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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Some of My Best Friends . . .

Are married. Some of them also happen to be of the same gender. Some might then say that they then cannot possibly be married. "Marriage can only be between a man and a woman," comes the argument. "Marriage is sacred," they say. "Same-sex unions cheapen the sanctity of marriage," is the battle-cry I hear most often.
With the recent passage of California's Proposition Eight, I decided to do a little investigating.
Why, exactly, is a marriage only between a man and a woman? "Because that's the way it always has been," is the answer I receive.
I believe that statement is accurate. That is, as far as I'm aware, the way it has always been. However, why is that a valid argument for marriage, but not for other things as well? Should we not, then, be hunting our own food, reading by firelight, walking from village to village, and curing ailments like schizophrenia and autism through exorcism, and headaches through bloodletting? Is there no room for a progressive perspective?
The number one reason that marriage has been between a man and a woman is this: progeny. The propagation of the species is why a man and a woman were paired.
Now, with a world population of 6.72 billion that is predicted to reach 9 billion by the middle of this century, is it not safe to say that we've got the propagation of the species covered?
As to the notions of "sanctity" and the "sacred," all I can say is that marriage has traditionally been about the exchange of property between families. Marriages were arranged like business transactions (many still are), and consent was not a factor between the "happy couple" -- forget about love. Love is a late-comer to the institution of marriage.
And as institutions go, I find it difficult to locate much sanctity in a bond that is so easily and frequently put asunder. Somewhere between 40 and 55% of all first marriages end in divorce. 60% of second marriages end in divorce. 75% of third marriages end in divorce.
Reason #1: Money.
Reason #2: Infidelity.
"The sanctity of marriage" argument doesn't hold water.
So, let's be honest, here. Proposition Eight passed not because marriage is a sacred institution, but because a lot of straight people are freaked out by gay people.
Sure, we could get into a long debate about Leviticus and the letters from Paul and other elements of the Bible that have been used through the years to condemn homosexuality. We could even find equally outdated, obscure, and out-of-context passages in other holy books that can be interpreted to condemn homosexuality. Jerry Falwell found homosexuality in a teletubbie. If you want to find something badly enough, you'll find it wherever you look.
So why do so many people want to find a reason to condemn homosexuality? Why do so many latch on to a passage in an ancient book on a page full of completely outdated "laws" in order to validate their idea that one entire group of people is unnatural or wrong?
Well, why are we so obsessed with erectile dysfunction, breast implants, hair loss? It's all about gender roles. Guys are supposed to be masculine, strong, virile -- oh, and we don't cry. Women are supposed to be attractive to men.
We may have been able to put aside the Suzy Homemaker and Tom Breadwinner stereotypes somewhat, but the basic idea is still there. It is at the root of most individual and group (and national) psychoses: Men constantly want to know if they are "man" enough. Women obsess about their role in a relationship.
Heterosexuals are constantly on shaky ground with our own sense of worthiness in our gender. Homosexuality presents a perspective that, frankly, scares the hell out of us.
Does that make it wrong? Don't we kind of have to figure out what's right before we can figure out what's wrong?
In this country, it is not appropriate to legislate your fears. You overstep your bounds by writing or re-writing laws that infringe upon the rights of others just because you find something distasteful.
And "distasteful" is as far as I'll go. I am tired of hearing the word "abhorrent" being thrown around so lightly. Violence against a child or an innocent animal is abhorrent. "Abhorrent" should be reserved for school shootings, suicide bombings, and Kid Rock's "music."
Two men or two women in a committed and loving relationship is not abhorrent. It may be confusing for some. It may be unsettling for others. It may even be disgusting to you.
But it isn't abhorrent. And it isn't hurting anybody. Proposition Eight and the fearful thinking behind it is hurting people, and we are supposed to be better than that -- as Americans and as spiritual and human beings.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Disturbing Trend

