Tuesday, July 27, 2010

R.I.P. John Worrell, priest, chaplain and friend in Texas

The circumstances of our lives may already have given us a simple way of living. But for most of us the call to simplicity is a call to examine the way we live, the things on which we spend our resources of money and time and strength.

Simplicity is a spiritual discipline and a spiritual goal. We can in times of privation or limited resources have our sacrifices extorted from us, as we are forced backward step by step into a simpler life. Or we can embrace an opportunity to learn new ways of living sacrificially, new ways, and spiritually richer ways, of growing closer to God as we re-order and re-arrange the priorities of things and activities in our lives. We face a new encounter with the reality of God, our need of him, and the power of his grace.
-- John Worrell on Simplicity

Though he accomplished much in his long career as a working priest, John will likely be remembered chiefly as the force behind Nevertheless: A Texas Church Review - founder, publisher (along with wife Vivian), and head writer of a thoughtful publication that prided itself on being an independent voice crying for a little sanity in the Anglican Communion - no, not just in Texas ... and not just in the years before before 2003, but especially, and with hard vigor, in 2003 and beyond, until finally just a few years ago Nevertheless and other small occasional pubs like it were forced to run up the white flag and surrender (swearing many cautions to the rest of us) to the immediacy of the Internet.

John was profoundly captured by the notion that The Episcopal Church was a place capable of having a wide, fair, giving, and intellectually honest conversation about faith and the politics of faith. (He was also less apt to confuse the two, as we sometimes are now, in our rush to keep the story going.) He was, simply, a broad churchman who did not accept the smallness one sometimes perceives in clergy - including bishops - and who never shied from pointing out both the location and remedy of faults. Upon handing over the reigns of Nevertheless to an editorial board, he noted, with a tinge of melancholy, that

... [w]e never quite succeeded in providing, as we had hoped, a place where very different views were argued out in "charitable yet rigorous" debate, at least not often. Perhaps the times had already turned to discomfort with diversity and serious exploration of important differences in a shared environment. It is also likely that our willingness, on the rare occasions when it seemed needed, to question the wisdom or fairness of our Bishops gave us a partisan reputation we had not desired ... I hope that our shared concern for the success of the Gospel and the welfare of the Church will continue and grow.

Let's remember that The Episcopal Church, like any American expression of Christian thought, was upheld by many in the last century who cared enough about her fortunes to do something to in the hope of making a lasting impact upon them. There were many who toiled with blue pencils, pica-poles, and reduction wheels to make their drafts better - who would stay up late copying, folding, applying stamps and fueling it all with cold coffee, because they loved their Church enough to sacrifice for it in ways that just made sense to them. And if today entirely web-based news-and-views organs like Episcopal Café succeed, they do well to recall their forebears in this lineage.

So farewell, John, and thanks for all the carp. We owe you.

I knew John Worrell chiefly as the celebrant of the 8 o'clock Holy Communion at my parish during my years in Houston, St Stephen's Episcopal Church on West Alabama, Houston. When the (former) rector Clax Monro retired, John was interim priest and was for a time in the running as a candidate for the rectorship of St Stephen's (it eventually fell to Helen Havens, another prophetic witness in the church). St Stephen's always attracted not renegades, but rebels who were thoughtful and challenging in their arguments for the faith. I also knew John as the chaplain for Rice University and Texas Medical Center students at Autry House. He was a good friend of the Houston chapter of Integrity.

Ken Kesselus and Robby Vickery writing a retrospective on John Worrell in the Easter 2008 issue of Nevertheless
In 1959, he came to the Diocese of Texas to serve at Beaumont's St. Matthew's Church and as Chaplain to students at Lamar State College. Shortly after arriving, a young black college student was confirmed in St. Matthew's Church. This new Episcopalian took part in sit-in demonstrations seeking desegregation of lunch counters and public facilities. A dangerous impasse threatened as city officials resisted. On the strength of their pastoral relationship, John went to a critical meeting about the crisis. Unexpectedly, he was designated as an unofficial emissary for the black protesters to business leaders and City of Beaumont officials. Along with other local clergy from both communities in the city, he aided a process that achieved a measure of justice in a peaceful manner. He came to know, practically, the reality that people with differing views could meet to reason with one another and find a good and peaceful agreement.

