Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Young lives-some well lived and others wasted

This week I had two young deaths cross my path.  One will be mourned by a few but was a life well lived and one that touched those few very deeply.  The other is one that has made headlines and drawn a lot of attention but was really a wasted life.

The first young man was only 18.  He had suffered for a long-term illness.  Despite my friendship with his mom, I had no idea what affliction had bound him to a wheelchair.  All I knew about him actually was that he was a fighter and a winner.  Because of him our church camp made long needed renovations to accomodate not only Josh and his chair but other physically challenged kids and adults.  In that Silver Lake is such an amazing place, this was such a great thing as it offered more opportunities to more people to spend time there. 

I met Josh's mom in 2004 at a workshop for youth leaders.  I knew I liked her immediately when I saw her rag-tied flip-flops and her toe ring.  I hadn't reclaimed my freedom and courage at that point so I wasn't aware that she was part of the adventure my life would become.  What I did know was that we both related to teenagers when it came to ministry in very similar ways.  We knew that high schoolers and college kids worship was louder and more colorfully than adults but with a lot more cynicism than little kids.  Once you gave them permission to bring humor into faith along with trusting them to try new approaches to love, worship and service, they blossomed like big neon colored flowers.  They would even laugh, sing and conquered their fear of failure. 

As the years have passed I learned about Josh, actually at Silver Lake when Kathy had her kids there for a Confirmation Retreat.  I had so much more respect for her watching how she managed her group of confirmands and chaperones while looking out for Josh's special needs.  She's a freakin' awesome mom and my hat's off to her because I don't know if I could be half as brave, courageous and hard-working if in the same boat. 

Josh did graduate high school.  But he didn't live to see Christmas this year.  I didn't find out until a few days later when I signed on to Facebook for the first time in over a week.  My heart broke reading Kathy's posts about one less chair at that table and going to Christmas Eve service without her son.  I hugged my boy a little harder and took time to chat with my daughter in MD that night. 

Although I didn't know Josh, from all that I've read in the past few days from his family and friends, his was a life well led.  He did everything he could with it even from a wheelchair.  He left a lasting effect on many people and taught them life lessons about love and courage.  He used all that the Divine had given him for the purposes it was meant.

On the flipside of the coin, at Midnight this morning I read of the death of yet another young entertainer.  This man was 28 years old and a gifted percussionist.  Sadly though, he felt he had to live up to the lifestyle of a rocker boy.  Between drugs, alcohol and diabetes, his body gave up. 

He's left behind a long-time girlfriend, a succesful band who were also four of his closest friends and a huge international fan base...all of whom right now are holding him up as some kind of hero.  Personally I see him as a selfish bastard. 

My belief is that we are all created by the Great Spirit with talents and the potential to affect others in positive ways.  The highest and sincerest form of praise and worship to the Holy One for those gifts is to search within ourselves, find them and use them...for good. 

Those of you who know me and/or follow my writing about music know that I have a very deep love for rock music and the people who make it.  It just breaks my heart that so many destructive influences have worked their way into that world to the point that artists feel required to include them in their lives and worse that some fans expect them to.  Honestly I think that these guys and gals can make just as great music without alcohol, cocaine and other narcotics, along with random unprotected sex.  It also makes me angry that "live hard, die young" is still a battle cry amongst rock musicians and fans.  Why?

James Sullivan was just one more kid who felt he had to live the rock & roll lifestyle even if it meant that he wouldn't still be creating drum beats 30 years from now or sharing his talents with new-comers as a teacher, producer or manager.   He had to prove to the fans that he could play hard night and day with no thought to his blood sugar levels or the bodily harm he caused himself when drunk or high.  And the fans cheered him on.  The harder he abused himself the louder they cheered. 

Today they are all posting on their blogs and message boards about how sad they are and how wonderful they thought he was.  But, I fear, this will be like every other young celeb who has passed in the last 5 or 10 years...a lot of hooplah for a couple of weeks and then forgotten.  Oh the people who were closest to him will miss him for a long time but will even they see or understand how little he respected the gift of life he had been given?

Josh respected the gift.  He did everything he could with his life knowing that he probably wouldn't live to collect social security.  He was brave and faced the challenge of each new day following his doctors orders and listening to his parents to make the most of that day.  Drugs were medication to be used to help him survive. 

I'm not a holy roller.  I don't put any merit into "being saved" or even having to believe that Jesus was anything more than a very wise man who served as a living instruction manual on how to best live life.  But what I do believe is that there is a Higher Power and that it does have a plan for better living but it's up to each one of us to pray/meditate/search for the that plan within ourselves and then have the guts to live it out.  Anything less is a waste of the gift.  I just hope that those people who are holding "The Rev" up as some kind of role model take a step back and maybe find the Joshs in their lives and see what a real role model is. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Itsy bitsy.........teeny weeny................little bitty............" GOD!!

