Friday, May 25, 2018

Remembering Paul Lane


Paul Lane died suddenly and unexpectedly last Sunday barely three weeks after a cancer diagnosis.  The week before, shortly after he entered the hospital for his first chemo treatment, his condition suddenly fell through the floor.  When I first visited him in the hospital, he was sedated and on a respirator.  He died just forty five minutes before I arrived last Sunday for a second visit.  Fortunately there were people to intercept me as I arrived and broke the news to me.  I visited him one last time before they removed him from the room.  He was only 57.

His passing is a great shock to me and to legions of other people.  His death is a shock not simply for its suddenness, but for the huge gap he leaves behind in the lives of so many, in the lives of the communities he served well for so long.  A lot of people depended on Paul, and he made himself indispensable.

Paul led an extraordinary life.   Originally from Trenton, New Jersey, he followed the path of so many young gay men in the late '70s and early '80s into New York and its burgeoning gay scene.  He was young and good looking and worked as a cocktail waiter at the long past and now legendary Uncle Charlie's.  He remembered wearing hot pants to work, and how sore his tuchus was from being pinched all night.  He worked as an occasional "escort," mostly as arm candy for wealthy gentlemen at public events.  He once escorted Roy Cohn to the opera.  Paul remembered him as a very bitter and paranoid man; it was not a fun date and he was glad to be paid for it.

Paul lived in Paris for five years as a young man.  He had a lover there, and they remained friends.  Paul regularly visited his ex and his family among with other old friends whenever he travelled to Paris.  Paul had a talent for languages and he spoke French like a native (so I'm told).  He also spoke Spanish, Italian, and Catalan, along with a little German.  In his years in Paris, he worked odd jobs, mostly clerical, and he got his first taste of politics; not so much in the halls of power, but in the streets.  Paul's politics were definitely to the left, and he frequently joined street protests over labor issues, gay issues, and other issues pitting the marginalized and despised against the powerful.  He remembered Paris as the place where he was tear-gassed twice as well as for his first tastes of really fine food.

Paul was a deeply religious man born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church.  He never really quite left that Catholic faith so much as the Catholic Church discarded him for being a gay man.  While in Paris, he became a regular at an Eastern Orthodox congregation in the medieval church of Saint Julien le Pauvre.  After he returned to New York, he followed the path of so many religious gay men into the Episcopal Church where he remained very active for the rest of his life.

Paul worked for many years as a travel agent for a large prestigious law firm in New York.  He arranged their travel and lodgings everywhere from London to Beijing to Lufkin, Texas.  He had great gifts for organization, administration, and diplomacy, and he used those gifts in the service of both the gay community and the Episcopal Church.

For many years, Paul ran the LGBTQ affairs office for the Episcopal Diocese of New York.  He was a long time and active member of Integrity.  He was a regular parade marshal for the Gay Pride Day march, and he organized our parish contingent and the whole Episcopal contingent in that parade.  Paul was a long time member of Saint Luke in the Fields parish which is where I knew him.  He was less interested in parish politics than in making himself available for whatever spontaneous event needed organizing and planning.  On his own initiative, he would organize small acts of charity and rescue.  He once organized a small donation drive to help out the residents of the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, people who've long been at the butt end of government and corporate power.  A mutual friend of ours, Margaret Watson who is an Episcopal mission priest there, alerted us to the hardship caused by yet another piece of spiteful federal legislation.  So Paul organized a "whip 'round" to raise some money to meet the immediate crisis on the reservation.  He made similar efforts on behalf of people in distress here in New York, and for gay people in central Africa.

Paul was one of those rare people who could light up a room whenever he walked into it.  And he could do so without dominating it.  He was a real bon vivant who thoroughly enjoyed life from good company to good food.  Doing good work and being generous was less a solemn act of self-sacrifice for him than it was a way of keeping the party going and the guests happy; a very exceptional quality for a saintly person.  He never had much money himself, and lived with a barely adequate level of comfort in a small New Jersey apartment.  He did all of his work with good cheer and humor, and his pleasure in it was infectious.  His sudden departure leaves a great big hole in the middle of so many lives.  As I said to a fellow parishioner, we now live in a post Paul world, and we are about to find out just how much we depended on him.

