A Call to Action

So the week that we moved into our new house, they closed the north end of our road, which provided the easiest and quickest access to the highway as well as Peninsula. Now we have to go south and around to get anywhere north and it’s frustrating. The state of the closure is indefinite; the road has been deemed unsafe for motor vehicles because part of the road is being eroded by the creek that runs along side it. It will apparently cost a lot of money to fix the road and then that fix may only be temporary. (Damn, water and its eroding properties!)

Adding to the difficulty is the fact that that part of the road is owned by a small municipality known as Boston Township. There is one house in that segment of the road owned by the national park, I believe, and therefore does not generate any tax revenue for the township. Boston Township cannot afford to pay for the needed repairs (and, likely, does not want to because one of their council members has a vendetta against cyclists in the valley).

Our section of the road is in Cuyahoga Falls. It includes about six houses, some of which are also owned by the national park but have renters (again: no tax revenue for the municipality). Cuyahoga Falls could probably afford to fix that segment of the road, but it is unclear as to whether or not they want to. I’m not sure of the politics, but being that that segment of the road is not owned by Cuyahoga Falls, I don’t know if they can fix it. The county could possibly afford to fix it. The national park, I suspect, probably cannot afford to fix it, but they are against the closure of the road. It’s the typical conundrum: Cuyahoga Falls, the national park, and the county clearly do not want to close the road… but no one wants to pay for it.

The issue of permanent closure is still being debated at the county council level. If they do decide to close it, Cuyahoga Falls will have to build a turn around at the end of our street (before the Boston Township segment) so that their city vehicles (waste management, mail, electricity, etc.) can turn around. This would make our street smaller and most definitely cut off access to the Boston Township part of the road, which will result in total deterioration of the north end of the road, making it impassible even for bicycles. A great low traffic alternative to the busy Riverview Road will be ruined!

Every day, I see cyclists of all types ride past my house along that street, just as I used to do before I had the extreme privilege of buying a house there. I know this road is very important to visitors of the CVNP, not only because it bypasses a segment of Riverview Road, but it makes a great loop for people who do not necessarily want to climb some horrendous hills out of the valley. It’s a very scenic road among trees. Right now, with the beauty of fall leaves unfolding, the road offers a tree-lined reprieve from the hustle and bustle and honking horns of Riverview Road. On our road, you have the chance of encountering all sorts of wild life–deer, coyotes, chipmunks. A multi-species choir of birds sing to you.

Hale Farm is on the south end of the street; the Everett Road Covered Bridge to the north. Lots of things to see and explore on a bike trip or hike. Our road is also, amazingly, one segment of the Buckeye Trail–the hiking trail that loops the entire state of Ohio. Just this summer, we were awed by the tenacity of runners on the Burning River 100 mile Endurance Run because our street happened to be along mile 86 (and a rest stop was at the Everett Road Covered Bridge). I’ve lived in this house since June and I’m still amazed at the bountiful resources and activities going on all around me.

We cannot lose this valuable resource in the valley. Yeah, I live on this road so I’m a bit biased. But I know that I’m not the only one who loves this road because we’ve talked to a lot of people who lament its closure. The problem is, no one wants to step up and call our representatives to let them know how they feel!! Every time we give someone the name of the representative to call, they respond with something along the lines of, “Well, we don’t have to worry. They will never close this road.”

I’m highly annoyed by the general lack of action people take. This is why things don’t change in our country–people are too afraid to act. They seem to figure that someone else will speak up and take care of the problem. But no one else is doing it. At a recent meeting of the Summit County Council discussing this closure issue, the representative stated that he did not know what the feeling of the community was about the closure because no one had called or spoken to him. This is outrageous! I’ve heard a number of people–particularly those in my bike club–complaining about the road closure. And yet no one has taken the step to call our representative. Why is that?

Another road is also in jeopardy of being permanently closed. Wetmore Road–a quiet, low traffic, tree-lined road that climbs out of the valley into a beautiful Cuyahoga Falls neighborhood that also borders the park–is another one of my favorite roads. There are plenty of roads that climb out of the valley, but a very few have little to no traffic. These roads are desirable to cyclists who would prefer not to deal with the impatience of motorists. If another low traffic road gets closed down, cyclists have less options and, therefore, are forced to take those roads with more motorists. Personally, I am not intimidated by motorists–and I will ride where I want to ride–but I always prefer to use a road with little traffic over the ones with more traffic. And, truthfully, this probably makes the motorists happier too. And it’s not like Wetmore isn’t used by cars; it too provides easy access to the valley for residents of the community at the top of the hill. If closed, these residents will be forced, like me, to have to go around some inconveniently backtrack to get to the valley. Cutting off ways to get into the national park seems so uninviting!

