Why the Swedish Cake Still Matters

Back in April we were horrified by the image above.  It seemed like the most incongruous grouping of elements: a black “woman” effigy cake; a white woman cutting the cake; the cake “woman” (played by a man) screaming; the white woman laughing…surrounded by grinning white onlookers.  All of this taking place in Sweden and all of this as part of a celebration of art and also a statement about female genital mutilation, in Africa?!

We were upset; we were aghast; we wrote letters and called for action.  And then we stopped caring.  The image and the horror fell to the background and we were occupied with other concerns.  Despite pressure from many people including protests and bomb threats, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, the Swedish Minister of Culture, never apologized or acknowledged any inappropriateness.  Instead, she defended her actions and basically said that everyone should get a grip and not be so serious.  The unfortunate thing is that no matter what she says, this is serious.  Researching this piece of artwork, it is very clear that it was intended to be sensational and provocative.  The artist, Makode Aj Linde, is unapologetic for his creative statement.  He claims that it is his right to be able to express his feelings through is art. He considers the whole thing very personal.  Although I don’t believe in censoring any art, I question making such a provocative piece of art the centerpiece of an exhibit and not having any regard whatsoever for the impact of that art on the people who view it.

Female genital mutilation is going on right now.  Somewhere a young girl is being held down against her will and having her clitoris gouged out by men who do not believe it is right for a woman to derive pleasure from the sex act.  It is sanctioned in some of these cultures as a rite of passage or a religious custom.  Regardless, it is a barbaric and misogynistic practice by Western standards.

We have little power to change such practices without the careful and thoughtful consideration for indigenous culture.  This is not only a question of women’s rights to rule their bodies, but a question of gender roles in cultures that we don’t understand.  To our eyes, it looks simply like butchery, but it is deep in the cultural fabric and intra-gender relationships.  In some ways this practice is as complicated, volatile and misunderstood as marriage equality is in our culture, but the inability to marry in a same gender relationship does not result in permanent maiming of an innocent victim.  Regardless, female genital mutilation is not art and it certainly isn’t comedy.

The most disturbing part of the Swedish cake incident is that the two people most culpable are a man and a white woman.  No one is threatening to cut off Makode Linde’s penis.  Although he is of African decent and by reason of his social location (as expressed in interviews) a victim of other oppressions in his cultural homeland, he lives safely in Sweden where he can freely celebrate who and what he is and what he believes.  Likewise Minister Liljeroth is a white woman in a society that is 90% white, where women possess nearly total equal rights.  She has absolute control over her body and what she choses to do with it, particularly where her vagina is concerned.  I would argue that neither of these people has any place in the discussion of female genital mutilation, unless they are going to use their glaring amount of privilege (be it maleness, whiteness, or Swedishness) to further the discussion toward ending this ghoulish practice.

So the Swedish Minister of Culture remains in her job, the artist goes on to make more work, and they both capitalize on the notoriety of this one incident.  Meanwhile young women continue to be butchered in the name of male dominated societies.  There must be better ways to use the privilege of creative expression.

An insightful open letter featured on MsAfropolitan website: http://www.msafropolitan.com/2012/04/an-open-letter-from-african-women-to-the-minister-of-culture-the-venus-hottentot-cake.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Msafropolitan+%28MsAfropolitan%29

So this Gun is Getting Drunk in a Night Club…

The bartender brings him one drink, and then another, and then another and this goes on for the better part of an hour.  Pretty soon the bartender is thinking he’s gotta cut this gun off.  But he also notices that the gun looks terrified, so before he cuts him off, he decides to find out what’s going on.

“So, I noticed you uh, really putting ‘em away over here…is anything wrong?”

The gun replies “Oh, no, just really nervous, you see I’m the next act.”

There was a singer at the front of the lounge just finishing up and the gun stands up from the bar, pays his tab, pulls himself together and says,“Yeah, I’m a comedian and, you know what they say, ‘guns don’t kill.’”

Actually, guns do kill, because until a gun can actually order a martini, a gun isn’t a gun until it is in the hands of a human being.  Guns aren’t art and they aren’t sport.  They are weapons: their purpose is destruction whether that be a tin can or a rapist.  There are many shades on the discussion of guns and that is reflected in how we charge the act of murder…1st Degree, 2nd Degree, etc.  But there are no degrees of death and sudden death at the hands of a deranged person is not funny and it is not negotiable; it is final.  Although, I’ve started this post with an attempt at being light, there really is nothing beyond that that I can find humorous or entertaining about innocent people being gunned down. 

