GETTING THE LOOK TO MATCH THE GENDER
Granddaughter Siree McRady took a course in Berea College that considered the boundary between gender reality and gender portrayal. Having grown up in Thailand, Siree was familiar with how Thai culture impacts social manifestations. Her challenge was to create a “presentation” that was succinct and accurate. She decided on a magazine format with articles about three individuals who have taken different routes in support of gender diversity through costumes and advocacy. I think her production is superior.
Here’s how you can see it, too:
Phase One: Ignorance
I grew up in a time when being gay was intolerable. The very idea was scandalous and frightening. No academic resource or medical advice said otherwise. Whatever interests or inclinations we might have had were dismissed as something else than expressions of essential reality. Only in retrospect were my own many little incidents understood accurately.
Phase Two: Arousal
In the summer of 1956 I had a major “religious experience” that formed the very core of my identity and direction. From that experience on, nothing else mattered as much as following the “call to ministry”. Any departure from that line for my life was to be rejected. That included, of course, all moral recourses. I did, eventually (at age 22), resolve my conflict over masturbation once I began to find medical and then religious teaching that permitted it. But the “great test” came in the summer after my 27th birthday when I was a hospital patient and a male nursing assistant gave me a sponge bath that included the bold suggestion that we could go further. It scared me out of my wits. The only thoughts I had was how much I wanted him to take over, and how I was sure it would mean discovery, disgrace and dismissal from my church position and the end of my whole life path. Fear won that day.
Phase Three: Denial
I resolved to take the cure that the experts all agreed would work, and that was to get married. Sex in marriage would overcome all other interests. Within a year I was married. For a decade that was pretty fine. Then came a second decade when I knew I was struggling and losing the battle to divert my attention. I could do OK except when I was asleep. My dreams were out of control. They spurred fantasies I knew were hopes, voyeur efforts that became suspected by others, and other adventures that were out of control but I convinced even myself were just studies. The third decade is when it all fell to pieces.
Phase Four: Collapse
By 1990 medical and even religious advice was concluding that sexual diversity is not against the design of nature as had been contended for centuries, nor was sexual activity contrary to God’s will for life. I was still convinced that there was possibly a cure for my obsessive interests and impulses. I explored all of them except aversion therapy. Finally I gave up and tried one last thing. I decided to have a go at gay sex. At the time, I was convinced that I would find it so repulsive that would be the cure. For years I had been fascinated by a former student, now graduated and living with a boyfriend. I confessed my plan to get “a gay massage” to try out gay sex. He offered to be my teacher instead. One night in June 1995 we had sex. My defenses collapsed. It was the first sex of my life that was fulfilling, and not just satisfactory. I knew instantly I had discovered the best way for me to have sex. That led to 5 years of effort to accommodate my commitments to our marriage, my ordination vows and ministry, and this new reality. Eventually that did not work.
Phase five: Resolution
In 2000 things came to a head. My marriage had unraveled into a “trial separation”. I got a case of Hepatitis B as a result of unprotected sex with a tourist in the most famous gay spa in Bangkok. I nearly died, but Pramote, a Thai friend, stayed resolutely by my side night and day. It dawned on me that he loved me. When I recovered my wife announced she was going to get a divorce and I agreed to it. At that period I had another “religious experience” of call to ministry in which I “heard” Christ say to me, “Why are you not ministering to gay people as I have directed you to do?” I cannot exaggerate how liberating that experience was, although I knew nothing about how to really do ministry like that. Gay ministry in an overwhelmingly Buddhist setting would take a form I had never imagined. It was very unlike any ministry I had ever considered. I also began work away from Chiang Mai in order to have distance from my past and because the opportunity came. So Pramote and I began life together in Nakhon Pathom and Bangkok. This meant I was in a relationship. When a conservative missionary denounced this and incited the church leadership “to pray for me”, I was obliged to withdraw from church work and began a new career in higher education administration. Coming out for me included not only coming out of the closet and giving up trying to be discrete or to hide my sexual identity, but also getting out of one marriage and into a second one, and being out of institutional forms of pastoral ministry into unexplored ministerial territory.