So with all this in consideration, if you are a frequent visitor to the Cuyahoga Valley–hiker or biker alike–I ask you to do me the very great favor and sign this petition started by the members of the Akron Bicycle Club. This is your chance–without having to make any phone calls–to voice your disagreement with the closure of Oak Hill and Wetmore roads. But if you DO want to make phone calls, I urge you to also call Joe Paradise at the Summit County Engineer’s Office –(330) 643-8105. Please don’t just sit there and wait for someone else to do the busy work for you… because often times, no one will. Don’t be an armchair advocate!

Spiral

I recently started to focus on buying organic food. Since reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser while on vacation in 2005 (totally not a vacation book, by the way), I’ve been worried about the hormones injected into our food by the mega-farms to hasten the growth process of the animals we eat. While driving through Nebraska once, I saw many meat cattle farms in which hundreds of cows were penned up together to walk in their own manure because there was nowhere else for them to move. The farms smelled horrible. For miles before and after, even. I worried about the quality of the meat in these pens where they couldn’t move. It had an effect on me that brought me to read Fast Food Nation in the first place.

For the most part, though, I’ve been pretty lazy about following through with buying organic. It’s expensive. It’s hard to find. There are less choices with brands and less diversity of selection (ie, if you’re looking for a particular flavor). Thus is the problem with trying to eat more healthy in this nation: the better food is practically inaccessible to the average person, especially in the Midwest. But I can’t say that I ever stopped thinking about what I learned in Fast Food Nation. Nor could I get the image of that penned up cattle out of my head.

I did make a step to reduce the demand on meat: I made an effort to reduce how much of it I personally ate. Most days, I only eat meat at one meal (usually dinner).  About once or twice a week, I manage to go an entire day by deliberately choosing to not eat meat. I know I’m just one small person. But I guess in the case of trying to conserve our planet’s resources, I have to just comfort myself with the fact that maybe I’m not helping to contribute to the overall problem because I’ve reduced the overall demand by reducing my personal demand.

I try to preach these values to other friends without being too pushy. I can only hope that others also made a conscious effort to reduce the amount of meat they eat. It’s the same concept as how I feel when I trade two or three days a week of my commute to work by car with a bike in the summer. If everyone did that, just think about how much gas would be saved. And it’s not a huge sacrifice–I’m not saying give up your car, nor stop eating meat. I’m just saying reduce how much you consume. I know that realistically if I’m the only person taking these steps to reduce the demand, I’m not really changing anything. Much like my deliberate boycott of Wal-Mart, which my parents are quick to point out, Sam Walton’s kin could care less about since I’m just one person. But at least I’m not contributing to their wealth and seedy business practices.

I don’t want to become obsessed. It’s just that when you look at the high occurrences of obesity, cancer, diabetes, asthma, and other illnesses in our society, you have to start to ask yourself just what we’re doing wrong. There has to be a cause. I’m completely convinced that our obesity and diabetes rates can be tied to mega-farms and their hormone-injected food (which also accounts for incredibly early onset of puberty for women these days) as well as our over-sweetened food. I am starting to suspect some of the pollution and other irritants in our environment are leading to more cases of asthma. Other illnesses may be tied to high exposure to other things in the products we use every day that are simply not healthy.  I just don’t know what all this means. I’m not a scientist. I can’t conduct experiments with controls. I’m just saying, though, that my mind is starting to shift a little… I’m asking questions.

I guess my biggest moment of revelation happened a few weeks ago when, after having only eaten Kashi shredded wheat (Island Vanilla) for breakfast for about a month, I switched back to my old favorite Post Shredded Wheat (because it was on sale). I was about halfway through my morning bowl of cereal (dry with peanuts added in) that I suddenly thought, “This is way too sweet for my morning meal!” Kashi’s cereal is much less sweet. I guess I got used to it. And it occurred me at that moment why a lot of people I’ve known from outside the US complain that our food is too sweet.

