Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The Queer Spirituality Podcast

Over the last month, it's been an ongoing pleasure to explore the Queer Spirituality podcast, hosted by Julian Crosson-Hill. Julian is a ritualist, queer spiritual guide, and life coach living out his calling in the heartland of western Ohio/eastern Indiana where he and I both started out.

He takes as his theme "the radical idea that queerness is a gift that is celebrated by the Divine." He explores the special role that queer people are meant to play in the coming spiritual awakening. And through the lives and stories of queer people, his podcast explores the many way of approaching the divine and how the sacred reveals itself in everyday action.

What I love about the episodes I've listened to is the strong conviction he shares with his guests that we have to make it up as we go along--that as badly served as we've been as GBTQ men by pretty much every mainstream religious tradition, we have to decide for ourselves what remains important to us from our respective upbringings, and what we have to discard. And then comes the real work, the adventure, and the fun. We have to assemble what we need for our own journeys from whatever lies to hand: borrowing respectfully (yes--and sometimes playfully, and subversively) from traditions that we don't find toxic precisely because we didn't experience repression within them. In short (in my words, not his) we practice a kind of radical drag of the soul.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Slow Down, Already

"But at a deeper level, the entire journey is one in which we are called over and over again to surrender to a self-transforming process not of our own making. Each time we give ourselves over to our contemplative practices, whatever they might be, we find ourselves, once again, one with the communal mystery in which there is no separate self."

James Finlay, The Contemplative Heart, p. 207.


Listen Up, Y'all

"Listen up, y'all," says Shekhinah
who looks today like a teacher
in corduroy dress and sedate boots.

"Let the smartphone rest a bit,
or learn how to hear My voice
coming through its speaker.

Let your love for Me well up
like unexpected tears. Everyone serves
something: give your life to Me.

Let the channel of your heart open
and My abundance will pour through.
But if you prefer profit, if you pretend --

if you're not real with Me
your life will feel hollow
and your heart be embittered.

I won't punish you; I won't need to.
Your hollowness will be punishment enough,
and the world will suffer for it.

So let My words twine around your arm,
and shine like a headlamp
between your eyes to light your way.

Teach them to everyone you meet.
Write them at the end of your emails
and on your business cards.

Then you'll remember how to live
with the flow of all that is holy --
you'll have heaven right here on earth."

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Reverence at Dusk

 Jesus. Shiva. Ganesha. The spirits of the Four Directions. Shekinah. The Mystery is One.

Friday, August 18, 2023

O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden

For Conrad Alexandrowicz

That afternoon, in the crypt,

I saw them coming 

over the rise, weapons 

at the ready. Only for me,

I thought at first. Then turned

aware that He 

was even more vulnerable. 

Naked. Hanging. Nailed. 

The only choice

to shield His body, knowing

the bullets might 

lodge in me, or else

passing through would knit 

us wound to wound.

Nothing for it,

then, but climbing up

to entwine Him,

as consort to

my Boddhisattva.

His erection in extremis 

miraculous, a pledge of Life's 

Longing for Itself. 

He, turned outward 

toward the death squad. I, 

facing Him. Unable 

to welcome them 

with open arms except 

by way of the embrace.

By welcoming Forgiveness

Itself deep

into my body.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

A Litany

Exposed Tip of the Heart

Key to the Temple

Taproot to the Earth

Antenna of the Soul

Ladder to Heaven

(The banners are the loving work of Barrie Petterson.)

Friday, August 4, 2023

We Are the Temple

A mandala is a two-dimensional representation of a temple, an aid to visualization as you move through the temple, contemplating its details and the lessons to be learned from them.

In the wilds of Western Maryland, we were ourselves the temple.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

A Healthy Eroticism

"Importantly, when men love, it changes the nature of their sexuality, both how they think about sex and how they perform sexually. Many men fear learning to love because they cannot imagine a sexuality beyond the patriarchal model. In a world where men love, a focus on eros and eroticism will naturally replace male obsession with sex. All men could have the opportunity to enjoy sexual pleasure, and that includes sexual fantasy, for its own sake and not as a substitute for fantasies of domination or as a way to assert manhood in place of selfhood, were they taught a healthy eroticism."

--bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, pp. 178-9.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Men and the Work of Mourning

The other night I watched Florian Zeller's 2022 film The Son, based on his stage play of 2018. I now wonder whether I saw the same film that Rotten Tomatoes gives an approval rating of 29%. Nothing I've read of the film on the web matches my experience of its portrayal of how patriarchal masculinity wreaks havoc in men's lives by forbidding them access to their own grief. 

