Thursday, July 24, 2014

I Miss You, Margaret

For me, reading theology -- or any "deep" topic in general -- is often quite frustrating. I am a visual learner, in the sense that when I read words my mind "films" them. Sometimes I film the words very concretely, like when reading the Bible my mind actually tries to picture the events. What does manna actually look like when it fell from Heaven? What did the Apostle Paul actually see in Corinth that so-enraged him? (Did he see back-alley orgies? Did he see human sacrifice?) Just what did Jesus see when He found those moneychangers in the Temple, and for that matter what did the average worshipper see when this upstart young Jew went ape-shit crazy and beat the crap out of some moneychangers while throwing their tables around? (I'm particularly enamored of the image of my Personal Lord & Savior kicking the crap out of some capitalists, but I digress...)

Where my visual mind gets confounded is when I read abstract text. For me, then, reading theology can be very frustrating. As much as I seek that wordless presence of the Divine, I find it frustrating when it tells me to be still and simply know that it is God. What does God look like? How does God's voice actually sound to human ears? Or does God have no hands, no feet, no face, beyond that which was incarnated in Jesus and which is now resident in all humans since the Day of Pentecost?

I am also fascinated with one of the most curious conclusions the empirical world has given us regarding physics, and how it might apply to my interactions with the Divine Presence. Quantum entanglement. Put simply, quantum entanglement is when particles become linked and remain linked regardless of how many miles apart they travel. When one particle changes, the other particle responds -- despite no measurable evidence of a link -- and the transmission of the information from one particle to the other occurs INSTANTANEOUSLY. This, of course, violates Einstein's fundamental conclusion that the speed of light is an "absolute limit" which cannot be exceeded. Einstein himself, when confronted with the concept of entanglement, called it "spooky action at a distance."

And this is where quantum mechanics and theology become one. For me, quantum entanglement provides evidence of "intelligent design" in the Universe. Before you roll your eyes and think OMG Philip has just lost his mind, keep reading: I most emphatically do not use the term to connote anything like Creationism. For me, "intelligent design" means precisely that -- that God designed the Universe. For me, the idea that God designed the Universe (Multiverse, actually) does not in any way conflict with the scientific empirical method nor any of its conclusions. It's just that for me, things that appear mysterious in physics are only mysterious because we are not God and therefore we cannot know everything all at once.

So you might remember that this post started like it was going to be about reading, particularly "deep" texts, right? Let's return to that now.

For me the reading of words about God is exactly that -- words about God. I can never fully know God until/unless I become God. Therefore, even the most moving words about God are, at best, a crude approximation of the infinite majesty of God. I can certainly "move closer to God" by reading about God, contemplating the words I read, and experiencing the truth of those words in the so-called "real" world. But there is nontheless a limit to what I can do in my head. Sure we use less than 10% of the brain's capabilities -- on a good day -- but even if we used all 100% we would still be "less than infinite" in existence. For me, then, as a person who believes that God is the effect-without-a-cause, the alpha-omega, and a truly infinite being in a way I cannot even conceive, the very suggesting of "knowing God fully" is preposterous. Given that assumption, then, what am I left with?

I am left with embodied experience. For me, it is much more powerful to experience God. And now we step into the concept of panentheism (as distinguished from pantheism). I do experience the presence of God when I listen to the purring of my cats as they sleep on my stomach at night. I feel God in the jaw-dropping beauty I see when I drive along the Pacific Coast Highway. And I felt God's presence in my church community when we sang for two hours in the hospital at the bedside of our beloved parishioner Margaret who died this week (Wednesday, 24 July 2014 at 0815).

And yet, there is still a limitation: because my corporeal senses are finite, and the beings and objects with which I directly interact (cats, Pacific Coast Highway, and my church community from the examples above), I still am experiencing just an "approximation" of God. The magnificent works of God are not in themselves God; they are merely the immanent effects of a transcendent entity that has chosen to enter my physical reality. I will always remain fundamentally unsatisfied by such majesty when I think of what it is in comparison with God's true nature. Perhaps Tillich said it best when he wrote of the Ultimate Concern. Or maybe it was Yoda in The Empire Strikes back.

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.

I believe that. I must believe it. It must be true in order for me to make sense of the losses I have experienced in the past 7 months. I am mourning the loss of school -- there is definitely a profound loss since graduation. But the loss of which I speak in this post is due to the deaths of several people in my two church communities.

This week I am lamenting the passing from this life of my dear parishioner Margaret at Grace North. She was a mother of our congregation, demure and yet so amazingly fierce. She was a good friend. She was a fellow philologist. She loved us all so subtly and yet so palpably. I do not fear for her -- she is no longer in pain, no longer suffering. She is dancing with the angels in Heaven. She is having an eternal afternoon tea with Princess Diana. She is loving us from Heaven along with Mother Teresa. She is now part of that chorus of maternal figures that includes BobbieJean Baker. She has been promoted to the status recently given to Alexis Dolleman. She watches over us now, with my dear Grandmother Lillian Tanner. And my faith tells me that we will -- all of us -- meet again.

But it still hurts, and makes me so very sad.

And it makes me wonder: if two particles are entangled, and one particle pops out of the Universe, what becomes of the other particle? How does it continue to exist? Does it feel the loss of the other particle like how I feel the loss of Margaret so acutely? Or is there another layer of quantum reality that I cannot (yet) perceive, where the Margaret-particle did not cease to exist in this Universe but merely transitioned into a new state? If this is true then what impact does the change in that particle have on all the other particles with which it is entangled? It follows logically that there has been some sort of change in all the remaining particles. What is the nature of that change? Is it on a level I cannot (yet) perceive? Does the use of quantum mechanics as a unifying theological construct break down at this point? And will I ever know the answers to these questions?

