Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lent: A Season Set Apart

The season of Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday.

It's an important time . . . and opportunity. For as Joan Chittister reminds us:

Lent is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now. Lent is a summons to live anew.

Lent, then, is all about transformation . . . all about our taking the time and making the effort to open our lives to the Divine Presence within and around us; a presence that alone can inspire and facilitate the renewal and transformation we hunger for.

In preparing for this year's Lenten journey I've began reading Mary DeTurris Poust's Not by Bread Alone: Daily Reflections for Lent 2016. Two passages particularly stand out for me. The first is from Mary's reflection on Ash Wednesday.

Every Ash Wednesday I head to church with a heart and head full of spiritual dreams and goals. This will be the year I do Lent right. This will be the season I finally get my spiritual act together once and for all. Even as I revel in that hopefulness, I know there's a very good chance I will not live up to my grand plans, that I will fail, maybe even before the first week of Lent is out. How many times have I pulled that same old spiritual bait and switch with God? Sometimes I wonder how I can be so hopeful every Ash Wednesday when I know myself too well.

And yet that is the beautiful paradox of Ash Wednesday: Hope in the most unlikely places. Today's focus on our mortality, that we are dust and to dust we shall return, is beautifully balanced by the promise of resurrection that we know awaits us in the aftermath of Calvary. We will not be forgotten or abandoned.

Our God is "gracious and merciful," we hear in today's first reading, "slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment." Later, in the Gospel of Matthew, we are told [that God, like a loving parent] "knows what you need before you ask (Matt 6:8). And so we begin our Lenten season, wary of our own weakness but buoyed by the strength of God's love. Nothing we do can cut us off from that love. No wonder it's so easy to hope.

The second passage I resonate with is from the introduction of Not by Bread Alone.

[B]reathe deep and just begin. Stake out a daily dwelling place in the heart of Scripture, where you will find guideposts and markers, examples and inspiration to help move you through this season. When you miss a step or lose sight of your plans for fasting, almsgiving, and service, find a quiet spot to refocus your mind and reconnect with the whisper of the Spirit. Away from the chaos and noise of the outside world, you'll be better able to soak up the spiritual nourishment you need to sustain you.

Transformation doesn't come in an instant or all at once. It comes bit by bit and with daily effort. We are blessed to have this season set apart, a time to break from our routine and immerse ourselves in the story of our salvation. Although at Lent we tend to focus on what we are doing for God and for others, the greatest blessing of this season is what God is doing for us.

I invite my readers to consider how they're planning to break from their routine this Lent so as to set apart time and space to reconnect with the Divine Presence and focus on the ways in which this Presence is calling them to transformation.

For myself, this break from routine means reducing the amount of time I spend online. As a result, I'll be blogging less, perhaps posting just once or twice a week throughout Lent.

I'll also be breaking from my routine by mindfully creating time and space to mediate and reflect on the Sacred Presence within and around me. Resources for this journey of re-connection with the Divine will include the prayer altar in the meditation room of my house, the Seven Principles for Living with Deep Intention, and three books – the aforementioned Not by Bread Alone by Mary DeTurris Poust, Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness by Nan Merrill, and Prayers to An Evolutionary God by William Cleary.

I'll also be participating in a book study group, the focus of which will be Thomas Rausch's Who is Jesus? – An Introduction to Christology, and attending the weekly silent meditation sessions at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.

Finally, I'll be renewing my commitment to exercise more. The above resources and practices are all aimed at strengthening and developing my spiritual core. I want to balance them with exercises and practices that strengthen and develop my physical core. Some resources I'll be utilizing in this include Rodney Yee's yoga guide, Moving Toward Balance, and the core workout videos of health and fitness coach Oliver Wells.

My friends, whatever goals, practices, and resources you employ in your participation in Lent, may this Lenten season be a blessed time of renewal and transformation for you.

Related Off-site Links:
Ash Wednesday: Queer Martyrs Rise from the Ashes – Kittredge Cherry (Jesus in Love Blog, February 10, 2016).
It's Ash Wednesday: Time to Indulge in God's Mercy – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, February 10, 2016).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Ash Wednesday Reflections
Now Is the Acceptable Time
The Lenten Journey
Lent: "A Summons to Live Anew"
"Here I Am!" – The Lenten Response
Lent: A Time to Fast and Feast
Lent with Henri
Waking Dagobert
The Ashes of Our Martyrs

Photography: Michael J. Bayly.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Nijinsky's "Crown of Thorns"

Artist Damian Siqueiros contends that famed dancer
Vaslav Nijinsky's "internal torment", his "crown of thorns,"
was the result of societal repression around his
gay "love affair" with impresario Sergei Diagilev.
Yet was that really the case?

I've been reading quite a lot about legendary dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) and recently came across an article by art historian Ivan Savvine about artist Damian Siqueiros' 2014 project, "To Russia With Love." This project features depictions of Nijinsky and Sergei Diagilev (pictured together at right in 1911).

Following is an excerpt from Savvine's article about Sigueriros' project.

Damian Siqueiros, a Montreal-based visual artist and self-proclaimed “photopainter,” imagines, captures and restores the homohistory of Russia with his new project To Russia With Love. A field of inquiry tabooed for so long, the homoshistory of Russia – or history of Russian homoculture, if you may – has not enjoyed a proper chance to be discussed or shown. To Russia With Love is a series of provocative compositions imbued with iconic symbolism. It is a meditative journey into the worlds of past and present, the worlds of censorship and merciless repression, which nonetheless produced some of the world’s most dazzling artistic innovators.

The line-up of the characters who inhabit Siqueiros’ imaginary and yet historically significant world is impressive . . . [and includes] Sergei Diaghilev (the founder of Ballets Russes in Paris and arguably the first modern impresario at large) accompanied by his lover and muse Vaslav Nijinsky, a dancer and a choreographer, whose sheer audacity and force continue to live on as formative stimuli for the modern dance stage.

