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A Cathedral in the Cornfields of Beaverville, Illinois

St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, Beaverville, Illinois, on the National Register of Historic Places. (Wikipedia)

St. Mary Roman Catholic Church, Beaverville, Illinois, on the National Register of Historic Places. (Wikipedia)

I was once a Morocco Beaver. Let the titters begin.

Morocco, Indiana High School, 1963-64, 7th grade: there was no middle school or junior high. I was on the basketball team, though I was terrible and seldom played. My oldest brother Dick, a senior, was the manager of the varsity team, which played nearby schools in Beaverville, St. Anne and Sheldon, Illinois, as well as Indiana schools, since we were only four miles from the state line. I’m sure he rode the team bus ten miles to Beaverville – maybe it was an intense rivalry way back when, the Beavers against Beaverville – but today was my first time setting foot in enemy territory.

Morocco doesn’t have beavers anymore, and neither do Beaver City or Beaverville. This whole area was once part of the Grand Kankakee Marsh, a wetland the size of the Florida Everglades, until settlers started digging ditches to get rid of the water. They committed a terrible environmental crime – but when the land dried out it was good for farming, and that’s the way of life here.

Beaverville and Morocco don’t have high schools or basketball teams now either, but they still have farmers and a grain elevator, located on a highway, a railroad or both. The elevator’s really the only reason these towns still exist; Morocco’s current population is about 1100, while Beaverville’s down to 300. I live in a metropolis of 1800 and we’re all 70-80 miles due south of Chicago.

Now about that church: it’s really something, especially for a town that tiny. I would guess the building seats 300, the entire population. There aren’t any other churches, because the original settlers were French Canadians who didn’t like being oppressed by British Canadians. Someone built a church, they named it after Mary (and the village too, St. Marie originally), a town grew up, a few stores and the grain elevator. (The Post Office made St. Marie change its name, since there was already a St. Mary, Illinois.)

I was urged to check it out by local readers who saw my previous post, Visit to a Smalltown Catholic Shrine in nearby St. Anne, Illinois, and got a little jealous perhaps, because they’ve got a great church too. And they’re right, so I owed it to B’ville and my own education to visit.

Front of the church from St. Charles Street, June 27, 2013 (Josh Thomas)

Front of the church from St. Charles Street, June 27, 2013. (Josh Thomas)

The draw at St. Mary’s is the stained glass windows and the architecture. The origin of the windows, all by the same studio, is not certain, but likely they came from Lascelles and Shroeder of Chicago, which served French Canadian congregations in the city and downstate.

The architect is known, Joseph Molitor, a partner with Charles W. Kallal in Chicago, the city architect who restored the famous Water Tower, the most prominent survivor of the Great Chicago Fire. A brochure says the Beaverville church is an eclectic mix of styles, predominantly Romanesque Revival, with a central octagonal dome over the nave, surrounded by small windows. Its ceiling is a moderately dark blue sprinkled with painted stars to resemble a night sky; it needs some work, but the rest of the building is looking good.

Angel with a font of holy water - or a moist sponge, anyway. (Josh Thomas)

Angel with a font of holy water – or a moist sponge, anyway. Gorgeous blue robe. (Josh Thomas)

The windows use a lot of opalescent glass made in Kokomo, Indiana (where my mother’s family are from) in the Munich Style as developed and refined by Louis Comfort Tiffany and John LaFarge. The windows are rare, numerous, and the parish was able to restore them ten years ago at a cost of $320,000 – or more than $1000 for every man, woman and child in town.

That was some prodigious fundraising, even miraculous, considering that first they had to spend another 465 grand redoing the roof. Those bake sales must have multiplied like Jesus feeding the 5000.

Windows and arches, with a glimpse of the central dome. (Josh Thomas)

Windows and arches, with a glimpse of the central dome. (Josh Thomas)

It makes a visitor wonder where they got such dedication. But they’ve always had it, from the beginning in 1851 when the town was founded, through erecting the present building in 1909, to today. Surely this reflects very strong family and community ties – as well as a succession of priests and nuns who flogged those poor folks mercilessly to empty their pockets, punching every guilt button they could find.

It’s the same way at nearby St. Anne; both French Canadian towns, devout in their beliefs, stuck in the middle of nowhere, just raising their crops, taking their kids to church every Sunday, watching them intermarry, and obeying the Fathers, Sisters, Bishops and Popes as much as humanly possible, when they weren’t out getting in trouble.

Regular readers know I am a sharp critic of the Roman Catholic Church – that is, the hierarchy, not the People. What these folks in Northeast Illinois built in their humble surroundings is two small versions of a great cathedral in Europe. So what if they’re on the prairie next to a cornfield? Their churches gave them an identity, a purpose, a mission. And they’ve stuck to it.

Comparing the shrine at St. Anne with the church at Beaverville, I see they both had their advantages. St. Anne always has been a place of pilgrimage, while St. Mary’s had a school for many years called Holy Family Academy, staffed by nuns from an order in France; the cemetery at St. Mary’s has a special section of the sisters’ graves, dozens of them, whose headstones are sensitively carved with both their religious and birth names.

The front of St. Mary's Cemetery was reserved for the Sisters. (Josh Thomas)

The front of St. Mary’s Cemetery was reserved for the Sisters. (Josh Thomas)

The school is gone now, with only mentions and artifacts available to visitors, but it must have been thriving in its heyday; I imagine, since it was an academy, it may have been more than just a parochial school, but drew from all over the area. Meanwhile nearby St. Martin’s, Martinton is only a simple frame building like you’d expect in such an isolated, rural spot.

Corinthian column under the organ loft, topped by gold leaf (Josh Thomas)

Corinthian column under the organ loft, probably topped by gold leaf. (Josh Thomas)

Martinton is on the highway (U.S. 52), as Saint Anne is but Beaverville is not. I took a county road to get there, called 2950/3000 North; tourists never see the light of day in Beaverville. Instead what it had (and still does, three tracks right next to the elevator) is the railroad – specifically the Kankakee, Beaverville and Southern Railroad. Amazing!