Excuse me but whatever happened to "For God so loved the WORLD" and "love your neighbor as yourself" and "do unto (ALL) others as you would have them do unto you" and "what you did for the LEAST of these you did for ME!"? Huh?

These are big, bold, broad statements.  If you go through the Bible, Qu'ran, Torah, because I'm going to focus on the Big Three/One God theologies right now, this Divine Being is pretty huge and it created THE WHOLE UNIVERSE and EVERYTHING in it.  So why do people who follow these three doctrines work so hard to put this HOLY CREATOR into smaller and smaller boxes every day?

It hit me a couple of days ago when I read about pending legislation in Uganda to execute gays and lesbians.  It caused another thought to rise up in me that I had considered a few weeks back...there are still parts of this country where interracial marriage is illegal.  Although we've gotten a little less barbaric in the past fifty years it was not uncommon for one or both members of an interracial couple to be murdered for marrying the person they loved.  Heck, they would be beaten or killed just for walking down the street hand in hand.

The thought broadened to the resurgence of Neo-Nazism in this country.  Although the KKK seems to be "so last year", there are still way too many (any more than zero) hate groups in the U.S. who will not stop short of violence against Jews, queers, non-Caucasians, non-WASPs and the really alarming part is that they can justify this stuff with "Christian" scripture.  WHAT?

In the Old Testament we get those "10 Rules for healthy living"...all of us Judeo-Christian kids had them memorized by the time we were eight.  There is one in particular though that mankind seems to have this constant habit of adding an "if" or a "but" to...the "thou shall not kill" one.  Yeah, that one.  Now add to that this train of thought I'm on right now..."God", "Goddess", "Great Spirit", etc.- whatever you call that enormous Divine Universal Creating and Ruling Power is just that....HUUUUGE!!!  And it's benevolent.  It really wants us to "get it".  It loves us.  So sometimes it sends signs to show us the way.  We usually do a pretty good job of ignoring those signs....things like the Holocaust to remind us that hate is just not part of the plan.  "God" created each and every one of us so who are we to say that any race, religion, culture, sexuality or socio-economic status is any better or worse that the other?  I love how I hear "fundies" declaring how God is the one true judge and yet they are the first to start judging everyone that doesn't go to their church. hmmmm

Last night I read a lovely spew of hate in, of all places that bastion of intelligent journalism, The Wall Street Journal.  The author, Peggy Noonan, posted the question at the end of "Have we become a more vulgar country?".  Now to put this in context, the entire article (which you can read here if you have a strong constitution "The Adam Lambert problem" ) Ms. Noonan is trying to take the focus off the current economic problems in this country and place all of our woes on the shoulders of a 27 year old rising pop star based on an event that occured weeks ago.  I found myself at first enraged and then utterly  amused by the ignorance of this "journalist".  If we want to talk vulgar let's go back to those "kinder, gentler times of the 40's and 50's that she compares the present to.  Signs still hung in restaurants, pubic transporation and restrooms declaring "Whites Only".  Schools were still segragated.  Girls who got pregnant out of wedlock were disowned by their families resulting in runaways or worse...suicide.  Catholics where not allowed to run for the presidency.  Jews tended to keep to themselves and try to remain out of the public eye, still more than a little gunshy after the Holocaust. And women were shamed out of the workplace and back into the home "where they belonged" when the troops returned from the war.  But these things were not "vulgar"?  I beg to differ.

"Red and yellow, black and white.  They are precious in His sight.  Jesus love the little children of the world."  And he still loves us even when we are big, old, rich, poor, queer, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, fat, skinny, boy or girl children.  I always loved that shirt that said "I'm OK.  God don't make junk!"  There are lots of people in this world that I don't like but I have to love them.  Sometimes that love means putting you in rehab, a mental institution or jail.  Sometimes that love means telling you "no" or "wait".  And sometimes that love means taking that extra $10 I just came into and buying a meal for a runaway teenager.  So people?  Quit trying to justify your hate, fear and anger by blaming it on The just brings that Being down below your level and it's no longer a Sacred Creator but a little piss-ant under your shoe.  You can't put God in a box.  And you can't deny that He/She/It loves the Jew sitting next to you on the bus, the East Indian that sold you your last six-pack, the homeless kid that asked you for a buck or the gay man who does your hair nor can you say that any of these people have less of a right to walk this planet than you do.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hypocracy and The (Magic) Kingdom

Here we go again.  Fear winning over rational thought.  For those who read my music blog, you know my issues with Adam Lambert’s AMA performance and it had nothing to do with boy-kissing or faux oral sex.  The actual production was so bloated with choreography that cast Lambert as a dancer and singer, it caused his vocals to suffer horribly and resulted a mid-number fall. 

