Monday, April 22, 2019

Pete Buttigieg; A Long Rambling Reflection

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana now polls in third place in Iowa just behind Biden and Bernie. That a married openly gay man places third in a crowded field of candidates for the Democratic nomination for President of the USA is an extraordinary moment in history for the LGBTQ community.

For more than 2 years, white gay men like me watched a leering smirking incarnation of our worst selves everywhere on the media, Milo Yiannopoulos. He sold out friends, community, and conscience for the sake of that dubious get-out-of-jail-free card that is being a white male. It turned out that being white and male mattered more to Milo than being gay. He spoke to that worst part of white gay men like me tempted to sever ties with the rest of the LGBTQ community when things get rough and try to find safety and respectability in male whiteness. Well, it turned out that Milo didn’t find much safety or acceptance from all those white male fascists that he envied and lusted after. They saw Milo at best as a side show, and at worst as a pervert poser, another parvenu Jew seeking to insinuate himself into their favor. Those powerful white males among whom we might try to find safety see us gay boys not as fellow white brothers, as members of The Club; but, as diseased opportunists who are contemptible. And so, we bear the not entirely unjustified suspicion and scorn of the rest of the LGBTQ community.

And now we have the anti-Milo, Pete Buttigieg dazzling the media professionals and us gay white males not through showmanship, but just by being smart and decent. Milo’s flamboyant nihilism finds its answer in Mayor Pete’s seriousness of purpose and Midwestern reserve. Mayor Pete strikes a nerve in a lot of us white gay males creating a sensation akin to finding water in the desert. He’s arrived to redeem us in the eyes of the world. He’s the shining example of something we really want to be in our heart of hearts; someone who can make himself necessary, who makes his privilege available to those who have none, who can leave things better than how he found them. He’s a positive alternative to the constant guilt and shame over being the beneficiaries of ancestral predation that always lurks at the edges of our consciousness. He’s the boyfriend we always dreamed of taking home to mother.

In some of us white gay men older than 55, Mayor Pete stirs very mixed feelings. We remember when we were among the trailblazers kicking the doors open. We lost a whole lot of our own to AIDS and to violence. We remember sharing the trenches and dodging the shrapnel with African American, Latino, and Asian brothers, with Lesbian sisters (who were better friends to us than we were to them), with Trans brothers and sisters who frequently led the charge (especially at Stonewall). What drew us all together was outsider status, the sense that we were all in exile. None of us chose to be outsiders. The larger world said that we were and treated us accordingly. Some of us happily embraced that exile. Who would want to be part of a hypocritical society that proclaims love while rewarding aggression, that preaches liberty while demanding conformity, that preaches community while picking winners and losers? Being an outsider could be exhilarating with a strong sense of fellowship created by a shared threat and a common purpose. Some of us miss that. We look at very white bread Mayor Pete and fear that place of critical opposition to a corrupt society is being abandoned. Others were not so happy in their exile and pressed their noses against the window looking in with sad envy on families seated happily at home around their fires. Some would argue that conventional society changed in the act of accepting gays and lesbians into positions of power and responsibility such as Mayor of South Bend or Houston or Governor of Colorado. Letting us into the family circle was itself transformative for both the family and the gay outsider. Many of us loved and hated our exile at the same time. We all struggled and fought for many years to win the liberties and acceptance that many people take for granted now. That they are taken for granted is perhaps a measure of our success.

Some of us aging hippies and punks once so proud of our long lost freak flags look at clean-cut nice boy Mayor Pete and feel some relief we can finally come in from the cold. But, we also feel a deep anxiety that the independence, courage, and creativity needed to sustain a gay identity in a hostile world may get lost. The courage and resourcefulness of the young heartens us. That being young and gay is still as hard as ever breaks our hearts. Tail-end-of-the-Baby-Boom-Punk-Generation me born in 1957 watched Pete Buttigieg very publicly kiss his husband Chasten in front of a huge crowd of people and bigger crowds watching online and on TV, and I was gobsmacked.

