aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Friday, December 09, 2005
One line from Stephen Colbert’s wonderful spoof of Bill O’Reilly’s Fake ‘Attack on Christmas’ - “...it should be a real tree, none of this White Pine Business. The needles must hurt or it doesn’t count.” - reminded me of a Terry Gross Fresh Air interview with Vatican reporter John Allen.
They were discussing his new book Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church. In it he described the practice of self-mortification:
Well, if you wanted to be sort of flippant about it, you would say it’s a matter of whips and chains. That is to say, there are two practices of so-called corporal mortification--that is, inflicting pain on oneself--that a minority of members of Opus Dei--again, it’s just the numeraries and the priests, so about 30 percent of the members practice. The first is called the cilice. This is a spiked chain that is worn around the thigh for two hours a day, except for Sundays. Sunday are considered a kind of mini feast day. And then there is a small cloth whip called the discipline that one administers to oneself once a week, usually on Saturday, during the recitation of a prayer, like the Lord’s prayer or the Hail Mary. So in other words, it’s a very quick thing that might endure a matter of a few minutes once a week.
Now, you know, when you ask Opus Dei people, `Why do these things?,’ they will tell you, first of all, that it’s hardly just Opus Dei that does them. Many of the great saints in the history of the church, from St. Francis all the way up to Mother Teresa, have used the discipline. They’ll also tell you that it’s about reminding oneself of the consequences of sin, identifying with the suffering of Christ and the suffering of the world. They will tell you that these are very mild practices that are constantly scrutinized to make sure that they don’t get out of hand.
Now if you ask critical ex-members of Opus Dei, they will tell you that sometimes, they have, in fact, gotten out of hand, that sometimes, they have been pushed too far. If you ask most spiritual directors in the Catholic Church outside of Opus Dei--that is, moderate mainstream people--they will tell you that they find the practice of corporal mortification, at best, strange and, at worst, possibly counterproductive, because if you really want to enter into the suffering of the world, you don’t necessarily need to whip yourself. You could go serve at a soup kitchen or you could work at a homeless shelter and so on. So I would say this is a practice for which Opus Dei has some warrant, but it’s certainly something that is widely debated in Catholic circles.
You can count me in with those “moderate mainstream people.”
Georgia fights The War on Christmas
Two Georgia lawmakers filed bills Wednesday that would expressly prohibit government agencies, including school systems, from barring their employees and students from saying “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” or any other expression relating to the celebration of a holiday… The debate over whether government employees should say “Merry Christmas” or the more generic “Happy Holidays” recently has become a hot topic on national political talk shows… Last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue’s office did a quick about-face after a staffer sent out a press release saying the governor would light Georgia’s “holiday tree” at the Governor’s Mansion. Thirty minutes later, the governor’s office sent out a second release clarifying he would actually light a Christmas tree.
Worth revisiting, the NYTimes Editorial Observer ”Commercialize Christmas or else:”
This campaign - which is being hyped on Fox and conservative talk radio - is an odd one. Christmas remains ubiquitous, and with its celebrators in control of the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court and every state supreme court and legislature, it hardly lacks for powerful supporters. There is also something perverse, when Christians are being jailed for discussing the Bible in Saudi Arabia and slaughtered in Sudan, about spending so much energy on stores that sell “holiday trees.”
What is less obvious, though, is that Christmas’s self-proclaimed defenders are rewriting the holiday’s history. They claim that the “traditional” American Christmas is under attack by what John Gibson, another Fox anchor, calls “professional atheists” and “Christian haters.” But America has a complicated history with Christmas, going back to the Puritans, who despised it. What the boycotters are doing is not defending America’s Christmas traditions, but creating a new version of the holiday that fits a political agenda.
GA High School Homo fights back
A lesbian teen who was expelled in April for kissing another girl is suing her private school to ensure other students never have to experience what she went through.
Jessica Bradley and her father, Ronald Bradley, claim that Covenant Christian Academy in Loganville, Ga., breached its contract with them by expelling the ninth-grader for carrying on an “inappropriate relationship” in violation of the school’s standard of conduct on “sexual immorality.” [...]
While acknowledging that the private institution is immune from most equal protection claims, Clark says that because the school’s code of conduct fails to define “sexual immorality,” there was no way for Jessica to know that she might face expulsion.
