May 19th, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI, or “Benny Ten Six” as I like to call him, spoke a bit about Technology in his Palm Sunday Homily.

As a proud Irish Catholic (Irish by birth, Catholic by choice–and childhood prodding!) and lover of technology (I loved ‘Perfect Dark’ for Nintendo 64) I feel I have to make a brief comment on his Holiness’ comments.

The Pope said that technology can threaten humanity’s relationship with God–for it presents dangers both immediately tangible and dangers to our spiritual standing.

Sure, technology can be used to hurt and dehumanize.
But a person doesn’t need much more technology than a hefty rock to achieve that.
Even less! Look at all the damnable abuse done with bare hands–with only the threat of ‘shame’ to silence and bind a victim’s defenses.
Advances in technology do cause the immediate dangers of massive death and destruction. This is true.
Look at Fat Man and Little Boy.
But surely technology’s advance saves lives: innoculations and medicines of all types, agricultural advances to provide cheaper and more abundant food…

The Pope Said:
“…From the beginning men and women have been filled — and this is as true today as ever — with a desire to ‘be like God’, to attain the heights of God by their own powers…”
I say:
What beginning? It sounds like The Pope is talking about Adam and Eve with the allusion to being ‘like God’–a la eating the fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Did that have to do with technology? Maybe an allusion to Babel would have been more appropriate. Was Babel about technology? Was the cause of the Flood? Was technology a matter of concern to the Prophets or…what was that guy’s name….Jesus?

The Pope Said:
“Mankind has managed to accomplish so many things: we can fly! We can see, hear and speak to one another from the farthest ends of the earth. And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful…”
I say:
Ahhh, I have heard God compared to beauty, light, love, a Vine, peace–but I don’t know if I’ve ever heard God compared to gravity pulling a person down to the ground. It is a lovely image though.
Maybe this is along the lines of the story of Icarus. But I think that had to do with following wisdom and keeping a ‘Golden Mean’ more than a “flying is dangerous” fable.
Should we be ‘humble before God?’
But I would say that we should be humble before everyone. Like Icarus, we can listen to the great wisdom of our previous generations. We can listen to the perennial truths of the world’s religions. Those who are powerful and privileged can listen to the marginalized, the hurting, the oppressed.  

The Pope said that natural disasters remind us that we aren’t all-powerful.
Yup. That’s why we need technology to improve our alerting systems, our evacuation and rescue robotics and transports, our architecture so that it doesn’t fall on us, and our communications to streamline recovery and rescue operations.

The Pope Said
that if humanity wishes to have a closer relationship to God, humanity should “abandon the pride of wanting to become God…”
I say:
Does advancing technology have anything to do with ‘being like God?’
Even if one had great powers–equivalent of Tony Stark or Reed Richards–that does not at all encroach on the area of the ‘divine!’

Check it out. Who is close to the heart of God as depicted by Jesus? The poor. The destitute. The marginalized and politically voiceless. It seems that they would be “the least likely to own an iPhone!”

God is not about ‘ability.’
If God was ‘all-powerful’ and a petty jerk, that wouldn’t make God much of a God would it?
God is about love, goodness, beauty, truth, mercy, sacrifice, community, humility, service, justice…

Besides, it isn’t just technology that ‘enables’ and ’empowers’ folks.
Money does a bit of that too.
And I think there was once a poor Jew from Nazareth who spoke pretty fiercely about those who hoarded money, who had greedy hearts, who abused the poor.
But who would want to hear a homily calling the world’s governments, corporations, and rich to accountability for their greed and amassing of wealth? That’d be a bummer.

Happy Holy Week,
Ryan McGivern

One Laptop Per Child:


After thinking about this wonderfully beautiful film for almost two months, I finally (perhaps foolishly) feel ready to mutter a few of my frayed synapses’ most muddled concatenations.

I understand that Trier constructed Antichrist in such a way as to be available to a number of interpretations. He does this through utilizing symbols that nod to a number of possible sources.
So while saying that, I do feel that looking at Trier’s pattern of motifs and statements from his body of work one can make better sense of what he’s doing here.

Most informative to Antichrist are the films where Trier re-imagines Christianity: Breaking the Waves, Dancer in The Dark, Dogville, Manderlay. These films are inventive and challenging presentations which riff on themes of The Leap of Faith, and Saint as Martyr usually with the background of human injustice and cruelty.

Antichrist fits right in with these previous films because it immediately requires the viewer to question themselves:
“What is ‘Christ’?”
“What is it to be ‘Anti-Christ’?”

