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September 2006

The Texts I've Preached From

So, somewhat out of curiosity and somewhat because I wanted to see any trends in order to prepare more wisely for the coming year, I looked back over all the sermons I've preached at the Cathedral of Hope -- Oklahoma City since April 2005 noting what had been my primary texts. The survey revealed the following number of sermons from each of these biblical books:

Mark -- 17
Genesis -- 10
Matthew -- 9
Acts -- 5
Luke -- 5
Isaiah -- 4
II Samuel -- 4
John -- 3
Philippians -- 2
Psalms -- 2
Exodus -- 1
Romans -- 1
I Samuel -- 1

A Few Comments on Some Books and TV Shows

First. I read a wonderful volume of intellectual history -- The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand. The book focuses on the lives and the development of the thought of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey, but you meet sundry other characters along the way. This isn't a philosophy book, though the summaries of their thoughts are among the best I've ever read. It is a history book. So, you learn how the Civil War really affected all of them, particularly Holmes (the only one who fought in the war). Or how the Pullman Strike deeply affected the development of Dewey's views. Among the most interesting stories was how C. S. Peirce and his dad Benjamin (a Harvard prof) testified in the nation's biggest inheritance case up until that time and how their need to give expert testimony in that case led to breakthroughs in scientific and philosophic thinking. The Peirces testified in 1867 and the inheritance in question was not finally distributed until 1952!

I loved the way the author developed the actual characters of his subjects. There are all sorts of interesting cultural connections, like their reactions to DW Griffith's The Birth of the Nation or the importance of the Chicago Columbian Exhibition. What I did find lacking, was any literary or artistic context. Surely Whitman, Melville, and Twain were part of this cultural milieu. I know the book can't be so comprehensive that it would be tedious, but at least a paragraph would have been nice.

Other than that one point, this is an excellent book. The final conclusion is that the thought of the early 20th century is needed again in the 21st century. It had fallen out of fashion during the Cold War when we were so dogmatically committed to abstract principles (something these four didn't believe in), but that that we now need to their pragmatic, pluralistic, democratic social vision.

Second. I stopped reading Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater. I know it won the National Book Award. I know it was recently listed among the great novels of the last quarter century (though his American Pastoral ranked the highest of his books). I know he is the great American novelist. But I read half and still hated it. I should have quit before that point. But I kept saying "It won the National Book Award, so . . . " But the other night I was sitting in the study looking at my shelves. When I do that two things happen. First, I realize the adventure of all the things I haven't read yet. And I also feel guilty that I haven't read them yet. There were so many books, potential good books, potential life-long favourites, staring at me that I just couldn't bring myself to keep reading a book I didn't like. So, I quit. And started Madame Bovary instead (I enjoyed the first couple of chapters).

Yes, Roth writes excellently. But both the subject matter and the method of telling the story just wasn't drawing me into the book. It did at first, but then it didn't keep me. In many ways, I felt like I'd read this before. I read Portnoy's Complaint (and loved it). I've read Roth writing graphically about male sexuality. Sure this time it is an old lech, but still, not all that different.

Roth's output the last 15 years is considered the height of his career (even topping his groundbreaking early works like Portnoy's and Goodbye, Columbus). Now, I haven't yet read American Pastoral nor the rest of his recent output, but I did read The Human Stain and didn't like it that much and now tried to read Sabbath's Theater and didn't like at all. Is there something I'm missing? Or is the world of literary criticism so sexually repressed that they get a hard-on when someone writes explicitly about sex?

Finally, television. I've caught a few of the new shows or new seasons. I enjoyed the Grey's Anatomy premiere. Six Degrees, which followed, didn't grab me. The Office premiere was both really funny and personally offensive (though even the personally offensive stuff had me laughing). Studio 60 was fan-fuckin-tastic. Still looking forward to Heroes and Ugly Betty.

Well, I'm still feeling crummy. So, I'm off to take a shot of whiskey (cuts the crud and puts you too sleep -- better than NyQuil), read some Flaubert, and count sheep.

The Flaming Lips and Not Going to ACL

So, I decided last year not to go to ACL and then they announced a great line-up. I still decided I wasn't going. Not as many friends went this year either; many for the same or similar reasons. Those that did go seem to have had a great time and many of the problems from last year weren't problems this year. Maybe I made a mistake? Oh well.

But, I did go see the Flaming Lips in concert here last Friday. They debuted new aspects of their stage show -- Wayne arrived in a UFO and road in a balloon down into the crowd who carried him aloft for five minutes while balls and confetti were being sprayed all over the place. It was impossible not to feel joyful. I think it was a great concert and maybe the best rock "show" that I've attended. Though I do think the cool air and all the smoke contributed to my malady this week.

This Week in Scott's Life

I haven't posted a blog in over a week. Shame on me. I just haven't gotten around to it. It's not that I've been super busy. In fact, I've been home a lot, sick this week. At first I just thought I was battling some allergies, now I think it must be some sort of bug because it persists and just when I think I'm feeling better, I feel worse again. It's not too bad, just a crummy, congested feeling and some aching. If it is a flu bug, it is a really mild one.

