Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Hidden History of Queer Biblical Interpretation

According to the Astrodienst site, my horoscope for today and tomorrow features the Moon making rather emotional transits in my chart. According to today's reading "Your emotions are so much closer to the surface of your being that you can see them clearly" while tomorrow I'm told " In your relations with others, you will project much more emotionally than usual" so maybe that's why I'm so caught up with reflecting on same sex love and desire.

Another reason relates to my involvement with the LGBT History Action Group through Qld Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC). It's Pride Festival time in June and one of our projects is a Brisbane Queer History Bus Tour which is going to take place on 27 June. Yesterday we reconnoitred the tour itinerary. While most of it goes by old pubs and other venues (or the sites where they used to be) there are three sites which are intricately linked in the most personal way, St Mary's Anglican Church Kangaroo Point, the Mt Olivet Hospital and Hospice Kangaroo Point just down the road from the Church, and a grave over on the other side of town at Toowong cemetery.

The grave is of two remarkable women, Lilian Cooper and Josephine Cooper. Now rather than give my own version of their story I'm going to reproduce material from two sites. The first is from the State Library of Queensland page titled Lilian Cooper and Josephine Bedford: Lifelong companions who travelled against the tide

In 1861, two remarkable women who would improve the lives of women and children in Brisbane, were born in England. Lilian Cooper decided at an early age, and against her parents’ wishes, that she wanted to be a doctor. While studying in London, she shared rooms with Josephine Bedford. They became lifelong companions. In 1891 at the age of 30, Dr Cooper accepted a position in Brisbane as a doctor’s assistant. She and Miss Bedford travelled half way around the world together, only to discover that Dr Cooper’s new employer was an alcoholic and impossible to work with.

With gritty determination and bolstered by Josephine’s support, Lilian decided to set up her own private practice in The Mansions on George Street. She encountered fierce opposition from the all-male medical fraternity but was undeterred. Within six months her medical and surgical skills were recognised and her practice began to grow. Dr Cooper made house calls in a horse and sulky by day and a bicycle by night.

When motor cars were first available in 1905, she became one of the first women to drive a car in Brisbane. She did all her own mechanical repairs and was often heard cursing and swearing at an obstinate engine. Lilian Cooper was a founding member of the RACQ. When World War I broke out, both women volunteered with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, an organisation staffed entirely by women. They served in Serbia for 12 months – Dr Cooper as a surgeon and Miss Bedford as the head of the ambulance service.

After the war, they returned to Brisbane. Dr Cooper continued practicing medicine in her consulting rooms and as an Honorary Medical Officer at the Hospital for Sick Children in Herston and the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in South Brisbane. She retired from medicine in 1941 at the age of 80.

As well as supporting Lilian and running their busy household, Josephine Bedford worked tirelessly to improve the lives of impoverished women and children. She helped to establish the Creche and Kindergarten Association in 1907 and the Playground Association in 1913. The Bedford Playground in Spring Hill is named in her honour. Even at the age of 89, this slightly built but enormously energetic woman was organising an antiques exhibition to raise funds for the Association.

On 18 August 1947, Dr Lilian Cooper died quietly at her home in Kangaroo Point. She left all her assets to Josephine. To commemorate the work of Queensland’s first female medical practitioner and her lifelong companion, Josephine Bedford donated their house to the Sisters of Charity, on the proviso that it be used to build a hospice for the sick and dying. Today Mount Olivet Hospital stands where Lilian Cooper and Josephine Bedford once lived. They are buried together at Toowong Cemetery.

The second is from the Lesbians in 1900 Brisbane page:

Dr Lilian Cooper was Queensland's first female doctor, described as a champion of women and children and "a mannish and abrupt woman who was idolised by her patients." (Courier-Mail 5.6.1991)

“One (male colleague) jokingly said to her (Dr Cooper), 'What you want is a wedding ring.' (where have we heard that, albeit modernised and more vulgarly expressed, since?) 'I'd wear it on my big toe,' she flashed back contemptuously. Nothing could have insulted her more deeply than the suggestion that she should prefer marriage to medicine. Actually, she would have preferred death on the rack to marriage. The antagonism she had always felt for men had hardened in recent years into utter contempt." From a biographical essay on Lilian Cooper by Lorraine Cazalar, 1970.

Cooper opened her own practice in George Street in 1891 when she was 30 years old. Shunned by the city's all-male medical fraternity, she was at first denied the services of an anaesthetist for her operations. She was finally admitted to the Queensland Medical Society in 1893, and was the first woman surgeon appointed to the Mater Public Hospital. Lilian and Josephine were both members of the Pioneer Club, a women only club loosely linked to the Women's Franchise League

After Cooper's death in 1947, her partner Josephine first offered their Kangaroo Point clifftop home to the Anglican church. The men of the church in their wisdom refused the house, for unknown reasons. So Bedford approached the Catholic Sisters of Charity who readily agreed to convert the house into a hospice for the aged and dying. That hospice later evolved into the Mount Olivet Hospital.

And so it was a very moving experience for me to stand at the gravesite yesterday. It's very simple compared to many of the graves in the cemetery. Also considering that when the notion that Lilian and Josephine were lesbians was first publicly mooted there was quite an outcry from many quarters. But yet standing at the gravesite, everything about it pinged my gaydar. Not least the "God is love" verse inscribed on the grave stone together with a verse from the Book of Wisdom "They are thine, O Lord, Thou Lover of souls" (11.26). In death Josephine proclaims their love unashamedly and grounds it in the Divine Love. Love is central to the European Homosexual Tradition and the tradition is not unafraid to draw on the Christian mythos. And on her headstone Josephine does so both beautifully and confidently.

But there is more. I had hoped that I would for my last post for May do something on the New Testament and I was initially considering linking up to a post on gospel dating over at Source Theory. However there is an even more fascinating aspect of biblical interpretation, and also New Testament related, that links Lilian and Josephine to St Mary's Church at Kangaroo Point.

I'll quote again from the Lesbians in 1900 Brisbane site

Josephine also commemorated her lifelong love of Lilian with a double stained-glass window which she donated to the Warriors' Chapel of St Mary's (Anglican and next door to the hospital) which can still be viewed on the southern side of the little church. It features a Roman centurion asking Jesus for the salvation of the centurion's slave. The centurion oppressor is risking his life to save his slave. Why did Cooper and Bedford choose this particular theme (they probably discussed donating the window before Cooper died, and as educated women they would have had access to theology and Roman history)

Here is the image also from the same site (photographed by Shev Armstrong)

their donated stained glass window

What is the significance of this image which is based on the story in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10? For that I want to quote from an article by Jack Clark Robinson in the November-December 2007 issue of the Gay and Lesbian Review

THE GREEK WORDS used to tell the story of the centurion and his servant provide several linguistic reasons for arguing that the story involved a gay man. First, however, a clarification: the word “homosexuality” is not found here or anywhere in scripture. It was only in the late 1800’s that the Western scientific community began to name this sexual orientation using this word. Thus the very Greek-sounding word “homosexuality,”‘ coined in the late 19th century, cannot be found in the New Testament or anywhere else in an ancient Greek text. But this does not mean that we cannot spot what we would call gay relationships in other historical periods and documents, including in Judeo-Christian scripture, very possibly in the above passage.

The Greek word translated “appealing” in the passage is parakaloon. Only a few verses later, the translators rendered the same Greek word “beg” (Matthew 8:34). They also translated the same word “beg” in three more uses by Matthew (14:36, 18:29, and 18:32). The translators may have doubted that a Roman centurion would beg from an itinerant Jewish preacher like Jesus. But suppose the relationship of this centurion and his servant was not superficial. If this particular centurion were gay and in love with his servant, begging is what he would do, if his beloved suffered dreadfully and by begging he could bring about relief for that suffering.

The translators preserved the differences between two other Greek words, which could easily have been confused. One of these words is doulos. This word, translated “slave,” occurs only in verse 9 of the passage. Doulos was the ordinary word used to indicate a slave. It referred to a slave of any age or any sort. A doulos could have been the highly trusted and highly educated slave who directed a large enterprise owned by some rich citizen, such as a huge estate, a fleet of trading vessels, or a factory producing great quantities of pottery. At the same time, doulos referred to the most menial worker slave in any of those same enterprises.

The word translated “servant” is the Greek word pais, which had a variety of meanings. It could mean “boy.”‘ Pais occurred here only when the centurion himself described his relationship to the sick person. Pais appeared simply as the word “servant” rarely in the New Testament: here, in Luke 7 (a parallel account of Matthew 8), and in Galatians 4. Pais occurs some twenty other places in the New Testament, usually translated either as “boy” or as a very particular form of “servant.” Apart from Luke 7 and Matthew 8, pais was translated “servant” nine times, with five of those uses being references to Jesus himself. Twice the word referred to David, and once to Israel. In the reference in Galatians, Paul used the word to refer to Hagar and there recalled specifically that she was the mother of Ishmael. Pais appeared at times to denote a complicated relationship of unusual intimacy in the New Testament. At various times it referred to an adult servant, a child, Jesus, David, Israel, and Hagar.