Similarly, after moving to Houston in 1965, he worked with an interdenominational, multi-racial group of clergy which was informally named the "Crisis Commission." They met regularly to build community and trust, strategizing how to avoid the violence and race riots that were spreading across America. Their strategies were opening conversation, learning to appreciate those on the other side, and finding the leverage to bring feuding parties together enough to at least prevent tense situations from getting out of hand.

John sought to use Autry House, which housed his ministry to students at Rice University and schools within the Texas Medical Center, as a meeting place for such gatherings. He passionately promoted processes that would put people with different perspectives at the same table, working to better understand one another. He labored to bring diversity into that holy place, seeking to sanctify it through reconciliation and understanding.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Afghan Warlogs, 2004-2010

‎"This is the equivalent of opening the Stasi files."- Julian
Assange in a press conference in London, July 26, 2010

90,000 documents leaked to Wikileaks and then to The Guardian and two other newspapers show a pattern of covering up on the part of NATO and the US.

From Wikileaks:

25th July 2010 5:00 PM EST WikiLeaks has released a document set called the Afghan War Diary, an extraordinary compendium of over 91,000 reports covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010.

The reports, while written by soldiers and intelligence officers, and mainly describing lethal military actions involving the United States military, also include intelligence information, reports of meetings with political figures, and related detail.

The document collection is available on a dedicated webpage.

The reports cover most units from the US Army with the exception of most US Special Forces' activities. The reports do not generally cover top secret operations or European and other ISAF Forces operations.

We have delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from the total archive as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source. After further review, these reports will be released, with occasional redactions, and eventually in full, as the security situation in Afghanistan permits.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dutch court fines Trafigura €1m for exporting toxic waste to Africa

The controversial oil trader Trafigura was today fined €1m (£840,000) for illegally exporting tonnes of hazardous waste to west Africa.

A court in the Netherlands also ruled that the London-based firm had concealed the dangerous nature of the waste when it was initially unloaded from a ship in Amsterdam.

It is the first time that Trafigura has been convicted of criminal charges over the environmental scandal in which 30,000 Africans were made ill when the toxic waste was dumped in Ivory Coast.

The fine was half the amount requested by Dutch prosecutors.
The fine is symbolic, just as the one levied on Goldman Sachs is a pittance. Trafigura's fine won't help the vicims in the Ivory Coast.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"We are limited with time and can only show the very best..."

THE SMOG, which I co-produced, is an official selection for the 2010 Killer Film Fest, November 12-14 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. I am thrilled about this announcement and will attend the festival with the director, Owen Mulligan.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


In Vermont Pride Week officially kicked off on Sunday evening. There are all sorts of events going on this week. I'll be joining Integrity/Vermont (and St Paul's Episcopal Cathedral) for a pre-parade breakfast on Saturday and then we'll all head out to march at Noon.

I'm thrilled to see one of our queer activist leaders in Vermont, Lluvia Mulvaney-Stanak (former director of Outright) write in Seven Days, "There's more to our movement than matrimony." It's been a long time coming that the elites of the Vermont LBGTQ community should recognise this. [My emphasis in bold.]
Legalizing same-sex marriage was a long-overdue, critical victory in the fight for gay rights. But I fear that many members of the queer community — the ones with financial, political and social means — see marriage as the end of the fight for a safe, fair and equal Vermont. To them, I would say: You, the adult queer with your chosen family, a job and home, may be better off, but I don’t think we are.

Marriage doesn’t address the unresolved needs of the queer youth, trans people, single queers, gender-variant individuals, alternative family and relationship seekers, perceived-to-be-queer people, queer service members and their families, food, and housing-insecure queers, and many other subsectors of Vermont’s queer community.

