Friday, June 29, 2012

"Longtime Companion" (1989)

At the end of Wednesday's post, I wrote about how the lived experience of family and friends who are gay or lesbian has transformed our thoughts on homosexuality. My own eyes were opened while attending UC Berkeley in the early 1990s. The subject quickly moved past stereotypes when one of my freshman roommates "came out." By the end of college, I knew firsthand, especially from the friend who belonged to a gay and lesbian square dance group, that there was no such thing as a "typical" gay man or lesbian. I had also come to believe the basic truth that I tried to convey in my last post: love is love, whatever the genders of the participants.

"Longtime Companion" was the first LGBT-themed movie that I ever saw. Living in the Bay Area, a story about the early years of the AIDS epidemic was obviously one that my college friends and I found compelling. But more importantly, it was a story of love, devotion, and friendship that was incredibly moving to us. Watching it again yesterday, I continue to be moved by the affection and compassion of the characters, and not just those sharing a romantic relationship. It should be a model for all men to follow.

Unfortunately, "Longtime Companion" is a bit overshadowed by the more mainstream, and higher grossing, AIDS drama "Philadelphia" which came out just a few years later. As good as that movie is, it is mostly focused on questions of justice and homophobia. While these topics are important, they are issues peculiar to culture and history, and ones that have been largely resolved. Love and relationships, on the other hand, are timeless and universal. AIDS may be the backdrop for "Longtime Companion", but it is not a "current events" kind of movie. It is a film about human beings at our very best, confronting darkness with love and hope. It is a story of beauty and grace.

Check out this movie on IMDb, Wikipedia, or YouTube.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Gift of Homosexuality

June is the month for gay pride celebrations throughout the country. These events originated as a way of honoring the anniversary of the Stonewall riots that began on June 28, 1969. Since that night, much has changed in the way our society treats the LGBT community. But how deep is this transformation?

Mainstream religion, including the Catholic Church, now acknowledges that sexual orientation is not a choice, but an act of discovery. This should lead to an obvious question: Why would God create same-sex attraction? We are reluctant to ask this question, however, because we would prefer to leave the answer unspoken.

Most faiths, including the Catholic Church, continue to believe that homosexuality is an aberration in the natural order. They may now view it as a benign or tragic error, rather than a perversion, disease, or evil, but the basic judgment still stands. For all our polite talk of tolerance, most Christians still see heterosexuality as God's design, and homosexuality as ... well, something else.

What if we're wrong? What if homosexuality is part of God's design, and intentionally so? If creation is one of the chief methods by which God instructs us on Truth, then what might they be trying to teach us in this circumstance?

The Church talks of the unitive and procreative purposes of sexuality. On paper, they state that both aspects must be present for a sexual relationship to be morally sound. In reality, however, Christianity has long favored procreation. What if God is trying to tell us that it should actually be the reverse? After all, which is of greater detriment to our humanity: refusing to produce offspring or refusing to love?

Procreation is a joyful wonder, and necessary for the survival of our species, but we were created for so much more. It is no accident that sexual intimacy is used to model the relationship between God and the believer. The emotional and physical delights of sexuality are not fringe benefits, but fuel for the most essential of human relationships. What if homosexuality is meant to be a visible sign of the primacy of love?

As evidence, I offer the lived experience of people who are not strangers to us. They are our siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, friends, co-workers, and even parents. We know them, we know their love, and we know that it is no different than the love we straight, married people share with our spouses. All such love is a beautiful form of grace, and none of it is ever a mistake.

Friday, June 22, 2012

"Fearless" (1993)

Most people think of mystical experiences as the province of monks or gurus, people who spend countless hours in prayer and meditation. They are wrong. Each of us is meant to experience God, in the minutiae of life, as well as its grandest events. And contrary to popular opinion, God is not a carnival barker. The truly mystical are not freak supernatural occurrences like burning bushes, angels, or booming voices from the clouds, but rather the most sublimely ordinary of things.

"It’s that little piece of you that gets caught up in the drama of life, the drama of nature, the drama of history. That feeling in the back of your throat that you are part of something that you can’t quite grasp and yet you know is there. That just makes you want to cry because it’s so big and bold and beautiful. That makes you want to scream out in joy and ecstasy, thanksgiving and praise for being a part of it. In that moment, in that very moment, whether it lasts a second or a lifetime, you know that you have touched the face of the divine."

"It feels like you’re standing still and the whole world is rushing by at mach one. Your adrenaline is pumping so hard you have to scream out for joy and laugh hysterically like an insane person. It’s a feeling of such intensity, that it seems like you have an orchestra in your head, building up to a grand crescendo, then crashing down like a tsunami, washing away every impurity in your soul and leaving you awestruck as if seeing for the first time."