Early this morning, when the horrific events in Colorado began to unfold, a process was set in action.  That process goes something like this:

– Event

– Police

– Media

– Public Outcry

– Public Grief

– Public Silence

We keep seeing this pattern whereby something unthinkable happens connected with gun violence, we get all upset and then we get stalemated in acting to make changes to prevent these things happening and then we forget…or at least we background it.  But the people who died, and the people who loved them can never background this issue.  Their nightmare will never end.  I pray for them and for those who forget them.  And I pray for those who raise their hands and say “we NEED our right to bear arms.”

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

In case you don’t recognize that statement, THAT is the wording of the Second Amendment.  And in case you don’t get the context, this was drafted at a time when we had just gotten done “defending” our new country via hand to hand combat with the enemy.  It was the responsibility of the individual states to provide military protection.  The effort was coordinated by the Continental Army…which was disbanded at the end of the war.  The second Amendment was never intended to expressly give us the right to use arms against one another (although it has been successfully defended in that context by the Supreme Court.)  It was intended to give us the means whereby we would be able to defend the state in a time of war, and the legal right to use weaponry in the first place.  But can you tell me, what war was going on at Columbine High School? Or at Virginia Tech or Oikos University or now in the movie theater at Aurora?

One place that is at war are our urban communities.  Gangs where young people find validation in a culture that gives them few other options.  Crime lords who only value a life as far as it will keep them in business.  And every day people who live with despair and rage that they are voiceless in our society and that they cannot see any future beyond the end of a gun barrel.  They defend what little they have, whether that is actual property or their honor.  Of course, I don’t see any of this as justification for carrying or using a gun (let alone an assault weapon.)  But I bring this up because tonight I will attend a candle light vigil in Oakland.  This vigil has been in the works for weeks.  It is small (by Facebook numbers) but it comes from a genuine concern from the people and families living in a community that is surrounded by the roulette of random gunfire.  When I moved to Oakland, everyone kept asking me “where” and if it was “safe” and “will I be okay?” and frankly, it terrified me.  I looked at a crime map and saw nothing but big red dots everywhere.  But I realized that I have also lived in Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and any number of other, highly violent cities.  Fear is what causes the violence, not what will end it.

So today, the country will be in mourning for the loss of life in Colorado.  We will all send prayers to all of those directly affected by this tragedy.  We will also hopefully continue to debate the effectiveness of our gun laws, or the necessity at all for guns in a “peaceful” society.  But there will also be a small group of people in a poor community with no TV cameras and no Anderson Cooper, praying just as hard for all of the families who live with and battle gun violence every single day.  Many of the blogs are asking, “What can we do?”  We can take a look at the “other side of the tracks” in our own communities, partnering with all of the honest hardworking families who live in fear of daily gun violence and make a commitment to change for the good of everyone.

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Getting Off the Bus…

“…he has never seen a gay person asked to sit in the back of the bus…” – Bishop Harry Jackson, High Impact Leadership Coalition speaking about an NAACP board member who resigned when the NAACP embraced marriage equality.

I recently watched the clip of the Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP) that appears in an article (Black Pastor ‘Coalition’ Becomes Star Of NOM’s ‘Race-Wedging’ Strategy – Think Progress, Jul 16, 2012 http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2012/07/16/526241/nom-caap-race-wedging/?mobile=nc) by Zack Ford and it just made me sad.  I believe in religion and I believe in church leadership.  I also believe greatly in the black community.  I believe there is not only hope for a future that is rooted in equality, but one that is rooted in recognizing our individual and unique gifts based on our differences.  But listening to the pastors of CAAP made me think of how fear has created a self perpetuating ignorance in the black community that continues to keep us all down and out and “in our place” at the back of the bus.

The statement by Bishop Harry that starts this post says it all.  Here is someone, a religious leader, who is entirely unwilling to recognize his limitations in understanding a lifestyle that is different from his own or that challenges his concept of faith.  Listening to the other “leaders” in this clip it is also apparent that they are entirely unwilling to acknowledge the black LGBTQI community.  They speak as if there is a “gay agenda” that is entirely exclusive of the black experience.  True, there is a lot of media in the fight for gay rights, that has focused around the concerns and images of white gay men.  Historically, when we see our American gay communities, those that are dominated by white men, are the ones receiving the greatest benefit from advanced drug therapies for AIDS as well as the ones benefiting from progressive legislation regarding hate crimes, domestic partnership and parenting rights.  Watching the recent PBS special “Endgame: AIDS in Black America” this racial disparity is hugely apparent.  But we in the black community must take some responsibility for this disparity.  Although it was a white society that institutionalized orientation based hatred through damaging “sodomy laws” here in the US, it was also brave and progressive white people in those same communities who fought hard and bitterly to have those laws changed and to force attitudes of acceptance and create change.  Their efforts were not perfect, and have not been an absolute success, and they were not alone, but they set a role model for upsetting the cart.  It is inexplicable to me then to see traditionalists in the black community standing by, clutching to their Bibles while perpetuating an agenda of this same orientation based hatred while watching millions of black people die in the process.  By their actions they are accomplices in the racial marginalization of health and welfare.  These same “leaders” unwittingly support an environment whereby people of color are not only dying from AIDS, but through suicide and drug abuse and lives of desperation that come directly from being pushed out of community.  This is not a legacy we expect of women and men who claim to be inspired by the word of God.

