Out of the darkness

I’ve said before that depression is much like an old lover. One you’ve successfully managed to get out the door – along with all of his things – and begin a new life. A life in which laundry gets done, friends get visited, lists get checked off, balanced meals get cooked, and the things you enjoy get enjoyed. But something or a lot of things happen. Usually in succession and often involving sleep loss, grief, financial or marital stress, etc. — and, under the weight of exhaustion, your resolve weakens. That’s when he comes looking for you. Whispering in your ear. Telling you all your efforts are futile. Crooning the familiar songs he sang to you before. Knock, knock, knocking at your door. Until you open it and invite him to come inside — and his seduction is complete. And the next morning –every morning you wake beside him– you know you knew better. But now his clothes are in the closet, his toothbrush beside yours, and he is ingrained into your life once more.

I’ve noticed lots of things. When I do, I race off to WordPress and create a post, give it a title, and even jot down some of the words that are clamoring to be released. But it isn’t long before he begins whispering to me. This post will take a lot of time. Of course, if you write it, you’ll likely infuriate someone and will feel the need to respond. Which will just upset you more than you already are. You’re tired. Tomorrow –you’ll write it tomorrow. Of course, I don’t. It doesn’t get written. Thoughts and emotions keep pounding, and everything just gets louder. From the dishes being unloaded to the dog’s incessant barking — Morgan being bipolar and Clark being autistic. It’s all so very loud. And all I want is to sit on a porch overlooking the pasture on a cool early morning and hear…nothing. Nothing but the wind blowing and perhaps a little rain or moving water. No voices. No screaming. No phone ringing. No cacophony of everything I need to take care of. To sleep. To read. To write. To recharge. Because I am simply depleted. I attempt to get my head together and manage to accomplish a thing or two. But my constant companion draws me back in to myself. His incessant whispering for me to lighten my load and sit down for a spell. To put it off for another day. To pull the covers over my head and attempt to hold the world back. Yes, he knows how to talk to me.

My heart aches. My fears bully me. And even my bones feel tired.

Everywhere we go, we take two cars. There are few things that we can confidently plan as a family. It’s too crowded, too bright, too large, too hot, too long. Too everything. Sometimes the view from this ride is beautiful. Sometimes, it’s fun. But right now it is making me sick. And I just want so very badly to be let off. Every time I get on the highway or have a strange pain, I fear dying. Not for me, but because who will take care of Clark? Who will fight for him? How would Morgan do it alone? And how – how – do I ensure that my sweet husband will understand that I love him so much though I cannot give of myself to him equally? Some days – or weeks – it’s too much.

And, in my darkest moments, I fear that I am not enough. That I’m doing this all wrong. Making the wrong decisions. Not doing enough. Doing too much.

Yes, I have been to see my doctor. I have taken antidepressants. They helped marginally, but my hair started falling out (a truly unfortunate side effect for a depressed person if ever there was one.) So the doctor and I are trying again with another antidepressant. Trying because there is no other choice. For the alternatives to managing this are unacceptable. My boys need all of me, therefore depression can be allowed none of me. There simply isn’t enough room for him in my house. I’ve told him he must leave. To pack his stuff and get out. Good riddance and all that. So far, he hasn’t budged and has turned into a squatter instead.

But I know something he doesn’t. I know the unconditional love and trust of two boys who depend on me. I know the bliss of snuggling against their sleeping forms in the wee hours of the night. And I know that, in this battle between him and me, who I’m really fighting for. In nature, whoever gets between a mother and her young is always at a disadvantage. He’d do well to remember that.

This is how memory works

This is how memory works: I am a woman who lives in fear of being denied. There is a mask I wear, a mask of unfazable calm, with it firmly in place, my features express serene indifference. My cheeks, eyes, lips, all are placid, welcoming, nonthreatening. I convince myself that I am at ease, that I do not live as though expecting the gate to be slammed shut at any moment. This is so true of me that an old friend made fun, saying that I have the least discomfort with entitlement of any young woman they know.
And to some extent, this is true. I was raised to believe I am entitled to whatever is avaliable. There is no question as to wether or not my birth or my breeding merits it. This, to counteract the idea that being a woman or being gay or being unsophisticated, means having to settle for less, for the thing that is not the best, for whatever it is they are trying to give you rather than what you want. This means I have the nerve to expect admittance, service, respect. At any kind of gate, be it physically real or intellectually abstract, I assume I will be allowed to enter. If detained I know with every cell in my being that I am ready to be indignant and that I will use whatever I have at my disposal, usually my words but often the law, to demand access.
But memory is stronger than principles, moral mandates, and progressive imperatives. Even though I appear “zenned out”, as one of my friends describes me, in those moments that test all of us who havnt grown up in the wealthy, upper class, all of us who expect, at some point, to be held at the gate, interrogated and turned back, I am, in fact, trembling. This is how memory works. It reminds me that no matter how strong I feel in myself, I am still the little girl with knobby knees. I am still the little girl with scars, matted hair and bare feet in mississippi dirt, too rich or too poor to be trusted. Memory works like this: I am always standing outside the gate, wanting to be let in. I am always terrified that this is where I will have to live: forever wanting, never fullfilled, always outside.
And so, more often than not, I choose not to remember. I wear a mask of belonging because this is what I am supposed to do, because belonging is my birthright. But behind the mask lurks a far more mutilating truth: I am not fit, there is something wrong with me, I am not correct.
Beneath the mask, behind the cool, unperturbed exterior there is rage. There is pure liquid fire threatening to annihilate. And I am afraid.

