Jul 31, 2011

Christian Fundamentalist Caught Telling the Truth

Bradlee Dean

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow is being sued for quoting Christian rocker Bradlee Dean word for word. The excerpt from his radio broadcast was aired during an August 9, 2010 broadcast and reads as follows:

"Muslims are calling for the execution of homosexuals in America. They themselves are upholding the laws that are even in the Bible, the Judeo-Christian God, but they seem to be more moral than the American Christians do. Because these people are livid about enforcing their laws. They know homosexuality is an abomination. If America won't enforce the laws, God will raise up a foreign enemy to do just that."

Dean does not dispute the accuracy of the quote. But despite the fact that Maddow also quoted his disclaimer -- "we have never and will never call for the execution of homosexuals" -- Dean argues that his intent was distorted.

Despite the very clear disclaimer by Bradlee Dean on his ministries website and elsewhere regarding the false accusation that he was calling for the execution of homosexuals, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and others seized on and accused Dean on her show of supporting the killing of homosexuals, as is the practice in some radical Islamic countries. This seriously has harmed Dean and the ministry, who pride themselves on respect and love for all people.

The transcript of Maddow's broadcast can be found here. (Scroll down for video.) Nowhere does she claim that Dean actually supports a death sentence for gay people. The only text from which such an inference could possibly be drawn is from Dean's own words. Maddow's "slander and defamation" of Bradlee Dean, for which he is suing MSNBC and Maddow personally for $50 million, lies in her use of his exact words in his own voice.

His biggest complaint against Maddow and the news network appears to be their liberal agenda.

The lawsuit is filed by attorney Larry Klayman, the founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, in DC Superior Court and seeks in excess of $50 million in damages. However, money is not the issue. "This case is filed as a matter of principle," stated Klayman. "We need more Bradlee Deans in the world and hateful left wing television commentators must be made to respect not only his mission but the law," he added.

I found the use of the word "hateful" in this context particularly interesting because it strikes me as such a clear case of projection. It would be hard to describe Dean's message as anything but hateful, despite his protestations of love for gay people. You can read a more complete quote released by Dean and his organization You Can Run But You Cannot Hide Ministries here. (Boy, that doesn't sound too threatening, does it?) Not included in Maddow's excerpt was some blather about loving his gay friends who "nitpick" everything he says and some sharp words about President Obama's hypocrisy.

The problem with Dean's statement is that he is at cross-purposes with himself. He doesn't want to be perceived as calling for the death of his "gay friends" but he is openly gushing about Muslim extremists having the courage of their convictions. He describes them as "more moral" than Christians in America. He attributed the "raising up of a foreign enemy" who would call for the death of gay people to none other than God. That's hard to misconstrue. It's pretty blatant. But when it comes to the follow-through, he flinches. He can't quite bring himself to admit that a literal reading of the Bible would indeed call for the execution of gay people. And fundamentalist Christians claim to take "God's word" literally.

"If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them." ~ Leviticus 20:13

That seems pretty straightforward to me.

The unfortunately named John Thomas of Philadelphia took it quite literally and murdered a gay neighbor the Biblical way -- by stoning. And yet, he was prosecuted for it. It would seem the American legal system is not in alignment with scripture -- a point I've made before.

There are actually numerous offenses that call for the death penalty in the Bible so Bradlee Dean is really cherry-picking. At least, to my knowledge, he has not similarly praised Muslim fundamentalists for killing adulterers or girls who've otherwise lost their virginity. That said, he has given voice to something many have long argued -- that Christian and Muslim fundamentalists have a lot more in common than they will usually admit to publicly.

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Jul 30, 2011

Irish Ambassador Headed for Prague

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As discussed, the relationship between Irish lawmakers and the Vatican have become so toxic that the Vatican withdrew its ambassador. Now comes news that Archbishop Leanza will be moved to Prague.

The Vatican has made a first move towards restoring relationships with Ireland and transferred Papal Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza to the Czech Republic.

Leanza is seen as damaged after the Cloyne report crisis over sex abuse was allowed to occur on his watch and ineptly handled.

So once again, the Church is trying to defuse a sex abuse scandal with a game of rotating priests. And civil authorities are left staring into the gaping maw of an opaque and inscrutable bureaucracy.

The Irish government will also be waiting until the middle of next month for a Vatican response to the Cloyne Report.

The reply was initially scheduled for delivery next week but in the wake of the Taoiseach’s outspoken criticism of the Vatican in the Dáil and the subsequent recall to Rome of the papal nuncio in Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, it has been decided more time is needed.

Holy See sources acknowledged that the writing of this reply will be an extremely “delicate” business. A sharp, pithy response would run the risk of the Holy See being criticised for not taking the Irish problem sufficiently seriously. On the other hand, a point-by-point analysis of all the issues raised in the report, which runs to 421 pages, could take years.

The Holy See would prefer to remain silent and issue no further statements.

. . .

“The Irish Government has asked for a response,” said a senior Holy See figure. “We respect all governments, so the Irish will get a response.”
[emphasis added]

So the Vatican will deign to respond to charges that it obstructed civil investigations into the sexual abuse of children. It took me several readings and a little time to absorb that. Were the Irish government not stridently demanding a response, the Vatican would think it perfectly acceptable to just blow the whole thing off.

There are other indications that the Vatican will not be conceding to any culpability in the numerous cases of unreported abuse, either.

THE papal nuncio is set to deliver a strong response to the Cloyne Report before the end of August, rebuffing the Taoiseach's accusation the Vatican undermined child protection guidelines.

Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza will present the Vatican's response to Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore.

. . .

The Vatican has been exasperated by reports claiming Archbishop Leanza was being moved to Prague in the Czech Republic as a mark of his disfavour with his superiors in Rome.

But sources in the Vatican last night suggested that Archbishop Leanza will leave Ireland at the end of the year as part of routine changes.

In other words, move along, folks. Nothin' to see here.

They also intend to put blame on the "weakness of Irish state monitoring of child abuse." Never mind that such monitoring has been made extremely difficult because of a shroud of secrecy imposed by highly placed Church leaders who don't agree or comply with reporting rules.

Almost lost in the drama of a row made very public by the Prime Minister Kenny's remarks, are hints that Ireland is in the throes of a seismic shift in its relationship with the Roman Church.

It was the first time in the past 17 years of pedophile-priest scandals in Ireland that parliamentarians have taken on the Vatican rather than local church leaders. Revelations of widespread abuse have eroded Catholic authority in a nation where the church still owns most schools and several hospitals, and state broadcasters still toll a twice-daily call to Catholic prayer.

A confidential 1997 Vatican letter — originally published by The Associated Press in January — instructed Irish bishops to handle child-abuse cases strictly under terms of canon law. It warned bishops that their 1996 child-protection policy, particularly its emphasis on the need to start reporting all suspected crimes to police, violated canon law.

Kenny said Catholic canon law had "neither legitimacy nor (a) place in the affairs of this country." He pledged to press ahead with new laws making it a crime to withhold evidence of child abuse — even if the information was attained during a priest's confession. The Catholic Church insists that the contents of confessions must never be revealed.

For the very Catholic country, such bold moves toward secularity must come as a shock to the Vatican. Most stunning is the possibility of laws that would breach the confessional. The Vatican's response will reportedly include insistence that the seal of the confessional is "sacrosanct."

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Tragedy in Sedona

Article first published as Book Review: Tragedy in Sedona by Connie Jay on Blogcritics.

On July 25, 2009, Colleen Conaway plummeted to her death in San Diego's Horton Plaza mall; an apparent suicide. She had no history of mental problems. She was by all accounts very happy with her life and her direction. So how did the Minnesota native meet such a sad and inexplicable fate so far from home? She was participating in a James Arthur Ray "Creating Absolute Wealth" seminar for which she had paid thousands of dollars.