[Siqueriros says that] "Diaghilev and Nijinsky called my attention because they are at the center of one of the most productive, creative artistic companies. Diaghilev creates this hub for talent of all sorts like it was not seen before with Picasso, Balanchine, Stravinsky, Chanel. Paris is an extremely tough city and here is this Russian producer at the head of the avant-garde of the art world. That is an extremely rare phenomenon. The Rite of Spring, with its polarizing success, has become a rite of passage for choreographers to this day. In terms of Nijinsky, he’s arguably the best male dancer of the first half of the twentieth century. He starts a tradition of male dancers followed by Nureyev and Baryshnikov. One has to wonder how much of their creative force was based on the strength of their love affair.

"I think [both] Tchaikovsky and Nijinsky are very clear cases of what repression can do to the soul of one person. Their internal torment has become like a crown of thorns, visible to all and a witness to the shame to a society that was not advanced enough to understand them and ready to crucify them on account of their sexuality. It is only paradoxical that they enjoyed so much success and that with that success they had the scrutiny of the gaze of the world."

Above: Miguel Doucet as Diaghilev and Roscoe Stone as Nijinsky
in Damian Siqueiros' 2014 project, "To Russia With Love."

While I appreciate Siqueiros' photography I don't entirely agree with his take on Nijinsky and Diaghilev's relationship. Let me preface my critique by saying that I understand how gay people hunger for role models; we all want to see the realities of our lives mirrored back to us and magnified for all the world to see in great stories, films and other artistic expressions. Young people especially, gay and straight, long for positive and affirming roles models; and for queer youth such role models are definitely out there.

Yet it concerns me when this desire for someone or something to aspire to blinds us to personality traits, situations and relationships that in actuality may be far from worthy of admiration, from placement on a pedestal. With this in mind, I have to say that I see very little to admire or yearn for in the relationship of Nijinsky and Diaghilev. And yet in describing his project's photographs depicting Nijinsky and Diaghilev, Siqueiros describes their relationship as a "love affair," one that fueled Nijinsky's creativity.

From my reading on Nijinsky (pictured at left in 1909), I think this description is not only overly romantic but in fact false. I think it was Nijinsky resentment of Diaghilev and the control he exercised over every aspect of his life that played a far greater role in fueling Nijinsky's creativity than did any feelings of affection. I'm not suggesting that Nijinsky had no feelings of affection at all for his mentor, I just think that any such feelings were secondary to his hunger to be free of Diaghilev's oppressive need for control.

I think it's simplistic and erroneous to say that it was the very real homo-negativity of the times that was the primary cause of repression and torment in the young Nijinsky's life. I contend that Diaghilev, 18 years his senior and, more problematically, an extremely possessive and controlling personality, was a more repressive (some would say abusive) presence in Nijinsky's life.

Dance critic Luke Jennings, for instance, notes that in Diaghilev: A Life, author Sjeng Scheijen presents Diaghilev as a "charming and ruthless tyrant, whose sexual and emotional manipulations of those around him were born of a need for absolute control." Elsewhere, Peter Conrad, in reviewing Lucy Moore's 2013 biography of Nijinsky, critiques both Diaghilev and the treatment of dancers of his time.

[Moore] is franker than [Richard] Buckle in his 1971 biography could afford to be about the sexual abuse and exploitation [Nijinsky] suffered, or perhaps volunteered for, in his early career. . . . Diaghilev – a connoisseur of the male arse – ordered Benois to shorten the tunic he designed for Giselle to show off the rondure of Nijinsky's bottom; he also banned the trunks that smoothed the contours of obtrusive male organs. . . . It's apt that Nijinsky's first roles were as slaves, in Scheherazade and The Pavilion of Armide, since dancers of both sexes in the years before 1917 were treated as serfs, to be used for the sexual gratification of their patrons.

Another early and important role of Nijinsky's was that of the puppet in the Ballet Russes' 1911 ballet Petrushka, designed by choreographer and dancer Mikhail Fokine. It too, according to Gennady Smakow, was a role that shed light on Nijinsky's relationship with Diaghilev.

Writes Smakow in his book, The Great Russian Dancers:

In creating Petrushka for Nijinsky, Fokine achieved a kind of malicious psychoanalysis. Unquestionably, the role was designed with an eye to Nijinsky's bizarre offstage behavior – his mechanical gestures, wooden manner, impassive face (as deadpan as Buster Keaton's). What is more, the similarity between Petrushka's relationship with the Old Magician and that of Nijinsky and Diaghilev was surely meant to arouse the dancer's complex inner mechanism. His repressed resentment, his self-pity – all the facets of a "trapped soul" were to surface and stun the audience with the force of his pain.

Fokine's experiment was more than successful. As Petrushka, Nijinsky displayed the tragic facet of his genius. According to Alexandre Benois, he miraculously managed to express Petrushka's "pitiful oppression and his hopeless efforts to achieve personal dignity without ceasing to be a puppet."

. . . We can only wonder at the impact of Nijinsky's Petrushka. The rare balance between his stunning virtuosity and his impressive appearance had an almost surreal effect. His total identification with Petrushka, which stemmed (as Fokine had intended) from his sense of his relationship with Diaghilev and from his deep-seated inferiority complex, added an element of poignancy to the characterization which was further enriched by the resonance of Russian culture, with its time-honored theme of the spiritual superiority of the oppressed.

Lucy Moore in her 2013 biography of Nijinsky, similarly notes:

One of the remarkable things about Fokine's choreography is how insightful it was. Again and again he took a stock character and made it into something vitally evocative, distilling something of a dancer's essence in the roles he created for them. He did it for Pavlova with the Dying Swan, and he did it for Nijinsky with Petrushka, turning a wooden puppet into an extistential hero, oppressed by his fate, scabbling for a vestige of dignity, meditating on the precariousness of freedom and the tragedy of its loss.

Lydia Lopokova agreed. Petrushka had become, she wrote, the symbol of Nijinsky's "personality, the imprisoned genius in his docile body of the puppet struggling to become human and falling back again." he was, Richard Buckle quipped, "a Hamlet among puppets."

