Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions." --Thomas Jefferson

The Empire State Building as soon as the bill establishing same-sex marriage was passed by the NY State Senate late last Friday night.

"You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, fuck it; I don't care what you think. I'm trying to do the right thing."    --New York Republican State Senator Roy McDonald when publicly announcing his intention to vote for marriage equality.


I don't have a picture, because it was one of those totally unexpected moments that happens when you left your camera inside.  I was watering gardens with a hose that had some defect where it screwed into the sprayer so that water was atomizing out everywhere.  Suddenly, a dragon fly, very much like this one . . .

. . . landed on the top of the wet sprayer.  This dragon fly was even more friendly and unflappable than usual, even when I held the sprayer up very close to me so that I could see him in detail.  He then calmly started washing by dipping his forelegs into the wet spots on the sprayer and running them over his head and face.  This went on for some time, very casually, then he flew up in front of my face and hovered.  I put out my finger and he settled on it for half a minute or so before taking off for good.  Our high dragon fly population is one of the joys of a New Hampshire summer.

Photo from Sunny Archibald's blog, Sunny's 12 of 12


Fritz and I were anxious to get out of the house on Sunday because we'd been kept in by the heavy rains of the preceding days.  A 17th century garrison house in Exeter is one of the historic properties managed by Historic New England, a preservation and educational group.  Fritz gave me a membership for my birthday last week, but this particular house turned out to be open only four days a year (!) and Sunday wasn't one of them.

So, he suggested driving over to Hampton Beach to see the results of the annual sand sculpting contest.  There wasn't any sun but there were big crowds everywhere along the predictably schlocky commercial strip up behind the beach.  We eventually lucked out on a parking space and walked back along the beach walk to the snow fenced area enclosing the sculptures:
This sculpture was the first prize winner for reasons Fritz and I couldn't figure out.  It didn't impress us as much as some of the others, although it certainly is proficient technically.
Frankly commercial, this sculpture advertises beach-area businesses and one iconic American product.

The old woman who lived in a shoe but with only a couple of pet animals, not "so many children that she didn't know what to do."  It appears that she may also have something of a drinking problem.

"Pristine Nature" which we liked very much.

This one was in many ways our favorite.  The deco-style rays that form the arch terminate on the sides as words, positive and affirming on the left, negative and disturbing on the right as seen below:

I don't know if this one was planned before the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, but the powerful, lightly detailed monumentality of the piece certainly suggests a tribute to the victorious team.

This one was titled "And They Live Among Us."  I thought the sculpting of the horse's head especially beautiful.

This one was a tribute to those who assist in bringing new life into the world.

"Enlightenment"  The face high on her right hip seemed to suggest Socrates to me.

The sculptures are made not from the sand of Hampton Beach but from a special kind of river sand that apparently absorbs a bit of water and coheres much more securely than regular beach sand.  I was also told that after these sculptures were completed, they were misted with several applications of an Elmer's type glue mixed with water to help in sealing their surfaces and preserving their details.   This application probably accounts for the lack of deterioration, except in that one piece whose side had started to crumble, in the rains of the two days and nights preceding our visit.

The crowds Sunday were very appreciative and made some fascinating comments, particularly about the more symbolic pieces.  Sometime this week, the sculptures will be bulldozed; some art is meant to be ephemeral.

Friday, June 24, 2011


The Old Order Is Passing Away

The Senate in Albany has just passed the bill establishing same-sex marriage in New York State on a 33 to 29 vote.  With Governor Andrew Cuomo's signature a slam dunk, my home state becomes the largest in the US to adopt the principle of marriage equality.

Here is another sign that the tide is turning:

Omaha Clergy Proclamation: Being Gay Not A Sin

Minister Organizes Effort To Welcome Gays To Church

 POSTED:8:56 pm CDT June 12, 2011



Omaha area ministers will publicly unveil a proclamation on Wednesday calling for an end to religious and civil discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Rev. Eric Elnes, pastor of Countryside Community Church, said the proclamation was created because, “we were just fed up with the popular notion that the Christian point of view is anti-gay.”  Elnes, who leads an Omaha church of 1,500 members at 87th Street and Pacific Street, said more than 100 ordained Christian ministers have signed the proclamation, including leaders from Lutheran, Episcopalian, United Church of Christ, Methodist and Presbyterian churches.

The ministers will join together on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge to publicly unveil the proclamation and show full acceptance of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people.  “We believe homosexuality is not a sin.  It’s not a birth defect or a choice.   God created people this way.  And if God created them this way, they need to be honored for who they are, and fully included in church life and wider society,” said Elnes, whose words are reflected in the document.

Elnes said after sharing his point of view, he’s learned that many Christians hold the same beliefs, but have not openly expressed them.  That’s the reason the proclamation also includes an apology to the gay community.  “We felt it was important for us to apologize for the times when we ourselves have been silent. Some of us have not always been on this side of the issue.”  Elnes said he unveiled a similar proclamation while working with another church three years ago in Arizona. He said nine Catholic priests were ordered to remove their names from the proclamation or be removed from the priesthood.