The age of this particular pais remains undetermined. The term doulos, used almost exclusively about this figure in Luke’s account of the episode, does not indicate age. Further, the use of pais in reference to the fully adult Jesus, David, and Israel, and the reference to Hagar as a mother indicate that pais cannot be limited to a term for a child or servant. The term was used in a manner similar to the historic use of “boy” in referring to an adult considered socially inferior. Fully adult black males were commonly called “boy” in the southern United States or South Africa well into living memory.

Outside the New Testament, the use of pais was further complicated, as illustrated by these words from historian K. J. Dover (1989): “The junior partner in homosexual eros is called pais (or, of course, paidika) even when he had reached adult height and hair has begun to grow on his face, so that he might more appropriately be called neaniskos, meirakion, or ephebos.” Linguistically, the meaning of pais cannot be limited to “servant,” but the possible meanings must also include a sexual partner or “boy” in the sense of social inferior.

Now Robinson is not the first to have argued that interpretation of the story. Over at Michael Bayly's The Wild Reed, he put up a piece from William A Percy critiquing Robinson's piece for not providing "a detailed outline of the history and development of the thesis that the Roman centurion was what we’d now call gay." Percy provides such a detailed outline from which I'll quote the following:

Robinson could have greatly improved his insufficiently referenced article, “Jesus, the Centurion and His Lover,” (The Gay and Lesbian Review, Nov.-Dec. 2007) by citing Donald Mader’s closely argued “The Entimos Pais of Matthew’s 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10,” first printed in the now-defunct Paidika (1, 1987), and then reprinted in Wayne Dynes and Stephen Donaldson’sHomosexuality and Religion and Philosophy(XII of their thirteen-volume Studies in Homosexuality, Garland, 1992, now available at He would also had benefited from awareness of Theodore Jennings Jr. and Tat-Siong Benny Liew’s meticulously sourced “Mistaken Identities But Model Faith: Rereading the Centurion, the Chap, and the Christ” in The Journal of Biblical Literature(123:3, 2004).

Or, for that matter, Robinson could have noted Tom Horner’s Jonathon Loved David (1978), written at the height of the gay liberation movement. Both Mader and Jennings and Liew credit Horner with being the first theologian (at least in the English language) to suggest that the Centurion and his “boy,” whom Jesus cured from near death, is a text about pederasty, although Horner does not attempt an analysis of the text himself. Despite Mader’s and Jennings & Liew’s assertion, it was apparently one of Fr. Robinson’s own co-religionists, Dr. John McNeill, S.J. to whom the honor should actually go. Two years prior to the publication of Horner’s book, in an obscure interview published in Christopher Street magazine, “God and Gays: A New Team” (interview with J.J. O’Neill by Charles Ortleb, Christopher Street, October, 1976), McNeill says: “The four gospels are totally silent on this issue of homosexuality. There is no explicit reference to it whatsoever. There is one curious story of the Roman centurion whose boy servant is ill. Jesus is asked to cure him. It is said that the centurion loved the boy very deeply; one could read into it a homosexual relationship.”

However around 30 years earlier on the othe side of the world, Josephine Bedford chose exactly this story as the basis of two stained glass windows commemorating her "lifelong love of Lilian." As the Lesbians in 1900 Brisbane site asks, "Why did Cooper and Bedford choose this particular theme (they probably discussed donating the window before Cooper died, and as educated women they would have had access to theology and Roman history)."

It then continues: "It seems likely that Cooper and Bedford knew 100 years ago that this passage in the Bible had some relevance for their own relationship and lifestyle." I am inclined to agree. I can't believe that this is a coincidence. I suspect that we have evidence here of an underground stream of queer biblical interpretation, tellings and retellings of biblical tales in ways that affirm the love of woman for woman and man for man.

I have only seen the windows from the outside and am really eager to see them inside the church and in all their glory. I also think Lilian and Josephine's grave should be a site of pilgrimage for all of us who belong to that army of lovers, and also that church. And it might be salutary for biblical scholars, especially those in New Testament, to stand at that grave and before those windows.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The erotics of knowledge and reading

Roland Boer has a quite interesting little post on his Stalin's Moustache blog - Sexy Writers or the erotics of knowledge. He asks:

Why do we fall for some writers and not others? Why do we find the thought of one person sexy and another not? Why are some texts so seductive while others leave us cold?

And then goes on:

I know the writers I find sexy: Rosa Luxemburg, Theodor Adorno, Ernst Bloch, Max Horkheimer, Louis Althusser, Henri Lefebvre, Fred Jameson, Alain Badiou, Georg Lukacs, E.P. Thompson, Karl Kautsky, Jacques Lacan, and of course Marx and especially Engels. It's not that they are physically attractive (I don't leer at their photographs), but their thought is stimulating and gets my juices going, so to speak.

He then lists a group of writers who leave him "cold and totally uninterested" including Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and Michel Foucault. I've not read Deleuze or Derrida ( I made a start on one of his essays but never finished it). Foucault I have read some of but again could not really get into him. It didn't excite me or captivate me at all. I have determined to make a start on Derrida probably starting with what he wrote on hospitality. But Foucault, well I'm not so interested in trying again to make any connection there.

But Roland's post got me thinking about the erotics of knowledge, of writing. Good writing, sexy writing necessarily excites the mind. The mind is definitely aroused and excited by what one reads. And when the mind is all excited, there is what I think Plato would term an insemination take place. Sometimes it can be in the form of an affirmation or confirmation of ideas one holds already but often expressed in a much better way. Other times it can unlock thought flows of one's own or provide a whole new perspective that opens up new perceptions, dare I say conceptions of reality. Other times it's the analytical process itself that is mentally arousing. Sometimes it can be sheer joy to witness and participate in; all reading is participatory.

What's really curious for me is the number of women whose writing I find sexy. They have played a crucial role in teaching me, in awakening and exciting me. Eve Kosofky Sedgwick is one, Luce Irigaray is another. In biblical studies there's a whole suite of feminist writers, but I have to say that three important women, in terms of opening up my thinking to new possibilities, have been Avivah Zornberg, Margaret Barker and Mary Douglas. In my younger days Dorothy Day and Emma Goldmann were two women who I 'fell in love with' and soon Catherine de Hueck was another. And both Julian of Norwich and Maguerite Porete struck me very profound exciting and sexy writers who again opened my mind and spirit, exciting and arousing new possibilities and perceptions. These are some women I think of without really trying.

The irony is that I am a gay man, a homosexual, a homophile and yet intellectually am I more heterophilic? If writing is sexy can it have gender? Or when I read these women does my mind awaken to its lesbian dimension? (Perhaps that's why I thought J K Gayle was a woman because his writing excited my mind in its lesbian dimension?) Because I really am not heterosexual/heterophile at all. I know this from reading the writing of those I love. I have a friend in the US that I have yet to meet. I got to know him through the internet in the days when I was working on my thesis. He was working on a Master's thesis in theology at the same time. In it he critiqued an essay of mine that had been published. When he told me I asked if could see it and sent me the chapter in question. He was actually very nervous about it, perhaps due to a certain awe at the fact that my essay had been published in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. But on reading his critique I was quite excited, he had perhaps misread me but then perhaps he had highlighted an ambiguity in my own argument of which I was not aware. So I then wrote him into my thesis and thus into my book, acknowledging his point and giving a clarification of my own position. I sent him a copy of the chapter and he was chuffed, as I recall. I think he was even more chuffed when he realised that it was also included in my book. That I was determined to do.

So if writing is sexy, arousing exciting and inseminating the mind does it mean when we cite and acknowledge each other that we are making love one to another? Is that yet another dimension of the eros of knowledge, the eros of writing?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Australian Story and St Mary's

Maybe it's the Mercury Retrograde this month but I just don't think I've been blogging the way I'd hoped to lately. There are varous topics I'd hoped to cover but am still to address and I seriously intend to get into them. One that has been constantly pushed to the back is my observations of the 'new regime' over at St Mary's. And in the last week, I've not only been to Mass at St Mary's again but also attend the monthly parish meeting.

However, last night Australian Story went to air with a programme not so much on St Mary's itself but on the two priests in the eye of the whole drama, Peter Kennedy and Terry Fitzpatrick. I didn't think I would see it as I was to be at my mother's last night. But she also wanted to watch it and so with my sister who was also there last night (and was a regular attender at St Mary's) we three sat down to watch it. And so today I am first going to make some obervations on the latest state of play of the 'exilists' in light of the Australian Story programme and then review a little of my own return from exile to St Mary's the parish at Sth Brisbane.

Last night's programme really was a form of hagiography an all too common feature nowadays of what was once a worthy show ; I agree with my flatmate's observation:

Unfortunately, Australian Story generally appears to be an outlet for PR spin, under the guise of human interest, and almost every episode, really, is quite an indictment of what the ABC should be about…

The hagiography was focused on the two priests and we were given an intimate glimpse of their private lives. Most intersting was the focus on Terry, who to date has been kept pretty much out of the spotlight. What we were presented was Father Terry, family man, because the hagiography revolved around Terry and his son, a family relationship which now also includes Peter Kennedy himself. The show provided glimpses of a domestic life of the two priests and the son almost like any other happy family, dare I say nuclear family. And coming after my last post on homosexual tradition and while I'm reading Irigaray's classic text, I couldn't but help feeling a certain irony about what I was viewing, an irony heightened by scenes of them together watching one of my favorite shows, Father Ted.