The movie "Fearless" is the best representation of a mystical experience that I know of. Jeff Bridges plays Max, an airplane crash survivor who has discovered "the taste and touch and beauty of life," but struggles to make sense of that vision in the context of everyday living. He seems crazy to those around him, but how do you incorporate an experience of the divine into life in the "real" world? Once you see the face of God, the superficiality of modern society becomes unbearable, and the beauty of what lies beneath is overwhelming. How exactly do you deal with that?

The final sequence, showing the actual crash, is the most beautiful piece of cinema that I have ever watched. Those five minutes seem to encapsulate the taste, touch, and beauty of life, death, family, God, and love. Max walks down the center aisle of the plane to sit with a boy traveling by himself. As they brace for impact, he tells the boy, "close your eyes ... it'll be over soon ... everything's wonderful." His eyes make the meaning of his words clear: whether they live or die, in that moment everything truly is wonderful. That is mysticism in its rawest form.

Check out this movie on IMDb, Wikipedia, or YouTube.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rallying for Freedom

Tomorrow, the silliness of corporate religion will be on full display once more with the start of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. They are trying to spin this as being about more than the "contraception mandate," but it is hard to escape the emphasis, oftentimes hysterical, that they and their supporters have placed on this issue. A Los Angeles Times reporter observed as much in an article covering this month's USCCB meeting in Atlanta:
It was clear that the bishops' overriding concern was the birth control mandate. "I would right now like us to see all of our energy directed at every level, whether it's at the executive, the legislative or the judicial, to changing that," said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. "Once that has been resolved, we can get on with the rest of our work."
Out of all the places the bishops could choose to direct their energy, all of the issues that could benefit from a two-week "special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action," this is the one they select? They're really saying that the key challenge to religious liberty in our society, one that necessitates reflection on the "great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power," is over who pays for birth control pills? Seriously? Are they peddling a reality show?

Yes, American pluralism produces many areas where we are asked to tolerate and/or cooperate with things we find immoral, even evil. Such occurrences are not limited to "faithful" Catholics; they arise for people of all persuasions. Resolving these conflicts requires the wisdom of Solomon. It is good and appropriate for the bishops to have a voice in the public square. However, it is not "persecution" if the people or the people's representative, the government, disagrees with that voice.

The bishops' real complaint seems to be that they are ignored too often, especially by their own followers. Some of these actions may indeed be colossally stupid mistakes, but they also represent true religious liberty in action. We Americans assume that no single faith controls the market on Truth or Goodness. That attitude may be frustrating to corporate religion, but who ever said that democracy is supposed to be easy? Our system demands serious and thoughtful leadership. Throwing a temper tantrum when you don't get your way does not count as a quality contribution.

Unfortunately, silliness seems to be a main ingredient of American culture, as David Horsey illustrated in a recent L.A. Times editorial cartoon. Sideshows are much more entertaining, and they don't require hard decisions. But shouldn't we be able to expect more from men who claim to be the true successors of the apostles? Then again, the apostles were ignorant clowns on occasion, so I guess it's all good.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"These Are Days", 10,000 Maniacs

As I explained last Sunday, this new Friday edition "will highlight a particular piece of mass media or popular culture as an expression of Divine Love." Art has always been a way for human beings to express our spiritual experience; modern art is no different. I have long found God in songs, movies, and TV shows. I used a variety of them as a daily curricular element in the religion course I taught. Through these posts, I intend to share them and many other works that speak to me in some way.

For the inaugural Friday post, I selected "These Are Days" by 10,000 Maniacs. This has been a special song to me since college. As I struggled with my vocation, and the challenges it presented to relationships, the lyrics reminded me of who I am and what I see. They still do. And if I had to select a personal theme song, this would be it:
These are days you’ll remember. Never before and never since, I promise, will the whole world be warm as this. And as you feel it, you’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky. It’s true that you are touched by something that will grow and bloom in you ...
These days you might feel a shaft of light make its way across your face. And when you do you’ll know how it was meant to be ... Hear the signs and know they’re speaking to you, to you.
Check out this song on YouTube or Amazon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Human Divinization

The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature" "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God." "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."
Are these just pretty words, or do we actually mean them? Last Sunday, the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. If the Real Presence is truly real, then becoming God would seem to be an expected outcome from consuming the Eucharist. Are you willing to embark on the path to divinity?