Damian Siqueiros would have us believe that it was "a society that was not advanced enough to understand [Nijinsky and Diaghilev's relationship] and ready to crucify them on account of their sexuality" which imprisoned Nijinsky's genius. The 1980 film Nijinsky conveys a similar message. But it wasn't as clear cut as that. Undeniably, it was a difficult era to be anything but heterosexual, but within the glittering arts world of pre-World War One Europe,centered in the relatively progressive city of Paris, Nijinsky and Diaghilev's relationship was an open secret. It had no impact whatsoever on the success (or failure) of the ballets they created and presented.

Left: Alan Bates as Diaghilev and George de la Peña as Nijinsky in the 1980 film Nijinsky.

It's also important to note that although Nijinsky is often claimed by gay men as one of their own, he was most likely either straight or bisexual. I actually think the most accurate word to describe what many of his contemporaries discerned as his sexual ambiguity, especially on stage, is queer.

It was an ambiguity that made for unforgettable and groundbreaking performances, performances that audiences across the continent clamored to see. Notes Gennady Smakov, for instance, about another of Nijinsky's most famous (and controversial) roles, that of The Rose in Le Spectre de la rose.

Spectre was a powerful metaphor for sexual ambivalence: a flower represented by an athletically built youth. Nijinsky's muscular but androgynous body soared in the air, embodying the inebriating power of perfume or, in a broader sense, [the] vague longing for sexual fulfillment.

Another perspective

I feel that a more perceptive and accurate depiction of Nijinsky than that offered by Damian Siqueiros can be found in choreographer John Neumeier's 2000 ballet, Nijinsky.

Above: Alexandre Riabko, Anna Polikarpova and Otto Bubenicek in Nijinsky. (Photo: Holger Badekow)

In its review of the Australian premiere of Nijinsky, notes the following.

For his ballet, Nijinsky, the choreographer, John Neumeier burrows deep into the mind of the great dancer to tell of his descent into madness.

Through intimate encounters and choreographed landscapes depicting Nijinsky’s memories and fears, the life of the dancer is brought to the stage in the dance equivalent of a stream of consciousness.

The audience can empathise with Nijinsky as he speaks through dance of his confusion and passions, while also observing his disintegration, as if they are watching a human exhibit in a gallery.

. . . Neumeier makes much use of intricate pas de trois and pas de deux. Among the best of these is a pas de deux for Nijinsky and Diaghilev that depicts Nijinsky, by turns, as a sacrifice, lover, and childlike being in the grasp of the impresario.

Recurrent gestures and shapes throughout the ballet include arms held in a wide circle (an extended balletic port de bras first position), flexed feet, feet used to press on other’s bodies, and arms held in outward line from the body to form a cross. The cross shape recurs at the end of the ballet when Nijinsky rolls out one long black swathe of black fabric and one of scarlet, in which he wraps himself in his dance he called his ‘wedding with God”.

The circled arms echo the large white illuminated circles of the set that, in turn, mirror the circles Nijinksy made in his drawings (comprising concentric circles and eye shapes).

Always, Neumeier goes back to ballet’s base with Nijinsky’s dance beginnings represented in classical technique – plies, tendus, and port de bras.

I appreciate Neumeier's thoughtful perspective on Nijinsky and the two most important relationships in his life – his relationship with Diaghilev and his relationship with Romola de Pulszky, whom he married in 1913.

I think his marriage to Romola is the greatest mystery around him. He was bisexual from the beginning. I do not think that the relationship with Diaghilev was one-sided, that Diaghilev seduced him. It was a mutual, also physical situation between them. We know certain things from his diary, including his relations with prostitutes in Paris. At a certain point he just wanted to have this woman. He didn't think it would have the consequences it did. There is a very interesting letter he wrote to Stravinksky, which is in Switzerland, in which he is quite confused at the reaction of Diaghilev to his marriage. I believe he thought that the two things could somehow continue at the same time.

What is interesting for me – and you will see this in the ballet – is that I don't judge anyone in it. I won't call it "scholarship," but in the Nijinsky fanaticism there are generally two camps. First, Diaghilev is the Devil. He seduced Nijinsky and that his madness was due to the relationship. Then there are those who consider his wife the Villainess. She is the one who took him away from his homosexual relationship and, therefore, brought on his madness. I don't think either one of them is right. Even the situation of his being released from the Ballets Russes is quite complicated. He was not released immediately upon his marriage. He was released later during the South American tour when he failed to perform at an event where there was no understudy for him at that moment. He knew his wife was pregnant. She convinced him to stay with her that evening and, therefore, he was released. As the director of a company, I can well understand that.

Above: Alexandre Riabko (Nijinsky) and Carsten Jung (Diaghilev) in Neumeier's Nijinsky. (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

"I want to dance because I feel"

Rather than Nijinsky's queerness (or any "repression," in Damian Siqueiros' words, experienced as a result of his relationship with Diaghilev), I contend that it is more accurate to identify as Nijinsky's "crown of thorns" his being prevented from dancing – first by Diaghilev's firing of him, then by the upheavals of World War One, and finally by his debilitating mental illness. The last of these was, of course, compounded by the first two.

Dancing was of vital importance to Vaslav Nijinsky. As Lucy Moore writes, "Nijinsky had a passionate connectedness to his work, identifying completely with his art. He was different in every role, submerging himself into the part he was playing without any sense of the post-war irony or detachment which characterized later twentieth-century performance."

Moore also reminds us that Nijinsky communicated to his audience a sense of the "saturated moment" described by Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot – "a mystical combination of thought, sensation and experience that created a unified poetic whole."

Given all of this, it's not surprising that, as Moore notes, "even his friends often thought the dancer was [Nijinsky's] true self." And at the core of one's true self, many spiritual traditions tell us, is the sacred presence we usually term "God."

"I am the God," Nijinsky wrote when in the throes of his illness, "who dies when he is not loved."

In reflecting on this statement, Moore offers valuable insight. I therefore conclude this post by sharing the following from her 2013 biography of Nijinsky.