The exercise was one in which seminar participants were directed to dress as homeless people and wander around downtown San Diego. They were not allowed to carry money, identification, or cell phones. In what would become a pattern for those who had the misfortune to be severely injured during James Ray seminars, Colleen Conaway spent many hours listed as "Jane Doe."

Connie Joy's daughter Erica participated in that same seminar and both Connie and her husband Richard attended the final dinner. None of them were aware that a participant had died. Only Ray and his closest staffers knew that Conaway was lying on a slab in the San Diego County morgue. And they weren't telling. People who asked about why she hadn't returned were told that she was fine but wasn't coming back to the seminar. It was over two months later, in the wake of yet another horrific tragedy on Ray's watch, that his long-time followers learned that the unnamed woman who had died in the mall that day was the seminar participant who had never returned from her homelessness adventure.

Less than two weeks after losing one of his students to a deadly fall, Ray had a select group of the high paying World Wealth Society members hiking a mountain trail overlooking Machu Picchu -- blindfolded. When concerned local tour guides tried to steer the hikers away from steep drops and around sharp turns, Ray became irritated at their interference. He was going to teach his students about the value of living life to the fullest by flirting with death and no one was going to stop him. As his group of students removed their blindfolds to take in the view from the cliff they were standing on, he asked, "Are you just taking up space or are you really living your lives?"

Ray's fascination with the theme of death was not new. But it seemed to increase rather than diminish after Colleen Conaway's inexplicable plunge. In early October, just over two months after her demise, Ray would lead his Spiritual Warrior seminar in Sedona, AZ, in which he relied heavily on death metaphors. And three people would die from exposure to extreme temperatures in a sweat lodge ceremony.

When Joy learned of the deaths of James Shore and Kirby Brown and that her good friend Liz Neuman was in critical condition in an Arizona hospital, she was shocked and saddened but not surprised. Joy had been trying to warn people about Ray's sweat lodge since she, herself, had gotten sick from the heat during Spiritual Warrior 2007. She knew the dangers of heatstroke and had long thought it was only a matter of time before someone was severely injured in one of Ray's super-heated sweat lodges.

In Tragedy in Sedona, Joy offers an insider's perspective on what led up to the tragic deaths and multiple injuries that resulted from a sweat lodge that was "too hot for too long." As World Wealth Society members, she and her husband Richard got as close to Ray as anyone but his closest staffers were allowed to get. She also saw that limited access diminish as Ray's star rose. Over a three year period, the Joys attended 27 of Ray's events as either paying participants or Dream Team volunteers.

Joy witnessed numerous injuries at Ray's events: broken bones, a punctured eyelid, and other medical emergencies, for which Ray took no responsibility and implemented few precautions. His recklessness escalated dramatically as his Oprah fueled popularity increased and he began packing his events to capacity. As the number of these incidents mounted the Joys posited that Ray would never really risk anyone's life because, if for no other reason, it would be bad for business. Besides, they knew that Ray was extensively trained by native shamans and other practitioners. Surely he knew what he was doing. But as his recklessness increased, they became less and less convinced that people were safe and increasingly concerned until the World Wealth Society trip to Peru shattered what was left of their trust.

The breaking point came when Joy learned that the hotly anticipated climb up Huayna Picchu would be on a schedule too tight to safely reach the top. Knowing that there was a history of injuries and deaths on the steep trails, the Joys went to work investigating alternative scheduling for participants who, like themselves, wanted to do a complete climb without risking their lives. Their interference in Ray's plans put them on a collision course with his ego. The result was a verbal assault from Ray that finally convinced them that he was not a spiritual leader who was living by his own teachings.

Ray's hypocrisy had been increasingly evident the Joys for some time. From the very first seminar, they'd recognized deceptive, hard-sell practices. The Joys, being realtors, had seen such tactics before and took them in stride. But over time they noticed that promises made during pitches for the very expensive World Wealth Society membership were changed or discarded completely. In Orwellian fashion, there was often no acknowledgment that many of the offerings were vastly reduced from what had been promised. Since the pitches were always verbal, rather than written, there was no way to prove the change had occurred.

In one telling exchange, Ray publicly excoriated a man for his wife's diligent note-taking during seminars. With increasing frequency, Ray would "flame" people from the stage for asking questions he didn't want to answer or as an opportunity to air grudges they didn't even know he was holding. It was something he did so effectively that many of his students were terrified to take the mic to ask a question and feared being called out. In this case, the offense in question was keeping a record of what Ray said, which he ironically described as not "paying attention" to what he was saying.

Most of Ray's sales pitches and promises were delivered when people were in a suggestible state. His upcoming seminars and packages were sold during other seminars where he would keep people on action-packed schedules that provided little time for sleep and few breaks. Joy even cites one instance when Ray began a pitch as he was leading them in a guided meditation. That was not the only time Joy, a trained hypnotherapist, noted that Ray was using stage hypnosis and/or NLP techniques to sell his events, but it was the most shocking. It was an egregious abuse of trust; one another participant referred to as "black magick." Sadly, Joy noted that it worked. She saw a woman she knew to have tight finances standing on line to shell out $60,000 for a World Wealth Society membership she could not possibly afford. Thankfully, the woman came to her senses before closing the deal. A very good thing because Ray's company had an ironclad no refund policy.

Ray's business practices were among many pieces of information excluded during Ray's manslaughter trial because they were "prejudicial." Jurors would not learn, for instance, that Ray's unwillingness to provide refunds meant that by the time participants received information packets and waivers that gave some, albeit very small, indication of the dangers posed by Spiritual Warrior, they could not have canceled without forfeiting nearly $10,000. Ray's lawyers were free to argue, however, that by signing the waivers, participants knew what they were in for. Jurors did learn that Ray's Dream Team volunteers had to pay for their own travel, lodging, and meals. They did not know, however, something Joy only discovered after Dream Teaming numerous events -- that the group rates offered to participants and volunteers were higher than the regular rates because Ray demanded substantial kickbacks from hotels.

After his contributing role in The Secret and his appearances on "Oprah" and "Larry King Live," Ray's monetary focus sharpened. He now spoke openly of his goal to be "the first billionaire in the spiritual arena." He claimed that he had become a millionaire as a byproduct of following his bliss but this was no longer good enough. He wanted to be billionaire as a way of "keeping score." Joy was floored.

It wasn't just his now open pecuniary focus that belied his spiritual aspirations. There were other unsavory indications of an ego spinning out of control.

Dubbed the "Rock Star of Personal Transformation," Ray relished the limelight. He relished the perks of wealth and stardom even more. Like Elvis's "Memphis Mafia," Ray's "Dream Team" volunteers were required, among other ignoble tasks, to let women know that he'd picked them out of the audience to join him for the evening. In one horrible case, Joy noticed a woman sobbing in the back of the hall. Joy's friend Edward, who was among the volunteer staff for the event, explained the incident. She had been thrown over when Ray changed his mind about which audience pick he expected to join him for dinner.

Ray, who taught that relationships were one of five essential pillars in a balanced life, seemed to have very odd ideas about them. He had said many revealing things about how he didn't believe that people were meant to be together forever and that having children was a vain attempt at immortality. He had been married and divorced and never intended to remarry. Yet he considered himself qualified to teach people about integrity in relationships.

Over time, Joy observed that Ray ran interference in other people's relationships. She kept finding herself separated from her husband Richard during events. During Spiritual Warrior, for instance, couples were split up and assigned same-sex roommates. It was a pattern that started to feel very deliberate, particularly when Joy was volunteering for Practical Mysticism and her daughter Erica was there as a participant. After exchanging a few words with her daughter, she saw Ray whispering to the staffer in charge of volunteers who then pulled Joy aside and gave her a talking to. Joy needed to stay away from Erica and let her "have her own experience."

