Friday, March 27, 2009

Not just sick - it's a crime

Last week, I was watching Now on P.B.S. The program was about healthcare in the U.S, and as I watched it, my health was in danger. My blood was boiling.
The program featured a couple with a very young son with a rare breathing disorder. Because of lack of funds, the child had to be sent house, hooked up to a complex breathing machine with all sorts of wires and tubes. Not only did the doctor have to give the parents detailed instructions, paramedics had to transport the son.
But that’s not all. There is no funding for a nurse. The husband works nights, so the mother, who has a day job, has to stay up all night to make sure the machine is working correctly. If she drifts off to sleep, even for a few minutes, her son could well die.
Something is very wrong with this. At the very least, no parents should be put in this situation.
I was reminded of when, years ago, I had an attendant who got very sick. He had no health insurance - par for the course for my state-funded attendants - and went around sick for weeks. Finally, he gave in, went to a clinic, paid big bucks and got, as he said, "a big shot in the butt." He was better the next day.
Yes, this is crazy and sad. Yes, this is sick. But more than that, it is criminal.
It is a crime when, because of money, a child can’t get the care they need and is in danger of dying. It is a crime when, again simply due to money, anyone is blocked from not being ill, from being decently healthy. America is the only developed country where this happens.
Meanwhile, as we’ve seen lately, "socialism" is a dirty word here. My blood is simmering...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Quaker homophobia

Next month, I'm taking part in a panel discussion on quaker homophobia. Yes, my monthly meeting and yearly meeting embraces LGBT folks and same-sex marriages, and I'm very grateful for this, but there are quakers in the world, including not far away, who are very anti-gay. What can/should we do about this? What if we don't do anything?
Here is my statement for the panel:

I have been carrying a concern.
I have been carrying this concern since hearing an epistle read a P.Y.M a couple years ago. The epistle was dated August 30, 2006, and stated, "Gay is contrary to scriptures and nature. Even the tiniest crawling creatures observe strictly God’s command...." and that "[We] shall not team up with any group that proclaims this immoral conduct."
The epistle was from East Africa Yearly Meeting. It was from Friends "to Friends everywhere."
This concern grew when I read reports of a man standing in a regional Quaker gathering in Africa and saying that homosexuals and their allies should be put to death. It was reported that no one, including Friends from the U.S who were present, stood to challenge the man.
When I heard last Fall that George Fox University, a Quaker school in Oregon, prohibits "homosexual behavior" in its students, faculty and staff, the concern only grew.
I am very well aware that Africa is on the other side of the world and that there are very different branches of Quakers/ism. I am also happy that Claremont Meeting and Pacific Yearly Meeting are on record supporting same-sex relationships and marriage.
But these feel like rationalizations - it is nice to say we are not like that and to feel good - and ones that are too easy. The fact still is that there are those among the "Friends Everywhere," including those not that far away, who condemn me as a gay man, saying that I am immoral and should be banned or even killed. (I find the distinction between "the sin" and "the sinner," as in "love the sinner, hate the sin," to be disingenuous, to say the least. I resent being called a "sinner," with its implication that I sin.)
What am I to think?
More importantly perhaps, what would my gay friend think if he saw the East Africa Yearly Meeting epistle (it is easily found on the Internet)? What do I tell him?
What do we tell the gay man who shows up at a Quaker Quest session with this question? Or would he show up?

Friday, March 13, 2009

A pawn in their game(s)

Perhaps there is one good thing about the recent budget crisis/debacle in California, in which a hole of something like $18-billion had to be plugged, and legislators bickered for weeks over how to do this while the state teetered on the edge of insolvency. Perhaps more people got an idea of what I go through almost every year.
California, one of only three states that requires lawmakers to approve a new budget (or any new tax) by a two-thirds super-majority vote, is notorious for not passing its budget on time, almost always due to Republicans standing in the way. So notorious that it isn’t news - at least news that people pay attention to. The only reason it was big news this time was that the budget that was passed in September after the July 1 deadline proved to be a bust.
Well, even when the budget not passing isn’t news, I read the stories. Because, always, always, always, one of the first things to be put on the chopping block or on hold are services for "the blind, aged and disabled."
That’s me. Yep - I’m in there!
Never mind what it says about a society that considers cutting such services. What am I to think when I read day after day that my independent, productive living is threatened? What do I do if I can’t pay my attendants who get me out of bed, help me go to the bathroom, dress me, feed me...?
Yes, it is true that years ago a judge ruled that attendant funds must be provided, budget or no budget, but I forget this or worry that it will change. I remember when, before the ruling, the money didn’t come until the state budget was passed, and I remember one year when I had to tell my attendants, who I rely on, that their pay was cut by ten percent. (None quit, but I sure worried that they would, and I felt bad asking for what I still needed.)
This is a horrible position to be in. Come to think of it, it is not unlike the position thousands of same-sex married couples are in, waiting for the California Supreme Court to decide if their marriages are valid. And the many more lesbians and gay men - that’s me, again! - also waiting to see if their lives are deemed valid, waiting for the outcome of the recent hearing on whether Proposition 8, which wrote discrimination into the state constitution for the first time in a amendment banning same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jesus Junkie