I will especially remember him for his generosity to me on many occasions.   There were many times when I relied on his organizational abilities.  Frequently, he volunteered his services before I asked.  On my one and only trip to Paris, he met Bill Paulsen and I in the city, helped us with hotel bookings, and especially helped with getting the disabled Bill around the city.  He was also a great guide and touring companion.  I visited some sublime places with Paul.  I saw Saint Denis, The Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, the Invalides, and Chartres with Paul.  He was the one who got us up early to avoid the lines and to see the morning sunlight pouring through the windows of the east end of the Sainte Chapelle, a sight that I shall never forget.

Thanks for everything Paul.  Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory.


Paul Lane in the ambulatory of Saint Denis in July, 2014




Yours Truly with Paul Lane on the right and Julia Alberino on the left at the 
Women's March in New York, January, 2017.
Photo by Weiben Wang


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Small Apologia



Before I depart for a summer in the heart of the old Confederacy (I will still be reachable and in touch though), here is a confessional statement. Pardon all the Christianity, but I hope there is enough here to gladden the hearts of non-Christians at least a little.
 I should also point out that consistency has never been one of my strengths.


Things I DON’T believe in:

--nationalism (Samuel Johnson was right about patriotism)
--master races
--absolute certainty (the world promises none).
--Ideology will save us
--Dogma will save us.
--The Democratic Party will save us.
--The Republican Party will save anyone who’s not a qualified paid-up member.
--politics will save us (though political action might help us)
--religion will save us (fanaticism will destroy us; religiously inspired resistance might help us)
--History (no cycles, no over-arching reason, no inevitabilities, no zeitgeist, it don’t mean a thing ‘cause it ain’t got that swing)
--Strong Leaders will save us (They only help themselves)
--Prosperity Gospel will save anyone (except the celebrity preachers who get rich off it).
--The Bible is inerrant and a science textbook, or that it’s God’s oracle. (It is what it says it is, testimony).
--Anarchy will save us
--Conformity and assimilation will save us.
--The Hidden Hand of the Free Market will save us
 --political messiahs
--That God or Nature picks winners and losers.
--That anyone earns salvation.
--That people make their own destiny (shit happens).
--Firearms will save us
--Violence will save anybody
--Ends justify means
-- Peace as Mutual Assured Destruction
--absolute self-sovereignty (in the end, everything we have including our bodies is ultimately on loan and will be paid back)
--Karma (few if any really get what they deserve or deserve what they get)
--spirit versus flesh dualisms
--One True Religion (all religion is ultimately a guess and a gamble)
--“Defeating” atheists, apostates, heretics, etc. (I’d rather just live with them)
--That God needs to be defended (God can take care of God’s self)
--A moral universe (“I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.” – Charles Darwin)
--the Afterlife (no ghosts, no séances, no zombies, no harps and golden slippers; just “dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return”)
--hell (a loving God does not make eternal torture chambers; God annihilates evil)
--A God whose existence can be proved (such a god is no God at all).
--That God is an old man
--The God is a mean old grand-daddy home from a three day drunk.
--That God is a clockmaker who winds everything up and then just watches.
--That God micromanages the cosmos and makes everything happen that does happen.
--That God is a tyrant and a monster