That phrase, "let people have their own experience" was one heard from numerous witnesses during Ray's manslaughter trial. People who were concerned about the labored breathing and apparent incoherence of other sweat lodge participants, for instance, knew better than to interfere in the "experience" of people who were, in fact, dying. Prosecutor Sheila Polk argued that such rules actually trained people away from their natural instincts to try to help each other and to completely defer to Ray's judgment.

After reading Tragedy in Sedona, it occurred to me that it was also a way to discourage normal bonding between participants and ensure that communication during Ray's events was almost entirely vertical rather than horizontal. Too much interpersonal bonding threatened the hierarchy and Ray's position at the top of it. That sense was confirmed for me when I exchanged emails with Mary Latallade, who described for me her sense of isolation in the crowd; particularly when she was seriously injured during the the 2008 sweat lodge.

During the trial, the pressure Ray applied to men and women alike to submit to buzz cuts during Spiritual Warrior was a contentious issue. The echoes of Heaven's Gate and the Manson Family would be hard to miss. Defense attorneys worked hard to diffuse the potential impact on jurors of numerous women being shorn of their locks. Joy struggled with the decision of whether or not to shave off all her hair when she attended Spiritual Warrior in 2007. Ultimately, she accepted Ray's logic: "You are not your hair." Shaving their hair was presented as an opportunity to sacrifice ego. But Ray wasn't leading by example. He didn't have his own head shaved. Worse, when police searched his hotel room, they recovered an impressive stash of pharmaceuticals including steroids and Propecia.

In the forward to Tragedy in Sedona, psychiatrist Carole Lieberman points out that in one of Ray's books he describes the embarrassment he experienced as a boy when his mother would give him buzz cuts on the front porch in full view of laughing neighbor children. And here he was, years later, pressuring people to sit in a public area and have their hair shaved off. So was Ray shaming Spiritual Warrior participants into shaving their heads to experience humility or humiliation? Taken in context, humiliation is about the only explanation that makes sense.

During the trial, it became apparent that participants were humiliated and degraded in numerous ways. Many witnesses visibly flinched as they described flaming episodes when Ray would take any opportunity to publicly enumerate any flaws and air grievances. Some students were terrified of attracting his ire by such things as taking an unscheduled bathroom break. A good number of Spiritual Warrior participants were forced to remain perfectly still on the hard floor for hours, unable to scratch an itch, use the bathroom, or eat dinner, after being symbolically killed by a capricious "God" (Ray) during his twisted version of the Samurai Game. Many people testified to his telling participant Lou Caci to relieve himself inside the sweat lodge on the ground rather than leave the "sacred" space; something he clearly found degrading.

These condescensions from on high became more and more common as Ray's fame grew and he retreated behind body guards and away from any two-way communication with students. Mostly, he criticized them for "not playing full on" if they failed to meet the numerous physical and emotional challenges presented during events. During Spiritual Warrior he criticized them for wanting to leave the intolerable temperatures of the sweat lodge and many of them stayed against their quickly evaporating judgment.

Ray's abnormally hot and abnormally long sweat lodge reduced people to vomiting, paralyzing muscle cramps, babbling incoherence, and unconsciousness. None of that indicated a problem to Ray. In fact, it was the goal. In the aftermath of the 2009 lodge, the hottest he'd ever run, more participants than ever were in such these disabling states. It was a scene that some participants described as looking like a war zone. And as the realization dawned that a number of people were in life threatening distress and participants who were able began administering CPR, Ray sat in the shade with a cooling beverage, and observed the scene. When told by the firekeeper's wife that she needed a cellphone to call 911 because people weren't breathing, he shrugged. He was later seen chatting to someone other than 911 on a cellphone. As the ambulances started to arrive, he shambled back to his hotel room to shower and have a sandwich.

The picture of Ray that emerges from Tragedy in Sedona and in the many hours of courtroom testimony is not just that of an overblown ego. There are glimpses of something truly sadistic. Ray seemed to enjoy watching people do what he told them to do even when it was degrading... and when it was horrifically dangerous.

Ray is certainly not the first spiritual leader to exploit followers sexually and emotionally. He's not the first to accrue massive wealth at the expense of financially struggling followers. He's not the first to take advantage of volunteers. He's not even the first spiritual leader to conflate sacrificing the ego to God with submission to his leadership. What sets James Arthur Ray apart from the average flimflammer is that he was playing a game of chicken with other people's lives. How else to describe someone who would blindfold people on a dangerous a mountain trail and retool a traditional sweat lodge into an inferno so as to induce heatstroke for its mind altering affects?

Ray's students followed his lead because they trusted him to know what he was doing. He had established credibility with them by being a published author, by being part of The Secret, and by claims of having trained under established spiritual teachers and shamans in numerous traditions. But tales of his vast, multicultural training turned out to be lies. After the Joys had their final confrontation with Ray, the whole facade came crumbling down. In Peru, he'd hedged when his students wanted to meet the shaman he'd told so many stories about. Joy asked around and learned the man in question was not so much a shaman as he was a tour guide. Stan Grof, the psychiatrist who developed Holotropic Breathwork had never heard of James Ray until after he'd made headlines for his deadly sweat lodge. Grof's institute had no record of his having been trained to facilitate the breathwork. Most of his knowledge of shamanism came from Carlos Castaneda books; a fraud being led by a fraud.

For all her disillusionment, Joy writes without rancor, and with a sense of gratitude for what good came out of her experience with James Ray -- even though it came with a whopping $200,000 price tag. Tragedy in Sedona began as a chronicle of her journey of spiritual growth and healing. Ray stole from good teachers as well as bad and some of what she experienced was valuable; even transformative. It is, after all, the message not the messenger that matters.

Joy learned that she'd be writing a book when she was in Egypt on a World Wealth Society trip. While communing with the Sphinx, she was told that part of her destiny was to write a book. A math person and "digital" thinker, she never considered herself a writer. But her higher self knew she'd have an important story to tell and indeed she did. The driving narrative, the power of that story, more than makes up for any lack of linguistic flair.

For anyone who wants to understand how apparently intelligent, educated, and accomplished people could fall pray to Ray's long con, the book makes essential reading. Joy, herself, is such a person. Her vulnerability to Ray lay in some of her highest aspirations -- a longing to understand the workings of spirit, to align all aspects of her life with her spirituality, and to make a solid contribution to the world. Joy bridles against media reports that characterize Ray's followers as a "cult." She makes the point repeatedly that they were not "mindless cult" members. I would take issue only with characterization of cult members as mindless. Not even members of Heaven's Gate, the People's Temple, Hare Krishna, or other well known cults could be fairly described as "mindless." They were simply subject to a higher level of manipulation, even coercion, than Ray's organization offered at its height. All cults target smart, accomplished members because that's where the money is. They all target people with appeals to their idealism. And they all break people down by leveraging their insecurities, emotional vulnerabilities, and innate deference to authority, just like Ray.

Tragedy in Sedona makes essential reading for anyone seeking to understand how it is that three of the best and brightest wound up getting cooked to death in an abomination of a sweat lodge. It's a warning to pay attention to every red flag and not excuse or minimize questionable behavior from those in whom we invest our trust. Else we may pay with more than our wallets.

James Arthur Ray was convicted on three counts of criminally negligent homicide on June 22, 2011. An original sentencing date that would have eerily coincided with the death of Colleen Conaway, was changed to allow for more of the extensive legal wrangling that characterized the very long trial. A presentence hearing is currently scheduled for August 16th in which Ray's attorneys will argue for a mitigated sentence. Ray's multiple attorneys have also filed for a new trial claiming prosecutorial misconduct. The State has responded with a lengthy rebuttal and the defense attorneys have replied. Ray is also facing still unresolved lawsuits and possible legal action from the family of Colleen Conaway.

