Monday, November 27, 2006

Listen to Dad, or Pay $1600 for Spaghetti Sauce

My dad taught long ago to always check the contents when buying something in a box, especially something expensive. He was right, as he has been about so many things: The New York Times reports today that instead of a $1600 camcorder, a couple found spaghetti sauce in the box.

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The Rittenbergs planned to shoot family movies with a new camcorder. They may have to settle for a family pasta dinner, instead. The couple paid about $1,600 for a camcorder at a Best Buy store in the St. Louis suburb of Ellisville last week. They said when they opened the box, they found something they hadn't pictured: a jar of Classico pasta sauce where the camera should have been.

''The only thing I thought was, 'you've got to be kidding me,''' Melisa Rittenberg, 36, of the southeast Missouri town Perryville, said.

Best Buy is still deciding what to do.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Improvisors Hold a Conference

I'm giving a presentation at the inaugural conference of the International Society for Improvised Music later this week. Improvising musicians tend to be so right-brained and, well, improvisational, that it is something approaching a miracle that the society has been formed and the conference has been so lovingly and efficiently organized by Ed Sarath, Sarah Weaver, and others.

There are so many presenters that aside from the keynote sessions, there will be that frustrating simultaneous-presentation phenomenon. I feel so sorry for everyone else presenting at the same time as me--they won't have an audience! (Just kidding. I hope it is not the other way around.)

The conference is at the University of Michigan. I love Ann Arbor and haven't been there for a while, so I'm really looking forward to it. Here's the blurb on my presentation:

Humanistic, Pan-Idiomatic Improvisation: Using Approaches of David Darling and Arthur Hull in Working with College Music Students

The humanistic approach to improvisation developed by David Darling and his colleagues in Music for People has profoundly influenced many musicians and educators. DePauw University cello professor Eric Edberg will discuss/demonstrate how his training with Music for People, and also with Arthur Hull (author of Drum Circle Spirit), has created opportunities for transcending classical perfectionism and fostering creativity and panidiomatic improvisation skills in himself and his students. The session includes music making; instruments welcome.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Badass Cellist

It's official: I'm a "badass" cellist--or at least the classical music in jeans concert was. (Thanks, Alek.) Now I finally know what I want my tombstone to say. (Or would say, if I was going to have a tombstone, rather than have my ashes scattered in the Gulf of Mexico--which sounds like a much more enjoyable place to spend the next billion years or so than a hole in the ground.) Pushing 50 and still badass--that really made my day!

The concert, and the idea behind it, has gotten renewed attention since Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker, mentioned it in his blog. The harpist Helen Radice recently wrote a fascinating post prompted by the concert and my ruminations on it, too. Her thoughts are particularly perceptive:

This is the problem: the deeply in love, and the rest. It always has been: I can't think of another art form that is so divided between those who simply could not live without it, and those for whom it couldn't be more irrelevant, who would, as Edberg says, rather "watch TV, or play cards, or smoke a joint, or drink a case of beer, or play Ultimate Frisbee, or hang out with friends, or even study...or...could go and listen to (what [they] assume to be) boring music and have to stifle [their] humanity." That is why opinion so divides over concerts, like Edberg's experiment, designed specifically for non-musicians. Some non-musicians dance in the aisles, but the musicians can't bear it. When the musicians are on their feet cheering, often the others are too, heading for the nearest exit.

Edberg is right that musicians should care about what our audiences will enjoy. But, because the division outlined above is the problem in the first place, a similarly divisive solution that either, but not both, the audience or the musicians like, may be a good first jolt, but is not sustainable. As a musician, that is, someone who doesn't "just love to make music, [but] need[s] to make music... if only 50 or 20 or 10 people come...[he doesn't] really care", I would argue Edberg recognises this. His concert is an emergency measure: "if it takes letting them dance to get new audiences in, let's let them dance. I can't think of anything better to do in a crisis."

Crisis measures are sometimes necessary, but they are short-term. "Accessible" concerts are about novelty, gimmicks to catch the eye.
It's well worth reading the rest of her remarks. The thing we who are interested in the future of art music need to continue to explore is how to make concerts accessible but not gimmicky. Greg Sandow (who might be my patron saint if he weren't still so very much alive and well) has written about this recently, here and here.