I even understood ABC deciding to give Adam a time-out by “dis-inviting” him to Good Morning American.  It was very noble of CBS to pick him up for Early Morning but then they too had their own censorship faux pas.  But considering that the former Idol contestant was allowed to speak his mind clearly, succinctly and intelligently regarding the proper parenting of children, I’ll give them a “pass”.  What I don’t understand is ABC continuing their “punishment” of the glam rocker. 

It was announced yesterday that Adam’s appearance on Jimmie Kimmel had been cancelled.  There is still no hard evidence if the network told Lambert’s camp that it was due to pressure from the FCC or if he decided to be to be the bigger person and attempt to take some of the heat off of the American Broadcasting Company and their parent, Disney by pointing some blame on the Federal Communications Commission.  However, based on actual fact from the FCC’s own published guidelines, they have no jurisdiction over the airwaves after 10 p.m. local time.  This means that those who were viewing in the Central Time Zone may have a legal leg to stand on but it also means that ABC can only be fined for that one performance. 

ABC/Disney’s current action sends the message that they believe that Adam Lambert/RCA/19Entertainment/Sony Music Group are foolish enough to stage another such over-the-top performance.  But even if he did, Kimmel is aired well after the 10 p.m. cut off for the FCC so there would be no fines involved.  The bottom line is that ABC is playing to the pearl clutching right-wingers. 

It also has sent a message that straight male domination in this country is still a huge issue.  Would someone please explain to me why men are so afraid of women?  We can’t be trusted to take control of our own bodies, minds or politics.  Unless…….it means playing to some man’s sexual fantasies.  It’s fine to show girl-on-girl kissing or implied heterosexual acts everywhere on television…sitcoms, dramas, soap operas, variety shows, etc. all that play before the witching-hour of 10 p.m.  These same men also feel threatened by a gay man who is not a walking stereotype.  Gentlemen, how does he pose a threat to your sexuality or to your women-folk?  Honestly if that was the case wouldn’t you be more upset about his DETAILS photoshoot? 

Here’s the deal America…stop beating your chests and saying how “right” fundamentalist Christianity is and how screwed up the country is morally when the movies with the highest tickets sales are either just brainless stupid comedies or bloody horror flicks.  You have no problem with violence on television or in song lyrics.  It’s ok for your minor girl Mylie to dance on a stripper pole dressed like slut.  You’re not calling your congress person or banging down the FCC’s door over shows like Criminal Minds, CSI or Survivor (how to be totally ruthless to your neighbor for money).  It’s really nice that you're “Pro Life” but has your church built an orphanage?  Are you taking these moms and their children into your home?  What happened to that scripture about taking the log out of your own eye before removing the speck from your brothers?  Yeah, that’s what I thought. 

If you want to honor the Divine…use the faculties you were blessed with.  Listen.  Watch. Feel. Process. Touch.  Respect.  Love.  Fear is not something created by The Fates.  It is a human reaction to things unknown.  Once you get to know it…if it is trying to do your physical harm, then, indeed fight back.  If it’s trying to take your stuff, defend it.  But if it just looks different, likes different food, makes more/less money than you, etc…that’s not a legitimate reason to turn on it. 

Peace kids,

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The face of a bully

Yesterday a lot of people, including myself, had a really eye opening experience.  It's really sad enough that mankind has wasted so much time, energy and money drawing lines, building walls, creating labels, rules, etc. to try to control who and how we love but to learn that oppressed groups have cannibals in their midst.  These powerful pariah who apparently forgot where they came from will chew up and spit out their own young to look more impressive?  Hey!  Where I come from we call that bullying and there's enough problems with that already today.

Aaron Hicklin, editor in chief of Out magazine decided that Adam Lambert would be his sacrificial lamb in his personal vendetta against the entertainment industry.  Now if Adam had been around the school yard for a while, earned some cred, made the honor roll or the varsity team he would be a fair advisary.  But see, for as fierce an alien as Lambert comes off?  Inside he's still kinda scared.  He's fortunate because the theater has taught him well how to play roles.  Also he's lived in a ocean of piranha for the past decade...Lost Angeles.  But for someone like me who really looks at those eyes when cameras and microphones are pointed at him?  He's still in shock that he's actually a viable performance commodity.  That's not to say he's set down roots yet so for Hicklin to come along and beat him down for not being the Messiah already?  So not fair.