There ain’t no Chicago and Morocco Railroad, lemme tell ya. But Beaverville has always been on the line; David, one of my correspondents, said the stop there shows up as “St. Mary” on the old maps, from before the Post Office intervened to change the town’s name.

My point here isn’t a travelogue, much less an architectural review; I’m a layman. Instead it’s all the things the People built.

They’re not quite my people – my family and my town are English Protestants, not French Catholics – and yet they are my people; my drive today cost 50 miles and two gallons of gas round-trip. These folks were and are farmers, and wherever they started out from, I know where they ended up. We can still see today most of what they built, and we can guess at some of the reasons why. Nationality played a part – all the windows at St. Mary’s and St. Anne’s are inscribed in French – but so did faith, family, business and pure survival.

Organ loft and rose window (Josh Thomas)

Organ loft and rose window (Josh Thomas)

As much as I tease the Roman clergy and sisters about mashing all the guilt buttons, let’s think about their motives, too; it’s inherent in the Catholic religion that churches be as beautiful and edifying as possible, so they can reflect the glory of God and teach us who our Creator is.

That’s a very worthy project.

The rectory, behind the church before you get to the cemetery, has been updated a little since it was built; the pastor serves Martinton, too.

The rectory, behind the church before you get to the cemetery, has been updated a little since it was built; the pastor serves Martinton, too.

As an Episcopalian who is both Protestant and Catholic, I am used to beautiful churches in large towns. But I am awed by what these farmers did in these two villages. They built far beyond their means, but somehow managed to match their means to what they built – and all for a reason, the best reason, to glorify God. They didn’t go practical, as farmers usually do; for practical, see that little “nothing” of a church at Martinton. At Beaverville and St. Anne, they built their ideals – and this area is richer because they did.

I’m richer because I went there. If you ever get a chance, you should go too.

All three of them noticeably contribute to the food pantry at Martinton, which is exactly how it should be. So what if St. Martin’s never had a gimmick; it knows what its ministry is, because there are food-insecure folks in all of these towns and it’s the Church’s job to feed them. So they do.

I still wouldn’t cross a county road to see the pope, even this new one Francis; but once you get past the Vatican’s sexual obsessions, the People are living out the faith despite it all. That’s my kind of church.++

Good work, Sister Holy Cross. (Josh Thomas)

Good work, Sister Holy Cross. (Josh Thomas)

Retired RC Bishop Calls for Complete Re-examination of Teachings on Sex & Gender

Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia. (Graham Crouch/Daily Telegraph)

Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia. (Graham Crouch/Daily Telegraph)

I posted a photo and notice about this yesterday on my Daily Office sites, but it deserves wider attention: a retired Roman Catholic bishop, Geoffrey Robinson, has emerged as a thoughtful, constructive critic of Vatican policies in light of the worldwide sexual abuse of children by priests and some religious.

He knows what he’s talking about, because he was the Church’s lead investigator when the scandal hit Down Under. That has led him to question the Church’s entire approach to sex and gender issues.

To me he speaks with the voice of an insider who loves his Church. It’s lost its way, he knows it and he says so publcly.

The Vatican, including this new Pope, who’s been yammering lately about a “Gay lobby” inside the hierarchy, will probably dismiss him as just another publicity-seeking turncoat. That’s their first response to all criticism; the real pressure comes later.

An absolute monarchy is the same thing as a dictatorship. But Jesus of Nazareth never ruled with a pope’s iron fist; Christ left people free to choose, because that’s God’s way.

Joshua J. McElfee of the National Catholic Reporter had a great article on Robinson last year, reprinted on The Huffington Post. Read it here.

McElfee wrote:

Among the other aspects of Catholic culture Robinson said contributed to the abuse crisis are mandatory celibacy for priests, a “mystique” some attach to the priests as being “above other human beings,” and a “creeping infallibility” of papal decrees, which is used to protect “all teachings … in which a significant amount of papal energy and prestige have been invested.”

The application of the church’s teaching on infallibility is a “major force in preventing a pope from making admissions that there have been serious failures in the handling of abuse,” Robinson said.

I took particular interest in Robinson’s critique of homophobic and simplistic “natural law” theory, which states that since human reproduction occurs due to sexual intercourse, Gay people are “outside of nature” and “intrinsically disordered.” These concepts, endlessly repeated by popes and prelates, have led to murders and suicides all over the world.

I think God made Gay people expressly because we’re less likely to reproduce. But the Roman Church has made a total fetish out of the Stone Age line, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Heterosexuals multiply too well; that’s their problem. They need some birth control!

On Easter Island in the South Pacific, the heterosexuals reproduced so well they went extinct. The island can't support human life anymore, no matter how many gods they made for themselves.

On Easter Island in the South Pacific, heterosexuals reproduced so well they went extinct; no matter how many gods they made for themselves, the population dropped from 15,000 to 111. (It’s rebounded in modern times.)

The Roman Church isn’t the only group to make this mistake; evolutionary biologists do it too. But bee-keepers don’t; they know that asexual drones keep a queen bee’s colony going.

I call GLBTs “caregivers for communities.” That’s why there are so many Gay guys among Roman Catholic clergy—and so many Lesbians leading those churches that allow women to function.

But patriarchy dies hard, especially in dictatorships.

I have little hope that Pope Francis is going to change much. But he would do well to listen to Geoffrey Robinson. So would you. Patriarchy is killing the Church – it’s killing all religion everywhere. Sexism is patently unjust. It breeds violence and therefore cannot be of God.

Geoffrey Robinson doesn’t come across to me as a partisan. He comes off to me as a thinker. Go now, click the link and see what he says.++

What Is a Bishop Supposed to Do?

Getting older every day.

Someone on Facebook told me that the Pope popped off at Castel Gandolfo again about how “marriage and the family” must be preserved, and suggested that Gay people are not whole human beings.

