"What will you do with your one wild and precious life..."
A sinister senate, in part...
I sometimes feel as though I am the only one who remembers the ton of shit that "The Former Guy" left behind. I have taken jobs where my predecessor left the place trashed out of incompetence, revenge, or just plain childish behavior. The bigger the job - the more damage done. And, the former president really left us in a terrible mess with sycophants mesmerized by his successful use of hubris, hoping themselves to cash in.
Anyone who followed the former president had to be crazy to take on such a job, willing to work at restoring a nation that cares and believes in ideals beyond what the previous administration had any familiarity with. I have taken on jobs like that, not really like that - but still, wondering if I was crazy to even try. And, what moved me forward was a belief in something greater than myself that insisted I place others before myself. We are rebuilding a national belief in America, if we have any hope for the idea we were founded upon to have any chance for success. So, when I read and listen and hear so many wail away at this administration and its effort after just one year - I just begin to think that I am the only one that remembers the shit that was left and that the trouble with two democrats blocking the agenda isnt the two democratis. It's the 50 lost, sinister, sychohantic 50 republicans waltzing this nation into a darkness of their own making.
What is it that makes us delight in the competition between parties when the only winners are the sad lackeys who hold onto their seats because they are too afraid to get "their seat kicked" by someone who caused this all in the first place?
Do we all not know that these republican senators and the minority in the Congress are still respondong to the unimaginable fear they felt and their supportors felt at having had a black president, and the possibility of another some day? That is why DJT was elected. The only reason.
So, anyway... when will we start holding republicans responsible? There has to be a few in that party who still care about this country and its people more than their asses. Sorry, meant "assets". No, I didn't.
Really, I am so confused by the media and others acting as if this is a one party system and the party that doesn't legislate, blocks nominees, holds back Supreme Couty justics, sees their number one priority as stopping an agenda of the administration voted in by the MAJORITY of voters in this country - seeing them as the problem rather than demading that the Senate - the whole senate get their act together or feel unimaginable pressure. Could the press, all of them, for one minute stop being so smart in their criticism and and start talking about who these obstructionists are and why they are/ Is that not news, too? Someone, somewhere please stop this crazy narrative that it is all the democrates who are failing - it's just bizarre.
C'mon. This stuff is harmful and deadly and it has to change and it will tak both parties. And if one opts out then hold them accountable. period.
Ask me, if you wish, and I'll tell you how I really fell.
The Limits of Regret on Matthew Shepard
Reflections on the 18th Anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death.
by Ray Bagnuolo
October 12, 2016
On October 6, 1988, Matthew Shepard stumbled into a trap that would leave him crucified to a buck fence on the outskirts of Laramie, WY. That evening, at a college bar, Matthew accepted a ride home from two men pretending to be gay. Once in the car, a merciless beating began.
Driving a short distance into the country, his assailants tied him to a buck fence, stepped up the beating, robbed him and left Matthew to die in near freezing temperatures. Eighteen hours later the police arrived on the scene. The responding officer stated that she found Matthew unconscious and when she lifted his head, the only place you could see the white of his face was where his tears had fallen through the blood and dirt that covered it.
On October 12, 1998, eighteen years ago today, Matthew would die of his wounds. He was 21. With many other gay men, we knew that what had happened to Matthew that night could happen to any of us. On that day, Matthew paid the price of the hatred that the queer community knows too well.
At the sentencing hearing of Aaron McKinney, one of Matthew’s two attackers, Dennis Shepherd, Matthew’s father addressed him:
”I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney, but now is the time to begin the healing process. Every time you celebrate Christmas, a birthday, or the Fourth of July, remember Matthew isn't. Every time you wake up in that prison cell, remember you had the opportunity and the ability to stop your actions that night. You screwed up, Mr. McKinney," Shepard said. "You made the world realize that a person's lifestyle is not a reason for discrimination, intolerance, persecution and violence.”
”I really don't know what to say other than that I'm truly sorry to the entire Shepard family. Never will a day go by I won't be ashamed for what I have done.”