I read a couple of articles earlier this week in Stage Directions Magazine about two Shakespeare companies that are experiencing some financial woes of late. Despite having a record season, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is running a $700,000 deficit. More on that story here.
Even worse off is the Milwaukee Shakespeare Company that had to abruptly close its doors mid-season.
In both cases, a lack of financial support in the current economic market is a major factor.
Denver Post theatre critic John Moore pointed out in his last column that, here in Denver, a third of the existing theatre companies do not have any upcoming shows scheduled.
The current state of the economy is considered the main culprit.
Now, I am not an economist, but it seems to me that when we talk about the economy we are really talking about people spending money. Money doesn't spend itself (though at times it may seem like it.)
If people aren't spending money, people aren't making money, and lo and behold the economy takes a downslide. Now, yes, there are a lot of other factors, and there has been some seriously fproblematic handing out of loans and such over the last few years that have put us in the situation we are in, and those things will have to be dealt with as best we can.
Notice, though, that I said "situation" and not "crisis."
"Crisis" makes for good headlines. It's scary, and scared people watch the news more often. The problem with that is that "crisis" calls for panic, and panic only magnifies things.
Look, gas has gone down a bit. Groceries didn't suddenly get more expensive. Things are really not as bad as the word crisis suggests. Things are tougher for some people than for others, but, what little I do know about economics is that the line graphs are very seldom made up of straight lines. Things go up, then down, then back up, etc.
There are a lot of "financial experts" vying for fifteen minutes of fame, and the ones that are going to get the most exposure are the ones who wave their arms the wildest and scream the loudest and whip us into a panicked frenzy the fastest. This is not true of all of them, but I think it's important to consider what people will do or say to get on TV.
So, where am I going with all of this?
Where I am going is simple. Go see a show. You are obviously a theatre aficionado if you are troubling yourself to read this blog. You love theatre. Put your money where your heart is, fly in the face of these overly dramatic doom-sayers, and buy two tickets to the comedy, drama, or musical of your choice. Just for good measure, drop a few bucks in the donation jar, buy a can of soda and a homemeade lemon square for 2 bucks. Even consider becoming a sponsor at the basic level or above. Nearly every theatre company has a sponsorship option (if they know at all what they're doing), and, if it's not listed in the program or on the website, the person who smiled and handed you the ginger ale can probably tell you something about it.
Now a couple of lemon squares and a $50 donation might not have been enough to save the Miluakee Shakespeare Company, but I believe that a helathy dose of consumer confidence just might have.
The economy is not something that exists outside of us. We are the economy. All of us. I'm not in "crisis." Are you?
I didn't think so.
Check out the Denver Post Theatre page and see where you want to exercise your economic influence.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Puppy Update and Wisdom from Alice Walker

It seems unlikely that President-Elect Barack Obama reads my little ol' blog, but this is uncanny. One thing I hope that our next President is reading these days is the open letter to him from Alice Walker. I hope he reads it several times. In fact, I think we all should read it. I was going to put up just a piece of it, but, as I re-read it now, I think I'll just put it all here for you now.

"Dear Brother Obama,

You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done. We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.

I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large. We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone.

I would further advise you not to take on other people's enemies. Most damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain religious or racial devotion. We must learn actually not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise. It is understood by all that you are commander in chief of the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely. However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, "hate the sin, but love the sinner." There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people's spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led.

A good model of how to "work with the enemy" internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

In Peace and Joy,
Alice Walker"

Thank you, to Alice Walker for sharing this wisdom and to my friend, actress Jenny Hecht for pointing me to it.
More with Alice Walker:

Also, if you were touched by Baby's story in my last entry's video, here is her website.

White House Puppy

It sounds like one of the first campaign promises that President-elect Barack Obama will be fulfilling is (perhaps rightly) one made to his two young daughters Malia and Sasha. That promise, of course, being a new puppy.
It is my hope that the Obama family will choose to rescue a pup, though I'm sure there are many breeders who would be more than happy to give a furry bundle of joy to the next First Family.
With a Presidential pet adoption on the horizon and with the approach of the holiday season, I just wanted to take a moment to speak out on behalf of my non-speaking cousins.
If you're thinking about getting a dog (or cat), please really think about it. Do you have the time for a dog? This includes playing. Not just walking and brushing. Do you have the space for a dog? Do you have the patience for a dog? Answer these questions honestly, please, before you bring a new life into your household.
If you feel that you meet the criteria to be a new pet owner, then, please, please consider rescuing a puppy from a shelter like the Dumb Friends League here in Denver. There are a lot of animals who would be very grateful for your love and your home.
However, if you absolutely must have a that purebred Scottish Terrier, then just make sure you do it right. Do not, I repeat, do not buy the little guy from a pet store and do not buy a puppy online or from a classified ad. You can find a breeder online or through an ad, but make sure that you visit in person.
Here is a little info about puppy mills from our friends at The Humane Society and (The video is upsetting but not particularly graphic.)
Just as a personal preference, I am partial to mutts anyway. Being one myself, I find that mutts are more unique and generally much heartier than purebreds -- even those that are not horribly inbred like those from the puppy mills.
(Which reminds me, let's add another criterion for pet ownership: Can you financially handle a dog who becomes ill or injured?)
Whether you go through a shelter or through a legitimate breeder, there are just two things to remember:
1. Have the little darling spayed or neutered. It's better for them. It's better for you. It's better for the world. But don't just take my word for it, here's what the Humane Society has to say on the matter.
2. Be grateful. The unconditional love that one gets from a pet (even a cat) cannot be measured and it cannot be matched. An animal companion is a blessing. Treat him or her as such.
Here's one more argument against puppy mills. (But not the last one by far. This makes my blood boil. You will hear more from me on this matter.)
Meet Baby:

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Johnny One Vote

I'm going to get a little political today, but maybe not in quite the way that you think.

