Phone phobia

I've always been something of a phone-phobic. Admittedly when I was a teenager I was capable of notching up marathon stretches of telephonic communication, but over the years I've become increasingly wary of the phone. The advent of sms messaging and email have made this avoidance of telephone conversations even more acute. Why chat when you can text? I rarely actually answer my mobile phone - half the time I can't hear it, and the other half of the time it is inconvenient or in a place where any sort of telephone conversation would be inappropriate. This of course marks me out as an old fashioned soul - I'm aware that most people will answer their phone wherever they are and regardless of who they are actually interacting with in person. Like a fool, however, I still cling to old-fashioned notions of politeness - one of the most important being that you should always pay careful and complete attention to the person you are speaking to.
And I can just ignore phones. It fascinates me that most people can't. Message bank is there for a reason people! If I don't feel like answering the phone, I simply won't. Sometimes (and this may shock some) I even switch it off.
But having to call people bugs me - I love seeing people, I love text messages and emails and God knows I love real letters, but telephoning someone to speak to them directly increasingly strikes me as a chore to be avoided. I have long lists of people whose phone calls I need to return, but I never do get around to making them. Indeed, I have just stumbled across such a list, and it dates back to 2002! Not one of those seemingly essential phone calls ever made! And yet life went on.
So if I don't respond to your call within ten minutes or you can only get through to my message bank, please don't take it personally. I'm just choosing to manage my life in a way that suits me. If it's really urgent, send me an email.
Or better still, a letter - I almost always answer those.

The Painted Veil

I spent the most gorgeous afternoon at the movies watching The Painted Veil. This is such a beautiful film, though it occured to me throughout that it could be seen as problematic, being a kind of love song to colonialism.
Political correctness aside, everything about the movie enchanted - the acting is perfect, the sets and costumes exquisite, and the landscape utterly seductive. It just works on so many levels. It is meant to be based on a Somerset Maugham story, though they must have tarted it up somewhat - I find it difficult to believe that Mr. Maugham could have written something quite so morally complex.
Treat yourselves - this is one film that is absolutely worth the trip, and what with all this rain, how much more encouragement do you need to go to the cinema?

Kwan Yin at Sydney Unitarian Church


For those interested, I am giving a short talk on Kwan Yin at the Sydney Unitarian Church, 15 Francis St, East Sydney on Sunday the 11th of May at 10.30 am. I promise it will be fascinating, and it's at a central location - just across the road from Hyde Park, in the city.
This is a free event, and not to be missed!

My 5 Favourite Books


1. Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann

This book was such a formative influence in my life. The glorious Oscar is here in all his wonderful, doomed glory. An enormous book, and truly a lifetime's work, this is quite possibly the best biography ever written.







2. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

Funny - surely the funniest novel ever. Mitford has such a light touch, and a mastery of the English language made even more remarkable by the fact that she was barely educated. The Mitfords have become such objects of fetish that people have forgotten how talented Nancy actually was.






                                                        3. Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

Another life-changing book, this wonderful little collection of Buddhist wisdom is my constant companion.
















4. My Guru and His Disciple by Christopher Isherwood

I love all of Isherwood's books, but this is the most fascinating, by far. Essentially an autobiographical account of his own struggles with religion and sex, this book is usually pooh-poohed by critics, but it is a compulsive read, and one of the most honest pieces of literature you will come across.








5. The Farewell Symphony by Edmund White

Hard to pick one book by White, but I think that this is his masterpiece. Yet another installment in his endless re-writing of his own autobiography, posing as fiction, this big book is brilliant in its pacing and is a fascinating piece of social history all on its own. Impossible not to love.

Warhol


I've been reading a brilliant book called Pop Trickster Fool: Warhol Performs Naivete, and I'm reminded once more of how much I love Andy Warhol and admire the way he changed the face of Western popular culture. The premise of the book ( a weightily academic tome) is that Warhol self-consciously cultivated a faux-naif persona that allowed him to move freely across cultural milieus. It's a fascinating assessment, and I find the book very compelling. I haven't enjoyed a book about Warhol so much since Bob Colacello's scandalous Holy Terror, which was something of a bible for us hip things back in the heady days of 1988/89. We were also enthralled by the Warhol diaries, their sheer banality offering us hope that our own dull lives could be equally glamorous. Later I had the privilege of knowing not one but two people mentioned in the diaries, but that seems to carry little cultural cachet these days. Back then people were willing to lie about the fact! It seemed every second person one met claimed to be in the diaries. "Just check the index darling, I'm in there."