This notion was further confirmed when Crow was looking for a can of diced tomatoes that he was going to use in fajitas he was making for dinner. The ingredients listing for most of the cans revealed that high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar had been added. Why?! Do you pull a tomato off of a vine and pour sugar on it in order to eat it? Um… no!! Tomatoes have their own natural, wonderful sweetness to them; they don’t need additional sweetness! It made me wonder just how healthy the food I’m eating is even when I’m trying to eat healthy. How much of the food I eat every day for a meal contains extra sugar in it?

I started using the application for the iPhone called Good Guide. You can scan products in the store and Good Guide rates the product based on its healthiness, its impact on the environment, and the company’s ethical practices. Questionable ingredients are flagged and noted by the degree of concern. Good Guide also suggests other products of the same type with better ratings that you might consider using instead.  The guide is rated by a group of scientists and environmentalists with no affiliation to said products. Check out the video on their website–it’s really interesting.

I realize that this whole thing sounds probably a bit wacky to my friends and family who have known me a long time. It probably looks like I’m starting to embark down the road to a type of fanaticism that inspires a lot of eye-rolling. Who has preached to me this crazy new age religion of purity in food and products? How have they managed to convert me? What’s going to happen next? Will you be raising chickens in your back yard? Oh, no!

Never fear. As I found myself scanning products into Good Guide on my last grocery trip, I started to wonder about myself too. I think this is how it started with some of my friends who I consider a bit on the fanatical side. You buy some natural, handmade soap, then shampoo and conditioner. Then you use henna on your hair instead of chemical dyes. Then you’re scanning the toothpaste isle for something that doesn’t contain fluoride.  And the next thing you know, you start only eating products with ingredients you can identify. It’s a downward spiral into a crazy land where you can only understand and communicate with the other inhabitants. And everyone thinks you’ve jumped off the deep end so they avoid discussing food or ecology with you. Then you’re labeled the family hippie and it’s all over.

There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that I ate a dish composed completely of organic products, though. Or that I’ve chosen a healthier product over one that is questionable. I still think if I wisely reduce the amount of chemicals I willingly expose my body to, I’m going a long way to a healthier lifestyle. I know it doesn’t erase all the variables–people still get ill for random reasons. But maybe I can eliminate some potential problems that are proven risks (ie, the hormone-injected cattle, food with unnecessary sugar additives). It certainly doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t eat the food I’m being served at a friend’s house because I can’t trust its source. I still like to eat at restaurants, after all (though places like the Mustard Seed Cafe become more appealing choices). And I’m really not rude.

I think if everyone took the time to take a look at the ingredients listing on the products they buy, they’d really start asking questions too. I wish I had a solution to overpopulation and the demand that requires hasty production of goods and food. I guess like with my choice to eat less meat, I just have to hope that other people are making like choices to decrease the demand on the food and goods that are not healthily produced. I have hope. More stores like Mustard Seed Market, Earth Fare, Whole Foods are making their way into Northeast Ohio than there were here just ten years ago. More organic options are appearing in regular grocery stores as well. If companies are made more aware that people are seeking better options, the less healthy ones will go away. (Which, of course, brings that demand problem back. Why can’t you people stop having babies? Just kidding!)

Anyway, I guess I am becoming that hippie relative everyone mocks. Oh well. I have my reusable grocery bags and I’m happy. (SAY NO TO PLASTIC!) Talk to me if you want to know more. Talk to me if you want to tell me more. I’m all mouth and ears.

Love ‘Ku

I like to call these my love ‘ku. Because I stand on the side of love. I wish I would have been able to use one of these at NuKu.

Love’s a Right (11/07/2010)
Love’s a human right.
The right to walk down the street,
Holding hands, kissing.

Boundless Love (11/07/2010)
Woman-man; man-man;
Woman-woman; love’s sacred
In its many forms.

Sermon on Podcast

In case you’d like to hear me read my sermon, the podcast from the service is now available. I haven’t listened to it; I’m afraid. I don’t like the sound of my voice on recording. But maybe to you I sound on recording the same as you hear me (God, I hope not!). And if you don’t know me personally, and have never heard my voice for real, you won’t notice a difference. Anyway, enjoy!

And on the east coast…

the light of reason shines on the side of love!

In Connecticut last week, an attempt to put a resolution to ban gay marriage was VOTED DOWN. Gay marriage was made legal by Connecticut Supreme Court ruling this morning! See, there is hope out there.

I continue to be optimistic. And ever vigilant in my help with the struggle to make love legal in the United States.

I’m still waiting for the old biddies and fuddies who continue to vote this down with their errant fundamentalist interpretation of religion to die off…

(Okay, I’m ready to protest… Activist for hire… Anyone? Anyone?)