Here’s a link. The writing is a bit skewed past the point of logic, trying to reiterate that Benedict is an anti-Gay extremist, but in fact his language is sufficiently moderate to allow for multiple interpretations – if you ignore the giant insult that he’s a human being and I am not. That isn’t Christian, denying another person’s humanity. It is anti-Christian.

Whatever it says on that website above, it’s true that past statements this Pope has made were plenty extreme: the whole world will come to a crashing end if Lesbian and Gay people can get married. Civilization is at stake!

I wish internet reporters would stick close to the facts. The Huffington Post is terrible at this, with yellow-journalism headlines that promise more than they deliver. But HuffPo’s in a battle for clicks, and is every bit as commercial as any other news source; that’s how Arianna makes her money. She’s a nice woman and a talented political analyst, but she sold her soul to the devil a long time ago. Stick to the facts, honey. You don’t need more moolah, you’re already rich. The question is, what about the Pope?

What about this claim that civilization will collapse if Gay people get rights, including the civil right to a civil marriage? Will the world end???

Uh, no. There aren’t enough of us to make the world end.

Nor is current Gay culture so attractive that we’ll make all Straight people turn Gay.

Homosexual behavior is quite attractive, but that’s a different issue than the current low state of Gay culture. And make no mistake, heterosexuality is a very strong attraction too. Billions of people are committed to it; there’s no chance that it will die out, just because a few guys or gals marry each other.

The Pope diminishes his office with this Chicken Little act. The sky is not falling.

God’s principal concern is love, not the birth rate – which is plenty high. In the next century the earth will host another two billion people, thanks to all those heterosexuals parading their nasty bits.

I blame the Pope, but Protestants are just as paranoid about LGBT people. “If we don’t stamp out homosexuals, the whole human race will die!”

It’s nonsense; Straight guys are as obsessed with sex as Gay guys are. And that’s a good thing overall. Gay people aren’t battling for market share, and Straight parents consistently produce millions of Lesbian and Gay kids.

Straight sheep produce Gay lambs; it’s part of the plan – to stop overpopulation.

God’s very smart. S/he really doesn’t want this planet to overheat.

So I can take the Pope’s latest insult with a grain of salt. It isn’t the first time Popes have sought to diminish my humanity or make me a scapegoat. I don’t get angry at Popes anymore. I condemn their latest stupidity, urge people to convert to the Episcopal Church – then ask myself, what are bishops supposed to do?

(In English, the name of the Episcopal Church is “the Church of Bishops.” The Presbyterian Church is “the Church of Priests,” although they’ve gotten so far away from that they’re not priests anymore. These names have to do with governance: who runs the church? In the Episcopal Church, the bishops do, though we’ve put in effective checks and balances. In the Presbyterian church, the presbyters (ordained ministers) do.)

I belong to an Episcopal church; we still have bishops, whose office is much the same as the Pope’s. So I wonder, what is the correct, proper role of a bishop?

Episcopalians elect ours; the Pope appoints his own. That makes us very different, because Episcopal laypeople are in charge of the election. But what is any bishop supposed to do? What exactly is the correct job description?

It’s to be Defenders of the Faith. That is, they are the guardians of the tradition, handed down by Jesus and illustrated in the Bible. It’s a very important job, and as a Christian I want the bishops to perform it. I want the Christ I follow to be the actual Jesus who once walked in Israel.

Defend the faith from all the cultural changes that might alter it. That’s what I want bishops to do; it’s why I support them. Episcopal bishops do defend the faith.

But they also change. And that’s the crucial distinction.

The Pope’s bishops try to prevent all change; Episcopal bishops try to create more of it, for the things that need to change.

We even have a formula for this: “the historic episcopate, adapted to local circumstances.” And the fact we have a Prayer Book to tell us how to perform the sacraments and how to pray guarantees that the essentials don’t change, although the externals might. It’s a good balance.

I am forever wishing that the Episcopal Church would catch up to this century, but in fact we’re open to change. We’re slow, which is in keeping with that competing desire that Jesus doesn’t change; but we eventually kind of catch up to the times – because “the times” matter. People learn things; society develops.

Churches must keep up with the times. They also must consistently deliver the message of Jesus 2000 years ago.

So here I am, a Gay guy in 2012, watching the Pope spout off again, because the new French socialist government is going to legalize Gay marriage, yet I belong to an “episcopal” church run in part by bishops. What is the proper role of these fathers- and mothers-in-God?

It isn’t to prevent all change, as the Popes believe. It’s to find what the essentials of the Christian faith are and hold fast to those, while embracing what humanity has learned in the 2000 years of learning since Jesus walked here.

The Popes say that since Jesus only chose men as his apostles, we can’t have women priests.

Episcopalians call that misogyny, sexism and the oppression of women – which we have slowly learned is offensive to God.

Jesus relied on women constantly; they were his most consistent supporters, spiritually and financially.

They paid his bills, so he could walk around Galilee preaching and healing. The women did the work that allowed Jesus to do the work.

In modern times Episcopalians have found that there is nothing in the nature of priesthood to prevent a woman from being ordained. They’re just as good at it as men are, so the Episcopal Church has ordained women priests since 1974. We have more priests than we know what to do with, because so many men and women love God.

The Pope thinks otherwise and sits around watching his all-male, “celibate” priesthood (it never has been celibate, and never will be) disappear, because he thinks that’s his job.

Roman Catholic women are begging to be ordained; so are married men. The Pope doesn’t give a damn. So the priesthood withers, and here in my Indiana home town, one priest has to serve three parishes.

What do I want bishops to do? What is their actual job?

It’s to preserve the faith while drilling down to the essence of it.

The Pope seems to think male superiority is the essence of it, and I disagree. “In Christ there is no male or female.” Jesus called himself a “mother hen.”