Surrounded by bears 

“Worry is the thief of joy.” – Unknown
I read with interest the other day a post by psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz, “This Is You on Stress.” Being stressed out all the time, I’m becoming increasingly aware of its effects. Dr. Saltz says stress is an evolutionary thing, a fight or flight response triggered by a perceived danger. In dangerous situations – such as the possibility of encountering bears in a park- it keeps us aware and can save our lives. The problem, she says, is when you are removed from the danger but the fight or flight instinct is still going. That kind of anxiety is harmful. She goes on to suggest some strategies for breaking the cycle of unhelpful stress when danger isn’t nearby. I thought about that for a while and how to use those strategies to stop stressing and calm down. I thought about those bears in the park.
And that’s when I realized. It’s no wonder parents of autistic and disabled children are increasingly being diagnosed with anxiety disorders, PTSD, depression, etc. It’s not because of their children. No, our children give us just as much joy as any others. It’s because there is rarely a time when you aren’t in the park looking around for all those bears.
What and who are these bears? There are many. Elopement, bullying, failure of school districts to provide an appropriate IEP, medical and dental appointments, unfamiliar situations, loud noises, lack of autism awareness, lack of autism acceptance, loved ones who don’t get it, judgmental stares and comments from strangers, inaccessibility, respite care, insurance battles –and on and on.
So we rarely leave that park. And we stand – fight or flight response at the ready – clutching the hands of our children all the time. While trying to live our lives in all the necessary ways. Nurturing our marriages. Paying bills. Working. Caring for older family members. Taking care of ourselves – which, like on this list, always comes last. But we do all of these things while anxiously looking around, listening, and facing those bears when we encounter them.
I’d like to follow Dr. Saltz’s suggestions. I’d like to try meditation, thinking myself calm, and reminding myself that I’m out of the situation. Except I’m not. I don’t have the luxury of letting down my guard. Because if I do, the bears are still there. My child will not receive an appropriate education. He may be traumatized by people not trained to work with autistic children. Someone might forget to latch a door. A door within minutes of busy intersections and bodies of water. He might be taken advantage of because he’s an easy target who is easily intimidated. He might be treated as a disorder and not a child. No, the only time I can relax is when he is safe in bed and the door is locked. Even then fears of my own mortality, his education, his health, and his future haunt me in those witching hours of worry.
The problem is these fears aren’t unjustified. My anxiety isn’t occurring in the absence of danger. These dangers are real. Because this world is not ready to welcome my son. A son who will one day outlive me. A son whom I fear will not –if needed– be cared for by those with good hearts and a desire to allow him as much independence as possible.
No, I’m not crazy. Yes, those bears are all around me.
I don’t want stress to win, but it’s ever present. It steals from me sleep, laughter, and peace. Joy? It’s fleeting. Found in bits and snatches – and always bestowed to me by my boys. Yes, it’s there. But it’s often stolen by the thieves of anxiety and fear.
And in my darkest moments, I fear that lack of joy is turning me into a bear. Someone who sometimes fails to appreciate the little things. Someone who will fail to pass on joy to my child – who deserves that in his mother.
Some talk about a national autism plan. Do we need one? Yes. Should it resemble any of the depressing and misleading suggestions we’ve heard so far? No. But we must begin to address the needs of children, adults, and families like mine. We must begin to teach our citizens, our schools, our medical personnel, and our law enforcement how to interact with autistic and disabled persons. We must learn new ways to teach, engage, employ, and live amongst those who experience the world differently. And we must begin to plan for the futures of the most disabled on the spectrum.
Until then, I remain perpetually on watch for bears.