Postscript: Pramote and I were married in a Thai ceremony twenty years ago. We were later officially married in the USA. Both of our families are reconciled to our committed relationship and so is our village community. We live on a small farm outside of Chiang Mai.
Suppose I were a teenager in America in 2021 and I got my picture on the local nightly news marching in a Gay Pride parade. My cousin saw the news and next day he and 6 or 8 of his friends met us coming into our high school. They were holding a banner reading PROUD TO BE STRAIGHT. In all our classrooms they had written the same motto on the boards. Suppose this followed incidents in our town of bullies picking on gay kids.
How would I feel that day?
Well, being me (as I imagine this scene), I’d feel vulnerable and embarrassed. But some other gay kid with a different personality and experiences might feel frightened and even suicidal. Another gay guy might feel enraged.
It is unlikely I’d feel, “Wow! It’s great that my cousin is exercising his right to freedom of expression!”
Now suppose this happens to be the day a new high school principal arrives and there is an assembly to introduce her. In her remarks she says, “It will be school policy from now on to highlight the contributions and heritages of minority groups in our school. That will include LGBTs, Native Americans, Hmong, and Cubans.”
I think I’d be feeling a little encouraged that we were going to get a chance to shine instead of hide. I’d be looking forward to special programs in addition to Black History Month. I’d already be thinking what we’d like to have in behalf of LGBTs like me.
But my cousin would be burrowing down into his discontent. Somehow he would conclude that honoring others dishonored him. He would suspect he was about to be diminished. Next, he’d be sure, would come suppression of speech. “They” would prohibit him from being honest. He’d have to watch what he said. It was already beginning.
Later that day my cousin exploded. “Where was ANY MENTION of us? We matter, too! We’re proud, too! There will be gay posters but never any straight posters. This school is going to …” (he turned his head away and I didn’t hear exactly what nether region he was thinking about).
As a teenager in this fantasy, I doubt if I would immediately see how sad it was that my cousin could be so oblivious of the circumstances and feelings of others as he squirmed back into his comfort zone full of entitlements.
[Backstory: a gay friend in the USA thinks “All lives matter” and seems unable to imagine how his saying so aggravates his Black colleagues. He asked my response to an account of a high school student who felt he was discriminated against for demanding equal time for White American Christian Patriots. I doubt any reply will change my gay friend’s mind, but this story is what I tried.]
An argument has re-emerged that the US National Anthem is racist. In part, it pertains to one line in the third verse (which is almost never sung any more):
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
To what was Francis Scott Key referring by saying there would be no salvation for slaves?
The NAACP is mounting an on-going campaign to replace the National Anthem. Wiki tells us, “In November 2017, the California Chapter of the NAACP called on Congress to remove "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem. Alice Huffman, California NAACP president, said: "It's racist; it doesn't represent our community, it's anti-black." (As reported on November 8, 2017 by CBS station KOVR-TV). In 2021 the campaign was re-joined.
“Absent elaboration by Francis Scott Key prior to his death in 1843, some have speculated more recently about the meaning of phrases or verses, particularly the phrase "the hireling and slave" from the third stanza. According to British historian Robin Blackburn, the phrase alludes to the thousands of ex-slaves in the British ranks organized as the Corps of Colonial Marines, who had been liberated by the British and demanded to be placed in the battle line "where they might expect to meet their former masters." Mark Clague, a professor of musicology at the University of Michigan, argues that the "middle two verses of Key's lyric vilify the British enemy in the War of 1812" and "in no way glorifies or celebrates slavery." Clague writes that "For Key ... the British mercenaries were scoundrels and the Colonial Marines were traitors who threatened to spark a national insurrection." This harshly anti-British nature of Verse 3 led to its omission in sheet music in World War I, when the British and the U.S. were allies. Responding to the assertion of writer Jon Schwarz of The Intercept that the song is a "celebration of slavery," Clague argues that the American forces at the battle consisted of a mixed group of White Americans and African Americans, and that "the term “freemen,” whose heroism is celebrated in the fourth stanza, would have encompassed both."