Mr. Mogul showed his hand when he said that he was not happy with Adam's management controlling subjects that could be broached in Out's interview with him.  Also there were supposedly guidelines regarding the cover shoot.  Come on Aaron.  First get real.  You were not going to put Adam solo on the cover of your Top 100 issue.  The entire gay community would have been all over your ass for that shit.  They still see Adam as the puppy, the WeHo scene kid.  When other people on the list included heavy hitters like Lt. Dan Choi, NPH and Cyndi Lauper?  There would have been outrage.  And NO!  NONE of the Idols would have been allowed to grace the cover during the competition.  Them's been the rules for a long time.  And of course 19 was not going to give the coming out party to OUT as they had a demographic to deal with that was going to handle it better coming from a mainstream, straight rock & roll mag icon. By the time tour was over middle-America was a bit more comfortable with going to the bookstore and buying a copy of OUT. Right after the show ended? Not so much. Sour grapes Aaron? Sure tastes like it to me.

Hicklin, you are a corporate big-wig.  You know the drill.  It's the same with "The Simons".  They're in this game to make money and for the first time really they have the chance to make a star. They're going to protect their investment. Plus everyone is playing this all by ear. This season of AI was like none other before it on so many levels. So they're going to be cautious. You need to understand that. Or maybe you do and have an agenda.

 I'm just gonna copy and paste the stuff I posted last night about the other entitled Kindergartners in the gay play-group.:

And as for all the queer-nation on the message boards I've been reading...SHAME ON EVERYONE OF YOU THAT I READ BITCHING TODAY!! What the fuck do you want from Adam? Some of you came right out and said you were suddenly shocked that he meant it when he said he's not going to be a civil rights poster-child. Huh? First...yes, Adam is Jewish but he's not the Messiah. He's not gonna go in there and lay down the dream he worked so hard for to save the LGBT community from itself. Also J.C. said "Sinners heal yourselves". Adam's paying his dues. He's been fighting his own personal battle along with fighting side by side with his friends for the past 10 years. Where were you? Why should he put himself hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to 19/SMG/RCA for you? Have you done something to deserve that? Because if he commits to being your champion, then he's going to end up focusing more on fighting the lions in arena than actually making records and touring so he can generate income to pay the label and management back.

Oh I'm sorry, you don't understand a record or management contracts? Here's the thing. When you read in the entertainment rags that so-and-so got a half-million dollar contract? The label and/or management group did not just GIVE that money to the artist and say have a ball? No, that's a loan. The artist must then rely on their own strengths along with those of their A&R person to start with and then with producers, engineers, musicians, lyricists, etc. etc. to make the right choices to produce an album that people will buy. If enough albums are sold then the record company looks at investing a few more ducats to tour it. Still a loan folks. Are you catching my drift? Do you see why Adam needs to concentrate on making a lot of people feel happy, sexy, dancey, romantic enough to buy his stuff so that he can pay back the loan? If he's marching on governments, manning the phonebanks at GLAAD, stuffing envelopes for PFLAG and going on motivational speaking junkets the label drops him. Sony Music Group sues his ass and now we have broke, homeless, sad-panda Adam whose still out there championing for you. Are you going to pick up his tab with SMG/19?  Yeah, that's what I thought.  Are you happy now?  He sure as hell won't be.

As for Adam?   He does the gay community so much more good right now concentrating on his career. In touring this past summer he had the chance to connect with America. To at least a few people who didn't feel that way before about him, he made them more comfortable, less fearful. It was ok to like the gay guy. As for his proponents? They now felt safe to come out to public venues and show loud&proud their advocacy of the LGBT community. They found they had mass and could stand up in silent protest to the WBC. And if he's allowed to break down the barriers with more of the straight community just by being Adam and making music that makes us feel good then he is accomplishing a good thing. Once he's established himself he can become a bit more politically active.

Me? I've learned a hard lesson over the past couple of years.  People are always willing to accept free help but they don't always believe they need to be part of the process.  I've dumped more than a few bands who let me do a lot of stuff for them but then couldn't seem to find the time to respond to an email or a text message when I needed something from them to continue my work.   I am a PFLAG'er, a loud & proud hag and one of the most dedicated advocates for the LGBT community but people, I'm not going to do all the dirty work for you and neither is Adam Lambert.

Obviously I'm still in a lot of pain today.  You know.  If Adam turns his back on the LGBT's outside of his friends, I wouldn't blame him.  Right now he's actually getting treated better and expectations are more reasonable from the straights.  I hope the rainbow nation gets its shit together and sees that things like this are what make their cause all the harder.  How can you trust your adocates or any straight for that matter if you don't even trust each other?  How are people going to be willing to come to your aid if all they see is you throwing each other under the bus?  Please explain in the comments so that I can understand.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The face (and heart) of my friend Rev. Matt

I've asked my friend Rev. Matt McCaffrey to guest blog for me today.  Knowing that the congregation he is currently shepherding has taken "Open & Affirming" to a new level, I know he is someone who can give you some real life insight into agape...unconditional love.  

MamaKath asked me to meditate on what it’s like to be part of a Christian church that “goes beyond doing just the LGBT thing.” This guest entry reflects my meditations.