There is an electric connection between the God with whom Vaslav identifies and the dieu de la danse he had been acclaimed as by audiences ever since his professional debut ten years earlier. The sense of the dancer-artist as a semi-divine figure, capable of attaining what Erik Bruhn called "something total – a sense of total being," has been beautifully expressed by Rudolf Nureyev, and I imagine that something like this is also what Nijinsky felt when he performed. "There have been certain moments on the stage – four or five times – when I have suddenly felt a feeling of 'I am!' A moment that feels as though it's forever. An indescribable feeling of being everywhere and nowhere." This zen-like transcendence, a route into what Colin Wilson describes as "more abundant life," was something to which Nijinsky was exquisitely attuned but could not translate into his day-to-day experience. He could not communicate it to Romola; even he could not always grasp it. It was no wonder people had always thought of him as inhabiting a different plane. Perhaps only Diaghilev had understood, in part at any rate.

And without being a performer . . . what would Nijinsky be? Repeatedly he refers to living as working and death as not working, conflating the meaning of the words. For him "the working life was the only real life": human relations were fraught with pitfalls, "probably pointless, possibly dangerous, and in the end entirely destructive." When he describes the first time he made love to Diaghilev, he writes that he needed to live – to work – and was therefore willing to make any sacrifice. Now that there was no sacrifice he could make, he could feel his art slipping away from him. "I want to dance because I feel," he wrote [after his last public performance in 1919], "and not because people are waiting for me."

Above: The tombstone of Vaslav Nijinsky in Montmartre Cemetery in Paris. The statue, donated by Serge Lifar, shows Nijinsky as the puppet Petrushka.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Nijinsky's Last Jump at Edinburgh Festival Review – Tender Evocation of a Tortured Ballet Genius – Judith Mackrell (The Guardian, August 21, 2015).
A Review of John Neumeier's Ballet, NijinskyGarebian on the Arts (November 27, 2014).
A Review of the Hamburg Ballet's Performance of John Neumeier's Nijinsky – Larissa Archer (Writhing in Apathy, March 1, 2013).
A Review of Nijinsky by Lucy Moore – Veronica Horwell (The Guardian, May 1, 2013).
The Rite of Spring – A Rude Awakening – Philip Hensher (The Guardian, April 12, 2013).
The Rite of Spring: "The Work of a Mad Man" – Tom Service (The Guardian, February 12, 2013).
Photographer Kate Baker Takes a Leap Into the Life and Soul of Vaslav Nijinsky – Kate Baker (The Financial Review, July 11, 2015).
From the Archives: Vaslav Nijinsky's ObituaryThe Guardian (April 10, 1950).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Dancer and the Dance
The Soul of a Dancer
The Premise of All Forms of Dance
The Art of Dancing as the Supreme Symbol of the Spiritual Life
The Church and Dance
The Naked Truth . . . in Dance and in Life
The Trouble with the Male Dancer (Part 1)
The Trouble with the Male Dancer (Part 2)
The Trouble with the Male Dancer (Part 3)
Dance and Photography: Two Entwined Histories
Gay Men and Modern Dance
Recovering the Queer Artistic Heritage

Friday, February 05, 2016

Winter Storm

Earlier this week a winter storm brought the largest amount of snow of the season to the Twin Cities of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Reports WCCO News:

Some communities around the Twin Cities woke up Wednesday morning to more than a foot of snow following a night of blizzard-like conditions that brought Minnesota some of the biggest snowfall totals of the season.

WCCO Weather Watchers reported more than 13 inches of snow in New Hope and North St. Paul in the north metro. Meanwhile, other communities immediately surrounding the Twin Cities, such as St. Louis Park, Edina and Bloomington, saw about a foot of snow.

At the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the official snow total was 9.2 inches.

The storm that brought the snow swirled up from the Great Plains Tuesday morning and parked itself over the Twin Cities. It snowed heavily until Wednesday morning, and strong winds during the overnight hours made travel dangerous. Schools and highways in southern Minnesota closed, several cities in the metro declared snow emergencies, and Minnesota roads saw upwards of 400 crashes.

In southern Minnesota, strong winds with gusts up to 25 mph lingered Wednesday morning, prompting a winter weather advisory. Meanwhile, highways that closed due to blizzard-like conditions Tuesday were beginning to reopen.

Following are more photos I took in south Minneapolis on the day of the storm (Tuesday, February 2) and the day after.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Winter Storm (2012)
Winter Light
A Winter Reflection
Shadows and Light
Winter's Return
A Winter Walk Along Minnehaha Creek
Photo of the Day – December 9, 2012

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Something to Think About . . .

What are you asking me to do when you ask me to vote for [Hillary Clinton] in the primaries over Bernie Sanders?

You are asking me to consciously give up on any hope I may have of living a sane life in our country. To vote for her in the primaries, I would need to believe that the establishment on both the right and the left have so thoroughly strangled the political system that it is no longer “reasonable” to even try for reform.

. . . [F]or me to choose Hillary over Bernie right now is to literally choose to give up on the best chance we have ever had to finally become a reasonable, civilized nation, and say instead “No, we can’t do it, I am too scared of what might happen.” . . . [T]o lay down now and accept the position that our political system is so thoroughly bankrupt that I should drop any expectation of living beyond paycheck to paycheck in order to prevent something even worse from happening . . . well, that’s it. It’s over.

The powerful can sit back and relax, knowing that if we didn’t stand up now, we never will — they know their manipulations work, their place (and ours) is set. We shut the door and I embrace the hand-to-mouth class status we’ve tried to move out of for so long.

I hope you see why I can’t go there, and I won’t. I will continue to fight for Bernie. And if he doesn’t get the nod, then I’ll hold my nose and vote for Hillary Clinton in the general because . . . we can’t let the opponent side in.