“Others suggest that "Key may have intended the phrase as a reference to the Royal Navy's practice of impressment which had been a major factor in the outbreak of the war, or as a semi-metaphorical slap at the British invading force as a whole (which included a large number of mercenaries)." (Here ends the Wikipedia explanation.)
These days we criticize traditions based on contemporary interpretations. Literature, monuments, and especially patriotic commemorations are subject to review and rejection. So the question of whether the National Anthem is racist or not does not entirely rest on what it originally meant. Whether something is worthy of honor and respect today depends on its meaning to people at present.
It can be argued that nobody cares about verse 3. The third verse is removable. In fact it has been removed. It is never sung and is not a relevant part of the anthem as it is used. The US National Anthem consists of only one verse, ask anybody..
So, this whole debate must be about something else than the content of that one controversial phrase.
What that is is not hard to find. It is not really the song that is at fault, but the whole concept that the anthem symbolizes. The objection raised by Alice Huffman of the NAACP five years ago was in the context of Colin Kaepernick “taking the knee” during pre-game playing of the National Anthem. That act of protest has become a major political hot-button issue, greatly expanded by Donald Trump and his part of the Republican Party.
But “The Star Spangled Banner” is here to stay. It is not about to be replaced. It is deeply rooted in the national psyche. There are no viable contenders, although there are better songs, no doubt about that. But the more pervasive issue is the nature of the United States of America in our time. Until that has been agreed upon what we sing and our posture when we sing it is really a peripheral matter
The heart of the matter is the US fight over what the country stands for. It is problematic to call the USA “the land of the free” when so many people are in many ways not free. They do not have equal access to the nation’s promises. It is impossible for them to feel pride and gratitude for being marginalized and deprived of equality and respect. The National Anthem does not even hint at efforts to repent and improve. Those who are proudly singing seem to have achieved the American dream and haven’t the slightest concern about Americans who have been prevented from it. And that is what hurts and makes one want to pray on bended knee for the USA to improve.
We are human beings: inanimate material brought to life, and invested with consciousness. It is indisputable that we are not alone in this. Dogs and spiders, fish and even brainless octopuses are physical compositions with various kinds of consciousness. That much is known.
Biology has discovered how we come to life, how our cells multiply, and how they transform basic chemicals and physical elements into infants capable of independent life, and how we continue to ingest physical stuff to sustain our bodies.
What we have not even begun to successfully explain is where our consciousness comes from. For a while it seemed that the new science of psychology would eventually do that. Freud broke through to astounding insights, Jung to others. But some underlying principles, some unifying concepts, remain elusive.
Religion has tried to account for this in another way. As Mircea Eliade put it, “… homo religiousus always believes that there is an absolute reality, the sacred, which transcends this world but manifests itself in this world, thereby sanctifying it and making it real” (The Sacred and the Profane, p. 202)
Religion has for millennia proposed alternative mysteries in which to immerse our concern about how we think and how we compound those ephemeral flashes into enlightened understanding. Religions provide coded clues contained in narratives and ritual reenactments that potentially turn one of the mysteries into consuming truth, the heart of consciousness. Then religions have tried to dismiss as unimportant or evil whatever mysterious residue may remain.
Religion’s fundamental principle is that there is a reality that is separate from whatever makes up physical reality … stardust, electrons, and everything physical. It is so separate that the sciences designed to perceive what is real about the universe are skeptical that this other reality exists at all. Science believes that everything about us can be accounted for without resorting to mystery.
Yet, the mystery of consciousness remains. There are thoughts, memories, and dreams that cannot be accounted for. Many can. Most can. But not all of them. Those, few though they may be, haunt us and entice us. They beguile us and refuse to let science have the last word. More than that is the mystery of consciousness itself.
At what point and in what way does consciousness start for an individual, and where does it come from? Even more, what is it? If we do not know that, do we really know anything?