About me: I am an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (here in New England, mostly the white-steeple churches on every town green), and have been since 1988. I specialize in transitional ministry, serving churches where the settled pastor has left for a new call or retired (or sometimes worse), and helping them reclaim who they are while they seek new leadership. Since 1993 I’ve served nine congregations in different roles, and my state “conference” as minister of communication.

Being with a church during change is sometimes challenging, but it’s also cool because people know I’m not staying. That gives us freedom to try out new things and push some boundaries where they need to be pushed. I’ve found that, above all, people in the churches I serve are looking for love and reassurance that God accepts them. It’s my job to remember that.

I’ve been at Mansfield Center for about a year. UCC churches decide individually on…well, just about everything…but particularly on the kinds of faith stances they will take. This church declared itself “Open and Affirming” in 1991. Then and now, the ONA stance is understood by UCC churches to mean that LGBT folks are welcomed equally with everyone else who walks through the doors and participates in the church’s life and ministry. Churches who go through the ONA process and vote on it are very conscious about that meaning; maybe even self-conscious.  Things change over time, though. At some point Mansfield Center had a “Duh” moment, realizing that “Open and Affirming” meant something bigger than sexual orientation. Without detracting from the huge “chromosome barrier” that has kept so many loving people down, hidden, or away from church altogether, there are other barriers that are swept away by this statement: poverty, politics, physical ability, mental health, language.

When I started journeying with this church last October, I found that old and young were welcome. So were people with autism whose behavior would get them quietly excluded from many congregations. So is a family from Iraq, whose patriarch served as a translator for U.S. troops and therefore was living in constant danger along with his wife and seven children. This summer, the congregation agreed to sponsor them and they now worship with us regularly—bringing an Muslim flavor to our practice even as they take on a Christian flavor in theirs.

The ONA idea, still feared by some as “political,” has evolved into an agape practice in this church—and it fits well with my own outlook about what Jesus was trying to teach. God so loved the world that in ultimate generosity we were given the most precious thing God had. The rules and fences that humanity erected around that gift would have frustrated Jesus himself! They reflect our own fears and need for control, not the spirit of the gift of love God gave us.

I asked MamaKath to ask me five questions, and I’d do my best to answer them. So, here’s her interview:

MK:  When & how did you feel the call to at least attempt "agape" love?

MM: Probably before I’d heard the word or knew what it meant. Like many members of the United Church of Christ, I grew up in that other big brand-name hierarchical faith expression, and felt the call to be a priest when I was maybe 12 years old. A year or so later, hormones kicked in and I figured out why that call would be such a problem for me. (Hint: celibacy seems pretty unnatural to me.) It was my first experience of the conflict between God’s all-encompassing love and human attempts to “improve” it by putting restrictions on it.

MK:  Do you see your ministry as an effort to lead others to practicing unconditional love?

MM:  Without question. Many of the places where I’ve been called to transitional work have little tensions and resentments bubbling just under the surface. There are folks who would figuratively lay down their lives for the pastor who just left, and others who are saying under their breath (and sometimes out loud) “Good-bye, and don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out.” They hope the interim pastor (me) is going to do a “clean sweep” and get the “right people” into positions of influence. Hah! The kind of clean sweep I try to model is an inclusive one: clearing out the relationship clutter to make it possible for the right people and the other right people to be at the same table and talking again. I have taken my lumps from antagonistic people who are mad because I don’t feel particularly called to kiss their butts, but I also find that naming things for what they are tends to make room for love, respect, and healing.

MK:  What does the following mean to you: "Life isn't easy but it should be simple."

MM:  Ah, the essay!
Fewer meetings and more encounters. Fewer agendas and more action. Fewer rules and more good behavior.

Look, we could spend the next hundred years (or until Hartford becomes a beachfront community, whichever comes first) culling the Bible and looking for proof that God is for or against “the queers,” “the cripples,” “the illegals,” or whoever else we choose to name. This is how the prejudices of ancient societies get carried forward into our day, and there are some people who say that “because you’re a minister, you have to uphold these things.”

Guess what? I don’t. I was ordained a minister of the Gospel, not a minister of the Bible. My vows do hold me to rigorous study of scripture, but that word “Gospel” is not synonymous with “Bible.” It means “Good News,” and that’s what it’s all about.

I’m not here to make life even more complicated for people whose lives are already fearsomely complicated by circumstances. I’m here to say that God loves each of us, no matter who we are, no matter where we are. I think that’s a pretty simple message. Pretty profound, too.

MK:  What are some of the things your current congregation is doing to open eyes & hearts to God and each other?