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying "the tabernacle of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them; they will be God's people and God will be with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."
- Revelation 21:1-4 (NRSVA)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Military, Transfolk, and Hypocrisy

Trigger Warnings
Moral Values

As I often do with postings that I know will be controversial, I respectfully remind the reader that this is my blog and it shows my opinions. One of the many blessings under the "doctrine of free-speech" is that you are absolutely free to disagree vehemently with my opinions -- and you have every right to do so on your own blog. Please respect my right to speak freely by not rendering my Comments feature useless. If you want to respond at-length to this post, do so. On your own blog. Thank you.

Recently on a Facebook forum connected to my seminary, Pacific School of Religion (PSR), there was a discussion thread about military recruiters being allowed -- or prohibited -- from doing their work on our campus. Anyone who has been around any educational institution for any length of time will know that this kind of issue arises regularly and repeatedly, and has for many years. Certainly since the Vietnam Era, the populace has been willing to critically examine what messages an institution sends to its students -- intended or not -- when it permits or denies military access to recruitment efforts within the particular institution's context.

In the Spring of 2014, this issue arose again at PSR. What I found particularly interesting about how the campus-wide dialogue proceeded this time was that it focused on the military's discrimination against transfolk. As a trans ally, a military "brat" who grew up on Air Force bases until I was in high school, and as a Christian, I certainly supported the right of my community to engage critically with the issues. But I quickly realized that I was having a rather strong negative reaction to the tone that the dialogue took.

I have sat with that reaction and discerned thoughtfully about why I felt the way I felt, whether my feelings have changed, and -- at its most basic level -- just what my feelings actually were.

There is no doubt that this particular issue raises a host of other complex issues and, in true Max Weber-ian fashion, I represent a difficultly layered set of identities, priorities, and moral beliefs in response. Now that I have some distance from the community, I feel that I am able to more clearly state my thoughts on the matter. I respectfully request that you extend the same hermeneutic of generosity that you would expect from me as you read the following text. Golden-rule yaknow.


There is no doubt that the military still has a long way to go with regard to transfolk. And it makes perfect sense that the PSR community would take a stand against allowing military recruitment on campus given the fact that the military has made great forward strides with regard to the LGB part of the alphabet soup while -- like so many others (I'm lookin' at you HRC) -- continuing to throw the T letter under the proverbial bus. But, as so often whenever I swim through the political fishbowl known as Berkeley, I found myself sensing something else.

It is no great logical leap to conclude what I was sensing, because there is no doubt in my mind that there was a strong undercurrent which I have felt ever since moving out west for college at Cal-Berkeley in 1989: the community is inherently anti-military. Here is the first cliff I will jump off in this post: anyone who says that they are not anti-military but who opposes what this nation's military stands for, appears to be trying to have it both ways. It is the same logic as "hate the sin, love the sinner" ... and when someone uses that logic on us regarding our affectional orientation or gender identity, how does that make us feel?

To be absolutely clear, I am not accusing the community of intentional anti-military bias -- at least not broadly. Honestly I feel that many of the folks in the larger hybridized Berkeley community (meaning: the Cal campus + the GTU campuses + the privileged people living in the 'nice' parts of town + everyone else who is either homeless, at-risk, or both) are not actively or intentionally anti-military. In fact, my opinion is that it is even worse: the larger community is indifferent. It is so quick to protest any discussion of any action by the American military in any location for any reason, but on a day-to-day basis the community remains absolutely silent on other related moral issues... racial disparity in the services, the impact on people of color from educational aid offered in return for indentured military servitude, the entire concept of moral injury, the ravages of PTSD, the rape-culture found in many military training environments, etc.

Personally, I see this as the worst form of hypocrisy. If I could challenge the community in one area and one area only I would go right for this. If you say that you don't want a military-industrial complex to exist then what are you actually doing to create equally lucrative alternatives for young adults, particularly those without racial/economic/sociological privilege, so that they can overcome the shitty hand they were dealt in the poker-game of American life without going into the military? And furthermore, if you believe that your protests are the right thing then have you noticed that for four decades now you have not changed government orders and you have not helped the innocent victims of American military aggression abroad and you have not prevented the tremendous damage (mental and physical) that American soldiers suffer?

But lest I digress impossibly far from my topic, let me return to it: why did the events around military recruitment at PSR in the Spring of 2014 bother me so much?

What I found particularly vexing, confusing, and downright hypocritical at PSR this past spring was the stated reason that PSR prohibited a military recruiter on our campus. The stated reason was because the military continues to marginalize, stigmatize, discriminate against, and permit open hostility toward transfolk.

To clarify, yet again, I do not dispute this fact. I personally find the treatment of transfolk by my country's military nothing short of abhorrent and evil. I absolutely agree that this is the truth and I find it deeply troubling on levels I cannot even put into words. I will add, though, that Chelsea Manning now receives hormones from the military at taxpayer expense with no copay to her personally. One right-move for a prisoner, weighed against the thousands of folks who have been victimized at the hands of that same government, still does not begin to address the problem. Nevertheless, Chelsea is receiving hormones and is being permitted to live her true identity while in prison for the crimes she committed before her transition.

