Mar 07

male, female, etc.

How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. Luke 13:34 [partial]

I had thought to do a little blogging of the Lenten study we’re doing at my church (which does not have a website–it doesn’t even have a computer) but hadn’t gotten around to beginning. What follows is only marginally related to our actual Lenten study.

The Hermits have of late been considering biology and humanity, sex and gender, topics which lend themselves to diverse pursuits–scientific inquiry, theological reflection, and, of course, the taking of online quizzes.

The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, meanwhile, have been considering similar questions, although in a somewhat graver and larger fashion. (Background via Google or the NYT, if you are so fortunate as to have a subscription).

Today I heard the following opinions expressed:

  • gays are sinners and should be punished appropriately
  • gays are sinners and need to be saved
  • gays are children of God just like the rest of us
  • gays choose to be gay
  • gays have no choice about being gay (and, in an interesting variation, 3/4 of gays have no choice about being gay)
  • gays are gay because of a birth defect

Despite my years of regular church attendance, I am the sort of person that Ann Coulter would doubtless describe as a godless liberal (although I usually tell people I’m a communist–why not go all out, I figure?). In the course of my eastern education and upbringing (remember, anything east of Cheyenne is “back east”), I had never heard the last of these before.

I mentioned that I did not think that gay people were defective. The speaker said they were not defective (what with all being God’s children and all), but they were not perfectly formed in God’s image in the same way that people with birth defects are. I said that it seemed to me that since we are all part of God’s creation, God probably intended for us to come in a variety of configurations and sexual orientations and so on and so forth. I’m not sure how that went over.

It has occurred to me lately, though, that when we say that gay people are gay because they can’t help it, because they have no choice in the matter, we are doing them something of a disservice. Saying “you have no choice” is not quite the same as saying “you have a birth defect” (and, I should note, this whole discussion is probably doing an enormous disservice to people who have birth defects, who are also no less human than the rest of us), but it implies that you are to be pitied, that you are, in some way, a less than perfect example of God’s creation–sort of like saying that if you are female, you are somehow less able to relate to God, since in his human incarnation he was male.

Last week in Lenten study our lesson was Luke 13:31-35. I noted at some point that I thought it was either interesting or nice or both (I can’t recollect which adjective I used) that Jesus chose a feminine image in the bit quoted above–the mother hen gathering in her young. I have for years–for as long as I have been thinking about it–believed that humanity encompasses male and female and indeterminate and in-between, heterosexual and homosexual and bisexual, and, in general, more things in heaven and earth than we can dream of. Is there any reason that God should not also encompass all these?

I don’t consider the people whom I listened to today to be intolerant, on the whole. But sometimes it’s very clear to me that I come from a different place. We have a gender neutral restroom at our church, but we don’t call it that, and I don’t know that anyone thinks of it that way. But I may start to think of it as such–to be happy in the knowledge that there’s a place you can go around here where you don’t have to choose a label.

Feb 07

water story

Last month I didn’t have water for a week, and I decided to write something about it for Writers on the Range. Since they don’t seem to want it, I thought I’d post it here. If you find yourself fascinated with my water situation, rather than that of the larger west, you can read more on Vox.

I am happy to report that next weekend, I’m moving to a house, where, I have been told, the pipes never freeze.


“The West begins,” Bernard DeVoto wrote, “where the average annual
rainfall drops below twenty inches.” The Conservation District where I
live recently released its figures for 2006: we got a total rainfall
equivalent of 6.71 inches. We are indeed in the West, going into the
eighth year of a drought.

You know that simply from looking around at the brown fields, the low
muddy reservoir, the dust that blows through your screens in the summer.
But I don’t think you really appreciate it–at least I didn’t–until
you have in some personal way gone without.

During a recent cold snap, my pipes froze, and for the past four days I
have had no water in my house but what I have brought into it. I called
my landlady to tell her about the situation and mentioned that I had, as
she suggested, left a couple of taps dripping. “Not dripping,” she
said. “Dripping won’t do it; you’ve got to leave them running.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s a good thing I don’t pay for water by the gallon.”

Yes–you heard me right–in a place that got fewer than seven inches of
rain last year, I get all the water I want for $35 a month. Granted,
it’s horrible water, much too alkaline to drink. If you water plants
with it, they shrivel up and die. But you can flush toilets with it,
and shower in it, and wash your dishes in it.

I suppose, though, that my water situation is no more ridiculous than
those of Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, cities that owe their
existence to the water they repurpose from western rivers, many of which
start up here in the Rocky Mountains. We know that the desert is not
made to support such a large human population, and that it is only
through the considerable intervention of human beings in the natural
world, mostly the damming of rivers, that so many are able to live there
(and, for that matter, grow lawns there). Even the biggest proponents
of growth in the desert southwest are beginning to admit that it may
face an end. The Christian Science Monitor reported last month that
the Central Arizona Project has said that current water supplies will
serve the nation’s fastest-growing state through 2030 and projected
water supplies through 2045. After that, according to a CAP planning
analyst, growth will depend on “possibly available supplies” and, after
a certain point, “uncertain supplies.”

It is hard to remember when you stand in the cold rushing waters of a
mountain river, nothing like the slow, meandering rivers of my
Midwestern childhood, that you live in a land of little rain. It is
harder still when there is water there, all you want, when you simply
turn on a tap in your home. But of course the plentitude of water is an
illusion, like the mirages you see on the highway on a particularly
sunny day.

In the past few days, I have been thinking about how much we take water
for granted, and about how much water we take for granted. I’ve been
doing dishes in a sink only a few inches full and flushing my toilet
only once a day. I have not wiped down my counter tops or cleaned my
bathroom sink or mopped the kitchen floor. I haven’t made pasta or soup
for dinner. Yesterday I took up a friend’s offer of a shower, and it
felt positively decadent to let all that water run over me and down into
the drain.

I believed when I first moved here that I was becoming more attuned to
my use of water because I had to haul in all the water I wanted to
drink. It was not until my pipes froze, though, that I realized just
how much water I use that I don’t even think about–washing my fingers
off after I’ve cracked an egg, wetting a sponge to wipe off a counter,
rinsing my toothbrush.

In a few more days the temperature is supposed to rise above freezing,
and the water in my pipes will flow again, and I’ll do loads of laundry
and make spaghetti for dinner, and when the temperature dips down again
I’ll leave my faucets running. And I will think, well, it’s not potable
water anyway, and I don’t pay for it by the gallon, but at the same time
I will wonder about water and waste, about human progress and human