Monday, March 30, 2009

actual quote

a woman comes up to me after on worship on Sunday and says, "You're a very good public speaker. Do you do it for a living?"

Admittedly I was guest preacher at a church other than my own. But the number of times I was referred to in the order of service as Rev. Ricky Hoyt or spoken about as a visiting minister might have given her a clue.

more people dead or alive?

Peleg and I went to see the comic Louis C K on Friday. He started his routine with an extended bit about the special status of being a living human being and how for every one of us the far more normal status of existence is "dead." We'll be alive for maybe 100 years at the most and we'll be in the "dead" category basically forever.

One of his observations was that most of the people who have ever existed are now dead - and I wondered whether that was true. It seems like I've heard that with 6 and half billion people now alive that there are more people living now than have ever lived before. So I googled it.

I was wrong. Most estimates say that there have been something more than 100 billion human beings ever in existence - and only about 6 and a half billion of them are currently alive. One reference pointed out that about half of human beings have lived in the 2000 years since Anno Domini. (The 50 billion born before Christ are doomed, of course). Here is the reference.

Friday, March 20, 2009

more about the word "marriage"

Robin Edgar makes some great arguments in a comment to an earlier post (see "what's in a name?" below) about whether gays and lesbians are following a failed strategy in insisting on having our relationships labeled as "marriage." Some marriage opponents have said they would be happy to grant us legal recognition and rights under a different name (although more and more this seems to not be true when the opportunity to establish civil union laws actually comes up). Edgar even brings up the UU buzzword issue of cultural misappropriation as an argument to say that the culture has for centuries defined marriage one way and that same-sex couples do not now have the cultural authority to use the word to mean something other than a male husband united with a female wife.

It's an interesting argument but I respectfully disagree.

I face a parallel situation very often in my ministry when I use the word God. As a theist the real existence of God is very important to my spirituality and I speak about God often in my sermons and elsewhere. But when I use the word God I don't mean an omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, supernatural or manipulative old man in the sky. That's the traditional definition of the word God, but that's not how I use the word. I have, on occasion, been accused of being disingenuous. I'm told if that's not what I mean than I should use a different word.

But I reject that position. The word "god" is simply a pointing word that allows me to refer to the thing I want to talk about. The nature of God (whether God is properly characterized by all those things I listed above) is a theology. Although one theology has long been dominant and "traditional," theologians have always felt able to disagree with that theology in whole or part and still use the word God. There are limits to how far you can stretch the word, but the word God comfortably contains quite a number of diverse theologies.

I feel the same is true for the word "marriage." The essential aspect of a marriage is the commitments of two persons to bind their lives together in mutual support. I see a societal aspect of marriage that makes committed couples an asset to the state; a familial aspect of marriage that brings families together and creates strong foundations for future families, and a religious aspect of marriage that puts the couple at the service of the god of love. All of those essential aspects of marriage exist independently of the incidental aspect of the sex of the two persons.

God is still the right word even as we debate the theology that describes God. Marriage is also the right word even as same-sex marriage advocates point out that what had once seemed essential to the definition is actually unjust and unnecessary. Marriage without the restriction of opposite-sex partners is still marriage, just as a process theology God without omnipotence is still God.

a little wrist bone, please

After two months of being released by my orthopedist to go back to light exercise I went back for a new x-ray to see what's happening with my wrist bone. Everything healed up except for a dime-sized botch on the inside of the radial bone. The doctor and I, and a second doctor we consulted with, decided that as long as the wrist wasn't causing me any pain (it isn't) to leave it alone surgically and see if the bone will eventually grow back.

And the good news is that it has - or is - there's still a long way to go before I could say it's completely healed. But looking at the x-ray from this week side by side with the x-ray from a week ago it's clear that new bone material is starting to spread across the gap.

I have been going to the gym. I started lifting 10 pound weights with the wrist, then 15, today I did 20 pounds. The wrist certainly feels stronger. And it's good for me in every other way to get back to my exercise routine. So I was very glad to hear that progress was being made and that I could continue with the program I've been on.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

the fat lady sings

I've had to resign from the Gay Men's Chorus. Now that I'm working with the Los Angeles Unitarian church as well as my previous gig with the Santa Clarita church I just don't have the extra time available for the chorus. I could still make the Monday evening rehearsals but giving up the weekends for the shows, plus the extra practice I would need to do on my own to work out difficult passages and (especially) memorize a concert's worth of music just wasn't possible any more.