You may already be able to see where my logic is going. This past Spring at PSR, many of us were quick to speak out against the military recruiter coming to campus -- and yet continued to remain silent with regard to the United Methodist Church (UMC). For those who do not know, the UMC is the second-largest denomination on the PSR campus and to this day it maintains formal policies that explicitly discriminate against LGBT Christians with regard to spiritual support, church community support, and ordination to the priesthood.

Folks, I'm going to call it as I see it: this is hypocrisy.
Taking a strong moral stand is great and I support it one-hundred percent, but if we take a stand then we must be willing to critically examine ourselves and we must be willing to dive into the deep end of the pool of moral conundra. With regard to what happened at PSR last Spring: do we actually believe what we are standing up for, as a rule-of-life moral commitment, or was our response actually a situationally opportunistic smoke-screen for something else? [Or both?]

Let's review the basic facts:

1) PSR has deep ties to the UMC
2) The UMC discriminates against LGBT communities
3) The American military discriminates against one of the LGBT communities, specifically the "T"
4) The PSR community prohibited a military recruiter from appearing on campus
5) The PSR community cited #3 to justify #4
6) The PSR community continues to engage with the UMC despite #2

PSR's institutional position was to reject the military because of its history of discrimination and its specific continued discrimination against one group, while at the same time continuing to keep full covenantal ties with the UMC as it continues to discriminate against multiple groups floating in the LGBTQQIA alphabet soup. Again, I call it as I see it: this is hypocrisy. Why is it acceptable to say that we want to work "within the system" to change the Methodists while denying our students access to do work "within the system" of the military? Is it because the military overall represents values we reject? If so then why are we not saying that? If our true motivation is actually that we are anti-military and looking for a reason to deny military recruitment access to PSR then why don't we just have the guts to speak that truth?


Pause for a minute and let that question sink in. If we actually have "bigger" reasons for opposing a military presence on our campus but we cite the transfolk as "the issue" then we are not only hypocrites. We are also abusing the trans community in the same way that anti-trans activists do.

I realize that this is an inflammatory accusation, and I do not make it lightly. But I stand by it. This is the trouble, the frustration, and the extreme danger of liberal fundamentalism of the sort so common in the San Francisco region in general, and particularly within the progressive Christian communities. Yes, that's what I said. Far too many of us in the progressive Christian communities are actually fundamentalists. LIBERAL fundamentalists, yes. But still fundamentalists.

I challenge us to ask ourselves: is that what we want to be?

The most evil things that come from fundamentalism are denial of other viewpoints and denial of responsibility for one's behavior (or denial of the behavior itself). When we use one marginalized group -- in this case transfolk -- to forward our own separate agenda that includes issues far beyond just one community, we are appropriating the narrative of that marginalized group. We are using that marginalized group for our own agenda.

This is exactly what conservatives -- and specifically conservative fundamentalists -- do. Look at the current situation on the US-México border. The conservative response has been "stop illegal immigration" despite the fact that almost all these children are refugees from violence in Central America. Most of them are not even Mexican! Or, if I dare, let's talk about the situation in Gaza. Many conservatives in this country state unwavering support for Israel... but why? Do they really want the world's Jews to have a homeland per the moral teachings of the Torah? NO! The far-right conservatives in this country support Israel for two reasons: 1) they believe that they can use the Jewish state to control the Arabs and 2) they believe that the return of the Israelite tribe to Jerusalem is prophetically tied into the so-called Christian so-called Rapture. Note that in neither case is there actually any desire to help the actual people in the actual scenario. The desire of the agitator-group is to move forward with a completely different moral agenda and that agenda is not the agenda of the group being helped.

To put it more concisely:

The "illegal" kids on the border want safety from unceasing political violence in their home countries. The conservatives are using those kids in order to forward the anti-immigrant agenda.

The Palestinians want to live free from the apartheid of the Israeli nation-state. Hamas is going about it the wrong way, I agree. The conservatives are using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to forward the fundamentalist Rapture agenda.

And now, here we go:

Transfolk want to live without targeted violence, hatred, rape, and brutal murder -- not to mention living with basic things like unfettered access to bathrooms and compassionate medical care. The PSR community used the trans community to forward its anti-military agenda.

Perhaps the thing which upset me the most -- and broke my heart the deepest -- was that I observed more than one trans person doing this on the hill. And again, to clarify yet again, I do not take issue with opposing military recruitment on campus per se, and I remain absolutely open to an ongoing discussion of this issue that may result in an outcome that I cannot personally control. My personal opinion on the matter is actually irrelevant within the logical framework of the argument I make here. I support, without reservation, the right of the campus to take such a stand, but to take a stand with regard to the military but then look the other way with regard to the UMC? Really? How is that morally justifiable? How is that ethically sound? How is that not morally hypocritical?

I urge everyone in the PSR community to take a step back and actually think about the logical inconsistency in the moral stand that we took. Who are we to decide which groups we will hold accountable for their beliefs and why is it acceptable to hold one group -- the military -- to a different standard than another group -- the UMC?

I further respectfully request that we consider why we have taken this bifurcated, inconsistent moral stand at PSR. Could it have something to do with money? Would PSR suffer financially if it broke ties with the UMC over the UMC's doctrine of marginalization and discrimination against the LGBT communities? And if that is the reason why -- money -- then I strongly believe that we need to take a much deeper and painful look at ourselves, our values, our motives. Because if we hold morally inconsistent positions because of money, then we are in much bigger trouble.