I'm probably the only person who has thoroughly read through not just all my posts about my concert experiment but also all the comments posted about it, both on my blog and elsewhere. It's a lot of reading; but taken together the various responses are quite informative--such a wide range of views.

By the way, the piece in the video clip is the last movement of the Haydn-Piatigorsky Divertimento in D Major. Gregor Piatigorsky, the great Russian cellist (1903-1976), arranged it from (as I understand it) a work originally for baryton, viola, and cello. Two of my teachers, Denis Brott and the late Stephen Kates, were students of Piatigorsky and quite fond of the piece.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Savage remarks

Andrew Sullivan has posted some bizarrely hateful anti-gay ramblings by Michael Savage with the invitation to substitute "Jew" for "homosexual" to see how scary the guy is. At least this sort of thing is out in the open and not being fed to children by the government, as was that awful Sid Davis film (below). How can anyone think the sort of stuff Savage does? Or is it just an act? "They want the full subjugation of this society to their agenda." Right. Equal rights for everybody. If you don't want that, then go ahead, be afraid. Be very afraid!

Dealing with the baggage

I often wonder, with some wistfulness, what life would be like had I not grown up hating myself for being gay. So much of my adult life is taken up with managing the genuinely profound emotional/spiritual damage--anxiety, depression, social phobias, internalized homophobia, etc. My greatest, and most difficult, accomplishment is just having survived. There are many blessings that have come with being gay, but there is still so much baggage that must be repacked and rebalanced every so often that it can still be exhausting, even after all sorts of therapy and support and coming out, etc.

The darkness, the sickness of the sort of homophobia I was surrounded by and absorbed as I grew up is occasionally made newly clear. I know now how much of it was the result of government anti-homosexual, anti-communist propaganda, and I've read that the government worked to make homosexuality socially unacceptable to prevent men from claiming to be gay to get out of military service during WWII and the Korean and Vietnamese wars. And then there was psychology run amok.

Exgay Watch just posted a link to the YouTube video below, on the occasion of the death of its producer. This is the sort of thing my parents were taught to believe: that "homosexuals" were "sick" men driven to seduce, molest, and even murder young boys. That's what homosexuals were back then. That's what I was taught. And so when I began to realize I was attracted to other guys, not girls, I was horrified and terrified and did everything I could to stop it.

I watched much of this video yesterday afternoon. Sickening. No wonder I have so many issues, I realized anew.

Then last night, I had the immense good fortune to be channel surfing (see, that's one addiction that can pay off sometimes) and come across the documentary A Touch of Greatness, about the extraordinary teacher Albert Cullum, on PBS. One of the most inspiring things I ever saw.

All the clips of Cullum show him to be one of the most stereotypically gay-acting people I've ever seen. Neither the documentary nor any of the hits I found in a quick Google search said he was openly gay. But I found myself wondering if any of the parents of the children in the film ever worried about him. And then I was horrified with myself for projecting that, because some corner of my brain still cannot erase the programming that conflates homosexuality and pedophilia. And I remembered that once my son (the paradoxical wonderful result of running away from my same-sex attraction) had a rather effeminate piano teacher whom I didn't want to be alone together with my son. I feel ashamed for having felt that way. And horribly angry at all those who produced the sort of crap in the clip above. And angry that nobody told me or my parents that there were great people, people like (most probably) Albert Cullum, who were homosexual.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fall colors and noise pollution

One of the WORST inventions ever invented is the leaf blower. What horrible noise pollution! Now the fall colors bring sonic annoyance with them. I suppose if I had a soundproof house it might be better, or if I lived in a neighborhood with fewer tress. Meanwhile, urrrrrrrrrrrgh.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Stealth classical music?

"Classical" music, like all labels, may have outlived its usefulness.

My first-year seminar class is putting on a concert in a few weeks as a class project. The goal is to get non-music students in the door, to an event that includes at least some classical music.