Amy O’Connor, a board member of Omaha’s Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays group, PFLAG, said the proclamation is significant.  “It’s pretty huge,” she said.  O’Connor heads the telephone helpline for the group and said without acceptance from family, church and the community, gay people often live isolated, sad lives.  O’Connor, whose 21-year-old son is gay, said as a Catholic, she’s had to deal with conflicting feelings and teachings about the acceptance of gays in the church. “It’s not an issue of sexual orientation or gender identity. God loves everybody,” said O’Connor.  Her son, Matthew Macchietto, said Elne’s efforts are bold. “It really does take one person or a small group of people to make a big impact. In 10, or 20 years, I think people will think, why wasn’t it always this way?”

Macchietto's partner, Brad Chapin, said issuing the proclamation is, "the Christian thing to do.  The whole point of Christianity is love and compassion."   Elnes said in ministering to gay, lesbian and transgendered people, he’s learned that he must first convince them that God doesn’t hate them before he can share the message that God loves them.“It’s very clear and very simple. We want to be open to all people."

Matthew Macchietto, recipient of the Gay, Lesbian and Allies at Dow (GLAD) Scholarship.  Matthew has been active in his school's Gay Straight Alliance and has organized both an Anti-Bullying Week and a Coming Out Week. He also volunteered at the Nebraska AIDS Project, and was the Design Editor for Xanadu and Pundit magazines. Matthew is a graduate of Westside High School in Omaha, Nebraska.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Father John Unni delivering his message of inclusion among his congregants

For one priest, the choice is clear
On inclusian of gays, lesbians he cites Jesus' example

By Mark Arsenault, Globe Staff / June 14, 2011

Four years ago, a methodical search for a new place of worship led a group of gay Roman Catholics to the Rev. John Unni, the youthful priest at St. Cecilia’s Church. The search committee was blunt: Would the priest accept an influx of gay and lesbian parishioners?

“He told us, ‘All are welcome,’ ’’ said John Kelly, now head of the St. Cecilia Rainbow Ministry.
Kelly and other parishioners credit Unni with managing the merger of the predominantly gay congregation from the Jesuit Urban Center, which closed in 2007, and with keeping gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church, despite the uneasy balance between the church’s message of love for all and its strict doctrine against gay relations.  Father John, as his parishioners call him, says he is trying to live the words of Jesus Christ, as he has seen them lived out.
Unni was 16 when his father died. The St Theresa Parish community in his hometown of North Reading responded with meals delivered to the family’s door, with rides to practices and rehearsals and whatever help they could offer a broken family.  “People lived out the Gospels,’’ Unni, 49, said in an interview yesterday evening. “That’s when I learned what church was.’’
He said the response from his hometown was “the total opposite to the hateful reaction’’ that Unni and St. Cecilia have received recently from some conservative critics over the church’s plan to hold a June 19 Mass under the theme, “All are Welcome,’’ to commemorate Boston’s Gay Pride Month.  “All we’re trying to do is welcome a group that has been marginalized,’’ he said.
Critics have accused the church, and Unni, of celebrating behavior the church opposes. Those critics “are not about hate or lack of acceptance of people with same-sex attractions,’’ wrote blogger Joe Sacerdo, who has written extensively on St. Cecilia’s plans.  “The Catholic Church believes sex between men and men, or sex between women and women, is morally wrong and sinful. Period.’’
 Last week, the archdiocese stepped in and postponed the “All are Welcome’’ service, saying it gave the impression that St. Cecilia’s supported the annual Gay Pride celebration.
Unni addressed the controversy during his homily Sunday, saying parishioners “are welcome here, gay or straight, rich or poor, young or old, black or white.  Here, you all can say, `I can worship the God who made me as I am.’ ’’  Parishioners responded with a standing ovation.

The reaction demonstrated how thoroughly Unni understands his congregation, said Rosaria Salerno, Boston’s city clerk, who has been a parishioner at St. Cecilia’s for some 30 years.  “I was on my feet, but too numb to be clapping,’’ said Salerno, a member of the parish’s advisory council. “I was just so numb that he had spoken with our voices, what each of us in those pews would have said.’’
Parishioners say Unni is a low-key, approachable guy who enjoys yanking weeds around the church property in Back Bay. Yet on Sunday, they say, he transforms into an electrifying speaker who paces the aisles during his homilies and who has a knack for making the teachings of the Bible relevant to modern life.  “He’s very good at explaining Catholic social justice teachings, which include inclusiveness,’’ said Mark Lippolt, a member of the parish council.

Unni’s father was a barber; his mother a hairdresser. He is a former English teacher at the old Christopher Columbus Catholic School in the North End, from 1983-85. He remembers making $150 a week as a teacher and being inspired to start his own landscaping business. But the priesthood kept gnawing at him.  The call to join the clergy “was not a thunderbolt, but a real presence inside me that grew as time went on,’’ Unni said. He entered the seminary in 1986 and later worked at parishes in Dorchester and Danvers before moving to St. Ann’s Church, near the campus of Northeastern University. He came to St. Cecilia about seven years ago, when St. Ann’s closed.
He recalls welcoming gay parishioners from the Jesuit Urban Center and says he never expected any problems when integrating a large group of gay and lesbian Catholics into his congregation.  “I think because sexuality is a part of this, it goes to the next level,’’ he said, reflecting on the current controversy. “I say: ‘Just come. I’m not going to stand in the way of your relationship with God.’ ’’

And Unni insists he’s not flouting church teachings.  “Jesus met people where they were at,’’ he said. “He went to them and reminded them who they were in God’s eyes.’’
Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com.