Matthew was attacked on a Thursday. As the news spread around the world, vigils began with millions in shock and praying for his recovery. The following Sunday, I stood in the narthex of South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry, New York. The sanctuary was filled to capacity. This congregation had long welcomed gay folk; they understood how personal this was to every person who identified as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender. South Church’s leaders, themselves, had been charged by others in the church for its full welcoming of the LGBTQ community. These were brave and faithful and strong folk. They and other congregations like them knew the need for a such a sanctuary, regardless of the cost.
As I stood in that crowded space, I remember thinking, “Maybe now people would finally realize how terribly we were were treated because we were queer, how the aberrant teachings of the church had played such a role in the violence and hate crimes toward so many of us. Maybe, just maybe this would change things…”
Sadly, for all the regret expressed in the coming days that such a thing could happen, Matthew’s death would not be enough.
In June of this year, the Presbyterian Church (USA) held its General Assembly in Portland, Oregon. We were meeting at an historic time for the queer community of the church.
There had been progress.
Since May of 2011, after forty years of intense struggle, the denomination had eliminated restrictions on the ordination for queer candidates, given pastors permission to marry same gender couples and changed its constitution to define marriage as being between “two people.” The Presbyterian Church (USA) had become one of the most welcoming communities of faith on the face of the planet. Now, the work before us was to lift up these changes in a bold and public way so that all could hear the good news. The evangelistic spirit was especially strong for many of us who never forgot the violence that took Matthew’s life; we knew that faith communities needed to take the lead in unwinding the hatred they had spun, by accepting responsibility for the institution’s actions. We were on the precipice of such a time for the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Many of us believed that the next step in the process for proclamation and healing called for the institution of the church to acknowledge the harm it had done to the queer community. We believed it was time for the church to state what most every queer person and supporter knew - that it had been wrong in taking positions that marginalized - or allowed others to marginalize - our community. By making such a statement and by lifting up recent changes, we hoped that the church would enter into a new time of acceptance and unity for all. Further, many of us anticipated that such a statement would be healing and instructive, with the PC(USA) taking a leadership role in creating a safe and welcoming faith community for others to follow.
It was a pastoral, honest and bold prophetic premise that had much support. And, it had organized opposition, as well, from within some members of our own community and its leadership.
But still there was hope that this would be the time.
And then Pulse “happened.”
It was on Saturday night, June 12th, six days before the opening of the General Assembly, that a gunman entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando and opened fire. In the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. History, forty-nine people were killed and fifty-three persons were injured. For any of us who have ever been in a gay bar, we knew the setting if not the terror of that night.
Once again, an act of hatred unfolded against us and the hearts that know and love us.
What followed in the next several days is something of a blur for me. I was driving to Portland for the Assembly when news of the attack broke. As I drove the hundreds of miles that I still had to go, I did so mostly in stunned silence, thinking about the victims, thinking back to the narthex of South Church and Matthew Shepherd and so much in between.
By mid-week of the assembly, the activities of a mainline Protestant denomination at work provided some alternatives to thinking about the horrific murders of a week before, although the tragedy was far from forgotten. For me and others, the work of passing the “healing overture” took on new intensity.
We were in a kairos moment. With its decision, our denomination would soon face a nation reeling from a crime of hatred toward its brothers and sisters. It would be a response born out of immense suffering, addressing the nation, hopefully with our hearts and eyes and arms wide open.
Instead, we blinked. We chose an easier softer way, careful to offend no one.
A formidable opposition to the overture had been mounted leading up to and continuing at the assembly. Covenant Network of Presbyterians played a prominent role in opposing the original overture, brought forward by the Presbytery of New York City and concurred with by the Presbyteries of Chicago, Genesee Valley and Hudson River. Engaging in a robust media and networking effort, Covenant Network of Presbyterians also provided sympathetic commissioners on the committee with a substitute motion for them to propose. The substitute motion became the motion that the committee eventually passed, eliminating the original language that had called for an institutional admission for harms done to the LGBTQ/Q community. Of the three national groups, Covenant Network of Presbyterians, More Light Presbyterians and That All May Freely Serve only That All May Freely Serve advocated and spoke in favor of the original overture, which it originated. As reported by the Presbytery News Service on June 24, 2016:
“Declining a proposal to admit to and apologize for harming the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community, commissioners to the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church(U.S.A.) instead opted to express deep regret for ways that those minorities of “God’s beloved children” have been led to feel that they stand outside the grace of God and are unwelcome in the denomination.”