It's not my intention to comment on the details of their domestic lives. Indeed, I am pleased that Terry has taken his responsibilities as a parent seriously and openly. I wish more priests would do the same (priestly parenthood is much more common than people realise but it's more common for such f/Fathers to brush it aside and avoid their responsibilities). I'm also happy that Peter has been privileged to become a part of such a familial relationship in his old age after many years of celibacy and, presumably, loneliness. Celibacy can really only be lived in community - it's a monastic practice. When a person enters a convent/monastery they are joining a household and entering into a web of relationships focused around spiritual practice and other shared purposes. Celibacy really means unmarried and marriage itself has traditionally represented the entering into/establishing of a (patriarchal) familial household. Monks and nuns are not meant to be embedded in the ways of patriarchy and its family structures, hence they are celibate. But it is a great cruelty for the Roman church to expect its ordinary, non-monastic (and I use the term here broadly to signify life in religious communities, be they monastic, mendicant or 'service' oriented), parish clergy to live a life of celibacy, which of course also entails sexual abstinence, with all the associated sexphobia and homosexual panic, in a setting of an authoritarian hierarchy .

But to return to St Mary's, I really am puzzled by the major stress on the domestic and family life of the two priests in last night's show, except if to say in a hagiographical manner, these are just ordinary regular guys us like the rest of us. It was designed to make us like them but also to deflect from discussing any of the substantive issues involved. In that sense, then, the programme was dishonest.

I'm told that the priests were concerned that the programme might have revealed more than they intended. I don't know what they feared was revealed but they were correct, there were several moments of, I suspect, unintended revelation cutting through the fog of hagiography. I want now to highlight these moments because they shed a striking light on many of the substantive issues in the saga, issues that have been ignored by the media in their persistent and dishonest 'simple caring priests being victimised by evil authoritarian Rome' narrative.

The first relates to the odd recurring understory of Buddhism that just keeps cropping up. It's when Peter is heading off to his appearance on Q & A in Sydney. We see Peter and Terry heading off to the airport for his flight. In the car is a little Buddhist image. It's just a glimpse and I'm sure we glimpse a similar image at another moment in the show but I can't recall when. The image itself is none too special, I think Japanese in style, almost a bit of Buddhist kitsch, but I'm wondering if this is an example of what was in the church that caused all those dramas last year with the conservatives. In which case, I think it's quite dishonest to say that the image in the church was simply a representation of a monk. And the Buddha/ist image is then juxtaposed with Peter saying on Q & A, in response to whether he believes in the divinity of Christ, that 'we can't corroborate the existence of Jesus'. It's a point he's repeated in various public fora and I am frankly puzzled by what he intends by it. Would he say the same for Gautama Buddha (for which the same claim can be made quite justifiably, I would say). And if not, why not? Is Peter really signalling here that he no longer believes in anything of the Christian, let alone Catholic, package that as an ordained priest he is supposed to represent and sustain. A lot of good people have left the Roman Church, people I admire and have been influenced by, including many priests who left over celibacy and sexuality issues. So Peter would be in good company and if he's no longer a believer then leaving the priesthood would be an act of honesty in keeping with the Buddha's own dictum of right speech.

Not all the revelations in the show were by Peter and Terry themselves. There was an important moment of revelation from 'the other side', in the person of Adrian Farrelly, who for some reason terms himself Chancellor of the Brisbane Archdiocese (that title is actually held by
James Spence while Farrelly is Vicar Judicial UPDATE I have been informed that Spence retired a few months ago and that Farrelly has been appointed to the Chancellor position but at this time 1/6/09 the Archdiocese has yet to update its website). Farrelly's own contributions to the saga have been none too helpful, however, he cut through all the crap last night and said that if Peter had kept to authorised Eucharistic prayers and worn some vestments when celebrating the liturgy then none of this would have happened. In large part, Farrelly is correct. Questions of social justice and inclusion are a smokescreen here. The Archdiocese did not intervene because of St Mary's social justice work (which is carried out by Micah Projects, not the priests) or because of its commitment to inclusion of LGBT people. If the priests hadn't de-natured the Eucharist there in the last few years then there would have been no problem.

Except... and here the next revelation is just as crucial as Farrelly's. Peter Kennedy was talking about his interactions with Archbishop Bathersby and said words to the effect that every time he (Kennedy) saw him, Bathersby would regale him with 'all the complaints he was getting about Terry Fitzpatrick'. I've heard some of those complaints myself and they have nothing to do with social justice and inclusion. Quite the opposite, in fact. And as I have said repeatedly, Terry's status was one of the key issues raised in Bathersby's first letter to Kennedy last year. It's a fact that's been continuously ignored by the media's handling of the whole affair. Any reporter worth their salt should have been following up those complaints and indeed I've been told that up until now Kennedy has been concerned to keep Terry out of the spotlight as much as possible. Indeed the other intersting fact about last night's programme was that Terry was brought out into the open at all, if one can call such uncritical PR spin being out in the open.

Two other moments of revelation came in the final credits. We learn that Peter is still being paid by the Brisbane Archdiocese. Terry is not a priest of the Archdiocese and to my knowledge never has been. He was originally from Toowoomba but after all these years in Brisbane could hardly be on Toowomba's payroll. In the credits to last night's show we learn that Terry is paid by 'private supporters'.

They must pay him well, because the other and most disturbing revelation of last night's show came in the lead up to the departure into 'exile'. We see Terry coming down from the choir loft in the church with his golf clubs (golf is not a game of the poor) and fishing rod, all part of the packing up to move out. And he laments the fact that packing up the golf clubs and fishing rod brings home to him the reality of having to move. I'm surprised the programme makers didn't ask him why he was keeping such personal items IN THE CHURCH. Indeed to me it was indicative of a real blurring of boundaries that has been an ongoing pattern of behavior both publicly and privately (according to the complaints I've received) that represents priestcraft and clericalism of the worst kind. Both priests were treating the church of St Mary's as their own personal property. I know too that they took more than just their personal items from the church when they left. It seems, they stripped it of just about everything they could carry; even the vestments, I believe, went (curious given that both priests made the such an issue about not needing to wear vestments) and altar vessels. The piano was taken too on the basis that Peter Kennedy had put so many thousands of his own money towards it. The proper thing to have done was to have tabled a receipt to the Archdiocese for reimbursement. The piano belongs to the community of St Mary's which does not only comprise those who have gone into exile but the full community of people that have been part of it since it was founded in the 19th century and all those yet to come in the future. But it would appear that for Peter Kennedy the community 'c'est moi'. And so it comes as no suprise to hear that he has already excommunicated someone from the exile community for espousing ideas of which he doesn't approve. I know he was all too ready to excommunicate in the days before exile, a fact that is also behind the Archdiocesan intervention.

But to be quite honest, I'm really bored with writing about the two priests. I only took on this role because they had captured the media coverage of the affair and had seriously misrepresented what was really going on. And it appeared that no one was publicly prepared to challenge the spin that was being promoted through the media, apart from some of the silly conservatives who were taking unjustified credit for the Archdiocesan intevention. Let me put it as plainly as I can. Bathersby did not intervene because Rome told him too. He also did not intervene because he wanted to stop the social justice work of the parish. That work continues; it was never at risk from the Archdiocese. What was at issue was the behaviour and accountability of both Peter Kennedy, employed by the Archdiocese and Terry Fitzpatrick who was employed by no one and thus completely unaccountable to anyone. Such lack of accountablity led not only to them denaturing the key rituals that constitute a Catholic identity, it also led them to create their own quasi-religion, a hodge podge of new age Buddhism lite, ersatz Christianity with a sprinkling of appropriated indigenous religious forms to boot. They capped that off with an authoritarianism and abusive behaviour vis a vis individuals in the congregation, hence the many complaints Bathersby had received. What they had done was set up a Peter and Terry cult which bears little or no relation to social justice or inclusion but encouraged the worst aspects of priestcraft. And if I have labored the point it's because the media have been complicit in their whole spin exercise.

But to St Mary's itself, the parish, the forlorn bride. I have returned as has my flatmate, Mark. It was strange to be back there after all those years. I don't live in the area anymore but I don't want St Mary's to die; it has a rich history and a tradition of social justice and inclusion that must be honoured and maintained. And yes there are some conservatives who have turned up and want to turn things back to the way they used to be once upon a time. Once upon a time does not exist and it's to Ken Howell's credit that he is determined not to radically change the way things are done at St Mary's. I believe he was concerned to hear that the Pride Choir had packed up and moved out on the belief that they would be forced to leave. I'm told he wanted them to stay. Certainly the numbers at Mass now are small but that's to be expected given the history. And small numbers give a sense of intimacy which I like. I also like the somewhat impromptu nature of things; when you arrive you are likely to be asked if you want to do a reading, take up the collection, distribute communion etc. My first mass there I did the procesion for the gifts at the Offertory and last Sunday I found myself assisting the priest as a server. THe other positive thing too is that as Dean of the Cathedral, Ken Howell has a lot of other commitments so he shares his St Mary's role with a number of other priests. On Sunday the priest was from Australian Catholic University at Banyo and there is a very social justice oriented priest involved with the Timorese community who has also regularly celebrated Mass there. This diversity of priests is also a good thing, I think. I have also recognised some faces of people who I remember were very active at St Mary's back when I was going in the 90s. Clearly they did not decide to go into exile and they provide a valuable continuity.