Expect a roaring flood tide of homophobia if he becomes a serious contender for the Presidency. As a friend of mine pointed out, he’s painted a target on his back. I wonder if he’s ready for the backlash. I wonder if we are. He’s a war veteran. He’s spent a long time already in the military and in political office, two things that require thick skin. I would imagine that he believes that he can take all the torrents of abuse that will rain down upon him eventually. He goads the homophobes very politely. Indeed, he appears to be deliberately throwing hand grenades at the last respectable bigotry. It’s going to be hard on the rest of us, reading and listening to language that we usually go out of our way to avoid; the aggressive language of bigotry that’s out to intimidate and to dominate. It’s also very possible that the homophobia may backfire on the homophobes, that people will be repelled by Kevin Swanson’s homicidal hatred or the Westboro clan on parade all the time. Perhaps Mayor Pete is goading the haters into going too far.

He may be just another white dude, but no one trolls Bernie or Biden or Kamala or Elizabeth or Cory yelling “Sodom and Gomorrah!” and “Faggot!” Pete and Chasten may be privileged white males, but of all the candidates and their spouses, only Pete and Chasten could legally lose a home and a job and be denied public service in 24 states for being married.

It looks like Mayor Pete may put the Episcopal Church and progressive Christianity back on the map. All my life, I watched a secular media lazily concede to the right-wing religious their copyright claims upon the Christian Gospel. Unregenerate segregationists like the late Jerry Falwell, professional bigots like Bryan Fischer, reactionary mitered hypocrites in the Catholic hierarchy, and right wing partisans like Franklin Graham became the press’ go-to people for all things Christian. Somehow, a frothing-at-the-mouth flat-earth fundamentalist, or a grinning prosperity gospeler in a $3000 suit, or a misogynist Catholic fundamentalist in a black cassock were supposed to speak for me as a Christian. And now the Episcopal Church gets dissed by Erick Erickson in what will be surely be the opening salvo of a campaign to vilify a church made up of educated professional people and withdrawn eccentrics. I wonder if our church full of Social Gospel evangelicals and Anglo-Catholic contemplatives is ready for the limelight. 

 For the most part, the Episcopal Church is a friendly place that’s as welcoming as some other churches are closed to all but the initiated with members’ beliefs and behavior heavily policed. The Episcopal Church is not a confessional church with any detailed doctrinal statement beyond the Nicene Creed. It has nothing like the Roman Catholic Magisterium, or Lutheran confessions, or Calvinist covenants, or a fundamentalist church’s long list of bullet points on doctrine and policy. It doesn’t police its members’ consciences. The Episcopal Church makes no claim to be The One True Church. It is one manifestation among many of Christ’s Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Episcopal Church is a community of people on the pilgrim path to the Celestial Jerusalem who decided to travel there together instead of separately. It is modern people who value tradition, people who want to look forward with hope into the future while maintaining ties to the generations that went before. It’s a hierarchy with bishops, but a democratic one that elects its bishops and decides matters of policy and belief in the General Convention of clergy and laity. The Episcopal Church is a small town where people know each other and gossip travels quickly. The whole Episcopal Church in the USA and abroad is maybe a little less than the population of Fort Worth, Texas. Small as it is, the Episcopal Church wields an outsize influence, even now long after the WASP establishment Old Money abandoned it for the Evangelicals, the Roman Catholics, or just went secular. That the Episcopal Church is so filled with educated professionals is its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. There is so much talent and skill (especially in medicine and education) at the church’s disposal, and yet it seems that a graduate degree is the minimum requirement for church membership. Pete Buttigieg with his sterling academic record and fluency in 8 languages is not likely to change that.