Disassembling my differences detector 

Once i saw an immensely fat woman – 350lbs at least – struggling to step onto a nashville city bus. Wheezing with effort, perspiring through her floral print dress, she couldnt hoist her foot onto the platform. Her knee, encased in layers of flesh, wouldnt bend. The driver, with a sigh, bolted from his seat to try to shoehorn her through the door. The passengers gaped and craned, their expressions ranging from embarassment to scorn to a sort of horrified fascination. As schedules unraveled and tempers frayed, the irritation grew more audible. The thought flashed through my mind as it did through nearly everyone’s “how could anyone allow herself to get so obese?” Then I saw the expression on the woman’s face: mortification. And my heart broke – for all her hard days and for all my hard thoughts.

Why was my first response not compassion but a series of assessments that went off like a string of mental firecrackers before I even knew I’d lit the match? My judgement was so fused with my perception as to be inseparable: she became what I beheld. I was painfully aware of my mind – the mind itself – as a difference engine, cranking out the petty distinctions that keep people apart. And I wished I could dismantle the whole stupid contraption once and for all. 

That moment has stayed with me almost a decade now – and I hope that it’s lesson always will. 

A letter to those who have gotten or will get in this Momma Bear’s way. 

Dear [ ]:
I’m sorry.
I’m sorry to have ruined your day, angered you, or caused your supervisor to watch you closely. I know what bad days, frustration, and job pressures feel like. It wasn’t my intention to cause you problems. It may not feel like that to you, but it’s true.
I know that –when you aren’t busy being the person I had to get unpleasant and sassy with –you’re probably a very nice person. I’m sure that your family loves you, friends think you’re wonderful, and you’re an active church member. If circumstances were different, we might be friends.
But the great person whom I’m sure you are intersected with a road I’m traveling to meet the needs of my special needs child. To put it simply – you got in my way. In some way significant to my child, you failed to do your job. Do I think that makes you evil? No, I think that makes you human. But the issue isn’t how I feel about you. The issue is a vulnerable little boy who cannot speak for himself – my vulnerable little boy.
There are a lot of reasons why you might fail to do right by my child. You may be overworked. You may not have enough resources. Your boss may be a jerk—or clueless. You might not have the knowledge or time to do what is being asked of you. Most likely, you are simply a part of a system that has been broken for so long no one knows what it is supposed to look like when it works. Most likely, you probably already know that – but fear of rocking the boat caused you to go along with what you knew to be wrong. You may feel helpless about that and wish it were different. I’ll let you in on a secret – I feel the same way.
But feelings and wishes – over truth and action- are luxuries I don’t have. I can’t blame it on the system, lack of money, or others and go about my day. You see, this child is mine. And you and I know all too well who will step forward to advocate for my child if I don’t – no one. Not really. They’ll think he’s adorable, sign him up for an hour of therapy or so a week, and set goals for him low enough for him to achieve in a year. They’ll finish his FSP/IEP in 15 minutes and tell themselves they’ve done their jobs.
But it won’t keep them up at night. It won’t drive them to learn and do more. They won’t feel a sense of panic as precious time is lost. It won’t incite their indignation. It won’t be their child, so…
It won’t be personal.
But his well-being is my purpose for being here. Having made the decision to have and raise a child, he shot straight to the top of my priority list – even if he isn’t at the top of yours or the system you work for. If you fail to make a call, provide a service, determine and meet his needs, allow him to be under-challenged, ignore his FSP/IEP, traumatize him in some way, or do him any kind of educational, medical or moral injustice – then it’s my job to be there, make a scene, draw attention to it, and make it right.
So, unfortunately, that’s where your path and my path have crossed. I’m sympathetic to whatever caused you to be here. But my job is incompatible with looking the other way while you don’t do yours. No matter what the reason. It’s just that black and white – even if it isn’t completely your fault.
This isn’t going to change anything. I’m still going to be there. I’ll still be watching closely. I’ll be polite, but I will be ‘that parent’. The parent who writes the letters, makes the phone calls, requests the records, researches the issue, analyzes the data, knows the law, and makes it her mission to know more about my child’s disability and issues than you or anyone you work with. Which means there may come a time when his needs and rights are in conflict with your convenience, budget, or the status quo. Again, I’m sorry about that.
But I want you to know– it’s not personal.

The movies you MUST see before you die.