I was very tempted upon finishing Antichrist to pit it as a ‘counter’ or antithesis of the Christ/Saint/Martyr themes of the other films, as though maybe Antichrist was ‘about humanity’ or ‘a view of the world without God.’
I see that this was wrong.
Because Trier has always asked of us to see each of us as living Christ events. The potential for each of us to perform ‘impossible leaps of faith’ and the non-rational means and often tragic conclusions of these ‘leaps.’
He asks of us to see Christ’s humanity, and humanity’s potential to enact the divine in the midst of our largely banal, cruel, and chaotic world.

So what or who is the Antichrist implied here?
I believe that it is the ‘Chaos that reigns.’
It is meaninglessness, the force that surrounds us at all times that tempts us to see our lives as without order, meaning, without value.
The position that I believe Antichrist takes is that this force of meaningless chaos is real. It is the real state of things. It is however conquerable through our each making a ‘leap of faith’ as it were.
This triumph of the human spirit is not a synthesis or balance of Reason and Intuition, or Order and Chaos–it is the abnegation of these as opposing poles and transcending them in Pure Resolution or Survival.

Antichrist is the description of the triumph that occurs in one’s affirmation of life through their decision or choice. When one accepts the meaningless chaos and still rises with a ‘yes saying’ to life they pass through death and are recreated and mark a ‘Christ event.’

Here’s how I came to this view:

The film begins with a creative act: the act of making love. In the midst of creation, there is loss–in this case the loss of a young life. Decision is definitive. It says yes and it says no. Future is created and possible futures are cast off. We cannot know all the outcomes or consequences of our choices and we must accept that in our life-creation there will be potentially hurtful and destructive effects. This can be one definition for the ‘state of sin’ in the world.

From this moment of ‘decision’ our characters embark on paths that illustrate ways of trying to contain or control chaos. The husband and wife portray different ways that one may ‘wrap their head’ around this existential burden and we see that rationality and madness, science and magic, are just different paths of coping with or trying to control life.

Ultimately the husband finds that these concepts are not enough–one cannot shirk off or end the power of Antichrist. One only can continue, persevere in the face of it.

Integral to this idea in the film is the appearance of bodies in the forest. At first there are only languishing or lifeless bodies covering the forest floor as the couple make love: the quest is almost fulfilled, concepts of madness and reason are being dissolved–
then in the Epilogue we see the weary and battered husband as triumphant and he is joined by fully formed and living people.
These people are the new future, continued possibility, Life flooding towards the Hero of Faith.


(silently punctuated only by bells
she moves on feet whose slippers I am not worthy to untie
her hands burnished flashing out of blossom sleeves
brazen calves daring in flight upon court steps
an oasis she withdraws when the fire of my thirst rests upon her)

you have filled my cup even as your myrrh daubed wrists
reach me upon the air through my grate
the stone gods are muted at the epiphany of you
their personages are silent upon the wall  
but I am awash again in the dried laughter
of an old man–a man whose face had befriended patience
whose face is but a tarnished mirror of silver
hollowed by faith and postponement

we are not unalike you and I
(though I shiver with humility)
both made to serve powers beyond our ken 
we both don clothes not of our own choosing
the prisons of silk and hairshirt  
cut perhaps from the same cruel bolt
born to paths whose ends like wavering mirages 
darkly visit me in dreams and leave me awakening bathed in doubt 

you draw near your bells announce you
descending dark stairs you suffer me
like a deer pants for water I breathe in cascades
of a deeper sky, a larger world,
of oils, and the youth that swirls about you
your gentle dread allure haunts this gaol
of living ghosts our chains our only applause to offer

upon your tense ankles hover cast lots
upturned runes
your eyes hide sad divinations
drear wroth machinations
in your practiced balance my future wavers
but who has called the song
which dance has been ordered?

my love, my muse
unmarried go I, and chaste
my body undone, before you languorous
opened as a tapestry unraveling
for you my story streams in ragged threads
and ends in matchless bliss
from a grace in a glimpse as simple this:
your hair, the comb of a finer honey,
escaping the corners of your veil

With thanks to Oscar Wilde

I hope that other marriage rights advocates will join me in putting away charges of hate against those who would discriminate against us, our loved ones, our fellow Americans.

Recently, Matthew Franck of the William E and Carol G Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute wrote an essay in the Washington Post asking that advocates of personal liberty not “play the hate card”. I promise that I will not ‘play the hate card’ and I also will ask that others will join me.

Why? Because my goal is the fair and equal treatment of LGBTQ folks and their families and I know the law is on our side. I know from history that with consistent hard work of justice minded people, the Constitution will protect individuals from the tyranny of the masses. We are not backing down and the wheels are set in motion–with our perseverance and courage and social justice co-laboring and allied work we will win what is rightly due.
So I will be as kind, compassionate, and understanding as I can be as we continue on our righteous path.

Just as we justice workers have learned the language difference between:
“You are a racist” versus “What you just said sounded racist”
we can learn to approach our those who would withhold liberty by not calling them hateful or bigots.

