Wednesday, October 22, 2008

“Doctor Atomic”

We saw John Adam’s opera, “Doctor Atomic” last night at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The opera is a compelling and very disturbing work about the implications of the first detonation in 1945 of the atomic bomb. The story centers on J. Robert Oppenheimer (sung beautifully by Gerald Finley), the lead physicist of the Manhattan Project, which developed the bomb in New Mexico. Oppenheimer is presented as a Faustian figure, agonizing over his desire to unlock the power of the atom and his fear for the destruction of the world now possible with the use of the bomb. The climax of his crisis is his aria, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God”, a sonnet by John Donne. The horrible destructive potential of the bomb is invoked in his second major aria, the terrifying vision of Vishnu in the “Bhagavad Gita,” “At the sight of this, your Shape stupendous, full of mouths and eyes ... terrible with fangs... when I see you, Vishnu ... with your mouths agape and flame-eyes staring -- all my peace is gone; my heart is troubled.”
The climax is not the test detonation in New Mexico, but the evocation of the devastation of Hiroshima, with the voice calling for water in Japanese. The work is both solemn and exhilarating, a very unlikely combination. I left the opera house knowing how god-like we humans are: like Vishnu, we can destroy the world. I also know that as yet we don’t use our God-given power to give peace. When will we “little Christs” follow his example?
“Doctor Atomic” will be performed again on October 25th and 30th, and on November 1st, 5th, 8th, and 13th. I hope you see it. A DVD of a Dutch performance is also available.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Gospel in Connecticut

Yesterday the Gospel was proclaimed in Connecticut. Not in the churches, God knows, but in the Connecticut Supreme Court, which ruled that same-sex marriage was constitutional in that state. The court ruled further that Connecticut’s civil union law violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law. The court echoed the Gospel in affirming that justice requires equality. This aspect of the Gospel has been clearly proclaimed in Peter’s speech in Acts 10:34, where he says “I truly understand that God shows no partiality...” While many churches are working hard to restrict the rights of homosexuals to same-sex marriage, as in California, Florida, and Arizona, the majority on the Connecticut court clearly stated that without equality there is no justice. As Justice Palmer wrote: “Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same-sex partner of their choice.” To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others.”
“The New York Times” in its article, on October 11th, about the ruling stated: “Striking at the heart of discriminatory traditions in America, the court — in language that often rose above the legal landscape into realms of social justice for a new century — recalled that laws in the not-so-distant past barred interracial marriages, excluded women from occupations and official duties, and relegated blacks to separate but supposedly equal public facilities.”
As I wrote in my blog post of July 12, 2008, “Same-Sex Marriage: The ELCA and California, Compared”: “Equality and justice are hallmarks of the Gospel. In “Reforming Christianity" (2001), Don Cupitt points out that as the Church loses influence because of its ridigity and fear, signs of the Kingdom often appear 'on earth' in secular society.” As in California, a Connecticut court has proclaimed the Gospel, while the churches either oppose the Gospel or stand by mute, unwilling to take the risk of proclaiming God’s love for all.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

High School Homophobia

I’ve submitted a letter to the editor of “The Christian Century” in response to an article, called “Relationship Smarts,’’ in the September 9th issue. The author, Amy Frykholm, notes that at least one student in a high school class about relationships, called “Connections,” had difficulty in seeing marriage and family as applying to his life, but she doesn’t suggest possible reasons for this. I write in my letter that one reason why he might be reluctant to participate in the class exercise in which the students can “marry” someone of the same sex is that he is gay. Perhaps he feels that such a “marriage” would reflect his true desire too accurately for all to see, and he might be unwilling to expose himself to possible homophobia if he were thought to be gay.
I assumed that high school homophobia was so well recognized that it was self-evident. Be that as it may, as reported in today’s “New York Times,” evidence for homophobia among teenagers is now available from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or Glsen (pronounced glisten). (
Glsen is introducing a public-service TV ad campaign to call attention to the derogatory and hurtful nature of the common phrase “That’s so gay” as a putdown. The theme of the campaign: “When you say, ‘That’s so gay,’ do you realize what you say? Knock it off” points to the harm such comments can cause and urges people to become aware of the possible effects of their language. This is enforced by the name of the website for the campaign:
But what harm can such comments cause? To answer that question, the introduction of the campaign will be accompanied by Glsen’s release of the 2007 edition of an annual report, the “National School Climate Survey.” The survey will report that 9 in 10 teenagers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender said they were verbally harassed during the last school year. Almost half said they were also physically harassed because of their sexual orientation.
So evidence is available that high school homophobia exists and that it can cause real harm. It’s no wonder that gay students may be reluctant to come out. They can be verbally and physically abused by fellow students and maybe even teachers. I hope that Glsen’s campaign will reduce the abuse and help gay students to be open about their sexual orientation.