This week I did make it to a couple of meetings. The Pride Board on Monday night for the first full meeting with the new board (I was elected in August). Monday they appointed me Fundraising Committee Chairperson. Wednesday night I attended the Cimarron Alliance Foundation LGBT Outreach Committee meeting. I recently volunteered and was appointed to that committee. That was a fun meeting. The most important thing we did was talk about how to help at-risk gay youth who are kicked out of their homes. Terri Miller, who is an assistant principal of one of our high schools, said she thinks there are twelve kids in her school who have been kicked out of home because their gay. Last week one of them was sleeping on the school's steps. And the School Board refuses to listen to our pleas for protections for GLBT youth!

And I'm dating. His name is Michael Cich. We went on our first date Sept. 2. We are still in the earliest stages, but I really like him and think it will develop in the coming weeks.

While lying around sick, I watched the rest of Lost Season Two. I had seen a little over half the season last year (while living with my parents) and then dropped off during the second half. It was, overall, a strange season and no where near as much fun and exciting as the first season. But, it did seem headed in a better direction by the end of the year than it had felt at the first. It is much easier, of course, watching it this way than week-to-week. Last fall it was SO frustrating because you went months before any questions from season one were even remotely answered; it simply got more and more confusing.

Yesterday I went to see The Black Dahlia with Christa for her birthday. I loved the way it was filmed. I was working hard at grasping all the information and connections, but when it came ot the end, I was unsatisfied. Maybe if I watched it again. Or maybe it's not a good movie to watch when your head is aching already? I loved Hilary Swank. 4 film reels 3 popcorn kernels

This is a very spiritual weekend. Rosh Hashanah begins tonight. Ramadan begins tomorrow. And tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox. There will be a solar eclipse in the Southern Hemisphere tonight. Tomorrow is the Buddhist holy day Fall Ohigon, the Shinto holy day Shuki-sorei-sai, and the Wiccan festival Mabon. I had planned to be out of town, but the malady may prevent that. So, I might "celebrate" by going to the State Fair.

It's All Drag!

Saturday was the annual Studio 54 Party at Angles, and I had a blast. It was a great, crowded, fun party. But I had one problem: I and some of my friends came all dressed up in '70s-influenced "fashions," but there were only a small handful of those present who lived up to the theme. Most folk just wore the same stuff they wear out every week. I think that's something of a dereliction of gay duty. Theme parties call for appropriate music, decorations, food, drinks and outfits -- as every self-respecting fag knows. . . . [Read the rest of my monthly HNO column here]

Boring You with My Thoughts on Some Old Movies

So, I've gone back to a practice I followed in Shawnee and Fville -- checking out films from the public library. It is a great, cheap way to watch lots of movies. Here are some brief thoughts on those I've seen over the last couple of weeks.

Magnificent Ambersons

I had never seen Orson Welles' other masterpiece, considered by many to be among the greatest films ever made. The existing cut of the film is not what Welles intended the film to be. While he was out of the country after finishing the film, the studio re-cut it and burned the cut footage. A horrible outrage. Many people think that Welles' original cut might have been the greatest film ever made, but we will never know.

This is a film for those who love the craft of filmmaking. Impeccably written and acted, it is also flawlessly constructed with many filming techniques that were very difficult to execute (like the long tracking shot that follows a carriage through town).

That said, I didn't think it was one of the greatest movies that I'd ever seen. It is an excellent film, but not in my top ten.

The Women

Back in the 90's there was some talk of re-making this film, but that never happened. This was my first time to see this 1939 classic directed by George Cukor and based on a play by Clare Booth Luce. My basic conclusion is that this is the gayest film ever, despite the fact that there are no men in the movie at all. This must have been the precursor to Sex in the City. It is all about the relationships (marital and extra-marital) of a bunch of women who all possess some degree of caddy, vindictive bitchiness. My favourite moment is when Norma Shearer, who began the film as a very nice woman, looks at her mother and growls, "I grew claws." I did think that Rosalind Russell was rather ridiculous in her role. And the outfits were what passed for high fashion in 39, but look really, really stupid today. Maybe if they do a remake in the aughts it will be about a group of gay men?


Again, this was my first time to see Bette Davis' 1938 Oscar-winning performance as a Southern Belle -- the role she took after MGM blocked her from being cast in Gone with the Wind (ultimately a fortunate turn of events). This is an example of Davis at her best. She sizzles on screen. Her feisty Julie upsets gender expectations and fights for her freedoms. Poor, conventional Henry Fonda doesn't know what hit him. Of course, Julie's unconventionalness leads to pride and then tragedy. This is unfortunate really, but the fate of so many of the great women of literature and art prior to the women's movement (Medea and Lady Macbeth being prime examples). Comparing Davis' performance in this film with that of her contemporaries in The Women, you see why she stood head and shoulders above almost everyone in her generation.