Of course we do know many things. Memory serves us. The whistle of my tea kettle arouses me to action. Intention serves us. I have confidence I can get out of my chair and go somewhere else. We know things.
Almost all our knowing is learned from actions we took long before they meant anything. They became meaningful and remembered, and then were associated with other memories. However, our capacity to do this is an enigma. It does not have the nature of an electro-chemical process. It remains a mystery, one that we do not entirely control. This ability is not learned. It is intuitive, acquired without intent, and never fully domesticated.
We do not have it. It has us.
(Link to the first essay on consciousness: http://www.kendobson.asia/blog/consciousness-itself)
China is orchestrating a vast celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China, this week. It’s a command performance in which the real object of people’s appreciation is economic wellbeing caused by managed capitalism wearing a Communist Party mask. At the same time, the USA is setting off fireworks and ramping up patriotic sentiment (somewhat short of fervor, it seems) to mark July 4, US Independence Day. A few days ago Great Britain commemorated the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, with a marching band in red coats and black hats as must be done, despite the pandemic, lest tradition be tarnished.
A patriotic narrative develops from a consensus. It evolves into a legend, which is a level removed from undifferentiated historical facts. The legend inspires stories and songs. Then come memorials, historic sites, and anniversary events.
On the whole, patriotic zeal is subdued these days.
The days are over when Kate Smith could stir our hearts as she belted-out “God Bless America.”
I, being ever suspicious of philosophical forces, would like to blame Foucault and his mentor Wittgenstein for having undermined people’s faith in national narratives, which are the essential fuel of patriotism. These mega-narratives, the philosophers told us, were manipulating us. At the time Foucault was writing, most of the generation who had not been annihilated in the battles, bombings, concentration camps, and gulags, were still alive and ashamed of having swallowed the myths and propaganda that portrayed the military as the backbone of all that’s important to civilization. In light of all that had happened just a decade or two earlier, those nationalistic tropes were shameful and best put out of mind. For example, Konrad Adenauer, on the whole a progressive statesman, humanitarian leader, and intellectual, was nevertheless outraged when William L Shirer published The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Adenauer was upset because the book reopened fetid memories. The USA elected its conquering general President and applauded his highways and the better life in the suburbs. Patriotism began to decline but “the Red scare” slowed the slide until after Woodstock.
But philosophy is not to blame. Foucault and Derrida seemed to think they could do what Sartre had done, using persuasive criticism to sway the masses. Mao was the last one to be able to do that for half a century. Terror and rumors have replaced reason and debate.
Actually, philosophy rarely convinces a generation to think. Most people do not read philosophy. It is the other way around. Philosophy reads people.
Philosophy retrieves scattered spatters and throws them back onto a matrix and nails them into a frame, like a Jackson Pollock painting, for critics to stand back, make sense of, and admire as they will. A Van Gogh painting is not about sunlight in Provence, but about brilliantly executed brushstrokes. Even the exquisite and precise paintings of Jacques-Louis David are not about the death of Marat or the coronation of Napoleon, but all about reformatting current events as if they were classic and timeless, leaving people in galleries suspended in fantasy exactly as Dickens, Tolstoy, and Kafka were about to do.
Patriotism’s artifacts are motivational. But that power to move us is transitory. When it fades the artifacts are archived or reinterpreted. What does the obelisk to George Washington mean to Gen-Z youth? Or the Brandenburg Gate? The Lincoln Memorial has been given sustained pertinence by being the site of repeated events to commemorate emancipation and advocate civil rights. Sometimes patriotic monuments are destroyed as were Saddam Hussein’s, or they are engorged as at Mount Rushmore and the great pyramids, in order to make them ineradicable. Nevertheless, sand is the destiny of all of them.
This is a nadir of patriotism around the world, although patriotism has been usurped in behalf of supremacist religion, here and there. Patriotic legends are reduced to cartoons when that happens. Patriotic symbols become weapons. Even the poles on which flags are carried sometimes become spears once again as happened literally at the US Capitol during the insurrection on January 6. But for the great majority patriotism has declined without being morphed into cultural religion of any sort. You can tell that is going to happen when patriotic remembrances decline into military celebrations. It is in full swing when the celebrations consciously erase marginalized people and their contributions.