In closing, let me be clear once again: I am not opposed to the UMC on the PSR campus. I am not opposed to denying the military access to recruit on campus. I am opposed to using the trans community to forward agendas that are separate from the issues that the trans community faces. So many groups have co-opted the trans narrative throughout history. We must resist doing so, even if we are motivated by a desire for a greater good. The narratives of the trans community are just as majestic, unique, and powerful as anyone else's narratives.

Let trans folk have their narrative. Stop using it for your own purposes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

One Year Ago Today

24 JUNE 2013.

I should be writing a long essay about the changes I made in my life last Spring that led up to the surgery I had on 24 June 2013. I should be writing a long essay about how I may have lost 175 pounds but I still refuse to support fat-shaming. I should be writing a long essay about how I have never felt better in my life and that my health has shown clear and incontrovertible signs of radical improvement. I should be writing a long essay about how I felt on graduation day and how my success with gastric-bypass surgery served me so well that day (and how good I looked in my graduation pictures).

But when it comes right down to it, I really cannot come up with words to adequately express how I feel. There is only one way I can adequately express my feelings about what this one-year surgiversary is, and that is to quote someone else's words.

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the lute and harp!
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!
-Psalm 150 [NKJV]

Saturday, March 29, 2014

2014 so far

Well, friends, this has been a banner year already. I was fully planning to write lots on my blog this year. I was also planning to finish my book -- and somehow defy all normality in the publishing world by getting it published. I was planning to do a concert for the Great Easter Vigil, with all Pink Floyd music. I was planning this, I was planning that.

And then God tapped the DELETE icon on the iPad of Life, and everything changed.

2014 was just 13 hours old when I found out that my dear friend BobbieJean Baker had died in a car accident on the 580 near Lakeshore Avenue. Perhaps the one point of solace I find from her death is that she was on the way home from church and died with praise in her heart and mind. But I miss her. I miss her terribly. I know that she is singing amazing Gospel music with the saints who have gone before. But here on Earth, the void is painful.

I spent most of January in a daze, coming to terms with the loss of BobbieJean. Then school started.

And God tapped the SENIORITIS icon on the iPad of Life. Ugh.
And then there was the NEED NEW PSYCH MED icon.

Now, to be clear, there has been fantastic stuff too: I made my goal-weight with regard to the weight-loss from my Gastric Bypass procedure. I am working to settle into a "new" body that weighs approximately 174 pounds. By all accounts, it is a dramatic turnaround from this time last year. That's right, it was exactly one year ago this week when I tapped out at the highest weight of my life -- 343 pounds. To have lost 169 pounds in one year is nothing short of a miracle, yet it was a miracle born of intent. My weight-loss seems largely done, although I have been seesawing up and down in a range of approximately 3-4 pounds. Perhaps I will lose just another pound or two... I'm not particularly concerned one way or the other, but I do think it would be cool if I could stay at about 172 pounds because then I could say that I lost 50% of my highest body weight (343 divided by 2 = 171.5). But God has often sought to teach me not to get hung up on being oh-so-close to something. Rather than seeing myself as just not quite "good enough" to make the 50% mark, God is instructing me to focus on just what a success I have created in the last year. I wish I could simply say "lesson learned" but I know that it is one of my personal foibles... yes, I admit it: I am a perfectionist.

And the beat goes on.

I wrote a long piece about knowing God. I was going to publish it as a blog entry today, but I think I will wait a few days. It is time to continue catching up on my schoolwork before Spring Break ends. My last Spring Break before graduation. Sacrée merde: I graduate 8 weeks from this weekend, God willing. Oh, the things I could write about that upcoming experience.

O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
-Job 19:23-27 (NRSVA)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Learning To Fly

Yes folks, this is another post about size & weight. Do not read further if you get triggered by discussion of such topics. Keep in mind that posts like this one are my story about my weight-loss experience. If you don't like it then write a post about it on your blog.

Well, this is just bizarre. I have been tall for very many years so I was expecting to feel that familiar feel -- the claustrophobia which I often feel when in tight cramped quarters. I think we can all agree that a typically outfitted Boeing 737-700 qualifies. It is the so-called "holiday season" so of course the plane is full. It takes forever for people to board. I have a ridiculously long layover in Denver so I was not so much worried about what ended up being a 15-minute-late takeoff, due literally to nothing but people being... well, people.

There is a Southwest employee in the window seat. I -- given my height -- took the aisle seat. This being holiday travel, there was absolutely no chance of getting the over-the-wing seat with the extra legroom. I knew this would likely be the case, but still there was that small part of me that felt myself gritting my teeth and just being glad that OAK-DEN is a 2h30m flight.

As I chatted with the Southwest employee about how awesome her employer is, the plane continued to fill. Soooo slooooowly. Running the concurrent narratives in my head that are always there, I kept looking for the short and underweight small person to lock eyes with and send vibes toward with the "yes, you really want to sit here in this middle seat" message.

Oh but no.

I had seen a young gentleman sitting in the boarding area beforehand. After my brief moment of realizing that I truly am a dirty old man in training, I thought to myself "I wonder what his story is." There was a gentleness there. A humility. The Obama sticker on his Mac probably made me think that, but still. And yes, he ends up needing the middle seat. He asks very politely, and of course I oblige. And then it hits me: he's tall.

Like, me tall.