The Pope seems to think heterosexuality is also the essence of it, and again I disagree. Straight people are very, very good at being fruitful and multiplying, which is the Pope’s stated concern. Indeed, they’re too good at it, like rutting deer who destroy state forests.

If Jesus were here today he’d preach at Gay bars. And the Gay people wouldn’t always like what he said, but they’d give him a big listen. He was enormously charismatic, with a physical presence about him as well as a huge spiritual aura.

I want the bishops to preserve the essence of what he said and did and was, while discarding the prejudices of the past. The world was not “created in seven days” –  not even the Genesis writer thought that. What s/he wrote was a meditation on sunrise and sunset, the holiness of the Sabbath (which is why the poem is geared to seven days); the passage of time, the magnificence of God’s creation, and the sacredness of living in the now.

“Wo-man” was not created out of “man.” There is no man without a woman; if you disagree, show me one.

The creation myths are lovely (and true in spiritual ways), but they’re not science. We go on science now, and reinterpret the old myths. They’re quite beautiful, but they’re not the end of the story.

Jesus doesn’t care who you make love to; what he cares about is how you treat that person. That’s what he would say in Gay bars, and that’s why he wouldn’t be entirely popular. There are users in Gay bars and online, and he condemned all who sought power over others.

Meanwhile we’re left with a Pope who says Gay people aren’t really human beings. In the words of Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a woman?” Ain’t I a man, Benny?

Who the hell are you? And why do you besmirch the Christian religion by claiming that some people are not human beings?

The whole point of Christianity is that God loves us so much he became one of us. Don’t deny that, or I will deny you.++

Jesus and Friends; David LaChapelle.

The Gospel According to Gay Guys

13th century Russian icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus; graphic design by Peter Schröder Studio, Amsterdam.

My third novel was published yesterday and is now on sale as an e-book at Amazon, in the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

You can read it on all Kindle formats, iPhone and iPad, as well as desktop computers with a free downloadable Kindle app; link below.

Other formats will be rolled out soon, along with more stores.

My book’s as long as the Bible – but much more entertaining. It reads fast and has comedy too. At $6.99 it’s only a penny a page. (Although there’s really no such thing as a “page” in an e-book, since readers can change the text size to whatever they want.)

I’ll tell you a secret: it’s really a Gospel for Gay Guys. I stole “according to” from someone else’s work.

Three of the chapters are sexually explicit. My friend Leonardo is going to blush. He may even walk away from it for awhile, but I bet he comes back to find out what happens next.

It’s got four-letter words, because that’s how guys like us talk. I wrote it in the vernacular. Maybe it would sell better if I’d told Peter to label it “Vulgate Edition.”

But it’s good news for every Gay guy who ever loved God.

I have no idea what reaction I’ll get from women. They were 50% of the audience for Murder at Willow Slough (2001), the book that introduced these characters, Jamie and Kent. Women loved that book; some of them will like this too, but it is a grown-up story. Slough contained no sex; this book makes up for lost time.

Here’s the official pitch from the Amazon sales page:

Kent is a cop, Jamie is a reporter; they fell in love three months ago while working on a serial murder case, and now they’ve come to the end of their first date. They want to make sure their relationship lasts, but they are babes in the woods and the forest is scary. They have to face their dangers and fears, separately and together.

Their challenges range from a drive-by shooting in Murder City USA to a seductive waiter at a resort hotel, but their worst difficulties are close to home: family expectations, health issues, money concerns, sexual styles. And “what are you going to do about kids, anyway?”

Jamie keeps getting attacked by creatures out to kill him, and Kent’s never around when he needs him. They move into a weird old mansion and suddenly a 10-year-old boy disappears.

They treat each other tenderly, but what they don’t say matters as much as what they do.

The Gospel According to Gay Guys is a romance, a murder mystery, an epic family history. It’s the story of one man coming to faith, and two men making a marriage.

Does God love Gay guys? Absolutely – including, and within, their sexuality.

The Church has always taught that within marriage, sex is sacramental. So the book’s got a couple of communion times in it.

Last month the Episcopal Church approved same-sex marriage rites. It’s local option, so they won’t take place all over the country right at first, but in marriage equality states, local priests will be able to sign our civil licenses, the same as they do for Straight couples.

The Episcopal Church has given GLBT Christians everything we want: our own bishops and priests, marriage, non-discrimination, full respect. That’s great news.

Sure, it took a long time, about 40 years, but as God measures time, this was an eye-blink.

The message of the book is this: we’re free to come back to church now. The Episcopal Church Welcomes Us.

Episcopalians aren’t being trendy, they’re being faithful. God wants LGBTs in church, so Episcopalians have thrown the doors open.

There are other good, welcoming churches of all denominations, on every continent. Whatever church you grew up in or used to go to, you can probably find an accepting community.

I make a case that the Episcopal Church is ideal for Gay people because it’s both Protestant and Catholic, but also that no one should tell you how to think. Go where you’re comfortable; go where you find God in the church’s midst.

My biggest target audience is GLBT Christians raised in the faith, who left because of Pat Robertson and the Pope. Churches have been full of anti-Gay hatred for as long as most of us have been alive. I left too; I don’t blame you.

But times are changing, and churches are, too.

Find yourself a good faith community, test it and join it. It’s much easier to encounter God with other people around. Yes, you can worship on a mountaintop or in the woods, but let’s face it, you don’t do that very often. The community has a purpose: mutual teaching, mutual support.

And it welcomes people with no religious background at all. When we first meet Kent Kessler, his faith is as vague as can be. He doesn’t know much, he’s never examined the claims Christians make for Jesus, and his life is okay without asking about him. He goes to church because his family does, but he just never thought much about it.

I hope Gay guys can still listen when God calls.

But the book doesn’t preach, it tells a story: here’s what happened after these guys fell in love.

Genuine romance changes lives. So does real friendship. We’re never the same. We’re better off for knowing someone and trusting them with our inner selves, the way we really are.