For example, the CDC’s 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reports that queer students are still twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to be bullied in our public schools. A gay Vermonter in the military, if outed, can still be dishonorably discharged, stripped of medical coverage and denied the education he or she deserves through the GI Bill. My male friend who wears a pink bike helmet around Burlington regularly hears screams of “faggot!” from passing cars. [...]

Right now, our history is being commercialized and packaged into a corporate fad. Remember how Gap made it cool to care about people dying of AIDS in Africa? Well, gay marriage looks like the next hip social cause. With celebrities taping their mouths over with “NO H8” in protest of California’s Proposition 8 gay- marriage ban and Pride, go-go boys sporting undies with “legalize gay” across their tight butts, I fear that the marriage movement is quickly becoming a fad. And what happens to fads? Maybe I will write about that on my LiveJournal or, better yet, write a song to post on MySpace.

Marriage alone can’t bring us a vibrant queer community. Think about gay neighborhoods in bigger cities, or smaller destinations such as Provincetown. What is it that makes those places feel welcoming? It isn’t marriage — Massachusetts only just legalized that. It’s visibility. It’s queer people proudly displaying rainbow flags on their businesses and homes. It’s queer people walking hand in hand everywhere (not just down the main drag). It’s queer people gathering at gay bars, events and community centers to see each other and, more importantly, be seen.
Constance McMillen gets a win...

JACKSON, Miss. — A rural school district that canceled its prom rather than allow a lesbian student to attend with her girlfriend has agreed to pay $35,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit the ACLU filed on her behalf.

The district also agreed to follow a nondiscrimination policy as part of the settlement, though it argues that such a policy was already in place.

Constance McMillen, 18, said the victory came at the price of her being shunned in her small hometown of Fulton.

“I knew it was a good cause, but sometimes it really got to me. I knew it would change things for others in the future, and I kept going and I kept pushing,’’ McMillen said yesterday.
But it's a bittersweet victory... From QUEERTY:
Technically, this falls into the "win" column: Constance succeeded in having her school confess its sins and pay her for failing one of its students (though really, it failed all of its students). And while Constance did manage to graduate from another high school a tad more accepting, and did get to dance at a number of proms, and did get to serve as grand marshal in gay pride parades, and did become a beacon of hope for all queer teens, she was also a high school senior victimized by her own school, and that's never something to be happy about.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Update on LBGTQ Gubernatoral Forum

Even with the pressure on the organisers to make last night's LBGTQ gubernatorial forum more inclusive - it morphed into an event for Democratic primary candidates. I did not attend, but Amber LeMay was there. Dennis Steele - independent candidate for Governor not included in the forum - and Radio Free Vermont have provided us with a podcast of the forum, which Shay Totten of Seven Days moderated. Typical and predictable statements from the candidates affirming LBGTQ rights, but in the long run, will they push their national party leadership to do the same?

Obama's School Reform Rules Gets Top Burlington Principal Fired

George Bush created No Child Left Behind, but Barack Obama - in his continuation of Bush's third term - is guilty of not living up to his campaign pledge to reform NCLB.

Michael Winerip, NY Times -
It’s hard to find anyone here who believes that Joyce Irvine should have been removed as principal of Wheeler Elementary School.

John Mudasigana, one of many recent African refugees whose children attend the high-poverty school, says he is grateful for how Ms. Irvine and her teachers have helped his five children. “Everything is so good about the school,” he said, before taking his daughter Evangeline, 11, into the school’s dental clinic.

Ms. Irvine’s most recent job evaluation began, “Joyce has successfully completed a phenomenal year.” Jeanne Collins, Burlington’s school superintendent, calls Ms. Irvine “a leader among her colleagues” and “a very good principal.”

Beth Evans, a Wheeler teacher, said, “Joyce has done a great job,” and United States Senator Bernie Sanders noted all the enrichment programs, including summer school, that Ms. Irvine had added since becoming principal six years ago.