This is not an endorsement of Buttigieg. I’m not endorsing anyone for President until next year. Yes, he’s smart with a sterling academic record and speaks 8 languages; but looking at all that, I remember a story about Adlai Stevenson. At a campaign rally, a supporter yelled out, “Governor Stevenson, all thinking people are for you!” To which he replied, “That’s not enough, I need a majority!” I wonder if Buttigieg’s straight A report card will be enough to win. That reserved polite Midwesterner must earn the support of people in places like the Bronx, in West Virginia, in Wyoming, in Miami, and in Southside Chicago to win elections. Some of his ideas, especially on election and process reform certainly appeal to me. Not even Bernie is calling for ending the filibuster, or the electoral college. Buttigieg correctly understands that until something is done about those, not a single piece of progressive legislation will get past the Senate GOP no matter who controls Congress. The Senate will remain a place where dreams go to die. So far as I know, the only other candidate talking about similar reforms is Elizabeth Warren.

I have no idea what his policies are concerning health care reform other than a few broad and vague statements. So far, he’s sticking to big picture narratives (as is Beto apparently). Any Democratic candidate will need a big minority turn out to win in 2020. I hope that one of those languages that Mayor Pete speaks is Spanish and that Midwestern diffidence translates well for large minority populations in major cities (remember another Presidential candidate Julian Castro was the mayor of a big red-state city, San Antonio; he’s talking about immigration reform and getting little attention for it). Minorities who make up about 40% of South Bend’s population have yet to fully share in the city’s revival under Mayor Pete’s leadership. 

Maybe Mayor Pete is just another Neo-liberal pretty boy like Justin Trudeau or Emanuel Macron. Or maybe he’s the Millennials’ FDR who will transform the whole political and social contract that we’ve had for about 40 years. No more indulging the very rich and corporations at the expense of the rest of us. No more “working poor.” No more endless war abroad. No more legalized corruption. No more exploiting bigotry and “divide and rule.” No more people dying because they can’t afford medications or healthcare. No more employed people living in cars or tents because they can’t afford rent. Economic democracy and security for all. A country where we are all have a claim, where we are no longer just tenants or cheap labor. A sustainable prosperity that does not depend on plundering and spoiling the environment, or keeping some people poor so that others might stay rich. A country where we all enjoy freedom and dignity in fact and not just on paper. 

Or maybe the Millennial’s FDR will turn out to be AOC. It’s still too soon to tell. White House bound or not, Mayor Pete and Chasten are already making history.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

A Dark Easter

A very dark Easter this year with over 200 dead at this writing with multiple bombings in Sri Lanka, the burning of Notre Dame in Paris, the burning of 3 African American churches in Louisiana, and the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in a country that still gorges on gun violence.

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Easter in Florence

Kids, don't try this at home.

La Columbina is supposed to fly back into the church.  As you saw above, she didn't last year.

The mayor (a woman that year) processes to the church of Santi Apostoli to fetch some ancient flints allegedly from Jerusalem brought back by the Pazzi family in the 11th century.  These are carried to Florence Cathedral for the Easter Vigil.  The fire ignited that night will be used to start the Scoppio del Carro.

Buona Pasqua a tutti!

Leave Notre Dame a Ruin

The Cathedral of Notre Dame burned on April 15, and ever since, controversy erupted and grew over funding the rebuilding of the cathedral.  The global plutocracy quickly raised tens of billions of dollars and euros to finance the rebuilding.  The Gilets Jaunes -- Yellow Jackets -- protesting the decline of living standards for the French middle and working classes reacted with rage, as did advocates of other causes stemming from the grotesque inequalities of the 21st century world.  So now the cathedral bears the weight of our conflicts.  And who can really blame people for feeling this way.  The folks to whom we all owe rent and money, for whom we all work, to whom all our governments defer, think so little of us and yet so much of a single cathedral.  All that money that they've been squirreling away in tax shelters and using to buy politicians of all parties on both sides of the Atlantic suddenly gets freed up to repair Notre Dame and not for the people who work for them and create their wealth.