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Jul 25, 2011

Vatican Pulls Ambassador to Ireland

Departing Papal Nuncio Giuseppe Leanza

Things have become so heated between Irish officials and the Vatican that the Holy See has recalled its ambassador. With characteristic tone-deafness, the Vatican cited "excessive reactions" to the priestly abuse scandal. At issue is the reaction of Prime Minister Enda Kenny who publicly rebuked the Vatican for its role in the cover-up as detailed in the recently released Cloyne Report.

During a July 20 parliamentary debate, Kenny said an independent judicial investigation into the handling of clergy sexual abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne "exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago."

"And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day," he said.

. . .

Kenny said that "this calculated, withering position" was "the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman church was founded."

He said that "the Irish people, including the very many faithful Catholics who -- like me -- have been shocked and dismayed by the repeated failings of church authorities to face up to what is required, deserve and require confirmation from the Vatican that they do accept, endorse and require compliance by all church authorities here with, the obligations to report all cases of suspected abuse, whether current or historical, to the state's authorities."

Referring to a tendency identified in the Cloyne Report to put the rights of accused clerics ahead of victims, Kenny said "clericalism has rendered some of Ireland's brightest, most privileged and powerful men, either unwilling or unable to address the horrors" of abuse.

Vatican officials seemed determined to prove Prime Minister Kenny right. Their response to his remarks has been to, once again, minimize the problem and scold him for pointing out the elephant on the floor of parliament. The Vatican has been calling victims and their defenders excessive and reactive, in one form or another, for decades. Vatican authorities seem incapable of understanding how much pain and misery their actions and inactions have caused.

No doubt, because the Prime Minister echoed their incredulity and frustration, he has received an outpouring of gratitude and support from the Irish public.

In light of Judge Yvonne Murphy's findings on the Diocese of Cloyne, church officials would do well to issue a mea culpa, but the response has predictably been to deflect blame. Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi expressed disappointment at the reports failure to acknowledge all the new initiatives the church is taking under Pope Benedict's leadership to prevent future problems. Considering that the Cloyne report found multiple cases of abuse had been covered up as recently as 2008 -- when social services got involved -- perhaps now isn't the time to start congratulating the Vatican on its proactiveness.

At the heart of the scandal is Bishop John Magee who failed to report numerous instances of impropriety, including his own inappropriate conduct towards a "young" aspirant to the priesthood.

The commission was charged with investigating the handling of allegations made against 19 priests from 1996 -- when the church in Ireland first implemented child protection procedures -- to 2009. The commission found that "the primary responsibility for the failure to implement the agreed procedures lies with Bishop Magee."

"It is a remarkable fact," the report notes, "that Bishop Magee took little or no active interest in the management of clerical child sexual abuse cases until 2008."

Between 1996 -- when the Irish bishops introduced guidelines for mandatory reporting -- and 2005, the diocese failed to report nine out of 15 complaints against priests, which "very clearly should have been reported," the report said.

The report found further that the Vatican had been "entirely unhelpful" to Bishops who were trying to comply with the new required reporting guidelines. In particular, Vatican officials refused to grant the Irish guidelines approval, leaving Bishops with no clear policy to implement and the latitude to continue ignoring the problem.

Also faulted was Cloyne vicar general, Msgr. Denis O'Callaghan who doesn't approve of the entire concept of reporting child abusers to civil authorities. So he failed to report in even the numerous cases in which he believed abuse had occurred. In other cases of evident sexual abuse he seemed oblivious and obtuse.

Cloyne is not alone in its failure to address the problem. Three of Ireland's dioceses have now been subject to judicial scrutiny and found to have protected the church at the expense of children.

In light of the very fair criticism from public officials including the Prime Minister, the Vatican has chosen the cut and run approach. Rather than address the gaping wound in the hearts of devout Catholics in the devoutly Catholic country, the Vatican's response is to show its "displeasure" with Irish officials by withdrawing their ambassador.

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Jul 22, 2011

The Look On Her Face

Think of a woman who spent the previous evening contemplating the works of William Blake, Gustave Moreau, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who awakens the next morning to read a news item about how James Franco sold a piece of "non-visible" art for $10,000. This woman learned that the work conceptualized by Franco instructs the observer to imagine "Fresh Air" and was sold by the Museum of Non-Visible Art (MONA) which specializes in purely conceptual art -- pieces of paper that tell people to imagine various things. Now imagine the look on the woman's face.

This original work is offered free for contemplation on this blog. But for $10,000 I will print this out on a piece of paper and send it to you so that you can appreciate it in your home. Makes a wonderful conversation piece!

I'm currently working on my next non-visible piece called "Very Bored Rich People" but it's not quite ready.

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Jul 20, 2011

The Giving Tree is a Sap

As a child, I loved The Giving Tree. I read it over and over. As an adult, a feminist, and a gratefully recovering codependent, I've long since given the book a rethink. So much so that I won't expose my daughter to it. It's not allowed in the house. What I once thought of as a sweet and moving story with a  moral about the beauty of altruism, I realized one day is an appallingly sexist book filled with poisonous ideas about the role of women and of earth itself.

I don't know why the book struck such a cord for me. Perhaps it had something to do with my profound fascination with trees. Perhaps it was something more prosaic like my nascent codependency. The book presents a dangerous message, overall: Imbalanced relationships in which one person sacrifices endlessly for the happiness of another are an ideal state. In fact, happiness can be derived entirely from pleasing someone else. This is the very definition of codependency.

Codependency is not necessarily a gendered phenomenon. There are plenty of male codependents. But girls are actually acculturated to be codependent, even in families where alcoholism and other major dysfunction aren't the issue. If we don't get it from our families -- and my family was probably more progressive than most -- we get it from our communities, from our schools, from movies, from books... books like The Giving Tree.

The gender dynamics in the story are fairly obvious. The tree is female. The child is male.The tree plays a very maternal and nurturing role with the boy. And she's the kind of mother who would definitely eat the Burnt Toast.

Up 'til now, I ate the burnt toast. I learned that from my mother -- metaphorically if not literally. I can't actually remember if she even likes toast or how she eats it. But what I know for sure is that although she was a loving and devoted wife and mother, she always took care of everyone and everything else before herself. This habitual self-sacrifice was well intended, but ultimately it's a mixed message for a child. It taught me that in order for me to succeed, someone else had to suffer. I learned to accept whatever was in front of me without complaint because I didn't think I deserved good things.

Like so many girls, Teri Hatcher learned the message from her mother that a woman's role in life is to sacrifice for others. Like so many boys growing up, the boy in The Giving Tree learned to profit from the sacrifice of those who love him.

The relationship between the tree and the boy is one based on give and take. She gives. He takes. He takes without gratitude. He takes without ever giving anything back except the occasional visit. And he only visits when he wants something. But the tree just gives, and gives, and gives, until she has nothing left to give... and then she gives some more. 

Even as a child reading that book, I was startled by the boy's effrontery: Give me some money. I want a house. I want a boat. What else can you possibly give me? But -- and this is the truly alarming part -- because the tree took it all with such aplomb and seemed so happy to keep giving, I accepted his behavior as normal. I could only really enjoy the story if I allowed myself to think that it was perfectly appropriate for someone to take endlessly and give nothing in return. The boy never even says thank-you. He just takes.

The implicit message to girls reading that book is that we are only really happy when we are giving something or doing something for someone else. This is how women are supposed to find fulfillment; not by expecting anything for ourselves. The boy's happiness is the tree's happiness. And no matter how many times he takes what he wants and abandons the tree, the tree is always happy when he returns so that she can give him more of her stuff.

That message is certainly not original to Shel Silverstein. It's one women have been wrestling with from time immemorial. For Virginia Woolf, that message was epitomized by the The Angel in the House; a narrative poem by Coventry Patmore that was all the rage in Victorian England. "The Wife's Tragedy" is one of the preludes in that poem.