More on Prop 8

Peacebang posted the video below from the Keith Olbermann show on her blog. Unfortunately, I think he’s singing to the choir, unless Republicans and conservatives are watching MSNBC. I wonder what would happen if someone on FoxNews said this… would there be upheaval in the streets? Or would there be minds changed? I think what Olbermann says here is what changed my mind about homosexuals so long ago (yeah, sadly, I once too was a bigot).’

My great turning point–my preacher–was an episode on Star Trek: The Next Generation where the first officer (Commander Riker) fell in love with an alien from a planet where everyone was gender-neutral and having a tendency towards one gender or another was considered perverted. Of course, the alien he fell in love with had a tendency towards female. They had a great romance over the hour, but it was squashed dead and untimely when the people of the alien’s race found out she was different–a “pervert.” They took her and put her in a sanitarium where they brain-washed her “perversion” away, sounding achingly like the real institutions (religiously backed) who try to make homosexuals become heterosexual. At the end of the episode, she tells Riker that she realizes that she was sick before and now she is cured. She no longer sounds like her former self. I cried like a baby at the end of the episode.

And the seed of change was planted in my mind at that moment. Which is good because it was my senior year in high school and I was about to go to college where a lot of LGBT people tend to come out of the closet and I was to meet, for my very first time, people I’d never known in my sheltered hicktown in Ohio. If that seed hadn’t been planted, I don’t know how I would have handled the experiences I had in college.

I think a great testament to my fairness to people is that I have horrible “gaydar.” I think this means that someone’s sexuality is not something I contemplate at all in a relationship. I had a good friend in college–a guy who loved Star Trek as much as me and was a real geek–who was gay and out for maybe a year before I figured out he was gay. One would think I would have seen that obviously. In fact, when I started saying to my friends that I had found out he was gay, they all said, “Um, duh?”

I’m glad that I see people as people. And most of us probably do. Who, upon meeting someone for the first time, sizes the other person up and thinks, “Is he/she gay?” or, even more to the point, “I wonder how he/she does it with his/her lover.”

I certainly don’t. I look for the goodness in people. I like people for who they are in their soul. A person who is good and fun to be around will always have a friendship with me. As it should be.

Anyway, Olbermann’s views here almost come out in the form of my favorite UU credo, “Standing on the side of love.” Sing it, Olbermann! Hopefully more voices will join the choir.

ADDED LATER: Just learned that Olbermann was raised UU. Totally figures! I felt like I was at church for a moment amidst this video.

Guess who’s coming to dinner

I had this great epiphany last night. I watched this wonderful movie from 1967 called Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. I’d heard about this movie in the past, referenced in pop culture, and I luckily happened upon it in between watching episodes of season 5 of Babylon 5 on DVD. I continued to watch the movie while running on the treadmill and I felt really invigorated.

Why? This movie is about a young interracial couple who have decided to get married and how they have to deal with their respective families. At first, I was rolling my eyes at the very overt racist reactions of the young woman’s parents very early on in the film. I was thinking, “Pullleease? Would parents really get so bent out of shape?” I was more worried about the woman in the film, were I her parents, because she fell in love with the man while on a vacation in Hawaii. After just a week together, they were deciding to get married and that seemed nuts to me, not the fact that the woman was white and the guy was black.

And then I realized something: this was 1967. Racism was still so mainstream. It was only a decade since desegregation in the US. Back then, a black person and a white person marrying was radical. It was unheard of. It was illegal in most states. Yeah. There were actually state laws prohibiting interracial marriage! Today, no one bats an eye when they see an interracial couple. In fact, children of interracial marriages are often admired for their outstanding beauty (i.e., Halle Berry). Back in 1967, however, people would stare.

So my epiphany occurred halfway through the movie amidst all the speeches being delivered by the young woman’s mother and, later, by the young man himself. Right now, gay marriage is considered an abomination in much the same way mixed marriage was considered grotesque in the past. Gay marriage is being deemed illegal right now, at this moment, all over the US as a knee-jerk reactionary response. But, this time will pass. I’m certain of it. Civil rights will eventually win and people will finally come to the side of love and let this go.