Things I DO believe in

--Liberty
--Equality
--Friendship
--Liberal Democracy
--Human Dignity
--Universal education and opportunity
--Universal enfranchisement
--The right of labor to organize
--Universalism
 --The rule of law
--That everyone is our neighbor (we should always try to be good ones).
--Sin (we trip over ourselves repeatedly on the way to the Celestial City or to whatever Utopia we are looking for, and we can’t help but do so)
--That human beings are fundamentally selfish and frightened creatures like all other life on earth.
--That our selfishness not only prevents us from being perfectly good, but saves us from being perfectly evil.
--That means justify ends.
--Looking and thinking for yourself and making up your own mind.
--Looking at life without illusions and without cynicism (easier said than done).
--Science (it may not save us, but it helps out a lot; the only human enterprise that begins with the assumption that it could be wrong)
--Art (wonder working that reveals meaning and bears witness; “…they weep here for how the world goes, and our life that passes/ Touches their hearts. This fame/ Insures some kind of refuge.” – Virgil)
 --Music (the most abstract of all the arts; the only one that speaks so directly to feeling, and for that is the envy of all the other arts)
--That a Palestinian Jew sits at the right hand of God on behalf of all of us.
--No matter who or what we are, Christ is always one of our own kind.
--Peace (and not passivity)
--Variety (the more the better, the overflowing abundance of life; even the superfluous, even contradictions -- what do God or nature care about consistency).
--Love (a monkey wrench thrown into the orderly workings of the world that drives gods and mortals to madness; a madness that made the world, preserves the world, and will save the world)
--Sex (the same animal urge to find pleasure in each other’s flesh can make people jealous, mad and lead to crime; and it can create mutual joy, make babies, inspire art, and build civilizations)
--Forgiveness (you can only learn this by being forgiven; when someone values your friendship over their anger)
--Reality (it’s really there independent of whatever we think or wish about it)
--That the Truth proclaimed by the Christian Faith is a Person, not a book, still less a law book.
--That the point of being a Christian is to do the Gospel, not to be a member of some country club of the Elect.
--religious pluralism (there’s no warfare more cruel and destructive than religious warfare; One True Religions must learn to live with each other)
--Faith is not certainty (and not just in religion)
--The power of metaphor and symbol
--Mercy and Compassion (two things that save the world daily).
--That the universe is meaningless (but not worthless)
--That we create meaning
--God is always bigger than our doctrines or our speculations.
--hell (a place we build for ourselves with industry and ingenuity in this life and the next; where all our fondest wishes come true; a place we go to eagerly and that locks from the inside)
--Resurrection (we will all live again; and live in the fullest sense of that word, growing, changing, and learning forever)
--That our bodies, the animal that is host to our souls, will see salvation with us.



Francisco Goya, "I Am Still Learning"



Sunday, May 20, 2018

Paul Lane





Paul Lane, a good friend to me and to so many people for many years, died today.  He was 57.
I am devastated.  The death of a good friend makes the world feel lonely and empty.
Goodbye Paul, and thanks for everything.

Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory.

EXTRA:

Paul's funeral will be on June 23 at 2PM in St. Luke in the Fields Episcopal Church in New York; the day before the Pride March, for which he organized the Episcopal delegation for many years.

Alas, I will not be able to attend.  I will be in South Carolina.



Sunday, May 13, 2018

I Hope I Live to See Democracy Again







Democracy is not Utopia. It is not the fulfillment or end of anything. Democracy does not end history, but makes it less dangerous and more bearable. Democracy can always be improved, but perfection is not in its nature. Democracy is a modus vivendi negotiated among selfish frightened human beings. People who are different from each other, who look different, speak differently, believe differently, -- even people who hate each other -- agree to somehow live together. Factions, parties, interests, constituencies can compete for power without murdering each other. The rule of law means safety for everyone, but especially for minorities from the tyranny of overbearing majorities. People can live their lives as they see fit despite the pronouncements of some philosopher king or the prevailing majority opinion.

Democracy, like youth, is best appreciated when it is lost.

I hope that our current retreat from democracy is only temporary and not a permanent transformation, that this current revanchism is but a passing phase. I hope I live long enough to see democracy restored and reborn in this country. I hope I will see the USA return to its very painful and imperfect struggle to try to live out the principles of Liberty and Justice for All outlined in its founding documents. I hope to see people's work valued, that they share in what they produce, and can make a genuine claim upon their own country. I hope that people will not always be treated as a source of cheap disposable labor, or like tenants in their own country. I hope Liberty once again can lift up her lamp beside an open door welcoming the wretched refuse of teeming shores, as she did for all of our forefathers and foremothers who came here as refugees and immigrants looking for safety and a better life just like today's cast-aways. I hope to see the rule of law restored and the rule of strength and expediency rejected. I hope to see people of integrity in public life again instead of a grotesque parade of scoundrels, fanatics, thugs, racists, and paranoids.

I hope to see the USA rejoin the civilized world and once again lead by example and blaze trails for liberal democracy, for freedom and dignity for everyone.







Eva Gonzalez and James Shaw




The Women's March, January 2018




Taliesin Myrddin Nakmai-Meche, 23 died;  Ricky John Best, 53, died; 
Micha David Cole-Fletcher, 21, injured

These men intervened to stop a racist attack by Jeremy Joseph Christian upon two women on a Portland Oregon light rail train, May 26, 2017.  Christian turned and attacked them with a knife.  Two of them paid the last full measure of their devotion.  Another was badly injured.