Man must be pleased; but him to please
     Is woman's pleasure; down the gulf
Of his condoled necessities
     She casts her best, she flings herself.
How often flings for nought, and yokes
     Her heart to an icicle or whim,
Whose each impatient word provokes
     Another, not from her, but him;
While she, too gentle even to force
     His penitence by kind replies,
Waits by, expecting his remorse,
     With pardon in her pitying eyes;
And if he once, by shame oppress'd,
     A comfortable word confers,
She leans and weeps against his breast,
     And seems to think the sin was hers;
And whilst his love has any life,
     Or any eye to see her charms,
At any time, she's still his wife,
     Dearly devoted to his arms;
She loves with love that cannot tire;
     And when, ah woe, she loves alone,
Through passionate duty love springs higher,
     As grass grows taller round a stone.

Woolf found that her very survival depended on facing down this soul killing ideal of Victorian womanhood. The "angel" had to go.
Virginia Woolf, 1902
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“It wasn’t housework that distressed Virginia Woolf. It was the battle with an ideal that she called The Angel in the House. Such a woman ‘excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was a chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it — in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others.’ In order to become a writer, Woolf had to kill the Angel. ‘My excuse , if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me.”

Even as social changes have allowed for more opportunities for women in every sphere of life, we tend to find ourselves in supporting roles in all of them. As we moved into the workforce, we found that instead of changing tasks, we just added more. We developed the Superwoman Syndrome, believing we had to be all things to all people both at work and at home. Structural changes to support the new opportunities for women have lagged behind those opportunities; the availability of good childcare, for instance. And we still constantly receive messages, both explicit and implicit, that it's all on us. If we want to work -- and for many women it's not a so much "a choice" -- it's up to us to find ways to manage both family life and work life.

One incident sticks out in my memory as emblematic of the kinds of hurdles working women have faced. The department head from an office adjacent to mine was waiting for the elevator at the end of the day. She was one of the hardest-working, most efficient and effective executives in the company. The marketing director stopped her in the hall and sneered, "Going home at 5:00 I see. That's what motherhood will do for you." He also had children but it never seemed to occur to him that this should create any conflict with his professional life.

The tragedy of incidents like that is that they will make most women feel guilty more than angry. They can trigger shame spirals in which we tear ourselves apart about whether we're doing enough for our children, our husbands, our jobs, and the world at large. We just know that it's all our responsibility because that's what we've been told since we were children; that if we wanted to pursue our own dreams someone else would suffer for it. So we keep eating the burnt toast and giving the perfect, lightly browned and lavishly buttered pieces away.

Ironically, feminism has provided whole new areas and opportunities for us to give over valuable parts of ourselves to other people. We have new vistas of codependency to explore. One of the most spiritually toxic arenas has been our sex lives. The sexual revolution has liberated us in some ways only to bind us to new-found levels of expectation.

Hugo Schwyzer addressed, in a recent post, how female identity as people-pleaser has informed our new sexual "freedom."

Ariel Levy, in her powerful and controversial Female Chauvinist Pigs, quoted Paris Hilton’s remarkably perceptive remark about herself that she was “sexy, but not sexual.” Hilton isn’t alone. My students today, who are mostly in their late teens (though

Paris Hilton

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I have many older ones as well) were deeply influenced by Hilton, who was at the peak of her notoriety four or five years ago, when these now-college freshman were just entering high school. And sadly, not unlike many of their older sisters, they find themselves stuck in what we might call the “Paris Paradox”.

Young women with the Paris Paradox were raised in a culture that promised sexual freedom, but what they ended up with looked a lot more like obligation than opportunity. It’s not hard to understand why the pressure to be sexy so often trumps the freedom to discover one’s authentic sexuality. As Levy and Martin and others have been pointing out for the past decade, we’ve begun to sexualize girls at ever earlier ages, as anyone who noticed the Halloween costumes marketed to tween girls will be aware. The explicitness — the raunchiness, to use Levy’s word — of this sexualization is relatively new. But when that sexualization (or pornification, to use another popular term) meets the far-older pressure on young women to be people-pleasers, we have a recipe for misery.

I read years ago that Marilyn Monroe was described similarly as one who did not seem to enjoy sex. For all her iconic sensuality, she was said to be very passive and not terribly enthusiastic. In a sense, this is probably a component of her sex appeal and of female sex objects more generally. Because that's what they are: objects. Objects don't have needs. They meet them.

This excerpt from Female Chauvinist Pigs describes the sexless sex appeal of the heiress who famously designed the "I'm Hot Your Not" [sic] t-shirt.

There is a disconnect between sexiness or hotness and sex itself. As Paris Hilton, the breathing embodiment of our current, prurient, collective fixations -- blondness, hotness, richness, anti-intellectualism -- told Rolling Stone reporter Vanessa Grigoriadis, "my boyfriends always tell me I'm not sexual. Sexy, but not sexual." Any fourteen-year-old who has downloaded her sex tapes can tell you that Hilton looks excited when she is posing for the camera, bored when she is engaged in actual sex. (In one tape, Hilton took a cell phone call during intercourse.) She is the perfect sexual celebrity for this moment, because our interest is in the appearance of sexiness, not the existence of sexual pleasure.

There is a very big difference between the preening, pouting sexuality portrayed for male entertainment and authentic female sexuality. A genuinely sexual woman can be a bit demanding. But in matters of sex, as in every other aspect of women's lives, the expectation is one of self-sacrifice. Schwyzer explains:

While both boys and girls may grow up hearing the old adage that it is “better to give than to receive”, girls are much more likely to be given regular instruction in how to give — and much more likely to be rebuked for “selfishness” if they show too much desire to receive. (Ask around. “Selfish” ranks right up there with “slut” and “fat” as an epithet with tremendous power to wound women. It only rarely does the same damage when applied to men.)

Dan Savage created an uproar, recently, when he opined in an interview with Mark Oppenheimer that monogamy may not be the best measure of the institution marriage and that in gay marriages, men will be far more tolerant of straying spouses. The last thing a lot of people want to hear, as gay marriage rights gain ground, is the suggestion from a gay activist that it will redefine marriage. Savage has a point in that infidelity has long been a part of traditional marriage.

“The mistake that straight people made,” Savage told me, “was imposing the monogamous expectation on men. Men were never expected to be monogamous. Men had concubines, mistresses and access to prostitutes, until everybody decided marriage had to be egalitar­ian and fairsey.” In the feminist revolution, rather than extending to women “the same latitude and license and pressure-release valve that men had always enjoyed,” we extended to men the confines women had always endured. “And it’s been a disaster for marriage.”

Yes. So many of our social institutions work more smoothly when women are willing to sacrifice their happiness so that men can do whatever they want. This is something women are very used to hearing; that the rules are different for men and that we only make ourselves more miserable when we are unwilling to accept that.

Historically, of course, while men had more license to enjoy their concubines, mistresses, and prostitutes, women faced such social penalties as battery, scarlet letters, and even death, for infidelity -- something we still see in the Arab world. And even in the modern world, some of the most unfaithful men still fully expect fidelity from their wives and girlfriends; even when they have both. That women embracing the infidelity path for themselves thing that Savage suggests tends not to go over so well with men. Men also crave fidelity from their partners. (I would specify heterosexual men here but I know too many gay men who have been emotionally destroyed by cheating partners.) At least a part of what underlies that male jealousy is that monogamy isn't so much in conflict with our basic impulses. Rather, our basic impulses around sexuality are in conflict. None of us can stop being attracted to other people but we also can't turn off the desire for genuine intimacy that can only happen when we feel emotionally safe in our relationships. There is an emotional component to our sexuality that we can't entirely shut off, as one of Savage's readers discovered when he and his wife opened up their marriage. He described his reaction to her having vaginal intercourse with another man: “It was as if all the air in the room was sucked out through my soul.”