I’ve loved several Gay guys, and they’ve loved me. So this is what I’ve learned from them; God is there inside our love.

Physically, spiritually, emotionally – in every way, God is right there.

I’ll end now with a final observation. Maybe you already know God loves you. I hope you do; it means you’re one of his.

But few of us perceive the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for us. It includes all the things about yourself you hate.

Gay guys have been taught to hate ourselves, and nearly all of us still do, deep down inside. The most homophobic people on the planet aren’t Christians, but Gay guys. “Religious people” have taught us how to do this, but we’re the ones who absorbed the lessons down to the core of our being, where our sexuality is located.

But The Gospel According to Gay Guys argues that Gay liberation began with Jesus Christ. There were these two guys living together, see…

You heard it here first. The idea isn’t original with me, but nobody tells the story like I do.

It takes a Gay guy to tell it; someone who isn’t academic, and whose job doesn’t depend on pleasing anyone else. Chances are your parish priest could tell it, but s/he doesn’t.

I’m the one who’s free to go for broke. So in this book, I do.

If that isn’t worth $6.99, go to the movies or buy yourself another drink. All I can do is tell you the truth; from here on it’s up to you.

You can download it here.

Whatever mistakes are in the book I’m responsible for. Whatever’s true about it the Holy Spirit wrote.++

Tom of Finland. I so wanted this for my cover art, but the Peter Schröder Studio had a better idea; saints first, studs second.

 

 

Thelma Glass Has Died; Lessons from Her Life

Thelma Glass (David Campbell/Alabama State University)

Professor Thelma Glass of Alabama State University has died. She was a principal organizer of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, the nonviolent action which propelled Martin Luther King, Jr. to world prominence. She was 96. Go here to read her inspiring story in The New York Times.

I want to focus on a detail we often overlook: people like Rosa Parks weren’t just forced to sit in the back of the bus. One hears that phrase so commonly these days that its meaning is weak tea.

Instead Blacks were told, “Sit in the back and give up your seat to a White person.”

Male, female, it didn’t matter; any White person. An able-bodied kid, even one who couldn’t sit still. This was the law.

In fact it was psychological warfare—brainwashing, programming, conditioning. “You matter so little that you have to stand up so a snot-nosed kid can sit down.”

The entire Jim Crow system of segregation was built to control people’s minds as much as their bodies. Colored drinking fountains—movie balconies—waiting rooms—swimming pools—all were intended to keep the people feeling down; worthless, helpless, confused, intimidated, separated, alienated and self-destructive.

If you can control people’s minds, their bodies follow.

There wasn’t a single White person, ever, who believed they would be harmed if they had to drink from the same fountain as a Black person. When you’re thirsty, water is water—and on the farm, it all comes from the same tin cup or gourd, and everyone cheerfully drank after each other without the least concern about hygiene. Remember when you were a kid? “Gimme a drink of that Co-Cola.”

No cooties to be found—including when a Black person got out of her seat on the bus and a White person plopped his butt right down where she’d been a-sitting.

It was largely psychological. But if you dared not to cooperate in your own brainwashing, they’d burn down your house, or bomb your Sunday School.

I’m still stunned by all the violence Whites were willing to commit to maintain their little advantages. I’d guess their self-esteem was pretty shaky too.

And it’s not as if the violence doesn’t continue, or the little mind games; just this week news bubbled up about a White Baptist church in Mississippi that refused to allow a Black, heterosexual couple to get married, purely for reasons of race. This couple had been attending there awhile, but when it came time to stand up in the White folks’ sanctuary, some of the members threw a fit—and the timid, “sensitive” pastor let them.

Thank God you don’t live in Miss’sippi. Or if you do, just slip out the back, Jack. There must be 50 ways to leave the Worst State Ever.

Now let’s bring it home to us. What did Prof. Glass do, and why did it have such an impact?

What does it mean for us today?

What she did, with Rosa Parks, Dr. King and the Montgomery Women’s Political Council, was remove one of the cornerstones in the edifice of racist psychological warfare.

Eventually, with a great deal of suffering and death, the rest of the structure fell down. Black folk stopped letting White people control their thoughts.

I think this applies directly to LGBTs.

The most homophobic people on earth are Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual. We’ve internalized homophobia; we’ve let Straight people brainwash us and control our thoughts.

We then turn around and use their weapons against ourselves, and each other.

I think we do this as much now as we ever did. Psychologically we’ve not made much progress at all. We’re outwardly more free, but our most casual, everyday conversations are laden with Straight people’s thought patterns.

Every “camp” remark ever made is homophobic, dividing the world into worthy Straight people and unworthy Gay people, or worthy men and unworthy women. (Because, you know, to be Gay and male really means you’re just a woman.)

Does this mean we give up our humor? Not at all. It means start being funny for a change!

My Jack was a wit; he kept everyone in stitches. He almost never made camp remarks. He liked Gay people, and fought for us.

Here we are, in 2012, and we’ve still got Gay men signing up for non-existent cures. Evidently they can’t think straight – or Straight’s the only way they can think, and they hate themselves.

We’ve still got Tyler Clementis jumping off bridges. That should teach the camp crowd something – but instead they always blame someone else.

We still churn out devastating statistics on LGBT depression, smoking, alcoholism and drug addiction, and tons of new HIV infections.

We worry about children being bullied, instead of teaching them to fight back.

There is plenty of blame to go around for our personal problems and social problems – but we’re perpetrators too, and we never take responsibility for it. We’ve got more denial than all the rivers of Egypt.

You can’t watch 10 snippets of Gay porn without seeing 8 snippets of homo-hatred. “You like that, bitch?”

Um, no, I don’t. We are not female.

We’re just Gay, that’s all.

I would like us to stop oppressing each other and ourselves. We can’t do much, directly at least, about anti-Gay violence, but we can stop thinking like some Straight people do.

Remember, the oppressor’s as terrified as we are. Do you think those ’50s crackers didn’t know they were doing wrong, bombing churches, burning crosses, shooting people dead?