They have decided to hold the performance in a large room near the food court in the Student Union Building, and to have free desserts, so there will be somewhat of a coffee-house atmosphere. Or what a few of them think of as a coffee-house atmosphere. In doing some "market research," asking friends what they though of various titles for the concert, my students discovered that few of their friends knew what a "coffee house" is. In this age of Starbucks, where the music is not live (usually) but the CDs being sold, the association between a coffeehouse and live music no longer exists.

They also discovered that nearly 100% of their non-musician friends said they wouldn't go to something with the word "classical" in the title. (They had been thinking about "so you think you know classical music.")

"Classical music" supposedly refers to everything from Gregorian chant to Steve Reich and Kronos. It is an increasingly counterproductive label.

My students are calling their event "A Musical Buffet," and will emphasize the inclusion of jazz and African music and not use the word "classical." And they'll do some of that formerly-known-as-classical music, too.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Curioser and curioser

Oh my gosh. It hadn't even occurred to me that Ted Haggard's homosexuality might have been an open secret among, or at least self-evident to, top evangelicals. Now Andrew Sullivan has posted that this in fact was the case, at least according to Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition.

It reminds me that there is this sort of dichotomy going on with the fundamentalists/evangelicals I know personally. There are a few with whom I have a friendly acquaintanceship, through DePauw or through my kids' school and friends. The woman I know best has always been extremely kind and respectful to me, and to other gay men and lesbians with whom she's had personal contact. And yet she believes, as a matter of faith, in all the ex-gay stuff Focus on the Family and others promote. And the pastor of our town's biggest evangelical church, who I had speak in a class on gay issues once, is very friendly to me when we come across each other in a restaurant or elsewhere in town. (I'm told his wife once made him apologize, after a particularly virulent anti-gay sermon, to a teenager in the congregation who had just come out.) And he actually seemed surprised when I told him that most gay and lesbian people would find it offensive to hear him continually compare our sexual orientation to alcoholism.

I don't understand how some people can seem to accept that some people are gay, and be nice to them, and see how truly, well, gay we indeed are, and then believe that all someone needs to do is to accept Jesus, pray, and learn to feel more masculine or feminine and that will be that.

Oh, well. There's a lot about fundamentalists/evangelicals I don't get--and a lot of people who are of that religious persuasion whom I love.

Not signing on to this potentially losing cause:

James Dobson, arch-conservative founder and head of Focus on the Family (which promotes the idea that sexual orientation can be changed through counseling and prayer), has decided not to help counsel Ted Haggard (the evangelist dismissed from his church after being outed by a male prostitute) after all--too busy, Dobson says.

Or maybe he doesn't want to be associated with the country's highest profile would-be "ex gay." As the good folks over at have pointed out, Haggard's resignation letter implies he's already tried some form or forms of therapy or counseling. With an unsurprising regularity, ex-gay leaders turn out be more gay than ex. So the odds that Haggard would be a long-term success story are virtually nil--something that Dobson surely knows. (Ex-Gay Watch has a great section on "former ex-gays," by the way.)

What could possibly be worse than Haggard claiming to have "come out of homosexuality" (or something like that) and than messily fall off the straight wagon again? I wouldn't want to risk being associated with that either.

Daniel Gonzalez at EGW recently posted about two evangelists taking opposing positions regarding whether or not sexual orientation can be changed. But even Tony Camplo, whose remarks (quoted from a CNN broadcast) urge honesty, doesn't suggest that it is easy or necessarily even possible to change orientation; Campolo seems to be referring to getting control of one's sexual behavior. Gonzalez emphasizes the key point: "he's going top have to live with that orientation."

CAMPOLO: [Haggard has] said all the right things up to this point. The real question is, when he does get counsel, when he does enter into this restoration process, will he be forthcoming and honest about everything? Will he just say, I have a little problem on the side? Or will he begin to face the fact that maybe I have a sexual orientation that does not offer an easy fix. And if he does turn out to be homosexual in his orientation, he's going to have to live with that orientation and figure out what this means for the rest of his life, because there's not an easy fix for that. And to suggest that a few prayers and a few spiritual things, some scripture reading, is going to solve the problem, it won't. That's a good beginning. But -- and with God's help, he can go beyond that. But I have to tell you, you do have to go beyond just a spiritual experience in the process of restoration.
The choice is to live as an integrated, whole, self-accepting and affirming gay or bisexual man, or to continue to disavow an integral part of himself and to compartmentalize this aspect of his sexuality. As someone who's "been there, done that," I can tell you the latter course is very difficult.