Adding to the inherent suggestion that the queer community was led to “feel” in such a way, perhaps indicating that it was our own shortcomings that caused us such distress, the final statement attempted to assuage those who needed to leave the church or felt conflicted because queer folk were now included fully in the denomination. Again, from the Presbytery News Service:
“At the same time, the resolution expresses the deep sorrow of all in the PC(USA) who have left the fellowship of the church, and expresses appreciation to those who have maintained relationships despite profound disagreement.”
The language of regret has its limitations and this left little or no mark on the church or the nation during a time of great tragedy, except to further alienate many in our community. It is a statement that comes perilously close to blaming queer folk for having been harmed - or feeling as though they had been.
On the way home from Portland, I drove Route 50 through Wyoming. I stopped in Laramie and went to the Sherwood Apartments area where Matthew was left hanging on a buck fence.
I prayed for all those who had ever felt hatred towards them for who it was God had created them to be.
I prayed for those who characterized queer folk as a “minority of ‘God’s beloved children’”, displaying their own feelings of superiority, majority and dominance.
I prayed for our denomination that had lost its prophetic voice and heart at a time it was most needed to be heard. Praying that the next time would be different.
I prayed for those who believed in their hearts that regret was enough.
I prayed for what might have been and what yet might be.
And, I prayed so as not to curse the night - or anyone else.
October 12, 2016
Raise the other volume...
It's strange sometimes. Certain days just flow; no problems, all is well, one day at a time. Then there are days when I just want to get lost. That even sounds weird to say, but it's true. Life on this planet is either lived in compartments that barely overlap or immersed in more than can ever be absorbed, let alone understood. I often have the feeling I don't know a thing when I speak with someone engage in Artificial Intelligence, for example. There is a vague sense of knowing a few of the words they use to describe their work and discoveries and future path - then the rest is like, "Who are these people?" Maybe that's what is strange - this sense of familiarity without enough bandwidth to access meaning. It leaves me either suspicious of everything or relying on decency and goodness and wise oversight so that I can trust that those who are woking on the things I know nothing about - are good and caring folks. And I think it is true. So, why then do the impostors get so much air time? Let's lower the volume on their deceptive ways and increase it on the goodness of others. Maybe that will catch on...
October 3, 2021
Mikey and Arthur: Remembering 9/11
You may have heard my "Mikey and Arnold" story of September 11, 2001. On my way home from Ossining High School - totally in shock with everyone else - I stopped at Westchester Medical Center where I was in chaplaincy training (Clinical Pastoral Education or CPE). Actually, I was drawn there more than I stopped. I went to see Mikey, a seven year-old boy who had been hit by a van, while riding his bicycle. His injuries almost took his life; it turned out God and Mikey had other plans.
That day as I walked into his room, Mikey was smiling and pointing as he watched the cartoon show "Arthur". On the other TV, turned away from his view, the day's horror was unfolding in excruciating images. I sat with Mikey and remember thinking, "The responders are where they need to be, and I am where I need to be." We watched "Arthur" until it was time to go. Mikey and "Arthur" will always be a part of what I remember about 9/11.
The best we can do at times is to be where we need to be and to be as present as we can. When we all do our part everything gets done. Or so I think, even as there is much left to do.
My prayers and presence with you as you move through these next days and lift the phone to your ear, so someone else may hear your voice and know they, too, are not forgotten.
It doesn't occur often, but now and then I find myself reluctant and resistant to - well, nearly everything. Usually it is accompanied by some of the "ennui" and "tirendness" I've written about before. Other times, though, more often these days - it seems that these "two r's" are in relationship with a "third r", that is - response.
It seems that a valid response to the ignorance of some of the masses can be a reluctance and resistance to engage with what Grandpa referred to as [the] "gabbadost" (testa dura) or hardheadeds in Italian slang.