I've argued -- and still argue -- that funding human welfare and human culture is not mutually exclusive.  One makes life possible and the other makes it worth the bother of living.  But maybe it's time to call a time out.  Maybe the cathedral should be left a ruin.  I dread the coming proposals to "modernize" the cathedral and make it "relevant."  I worry that it will be made from a tourist attraction into a tourist trap, that some awful design created by a mix of vainglorious ego and government/corporate ambition will wreck Notre Dame worse than any fire.  Maybe we should just leave it alone for an indefinite period of time until we get our shit together.

The medieval masons who built Notre Dame built it to last forever; and after 850 years, they've come pretty close.  But they believed in "forever."  We don't.  We don't really believe in anything except profits.  Is there any building built over the last 50 years that we could imagine lasting for 850 years?  Is there any building from those past 5 decades that we would care to have last 850 years?  As the fire proved, the basic stone fabric of Notre Dame is very sound and still strong.  It can withstand some exposure and some vines and weeds growing out of its stones.  Barricade the cathedral off and let it grow fallow until we can figure out what we are doing.


From a satirical Italian site; a good vision of what a lot of people fear from efforts to restore and renovate.

I say remove the stained glass, the organs, the relics, the art, stabilize and secure the basic structure of the building, and then let it sit there vacant.  Let it stay vacant until the French government or the Catholic Archdiocese or an independent commission agree over who makes decisions for the cathedral.  It can stay vacant until a good plan for rebuilding it for future generations instead of present expediencies can be made.  Above all, it can stay vacant until an equitable and sustainable plan for funding the restoration is created, one that will ensure in law and fact that Notre Dame remains a public possession.

Holy Saturday

Today is Holy Saturday and the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School Massacre.  In retrospect, this event became a major turning point in American history into a dark new era of violent nihilism that is not yet over.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

We Almost Lost Notre Dame

On the afternoon of April 15, I was shocked and horrified to see pictures like this streaming into all of my news sites.

About an hour after I started watching the images coming in, the spire made of timbers and lead over the crossing went up in flames like a match and collapsed in a fiery crash.  Like so many, I thought the 850 year old cathedral was lost along with all the treasures housed inside.

Grief stricken Parisians watched the cathedral burn in stunned silence.

A lot of people including me shared their shock and grief around the world, and thanks to the technology of instant communication, we could share it in real time.

Everlasting gratitude to the Paris fire department for giving us two unexpected and wonderful miracles:  first, that no one died, and second that the cathedral's losses and damage were kept to a minimum.
According to some reports, Notre Dame came very close to being completely lost.  Firefighters risked their lives and worked valiantly to keep the fire from spreading to the twin bell towers on the west front.  The whole cathedral was a half hour or less from collapse if the fire was not stopped.

That no one died is amazing.  From open to close every day Notre Dame is filled with people; tourists and worshippers.  I would imagine it was extra full for Monday in Holy Week with crowds there for the 6PM Mass when the fire alarms went off.   Everyone quickly evacuated the cathedral as the fire spread fast.  The only casualties were two fire fighters suffering minor injuries.

Another miracle unfolded as fire fighters entered the cathedral as it was still burning, and the next morning after the fires were extinguished.  The losses and damage to the building were far less than the catastrophe everyone feared.  The previous evening, French government officials warned the public that the cathedral might be a total loss.  By morning, it was clear that the building could be salvaged and restored.  Even more amazing, most of the stained glass including all three of the rose windows survived intact.

Photos by Philippe Wojazer AP/The Guardian

A photographer accompanied firefighters into the still burning cathedral that night.

Fire still burned through the gaping holes in the ceiling vaults left by the collapse of the spire.

By morning, people could get a better look at the damage.

It turned out that the worst damage was limited to the roof, that the medieval stone vaults held up through a very large and hot fire.  If those vaults had collapsed, the walls would surely have fallen with them.