Micah Projects is moving out of the old presbytery. It's not clear why. They say that it's 'to allow members and supporters to continue to access and participate in the work of Micah Projects regarless of where they choose to worship' and I seriously hope that connections are maintained between the organisation and the parish. My concerns are heightened by the fact that there are conservatives who love nothing more than to bring to an end the social justice traditions of the parish. I don't want to see that happen but I'm concerned that the media misrepresentations of what was going on at St Mary's might have given them a false sense of empowerment that is undeserved.

So it is my intent to get along to St Mary's and help out as often as I can. I would also hope that those who went into exile will reconsider and return. I suspect many think that the exile is only a temporary thing and that Peter and Terry will eventually be restored to the parish. I can't see how that can happen quite frankly. Mark observed about the exiles

I think the Exilists’ story does show a strange sort of pull away from an absent centre – towards the other. But a certain imaginary other, rather than the others in our midst. The centre might be the institutional church, or a space of privilege. But what’s not going on, I don’t think, is any decentring. There’s something in that centre, still – the priestly authority, and the particular priestly authority of Terry and Peter Kennedy. There’s a gesture towards the other, but I question how much the other is listened to, and more broadly.. there’s something of a spiritual emptiness within that core place.
I would agree. The path they have taken can only lead in one direction, a separate church, a separate denomination. I support and participate in Independent Catholicism myself. For those of us kept at the margins of the mainstream Catholic/Orthodox churches it can be a vital, even necessary way to balance the institutional homophobia and authoritarianism of the mainsteam. But a living religious community needs more to sustain itself than a cult of personality around its clerics. In the end it's not about priests, it's about a community, a living ongoing community of people. That was very much part of the magic of St Mary's. My hope is that the magic, which hasn't quite died, will be sustained and revive to flame forth anew, a beacon of hope once more.

And my next post before this month is over will be on matters biblical.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Some Thoughts on a Homosexual Tradition

I began this piece Saturday night and have been adding to it progressively. At the time I'm writing this intro I have decided to not pretend a continuity but just add bits. as I go along.

As is often the way with things, I have been sidetracked tonight. I had intended to write something on various New Testament issues which were getting my attention over the last few days but I might come back to that in the next couple of days. Instead what's on my mind right now is a jumble of thoughts around the notion of a homosexual tradition. I have been wanting to re-read some Plato but instead am at last reading Luce Irigary's Speculum of the Other Woman. Just superb! But I'm still on her on Freud and while I love how she deconstructs and exposes Freud I'm itching for her to get into Plato. Why? Because I want to re-read Plato, in particular the Symposium and the Phaedrus. It's all part of my concern about the European Homosexual Tradition.

A couple of years ago, I attended (and presented at) a one day LGBT community forum here in Brisbane. During the course of the day the notion came up that homosexuality was somehow invented in the late 19th century - a very crude constructionism that seems to constantly recur over the last few years and might even be a form of orthodoxy in some quarters. Now I am neither a constructionist nor an essentialist in any strict form but I certainly do not accept the simplistic constructionism that posits the homosexual as an invention, generally by establishment sexologists, of the 19th century. In fact those sexologists were actually appropriating the discourse of early homosexual activists working for a change in social attitudes to homosexuality, in particular, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Ulrichs was both the first public gay activist and the first theorist of sexuality. He was prompted to action by the impending unification of Germany under Prussia. Thanks to the Code Napoleon many of the German states had no legal sanctions against homosexuality. However, as Prussia had not been conquered by France it retained its own legal code which criminalised homosexuality.

Ulrichs campaigned to change these laws because a Prussian led Germany would mean that German LGB people outside Prussia would face recriminalisation. As part of his campaigning Ulrichs wrote and theorised about homosexuality and used a notion of a third sex as his model. He developed an entire taxonomy of sexuality which pretty much underpins our contemporary models. His system included not only gay men and lesbians as types but also bisexual men and bisexual women and MtF transgender women and FtM transgender men. It was quite a comprehensive system which would be subsequently appropriated by the sexologists and subsequent psychologists and other clinicians as a way of classifying and dealing with the 'problem' of non-heterosexuality. In many respects it was a tragic turnaround or subversion of Ulrichs' work.

For Ulrichs' goal was to transform social attitudes to homosexuality so that rather than it being something to be dealt with (or even worse cured) it would be accepted and acknowleged rather than stigmatised, criminalised and suppressed. As I said Ulrichs took as his model the notion of third sex or intermediate type. In part this model drew on European exposures to third gender people in colonial contexts (Rudi Bleys documents some of this history in The Geography of Perversion) although Ulrichs could no doubt draw on Hermaphrodite motifs from ancient mythology. Ironically Ulrich's model could be said to be an inversion of Aristophanes' three sexes as found in Plato's Symposium. Here the hermaphrodite as a male female unit ironically represents what we might term the heterosexual as opposed to the man-male-couple and the woman-female-couple. That's how Dante uses the term in his Purgatory Canto 26 when he encounters a group of repentant hermaphrodites guilty of heterosexual sins of lust. As he speaks with one such sinner, they are interrupted by another column of repentant sinners, this time sodomites and it is clear that in their case their sins are those of same sex desire. But they are never allowed to address the poet or even identify themselves to him unlike his hermaphrodite speaker or the sodomites he meets in Hell. It would appear that for Dante the only good sodomite is a closeted one.

In Dante's Purgatory, two diferent elements of the homosexual tradition meet, perhaps for the first time, one old, one new. The first is the Platonic tradition, of which the hermaphrodite is but one example and the other is the sodomite, newly invented in the 11th century by the monk, Peter Damian. In his Book of Gomorrah, Peter Damian draws together a variety of threads of Christian homophobia to create the sodomite as a species with a distinct lineage and history and sacred site, i.e. the Cities of the Plain, Sodom and Gomorrah. The model for his classification is that of the Jew, so there is a Sodomite society and a Sodomite covenant just like Judaism but unlike Judaism, whose adherents are identifiable and set apart from the body of Christendom, sodomites have thoroughly ensconced themselves within the Christian body, most alarmingly for Peter Damian, within the clergy and the communities of monastics themselves.

In some respects Peter Damian's book is the opening salvo of a religious struggle that would lead to the Protestant Reformation. His book is addressed to the Pope of the day and it's a call for a thorough purge and cleansing reform of the Church, especially the orders of priests, bishops and monks, of the sodomite infection. Unhappily for Peter Damian, but no doubt happily for everyone else, the Pope of the day was not all that interested in his paranoid clarion call and after sending a thank you note filed the text away.

(Sunday night)
But the category that Peter Damian created was based on sexual activity. Prior to his day there was only one sex act that seems to be clearly denoted with the tag of Sodom: anal sex between men. All the other things that men can do with each other, as well as all the things that women can do with each other, in contrast were not tagged with Sodom's downfall. Peter Damian, however, took everything that men can do with each, oral sex, inter-femoral sex, mutual masturbation, and even added solitary masturbation for good measure, and rolled them up with anal sex to call them sodomy (sodomia in his Latin). His text is the first instance of that word in any European language (a word that can be translated as sodomy appeared in a Syriac Christian text two centuries earlier but it's context does not give it the same meaning that Peter Damian conveys with sodomia, although post-sodomy, the Syriac word, sedoomayootha, becomes assimilated to Peter Damian's neologism). Peter Damian's world is very much a man's world and so there is no mention of lesbians here although subsequently in the later medieval period the idea developed that while the sodomite's ancestral home was Sodom the lesbian was a daughter of Gomorrah.

Peter Damian might have invented sodomy and the category of the sodomite but it would take time for his invention to catch on. Foucault could famously observe that in the texts he read sodomy was a completely confused category but there was no such confusion for Peted Damian. For him Sodom and sodomy signified a species of males marked by same sex desire. His invention however had to contend with older homphobic models based on the fear of the penetrated/feminised male. The feminised male was monstrous and anal sex could be made equivalent to bestiality, an expression of bestial lust, and eventually sodomy would come to bear the the added burden of signifying bestiality as well (and really there was none too bad that could not be imputed to Sodom). And in time the lesbian would likewise come under Sodom's shadow rolling up all same sex desire together with the bestial as examples of monstrous bestial lust. Peter Damian's sodomy could be blurred/confused a bit to take up a variety of monstrous sins but its potency lay in the ability to denote a whole category of humanity by monstrous (same-sex) desire (lust) and associated sexual practices.