In fact, all those slang words in Italian I learned growing up: gabbadost'; dutsi botz (tu sei pazzo) - crazy; chadrool (centriole) - not smart, like a cucumber; and others. They all seem to apply with some of my very favorite Yiddish slang to these people who make fools of themselves and attempt to take us with them with their lies and goose-down based conspiracies. [Sorry geese.] These people - who seem to be under some kind of mind control that has them following a modern day "Lying Piper" with glee and deeply rooted (and scary) convictions, even seeking approval for their marriages. (Did you read that one?!)
To engage in a conversation with the most hardheaded of the bunch is to take yourself down a rabbit hole where a Queen of Hearts hell-bent on decapitation would be the least of your surprises. To a place in Dante's Inferno - a chapter that even Virgil would likely think too strange to write.
The point is not whether these are good or bad people. I don't know. Really. But they sure do make you want to just hang out with those like yourself, people who agree and disagree and don't have to take a nation down to prove their case or their self worth.
Yeah. It seems a sane response to resist, to be reluctant and to avoid any response. And, of course, we can't do that or we'll need more vocabulary than Italian slang to describe the outcome. But, Mannaggia! (Damn!) It all sure makes me feel like walking away sometimes.
Five years ago I accepted a call to serve as interim pastor at a church in Barrow, Alaska. The final process of becoming a resident of Barrow, the furthermost northern village in North America, was to travel there, 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle to meet the folks and the community, offer a candidating sermon and await their decision. If they asked me to stay - I was on my way home to pack.
It never got that far. As I prepared to make agreed upon travel arrangements, I got a call. There was just too much concern about my being an openly gay man; I was told they would be looking for other candidates.
It was an interesting experience and there is much I could write about the process, the decision, the preparation, the disappointment and my reflections on the meaning of it all. One thing, though, I was ready to go. I was ready and I was looking forward to going. While I admit to some relief at not having to uproot my life by their change of heart - I was really really disappointed.
I have wondered why. Why would I even consider such a thing? What in me says, "Yeah! Let's go!" I would often think of the joy it would bring me to have people ask one another, "Where's Ray?" Only to hear he had gone to Barrow, Alaska. Incredulously, "Where?!" That still makes me smile. (This might very well be the sign of a twisted ego more than a faithful response to a call!) Even so, there's a bigger guiding question for me:
"Am I willing to give up everything to see what is out there and follow a call?" Apparently, to some degree, the answer to that has been, "Yes."
Such an answer doesn't "make" me one thing or another, adventurist or isolationist, for example. Maybe it's a desire to live as much life as I can while here; see as much as I can; learn as much about myself as I can; be as helpful as I can in the process - I really don't know. It's there. In me. And it always nudges.
It may be that I do believe in some "next" phase to this form of life because there is so much more to experience. It seems ridiculous to me that we are here and gone. Pre- and post- "Poof!" This is the beginning, perhaps. Perhaps, again...
There's a lot of talk about "letting go" - but then there really is letting go. And, for me, even in the enormous inaccessibility of the unknown - such an attempt is worth it. That statement may be the most important thing I've said to convince you to encourage me to just leave the "Barrow-envy" and snowshoes to others.
Wish I could. Nah. Really. I don't wish that at all.
I have learned to "be" where I am, be grateful for each place, and to find meaning - always through the interaction with others, many of whom I have come to love deeply. I have enormous admiration and respect for those do the hard work in loving and caring for others in every situation, in every place they may be, whether or not they have ever had any desire to hitch a ride on Voyager to Interstellar Space. See, there I go again!
Spiritual Change? Psychic Change?
I didn't know that I was one of those people whose drinking would eventually cause them so much trouble. At first drinking was fun, then some fun and then, well, no fun at all. No matter what I did for many years, I never found a way to control it. It controlled me. Then something happened. Not so much different from what had been happening for a while. I've heard it described as finally being "sick and tired of being sick and tired". I was there. I asked for help. This time I meant it. And, with the help of others - I stopped. And stayed stopped. That was over 38 years ago. And, everything has changed as a result.
People talk about events that happen and change everything in their life; even things they thought would never change. A psychic change? A spiritual experience? Yes and more. Whatever it may be - I know it's true because it happened to me. That means I know it can happen to others. No matter how terrible things might be - regardless of what those things might be - change is possible - maybe inevitable.