Franck in his essay says he and others feel tired of being compared to those who stood in the way of civil rights and supported anti-miscegenation laws. While we don’t need to compare Franck and detractors of liberty to those movements, we can most likely agree that Franck and many members of those past movements were honestly doing their best. They had good intentions, were motivated by perhaps their faith, their care for the nation, their care for society. That is a hard pill to swallow, but gay marriage advocates would do well to accept that for any given individual from the ‘traditional marriage’ movement, it may be love (albeit misguided and twisted) not hate that is motivating them.

This is to our favor to recognize. Who better to speak the language of love than those who wish to marry and their loving allies? We know what it is to love, so let us engage them at the level of love. Franck may be right on this point: call someone a ‘hater’ and the conversation is pretty much over. Begin to share to your experience of love and romance, and you may well have their attention.

A few words about ‘hate’:
So while I’m not going to level charges of hate against individuals, I think it is important to see why the use of ‘hate’ has been used to describe the anti-liberty movements.
1. Hate speech laws. Hate speech laws need not investigate the interior emotional state of a person or their disposition towards the aggrieved party. All that is needed is proof that there may incite prejudiced action or violence, or may be libelous towards a lawfully protected group. When an individual advocates the discrimination of a protected group, it can be valid to investigate whether their actions qualify as hate speech. It is always well for us LGBTQ folk and allies to remember to remind our detractors that we would do the same if someone sought to discriminate against them. We can remind them: “Its not personal. I’m just standing on the side of righteousness and justice. If you ever are denied justice, I’ll be in your corner too.”
2. ‘Hate’ has a variance of meaning. For example, Jesus said that to follow him, one had to hate their parents. That doesn’t mean one must scowl at their parents and begrudge them. Many preachers and commentaries have pointed out that Luke 14:26 says one must ‘hate their family’ as well as their ‘own life’ and simply means that one must ‘value with less esteem’ or with ‘lower priority’ these than the Divine. By Jesus use of hate, is it hateful what Franck and the Witherspoon Institute are doing? Well, being made into a second class citizen would seem a bit like being given ‘lower priority’. Discrimination and poor treatment need not have ‘gut feelings’ of anger, spite, vitriol. Again, we advocates for marriage equality would do well to remember we cannot see the inner state of another. We can take a page out of the Christian scriptures some like to use as a weapon: “judge not”.

I’m happy to put aside “hate” because US law and the common grounds of reason are on our side.
If ‘hate’ language like Mr. Franck says, stops a debate I won’t use it because I am assured that the grounds of reasoned debate will favor LBGTQ families.

Be very sure of this: just because I won’t use the “hate card” doesn’t mean I will stand by for a minute and allow any word or deed that may incite violence or disparage my loved ones. In the public arena through compassionate debate and vigorous social justice action and through applying all the laws that protect against discrimination, I will be steadfast against those who would molest liberty and my loved ones’ full enjoyment of life.
Our cause is assured and our goal is near. Just because some oppose me does not mean I need make of them my enemy. When this issue is settled I will extend to them the very Christian forgiveness and love that they seemed unwilling to share to us.

NPR’s coverage of Franck’s essay:

Matthew Franck’s essay in the Washington Post:

Its not unlike me to stare Death in the face, but usually its
in the guise of a busted condom, not a rainstorm!!

I know that God has been angry with southern California for a while now, and I definitely know that I’ve personally been tempting His wrath, but I just can’t believe the incessant raining He’s pounded down at us.

Of course, I’m no stranger to danger. I’ve been fighting off Death since the day I was born.
My doctor says I’m a “Statistical Anomaly”.

The last time I was at the doctor’s, getting some regular maintenence done,
you know: lancing, lasering, shaving, and freezing things off
when Dr. Hendt says, “Ryan, you’ve got one foot in the grave.”
And I says:
“Yeah? That’s what they said about Frankenstein and Jesus too!”
“Ryan, listen to me…”
“No, YOU listen to ME! You can’t tame a lion.”
“Sure you can. Liontamers?….At the circus?”
“……Whattabout Biggie Smalls?”
“He’s dead. What about him.”
“Right…Which is the one that’s coming back from the dead? Left Eye?”
“Right! I’m like Tupac, Dr. Hendt.”
“He died from being shot a bunch of times. Not from having the heart and colon of a 70 year old.”
“Touche, Dr. Hendt. Touche.”

But in the end, whether by earthquake or by not…I’m not scared of dying.
I’m no stranger to death.
I’ve eroticly asphyxiated myself to death 14 times,
but the light at the end of the tunnel keeps sending me back.
No prison can hold me!
Heaven won’t take me!
Hell is full!

A message from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley California.
To all those young LGBTQ folk out there, you can know that there are churches and faith communities all over this country that will love and celebrate you as you are.
You have a voice. An important voice. You are beautiful and loved.
It Gets better.

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