Why do I say this? Check out the video included at the bottom of this post. This is a message from a group calling themselves California Faith for Equality and it’s comprised of religious leaders from several different faiths (including UUyay!!). This video, along with the movie last night, has restored my faith in humanity. Change sometimes takes a long time, but it is inevitable. It will come to pass that homosexual and transgendered people who seek to pledge themselves into committed, loving relationship will be allowed to marry. I just know it. It may be a long struggle, but the struggle will not go away and it will certainly not go away just because states in their hatred of gays and transgender people make these committed relationships illegal. This is just the start of the battle. The fact that states are becoming so reactionary just indicates to me that the bough is about to break. This culture who has been largely suppressed since the founding of America will finally burst forth and take what is their right as citizens. And I know I’m going to live to see the day when homosexual and transgender rights come to the forefront of our culture because I’m going to fight with my last breath as a friend to the community to do what is right for all people.

Love, my friends, is a precious thing. It’s rare–a lot rarer than people realize. In the words of the UU minister Forrest Church, love is the only thing worth living for, love is what gives your life meaning. If one truly believes that love is a gift from God, then we have no right to deny people the right to pledge their love to others nor do we have the right to deny them the privileges heterosexual couples are innately given. Love, to me, is a beautiful gift. And when I see two people who love each other, expressing their love for one another–no matter what gender they are–I’m filled with hope and promise for our future. Love makes us better people. Love only begets love while hate just incinerates the soul and destroys the best part of us.

I stand on the side of love. I will always stand on the side of love. Sometimes it’s hard to put prejudice aside and become more open to possibilities–I’ve had to work very hard to beat my own natural tendencies towards racism, sexism, ageism, every “ism” under the sun. Being a civilized human being means overcoming the negative input from society around you and deciding, rationally, to chose the path of love even when sometimes the path to this enlightenment is filled with your own personal stumbling blocks. I try continuously to be a loving person to my fellow man.

I think someday, in the future, perhaps when I have children (if I have children), no one will bat an eye at a homosexual couple holding hands in a public place. It changed for interracial couples throughout the years; it will change for the LGBT community as well. Maybe I’m a hopeless optimist, but watching Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner from the perspective of 2008, as well as a girl who grew up in the 1980s with a very liberal mother leading her, I realized that the norm has changed drastically. Back in 1967, this movie was probably revolutionary. It was probably scary and weird for a lot of people, the way the general public views gay marriage today. The young woman in the movie’s father kept declaring that the marriage between his daughter and this black man (a doctor with great credentials, mind you), was just “not right” without any solid base for this conclusion, despite the fact that he had raised his daughter to not be prejudice and to treat all people equally. This is the sentiment I hear quite often from anti-gay marriage proponents, this lame response of, “I don’t know… it’s just not right.”

It’s not right because it hasn’t been a cultural norm up until now. When people can’t back what they are saying solidly, when to them it’s just a clash of the senses, it indicates a stone wall in the person built from years of a suppressive society telling them what’s right and wrong… People can either take a hammer to this wall to attempt to be more understanding, or they can let the wall stop them. Either way, society will change because the next generation is growing up in a time when being gay is less of a taboo than it was years ago, even in the 1980s. They are finding friends, as I did in college, who are gay or transgendered, and they learning that these people are just like everyone else in their basic human desires. The next generation will not have these walls within them (well, for the most part). As the character of Dr. John Prentice (the black man in the movie) says (which was my favorite line in the movie), “You and your whole lousy generation believes the way it was for you is the way it’s got to be. And not until your whole generation has lain down and died will the dead weight of you be off our backs!”

Yay! This is what I’ve been saying for years. If I have children, I will teach them to be welcoming, inclusive, and to treat all people as equals. I will tell my children, as my mother did, that if they are gay, they shouldn’t be afraid to tell me because I will love them for whoever they are. I will raise my children in the UU church and I will teach them to stand on the side of love, always. I see such promise in the young children of my church and I envy them for the upbringing they are getting in our community. How I would have benefited from such an open-minded church experience! It’s a good thing my mother has always, without knowing it, stood to the UU principles in teaching her children to be kind human beings.

I will do my part to get rid of hate and prejudice by raising my own children to be good people. Hopefully, if I do ever have children, they will become adults in a world less restrictive and suppressive. I wish that they would see the day when they can look back on today’s world and wonder why people were so up-in-arms about gay marriage and the whole LGBT community. If they could look back in mild amusement at this time, the way I did while watching Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, then we’ve done our part to rid the world of another prejudice.