After all these years, I still don't know what it was that happened to open my eyes, my heart, my soul - and close the bottle. (Others had been telling me I should stop, but what did they know?!) Then something changed. I do know one thing, it's connected to my understanding of a loving God beyond all I knew about God - then and now. A God that most often speaks to me though others.
As we face this next phase of getting to the "other side" of the pandemic and as we move together through this persisting uncertainty, I think about all those who for political reasons, false information reasons, beliefs in their own invulnerability - won't vaccinate and mask themselves or their children. Those who will fight for their right to die and for their children's right to die of a virus - and for their right to be a spreader, without regard for others. It's a noble and sacred act to sacrifice one's life to protect others. This has nothing to do with that.
Still, maybe more people are getting sick and tired of being sick and tired. Even some of the voices of conspiracy theorists who find themselves dying of the virus are using their last breaths to tell people: "Get the damn shot!" Maybe folks who have posted signs on the lawn opposing the masking of kids - maybe they are not ready to say they've changed their minds - but they have changed their behavior. Maybe we are seeing fewer placards as kids go back to school. Maybe people have lost someone close enough to them - to cause a psychic change, to have a spiritual experience, to grow more concerned about others. I think so. I hope so.
As I said, from my own experience and that of many others, I know that people change, and I pray that the 40% of Americans who are willing to put themselves and others at-risk; complicit in providing opportunities for the spread of the virus and its variants; and engaging in activities that continue to spread the lies...I pray they change, too. Even if they don't know they must. Even if they don't think they can.
It happened to me. I pray it happens to them. Please, join me in those prayers and the openness to be there for others who need us not to push them away. They will need us when and if they reach out for help. May our hands and hearts be there for them as others' have been for us.
Please think of giving someone a call; let them hear the love in your voice - so they might better know such love in their hearts.
Driven to Distraction?
Teaching taught me that there exists a fine line between distraction and paying attention to everything. I discovered that I really like paying attention to everything. Sort of goes along with my nature to wander, explore, immerse, and discover how "surprising life" -- often surprises me.
Is that fantasy? Nah. How many times the voices have spoken and cautioned on a planned course of action. The drive I knew (still know) inside of me has a voice, too: "Try it. See what happens." And I have. And, as one of my favorite drag queens Rose Levine says, "I'm still here!"
I think that voice for me gains its strength mostly from resistance to being closeted for so many years - even before I knew what being gay or closeted was. "Closeted" can be verb used to describe a choice someone makes, as well as an act forced upon someone. I think it was the latter for me. People knew I was gay or inclined to be so as a kid - certainly as a young adult. And yet there was no opening of a door for conversation. Silence slammed me shut for a long time. And that inner, confusing, distracting voice was determined to persist. It was pretty noisy at times!
The drive to "come out" was not just about "being in someone's face" as a queer man. The drive has always been about integrity. Wholeness. The voice that fills the life, the actions and course of actions, the warnings and dismissal of those who chose to dismiss, the fear and fear of rejection - all that and more marked the path toward integrity, with inspiration and the sense that God, whatever God may be, ordained this long before any seminary placed its cornerstone. Others - not God - are the" closeting agents" of this world. Shame on them.
The price is the price of such a journey. Mostly it requires a willingness to lose what is valued by others to be able to value myself. Ourselves, perhaps.
It has driven me to distraction. Happily.
I think I have always had this, "a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement". It pops up from time to time. Ennui. I don't know if it is the same for others, but for me it has to do with a sense that there really is no place I want to live or no thing I want to do - all the time; forever; for whatever time I have left. That is: except to more deeply become human. And, I don't even know exactly what that means, but I do think it means, in part, that everything to be discovered is within us somehow and we have the time we do to explore that.
Sometimes, like now, it is to serve a congregation, opening up my humanity (which includes my spirituality) to others as best I can AND to be willing to shade my humanity with them. Where "inside" does that come from...dunno. What else is there...dunno. But that's sort of what I mean.
In that place, too, though is an awareness that for all the "human" sameness of cells and psychology - the wiring can be very different.