I voted this last week. Exercised my right as a free citizen. Let my voice be heard. Stood up and was counted. Pick your cliche. I've seen many people on MySpace and on Facebook who proclaimed loudly and proudly in their status bars (by "loudly" I mean either with all-caps or exclamation points) that they had cast their vote. I envy their enthusiasm and joy. I was more saddened by the whole experience. The confusing ballot measures, the "lesser of two evils" choices between the candidates -- these things left me feeling more disheartened than anything. Also, knowing that, just because I had voted early didn't mean I wouldn't still be subjected to the barrage of negative and/or misleading campaign advertising and automatically-dialed recorded messages in my voicemail between now and Super Tuesday.
My penultimate disappointment of the last week has been the news of the $4-million (or more) 30-minute campaign ad for Barack Obama. The price tag just seems staggering to me.
Now, this is not an indictment of Obama at all. Given the way this year's (fifteen months'?) campaigning has gone, it was a natural progression.
As Benjamin Franklin said, "Don't hate the playa, hate the game." (Or something like that.)

I guess that is what troubles me the most. This country has mobilized in terms of both volunteer hours and funding to support one candidate or another to "rescue" the country from its dark days. To hear people speak about their politician of choice, you would think we were electing a new Messiah rather than a public servant.
I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but neither of the choices presented to us can truly "rescue" us from anything. In fact, there isn't any one person out there who can.
I see all of these people out pounding the pavement to get the population registered to vote -- I get asked more for my voting status on the 16th Street Mall now than for spare change!
I receive about five calls a day from one political camp or the other. Once a day, someone knocks on my apartment door holding a clipboard.
I can't help but think that, if we paced ourselves, if we spread this energy and activism out over four years, we wouldn't need to be rescued. If we as citizens were 1/4 as much involved and informed every year as we are for just this one year, we would truly be the nation that we set out to be 200+ years ago.
Our vote is important, there is no denying that, but we are more than our vote. The prevailing attitude seems to be that, once the ballots are counted, we can all just sit back and let the newly-elected miracle worker make everything groovy again.
History should have taught us by now that it doesn't work that way.
We are a nation "of the people" not of ballots. The government can only do so much, or, as we have unfortunately allowed it to become so mired in bureaucracy, so little.
Obama's ad is only a fraction of the total cost of the campaigns this year -- on both sides. Obviously, Obama didn't go into his own pockets for that money -- it came in the form of contributions. Now, just imagine what would happen if, instead of raising $4-million in one year for a 30 minute television ad, the individuals who so readily handed over that money decided instead to raise $1-million every year and put it toward solving a problem or supporting a cause they believe in?
Could they make as much impact as a President who is himself only one part of the government? I happen to think so, and remember, that's only a small chunk of the total funds spent on this election.
And, again, I'm not slamming Obama. McCain has raised and spent a lot of money, too. The size of the price tag is not on them, it's on us. We let it get this way. We are the ones who have become so complacent in our self-governance that we need to have hundreds of millions of dollars spent on us just to get us caught up on what's going on every four years.
The young man who knocked on my door today probably spends at least ten hours per week walking around and telling strangers why they should vote for Obama.
Now, I don't imagine that Obama is this young man's uncle, so I suspect that he is advocating for this man he does not know because Barack Obama's philosophy is somewhat aligned with his own.
Now, what if this young man simply spent two hours every week talking to strangers about the events and issues nearest and dearest to his heart. Could he not still make an impact? Perhaps even more of an impact?
The two young me who came to my door last year from the LDS church fervently, strongly believed in what they had to share, and, while they didn't get a convert out of the deal, they did get their message heard. The older woman who handed me a copy of The Watchtower the other day isn't going to find me sitting in the next pew anytime soon, but it only took her a second or two to do it, and the next guy might be more receptive. The point is, it's something she believed in strongly enough that she was willing to risk being told to "F*** off." (I didn't, but if she'd caught me on another day . . .)
I know I probably sound like an idealist, but I think I'm really more of a pragmatist.
I don't wish to be cynical, but can we really believe that either McCain or Obama will be able to enact their respective plans for change when they are finally put behind the big desk? Will not the day-to-day business of running the government curtail or even de-rail some of their plans, no matter how well-intentioned?
So much emphasis is placed on the power of a person's vote, and I don't want to diminish that. A vote is a powerful thing.
It's just that, if we believe that our power begins and ends with our ability to cast a ballot, we've put all our eggs in one basket.
So, whoever ends up taking the big chair after Tuesday, let's remember one thing:
The real seat of power in this country -- or at least what should be -- is the one under our own tuckus.
We can choose to get up off of it and truly become -- as we were intended to be -- a nation of leaders, or we can stay on the couch and be a nation of followers.
Capitalism and socialism both have a utopia at the end of the rainbow in which no one wants for anything and everyone lives in peaceful harmony. Whichever camp you fall into (and this country was founded on elements of both philosophies), I would just like to point out that, well, we ain't there yet. We've got a ways to go.
There is still work to be done, and it's going to take all of us.