In the video clip, Pastor John McCrutcheon, from Joint Hiers Fellowship Church, claims that “homosexuality is not a civil right.” I would agree, in fact “homosexuality” is only a medically derived label that doesn’t begin to embrace all of the different ways, shapes and forms in which human beings are blessed to be able to express loving relationships across gender lines.  I also understand when leaders from the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s are hesitant to draw a parallel between LGBTQI rights and those for black Americans.  The stakes are very different, even if some of the means have been similar.  However, the right to live and flourish with societal recognition and protection as part of a family IS a civil right.  I have said in sermons and in various notes and postings that I see Marriage Equality as neither being about marriage nor equality.  Marriage Equality is about family rights.  How do we define the family?  How do we defend the family? How do we support family structures that help us build strong communities?  I would say that we do not define, defend, support or build anything if we wield the Bible as a weapon in the process.  Even the Bible leaves the definition of family up to question, including throughout its various versions: widows, uncles, brother in law spouses, spinster daughters, and groups of inspired friends (think the disciples) etc. Nowhere does it consistently define the family as only being ONE man and ONE woman with a specific number of children.  The family may be a single mother of three; a single father; an uncle and his adopted nieces…and for that matter it may also be a lesbian/ trans couple and their biological children; a single person and their community of support; or two gay men.  Whether or not you believe in God or Jesus Christ, isn’t it basic for us to support the idea of a greater human family?  Family is community and community insures our future and honors our past.

In direct response to Bishop Harry Jackson, LGBTQI blacks have been asked to sit in the back of the bus for ages.  In fact, we have not only been asked to sit in the back of the bus, we have been told by many of our “religious” leaders that we are not even welcome on the bus and if given the chance, they will try to run us down with the bus if we try to get on.  We have been called an embarrassment, and abomination, a scourge, and for some of us who have stood up to this bigotry we continue to be met with dismissal and scorn.  In some ways, sitting in the back of the bus would be an improvement.  However, we are not willing to sit in the back of the bus…we are not willing to be told where to sit on anyone’s bus.  We believe that the bus our narrow minded church leaders are driving, is breaking down and creating toxic pollution that is serving only to destroy all of us.  We are called to create an entirely new mode of transportation and yes, some of us are turning to the Bible, to the Quran and even to the Tanakh as the ticket.  Jesus teaches a doctrine of compassion and deep faith, but that is not pity and we wouldn’t accept it if it were; those who speak of  “condemning the sin and not the sinner” miss the point of Jesus Christ or any faith entirely.  Faith teaches us that we must be humbled to our common human experience, that there is something greater.  Regardless of what we do or what we believe or how our reality presents, we are all human beings.  That commonality alone means that one cannot define themselves as somehow more deserving than another.  Just as we have no right to take the life of another human being, so we have no right to deny the life of another human being as they were created to live it.  If you do not wish to worship with people in the LGBTQI community, then so be it (your loss.) But do not preach hatred and exclusion and attempt to justify it through the love of God.  Whether or not you like it, God loves your adversary as much as God loves you.

So to Bishop Harry Jackson I say have a look at your transit map and think again.  LGBTIQI blacks have definitely been in the back of the bus…but maybe you just didn’t notice that we got off at the last stop, got in our limousine and passed you by.

Where there’s fire…there may be no smoke.