Shutting off such feelings has always been harder for women than for men. In the same New York Times Magazine article, Judith Stacey explains:

“They are men,” she said, and she believes it is easier for them — right down to the physiology of orgasm — to separate physical and emotional intimacy. Lesbians and straight women tend to be far less comfortable with nonmonogamy than gay men.

Stacey, like Savage, concludes that there is no one size fits all solution on the monogamy issue and that different couples, gay and straight, need to define the parameters of their relationships for themselves. Throughout history and right up to the present day, however, these decisions have been made for women, not by them. The result has been second-class citizenry in sex and relationships. I find it telling that Savage pokes at feminism for failing to bring about egalitarianism in the world of cheating. I would posit, however, that the increasingly "fairsey" nature of marriage is a somewhat indirect result of the feminist revolution. Relationships are being redefined, not on men's terms, but on women's. Along with a plethora of other rights, women have been demanding the monogamy that is innately more comfortable for them.

I have long said that Bill Clinton's biggest mistake was his failure to notice what was happening across the pond with Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Diana did something that would have been unthinkable a hundred years earlier. She refused to tolerate her husband's infidelity. Women of her social position had always been willing to put up with mistresses and quietly accept that powerful men have powerful appetites. Diana simply refused to endure a miserable situation and take solace in the other contentments of her social position. In that respect, Lady Diana was something of a bellwether of a greater social transformation.

Fidelity, sexual or otherwise, involves consideration of another person's feelings, needs, and desires; something that has always been expected more from women than from men.

The giving tree is nothing if not faithful. She waits and longs like Calypso for the boy's occasional booty call.

The boy in The Giving Tree doesn't just exploit the emotions of the anthropomorphized tree. He selfishly strips the natural resources she embodies. Silverstein's messaging on ecology is horrible. Nature's gifts are man's for the taking, without consideration to reforestation, or even any real appreciation. What does the boy care? He's the self-described "king of the forest."

The analogy between woman and earth is extremely ancient going back at least as far the myths of the great mother goddess. In many of those myths, she is the earth itself. She is Gaia, Sophia, Tiamat. At her most reduced, she is "Mother Nature." In many iterations she is the original fire serpent climbing the tree of life to reconnect heaven and earth.

This, for me, is the greatest tragedy of the perennially adored children's story. The tree that gives so endlessly and to her own detriment is more than a mother figure taken completely for granted by an arrogant child. She's a trampled and disregarded vestige of the divine feminine. And like the vastly diminished serpent goddess Eve in popular myth (if not in the Bible) she hands the boy an apple.

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Jul 17, 2011

Harry Potter Is Not a "Jock"

Hat-tip to Andrew Sullivan on the most wrong-headed analysis of Harry Potter I think I've ever seen, which, to my great surprise, comes from Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon. In addition to getting important plot points completely wrong, Marcotte reveals far more about herself than she does the Harry Potter series. Marcotte attempts to address the Harry Potter as "nerd" with "misfit" friends narrative. I don't know whose narrative that is but it isn't Rowling's, which Marcotte tangentially acknowledges before going on to debunk it anyway.

Harry, Marcotte explains, isn't a "geek." He's a "jock." While it's certainly true that Harry distinguishes himself as an athlete in the richly symbolic game of Quidditch, I think to call him a jock is a bit of a reach. Nor are athletes so feted at Hogwarts as to make such "jocks" the in crowd. The social structure is far more complex than that. There is no jock/geek dichotomy in the Harry Potter universe.

As Sullivan points out, Marcotte misidentifies both Harry and Ron as "stereotypically privileged." Ron is best known for coming from a poor family and relying on frequently embarrassing hand-me-downs. The wealthy Malfoys openly mock the Weasleys for their poverty. Harry is an orphan raised by relatives who treat him like Cindarella and his own hand-me-down clothes have the added benefit of being absurdly large because they come from his fat, bully cousin. He spends the first years of life consigned to a cupboard under the stairs. Neither of these boys' lives could be remotely described as privileged.

Far from being part of any "jock" in crowd, Harry is not popular. He's famous. And fame is a fickle mistress. Like so many famous people, he learns that the only thing the media and the media consuming public enjoy more than building a hero up is tearing one down. He endures periods of ridicule and ostracizing that are at least as horrible as the life with his Aunt and Uncle; a life he still has to endure every summer. 

She's somewhat closer to the mark with her positioning of Snape but still misrepresents the story arc.

The most genuinely nerdy character is Severus Snape, which becomes even more clear in the flashbacks where Snape hates James Potter for his easy charm with the ladies, especially Lily, who Snape loves.  Snape is shown as being tortured by the popular kids when he's young.  As an adult, he and Harry don't like each other, and it's a continuation of the nerd-jock animus that both of them feel.

Snape is something of an odd duck but we only see a snapshot of his conflict with James Potter; one in which we learn that Harry's father was a flawed person. (None of Rowling's characters can be defined in simple black and white terms.) But to cast even that conflict as jocks vs. nerds is reductive. And to characterize the dynamics between Harry and Snape similarly is ludicrous. Harry's conflict with Snape starts because Harry's convinced Snape is trying to kill him. He thinks that, in part, because Snape gives off a decided whiff of malevolence. Subsequent revelations such as his history as a "death eater" only seem to confirm that assessment.

Harry's girlfriend is also a poor Weasley and Marcotte gets her wrong, as well.

Harry's girlfriend is not only a star athlete as well, but is clearly the most popular and beautiful girl in school, with all the boys fawning over her.  It's a feminist touch that Rowling didn't make her the wizarding version of a cheerleader, but that's what makes the books so perfect for the modern era.

There's far more than a touch of feminism in the Potter series as Laura Hibbard points out in her post on the inspirational and unapologetically smart Hermione Granger. But Ginny Weasley, while athletic and attractive, is no Heather.

There really is no such in crowd or out crowd at Hogwarts. The closest thing to such a dichotomy rests in something far darker, which Marcotte reduces to the point of absurdity in her analysis of Hermione.

Hermione is the best piece of evidence for the "band of misfits" theory, but she still doesn't rise to the level of a true geek character.  Oh sure, she gets taunted for being Muggle-born and is the smart girl who annoys the other kids.  But while I'd say she's a tad nerdy at the beginning of the books, she evolves into one of the popular kids at Hogwarts.  She becomes very beautiful, is good friends with the most famous young man in their world, and she dates a famous Quidditch player.

Hermione's "Muggle-born" status makes her situation a little more precarious than the risk of a bit of teasing. It's a matter of life and death. One of the more overt themes in the Harry Potter series is the analogy to Nazi Germany in which Muggles are the equivalent of Jews and other "mud people." This is something Rowling makes even more obvious in that they're referred to by "pure blood" aspirants with the pejorative "mudblood." As Voldemort rises to power again, Muggles are targets of his genocidal vision. I don't think it's an accident that Voldemort's major supporters the Malfoys are extremely blond.

Ironically, for an author setting her story in a magical realm, Rowling's social commentary is more overt than her brilliantly structured basis in Western Alchemy. But she's not dealing with issues as pedestrian as high school cliques. She's taking on the class system at it's most horrific. Voldemort is, among other things, a Hitlerian figure. He is also one of the most well-drawn portraits of psychopathy in modern literature but that's a discussion for another day.

Harry's goodness is defined in part because he embraces genuine outcasts: Muggle-borns, a giant half-breed, an impoverished werewolf, a poor wizarding family with a socially suicidal affection for Muggles... He forms his associations based on character rather than prestige or lineage. Harry's own mother was also Muggle-born and embraced by James Potter who also risked his life to associate with people based on who they were rather than their bloodlines. To reduce such richly drawn characters and themes to a discussion of the popular crowd is just silly.