Preaching activism

A few weeks ago, I finished reading this really great book–In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God by Gene Robinson. You may have heard of this man from the news. He’s the Episcopalian priest who was elected to bishop in 2003 in Concord, Massachusetts, which resulted in a major schism in the church because he’s gay. Since his appointment, there have been many other stories of lesbian priests holding posts with the Episcopalian church, causing much division; however, this is a beginning to a great movement that sorely needed to happen. Too often, homosexuals are driven from a faith-based life because their home churches spurn them as sinners of the worst kind. It was really refreshing to read this book and get some insight to a great man who has found a way to challenge the people in his faith as well as unattached readers like me who just seek social justice for homosexual and transgendered people.

He had me at one of the first paragraphs in his book when he stated in better words what I’ve always thought in my heart:

Everyone knows what an “ism” is: a set of prejudices and values and judgements backed up with the power to enforce those prejudices in society. Racism isn’t just fear and loathing of non-white people; it’s the systematic network of laws, customs, and beliefs that perpetuate prejudicial treatment of people of color. I benefit every day from being white in this culture. I don’t have to hate anyone, or call anyone a hateful name, or do any harm to a person of color to benefit from a racist society. I just have to sit back and reap the rewards of a system set up to benefit me. I can be tolerant, open-minded, and multi-culturally sensitive. But as long as I’m not working to dismantle the system, I am a racist.

Similarly, sexism isn’t just the denigration and devaluation of women; it’s the myriad ways the system is set up to benefit men over women. It takes no hateful behavior on my part to reap the rewards given to men at the expense of women. But to choose not to work for the full equality of woman in this culture is to be sexist. (p. 24, bold emphasis mine)

Robinson goes on to equate this same argument with those who sit back and benefit from a hetersexually-centered society but do nothing to help change the system for equality for homosexual and transgender people. This argument is why I fight so hard for this cause when often times people ask–or want to ask–why I care so passionately about this issue when it’s not really my issue to fight. As a Unitarian Universalist, one of the seven principles to which I have agreed is the inarguable “inherent worth and dignity of every person.” This is the only principle of the seven principles I ever remember when asked, and that’s because it’s the one that resonates to my heart the strongest.

In reading the book, you have to swallow a lot of Christian dogma and faith. For someone like me, it’s hard not to roll my eyes and squirm when he discusses how every human being is saved through Jesus Christ. This man is certainly as evangelical as any Sunday morning preacher when it comes to his love for God and Jesus, and you can feel it hitting you full blast from every page. However, you also really understand the man Robinson is and you understand how deeply he believes. You can’t help but respect that. I can see why he must be such a great priest that he elevated to bishop: This man believes and he knows he’s saved and he wants to tell you all about how you can join him on this journey. I almost did want to join him on this journey. In fact, by the end of this book, I was bound and determined to visit the Episcopal church in Kent. I thought if the people of his faith thought as he did, even a questioning, sometimes-believer/sometimes-atheist person like me could join the bandwagon without much notice.

I haven’t gone to that church just yet, not even to peek for education’s sake. I’m happy where I’m at and where I’m at gave me the ability to appreciate Robinson’s words in ways I never could have even two years ago. He made me want to be Christian like no other preacher has before. And that’s because he’s just so open-minded and level-headed. He’s willing to concede that parts of the Bible must be read in the historical context in which they take place in order to be correctly understood. In a few swift words, he explains away the condemnations of Leviticus as taking place in a world in which a very small tribe of people (the Jews) were striving to propagate their genetic line. Of course homosexuality was seen as sinful behavior because it was antithetical to this tribe’s innate need to increase their population. He points out that masturbation and coitus interuptus were also considered grave sins–almost akin to murder–because of the waste of male sperm that should have been used to produce more children. (In fact, he points out that in the unscientific understanding of these ancient people, all human life was produced in male sperm. They didn’t have the scientific knowledge to comprehend a woman’s role in the process other than the one who carries the child to term.)

Whatever your religious convictions, Robinson provides a persuasive argument about the misuse of words and inaccurate translations that have assumed certain meanings in our modern mindset. He spends a great deal of time in the beginning of book arguing his convictions that he too is a child of God deserving of the same love and grace offered to everyone else. Strongly believing that he was elected to bishop for God’s purpose (as they believe the elected are brought to this position through the working of the Holy Spirit), he has become an advocate for gay rights which he feels is God’s purpose for him.

