his Partner, Mark.

We thank you for joining us, and love you all -
Joe & Billy

And we thank you for your courage and example.

May their union, their marriage, last.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Come out , come out ...

Today is National Coming Out Day. It is a day for letting people know that their sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, classmates, neighbors, politicians, teachers, celebrities, pastors - that the people that they meet when they're walking down the street, that the people that they meet each day - are gay.*

Twenty years ago, Robert Eichberg and Jean O'Leary founded National Coming Out Day in celebration of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights held a year earlier. About half a million people had marched in Washington, DC, then, advocating for LGBT rights. This day is observed in many countries, including Switzerland, Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

In the United States, the Human Rights Campaign manages the event under the National Coming Out Project, offering resources to LGBT individuals, couples, parents and children, as well as straight friends and relatives, to promote awareness of LGBT people living honest and open lives.

Coming out as a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered person is not easy. Often, it is an extremely difficult and painful process that may very well result in further alienation from our families, friends and communities. However, being honest and vulnerable to others can also heal wounds and bridge gaps wrought by secrecy and lies. Coming out is liberating - we can finally be true to our selves, live in integrity and love fully.

Think what would happen if every gay woman and man stood up and proudly proclaimed "I am gay." Just envision how life would be if those held in high esteem or in positions of authority stood up. Just imagine if every gay soldier stood up. If every gay religious leader stood up. If every gay celebrity stood up. If every gay working woman and man stood up. If we all stood up, what a different world this would be!

And what if all friends, family, coworkers, classmates and neighbors of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender women and men came out as allies? Came out as proud of their loved ones?

So wherever, you are, come out!

*Sung to a Sesame Street ditty.

Related Post - If you love me

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Pro Choice

Believe it or not, there is a quote from Katie Couric's interview of Sarah Palin that has eluded most of us. Talking about gay folk, Palin remarked:
One of my absolute best friends for the last 30 years ... happens to be gay, and I love her dearly. And she is not my gay friend, she is one of my best friends who happens to have made a choice that, um, isn't a choice that I have made. But I'm not gonna judge people.*
Of course she has gay friends. I'll betcha she's got Black, Latino and Asian friends. We all know she married an Inuit (right). And no doubt she loves the sinner not the sin. Where to begin?

How can she claim to love her friend dearly when she consistently spews "Christian truths" that continue to alienate, hurt and even cause her gay sisters and brothers in Christ to be brutally beaten and murdered? When her record as governor has been nothing but inimical to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered individuals?

As a gubernatorial candidate, Palin put her views in black and white, on a questionnaire from Eagle Forum Alaska, a conservative, "pro-family" and anti-gay group. She wrote that she would not support the expansion of hate crimes laws as well as domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples of state employees. Among her top priorities if elected governor was an anti-marriage equality initiative.

Then as governor, the fiscal conservative did not hesitate to waste taxpayers' money so as to spread her message of hate. After Alaska's high court ruled unconstitutional the denial of benefits to domestic partners of state employees, Palin put the issue on a ballot for a nonbinding advisory vote. It was the only issue up for vote and the exercise cost Alaskans over a million dollars. While the measure passed, the state legislature did the right thing by not heeding the public's opinion and deciding not to take any more steps toward overturning the court's decision.

Now as McCain's running mate she sows hate and divisiveness while stumping for votes. It is chilling how she is appealing to the fear and ignorance of her followers, rousing the basest of instincts and passions. Her arrogance and hubris serves as warning of another W. and Cheney all rolled into one dangerous unblinking demagogue.

As for her BFF making a choice, she is correct. The woman did make a courageous choice, not to be gay, but to accept who she is and to live in openness, honesty and integrity. Being gay is not a choice. Being a bigot is.

I'd like to meet this beloved friend of Sarah Palin and ask how close they really are and why she would choose to associate with that one.

*Source: Metroweekly, October 2, 2008, p.66.

Photo: Stephen Nowers, Anchorage Daily News.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

If you love me

At the annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner last night, long-time activist Terry Bean and financial advice powerhouse Suze Orman called upon those present and the wider lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to act at this momentous point in our history where presidential and congressional elections will determine whether the LGBT community will come closer to its dream and right to be equal members of society or lose momentum and hard fought ground.