– Robyn Morton
Excerpted from "When You Ask Me to Vote for Clinton"
January 28, 2016

Related Off-site Links:
Sanders: "Virtual Tie" in Iowa Sends Establishment a Profound Message – Jon Queally (Common Dreams, February 1, 2016).
Iowa Proved Bernie Sanders Can Win – and That Hillary Clinton is Beatable – Lucia Graves (The Guardian, February 2, 2016).
The Big Winner of the 2016 Race: Democratic Socialism – Elizabeth Bruenig (New Republic, February 3, 2016).
Bernie Sanders Explains Democratic Socialism – Alex Seitz-Wald (MSNBC, November 19, 2015).
After Dead Heat in Iowa, Will Clinton Move Further Left to Stop the Sanders Surge?Democracy Now! (February 2, 2016).
The Case Against Hillary – Ryan Cooper (The Week, February 1, 2016).
Sanders Rides High Into New Hampshire with Surge of Voter Support – Nadia Prupis (Common Dreams, February 3, 2016).
Why Bernie Sanders is the Best Candidate in the Running for the White House – Shaun King (Daily News, January 15, 2016).
Bernie Sanders Takes on Wall Street – Clare Foran (The Atlantic, January 6, 2016).
Hillary Clinton Thinks We're Stupid for Wanting ChangeDaily Kos (February 2, 20156)
What Endless War? Love the U.S. Empire? Well, Hillary Clinton's Your Choice – Marjorie Cohn (TruthDig, February 1, 2016).
Hillary Clinton Pitched Iraq as "Business Opportunity" for U.S. Corporations – David Sirota and Andrew Perez (International Business Times, September 30, 2015).
Adding Up the Costs of Hillary Clinton's Wars – Conn Hallinan (Foreign Policy in Focus, February 1, 2016).
"Sticker Kid" Reveals Overwhelming Indifference Young Voters Have Toward Clinton – Michael Sainato (Observer, February 3, 2016).
Democratic Socialism Might Be Inevitable in America, Even If Bernie Sanders Loses – Max Ehrenfreund (The Washington Post, February 1, 2016).
Who Are the One Percent? – Suzy Khimm (The Washington Post, October 6, 2011).
Bernie Sanders Says 99 Percent of "New" Income is Going to Top 1 Percent – Katie Sanders (Politifact, April 19, 2015).

UPDATES: Finally, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton Had a Real Argument Over How Politics Works – Ezra Klein (Vox, February 5, 2016).
Sanders Argues for "Yes We Can" While Clinton Counters "No We Can't" – Jon Queally (Common Dreams, February 5, 2016).
Hillary, Bernie, and the Progressive Question – Ruth Conniff (The Progressive, February 8, 2016).
The Worm Has Turned: Barring Unforeseeable Events, Bernie Sanders Will Be the Democratic NomineeDaily Kos (February 7, 2016).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Democratic Socialism
Something to Think About – December 14, 2011
Quote of the Day – August 17, 2011
A Socialist Response to the Financial Crisis
Capitalism on Trial

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Seven Principles for Living with Deep Intention

The following seven principles are derived from The Monk's Manifesto.

I first came across these principles for living with deep intention at My Soul in Silence Waits, a blogsite created by a woman simply known as Anne.

"The inspiration behind this blog," writes Anne, "is to share insights, quotes, prayers and ideas that have helped me to draw closer to God. It is a chronicle of my personal reflection and of my quest to find the heart of love and the gift – in each moment – within each person – and in each experience. This is a part of my life’s journey in the search of truth, hope, stillness, and love."

Seven Principles for Living with Deep Intention

1. I commit to finding moments each day for silence and solitude, to make space for another voice to be heard, and to resist a culture of noise and constant stimulation.

2. I commit to radical acts of hospitality by welcoming the stranger both without and within. I recognize that when I make space inside my heart for the unclaimed parts of myself, I cultivate compassion and the ability to accept those places in others.

3. I commit to cultivating community by finding kindred spirits along the path, soul friends with whom I can share my deepest longings, and mentors who can offer guidance and wisdom for the journey.

4. I commit to cultivating awareness of my kinship with creation and a healthy asceticism by discerning my use of energy and things, letting go of what does not help nature to flourish.

5. I commit to bringing myself fully present to the work I do, whether paid or unpaid, holding a heart of gratitude for the ability to express my gifts in the world in meaningful ways.

6. I commit to rhythms of rest and renewal through the regular practice of Sabbath and resist a culture of busyness that measures my worth by what I do.

7. I commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Guidepost on the Journey
May Balance and Harmony Be Your Aim
Thoughts on Christian Meditation (Part 1)
Thoughts on Christian Meditation (Part 2)
Thoughts on Christian Meditation (Part 3)
Thoughts on Christian Meditation (Part 4)
Thoughts on Christian Meditation (Part 5)
Diarmuid O'Murchú on Meditation: "A Gift Bestowed Upon Every Human Being"
Happy Birthday, Mum! (includes Thích Nhất Hạnh's thoughts on walking meditation)
Sufism: A Call to Awaken
Prayer of the Week – November 23, 2015
The Source is Within You
The Choice (and Risk) That is Love
For 2015, Three "Generous Promises"
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All

Image 1: A still from Terrence Malick's 2005 film, The New World.
Images 2-3: Michael J. Bayly

Sunday, January 31, 2016

We All Dance . . .

. . . to a mysterious tune.

And the piper who plays the melody
from an inscrutable distance –
whatever name we give him
– Creative Force, God –
escapes all book knowledge.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Soul of a Dancer
The Source is Within You
A Kind of Dancing Divinity
Unique . . . Yes, You!
In the Dance of Light, Eyes of Fiery Passion
Divine Connection
"Then I Shall Leap Into Love"

Image: Renan Cerdeiro (Photo: Leonardo Batista)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Israeli Policy, Not Anti-Semitism, at the Root of Disruption at Creating Change 2016 Conference

The above image by Micah Bazant accompanies a response by the group ‪#‎CancelPinkwashing‬ to those who have criticized its members for shutting down a January 22 reception at this year's National LGBTQ Taskforce's Creating Change conference.

This reception was hosted by A Wider Bridge, an organization that "fosters relationships between Israel and the LGBT community," and the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance. #‎CancelPinkwashing understands these organizations to be "Zionist" groups, and accuse them of "pinkwashing," a term that refers to the "cynical use of gay rights to distract from and normalize Israeli occupation, settler colonialism, and apartheid."