His book is largely a call to action. He respectfully avoids any details about his past, but where necessary, adds details about his life as a gay man that are quite touching. He has a life partner, to whom he was officially betrothed in his diocese, and you can really get a sense of the overwhelming love the couple feels even within the very few words. It was very touching. The book jacket also features Robinson, dressed in his priest regalia, with a friendly, warm smile on his lips. He could be any of the priests who taught me CCD in the Catholic church as a child. In fact, he looks rather grandfatherly and, after reading his wonderful book, I found myself overwhelmed by the urge to hug this man. His words were brilliant and touched me deeply.

I admit that I have been spending a lot of energy reading memoirs written by gay men to acquire a better understanding of the homosexual experience. A few years ago, I read a memoir by James McGreevey (the New Jersey governor who was outed several years ago). There are several similarities between these stories, particularly the great deal of effort and energy these souls have had to expend in hiding who they really were from the public eye so extensively. Even as a heterosexual, I can relate on some level to being forced to hide aspects of oneself from the public eye to fit in. As a child in middle and high school, I submerged aspects of my personality in order to fit into the group mind of the adolescents in my high school. Though trite compared to having to hide your own sexuality, the toll to my mentality was detrimental. I found myself doubting my own self-worth and it took a lot of years to undo the damage I did. I guess that’s part of the reason I’ve gone the complete opposite direction as an adult in highlighting the unique aspects of my personality, calling myself Mars Girl to constantly remind people that I feel I am different. I’m tired of hiding who I am so I’ve let myself out of my own closet to tell the world, “This is who I am; like it or leave it.”

It’s much harder to take on this sort of attitude as a homosexual because the backlash from the general public can be deadly. People have such a strong, irrational reaction to those whose sexual orientation or understanding of one’s gender is so radically different from their own. The religious conviction from fundamentalists that homosexuals and transgenders are damned does not make the situation any better. It’s a very sad situation and I completely empathize with anyone who has had to hide themselves in this manner. It’s a shame that people cannot accept people for who they are and show God’s love in a more positive manner. I believe that a person should have the right to walk down the street, arm in arm with the person they love, and not have to feel embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid of the public’s reaction to the sight. As a heterosexual person, I feel almost ashamed of my freedom to publicly show affection for a man I love without having to worry about reaction from those around me. I want to fight for the right for all people of any sexual orientation to have the same freedoms and lifestyle I’m automatically entitled to as a heterosexual.

Robinson’s words describing the plight of the injustice against homosexuals and transgender people jerks my heart strings, reminding me of some of the fundamental reasons for why I fight so hard to help this community gain the rights society grants me innately as a heterosexual:

Imagine for a moment that you’ve been in a same-sex relationship. When you and your partner return from overseas on a plane and the flight attendants distribute customs and immigrations forms–“one per family”–you and your partner will need two forms because your family is not a family, though you’ve been together for many years. When you seek coverage under your partner’s medical insurance plan, your partner will have to pay income taxes on this benefit, unlike your heterosexual colleague in the next cubicle. When your partner is unconscious after an auto accident, you will have to contact her next-of-kin to make medical decisions, because you are nobody. In the eyes of the state, you have no relationship. When your partner dies, you have to hope for good relations with your partner’s parents, because they have legal charge over her body and its burial while you, in contrast, have no rights at all. (p. 48, bold emphasis mine)

I emphasize the last line because that is one of the items listed from which I benefited as a widow the most. I was in a heterosexual marriage in which the relations with the in-laws devolved upon my husband’s death. In a fit of fury, Mike’s mother once threatened to sue me for his insurance money. Of course, she had no basis, you may point out. You know why? Because I was married! The state of Ohio and the entire US recognized my marriage legally. Therefore, no one could take any of the funds or items we owned together nor could the benefits bestowed upon me at my husband’s death be taken from me. The legality of my marriage secured my finances and my ownership of things that became ours upon our marriage.

Can you imagine what it would be like, to share a life with someone as any couple does–pool expenses, buy joint property, build a life together out of joint incomes–and to not be allowed to legally have these things you built together? I would imagine in a relationship as controversial as a same-sex one, the family on at least one side of the relationship is less than thrilled with the situation. I can only imagine what kind of cruel ways the family could make use of their perceived entitlement. You think I’m exaggerating, but I will tell you that otherwise civil and intelligent people do not act normal in the death of someone they love. My own experiences with my in-laws tell me all too well how something like this could go down and it scares me.