The decline of patriotism ends when the patria (Latin for homeland) ends, either through disintegration or relegation. Or when the country, with resources to support it, rebounds and responds to a new consensus about what it is all about.
Roman Catholic bishops in the USA are meeting to decide whether or not to permit US President Joe Biden to take communion as long as he supports legalized abortions. This would apply to all Roman Catholics, of course, not just POTUS. The New York Times reports that the Vatican has advised the bishops not to take this action, but the bishops are likely to continue the debate in their meeting anyway. They have a contingent that opposes the present Pope and his progressive stance. On theological grounds, several prominent Jesuits, however, oppose the use of sacraments as a “political” weapon. Their opposition is spurring a “This Is Not Your Table Movement” against the bishops.
Here’s my take on the theological issue, as a Presbyterian observer:
1. Weaponizing the Eucharist or any sacrament is indefensible. That is what the “This Is Not Your Table Movement” is saying.
2. Ecclesiology (the nature and role of the church) is the theological doctrine at stake here. If the Church is the body of Christ in the world today, then “the Church” is both the guardian and advocate of the sacred mysteries contained in the sacraments. To say that the Church cannot stipulate and regulate the form of those sacraments and access to them is to cast the Church aside and nullify its authority. The bishops, of course, will not do that and neither would most other theologians.
3. But it is important at this time and all the time to be alert to the possibility that the Church is in error. It has been in the past. This could be another of those times. This could be one of those times in which error is being embraced by enough of the organizational structure of the Church to indict the entire organization (in this case the Roman Catholic Church).
4. Correction from error of this type, of this magnitude, and of this effect, is a prophetic undertaking which is initiated by a call to repentance on the part of those who err. If they refuse to repent they stand in need of reprimand. If that still does not bring about repentance the Church takes still stronger action.
5. If, in the end, the Church remains adamant, there is no outside agent to enact punishment except God, the “author and finisher” of the Church and all creation.
6. This, then, brings us to the matter of legitimate protest. Can people exit the Church when they perceive the Church is unrepentantly and irremediably wrong? Of course they can, and they do. It is not an infallible sign that the people are right and the Church is wrong when people leave. But there was never, in the entire history of the Church, a time when branching off and separating was not taking place, nor was there a time when such effrontery of those leaving was not excoriated by those being left. In solemn retrospect, Christianity has spread this way.
7. Having said this, we come to the question of ecclesiastical authority in our time. It is being insisted that there is no Church (overall, capital C) that is proprietor of the sacred mysteries. Even when the sacred mysteries are symbolized as sacraments they remain available to any and all who perceive and give reverence to them. Therefore, the role and the nature of all churches are relegated to the socio-political realm. Churches are human organizations performing human, humane and humanitarian missions, albeit in honor of Christ. God is instrumental in these ministries in the same way that God is influential in every human life.
8. Is affiliation with a church valuable, then? Is it a necessity as insisted by the dogma that “outside the church there is no salvation”? Can an individual alone discover enough of the mysterious truth that encompasses life? Can life be fully realized without the support and accountability of a community of faith? For most of us the answer is that commitment to the best good and highest values will dwindle for those who refuse the kind of community found in the best churches. Fortunate, indeed, are those who connect to one like that.
9. Is the world a better place because there are Christian churches proliferating almost everywhere? Certainly there is strength in numbers. Effective action, and especially opposition to power, requires unity. A church is valuable as a strategic partner with other advocates of compassion and justice. A church that exists for the exclusive benefit of its members is not one of the best, no matter whether or not those benefits are religious and spiritual.
What is the best course for the bishops? Listen to your own best theologians rather than your politicians. Be one less combatant in the devastating US culture war.
The mundane world is not intimidated by our threats. It is attracted by our love.