Some social conservatives use the existence of ex-gay ministries and the anecdotal testimonies of (what usually turn out to be temporary) success stories to suggest that it would be not just possible but fairly easy for a gay or lesbian person to change. Look at how hard it is to change something like one's eating habits--we are a country literally eating ourselves to death. The obesity epidemic grows and grows. Think Kirstie Allie won't put the weight back on once her NutriSystem deal ends? Has Oprah ever kept weight off long term? (OK, I watch too much television.)

Sexual orientation is surely even more hard-wired than the desire for sugar and fatty foods. Dobson, no fool, is smart to distance himself from an attempt to de-gay Haggard. Which is actually good news for Haggard, who now may be one step closer to getting the love and help he needs to be who he is, not who the anti-gay evangelist movement would like to turn him into.

Weekend Reading: Sandow and Ross

Greg Sandow has a new episode posted in his The Future of Classical Music online book. As always, worthwhile and important reading. And he's been blogging up a storm lately, too.

Speaking of worthwhile blog reading, Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker, did a blog post today about the classical-music-in-jeans experiment Stephanie Gurga and I did at DePauw back in August. "Classical chaos," he calls it.

I found out about Ross's post from a notification if a new comment posted to my morning-after invitation for feedback from the audience.

I'm a classical musician who's very comfortable with applause between movements, casual dress, performers talking before and/or after pieces, and other breaches of conventional concert decorum. On the other hand my colleagues and I work hard to learn what we do, and we're pretty good at it--good enough, anyway, that we're not embarrassed to charge admission. What I saw on the short video clip (linked from Alex Ross' blog) was two musicians who know what they're doing, and a cluster of people who can't dance and were just grandstanding. Doesn't ability make a difference? If people who know how to do the waltz feel like waltzing to the second movement of the Arensky D minor piano trio, go for it. If klutzes want to upstage the musicians with an improvised quasi-polka, no thanks. . . .
Here are all my relevant blog posts, if you are just joining the discussion (in order of appearance):
Let's see, it's almost mid-November. The colleague who stopped speaking to me for a while after the "chaos" concert is being friendly again. I won't forward him the link to Ross's post!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bye, John

The embarassment of living in a district represented by John Hostettler is coming to an end. And he was trounced, 61-39, in a district gerrymandered to be Republican, in a historically Republican state. The video below, starting at about 3:00, shows just one example of why his defeat is such a relief.

What year is is it, anyway?

Um, I don't quite know what's going on in my neck of the woods (Greencastle, Indiana). Today is November 7; the local cable network, Insight Communications, just ran an add on Comedy Central for an event on November 2. Right, five days ago.

And our local paper, the Banner Graphic, ran this today:

It's time again for local businesses to break out the tinsel, lights and ornaments and get creative for the holiday season.

The Greater Greencastle Chamber of Commerce is now accepting entries for the 2005 Spirit of Christmas Award.
I guess we've decided time is relative.

Monday, November 06, 2006

I've got Dexter

under my skin.

How can I be so in love with a television show about a serial killer? With such an absurd premise as a serial killer trained to be efficient by his policeman foster father, and committed to using his drive to kill as a force for good (he kills only murderers who would otherwise kill innocent victims)? And who is finding his ability to feel emotion being brought to life by his relationship, initially faked, with a woman who is a domestic violence survivor? And is playing a mutually fascinated cat-and-mouse game with a "bad" serial killer, whose skill he greatly admires?

Ah, love is a strange thing. And Dexter is a fascinating, creative, entertainment.

Years ago I read Walter Winks Engaging the Powers, in which he makes a strong case against what he calls the "myth of redemptive violence." I thought I did not embrace redemptive violence. And yet Dexter makes me question myself. It's a smart, urbane, Miami version of a "Dirty Harry" sort of ethic.