Grateful Remembrance



Saturday, May 12, 2018

The New Messiah






"I am the Messiah you always wanted. I'm rich, white, successful, powerful, aggressive. I will wreak vengeance on all of your enemies. I will rescue you and keep you safe from all harm. I will give you glory and put humankind under your feet. I will turn stones to bread. I will conquer the earth. You will see that God is with me when the angels keep me from falling. I will remake the world and make it right by the force of my irresistible power. I speak plainly and not in riddles.
I won't disappoint you by dying on any cross."


White evangelicals quitting Christianity and trading in a Palestinian Jew for Donald Trump as their messiah makes my life a lot easier and less complicated.  It certainly clarifies things.  In the end all of that moralizing posturing was always about race and white nationalism (formerly known as racism).



Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saint Mary's Kansas City

























The very first Episcopal church I ever attended was Saint Mary's in Kansas City MO on Easter Sunday, 1980.  It remains among the most beautiful Episcopal churches I've ever prayed in; a wooden vaulted ceiling, splendid brick arcades, a wrought iron rood screen, and a Tiffany altar.  It was definitely the church of the local Establishment at one time.  Now it is marooned among parking lots and freeway interchanges next to downtown.

When I visited there on Easter, I was hooked.  I loved the liturgy and music.  For the first time in my life, I heard a sermon that spoke to me as an adult and not as a child.  After a few more visits, and some visits to some other congregations, I decided that this was the break I was looking for with the bland suburban Protestantism in a fundamentalist evangelical culture that I grew up in.  I was a secular agnostic at the time, and I so wanted a religious life again, and a specifically Christian religious life.  But, just about everything I grew up with was too anodyne or repulsive to consider returning to.  Rome and its authoritarian hierarchy wasn't an option either.  I wanted to keep my own mind and conscience, to remain myself doubts and all, and remain free.  Having grown up in a culture where hellfire is a constant terror, I became convinced that salvation must be something more than simply being spared an eternal torture chamber.  Nor did I believe that a truly loving God would create such a place, though hateful mortals just might.  God was not a monster or an extortionist.  God is Love in every sense of that word.

I've been going to Episcopal churches now for 38 years, and I am so very grateful for this non-confessional church that makes no claim beyond what's proclaimed in the Gospel and the Nicene Creed.  I remember hearing Neil Alexander (long before he became a bishop) describe the Episcopal Church as a place where a motley group of pilgrims ended up and found each other on the way to the Celestial City.  We make no claims to have The One True Answer.  We don't own any copyright on the Gospel or the Truth. We are pilgrims on the way, deeply flawed human beings, sinners like everyone else, trying to live out the Gospel as best we understand it individually and collectively.  Our mission is not to be the exclusive club of the Saved set over and against the Not-Saved, but to be Tikkun to use a Hebrew word, healing.   The Cross is not judgment, but the healing and reconciling medicine for a torn and  bloodied world.  The Gospel is not another calamity piled onto the backs of suffering humankind, but Good News -- liberation, freedom, compassion, God with us always.


Monday, April 16, 2018

The Nicene Creed



Filled to the brim with Prosperity Gospel and white nationalism, it looks like white evangelicals want to trade away the Christian faith altogether for the sake of being white. Instead of some Jew telling them that they are part of one human family, that they should love their neighbors as themselves, now they want to be told that the world is divided between “winners” and “losers,” and that God predestined them to win. White evangelicals want to hear that as white people they are set apart, that indeed they are the only people who really matter.  Their messiah is a winner, a successful rich white American; not some Palestinian Jew executed for blasphemy and sedition. They believe that a white American man like themselves sits at the right hand of God. He will judge the (inferior) nations of the world at the coming Apocalypse, so their oracles tell them.  White evangelicals believe themselves to be the betrayed and persecuted masters of the earth, chosen by God to rule over all the lesser mortals given into their tutelage.

Against this backdrop, I appreciate more and more the Nicene Creed. Saying it every Sunday becomes ever more meaningful; a human God in solidarity with us, all of us, a single human family. Not bad work for a 4th century crowd of quarrelsome clerics and officious government bureaucrats.


Icon of the Nicene Creed


EXTRA:
I should point out that I am a very agnostic believer.  I think most of the narratives in the Bible are folk tales.  I don't think anything in the Christian faith is provable or demonstrable, nor do I think that proof matters.  However, I can say this creed every Sunday without crossing any fingers.