At one point in #CancelPinkwashing's response the group states the following:

A few of our goals were accomplished, namely that we shut down the pinkwashing reception and raised the national visibility of pinkwashing as a Zionist tactic. We also actively pushed back on the overall complicity of Creating Change and the Task Force. We should note that this is not the first time that the Task Force has been criticized for marginalizing people of color or cultivating racism at Creating Change. In fact, these criticisms and protests are commonplace at the Conference. Whether this year or in the past . . . We call on the Task Force to take a firm stand against colonialism, racism and apartheid and refuse to host pinkwashing events by Israel advocacy organizations.

To read ‪#‎CancelPinkwashing's statement in its entirety, click here.

But what exactly is pinkwashing? Well, here's how the author of a January 26 commentary at Now North Face defines it.

In Mark Joseph Stern’s op-ed about #cancelpinkwashing in Slate Magazine, he repeats a misconception that I’ve heard quite a bit. He thinks that when people complain about pinkwashing, what they’re saying is “All advances for LGBTQ+ people in Israeli society, all support for LGBTQ+ people among Israeli government or organizations, is a smokescreen created only to deflect or distract from criticism of Israeli treatment of Palestinians,” which would be anti-Semitic because of the implication that the world’s only Jewish-dominated government only does good things for insidious, malignant reasons, which plays to old anti-Semitic tropes.

That’s not what pinkwashing means. . . . Pinkwashing means the exploitation of Israeli support for some kinds of LGBTQ+ rights, or the vibrancy of Israel’s LGBTQ+ communities, for deflection or propaganda purposes. Do people think it’s anti-Semitic to think that Israel engages in propaganda? Israel certainly thinks Israel engages in propaganda.

The Israeli government, in fact, developed Hasbara Fellowships to train students in “public diplomacy,” in conjunction with Aish HaTorah, a homophobic Orthodox organization that has promoted conversion “therapy”. And those Hasbara Fellows, supported by this homophobic organization and the Israeli government, have developed campaigns to convince students to believe that supporting LGBTQ+ rights means supporting Israel, under the premise of benign educational events. That is pinkwashing.

In his January 28 commentary Scout Bratt says that it was a "good thing" that the debate over pinkwashing at the Creating Change conference was "agitational . . . uncomfortable [and] brought out tensions in our relationships, our values and our communities." He goes to say the following.

While others in the Jewish world are handwringing about the idea of “intersectionality,” we were striving to connect our struggles for liberation with those of others.

It’s because of this interconnected struggle that we can’t sit quietly and watch pinkwashing organizations like A Wider Bridge paper over Israel’s harmful policies toward Palestinians — policies that harm gay Palestinians in Haifa as well as in Ramallah. This pinkwashing is an integral part of Israel’s “Brand Israel” public relations strategy, which appeals to racist ideas of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims as backward and intolerant in contrast to the supposedly enlightened Western liberalism of Israel. A superficial embrace of “gay rights” has been used as an effective way to advertise Israel’s Western identity, at the expense of Palestinians who are portrayed as needing to be “saved” by Israeli liberalism — even as they are simultaneously denied equal rights in the Jewish state. Pinkwashing erases queer Palestinians, or uses them as props for a savior narrative, while intentionally distracting from the oppression and violence that they face under Israeli rule.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the perspective, goals or tactics of ‪#‎CancelPinkwashing. An open letter to the Taskforce by 90 "members and leaders of the LGBTQ community," some Jewish, some not, denounced the actions of ‪#‎CancelPinkwashing. This letter noted, in part, the following:

It has been reported – and videos taken contemporaneously confirm – that the protesters chanted slogans like “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” which necessarily suggests that the State of Israel should no longer exist.

. . . Given the concentrated and organized hostility that is so often displayed against Jewish and Israeli LGBTQ groups, and the stark rise in global anti-Semitism, it is even more important that we as a community promote civil and respectful debate. It is intellectually, politically and morally dishonest to claim that in the name of freedom, liberation, or some other progressive ideal, there is a right to target and exclude Jewish/Israeli groups, to foment physical intimidation and harassment, and to encourage anti-Semitism.

There is a long and ugly history of this kind of censorship where individuals with controversial ideas and viewpoints have been silenced in the name of the “greater good.” We should know by now that such censorship results in fewer (not more) good ideas and greater (not lesser) oppression of us all. Indeed, given that we come from a movement where LGBTQ people were effectively shut out from participation in the public discourse for so many years, what happened at Creating Change 2016 was extremely dangerous. If we as a movement really believe in the values we profess to hold dear, then it is time to put an end to this.

To read this open letter in its entirety, click here.

I have to say that I find it both troubling and problematic when criticism of Israeli policy is equated with anti-Semitism or efforts to "encourage" anti-Semitism. From everything I've read, it seems clear that those who disrupted the reception were compelled to do so not by anti-Semitism, but by their anger, frustration and concern around Israeli policy as it relates to the Palestinians and others.

Here's part of one response to the above open letter of denoucement that address this erroneous conflating of anti-Israeli policy with anti-Semitism.

We deeply disagree with any anti-Semitic language that may have been used during the protest. But focusing the conversation on the actions of a single person among several hundred is disingenuous, and an attempt to deflect and derail the conversation about why the protests occurred in the first place: which was to draw attention to the racist denial of basic human rights that Palestinians and other people of color face under the Israeli government.

We also understand that the protest chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is seen by some as a painful call for the destruction of Israel. For others, that chant does not conjure up the destruction of Israel, but instead simply speaks to the many human rights - including the basic right to freedom of movement - currently denied to Palestinians. We beseech others in our community to try to hear this chant differently, even for a moment. What if we heard the call for freedom as one in which we all got free? Where all the people of Palestine/Israel enjoyed equal rights? Where Mizrahi Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and Palestinians were all accorded the same rights and privileges as Ashkenazi Jews? Do we only stand for plurality when it expresses our own views and protects our own rights?