I did in fact ask him his height. We are exactly the same height. And here's where I realized my place in yet another part of the rabbit-hole my life has been for the past few years... I am an open-book. I have never been good at lying. No, wait, that's not true. I am actually a consummate liar -- in the sense that I am a very good actor. But as I have gotten older, and more able to love myself, I really have come to understand one basic wisdom about living a life based on truth: it's simply easier.

This is not news. It falls along the lines of "if you always tell the truth then you do not have to remember which version of which reality you told to which person and when." This came into my mind anew as I realized that I had been sitting next to this Southwest employee and this adorable young man -- yes, he's in college so I am literally old enough to be his father -- for less than 10 minutes and I had come out to them.

No, not THAT kind of out. I assume that everyone knows I like guys by default. I came out in two other ways which are still settling into my sense of self: I am clergy, and I had gastric bypass and I have lost 162 pounds. These nice people sitting next to me congratulate me. I am still learning how to accept such sentiments.

The young man sitting next to me had an athletic build, unlike me, so I made the assumption that it would not freak him out if I asked his weight. He told me. And it was the same as mine. Holy shit.

So here I am, on this Southwest Boeing 737-700, completely full of people, waiting for the borderline apoplexy of claustrophobia to set in. But it simply DOESN'T. I am sitting next to a guy half my age who is literally the same height and weight as I am AND THERE IS SPACE BETWEEN OUR HIPS. There is enough room for two tall and thin guys, with different builds but with ridiculously long legs, to sit side-by-side with space between us. This is... amazing.

At this point I could wax poetic about the athletic build I will never have. I could lament the fact that if I were in "as good shape as" this young man I would probably weigh closer to 200 pounds because -- let's face it -- muscle is denser than fat. But no, that is not what comes into my mind. Not at all.

What comes into my mind is much more simple. And much scarier. And much more beautiful.

I feel free. Thank God almighty. There is enough room for me and someone literally my height and weight to sit next to each other on this plane. How is that possible? What in the Holy Name of Jesus The Christ have I done to my body? What magic hath God wrought in the nine months of my life since my weight-loss journey began? I am calm. I am... well, I won't say COMFORTABLE because the never-ending boney-ass thing is bugging me. But I am content. I feel like I can breathe. I actually have room to wriggle in my seat. I wriggle and the most amazing thing happens: the entire seat doesn't lurch in enforcement of the equal-and-opposite-reaction law. Suck it, Newton.

A year ago this week I was on a plane flying east from San Francisco for Christmas, and I was perilously close to needing a seat-belt extender. But now, this. It defies analysis. It is just, well, REAL. Yes, that is the word for it.

My thoughts turn back to the beautiful young man sitting next to me. I remember being his age; I remember, oh so well. I remember being insecure about my looks, thinking I was fat, knowing that the world saw me as fat. Not that I actually WAS fat, or that the world really saw me that way, but childhood narrative is hard to overcome -- the scars of the bullying from 3rd and 4th grade live on. I will probably never see myself as a "thin guy" even though I have lost weight to the point that my rib cage protrudes visibly for the first time ever in my life. I know that I still have a LOT of mental work to do with this major change in my life. And maybe there will come a day that I will not be so forthcoming about having had weight-loss surgery.

But -- to adapt Aragorn from Return Of The King -- today is not that day. Today, I am out-loud-and-proud about the blessing that God has bestowed upon me through the hands of my wonderful surgeon at Kaiser. And, like any true evangelist, I want to share this good news with the world.

I congratulate the beautiful young man sitting next to me. He asks why. I inform him that this is my first flight since my surgery and that he is the first person who gets to experience sitting next to my new size. I am not sure how much he understands it. How could he understand what a profound experience it is to be only cramped on this plane, rather than cramped and busting out all over like before my surgery?

I could get used to this. Let it be so. Amen.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory

What a week. On Saturday 11/16/2013 I was ordained into Christian ministry under the aegis of the Progressive Christian Alliance. That would've been enough, but on the morning of Sunday 11/17/2013 I finally got to see Howard Thurman's church -- as my dear friend, brother in Christ, and fellow new minister the Reverend Lee Whittaker preached about TDoR. What a statement... literally the next day after being ordained, Lee preached from the pulpit once occupied by Howard Thurman himself. And then there was TDoR. The 4M Ministries service TDoR: an experience in lessons & carols was simply staggering. We knew it was coming together well, but during our walk-through of the service on Wednesday afternoon, it was becoming clear that we had tapped a vein of sacred energy and that something was about to happen. It happened, alright. More successfully than I had even thought possible. I went into the service hoping that people would "get it" but not sure whether it would make sense to them. But it did. And to then find out that none other than Marcia McFee and her partner were in the audience and that they loved the service... that really brought it home: I am a professional minister now. 

But today, amidst all the afterglow of this incredible step forward in my ministerial formation, it is time to pause. To remember. And to reflect on what was never meant to be, what could have been, and the deep loss that this nation will never be able to fill. For me, it is a curious day -- I was born almost 8 years after JFK's assassination. But as I have learned more about the America he represented, seen with my own eyes the memorial to him in the same field where the Magna Carta was signed in modern-day England, and learned more about two of his brothers -- Ted and Robert (-aka- RFK) -- and what they stood for collectively... the more convinced I am that Satan himself went after that generation of the Kennedy clan. Nothing else makes sense to me anymore. I firmly believe that had JFK not been assassinated, this country likely would have seen President RFK... perhaps not in 1968, but possibly in 1972. Watergate never would have happened. Vietnam would have ended differently; maybe not in "victory" whatever that means, but differently somehow. And this nation would be a better place to this very day.