I had a great three years with the chorus and I will cherish the memories. I got to sing at Disney Hall. I got to play a sailor onstage in a Wagner chorus. I got to pose as a sexy Batman for a calendar fundraiser. I got to travel to Miami and attend a week-long gay and lesbian chorus conference.

I will miss the regular connection to music in my life. My plan is to try and put more energy into my composing and satisfy my music gene that way.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

what's in a name?

Is the debate about marriage equality really just a debate about a word?

Shakespeare gives us an example of marriage being thwarted by a word rather than substance. Juliet thinks that the only problem with Romeo is that he's a Montague and she imagines that all objections to their marriage would disappear if he simply had another name. "What's in a name?" she asks, "that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Juliet is right about roses but wrong about Romeo. The problem with Romeo isn't what he's called, but what he is. He'd still a Montague even if he changed his name to Smith or Jones. And if he hadn't been born into the Montague clan, meaning that he didn't have the genes that he has, or be raised as he was, where he was, with the parents and other cultural influences that he recieved, then he wouldn't be the Romeo that she loves. The substance of things and the names of things are not always as sepearable as Juliet wishes.

To say that same-sex couples should stop fighting for marriage and accept some other word that carries the same benefits makes several mistakes:

First, no other word carries the same benefits. The word marriage includes a set of intangible cultural meanings that do not transfer to another name. To be married is to partake of a centuries old cultural institution respected as the cornerstone of society that sustains families and orders our sexual lives. No legislation can give Domestic Partnerships or Civil Unions that status.

Second, accepting a different name grants that marriage is an important word to one side of the argument, but implies that the word is not important to the other side of the argument. That's the position of marriage equality foes, and they're wrong. Marriage equality foes think same-sex couples disagree with them about the importance and sanctity of marriage. But we agree with them, which is why we're fighting for marriage and not something else. Marriage is important. Marriage needs to be protected and strengthened. Same-sex couples aren't fighting against marriage, we're fighting for marriage. it's the Civil Union and Domestic Partnership laws that threaten marriage by creating a weaker alternative instead of demanding the full legal and cultural weight of real marriage.

Some people who reject marriage for same-sex couples say they would support domestic partnerships or civil unions. A Field poll of California voters released today found that given three options 45% are in favor of marriage equality, 34% support domestic partnerships for same-sex couples but not marriage, and 19% favor no legal recognition of any kind for same-sex couples. That's good news, but support for Domestic Partnerships has grown precisely because gays and lesbians have been asking for marriage and folks now see Domestic Partnerships as the compromise, moderate position, where it used to be seen as radical.

And Domestic Partnership still is radical in some places. Recent events in Utah show that support for Domestic Partnerships as a compromise on marriage is not as strong as it seems. Following Proposition 8 the LDS church published a statement saying it was opposed to marriage for same-sex couples but not against gay and lesbian rights in general. Their statement listed several rights they would support including hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights. Taking them at their word the group Equality Utah introduced legislation called the Common Ground Initiative covering exactly those issues. And the LDS church failed to support the initiative, which has now failed in the Utah legislature.

A solution that proposes giving up the word marriage in exchange for legal recognition imagines that a compromise is possible on this issue where compromise is not possible. Just as in Brown vs. Board of Education where the U.S.Supreme Court realized that segregated schools was a failed compromise that had satisfied the bigots but failed to provide equal education to children, giving up the word marriage might satisfy the bigots (although apparently not in Utah) but would not actually provide equal rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples and would weaken an already imperiled important cultural institution.

What's in a name? In this case, a lot.

my poor dog (she's better now)

I took my dog, Sabrina, to the vet yesterday. She had to get her rabies shot but she's also been displaying some abnormal behavior that made us think she might need some medical attention. How to put this delicately... she's been obsessively licking her rear end.

The licking was noisy, as well as being unladylike. She would wake us up at night. Peleg and I's response when we caught her doing it was to tell her, "No!" in a loud voice, and if she was within arm's distance to physically move her head away. Because she's going deaf we would sometimes have to yell quite loudly several times before she would hear us. She'd been at it for about a month. She has a history of developing obsessions about various things and we figured that if we could just break the habit she'd stop the behavior. She had no other symptoms of a medical problem as far as we could tell. Finally I took her to the groomer thinking a good cleaning back there would help. The groomer suggested we take her to the vet.

