Saturday, April 11, 2009

BETWEEN GOOD FRIDAY AND EASTER

This blog began in part as a way of gathering up Blackfeet history materials so they could be easily found for students and teachers. That’s done.

And it was also a way to carry on with writing after I finished “Bronze Inside and Out” but hadn’t developed the next project yet. Gradually the blog BECAME the project with only one goal: write a thousand words a day. I split it out into parts, which gradually became less important as “prairiemary” became more of an entity. I added book and movie reviews, since that’s how I spend my evenings.

Along came another blog, this one belonging to Timothy Patrick Barrus and his Cinematheque collective of boys at risk. The whole thing dipped, exploded, faded, bloomed, and experimented while Tim and I talked via email. We’ve never met. He’s in Europe.

Then he asked me to collaborate on a book, which shocked his boys, some of which are young men who aspire to be authors. It looks like a good idea to include some of their writing. And yet Tim says he wants something that is “his,” a personal gestation, a virtual child. The three books he wrote as “Nasdijj” dragged him into a firestorm for the politically incorrect act of disguising his mother as a Navajo. That was the excuse. The truth of the hatred was much uglier. And Tim claims that HE is much uglier. He has the idea that it’s safer if one appears wicked and dangerous.

I’m betting on the opposite: that an old celibate lady in a Montana prairie village with a utility minister’s education can turn an undiverted gaze on things like sex, torture, corruption, perversion and so on without being destroyed. Some of this has nothing to do with Tim. For instance, the Nashville UU Congregation has re-opened the subject of ministerial misconduct, esp. in relation to sex. (They might do as well to watch the money.) You’ll notice that I’ve added my voice, partly because I was a member of the PNWD UUMA (minister’s group) when it was the first to address the problem. Partly because I’m outside but know inside things and therefore have no restrictions on my voice except caution for persons.

The position I’m taking is the one that I take on everything because it’s my religious position: everything is connected, everything is changing, what one person does can affect everything else. Most of the conversation about sexual misconduct has been framed as big bad ministers versus little victim parishioners. I want to look at the whole notorious and eternal vulnerability of religious institutions when it comes to sex, both the excessive virtue that demonizes sex and the kind of carelessness that reduces it to a trading token in the race for power.

This will put me at risk in the two months leading up to the denominational election of new leaders in June. I will also be at risk in terms of trying to find an agent or publisher for the collaborative conversation book with Barrus. I’m doing it for several reasons. One is that most publishing figures scream and run for their lives at the very mention of the name “Barrus.” When he is frustrated and angry, he unleashes gutter diatribes on people, even nice ladies in Manhattan.

I’m almost seventy but Barrus is almost sixty and carrying some serious health burdens, like avascular necrosis which keeps him in constant pain. Like the boys whom he constantly presses to stay on their careful regimes of HIV/AIDS drugs, he is often nauseous and so has moved one branch of the group to Amsterdam where marijuana is legal. The group is constantly challenged by events: one boy went back to heroin, was asked to leave, and then returned to the street where he died of a gunshot wound to the head. Several are suicidal. The point of the group is to produce art: videos, paintings, anything else they want to undertake. One is a dancer. Another was resident artist at a wolf refuge for a while. Several are now seriously writing.

The most recent challenge was entirely unexpected. To keep them away from predators and temptations in Paris where the main loft has been, the youngest boys had been moved to a remote village in Italy. When the recent deadly earthquake hit, none was hurt but all were terrified and had to be airlifted out to be with the older boys, forcing those young men into roles as surrogate parents again.

The main question that seems to preoccupy critics is “how do you know all this is true?” They maintain that Barrus is making it all up, that it’s nothing a but a serial fantasy in a fevered brain. Of course, all I have is my own experience of the world, which so far matches Tim’s in much milder form. That’s what told me in the first place that “The Boy and his Dog Are Sleeping” was written by someone who knew reservations. These guys may be invented or not, scrambled and disguised or not, but they ring true to me and their stories seem to me authentic testimony no matter the source. The larger world needs to hear them.

After two years of correspondence, I’ve watched dozens of videos -- some of them losers and some of them intensely encoded with meaning. I’ve seen family photos of Barrus’ past and present. The two gifted and excellently educated Irish youths who lead the electronics are known to me by name and email. Others are familiar faces by now, though I don’t know which names are theirs. I’ve seen the ashes of at least one boy scattered on a favorite beach. I’ve seen one beloved dog die and a new dog take up the story with vigor and glee. Whether Tim and I can get this across to a publisher and then to the public is an open question.