All of that began to end in Dallas TX on this very date exactly 50 years ago. Over the years, there have been lots of shocking twists... was JFK addicted to painkillers? Certainly. Did he ride the baloney-pony with Marilyn Monroe? Probably. Would his presidency -- even if only one term -- have set the stage for a completely different America than the one we have inherited since his and RFK's deaths? ABSOLUTELY YES.

At this point, all I am left with is the prayer that the kind of vision, the persistence of moral strength, and the straight-up courage that JFK, RFK, and Ted inspired in so many liberal leaders, will continue to live on in the up-and-coming generation of liberal leaders.

I think of some of my dear friends... people like Christine Haider-Winnett, who is directly challenging the gender-hegemony of the Roman priesthood... Chris Hockley, who is an unapologetic queer ally who has chosen to remain with his denomination despite its painfully outdated approach to queer Christians... my new friend Karla Pérez-Cordero, who recently encouraged me to never apologize for my belief in liberation theology under any circumstances... and of course friends like Lee, who is himself a mustard-seed revolution in queer and trans-focused Christian ministry... and Sarah Thompson, the most awesome rocket-scientist I have ever been blessed to know personally and count among my friends... and I realize that the flame is still lit.

May it never be extinguished. May it burn eternally, reminding us of one of the most powerful speeches ever given in the history of this nation. I reproduce the text of JFK's inaugural address, in its entirety, below. Its words speak more powerfully now than they did when first uttered in early 1961. That the man was a prophet is never more clear than when you read the words which follow.

I have added bold-emphasis in several specific places that speak directly to my feelings today as we mark exactly 50 years since the death of Camelot. I encourage all who read this post to take the text of JFK's inauguration to heart. Copy the text below, take my bold-emphasis out, then re-bold the parts which speak to you directly; then post it on your own blog. Let the eternal flame at Arlington, marking the grave sites of JFK, RFK, Teddy, and JFK's beloved Jackie, burn anew here on the Internet... world with out end, amen.

Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens:

We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom -- symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning -- signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans -- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge -- and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do -- for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom -- and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required -- not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge: to convert our good words into good deeds, in a new alliance for progress, to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support -- to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective, to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak, and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.

Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.

We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.

But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course -- both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war.

So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms, and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed, in all corners of the earth, the command of Isaiah -- to "undo the heavy burdens, and let the oppressed go free." [Isaiah  58:6 KJV]

And, if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor -- not a new balance of power, but a new world of law -- where the strong are just, and the weak secure, and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need -- not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation," [Romans 12:12 KJV] a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

¡Que viva FSLN!

Oh how hilarious is the God I serve.

Here I sit, on my ass wrapped up in a blanket since I now get cold so easily. I am writing this on my laptop MacBook Pro, and I love my life. There are some very dire not-good-things about my life right now -- mostly of a financial nature -- but overall I am grateful beyond words for God's still-speaking breath-of-life and I know now, perhaps more than ever, that God is not only a transcendent eternal entity but that God is also immanently present in my life and God cares about me personally, to the point that God gave me Jesus so that I might know God as a human can know another human.

By now it should be obvious that I am taking my core theology class requirement this semester, n'est-ce pas? But back to the point: God is one hilarious μοθερφυκερ. Or, perhaps a better -- and less R-rated way -- of stating it is thus... what is old is new again.

Next January will mark 25 years since I moved to California. That in itself is worth a full chapter in my autobiography; however, right now I am focusing on the Fall semester of 1989, my sophomore year at Cal-Berkeley. So many things happened that fall which are foundational to my sense of self as a person who is California-by-adoption. Or a Bay-Area-by-adoption. Or, perhaps most accurately, East-Bay-by-adoption. I'm a little bit 925 and a whole lotta 510. (To my readers from outside the Bay Area: 510 and 925 are the two area codes for the greater East Bay subregion of the SF Bay Area.)

Fall 1989 was the fall of the earthquake, of course, and I could devote an entire other chapter of my autobiography to that experience. But Fall 1989 was also the semester when I took a life-changing class. Introduction To Cultural Anthropology. Anthro 3. It was a survey class, designed to introduce the student to the principles and methods of the sub-discipline of anthropology known as Cultural Anthropology. It is fascinating and wonderful, and it is very-much the way I tend to see the world. But more importantly it was taught by an absolutely wonderful academic giant named Jack Potter. He was a very good lecturer and he knew his material quite well. But more importantly, he was an avowed Marxist. He announced that in the first class meeting. And I was like... oooooookay, I'm a bit scared but whatever... Berkeley, yaknow.

And then, he rocked my world. Professor Potter introduced me to what Marxism actually is. And, as it turns out, God laughed audibly at this point in my life. Of course, I didn't know what I was hearing at the time since I was totally "over that God shit" having run away from the homophobic xenophobic ickiness of my ancestral homeland. But the more I learned, the more I realized just how totally I had been lied to about the Marxist tradition.

But Professor Potter was not just a screaming-left radical Berkeleyite. He was a deeply passionate, deeply compassionate, and deeply loving man who exposed for me the evil at the heart of the military-industrial complex and who showed me how the blueprint for true liberation given to the world by Marx was so evilly sodomized by those who followed him -- Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Min, Castro, the North Korean Kim dynasty, and any number of other "Marxist revolutionaries" through time. What I learned from this professor has stayed with me ever since. Even when I was worshipping the dollar in the software and biotech industries, I could not ignore the greater truth I had glimpsed. And most importantly, Professor Potter didn't just study Marx... he saw for himself how Marxism could blend with religion to truly liberate the poor under the banner of Liberation Theology as it existed in Nicaragua before the Reagan-era Contra death-squads destroyed it in the name of "American liberation from Communism." It was at the hands of Professor Potter that some seeds were planted all those years ago.