Above is a pre-fire photo of the medieval roof timbers.  Parisians referred to the attic above the vaults as "the forest" because of all the oaken beams.  Notre Dame's was one of the very last wooden timbered cathedral roofs left in Europe.  And now that it's gone, I think there are only two left both in Britain.  Since the Second World War, most medieval churches replaced wooden roof beams with struts made from reinforced concrete.  I'm fairly sure that is what will replace "the forest" on the roof of Notre Dame.

Despite the fire and the crash of the spire, the vaults and the walls held up saving much of the cathedral's interior and especially its windows.  Kudos to the medieval stonemasons who really did build things to last forever.  Their work survived a large and hot fire and probably saved lives as well as relics and treasures.

The charred remains of the spire lie piled before the old 18th century high altar.

The gap in the ceiling vaults left by the collapse of the spire.

Among the greatest miracles, the great north Rose Window with its original 13th century glass appears to have survived the fire intact.  The other two Rose Windows also survived.

My photo of the North Rose from 2014, and few more I took from my one trip to Paris.  We visited the cathedral on a bright hot July day.

Expect controversy to soon begin over how to restore the cathedral.  I predict that a big point of contention will be the spire.  Here is a pre-fire photo of the spire designed and built by the architect and restorer Viollet-le-Duc in the 1860s.  He built it to replace the original spire removed in the 18th century because of wind damage.  Much of Viollet-le-Duc's design for the spire was very fanciful and conjectural.  The spire created a lot of detractors with critics of the day objecting strenuously to it.  I can't imagine Notre Dame without the spire.  I have no idea if the old wood and lead spire that burned like a torch will be replaced with a non-flammable replica, with a more "historic" reconstruction, or with something completely new.

President Macron says that the cathedral could be reopened in 5 years just in time for the Paris Olympics.  I think that's wildly optimistic.  I would expect that it will take around 10 years to fully rebuild and restore the cathedral.  Though the stone ceiling vaults survived the fire, I would imagine that a lot of the stones sustained severe damage from the heat and will have to be replaced.  The walls will have to be reinforced and strengthened.  Windows and sculptures will need restoration and repair.  Some will have to be replaced.  A whole new roof and attic will have to be built out of modern fire resistant materials.
And then, there is the matter of the spire, and whether or not -- and how -- to replace other lost parts of the cathedral.  That looks to me like at least a decade's worth of work and planning.

Notre Dame is not the most beautiful of Gothic Cathedrals.  That prize would probably go to Chartres.  It is certainly not the biggest and most spectacular like Amiens or Reims.  But it is among the oldest.  Together with Laon Cathedral, it is one of the oldest Gothic cathedrals.  It is far and away the most famous of all French cathedrals and always has been.  It is the cathedral church of the capital city of France standing in the middle of the city's ancient heart on the Isle de la Cité in the middle of the Seine.  More even than the Abbey of Saint Denis or the coronation cathedral of Reims, Notre Dame de Paris is the national church of France, and was all through the monarchy and remained so after the Revolution.  Notre Dame witnessed 850 years of French history, the Crusades, the Black Death, the cathedral survived the religious wars of the 16th century, saw the absolute monarchy of the 17th century, the French Revolution, Napoleon's wars and his defeat, the Bourbon Restoration, the July Revolution, the 1848 Revolution, the Second Empire, the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, the Third Republic, World Wars I and II, Nazi occupation, the Fourth and Fifth Republics, and 1968.  And now we very nearly lost the cathedral because of something so absurd as a construction accident.

A lot has been written about Notre Dame and what she means to people over last few days.  All I will add is that for the French and for many of us outside of France, Notre Dame was a dear old friend that we all took for granted until it looked like we might lose her forever. 
As I looked at photos and broadcasts of the cathedral burning that day, I felt as though I was watching the end of everything good and decent in the world.  Notre Dame was a glorious legacy from generations past with an implicit promise to be there for future generations.  The cathedral's presence on the Seine through so much change and alteration in Paris' history consoled us in the present with the promise that it would still be there long after we've gone.  I felt all that went up in smoke before my eyes leaving me and everyone else alone in a cold indifferent world ruled over by brutality and stupidity.  All those things that we identify as civilized seemed to vanish in flames with its ruins to be bulldozed by profit and expediency.
It looks as though Our Lady of Paris will endure after all, but much altered by this calamity.