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Let’s get one thing straight.  Most pedophiles present socially as “straight.”  In fact, most pedophiles are not only identified as heterosexual, but many are parents or in a role of significant trust and their victims are children (usually girls) they know.  Not pleasant, but desperately true (there are too many statistics to quote sources but here’s a link to one resource http://www.prevent-abuse-now.com/stats.htm/#Links).  Although this statistic shifts toward young boys in the disabled community, most sexual abuse victims are girls between the ages of 11-17.  Listening to the ravings of evangelist and American Family Association member Bryan Fischer, I wonder where he gets his facts.  Statements like “they’re [homosexuals] responsible for a third of all the offenses against children” are just so wildly out of the ballpark that one wonders how the FCC could allow him to be on the air?  But then you have to consider certain narrow public opinions and what “gay” really looks like in the eyes of the general public.  Here’s the article that got me thinking:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/18/bryan-fischer-of-american_n_1606675.html

So then let’s turn to the latest child abuse monster, Jerry Sandusky.  Bryan Fischer was very quick to use Sandusky as a poster boy for gays preying on innocent boys and he refers to him as part of his argument in support of the the Boy Scout’s ban on homosexuality.  We’ve now heard in vivid detail about the web of twisted lies and cover ups that resulted in numerous young boys being subjected to the predatory sexual proclivities of one man in a powerful position.  He used a combination of hero worship, bribery and misguided trust to create a perfect storm for abuse.  But the organization around him didn’t call it abuse.  They seemed to regard it as a tolerable annoyance (maybe like a fly in the room) while Penn State continued to build a deity factory around it.  The big question is, why did  everyone look the other way?  Was it just because there were hundreds of millions of dollars tied up in the sports program?  Was it because Joe Paterno couldn’t be sullied in the eyes of his psycophantic community?  I dare say that the community surrounding Jerry Sandusky “let it go” because of one thing, and one thing only.  Jerry Sandusky is “straight.”

Jerry Sandusky has been married to Dottie Sandusky (a woman) for 46 years.  Jerry Sandusky has never, to anyone’s knowledge, visited gay bars, sought out the sexual company of adult men, or publicly identified as a homosexual.  His world is built around a heterosexual paradigm and world view that upholds football, being “masculine,” and winning the game as the right way to be if you have a penis.  He and his wife adopted and raised 6 children.  We are not privy to the details of their sex life, but one can only assume that they at least tried to have children of their own and/or engaged in intimacies that any “normal” heterosexual couple would engage in.  At the very least, they took on the responsibility of creating a public image of “traditional family.”  Nothing in his outward actions indicates that Jerry Sandusky was or would now identify himself as homosexual.

When I add this up, it seems to me then that the big danger with Jerry Sandusky and those like him, particularly if you look at the real statistics about who is victimizing children, is not that they are homosexuals at all, but instead that they are heterosexually self identified and use being “straight” as a cover for for their sickness.

So then let’s look at what the directors of the Boy Scouts of America are saying.  According to them, homosexuality endangers the safety of the young people involved in the organization. Okay, fine. Let’s say, all of the gays are out of the  Boy Scouts, that is, all of the people who have been strong enough and have the intense moral fortitude to stand up for what they believe in, to stand in the face of a less than accepting society and family criticism…people who publicly, self identify as same gender loving…let’s say they are ousted.  What does this leave?  Only straight people right?  Only people who publicly identify as opposite gender loving people with a deep commitment to traditional male moral values and healthy traditional male pursuits like the outdoors, and camping…and football.

Yep, the Boy Scouts of America is creating yet another perfect storm.  Let me be clear here, I do not believe that pedophilia has anything to do with being either straight or gay.  But the most common “cover” is one of being “normal” which in our society is equated with heterosexuality.  So now, if there is another Jerry Sandusky lurking in the midst of the all male bastion of the Boy Scouts, we will never know.  That person is probably just like Jerry, straight identified, married, fatherly and respected in the scouting community to the point of hero worship.  And with their decision, the BSA has made a case for anyone who suffers from pedophiliac sickness to dig in their heels deeper and pull the cover closer over their and their victims heads, keep the doors locked tighter and create an even more invisible hell.  Who knows, maybe the scouting organization is fully aware that this person or people has/have a ‘special’ interest in the boys, but they realize that the health of the organization as a pillar of all American boyhood is more important that someone crying wolf.  And, well, they got rid of all the queers anyway…right?  Let the witch hunt begin.

Welcome to my world…

So, after managing a website, a personal Facebook presence and a business Facebook presence, I finally feel ready and responsible enough to start an official blog…okay, its a basic WordPress blog…nothing fancy, but its a place for me to deposit my thoughts.  We’ll see what happens right?

All I ask is no hate.  I’m on the path to be a minister and I’m living a life that is dedicated to love.  Although I draw much of my own personal theology from Christian teaching, I recognize that my way is not the only way.  Every faith base has something to offer to the conversation and I welcome engaging you all on a variety of topics…volatile and not.

So here goes, laying it out there and looking forward to hearing from you all…

Adam