HRC President Joe Solmonese does not exaggerate when he writes that
... for the LGBT community, matters of life and livelihood hang in the balance of an election that is just one month away. In the coming years, some of the issues most critical to our community will be addressed in statehouses across the nation, in the halls of Congress, and in the White House, including employment discrimination, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and relationship recognition laws.

Most threatening, the potential outcomes in the race for the White House would yield radically different realities for all members of our community. Whereas Sen. Barack Obama has shown the LGBT community time and again that he understands that our community's rights are civil and human rights, Sen. John McCain has been a consistent opponent of fairness and equality for our community."
Terry Bean, who for decades have fought for LGBT rights and along the way help found the Human Rights Campaign (1980) and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund (1991), challenges lesbian, gay and transgender women and men to ask their parents, siblings and friends a simple question.

How can you say you love me when you vote for people and laws that demean me? I add, how can you support and belong to groups and institutions that foster fear and hate of your daughters, sons, sisters, brothers and friends?

Suze Orman, one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world, was surprised to find people coming up to her at the event, thanking her for coming out. As she pointed out, she has never been in. Because as she passionately declared:
It is not easy to say I am a lesbian. It is not easy to say I am gay. It is not easy to say I am bisexual. It is not easy to say I am transgendered. It is not easy. But it is the Right. Thing to Do.
It is the right thing to do.

At this pivotal time, it is the right thing for all of us to visit and call our parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, cousins, and friends and to ask that they help us become equal members of society by voting Democratic. It is the right thing for all of us to come out, strong and proud, and say that we will no longer be silenced, ignored and left at the margins.

Related posts:
A Better America
Happy Unniversary!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Silly Sally

In David Brooks' op-ed column on the Vice Presidential debates, he concludes:
Still, this debate was about Sarah Palin. She held up her end of an energetic debate that gave voters a direct look at two competing philosophies. She established debating parity with Joe Biden. And in a country that is furious with Washington, she presented herself as a radical alternative.
No doubt most of us watched to see how this small time beauty pageant runner up and small suburban mayor would perform, perhaps even hoping for some laughs and counting on the moose gutting hockey mom to hammer the final nail on her ticket's coffin. But expectations were so low to begin with that there wasn't much for her to do other than be coherent and somewhat dignified.

Her performance reminded me of a talking G.I. Joe doll I had as a child. I imagine someone pulling the string from her back and off she goes with phrases like "John McCain maverick, me maverick" or "Me outsider, me better" or "Exceptionalism." Has she even heard of Alexis de Tocqueville? Clearly the woman is good at cramming, memorizing, being cute, and spewing hackneyed Americanaphorisms. And clearly she has no depth.

As Brooks confirmed, Republicans can breathe a sigh of relief. For now. The rest of us can get back to really important matters such as the free-falling economy with millions of Americans in tow. We can also refocus our discernment on the real contenders, McCain and Obama. Yes, it is all about competing philosophies. One that is shared with the Bush administration, proven dangerous and costly, and the other, salvation from the precarious and isolated situation Bush is bequeathing us.

I enjoy Brooks' columns and admire his intelligence and fairness. However, there are times when I catch him allowing conservative blinders to limit his vision. Palin establishing debating parity with Biden? Really? Let's see. Scripted answers - Intelligent analysis. Winking caricature - Gravitas.

And as for being a radical alternative, other than coming from Alaska, how is she radical?

Related posts:
A Better America

Image: Sarah Palin Action Figure from

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Response to Smokey Mary's

MJ, a member of Saint Mary's Times Square emailed:
Oh, bravo, Erwin! What you didn't say about this glorious space and liturgy is that for those of us lucky enough to be parishioners, this is our "hometown church," and we have friendships and commitments and we care about each other within our wonderful community. Do we really arch 80 feet? It's my church community. On Monday night, I had the privilege of being Acolyte 1, and the women were out in force: thurifer, vimpa, epistler, acolyte 1, 4 of 6 torches, 9 of 12 people sitting in choir -- including 3 sisters!

For those unfamiliar with the church's mysteries, an acolyte is a person who "serves" at the altar along with priests; a thurifer is a person who gets to swing the incense vessel and create a whole lot of smoke; a vimpa does not have fangs but does get to handle special objects like a bishop's pointy hat albeit with a veil covering her hands; torches do not sing sultry songs but carry really long candlesticks; and sisters are nuns.