"You are my child. More than that, you are myself. We are one, linked forever. What you feel, I feel. What I know, you know. We are love incarnate. We are life."

These are not just nice sentiments, but a reality of the here and now. We are meant to be one with God, for we are true children of our Creator. It is not daring for us to say "Our Father"; it is our birthright and obligation. This is the true gift of the Eucharist.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Coming Soon II

I've written on this blog about being a religion teacher in a Catholic high school. That phase of my life has ended. In last week's post, I explained why I am still a Catholic. While I may be comfortable with that identification, it is doubtful that the Church will accept my definition of Catholicity. I cannot be who I am and at the same time ask them to hand me a paycheck. It was time to make a choice, and so I did.

The downside of this choice is having to look for a day job. But that is a small sacrifice to pay for the privilege of being able to publicly proclaim God's revelation. To that end, I am expanding the content of this blog, effective immediately.

"Family of the One" will now be published twice each week, and on a new schedule. The Wednesday edition will focus on a current event or issue that teaches us some truth about creation and Creator. The Friday edition will highlight a particular piece of mass media or popular culture as an expression of Divine Love. Additionally, I will be constructing the "Faith Development" section over the summer. The introduction is currently available, and other material will be added soon.

On a separate but related note, last week I finally shared this work with my family, friends, co-workers, and students. I will always be grateful for their supportive and affirming responses. But there have also been questions, namely, what am I trying to accomplish? Unfortunately, I'm not sure that there's a good answer to that one.

We Americans are a very task-oriented people. While usually a positive trait, it can also blind us to other realities. God does not measure us on what we have achieved, but on our devotion to the individual purpose for which we were created. It does not matter how many people we love, how many good works we do, or even how much faith we have. If we fail to follow our vocation, we just fail.

I was created to share a set of information that God desires to be known. Whether or not people listen to or embrace that information is irrelevant. I'm not trying to change the world, reform religion, or even alter anyone's behavior. If those things happen they are God's doing, not mine. My purpose is to serve the revelation I've received. I may fail at a lot of things in life, but this vocation will not be one of them.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Why Am I Still A Catholic?

Given my assertions about the "True Church" last week, why do I continue to identify myself as a Catholic? The revelation I am called to share does not always mesh with the Church's doctrines and teachings. In so many ways, it would be sensible to part company. But there is something that continues to draw me to the Church. I know that God still desires for our paths to be intertwined.

Jesus is my role model in this task of reconciling the seemingly incompatible. He was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, and died a Jew. His purpose was to serve God and he did this as a Jew. Yes, his words and actions were often unorthodox for the Judaism of his time, but he never claimed to be anything other than a faithful Jew. Hence all of the stupid bumper stickers proclaiming "My boss is a Jewish carpenter."

And yet, Jesus' followers say that he intended to create a new religion separate from Judaism. While this might seem like wishful thinking on the Church's part, it is also easy to recognize Christianity as the logical extension of Jesus' teachings. Even if you deny him the omniscience of God, it is hard to believe that Jesus had no clue as to the path his apostles would take after his death.

So for better or worse, Christianity, not Judaism, is the family that Jesus left behind. And while none of the branches of the Christian family are the True Church, the one that most aspires to embrace God's family in all of its messy, chaotic, and thoroughly catholic glory, is the Catholic Church. Yes, I was born and raised in the faith, but this assessment is not the result of blind allegiance. Like most cradle Catholics, I am all too aware of the Church's many disappointments. Despite these flaws, however, it is still the best manifestation of God's family that I know.

And the place where I see this most clearly is the Communion of Saints, a teaching that insists that wherever we are going, we can only get there by traveling together. This truth is also the subject for a set of tapestries that hang in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels here in Los Angeles. What I love about them is that they depict the saints mingled together, ancient and new, famous and ordinary, regardless of “official” status. These tapestries, and the Truth they depict, tell me that the Catholic Church is something far greater and grander than an organization run by the Vatican.

"Family is not religion, but something far more powerful. It is not an organization to join, but a fellowship to accept. It is who we are at our very core. Family is birth, death, and all the joy and tragedy in between. We may run from it at moments, but we will never truly be apart from it."

Catholicism is the family that chose me in baptism, and that I chose in confirmation. The Church may be a dysfunctional family, but abandoning it won't make it any better, nor would doing so sever its ties to my mind, heart, and soul.

Again, I look to Jesus, who never abandoned his Jewishness. It was essential to his faithfulness to God's family, and yet he birthed something that is not Judaism. I cannot begin to imagine what the revelation I am called to share will produce. But I know that if I am to remain faithful to the family, I must continue to embrace my Catholicity.