MM:  I have to start with their expanded view of what it means to be “open and affirming.” Not long after I arrived a couple of our Deacons (elected to help serve the congregation in worship) approached me and wanted to know how I felt about the autistic young adult whose random vocalizations are a big part of the atmosphere during worship. They were relieved when I said it was okay with me, as I figured he was expressing his appreciation of worship (and even the sermon!) in the best way available to him. They had made the decision some time ago that he was welcome, and had met with some resistance from members of the congregation who were afraid it would offend the pastor!

I would say it’s not so much specific things the congregation is doing, so much as the way in which the congregation approaches its work. When the Supreme Court of Connecticut announced its decision to affirm same-gender marriages last October, my first thought was to consult with the church leadership about whether changes in church policy were needed now to take the possibility of performing a same-gender marriage into account. Their response was: We adopted the open and affirming stance, so what’s the problem?

MK:  Is there a plan already in operation or on the drawing board to take this agape attitude beyond the congregation and into the surrounding communities? Do you feel that "putting a face on it" needs to part of the process?

MM:  Fareed and his family are the best example of that right now. While we have adopted the role of “church family” for them, resettling them in northeastern Connecticut has been a huge and expensive undertaking. We had a community fundraising festival for them this past summer that was intentionally put into the community’s lap. (Lots of great music, by the way!) We have brought other churches, community groups, and businesses into the mix. Yesterday we learned that a local auto dealer had donated a used and reconditioned minivan to the family, and one of the other churches in the area agreed to pay for insurance so the van could be registered and driven.  Fareed and his family brought a cake for fellowship time following worship; he told me that his wife called it a “birthday” cake. Why? For the “birth” of the minivan!
Another member of the church remarked on how pleasantly surprised he was that the family had been so well accepted into the church’s life and the community’s life. I’m not. Fareed, Fatima, and their beautiful children have put a compelling face on what it means to be Iraqi, and I think it has made an agape stance possible for people who would otherwise say “it’s impossible.”

The Rev. Matt McCaffrey is an interim ministry specialist with the United Church of Christ, currently serving the First Church of Christ in Mansfield. He lives in Cheshire.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The face of my friend Mat Devine

This was not the blog I was going to write but I feel that it needs to be written today.  It speaks so profoundly of what this journal is about....putting a face on it.  Putting a face on another's trials to see how petty yours really are.  Putting a face on determination and commitment to a cause.  Putting a heart behind a face that might scare you cuz it's a little different.

This is my friend Mat's face:

This is my friend Mat's heart...I will carry it with me always:

A lot of people would find me and my friend Mat intimidating because we are different.  Mat wears eyeliner, has his nose and ears pierced and generally wears girls jeans and jackets.  He writes and plays rock music.  He usually smells a bit..ummmm...unbathed?  He takes amazing pictures and he also blogs (check out Racoon Society on my Blog Roll).   I'm looking forward to the day that my friend Mat actually writes a novel and then his memoirs.  Mat is also tattooed like me.  His tat is one word..."Courage".  He has a lot but he doesn't realize it most of the time.  My friend Mat has the most interesting collection of close friends....John Hughes Sr & Jr, Jared Leto, Billy Corrigan, Heaven Malone, Mili, Steven Smith and Bam Margera.  He has a library of books and movies that is phenomenal and the things he can rattle off from said books and films will make your head spin.

My friend Mat is intelligent, articulate, prolific, cultured, educated, wise behind his years, creative, funny, a pain in the ass, and has a heart bigger than the planet.  He writes his best songs in the dead of winter in the middle of the night on the Navy Pier in Chicago, the city he calls home.  I know he's originally from here in Connecticut and that a piece of his heart will always live in New York City.  He believes in ghosts.  He loves ooooold buildings inside and out.  He is incredibly respectful.  He is spiritual.  He's a little boy and he giggles.  He also cries and screams and wears his heart on his sleeve.

My friend Mat preaches tolerance.  I'd like to share some excerpts from a recent Q&A blog he posted when posed with a girl's question about her mom thinking rock music was satanic:

"You know the saying “Guns don’t kill people, guys with mustaches do.“ ? That’s how I feel about religion. Undersexed, miserable people like your mom ruin it. Religion itself is not inherently crazy. We’d all love answers to the unanswerable. I get it. Here we are, floating in space. It’s a terrifying mystery where we go from here. Everyone deserves the inalienable right to believe anything he/she wants. Faith is a good thing. -just don’t confuse it with fact. No one KNOWS what happens when we die, and anyone who claims to know is, at best, unhinged, at worst, very dangerous."