I have, my entire life, LOVED anything that allowed me to be someone else or see something I never would’ve seen otherwise; books, movies, TV shows and plays did this for me. If I had a way to make a living by enjoying these things, I could die happy. So, because of my obsession I am always taking in as much as I can. Recently, I saw a ‘Top 100 movies to see before you die’ list. It was unbelievably pretentious and almost everything predated 1975. This started me on a search for an accurate list; based not simply on critics, income or ratings. I couldn’t find one. So, I’ve made one.
I tried to start by thinking of the list as just what it claims to be – a list of movies that you MUST see before you die. With that in mind, 100 was just not enough. Yes, I know this list is long but in the course of your lifetime if you only got to watch 162 movies – these should be them. There is no pretention here, nothing based on money or ratings. This is NOT a list of the BEST movies ever made. This is a list of the movies that everyone should see at some point in their lifetime. I’m sure many people will disagree because of that; yes, I have to fast-forward through A Space Odyssey but everyone should see the movie at some point, likewise, I love Casablanca but I definitely could’ve lived without it. There is classic and recent, deep and fluff, top-grossing and flop, horror and musical, complex and simple, award winning and overlooked.
Here it is, in no particular order:

1 The Alfred Hitchcock collection
– includes: Psycho, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Birds
2 Almost Famous
3 Back to the Future
4 The 10 Commandments
5 Citizen Kane
6 Kevin Smith’s New Jersey trilogy
– is inaccurately named, as it is a series of 6 movies: Clerks, Clerks II, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
7 Close Encounters of the Third Kind
8 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
9 Evil Dead (the original)
10 Fargo
11 Fight Club
12 Ghostbusters
13 Gladiator
14 The Godfather
15 Goldfinger
16 Cleopatra
17 Goodfellas
18 Grease
19 The Great Escape
20 Halloween (Rob Zombie)
21 The Indiana Jones collection
– Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Temple of Doom, the Last Crusade, and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Feel free to skip the last 30min of Crystal Skull, as it is terrible)
22 Jaws
23 The Lord of the Rings trilogy
– The Fellowship Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King
24 The Matrix trilogy
– The Matrix, Reloaded, Revolutions
25 Monty Python and the Holy Grail
26 Moulin Rouge!
27 101 Dalmatians (Cartoon)
28 Pulp Fiction
29 Se7en
30 The Blood and Ice Cream trilogy
– Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End
31 The Shawshank Redemption
32 Dune (1984)
33 Sin City
34 Niagara
35 The Star Wars trilogy
– A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi
36 Strangers on a Train
37 This is Spinal Tap
38 Toy Story trilogy
– 1, 2, 3
39 True Romance
40 2001: A Space Odyssey
41 The Wizard of Oz
42 The Three Colors Trilogy
– Blue, White, Red
43 Young Frankenstein
44 Forest Gump
45 The Princess Bride
46 Jurassic Park
47 Ferris Bueller’s Day off
48 The Breakfast Club
49 A Christmas story
50 The Goonies
51 Office Space
52 It’s a Wonderful Life
53 Braveheart
54 Full Metal Jacket
55 True Grit (the original(although the remake is good))
56 The Sixth Sense
57 Dead Poets Society
58 The Shining
59 The Dark Knight
60 The Green Mile
61 The Kill Bill movies
– Vol.1, Vol. 2
62 The Blues Brothers
63 Beetlejuice
64 Finding Nemo
65 Dances With Wolves
66 Robin Hood: Men in Tights
67 The Rocky Horror Picture Show
68 Sleepy Hollow (Johnny Depp)
69 Starship Troopers
70 The Hangover
71 Pretty Woman
72 The Nightmare Before Christmas
73 Boondock Saints
74 Big Fish
75 Good Will Hunting
76 The Chocolate Factory movies
– Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
77 The Big Lebowski
78 Beauty and the Beast
79 The Sandlot
80 Love Actually
81 Hard Candy
82 Young Guns
83 Pride and Prejudice
84 A Few Good Men
85 What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
86 Tommy Boy
87 The Bourne Identity
88 Snatch
89 Some Like It Hot
90 Gone with the Wind
91 Ocean’s Eleven (remake)
92 Clue
93 Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas
94 Empire Records
95 Inglourious Basterds (both)
96 The Bridges of Madison County
97 Into the Wild
98 Rent
99 The Birdcage
100 Watchmen
101 Monster
102 Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
103 Seven Years In Tibet
104 For Colored Girls
105 The Way We Were
106 Carrie (the original)
107 The Hannibal Lecter collection
– Red Dragon (Original in 1986 is called Manhunter and worth a see), The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Hannibal Rising
108 The King and I (Deborah Kerr)
109 The Last King of Scotland
110 Lonesome Dove
111 White Oleander
112 Saw
113 Alien
114 Girl, Interrupted
115 Saved!
116 The Untouchables
117 Mysterious Skin
118 The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
119 Alice In Wonderland (both)
120 Mars Attacks!
121 Little Miss Sunshine
122 Romeo + Juliet (1996)
123 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
125 Pan’s Labyrinth
126 Apocalypse Now
127 Philadelphia
128 A Streetcar Named Desire
129 Taxi Driver
130 Duck Soup
131 The Last Picture Show
132 3:10 to Yuma
133 Charlie Bartlett
134 Jeremiah Johnson
135 Juno
136 The Lion King
137 Roots
138 Requiem For a Dream
139 Man of Steel
140 Crash
141 Trainspotting
142 Les Misérables
143 American Psycho
144 From Hell
145 GI Jane
146 Wildthings
147 What Dreams May Come
148 The Red Shoes (1948)
149 Sweeny Todd
150 The Cell
151 The Planet of the Apes collection
– Planet of the Apes (1968), Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape From the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle For the Planet of the Apes, Planet of the Apes (2001), Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
152 Gangs of New York
153 Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967)
154 Misery
155 Fried Green Tomatoes
156 A Raisin In the Sun (1961)
157 Legends of the Fall
158 Donnie Darko
159 Malcolm X
160 Gia
161 An Officer and a Gentleman
162 Thelma and Louise