Beginning around 1150, students and scholars began meeting and holding classes in the aisles and side chapels of Notre Dame.  In 1200, they decided to formally incorporate as the University of Paris.

Classes met in places like this, the apsidal chapels in Notre Dame, my photo from 2014.

The Virgin of Paris, a fine 14th century sculpture that has become the unofficial icon of the city.  She survived the fire.

Notre Dame became a center of musical innovation in the 12th century, especially the composer Perotinus.

This is the earliest depiction of Notre Dame that I'm aware of, by Jean Fouquet from the Hours of Etienne Chevalier, ca. 1460.

Charles Meryon, Notre Dame, etching, 1854

Charles Meryon, Gallerie of Notre Dame, etching, 1853

Notre Dame looms as a large and haunted presence in the etchings of Charles Meryon.  In his work, the dark melancholy of medieval survival summons up associations with Victor Hugo's famous novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Louis Vierne served for many years as the organist of Notre Dame at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, years when Paris never shown so brightly.  The City of Lights was the center of the world, a city that created modernity.  The vitality of that incarnation of Paris comes through in the grand Romantic church organ music of that day, and especially in Vierne's work, much of it composed on Notre Dame's organs.

Eugene Atget, Notre Dame, 1925

Millions of Euros and Dollars have already been raised to rebuild Notre Dame with more coming.
I think a great way to honor Our Lady of Paris would be to donate to the the rebuilding of her sister churches in Louisiana, historically Black churches destroyed recently in arson attacks.

There is now a raging controversy on social media about donating money to the restoration of the cathedral.  Several billionaires have already pledged multi-millions to its rebuilding, in a perverse way tainting the whole fund-raising campaign.  The cathedral is threatened with becoming the glittering beneficiary of international plutocratic philanthropy that some people with some justice argue would be better spent on the poor.  There's another line of argument that reasons that money raised for the cathedral will go to the crime and corruption ridden Roman Catholic hierarchy and fund raising for the cathedral should be boycotted.

There is no either/or here.  Fundraising for human welfare and for human culture is not mutually exclusive.  One is about sustaining human life and the other is about making human life something other than "nasty, brutish, and short."
As for benefitting a corrupt Catholic hierarchy, since 1905 Notre Dame and all other historic French churches belong to the state.  The cathedral is the property of the French government.  The Roman Catholic Church is a tenant on the property.  Before the fire, the French state and the Roman Catholic Church frequently argued over how much money each of them owed to the expensive upkeep of so ancient and important a building as Notre Dame.  Money for reconstruction will be raised from French taxpayers through the Cultural Ministry, and from large and small donations from all over France and around the world.

The world's poor and Notre Dame (along with cathedrals all over Europe) are both regularly taken for granted except in times of emergency.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A New Passion of Christ; Its Current State.

A long term project that I am working on, The Passion of Christ, a new series started back in 2016.
It will eventually be a 20 panel series.  I've completed 10 panels with 3 more almost finished.
All of the paintings are oil on canvas,  26 inches by 26 inches. 

Emanuel with Job and Isaiah

photographed by Stephen Bates

Jesus Enters the City

photographed by Stephen Bates

The Last Supper

photographed by Stephen Bates

Jesus Prays Alone

photographed by Stephen Bates

Jesus is Arrested

photographed by Stephen Bates

Jesus Before the Priests
2017, repainted in 2018

my photographs

Jesus Before the Magistrates

my photographs

Jesus Before the People

my photographs

Jesus Before the Soldiers

my photographs

Jesus is Beaten
(This panel is not yet finished)

my photographs

Jesus Goes to His Death
(This panel is not yet finished)

my photographs

Jesus Dies
(This panel is not yet finished)

My photographs