There is a redemption going on in the story which has nothing to do with violence, an unfolding love which Dexter's secret life throws into relief. It's an allegory, I know. But it's still kinda spooky that I like it so much.

With Dexter and South Park and Weeds, all I can say is who the hell thinks this stuff up?

"Fishing" for answers?

In his New York Times blog, Stanley Fish wrote a piece on October 22 in which he narrowly defined the role of a college professor.

I am trained and paid to do two things (although, needless to say, I don’t always succeed in my attempts to do them): 1) to introduce students to materials they didn’t know a whole lot about, and 2) to equip them with the skills that will enable them, first, to analyze and evaluate those materials and, second, to perform independent research, should they choose to do so, after the semester is over. That’s it. That’s the job. There’s nothing more, and the moment an instructor tries to do something more – tries to do some of the things urged by Derek Bok or tries to redress the injustices of the world – he or she will have crossed a line and will be practicing without a license. In response to this trespass someone will protest the politicization of the classroom, after which a debate will break out about the scope and limits of academic freedom, with all parties hurling pieties at one another and claiming to be the only defenders of academic integrity.

But the whole dreary sequence can be avoided if everyone lets go of outsized ambitions and pledges to just teach the materials and confer the skills, for then no one will be tempted to take on the job of moralist or reformer or political agent, and there will be no more outcries about professors who overstep their bounds.
His comments have generated plenty of debate, at least on the Times site. There were lots of comments posted in reply to Fish's original piece, and to his reply to those comments.

One of the strongest arguments against Fish's position is that the attempt to be an impartial, disinterested facilitator of discussion and critical thinking is, for many of us, and in many areas, an impossible goal. There's always going to be some bias, even unconscious bias. No matter how much one may try, one's biases are going to shape and frame the conversation one guides. So there's more intellectual honesty in making one's opinions known.

"As I used to say to my students, I don't care if you agree with my answers. The important thing is to see that there are questions to be asked." That's from a 1995 talk by musicologist Christopher Small.

A lot depends on context, of course. With some groups of advanced and motivated students, I imagine one could stick to the role of intellectual provocateur without revealing any of one's own views. But with many of the undergraduates I teach, it's pretty difficult to teach without honestly sharing one's enthusiasm for the subject.

Of course, the sort of teaching Fish is talking about deals with the analysis of texts and the debate of abstract ideas. Much of what I do as a music professor is coaching students and deals with the nature of their process in the activities of listening to, relating to, performing, and creating music.

How would one effectively teach, for example, a course in the "appreciation" of classical music without sharing one's own enthusiasm? You've got, often as not, a bunch of kids who have never listened to classical music, think it's boring, and are taking the class pretty much involuntarily, to fulfill a requirement. Is it really inappropriate to share experiences and perspectives, as well as structure a series of experiences for the students, with a motive of helping than experience the tremendous experience that listening to classical music can be?

There was a newspaper ad many years ago for Teach for America or some other educational initiative that showed the face of a teenage boy with an on/off switch on his forehead. I don't quite remember the caption; the point was that kids don't come with a switch that easy to access. Many students need that switch of intellectual and personal engagement turned on, and many of us, especially those of us teaching on the primary, secondary, and undergraduate levels see at least part of our job as doing everything possible to turn those switches on.

I put that ad on the outside of my office door so I'd see it every morning when I went in.

Fish takes strong exception to Derek Bok's idea that colleges should do thinks like “help develop such virtues as racial tolerance, honesty and social responsibility”; “prepare … students to be active, knowledgeable citizens in a democracy”; and “nurture such behavioral traits as good moral character.” I haven't read Bok's book Our Underacheiveing Colleges, from which Fish quotes. I'm no proponent of pressuring students to adopt any particular view.

On the other had, I'd have a difficult time arguing that colleges should not promote racial tolerance, honest, social responsibility, and active, knowledgeable participation in democracy. You don't have to hide your own views to teach critical thinking and to help students learn to think for themselves. Modeling those activities, being open about ones views , can go hand in hand with encouraging students to think for themselves. As Small suggests, if a teacher makes it clear the students aren't expected to adopt the teacher's answers, there's no harm in the teacher sharing his own answers.