Trust me – if you just read the title of a movie that you’ve never heard of, stop what your doing, and rectify the situation.
Looking forward to your comments!

soul, mind, spirit

i don’t remember things. like the names of streets that i’ve driven down a hundred times, like the stories behind holidays i’ve celebrated since i was born, like the date of my parent’s anniversary. at a family reunion, i do not remember the names of my cousins i played with as a child. for a moment, i don’t remember the name of my dead uncle’s wife.

there are thousands of large and small omissions, bits of information i swear normal people have built into their DNA: the speed of light, so-and-so’s running mate 10 years ago, the capitol of wyoming, the way treasury bills work. mostly, i’m not bothered by my mind’s resistance to what it considers meaningless, but sometimes i feel oddly off balance, like the whole world has figured out how to cope, how to master life on the grid, but me. without a memory that invests in information retention, without a memory that can remind me at all times of who i definately am, i feel amorphous, missing the unbroken black outline around my body that everyone else seems to have.

a good friend has decided that Soul is Mind, that Mind describes and encompasses the larger idea of Spirit. “you cannot Be without Mind,” she says, referring to something that includes, but is much larger than, her brain. knowing well the limitations of my own mind, i am skeptical, disapproving. “it’s the heart,” i say, laying my flat palm over my beating organ, feeling the heat grow between skin and skin, through the cotton of my tee shirt. “you cannot have Soul without heart.” i, too, am referring to something ineffable, something much larger than the muscle in my chest.

we are talking about God, i think, and memory.

she shakes her head no as i look at her, wanting to remember how she looks to me on this sunday afternoon in my living room with the sun streaming through my big windows. my mind ticks away, registering her waffled army-green tee shirt, thick silver hoops, and brown, almond-shaped eyes. i sum her up, compare her today with her another day, piece her psyche together from all the strands of memory. my eyes do all they can and then, as if considering a collage by Bearden or a painting by Van Gogh, push the task gratefully onto my dumb, mute heart.

because when it comes time to remember this girl it will not be all perfectly articulated platitudes or carefully constructed diagnoses. when it is time to remember her after she leaves it will be my heart – lazy, slow, decidedly not smart – that will pull and yearn and twist around like a dog in the dirt. it will be my heart that will force my mind to remember her face, the way it felt to be with her, the way she looked sitting on the sofa, telling me that Mind, to her, is everything. my heart will have registered the deeper meaning snakeing and elusive beneath her desperate pieces; my heart alone will allow me to remember her whole.

Picking favorites

every now and then, ill meet an escapee, someone who has broken free of self-centeredness and lit out for the territory of compassion. you’ve met them too, those people who seem to emit a steady stream of, for lack of a better word, love-vibes. as soon as you come within range you feel embraced, accepted for who you are. for those of us who suspect that you rarely get something for nothing, such genialty can be discomforting. yet it feels so good to be around them. they stand there radiating photons of goodwill, and despite yourself you beam back, and the world, in a twinkling, changes.
i appreciate these compassion-mongers, even marvel at them. but i’ve rarely thought that i could be one of them. sure, i’ve tried to live a benign life, putting my shoulder to the wheel for peace, justice, and mother earth. like most people i love my parents, despite the corkscrew of childhood; dote on my siblings, though there is that scrapbook of old slights; and treasure my friends, even if they sometimes let me down. conventional wisdom wouldnt fault me for saving the best stuff for my nearest and dearest and giving the rest of humanity the leftovers.
thus it is, say the sages, that the harvest of kindness – of kindredness – is winnowed down to a precious few grains. for the center of all spiritual traditions is the beacon of a truly radical proposal: open your heart to everybody. everybody.

is this even possible?

platinum rule?