When I first read the Book of Gomorrah I was struck by the level of paranoia in the text. Thinking back on it now it seems most equivalent to contemporary homophobic products of the Christian Right (e.g Jack Chick's Doom Town). These are likewise paranoid texts and they work by exagerating, distorting, misrepresenting LGBT people and our lives. But behind the distortions, there is something real, our existence. Even in Doom Town I can recognise something real that has been twisted out of all reality by Chick's text (and check out another such distorted representation text here). And so I wonder, does Peter Damian's Book of Gomorrah similarly misrepresent a world of real people. In the century after his time there is an extraodinary flowering of celebratory discourses on same sex love and friendship most noticeably within the monastic environments themselves. The most outstanding example is St Aelred of Rievaulx who celebrated and encouraged particular friendships and love amongst his monks. The consesnus today is that Aelred was what we would now term gay. And so after reading Plato I want to read Aelred's writings on friendship and love. And rememebr that monasteries and convents are great places for those who are same sex attracted and thus for whom marriage and its supposed joys would have no appeal.

And if the world of Plato, Sappho and Greek mythology (not to mention Hadrian and Antinous) could stand as a dangerous memory from which to cultivate a homosexual tradition, the Christian mythos could likewise be called on to put its own weight behind it too. The Old Testament contains two remarkable stories of same sex love, David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi (not to mention all those eunuchs). Furthermore, Ruth Vanita has highlighted that the fragmentary Sappho can be reinforced by the model of the Virgin Mary herself. Mary in medieval times was not your compliant woman submissive in wifely roles but instead Queen of Heaven, a Mother without a husband, a patron of and model for priests, and, while Ever-Virgin, Mary showed a special favour for those who were always falling by the way of rigid sexual mores. It's no wonder the oh so heteronormative Reformers attacked her cult with persistent ferocity and why even today, conservative Protestants regard Mary as almost equivalent to Satan. And those same Reformers attacked with due heteronormative vigilance all those same-sex households of monastery, abbey and convent.

However, as Mary of Agreda used to say 'those who know the Mother know the Son' and Jesus himself is also deeply implicated in homosexual associations. His love for his Beloved Disciple, John (by tradition), has not only been long celebrated from the days of the early church but is a model for Christian discipleship. It is also a most uncomfortable memory. At his trial, Oscar Wilde cited Jesus and John together with David and Jonathan, Socrates and Alcibiades, and Achilles and Patroclus as models of his relationship with his beloved Bosie, of that special love, the love that binds an older man and a younger. Not for Oscar the notion of being an intermediate type, a third sex but instead the beauty and nobility of love between men. And Aelred of Rievaulx, himself celebrated the love of Jesus and John as a heavenly marriage and model for his monks.

But the mention of heavenly love brings me back to Karl Heinrich Ulrichs although he drew on the notion of the intermediate type, the third sex, the invert, his classification system drew on the Platonic model that ironically, his would displace. Ulrichs might have spoken of inverts but he never spoke of homosexuals. Instead he coined the terms urning for gay man, urnind for lesbian and uranodioning for bisexual. This final term gives away the source for his classification. Urning/urnind is a form of Uranian and Ulrichs is here citing Plato's Symposium, in particualr Pausanias' tale of the two loves, the two types of love: that of heavenly Uranian Aphrodite, which repsented the love of the older man for a younger, and the more earthly love of man and woman represented by Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus and Dione. So even though he was abandoning the Platonic pattern of age variant love between men (and between men and youths), he set up a taxonomy based on love, heavenly Uranian (same sex) love and earthly Dionian (opposite sex) love.

The sexologists (some of whom wanted to advance Ulrichs's cause of liberation) ironically dropped the love based nomenclature and, like Peter Damian before them, based theirs on sex as well as inversion, a psychological rendering of the intermediate type. In my opinion the homosexual is not so much a new thing but rather a scientific positivist version of that old monk's sodomite. They are both classified by sex and sex alone. Consequently both intermediate types and uranians resisted the term homosexual. Edward Carpenter used the term homogenic love and for him love and friendship, often involving gender variance, were the basis of definition of what we now call LGBT or Queer folks. Later in the 20th century many preferred the term homophile as a descriptor to homosexual. Carpenter himself would publish his Iolaus - An Anthology of Friendship, a collection of texts form ancient, medieval, renaissance and modern sources representing varieties of same sex love and sacral gender variance (an early edition of which I found in the University of Qld Library had originally been part of the Brisbane Trades Hall workers' library in the 1920' and 30s before being donated to the university in the late 1940s. Who, I wonder, was responsible for getting that book into the Trades Hall library and make it available for ordinary workers. It's the sort of book that may well have saved lives).

The notion that the homosexual and homosexuality were 'invented' in the late 19th century is especially problematic because the implication is that ours is a very recent movement without connections to any past. But the homosexual could only be invented through a rejigging, a reworking of pre-existing traditions, and in part by drawing on homosexual traditions from elsewhere on the planet. And there are homosexual traditions in other cultures. The blitzkrieg of European colonialism and imperialism has had a devastating impact on many of them (Africa especially) but they mostly still continue. Even to speak of a European Homosexual Tradition in a singular form would be too simplistic. In Europe, the tradition draws on the Greco-Roman past, Sappho, Plato and Christianity. All contain dangerous memories and models which can be appropriated and reworked and, most importantly, have been periodically, and employed to imagine alternatives to the homophobic and heteronormative.

And I wanted to draw on Adrienne Rich and highlight the age variant lesbian relationship that was the poet Michael Field. That is why I'm reading Irigaray before I return to Plato. Unsurprisingly, being refracted through a patriarchal society, the homosexual tradition in Europe mostly manifests as a male tradition. However there are female traditions, too, but more fractured, fragmentary like Sappho's poetry. I know that Plato's Symposium and Phaedrus can be extraordinarily affirming and empowering for a gay man. And also for lesbian women... at first. But Plato is talking about love between males. Does Plato even care about love between women? Does he care about women at all? Irigaray's critique is a necessary corrective.

I'll end here for now but I'll probably return to add more thoughts at a later stage. Or maybe pick up these themes in a subsequent post. But on reviewing what I have written I am struck by how central love is to the homosexual tradition, love and desire, but love first of all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Buddhist Take on St Mary's

My friend Mad Hatter has been following the St Mary's saga and has put up a post commenting on the way Buddhism and Buddhist references have been a sub-plot in many of the reports. Check it out.

Coincidentally, I went to the St Mary's parish meeting tonight and hope to be attending Mass there more regularly. I also plan a post on the new regime at St Mary's soon (I know I know, I keep saying it, but I will, I will).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Reading Aloud

Over at Antiquitopia, Jared Calaway has reproduced the entire text of a great article from the New York Times, Some Thoughts on the Lost Art of Reading Aloud, by Vernon Klinkenborg. Calaway echoes my own earlier observations on the communal nature of reading in antiquity by saying "it was taken for granted" then. And Klinkenborg's article points out that this public communal aspect of reading predominated into the 19th century. Calaway concludes his post thus:

We always read out loud in my classes. Even when I have my students break up into smaller groups, I request them to read the passages aloud to one another. There IS something lost when just reading silently. Especially when you are reading something in its original language, you have to feel the rhythms of the language with your own tongue sometimes to discover the great effect it can have. It is also true: fewer and fewer people really know how to read. Read slowly, read carefully, and read aloud--its a rather sensuous experience.

I must agree. I've been getting my students to read aloud some of the set readings for each week. And both the Hebrew course I taught and the Hebrew courses I took as a student we read aloud from the set Hebrew text each class (in the course I taught it was Ruth). Reading aloud you get a feel for the cadences of the language and when I read a text in a different language, especially if it's a different script such as Greek, Russian and of course Hebrew, I always attempt to vocalise it, even if it's under my breath. And I was fortunate to be part of a History of Literary Criticism reading group for 2-3 years at University of Qld. We started with Plato and when I stopped we had reached Sir Philip Sidney and other 16th & 17th century texts on literature. Every meeting we took it in turns reading aloud from that week's reading/s and discussing as well. The best way to learn.