And this fall, the seeds have sprouted into a vine. Liberation Theology has come back to me. Thank the God of Liberation, and my comrade Jesus The Christ. As for how this resurgence of Liberation Theology into my life will inform my politics, and my religious convictions, going forward... well, who can say but God. But I can say the following, as an example.

Today in the mainstream press there was a huge story about how the NSA apparently hacked into the backbones of major corporate entities such as Yahoo, Google, and perhaps even Facebook (while also spying on the leaders of our allies such as Germany), in order to mine data about personal behaviors of private citizens using the services of these mega-corporations. Well, with my newly rediscovered Liberation Theology speaking fiercely into my heart, here is my response:

At the risk of offending some of my dearly valued friends in & near Silicon Valley, I must ask: are you surprised? No, really, are you? Beyond that, though, what really gets me hot under the (clerical) collar is the way these companies are reacting to the news. Maybe I missed something fundamental here, but it seems to me that Google, Yahoo, and any other such companies are guilty of the most vile of hypocrisies when they choose to whine to the media regarding how pissed off they are that the NSA might have hacked their backbones to spy on their users. Can we take a minute to review your damn business plans? YOUR BUSINESS MODEL IS PREDICATED ON THE SAME CONCEPT! Companies like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook make their money via targeted advertising. Targeted advertising is a nice neat term invented by capitalists. It's a neat way of describing how companies SPY ON YOUR INTERNET USAGE IN ORDER TO COERCE YOU TO GIVE AWAY YOUR MONEY. Let's not kid ourselves. Such companies do not give a rat's fat ass about our privacy beyond their ability to control how they invade it. That's right. Such companies only care about CONTROLLING our privacy. These companies are bourgeois capitalist entities and their only function is to generate profit from the slave-labor of the proletariat. These companies make money by mining & selling data about what we look at on the Internet to other bourgeois powers that are coercing us into buying shit that overall we do not need. These companies are just pissed off that the NSA is better at stealing our data than they are.

Hello world. Philip Tanner, the revolutionary thinker, has returned to the building. And yes, I am fully aware that I am posting this entry on a cloud-based service controlled by one of my bourgeois masters, the Google Lord itself. The irony of this is not lost on me.

Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.
-Matthew 23:31-35 NRSVA

 ¡Que viva el Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


A strange thing has happened in the last 4-months-and-a-week. I mean, yeah, as of today I have lost one hundred forty-three pounds and it's an achievement that still dumbfounds me (stop and think about the title of this blog post for a minute), but the strange thing I am focusing on today is my sense of time. It seems as though my sense of time has been affected by my surgery.

It is not necessarily some cosmic thing. I haven't found the elusive proof of String Theory or anything so dramatic. What I have found, however, is just how much time I have reclaimed now that I do not spend as much of my life actually eating food.

One effect of my surgery, perhaps one of the most obvious effects, is that I simply do not eat the volume of food I ate before. I have to be careful -- I have to chew my food a lot more than the average person now, and I have to consciously focus on eating slowly in general. The penalties for not doing these things are quite unpleasant. But the result is that even though my rate of consumption may be lower than before surgery, the amount of time I spend consuming food is substantially reduced.

I have, for many years now, been aware of just how much time we humans in the Global North spend on food. We spend time shopping for food. We spend time preparing food. We spend time serving food. And we spend time eating food. We spend a lot of time eating food. We socialize over food. We mourn over food. We celebrate over food. Food food food food food.

But due to my surgery, my gastric anatomy no longer works like everyone else's in the "normal" world. Again, this in itself is not some amazing epiphany. It's a basic fact, mathematically provable, logically sensible, etc. But it has had a subtle but powerful impact on my sense of time.

When I get up in the morning my first thought is not of food. Lately it has been something along the line of "shit, I'm COLD, what the HELL?" ... but that is another impact of my post-surgical weight loss that I kept being warned would happen. My stomach no longer does that aching "FEED ME SEYMOUR" crap, so my morning come-to-life routine is much more focused on the machinations of morning... feed the cats; take a morning dump; drink some water; etc. Perhaps the only real change is that I have a desire for protein-supplementation and since I get a lot of my protein from chocolate-flavored sources these days, I suppose my life-long demonstrated chocoholic tendencies are front-and-center when I wake up.

But it is not a sugar craving. Of that I am sure. I have reduced my sugar intake so extremely this year that I know I have finally achieved the impossible: I have actually detoxed from sugar. But again, that's another topic for another post.

What amazes me is that I can actually feel like I have more time in my life, literally, because I spend so little time thinking about food. I barely eat, by comparison to my entire life before my surgery, so I often find myself sitting around being confused by the passage of time. Gone -- for now at least -- are the evenings of "going out to eat with friends" that defined my social life for, well, most of my life.

In some ways it is good that my introversion has gotten so much stronger since I started my seminary studies, because I am able to use this reclaimed time for recharging my social-batteries. People -- with the exception of other introverts -- find it hard to believe that I am, indeed, an introvert. Other introverts understand me instinctively along this line of thought; I am "one of those introverts" who is the opposite of shy. But as so many introverts will tell you, being introverted does not mean that we are shy! It means that we expend energy when we are social and that when we reach our turn-point we must retreat to recharge. For me, I do not expend energy steadily; I am a burster. I get wild and crazy, and get loud and gregarious, and when I am done I face-plant.