We are on the cusp of the greatest reformation the Church has experienced since the 16th century. The side that will emerge and be called Christian three centuries from now will be the one with roots in this century that has the most Christ-like theology. Love leads to immersion, involvement, and incarnation. Love creates allies but it also enlightens the lover to the presence of the Holy One.
Theology begins where one is and asks, “Where is God in this?” It is impossible to accurately imagine that God is removed into a sublime heaven now that Christ has ascended there, and that our theology is all about how to expand that heaven into this abysmal mundus. It is ludicrous to fantasize about God caring for creatures while being remote and aloof. Theology as Jesus taught us how to do it begins in the here and now and identifies God imminently invested in this messy place. Theology asks, “What is God doing?”
Sirisak is one of the Rainbow Warriors here in Thailand. Last week Sirisak took on the most revered institution in the country. It went public. Below is a paraphrase translation of what appeared as a result of Sirisak’s meme a couple of days earlier at the beginning of Pride Month.
Do Not Tarnish Religion “Phra Payom” Slaps “One Who Dressed As a Monk” Wearing a Rainbow Sash Indicating Sex
A Facebook posting appeared with text indicating broad-mindedness about sex, saying that everyone is whatever sex they are, and should be entitled to be ordained as a Buddhist. [The posting] included an illustration of a man dressed as a monk ordinarily would be robed. But something that attracted attention of Netizens was that he had a cloth over his shoulder that was rainbow colored. In response, “Phra Payom” who is head of a monastic division, a preacher, and social activist from Nontaburi Province warned, “That’s inappropriate. Do not tarnish religion.”
Phra Payom mentioned that there are uniforms for some groups such as military, police, students, and clergy. “Who could cause confusion by wearing such clothing?” He asked, “Is that right or not? It shouldn’t have to be explained. It would be best to just not be confusing. You are free to choose what you like, or to separate into another religious sect. There are all kinds of attractive colors to choose from that one might consider beautiful. But if you are ordained you relinquish matters of beauty. We like to say everybody’s the same, why can [only] some be ordained? Why can’t I be ordained as that one is? There are many different kinds of good people, elite people, lovely people, common [low] people. Good behavior is not all the same, so don’t say that selectivity is a Buddhist corporate matter. If there were no selection there would be no Buddhism today. So do not advocate giving up the chance to be selective. If you want to set up a company and take in people indiscriminately, giving rights to one and all, take a look at how Sita rejected the Demon King. How will you govern once those you picked indiscriminately have tarnished your religion? If you are going to critique anything you have to gather complete data or ask those who are knowledgeable in that area. Otherwise you get false data in your criticism.”
The one who posted on the Internet commented, “Everyone should be able to be ordained. Ordination depends on conviction [reverence] and not genitalia. LGBTIQANs+ are not sinners. Ordination as a Buddhist monk is held to be open to males. So other sexes, e.g. women, are prevented; lesbians are prevented; gays are kept out; kathoeys are excluded; intersex individuals are not allowed to be ordained as men are.
“Historically women were not excluded from ordination. Permission for women’s ordination is recorded in the Traipidok. But later, women monks [ piksuni ] were prevented, using the reasoning that such ordination had been discontinued.
“Ordination of banthewa บัณเฑวะก์ [translated variously as “bisexual, hermaphrodite, homosexual, gay, lesbian; eunuch] in the earliest era was permitted, but later ordination was prevented because a group of monks came to the Buddha and asked him to stop ordaining this [whole] group only because they were contrary to discipline. Preventing ordination only because people have different sex organs is a group decision. Nobody should be subjected to a general decision like that if they have done nothing wrong.
“Ordination does not depend on sex organs, but on faith. Do not bring sex restrictions into it. (Thanks to Shine Wara Dhammo for this material). To say everyone should be eligible for ordination is not to say everyone should be ordained. It does not imply anybody can do just anything, or that kathoeys have higher privileges than others, e.g. that ordained kathoeys should be allowed to yell or dress as they like. But everyone should be under the same rules. Whoever breaks the regulations should endure the consequences.