In my own experience with my husband’s death, I had a lot of decisions to make about his body alone: funeral arrangements, whether I’d have his body cremated or preserved, if I’d donate salvageable organs, where his remains would be placed. Believe me when I say that these decisions were questioned by various family members on both sides; however, I had final authority on all these decisions by the mere fact that I was his wife. And could it be any other way? I love my family–next to my husband, they are the people who would know my wishes the best and respect them. But I didn’t live with my family 24/7; I didn’t build my life with my family. Ultimately, no one knew me better than Mike. Had I died first, I would want no one but him to make such important decisions about me.

Yes, it’s true that one can write a Will and a Power of Attorney for these types of decisions. However, these documents, pieces of law, can always be overturned. It’s been in my experience that the relationship of husband/wife is almost unarguable as the Final Word in the eyes of the law. The only way to bestow the same legal rights to same-sex couples is to make their union legal by law.

I object to the use of two different terms to delineate between a same-sex union and heterosexual union (for example the terms “civil union” and “marriage”). Any separation of terminology can be used legally to continue to discriminate full rights. I have firmly felt that the only way to rightfully end this debate is to make one term legal for both heterosexual and homosexual union–call it “civil union” by law or state. If it must be, reserve the term “marriage” for the churches who hold the word as sacred and holy and granted specifically by God as defined in the Bible. Then, if a particular church decides it does not want to recognize same-sex marriages or perform the ceremony, they are free to hold their beliefs as they like. In implementing this idea, I believe, the state should recognize same-sex “civil union” as it does heterosexual marriage now (with, of course, the term “marriage” being, again, reserved for the use in churches who seek to keep the term sacred with their own definitions).

I’ve always thought that this solution was logical and great practice. I can never understand why some intolerant religious types are so hell-bent on denying any legal rights to same-sex couples, even if they could elect in their own churches to not perform such ceremonies. Some people seem overly preoccupied by what goes on in other people’s bedrooms. I sure wish religious people of this ilk could just keep their convictions restricted to their communities instead of trying to impose their will and their morals on everyone. If you truly believe that God has condemned same-sex unions, then by not participating in one and keeping your community under the rule of its own codes, you would then be of your elect mindset. Why would you be so concerned about what the rest of the “heathens” are doing? Why are you so concerned about their welfare that you have to impede their efforts to happiness? When people behave in this manner, I cannot help but wonder if on the inside, they are really so unhappy with themselves that they can’t even bear to see other people living happily and by less restrictive rules. Control freaks, all of them.

Anyway, I digressed a little to stand on my soap box. I have to say that Robinson’s book really put a lot of questions in perspective for me. Particularly, how a man could remain faithful to a religion that spurns what is very core to his being. I smiled, though, when I read his words because I was uplifted by the hope that if one man has found a way to work within his religion to bring about social justice and change, then perhaps there is hope in the future for all those who are different than the majority but very faithful Christians who worship and love their God. The picture of God Robinson paints is a far more loving one than I ever interpreted while growing up as a Catholic and is definitely a more agreeable vision. I want to worship his God because he believes his God has made him perfect the way he is–as a gay man. He points out very clearly that being homosexual is not a lifestyle choice (and, seriously, who besides an angry teenager trying to rebel against his parents, would consciously choose a lifestyle so aberrant to society that it puts you always in a position of an outcast?). I already knew this, of course, but it always confirms my understanding when I hear it directly from a knowledgeable source.

I found Robinson’s book very persuasive in its argument; however, he was preaching to the choir with me as his audience. I was already on his side and ready to stick up for him before I even read the first page. I would hope his book would find a way to persuade those within his own faith–and other Christian faiths–to understand his position and see things in a completely new, more open way. I think he was writing the book for audiences who weren’t already on his side and I hope he managed to sway a few more people into his liberal faith circle. At the very least, I hope he at least manages to make a few others empathize with his position. It is only through an understanding of each other’s hardships that we can iron the wrinkles of discrimination that separate us from each other and prevent humanity from advancing into a higher state of selflessness.

I encountered another book I’d like to read about a girl who was raised by gay parents. I really enjoy reading accounts by people who have walked along paths in life I’ve only seen from a distance. It gives me an empathy and an intimate understanding of other people which I believe is the rock on which my social liberalism stands proud and tall. I believe that we should seek to improve ourselves every day and one of my biggest goals is to rid myself of as much prejudice as I am capable in order to make myself a better person. There’s always room for improvement. I believe in the equal opportunity for everyone in this life to gain access to the freedoms I myself enjoy. Humanity has so much potential to be better than it is. My aim is to spend this life helping to improve the conditions of life for living people. Heaven can wait.