They knew, all right, and so do we.

It isn’t a crime, when you’re an oppressed person, to absorb the mind games and thought patterns drummed into your head.

But it is a crime to keep thinking that way once you lose your chains. And it’s a felony to make other victims keep feeling bad about themselves.

It’s the old programming principle; garbage in, garbage out.

We’re still putting out an awful lot of garbage, every day, in most of our thoughts and conversations.

“Pride” is supposed to be the antidote to this, but it takes more than marching in a parade or buying a T-shirt. It takes deep soul-searching to root out all the bad programming.

There’s nowhere to go to get a brain transplant. If there were, none of us would smoke, drink or get HIV.

What we can do, though, is act. Ms. Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, and got arrested. She knew she would; she’d planned it all out.

Then once the news of her refusal reached Ms. Glass, she acted too; the Women’s Political Council acted – and within four days all the buses were empty.

The Black folk who depended on the buses had to make other arrangements. Some walked and some caught a ride with a friend.

They all knew instinctively how important it was to grab onto that cornerstone and yank it.

They didn’t need to go to therapy to change the voices in their heads; they had a tremendous advantage over LGBTs in the support of their families, who always knew racism was wrong.

This isn’t to say there weren’t Black folk who were scared to death to challenge the system; there were. The longer the bus boycott went on, the more internal dissent there was. It’s hard to get someplace when you don’t have transportation.

But they acted, and within a year they won, and only later did they stop to think about what they’d done and what it meant.

The larger civil rights movement was rife with internal dissent; the historical record shows that Dr. King got stabbed in the back more often by fearful Black pastors than any other group. But still he kept it together, even as younger, more militant leaders emerged, without his principles of non-violence. They didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize, he did.

LGBTs have made remarkable strides as everyone now sees. We’ve been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land.

But if we want to be actors and not just reactors; if we want to have real pride and not just the kind you buy; if we want political change as well as inner peace and joy, we have to change our behavior and our thoughts.

We have to stop oppressing each other as a crooked way of showing/hiding how oppressed we still feel.

If you find it hard to change your thoughts, change your behavior; boycott Chick-Fil-A – and don’t be too quick to laud Target for running Gay ads and selling Pride trinkets just two short years after donating $150,000 in corporate money to a bigot running for governor of Minnesota.

Penney’s, Ellen’s sponsor, didn’t slip corporate cash to bigots first.

And don’t tell me that you can’t keep up with all the terrible companies, so therefore you don’t do jack shit.

Don’t tell us that you love Jesus or the pope or the Mormon church so much that you’re sticking with them no matter what – or we’ll come and pull you off the bus so you can walk. (You can still love your church, but don’t give them one thin dime as long as they treat LGBTs like the antichrist.)

Don’t tell us that you’re voting for Mitt Romney, “even though you disagree with him on this issue,” without expecting the rest of us to call you out. The only thing the Republican Party stands for now is greed – so we know exactly who your god is, the Almighty Dollar. You didn’t get the Gay gene without also getting the Gay compassion, the Gay empathy.

The more we act to liberate ourselves and others, the more our thoughts realign. (If we try changing our thoughts before our actions, it takes forever.)

Most of all stop oppressing other LGBTs with your idiotic remarks and pathetic humor.

Gay women are women; Gay men are men; and yes, you can play with those roles and gender boundaries all you want – as long as you don’t oppress others.

Bisexuals are real people with real feelings, so stop trying to make them fit your brainwaves.

Transgenders are allowed to be themselves – so hire one.

Imagine the world you want to live in, and your place in it; then act so that it comes true, and your thoughts will follow you. Create a world in which everyone is free.

That’s what Thelma Glass did, and she wasn’t much different from you or me.

But what made her different was that she acted. First Rosa, then Thelma, and suddenly it all went viral.++

Cardinal: John Paul II Approved Secrecy for Molesters

Dario Castrillon Hoyos in 2002. (Associated Press)

Here’s a new, overlooked item in the ongoing soap opera of the Catholic Child Molesters’ League: a Spanish cardinal wrote to a French bishop in 2001, praising him for not reporting a serially abusive priest to the cops.

Now the cardinal says he showed his letter to Pope John Paul II, who approved of it and ordered him to send a copy to every bishop in the world.

William Wan of The Washington Post reports:

At the center of the debate is [Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos], the former head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, who made headlines last week when a 2001 letter he wrote to French Bishop Pierre Pican surfaced in the French press. In it, he praised Pican for not reporting the pedophile priest to police, despite being mandated to do so under French law.

“I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration,” Castrillón wrote, after Pican was convicted of failing to report sex crimes against children. “You have acted well, and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.”

At the time the letter was written, the priest, the Rev. René Bissey, had been sentenced to 18 years in prison for repeatedly raping a boy and for sexually assaulting 10 other children.

On Saturday, Castrillón ignited another firestorm when he claimed that Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, not only approved of his letter but also instructed him to send copies to bishops worldwide.

I’ve taken this out of context slightly, in that The Post’s Wan is all a-flutter because Castrillon’s upcoming appearance at a long-scheduled Latin mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is being verbally protested by the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests. Wan seems to think this is an unfortunate coincidence, and that the museum-piece mass should go on as scheduled; it’s been three years in the planning and he’s sympathetic to the sponsors. Okay, fine, let them have their mass with someone else. But to explain why this Latin mass is now in doubt, he had to describe the controversy; thus my pulled quote above. Wan is not the only source of this information; it stands on its own, but his article is quotable. It doesn’t matter that he’s more sympathetic to the Paulus Institute, sponsors of the upcoming mass, than to SNAP; that’s his problem.

The story of Castrillon’s letter to the French bishop, who was himself convicted of failing to call the cops, and Castrillon’s claim that the late pope approved his letter and ordered it cc’d to every bishop in the world, is by far more important than one olde-tyme mass in D.C.