This same response also contains the following insightful observation.

Creating Change has always been a place of protest. Almost every year, protesters take over the main stage. This year alone, protesters interrupted the Black Institute and the Latino Institute. Yet there has been no national outcry over these protesters - only over the ones focused on A Wider Bridge’s event. These are also communities that face intimidation and violence daily, yet no one has attempted to shame those protesters. The reasons for this are simple, if not simply stated: When protests occur within communities of color, they are viewed within our community as reasonable critiques of beliefs or tactics. But when people of color protest against a largely white community, they are viewed as “intimidating,” and cause such fear as to “bring us back to the Holocaust.” This narrative also ignores the many of us that are both Jewish and people of color and leaves us as a community and a people divided.

Many aspects of this issue are not new to me. Following, for example, is my 2014 response to a Facebook friend who leveled the charge of anti-Semitism at me for, among other things, participating in a rally against Israeli militarism back in 2002.

First, let me say how much I appreciate your friendship and your willingness to engage with me in this highly emotional subject. Second, the sign I was carrying back in 2002 read "Criticism of Israeli Militarism is Not Anti-Semitic." I'm sorry if you found the statement offensive, but I continue to stand by it. Perhaps that difference in viewpoint is the big sticking point between us. Also, if you find that particular statement to be in some way an expression of anti-Semitism, then I have to question your labeling as anti-Semitic other statements, organizations and publications that you have also dismissed as anti-Semitic. Third, I don't support Hamas. I find this organization's anti-Jewish rhetoric, along with some of its actions, abhorrent. Yet I also find abhorrent the treatment of Palestinian populations by Israeli policies and military actions. The reasons the Palestinians in Gaza elected Hamas are complex, but I don't believe the group's anti-Semitic rhetoric was a major factor. From my reading, it was Hamas' dedication to liberating the people from the Israeli blockade/occupation, and its opposition to the corrupt previous government, that drew people to it. I don't believe that the desire to be liberated from the oppressive conditions of the blockade/occupation automatically translates into anti-Semitism. Again, my sense is that this is a sticking point between our differing perspectives. My hope is that once Palestinians have achieved their hoped for liberation, another group other than Hamas will be voted into power. Most Palestinians, like most Jews, want to live in peace, side by side. But for that to happen there must first be justice for all.

In conclusion, I share an excerpt from one of the most incisive and moving pieces I've read about this very complex and controversial issue: Rabbi Michael Lerner's August 4, 2014 Salon commentary, "Israel Has Broken My Heart: I’m a Rabbi in Mourning for a Judaism Being Murdered by Israel." I've shared the following excerpt from this commentary previously, but it's well worth sharing again.

In my book Embracing Israel/Palestine I have argued that both Israelis and Palestinians are victims of post-traumatic stress disorder. I have a great deal of compassion for both peoples, particularly for my own Jewish people who have gone through traumas that have inevitably distorted future generations. Those traumas don’t exonerate Israel’s behavior or that of Hamas, but they are relevant for those of us seeking a path to social healing and transformation.

Yet that healing is impossible until those who are victims of PTSD are willing to work on overcoming it.

And this is precisely where the American Jewish community and Jews around the world have taken a turn that is disastrous, by turning the Israeli nation state into “the Jewish state” and making Israel into an idol to be worshiped rather than a political entity like any other political entity, with strengths and deep flaws. Despairing of spiritual salvation after God failed to show up and save us from the Holocaust, increasing numbers of Jews have abandoned the religion of compassion and identification with the most oppressed that was championed by our biblical prophets, and instead come to worship power and to rejoice in Israel’s ability to become the most militarily powerful state in the Middle East. If a Jew today goes into any synagogue in the U.S. or around the world and says, “I don’t believe in God or Torah and I don’t follow the commandments,” most will still welcome you in and urge you to become involved. But say, “I don’t support the State of Israel,” and you are likely to be labeled a “self-hating Jew” or anti-Semite, scorned and dismissed. As Aaron said of the Golden Calf in the Desert, “These are your Gods, O Israel.”

The worship of the state makes it necessary for Jews to turn Judaism into an auxiliary of ultra-nationalist blindness. Every act of the State of Israel against the Palestinian people is seen as sanctioned by God. Each Sabbath Jews in synagogues around the world are offered prayers for the well-being of the State of Israel but not for our Arab cousins. The very suggestion that we should be praying for the Palestinian people’s welfare is seen as heresy and proof of being “self-hating Jews.”

The worship of power is precisely what Judaism came into being to challenge. We were the slaves, the powerless, and though the Torah talks of God using a strong arm to redeem the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, it simultaneously insists, over and over again, that when Jews go into their promised land in Canaan (not Palestine) they must “love the stranger/the Other,” have one law for the stranger and for the native born, and warns “do not oppress the stranger/the Other.” Remember, Torah reminds us, “that you were strangers/the Other in the land of Egypt” and “you know the heart of the stranger.” Later sources in Judaism even insist that a person without compassion who claims to be Jewish cannot be considered Jewish. A spirit of generosity is so integral to Torah consciousness that when Jews are told to let the land lie fallow once every seven years (the societal-wide Sabbatical Year), they must allow that which grows spontaneously from past plantings be shared with the Other/the stranger.

The Jews are not unique in this. The basic reality is that most of humanity has always heard a voice inside themselves telling them that the best path to security and safety is to love others and show generosity, and a counter voice that tells us that the only path to security is domination and control over others. This struggle between the voice of fear and the voice of love, the voice of domination/power-over and the voice of compassion, empathy and generosity, have played out throughout history and shape contemporary political debates around the world.