Mere sentiment without moral action can be a deadend. We may weep at a preformance of Les Miserables but spurn the panhandler outside the theater. Or perhaps we do hand him some money (because his misery gives us a twinge), but its more akin to putting a coin in an expiring parking meter. We want to avoid the aversive stimulus of a guilt ticket. (To act out of guilt can be better than doing nothing, of course – just ask the man who’s been given enough coins for a meal.)
But the prime example of perspective-taking, even of compassion itself, is often held to the Golden Rule, regarded in most religions as a benchmark of moral development.
the Hindu – “Do not do to others, what would cause pain if done to you.”
Confucius – “What I do not wish men to do to me, I also wish not to do to them.”
Jesus – “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”
Mohammed – “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
The Golden Rule is an ethical stanchion, a virtual 11th commandment. But what is it really saying? It does acknowledge that others are subjective beings, just as I am, placing us all under the same big tent. But the central tent pole is, well… me. I start with what I would want, assuming that another would want the same thing. One of my favorite quotes is by G.B. Shaw, “Do not do unto others as they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.” If you really think about it the Golden Rule is less like putting ourselves into another’s shoes than imagining our own head transplanted onto their shoulders. Dont get me wrong: I’d rate it as a moral triumph and ample reason to hang up my selfish-girl spurs if I could really live by it. But I cant help but feel that empathy contains yet greater mysteries.
Perhaps a Platinum Rule; “Do unto others as they would like to be done unto.”

the “respectable” prejudice

i want to confront homophobia for two reasons. the first is that the “gay agenda” has replaced the “communist threat” as the battering ram of reactionary politics. instead of a commie behind every bush, there’s a gay person sick and sinful.

the second reason is that while the church has generally given at least some support to the oppressed, in the case of homosexuals the church has led in the oppression.

the better to refute the assertions of contrary-minded christians i want to speak as a christian who shares bishop tutu’s sorrowful conclusion: “the lord of the church would not be where his church is in this matter.”

I do best with texts. today mine comes from the fourth chapter of luke, when jesus quoting isaiah, says he is come “to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of site to the blind.”

who are the captives, and what is it these days that holds them in bondage?

many of us have a strong allergic reaction to change – of any kind. and some of us even go so far as to embrace “the principle of the dangerous precedent” put forth by the academic who said, “nothing should ever be done for the first time.”

the result is an intolerance for nonconforming ideas that runs like a dark streak through human history. in religious history this intolerance becomes particularly vicious when believers divide the world into the godly and the ungodly; for then, hating the ungodly is not a moral lapse but rather an obligation, part of the job discription of being a true believer.

think how, for example, fleeing british persecution, our puritan forebears sailed to america, only to become equally intolerant of religious ideas other than their own, which they enforced as the official faith of the massachusetts bay colony. first they banned that early church dissident, anne hutchinson, who, as she exited the church where the trial was held, said words haunting to this day: “better to be cast out of the church than to deny christ.” (everything churchly is not christlike!)

in 1660 these puritans went further, hanging mary dyer, an early quaker, for insisting, in effect, “truth is my authority, not some authority my truth.”

three hundred years later, in the 1960’s, this same intolerance made many christians consider martin luther king jr more an agitator than a reconciler. and to this day most churches refuse to ordain not only gays and lesbians but all women. youd think that if mary could carry our lord and savior in her body a woman could carry his message on her lips. as for the argument, repeated frequently by the pope john paul, that there were no women among the twelve disciples – well, there also were no gentiles.

why all this intolerance? because while the unknown is the mind’s greatest need, uncertainty is one of the heart’s greatest fears. so fearful, in fact, is uncertainty that many insecure people engage in what psychiatrists call “premature closure.” they are those who prefer certainty to truth, those in church who put the purity of dogma ahead of the integrity of love. and what a distortion of the gospel it is to have limited sympathies and unlimited certainties, when the very reverse – to have limited certainties but unlimited sympathies – is not only more tolerant but far more christian. for “who has known the mind of god?” and didnt saint paul also insist that if we fail in love we fail in all things else?

the opposite of love is not hatred but fear. “perfect love casts out fear.” nothing scares me like scared people; for while love seeks the truth, fear seeks safety, the safety so frequently found in dogmatic certainty, in pitiless intolerance.