Howards End

I remember going to the theatre, alone, to see this film back in 1992. I was mesmerized by its beauty and fully captivated by the story and characters. Vanessa Redgrave is suberb.

The film still captivates me, in fact, probably even moreso. There is a lyricism to it, but also great richness and depth. I like it even better than I used to. One reason was that I realized my sensibilities are somewhat different than they used to be. I more closely identified with different characters and was more judgemental of those I used to sympathize more with. I think that's a quality of fine art, that you can revisit it at different times in your life and get different things out of it.

Decalouge: One

In 1989 Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski did a ten part film for television with each episode thematically-centered on one of the ten commandments. Though I have long wanted to watch these films, I have never seen them anywhere to rent or check out.

Saturday I watched the first, based on "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." It is the story of a precocious child, Pawel, who lives with his father who is a professor and computer programmer who believes in strong AI and, the film suggests, may have created it in his home. The child also spends time with his aunt, who is a devout Roman Catholic. From the start, you know this film is headed to tragedy. Yet, the film's pacing draws suspense, despite one's knowledge of the inevitable conclusion. I found myself clutching my mouth or grasping Michael's hand as we moved slowly along to the tragedy.

I was most impressed with a visual image at the end of the film, when a circle of frozen holy water (which looks the shape and size of the host in a Mass) is touched to the forehead.

My Reflections on the Fifth Anniversary

The other night I couldn’t sleep because I kept thinking about the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and all the mistakes we’ve made the last few years. Seriously, it kept me awake. I guess I had been reading too many articles discussing this very topic.

Of course our major mistake was the invasion of Iraq. When that was first mentioned in the spring of 2002, I was puzzled. At the time I was not a pacifist and wasn’t even against the idea of an invasion of Iraq, if the timing and causes were right. My initial puzzlement related to the timing; we weren’t done in Afghanistan. Now five years later Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still at-large and the Taliban is gaining power (no one has mentioned their still-at-large leader Mullah Omar in years).

So, what should have been our priorities in the summer of 2002? My thoughts:

1) Build a civil society in Afghanistan. A coalition of governments, NGO’s, and corporations should have made their primary focus of the last five years the rebuilding of Afghanistan and creation of a civil society there.

2) Restore diplomatic relations with Iran. It has only become clear in the last few months that the result of our mistakes in Iraq won’t simply be a civil war in Iraq but is, in fact, the ascendancy of Iran as the major power in the region.

Back in the late 90’s when Iran elected a moderate, reformist president, I thought we should have restored diplomatic relations. Not having an ambassador in a country is a very childish way to act. Diplomatic relations do not imply that we endorse a government, and we usually do have diplomatic relations with our opponents.

After 9/11 we had another opportunity to restore ties. Iran had assisted the coalition and American intelligence with the invasion of Afghanistan. Plus, we should have used all the tools at our disposal in the fight with al-Qaeda.

Instead, our over-the-top rhetoric, coupled with our encircling the country with our armies (we conquered its two neighbors), threatened the Iranian population such that it became more defensive and nationalistic and instead of electing another moderate reformer, elected a hardline nationalist.

3) Encourage a civil society and the rule of law in Pakistan. Pakistan has been a valuable ally in this struggle, but also the location of many terrorists. Musharraf has stood by us, but he is unpopular with his own people, which only leads to generations of further terrorists. Pakistan needs reform. But to deal with Pakistan is also to deal with the Kashmir issue, which is an even more difficult issue than Palestine/Israel. I applaud the Bush administration for the alliance with India, a major foreign policy shift for both countries that will have long-lasting positive impact. I encourage you to read Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown which argues that the Kashmir problem is the root of much of the Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

4) Domestic issues in Western Europe. We had thought that terrorists arise in states that are non-democratic, failed, rogue, in chaos. But, instead, the terrorist cells since 9/11 have usually come from Western European countries. This summer’s thwarted attack would have been carried out by life-long citizens of our closest ally.

The Western European countries have not adequately integrated their Muslim populations. The discontent of those population is justified, though it at times goes to ridiculous extremes (the protests over the cartoons) and can ultimately lead to terrorist violence (London subway bombings).

American Muslims are actually more content and less likely to participate in Islamic fundamentalism. Why? Because we are a more religious country, and we are a more religious country precisely because we have so valued separation of church and state and religious liberty (our unique contributions to the history of government). Look at France for a contrast. A few years ago France passed a law that Arab schoolgirls could not wear the Islamic headdress to school. Such a law is unconstitutional in the United States. We have much to teach the nations of the Old World about how to better integrate their immigrant populations. After all, we have always been a pluralistic society and they are still rather new at it.

This brings us back to a basic point. The struggle against Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is a worldwide struggle. Russia, China, and India all have Muslim minorities that have, at times, resorted to terrorism. We are not in this alone, but should leading an international effort to better integrate Muslim populations.