The vet discovered a serious but quite routine dog problem: her anal glands were swollen with fluid and needed to be expressed. Especially with older dogs (she's 14) the fluid in the glands can become thick and clog the opening. With rubber gloves and several tissues the vet was able to drain the glands. Sabrina had been trying to open the glands herself by licking but hadn't been successful. If the problem had continued the glands might have ruptured which would have required surgery to repair.

So for a month our dog had been suffering and our only response had been to yell at her. Because she couldn't communicate we had mis-labeled her behavior as a mental problem. We had worried more about how her licking was annoying us rather than as a signal that she needed our help.

The suffering of others does impede on our own comfort. We can't be bothered. We're just trying to keep our own lives together and someone, something, suffering near us can at first seem like one more thing we have to handle. It's easy to say, "handle it yourself," or "just stop complaining." The truth, though, was that by not helping Sabrina her suffering and ours continued, and would have gotten significantly worse if we had waited much longer. When I finally did get her to the vet the problem was solved in just a few minutes. Sabrina left the vet's office noticeably more at ease and has been fine ever since. Accepting the fact that the lives of other creatures are partly our responsibility often the easiest course of action is to get involved sooner rather than later.

Monday, March 9, 2009

rally in the rain

Wednesday evening I attended the Los Angeles Eve of Justice rally in downtown Los Angeles.

I rode the subway down to Union Station and then walked over to Olvera Street, the site of the rally. A light rain came down off and on the whole time. I had my umbrella and joined everyone else in putting them up when the rain would come and then folding them closed again when the rain would stop.

For some reason I wasn't in the mood for a rally. I didn't feel I needed to be there. I waited until Mayor Villaraigosa spoke and then I came home again.

It's good to have the support of politicians like the mayor. It's great to hear the sentiment from so many that the tide has turned on marriage equality and we will prevail someday. I believe it's true.

I came home and my husband made us steaks, then we watched TV together on the couch and went to bed. A married couple.

marriage equality day

Thursday was the day the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the cases seeking to overturn Proposition 8, and the opposing case seeking to uphold the proposition and also to nullify the same-sex marriages (including mine) that had occurred over the summer.

In the morning I attended a press conference sponsored by California Faith for Equality. Clergy of several different faiths gathered to show our religious support of marriage equality. I didn't speak but I stood behind the speakers with 30 or so other clergy to make a good backdrop for the news cameras.

Looking out at the gathered press I recognized one of the reporters from the local NBC news as I guy who's marriage I had performed several years ago. At the end of the press conference I said hello and asked how his marriage was. He said he and his wife had divorced less than two years after the wedding. I said I was sorry. And then we talked about marriage, his marriage, my marriage. And then he asked if he could interview me.

He asked about my feelings as one of the 18,000 same sex couples who have our marriage on the line with the current court cases. It feels strange that a court might decide whether my marriage will continue or end. Nobody should be involved in that decision except my husband and I. And if the marriages are upheld, but Proposition 8 is also upheld and no more marriages are allowed then I'll be in the strange situation of enjoying a marriage that other people don't have access to, which is actually exactly the situation that heterosexual couples have been in for years and which is the basis of the injustice that we're fighting against.

back on bike

Saturday, after 9 months and maybe 20 days, I finally rode my bicycle again - the first time since I had broken my wrist on May 17.

The doctor had given me the go ahead back in January, but then I had been sick for a few weeks, and then it rained off and on for several weeks, and I was busy with other things. Earlier this week I had finally taken my bike in to the shop to replace the seat that I had ruined in the accident, and to by myself a new helmet. So finally on Saturday all the necessary positives converged: the bike was ready to go, I was healthy, I finished my sermon earlier that morning, the day was sunny and dry (and had been dry for a few days so it was unlikely that I'd have to ride over slippery wet patches) so with some trepidation I suited up and went for a ride.

It was beautiful, and easy, and fun. I had been a little scared to get started but once on the bike I realized I would be fine. I did a short ten-mile ride along the bike bath next to the LA river, so it was safe and flat. The only challenging parts at all were riding from my house down to the river and then back to the house from the river. My wrist did start to get tired and sore by the time I was finished so I was glad I wasn't going any further than 10 miles, but it will get stronger quickly now that I'm working it.