I love his art, his movies and the fact that he named a font after his mother (it's called "Andy Warhol's Mother"). I love the fact that he cultivated a whole generation of fabulously beautiful drag queens and doomed heiresses as well as discovering Joe Dallesandro. His books are particularly brilliant, filled with the kind of bizarre advice that actually works. He recommends you use outmoded swear words, for example - that way you can never possibly be offensive, and people will think you are cute. I followed that advice for years, nothing stronger than a "gosh" or "golly" crossing my lips. Sadly, I have moved on to stronger exclamations, but Andy stuck to his guns right to the very end.

The Three Degrees

Surely one of the smoothest pop songs ever recorded. When Will I See You Again is one of those monumentally nostalgic tunes that capture perfectly the early 70s. I was only 4 when it was released, but I still remember it and love it. Here are the girls live.

People I Admire #2: Bede Griffiths


I have been aware of Bede Griffiths for many years, aware mostly that he had attempted some kind of synthesis between Hinduism and Catholicism. But when I became interested in Christian meditation as taught by the wonderful Laurence Freeman I really became fascinated with Father Bede and his remarkable life's work. He is something of a grandfather of the Christian Meditation movement, and his writings are much admired and circulated in those circles.
Father Bede was an exquisite man in every sense - in the video footage I've seen of him he is extraordinarily gentle and possessed of an incredible presence worthy of a movie star. He was an English convert to Catholicism who became a Benedictine monk and eventually went on to establish a fascinating Ashram/Monastery in Southern India, where he practised Catholicism with a distinctly Hindu face. Bede himself took on the appearance of a traditional Hindu sannyasin, wearing saffron robes, observing a vegetarian diet and filling his religious observances with Hindu ritual and Sanskrit chant. He seems to have achieved a genuine synthesis between the two great traditions, and as such is a pioneer in the Interfaith movement. His encouragement of meditation is what makes him so interesting to the Christian Meditation crowd.
Griffiths was following in the footsteps of an earlier Catholic priest from France who went native, the fascinating Swami Abhishiktananda. Griffith's changes were mild when compared to the French Swami's. Abhishiktananda seems to have moved well beyond Christianity, becoming a disciple of the enigmatic Ramana Maharshi and living out his days for all intents and purposes as a Hindu ascetic. Father Bede Griffiths was far more circumspect, maintaining his status as Catholic priest in communion with Rome and advocating the universality of the Christian message, though a Christianity informed and modified by the religions of the East.
Bede Griffiths' books are genuinely intriguing, and display a brilliant mind with a profound understanding of the religions and culture of India. I would recommend them to anyone, and they have given me much spiritual sustenance.

Songkran


I have the good fortune of normally being able to wait till April to begin observing my New Year's Resolutions. I make them on December 31, but owing to the fact that I am one half of a mixed marriage, I can delay things till the Lunar New Year, sometime in late January or February. And then, if things don't quite pan out, I can hold it over till Songkran - the Thai New Year - which falls in April.
Why do I presume to observe Songkran? Well, I am a great lover of Thailand and its culture, and have been there many times, spending my days travelling the country and going for periods of retreat at various temples there. I also have good friends who are Thai, and being involved with Buddhism for many years kept me involved in the Thai community in Australia.
The very best Songkran celebration in Sydney is always at Wat Pa Buddharangsee, the Thai forest temple in Leumeah, on the outskirts of Sydney. Wonderful food, lots of people, and the kind of genuine, welcoming energy that I find sadly lacking in most "community" festivals.
People always ask me why the Thai New Year is celebrated at such a peculiar time. Well, it's also the Tamil/Khmer/Lao New Year, and is based on an ancient Tamil calendar that fell out of whack but was never adjusted, owing to the fact that someone important declared it to be perfect and thus unchangeable.
Does anyone know what these delicious little things are called? They are very hard to find, so we were very excited to discover them at Songkran yesterday. They are little bundles of lemongrass, preserved pork and prawns and who knows what else served up on little leaves. You pop some chili sauce on them roll them up and stuff them into your mouth as quickly as you can, causing a perfect explosion of taste leaving you always desperate for more.

First Female Bishop in Australia!


A big yay to the first female Bishop of the Anglican Church in Australia!
That will certainly be a bit of a blow to the Sydney Archdiocese who won't even recognise female priests.
I've lost patience with this whole issue. How can any Christian, of whatever stamp, really cling to this idea that God is only capable of working through one half of the human race? And naturally those that won't acknowledge female ministers are the same legalistic ideologues who condemn gay people and cling to spurious and just plain idiotic biblical interpretations to shore up their tired and hateful old argument.
So congratulations soon-to-be Bishop Goldsworthy - you are an asset to the church and a role model for all Australians.

Kwan Yin



Kwan Yin is the Buddhist embodiment of compassion and mercy.

I have always been a fan of the Goddess of Mercy, ever since I first travelled to Vietnam as a young man and decided that she was to be my patron saint.