All that said, I imagine Fish is an engaging teacher. He certainly got me thinking on this issue.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Bearing False Witness

As usual, Andrew Sullivan hits the nail on the head:

For those who still - amazingly - believe that being gay is somehow a "choice," consider Haggard. If he could have chosen not to be gay, don't you think he would have? Even though he apparently believes being gay is "repulsive and dark" (while it is, in fact, just another wonderful way to be human), he still cannot prevail against it. It is integral to him. It has been "all of [his] adult life".

. . . What is dark and repulsive is dishonesty.

There is no commandment not to be gay. There is a commandment not to bear false witness. Haggard bore false witness - to himself, to his wife, to his traumatized kids, to his fellow gay men and women. repeatedly, pathologically, self-destructively. The right response for Christians is compassion and forgiveness. But also hope: hope that this will help spread the truth about what being gay actually is.

Haggard's nightmare may be far from over

Ted Haggard's statement to his congregation has been published, as has a letter from his wife (both .pdf files). Ted's statement says, in part,

The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.

I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life.

For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach.

Through the years, I've sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. Then, because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn't want to hurt or disappoint them.

The public person I was wasn't a lie; it was just incomplete. When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased and finally dominated me. As a result, I did things that were contrary to everything I believe.

The accusations that have been leveled against me are not all true, but enough of them are true that I have been appropriately and lovingly removed from ministry. Our church's overseers have required me to submit to the oversight of Dr. James Dobson, Pastor Jack Hayford, and Pastor Tommy Barnett. Those men will perform a thorough analysis of my mental, spiritual,emotional, and physical life. They will guide me through a program with the goal of healing and restoration for my life, my marriage, and my family.
It sounds as if he's going to stay trapped in the nightmare. The nightmare is the fantasy, in which so many evangelical/conservatives are invested, is that same-sex attraction can be prayed/counseled away, that with the help of a supernatural, personal God one can change something this fundamental and hard-wired. The nightmare is believing that one's same-sex attractions are "repulsive and dark" and "dirt." The problem nightmare is not his attraction to men, but what he has been taught and has been teaching about homosexuality.

In my last post, I said I don't consider everyone who is (primarily) same-sex attracted to be "gay." It's clear that many "ex-gay" people continue to be attracted to the same sex. They just distance their identities from this part of themselves, just as Haggard is continuing to do (although he can no longer do it in secret). They are no longer "gay," they say; they are just tempted by sin. Virtually everyone I've met, or known online, or read about, who considered themselves "ex-gay" to one extent or another, eventually realized that same-sex attraction is just part of who they are and that it was more realistic and healthy to accept themselves rather than to continue to try and deny and change themselves. You find very few genuinely long-term (i.e., over 10 years) "success" stories in the ex-gay movement.

"I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom," Haggard writes. Oh, how many times did I, and so many others, think this same thing. "Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires . . . " that he succumbed to. It does tremendous damage to say about a profoundly integral part of one's self that this is not me. Haggard is evidently going to continue to do that, at least for a while. Look at who's guiding him: listed first, James Dobson, that cruel moralist who wears a pleasant smile. The nightmare cycle of repression and denial, then the eruption of buried feelings, will continue until he can accept all of himself.

One can be deeply and even rather evangelistically Christian and openly, proudly, self-affirmingly gay or bisexual. There are thousands of members of Metropolitan Community Church members who can show him that. And you can love and be committed to your wife and children and be a wonderful, involved father, and yet choose to live separately and even divorce--while remaining loving and committed (ask my ex-wife and me). Haggard and his wife have a lot to explore. It's going to be all the harder if Haggard's primary counselors through this have strong agendas of their own. Could James Dobson ever say, "Look Ted, if you are gay I love and support you in living an honest and open life. You can be a loving and involved father to your children and a loving, committed friend to the woman now your wife. The form of your relationship may change, but your love and commitment need not."? I doubt it.