so i believe the captives most in need of release, those today whose closet doors most need to be flung open, are really less the victims than their oppressors – the captives of conformity – the racists, the sexists, the heterosexists, all who live in dark ignorance because their fears have blown out the lamp of reason. so groundless are these fears that fence them in, i am reminded of a folk tale:

“a friend of mine has an electric fence around a piece of his land, and he keeps two cows there. i asked him one day how he liked his fence and wether it cost much to operate. “doesnt cost a damn thing,” he replied. “as soon as the battery ran down i unhooked it and never put it back. that piece of fence wire is as dead as a piece of string, but the cows dont go within ten feet of it. they learned their lesson the first few days.”

apparently this state of affairs is general throughout the united states. thousands of cows are living in fear of a strand of wire that no longer has the power to confine them. freedom is theirs for the asking. rise up, cows! take your liberty while despots snore. and rise up too, all people in bondage everywhere! the wire is dead, the trick is exhausted. come on out!”

yes, come on out, fearful people; the pasture is greener where love prevails and discords end and the joys of unity are proved. come on out, especially you christians, because “for freedom christ has set you free.”

here’s what many a christian has learned: it is absolutly right to live and learn from the sixty-six books of the bible (seventy-one if youre roman catholic). but it is wrong to fear their every word, for everything biblical is not christlike. for example: “now go and smite amalek… do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass… thus says the lord.” besides, we christians believe in the word made flesh, not in the word made words. and for god’s sake lets be done with the hypocrisy of claiming “i am a biblical literalist” when everyone is a selective literalist, especially those who swear by the anti-homosexual laws in the book of leviticus and then feast on barbecued ribs and delight in monday night football, for it is toevah, an abomination, not only to eat pork but mearely to touch the skin of a dead pig.

homosexuality was not a big issue for biblical writers. nowhere in the four gospels is it even mentioned. in fact, in all of scripture only seven verses refer to homosexual behavior.

although all of these verses forbid or deplore homosexual behavior, nevertheless, in many discussions of these texts, thinking is woefully slack. take, for example, the story of sodom and gomorrah. as the cities were already under sentence of doom, the destruction of sodom could hardly have been the result of the attempted gang rape of the angels. the prophet ezekiel makes this abundantly clear: “behold this was the guilt of your sister sodom. she and her daughters had pride, surfiet of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and the needy.” likewise, isaiah and amos compare the israelites of their day to sodom only because “your hands are full of blood,” “the spoil of the poor is in your houses.” and the prophet Zephaniah proclaims: “moab shall become like sodom, and the ammorites like gomorrah” for they have filled their houses “with violence and fraud.”

how ironic it is that biblical misreading made “sodomy” a crime, while the truer crime, gluttony, gets off scott-free!

if we make the levitical text on homosexual behavior normative – “a man shall not lie with another man as with a woman” – what do we do with the other prohibitions? I’ve already mentioned eating pork; what about wearing garments made of two different materials and sowing a field with two kinds of seed?

and what about all the normative behavior in scripture no longer considered so today? no biblical literalist that i know of publically advocates slavery or stoning to death an adulterer; nor do people today believe, as did the ancient israelites, that a man could not commit adultery against his wife – only against another man by using the other man’s wife.

polygamy too was regularly practiced, and again its ironic that mormon polygamy was outlawed in america despite constitutional protection of freedom of religion and despite the fact that it was a biblical practice nowhere explicitly prohibited in the bible.

prostitution was considered natural in old testament times and celibacy abnormal. today the roman catholic church talks of celibacy as a divine calling, but in the case of gays it legislates celibacy not by calling but by category.

saint paul thought all men were straight. he knew nothing of sexual orientaion. he assumed that all homosexual activity was done by heterosexuals. this assumption is true as well of old testament writers, which means that all the biblical passages used to flay gays and lesbians have really nothing whatsoever to say about constitutionally gay people in genuinely loving relationships.

in short, it would appear that everyone reserves the right to pick and choose among sexual mores in the bible. Walter Wink, to whose writings i am much indebted, says: “there is no biblical sex ethic… this doesnt mean everything goes. it means that everything is to be critiqued by jesus’ commandment to love.”

when everything biblical is not christlike, we christians need to develop an interpretive theory of scripture. i think the love of jesus is indeed the plumb line by which everything is to be measured. and while laws may be more rigid, love is more demanding, for love insists on motivation and goes between, around, and way beyond laws.