The Ugly Homophobic Underbelly of Eurovision's Moscow

Eurovision might wll be the epitome of camp, but sadly modern Moscow is far from a queer friendly city and Russia itself is a very difficult place for people who are not heterosexual. Nevertheless there is a small lesbian and gay rights movement and they have guts. On Eurovision weekend, a small group of activists attempted to use Eurovision to draw attention to the plight of queer folks in Russia. It was brutally suppressed by the Moscow police at the behest of the Mayor. There's a full report in today's Age here. It's both sad but inspiring reading and it's worth reflecting how far we have come in Australia in my lifetime and, without minimising the hard work and sacrifices of our own struggle, just how surprisingly easy it was for us compared to our fellow queers in Russia or India or Malaysia or, even worse, in Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Just some points from the Age article (which is reprinted from the LA Times) that I want to highlight. First off the police action is based on a longstanding ban queer rights demonstrations in Moscow which appears to be driven by the city's Mayor. Indeed, the article quotes him as saying that:

Gay activists threaten "not only to destroy the moral pillars of our society but also to deliberately provoke disorder, which would threaten the lives and security of Muscovites and guests of the city"

So US fundamentalist Christians clearly do not have a monopoly on demonising hyperbole when it comes to us queers, and queer activists especially. I don't know the political background of the Mayor of Moscow but so much of Russia's political elite are heirs to the old Soviet ruling classes that I wouldn't be surprised if he came from an old Party background too. There's a myth that the Bolshevik revolution was a queer friendly event that removed all the old restrictions on homosexuality in Russia. The reality is that the Bolsheviks merely abolished the old Tsarist Criminal Code. The new code they brought in did not contain anti-homosexual provisions. However, in the early 30s Stalin re-instituted anti-queer laws. It's not clear why. In his Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn suggests that, for the Stalinist, if there was a need to sweep up more people into the Gulag it was a simple matter of outlawing some previously illegal activity and thereby round up all of those now guilty for consignment to the prison slave labor system. There might also have been certain diplomatic stakes vis a vis Germany as, according to one account I read, the German embassy in Moscow had connections with the city's homosexual subculture or elements of it. In other words, a lot of poofters were working in the German diplomatic corps and criminalisation would aid and abet blackmail opportunities in Moscow for espionage purposes. On the other hand, criminalisation took place at the same time as the rise of Hitler in Germany. The new Nazi regime had a radical wing represented by the SA whose central leadership corps seem to have been largely homosexual under the very homosexual Ernst Rohm. Possibly Stalin feared a radical recruitment drive amonsgt Moscow's homosexual sub-cultures at the behest of Rohm and co. The radical SA homosexual under Rohm would soon perish in the Night of the Long Knives, but as a ruthless dictator, Stalin would be posessed of a certain level of paranoid imagination. Needless to say the recriminalisation of homosexuality could only have happened at Stalin's behest. Furthermore any realistic attempt at understanding why the recriminalisation occurred would have to acknowledge that there would be a plethora of reasons of which the ones I have listed would be merely examples.

But whatever the full story, it left a harsh legacy, of which the weekend's events are but a sample. The depth of Russian societal antipathy to homosexuality is quite astonishing and depressing for someone like myself who has long been atracted to and fascinated by things Russian. I can't help but think it is in some sense a legacy of Stalin. I am reminded of Alan Bray's observation re sworn friendships and other such same sex bondings in medieval and Renaissance England, that in many ways the disciplines of friendship, in particular passionate friendships, remain somewhat outside of and thereby can be perceived as a threat to the family, kinship and patriarchal systems of the day )and hence, he infers, the more formal rituals of sworn friendship were allowed to lapse). I wonder whether or not, Stalin saw threats in such passionate bondings unregulated by the demands of kinship and offspring and the potential of such for manipulation by a tyrannical state.

I also wanted to quote this choice snippet:

The crowd of plainclothes security grew and tension increased as noon drew closer. One of the security men laughed rudely, pushing at a colleague.

"They are not even here yet and Max is already flirting with me," he joked. "Take him away from me, guys."

Nearby, a stocky policeman held his portable radio, listening to scratchy commands from above.

"Get all of them," the unseen supervisor barked.

"Yes," the policeman said. "But how do we know who's gay?"

How do we know who's gay? That's the dilemma of the homophobic regime. As the late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick observed, therein lies the power of the homophobic regime too. I think it's in Epistomology of the Closet where she points out that it is the cultivated suspicion that one's bonds are homosexual that is most potent in policing affectional ties outside marriage and family. Suspicion combined with the myth of homosexual contagiousness as evidenced by the banter above amongst the 'security men'. Poor Max, what had he done, I wonder to be the patsy for such homosocially homophobic banter? And you can be sure he applied himself to his policing task with all due rigor just in case the jocular spotlight placed on him there might cause him to be the object of even more ruthless suspicion. You'll hear the same sort of dynamics amongst groups of young men as I did in the train coming home from Rosewood the other night and about which I'll write at another time.

But for now give thought to our queer Russian brothers and sisters and the struggle they continue to wage and be inspired by them for their heroic determination against all odds. Be sure, too, to check out the short video that accompanies the report.

An Addition to my Blog Roll

My flatmate, Mark Bahnisch, who normally blogs on politics and society at Larvatus Prodeo. However he has established another blog, Angelus Novus, in which he intends to write on religion and society 'from a radical Catholic perspective'. His first post he originally put up on his Facebook page and reflects on some issues around the St Mary's imbroglio, in part following on from my latest St Mary's post. I've added Angelus Novus to my blogroll.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Biblical Decor

We have been watching the Eurovision Final on SBS tonight. I had already heard on the news this morning that Norway won but didn't hear details of the winning act. But after watching the final I can see that it's in the best Eurovision traditions of big haired divas, wind machines, pretty boys and cheesy pop songs. And this year it was a pretty boy and a cheesy song, with sort of big haired backing divas, that carried the carried the show for Norway. And once the SBS site settles down I'll put in the links. I have to say that I still liked Portugal and I found that I did like Finland, after all, (I saw them on the first semi-final Friday). And tonight I saw Estonia for the first time and thought they were great, too. And finally Germany was delightfully queer - gay boy and dominatrix! His silver pants shined brighter than anything else that night. And a special mention should go to Albania for their interestingly quirky entry.

And so in the spirit of Eurovision, I want to offer a celebration of biblical decor courtesy of Zondervan. I discovered these designer Bible covers the other night when I was checking out the range of demographically targetted Bibles such as the Grandmother's Bible. My curiosity was aroused by the NIV Bloom Collection Limited Edition Bible and found that you could also get it with an Italian Duo Tone Tulip cover or Daisies. I began exploring the range of covers available and what a range! There's a range of bonded leather covers in black, brown, burgundy and even white, which seems to be recommended for the Bride's Bible. Then we get into the Italian Duo Tones. Caramel/Chocolate, Camel/Cranberry, Charcoal/Rich Red, Slate/Concrete, and Tan/Dark Tan. But I had no idea of how bright a Bible cover could be. Starting with Midnight Blue/Moss Green we can move along to Pumpkin/Moss Green, Violet Vines (which seems to go with the Kids Bible), Surf/Mint, and even Hot Pink/Bubblegum. But I have a favorite that one day I really must get, the Razzleberry/Bubble Gum Pink! It looks fabulous and I want it!

The only question I have is: what on earth is a Razzleberry?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Some Saturday night reflections on my day

I've had a full day today and this going to be a personal, 'this was my day' sort of post, just for something a bit different. This morning I caught the 8am train to Rosewood where I was meeting a friend of mine from AIDS Council days. We first met back in 1986 on a Volunteer Training Program. It was the weekend on home care and we would subsequently get to know each other well through various home care rosters, the telephone counselling service and then various Volunteer organising activities. Ann's retired these days and lives down at Rosewood with her dogs. She has three dogs - Pella, Buckley and Juniper - and as long as I've known her, dogs have always been a part of her life.

The plan for today was not to spend a quiet day in Rosewood, however. Ann had wanted to go up to the Darling Downs to where she grew up, the little town, well village actually, of Bowenville, west of Jondaryan. Ostensibly, Ann wanted to see the country ,which she had heard was now very green after all the rain, such greenness being a rarity even when she was growing up there. So off we set, with a picnic hamper, and the dogs in the back of the car. The region is part of the northern Downs west of Toowoomba. While I've been through the southern Downs at various times in the past and Toowoomba too (the last time back in 1995) I've never been into the northern Downs in all my life so it was quite an adventure for me.

It was a glorious autumn May day, Toowoomba itself is quite amazing, many beautiful old buildings, beautiful parks and tree lined streets and, because there are many plantings of deciduous European or Northern hemisphere trees, there's actually autumn colours. Lots of deep reds, giving the city an almost Melbourne feel (or maybe it was the poplars). Except, of course unlike Melbourne, Toowoomba is hilly, sitting at the crest of the range, and there are no trams. Heading west, you leave the hills and hit the flat plains of the Downs (although the plains are still much higher above sea level than Brisbane). And I mean flat! Great flat country stretching off to the west, endlessly to the horizon. Only to the north and the east were there glimpses of mountains, but glimpses only.

The country was not really all that green but it was clearly alive. The grasses that grow there come to browny-red seed heads and will never be green no matter how much rain falls. But they were clearly lush and thriving. And this is farming country, great expanses of fields. Many were empty, acres of rich black soil. Other were brown with the stubble remnants of the harvested crops, presumably wheat. But the creeks were flowing with water and the few trees were definitely green with rich leaf growth, but it's the grey brown green of the Australian bush not the bright green of lush lawns or sub-tropical rainforests.

What was really intersting today was that Ann was showing me her past, her childhood. I saw the house she grew up in, the town she grew up in, a favored haunt by the creek (where she let the dogs go for a swim). Then near Jondaryan, a cemetry where her father is buried not far from where her parents first started courting, a long time ago now. What is so really striking about this is that last Saturday, I was showing my friend Mad Hatter around some of my own childhood haunts here in Brisbane, including the street I grew up in and the old family home. And today Ann was showing me where she grew up and her old family home. There must be something in the stars and sadly Ann doesn't have a birth time so I've never been able to draw up an accurate chart.