“Do not declare as a group that the ordination of LGBTIQANs+ will destroy religion. The issue is that everybody should be able to be ordained in the same way that everyone has equal access to religion as a human right.
“In addition, if Buddhists believe that donning the saffron robes is the greatest honor one can pay to one’s mother and father because it refers to entering heaven, but if LGBTIQANs+ are prevented from ordination, does this not indicate that Buddhism is limiting, dividing, restricting, and selectively practicing who can enter the faith [and get into heaven], insofar as only males get ordained and have the ability to reward their fathers and mothers for their merit and thus helping them get into heaven?
“Many people say, ‘You gay kathoeys, go reward their merit in some other way.’ The question is why are the sexes divided in matters of faith and religion? In summary, these days do we come to faith with our hearts or by way of our sex organs?”
Note: this is Pride month. [Sirisak, the person who posted the meme dressed in monk’s robes] posted these pictures in the campaign to study this together in that an opposing view and pictures [of a monk denouncing trans people] had been previously circulated which generated responses pro and con.
Ken Dobson’s Queer Reflection on this article:
The monk is both restrained in his retort which the headline calls a “slap” and he is repeating the familiar lines that (a) it is proper and valuable for Buddhism to make selections about how the corporate organization is run, and (b) if anyone objects to those decisions they are free to set up their own organization. The monk does not address the rationale by which women are refused equality and access to ordination which they used to have, long ago. Instead, he argues that Buddhists needs rules and standards in order to survive.
Sirisak, on the other hand, was first actually responding to a widely circulated story of a monk who denounced trans individuals and then all non-binary persons as “sinners.” His diatribe was an attack. Sirisak chose the opening of Pride Month to counter-attack by challenging the basic position of the Buddhist establishment in Thailand that prevents women from being ordained. That decision, Sirisak infers, was a corporate one made by an insider group and not based on defensible religious principles applying to all people. Sirisak is also clear that when the true basis for this discrimination is seen to be just a matter of who has male sex organs, then that basis will be erased and only faith will be the issue of ordination and full inclusion.
As a whole, this is an excellent example of how the argument has been conducted for the past couple of decades in Thailand. The weakest point in the decision the Thai Sangha has made about ordination is that it discriminates against women without being able to come out in the open to say why it does so. The response is usually, “Well, we have to have rules or there would be chaos that would undermine everything.” The usual rebuttal is more nuanced than Sirisak’s bald “is it about sex organs or faith and reverence?”
I was watching a YouTube program on how Sesame Street broke a taboo to tell children that Mr. Hooper died when the actor who played the popular character had died and would no longer appear in his store. As the YouTube account cut to a clip where Mr. Hooper’s son told Big Bird that “Mr. Hooper died,” the closed-caption text said “Mr. Hooper passed.” Twice more in ten minutes, voices on clips from the past said “died” and the text on the bottom of the screen said “passed”.
The app producing the closed-caption text had been programed to substitute “passed” whenever a speaker said “died”. Why did it do that?
It seems the taboo has returned in our time.
I have been noticing how infrequently death is mentioned in on-line chats and even in newscasts.
It is my impression that “dead, died, death” are almost never used to refer to a particular individual. Even impersonal references talk of “casualties” and “victims” whenever possible.
I confess to being a bit mystified by the current use of “passed”. “He passed.” Not even “passed away”. There is an insistence about it that includes people across a broad theological spectrum.
The summer I became a professional writer (a cub reporter for our local newspaper) my editor-mentor told me, “Say ‘died’ in those obituaries.” Mr. Ridgeway was a no-nonsense editor. Clarity and accuracy were required in a newspaper of record which he believed was the job of a local newspaper. That, however, was decades ago.
I don’t know how this use of “passed” is fast becoming one of those linguistic trends that require conformity. So I asked my Facebook friends and got a few responses.
