Sunday, November 22, 2009

Show me what real faith looks like

I am a recovering Catholic. I have survived every sacrament, five years of Catholic school, numerous Catholic funerals and the brutal regimens of wearing a uniform, overseen by strict nuns who were not averse to using physical punishment.

My sister was yanked out of school one day after a nun pulled her and another child to the front of the classroom and slapped them both right across the face. Then the entire class was told they could not tell anyone what had just happened. Naturally my mom got a number of calls that night from other parents upset about what happened. She was out of uniform the next day and at the public school.

As an institution designed to provide spiritual guidance, the Catholic Church has had some horrific failures. Looking back over the years we can see the Crusades, the Inquisition, the colonialization of the American west with its subjugation of American Indians. In recent history, the proliferation of pedophile priests without any Church intervention has caused not only loss of millions of dollars but also a loss of spiritual leadership.

In Spanish, there is a phrase, sin verguenza, which literally translates to “without shame.” The Catholic Church has become a sin verguenza. After all this history of untold pain and suffering they have entered new territory of creating the same kind of pain for gays and lesbians through the electoral process.

After the loss of Prop 8 in California, it was revealed that the current archbishop of San Francisco, George H. Niederauer, began this plot against gay people. In previous work as a priest, Niederauer was in Utah and formed relationships with his Mormon brethren. From this unholy alliance sprung Prop 8.

We know the outcome of this effort. Then the spawn of Prop 8 in Maine, Question 1, appeared with the same antagonists, same ending. Now the Catholics have thrown a big tantrum in Washington D.C. saying they will pull themselves away from their $10 million dollars worth of contracts to feed and house the poor, if, gasp, the District allows gay marriage. This recovering Catholic cannot help but wonder if they had spent half as much energy dealing with their flock of pedophiles how many lives would have been spared?

A few years back during my time in New Mexico, there was a huge controversy between the Church and the arts community in Santa Fe.

When we had first moved there, the controversy at that time was the grand jury testimony of the Archbishop of Albuquerque. The holy man had fathered a child with a parishioner and had full knowledge of the rampant pedophilia occurring in northern New Mexico.

In fact, a high number of priests who were known pedophiles were sent to pray their way out of this problem at a retreat in the Jemez mountains. When they were “cured” they were released to do the lord’s work in New Mexico with the Archbishop’s blessing. I bet you know what happened then.

The Archbishop testified to the grand jury that, yes, he knew about these problems. But he thought that hitting a priest and having an abortion were greater sins.

(A brief background is here from the NY Times.)

Gloria - Virgin Mary artNow with this as a backdrop, an exhibit comes to Santa Fe with this picture in it. It is a representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She is a mestiza, brown skinned woman in all representations, who showed herself to a Mexican Indian. Long considered the patron saint of the Americans, some of the locals went nuts.

That’s a polite way of saying it.

The artist, Alma Lopez, is a lesbian living in Los Angeles. The fact that a lesbian would put bare breasts in a picture of the Virgin made some people apoplectic. She had threats made to her life. The curator of the show, Tey Marianna Nunn, was set upon by the mobs in Santa Fe as if she were Frankenstein and the mobs had pitchforks and torches. There were community forums, people who had known each other all their lives stopped talking to each other. There were out in the open brawls between men and women, traditionalists v progressives. Many lives were threatened.

Myself, I tried to instigate a few counter protests. If there were attempts to shut down the exhibit, CyberArte: Tradition Meets Technology, the feminists would chain ourselves to the front door and then take our tops off as a sign of solidarity. OK, not everyone thought the topless part was such a good idea.

In December of that year, I went to Mexico, to the border city of Ciudad Juarez, for the feast day of the Virgin, Dec 12. I had heard about this event for years and finally drove down to see it.

Gloria - feast day virginWhat I saw in Mexico were true expressions of faith and commitment to her service by thousands of people. I am sure I was the only one in the Plaza that night who even knew Alma Lopez or cared about her art. What was important was their faith in her.

Reverential looks, lips moving in silent prayer, many groups dancing to show their devotion to the Goddess of the Americas on her special day. People sat in the Cathedral for hours until the midnight hour so they could sing “Las MaƱanitas” , our version of Happy Birthday. What was controversy for men who wear hats with the Virgin on it was irrelevant to these faithful.

So as the Catholic Church in DC continues to weep and wail and gnash its teeth, I wonder how the poor, the homeless, those suffering who the church is supposed to be serving, how do they feel that they are about to be tossed out because of some unknown gay and lesbian people who want their rights. Seems like another overreaction to me.

But then I don’t know how I could expect anything different from men who plotted for years to attack us over our marriages and thought a picture was more important than true belief and acts of faith. After all I am a recovering Catholic. We have been slapped too many times by this church. That won’t stop me from performing real acts of kindness. It shouldn’t stop any of us from showing our kindness and having a generosity of spirit.