It was a strange but privileged feeling to be following Ann around the trails of her childhood. Her old house has quite changed, It used to be the Bowenville store but it's a store no more and looks as if it's seen better days (although there was a bit of fresh lumber around so maybe the current owners are planning renovations). Ann was complaining about how much things had changed and I was doing the same last Saturday with Mad Hatter. One's childhood is truly a special place to share with others but it is frustrating, nevertheless, because the childhood places truly only exist in the past, and in memory and imagination. It's only through imagination and memory that we can approach them and bring others to them, hopefully bringing alive some of the magic of that time that lies somewhere embedded in the text of the landscape.

Bowenville iself is a pretty unprepossessing place, a village really. It has two churches, Catholic and Presbyterian, a school, a pub and a post office, plus a handful of houses. The only sign of life was at the pub where there was a mud crab race on - more than 150 km from the sea! Presumably the contestants ended up in the pot to really make the day for the spectators.

But we didn't stop at the pub, instead picnicing down the road at a park opposite from Ann's family home. Ann stayed at the pub on her previous visit three years ago and enjoyed it. From the outside it does look interesting and lets face it country pubs have a charm.

Coming back we stopped in Toowoomba for coffee at a place across from the most stunning park, great big trees everywhere, and everything so green, despite the level 5 water restrictions. Indeed all of Toowoomba was green, apart from the autumn reds of the deciduous trees. But out in the street we could feel the late afternoon chill of the westerly breezes. Breeze is too light a word but they weren't quite a full blown wind just the tingle of westerlies in May. I remember westerlies in May years ago. We don't get them any more and most people think I'm crazy when I speak of such things. Ann remembers them but is it from her life on the Downs before she moved to Brisbane so many years ago? But if that's the case, what of my own memories?

Being autumn, May, the sun was setting before we got back to Rosewood. By the time we had reached Gatton the sunset behind us on the range was breathtaking. The hues of red and blue and black were so sharp and smouldering and that was just the east, never mind the west. At this time of year the air is dry, it gives a striking clarity to the light; you never get that in summer, too much humidity, too much torpor in the air. Even more striking was the nimbus of light fringing the western ranges as the dark had descended behind us.

It was around 6 when I spotted the first star as we aproached the Marburg turn off from the highway (and wasn't that clutter of roadworks and signs). It as about 6.15 when we arrived back at Ann's place. I got out of the car and looked up at the sky and oh the stars, the stars...

PS I wrote another post on St Marys last night which I saved and only published tonight but it's sitting down the blog under my Eurovision post below.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Totally Cheesey!!!

It's Eurovision 2009 and thankfully in Australia we can watch it through the weekend on our SBS. Totally cheesey Euro-pop, lots of big hair - and that's just the boys - and wind machines. After an early start to a day of tutoring, what better way to spend a Friday night. Oh my, Bulgaria!

But the Macedonians are featuring some mostly quite pretty boys in their entry.

Portugal! What a sweet song! I hope it gets up.

And it did; Portugal got through the semi-final.

Some more on St Mary's

It's been my hope to write about my recent return to Mass at St Marys over at Sth Brisbane but I've been sidetracked. During a spare moment between tutes this morning I checked out the St Mary's exiles website. It was there that I found a recent homily by Terry Fitzpatrick, the other priest associated with St Mary's, the one who's status was explicitly raised as an issue in Archbishop Bathersby's letter last year but the one you never hear about in the media.

The setting for this homily is that it's the first one in the new building, or at least their temporary space in Trades Hall. Terry's homily is your basic rah rah rally the troops type piece - we've walked out of our church and we've walked out of our Church and aren't we courageous, that type of stuff (and I don't doubt that, for some in the community, it was a courageous act on their part). Terry also does what any good leader does in such a situation and finds parallels for the community's experiences with a narrative from their central myth, in this case from one of the Gospel readings post-Easter. Terry makes an attempt to identify the community with the resurrected Christ (and, of course himself as a leader of the community too). But I was struck by this piece:

But look at my wounded hands and feet, says Jesus. The same wounded, marginalized, persecuted, crucified one is among you. We may then ask ourselves, "Is the same wounded, marginalized, persecuted ones among us at Micah and St Mary's in Exile? Is it not our stance with those same ones why we have been ostracized by the Institution?

Women, the voices of the feminine, who continue to be marginalized by the church,
people who are gay and lesbian or transsexual,
people who are of other faith traditions and cultures such as the Buddhist communities.

We continue to touch and see for ourselves that this same wounded one is amongst us, and with the disciples in that upper room who recognized Jesus.

Now I have several problems with this statement. The 'exiles' haven't been ostracized because they are standing with the persecuted. The exiles went into exile in support of the priests who had been rightly called to task for no longer celebrating the Eucharist in any recognisable form. So perhaps, Terry is claiming that he and Peter Kennedy have been persecuted and ostracized by the Institution and going further and claiming an identity with women and LGBT people and Buddhists (?!?) who have been marginalised by the Church.

Now Terry is a white, male, by all accounts very heterosexual priest. I have no idea of his class background but Peter Kennedy who is also white male etc was earlier this year bragging about his family's wealth, saying his brother could buy him a Cathedral. So whatever else, Peter is certainly upper class. And, of course as priests, they are very much up on the top levels of the Catholic pecking order and from what I hear they don't muck about with any false modesty when it comes to their priestly prerogatives.

Women and LGBT people are definitely marginalised by the official Church. I'm a gay man. I am very much aware of my own marginal status within the institution. I've lived with it all my life. Along with every other LGBT person I get regularly reminded of my marginality, most recently by the pathetic attempts to keep gay and bisexual men out of the priesthood through extraordinary psychological screening and profiling of priestly candidates. I also have to endure the constant heteronormative family imagery and language in official Church discourse, including at St Mary's in the past, too. And there's all other manner of ways the Roman Catholic Church like just about all the Churches marginalises LGBT people. Actually LGB people - trangender people don't even seem to be blip on the church's perceptual horizon. And women, generally, kept always on the fringe but always on hand to do the heavy lifting. Ordination anybody?

So, I make no apologies for saying that neither Terry or Peter have any understanding of what it means to be on the margins, none whatsoever. All that they've experienced is some diminution of privilege.

But what I'm really confused by is "people" marginalised "who are of other faith traditions and cultures such as the Buddhist communities."Are Buddhists any more marginalised by the Church institution than Catholics by the Sangha, for example? And why mention Buddhists? What about Jews (and if ever there's a tragic history, this is one) or Muslims or Hindus? Or, hell, why not mention indigenous Australians who were colonised and missionised and totally screwed over and are very definitely marginalised in both Church and society (including in St Mary's itself). Nope, just the Buddhists.

I don't understand except perhaps when I recall that Terry has been running a Buddhist meditation group at St Mary's for some time. So maybe this is another attempt of Terry's to claim a marginal status. Terry's been marginalised just like myself and my sister and indigenous and poor folk, except he's been marginalised because of his Buddhism. But hang on, Terry's a Catholic priest, how can he be a Buddhist? Well, he teaches Buddhist meditation anyway. Well, it's his version of Buddhist meditation anyway, picked up, I gather, from a bit of reading and some Buddhist retreats. So it's Terry's pop version of Buddhism, which from what I've seen of some of Terry's other oratorical efforts is really a form of new age Buddhist lite.

If anything, what strikes me most is Terry's religious illiteracy. He's got no understanding of his own religious tradition (a testament to Catholic seminary formation perhaps) and he clearly does not understand Buddhism. Furthermore, given that he's set himself up as some sort of Dharma teacher he shows no real respect for Buddhism either but rips it off in typical colonial fashion. But even ersatz Buddhism is cool these days and no doubt Terry has lots of adoring fans, or so I've heard anyway. That's what you get when you augment your Catholic priestly authority with the aura of spiritual teacher.

But Terry marginalised? Uh uh, no way. As my friend, Mad Hatter, would say LOL wut.

UPDATE My flatmate, Mark Bahnisch, has written a superb piece on his Facebook page about St Mary's and the situation with the exiles and ongoing non-exile community to which he has returned (return from exile?). Even though it's on Facebook I believe it's publicly accessible and you don't need to be signed in to Facebook to read it. I strongly recommend you check it out.

What rough beast... slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?**

Back in March, I wrote about the bible publishing industry, primarily in the US, which churns out a bewildering variety of bibles. In actual fact, they are mostly the NIV packaged up for all sorts of demographics, by the inclusion of all manner of additional 'devotional' material targetting specific groups of people. I've just today discovered the Grandmother's Bible. And I'm almost tempted to get a copy of the NIV Bloom Collection Bible maybe in Razzleberry/Bubble Gum Pink. But thanks to Jim Getz over at Ketuvim I discovered a Bible that almost made me gag. It's not a Zondervan product this time but from Thomas Nelson. Announcing The American Patriot's Bible (NKJV): The Word of God and the Shaping of America. I kid you not. Thomas Nelson is a religious publisher but it seems that it has shifted from the religion of Christianity to the religion of the United States. Here's the product blurb:

THE ONE BIBLE THAT SHOWS HOW 'A LIGHT FROM ABOVE' SHAPED OUR NATION. Never has a version of the Bible targeted the spiritual needs of those who love our country more than The American Patriot's Bible. This extremely unique Bible shows how the history of the United States connects the people and events of the Bible to our lives in a modern world. The story of the United States is wonderfully woven into the teachings of the Bible and includes a beautiful full-color family record section, memorable images from our nation's history and hundreds of enlightening articles which complement the New King James Version Bible text.