For example, I cannot understand - I just cannot - how people can see the January 6th Insurrection as anything but an insurrection. So, I decided to try and think like them; think like someone who mocks the Capitol Police; sees the rioters as "just tourists". And, I can't. I can't even process the thinking to get to some rational place that (1) can think like that; (2) only comig torealize that neither can they think as I. I mean it is just bull shit. Channel No. 2, with which they perfume themselves. Just look at the video.
If you think that this can be resolved, and I do; and you think that you alone can make it happen, which I sometimes do - or at least feel like I have to make this a life's work; my human exploration's purpose - well, ennui creeps up in ways that simply reflect the great overwhelming challenge of changing peoples' hearts and minds to see how wrong they are. Yes. they are wrong. Even if they say they are not. Nothing about the Insurrection was for the well-being of others; not even for those who think it was, for they - in their desire for such outcomes - become insurrectionists, violent criminals, and more. That's not good for them; how can it be? For the kool-aid? (Sorry, Kraft Heinz.)
The first thing I have to remember is that I am not the judge of anyone; I can judge them wrong in their actions, but as a human - that's not my job to judge other humans as humans. Second, I do pray for them, in my way. Praying that the gifts I have received they receive, however they may be needed in their lives. I think that prayer (as you may pray) is part of the communication system deeply embedded in humans, not quite like Chomsky's Language Acquisition Device (LAD) - but maybe. Third. I ask for help in paying attention to the needs of other humans nearby, being helpful as I can, even as I ask for guidance in how to address this sense of powerlessness over ridiculousness.
And I do this (writing). I find that if I "form" my thoughts in some external way, even if they are never read, they don't drift back into my human recesses where all thoughts go that don't get attention of some kind. I'm grateful for the many thoughts that have been sent there, but now and then - especially the ones that quickly come and go - I wish I could remember and access.
Those thoughts are likely in the same place the switch is that turns on my ability to be a polyglot. Lost that too, if I ever had it. But somewhere all that resides.
Perhaps ennui is a good sign about where one is in their human development, especially if they recognize that there is so much to being human that we will never achieve and should always be ready to be surprised. It happens, and ultimately, it is that part which chases the ennui away...the unpredictability and surprising nature of humanity ... until the next time meh sets in.
Voting? Worth Arrest?
The member of Congress was asked, "Are you willing to protest against voter suppression, even if it means being arrested? Should Americans, in general, be willing to do the same?"
For most people, being arrested for something they believe in has never been necessary. Most people have avoided incarceration for civil disobedience, while reaping the benefits of those who have paid its price.
The Congressperson answered that this fight for protecting voter rights is the "Civil Rights Movement of the moment" every bit as important as the protests of the 1960's; required to protect the rights and easy access of every American to vote. It is the fundamental foundation of our democracy.
Standing against voter suppression, big-lies, misinformation - is worth the fight and the sacrifice.
"If it takes being arrested to move us forward in passing federal laws to protect the rights of every citizen to unfettered access to the polls and the vote, then 'Yes'. They would be willing to be arrested."
Me, too. I hope you will visit.
July 23, 2021
A Unison Prayer
All that exists is underpinned by Joy.
Joy is an expression of God called “Creation”;
called “Universe”; called “Us”.
It is the “well-Being” of God’s Love, as you know God,
showered upon us in Graceful, Abundant ways.
It is ours, all ours to embrace and to share.
Help us Joyful Generous Graceful Creator
to remember how blessed we are –
and how we have the gift to bless all those you love:
“All of Us”.
Seeking Ordination - R U Out?
If you are seeking ordination and not out, please reconsider.
The secrecy involved in being closeted and ordained contributes to the lies of ministry. More, it creates a subservience to the power of domination and secrecy embedded in any fear-based system. Being closeted, especially in ministry, contributes to that which we wish to eliminate, turning that which should be prophetic into a whimper of itself.
While I cannot speak of the past nor judge those whose decisions were made in a different time, in this time - if a candidate is not ready to be out; is willing to hide who they are because they need to be ordained - then, I say, "That person should step aside until they are ready to bring the fulness of who they are into ministry that demands nothing less."
And, in case you are wondering, it is now a myth (perhaps always was) that it's better to be "quiet" about who you are and in the church so you can change it. Nothing changes in secrecy and silence - other than losing what is ultimately most important.