He goes on to give a really great list of arguments to support intelligent thought over brainwashed ignorance:

"As a backup, I’m always a fan of open, adult conversation. A difference of opinion and can lead to a healthy, non-argumentative debate. Such a convo would force her to defend her position.. and in doing so, expose the flaws in her logic. She’s likely the product of a country and generation that emphasized loyalty to your religious heritage over independent rational thought and self-expression. Be sensitive to that. Depending on her age, rewiring might be too painful to bear. You reach a point where the values you’ve established throughout your life are like a warm blanket.. even if they are wrong. Hopefully she isn’t brainwashed beyond repair. 
I even took the time to write you some Cliff's Notes for that convo:
1. Economics: What’s a band’s financial incentive to influence their fans to do bad things? If the power of suggestion in music is so overwhelming, wouldn’t it make more sense for a band to suggest that fans buy more albums? If I wrote a song called “Buy 20 Copies of Our Album Every Day,” would it work? Discuss.
2. Many of today’s largest religions have a great deal of gravity, not necessarily because of the validity of their claims, but because of a momentum gathered over thousands of years of history. Many religions predate the human invention of Satan: Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Chinese Shamanism, Aboriginal Animism, etc… Are all religions equally legitimate and equally ridiculous? What makes one religion superior to another?
3. Ancient Mayans believed in an Underworld, and that human sacrifice could appease the gods and end a drought. Is that any more insane than what you believe? Discuss.
4. Anthony Comstock (1844-1915), was the founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Is he a villain or hero? Discuss.
5. Some people may claim that it is arrogant and narcissistic for one to believe that an all-powerful deity, who created the universe and bends time and space, could possibly have an interest in what CD your daughter listens to. How would you respond?
6. If indeed rock music is Satanic, then what else is?
Is Sex? Is beauty? Is Food? Is all pleasure? Where is the line, and who is authorized to draw it? Discuss.
7. What do Joan of Arc, Beethoven, Wagner, The Doors and Kieth Richards all have in common? All were considered “Satanic” at one time in history. Clearly the definition of Good and Evil in established religions has evolved over the past 2000 years. Might it continue to evolve further? Discuss.
8. In the SciFi novel, 1984, George Orwell paints a vision of a Totalitarian society in the future wherein all behavior and thoughts are censored and monitored by Big Brother. All individuality is condemned, punished, and ultimately erased. Does this sound familiar to you? Discuss.
9. If Satan is truly responsible for bad metal, why would he choose to spend so much of the mid 1990’s in Southern Florida?
10. Do you believe in personal responsibility? Why or why not?
11. If rock music is a cause of violence and immoral behavior, might we expect serial killers across the nation to have similar CD collections?
Listen, I know how much effort, talent, time and money my favorite bands and contemporaries put into their songs. I know how much thought and care go into creating albums with a deep purpose and positive message… albums that heal.. albums that give hope."

This is my friend Mat.  We see eye to eye on a lot of things.  I had the honor of giving him hugs when he's been way way down.  I've received hugs when I've made him feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  For as many times when my "mom side" has wanted to smack him for being stupid, my "friend side" just wants to sit down over coffee with him.  Today my heart breaks for my friend Mat because he may have finally hit the last straw as far as his music career is concerned.  He and his band brothers have lost everything to stupid, ignorant, selfish thieves.  It wasn't the monetary value of the things that will devistate these guys but the sentimental value.  

My friend Mat loves his guitar.  He's written and recorded a lot of songs with it.  Its been his companion for many years.  I've seen the tiny scratches, notes taped to the back, the wearing on the fretboard.  Now his beloved Gibson is in the hands of someone who could give a shit.  Someone who has no idea how well loved that instrument is and how the music that comes out of it makes people feel.  So I dedicate this blog to my friend Mat.  I hope you get to meet him some day.  I hope he finds his guitar.  I hope he and that guitar will fill your heart the way they have been filling mine for the past three years.  And if you meet my friend Mat, don't be scared.  It's just some added jewelry and lines drawn on his face.  His clothes are worn and need to be laundered, his hair is a disaster but under all that?  He's like you.  Just somebody who needs a little love.  Somebody who can usually use some food, a clean pair of socks and a hug.  I love you Mat.  Mom

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Difference must be set aside

I have to giggle. Earlier today I started considering my long time battle-cry of “If we don’t work together, this thing will not work”. The thought process rolled on in the vein of our differences and learning to get past them so that each of our unique talents and skills can come together to create a machine that runs, relatively, flawlessly. Some examples that came to mind made me laugh out loud in real life.

The first car of this train of that was super-heroes. Each has their own ability(ies). Even the ones with multiple powers don’t have all the ones necessary to save the world alone. They also each have some weakness so if that is discovered they need someone to jump in and keep fighting. Apparently these superheroes eventually recognized their inability to save the world as single handedly so we got things like The Justice League, the Fantastic 4, X-Men and The New Avengers.