Naturally, Kwan Yin is everywhere in Vietnam - here is a pic of some nuns I know at Binh Chanh with the Kwan Yin statue in the garden in front of their temple. She is a source of inspiration for everyone, and people turn to her in times of need.

Sylvester




Probably the only person to have been simultaneously the King and Queen of Disco, the fabulous Sylvester was one of the best artistes of the era and he made everyone feel mighty real.
There probably never was a more unlikely pop star - a plump, plain black boy with a squeaky voice, Sylvester was a screaming queen to boot. Born and raised in LA, Sylvester was brought up by his single mother and his life was hardly the stuff of fairytales. Probably as a consequence of his outrageous facade and uncompromisingly queer attitude he never really made it into the mainstream. His androgynous looks and voice were simply too much for the straight, white fans of mainstream disco, though his amazing sound meant that he always had a cult following and was the singer that other, more commercially successful, artists turned to for inspiration.
Sylvester's sexual identity was always something of a mystery. That he was queer was absolutely certain, but if he identified as gay man, drag queen or transgender I never have been able to work out. Which makes him all the more fabulous, of course.
Towards the end of his life Sylvester made it to Sydney, where he headlined at the Sleaze Ball. This was well before my day, but older friends who were there assure me that he shone, and that, despite being ill, he was still quite curvaceous. Some suggested that he had even begun to make a full transition to the opposite gender.
I remember as a young man watching Rage late at night and seeing an ancient video clip of Sylvester singing Rock the Box, which was often repeated. I was instantly obsessed with this fascinating and gender-eluding character. Probably his most famous song is You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), which was a big hit for Jimmy Somerville in the late 80s. Sandra Bernhard also did an interpretive version of it in the early 90s.
Sylvester died of an AIDS related illness in 1988 at the age of 40 - one of a generation of brilliant artists, performers and identities lost and sadly missed.
RIP Sylvester - you are still loved and missed, and your glorious music will live forever. You truly are a star.


People I Admire #1 - Troy Perry


One of the great pioneers of the queer liberation movement is Troy Perry.
Troy is the founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, the world's first Christian Church established to serve the Gay community. These days the Church has grown to be much more than that - it speaks up for the disenfranchised and dispossessed wherever they are in the world, and is one of the most truly inclusive spiritual communities currently operating.
Growing up in a variety of Protestant denominations in the South in the 1950s, Troy felt a calling to be a preacher at a young age. He also worked out that he was gay, and this caused many years of torment as he tried to reconcile the two realities.
The MCC is a very visible face for the movement for gay and lesbian equality, and there is normally an MCC presence at any community event.
Mr. Perry himself still remains as the symbolic head of the MCC worldwide, and he is a big bear of a man. If you read his books you get the feeling that he is a Pentecostalist at heart, though the MCC keeps a reasonably open mind about the shape and format of its worship services - it's normally determined by the tastes of the local Pastor and congregation.
MCC has been in Australia since the early 80s, and has a church in most states. There are two in Sydney - one in Petersham and MCC Good Shepherd in Granville.
Bless you Troy Perry for all the wonderful work you've done and continue to do. We say a special prayer for you.

A Course in Miracles





Once upon a time I was very highly strung. No, let's be honest - I was neurotic. I had a lot to say about a lot of things, and I was awfully angry at the world. I was also depressed, stuck and headed nowhere fast.
Now I'm not saying things have changed completely (that's for my friends to judge!), but I feel that these days I'm a little calmer, and a little easier to be around.
There are all sorts of reasons for this, but one of the biggest is the fact that, many years ago, I read Marianne Williamson's wonderful book A Return to Love, and it quite simply changed my life.




For the first time I heard that I didn't need to control the world, that the whole world wasn't against me and I was perfectly OK just as I was. These were messages I desperately needed to hear, and still need to hear on occasion. I love Marianne, though I'm aware that she's an easy figure to make fun of - she's so terribly American, and terribly New Age. But if we can suspend these surface judgements and come to her work with a more open heart and mind, I think we can quickly see that she is sincere. And her message is not an easy one, despite what some people might allege. I admire Marianne because she's stuck at it over the years, and has grown and matured without giving in unduly to new trends. And we don't need to mention her loyalty to, and support of, queer people ever since she first rose to popularity.
So Marianne's book led me to A Course In Miracles. I found it VERY difficult at first - I couldn't abide the Christian terminology, and I found the whole thing interminable. But once I began to use it as it's meant to be used - i.e. as a daily spiritual guidebook - it began to make more sense to me, and now I love it and find it invaluable and so, so wise. It still challenges me, and some days I want to throw it aside or argue with it - always a good sign, I think.
I always feel a little embarrassed to admit that the Course has been so important in my life, but now it's out for all the world to see! I will always defend it, and defend the work of Ms. Williamson.
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