SNAP couldn’t be more right in this case. It clearly shows that the Catholic Church puts its own secrecy above protecting children, and that it does so as a matter of policy from the pope on down.

It also proves that the Church’s actions go way beyond “being tone-deaf” or “having a poor public relations response” to the crisis. Some commentators like to minimize the controversy with phrases like these.

The news about Bissey, Pican, Castrillon and John Paul II is totally outrageous. But my point goes beyond the usual anger, hurt and indignation; those responses are getting to be routine, the more the saga unfolds. I want to examine what Cardinal Castrillon was saying to Bishop Pican, and why he said it, to see if we can get beyond the outrage to understand why the Church has taken the position it has.

It goes beyond our usual high-pitched accusations—”the pope is a dictator, the Church is a criminal conspiracy”—to something else: this is a matter of theology, strange as that must seem.

The pope really is a dictator, and the Church really is a criminal conspiracy, but why? Because of their tragically flawed theology of the nature of the priesthood.

“I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration,” Castrillón wrote, after Pican was convicted of failing to report sex crimes against children. “You have acted well, and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.”

That’s as opposite an apology as you’re ever going to see. Castrillon is claiming that Pican did the exact right thing according to God. John Paul II agreed with him.

in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world

Any idiot—any parent—can see the moral depravity of this. It’s breathtaking that the Church cannot. But let’s remember, this is not the first era, nor is child molesting the first type of crime, in which the Church has taken this position; it was precisely this same phenomenon which led to the Protestant Reformation. Back then the issue was priests who commit murder, as well as lesser corruptions like selling indulgences. For at least 500 years of history of the Church in England, the Church claimed a right to try clergy accused of crimes in its own Church courts, not in the government’s courts.

People rioted over this question; kings went to war over it. Archbishops were beheaded over it. Thomas Becket was killed at the altar in Canterbury Cathedral because of it; he insisted that the Church, not Henry II’s government, discipline his priests. Becket’s a saint because of this—even in the Church of England.

Becket murdered in the cathedral.

When Henry VIII finally got control of the English Church so he could marry Anne Boleyn and prevent another civil war over the royal succession, ecclesiastical vs. civil courts was one of the main issues he cited.

And however ridiculous it was that Henry’s sexual and romantic appetites were the immediate cause of the break with Rome, the English Church has been purified of this deadly theology of priesthood ever since. Anglicans worldwide thank God for it.

Henry and his many wenches.

So what’s the theology? Why did Cardinal Castrillon praise the French bishop for “preferring prison to denouncing his son and priest”? Why did John Paul II endorse Castrillon’s position and order it distributed to every bishop of the Church?

What is a priest? Here’s how Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, explains it on his website:

Every Catholic priest is an icon of Jesus Christ and acts in persona Christi (“in the person of Christ”). At every Mass, we not only remember the Last Supper and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we also live them again in the present, and God becomes flesh and blood in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. In other words, the Mass, through Jesus Christ who acts in his priest, is always much more than a ritualized memory of something that happened a long time ago. It’s a living sacrifice, a mystery and a sacrament – a sign of God’s continuing, tangible presence among us.

(This comes after Chaput’s patted Protestants on the head. The italics are his.)

Castrillon praised the French bishop (himself a convict, remember) for not turning in the serial molester-priest (who got 18 years in the slammer) because a priest is the very successor of Christ, and you wouldn’t turn in Jesus to the government of Pontius Pilate, would you?

When a priest celebrates mass, Catholics believe, not only is the crucifixion of Christ re-enacted, it takes place again at that very moment.

The sacrifice of Jesus is not only then, but now. Thus the sacrament of Holy Communion the priest celebrates turns the bread and wine into the Real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, to be reverently consumed as he ordered, “Do this.”

It’s not a huge leap of logic to go from there to “every priest is Jesus” or “every priest participates in Jesus.” (The rest is theological gloss, frankly.)

In ordination the priest was grafted into Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit, or so they believe.

Benedict 16 explained all this in 1990 when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, in a speech On the Nature of the Priesthood.

You wouldn’t turn Jesus over to Pilate, would you? That’s why the Vatican’s done everything it’s done.

The theology has a certain plausibility, a certain Scriptural grounding; it’s even perhaps revelatory of the loving nature of God. But look at the results: priests committing murder and getting shielded by the Church; priests molesting children and getting shielded by the Church.

We human beings, mere mortals, unwashed laypeople, cannot allow this to go on. We demand that government overrule the Church.

Jesus said, “By their fruits, ye shall know them.” You can tell who’s worth following, and who’s not, by the results of their behavior.

Matthew 7:16-30 (NRSV)

You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit—but the Catholic Church bears bad fruit all over the place, and always has, because of this horrible error in its theology of priesthood, and its creation of ecclesiastical courts that set priests apart when they go bad.

The Church didn’t intend for any of this to happen, but it has.

Most priests bear great fruit, but the ones who don’t mess it up for everyone else—including kids.

Until Rome recognizes that its theology is wrong, nothing much is going to change. It will forever make excuses and coddle the priests who go bad, because it over-identifies its functionaries with the person of Jesus.

My mentor Howard Galley once said, “Heresy takes a truth and over-emphasizes it, so that the truth it upholds gets out of balance with other truths.”

That’s exactly what’s happened time and again in the Catholic Church—because of its polity, its decision-making process, which is always top-down, never bottom-up.

It’s true, I believe, that Jesus is really there in the Holy Communion. It’s true, I believe, that a priest acts and re-enacts the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross in the breaking of bread. It’s true that a priest is grafted onto and into the person of Christ in ordination. But that’s not the end of the story, it’s the beginning.

Societies have a right to protect themselves from noxious theologies, and parents have a right to protect their children from priests.

There’s something grievously wrong when the Church thinks its theology is more important than human beings. God doesn’t think so; God thinks the opposite.