Now consider the everyday personae of most of your favorite comic book heroes. They’re all kinda nerdy, not very pretty, probably with some annoying tick that makes other people uncomfortable to be around them. Seriously. Would you walk over and start up a conversation with Beast or the Thing if you didn’t know how cool they were? Ok, I know-Batman was the handsome Bruce Wayne with tons of money who rolled in all the high-brow circles but he was also a bit of drama-queeny, angsty emo guy. You definitely didn’t want to hang with him after a couple of drinks cuz he’d be crying in your glass and his.

Where the laughter came in was my memory of one of my favorite computer games…it was a little known title “Lost Vikings”. These three crazy little cartoon Scandahoovians had to work their way through various puzzles to get back home to their wives and girlfriends after being spirited away by some aliens with really warped senses of humor. Now the only way for them to get through each of these predicaments to move closer to the exit to the next dimension was to work together. One was very smart and could jump really far. One was a dumb lummox with a shield, which could protect them from lots of things or be used as a platform to reach higher things. The last one was the arrogant, obnoxious strong guy. He has a sword but other than that and his good looks he’s kinda useless. So each has one or two traits that would turn you off and got on each other’s nerves but the game was programmed that they couldn’t leave any of the others behind. All three had to reach the exit or they had to start over.

What does this have to do with world peace? You mean you haven’t figured it out yet? Well you know what, I’m not going to explain it right now. I’m going to wait, let you digest it and see what comments get posted and if we can start an intelligent dialogue on the subject. Peace out, bitches.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The ritualistic intro post

So, besides music, MamaKath's brain and heart are full of a lot of other stuff.  I thought about it and decided that these things warranted a separate blogoshere so as not to detract from my music ramblings and to provide a haven for those who were only interested in my thoughts, feelings, inspirations and affections in the political and spiritual realms.

The slogan for this blog came to me in an email discussion I had with a clergy acquaintence the other day after "Equality for Maine" was thwarted by a mere three precent of the population.  He and I agreed that the church had failed where "the church" prevailed.  The church has this book that talks about putting your neighbor above yourself and looking out for each other.  It speaks of compassion, mercy, justice and humility.  It tells you you will get your hands dirty if you're doing it right.  "The Church" on the other hand preaches a tinier and tinier, selfish, bitchy, prejudice, dictator diety that is anything close to Divine, holy, sacred or benevolent.  Their "god" doesn't like any of us and would prefer that we lock ourselves in our houses and cut ourselves off from any one that doesn't follow its doctrine. Their version "god" has rules...lots of rules about who is good enough and who you should take care of and how you can be better than all the other sheep and the diety will give you lots of money and you will live fat, dumb and happy all the days of your life.  Now in this crazy faci-verse you can play up to a better ticket to the afterlife by supporting the impersonal annihilation of other humans while providing equally impersonal "help" to unknown faces across the seas in the form of checks.  Your hands are squeaky clean with a nice thick coat of Purell on them.

But see the thing is, if you really wanna claim that you "know" need to go back and READ that book again.  See he said "When I was naked you clothed me.  When I was hungry you fed me.  When I was sick you took care of me and when I was in prison your visited me.  AND WHAT YOU DID FOR THE LEAST OF THESE YOU DID FOR ME".  What the guy was saying; cuz back then there were no banks, no post offices and no PayPal, was that you had to get off your fat, lazy, fearful, arrogant ass and go help people.  Don't pass off a fiver in the collection plate for some kid in Central America....go over to the Subway, buy a sandwich and bring it back to that 17-year-old runaway streetwalker you just passed while you were out shopping.  Yeah, you're gonna have to look into those sad eyes and wonder what went down in her comfortable suburban home states away from where she ended up that caused her to run.  She will give you a sad smile and say thank you.  Your heart's gonna break a little more.  For even the briefest of moments you will feel a little bit of love.  You're not going to be afraid of her any more.  You're not going to judge her in that instant.  You're gonna see her as a fellow human who maybe had a dream, maybe still has that dream but right now she's just trying to stay alive.  Trying to turn enough tricks to keep her pimp from beating her up and maybe have some place a little warmer than the street to sleep tonight.  It's probably going to get to you enough that you're going to go home and say some real prayers starting with one for forgiveness for your laziness and stupidity.  Then you're gonna pray for real help for that girl.  And you never know...The Great Spirit's reply may be that you're the help.  You're going to wake up with a need to do something.  And if you listen carefully and watch the signs...that Truly Divine Being will point you to the sources of that girl's eventual "salvation" and I'm not talking getting her to some holy roller church where some guy who plays a preacher on TV lays hands on her and the congregation of hypocrits spends the rest of her life brain-washing and laying guilt trips on her.  No I'm talking finding safe shelter, employment which provides food & clothing.  Who knows, she might get her GED and even go to college.  She may just end up the checker in your local grocery store or she may be destined to be the next Golda Meir or Madaleine Albright.  But whether "peasant" or "noble" she will live not merely survive.

Put a face on it, people.