“She should not have been removed,” Mr. Sanders said in an interview. “I’ve walked that school with her — she seemed to know the name and life history of every child.”

Ms. Irvine wasn’t removed by anyone who had seen her work (often 80-hour weeks) at a school where 37 of 39 fifth graders were either refugees or special-ed children and where, much to Mr. Mudasigana’s delight, his daughter Evangeline learned to play the violin.

Ms. Irvine was removed because the Burlington School District wanted to qualify for up to $3 million in federal stimulus money for its dozen schools.
There should be a town forum with Bernie to discuss this. The firing needs to be overturned.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The War on Aids... 29 years and counting

"Let me remind you that over the last year, the same leaders had absolutely no problem finding the money on a moment's notice to bail out their corporate friends and the greedy Wall Street bankers, yet when it comes to global health, the purse is always empty.

"A full 110 billion euros [142 billion dollars] appeared from nowhere when the Greek economy faltered earlier this year. But when it comes to universal access, the G8 chose to ignore their commitments before the crisis, and they are poised to continue to do so today."
-- Julio Montaner, president of the International AIDS Society and organiser of the 18th International AIDS Conference which opened this weekend in Vienna

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gubernatorial Candidate Forum for Vermont's LBGTQ Community is NOT INCLUSIVE

"Democracy belongs to those who show up . . ." writes Jim Hightower in another one of his essays on civic activism - "Reassembling America's Democracy.".

Since my high school years I have been an engaged citizen and have voted in every election since I became eligible. I was pleased to read that RU12?, Outright Vermont, Vermont CARES, Samara Foundation, Vermont TransAction, and Vermont Freedom to Marry are sponsoring a Gubernatorial Candidate Forum for the LBGTQ Community.

But I have also learned from a friend in the community that this event was excluding independent candidates, i.e. only candidates from the “major” parties were to be invited to participate. This decision was troubling for me, especially since groups like RU12? and Outright exist to give voice to the voiceless and marginalised and work to encourage informed and active citizens.

It wasn't until some of the independent candidates and well known, activist members of Vermont's queer community started asking why the independents were told not to show up that the language for this event was "clarified". If it's now been changed to a "primary candidates forum," how come Republican Brian Dubie was invited? He's not facing a primary. Neither is Progressive Martha Abbott (she wasn't even invited). If the original intent was a primary debate, why didn't the sponsoring groups state that in the beginning? The clarification is in fact a major change.

It just seems hypocritical to me and downright wrong not to include -- Dennis Steele (who has reached out to the LBGT community), Cris Ericson, Em Peyton, Martha Abbott (herself a member of the community!), Ben Johnson, Ben Mitchell or Dan Feliciano -- in a 90 minute forum. (Independent and third party candidates have been included in these forums before.

The sponsors are still getting what they want: a forum with the "major" Democratic party candidates. RU!2? Exec Director Kara De Leonardis writes (the same text appears on all the sponsoring organisations' websites to promote the "clarification"), its "purpose as a forum for candidates facing the primary on August 24th."

The event on July 19 - for all RU12?'s and the others' feigning 'open-ness' - is still a Democratic party event. Vermont Democrats always assume that they've got the Queer Vote, and yet nationally - every time after an election, real LBGT rights and demands are ignored. And this time the premiere Vermont Queer Groups have fallen into that trap.

To write that they'll hold a forum with all the candidates closer to the date of the general election is like throwing the dog a bone hoping he'll be satisfied. Besides, the event is one of the kick-offs for Pride Week, when there will be a captive audience of queer folk assembled in Burlington for all the festivities. Fat chance that people would travel in October for an 'all-candidates' forum.

The correct thing to do would still to have the open forum with all the candidates. Otherwise RU12?, Outright Vermont, Vermont CARES, Samara Foundation, Vermont TransAction, and Vermont Freedom to Marry are not representing the Queer Community at all.