Peter (played by Hugh Jackman) is the loving father of a newborn son by his second wife, Beth. The unfinished work of fathering his deeply troubled seventeen-year-old son Nicholas from his previous marriage to Kate breaks through this idyllic frame. Peter longs to connect, and at key moments succeeds in expressing his love toward Nicholas. Yet at every turn, he blows past acknowledgement of the psychic pain that lies behind the boy's troubling behaviour. The central trauma that's swamped his son's life--Peter's desertion of his first family--simply falls below the bar. 

Everyone in Peter's high-flying, over-achieving, overwhelmingly male professional world exudes a perfunctory warmth devoid of genuine empathy: inquiries about the state of his family are hollow gestures soliciting equally hollow responses that all is well. 

Later in the film comes Peter's devastating meeting with his own narcissistic, emotionally sadistic father, a conversation over lunch that quickly descends into a recapitulation of the heartless abandonment Peter himself suffered as a boy. In light of that scene, we understand more vividly his acknowledgement, near the end of the film, that for all his attempts to be a better father himself, his behaviour toward Nicholas has reproduced the patterns of his own upbringing.

Despite Peter's self-recriminations over a disastrous turn of events, the ultimate catalyst of tragedy subtending the whole plot is the web of emotional denial in which nearly every character is enmeshed, and in which nearly every character colludes, women as well as men. It's an ingrained pattern that goes on forbidding the deep recognition of loss. 

Without that recognition, the life that lies ahead for Peter is likely to admit of no more redemption than what has transpired to that point. His failures as a father aren't a matter of personal culpability, but of a system of relations in which he's trapped, of which he's a victim as well as a perpetuator. Throughout, it's the injunction--the quinessentially patriarchal and capitalist injunction--to get over it, solve the immediate problem, and move on with life that destroys the hope of either restoration or atonement.

The power and privilege that patriarchy accords men is a devil's bargain from which no one escapes with their life intact. Renouncing patriarchy isn't as simple as wishing it so: that's the lesson this film conveys. And perhaps that at least partly explains why audience reaction hasn't been more favourable, and why some reviews have more or less missed the point--a notable case being Nell Minow's dismissive assessment

As viewers we hate it--men hate it, and women hate it too--when men don't suck it up and soldier on. Insistence on easy, masterful resolution of loss is wired into our culture, just as it's wired into the fictional world of the film. Perhaps we're uncomfortable that the film too effectively holds a mirror up to our own intolerance of unresolved emotion, exposing our own reluctance to witness consequences that can't be easily ascribed to individual guilt or negligence. We're all for a sensitive male protagonist, but only as long as he holds it together, and isn't too flawed or damaged himself to save the day in the end.

The undoing of patriarchy is far from completed--in the world, but also within ourselves. Perhaps it can never be completed, because the allure of impervious mastery and the denial of vulnerabiltiy are too universal  ever simply to disappear, Perhaps there will always be wounded sons who go on to become clandestinely wounded and openly wounding men--some of them fathers in turn. Toxic masculinity goes on attracting a new generation of proponents. The construction of alternative masculinities is a work in progress. We're not there yet. We're only on the road.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Some Light on Solstice

These days, I'll take any and all good news that comes through in the morning paper. And today, a federal judge in Arkansas striking down that state's law prohibiting gender-affirming care for trans kids.

Eighteen other states have followed Arkansas's lead in passing such laws. All of them are now in plausible jeopardy of being struck down.

I'm grateful for the courage of the plaintiffs in the case. I'm grateful for the Arkansas ACLU for taking it up. I'm grateful for a federal judge who makes a reasoned decision in the face of the specious justifications spouted by proponents of the law.

When we come together, we're strong. When we recognize that none of us is safe until we're all safe, we claim our dignity and our power.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

A Town Hall Meeting


Please join an open conversation, this Tuesday, June 20, in a town hall meeting sponsored by the Body Electric School. You can register here.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

In the Garden

Our bodies are our gardens, to the which

our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant nettles,

or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up

thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or

distract it with many, either to have it sterile

with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the

power and corrigible authority of this lies in our


Othello, Act 1, Scene 3

In Loving Memory of Glenn Fox






Thursday, April 27, 2023

A Teacher Nobody Asks For

I've been free of chronic intense pain since a hip replacement in 2009. Until about a week and a half ago.