“We want an injunction saying that you can’t secretly ban gay students. If you’re going to do that, then you have to come out and say it in plain English,” Clark told Courttv.com. “Right now, the code doesn’t tell you anything about what sexual immorality is, aside from a few vague Biblical references.”
“What Jessica did is not expressly forbidden in Scripture and a legal contract cannot be based upon vague principles of divine revelation,” Clark said.
He also noted that Jessica left the Covenant Christian Academy with a 3.5 GPA and a 98 in religion class. The family has since moved to Pennsylvania.
TV’s High School Homos
These days, there are gay characters all over the TV schedule, but the most well-adjusted and popular are students at Degrassi Community School and King High, the settings for Degrassi: The Next Generation and South of Nowhere, respectively. It’s no coincidence that both shows appear on The N-the nighttime tween incarnation of Nickelodeon’s Noggin. The N is a channel with a mission: realness. According to its Web site: “[T]he shows on the N are about your real life and the things you’re dealing with every day.” Ah, issues! Once the stuff of earnest and dull (but bizarrely beloved) after-school specials, didactic television is now earnest and hot, full of cuties baring yards of flesh (even in chilly Toronto, Degrassi’s setting) and telegenic problems like promiscuity, teacher-dating, and whether one’s bikini is sufficiently filled out.
At TV high school, gayness is just another issue. Clicking on the Degrassi character bios is like flipping through DSM IV: Craig is bipolar and was abused by his violent father. Ellie’s mom’s a drunk, and she used to cut herself to numb the pain. Jimmy once took his friend’s Ritalin to get up for a basketball game, now he’s in a wheelchair after a school shooting, and so on. It’s the student-body president, Marco, who is gay. But, with everyone else so screwed up-and yet so lovable-it’s not surprising that Marco’s gayness isn’t particularly problematic. Marco found a sweet age-appropriate lover soon after he came out, but the relationship-with Dylan, an out-and-proud hockey-playing jock-foundered because Marco was uptight about his family finding out they were a couple (well, that and the fact that he walked in on Dylan making out with another guy).
But aren’t teens uncomfortable with homosexuality?
Anyone who has heard a gang of teenagers erupt in a chorus of “EEEEEEWs” at the trailer for Brokeback Mountain will be surprised that gay characters are such an accepted mainstay of teen TV. Adolescents are the ultimate pack animals-proclaiming one set of attitudes when they’re in a group and quite another when they’re indulging in their favorite solo activity: watching television. For all The N’s diligence in providing discussion guides to help families deal with the “tough issues” the shows bring up, I doubt there are many Ned Flanders dads who lead a dinner-time conversation about ”things that happen when someone is uncomfortable discussing his sexual orientation.”
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, 68 percent of 8-to-18-year-old Americans have a television in their bedrooms. In private, kids can figure out their own response to gay and lesbian characters-and to prima donna cheerleaders, school bullies, and annoying parents-without peer or parental pressure. Maybe homophobia is a problem society will grow out of; we just need to encourage kids to spend more time alone in their rooms.
The mention of Brokeback Mountain affords me the opportunity to link to David Leavitt’s wonderfull essay, Is Brokeback Mountain a gay fiilm? and David Edelstein’s review of this season’s crop of gay films.
principles principals (!) at DOJ
It appears John K. Tanner, chief of the Justice Department’s voting section, was a bit miffed about the recent leak of an internal document that showed most of the section’s lawyers who had reviewed a controversial Georgia voting law felt it would discriminate against black voters. The lawyers were overruled by higher-ups, Washington Post colleague Dan Eggen reported Nov. 17.
Tanner fired off a pyrotechnic e-mail to the section calling the leak “despicable” and “a clear breach of ethics, honor and professionalism.”
As would be expected, his e-mail also leaked.
The leak of the voting rights memo was “utterly alien to core principles of membership in the bar, and utterly at odds with the conduct rightly expected of employees of the Department of Justice,” Tanner said utterly. “There is no justification for individuals to put their own agendas ahead of their legal and professional obligations.”
“Extraordinarily unprofessional conduct,” he went on, is “a betrayal of colleagues on many levels.” Taking the high road, Tanner said he had “no plans for a leak investigation or other responsive action.” Of course, “the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of the Inspector General” will “take any action they deem appropriate.” Deportation to a secret jail in some Eastern European democracy?