An Episcopal deacon responded, “… if one thinks of our life here as a journey, the term ‘passed’ or ‘passed on’ emphasizes a passage to the greater life (or a different existence), rather than death, which signals a finality and an end. I’ve heard objection to ‘she passed’ as if it is some kind of denial. Not for me….”
A Russian linguist commented, “Passed is more metaphorical, not so direct. Almost the same as calling a toilet a bathroom.”
A sociologist from the Philippines wondered, “”Fear of death? Death as a bad word?”
An American pastor responded, “ ‘Jesus passed for our sins.’ Nope. Not. No.”
An American Christian colleague commented, “There is a biblical basis for Christian use of the term as death represents a transition of states.”
A journalist friend observed, “In contemporary terms, it seems to me that people are afraid to speak of death and dying, as it cannot and will not happen to themselves. When I see the term [“passed”] I often think that those who use it are unwilling or unable to face the reality of death.”
My son-in-law from Tennessee said, “I know that it is a Southern euphemism and has always been the preferred way to refer to ‘a passing’ in the South.”
An immigrant to Australia remembered, “At school, we used to say, He kicked the bucket.”
I am grateful for these comments, but I still don’t know where this shift is coming from, although I’m quite sure we’re more direct and less ambiguous about death here in Northern Thai villages. Perhaps it’s too soon to know why the Internet world is so circumspect, but I sense pressure behind a trend that will eventually make “he died” thought of as insensitive and then incorrect.
I think I’ll have died by then.
Few topics about education are as arguable as how history is taught. When I was going to school “American History” taught in the USA typically began with Columbus’s voyages of discovery. Then, having skipped the thousands of years in which civilizations had flourished on the two large American continents, the accounts talked about the activities of vicious Spanish conquerors as if they were heroes. From then on “American History” was all about what the US colonists did to “settle” from coast to coast, wiping out and dispossessing entire Native American populations in the process.
Today is June 6, the 77th anniversary of “D-Day” the largest amphibious invasion in world history, and the beginning of the end of NAZI Germany’s conquest of Europe. The entire scope of Operation Overlord was too complex to include in a short course on European History, or even 20th Century History. So writers of school books have to be brief. Why did Germany collapse? It comes down to Soviet Russia overwhelming the Third Reich from the East and the USA, Great Britain, and Canada (with 12 other nations contributing forces) from the West – from the Beaches of Normandy. The rest was prelude, it seems, and the end was foregone. D-Day was where it happened.
This same week people in the USA noticed, most for the first time, that 100 years ago the USA bombed itself in the only full-scale attack upon itself since the very “uncivil” War Between the States. The eradication of the most prosperous Black city in the USA, Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 1, 1921 raises the question, “Why Was It Forgotten?” Why have history books skipped over this massacre, and for that matter, glossed over the entire history of lynching and subjugation of non-white people?
As a sometime designer of courses of study, this matter plagues me. I know how it is done. From the very beginning it is about limitations. The guiding issue is “What outcome is to be achieved?” What do you want to happen to the students? It this history course about enhancing loyalty, patriotism, and civic pride (as many of them are)? Or is it about expanding appreciation for the evolution of culture and the streams that flow into the present? Or is it to increase dissatisfaction with the present and stir up revolutionary change?
Whatever the objective is, it faces limitations. You are limited to 45 classroom hours. There are only so many hours of instruction, and if you’re writing a textbook only so many pages. What are you to put into them? Your students are another limitation. You cannot “tell them everything” about anything. That, you must try to do in your PhD thesis. But not in the classroom, not even with a thousand-page textbook backing you up.
Nowadays we have history channels, social media groups, YouTube clips, and much more to fill in the gaps. But there are limitations to what you can learn here, too. Not all of this mass of information is unbiased or even factual. Your own interests guide you to certain troves of history and help you scroll past others.
That history education you had in school and college was only the beginning. Pity the teachers who were trying their best to get you ready to face the future as you stepped out of the past into it. They were limited. Even Will Durant was wrong in believing that all of Western Civilization could be recounted in 11 volumes. Goodness, Will and Ariel, you just barely got started.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.