This story has a lot of resonance for me because the company for which I design scenery and lights, and on whose Board of Directors I serve, produced Benjamin Britten's church parable Curlew River at the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston's South End neighborhood not long before the Boston Archdiocese forced it to close.

When I walked into the big neo-classic style church to begin the put-in of the set and lighting, I was struck not only by the warmth of the welcome (the Pastor visited me several times during my work day to say how happy he was to have us and Britten's opera in the Center and to urge me to make any of the company's needs known without hesitation) but also by the row of pictures of parishioners lost to AIDS that were enshrined on a projecting molding just behind the altar. Many had small piles of memorial notes next to them; all were visible from the nave of the church.

I had not known of the Center's orientation before I entered the building that day and had wondered how a largely if not predominantly gay company producing the work of a gay composer would be received; I quickly found out and my question then became, how long would it be before Sean Cardinal O'Malley turned the screws on it?  Turns out that pressure was already being applied, and the closure came within a year of our performances. Now I know the end of the story, where that wonderful congregation went and whose arms opened to welcome it.

The next question is, how long before the axe falls on Father Unni -- or has the social conscience of rank and file Catholic parishioners progressed so far beyond that of the hierarchy that some kind of accommodation will have to be made?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Fritz has begun the 25th class since his Conference & Retreat Center became allied with Lesley University as a remote site for its Master of Education in Creative Arts and Learning degree program. With each class the first assignment is to make a set of wind chimes.

This year's stand-out was made by a woman who asked if she could have a chunk of our maple firewood, which she turned on a lathe to create the lovely cascade seen at the right.  To me, the texture and color resembles marble.

As the class progresses through the next 22 months, they will work in art, poetry, music, storytelling, theater, movement, curriculum development and a variety of other courses designed to bring creative, hands-on work into the classroom in every subject.  As Fritz often points out, the object is NOT to train arts teachers, but to train teachers to use all the arts in all the subjects they teach.


When Fritz gave me the services of a landscape designer for our first Christmas in the new house -- Christmas of 2008 -- she told us that the third summer would be the first one that would be really spectacular in terms of fullness of the plants and their flowers.  This is the third spring for the first part of the project we planted, the big English-style country garden that's right in front of our living room windows, and it looks as if she was exactly right. 

That said, last winter had some very strange effects on our plantings.  There was intense cold for a good period of time and then there were the almost continual snow storms, even some blizzards, throughout January and February.  We lost some bushes and perennial plants and all of our mint (I didn't think you could actually kill mint!) but some annuals, plants like dianthus, covered by red flowers with white fringes, and dusty miller not only survived,

but resumed flowering and growing from the size and stage of development they were in when winter started -- a huge surprise.   All the bulbs have come back beautifully.  I tired to get a picture of one of these iris that would do justice to its color but my digital camera doesn't capture the depth of its imperial purple color fully.  Fritz keeps putting more bulbs in all the time, thereby pushing the appearance of the first flowers of the year earlier and earlier each spring.

This fellow is a real delight.  The areas we planted last fall called for a dozen or so of these Snow-in-summer plants (Cerastium tomentosum) which thrive in hot, dry, sunny areas, which we certainly have up on the hillside above the house.  The white of the flower mounds is indeed a brilliant snowy white, and with luck these will spread into a ground cover as advertised.

When we were first discussing what we wanted with the designer, she showed us some "purple" foliage plants which we liked immediately, so she's been careful to have them appear regularly throughout the layout.  The ones in the back are particular favorites of ours for the size and height of the foliage.


For the third summer in a row, Eastern Phoebes have built their nest on a part of our house.  The first year, they built on top of a support beam for the bridge leading from the second floor to the edge of the "cliff" behind the house.  Last year they built on the sill of the transom above the front door.  They don't nest in trees but on structures.  This year it's back to the bridge, not on the beam but where the bridge joins the house in a corner where I had secured a garden hose on its way to water the raised bed vegetable gardens.

If you look closely and carefully at the top of the nest, the eye and beak of one of their baby birds can be seen.  A little patience will reveal a wing or two of the others.  The Phoebes are fun to have; they swoop around the house like swallows and when they perch on something (the trellis I built for the pole beans this year is currently one of their favorites) they constantly bob and flick their tails.


One of the best pictures I think I have ever taken of Starr, in typical mid-afternoon recline on my schedule book with her hind quarters on my laptop.  This is a convenient pose for her because when I sit at the table and attempt to open the computer, she can easily roll over on her back asking for a tummy rub, which she always gets, because she makes it impossible for me to do much of anything else.

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