Sometime last year, my friend Joe called me a "Jesus freak." He wasn’t saying it in a teasing or mocking way, and he wasn’t being accusatory. He was saying it as a matter of fact. Since then, at least one other friend has called me a Jesus freak.
And I’m okay with it. No - more than that, I’m proud of being a Jesus freak. Just as I’m proud of being gay.
After all, just as I have rainbow laces in my Doc Martens and my Converse high-tops, I go around sporting a picture of Jesus sewn onto the bib of four of my overalls (including a pair of shortalls) as well as onto the front of a blue hoodie.
Who knew I’d end up being a Jesus freak? And who knew it would take my being involved in an universalistic silent Quaker meeting after falling away from the Catholic church? And, later, coming out as a gay man?
Who knew I’d be down with Jesus and wanting to show it off after being embarrassed as a child when I was repeatedly pointed out and told I was special because Jesus would save a poor, unfortunate, crippled boy like me?
Then again, I was always the religious one in my family. My brother and sister would roll their eyes when I wrote little poems and prayers to be read at Thanksgiving dinner. I was the only one who wanted to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and I think I didn’t say anything about how I set a series of prayers to say during mass while we lived in Italy for a year when I was 10 and didn’t understand the language that well.
There’s another catch, though. The Jesus I’m down with isn’t the one most people are familiar with - the Jesus used by the loud Christian right to say that gays are bad, that women should be subservient to men, that war and torture are okay, etc. The Jesus I’m down with is the man who talked about turning the other cheek and loving your enemies and who ran around with 12 guys (I wish I had 12 guys who were always with me!) and hung out with fag-hag whores. Yes, I’m a follower of Jesus, and I love having him for all to see on my gay, crippled chest, but I can’t say I’m a Christian. (Following this entry is a piece I wrote a couple years ago - "Taking Back Jesus" - in which I explain this more.)
It helps that the patches sewn onto my bibs and hoodie also have the words "Another Hippie for Peace." I love this! I love it that this probably drives those Christian fundamentalists crazy - that Jesus was a hippie, let alone one for peace.
Besides, ever since I was a kid, long, long before I came out, I’ve had a crush on Jesus. I have a thing for guys with long hair and beards. And then there are those piercing eyes, that beatific smile...

Last Fall, a young man that I hired as an attendant would often show up to work wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt, on the front of which he had sewn a picture of a Hindu goddess. I was intrigued by this and told him I thought it was cool. He suggested that I have a picture of Jesus Christ sewn onto the bib of my overalls. "That’d be dope!" he enthused.
Jesus on my bibs! That would be cool, if not dope, I thought. Those who know me know that overalls are what I wear, that they are very much a part of my life. Jesus is also a big part of my life. Most likely because of my significant, in-your-face disability, I have long been attracted to his message of love for the different, the outsider, even the enemy. Why not have Jesus, who I admire - indeed, love - and try to honor in how I live my life, close to me, on my bib, and for all the world to see?
But then I got worried. If I went around sporting a picture on Jesus, people would get the wrong idea about me. Never mind that they would think I was out to convert, or "save," the world. People would think I am a right-wing fundamentalist nut.
People would see me with my picture of Jesus and think I was saying that women shouldn’t be able to get abortions, that gays and lesbians are bad, that it is not only acceptable but honorable to go to and also start war, that it is okay to torture people.
This is what many people think of when they think of Jesus - or at least of Christianity. The sad, shameful fact is that Jesus has been taken by conservative Christians, the Christian right, and used as their exclusive spokesman. This man who preached and demonstrated radical love and inclusiveness, who showed it to the world, has been hijacked and made to say that women and gays shouldn’t have equal rights, that war is good, that torture is fine.
Jesus has been made to say and condone things that he never said and condoned. How else can President Bush, who is against same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to have control over her own body and life and who sanctions war and torture (not to mention the death penalty), claim not only to be a Christian but also that Jesus is his most-admired philosopher?
It is bad enough that this gives Jesus and Christianity a bad name. Earlier this year, I saw Jesus Camp, a documentary about a summer camp for Christian fundamentalist kids, and I was struck by how the audience at the college screening was laughing. While much of what is said in the film is outrageous and funny, I came away very concerned that Jesus has become a laughing-stock.
Jesus has also been used in other hurtful ways. Since I was a young child, people have stopped me on the sidewalk to tell me that if I believe in Jesus, I will be healed. I have even been told that I will walk if I pray to Jesus! The message is less about Jesus and more of a judgement - that, in being disabled and in a wheelchair, I am sick or not a complete, whole person and in need of healing and not worthy (at least in their eyes, if not Jesus’) until I am healed.
I have no doubt that all of these people are quite sincere and well-intentioned, which makes what they do with Jesus all the more disturbing. (Indeed, the director of Jesus Camp said at the screening I attended that Christian fundamentalists have embraced the film.) Is it any wonder that, especially as a disabled and now gay man, I have become wary of Jesus or at least talk of him? I am sad to say that I am all but ashamed to say that I love Jesus. I notice this, for example, when I’m with my gay friends, and they get frightened and angry when I mention Jesus. This is a tragedy.
I wonder how many other people who would otherwise consider themselves Christians have been scared off or driven away from Jesus by the way he has been appropriated and represented in these ways. Could this be why some or many of us in Pacific Yearly Meeting feel more at home with our safe, warm universalism than with what at least I see as the old-time, Christo-centric Quakerism of George Fox?
It is time to take back Jesus. I want to embrace him as the man of peace and love that he truly was. Indeed, I want to wear him and show him off proudly on my gay, disabled body. I dare say that he, with his world-changing message of all-inclusive love, would like it.