And yet, because of this substantial reclamation of time in my daily life due to the reduction in my OCD-like food addiction, I find that I have more time on my hands. And this is a good thing... except when it is bad.

There is a paradox about time. Many of us experience the paradox like this: when we have a lot more down-time, or free-time, we become less efficient in how we use our time so at the end of the day we feel just as rushed -- or even mores -- than when we were "busier" beforehand. I have been feeling some of this effect in the last few months, but I have just now reached a point where I can put words to it. It is a curious sensation, and I am feeling it more acutely right now because of the thinning of the Veil. That All Saints / All Souls / Día de los Muertos / Samhain thing, yaknow. But it is intensified this year because -- holy shite -- it is my last year in seminary. And I am just about to be ordained. And I have come out as an addict-in-recovery to my mother. And I am looking at the end of what will likely be the last formal educational experience of my life.

I don't know what the point of this post was supposed to be, or what it ended up being. But what I do know, is that these past few years have been indescribably bizarre, and rewarding, and challenging, and holy. And perhaps that is all I need to know for now.

For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
-Exodus 20:11 NRSVA

Saturday, October 12, 2013

137 - 34/34 - 525600

What a week this has been.

The song "Seasons of Love" from Rent has taken on a new-found power in my life. For those who do not know the song, it is the opening number of the second act of the musical. Its opening lyric is "five-hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes..." -- that particular refrain has become very well-known. (And, somewhat confusingly, the song is the opening song of the film adaptation.)

Restating a basic unit of measure in another much smaller basic unit of measure seems to hold more power in the British [meaning, non-metric] measuring system. It just wouldn't be the same if one year contained five-hundred thousand minutes; somehow, the "non-standardized" ratio between years and minutes (1:525600) belies more of the underlying mystery of life. Or at least, it does for me.

Anyway, the song is front-and-center in my heart this weekend because the creators of Glee used it as the opening number of this past week's episode "The Quarterback" which addressed the death of Finn Hudson played by the gone-too-soon recently deceased Cory Monteith. I have written a review of the episode which is possibly going to be published on a pop-culture blog sometime soon; I'll certainly be writing about that if it happens!

But as for me, several other measurements are currently front-and-center in my life and they carry profound meaning for me. First is "34/34" ... this week I bought a pair of jeans which are 34-inch waist and 34-inch inseam. 34/34 was my waist/inseam stat when I was a sophomore in college. To be back to that stat again is a dream come true. Nay, it is a miracle. God has been SO GOOD to me with this surgery and the changes it has wrought in my life. I cannot put into words how much this means to me. As of today, I have lost 137 pounds. And it feels like my weight-loss is going to continue. KNOCK ON WOOD! I do not want to become "married" to the idea that I might hit my dream-weight, but it is looking more possible.

But for now... how does one measure a year in a life? Is it by minutes? By pounds lost? Or should it be by how much we have loved?

Friday, October 11, 2013

About BART

I have opinions about the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. I have opinions about the slow-motion cluster-f*ck that the system and its unions have been foisting on the riding public for many months now. I am generally a strong pro-union voter; however, I am less than happy with SEIU at this point, and with BART -- both its unions and its management -- in general. In addition, I have a hard time supporting demands for higher salary from a group who are the highest paid workers in their profession in the entire world. That said, I am also very aware that BART (as a workplace) has become more dangerous than at any prior time in its 40-plus-year operating history. And that BART's board of directors are corrupt on the scale of Cook County, Illinois ... or San Francisco, California.

But right now, I am going to just vent my frustration, my desperation, and my anger. My regional ABC affiliate, Channel 7 KGO-TV, created a Twitter hashtag (#DearBART) and invited the public to send our thoughts using that hashtag. So I did. Following are my ten #DearBART tweets.

#DearBART > @SFBART is lying to the public: they do not want more riders b/c the system cannot even safely handle its current load.

#DearBART > nobody is innocent in this mess. @SFBART has a culture of lies: let's talk about the parking situation sometime?

#DearBART > nobody is innocent in this mess. @SFBART management is out of touch with the public. RIDE TRAINS SOMETIME DURING RUSH HOUR.

#DearBART > nobody is innocent in this mess. SEIU's heavy-handed tactics are not helping solve any problems with @SFBART.

#DearBART > @SFBART is dangerously overcrowded and public safety is at risk. We need MORE TRAINS and LESS BOARD MEMBERS.

#DearBART > @SFBART is a financially corrupt organization. If you have all this reserve $ then where the HELL are the new trains?

#DearBART > @SFBART does not enforce basic rules like NO LOUD MUSIC ON THE TRAINS because it does not have sufficient policing levels.

#DearBART > @SFBART engages in economic racism by under-serving the Richmond-Fremont line. MANAGEMENT NEEDS TO STOP LYING TO THE PUBLIC.

#DearBART > More facts: board members are more overpaid than rank-and-file workers. ALL of them make good wages and should stop complaining.

#DearBART > stop spin-doctoring. 2 facts: workers R paid very well but work is too dangerous. Board members are politicians. STOP LYING.

Ok, I am done venting. For now. Back to work on papers for school. Because, yaknow, I pay people to grade me; I only wish that I had the problems inherent in high-wage employment. Not that I am bitter or anything.