The boys, for all their grandstanding and showing off, are terrified of publicity, for fear it will bring down on them the dreaded “suits,” the people who make it their business to try to get the edges of society under control: police, social workers, nurses, teachers, and -- yes -- ministers. It will also attract more predators and stalkers.

I’m also terrified. There are a lot of losses coming up, including loss of privacy. But most of all I’m terrified of success. I saw what they did to Bob Scriver. Tim calls them hyenas. He’s right, but they aren’t the only animals on the veldt.

5 comments:

Robin Edgar said...

:For instance, the Nashville UU Congregation has re-opened the subject of ministerial misconduct, esp. in relation to sex. (They might do as well to watch the money.)

I couldn't agree more. The are numerous forms of clergy misconduct that do not involve sexual misconduct at all and these non-sexual forms of clergy certainly include unethical handling of money. Indeed I would expect that unethical handling of church funds of various types is every bit as prevalent as the diverse forms of sexual misconduct. I have some reason to believe that the UUA places a strong emphasis on sexual misconduct at least in part in order to minimize the importance and divert attention away from some quite harmful non-sexual forms of clergy misconduct. Part of my battle has been to counter that by pointing out how some forms of non-sexual clergy misconduct can be every bit as harmful and damaging to victims, congregations, and indeed the greater U*U World as clergy sexual misconduct.

:You’ll notice that I’ve added my voice, partly because I was a member of the PNWD UUMA (minister’s group) when it was the first to address the problem.

Are you saying that the PNWD UUMA (minister’s group) was the first group to address the problem of clergy sexual misconduct in the UUA Mary? If not please clarify. If so please elaborate. I was recently told by someone "in the know" that clergy sexual misconduct was first handled by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in the 1980's. God knows what, if anything, the UUA did to address clergy sexual misconduct prior to that if my source is reliable. This person is very well informed about UUA (mis)handling of clergy sexual misconduct so I have little reason to doubt what they said. It will be interesting to see how it aligns with what you said here.

:Partly because I’m outside but know inside things and therefore have no restrictions on my voice except caution for persons.

Thankfully there are no restrictions on my voice other than various (mostly futile) attempts by the UUA, the Unitarian Church of Montreal, and other individual U*Us including collusive U*U clergy, to silence me. None-the-less it is abundantly clear that the voices of too many Unitarian*Universalists are "restricted" in various ways. One of the reasons that I am so committed to speaking up and speaking out because I know that others are unready, unwilling or unable to do so. I would encourage you to speak up and speak out about what you know for the same reason. i.e. Because you *can* speak whereas others either cannot or will not. . .

:The position I’m taking is the one that I take on everything because it’s my religious position: everything is connected, everything is changing, what one person does can affect everything else.

That is very much my position too Mary. I don't think that very many U*Us really understand just how interconnected and interdependent the "web" of this world really is in spite of what the Seventh Principle says. . .

:Most of the conversation about sexual misconduct has been framed as big bad ministers versus little victim parishioners.

I am trying to reframe that conversation myself Mary. I have to admit that it can be kind of fun to be a big bad victim of the intolerant and abusive clergy misconduct of a "little" U*U minister like Rev. Ray Drennan, to say nothing of the less serious misconduct of a number of other "little" U*U ministers I have the misfortune to know. ;-)

:I want to look at the whole notorious and eternal vulnerability of religious institutions when it comes to sex, both the excessive virtue that demonizes sex and the kind of carelessness that reduces it to a trading token in the race for power.

Go for it Mary. . .

Happy Easter from the Big Bad Lone Wolf of the U*U World. ;-)

Art Durkee said...

"Quiet Saturday," perhaps not. What you exemplify here is that one is never too old to keep growing, keep learning. Or to keep risking hope, risking good outcomes.

More power to you.

Lance Michael Foster said...

I too am terrified of success, which is why I make it impossible for myself to succeed. My foot is riddled with bullet holes :-)

As far as hyenas go, when my Ioway ancestors who traveled with Catlin in Europe said of them...they are wicked animals because they dig up the dead, just like white men who dug up our dead looking for beads and baubles.

Robin Edgar said...

Lance, sometimes the dead deserve to be dug up. . .

prairie mary said...

There's always the example of Little Dog, who got really bugged by a cavalry officer trying to capture him over the years. He finally waylaid the guy, killed him, cut his bones out of his flesh, and threw the bones in the river.

Then he was dead. Except that we still remember them both.

Prairie Mary