God couldn’t care less whether you believe in the “immaculate conception of Mary,” for which there is zero Biblical evidence; that theology is pure extrapolation invented by overreaching systematizers trying to reconcile the contradictions of someone else’s theology. You can pray to God in Latin if you want to, or English or Chinese; what matters is that you pray.

Meanwhile the pope’s shit stinks; the priest’s shit stinks; and if you think Jesus pooped vanilla ice cream you’re denying that he was a man, which is grievous heresy.

But even heresy isn’t a crime; a man imposing himself on a child while claiming to act for God is the very definition of crime. Let’s have a toast to the French police.++

Vatican Blames Jews, Gays, Women for “Hate” Campaign

Riot police take aim in Kyrgyzstan.

The Catholic Church is looking a bit like Kyrgyzstan today — that former Soviet state where riot police are killing protesters, who now appear to have ousted the government.

It’s looking like Thailand, where protesters have forced government ministers to flee by Black Hawk helicopter.

It’s looking like Afghanistan, where corrupt President Karzai, who recently threatened to join the Taliban, is doing everything he can to hang onto power.

Just days after the pope’s personal preacher compared criticism of the hierarchy to anti-Semitism, on Good Friday no less, and the Vatican secretary of state interrupted Easter services (!) to deliver a ringing endorsement of Benedict, his boss, the Vatican has launched a new offensive, claiming that all-powerful lobbies for the pro-choice and same-sex marriage movements hate the Church and are trying to destroy it.

Funny, I thought it was pedophile priests and paranoid prelates who were trying to do that.

When they’re not blaming Jews at The New York Times.

AP reports:

By FRANCES D’EMILIO
The Associated Press
Tuesday, April 6, 2010; 5:57 PM

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican heatedly defended Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday, claiming accusations that he helped cover up the actions of pedophile priests are part of an anti-Catholic “hate” campaign targeting the pope for his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Vatican Radio broadcast comments by two senior cardinals explaining “the motive for these attacks” on the pope and the Vatican newspaper chipped in with spirited comments from another top cardinal.

“The pope defends life and the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, in a world in which powerful lobbies would like to impose a completely different” agenda, Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, head of the disciplinary commission for Holy See officials, said on the radio.

Herranz didn’t identify the lobbies but “defense of life” is Vatican shorthand for anti-abortion efforts.

I’m a former reporter on the Gay rights movement; I’ve seen it from the inside. I’ve covered feminist issues, Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women — and I have to laugh at the notion that these people could fight their way out of a wet paper bag.

LGBT and feminist leaders spend a lot more time arguing with each other than they ever do with their opponents. Who is it that gave the world “political correctness” but Gay people?

One incident captures this in a nutshell: the 1993 “March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.” (Notice, no Trans.) I’ve still got the T-shirt, hokay?

A gaggle of progressive, non-Gay celebrities were there to support the cause — and were denied the platform to address half a million marchers because they weren’t queer. Jesse Jackson, Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas, Cesar Chavez, people of renown and accomplishment, were permitted to address 5000 early birds at a pre-march rally at the Washington Monument; while the big crowd that afternoon got lectured to by a disabled Lesbian from Fiji, who harangued everybody for not caring enough about… people like her.

I kid you not. The memory still makes me laugh. Lesbians and Gay men can’t coordinate a bowel movement, much less a human rights movement.

But the Vatican says… oh, brother.

At least they haven’t shot anybody like the riot police in Kyrgyzstan.

The New York Times, April 3:

Last week, the center-left daily newspaper La Republica wrote, without attribution, that certain Catholic circles believed the criticism of the church stemmed from a New York ‘Jewish Lobby.’

Without attribution. “Certain Catholic circles.” “New York Jewish lobby,” an apparent reference to The Times itself. It is in fact owned by a Jewish family, and it has been active in reporting about Catholic pedophilia scandals in Wisconsin, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Ireland and elsewhere. The Church doesn’t like having its secrets exposed.

When the (Anglican) Archbishop of Canterbury noted rather mildly that the Catholic Church in Ireland has “lost all credibility,” he was barraged by attacks from Irish Catholic archbishops, who suddenly pretended to be great friends with Anglicans who “betrayed” them, despite the pope’s efforts a few months ago to steal conservative Anglicans and make them Catholics.

I’ve written previously that the Vatican’s problems are structural and have nothing to do with the all-male priesthood, clerical “celibacy” or any other issue of sex and gender. The problems originate in trying to run a church as a dictatorship, where the Big Man gets to decide everything while claiming to be God’s human mouthpiece. It’s a massive error in governance, which is why hundreds of millions of non-Catholic Christians refuse to follow the man.

It doesn’t mean we hate him; it means the system he fronts is obviously and fatally corrupt.

God created all of us; no one is better than anyone else. If you don’t get that, you don’t get anything.

God touches the souls of janitors and scholars alike; if you want to find Christ, visit the homeless, the marginalized, the despised. Queers even, intrinsically disordered though we might be.

The Church’s current crisis, which finds the Vatican lashing out in every possible direction, has nothing to do with abortion, masturbation, contraception, same-sex marriage, the priesthood of “celibate” men or the dignity of women. It has to do with priests molesting children. Period.

What the Catholic Church has done is indefensible. It’s facilitated crime against the least powerful of God’s beloved people.

If the Pope had any brains, which he apparently does not, he would have appeared in St. Peter’s Square on Good Friday in sackcloth and ashes, begging the forgiveness of all humanity for the actions of his priests.

We’d have wept at such a sight; we’d have praised God for him.

Instead he listened to a sermon by his own official preacher, claiming that criticizing the pope was somehow equivalent to the Jew-hating that killed six million souls in concentration camps.

My father was a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. He fought and nearly died to free people he didn’t know from the clutches of hatred.

It is profoundly disrespectful to millions who suffered like him to equate a public outcry against the pope and his minions with a campaign of “hate” by feminists, Jews and Gay people.

Stop crucifying children, Benedict; resign and never show your face again. In the Name of Jesus, do the right thing for once.++