I imagine Haggard is now destined to be a poster-child for ex-gay "therapy." My condolences to him and his family. Acceptance of reality, combined with a commitment to unconditional love and unending forgiveness, is the only thing that I've ever seen be genuinely healing. Faith-based pseudo-science, wrapped in a Bible, can cause deep and lasting pain.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

"Proven without a doubt"

Well, Haggard's been fired by his church. Here's the .pdf file of the statement. "Our investigation and Pastor Haggard’s public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct."

The whole thing is sad to me. There is some sort of justice in it all. The man's arrogant, self-righteous preaching on homosexuality has undoubtedly caused extraordinary amounts of self-torment in countless of his followers who are attracted to the same sex.

In my thinking, "gay," "lesbian," and "bisexual" refer to a persons conscious identity, not the fact of same-sex attraction; it's a long story. So I don't think of Haggard at this point as a secretly gay man; I think of him as someone who now has the opportunity to create a healthy, integrated identity as an openly gay or bisexual man.

Oh, wouldn't it be nice if he becomes the next Mel White (a fundamentalist minister, speech writer, and ghost writer for Billy Graham and Pat Robertson who came out of the closet, developed a gay identity, and now is an important gay activist who founded the organization Soulforce) and recently wrote Religion Gone Bad)? I fear he is probably so enmeshed in the fundamentalist/evangelical world, and will be under so much pressure from those invested in the "ex-gay" fantasy, that it will be doubly difficult for him. On the other hand, if anyone has enough self-possession to break free, it's probably him. (Of course, I'm just speculating.)

There's a line in The Godfather Part III where the cardinal to whom Michael Corleone has confessed many things, including having his brother killed, says, "it is just that you suffer." It is just that Ted Haggard suffers. It is not just that his wife and children suffer--especially his children. "The sins of the father are visited on the son."

This personal tragedy for the Haggards (I mean the trauma to the life of the family; that Haggard, or anyone else, is same-sex attracted is not a tragedy, of course) has the potential to trigger a major rethinking of attitudes towards homosexuality in the evangelical world. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.

"Keeping Score" Hits the Bullseye

OK, I couldn't resist that tacky headline. But Keeping Score, the educational programming from the San Francisco Symphony and its music director Michael Tilson Thomas, is terrific. I watched the program on the Beethoven "Eroica" symphony a couple of nights ago. It was absolutely fantastic. I loved it. (By the way, the show's site works better in IE than Firefox, at least Firefox 2.)

GMA Story on Haggard

Ah, YouTube.

Here's the Good Morning America story on the Haggard scandal (the opening clip, from the documentary Jesus Camp, was evidently added by the poster), including another pastor at the church explaining Haggard had admitted to "some indescretions" and also clips of the escort being interviewed, and playing voice mail messages that sound exactly like Haggard and which clearly reference repeated meth (or other drug) buys. That alone--no wonder he resigned from his NAE post immediately and his church is investigating.

The sexual fantasy Jones (the now former escort) says Haggard spoke of--having an orgy with half a dozen college-age guys--sounds quite predictable for someone who had deeply repressed and bracketed off a large part of his sexuality since he was that age or younger. Watching Jones, he seems confident and open, and his words ring true to me. Haggard wears a phony smile in just about every clip I've seen, both before and after the scandal broke.

Dawkins and Haggard

Just found this interview between the arch-athiest Richard Dawkins and Rev. Ted Haggard on Andrew Sullivan's blog. It's a marvelous insight into the worldview of a fundamentalist/evangelist who can talk himself into denying overwhelming scientific evidence (in this case, about evolution). And, even in the interview, I believe I can see a deep, smoldering underlying rage--a rage that evidently flared up in the post-interview action and comments Dawkins describes.

Watching this brought right to mind The Velvet Rage, a book which (while its author seems unaware of how narrow his white, upper-middle class perspective is) taught me an incredible amount about myself, and which, despite its flaws, helps one understand and empathize with people whose lives are built around compensating for a deep sense of shame.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The bigger they come, the harder they

. . . tumble out of the closet.

In the end, the truth comes out. The incompetence and malfeasance of the Bush administration. And now the hypocrisy of one of the leading evangelical pastors and proponents of a a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage: Ted Haggard.