Related Off-site Links:
Yes, Our Anti-Israel Protest Disrupted LGBT Conference – That's the Point! – Scout Bratt (, January 28, 2016).
Israel Advocates Falsely Claim Chicago LGBTQ Protest Disrupted Jewish Prayers – Ali Abunimah (The Electonic Intifada, January 26, 2016).
If I Am Not for Myself: Addressing Misconceptions About Creating Change and #CancelPinkwashingNow North Face (January 26, 2016).
Hating the Occupation, Not the Jews – Gideon Levy (Haaretz, January 27, 2016).
Israel's Image Issue – Roger Cohen (The New York Times (January 28, 2016).
Tyranny of the Israeli Majority? – Daniel Sokatch (The World Post, January 28, 2016).
"Pinkwashing" and Israel's Use of Gays as a Messaging Tool – Sarah Schulman (The New York Times, November 22, 2011).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
For Some Jews, Israel's Treatment of Palestinians is Yet Another Jewish Tragedy
Quote of the Day – August 12, 2014
Thoughts on Prayer in a "Summer of Strife"
Something to Think About – July 18, 2014
"We Will Come Together in Our Pain"
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
In Search of a "Global Ethic"

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Integrating Cernunnos, "Archetype of Sensuality and the Instinctual World"

I recently came across the above image by Amdhuscias. It's quite beautiful, don't you think? It depicts the antlered (or horned) god Cernunnos of Celtic mythology. Upon seeing it I was reminded of something I read of this god (or archetype) in my friend Ed Sellner's book The Double: Male Eros, Friendships, and Mentoring – From Gilgamesh to Kerouac.

Shortly after, while researching my post on the pagan origins of All Saints Day, I came across an insightful perspective on Cernunnos by feminist neo-pagan Starhawk in her book The Spiral Dance.

I share the insights of both Ed and Starhawk this evening, starting with the following excerpt from Ed's book, The Double.

Ancient peoples, including the Greeks and Celts, were convinced that eros is a unifying power, a source of creativity and meaning, an opportunity for spiritual growth. It is definitely associated with attractions and needs, both physical and spiritual, which often overlap, especially when people are intimately involved or living in close proximity with each other. For warriors, as we've seen in the stories of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Achilles and Patroclus, and Cú Chulainn and Ferdiad, the battles and wars in their lives brought them closer together than probably any other situation might, and because of their deep friendship as well as their crucial dependence on each other for survival itself, many of them responded both emotionally and physically.

The ancients, especially the Celts, thus knew the power of eros, acknowledging the inherent mystery of attraction and celebrating it in stories, rituals, and dance. They knew that attraction contains all sorts of elements – from childhood experiences, dream figures, fantasies, to the basic human need to touch and be touched. They knew too that, among both women and men, some might be more strongly pulled to the opposite or to the same gender as themselves, while some might be drawn to both. This, the ancients thought, was a matter of personality and taste, like the preference for red wine rather than white. They didn't divide people nor themselves as we do today into strict categories labelled "heterosexual" or "homosexual." They simply acknowledged erotic feelings in relationships when they became aware of them, and were grateful for them as a sign of genuine love. They recognized that although eros can be expressed genitally, and at times self-indulgently, its presence is also a manifestation of the deeper levels of the soul, and of the soul's needs for wholeness and meaning, friendship and community. They did not seek to demonize eros or erotic attraction as the later Christians did by turning the god Cernunnos into Satan himself, replacing the stag horns of the Celtic god of fertility in art, icons, and spiritual literature with demon's horns, tail, and cloven feet.

Contrary to the religious formation many of us received which made us wary of anything related to sexuality, certain of our friendships, including male friendships, will have an erotic quality to them – as the ancient Celts realized. They were grateful for this life-giving energy, expressed in their pagan devotion to Cernunnos, the archetype of sensuality and the instinctual world. As that powerful archetype, Cernunnos can be found in all of us: in our desire at times to shed our cloths and be naked in the rich presence of nature, to be one with the landscape; to be naked, like our first parents who walked the earth, naked as when we were first born, naked as when we had our first sexual intimacies. To demonize Cernunnos, or to repress him into unconsciousness only gives him extraordinary power to erupt unexpectedly and perhaps inappropriately at times or to hurt us with a poison in our system that makes us ever more self-destructive. Cernunnos needs to be integrated into our spirituality and daily lives.

The ancient Celts did not limit the erotic to the human body alone. Their eros included the beautiful landscape in which they lived which caused them to be filled with wonder and awe at its mysterious beauty and power. They believed that the rivers and trees had a melodious voice and that one could hear music in the moving waters and rustling leaves. The positive side of their erotic traditions included a profound appreciation of physicality, of natural beauty – whether in nature or in the feminine and masculine expression of beautiful bodies. Above all, their sexuality was perceived as a sacred phenomenon, including even when Celtic men expressed themselves with one another as bed-partners or simply as friends.

We today can learn from them, or we can try to contain our eros, as St. Kevin and later Celtic saints did, with cold baths, sparse diets, sleepless nights, and immersion in our work. For many of us, however, our struggle is not to suppress our passions, but to somehow find ways of channeling them into creative expressions of our love and spirituality, of our soul.

If a man had been created in
the horned God’s image
he would be free to be wild
without being cruel,
angry without being violent,
sexual without being coercive,
spiritual without being unsexed,
and truly able to love.

Excerpted from The Spiral Dance

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
The Devil We (Think) We Know
The Pagan Roots of All Saints Day
Edward Sellner on the Archetype of the Double and Male Eros, Friendships and Mentoring
In the Garden of Spirituality – Diarmuid Ó Murchú
In the Garden of Spirituality – James B. Nelson
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 1)
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 2)
The Dancer and the Dance
Manly Love
A Fresh Take on Masculinity
Rockin' with Maxwell
Learning from the East
The Pagan Roots of All Saints Day
Celebrating the Coming of the Sun and the Son

Recommended Off-site Links:
Concerning Cernunnos (Part 1)Musings from Gelli Fach (July 23, 2011).
Concerning Cernunnos (Part 2): Accessing the Fruits of the WildMusings from Gelli Fach (July 27, 2011).

Image 1: Amdhuscias.
Image 2: Artist unknown.
Image 3: "Cernunnos Rising" by Ceruleanvii.
Image 4: Valerie Herron.
Image 5: "Lord of the Woodland" by Helena Nelson Reed.