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Jul 15, 2011


Monday evening during a rather intense thunderstorm I sat watching an albeit somewhat pixilated Kill Bill Vol. 1, for the umpteenth time, and noodling on the computer. I didn't realize just how a bad a storm it was until an incredibly loud crack of thunder shook the wall next to me and something shiny flew across the living room a couple of feet from my face. What I thought must have been a shard of glass from a broken window turned out be lightning. There was no damage at all to the window or to me. The tree outside the window, however...

Our phone lines also got a good jolt that night and we've been replacing things all week, starting with the router which was magically transformed into a paperweight. So I've been offline for a few days. Turns out that thing about turning off and unplugging all your appliances during thunderstorms might have some merit.

We've been learning a collective lesson about the frailty of our technological society. In our endless to quest to subdue and control nature, nature keeps winning. Just ask the good folks in Japan who thought loading up one of the most seismic areas on the planet with nuclear plants was a good idea. There's power and then there's power.

We were fortunate. I wasn't hit by a refracted lightning bolt. And we've been able to replace our damaged electronics without incurring too much expense. Mostly, I've been left with a sense of awe.

When I was taking pictures of the tree for the property manager, I found myself overwhelmed by the beauty of the tree itself. Trees have always amazed me. I've been drawing pictures of them and writing poems about them since I was a child. They're one of the few things I've always been able to draw well. I drew trees with images of women woven into them and great serpent roots. I drew trees with open eyes.

My fascination with trees has grown over the years; the mythology and geometry. When I read Robert Graves's White Goddess years ago, I learned that many ancient cultures had elaborate mythical and cultural interrelationships with trees. Graves wrote extensively on the Beth Luis Nion alphabet and calendar of the Celts, for instance.

The Norse Yggdrasil is one of many "world tree" symbols; it's origins probably tracing back into its shamanic forbears. Trees are often used by shamans as entry points into non-ordinary reality because the roots go into the lower world, the trunk to the middle world, and the branches to the upper world.

When I first began learning about some of the deeper symbolism of trees it answered unasked questions that had been rattling around my subconscious: Why had I always been so entranced by trees? Why does the contemplation of them lull me into a state of reverie? Why of all the emanations of nature is it trees that I find so ineffable?

The tree is one of our most potent archetypes as a symbol of life and unity between the seen and unseen worlds; spirit and matter.

As I examined where the river of current had run down the tree into the earth, the myth that sprang to mind, though, was Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. There, Eve met the serpent -- the shining one -- who coiled up the tree, or spine. And, in one of those strange vignettes where myth merges seamlessly with the world of form, I learned that a neighbor who bears one of the many names of the great mother goddess was hit in the leg by one of those shining sparks of electricity that shot through so many of our windows that night.

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Jul 7, 2011

Fighting James Ray with James Ray

As I've mentioned previously, the James Ray letter-writing campaign is underway. As James Ray's supporters and family are requesting letters about what a great guy he is and how many people he's "helped," for the mitigation hearing, the prosecutors are also accepting letters about what a creep he is and how many people he's harmed.

In addition to the aforementioned letter from Karen Oritz, pleas have gone out from Ray's family members and even Ray himself. He has enlisted the help of one Tony Alessandra. Details on this can be found on Connie Joy's Facebook page and in this post from the Salty Droid. Here is Alessandra's appeal for support which includes Ray's assault on grammar and decency.

From: On Behalf Of Dr. Tony Alessandra 858-999-2119
Sent: Thursday, June 30, 2011 12:06 PM
Subject: [CSPlink] Re: More on James Arthur Ray

…I just received this email from James Ray. He needs help from all those who really know him. I’ve volunteered to testify as a character witness in Aug.or Sept. prior to sentencing. ALL your letters will help his case.

From: James Ray
Sent: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 8:58 PM
To: Tony Alessandra (TA@Alessandra.com )
Subject: help James Ray

Tony I need as many letters of support as possible talking about the good I’ve done and WHY I SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE DOING MY WORK and get probation versus prison. Can you help me? How do they know me, what have I done for them or what have they observed me do, what do they know about my character, work ethic, contribution, WHY SHOULD I BE ALLOWED TO GET BACK AND CONTRIBUTE TO SOCIETY, ETC.
You mentioned that many speakers have made supportive comments to you, can you get them to write letters-the more the better. My lawyers want to give them to the judge to help sway his sentence. Have them send via email to nk@jamesray.com. Attachment with a signature is best but if not possible can be in the body of the email.

Thanks in advance for your help

James Arthur Ray

All caps are always such a nice touch. Stay classy, Mr. Ray!

I also love that Alessandra's three sentences aren't actually written by Alessandra but "on behalf of." He's a busy guy. I get that. He's got a lot of "certified professional" speechifyin' to do. So will he be testifying in person or will he have a proxy for that as well?

And what is a Certified Speaking Professional? I don't really know, but I'm betting it doesn't involve deep study in rhetorical analysis, Burke's pentad, or Aristotle's Poetics, like those of who actually went to school to learn public speaking had to learn. What struck me, though, looking at the police photo Salty posted on his blog is how prominently Ray has displayed his Certified Speaking Professional certificate. It's hanging on his wall of fame right next to his O cover and, um, some wolves. (???)

You know what's not displayed there? Any certificate from Stan Grof or Allied Ronin showing that he's certified in Holotropic Breathwork or the Samurai Game... because he's not. Conspicuous by its absence in the JRI offices is any evidence of his claimed credentials in the multitude of things he facilitated and taught. But he's certified to be a motivational speaker. He's definitely got his Certified Speaking Professional certificate.

But I digress.

James Ray's peeps -- or their personal assistants -- may or may not be sending letters and agreeing to testify to Ray's "CONTRIBUTION TO SOCIETY." But Sheila Polk intends to fight fire with fire and is receiving letters from those who have been harmed by James Ray. She has received a number of these letters and could, undoubtedly, use more.

Two people have posted their letters on their blogs and the posts are must reading. One is the personal recounting from a woman whom trial watchers will remember as one of the not shiny, happy people in the 2008 sweat lodge photos. The second is from a woman whose brief contact with Ray sent her into a suicidal shame spiral. It doesn't take Ray long to do lasting damage. He's really good at it.

Mary Latallade attended Spiritual Warrior complete with Ray's heat endurance challenge (aka. sweat lodge) in 2008. Sheila Polk zeroed in on the above image of Mary during the trial as evidence of the fact that all was not well at previous Ray sweat lodges. Ted Mercer testified to her total incoherence. Thankfully, she has recovered from her experience, although she is still trying to put the pieces together regarding what happened to her that day. She has no recollection of much of her experience. And the JRI staff was less than helpful in putting it into context.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to hear from Carry but I accepted her reply knowing that even if she wrote it herself, she was clearly coached to withhold any details about what happened. It would be a futile endeavor to demand answers. If I was at a hospital, I would have gotten lots of information, helpful information about my stay and care. I would have felt reassured that I was well taken care of in a safe and appropriate environment. I knew secrecy (to avoid negative publicity) was a strict JRI policy. I was just hoping to get any information that might fill in the gap of time that had lapsed. Honestly, I wanted my memory back. Instead, I got nothing or what felt equivalent to a door slamming in my face! Anytime you dealt with a JRI employee, for the most part they were courteous with a great big show-all-your-teeth smile on! I had to suck it up. Employees do not budge if they are told to do something a certain way for fear of being called out by James. The same level of professionalism, authority and loyalty was expected when you were chosen to dream team an event so I knew the deal.

I was disturbed, obviously, by much of Mary's post but what really tweaked me were her numerous references to secrecy and a "code of silence." She alluded to this "vow of secrecy" not only in terms of how Ray's students represent his events to the outside world but also to each other. I found this bizarre so I wrote to Mary who was kind enough to indulge my questions and to give me permission to share some of our conversation.