Many details are in dispute, but Haggard, until recently the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, and an evangelical leader with close ties to President Bush, has admitted buying methamphetamine and seeing a male escort/masseur at least once. The escort says it was much more than once: monthly visits for over three years. Haggard says he did not "have sex" with Michael Jones, the escort. (Check out the stories in the New York Times and The Advocate, which also has an interview with Jones. And Andrew Sullivan is blogging about it like crazy.)

Well, we don't know for sure, but Jones's story--that he recently saw Haggard on television and recognized him as his client, and then was so horrified to discover the damage he was doing to gay men and lesbians that he decided to out him--is plausible. And it is not implausible that Haggard could be trying to hold onto his family and his sense of internal consistency by narrowing defining what it is to "have sex." I'm well aware that many teenagers, for instance, don't consider anything but intercourse to be "sex." So you can have had countless orgasms with another person but as long as there was no intercourse, you are still a "virgin."

It's sad. Lots of anti-religious gay-rights folks are delighted. But as a gay formerly married man, who loved being married to a woman, who still loves his ex-wife, who loves his children, who loves being a family guy, I'm well aware of the pain involved for everyone. I tried throwing myself into fundamentalist Christianity, hoping Jesus could make me straight.

I can even imagine Haggard rationalizing his attraction to men as a weakness or temptation that he was unable to conquer and managed to keep in check by monthly relief. Many married, closeted men do something similar, with anonymous sex in bath houses, or with escorts, or with some regular sex buddy.

It's good that something like this brings a much needed jolt of reality into the moralistic evangelical fantasy that a religious belief and prayer and the quasi-therapy of ex-gay ministries can change someone's sexual orientation. If Haggard is indeed bisexual or primarily attracted to men, I hope he can develop a new self-identity which embraces and affirms his sexuality, and that he can use his many skills to help the conservative evangelical world move towards that same sort of acceptance and affirmation of gay men and lesbians, most crucially of young people who are discovering they are attracted to their own sex.

And I'd like to hope this might also jolt folks like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Jerry Falwell into realizing the great damage so much of what they have been preaching about homosexuality has done.

But I've given up on hoping about these folks.

"Neo Culpa"

Yesterday I wrote,

The mismanagement of national security over the past 6 years is of such a magnitude that it's nearly incomprehensible. The Iraq debacle is as sickening as it is tragic.
Well, it turns out that some of the most prominent neoconservative proponents of the Iraq war are thinking the same thing. David Rose's "Neo Culpa," which just hit the Vanity Fair website, leaves me almost speechless. Richard Perle, Kenneth Adleman, David Frum. Here's Adleman:
"I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."
And Frum:
"I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything."
When Bush was first (sort of) elected, I thought he couldn't be as stupid as he seemed. The news reports of the "CEO-style" presidency impressed me. When the invasion of Iraq was looming, a friend in the Air Force reserves told me there was no plan for after the invasion. What did he know? He was just in the reserves, for crying out loud. No President, no Secretary of Defense, no Pentagon brass could possibly undertake a war without a post-invasion plan.

Or so I thought.

I was on the fence about Iraq. Like many Americans, I decided to trust what the administration was saying. So many of my colleagues were exasperated with me. And it turns out they were right.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I love John Stewart and Stephen Colbert

And their colleagues.

This is a golden age of political satire. Both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on Comedy Central consistently illuminate political hypocrisy in a way that is wildly entertaining and profoundly insightful. They provide some of the best political commentary to be found in the media today. John Stewart is perhaps the greatest educator to ever use the television medium, and his work has given brith to Colbert's. The last person to so brilliantly use television to entertainingly educate, with such extraordinary brilliance and insight, was Leonard Bernstein. Completely different field, of course.

Last night both TDS and TCR skewered the Republican attempts to make Tuesday's election about John Kerry's gaffe. The mismanagement of national security over the past 6 years is of such a magnitude that it's nearly incomprehensible. The Iraq debacle is as sickening as it is tragic. And these brilliant political comics and satirists, masters of their media, show this in a way that is incredibly clear, and more effective than long-winded essays.