Thankfully it has generated a considerable debate over at its Amazon site. Obviously I haven't read this book but the very notion of this product is mind boggling in its arrogance. I would have to strongly agree with T C Moore's comment over there on Amazon that 'the "American Patriot's Bible" is a hot, steaming pile of blasphemous, idolatrous feces'. Unfortunately it seems there are many USan so-called Christians who disagree with him. Rusty Kerr says

When I was a young girl we were taught about our founding fathers and how God was in the center of their lives as evidenced by our early documents. This bible is a must read for every home schooled child and especially for those getting a government education where American history is not factually taught. I plan to buy this bible for all 10 of my grandchildren so they will know the truth of our founding fathers and our amazing nation. Yes, we truly are one nation under God and I for one will be encouraging my friends and relatives to buy and read this wonderful bible.

But before we turn around and, like Rowan Atkinson's Welcome to Hell sketch, have the lot of USans damned into perpetuity, I'm pleased to point you to Greg Boyd's Christus Victor Ministries blog, where Greg has very much redeemed both his co-nationals and co-religionists by providing a damning Christian critique of this travesty.

**The title of this post is taken from the concluding lines of W B Yeats 'The Second Coming'.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Guilty Pleasure

I have to confess to a rather perverse fascination with the varieties of that US style evangelical and pentecostal and fundamentalist Christianities. I regularly house-sit for friends, one household having cable TV. I can't resist checking out the Australian Christian Channel most of whose programmes are either made in the USA or are based on the US Christian TV model. I also like to check out the various websites. It's a habit I picked up doing my PhD when I woud regularly check out the GodHatesFags and other such sites for tasty bits of Sodom and Gomorrah inspired homo-hatred.

Most fascinating of all for me are the various sites of the Left Behind Religion that has so thoroughly infected US Protestantism and their eager promotion and expectation of the imminent Rapture. According to this teaching, before the appearance of the Anti-Christ in the Last Days, which will be times of Tribulation and horror for all on planet Earth, there will be a pre-Second Coming coming of Christ who will come to take away all the Real True Christians, saving them from the horrors of the End Times. Such theology lies behind the execrable Left Behind series of novels, which Fred Clark reads and superbly deconstructs for us over at Slacktivist. Traditional Christian theology, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox has taught some kind of rapture or gathering together of believers at the Second Coming but the notion of the Rapture as a kind of get out of gaol free card for true believers either before or during the end times tribulations is an invention of the 19th century. No matter how much Left Behind Christians might search the past there is no evidence that anyone, be they mainstream Christians or imminent end of the world pre-millennialist Christians, ever held to the get out of gaol theology of a pre- or even mid-tribulation Rapture prior to its 19th century invention.

Nevertheless despite its novelty and even, considering the full theological package of Dispensationalism that it comes with, its extremely heretical, perniciously heretical nature, Rapture theology seems to have throughly infected a very large part of US Protestantism, both evangelical and pentecostal. Consequently there are a plethora of sites promoting Rapture theology, arguing the timing of the Rapture vis a vis the end times Tribulation, and calculating when it's going to happen. Most Left Behind Christians expect to leave the rest of us behind soon, and since I discovered and began following the phenomenon around 1999 I've witnessed quite a number of false alarms, dates that the Real True Christians were expecting themselves to be lifted off the planet, swept up into the arms of Jesus and taken "home". At least two dates have passed since the Presidential elections in the US last year (many Left Behind Christians are convinced Obama is the Anti-Christ). The means of caluclating these lift off dates are extraordinarily diverse and complex, incorporating bizarre calendrical computations, varieties of
biblical numerology, the bible codes, and Jewish practices of gematria. I've even discovered there are arcane prophecies pertaining to the number of Presidents of the United States and various other aspects of US history and geography, which are also brought to bear to determine whether lift off is imminent. As a biblical scholar, I confess to finding it fascinating just as an example of use of the bible in popular culture alone. I am also struck by how much, despite the claims of most of these believers to hold to a literalist belief in the innerancy and presumably transparency of the biblical text, such elaborate external devices are employed to wrest from the biblical text the hidden date of final lift off. After all, they can identify all the events of human history together with the final outline of all the major and many of the minor event of the last 7 years of planet Earth from the biblical texts so surely that date is there,too, but carefully hidden so that the Anti-Christ wont find it and put a spanner in the works.

As I said, there is a plethora of sites devoted to these fantasies, the most interesting ones contain bulletin boards where people post in their latest dreams, prophetic messages, calculations, speculations and quite often denunciations. One of my favorites is Five Doves and I've been reading it off and on for quite a few years, often on a daily basis. The main part I read is their bulletin board known as the Latter Day Letters. I confess I'm hooked. Perhaps it's the principle that there are none so bizarre as those who start from the same place as you but go in such a different direction, In other words, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jew, Muslim, neo-pagan certainly have their interest but the tunes they play are different to mine. But these people are Christian or claim to be but the tune they play is like some weird distortion of mine but even more compelling for that. How do they believe these things? How have they come to this place?

Oftentimes, I read in good humored fascination. Other times it's like a sociological study of a major US sub-culture. Many times I'm appalled and there have been times when I had to take a break, I just found it so vile. The lead up to the US elections last year was one such time. I just couldn't stomach what I was reading. Although there are some contributors from other countries, most participants are USan. And most of these clearly hold to some doctrine of US exceptionalism, another and very home grown US Christian heresy. Indeed, my flatmate once reminded me that 'Americanism' was condemned by Rome as a heresy back in the 1890s, although sadly it doesn't seem to have included US exceptionalism.

This morning I was reading the Latter Day Letters and found something that particularly horrified me and reminded me just what a pernicious heresy Left Behindism is. As I said above, despite so many disappointments, the Doves remain all a twitter with imminent Rapture expectation. And they are always encouraging each other with signs and portents, just about anything can be a sign and portent. The ancient Roman augurs have nothing on these people. This morning a woman called Dee put up a post, Out of the mouth (sic) of Babes! Encouragement for the rapture!

It would appear that Dee got together with her sisters recently. Unlike Dee ,they don't believe in Left Behind Christianity. Dee does and had had dreams about it which she tried to share with her sisters. They greeted her dreams with scepticism which left her feeling uncertain 'a bit down about it'. She took to reading her Bible that night and then she received what she believes to be signs,

My husband was watching a NASCAR race and my four year old and seven year old were playing in the room where we were. A commercial came on, but I wasn't paying attention and my four year old immediately says to me 'mama, look! A man is going UP with all those balloons!" It was a commercial for the movie UP. I had just at that moment been thinking my discouraging thoughts about the rapture NOT being imminent or at all right as she said this. I kind of smiled to myself as the image brought to mind the rapture to me. Just as that happened my seven year old got on the keyboard we have, and started playing the wedding march and he immediately turned to me and said "mama, the wedding song!"

I tell you that both of them said these things to me in the span of less than a minute and JUST as I was doubting the nearness of the rapture as I was reading the Bible. I think it was a little nudge from the Lord telling me not to give up hope and that the rapture IS NEAR!! BTW, my seven year old has never played the wedding march before in my presence and what are the odds that a commercial for the cartoon 'UP' would come on during a NASCAR race and at the same time I was thinking my discouraging 'there is no close rapture' thoughts?
But then she goes on to say:

After this happened I called my almost nine year old into the room just to see if he would say anything 'rapture like', but he didn't. So then I started worrying that he will get left behind (my emphasis). was a subtle little moment, but got me excited again.

I really am at a loss for words reading that. Dee doesn't seem to have gotten overly worried about her 9 yr old's chances of being left behind because, despite such worries, she's "excited again." It's an oft repeated story of the kid who comes home from school to find no one home and thus believes they've been Left Behind. I know someone in Brisbane who experienced just that in their childhood. I can't even begin to contemplate what that must feel like that. And I wonder if Dee's 9 yr old got any inkling that his mother was seriously considering that he might be Left Behind and just what that might do to him. At least LaHaye and Jenkins, the authors of the dreadful Left Behind series, allowed for all pre-pubescent children to be raptured away with the Real True Christians, but clearly not all Left Behinders think like that.

It reminded me of something I read in Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg's breathtaking The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis. Zornberg reads Genesis in company with both 2000 years of rabbinic exegesis and insights from contemporary sociology, anthropology, psychology and philosophy; if you haven't read this book I strongly recommend it. Anyway, when writing on the Flood in Parash Noah of Genesis she describes Jewish traditions concerning the cruelty of the people of the Flood. She quotes Rashi's commentary on Genesis:

"But the compassion of the wicked is cruelty": these are the people of the Flood, who were cruel. The sages said: When God raised the depths over them, and they saw the fountains of the deep threaten to submerge them, what did they do? They had many children... and some of them would take their children and place them into the depths, pressing them down mercilessly.

Zornberg then observes:

Rashi adds that then children were placed under their parents, in order to "block the openings of the deeps." The violent imagery of callousness, in which a child - one's own child - becomes a bung against one's own destruction, represents a failure of memory, of imagination (1996: 57).

Says it all really.