Mary's response to my initial question about how this policy of secrecy was expressed and enforced was more horrifying than I expected. She described for me a situation in which Ray loyalists reported up the chain of command when people had stepped out of line so that participants really didn't know whom to trust. Ray would then use open mic sessions to humiliate people he was mad at for any perceived slight. And she confirmed my suspicion that Ray was repurposing spiritual growth tools in ways that  were completely self-serving. For example "letting people have their own experience" was not simply about respecting healthy boundaries. It was a way to keep people isolated from one another. (As we know from the evidence presented at trial, it was also an excuse to leave unconscious people lying where they fell in the "hellacious" heat of the sweat lodge so that some of them had the opportunity to die without interference, you know, in their growth process.)

Ray discouraged discussion of any of the exercises until people "had time to process their experience." The problem with that is that most of  us process our learning experiences through discourse; particularly if we're having trouble understanding what's occurred. The result of this enforced "code of silence" is that it kept the majority of the communication moving vertically, rather than horizontally. It interfered with the development of interpersonal bonding between participants. Mary told me that she had "made a lot of great acquaintances."

All of this served to keep people dependent on Ray, rather than in a mutually supportive environment. And Ray's game was to keep people endlessly dissatisfied with what personal help they got from him or his staff. Ray, himself, was almost completely unavailable. That way participants would keep chasing him for the elusive rewards promised by the next event and the next and the next.

People who have studied cults will recognize the vertical communication and the spying by "loyal" followers. They will recognize the punishments for disloyalty and sharing secrets with outsiders. Again, I would never characterize JRI as a full-blown cult. But wherever groups coalesce, cultish elements can be seen to some degree. Often, it's completely unintentional. After months of listening to testimony and reading personal accounts by former students, I do not think what Ray was doing was unintentional. I think he set out to manipulate people and make them increasingly dependent,  disempowered, and willing to fork over huge sums of money.

The divide and conquer techniques employed by Ray are a pattern I've also come to recognize as common among sociopaths. Keeping the people in your sphere from communicating with one another keeps them from comparing notes and coming to important realizations -- like the fact that they're dealing with a sociopath. (I learned to recognize this little trick through hard experience. Don't ask.)

What Ray's events lacked in intimacy they more than made up for in instamacy. That is certainly not something that is unique to Ray. It's a common side effect of the intensity of short retreats. I can see parallels going all the way back to diocesan youth conferences I used to attend through my very upright Episcopal Church. And it is certainly something I've observed at many of the spiritual seminars I've attended. I was reminiscing earlier this morning about how much I hate the hugginess of a lot of these events. I wrote a bit about my views on social pressure to hug total strangers here:

Some years ago when I was taking a course with Drunvalo Melchizedek, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with what has been aptly termed the "instamacy" of spiritual gatherings. To put it simply, I'm not a hugger. This puts me distinctly at odds with the cultural climate of a lot of "new age" gatherings. To me, a full body press with another person is a rather intimate expression; one I reserve for people I feel personal affection for. That kind of affection usually develops over time. I feel perfectly comfortable hugging close friends and family, but rarely people I've just met. But, anyone who's ever been to one of these things can tell you, hugging total strangers is the norm. So, it became an issue. Drunvalo's response was to tell me that I would some day realize everyone I met was "absolutely" me. I think he was somewhat taken aback when I told him I already fully understood that, but it didn't change my views on the hugging culture a bit. While it was most certainly true that everyone in that class was "me," so is Charles Manson. I don't want to hug him either.

Imagine my horror when I opened up Connie Joy's Facebook page earlier this evening and learned that Ray not only insisted people hug total strangers but give them butt rubs. His purported reason for doing this? To sooth the muscle tension caused by sitting for so long in his courses. This is not just grossly inappropriate and a total disrespect of personal boundaries. (Don't you love the way Ray wants people not to interfere with each others' "process" and "experience" but does want them to molest each other?) It's also, once again, reckless and dangerous. What about people who've been sexually assaulted in the past who could be retraumatized by having total strangers grab their asses? Are JRI staff members prepared to help people whose PTSD is triggered by an exercise this stupid?

Recklessly opening up psychological wounds is Ray's modus operandi. Nothing is off limits when it comes to Ray getting what he wants. In the case of Jeanne Barkemeijer, what Ray wanted was her money. Well, he wants everybody's money, so that's no shock. But Jeanne wouldn't be talked into spending money she didn't have. After a remarkably naked attempt to get her to part with a monstrous sum, he brutally and publicly humiliated her. Her breathtaking letter and additional commentary are here.

Jeanne went to one of Ray's teaser events to thank him. She had enjoyed his book and his teachings had given her some hope of regaining her health. Her multiple allergies, fibromyalgia, and other health problems had left her walker dependent and on disability. When she approached Ray to thank him and shake his hand, he visibly recoiled. And then he started hard selling her.

When I reached out to shake Mr Ray's hand he looked at me, reached for my husband's hand and then crossed his arms. When I started to thank Mr Ray, I spoke five words ... at which point he interrupted me to ask if we'd signed up for any of his seminars.

When I started telling him we had no money and were unable to attend, he again interrupted me.

James Ray
"I'm going to do you a favor" he said, "Don't ever say that again, [that you don't have money] the universe is listening."

"But I don't have any money right ... (I was going to say right now)"

James Ray ... interrupting again ... now shouting

"But it's true."

James Ray ... shouting even more loudly
"Then borrow it!"

"I have no one to borrow from."

James Ray ... speaking in a loud and angry tone
"You mean to say your life is so miserable that you have absolutely no friends who can loan you money?"

Me ... quietly
"No, my friends are struggling to."

James Ray ... shouting
"You'll never be anything but a fat slob and looser if you don't attend my retreat."

Yes. James Ray is an unconscionable prick. And he openly loathes people for being sick, poor, or God forbid, overweight. (The steroid dependent, former body builder's contempt for overweight people is an open secret.)

Ray's hostility toward the sick and economically disadvantaged is something I've noted before. It's even evident in his published work. It's one of the first things that jumped out me when the sweat lodge debacle forced me to take a hard look at this particular member of The Secret brain trust.

I picked through more of his site, and found more facile platitudes. There's this from his Practical Mysticism seminar:

Maybe you, like me, are tired of the so-called "spiritual individual" who is sick and broke all the time, or the "mystic hopeful" who can't carry on an intelligent conversation about real life.

Where, oh where, would motivational speakers be, without the mythical ne'er do well to use as a whipping boy? His disdain for the sick and economically disadvantaged is also highlighted on the home page.

Likewise, there are others who qualify as a creative genius, and they're physically sick all the time. That's not real wealth!

Then there are those who claim to be really "spiritual," and they're always financially broke. That's not wealth either!

Is it any wonder that so many people came away from The Secret feeling like their illness and adversity meant that they had failed somehow?

As I noted here, by James Ray's standard, Stephen Hawking is a cautionary tale.

I am weary of discussing the implications of self-help pundits and their negative messaging around any imperfection. I have railed for years against how emotionally punishing this is for people who don't happen to be perfect. Once again, Ray has raised the implicit hazards of the self-help industry into something radically explicit. I knew The Secret was dangerous. I didn't expect people to die because of it. I was proved wrong by James Ray. I didn't think a "law of attraction" guru would ever openly, publicly, and directly, humiliate a person for being sick and financially disadvantaged. James Ray proved me wrong on that score as well.

Ray has left tremendous wreckage in his wake. He has emotionally, physically, and financially wounded countless people. If you are one of those people, this is your opportunity to set the record straight and aid prosecutors in their attempt to counter the defense's mitigation strategy. I have little doubt that he's harmed more people than he's helped. Please send your letters to Sheila Polk, the District Attorney who successfully -- and brilliantly -- prosecuted Ray for some of his crimes.

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