in no way do i wish to discount the central role of scripture. the bible, after all, is the foundational document for all churches the world around. but if you take the bible seriously, you cant take all of it literally. and you dont honor the higher truth you find in the bible by ignoring truths found elsewhere. christians should be impressed by the fact that in 1973 the american psychological association declared homosexuality per se was no sign of illness. likewise, they should heed natural scientist who have discovered homosexuality in mammals, birds, and insects that were around long before the human species arrived.

fundamentalist forget that love demands discernment as well as obedience. here are two biblical verses they never quote: “why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” and “do you not know that we are to judge angels? how much more mattters pertaining to this life?”

finally, let me say that i am sure that no word of god is god’s last word.

let’s turn now to my earlier suggestion that the gay agenda has replaced the communist threat as the battering ram of reactionary politics. why is this so?

pride is not accidentally but essentially competitive: i can go up only if someone else or some other group of people goes down. it is for that reason that there is so much conscious and unthinking social subordination in life. and some people cant live without enemies; they need them to tell them who they are. anticommunists for years needed communists and vice versa.

gays are natural enemies because of the personal revulsion many straights feel about gay sexual behavior. sex, lets face it, is dynamite, and we should recognize the power of involuntary revulsion and not to act in ways that hurt others.

what i hold against the religious right is its cruelty. its cruel because its ignorant; and as its ignorance stems from selfrighteousness and complacency, it is an ethical, not an intellectual default.

of course, it may be that instead of an irrational prejudice, homophobia represents a completly rational fear of sexuality divorced from reproduction, justified by pleasure alone. if true, heterosexuals are caught between longing for more freedom and fear of losing a more orderly and virtuous, if more repressed, world. were that the case, then straight people opposed to what they percieve as gay promiscuity should be supporting same-sex unions.

although the academic community is more tolerant than the religious right, it is also more passive, and tolerance and passivity are a lethal combination. it’s easy to forget how frequently compassion demands confrontation.

confrontation is necessary to shake up the complacent, the “good people” who are indeed “good” but within the limits of their inherited prejudices and traditions. someone has to play hamlet to their horatio. “there are more things in heaven and earth, horatio, than are dreamt in your philosophy.” someone has to recall to them jeremiah: “woe to those who say ‘peace, peace’ where there is no peace”; and jesus too — “i came not to bring peace but a sword.” surely, he was refering to the sword of truth, the only sword that heals the wounds it inflicts.

now comes the really hard part, the part only gays and lesbians can play. the feminist movement in norway has a slogan, “not to do to them what they did to us.” in other words, if you are gay and people are screaming at you that you are a moral pervert, can you so speak and act as to rob their position of any moral cogency? gandhi and martin luther king have shown that it is the temper and spirit with which a movement conducts itself rather than a particular action that makes the greatest difference. divested of moral pretensions, a prejudiced person becomes a samson with his locks shorn. nonviolence does not mean turning yourself into a doormat so that people can walk all over you. but it does mean returning evil with good, violence with nonviolence, hatred with a love that is obliged to increase upon pain of diminishing.

because all this he understood so profoundly, the great agitator of the 1960’s won the nobel peace prize, and most of america now celebrates a national holiday in his honor. because they too, in christlike fashion, returned evil with good, both anne hutchinson and mary dyer have statues in their honor in the center of the very city where one was banned and the other hanged.

the good tidings are that we live in a moral universe. “human beings really do the right thing, but only after exhausting all alternatives.” already there are signs of progress — movies and television shows that bring awarness and normalcy, the many churches who have declared themselves “open and affirming”, 17 states legalizing gay marriage, the repeal of “dont ask, dont tell”, the existance of openly serving politicians.

other signs of progress are the gradual de-ghettoization and de-urbanization of gays. more gays are living openly in smaller and smaller towns. and gay-straight alliances are forming in high schools – with official support. anti-bullying and support groups like ‘it gets better’ are popping up everywhere for adults and youth alike.

without a doubt, such progress as has been made is due primarily to the determination of the gay community. despite the aids epidemic, the legal setbacks, the violence that goes on against them all over the country, the gay communities of america have continued to fight, not for “special rights” but for equal rights long overdue them. and the fight has been hard, for as every liberation movement has learned, those who benefit from injustice are less able to understand its true character than those who suffer from it.

just as african americans have proved that the problem all along was one of white racism; and women, that the problem all along was one of male chauvinism; so GLBTs are proving that god’s creation is far more pluralistic that the eyes of many straights have wished to percieve.

so here’s to the gay community and to all it’s doing for all of us. and praise the lord who brings liberty to the captives of conformity and recovery of sight to the blindly prejudiced.