Catholics (and Mormons) may think they are blocking our way but ultimately our acts of faith – faith in our cause, faith in ourselves – will get us to the finish line as equal citizens. Yes we have had setbacks but we haven’t lost our faith.

Artist Alma Lopez has her own blog and says her new married name Alma Lopez Gaspar de Alba. She writes that:

Alicia and I are working on editing a publication of essays titled Our Lady of Controversy: Alma Lopez’s Irreverent Apparition. Please read more about the Our Lady image and the controversy on my website at or Either address leads you to the same site.

If you are an artists (or if you know an artist, please forward) who has created an image using the icon of the Virgen of Guadalupe, please submit your work for consideration to be included in the DVD which will accompany this book.

This publication with DVD will be published by the University of Texas Press (Chicana Matters Series) in the Fall of 2010.

Gloria promo for Alma's book

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Elizabeth Edwards helped my breaking heart

While living in New Mexico, I heard many folk stories. Tales of emergence, creation stories, even UFO sightings. One in particular has always had a profound impact on me, the story of Apache tears.The story says that some Apaches were all lost in a battle with the colonizers. The men were all killed. When the women found out they had lost all the men, they cried such pure tears of grief, the gods were so moved they captured the tears and made them into the stones, the Apache tears. So now we are witness to the tears of the Apache women and their grief. Today there are Apache tears from Maine all across the country.

Grief, such a small word for feelings that can swallow a life.

At Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference in Long Beach, Ca, on October 27th, a panel of women who look from the outside that they have rich, fulfilled lives, opened themselves to 15,000 participants to talk about their own grief.

Maria Shriver, the First Lady of California, moderated the panel. Elizabeth Edwards, a mother who lost her teenage son in a car accident, Lisa Niemi, Patrick Swayze’s widow and actress Susan St James who also lost a teenage son in a plane accident, talked honestly and emotionally about their grief.

The lessons are many, especially for us in the LGBT community. Each woman spoke about the challenges of facing a life without their children, husband and mother. How does one accept a life when the calls no longer come from your mother or that you will no longer see your child? How does one face a husband who has cheated on you and that the entire country knows what he has done?

For us, how do we live our lives when we have been told we are second-class citizens time and time again? How do we face a day having lost our partners, our brothers and sisters to an early death from a disease no one seems to care about any more?

The grief they talked about was so overwhelming, I felt paralyzed listening to the discussion. That gut wrenching, soul suffocating pain of loss had taken over my life in the past six weeks. I had no idea until I heard my pain being described by these women and realized I had curled up into a ball and let the pain take over everything.

Since the defeat of Proposition 8 in November, 2008 I have felt completely overwhelmed with grief. It wasn’t just my shove into second-class citizenship, it was loss of a job, then the loss of our house and the loss of a beloved dog. All the loss, the soul searching for a reason to get up in the morning that had become my life for weeks at a time.

Now we can add Maine to that list. We are now second-class, non-human beings in this country where our rights are voted on. The tyranny of the majority willingly believes the lies told by church after church both in California and Maine. Look at where the money for these campaigns comes from? Here is the link to the Maine money reports.

Here is the link for the Prop 8 donors.

So our community continues to be grief stricken and doing what to help our broken hearts? Some want to march, some want to go organize to go back in 2010 for another election. (I do not support that idea in anyway shape or form.)

Elizabeth Edwards said with such clarity that if one does not heal one’s self internally all the grief will come out sideways – as rage, anger or other behavior that is not good either for ourselves or the people we care about.

I wonder, can we heal ourselves after these defeats? Can we treat each other well? Can we say to the people in Maine, you did a magnificent job and here is my hand so I can help you up when you are ready? And get up we must. Probably not today, maybe not tomorrow but at some point we must get up. Elizabeth Edwards, a woman with stage 4 cancer, offered her hand to me, a total stranger, and helped me get up to fight another day. Betsy Smith, can I offer you my hand when you are ready to get up? Can all of us do that when the chance comes to comfort another?

Maybe not but I promise we make ourselves better people when we have compassion and show our generosity of spirit. We can all help heal each other in this small way.

Of course we will win someday. I remember asking Del Martin once about why she would work on marriage if she may not see marriage in her lifetime. It was always about the people coming behind her, “I’m doing it for them.” Del beat the clock by two months, she died married to Phyllis Lyon. No one can take that away. Del had faith in the movement, in all of us, to keep getting back up and keep going to the end. I think I made that same promise to Elizabeth Edwards. Maybe not in so many words but in my heart, I promise to keep going. Grab my hand and we’ll walk this path together. Maybe we will pick up a few on the way! I'll be the one with Apache tears in my pocket.
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