A stiff neck one morning intensified by midnight into pain severe enough it woke me and kept me awake, walking the floor and eventually waking my husband in panic. Finally I found the one position that seemed to alleviate it. A visit to the emergency room the next day. Then two days later, because of the underlying crappy state of my spine, an MRI. A week from now, an appointment with the spinal surgeon who's kept track of me now for over fourteen years.

Ten days into the current adventure, I find myself drawing on the wisdom of Buddhism. In short: make friends with the pain. Accept the pain as a teacher you never asked for. 

I'm not suggesting this is always possible. But taking the pain as an object of scrutiny, I can move toward understanding it as my own share of the pain--the general pain of being an enfleshed consciousness. In other words, the common lot of all humans, and beyond that, of all sentient beings. It's possible to understand it as "the price of the ticket." Or as Annie Dillard would put it, "what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the cancer cell." Joy, energy, agility are profoundly human experiences. So are sorrow, grief, illness, and pain, both physical and emotional.

It's possible to stop living in denial of this fundamental truth: that at some point in your life, you'll likely endure significant sustained pain. And eventually, you'll die. It's possible to face the pain not only as a reminder of the real nature of life in a body--not always buff, not always horny, not always strong, not always agile--but as a path into growing compassion for the suffering of others, as an entrance into solidarity with their pain.

It feels a little odd to be saying all this in the middle of the Christian season of Easter. Except that the Risen Christ appears still bearing the wounds of a horrible death. Resurrection happens not as an end-run around suffering, but straight through the middle of it. There's no choice between death and resurrection. Easter is an invitation to reframe suffering, not to escape it.

I'm being a little bit of a drama queen here. What I've experienced the last ten days is hardly sustained agony. Most of the last week, I've been capable of going about a relatively normal routine. But the deal is, we're all on a continuum. There's no reassuringly sharp boundary between the well and the unwell, the able-bodied and the disabled. We act like there is, and we cordon off disability, weakness, illness, and aging as though they had nothing to do with the way the able-bodied, the strong, the healthy, the young live their lives. We accept and celebrate only strength, youth, beauty. We fall, in other words, into a kind of "body fascism," as Brian Pronger put it in his last book before his catastrophic illness, sustained disability, and death. 

As the Buddha would tell us, all life is shot through with pervasive dissatisfaction, and the cure for pervasive dissatisfaction is non-attachment. As Jesus would tell us, when we try saving our life--when we can't let go of what we think our life should be like--we lose it by refusing to accept it with at least some degree of gratitude as it actually unfolds. When we take the uninvited discomfort of life as something we share with all flesh, we're capable of transforming it, at least sometimes, into a flicker of insight and freedom.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Portrait of the Penis as an Erection: A guest post by Tantrika au Naturale

On a recent visit to the Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology, in HaNoi, I encountered these priapic guys. 

What is more startling than their erections is that the figures are part of a “tomb house” built over the graves of “up to thirty people” to be intentionally abandoned after completion of the burial rituals. This particular tomb house was built in 1998 by five men of the Giarai (or Jarai) Arap minority ethnic group in their south-central Vietnam village intentionally for display purposes. It was then disassembled, transported to HaNoi, and reassembled among other ethnic-minority domestic and functional buildings in an open-air architectural garden. 

There are 27 three-dimensional figures mounted on the fence surrounding the “house”: most are sexually mature male and female (some of whom are very visibly pregnant) pairs,  along with a couple of child and animal figures. There is one solo man who is clearly masturbating.

The tomb house is designed to be beautiful to appease the spirits of the dead so that they do not become angry and trouble even harm the living; the overt sexuality of the figures is to ensure fertility and births.

While it's a little startling at first to see erections portrayed in public space that are not graffiti, during my visits to Asia I've noticed two- and three-dimensional portrayals of the erect human penis in the open for all to see in a number of different countries and cultures: India, Thailand, Cambodia and Bhutan, in addition to Vietnam. The purported intents for these turgid penises include fertility, pacification of potentially dangerous spirits, warding off the evil eye, and worship of Shiva.





Whereas in contemporary Western cultures, the erect penis is usually only seen in public spaces as graffiti, that was not the case in Classical Greece or Rome. Artists then portrayed both flaccid and erect penises as features of naked men engaged in athletic, military, mythological or straightforwardly erotic activities, as protective amulets, as signifiers of lust, or as pornography. While a few late 19th- and 20th-century artists have portrayed themselves masturbating, erect penises are few and far between in Western art. 

So when confronted with portrayal of a full or exaggerated erection, I ask myself: what did it signify to the creator? To its intended audience? And what does it now signify to me?